I spoke with heat, and bent over the groaning officer. My kinsman rubbed his chin. “What you say,” he replied, “demands a somewhat complicated answer, or rather a series of answers. In the first place, I thank you sincerely for what you have done, and not the less sincerely because I am going to nullify it. I shall, perhaps, not cheat myself by believing that a clansman’s spirit went some way to help your zeal”—here I might well have blushed in truth, for it had not helped my zeal a peseta. “I thank Lord Wellington, too, for the extravagant price he has set upon my services, and I beg you to convey my gratitude to him. As for being shot, I might answer that my parole extends only to the Pyrenees; but I consider myself to have extended it tacitly to my young friend here, who has treated me with all possible consideration on the journey; and I shall go to Bayonne.”
He spoke quietly and in the most matter-of-fact voice. But I have often thought since of his words; and often when I call up the figure of Marmont in exile at Venice, where, as he strode gloomily along the Riva dei Schiavoni, the very street urchins pointed and cried after him, “There goes the man who betrayed Napoleon!” I call up and contrast with it the figure of this humble gentleman of Scotland in the lonely hut declining simply and without parade to buy his life at the expense of a scruple of conscience.
“But,” he continued, “I fancy I may persuade M. Gerard at least to delay the delivery of that letter, in which case I see my way at least to a chance of escape. For the rest, these partidas have been promised twelve thousand francs for a service which they have duly rendered. My patrimony is not a rich one, but I can promise that this sum, whether I escape or not, shall be as duly paid. Hush!” he ended as I sprang to my feet, and Juan and Alonso appeared in the doorway supporting the trooper, who had only been stunned after all.
“We did not care to kill him,” Juan explained blandly, “until we had the senor’s orders.”
“You did rightly,” I answered, and glanced at my kinsman. His jaw was set. I pulled out a couple of gold pieces for each. “An advance on your earnings,” said I. “My orders are that you leave the trooper here with me, ride back instantly to your chief, report that your work has been well done and successfully, and the money for which he holds an order shall be forwarded as soon as I return and report to Lord Wellington in Beira.”
In the course of an eventful life John Penaluna did three very rash things.
To begin with, at seventeen, he ran away to sea.