Chapters from the Memoirs of Manuel (or Manus) McNeill, an agent in the Secret Service of Great Britain during the campaigns of the Peninsula (1808-1813). A Spanish subject by birth, and a Spaniard in all his upbringing, he traces in the first chapter of his Memoirs his descent from an old Highland family through one Manus McNeill, a Jacobite agent in the Court of Madrid at the time of the War of Succession, who married and settled at Aranjuez. The authenticity of these Memoirs has been doubted, and according to Napier the name of the two scouts whom Marmont confused together (as will appear in a subsequent chapter) was not McNeill, but Grant: which is probable enough, but not sufficient to stamp the Memoirs as forgeries. Their author may have chosen McNeill as a nom de guerre, and been at pains to deceive his readers on this point while adhering to strictest truth in his relation of events. And this I conceive to be the real explanation of a narrative which itself clears up, and credibly, certain obscurities in Napier.–Q.]
THE TWO SCOUTS
I. THE FORD OF THE TORMES
In the following chapters I shall leave speaking of my own adventures and say something of a man whose exploits during the campaigns of 1811-1812 fell but a little short of mine. I do so the more readily because he bore my own patronymic, and was after a fashion my kinsman; and I make bold to say that in our calling Captain Alan McNeill and I had no rival but each other. The reader may ascribe what virtue he will to the parent blood of a family which could produce at one time in two distinct branches two men so eminent in a service requiring the rarest conjunction of courage and address.
I had often heard of Captain McNeill, and doubtless he had as often heard of me. At least thrice in attempting a coup d’espionage upon ground he had previously covered–albeit long before and on a quite different mission–I had been forced to take into my calculations the fame left behind by “the Great McNeill,” and a wariness in our adversaries whom he had taught to lock the stable door after the horse had been stolen. For while with the Allies the first question on hearing of some peculiarly daring feat would be “Which McNeill?” the French supposed us to be one and the same person; which, if possible, heightened their grudging admiration.
Yet the ambiguity of our friends upon these occasions was scarcely more intelligent than our foes’ complete bewilderment; since to anyone who studied even the theory of our business the Captain’s method and mine could have presented but the most superficial resemblance. Each was original, and each carried even into details the unmistakable stamp of its author. My combinations, I do not hesitate to say, were the subtler. From choice I worked alone; while the Captain relied for help on his servant Jose (I never heard his surname), a Spanish peasant of remarkable quickness of sight, and as full of resource as of devotion. Moreover I habitually used disguises, and prided myself in their invention, whereas it was the Captain’s vanity to wear his conspicuous scarlet uniform upon all occasions, or at most to cover it with his short dark-blue riding cloak. This, while to be sure it enhanced the showiness of his exploits, obliged him to carry them through with a suddenness and dash foreign to the whole spirit of my patient work. I must always maintain that mine were the sounder methods; yet if I had no other reason for my admiration I could not withhold it from a man who, when I first met him, had been wearing a British uniform for three days and nights within the circuit of the French camp. I myself had been living within it in a constant twitter for hard upon three weeks.