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The Two Scouts
by [?]

It happened in March, 1812, when Marmont was concentrating his forces in the Salamanca district, with the intent (it was rumoured) of marching and retaking Ciudad Rodrigo, which the Allies had carried by assault in January. This stroke, if delivered with energy, Lord Wellington could parry; but only at the cost of renouncing a success on which he had set his heart, the capture of Badajos. Already he had sent forward the bulk of his troops with his siege-train on the march to that town, while he kept his headquarters to the last moment in Ciudad Rodrigo as a blind. He felt confident of smashing Badajos before Soult with the army of the south could arrive to relieve it; but to do this he must leave both Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo exposed to Marmont, the latter with its breaches scarcely healed and its garrison disaffected. He did not fear actual disaster to these fortresses; he could hurry back in time to defeat that, for he knew that Marmont had no siege guns, and could only obtain them by successfully storming Almeida and capturing the battering train which lay there protected by 3,000 militia. Nevertheless a serious effort by Marmont would force him to abandon his scheme.

All depended therefore (1) on how much Marmont knew and (2) on his readiness to strike boldly. Consequently, when that General began to draw his scattered forces together and mass them on the Tormes before Salamanca, Wellington grew anxious; and it was to relieve that anxiety or confirm it that I found myself serving as tapster of the Posada del Rio in the village of Huerta, just above a ford of the river, and six miles from Salamanca. Neither the pay it afforded nor the leisure had attracted me to the Posada del Rio. Pay there was little, and leisure there was none, since Marmont’s lines came down to the river here, and we had a battalion of infantry quartered about the village–sixteen under our roof–and all extraordinarily thirsty fellows for Frenchmen; besides a squadron of cavalry, vedettes of which constantly patrolled the farther bank of the Tormes. The cavalry officers kept their chargers–six in all–in the ramshackle stable in the court-yard facing the inn; and since (as my master explained to me the first morning) it was a tradition of the posada to combine the duties of tapster and ostler in one person, I found all the exercise I needed in running between the cellar and the great kitchen, and between the kitchen and the stable, where the troopers had always a job for me, and allowed me in return to join in their talk. They seemed to think this an adequate reward, and I did not grumble.

Now, beside the stable, and divided from it by a midden-heap, there stood at the back of the inn a small outhouse with a loft. This in more prosperous days had accommodated the master’s own mule, but now was stored with empty barrels, strings of onions, and trusses of hay–which last had been hastily removed from the larger stable when the troopers took possession. Here I slept by night, for lack of room indoors, and also to guard the fodder–an arrangement which suited me admirably, since it left me my own master for six or seven hours of the twenty-four. My bedroom furniture consisted of a truss of hay, a lantern, a tinder-box, and a rusty fowling piece. For my toilet I went to the bucket in the stable yard.

On the fifth night, having some particular information to send to headquarters, I made a cautious expedition to the place agreed upon with my messenger–a fairly intelligent muleteer, and honest, but new to the business. We met in the garden at the rear of his cottage, conveniently approached by way of the ill-kept cemetery which stood at the end of the village. If surprised, I was to act the nocturnal lover, and he the angry defender of his sister’s reputation–a foolish but not ill-looking girl, to whom I had confided nothing beyond a few amorous glances, so that her evidence (if unluckily needed) might carry all the weight of an obvious incapacity to invent or deceive.