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ADAGE OF NAPOLEON's GENERALs.”
Extract from the Ricoglitore Italiano e Straniero, Rivista mensuale, Gennajo 1835. Milano. “La Defunta.” —A fragment of an inedited drama.
Carlo to Giacomo.—“In Spain I really may say I lived; in Spain I enjoyed myself.
Giacomo.—“Yes! with death at your heels "
Carlo.—“Do you suppose we thought anything of death ? We often risked our lives for a mere glass of brandy; sometimes even for a jest, a caprice, a pastime. I shall never forget the night of the 25th of April 1811. We were encamped a few miles from Tarragona. I was corporal in a regiment commanded by Colonel P., and was one of his favourites, because he saw I feared nothing. On that evening the Colonel had invited several superior officers to supper. I attended the feast, as I was looked upon as a friend of the Colonel. After despatching a Mayence ham and three young pigs, and many bottles of various Spanish wines, our mirth became wild and unruly. “I wager,’ said the Colonel, ‘ that the nuns of the neighbouring monastery, who are said to live well, have not had a better supper than ours.” “Where is this convent?’ asked Major B. ‘ On the summit of the mountain close by, above the village where the brigands (the patriots) are now. It is a rich monastery, and the land produces the best wine in Catalonia.’ ‘I wish,” said the other, “we had two dozen of their bottles to finish our supper.” “Well thought !” replied the Colonel, and he fixed his eyes upon me. “Comrade, dost thou hear? art thou capable of so much o' ‘Yes, Colonel,' I said without hesitation; ‘not only the bottles, but the nuns too, if you like.’ I was taken at my word amidst laughter and vivas; the Colonel gave me ten men of the light company, well armed, who had drank deep, and a Spanish guide. In an hour's time we were at the foot of the mountain. The wind blew piercing cold; and as the fumes of the wine dissipated, we perceived all the difficulty of our undertaking. The only path to the monastery was through the village where the insurgents were. I told the Spanish guide to lead us by another way. “There is no other way, señor.” I put a pistol to his breast; he grumbled, and took us round outside of the village, and in a few minutes we were at the foot of an almost perpendicular cliff formed of huge masses, jutting one above the other. At the top of that cliff is the garden of the convent,” said the guide. “I know of no other way.’ ‘Then go on first.’ The Spaniard crossed himself, and began climbing. We followed him silently, one after the other. When we were half-way up, I heard behind me a long shrill cry; then a noise of something rolling down the precipice; then a deep silence, interrupted by a distant moan, which died away amidst the howling of the wind. It was one of our men, who had missed his footing. We said not a word. At last we arrived at the foot of a low wall which ran up the mountain. Beyond it was the garden of the monastery. We leaped into it. The greatest silence reigned within the building. We entered the portico; we tried the doors, the windows; they were all fast, and strongly bolted; there was no means of getting admission. My comrades were cursing the Colonel and his whims, and I felt mortified and maddened. At last, as I was groping about, I perceived behind the building a large quantity of wood piled up against the wall. A sudden thought struck me. I opened the lantern we had, and applied the candle to the dry wood. It soon blazed up; the wind blew the flame over the opposite side of the building towards the village, and we in the garden were skreened from it. Soon after the building itself took fire. We heard shrill cries; the windows were opened, and female voices cried out ‘To the gardens’ We concealed ourselves behind some palings in an angle of the garden remote from the fire. We heard the nuns running down the staircase, the bolts drawn out, and at last we saw a crowd of about twenty women, half naked, who rushed frantic towards the end of the garden where we were. We fell upon them. ‘Ah!” cried one, “los Franzeses 1’ and she was answered by a cry of horror from the whole group. We drew our swords, and imposed silence. ‘We have the nuns, but not the bottles,’ said one of my comrades; and he took in his arms one of the nuns, and ran back into the building. Time pressed; the bells of the village church were sounding the alarm, and we heard people ascending towards the convent. Had we left any of the nuns behind, they would have informed the villagers, and our retreat would have been cut off. We drove or lifted the nuns, half dead with fear, up the wall to the top of the cliff by which we had ascended. The sight of the precipice under their feet made them delirious with terror; no threats, nor blows with the flats of our swords, could keep them quiet. They knelt down at our feet, and begged us to give them a few moments to recommend their souls to God; but we could think of nothing else but of the way of effecting our retreat in safety. Meantime we heard a whistle: it was our companion, returning with the nun and a large hamper full of bottles and a long thick rope. We fixed one end of the rope round a projecting crag, and then lowered the hamper down the precipice. “Now let the nuns go first,' I said, ‘and those who will not, must leap." It was a grotesque and yet terrible sight to see these women, embarrassed with their long wide garments, half dead with fear, taking hold of the rope one after the other and descending the cliff. Six nuns were in the act of descending in this manner, when suddenly a cry, “Ahi ! Santa Maria " made me look down, and I saw the foremost, who, with her feet on a shelving rock, suspended in the air, as it were, had lost hold of the rope, and was trying to balance herself and catch it again, when the one above her happened to strike her with her feet. She thus lost her balance, caught hold of the garment of the one above; they both shrieked, and tumbled down into
* Ilfaut que les soldats s'amusent, or, Il faut que les soldats aient leurs jouissances, were words frequently used by Bonaparte's commanders, and in the mouths of some of them they were meant to excuse any kind of atrocity.
the precipice. A deadly silence followed. The other nuns who were descending stood as if petrified. Those who were standing with us on the summit refused to stir; no threats or prayers were availing; they answered with loud outcries. Delay was fatal, we unanimously resolved: each of us seized one of the renitent nuns, and hurled her down the precipice. They stumbled in their fall upon those who were suspended half-way on the crags, and all rolled down together: there were new shrieks, and a continued rumbling noise, followed by moans, and at last all was still. ‘Let us see,” said one of my companions, and he shook the rope. “There is nothing more seen or heard; they are all gone to Paradise. Requiescant in pace / Two nuns remained still with us, and they happened to be two of the youngest and prettiest. “I have promised the Colonel to take him nuns, and so I will,’ said I, seizing one of the two, and putting her on my back, telling her to hold fast; and in this manner I went down. The other was given in charge to the guide. We now all descended safely with the assistance of the rope. Arrived at the bottom, I felt something soft under my feet; it was the body of one of the nuns. I put down the living one I had on my back, and, drawing my sword, cut off the ears of the dead one. At short distances I found the bodies of the other nonnettes, as the French used to call them, and I cut off their ears too. “What are you going to do with all these ears?' cried one of my companions. “Carry them to the Colonel, as evidence of the full success of our enterprise.’ ‘The ears! what a depraved taste!’ exclaimed