CH. IX. -- A more serious incident.

 

WE lounged about the wood for the greater part of the day, without lighting on any traveller to pay toll for the friar. At length we were beginning to wear our homeward way, as if confining the feats of the day to this laughable adventure, which furnished a plentiful fund of conversation, when we got intelligence of a carriage on the road drawn by four mules. They were coming at a hard gallop, with three outriders, who seemed to be well armed. Rolando ordered the troop to halt, and hold a council, the result of whose deliberations was to attack the enemy. We were regularly drawn up in battle-array, and marched to meet the caravan. In spite of the applause I had gained in the wood, I felt an oozing sort of tremour come over me, with a chill in my veins and a chattering in my teeth that seemed to bode me no good. As it never rains but it pours, I was in the front of the battle, hemmed in between the captain and the lieutenant, who had given me that post of honour, that I might lose no time in learning to stand fire. Rolando, observing the low ebb of my animal spirits, looked askew at me, and muttered in a tone more resolute than courtly: Hark ye! Gil Blas, look sharp about you! I give you fair notice, that if you play the recreant, I shall lodge a couple of bullets in your brain. I believed him as firmly as my catechism, and thought it high time not to neglect the hint; so that I was obliged to lay an embargo on the expression of my fears, and to think only of recommending my soul to God in silence.

While all this was going on, the carriage and horsemen drew near. They suspected what sort of gentry we were; and guessing our trade by our badge, stopped within gun-shot. They had carabines and pistols as well as ourselves. While they were preparing to give us a brisk reception, there jumped out of the coach a well-looking gentleman richly dressed. He mounted a led horse, and put himself at the head of his party. Though they were but four against nine, for the coachman kept his seat on the box, they advanced towards us with a confidence calculated to redouble my terror. Yet I did not forget, though trembling in every joint, to hold myself in readiness for a shot: but, to give a candid relation of the affair, I blinked and looked the other way in letting off my piece; so that from the harmlessness of my fire, I was sure not to have murder to answer for in another world.

I shall not give the particulars of the engagement; though present, I was no eye-witness; and my fear, while it laid hold of my imagination, drew a veil over the anticipated horror of the sight. All I know about the matter is, that after a grand discharge of musquetry, I heard my companions hallooing Victory! Victory! as if their lungs were made of leather. At this shout the terror which had made a forcible entry on my senses was ejected, and I beheld the four horse men stretched lifeless on the field of battle. On our side, we had only one man killed. This was the renegade parson, who had now filled the measure of his apostasy, and paid for jesting with scapularies and such sacred things. The lieutenant received a slight wound in the arm; but the bullet did little more than graze the skin.

Master Rolando was the first at the coach-door. Within was a lady of from four to five-and-twenty, beautiful as an angel in his eyes, in spite of her sad condition. She had fainted during the conflict, and her swoon still continued. While he was fixed like a statue on her charms, the rest of were in profound meditation on the plunder. We began by securing the horses of the defunct; for these animals, frightened at the report of our pieces, had got to a little distance, after the loss of their riders. For the mules, they had not wagged a hair, though the coachman had jumped from his box during the engagement to make his escape. We dismounted for the purpose of unharnessing and loading them with some trunks tied before and behind the carriage. This settled, the captain ordered the lady, who had not yet recovered her faculties, to be set on horseback before the best mounted of the robbers; then, leaving the carriage and the uncased carcases by the road-side, we carried off with us the lady, the mules, and the horses.

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