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IV BUSSACO
After losing sight of the marvellous view across the river of the city upon its amphitheatre of hills, the road from Oporto towards the south runs through a country of drifting sands parallel with the seashore. Pines bending away from the prevailing westerly wind stand singly and in clumps at first, and then in vast tracts, as in the Landes about Arcachon, binding the unstable soil together; and within a few miles of Oporto here and there a sea-bathing village of chalets and houses of entertainment breaks the monotony of the scene. It was but seven in the evening, but the autumn day had already sunk into dusk with an angry streaked black and crimson after-glow when I came to the little thermal bathing village of Luzo, on the lower slopes of the mountains that cover the whole of the north of Portugal except the strip of country bordering the sea. For some miles, ever since we had left the main railway 91line from Oporto to Lisbon at Pampilhosa junction, we had been rising, whilst the pines bordering the line had been growing thicker and more sturdy, and from Luzo onward the way grew still steeper. The stars shone brightly, but a dew almost as heavy as rain was falling as the carriage that had met me at the station drawn by two gigantic mules, rattled along the excellent road through Luzo.

There is always a feeling of uncanniness in speeding through an unknown town at night for the first time. Here at Luzo little white cottages flashed past us, a dim light flickered before a shrine at a street corner, a man dimly visible tinkled a bandurra a by the side of a grated window, little groups whispered mysteriously in the semi-darkness: they were all shadows to me, whilst I, poor waif, to them was nothing, for the clatter of the mules and the rattle of the carriage over the cobble stones were the only signs they had of the momentary presence of a man who, like a ship passing in the night, flitted in the darkness through the village which to them was life and death and all things. Our road lay ever upward. By the dim light of a waning moon one could see the trunks of great pines close together, and 92the soft moist air was heavily charged with the grateful balsamic scent of the trees. As we toiled patiently upward and still upward, in the darkness of the night the hush of the woods fell deeply upon us, for no breath of wind stirred the lofty tops that closed over us like an arch, and the summer night-birds had already taken flight farther south. Presently we passed through what in the dimness looked like an imposing architectural gateway set in a high wall, and then the wood grew perceptibly denser. By the wayside the bank on the left rose sheer from the road covered with verdure, and one felt rather than saw that up and up, as it seemed infinitely, the great trees towered higher and higher upon the steep slope, whilst on the right hand the huge eucalyptus trunks shining white through the blackness of the night, stood upon the brink of a precipitous drop, from which emerged now and again tree tops and a tumult of vegetation that showed, even though one saw but little of it, that we were in the midst of a luxuriant forest such as those I have seen on the Amazon and in Brazil, but never before in Europe.

Presently we drove into a circle of light, and one of the surprises of my life burst upon me. 93A palace so stately and beautiful, so new and spotless withal, as to seem like a scene from a fairy tale. But no—this flashing white dream in stone is no scenic illusion; the carved tracery, like petrified lace, and leaves, and branches, infinite in caprice and variety, the lovely cloistered terrace, the monumental staircase, and the almost insolent wealth and intricacy of sculptured ornament, are all solid chiselled stone, and this splendid royal castle in the most wondrous wood in Europe is an ordinary hotel, or rather an extraordinary one run on ordinary lines.

The first instinct of a traveller when he lights upon such a find as this is to keep it to himself rather than diminish his enjoyment in the possession of his secret by sharing it with others; but Bussaco is big enough, and it would be ungenerous to hide it. It was built by the Portuguese Government, it is said, for a royal residence, and is hardly yet quite finished, for an annexe is now being constructed for the use of the royal family during their summer sojourn, and some of the frescoes in the main castle are still to be added; but it is difficult to understand—unless the intention really was, as stated, to make the place a permanent royal residence—the 94reason for spending the vast sums of money that the place must have cost upon a house of public entertainment. However, there it stands, with its stately tower, its majestic carved staircase, and all its heraldic blazonry, in the midst of a crown domain seized from a Carmelite monastery, probably the most beautiful hotel in Europe, certainly by far the best in the Peninsula; in an exquisite climate, with perfect sanitation and water, a good white wine grown on its own hillside, a cuisine with which no fault can reasonably be found, cleanliness, and order; a Swiss lessee who speaks English fluently and understands English needs, a bill of almost disconcerting moderation ... and the woods! For, after all, the hotel-palace, the golf-links, the tennis-lawn, the ballroom, and all the rest of the added attractions of the place, are but subsidiary incidents to the terrestrial paradise that surrounds it, enclosed in its high granite wall six miles in circumference.

Manueline Architecture at the Hotel, Bussaco

It was night when the gleaming salt-white palace first flashed upon me out of the darkness, but when I opened my shutters as the dawn was breaking the next morning, and stepped out upon the wide battlements of the castle, the scene 95before me was so wonderful as to force from me an involuntary prayer of praise and thankfulness to God that so much of beauty should be vouchsafed to my senses. Below and around me for miles on all sides stretched the woods, woods such as I have seen nowhere else in Europe, though the private gardens and plantations of Cintra and Monserrat approach them in luxuriant fertility. Great palms and towering cedars of Lebanon grow side by side with oaks of giant bulk: oranges and fig-trees, cork and acacia, maple, birch, and willow stand beneath the straight eucalyptus, “tall as the mast of some great admiral”: araucarias spread their spiny branches with a luxuriance never seen at home, and mosses, ivy, and ferns clothe thickly every inch of ground, every bank, and even the time-worn stones, that all around testify to the existence of dwelling here long before the white palace raised its tall tower over the darkening wood.

Beyond the trees, on the fair morning I first beheld the scene, the shadow of twilight still lingered in the valleys and the horizon was veiled in mist, but already the sun was touching the mountain-tops all around. One range after another caught the golden light, and as far as the 96vision reached mountain succeeded mountain like mighty waves suddenly stayed in their onward sweep and turned into rosy rock. Here and there amidst the greenery, far below upon the plains, a white cottage, or the clustered red roofs of a village lit up the picture with a note of emphasis, and the sweet, cool air of the mountains, fresh with the scent of pine, eucalyptus, and wild flowers innumerable, came to the jaded town-dweller like a foretaste of some exquisite new sense to endow mankind in a fuller life to come.

Straight before me, as I stood upon the battlements looking towards the south, there rose as it seemed quite close a steep mountain slope clothed with a mass of verdure so thick as to look like a solid billowy surface of every tint of green, from tender primrose to deepest bronze. Here and there a straight pine or cedar, more lofty than its fellows, caught with its feathery top a glinting sun-ray and held it, whilst high up, almost overhead, upon a rocky spur emerging from the foliage there stood a humble hermitage, and on the very summit, looking so inaccessible that no human foot could reach it, a little white tower of another hermitage reared its cross over all.

FROM THE BATTLEMENT, BUSSACO.

97On the right hand, as one looked down over the battlements, the pretty gardens of the palace, with flowers and palms, are spread at the foot, whilst, resting humbly under the shadow of the palace, is the ancient church and the tiny monastery, which for centuries housed the silent Trappists, whose loving care made this holy wood to grow upon the spurs and glens of a granite mountain. Beyond the garden, the wood slopes suddenly down in billows of greenery, and then at its foot spreads the vast plain, with towns and villages nestling in its hollows. And as the sun grows in brightness I see beyond the limits of the plain, far away, a long strip of white, and over it, high up, as it seems above the horizon, a deep violet wall. It is the sea, the broad Atlantic, with its fringe of silvery sand many miles distant, and it gives the supreme touch to a scene of perfect beauty. On the other side of the castle the view is just as lovely in a different way. Beyond the palms and flowers at the foot, seen over a hundred carved crockets and capricious stone pinnacles and gargoyles, with the great tower of the castle and its armillary sphere over all, is a far stretch of undulating wood; and then a vast tumble of mountains, range over range, all but the highest 98clothed to the top with forests, and beyond and above them all the bare granite peaks of the Caramulo range, iridescent now with the morning sun. The domain occupies the whole of the north-western end of a long continuous mountain ridge, some eight miles in total length, running from south-east to north-west and extremely precipitous on all sides. From the earliest times, at all events since the fourth century, the glens and ravines that score these slopes have been jealously guarded by ecclesiastical masters. The sheltered position and soft westerly breezes from the Atlantic endowed the spot with a climate mild, equable, and healthy, even for Portugal, whilst the purity and abundance of the springs and the marvellous fertility of the soil in the deep, moist gorges on the mountain-side made it an enviable place of secluded residence. Whilst the minimum winter temperature is about forty degrees, frost being unknown, the summer heat is tempered by the altitude of the place and by the abundant shade of the woods, so that the temperature rarely exceeds that of a warm July day in England.

With these climatic conditions it is natural that this end of the ridge, protected on all sides, 99should develop a vegetation of extraordinary luxuriance. So remarkably was this the case that the successive ecclesiastical bodies to which it belonged for fifteen hundred years decreed that the woods were for ever to be held sacred as a place of sanctuary and devotion. From the eleventh century onward the domain belonged to the Archbishops of Braga, and in 1626 one of them granted it to the order of shoeless Carmelites, as a retreat remote from the world, where the monks following the strict Trappist rule might meditate in silence undisturbed by the turmoil of their fellow-men. In poverty, and with the hard labour of their own hands, the monks built the little monastery and humble church as they now stand, with other portions since demolished; and, year by year, for two hundred years, planted and tended with devout care the sacred wood which was their one earthly concern. From all quarters of the globe where the Portuguese flag waved, from India, South America, and the Far East, rare plants and trees were sent by Carmelites to their beloved “Matto de Bussaco.” Medicinal herbs, rare and lovely ferns, and exotic fruit and flowers, impossible in other places in Europe, here grew luxuriantly, 100and the silent, white-robed gardeners planted and tended their domain until it became not a wood but a sylvan garden of surpassing beauty, as it remains to-day.

A high wall shuts it in from the rest of the world, whilst a special Bull of Urban VIII., deeply cut to this day upon a great slab on the principal gateway, condemned to major excommunication any person who violated the sanctuary or injured any plant within the sacred precincts; and another papal Bull bans any woman who dares to set her foot upon the domain. Beautiful terraced paths were cut upon the hillsides, and zigzagging down the ravines, fountains that gushed spontaneously from the mossy rocks were dedicated to saints and adorned with sculptured shrines or rustic grottoes. Everything that single-hearted toil and devotional spirit could do, for centuries the shoeless Carmelites did for their remote monastery and the fairy glens of Bussaco; and since the abolition of the monastic orders in Portugal, the Government have tended and guarded the spot as carefully as the silent monks before them. One trembles for each innovation in such a spot as this, and the present road-cutting operations through the wood and 101just around the palace, though the new approaches will doubtless add to the accessibility of the place, cannot fail to injure somewhat its sylvan beauty; just as the building of the palace itself, and especially of the new annexe now in course of construction, further dwarfs and hides the quaint little monastery, which really seems to strike the note harmonious with the place.

To describe in detail the beauties of Bussaco is impossible in the space at my disposal, but one ramble amongst many may be cited as an example of the effect produced by them upon an appreciative visitor. The sky was the deep, lustrous, sapphire blue of which Portugal alone seems to hold the secret, and the fierce sunlight, held in check by the lofty canopy of leaves, just dappled with golden tesselation the steep path up which I wandered from the palace door. On each side of the well-kept walk stood low stone walls, a mass of brilliant emerald, clothed, as they were, with long trailing mosses and tender fronds of ferns innumerable. Autumn as yet had done nothing to braise and brand the greenness of summer; for in this favoured spot the seasons make but slight difference in the vegetation. Verdant glades and dim recesses of sea-green 102shadow open up at every turn in the winding path; domed masses of foliage above and below on the steep sides of the glen seem like the silent naves and aisles of vast cathedrals. To say that the air was like wine is a commonplace. This was primeval air, the breath of a myriad trees and sweet health-giving plants, inhaled upon a mountain top overlooking the boundless sea. Not like wine grossly made by man was this, but like some vital elixir distilled in a magician’s laboratory, bringing new life and vigour, with a sensuous joy added by the spirit of the place and the soft warmth of the shaded sun.

Towering eucalyptus trees, the fawn-coloured bark hanging in long loose strips and showing the silver skin beneath, alternated with pied planes and feathery palms. Pines and cedars of Lebanon, and a score of trees one knows not by name, tower over all, their great trunks (I measured one cedar twenty feet round), clothed at foot by a dense undergrowth of flowering plants. Large camellia trees, agaves and magnolias full of bloom, the big white pendent flower of the datura, the pink and blue masses of hydrangea, and the glistening foliage of orange trees, lit up the shadowy slopes overhung by the dense foliage of the forest; and trails of smilax, and I know not what other verdant creepers hung in festoons from branch to branch.

THE HOTEL, BUSSACO, FROM THE WOODS.

103At the top of the path a moss-grown cross at the foot of a flight of broken stone steps, hard by a crumbling archway, marks the beginning of one of the several pilgrimages of the Cross scattered through the woods, a lichen-covered slab upon the cross recording that: “These two hermitages of the pilgrimage of the Cross were built by order of the Illustrious Jo?o de Melo, Bishop and Count, in the year 1694.” The little hermitages stand almost intact, though their thick walls are all overgrown with bright mosses and reaching arms of verdure. Passing beneath the archway, shadowed by a mighty cedar, I find myself at the foot of this Via Sacra, a steep ascent with green and crumbling steps before each open shrine of the Passion every hundred yards or so. The shrines, little quaint square buildings, with the window-like opening breast high, and a kneeling-stone before each, are all dismantled and empty now; though with their cloak of foliage and ferns and their lichen-clothed slabs telling the 104scene of the sacred Passion which used to be exhibited inside, they are perhaps more beautiful so than ever they were. Weeks after, when I saw at Caldas, in course of construction, some very fine sacred groups in enamelled earthenware, the figures half life-size, and was told that these scenes of the Passion were intended by the Government for the restoration of the shrines at Bussaco, I breathed a silent hope that, though the groups might be replaced, no attempt would be made to restore to newness the shrines themselves.

As one trod the old path of the pilgrimage, up mossy steps and past despoiled shrines, with glimpses of sunlit glades and shady green dells, it was impossible to shut away from one’s thoughts those generations of silent white-clad figures, who, shoeless, had toiled so often up the Via Dolorosa, with tears of penitence, perhaps agonies of regret, for the life from which they had fled. All around were relics of their unrecorded labour. Sculptured stones, chapels, hermitages, fountains, grottoes, and shrines were all built by their patient hands; paths scarped on steep hillsides, seats placed in quiet nooks for the meditative and the weary, nay, the trees and plants from all lands growing so proudly now had all been tended anxiously by the same dumb shadows that for centuries waited for death within the walls enclosing the sacred wood. If ever a place was haunted by sad, harmless ghosts, these paths of pilgrimage at Bussaco must still be thronged by the white-robed phantoms of those who made them.

On the Via Sacra, Bussaco.

105Turning aside and descending the glen by a narrower path, a ramble of half a mile brings me to another scene of marvellous beauty. In the foreground is a pool covered with water lilies and overshadowed by trees; and from it, leading straight up the hillside, is the “holy stair,” or cold spring, as it is called. Eleven double flights of stone stairs, each pair of flights leading to a landing of black and white mosaic, whilst in the centre between the two lines of steps a rocky cataract leads a rushing stream of icy cold clear water from the fountain gushing at the top from the rock in its mosaic recess down to the bottom of the hill, where it tumbles tumultuously into the pool. Through the whole length of the long fall, flanked by stairs, perhaps two hundred 106feet, rare ferns and mosses grow with wild luxuriance, especially in and about the pools on the ten landings; and, embosomed as the whole hillside is in dense greenery, it is impossible to exaggerate the delicious coolness and beauty of this secluded spot.

From the top of the Fonte Fria, or Scala Santa, the path leads through a valley, and then precipitously up the ascent that faced me when on the morning after my arrival I stood upon the battlements for the first time. The hermitage of St. Ant?o stands upon a ledge high up the slope, a tiny dismantled cell, from which a view is gained on a clear day that fairly takes one’s breath away. Below, set in its vast bed of verdure, the white stone castle stands, the gold armillary sphere that crowns its tower glittering in the sun; whilst on the left the far-flung panorama of the plain, with the blue wall of the sea beyond, and the grey mountains on the north, is flooded with an inundation of light, and scattered with the abodes of men—the sombre masses of greenery and the profound silence that surround us making the contrast the more striking. A wider view still than this is obtained from the highest point of the domain, on the very outskirts towards the south, where the Cruz Alta, the “high cross,” marks the site of what in ancient times was a watch-tower of soldier-monks, overlooking the country towards Coimbra, whence the Moors might come to invade the sacred wood.

IN THE GARDENS, BUSSACO.

107A greater battle than ever Christian and Moslem fought raged in later times upon this “Bussaco’s iron ridge,” just outside the granite walls of the wood on the north-west slopes of the long mountain. “Victory’s darling,” Massena, was to bring stubborn Portugal to heel at last. Soult had been expelled in 1809, after Wellington’s surprise of Oporto; and the Emperor was determined that nothing should stand between him and his small victim this time. Massena was at the height of his glory and success, and the flower of the imperial legions, eighty thousand men, marched through Spain, and carried all before him at first in Portugal. Almeida and Vizeu fell into his hands without a struggle; and the invaders thought that no serious obstacle would be offered to the march upon Lisbon by way of Coimbra. The road led them through the valley between 108the long mountains of Bussaco and the Cremullo range opposite, and Wellington, whose headquarters were at Coimbra, fifteen miles distant, decided to stop their progress there. Before the whole of his forces could be got into position, news came that the French had crossed the river Mondego, and the Anglo-Portuguese force gradually fell back, always fighting with the French advance-guard, until the whole of Wellington’s army of nearly 50,000 were stationed upon the long ridge of Bussaco, from the east wall of the domain to the river Mondego, where the mountain ends.

A curious relation exists, hitherto unnoted in English narratives, in which a monk of Bussaco gives a minute account from day to day of the events there from the 20th September 1810 until after the battle on the 27th, and the artless details of the good man are more personally interesting perhaps than the broad facts of the great battle itself. He tells that, on the 20th September, an orderly of Lord Wellington came to the monastery, and: “As soon as the door was opened to him he said, ‘I want to see the monastery, ha! ha! ha! To-morrow at two o’clock the commander-in-chief is coming here. He slept last night at Lorv?o, and the French have already arrived at Tondella....’ The prior was told, and he showed the orderly the monastery and chapel, ordering the best lodging-chamber to be cleaned and got ready for the general, and the orderly, after drinking a little wine, galloped back to Lorv?o.”

THE PORTA DA SULLA, BUSSACO.

109Early next morning the whole wood, the hermitages, the monastery, and the chapel were filled with English officers, fifty officers being quartered in the monastery itself. Wellington arrived at midday, and when the prior showed him the best guest-chamber, swept and garnished for his use, he refused it, “although it was the best,” because it had only one door, and another apartment with two doors had to be found for him. Whilst this lodging was being prepared and cleaned, the general rode out of the domain by the gate on the north side and inspected the whole position from the highest point of the ridge to the east, on the bare granite crest of which he fixed his own position for the day of the battle. Standing upon this spot there spreads below the steep slopes in the foreground an undulating plain, some five miles across, with Caramulo mountains on the other side. Through 110this broken plain Massena was forced to march in order to turn or cross the Bussaco mountains, and proceed on his road to Coimbra, Lisbon, and Oporto. When he learnt that the English general had decided to risk everything by making a stand there with forces inferior to his own he at first refused to believe it, for constant success had made him think that his troops could do anything; and if Wellington were beaten here, then annihilation would await the English, and Portugal would follow Spain in bowing to the yoke of France. But if Wellington does take the risk, said Massena, “Je le tiens! demain nous finirons la conquête de Portugal, et en un pen de jours je noyerai le léopard.” Ney, Junot, and Regnier in vain counselled Massena not to fling his men away upon attacking such a tremendous position as that of Bussaco, and urged him to retire and await reinforcements from France; but Massena laughed at their wise fears, and decided to storm the height. “There is only the rearguard of the English there,” he said; “if the whole army is there so much the better, the good luck of the darling of victory will not abandon him.”

Every cell and every corner of the monastery and dependencies were full of English troops, 111“except Father Antonio of the Angels’ cell, which no one would have, as it was filled with all sorts of old rags, rubbish, and old iron he could pick up, and the monks had to sleep anywhere.” On the 26th September the French were seen on the mountains opposite and upon the plain below, where skirmishing was constant between advance-guards. The north-east wall of the domain was partly demolished and crowded with English troops, whilst batteries of artillery topped the crest of the ridge, and Crawford’s corps held an outlying spur that projects into the plain from opposite the north gate (Porta da Rainha) of the wood. Lord Wellington rose very early on the morning of the 27th, and to the dismay of the monks ordered his baggage to be sent out of the wood towards Coimbra. It was not for flight, as the monks feared, but prudence, and after breakfast the great general rode out and took his stand upon the top of the ridge of Bussaco, overlooking the long valley. His own troops were to a large extent hidden behind the crest of the hill, and occupied the whole length of the mountain from beyond the Mondego on the north-east to the monastery on the west, Crawford’s position on the projecting spur on 112the English left flank making the position at that end practically semicircular; this left flank consequently enfiladed with its artillery the face of the declivity upon whose crest Wellington’s centre was stationed. On the extreme right of the English, on the other side of the Mondego, General Hill was in command, with the Portuguese under General Fane; but the whole of the rest of the Anglo-Portuguese army was posted upon or behind the long crest of Bussaco, the extreme left under General Crawford being thrust forward upon the projecting spur. At six o’clock on the morning of the 27th September, under cover of a heavy mist, two desperate attacks were delivered upon the centre of the English position. That on the right of the centre was led by Regnier with incredible dash and bravery, but with terrible loss to the French. A whole division of Frenchmen at one point here finally struggled to the summit of the ridge, and the eagles planted on the granite crest proclaimed to Massena that the victory was won. But the 88th and 45th regiments were in reserve behind the crest, and at the captured position gallant Picton was in command. Like an avalanche the two regiments, with a Portuguese battalion, advanced along the ridge with fixed bayonets at the charge. With irresistible impetus they swept all before them. The French division was hurled helter-skelter down the precipitous declivity with hideous ruin and devastation. All the face of Bussaco at that point was sown with the dead and dying, the French loss exceeding four thousand, and the legions of the Darling of Victory experienced the bitterness of their first defeat. This awful carnage took place at some little distance to the right of where Wellington stood on the summit of the ridge though well within sight, and a similar attempt, but with even less success was made still nearer to him on his left; whilst a stubborn and sanguinary struggle took place upon the spur on the extreme English left occupied by Crawford and Packe, upon one point of which now stands the obelisk commemorating the battle.

BUSSACO’S IRON RIDGE.

113The English and Portuguese under English officers vied with each other in stubborn bravery, and the moral result of Bussaco was tremendous, though the material advantage was small. From that hour of defeat the legions of the Emperor knew that they were not invincible, and the sun that was to set at Waterloo first turned its 114meridian when Massena’s gallant infantry were hurled headlong down the hill. By a masterly piece of strategy Wellington, the day after the victory, sent off a division to occupy Coimbra, and when defeated Massena by a circuitous route arrived in the neighbourhood of the city he found himself forestalled, though the English shortly after evacuated it and fell back. The lines of Torres Vedras finally frustrated the French, but Bussaco was the turning-point of victory.

The monkish diarist has many poignant little stories to tell of the horrors into which the monastery was plunged during and after the battle. The wounded were everywhere, but were packed especially close in the little unfinished chapel outside the walls of the wood opposite Crawford’s position, now a commemorative chapel where many relics of the fight are shown.

At midnight on the 28th an English officer hurried to the monastery and reported that Massena was retreating and endeavouring to reach Coimbra by another road. The night was dark and the rain fell heavily, but Wellington rose from his bed, and at once gave orders for the English army to march upon Coimbra. Like 115magic the monastery and wood—even the great mountain itself—was freed from armed men, and before midday nothing was left but the débris of battle and the dead and wounded. The monk who tells his simple tale says that they managed to give beds in the monastery to most of the English officers during their stay, “and a general who was in the bishop’s chapel had a tablecloth, two brass candlesticks, and a great copper jar for water, and also some napkins. All of this,” he adds, “was lost.” “To Lord Wellington,” he continues, “we gave the best napkins we had, four dozens of candles, and everything that the other officers were continually asking for. Even to the common soldiers and the people who came for refuge, we gave salt and all we could. We gave out a lot of wine, bread, cheese, oil, and other things for the troops, and when Lord Wellington was leaving he sent word to the prior that he would pay for what had been supplied, if he would tell him the amount. The prior replied that he asked for nothing but peace. This monastery of ours lost very heavily by the troops. Nearly everything we provided for the beds and tables of the officers disappeared, and not a thing of any value was 116left.... Besides this they stole all the oranges in our two orchards, they forced the door of the storehouse and took all the bread and wine they chose, with a basket of eggs, and a comb of honey, and many other things. Indeed they acted just as badly or worse than the French.”

And so, after the short agony, the wave of war and horror swept away from Bussaco, leaving only the memory behind; and the sacred wood was abandoned to the white-robed monks:—
“The Carmelite, who in his cell recluse
Was wont to sit, and from a skull receive
Death’s silent lesson, wheresoe’er he walked,
Henceforth may find his teacher. He shall see
The Frenchman’s bones in glen and grove, on rock
And height where’er the wolves and carrion birds
Have strewn them, washed in torrents bare and bleached
By sun and rain, and by the winds of Heaven.”

THE BATTLE MONUMENT, BUSSACO.

It is all forgotten now, and nothing matters much, I mused, as I wandered up the dark avenue of cypress, yew, and pine that leads to the low three-arched fa?ade of the old monastery. Before the quaint little one-storey porch, faced with designs of coats-of-arms, flowers, and scrolls in black and white mosaic, stands an ancient cross, and within the entrance is the tiny cloister and 117church that alone remains of the monastery. I wandered into the dim cloister full of thoughts of Bussaco’s baptism of blood, though it was all quiet and peaceful now in this humble retreat. At each corner of the cloister stands a dismantled altar, faced with coloured tiles of Talavera majolica, and the walls between the windows are hung with mouldering and tattered canvases of dead and gone Carmelites—saintly men whose bones lie beneath our feet and in the little green enclosure formed by the cloister. Around the walls on three sides are the doors of the cells, each door covered, as are the timbers of the cloister, with rough cork bark, which adds to the appearance of antiquity. One picture attracted my attention, a poor defaced painting, faded by time and weather, representing at full length a white-clad monk holding a skull in his left hand, and in his right a scroll. Something noble and dignified in the appearance of the face attracted me, and I tried to decipher the almost effaced inscription on the scroll. It was difficult, but at last I read that the monk was the “Reverend Father, Fray Luis de Jesus,” who in the world had been called the Marquis of Mancera, when the seventeenth century was 118young. And beneath the name this distich ran:—
“A morte me fas deixar
O que me podia danar.”

As I pondered on this curious couplet, “Death makes me leave What might me grieve,” in the shadowy cloister, there came towards me a phantom of the past. It was an old, old man dressed in brown undyed homespun, short jacket, and breeches of a bygone fashion, and the universal black knitted stocking nightcap of the Portuguese peasant. He hobbled out of the cell where the great duke had slept the nights before the battle; and as he came slowly towards me, supported by a long staff, he courteously doffed his cap, and wished me good day. He was, he told me, ninety-three years old, but his eyes were still bright and his skin clear, and I fell into discourse with the ancient, as we rested together upon a bench in the darkling cloister, through the end door of which a bright splash of orange sunlight sent shimmering waves into the dimness.

Yes! gra?as à Deus, he was well, notwithstanding his great age, and he dwelt, past work now, with his son, a sort of foreman on the domain, in the double cell which had been that of the prior 119of the monastery. He was born in a neighbouring village, and had never been far away. He had witnessed the expulsion of the monks and the building of the beautiful palace that had pushed aside the pathetic abode of penitence, humility, and patience. In his prime he had known and talked to many of those who had witnessed the great battle on Bussaco’s slopes, and he told me artlessly, and in his quavering treble, how all down the slope, upon which I saw him the next day, the dead and wounded Frenchmen had lain thickly, with their arms, drums, and big shakoes scattered around them; how the poor wretches, crying in their agony for a draught of water, were refused by the country people, who hated so bitterly the invaders of their fatherland; how the good monks strove their hardest, succouring the wounded, French, English, and Portuguese alike, and reverently burying the dead in consecrated ground.

As the old man spoke, quietly and gently, telling at first-hand the story of nearly a century ago, my mind went back to another old man whom I had known when I was little more than a child, who himself had fought in this battle; but to my eager inquiries for details had little 120of satisfaction to impart. But, somehow, the mere fact of having known an actor in the scene, however inarticulate, and now to be speaking upon the spot with one who had all his life heard direct from those who witnessed it the story that made his countryside for ever famous, brought nearer to me the vivid vision of long ago. Bussaco fight to me for a brief space was real, as Salamanca and Vitoria never can be, and I feel that for one half hour I have lived in the time when the giants of the world contended for mastery.

Outside the cloister the dream vanished. The lofty white tower with its golden globe, emblem of Portugal’s princely pioneer of extended empire, spoke of another age and aroused other memories: peace, luxury, and security reigned now supreme in this ancient abode of austerity, and no invader of the land was possible. The far-spread forest wafted its balsamic breath to me, and the myriad leaves softly whispered in the sensuous breeze, as if that awful day of the 27th September 1810 had never dawned upon the sacred wood. Bussaco is beautiful enough to live in the present without its one cruel memory, gently pensive occasionally at the thought of the stern, sad, anchorites who laboured to make it perfect for 121the glory of God. But to Englishmen—aye, and to Frenchmen and Portuguese too—there must come at least once during their stay a rousing bugle blast that calls their souls to arms and bids them honour their glorious dead who stood and fell so gallantly upon Bussaco’s granite ridge in the long long ago.
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