dealings, the British were relatively well
liked and trusted at Oporto. Thus, Sir Arthur was able to carry nearly all of
If it was possible for the fort at Figueira da Foz, which
had been taken from the French by a heroic troop of students from Coimbra, to
be secured by British marines, Sir Arthur would order the troop transports to
Mondego Bay, which was just north of the fort. Wellesley himself would sail
south in the Crocodile to consult with Sir Charles Cotton, the admiral
in charge of the ships blockading Lisbon. If Sir Charles agreed with Sir Arthur
that it would be impossible to make a landing nearer Lisbon, the troops would
be brought ashore at Figueira. Meanwhile, the bishop would undertake the task
of gathering up the hundreds of oxen and pack mules necessary for transport,
and General Freire would march those troops he could supply south along the
road to Leiria.
However, although Sir Arthur obtained the agreement of
Bishop Antonio and General Freire, he did not feel any very strong conviction
that the promises they had made would be fulfilled. He hoped, because the
agreement had been relatively voluntary, that at least part of the assistance
offered would actually be provided, but he was much too wise to rest the
success of a military action on the promises of men he could not control.
Sir Arthur felt he could accomplish his purpose even if the
bishop and the general did nothing at all, but he must at least know that no
help would be forthcoming from them. Thus, he assigned Colonel Trant to act as
liaison officer between General Freire and the British forces and left Robert,
who could speak some Portuguese, to assist the bishop. Sir Arthur provided Robert
with a sum of money to be judiciously used for bribery or minimal but tempting
payment to the muleteers and ox drivers. Robert’s instructions were to scour
the countryside himself for transport animals if the bishop grew indifferent or
was too busy.
Neither of Sir Arthur’s fears about Bishop Antonio was true,
but it was obviously not possible for the bishop to go about from village to
village personally. He preached about the coming of the British in Oporto and
instructed his aides and the other members of the junta to spread the word to
the priests and to the regadors of the towns to urge compliance.
However, with harvest coming and the countryside already ravaged by the
foraging of the French, it was a bad time to collect draft animals.
On July 25, Sir Arthur left and Robert spent the day
arranging for the quartering and victualing of the animals and drivers that
were collected. With the support of Bishop Antonio and the other members of the
junta, this was easily settled, and there was nothing more Robert could do in
Oporto until the transport animals began to come in. Considering the
circumstances, it seemed wise to him to spend the time out in the countryside
himself, assuring the owners of the oxen and mules that they would be paid for
their time and the use of their animals.
Bishop Antonio agreed heartily to this proposal, saying that
word of actual payment would spread from hamlet to hamlet and do much good, and
he offered a young priest as a guide. Although he was relatively certain of the
genuine goodwill of the bishop, Robert did not propose to go far from the city,
since he was eager to start the animals south toward Figueira da Foz within the
six days stipulated Sir Arthur. However, he decided he could range out about
twenty miles from Oporto, starting northeast early in the morning, going as far
as he could until noon, and making his way back south and west by a different
road, stopping at each town and large village to solicit help and offer
payment. The next day, he would go due east.
There had been more than one unpleasant interview between
Esmeralda and the elder and younger Pedro in the weeks hat followed Tia Maria’s first suggestion that Esmeralda marry the headman’s son. Inducements
were offered and then threats,