1 WHEN the troops had moved forward on the morning of the 18th June, I, as you directed, got on my horse and went to Brussels, intending to await the result of the pending battle. On arrival I found my baggage and servant in the great square, and an order had just arrived for the whole of the baggage of the army to move on the road towards Antwerp, and afterwards to cross the canal about five miles from Brussels, at a village on the Antwerp side. On reaching the village I dismounted, the baggage was unloaded, and West was endeavouring to get something for me to eat in the inn. It was about five o’clock. Suddenly an alarm was given that the enemy Was upon us. West brought my mare to the door as quickly as I could run downstairs, but from the noise, confusion, and everything, my horse was perfectly frantic. West succeeded in tossing me up, but my little pug, Vitty, was still below. I said, “Now, West, give me my dog;” when, as he put her into my lap, I dropped my reins. West, knowing I always gathered up my reins before I jumped up, let go, and off flew the mare with such speed that, with the dog in my lap, it was all I could do for some time to keep my seat. I had the snaffle rein in my hand, but I could not restrain her; the curb rein was flying loose, and I couldn’t stoop to get hold of it. She flew with me through the streets of Malines, across a bridge over the river, the road full of horses and baggage, still flying away, away, until I was perfectly out of breath. I saw a waggon upset lying immediately before me across the road, and I knew that if I could not turn her on one side, I must inevitably be knocked to pieces. The mare would not answer my snaffle rein, and I felt her charge the waggon as at a fence to leap it. The height was beyond the spring of my horse. As the animal endeavoured to leap, the loose curb rein caught. This brought her at once to a halt, and I was precipitated on her head, pug and all. I had come at this rate eight miles, over a road covered with mud and dirt. The mare was as much out of breath as I was. I managed to get back into the saddle, and felt that now was my only chance to get hold of the curb. I succeeded in doing so, and we were then on terms of equality.
Having righted my habit, I looked back and saw some five or six men on horseback, whom of course I construed into French Dragoons, although, if I had considered a moment, I should have known that no Dragoon could have come the pace I did; but I was so exhausted, I exclaimed, “Well, if I am to be taken, I had better at once surrender.” The first horseman proved to be one of my servants, riding one of the Newmarket horses, having taken the animal from West against his orders. The others were a Commissary, an officer of the Hanoverian Rifles, and an officer, I regret to say, of our own Hussars. I addressed myself to the Hussar, who appeared the oldest of the party. “Pray, sir, is there any danger?” (I had forgotten almost all the little English I knew in my excitement.) “Danger, mum! When I left Brussels the French were in pursuit down the hill.” “Oh, sir, what shall I do?” “Come on to Antwerp with me.” He never pulled up. During the whole conversation we were full gallop. One of the party says, “You deserve no pity. You may well be fatigued carrying that dog. Throw it down.” I was very angry, and said I should deserve no pity if I did.
Our pace soon brought us to Antwerp, where the Hussar was very civil, and tried to get me a room in one of the hotels. This he soon found was impossible, as all the English visitors at Brussels had fled there. We must now go to the Hotel de Ville and try for a billet. Whilst standing there, the oificer having gone inside, I was an object of curious attention. I was wet from head to foot with the black mud of the high~road On my face the mud had dried, and a flood of tears chasing each other through it down my cheeks must have given me an odd appearance indeed. While standing on horseback there, an officer of the English garrison, whom I did not know (he must have learnt my name from my servant) addressed me by name. “Mrs. Smith, you are in such a terrible plight, and such is the difficulty of your getting in anywhere, if you will come with me, I will conduct you to Colonel Craufurd, the Commandant of the Citadel; his wife and daughters are most kind and amiable people, and readily, I know, would they contribute with happiness anything to your comfort.” My situation was not one to stand on delicacy. I therefore promptly accepted this offer, leaving my kind Hussar in the Hotel de Ville. When I arrived, nothing could exceed the kindness of all, which was as striking at the moment as it seems to me now. I was stripped from a weight of mud which, with my long riding-habit, I could hardly move under. A shower of hot water again showed my features, and I was put in the clothes of good Mrs. Craufurd, a very tall woman; and in these comfortable dry clothes I was nearly as much lost as in the case of mud I had been washed out of.
The hospitality of this night ought to have soothed me, but the agony of hope, doubt, and fear I was in absorbed every other feeling, although I was so sensible of kindness.
The next day [19 June] the officer who had so kindly brought me to Colonel Craufurd came to tell me a great quantity of baggage was momentarily arriving: could I give him any directions or clue to find mine? In about an hour he returned with my spare horses, old trusty West, who had never left anything behind, my baggage, and my maid.
In the afternoon we heard of the battle having been fought and won, but no news of my husband. So, contrary to the wishes of my kind host and hostess, I ordered my horse to be ready at three o’clock in the morning to rejoin my husband, whatever shape fate had reduced him to. It was all I could do to resist the importunity of those kind people who wished me to remain. But at three o’clock [20 June] West and I were on horseback, desiring baggage, servants, and horses to follow. In conversation with West, I ascertained that at the village we fled from, my mattrass, and in it my dressing~case (bought on a Sunday at Weeks’2) with all my fortune, two Napoleons, had been left in the inn. When I arrived, I asked the landlord of the little wretched inn about it. He pretended he knew nothing, but old cunning West got information in the stable~yard, and gave a boy five francs to conduct him to the hayloft where my treasure was. West soon transported what he called ours to me, and upon opening it, I found my important dressing-case there untouched. I had something in the shape of breakfast. In the mean time my servants had arrived, the lost mattrass was restored to the baggage, and West and I, in light marching order, started for Brussels. We were only five miles away, and arrived by seven in the morning.
Seeing some of our Rifle soldiers, with an eagerness which may be imagined, I asked after my husband, when to my horror they told me that Brigade-Major Smith of the 95th was killed. It was now my turn to ask the “Brass Mare” to gallop, and in a state approaching desperation I urged her to the utmost speed for the field of battle to seek my husband’s corpse. The road from Brussels to the field almost maddened me, with wounded men and horses, and corpses borne forward to Brussels for interment, expecting as I was every moment to see that of my husband, knowing how he was beloved by officers and soldiers. The road was nearly choked which was to lead me to the completion, as I hoped, of my life; to die on the body of the only thing I had on earth to love, and which I loved with a faithfulness which few can or ever did feel, and none ever exceeded. In my agony of woe, which of course increased as my expectations were not realized (it was now Tuesday), I approached the awful field of Sunday’s carnage, in mad search of Enrique. I saw signs of newly dug graves, and then I imagined to myself, “O God, he has been buried, and I shall never again behold him!” How can I describe my suspense, the horror of my sensations, my growing despair, the scene of carnage around me? From a distance I saw a figure lying; I shrieked, “Oh, there he is!” I galloped on. “No, it is not he! Find him I will, but whither shall I turn?” O ye in peaceful homes, with every comfort around you, you wonder how I did not sink under my afflictions, a foreigner in a strange land, thus at once bereft of my all! I will tell you. Educated in a convent, I was taught to appeal to God through Jesus Christ. In this my trouble I did so. At this moment, as a guardian angel, a dear and mutual friend, Charlie Gore, A.D.C. to Sir James Kempt, appeared to me. In my agony and hope, hope alone of finding the body, I exclaimed, “Oh, where is he? Where is my Enrique?” “Why, near Bavay by this time, as well as ever he was in his life; not wounded even, nor either of his brothers.” “Oh, dear Charlie Gore, why thus deceive me? The soldiers tell me Brigade~Major Smith is killed. Oh, my Enrique!” “Dearest Juana, believe me; it is poor Charles Smyth, Pack’s Brigade-Major. I swear to you, on my honour, I left Harry riding Lochinvar in perfect health, but very anxious about you. “Oh, may I believe you, Charlie! my heart will burst.” “Why should you doubt me?” “Then God has heard my prayer!” This sudden transition from my depth of grief and maddening despair was enough to turn my brain, but Almighty God sustained me. Gore told me he had returned to Brussels to see poor Charlie Beckwith, who had lost, or must lose, his leg; and that he was then in the act of looking for the grave of our mutual friend, poor Charlie Eeles. Gore said, “I am now going to Mons: can you muster strength to ride with me there?” I said, “Strength ? yes, for anything now!” and we reached Mons at twelve o’clock at night. I had been on the same horse since three in the morning, and had ridden a distance from point to point of sixty miles; and after all the agony, despair, relief, and happiness I had gone through in one day, I ate something, and lay down until daylight next morning [21 June], when I rapidly pushed on to Bavay, on my really wonderful thoroughbred mare.
I first met Sir John Lambert, who showed me where Enrique was to be found. Until I saw him, I could not persuade myself he was well, such a hold had my previous horror taken of my every thought and feeling. Soon, O gracious God, I sank into his embrace, exhausted, fatigued, happy, and grateful~oh, how grateful! to God who had protected him, and sustained my reason through such scenes of carnage horror, dread, and belief in my bereavement.
I was afterwards told all this, and I could not but reflect on what we had all gone through since the morning we had parted with my father, and how his prediction of a terrific struggle had been verified. Our adventures formed the subject of a long letter, and from him came one soon after.
“Never did I receive two letters with such pleasure as your two last after the glorious Battle of Waterloo. For three of you, my sons, to have been so hotly engaged, and to have come off unhurt, must not have been chance or fate; but Providence seems to have watched over you all and protected you. How grateful ought we all to be to the Almighty God! I assure you my prayers have ever been offered up to the Throne of Grace for the protection of you all, and a safe return to England.”
This letter is now on my table before me, fresh as when written, while the author, God bless him, has mixed with the earth to which all must return. He lived to the age of 87, and died in Sept. 1843, a strong and healthy man until within a few months of his dissolution. It is difficult to say whether he was the more proud of having three sons at Waterloo, or grateful to Almighty God for their preservation.
Footnote 1 – The MS. is in Harry Smith’s hand, and the wording is probabIy his.
Footnote 2 – See p. 259