6084 Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 1 - Introductory


In the Highlands of Perthshire, a deadly feud had existed from time immemorial, between the Lisles of Inchavon and the Stuarts of Lochisla. In the days when the arm of the Law was weak, the proprietors had often headed their kinsmen and followers in encounters with the sword, and for the last time during the memorable civil war of 1745-6. But between the heads of the families, towards the latter end of the last century (the period when our tale commences), although the era of feudal ideas and outrages had passed away, the spirit of transmitted hatred, proud rivalry, and revenge, lurked behind, and a feeling of most cordial enmity existed between Stuart and Lisle, who were ever engaged in vexatious lawsuits on the most frivolous pretences, and constantly endeavouring to cross each other's interests and intentions quarrelling at public meetings voting on opposite sides prosecuting for trespasses and opposing each other everywhere, 'as if the world was not wide enough for them both;' and on one occasion a duel would have ensued but for the timely interference of the sheriff.

Sir Allan Lisle of Inchavon, a man of a quiet and most benevolent disposition, was heartily tired of the trouble given him by the petty jealousy of his neighbour Stuart, a proud and irritable Highlander, who would never stoop to reconciliation with a family whom his father (a grim duinhe-wassal of the old school) had ever declared to him were the hereditary foes of his race. The reader may consider it singular that such antiquated prejudices should exist so lately as the end of the last century; but it must be remembered that the march of intellect has not made such strides in the north country as it has done in the Lowlands, and many of the inhabitants of Perthshire will recognise a character well known to them, under the name of Mr. Stuart.

It must also be remembered, that he was the son of a man who had beheld the standard of the Stuarts unfurled in Glenfinan, and had exercised despotic power over his own vassals when the feudal system existed in its full force, before the act of the British Parliament abolished the feudal jurisdictions throughout Scotland, and absolved the unwilling Highlanders from allegiance to their chiefs.

Sir Allan Lisle (who was M.P. for a neighbouring county) was in every respect a man of superior attainments to Stuart being a scholar, the master of many modern accomplishments, and having made the grand tour. To save himself further annoyance, he would gladly have extended the right hand of fellowship to his stubborn neighbour, but pride forbade him to make the first advances.

The residence of this intractable Gael was a square tower, overgrown with masses of ivy, and bearing outwardly, and almost inwardly, the same appearance as when James the Fifth visited it once when on a hunting excursion. The walls were enormously thick; the grated windows were small and irregular; a corbelled battlement surmounted the top, from the stone bartizan of which the standard of the owner was, on great days, hoisted with much formality by Donald Iverach, the old piper, or Evan his son, two important personages in the household of the little tower.

This primitive fortalice was perched upon a projecting craig, which overhung the loch of Isla, a small but beautiful sheet of water, having in its centre an islet with the ruins of a chapel. The light-green birch and black sepulchral pine, flourishing wild and thickly, grew close to the edge of the loch, and cast their dark shadows upon its generally unruffled surface. Around, the hills rose lofty, precipitous, and abrupt from the margin of the lake; some were covered with foliage to the summit, and others, bare and bleak, covered only with the whin-bush or purple heather, where the red roe and the blackcock roved wild and free; while, dimly seen in the distance, rose the misty crest of Benmore nearly four thousand feet above the level of the sea), the highest mountain, save one, in Perthshire.

A little clachan, or hamlet, consisting of about twenty green thatched cottages clustered together, with kailyards behind, occupied the foot of the ascent leading to the tower; these were inhabited by the tenants, farm-servants, and herdsmen of Stuart. The graceful garb of the Gael was almost uniformly worn by the men; and the old wives, who in fine weather sat spinning on the turf-seats at the doors, wore the simple mutch and the varied tartan of their name. The wife of this Highland castellan had long been dead, as were their children excepting one son, who was almost the only near kinsman that Stuart had left.

Ronald was a handsome youth, with a proud dark eye, a haughty lip, and a bold and fearless heart possessing all those feelings which render the Scottish Highlander a being of a more elevated and romantic cast than his Lowland neighbours. He was well aware of the groundless animosity which his father nourished against Sir Allan Lisle; but as in the course of his lonely rambles, fishing, shooting, or hunting, he often when a boy encountered the younger members of the Inchavon family, and as he found them agreeable companions and playmates, he was far from sharing in the feelings of his prejudiced father. He found Sir Allan's son, Lewis Lisle, an obliging and active youth, a perfect sportsman, who could wing a bird with a single ball, and who knew every corrie and chasm through which the wandering Isla flowed, and the deep pools where the best trout were always to be found.

In Alice Lisle, Ronald found a pretty and agreeable playmate in youth, but a still more agreeable companion for a solitary ramble as they advanced in years; and he discovered in her splendid dark eyes and glossy black hair charms which he beheld not at home in his father's mountain tower.

During childhood, when the days passed swiftly and happily, the brother and sister of a milder mood than Ronald Stuart, admired the activity with which he was wont to climb the highest craigs and trees, swinging himself, with the dexterity of a squirrel, from branch to branch, or rock to rock, seeking the nests of the eagle or raven, or flowers that grew in the clefts of Craigonan, to deck the dark curls of Alice. Still more were they charmed with the peculiarity of his disposition, which was deeply tinged, with the gloomy and romantic, a sentiment which exists in the bosom of every Highlander, imparted by the scenery amidst which he dwells, the lonely hills and silent shores of his lochs, pathless and solitary heaths, where cairns and moss-covered stones mark the tombs of departed warriors, pine-covered hills, frowning rocks, and solitary defiles, all fraught with traditions of the past, or tales of mysterious beings who abide in them. These cause the Gaelic mountaineer to be a sadder and more thoughtful man than the dwellers in the low country, who inhabit scenes less grand and majestic.

In the merry laugh and the gentle voice of Alice, Ronald found a charm to wean him from the tower of Lochisla, and the hours which be spent in her society, or in watching the windows of her father's house, were supposed to be spent in search of the blackcock and the fleet roes of Benmore; and many a satirical observation he endured, in consequence of bringing home an empty game-bag, after a whole day's absence with his gun.

Ronald enjoyed but little society at the tower. His father, in consequence of the death of his wife and younger children, and owing to many severe losses which he had sustained in the course of his long series of litigations, had become a moody and silent man, spending his days either in reading, or in solitary rides and rambles. His voice, which, when he did speak, was authoritative enough and loud, was seldom heard in the old tower, where the predominant sounds were the grunting tones of Janet, the aged housekeeper, who quarrelled continually with Donald Iverach, the piper, whenever the latter could find time, from his almost constant occupations of piping and drinking, to enjoy a skirmish with her.

As years crept on, the friendship between the young people strengthened, and in the breasts of Alice and Ronald Stuart became a deeper and a more absorbing feeling, binding them 'heart to heart, and mind to mind,' and each became all the world unto the other. To them there was something pleasing and even romantic in the strange secrecy they were necessitated to use; believing that, should their intercourse ever come to the ears of their parents, effectual means would be taken to put a stop to it.

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