of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 11 - Alice Lisle - News
Within the chamber which he
occupied, Ronald sat late that night, musing- on what was to be done, and
what course was now to be steered. He saw that it was absolutely necessary
that he should proceed instantly to rejoin, a measure which the healed
state of his wound rendered imperative. 'The division is retreating,'
thought he, 'and the Count D'Erlon will without doubt push forward
immediately and regain possession of Merida, and I must inevitably be
taken prisoner. I will join Sir Rowland as he passes through; the troops
must pass here en route for Portugal. How dangerous to my own quiet is my
acquaintance with Catalina, and how foolishly have I been tampering with
her affections and with my own heart! Good Heavens! I have acted very
wrong in awakening in her a sentiment towards me, which my plighted troth
to Alice and my own natural sense of honour forbid me to cherish or
return. And Catalina loves me; her blushes, her downcast eyes, and her
sweet confusion, have betrayed it more than once. 'Tis very agreeable to
feel one's self beloved, and by so fair a girl, for Catalina is very
beautiful; but I must fly from her, and break those magic spells which are
linking our hearts together. To-morrow no, the day after, I will leave
Merida, and join the division as soon as I hear by what route it is
Lisle, too, the brother of Alice, was now an officer in the same corps,
and his bold spirit would instantly lead him to seek vengeance for any
false or dishonourable part acted towards his sister. 'Poor Louis ! he is
the first friend I ever had; and how will so delicate a boy, one so
tenderly nurtured, endure the many miseries of campaigning here? A single
night such as that we spent in the bivouac of La Nava would unquestionably
be his death.'
his cogitations were interrupted by the voice of Evan, who was carousing
in the room below with Gomez (having spent the night together over their
cups, although neither understood a word of the other's language), singing
loud and boisterously:
'Keek into the draw-well,
My Jo Janet;
And there ye'll see yer bonnie sell,
My Jo Janet:'
performance which drew many vivas! from his brother-soldier. Roused from
the reverie into which he had fallen, Ronald's eye fell on the newspaper
sent him by Macdonald, and he now took it up, thinking to find something
in it to direct the current of his thoughts ; and somewhat he found with a
vengeance ! Better would it have been if he had never thought of it at
all. It was an Edinburgh Journal, dated several weeks back, and appeared
to have passed through the hands of the whole division, it was so worn and
frittered. After scanning over the ' Gazette,' to which he had turned
first ' with true military instinct' his eye next fell upon one of those
pieces of trash styled ' fashionable news.' It was headed:
'Marriage in High Life. We understand that
the gallant Earl of Hyndford is about to lead to the hymeneal altar the
beautiful and accomplished daughter of Sir Allan Lisle, Bart, M.P.
for------. The happy event is to take place in a few weeks at Inchavon
House (Perthshire), the family seat of the venerable and much-respected
swam around him, and the light faded for a moment from his eye, while the
hot blood gushed back tumultuously through the pulses of his heart ; but
clinching his teeth firmly, and mustering all his scattered energies, he
read it over once more, while mingled sorrow and fury contracted and
convulsed the muscles of his handsome features. There was no doubting the
purport of the torturing intelligence, and Catalina was forgotten in the
fierce excitement of the moment. ' O Alice ! Alice !' he said, bitterly
and aloud, ' could I ever have expected this of you? 'Tis but a few months
since we parted, and she is false already. I am, indeed, soon forgotten !'
He crushed the paper up, and thrusting it into
the charcoal-pan on the hearth, it was consumed in an instant. 'Hyndford,
Carmichael, Earl of Hyndford! Ay; the glitter of the coronet has more
charms for her eye than a subaltern's epaulette; but I would not be my
father's son, should I think more of her after this. I will learn to
forget her, as she has forgotten me, and this, too, shall perish!' He
took the miniature from his neck, and was about to crush it beneath his
heel; but when the well-known features met his eye, his fierce resolution
melted away; he averted his head, and replaced it in his bosom, while a
sad and subdued feeling took possession of his heart.
'I cannot destroy,' thought he, ' what has
been so long a solace, and an object almost of worship to me. Even were
she the bride of another, as perhaps she is at this very hour, I would yet
wear and bear it for her sake, in memory of the days that are passed away,
and the thoughts I had nourished for years ay, for years since the
days we gathered the wild rose and the heather-bell on the bonnie braes I
now almost wish never to behold again.'
For the first hour or two, he felt as if every
cord that bound him to happiness and existence was severed and broken, and
an acute feeling of mental agony swelled his breast almost to bursting.
His Highland pride came, however, to his aid, and roused within him
feelings equally bitter, though perhaps less distressing; and starting up,
he strode hastily about the apartment, and emptied more than once a large
horn of Malaga, from a pigskin which lay on a side-table near him,
drinking deeply to drown care, and allay the wild tumult of his thoughts.
But the wine was as water, and he quaffed it without effect.
The baseness of her desertion grew every
moment more vivid ; and how openly must she have renounced him, when even
the public journals had become aware of her intended alliance, which must
have been a measure of her own free will, as her father, Sir Allan, would
never control her affections, and the age of forced marriages was passed
away, or existed only in the pages of romance. Love and jealousy, sorrow,
pride, and a feeling of helplessness at the great distance which separated
him from Britain, passed rapidly through his mind ; and during the mental
agony and tumult of the first few hours, he forgot Catalina and the
honourable struggles he had made with himself to withstand the witchery of
her beauty, until the recollection of it rushed fully upon him, raising
him in his own estimation, and lessening the fickle Alice in an equal
threw open his baggage-trunk, and producing writing materials, commenced a
letter, in which he meant to upbraid her bitterly, and take a haughty and
sad farewell of her for ever. But so great was his agitation, so fast did
his ideas crowd upon each other, and so much were they mingled together
and confused, that he wrote only rhapsodies in incoherent sentences, and
sheet after sheet was filled, torn up, and committed to the flames; until
it at last flashed upon his mind that there were no means at present of
transmitting a letter, and he abandoned the attempt altogether. Whenever
he thought of Catalina, he felt more consoled for the loss of Alice; but
yet the deep-rooted affection, the cherished sentiment of years, which he
felt for her, was a very different feeling from the temporary admiration
with which the Spanish lady had impressed him; but ideas of a prouder, and
perhaps more healing kind, came to his aid.
'I tread the path which leads to the greatest
of all earthly honours, even the passage to the throne lies through the
tented field; and although I look not for that, the ambitious Alice may
yet repent having slighted the love of Ronald Stuart of Lochisla. We know
not what fate may have in store, or what the great lottery of life may
cast up for me. Alice ! oh, how false, how fickle, and how heartless !
Like twin tendrils of the same tree, like little birds in the same nest,
we grew unto each other our love increasing with our size and years; and
yet, after all the tender sentiments we have exchanged, and the happiness
we have enjoyed, she has thus cruelly abandoned me, preferring the glitter
of a title to the love of a brave and honest heart! But let her go; she
will hear of me yet,' he said almost aloud, while his sparkling eye fell
on his claymore, which lay upon the table, ' for this is the land where
honour and fame are within the grasp of a reckless and daring soldier
for reckless of life and limb will I be from this hour. But I may fall
unhonoured and unknown, as thousands have already done as thousands more
shall do; yet Alice, though perhaps she may drop a tear for me, will never
be upbraided with the sight of my tomb!'
Long and silently he continued brooding over
the cursed intelligence, which every moment grew, in his fancy, more like
some vision of a disturbed slumber, or some horrible enigma; and the hour
of twelve tolled from the belfry of San Juan, yet he thought not of rest.
He had grown careless of all external objects, and sat with his brow
leaning on his hand, absorbed in his own heart-corroding fancies. His lamp
sunk down in the socket and expired; the stars and the pale moon, sailing
apparently through clouds of gauze, glimmered through the tall casement
into the gloomy chamber, and poor Ronald still sat there, revolving and
re-revolving the matter in his mind, which became a prey, by turns, to the
very opposite sentiments of love and sorrow, pride, revenge, indignation,
* * * *
suddenly, and found that he had been asleep in his chair. The bright light
of the morning sun was streaming between the dark hangings of the lofty
windows, and the tolling bells of the neighbouring churches reminded him
that it was Sunday. The instant he awoke, the aching memories of the past
night rushed upon his mind; but he thought of the matter with a little
more composure, and the presence of Donna Catalina, all blushes, smiles,
and beauty, when the morning was further advanced, contributed very
considerably to the re-establishment of his serenity, but her keen eye
observed that he was ill at ease. His usual vivacity was gone; he appeared
much abstracted, seldom speaking except of his departure, and in a tone of
more than usual regret. They had previously arranged to visit the church
of San Juan on that day, that Ronald might see high mass performed, and
hear the sub-prior, whom the citizens considered a miracle of learning and
Catalina retired to don her walking attire, while Ronald, from the
balcony, gazed listlessly into the street, scarcely observing what was
passing there. Peasantry from the neighbourhood were crowding in, attired
in dresses at once graceful and picturesque ; the men wearing, some the
close vest, the broad sombrero, knee-breeches, and large mantle, while
others were without it, in a loose jacket, with a sash of ample size and
gaudy colours tied round their waists, and having on their heads long
slouched caps. Many almost all wore knives displayed somewhere about
their person, and all had a peculiar swagger in their walk, which seemed
not ungraceful. Bright-eyed women in their black hoods or mantillas,
priests in their dark robes of sackcloth, their waists encircled with a
knotted cord, graceful peasant-girls, their short bunchy petticoats
displaying the most splendid ankles in the world, sturdy muleteers with
their long whips, and market-women from the south bearing loads of
butter, milk, and fruit, on their heads, were crowding the streets and
thronging about the dark piazzas in every direction, and a loud gabble of
tongues in Spanish was heard on all sides. Clouds of smoke arose from
cigars, as every man had one in his mouth; and here and there, under some
of the piazzas, might be seen a few muleteers and olive-cheeked girls,
dancing a fandango or bolero about the door of a wine-house to the sound
of the guitar, the tamboureen, and the castanets.
'How very different is all this from the sober
gravity which marks our Scottish Sabbath day !' thought Ronald, as he
glanced languidly around the Plaza. Notwithstanding the mental excitement
under which he laboured, the chain of ideas recalled to his memory a few
lines of a poem he had once read, and which he now repeated to himself:
'O Scotland! much I
love thy tranquil dales,
But most on Sabbath eve, when low the sun
Slants through the upland copse, 'tis my delight,
Wandering and stopping oft to hear the song
Of kindred praise arise from humble roofs;
Or when the simple service ends, to hear
The lifted latch, and mark the gray-haired man,
The father and the priest, walk forth alone
Into his garden plat or little field,
To commune with his God in secret prayer.'
This was one of the many
passages in it which were impressed upon his memory, and he remembered,
with peculiar bitterness of feeling, that it was with Alice Lisle he had
first perused the pages of that now-forgotten poem, seated by her side in
one of the green birchen glades through which the Isla flowed towards the
The heavy clang
of a charger's hoofs broke in upon his reverie, and raising his eyes, he
saw an officer of the light cavalry ride furiously into the Plaza, with
his uniform covered with dust, and his horse and accoutrements dripping
with white foam. Casting a rapid glance around him, he spurred at once
beneath the balcony over which Ronald leaned, knowing him to be a British
officer from his uniform.
He checked his horse by the curbstone of the
Lieutenant Evelyn, 13th Light Dragoons,' said he, introducing himself.
'Mr. Stuart, I presume?'
'Yes, Stuart, of the 92nd Regiment,' replied Ronald, bowing. 'I believe
I have had the pleasure of seeing you before?
'Ay, near La Nava, the evening we drove in
Dombrouski's advanced picket.'
' I now remember. But what word from the
'Oh! the old
story, a countermarch. Campaigning is like a game at chess: we have been
ordered to retire into Portugal, and the second division will be in full
retreat, by this time. I suppose they will come down the other bank of the
movement, likely, has some relation to the recent investment of Ciudad
Rodrigo. You will, of course, have heard of that?
'Our works are carried within a very short
distance of theirs. It is said that Marshal Marmont imagines it will hold
out for several weeks yet; before which time he will give Lord Wellington
battle, and attempt its relief. His lordship appears to be preparing, as
troops from all quarters are concentrating under his command; so that,
should Ciudad Rodrigo not soon capitulate, we may expect a battle with
Marmont in a few days.'
'Of course it must fall; Marmont will never
attempt its relief. But will you not dismount and refresh/yourself? You
appear to have ridden far.'
'I regret that it is impossible to dismount; I
have tarried too long already. I am carrying despatches from Sir Rowland
Hill to the rear, and I must be far beyond Albuquerque before night. My
orders were to ride without drawing bridle; but my nag is failing already.
Just before I left Fuente del Maistre, an orderly dragoon brought up the
mail-bags from Lisbon; and a Major Campbell of yours, an immensely big
man, but a soldier-like fellow, who insisted that he had seen me in Egypt,
although I never was there, gave me a letter for you, that I might deliver
it, on my route, at Merida.'
'I thank you,' replied Ronald in a scarcely
articulate voice, while his fluttering heart became a prey to alternate
hopes and fears.
trust it will contain good news for you,' said the horseman, unbuckling
his sabre-tache. 'Our letters here are like angels' visits, "few and far
between," the post delivery being less regular than within sight of St.
Paul's. By-the-bye, how is that wound you received the morning we marched
from this? I heard something of the story, and would be glad to hear it
all, had I time ; but there are so many hard knocks going now, that one
cares little about them. Your arm is still in the sling, I see.'
'I mean to discard it to-day. I am quite
recovered now, and am about to rejoin immediately. But the letter?'
'Ay, here it is,' replied Evelyn, raising
himself in his stirrups, and handing the letter to Ronald, who received it
by stooping over the balcony, and knew at once the large round family
seal, and the handwriting of his father.
'Alice, Alice! Evelyn, is there not another ?'
he groaned aloud in the bitterness of his spirit.
'Another?' laughed the cavalry officer, who
heard him but imperfectly. 'No, by Jupiter! and I am sorry the one you
have received does not seem to be in the small running-hand of a fair
lady; but it may contain what makes ample amends, you know, a remittance
from the old gentleman, through Gordon, your paymaster, who is as jolly a
fellow as ever broached a pipe or a pigskin of wine. Ah ! 'tis well when
the old boy bleeds liberally. But now, so ho ! for the road again ! I
would advise you to look out sharply while here. D'Erlon, the moment he
becomes aware of our temporary retreat, will throw forward some of his
cavalry, and regain the places he has lost. The low grounds by the
riverside afford great advantages for a concealed movement, and you run a
risk of being taken prisoner ; the idea struck me as I entered the town a
few minutes ago.'
'How far is the division from this? asked Ronald, impatiently awaiting the
other's departure, that he might peruse the letter 'a day's march, think
perhaps; Fuente del Maistre is a long way off. Remember that you must be
careful what kind of guide you employ, should you require one in
rejoining. And now, adieu!'
'Adieu!' echoed Ronald. The other gave his
horse the spur, let his reins drop, and was round the corner of the Plaza,
out of sight in an instant.
Feeling all that trembling eagerness and
indescribable delight which the arrival of a first letter from home, after
a long absence, infuses into the heart, Ronald tore it open, but for some
minutes was baffled in his attempts to read by an envious mist or film,
which seemed to intercept his sight and prevented him from proceeding
further than the date, which was upwards of a month back. The letter ran
thus, and the ideas and style of the good old gentleman were observable in
every line of it:
'Lochisla, February 28th, 1812.
'My dear Boy,
received your letters dated from Lisbon and Portalagre in due course, and
cannot find words to express how overjoyed I was to understand by them
that you were well, and did not feel the fatigue of long-marches. Ronald,
my son, may God protect you! You are very dear to me indeed dearer even
than the little ones that sleep in the old kirkyard. I can scarce get on
further, for the salt and hot tears are filling my eyes, and it is no
common emotion which makes a stern old man, like me, weep. We are living
much in the old way here at the tower, with the exception that your
absence has made a sad blank in the little establishment. My dear boy, I
am very lonely now, and it is grievous when a man feels himself so in his
old age. Your gentle mother, and her four little boys, are with the angels
in heaven; the green grass covers their sunny ringlets, and you alone were
spared me, but only to be exposed to the dangers of a soldier's life
dangers which make my heart shrink within me for your safety.
* * * * * *
'How very quiet is all around me at the moment
I am writing! The bright evening sun is streaming through the mullions of
the old hall window on the hearth, where you used to play when a little
child, and your two old companions, Carril and Odin, are stretched upon
the rug ; they often whine, and look sadly in my face, or at your bonnet
and gun in the corner, as if they still missed you. The noble hounds! I
believe that although six months have elapsed since you were here, they
have not forgotten you. The wind scarcely stirs the thickets about the
tower, and all is very calm and still, all save the beating of my own
anxious heart, and its pulsations are audible.
'All our friends and dependents here desire to
be remembered to you and to Evan Iverach; and I am assured danger will
never visit you, if the prayers of brave and honest hearts can avert it;
for the people at the clachan,and in all the glen, pray for you nightly
and daily, particularly old Donald. He does not pipe about so much as he
used to do, but pays more attention than ever he did to the whisky kegs in
Janet's pantry. Poor man! I forgive his melancholy ; like me, he mourns
the absence of an only son.
'Corrie-oich and I have quarrelled again,
about a fight which took place at the last fair, between his herdsman and
Alpin Oig. I would fain harry the lair of the old fox, and give his
turreted house to the flames, as my father did in 1746. I would teach his
fellows to beware how they spoke to a servant or follower of mine.
'I am likely to have a row with Inchavon also.
He has trespassed more than once on our marches in his shooting
excursions, in which he is always accompanied now by the Earl of Hyndford,
who, it is said, is to be married to Miss Lisle, an old flame of yours,
whom I trust you have forgotten by this time, as she has undoubtedly done
has received a pair of colours in your regiment, and has left Perthshire
to join ; you will, of course, keep him at a due distance, and, as you
value my paternal love, make neither a friend nor companion of him. Forget
not the words your gallant old grandfather used, after cutting down
Colonel Lisle at Falkirk: " Never trust a Lisle of Inchavon, until your
blade is through his body."
'Sir Allan has revived his old claim to the
lands and vacant peerage of Lysle, and Hyndford, who is one of our
representative peers, is using all his interest for him. in the Upper
House. Let him fish for any rank he pleases; our blood, my boy, is nobler
than his own. We have been Stuarts of Lochisla since the days of our royal
ancestor, Robert II., and I seek no other title.
'By-the-bye, that scoundrel Æneas Macquirk,
the W.S. in Edinburgh, some time ago procured my name, as cautioner for a
very large sum, to a deed connected with some cursed insurance business,
of which I knew nothing. I fear the fellow is tottering in his
circumstances; and should he fail, I will be utterly ruined, and the old
tower, which has often defied an armed host, will, perhaps, be surrendered
to some despicable Lowland creditor. To a Highlander, who knows nothing of
legal chicanery, what a curse those harpies of the law are! Remember me to
John Cameron, of Fassifern, your colonel; he is a brave and good officer,
and a true Highland gentleman. Be attentive to your duties, and never
But I need not say that; I know that you will do what man dare do, and
will never disgrace the house you spring from, or the gallant regiment to
which you belong. Good-bye to you, my boy! let me hear from you soon and
often; and that He whose presence is everywhere, may ever bless and
protect you, will be always the earnest prayer of your desolate old
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