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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 11 - Alice Lisle - News from Home


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 retiring.'

Louis 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.'

Here 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:'

a 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 baronet.'

The room 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 degree.

He hastily 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, and ambition.

* * * * * *

He awoke 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 piety, preach.

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 Tay.

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 pavement.

'Evelyn — 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 front?'

'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 Guadiana.'

'This 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.

'I 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 you?'

'Three, 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,

'I 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 you.

'Inchavon's son 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 Ζneas 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 shrink from------'

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 father,

'Ian Stuart.'


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