So much was Ronald
engrossed in the perusal of this letter, which so fully displays the
eccentric manners of his father, that it was not until he had withdrawn
his eyes from its pages that he became aware of the presence of Catalina,
who stood by his side, veiled and robed in her velvet mantilla for church.
'You have received a letter
from your home? I trust — I hope — there is nothing in it to cause you
sorrow. Why do you sigh so very sadly?'. said she, in a tone of thrilling
'Indeed I cannot say that
its contents are calculated to instil any other sentiments than sorrow,'
replied Ronald, depositing it in his breast; ' and I fear, Catalina, that
the last day I shall pass with — with you, will be a very unhappy one.'
'The last day!' she
repeated sorrowfully. 'And are you still resolved on going so soon?'
'My arm, you perceive, is
perfectly well now,' replied the officer, tossing away the sling in which
it hung; ' and it is indispensable, if I would save my honour from
disagreeable surmises, that I rejoin my regiment. Dearest Catalina! a
hundred other circumstances, of which you are ignorant, compel me to leave
you — to leave you perchance for ever.' While he spoke, a passionate flush
gathered on his cheek, and passing his arm around the waist of the
yielding girl, he drew her gently towards him ; yet even the feeling of
delight which he experienced at that moment, mingled with a sensation of
anger at the faithlessness of Alice Lisle. To revenge himself, he pressed
his lips a second time-to the soft and burning cheek of the beautiful
Spaniard, and felt his blood fly like lightning through his veins, while
he watched the long lashes which modestly shaded the brilliance of her
eyes, and read the smile of pleasure and inexpressible sweetness that
played around her finely-formed mouth. A step was heard on the staircase.
'Sanla Maria! Senor mio, el
senor Gobernador; my uncle the prior!' she whispered, starting from
Ronald's encircling arm. ' Oh, 'tis only my gossiping cousin,' she added
with a smile, as Inesella de Truxillo swept into the apartment, with a
long lace veil reaching from her stately head nearly to her feet,
enveloping her tall and dashing figure.
'Pho! I fear I have
interrupted some very gallant and tender scene. How very unlucky!
Catalina, mi queredo, how you blush! Your veil and long glossy ringlets
are all sadly disordered. Indeed, senor, you have quite turned the poor
girl's head, and I fear we shall have some unhappy brawl, should my
brother the Condé de Truxillo hear of it. He is one of Catalina's most
passionate admirers, and we expect him here shortly.'
'Inesella, I thought you
were my uncle the prior,' faltered Catalina, blushing with confusion.
'Our uncle, the padre?'
cried the gay girl with a loud laugh. 'O madre de Dios! do my little feet,
which our citizens of Merida admire so much, make so great a noise as your
old gobernador's? Besides, he never leaves his room. Mi queredo, you
compliment me ! But you must remember that I am considered the best
waltzer in Madrid, and the cavaliers there pretend to be very excellent
judges. My poor cousin, you are very much abashed; allow me to arrange
your curls. But you should not be flirting here with a young officiate
instead of being at mass, and el Gober-nador should give you a sermon for
doing so. But the bells have ceased to toll, and we shall be late; 'tis
fully five minutes' walk from here to the porch of San Juan's church. So
let us be gone at once, and use our joint endeavours to make you, senor, a
convert to the true faith.'
Ronald replied only by an
unmeaning smile ; and taking his sword and bonnet, prepared to accompany
the young ladies. They were followed by Evan Iverach and Pedro Gomez,
carrying campstools for their accommodation, the church (as usual in
Spain) not being fitted up with pews; so that all who do not provide
themselves with seats, are obliged to remain, either on their feet or on
An indescribable emotion of
deep religious veneration, inspiration almost of holy awe, filled the
agitated mind of the young Highlander with sensations which he had never
before experienced, when, for the first time in his life, he found himself
beneath the groined roof and gigantic arches of the Roman Catholic
cathedral, while all its thousand hollow echoes were replying to the notes
of the sublime organ, the bold trumpet tones of which shook the very
pavement and gravestones beneath his feet. The appearance of the church,
being so very different from what he had ever beheld before, made also a
deep impression on his mind: the tall traceried windows, filled with
gorgeously stained glass — the strong variations of light and shadow which
they caused — the long lines of shafted columns, and the domed roof which
sprung from their foliaged capitals — the perfumes of the lavender-flowers
which, arising from smoking censers, filled the air — the dark and gloomy
altar-piece, with the altar itself bearing a gigantic crucifix of
gilt-work and enormous candlesticks of silver, the pale light twinkling
around it — the floating drapery of the officiating priests— the sonorous
prayers uttered in an unknown language, and the fervent responses of the
swarthy congregation, together with the 'pealing organ,' and the melodious
song of the young choristers — all these combined, entranced and elevated
the enthusiastic soul of the young Highlander, raising it from the
grossness and bitterness of earth almost, as it were, to heaven, so grand
and impressive, in form and ceremony, is the religious service of the
Church of Rome, as it exists on the Continent in all its ancient glory.
Poor Evan, who had never heard any other
religious music than the humble Presbyterian psalm in Lochisla kirk, was
for some time struck with a feeling of such awe that he scarcely dared to
lift his eyes, lest he should encounter the formidable gaze of some spirit
or divinity standing on the altar; and the wonderful sound of the music
caused his bold heart to shrink although he could have heard, without his
courage failing, the roar of a thousand pieces of cannon. However, when
the music ceased, and he had recovered his usual self-possession, the
native prejudices and inherent sourness of the true Presbyterian assumed
its ascendency on his mind.
'Oh, sir, is this no an unco kirk?' he
whispered from behind. 'Gude guide us ! never will I trust myself within
the yett o' ane main Just look, sir, at that puir papist Pedro, how he
yammers, and counts his string o' yellow beads ower and ower again. O'd,
sir, this dings a'! And look at the pictures, the images, and a' that:
it's just a temptin' o' Providence to trust oursels inside o' this nest of
papistry, idolatry, and deevildom. Hech me, sir, what would the auld men
and caillochs in the clachan o' Lochisla think or say if they kenned we
were here? And what would our decent body o' a minister, auld maister
Mucklewhame, think of that chield's awfu' blatter o' lang nebbit words?'
Ronald had often motioned him to be silent,
and he now ceased as the sub-prior, a black-browed priest of the order of
St. Francis of Assisi, ascended barefooted the marble steps which led to
the lofty pulpit. He was attired in the garb of his order, a gray gown and
a cowl of woollen stuff, girt about his middle with a knotted cord of
discipline. His chap-let hung at his girdle; and his cowl, falling over
his neck, displayed his swarthy features, coal-black hair, and shaven
scalp. At the same time Ronald encountered the smiling glances which the
keen bright eyes of the ladies bestowed on him, as they watched from time
to time the impression made upon him by the solemnity of their church
service. The sermon of the Franciscan was filled more with politics, and
invectives against the French and their emperor, than religious matters,
dwelling emphatically on the singular addition made by the priests to the
Spanish Catechism at that time, ' to love all mankind, excepting
Frenchmen, of whom it was their duty to kill as many as possible.'
'Well, Evan, what think you of the discourse?'
said Ronald, in the low voice in which the groups clustered round the
columns generally conversed. 'I dare say the Spanish sounds very singular
to your ear.'
sir, it puts me in mind o' an auld saying o' my faither the piper. "A soo
may whussle, but its mouth is no made for't." O'd, sir I wadna gie the
bonnie wee kirk at Lochisla, wi' its grassy graveyard, whar we used to
play on the Sabbath mornings, for a' the kirks in Spain, forbye - '
'Hush!' At that moment the priest had raised
his voice, while denouncing a curse upon all heretics; and his keen
expressive eye fell, perhaps unconsciously, on Ronald, whose cheek
reddened with momentary anger. Evan's reply, and his native Scottish
accent, caused Ronald to indulge in the same train of ideas. He
acknowledged in his own heart, that notwithstanding the gorgeous display
before him, he would prefer the humble and earnest, the simple and
unassuming service in the old village kirk at home, — the quiet sermon of
the white-haired minister, and the slowly-sung psalm, raised with all the
true fervour, the holy and sober feeling which animate a Scotch
congregation, and recall the soul-stirring emotions which inspired those
who bled at Bothwell, at Pentland, and Drumclog. He thought of Alice, too
; and eagerly did he long for the arrival of her brother Louis, that the
cause of her heartless desertion might be explained.
The cry of 'Viva la Religion y Espana! Muera
Buonaparte!' from the preacher, echoed by the deep tone of a thousand
Spanish tongues, awoke him from his reverie, and he took prisoner within
his own the white hand of Catalina, who was playing with the silk tassels
of his sash, unconscious of what she was doing.
'Senor,' she said, blushing, and withdrawing it, ' you seem very
indeed, much reason to be so. How can I appear otherwise, when the hours
we shall spend together are so few? 'But she may forget me as soon as
Alice has done,' thought he, and his heart swelled at the idea. The donna
made no immediate reply, and Ronald was surprised to perceive her colour
change from white to the deepest crimson, and then become deadly pale
again, while her dark eyes flashed with peculiar brilliancy and light.
'Senor, the original of this is probably the
cause of your sadness,' she said, in a tremulous voice, while she held up
her rival's miniature, which had fallen from the lapel of Ronald's
uniform, and hung at the full extent of the chain. ' She is very
beautiful. If this is her miniature, she must be a queen among women ; and
you love her very much doubtless,' she added, in a cold and sorrowful
tone, which sunk deeply into the heart of Ronald, as he hastily concealed
the object of her emotion.
'May I ask who she is, senor?'
'A very dear friend, or rather one who was
'She is dead,
then : or perhaps it is a portrait of a sister?
'I never had one,' replied the young man,
colouring with confusion, while he taxed his imagination to find a reply
in vain. Happily for him, he was relieved from his dilemma by an
exclamation from Donna Inesella, who had hitherto sat silent, and had, or
affected to have, been gazing intently at the preacher.
'Holy Virgin!' she earnestly whispered. 'See,
Catalina, yonder is my brother the condé, leaning against the third column
from Pizarro's monument.'
'Here at church, — the Condé de Truxillo
here?' replied her cousin, becoming pale and agitated.
' Would to Heaven and San Juan that Balthazzar
was anywhere else than here at this moment! Somewhat disagreeable will
certainly come of it. Oh, senor, I tremble for you.'
'For me, Donna Inesella! Sure you mean not
what you say. I have a hand to protect myself with, and care not a straw
for any condé or cavalier in Spain.'
'True, senor. I meant not to offend, but my
brother Balthazzar is so fiery. Ah ! he sees us now.'
Ronald looked in the direction pointed out,
and saw a handsome Spanish officer in a dashing staff-uniform, wearing
massive epaulettes and aigulets of silver, and a score of military orders
of knighthood, stars, badges, ribands, medals, and crosses on his breast,
leaning listlessly against a pillar of the church, holding in one hand his
cocked hat, which was adorned with a large plume of red and yellow
feathers, while the other rested on the hilt of a very long and straight
Toledo. With a careless sort of glance, he cast his eyes along the aisle,
as if he had been watching them ever since their first entrance ; but on
perceiving himself observed, he came hastily towards them. A frown for a
moment crossed his fine forehead ; but the next a soft smile replaced it,
and he stroked the coal-black moustache which curled on his upper lip,
forming a contrast in hue with his remarkably white teeth below.
To his sister and cousin he paid his
compliments in a graceful and polite, yet distant manner.
'Balthazzar, this is the British officer of
whom I told you in my last letter,' whispered Inesella, introducing"
Ronald; 'the same who saved Alvaro de Villa Franca's life when------'
'I have heard all the story, so spare me a
repetition of it,' replied he, waving his hand and coldly bowing to
Ronald, at whose presence he felt a displeasure which, certes, he took
very little pains to conceal.
'But tell me, Balthazzar, what has brought you
here so unexpectedly? and why do you frown in so unbecoming a manner?'
'Faith, Inesella! you are exceedingly unpolite;
but to be angry with you is useless. I am carrying despatches from my
colonel, the Condé Penne Villamur, to Don Carlos d'Espana, and I must
leave Merida in a few hours, or less. But how is it that my fair cousin
Catalina has not one smile of welcome to bestow on me, though six months
have elapsed since I was last at Merida?'
'Indeed, Balthazzar, I am most happy to see
you; but el senor padre would little like my laughing in church, you
padre? pho! But where is that most prudent of brothers, Don Alvaro, now? I
heard that he had run his captain through the body, and so got command of
base falsehood circulated by old Don Salvador, whose guerillas were
supposed to have done the deed; but Alvaro has joined the Spanish army
under Murillo, cousin condé.'
'He is a thoughtless brother, truly,' replied
the condé, glancing at Ronald, 'to go off thus, leaving you under the care
of my uncle the prior, who is nearly as useless now as a piece of spiked
ordnance. A young lady without guidance------But you look as if about to
Salvador de Zagala,' observed Ronald, whom the condé had never addressed
until now, 'is also with Murillo; and there may be some dangerous brawl
between Alvaro and him, should they meet.'
'O Dios mio! Santa Maria forbid!' exclaimed
the young ladies together.
'It would be more prudent in Alvaro, senor, to
allow the guerilla chief to go in peace, and without molestation. He
suffered the wrong, and was in the right to resent it. My cousin Alvaro,
although an accomplished soldier, is no match for old Salvador, who in the
use of the sword and pistol has scarcely his equal in Spain; besides,
Murillo is a fine old fellow, and he takes most summary vengeance upon any
noble cavalier who seeks the free privilege of the duello in the camp. I
presume, senor, you are at Merida on some duty? I believe you will find it
very agreeable, — much more so than hard fighting and long marches.'
'No, condé; I have been here for the recovery
of a wound, received from a Spanish hand in a manner at once base and
dishonourable,' replied Ronald, his brows contracting at the sarcastic
tone used by the Spanish officer; 'a wound in the arm which is barely
healed, and it is scarcely an hour since I relinquished the scarf in which
senor, I think that the sooner you rejoin your brave regiment, the better
for your fair fame. A gallant soldado who values his honour would scarcely
permit a scratch to detain him from the field.'
' A scratch! How now, condé! what am I to
understand by this premeditated rudeness?' said Ronald, furiously and
aloud, his cheek flushing, and his eye sparkling with anger. ' What mean
what I have said, senor officiale,' replied Don Balthazzar, in the same
provoking tone of sarcastic coldness. 'But be pleased to moderate your
transports for another and more fitting time. It would ill become a noble
cavalier, like me, to brawl at church or in the presence of ladies. But
you shall hear from me again, senor;' and bestowing a vindictive glance at
Ronald, and a cold bow on his cousin and sister, he pressed through the
crowd and left the church.
'Holy Virgin! Inesella, O Dios! I dreaded that
this would come to pass the moment I saw Balthazzar here,' whispered
Catalina, in great agitation. 'He is so fierce and untractable, that he
never visits Merida without fighting a duel with some one. But you, senor
mio, surely you will not lay to heart what he has said to you?'
'Calm yourself, Catalina. I know not what to
think; but certainly his behaviour to me is very unaccountable. Have no
apprehension on my account; as I said before, I care not for any cavalier
in Spain, and Heaven known there are plenty of them.'
'Pho! Catalina,' said her thoughtless cousin;
' heed not Balthazzar's angry looks, though, indeed, he can be fierce
enough when he pleases. He will probably depart immediately with his
despatches; he said he had but a short time to tarry.' ' Pray Heaven that
may be so!'
Don Ronald and he will perhaps never meet again.' 'Let us leave the
church. Oh, Inesella ! how my heart flutters!' ' Indeed, my sweet cousin,
your eyes have been the cause of more than one duel already, as the
notches on Balthazzar's sword can testify; and you have great reason to
feel sorrow and disquiet.'
'I hear the hoofs of a horse; 'tis galloping
through the Plaza.' 'It must be his, Catalina; thanks to our Lady of the
Rock, he is gone! They may meet no more.'
The ladies were, however, both mistaken.
Scarcely had Ronald escorted them home, before Evan placed in his hand a
note, addressed to 'El Noble Caballero, Don Ronaldo Stuart, 92nd
Regimiento, Calle de Guadiana.'
In spite of the many vexations which annoyed
him, Ronald well-nigh laughed on seeing this strange and imperfect
address. 'This is some trick of Alister's,' thought he, as he tore open
the billet, the contents of which undeceived him.
'When the clock of the Casa del Ayuntamiento
strikes the hour of two, I shall be awaiting you in the thicket behind the
ruins of the castle of Merida. You will not fail to come well armed.
'Balthazzar de Truxillo.'
Anger and surprise were Ronald's first
emotions on perusing this unlooked-for challenge, which he considered an
additional aggression; and having already been grossly insulted, he deeply
regretted that he had not 'stolen a march' on the condé, by sending him
the hostile message first.
'The devil!' muttered he; 'this will be a
pretty winding-up of matters, to be shot by this vindictive Spaniard !
But, everything considered, my life is scarcely worth having: certes, a
challenge could not have come at a better time, when my heart is filled
with misanthropy, gall, and bitterness, and my feelings deadened by the
news I have received within these twenty-four hours. Perhaps Alice may
weep when she reads of my death in the "Gazette," — so-and-so to be
ensign, vice Stuart, deceased. Sorrow or death — come what may, my heart
is strung for it all.' A sour smile crossed his features, and he glanced
at the clock of the corporation-house ; it wanted but a quarter of two.
'I shall be late,' said he, buckling on his
sword. 'What shall I do in this cursed dilemma? I have neither a friend to
accompany me, nor pistols to use; and the condé may object to so
formidable a weapon as the broad-sword. Would to God Macdonald, Chisholm,
or any of ours, were here ! Evan,' said he, turning to his servant, who
had watched his excitement, and heard his half-muttered speeches with
considerable concern and surprise. 'Evan!'
'O'd, sir, ye needna speak sae loud: I'm just
behint ye. What's yer wull, sir?'
'I have received a challenge to fight that
Spanish officer you saw at church, and you must accompany me as second. It
will be prudent to come armed, as some of these Spaniards are treacherous
hounds, and the condé maybe no better than his neighbours. Get your musket
and accoutrements, and follow me to the ruinous castle at the end of the
town, but do not alarm the young ladies, who I see are walking in the
duel! to fecht a duel? Gude guide us, sir, that's unco sudden,' replied
Evan, turning pale with concern. 'And are ye really gaun?
'Going, Iverach! can you ask me such a
sair arm scarcely weel yet! — it will never do. O'd, sir, let me gang in
your place, and my name's no Evan Iverach if I dinna gie that
saucy-looking chield his kail through the reek.'
'Obey me instantly, — the time is nearly up;
follow me at once, without further trifling. I should regret to speak
harshly, Iverach, as this, perhaps, is the last day we may ever spend
together. I have a great regard for you, Evan; we have been friends since
we were little children, and I always forget the distance which birth and
the rules of the service place between us in consequence.'
'Oh, sir! O'd sir------'
'Should I fall,' said Ronald, speaking in a
rapid though faltering tone, 'should I fall, you will find some papers and
other matters in my baggage, which I wish transmitted home to Lochisla;
and these I desire you will deliver either to Major Campbell or Mr.
— oh, Maister Ronald; my very heart is bursting to hear ye rin on in that
gait,' replied Evan, beginning to shed tears, which he strove in vain to
conceal. 'I would — I would wi' pleasure gang in your place, face this
chield mysel, and gie him what he deserves. Dinna think the waur o' me,
sir, because I greet like a bairn. I would face hand to hand ony mortal
man without quailing; but my spirit flees clean awa' when danger draws
Evan, my dear old playfellow; hold, for Heaven's sake. You will quite
unman me. I am indeed deeply sensible of the regard you bear me, and have
not forgotten the kind act you performed in our wretched bivouac at La
Nava. But dry your tears; your fathers did not weep when they followed
mine to battle.'
are richt, sir,' replied Evan, recovering his self-possession as his pride
was roused; 'but my faither wadna be ashamed to yammer himsel, if he
kenned that danger was nigh you. Maybe at this hour they ken it at
Lochisla; auld Janet sees things farther off than ither folk. Ye'll no
forget she has the gift o' the second-sicht.'
'Listen ! If anything should happen to me, you
will find attached to this chain a miniature of Miss Lisle, — Miss Lisle,
of Inchavon,' continued his master in a tremulous voice. 'Tell Mr.
Macdonald it is my particular desire that it be restored to her, or her
brother Louis, who will shortly be with the regiment. I trust in Heaven
you will see this done. And for my father — my poor father ! you will find
in my largest trunk------'
But I will tell you the rest by the way; it is
useless addressing you while you are in this agitated state. Keep up your
heart, Evan, like a man and a Highlander!'
'Sir, if ye should fa',' replied Evan, in a
tone of assumed firmness, 'a' that ye tell me most religiously will I
obey, — ay, obey as I would the commands o' a voice frae Heaven itself, —
that is, if I can survive you, which I dinna think possible. Oh, hoo could
I ever face the puir auld laird at hame, and tell o' what had come ower ye
in this unco place ?' The honest fellow pressed his master's hands between
his own, while ho endeavoured to subdue his sorrow and dread.
'But for what do I greet, sir? said he,
placing his regimental bonnet jauntily on one side of his head. 'A
Scotchman is as gude as a Spaniard, and better, maybe. Ye were aye a
deadly shot on the muirs, and may settle this chield, as ye have dune mony
a bonnie fallow-deer, by an ounce o' lead in the wame.'
At that moment the bell of the Casa del
Ayuntamiento tolled the hour of two.
'Time is up, by heavens!' exclaimed Ronald
passionately; 'and this cursed count has obtained a triumph over me; he
will be first on the ground!' He cast a hasty glance at the graceful
figure of Catalina, as she leant on the margin of the fountain conversing
with Donna Inesella. Evan hastily examined the lock of his musket, and
they sallied forth in silence.