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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 12 - The Condé


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the perusal of this letter, which so fully displays the eccentric manners of his father, that it was not until he had withdrawn his eyes from its pages that he became aware of the presence of Catalina, who stood by his side, veiled and robed in her velvet mantilla for church.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 tenderness.

'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 their knees.

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.'

'Ay, 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 melancholy.'

'I have, 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 such.'

'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 know.'

'El senor 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 his troop.'

"Twas a 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 speak, senor.

'Don 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 it hung.'

'Then, 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 you, senor?'

'Merely 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!'

'And then 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.

'Senor,

'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 garden below.'

"A 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 question?'

'And your 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. Macdonald.'

'Sir, sir — 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 nigh you.'

'Stay, 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.'

'Ye 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.


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