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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 18 - Castello Branco


'Well, Ronald, my ion camarado, and so you are really here, and in safety? said Macdonald as he came up at the head of his subdivision. ' Quite well now, I perceive. You received my letter from your servant, of course?'

'Yes. I have a thousand strange adventures to tell you of; but I will reserve them for the halt, which I suppose will be at the castle of Zagala. But, meanwhile, let me hear the regimental news.'

'Defer that till the halt also,—talking is dry work. A few rank and file were knocked on the head at Fuente del Maistre; but the officers, you may see, are all present. We feared you were on your route for France, when we heard that Dombrouski's dragoons were in Merida.'

'A daring deed it was, for a handful of men to advance thus.'

'Daring indeed!'

'But then they were Poles,—and the Poles are no common troops. Sad work, however, they have made at Merida. Every shop and house in the Plaza has been gutted and destroyed.'

'More shame to the citizens! A city containing five or six thousand inhabitants should have made some resistance to so small a party.'

'Ay; but the cits here are not like what our Scottish burghers were two centuries ago,—grasping axe and spear readily at the slightest alarm. By Sir Rowland's orders, Thiele, the German engineer, blew up the Roman bridge to prevent D'Erlon from pressing upon part of the 13th, who form the rear-guard.'

''Twas a pity to destroy so perfect a relic of antiquity.'

'It was dire necessity.'

'Did you see anything of our friends in the Calle de Guadiana,—the house at the corner of the Plaza?

'Ah! Donna Catalina's residence? Blushing again ! Why, no; it was dark, and I was so fatigued when we marched through the market-place that I could not see the house, and Fassifern is so strict that it is impossible to leave the ranks. But I could observe that nearly all the houses above the piazzas are in ruins. However, we have captured nearly every man of the ravagers. A glorious-looking old fellow their commander is,—-a French chef-de-bataillon, Monsieur le Baron de Clappourknuis, as he styles himself.'

'Clappourknuis? That has a Scottish sort of sound.' '

The name is purely Scottish. I had a long conversation with him an hour since. He is grandson of the famous John Law of Laurieston, and brother of the French general the great Marquis of Laurieston. He takes his title of Clappourknuis from some little knowes, which stand between the old castle of Laurieston and the Frith of Forth. What joy and enthusiasm he displayed at sight of our regiment, and the 71st! "Ah, mon ami/" he exclaimed, holding up his hands. 'Braave Scots,— very superb troupes!' he added, in his broken English, and the soldiers gave him a hearty cheer. He is a true Frenchman of the old school, and has a peculiar veneration for Scotland, which is only equalled by his bitter hatred for England ; and all my arguments were lost in endeavouring to prove to him that we are one people,—one nation now. There is one of the 71st a relation of the Laurieston family : I must introduce him to the baron, who seems to have a great affection for all who come from the land of his fathers. A handsome young man, apparently, this Louis Lisle, our new sub.'

'Very agreeable you'll find him, I dare say,' replied Ronald, colouring slightly.

'A smart fellow he is, and will please Fassifern. His harness is mighty gay and glossy just now, but a night's bivouacking—by-the-bye, he is from Perthshire, is he not?'

'Ay, the mountainous part of the country,—my own native place. He comes of good family, and we are old acquaintance.'

'Yet you seem to behave very dryly to him : why, you have not spoken to him since the corps came up.'

'I have my reasons. A few words with him last night—I will tell you afterwards,' said Ronald, in confusion.

'Pshaw Stuart! you should not dishearten a young sub, who has just joined by this sort of behaviour. Nothing disgusts one who has recently left his home with the service so much as coldness on the part of those that he considered his friends. I shall see it made up------'

'I beg, Macdonald, you will not interfere in this matter,' was Ronald's answer, with a vehemence that surprised his friend. 'I am aware how I ought to behave to Mr. Lisle : we must be on distant terms, for the present, at least.'

'You are the best judge, of course,' said Macdonald, with some confusion. 'I merely meant for the best what I said. I dislike discord among brother officers.'

'I am aware that your intentions were good—they always are so, Alister; but change the subject. How did you like Almendralejo?' 'Not well: a dull place it is, and the dons are very quarrelsome.' 'Ay I remember your letter mentioning two brawls with the inhabitants.' 'Your servant, Mr. Iverach, and that rogue Mackie, of your own company, were the heroes of one.'

'I should be glad to hear the story now. My servant has often mentioned it, when I had neither time nor inclination to listen.'

'There is an old abogado at Almendralejo,' answered Macdonald, 'a fierce old fellow he is, with bristling moustaches twisted up to his very ears, and eyes like those of a hawk—the Senor Sancho de los Garcionadas, the people there call him, for shortness, but he has a name as long as a Welsh pedigree. This lawyer dwells, of course, in one of the best houses in the town, and on him Iverach and Angus Mackie were billeted. He has a daughter, whom I have seen on the Prado, a fine-looking girl, with regular features, Spanish eyes, and Spanish ankles—quite bewitching, in fact; and although she has not Donna Catalina's stately and splendid appearance, yet she is plump as a partridge, and rosy, pretty, and merry as can be imagined. Her beauty completely vanquished the heart of Mackie, on whom she had cast favourable glances, for he is what Campbell calls one of the duchess's picked men (a strapping Blair-Athole man, from the mountain of Bein Meadhonaidh).

'A very agreeable correspondence ensued between them, but how they managed I cannot tell, as neither knew a word of the other's language, and Angus speaks more Gaelic than English ; so I suppose they conversed by the eyes instead of the mouth.

'There is a French writer who exclaims, "Ah ! what eloquence is so powerful as the language of two charming eyes!" and very probably Master Angus (whom I now see trudging away yonder with his knapsack on) found this to be the case. At last the abogado began to suspect what was going on, and his blood boiled up at the idea that the Scottish private soldier should have the presumption to address his daughter, and the treacherous old fox hatched a very nice but very cowardly plan for cutting off poor Mackie.

'The Senora Maria he put securely under lock and key, and despatched a message to her cavalier that she would expect him that evening after vespers, sending at the same time a stout ladder of ropes, with which he was to scale her window. The plan succeeded to admiration. The savage old attorney and some five or six kinsmen, muffled and masked, lurked in a dark place, grasping their knives and crucifixes, for a Spaniard never thinks he can commit a murder comfortably without having his crucifix about him: if it contains a piece of the true cross, so much the better. Mackie came to the rendezvous, but attended by his comrade Iverach, and both had luckily brought their side-arms with them. Scarcely had the unsuspecting gallant placed his foot on the first step of the ladder, when the concealed assassins rushed upon him, dagger in hand, from their ambush. The Highlanders drew and fought manfully with their bayonets, ran two through the body, and after receiving a few cuts in return, put the rest to flight; and so the matter ended for the night. But a terrible row was made about it next day. Cameron's quarters were besieged by all the alcaldes, alguazils with their halberds, abogados, and other rogues in the town, headed by the corregidor, demanding revenge. Fassifern made a short matter of it with them, and desired the guard to drive them out. I know not how it might ultimately have ended, if the route for Villa Franca had not arrived just then, and put a stop to the affair by our sudden march. But since that occurrence I understand Mackie has not been the same sort of man he was—always grave, absorbed, and thoughtful. I fear he will give us the slip, and desert. The old lawyer's daughter seems to have bewitched him. He has more than once asked leave to return to Almendralejo, although he knows that it is now in possession of the enemy, and that his death is certain, should he be seen there again.'

During the five days of the weary forced march across the Spanish frontier to the town of Portalagre, in Portugal, the same distance of manner and reciprocal coolness which we have described in a preceding chapter subsisted between Ronald Stuart and young Lisle; and although secretly both longed to come to some satisfactory, and if possible a friendly explanation, their Scottish pride and stubbornness forbade them both alike to make the first advances towards a reconciliation. Louis had written to his sister, but had said nothing of Ronald, further than that he was well, etc.

At Niza, Ronald parted with Pedro Gomez, who had accompanied him thus far, but whom he now despatched to join his troop in a neighbouring province, giving him in charge a long letter to Don Alvaro. The morning the first brigade entered Niza, they found the greedy inhabitants busily employed in pulling their half-ripe oranges from the trees, and carrying them off in baskets with the utmost expedition, lest some of those soldiers—soldiers who were shedding their blood to rescue the Peninsula from the iron grasp of Napoleon!—should have plucked a few in passing under the groves.

That night a part of the Highland regiment were quartered in the convent of San Miguel, and great was the surprise of the reverend Padre Jose, and the rest of the worthy brotherhood, to find themselves addressed in pure Latin by private soldiers, who could not speak either. Spanish or Portuguese. But to those who know the cheapness of education at our Scottish village schools, this will excite little wonder.

Next day the troops entered Castello Branco, a fortified place, situated on the face of a rugged mountain a couple of leagues north of the river, Tajo, or Tagus, a city of great importance in bygone days. Its streets are narrow, close, and dirty, like those of all Portuguese towns, where the refuse of the household lies piled up in front of the street-door, where lean and ravenous dogs, ragged mendicants, and starving gitanas contest the possession of the well-picked bones and fragments of melons and. pumpkins, that lie mouldering and rotting, breeding flies and vermin innumerable under the influence of a burning sun. Water is conveyed to the houses, ox flats, as in ancient Edinburgh and Paris, by means of barrels carried on the backs of men from the public fountains. The streets are totally destitute of paving, lamps, or police; and by night the passenger, unless he goes well armed, is exposed to attacks of masked footpads, or annoyed by the bands of hungry dogs which prowl in hundreds about the streets of every Portuguese town.

Major Campbell and Stuart, with some of the officers, were seated in one of the best rooms of their billet,—the most comfortable posada the place possessed, and truly the Peninsular inns are like no others that I know of. As they were in the days of Miguel Cervantes, so are they still: in everything Spain and Portugal are four hundred years behind Great Britain in the march of civilization.

In a posada, the lower story, which is always entered by a large round archway, is kept for the accommodation of carriages and cattle. It is generally one large apartment, like a barn in size, the whole length and breadth of the building, floored with gravel, and staked at distances with posts, to which the cattle of travellers are tied, and receive their feed of chopped straw, or of Indian corn which has become too rotten and mouldy for the use of human beings. The whole fabric is generally ruinous, no repairs being ever given ; the furniture is always old, rotten, and decayed,—the chairs, beds, etc., being but nests for myriads of insects, which render guests sufficiently uncomfortable. Sabanas limpitas (clean sheets) are a luxury seldom to be had ; and provisions, a thing scarcely to be thought of in a Spanish inn. However, as Senor Raphael's posada was at some distance from the actual seat of war, it was hoped that his premises would be better victualled, and he was summoned by the stentorian voice of Campbell, the house being destitute of bells.

'Well, Senor de Casa,' said the major, as he stretched himself along half a dozen hard-seated chairs to rest, 'what have you in the larder? Anything better than castanas quemadas and cold water—agua her-nwisissima de lafuente, as they say here?'

'Si, si, noble caballero,' replied the patron, as he stood with his ample beaver in his left hand, bowing low at every word, and laying his right hand upon his heart.

'Ah! Well, then, have you any beef or mutton,—roasted, boiled, or cooked in any way?'

'No, senor officiale; no hay'

'Any fish? You are near the Tajo.'

'Si, bacallao.'

'Pho! hombre! What, have you nothing else? Any fowl?

'No hay'

'Any fruit?'

'No hay!

'Diavolo! Senor Raphael,' cried Campbell angrily, after receiving the same reply to a dozen things he asked for; ' what on earth have you got, then?'

'Huevos y tocino, senor mio.'

'Could you not have said so at once, hombre? Ham and eggs,— excellent! could we but have barley-meal bannocks and whisky toddy with them; but here one might as well look for nectar and the cakes that Homer feeds his gods with. Any Malaga or sherry?

'Both, senor, in abundance.'

'Your casa seems well supplied for a peninsular one,—pan y cebollas, cursed onions and bread, with bitter aguardiente, being generally the best fare they have to offer travellers, however hungry. But presto ! Senor Raphael; look sharp, and get us our provender, for saving a handful or so of rotten castanas, the devil a morsel have we tasted since we left Niza yesterday. And d'ye hear, as you value the reputation of your casa, put not a drop of your poisonous garlic among the viands!'

As the evening was very fine, they experienced no inconvenience from the two unglazed apertures where windows ought to have been, through which the soft wind blew freely upon them. The apartment commanded a view of an extensive plain, through which wound the distant Tagus, like a thread of gold among the fertile fields and enclosures of every varying tint. of green and brown. Golden is the term applied to the Tajo, and, such it really appeared, while the saffron glow of the western sky was reflected on its current, as it wound sweeping along through ample vineyards, groves of orange and olive-trees, varied here and there by a patch of rising corn. Far down the plain, and around the base of the hill of Castello Branco, the red fires, marking the posts of the outlying pickets, were seen at equal distances dotting the landscape ; and their white curling smoke arose through the green foliage, or from the open cornfield, in tall spiral columns, melting away on the calm evening sky.

'A glorious view,' observed Ronald, after he had surveyed it for some time in silence; 'it reminds me of one I have seen at home, where the blue Tay winds past the green carse of Cowrie. That hill yonder, covered with orange-trees to its summit, might almost pass for the hill of Kinnoul with its woods of birch and pine, and those stony fragments for the ruined tower of Balthayock.'

'Truly the scene is beautiful; but its serenity might better suit an English taste than ours,' replied Macdonald. 'For my own part, I love better the wild Hebrides, with the foaming sea roaring between their shores, than so quiet a scene as this.'

'Hear the western islesman!' said an officer, laughing. 'He is never at home but among sterile rocks and boiling breakers.'

'You are but southland bred, Captain Bevan,' answered Macdonald gravely, 'and therefore cannot appreciate my taste.'

'The view—though I am too tired to look at it—is, I dare say, better than any I ever saw when I was with Sir Ralph in Egypt, where the scenery is very fine.'

'The sandy deserts excepted,' observed Bevan. 'Many a day, marching together, we have cursed them, Campbell.'

'Of course. But where is that young fellow, Lisle? I intended to have had him here to-night, for the purpose of wetting his commission in Senor Raphael's sherry.'

'He is at Chisholm's billet, I believe. They have become close friends of late,' replied another officer, who had not spoken before.

'So I have observed, Kennedy; he is the nephew of an old Egyptian campaigner, and I love the lad as if he was a kinsman of my own. But here come the "vivres!" Smoking hot, and tempting, faith ! especially to fellows so sharply set as we are. Senor Raphael deserves a pillar like Pompey's erected in his honour, as the best casa-keeper between Lisbon and Carthagena.'

While the talkative major ran on thus, the 'maritornes' of the establishment brought in the supper, or dinner, on a broad wooden tray, and arrayed it on the rough table—cloth there was none—to the best advantage, flanking the covers with several leathern flasks of sherry, brown glazed jugs of rich oily Malaga, and round loaves of bread from the Spanish frontier.

'Now, this is what I consider being comfortable,' observed the major, as he stowed his gigantic limbs under the table, and gazed on the dishes with the eager eye of a hungry man who had tasted nothing for twenty-four hours.

'We have been lucky in receiving a billet here, and are much indebted to the worshipful alcalde,' said Bevan, interrupting a silence which nothing had broken for some time, except the clatter of plates and knives. 'A little more of the ham, major.'

'And huevos? With pleasure. But eat away, gentlemen; be quite at home, and make the most of a meal when you can get one. I'll trouble you for that round loaf, Kennedy.' 'Splendid bread, the Spanish.' 'I have seen whiter in Egypt, when I used to visit the house of Captain Mohammed Djedda, at Alexandria------'

'A visit nearly cost you your life there once, major.' 'You remember it, Bevan; so do I, faith, nor am I likely to forget it. But it is too soon for a story yet; otherwise I would tell the affair to the young subs. Help yourself plentifully, Stuart. Lord knows when we may get such another meal; so store well for to-morrow's march.'

'I am hungry enough to eat an ostrich, bones and all, I do believe, said Kennedy. 'And, in truth, this fare is the most delicious I have seen since I first landed at the Castle of Belem, some eighteen months ago.'

'Simple fare it is, indeed,' replied the major. ''Tis very well; the Senor Raphael's tocino is excellent, being cured probably for his own use; but his eggs are not so fresh as I used to get from my own roosts at Craigfianteoch, near Inverary.'

'A deuced hard name your estate has, major. A little more ham, if you please.'

'Few can pronounce it so well as myself, Bevan. Craig'fi'anteoch,— that is the proper accent.'

'Meaning the rock of the house of Fingal, when translated?' observed Ronald. 'Right, Stuart, my boy; the rock of the king of Selma.' ' It has been long in your family, I suppose?

'Since the year 400. You may laugh, Bevan, being but a Lowlander, yet it is not the less true. Since the days of the old Dabriadic kings, when the great clan Campbell, the race of Diarmid, first became lords of Argyle,' replied the major, with conscious pride, as he pushed away his plate and stretched himself back in his chair,—'Ardgile, or Arga-thelia, as it was then called. My fathers are descended in a direct line from Diarmid, the first lord of Lochow.'

'A long and noble pedigree, certainly,' observed Macdonald, with a proud smile, becoming interested in the conversation. 'It out-herods mine, though I come of the line of Donald, the lord of the Western Isles.' 'Come, come, gentlemen, never mind descents; none can trace further up than Adam. Let us broach some of these sherry bottles,' said Bevan impatiently. 'Pedigrees are too frequently a subject for discussion at Highland messes, and were introduced often enough at ours, when we had one. Yesterday, at Niza, at the scuttle there, which we called a dinner, the colonel and old Macdonald nearly came to loggerheads about the comparative antiquity of the Camerons of Fassifern and Locheil.'

'D------n all pedigrees!' cried Kennedy, uncorking the sherry. 'I am not indebted to my forbears the value of a herring scale!'

'These are matters only for pipers and seanachies to discuss,' said Ronald, affecting a carelessness which he was very far from feeling. Few, indeed, cherished with a truer feeling of Highland satisfaction the idea that he came of a royal and long-descended line. 'Let the subject be dropped, gentlemen. Fill your glasses: let us drink to the downfall of Ciudad Rodrigo!'

'Well said, Stuart,' echoed Kennedy; 'push the Malaga this way.'

'I'll drink it with all my heart,' said the major, filling up his glass; 'let it be a bumper, a brimming bumper, gentlemen—the downfall of Ciudad Rodrigo!'

'Pretty fair sherry this, major.'

'But it has all the greasy taste of the confounded pig-skin.' 'Why the deuce don't the lazy dogs learn to blow decent glass bottles?

'Try the Malaga. Fill up, and drink to the hearts we have left behind us!'

'Right, Macdonald,—an old Scottish toast,' answered Campbell, emptying his horn. 'But for Ciudad Rodrigo, I almost wish that the place may hold out until we encounter old Marmont, and thrash his legions to our hearts' content, eh! Bevan?'

'A few days' march will bring us close on Lord Wellington's headquarters; and should the place not capitulate by that time, we shall probably act Vimiera over again in the neighbourhood of Ciudad Rodrigo.'

'I shall be very happy to see something of the kind,' observed Ronald. 'I have been six months in the Peninsula, and have scarcely heard the whiz of a French bullet yet.'

'Should we come within a league of Marmont, your longing for lead will probably be gratified—as we used to say in Egypt, especially should he attempt to raise the siege. But drink, lads; talking makes one very thirsty.'

'I am heartily tired of our long forced marches by night and day, and was very glad when, from the frontiers of Portugal, I looked back and saw the wide plains of Spanish Estremadura left so far behind.'

'Many a weary march we have had there, Alister.'

'And many more we shall have again.'

'Never despond,' said Bevan. 'With honour and the enemy in our front------'

'As we used to say in Egypt—" Both be------!" Carajo! I'll thank you for the sherry.'

'But the troops of the Count d'Erlon------'

'Are arrant cowards, I think. They have fled before the glitter of our arms when three leagues off: the very flaunt of our colours is quite enough for them, and they are off double quick!'

'The soldiers of la belle France behaved otherwise in Egypt, when I was there with gallant old Sir Ralph. But we shall come up with them some time and be revenged for the trouble they have given us in dancing after them between Portalagre and Fuente del Maistre.'

'That was a brilliant affair,' said Macdonald, 'and you unluckily missed it, Stuart.'

'Ay; but I hope Marshal Marmont will make me amends next week; and if ever Senor Narvaez comes within my reach------'

'Or mine, by heavens! he shall be made a mummy of!'

'You could scarcely reduce him to anything more disagreeable, Alister. I saw some in Egypt a devilish deal closer than I relished,' said Campbell, filling his glass as if preparing for a story, while a smile passed over the features of his companions, who began to dread one of those long narratives which were readily introduced at all times, but especially when wine was to be had, and the evening was far advanced. The smile, however, was unseen, as the dusk had increased so much that the gloomy apartment was almost involved in darkness. But without, the evening sky was so clear, so blue and spangled, the air so cool and balmy, and the perfume wafted on the soft breeze from the fertile plain below so odoriferous, that they would scarce have exchanged the ruinous chamber of the posada in which they were seated for the most snug parlour in the most comfortable English inn, with its sea-coal fire blazing through the bright steel bars, the soft hearthrug in front, the rich carpet around, and the fox-hunts framed on the wall.

'Mummies, indeed!' continued the field-officer; 'I almost shiver at the name!'

'How so, major?' asked Ronald. 'What! a British grenadier like you, that would not duck his head to a forty-six pound shot?'

'Why, man! I would scorn to duck to a shot from auld Mons Meg herself; but, then, a mummy, and in the dark, is another affair altogether. I care nothing about cutting a man down to the breeks, and did so at Corunna, in Egypt, and in Holland, more than once ; but I am not over-fond of dead corpses, to tell you the truth, and very few Highlandmen you'll find that are. Have I never before told you of my adventure with the mummies, and the tulzie that Fassifern and I had at Alexandria?'

'No—never!'

'Bevan knows all about it.'

'He was in Egypt with Sir Ralph, you know. It must be something new to us, major.'

'I'll tell you the story; meantime light cigars and fill your glasses, for talking is but dry work, and there's sherry enough here—not to mention the Malaga—to last us till reveille, even if we drank as hard as the King's German Legion.'

His companions resigned themselves to their fate—three of them consoled by the idea that it was one of the major's stories they had never heard before. Cigars were promptly lighted; and the red points, glowing strangely in the dark, were the beacons which dimly showed each where the others sat.

'Drink, gentlemen! fill your glasses, fill away, lads. However, I must tell you the affair as briefly as possible. I am field-officer for the day, and have to visit the quarter-guards and cursed out-pickets in the plain below; but I will go the rounds at ten, and desire them to mark me at two in the morning. They are all our own fellows, and will behave like Trojans, if I wish them.'

'Well, Campbell, the story.'

After a few short pulls at the cigar, and long ones at his wine-cup, the major commenced the story, which is given in the following chapter, and as near the original as I can from recollection repeat it.


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