About a fortnight after
this, Sir Rowland Hill reviewed his division of the army near the town of
Almendralejo. In the evening, a strong detachment, consisting of the first
brigade of infantry, part of the second brigade, a body of British
cavalry, artillery, and Portuguese cacadores, were selected from the
division, and marched an hour before daybreak next morning, pursuing the
road to Madrid under the command of the general himself, who left Sir
William Erskine in charge of the remainder of the division, which
continued in cantonments at Almendralejo.
That some great enterprise
was on foot there could be no doubt, from the secrecy maintained by the
general as to the object of the march, the solitary places through which
their route lay after leaving the Madrid road, and the deserted places in
which they concealed their bivouacs at night. Great excitement existed
among the troops, and many were the surmises as to what might be the
ultimate object of this sudden expedition, until it became known that to
force the pass of Miravete, and destroy certain forts erected at the
bridge of Almarez on the Tagus, were the intentions of their leader.
On the evening of the 15th
May the troops destined for this particular service entered the city of
Truxillo, the place from which Don Balthazzar takes his title. It is, like
most Spanish cities, situated on a rocky eminence, contains about four
thousand inhabitants, a handsome Plaza, and several churches. Ronald was
billeted on the very house in which the famous conqueror of America,
Pizarro, was born, and the moulded coat-armorial of whose noble family yet
appeared over the entrance-door. He had just finished a repast of hashed
mutton and garlic,—time had reconciled him to the latter,—and was
discussing a few jugs of Xeresseco with his host, when the sergeant-major
of the Gordon Highlanders, tapping at the door with his cane, warned him
to join Captain Stuart's out-picket as a supernumerary subaltern.
His host, Don Gonzago de
Conquesta, a lineal descendant of Pizarro, was detailing the once great
honours of his now decayed house when this unwelcome intelligence was
brought to Stuart, who, snatching his cloak and sword, vented a
malediction on the adjutant, and departed in no pleasant mood, bearing
with him a couple of bottles of the Xeres seco, which were pressed upon
him by Don Gonzago, who said that he never went on duty (he was a Capitan
de Cazadores) without plenty of liquor. It was a lesson he had learned in
his campaigns ' under the great General Liniers, at Buenos Ayres, in
1807.' The out-picket, which Ronald departed to join, was posted near the
river Almonte, at the base of the large mountain, on the summit and sides
of which appeared the three divisions of Truxillo,—the castle, the city,
and the town, as they are styled. And often, as he hurried down the hill,
he looked back at the picturesque Spanish city, with its Gothic spires and
belfries, its embattled fortress, lines of frowning ramparts built on
masses of rock, and its thousand casements, gleaming like burnished gold
in the light of the setting sun. It was a beautiful evening : the air was
cool and balmy,—the sky blue and cloudless, and the clear atmosphere
showed vividly the various tints of the extensive landscape, where yellow
fields, green thickets, and the windings of the Almonte stretched away far
in the distance.
The chain of sentinels were
posted along the sedgy banks of the river, and on a green grassy knoll
beside it, amid groves where the yellow orange and clustering grape were
ripening in the sun, sat Ronald and the officer commanding the picket,
Captain Stuart of the 50th regiment, discussing the flasks of Xeres seco.
While they were conversing on the probable issue of the intended attack on
the castle of Miravete and the French forts at Almarez, a sentry by the
river-side passed the word of alarm, that some of the enemy were in motion
on the other side of the stream. Far down the Almonte, advancing over the
level ground from the direction of the Madrid road, appeared four figures
on foot, and the glitter of polished metal showed that they were armed
'Mr. Stuart,' said the
captain of the picket, ' take with you a file of men and a bugler, and see
who these may be. You may cross here,—I suppose the river is fordable.
Should you see anything suspicious farther off, let the bugle-boy sound,
to warn us.'
'This promises to be an
adventure,' said Ronald, fixing his sword in his belt, and preparing to
start. 'A flag of truce, probably, sent from the castle of Miravete.'
'Most likely: they have
come from that direction. Sir Rowland will be ill-pleased to think the
enemy know of his vicinity. But as these communications are generally only
for the purpose of reconnoitring and gaining intelligence, you must be
careful to frustrate any such intentions by answering reservedly all
questions, and beware that their cunning does not out-flank your caution.
'Fear not: man to man if
'Nay: should it be a flag
of truce, you must receive it with all attention and courtesy; but you had
better move off, and meet them as far from here as possible.'
'There are two stout
fellows of my own company here; I will take them with me. Ewen Macpherson
Mackie, unpile your arms, and follow me. Look sharp there, men!'
Accompanied by two sturdy
Highlanders, and a bugler of the 50th foot, he crossed the Almonte, which
took them up to the waist, and scrambling over the opposite bank, advanced
towards the strangers without feeling much discomfort from the
wetting,—fording a river being with them a daily occurrence.
Four French soldiers
appeared to be coming straight towards them, through the middle of a
waving field of yellow corn, treading it down in a remorseless manner that
would have put any bluff English farmer or douce gude-man of the Lothians
at his wits' end, had he seen them. It appeared to be a toilsome pathway,
as it rose breast-high, and in some places hid them altogether, save the
tops of their grenadier caps. On gaining the skirts of the field, they
broke their way through the lofty vine-trellis which covered the road like
a long green arbour, and could now be perfectly discerned; and as they
neared each other, Ronald felt a degree of excitement and pleasure roused
within him, for which it was not difficult to account, this being his
first meeting with the enemy in arms.
Two of them were tall
French grenadiers in dark great-coats, adorned with large red worsted
epaulettes, wearing heavy bear-skin caps and hairy knapsacks, and had
their bayonets fixed on their long muskets.
In front advanced an officer, wearing the same sort of cap, and the rich
uniform of the old Guard. A little tambour, with his brass drum slung on
his back, trotted beside him.
'Halt!' exclaimed Ronald,
when they were about four hundred yards off. 'With ball-cartridge prime
The performance of this
action was seen by the strangers. The little tambour beat a long roll on
his drum; and the officer, halting his file of grenadiers, displayed a
white handkerchief, and advanced alone. Ronald did so likewise, and they
met at an equal distance from their respective parties. The officer (whose
brown cheek bore witness of service) wore the little gold cross that
showed he was a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur, and raising his hand to
his grenadier-cap in salute, he pulled from the breast of his coat a long
'Monsieur officier,' said
he, 'here is a communication from Marshal Soult to General Sir Rowland
Hill, which I have the honour to request you will see forwarded.'
Ronald bowed and took the
letter, surprised to hear such pure English spoken by a Frenchman; while
the latter unslung a metal flask which hung at his waist-belt, to share
its contents in friendship.
'Croix Dieu!' he exclaimed,
starting back with a look of recognition and surprise. 'Ah, Monsieur
Stuart, mon ami, have you forgotten me quite? Do you not remember Victor
D'Estouville and the castle of Edinburgh?'
Ronald gazed upon him in
'D'Estouville! is this
'I am happy to say it is;
who else could it be, monsieur? I was very tired of being a prisonnier de
guerre in that gloomy bastile in the Scottish capital; but an exchange of
prisoners took place soon after you left it, and now I am again a free
man, fighting the battles of the Emperor, with the eagle over my brow, and
wearing my belted sword. Brave work it is,—but I am as miserable now as I
'Hard fighting and no
'We have plenty of both in
the service of the great Emperor. I am now major in the battalion of the
'Allow me to congratulate
you. And—and—what was the lady's name? Diane de Montmichel?'
'C'est le diable!' muttered
he, while his cheek grew pale as death; but the emotion instantly passed
away, and a bold and careless look replaced it.
'D'Estouville, you did not
find her faithless, I hope?'
'I found her only Madame la
Colonelle, as we say in our service.'
'The wife of your colonel !
How much I regret to hear it! The devil! I think women are all alike
Monsieur Stuart, as many a husband and lover, on his return from
captivity, finds to his cost. But I mean to revenge myself on the whole
sex, and care no more for the best of them than for the meanest fille de
joie that ever was horsed through a camp on a wooden steed. On my return
to France, I hastened to the valley of Lillebonne; but it was no longer a
paradise to me. My sisters were all married to knaves who cared nothing
for me, and a grassy grave in the churchyard was all that remained to me
of my dear mother. But miséricorde! la belle Diane was no longer there—she
had become the wife of my colonel, the Baron de Clappourknuis, forgetting
poor Victor D'Estouville, her first love (that which romance makes such a
fuss about) ; he who had preferred her before all the maidens of the
valley of Lillebonne,—and there they are numerous and as beautiful as the
'Learn to forget her,
D'Estouville; you may find it------'
'She is forgotten as my
love. Croix Dieu! nay, more, she is forgiven.'
'And she is now Baroness
'Oui, monsieur,—such, I
suppose, she would rather be, with the boorish old colonel for her
husband, than the wife of Victor D'Estouville, a poor subalterne as I was
'Certes, you have got rapid
promotion. And you are really now a major?' said Ronald, feeling a little
chagrin. ' I am still only an ensign —sub-lieutenant, I believe you style
'Diable! your promotion is
long of coming, especially in these times, when heads are broken like
egg-shells. But I would rather have my peace of mind, than promotion to
the baton of a marshal of the empire.'
'Then you have not
forgotten her, although you so often protest you have?'
'I have forgotten to love
her, at least. Peste! I am quite cured of that passion. I can regard her,
and speak of her, with the utmost nonchalance; and, as a proof, I
volunteered to bring this letter from the Duke of Dalmatia to your
general, relative to procuring the release of the baron, my chef, by
exchanging him for some British prisoners captured at Villa Garcia, where,
by some misadventure, our rear-guard was so severely cut up by your heavy
cavalry under Sir Stapleton Cotton. You see, Monsieur Stuart, I am so
calmed down in this matter, that I can, even without a pang, negotiate for
the restoration of her husband to her arms.'
At that moment a bugle from
Captain Stuart's post sounded, as if warning Ronald to retire.
'A bugle-call,' said
D'Estouville; 'the officer commanding the out-picket has lost his
'I must now bid you
farewell ; we may soon meet again, but in less pleasant circumstances.'
'Then you do mean to carry
Miravete?' said the Frenchman, with sudden animation.
'I have not said so,'
replied Ronald coldly. ' I merely said we might meet------'
'Not unlikely, if your
general comes further this way. The forts of Napoleon and Ragusa, covering
the bridge of the Tagus at Almarez, and the town of Miravete, defended as
they are by the bravest hearts of the old Guard, might bar the passage of
Xerxes with his host.'
'But surely not against the
capturers of Badajoz and Ciudad Rodrigo?' said Ronald gently, with a
'Peste! oui. These were
misadventures, and the great Emperor will soon make us amends. There was
something wrong in this last affair at Badajoz; yet the soldiers fought
well, and Phillipon, their general, is, as we say, guerrier sans peur et
sans reproche,' replied the Frenchman, while a flush of indignant shame
crossed his bronzed cheek, and he twisted up his heavy moustache with an
air of military pride and ludicrous confusion.
Again the bugle sounded
from the other side of the river, warning them to part. D'Estouville
uncorked his flask, and filling up the stopper, which held about a
wine-glass, with brandy, presented it to Ronald, and they drank to each
other. The two grenadiers of the Guard, their tambour, the two
Highlanders, and the young bugler, were now beckoned to advance, and
D'Estouville shared the contents of his flask among them, while they shook
hands all round heartily, and regarded each other's uniforms,
accoutrements, and bronzed visages with evident curiosity.
'We have drunk to the
health of your General Hill. C'est un vieux routier, as we Frenchmen say,'
observed D'Estouville, replacing his empty flask. 'As for your leader,
Monsieur Wellington, I cannot say I admire him: he is not the man to gain
the love of the soldier. No medals,— no ribands,—no praise in the grand
bulletin,—no crosses like this won under his command. Vive l'Empereur! The
great Napoleon is the man for these—the man for a soldier to live and die
under. But I must bid you farewell—without returning what you so kindly
lent me in the castle of Edinburgh.'
'I beg you will not mention
'There is little use in
doing so, all the gold I have being on my shoulders. Nom d'un pape! never
will I forget your kindness. But I hope your general has no intention of
beating up our quarters at Almarez?'
'I have not heard that such
is his intention,' said Ronald, colouring at the equivocal nature of his
'We are very comfortable
there at present; quite country quarters in fact.'
'How ! are you stationed
'I am commandant of the
forts of the bridge. A wing of my own battalion of the Guard forms part of
the garrison. But we must part now, monsieur. How dark the evening has
become! Almarez is a long way off among the mountains, and we shall barely
reach it by to-morrow. I am anxious to return and console a certain lady
there, who has, I suppose, been pining very much in my absence.'
'Indeed! 'Tis no wonder,
then, that Diane de Montmichel is so easily forgotten.'
'Peste! I am executing but
a part of my grand plot of vengeance against the sex,' replied the other
gaily. 'I am a droll fellow, monsieur, but quite the one for a soldier.
The young creature is superbly beautiful. I captured her at a town near
this a few weeks ago, and carried her to Almarez, to enliven my quarters
there. But diable! she is ever drooping like a broken lily, weeping and
upbraiding me in Spanish; but I must make a bold effort, when I return, to
carry her heart by escalade. I have half won the outworks already, I
believe. Soldats!' cried he, turning quickly round, 'portez vos armes;
demi-tour à droite,—tnarche!'
He touched his cap and went
off with his party, saying in a loud and laughing tone, 'Adieu, mon ami;
when I return to Almarez, I shall speak of you to la belle Cataline!
Ronald, who had listened to
his last observations with some emotion, started at the name he mentioned,
and would have recalled him ; but a long, loud, and angry bugle-blast from
the out-picket compelled him to retire and recross the Almonte, but he
cast many an anxious glance after the dark and lessening figures of
D'Estouville and his soldiers, as they toiled their way through the field
of tall corn.
The evening had now given
place to the night, the last trace of day had faded from the mountainous
ridge of the Lina, and the waning moon was shining coldly and palely above
the spires and castle of Truxillo.
'Mr. Stuart,' said one of
the soldiers, as they marched along under the dark shadows of the thick
and gloomy vine-trellis, 'if I micht daur to advise, it wadna be amiss to
ask that chield with the sark owre his claes, what he means by followin'
us aboot, as he has dune, glintin' and glidin' here and there in the
'Under the vine-trees, on
your richt hand, sir.'
Ronald now perceived, for
the first time, a priest in a light grav cassock or gown which enveloped
his whole body, keeping pace with them—taking step for step, at a short
'He has been close beside
ye, sir,' continued the soldier, 'the haill time ye were speaking to the
Frenchman, listening and glowering wi' een like a gosshawk, although he
aye keepit himsel' sae close amang the leaves o' the bushes, that you
couldna see him as we did.'
'Do you really say so? What
can the fellow's object be? By the colour of his robe, he looks like one
of the Franciscans of Merida,' said Ronald, considerably interested, while
he watched the priest narrowly, and saw that he was evidently moving in
time with them, but keeping himself concealed as much as possible among
the poles of the trellis-work, and the vines which were twisted around
'Holloa, Senor Padre,
holloa!' cried Stuart. But no sooner did he speak, than the mysterious
padre glided away, and, as any monk of romance would have done,
disappeared, and no further trace could they find of him at that time.
Many were the surmises of the soldiers about the matter, and Ewen
Macpherson, a Gael from Loch Oich, gave decidedly his opinion that 'it was
something no cannie.' But the affair passed immediately from the mind of
Ronald, whose thoughts were absorbed in the idea that Donna Catalina was a
prisoner in the hands of the French. It roused a thousand stirring and
harrowing emotions within him; and forgetting that he was observed, he
often muttered to himself, and grasped his sword with energy, as they
Fording the Almonte again,
they clambered up the bank, and on gaining the grassy knoll, Ronald
presented Soult's letter to Captain Stuart, from whom he endured a very
disagreeable cross-questioning as to what his long conversation with the
Frenchman had been about. He found his sentiments of regard for
D'Estouville very much lessened when he appeared in the new character of a
rival, and eagerly he longed for the assault on Almarez, that he might
have an opportunity of distinguishing himself, and, if possible, freeing
Catalina at the point of the sword. Often he repented not having followed
D'Estouville at all risks, and commanded him, on his honour, to treat the
lady with the respect which was due to her rank and sex.
It was a clear moonlight
night, and he lay awake on the grassy sod, musing on these matters, and
thinking of Alice Lisle and the relation in which he stood to her. Old
Stuart, the captain of the picket, after having drained the last drop of
the Xeres seco, had wrapped himself up in his cloak, and went to sleep
under a bush, with a stone for a pillow. From his reverie Ronald was
aroused by seeing,close by, the same figure of the monk in the gray tunic,
evidently watching him, and with no common degree of interest, as his eyes
seemed to sparkle under the laps of his cowl, in a manner which gave him a
peculiar and rather uncomfortable aspect.
'Ho! the picket there!'
cried Stuart, springing to his feet, and making a plunge among the orange
foliage where the figure had appeared. 'Holloa, sentry! seize that fellow!
Confound it, he has escaped!' he added, as the appearance vanished again,
without leaving a trace behind.