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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 25 - Catalina


IT was now clear daylight, and over heaps of dead and wounded which were stretched around, Ronald went in search of Catalina through the buildings composing the barracks, which were arranged in the form of a square. At every turn his passage was encumbered by the miserable victims of the morning's carnage, mostly French, as the majority of the British killed and wounded fell in the avant-fosse. Here lay the war worn and gray-haired grenadier of the Guard, seamed with the scars of Austerlitz and Jena, blowing the bells of froth and blood from his quivering lip, and scowling defiance with his glazing eye at the passer. Beside or across him lay the muscular Highlander, his bare legs drenched in gore, casting looks of imploring helplessness, craving 'Maister Stuart for the love o' the heevin aboon them, to bring the wee'st drop of water or send some ane to stanch their bluid.' Here lay one Frenchman with his skull shot away and brains scattered about,—another cut in two by a round shot, and scores otherwise torn to pieces by Campbell's terrible volley from the platform, lying in long lines, which marked the ane made by the course and radius of each discharge of grape, and the whole place swam with blood and brains—a horrible puddle, like the floor of a slaughter-house. All this was as nothing to witnessing the frightful agonies of the wretched wounded and dying, goaded with the most excruciating pain, choking in their blood—their limbs quivering in extremity of torture, while they shrieked the eternal cry of 'Water!' and shrieked in vain. Little know our peaceful and plodding citizens at home of the miseries of war!

In search of Donna Catalina, Ronald wandered everywhere through the deserted and confused quarters of the enemy, but she was nowhere to be found ; and he was about to cross the river and search the tower of Ragusa, or question D'Estouville, when drums beating in the square called him to the parade of the regiment.

It was now a beautiful morning, and the rising sun shed its lustre on the ridges of the Lina and windings of the bright Tagus. At their base, in the pure bosom of the glassy river, the trees and vineyards, cottages and ruined bridge of Almarez, the bastions of Fort Napoleon and black tower of Ragusa, were reflected downwards as clearly as if in some huge mirror. Above them the morning mist from the cork-woods, and the smoke of firearms from the forts, mingling together and ascending in volumes, melted away on the thin breezy air. Long and loud blew pipe and bugle, mustering the troops in the square of the tete-du-pont; but many who had marched to them merrily yesterday lay stark and stiff now, and heard their blast no more. The military store-houses of the enemy had been broken open and given over to pillage, and skins of wine, bottles of rum, and kegs of French brandy were to be had for the broaching. Barrels were staved, and hams, rounds of beef, etc., were tossed by the soldiers from one to another, and every man filled his haversack with such provisions as he could lay his hands on. When this scene of tumult and disorder was ended, the capturers of the Fort Napoleon were mustered in the barrack-square, to receive the thanks of General Hill for the steadiness and dashing gallantry of their conduct throughout the assault. The soldiers burned to give the fine old fellow three hearty cheers, but discipline withheld them.

Addressing himself to Ronald in particular, he thanked him for the dauntless manner in which, on Captain Stuart's fall, he had led the assault. While the general spoke, Ronald felt his heart glowing with the most unalloyed delight, and the reward of being thus publicly thanked before his comrades was sufficient for the dangers he had dared and overcome. 'How proud,' thought he, 'will the people at the old tower of Lochisla be, when they hear of this day's work! And Alice Lisle—surely she------'

Here the soft and plaintive voice of one well known to him broke the chain of his thoughts.

'O Senor Don Ronald! O par amor de Dios!' exclaimed Catalina with sudden joy, 'for the love of the holy Virgin, protect me!'

'For the love of yourself, rather, fair Catalina,' said he, advancing from the flank of his company to where he saw her kneeling on the ground between the close ranks of German rifles, who beheld her distress with sullen apathy. How beautiful she looked then! Her white hands were clasped in an agony of terror, and her long glossy hair rolled in dishevelled ringlets about her fine neck and shoulders. He raised her from the ground.

'Catalina,' said he, 'I cannot leave my post to see you from the fort; but do me the favour to take my arm, and pray do not be so agitated. There is no danger now.'

'Oh no—with you I am safe,' she replied with a delightful smile of entire confidence, which caused a thrill to pass through Ronald's heart as she placed her arm in his. 'O amigo mio! what a terrible morning this has been! How terrified I have felt since the roar of the cannon roused me from bed. And you have escaped! Praise be to the Virgin for it ! she heard my prayers. Ah ! how I trembled for you, when I saw from a loop-hole the black plumes of your regiment'

Ronald pressed the little hand which lay on his arm, but he knew not what to say. A tremor of softness and joy filled his heart, causing him to turn with disgust from the objects of bloodshed and strife that lay everywhere around, and his eyes rested on the donna's radiant features with a pleasure which he had never known till then. How agreeable it was to hear the frank girl talking in this way!

'O santa Maria/' she exclaimed with a shudder, after a pause, 'I can scarcely look around me, so many fearful sights present themselves everywhere to my eye,—sights of which we knew nothing at happy Merida, before the false Napoleon crossed the Pyrenees.'

'With God's help, and our good steel, Catalina, we will drive his legions back again, or into the sea at Bayonne; and then again at Merida, the fandango, the bolero, and waltz------'

'Amigo mio, senor! you speak as might become the Cid Rodrigo; but although your hand may be as stout, and your sword as long as his, why be so rash ? How you leaped over the parapet, among the horrid bayonets of the French------'

'You saw me, then?' said Ronald, with delight.

'And trembled for you.'

'How fortunate I am to have your good wishes. I dare say you arc very happy at being freed from this place?'

'Oh very—very! But surely it was not on my account that all this frightful work has been made. Perhaps you have heard how I was carried off from Merida?

'Yes; and I cannot express the uneasiness the relation gave me.'

'A French officer, a Major D'Estouville, carried me off across his saddle a captive maiden, by force, as any fierce Moor of Grenada would have done long ago. I have been since a prisoner here.'

'Well, but this D'Estouville------'

'Such a gay cavalier he is! But I was very tired of him, and longed to be at pleasant Merida, with its sunny Prado and orange-groves, instead of this dull, guarded fort, with its bulwarks and ditches, cannon and gates. I was much annoyed by Monsieur d'Estouville's speeches and protestations; but 'tis all at an end now, and I trust he has escaped, though I wish not to see his face again. Do you know if he is safe?'

'I saved his life but an hour since,' replied Ronald, the pique which he felt at her first observations disappearing. 'But I do not see him among the prisoners,' he added, examining the sullen and disarmed band as they marched past out of the fort, surrounded by their armed escort commanded by Louis Lisle, from whose cheek the blood was trickling from a sabre-wound, which he heeded not.

The officers on parole uncovered their heads on passing the young lady, who now, when her terror was over, began naturally to feel abashed and confused to find herself leaning on an officer's arm on a military parade, exposed to the gaze of several regiments.

'Oh, I trust he has escaped; 'twere a thousand pities if so sprightly a soldado should be injured.'

'On my word, if you take so great an interest in this rash Frenchman, I shall feel quite jealous.'

'You have no reason, senor. I tell you I never wish to see his face again, though it is a very handsome one,' responded the donna, with an air of pique, while a purple blush crossed her features. ' Holy Mary, would I had my veil here ! To be thus gazed at------'

'Here comes one who may give us some information. Macdonald, where is the French commandant—D'Estouville; the young man with the bear-skin cap and crimson feather?

'With his fathers, I believe, poor fellow. He was a gallant soldier as ever drew sword,' replied Alister, who at that moment came past, and paid his respects to Donna Catalina, whom he was not a little surprised to see amidst the ranks of the Highlanders, leaning on Ronald's arm, while her long beautiful tresses streamed about like those of some wood-nymph or goddess.

'I rejoice to see you in safety, senora. I heard of your being in the hands of the enemy,—indeed, it made so deep an impression on my bon camarade, that he could not keep it a secret. Faith, Stuart,' he added in a whisper, 'you have picked up something more precious than a skin of Malaga, or a keg of French eau de vie!.'

'Stay, Alister,' replied the other, with an air of* displeasure; 'a truce to raillery. I am sorry to see you wounded.'

'A few inches of skin ripped up—a mere nothing,' said Macdonald, whose arm was slung in his sash. 'I received it from the bayonet of a fine old grenadier, whom Angus Mackie has sent to his long home.

'Well, but the commandant——'

'Poor fellow! I am sorry for his fate,—he seemed so gallant and reckless. ' The devil, man ! what has happened?' 'Have you not heard?'

'No; he yielded himself to me, with permission to retain his sword.' 'Better had he tossed it into the Tagus! Scarcely had you left him, when up came that fiery borderer, Armstrong, of the 71st (at least I have heard that it was Armstrong), demanding his sword, not being aware of the terms on which he had rendered himself prisoner. The Frenchman, D'Estouville I think you call him, either could not or would not comprehend him; and Armstrong, by a single stroke of his sword, cleft his skull through the thick grenadier cap.'

An exclamation of rage and impatience broke from Ronald, and of pity from Catalina, who clasped her hands and raised her dark melancholy eyes to heaven, while he cast an angry and searching glance along the ranks of the Highland Light Infantry.

'Sir Rowland Hill,' continued Alister,' regrets this unfortunate circumstance very much, and has sent him off in a bullock-car to Merida, in charge of a French medical officer liberated on his parole. But I must bid you adieu, as our company is ordered to assist Thiele, the German engineer, to destroy the tower and bastions of Ragusa. Heaven knows how we shall accomplish it: it looks as massive as the old pile of Maoial in the Western Isles.'

'What is that villainous priest about?' said Ronald, when Macdonald had withdrawn, and he saw their guide, with the gray cassock bedaubed with blood, busying himself about the prostrate dead and wounded. 'Surely he is not plundering. Prick him with your bayonet, Macpherson, and drive him off.'

'Oh no, senor, Heaven forbid!' said the young lady hurriedly. 'He must be confessing, or endeavouring to convert some, before they die and are lost for ever.'

'Scarcely, Catalina,' replied Ronald, seeing they were men of the 71st. 'These are true Presbyterians, from a place called Glasgow, in my country, and would as soon hearken to the devil as a Roman Catholic priest.'

'How good must be the priest who endeavours to gain the dying soldier from the hot grasp of Satanas!' said the lady, not comprehending him. 'Call him, Don Ronald; I have not confessed since I left Merida.'

'What sins can you have to confess, Catalina? Besides, I do not like this fellow. But since you look so imploringly, and desire it so much, I will bring him to you. But let him beware. Ho, reverend gobernador! Senor padre of the Convento de todos Santos, let alone the haversacks of dead men, and come hither.'

The priest, starting from his occupation, crossed his hands upon his breast, and came stalking slowly towards them, with his head enveloped in his cope, and his cross and rosary dangling before him.

Catalina, wearied with excess of agitation and the want of sleep, was anxious to procure a female attendant, and to be sent to the village of Almarez, from which she hoped to find some means of travelling to the residence of her cousin and sister, Donna Inesella. And as Ronald's duties at that time required his being alone, he sent her off on Major Campbell's horse, accompanied by the priest and Evan Iverach, whom he desired to see her safe in the best house of the village, and to remain with her until he could come in the evening. Immediately on means being procured to convey the suffering wounded to the rear in blankets, bullock-carts, hurdles of branches, crossed pikes, etc., the forts were ordered by Sir Rowland Hill to be completely destroyed. Eighteen pieces of cannon were spiked and cast into the Tagus. The dead, British and French, friend and foe, the victors and the vanquished, found one common grave. About four hundred corses were tossed into the avant fosse—arms, accoutrements, and everything for burial. The heavy stone parapets, the revetement, and earthen works were thrown over on them, for the double purpose of covering them up and to dismantle the place. Gates, palisades, and bridges were destroyed, and barracks and storehouses given to the flames, consuming in one universal blaze of destruction everything that could not be carried off.

Ragusa was destroyed by the German artillery, who lodged a quantity of powder in the vaults of the tower, to demolish it effectually by explosion. Lieutenant Thiele, a German officer of engineers, having fired the train, and found that the powder in the vaults did not explode, entered the chamber where it lay, to ascertain the reason. At that instant it blew up, carrying the unfortunate man into the air, amidst a cloud of dust and stones.

From battlement to foundation the massive stone tower, burst and rent, tottered for an instant, and then sunk like a house of cards, but with a mighty crash, which shook the frail cottages of the adjacent village. A shower of stones and mortar was scattered in every direction, and the mangled corse of Thiele fell into the river many yards off, and sank to the bottom unheeded and uncared for.

Such was the storming of Almarez, which took place on the 18th May, 1812; and for the capture of which Sir Rowland, afterwards Lord Hill, received the title of Baron Almarez of the Tagus.

As soon as the laborious work of destruction was completed, the troops were marched from the ruined forts, with their colours flying and drums beating; and ascending the hills of the Lina to the distance of about half a league, bivouacked on their grassy sides. As they retired, Ronald looked back to the place where so many had found a tomb, and where, but for another destiny, he might have found his. Under the mounds made by the levelled ramparts, lay the mangled remains of men who but a few hours before were in life, and in the full enjoyment of health and spirits. A cloud of dust and smoke yet hung over the ruins, between which the glassy Tagus was flowing still and clear, with its surface glowing in the full splendour of the meridian sun,—flowing onwards as it had done a thousand years before, and as it will do a thousand after those who fought and died at Almarez are forgotten!

Leaving the bivouac on the mountain-side, where fires were lighting and preparations making to regale on what had been found in the stores of the enemy, Ronald, immediately on arms being 'piled,' returned to the village, which he found almost deserted by the population, who were rummaging and searching about the ruins of the forts for whatever they could lay their hands on, heedless of the lamentations made by the widows of some of the slain, who hovered near the uncouth tomb of their husbands.

At the door of a dilapidated cottage, the walls and roof of which appeared to be held together solely by the thick masses of vine and wild roses clambering about them, Ronald found Evan busied in cleaning his musket and harness, which were, of course, soiled with the morning's strife, and chanting the while his favourite 'Keek into the draw-well,' etc., to drown the monotonous Ave-Maria of an old blind village matron, who was telling over her rosary while she sat on a turf by the door, warming herself in the rays of the bright sun.

He entered softly the desolate earth-floored apartment in which Donna Catalina was awaiting his return. In one corner, with his hands as usual meekly crossed over his bosom, stood the burly and disagreeable figure of the priest,—disagreeable because there was a sort of mystery attached to him, which the shapeless appearance of his garments, and the custom of wearing a cowl instead of a scull-cap or shovel-hat, tended not a little to increase; and Ronald, as a Scotsman and thorough Presbyterian, was naturally not over-fond of anyone connected with

'The Paip, that pagan fu' o' pride,'

and consequently he bestowed on the apparently unconscious padre a stern look of scrutiny and distrust. At a little square opening, that served the purpose of a window, and around which the clustering grapes and roses formed a rural curtain, Catalina was seated with her soft pale cheek resting on her hand, which was almost hidden among the heavy curls, the hue of which contrasted with its whiteness. Her dark eyes were intently fixed on the green mountains of the Lina, where the British bivouac was visible. The scabbard of Stuart's claymore jarring on the tiles of the floor roused her from her reverie, and a rich blush suffused her face, from her temples to her dimpled chin, as she advanced towards him in her usual confiding and frank manner, and passed her arm through his.

'The reverend father will perhaps retire, and keep the old patrona at the door company in her devotions,' said Ronald, after some conversation, and the monk immediately withdrew.

'Ah! senor mio,' said Catalina in a gentle tone of deprecation, 'why do you treat the poor priest so haughtily?

'I do not like him, Catalina—on my honour, I do not; and I believe there is no love lost between us. I could have sworn I saw the cross hilt of a dagger glitter under the cope of his cassock, as he withdrew just now.'

'His crucifix, perhaps.'

'He told me he carried a dagger, when I confronted him in the wood of Jarciejo.'

'Well, 'tis very probable he bears it in these sad times for protection; he can scarcely gain any from cross or cope now. He says he is Father Jerome, of the convent of All Saints at Merida. I think I have heard his voice before : he has not shown his face, as he says a vow compels him to conceal it. But indeed you must be respectful to him. The noblest hidalgos and cavaliers in my country respect the poorest Franciscan.'

'The meanest clown in mine, Catalina, cares not a rush for the Pope and all his cardinals.'

'Madre Maria! I will not listen to you,' said she, placing her hand on his mouth. 'You must not talk thus; 'tis very sinful. But alas ! you know not the sin of it. Ah! senor, if you love me,' she added, blushing deeply, 'if you love me as you have said you do, speak not so again.'

'Love you, Catalina!' replied the young man, intoxicated with the tenderness of the expression, while he drew her towards him.

'Oh, stay,—what—who is that?' said the lady hurriedly, as the room became suddenly darkened.

''Tis only that cursed priest.'

'Surely it was a British officer ; his epaulettes glittered among the vine-leaves.'

'Were I to find the padre eavesdropping, his cassock would scarcely save him from a good caning.'

'Alas! that would be most foul sacrilege. But speaking of him reminds me of a plan we had formed just before you came in. I mean to put myself under his escort, and to travel to Truxillo, where the alcalde, or my mother's brother, Don Gonzago de Conquesta, will find me a proper escort to Idanha-a-Velha, where you say my cousin Inesella resides.'

'And think you I will intrust you the length of Truxillo with this dubious character,—a priest with a poniard in his robe?'

'Amigo mio", said she, pouting prettily, 'surely I can dispose of myself as I please.'

'Catalina, a thousand times I have told you that I prize your safety before my own,' said Ronald, kissing her forehead. 'I will myself travel with you to Idanha-a-Velha.'

'I thank you; but it may not be. I may travel with a padre; but the rules of society would not permit the cavalier or soldado to be my patron or guardian.'

'But this priest------'

'You judge of him harshly, indeed. I assure you that he prays very devoutly, and I can trust myself with him without fear, especially for so short a distance as from this to Truxillo. I have no fear of the French, and neither robber nor guerilla in Spain will insult the relative of so famous a cavalier as Don Alvaro de Villa Franca. Ah! had Alvaro lived in the days when Spain was most glorious, when her chivalry were the first in Europe, his deeds would have outvied even those of the Cid.'

Ronald's indecision in this matter was ended by the arrival of an orderly, saying that the colonel wished to see him as soon as possible.

'What a confounded predicament!' exclaimed the impatient Ronald, when the Highlander was gone. 'I do not half like intrusting you to this cunning priest; and yet I must,—there is no alternative. I believe I am selected by Sir Rowland Hill to carry the account of this victorious morning to Lord Wellington; and as I cannot protect you myself, I must resign you to him.'

Ronald racked his invention to find other schemes, but the young lady had made up her mind, and was obstinate in consequence; therefore her cavalier had to submit, and make such arrangements for her departure as would enable him to repair immediately to Fassifern.

A few duros procured D'Estouville's splendid black charger from a Portuguese cacadore, whose share of plunder it had become, and a side-saddle was placed upon it for the lady. The priest had his stout mule, and another was procured for a ruddy, brown-checked paisana, or young peasant-girl, whom Catalina had engaged to accompany her by the way as a female attendant, and who, although she had a proper saddle, thought it did not in the least savour of want of verguenza (modesty) to ride la cavalier, in the Spanish manner.

Ronald having got all these matters arranged satisfactorily with promptitude and despatch, returned to bid adieu to Catalina, who drooped upon his shoulder, and gave way to a passion of tears.

He was so much agitated by this display of affection and tenderness that he could scarcely persuade himself to separate from her, and with difficulty restrained a strong inclination to make some rash and formal proposal. But, as he pressed his lips to her pale cheek, he assured her that he would in a very short time obtain leave of absence, and visit her at Idanha-a-Velha.

But for some faint hopes and lingering love for Alice Lisle, Ronald would at this exciting moment have brought matters to a climax with the beautiful donna ; and if it is possible for the heart to have two loves at once, his was certainly in that singular predicament. His case is truly described in the words of the Scottish song—

'My heart is divided between them.
I dinna ken which I wad hae;
Right willingly my heart I wad gie them,
But how can I gie it to twae?

'My heart it is rugg'd and tormented,
I'd live wi' or die for them baith;
I've dune what I've often repented,
To baith I have plighted my aith.

They were reclining in the recess of the opening or window, through which the vines straggled. Poor Catalina, as the hour of departure drew nigh, no longer cared to conceal the sentiments of her heart, but hung on Ronald's breast; while he returned her embrace with ardour, and their glossy hair mingled together in the bright sunshine. At that moment the door was opened, and Louis Lisle entered abruptly.

Having delivered over his prisoners to a cavalry guard among the mountains, he had returned hastily to Almarez, anxious to see Ronald Stuart, and bring about that long-delayed reconciliation and explanation for which he so much yearned,—the few words spoken before the forts were stormed having, to use a commonplace phrase, 'broken the ice between them.' Full of this frank intention, Lisle, after searching the village, had found the cottage where Ronald was; and entering with that unceremonious freedom which is learned by a residence in camp or quarters, found, to his no small surprise and indignation, that there was one more there than he expected.

Catalina started from Ronald's arm, and hid her blushing cheek in arranging the masses of her luxuriant hair. Ronald eyed the unwelcome intruder with a look of surprise, which he was at no pains to conceal; while the latter gave him a fierce glance of impatience, anger, and dislike ; and muttering—'Pardon me. I am, I believe, under a mistake, which will be explained when I have a fitting time and place,' he withdrew as hastily as he had entered.

Scarcely had he retired, when the monk of Merida brought his mule and Catalina's horse to the door of the cottage. The lady fastened on her sombrero, with its. long veil and white feather. Ronald tied the ribbons of the velvet mantilla, and leading her to the door, assisted her to mount. Her new attendant, the black-eyed paisana—all blushes and smiles of pleasure at the prospect of a Badajoz hat with a silver band, a pelisse and frock of the best cloth from Arrago de Puerco, trimmed with lace, etc., which her lady had promised her—appeared mounted, as we have before described, upon a mule, the housings of which were better than the friar's, which consisted entirely of rope.

Poor Victor D'Estouville's black war-steed still had its embossed bit and military bridle, with the outspread wings of the Imperial eagle on its forehead and rich martingale,—which, with the saddle-cloth, embroidered with the badges of the Old Guard, formed a strange contrast with the faded side-pad of coarse Zafra leather, which was girthed on it for the lady's accommodation.

When they had departed, he watched their retiring figures as long as they were in sight, until a turn of the road, as they entered the now-deserted pass of Miravete at a gallop, hid them from his view, and he turned towards the bivouac on the mountain-side, feeling a heaviness of heart and presentiment of approaching evil, caused probably by a reaction of the spirits after the fierce excitement of the morning, but for which, at that moment, he could not account. His distrust of the padre Jerome, the guide, increased when he recalled and reviewed many suspicious and singular points of his character. Communing with himself, he was slowly ascending the slope towards the bivouac, forgetting altogether the orders of the colonel, and turning now and then to view the little village of Almarez, embosomed among the umbrageous groves that grow around it, and far up the sides of the undulating Lina behind; the winding Tagus flowing in front, and the vast expanse of landscape and blue sky beyond, were all pleasing objects, and he gazed upon them with the delight of one who knew how to appreciate their beauty. He was aroused from his reverie by hearing his own name called, and on looking about, saw, to his surprise, Major Campbell, reposing his bulky frame in a little grassy hollow. His neck was bare, his coat was unbuttoned, and his belt, sash, etc., lay scattered about. Near him his horse was grazing quietly, but the major seemed inflamed by the utmost anger and excitement. Ronald advanced hastily towards him, and perceived that his servant, Jock Pentland,was dressing a wound on his neck, which was covered with blood.

'What has happened, Campbell?'

'Such an affair as never happened before, even in Egypt,' replied the other furiously, with a mighty oath—sworn in Gaelic, however.

'Nothing very bad, I hope?' Only a stab in the neck, three inches by one!'

'I knew not that you were wounded. Surely I saw you safe and sound after the mine was sprung at Ragusa. But I had better send the surgeon, or Stuart, his assistant, to you.'

'Oh no! 'tis a mere scratch, which I would not value a brass bodle, had I received it during the brush this morning; but to gain it as I did, —d------n it! it excites all my fury. Did you see that blasted friar?'

'The guide? I left him but an hour ago. But who wounded you? Surely not the priest?'

'An old acquaintance of yours.'

'Of mine!'

'Of yours, by the Lord! The rascal is disguised as a priest of the Convento de todos Santos at Merida. A short time ago I met the rogue leading a mule this way: his face was bare,—I knew him instantly, and strove to capture him, that the provost-marshal might in time become acquainted with his throat, which I grasped. Quick as lightning he unsheathed a poniard, and dealt a blow at my neck, which alighting luckily on my gorget, glanced upwards, giving me a severe cut under the ear.'

'Misery! You have not yet told his name.'

'Are you really so dull as not yet to have guessed who he is? Tighten the bandage, Jock! I knew the cheat-the-woodie as well as I would have done old Mohammed Djedda, Osmin Djihoun, the shoemaker at Grand Cairo, or any queer carle it has been my luck to meet in campaigning. But come to the bivouac, and I will give you a detailed account of the matter over the contents of a keg of especial good eau de vie, which it was my luck to capture this morning.'

"Tis Cifuentes! Powers above! and to him—a bandit and murderous bravo, have I intrusted the guidance of Don Alvaro's sister! I must follow and rescue her from this monster, ere worse may come of it.'

'What is all this? Of what do you speak?' said the major, struck with wonder at the other's vehemence and emotion.

'How shall I follow them? Withered be my hand, that it struck not the cowl from his accursed visage, and discovered him ere he outwitted me in such a manner!'

'By the tomb of the Campbells, he has a bee in his bonnet !' continued the major with increased wonder, while even Jock Pentland (a hard-featured Lowlander, with high cheek-bones) stayed his employment to stare at him.

'What tempted the villain to come hither disguised as a priest ?' 'The reward offered by Sir Rowland for a guide,—and perhaps he had some design against your life. He bears you no good will.'

'As he has failed in that by my vigilance, the brunt of his hate will fall with double fury on Donna Catalina, to whose noble brother he is an especial foe. This caused the presentiment, the secret feeling of coming evil, which has haunted me this whole morning ; and truly it was not for naught. Major, my resolution is taken : I will set off across the hills in pursuit of them this instant. You must lend me your horse, and make the best excuse for me you can to the colonel, as I shall not be back till to-morrow, perhaps. Ho! now for the chase! Narvaez is likely to find a cairn among the mountains, if he comes within reach of my sword.'

He leaped upon Campbell's horse while speaking, and urging it towards the hills, was away in a moment, while the proprietor sprung from the ground, exclaiming hastily, 'Halloa! ho, man! What, the devil, is the fellow mad? Halt, Stuart ! By heavens, he will break his neck, and the horse's wind, if he rides at that rate. And what shall I do without my horse? I must visit the guards to-night on foot. What on earth can the fellow mean? Surely the uproar of this morning's assault has crazed him! You remember, Pentland, that two of the low-rows went mad outright after the battle of Alexander, when we were in Egypt with Sir Ralph.'

Heedless alike of the cries, threats, and entreaties, which the major sent after him in a voice of no measured compass, on went Ronald, flying at full speed through the bivouac of the 50th Regiment, plunging right through a large fire, scattering burning billets, camp-kettles, cook's ration-meat, etc., in every direction. Overturning soldiers and piles of arms in his progress, he drove recklessly on towards the pass of Miravete, down the deep gorge of which he galloped just when the sun was dipping beyond the western horizon, and the notes of the bugles sounding the evening 'retreat' died away on the breeze behind him.

Onward he rode along the narrow mountain-path, the hills becoming darker and loftier, the overhanging craigs more awful and precipitous on each side, as they heaved their black fronts over the road, filled with yawning fissures and rents, growing black in the gloom of the evening. But these had no terrors for the Scotsman,—he heeded not the increasing depth of the shadows, or the wild appearance of the basaltic rocks; he kept his eye fixed on the windings of the road, but no trace could he discover of those of whom he was in pursuit. The line of march was dotted with wounded soldiers, straggling on to Merida (whither they had been ordered to retire), and some were dying on the road, unable to proceed further, while others had expired outright, and were lying neglected by the wayside.

Ronald returned not that evening, and when the troops were paraded next day, he was still absent; and the major's account of the singular manner in which he galloped off among the mountains in no way tended to lessen the anxiety which his friends felt at his unaccountable absence. Cameron, who was a strict disciplinarian, was very indignant, and resolved that the moment he did return he should be deprived of his sword and put under arrest. The despatch and captured colours of the fortress, together with General Hill's earnest recommendation of Ronald, which it was intended he should have carried to Lord Wellington himself, were sent in charge of Captain Bevan. The same day the victors of Almarez retired, to rejoin the rest of the division at Almendralejo, where Sir William Erskine (who had been left in command) expected hourly to be attacked by Marshal Soult, whose troops, however, never appeared, but kept close within their cantonments in the neighbouring province.

Nine days elapsed before the regiments rejoined the division, and no word was yet heard of the missing Stuart, although every inquiry was made at Villa Maria, San Pedro, and Medelin, where they made long halts. He was given over by his friends as a lost man, and poor Evan Iverach was well-nigh demented.


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