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 brainsa 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 bloodtheir 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
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 Lislesurely 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 nowith 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
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
'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
'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
'Oh veryvery! 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
'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
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
'Oh, I trust he has
escaped; 'twere a thousand pities if so sprightly a soldado should be
'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
commandantD'Estouville; the young man with the bear-skin cap and crimson
'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
'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 upa 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
'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.'
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
fossearms, 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
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
'The Paip, that pagan fu' o'
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
'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,
Catalinaon 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,whatwho is
that?' said the lady hurriedly, as the room became suddenly darkened.
''Tis only that cursed
'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 à la cavalier, in the Spanish
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
'My heart is divided between
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
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
paisanaall 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
herappeared mounted, as we have before described, upon a mule, the
housings of which were better than the friar's, which consisted entirely
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,
'Such an affair as never
happened before, even in Egypt,' replied the other furiously, with a
mighty oathsworn 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
'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
'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 hima 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
'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
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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