of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 26 - The Matador
Ronald rode at a rapid
gallop along the wild mountain-path which I have already described. The
evening was growing dark, and in that solitary place the sound of the
horse's hoofs alone broke the death-like stillness, and awoke the echoes
of the frowning rocks.
In one place lay dead a
poor soldier of the 50th Regiment. His wife and three little children were
clinging to his corse, and lamenting bitterly. Night was closing around
them, and the desolate creatures seemed terrified at its approach in such
a wild spot, and called to Ronald loudly as he rode past ; but he was too
eager to overtake Catalina and her dangerous companion to waste time
unnecessarily. But he made an involuntary stop a little farther on, where
a soldier of his own company, a smart young fellow, named Archibald Logan,
lay writhing in agony across the road, with the dust of which his blood
was mixing as it oozed in heavy drops from a wound in the breast,a
musket-shot having passed through his left shoulder-belt. Ronald reined in
the animal he rode, to stay for a moment and gaze upon him. He was the
same young soldier whose aged mother had accompanied him with such sorrow
to the beach at Leith, on the morning Major Campbell's detachment
embarked, and Ronald (under whose notice this circumstance had brought
him) had always admired his soldier-like smartness and steadiness. He was
dying now, and evidently in a state of delirium ; broken sentences and
wild observations fell from his clammy lips. Ronald spoke to him: ' He
heard it, but he heeded not; his eyes Were with his heart, and that was
'Oh, mother! mother!' said
he, in piercing accents, 'dinna upbraid me wi' enlisting and leaving ye.
Ye ken weel for what I did it,to pay my puir auld faither's debt to Peter
Grippy, and to free him frae the tolbooth o' Edinburgh. But he wadna allow
me, and ca'ed the bounty his bairn's bluid siller. Put yer face close to
mine, mother ; for I hear yer greetin' and moanin', but I canna see the
face I fain would look on. Tell my faither to lay me in the sunny side o'
the kirk-yard,ye ken the place weel. I aye loed to pu' the gowans and
bluebells that grew there in simmer. Menie Ormelie lies there, amang the
lang green deid grass; lay melay me close to her. Oh, mother! ye ken I
loed her weel; we herded the same kye, and------' His voice sunk away into
a whisper, and Ronald became deeply affected. After a pause, he continued
in the same tone of agony, 'Bonnie Menie,Menie wi ' gowden hair! She lies
between the muckle deid-stane o' the lairds o Glencorse, and the vault o'
the auld folk o' Castle-Outer. Lay me close by her side, and plant some o'
the broon heather frae the bonnie Pentlandsthe Pent-lands I loe sae weelon
the heavy howme that covers me.' This was the last effort. A gush of blood
spouted from the wound, and he died without a groan.
Stuart could scarce refrain
from tears at witnessing the fate of this poor private soldier. Death,
amidst the fierce excitement and tumult of battle, where ' the very
magnitude of the slaughter throws a softening disguise over its cruelties
and horrors,' is nothing to death when it comes stealing over a human
being thus, slowly and gradually, having in it something at once awful and
terribly impressive ; and Ronald Stuart, blunted and deadened as his
feelings were by campaigning, felt this acutely, as he turned away from
the corse of his comrade and countryman. His attention was next arrested
by a monstrous raven, or corbie, which sat on a fragment of rock, watching
attentively the scene, as if awaiting his coming banquet; but Ronald
compelled it to take to flight, by uttering a loud holloa, which
reverberated among the rocks of the mountain wilderness. It was now night
; but the moon arose above the summits of the hills, glowing through
openings in the thin clouds like a shield of polished silver, and pouring
a flood of pale light along the pass of Miravete, casting into yet deeper
shadow the rifted rocks which overhung it. The speed at which he rode soon
left the mountains far behind him, and about midnight brought him close to
the gloomy wood of Jarciejo; but on all that line of road he had
discovered no trace of Donna Catalina, or the ruffian who had deceived her
; and as the country thereabouts was totally uninhabited, he met no one
who could give him the slightest information, and his mind became a prey
to fear and apprehension that some act of blood or treachery might be
perpetrated before he came up with them.
'There they are! Now, then,
Heaven be thanked !' he exclaimed, on seeing figures on horseback standing
at Saint Mary's well, a rude fountain at the cross-road leading from
Truxillo to Lacorchuela, which intersects that from Almarez to Jarciejo.
He loosened his sword in the scabbard, but on advancing found that he was
mistaken. He met a stout cavalier of Lacorchuela escorting two ladies,
whose singular equipage would have inclined him to laugh, had he been in a
merrier mood. They were seated on two armchairs, slung across the back of
a strong mule, and facing outwards, rode back to back. They were enveloped
in large mantillas, and their bright eyes flashed in the moonlight, as
they each withdrew the antifaz, or mask of black silk, which covered their
faces to protect them from the dust, the heat of the sun, or the chill
night-air when travelling.
Ronald hastily saluted them, and asked their
escort if a priest and twa females had passed that way. The cavalier, who
was mounted on a fine Spanish horse, raised his broad beaver, throwing
back his heavy brown cloak as he did so, as if to show that he was well
armed by displaying the glittering mountings of the pistols, long
stiletto, and massive Toledo sabre, which for protection he carried in the
leathern baldric encircling his waist He said that when he had first
stopped at the fountain to rest, about an hour ago, a priest and two
ladies had passed, and taken the road directly for the forest of Jarciejo.
Ronald waited to hear no more, but hurriedly
muttering his thanks, urged the good animal he rode to a gallop in the
direction pointed out, regardless as to whether or not the whole band of
desperadoes recognising Narvaez Cifuentes as their leader might be in the
wood. He had not ridden half a mile further, when the horse of
D'Estouville passed him at a rapid trot, with his bridle-rein trailing on
the ground and the saddle reversed, hanging under its belly, girths
uppermost. Some terrible catastrophe must have happened! A groan broke
from Ronald; and in an agony of apprehension for the fate of the fair
rider, he madly goaded onward the horse he rode, using the point of his
sword as a substitute for spurs, which as a regimental infantry officer he
did not wear.
mules of the priest and paisana, grazing the herbage at the entrance of
the wood, next met his view. The light-coloured garments of a female form
lying on the road caused him to spring from the saddle in dismay. It was
not Catalina, but the poor peasant-girl of Almarez; her gilt crucifix,
which she had worn ostentatiously on her bare bosom, was gone, as was
likewise the trunk-mail which she had carried. She was lying dead, stabbed
by a dagger in the throat, where a ghastly wound appeared. The feathers
and veil of Catalina's hat lay fluttering near, and the bruised and torn
appearance of the grass and bushes bore evidence that some desperate
struggle had taken place here. These outrages seemed to have been
committed recently, as the cheek of the dead girl was yet warm and soft
when Ronald touched it.
'God help you, Catalina! My thoughtlessness
has destroyed you; 'tis I that have done all this!' he exclaimed, as he
struck his hand passionately upon his forehead, and reeled against a tree.
'O gracios caballero!' said a decrepit and
wrinkled old man, arrayed in the garb of some religious order, emerging as
if from concealment among the trees; 'a most horrible scene has been acted
here. I saw it from among the olive-bushes, where I lay sleeping till the
noise awoke me.' 'The donna, mi amigo,the young lady, where is she? Tell
me, for the love of that Virgin you adore so much!'
'O los infidelos! and dost not thou adore
her?' asked the old man querulously, while his sunken and bleared eyes
kindled and lighted up.
'Trifle not, old man, but tell me instantly!'
cried Stuart, in a hoarse and furious voice.
''Twas done in a moment,en quitam alla essas
pajas, as the proverb says.'
'Curse on your proverb-----'
'''Tis no business of mine, senor soldado, and
I will have naught to do with it. A otro perro con esse huesso, says the
you will drive me distracted! Tell me what you have seen, or, in despite
of your gray hairs, I will cleave you to the teeth. The senora'
'Was dragged into the forest about an hour
ago, and horrible roses have come from it ever since, disturbing me and
keeping me from sleep. 'Tis hard for an old man to be annoyed : the
'Silence!' replied the other, placing his hand on the toothless mouth of
the poor dotard. 'Surely I heard something!'
At that moment a despairing cry, such as it is
seldom one's lot to hear, arose from the dingles of the wood, and
seemingly at no great distance. Stuart waited to hear no more, but rushed
with his drawn weapon towards the spot, making the forest ring with
threats, cries, and the bold holloa with which he had learned to awake the
echoes of his native hills and rocks. His Highland habits as a forester
and huntsman, acquired under the tuition of Donald Iverach, when tracking
the fox and the deer, gave him good aid now, and unerringly he followed
the direction of that terrible cry.
He had not penetrated above a hundred yards
among the beeches and cork-wood, when, on breaking into a narrow pathway,
he found lying motionless on the sod and bedabbled with blood, from a
wound in her bosom, the unfortunate of whom he was in search.
'Catalina de Villa Franca! Adored Catalina!'
he exclaimed, in accents of horror and affection, as he tossed his sword
from him and sunk down beside her on his knees; 'thisthis is all my
doing. I have brought you to destruction by intrusting you, in an evil
hour, to a bandit and matador!' He had no idea of pursuing the assassin.
His whole soul was wrapt up in the sad spectacle before him, and he
thought only of endeavouring to save her, if possible, before she perished
from loss of blood, which was flowing freely from a deep dagger-wound in
her pure and beautiful neck, evidently from the same weapon which had
struck Major Campbell, and slain the paisana by a blow in the same part of
the frame. Her bosom was exposed and covered with the red current, which
stained the moonlit leaves and petals of the forest flowers where she lay.
Unflinchingly had Ronald that morning beheld men weltering and wallowing
in blood; but he shrunk in agony at the sight of Catalina's.
'Catalina de Villa Franca! dearest, hear my
voice ! Speak to me. Never until this moment of horror and woe did I know
how much I loved you.' He rent the silk sash from his shoulder and
endeavoured to stanch the blood, while the unfortunate girl opened her
lustrous eyes, and gazed upon him with a look which, while it told of
exquisite painof love and delight, too surely convinced him, by its
terrible expression, that she wasdying.
'You have come, Ronald. I expected you
manymany months ago,' she whispered in broken accents, while her wild
black eyes were fixed on his with an expression of tenderness. 'Hold me
up, dearesthold me up, that I may look upon you for the last time,on the
face that I have loved so long, and used to dream about in the long nights
at Merida and Almarez. Oh that my brother, Alvaro, was here too! Holyholy
Mother of God! look on meI am dying!'
'Ah, Catalina! speak not thus: every word
sinks like a sword into my heart. Dying! oh, it cannot be! You shall live
if the aid of art and affection can preserve you. You shall live,' he
added franticly, 'and for me.' 'Oh nonevernot for you!' she said
bitterly, in tones gradually becoming more hollow;. 'it may not be. Alas!
I am not what I was an hour ago. I cannotI cannot now be yours, even
should I escape death, whose cold hand is passing over my heart.'
'Almighty Power, preserve my senses! What is
this you say?' he replied, raising her head upon his knee, and gathering
in his hand the soft dishevelled curls which streamed freely upon the
turf. 'What mean these terrible words, Catalina?'
Before she replied, a shudder convulsed her
frame, and drops of white froth fell from her lips. A strange light
sparkled in her eyes; there was something singularly fearful and beautiful
in the expression of her pale countenance at that moment.
'I need not shrink from telling you the
dreadful truth,I need not deceive you,' she added, speaking more fluently
as a passionate flow of tears relieved her. ' I feel in my heart a
sensation which announces that the moment of dissolution is at hand. I
hail it with joy,I wish not to live. The wretch who deceived us has
robbed me of that which is most precious to a woman, and then with his
escaped the lips of Ronald, and he gnashed his teeth with absolute fury,
while big drops, glittering in the moonlight, stood upon his pale
forehead, and his throat became so swollen that he was almost choked. He
snatched up his sword, and with difficulty restrained the inclination he
felt to rush deeper into the wood, in search of Cifuentes.
But how could he leave Catalina, the torn and
disordered condition of whose garments, together with the wounds and
bruises on her delicate hands and arms, bore evidence that a desperate
struggle had taken place before the first outrage was accomplished. Stuart
reeled as if a ball had passed through his brain, and the forest-trees
seemed to rock around him as if shaken by an earthquake. The fierce
emotion passed away, and was succeeded by a horrible calmness,a feeling
of settled and morbid desperation. He passed his hand once or twice over
his brow, as if to clear his thoughts and arrange them before he again
knelt beside Catalina, who had closed her eyes and lay still, as if in a
deep slumber. He thought that the spirit had passed from her; but the
faint beating of her heart, as he laid his cheek on her soft breast,
convinced him that she yet lived. Raising her from the ground, he
endeavoured to make his way through the wood to where he had left the aged
priest, to the end that some means might be procured to save her life if
it was yet possible to do so. But he had not borne her a dozen yards when
the branch of a tree tore off the sash with which he had hastily bound up
the wound, and the blood gushed forth with greater violence than before.
'Mother Mary, be gracious unto me! and forgive
me if I think of aught else than Heaven in this awful moment!' murmured
Catalina in a soft and plaintive voice. 'Ah, the pangs, the torments I
endure! Oh, mi querida, carry me no farther; 'tis useless,I am dying.
Alas ! dishonoured as I am, I would not wish to live. Lay me down here,
where the grass is soft and green. Ronald, here ends our love and my hope
Stuart's face there was an expression which pen can never describe, as he
laid her down gently on the turf, and sustaining her head upon his arm.
bent over her in silent sorrow and misery.
'Are you near me still, mi querida?' she
'Catalina, I am yet with you,my arm is around
you.' 'Alas! the light has left my eyes; death is darkening my vision.'
'Mercy of Heaven! it cannot be thus,they are bright as ever; but a cloud
has overshadowed the moon.' 'Ronald, it is the hand of death; I see you no
longer. Are you near me?' 'My hands are pressing yours,alas ! they are
very cold and clammy.' 'I feel them not: the numbness of my limbs will
soon extend to my breast. When I am gone, let twelve masses be said for my
soul. Alas, you will think them of no use! But promise me this, that I may
die more easily and peacefully? 'I do, Catalina, I do.'
'Oh that Alvaro were here, that I might hear
the sound of his voice, that he might hear mine for the last time before
I pass to the world of shadows ! He will be lonely in the world without
me. Alvaro is the last of his race,the last of a long line of illustrious
hidalgos. Holy Lady of Majorga,sweet San Juan de Dios, intercede for me!
Dearest Ronald, kiss mekiss me for the last time, while I have yet
feeling, for death is chilling my whole frame.'
In an agony of love and sorrow, he
passionately pressed his lips to those of the dying girl. She never spoke
again. It almost seemed as if he had intercepted her last breath, for at
the moment their lips met, a slight tremor passed over her whole form, and
the pure spirit of the beautiful donna had fled for ever.
This comment system requires
you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an
account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or
Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these
companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All
comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator
has approved your comment.