The next morning by day
break Ronald and his prisoner quitted Villa Macia.
The young Scot was
disgusted with the levity and carelessness with which, at their departure,
De Mesmai treated the tears and sorrow of his daughter, and the pious
admonitions of the reverend cura.
'Body o' the Pope!' said
he, as they cantered under the shade of the cork-trees which lined the
road, 'what a rare blockhead has become monsieur my old gardener, now
curate of Villa Macia! How D'Erlon and his aiguletted staff would laugh,
if they knew I had become quite a family man ! I am always apprehensive
that some of my wild pranks will come unluckily to light, as this affair
of poor Justine Rosat's has done; but I am too old a soldier to be put to
the blush. Blush! I have no blood to spare—the bleeding of twenty years'
campaigning has cured me of that. How the poor girl wept! What the deuce !
surely she did not expect me to take her with me? Captain Maurice de
Mesmai, of Monsieur le Comte d'Erlon's staff, with a family! Corbæuf! the
idea is most excellent! 'Tis well Victor d Estouville and our first major,
Louis Chateaufleur, know nothing of this; otherwise they would quiz me out
of the service. However, I commend my daughter to the long-visaged and
noble cavalier, Don—Don—what the devil is his name?— Gonzago de Conquesta;
and vow, if he makes not a good husband, affectionate father, and displays
not all the good qualities you will find graven on every good man's
tombstone, I will crop his ears—I will, by the name of the bomb ! Ho, ho !
now when I remember it, what a long roll-call Monsieur le Curé made of my
early scrapes, last night. I listened to him through a chink in the
partition. Tete-dieu! how impertinent the old dog was ! I own to you I was
on the point of cutting short his exceedingly rude harangue a dozen
De Mesmai kept talking thus
for an hour at a time, without heeding the interruptions of Ronald, who
did not hesitate to acquaint him freely with the opinion he entertained of
his feelings and sentiments, at which the other only laughed in his usual
loud and boisterous manner.
At San Pedro they were
received into the house of the alcalde, who showed them every attention
and civility. But there an unlucky brawl ensued. De Mesmai, probably to
spend the time, paid such close attention to the patrona, a plump, rosy,
and good-natured-like matron, that the worthy alcalde, her lord and
master, started up from the supper-table in a sudden fit of jealousy and
rage, and would have stabbed the cuirassier with a poniard, which he
suddenly unsheathed from his boot—a place of concealment often used for
such a weapon in Spain. Ronald's timely interference quelled this
dangerous brawl, and mollified the fierce merchant, for the alcalde was a
retailer of Cordovan leather ; and Stuart was very glad when he had his
troublesome companion once more out on the highway, where his pride and
petulance had less opportunities of rousing the ire of the fiery
Near Medellin, a town
twenty miles east of Menda, their horses suddenly became dead lame; and
Ronald, who was chafed to fury at the delay caused by this accident, lost
much more time, as he could not abandon the major's horse, and it could
proceed but slowly. Next day, the ninth of his absence, he beheld before
him the massive amphitheatre, the Gothic spires and well-known bridge of
the old Roman city, which was associated with so many sad and tender
reminiscences of Catalina, a thousand recollections of whom came crowding
into his mind, plunging him into melancholy, from which De Mesmai vainly
endeavoured to rouse him by an animated description of the follies and the
gaiety of Paris, and biographical sketches of the reigning beauties, with
all o whom he was, by his own account, a decided favourite.
It was dark when they
reached the bridge, on the centre of which, where the blown-up arch was
crossed by wooden planks, they saw two Highland sentinels pacing at their
post, the flutter of their plaids and waving folds of their kilts giving
to them the appearance of a couple of those ancient Romans who had often
kept watch and ward upon the same spot. On hearing the sound of the
approaching hoofs, they came to their front, and one challenged, in the
familiar voice of Evan Iverach, ' Stand! Who goes there?'
'Ronald an deigh nam fiann'
(the last of his race), answered Stuart in Gaelic, almost laughing.
The two astonished
Highlanders set up a loud skraigh, which startled the very leaves of the
olives on the other side of the Guadiana, and ringing under the arches of
the bridge, died away in the winding rocks of the river.
'Who is the officer on
guard here? asked Ronald, after Evan's extravagant joy at his sudden
appearance had somewhat subsided. 'Mr. Macdonald, sir!
'Which? We have six or
Macdonuil, sir. The guard-house is close by the first barricade ye'll find
cast across the croon o' the causeway, just inside the yetts o' the toon.'
Promising to satisfy
to-morrow the eager and affectionate inquiries of Evan, who hung on at his
plaid very unceremoniously, Stuart, with his prisoner, crossed the bridge;
and entering the city-gate, found Macdonuil's guard under arms, having
been startled by the holloa of the two sentinels.
'Where are the colonel's
quarters? asked Ronald of the officer on duty, when congratulations had
'Next door to the
town-house; you will easily know it,—a large building with a portico. But
I would advise you to defer reporting your arrival until to-morrow.'
'Why so, Macdonuil? The
sooner so much the better, surely? 'But Cameron is sure, from the
direction in which Campbell said you left Almarez, that you were not in
the hands of the enemy; and he is strangely enraged at your singular
'Singular ? How ! have I
not explained to you------'
'Oh, perfectly; I am quite
satisfied. But, my dear Stuart, Cameron is such a fiery sort of fellow,
that he will not be so easily pleased, notwithstanding your having
captured this French officer. You must prepare yourself for something
disagreeable, as he is determined to put you under arrest; and it will not
put him in a better humour to report your return just now, almost at
'You are right, Macdonuil.
But what shall I do for a billet? Twelve o'clock,—there is the bell-clock
of the corporation-house striking.'
'We have established a
temporary mess-room, and you had better go to it; our fellows are all
there still, I have little doubt,—they are never in a hurry to break up.
You know the Calle de Guadiana——' ' Lying between the river and the Plaza
'Yes. Pass down there,
wheel to your left, and you will come to the chapter-house of the San Juan
convent, where our temporary mess-house is established.'
'But I shall probably find
Fassifern there; and if anything disagreeable------'
'There is no danger. I saw
him at sunset return to his billet in the Calle de Santa Clara,
accompanied by his faithful esquire and orderly, Dugald Mhor; so he is
without doubt housed for the night.'
Ronald followed Macdonuil's
directions, accompanied by De Mesmai, who had been so often in Merida that
he knew the streets as well as an inhabitant could have known them. On
reaching the foot of the street of the Guadiana, the lights shining
through the tall traceried windows of the chapter-house, together with the
unseemly sounds of midnight roistering and merriment which issued from it,
informed them that this was the place they sought.
'Here we dismount,' said
Stuart; and alighting, they tied their bridles to the necks of two stone
saints, whose weather-beaten heads had for six hundred years sustained the
weight of a canopy over the Gothic doorway. Before entering, Ronald gave a
glance through a window, between the thick stone mullions of which he took
a survey of the company. The gloomy old chapter-house was but
indifferently lighted by a dozen yellow old commissariat candles, stuck on
the heads and hands of corbelled saints and angels, shedding a dull and
uncertain light on the table, which was composed of a few rough boards
nailed together. Around this rude contrivance sat about thirty officers in
the Highland uniform, occupying the high-backed oaken chairs which erst
were used by the holy fathers of San Juan, when assembled in solemn
conclave. Ronald saw that nearly all his brother officers were present, as
few were on guard, and there was not one married man among them.
The general equipage of the
table was different from that of a home-service mess, and contrasted
strongly with the rich uniforms of the carousers, who were drinking
Spanish wine from horns, tin canteens, glasses, and all sorts of vessels
fit for the purpose that could be procured.
'Corbæuf!' exclaimed De
Mesmai, 'what a jovial song,—-more merry than musical, though. I have a
dozen minds to strike up the Marseillaise hymn.'
'Stay,—hearken a moment.'
They were singing the
well-known Scottish song, 'Donald Macdonald,' which had become so popular
at the mess that it always followed the standing toast of ' Here's to the
Highlandmen, shoulder to shoulder !' and was chorussed in a most
methodical manner. By the noisy accompaniments of glasses clanked upon the
table, and heels upon the floor, it was evident the company were pretty
mellow. Some of the windows being open for the admittance of cool air, the
bold chorus, chanted by thirty voices, rolled out into the still night air
and echoed among the deserted streets:
'Sword, and buckler, and
Buckler, and sword, and a';
For George we'll encounter the devil,
Wi' sword and buckler, and a'.'
Now Campbell's loud
sonorous voice, chanting alone, awoke the echoes of the place:
'The Gordon is gude in a
And Campbell is steel to the bane,
And Grant, and Mackenzie, and Murray,
And Cameron will hurkle to nane.
The Stuart is sturdy and
And sae is Macleod and Mackay;
And I, their gude brither, Macdonald,
Sall never be last in the fray.'
gentlemen'—(and the thirty struck in):
'Brogues, and brochan, and
Brochan, and brogues, and a';
And up wi' the bonnie blue bonnet,
The kilt, the feather, and a'.'
As the chorus died away in
the aisles and cloisters of the adjacent church, the door was thrown open,
and Ronald, leading his French friend, entered. All eyes were turned
instantly towards them.
'Stuart! Stuart! Ronald
Stuart!' cried twenty voices: but the light glittering on De Mesmai's
helmet and breast-plate startled some so much, That their first impulse
was to seize their weapons, and many a dirk and claymore were grasped in
the expectation of seeing the room filled with Frenchmen. Those members of
the company who were sober enough rose from the table to welcome their
newly-found friend; but Louis Lisle, taking his sword and bonnet from a
stone saint who had them in keeping, abruptly withdrew.
'Introduce me, Monsieur
Stuart,' said the cuirassier, with a proud smile, 'or by the bomb ! we
will have each other by the throat. Do your comrades thus welcome
strangers, by baring sword and dagger?
Ronald could scarcely get a
word spoken as his brother officers crowded round him, and a truly
Scottish shaking of hands ensued, while a hundred questions were asked him
by the sober in English,—by the less so in their more natural Gaelic,
about his absence, and returning thus accompanied. It was impossible at
that time to relate any particulars, so he determined on deferring all
explanations until another time. Though angry at the conduct of Lisle, he
was nevertheless much gratified by the friendly reception he met with from
the other officers ; but as he had no heart to partake in their carousal,
he withdrew soon after (to the disappointment of all) with Alister
Macdonald to his billet, until another could be procured from an alcalde.
De Mesmai remained at the table, and soon established himself as the lion
of the company, and although he spoke always in Spanish, or very imperfect
English, he became a general favourite, and kept the mess in roars of
laughter. Military topics were studiously avoided, but he talked in his
usual style incessantly about duels and girls, brawls and debauches,
strange adventures and French military frolics, until the morning drums
beating reveille through the streets, warned the jovial party to separate
; but I believe more than half of them took their repose on the pavement
of the chapter-house, which had never before been the scene of such
Next morning Stuart
completed his toilet hurriedly, with the intention of waiting on the
'Prepare yourself for
something disagreeable, Ronald,' said Macdonald, who was leaning over a
window which looked out on the principal street leading from the Plaza to
the river. 'Claude A------, the adjutant, is coming here under the
piazzas. He wears his sash and gorget, and I have no doubt Cameron has
sent him to pay you a visit.'
'I expected such; yet the
chief is somewhat hurried.'
'Take care how you style
him so: I was nearly put under arrest for it at San Pedro. Come in!' cried
Alister, as a smart knock was heard at the room-door.
'Sorry to spoil your
breakfast, Stuart, by this early visit,' said the adjutant, entering; 'but
Cameron has sent me for your sword, and desires me to say that you must
consider yourself under arrest, until you can state satisfactorily in
writing your reasons for absenting yourself for these nine days past
without leave. He is in a towering passion ; all the blood of Lochiel
seems to be bubbling up in him, because you did not report yourself last
night. I never before saw his eyes glare as they do this morning.'
'Pshaw! Claude, you------'
'A fact, upon my honour.
But do not be alarmed: he is too well pleased with your conduct at Almarez
to carry this affair to extremities, believe, but for that night's work,
he would bring you to a court-martial instanter.'
'The deuce he would! Do you
think so, A------?'
'Of course. You know
Cameron; there is not a stricter fellow in the service,—a regular
martinet. But you had better take your pen, and endeavour to satisfy him
by a sheet of foolscap. 'Tis well you left us so soon last night, as you
will require a clear head this morning. Mine aches as if it would fall in
pieces ; but I mean to call at the wine-house; (you know the saying) "to
take a hair of the dog that bit me."'
'A very strange fellow, the
French cuirassier, Claude? observed Macdonald.
'A hair-brained spark as
ever I met with, He has played sad mischief with all ours. We shall not
have one officer to each company on parade this morning. A dozen, I
believe, are lying under the table with himself. Campbell, old Macdonald,
and our most seasoned topers, were put to their mettle by him. But give me
your sword, Stuart; the colonel is waiting for it, but I trust will not
keep it long. You must endeavour to make your peace with him as soon as
possible, and not be under any fear of being put in Coventry by our mess:
we know you too well to do that.'
Ronald felt considerable
chagrin as he beheld Claude A------, the adjutant, carry off his weapon,
and found himself under arrest, and in imminent danger of being arraigned
before a general court-martial. He composed himself to indite, for the
colonel's perusal, an account of his absence, which he found a very
delicate and difficult matter, as he was unwilling that the mess should
get hold of poor Catalina's name to make it a subject of ridicule, and
quiz him about it, which he feared would be done unmercifully, if he took
not some stern means to stop them.
Nearly a quire of paper was
expended before he could get a despatch worded to his own and Macdonald's
satisfaction : one giving as brief and concise an account as possible of
his adventures, and declaring that the reason of his sudden departure from
Almarez was to free the sister of Don Alvaro, of Villa Franca, from
Cifuentes, the well-known bandit, who had accompanied the first brigade
disguised as a priest. Evan was despatched with the letter to the
colonel's quarters; whilst Stuart and Macdonald, accompanied by De Mesmai,
went to visit D'Estouville, the unfortunate commandant of Fort Napoleon,
who was dying of the wound he had received from the officer of the 71st.
An old chapel, situated
near the Baths of Diana, had been appropriated as an hospital for those
wounded at the forts of Almarez. The design of some Gothic architect when
the art was in its infancy, it was a low dark building, with short clumsy
columns, gloomy arches, enormously thick walls, and dismal little windows,
between the thick mullions of which the gray daylight seemed to struggle
to be seen. What a scene of multiplied human misery the interior of the
chapel presented! The wounded soldiers, British and French, to the number
of some hundreds, lay in ranks on the damp pavement, over which a little
straw was thrown, as no bedding could be given them. Deep and hollow
groans of acute agony and suffering sounded from many parts of the
building, and the continual rustling of the straw announced the impatient
restlessness of sickness and pain. Here lay the gallant and high-spirited
conscript, brooding gloomily, and almost weeping, over those visions of
glory, which the amputation of a leg had suddenly cut short; and there the
stern grenadier of the Imperial Guard lay coolly surveying his own blood
as it trickled through the straw, and filled the carved letters of
epitaphs on the pavement-stones. Near him lay his conqueror, the British
soldier, shorn of a limb, dejected and miserable, having nothing before
him now but a ' passport to beg,' and the poor apology for a pension which
grateful Britain bestows on her defenders with the happy resource of
starving in a parish workhouse. All were pale as death, and all disfigured
by blood and bandages,—grisly, ghastly, unwashed, and unshaven. Often as
they passed up the aisle, Stuart and Macdonald held the tin canteen to the
parched lips of some wounded man, who drank greedily of the hot stale
water it contained, and prayed them piteously to adjust his bandages, or
by doing some little office to alleviate his pain. Some were dying, and
lay convulsed among their straw, with the death-rattle sounding in their
throat,—expiring, unheeded and uncared for, without a friend to behold
them or a hand to close their eyes; and as soon as they were cold, they
were seized by the hospital orderlies, and carried off for interment.
A wretched combination of
misery, pain, and sorrow the interior of that little chapel presented, and
it made a deeper impression on Stuart and Alister than on De Mesmai, who
was an older soldier, and had beheld, in twenty years' campaigning, too
much bloodshed and agony to recoil at the sight of it there ; but he
loudly expressed his pleasure at beholding the attention paid to his
countrymen. He saw that no distinction was made ; the wounded of both
nations received the same attendance from the medical officers and their
orderlies : and more than one grenadier of the Guard allowed his dark
features to relax into a grim smile, as his red-coated attendants held up
his head, to pour down his throat some dose of disagreeable stuff.
'Ha! Stewart,' said Ronald,
catching his namesake the assistant surgeon by the belt as he was rushing
past, with a saw in one hand and a long knife gleaming in the other.
'Don't detain me, pray. I
have just clapped the tourniquet on that poor devil in the corner. I have
to take his arm out of the socket, at the shoulder, too—a fearful
operation: you'll hear his shrieks immediately. Sorry to hear you are
under arrest. You will get through it, though, doubtless,—being a
'Where is D'Estouville, the
French major; and how is he?'
'Near his last gasp, poor
man. You need not go to him now, as he is dying, and troubling him will
not lengthen his life a second. I could do nothing more for him, and so
have resigned him to his fate. I must attend to our own people, whose
lives are of more consequence,—every man being worth exactly twenty pounds
to Government, as you will see in—I forget what page of the "Mutiny Act."'
'How can you jest in such a
horrid den as this? You surgeons are strangely cool fellows, certainly.
'Is lying yonder, at the
foot of that marble monument. Do not trouble him now; he will be dead in
five minutes. Excuse me: I have to amputate a leg to prevent
mortification, and its owner is growling and swearing at my delay.'
Under a Gothic canopy lay
the marble effigy of a warrior of the days that are gone. It was the tomb
of one of the Villa Franca family. He was represented in armour, and lying
at full length, with his hands crossed on his bosom. The canopied recess
had been made a receptacle for the caps and knapsacks of dead men, which
were, without ceremony, piled above the figure of the Spanish cavalier. A
tattered pennon, a rusty casque, and a time-worn sword hung over the
niche, where a marble tablet announced it to be the tomb of the noble
knight Don Rodrigo de Villa Franca: 'Muerto en una batalla con los Mores,
a diez de Noviembre, del ano de mil y viente y siete.'
In front of this ancient
tomb lay D'Estouville. Alas! how much ten days of pain and suffering had
changed the gallant young Frenchman ! He was stretched on a pile of bloody
straw, stripped to his shirt and regimental trousers. A large bandage,
clotted and gory, encircled his head, and his once very handsome features
were sadly changed; they were sunken and hollow, pale and emaciated to the
last degree. He lay motionless, with his eyes closed; but his lips were
parted, and he respired through his clenched teeth with difficulty. His
head rested on a knapsack, placed under it by an honest Irishman of the
50th, who lay on his left, smoking a short black pipe, while he surveyed,
with a composed but rueful look, the stump of his right arm. On the other
side lay a Gordon Highlander, quivering in the agonies of death : a shot
had lodged in his breast, and he, too, had been given up as incurable by
the medical officers. The agony he endured had brought on a delirium ; he
was chanting, in low and muttering tones, a sad and plaintive Gaelic
dirge,—probably the death-song of his race, and as his voice sunk and died
away, the bold spirit of the Son of the Mist seemed to pass with it.
'Morbleu! poor Victor!'
said De Mesmai. 'Ah! messieurs,—surely he is not dead?'
At the sound of the French
exclamation, D'Estouville opened his eyes, and attempted in vain to raise
his head; but a faint smile of recognition passed over his pale features
as he beheld Ronald Stuart, and gazed on the well-known uniform of De
Mesmai. 'Poor fellow!' continued the latter, while a tear glistened in his
eye, as he knelt down and took the hand of Victor; 'he is evidently far
gone. Many a merry bout we have had together at old Marcel's, and many a
midnight frolic with the girls and gens d'armes in the Rue de la
Conference; but these times have all passed now, and can never be again.
Speak to me, my friend! How is your wound?'
'Les malheurs de la guerre!
Ah, De Mesmai, mon ami, les malheurs de la guerre!' muttered the wounded
man, and sunk backward on his miserable bed; then pointing to his head, he
added, 'A mon camarade —blessure—ou—ou—plaie mortelle!'
'They have brought me here,
too, Victor, those cursed misfortunes of war; but my case is not so bad as
yours. The helmet is a better defence than the grenadier cap against the
straight-cutting blades of these fiery Scots. Cheer up, D'Estouville;
while there is life, hope remains. You may yet lead the old Guard in the
charge the eagles of the empire may yet flap their wings over you.'
Macdonald; 'his race of existence is over. Why, then, inspire him with
false hopes of living longer?'
'He is one of those fellows
that are very hard to kill. I know Victor,' whispered the other in reply;
then continued as before, 'the Emperor has marked you for his own,—the
whole service say so, D'Estouville, and suppose that your promotion will
be as rapid as ever was Soult's, Macdonald's, Bernadotte's, or any other
marshal's of the empire. Remember these things, mon ami, and never think
'Death's cold hand is upon
me. Ah! Maurice, how can I expect to conquer?'
'Morbleu! by determining to
live, and to earn honour and fame in spite of him. Courage, my friend.'
'No, no, De Mesmai!'
replied D'Estouville, with that sudden life and energy which often
animates the dying when the moment of dissolution draws near, while his
pale cheek flushed, and a light sparkled in his sunken eye. 'Honour and
glory—these are the dreams of every Frenchman, and they once were mine, my
constant thoughts, never for a moment absent from my mind. The very
visions of my sleep were full of the gloss and glitter of military parade;
martial honour was the idol of my heart. As a gallant young conscript when
I left my native home at Lillebonne, as the hardened grenadier, as the
dashing subaltern of the Guard, as a wretched prisoner pining in Scotland,
and again as a free and daring soldier,—these high hopes, this proud
ambition, never left me for an instant,—buoying and bearing me up under
all the toils of war and misfortune, until I found myself stretched on the
pavement of this chapel, a dying captive! Honour has faded away from me,
and the proud sentiments which caused my heart to swell, to bound with
rapture at the sharp roll of the drum, now animate me no more. Never again
will drum or bugle sound for me!'
'You speak very
sorrowfully, in truth,' replied De Mesmai; 'but some droning monk has been
putting these notions in your head. Take care you do not exhaust yourself,
'Ah, Maurice! a thousand
times I wish I had fallen sword in hand at Almarez, rather than lingered
here, enduring for these past ten days the extremes of mental and bodily
agony. Yet had I only received a moment's warning, I question much if that
officer of the Scottish chasseurs could have cut me down so easily.'
'No. In truth you were an
excellent swordsman, Victor—sharp of eye, and sure of hand.'
'I trust, Maurice, you will
not be long a prisoner. 'Twas a sad blank in my life, my captivity. Faith!
mon camarade, I almost shiver at remembrance of the castle of Edinburgh.
You will remember me to Louis Chateaufleur and the rest of your regiment;
and do so particularly to my own, should you ever fall in with them on
service.' He spoke now with more difficulty, and at longer intervals.
'Glory to France, and long life to the great Emperor! I trust he will
think Major D'Estouville has done his duty. Almarez I defended to the
last; and, Maurice, had you not cut the pontoon, we might have effected
our retreat. The Emperor would have saved four hundred soldiers of his
noble old Guard.'
'And your life, Victor.'
'A mere bagatelle. I lay it
down in his service.'
'Vive l'Einpereur!' cried
some of his soldiers, who lay within hearing on their pallets of straw.
The shout was taken up by many, and echoed through distant parts of the
chapel. D'Estouville's eye flashed brightly; he waved his hand as he would
have brandished his sword, and, exhausted with speaking, and the emotions
which the gallant battle-cry aroused within him, he again sank backwards,
and by the spasms which crossed his pallid features, they saw too surely
that the moment of death was nigh. Again rousing himself from his
lethargy, he beckoned to Ronald, who knelt down beside him.
'I would speak to you of
Diane de Montmichel,' he whispered, in tremulous and broken accents. 'Her
husband, Monsieur le Baron—de Clappourknuis—the letter I gave you at
Truxillo; ah! mon ami, do you not understand me?'
'Indeed I do not,
'The hand of the grim King
of Terrors is upon me ; the sands of life are ebbing fast, and my voice
will fail me soon. Monsieur le Baron------'
'Is released from the
castle of Albuquerque, and has passed over to the French lines. Think not
of these, D'Estouville.'
'I—I would give you a
message to Diane.'
'Alas ! how can I ever
'Find means, croix Dieu!'
muttered he piteously. 'Kneel closer to me. I depend on your honour,
Monsieur Stuart. Diane—Diane------'
'What of her? Say—say, ere
it be too late!'
'But there was no reply.
What the Frenchman would have said expired on his lips, and he fell back
speechless on the hard knapsack which formed his pillow.
He never spoke again; but
in a few minutes died, and without a struggle.