The death-bed scene of poor
D'Estouville, although it made on the witnesses of it a deep impression
for the time, was easily passed over when the feelings are blunted and
deadened by the continual excitement of campaigning. They had scarcely
left the chapel or hospital, before the shade of sorrow which their faces
had worn disappeared. Macdonald went away on some duty: Stuart's thoughts
reverted to his arrest, and the disagreeable predicament in which he was
placed; while De Mesmai began to talk in his usual light and careless
style. He placed his scarlet forage-cap very much on one side, tightened
his sash, arranging the tassels gracefully, and stuck his glass in his eye
to ogle and scrutinize the females who passed.
'Poor Victor!' said he; 'a
merrier comrade or more gallant soldier than he was, there is not in the
Imperial service. Many a glorious evening we have had in Paris flirting
with the jolies grisettes of the Rue des Trois Maries,—fighting with the
gendarmerie, and amusing ourselves by frolicking with messieurs the
good-natured bourgeois,—some dozen of whom we have ducked in the Seine.
These days are all passed away, and poor Victor is gone to his long home.
War leads to death or glory, and his fate to-day may be ours to-morrow;
so, then, what is the utility of being cast down? Vive la joie! let us
live and be merry while we can. Praised be our stars! here is a
wine-house, where we can spend the evening in a jovial style, and scare
away from our hearts the gloom cast upon them by the death of D'Estouville.
Diable! mon ami; for what do you stare so at that old ruinous mansion?
''Tis the house of the
Villa Franca family. I received great kindness from them, when I came to
Merida for the first time.'
'A picturesque ruin it
makes, with its shattered capitals and empty windows. D'Estouville's
grenadiers did all that. I have heard that he carried off a very pretty
creature from this place, at least so Chateaufleur of ours told me. He had
her at Almarez; but, like a cunning dog. kept her closely out of my sight,
lest I might have procured her transfer to the tower of Ragusa, when I was
left in temporary command. But we had plenty of girls there, by the Pope!
We captured a score of plump young paisanas; but their skins were devilish
brown, and their hands were all chapped with milking goals and cows. Here
is the wine-house,—but, morbleu! I have not one infernal sou to clink upon
'I have, mon camarade,'
said Stuart, producing a purse containing forty duros, which he had
borrowed from Major Campbell, to procure favour with whom he was obliged
to endure two long stories about Egypt.
'Sacré! forty duros? A
lucky dog and a most gorgeous display,— 'pon honour—really. Enter, then,
and we will drink a long glassful to the continuance of the war.'
From the wine-house they
adjourned to the Prado, where they strolled about under the shade of the
rich orange-trees, or lounged on the wooden sofas. De Mesmai smoked a
cigar, and kept up, to use a camp phrase, a running fire of words, and
laughed heartily at his own jokes ; while Ronald listened in silence, and
surveyed with feelings of mortification the regiment on its evening
parade, from which for the present he was excluded.
'Fine fellows, these
bare-kneed Celts of yours, Monsieur Stuart,' said De Mesmai, as he knocked
the ashes from his cigar. 'A goodly row of most captivating brown legs
they have. How pretty the waving tartan seemed, as the corps wheeled from
open column into line. They call forth the admiration of the ladies,
too,—the delightful creatures ! Really, 'pon honour, I think they peep
more at the Scottish plaids and plumes than at this smart uniform and
bright steel bourgoinette of mine. A galant chevalier your colonel is. He
gives his orders with that firm tone of authority which marks the true,
the bold-hearted soldier, and one born to command. A soldado of most
goodly proportions is that long-legged field-officer, who last night bored
me to death about Egypt and his campaigns there. Body o' the Pope ! look
at that girl.'
'With the black veil hung
over the high comb. What a roguish black eye and most excessively
attractive pair of ankles she has ! I will speak to her. Ho! ma princesse——'
'Beware what you do, De
Mesmai,' interrupted Ronald hastily. 'She is a lady, and one of rank
evidently, by the lace embroidery on her stomacher and mantilla. Some
officers of the 39th are with her, too.'
'Diable! so I now perceive;
and one of your savage Scotch chasseurs, I think.'
'Savage!' repeated Stuart,
dubious whether to laugh or frown. 'He is an officer of the Highland Light
Infantry,—that corps with the tartan trews, and bonnets without feathers.
By Jove! 'tis Armstrong; the same officer who cut down poor D'Estouville
at Almarez. He is flirting with this young lady, and recks no more of the
deadly stroke he gave than if he had killed a muircock. Let us move on.
The Highlanders will
march past this way, and I little like to be sitting here like an outcast
from them,—and without my sword too, by heavens!'
'A prisoner of war,—diable!
Me voila à votre service. I will go with you wherever you please. But
there are more girls congregated here, to see the troops on evening
parade, than in any part of this ruinous old city of Merida. In France
they love, like the butterflies, to be in the sun ; but here they
promenade under the cold shades of the trees, or sail about beneath their
gloomy damp piazzas. By the way, it has a most singularly picturesque
effect, a tall graceful figure with a fluttering veil and floating
mantilla gliding under these old arches: quite mysterious, in fact. Look,
for instance, at that lovely creature with the auburn tresses. Tete-dieu!
how I long to wheel that girl round in a waltz. Ha ! there is a
rouge-et-noir table not far from this, and a thought strikes me ; I shall
make my fortune to-night. Will you lend me a couple of those dazzling
duros you showed me a short time ago?'
'Undoubtedly, and with
'Vive la joie! Come along,
then. There is a gaming-house in the Calle de Ferdinando, kept by some
officers of the Portuguese cacadores. Come with me, and I will show you
how to break their bank, and carry off their glorious piles of duros and
'I never gamble,' replied
Ronald; 'and by the rules of our service 'tis strictly forbidden to do so,
either in camp or quarters.'
'Bah! mon camarade. If I
had you within sound of the bells of Notre Dame, I would soon teach you to
forget your northern prejudices.'
Stuart's remonstrances and
protestations were made in vain. The gay impetuosity- of the Frenchman
overcame them all; and while arguing about the matter they arrived at the
door, where a board, painted red on one side and black on the other,
announced that the rouge-et-noir table was kept there. A crowd of English,
Portuguese, and German officers were pressing round the table, at the head
of which sat the banker, a swarthy Portuguese officer of light infantry,
with a long cigar in his mouth, and having heaped up before him several
piles of dollars, doubloons, and British guineas,—all of which were
rapidly changing hands at every turn of the red and black cards.
Stuart remarked that there
was not a single Scottish bonnet in the room, and his national abhorrence
of gambling caused him absolutely to blush at being there. He was
disgusted at the wild eagerness, the intense anxiety, the bitter
disappointment, fierce anguish, or cruel triumph which he witnessed in the
features of the players. The two dollars De Mesmai had borrowed were soon
added to the goodly pile which lay before an officer of the 39th; and
urged on by the former, Ronald betted on several cards, all of which
turned up fatally, and he had the mortification to behold every one of his
remaining dollars swept across the table in quick succession, and coolly
pocketed by a fierce-looking Spanish officer of De Costa's brigade, who
evidently thought it no sin to gamble, although he wore on his left breast
the enamelled red cross of Calatrava, a religious order of knighthood.
Ronald rushed away from the hell, feeling absolutely furious at his own
folly and at De Mesmai, who, however, continued at the table, in hopes of
borrowing from some one.
The lesson was not lost on
Stuart, who from that day until this has never touched a card. But that
night's play left him literally penniless, and in a strange city. He was
ashamed to apply to any of his brother officers, or expose his folly to
them ; and as Gordon, the regimental paymaster, had not received the
arrears of pay, there was nothing to be hoped for from him. It was now
dusk, and he was wandering among the groves of olive and willow that
flourish by the sedgy banks of the Guadiana, and overhang its current.
Here, whilst pursuing the narrow pathway by the river-side, he was
surprised by seeing the figure of Dugald Mhor Cameron, the colonel's
private servant, standing at a short distance from him—a sure sign that
Cameron himself was not far off.
Dugald Mhor (or big Dugald)
was an aged but hardy Highlander, from the country of the Cameron, or the
land of the great Lochiel, on the banks of Loch Linnhe, among the wild,
dark mountains of Lorn and Morven,— the Morven of Ossian. From these he
came to follow the son of the laird through the Continental wars, and he
had been by the side of Cameron in every battle in which the corps had
been engaged in Egypt, Denmark, Holland, Portugal, and Spain, and had been
twice wounded,—once at Bergen-op-Zoom, and again at the battle of
Alexandria, Egypt. Dugald was nearly seventy years of age, yet his
well-knit frame was strong and muscular as that of a horse, and his hair
was white as snow; while his face was as dark as his tartan, by constant
exposure to the weather.
With the broad blue bonnet
over his thin white haffets, the heavy-belted plaid cast over his gallant
breast, the dirk, the pistol, and the claymore dangling at his belt, his
strong bare limbs, and the brass-studded Highland target slung on his
shoulder, Dugald Mhor was the beau-ideal of the loyal old Jacobite of the
' forty-five;' that period when the star of the Stuarts, amid the last
blaze of the true Scottish spirit, flashed forth but to vanish for ever.
It need scarcely be added that old Dugald was a stanch Jacobite. He had
witnessed the battle of Culloden, whither, as a sort of page or attendant
gilly, he had followed Cameron of Lochiel. Since the day Fassifern left
his home to follow the drum, Dugald Mhor had been to him a kind of
standing orderly, friend, sometimes a governor, but always a leal true
northern henchman, who would cheerfully have laid down his life, if by
doing so he should have pleased his master.
When Stuart beheld this
kilted vassal of the colonel's standing on the narrow path before him, he
was sure that the latter could be at no great distance; a flush suffused
his cheek, and he became confused at the idea of encountering so proud and
fiery a man while lying under his displeasure. A turn of the path brought
him in view of Cameron, who was just bidding adieu to Sir Rowland Hill. To
avoid a rencontre now seemed impossible. The general rode off in the
opposite direction, while Cameron advanced straight towards Ronald by the
narrow footway at the river-side.
'Well, Mr.' Stuart,' said
he frankly; 'this morning from my trusty Dugald Mhor I received and
perused your long letter concerning your absence, for which I believe I
must excuse you. It was a very unfortunate affair, that of the Spanish
lady's death; but every means must be taken to discover this rascal, Micer
Cifuentes. How deeply you colour ! I trust I have said nothing to offend?
Ah! I comprehend the matter fully now, by your confusion. There was a
great deal more in that letter than what met the eye, though it was very
cunningly worded. But it will not do in these days, even in Spain, to ride
to the rescue of every distressed damsel, and a knight-errant in a red
coat is a strange anomaly.
But I believe there was
much more of love than chivalry in the affair; therefore, Stuart, I pass
it over, as I trust it will never occur again.'
'To that, colonel, I may
pledge you my word of honour; one such adventure is quite enough for a
'You are aware how far I
might have carried this matter; for one who commands a Highland regiment,
composed of such fiery spirits, and so different from the line generally,
must be strict. Your absence has made a noise through the whole division,
and I have just been making your peace with Sir Rowland Hill, who is very
favourably disposed towards you, in consequence of the dashing manner in
which you led the stormers on at Almarez, and for this last affair,—the
capture of D'Erlon's aide-decamp. How very unlucky that the count escaped
! He would have been a noble prize to have sent to Britain. The adjutant
will send you your sword; and remember not to be restive at the mess, as
it is probable you will be severely quizzed, the officers having heard of
this Spanish donna, and got a version of the story very different from the
That night Ronald returned
to his billet with a lighter heart than he had felt since the death of
Catalina. His trusty squire of the body, Evan Iverach, on learning the low
state of his exchequer, pressed upon him a purse of dollars, which he had
carefully saved from his pay, with the intention of purchasing a
silver-mounted set of pipes for his father Donald, the old piper at
Lochisla. Ronald, with much reluctance, took the money as a loan, Evan
vowing, if he did not, he would throw it out of the window into the
Guadiana, which ran below it. Any chagrin he had felt at being put under
arrest was entirely obliterated by the hearty congratulations and welcome
he received from the officers assembled on parade next morning. But his
indignation was soon called forth again by the manner in which Louis Lisle
greeted him. On advancing towards him with his outstretched hand, Lisle
bestowed upon him a cold and angry glance, turned on his heel, and
withdrew to a distant part of the parade. Ronald's fiery blood boiled up
within him; and, had not the memory of Alice arisen in his mind, subduing
and softening him, he would there and then, have called her brother to an
account for his singular conduct. But smothering his indignation, he
returned to the group of officers with a flushed brow and an angry eye, to
have his temper sorely tried for some time about the Spanish lady, with
regard to whom many stories had been circulated at the mess-table.
On the evening of that day
the streets of Merida rang to the echo of muffled drums and the sad notes
of the military dead-march, as the funeral of D'Estouville passed on its
way to the church of San Juan, attended with similar honours as would have
been shown to a British officer of the same rank.
The sword and cap, bearing
the badges of the brave old Guard, were laid on the lid of his coffin, the
pall of which was borne by Fassifern and five other field-officers. His
countryman, De Mesmai, acted as chief mourner. Another officer of the
French medical staff, who was also a prisoner in Merida, attended
likewise. A smile of pleasure kindled in the proud eye of the cuirassier
as the mournful procession passed between the ranks of the first brigade,
leaning on their arms reversed, and lining the streets on both sides. He
was well pleased at the sentiments of generosity and chivalry which
directed Sir Rowland Hill to evince the same respect to the remains of a
foe that would have been paid to those of a friend; and De Mesmai was one
who knew well how to appreciate them. The grenadiers of the Gordon
Highlanders formed outside the church, under the command of Major
Campbell, and fired three volleys in the air, while the grave closed over
the remains of what was once a gay and a gallant heart. The officers of
the first brigade of infantry would have erected a monument to the memory
of D'Estouville, but it was known that it would be demolished by the
Spaniards the moment the British left the city; therefore the idea was
abandoned, and the tomb of the guardsman lies unmarked and unknown, under
the chancel of the great church of Merida, a few feet in front of the
mutilated monument erected to the memory of Francisco Pizarro, of Truxillo.
At the wine casa and the rouge-et-noir table, De Mesmai was loud that
night in praises of British generosity and gallantry, but these he
suddenly changed for something very like invectives when he was informed
that, by daylight next morning, he must be prepared to accompany a
detachment of sick and prisoners, who were ordered to the rear.
'And where is our
destination, monsieur, if I may inquire?' asked he of Claude A------, the
adjutant of the Gordon Highlanders, who had made the communication to him
in French. 'Some gay place, I hope. Lisbon, is it?'
'The castle of Albuquerque,
'Tete-dieu! a most
detestable and gloomy hole! And I am to be mewed up there, am I,
'For the present, until an
opportunity occurs for your transmission to some strong garrison-town
across the Portuguese frontier, or home to Britain.'
'You are exceedingly kind,
Monsieur Officier, by the name of the bomb ! most superbly so. But I trust
that dilatory little devil, General the Count d'Erlon, will save you all
this trouble. And as for my transmission to England—diable! I should be
sorry his Britannic Majesty's Government should take so much concern in my
affairs.' He smiled sourly, and twirled his black moustaches. ' Ha! and
what sort of being is the officer who commands on the way to Albuquerque?
I hope he will halt at La Nava: I left a sweetheart there twelve months
ago, with whom I must leave my card in passing. But the officer,—is he a
jovial trump, that will drink and play deep—stride, swagger, and swear
like a Hector?
'None of ours are much
given to any of these habits,' answered Claude dryly. 'The Honourable
Louis Lisle commands.'
'Lisle! An ensign, is he
not? A pretty boy with yellow curls, more like the Duchesse de Choiseul's
page than a belted soldier? Ah! we shall get on famously. Such a chit will
not cross me in my amusements with these don Spaniards. De Mesmai, of
Quinsay, under the orders of a young Scots sub-lieutenant! Ho, ho!
excellent. But, body o' the Pope! tell me, monsieur, am I really to be
kept in the castle of Albuquerque?'
'Captain de Mesmai, I have
already told you,' replied the adjutant, turning to go.
'Then permit me to acquaint
you, monsieur, that such treatment is tacitly saying you doubt that sacred
word of honour which I pledged to Ensign Ronald Stuart, when, as an
officer and gentleman, I surrendered myself to him on parole. This being
the case, that parole is dissolved; and I consider myself at liberty to
effect my escape where, when, and how I please, without dishonour.'
'As you choose,' answered
Claude quickly. 'But, remember, you will probably be shot in the attempt;
or, if retaken, will be degraded to the rank of a private dragoon—what in
your service you call a simple cavalier. Remember, monsieur, to be on the
alert at daybreak; you will hear the sound of the warning-pipes, as they
pass under the piazzas of your billet.'
With Lisle's detachment De
Mesmai departed next morning for Albuquerque, but by some means effected
his escape on the route there. He afterwards fell into the hands of some
of the guerillas of Don Salvador de Zagala's band, by whom he was treated
with less kindness and courtesy than he had received at Merida, and with
whom I must for the present leave him.