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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 32 - The Heights of Albuera - The Cross of Santiago


On the night of the 11th, or rather the morning of the 12th of June, Ronald was awakened from sleep by an officer, who occupied the same billet, entering his chamber half-dressed.

'Rouse, Stuart,' said he; 'something strange has happened. There is a noise and bustle over the whole town.'

'I have heard nothing yet, Kennedy,' answered the other, springing out of bed, and with military instinct donning his regimentals hastily in the dark. 'You have aroused me from the most pleasant nap I have enjoyed for these six months past.'

'Hark! there go the pipes.'

"Tis not the turn-out. What can be the matter? 'tis still two hours from daybreak. We shall be roughing it again with D'Erlon or Drouet, I suppose.'

'The pipes have ceased,' said Kennedy, throwing open the casement, where the voices of the musicians were heard engaged in a quarrel.

'Plaw the warning, Hector Macfarlane, you very great sumph!' exclaimed Macdonuil-dhu, the piper-major, in great wrath. 'Was it Hoggil nam Bo—the pibroch of your ain mushroom name, I desired you to plaw?'

'Oich, prut trut!' replied Macfarlane fiercely. 'I do suppose tat ta lads o' Lochsluai are as good and as pretty men, and bear as auld a name as ony Macdonald o' the Isles. Diaoul!'

'Hoch, Got tarn! it's mutiny and repellion this! Did ye move yer hand to yer dirk, Macfarlane?' asked Macdonald furiously. 'Did ye grip yer dirk to threaten me?'

'It's a far cry to Lochowe. Gin you and I strode there, ye would na cock your feather or craw sae crouse,' said the other coolly. 'It's piper-matchor you are, and sorrow tak the hoor that Hector Macfarlane, the son of Rori-bheg, has to obey your orders!' The angry reply of the noncommissioned officer was lost in the sound of the war-pipe, the drones of which Macfarlane threw over his shoulder, and strode down the street swelling with Highland indignation, while he made Merida ring far and wide to the tune of Johnnie Cope, the warning for the march, while the drums, bugles, and trumpets of other regiments, horse and foot, were heard in various parts of the echoing city.

'Holloa! Sergeant Macdonald, what is all this noise and uproar about? asked Stuart.

'I ken nae mair than an unporn pairn, sir,' replied the leader of the pipers; 'put it's a tammed cauld morning to rouse puir chields frae their plankets. There is a soughing meeserable Hanoverian wind plawing frae the east, sharp enough to skin our pare houghs, and be tammed tilt! And that trunken loon, Macfarlane, has sae mony quegsfu' under his belt, that he took the dorts, and in spite o' a' orders blew the pibroch o' Locks-loy. A ponny thing for him—the son o' Rori-bheg, a riever, hanged at Crieff for liftin\ to speak in defiance at me!'

The voice of the adjutant bawling for his horse was now heard, as he issued from under the piazzas, attended by an orderly with a lighted lantern, to collect the reports and get the companies mustered. The men were already falling in at the alarm-post, and the musket-butts were heard clattering heavily on the pavement, as one by one they took their places in the ranks.

'Stuart, don your fighting-jacket; pack up your best scarlets for a ball when we reach Madrid,' cried Claude, as he passed the window. 'We are about to show Mr. Soult the point of war.

'"Gin he meets us in the morning," as the song says. A despatch has within this hour arrived from Wellington, and we are ordered off to the front forthwith, to prevent Estremadura being invaded. Turn out as soon as you can; the corps are nearly all mustered in our Plaza de Armas. Ho, there! orderly drummer; beat for the coverers! Fall in, covering sergeants!'

The gray daylight was now beginning to make objects visible. The sky was clear, and of a cold and dark blue, and a chilling blast swept through the dull and gloomy streets, where all was martial bustle and preparation. While dressing himself with more haste than care, Stuart heard the voice of Cameron and the adjutant ordering and directing the sergeant-major; he in turn bawled to the sergeants of companies, who were vociferously calling the rolls, in which an immense number of Jocks, and Tams, and Donalds followed each other in succession. All was commotion and 'hurry-skurry,' amid which De Costa's brigade of Spanish horse galloped past, brandishing their swords, and shouting 'Arma! arma! Viva! viva!' with might and main. General Long's brigade of British followed, but in characteristic silence.

To prevent Marshal Soult from invading Estremadura from the neighbouring province, Sir Rowland Hill marched his brigades of horse and foot to Sancho Perez, collecting from Zafra and other places on his march all the Spanish and Portuguese troops he could bring together to meet the enemy, who advanced towards him in great strength, plundering and destroying the grain and vines on their route. At Zafra they attacked and defeated an advanced corps of Spanish dragoons, commanded by the Condé Penne Villamur. Animated by this success, Soult continued to press forward at the head of thirty-eight or forty thousand men ; and Sir Rowland Hill prudently fell back upon the heights of Albuera with his division, twenty-two thousand strong. There he took up a position, which every means were taken to strengthen by the erection of trenches, breastworks, and traverses, at the formation of which fatigue-parties wrought day and night. Fresh troops joined them here daily, and Ronald heard, with considerable pleasure, that Don Alvaro's troop of lances were expected to join the Spanish brigade. Alvaro's command was a sort of independent troop, unattached to any regiment, like les compagnies franches, the free troops or companies, in the old French service. The second division occupied this intrenched position twelve days, awaiting the appearance of Soult, who advanced no nearer than Santa Martha, a town about a long day's march distant. He showed no disposition to fight a second battle of Albuera, the ground being so strong and its occupiers so determined, that the heights could only have been captured with immense loss,—if indeed Soult could have carried them at all. On the first night after the position was taken up, a blunder of Evan's caused no ordinary commotion throughout the camp.

At the base of the heights, where a stream called the Albuera runs, he was posted as an advanced sentinel in a most wild and dreary spot. A wide and desolate plain, stretching away towards Santa Martha, lay before him ; black ridges like waves of ink rose behind; and all around were scattered the ghastly remnants of the battle fought on the ground twelve months previously. The night was gloomy and dark, the sky was starless, and not a sound broke the solemn stillness of the hour, save the Albuera, brawling and gurgling along that deep and savage-looking ravine by means of which the French had outflanked the Spaniards.

Excepting the murmur of the mountain-torrent, all was silent as the tomb; not a blade of grass was stirring, and those gloomy fantasies, so apt to fill the strong imagination of a Highlander, arose appallingly before Evan. Anxiously and intently he had fixed his eyes oh some shrubbery or tall weeds, which appeared in the twilight afar off. These his heated imagination transformed into battalions of foot and squadrons of horse, advancing stealthily over the plain. He fired his musket, and retired on the main body of his picket, which lay within an abatis composed of cork-trees, felled and intertwined for a breastwork around them. The whole camp rose in arms, expecting instantly to be attacked, but the dawn revealed the cause of Evan's mistake. A few days after Soult had taken possession of Santa Martha, Ronald had the command of one of the pickets thrown out in that direction. All were on the alert, as the enemy were continually expected to advance from their cantonments. The picket, which consisted of thirty Highlanders, occupied the summit of a rocky eminence; where, piling their arms, they lay down on the greensward to watch the sun, as it verged towards the western horizon, glittering on the polished arms of solitary sentinels and videttes posted at equal distances along the banks of the rocky river, and in front of that dark forest from the bosom of which its waters came. A Spanish sunset is a glorious scene in June, but which of the Highlanders there would have exchanged the Scottish pine or purple heath for the olive-grove or clustering grapes of Spain? Ronald was seated in a grassy nook, employed in conning over the pages of the Madrid Gaceta, when he was roused by the trampling of hoofs and clang of harness. He sprang up in time to see the shining helmets of a hundred French cuirassiers flashing in the sunbeams, as they issued successively from a deep and narrow gorge on his left, into which they had contrived to penetrate and advance unseen,—evading thus the sentinels of the other pickets.

'Death and fury! we are lost men. Our retreat is cut off! Stand to your arms,' cried he, drawing his sword. 'Form circle round the face of the rock,—show your front to them! Be cool, and steadily take your aim. Keep up your fire till the cavalry pickets in front of the wood ride to our rescue. Ha ! the gallant 9th are in their saddles already.'

With coolness and precision his orders were obeyed. The brave little band, aware of the power of foot over horse, formed circle round the eminence, and opened a close and well-directed fire, before which the cuirassiers were compelled to waver, recoil, and stay for some minutes their headlong charge, being impeded and entangled with falling men and horses; and the former, if not dead when they fell, were soon trodden to death by the hoofs of the rear rank.

'Charge!' cried the officer, a dashing fellow, who led them on.

'Chargez en queue la troupe!' and, firing their pistols, they came furiously forward sword in hand, making the turf shake as they thundered along. It was a critical moment for the little band! A sharp twinge in his left shoulder informed Ronald that a pistol-shot had taken effect there, depriving him of the use of his arm, and several of his men lay killed and wounded among the feet of their comrades, who could not help feeling a little dismayed at the overwhelming number of their opponents.

'Keep up your fire, brave Highlanders! stand fast, true Scotsmen!' cried Stuart, brandishing his claymore. 'Aim deliberately, and level low; strike below the corselet. Courage, my boys! 'tis all for our lives. They will kill, as they cannot capture. Hold your ground ! keep shoulder to shoulder, and give them the bayonet at the face of the rocks. Hurrah! well done, my own brave comrades! We shall be rescued instantly.'

The cuirassiers advanced in a semicircle boldly enough; but the steady fire of their opponents caused them again to recoil.

'Vive l'Empereur! Chateaufleur, Chateaufleur! retournez à la charge. Charge!' cried the officer again, and again the serried ranks came rushing on with renewed impetuosity; but they were once more driven back, leaving the ground strewn with writhing men and steeds. A few. resolutely pressed forward in the rashness of their daring, and struck at the defenders of the rock across the ridge of deadly bayonets which protruded over it. But they were at once destroyed, shot and bayoneted. One soldier, who was cut across the face, clubbed his musket and dashed out the brains of his adversary. And one powerful French dragoon grasped the sergeant of the picket and attempted to drag him down by main strength from the rock ; but Ronald saved him, by plunging his sword through the corselet of the Frenchman, who tumbled from his saddle, and was dragged away down the ravine of the Albuera by his affrighted horse.

The rock was again free, but not entirely so, as the cuirassiers, who were reduced to half their original number, were preparing to renew the attack, which appeared to be general along the whole chain of outposts, as the sound of firing was heard in every direction. The pickets of the 39th and 66th regiments, on the right and left, were retiring rearward on the heights, firing, as they fell back, on bodies of the enemy's cavalry, which were advancing over the plain. Ronald beheld all the other out-pickets retiring in safety. His alone had been cut off, and by means of that accursed ravine ! His little party were now reduced to sixteen effective men, and he gave them and himself up for lost. But aid was nigh: part of De Costa's cavalry, lying in front of the wood, were ordered forward by Sir Rowland Hill to his rescue. Onward they came with the speed of the wind, bearing death on the points of their spears. Ronald beheld with delight that it was the troop of Alvaro de Villa Franca, who had just joined De Costa, which was moving to his aid. As they came on, they raised the old battle-cry of Spain. 'San Jago y cierra Espana!' was the shout, as they swept gallantly on in a compact mass,—horse to horse, helms and corselets glancing, plumes and pennons waving.

'Senora Beatificada strengthen our spears!' cried Alvaro, rushing forward with his uplifted sword. 'Follow me, Montesa! Saint James and Close Spain! Stand, Frenchmen, if ye be true cavaliers! viva! San Jago y cierra Espana! Cerrar con el enemigos!'

The lances of the front rank sunk to the rest, while those of the rear protruded over the casques of the former, and onward still they pressed, shaking the very rock from which the rescued picket viewed this new conflict. Not a whit dismayed at the number or character of their opponents, the undaunted cuirassiers met them half-way, and a most gallant hand-to-hand conflict ensued. The scene when the adversaries first met was a perfect combat in the style of the days of chivalry,—the realization of a scene of romance. The proud battle-cry of the Spaniards, answered by the 'Vive l' Empereur!' of the French,—the crash of lances, splintering on casque and corselet,—the clash of blades,—the tramp of hoofs,—the dust,—the blood,—the groans and shrieks,—the curses,—the spurring and prancing, as the parties intermingled,—the brown uniforms and the blue,—the steel helmets and the brass,—the red plumes and the black,—the tall spears and uplifted sabres flashing in the setting sun,— the gaudy standard of the Spaniards,—the eagled guidon of the French, fluttering and waving above the conflict,—the dead and the wounded trodden heedlessly below,—formed altogether a most exciting and soul-stirring scene.

Alvaro distinguished himself in no ordinary degree. The long horsehair on his crest was seen dancing up and down amidst the thickest of the melee, and whenever his sword descended, a saddle was emptied by the blow. But Ronald could not remain long to witness the valour of his friend, although he eagerly wished to do so. He drew off the remnant of his picket, and, crossing the Albuera, retired into the trenches of the camp, where of course the whole division were under arms.

The outposts were driven in on all sides; and satisfied with this display, Soult brought off his cavalry, who had suffered severely in the contest. Ronald's wound was found to be severe; but the shoulder-blade had escaped fracture, and as soon as it was dressed, he rejoined his company with his arm slung. On the disappearance of the French, the troops piled arms, and all was again the same as before, save the plain in front of Albuera, which was strewn with dead and wounded, and other relics of the skirmish.

As Stuart sat in his tent, writing an account of the day's fray for Lochisla, the door became darkened, and Don Alvaro, entering, grasped him by the hand. He was pale with fatigue, and Ronald knew, by the increased gravity and sorrow imprinted on his features, that he was aware of his sister's death, and that it lay heavy on his heart.

'Amigo mio,' said he, 'a minute later had seen your brave picket cut to pieces. We drove back these gay cuirassiers in glorious style, fighting, like true soldados, at point of sword and spear every inch of the way.'

'I have a thousand thanks to return you, Don Alvaro, for the dauntless manner in which you rode to the rescue. These cuirassiers were tough fellows, and fought with a bravery equalled only by that of their opponents.' 'Stay, senor; there is another subject on which I would rather converse with you, than of our hourly occupation of fighting,' replied Villa Franca, as he cast aside his leather gauntlets, and unclasping his helmet, wiped the dust from his swarthy face and dark moustaches. 'Catalina, my idolized sister,—I would ask you about her.'

Stuart's heart beat quicker. 'You have then heard ?' said he sorrowfully.

'Yes, senor; from Ignacio El Pastor, a priest of Estremadura, I learned the terrible intelligence. I fell in with him near Badajoz, when bearing your letter to my cousin and wife Donna Inesella. I took the liberty of opening it, and making myself master of its contents ; and thus, became aware of my sister's dishonour and deplorable murder. Don Ronald Stuart, there is something very singular in all that affair, and I must request that you will give me a detailed account of the whole occurrence, without the omission of a single circumstance, for the truth of which I hold your honour, as a cavalier and soldier.'

'How is this, Senor Alvaro?' replied Ronald, alike surprised and displeased at the tone and bearing of the Spaniard. 'I consider it next to an impossibility that you should suspect me of anything wrong, or of leaving anything undone.'

'Amigo mio, your pardon. I spoke somewhat hastily; but when I mention the tumult of this day's conflict, and the excitement which the recollection of my dear and beautiful sister arouses within me, I have a sufficient apology.' He leant against the pole of the tent, and covered his face with his hands, betraying an emotion in which Ronald could not but participate. 'Pardon me, Senor Stuart,' continued the cavalier, 'you loved my poor sister too well to deserve that I should judge harshly of you; but say on, and tell all you know of her dreadful death.'

The Spaniard stretched himself on the turf floor of the tent, and resting on his helmet, leant his head upon his hand, and fixing his keen dark eyes upon Ronald's, listened to the account given by the latter of her death. He began with his meeting her at Almarez, and without concealing a single sentiment which had animated them, or an observation which had passed, he continued the narrative down to the hour of her burial at the convent of Jarciejo. But both became greatly excited as the tale proceeded. Love, sorrow, and indignation caused Ronald's features to flush, and his brow to knit; but those of the hot-brained Spaniard became black with fury, and convulsed with the excess of those passions to which his tongue could not give utterance. He wept and groaned, and grasped the hilt of his poniard energetically. When Ronald ceased, he started from the ground, with his large dark eyes flashing like those of an incarnate demon.

'Moderate your transports, Don Alvaro; be calm, I beseech you!' said Stuart, grasping him by the arm.

'Cavalier, your story has driven me to frenzy,' cried he, through his clenched teeth. 'You cannot have loved Catalina as she deserved to be loved, otherwise you would not be so calm in such a terrible hour as this. Excuse me, senor; alas! I know not what I utter. You come of a northern people, less prompt to ire and vengeance than the fiery Spaniard. But much as you may have heard of Spanish vengeance,' said he, becoming suddenly calm, 'all the tales that have been told of it since the days of King Bamba or Roderick the Goth will fall immeasurably short of mine. I have left no means untried to capture Narvaez Cifuentes, but where the ban-dog lurks at present I know not. But the hour of retribution will yet come, and my fury will burst on his devoted brow like a thunderbolt' He sunk upon his knees, and ratified a solemn vow of vengeance by kissing the bare blade and cross-hilt of his stiletto. 'Senor,' said he, 'is it the custom in your native land to swear across the dagger?'

'In the days of my grandsire it was; and there are yet some among our Scottish hills who consider none now binding, unless sworn over the unsheathed dirk.'

"Tis well: it shows the military spirit of your people. Conform to the present customs of Spain, and to those of your northern ancestors. Swear with me, cavalier.'

Promptly as Alvaro could have wished, Ronald unsheathed the long Highland dirk with which he had lately equipped himself. It was a handsome weapon set with jewels, and accoutred with knife and fork, like the regimental dirks now worn by every Highland officer : and across it he vowed to aid Alvaro in delivering Cifuentes up to vengeance.

'This is well. I will now be calm,' said the cavalier in a tone of satisfaction. 'You may have some scruples about slaying the dog with your own hand; but deliver him over to the first alcalde, and he will reserve him for the fury of Alvaro of Villa Franca.'

'Such a reservation may do, should I meet him in camp or city; but woe to him should we foregather in any desert spot,—my sword and his heart will not be long asunder.'

'Spoken like a true hidalgo, who needs no friend save his own right. hand. Our Lady del Pilar! slay me this earthly fiend, and I will consider you as much my brother as if my sister, my sublime Catalina, had wedded you at the altar. Although, in truth, to be frank with you, I would rather she had bestowed her hand on her cousin, the Condé of Truxillo, a brave cavalier, who has loved her long and dearly. What now, Pedro?' Do you bring me the list of killed and wounded ?' said he, as Sergeant Gomez stood erect at the triangular door of the tent, and brought hi: right hand up to the peak of his helmet, in a sweeping military salute.

'The Valencian rogue, senor cavalier; how are we to dispose of him?' ' Ha! I had forgotten. Right, my true soldado. A base goatherd, senor,' said he, turning to Ronald, 'a most contemptible traitor, who guided up the ravine those hundred cuirassiers, who so nearly cut your picket off. Pedro captured the rogue after the skirmish. He is a notorious spy and traitor. Where is he now, Pedro?'

'Tied hard and fast, like a Merino sheep, under the belly of my Anda-lusian,' answered Pedro with a grin.

'You had better turn him over to the provost-marshal of the camp,' said Ronald; 'he will give him his deserts from the branch of the nearest tree. The rascal! by his treachery to his country my company has lost fourteen gallant hearts, and I have won this wound.'

' As he is a prisoner of mine,' said Alvaro, 'I will dispose of him, and cave senor the provost-marshal any trouble in the matter. Desire a file of troopers to dismount and load their carbines,—no! that were a waste of King Ferdinand's powder. Run your dagger into his throat, Pedro, and see that you strike deep; then fling his carcass over the rocks into the Albuera, and let it rot in that same ravine that he knows so well.'

Pedro disappeared, and almost instantly a prolonged shriek, which startled the whole camp, announced that the unscrupulous sargento had obeyed his orders to the very letter. Ronald was about to express some abhorrence of this summary mode of execution, when he was interrupted. 'Villa Franca, said a handsome Spanish cavalry officer, about twenty years of age, appearing at the door of the tent; 'the Condé Penne Villa-mur wishes to see you. Our brigade and De Costa's have been ordered to the front, as an advanced post. Such are the orders of Sir Rowland Hill. The condé would speak with you without delay, and our trumpets will sound "to horse" in an hour.'

''Tis well, Lorenzo. I am in a true fighting mood to-day, and our troop of lancers are in glorious order. The Marquess de Montesa of Valencia,' said Alvaro, introducing the stranger to Ronald, 'the senior lieutenant of my lances.'

'A sharp skirmish that was in which we were engaged a short time ago, senor,' said Montesa with a laugh. He was one of those gay fellows who laugh at everything. ' We appear to have shared alike in the misfortunes of war,' he added, pointing to his left arm, which was bound up in his red Spanish scarf.

'Ha, marquess! your presence reminds me of what other thoughts had nearly driven from my memory. Look you, Senor Don Ronald,' said Alvaro, displaying a golden cross suspended by a red and yellow ribbon. 'We have been commissioned by my relative, Alfonso de Conquesta, Grand-master of the military order of Saint James of Spain, to invest you with this badge, and create you a knight-companion of our most honourable order, as a reward for your bravery at Almarez, accounts of which have been fully blazoned forth by the Gacetas of Madrid and other places.'

Stuart, who had longed with all the ardour of a young soldier for some of those military decorations with which the bosoms of foreign troops are covered, received the cross with a pleasure which he could not conceal. At that time neither medal nor star was to be seen in our service, save among the officers of the 15th Light Dragoons, who received from the Emperor of Germany an 'Order of Merit' for their singular bravery at Villiers-en-Couché, in 1794.

'A most beautiful cross indeed, Don Alvaro!' said Stuart, 'but our mess are droll fellows, and I shall be sadly quizzed about it.'

'A badge such as this should raise other sentiments than those of ridicule in the minds of honourable cavaliers,' observed Montesa. 'You will find it a star for the ladies' eyes to follow. Our Spanish damsels know well that the tried and proved soldier alone wins the cross and riband of St. James.'

'The marquess has your diploma of knighthood in his sabretache; he will explain to you the rules of the order. Meanwhile, I shall attend the noble condé,' said Alvaro, and departed. The diploma, a parchment containing the oath, the rules of the order, and bearing its seal appended, was written in Spanish and Latin, and Ronald was a little startled at the tenor of the vow.

"Tis no small honour the noble and venerable Grand-master confers upon you, senor,' said Montesa, after reading over the document. 'The order of St. James is one of the most ancient and chivalric in Spain. It was instituted, in the year 1170, by Ferdinand II., king of Leon and Galicia. It is conferred solely on hidalgos of the highest rank, very seldom on foreigners, and never yet on a heretic'

'I am afraid, marquess, your Spanish prejudices will incline you to class me with the latter.'

'I trust that, although as true a Catholic as ever kissed cross, I have more liberality, and the Grand-master is too anxious to enrol you as a gallant soldier in the order, to inquire much about your tenets, which in truth are doubtful,' said Montesa, laughing, ' if I may believe the reports of my fair cousin, the abbess of Santa Cruz. Religious inquiries may be dispensed with, but for form's sake the vows are indispensable; and when Alvaro returns, we will examine and sign the diploma sent hither by Don Alfonso.'

'The vows; I should be glad to know them. By your cross, I perceive that you are a knight of the order.'

'Every Spanish officer of distinction is,' replied Montesa, with a proud smile. 'We are supposed to observe the rules of San Austin, and vow obedience, conjugal fidelity to our wives—demonio! and service to all ladies. Things easily sworn to,' added he, laughing heartily, 'but hard to keep in Spain. By San Jago! I have broken them a score of times. Senor, you know that vows and restrictions which suited the steel-clad knights of Ferdinand of Leon, will scarcely suit the cigar-smoking and dashing officers of Murillo or Don Carlos D'Espagna's divisions. Our Lady! we would as soon swear to the vows of the barefooted Franciscan; But you will have to make it appear that your ancestors have been, at least, hidalgos or gentlemen for four generations.'

'For sixteen, if you choose, marquess; but I should need the assistance of some northern bard to unravel the matter. However, my colonel will resolve that point for you.'

'And that in your veins there runs not the base blood of Jew, Morisco, or heretic ; and that you have never been called in question by the late Inquisition,—the devil confound it!'

'To these I may freely swear, No! on blade and Bible.'

'You see by the diploma,' continued Montesa, with a droll smile, 'that knights in their novitiate are obliged to tug an oar in the king's galleys for six months, to harden them to labour; and then live for six months more in a Carthusian monastery, fasting and praying, being the while scantily supplied with black bread, and liberally with water to wash away their sins and enormities.'

'The deuce, marquess! These disagreeable preliminaries will scarcely suit me; and I fear I must forego the high honour intended me by the venerable Grand-master.'

'Not at all, senor,' replied Montesa. 'Were these parts of the military novitiate to be rigorously exacted how very few of our Spanish caballeros of Madrid would display their crosses on the gay Prados! By Santiago! I would see De Conquesta and his order at the bottom of the Mediterranean before I would submit to such degradation. Besides, senor, if twelve months' campaigning here will not harden us, nothing on earth will.' 'How then, marquess?'

'A few doubloons paid to the grand-treasurer, at Cadiz, where at present Don Alfonso resides, will procure you a dispensation from these, and all will then be right. Ha ! here comes Villa Franca. You have made despatch with the condé.'

'Montesa,' said Alvaro, entering, 'our trumpets will blow "boot and saddle" instantly. The Spanish horse will relieve General Long's brigade of the out-picket duty on the Santa Martha road. We move the moment the sun dips behind the heights of Albuera.'

'You will probably see some fighting before dawn.' 'True, Senor Stuart; and perhaps a few saddles will be emptied before the bugle sounds the réveille,' replied Montesa, whose own was doomed to be one of them. 'Ho! there go our trumpeters already. Alvaro, we had better invest our friend with his cross: dispensing, of course, with the mummery of monks and godfathers. Diavolo! we ought to have had a fair lady to clasp on his belt and affix the star. Would we were near the convent of Jarciejo!'

'The lady must be dispensed with likewise. Hark! the condé already blows "to horse!" He is somewhat impatient, truly. Lend me your sword, marquess; I cannot bestow the knighthood with mine, as the cross-bar was broken off in our late fandango with the enemy. Let us seek the tent of Don Juan Cameron; and when we have been satisfied on some points of lineage, amigo mio, amidst the officers of your own brave regiment, you shall become our sworn knight-companion.'

'A most unceremonious instalment,' said Montesa, 'but war and necessity must be pleaded for our excuse; and the knight that is created in a tent is more likely to prove a true cavalier than he who receives his spurs in the carpeted palace or decorated chapel.'

In Fassifern's tent, Stuart was duly dubbed knight of St. James, having, as such, the privilege of wearing his bonnet in the presence of the King of Spain. As soon as the hasty ceremony was over, the Spaniards sprung to their saddles and departed, leaving Ronald with the cross on his breast, amid a circle of his brother-officers, who, with their congratulations, threw in sundry dry jokes.

For many months afterwards he was known among them as 'the Knight of Santiago,' seldom receiving any other name except when on duty. Jokes must be furnished for mess and parade, and Ronald's cross was a standing one. He became, however, a greater favourite with the colonel and regiment. He was esteemed by the officers and beloved by the soldiers, who would, as they emphatically said, 'storm hell's yetts to serve him.' Than British soldiers, none knew better how to appreciate the good qualities of an officer who treats them well; and their love, esteem, and confidence, which cannot fail being of service to the officer himself, are easily gained by kindness and affability. Nor was St. James's cross the only piece of good fortune that Ronald obtained. He had returned to his tent, where he sat finishing his letter for Lochisla, and regretting bitterly that he was unable to send another for Inchavon, when Alister came in with a newspaper in each hand.

'I congratulate you, Sir Knight of Santiago de Compostella; the saints are propitious to you, certainly, or the Horse Guards at least. Lisle has sent me these papers up from the castle of Belem, from which place he was just about to set out on his return with a detachment of convalescents. Look you here.'

'What! any more orders of knighthood?'

'Something more substantial. "War Office, 24th—no, 28th Foot, Lieut. Dalbiac to be captain, vice Paget, killed in action. Ensign Stuart, from the 92nd Highlanders, to be lieutenant, vice Dalbiac."'

'Ah! is it really possible?' exclaimed Ronald, springing up.

'Quite, and a most lucky dog you are. You may thank Almarez and Sir Rowland Hill for this. He recommended you for promotion, you know.'

'The 28th is an English regiment------'

'The gallant slashers!

'I should be sorry to leave the Highlanders—one of our most dashing national regiments.'

'Your taste appears to be consulted admirably. Look at this "Gazette" in the next paper. "92nd Highlanders—Brevet-major Colin Campbell to be major, vice Macdonald, appointed to the 8th Garrison Battalion; Lieut. Macdonald to be captain, vice Campbell ; Lieut. Ronald Stuart, from the 28th Foot, to be lieutenant, vice the Honourable Sholto Douglas;, who exchanges."'

'Excellent !' exclaimed Stuart, as they shook hands. 'I shall be with you still: Cameron has planned this matter, surely. But this Honourable Sholto,—I have never had the pleasure of seeing him.'

'Oh! he has been on the staff in Ireland for these three years past. A drawing-room soldier, that has no idea of bivouacs and tough ration beef—fording rivers up to the neck, and having forced marches of forty miles. Sholto has kept himself clear of these matters, and is, consequently, no favourite with the chief,—Cameron, I mean: the warning he gave me about that title at San Pedro must not be forgotten. I wish you joy heartily, Ronald, notwithstanding you are promoted over my head. However, I am near the top of the ensigns, and the next engagement may provide for some of the seniors. We must wet the new commission to-night in glorious style; and, hark ! firing, by Jove! The out-pickets are engaged! Soult is at it again.' Drawing back the door of the tent, they saw the flashes of musketry and gleam of steel appear on the Santa Martha road, and wreaths of white smoke curling up among the rocks and broken ground between, showing that a running skirmish had commenced.

The noise of the firing became more rapid and loud, and then died away; and the Spanish cavalry were seen, sword in hand, pursuing the French at full gallop. The Condé Penne Villamur had repelled the attack of the French cuirassiers, and having defeated them, rashly left his ground in pursuit along the road to Santa Martha; where, falling into an ambush of several squadrons of horse, his Spaniards were almost all cut to pieces. Don Alvaro, at the head of his lancers, charged madly through and through them, and brought off the condé, after a most desperate and bloody conflict fought hand to hand with sword and spear, amid which the gay and brave young Marquess of Montesa was slain, being 'cloven to the teeth, through steel and bone,' by Louis Chateaufleur, a major of cuirassiers, mentioned by De Mesmai in preceding chapters. Alvaro was so severely wounded by a sword-thrust between the joints of his breast and back plate that he was rendered unserviceable for some time; and, procuring leave, departed for Idanha-a-Velha, where Donna Inesella still resided.


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