IN the beginning of the
next month the Highlanders were marched across the Sierra de Gate to the
ancient city of Coria, in Estremadura, where they were to remain until
they had recovered from their late fatigues, and received recruits,
clothing, supplies, and arrears of pay from Lisbon. While on the march
across the sierra, Evan's comrade, Angus Mackie, a soldier of whom I have
made frequent mention, deserted from the light company, and, singularly
enough, was discovered to have gone off in the direction of the enemy,—a
circumstance which exasperated the whole regiment against him. But the
true reason of poor Mackie's disappearance soon afterwards came to light.
On the second day after their arrival at Coria,
the mail-bags were 'brought from the rear, and Ronald, who was on guard
with twenty Highlanders at one of the four gates of the city, was much
annoyed at being unable to inquire if any letters had come for him, and he
passed the whole day in a disagreeable state of expectation and
excitement. In the evening the guards were relieved, and he hurried to his
billet, which was situated in one of the narrow and gloomy streets leading
from the marketplace towards the cathedral. At the door he was met by
Evan, who informed him that 'twa letters frae hame were awaiting him in
his room. Major Campbell had left them there some time before.'
'Foolish! Why did you not bring them to the
alake, sir! there isna ane for me,' said Evan, without minding the
question. 'My father micht hae sent me ae screed, and I houp that naething
waur than the broon coo (as he ay ca'd the yill), or a wee drap ower
muckle o' the barley bree, have keepit him fraed.'
'A light, Evan! a light! this place is very
dark,' cried Ronald to his retainer, who had followed him upstairs to hear
what news the letter contained.
'Twa candles, sir,' said he, as he lighted
them. 'Twa, nae less. By the alcalde's order, the auld patron body has to
furnish ye wi' twa,— which maks ye "as braw as the Laird o' Grant." Ye
mind the auld saying, I daur say?
Ronald snatched the letters, and beheld with
joy and delight that one was from Alice,—the other from his father.
'Poor Louis!' muttered he aloud; 'how much I
wish that he was here!' Ronald was absolutely trembling with joy as he
opened the letter and prepared to read it.
He drew his chair close to the table, and
raised the snuffers to trim the candles: when, lo! the lights were both
blown out, and the snuffers flew from his hand with a loud report.
'Gude guide us!' exclaimed Evan, astonished at
being so suddenly involved in darkness; but a hearty malediction escaped
Ronald, who was chafed and infuriated with the delay this unexpected
them again cried he. 'Did you say that Major Campbell had been waiting for
me in this room?'
sir, a gay gude while.'
'Pshaw! this is some trick of his: he has put
a pinch of powder in the snuffers His practical joke has been somewhat
mistimed. Get me fresh lights' Although Ronald laughed heartily at this
occurrence afterwards, he was greatly enraged by it at the time, and an
age seemed to elapse before Evan brought him the candles again.
Love-letters are interesting to those only for whom they are designed, and
it is not my intention to give Miss Lisle's letter at length; but the
reader, if concerned about the matter, may be assured that its contents
were in every way just what Ronald could have wished them,—save in one
part. She ex-Dressed her joy to hear that Louis was a prisoner, saying
that he was 'safer in France than fighting in Spain,' and that she almost
wished that Ronald himself might be captured likewise, to keep him out of
'Evan, Jessie Cavers begs again to be remembered to you,' said Ronald to
his expectant follower, as he closed the letter.
'Does she really, noo? The dear lassie!' cried
he, snapping his fingers while his eyes glistened with delight; and he
commenced a sort of strathspey round the table. 'My ain bonnie blithesome
Jessie ! Monv a gloaming I have spent wi' her among the sauchtree woods o
Inchavon and the haughs o' the Isla. Deil tak the wars and campaigning!
How blithely would I gie this unco land o' teuch beef and rotten nuts hard
fechtin and wearysome marching, for auld Scotland, sae brave and sae
bonnie, wi' its green grassy glens and high heather hills, its lochs and
its woods! Ochone! Oh, Maister Ronald! gin we once mair see Benmore, and
fand the smell o' oor am peat reek, I dinna think we would be in a hurry
to leave hame again. And then Miss Lisle o' the big ha' house would be
your ain, and my bonnie doo Jessie mine! I have written to her three
times, and deil a scrap o' a letter has she sent me She writes weil aneugh,
thanks to the auld dominie at the schule o' Latheronweel. But what does
the laird say? Are a' weil at oor
'All, Heaven be thanked!' replied Ronald, glancing rapidly over the pages
of his father's letter; 'but leave me just now, Evan, and see who that is
knocking in the piazzas below. I will detail the news from the glen
His father's letter,
although it contained many expressions of pride praise, and exultation for
Ronald's conduct at Almarez was written much in the same style as his
others usually were: everything was looking gloomy at home; the flocks and
hirsels were perishing on the mountains and the tenants in the glen had
failed in their rents. 'But they are our people,' continued the old
gentleman, ' and I cannot drive them forth from the sheilings where they
were born, and from the glen where the purple heather blooms so bonnily
above the graves of their fathers. I cannot savagely expatriate, as other
proprietors are doing daily, the descendants of those true and loyal
vassals, who stood by our ancestors in danger and death during many a
soul-stirring time in the years that are gone. No ! I have more honour,
compassion, and generosity. Poverty is their misfortune, not their crime.
Heaven knows how little a space of time remains for me to be over them, as
all my affairs are inextricably involved, and in a few months that letter
of cautionary, granted in an evil hour to protect that rascal Macquirk,
becomes due. God alone knows where I can raise the money. £8,000 will
scarcely pay it, and I believe I will have to lay it down every stiver, as
Macquirk has retreated to the sanctuary at Holyrood House for protection
from his creditors. Last month I was down in Edinburgh, endeavouring to
procure the needful on a bond,—but in vain. Lochisla is too deeply
involved already. Curse on the hour in which an honourable Highland
gentleman of birth and family has to sue at and succumb to a
narrow-hearted and blood-sucking attorney! a wretch that will make a
beggar of any man who is simple enough to trust him, or become entangled
in the meshes of the profession, which, like a true old Highlander, I
regard with proper hatred and contempt. D------n them all; I say, heartily
; and all tax-gatherers, messengers-at-arms, and excisemen likewise! Some
of the last kind of intruders carried off Alpin Oig's still from Coir nan
Taischatrin, and a great noise was made in Perth about it. Three came up
the glen with a warrant for his apprehension ; but I hid him in the old
dungeon under the hall, where I would advise them not to try and look for
him, if they wish to keep their bones whole. It was a great insult to
seize the still ; but I am powerless now, and can only think with a sigh
of the time when my father hung two of them on the dule tree at the tower
gate,—and no man dared to say, What dost thou? It was the day before he
marched for Glenfinnan, and the unfortunate gaugers were left to feed the
eagles and corbles of Benmore. Scotland was Scotland then! Dirk and
claymore! was the cry when a Highland gentleman was insulted. I saw, by
the papers, that young Inchavon has been taken prisoner. Well, I dare say
you will not miss him much. His sister's arts have completely failed to
entrap the Earl of Hyndford. He took his departure suddenly for Edinburgh
last month, leaving Miss Alice to fly her hawks at lesser game.'
Ronald had scarcely finished the perusal of
this disheartening letter, when Evan entered hastily. 'Oh, sir,' said he,
' I have an unco tale to tell ye aboot my comrade Angus,—puir chield.'
'How! has he been robbed by picaros—slain by
guerillas, or what? 'Oh, waur than a' that.'
'He deserted in the direction of the enemy; I
was sorry to hear of it. He was always a favourite of mine and of
Seaton's. Did he reach the French lines?
'Eh, no, sir. Captain Blacier's riflemen fell
in wi' him amang the hills, and there has been an unco tulzie. But weel do
I ken for what puir Angus deserted. It wasna the French he was awa to
join; he was off for Almendralejo, sir.'
'Almendralejo! Stay: I remember a story now.
Surely it was not his attachment to some girl there which led him to
commit so rash an act?
'Just naething else. Oh, Maister Ronald, ye
ken weel what an unco' thing love is.'
'I have seen the girl,—Maria Garcionados.'
'Ay, sir,—a bonnie lassie, wi' een like slaes,
cheeks redder than rowans, and skin like the drifted snaw; but she has
been a dooms unlucky jo for Angus. I'll tell ye the haill story. Ye maun
ken, sir, that mony months gane past, when we were quartered in
Almendralejo, Angus fell over the lugs in love wi' this braw gilpie, whan
we were billeted in her ain house. Ye heard frae Mr. Macdonald o' the
toosle we had wi' her cuisins, and unco' auld Turk o' a faither. Hech! it
was a teugh job, wi' sharp skenes and bayonets, and a' that. Weel, sir;
syne the day Angus first tint sicht o' that lassie, he has never been the
same rattling, roaring kind o' chield he was; but ay wae and dowie,
soughing and sighing till it was gruesome to hear him. Yesterday, or the
day before it, when coming ower the hills,—ye mind the bit clachan we
stoppit at for a night's rest?'
'Los Cazas de Don Gomez?'
'Ay, sir, just sae,—a deevil o' a lang nebbit
name! At a wine-house there Angus and I foregathered wi' a muleteer loon
frae Almendralejo,— Lazaro Gomez, he ca'd himsel. Ye'll maybe mind o'
be quick with your story.'
'Aweel, sir, the mule-driver gied us a' the
news and clashin' frae aboot Merida and ither places, and amang ither
things tauld Angus that auld Sancho Garcionados,—or el Picaro, as the
Spaniards ay ca' a lawyer, was gaun to compel the lassie, whether she wad
or no, to marry a rich alcalde. Od, sir; I never saw a face change as puir
Mackie's did, while the carrier callant chatted awa wi' us in broken
English, never kennin the while that ilka word was fa'in like scaudin'
lead into the heart o' puir Angus. He came to me that nicht at tatto beat,
and said he could thole this life no anither minute, and that—come weal,
come wae, he would gang off for Almendralejo, and save the lassie or dee
wi' her. I did a' I could to pacify him, but he minded me nae mair than
the wind whistlin' ower the muir. He came to me when I was on sentry at
the toon end. His een were glistening, his face was white, like that o'
something" no cannie, and his gartered knees were chafing thegither. I
grew eerie to look at him, for the nicht was dark and gloomy, and the wind
came soughing doon frae the hills wi' a sound like the moan o' a deid man.
Ae starnie was glintin' on the hill-tap, and I saw the reflection o'd in
the rinnin' water, which passes the toon wa's. Angus stretched his hands
towards the bit starnie, and said it was shinin' ower Almendralejo then,
—and may be his ain true love was lookin' at it; and that it hung like a
lamp in the mirky, left to guide him to whar she bided.
'"Hoots, havers!" said I, "ye'll sune get ower
't; and maybe that gomeral mule-driver's story o' auld Sancho's dochtor
was a' a lee—every word o't. Gang hame to your bed, my man, and ye'll be
better the morn.' 'But he just gied an unco' sough, and wrung my loof,
gaed doon the brae, and left me. Next morning Sergeant Macrone reported
him absent frae parade, and then I kent that he had taen to the hill and
was awa'. The black een o' that Spanish lass hae cuisten a glamourie ower
him waur than witchcraft. Amang the hills he fell in wi' Captain Blacier's
company o' the 6oth, some o' wha spiered the gate he was gaun. Angus
couldna or wadna tell, and a fray o' some kind ensued atween him and the
German loons ; in the middle o't, Angus drew his bayonet on auld Blacier,
for which he now lies in ane o' the square toors o' Coria.'
'Oh, the fool! Attempted to stab Blacier, did
'Ay, an vera
nigh stickit him i' the wame. Puir Angus! he ay hated thae thrawn gebbit
Hanoverian dogs, as he ca'd them; for his faither, like yer ain, had been
out in the forty-five,—wi' the Prince sae bauld and braw.'
'The unfortunate madman! he will surely die.
It is death, by the articles of war, to draw weapon upon an officer.'
'So Sergeant Macrone says; but, alake! Maister
Ronald, I houp it will no come to that. Blacier is only a German, ye ken,'
said Evan, while his eyes began to glisten. 'Surely the cornel, Captain
Seaton, or may be yoursel, will get him ower it. Angus and me hae ever
been cronies and brithers syne the first day we met at La Nava, and I
would be unco laith to lose him noo. Ye ken hoo dowie ye were yoursel for
mony a lang day after brave Maister Louis fell into the claws o' thae taid-eating
loons, and no a' Maister Macdonald's jokes or merriment could rouse ye.'
'Prepare yourself for the worst, Evan. Your
poor friend will certainly die, if this crime is proved against him.'
Stuart was one of the members of the general
court-martial ordered to try this case, in which desertion was coupled
with a flagrant act of insubordination. The court met in the palace of the
bishop, as there was not another house in Coria containing an apartment
fit for the purpose,—the town being very inconsiderable, having only about
fifteen hundred inhabitants, although strongly defended by walls, towers,
gates, and a very singular fortress, the ascent to which is by a flight of
upwards of a hundred steps. From this stronghold Mackie was brought before
the court which was to decide his doom.
The room in which it met was gloomy and old,
and the dim light from four mullioned windows fell uncertainly on the
war-worn uniforms and well-bronzed faces of the officers seated around the
table, on which lay paper, pens and ink, a Bible, and the articles of war.
The president, the Hon. Colonel Cadogan, of the Highland Light Infantry,
sat at the head ; the judge-advocate, an officer of cavalry, stood at the
foot of the table to read the charges,—the members taking their places
according to their rank; the seniors on Cadogan's right, the juniors on
his left. After the court had been sworn, by the president holding forth
the Bible, and every officer laying his hand upon it and swearing 'duly to
administer justice according to the rules and articles now in force for
the better government of his Majesty's forces, without partiality, favour
or affection,' the proceedings commenced. Pale, dejected, and apparently
cast down to the lowest depths of mental misery, the unfortunate young
Highlander stood before the military tribunal. His red coat, threadbare
and patched with divers colours, his frittered tartans, and a deep scar on
one of his sun-burnt knees, another on his cheek, gained at Corunna,—all
bore witness for him of the service he had seen, but which was little
cared for there, as all had served alike. Tall and erect he stood before
them, glancing from one to another in a firm but respectful manner. One by
one the evidences against him were examined, and he found no fault with
what any man said of him. Seaton and Sergeant Duncan Macrone stated the
time when his absence was first discovered, and the former spoke highly of
his general character and conduct, and acquainted the court that his life
had been twice saved by the prisoner,—first at the battle of Fuentes de
Honore, in May, 1811; and again at Arroya del Molino in the November of
the same year, when he was encountered by two aides-de-camp of the Prince
d'Aremberg during the action. Honest old Blacier, although the most
aggrieved party, was unwilling to be the means of depriving the Highlander
of existence, and taking his pipe from his mouth, gave his evidence with
marked backwardness; he concluded by saying, 'Dat he believed de henckers
knecht vas under de influence ob de pig-skins, or der teufel, or zauberei,
vich means de vitshcraft, and I vould not hab it on my conscience dat I
occasioned a young man's being shot and sent to der teufel for showing a
bare blade ven his bloodt vas up; and I hope de coort vill recommendt him
to de tender mercy ob Lord Vellington, so dat he may be shaved.'
'Your wishes, with those of Captain Seaton,
shall have due consideration with the court, Captain Blacier,' replied the
president : and the rifleman withdrew, puffing vehemently with his long
pipe. When called upon to make his defence, the prisoner had little to
say. He knew that any attempts to extenuate his double crime would be
perfectly unavailing, and his knowledge of the rules of the service led
him to anticipate his doom. Yet his keen gray eye never quailed or grew
less bright, and his voice never faltered while he addressed the court in
the following manner:
'Weel do I ken, sirs, that I have been acting
wrang,—unco wrang. I hae been guilty, in sae far that I abandoned my
quarters, and was awa amang the hills; but I deny solemnly, and may I be
haulden mansworn, if ever I ettled to desert, or gae ower to the enemy's
colours. I was clean wud, and kenned na' at the time whar I was danderin'
to. I tell your honours the truth, and I would scorn to affirm it wi' an
aith, because I never tauld a lee in a' my days, and hae nae need to fib
or flaw noo. But, sirs, I think there isna ane in this room that wadna hae
dune as I did that nicht, when I kent that I was on the brink o' losing
for ever and aye the winsome lass to whom I had plighted heart and troth ;
and I will affirm, gentlemen, that neither the danger nor disgrace o'
haeing it imputed to me that I abandoned my standard could keep me frae
trying to save her frae sic a tyrannical and avaricious auld carle as her
faither. It has been said, in the " crime," that I was gaun the gate to
the enemy's lines. Ablins I was, and ablins I wasna, for I was wading
through a sea o' desperation,—I was dumbfounded and gane gyte that nicht,
and it was a' after I had bent the biker a gay gude while, as my comrade
Evan Iverach has tauld unto you.'
'Oh, sirs! I hope that ye
will neither flog nor degrade me; but let me dee the death my crime is
said to merit. Let me dee noo,—noo that I hae broucht sorrow and wae,
sorrow and disgrace to my honest father's fireside ; for though he is but
a puir auld cottar body at Braemar, it will bring his bald head to the
grave if he hears I hae come to the halberds, it would be sic an awfu'
disgrace! the haill kintra-side wad ring wi't. let me rather die, sirs : I
say again,—a hundred times I hae faced death, and I can easily face him
ance mair. But it is when I think o' my faither and mother at hame amang
the heather hills,—struggling wi' wild and wi' poortith,—the ane herdin'
sheep in bonnie Glenclunaidh amang the lang yellow broom, and the other
spinnin' hard at the ingle-lieuk, whar I hae sae aften toddled at her
knee,—'tis whan I think o' ihem that I am ready to orp and greet, and that
my stout heart fails me,—a heart, sirs, that never failed on mony a bluidy
day. I hae nae mair to say, your honours, but just that I humbly thank ye
for hearing me sae lang, and that I wad as sune dee as live.'
This address, which was delivered with
considerable vehemence and gesture, and spoken in a very northern and
provincial dialect, was very little understood by those members of the
court who were not Scotsmen; and Ronald Stuart, whose heart yearned with a
truly Scottish love towards his countryman, explained to them the
substance of what Mackie had said. He was found guilty of the seventh and
eleventh articles in the second section of the articles of war, viz.,
desertion,—aggravated by an intention to join the enemy, and drawing, or
offering to draw, upon 'a superior officer.' He was sent back to the
fortress of Coria, and the proceedings and sentence of the court were
despatched to headquarters, with strong recommendations to mercy from
Colonel Cadogan, and from Fassifern; but many months elapsed before an
answer was returned, and during all that time the poor Highlander pined in
the noisome vaults of the castle or fort of Coria. But of him, more anon.
In consequence of the approach of the French
under General Foy, the first brigade moved from Coria while the sentence
of the unfortunate Mackie remained unknown,—every member of a
court-martial being sworn to solemn secrecy. The 50th Regiment occupied
Bejar, so famous for its mineral wells, and some sharp fighting ensued in
its neighbourhood; but Foy's troops were completely routed with great
loss. The Highlanders occupied the beautiful village of Banos, which lies
secluded in a deep and narrow valley between Leon and Estremadura,
surrounded on every side by abrupt precipitous mountains, which are
covered to their rugged summits by the richest foliage ; but amid their
caverns, fastnesses, and dingles lurk herds of wolves, the wildness and
ferocity of which keep the inhabitants in a continual state of terror and
alarm; and so daring had these savage animals become, that it was
necessary to keep large fires burning at night around the village, to
scare them from the posts of the sentinels.
Soon after the regiment arrived at Banos, the
sentence of Angus Mackie was ordered to be put in execution, having been
approved of by the proper authorities. On the retreat from Burgos some
symptoms of insubordination had appeared among the other brigades, when
the soldiers became maddened by the miseries they underwent: an officer of
'the buffs' had been shot by a soldier of that regiment. In other corps
discipline seemed almost set at naught, and it was determined that an
example should be made. The private of the 3rd Regiment was hanged, and
Angus Mackie, who, although far less criminal, had been convicted of
desertion and insubordination, was sentenced to be shot to death in
presence of his comrades, who among themselves deeply pitied and deplored
that so gallant a lad should suffer so severe a sentence for his
exaggerated crime. No charge of injustice could be laid to the account of
the court which tried him, the 'finding' of its members having been
regulated by the stern but necessary articles of the Mutiny Act. Many
months had passed away since his trial; the first excitement of the affair
had died away, and during all that time he had been confined in the dreary
fort of Coria,—a sufficient punishment alone for the crime he had
unhappy affair cast a gloom over the whole regiment,—a gloom which was
apparent in every face, as the unwilling Highlanders paraded in the valley
of Banos to witness his execution.
It was in the month of May, 1813; the evening
was a still and beautiful one. The sun was verging towards the west, and
his crimson rays streamed through the deep dark dell, upon the vine-clad
cottages and sylvan amphitheatre of Banos. Concentrated in that narrow and
gloomy glen, where the immense mountains rose on every side to the height
of many hundred feet, and where crags and rocks shot up in cones and
fantastic spires, almost excluding the light of day from the little huts
at the bottom of the dell, were the seventeen infantry regiments of the
second division, together with the cavalry, drawn up on the steep faces of
the hills, so that the rear ranks might overlook the front. The paisanos
of the secluded village, awe-struck at the unusual scene, and the sight of
so many thousand steel weapons glittering amid such dense masses of
foreign soldiers, forsook their cottages and clustered together on the
summit of a steep rock, to behold the fatal event. The troops formed three
faces of a hollow square; the rock upon which the peasants were
congregated occupied the vacant space. A spot of velvet turf, the village
green, stretched to the foot of it, and there was dug a grave,—a grave for
the yet living man; the wet damp earth heaped up on one side of it, the
rolls of turf and a rough deal coffin lay on the other. Near these stood
the bass-drum of the Gordon Highlanders; a Bible and a Prayer-book lay
open upon its head.
The Highlanders formed the inner faces of the square.
All was solemn silence and expectation; not a
whisper was heard through all that dense array; not a sound smote the ear
save the rustle of the summer foliage, as the evening wind stirred the
tall chestnuts or rich green cork-trees which nodded from the black
precipices. The general, the staff and field officers were all on
horseback, but remained motionless. At last it was known that the doomed
man was approaching, and the arms of the escort that conducted him were
seen flashing in the sunlight, as they descended from the hill-tops by the
winding pathway which led to the bottom of the valley. Sir Rowland Hill
touched his hat to an aide-de-camp, who then passed among the troops at a
hand gallop, whispering to each commanding officer ; the words of command
to fix bayonets and shoulder arms were immediately given, and before the
varying tones of the different colonels died away, the prisoner appeared
amid the square surrounded by his escort, under charge of the
provost-marshal. His own corps, I have said, was in front, and he moved
slowly along the silent ranks with downcast eyes towards the spot where
his grave and coffin lay displayed. He drew near the former, and cast a
glance into its gloomy depth, and, shuddering, turned his back upon it,
muttering: 'I would just be sax-and-twenty the morn. Sax-and-twenty! oh,
it's an unco thing to dee sae young! Oh, my faither—my mither!' he groaned
aloud; farewell to you—to auld Scotland, and a' I hae loed sae lang and
weel! It will be a sair trial to my kinsfolk in Glenclunaidh, when they
see my name on the kirk doors o' Braemar—as ane that has dee'd wi'
disgrace on his broo! [By the military regulations, the names of
soldiers who behave meritoriously, or misbehave themselves grossly, are
affixed to the church-doors of the parish in which they were born. In
Highland regiments the threat of informing friends at home of a soldier's
misconduct was sufficient to keep him in order for the time to come.]
He was clad in his white undress-jacket and
kilt, and stood bareheaded, with his bonnet in his hand. He was pale and
emaciated with long confinement, but his bearing was firm and as
soldier-like as ever. His eyes seemed unusually bright, and at times a red
flush crossed his otherwise deadly pale cheek. There were two aged monks
from the San Fernando convent of Candeleria present, but the Highlander
refused to hear or communicate with them. Yet the honest friars were
determined not to abandon him in his last hour, and withdrawing to a
little distance, they placed a crucifix against a fragment of rock, and
prayed earnestly, with true Catholic fervour, to that all-wise Power
above, before which the soul of one they deemed a heretic was so soon to
There was no
chaplain present with the troops ; but the prisoner was attended by the
venerable Dugald-Mhor, who walked slowly beside him bareheaded, with his
bonnet under his arm. He read portions of the Scripture from an old
dog-eared Bible, which he produced from his sporran molloch; and the low
solemn tones in which he read could be distinctly heard by all, so very
still was the place; and as the hand of the village-clock approached the
hour at which the soldier was to die, a deeper sadness fell upon the
hearts of the beholders, who, although long accustomed to all the
heart-harrowing scenes of war, had never before witnessed a death in so
solemn and peculiar a manner.
Mackie and his attendant sung together the
hymn: 'The hour of my departure's come,' etc. and when it was concluded,
the hand of the clock on the alcalde's house wanted but five minutes of
the hour. The soldier cast a hasty glance towards it, and falling upon his
knees, covered his face with his hands and burst out into an agony of
prayer, from which he was only aroused by the seven strokes of the last
hour he would ever hear on earth striking from the dull-toned bell.
His last moment was come!
When the sound ceased, Cameron of Fassifern
and his field-officers dismounted from their horses, which were led away,
and the provost-marshal drew up a section of twelve soldiers opposite
where the prisoner yet knelt on the turf.
Many of his comrades now took their last
farewell of him; and Evan Iverach, to whom he had given seven pounds,
saved from his pay while prisoner at Coria, to send to his parents at
Braemar, retired to his place in the ranks with tearless eyes,—because
Evan had a mistaken idea that to have shown signs of deep emotion would
have been unmanly. But that night, in his billet, honest Evan wept like a
woman for the loss of his comrade and friend. During the bandaging of
Mackie's eyes, Fassifern took off his bonnet, and kneeling down, commanded
his regiment to do so likewise. As one man the Highlanders bent their bare
knees to the sod, joining, as they did so, in the solemn psalm which
Dugald and the prisoner had begun to sing. It was a sad and mournful
Scottish air, one which every Scotsman present had been accustomed to hear
sung in their village kirks or fathers' cottages in boyhood. It softened
and subdued their hearts, carrying back their recollections to their
childhood, and to years that had passed away into eternity. Many heard it
chanted then for the first time since their native hills had faded from
their sight: and as the strain died away through the deep and narrow vale
of Banos, it found an echo in every breast.
Dugald closed his Bible, and placing a
handkerchief in the hand of the prisoner, withdrew, and covering his
wrinkled face with his bonnet, knelt down also. Now came the duty of the
provost-marshal, whose unwilling detachment consisted of twelve picked
men, of disorderly character, on whom, as a punishment, fell the lot of
slaying their comrade.
With his eyes blindfolded, the unfortunate
Highlander knelt down between his coffin and his grave, and without
quivering once, dropped his handkerchief.
'Section!' cried the provost-marshal,
'ready—present—fire!' The words followed each other in rapid succession,
and the echoes of the death-shot were reverberated like thunder among the
hills around. A shriek burst from the females of the village. Red blood
was seen to spout forth from many a wound in the form of the prisoner; he
sprung convulsively upwards, and then fell backward dead on the damp
gravel, which was so soon to cover him.
The hearts of all began to beat more freely;
but at that moment the red sun sank behind the darkening hills, and a
deeper gloom enveloped Banos, the effect of which was not lost on the
minds of the beholders.
All was over now! The corse lay stretched on
the ground, and the smoke of the musketry was curling around the grave
which yawned beside it. Cameron sprung on his horse, and his voice was the
first to break the oppressive silence. The shrill pipes sounded, and the
rattling drums beat merrily in the re-echoing vale, as corps after corps
marched past the spot where the body of Mackie, though breathless, lay yet
bleeding, and moved up the winding pathway towards the pass of Banos,
whence by different routes they marched to their cantonments in the
villages and camps among the mountains. When all had passed away, the
pioneers placed the dead man in his coffin, and covered him hurriedly up ;
the sods were carefully deposited over and beaten down with the shovel;
and the grave of the man who had been living but ten minutes before
presented now the same appearance as the resting-place of one who had been
many years entombed. The weeds and the long grass waved over it.
The village paisanos placed a rough wooden
cross above it, to prevent, as they said, 'the heretic from haunting the
resting-place of his bones;' and near this rude emblem was placed a vine,
which Evan Iverach tended daily—clearing its root of weeds and
encumbrances, watching and pruning the stem, and long before the regiment
left Banos he had twined it around and hidden the limbs of the cross; and
when the Highlanders marched from the valley, as they wound through a deep
defile among the mountains, Evan's farewell look was cast to the place
where the vine-covered cross marked the grave of his comrade.