of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 47 - The Lady of
A RIDE of a few leagues
brought Stuart to Elizondo. On entering the market-place, two Spanish
soldiers, placed as sentinels before the door of a large mansion-house,
attracted his attention. He was informed that it was the residence of the
Condé Penne Villamur. It stood at the corner of the old market-place, to
which one of its fronts looked : the other faced the Puerta del Sol, where
the superior classes of the inhabitants met to promenade and converse,
between ten and twelve in the forenoon.
He dismounted, and
ascending a splendid staircase, was ushered into a handsome apartment, the
lofty ceiling of which was covered with antique carving and gilding. As
usual in Spanish houses, the furniture was very antique, and the chairs
and hangings were of damask cloth. The condé, a grim old fellow, whose
gray, wiry moustaches were turned up to the tops of his ears, lay back in
an easy-chair, with his legs stretched out lazily at full length under the
table, upon which stood wine-decanters and fruit, etc., etc. A young lady,
either his wife or daughter, sat in that part of the room where the floor
was raised, as if for a throne, about a foot above the rest. She sat
working at a new mantilla, which she was embroidering on a frame. Her feet
were placed on the wooden rail of a brasero, or pan filled with charcoal,
which rendered the atmosphere of the room very unpleasant to one
unaccustomed to such an uncomfortable contrivance. When Stuart entered,
the senora merely bowed, and continued her work, blushing as young ladies
generally do when a handsome young officer appears unexpectedly. The condé
snatched from his face the handkerchief which, during his siesta, had
covered it, and bowed twice or thrice with the most formal gravity of an
old Castilian, stooping until the bullion epaulettes of his brown
regimentals became reversed. Stuart delivered the despatch with which he
had ridden so far, wondering what it might contain. The condé handed him a
chair and a glass of Malaga ; after which he begged pardon, and proceeded
to con over the papers, without communicating their contents. But in
consequence of the complacent smile which overspread and unbent his grim
features, Ronald supposed that the envelope contained only some
complimentary address to the Spanish forces. And he was right in his
conjecture, as, six months afterwards, he had the pleasure, or rather
displeasure, of perusing it in a number of the Gaceta de la Regencia.
'Diavolo!' thought he, as
he bowed to la senora, and emptied his glass, 'have I ridden from the
Garonne to the Pyrenees with a paper full of staff-office nonsense?'
Villamur read over the
document two or three times, often begging pardon for the liberty he took;
and after inquiring about the health of Lord Wellington, and discussing
the probabilities of having a continuance of fine weather, as if he kept a
score of barometers and thermometers, he ended by a few other commonplace
observations, and covering up his face with his handkerchief, began to
relapse insensibly into the dozing and dreamy state from which Stuart had
roused him. Irritated at treatment so different from what he expected, and
which an officer of the most trusted ally of Spain deserved, Ronald at
once rose, and bowing haughtily to the lady, withdrew; the condé coolly
permitting him to do so, saying that Micer Bartolmé, the alcalde, who kept
the faro-table opposite, would give him an order for a billet.
'Confound his Spanish
pride, his insolence, presumption and ingratitude !' thought Stuart
bitterly. ''Tis a pretty display of hospitality this, to one who has
looked on the slaughter of Vittoria, of Orthez, and Toulouse! But my duty
is over, thank Heaven ! and to-morrow my horse's tail will be turned on
this most grateful soil of Spain.'
Micer Bartolmé expressed much joy at the sight
of the red coat, and would have invited the wearer to remain in his own
house, probably for the purpose of fleecing him at faro; but it so
happened that, at the moment, he was not exactly master of his own
premises. His good lady had just brought him a son and heir, ten minutes
before Ronald's arrival, and the mansion had been taken violent possession
of by all the female gossips, wise women, and duennas of Elizondo, by whom
the worthy alcalde was treated as a mere intruder, being pushed, ordered,
and browbeaten until he was fain to quit the field and take up his
quarters with his neighbour, an escrivano. An order for a billet was
therefore given on the mansion of a cavalier, who bore the sounding name
of Don Alvarado de Castellon de la Plana, so styled from the place of his
birth, the 'castle on the plain,' an old Moorish town of Valencia.
He received Ronald with all due courtesy, and
directed servants to look after the wants of his jaded horse. He was a
dissipated but handsome-looking man, about thirty years of age. He wore
his hair in long flowing locks, and two short black tufts curled on his
upper lip. In its cut, his dress closely resembled that of an English
gentleman ; but his surtout of green cloth was braided with gold lace,
adorned with a profusion of jingling bell-buttons, and girt about the
waist by a broad belt, which was clasped by a large buckle, and sustained
a short ivory-hilted and silver-sheathed stiletto. A broad shirt-collar,
edged with jagged lace, spread over his shoulder, and when his
high-flapped Spanish hat was withdrawn, a broad and noble forehead was
displayed ; but there was an expression in its contracted lines which told
of a heart stern, proud, and daring. His dark eyebrows were habitually
knit, and formed a continued but curved line above his nose ; and there
was a certain bold and boisterous swagger in his demeanour, which Ronald
supposed he had acquired while serving as a cavalier of fortune in the
guerilla band of the ferocious Don Julian Sanchez.
In everything the reverse of him appeared his
wife, a lady so gentle, so timid, that she scarcely ever raised her soft
dark eyes when Ronald addressed her. She was very pale; her soft cheek was
whiter than her hand, and contrasted strongly with the hue of her
ringlets; and in her beautiful, but evidently withering features, there
was such an expression of heart-broken sadness, that she at once won all
the sympathy and compassion of which Stuart's gallant heart was capable of
yielding. Her husband, for some reasons known only to himself, treated her
with a marked coldness, and even harshness, which he cared not to conceal,
even before their military guest.
The poor timid woman seemed to shrink within
herself whenever she found the keen stern eye of Alvarado turned upon her.
Often during the evening repast, which had been hastily prepared for
Ronald, and with which, in consequence of the host's behaviour, he was
disgusted, often did he feel inclined to smite him on the mouth, for the
unkind things which he addressed to his drooping wife.
In truth, they were a singular couple as it
had ever been his fortune to meet with. Although there was no duenna about
the establishment, thus affording a rare example of love and fidelity in
the lady, yet her husband seemed to take a strange and most unmanly
pleasure in mortifying her, and endeavouring to render her contemptible in
the estimation of the stranger. The latter, although he felt very
uncomfortable, affected not to be conscious of Alvarado's conduct, and
conversed with ease on various topics, and generally of the long war which
had been so successfully terminated. When the meal was ended, Donna Ximena
bowed, and faltering out, 'Addios, senores! buena noche/' withdrew,
leaving her ungracious husband and his guest over their wine.
Over his flask of rich Ciudad Real the don
grew animated, and retailed many anecdotes of scenes he had witnessed, and
adventures in which he had borne a part, while serving with Don Julian
Sanchez. Some of these stories he would have done well to have suppressed,
as they would have baffled even the imagination of the most bloody-minded
romancer to conceive. But a revengeful and hot-brained Spaniard surpasses
every other man in cruelty. He said that, like the parents of Julian
Sanchez, his father, mother, and sister, had been murdered by the French,
and on their graves he had sworn by cross and dagger to revenge them; and
terribly he had kept his formidable vow. During the whole of the war of
independence, he had never yielded quarter or mercy, but put the wounded
and captives to that death which he said their atrocities deserved. He
boasted that his stiletto had drunk the blood of a hundred hearts, and in
support of many avowals of instances of particular ferocity he cited the
Gaceta de Valencia, in the columns of which, he said, his deeds and
patriotism had all been duly extolled. Disgusted with his host, and the
strange tenor of his conversation, Ronald soon withdrew to rest, pleading,
as an excuse for so doing, his desire to commence his journey to Toulouse
early on the morrow, which he must needs do, if he would be in time for
the embarkation of his regiment.
The furniture and ornaments of his sleeping
apartment were richer and more beautiful than he could have expected them
to be on the southern side of the Pyrenees ; but the plunder of Gascon
chateaux, when guerilla bands made occasional descents to the north,
served to replenish many of the mansions that had been ravaged and ruined
by the troops of France when retreating. The bed-hangings were of white
satin, fringed with silver; the chairs were covered with crimson velvet,
and yet bore on the back the gilded coat-armorial of some French family. A
splendid clock, covered by a glass, ticked upon an antique mantelpiece of
carved cedar : and several gloomy portraits of severe-looking old
cavaliers, in the slashed doublets, high ruffs, and peaked beards worn in
Spain a hundred years before, hung around the walls. The tall casemented
windows came down to the tiles of the floor, and through the half-open
hangings were seen the bright stars, the blue sky, the long dark vistas of
the tiled roofs, and the church-spire of Elizondo.
On the table stood a showy Parisian lamp,
surmounted by the eagle of the Emperor, which spread its gilt wings over a
rose-coloured glass globe, from which a soft light was diffused through
the apartment. Throwing himself into an easy-chair with a most nonchalant
manner, Stuart made a careless survey of the place.
'Well, Ronald Stuart; truly this is a snug
billet!' he soliloquized, as he placed his feet on the rail of the
charcoal brasero, which smouldered and glowed on the hearth. 'Rich in the
plunder of France, 'tis as splendid a billet as Campbell's could have
been, when quartered in the harem of Alexandria. But assuredly this
Alvarado dede Castellon de la Plana is, by his own account, one of the
most savage rascals unhung in Spain ; and yet I am his guest, and am to
sleep beneath his roof for this night. And then Donna Ximena,by Jove!
were that gentle creature mine, how I would love and cherish her! Her
rogue of a husband deserves to be flogged, and pickled afterward!'
His eye fell on the timepiece, the hour-hand
of which pointed to eleven; and he began to think of retiring. Unbuckling
his weapons, he laid them on a chair at the bedside, to be at hand in case
of any alarm; and then, with the caution of an old soldier, he turned to
examine the means of securing the door, which was furnished with a strong
but rude iron bolt, which he shot into its place.
Two persons, whom for some time past he had
heard conversing in an adjoining room, now suddenly raised their voices:
'It shall be so. I tell you, Senor Don
'Peace! Would you awaken the cavalier in the next room?
'And who is he? cried the other furiously; '
this cavalier, of whom you have spoken thrice, who is he? But it matters
not: let him keep his ears to himself, if he is given to lie awake.
Listeners seldom hear aught that is pleasant for themselves. Said you an
officer of Wellington's army? He, too, shall die, if he ventures to cross
my path this night!'
'Carlos! madman! Let me beseech you not to raise your voice thus!'
entreated Alvarado in a whisper.
But Stuart had heard more than enough to whet
his curiosity. Indeed, owing to the tenor of those observations,of which
he had been an involuntary listener,he considered himself entitled to
sift the matter to the utmost. Examining the partition, which consisted
only of lath and plaster, he discovered, near the ceiling, a small hole in
the stucco cornice which surrounded the top of the wall.
'Stratagems are fair in war,' thought he, as
he mounted upon a side table and placed his eye to the orifice, through
which he obtained a complete survey of the next apartment. A lustre hung
from the roof, and its light revealed Alvarado and Don Carlos Avallo, a
young cavalier, about three-and-twenty years of age, whom he remembered to
have met at Aranjuez and other places. Alvarado, who was entreating him to
lower his voice, was standing half-undressed,at least without his vest,
doublet, and girdle, as if he had been preparing for rest when disturbed
by the visit of Avallo, who appeared to have entered by the window, which
stood half-open. A short but graceful Spanish mantle enveloped the left
side of this young cavalier, who wore his broad hat pulled over his face;
but his fierce dark eyes flashed and gleamed brightly beneath its shade,
like those of a tiger in the dark ; and when at times the rays of light
fell on his swarthy cheek, it seemed inflamed with rage, while his teeth
were clenched, and his lips pale and quivering. He kept his left hand free
from the folds of his velvet mantle, but his fingers grasped tremblingly
the hilt of a poniard, which appeared with a brace of pistols in his
embroidered girdle. A gold crucifix glittered on his breast, and a long
black feather, fastened in the band of his hat, floated gracefully over
his left shoulder. He appeared a striking and romantic figure as he stood
confronting Alvarado, with his proud head drawn back and his right foot
placed forward, while he surveyed the proprietor of the mansion with eyes
keen and fiery, and with rage and unutterable scorn bristling on every
hair of his smart moustaches.
'Look you, Alvarado,' said he, after a very
long pause; 'I will not be trifled with! Santos! my dagger is likely to
punch an unhappy hole in the old friendship we have so often vowed to each
other over our cups at Salamanca, if we come not to some terms this very
night. Beard o' the Pope, senor! I am not now the simple student I was
then. Alvarado! you know me. This night, then------'
'There is but one hour of it to run,' observed
the other, in a deprecating tone. ' There is but one hour------'
'Time enough, and to spare, then, thou base
you have, insolent?' said Alvarado fiercely, as he closed the casement
with violence. 'To-morrow I will meet you in the pass of Lanz, and there,
with pistols, with sword, or with dagger, I will yield you that
satisfaction for which you have such a craving.'
The other laughed scornfully. 'No, no, my
blustering guerilla ! such a meeting will not suit my purpose. Every drop
of blood in the veins of your body would not wash away the insult you are
likely to cast upon the name of Avallo by means of this poor sister of
mine. Hear me, Don Alvarado! and hear me for the last time! I tell you
that my sister has been wronged,basely wronged and betrayed by you! I
want not your blood; but do my sister justice, or, by the bones of
Rodrigo! I will make all Spain ring with the tidings of Avallo's
said the other sullenly; 'do her justice?'
'Wed her,ay, before this week is out!'
'A week is a short time, Senor Carlos; and you
forget that Ximena is likely to live for many months yet,' said the other
with a grim smile. 'Marry Elvira? Fool ! the cursed trammels of one
unhappy marriage are wound around me already.'
'You are a Spaniard, senor,my friend,'
replied Avallo scornfully, 'and can easily find some means to break these
trammels you speak of. Thanks to our sunny clime, the yoke of blessed
matrimony sits lightly on our necks. This little chit of Asturia, your
wife, shall not long be a bar in the way of righting my sister's honour.'
'Let her die!' said the young desperado, with
a thick voice of concentrated passion; 'let her die this very nightthis
very hour! She is a desolate woman. Should her death be suspected, who
shall avenge her? All her kindred perished when the French sacked Madrid.
Shall she take her departure to a better place to-night, then?
'Villain!' exclaimed Alvarado, flinging him
away from him; 'speak again of that, and I will slay you where you stand!'
'Pooh!' replied the other, with contempt. 'I
have three trusty mates within cry, whose daggers would slash to ribands
every human being your house contains ; so talk gently of slaying, senor.
By Santiago ! if it needs must be, all Spain shall know that Don Carlos
Avallo is a cavalier as jealous of his sister's honour and of his own'
name as any hidalgo between Portugal and the Pyrenees. Do you still
scruple? See, the hand of the clock approaches the twelfth hour.'
'Hush, devil and tempter! I tell you you are
the veriest villain in Spain!'
'Hah! I now remember. Most
worthy Don Alvarado, I suppose I must acquaint my uncle the prime minister
with the name of the traitor who betrayed to the savage Mazzachelli, the
Italian follower of Buonaparte, the long-defended town of Hostalrich, that
he might obtain revenge by meanly destroying its governor, the brave Don
Julian de Estrada. I have to say but two words of this matter to the
minster at Madrid, and, Alvarado, thou art a lost man!'
Alvarado's large eyes gleamed with vindictive
fury, while his olive cheek grew pale as death.
'A craven cavalier, truly!' continued the
ferocious Avallo, regarding him with a countenance expressive of stern
curiosity, and cool but triumphant derision. 'Hombre! you know that I have
heard of that misdeed of yours; and should I breathe but a word abroad
about the unpleasant fact, your ample estates will be pressed into the
royal purse, and your neck in the ring of the garrote, as surely as my
name is Avallo. Choose, then,' said he, in a deliberate tone; ' choose,
then, between utter destruction and the death of this pale-faced Ximena.
The beauty of Elvira will make you ample amends. Her beauty,but you have
already judged of that, Senor Triaquero,' he added bitterly.
'Wine, or something else, has made you mad,'
said the other, with an attempt to be bold. 'Think not that I will permit
you to lord it over me thus. And as for that affair you spoke ofHostalrichsomething
more will be requisite than the mere assertion of a subaltern of the
Castel Blazo regiment to destroy the hard-won honour and doubloons of such
a cavalier as myself.'
'Perfectly reasonable,' said the other
scornfully. 'Three different letters, written by you to Mazzachelli, and
dated from Hostalrich, are abundant proof. I found them on the roadside
near Vittoria, amidst a wilderness of papers; and now they are in the safe
strong-box of a certain lawyer, subtle as the devil himself.'
Alvarado sunk into a chair, and covered his
face with his hands, to hide the rage and mortification which distorted
'twas a brave siege that!' said his tormentor, contemplating his dismay
with a triumphant smile. ' And then poor Don Julian, to be so basely
betrayed, after all his chivalric defence and deeds of arms! But to
return. Ximena,is not her chamber at the end of the gallery?'
'It is,' faltered the other.
''Tis well,' replied Avallo, striking his hand
on the casement. The dark figure of a stranger appeared in the balcony
outside the window. After a few moments' conference he withdrew.
'Let us only keep quiet,' said he, turning a
little pale, as he extinguished the lights in the lustre. 'Retire to bed,
Senor Alvarado, who is soon to become the husband of Elvira Avallo. Sleep
sound, for Ximena will be found cold in the morning; and see that, in the
critical hour of discovery, your wonted cunning fails you not. Show grief,
and rage, and tears; you understand me? Diavolo! I hope your walls are
built substantially. Should the guest who occupies the next room have
overheard us, all is lost. But I have arranged for him. To make sure of
his silence, Narvaez Cifuentes shall waylay him among the mountains at
Roncesvalles, where even the sword of Roland would fail to aid him
cavalier, probably to keep up the courage of his companion, continued to
speak away in loud and incautious tones, Stuart descended from his
eminence, where, with considerable repugnance, he had acted the
eavesdropper so long; and, drawing his sword, advanced to the room-door.
In his eagerness to unfasten it the handle of the bolt broke, leaving it
still in its place ; and the door remained shut and immovable. A cold
perspiration burst over Ronald's brow. The life of the poor lady seemed to
hang but by a hair.
'What evil spirit crosses me now?' he muttered. 'A moment like this may
cause the repentance of a lifetime. Ah, assassins, I shall mar you yet!
Unsheathing his dirk, he applied it to the iron plate on which the bolt
ran in a groove. He attempted to wrench it off: the thick blade of the
long dagger bent like whalebone, and threatened every instant to snap,
while the envious and obstinate bolt remained firm as a rock.
A crya shrill and wailing cry, which was
succeeded by a gurgling groan, arose from the end of the corridor. The
fate of Ximena was sealed! Grown desperate, Stuart rushed against the
door, and applying his foot, sent frame, panels, and everything flying
along the passage in fifty fragments. A lustre of coloured lamps, which
hung from the ceiling, revealed to him Donna Ximena in her nightdress,
rushing from an opposite door. Her long black hair was unbound, and
streamed down her uncovered back and bosom, the pure white of which was
stained with blood, that had also drenched her linen vest and wrapper.
These were her only attire. A villain, wearing a dark dress, and having
his face concealed by a black velvet mask, was in pursuit; and, catching
her by her long flowing hair, at the very moment of her escape from the
door, dashed her shrieking to the earth with his left hand, while the
short stiletto which armed his right was twice buried in her neck and
bosom. Almost at the same moment the long double-edged broadsword of the
Highlander was driven through his body, and, wallowing in blood, the
stricken bravo sunk beside the warm and yet quivering corpse of his
victim. His comrade escaped, and Ronald, disdaining again to strike,
withdrew slowly his dripping blade, and placed his foot upon his neck.
'Hah! Senor Narvaez!' said he. 'Devil
incarnate ! the murder of Donna Catalina and the wound at Merida are
revenged now; and 'tis happily from my hand you have received the earthly
punishment due to your crimes.'
He tore the visor from the face of the
bleeding man, and, to his equal disappointment and surprise, beheld, not
the rascal visage of Cifuentes, but the fierce and forbidding countenance
of one that might well have passed for his brother. Death and malice were
glaring in his yellow eyes, and his features were horribly distorted by
the agony he endured. By this time the whole household were alarmed, and
servants, male and female, came rushing to the place with consternation
and horror imprinted on their features. The aged contador of the mansion
appeared in his trunk-breeches and nightcap, armed with a dagger and
ferule; the fat old bearded butler came to the scene of action clad only
in his doublet and shirt, and grasping, for defence, a couple of pewter
flasks by the neck: the other servants bore knives, stilettoes, pikes,
spits, and whatever weapons chance had thrown in their way.
On beholding their lady
dead on the floor, a man dying beside her, and Stuart standing over them
with a crimson weapon in his hand, they uttered a shout and prepared for a
general assault. A bloody engagement might have commenced, when the
villainous Don Alvarado appeared, with dismay and grief so strongly
imprinted on his countenance, that Stuart was almost inclined to doubt the
evidence of his own senses, and to believe the conversation with Carlos
Avallo must have been a dream. He looked around for that worthy hidalgo;
but, on the first alarm, he had vanished through the window of Alvarado's
room. The last-named gentleman seemed inclined to impute the whole affair
to Stuart, and a serious tumult would unquestionably have ensued had not a
party of the Alava Regiment, who formed the guard on the Condé Villamur's
house, arrived with fixed bayonets, and carried off all the inmates
prisoners. Perceiving Ronald's uniform, the sergeant commanding the escort
desired him to retain his sword, and seemed disposed to allow him to
depart; but a syndic, with a band of alguazils, burst in with their staves
and halberds, and insisted on the whole party being taken to the house of
Micer Bartolmé, the alcalde, on the opposite side of the Plaza.
The magistrate was clamorously roused from
bed, and forced to take his seat and hear the case. He was very sulky at
being disturbed, and, seated in his easy-chair, wrapped a blanket around
him, and frowned with legal dignity on all in the crowded apartment.
Ronald felt considerable anxiety for the issue of the affair, as all
present seemed disposed to consider him guilty; and he certainly had no
ambition to die a martyr to their opinions. The dead body of Ximena de
Morla was deposited on the floor. Her cheek was yet of a pale olive colour;
but all, her skin that was bare,her neck, bosom, arms, and ankles,was
white as the new-fallen snow, and beautifully delicate. A mass of dark
curls and braids fell from her head, and lay almost beneath the feet of
the pale group around her.
A flickering lamp threw its changeful gleams
upon the company, and by its light a clerk sat, pen in hand, to note the
proceedings. Every person present being sworn across the blades of two
poniards, the examination commenced, each witness stating what he knew in
presence of the others. The bravo having declared that he was dying,
called eagerly for a priest, that he might be confessed. Accordingly, a
padre belonging to a mountain convent, who happened to be that night in
the house, approached slowly, and in no very agreeable mood, for his brain
was yet reeling with the fumes of his debauch over-night with the alcalde,
who had stripped him of every maravedi at faro. The moaning ruffian lay
upon the floor, still and motionless; but the blood fell pattering from
his undressed wound upon the damp tiles, while his thick beard and matted
hair were clotted with the perspiration which agony had wrung from his
A dead silence
was maintained by all in the apartment while the padre knelt over the
assassin, and, in the dark corner where he lay, heard his low-muttered
confession of crimes that would have made the hairs on his scalphad there
been anybristle with horror. Dreadful was the anxiety of the dying
wretch, whose coward soul was now recoiling at the prospect of death, and
with desperation he clung to the hopes given him by his uperstitious
faith. Ever and anon he grasped the dark robe, the knotted cord, or the
bare feet of the Franciscan, beseeching him to pity, to save, to forgive
him: and the accents in which he spoke were terrible to hear. The clerk
sat smoking a paper cigar, and scraping away assiduously at a quill, while
the alcalde nodded in his chair and fell fast asleep. The alguazils leant
on their halberds, and coolly surveyed the company. A murder, which would
have filled all Scotland with horror, in Elizondo scarcely created
surprise. But the halberdiers were accustomed almost daily to brawls and
deeds of blood, so that their apathy could scarcely be wondered at.
The half-clad servants crowded together in
fear, and Ronald stood aloof, regarding with the utmost commiseration the
form of the poor Spanish lady, exposed thus in its half-clad state to the
gaze of the rude and vulgar. He kept a watchful eye on Alvarado, that he
might not, by sign or bribe, cause the padre to put any false colouring on
the statements whispered to him by the dying man, when he would have to
recapitulate them to the alcalde. The cavalier never dared to look in the
direction where his murdered wife lay ; but, turning his back upon it,
maintained a sulky dignity, and continued to polish with his glove the
hilt of his stiletto, seeming, in that futile occupation, to be wholly
abstracted from worldly matters, while he muttered scarcely audible
threats against the alcalde, the syndic, and their followers for their
interference. The bravo, having handed over to the confessor all his loose
change, received in return an assurance of the forgiveness of mother
church for all his misdeeds, which seemed to console him mightily. The
padre mumbled a little Latin, and assuring him he might die in peace,
buttoned his pouch, containing the ill-gotten cash, with a very
self-satisfied air. It almost reimbursed the last night's losses at faro.
Nevertheless, the terrors of the guilty wretch returned; he moaned
heavily, and grasping the skirt of the Franciscan's cassock, besought him
earnestly not to leave him in so terrible a moment. He often pressed the
friar's crucifix to his lips; and the groans of mental and bodily agony
which escaped from them were such as Ronald Stuart had never heard
before,and he had stood on many a battle-field. The bravo believed
himself dying, and, at his request, the Franciscan repeated aloud his
confession, in which he declared himself guilty of the lady's murder, and
exculpated everyone, save his comrade Cifuentes, who gave the first
stroke, and Don Carlos Avallo, who, for twenty dollars, had secured the
service of their daggers,but for what reason he knew not. He ended by a
bitter curse on Stuart, whom he ceased not to revile ; and he vowed that,
if he could rise from the grave, he would haunt him to the latest day of
his existence. Ronald heard the ravings of the wretch with pity, and was
very thankful that, in the extremity of his agony and hatred, he had not
declared him guilty of the murder of both.
'Santa Maria de Dios!' muttered the servants,
signing the cross, and shrinking back aghast at the ravings of the wounded
cried the sleepy magistrate, addressing the assassin, 'I will make you pay
dearly for disturbing me of my night's rest. Vile ladron! the screw of the
garrote will compress your filthy weasand tighter than you will find
agreeable. Take your pen, senor escrivano, and write to our dictation a
warrant to apprehend, in the king's name, a certain noble cavalier, by
name Don Carlos Avallo, for causing the death of this honourable lady. And
interrupted by Alvarado, who desired imperiously that he would leave
Avallo to be dealt with otherwise; and tossing his purse, which seemed
heavy, into the alcalde's lap, he requested him to close this disagreeable
business at once.
'Paix! as we say at faro,double or quits; a very noble cavalier !'
muttered the partly-tipsy and partly-sleepy alcalde, pocketing the cash
without betraying the least emotion. 'Ho, senor scribe! give thy warrant
to the devil to light his cigar with. Bueno! 'tis a drawn game. Dismiss
the senors,the court is broken up.'
Bestowing a menacing glance on Stuart,
Alvarado withdrew; the alguazils departed, taking the bravo with them, to
get his wounds dressed before they hanged him; and the corse of Ximena was
borne off by her female servants, who were loudly bewailing the loss of so
good a mistress.
had dawned upon this extraordinary court, and its pale light was
struggling for mastery with the flame of the lamp, ere the magistrate so
abruptly closed the strange investigation. After all that had happened,
Ronald could not return to the mansion of Alvarado; but, sending for his
horse, at the invitation of the alcalde, and with the permission of the
alcalde's lady, he remained that day at their house, as he was too much
wearied by the want of sleep to commence his journey at the time he had
intended. To Micer Bartolmé he related the conversation he had overheard,
and insisted on Don Alvarado's villainy being punished, threatening, for
that purpose, to wait upon the Condé Penne Villamur, and state to him all
that he knew of the matter.
'By doing so, you would not gain anything
equal to what you stake, your life,' replied the magistrate quietly,
puffing away at a long Cuba the while. 'Hark you, senor oficial; I wish
you no harm, but beware how you cross the path or purposes of Castellon de
la Plana. He is a fierce hidalgo, and never spared man or woman in his
hate of vengeance; and his gossip, Don Carlos Avallo, is a born devil, a
very imp of Satanas! I know them both of old, and would fain keep the
peace with them, or my place of alcalde would not be worth a rotten
castano. Think not that I deal with you falsely in saying these things.
Heaven knows how many daggers Alvarado's gold may have sharpened against
you ere this. His look, as he departed, boded you no good. You are a
stranger in the land, and if you will take sound advice, keep close within
my house until to-morrow, when you can depart with the padre Giuseppe. He
goes by the way of the Maya rock to his convent, and will show you the way
felt the force of this advice, which was so cunningly imparted that he
never suspected a hidden meaning. But the alcalde, with a treachery not
uncommon in Spain, was in communication with Alvarado, who bribed him to
detain the stranger until a plan was completed for his ensnarement among
Notwithstanding Bartolme's advice, Stuart often wished, during that
irksome day, to enjoy a ramble about Elizondo, but was as often warned
that ill-looking picaros were evidently watching the house. This
information served only to set his blood on fire, and he fretted and fumed
like a caged lion, and would have sallied out in spite of the solemn
warnings and injunctions, but the magistrate, with a cunning air of
affectionate and paternal solicitude, barred his way, and in so kind a
manner that it was impossible to be angry. All this was mere acting. Old
Micer Bartolmé and the Franciscan brother were two arrant sharpers and
knaves; but Ronald resisted firmly all their attempts to engage him in
gambling, and the day was passed without a card or dice being produced,
greatly to the chagrin of the friends, who, after having sold the stranger
to Alvarado, were desirous to strip him of his last peseta.
Next morning, at the old marching time, an
hour before daybreak, he quitted Elizondo. He departed at that early hour
for the double purpose of 'stealing a march' on Alvarado's spies, if any
were really planted upon him, and of proceeding expeditiously on his
journey. His horse was well refreshed by the delay at Elizondo, and
carried him along at a rapid trot. The padre Giuseppe, with whose presence
and conversation he could very well have dispensed, jogged on by his side,
mounted uneasily upon the hindmost part of a stout ass,an animal not so
much despised in Spain as among us, by whom the large black cross borne by
every donkey on his back is neither remarked nor reverenced. As they
passed from the Calle Mayor into the Plaza, Giuseppe pointed out,
jocularly, the body of the dead bravo, still seated upright on the chair
of the garrote, which was elevated on a scaffold about four feet above the
street; and his reverence increased the disgust of his companions by
passing several very unfriarly jokes upon the appearance of the corpse.
On quitting Elizondo, they took the direct
road for Maya. Stuart made this circuit for the purpose of avoiding any
snare laid for him among the mountains by Don Carlos or Alvarado, who well
knew how to employ and communicate with those villains who infest every
part of Spain. Evil was impending, and he might have escaped it by taking
the Roncesvalles road, or had his deceitful companion, the Franciscan,
warned him : but for the bribe of a few dollars, Micer Bartolmé had
purchased his silence. A few miles from Elizondo they passed a ruinous
chapel where some French prisoners had been confined, and, by a strange
refinement of cruelty, starved to death by their guards,the guerillas of
old Salvador de Zagala. The floor was yet strewed with the bones of these
unfortunates, who fell victims to a savage spirit of retaliation, and
almost within sight of the fertile plains of their native country. The
Franciscan continued to mutter prayers and make the sign of the cross with
affected devotion, while Stuart surveyed the ghastly place with surprise
Caza de Dios' said he, reading the legend on the lintel of the door.
'Alas! how it has been desecrated!'
The priest made no reply, but moved onward,
kicking with his spurless heels the sounding sides of his borrica, leaving
Ronald to follow as he pleased.
After riding a few miles further, they stopped
at a quinta, or country-house, an unusual thing in Spain; and had not the
proprietor been a well-known contrabandista, it would soon have been
sacked and burned by the banditti in the neighbourhood. The owner was
absent, but the patrona spread before her guests a tolerable repast of
bacallao, bread of milho or Indian corn-flour, delightful fresh butter
named manteca, and garlic, onions, lupines, wine and cider in abundance;
for all of which she would receive nothing but the padre's blessing and a
kiss of peace, which the reverend Giuseppe bestowed upon her plump olive
cheek with a hearty goodwill, of which her husband might not have approved
had he been consulted.
At Maya Stuart dined with the monks of the
Franciscan convent. He had an excellent repast, composed of all the good
things which the district could afford. The clergy of every country are
certainly ardent lovers of all the good things of this life, however much
they may preach and declaim against them. Poor though Spain may be
generally, it is within the stout old walls of the gloomy and spacious
convento that the richest wines, the most delicate fruits, the most
tempting viands, and the most massive plate are ever to be found. Quite
the reverse of the humble, dejected, and mortifying begging friars, from
whom they took their name, Ronald found the Franciscans of Maya all very
jovial fellows, who could laugh until they almost choked, and could push
the can about, and give vent at times to a most unclerical oath. Most of
them had been serving in the guerilla bands, and at the peace had resumed
the cassock and cope, the mass-book and rosary; but the blustering manners
acquired under such leaders as Mina and Julian Sanchez, together with the
coarse sentiments of the dissolute and irregular lives they had led,
appeared continually through their hypocritical airs and the sombre
disguise of the cloister. And such as these are the men who are welcomed
to every hearth and home in Spain ! who are the advisers of the young, the
companions of the old, and the confessors and the spiritual consolers of
all, and into whose ears many a female pours the inmost secrets of her
heart,secrets which, perhaps, she would have revealed to no other mortal
To pay for
his entertainment, Stuart deposited a handful of pesetas at the shrine of
the Virgin, whose portrait in the niche, padre Giuseppe informed him, was
that of the querida of the padre abbot. The fairest dame in Maya had sat
for it, to please the superior, who now never prayed before any other
image. Complimenting the abbot on his taste, Stuart mounted, and bade the
holy fathers adieu, tired alike of their manners and their cloister
He was now
riding straight on the road for France. After he passed the rock of Maya,
every rood of ground became as familiar to him as the scenery of his
native glen. The sun was setting as he entered the pass, and as its light
waxed more dim and sombre, his thoughts grew sadder and more gloomy; for
all the excitement of war had now passed away, and the kindlier feelings
had begun to resume their sway in his heart. He felt an unaccountable
melancholy stealing over him, but whether it was caused by a
presentimenta prophetic sense of hidden danger, or by recollections
awakened by the surrounding scenery, I know not : probably by the latter.
Poor Alister Macdonald was with him the last
time he trod that way so merrily to the strain of the pipe. He was now
within a few feet of his tomb, and all the memory of their past friendship
came gushing upon his remembrance. He stayed his horse, for a short space,
to gaze upon the scene of that contest, so fierce and so bloody, where his
brave brigade had fought with a spirit of gallantry and chivalric devotion
equalling that of Leonidas and his Spartans. Where the roar of so many
thousand muskets had once rung like thunder among the hills, all was now
silent. The stillness was broken only by the scream of the wild bird, as,
warned by the falling rain and deepening shadows, it winged its way to its
eyrie among the rocks.
'Well may the flowerets bloom, and the grass
be verdant here!' thought Stuart. 'Every foot of ground has been drenched
in the blood of the brave!'
The place presented the appearance of an old
churchyard which had been shaken by an earthquake. In some places
skeletons lay uncovered, and in others the grass grew long and rank above
stone, with its head of moss, marked the resting-place of Alister, that
looked like one of those solitary old graves which, on the Scottish moors,
mark the resting-place of a covenanting warrior. The earth which Evan's
hands had heaped over it was now covered with long weeds and nettles,
waving sadly in the wind as it whistled down the pass. The remnants of
uniform, broken weapons, ammunition-paper, and all the usual appurtenances
of an old battle-field, lay strewn about. The great cairn raised by the
Gordon Highlanders to mark where their officers were buried cast a long
spectral shadow across the ground, for now the broad disk of the sun was
just dipping behind the mountains. The scene was gloomy and terrible, and
Stuart was scarcely able to repress a shudder, as the recollections of the
dead came crowding fast and thick upon him. But, bestowing a last look on
romantic Spain, the land of bright eyes, of the mantilla, of the dagger,
and the guitar, he turned, and rode down the narrow mountain-path to the
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