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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 47 - The Lady of Elizondo


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 de—de 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 Alvarado-----'

'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 juggler!'

'What would 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 vengeance!'

'How!' 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.'

'Ximena------'

'Let her die!' said the young desperado, with a thick voice of concentrated passion; 'let her die this very night—this 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 of—Hostalrich—something 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 it.

'Hostalrich! Hah! '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 nowadays.'

While the 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 cry—a 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 frame.

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 scalp—had there been any—bristle 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 man.

'Base scullion!' 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 further------'

He was 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.

Day 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 to France.'

Ronald 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 the mountains.

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 and indignation.

'La 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 living!

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 scandal.

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 presentiment—a 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 the mounds.

A green 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 northward.


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