of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 49 - Home
During the spring of 1814,
while Ronald Stuart was serving with Lord Wellington's army in the south
of France, the pecuniary affairs of his father came to a complete crisis.
The net woven around him by legal chicanery, by his own unwariness in
plunging headlong into lawsuits, and by prodigality of his money
otherwise, he was ruined. 'A true Highlander cannot refuse his sword or
his purse to a friend,' and the laird of Lochisla had been involved to the
amount of several thousands in an affair of 'caution,' every farthing of
which he had to pay. At the same time bills and bonds became due, and on
his making application for cash to Messrs. Caption and Horning, W.S.,
Macquirk's successors, they acquainted him, in. a very short letter,
composed in that peculiar style for which these gentlemen are so famous,
'that Lochisla was already dipped—that is, mortgaged—to the utmost
bearing, and that not a bodle more could be raised.' The unfortunate laird
found that every diabolical engine of 'the profession' was in requisition
against him, and that the estate which had descended to him through a long
and martial line of Celtic ancestors was passing away from him for ever.
In the midst of his affliction, he received tidings of the deeds of his
brave son Ronald, who was mentioned with all honour by Sir Rowland Hill in
the despatch which contained the account of the successful passage of the
Nive, and of the storming of the chateau.
'Heaven bless my brave
boy!' said the laird.; 'I shall see him no more. It would rejoice me to
behold his fair face and buirdly figure once again, before my eyes are
closed for ever ; but it may not be; he will never behold my tomb! It will
be far distant from the dark pines that shade the resting-place of my
forefathers in the islet of the Loch.' And the old laird spoke truly. Ere
long he saw the hall of his fathers in possession of the minions of the
law; the broad lands of Lochisla became the prey of the stranger: and,
with the trusted auld Donald Iverach, and a faithful band of followers,
the feeble remnant of his people, who yet, with true Highland devotion,
insisted on following their chieftain to the far-off shores of Canada, he
bade adieu for ever to his fatherland.
Ere yet he had departed,
however, there came one who had heard of his misfortunes and of his
contemplated exile, to offer him his hand in peace and affection. It was
the Lord of Inchavon.
'I will be a friend to your
noble boy,' he said. The Stuart answered only, 'Heaven bless you, Lisle!
but the lad has his sword, and a fearless heart.'
They parted; and the clan
Stuart of Lochisla, with its venerable leader, was soon on its way across
the western wave.
At the same time these
events were occurring at home, Ronald was in the neighbourhood of Orthes
with his regiment, which, in the battle that took place there, came in for
its usual share of the slaughter and honour.
The long-waited and
eagerly-wished-for peace arrived at last. Regiments were disbanded, and
ships paid off; and in every part of Europe soldiers and sailors were
returning to their homes in thousands, to take up the plough and spade,
which they had abandoned for the musket and cutlass. The Peninsular part
of our army were all embarked at Toulouse, and the inmates of Inchavon
watched anxiously the daily post and daily papers for some notice of the
arrival of the transports containing Fassifern and his Highlanders, whose
destination was the Cove of Cork.
One evening, a bright and
sunny one in June, when Lord Lisle had pushed from him the sparkling
decanters across the elaborately-polished table, and sunk back in his
well-cushioned easy-chair to enjoy a comfortable nap, and when Alice had
tossed aside successively all the newspapers (she read only the marriages,
fashionable news, and the 'Gazette'), and taken up the last novel, which
in her restlessness she resigned for 'Marmion,' her favourite work, she
was suddenly aroused from its glowing numbers by the noise of wheels, and
the tramp of carriage-horses treading shortly and rapidly in the birchen
lane, between the walls and trees of which the sound rung deep and hollow.
The book fell from her hand; she started and listened, while her bosom
rose, and a blush gathered on her soft girlish cheek. The sound increased:
now the travellers had quitted the lane, and their carriage was rattling
up the avenue, where the noise of the horses' feet came ringing across the
wide and open lawn.
Alice shook the dark curls
from her animated face, which became flushed with expectation. She moved
to the window, and beheld a travelling-chariot, drawn by a pair of stout
bays, with the great-coated driver on the saddle. The whole equipage
appeared only at intervals between the trees and clumps of the lawn, as
the driver made the horses traverse the long and intricate windings of the
avenue, which had as many turnings as the Forth, before the house was
'Oh, papa! papa!' she
exclaimed, clapping her white dimpled hands together, and leaping to his
side to kiss him, and shake sturdily the huge knobby arms of his old
easy-chair, and again skipping back to the windows with all the wild
buoyancy of her age, 'dear papa, do waken! Here comes Louis!'
'Eh! what! eh! Louis, did
you say?' cried the old lord, bolting up like a harlequin. 'Is the girl
mad, that she frisks about so?'
'Oh, dear papa! 'tis my
brother Louis!' and she began to weep with joy and excitement.
'It must be he,' replied
her father, looking from a window; 'it must be Louis! I don't think we
expect any visitors. But to come thus! I always thought he would ride up
from Perth on horseback. On my honour, 'tis a smart turn-out that! A
double imperial on the roof, and how! there is a female, a lady's-maid
behind, and the rogue of a footman with his arm around her waist,
according to the usual wont and practice. A lady inside, too! See, she is
bowing to us. Well; I would rather have seen Louis, but I wonder who these
can be?' He rang a bell violently.
''Tis our own Louis,
indeed! Oh, my dear brother!' exclaimed Alice, trembling with delight.
'Hold me up, papa; I am almost fainting. Ah!' added she inwardly, 'when
Louis is so near, Ronald Stuart cannot be far off.'
'Louis, indeed!' replied
her father pettishly, for he thought she had disappointed him. 'Tut, girl!
do you not see the lady in the vehicle?'
'Oh, papa! that is a great
secret,—the affair of the lady: we meant to surprise you,' and without
saying more, she bounded away from his side.
The chaise was brought up
at a gallop to the steps of the portico, and the smart postillion wheeled
it skilfully round, backing and spurring with an air of speed and
importance, scattering the gravel in showers right and left, and causing
the chaise to rock from side to side like a ship in a storm. This was for
effect. A postillion always brings his cattle up at a sharp pace ; but the
chaise was well hung on its springs, and the moment the panting horses
halted, it became motionless and steady. At that instant Alice, with her
masses of curls streaming behind her, rushed down the splendid staircase,
through the lofty saloon, and reached the portico just as the footman
sprang from the dickey and threw down the iron steps with a bang as he
opened the door. An officer, muffled in a large blue cloak lined with red,
leaped out upon the' gravel walk; Alice threw her arms around her brother,
and hung sobbing on his breast.
'Alie, my merry little Alie,
has become a tall and beautiful woman!' exclaimed Louis, holding her from
him for a moment while he gazed upon her face, and then pressed her again
to his breast. 'Upon my honour you have grown quite a tall lady,' he
added, laughing. ' Our father------'
'Is well, Louis, well; and
waiting for you.'
'Good! This is my—this is
our Virginia,' said Louis, handing out his Spanish wife. 'This is the dear
girl I have always mentioned in my letters for two years past, Alice; her
friends have all perished in the Peninsular war, and I have brought her
far from her native land, to a foreign country. You must be a kind sister
to her, Alie, as you have ever been to me.'
'I will always love her,
Louis; I will, indeed,' murmured the agitated girl, who, never having
beheld a Spaniard before, expected something very different from the
beautiful creature around whose neck she fondly twined an arm. 'I am your
sister: kiss me, Virginia dear!' said she, and two most young lady-like
salutes were exchanged. The fair face of Alice Lisle blushed with
pleasure. The darker cheek of the Castilian glowed likewise, and her
bright hazel eyes flashed and sparkled with all the fire and vivacity of
'Louis,' whispered Alice,
blushing crimson as she spoke, and as they ascended the sixteen steps of
variegated Portsoy marble which led to the house; 'Louis, is not Ronald
Stuart with you?'
'Alas! no, Alice,' replied
Lisle, changing colour.
'Poor dear Ronald!' said
his sister sorrowfully, 'could he not procure leave too? Papa must apply
to the colonel—to your proud Fassifern for it.'
'Virginia will inform you
of what has happened,' said Louis, with so sad a tone that all the
pleasant visions which were dancing in the mind of the joyous girl were
instantly destroyed, and she grew deadly pale; 'Virginia will tell you all
about it, Alie. Ladies manage these matters of explanation better than
'Matters!' reiterated the
affrighted Alice involuntarily; 'matters! Heaven guide me! I thought all
the terrors of these four years were passed for ever. But what has
misfortune in store for me now?
Her father, whose feet and
limbs were somewhat less nimble and flexible than hers, and had thus been
longer in descending the stair and traversing the long lobbies, now
approached, and embraced his son with open arms; while en masse, the
servants of the mansion crowded round, offering their good wishes and
congratulatory welcome to the Master, as Louis was styled by them, being
the son of a Scottish baron. He was now the Master of Lisle, or Lysle, as
it is spelt in the Peerage. The stately figure of the fair Castilian, who,
embarrassed and confused, clung to the arm of the scarcely less agitated
Alice, puzzled the old lord a good deal. She yet wore her graceful
mantilla and tightly-fitting Spanish frock of black satin. The latter was
open at the bosom, to show her embroidered vest and collar, but was laced
zigzag across with a silver cord. The thick clusters of her hair were
gathered in a redecilla, or net-work bag, behind, all save the glossy
brown curls escaping from beneath a smart English bonnet, which, although
it fully displayed her noble and beautiful features, contrasted or
consorted strangely with the rest of her attire.
The old lord appeared
astonished and displeased for a moment. He bowed, smiled, and then stared,
and bowed and smiled again, while Virginia coloured crimson, and her large
Spanish eyes began to sparkle in a very alarming manner; but beginning to
suspect who the fair stranger was, the frank old lord took both her hands
in his, kissed her on each cheek, begged pardon, and then asked whom he
had the honour of addressing.
'How!' exclaimed Louis, in
astonishment; 'is it possible that you do not know?'
'Not I, upon my honour!'
replied his father, equally amazed; ' how should I?'
'Were my letters from
Orthes and Toulouse, relative to my marriage, never received?'
'Marriage!' exclaimed his
father, almost pausing as they crossed the saloon. 'By Jove! Master Louis,
you might have condescended to consult me in such a matter!'
'My dear father!' replied
Louis, laughing, for he saw that his parent was more astonished than
displeased, 'you cannot be aware of the circumstances under—but you know
the proverb, all is fair in war: and my letters------'
'Were all received,—at
least Alice received them all.'
'Ah! you cunning little
fairy!' said Louis, turning towards his pale sister; 'you have played us
all this trick to surprise your good papa, when he heard of his new
'A wonderful girl! to be
the repository of so important a secret so long,' said her father,
evidently in high glee. 'But she always loved to produce a commotion, and
to study effect. I will hear all your stories by-and-by, and sentence you
each according to your demerits: but we must not stand here, with all the
household gaping at us. Lead your naughty sunburnt brother upstairs,
Alice—he seems to have forgotten 'the way—and I will escort your new
He gave his arm to
Virginia, and conducted her up the broad staircase which led to the upper
part of the mansion, where the splendour and elegance of the furniture,
the size of the windows, the hangings, the height of the ceilings, the
rich cornices, the carving, the gilding, the paintings, statues, lustres,
the loftiness, lightness, and beauty of everything architectural and
decorative, struck the stranger forcibly when she remembered the sombre
gloom and clumsiness, both of fabric and fashion, to which she had been
accustomed in the dwellings of her native country. Indeed, the mansion of
the richest Spanish grandee was not so snug by one-half as the coachman's
apartment above the stables at Inchavon House.
Alice was in an agony of
expectation to hear what Louis had to say about Ronald Stuart; but she was
doomed to be kept cruelly on the mental rack for some time, while all her
brother's humble but old and respected friends among the household
appeared in succession, to tender their regards and bid him welcome,
expressing their pleasure to 'see him safe home again among decent,
discreet, and responsible folk,' as the jolly old butler, who acted as
spokesman, said. There was the bluff gamekeeper, in his tartan jacket,
broad bonnet, and leather spats, or leggings, long Louis's rival shot, and
master of the sports; there was the pinched and demure old housekeeper,
with her rusty silk gown, keys, and scissors, and huge pouch, which was
seldom untenanted by a small Bible and big brandy-flask: the fat, flushed,
and greasy cook, whose ample circumference proclaimed her the priestess
and picture of good living; the smart and rosy housemaids, all ribands and
smiles—Jessie Cavers in particular ; and there was Jock, and Tom, and
Patie, laced and liveried chevaliers of the Cockade and shoulder-knot, who
were all introduced at the levee in their turn ; while confusion, bustle,
and uproar reigned supreme through the whole of the usually quiet and
well-ordered mansion of Inchavon.
Everyone was glad and
joyful to behold again the handsome young Master of Lisle : but then his
lady! she was termed 'an unco body' and about her there were two
conflicting opinions. The men praised her beauty, ' her glossy hair, and
her hawk's een,'—the women her sweetness and affability; but almost all
had observed the crucifix that hung at her neck, and whispered fearful
surmises of her being a Papist.
'My dear sir,' said Louis,
after they had become tolerably composed in a sort of snug library, termed
by the servants, 'my lord's chaumer,'— ' can it be possible or true, that
Alice has never informed you of my marriage with Donna Virginia de Alba?'
'I concealed it to surprise
dear papa,' replied Alice, making a sickly attempt to smile.
'You always loved effect,
Alie,' said her father; 'but really I could have dispensed with so sudden
a surprise on this occasion. How fortunate I am in having such a beauty
for a daughter!' He passed his hand gently over the thick brown curls of
the Spaniard. 'Look up at me, Virginia; a pretty name, too! On my honour,
my girl, you have beautiful eyes! I ever thought Alie's were splendid, but
she will find lers eclipsed. Your father------'
'Was the Duke of Alba de
T------,' interrupted Louis, who was now anxious to produce an effect of a
different kind in his bride's favour. 'He was a Buonapartist------'
'Ah! his name is familiar
to me. He------
'Was unfortunately slain
when the fort, or chateau, where I was confined, was so bravely stormed by
Ronald Stuart's light company.'
'I heard of all that when
the news arrived in London. Our Virginia comes of a proud, but a—a—an
unfortunate race.' He could not find a more gentle word.
'Spain boasts not of a
nobler name than that of Alba; but, save a sister in a convent in Galicia,
my dear Virginia is its only representative. All the cavaliers of her
house have fallen in battle; and lastly the duke, by the hands of Evan
Iverach and Macrone, a sergeant, who attacked him with his pike. Poor
Stuart, though in peril himself, did all he could to save him; but the hot
blood of the Gael was up, and the fierce Spaniard perished. But Virginia
is weeping; we are only recalling her sorrows, and must say no more of
these matters just now. Ronald Stuart------'
'Ah! by-the-bye, what of
him? A brave fellow! See how Alice blushes. Faith! I shall never forget
the day the dauntless young Highlandman pulled me out of Corrie-avon. Has
the good lad returned with you to Perthshire?'
'No,' answered Louis with
hesitation, glancing uneasily at Alice while he spoke. 'He has not
"Tis well,' continued his
father. 'Poor Stuart! he will have no home —no kind friends to return to,
as you have, Louis, after all his toil and bloodshed. Not a hand is there
now in the green glen of the Isla to grasp his in welcome!'
'I read in the Perthshire
papers that the estate had been sold, and that his father, with all the
Stuarts of the glen, had emigrated to Canada. Dreadful intelligence it
will be for him when he hears it! He will be wounded most deeply in those
points where the true Highlander is assuredly most vulnerable. He will be
almost driven mad; and I would scarcely trust other lips than yours,
Alice, to reveal the sad tidings to him. I read them at Toulouse. Stuart
was not with us then. He has been—he has been—six weeks missing from the
'Six weeks missing!' cried
Lord Lisle, while a cry of horror died away on the pallid lips of Alice,
who drooped her head on the shoulder of Virginia.
'Keep a brave heart, Alie
dear!' said Louis, clasping her waist affectionately. 'I have no fears for
your Knight of Santiago, as the mess call him. He will swim where another
man would sink. Had you seen him, as 1 often have, skirmishing in advance,
charging at the head of his company, or leading the forlorn hope at
Almarez on the Tagus, or the chateau on the Nive, you would suppose he had
a charmed life, and was invulnerable to steel and lead, as men supposed
Dundee to be until the field of Killiecrankie. Perhaps he has joined by
this time. I procured six months' leave, and left the Highlanders the
instant the anchor was dropped at Cove. My next letters from the regiment
may have some intelligence. Campbell, I know, will write to me instantly,
if he hears aught.'
'But how comes it to pass
that Stuart is missing? what has happened?' asked his father, while Alice
listened in breathless agony to the reply.
'We were quartered at Muret,
a town on the Garonne, eight or nine miles distant from Toulouse. We had
lain there ever since the decisive battle gained over Soult; and in the
churchyard of Muret Stuart buried his servant, a brave lad from Lochisla,
who had received a death-shot on that memorable Easter Sunday. Ronald
mourned his loss deeply; for the lad had become a soldier for his sake,
and they were old schoolfellows—old companions and playmates. He was a
gallant and devoted fellow. You remember him, Alice? Many a love-letter he
has carried to and fro, between this and Lochisla; and often bonnet in
hand, he has led your pony among the steepest cliffs of Craigonan, by ways
and crooks where I should tremble to venture now.'
'And he is dead? said
Alice, giving vent to her feelings by a plentiful shower of tears.
'He was shot by a
Frenchman's bullet, Alie.'
'Poor dear Evan!' replied
his sister, wringing her white hands; 'I shall never forget him. He was
ever so respectful and so obliging.'
'Jessie Cavers has lost her
handsome sweetheart. He was buried close by the old church of Muret, and
Ronald's hand laid his head in the grave. He received a deeper—a
better—yet not less hallowed tomb than the many thousands who were covered
up in ditches, in the fields, and by the waysides just wherever they were
found lying dead. At Muret, one night, a despatch arrived from Lord
Wellington by an orderly dragoon. It was to be forwarded to the Condé de
Penne Villamur, at Elizondo, a town on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees;
and, as its bearer, Stuart departed about midnight on horseback.
Sufficient time for his return elapsed before our embarkation at Toulouse.
The eventful day came ; but no Stuart appeared, and we embarked without
him. Some unlooked-for circumstance must have caused delay,— perhaps his
horse becoming lame, or his cash running short ; but we shall probably
hear of him from Toulouse, or Passages, in a fortnight at the furthest. I
have no fears for Ronald Stuart. He will cut his way, scathless, through
perils which a score of men would sink under.'
'I trust in Heaven that it
may be so,' said Lord Lisle fervently. 'Truly, I wish the lad well; he is
the last stem of an old tree, that has fallen to the earth at last.'
Although Louis spoke
cheerfully to comfort his agitated sister, he nevertheless felt
considerable anxiety regarding the fate of his friend. He knew too well
the disorderly state of the country through the wild frontiers of which he
had to pass; and his imagination pictured a hundred perils, against which
Ronald's courage and tact would be unavailing. He besought Virginia to
comfort Alice, by putting the best possible face upon matters ; but her
unwary narrative made circumstances worse, by letting truths slips out
which had been better concealed, and which, although they seemed quite
commonplace matters to a Castilian, presented a frightful picture of Spain
to a young Scottish lady.
The unhappy Alice became a
prey to a thousand anxious fears and apprehensions, which prepared her
mind to expect the worst. A month passed away—a weary month of misery, of
sad and thrilling expectation, and no tidings were heard of Stuart. By
Louis's letters from the regiment, it seemed that his brother-officers had
given him up for lost. The newspapers were searched with sickening
anxiety, but nothing transpired ; and the family at Inchavon beheld, with
deep uneasiness, the cheek of Alice growing pale day after day, and her
bright eyes losing their wonted lustre. About six weeks after Louis's
arrival, Lord Lisle communicated with the military authorities in London
regarding the young soldier, in whose fate his family were so greatly
interested. All were in a state of great expectation, when the long,
formidable letter, covered with franks, initials, and stamps, arrived. To
support herself Alice clung to Virginia, and hid her face in her bosom,
for she trembled excessively while her father read the cold and official
reply to his anxious letter.
'In reply to your lordship's letter of the 25th inst., I have the honour
to acquaint you, by the direction of his Royal Highness the
Commander-in-Chief, that nothing has transpired, further than what the
public journals contain, respecting the fate of Captain Ronald Stuart, of
the Gordon Highlanders. But, if that unfortunate officer does not rejoin
his regiment at Cork before the next muster-day, he must be superseded.
'I have the honour to be,
my lord, etc., etc.,
'Henry Torrens, Mil. Sec.
'Right Hon. Lord Lisle, of Inchavon.'
Alice wrung her hands, and
wept in all the abandonment of woe. The last reed she had leant on had
snapped—her last hope was gone, and she knew that she should never behold
Ronald more. The next muster-day (then the 24th of every month) arrived;
and, as being still 'absent without leave,' he was superseded, and his
name appeared no longer on the list of the regiment. It was sad
intelligence for his friends in Perthshire ; but it was upon one
gentle-loving and timid heart, that this sudden stroke fell most heavily.
Poor Alice ! she grew very sad, and long refused to be comforted. As a
drowning man clings to straws, so clung Alice to every hope and chance of
Ronald's return, until the letter of Sir Henry Torrens drove her from her
Days rolled on and became
weeks, and weeks rolled on to months, and in her own heart the poor girl
was compelled to acknowledge or believe, what her friends had long
concluded, that Ronald Stuart was numbered with the dead. It was a sad
blow to one whose joyous heart had been but a short time before full
almost to overflowing with giddy and romantic visions of love and
happiness. Under this severe mental shock she neither sickened nor died,
and yet she felt as deeply and poignantly as mortal woman could suffer.
Few or none, perhaps, die
of love or sorrow, whatever poets and interested romancers may say to the
contrary. But as this is not the work of the one or the other, but a true
memoir or narrative, the facts must be told, however contrary to rule, or
to the expectation of my dear readers.
In course of time the
90rrow of Alice Lisle became more subdued, the bloom returned to her faded
cheek, and she used to laugh and smile,— but not as of old. She was never
now heard to sing, and the sound of her harp or piano no more awoke the
echoes of the house. She was content, but far from being happy. When
riding or rambling about with Virginia or Louis, she could never look down
from the mountains on the lonely tower and desert glen of Isla without
symptoms of the deepest emotion, and she avoided every path that led
towards the patrimony of the Stuarts.
But a good example of
philosophy and resignation under woe was set before her by her servant,
Jessie Cavers. That young damsel, finding that she had lost Evan Iverach
beyond the hope of recovery, instead of spoiling her bright eyes in
weeping for his death, employed them successfully in looking for a
successor to his vacant place. She accordingly accepted the offers of Jock
Nevermiss, the gamekeeper, whose coarse shooting-jacket and leather spats
had been for a time completely eclipsed by the idea of Iverach's scarlet
coat and gartered hose.
The old Earl of Hyndford
came down again in the shooting season, and renewed his attentions to
Alice; but with no better success than before,—much to his amazement. He
deemed that her heart, being softened by grief, would the more readily
receive a new impression. He quitted Inchavon House, and, in a fit of
spleen and disappointment, set off on a continued ramble, acting the
disconsolate lover with all his might.
Louis, leaving Virginia at
Inchavon with his sister, rejoined the Highlanders at Fermoy, and in a
week thereafter had the pleasure to obtain a 'company.'
The Highlanders were daily
expecting the route for their native country, but were again doomed to be
disappointed. They were ordered to Flanders,—to the 'Lowlands of Holland,'
where Scottish valour has been so often triumphant in the times of old,
for the flames of war had broken forth again with renewed fury.
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