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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 5 - Edinburgh Castle


The young Highlander, who had never beheld a larger city than Perth, was greatly struck with the splendid and picturesque appearance of Edinburgh. The long lines of densely-crowded streets, the antique and lofty houses, the spires, the towers, the enormous bridges spanning deep ravines, the long dark alleys, crooks, nooks, and corners of the old town, with its commanding castle; and then the new, with its innumerable and splendid shops, filled with rich and costly stuffs, the smoke, noise, and confusion of the great thoroughfares and promenades, contrasted with the sombre and gloomy grandeur of the Canongate and Holyrood, were all strange sights to one who from infancy had been accustomed to 'the eagle and the rock, the mountain and the cataract, the bluebell, the heather, and the long yellow broom, the Highland-pipe, the hill-climbing warrior, and the humbler shepherd in the garb of old Gaul.'

From the castle he viewed with delight and surprise the vast amphitheatre which surrounds the city. To westward the Corstorphine, covered to the summit with the richest foliage, Craiglockart, Blackford, the ridges of Braid and Pentland, the Calton, the craigs of Salisbury and Arthur's Seat, encircling the city on all sides, except the north, where the noble Frith of Forth — the Bodoria of the Romans — the most beautiful stream in Scotland, perhaps in Britain, wound along the yellow sands.

Far beyond were seen the Lomonds of Fife, the capes of Crail and Elie, the broad bays and indentures of the German Ocean, and the islets of the Forth, the banks of which are studded with villages, castles, churches, and rich woodland. As he entered the fortress, he was particularly struck with the gloomy and aged appearance of its embattled buildings and lofty frowning batteries, where the black cannon peeped grimly through antique embrasures. It was a place particularly interesting to Ronald (as it is to every true Scotsman), who thought of the prominent part it bore in the annals of his country — of the many sieges it had sustained, and the many celebrated persons who had lived and died within the walls, which held the crown and insignia of a race whose name and power had passed away from the land they had ruled and loved so long.

Kilted sentinels, wearing the plumed bonnet, tasselled sporan, or purse, and the dark tartan, striped with yellow of the Gordon Highlanders, appeared at the different bastions as he passed the drawbridge, entered through many a strong gate studded with iron, and the black old arch where the two portcullises of massive metal hang suspended.

Ronald, for the first time since he left home, found himself confounded and abashed when he was received by the haughty staff-officer in the cold and stiff manner which these gentlemen assume as regimental officers. Here he reported himself, as the phrase is, and presented the letters of the adjutant-general. It was in a gloomy apartment of the old palace, and the very place in which the once beautiful Mary of Guise breathed her last. Its furniture consisted of two chairs and a hardwood table covered with books, army-lists, papers, and dockets of letters; boards of general orders, a couple of swords, and forage-caps, hung upon the wall. A drum stood in one corner; and an unseemly cast-iron coal-box, bearing the mystic letters 'B. O.,' stood in another. A decanter of port and a wineglass, which appeared on the mantel-shelf, showed that the occupant of the office knew the secret of making himself comfortable.

Considerably damped in spirit, by the dry and unsoldierlike reception he had experienced, Ronald next sought the quarters of the officer who commanded the detachment of his own regiment. On quitting the citadel, he passed the place where the French prisoners of war were confined. It was a small piece of ground, enclosed by a strong palisado, over which the poor fellows displayed for sale those ornaments and toys which the ingenuity of their nation enabled them to make. Little ships, toothpicks, bodkins, dominoes, boxes, etc., were manufactured by them from the bones of their scanty allowance of ration meat, and offered for sale to the soldiers of the garrison or visitors from the city who chanced to pass the place of their confinement.

They appeared to be generally very merry, and were dressed in the peculiar uniform of the prison ; but here and there might be observed an officer, who, having broke his parole of honour, was now degraded by being placed among the rank and file. Ronald was but a young soldier, and consequently pitied them; he thought of what his own feelings would be were he a prisoner in a foreign land, with the bayonets of guards glittering at every turn; but there seemed to be none there who yearned for home or hearts they had left behind them, save one; and of him we will speak hereafter. The reception Ronald met with from the officers of his own corps tended much to revive his drooping spirits, which were for some time sadly depressed by the remembrance of Lochisla, and the affectionate friends he had left behind him there.

Among the officers were young men who, like himself, had recently left their homes in the distant north, and a unison of feeling existed in their minds; but, generally, they were merry, thoughtless fellows, and the vivacity of their conversation, the frolics in which they were ever engaged, and the bustle of the garrison, were capital antidotes against care. But the tear often started to the eye of Stuart as he beheld the far-off peak of Ben Lomond, fifty miles distant from the window of his room — his rank as a subaltern entitling him only to one — and he thought of the romantic hills of Perthshire, or of the lonely hearth where his gray-haired sire mourned for his absence. But little time was allowed him to muse thus. Parades in the castle, the promenades, theatres, the gay blaze of ball-rooms in the city crowded with beautiful and fashionable girls and glittering uniforms, left him little time for reflection ; and the day of embarkation for the Peninsula, the seat of war, to which all men's thoughts — and women's too — were turned, insensibly drew nigh.

Evan Iverach had been enlisted in his master's company, and under the hands of a regimental tailor and the tuition of the drill sergeant, was rapidly becoming a smart soldier, while he still remained an attached servant to his master.

The latter, soon after his arrival in the capital, had visited his father's agent, Mr. Ζneas Macquirk, a writer to the signet, who had long transacted the business and fleeced the pocket of the old laird in the most approved legal manner. This worthy, having lately procured the old gentleman's signature to a document which was ultimately to be his ruin, was therefore disposed to treat Ronald drily enough, having made the most of his father; and he would never have been invited to the snug front-doorhouse, with the carpeted staircase, comfortable dining and airy drawing room in the new town, but for the vanity of Mrs. and the Misses Macquirk, who thought that the rich uniform of the young officer as a visitor gave their house a gay and fashionable air.

Quite the reverse of the good old 'clerks to the signet' who once dwelt in the dark closes of the old city, Macquirk was one of the many contemptible fellows whose only talent is chicanery, and who fatten and thrive on that unfortunate love of litigation which possesses the people of Scotland. Mean and servile to the rich, he was equally purse-proud and overbearing to the poor, to whom he was a savage and remorseless creditor. Many were the unfortunate citizens who cursed the hour in which they first knew this man, who feathered his nest by the law, better than ever his father had done by the honester trade of mending shoes in the West Bow.

Mrs. Macquirk was a vulgar-looking woman, most unbecomingly fat; her money had procured her a husband, and she was as proud as could be expected, considering that she had first seen the light in the low purlieus of the Kraimes, and now found herself mistress of one of the handsomest houses in Edinburgh. The young ladies were more agreeable, being rather good-looking, but very affected, having received all the accomplishments that it was in the power of their slighted and brow-beaten governess, the daughter of a good but unfortunate family, to impart to them. They gave parties, that Ronald might show off the uniform of the Gordon Highlanders, and played and sung to him in their best style ; while he drew many comparisons between them and the Alice whose miniature he wore in his bosom, by which they lost immensely ; and while listening to their confused foreign airs and songs, he thought how much sweeter and more musical were the tones of Alice Lisle, when she sung ' The Birks of Invermay,' or any other melody of the mountains, making his heart vibrate to her words. But even in the Castle of Edinburgh Ronald had recently made a friend, whose society, in spite of military and Highland gallantly, he preferred to that of the daughters of Macquirk.

Among the French captives within the stockade, he had frequently observed a young officer who remained apart from the rest, the deep dejection and abstraction of whose air gained him the readily-excited sympathy of the young Highlander. He was a tall, handsome, well-shaped young man, with regular features, dark eyes, and a heavy black moustache on his upper lip. He wore the uniform of Napoleon's famous Imperial Guards ; but the once gay epaulette and lace were much worn and faded. He wore a long scarlet forage-cap, adorned with a band, a tassel falling over his right shoulder. The gold cross of the Legion of Honour dangling at his breast showed that he had seen service, and distinguished himself.

He had more than once observed the peculiar look with which Ronald Stuart had eyed him ; and on one occasion, with the politeness of his nation, he gracefully touched his cap. The Scotsman bowed, and beckoned him to a retired part of the palisado.

'Can you speak our language, sir?' asked he.

'Oh yes, Monsieur officier,' replied the Frenchman; 'I have learned it in the prison.'

'I regret much to see you, an officer, placed here among the common rank and file. How has such an event come to pass? Can I in any way assist you?'

'Monsieur, I thank you; you are very good, but it is not possible,' stammered the Frenchman in confusion, his sun-burned cheek reddening while he spoke. 'Croix Dieu! yours are the first words of true kindness that I have heard since I left my own home, in our pleasant France. Oh, monsieur, I could almost weep! I am degraded among my fellow-soldiers, my frθres d'armes. I have broken my parole of honour, and am placed among the private men; confined within this palisado by day, and these dark vaults by night,' — pointing to the ancient dungeons which lie along the south side of the rocks, and are the most antique part of the fortress. These gloomy places were the allotted quarters of the French prisoners in Edinburgh.

'I have been placed here in consequence of a desperate attempt I made to escape from the depot (Greenlaw I think it is named), at the foot of these high mountains. I perceive you pity me, monsieur, and indeed I am very miserable.'

'I dare swear the penance of captivity is great; but 'tis the fortune of war, and may be my own chance very soon.'

'Ah, monsieur!' said the Frenchman despondingly, 'to me it is as death. But 'tis not the mal du pays, the home sickness, so common among the Switzers and you Scots, that preys upon my heart. Did you know my story, and all that afflicts me, your surprise at the dejection in which I appear sunk would cease. I endure much misery here; our prison allowance is scant, my uniform is all gone to rags, and I have not wherewith to procure other clothing. We are debarred from many comforts------' The blood rose to the temples of the speaker, who suddenly ceased on perceiving that Ronald had drawn forth his purse. He could ill spare the money, but he pressed it upon the Frenchman, by whom, after much hesitation, the gift was accepted.

'It was not my intention to have excited your charity,' said he; 'but I take the purse as a gift from one brother soldier to another, and will share it among my poor comrades. Though our nations be at war, frθres d'armes we all are, monsieur; and should it ever be in his power, by Heaven and St. Louis! Victor d'Estouville will requite your kindness. If by the fortune, or rather misfortune, of war, you ever become a prisoner in my native country, you will find that the memory of la Garde Ecossaise and your brave nation, which our old kings loved so long and well, and the sufferings of the fair Marie are not yet forgotten in la belle France!

'I trust my destiny will never lead me to a captivity in France, or elsewhere. But keep a stout heart; the next cartel that brings an exchange of prisoners may set you free.'

'Mon Dieu! I know not what may have happened at home before that comes to pass. Monsieur, you have become my friend, and have therefore a right to my confidence ; my story shall be related to you as briefly as possible. My name is D'Estouville. I am descended from one of the best families in France, of which my ancestors were peers, and possessed large estates in the province of Normandy, — a name which finds an echo, methinks, in your sister kingdom. By the late revolution, in which my father lost his life, all our lands were swept from us, with the exception of a small cottage in the neighbourhood of Henriqueville, situated in the fertile valley where the thick woods and beautiful vineyards lie intermingled along the banks of the winding-Seine; and to this spot my poor mother with her fatherless children retired. Ah, monsieur ! 'twas a charming little place; methinks I see it now, the low-roofed cottage, with the vines and roses growing round its roof and chimneys, and in at the little lattices that glistened in the sunshine, — every green lane and clump of shadowy trees, and every silver rill around it.

'Living by our own industry, we were happy enough; my brother and myself increased in strength and manliness, as my sisters did in beauty; and the sweetness of my noble mother's temper, together with the quiet and unassuming tenor of our lives, rendered us the favourites of all the inhabitants of the valley of Lillebonne.

'Monsieur, I loved a fair girl in our neighbourhood, a near relation of my own, — Diane de Montmichel, a beautiful brunette, with dark hair and sparkling eyes. Oh ! could we but see Diane now!

'Mon Dieu! The very day on which I was to have wedded her was fixed, and the future seemed full of every happiness, but the great Emperor wanted men to fight his battles, and by one conscription the whole youth of the valley of Lllebonne were drawn away. My brother and myself were among them. Ah, monsieur ! Napoleon thinks not of the agony of French mothers, and the bitter tears that are wept for every conscription. Britain recruits her armies with thousands of free volunteers, who tread by their own free-will the path of honour. France — but we will not talk of this. Our poor peasant boys were torn from their cottages and vineyards, from the arms of their parents and friends ; we felt our hearts swelling within us ; but to resist was to die. Oh, monsieur ! what must have been the thoughts of my high-minded mother when she beheld her sons — the sons of a noble peer of old France — drawn from her roof to carry the musket as private soldiers------'

'And Diane de Montmichel?'

'In a few months I found myself fighting the battles of the great Emperor as a soldier of his Imperial Guard, the flower of la belle France. In our first engagement with the enemy, my brave brother fell — poor Henri! But why should I regret him? He fell gaining fame for France, and died nobly with the eagle on his breast and the folds of the tricolour waving over him. Since then I have distinguished myself, was promoted, and received from the hand of Napoleon this gold cross, which had once hung on his own proud breast. I received it amidst the dead and the dying, on a field where the hot blood of brave men had been poured forth as water. From this moment I was more than ever his devoted soldier. He had kindled in my breast the fire of martial ambition, which softer love had caused to slumber. I now looked forward joyously to quick promotion, and my return to poor Diane and my mother's vine-covered cot in happy Lillbonne. But my hopes were doomed to be blasted. I was taken prisoner in an unlucky charge, and transmitted with some thousand more to this country.

'Oh, monsieur! not even the pledge of my most sacred honour as a gentleman and soldier could bind me while love and ambition filled my heart. I mourned the monotonous life of a military prisoner, and fled from the depot at Greenlaw ; but I was retaken a day after, and sent to this strong fortress, where for three long and weary years I have been confined among the common file. Oh, monsieur! Diane — my mother — my sisters! what sad changes may not have happened among them in that time!'

He covered his face for a moment with his hand to hide his emotion.

'Adieu, monsieur! Should we ever meet where it is in my power to return your kindness, you will find that I can be grateful, and remember that in his distress you regarded Victor d'Estouville, not as a Frenchman and an enemy, but as a brother officier under misfortunes.'

He ceased, and bowing low, retired from the palisado to mingle among the prisoners.

Since his arrival in the capital, Ronald had received many letters from home, but none from Alice Lisle; he was deterred from writing to her, fearing that his letters might fall into other hands than her own, and he grew sad as the day of embarkation drew near, and he heard not from the fair girl, whose little miniature afforded him a pleasing object for contemplation in his melancholy moods.

On the morning after the arrival of the route Ronald was awakened from sleep about daybreak, by the sound of the bagpipe, which in his dreaming ear carried him home ; he almost fancied himself at Lochisla, and that old Iverach was piping to the morning sun, when other sounds caused him to start. He sprang up, and looked from the lofty old window into the gloomy court of the castle. Ronald Macdonuildhu, the piper, was blowing forth the regimental gathering, the wild notes of which were startling the echoes of the ancient fortress, and rousing the soldiers, who were thronging forth in heavy marching order — as the military term is — completely accoutred.

'Come, Stuart, my boy, turn up!' cried Alister Macdonald, a brother ensign, who entered the room unceremoniously, 'you will be late; we march in ten minutes, and then good-bye to the crowded ball-rooms and fair girls of Edinburgh.'

'I had no idea the morning was so far advanced,' replied Ronald, dressing himself as fast as possible. 'There goes the roll of the drum now; why, they are falling in.'

'The deuce! I must go, or our hot-headed commander, the major, may forget that I am a kinsman from the Isle of the Mist. This morning he is as cross as a bear with a sore head, and expends his ill-humour on the acting adjutant, who in turn expends his on the men. There is the sound of Black Ronald's pipe again; I must be off,' and he left the apartment.

'Come, Evan, bustle about, and get me harnessed! Push this belt under my epaulette, bring me my sword and bonnet; be quick, will you?' cried Ronald to his follower, who, accoutred for the march with his heavy knapsack on his back, entered the room. 'You will look after the baggage. Where are the trunks, and other et cetera?' 'A' on the road to Leith twa hoors syne.' ' What, in the dark?'

'Ay, maister, just in the dark. Three muckle carts, piled like towers, wi' kists and wives an' weans on the tap, an' pans and camp-kettles jingling frae ilka neuk and corner, — an' unco like flitten' as ever I saw.' With Evan's assistance, his master was garbed and armed. On descending to the castle square, he found the detachment, to the number of three hundred men, formed in line, motionless and silent. Ronald was particularly struck with the martial and service-like appearance of the Highlanders, by the combination which their costume exhibits of the 'garb of old Gaul' with the rich uniform of Great Britain. The plumed bonnets, drooping gracefully over the right shoulder, the dark tartan, the hairy purses, the glittering appointments, and long line of muscular bare knees, together with the gloomy and antique buildings of the fortress, formed a scene at once wild and picturesque; but Ronald had little time for surveying it.

There is something peculiarly gallant and warlike in the dashing-appearance of our Highland soldiers, which brings to the mind the recollections of those days when the swords of our ancestors swept before them the martial legions of Rome — imperial Rome, whose arms had laid prostrate the powers of half a world — of the later deeds of Bannockburn, and many other battles — the remembrance of our ancient kings and regal independence—all 'the stirring memory of a thousand years,'raising a flush of proud and tumultuous feelings in the breast of every Scotsman, who beholds in these troops the brave representatives of his country; troops who, in every clime under the sun, have maintained untarnished her ancient glory and her name. So thought Ronald, and he was proud to consider himself one of them, as he drew his sword and took his place in the ranks.

The rattling bayonets were fixed, and flashed in the morning sun, as the muskets were shouldered and 'sloped,' the line broke into sections, and moving off to the stirring sound of the fife and drum, began to descend the steep and winding way to the gate of the fortress.

The idea of departing for foreign service had something elevating and exciting in it, which pleased the minds of all, but roused to the utmost the romantic spirit of Ronald Stuart, whose ear was pleased with the tread of the marching feet and sharp roll of the drums resounding in the hollow archway ; as was his eye, with the waving feathers and glittering weapons of the head of the little column, as they descended the pathway towards the city.

As they passed through the latter towards Leith, the streets were almost empty, none being abroad at that early hour, save here and there, within the ancient royalty, an old city guardsman, armed with his Lochaber axe; but the head of many a drowsy citizen in his nightcap appeared at the windows, from which many an eye gazed with that interest which the embarkation of troops for the seat of war always called forth; for many were marching there who were doomed to leave their bones in the distant soil of the Frank or Spaniard. Many relatives and friends of the soldiers accompanied their march, and Ronald was witness of many a painful parting between those who might never meet again.

'Oh, my bairn! my puir deluded bairn!' exclaimed an aged woman wildly, as she rushed into the ranks with her gray hairs falling over her face, and, with streaming eyes, clasped a son round the neck; 'oh, lang, lang will it be till I see ye again; and oh, when you are far awa frae bonnie Glencorse, wha will tend ye as your auld forsaken mither has dune? she that has toiled, and watched ower, and prayed for ye, since ye first saw the licht. Oh, Archy, my doo, speak; let me hear your voice for the last time!'

'God be wi' ye, mither! Oh, leave me! or my heart will burst in twa,' sobbed the poor fellow, while some of his more thoughtless comrades endeavoured by jests and ill-timed merriment to raise his drooping spirits; and many a hearty but sorrowful 'Gude-bye,' and 'Fareweel,' was interchanged on all sides as they passed along. The sun was high in the sky when they halted on the beach at Leith; and above a thick morning mist, which rested on the face of the water. Ronald saw the lofty taper spars and smart rigging of the large transport which lay out in the stream, with her white canvas hanging loose, and 'blue peter' flying at the fore-mast head.

As boat after boat, with its freight of armed men, was pulled off towards the vessel, shouts loud and long arose from the sailors and idlers on the pier and quays; and stirring were the cheers in reply which arose from the boats and floated along the surface of the river, as the Highlanders waved their bonnets in farewell to those they left behind. Certainly, like many others, Ronald did not feel at his ease when on board the vessel, and he became confused with the tramp of feet, the bustle, the rattle of arms, the loud chant of the sailors weighing anchor, the clash of the windlass pals, the pulling, hauling, ordering, and swearing, on all sides, — sights and sounds to him alike new and wonderful. The smell of tar, grease, bilge-water, tobacco, and a hundred other disagreeable odours, assailed him, and he felt by anticipation the pleasures of sea-sickness.

As soon as the anchor swung suspended at the bow, the yards were braced sharp up, the canvas filled, and the ripple which arose at the bow announced the vessel under weigh. She slowly passed the lighthouse which terminates the old stone pier, and rounding the strong Martello tower, moved down the glassy waters of the broad and noble Forth.

The officers were grouped together on the poop, and their soldiers lined the side of the vessel, gazing on the city towering above the morning mist, which was rolling heavily and slowly along the bases of the hills in huge white volumes. The frowning and precipitous front of the bold craigs of Salisbury — the still greater elevation of Arthur's lofty cone — the black and venerable fortress — the tall spires and houses of the city — the romantic hills of Braid — the wooded summit of Corstorphine — and the undulating line of the gigantic Pentlands, were all objects which riveted their attention; and many a brave man was there whose heart swelled within him while he gazed, for the last time, perhaps, on the green mountains and ancient capital of Caledonia.


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