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.
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. Æneas 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
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
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
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 frères 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, frères 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
'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
'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
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
He ceased, and bowing low, retired from the palisado to mingle among the
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
independenceall '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
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
'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
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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