of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 52 - An Acquaintance,
and 'Old England on the Lee'
'Pho!' said the count, as
they rode into Maya, 'amid all the things of which we have been talking, I
had quite forgotten to say that there is a countryman of yours here in
this town, one who takes the utmost interest in your concernswhy I know
not; he said he was no relative. We became acquainted at Madrid, and, on
hearing of your story, he proposed at once to accompany me in this
expedition against the robbers in the Pyrenees and other places. He is a
spirited, but rather impetuous old cavalier. He has seen service, too, in
the Low Countries and other parts, but appears of late to have become
somewhat addicted to ease and good living, which has enlarged the
circumference of his stomach more than he wishes, and has rendered him
subject to a disease we know little of in Spainthe gout. A sudden fit of
it seized him when we were marching en route to your rescue, and the
worthy hidalgo was compelled, much against his will, to quarter himself in
Maya till our return. He awaits us yonder in the Posada de los Caballeros,
opposite to the convent of Saint Francis.'
This being nearly the whole
of the information respecting 'his countryman,' with which Alvaro was able
to furnish his companion, Ronald was not a little surprised, on alighting
at the miserable posada, to find reclining, in dressing-gown and slippers,
in an easy-chair, with one leg, swollen and swathed in flannel, resting on
a footstool, and with a heap of newspapers, guide-books, decanters,
cigars, a brace of pistols, and a light dragoon sabre displayed upon a
table before him, no less a person than his noble competitor the Earl of
Hyndford. The earl received his young rival kindly, displayed much
generous feeling towards him as a brother-soldier, laughed heartily at his
scarecrow appearance, for his long residence in the tower had told
immensely upon Ronald's rather scanty wardrobe,and finally, after having
heard his story, and repeatedly and energetically d-----d the banditti,
the Horse Guards, the gout, and the Peninsula, and having assured his
young friend that though there might have been a little weeping, and so
forth, on his account at home, there were no broken hearts nor any
symptoms of forgetfulness, he promised himon behalf of his friend 'York,'
with whom he had formerly served as aide-de-camp, and his friend Hal
Torrens, who, though a War-Office man and a staff-officer, was a good
fellow enough the immediate restoration of his forfeited commission, and
letters to the parties named that should put all right with respect to it.
While a prisoner in the
Torre de los Frayles, Ronald had remained in total ignorance of several
events of some importance ; and, though he was by no means astonished to
learn from the earl that his name had disappeared from the army list, and
that he was superseded, it did occasion him some slight surprise to learn
that Buonaparte had escaped from Elba, that he had entered Paris in
triumph, and was once more at the head of the French army, surrounded by
many of his old marshals, and supported by the old enthusiasm of his
devoted soldiers. His own regiment, Ronald heard, had been ordered to
Flanders, where some sharp fighting was expected to occur forthwith.
Three days afterwards he
found himself on board the packet at Passages, bound for London.
On his parting with Alvaro,
that cavalier presented him with his own gold cross of St. Jago, begging
him to wear it as a token of remembrance. It was not without feelings of
the deepest regret that he bade adieu to this noble and chivalric
Spaniard; and he felt all that depression of spirit which a frank and
honest heart unavoidably suffers after a leave-taking. Hyndford he
expected to meet again, but the cavalier of Merida never. However, such
sensations of regret were transitory; he had followed the drum too long to
find parting with a brave or merry companion a new matter.
The vessel cast anchor in
the Downs at night. It had 'come to blow a sodger's wind,' as the skipper
said,that is, a foul one; and there was no getting up the river at that
time, when the goodly invention of steam-tugs was as yet unknown.
Next morning he landed with
his baggage at Deal, and started in a post-chaise for London, Immediately
on his arrival there, he despatched letters to Colonel Cameron, to
Inchavon, and Lochisla, giving an account of the perils attendant on his
detention in Spain, and safe arrival in England. In the fulness of his
joy, he also wrote to Sir Colquhoun Menteith, of Cairntowis, a near
relation, with whom his family had ever been at variance, and maintained a
petty personal feud. But the old baronet never acknowledged the receipt of
his letter, which caused Ronald to regret deeply that he had ever written
to him or his son, who was then serving with the army in Flanders. The
letter addressed to the old laird lay long at the post-house of
Strathfillan, and turned from white to saffron in the window, among tape
and needles, pins and thread-reels, until at last it was torn up and
were received in due course by those to whom they were addressed, and all,
save that to Sir Colquhoun, caused joy and congratulation; and so long did
the mess continue discussing his adventures, in all their various lights
and shades, through the medium of the sixth, seventh, and eighth
allowances, that it is credibly reported that only a third of the officers
appeared on parade in the Park of Brussels next morning.
On the day after his arrival, Stuart repaired
to the Horse Guards, to wait on the Duke of York, the commander-in-chief.
He had no doubt that his case would be heard favourably by the good duke,
whose well-known kindness and fellow-feeling for his brothers of the sword
gained him the appropriate sobriquet of the 'soldier's friend;' and he was
one to whom the wife, the widow, or the child of a soldier, in their
sorrow or destitution, never made an appeal in vain. His Royal Highness
was not at the Horse Guards that day, and Ronald was received by Sir Henry
Torrens, a plump little man, whom he imagined at first to be the very
personification of staff-office hauteur; but found, on further
acquaintance, to be all that Hyndford painted him, and a deuced good
received Stuart kindly, inquired after many of his old friends, opened his
eyes widely at what he called the audacity of the brigands in detaining a
British officer, read attentively the letters of Alvaro and Hyndford,
appeared to take great interest in the affair, and gave the ominous
official promise ' to see what could be done.'
Three days afterwards, however, an orderly of
the Life Guards brought Ronald an official packet from Sir Henry,
notifying his reappointment, and containing two orders,one to proceed
forthwith to join in Flanders, 'where his services were much required;'
and the other on the paymaster-general for all his arrears of pay, and
other sums due to him by Government, £400 'blood money,' for wounds, and
eighty guineas as compensation for the loss of his baggage when the Pass
of Maya was forced by Marshal Soult two years before.
Ronald blessed the liberality of John Bull,
who had not forgotten the fright of Napoleon's threatened invasion, and
was more inclined to be grateful to his sons then than now. The
money-orders were very acceptable things, as they relieved Ronald from the
necessity of drawing upon his father, whose involvements and expenses he
supposed to be sufficient already.
'This is excellent,' thought he. 'I can now
repay Hyndford, and travel comfortably post to Brussels. But yet, 'tis
vexatious to proceed forthwith. I held out hopes to Alice, and the people
in Perthshire, of seeing them all soon. Well, 'tis the fortune of war, and
repining is worse than useless.'
So he thought, as he elbowed his way along the
crowded Strand towards the office of Mr. Bruce, the regimental agent,
humming gaily as he went the old song:
'Oh, the Lowlands of Holland
Have parted my love and me,' etc.
Most willingly, however, would he have applied
for a short leave of absence, now so eminently his due, to enable him to
pay a brief visit to his Perthshire friends, and see once again his
beloved Alice before encountering anew the perils and hardships of war;
but the exigencies of the service were pressing, his orders peremptory,
and the fear of missing the glory of a new campaign reconciled him to the
necessity of a speedy departure. He applied himself diligently to the
business of instant preparation, and found relief for his excited feelings
in the bustle attendant on acquiring a new outfit. A short time sufficed
to procure him the necessary equipage for camp and field, and he was soon
ready to resume active military duties.
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