Towards morning a storm of
rain and wind arose, and none but those who have experienced it can
imagine the manifold miseries of a tentless bivouac on such an occasion.
Howling dismally among the trees of the cork-wood, the cold wind swept
over the desert plain, and the sleety rain descended in torrents,
drenching the unsheltered soldiers to the skin, and extinguishing their
fires; as the cold increased towards daybreak, they cursed the order which
had halted them in so exposed and dreary a spot, to which even the
cork-wood or ruins of La Nava would have been preferable.
It became fair about
daybreak, and Ronald, unable to remain longer on the ground, where the
water was actually forming in puddles around him, arose; and so wet was
the soil, that the impression made by the weight of his body was almost
immediately filled with water. His limbs were so benumbed and stiff, that
he could scarcely move, and his clothing was drenched through the blanket
and cloak in which he had been muffled up. The soldiers, worn out with the
fatigues of the preceding day, lay still until the last moment for rest,
and slept in ranks close together for warmth, with their muskets under
their great-coats, and their knapsacks beneath their heads for pillows.
Here and there, apart from the rest, one might be seen with his miserable
wife and two or three little children huddled close beside him, all
nestling under the solitary blanket (provided by Government for each man),
from which the steam arose in a column, owing to the heat of their bodies
acting on the rain-soaked covering. The distant sentinels and cavalry
videttes were standing motionless and silent at intervals along the plain,
where banks of white mist were rolling slowly in the yellow lustre of the
morning sun, the rising light of which was gilding the summits of the
mountains above Albuquerque. All was misery and unutterable discomfort.
Ronald wrung the water from the feathers of his bonnet, and kept himself
in motion to dry his regimentals and underclothing, which stuck close to
his skin. He now perceived that, in addition to his blanket, Evan had,
during the storm, cast over him his own great-coat, standing out the
misery of the night in his thin uniform. When he met Ronald's eye, he was
shivering with cold, exhaustion, and want of sleep.
'Oh, Evan! my faithful but
foolish fellow, what is this you have done? Did you really strip yourself
for me, and pass the night thus exposed?' exclaimed Ronald, his heart
overflowing with tumultuous feelings at the kindness of his humble
follower and old friend.
'I thocht ye would be cauld,
sir,' replied Evan, his teeth chattering while he spoke, 'and my heart
bled to see ye lying there like a beast o' the field on the dreary muir,
in siccan a miserable and eerie nicht. For me it mattered naething — for
neither my name nor bluid are gentle. I'm the son of your faither's
vassal; and, Maister Ronald, I did but my duty — what my puir auld faither
would hae wished me to do.'
'See that you never again
subject yourself to such a privation on my account: and Heaven knows,
Evan, I will not forget your kindness,' said Ronald, laying his hand
familiarly on the tufted wing which adorned Iverach's shoulder. ' ou
appear to be perishing with cold, and my canteen is empty. See if your
comrade, Angus Mackie, or anyone, will give you a drop of something to
warm you. Where is the colonel? I do not see him.'
'Lying yonder, on the
bieldy side of his horse.'
'And Mr. Macdonald------'
'Is sleeping by the bieldy
side of the major, and a burn of water rinnin round them. Och, sirs! it's
awfu' wark this for gentlemen's sons.'
'Rouse, Alister,' said
Ronald, stirring him with his sword; ' we shall get under arms
immediately. I see, through the mist yonder, that Howard is preparing to
mount.' He shaded the rays of the sun from his eyes with his hand, and
perceived at some distance the brigadier, with his tall cocked-hat and
large military cloak, examining the girths of his saddle and the holsters,
while he despatched the brigade-major to the officers commanding
regiments. The long roll of several drums, sounding dull and muffled with
the rain, immediately followed, rousing the bivouac; and the troops 'stood
to their arms,' preparatory to moving off, all draggled and wet, and with
empty stomachs, in the direction of the enemy, who were to be driven from
Merida at the point of the bayonet.
The women and
camp-followers were sent off to the rear, where the baggage-mules were
halted on the La Nava road ; the wet cloaks and blankets were rolled up
for the march, the officers slinging theirs in their sashes of crimson
silk, while those of the soldiers were strapped to their knapsacks.
'Uncase the colours,
gentlemen. Examine your flints,' cried Cameron, touching his bonnet to the
officers, as he rode along the front of the line.
In a few minutes the troops
moved off in close column, with the light cavalry on their flanks; and
making a circuit about the plain, advanced upon Merida, skirting the
cork-wood through which the French had retired on the preceding evening.
Ronald scanned the plain with an earnest eye in search of the two dead
men, the slaughter of whom had haunted his mind during the whole of the
last night; and the reader may conceive the disgust which he and others
experienced, when, on the spot where they had fallen, the scattered bones
of two skeletons were, discovered, red and raw as they had been left by
wild animals, which had been busy upon them the livelong night. Yesterday
they were active young soldiers, animated, probably, with spirit, courage,
and many a noble sentiment; to-day they were bare skeletons, left to
bleach unburied on the plain, as the troops had no time to inter them. The
old campaigners faced them with comparative indifference; but there was
altogether something rather appalling to so young a soldier as Ronald in
the lesson of war and mortality before him, and gloomy feelings, which he
endeavoured to shake off, took possession of his mind. But it was not a
time to appear depressed when there was a chance of hearing shot whizzing
in an hour or so more, and his spirits rose as the six regimental pipers,
with their major, Macdonuil-dhu, in their front, struck up a well-known
Scottish quick-step; and all pressed forward in hopes of driving the enemy
from their post, and obtaining a meal there.
During a march of several
miles, they saw but little of the boasted fruitfulness of Spain. The soil
appeared rich enough in some parts, but it lay untended and untilled, for
the roll of the drum and the glitter of arms had scared away the
husbandman and vine-dresser, making the once peaceful peasantry either
prowling plunderers, or fierce and savage guerillas, turning the
ploughshare into a sword, and a fertile country into a neglected
As the wood of La Nava
lessened in the rear, the city of Merida, situated on a high hill, around
the base of which the Guadiana wandered amid groves of cork-wood, laurel,
and olive, presented itself to view. Merida, one of the most ancient
cities in Spain, was once the capital of a province of the same name, and
numerous are the remains of Roman and Gothic grandeur which are preserved
within the circle of its mouldering fortifications. Dombrouski, a brave
soldier of fortune in the service of France, commanded the enemy, and he
had put the town in the best possible state of defence by raising a few
redoubts on the granite hill beside the city. He barricadoed the streets
with the furniture of the citizens, and all that the soldiers could lay
hands on for the purpose ; the suburban houses and walls were loopholed,
and the Pole was determined to defend his post, if a force came against it
for which he deemed himself a match; but when the waving colours and
polished arms of Sir Rowland Hill's division, sixteen thousand strong,
appeared descending the gentle slope towards the city, he saw the folly of
his resolution, and prepared to abandon his position. On the nearer
approach of the British, they beheld the corps of Dombrouski formed
outside the town, preparatory to moving off by the ancient Roman bridge,
the lofty arches of which span the deep waters of the Guadiana. On a front
movement being made among our cavalry, the French not wishing to feel the
steel of those who had so lately gained the battle of Arroya-del-Molino,
retreated double quick, without firing a shot; and in a short time the
glitter of their appointments and the flashing tops of their glazed
shakoes disappeared among the olive-groves and broken ground in the
direction of the town of Almendralejo, where a strong party lay, commanded
by the Count d'Erlon. The division halted, and bivouacked about Merida, to
which those inhabitants who had fled during its occupation by Dombrouski
returned ; the streets were filled with acclamations of welcome to the
British, and the bells rang merrily from the steeples of the churches and
convents. A small ration was now served out to the half-famished soldiers,
and thousands of fires were lit in every direction; while all the
camp-kettles and pans were put in requisition for cooking, and the axes,
saws, and billhooks of the pioneers made devastation among the underwood
and wild groves to procure fuel.
The miserable ration
consisted of a few ounces of flour and flesh, given to each man alike,
without distinction. The flesh was that of ill-fed, jaded, and wearied
bullocks, which had become too old for agricultural labour, driven up
rapidly after the army. Those given to each regiment were instantly shot
through the head, flayed, and in a twinkling served out in the allotted
quantities, which were placed warm in the camp-kettles to boil, almost
before the circulation of the blood, or the vibration of the fibres, had
This was the usual way in
which the military rations were served out in Spain, — killed and eaten
when the animals were in a state of fever from long and hasty journeys,
tough and hard as bend-leather, in consequence of age, ill-feeding, and
want of proper cooking.
More lucky than thousands
of their comrades, who pursued their culinary operations in the open air,
Ronald and Alister Macdonald obtained possession of a deserted shed or
house in the suburbs, where Evan Iverach, casting aside his accoutrements,
began to prepare in the best manner he could the poor meal, for which,
however, the appetites of all were sufficiently sharpened, for they had
not broken their fast since they quitted Albuquerque.
The wretched apartment had
neither windows nor shutters to boast of; and the arms of leafless vines
straggled in at the apertures, through which, now and then, the swarthy
face of a passing Spaniard appeared, looking in with evident curiosity.
Strong black rafters crossed by red tiles, the joints of which admitted
the daylight, composed the roof; the floor was earth pounded hard by means
of a pavior's rammer, or some such instrument. As the room had no
fireplace, Evan made one by means of two stones placed in the centre of
the floor ; between them was kindled a fire with one of the doors, which
Ronald had torn down, and hewn in pieces with his sword.
The smoke filled the place,
and rolled in volumes out at every aper ture. A large stone and Evan's
knapsack set on end composed their furniture, and, seated thus, they set
about the discussion of their meal, which, when cooked, was but a sorry
mess, being merely the tough flesh boiled with the flour, without the aid
of a single vegetable, — tasteless and insipid; but hunger is said to be '
the best sauce,' and they despatched it with infinite relish. Each had
produced his knife, fork, and spoon from his haversack, a strong bag of
coarse linen, in which provisions are carried on service, and their dinner
set was complete. 'Hech me, sirs I I would rather sup sour crowdy at the
ingle neuk o' auld Lochisla, than chow sic fushionless trash as this,'
said Evan with strong contempt, as he sat squatted on the floor, taking
his share of the provision out of a camp-kettle lid, and scarcely seen
amid the smoke. ' It micht pass muster wi' a puir chield like me; but I
trow it's no for sic as you, Maister Ronald, or you, Maister Macdonald, or
ony gentleman o' that ilk.'
'It is confounded stuff,
certainly,' replied Alister, laughing at the. young Highlander's quaint
mode of expression; 'the flesh is as tough as a buff belt, and the old
bull it belonged to has seen hard service, no doubt, in his day. But I
wish that we had a drop of the purple Lisbon wine to wash it down with,
'We are better off than our
Portuguese comrades, however bad our present fare; they, poor fellows,
have only received a few ounces of wheat each man.'
'And an unco chappin' they
are making by the water side, sir, ilka man pounding his wheat between twa
stanes into something to mak' bannocks wi'. Puir black-avised deevils! I
pity them muckle,' observed Evan, who, from many circumstances combined,
presumed to break the laws of military etiquette, and mingle in the
conversation. 'It's an unco thing to march far wi' an empty wame and fecht
fasting. It makes my very heart loup like a laverock, when I think o' the
braw Scots brochan and kail, that the miserable folk here ken naething
aboot. Oh, it's a puir hole this Spain, I think, either to fecht or forage
'If you grumble thus, Evan,
I shall be led to suppose you will make, but a poor soldier. We have seen
little of Spain yet; the best part of the country and the summer are still
before us, and let us hope that this is the worst. But there is little
pleasure in abiding in this wretched shelling, where we are almost choked
and blinded with smoke. Let us find out some wine-house, where we can get
something to gargle our throats with. Come, Macdonald, we shall be smoked
like deer's hams, if we sit here longer. There are the ruins of the Roman
amphitheatre, and other things in this city of Merida, which I would wish
to see, and our time is short; we march again in the morning, as you
On passing down the
principal street, their attention was attracted by the ruins of a noble
triumphal arch (a relic of the Roman power), under which lay mouldering
fragments of the rich cornice and marble statues that had fallen from
above. Near the arch stood two tall Corinthian columns, upwards of forty
feet in height, the last remnants of some magnificent temple.
The houses were lofty, and
decorated with heavy entablatures, pilasters, and ornaments of stucco or
plaster, some of them richly gilt, and many had broad balconies of stone
or iron projecting over the pavement. On some of them appeared dark-haired
and dark-eyed Senoritas, wearing the long sweeping veil and graceful black
mantilla, of which so much has been said by romancers, surveying with
smiles of wonder and pleasure the strange scene of so many foreign
uniforms crowding the streets, and waving their fans and handkerchiefs,
crying to the British officers who passed them, 'Viva! la valiante Inglesa!
'What beautiful eyes and
splendid figures these girls have!' said Macdonald rapturously, doffing
his bonnet to a group of fair ones, whose attention their Highland garb
had attracted. 'By Heaven ! we have no such eyes at home. How they flash
under their long lashes! I never beheld such glossy curls as those that
stream from under their veils.'
'I have, Alister,' was
Ronald's brief reply.
'Ay, in her whose miniature
you wear under the fold of your shoulder-belt; I saw it for an instant the
other day at Albuquerque. Nay, nay, man, you need not colour or look so
cross; I shall not tell any of our fellows, and we have no mess here to
try your fiery temper by jokes and quizzing. But keep it in a more secure
place; should it be seen by Grant or Bevan, or any of them, it may become
the source of continual jesting.'
'Those who dare to jest
with me on such a subject may find it dangerous work,' said Ronald, coldly
and haughtily. 'But here is the place we have been looking for — the Caza
A bunch of gilded grapes,
suspended over the door of a low flat-roofed building, announced it to be
the shop of a retailer of wine. The doorway was crowded by British,
Portuguese, and German officers, who were pressing their way in and out,
intermixed with a few cigar-smoking citizens, wearing broad sombreros and
the external long Spanish cloak, enveloping their whole form in a manner
not ungraceful, but in the style of mysterious gentry on the stage,
rendering it impossible to discover their rank in society ; in fact, all
the Spaniards they beheld were exactly like one another. All smoked cigars
with the same air of immovable gravity ; all wore the same sombre attire,
and strode under the piazzas of the Plaza with the same haughty swagger.
To stroll about smoking by day, and to sit listlessly at night muffled in
their mantles, with their feet resting on a pan of hot charcoal while they
sipped their sour wine, appeared to be their only employment.
Ronald and his friend made
their way into a spacious oblong apartment, fitted up in the plainest
manner with rough deal seats and tables, at which sat many of the officers
of the second division, — the red, or rather purple coats of the British,
the blue of the Portuguese, the green of the German rifles, and the brown
of a few Spaniards, being intermingled. Several olive-cheeked young girls,
with their long black hair streaming unbound, wearing short petticoats,
large bustles, and high-heeled shoes, were continually tripping about, and
serving the country wine in all kinds of vessels, from which it was
rapidly transferred to the throats of the thirsty carousers; and a strange
din of several languages and many sonorous voices shook the rafters of the
'A devil of a den this 1
Let us quit it as soon as possible,' said Macdonald, draining his horn of
'As soon as you please. I
am almost stifled with the fumes of garlic from the Portuguese, and
tobacco from the Germans. Look at old Blacier, of the 6oth Rifles, how
quietly he sits in that corner, filling the whole place with the smoke of
his long pipe.'
'Looking as grave as his
serene mightiness of Hesse Humbug. But I do not see any of ours here.'
'There's Campbell, sitting
beside Armstrong, of the 71st; doubtless he is fighting some battle in
Egypt over again. He speaks so earnestly, that he is not aware of our
presence, — and yonder is Chisholm.'
'Stuart,' exclaimed Alister
abruptly, 'who can that strange fellow be who seems to scrutinize you so
narrowly? See, behind the chair of Blacier, in the dark recess of the
Ronald looked in the
direction pointed out, and beheld the fierce, serpent-like eyes of a
well-known face fixed on him with a settled stare.
'It is the rascal Narvaez,'
whispered Ronald, making a stride towards the place; but the worthy,
pulling his sombrero over his face, pressed through the crowd, gained the
door, and disappeared.
'Pshaw ! let him go,' said
Alister, holding Ronald back by his silk sash. 'You surely would not
follow him? You are neither an alcalde nor an alguazil, and you need not
care how many he sends to the shades. He eyes you with a look that bodes
you no good, and the revengeful disposition of these swarthy gentlemen is
well known. I would advise you to be on your guard; perhaps he is dogging
you for your squabble at Albuquerque.'
'If ever I meet the
vagabond on a hillside,' replied Ronald angrily, 'I will teach him to
model his face differently, when he dares to look at me.'
'Ay; but 'tis not decently
on the hillside that disputes are settled here. A stab in the dark, or a
shot from behind a hedge, ends matters, and all is over,' answered
Macdonald, as they issued into the street, after settling with the patron.
'And now, before it is quite dark, let us take a view of the amphitheatre.
I see its ruins above the flat-roofed houses at the end of the street
yonder, and a bold outline it rears against the clear sky of the evening.'