of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 9 - Donna Catalina
As she stood erect, her
velvet mantilla fell from her white shoulders, displaying a round and
exquisitely-moulded form, tall and full, yet light and graceful. The noble
contour of her head, and the delicate outline of her features, were shown
by the removal of her black lace veil, which she threw back, permitting it
to hang sweeping down behind, giving her that stately and dignified air so
common to the Spanish ladies, but of which our own are so deficient,
owing, probably, to the extreme stiffness of their headdress. Her skin was
fair, exceedingly so for a Spaniard ; but the glossy curls of the deepest
black falling on her neck, rendered it yet more so by contrast. Her
crimson lips and the fine form of her nostrils, her white transparent brow
and full dark eyes, shining with inexpressible brilliance, struck the
three Scots mute with surprise, almost with awe. So showy a beauty had
not met their gaze since their departure from Edinburgh, and even Ronald,
while keeping his hand within the breast of his coat upon the miniature of
Alice, felt his heart beneath it strangely moved at the sight of the fair
Alvaro, I think you might have spent with me the only night you have been
in Merida for this year past,' said the young lady, pouting prettily.
'Nay, my dear Catalina, you must not receive
us thus,' replied her brother in Spanish, her knowledge of English being
very slight. ' Allow me to introduce three British officers, to whom I am
indebted for the preservation of my life, which six bravoes, employed by
old Salvador de Zagala, put in imminent peril to-night.'
'Ah! you have been at your old affair you
have been visiting the Calle de San Juan. How often have I warned you!
Well, and the bravoes?'
'One has been sent to purgatory to-night, and
another shall be sent somewhere else by daybreak.'. On Catalina hearing
the story, she thanked, in broken English, but in a voice of thrilling
earnestness, the three wearied soldados, who had seated themselves on the
large old-fashioned chairs, the crimson leather and gilding of which
showed them to be the work of the previous century.
'You must excuse, senors,' said Catalina, 'the
very poor fare I have to present you with. The French ladrones carried off
almost everything with them this morning, and Merida will not soon forget
fare, thanks to the lazy commissariat department, has been so hard of
late, that almost anything will pass muster with us,' replied Ronald; 'but
here are dishes enough for a whole troop.' While he spoke, the oak table
was laid in a twinkling with a variety of covers; of which they could
scarcely taste any, owing to the garlic and olive-oil with which the
Spaniards, as well as the Portuguese, always season and cook up their
'You do not
seem to relish the pigeon, senor mio,' said Donna Catalina to the major,
who was making wry faces at every mouthful he took. ' Try the piece of
cold roasted meat on the cover near you.'
'I thank you,' answered Campbell, helping
himself largely. ' It would be excellent to my taste, were it not for the
olive-oil and spices, not used in our country, with which it is seasoned.'
A hash and ragout were
likewise attempted, but in vain; the garlic with which they were dressed
rendered it impossible for the three strangers to taste them, but it was
equally impossible to be displeased: the polite apologies and regrets of
the cavalier, and the condescending sweetness of his beautiful sister,
made ample amends. But the three hungry Scots were very well pleased to
see the first course replaced by the second, which consisted of white
Spanish bread of the purest flour, dried grapes, and several large crystal
jugs of the purple country wine, sherry, and Malaga.
'You British are rather more fastidious than
our Portuguese friends and allies,' said Alvaro, laughing. 'The last time
the 6th Cacadores lay quartered here, they left not a single cat uneaten
a loss still remembered with peculiar animosity by the housewives of
Merida. The Portuguese are not over-nice in anything, certainly, and we
have a proverb among us, that " a bad Spaniard makes a good Portuguese." '
'Sir, when I am sharp-set, I am not very apt to be particular myself,'
replied Campbell. 'When I was in Egypt with Sir Ralph, on one occasion I
ate a very juicy steak cut from a horse's flank, and fried in a
camp-kettle lid. We were starving for want of rations, senor; and, I dare
say, even the holy camel on its way to Mecca, had it passed our route,
would have been gobbled up, hump and all.'
Ronald, who had hitherto sat almost silent,
began to dread a long Egyptian story from the major; but this fear was
removed by Don Alvaro's filling up his horn, and drinking to the health of
Lord Wellington and the British forces, the deliverers of Spain and
After this complimentary toast had been duly
honoured, 'A bumper, gentlemen!' exclaimed the major, 'fill up your
glasses regular brimmers, and they must be drunk off with true Highland
honours, A la libertad de Espana! hurrah!' and, springing up erect with
native agility the three Scots, placing their left feet on their seats and
their right on the table (a movement which considerably surprised the
grave don and his sister, who trembled for their crimson chairs), they
flourished their glasses aloft, and drank to the toast with what are
called Highland honours.
'Viva! viva/' cried the cavalier, in applause
of the sentiment, though rather puzzled at the mode of proclaiming it.
They drank to their fair hostess, and to all
sorts of gallant and martial toasts; and, as the wine-horns were filled
and emptied again and again, they grew more merry, the national gravity of
the don disappearing gradually as their conviviality increased. He laughed
and sung with the frankness of a soldier, and trolled forth more than once
the 'Song of Five Hundred Horse,' a Spanish military carol. At Ronald's
request, Catalina took her guitar from the back of her chair where it
hung, and, without requiring the entreaties necessary to obtain the same
favour from a British lady, the frank girl sung with a coquettish air,
which peculiarly became her, 'My Mother wants no Soldiers here,' a song
well known in Spain at the time our troops were campaigning there.
'She seems bent on making a conquest of you,
Alister,' whispered Ronald. 'Of yourself, rather,' retorted the other
coldly. Indeed, Macdonald had said but little all night; his mind was
continually wandering to the recent fray, and the remembrance that he had
for the first time slain a fellow-being a reflection which troubled him
very little, truly, a few weeks afterwards, when he had become used to
that sort of work. 'Of yourself, rather, Stuart. Her eyes are ever on you,
'Hush! she hears us,' replied the other
hurriedly, his cheek reddening, yet more with mental shame than anger.
'Oh, Alice Lisle !' thought he, 'this Spaniard, beautiful as she is,
cannot surely be teaching me to forget you so soon. Her eyes are blacker
than those of Alice, certainly, but they are less soft and feminine less
gentle in expression; yet------' Here he was interrupted by the loud and
sonorous voice of Campbell, who, at the request of Catalina, was
commencing a song.
Ronald was rapidly becoming so confused with
the effects of the wine he had taken, that he knew not whether it was
Alice Lisle or Donna Catalina who sat beside him; but having a vague idea
that it was some beautiful female, before the major's song was ended he
was making downright love, which the lady took in very good humour.
Campbell's song, the 'Piobracht au Donuil-dhu.'
although it roused the hearts of his countrymen by its martial and
forcible language, was listened to with a grave and pleasant smile by Don
Alvaro, who, of course, comprehended not one word of the ditty, which in
his ears sounded as a most barbarous jargon, and might have been a Moorish
battle-song for aught that he knew to the contrary.
The retiring of Donna Catalina did not put an
end to the carousal; and, as they had to leave Merida an hour before
daybreak, they betook themselves to rest (after every jug of wine had been
discussed) on the chairs, as it was useless to go to bed for an hour or
two only. The short time they passed in slumber flew quickly, and they
were soon roused by the din of the flying-artillery guns, as they swept
over the causewayed streets, driven at a hard trot towards the bridge of
'Caramba! Rouse, senors,' cried Alvaro, who
was the first to awake.
'Carajo! Ay, there go the field-pieces: old
Rowland's in his saddle already,' muttered the major, scrambling up from
the floor on which he had rolled in the night-time, and placing his large
bonnet on the wrong way, permitting the long feathers to stream down his
back. 'Rouse, gentlemen ! Up and be doing, sirs, or we shall be missed
from our posts. Old Mahoud take the rule for marching before daybreak !
Sir Ralph never made us do so in Egypt, and we gained laurels there,
gentlemen I say we did. This infernal bonnet ! 'tis always falling off.'
'I wish to Heaven I could sleep an hour longer
!' said Ronald. 'I have scarcely had three hours' sleep this week past.'
'Our brigade never sleep, gentlemen,' cried
Campbell, who was still a little inebriated, 'never! We march all night,
and fight all day: we used to reverse the matter in Egypt. But what have
we here? Peter Forbes or what is your name, what's the matter? Are
Dombrouski's dragoons among ye?'
'Ave Maria! 0 Dios mio! O Senor Don Alvaro!'
cried Sargento Pedro Gomez, appearing at the entrance of the room with a
lamp in his hand; ' we have had the devil among us last night.'
'How so, fellow? What has happened?
'The bravo has escaped------'
'How! Diavolo! escaped?'
'Ay, noble senor, and carried off the carbine
of poor Diego de la Zarza, whom we found lying within the chamber with his
throat cut from ear to ear.'
The cavalier ground his teeth with absolute
fury, while his olive cheek grew black with rising passion.
'Santos! Santissimus!' cried he; 'would to San
Juan, and all the calendar, I had hanged him last night! My brave Diego
but he must have slept; if so, he deserves his fate. Well, there is no
help for this matter; we will give Narvaez Cifuentes a short prayer and a
long stab the next time we meet, and that without delay. But we must be
off; the cavalry advance-guard, and part of the artillery, have already
passed. Let the trompetero sound "to horse"; and hasten, Pedro, and get
the troop into their saddles. Though we belong to the division of Murillo,
we will cross the bridge with you to-day, senors, and strike a blow for
honour. Vive Espana y buena Esperanza! 'Tis a better war-shout than the
Vive I Empereur of the followers of the perfidious Buonaparte.'
'There are the drums of our brigade,' said
Ronald Stuart; 'and should we be missed by Fassifern, the excellency of
Don Alvaro's purple Malaga and sherry, or even the smiles of Donna
Catalina herself, would form but a poor excuse for lingering. Hark ! the
'You improve in the art of gallantry,'
observed Macdonald; 'you could not have turned such fine speeches the
morning we halted in the Black Horse Square, at Lisbon. But I regret that
we must march without bidding adieu to our fair patrana.'
'Forward, cavaliers; Catalina will excuse our
departing without bidding her farewell. Down the stair-case to the left,
senors,' cried Alvaro. 'Pedro Gomez, knave, light the way !' and they
pressed forward into the street, feeling the chill air of the morning blow
strangely on their faces, while their heads swam with the fumes of the
wine taken so lately.
'It will belong ere I forget the night we
spent in Merida,' said Macdonald. 'And long ere I do so, truly,' replied
Stuart, casting his eyes vacantly over the dark windows of the mansion of
Villa Franca. 'Ah!Donna Catalina; are you looking for her ?' ' Such
strange scenes of fray and other matters ! Had such a row occurred at
home, all Britain would have rung with it, from Dover to Cape Wrath ; but
here it is as nothing.' ' Hark ! what is that, Stuart?'
'A cry by Heaven, a most appalling one!' A
loud shriek arose from amid the darkness in which the Plaza was involved.
They hastened to that part of the square from whence it appeared to issue,
and found that the conflict in which they had borne so conspicuous a part
was not the only outrage committed that night in Merida. They discovered a
young Portuguese lad, the private servant of Lieutenant-colonel Macdonald,
of the Gordon Highlanders, lying dead under the piazzas, stabbed to the
heart with a long stiletto or knife, and the assassin was never
For some hours the dark streets of the city
rang to the measured tramp of marching soldiers, the clatter of
accoutrements, the clang of hoofs, and the rumble of heavy wheels, as
artillery, cavalry, and infantry moved rapidly forward; but by sunrise the
whole division had crossed the bridge, and on the opposite side of the
river pursued their route towards Almendralejo. 'Colonel Cameron!' cried
old Wemyss, the brigade-major, cantering up to the head of the column, '
Major-general Howard requests that you will increase your front. It is Sir
'Form subdivisions!' cried Fassifern, in the
loud and manly tone of authority which so well became him. 'Rear sections,
left oblique double quick!' The order was obeyed along the whole column
by each regiment in succession. Their fine brass bands filled the air with
martial music, causing every heart to vibrate to the sharp sound of the
soul-stirring trumpet, the cymbals, and trombone. The horses shook their
manes their riders sat more erect; the waving colours were flung forward
on the breeze above the steel ridges of glittering bayonets, and the brave
hearts of those who marched beneath them grew light and animated at the
prospect of a brush with the enemy. Their starving condition, their faded
uniform, the discomfort of the last night's bivouac, were forgotten all
was military, gay, and exciting to the utmost, filling every bosom with
the pride of the profession and the fervent 'glow of chivalry.' Sir
Rowland Hill, with his staff, viewed from a little eminence the whole
length of the column of that division of the army under his command, as
they passed, and a pleasing smile animated the benevolent features of the
bluff old general, when he beheld the willingness with which the footsore
and almost shoeless soldiers pressed forward, although they had endured
all that could render troops, less persevering and disciplined, less hardy
and less brave, mutinous.
Toilsome forced marches shelterless
bivouacs, starvation, receiving no provisions sometimes for three
consecutive days no clothing, and almost ever in arrears of pay on one
occasion for six months nothing but the hope of a change, and the
redoubtable spirit which animated them, could have supported the British
soldiers under the accumulation of miseries suffered by them in the
Peninsula miseries which were lessened to the French troops, by their
living at free quarters wherever they went.
Ronald looked back to the flat-roofed mansions
and Roman ruins of Merida, on the gray walls of which, casting bold
shadows, streamed the full splendour of the morning sun. The cavalry
rear-guard were slowly crossing the ancient bridge, and with the red coats
came the brown uniform of Spain; it was the troop of Don Alvaro advancing,
with their polished helmets and tall lances flashing in the sun, and
finding a sparkling reflection in the deep blue current of the Guadiana
Ronald carried for the first time the
regimental colour, which bore evident marks of service, being pierced in
many places by musket-shot. It was a labourious affair to sustain,
especially during a breeze, being large and of rich yellow silk, fringed
round with bullion. The sphinx, the badge of Egypt (the pride of the
major's heart), surrounded by a wreath of the brave old thistle, and the
honourable mottoes 'Egmont-op-Zee' 'Mandora,' and 'Bergen-op-Zoom,' all
sewn, as usual, by fair hands, and done in massive gold embroidery,
appeared in the centre of the standard, which the Duchess of Gordon had
presented to the clan regiment of her son.
'Stuart, I see you are casting longing looks
back to Merida,' said Alister, in his usual jesting manner, as he marched
by Ronald's side with the gaudy king's colour sloped on his shoulder.
'There is some attraction in our rear, I perceive; you are ever looking
'Ay, yonder comes Don Alvaro and his troop of
lances; how gallant they appear ! But they are almost hidden in the dust
raised by the rear of the column.'
'Look above the colours of the 71st, and you
will see the roof which contains the fair Catalina; it was for that you
were searching so narrowly. I can read your thoughts, you see, without
being a conjurer. Stuart, my boy, you are very green in these matters,
otherwise you would not blush as scarlet as your coat, which, by the bye,
is rapidly becoming purple.'
'What stuff you talk, Macdonald ! What is
Catalina to me?'
'Pshaw! now you need not bristle up so
fiercely. Were you not making downright love to her last night? And the
don himself would have seen it, but had drunk too much Malaga.'
'Impossible, Alister! You must dream, or this
is some of your usual nonsense. I have no recollection of speaking to
Donna Catalina otherwise than I would have done to any lady and Campbell
'The major had over-much sherry under his
belt, and made too much noise about Egypt, the pyramids, Pompey's
pillar, the battle of Alexandria, and Heaven knows all what, to hear
anyone speaking but himself. We spent the night in glorious style, however
; but the taste of that horrible garlic ------ Heavens above ! what is
Alister's sudden exclamation was not given
without sufficient reason.
A carbine flashed from among the dark
evergreens which overhung the road, and Ronald Stuart, staggering
backwards, fell prostrate and bleeding at the feet of his comrades, from
whom burst a wild shout of rage and surprise; but the strictness of
British discipline prevented any man from moving in search of the
'Hell's fury!' cried Colonel Cameron, spurring
his horse to the spot, while his eyes shot fire. ' Search the bushes;
forward, men ! Do not fire, in case of alarming the rear of the column ;
but fix bayonets, slay, hew, and cut to pieces whoever you find.'
With mingled curses and shouts, a hundred
Highlanders dashed through the thicket; but their heavy knapsacks and the
tall plumes of their bonnets impeded their movements in piercing the
twisted and tangled branches of the thickly-leaved laurels. They searched
the grove through and through, beating the bushes in every direction; but
no trace of the assassin was found, save a broad-brimmed sombrero bearing
the figure of the Virgin stamped in pewter, fastened to the band
encircling it, which Alister Macdonald found near a gigantic laurel-bush,
in the midst of the umbrageous branches of which its owner lurked unseen.
'It is the hat of Cifuentes, the vagabond of
our last night's adventure,' said Alister, hewing a passage through the
bushes with his sword, and regaining the regiment.
'I would you had brought his head rather. Oh
that it was within the reach of my trusty stick! I would scorn to wet
Andrea with his base blood.' A frown of rage contracted the broad brow of
Campbell while he spoke, holding in one hand a steel Highland pistol,
which he had drawn from his holster for the purpose of executing dire
vengeance had opportunity offered.
'By all the powers above!' cried Alister, with
fierce and stern energy, 'if ever this accursed Spaniard crosses my path I
will make his head fly from his shoulders as I would a thistle from its
stalk ! nor shall all the corregidors and alcaldes in Spain prevent me.
But how is Stuart? Poor fellow! he looks very pale. Has he lost much
Ronald, supported on the arm of Evan Iverach,
stood erect within a circle formed by the officers who crowded round,
while one of the regimental surgeons examined his left arm, which had been
wounded by the shot.
'Oh, gude sake! be gentle wi' him, doctor!'
said honest Evan in great anguish, as he observed Ronald to wince under
the hands of the medical officer; ' be as gentle wi' him as possible. You
doctor folk are unco rough ever and aye; dinna forget that he is your
namesake, and kinsman forbye, though ye canna find out the exact degree.'
'I hope, Doctor Stuart, the wound is not a
very bad one? said Cameron, dismounting from his horse and approaching the
circle. 'I augur ill from the expression of concern which your countenance
'The shot has passed completely through,
colonel, breaking the bone in its passage ; but as the fracture is not
compound, it will soon join after setting. I hope that none of the red
coat, or any other foreign body, is lodged in the wound.'
'Oh, if it should be a poisoned ball!' groaned
poor Evan in great misery at the idea, while Doctor Stuart removed the
sleeve of the coat, and Ronald endeavoured to conceal the miniature of
Alice Lisle, which was nearly revealed by the disarrangement of his
uniform. 'Oh, if it should be a poisoned ball!' he repeated.
'Some of our very best chields have been slam
wi' them before now, especially at the battle of Arroya-del-Molino,'
observed his comrade Angus Mackie, with a solemn shake of his head.
'Oh that I had only been at his side! It micht
have hit me in his stead!' 'Silence, men! You chatter nonsense,' said
Cameron sternly. 'And what think you now, doctor?'
'That as Mr. Stuart is young, and of a full
habit, I must bleed him immediately.'
'Stuff! My good fellow, he has lost blood
enough already.' 'I am the best judge of that, Colonel Cameron,' replied
Esculapius haughtily; 'delay is fraught with danger. Holloa, there;
where's the hospital attendant? Sergeant Maconush, undo the service-case
and bring me the pasteboard splints, the twelve-tailed bandage, and other
et cęteras: I will set the bone.'
'It is impossible, Doctor Stuart,' interposed
Cameron. 'Your intentions are all very good; but your clansman must return
to Merida, where I sincerely hope he will be properly attended to. We have
no time to await your operations just now, for which I am truly sorry, as
Ensign Stuart will be well aware.'
'Do not mind me, colonel,' replied Ronald,
whose teeth were clenched with the agony he endured. 'I will return as you
say, and shall doubtless find a medical attendant. I hear the rear
regiments are clamorous at this stoppage in their front, and yonder is Sir
Rowland himself, advancing to discover the cause.'He spoke with
difficulty, and at intervals; the new and painful sensation of a broken
limb, together with rage swelling his heart at the manner in which he had
received it, made his utterance low and indistinct.
Among the group around him he recognised Don
Alvaro, who had galloped from the rear to discover the meaning of the
confusion. 'Senor Coronel' said he to Cameron, raising his hand to the
peak of his helmet, 'let him be taken to my house in Merida, where he will
be properly attended to. Pedro Gomez,' turning to his orderly sergeant,
'dismount. Give this cavalier your horse, and attend him yourself to my
residence in the Calle de Guadiana, and desire Donna Catalina to have his
wound looked after. You will remain with him until it is healed.'
Pedro sprung lightly from his saddle, into
which Ronald was with some difficulty installed.
'I thank you, senor,' said Cameron, touching
his bonnet, 'and am glad this disagreeable matter is so satisfactorily
arranged; the alcalde might have ordered him but an indifferent billet.
Good-bye, my dear fellow, Stuart; I trust we shall see you soon again, and
with a whole skin. Mr. Grant, take the colours. Gentlemen, fall in; get
into your places, men into your ranks. Forward!' He delivered his orders
with firm rapidity, and being a strict martinet, who was not to be trifled
with, they were instantly obeyed, and the commotion was hushed. The troops
were too much accustomed to wounds and slaughter to care about the hurt
received by Ronald; but it was the sudden and concealed shot which had
raised their surprise and indignation.
Evan Iverach alone delayed executing the
orders of Cameron, and entreated that he might be permitted to attend his
wounded master to the rear. 'My good fellow, it cannot be,' replied the
colonel, pleased with the genuine concern manifested by Ronald's honest
follower, 'the enemy are before us, and I cannot spare a man. Nay, now,
you need not entreat; fall into your place at once, sir.'
'Oh! if you please, sir, dinna speak sae
sternly. Did ye but ken------'
'Into your place this instant, sir ! or I will
have you stripped of your accoutrements, and sent prisoner to the
quarter-guard,' exclaimed Cameron sternly, his eyes beginning to sparkle.
To say more was useless, and shouldering his musket with a heavy heart,
Evan took his place in the ranks, and moved forward with the rest ; but he
cast many an anxious look to the rear, watching the retiring figure of
Ronald as he sat on the troop-horse, which was led by Pedro Gomez towards
the bridge of Merida.
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