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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 30 - An Arrest

The next morning by day break Ronald and his prisoner quitted Villa Macia.

The young Scot was disgusted with the levity and carelessness with which, at their departure, De Mesmai treated the tears and sorrow of his daughter, and the pious admonitions of the reverend cura.

'Body o' the Pope!' said he, as they cantered under the shade of the cork-trees which lined the road, 'what a rare blockhead has become monsieur my old gardener, now curate of Villa Macia! How D'Erlon and his aiguletted staff would laugh, if they knew I had become quite a family man ! I am always apprehensive that some of my wild pranks will come unluckily to light, as this affair of poor Justine Rosat's has done; but I am too old a soldier to be put to the blush. Blush! I have no blood to spare—the bleeding of twenty years' campaigning has cured me of that. How the poor girl wept! What the deuce ! surely she did not expect me to take her with me? Captain Maurice de Mesmai, of Monsieur le Comte d'Erlon's staff, with a family! Corbæuf! the idea is most excellent! 'Tis well Victor d Estouville and our first major, Louis Chateaufleur, know nothing of this; otherwise they would quiz me out of the service. However, I commend my daughter to the long-visaged and noble cavalier, Don—Don—what the devil is his name?— Gonzago de Conquesta; and vow, if he makes not a good husband, affectionate father, and displays not all the good qualities you will find graven on every good man's tombstone, I will crop his ears—I will, by the name of the bomb ! Ho, ho ! now when I remember it, what a long roll-call Monsieur le Curé made of my early scrapes, last night. I listened to him through a chink in the partition. Tete-dieu! how impertinent the old dog was ! I own to you I was on the point of cutting short his exceedingly rude harangue a dozen times.'

De Mesmai kept talking thus for an hour at a time, without heeding the interruptions of Ronald, who did not hesitate to acquaint him freely with the opinion he entertained of his feelings and sentiments, at which the other only laughed in his usual loud and boisterous manner.

At San Pedro they were received into the house of the alcalde, who showed them every attention and civility. But there an unlucky brawl ensued. De Mesmai, probably to spend the time, paid such close attention to the patrona, a plump, rosy, and good-natured-like matron, that the worthy alcalde, her lord and master, started up from the supper-table in a sudden fit of jealousy and rage, and would have stabbed the cuirassier with a poniard, which he suddenly unsheathed from his boot—a place of concealment often used for such a weapon in Spain. Ronald's timely interference quelled this dangerous brawl, and mollified the fierce merchant, for the alcalde was a retailer of Cordovan leather ; and Stuart was very glad when he had his troublesome companion once more out on the highway, where his pride and petulance had less opportunities of rousing the ire of the fiery Spaniards.

Near Medellin, a town twenty miles east of Menda, their horses suddenly became dead lame; and Ronald, who was chafed to fury at the delay caused by this accident, lost much more time, as he could not abandon the major's horse, and it could proceed but slowly. Next day, the ninth of his absence, he beheld before him the massive amphitheatre, the Gothic spires and well-known bridge of the old Roman city, which was associated with so many sad and tender reminiscences of Catalina, a thousand recollections of whom came crowding into his mind, plunging him into melancholy, from which De Mesmai vainly endeavoured to rouse him by an animated description of the follies and the gaiety of Paris, and biographical sketches of the reigning beauties, with all o whom he was, by his own account, a decided favourite.

It was dark when they reached the bridge, on the centre of which, where the blown-up arch was crossed by wooden planks, they saw two Highland sentinels pacing at their post, the flutter of their plaids and waving folds of their kilts giving to them the appearance of a couple of those ancient Romans who had often kept watch and ward upon the same spot. On hearing the sound of the approaching hoofs, they came to their front, and one challenged, in the familiar voice of Evan Iverach, ' Stand! Who goes there?'

'Ronald an deigh nam fiann' (the last of his race), answered Stuart in Gaelic, almost laughing.

The two astonished Highlanders set up a loud skraigh, which startled the very leaves of the olives on the other side of the Guadiana, and ringing under the arches of the bridge, died away in the winding rocks of the river.

'Who is the officer on guard here? asked Ronald, after Evan's extravagant joy at his sudden appearance had somewhat subsided. 'Mr. Macdonald, sir!

'Which? We have six or seven.'

'Lieutenant Ronald Macdonuil, sir. The guard-house is close by the first barricade ye'll find cast across the croon o' the causeway, just inside the yetts o' the toon.'

Promising to satisfy to-morrow the eager and affectionate inquiries of Evan, who hung on at his plaid very unceremoniously, Stuart, with his prisoner, crossed the bridge; and entering the city-gate, found Macdonuil's guard under arms, having been startled by the holloa of the two sentinels.

'Where are the colonel's quarters? asked Ronald of the officer on duty, when congratulations had ceased.

'Next door to the town-house; you will easily know it,—a large building with a portico. But I would advise you to defer reporting your arrival until to-morrow.'

'Why so, Macdonuil? The sooner so much the better, surely? 'But Cameron is sure, from the direction in which Campbell said you left Almarez, that you were not in the hands of the enemy; and he is strangely enraged at your singular absence.'

'Singular ? How ! have I not explained to you------'

'Oh, perfectly; I am quite satisfied. But, my dear Stuart, Cameron is such a fiery sort of fellow, that he will not be so easily pleased, notwithstanding your having captured this French officer. You must prepare yourself for something disagreeable, as he is determined to put you under arrest; and it will not put him in a better humour to report your return just now, almost at midnight.'

'You are right, Macdonuil. But what shall I do for a billet? Twelve o'clock,—there is the bell-clock of the corporation-house striking.'

'We have established a temporary mess-room, and you had better go to it; our fellows are all there still, I have little doubt,—they are never in a hurry to break up. You know the Calle de Guadiana——' ' Lying between the river and the Plaza ?'

'Yes. Pass down there, wheel to your left, and you will come to the chapter-house of the San Juan convent, where our temporary mess-house is established.'

'But I shall probably find Fassifern there; and if anything disagreeable------'

'There is no danger. I saw him at sunset return to his billet in the Calle de Santa Clara, accompanied by his faithful esquire and orderly, Dugald Mhor; so he is without doubt housed for the night.'

Ronald followed Macdonuil's directions, accompanied by De Mesmai, who had been so often in Merida that he knew the streets as well as an inhabitant could have known them. On reaching the foot of the street of the Guadiana, the lights shining through the tall traceried windows of the chapter-house, together with the unseemly sounds of midnight roistering and merriment which issued from it, informed them that this was the place they sought.

'Here we dismount,' said Stuart; and alighting, they tied their bridles to the necks of two stone saints, whose weather-beaten heads had for six hundred years sustained the weight of a canopy over the Gothic doorway. Before entering, Ronald gave a glance through a window, between the thick stone mullions of which he took a survey of the company. The gloomy old chapter-house was but indifferently lighted by a dozen yellow old commissariat candles, stuck on the heads and hands of corbelled saints and angels, shedding a dull and uncertain light on the table, which was composed of a few rough boards nailed together. Around this rude contrivance sat about thirty officers in the Highland uniform, occupying the high-backed oaken chairs which erst were used by the holy fathers of San Juan, when assembled in solemn conclave. Ronald saw that nearly all his brother officers were present, as few were on guard, and there was not one married man among them.

The general equipage of the table was different from that of a home-service mess, and contrasted strongly with the rich uniforms of the carousers, who were drinking Spanish wine from horns, tin canteens, glasses, and all sorts of vessels fit for the purpose that could be procured.

'Corbæuf!' exclaimed De Mesmai, 'what a jovial song,—-more merry than musical, though. I have a dozen minds to strike up the Marseillaise hymn.'

'Stay,—hearken a moment.'

They were singing the well-known Scottish song, 'Donald Macdonald,' which had become so popular at the mess that it always followed the standing toast of ' Here's to the Highlandmen, shoulder to shoulder !' and was chorussed in a most methodical manner. By the noisy accompaniments of glasses clanked upon the table, and heels upon the floor, it was evident the company were pretty mellow. Some of the windows being open for the admittance of cool air, the bold chorus, chanted by thirty voices, rolled out into the still night air and echoed among the deserted streets:

'Sword, and buckler, and a',
Buckler, and sword, and a';
For George we'll encounter the devil,
Wi' sword and buckler, and a'.'

Now Campbell's loud sonorous voice, chanting alone, awoke the echoes of the place:

'The Gordon is gude in a hurry,
And Campbell is steel to the bane,
And Grant, and Mackenzie, and Murray,
And Cameron will hurkle to nane.

The Stuart is sturdy and wannel,
And sae is Macleod and Mackay;
And I, their gude brither, Macdonald,
Sall never be last in the fray.'

'Chorus again, gentlemen'—(and the thirty struck in):

'Brogues, and brochan, and a',
Brochan, and brogues, and a';
And up wi' the bonnie blue bonnet,
The kilt, the feather, and a'.'

As the chorus died away in the aisles and cloisters of the adjacent church, the door was thrown open, and Ronald, leading his French friend, entered. All eyes were turned instantly towards them.

'Stuart! Stuart! Ronald Stuart!' cried twenty voices: but the light glittering on De Mesmai's helmet and breast-plate startled some so much, That their first impulse was to seize their weapons, and many a dirk and claymore were grasped in the expectation of seeing the room filled with Frenchmen. Those members of the company who were sober enough rose from the table to welcome their newly-found friend; but Louis Lisle, taking his sword and bonnet from a stone saint who had them in keeping, abruptly withdrew.

'Introduce me, Monsieur Stuart,' said the cuirassier, with a proud smile, 'or by the bomb ! we will have each other by the throat. Do your comrades thus welcome strangers, by baring sword and dagger?

Ronald could scarcely get a word spoken as his brother officers crowded round him, and a truly Scottish shaking of hands ensued, while a hundred questions were asked him by the sober in English,—by the less so in their more natural Gaelic, about his absence, and returning thus accompanied. It was impossible at that time to relate any particulars, so he determined on deferring all explanations until another time. Though angry at the conduct of Lisle, he was nevertheless much gratified by the friendly reception he met with from the other officers ; but as he had no heart to partake in their carousal, he withdrew soon after (to the disappointment of all) with Alister Macdonald to his billet, until another could be procured from an alcalde. De Mesmai remained at the table, and soon established himself as the lion of the company, and although he spoke always in Spanish, or very imperfect English, he became a general favourite, and kept the mess in roars of laughter. Military topics were studiously avoided, but he talked in his usual style incessantly about duels and girls, brawls and debauches, strange adventures and French military frolics, until the morning drums beating reveille through the streets, warned the jovial party to separate ; but I believe more than half of them took their repose on the pavement of the chapter-house, which had never before been the scene of such carousing.

Next morning Stuart completed his toilet hurriedly, with the intention of waiting on the colonel.

'Prepare yourself for something disagreeable, Ronald,' said Macdonald, who was leaning over a window which looked out on the principal street leading from the Plaza to the river. 'Claude A------, the adjutant, is coming here under the piazzas. He wears his sash and gorget, and I have no doubt Cameron has sent him to pay you a visit.'

'I expected such; yet the chief is somewhat hurried.'

'Take care how you style him so: I was nearly put under arrest for it at San Pedro. Come in!' cried Alister, as a smart knock was heard at the room-door.

'Sorry to spoil your breakfast, Stuart, by this early visit,' said the adjutant, entering; 'but Cameron has sent me for your sword, and desires me to say that you must consider yourself under arrest, until you can state satisfactorily in writing your reasons for absenting yourself for these nine days past without leave. He is in a towering passion ; all the blood of Lochiel seems to be bubbling up in him, because you did not report yourself last night. I never before saw his eyes glare as they do this morning.'

'Pshaw! Claude, you------'

'A fact, upon my honour. But do not be alarmed: he is too well pleased with your conduct at Almarez to carry this affair to extremities, believe, but for that night's work, he would bring you to a court-martial instanter.'

'The deuce he would! Do you think so, A------?'

'Of course. You know Cameron; there is not a stricter fellow in the service,—a regular martinet. But you had better take your pen, and endeavour to satisfy him by a sheet of foolscap. 'Tis well you left us so soon last night, as you will require a clear head this morning. Mine aches as if it would fall in pieces ; but I mean to call at the wine-house; (you know the saying) "to take a hair of the dog that bit me."'

'A very strange fellow, the French cuirassier, Claude? observed Macdonald.

'A hair-brained spark as ever I met with, He has played sad mischief with all ours. We shall not have one officer to each company on parade this morning. A dozen, I believe, are lying under the table with himself. Campbell, old Macdonald, and our most seasoned topers, were put to their mettle by him. But give me your sword, Stuart; the colonel is waiting for it, but I trust will not keep it long. You must endeavour to make your peace with him as soon as possible, and not be under any fear of being put in Coventry by our mess: we know you too well to do that.'

Ronald felt considerable chagrin as he beheld Claude A------, the adjutant, carry off his weapon, and found himself under arrest, and in imminent danger of being arraigned before a general court-martial. He composed himself to indite, for the colonel's perusal, an account of his absence, which he found a very delicate and difficult matter, as he was unwilling that the mess should get hold of poor Catalina's name to make it a subject of ridicule, and quiz him about it, which he feared would be done unmercifully, if he took not some stern means to stop them.

Nearly a quire of paper was expended before he could get a despatch worded to his own and Macdonald's satisfaction : one giving as brief and concise an account as possible of his adventures, and declaring that the reason of his sudden departure from Almarez was to free the sister of Don Alvaro, of Villa Franca, from Cifuentes, the well-known bandit, who had accompanied the first brigade disguised as a priest. Evan was despatched with the letter to the colonel's quarters; whilst Stuart and Macdonald, accompanied by De Mesmai, went to visit D'Estouville, the unfortunate commandant of Fort Napoleon, who was dying of the wound he had received from the officer of the 71st.

An old chapel, situated near the Baths of Diana, had been appropriated as an hospital for those wounded at the forts of Almarez. The design of some Gothic architect when the art was in its infancy, it was a low dark building, with short clumsy columns, gloomy arches, enormously thick walls, and dismal little windows, between the thick mullions of which the gray daylight seemed to struggle to be seen. What a scene of multiplied human misery the interior of the chapel presented! The wounded soldiers, British and French, to the number of some hundreds, lay in ranks on the damp pavement, over which a little straw was thrown, as no bedding could be given them. Deep and hollow groans of acute agony and suffering sounded from many parts of the building, and the continual rustling of the straw announced the impatient restlessness of sickness and pain. Here lay the gallant and high-spirited conscript, brooding gloomily, and almost weeping, over those visions of glory, which the amputation of a leg had suddenly cut short; and there the stern grenadier of the Imperial Guard lay coolly surveying his own blood as it trickled through the straw, and filled the carved letters of epitaphs on the pavement-stones. Near him lay his conqueror, the British soldier, shorn of a limb, dejected and miserable, having nothing before him now but a ' passport to beg,' and the poor apology for a pension which grateful Britain bestows on her defenders with the happy resource of starving in a parish workhouse. All were pale as death, and all disfigured by blood and bandages,—grisly, ghastly, unwashed, and unshaven. Often as they passed up the aisle, Stuart and Macdonald held the tin canteen to the parched lips of some wounded man, who drank greedily of the hot stale water it contained, and prayed them piteously to adjust his bandages, or by doing some little office to alleviate his pain. Some were dying, and lay convulsed among their straw, with the death-rattle sounding in their throat,—expiring, unheeded and uncared for, without a friend to behold them or a hand to close their eyes; and as soon as they were cold, they were seized by the hospital orderlies, and carried off for interment.

A wretched combination of misery, pain, and sorrow the interior of that little chapel presented, and it made a deeper impression on Stuart and Alister than on De Mesmai, who was an older soldier, and had beheld, in twenty years' campaigning, too much bloodshed and agony to recoil at the sight of it there ; but he loudly expressed his pleasure at beholding the attention paid to his countrymen. He saw that no distinction was made ; the wounded of both nations received the same attendance from the medical officers and their orderlies : and more than one grenadier of the Guard allowed his dark features to relax into a grim smile, as his red-coated attendants held up his head, to pour down his throat some dose of disagreeable stuff.

'Ha! Stewart,' said Ronald, catching his namesake the assistant surgeon by the belt as he was rushing past, with a saw in one hand and a long knife gleaming in the other.

'Don't detain me, pray. I have just clapped the tourniquet on that poor devil in the corner. I have to take his arm out of the socket, at the shoulder, too—a fearful operation: you'll hear his shrieks immediately. Sorry to hear you are under arrest. You will get through it, though, doubtless,—being a favourite.'

'Where is D'Estouville, the French major; and how is he?'

'Near his last gasp, poor man. You need not go to him now, as he is dying, and troubling him will not lengthen his life a second. I could do nothing more for him, and so have resigned him to his fate. I must attend to our own people, whose lives are of more consequence,—every man being worth exactly twenty pounds to Government, as you will see in—I forget what page of the "Mutiny Act."'

'How can you jest in such a horrid den as this? You surgeons are strangely cool fellows, certainly. But D'Estouville------'

'Is lying yonder, at the foot of that marble monument. Do not trouble him now; he will be dead in five minutes. Excuse me: I have to amputate a leg to prevent mortification, and its owner is growling and swearing at my delay.'

Under a Gothic canopy lay the marble effigy of a warrior of the days that are gone. It was the tomb of one of the Villa Franca family. He was represented in armour, and lying at full length, with his hands crossed on his bosom. The canopied recess had been made a receptacle for the caps and knapsacks of dead men, which were, without ceremony, piled above the figure of the Spanish cavalier. A tattered pennon, a rusty casque, and a time-worn sword hung over the niche, where a marble tablet announced it to be the tomb of the noble knight Don Rodrigo de Villa Franca: 'Muerto en una batalla con los Mores, a diez de Noviembre, del ano de mil y viente y siete.'

In front of this ancient tomb lay D'Estouville. Alas! how much ten days of pain and suffering had changed the gallant young Frenchman ! He was stretched on a pile of bloody straw, stripped to his shirt and regimental trousers. A large bandage, clotted and gory, encircled his head, and his once very handsome features were sadly changed; they were sunken and hollow, pale and emaciated to the last degree. He lay motionless, with his eyes closed; but his lips were parted, and he respired through his clenched teeth with difficulty. His head rested on a knapsack, placed under it by an honest Irishman of the 50th, who lay on his left, smoking a short black pipe, while he surveyed, with a composed but rueful look, the stump of his right arm. On the other side lay a Gordon Highlander, quivering in the agonies of death : a shot had lodged in his breast, and he, too, had been given up as incurable by the medical officers. The agony he endured had brought on a delirium ; he was chanting, in low and muttering tones, a sad and plaintive Gaelic dirge,—probably the death-song of his race, and as his voice sunk and died away, the bold spirit of the Son of the Mist seemed to pass with it.

'Morbleu! poor Victor!' said De Mesmai. 'Ah! messieurs,—surely he is not dead?'

At the sound of the French exclamation, D'Estouville opened his eyes, and attempted in vain to raise his head; but a faint smile of recognition passed over his pale features as he beheld Ronald Stuart, and gazed on the well-known uniform of De Mesmai. 'Poor fellow!' continued the latter, while a tear glistened in his eye, as he knelt down and took the hand of Victor; 'he is evidently far gone. Many a merry bout we have had together at old Marcel's, and many a midnight frolic with the girls and gens d'armes in the Rue de la Conference; but these times have all passed now, and can never be again. Speak to me, my friend! How is your wound?'

'Les malheurs de la guerre! Ah, De Mesmai, mon ami, les malheurs de la guerre!' muttered the wounded man, and sunk backward on his miserable bed; then pointing to his head, he added, 'A mon camarade —blessure—ou—ou—plaie mortelle!'

'They have brought me here, too, Victor, those cursed misfortunes of war; but my case is not so bad as yours. The helmet is a better defence than the grenadier cap against the straight-cutting blades of these fiery Scots. Cheer up, D'Estouville; while there is life, hope remains. You may yet lead the old Guard in the charge the eagles of the empire may yet flap their wings over you.'

'Never,' whispered Macdonald; 'his race of existence is over. Why, then, inspire him with false hopes of living longer?'

'He is one of those fellows that are very hard to kill. I know Victor,' whispered the other in reply; then continued as before, 'the Emperor has marked you for his own,—the whole service say so, D'Estouville, and suppose that your promotion will be as rapid as ever was Soult's, Macdonald's, Bernadotte's, or any other marshal's of the empire. Remember these things, mon ami, and never think of death.'

'Death's cold hand is upon me. Ah! Maurice, how can I expect to conquer?'

'Morbleu! by determining to live, and to earn honour and fame in spite of him. Courage, my friend.'

'No, no, De Mesmai!' replied D'Estouville, with that sudden life and energy which often animates the dying when the moment of dissolution draws near, while his pale cheek flushed, and a light sparkled in his sunken eye. 'Honour and glory—these are the dreams of every Frenchman, and they once were mine, my constant thoughts, never for a moment absent from my mind. The very visions of my sleep were full of the gloss and glitter of military parade; martial honour was the idol of my heart. As a gallant young conscript when I left my native home at Lillebonne, as the hardened grenadier, as the dashing subaltern of the Guard, as a wretched prisoner pining in Scotland, and again as a free and daring soldier,—these high hopes, this proud ambition, never left me for an instant,—buoying and bearing me up under all the toils of war and misfortune, until I found myself stretched on the pavement of this chapel, a dying captive! Honour has faded away from me, and the proud sentiments which caused my heart to swell, to bound with rapture at the sharp roll of the drum, now animate me no more. Never again will drum or bugle sound for me!'

'You speak very sorrowfully, in truth,' replied De Mesmai; 'but some droning monk has been putting these notions in your head. Take care you do not exhaust yourself, mon ami.'

'Ah, Maurice! a thousand times I wish I had fallen sword in hand at Almarez, rather than lingered here, enduring for these past ten days the extremes of mental and bodily agony. Yet had I only received a moment's warning, I question much if that officer of the Scottish chasseurs could have cut me down so easily.'

'No. In truth you were an excellent swordsman, Victor—sharp of eye, and sure of hand.'

'I trust, Maurice, you will not be long a prisoner. 'Twas a sad blank in my life, my captivity. Faith! mon camarade, I almost shiver at remembrance of the castle of Edinburgh. You will remember me to Louis Chateaufleur and the rest of your regiment; and do so particularly to my own, should you ever fall in with them on service.' He spoke now with more difficulty, and at longer intervals. 'Glory to France, and long life to the great Emperor! I trust he will think Major D'Estouville has done his duty. Almarez I defended to the last; and, Maurice, had you not cut the pontoon, we might have effected our retreat. The Emperor would have saved four hundred soldiers of his noble old Guard.'

'And your life, Victor.'

'A mere bagatelle. I lay it down in his service.'

'Vive l'Einpereur!' cried some of his soldiers, who lay within hearing on their pallets of straw. The shout was taken up by many, and echoed through distant parts of the chapel. D'Estouville's eye flashed brightly; he waved his hand as he would have brandished his sword, and, exhausted with speaking, and the emotions which the gallant battle-cry aroused within him, he again sank backwards, and by the spasms which crossed his pallid features, they saw too surely that the moment of death was nigh. Again rousing himself from his lethargy, he beckoned to Ronald, who knelt down beside him.

'I would speak to you of Diane de Montmichel,' he whispered, in tremulous and broken accents. 'Her husband, Monsieur le Baron—de Clappourknuis—the letter I gave you at Truxillo; ah! mon ami, do you not understand me?'

'Indeed I do not, D'Estouville.'

'The hand of the grim King of Terrors is upon me ; the sands of life are ebbing fast, and my voice will fail me soon. Monsieur le Baron------'

'Is released from the castle of Albuquerque, and has passed over to the French lines. Think not of these, D'Estouville.'

'I—I would give you a message to Diane.'

'Alas ! how can I ever deliver it?'

'Find means, croix Dieu!' muttered he piteously. 'Kneel closer to me. I depend on your honour, Monsieur Stuart. Diane—Diane------'

'What of her? Say—say, ere it be too late!'

'But there was no reply. What the Frenchman would have said expired on his lips, and he fell back speechless on the hard knapsack which formed his pillow.

He never spoke again; but in a few minutes died, and without a struggle.

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