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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 4 - The Departure

SORROW for the sudden departure of Ronald was the prevailing sentiment in the tower of Lochisla, which old Janet the housekeeper caused to re-echo with her ceaseless lamentations, poured forth either in broken broad Scotch, or in her more poetical and descriptive Gaelic, for the going forth of the bold boy whom she had watched over and nursed from childhood with the tenderness of a mother.

His father felt deeply the pang of parting with the only child that death had left him; but he pent his feelings within his own proud bosom, and showed them but little. He said nothing more of Alice Lisle, unwilling to sour the few remaining hours they had to spend together by harsh injunctions or disagreeable topics, deeming that Ronald, in the busy scenes which were before him in his military career, would be taught to forget the boyish attachment of his early days. It is thus that old men ever reckon, forgetting that the first impressions which the young heart receives are ever the strongest and most lasting.

He directed with cool firmness the arrangements for his son's early departure ; and save now and then a quivering of the lip or a deep sigh, no other emotion was visible. He felt keenly, nor would he ever have parted with Ronald, notwithstanding the eagerness of the youth to join the army, but for the entanglement of his private affairs, which rendered it absolutely necessary that his son should be independent of his shattered patrimony, and the proud and martial disposition of both their minds made arms the only profession to be chosen.

It was close upon the time of his departure ere Ronald could make an arrangement to obtain an interview with Alice Lisle. He despatched by Evan, the son of Iverach, a note to Alice, requesting her to meet and bid him adieu, in the lawn in front of Inchavon House, on the evening of the second day, referring her to the bearer for a recapitulation of the events which had taken place.

The young Highlander, who was to accompany Ronald to the regiment as a servant and follower, was as shrewd and acute as a love-messenger required to be, and succeeded, after considerable trouble and delay, in delivering the billet into the fair hands of the young lady herself, who, although she neither shrieked nor fainted, nor expired altogether, like a heroine of romance, was nevertheless overwhelmed with the intelligence, which Evan related to her as gently as he could; and after promising to attend to the note without fail, she retired to her own chamber, and gave way to the deepest anguish.

At last arrived the important day which was to behold Ronald launched from his peaceful Highland home into the stormy scenes of a life which was new to him. Evan Iverach had been sent off in the morning with the baggage to the hamlet of Strathisla, where the stagecoach for Perth was to take up his young master.

Sorrowful indeed was the parting between the old piper and his son Evan Bean (i.e. fair-haired Evan), and they were but little comforted by the assurance of the old crone Janet, who desired them to '"greet weel," as their weird was read, and they would never meet mair.'

Ronald was seated with his father at breakfast in the hall or dining-room of the tower. The table was covered with viands of every kind, exhibiting all the profuseness of a true Scottish breakfast, — tea, coffee, cold venison, cheese, oaten bannocks, etc., etc., etc., and a large silver-mouthed bottle, containing most potent usquebaugh, distilled for the laird's own use by Alpin Oig Stuart in one of the dark and dangerous chasms on the banks of the Isla, a spot unknown to the excise man, a personage much dreaded and abhorred in all Highland districts.

The old cailloch, Janet, was in attendance, weeping and muttering to herself. Iverach was without the tower, making the yard ring to the spirit-stirring notes of—

'We'll awa' to Shirramuir,
An' haud the Whigs in order;'

and he strode to and fro, blowing furiously, as if to keep up the failing spirit of his tough old heart.

Mr. Stuart said little, but took his morning meal as usual. Now and then he bit his nether lip, his eye glistened, and his brow was knit, to disguise the painful emotions that filled his heart.

Ronald ate but little, and sat totally silent, gazing with swimming eyes, while his heart swelled almost to bursting, on the lofty hills and dark pine-woods, which, perchance, he might never more behold; and the sad certainty that slowly passing years would elapse ere he again stood by his paternal hearth, or beheld his father's face, — if, indeed, he was ever to behold it again, — raised within him emotions of the deepest sadness.

'Alas!' thought he, 'how many years may roll away before I again look on all I have loved so long; and what dismal changes may not have taken place in that time !'

'Hui-uigh! Ochon — ochanari!' cried the old woman, unable to restrain herself longer, as she sunk upon a settle in the recess of the hall window. ' He is going forth to the far-awa land of the stranger, where the hoodiecraw and fox pyke the banes of the dead brave; but he winna return to us, as the eagle's brood return to their eyrie among the black cliffs o' bonnie Craigonan.'

'He shall! old woman. What mean you by these disheartening observations in so sad an hour as this?' said the old gentleman sternly, roused by that prophetic tone which never falls without effect on the ear of a Scottish Highlander.

'Dinna speak sae to me, laird. God sain me! I read that in his bonnie black een which tells me that they shall never again look on mine.' 'Hoigh! prutt, trutt,' said Iverach, whom her cry had summoned to the spot, 'the auld teevil of a cailloch will pe casting doon Maister Ronald's heart when it should pe at the stoutest. Huisht, Janet, and no be bedevilling us with visions and glaumorie just the noo.'

'Donald Iverach, I tell you he shall never more behold those whom he looks on this day: I tell you so, and I never spoke in vain,' cried the old sibyl in Gaelic, with a shrill voice. ' When the brave sons of my bosom perished with their leader at Corunna, did I not know of their fall the hour it happened? The secret feeling, which a tongue cannot describe, informed me that they were no more. Yes; I heard the wild wind howl their death-song, as it swept down the pass of Craigonan, and I viewed their shapeless spirits floating in the black mist that clung around the tower of Lochisla on the night the field of Corunna was stricken, for many were the men of our race who perished there : the dead-bell sung to me the livelong night, and our caillochs and maidens were sighing and sad, — but I alone knew why.'

'Peace ! bird of ill omen,' replied the piper in the same language, overawed by the force of her words,—'Dhia gledh sinn! will you break the proud spirit of a duinhe-wassal of the house of Lochisla, when about to gird on the claymore and leave the roof-tree of his fathers?'

'Come, come; we have had enough of this,' said Mr. Stuart. ' Retire, Janet, and do not by your unseemly grief disturb the last hours that my son and I shall spend together.'

'A wreath, and 'tis not for nought, is coming across my auld een,' she replied, pressing her withered hands upon her wrinkled brow. 'Sorrow and woe are before us all. I have seen it in many a dark dream at midnicht, and heard it in the croak of the nicht-bird, as it screamed from its eyrie in Coirnan-Taischatrin, where the wee men and women dance their rings in the bonnie moonlicht. Greet and be woefu', my braw bairn, for we shall never behold ye mair. Ochon — ochon!' and pressing Ronald to her breast, this faithful old dependant rushed from the hall.

'Grief has distracted the poor old creature,' said Mr. Stuart, making a strong effort to control the emotions which swelled his own bosom; while Ronald no longer concealed his, but covering his face with his hands, wept freely, and the piper began to blubber and sob in company.

'Hoigh! oigh! Got tam; it's joost naething but fairies' spells and glaumorie that's ever and aye in auld Janet's mouth. She craiks and croaks like the howlets in the auld chapel-isle, till it's gruesome to hear her. But dinna mind her, Maister Ronald; I'll blaw up the bags, and cheer your heart wi' the "gathering" on the bonny piob mhor! The piper retired to the yard, where the cotters and many a shepherd from the adjacent hills were assembled to behold Ronald depart, and bid him farewell.

Ronald's father, the good old man, although his heart was wrung and oppressed by the dismal forebodings of his retainer, did all that he possibly could to raise the drooping spirits of his son, by holding out hopes of quick promotion and a speedy return home; but Ronald wept like a youth as he was, and answered only by his tears.

'Oh, Ronald, my boy!' groaned the old man, 'it is in an hour such as this that I most feel the loss of her whose fair head has long, long been under the grassy turf which covers her fair-haired little ones in the old churchyard yonder. The sun is now shining through the window of the ruined chapel, and I see the pine which marks their graves tossing its branches in the light.' He looked fixedly across the loch at the islet, the grassy surface of which was almost covered with gray tombstones, beneath which slept the retainers of his ancestors, who themselves rested among the Gothic ruins of the little edifice, which their piety had endowed and founded to St. John, the patron saint of Perth.

The day sped fast away, and the hour came in which Ronald was compelled to depart, if he would be in time for the Perth stage, which passed through Strathisla. - His father accompanied him to the gate of the tower, where he embraced and blessed him. He then turned to depart, after shaking the hard hand of many an honest mountaineer.

'May Got's plessing and all goot attend ye! Maister Ronald,' blubbered old Iverach, who was with difficulty prevented from piping before him down the glen; and dinna forget to befriend poor Evan Bean, that follows ye for love.'

Asorrowful farewell in emphatic Gaelic was muttered through the court as Ronald, breaking from among them, rushed down the steep descent, as if anxious to end the painful scene. His father gazed wistfully after, as if his very soul seemed to follow his steps. Ronald looked back but once, and then dashed on as fast as his strength could carry him ; but that look he never, never forgot.

The old man had reverently taken off his hat, allowing his silver hair to stream in the wind, and with eyes upturned to heaven was fervently ejaculating — 'O God! that hearest me, be a father unto my poor boy, and protect him in the hour of danger!'

It was the last time that Ronald beheld the face of his father, and deeply was the memory of its expression impressed upon his heart. Not daring again to turn his head, he hurried along the mountain-path, until he came to a turn of the glen which would hide the much-loved spot for ever. Here he turned and looked back: his father was no longer visible, but there stood the well-known tower, rising above the rich copse-land, with the gray smoke from its huge kitchen-chimney curling over the battlements in the evening wind, which brought to his ear the wail of Iverach's bagpipe. The smooth surface of the loch shone with purple and gold in the light of the setting sun, the rays of which fell obliquely as its flaming orb appeared to rest on the huge dark mountains of the western Highlands.

'Ah ! never shall I behold a scene like this in the land to which I go,' thought Ronald, as he cast one eager glance over it all; and then, entering the deep rocky gorge, through which the road wound, hurried towards the romantic hamlet of Strathisla, the green mossy roofs and curling smoke of which he saw through the tufts of birch and pine a short distance before him.

It was dusk before he reached the cluster of primitive cottages, at the door of one of which, dignified by the name of 'the coach-office,' stood Evan with the baggage, impatiently awaiting the appearance of his master, as the time for the arrival of the coach was close at hand. Telling him hastily that he would meet the vehicle on the road near Inchavon Park, he passed forward to keep his promise to Alice. A few minutes' walk brought him to the boundary-wall of Sir Allan's property; vaulting lightly over, he found himself among the thickets of shrubs which were planted here and there about the smooth grassy lawn, in the centre of which appeared Inchavon House, a handsome modern structure : the lofty walls and portico of fine Corinthian columns, surmounted by a small dome, all shone in the light of the summer moon, by which he saw the glimmer of a white dress advancing hastily towards him.

At that instant the sound of the coach, as it came rattling and rumbling down a neighbouring hill, struck his ear, and his heart died within him, as he knew it would be there almost immediately.

'Alice!' he exclaimed, as he threw one arm passionately around her. 'Ronald, oh, Ronald!' was all the weeping girl could articulate, as she clung to him tremblingly.

'Remember me when I am gone. Love me as you do now when I shall be far, far away from you, Alice!' 'Ah, how could I ever forget you!'

At that moment the unwelcome vehicle drew up on the road. 'Stuart — Ronald, my old comrade,' cried the frank though faltering voice of Lewis Lisle, who appeared at that moment; ' give me your hand, my boy. You surely would not go without seeing me?'

Ronald pressed the hand of Lewis, who threw over his neck a chain, at which hung a miniature of his sister.

'Alas!' muttered Ronald, 'I have nothing to give as a keepsake in return ! Ay, this ring — 'tis a very old one, but it was my mother's; wear it for my sake, Alice.' To kiss her pale cheek, place her in the arms of Lewis, to cross the park and leap the wall, were to the young Highlander the work of a moment — and he vanished from their side.

'Come alang, sir! We canna be keepit here the haill nicht,' bawled the driver crossly, as Ronald appeared upon the road, where the white steam was curling from the four panting horses in the moonlight, which revealed Evan, seated with the goods and chattels of himself and master among the muffled-up passengers who loaded the coach-top.

'Inside, sir!' said the guard from behind the shawl which muffled his weather-beaten face as he held open the door. Ronald, scarcely knowing what he did, stepped in, and the door closed with a bang which made the driver rock on his seat. 'A' richt, Jamie; drive on !' cried the guard, vaulting into the dickey; and in a few minutes more the noise of wheels and hoofs had died away from the ears of poor Alice and her brother, who listened with beating hearts to the retiring sound.

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