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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 45 - Toulouse

The long and bloody war of the Peninsula had now been brought to a final close, and the troops looked forward with impatience to the day of embarkation for their homes. The presence of the allied army was no longer necessary in France; but the British forces yet lingered about the Garonne, expecting the long-wished and long-looked-for route for Britain. The Gordon Highlanders were quartered at Muret, a small town on the banks of the Garonne, and a few miles from Toulouse. One evening, while the mess were discussing, over their wine, the everlasting theme of the probable chances of the corps being ordered to Scotland, the sound of galloping hoofs and the clank of accoutrements were heard in the street of the village. A sergeant of the First Dragoons, with the foam-bells hanging on his horse's bridle, reined up at the door of the inn where the officers of the Highlanders had established a temporary mess-house. Old Dugald Cameron was standing at the door, displaying his buirdly person to a group of staring villagers, with whom he was at, tempting to converse in a singular mixture of broad northern Scots, Spanish, and French, all of which his hearers found not very intelligible.

The horseman dashed up to the door with the splendid air of the true English dragoon, and with an importance which caused the villagers to shrink back. Inquiring for Colonel Cameron, he handed to Dugald two long official packets; and after draining a deep hornful of liquor which the Celt brought him, he wheeled his charger round, and rode slowly away.

'Letters frae the toon o' Toulouse, sir,' said Dugald, as, with his flat bonnet under his arm, and smoothing down his white hair, he advanced to Fassifern's elbow, and laid the despatches before him; after which he retired a few paces, and waited to hear the contents, in which he considered he had as much interest as anyone present. The clamour and laughter of the mess-room were instantly hushed, and every face grew grave, from the ample visage of Campbell, who was seated on the colonel's right-hand, down to the fair-cheeked ensigns (or Johnny New-comes), who always ensconced themselves at the foot of the table, to be as far away as possible from the colonel and seniors.

'Fill your glasses, gentlemen,' said Cameron, as he broke the seal of the first despatch; ''fill a bumper, and drink "to a fair wind." My life on't, 'tis the route, and we shall soon have Old England on our lee!'

'Praise Heaven 'tis come at last!' said Campbell, filling up his glass with bright sparkling sherry. 'I never hailed it with greater joy, even in Egypt. But what says Sir Arthur—the marquis, I mean?

"Tis the route!' replied Cameron, draining his glass. 'To-morrow, at daybreak, we march for Toulouse.'

'Hurrah!' said the major. 'We shall have the purple heather under our brogues in a week more. Hoigh! Here's to the Highlandmen, shoulder to shoulder!' Every glass was reversed, while a round of applause shook the room.

'We embark on the Garonne,' continued Cameron, consulting the document. 'Flat-bottomed boats will convey us down the river, and we shall sail in transports for Cork.'

'Hech! how, sirs? Cork?' exclaimed Campbell, in a tone of disappointment. 'Demonios! as the dons say; and are we not going home to our own country,—to the land of the bannock and bonnet?'

'Ireland is our destination. A famous place to soldier in, as I know from experience, major.'

'I love poor Paddy well enough,' said Campbell: ' who is there that would not, that has seen a charge of the Connaught Rangers, or the 87th? Regular devils they are for fighting. But we were sent home to braid Scotland after Egypt; and we saw service there, gentlemen. Old Ludovick Lisle, and Cameron there, could tell you that. But the other paper, colonel; what is it about?'

'A despatch for General the Condé Penne Villamur, at Elizondo. It is to be forwarded instantly by the first officer for duty: who is he?' ' Stuart,' said the adjutant.

'The deuce take your memory!' said Stuart testily, as this announcement fell like a thunderbolt upon him: 'you seem to have the roster all by heart. Colonel, is it possible that I am really to travel nearly a hundred miles, and to cross those abominable Pyrenees again, after fighting my way to Toulouse?'

'Without doubt,' replied Fassifern dryly. 'You will have the pleasure of seeing Spain once more, and again paying your respects to the gazelle-eyed senoritas and pompous senores.'

'I would readily dispense with these pleasures. But might not Wellington have sent an aide or a dragoon with this despatch?'

'He seems not to think so. There is no help, Ronald, my man. You would not throw your duty on another. Obedience is the first—you know the adage: 'tis enough. You can rejoin us at Toulouse, where we embark in eight days from this.' ' Eight days?'

'Make good use of your nag: you will require one, of course. Campbell will lend you his spare charger "Egypt," as he styles it.'

'With the utmost pleasure,' said the major, filling up his glass. 'But look well to him by the way, for he is an especial good piece of horseflesh as ever was foaled, or any man found for nothing on that memorable day of June, on the plains of Vittoria. But when I remember the airing you took with my steed at Almarez, I cannot lend you Egypt without entertaining some secret fears of never beholding him again.'

'Have no fears for Egypt, major,' said Ronald, laughing. 'I will restore him without turning a hair of his glossy coat.'

'Then, Stuart, you must march forthwith,' said Cameron; 'the marquis's despatch must be carried onward without delay. You must reach St. Gaudens by sunrise.'

Dugald was despatched to desire Jock Pentland, the major's batman, to caparison Egypt; and meanwhile Stuart hurried to his billet, where he hastily selected a few necessaries for his journey, and packed them in a horse-valise. In case of accidents, he indited a hasty letter for Lochisla; but, for reasons given in another chapter, it never reached those for whom it was destined.

To his servant, Allan Warristoun, poor Evan's successor, he abandoned the care of his baggage, desiring him to have it all in readiness against the hour of march on the morrow. He belted his sword and dirk tightly to his waist, and examined the holsters, to see if the pistols were freshly flinted and in good order; after which he examined his ammunition, well knowing that the more lead bullets and the less loose cash he had about him, the better for travelling on such unsafe ground as the Lower Pyrenees. He remembered that the whole of these waste places were infested by hordes of lawless banditti, composed of all the rascal crew of Spain,—guerillas, whose trade was at an end, broken or deserted soldiers, unfrocked monks, fugitive presidiarios, or convicts, bravoes, valientes, and vagabonds of every kind, with which the long war, the absence of order and law, together with the loose state of Spanish morals, had peopled every part of the country. While the remembrance of these gentlemen passed through his mind, Stuart again examined his arms and horse-equipage carefully, and mounting, rode forth along the dark, straggling street of Muret. From the mess-room window there was handed to him a parting bumper of sherry, which he drank in the saddle.

'Good-bye, Lisle!' said he, waving his hand; ' bid Virginia adieu for me. And now good-bye, lads; good-bye to ye all;' and, striking spurs into Egypt, he galloped off.

'He is a fine fellow, and keeps his seat as well as any cavalier of the prado at Madrid,' said the major, watching Ronald's retreating figure as long as he could see it by the starlight. 'He is a fine fellow, and I wish he was safe back again among us. He has a long and perilous path before him, over those d------d Pyrenees ; and ten to one he never returns again from among those black-browed and uncanny dons. We all know Spanish ingratitude, sirs!' The worthy major knew not how prophetically he spoke.

Next morning the regiment marched to Toulouse, and remained eight days, awaiting the arrival of the boats and other small craft to convey them down the Garonne, which becomes navigable at a short distance from the city.

The eight days passed away, and Ronald Stuart did not return. The eventful day arrived—the day of embarkation for home, and the regiment paraded on the riverside without him. The officers glanced darkly at each other, and the colonel shook his head sorrowfully, as if he deemed that all was not right; and a murmured curse on the Spaniards was muttered among the soldiers. The whole regiment, from Fassifern down to the youngest drum-boy, regretted his absence, which gave room for so many disagreeable constructions and surmises. Other corps were parading at the same time, and in the stir, bustle, and confusion of embarking men and horses, baggage, women, and children, his absence was forgotten for a time. The cheers of the soldiers and the din of various bands were heard everywhere. The time was one of high excitement, and joy shone on every bronzed face as boat after boat got under way, and, with its freight, moved slowly down the Garonne—' the silvery Garonne,' the windings of which soon hid the bridge, the spires, the gray old university, and the beautiful forests of Toulouse.

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