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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 49 - Home

During the spring of 1814, while Ronald Stuart was serving with Lord Wellington's army in the south of France, the pecuniary affairs of his father came to a complete crisis. The net woven around him by legal chicanery, by his own unwariness in plunging headlong into lawsuits, and by prodigality of his money otherwise, he was ruined. 'A true Highlander cannot refuse his sword or his purse to a friend,' and the laird of Lochisla had been involved to the amount of several thousands in an affair of 'caution,' every farthing of which he had to pay. At the same time bills and bonds became due, and on his making application for cash to Messrs. Caption and Horning, W.S., Macquirk's successors, they acquainted him, in. a very short letter, composed in that peculiar style for which these gentlemen are so famous, 'that Lochisla was already dipped—that is, mortgaged—to the utmost bearing, and that not a bodle more could be raised.' The unfortunate laird found that every diabolical engine of 'the profession' was in requisition against him, and that the estate which had descended to him through a long and martial line of Celtic ancestors was passing away from him for ever. In the midst of his affliction, he received tidings of the deeds of his brave son Ronald, who was mentioned with all honour by Sir Rowland Hill in the despatch which contained the account of the successful passage of the Nive, and of the storming of the chateau.

'Heaven bless my brave boy!' said the laird.; 'I shall see him no more. It would rejoice me to behold his fair face and buirdly figure once again, before my eyes are closed for ever ; but it may not be; he will never behold my tomb! It will be far distant from the dark pines that shade the resting-place of my forefathers in the islet of the Loch.' And the old laird spoke truly. Ere long he saw the hall of his fathers in possession of the minions of the law; the broad lands of Lochisla became the prey of the stranger: and, with the trusted auld Donald Iverach, and a faithful band of followers, the feeble remnant of his people, who yet, with true Highland devotion, insisted on following their chieftain to the far-off shores of Canada, he bade adieu for ever to his fatherland.

Ere yet he had departed, however, there came one who had heard of his misfortunes and of his contemplated exile, to offer him his hand in peace and affection. It was the Lord of Inchavon.

'I will be a friend to your noble boy,' he said. The Stuart answered only, 'Heaven bless you, Lisle! but the lad has his sword, and a fearless heart.'

They parted; and the clan Stuart of Lochisla, with its venerable leader, was soon on its way across the western wave.

At the same time these events were occurring at home, Ronald was in the neighbourhood of Orthes with his regiment, which, in the battle that took place there, came in for its usual share of the slaughter and honour.

The long-waited and eagerly-wished-for peace arrived at last. Regiments were disbanded, and ships paid off; and in every part of Europe soldiers and sailors were returning to their homes in thousands, to take up the plough and spade, which they had abandoned for the musket and cutlass. The Peninsular part of our army were all embarked at Toulouse, and the inmates of Inchavon watched anxiously the daily post and daily papers for some notice of the arrival of the transports containing Fassifern and his Highlanders, whose destination was the Cove of Cork.

One evening, a bright and sunny one in June, when Lord Lisle had pushed from him the sparkling decanters across the elaborately-polished table, and sunk back in his well-cushioned easy-chair to enjoy a comfortable nap, and when Alice had tossed aside successively all the newspapers (she read only the marriages, fashionable news, and the 'Gazette'), and taken up the last novel, which in her restlessness she resigned for 'Marmion,' her favourite work, she was suddenly aroused from its glowing numbers by the noise of wheels, and the tramp of carriage-horses treading shortly and rapidly in the birchen lane, between the walls and trees of which the sound rung deep and hollow. The book fell from her hand; she started and listened, while her bosom rose, and a blush gathered on her soft girlish cheek. The sound increased: now the travellers had quitted the lane, and their carriage was rattling up the avenue, where the noise of the horses' feet came ringing across the wide and open lawn.

Alice shook the dark curls from her animated face, which became flushed with expectation. She moved to the window, and beheld a travelling-chariot, drawn by a pair of stout bays, with the great-coated driver on the saddle. The whole equipage appeared only at intervals between the trees and clumps of the lawn, as the driver made the horses traverse the long and intricate windings of the avenue, which had as many turnings as the Forth, before the house was reached.

'Oh, papa! papa!' she exclaimed, clapping her white dimpled hands together, and leaping to his side to kiss him, and shake sturdily the huge knobby arms of his old easy-chair, and again skipping back to the windows with all the wild buoyancy of her age, 'dear papa, do waken! Here comes Louis!'

'Eh! what! eh! Louis, did you say?' cried the old lord, bolting up like a harlequin. 'Is the girl mad, that she frisks about so?'

'Oh, dear papa! 'tis my brother Louis!' and she began to weep with joy and excitement.

'It must be he,' replied her father, looking from a window; 'it must be Louis! I don't think we expect any visitors. But to come thus! I always thought he would ride up from Perth on horseback. On my honour, 'tis a smart turn-out that! A double imperial on the roof, and how! there is a female, a lady's-maid behind, and the rogue of a footman with his arm around her waist, according to the usual wont and practice. A lady inside, too! See, she is bowing to us. Well; I would rather have seen Louis, but I wonder who these can be?' He rang a bell violently.

''Tis our own Louis, indeed! Oh, my dear brother!' exclaimed Alice, trembling with delight. 'Hold me up, papa; I am almost fainting. Ah!' added she inwardly, 'when Louis is so near, Ronald Stuart cannot be far off.'

'Louis, indeed!' replied her father pettishly, for he thought she had disappointed him. 'Tut, girl! do you not see the lady in the vehicle?'

'Oh, papa! that is a great secret,—the affair of the lady: we meant to surprise you,' and without saying more, she bounded away from his side.

The chaise was brought up at a gallop to the steps of the portico, and the smart postillion wheeled it skilfully round, backing and spurring with an air of speed and importance, scattering the gravel in showers right and left, and causing the chaise to rock from side to side like a ship in a storm. This was for effect. A postillion always brings his cattle up at a sharp pace ; but the chaise was well hung on its springs, and the moment the panting horses halted, it became motionless and steady. At that instant Alice, with her masses of curls streaming behind her, rushed down the splendid staircase, through the lofty saloon, and reached the portico just as the footman sprang from the dickey and threw down the iron steps with a bang as he opened the door. An officer, muffled in a large blue cloak lined with red, leaped out upon the' gravel walk; Alice threw her arms around her brother, and hung sobbing on his breast.

'Alie, my merry little Alie, has become a tall and beautiful woman!' exclaimed Louis, holding her from him for a moment while he gazed upon her face, and then pressed her again to his breast. 'Upon my honour you have grown quite a tall lady,' he added, laughing. ' Our father------'

'Is well, Louis, well; and waiting for you.'

'Good! This is my—this is our Virginia,' said Louis, handing out his Spanish wife. 'This is the dear girl I have always mentioned in my letters for two years past, Alice; her friends have all perished in the Peninsular war, and I have brought her far from her native land, to a foreign country. You must be a kind sister to her, Alie, as you have ever been to me.'

'I will always love her, Louis; I will, indeed,' murmured the agitated girl, who, never having beheld a Spaniard before, expected something very different from the beautiful creature around whose neck she fondly twined an arm. 'I am your sister: kiss me, Virginia dear!' said she, and two most young lady-like salutes were exchanged. The fair face of Alice Lisle blushed with pleasure. The darker cheek of the Castilian glowed likewise, and her bright hazel eyes flashed and sparkled with all the fire and vivacity of her nation.

'Louis,' whispered Alice, blushing crimson as she spoke, and as they ascended the sixteen steps of variegated Portsoy marble which led to the house; 'Louis, is not Ronald Stuart with you?'

'Alas! no, Alice,' replied Lisle, changing colour.

'Poor dear Ronald!' said his sister sorrowfully, 'could he not procure leave too? Papa must apply to the colonel—to your proud Fassifern for it.'

'Virginia will inform you of what has happened,' said Louis, with so sad a tone that all the pleasant visions which were dancing in the mind of the joyous girl were instantly destroyed, and she grew deadly pale; 'Virginia will tell you all about it, Alie. Ladies manage these matters of explanation better than gentlemen.'

'Matters!' reiterated the affrighted Alice involuntarily; 'matters! Heaven guide me! I thought all the terrors of these four years were passed for ever. But what has misfortune in store for me now?

Her father, whose feet and limbs were somewhat less nimble and flexible than hers, and had thus been longer in descending the stair and traversing the long lobbies, now approached, and embraced his son with open arms; while en masse, the servants of the mansion crowded round, offering their good wishes and congratulatory welcome to the Master, as Louis was styled by them, being the son of a Scottish baron. He was now the Master of Lisle, or Lysle, as it is spelt in the Peerage. The stately figure of the fair Castilian, who, embarrassed and confused, clung to the arm of the scarcely less agitated Alice, puzzled the old lord a good deal. She yet wore her graceful mantilla and tightly-fitting Spanish frock of black satin. The latter was open at the bosom, to show her embroidered vest and collar, but was laced zigzag across with a silver cord. The thick clusters of her hair were gathered in a redecilla, or net-work bag, behind, all save the glossy brown curls escaping from beneath a smart English bonnet, which, although it fully displayed her noble and beautiful features, contrasted or consorted strangely with the rest of her attire.

The old lord appeared astonished and displeased for a moment. He bowed, smiled, and then stared, and bowed and smiled again, while Virginia coloured crimson, and her large Spanish eyes began to sparkle in a very alarming manner; but beginning to suspect who the fair stranger was, the frank old lord took both her hands in his, kissed her on each cheek, begged pardon, and then asked whom he had the honour of addressing.

'How!' exclaimed Louis, in astonishment; 'is it possible that you do not know?'

'Not I, upon my honour!' replied his father, equally amazed; ' how should I?'

'Were my letters from Orthes and Toulouse, relative to my marriage, never received?'

'Marriage!' exclaimed his father, almost pausing as they crossed the saloon. 'By Jove! Master Louis, you might have condescended to consult me in such a matter!'

'My dear father!' replied Louis, laughing, for he saw that his parent was more astonished than displeased, 'you cannot be aware of the circumstances under—but you know the proverb, all is fair in war: and my letters------'

'Were all received,—at least Alice received them all.'

'Ah! you cunning little fairy!' said Louis, turning towards his pale sister; 'you have played us all this trick to surprise your good papa, when he heard of his new daughter.'

'A wonderful girl! to be the repository of so important a secret so long,' said her father, evidently in high glee. 'But she always loved to produce a commotion, and to study effect. I will hear all your stories by-and-by, and sentence you each according to your demerits: but we must not stand here, with all the household gaping at us. Lead your naughty sunburnt brother upstairs, Alice—he seems to have forgotten 'the way—and I will escort your new sister.'

He gave his arm to Virginia, and conducted her up the broad staircase which led to the upper part of the mansion, where the splendour and elegance of the furniture, the size of the windows, the hangings, the height of the ceilings, the rich cornices, the carving, the gilding, the paintings, statues, lustres, the loftiness, lightness, and beauty of everything architectural and decorative, struck the stranger forcibly when she remembered the sombre gloom and clumsiness, both of fabric and fashion, to which she had been accustomed in the dwellings of her native country. Indeed, the mansion of the richest Spanish grandee was not so snug by one-half as the coachman's apartment above the stables at Inchavon House.

Alice was in an agony of expectation to hear what Louis had to say about Ronald Stuart; but she was doomed to be kept cruelly on the mental rack for some time, while all her brother's humble but old and respected friends among the household appeared in succession, to tender their regards and bid him welcome, expressing their pleasure to 'see him safe home again among decent, discreet, and responsible folk,' as the jolly old butler, who acted as spokesman, said. There was the bluff gamekeeper, in his tartan jacket, broad bonnet, and leather spats, or leggings, long Louis's rival shot, and master of the sports; there was the pinched and demure old housekeeper, with her rusty silk gown, keys, and scissors, and huge pouch, which was seldom untenanted by a small Bible and big brandy-flask: the fat, flushed, and greasy cook, whose ample circumference proclaimed her the priestess and picture of good living; the smart and rosy housemaids, all ribands and smiles—Jessie Cavers in particular ; and there was Jock, and Tom, and Patie, laced and liveried chevaliers of the Cockade and shoulder-knot, who were all introduced at the levee in their turn ; while confusion, bustle, and uproar reigned supreme through the whole of the usually quiet and well-ordered mansion of Inchavon.

Everyone was glad and joyful to behold again the handsome young Master of Lisle : but then his lady! she was termed 'an unco body' and about her there were two conflicting opinions. The men praised her beauty, ' her glossy hair, and her hawk's een,'—the women her sweetness and affability; but almost all had observed the crucifix that hung at her neck, and whispered fearful surmises of her being a Papist.

'My dear sir,' said Louis, after they had become tolerably composed in a sort of snug library, termed by the servants, 'my lord's chaumer,'— ' can it be possible or true, that Alice has never informed you of my marriage with Donna Virginia de Alba?'

'I concealed it to surprise dear papa,' replied Alice, making a sickly attempt to smile.

'You always loved effect, Alie,' said her father; 'but really I could have dispensed with so sudden a surprise on this occasion. How fortunate I am in having such a beauty for a daughter!' He passed his hand gently over the thick brown curls of the Spaniard. 'Look up at me, Virginia; a pretty name, too! On my honour, my girl, you have beautiful eyes! I ever thought Alie's were splendid, but she will find lers eclipsed. Your father------'

'Was the Duke of Alba de T------,' interrupted Louis, who was now anxious to produce an effect of a different kind in his bride's favour. 'He was a Buonapartist------'

'Ah! his name is familiar to me. He------

'Was unfortunately slain when the fort, or chateau, where I was confined, was so bravely stormed by Ronald Stuart's light company.'

'I heard of all that when the news arrived in London. Our Virginia comes of a proud, but a—a—an unfortunate race.' He could not find a more gentle word.

'Spain boasts not of a nobler name than that of Alba; but, save a sister in a convent in Galicia, my dear Virginia is its only representative. All the cavaliers of her house have fallen in battle; and lastly the duke, by the hands of Evan Iverach and Macrone, a sergeant, who attacked him with his pike. Poor Stuart, though in peril himself, did all he could to save him; but the hot blood of the Gael was up, and the fierce Spaniard perished. But Virginia is weeping; we are only recalling her sorrows, and must say no more of these matters just now. Ronald Stuart------'

'Ah! by-the-bye, what of him? A brave fellow! See how Alice blushes. Faith! I shall never forget the day the dauntless young Highlandman pulled me out of Corrie-avon. Has the good lad returned with you to Perthshire?'

'No,' answered Louis with hesitation, glancing uneasily at Alice while he spoke. 'He has not returned yet.'

"Tis well,' continued his father. 'Poor Stuart! he will have no home —no kind friends to return to, as you have, Louis, after all his toil and bloodshed. Not a hand is there now in the green glen of the Isla to grasp his in welcome!'

'I read in the Perthshire papers that the estate had been sold, and that his father, with all the Stuarts of the glen, had emigrated to Canada. Dreadful intelligence it will be for him when he hears it! He will be wounded most deeply in those points where the true Highlander is assuredly most vulnerable. He will be almost driven mad; and I would scarcely trust other lips than yours, Alice, to reveal the sad tidings to him. I read them at Toulouse. Stuart was not with us then. He has been—he has been—six weeks missing from the regiment.'

'Six weeks missing!' cried Lord Lisle, while a cry of horror died away on the pallid lips of Alice, who drooped her head on the shoulder of Virginia.

'Keep a brave heart, Alie dear!' said Louis, clasping her waist affectionately. 'I have no fears for your Knight of Santiago, as the mess call him. He will swim where another man would sink. Had you seen him, as 1 often have, skirmishing in advance, charging at the head of his company, or leading the forlorn hope at Almarez on the Tagus, or the chateau on the Nive, you would suppose he had a charmed life, and was invulnerable to steel and lead, as men supposed Dundee to be until the field of Killiecrankie. Perhaps he has joined by this time. I procured six months' leave, and left the Highlanders the instant the anchor was dropped at Cove. My next letters from the regiment may have some intelligence. Campbell, I know, will write to me instantly, if he hears aught.'

'But how comes it to pass that Stuart is missing? what has happened?' asked his father, while Alice listened in breathless agony to the reply.

'We were quartered at Muret, a town on the Garonne, eight or nine miles distant from Toulouse. We had lain there ever since the decisive battle gained over Soult; and in the churchyard of Muret Stuart buried his servant, a brave lad from Lochisla, who had received a death-shot on that memorable Easter Sunday. Ronald mourned his loss deeply; for the lad had become a soldier for his sake, and they were old schoolfellows—old companions and playmates. He was a gallant and devoted fellow. You remember him, Alice? Many a love-letter he has carried to and fro, between this and Lochisla; and often bonnet in hand, he has led your pony among the steepest cliffs of Craigonan, by ways and crooks where I should tremble to venture now.'

'And he is dead? said Alice, giving vent to her feelings by a plentiful shower of tears.

'He was shot by a Frenchman's bullet, Alie.'

'Poor dear Evan!' replied his sister, wringing her white hands; 'I shall never forget him. He was ever so respectful and so obliging.'

'Jessie Cavers has lost her handsome sweetheart. He was buried close by the old church of Muret, and Ronald's hand laid his head in the grave. He received a deeper—a better—yet not less hallowed tomb than the many thousands who were covered up in ditches, in the fields, and by the waysides just wherever they were found lying dead. At Muret, one night, a despatch arrived from Lord Wellington by an orderly dragoon. It was to be forwarded to the Condé de Penne Villamur, at Elizondo, a town on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees; and, as its bearer, Stuart departed about midnight on horseback. Sufficient time for his return elapsed before our embarkation at Toulouse. The eventful day came ; but no Stuart appeared, and we embarked without him. Some unlooked-for circumstance must have caused delay,— perhaps his horse becoming lame, or his cash running short ; but we shall probably hear of him from Toulouse, or Passages, in a fortnight at the furthest. I have no fears for Ronald Stuart. He will cut his way, scathless, through perils which a score of men would sink under.'

'I trust in Heaven that it may be so,' said Lord Lisle fervently. 'Truly, I wish the lad well; he is the last stem of an old tree, that has fallen to the earth at last.'

Although Louis spoke cheerfully to comfort his agitated sister, he nevertheless felt considerable anxiety regarding the fate of his friend. He knew too well the disorderly state of the country through the wild frontiers of which he had to pass; and his imagination pictured a hundred perils, against which Ronald's courage and tact would be unavailing. He besought Virginia to comfort Alice, by putting the best possible face upon matters ; but her unwary narrative made circumstances worse, by letting truths slips out which had been better concealed, and which, although they seemed quite commonplace matters to a Castilian, presented a frightful picture of Spain to a young Scottish lady.

The unhappy Alice became a prey to a thousand anxious fears and apprehensions, which prepared her mind to expect the worst. A month passed away—a weary month of misery, of sad and thrilling expectation, and no tidings were heard of Stuart. By Louis's letters from the regiment, it seemed that his brother-officers had given him up for lost. The newspapers were searched with sickening anxiety, but nothing transpired ; and the family at Inchavon beheld, with deep uneasiness, the cheek of Alice growing pale day after day, and her bright eyes losing their wonted lustre. About six weeks after Louis's arrival, Lord Lisle communicated with the military authorities in London regarding the young soldier, in whose fate his family were so greatly interested. All were in a state of great expectation, when the long, formidable letter, covered with franks, initials, and stamps, arrived. To support herself Alice clung to Virginia, and hid her face in her bosom, for she trembled excessively while her father read the cold and official reply to his anxious letter.

'Horse Guards,---------1814.

'My Lord,
'In reply to your lordship's letter of the 25th inst., I have the honour to acquaint you, by the direction of his Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief, that nothing has transpired, further than what the public journals contain, respecting the fate of Captain Ronald Stuart, of the Gordon Highlanders. But, if that unfortunate officer does not rejoin his regiment at Cork before the next muster-day, he must be superseded.

'I have the honour to be, my lord, etc., etc.,

'Henry Torrens, Mil. Sec. 'Right Hon. Lord Lisle, of Inchavon.'

Alice wrung her hands, and wept in all the abandonment of woe. The last reed she had leant on had snapped—her last hope was gone, and she knew that she should never behold Ronald more. The next muster-day (then the 24th of every month) arrived; and, as being still 'absent without leave,' he was superseded, and his name appeared no longer on the list of the regiment. It was sad intelligence for his friends in Perthshire ; but it was upon one gentle-loving and timid heart, that this sudden stroke fell most heavily. Poor Alice ! she grew very sad, and long refused to be comforted. As a drowning man clings to straws, so clung Alice to every hope and chance of Ronald's return, until the letter of Sir Henry Torrens drove her from her last stronghold.

Days rolled on and became weeks, and weeks rolled on to months, and in her own heart the poor girl was compelled to acknowledge or believe, what her friends had long concluded, that Ronald Stuart was numbered with the dead. It was a sad blow to one whose joyous heart had been but a short time before full almost to overflowing with giddy and romantic visions of love and happiness. Under this severe mental shock she neither sickened nor died, and yet she felt as deeply and poignantly as mortal woman could suffer.

Few or none, perhaps, die of love or sorrow, whatever poets and interested romancers may say to the contrary. But as this is not the work of the one or the other, but a true memoir or narrative, the facts must be told, however contrary to rule, or to the expectation of my dear readers.

In course of time the 90rrow of Alice Lisle became more subdued, the bloom returned to her faded cheek, and she used to laugh and smile,— but not as of old. She was never now heard to sing, and the sound of her harp or piano no more awoke the echoes of the house. She was content, but far from being happy. When riding or rambling about with Virginia or Louis, she could never look down from the mountains on the lonely tower and desert glen of Isla without symptoms of the deepest emotion, and she avoided every path that led towards the patrimony of the Stuarts.

But a good example of philosophy and resignation under woe was set before her by her servant, Jessie Cavers. That young damsel, finding that she had lost Evan Iverach beyond the hope of recovery, instead of spoiling her bright eyes in weeping for his death, employed them successfully in looking for a successor to his vacant place. She accordingly accepted the offers of Jock Nevermiss, the gamekeeper, whose coarse shooting-jacket and leather spats had been for a time completely eclipsed by the idea of Iverach's scarlet coat and gartered hose.

The old Earl of Hyndford came down again in the shooting season, and renewed his attentions to Alice; but with no better success than before,—much to his amazement. He deemed that her heart, being softened by grief, would the more readily receive a new impression. He quitted Inchavon House, and, in a fit of spleen and disappointment, set off on a continued ramble, acting the disconsolate lover with all his might.

Louis, leaving Virginia at Inchavon with his sister, rejoined the Highlanders at Fermoy, and in a week thereafter had the pleasure to obtain a 'company.'

The Highlanders were daily expecting the route for their native country, but were again doomed to be disappointed. They were ordered to Flanders,—to the 'Lowlands of Holland,' where Scottish valour has been so often triumphant in the times of old, for the flames of war had broken forth again with renewed fury.

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