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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 52 - An Acquaintance, and 'Old England on the Lee'

'Pho!' said the count, as they rode into Maya, 'amid all the things of which we have been talking, I had quite forgotten to say that there is a countryman of yours here in this town, one who takes the utmost interest in your concerns—why I know not; he said he was no relative. We became acquainted at Madrid, and, on hearing of your story, he proposed at once to accompany me in this expedition against the robbers in the Pyrenees and other places. He is a spirited, but rather impetuous old cavalier. He has seen service, too, in the Low Countries and other parts, but appears of late to have become somewhat addicted to ease and good living, which has enlarged the circumference of his stomach more than he wishes, and has rendered him subject to a disease we know little of in Spain—the gout. A sudden fit of it seized him when we were marching en route to your rescue, and the worthy hidalgo was compelled, much against his will, to quarter himself in Maya till our return. He awaits us yonder in the Posada de los Caballeros, opposite to the convent of Saint Francis.'

This being nearly the whole of the information respecting 'his countryman,' with which Alvaro was able to furnish his companion, Ronald was not a little surprised, on alighting at the miserable posada, to find reclining, in dressing-gown and slippers, in an easy-chair, with one leg, swollen and swathed in flannel, resting on a footstool, and with a heap of newspapers, guide-books, decanters, cigars, a brace of pistols, and a light dragoon sabre displayed upon a table before him, no less a person than his noble competitor the Earl of Hyndford. The earl received his young rival kindly, displayed much generous feeling towards him as a brother-soldier, laughed heartily at his scarecrow appearance, —for his long residence in the tower had told immensely upon Ronald's rather scanty wardrobe,—and finally, after having heard his story, and repeatedly and energetically d-----d the banditti, the Horse Guards, the gout, and the Peninsula, and having assured his young friend that though there might have been a little weeping, and so forth, on his account at home, there were no broken hearts nor any symptoms of forgetfulness, he promised him—on behalf of his friend 'York,' with whom he had formerly served as aide-de-camp, and his friend Hal Torrens, who, though a War-Office man and a staff-officer, was a good fellow enough— the immediate restoration of his forfeited commission, and letters to the parties named that should put all right with respect to it.

While a prisoner in the Torre de los Frayles, Ronald had remained in total ignorance of several events of some importance ; and, though he was by no means astonished to learn from the earl that his name had disappeared from the army list, and that he was superseded, it did occasion him some slight surprise to learn that Buonaparte had escaped from Elba, that he had entered Paris in triumph, and was once more at the head of the French army, surrounded by many of his old marshals, and supported by the old enthusiasm of his devoted soldiers. His own regiment, Ronald heard, had been ordered to Flanders, where some sharp fighting was expected to occur forthwith.

Three days afterwards he found himself on board the packet at Passages, bound for London.

On his parting with Alvaro, that cavalier presented him with his own gold cross of St. Jago, begging him to wear it as a token of remembrance. It was not without feelings of the deepest regret that he bade adieu to this noble and chivalric Spaniard; and he felt all that depression of spirit which a frank and honest heart unavoidably suffers after a leave-taking. Hyndford he expected to meet again, but the cavalier of Merida never. However, such sensations of regret were transitory; he had followed the drum too long to find parting with a brave or merry companion a new matter.

The vessel cast anchor in the Downs at night. It had 'come to blow a sodger's wind,' as the skipper said,—that is, a foul one; and there was no getting up the river at that time, when the goodly invention of steam-tugs was as yet unknown.

Next morning he landed with his baggage at Deal, and started in a post-chaise for London, Immediately on his arrival there, he despatched letters to Colonel Cameron, to Inchavon, and Lochisla, giving an account of the perils attendant on his detention in Spain, and safe arrival in England. In the fulness of his joy, he also wrote to Sir Colquhoun Menteith, of Cairntowis, a near relation, with whom his family had ever been at variance, and maintained a petty personal feud. But the old baronet never acknowledged the receipt of his letter, which caused Ronald to regret deeply that he had ever written to him or his son, who was then serving with the army in Flanders. The letter addressed to the old laird lay long at the post-house of Strathfillan, and turned from white to saffron in the window, among tape and needles, pins and thread-reels, until at last it was torn up and destroyed.

The others were received in due course by those to whom they were addressed, and all, save that to Sir Colquhoun, caused joy and congratulation; and so long did the mess continue discussing his adventures, in all their various lights and shades, through the medium of the sixth, seventh, and eighth allowances, that it is credibly reported that only a third of the officers appeared on parade in the Park of Brussels next morning.

On the day after his arrival, Stuart repaired to the Horse Guards, to wait on the Duke of York, the commander-in-chief. He had no doubt that his case would be heard favourably by the good duke, whose well-known kindness and fellow-feeling for his brothers of the sword gained him the appropriate sobriquet of the 'soldier's friend;' and he was one to whom the wife, the widow, or the child of a soldier, in their sorrow or destitution, never made an appeal in vain. His Royal Highness was not at the Horse Guards that day, and Ronald was received by Sir Henry Torrens, a plump little man, whom he imagined at first to be the very personification of staff-office hauteur; but found, on further acquaintance, to be all that Hyndford painted him, and a deuced good fellow besides.

He received Stuart kindly, inquired after many of his old friends, opened his eyes widely at what he called the audacity of the brigands in detaining a British officer, read attentively the letters of Alvaro and Hyndford, appeared to take great interest in the affair, and gave the ominous official promise ' to see what could be done.'

Three days afterwards, however, an orderly of the Life Guards brought Ronald an official packet from Sir Henry, notifying his reappointment, and containing two orders,—one to proceed forthwith to join in Flanders, 'where his services were much required;' and the other on the paymaster-general for all his arrears of pay, and other sums due to him by Government, £400 'blood money,' for wounds, and eighty guineas as compensation for the loss of his baggage when the Pass of Maya was forced by Marshal Soult two years before.

Ronald blessed the liberality of John Bull, who had not forgotten the fright of Napoleon's threatened invasion, and was more inclined to be grateful to his sons then than now. The money-orders were very acceptable things, as they relieved Ronald from the necessity of drawing upon his father, whose involvements and expenses he supposed to be sufficient already.

'This is excellent,' thought he. 'I can now repay Hyndford, and travel comfortably post to Brussels. But yet, 'tis vexatious to proceed forthwith. I held out hopes to Alice, and the people in Perthshire, of seeing them all soon. Well, 'tis the fortune of war, and repining is worse than useless.'

So he thought, as he elbowed his way along the crowded Strand towards the office of Mr. Bruce, the regimental agent, humming gaily as he went the old song:

'Oh, the Lowlands of Holland
Have parted my love and me,' etc.

Most willingly, however, would he have applied for a short leave of absence, now so eminently his due, to enable him to pay a brief visit to his Perthshire friends, and see once again his beloved Alice before encountering anew the perils and hardships of war; but the exigencies of the service were pressing, his orders peremptory, and the fear of missing the glory of a new campaign reconciled him to the necessity of a speedy departure. He applied himself diligently to the business of instant preparation, and found relief for his excited feelings in the bustle attendant on acquiring a new outfit. A short time sufficed to procure him the necessary equipage for camp and field, and he was soon ready to resume active military duties.

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