When Ronald again became
conscious that he was yet in the land of the living, he found himself in a
waggon, the uneasy jolting of which occasioned him great agony. It was
driven by two sturdy Flemish peasants, clad in blue blouses and red caps,
as he could perceive by the light of the moon ; they sang merrily some
uncouth song, and appeared to be in a happy state of intoxication.
The Flemings were driving
furiously, at a rate which threatened every moment to overturn the
vehicle, and it was incessantly bumped against a wall on one side of the
highway, or a high footpath which bordered the other. Ronald often
implored and commanded them to drive slower, but they heeded him no more
than the wind. However, they were compelled to slacken their speed on
approaching Waterloo, where, in a short time, they were brought to a halt
altogether, the road being completely choked up by the wounded,—thousands
upon thousands of whom were on their way to Brussels on foot, a few on
horseback, and many in waggons. It was now midnight, as the toll of a
distant church-clock announced. A horrible medley filled the air around
the place where Stuart's waggon stopped. The cries of the wounded were
piercing. In their agony, strong men were screaming like women, and the
appeals for water from their parched tongues were piteous in the extreme.
Some of them were men who had been wounded on the 16th, at Quatre Bras,
but hundreds of the sufferers who were maimed on that occasion perished
under the fury of the next day's storm in the forest of Soignies, whither
they had fled for shelter on the temporary advance of Napoleon.
The highway was as much
crowded as the field with the dead and dying, and the waggons of the
train, the baggage-carts, the commissariat caissons, etc., were every
moment increasing in number, all pressing to get along the choked-up road.
The hubbub was increased by foreign and British cavalry, and mounted
officers riding, some to the front and some to the rear, as their duty led
them, and threatening to sabre anyone who opposed their passage. Oaths,
threats, and execrations, in English, French, Belgic, and German,
resounded everywhere. It was a medley of horror and confusion, such as few
men have ever looked upon.
The boors who drove the
waggon in which Stuart lay abandoned it and left him to his fate. He was
utterly heedless of what it might be. He had never felt so weary of life,
when suffering under any disaster, as he did at that moment; and he
sincerely envied the dead who lay around him. The pain of his bruised side
was intense, and he would gladly have given mountains of gold, if he had
had them, for a single drop of water to moisten his parched and swollen
tongue. His head felt hot and heavy, but there was no one near to raise
He sunk again into a
stupor, and all that passed during the remainder of that dismal night
seemed like a dream. He was still sensible of acute pain, but the jolting
of the rumbling waggon, when again in motion, seemed like the motion of a
ship at sea, and he thought himself once more in the Bay of Biscay, on
board the Diana of London.
From his feverish slumber
he was roused by feeling his forehead bathed with some cool and refreshing
liquid, by hands soft and gentle, like those of a female; but this, too,
he deemed imagination, and his eyes remained closed, but the bathing
continued, and became too palpable to be mistaken. When he looked around
he found himself in an airy and elegant room, with white flowing drapery
hanging gracefully from the windows, and from the roof of the French couch
upon which he lay. Instinctively he raised his hand to his neck, to feel
for the portrait of Alice Lisle. It hung no longer there, but was placed
in his hands by the kind fairy who had taken upon herself the office of
being his nurse. He turned to look upon her, but she glided away.
'I am dreaming,' murmured
he, and closed his eyes; but on opening them again the same scene met his
view. The room was richly carpeted, the furniture was costly and elegant,
the ceiling was lofty, and covered with painted birds and angels, flying
among fleecy clouds and azure skies. The pictures on the wall were large
Dutch cattle-pieces and glaring prints of Oudenarde and other battles, and
a most agreeable perfume was wafted through the apartment from several
Delft vases filled with fresh flowers, which adorned the polished
side-tables and lofty marble mantelpiece. Ronald looked from one thing to
another in silent wonder,—he could not imagine whither he had been
conveyed; but that which most attracted his attention was the figure of a
female—a nun he supposed her to be— whose face was turned from him, and
who seemed to be kneeling in a meek and graceful attitude of prayer, so he
had an opportunity of observing her particularly. Her costume was very
simple, but, from its shape, amply displayed her very beautiful bust and
whole figure. It consisted of a tight body and wide skirt of black serge,
girt round her slender waist by a white fillet. She wore a hood of white
silk, from beneath which one bright ringlet fell over her shoulder. There
was something very bewitching and coquettish in that stray love-lock, and
it gave fair promise that there was much more worth seeing under the same
little hood. Her hands were very small and very white ; but they were
clasped in prayer, and her face seemed to be turned upwards.
'Heavens!' thought Stuart,
'I am back again in the land of guitars and pig-skins. This is witchcraft,
and Waterloo is all a dream. Bah! my wound says no! Where am I?' said he
aloud. 'Buenos dias, gentil senora,' he added, in his most bland
Spanish.—'Ah, monsieur,' said the lady, springing towards him, 'you have
awakened at last.'
'French, by Jove!' thought
the invalid; 'Napoleon has beaten us, and I am a prisoner.'
'Ah! I have prayed for you very earnestly, and
Heaven has heard me.'
'What?' said Ronald in astonishment, 'have you
really been praying for me?
'For you, monsieur,' replied the young damsel,
seating herself by his side.
'How very good of you, mademoiselle! But to
what do I owe such happiness—I mean that you should take any interest in
she, pouting, 'I pray for all—the good Christian and the heretic alike.'
Her face was very pretty, almost beautiful,
indeed; rather pale, perhaps, but there was a girlishness, a pure
innocence of expression, in her soft, dove-like, hazel eyes which made her
extremely attractive. She seemed somewhere about sixteen—a mature age on
the Continent—and had all the air of a lively French girl turned
prematurely into a nun.
'I am extremely fortunate that you should
interest yourself so much about me, mademoiselle,' said Ronald, in a tone
sufficiently doleful, although he attempted to assume a gallant air. ' But
will you please to tell me where I am just now?'—'In Brussels, monsieur.'
'See,' continued the fair girl, drawing back
the curtains; 'there is the gay Sablon Square, and yonder the good old
church of holy Saint Gudule, with its two huge towers and beautiful
splendid house?'—'Belongs to the widow of Mynheer Vandergroot.'
'And you, my pretty mademoiselle—pray who are
you?—' You must not call me mademoiselle,' said she demurely.
'What then?—' Sister.
'Oui, monsieur. I am called Sister Antoinette
de la Miséricorde.
think it very pretty, monsieur; I am called so among the Sœurs de la
Charite. But never mind my name, monsieur; you speak too much, and disturb
yourself. How glad I am to see you looking so well, after being in so deep
a sleep all yesterday!'
Ronald put his hand to his head, and strove to
'Was I not at Waterloo yesterday?'
'No, monsieur; the day before. Alas, what a
day it was ! But you must not speak any more—and must obey me in all
things. I am your nurse.'
'You!' exclaimed Stuart in a tone of pleasure
and surprise, while he attempted to take her hand; but she easily eluded
him. 'Ah, what a happiness for me, mademoiselle!'
'Sister!' said she, holding up her tiny
finger. 'I am your only nurse, and I have six other officers on my list.
Poor creatures!' she added, while her fine eyes became suffused with
tears. 'Alas! they are dreadfully wounded, and I experience great horror
in being their attendant; but my vows must be fulfilled. 'Tis the work of
Heaven, and the poor Sister Antoinette must neither shrink nor repine. But
your wound, monsieur; you were struck in the side, but there is no blood.'
'But I am bruised to death, Antoinette.'
'Mon Dieu/ mon ami; so the medical officer
said. But here he comes, and I must be gone, for a time at least.'
At that moment the door opened, and the
assistant-surgeon entered. He made a profound bow to the lady—imitating a
style he had picked, up in Castile, and causing the black plumage of his
regimental bonnet to describe a circle in the air.
'Well, my dear Mademoiselle
Antoinette,' said he, taking her hand, 'how is our patient this morning?
'Indeed, monsieur, I know not,' replied the
girl with confusion, and attempting to withdraw her hand.
'I fear, Antoinette, if the troops are all
provided with such nurses, they will be in no hurry to quit the sick-list,
which it is our interest to keep as empty as possible; but------'
Here mademoiselle broke away from him, and,
snatching up a little basket of phials, fled from the apartment.
'Well, Ronald, my man,' said the medico,
unbuckling his broadsword and seating himself by the bed, 'how do you find
yourself this morning?'
'Having ended your flirtation, 'tis time to
ask, Dick,' replied the invalid pettishly.
'What! are you turning jealous of a girl that
nurses half the regiment? Let me see your knocks—how are they?'
'Confoundedly sore! My ribs are all broken to
pieces, I think.'.
'Scarcely,' replied the doctor, passing his hand over the injured part; '
they are all as sound as ever they were. Do you find that sore? said he,
deliberately poking his finger on particular places with the most medical
devil, Dick! to be sure I do,' said Ronald, wincing, and suppressing a
violent inclination to cry out, or punch the other's head.
'Sore, eh?—' Very,' said the other sulkily.
'Ah! I thought you would.'
'I suppose you mean to follow up this attack
by prescribing bleeding and hot water?'—' The first, certainly; the last
as may be required,' said the doctor, in his turn getting a little piqued.
'I have dozed away a whole day,' said Ronald.
'You find yourself all the better for it now.
We will have you on your legs next week.'
'But the battle! You have kept up such a
gabble, Dick, I have not had time to ask you if we won it.'
'Who else could win it? But I will tell you
all, after I have looked to your hurts.'
'No; tell me first of the battle, and be as
brief as possible.'
'Well, then, Buonaparte was soundly beaten on the 18th, and is flying
towards Paris, I believe. Wellington and old Blucher are after him, double
loss?'—'I have not heard.'
'How is Lisle, and all the rest of ours?'—'I
have not yet learned where Louis is billeted, but I fear his arm is lost.
Captain Little was killed close by me, after you were struck. Fifteen
officers are wounded and eight killed; but you shall hear not another word
until I have seen your wound more particularly, and have applied some
cannon-shot had bruised his side severely. It was frightfully discoloured,
and he was almost unable to move in consequence of the intense pain which
doctor, producing a silver case of lancets, proposed bleeding, a course to
which Ronald stoutly objected, saying that he felt weak enough already. He
was therefore fain to content himself with leaving directions for the
preparation of an enormous poultice, and a diet of broth and barley-water.
He then took his leave, saying that he had more than a hundred patients on
his list, and should be totally unable to call for two days at least; but
desired Allan Warristoun, Ronald's servant, to come every evening, and
report how his master was. The doctor's prescription gave Ronald
considerable relief, notwithstanding the throwing out of window of a
considerable portion of the ingredients, and the discussion, with infinite
relish, of certain delicacies which, after a few days, were brought to his
bedside by the kind old Widow Vandergroot.
Converting Warristoun's knapsack into a desk,
Ronald sat, propped up in bed, writing a letter for Alice, and another for
Lochisla, for he was still ignorant of the change which had taken place
there, when Sister Antoinette, entering lightly and softly, stole to his
side. Her gentle hand was on his shoulder, and her soft eyes were beaming
on his, almost before he was aware of her presence. Her silken hood had
fallen back, and revealed her long glossy hair,—all save the long stray
ringlet, beautifully braided like a coronet around her head. Her order
were not robbed of their flowing tresses on taking their vow upon them.
Ronald tossed the knapsack upon the carpet,
and caught her hand with an exclamation of pleasure. She permitted him to
retain his hold for a moment. He would have spoken, but she placed her
finger on his lips, and again told him that she was his nurse, and that he
' must not speak.' The finger belonged to a very pretty hand, though it
was unadorned by ring or bracelet; and taking it again within his own, he
ventured to kiss it. The sister drew back instantly, and blushed crimson;
but not with displeasure, for she seemed too amiable and gentle a creature
to be easily offended.
'I have brought you three books, monsieur.'
'A thousand thanks, my dear little sister !'
said he, as she produced the volumes from a small reticule, which she
carried under the skirt of her long cape. 'How very attentive of you! I am
always so dull when you are absent.'
'I had them, monsieur, from an aged Reposante
of our order, who in time has amassed quite a little library of her own.'
'A French Bible,' said Ronald, laying aside
the first with an air of disappointment. 'What next? "The holy Doings of
the good Sisters of St. Martha." And the next? "Rules of the Servantes des
Pauvres de Charité!" By Jove ! my dear Antoinette, these books won't do
for me, I fear.'
'They are very good books, monsieur,' said she modestly. 'I am sorry you
belle Antoinette, I thank you not the less, believe me; but if any of my
brother-officers were to pop in and find me reading them, I should never
hear the end of it, and two or three duels would scarcely keep the mess in
'I am sorry
for it. But if you will not read them yourself, I will; and if any of your
wild Scottish officers come in,let them laugh at me if they dare.'
'They will take care how they do that in my
chamber, Antoinette,' said Stuart, with a peculiar smile, while the girl
threw back her hood and prepared to read, displaying as she did so a neck
and hands of perfect beauty and lady-like whiteness. She read, in a low,
earnest, and very pleasing voice, the story of the good Samaritan, to
which Ronald, who was quite enraptured with her appearance and manner,
paid very little attention. She read on without ceasing for nearly half an
hour, and imagined that the young officer was a very attentive listener.
But, in truth, he was too much occupied in observing the admirable contour
of her face, her downcast lashes and fine hair, the motion of her little
cherry lips and swelling bosom, to attend to the various chapters which
she was so good-natured as to select for his edification.
After administering certain drugs, which perhaps neither Widow Vandergroot
nor Doctor Stuart, with all their eloquence, could have prevailed on
Ronald to swallow, she withdrew, notwithstanding his entreaties that she
would remain a little longer.
He felt rather jealous of the attentions she
might bestow on others; but this selfish feeling lasted only for awhile.
She had several Highlanders, three hussars, and two artillery officers on
her list: some of the latter were minus legs and arms. Next day when she
visited Stuart she was weeping, for three of her patients had died of
whole of Brussels had been converted into a vast hospital: every house,
without distinction, was crowded with wounded and sick. The officers and
soldiers, in some places, were laying side by side on the same floor; and
the humanity, kindness, and solicitude displayed towards these
unfortunates by the ladies, and other females of every class, are worthy
of the highest praise. They were to be seen hourly in the hospitals,
distributing cordials and other little comforts to the wounded soldiers of
all nations,—friend and foe alike. They were blessed on every side as they
moved along, for the poor fellows found sisters and mothers in them all.
Ronald took a deep, and perhaps for so young a
man, a dangerous, interest in the fair Antoinette de la Miséricorde. He
deplored that so charming a creature should be condemned to dwell in a
dreary cloister, —her fine features shaded and lost beneath the hideous
lawn veil and misshapen hood of the sisters; and that her existence was
doomed to be one of everlasting prayer, penance, fast, humiliation, and
slavery in hospitals, surrounded continually by the fetid breath of the
sick, by distempers and epidemics, scenes of want, woe, and misery, and in
the hearing sometimes of sorrow, blasphemy, and horrid imprecations,—for
her duty led her into the dens and prisons of the police, and the inmost
recesses of the infamous Rasp-haus. Whether her own wish, or her parents'
tyranny and superstition, had consigned her to this miserable profession,
he never discovered; but the life of a galley-slave or a London sempstress
would have been preferable.
Antoinette was evidently a lady by manner,
appearance, and birth. None but a lady could have owned so beautiful a
hand. She had all the natural vivacity and buoyant spirits of a French
girl, and, at times, her sallies and clear ringing laughter contrasted
oddly with the sombre garb and her half-real, half-affected demureness.
Ronald formed a hundred plans for her
emancipation, but always rejected them as impracticable. To persuade her
to elope from Brussels, and go home with him to be a companion for Alice
Lisle, would never do. Scandal would be busy, and even should he escape
the wrath of the Belgian police, the mess would quiz him out of the
deuce can be done to save this fair creature from such slavery?' thought
he. 'I would to Heaven somebody would run away with her ! There's
Macildhui of ours, and Dick Stuart, our senior Esculapius, handsome
fellows both, and both quite well aware of it. Who knows what may come
about? The medico is evidently smitten with her, and Macildhui is on her
sick-list. Since poor Grant was knocked on the head, we have not a married
man, except Louis, among us, and Antoinette would be an honour to the
combined attention of the interesting little fille de convent, of the
widow, of Doctor Stuart, and of Allan his servant, soon placed Ronald on
his feet again ; and in the course of a week or two he was able to move
about the room, and enjoy a cup of chocolate at the window overlooking the
square, where a host of crippled soldiers, leaning on sticks and crutches,
were seen hobbling about among fresh-coloured Flemish girls with plump
figures and large white caps, bulbous-shaped citizens, and pipe-smoking
Dutchmen in high-crowned hats and mighty inexpressibles.
Two days after he became convalescent the
sister informed him that now her visits must cease.
'And will you not come to me sometimes,
sorry, monsieur; no, I cannot.'
'Then I will visit you.'
'That must not be either: a man never passes
our threshold. I must bid you farewell.'
'Ah, you do not mean to be so cruel,
is no cruelty,' said she, pouting; 'but I mean what I say.'
'Our acquaintance must not cease, however,'
said Ronald, taking her hand, and seating her beside him near the window
which overlooked the bustling Rue Haute. 'Must we never see each other
more, and only because there are no more confounded drugs to be swallowed
and pillows to be smoothed?'
'It must be so, my friend; and I—I hope you
have been satisfied with me.'
'Antoinette ! satisfied? and with you? Ah !
how can you speak so coldly? My dear little girl, you know not the deep
interest I take in you. But, tell me, would you wish to leave Brussels? It
cannot be your native place.'
'Monsieur, I do not understand------
'Would not you wish to leave the dull convent
of the sisterhood to live in the midst of the gay and the great world,—to
live in a barrack, perhaps, and be awakened every morning by the merry
reveille or the bold pibroch, or to------'
He paused, for the last observation had been
misunderstood. The eyes of the French girl flashed fire, and her pouting
lips curled so haughtily and so prettily, that, yielding only to the
impulse of the moment, Ronald was tempted to carry on the war with greater
Antoinette; I did not mean to offend you,' said Stuart, drawing her nearer
to him by the little unresisting hand which he still held captive. 'Oh,
monsieur! what do you mean?' cried the poor girl, trembling violently,
while a deep blush covered her whole face and neck ; her sparkling eyes
were cast languidly down, and the palpitations of her heart could be
distinctly seen beneath the tight serge vest or bodice which encased her
noble bust. 'Oh, mon Dieu!' she added, 'what is the matter with me? I feel
very ill and giddy.' Yet she made but feeble struggles to release herself.
'Promise you will come again and see me,
Antoinette,' said Ronald, drawing her very decidedly on his knee.
'Oh, let me go, monsieur! I must have the
honour to wish you a good morning.' She made a motion to go, but his arm
had encircled her. 'My vows! Oh, pray, for the love of Heaven, let me go.
Unhand me, I implore you.'
'One kiss, then, Antoinette,—only one kiss;
and in sisterly love, you know!' and his lips were pressed to her hot
cheek ere she was aware. 'But one more, dear Antoinette!' but she burst
from his grasp and covered her burning face with her robe, weeping as if
her heart would break.
'Holy Virgin, look down upon me!' she
exclaimed. 'How shall I ever atone for this deadly sin? I must confess it,
and to the stern dean of St. Gudule, that the lips of a man have touched
mine. Me! a Sister of Charity, a nun, a miserable woman, sworn and devoted
to the service of Heaven ! Oh, monsieur, you have done me a great wrong;
but may Heaven forgive you as readily as I do! Adieu! we shall never meet
an attempt to catch her, but nimbly and gracefully as a fawn she eluded
his grasp, and fled downstairs like an arrow, leaving the discomfited
soldado more charmed than ever with her simplicity and modesty. And it may
easily be supposed that the interest she had excited in his bosom was
increased when he discovered that, in spite of her vows and veil of lawn,
he was not indifferent to the little French nun.
'Still,' he reflected, 'it is better that we
should meet no more. Antoinette is wise; yet I hope she may look up here
to-morrow, if it's only to see me for the last time.'
To-morrow came and passed away, but the Sister
of Charity came not to visit him as usual, and he regretted that he had
frightened her away. 'However,' thought he, 'she may yet come to-morrow;
the little fairy loves me better than she dares to acknowledge.'
Three days elapsed without her visiting him,
and it was evident that she would come no more. He grew very impatient and
uneasy, and spent most of his time in watching alternately the square and
the Rue Haute, with the hope of seeing her pass. Once he saw a Sister of
Charity coming from the church of Saint Gudule. Her figure seemed light
and graceful as she tripped down the immense flght of steps at the
entrance; it was Antoinette without doubt. Regardless of distance and the
crowded street below, Ronald called aloud to her; but she was too far off
to hear, and turned a corner down the Rue de Shaerbeck without bestowing
one glance on the mansion of Widow Vandergroot, which was sufficiently,
conspicuous by its large yellow gables, its green Venetian blinds, and red
streaks round the windows. If the little figure which glided along the
streets were Antoinette's, he never beheld it again.
One day, about a fortnight afterwards, while
seated reading a despatch of Wellington's, he heard footsteps, much
lighter than those of the substantial Widow Vandergroot, ascending the
wooden staircase. 'She has come at last,' said he, as the cigar fell from
his mouth; he threw down the paper, and half rose. The door opened, and
'Louis!' he exclaimed, leaping up with astonishment. 'Gracious powers !
how changed you are!'
'I may observe the same of you! Faith, man!
you're wasted to a mummy,' replied Lisle, smiling sadly. 'I have been
winged at last,' he added, pointing to his left sleeve, which was empty,
and hung, attached by a loop, to a button at his breast. 'It is now doing
very well,' he continued, 'but the sight of my empty sleeve and stump will
scare the ladies at Inchavon: that, though, is the least part of the
affair. My soldiering is now ended; the Gordon Highlanders and Louis Lisle
must part at last! "Every bullet"—you know the adage.
'I am glad you bear with your loss so easily.'
'Your own escape was a narrow one.'
'Very. Had I been a few yards nearer the ridge
on which the enemy's guns were in position, that unlucky twelve-pounder
would have cut me into halves like a fishing-rod. But where are the rest
of ours? I have not been abroad yet.'
'All doing famously, and ready to swear that
the ladies of Brussels are angels upon earth—the Sisters of Charity
especially.' This was said unwittingly, but Stuart felt the blood mounting
to his temples. 'As yet there have been no more amputations, but Macildhui
is in a worse predicament than any of us.'
'How, pray?'—' He has been deeply smitten with
the charms of a certain little French Sister of Charity, by whom he has
been, luckily or unluckily, nursed; but his romantic ladye-love has
deserted him, without warning, for the last few days, and poor Mac is very
sorrowful, sentimental, and all that. He poured all his sorrows in my ear
one evening, being thrown completely off his guard by the mellow influence
of a glass of vin ordinaire at sixteen sous per bottle. But the
mind her,' said Ronald, colouring very perceptibly again; 'tell me about
the army. What's the news from headquarters?'
'Oh, glorious! the power of France and of
Buonaparte has been completely laid prostrate. The army pressed forward
into the enemy's country; and Marshal Davoust sent the Marquis of
Wellington a flag of truce, craving a suspension of hostilities, and
offering to yield up Paris. It was surrendered on the 4th of this month
(July), and the marshal commenced his retreat beyond the Loire. Our troops
are all in Paris by this time; so make haste and get well, my clear
fellow, that you may rejoin. Only think how the rogues will be enjoying
themselves in Paris!'
'There are few of ours left to rejoice.'
'About one hundred and fifty bayonets are with
Campbell, and we have nearly five hundred wounded here in Brussels. That
cursed affair at Quatre Bras mauled us sadly. Before the engagement we
marched out of Brussels exactly one thousand and ten strong, and more than
one-half lay on the sod ere sunset. Poor Cameron! the corps will feel his
loss. By-the-bye, I forgot to mention that Campbell has got the
lieutenant-colonelcy. Our romantic friend, Macildhui, gets the majority,
and you are now senior captain. I hope you will win your spurs ere I see
you again. I set out for Scotland to-morrow.'
'So soon?'—'Yes. My letters from Virginia and
Alice are very importunate ; and I shall either sell or go upon half-pay.
I leave Flanders on sick leave, in the first instance.'
'Well, I shall soon rejoin you in Perthshire.
I have seen enough blood shed and battles won, and long to see the old
peak of Benmore, and hear the leaves rustling pleasantly in the woods of
Oich and Lochisla again.'
Next day Lisle took his departure from
Brussels. He still, singularly, left Ronald in ignorance of what had
occurred at home. A thousand times he was on the point of adverting to the
subject, but always refrained. In a letter to Alice, he said that he would
leave to her the disagreeable task of conveying to Stuart the information
of his father's ruin, and the emigration of the Lochisla men; 'because,'
continued the letter, 'so great is Ronald's veneration for his parent, and
such his Highland pride and his love of the old ancestral tower, with all
its feudal and family associations, that I verily believe he would shoot
himself in the first gust of his passion, were I to. acquaint him with
what has happened at Lochisla.'
Scarcely had Lisle left Brussels, when Ronald
found that his thoughts were beginning to revert to Antoinette de la
Misericorde; and longing to see her again, he determined to sally forth
the next day and take an airing, in the hope of meeting her in the
streets. There were many hobbling about in the sunshine, on the Boulevard
de l'Este and the Boulevard du Nord, who had been more severely wounded
morrow, therefore, immediately after discussing his breakfast —chocolate
and a cigar—he went forth into the streets of Brussels for the first time
since he passed through them in a waggon. The noise, whirl, and din of the
passengers and vehicles of every kind caused such a spinning sensation in
his head that he nearly fell to the ground. He moved along the crowded
streets, scarcely knowing whether his head or heels were uppermost. The
glare of the noonday sun seemed hot and strange, and everything—the
houses, the lamp-posts, the church spires, seemed waving and in motion.
With the aid of a patriarchal staff, which erst belonged to Mynheer
Vandergroot, he made his way through Brussels, and reached the long shady
walk of the Boulevard de l'Este, where, in thankfulness, he seated himself
for some minutes on a stone sofa.
The convent of the Sisters of Charity bordered
somewhere on the Boulevard. He had been directed thither, not by verbal
instructions, but by signs, of which every Fleming seems to be a
professor, as it saves the mighty labour of using his tongue. Each mynheer
whom he accosted, being too lazy to use his mouth, generally replied by
pointing with his long pipe, or by jerking the summit of his
steeple-crowned hat in the direction inquired for.
The streets were thickly crowded with military
convalescents, of every rank and of many nations. The regimentals were
numerous. The English, the Prussian, the Highland, the Belgian, and the
Hanoverian were creeping about everywhere, supporting themselves on sticks
and crutches; and in the sunny public areas long ranks of them might be
seen basking on the ground, or propped against the wall on stilts and
wooden legs, yet all laughing and smoking as merrily as crickets.
After a great deal of trouble, Ronald
discovered the convent of the Sisters of Charity, somewhere near the end
of the Boulevard, at the corner of the Rue aux Laines. It was a huge,
desolate-looking building, and might very well have passed for the
military prison, which is not far from it. Its windows were small—grated
and far between; and the whole place looked not the less sombre because
the morning sun shone cheerily on its masses of gray wall, lighting up
some projections vividly, and throwing others into the deepest shadow. He
heard a bell tolling sadly somewhere close by, and a strain of choral
voices mingled with its iron tones. It rung a knell, and a dismal
foreboding fell upon Stuart as he listened. He struck gently with the
gigantic knocker which ornamented the iron-studded gate, and immediately a
panel was pulled aside, and the grim, wrinkled visage of the portiere
appeared within. He solicited admittance. ' No man can ever pass the
threshold, monsieur,' replied the other, who was a little woman of French
Flanders, and clad in the garb of the order. ' How is the Sister
Antoinette de la Miséricorde?—'Well-—I hope.' 'Thank Heaven!' exclaimed
Ronald. 'But can I not see her, mademoiselle?'—'Oh, monsieur! that is
impossible,' replied the portière sadly,' when I tell you she is gone to—'
'To where, mademoiselle?'—'Heaven,' replied
the little woman tartly; and being offended probably at Ronald's
impetuosity, she closed the panel in his face without ceremony.
The fragile and delicate creature—how utterly
unsuited for the life to which she had been doomed!—had fallen a victim to
the vile and stupid superstition that had consigned her to a convent.
While attending, in her mild and gentle innocency, on the sick in one of
the military hospitals, she had been attacked with a violent fever that
raged there, and wasted quickly away under its fiery power.
Stuart reeled against the iron-studded door as
the words of the portière fell upon his ear, for at that moment he felt
sick at heart, and his knees tottered with weakness; but he walked away as
quickly as he could, till the requiem of the sisterhood and the iron clang
of the bell could no longer be heard amidst the bustle of the Rue aux
Antoinette!' thought he, as he turned down the Rue Royale, and skirting
the famous park, made straight for his billet—'fair and gentle as she was,
she deserved a better fate than to perish in such a den of gloomy
superstition and of blind devotion.'
The poor girl's death made him very sad for
some days; but the impression which her beauty and artlessness had made
upon him wore away as he grew better, and became able to frequent the
cafes, the park, the Rue Bellevue, and other public places of resort at
Brussels. There the important events following the great victory at
Waterloo—the capture of Paris, the public entry of Louis XVIII., the
flight of Buonaparte, and his surrender to Captain Maitland of the
Bellerophon, were all canvassed, fully and freely, amidst the boasts of
the Belgians about the wonders performed by their countrymen on the
glorious 18th of June!
After residing in Brussels about two months,
Stuart reported himself 'well,' and was appointed to take command of three
hundred convalescents, who were declared fit for service by a medical
board, and were to rejoin the Highlanders at Paris 'forthwith.'
Early on the morning of his departure, just as
Ronald was getting on his harness, a man who brought the widow's letters
from the Hotel des Postes placed in his hand one addressed to himself. He
tore it open : it was from Lisle, dated ' Edinburgh,' and ran thus:
'I have merely written a short note to
announce my arrival in Scotland, and that all are well at Inchavon. Your
uncle, old Sir Colquhoun Monteith of Cairntowis, has taken his departure
to a better world; and as we cannot regret his death, allow me to
congratulate you on becoming possessed of seven thousand a year, with one
of the finest estates in Scotland for shooting and coursing. Messrs.
Diddle and Fleece, W.S., Edinr., will send you further intelligence. I
have since seen, by the "Gazette," that Cluny Monteith, your cousin, died
of his wound somewhere on the Brussels road. Yours, etc'