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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 62 - The Homeward March

FATIGUED with want of sleep, and almost nodding in his saddle, Ronald reached the camp a little after sunrise. The Highlanders were under arms, formed in line on the greensward between the long streets of tents and the margin of the Seine. The ensigns had uncased the yellow silk colours, the drummers were bracing up their instruments, and Campbell sat motionless on horseback at about a hundred yards from the centre of the line, which he was surveying with a watchful eye. He was looking very cross, so Stuart prepared to be rowed.

'A pretty fellow you are, Ronald, to keep the whole regiment waiting in this manner! We were just about to march without you.'

Ronald made no reply, but dashed up at full gallop, raised his hand to his bonnet, and then wheeling his charger round, backed him upon his haunches, causing him to curvet and rear, that the rider might display a little horsemanship, as he galloped round the flank of the grenadiers and came up in his place on the left of the line with his sword drawn. As the band struck up, and the battalion broke into sections of threes and moved off, a cheer burst from the lips of every man, as a parting call to those comrades whom they were to leave behind them.

Saint Germains was the first stage. They were quartered for the night in the ancient palace, which had long been uninhabited and empty, and was consequently hastening to decay. Eighty years before, who could have imagined that the residence of the exiled Stuarts would have become the quarters of a Scottish regiment in the British service, and plaided and plumed in the garb of the Gael? Who could have imagined that those desolate chambers, which had been the scene of so many sorrows and troubles to the royal exiles, would re-echo the strains of the heart-stirring pibroch? But the place was dreary, damp, and desolate. The courtyard was overgrown with grass, the gardens had become a wilderness, and the fountains and ornamental statues were in ruins, and covered with the moss of years. Strange and old associations connected with the palace and its inhabitants were awakened in the hearts of the Highlanders, and Ronald-dhu, when the pipers played the retreat in the quadrangle, desired that it should be the 'Prince's Lament,' one of the most difficult pieces of our pipe music.

To the officers and soldiers of the Gordon Highlanders, being generally men from the most remote parts of the Highlands, the empty palace of Saint Germains formed a scene of no common interest. It was intimately connected with the misfortunes of that illustrious race, 'of which (says a modern writer) no man can trace the beginning, and of which no Scotsman can bear to contemplate the end,' and the kilted sons of the North, as they wandered about its desolate chambers, made many observations which would have startled honest old George III., and have caused the Horse Guards authorities to stand quite aghast, had they heard them. Although time, as it rolls on, is changing the manners of the Highlander and of his Lowland neighbour, the same chivalric feeling which brought forth the host of 1745 exists in the bosom of the former, and a spark yet lingers there which little might fan into a flame.

Mereville was the next halt. At the gate of the town they were received by a French regiment of royal volunteers, who had no uniform, but wore their cross-belts, etc., over their peasants' blouses of blue or white linen. They paid the compliments of war in very good style, while their band played the national anthem of Britain, and the burghers of Mereville rent the air with shouts of applause. At the barrier appeared the main; arrayed in the garb of a past age預 wide waistcoat and old-fashioned coat, with a silver-hilted sword and ruffles, and a wig and queue. He invited the officers to a dejeuner in the Hotel de Ville, where he made a long and flourishing speech, descriptive of veneration for the British king and for the Scottish people. He spoke of the field of Verneuil, where the Scot and the Frenchman, drawing their swords side by side, as brothers and allies, had tamed the pride of England. La belle Marie! He laid his hand on his heart, and became quite eloquent on the subject of her wrongs and woes. He spoke of the alliances between the houses of Stuart and Bourbon, and of the many years of exile which the descendants from these marriages had spent in each other's territories.

The worthy old fellow was so much in earnest, and so enthusiastic on the occasion, that he even shed tears, struck himself a thousand times on thebreast,and shrugged his shoulders and turned up his eyes quite as often.

Campbell replied in a short speech, which he had prepared during the long oration of Monsieur le Maire: but the good-will he gained by the first part of his address was entirely lost by some unlucky after-allusion to the plains of Egypt and Sir Ralph Abercrombie.

From Mereville they marched to Montfort l'Amaury, a town twenty-eight miles west of Paris, where they were to join the 4th battalion of the Royals and the 42nd Highlanders, also under orders for England.

At Beauvais, styled傭ecause it has never been taken by force of arms 有a Pucelle, the 92nd, to their no small joy, received intelligence that, on landing in England, their destination was to be the capital of their native country, where they were to be quartered for the ensuing winter.

Within four days afterwards the streets of Calais rang to the notes of the pipe and drum, as the Scots brigade, on its homeward march, passed through the city to the harbour, where a fleet of small craft provided by the authorities lay in readiness to carry them over the Passage of Calais, as the straits are named by the French. The Cour de Guise, formerly the ancient English mint, was pointed out to Stuart by a French staff-officer, who rode beside him part of the way. He also showed him the statue of the patriotic Saint Pierre, which stands above the entrance of the town-hall, with its neck encircled by a rope葉he emblem of Saint Pierre's heroism, and of the obduracy of an English king. Many other places he pointed out which would have been interesting to the mind of a South-Tweeder, for often had the bluff English yeoman in his steel breastplate, and the strong-handed archer in his doublet of Lincoln-green, kept watch and ward on the walls and towers of Calais.

As the three Scots regiments marched along the spacious quay, a tremendous cheer burst from them at the sight of the opposite shore. The first view of old England, after a long absence, is worth a myriad of the commonplace adventures of life. The land of promise lay before them, but its shore seemed low and distant ; and its chalky cliffs were shining white as snow in the morning sun, so pale and dim that they seemed more like the edge of a vast field of ice than firm land. Every man strained his eyes towards it, and pointed out to his comrades the spires and villages, which he imagined he could trace through the dim haze that floated on the waters of the Channel. Some gazed long and fixedly, with moistened eyes and silent tongues. They thought of the land which lay five or six hundred miles beyond the shore before them葉he land of the rock and the cataract, the broom and the heather葉he land of their love and best affections, which had never been once absent from their minds during all the danger, the toil, and the glory of the great Peninsular war.

Poor Scotland! although she has lost her name and her place among nations, she is not the less dear to her sons.

The harbour of Calais presented a very animated scene. The frost had passed away; it was a warm, sunny morning, and everything was bright and glistening. From the great quay two long wooden piers jutted out into the water, which tossed and foamed around the green and seaweed-covered piles which compose them. These piers were lined by two or three battalions of French infantry, and behind them were dense crowds of spectators. The French flag was flying on the beffroi, or watch-tower, of the Hotel de Ville, and on the bastions of all the little forts which defended the harbour. The basin was crowded with the boats and craft for the conveyance of the British troops, whom the French authorities were, no doubt, very glad to get rid of. Several British man-o'-war boats were pulling about in different directions. These had been sent by some of our Channel cruisers to superintend the embarkation.

As Ronald rode down towards a flight of steps, to clear the way for the regiment, a man-o'-war's boat, manned by eight oars, came sheering alongside the jetty. Stuart dismounted to speak to the officer, who stepped forward from the stern, and, abandoning the tiller-ropes, shook him heartily by the hand; while the crew, and the crews of the other boats, pulled off their tarpaulin hats, and gave three hearty cheers of welcome to the red-coats. The cheer was taken up by the populace, and resounded along the quays; the French bands struck up the favourite air, 'A good voyage to the gallant Scots,' while the troops presented arms, and the officers saluted with their swords. As older regiments than the Gordon Highlanders, the Royal Scots and 42nd embarked first. About two hundred men were in each barge, and, as they moved from the shore by the aid of sail and sweep, their bands played the 'Downfall of Paris,' an air which could not have been very pleasant in French ears. With better taste, the band of the other regiment played 'Vive Henri Quatre' the notes of which mingled oddly with those of the bagpipes. The pipers of the whole brigade were seated in the bows of the boats, blowing a perfect storm of wild and discordant sounds.

The harbour, the shore, the crowded quays, receded and lessened, the cheers of the people died away, but the sharp rattle of the brass drums was still heard, and arms were seen glittering on the beach. The French troops were wheeling into open column, and marching through the gate of Calais, which faced the water. As the last section filed through, Ronald looked back for an instant. He saw the flash of French steel for the last time. Save himself, scarcely one had cast a look astern; it was to the increasing shores of England that every eye was directed. They were soon far out in the Channel, amid fleets of merchantmen and stately ships of war. There is nothing which brings the power, the might, and the majesty of Britain so vividly before the mind as the splendid appearance of her ships of war. There is a something in the aspect of the formidable row of cannon frowning from the red ports, and the flag that waves above them, which a Briton never can behold without pride, and a foreigner without terror, chagrin, and humiliation.

On clearing the harbour of Calais, and getting fairly out into the Straits of Dover among the shipping, the French airs gave place to 'Hearts of Oak,' and other national strains; and the cheers with which the crew of every vessel they passed, merchantman or ship of war, greeted the homeward-bound fleet of decked boats with their military freight, afforded the utmost delight to the latter. These hearty welcomes from their countrymen on the sea were but an earnest of what they were to receive on the. land.

The long and glorious struggle in the Peninsula, the victorious termination of the short but most decisive campaign in Flanders, and the results, so important to Europe, of the victory of Waterloo, were yet fresh in every man's mind, and the people of Britain yearned to show their love for their countrymen who were now returning, after having proved themselves the first troops in the world.

It was lucky for this brigade of Scots that they returned so soon after Waterloo. Had those three thousand men fought and gained the battle alone, it is impossible that greater admiration or applause could have been lavished upon them.

The shore increased in magnitude, seeming to rise from the water, and objects became more distinct. The wide extent of yellow, sandy beach, the chalky cliffs, the lighthouses, the buoys, were seen distinctly, and the flags of all the world were flying around them. The little fleet of galleys moved bravely; a light breeze bore them onward, and every stitch of canvas was set. The shore soon seemed close at hand. The old village spires, overhung with ivy, the lawns, the castles, the seats, and everything, from the black old towers of Dover to the boats on the golden beach below, were all remarked and observed as objects of wonder.

'First on the shore! Hoich!' cried a Highlander, plunging into the water, as the boats, containing some of the 42nd, grounded near the beach. Hurrah!' was the cry, and a hundred eager fellows leaped overboard, knapsacks, accoutrements, and everything; and, with their kilts and sporrans floating on the surface of the water, waded ashore, while shouts of welcome rose from a crowd of the Dover people collected on the sands. The boats containing the Royals and part of the Gordon Highlanders, took the matter more 'cannily,' and entering the harbour, landed their military passengers on the pier, where a gentleman stepped forth from the immense concourse assembled to witness the disembarkation, and formally welcomed them to England; he then waved his hat as a signal to the people, and three hearty cheers were given, with one more for the Duke of Wellington.

All the craft in the harbour were decorated with flags and boughs of trees; standards and ribbons waved from every house-top and window. The Waterloo medal, glancing on the breast of every purple coat, attracted universal attention ; the people were excited to the utmost pitch of enthusiasm and loyalty, and every proud feeling that is truly British was at its height. Each man vied with the other in the endeavour to show the esteem he felt for those whose deeds had been attracting the attention of the whole civilized world, and whose arms had arrested a torrent which once threatened to subvert every state in Europe. The brigade was billeted for that night in Dover.

'Now, then, gentlemen, here we are at last, in merry old England, cried Campbell in boisterous glee, as, with his officers, he ascended the well-carpeted staircase of a handsome hotel in Dover. 'Welcome roast beef and plum-pudding, with other substantials, and a long farewell to castanos and garlic, to soup-maigre, potage au thou, and the devil's broth. If the people would only grow wise and hang up all the limbs of the law, England would be the happiest land on earth. Look around you, gentlemen; here is comfort! Think on the wet tent and the wetter bivouac ! But good-bye to them all! for awhile at least.'

The master of the hotel ushered them into a splendid drawing-room, where the appearance of the rich carpet, and the coal fire blazing in the polished grate, attracted so much attention, and drew forth such encomiums, that mine host of the St. George marvelled in what part of the earth they had been campaigning. He knew not that a coal fire and a carpet are almost unknown on the Continent.

'We have been for some time strangers to this kind of luxury, landlord,' said Ronald, observing his wonder. 'Our couch and our carpet have long been the green sod, and our covering the sky, for many a year.'

'England, merry old England !' exclaimed Campbell, throwing himself into a chair, and stretching his long legs across the hearthrug. ' In spite of all that demagogues may say to the contrary, I will uphold that it is the happiest country in Europe ; and, as we have seen the most of them, we should be good judges. This is excellent! It reminds me of our return from Egypt. Now then, monsieur用ardon me, landlord; I forgot I was out of the land of Johnny Crapaud. Ay, landlord, there is something truly British and hospitable in that. Let us have the best dinner you can get ready on the shortest notice; and tell the cooks they need not be very particular, as we have not tasted a decent dinner since we landed below the castle of Belem in 1809, a few months in Paddy's Land excepted. Let it be prepared forthwith, and remember to provide lots of pudding for the ensigns.'

After dinner, the inhabitants of the hotel were astounded by the ceremony of piping round the table, a practice which, since dinners had become common with them, the Gordon Highlanders had revived in full force. As soon as the dessert was removed, tall Ronald-dhu,the piper-major, and eight pipers, entered the mess or dining-room, and marched thrice round the table, and then downstairs, blowing with all their force and power the tune usual on the occasion:

'Our ancient forefaithers agreed wi' the laird
To buy a bit grundie to mak' a kail-yard,' etc;

and the reader may imagine the effect of seven-and-twenty drones of the great Highland war-pipe on English ears, to which for many reasons its strains are so discordant. The hotel was surrounded by a dense crowd, who kept up an incessant cheering, and in the streets the Highlanders were absolutely mobbed. Perhaps it was the first time the Scottish garb had been seen so far south in England, so that, as the London papers said, ' the excitement was tremendous.'

In every town and village through which they marched on the long route from Dover to Edinburgh, their reception was the same: they were followed by mobs of shouting men and boys, while laurel boughs and flags adorned with complimentary mottoes waved from the houses and church steeples. Every inn or hotel at which the officers dined was decorated with streamers and evergreens, and wreaths of laurel encircled every plate and dish on the tables. Each day, during dinner, they were regaled by a concert of thousands of tongues, shouting and screaming, while the: bells in every spire rang as for some great national jubilee.

At Lincoln was erected a triumphal arch, which spanned the highway at the entrance of the city. It was composed of the usual materials evergreens, and such flowers as could be procured at that season of the year,預nd was surmounted by the arms of Scotland, of England, and of the famous old ecclesiastical city, merry Lincoln itself. St. George's red cross was waving from the summit of the ruinous castle, and great Tom of Lincoln was sending forth his tremendous ding-dong, deep, hoarse, and solemn, from the Gothic spire of the cathedral, drowning the mingled din of every other bell in the city. The streets were full of enthusiastic people; the windows were full of faces, flags, and branches of trees. All were in a state of merriment and uproar, while the shrill fifes and hoarse brattling drums, succeeding the fine brass band, made the streets re-echo with 'the British Grenadiers,' the most inspiriting of all our national quicksteps.

Immediately within the triumphal arch stood a carriage filled with ladies, two of whom, very beautiful girls, the perfect personification of young English belles, with the cherry lips and merry bright blue eyes of the south, held aloft bouquets of roses, procured probably from some hothouse, for at that season of the year they could not have been reared elsewhere. At the moment the ensigns were passing with the colours, the ladies made some sign to Campbell, who lowered the point of his sword in salute, and desired his orderly bugler to sound the halt. Each of the fair English girls with a white riband bound her roses to the top of the colour-poles, just below the spear-heads, but not without blushes and hesitation, for the eyes of thousands were turned upon them, and the hearts of the unshaven ensigns were captured on the instant. The ladies managed to say part of some address prepared for the occasion, 'regretting that they had not a wreath of thistles to offer, and requesting that the soldiers would carry the flowers home to their own country.' Campbell returned thanks. The ensigns, who, luckily for the regiment, were both very handsome fellows, bore each on his breast the Waterloo medal. They raised their bonnets, and retired to their places in the centre ; the music struck up again, and the Highlanders moved forward with the badge of England adorning the shot-splintered poles of their colours.

Of the latter, nothing was left save the gold tassels and that part of the silk which was stitched round the pole, with a few shreds and remnants of embroider. The rest had all been shot away, or torn to pieces by the rain and wind, by the battles and storms of twenty-one years of continual warfare, in which the corps had borne a distinguished part, since it had been embodied by the Duchess of Gordon, in 1794. The appearance of the bare poles attracted universal attention in every town and hamlet. The people were heard to exclaim with wonder, 'Look at the colours! look at the colours!! which perhaps they supposed had been reduced by, a single volley to the condition in which they then appeared.

The bouquets of the Lincoln ladies remained long attached to the poles, but the first, frosty day completed their destruction, and nothing but the stalks were left ; yet these still remained when the regiment, after a march of many hundred miles, came in sight of their native country.

Who can describe the wild delight of the Highlandmen, when from the hills of Northumberland they beheld afar off the snow-clad summit of the Cheviots, whose sides had been the scene of so many gallant conflicts? A thousand bonnets rose at once into the air, and the 'Hoigh, hurrah!' from a thousand tongues made the welkin ring. What a joyous march had been theirs through merry England! How different in appearance were its cities, its villages, its vast extent of cultivated land, when compared with the ruined pueblas and desolate cities of Portugal, or the barren hills and desert plains of Spanish Estremadura! In the former country the soldiers of Massena had scarcely left one stone standing upon another. What a change to these scenes and places seemed the comforts, the luxuries, the happiness of England, especially to those who had been enduring the starvation, the toil, the yearly, daily, hourly danger and misery of continual service! Truly it was a merry march that from Dover to Scotland, and never did private soldiers trudge with their burden of seventy-five pounds weight more contentedly than the Gordon Highlanders on that long but happy route.

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