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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 65 - Alice

At night he was again in Edinburgh, the centre of Scottish science, industry, hospitality, eccentricity,, and learning ; Edinburgh, equally celebrated for the beauty of its ladies, and the most profound cunning of its lawyers. It was after drum-beat, that is, eight o'clock in the evening, when he arrived at the castle. The place seemed empty and deserted ; save the sentinels on the batteries, not a soul was to be seen. The mess-room was dark and silent, a sure sign of something extraordinary, as the officers were stanch votaries of Bacchus, and seldom roosted before twelve. It immediately occurred to Stuart that some great conflagration, or other cause of disturbance, had happened, and that the magistrates had ordered the regiment into the city. To ascertain the truth, he descended the citadel stairs to the main guard-house, a building situated under the brow of the rock on which the chapel stands, and from the crowning parapet of which Mons Meg overlooks the city and surrounding country. 'Well, Douglas, you seem commandant here,' said Ronald to the officer on duty, as he entered.—'How ! back already, Stuart? I understood you had leave for six months.'

'Never mind; you'll hear all by-and-by. I hope I may need it yet, but you seem to have the place to yourself, and to be very sulky, too. I heard you swearing roundly at the drummer just now.'—'The little rascal allowed the fire to go out; and as to being sulky, in truth it would vex an apostle, or Job himself, to be left here in command of this dismal post, when all our fellows are enjoying themselves so famously in the city. Yesterday there was a splendid dinner, a regular banquet, given to the sergeants and soldiers by the inhabitants of Edinburgh. It was served up in the assembly-rooms; the great poet, Walter Scott, in the chair, supported by the sergeant-major on his right hand, and grim-visaged Ronald-dhu on the left. A jovial night they had of it ! Every cart and other vehicle in Edinburgh was put in requisition to convey our men home, as their legs had somehow failed them. To-night the entire battalion was marched down to the theatre, free tickets to which have been given to every man, from wing to wing. The officers all went off about an hour ago to a splendid ball, to which they have been invited by the elite of Edinburgh. It has been got up on a scale never witnessed here before: our ball at Aranjuez is nothing to it. The first people in Scotland will be there,—beauty, fashion, and all that; while here am I, cooped up in this d------d guard-room! I have a dozen minds to slip down and mingle with the crowd; Campbell will be too much mystified about Egypt, by this time, to know me, and I believe I might pass unnoticed.'—' Very disagreeable, certainly ; but not so bad as a wet bivouac on the Sierra de Guadaloupe. Your medal, too; you lose an opportunity of displaying it before some of the brightest eyes in Scotland.

But the service------'—' Deuce take the service !' exclaimed the other pettishly. ' If ever I am victimized in this way again, I will sell out, or resign,—upon my honour, I will.'

'Alice will be at the ball,' thought Ronald, as he returned to his quarters, striding up the citadel stairs, taking three steps at a bound, resolving to attend the assembly-rooms without delay. Notwithstanding the perturbation of his spirits, he was dandy enough to take more than usual care with his toilet, and he found a world of trouble in getting his sash and plaid to hang gracefully, and arranging the heavy folding of the latter to display the large studded brooch, four inches in diameter, which fastened it,—a jewel that, from its brightness and size, completely eclipsed his handsome cross of St. James and modest Waterloo medal. Of the two last-named badges he felt not a little vain, a sentiment ex-cusable in so young a man. As a field-officer, he no longer wore the kilt and tasselled purse. For these the tartan truis and gilt spurs were substituted; but they became him not the less, for the tight truis of the Celtic garb display a handsome figure nearly as well as the warlike filleadhbeg. From the lofty windows of the assembly-rooms a blaze of light was shed across George Street, and fell in broad yellow flakes on the crowd of carriages of every kind, glittering with liveries and harness, and on the upturned faces of a mob of idlers collected around the porches, the piazzas, and portico, watching the flitting figures of the dancers as they passed and repassed the curtained windows. Within, every part of the building was gorgeously lighted, and the soft music of the quadrille band, playing the airs then most in vogue, floated along the lofty ceilings and illuminated corridors. Crowds of gentlemen in full dress, or in uniforms, with ladies sparkling with jewels and radiant with beauty, were gliding in every direction to cool themselves after dancing, or to admire the tasteful decorations which met the eye wherever it turned; and conspicuous among these, Ronald, with the greatest delight, beheld the splintered poles and tattered colours which he had so often borne on many a weary march and dangerous occasion. He looked eagerly around him for Alice, and examined the figure of ever)' lady he passed. Near the door of the hall, where the dancers were, he almost unconsciously addressed a lady and gentleman regarding the cause of his anxiety.

'Will you please to tell me if Miss Lisle is here?'

The lady and gentleman smiled, and exchanged glances of surprise.

'Oh, undoubtedly she is,' replied the latter. ' She is never absent on such a night as this:'

'But she never comes till nearly eleven,' added the lady.

Stuart found that he had been saying something foolish, but he bowed with a good grace, and mingled with the crowd to conceal his confusion, for his face was turning as red as his coat. The appearance of the quadrille parties was splendid. The room was crowded with all that were gay, beautiful, or fashionable in Edinburgh ; more than one half of the gentlemen were in uniform, or in the tartan of their respective clans. The ladies wore a profusion of lofty feathers, and the effect of so many rich costumes was striking and brilliant beyond conception. Eagerly as Ronald's heart throbbed to meet Alice, he had no intention of getting up a melodramatic scene in the ball-room by accosting her abruptly ; he therefore made a reconnaissance of the dancers, keeping aloof, and observing the company in the room from amidst a group of gentlemen who were, as usual in such places, clustered around the door. He felt a light touch upon his arm, and two soft dark eyes were beaming pleasantly and fondly upon his.

'Ah, senor! ah, Major Stuart!' said the fair owner with astonishment. —'Hah! Ronald, my boy!' added another well-known voice, and his hands were grasped by those of Lisle and his beautiful Spanish wife, who was now a fashionable belle, with nothing of Old Castile about her except her 'wild dark eyes,' upon which few could look without pleasure and admiration. Her superb figure gave additional beauty to a rich dress of white satin trimmed with the richest lace. A diamond circlet sparkled around her forehead. Virginia had the air of a queen. The time when he had first beheld her, as the half-demure, half-coquettish Abbess of Santa Cruz, flitted across Ronald's mind; but it seemed more like a dream than a reality. Although on the retired list, Lisle wore his uniform, with his empty sleeve hooked up under the folds of his green plaid, over which hung his medal and Waterloo ribbon.

'How happy I am to see you!' exclaimed Ronald. 'I have been looking for you everywhere, amid this gay wilderness of people. Are you all well?'—'As well as you could wish us. Alice is here.'

'Would to Heaven I could see her!' said Ronald.—'You shall have your wish instantly,' replied Louis. ' 'Tis a splendid affair, this!'

'Our fellows seem to be quite the lions of the night'—'The ball surpasses even ours in the palace of Aranjuez,' observed Louis, glancing fondly at Virginia. 'But where is Alice?'—' I saw her but a moment ago,' replied the donna, whose accent had become much improved by her residence in Edinburgh. 'Oh, how happy, how very happy she will be to see you!' Ronald's heart beat more joyously than ever, and his impatience increased. ' Your sash hides the cross of dear St. James,' continued the fair Castilian. 'Show it fully, amigo; such a badge sparkles well on the breast of a soldier. Alice will love to look upon it; and so shall I, for it will remind me of brave old Spain. We have had many a long conversation about you, for a year past.'

'Lord Lisle is here, of course?—'In one of the ante-rooms, with Campbell and some of the seniors. But we must discover Alice,' said Louis; 'she is very angry with her field-officer.'

'How have I been so unhappy?'—' The carriage was in the High Street yesterday when the regiment marched in, and for nearly half an hour Alice sat in it, watching you unseen.'

'Watching me!'—'Yes.'

'Good heavens! I never saw her.'

'Your horse was jammed by the crowd within a few yards of us; and there you remained as fast as King Charles's statue close by, and looking in every direction except towards us. Poor Alie was very much agitated; and you kept your back turned upon her, with very happy nonchalance, during the whole of the Baillie's speech, and the rest of the foolery performed in front of the Exchange.'—'How unfortunate!'

'The moment the crowd had dispersed sufficiently, we drove to the castle; but you were off no one knew where, and Alice was sorely displeased.'

'I was away to Lochisla,' replied Ronald, while his brow became clouded.

The band of the Highlanders commenced at that moment 'El Morillo,' a well-known Spanish waltz, which they had learned abroad.

'Oh, the gay, the graceful waltz! Let me look upon it,' said Virginia, bending forward, while her eyes flashed with delight. 'Ah! I am dying to have a waltz. 'Tis El Morillo!'

'May I have the honour?' said Ronald, taking her hand and leading her forward.—'Stay but a moment—there is Alice.'—'Where?—ah! tell me.'—'How gracefully she steps! Beautiful! beautiful!'

Stuart looked in vain for the Alice he had known in Perthshire.

'I shall show you afterwards,' said the cruel donna. 'You will have quite enough of her by-and-by; but we shall be late just now for the waltz.' Away they flew into the brilliant maze of the waltzers, Ronald clanking his massive spurs at every turn, in a manner he had acquired among the Spaniards. Notwithstanding his practice among the donnas of Spain, he acquitted himself but indifferently. Imagining that every lady who whirled past in succession might be Alice Lisle, he looked everywhere but to the figure of the dance, and various unpleasant shocks took place, which excessively annoyed the Castilian precision of Virginia.

'Stay, stay!' said she; 'I will take pity on you. You are too excited to dance. Let us withdraw, and I will show you your fairy queen.'

They left the giddy whirl, and after hanging half breathless on Ronald's arm for a moment, 'There is Alice !' said Virginia.

'Where? On my honour! I know her not. I cannot recognise her.' 'Heavens! do you not know her when she is before you? Oh, for the eyes of a Spanish cavalier! That is Alice in the spangled dress, with the white ostrich feathers in her hair.'

'Waltzing with the tall fellow in the uniform of the Archer Guard— the green and gold,' added Louis, who had joined them. 'Now they leave the dance. The archer is young Home of Ravenspur. He has dangled after Alice for three or four weeks, but I will make the fellow quite jealous in three minutes. Retire to one of the lobbies, and I will bring her to you. She does not know that you are here; but there must be no screaming or fainting, or nonsense of that kind. I believe that, whatever she may feel, Alie will conduct herself admirably.'

'For three winters past Alice has been the reigning belle in Edinburgh,' said Virginia, as she led forth Ronald, who had become considerably bewildered. 'She is never absent from a single fete, assembly, or promenade; and indeed you have great reason to be proud of her, for she causes more envy among the women, and admiration among the men, than ever woman did before.'—'Indeed—indeed!' murmured Ronald, scarcely knowing what he said, for Virginia's information gave him little satisfaction. He had no objection that Alice should be a belle, but he should be grieved to find her a coquette. The merry, laughing Alice of Inchavon woods and braes, the slender girl of seventeen, with her curls flowing wide and free, had become a stately young lady of two-and-twenty, with her hair braided and tortured by a fashionable dresser, surmounted by a floating plume of feathers. Her cheek was paler, and the bloom of rustic health had given place to the graceful air of a young-lady of ton. Her form was taller and rounder, and------

'Here she comes!' said Virginia, cutting short Ronald's reflections. He became agitated and confused when he saw Louis approaching with a lady in a bright dress leaning on his arm. 'She is more beautiful and more devoted to you than ever; so, amigo, take courage,' said Virginia, pressing his hand. 'She knows nothing of what I saw in the convent of Jarciejo, and never shall. Believe me, Ronald, her heart has never in the slightest thought wandered from its love to you.'

'Alice! dearest Alice!' said Ronald, springing forward, and throwing an arm around her, while she sank upon his breast, too much agitated to speak. But immediately she disengaged herself, and a deep blush suffused her face and neck, rendering her beauty still more striking. Timidly and hurriedly she looked around, to see whether others than her brother and Virginia had observed this scene.

'Be brave, Alie,' said Louis;' there are none here but friends.'

'Pho—such a bashful couple!' exclaimed Virginia. 'What, not a single kiss to give and exchange, after being separated so long?

'Ronald, love!' faltered Alice, trembling violently, while she tendered her flushed cheek. He then drew her arm through his and led her towards some of the cool passages, that she might recover from her agitation, and that the tumult of her spirits might pass away. How supreme was their delight! Everything and everyone were forgotten in the rapture of that meeting, and there were two hearts pure and happy—wondrously happy—in the midst of all that gay and dissipated crowd.

'How delighted dear papa will be to see you! said Alice, after the first outpouring of their joy and affection had subsided,—an affection which had surmounted all the perils of long separation, the temptations of the gay world, and the dangers of a furious war. They had not looked upon each other's faces for five years—years of grief, doubt, and anxiety; and now, how happy ! to find themselves united again, never to separate while on earth. ' How happy papa will be to see you!'—'Not more than I shall be to see him, Alice.'

'Papa is here somewhere. I saw him only ten minutes ago, with that Celtic Goliath, your colonel. They will be looking at the dancers.' 'You must dance the next quadrille with me, Alice?'—' I am engaged a dozen deep. I am engaged for every dance the night before a ball; and that goose in green, young Home,—heavens! what shall I do?'

'Dance with me, and apologize. I am determined to keep you for the remainder of the night, in spite of Home and all these holiday guardsmen !' and he led her towards the dancers.

How many old and fond recollections were awakened by the sound of her gentle voice ! Ronald hung with the purest delight upon every word she uttered. With the same emotions Alice listened to him, wondering that the slender youth whose fair unshaven cheek had been so often pressed to her own had become the perfect model of a soldier,—stout and well-knit in figure, accustomed to his arms and harness, and rendered swarth in visage by continued exposure to a continental sun. They felt an honest pride in each other as they moved through the crowded rooms, and many eyes followed them ; for the badges sparkling on Ronald's breast, and a slight scar on his sunburnt face, declared that he had acquitted himself well in the field, while Alice was the leading star, the reigning queen, of the fashionable world in Edinburgh. Ronald's welcome by the old lord was as hearty and as kind as he could have wished. He introduced him to Mr. (afterwards Sir Walter) Scott, to Jeffrey, Christopher North, and some other leading characters, who were assembled in one of the ante-rooms. The striking figure of Christopher, with his lank hair hanging over his shoulders like a water-god's, attracted his attention particularly. Campbell was seated in a snug arm-chair, and was detailing sundry anecdotes of Sir Ralph to Scott, who listened to his prosing with his usual politeness and good nature. Except in a foursome reel, Campbell had not been dancing that night. For all fashionable measures he entertained a supreme contempt ; the strathspey, or the sword-dance, was his delight and his forte. At the other end of the supper-table, ladling hot punch, sat the celebrated Johnnie Clerk (Lord Eldon), to whom Lisle introduced Stuart, who was rather surprised by the oddity of his language and observations. On his saying something complimentary about the society of Edinburgh, Johnnie replied, 'The lassies were weel aneuch; but as for the society, it's no just as it was in my young days, when I first coopit the parliament house wi' the tails o' my goon.'

'How so?' asked Scott.—'Because Edinburgh is just like a muckle kailpot,—a' the scum is coming to the top.'

Lord Lisle, Scott, and Christopher, Johnnie Clerk and Campbell, had been sitting beside the decanters for some time, and had contrived to get considerably merry. As usual, Scott was the life of the party, and none enjoyed more than he did the queer stories told him by Campbell about the Highlanders, the adventure with old Mahommed Djedda, the march to Grand Cairo, the campaign in Corsica, and Heaven knows all what more. Stuart, with Alice, returned to the ball-room, where they danced together nearly the remainder of the night ; Alice braving the displeasure of certain beaux, who, although they were sorely displeased at being jilted, were too well-bred, or perhaps too wary, to take any unpleasant notice of it. Meanwhile, the little party in the ante-room became quite convivial, and Campbell, in the midst of his glee, proposed to give the company a song. This offer being applauded, he commenced at once, while Clerk beat time with his ladle and bowl.

'When Abercrombie, gallant Scot!
Made Britain's foes to tack again,
To fight by him it was my lot;
But now I'm safe come back again.'

With a brimming glass in one hand, and a decanter of sherry in the other, he sung the nine verses of this patriotic song in a style peculiarly his own, but as loud as it was out of place; and Ronald, when dancing in the ballroom, heard the tones of his stentorian voice above even the music of the band. The colonel insisted upon Scott singing in turn, although he protested that he was no singer. However, as it was usual in such cases, he gave them a few staves of the old ditty 'Tarry woo',' his only song, and one which he very much admired for its old style of verse and quaintness of expression. More songs succeeded, and they enjoyed themselves as much as men could do amid good company and good wine. Christopher at last set the example of speech-making, because it was an art in which he particularly excelled : he proposed 'The health of Major Stuart, the hero of Almarez, etc' Doctor Stuart returned thanks in the name of his clansman; but the wine having slightly obscured his perceptions, his speech, somehow, went off into a dissertation upon gunshot wounds, and the treatment of fractures, simple and compound. It was five in the morning before this splendid fete concluded. How many headaches or heartaches ensued next day, and how many loves were lost and won, has nothing to do with my story; but several gentlemen flirts—the tall archer especially—went home breathing war and defiance, hair-triggers and rifle-balls, against Stuart, who was too much of a soldier to value their resentment a rush, although he received some distant hints of it.

Other balls and gaieties succeeded, and during the whole of that happy winter the officers of the Highlanders were the lions of Edinburgh. The 78th, the brave Ross-shire Buffs, who arrived soon after, came in for a share of the general attention and festivities. The mess-room tables were covered every morning with invitation-cards. The young ladies had all caught the scarlet-fever, and would certainly have pulled each other's caps had they worn any; and even the match-making mammas had work enough upon their hands, and were half worried to death—as they deserved.

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