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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 13 - The Duel

Passing rapidly through the Plaza, and down the great street which leads towards the Guadiana, they ascended the eminence on the outside of the city, where the remains of the mouldering fortress stand. It was a solitary spot, surrounded by thickets of bushes and tall weeping willows. There was little chance of an interruption in such a place, especially at an hour when the streets were almost deserted, while the lazy Spaniards were enjoying their siesta. Within one of the square courts, round which rose the mossy fragments of shattered towers, they found the Condé de Truxillo holding his charger by the bridle, and conversing with the Spanish doctor, Mendizabal, whose case of instruments was displayed on a large mass of fallen masonry near.

The condé seemed to be impatiently awaiting Ronald's appearance.

'Senor!' said he haughtily, 'you have been in no hurry to attend my summons. I believe I mentioned in the church of San Juan that I was hastening with despatches to Don Carlos d'Espana, and consequently had no time to lose in Merida.'

'I am but a few minutes beyond the appointed time, condé; and you must be aware that the notice I received was very sudden.'

'As sudden as unwelcome, perhaps.'

'Senor! your observations are contemptible, and your blood alone can wipe out your repeated insolence,' was Ronald's fierce reply. 'Condé, your life only can atone for such conduct; and by the heavens above, we part not this day until the sword is dyed with the blood of one or both of us.'

'This is mighty gay ! Your language promises bold deeds, senor,' replied the other ironically.

'For what have I received this hostile message from you, condé? from you, whom I have never wronged?'

'When I acquaint you, senor,' replied the Spaniard, his olive cheek glowing for an instant; 'when I acquaint you that Catalina de Villa Franca is my betrothed wife, I have, perhaps, sufficiently answered that question.'

'Donna Catalina is no more to me than any other lady in Spain,' said Ronald, colouring in turn, for he knew the assertion to be false.

'Enough!' replied the condé fiercely. 'I did not come here to chatter, senor, — my time is too short for that. You have brought pistols, of course?'

'I have no weapon but my sword ; and I am perfect master of it.'

'We will prove that in good time. I, however, am better provided.' He took from his holsters a very handsome pair of long horse-pistols. 'Choose one, senor: and here are ball-cartridges enough to last us till sunset, which you are scarcely like to see, if my hand is as steady as it usually is.'

Ronald replied only by a scornful smile, and they proceeded each to load.

'Now then,' said Truxillo, 'we are all ready, I suppose. I will retire to the ruinous wall, and you will please to stand where you are. 'Tis a very convenient distance. But what mean you by bringing an armed soldier with you here?' he exclaimed, his attention being attracted to Evan by the latter, in the excitement of the moment, loosening his bayonet in the sheath.

'He is a private soldier of my own regiment. I had no other friend in Merida to accompany me.'

'Friend? A brave soldier requires none to assist him in defence of his honour. You must know, senor, that a Spanish cavalier, in an affair of this sort, seeks no other ally than a sharp blade and sure eye; however, desire your fellow to retire, that there may be no treachery. We draw lots for the first shot, I presume?'

'Agreed, condé,' answered Ronald, whose Highland blood was all on fire, and whose anger had been gradually increasing at the cavalier's insolent demeanour and assumed tone of superiority, until he longed, with a fierce eagerness, to chastise him, by the infliction of some severe bodily injury, — if not totally to deprive him of life. Lots were drawn by Doctor Mendizabal, and the first shot fell to the condé. An expression of triumphant malice glittered in his large dark eyes : he smiled sourly, showing his white teeth, and retreated close to the ruinous wall, where he planted himself about sixteen paces off, and examined with the most scrupulous accuracy the flint, priming, and muzzle of his pistol.

With the other in his right hand, Ronald stood erect, awaiting the condé's fire.

I must own, that when he heard the click of the lock, his heart for a moment failed him at the prospect of so sudden a death, and the fear of falling unrevenged: it was the feeling of a moment only, — the next he was all stern eagerness to be fired at, and to fire in his turn, should he survive. With clasped hands and starting eyes Evan watched the heart-stirring affair, stoutly resolving, should his master fall, to avenge him by driving his bayonet through the heart of Don Balthazzar.

'Cuidado, senor officiate,' cried the condé triumphantly; 'Don Alvaro's imprudence is likely to cost you dear. By Our Lady of the Rock, your life is forfeited. I am the most deadly shot in all Castile; but yet I would spare you on one condition, — that you swear by a soldier's sacred word of honour, never again to come into the presence of Donna Catalina.'

'What right have you to dictate terms so degrading ? Never, proud Spaniard, while I live will I make such a promise.'

'Then die!' cried the other furiously. He raised his pistol: his eye glanced over the sight for a second, — he fired, and the surrounding ruins rang with the sharp report. Ronald's pulses beat more freely as the hissing shot whistled through his Highland bonnet, sending one of the long black feathers which adorned it floating away on the evening breeze.

'Praise be to the Lord in heaven ! ye have escaped,' said Evan fervently. 'But it's your turn now, sir: level low, and if the muzzle rises, you'll be sure to wing him like ony muir-cock; and mony a gude thousand we've bagged thegither in Strathonan, and mony mair we'll bag gin we get ower this awfu' adventure.'

'Dios y Demonios! some demon of hell has turned aside my hand. I have shot at a score, and never yet swerved in my aim,' cried the condé, in a hoarse tone of anger and surprise, when as the smoke cleared off he beheld his antagonist still standing erect before him. 'No, by Santiago! I never missed before. You have stood my discharge bravely, senor cavalier; but my courage is not less than your own. Fire!' he cried, laying his hand upon his heart.

'Noo, Maister Ronald, — noo, sir! Oh, be calm; maybe ye'll never hae sic anither chance. This chield looks unco saucy; but mind ye the auld proverb, "Ilka cock craws crouse on its ain middenstead." It's most awfu' wark this for a Sabbath evening; but oh, sir! level low; mark the buckle of his waist-belt, and if the piece throws high, like the ither, the braw dies at his button-holes stand a bad chance.' Evan spoke in an anxious and hurried tone, while he eyed the condé with no slight feeling of hatred and animosity. Ronald levelled his pistol at the tall and finely-formed figure of his brave opponent, who surveyed him steadily, without a muscle of his noble features changing.

'I can never thus coldly shoot so fine a fellow,' thought the generous Highlander, and fired his weapon in the air. An exclamation of sorrow from Evan, and another of angry surprise from the Spaniard, followed the report.

'Santas Santissimos! what mean you by this? Am I unworthy of being fired at ? You have most grossly insulted me by this action, senor; and you ought to have considered the very great honour I did you in becoming personally your antagonist.'

'How ! Don Balthazzar; honour?'

'Certainly. Save myself, perhaps, no cavalier of noble lineage, or a long-transmitted name, would have condescended to contend thus openly in arms with a stranger, whose birth and blood are both obscure. No, senor! a dagger-thrust from a dark corner would have put an end to our rivalry. But think not to escape; for, by Our Lady of the Rock in Leon, we part not this day until the sod smokes with the blood of one or other of us, — so defend yourself!' He unsheathed his long cavalry sword, and rushed so suddenly upon Ronald, that the latter had barely time to draw and parry his impetuous onset. So fierce was his stroke, that the arm of the Highlander tingled to the very shoulder when their keen blades clashed together ; and so much was he infuriated at this unlooked-for assault, that for some moments he struck blindly and at random, whirling his heavy claymore round his head like a willow wand, and having many narrow escapes from the sharp-pointed blade of the Spaniard, who retained his temper and presence of mind admirably. Ronald soon found the necessity of being cool likewise, and using art as well as courage. In the fashion of the Highland swordsman, he placed forward his right foot with a long stride, presenting it as a tempting object for a blow, while he narrowly watched the eye of his adversary, who instantly dealt a sweeping stroke at the defenceless limb, which the young Gael withdrew with the rapidity of lightning, bestowing at the same time a blow on the condé, which broke the shell of his Toledo and wounded his right hand severely. He dropped his shattered weapon.

'Claymore for ever!' shouted Evan, triumphantly capering about, snapping his fingers, whooping and hallooing in a truly Highland style, so overjoyed was he to see his master victorious. 'Claymore for ever and aye! bonnily dune, — bravely dune. Sir Wallace himself couldna hae matched him better. It was my puir auld faither learned ye that trick, Master Ronald ; and God be thanked it's a' ower noo, and that your skin is a haill ane.'

The discomfited cavalier bestowed on him a proud look, at once withering and disdainful.

'Noble senor,' said he, turning to Ronald, 'you have this day vanquished one of the most accomplished of King Ferdinand's cavalry officers: in fact, senor, I am one of the best swordsmen in all the ten provinces of Spain; and to disarm me thus is no small feat for so young a soldier, and I honour you for it. Catalina de Villa Franca must be — but strike! Fortune has placed my life a second time at your absolute disposal: take it; for I swear by every saint on our monkish muster-rolls, I will have no ignominious terms dictated to me, even though disarmed and at your mercy. So strike the blow that will free you from me for ever.'

'Never! gallant condé. This quarrel was your own seeking, and I forgive you for it freely, and for the many insults you have offered me.'

'Senor officiale, you are too generous : no cavalier or rival in Spain would lose the chance you cast away so carelessly.'

'Evan, hand this gentleman his sword. And now, condé, we must look to your wound. I trust it is not a severe one?'

'Pho! 'tis a mere scratch.'

'Yet it bleeds much.'

'Carajo! it does — more than I wish it to do. But, senor, I have received so many wounds in different ways, and have bled so much, that I marvel I have any blood left in me at all.'

'I regret that the cut is so severe,' said Ronald, as the condé held up his hand, from which the blood streamed freely.

'Pho! senor; to express regret, though it may appear very generous, is folly. A few minutes since, we would with pleasure have passed our blades through each other's hearts — but that feeling is past now. Ho! Mendizabal. Rogue! why do you tarry ! Bind up this quickly, and let me begone. I have lost much time already, and Carlos d'Espana will scarcely get the despatches within the appointed time.' The wound was tied up hastily, so impatient was Don Balthazzar to be gone; and a strange excitement and irritability possessed him now, instead of his former coolness and self-possession.

The moment it was over, he sharply scrutinized his saddle-girths and harness-buckles; after which he vaulted with the grace of a true horseman upon the back of his noble Spanish charger, which had stood by unmoved during the conflict between its rider and Ronald.

'Senor,' said the condé to the latter, in a low but emphatic voice, 'our quarrel is ended amicably for the present, but perhaps we may meet again. Do not think that a cavalier of old Castile will thus easily resign to another so fair a prize as Catalina de Villa Franca. No, senor; I must live for her, or learn to die for Spain.'

He dashed the sharp rowels into his horse's flanks, tearing the very skin; and forcing the animal to leap a ruined wall, fully six feet high, he vanished from their sight, and rode madly and recklessly towards the centre street of the city. A few minutes more, they beheld his glittering-accoutrements flashing in the evening sun, as he plunged forward at the same furious speed beyond the walls of the city, and disappeared over the eminences in the direction of Albuquerque.

'He is a gallant fellow,' thought-Ronald, who watched him until he disappeared, 'and a noble example he has given me. To him I have almost unwittingly acted that part, which now Hyndford acts to me. But for Truxillo — I have nothing to regret; I have acted honourably towards him; and in my own heart I thank God that this quarrel is ended amicably, and with so little damage.'

An interruption now occurred to Evan's expressions of joy for the safety of his master, who, although most interested in the fortunate issue of the duel, cared indeed least about it, For his attendance, Doctor Mendizabal go

had received from Ronald a doblon, or onza, a coin worth about £3 10s. English ; and as it was the first time in his life that he had ever received so great a fee, his thanks, his protestations, and the sweeps he made with his sombrero, were innumerable; and he had just taken his departure, when Sargento Gomez scrambled hurriedly over the ruinous walls, and leaping into the sort of court where they stood, advanced towards Ronald with a Spanish military salute.

'Noble senor,' said he, 'I have been in search of you over the whole of Merida. A muleteer has within this hour arrived from Fuente del Maistre, and says he saw a party of French cavalry advancing down this side of the Guadiana. Donna Catalina wishes to see you immediately. You must fly, senor, if you would escape being made prisoner.'

'French cavalry ! How can it be possible? Yet Evelyn, of the 13th, said something about it, which I have forgotten. Can the veracity of your informant be relied on?'

'He is true to death, senor! He is my own brother, Lazaro Gomez, of Merida, and an honester muleteer will not be found on the road between Madrid and Alcantara — and that is one of many leagues in length. He has had the honour to be employed more than once by my Lord Wellington, as a spy upon Marshal Soult and Marmont.'

'A recommendation, truly! Are the enemy in force?'

'He said two or three troops, senor — Dombrouski's lancers.'

'Sir Rowland Hill is retiring on Merida. Did your brother Lazaro see any sign of his troops?'

'No, senor.'

''Tis very unaccountable how they have outflanked our division in this manner.'

'Senor, they must have advanced by some secret way pointed out by some of those traitorous banditti which infest every sierra and wood just now. These fellows would hang their mother for a maravedi; so 'tis no wonder they are often false to Spain.'

'These lancers must inevitably be captured by Sir Rowland's advanced guard, which cannot be far off now.'

'True, senor; but you may either be killed or taken captive before the British come up — and so may I, as a Spanish soldier. We must retire westwards to Albuquerque. But come, senor; Donna Catalina------'

'Yonder they come, by heavens !' cried Ronald, as a cloud of dust and the glitter of accoutrements appeared about two or three miles off, advancing rapidly towards Merida by the river-side. 'We shall have to retire without delay; but I must first bid the ladies adieu. Get your harness, Pedro; and though there are but three of us, we will not surrender, even to them, without firing a shot.'

'Viva!' cried the Spaniard, tossing his red forage-cap into the air, and leaping up to catch it again. 'Viva, noble senor! I will follow you to death, even as I would the noble cavalier who commands my troop, or King Ferdinand the Seventh himself.'

Descending from the ruins of the fortress, they entered the city, where all was terror, confusion, and dismay at the unexpected appearance of the enemy, whose numbers were exaggerated, and declared to be the whole of Marshal Ney's division, and which, according to report, had utterly annihilated the British under Sir Rowland Hill. Most of the inhabitants were taking to flight, laden with their bedding and clothing. Hundreds of men, bearing burdens of every sort, were pressing towards the western gate, followed by women, whose lamentations were mingled with many a bitter 'carajo' against the invaders of their soil. Others led mules and donkeys laden with all kinds of household stuff, and a dense press ensued among the crowd about the city gate, and loud curses of anger and impatience were uttered on all sides at the delay in front, the intense pressure from the continually increasing mass behind permitting but few to get out at a time.

At length a passage was made through the dense column by the arrival of an important personage, — the corregidor, or chief magistrate of the city, surrounded by several alguazils in broad-leaved sombreros, wearing the livery of the city, and armed with long halberds, or Spanish blunderbusses with brass bell-mouths. The corregidor was a grave old hidalgo, wearing a large military cocked-hat and long moustaches twisted up to his ears; he was muffled in a large brown cloak, and smoked his cigar, while he surveyed with an unmoved eye the crowd, where almost every face wore the expression of terror, rage, impatience, and dismay. However, all fell back on the right and left, as his old-fashioned coach, with its emblazoned coats armorial and drawn by a single mule, advanced towards the gate. Mounted on another mule rode a livery servant, wearing a red feather in his sombrero, a stiletto in his sash, and armed with an enormous whip, which was never a moment idle, being continually at work either among the people to make them give way, or on his cattle to make them increase their speed.

At the gate of the garden Ronald was met by the young ladies, who both advanced hastily towards him, exclaiming, ' Oh, Don Ronald ! have you heard------'

'They are in sight------'

'O Madre de Dios! you will be either killed or taken a prisoner over the Pyrenees to France.'

'To escape either of these fates, I must bid you instantly adieu, senoritas, — unless you will consent to retire with me from Merida, which will scarcely be a safe place for you while the French are in it. The advancing party are some of Dombrouski's Polish lancers, who are not famous for their sentiments either of chivalry or gentle courtesy. They are rough dogs, I understand ; and in gallantry, are far inferior to the brave cavalry of France.'

'Oh, they are sad fellows, these lancers, and wear frightful whiskers; but we do not fear them, senor,' replied Inesella, in her usual laughing tone. ' You must know that the Condé d'Erlon, who is one of my many most humble and devoted admirers, gave me a written protection the last time he was here, and all soldiers who march under the tricolour of France must respect and obey it; therefore, we do not fear them — quite the reverse. Some of the French are very gay cavaliers, and I knew a very handsome chasseur------ But, pho! poor fellow ! he was assassinated with some others at Albuquerque.'

'Then, Donna Inesella, you fear not to remain. And will your letter protect your cousin?'

'Oh yes, senor, it protects all who are with me ; but of course you------!

'Must depart at once.'

'Exactly, senor: old D'Erlon's letter will not protect you, who are his enemy.'

'Then, senoritas, now for flight,' replied Ronald, tightening his sash and belt. 'I must abandon my baggage to your charge. The citizens are nearly all off en route for the north and west, and all the church bells are tolling dismally. But I trust Sir Rowland Hill's advanced guard will be here by to-morrow, and if so, our cavalry under General Long will soon capture this handful of lancers.'

'They appear, however, to have scared away my fiery brother, the condé; he galloped furiously down the street a few minutes since, nearly riding over a poor old padre (protect us, Heaven !), and left the town, without even bidding us adieu, although Catalina called to him from the street balcony.'

'Alas! Inesella,' said Catalina, 'your prattle will detain him here too long, and every moment is fraught with danger.'

'Holy Virgin, I hope not! Do not compromise your safety by tarrying longer here, senor. Take the road for the forest of La Nava, and Pedro Gomez will direct you. The Mother of God keep her holy hand over you, brave cavalier ! for we may never meet again.'

'Farewell! senor mio. We have been very happy in Merida,' said Catalina, in a voice of assumed firmness, and presenting her white hand, while her lip quivered and her cheek turned very pale. At that moment the distant sound of a cavalry trumpet was borne towards them on the passing breeze.

'Come awa, sir; we maunna bide a minute mair, — it's just a temptin' o' Providence,' urged Evan, examining his flint as he stood at the garden-gate with Pedro Gomez, who was armed with his carbine, and had donned his helmet and accoutrements.

'Keep this for my sake, fair Catalina, and think of me sometimes, when I am far away from you,' said Ronald, casting his tartan plaid over her white shoulders as a parting gift; and kissing her pale brow, and her cousin's hand, he retired hastily from the garden, followed by the soldiers.

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