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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 2 - Interviews

'Alice! my own fair Alice! my hard destiny ordains that I must leave you,' was the sorrowful exclamation of Ronald one evening, as he joined Alice at their usual place of meeting, a solitary spot on the banks of the Isla, where the willow and alder-bush, overhanging the steep rocks, swept the dark surface of the stream.

'Leave me! Oh, Ronald, what can you mean?' was the trembling reply of the fair girl, as she put her arm through his, and gazed anxiously on the troubled countenance of her lover.

'That I must go — far from you and the bonnie banks of the Isla. Yes, Alice; but it is only for a short time, I trust. Of the embarrassed state of my father's affairs, by his long lawsuits and other matters, I have acquainted you already, and it has now become necessary for me to choose some profession. My choice has been the army: what other could one, possessing the true spirit of a Highland gentleman, follow?"

'Oh, Ronald! I ever feared our happiness was too great to last long. Ah ! you must not leave me.'

'Alice,' replied the young Highlander, his cheek flushing while he spoke, 'our best and bravest men are going forth in thousands to meet the enemies of our country, drenching in their blood the fatal peninsula; and can I remain behind, when so many of my name and kindred have fallen in the service of the king? Never has the honour of Scotland been tarnished by the few who have returned, nor lost by those who have fallen, in every clime where the British standard has been unfurled against an enemy. An ensigncy has been promised me; and in a Highland regiment, wearing the garb, inheriting the spirit of the Gael, and commanded by a grandson of the great Lochiel; and I cannot shrink when my father bids me go, although my heart should almost burst at leaving you behind, my own — own Alice!' and he pressed to his bosom the agitated girl, who seemed startled at the vehemence with which he had spoken.

'But hold, Alice,' he added, on perceiving tears trembling on her dark eyelashes; 'you must not give way thus. I will return, and all will yet be well. Only imagine what happiness will then be ours, should the families be on good terms, and I, perhaps, Sir Ronald Stuart, and knight of I know not how many orders!'

'Ah, Ronald ! but think of how many have left their happy homes with hearts beating high with hope and pride, and left them never to return. Did not the three sons of your cousin of Strathonan leave their bones on the red sands of Egypt ? and many more can I name. Ah ! how I tremble to think of the scenes that poor soldiers must behold — scenes of which I cannot form even the slightest conception.'

'These are sad forebodings,' replied the young man, smiling tenderly, 'and from the lips of one less young and less beautiful than yourself, might have been considered as omens of mischance. I trust, however, that I, who have so often shot the swiftest red roes in Strathisla, slept whole nights on the frozen heather, and know so well the use of the target and claymore (thanks to old Iverach), shall make no bad soldier or campaigner, and endure the hardships incident to a military life infinitely better than the fine gentleman of the Lowland cities. The proud Cameron who is to command me will, I am sure, be my friend; he will not forget that his grandsire's life was saved by mine at Culloden, and he will regard me with the love of the olden time, for the sake of those that are dead and gone. Oh, Alice! I could view the bright prospect which is before me with tumultuous joy, but for the sorrow of leaving you, my white-haired father, and the bonnie braes and deep corries of Isla. But if with Heaven's aid I escape, promise, Alice, that when I return you will be mine, — mine by a dearer title than ever I could call you heretofore.'

'Ronald — dearest Ronald! I will love you as I have ever done,' she said in a soft yet energetic tone; 'and I feel a secret voice within me which tells that the happy anticipations of the past will — will yet be accomplished.' The girl laid her blushing cheek on the shoulder of the young man, and her dark thick curls, becoming free from the little cap or bonnet which had confined them, fell over his breast in disorder.

At that exciting moment of passion and mental tumult, Ronald's eye met a human countenance observing them sternly from among the leaves of the trees that flourished near them. The foliage was suddenly pushed aside, and Sir Allan Lisle appeared, scanning the young offenders with a stern glance of displeasure and surprise. He was a tall thin man, in the prime of life, with a fine countenance expressive of mildness and benevolence. He wore his hair thickly powdered, and tied in a queue behind. He carried a heavy hunting-whip in his hand, which he grasped ominously as he turned his keen eye alternately from the young man to his trembling daughter, who, leaning against a tree, covered her face with her handkerchief and sobbed hysterically. Ronald Stuart stood erect, and returned Sir Allan's glance as firmly and as proudly as he could, but he felt some trouble in maintaining his self-possession. His smart blue bonnet had fallen off, fully revealing his strongly-marked and handsome features, where Sir Allan read at once that he was a bold youth, with whom proud looks and hard words would little avail.

'How now, sir!' said he at length. 'What am I to understand by all this? Speak, young gentleman,' he added, perceiving that Ronald was puzzled; 'answer me truly. As the father of this imprudent girl, I am entitled to a reply.'

Ronald was about to stammer forth something.

'You are, I believe, the son of Stuart of Lochisla? interrupted Sir Allan sternly, 'who is far from being a friend to me or mine. How long is it since you have known my daughter? and what am I to understand from the scene you have acted here?

'That I love Miss Lisle with the utmost tenderness that one being is capable of entertaining for another,' replied Ronald, his face suffusing with a crimson glow at the earnest confession. ' Sir Allan, if you have seen what passed just now, you will perceive that I treat her with that respect and delicacy which the beauties of her mind and person deserve.'

'This is indeed all very fine, sir ! and very romantic too; but rather unexpected, — upon my honour, rather so,' replied the baronet sarcastically, as he drew the arm of the weeping Alice through his. 'But pray, Master Stuart, how long has this clandestine matter been carried on? how long have you been acquainted?

'From our earliest childhood, sir — indeed I tell you truly — from the days in which we used to gather wild flowers and berries together as little children. We have been ever together; a day has scarcely elapsed without our seeing each other ; and there is not a dingle of the woods, a dark corrie of the Isla, or a spot on the braes of Strathonan, where we have not wandered hand in hand, since the days when Alice was a laughing little girl with flaxen curls until now, when she is become tall, beautiful, and almost a woman, with ringlets as black as the wing of the muircock. But your son Lewis will tell all these things better than I can, as I am rather confused just now, Sir Allan.'

''Tis very odd this matter has been concealed from me so long,' said the other, softened by the earnest tone of the young man, who felt how much depended upon the issue of the present unlooked-for interview; 'and if my ears have not deceived me, I think I heard you offer marriage to my foolish daughter on your return from somewhere?'

' It is very true, sir,' replied the young man modestly.

'And pray, young sir, what are your pretensions to the hand of Miss Lisle?'

' Sir!' ejaculated Ronald, his cheek flushing and his eye sparkling at the angry inquiry of the other.

'I ask you, Mr. Stuart, what are they? Your father I know to be an almost ruined man, whose estates are deeply dipped and overwhelmed by bonds, mortgages, and what not. He has, moreover, been a deadly enemy to me, and has most unwarrantably—'

'Oh, pray, papa! dear papa!' urged the young lady imploringly.

'Sir Allan Lisle,' cried Ronald with a stern tone, while his heart beat tumultuously, 'Lowland lawyers and unlooked-for misfortunes are, I know, completing our ruin, and the pen and parchment have made more inroads upon us than ever your ancestors could have done with all Perthshire at their back; but, truly, it ill becomes a gentleman of birth and breeding to speak thus slightingly of an old and honourable Highland family. If my father, inheriting as he does ancient prejudices, has been hostile to your interests, I, Sir Allan, never have been so ; and the time was once, when a Lisle dared not have spoken thus tauntingly to a Stuart of the house of Lochisla.'

Sir Allan admired the proud and indignant air with which the youth spoke ; but he wished to humble him if possible, and deemed that irony was a better weapon than anger to meet the fiery young Highlander with. He gave a sort of tragi-comic start, and was about to make some sarcastic reply, when his foot caught the root of a tree ; he reeled backward, and fell over the rocky bank into the Isla, which formed a deep, dark, and noiseless pool below.

A loud and startling cry burst from Alice as her father suddenly disappeared from her side.

'Save him, save him, Ronald! Oh, Ronald ! if you love me, save my father!' she cried in accents at once soul-stirring and imploring, while she threw herself upon her knees, and, not daring to look upon the stream, covered her eyes with her hands, calling alternately upon Heaven and her lover, in tones which defy the power of language to describe, to save her father.

'Dearest Alice, calm yourself; be pacified — he shall not perish,' cried Ronald, whose presence of mind had never once forsaken him, as he cast aside his bonnet and short sporting-coat, and gazed over the bank upon the rapid river running between two abrupt walls of rock, against the dark sides of which the spray and foam raised by Sir Allan's struggles were dashed. The latter was beating the water fruitlessly in the centre of the pool, where it was deep and the current strong; yet he made no outcry, as if unwilling to add to the distress which he knew his daughter already experienced.

He bestowed one look of terror and agony on Ronald, who instantly sprang off the precipitous rock, and swimming round him, strongly and vigorously in wide circles, caught him warily by the hair, and holding his head above the surface of the stream, swam down the current to a spot where the bank was less steep, and with some exertion landed him safely on the green turf, where he lay long speechless; while Alice wrung her hands, and wept in an ecstasy of terror, embracing her father and his preserver by turns. The latter, who was nothing the worse for his ducking, put on his bonnet and upper garment with perfect sang froid; but it was some time before Sir Allan recovered himself so far as to be able to thank his preserver, who poured down his throat as he lay prostrate the contents of a metal hunting-flask, which he generally carried about with him filled with the best brandy, procured, by means unknown, duty free at Lochisla.

Shortly and emphatically did Sir Allan thank Ronald for the aid he had rendered, as he must inevitably have perished, being unable to swim, and having to contend with a strong current, which would soon have carried him over the high cascade of Corrie-avon. Ronald inwardly blessed the accident which had rendered Sir Allan so much his debtor, and wrought such a happy change of sentiment in his favour. He accompanied Alice and her father to one of the gate-lodges of Inchavon, and there resisting an earnest invitation to the house, he returned with all speed home, not ill-pleased with the issue of the day's adventures.

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