Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 31 - De Mesmai

The death-bed scene of poor D'Estouville, although it made on the witnesses of it a deep impression for the time, was easily passed over when the feelings are blunted and deadened by the continual excitement of campaigning. They had scarcely left the chapel or hospital, before the shade of sorrow which their faces had worn disappeared. Macdonald went away on some duty: Stuart's thoughts reverted to his arrest, and the disagreeable predicament in which he was placed; while De Mesmai began to talk in his usual light and careless style. He placed his scarlet forage-cap very much on one side, tightened his sash, arranging the tassels gracefully, and stuck his glass in his eye to ogle and scrutinize the females who passed.

'Poor Victor!' said he; 'a merrier comrade or more gallant soldier than he was, there is not in the Imperial service. Many a glorious evening we have had in Paris flirting with the jolies grisettes of the Rue des Trois Maries,—fighting with the gendarmerie, and amusing ourselves by frolicking with messieurs the good-natured bourgeois,—some dozen of whom we have ducked in the Seine. These days are all passed away, and poor Victor is gone to his long home. War leads to death or glory, and his fate to-day may be ours to-morrow; so, then, what is the utility of being cast down? Vive la joie! let us live and be merry while we can. Praised be our stars! here is a wine-house, where we can spend the evening in a jovial style, and scare away from our hearts the gloom cast upon them by the death of D'Estouville. Diable! mon ami; for what do you stare so at that old ruinous mansion?

''Tis the house of the Villa Franca family. I received great kindness from them, when I came to Merida for the first time.'

'A picturesque ruin it makes, with its shattered capitals and empty windows. D'Estouville's grenadiers did all that. I have heard that he carried off a very pretty creature from this place, at least so Chateaufleur of ours told me. He had her at Almarez; but, like a cunning dog. kept her closely out of my sight, lest I might have procured her transfer to the tower of Ragusa, when I was left in temporary command. But we had plenty of girls there, by the Pope! We captured a score of plump young paisanas; but their skins were devilish brown, and their hands were all chapped with milking goals and cows. Here is the wine-house,—but, morbleu! I have not one infernal sou to clink upon another!'

'I have, mon camarade,' said Stuart, producing a purse containing forty duros, which he had borrowed from Major Campbell, to procure favour with whom he was obliged to endure two long stories about Egypt.

'Sacré! forty duros? A lucky dog and a most gorgeous display,— 'pon honour—really. Enter, then, and we will drink a long glassful to the continuance of the war.'

From the wine-house they adjourned to the Prado, where they strolled about under the shade of the rich orange-trees, or lounged on the wooden sofas. De Mesmai smoked a cigar, and kept up, to use a camp phrase, a running fire of words, and laughed heartily at his own jokes ; while Ronald listened in silence, and surveyed with feelings of mortification the regiment on its evening parade, from which for the present he was excluded.

'Fine fellows, these bare-kneed Celts of yours, Monsieur Stuart,' said De Mesmai, as he knocked the ashes from his cigar. 'A goodly row of most captivating brown legs they have. How pretty the waving tartan seemed, as the corps wheeled from open column into line. They call forth the admiration of the ladies, too,—the delightful creatures ! Really, 'pon honour, I think they peep more at the Scottish plaids and plumes than at this smart uniform and bright steel bourgoinette of mine. A galant chevalier your colonel is. He gives his orders with that firm tone of authority which marks the true, the bold-hearted soldier, and one born to command. A soldado of most goodly proportions is that long-legged field-officer, who last night bored me to death about Egypt and his campaigns there. Body o' the Pope ! look at that girl.'


'With the black veil hung over the high comb. What a roguish black eye and most excessively attractive pair of ankles she has ! I will speak to her. Ho! ma princesse——'

'Beware what you do, De Mesmai,' interrupted Ronald hastily. 'She is a lady, and one of rank evidently, by the lace embroidery on her stomacher and mantilla. Some officers of the 39th are with her, too.'

'Diable! so I now perceive; and one of your savage Scotch chasseurs, I think.'

'Savage!' repeated Stuart, dubious whether to laugh or frown. 'He is an officer of the Highland Light Infantry,—that corps with the tartan trews, and bonnets without feathers. By Jove! 'tis Armstrong; the same officer who cut down poor D'Estouville at Almarez. He is flirting with this young lady, and recks no more of the deadly stroke he gave than if he had killed a muircock. Let us move on. The Highlanders will
march past this way, and I little like to be sitting here like an outcast from them,—and without my sword too, by heavens!'

'A prisoner of war,—diable! Me voila à votre service. I will go with you wherever you please. But there are more girls congregated here, to see the troops on evening parade, than in any part of this ruinous old city of Merida. In France they love, like the butterflies, to be in the sun ; but here they promenade under the cold shades of the trees, or sail about beneath their gloomy damp piazzas. By the way, it has a most singularly picturesque effect, a tall graceful figure with a fluttering veil and floating mantilla gliding under these old arches: quite mysterious, in fact. Look, for instance, at that lovely creature with the auburn tresses. Tete-dieu! how I long to wheel that girl round in a waltz. Ha ! there is a rouge-et-noir table not far from this, and a thought strikes me ; I shall make my fortune to-night. Will you lend me a couple of those dazzling duros you showed me a short time ago?'

'Undoubtedly, and with pleasure.'

'Vive la joie! Come along, then. There is a gaming-house in the Calle de Ferdinando, kept by some officers of the Portuguese cacadores. Come with me, and I will show you how to break their bank, and carry off their glorious piles of duros and doubloons.'

'I never gamble,' replied Ronald; 'and by the rules of our service 'tis strictly forbidden to do so, either in camp or quarters.'

'Bah! mon camarade. If I had you within sound of the bells of Notre Dame, I would soon teach you to forget your northern prejudices.'

Stuart's remonstrances and protestations were made in vain. The gay impetuosity- of the Frenchman overcame them all; and while arguing about the matter they arrived at the door, where a board, painted red on one side and black on the other, announced that the rouge-et-noir table was kept there. A crowd of English, Portuguese, and German officers were pressing round the table, at the head of which sat the banker, a swarthy Portuguese officer of light infantry, with a long cigar in his mouth, and having heaped up before him several piles of dollars, doubloons, and British guineas,—all of which were rapidly changing hands at every turn of the red and black cards.

Stuart remarked that there was not a single Scottish bonnet in the room, and his national abhorrence of gambling caused him absolutely to blush at being there. He was disgusted at the wild eagerness, the intense anxiety, the bitter disappointment, fierce anguish, or cruel triumph which he witnessed in the features of the players. The two dollars De Mesmai had borrowed were soon added to the goodly pile which lay before an officer of the 39th; and urged on by the former, Ronald betted on several cards, all of which turned up fatally, and he had the mortification to behold every one of his remaining dollars swept across the table in quick succession, and coolly pocketed by a fierce-looking Spanish officer of De Costa's brigade, who evidently thought it no sin to gamble, although he wore on his left breast the enamelled red cross of Calatrava, a religious order of knighthood. Ronald rushed away from the hell, feeling absolutely furious at his own folly and at De Mesmai, who, however, continued at the table, in hopes of borrowing from some one.

The lesson was not lost on Stuart, who from that day until this has never touched a card. But that night's play left him literally penniless, and in a strange city. He was ashamed to apply to any of his brother officers, or expose his folly to them ; and as Gordon, the regimental paymaster, had not received the arrears of pay, there was nothing to be hoped for from him. It was now dusk, and he was wandering among the groves of olive and willow that flourish by the sedgy banks of the Guadiana, and overhang its current. Here, whilst pursuing the narrow pathway by the river-side, he was surprised by seeing the figure of Dugald Mhor Cameron, the colonel's private servant, standing at a short distance from him—a sure sign that Cameron himself was not far off.

Dugald Mhor (or big Dugald) was an aged but hardy Highlander, from the country of the Cameron, or the land of the great Lochiel, on the banks of Loch Linnhe, among the wild, dark mountains of Lorn and Morven,— the Morven of Ossian. From these he came to follow the son of the laird through the Continental wars, and he had been by the side of Cameron in every battle in which the corps had been engaged in Egypt, Denmark, Holland, Portugal, and Spain, and had been twice wounded,—once at Bergen-op-Zoom, and again at the battle of Alexandria, Egypt. Dugald was nearly seventy years of age, yet his well-knit frame was strong and muscular as that of a horse, and his hair was white as snow; while his face was as dark as his tartan, by constant exposure to the weather.

With the broad blue bonnet over his thin white haffets, the heavy-belted plaid cast over his gallant breast, the dirk, the pistol, and the claymore dangling at his belt, his strong bare limbs, and the brass-studded Highland target slung on his shoulder, Dugald Mhor was the beau-ideal of the loyal old Jacobite of the ' forty-five;' that period when the star of the Stuarts, amid the last blaze of the true Scottish spirit, flashed forth but to vanish for ever. It need scarcely be added that old Dugald was a stanch Jacobite. He had witnessed the battle of Culloden, whither, as a sort of page or attendant gilly, he had followed Cameron of Lochiel. Since the day Fassifern left his home to follow the drum, Dugald Mhor had been to him a kind of standing orderly, friend, sometimes a governor, but always a leal true northern henchman, who would cheerfully have laid down his life, if by doing so he should have pleased his master.

When Stuart beheld this kilted vassal of the colonel's standing on the narrow path before him, he was sure that the latter could be at no great distance; a flush suffused his cheek, and he became confused at the idea of encountering so proud and fiery a man while lying under his displeasure. A turn of the path brought him in view of Cameron, who was just bidding adieu to Sir Rowland Hill. To avoid a rencontre now seemed impossible. The general rode off in the opposite direction, while Cameron advanced straight towards Ronald by the narrow footway at the river-side.

'Well, Mr.' Stuart,' said he frankly; 'this morning from my trusty Dugald Mhor I received and perused your long letter concerning your absence, for which I believe I must excuse you. It was a very unfortunate affair, that of the Spanish lady's death; but every means must be taken to discover this rascal, Micer Cifuentes. How deeply you colour ! I trust I have said nothing to offend? Ah! I comprehend the matter fully now, by your confusion. There was a great deal more in that letter than what met the eye, though it was very cunningly worded. But it will not do in these days, even in Spain, to ride to the rescue of every distressed damsel, and a knight-errant in a red coat is a strange anomaly.

But I believe there was much more of love than chivalry in the affair; therefore, Stuart, I pass it over, as I trust it will never occur again.'

'To that, colonel, I may pledge you my word of honour; one such adventure is quite enough for a lifetime.'

'You are aware how far I might have carried this matter; for one who commands a Highland regiment, composed of such fiery spirits, and so different from the line generally, must be strict. Your absence has made a noise through the whole division, and I have just been making your peace with Sir Rowland Hill, who is very favourably disposed towards you, in consequence of the dashing manner in which you led the stormers on at Almarez, and for this last affair,—the capture of D'Erlon's aide-decamp. How very unlucky that the count escaped ! He would have been a noble prize to have sent to Britain. The adjutant will send you your sword; and remember not to be restive at the mess, as it is probable you will be severely quizzed, the officers having heard of this Spanish donna, and got a version of the story very different from the real one.'

That night Ronald returned to his billet with a lighter heart than he had felt since the death of Catalina. His trusty squire of the body, Evan Iverach, on learning the low state of his exchequer, pressed upon him a purse of dollars, which he had carefully saved from his pay, with the intention of purchasing a silver-mounted set of pipes for his father Donald, the old piper at Lochisla. Ronald, with much reluctance, took the money as a loan, Evan vowing, if he did not, he would throw it out of the window into the Guadiana, which ran below it. Any chagrin he had felt at being put under arrest was entirely obliterated by the hearty congratulations and welcome he received from the officers assembled on parade next morning. But his indignation was soon called forth again by the manner in which Louis Lisle greeted him. On advancing towards him with his outstretched hand, Lisle bestowed upon him a cold and angry glance, turned on his heel, and withdrew to a distant part of the parade. Ronald's fiery blood boiled up within him; and, had not the memory of Alice arisen in his mind, subduing and softening him, he would there and then, have called her brother to an account for his singular conduct. But smothering his indignation, he returned to the group of officers with a flushed brow and an angry eye, to have his temper sorely tried for some time about the Spanish lady, with regard to whom many stories had been circulated at the mess-table.

On the evening of that day the streets of Merida rang to the echo of muffled drums and the sad notes of the military dead-march, as the funeral of D'Estouville passed on its way to the church of San Juan, attended with similar honours as would have been shown to a British officer of the same rank.

The sword and cap, bearing the badges of the brave old Guard, were laid on the lid of his coffin, the pall of which was borne by Fassifern and five other field-officers. His countryman, De Mesmai, acted as chief mourner. Another officer of the French medical staff, who was also a prisoner in Merida, attended likewise. A smile of pleasure kindled in the proud eye of the cuirassier as the mournful procession passed between the ranks of the first brigade, leaning on their arms reversed, and lining the streets on both sides. He was well pleased at the sentiments of generosity and chivalry which directed Sir Rowland Hill to evince the same respect to the remains of a foe that would have been paid to those of a friend; and De Mesmai was one who knew well how to appreciate them. The grenadiers of the Gordon Highlanders formed outside the church, under the command of Major Campbell, and fired three volleys in the air, while the grave closed over the remains of what was once a gay and a gallant heart. The officers of the first brigade of infantry would have erected a monument to the memory of D'Estouville, but it was known that it would be demolished by the Spaniards the moment the British left the city; therefore the idea was abandoned, and the tomb of the guardsman lies unmarked and unknown, under the chancel of the great church of Merida, a few feet in front of the mutilated monument erected to the memory of Francisco Pizarro, of Truxillo. At the wine casa and the rouge-et-noir table, De Mesmai was loud that night in praises of British generosity and gallantry, but these he suddenly changed for something very like invectives when he was informed that, by daylight next morning, he must be prepared to accompany a detachment of sick and prisoners, who were ordered to the rear.

'And where is our destination, monsieur, if I may inquire?' asked he of Claude A------, the adjutant of the Gordon Highlanders, who had made the communication to him in French. 'Some gay place, I hope. Lisbon, is it?'

'The castle of Albuquerque, I believe.'

'Tete-dieu! a most detestable and gloomy hole! And I am to be mewed up there, am I, monsieur?'

'For the present, until an opportunity occurs for your transmission to some strong garrison-town across the Portuguese frontier, or home to Britain.'

'You are exceedingly kind, Monsieur Officier, by the name of the bomb ! most superbly so. But I trust that dilatory little devil, General the Count d'Erlon, will save you all this trouble. And as for my transmission to England—diable! I should be sorry his Britannic Majesty's Government should take so much concern in my affairs.' He smiled sourly, and twirled his black moustaches. ' Ha! and what sort of being is the officer who commands on the way to Albuquerque? I hope he will halt at La Nava: I left a sweetheart there twelve months ago, with whom I must leave my card in passing. But the officer,—is he a jovial trump, that will drink and play deep—stride, swagger, and swear like a Hector?

'None of ours are much given to any of these habits,' answered Claude dryly. 'The Honourable Louis Lisle commands.'

'Lisle! An ensign, is he not? A pretty boy with yellow curls, more like the Duchesse de Choiseul's page than a belted soldier? Ah! we shall get on famously. Such a chit will not cross me in my amusements with these don Spaniards. De Mesmai, of Quinsay, under the orders of a young Scots sub-lieutenant! Ho, ho! excellent. But, body o' the Pope! tell me, monsieur, am I really to be kept in the castle of Albuquerque?'

'Captain de Mesmai, I have already told you,' replied the adjutant, turning to go.

'Then permit me to acquaint you, monsieur, that such treatment is tacitly saying you doubt that sacred word of honour which I pledged to Ensign Ronald Stuart, when, as an officer and gentleman, I surrendered myself to him on parole. This being the case, that parole is dissolved; and I consider myself at liberty to effect my escape where, when, and how I please, without dishonour.'

'As you choose,' answered Claude quickly. 'But, remember, you will probably be shot in the attempt; or, if retaken, will be degraded to the rank of a private dragoon—what in your service you call a simple cavalier. Remember, monsieur, to be on the alert at daybreak; you will hear the sound of the warning-pipes, as they pass under the piazzas of your billet.'

With Lisle's detachment De Mesmai departed next morning for Albuquerque, but by some means effected his escape on the route there. He afterwards fell into the hands of some of the guerillas of Don Salvador de Zagala's band, by whom he was treated with less kindness and courtesy than he had received at Merida, and with whom I must for the present leave him.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus