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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 9 - Donna Catalina

As she stood erect, her velvet mantilla fell from her white shoulders, displaying a round and exquisitely-moulded form, tall and full, yet light and graceful. The noble contour of her head, and the delicate outline of her features, were shown by the removal of her black lace veil, which she threw back, permitting it to hang sweeping down behind, giving her that stately and dignified air so common to the Spanish ladies, but of which our own are so deficient, owing, probably, to the extreme stiffness of their headdress. Her skin was fair, exceedingly so for a Spaniard ; but the glossy curls of the deepest black falling on her neck, rendered it yet more so by contrast. Her crimson lips and the fine form of her nostrils, her white transparent brow and full dark eyes, shining with inexpressible brilliance, struck the three Scots mute with surprise, — almost with awe. So showy a beauty had not met their gaze since their departure from Edinburgh, and even Ronald, while keeping his hand within the breast of his coat upon the miniature of Alice, felt his heart beneath it strangely moved at the sight of the fair Spaniard.

'Don Alvaro, I think you might have spent with me the only night you have been in Merida for this year past,' said the young lady, pouting prettily.

'Nay, my dear Catalina, you must not receive us thus,' replied her brother in Spanish, her knowledge of English being very slight. ' Allow me to introduce three British officers, to whom I am indebted for the preservation of my life, which six bravoes, employed by old Salvador de Zagala, put in imminent peril to-night.'

'Ah! you have been at your old affair — you have been visiting the Calle de San Juan. How often have I warned you! Well, and the bravoes?'

'One has been sent to purgatory to-night, and another shall be sent somewhere else by daybreak.'. On Catalina hearing the story, she thanked, in broken English, but in a voice of thrilling earnestness, the three wearied soldados, who had seated themselves on the large old-fashioned chairs, the crimson leather and gilding of which showed them to be the work of the previous century.

'You must excuse, senors,' said Catalina, 'the very poor fare I have to present you with. The French ladrones carried off almost everything with them this morning, and Merida will not soon forget their visit.'

'Our fare, thanks to the lazy commissariat department, has been so hard of late, that almost anything will pass muster with us,' replied Ronald; 'but here are dishes enough for a whole troop.' While he spoke, the oak table was laid in a twinkling with a variety of covers; of which they could scarcely taste any, owing to the garlic and olive-oil with which the Spaniards, as well as the Portuguese, always season and cook up their victuals.

'You do not seem to relish the pigeon, senor mio,' said Donna Catalina to the major, who was making wry faces at every mouthful he took. ' Try the piece of cold roasted meat on the cover near you.'

'I thank you,' answered Campbell, helping himself largely. ' It would be excellent to my taste, were it not for the olive-oil and spices, not used in our country, with which it is seasoned.'

A hash and ragout were likewise attempted, but in vain; the garlic with which they were dressed rendered it impossible for the three strangers to taste them, but it was equally impossible to be displeased: the polite apologies and regrets of the cavalier, and the condescending sweetness of his beautiful sister, made ample amends. But the three hungry Scots were very well pleased to see the first course replaced by the second, which consisted of white Spanish bread of the purest flour, dried grapes, and several large crystal jugs of the purple country wine, sherry, and Malaga.

'You British are rather more fastidious than our Portuguese friends and allies,' said Alvaro, laughing. 'The last time the 6th Cacadores lay quartered here, they left not a single cat uneaten — a loss still remembered with peculiar animosity by the housewives of Merida. The Portuguese are not over-nice in anything, certainly, and we have a proverb among us, that " a bad Spaniard makes a good Portuguese." '
'Sir, when I am sharp-set, I am not very apt to be particular myself,' replied Campbell. 'When I was in Egypt with Sir Ralph, on one occasion I ate a very juicy steak cut from a horse's flank, and fried in a camp-kettle lid. We were starving for want of rations, senor; and, I dare say, even the holy camel on its way to Mecca, had it passed our route, would have been gobbled up, hump and all.'

Ronald, who had hitherto sat almost silent, began to dread a long Egyptian story from the major; but this fear was removed by Don Alvaro's filling up his horn, and drinking to the health of Lord Wellington and the British forces, the deliverers of Spain and Ferdinand VII.

After this complimentary toast had been duly honoured, 'A bumper, gentlemen!' exclaimed the major, 'fill up your glasses — regular brimmers, and they must be drunk off with true Highland honours, A la libertad de Espana! hurrah!' and, springing up erect with native agility the three Scots, placing their left feet on their seats and their right on the table (a movement which considerably surprised the grave don and his sister, who trembled for their crimson chairs), they flourished their glasses aloft, and drank to the toast with what are called Highland honours.

'Viva! viva/' cried the cavalier, in applause of the sentiment, though rather puzzled at the mode of proclaiming it.

They drank to their fair hostess, and to all sorts of gallant and martial toasts; and, as the wine-horns were filled and emptied again and again, they grew more merry, the national gravity of the don disappearing gradually as their conviviality increased. He laughed and sung with the frankness of a soldier, and trolled forth more than once the 'Song of Five Hundred Horse,' a Spanish military carol. At Ronald's request, Catalina took her guitar from the back of her chair where it hung, and, without requiring the entreaties necessary to obtain the same favour from a British lady, the frank girl sung with a coquettish air, which peculiarly became her, 'My Mother wants no Soldiers here,' a song well known in Spain at the time our troops were campaigning there.

'She seems bent on making a conquest of you, Alister,' whispered Ronald. 'Of yourself, rather,' retorted the other coldly. Indeed, Macdonald had said but little all night; his mind was continually wandering to the recent fray, and the remembrance that he had for the first time slain a fellow-being — a reflection which troubled him very little, truly, a few weeks afterwards, when he had become used to that sort of work. 'Of yourself, rather, Stuart. Her eyes are ever on you, and------'

'Hush! she hears us,' replied the other hurriedly, his cheek reddening, yet more with mental shame than anger. 'Oh, Alice Lisle !' thought he, 'this Spaniard, beautiful as she is, cannot surely be teaching me to forget you so soon. Her eyes are blacker than those of Alice, certainly, but they are less soft and feminine — less gentle in expression; yet------' Here he was interrupted by the loud and sonorous voice of Campbell, who, at the request of Catalina, was commencing a song.

Ronald was rapidly becoming so confused with the effects of the wine he had taken, that he knew not whether it was Alice Lisle or Donna Catalina who sat beside him; but having a vague idea that it was some beautiful female, before the major's song was ended he was making downright love, which the lady took in very good humour.

Campbell's song, the 'Piobracht au Donuil-dhu.' although it roused the hearts of his countrymen by its martial and forcible language, was listened to with a grave and pleasant smile by Don Alvaro, who, of course, comprehended not one word of the ditty, which in his ears sounded as a most barbarous jargon, and might have been a Moorish battle-song for aught that he knew to the contrary.

The retiring of Donna Catalina did not put an end to the carousal; and, as they had to leave Merida an hour before daybreak, they betook themselves to rest (after every jug of wine had been discussed) on the chairs, as it was useless to go to bed for an hour or two only. The short time they passed in slumber flew quickly, and they were soon roused by the din of the flying-artillery guns, as they swept over the causewayed streets, driven at a hard trot towards the bridge of Merida.

'Caramba! Rouse, senors,' cried Alvaro, who was the first to awake.

'Carajo! Ay, there go the field-pieces: old Rowland's in his saddle already,' muttered the major, scrambling up from the floor on which he had rolled in the night-time, and placing his large bonnet on the wrong way, permitting the long feathers to stream down his back. 'Rouse, gentlemen ! Up and be doing, sirs, or we shall be missed from our posts. Old Mahoud take the rule for marching before daybreak ! Sir Ralph never made us do so in Egypt, and we gained laurels there, gentlemen — I say we did. This infernal bonnet ! 'tis always falling off.'

'I wish to Heaven I could sleep an hour longer !' said Ronald. 'I have scarcely had three hours' sleep this week past.'

'Our brigade never sleep, gentlemen,' cried Campbell, who was still a little inebriated, 'never! We march all night, and fight all day: we used to reverse the matter in Egypt. But what have we here? Peter Forbes — or what is your name, what's the matter? Are Dombrouski's dragoons among ye?'

'Ave Maria! 0 Dios mio! O Senor Don Alvaro!' cried Sargento Pedro Gomez, appearing at the entrance of the room with a lamp in his hand; ' we have had the devil among us last night.'

'How so, fellow? What has happened?

'The bravo has escaped------'

'How! Diavolo! escaped?'

'Ay, noble senor, and carried off the carbine of poor Diego de la Zarza, whom we found lying within the chamber with his throat cut from ear to ear.'

The cavalier ground his teeth with absolute fury, while his olive cheek grew black with rising passion.

'Santos! Santissimus!' cried he; 'would to San Juan, and all the calendar, I had hanged him last night! My brave Diego — but he must have slept; if so, he deserves his fate. Well, there is no help for this matter; we will give Narvaez Cifuentes a short prayer and a long stab the next time we meet, and that without delay. But we must be off; the cavalry advance-guard, and part of the artillery, have already passed. Let the trompetero sound "to horse"; and hasten, Pedro, and get the troop into their saddles. Though we belong to the division of Murillo, we will cross the bridge with you to-day, senors, and strike a blow for honour. Vive Espana y buena Esperanza! 'Tis a better war-shout than the Vive I Empereur of the followers of the perfidious Buonaparte.'

'There are the drums of our brigade,' said Ronald Stuart; 'and should we be missed by Fassifern, the excellency of Don Alvaro's purple Malaga and sherry, or even the smiles of Donna Catalina herself, would form but a poor excuse for lingering. Hark ! the general?

'You improve in the art of gallantry,' observed Macdonald; 'you could not have turned such fine speeches the morning we halted in the Black Horse Square, at Lisbon. But I regret that we must march without bidding adieu to our fair patrana.'

'Forward, cavaliers; Catalina will excuse our departing without bidding her farewell. Down the stair-case to the left, senors,' cried Alvaro. 'Pedro Gomez, knave, light the way !' and they pressed forward into the street, feeling the chill air of the morning blow strangely on their faces, while their heads swam with the fumes of the wine taken so lately.

'It will belong ere I forget the night we spent in Merida,' said Macdonald. 'And long ere I do so, truly,' replied Stuart, casting his eyes vacantly over the dark windows of the mansion of Villa Franca. 'Ah!—Donna Catalina; are you looking for her ?' ' Such strange scenes of fray and other matters ! Had such a row occurred at home, all Britain would have rung with it, from Dover to Cape Wrath ; but here it is as nothing.' ' Hark ! what is that, Stuart?'

'A cry — by Heaven, a most appalling one!' A loud shriek arose from amid the darkness in which the Plaza was involved. They hastened to that part of the square from whence it appeared to issue, and found that the conflict in which they had borne so conspicuous a part was not the only outrage committed that night in Merida. They discovered a young Portuguese lad, the private servant of Lieutenant-colonel Macdonald, of the Gordon Highlanders, lying dead under the piazzas, stabbed to the heart with a long stiletto or knife, and the assassin was never discovered.

For some hours the dark streets of the city rang to the measured tramp of marching soldiers, the clatter of accoutrements, the clang of hoofs, and the rumble of heavy wheels, as artillery, cavalry, and infantry moved rapidly forward; but by sunrise the whole division had crossed the bridge, and on the opposite side of the river pursued their route towards Almendralejo. 'Colonel Cameron!' cried old Wemyss, the brigade-major, cantering up to the head of the column, ' Major-general Howard requests that you will increase your front. It is Sir Rowland's order.'

'Form subdivisions!' cried Fassifern, in the loud and manly tone of authority which so well became him. 'Rear sections, left oblique — double quick!' The order was obeyed along the whole column by each regiment in succession. Their fine brass bands filled the air with martial music, causing every heart to vibrate to the sharp sound of the soul-stirring trumpet, the cymbals, and trombone. The horses shook their manes — their riders sat more erect; the waving colours were flung forward on the breeze above the steel ridges of glittering bayonets, and the brave hearts of those who marched beneath them grew light and animated at the prospect of a brush with the enemy. Their starving condition, their faded uniform, the discomfort of the last night's bivouac, were forgotten — all was military, gay, and exciting to the utmost, filling every bosom with the pride of the profession and the fervent 'glow of chivalry.' Sir Rowland Hill, with his staff, viewed from a little eminence the whole length of the column of that division of the army under his command, as they passed, and a pleasing smile animated the benevolent features of the bluff old general, when he beheld the willingness with which the footsore and almost shoeless soldiers pressed forward, although they had endured all that could render troops, less persevering and disciplined, less hardy and less brave, mutinous.

Toilsome forced marches — shelterless bivouacs, starvation, receiving no provisions sometimes for three consecutive days — no clothing, and almost ever in arrears of pay — on one occasion for six months — nothing but the hope of a change, and the redoubtable spirit which animated them, could have supported the British soldiers under the accumulation of miseries suffered by them in the Peninsula — miseries which were lessened to the French troops, by their living at free quarters wherever they went.

Ronald looked back to the flat-roofed mansions and Roman ruins of Merida, on the gray walls of which, casting bold shadows, streamed the full splendour of the morning sun. The cavalry rear-guard were slowly crossing the ancient bridge, and with the red coats came the brown uniform of Spain; it was the troop of Don Alvaro advancing, with their polished helmets and tall lances flashing in the sun, and finding a sparkling reflection in the deep blue current of the Guadiana below.

Ronald carried for the first time the regimental colour, which bore evident marks of service, being pierced in many places by musket-shot. It was a labourious affair to sustain, especially during a breeze, being large and of rich yellow silk, fringed round with bullion. The sphinx,— the badge of Egypt (the pride of the major's heart), surrounded by a wreath of the brave old thistle, and the honourable mottoes 'Egmont-op-Zee' 'Mandora,' and 'Bergen-op-Zoom,' all sewn, as usual, by fair hands, and done in massive gold embroidery, — appeared in the centre of the standard, which the Duchess of Gordon had presented to the clan regiment of her son.

'Stuart, I see you are casting longing looks back to Merida,' said Alister, in his usual jesting manner, as he marched by Ronald's side with the gaudy king's colour sloped on his shoulder. 'There is some attraction in our rear, I perceive; you are ever looking that way.'

'Ay, yonder comes Don Alvaro and his troop of lances; how gallant they appear ! But they are almost hidden in the dust raised by the rear of the column.'

'Look above the colours of the 71st, and you will see the roof which contains the fair Catalina; it was for that you were searching so narrowly. I can read your thoughts, you see, without being a conjurer. Stuart, my boy, you are very green in these matters, otherwise you would not blush as scarlet as your coat, which, by the bye, is rapidly becoming purple.'

'What stuff you talk, Macdonald ! What is Catalina to me?'

'Pshaw! now you need not bristle up so fiercely. Were you not making downright love to her last night? And the don himself would have seen it, but had drunk too much Malaga.'

'Impossible, Alister! You must dream, or this is some of your usual nonsense. I have no recollection of speaking to Donna Catalina otherwise than I would have done to any lady — and Campbell heard me.'

'The major had over-much sherry under his belt, and made too much noise about Egypt, — the pyramids, — Pompey's pillar, — the battle of Alexandria, and Heaven knows all what, to hear anyone speaking but himself. We spent the night in glorious style, however ; but the taste of that horrible garlic ------ Heavens above ! what is this ?'

Alister's sudden exclamation was not given without sufficient reason.

A carbine flashed from among the dark evergreens which overhung the road, and Ronald Stuart, staggering backwards, fell prostrate and bleeding at the feet of his comrades, from whom burst a wild shout of rage and surprise; but the strictness of British discipline prevented any man from moving in search of the assassin.

'Hell's fury!' cried Colonel Cameron, spurring his horse to the spot, while his eyes shot fire. ' Search the bushes; forward, men ! Do not fire, in case of alarming the rear of the column ; but fix bayonets, — slay, hew, and cut to pieces whoever you find.'

With mingled curses and shouts, a hundred Highlanders dashed through the thicket; but their heavy knapsacks and the tall plumes of their bonnets impeded their movements in piercing the twisted and tangled branches of the thickly-leaved laurels. They searched the grove through and through, beating the bushes in every direction; but no trace of the assassin was found, save a broad-brimmed sombrero bearing the figure of the Virgin stamped in pewter, fastened to the band encircling it, which Alister Macdonald found near a gigantic laurel-bush, in the midst of the umbrageous branches of which its owner lurked unseen.

'It is the hat of Cifuentes, — the vagabond of our last night's adventure,' said Alister, hewing a passage through the bushes with his sword, and regaining the regiment.

'I would you had brought his head rather. Oh that it was within the reach of my trusty stick! I would scorn to wet Andrea with his base blood.' A frown of rage contracted the broad brow of Campbell while he spoke, holding in one hand a steel Highland pistol, which he had drawn from his holster for the purpose of executing dire vengeance had opportunity offered.

'By all the powers above!' cried Alister, with fierce and stern energy, 'if ever this accursed Spaniard crosses my path I will make his head fly from his shoulders as I would a thistle from its stalk ! nor shall all the corregidors and alcaldes in Spain prevent me. But how is Stuart? Poor fellow! he looks very pale. Has he lost much blood?

Ronald, supported on the arm of Evan Iverach, stood erect within a circle formed by the officers who crowded round, while one of the regimental surgeons examined his left arm, which had been wounded by the shot.

'Oh, gude sake! be gentle wi' him, doctor!' said honest Evan in great anguish, as he observed Ronald to wince under the hands of the medical officer; ' be as gentle wi' him as possible. You doctor folk are unco rough ever and aye; dinna forget that he is your namesake, and kinsman forbye, though ye canna find out the exact degree.'

'I hope, Doctor Stuart, the wound is not a very bad one? said Cameron, dismounting from his horse and approaching the circle. 'I augur ill from the expression of concern which your countenance wears.'

'The shot has passed completely through, colonel, breaking the bone in its passage ; but as the fracture is not compound, it will soon join after setting. I hope that none of the red coat, or any other foreign body, is lodged in the wound.'

'Oh, if it should be a poisoned ball!' groaned poor Evan in great misery at the idea, while Doctor Stuart removed the sleeve of the coat, and Ronald endeavoured to conceal the miniature of Alice Lisle, which was nearly revealed by the disarrangement of his uniform. 'Oh, if it should be a poisoned ball!' he repeated.

'Some of our very best chields have been slam wi' them before now,— especially at the battle of Arroya-del-Molino,' observed his comrade Angus Mackie, with a solemn shake of his head.

'Oh that I had only been at his side! It micht have hit me in his stead!' 'Silence, men! You chatter nonsense,' said Cameron sternly. 'And what think you now, doctor?'

'That as Mr. Stuart is young, and of a full habit, I must bleed him immediately.'

'Stuff! My good fellow, he has lost blood enough already.' 'I am the best judge of that, Colonel Cameron,' replied Esculapius haughtily; 'delay is fraught with danger. Holloa, there; where's the hospital attendant? Sergeant Maconush, undo the service-case and bring me the pasteboard splints, the twelve-tailed bandage, and other et cζteras: I will set the bone.'

'It is impossible, Doctor Stuart,' interposed Cameron. 'Your intentions are all very good; but your clansman must return to Merida, where I sincerely hope he will be properly attended to. We have no time to await your operations just now, for which I am truly sorry, as Ensign Stuart will be well aware.'

'Do not mind me, colonel,' replied Ronald, whose teeth were clenched with the agony he endured. 'I will return as you say, and shall doubtless find a medical attendant. I hear the rear regiments are clamorous at this stoppage in their front, and yonder is Sir Rowland himself, advancing to discover the cause.'He spoke with difficulty, and at intervals; the new and painful sensation of a broken limb, together with rage swelling his heart at the manner in which he had received it, made his utterance low and indistinct.

Among the group around him he recognised Don Alvaro, who had galloped from the rear to discover the meaning of the confusion. 'Senor Coronel' said he to Cameron, raising his hand to the peak of his helmet, 'let him be taken to my house in Merida, where he will be properly attended to. Pedro Gomez,' — turning to his orderly sergeant,— 'dismount. Give this cavalier your horse, and attend him yourself to my residence in the Calle de Guadiana, and desire Donna Catalina to have his wound looked after. You will remain with him until it is healed.'

Pedro sprung lightly from his saddle, into which Ronald was with some difficulty installed.

'I thank you, senor,' said Cameron, touching his bonnet, 'and am glad this disagreeable matter is so satisfactorily arranged; the alcalde might have ordered him but an indifferent billet. Good-bye, my dear fellow, Stuart; I trust we shall see you soon again, and with a whole skin. Mr. Grant, take the colours. Gentlemen, fall in; get into your places, men — into your ranks. Forward!' He delivered his orders with firm rapidity, and being a strict martinet, who was not to be trifled with, they were instantly obeyed, and the commotion was hushed. The troops were too much accustomed to wounds and slaughter to care about the hurt received by Ronald; but it was the sudden and concealed shot which had raised their surprise and indignation.

Evan Iverach alone delayed executing the orders of Cameron, and entreated that he might be permitted to attend his wounded master to the rear. 'My good fellow, it cannot be,' replied the colonel, pleased with the genuine concern manifested by Ronald's honest follower, 'the enemy are before us, and I cannot spare a man. Nay, now, you need not entreat; fall into your place at once, sir.'

'Oh! if you please, sir, dinna speak sae sternly. Did ye but ken------'

'Into your place this instant, sir ! or I will have you stripped of your accoutrements, and sent prisoner to the quarter-guard,' exclaimed Cameron sternly, his eyes beginning to sparkle. To say more was useless, and shouldering his musket with a heavy heart, Evan took his place in the ranks, and moved forward with the rest ; but he cast many an anxious look to the rear, watching the retiring figure of Ronald as he sat on the troop-horse, which was led by Pedro Gomez towards the bridge of Merida.

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