While these events were occurring by the shore of the Euxine, brown
autumn was spreading her sober tints upon the Scottish woods; and one
seldom sees the country more attractive than when its beauty is
decaying, and a soothing sadness mingles with our delight.
The long grass is dank in the shady places, for there the dew falls
early at eve, and lingers long after sunrise; and now in Calderwood Glen
the dark leaves of the chestnuts were varied by the golden yellow of the
lime tree, whose frail leaves are among the earliest to whirl before the
gusty autumn wind.
Already the first leaves—the early spoil of the season—were lying in the
long, shady avenue, or were gathered in heaps, even as the breeze had
swept them, about the well of James V., the yew hedgerows, and the grass
walks of the antique Scottish garden, where tradition avers that Anne of
Denmark flirted with the bonnie Earl of Gowrie. There the asters and
dahlias still contended for a place with the old-fashioned hollyhock.
Summer had gone; but the corn-marigold and the gorgeous crimson poppy
yet lingered among the yellow stubble, or on the green burn braes;
scarlet hips and haws made gay the hedgerows, and the ladybirds were
pecking at the sweet apples in the orchard. The shadows of the flying
clouds passed over the green mountain slopes, over Largo’s lofty cone,
the round swelling Lomonds—the Mamelles of Fife, as a French officer not
inaptly termed them—the breeze of the German Sea came up the long,
fertile Howe, and brought softly to the ear the lowing of cattle from
Falkland Woods and many a cosy homestead. The autumn was lovely in
Calderwood Glen; but the old manor house seemed empty and silent, and
the heart of Cora was sad, for—
Great events were on the gale,
And each hour brought a varying tale,
and she knew that the same autumnal sun which was browning the woods of
Scotland was lighting her kilted regiments on their path of death and
peril by the Alma. There were times when Cora thought that, bitter
though it was, this hopeless sorrow for the absence of one she loved,
how sweet it might have been—how sadly sweet—had Newton loved her in
return. Ah! it had not been hopeless then; but Newton loved another,
who loved him too. Yet, did that other love him so well as she, poor
quiet Cora, did? And would she love him always? Then, when she heard
the thistlefinch, with its golden wings, singing among the linden trees,
the words of the old, old song seemed to come home truly to her heart as
she hummed them over.
There sat upon the linden tree
A bird, and sang its strain;
So sweet it sang, that, as I heard,
My heart went back again;
It went to one remembered spot,
It saw the rose-trees grow,
And thought again the thoughts of love
There cherished long ago.
A thousand years to me it seems
Since by my love I sate,
Yet thus to have been a stranger long,
Was not my choice, but fate;
Since then I have not seen the flowers,
Nor heard the bird’s sweet song,
My joys have all too briefly passed,
My griefs have been too long!
Ladies were setting forth to join the army of the East as nurses! An
idea occurred to her, and then she shrank from it, for Cora was not one
of our strong-minded British females but a good and kind-hearted,
earnest and high-souled Scottish girl; and it is a peculiarity of the
women of Scotland ever to shrink from publicity; and, somehow, public
life seems neither their _forte_ nor their _rôle_.
“Ah, oh!” thought Cora; “what if this is not merely a separation, but a
loss for ever!”
No battle had yet been fought; but already many men had perished at
Varna, at Scutari, and elsewhere, of fever and cholera. And so, often
as she wandered alone in the garden walks, by the old Battle Stone in
the woods, by the Adder’s Craig, or King James’s Well, she wept, as she
thought of the lively young lancer whom she had last seen marching for
the East, and still more for her early playmate and cousin, who in
boyhood so petted her at home.
And when Cora would say, or old Willie Pitblado would read, that the
lancers had embarked, that they had touched at Gibraltar, at Malta—that
they were at Varna or elsewhere—he would pause, and look up wistfully,
saying—”Nae word yet o’ my Willie?”
“But the papers don’t mention Captain Norcliff either.”
“Ay, ay, true, Miss Cora,” the old man would mutter, and shake his head
at omissions so strange.
Anxiety, love, and fear injured the poor girl’s health. She was
alternately resigned and gentle, or short-tempered and irritable.
Though frequently self-absorbed and pre-occupied, she strove, by
affected gaiety, to prove to those about her that she was neither. By
turns she was grateful for sympathy or irritated by it, while her
craving for news about the army of the East became a source of
speculation—shall we call it friendly?—among such sharp-witted visitors
as the Mesdames Spittal and Rammerscales, the wife of the parish
minister, or the slavishly suave Mrs. Wheedleton, the rib of the village
To add to her annoyances, she had a new admirer in young Mr. Brassy
Wheedleton—a newly-fledged legal prig—who had in his hands a dispute
concerning a bond over a portion of the Calderwood property, and whom,
as Sir Nigel patronized him, being the son of a neighbour, a dependent,
and beginner at the bar, she saw rather oftener than she cared for as a
visitor at the Glen. Cora was always most irritable when a letter came
from her English friends in Kent. However, her correspondence with
Chillingham Park had lessened every day since the regiment left England,
why neither could exactly say. Louisa’s missives were generally full of
gaiety and the world of fashion, with all its tinsel glitter and
heartless frivolity. As for the war, and our poor soldiers in the East,
she heeded them no more than the clock of St. Paul’s, or the last year’s
snow. Her last letter had been all concerning the elevation of my Lord
Slubber to a marquisate (skipping the intervening titles of viscount and
earl,) and enclosing a slip from a fashionable morning paper, which
announced that the garter king had given to the noble peer “a coat of
augmentation, in addition to the three guffins’ heads mange, of the
grand Anglo-Norman line of De Gullion, with the cage in chief granted to
the fourth baron of that illustrious name, by the greatest of the
Plantagenets, when that chivalrous monarch hung the Scottish Countess of
Buchan outside the walls of Berwick for four years in an iron cage, and
when ’ye potente and valyant Lord Slobbyr de Gulyone was captain yairof
with CCC archeris.’”
This afforded her father the first hearty laugh in which he had indulged
for some time past, for he, too, had become somewhat dull and peevish.
“Three guffins’ heads; Cora, this is excellent!” said the old baronet,
laughing still; “it is very droll how the English snob of high family
boasts of his descent from the rabble of William the Norman, just as our
Scotch snob likes to deduce his pedigree from those Saxon _hildings_ who
fled from Hastings, or the savage Danes we licked at Luncarty and
elsewhere. There were Calderwoods in the Glen before either of those
times! What says the old rhyme?
Calderwood was fair to see,
When it gaid to Cameltrie;
But Calderwood was fairer still,
When it grew owre Crosswood Hill.”
Sir Nigel’s old chum, General Rammerscales, was laid up with the gout
and jungle fever, and their political friend, Lickspittal, was absent in
Parliament—where, like a true Scottish M.P., he served to fill the
house, to vote with the lord advocate or the majority, to work on all
committees (which paid); but, of course, remaining as oblivious of
Scottish interests as of those of the Sioux Indians.
Now that he was residing almost permanently at the old manor house—the
Place of Calderwood, as it was named _par excellence_—Sir Nigel became
somewhat infected by his daughter’s melancholy. Thoughts of his two
dead sons—Nigel, who fell at Goojerat, of his pet boy Archie, and also
of his nephew, his favourite sister’s only son, exposed to all the
perils of disease and war in Turkey—recurred to him again and again, as
he wandered through the rooms and under the old linden trees that had
often echoed to their voices in infancy; and he thought of how the old
estates, and the title first granted by King Charles to Sir Norman
Calderwood, _Primus Baronettorum Scotiæ_, would go after his death, an
event which he knew must happen some day; for, though hale and hearty
yet, he felt that he rode a stone or two heavier now, was apt to “funk”
at a sunk fence, and was finding that noble brute Splinterbar a trifle
hard in the mouth for his bridle-hand now.
Even Cora’s old song of “The Thistle and Rose” only served to make him
sad—to make him think of those who had sung it long, long ago; and then
he would order another bottle of that rare, creamy old claret, that Mr.
Binns kept among the cobwebs, in a particular corner of the cellar, for
Faithful old Davie Binns! He had grown grey, white, and bald in the
service of the Calderwoods, like his fathers before him, and like many
other servants in that kind old Scottish household—one, indeed, “of the
olden time.” If he had been dismissed for a dereliction of duty, he
would have thought the world was coming to an end, and doubtless would
have flatly refused to go; for Davie was one of a class of servitors
that are passing away, even in Scotland and Ireland; and from the
sister-kingdom I fear they have long since vanished.
Accompanied by old Willie, Sir Nigel and a friend or two had
occasionally a shot at the partridges in the stubble or the
turnip-fields; but when the first meet of the hounds took place their
master was absent.
In vain the horns were blown by Largo’s slopes and Balcarris Wood; in
vain the dogs gave mouth, and yelped, and wagged their upright tails.
The cover was drawn, and every spur struck deep, as the huntsmen sped
over dyke and ditch, by loch, and moor, and mountain; but Sir Nigel was
sorrowing at his house in the Glen, and his favourite hunters, Saline
and Splinterbar, were forgotten in their stalls.
Why was this?
On a Sunday towards the end of September—a Sunday which many must recall
with sorrow—mysteriously, as if borne in the air, there passed a whisper
over all the land of a great event that had happened far, far away; and
that whisper found an echo in many a heart and home in England—in many
an Irish mud cabin and Scottish glen—in many a high and many a humble
In the quaint old village kirk of Calderwood, during the morning
service, it passed along the pews from ear to ear among the people, even
to the old haunted aisle of St. Margaret, where Cora sat (her sweet,
earnest eyes intent on the preacher, though her thoughts were far away)
beside her father in his carved oak seat, with all its armorial bearings
overhead; for he was lord of all the glen and manor—a little king, but a
very kind one, among the peasantry there.
So, on this calm, sunny summer morning, when no sound disturbed the
preacher’s voice but the rustle of the oak woods without, or the
twittering of the martins in their nests among the Gothic carvings,
there came vaguely to the pastoral glen—vaguely, wildly, no one knew
how—news that a great battle had been fought far, far away in the East,
and that we had lost four, five, some said even six thousand men; but
that we were, thank God, _victorious_.
Pausing in his sermon, while his eyes kindled and his cheek flushed as
they had never done when detailing the bloody wars of the Jews and
Egyptians, the aged minister announced the tidings from the pulpit,
adding (the first false rumour) “that the Duke of Cambridge had fallen
at the head of the Guards and our own Highland lads, as he led them,
sword in hand, up the braes of the Alma.”
Every eye turned to St. Margaret’s aisle, where, through the painted
windows, the yellow sunshine streamed on Sir Nigel’s silver hair and
Cora’s smooth dark braids, for all knew that they had a dear kinsman in
that distant field, and when the minister asked the people to join with
him in prayer for those who might fall, and for the widows and orphans
of the slain, it was with earnest, humble, and contrite hearts that the
startled and anxious rustics added their voices to his.
Cora covered her face with her handkerchief; and old Pitblado looked
round him, grim and sternly as any Covenanter who ever wore a blue
bonnet; but the poor man’s heart was full of tears, as he prayed to
heaven that his Willie might be safe. Besides, as a native of Fife, he
had much of the old and inbred horror of soldiering peculiar to that
peninsula, since those dark days when the Fifeshire infantry found their
graves on the field of Kilsythe.
Ere the red autumn sun went down beyond the green hills of Clackmannan,
the electric wire had announced the passage of the Alma over all the
length and breadth of the land—flashing over all Europe, from the shores
of the Bosphorus to those of the Shannon.
But in reply to a message sent by Sir Nigel to the War Office—a telegram
despatched to soothe the agony of love—came the brief but terrible
“_The name of your nephew is among the killed!_”
“Papa—papa—among the killed—among the killed!” Cora exclaimed, after the
first stunning paroxysm of her grief was past.
“Yet I do not despair, Cora,” said the old man, in his bewilderment,
caressing her, and not knowing what to say, while remembering the keen
bitterness that the gazette of Goojerat brought to his heart, when there
he read the name of his eldest son and hope—his dark and handsome Nigel.
“Oh, do not speak of hope to me, papa. Poor Newton, I did so love him!
I cannot dare to hope!”
“Dearest Cora, we have no details. He may be missing. I have heard of
many returned so in the old Peninsular times. My old friend, Jack
Oswald, of Dunnik, among others; but he was always found under a heap of
dead men, or so forth.”
“But the telegram says distinctly, among the killed—his body, his poor,
mangled body, must have been seen——”
“Colonel Beverley will write to me. In a few days we shall know all the
“Even were he only wounded, I should be miserable; but to know that he
is dead—dead—Newton dead—buried far, far away by strangers, and among
strangers, and that I shall never, never see him more! Oh, papa—my dear
papa!” she exclaimed, as she flung herself upon his breast, “I loved
Newton dearly—far more dearly than life!”
And so the great secret escaped her in her grief.