Then I thought of one fair spring-time,
When she placed her hand in mine,
And, half-silent, said she loved me,
And, half-blushing, seemed divine.
Then I thought of that same winter,
When the earth was dead and cold;
Fit time, in sooth, to marry one
She worshipped for his gold.
I had been some days in Messirie’s Hotel, at Pera, before I realized or
quite became reconciled to the idea that I was going home on sick leave,
worn in mind and body, and smarting still with many wounds, for some of
the lance prods had gangrened, the iron having been, perhaps, rusty.
Many other officers were also at Messirie’s, on their way home, some
with amputated limbs, but all leaving the army with regret. All were
pale and lean enough, with bronzed faces and bushy beards, their red
shell-jackets or blue surtouts out-at-elbows, threadbare, patched, and
stained by the mud of the trenches, and there were one or two lisping
idiots, with flyaway whiskers, hair divided in the centre, and yaw-haw
tones, whose “pwivate affairs had become wemawkably urgent!”
I had with me poor Willie Pitblado, whose left leg was well-nigh useless
now. No surgeon had succeeded in extracting the ball; their attempts
had produced torture, which brought on a low fever, and Willie was going
home with me now—only, I feared, to die.
And now, on the last evening of this most memorable year, I sat alone,
muffled in my cavalry cloak, looking from the hotel window down a long
and narrow street, paved with rough, round stones, where the _humauls_,
or Turkish porters, British tars, half-furious with raki, Zouaves, with
cigar in mouth and hands in pockets, dragomans, with pistol and sabre,
indolent, sensual, and brutal Osmanli soldiers, and other nationalities
and costumes, made up a strange and varied scene. From another window I
could see Stamboul, its flat roofs, round domes, its mosques and
minarets, stretching in the distance far away; the Golden Horn; with the
three-deckers of the _Sultan_ lying idly at anchor; and the new bridge
that spans the harbour; and, over all, the weird-like glories of a
The December twilight stole on, and, as I mused, it seemed but yesterday
since all those lancers who had died of cholera at Varna or elsewhere,
and those whom I had seen cast into the great trench, had been alive,
and riding by my side.
The embarkation of the wounded at Balaclava harbour, whither they had
been borne on stretchers, minus legs and arms, hands and feet, with
faces pale, slashed, gashed, and battered; our British men-of-war, the
_Sanspareil_, _Tribune_, _Sphinx_, and _Arrow_, ranged in line, with
open ports to sweep the valley; all the episodes of our departure—the
somewhat mournful cheers given by the seamen as our transport, the
_Napoleon III._, of Leith, got up her steam and cleared the
harbour—cheers to which we could scarcely respond; the receding shores,
where the iron voice yet rang the knell of many a human life from
battery and bastion; the last rays of the sun, as they lit up the
impending bluffs of Cape Aya, and ruddied all the rocks of red and white
marble that guard the rugged coast, and repel the storms of the Euxine;
all these, as they had melted into sea and sky, seemed like an old dream
now, and, battered in body and broken in spirit, I was seated alone in
Messirie’s Frankish hotel, on my way home!
Well, well! For weeks past I had been as useless at Balaclava as at the
Hospital of Scutari, from whence I had been transferred to the suburb of
Pera. I had been unable to share in the two battles of Inkermann, in
both of which the Russians were totally defeated, and in the last of
which our losses were fearful; and I had no share in the battle of the
Ovens, on the 20th of November. By landing at Scutari on the 13th, I
escaped the terrible hurricane by which so many of the shipping perished
in the Black Sea, and by which the survivors of their crews were
subjected to be mercilessly massacred by the Russians.
My poor comrades! Be a soldier but for six months, and you will never
forget the new world that is opened to you—a respect for your brother
officers and soldiers, and a kindly feeling for the _old number_ of the
corps; it lasts with life.
But that ghastly trench in the green valley, and the pale, moustached,
and upturned faces! God bless all who lie there, and green be the
graves of our people in the Crimea!
It was on the second day of the new year that we—Pitblado and I—sailed
in H.M.S. _Blazer_ for Southampton, with many other invalids, and, as we
steamed round the Seraglio Point, and stood away into the Sea of
Marmora, I thought of that day twelvemonth, when I was at Calderwood
Glen, sharing the contents of my good old uncle’s ancestral
wassail-bowl. How much had passed since then!
Trebitski’s Cossacks had taken the miniature, the ring; even Louisa’s
lock of hair was gone too, and luckily now I had nothing to remind me of
the beautiful traitress by whom I had been galled, befooled, hoodwinked,
and so cruelly abandoned!
And Lady Chillingham could witness this horrible sacrifice, this English
_suttee_, or act of immolation, quietly and approvingly. She had
married without love herself—so had her mother before her—and both had
been happy enough in their own heartless and stupid way. Such
alliances, made on mere worldly grounds, were part of the system of that
society in which they moved; so Lady Chillingham viewed the whole affair
as a matter of course.
As for Louisa Loftus, why should she be different from other women of
the world, and of her aristocratic class? I must have been deluded—mad
indeed, to think otherwise for a moment! And yet she could crash my
hope for the future recklessly, as a child breaks the glittering
soap-bubble he has so carefully developed, or casts aside the plaything
he once treasured. She could cruelly trample on the best love of a true
and honest heart, to make a marriage that was advantageous only in point
of rank and wealth, both of which she already inherited in the fullest
Yet something of pity mingled with my fierce and bitter scorn of
Louisa—pity for the dreary years she would have to spend, while tending
a senile dotard, whom she could neither respect nor love. She would
suffer in secret, or perhaps console herself by some scandalous
flirtation, that Sir Bernard Burke would never record in his usually
flattering pages, though he might have to chronicle the unexpected
appearance of an heir to the noble old Anglo-Norman line of Slubber de
While Louisa, plunged in all the gaiety of London life, forgot all but
it and herself, Cora—I learned this after—had thought it a crime to be
even happy, while I was suffering or absent. Such was the difference in
the nature of those two girls.
At Stamboul I had procured an inlaid Turkish rifle, a high-peaked
saddle, a cherry-pipe stick, and some yataghans, as trifles for Sir
Nigel; slippers, all sewn with pearls, a shawl, a veil, a little trunk
of essences, and other pretty things, for Cora.
Our homeward voyage was rapid and pleasant, so we steamed steadily on,
passing many a transport hurrying to the seat of war, with her human
freight, ardent and eager to replace the fallen; on by Malta and old
Gib. I was too ill to land at either; but I was well cared for on
board, for the officers treated me as if I had been their brother, and
were never weary of extolling the terrible charge of the Light Brigade
on the fatal 25th of October.
On an evening about the end of January, we were off Southampton, and ran
into the tidal dock, which has such peculiar advantages for first-class
steamers. There out of the general traffic, and in the basin of quiet
water, the _Blazer_ could easily land her melancholy freight of wounded
men. Many poor fellows whom she had embarked had died on the way home,
and found a grave under the waves of the Mediterranean.
We were landed by gaslight. I must have been very weak at that time. I
remember the cheers of welcome and the genuine commiseration of the
kindly English folks assembled on the crowded quays as we were borne
tenderly ashore in the arms of our good sailor comrades; and my wasted
appearance was not the least exciting, for I was so worn now that my
face was not unlike the Death’s head on the appointments of the 17th
Lancers—but with a goodly Crimean beard appended to it.
The lieutenant of marines conducted me to a fashionable hotel.
At Southampton I was separated from poor Willie. With all the other
wounded soldiers, he was transmitted, per third-class train, to Fort
Pitt, at Chatham. Save once, I never saw the poor affectionate fellow
again. He became a confirmed invalid, and months passed away, during
which he was neither discharged nor cured, though he longed to get
home—home, that he might die where he first saw the light, in his
father’s cottage, and be laid beside his mother’s grave in the glen.
But there is no cure for the home-sickness in the pharmacopoeia of Her
Majesty’s medical department, at No. 6, Whitehall Yard.
For many days I remained at the hotel, careless how the time passed. I
had become perfectly listless, and lay on the sofa for hours, less to
nurse my wounds than from pure inertia, and heedless of what might
Thus, one evening, when the snow lay deep in the streets without,
muffling the footsteps of the passengers and the wheels of the cabs and
omnibuses—when the fire was burning cheerily in the bright bars of the
polished grate—the crimson curtains drawn across the windows—the
crystals of the gaselier glittering with a thousand prisms, and thus
when, after Crimean experiences, it was impossible not to feel intensely
comfortable in the well-carpeted room of a fashionable English hotel, I
was dozing off to sleep, and to dream, perhaps, of other scenes, when a
sound roused me.
An arm—a soft and warm one—was round my neck, and two bright, sad,
earnest, and tearful eyes were beaming affectionately into mine; a
smooth cheek, rendered cold as a winter apple by the frosty air without,
just brushed mine, and a kiss was on my forehead, as a beautiful and
blushing girl threw back her veil, and I found my hands were clasped by
those of Cora Calderwood.
“Dear, dear Cora!” I exclaimed, and pressed her to my breast.
I had longed for sympathy, companionship, friendship—for some one with
whom to share the secret burden that crushed my heart; but I rapidly
found the impossibility of doing this with my beautiful cousin, for now,
as I embraced her, all her long-treasured and long-hidden love gushed up
in her heart.
She smoothed back her thick dark hair with her pretty and tremulous
hands, and then, placing them on my temples, surveyed me again and
again, with eyes full of pity and delight, while half-kneeling beside me
on the low _fauteuil_ on which I lay.
She was too full of pure joy to speak; she could only throw her arms
round my neck and whisper, with her rosy lip close to my ear—
“Newton—Newton—my poor Newton! my own love at last—and—and—here comes
As if to relieve me from a situation that was as embarrassing as it was
pleasing, the affectionate old gentleman hurried forward to meet me. He
had been less agile than his daughter in springing upstairs, and
threading the mysterious corridors of an English hotel. He took me in
his sturdy arms. His eyes were sparkling with pleasure; his ruddy cheeks
were now rendered redder than ever by the frosty wind; his white locks
glittered in the light; and his handsome old face was beaming with
pleasure, as it always did when he saw me. Warmly he shook my hands
again and again. He surveyed my hollow cheeks with commiseration, as
Cora now did with tears; and then, with prodigious bustle, he proceeded
to divest himself of numerous overcoats and wrappers, until he appeared
at last in his black cut-away, with white corded breeches and top-boots,
as of old the _beau idéal_ of the master of the Fifeshire hounds.
“So we have found you at last, my dear boy—fairly run you to earth, eh?
You must come home with us now——”
“Not exactly to-night, Cora; but as soon as he is fit for travelling.
And a rare cooper of old port Davie Binns shall set abroach when again
Newton is beneath the roof of the house in which his mother was born,
and where she died, too, poor girl!”
My mother was more than forty when she died; but the old baronet only
remembered his favourite sister as “the girl,” of whose beauty he was
always so proud.
Cora had now removed her bonnet and cloak. She was beautiful as ever,
but paler, I thought, for the flush that dyed her soft face at first had
now passed away, and she lowered her dark lashes at times when I looked
at her. But her secret was out now. I knew all, but could scarcely
foresee how matters were to end.
Cora wore at her breast the silver crescent and lion I had sent her from
India. She had more. She had on her finger my Rangoon diamond, which
the Marchioness had sent to her, and which I desired her to retain for
my sake, till I replaced it by one more valuable still.
We were very happy that night in Southampton; and, with more alacrity
than I thought remained in me, I prepared at once to return to Scotland.
My health was not now what it had been; but my native air in Calderwood
Glen would restore it. To repine now would have been ungrateful to
heaven and my kind kinsfolk.
I had passed through that dreadful ordeal, the Valley of Death, and had
returned with life and youth before me, when so many better and braver
than I had perished by my side. So I resolved to return thankfully and
joyfully home, to water my laurels among the heath-clad hills and grassy
glens of my native place.