Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

. (page 18 of 80)
Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 18 of 80)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

tar, in the year — what year was it?"

" Come, come," said I, " this is a humbug : the girls are quite
young ; you just have heard their names."

" Well, perhaps so ; only tell me which is your peculiar weakness,
as they say in the west, and maybe I'll convince you."

" Oh ! as to that," said I, laughing, " I'm not very far gone on
either side."

"Then Matilda, probably, has not tried you with Cowley, eh? —
you look a little pink — ' There are hearts that live and love alone.'
Oh ! poor fellow, you've got it. By Jove ! how you've been coming
it, though, in ten days ! She ought not to have got to that for a
month, at least ; and how like a young one it was, to be caught by
the poetry. Oh ! Master Charley, I thought that the steeple-chaser
might have done most with your Galway heart — the girl in the gray
habit, that sings ' Moddirederoo/ ought to have been the prize.
Halt ! by St. George, but that tickles you also ! Why, zounds, if I
go on, probably, at this rate, I'll find a tender spot occupied by the
black lady herself."

It was no use concealing, or attempting to conceal, anything from
my inquisitive friend ; so I mixed my grog, and opened my whole
heart ; told how I had been conducting myself for the entire pre-
ceding fortnight ; and, when I concluded, sat silently awaiting
Power's verdict, as though a jury were about to pronounce upon
my life.

" Have you ever written ?"

" Never ; except, perhaps, a few lines, with tickets for the theatre,
or something of that kind."

" Have you copies of your correspondence ?"

" Of course not. Why, what do you mean ?" *

" Has Mrs. Dal ever been present, or, as the French say, has she
assisted, at any of your tender interviews with the young ladies ?"

" I'm not aware that one kisses a girl before mamma."

" I'm not speaking of that ; I merely allude to flirtation."

" Oh ! I suppose she has seen me attentive."

" Very awkward, indeed ! There is only one point in your favor;
for, as your attentions were not decided, and as the law does not, as
yet, permit polygamy "

" Come, come, you know I never thought of marrying."

"Ah ! but they did."


" Not a bit of it."

"Ay, but they did. What do you wager but that the Major asks
your intentions, as he calls it, the moment he hears the transport
has arrived?"

" By Jove ! now you remind me, he asked this evening when he
could have a few minutes' private conversation with me to-morrow,
and 1 thought it was about some confounded military chest or sea
store, or one of his infernal contrivances that he every day assures
me are indispensable ; though, if every officer had only as much
baggage as I have got, under his directions, it would take two
armies at least to carry the effects of the fighting one."

" Poor fellow !" said he, starting upon his legs ; " what a burst
you've made of it !" So saying, he began, in a nasal twang, —

" I publish the banns of marriage between Charles O'Malley, late

of his Majesty's 14th Dragoons, and Dairy mple, spinster, of

this city "

"I'll be hanged if you do, though," said I, seeing pretty clearly
by this time something of the estimation my friends were held in.
" Come, Power, pull me through, like a dear fellow — pull me through,
without doing anything to hurt the girls' feelings."

" Well, we'll see about it," said he — " we'll see about it in the
morning, but, at the same time, let me assure you, the affair is not
so easy as you may, at first blush, suppose. These worthy people
have been so often • done' — to use the cant phrase — before, that
scarcely a ruse remains untried. It is of no use pleading that your
family won't consent — that your prospects are null — that you are
ordered for India — that you are engaged elsewhere — that you have
nothing but your pay — that you are too young or too old — all such
reasons, good and valid with any other family, will avail you little
here. Neither will it serve your cause that you may be warranted
by a doctor subject to periodical fits of insanity ; monomaniacal
tendencies to cut somebody's throat, &c. Bless your heart, man,
they have soul above such littlenesses. They care nothing for con-
sent of friends, means, age, health, climate, prospects, or temper.
Firmly believing matrimony to be a lottery, they are not supersti-
tious about the number they pitch upon ; provided only that they
get a ticket, they are content."

u Then it strikes me, if what you say is correct, that I have no
earthly chance of escape, except some kind friend will undertake to
shoot me."

" That has been also tried."

" Why, how do you mean ?"

"A mock duel, got up at mess — we had one at Malta, Poor Vick-
ers was the hero of that affair. It was right well planned, too. One


of the letters was suffered, by mere accident, to fall into Mrs. Dai's
hands, and she was quite prepared for the event, when he was re-
ported shot the next morning. Then the young lady, of course,
whether she cared or not, was obliged to be perfectly unconcerned,
lest the story of engaged affections might get wind, and spoil ano-
ther market. The thing went on admirably, till one day, some few
months later, they saw, in a confounded army-list, that the late
George Vickers was promoted to the 18th Dragoons, so that the trick
was discovered, and is, of course, stale at present."

" Then could I not have a wife already, and a large family of in-
teresting babes ?"

" No go — only swell the damages, when they come to prosecute.
Besides, your age and looks forbid the assumption of such a fact.
No, no ; we must go deeper to work. v

" But where shall we go ?" said I, impatiently ; " for it appears to
me these good people have been treated to every trick and subter-
fuge that ever ingenuity suggested."

" Come, I think I have it ; but it will need a little more reflection.
So, now, let us to bed. I'll give you the result of my lucubrations
at breakfast ; and, if I mistake not, we may get you through this
without any ill consequences. Good-night, then, old boy; and now
dream away of your lady-love till our next meeting."



TO prevent needless repetitions in my story, I shall not record
here the conversation which passed between my friend Power
and myself on the morning following at breakfast. Suffice it
to say that the plan proposed by him for my rescue was one I agreed
to adopt, reserving to myself, in case of failure, a pis aller, of which
I knew not the meaning, but of whose efficacy Power assured me I
need not doubt.

" If all fail," said he—" if every bridge break down beneath you,
and no road of escape be left, why, then, I believe you must have
recourse to another alternative. Still, I should wish to avoid it if
possible, and I put it to you in honor, not to employ it unless as
a last expedient. You promise me this."

" Of course," said I, with great anxiety for the dread final meas-
ure. "What is it?"

He paused, smiled dubiously, and resumed, —


" And, after all— but, to be sure, there will not be need for it—
the other plan will do — must do. Come, come, O'Malley, the Admi-
ralty say that nothing encourages drowning in the navy like a life-
buoy. The men have such a prospect of being picked up, that they
don't mind falling overboard; so, if I give you this life-preserver of
mine, you'll not swim an inch. Is it not so, eh ?"

" Far from it," said I. "I shall feel in honor bound to exert
myself the more, because I now see how much it costs you to part
with it."

" Well, then, hear it. When everything fails — when all your re-
sources are exhausted — when you have totally lost your memory, in
fact, and your ingenuity in excuses, say — but mind, Charley, not
till then — say that you must consult your friend Captain Power, of
the 14th— that's all."

"And is this it?" said I, quite disappointed at the lame and
impotent conclusion to all the high-sounding exordium; "is this

"Yes," said he, "that is all. But stop, Charley; is not that the
Major crossing the street there? Yes, to be sure it is; and, by
Jove ! he has got on the old braided frock this morning. Had you
not told me one word of your critical position, I should have
guessed there was something in the wind from that. That same
vestment has caused many a stout heart to tremble that never
quailed before shot or shell."

" How can that be? I should like to hear."

" Why, my dear boy, that's his explanation coat, as we called it
at Gibraltar. He was never known to wear it except when asking
some poor fellow's ' intentions.' He would no more think of sport-
ing it as an every-day affair than the Chief Justice would go cock-
shooting in his black cap and ermine. Come, he is bound for your
quarters, and, as it will not answer our plans to let him see you
now, you had better hasten down stairs, and get round by the back
way into George's street, and you'll be at his house before he can

Following Power's directions, I seized my foraging cap, and got
clear out of the premises before the Major reached them. It was
exactly noon as I sounded my loud and now well-known sum-
mons at the Major's knocker. The door was quickly opened;
but instead of dashing up stairs, four steps at a time, as was my
wont, to the drawing-room, I turned short into the dingy-looking
little parlor on the right, and desired Matthew, the venerable servi-
tor of the house, to say that I wished particularly to see Mrs. Dal-
rymple for a few minutes, if the hour were not inconvenient.

There was something perhaps of excitement in my manner — some


flurry in my look, or some trepidation in my voice ; or perhaps it
was the unusual hour, or the still more remarkable circumstance of
my not going at once to the drawing-room, that raised some doubts
in Matthew's mind as to the object of my visit ; and, instead of at
once complying with my request to inform Mrs. Dalrymple that I
was there, he cautiously closed the door, and, taking a quick but
satisfactory glance round the apartment, to assure himself that w T e
were alone, he placed his back against it, and heaved a deep sigh.

We were both perfectly silent ; I in total amazement at what the
old man could possibly mean ; he, following up the train of his own
thoughts, comprehended little or nothing of my surprise, and evi-
dently was so engrossed by his reflections that he had neither ears
nor eyes for aught around him. There was a most singular semi-
comic expression in the old withered face that nearly made me
laugh at first ; but as I continued to look steadily at it, I perceived
that, despite the long-worn wrinkles that low Irish drollery and fun
had furrowed around the angles of his mouth, the real character of
his look was one of sorrowful compassion.

Doubtless my readers have read many interesting narratives,
wherein the unconscious traveller in some remote land has been
warned of a plan to murder him, by some mere passing wink, a
look, a sign, which some one, who is less steeped in crime, less har-
dened in iniquity than his fellows, has ventured for his rescue.
Sometimes, according to the taste of the narrator, the interest-
ing individual is an old woman, sometimes a young one, some-
times a black-bearded bandit, sometimes a child, and not unfre-
quently a dog is humane enough to do this service. One thing,
however, never varies; be the agent biped or quadruped, dumb
or speechful, young or old, the stranger almost invariably takes
the hint, and gets off scot free for his sharpness. This never-
varying trick on the doomed man I had often been skeptical enough
to suspect ; however, I had not been many minutes a spectator of
the old man's countenance, when I most thoroughly recanted my
errors, and acknowledged myself wrong. If ever the look of a man
conveyed a warning, his did ; but there was more in it than even
that — there was a tone of sad and pitiful compassion, such as an old
gray-bearded rat might be supposed to put on at seeing a young
and inexperienced one opening the hinge of an iron trap, to try its
efficacy upon its neck. Many a little occasion had presented itself,
during my intimacy with the family, of doing Matthew some small
services, of making him some trifling presents, so that, when he
assumed before me the gesture and look I have mentioned, I was
not long in deciphering his intentions.

" Matthew !" screamed a sharp voice, which I recognized at


once for that of Mrs. Dalrymple. " Matthew ! Where is the old

But Matthew heard not, or heeded not.

" Matthew ! Matthew ! I say."

" I'm comin', ma'am," said he, with a sigh, as, opening the parlor
door, he turned upon me one look of such import, that only the cir-
cumstances of my story can explain its force, or my reader's own
ingenious ima'gination can supply.

" Never fear, my good old friend," said I, grasping his hand
warmly, and leaving a guinea in the palm — " never fear."

" God grant it, sir !" said he, settling on his wig in preparation
for his appearance in the drawing-room.

" Matthew ! the old wretch !"

" Mr. O'Malley," said the often-called Matthew, as, opening the
door, he announced me unexpectedly among the ladies there assem-
bled, who, not hearing of my approach, were evidently not a little
surprised and astonished.

Had I really been the enamored swain that the Dalrymple family
were willing to believe, I half suspect that the prospect before me
might have cured me of my passion. A round bullet head, papillote
with the Cork Observer, where still-born babes and maids of all work
were descanted upon in very legible type, was now the substitute
for the classic front and Italian ringlets of la belle Matilda, while
the chaste Fanny herself, whose feet had been a fortune for a statu-
ary, was, in the most slatternly and slipshod attire, pacing the room
in a towering rage, at some thing, place, or person, unknown to me.
If the ballet-master at the Acad6mie could only learn to get his
imps, demons, angels and goblins " off" half as rapidly as the two
young ladies retreated on my being announced, I answer for the
piece so brought out having a run for half the season. Before my
eyes had gained their position parallel to the plane of the horizon,
they were gone, and I found myself alone with Mrs. Dalrymple.
Now she stood her ground, partly to cover the retreat of the main
body, partly, too, because — representing the baggage- wagons,
ammunition stores, hospital staff, &c. — her retirement from the
field demanded more time and circumspection than the light

Let not my readers suppose that the mere Dalrymple was so per-
fectly faultless in costume that her remaining was a matter of actual
indifference ; far from it. She evidently had a struggle for it ; but
a sense of duty decided her, and as Ney doggedly held back to cover
the retreating forces on the march from Moscow, so did she reso-
lutely lurk behind till the last flutter of the last petticoat assured
her that the fugitives were safe. Then did she hesitate for a moment


what course to take; but as I assumed my chair besido hor, she
composedly sat down, and, crossing her hands before her, waited i'or
an explanation of this ill-timed visit.

Had the Horse Guards, in the plenitude of their power and the
perfection of their taste, ordained that the 79th and 42d regiments
should in future, in lieu of their respective tartans, wear flannel
kilts and black worsted hose, I could readily have fallen into the
error of mistaking Mrs. Dalrymple for a field-officer in'the new regu-
lation dress — the philibeg finding no mean representation in a
capacious pincushion that hung down from her girdle, while a pair
of shears (not scissors) corresponded to the dirk. After several
ineffectual efforts upon her part to make her vestment (I know not
its fitting designation) cover more of her legs than its length could
possibly effect, and after some most bland smiles and half blushes
at dishabille, &c, were over, and that I had apologized most humbly
for the unusually early hour of my call, I proceeded to open my
negotiations, and unfurl my banner for the fray.

" The old Racehorse has arrived at last," said I, with a half sigh,
"and I believe that we shall not obtain a very long time for our
leave-taking ; so that, trespassing upon your very great kindness, I
have ventured upon a,n early call."

" The Racehorse surely can't sail to-morrow," said Mrs. Dalrym-
ple, whose experience of such matters made her a very competent
judge ; " her stores "

"Are taken in already," said I; "and an order from the Horse
Guards commands us to embark in twenty-four hours ; so that, in
fact, we scarcely have time to look about us."

" Have you seen the Major?" inquired Mrs. Dalrymple, eagerly.

" Not to-day," I replied, carelessly ; " but, of course, during the
morning we are sure to meet. I have many thanks yet to give him
for all his most kind attentions."

" I know he is most anxious to see you," said Mrs. Dalrymple,
with a very peculiar emphasis, and evidently desiring that I should
inquire the reasons of this anxiety. I, however, most heroically for-
bore indulging my curiosity, and added that I should endeavor to
find him on my way to the barracks ; and then, hastily looking at
my watch, I pronounced it a full hour later than it really was, and,
promising to spend the evening — my last evening — with them, I
took my leave, and hurried away, in no small flurry, to be once more
out of reach of Mrs. Dalrymple's fire, which I every moment ex-
pected to open upon me.




POWER and I dined together tete-a-tete at the hotel, and sat
chatting over my adventures with the Dalrymplcs till nearly
nine o'clock.

" Come, Charley," said he at length, " I see your eye wandering
very often towards the timepiece ; another bumper, and I'll let you
off. What shall it be?"

" What you like," said I, upon whom a share of three bottles of
strong claret had already made a very satisfactory impression.

" Then champagne for the coup de grace. Nothing like your vin
mousseux for a critical moment — every bubble that rises sparkling to
the surface, prompts some bright thought, or elicits some brilliant
idea, that would only have been drowned in your more sober fluids.
Here's to the girl you love, whoever she be."

"To her bright eyes, then, be it," said I, clearing off a brimming
goblet of nearly half the bottle, while my friend Power seemed mul-
tiplied into any given number of gentlemen standing amid some-
thing like a glass manufactory of decanters.

" I hope you feel steady enough for this business," said my friend,
examining me closely with the candle.

"I'm an archdeacon," muttered I, with one eye involuntarily

" You'll not let them double on you !"

" Trust me, old boy," said I, endeavoring to look knowing.

"I think you'll do," said he; "so now march; I'll wait for you
here, and we'll go on board together ; for old Bloater, the skipper,
says he'll certainly weigh by daybreak."

"Till then," said I, as, opening the door, I proceeded very
cautiously to descend the stairs, affecting all the time considerable
•nonchalance, and endeavoring, as well as my thickened utterance
would permit, to hum, —

" Oh love is the soul of an Irish dragoon."

If I was not in the most perfect possession of my faculties in the;
house, the change to the open air, certainly, but little contributed
to their restoration, and I scarcely felt myself in the street when my
brain became absolutely one whirl of maddened and confused ex-
citement. Time and space are nothing to a man thus enlightened,
and so they appeared to me. Scarcely a second had elapsed when I
found myself standing in the Dalrymples' drawing-room.

If a few hours had done much to metamorphose me, certes they


had done something for my fair friends also— anything more unlike
what they appeared in the morning can scarcely be imagined.
Matilda in black, with her hair in heavy madonna bands upon her
fair cheek, now paler even than usual, never seemed so handsome ;
while Fanny, in a light blue dress, with blue flowers in her hair,
and a blue sash, looked the most lovely piece of coquetry ever man
set his eyes upon. The old Major, too, was smartened up, and put
into an old regimental coat that he had worn during the siege of
Gibraltar; and lastly, Mrs. Dalrymple herself was attired in a very
imposing costume, that made her, to my not over-accurate judg-
ment, look very like an elderly bishop in a flame-colored cassock.
Sparks was the only stranger, and wore upon his countenance, as I
entered, a look of very considerable embarrassment, that even my
thick-sightedness could not fail of detecting.

Parlez-moi de I'amitie', my friends. Talk to me of the warm embrace
of your earliest friend, after years of absence; the cordial and
heartfelt shake-hands of your old school companion, when, in after-
years, a chance meeting has brought you together, and you have had
time and opportunity for becoming distinguished and in repute, and
are rather a good hit to be known to than otherwise ; of the close
grip you give your second when he comes up to say that the gentle-
man with the loaded detonator opposite won't fire — that he feels he's
in the wrong. Any or all of these together, very effective and pow-
erful though they be, are light in the balance when compared with
the two-handed compression you receive from the gentleman that
expects you to marry one of his daughters.

" My dear O'Malley, how goes it ? Thought you'd never come,"
said he, still holding me fast, and looking me full in the face,
to calculate the extent to which my potations rendered his flattery

" Hurried to death with preparations, I suppose," said Mrs. Dal-
rymple, smiling blandly. " Fanny dear, some tea for him."

" Oh, mamma, he does not like all that sugar ; surely not," said
she, looking up with a most sweet expression, as though to say, "I
at least know his tastes."

" I believed you were going without seeing us," whispered Matilda,
with a very glassy look about the corner of her eyes.

Eloquence was not just then my forte, so that I contented myself
with a very intelligible look at Fanny, and a tender squeeze of
Matilda's hand, as I seated myself at the table.

Scarcely had I placed myself at the tea-table, with Matilda beside
and Fanny opposite me, each vieing with the other in their delicate
and kind attentions, when I totally forgot all my poor friend Power's
injunctions and directions for my management. It is true, I remem-


bered that there was a scrape of some kind or other to be got out of,
and one requiring some dexterity too, but what, or with whom, I
could not for the life of me determine. What the wine had begun
the bright eyes completed ; and, amid the witchcraft of silky tresses
and sweet looks, I lost all my reflection, till the impression of an
impending difficulty remained fixed in my mind, and I tortured my
poor, weak, and erring intellect to detect it. At last, and by a mere
chance, my eyes fell upon Sparks, and, by what mechanism I con-
trived it I know not, I immediately saddled him with the whole of
my annoyances, and attributed to him and to his fault any embar-
rassment I labored under.

The physiological reason of the fact I'm very ignorant of, but for
the truth and frequency I can well vouch, that there are certain peo-
ple, certain faces, certain voices, certain whiskers, legs, waistcoats,
and guard-chains, that inevitably produce the most striking effects
upon the brain of a gentleman already excited by wine, and not
exactly cognizant of his own peculiar fallacies.

These effects are not produced merely among those who are quar-
relsome in their cups, for I call the whole 14th to witness that I am
not such ; but to any person so disguised, the inoffensiveness of the
object is no security on the other hand, for I once knew an eight-day
clock kicked down a barrack stairs by an old Scotch major, because
he thought it was laughing at him. To this source alone, whatever
it be, can I attribute the feeling of rising indignation with which I
contemplated the luckless Cornet, who, seated at the fire, unnoticed
and uncared for, seemed a very unworthy object to vent anger or ill-
temper upon.

" Mr. Sparks, I fear," said I, endeavoring at the time to call up a
look of very sovereign contempt — " Mr. Sparks, I fear, regards my
visit here in the light of an intrusion."

Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 18 of 80)