Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

. (page 21 of 80)
Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 21 of 80)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

sea, unbroken by foam or ripple, shone like a broad blue
mirror, reflecting here and there some fleecy patches of snow-
white cloud, as they stood unmoved in the sky. The good ship
rocked to and fro with a heavy lumbering motion ; the cordage
rattled ; the bulkheads creaked ; the sails flapped lazily against the
masts ; the very sea-gulls seemed to sleep as they rested on the long
swell that bore them along; and everything in sea and sky bespoke
the calm. No sailor trod the deck; no watch was stirring; the
very tiller ropes were deserted ; and, as they traversed backward


and forward with every roll of the vessel, told that we had no
steerage way, and lay a mere log upon the water.

I sat alone in the bow, and fell into a musing fit upon the past
and the future. How happily for us is it ordained that, in the most
stirring existences, there are every here and there such little rest-
ing-spots of reflection, from which, as from some eminence, we look
back upon the road we have been treading in life, and cast a wistful
glance at the dark vista before us ! When first we set upon our
worldly pilgrimage, these are, indeed, precious moments, when, with
buoyant heart and spirit high, believing all things, trusting all
things, our very youth comes back to us, reflected from every object
we meet, and, like Narcissus, we are but worshipping our own
image in the water. As we go on in life, the cares, the anxieties,
and the business of the world, engross us more and more, and such
moments become fewer and shorter. Many a bright dream has been
dissolved, many a fairy vision replaced, by some dark reality ; blighted
hopes, false friendships, have gradually worn callous the heart once
alive to every gentle feeling, and time begins to tell upon us. Yet
still, as the well-remembered melody to which we listened with de-
light in infancy brings to our mature age a touch of early years, so
will the very association of these happy moments recur to us in our
reverie, and make us young again in thought. Then it is that, as
we look back upon our worldly career, we become convinced how
truly is the child the father of the man, how frequently are the pro-
jects of our manhood the fruit of some boyish predilection, and
that, in the emulative ardor that stirs the schoolboy's heart, we may
read the prestige of that high daring that makes a hero of its

These moments, too, are scarcely more pleasurable than they are
salutary to us. Disengaged for the time from every worldly anxiety,
we pass in review before our own selves, and in the solitude of our
own hearts are we judged. That still small voice of conscience, un-
heard and unlistened to amid the din and bustle of life, speaks
audibly to us now • and while chastened on one side by regrets, we
are sustained on the other by some approving thought, and, with
many a sorrow for the past, and many a promise for the future, we
begin to feel " how good it is for us to be here."

The evening wore later ; the red sun sank down upon the sea, grow-
ing larger and larger ; the long line of mellow gold that sheeted along
the distant horizon grew first of a dark ruddy tinge, then paler and
paler, till it became almost gray ; a single star shone faintly in the
east, and darkness soon set in. With night came the wind, for
almost imperceptibly the sails swelled slowly out, a slight rustle at
the bow followed, the ship lay gently over, and we were once more


in motion. It struck four bells; some slight resemblance in the
sound to the old pendulum that marked the hour at my uncle's
house startled me, so that I actually knew not where I was. With
lightning speed my once home rose up before me, with its happy
hearts. The old familiar faces were there ; the gay laugh was in my
ears ; there sat my dear old uncle, as with bright eye and mellow
voice he looked a very welcome to his guests ; there Boyle ; there
Considine; there the grim-visaged portraits that graced the old
walls, whose black oak wainscot stood in broad light and shadow, as
the blazing turf fire shone upon it ; there was my own place, now
vacant. Methought my uncle's eye was turned towards it, and that
I heard him say, " My poor boy ! I wonder where he is now !" My
heart swelled ; my chest heaved ; the tears coursed slowly down my
cheeks, as I asked myself, "Shall I ever see them more?" Oh! how
little, how very little, to us are the accustomed blessings of our life,
till some change has robbed us of them ! and how dear are they
when lost to us ! My uncle's dark foreboding that we should never
meet again on earth came, for the first time, forcibly to my mind,
and my heart was full to bursting. What could repay me for the
agony of that moment, as I thought of him — my first, my best, my
only friend — whom I had deserted ? and how gladly would I have
resigned my bright day-dawn of ambition to be once more beside his
chair, to hear his voice, to see his smile, to feel his love for me ! A
loud laugh from the cabin roused me from my sad, depressing
reverie, and at the same instant Mike's well-known voice informed
me that the Captain was looking for me everywhere, as supper was
on the table. Little as I felt disposed to join the party at such a
moment, as I knew there was no escaping Power, I resolved to make
the best of matters ; so, after a few minutes, I followed Mickey down
the companion, and entered the cabin.

The scene before me was certainly not calculated to perpetuate
depressing thoughts. At the head of a rude, old-fashioned table,
upon which figured several black bottles, and various ill-looking
drinking vessels of every shape and material, sat Fred Power ; on
his right was placed the Skipper; on his left the Doctor, the
bronzed, merry-looking, weather-beaten features of the one contrast-
ing ludicrously with the pale, ascetic, acute-looking expression of
the other. Sparks, more than half-drunk, with the mark of a red-
hot cigar upon his nether lip, was lower down ; while Major Mon-
soon, to preserve the symmetry of the party, had protruded his
head, surmounted by a huge red nightcap, from the berth oppo-
site, and held out his goblet to be replenished from the punch-

"Welcome, thrice welcome, thou man of Galway," cried out


Power, as he pointed to a seat, and pushed a wine-glass towards me.
" Just in time, too, to pronounce upon a new brewing. Taste that ;
a little more of the lemon you would say, perhaps? Well, I agree
with you ; rum and brandy ; Glenlivet and guava jelly ; limes,
green tea, and a slight suspicion of preserved ginger — nothing else,
upon honor — and the most simple mixture for the cure, the radical
cure, of blue devils and debt I know of ; eh, Doctor ? You advise
it yourself, to be taken before bed-time ; nothing inflammatory in
it ; nothing pugnacious ; a mere circulation of the be.tter juices and
more genial spirits of the marly clay, without arousing any of the
baser passions ; whisky is the devil for that."

" I canna say that I dinna like whisky-toddy," said the Doctor ;
" in the cauld winter nights it's no sae bad."

" Ah ! that's it," said Power ; " there's the pull you Scotch have
upon us poor Patlanders ; cool, calculating, long-headed fellows,
you only come up to the mark after fifteen tumblers ; whereas, we
hot-brained devils, with a blood at 212 degrees of Fahrenheit, and a
high-pressure engine of good spirits always ready for an explosion
we go clean mad when tipsy ; not but I am fully convinced that a
mad Irishman is worth two sane people of any other country under

" If you mean by that insin — insin — sinuation to imply any disre-
spect to the English," stuttered out Sparks, " I am bound to say
that I for one, and the Doctor, I am sure, for another "

" Na, na," interrupted the Doctor, " ye mauna coont upon me ;
I'm no disposed to fecht ower our liquor."

"Then, Major Monsoon, I'm certain "

" Are ye, faith ?" said the Major, with a grin ; " blessed are they
who expect nothing — of which number you are not — for most deci-
dedly you shall be disappointed."

" Never mind, Sparks, take the whole fight to your own proper
self, and do battle like a man ; and here I stand, ready at all arms
to prove my position — that we drink better, sing better, court better,
fight better, and make better punch, than ever John Bull from Ber-
wick to the Land's End."

Sparks, however, who seemed not exactly sure how far his antag-
onist was disposed to quiz, relapsed into a half-tipsy expression of
contemptuous silence, and sipped his liquor without reply.

"Yes," said Power, after a pause, "bad luck to it for whisky; it
nearly got me broke once, and poor Tom O'Reilly of the 5th, too,
the best-tempered fellow in the service ; we w T ere as near it as touch
and go ; and all for some confounded Loughrea spirits, that we be-
lieved to be perfectly innocent, and used to swill away freely with-
out suspicion of any kind."


" Let's hear the story," said I, " by all means."

" It's not a long one," said Power ; " so I don't care if I tell it ;
and, besides, if I make a clean breast of my own sins, I'll insist
upon Monsoon's telling you afterwards how he stocked his cellar in
Cadiz; eh, Major? there's worse tipple than the King of Spain's
sherry ?"

" You shall judge for yourself, old boy," said Monsoon, good-
humoredly ; " and as for the narrative; it is equally at your service.
Of course, it goes no farther. The Commander-in-Chief — long life
to him ! — is a glorious fellow ; but he has no more idea of a joke
than the Archbishop of Canterbury, and it might chance to reach

" Recount, and fear not !" cried Power ; " we are discreet as the
worshipful company of apothecaries."

" But you forget you are to lead the way."

"Here goes, then," said the jolly Captain ; "not that the story
has any merit in it, but the moral is beautiful.

" Ireland, to be sure, is a beautiful country, but somehow it would
prove a very dull one to be quartered in if it were not that the people
seem to have a natural taste for the army. From the belle of Mer-
rion square down to the innkeeper's daughter in Tralee, the loveliest
part of the creation seem to have a perfect appreciation of our high
acquirements and advantages ; and in no other part of the globe,
the Tonga Islands included, is a red coat more in favor. To be sure
they would be very ungrateful if it were not the case ; for we, upon
our sides, leave no stone unturned to make ourselves agreeable. We
ride, drink, play, and make love to the ladies, from Fairhead to
Killarney, in a way greatly calculated to render us popular ; and, as
far as making the time pass pleasantly, we are the boys for the
'greatest happiness' principle. I repeat it, we deserve our popular-
ity. Which of us does not get head and ears in debt, with garrison
balls and steeple-chases, picnics, regattas, and the thousand-and-one
inventions to get rid of one's spare cash, so called for being so spar-
ingly dealt out by our governors? Now and then, too, when all else
fails, we take a newly-joined ensign, and make him marry some
pretty but penniless lass, in a country town, just to show the rest
that we are not joking, but have serious ideas of matrimony, in the
midst of all our flirtations. If it were all like this, the Green Isle
would be a paradise ; but, unluckily, every now and then one is con-
demned to some infernal place, where there is neither a pretty face nor
tight ankle ; where the priest himself is not a good fellow ; and long, ill-
paved, straggling streets, filled, on market days, with booths of striped
calico and soapy cheese, are the only promenade, and a ruinous bar-
rack, with mouldy walls and a tumbling chimney, the only quarters.


" In vain, on your return from your morning stroll or afternoon
canter, you look on the chimney-piece for a shower of visiting cards
and pink notes of invitation ; in vain you ask your servant has any
one called. Alas ! your only visitor has been the gauger, to demand
a party to assist in still-hunting, amid that interesting class of the
' population who, having nothing to eat, are engaged in devising
drink, and care as much for the life of a red coat as you do for that
of a crow or a curlew. This may seem overdrawn ; but I would ask
you, were you ever for your sins quartered in that capital city of the
Bog of Allen they call Philipstown ? Oh, but it is a romantic spot!
They tell us somewhere that much of the expression of the human
face divine depends upon the objects which constantly surround us.
Thus the inhabitants of mountain districts imbibe, as it were, a cer-
tain bold and daring character of expression from the scenery, very
different from the placid and monotonous looks of those who dwell
in plains and valleys ; and I can certainly credit the theory in this
instance, for every man, woman, and child you meet has a brown,
baked, scruffy, turf-like face, that fully satisfies you that if Adam
were formed of clay, the Philipstown people were worse treated, and
only made of bog mould.

" Well, one fine morning, poor Tom and myself were marched off
from Birr, where one might ' live and love forever,' to take up our
quarters at this sweet spot. Little we knew of Philipstown, and,
like my friend the Adjutant there, when he laid siege to Derry, we
made our entree with all the pomp we could muster, and though we
had no band, our drums and fifes did duty for it ; and we brushed
along through turf-creels and wicker-baskets of new brogues that
obstructed the street till we reached the barrack, the only testimony
of admiration we met with being, I feel bound to admit, from a
ragged urchin of ten years, who, with a wattle in his hand, imitated
me as I marched along, and, when I cried halt, took his leave of us
by dexterously fixing his thumb to the side of his nose and outstretch-
ing his fingers, as if thus to convey a very strong hint that were not
half so fine fellows as we thought ourselves. Well, four mortal sum-
mer months of hot sun and cloudless sky went over, and still we lin-
gered in that vile village, the everlasting monotony of our days being
marked by the same brief morning drill, the same blue-legged
chicken dinner, the same smoky Loughrea whisky, and the same
evening stroll along the canal bank to watch for the Dublin packet-
boat, with its never- varying cargo of cattle-dealers, priests, and
peelers on their way to the west country, as though the demand for
such colonial productions in those parts were insatiable. This was
pleasant, you will say ; but what was to be done? We had nothing
else. Now, nothing saps a man's temper like ennui. The cranky,


peevish people one meets with would be excellent folk if they only had
something to do. As for us, I'll venture to say two men more disposed
to go pleasantly down the current of life it were hard to meet with ;
and yet such was the consequence of these confounded four months'
sequestration from all other society, we became sour and cross-
grained, everlastingly disputing about trifles, and continually argu-
ing about matters which neither was interested in, nor, indeed, knew
anything about. There were, it is true, few topics to discuss ; news-
papers Ave never saw ; sporting there was none ; but, then, the drill,
the return of duty, the probable chances of our being ordered for
service, were all daily subjects to be talked over, and usually with con-
siderable asperity and bitterness. One point, however, always served
us when hard pushed for a bone of contention, and which, begun by
a mere accident at first, gradually increased to a sore and peevish
subject, and finally led to the consequences which I have hinted at
in the beginning. This was no less than the respective merits of
our mutual servants ; each everlastingly indulging in a tirade against
the other for awkwardness, incivility, unhandiness — charges, I am
bound to confess, most amply proved on either side.

" ' Well, I am sure, O'Eeilly, if you can stand that fellow, — it's no
affair of mine, but such an ungainly savage I never met,' I would

" To which he would reply, ' Bad enough he is, certainly ; but, by
Jove ! when I only think of your Hottentot, I feel grateful for what
I've got.'

" Then ensued a discussion, with attack, rejoinder, charge, and re-
crimination, till we retired for the night, wearied with our exer-
tions, and not a little ashamed of ourselves at bottom for our absurd
warmth and excitement. In the morning the matter would be
rigidly avoided by each party until some chance occasion had
brought it on the tapis, when hostilities would be immediately re-
newed, and carried on with the same vigor, to end as before.

" In this agreeable state of matters we sat, one warm summer
evening, before the mess-room, under the shade of a canvas awning,
discussing, by way of refrigerant, our eighth tumbler of whisky-punch.
We had, as usual, been jarring away about everything under heaven.
A lately arrived post-chaise, with an old, stiff-looking gentleman in
a queue, had formed a kind of 'godsend' for debate, as to who he
was, whither he was going, whether he really had intended to spend
the night there, or only put up because the chaise was broken ; each,
as was customary, maintaining his own opinion with an obstinacy
we have often since laughed at, though at the time we had few
mirthful thoughts about the matter.

"As the debate waxed warm, O'Reilly asserted that he positively


knew the individual in question to be a United Irishman, travelling
with instructions from the French Government, while I laughed him
to scorn by swearing that he was the rector of Tyrrell's Pass ; that I
knew him well ; and, moreover, that he was the worst preacher in
Ireland. Singular enough it was, that all this while the disputed
identity was himself standing coolly at the inn window, with his
snuff-box in his hand, leisurely surveying us as we sat, appearing, at
least, to take a very lively interest in our debate.

" 'Come, now,' said O'Reilly, 'there's only one way to conclude
this, and make you pay for your obstinacy. What will you bet that
he's the rector of Tyrrell's Pass?'

" ' What odds will you take that he's Wolfe Tone ?' inquired I,

" ' Five to one against the rector/ said he, exultingly.

" 'An elephant's molar to a toothpick against Wolfe Tone/
cried I.

" ' Ten pounds even that I'm nearer the mark than you/ said Tom,
with a smash of his fist upon the table.

" ' Done/ said I — ' done. But how are we to decide the wager?'

" ' That's soon done/ said he. At the same instant he sprang to
his legs, and called out, ' Pat — I say, Pat — I want you to present my
respects to '

" ' No, no, I bar that — no ex parte statements. Here, Jem, do you
simply tell that '

" ' That fellow can't deliver a message. Do come here, Pat. Just
beg of '

" ' He'll blunder it, the confounded fool ; so, Jem, do you go.'

" The two individuals thus addressed were just in the act of con-
veying a tray of glasses and a spiced round of beef for supper inta
the mess-room ; and, as I may remark that they fully entered into
the feelings of jealousy their respective masters possessed, each eyed
the other with a look of very unequivocal dislike.

" Arrah ! ye needn't be pushing me that way/ said Pat, ' an' the
round o' beef in my hands.' |

" ' Devil's luck to ye ! it's the glasses you'll be breaking with your
awkward elbow.'

" ' Then why don't ye leave the way ? Ain't I your suparior ?'

" 'Ain't I the Captain's own man ?'

" 'Ay, and if you war. Don't I belong to his betters ? Isn't my
master the two Liftenants ?'

" This, however strange it may sound, was so far true, as I held
a commission in an African corps, with my Lieutenancy in the

Be-gorra, av he was six — there now, you done it !'

u t


"At the same moment a tremendous crash took place, and a large
dish fell in a thousand pieces on the pavement, while the spiced
round rolled pensively down the yard.

" Scarcely was the noise heard, when, with one vigorous kick, the
tray of glasses was sent spinning into the air, and the next moment
the disputants were engaged in bloody battle. It was at this mo-
ment that our attention was first drawn towards them, and I need
not say with what feelings of interest we looked on.

" ' Hit him, Pat — there, Jem, under the guard — that's it — go in —
well done, left hand — by Jove, that was a facer — his eye's closed —
he's down — not a bit of it — how do you like that ? — unfair, unfair —
no such thing — I say it was — not at all — I deny it.'

" By this time we had approached the combatants, each man pat-
ting his own fellow on the back, and encouraging him by the most
lavish promises. Now it was, but in what way I never could ex-
actly tell, that I threw out my right hand to stop a blow that I saw
coming rather too near me, when, by some unhappy mischance, my
double fist lighted upon Tom O'Eeilly's nose. Before I could express
my sincere regret for the accident, the blow was returned with double
force, and the next moment we were at it harder than the others.
After five minutes' sharp work, we both stopped for breath, and in-
continently burst out a-laughing. There was Tom, with a nose as
large as three ; a huge cheek on one side, and the whole head swing-
ing round like a harlequin's ; while I, with one eye closed, and the
other like a half-shut cockle-shell, looked scarcely less rueful. We
had not much time for mirth, for at the same instant a sharp, full
voice called out close beside us, —

"'To your quarters, sirs. I put you both under arrest, from
which you are not to be released until the sentence of a court-mar-
tial decide if such conduct as this becomes officers and gentlemen.'

" I looked round, and saw the old fellow in the queue.

" ' Wolfe Tone, by all that's unlucky !' said I, with an attempt at
a smile.

" ' The rector of Tyrrell's Pass/ cried out Tom, with a snuffle ;
1 the worst preacher in Ireland — eh, Fred ?'

"We had not much time for further commentaries upon our
friend, for he at once opened his frock coat, and displayed to our
horrified gaze the uniform of a general officer.

" ' Yes, sir, General Johnston, if you will allow me to present him
to your acquaintance ; and now, guard, turn out.'

" In a few minutes more the orders were issued, and poor Tom and
myself found ourselves fast confined to our quarters, with a sentinel
at the door, and the pleasant prospect that in the space of about ten
days we should be broke, and dismissed the service — which verdict,


as the general order would say, the Commander of the Forces has
been graciously pleased to approve.

" However, when morning came, the old General, who was really
a trump, inquired a little further into the matter, saw it was partly
accidental, and, after a severe reprimand, and a caution about
Loughrea whisky after the sixth tumbler, released us from arrest,
and forgave the whole affair."



T~ "TGH ! what a miserable thing is a voyage ! Here we are now
eight days at sea, the eternal sameness of all around growing
^^ every hour less supportable. Sea and sky are beautiful things
when seen from the dark woods and waving meadows on shore ; but
their picturesque effect is sadly marred from want of contrast ; be-
sides that, the " toujours pork," with crystals of salt as long as your
wife's fingers ; the potatoes, that seemed varnished in French polish ;
the tea, seasoned with geological specimens from the basin of Lon-
don, yclept maple sugar; and the butter — ye gods! — the butter!
But why enumerate these smaller features of discomfort, and omit
the more glaring ones? The utter selfishness which blue water
suggests, as inevitably as the cold fit follows the ague ; the good fel-
low that shares his knapsack or his last guinea on land, here forages
out the best corner to hang his hammock ; jockeys you into a com-
fortless crib, where the uncaulked deck-butt filters every rain from
heaven on your head ; he votes you the corner at dinner, not only
that he may place you with your back to the thorough draft of the
gangway ladder, but that he may eat, drink, and lie down before
you have even begun to feel the qualmishness that the dinner of a
troop-ship is well calculated to suggest ; cuts his pencil with your

Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 21 of 80)