Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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fortunes of my life. As I contrasted its outset, bright with hope
and rich in promise, with the sad reality, my heart grew heavy and
my chest heaved painfully ; so sunk was I in my reflections, so lost
in thought, that I never knew that the storm had broken loose, and
that the heavy rain was falling in torrents. The very ground,
parched with long drought, smoked as it pattered upon it, while the
low, wailing cry of the sea-gull, mingled with the deep growl of far-
off thunder, told that the night was a fearful one for those at sea.
Wet through and shivering, I sat still — now listening, amid the
noise of the hurricane and the creaking of the cordage, for any foot-
step to approach, and now relapsing back into a half-despairing
dread, that my heated brain alone had conjured up the scene of the
day before. Such were my dreary reflections, when a loud crash
aboard the schooner told me that some old spar had given way. I
strained my eyes through the dark to see what had happened, but
in vain ; the black vapor, thick with falling rain, obscured every-
thing, and all was hid from view. I could hear that she worked
violently as the waves beat against her worn sides, and that her
iron cable creaked as she pitched to the breaking sea. The wind
was momentarily increasing, and I began to fear lest I should have
taken my last look at the old craft, when my attention was called
off by hearing a loud voice cry out, ' Halloo there ! Where are


" ' Ay, ay, sir ; I'm here.' In a moment the Admiral and his
friend were beside me.

" 'What a night!' exclaimed the Admiral, as he shook the rain
from the heavy boat-cloak, and cowered in beneath some tall blocks
of granite near. ' I began half to hope that you might not have
been here, my poor fellow,' said the Admiral. ' It's a dreadful time
for one so poorly clad for a storm. I say, Dawkins, let him have a
pull at your flask.' The brandy rallied me a little, and I felt that it
cheered my drooping courage.

" ' This is not a time nor is it a place for much parley,' said the
Admiral, ' so that we must even make short work of it. Since we
met here last night, I have satisfied myself that you are to be trusted,
that your character and reputation have nothing heavier against
them than misfortune, which, certainly, if I have been rightly in-
formed, has been largely dealt out to you. Now, then, I am willing
to accept of your offer of service, if you are still of the same mind
as when you made it, and if you are willing to undertake what we
have to do, without any question or inquiry as to points on which
we must not and dare not inform you. Whatever you may have
overheard last night, may or may not have put you in possession of
our secret. If the former, your determination can be made at once ;
if the latter, you have only to decide whether you are ready to go
blindfolded in the business.'

" ' I am ready, my lord,' said I.

" ' You perhaps are then aware what is the nature of the service V

" ' I know it not,' said I. 'All that I heard, sir, leads me to sup-
pose it one of danger, but that's all.'

" ' I think, my lord,' said Dawkins, 'that no more need now be said.
Cupples is ready to engage, we are equally so to accept ; the thing
is pressing. When can you sail ?'

" ' To-night,' said I, ' if you will.'

" ' Really, Dawkins,' said the Admiral, ' I don't see why '

" ' My lord, I beg of you,' said the other, interrupting, ' let me
now complete the arrangement. This is the plan,' said he, turning
towards me as he spoke : 'As soon as that old craft can be got ready for
sea, or some other, if she be not worth it, you will sail from this port
with a strong crew, well armed and supplied with ammunition. Your
destination is Malta, your object to deliver to the Admiral stationed
there the despatches with which you will be entrusted ; they contain
information of immense importance, which, for certain reasons, can-
not be sent through a ship of war, but must be forwarded by a vessel
that may not attract peculiar notice. If you be attacked, your orders
are to resist ; if you be taken, on no account destroy the papers, for
the French vessel can scarcely escape recapture from our frigates,


and it is of great consequence these papers should remain. Such is
a brief sketch of our plan ; the details can be made known to you

"'I am quite ready, my lord. I ask for no terms ; I make no
stipulations. If the result be favorable, it will be time enough to
speak of that. When am I to sail ?'

"As I spoke, the Admiral turned suddenly round, and said some-
thing in a whisper to Dawkins, who appeared to overrule it, what-
ever it might be, and finally brought him over to his own opinion.

" ' Come, Cupples/ said Dawkins, ' the affair is now settled ;
to-morrow a boat will be in waiting for you opposite Spike Island
to convey you on board the Semiramis, where every step in the
whole business shall be explained to you ; meanwhile, you have
only to keep your own counsel, and trust the secret to no one.'

" ' Yes, Cupplcs/ said the Admiral, 'we rely upon you for that,
so good-night.' As he spoke, he placed within my hands a crumpled
note for ten pounds, and, squeezing my fingers, departed.

" My yarn is spinning out to a far greater length than I intended,
so I'll try and shorten it a bit. The next day I went aboard the
iSemiramis, where, when I appeared upon the quarter-deck, I found
myself an object of some interest. The report that I was the man
about to command the Brian — that was the real name of the old
craft — had caused some curiosity among the officers, and they all
spoke to me with great courtesy. After waiting a short time, I was
ordered to go below, where the Admiral, his Flag-Captain Dawkins,
and the others were seated. They repeated at greater length the
conversation of the night before, and finally decided that I was to
sail in three weeks ; for, although the old schooner was sadly dam-
aged, they had lost no time, but had her already high in dock, with
two hundred ship carpenters at work upon her.

" I do not shorten sail here to tell you what reports were circu-
lated about Cove as to my extraordinary change in circumstances,
nor how I bore my altered fortunes. It is enough if I say that in
less than three weeks I weighed anchor, stood out to sea one beauti-
ful morning in autumn, and set out upon my expedition.

" I have already told you something of the craft. Let me complete
the picture by informing you that, before twenty-four hours passed
over, I discovered that so ungainly, so awkward, so unmanageable a
vessel never put to sea. In light winds she scarcely stirred, or moved
as if she were water-logged ; if it came to blow upon the quarter,
she fell off from her helm at a fearful rate; in wearing, she endan-
gered every spar she had ; and when you put her in stays, when half
way round she would fall back, and nearly carry away every stitch
of canvas with the shock. If the ship was bad, the crew were ten

THE SKirrER. 221)

times worse. What Dawkins had said turned out to be literally-
true : every ill-conducted, disorderly fellow who had been up the
gangway once a week or so, every unreclaimed landsman of bad
character and no seamanship, was sent on board of us ; and in fact,
except that there was scarcely any discipline and no restraint, we
appeared like a floating penitentiary of convicted felons.

" So long as we ran down channel, with a slack sea and fair wind,
so long all went on tolerably well ; to be sure, they only kept watch
when they were tired below ; when they came up, reeled about the
deck, did all just as they pleased, and treated me with no manner of
respect. After some vain efforts to repress^heir excesses — vain, for
I had but one to second me — I appeared to take no notice of their
misconduct, and contented myself with waiting for the time when,
my dreary voyage over, I should quit the command, and part com-
pany with such associates forever. At last, however, it came on to
blow, and the night we passed the Lizard was indeed a fearful one.
As morning broke, a sea running mountains high, a wind strong
from the northwest was hurrying the old craft along at a rate I be-
lieved impossible. I shall not stop to recount the frightful scenes
of anarchy, confusion, drunkenness, and insubordination which our
crew exhibited ; the recollection is too bad already, and I would
spare you and myself the recital ; but from the fourth day of the
setting in of the gale, as we entered the Bay of Biscay, some one aloft
descried a strange sail to windward, bearing down as if in pursuit
of us. Scarcely did the news reach the deck, when, bad as it was
before, matters became now ten times worse, some resolving to give
themselves up if the chase happened to be French, and vowing that,
before surrendering, the spirit-room should be forced, and every man
let drink as he pleased. Others proposed, if there were anything
like equality in the force, to attack, and convert the captured vessel
if they succeeded, inJ;o a slaver, and sail at once for Africa. Some
were for blowing up the old Brian with all on board ; and, in fact,
every counsel that drunkenness, insanity, and crime combined could
suggest was offered and descanted on. Meanwhile the chase gained
rapidly upon us, and before noon we discovered her to be a French
letter-of-marque, with four guns, and a long brass swivel upon the
poop deck. As for us, every sheet of canvas we could crowd was
crammed on, but in vain ; and, as we labored through the heavy
sea, our riotous crew grew every moment worse, and, sitting down
sulkily in groups upon the deck, declared that, come what might,
they would neither work the ship nor fight her ; that they had been
sent to sea in a rotten craft, merely to effect their destruction, and
that they cared little for the disgrace of a flag they detested. Half
furious with the taunting sarcasm I heard on every side, and nearly


mad from passion, and bewildered, my first impulse was to rush
amongst them with my drawn cutlass, and, ere I fell their victim,
take heavy vengeance upon the ringleaders, when suddenly a sharp
booming noise came thundering along, and a round shot went flying
over our heads.

" ' Down with the ensign ; strike at once !' cried eight or ten voices
together, as the ball whizzed through the rigging. Anticipating
this, and resolving, whatever might happen, to fight her to the last,
I had made the mate, a staunch-hearted, resolute fellow, to make
fast the signal sailyard aloft, so that it was impossible for any one
on deck to lower the bunting. Bang went another gun, and, before
the smoke cleared away, a third, which, truer in its aim than the
rest, went clean through the lower part of our mainsail.

" ' Steady, then, boys, and clear for action,' said the mate. ' She's
a French smuggling craft that will sheer off when we show fight, so
that we must not fire a shot till she comes alongside.'

" ' And harkee, lads,' said I, taking up the tone of encourage-
ment he spoke with, ' if we take her, I promise to claim nothing
of the prize. Whatever we capture you shall divide amongst

" ■ It's very easy to divide what we never had,' said one ; 'Nearly
as easy as to give it,' cried another ; * I'll never light match or draw
cutlass in the cause,' said a third.

" ' Surrender !' ' Strike the flag !' ' Down with the colors !' roared
several voices together.

" By this time the Frenchman was close up, and ranging his long
gun to sweep our decks ; his crew were quite perceptible — about
twenty bronzed, stout-looking fellows, stripped to the waist, and
carrying pistols in broad, flat belts, slung over the shoulder.

" ' Come, my lads,' said I, raising my voice, as I drew a pistol
from my side and cocked it, ' our time is short now ; I may as well
tell you that the first shot that strikes us amidship blows up the
whole craft and every man on board. We are nothing less than a
fire-ship, destined for Brest harbor to blow up the French fleet. If
you are willing to make an effort for your lives, follow me !'

"The men looked aghast. Whatever recklessness crime and
drunkenness had given them, the awful feeling of inevitable death
at once repelled. Short as was the time for reflection, they felt that
there were many circumstances to encourage the assertion; the
nature of the vessel, her riotous, disorderly crew, the secret nature
of the service, all confirmed it, and they answered with a shout of
despairing vengeance, ' We'll board her ; lead us on.' As the cry
rose up, the long swivel from the chase rang sharply in our ears, and
a tremendous discharge of grape flew through our rigging ; none of


our men, however, fell ; and, animated now with the desire for battle,
they sprang to the binnacle, and seized their arms.

" In an instant the whole deck became a scene of excited bustle ;
and scarcely was the ammunition dealt out, and the boarding-party
drawn up, when the Frenchman broached to, and lashed his bow-
sprit to our own.

" One terrific yell burst from our fellows as they sprang from the
rigging and the poop upon the astonished Frenchmen, who thought
that the victory was already their own. With death and ruin behind,
their only hope before, they dashed forward like madmen to the fray.

" The conflict was bloody and terrific, though not a long one ;
nearly equal in number, but far superior in personal strength, and
stimulated by their sense of danger, our fellows rushed onward,
carrying all before them to the quarter-deck. Here the Frenchmen
rallied, and for some minutes had rather the advantage, until the
mate, turning one of their guns against them, prepared to sweep
them down in a mass. Then it was that they ceased their fire, and
cried out for quarter, — all save their captain, a short, thick-set fellow,
with a grizzly beard and moustache, who, seeing his men fall back,
turned on them one glance of scowling indignation, and, rushing
forward, clove our boatswain to the deck with one blow. Before the
example could have been followed, he lay a bloody corpse upon the
deck, while our people, roused to madness by the loss of a favorite
among the men, dashed impetuously forward, and, dealing death on
every side, left not one man living among their unresisting enemies.
My story is soon told now. We brought our prize safe into Malta,
which we reached in five days. In less than a week our men were
drafted into different men-of-war on the station. I was appointed a
warrant officer in the Sheervoater, forty-four guns ; and, as the Ad-
miral opened the despatch, the only words he spoke puzzled me for
many a day after.

" ' You have accomplished your orders too well,' said he ; ' that
privateer is but a poor compensation for the whole French navy.' "

" Well," inquired Power, " and did you never hear the meaning of
the words?"

" Yes," said he ; " many years after, I found out that our de-
spatches were false ones, intended to have fallen into the hands of
the French, and mislead them as to Lord Nelson's fleet, which at
that time was cruising to the southward to catch them. This, of
course, explained what fate was destined for us — a French prison, if
not death ; and, after all, either was fully good enough for the crew
that sailed in the old Brian"




IT was late when we separated for the night, and the morning
was already far advanced ere I awoke .; the monotonous tramp
overhead showed me that the others were stirring, and I gently
moved the shutter of the narrow window beside me to look out.

The sea, slightly rippled upon its surface, shone like a plate of
fretted gold ; not a wave, not a breaker appeared ; but the rushing
sound close by showed that we were moving fast through the water.

" Always calm, hereabouts," said a gruif voice on deck, which I
soon recognized as the Skipper's ; " no sea whatever."

" I can make nothing of it," cried out Power from the forepart of
the vessel ; " it appears to me all cloud."

" No, no, sir ; believe me, it's no fog-bank, that large dark mass
to leeward there : that's Cintra."

" Land !" cried I, springing up and rushing upon deck ; " where,
Skipper, — where is the land ?"

" I say, Charley," said Power, " I hope you mean to adopt a little
more clothing on reaching Lisbon; for though the climate is a warm
one "

"Nevermind, O'Malley," said the Major; "the Portuguese will
only be nattered by the attention, if you land as you are."

"Why, how so?"

" Surely you remember what the niggers said when they saw the
79th Highlanders landing at St. Lucie. They had never seen a
Scotch regiment before, and were consequently somewhat puzzled at
the costume ; till, at last, one more cunning than the rest explained
it by saying, ' They are in such a hurry to kill the poor black man,
that they come away without their breeches.' "

" Now, what say you ?" cried the Skipper, as he pointed with his
telescope to a dark blue mass in the distance ; "see there !"

"Ah, true enough, that's Cintra !"

"Then we shall probably be in the Tagus before morning?"

" Before midnight, if the wind holds," said the Skipper.

We breakfasted on deck, beneath an awning ; the vessel scarcely
seemed to move as she cut her way through the calm water.

The misty outline of the coast grew gradually more defined, and
at length the blue mountains could be seen, at first but dimly ; but
as the day wore on, there many-colored hues shone forth, and
patches of green verdure, dotted with sheep, or sheltered by dark
foliage, met the eye. The bulwarks were crowded with anxious
faces; each looked pointedly towards the shore, and many a stout


heart beat high as the land drew near, fated to cover with its earth
more than one amongst us.

" And that's Portingale, Mister Charles," said a voice behind me.
I turned, and saw my man Mike, as, with anxious joy, he fixed his
eyes upon the shore.

" They tell me it's a beautiful place, with wine for nothing, and
spirits for less. Isn't it a pity they won't be raisonable, and make
peace with' us ?"

" Why, my good fellow, we are excellent friends ; it's the French
who want to beat us all."

" Upon my conscience, that's not right. There's an ould saying
in Connanght, — it's not fair for one to fall upon twenty. Sergeant
Haggarty says that I'll see none of the divarsion at all."

" I don't well understand "

" He does be telling me that, as I'm only your footboy, he'll send
me away to the rear, where there's nothing but wounded, and wagons,
and women."

" I believe the sergeant is right there ; but, after all, Mike, it's a
safe place."

" Ah ! then, musha for the safety ; I don't think much of it ; sure
they might circumvint us. And, av it wasn't displazing to you, I'd
rather list."

" Well, I've no objection, Mickey ; would you like to join my
regiment ?"

" By coorse, your honor. I'd like to be near yourself; bekase, too,
if anything happens to you — the Lord be between us and harm," —
here he crossed himself piously, — " sure I'd like to be able to tell
the master how you died ; and, sure, there's Mr. Considine — God
pardon him ! — he'll be beating my brains out av I couldn't explain
it all."

" Well, Mike, I'll speak to some of my friends here about you,
and we'll settle it all properly. Here's the Doctor."

" Arrah, Mr. Charles, don't mind him ; he's a poor crayture en-
tirely ; divil a thing he knows."

" Why, what do you mean, man ? he's physician to the forces."

" Oh, be-gorra, and so he may be," said Mike, with a toss of his
head ; " those army docthers isn't worth their salt. It's thruth I'm
tellin' you ; sure, didn't he come see me when I was sick below in
the hould ?

" ' How do you feel V says he.

" ' Terribly dhry in the mouth,' says I.

" ' But your bones,' says he; 'how's them?'

" ' As if cripples was kicking me,' says I.

" Well, with that he wint away, and brought back two powthers.


" 'Take them/ says he/and you'll be cured in no time.'

" 'What's them V says L

" ' They're ematics,' says he.

" ' Blood and ages/ says I, ' are they ?'

" ' Devil a lie/ says he ; ' take them immediately.'

" And I tuk them, and, would you believe me, Mister Charles? —
it's thruth I'm telling you — devil a one o' them would stay on my
j stomach. So you see what a docther he is I"

I could not help smiling at Mike's ideas of medicine, as I turned
away to talk to the Major, who was busily engaged beside me. His
occupation consisted in furbishing up a very tarnished and faded
uniform, whose white seams and threadbare lace betokened many
years of service.

" Getting up our traps, you see, O'Malley," said he, as he looked
with no small pride at the faded glories of his old vestment; "aston-
ish them at Lisbon, we flatter ourselves. I say, Power, what a bad
style of dress they've got into latterly, with their tight waists and
strapped trousers — nothing free, nothing easy, nothing dtgagi about
it. When in a campaign, a man ought to be able to stow prog for
twenty-four hours about his person, and no one the wiser. A very
good rule, I assure you, though it sometimes leads to awkward re-
sults. At Vimeira, I got into a sad scrape that way. Old Sir Harry,
who commanded there, sent for the sick return. I was at dinner
when the orderly came ; so I packed up the eatables about me, and
rode off. Just, however, as I came up to the quarters, my horse
stumbled, and threw me slap on my head.

" ' Is he killed?' said Sir Harry.

" ' Only stunned, your excellency/ said some one.

"'Then he'll come to, I suppose. Look for the papers in his

" So they turned me on my back, and plunged a hand into my
side-pocket, but, the devil take it, they pulled out a roast hen.
Well, the laugh was scarcely over at this, when another fellow
dived into my coat behind, and lugged out three sausages ; and so
they went on, till the ground was covered with ham, pigeon-pie,
veal, kidney, and potatoes, and the only thing like a paper was a
mess roll of the 4th, with a droll- song about Sir Harry, written in
pencil on the back of it. Devil of a bad affair for me ; I was nearly
broke for it ; but they only reprimanded me a little, and I was
afterwards attached to the victualling department."

What an anxious thing is the last day of a voyage ! How slowly
creep the hours, teeming with memories of the past and expecta-
tions of the future!

Every plan, every well-devised expedient to cheat the long and


weary days, is at once abandoned ; the chess-board and the new
novel are alike forgotten, and the very quarter-deck walk, with its
merry gossip and careless chit-chat, becomes distasteful. One blue
and misty mountain, one faint outline of the far-off shore, has dis-
pelled all thought of these, and with straining eye and anxious
heart we watch for land.

As the day wears on apace, the excitement increases; the faint
and shadowy forms of distant objects grow gradually clearer. Where
before some tall and misty mountain-peak was seen, we now descry
patches of deepest blue and sombre olive ; the mellow corn and the
waving woods, the village spire and the lowly cot, come out of the
landscape; and, like some well-remembered voice, they speak of
home. The objects we have seen, the sounds we have heard a hun-
dred times before without interest, become to us now things that
stir the heart.

For a time the bright glare of the noonday sun dazzles the view,
and renders indistinct the prospect; but, as evening falls, once
more is all fair, and bright, and rich before us. Rocked by the long
and rolling swell, I lay beside the bowsprit, watching the shore-
birds that came to rest upon the rigging, or following some long and
tangled sea-weed as it floated by, — my thoughts now wandering
back to the brown hills and the broad river of my early home — now
straying off in dreary fancies of the future.

How flat and unprofitable does all ambition seem at such mo-
ments as these ! how valueless, how poor, in our estimation, those
worldly distinctions we have so often longed and thirsted for, as
with lowly heart and simple spirit we watch each humble cottage,
weaving to ourselves some story of its inmates as we pass !

The night at length closed in, but it was a bright and starry one,
lending to the landscape a hue of sombre shadow, while the outline
of the objects were still sharp and distinct as before. One solitary
star twinkled near the horizon. I watched it as, at intervals disap-
pearing, it would again shine out, marking the calm sea with a tall

Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 24 of 80)