Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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pillar of light.

"Come down, Mr. O'Malley," cried the Skipper's well-known
voice, — " come down below, and join us in a parting glass. That's
the Lisbon light to leeward, and before two hours we drop our
anchor in the Tagus."




OF my travelling companions I have already told my readers
something. Power is now an old acquaintance ; to Sparks
I have already presented them ; of the Adjutant they are
not entirely ignorant ; and it therefore only remains for me to intro-
duce to their notice Major Monsoon. I should have some scruple
for the digression which this occasions in my narrative, were it not
that with the worthy Major I was destined to meet subsequently,
and indeed served under his orders for some months in the Penin-
sula. When Major Monsoon had entered the army, or in what pre-
cise capacity, I never yet met the man who could tell. There were
traditionary accounts of his having served in the East Indies and in
Canada, in times long past. His own peculiar reminiscences ex-
tended to nearly every regiment in the service — " horse, foot, and
dragoons." There was not a clime he had not basked in, not an
engagement he had not witnessed. His memory, or, if you will, his
invention, was never at fault; and from the siege of Seringapatam
to the battle of Corunna he was perfect. Besides this, he possessed
a mind retentive of even the most trifling details of his profession :
from the formation of a regiment to the introduction of a new but-
ton — from the laying down of a parallel to the price of a camp-
kettle, he knew it all. To be sure, he had served in the Commis-
sary-General's department for a number of years, and nothing in-
stills such habits as this.

" The commissaries are to the army what the special pleaders are
to the bar/' observed my friend Power — "dry dogs, not over-
creditable, on the whole, but devilish useful."

The Major had begun life a two-bottle man, but by a studious
cultivation of his natural gifts, and a steady determination to suc-
ceed, he had at the time I knew him attained to his fifth. It need
not be wondered at, then, that his countenance bore some traces of
his habits. It was of a deep, sunset purple, w T hich, becoming trop-
ical, at the tip of the nose verged almost upon a plum color; his
mouth was large, thick-lipped, and good-humored ; his voice rich,
mellow and racy, and contributed, with the aid of a certain dry,
chuckling laugh, greatly to increase the effect of the stories which he
was ever ready to recount ; and, as they most frequently bore in
some degree against some of what he called his little failings, they
were ever well received, no man being so popular w T ith the world as
he who flatters its vanity at his own expense. To do this the Major
was ever ready, but at no time more so than when the evening wore


late, and the last bottle of his series seemed to imply that any cau-
tion regarding the nature of his communication was perfectly unne-
cessary. Indeed, from the commencement of his evening to its close,
he seemed to pass through a number of mental changes, all in a
manner preparing him for this final consummation, when he con-
fessed anything and everything; and so well-regulated had these
stages become, that a friend dropping in upon him suddenly could
at once pronounce, from the tone of his conversation, on what pre-
cise bottle the Major was then engaged.

Thus, in the outset he was gastronomic ; discussed the dinner, from
the soup to the Stilton ; criticised the cutlets ; pronounced upon the
merits of the mutton ; and threw out certain vague hints that he
would one day astonish the world by a little volume upon cookery.

With bottle No. 2 he took leave of the cuisine, and opened his bat-
tery upon the wine. Bordeaux, Burgundy, hock, and hermitage, all
passed in review before him ; their flavor discussed, their treatment
descanted upon, their virtues extolled ; from humble port to imperial
tokay, he was thoroughly conversant with all ; and not a vintage
escaped as to when the sun had suffered eclipse or when a comet had
wagged his tail over it.

With No. 3 he became pipeclay ; talked army list and eighteen
manoeuvres; lamented the various changes in equipments which
modern innovation had introduced ; and feared that the loss of pig-
tails might sap the military spirit of the nation.

With No. 4 his anecdotic powers came into play ; he recounted
various incidents of the war, with his own individual adventures and
experience, told with an honest naivelS that proved personal vanity ;
indeed, self-respect never marred the interest of the narrative ; be-
sides, as he had ever regarded a campaign something in the light of
a foray, and esteemed war as little else than a pillage excursion, his
sentiments were singularly amusing.

With his last bottle, those feelings that seem inevitably connected
with whatever is last appeared to steal over him. A tinge of sad-
ness for pleasures fast passing and nearly passed, a kind of retro-
spective glance at the fallacy of all our earthly enjoyments, insensibly
suggesting moral and edifying reflections, led him by degrees to
confess that he was not quite satisfied with himself, though " not
very bad for a commissary ;" and, finally, as the decanter waxed low,
he would interlard his meditations by passages of Scripture, singu-
larly perverted, by his misdescription, from their true meaning, and
alternately throwing out prospects of censure or approval. Such
was Major Monsoon ; and to conclude in his own words this brief
sketch, he " would have been an excellent officer if Providence had
not made him such a confounded drunken old scoundrel."


" Now, then, for the King of Spain's story. Out with it, old boy ,
we are all good men and true here," cried Power, as we slowly came
along upon the tide up the Tagus, "so you've nothing whatever to

" Upon my life," said the Major, " I don't half like the tone of our
conversation. There is a certain freedom young men affect nowa-
days regarding morals that is not at all to my taste. When I was
five or six and twenty "

" You were the greatest scamp in the service," cried Power.

"Fie, fie, Fred. If I was a little wild or so" — here the Major's
eyes twinkled maliciously — " it was the ladies that spoiled me ; I
was always something of a favorite, just like our friend Sparks there.
Not that we fared very much alike in our little adventures ; for,
somehow, I believe I was generally in fault in most of mine, as many
a good man and many an excellent man has been before." Here his
voice dropped into a moralizing key, as he added, " David, you know,
didn't behave well to old Uriah. Upon my life he did not, and he
was a very respectable man."

" The King of Spain's sherry ! the sherry !" cried I, fearing that
the Major's digression might lose us a good story.

" You shall not have a drop of it," replied the Major.

" But the story, Major, the story."

" Nor the story either."

" What," said Power, " will you break faith with us ?"

"There's none to be kept with reprobates like you. Fill my

"Hold there! — stop!" cried Power. "Not a spoonful till he re-
deems his pledge."

"Well, then, if you must have a story — for most assuredly I
must drink — I have no objection to give you a leaf from my early
reminiscences ; and, in compliment to Sparks there, my tale shall be
of love."

" I dinna like to lose the King's story. I hae my thoughts it was
na a bad ane."

" Nor I neither, Doctor ; but "

" Come, come, you shall have that too, the first night we meet in
a bivouac, and, as I fear the time may not be very far distant, don't
be impatient ; besides, a love-story "

"Quite true," said Power; "a love-story claims precedence —
place aux dames. There's a bumper for you, old Wickedness ; so go

The Major cleared off his glass, refilled it, sipped twice, and ogled
it as though he would have no peculiar objection to sip once more,
took a long pinch of snuff from a box nearly as long as, and some-


thing the shape of, a child's coffin, looked around to see that we were
all attention, and thus began :

" When I have been in a moralizing mood, as I very frequently
am about this hour in the morning, I have often felt surprised by
what little, trivial, and insignificant circumstances our lot in life
seems to be cast ; I mean especially as regards the fair sex. You
are prospering, as it were, to-day ; to-morrow a new cut of your
whiskers, a novel tie of your cravat, mars your destiny and spoils
your future varium et mutabile, as Horace has it. On the other hand,
some equally slight circumstance will do what all your ingenuity
may have failed to effect. I knew a fellow who married the great-
est fortune in Bath, from the mere habit he had of squeezing one's
hand. The lady in question thought it particular, looked conscious,
and all that ; he followed up the blow ; and, in a word, they were
married in a week. So a friend of mine, who could not help wink-
ing his left eye, once opened a flirtation with a lively widow which
cost him a special license and a settlement. In fact, you are never
safe. They are like the guerillas, and they pick you off when you
least expect it, and when you think there is nothing to fear. There-
fore, as young fellows beginning life, I would caution you. On this
head you can never be too circumspect. Do you know, I was once
nearly caught by so slight a habit as sitting thus, with my legs

Here the Major rested his right foot on his left knee, in illustra-
tion, and continued:

" We were quartered in Jamaica. I had not long joined, and was
about as raw a young gentleman as you could see ; the only very
clear ideas in my head being that we were monstrous fine fellows in
the 50th, and that the planters' daughters were deplorably in love
with us. Not that I was much wrong on either side. For brandy-
and-water, sangaree, Manilla cigars, and the ladies of color, I'd have
backed the corps against the service. Proof was, of eighteen only
two ever left the island ; for what with the seductions of the coffee
plantations, the sugar-canes, the new rum, the brown skins, the
rainy season, and the yellow fever, most of us settled there.

11 It's very hard to leave the West Indies if once you've been quar-
tered there."

" So I have heard," said Power.

" In fine, if you don't knock under to the climate, you become
soon totally unfit for living anywhere else. Preserved ginger, yams,
flannel jackets, and grog won't bear exportation ; and the free-and-
easy chuck under the chin, cherishing, waist-pressing kind of way
we get with the ladies, would be quite misunderstood in less-favored
regions, and lead to very unpleasant consequences.


"It is singular how much climate has to do with love-making.
In our cold country the progress is lamentably slow : fogs, east winds,
sleet-storms, and cutting March weather, nip many a budding flirta-
tion ; whereas warm, sunny days, and bright moonlight nights, with
genial air and balmy zephyrs, open the heart, like the cup of a
cainelia, and let us drink in the soft dew of "

" Devilish poetical, that !" said Power, evolving a long blue line
of smoke from the corner of his mouth.

" Isn't it, though ?" said the Major, smiling graciously. " Ton
my life, I thought so myself. Where was I ?"

" Out of my latitude altogether," said the poor Skipper, who often
found it hard to follow the thread of a story.

" Yes, I remember. I was remarking that sangaree and calipash,
mangoes and Guava jelly, dispose the heart to love, and so they do.
I was no more than six weeks in Jamaica when I felt it myself.
Now, it was a very dangerous symptom, if you had it strong in you,
for this reason. Our colonel, the most cross-grained old crabstick
that ever breathed, happened himself to be taken in when young,
and resolving, like the fox who lost his tail, and said it was not the
fashion to wear one, to pretend he did the thing for fun, resolved to
make every fellow marry upon the slightest provocation. Begad,
you might as well enter a powder magazine with a branch of candles
in your hand as go into society in the island with a leaning towards
the fair sex. Very hard this was for me particularly ; for, like poor
Sparks there, my weakness was ever for the petticoats. I had, be-
sides, no petty, contemptible prejudices as to nation, habits, lan-
guage, color, or complexion — black, brown, or fair, from the Mus-
covite to the Malabar, from the voluptuous embonpoint of the Adju-
tant's widow — don't be angry, old boy — to the fairy form of Isabella
herself, I loved them all round. But were I to give a preference
anywhere, I should certainly do so to the West Indians, if it were
only for the sake of the planters' daughters. I say it fearlessly,
these colonies are the brightest jewels in the crown. Let's drink
their health, for I'm as husky as a lime-kiln."

This ceremony being performed with suitable enthusiasm, the
Major cried out, " Another cheer for Polly Hackett, the sweetest
girl in Jamaica. By Jove, Power, if you only saw her, as I did, five-
and-forty years ago, with eyes black as jet, twinkling, ogling, leer-
ing, teasing, and imploring, all at once, do you mind, and a mouth-
ful of downright pearls pouting and smiling at you, why, man, you'd
have proposed for her in the first half-hour, and shot yourself the
next when she refused you. She was, indeed, a perfect little beauty ;
rayther dark, to be sure — a little upon the rosewood tinge, but beau-
tifully polished, and a very nice piece of furniture for a cottage orne',


as the French call it. Alas, alas ! how these vanities do catch hold
of us! My recollections have made me quite feverish and thirsty;
is there any cold punch in the bowl? Thank you, O'Malley, that
will do — merely to touch my lips. Well, well, it's all past and
gone now. But I was very fond of Polly Hackett, and she was of
me. We used to take our little evening walks together through the
coffee plantations ; very romantic little strolls they were : she in
white muslin, with a blue sash, and blue shoes ; I in a flannel jacket
and trousers, straw hat and cravat ; a Virginia cigar, as long as a
walking-stick, in my mouth, puffing and courting between times j
then we'd take a turn to the refining-house, look in at the big boilers,
quiz the niggers, and come back to Twangberry Moss to supper,
where old Hackett, the father, sported a glorious table at eleven
o'clock. Great feeding it was. You were always sure of a preserved
monkey, a baked land-crab, or some such delicacy. And such
Madeira ! it makes me dry to think of it !

" Talk of West India slavery, indeed ! It's the only land of
liberty. There is nothing to compare with the perfect free-and-easy,
devil-may-care kind of a take-yourself way that every one has there.
If it would be any peculiar comfort for you to sit in the saddle of
mutton, and put your legs in a soup tureen at dinner, there would
be found very few to object to it. There is no nonsense of any kind
about etiquette. You eat, drink, and are merry, or, if you prefer,
are sad ; just as you please. You may wear uniform, or you may
not — it's your own affair ; and consequently, it may be imagined
how insensibly such privileges gain upon one, and how very reluc-
tant we become ever to resign or abandon them.

" I was the man to appreciate it all. The whole course of proceed-
ing seemed to have been invented for my peculiar convenience, and
not a man on the island enjoyed a more luxurious existence than
myself, not knowing all the while how dearly I was destined to pay
for my little comforts. Among my plenary after-dinner indulgences
I had contracted an inveterate habit of sitting cross-legged, as I
showed you. Now, this was become a perfect necessity of existence
to me. I could have dispensed with cheese, with my glass of port,
my pickled mango, my olive, my anchovy toast, my nutshell of
curacoa, but not my favorite lounge. You may smile ; but I've read
of a man who could never dance except in the room with an old
hair-brush. Now I'm certain my stomach would not digest if my
legs were perpendicular. I don't mean to defend the thing. The
attitude was not graceful ; it was not imposing ; but it suited me
somehow, and I liked it.

" From what I have already mentioned, you may suppose that
West India habits exercised but little control over my favorite prac-


tice, which I indulged in every evening of my life. Well, one day,
old Hackett gave us a great blow-out — a dinner of two-and-twenty
souls • six days' notice; turtle from St. Lucie, guinea-fowl, claret of
the year forty, Madeira a discretion, and all that. Very well done
the whole thing : nothing wrong, nothing wanting. As for me, I
was in great feather. I took Polly in to dinner, greatly to the dis-
comfiture of old Belson, our Major, who was making up in that
quarter ; for, you must know, she was an only daughter, and had a
very nice thing of it in molasses and niggers. The papa preferred
the Major, but Polly looked sweetly upon me. Well, down we went,
and really a most excellent feed we had. Now, I must mention here
that Polly had a favorite Blenheim spaniel the old fellow detested ;
it was always tripping him up and snarling at him ; for it was, ex-
cept to herself, a beast of rather vicious inclinations. With a true
Jamaica taste, it was her pleasure to bring the animal always into
the dinner-room, where, if papa discovered him, there was sure to be
a row — servants sent in one direction to hunt him out ; others en-
deavoring to hide him, and so on ; in fact, a tremendous hubbub
always followed his introduction and accompanied his exit, upon
which occasions I invariably exercised my gallantry by protecting
the beast, although I hated him like the devil all the time.

"To return to our dinner. After two hours of hard eating, the pace
slackened, and as evening closed in, a sense of peaceful repose seemed
to descend upon our labors, Pastilles shed an aromatic vapor through
the room. The well-iced decanters went with measured pace along;
conversation, subdued to the meridian of after-dinner comfort, just
murmured ; the open jalousies displayed upon the broad verandah the
orange tree in full blossom, slightly stirring with the cool sea-breeze. '

"And the piece of white muslin beside you, what of her?"

" Looked twenty times more bewitching than ever. Well, it was
just the hour when, opening the last two buttons of your white
waistcoat (remember we were in Jamaica), you stretch your legs to
the full extent, throw your arm carelessly over the back of your
chair, look contemplatively towards the ceiling, and wonder, within
yourself, why it is not all ' after dinner' in this same world of ours.
Such, at least, were my reflections as I assumed my attitude of
supreme comfort, and inwardly ejaculated a health to Sneyd and
Barton. Just at this moment I heard Polly's voice gently whisper, —

" \ Isn't he a love? isn't he a darling V

" * Zounds I 1 thought I, as a pang of jealousy shot through my
heart, 'is it the Major she means ?' for old Belson, with his bag wig
and rouged cheeks, was seated on the other side of her.

" ' What a dear old thing it is !' said Polly.

" ' Worse and worse,' said I ; 'it must be him.'


" ' I do so love his muzzy face/

" ' It is him I' said I, throwing off a bumper, and almost boiling
over with passion at the moment.

" ' I wish I could take one look at him,' said she, laying down her
head as she spoke.

"The Major whispered something in her ear, to which she re-
plied, —

" f Oh ! I dare not ; papa will see me at once.'

" ' Don't be afraid, madam,' said I, fiercely ; ' your father perfectly
approves of your taste.'

" ' Are you sure of it?' said she, giving me such a look.

" ' I know it,' said I, struggling violently with my agitation.

" The Major leaned over, as if to touch her hand beneath the
cloth. I almost sprang from my chair, when Polly, in her sweetest
accents, said, —

" ' You must be patient, dear thing, or you may be found out,
and then there will be such a piece of work. Though, I'm sure,
Major, you would not betray me.' The Major smiled till he
cracked the paint upon his cheeks. ' And I am sure that Mr. Mon-
soon '

" ' You may rely upon me,' said I, half-sneeringly.

"The Major and I exchanged glances of defiance, while Polly
continued, —

" ' Now, come, don't be restless. You are very comfortable there.
Isn't he, Major ?' The Major smiled again more graciously than
before, as he added, —

"'May I take a look?'

" 'Just one peep, then, — no more !' said she, coquettishly ; 'poor
dear Wowski is so timid.'

" Scarcely had these words borne balm and comfort to my heart —
for I now knew that to the dog, and not to my rival, were all the
flattering expressions applied — when a slight scream from Polly,
and a tremendous oath from the Major, roused me from my dream
of happiness.

" ' Take your foot down, sir. Mr. Monsoon, how could you do
so?' cried Polly.

" ' What the devil, sir, do you mean?' shouted the Major.

" ' Oh ! I shall die of shame,' sobbed she.

" ' I'll shoot him like a riddle,' muttered old Belson.

" By this time the whole table had got at the story, and such
peals of laughter, mingled with suggestions for my personal mal-
treatment, I never heard. All my attempts at explanation were in
vain. I was not listened to, much less believed, and the old colonel
finished the scene by ordering me to my quarters, in a voice I shall


never forget, the whole room being, at the time I made my exit, one
scene of tumultuous laughter from one end to the other. Jamaica
after this became too hot for me. The story was repeated on every
side ; for it seems I had been sitting with my foot on Polly's lap ;
but so occupied was I with my jealous vigilance of the Major, I was
not aware of the fact until she herself discovered it.

" I need not say how the following morning brought with it every
possible offer of amende upon my part; anything, from a written
apology to a proposition to marry the lady, I was ready for, and
how the matter might have ended I know not ; but in the middle of
the negotiations we were ordered off to Halifax, where, be assured,
I abandoned my oriental attitude for many a long day after."



WHAT a contrast to the dull monotony of our life at sea did
the scene present which awaited us on landing in Lisbon.
The whole quay was crowded with hundreds of people
eagerly watching the vessel which bore from her mast the broad
ensign of Britain. Dark-featured, swarthy, moustached faces, with
red caps rakishly set on one side, mingled with the Saxon faces and
fair-haired natives of our own country. Men-of-war boats plied
unceasingly to and fro across the tranquil river, some slender reefer
in the stern-sheets, while behind him trailed the red pennon of some
" tall admiral."

The din and clamor of a mighty city mingled with the far-off
sounds of military music, and in the vistas of the opening street
masses of troops might be seen, in marching order. All betokened
the near approach of war.

Our anchor had scarcely been dropped, when an eight-oar gig,
with a midshipman steering, came alongside.

" Ship ahoy, there ! You've troops on board ?"

" Ay, ay, sir."

Before the answer could be spoken, he was on deck.

" May I ask," said he, touching his cap slightly, " who is the
officer in command of the detachment?"

" Captain Power — very much at your service," said Fred, return-
ing the salute.

" Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Douglas requests that you will do


him the favor to come on board immediately, and bring your des-
patches with you."

"I'm quite ready," said Power, as he placed his papers in his
sabretasche ; " but first tell us what's doing here. Anything new
lately ?"

" I have heard nothing, except of some affair with the Portuguese.
They've been drubbed again ; but our people have not been engaged.
I say, we had better get under way ; there's our first lieutenant, with
his telescope up ; he's looking straight at us. So, come along.
Good-evening, gentlemen." And in another moment the sharp
craft was cutting the clear water, where Power gayly waved us a

" Who's for shore ?" said the Skipper, as half a dozen boats
swarmed around the side, or held on by their boat-hooks to the

Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 25 of 80)