Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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only his interest and that of his followers should be thereby secured
to the O'Malley cause. The evening before I set out was devoted to
giving me all the necessary instructions how I was to proceed, and
what difficulties I was to avoid.

" Say your uncle's in high feather with the government party,"
said Sir Harry, " and that he only votes against them as a ruse de
guerre, as the French call it."

"Insist upon it that I am sure of the election without him, but
that for family reasons he should not stand aloof from me ; that
people are talking of it in the country."

"And drop a hint," said Considine, " that O'Malley is greatly im-
proved in his shooting."

"And don't get drunk too early in the evening, for Phil Blake has
beautiful claret," said another.

"And be sure you don't make love to the red-headed girls,"
added a third ; " he has four of them, each more sinfully ugly than
the other."

" You'll be playing whist, too," said Boyle ; " and never mind
losing a few pounds. Mrs. B. — long life to her — has a playful way
of turning the king."

" Charley will do it all well," said my uncle ; " leave him alone.
And now let us have in the supper."

It was only on the following morning, as the tandem came round
to the door, that I began to feel the importance of my mission, and
certain misgivings came over me as to my ability to fulfil it. Mr.
Blake and his family, though estranged from my uncle for several
years past, had been always most kind and good-natured to me ; and
although I could not with propriety have cultivated any close inti-
macy with them, I had every reason to suppose that they entertained
towards me nothing but sentiments of good will. The head of the
family was a Galway squire of the oldest and most genuine stock ;
a great sportsman, a negligent farmer, and most careless father. He
looked upon a fox as an infinitely more precious part of the creation
than a French governess, and thought that riding well with hounds
was a far better gift than all the learning of a Porson. His daugh-
ters were after his own heart, — the best-tempered, least-educated,



MR. BLAKE. 27

most high-spirited, gay, dashing, ugly girls in the country, — ready
to ride over a four-foot paling without a saddle, and to dance the
" Wind that shakes the barley," for four consecutive hours, against
all the officers that their hard fate, and the Horse Guards, ever con-
demned to Galway.

The mamma was only remarkable for her liking for whist, and
her invariable good fortune thereat — a circumstance the world were
agreed in ascribing less to the blind goddess than her own natural
endowments.

Lastly, the heir of the house was a stripling of about my own
age, whose accomplishments were limited to selling spavined and
broken-winded horses to the infantry officers, playing a safe game
at billiards, and acting as jackal-general to his sisters at balls, pro- L
viding them with a sufficiency of partners, and making a strong fight
for a place at the supper-table for his mother. These fraternal and
filial traits, more honored at home than abroad, had made Mr. Mat-
thew Blake a rather well-known individual in the neighborhood
where he lived.

Though Mr. Blake's property was ample, and, strange to say for
his county, unencumbered, the whole air and appearance of his
house and grounds betrayed anything rather than a sufficiency of
means. The gate lodge was a miserable mud hovel, with a thatched
and falling roof; the gate itself, a wooden contrivance, one half of
which was boarded and the other railed ; the avenue was covered
with weeds, and deep with ruts, and the clumps of young planta-
tion, which had been planted and fenced with care, were now open
to the cattle, and either totally uprooted or denuded of their bark,
and dying. The lawn, a handsome one of some forty acres, had
been devoted to an exercise-ground for training horses, and was cut
up by their feet beyond all semblance of its original destination ;
and the house itself, a large and venerable, structure of above a cen-
tury old, displayed every variety of contrivance, as well as the usual
one of glass, to exclude the weather. The hall-door hung by a
single hinge, and required three persons each morning and evening
to open and shut it; the remainder of the clay it lay pensively open ;
the steps which led to it were broken and falling, and the whole
aspect of things without was ruinous in the extreme. Within, mat-
ters were somewhat better, for though the furniture was old, and
none of it clean, yet an appearance of comfort was evident; and the
large grate, blazing with its pile of red-hot turf, the deep-cushioned
chairs, the old black mahogany dinner-table, and the soft carpet,
albeit deep with dust, were not to be despised on a winter's evening,
after a hard day's run with the " Blazers." Here it was, however,
that Mr. Philip Blake had dispensed his hospitalities for above fifty



28 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

years, and his father before him, and here, with a retinue of servants
as gauche and ill-ordered as all about them, was he accustomed to
invite all that the county possessed of rank and wealth, among which
the officers quartered in his neighborhood were never neglected, the
Misses Blake having as decided a taste for the army as any young
ladies of the west of Ireland. And while the Galway squire, with
his cords and tops, was detailing the last news from Ballinasloe in
one corner, the dandy from St. James's street might be seen dis-
playing more arts of seductive flattery in another than his most
accurate insouciance would permit him to practise in the elegant
saloons of London or Paris : and the same man who would have
" cut his brother," for a solecism of dress or equipage, in Bond
street, was now to be seen quietly domesticated, eating family din-
ners, rolling silk for the young ladies, going down the middle in a
country dance, and even descending to the indignity of long whist,
at " tenpenny" points, with only the miserable consolation that the
company were not honest.

It was upon a clear frosty morning, when a bright blue sky and a
sharp but bracing air seem to exercise upon the feelings a sense no
less pleasurable than the balmiest breeze and warmest sun of sum-
mer, that I whipped my leader short round, and entered the pre-
cincts of " Gurt-na-Morra." As I proceeded along the avenue, I
was struck by the slight traces of repairs here and there evident ; a
gate or two that formerly had been parallel to the horizon had
been raised to the perpendicular ; some ineffectual efforts at paint
were also perceptible upon the palings ; and, in short, everything
seemed to have undergone a kind of attempt at improvement.

When I reached the door, instead of being surrounded, as of old,
by a tribe of menials, frieze-coated, bare-headed, and bare-legged,
my presence was announced by a tremendous ringing of bells, from
the hands of an old functionary, in a very formidable livery, who
peeped at me through the hall window, and whom, with the great-
est difficulty, I recognized as my quondam acquaintance, the butler.
His wig alone would have graced a king's counsel, and the high
collar of his coat, and the stiff pillory of his cravat, denoted an
eternal adieu to so humble a vocation as drawing a cork. Before I
had time for any conjecture as to the altered circumstances about,
the activity of my friend at the bell had surrounded me with " four
others worse than himself," at least, they were exactly similarly
attired ; and, probably, from the novelty of their costume, and the
restraints of so unusual a thing as dress, were as perfectly unable to
assist themselves or others as the Court of Aldermen would be were
they to rig out in plate armor of the fourteenth century. How much
longer I might have gone on conjecturing the reasons for the mas-



MB. BLAKE. 29

querade around, I cannot say ; but my servant, an Irish disciple of
my uncle's, whispered in my ear, " It's a red-breeches day, Master
Charles — they'll have the hoith of company in the house." From
the phrase, it needed little explanation to inform me that it was one
of those occasions on which Mr. Blake attired all the hangers-on of
his house in livery, and that great preparations were in progress for
a more than usually splendid reception.

In the next moment I was ushered into the breakfast-room, where
a party of above a dozen persons were most gayly enjoying all the
good cheer for which the house had a well-deserved repute. After
the usual shaking of hands and hearty greetings were over, I was
introduced in all form to Sir George Dash wood, a tall and singu-
larly handsome man of about fifty, with an undress military frock
and ribbon. His reception of me was somewhat strange, for, as
they mentioned my relationship to Godfrey O'Malley, he smiled
slightly, and whispered something to Mr. Blake, who replied, " Oh !

no, no, not the least. A mere boy ; and besides " What he

added I lost, for at that moment Nora Blake was presenting me to
Miss Dashwood.

If the sweetest blue eyes that ever beamed beneath a forehead of
snowy whiteness, over which dark brown and waving hair fell, less
in curls than masses of locky richness, could only have known what
wild work they were making of my poor heart, Miss Dashwood, I
trust, would have looked at her teacup or her muffin rather than at
me, as she actually did on that fatal morning. If I were to judge
from her costume, she had only just arrived, and the morning air
had left upon her cheek a bloom that contributed greatly to the
effect of her lovely countenance. Although very young, her form
had all the roundness of womanhood, while her gay and sprightly
manner indicated all the sans g6ne which only very young girls pos-
sess, and which, when tempered with perfect good taste, and accom-
panied by beauty and no small share of talent, forms an irresistible
power of attraction.

Beside her sat a tall, handsome man of about five-and-thirty, or
perhaps forty years of age, with a most soldierly air, who, as I was
presented to him, scarcely turned his head, and gave me a half-nod
of very unequivocal coldness. There are moments in life in which
the heart is, as it were, laid bare to any chance or casual impression
with a wondrous sensibility of pleasure or its opposite. This to me
was one of those ; and as I turned from the lovely girl, who had
received me with marked courtesy, to the cold air and repelling
hauteur of the dark-browed captain, the blood rushed throbbing to
my forehead ; and as I walked to my place at the table, I eagerly
sought his eye, to return him a look of defiance and disdain, proud



30 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

and contemptuous as his own. Captain Hammersley, however, took
no further notice of me, but continued to recount, for the amuse-
ment of those about him, several excellent stories of his military
career, which, I confess, were heard with every test of delight by all
save me. One thing galled me particularly, — and how easy is it,
when you have begun by disliking a person, to supply food for your
antipathy, — all his allusions to his military life were coupled with
half-hinted and ill-concealed sneers at civilians of every kind, ins
though every man not a soldier were absolutely unfit for common
intercourse with the world— still more for any favorable reception
in ladies' society.

The young ladies of the family were a well-chosen auditory, for
their admiration of the army extended from the Life Guards to the
Veteran Battalion, the Sappers and Miners included ; and as Miss
Dashwood was the daughter of a soldier, she, of course, coincided
in many if not all of his opinions. I turned towards my neighbor,
a Clare gentleman, and tried to engage him in conversation, but he
was breathlessly attending to the Captain. On my left sat Matthew
Blake, whose eyes were firmly riveted upon the same person, and
heard his marvels with an interest scarcely inferior to that of his
sisters. Annoyed and in ill-temper, I ate my breakfast in silence,
and resolved that the first moment I could obtain a hearing from
Mr. Blake, I would open my negotiation, and take my leave at once
of Gurt-na-Morra.

We all assembled in a large room, called, by courtesy, the library,
when breakfast was over ; and then it was that Mr. Blake, taking
me aside, whispered, " Charley, it's right I should inform you that
Sir George Pashwood there is the Commander of the Forces, and is

come down here at this moment to " What for, or how it should

concern me, I was not to learn ; for at that critical instant my in-
formant's attention was called off by Captain Hammersley asking if
the hounds were to hunt that day.

" My friend Charley here is the best authority upon that matter,"
said Mr. Blake, turning towards me.

" They are to try the priest's meadows," said I, with an air of
some importance ; " but, if your guests desire a day's sport, I'll send
word over to Brackely to bring the dogs over here, and we are sure
to find a fox in your cover."

" Oh, then, by all means," said the Captain, turning towards
Mr. Blake, and addressing himself to him — " by all means ; and
Miss Dashwood, I'm sure, would like to see the hounds throw off."

Whatever chagrin the first part of his speech caused me, the latter
sent my heart a-throbbing ; and I hastened from the room to des-
patch a messenger to the huntsman to come over to Gurt-na-Morra,



MR. BLAKE. 31

and also another to O'Malley Castle, to bring my best horse and my
riding equipments as quickly as possible.

" Matthew, who is this Captain V said I, as young Blake met me
in the hall.

"Oh! he is the aide-de-camp of General Dashwood. A nice
fellow, isn't he?"

" I don't know what you may think," said I, " but I take him for
the most impertinent, impudent, supercilious- "

The rest of my civil speech was cut short by the appearance of
the very individual in question, who, with his hands in his pockets
and a cigar in his mouth, sauntered forth down the steps, taking no
more notice of Matthew Blake and myself than the two fox-terriers
that followed at his heels.

However anxious I might be to open negotiations on the subject
of my mission, for the present the thing was impossible ; for I found
that Sir George Dashwood was closeted closely with Mr. Blake, and
resolved to wait till evening, when chance might afford me the
opportunity I desired.

As the ladies had retired to dress for the hunt, and as I felt no
peculiar desire to ally myself with the unsocial Captain, I accom-
panied Matthew to the stable to look after the cattle, and make pre-
parations for the coming sport.

"There's Captain Hammersley's mare," said Matthew, as he
pointed to a highly-bred but powerful English hunter ; " she came
last night, for as he expected some sport, he sent his horses from
Dublin on purpose. The others will be here to-day."

"What is his regiment?" said I, with an appearance of careless-
ness, but in reality feeling curious to know if the Captain was a
cavalry or infantry officer.

"The — th Light Dragoons," said Matthew.

" You never saw him ride ?" said I.

" But his groom there says he leads the way in his own country."

"And where may that be ?"

" In Leicestershire, no less," said Matthew.

" Does he know Galway ?'"

" Never was in it before ; it's only this minute he asked Moses
Daly if the ox-fences were high here."

" Ox-fences ! then he does not know what a wall is ?"

" Devil a bit ; but we'll teach him."

" That we will," said I, with as bitter a resolution to impart the
instruction as ever schoolmaster did to whip Latin grammar into
one of the great unbreeched.

"But I had better send the horses down to the Mill," said
Matthew ; " we'll draw that cover first."



32 CHARLES O'MALLEY.

So saying, he turned towards the stable, while I sauntered alone
towards the road by which I expected the huntsman. I had not
walked half a mile before I heard the yelping of the dogs, and a
little farther on I saw old Brackely coming along at a brisk trot,
cutting the hounds on each side, and calling after the stragglers.

-" Did you see my horse on the road, Brackely ?" said I.

" I did, Misther Charles, and, troth, I'm sorry to see him ; sure
yerself knows better than to take out the Badger, the best steeple-
chaser in Ireland, in such a country as this ; nothing but awkward
stone- fences, and not a foot of sure ground in the whole of it."

" I know it well, Brackely ; but yet I have my own reasons for
it"

" Well, maybe you have ; what cover will your honor try first?"

" They talk of the Mill," said I ; " but I'd much rather try 'Mor-
ran-a-Gowl.' "

" Morran-a-Gowl ! Do you want to break your neck entirely ?"

" No, Brackely, not mine."

" Whose then, alannah ?"

"An English captain's — the devil fly away with him ; he's come
down here to-day, and from all I can see is a most impudent fellow ;
so, Brackely "

" I understand. Well, leave it to me, and though I don't like the
only deer-park wall on the hill, we'll try it this morning with the
blessing ; I'll take him down by Woodford, over the ' Devil's Mouth/
— it's eighteen feet wide this minute with the late rains — into the
four callows ; then over the stone walls, down to Dangan ; then take
a short cut up the hill, blow him a bit, and give him the park wall
at the top. You must come in then fresh, and give him the whole
run home over Sleibhmich ; the Badger knows' it all, and takes the
road always in a fly, — a mighty distressing thing for the horse that
follows, more particularly if he does not understand a stony coun-
try. Well, if he lives through this, give him the sunk fence and the
stone wall at Mr. Blake's clover-field, for the hounds will run into
the fox about there ; and though we never ride that leap since Mr.
Malone broke his neck at it, last October, yet, upon an occasion like
this, and for the honor of Galway "

" To be sure, Brackely, and here's a guinea for you, and now trot
on towards the house ; they must not see us together, or they might
suspect something. But, Brackely," said I, calling out after him,
" if he rides at all fair, what's to be done?"

" Troth, then, myself doesn't know; there is nothing so bad west
of Athlone ; have ye a great spite agin him ?"

" I have," said I, fiercely.

" Could ye coax a fight out of him?"



THE HUNT. 33

" That's true," said I ; " and now ride on as fast as you can."
Brackely's last words imparted a lightness to my heart and my

step, and I strode along a very different man from what I had left

the house half an hour previously.



CHAPTER IV.

THE HUNT.

ALTHOUGH we had not the advantages of a " southerly wind
and cloudy sky," the day, towards noon, became strongly
overcast, and promised to afford us good scenting weather,
and as we assembled at the meet, mutual congratulations were ex-
changed upon the improved appearance of the day. Young Blake
had provided Miss Dashwood with a quiet and well-trained horse,
and his sisters were all mounted, as usual, upon their own animals,
giving to our turn-out quite a gay and lively aspect. I myself came
to cover upon a hackney, having sent Badger with a groom, and
longed ardently for the moment when, casting the skin of my great-
coat and overalls, I should appear before the world in my well-ap-
pointed " cords and tops." Captain Hammersley had not as yet
made his appearance, and many conjectures were afloat as to whether
" he might have missed the road or changed his mind," or, " forgot
all about it," as Miss Dashwood hinted.

" Who, pray, pitched upon this cover?" said Caroline Blake, as
she looked with a practised eye over the country on either side.

" There is no chance of a fox late in the day at the Mill," said
the huntsman, inventing a lie for the occasion.

" Then of course you never intend us to see much of the sport, for
after you break cover, you are entirely lost to us."

" I thought you always followed the hounds," said Miss Dash-
wood, timidly.

"Oh, to be sure we do, in any common country ; but here it is out
of the question ; the fences are too large for any one, and, if I am
not mistaken, these gentlemen will not ride far over this. There,
look yonder, where the river is rushing down the hill — that stream,
widening as it advances, crosses the cover nearly midway. Well,
they must clear that ; and then you may see these walls of large
loose stones, nearly five feet in height ; that is the usual course the
fox takes, unless he heads towards the hills, and goes towards Dan-
gan, and then there's an end of it ; for the deer-park wall is usually
a pull-up to every one, except, perhaps, to our friend Charley
3



34 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

yonder, who has tried his fortune against drowning more than once
there." M

" Look, here he comes," said Matthew Blake, " and looking splen-
didly too — a little too much in flesh, perhaps, if anything."

" Captain Hammersley !" said the four Misses Blake, in a breath ;
" where is he ?"

" No, it's the Badger I'm speaking of," said Matthew, laughing,
and pointing with his finger towards a corner of the field where my
servant was leisurely throwing down a wall about two feet high to
let him pass.

" Oh, how handsome ! — what a charger for a dragoon !" said Miss
Dashwood.

Any other mode of praising my steed would have been much
more acceptable. The word dragoon was a thorn in my tenderest
part, that rankled and lacerated at every stir. In a moment I was
in the saddle, and scarcely seated, when at once all the mauvais honte
of boyhood left me, and I felt every inch a man. I often look back
to that moment of my life, and, comparing it with many similar
ones, cannot help acknowledging how purely is the self-possession
which so often wins success the result of some light and trivial asso-
ciation. My confidence in my horsemanship suggested moral cour-
age of a very different kind, and I felt that Charles O'Malley
curveting upon a thorough-bred and the same man ambling upon
a shelty were two and very dissimilar individuals.

" No chance of the Captain," said Matthew, who had returned
from a reconnaissance upon the road ; " and after all it's a pity, for
the day is getting quite favorable."

While the young ladies formed pickets to look out for the gallant
militaire, I seized the opportunity of prosecuting my acquaintance
with Miss Dashwood ; and even in the few and passing observations
that fell from her, learned how very different an order of being she
was from all I had hitherto seen of country belles. A mixture of
courtesy with naivete— & wish to please, with a certain feminine gen-
tleness, that always flatters a man, and still jnore a boy that fain
would be one— gained momentarily more and more upon me, and
put me also on my mettle to prove to my fair companion that I was
not altogether a mere uncultivated and unthinking creature, like the
remainder of those about me.

" Here he is, at last," said Helen Blake, as she cantered across a
field, waving her handkerchief as a signal to the Captain, who was
now seen approaching at a brisk trot.

As he came along, a small fence intervened ; he pressed his horse
a little, and, as he kissed hands to the fair Helen, cleared it in a
bound, and was in an inrtant in the midst of us.



THE HUNT. 35

" He sits his horse like a man, Misther Charles," said the old
huntsman ; " troth, we must give him the worst bit of it."

Captain Hammersley was, despite all the critical acumen with
which I canvassed him, the very beau ideal of a gentleman rider ;
indeed, although a very heavy man, his powerful English thorough-
bred, showing not less bone than blood, took away all semblance of
overweight; his saddle, well fitting and well placed; his large and
broad-reined snaffle ; his own costume of black coat, leathers and
tops, was in perfect keeping, and even to his heavy-handled hunt-
ing-whip I could find nothing to cavil at. As he rode up, he paid
his respects to the ladies in his usual free-and-easy manner, ex-
pressed some surprise, but no regret, at hearing that he was late,
and never deigning any notice of Matthew or myself, took hi*
place beside Miss Dashwood, with whom he conversed in a low
and under tone.

" There they go," said Matthew, as five or six dogs, with their
heads up, ran yelping along a furrow, then stopped, howled agajn,
and once more set off together. In an instant all was commotion in
the little valley below us. The huntsman, with his hand to his
mouth, was calling off the stragglers, and the whipper-in following
up the leading dogs with the rest of the pack. " They've found ! —
they're away !" said Matthew ; and as he spoke, a great yell burst



Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 3 of 80)