Charles James Lever.

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the gorgeous glitter of the costumes around him.

" I say, who have we here ?"

" The Prior of Amarante, sir," replied Waters, " who has just
come over. We have already, by his aid, secured three large
barges "

" Let the artillery take up position in the convent at once," said
Sir Arthur, interrupting. " The boats will be brought round to the
small creek beneath the orchard. You, sir," turning to me, " will
convey to General Murray — but you appear weak You, Gor-
don, will desire Murray to effect a crossing at Avintas with the Ger-
mans and the 14th. Sherbrooke's division will occupy the Villa
Nuova. What number of men can that seminary take ?"

"From three to four hundred, sir. The padre mentions that



THE DOURO. 295

all the vigilance of the enemy is limited to the river below the
town."

" I perceive it," was the short reply of Sir Arthur, as, placing his
hands carelessly behind his back, he walked towards the window,
and looked out upon the river.

All was still as death in the chamber ; not a lip murmured. The
feeling of respect for him in whose presence we were standing
checked every thought of utterance, while the stupendous gravity of
the events before us engrossed every mind and occupied every heart.
I was standing near the window ; the effect of my fall had stunned
me for a time, but I was gradually recovering, and watched with a
thrilling heart the scene before me. Great and absorbing as was my
interest in what was passing without, it was nothing compared
with what I felt as I looked at him upon whom our destiny was
then hanging. I had ample time to scan his features and canvass
their every lineament. Never before did I look upon such perfect
impassibility ; the cold, determined expression was crossed by no
show of passion or impatience. All was rigid and motionless, and
whatever might have been the workings of the spirit within, cer-
tainly no external sign betrayed them ; and yet what a moment for
him must that have been ! Before him, separated by a deep and
rapid river, lay the conquering legions of France, led on by one
second alone to him whose very name had been the prestige of
victory. Unprovided with every regular means of transport, in the
broad glare of day, in open defiance of their serried ranks and thun-
dering artillery, he dared the deed. What must have been his con-
fidence in the soldiers he commanded ! What must have been his
reliance upon his own genius ! As such thoughts rushed through
my mind, the door opened, and an officer entered hastily. After
whispering a few words to Colonel Waters, he left the room.

" One boat is already brought up to the crossing-place, and en-
tirely concealed by the wall of the orchard."

" Let the men cross," was the brief reply.

No other word was spoken as, turning from the window, he closed
his telescope, and, followed by all the others, descended to the
court-yard.

This simple order was enough ; an officer, with a company of the
Buffs, embarked, and thus began the passage of the Douro.

So engrossed was I in my vigilant observation of our leader, that
I would gladly have remained at the convent, when I received an
order to join my brigade, to which a detachment of artillery was
already proceeding.

As I reached Avintas, all was in motion. The cavalry was in
readiness beside the river ; but as yet no boats had been discovered,



296 CHARLES O'MALLEY.

and such was the impatience of the men to cross, it was with diffi-
culty they were prevented trying the passage by swimming, when
suddenly Power appeared, followed by several fishermen. Three or
four small skiffs had been found, half sunk in mud, among the
rushes, and with such frail assistance we commenced to cross.

"There will be something to write home to Galway soon,
'Charley, or I'm terribly mistaken," said Fred, as he sprang into
ihe boat beside me. " Was I not a true prophet when I told you
* We'd meet the French in the morning ?' "

" They're at it already," said Hixley, as a wreath of blue smoke
floated across the stream below us, and the loud boom of a large gun
resounded through the air.

Then came a deafening shout, followed by a rattling volley of
small arms, gradually swelling into a hot, sustained fire, through
which the cannon pealed at intervals. Several large meadows lay
along the river-side, where our brigade was drawn up as the detach-
ments landed from the boats ; and here, although nearly a league
distant from the town, we now heard the din and crash of battle,
which increased every moment. The cannonade from the Sierra
convent, which at first was merely the fire of single guns, now thun-
dered away in one long roll, amid which the sounds of falling walls
and crashing roofs were mingled. It was evident to us, from the
continual fire kept up, that the landing had been effected, while the
swelling tide of musketry told that fresh troops were momentarily
coming up.

In less than twenty minutes our brigade was formed, and we now
only waited for two light four-pounders to be landed, when an officer
galloped up in haste, and called out, —

" The French are in retreat!" and, pointing at the same moment
to the Vallonga road, we saw a long line of smoke and dust leading
from the town, through which, as we gazed, the colors of the enemy
might be seen as they defiled, while the unbroken lines of the wagons
and heavy baggage proved that it was no partial movement, but the
army itself retreating.

tl Fourteenth, threes about, close up, trot !" called out the loud
and manly voice of our leader, and the heavy tramp of our squad-
rons shook the very ground, as we advanced towards the road to Val-
longa.

As we came on, the scene became one of overwhelming excite-
ment; the masses of the enemy that poured unceasingly from the
town could now be distinguished more clearly ; and, amid all the
crash of gun-carriages and caissons, the voices of the staff officers
rose high as they hurried along the retreating battalions. A troop
of flying artillery galloped forth at top speed, and, wheeling their



THE DOURO. 297

guns into position with the speed of lightning, prepared by a flank-
ing fire to cover the retiring column. The gunners sprang from
their seats, the guns were already unlimbered, when Sir George Mur-
ray, riding up at our left, called out, —

" Forward — close up — charge !"

The word was scarcely spoken, when the loud cheer answered the
welcome sound, and the same instant the long line of shining hel-
mets passed with the speed of a whirlwind ; the pace increased at
every stride, the ranks grew closer, and, like the dread force of some
mighty engine, we fell upon the foe. I have felt all the glorious en-
thusiasm of a fox-hunt, when the loud cry of the hounds, answered
by the cheers of the joyous huntsman, stirred the very heart within,
but never till now did I know how far higher the excitement reaches
when, man to man, sabre to sabre, arm to arm, we ride forward to
the battle-field. On we went, the loud shout of " Forward !" still
ringing in our ears. One broken, irregular discharge from the French
guns shook the head of our advancing column, but stayed us not as
we galloped madly on.

I remember no more. The din, the smoke, the crash — the cry for
quarter, mingled with the shout of victory — the flying enemy — the
agonizing shrieks of the wounded — all are commingled in my mind,
but leave no trace of clearness or connection between them ; and it
was only when the column wheeled to re-form, behind the advancing
squadrons, that I awoke from my trance of maddening excitement,
and perceived that we- had carried the position, and cut off the guns
of the enemy.

" Well done, 14th I" said an old gray-headed colonel, as he rode
along our line — " gallantly done, lads !" The blood trickled from a
sabre-cut on his temple, along his cheek, as he spoke; but he either
knew it not or heeded it not.

"There go the Germans !" said Power, pointing to the remainder
of our brigade, as they charged furiously upon the French infantry,
and rode them down in masses.

Our guns came up at this time, and a plunging fire was opened
upon the thick and retreating ranks of the enemy. The carnage
must have been terrific, for the long breaches in their lines showed
where the squadrons of the cavalry had passed, or the most destruc-
tive tide of the artillery had swept through them. The speed of the
flying columns momentarily increased ; the road became blocked up,
too, by broken carriages and wounded ; and, to add to their discom-
fiture, a damaging fire now opened from the town upon the retreat-
ing columns, while the brigade of Guards and the 29th pressed hotly
on their rear.

The scene was now beyond anything maddening in its interest.



298 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

From the walls of Oporto the English infantry poured forth in pur-
suit, while the whole river was covered with boats, as they still con-
tinued to cross over. The artillery thundered from the Sierra, to
protect the landing, for it was even still contested, in places ; and
the cavalry, charging in flank, swept the broken ranks, and bore
down upon the squares.

It was now, when the full tide of victory ran highest in our favor,
that we were ordered to retire from the road. Column after column
passed before us, unmolested and unassailed, and not even a can-
non-shot arrested their steps.

Some unaccountable timidity of our leader directed this move-
ment; and while before our very eyes the gallant infantry were
charging the retiring columns, we remained still and inactive.

How little did the sense of praise we had already won repay us
for the shame and indignation we experienced at this moment, as,
with burning cheek and compressed lip, we watched the retreating
files. " What can he mean ?" " Is there not some mistake?" "Are
we never to charge?" were the muttered questions around, as a staff
officer galloped up with the order to take ground still further back,
and nearer to the river.

The word was scarcely spoken, when a young officer, in the uni-
form of a general, dashed impetuously up ; he held his plumed cap
high above his head, as he called out, " 14th, follow me ! Left face —
wheel — charge !"

So, with the word, we were upon them. The French rear-guard
was at this moment at the narrowest part of the road which opened
by a bridge upon a large open space ; so that, forming with a narrow
front, and favored by a declivity in the ground, we actually rode
them down. Twice the French formed, and twice were they broken.
Meanwhile the carnage was dreadful on both sides; our fellows
dashing madly forward where the ranks were thickest, — the enemy
resisting with the stubborn courage of men fighting for their last
spot of ground. So impetuous was the charge of our squadrons,
that we stopped not till, piercing the dense column of the retreating
mass, we reached the open ground beyond. Here we wheeled, and
prepared once more to meet them; when suddenly some squadrons of
Cuirassiers debouched from the road, and, supported by a field-piece,
showed front against us. This was the moment that the remainder
of our brigade should have come to our aid ; but not a man appeared.
However, there was not an instant to be lost ; already the plunging
fire of the four-pounder had swept through our files, and every mo-
ment increased our danger.

" Now, my lads, forward !" cried our gallant leader, Sir Charles
Stewart, as, waving his sabre, he dashed into the thickest of the fray.



THE DOURO. 299

So sudden was our charge, that we were upon them before they
were prepared. And here ensued a terrific struggle; for, as the
cavalry of the enemy gave way before us, we came upon the close
ranks of the infantry, at half-pistol distance, who poured a withering
volley into us as we approached. But what could arrest the sweep-
ing torrent of our brave fellows, though every moment falling in
numbers ?

Harvey, our major, lost his arm near the shoulder. Scarcely an
officer was not wounded. Power received a deep sabre-cut in the
cheek, from an aide-de-camp of General Foy, in return for a wound
he gave the General; while I, in my endeavor to save General
Laborde, when unhorsed, was cut down through the helmet, and so
stunned that I remembered no more around me. I kept my saddle,
it is true, but I lost every sense of consciousness ; my first glimmer-
ing of reason coming to my aid as I lay upon the river bank, and
felt my faithful follower Mike bathing my temples with water, as
he kept up a running fire of lamentations for my being murthered so
young.

"Are you better, Mister Charles ? Spake to me, alanah ; say that
you're not kilt, darlin' ; do now. Oh, wirra ! what'll I ever say to
the master ? and you doing so beautiful ! Wouldn't he give the best
baste in his stable to be looking at you to-day? There, take a sup ;
it's only water. Bad luck to them, but it's hard work beatin' them.
They're only gone now. That's right : now you're coming to."

"Where am I, Mike?"

" It's here you are, darlin', restin' yourself."

" Well, Charley, my poor fellow, you've got sore bones, too," cried
Power, as, his face swathed in bandages and covered with blood, he
lay down on the grass beside me. " It was a gallant thing while it
lasted, but has cost us dearly. Poor Hixley "

" What of him ?" said I, anxiously.

" Poor fellow ! he has seen his last battle-field. He fell across me
as we came out upon the road. I lifted him up in my arms, and
bore him along above fifty yards ; but he was stone dead. Not a
sigh, not a word escaped him ; shot through the forehead." As
Power spoke, his lips trembled, and his voice sank to a mere whisper
at the last words, — " You remember what he said last night. Poor
fellow ! he was every inch a soldier."

Such was the epitaph.

I turned my head towards the scene of our late encounter. Some
dismounted guns and broken wagons alone marked the spot ; while,
far in the distance, the dust of the retreating columns showed the
beaten enemy, as they hurried towards the frontiers of Spain.



300 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

CHAPTER XLVI.

_• THE MORNING.

THERE are few sadder things in life than the day after a battle.
The high-beating hopes, the bounding spirits, have passed
away, and in their stead comes the depressing reaction by
which every overwrought excitement is followed. With far differ-
ent eyes do we look upon the compact ranks and glistening files, —

" With helm arrayed,
And lance and blade,
And plume in the gay wind dancing !"

and upon the cold and barren heath, whose only memory of the past
is the blood-stained turf, the mangled corpse, the broken gun, the
shattered wall, the well-trodden earth where columns stood, the cut
up ground where cavalry had charged, — these are the sad relics of
all the chivalry of yesterday.

The morning which followed the battle of the Douro was one of
the most beautiful I ever remember. There was that kind of fresh-
ness and elasticity in the air which certain days possess, and com-
municate by some magic their properties to ourselves. The thrush
was singing gayly out from every grove and wooded dell ; the very
river had a sound of gladness, as it rippled on against its sedgy
banks ; the foliage, too, sparkled in the fresh dew, as in its robes of
holiday, and all looked bright and happy.

We were picketed near the river, upon a gently rising ground,
from which the view extended for miles in every direction. Above
us, the stream came winding down amid broad and fertile fields of
tall grass and waving corn, backed by deep and mellow woods, which
were lost to the view upon the distant hills ; below, the river, widen-
ing as it went, pursued a straighter course or turned with bolder
curves, till, passing beneath the town, it spread into a large sheet of
glassy water, as it opened to the sea. The sun was just rising as I
looked upon this glorious scene, and already the tall spires of
Oporto were tipped with a bright rosy hue, while the massive
towers and dark walls threw their lengthened shadows far across the
plain.

The fires of the bivouac still burned, but all slept around them.
Not a sound was heard save the tramp of a patrol, or the short,
quick cry of the sentry. I sat lost in meditation, or rather in that
state of dreamy thoughtfulness in which the past and present are
combined, and the absent are alike before us as are the things we
look upon.



THE MORNING. 301

One moment I felt as though I were describing to my uncle the
battle of the day before, pointing out where we stood and how we
charged. Then, again, I was at home, beside the broad, bleak
Shannon, and the brown hills of Scariff. I watched with beating
heart the tall Sierra, where' our path lay for the future, and then
turned my thoughts to him whose name was so soon to be received
in England with a nation's pride and gratitude, and panted for a
soldier's glory.

As thus I followed every rising fancy, I heard a step approach.
It was a figure muffled in a cavalry cloak, which I soon perceived
to be Power.

" Charley !" said he, in a half whisper, " get up and come with
me. You are aware of the general order, that while in pursuit of
an enemy all military honors to the dead are forbidden ; but we
wish to place our poor comrade in the earth before we leave."

I followed down a little path, through a grove of tall beech-trees,
that opened upon a little grassy terrace beside the river. A stunted
olive-tree stood by itself in the midst, and there I found five of our
brother officers standing, wrapped in their wide cloaks. As we
pressed each other's hand, not a word was spoken. Each heart was
full, and hard features, that never quailed before the foe, were now
shaken with the convulsive spasm of agony, or compressed with a
stern determination to seem calm.

A cavalry helmet and a large blue cloak lay upon the ground.
The narrow grave was already dug beside it, and in the deathlike
stillness around the service for the dead was read. The last words
were over. We stooped and placed the corpse, wrapped up in the
broad mantle, in the earth ; we replaced the mould, and stood
silently around the spot. The trumpet of our regiment at this mo-
ment sounded the call ; its clear notes rang sharply through the thin
air ; it was the soldier's requiem I We turned away without speak-
ing, and returned to our quarters.

I had never known poor Hixley till a day or two before ; but,
somehow, my grief for him was deep and heartfelt. It was not that
his frank and manly bearing, his bold and military air, had gained
upon me. No ; these were indeed qualities to attract and delight
me, but he had obtained a stronger and faster hold upon my affec-
tions — he spoke to me of home.

Of all the ties that bind us to the chance acquaintances we meet
with in life, what can equal this one ? What a claim upon your love
has he who can, by some passing word, some fast-flitting thought,
bring back the days of your youth ! What interest can he not ex-
cite by some anecdote of your boyish days, some well-remembered
trait of youthful daring or early enterprise ! Many a year of sun-



302 CHARLES 0>M ALLEY.

shine and of storm has passed over my head. I have not been
without my moments of gratified pride and rewarded ambition ; but
my heart has never responded so fully, so thankfully, so proudly, to
these, such as they were, as to the simple, touching words of one
who knew my early home, and loved its inmates.

" Well, Fitzroy, what news ?" cried I, roused from my musing, as
an aide-de-camp galloped up at full speed.

"Tell Merivale to get the regiment under arms at once. Sir
Arthur Wellesley will be here in less than half an hour. You
may look for the route immediately. Where are the Germans
quartered ?"

" Lower down, beside that grove of beech-trees, next the river."

Scarcely was my reply spoken, when he dashed spurs into his
horse, and was soon out of sight. Meanwhile, the plain beneath
me presented an animated and splendid spectacle. The different
corps were falling into position to the enlivening sounds of their
quickstep, the trumpets of the cavalry rang loudly through the
valley, and the clatter of sabres and sabretasches, joined with the
hollow tramp of the horses, as the squadron came up.

I had not a moment to lose, so, hastening back to my quarters, I
found Mike waiting with my horse.

" Captain Power's before you, sir," said he, " and you'll have to
make haste. The regiments are under arms already."

From the little mound where I stood, I could see the long line of
cavalry as they deployed into the plain, followed by the horse artil-
lery, which brought up the rear.

" This looks like a march," thought I, as I pressed forward to join
my companions.

I had not advanced above a hundred yards, through a narrow
ravine, when the measured tread of infantry fell upon my ears. I
pulled up to slacken my pace, just as the head of a column turned
round the angle of the road, and came in view. The tall caps of a
grenadier company were the first things I beheld, as /they came on
without roll of drum or sound of fife. I watched with a soldier's
pride the manly bearing and gallant step of the dense mass as they
denied before me. I was struck no less by them than by a certain
look of a steady but sombre cast which each man wore.

" What can this mean ?" thought I.

My first impression was that a military execution was about to
take place ; the next moment solved my doubt, for as the last files
of the grenadiers wheeled round, a dense mass behind came in sight,
whose unarmed hands and downcast air at once bespoke them pri-
soners of war.

What a sad sight it was ! There was the old and weather-beaten



THE REVIEW. 303

grenadier, erect in frame and firm in step, his gray moustache
scarcely concealing the scowl that curled his lip, side by side with
the young and daring conscript, even yet a mere boy. Their march
was regular, their gaze steadfast ; no look of flinching courage
there. On they came, a long unbroken line. They looked not less
proudly than their captors around them. As I looked with heavy
heart upon them, my attention was attracted to one who marched
alone behind the rest. He was a middle-sized but handsome youth
of some eighteen years at most ; his light helmet and waving plume
bespoke him a chasseur a cheval, and I could plainly perceive, in his
careless, half-saucy air, how indignantly he felt the position to
which the fate of war had reduced him. He caught my eyes fixed
upon him, and for an instant turned upon me a gaze of open and
palpable defiance, drawing himself up to his full height, and cross-
ing his arms upon his breast ; but probably perceiving in my look
more of interest than of triumph, his countenance suddenly changed,
a deep blush suffused his cheek, his eye beamed with a softened and
kindly expression, and, carrying his hand to his helmet, he saluted
me, saying, in a voice of singular sweetness, —

" Je vous souhaite un meilleur sort, camarade."

I bowed, and, muttering something in return, was about to make
some inquiry concerning him, when the loud call of the trumpet
rang through the valley, and apprised me that in my interest for
the prisoners I had forgotten all else, and was probably incurring
censure for my absence.



CHAPTER XLVII.

THE REVIEW.

WHEN I joined the group of my brother officers, who stood
gayly chatting and laughing together before our lines, I
was much surprised — nay, almost shocked — to find how
little seeming impression had been made upon them by the sad duty
we had performed that morning.

When last we met, each eye was downcast, each heart was full.
Sorrow for him we had lost from amongst us forever, mingling with
the awful sense of our own uncertain tenure here, had laid its
impress on each brow ; but now, scarcely an hour elapsed, and all
were cheerful and elated. The last shovelful of earth upon the
grave seemed to have buried both the dead and the mourning. And
such is war ! and such the temperament it forms ! Events so strik-



304 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

ingly opposite in their character and influences succeed so rapidly
one upon another, that the mind is kept in one whirl of excitement,
and at length accustoms itself to change with every phase of circum-
stances ; and between joy and grief, hope and despondency, enthu-
siasm and depression, there is neither breadth nor interval ; they
follow each other as naturally as morning succeeds to night.

I had not much time for such reflections. Scarcely had I saluted
the officers about me, when the loud prolonged roll of the drums
along the line of infantry in the valley, followed by the sharp clatter



Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 31 of 80)