Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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I muttered something — what, I cannot remember; I bowed my
thanks to my worthy Colonel, shook his hand warmly, and saw him
ride down the hill, and disappear in the crowd of soldiery beneath,
before I could recall my faculties and think over my situation.

Then all at once did the full difficulty of my position break upon
me. If I accepted my present employment, I must certainly fail in
my engagement to Trevyllian. But I had already pledged myself
to its acceptance. What was to be done? No time was left for
deliberation. The very minutes I should have spent in preparation
were fast passing. Would that Power might appear. Alas ! he came
not. My state of doubt and uncertainty increased every moment ;
I saw nothing but ruin before me, even at a moment when fortune
promised most fairly for the future, and opened a field of enterprise
my heart had so often and so ardently desired. Nothing was left
me but to hasten to Colonel Merivale and decline the appointment ;
to do so was to prejudice my character in his estimation forever, for
I dared not allege my reasons, and in all probability my conduct
might require my leaving the army.

"Be it so, then," said I, in an accent of despair; "the die is
cast."

I ordered my horse round ; I wrote a few words to Power, to
explain my absence, should he come while I was away, and leaped
into the saddle. As I reached the plain, my pace became a gallop,
and I pressed my horse with all the impatience my heart was burn-
ing with. I dashed along the lines towards Oporto, neither hearing
nor seeing aught around me, when suddenly the clank of cavalry
accoutrements behind induced me to turn my head, and I perceived
an orderly dragoon at full gallop in pursuit. I pulled up till he
came alongside.

"Lieutenant O'Malley, sir," said the man, saluting, "these des-
patches are for you."

I took them hurriedly, and was about to continue my route, when
the attitude of the dragoon arrested my attention. He had reined
in his horse to the side of the narrow causeway, and, holding him



THE WATCH-FIRE. 315

still and steadily, sat motionless as a statue. I looked behind, and
saw the whole staff approaching at a brisk trot. Before I had a
moment for thought they were beside me.

"Ah! O'Malley," cried Merivale, "you have your orders ; don't
wait ; his Excellency is coming up."

" Get along, I advise you," said another, " or you'll catch it, as
some of us have done this morning."

"All is right, Charley ; you can go in safety," said a whispering
voice, as Power passed in a sharp canter.

That one sentence was enough ; my heart bounded like a deer, my
cheek beamed with the glow of delighted pleasure, I closed my spurs
upon my gallant gray, and dashed across the plain.

When I arrived at my quarters, the men were drawn up in wait-
ing, and provided with rations for three days' march : Mike was
also prepared for the road, and nothing more remained to delay
me.

" Captain Power has been here, sir, and left a note."

I took it and thrust it hastily into my sabretasche. I knew from
the few words he had spoken that my present step involved me in
no ill consequences ; so, giving the word to wheel into column, I
rode to the front, and set out upon my march to Alcantara.



CHAPTER L.

THE WATCH-FIRE. •

THERE are few things so inspiriting to a young soldier as the
being employed with a separate command; the picket and
out-post duty have a charm for .him no other portion of his
career possesses. The field seems open for individual boldness and
heroism : success, if obtained, must redound to his own credit ; and
what can equal, in its spirit-stirring enthusiasm, that first moment
when we become in any way the arbiter of our own fortunes?

Such were my happy thoughts as, with a proud and elated heart,
I set forth upon my march. The notice the Commander-in-Chief
had bestowed upon me had already done much : it had raised me in
my own estimation, and implanted within me a longing desire for
further distinction. I thought, too, of those far, far away, who were
yet to hear of my successes.

I fancied to myself how they would severally receive the news.
My poor uncle, with tearful eye and quivering lip, was before me, as



316 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

I saw him read the despatch, then wipe his glasses, and read on, till
at last, with one long-drawn breath, his manly voice, tremulous with
emotion, would break forth — " My boy ! my own Charley !" Then
I pictured Considine, with port erect and stern features, listening
silently ; not a syllable, not a motion betraying that he felt inter-
ested in my fate, till, as if impatient, at length he would break in —
" I knew it — I said so ; and yet you thought to make him a lawyer !"
And then old Sir Harry : his warm heart glowing with pleasure, and
his good-humored face beaming with happiness. How many a
blunder he would make in retailing the news, and how many a
hearty laugh his version of it would give rise to !

I passed in review before me the old servants, as they lingered in
the room to hear the story. Poor old Matthew, the butler, fumbling
with his corkscrew to gain a little time ; then looking in my uncle's
face, half entreatingly, as he asked, — "Any news of Master Charles,
sir, from the wars ?"

While thus my mind wandered back to the scenes and faces of
my early home, I feared to ask myself how she would feel to whom
my heart was now turning. Too deeply did I know how poor my
chances were in that quarter to nourish hope, and yet I could not
bring myself to abandon it altogether. Hammersley's strange con-
duct suggested to me that he, at least, could not be my rival, while
I plainly perceived that he regarded me as his. There was a mystery
in all this I could not fathom, and I ardently longed for my next
meeting with Power, to learn the nature of his interview, and also
in what manner the affair had been arranged.

Such were my passing thoughts as I pressed forward. My men,
picked no less for themselves than their horses, came rapidly along,
and ere evening we had accomplished twelve leagues of our journey.

The country through which we journeyed, though wild and roman-
tic in its character, was singularly rich and fertile, — cultivation
reaching to the very summits .of the rugged mountains, and patches
of wheat and Indian corn peeping amid masses of granite rock
and tangled brushwood. The vine and the olive grew wild on
every side ; while the orange and the arbutus, loading the air with
perfume, were mingled with prickly pear-trees and variegated
hollies. We followed no regular track, but cantered along over hill
and valley, through forest and prairie; now in long file through
some tall field of waving corn, now in open order upon some level
plain, our Portuguese guide riding a little in advance of us, upon
a jet-black mule, carolling merrily some wild Galician melody as
he went.

As the sun was setting, we arrived beside a little stream, that,
flowing along a rocky bod, skirted a vast forest of tall cork trees.



THE WATCH-FIRE. 317

Here we called a halt; and, picketing our horses, proceeded to make
our arrangements for a bivouac.

Never do I remember a more lovely night. The watch-fires sent
up a delicious odor from the perfumed shrubs ; while the glassy
water reflected on its still surface the starry sky that, unshadowed
and unclouded, stretched above us. I wrapped myself in my troop-
er's mantle, and lay down beneath a tree, — but not to sleep. There
was a something so exciting, and withal so tranquillizing, that I had
no thought of slumber, but fell into a musing reverie. There was a
character of adventure in my position that charmed me much. My
men were gathered in groups beside the fires ; some were sunk in
slumber, others sat smoking silently, or chatting, in a low and under-
tone, of some bygone scene of battle or bivouac ; here and there
were picketed the horses, the heavy panoply and piled carbines
flickering in the red glare of the watch-fires, which ever and anon
threw a flitting glow upon the stern and swarthy faces of my bold
troopers. Upon the trees around, sabres and helmets, holsters and
cross-belts, were hung like armorial bearings in some antique hall,
the dark foliage spreading its heavy shadow around us. Farther off,
upon a little rocky ledge, the erect figure of the sentry, with his short
carbine resting in the hollow of his arm, was seen slowly pacing in
measured tread, or standing for a moment silently, as he looked
upon the fair and tranquil sky, — his thoughts doubtless far, far away,
beyond the sea, to some humble home, where

" The hum of the spreading sycamore,
That grew beside his cottage door,"

was again in his ears, while the merry laugh of his children stirred
his bold heart. It was a Salvator-Rosa scene, and brought me back
in fancy to the bandit legends I had read in boyhood. By the uncer-
tain light of the wood embers I endeavored to sketch the group that
lay before me.

The night wore on. One by one the soldiers stretched themselves
to sleep, and all was still. As the hours rolled by, a drowsy feeling
crept gradually over me. I placed my pistols by my side, and having
replenished the fire by some fresh logs, disposed myself comfortably
before it.

It was during that half-dreamy state that intervenes between
waking and sleep that a rustling sound of the branches behind
attracted my attention. The air was too calm to attribute this to
the wind, so I listened for some minutes ; but sleep, too long de-
ferred, was over-powerful ; my head sank upon my grassy pillow,
and I was soon sound asleep. How long I remained thus, I know
not, but I awoke suddenly. I fancied some one had shaken me



318 CHARLES O'MALLEY.

rudely by the shoulder ; but yet all was tranquil. My men were
sleeping soundly, as I saw them last. The fires were becoming low,
and a gray streak in the sky, as well as a sharp cold feeling of the
air, betokened the approach of day. Once more I heaped some dry
branches together, and was about again to stretch myself to rest,
when I felt a hand upon my shoulder. I turned quickly round,
and, by the imperfect light of the fire, saw the figure of a man
standing motionless beside me. His head was bare, and his hair
fell in long curls over his shoulders ; one hand was pressed upon his
bosom, and with the other he motioned me to silence. My first im-
pression was that our party was surprised by some French patrol ;
but as I looked again, I recognized, to my amazement, that the indi-
vidual before me was the young French officer I had seen that
morning a prisoner beside the Douro.

" How came you here ?" said I, in a low voice, to him in French.

" Escaped. One of my own men threw himself between me and
the sentry ; I swam the Douro, received a musket-ball through my
arm, lost my shako, and here I am !"

" You are aware you are again a prisoner ?"

" If you desire it, of course I am," said he, in a voice full of feel-
ing, that made my very heart creep. " I thought you were a party
of Lorge's dragoons, scouring the country for forage; tracked you
the entire day, and have only now come up with you."

The poor fellow, who had neither eaten nor drunk since day-
break, wounded and footsore, had accomplished twelve leagues of a
march, only once more to fall into the hands of his enemies. His
years could scarcely have numbered nineteen ; his countenance was
singularly prepossessing ; and, though bleeding and torn, with tat-
tered uniform, and without a covering to his head, there was no
mistaking for a moment that he was of gentle blood. Noiselessly
and cautiously I made him sit down beside the fire, while I spread
before him the sparing remnant of my last night's supper, and
shared my solitary bottle of sherry with him.

From the moment he spoke, I never entertained a thought of
making him a prisoner ; but, as I knew not how far I was culpable
in permitting, if not actually facilitating, his escape, I resolved to
keep the circumstance a secret from my party, and, if possible, get
him away before daybreak.

No sooner did he learn my intentions regarding him, than in an
instant all memory of his past misfortune, all thoughts of his pre-
sent destitute condition, seemed to have fled ; and while I dressed
his wound and bound up his shattered arm, he chatted away as un-
concernedly about the past and the future as though seated beside
the fire of his own bivouac, surrounded by his own brother officers.



THE WATCH-FIRE. 319

" You took us by surprise the other day," said he. " Our Mar-
shal looked for the attack from the mouth of the river ; we received
information that your ships were expected there. In any case, our
retreat was an orderly one, and must have been effected with slight
loss."

I smiled at the self-complacency of this reasoning, but did not
tcontradict him.

''Your loss must indeed have been great; your men crossed
under the fire of a whole battery."

"Not exactly," said I ; "our first party were quietly stationed in
Oporto before you knew anything about it."

"Ah! sacre Dieul Treachery 1" cried he, striking his forehead with
his clenched fist.

" Not so ; mere daring — nothing more. But come, tell me some-
thing of your own adventures. How were you taken ?"

" Simply thus : I was sent to the rear with orders to the artillery
to cut their traces and leave the guns ; when coming back, my horse
grew tired in the heavy ground, and 1 was spurring him to the
utmost, when one of your heavy dragoons — an officer, too — dashed
at me, and actually rode me down, horse and all. I lay for some
time bruised by the fall, when an infantry soldier, passing by, seized
me by the collar, and brought me to the rear. No matter, however,
here I am now. You will not give me up ; and perhaps I may one
day live to repay the kindness."

" You have not long joined ?"

" It was my first battle ; my epaulettes were very smart things
yesterday, though they do look a little passtes to-day. You are
advancing, I suppose?"

I smiled, without answering this question.

" Ah, I see you don't wish to speak ; never mind, your discretion
is thrown aw r ay upon me ; for if I rejoined my regiment to-morrow,
I should have forgotten all you told me — all but your great kind-
ness." These last words he spoke bowing slightly his head, and
coloring as he said them.

" You are a dragoon, I think ?" said I, endeavoring to change the
topic.

" I was, two days ago, chasseur d cheval, a sous-lieutenant in the
regiment of my father, the General St. Croix."

" The name is familiar to me," I replied ; " and I am sincerely
happy to be in a position to serve the son of so distinguished an
officer."

" The son of so distinguished an officer is most deeply obliged,
but wishes with all his heart and soul he had never sought glory
under such very excellent auspices. You look surprised, mon cherj



320 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

but, let me tell you, my military ardor is considerably abated in the
last three days. Hunger, thirst, imprisonment, and this"— lifting
his wounded limb as he spoke — " are sharp lessons in so short a
campaign, and for one, too, whose life hitherto had much more of
ease than adventure to boast of. Shall I tell you how I became a
soldier?"

" By all means ; give me your glass first ; and now, with a fresh
log to the fire, I'm your man."

" But stay ; before I begin, look to this."

The blood was flowing rapidly from his wound, which with some
difficulty I succeeded in stanching. He drank off his wine hastily,
held out his glass to be refilled, and then began his story.

" You have never seen the Emperor ?"

"Never."

" Sacrebleu ! What a man he is ! Fd rather stand under the fire
of your grenadiers than meet his eye. When in a passion, he does
not say much, it is true ; but what he does, comes with a kind of
hissing, rushing sound, while the very fire seems to kindle in his
look. I have him before me this instant, and though you will con-
fess that my present condition has nothing very pleasing in it, I
should be sorry indeed to change it for the last time I stood in his
presence.

" Two months ago, I sported the gay light blue and silver of a
page to the Emperor, and certainly, what with balls, bonbons, flirta-
tion, gossip, and champagne suppers, led a very gay, reckless, and
indolent life of it. Somehow — I may tell you more accurately at
another period, if we ever meet — I got myself into disgrace, and, as
a punishment, was ordered to absent myself from the Tuileries, and
retire for some weeks to Fontainebleau. Siberia to a Russian would
scarcely be a heavier infliction than was this banishment to me.
There was no court, no levee, no military parade, no ball, no opera.
A small household of the Emperor's chosen servants quietly kept
house there. The gloomy walls re-echoed to no music; the dark
alleys of the dreary garden^ seemed the very impersonation of soli-
tude and decay. Nothing broke the dull monotony of the tiresome
day, except when occasionally, near sunset, the clash of the guard
would be heard turning out, and the clank of presenting arms, fol-
lowed by the roll of a heavy carriage into the gloomy court-yard.
One lamp, shining like a star, in a small chamber on the second
floor, would remain till near four, sometimes five o'clock in the
morning. The same sounds of the guard and the same dull roll of
the carriage would break the stillness of the early morning ; and the
Emperor — for it was he — would be on his road back to Paris.

" We never saw him — I say we, for, like myself, some half-dozen



THE WATCH-FIRE. 321

others were also there, expiating their follies by a life of cheerless
ennui.

" It was upon a calm evening in April, we sat together chatting
over the various misdeeds which had consigned us to exile, when
some one proposed, by way of passing the time, that we should visit
the small flower-garden that was parted from off the rest, and re-
served for the Emperor alone. It was already beyond the hour he
usually came ; besides that, even should he arrive, there was abun-
dant time to get back before he could possibly reach it. The garden
we had often seen, but there was something in the fact that our
going there was a transgression that so pleased us all, that we agreed
at once, and set forth. For above an hour we loitered about the
lonely and deserted walks, where already the Emperor's foot-tracks
had worn a marked pathway, when we grew weary, and were about
to return, just as one of the party suggested, half in ridicule of the
sanctity of the spot, that we should have a game of leap-frog ere we
left it. The idea pleased us, and was at once adopted. Our plan
was this : each person stationed himself in some by -walk or alley,
and waited till the other, whose turn it was, came and leaped over
him ; so that, besides the activity displayed, there was a knowledge
of the locale necessary ; for to any one passed over, a forfeit was to
be paid. Our game began at once, and certainly I doubt if ever
those green alleys and shady groves rang to such hearty laughter.
Here would be seen a couple rolling over together on the grass ;
there some luckless wight counting out his pocket-money, to pay his
penalty. The hours passed quietly over, and the moon rose, and at
last it came my turn to make the tour of the garden. As I was sup-
posed to know all its intricacies better than the rest, a longer time
was given for them to conceal themselves ; at length the word was
given, and I started.

" Anxious to acquit myself well, I hurried along at top speed, but
guess my surprise to discover that nowhere could I find one of my
companions ; down one walk I scampered, up another, across a
third, but all was still and silent ; not a sound, not a breath, could I
detect. There was still one part of the garden unexplored ; it was a
small open space before a little pond, which usually contained the
gold fish the Emperor was so fond of. Thither I bent my steps, and
had not gone far when, in the pale moonlight, I saw, at length, one
of my companions waiting patiently for my coming, his head bent
forward and his shoulders rounded. Anxious to repay him for my
own disappointment, I crept silently forward on tiptoe till quite near
him, when, rushing madly on, I sprang upon his back ; just, how-
ever, as I rose to leap over, he raised his head, and, staggered by the
impulse of my spring, he was thrown forward, and, after an ineffec-
21



322 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

tual effort to keep his legs, fell flat upon his face in the grass. Burst-
ing with laughter, I fell over him on the ground, and was turning
to assist him, when suddenly he sprang upon his feet, and — horror
of horrors! — it was Napoleon himself; his usually pale features
were purple with rage, but not a word, not a syllable escaped him.

" ' Qui etes-vous V said he, at length.

" ' St. Croix, sire, 5 said I, still kneeling before him, while my very
heart leaped into my mouth.

" ■ St. Croix ! toujours St. Croix ! Come here ; approach me,' cried
he, in a voice of stifled passion.

" I rose ; but before I could take a step forward he sprang at me,
and tearing off my epaulettes, trampled them beneath his feet, and
then he shouted out, rather than spoke, the word 'Allez V

" I did not wait for a second intimation, but clearing the paling
at a spring, was many a mile from Fontainebleau before daybreak."



CHAPTEE LI,

THE MARCH.



TWICE the reveille sounded ; the horses champed impatiently
their heavy bits ; my men stood waiting for the order to mount
ere I could arouse myself from the deep sleep I had fallen
into. The young Frenchman and his story were in my dreams, and
when I awoke, his figure, as he lay sleeping beside the wood embers,
was the first object I perceived. There he lay, to all seeming as for-
getful of his fate as though he still inhabited the gorgeous halls and
gilded saloons of the Tuileries ; his pale and handsome features wore
even a placid smile as, doubtless, some dream of other days flitted
across him ; his long hair waved in luxurious curls upon his neck,
and his light brown moustache, slightly curled at the top, gave to
his mild and youthful features an air of saucy fiertt that heightened
their effect. A narrow blue ribbon which he wore round his throat
gently peeped from his open bosom. I could not resist the curiosity
I felt to see what it meant, and drawing it softly forth, I perceived
that a small miniature was attached to it. It was beautifully painted,
and surrounded with brilliants of some value. One glance show r ed
me — for I had seen more than one engraving before of her — that it
was the portrait of the Empress Josephine. Poor boy ! he doubtless
was a favorite at court ; indeed everything in his air and manner be-
spoke him such. I gently replaced the precious locket, and turned



THE MARCH. 323

from the spot, to think over what was best to be done for him.
Knowing the vindictive feeling of the Portuguese towards their in-
vaders, I feared to take Pietro, our guide, into my confidence. I ac-
cordingly summoned my man Mike to my aid, who, with all his
country's readiness, soon found out an expedient. It was to pretend
to Pietro that the prisoner was merely an English officer, who had
made his escape from the French army, in which, against his will,
he had been serving for some time.

This plan succeeded perfectly ; and when St. Croix, mounted upon
one of my led horses, set out upon his march beside me, none was
more profuse of his attentions than the dark-brown guide, whose
hatred of a Frenchman was beyond belief.

By thus giving him safe-conduct through Portugal, I knew that
when we reached the frontier he could easily manage to come up
with some part of Marshal Victor's force, the advanced guard of
which lay on the left bank of the Tagus.

To me the companionship was the greatest boon ; the gay and
buoyant spirit, that no reverse of fortune, no untoward event, could
subdue, lightened many an hour of the journey; and though at
times the gasconading tone of the Frenchman would peep through,
there was still such a fund of good-tempered raillery in all he said,
that it was impossible to feel angry with him. His implicit faith in
the Emperor's invincibility also amused me. Of the unbounded
confidence of the nation in general, and the army particularly, in
Napoleon, I had till then no conception. It was not that in the
profound skill and immense resources of the general they trusted,
but they actually regarded him as one placed above all the common
accidents of fortune, and revered him as something more than
human.

"Ilviendra, et puis " was the continued exclamation of the young



Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 33 of 80)