Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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Frenchman. Any notion of our successfully resisting the over-
whelming might of the Emperor, he would have laughed to scorn,
and so I let him go on prophesying our future misfortunes till the
time when, driven back upon Lisbon, we should be compelled to
evacuate the Peninsula, and, under favor of a convention, be per-
mitted to return to England. All this was sufficiently ridiculous,
coming from a youth of nineteen, wounded, in misery, a prisoner ;
but further experience of his nation has shown me that St. Croix
was not the exception, but the rule. The conviction in the ultimate
success of their army, whatever be the merely momentary mishap,
is the one present thought of a Frenchman ; a victory with them is
a conquest ; a defeat— if they are by any chance driven to acknowl-
edge one— zfatalitS.

I was too young a man, and, still more, too young a soldier, to


bear with this absurd affectation of superiority as I ought, and con-
sequently was glad to wander whenever I could from the contested
point of our national superiority to other topics. St. Croix, although
young, had seen much of the world, as a page in the splendid court
of the Tuileries. The scenes passing before his eyes were calculated
to make a strong impression ; and by many an anecdote of his for-
mer life he lightened the road as we passed along.

" You promised, by the bye, to tell me of your banishment. How
did that occur, St. Croix ?"

" Ah/ par Dieu! that was an unfortunate affair for me: then
began all my mishaps ; but for that, I should never have been sent
to Fontainebleau — never have played leap-frog with the Emperor —
never have been sent a soldier into Spain. True," said he, laugh-
ing, " I should never have had the happiness of your acquaintance.
But still, I'd much rather have met you first in the Places des Vic-
toires than in the Estrella Mountains."

" Who knows?" said I; "perhaps your good genius prevailed in
all this."

" Perhaps," said he, interrupting me ; " that's exactly what the
Empress said— she was my godmother — ' Jules will be a Marshal
de France yet.' But certainly it must be confessed I have made a
bad beginning. However, you wish to hear of my disgrace at
court., Attons, done. But had we not better wait for a halt?"

" Agreed," said I ; " and so let us now press forward."



"T" "TNDER, the deep shade of some tall trees, sheltered from the
noonday sun, we lay down to rest ourselves, and enjoy a
V_y most patriarchal dinner. Some dry biscuits, a few bunches
of grapes, and a little weak wine, -savoring more of the boraccio-skin
than the vine-juice, were all we boasted; yet they were not unac-
ceptable at such a time and place.

" Whose health did you pledge then ?" inquired St. Croix, with a
half-malicious smile, as I raised the glass silently to my lips.

I blushed deeply and looked confused.

" A ses beaux yeux ! whoever she be," said he, gayly, tossing off
his wine ; " and now, if you feel disposed, I'll tell you my story. In
good truth, it is not worth relating, but it may serve to set you
asleep, at all events.


" I have already told you that I was a page. Alas ! the impres-
sions you may feel of that functionary, from having seen Cheru-
bino, give but a faint notion of him when pertaining to the house-
hold of the Emperor Napoleon.

" The farfallone amoroso basked in the soft smiles and sunny looks
of the Countess Almaviva ; we met but the cold, impassive look of
Talleyrand, the piercing and penetrating stare of Savary, or the
ambiguous smile, half menace, half mockery, of Monsieur Fouch6.
While on service, our days were passed in the ante-chamber, beside
the salle oVaudience of the Emperor, reclining against the closed
door, watching attentively for the gentle tinkle of the little bell
which summoned us to open for the exit of some haughty diplo-
mate, or the entree of some redoubted general. Thus passed we the
weary hours. The illustrious visitors by whom we were surrounded
had no novelty, consequently no attraction for us, and the names
already historical were but household words with us.

" We often remarked, too, the proud and distant bearing the Em-
peror assumed to those of his generals who had been his former
companions in arms. Whatever familiarity or freedom may have
existed in the campaign or in the battle-field, the air of the Tuile-
ries certainly chilled it. I have often heard that the ceremonious
observances and rigid etiquette of the old Bourbon court were far
preferable to the stern reserve and unbending stiffness of the Impe-
rial one.

" The ante-chamber is but the reflection of the reception-room ;
and whatever be the whims, the caprices, the littleness of the Great
Man, they are speedily assumed by his inferiors, and the dark tem-
per of one casts a lowering shadow on every menial by whom he is

" As for us, we were certainly not long in catching somewhat of
the spirit of the Emperor; and I doubt much if the impertinence of
the waiting-room was not more dreaded and detested than the
abrupt speech and searching look of Napoleon himself.

" What a malicious pleasure have I not felt in arresting the step
of M. de Talleyrand, as he approached the Emperor's closet ! With
what easy insolence have I lisped out, ' Pardon, monsieur, but his
Majesty cannot receive you f or, ' Monsieur le Due, his Majesty has
given no orders for your admission.' How amusing it was to watch
the baffled look of each, as he retired once more to his place among
the crowd — the wily diplomate covering his chagrin with a prac-
tised smile, while the stern marshal would blush to his very eyes
with indignation. This was the great pleasure our position afforded
us, and, with a boyish spirit of mischief, we cultivated it to perfec-
tion, and became at last the very horror and detestation of all who


frequented the levees ; and the ambassador whose fearless voice was
heard among the councils of kings became soft and conciliating in
his approaches to us ; and the hardy general, who would have
charged upon a brigade of artillery, was timid as a girl in address-
ing us a mere question.

" Among the amiable class thus characterized I was most con-
spicuous. Preserving cautiously a tone of civility that left nothing
openly to complain of, I assumed an indifference and impartiality
of manner that no exigency of affairs, no pressing haste, could dis-
compose or disturb ; and my bow of recognition to Soult or Massena
was as coolly measured as my monosyllabic answer was accurately
conned over.

" Upon ordinary occasions, the Emperor, at the close of each per-
son's audience, rang his little bell for the admission of the next
in order as they arrived in the waiting-room ; yet when anything
important was under consideration, a list was given us in the morn-
ing of the names to be presented in rotation, which no casual cir-
cumstance was ever suffered to interfere with.

"It is now about four months since, one fine morning, such a list
was placed within my hands. His Majesty was just then occupied
with an inquiry into the naval force of the kingdom. As I cast my
eyes carelessly over the names, I read little else than Vice- Admiral
so-and-so, Commander such-a-one, and Chef d'Escadron such
another, and the levee presented, accordingly, instead of its usual
brilliant array of gorgeous uniform and aiguilletted marshals, the
simple blue-and-gold of the naval service.

" The marine was not in high favor with the Emperor, and truly
my reception of these unfrequent visitors was anything but flatter-
ing. The early part of the morning was, as usual, occupied by the
audience of the Minister of Police and the Due de Bassano, who
evidently, from the length of time they remained, had matter of im-
portance to communicate. Meanwhile, the ante-chamber filled
rapidly, and before noon was actually crowded. It was just at this
moment that the folding-door slowly opened, and a figure entered
such as I had never before seen in our brilliant saloon. He was a
man of five or six-and-fifty, short, thick-set, and strongly built, with
a bronzed and weather-beaten face, and a broad, open forehead,
deeply scarred with a sabre-cut ; a shaggy gray moustache curled
over and concealed his mouth, while eyebrows of the same color
shaded his dark and piercing eyes. His dress was a coarse coat of
blue cloth, such as the fishermen wear in Bretagnc, fastened at the
waist by a broad belt of black leather, from which hung a short
broad-bladed cutlass ; his loose trousers, of the same material, were
turned up at the ankles, to show a pair of strong legs, coarsely cased


in blue stockings and thick-soled shoes ; a broad-leaved oil-skin hat
was held in one hand, and the other stuck carelessly in his pocket,
as he entered. He came in with a careless air, and, familiarly salut-
ing one or two officers in the room, he sat himself down near the
door, appearing lost in his own reflections.

" ' Who can you be, my worthy friend ?' was my question to my-
self, as I surveyed this singular apparition. At the same time,
casting my eyes down the list, I perceived that several pilots of the
coast of Havre, Calais, and Boulogne had been summoned to Paris,
to give some information upon the soundings and depth of water
along the shore.

"'Ha/ thought I, 'I have it; the good man has mistaken his
place, and instead of remaining without, has walked boldly forward
to the ante-chamber.' There was something so strange and so orig-
inal in the grim look of the old fellow, as he sat there alone, that I
suifered him to remain quietly in his delusion, rather than order him
back to the waiting-room without ; besides, I perceived that a kind
of sensation was created among the others by his appearance there,
which amused me greatly.

"As the day wore on, the officers formed into little groups of three
or four, chatting together in an undertone of voice, all save the old
pilot; he had taken a huge tobacco-box from his capacious breast-
pocket, and inserting an immense piece of the bitter weed in his
mouth, began to chew it as leisurely as though he were walking the
quarter-deck. The cool insouciance of such a proceeding amused me
much, and I resolved to draw him out a little.

" His strong, broad Breton features, his deep voice, his dry, blunt
manner, were all in admirable keeping with his exterior, and amused
me highly.

" i Par Dieu I my lad/ said he, after chatting some time, ' had you
not better tell the Emperor that I am waiting ? It's now past noon,
and I must eat something.'

" ' Have a little patience,' said I ; ' his Majesty is going to invite
you to dinner.'

" ' Be it so,' said he, gravely ; l provided the hour be an early one,
I'm his man.'

" With difficulty did I keep down my laughter as he said this, and
continued, —

" ' So you know the Emperor already, it seems ?'

" ' Yes, that I do ! I remember him when he was no higher than

" ' How delighted he'll be to find you here. I hope you have
brought up some of your family with you, as the Emperor would be
so flattered by it?'


" ' No, I've left them at home ; this place don't suit us over well.
We have plenty to do, besides spending our time and money among
all you fine folks here.'

" 'And not a bad life of it, either,' added I, ' fishing for cod and
herrings — stripping a wreck now and then.'

" He stared at me as I said this, like a tiger on the spring, but
spoke not a word.

" 'And how many young sea-wolves may you have in your den at

" ' Six ; and all o' them able to carry you with one hand at arm's
length !'

" ' I have no doubt ; I shall certainly not test their ability. But
you yourself, how do you like the capital ?'

" ' Not over well, and I'll tell you why '

"As he said this, the door of the audience-chamber opened, and
the Emperor appeared. His eyes flashed fire, as he looked hurriedly
around the room.

" ' Who is in waiting here?'

" ' I am, please your Majesty,' said I, bowing deeply, as I started
from my seat.

"'And where is the Admiral Truguet? Why was he not ad-

" ' Not present, your Majesty,' said I, trembling with fear.

" ' Hold there, young fellow. Not so fast ; here he is.'

" 'Ah, Truguet, mon ami V cried the Emperor, placing both hands
on the old fellow's shoulders ; ' how long have you been in wait-

" ' Two hours and a half,' said he, producing in evidence a watch
like a saucer.

" ' What ! two hours and a half, and I not know it?'

" ' No matter ; I am always happy to serve your Majesty. But
if that fine fellow had not told me that you were going to ask me to
dinner '

" ' He! he said so, did he?' said Napoleon, turning on me a glance
like a wild beast. 'Yes, Truguet, so I am ; you shall dine with me
to-day. And you, sir,' said he, dropping his voice to a whisper, as
he came closer towards me, ' and you have dared to speak thus ?
Call in a guard there. Capitaine, put this person under arrest ; he
is disgraced ; he is no longer page of the palace. Out of my pres-
ence ! away, sir !'

" The room wheeled round ; my legs tottered, my senses reeled ;
and I saw no more.

" Three weeks' bread and water in St. Pelagie, however, brought
me to my recollection ; and at last my kind, my more than kind


friend, the Empress, obtained my pardon and sent me to Fontaine-
bleau, till the Emperor should forget all about it. How I contrived
again to refresh his memory I have already told you ; and certainly
you will acknowledge that I have not been fortunate in my inter-
views with Napoleon."

I am conscious how much St. Croix's story loses in my telling,
The simple expressions, the grace of the narrative, were its charm ;
and these, alas ! I can neither translate nor imitate, no more than
I can convey the strange mixture of deep feeling and levity,
shrewdness and simplicity, that constituted the manner of the

With many a story of his courtly career he amused me as we
trotted along ; when, towards nightfall of the third day, a peasant
informed us that a body of French cavalry occupied the convent of
San Cristoval, about three leagues off. The opportunity of his return
to his own army pleased him far less than I expected ; he heard
without any show of satisfaction that the time of his liberation had
arrived, and when the moment of leave-taking drew near, he became
deeply affected.

"Eh Men, Charles," said he, smiling sadly through his dimmed and
tearful eyes. "You've been a kind friend to me. »Is the time never
to come when I can repay you ?"

" Yes, yes ; we'll meet again, be assured of it. Meanwhile, there
is one way you can more than repay anything I have done for you."

" Oh ! name it at once."

" Many a brave fellow of ours is now, and, doubtless, many more
will be, prisoners with your army in this war. Whenever, therefore,
your lot brings you in contact with such "

"They shall be my brothers," said he, springing towards me, and
throwing his arms round my neck. "Adieu, adieu !" With that he
rushed from the spot, and before I could speak again, was mounted
upon the peasant's horse, and waving his hand to me in farewell.

I looked after him as he rode at a fast gallop down the slope of
the green mountain, the noise of the horse's feet echoing along the
silent plain. I turned at length to leave the spot, and then per-
ceived, for the first time, that, when taking his farewell of me, he
had hung round my neck his miniature of the Empress. Poor boy!
how sorrowful I felt thus to rob him of what he held so dear ! How
gladly would I have overtaken him to restore it ! It was the only
keepsake he possessed ; and knowing that I would not accept it if
offered, he took this way of compelling me to keep it.

Through the long hours of the summer's night I thought of him ;
and, when at last I slept, towards morning, my first thought on
waking was of the solitary day before me. The miles no longer


slipped imperceptibly along ; no longer did the noon and night seem
fast to follow. Alas ! that one should grow old ! The very sorrows
of our early years have something soft and touching in them. Aris-
ing less from deep wrong than slight mischances, the grief they cause
comes ever with an alloy of pleasant thoughts, telling of the tender
past, and, 'mid the tears they call up, forming some bright rainbow
of future hope.

Poor St. Croix had already won greatly upon me, and I felt
lonely and desolate when he departed.



NOTHING of incident marked our further progress towards the
frontier of Spain, and at length we reached the small town of
Alvas. It was past sunset as we arrived, and, instead of the
usual quiet and repose of a little village, we found the streets crowded
with people, on horseback and on foot ; mules, bullocks, carts, and
wagons blocked up the way, and the oaths of the drivers and the
screaming of women and children resounded on all sides.

With what little Spanish I possessed, I questioned some of those
near me, and learned, in reply, that a dreadful engagement had
taken place that day between the advanced guard of the French,
under Victor, and the Lusitanian legion ; that the Portuguese troops
had been beaten and completely routed, losing all tfceir artillery and
baggage; that the French were rapidly advancing, and expected
hourly to arrive at Alvas, in consequence of which the terror-
stricken inhabitants were packing up their possessions and hurrying

Here, then, was a point of considerable difficulty for me at once.
My instructions had never provided for such a conjuncture, and I
was totally unable to determine what was best to be done ; both my
men and their horses were completely tired by a march of fourteen
leagues, and had a pressing need of some rest ; on every side of me
the preparations for flight were proceeding with all the speed that
fear inspires ; and to my urgent request for some information as to
food and shelter, I could obtain no other reply than muttered men-
aces of the fate before me if I remained, and exaggerated accounts
of French cruelty.

Amid all this bustle and confusion, a tremendous fall of heavy

ALVAS. 331

rain set in, which at once determined me, come what might, to house
my party, and provide forage for our horses.

As we pushed our way slowly through the encumbered streets,
looking on every side for some appearance of a village inn, a tre-
mendous shout rose in our rear, and a rush of the people towards us
induced us to suppose that the French were upon us. For some
minutes the din and uproar were terrific — the clatter of horses' feet,
the braying of trumpets, the yelling of the mob, all mingling in
one frightful concert.

I formed my men in close column, and waited steadily for the
attack, resolving, if possible, to charge through the advancing files,
any retreat through the crowded and blocked-up thoroughfares being
totally out of the question. The rain was falling in such torrents
that nothing could be seen a few yards off, when suddenly a pause
of a few seconds occurred, and, from the clash of accoutrements and
the hoarse tones of a loud voice, I judged that the body of men
before us were forming for attack.

Kesolving, therefore, to take them by surprise, I gave the word to
charge, and, spurring our jaded cattle, onward we dashed. The mob
fled right and left from us as we came on ; and through the dense
mist we could just perceive a body of cavalry before us.

In an instant we were among them ; down they went on every
side, men and horses rolling pell-mell over each other — not a blow,
not a shot striking us as we pressed on. Never did I witness such
total consternation ; seme threw themselves from their horses, and
fled towards the houses ; others turned and tried to fall back, but the
increasing pressure from behind held them, and finally succeeded in
blocking us up amongst them. .

It was just at this critical moment that a sudden gleam of light
from a window fell upon the disordered mass, and to my astonish-
ment — I need not say, to my delight — I perceived that they were
Portuguese troops. Befote I had well time to halt my party, my
convictions were pretty well strengthened by hearing a well-known
voice in the rear of the mass call out : —

" Charge, ye devils ! charge, will ye ? illustrious Hidalgos ! cut
them down; los injidelos, sacrificiados los — scatter them like chaff!"

One roar of laughter was my only answer to this energetic appeal
for my destruction, and the moment after, the dry features and pleas-
ant face of old Monsoon beamed on me by the light of a pine-torch
he carried in his right hand.

"Are they prisoners? — have they surrendered?" inquired he,
riding up. "It is well for them; we'd have made mincemeat of
them otherwise ; now they shall be well treated, and ransomed if
they prefer."

332 Off A II L ESS 'MA LIE Y.

"Gracias excdlcnzc /" said I, in a feigned voice.
" Give up your sword," said the Major, in an undertone. " You
behaved gallantly, but you fought against invincibles. Lord love
them ! but they are the most terrified invincibles."
I nearly burst aloud at this.

" It was a close thing which of us ran first," muttered the Major,
as he turned to give some directions to an aide-de-camp. "Ask them
who they are," said he, in Spanish.

By this time I came close alongside of him, and placing my mouth
close to his ear, holloed out, —

" Monsoon, old fellow, how goes the King of Spain's sherry ?"
" Eh ! — what — why — upon my life, and so it is — Charley, my boy,
so it's you, is it — egad, how good ; and we were so near being the
death of you ! My poor fellow, how came you here ?"

A few words of explanation sufficed to inform the Major why we
were there, and still more to comfort him with the assurance that
he had not been charging the General's staff*, and the Commander-
in-Chief himself.

" Upon my life, you gave me a great start ; though, as long as I
thought you were French, it was very well."

" True, Major, but certainly the invincibles were merciful as they
were strong."

" They were tired, Charley — nothing more ; why, lad, we've been
fighting since daybreak — beat Victor at six o'clock — drove him back
behind the Tagus — took a cold dinner, and had at him again in the
afternoon. . Lord love you ! we've immortalized ourselves ; but you
must never speak of this little business here ; it tells devilish ill for
the discipline of your fellows, upon my life it does."

This was rather an original turn to give the transaction, but I
did not oppose ; and thus chatting, we entered the little inn, where,
confidence once restored, some semblance of comfort already ap-

"And so you're come to reinforce us ?" said Monsoon ; " there was
never anything more opportune; though we surprised ourselves
to-day with valor, I don't think we could persevere."

"Yes, Major, the appointment gave me sincere pleasure; I greatly
desired to see a little service under your orders. Shall I present you
with my despatches ?"

" Not now, Charley — not now, my lad. Supper is the first thing
at this moment ; besides, now that you remind me, I must send off
a despatch myself. Upon my life, it's a great piece of fortune that
you're here ; you shall be Secretary at War, and write it for me ;
here now — how lucky that I thought of it, to be sure ! and that was
just a mere chance ; one has so many things " Muttering such

AL VAS. 333

broken, disjointed sentences, the Major opened a large portfolio with
writing materials, which he displayed before me as he rubbed his
hands with satisfaction, and said, "Write away, lad."

" But, my dear Major, you forget; I was not in the action. You
must describe; I can only follow you."

" Begin then thus : —

" ' Head-Quarters, Alvas, June 26.

" ' Your Excellency,

" l Having learned from Don Alphonzo Xaviero da Minto, an
officer upon my personal staff '

" Luckily sober at that moment

" ' That the advanced guard of the eighth corps of the French
army '

" Stay, though, was it the eighth ? Upon my life, I'm not quite
clear as to that ; blot the word a little and go on

" { That the corps, under Marshal Victor, had commenced a

forward movement towards Alcantara, I immediately ordered a
flank movement of the light infantry regiment to cover the bridge
over the Tagus. After breakfast ' "

" I'm afraid, Major, that is not precise enough."

" Well, 'About eleven o'clock, the French skirmishers attacked,
and drove in our pickets that were posted in front of our position,

Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 34 of 80)