Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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" I don't know, I never could understand, why temptations are
thrown in our way in this life, except for the pleasure of yielding to
them. As for me, I'm a stoic when there's nothing to be had ; but,
let me get a scent of a well-kept haunch, the odor of a wine-bin
once in my nose, I forget everything except appropriation. — That
bone smells deliciously, Charley ; a little garlic would improve it

" Our road lay through cross paths and mountain tracts — for the
French were scouring the country on every side — and my fellows,
only twenty altogether, trembled at the very name of them ; so that
our only chance was to avoid falling in with any forage parties.
We journeyed along for several days, rarely making more than a
few leagues between sunrise and sunset, a scout always in advance
to assure us that all was safe. The road was a lonesome one, and
the way weary, — for I had no one to speak to or converse with, — so
I fell into a kind of musing fit about the old wine in the great brown
casks. I thought on its luscious flavor, its rich straw tint, its oily
look as it flowed into the glass, the mellow after-taste, warming the


heart as it went down, and I absolutely thought I could smell it
through the wood.

" How I longed to broach one of them, if it were only to see if
my dreams about it were correct. 'Maybe it's brown sherry/
thought I, ' and I am all wrong.' This was a very distressing reflec-
tion. I mentioned it to the Portuguese Intendant, who travelled
with us as a kind of supercargo ; but the villain only grinned, and
said something about the Junta and the galleys for life ; so I did
not recur to it afterwards. Well, it was upon the third evening of
our march that the scout reported that at Merida, about a league
distant, he had fallen in with an English cavalry regiment, who
were on their march to the northern provinces, and remaining that
night in the village. As soon, therefore, as I had made all my
arrangements for the night, I took a fresh horse, and cantered over
to have a look at my countrymen, and hear the news. When
I arrived it was dark night; but I was not long in finding out
our fellows. They were the 11th Light Dragoons, commanded
by my old friend Bowes, and with as jolly a mess as any in the

" Before half an hour's time I was in the midst of them, hearing
all about the campaign, and telling them in return about my con-
voy — dilating upon the qualities of the wine, as if I had been drink-
ing it every day at dinner.

" We had a very mellow night of it, and before four o'clock the
senior major and four captains were under the table, and all the
subs, in a state unprovided for by the articles of war. So I thought
I'd be going, and, wishing the sober ones a good-bye, set out on my
road to join my own party.

" I had not gone above a hundred yards, when I heard some one
running after me, and calling out my name.

" 'I say, Monsoon ; Major, confound you, pull up.'
"'Well, what's the matter? has any more lush turned up?' in-
quired I — for we had drunk the tap dry when I left.

" * Not a drop, old fellow,' said he ; ' but I was thinking of what
you've been saying about that sherry.'
" ' Well I what then ?'

Why, I want to know how we could get a taste of it ?'
'You'd better get elected one of the Cortes/ said I, laughing;
■ for it does not seem likely you'll do so in any other way.'

I'm not so sure of that/ said he, smiling. ' What road do you
travel to-morrow ?'

" ' By Cavalhos and Reina.'

Whereabouts may you happen to be towards sunset ?'
" ' I fear we shall be in the mountains/ said I, with a knowing


look, { where ambuscades and surprise parties would be highly dan-

" ' And your party consists of ?'

" * About twenty Portuguese, all ready to run at the first shot.'

" ' I'll do it, Monsoon ! I'll be hanged if I don't.'

" ' But Tom,' said I, ' don't make any blunder ; only blank cart-
ridge, my boy.'

" \ Honor bright !' cried he ; ' your fellows are armed, of course V

" * Never think of that ; they may shoot each other in the confu-
sion ; but if you only make plenty of noise coming on, they'll never
wait for you.'

" ' What capital fellows they must be !'

"'Crack troops, Tom; so don't harm them. And now, good-

" As I cantered off, I began to think over O'Flaherty's idea, and,
upon my life, I didn't half like it. He was a reckless, devil-may-
care fellow, and it was just as likely he would really put his scheme
into practice.

"When morning broke, however, we got under way again, and
I amused myself all the forenoon in detailing stories of French
cruelty; so that, before we had marched ten miles, there was not a
man amongst us not ready to run at the slightest sound of attack on
any side. As evening was falling, we reached Morento, a little
mountain pass which follows the course of a small river, and where
in many places the mule-carts had barely space enough to pass be-
tween the cliffs and the stream. ' What a place for Tom O'Flaherty
and his foragers !' thought I, as we entered the little mountain gorge ;
but all was silent as the grave ; except the tramp of our party, not
a sound was heard. There was something solemn and still in the
great brown mountain, rising like a vast wall on either side, with a
narrow streak of gray sky at top, and in the dark sluggish stream,
that seemed to awe us, and no one spoke ; the muleteer ceased his
merry song, and did not crack or flourish his long whip as before,
but chid his beasts in a half-muttered voice, and urged them faster,
to reach the village before nightfall.

" Egad, somehow I felt uncommonly uncomfortable ; I could not
divest my mind of the impression that some disaster was impending,
and I wished O'Flaherty and his project in a very warm climate.
' He'll attack us,' thought I, ' where we can't run ; fair play forever ;
but if they are not able to get away, even the militia will fight.'
However, the evening crept on, and no sign of his coming appeared
on any side. To my sincere satisfaction, I could see, about half a
league distant, the twinkling light of the little village where we were
to halt for the night. It was just at this time that a scout I had sent


out some few hundred yards in advance came galloping up, almost

" ' The French, captain — the French are upon us !' said he, with
a face like a ghost.

" ' Whew ! Which way ? how many ?' said I, not at all sure that
he might not be telling the truth.

" ' Coming in force !' said the fellow : ' dragoons — by this road.'

" ' Dragoons ? By this road V repeated every man of the party,
looking at each other like men sentenced to be hanged.

" Scarcely had they spoken, when we heard the distant noise of
cavalry advancing at a brisk trot. Lord, what a scene ensued!
The soldiers ran hither and thither like frightened sheep ; some
pulled out crucifixes and began to say their prayers ; others fired
off their muskets in a panic; the mule-drivers cut their traces, and
endeavored to get away by riding ; and the Intendant took to his
heels, screaming out to us, as he went, to fight manfully to the last,
and that he'd report us favorably to the Junta.

" Just at this moment the dragoons came in sight ; they came
galloping up, shouting like madmen. One look was enough for my
fellows; they sprang to their legs from their devotions; fired a
volley straight at the new moon, and ran like men.

" I was knocked down in the rush. As soon as I regained
my legs, Tom O'Flaherty was standing beside me, laughing like

" ' Eh, Monsoon ! I've kept my word, old fellow ! What legs
they have ! We shall make no prisoners, that's certain. Now, lads,
here it is; put the horses to, here. We shall take but one, Monsoon,
so that your gallant defence of the rest will please the Junta. Good-
night ! good-night ! I will drink your health every night these two

"So saying, Tom sprang to his saddle, and in less time than I've
been telling it the whole was over, and I sitting by myself in the
gray moonlight, meditating on all I saw, and now and then shout-
ing to my Portuguese friends to come back again. They came in
time, by twos and threes, and at last the whole party reassembled,
and we set forth again, — every man, from the Intendant to the
drummer, lauding my valor, and saying that Don Monsoon was *
match for the Cid."

" And how did the Junta behave ?"

" Like trumps, Charley. Made me a Knight of Battalha, and
kissed me on both cheeks, having sent twelve dozen of the rescued
wine to my quarters, as a small testimony of their esteem. I have
laughed very often at it since. But, hush, Charley ! What's that
I hear without there ?"


" Oh, it's my fellow Mike. He asked my leave to entertain his
friends before parting, and I perceive he is delighting them with a

" But what a confounded air it is ! Are the words Hebrew?"

" Irish, Major — most classical Irish, too, I'll be bound."

"Irish! I think I've heard most tongues; but that certainly
surprises me. Call him in, however, Charley, and let us have the

In a few minutes more Mr. Free appeared, in a state of very
satisfactory elevation, his eyebrows alternately rising and falling,
his mouth a little drawn to one side, and a side motion in his knee-
joints that might puzzle a physiologist to account for.

" A sweet little song of yours, Mike," said the Major, — " a very
sweet thing indeed. Wet your lips, Mickey."

" Long life to your honor, and Master Charles there too, and them
that belongs to both of yez. May a gooseberry skin make a night-
cap for the man would harm either of ye."

"Thank you, Mike. And now about that song."

" It's the ouldest tune ever was sung," said Mike, with a hiccup,
" barrin' Adam had a taste for music ; but the words — the poethry
— is not so ould."

" And how comes that ?"

" The poethry, ye see, was put to it by one of my ancesthors, — he
was a great inventhor in times past, and made beautiful songs, — and
ye'd never guess what it's all about."

" Love, mayhap ?" quoth Monsoon.

" Sorra taste of kissin' from beginning to end."

" A drinking song ?" said I.

" Whisky is never mentioned."

"Fighting is the only other national pastime. It must be in
praise of sudden death."

" You're out again ; but sure you'd never guess it," said Mike.
" Well, ye see, here's what it is. It's the praise and glory of ould
Ireland in the great days that's gone, when we were all Phenay-
ceans and Armanians, and when we worked all manner of beautiful
contrivances in goold and silver — bracelets, and collars, and tea-
pots, illigant to look at ; and read Roosian and Latin, and played
the harp and the barrel-organ ; and ate and drank of the best, for
nothing but asking."

"Blessed times, upon my life !" quoth the Major; "I wish we had
them back again."

" There's more of your mind," said Mike, steadying himself. " My
ancesthors was great people in them days ; and sure it isn't in my
present situation I'd be av we had them back again— sorra bit,


faith ! It isn't ' Come here, Mickey, bad luck to you, Mike !' or,
'That blackguard, Mickey Free!' people'd be calling me. But no
matter ; here's your health again, Major Monsoon "

" Never mind vain regrets, Mike. Let us hear your song ; the
Major has taken a great fancy to it."

"Ah, then, it's joking you are, Misther Charles," said Mike,
affecting an air of most bashful coyness.

" By no means ; we want to hear you sing it."

" To be sure we do. Sing it, by all means ; never be ashamed.
King David was very fond of singing — upon my life he was."

" But you'd never understand a word of it, sir."

" No matter ; we know what it's about. That's the way with the
Legion ; they don't know much English, but they generally guess
what I'm at."

This argument seemed to satisfy all Mike's remaining scruples,
so, placing himself in an attitude of considerable pretension as to
grace, he began, with a voice of no very measured compass, an air,
of which, neither by name nor otherwise, can I give any conception,
my principal amusement being derived from a tol-de-rol chorus of
the Major, which concluded each verse, and, indeed, in a lower key,
accompanied the singer throughout.

Since that I have succeeded in obtaining a free-and-easy transla-
tion of the lyric; but in my anxiety to preserve the metre and
something of the spirit of the original, I have made several blunders
and many anachronisms. Mr. Free, however, pronounces my ver-
sion to be a very good one, and the world must take his word till
some more worthy translator shall have consigned it to immortal

With this apology, therefore, I present Mr. Free's song, which is
set to the air — " Na Guilloch y' Goulen."

" Oh ! once we were illigant people,

Though we now live in cabins of mud;
And the land that yc see from the steeple
' Belonged to us all from the flood.
My father was then king of Connaught,

My grand-aunt viceroy of Tralee ;
But the Sassenach came, and, signs on it,

The devil an acre have we.

" The least of us then were all earls,

And jewels we wore without name ;
We drank punch out of rubies and pearls —

Mr. Petrie can tell you the same.
But, except some turf mould and potatoes,

There's nothing our own we can call ;
And the English— bad luck to then) !— hate us,

Because we've more fun than them all !


" My grand-aunt was niece to St. Kevin,

That's the reason my name's Mickey Free !
Priest's nieces — but sure he's in heaven,

And his failins is nothing to me.
And we still might get on without doctors,

If they'd let the ould island alone ;
And if purple men, priests, and tithe-proctors,

Were crammed down the great gun of Athlone."

As Mike's melody proceeded, the Major's thorough bass waxed
beautifully less — now and then, it's true, roused by some moment-
ary strain, it swelled upward in full chorus ; but gradually these
passing nights grew rarer, and finally all ceased, save a long, low,
droning sound, like the expiring sigh of a wearied bagpipe. His
fingers still continued mechanically to beat time upon the table, and
still his head nodded sympathetically to the music ; his eyelids
closed in sleep, and, as the last verse concluded, a full-drawn snore
announced that Monsoon, if not in the land of dreams, was, at
least, in a happy oblivion of all terrestrial concerns, and caring as
little for the woes of green Erin and the altered fortunes of the
Free family as any Saxon that ever oppressed them.

There he sat, the finished decanter and empty goblet testifying
that his labors had only ceased from the pressure of necessity ; but
the broken, half-uttered words that fell from his lips evinced that
he reposed on the last bottle of the series.

" Oh, thin, he's a fine ould gentleman," said Mike, after a pause
of some minutes, during which he had been contemplating the
Major with all the critical acumen Chantrey or Canova would have
bestowed upon an antique statue — "a fine ould gentleman, every
inch of him ; and it's the master would like to have him up at the

" Quite true, Mike ; but let us not forget the road. Look to the
cattle, and be ready to start within an hour."

When he left the room for this purpose, I endeavored to shake
the Major into momentary consciousness ere we parted.

" Major, Major," said I, " time is up. I must start."

" Yes, it's all true, your Excellency ; they pillaged a little ; and,
if they did change their facings, there was a great temptation. All
the red velvet they found in the churches- "

" Good-bye, old fellow, good-bye !"

" Stand at ease !"

" Can't, unfortunately, yet awhile ; so farewell. I'll make a capi-
tal report of the Legion to Sir Arthur. Shall I add anything par-
ticularly from yourself?"

This, and the shake that accompanied it, aroused him. He started
up, and looked about him for a few seconds.


" Eh, Charley ! You didn't say Sir Arthur was here, did you?"

" No, Major ; don't be frightened ; he's many a league off. I asked
if you had anything to say when I met him."

" Oh yes, Charley. Tell him we're capital troops in our own little
way in the mountains; would never do in pitched battles; skirmish-
ing's our forte ; and for cutting off stragglers or sacking a town,
back them at any odds."

" Yes, yes, I know all that : you've nothing more ?"

" Nothing," said he, once more closing his eyes and crossing his
hands before him, while his lips continued to mutter on, " Nothing
more, except you may say from me, — he knows me, Sir Arthur does.
Tell him to guard himself from intemperance : a fine fellow if he
wouldn't drink."

"You horrid old humbug, what nonsense are you muttering

" Yes, yes ; Solomon says, ' Who hath red eyes and carbuncles V
— they that mix their lush? Pure tSnei/d never injured any one. Tell
him so from me : it's an old man's advice, and I have drunk some
hogsheads of it."

With these words he ceased to speak, while his head, falling gently
forward upon his chest, proclaimed him sound asleep.

" Adieu ! then, for the last time," said I, slapping him gently on
the shoulder ; " and now for the road."



THE second day of our journey was drawing to a close as we
came in view of the Spanish army. The position they occu-
pied was an undulating plain beside the Teitar river. The
country presented no striking feature of picturesque beauty ; but the
scene before us needed no such aid to make it one of the most inter-
esting kind. From the little mountain path we travelled, we be-
held beneath a force of thirty thousand men drawn up in battle
array; dense columns of infantry, alternating with squadrons of
horse or dark masses of artillery, dotted the wide plain, the bright
steel glittering in the rich sunset of a July evening. Not a breath
of air was stirring ; the very banners hung down listlessly, and not
a sound broke the solemn stillness of the hour. All was silent. So
impressive and so strange was the spectacle of a vast army thus rest- •


ing mutely under arms, that I reined in my horse, and almost
doubted the reality of the scene as I gazed upon it. The dark
shadows of the tall mountain were falling across the valley, and a
starry sky was already replacing the ruddy glow of sunset as we
reached the plain ; but still no change took place in the position of
the Spanish army.

"Who goes there?" cried a hoarse voice, as we issued from the
mountain gorge, and in a moment we found ourselves surrounded
by an outpost party. Having explained, as well as I was able, who
I was, and for what reason I was there, I proceeded to accompany
the officer towards the camp.

On my way thither I learned the reason of the singular display of
troops which had been so puzzling to me. From an early hour of
that day Sir Arthur Wellesley's arrival had been expected, and old
Cuesta had drawn up his men for inspection, and remained thus for
several hours patiently awaiting his coming ; he himself, over-
whelmed with years and infirmity, sitting upon his horse the entire

As it was not necessary that I should be presented to the General,
my report being for the ear of Sir Arthur himself, I willingly availed
myself of the hospitality proffered by a Spanish officer of cavalry.
Having provided for the comforts of my tired cattle and taken a
hasty supper, I issued forth to look at the troops, which, although it
was now growing late, were still in the same attitude.

Scarcely had I been half an hour thus occupied, when the stillness
of the scene was suddenly interrupted by the loud report of a large
gun, immediately followed by a long roll of musketry, while at the
same moment the bands of the different regiments struck up, and, as
if by magic, a blaze of red light streamed across the dark ranks.
This was effected by pine-torches held aloft at intervals, throwing a
lurid glow upon the grim and swarthy features of the Spaniards,
whose brown uniforms and slouching hats presented a most pictur-
esque effect as the red light fell upon them.

The swell of the thundering cannon grew louder and nearer ; the
shouldering of muskets, the clash of sabres, and the hoarse roll of
the drum, mingling in one common din. I at once guessed that Sir
Arthur had arrived, and as I turned the flank of a battalion, I saw
the staff approaching.

Nothing can be conceived more striking than their advance. In
the front rode old Cuesta himself, clad in the costume of a past cen-
tury, his slashed doublet and trunk hose reminding one of a more
chivalrous period ; his heavy, unwieldy figure, looming from side to
side, and threatening at each moment to fall from his saddle. On
each side of him walked two figures gorgeously dressed, whose duty


appeared to be to sustain the chief in his seat. At his side rode a
far different figure. Mounted upon a slight-made, active thorough-
bred, whose drawn flanks bespoke a long and weary journey, sat Sir
Arthur Wellesley, a plain blue frock and gray trousers being his un-
pretending costume ; but the eagle glance which he threw around
on every side, the quick motion of his hand as he pointed hither
and thither among the dense battalions, bespoke him every inch a
soldier. Behind them came a brilliant staff, glittering in aiguillettes
and golden trappings, among whom I recognized some well-remem-
bered faces, our gallant leader at the Douro, Sir Charles Stewart,
among the number.

As they passed the spot where I was standing, the torch of a foot
soldier behind me flared suddenly up, and threw a strong flash upon
the party. Cuesta's horse grew frightened, and plunged so fearfully
for a minute, that the poor old man could scarcely keep his seat. A
smile shot across Sir Arthur's features at the moment, but the next
instant he was grave and steadfast as before.

A wretched hovel, thatched and in ruins, formed the head-quar-
ters of the Spanish army, and thither the staff now bent their steps;
a supper being provided there for our Commander-in-Chief and the
officers of his suite. Although not of the privileged party, I lingered
round the spot for some time, anxiously expecting to find some
friend or acquaintance, who might tell me the news of our people,
and what events had occurred in my absence.



THE hours passed slowly over, and I at length grew weary of
waiting. For some time I had amused myself with observing
the slouching gait and unsoldier-like air of the Spaniards as
they lounged carelessly about, looking, in dress, gesture, and ap-
pointment, far more like a guerilla than a regular force. Then,
again, the strange contrast of the miserable hut, with falling chim-
neys and ruined walls, to the glitter of the mounted guard of honor
who sat motionless beside it, served to pass the time ; but as the
night was already far advanced, I turned towards my quarters,
hoping that the next morning might gratify my curiosity about my
Beside the tent where I was billeted, I found Mike in waiting,


who, the moment he saw me, came hastily forward with a letter in
his hand. An officer of Sir Arthur's staff had left it while I was
absent, desiring Mike on no account to omit its delivery the first
instant he met me. The hand — not a very legible one — was per-
fectly unknown to me, and the appearance of the billet such as
betrayed no over-scrupulous care in the writer.

I trimmed my lamp leisurely, threw a fresh log upon the fire,
disposed myself completely at full length beside it, and then pro-
ceeded to form acquaintance with my unknown correspondent. I
will not attempt any description of the feelings which gradually
* filled me as I read on ; the letter itself will suggest them to those
who know my story. It ran thus.

Placentia, July 8, 1809.

" Dear O'Malley : — Although I'd rather march to Lisbon bare-
foot than write three lines, Fred Power insists upon my turning
scribe, as he has a notion you'll be up at Cuesta's head-quarters
about this time. You're in a nice scrape — devil a lie in it ! Here
has Fred been fighting that fellow Trevyllian for you — all because
you would not have patience and fight him yourself the morning
you left the Douro — so much for haste ! Let it be a lesson to you
for life.

" Poor Fred got the ball in his hip, and the devil a one of the doc-
tors can find it. But he's getting better anyway, and going to Lisbon
for change of air. Meanwhile, since Power's been wounded, Tre-

Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 36 of 80)