Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

. (page 4 of 80)
Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 4 of 80)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

from the valley, and in an instant the whole pack were off at full
speed. Rather more intent at that moment upon showing off my
horsemanship than anything else, I dashed spurs into Badger's sides,
and turned him towards a rasping ditch before me. Over we went,
hurling down behind us a rotten bank of clay and small stones,
showing how little safety there had been in topping instead of clear-
ing it at a bound. Before I was well seated again, the Captain was
beside me. " Now for it, then," said I ; and away we went. What
might be the nature of his feelings I cannot pretend to state, but
my own were a strange melange of wild, boyish enthusiasm, revenge,
and recklessness. For my own neck I cared little — nothing; and as
I led the way by half a length, I muttered to myself, " Let him fol-
low me fairly this day, and I ask no more."

The dogs had got somewhat the start of us, and as they were in
full cry, and going fast, we were a little behind. A thought there-
fore struck me that, by appearing to take a short cut upon the
hounds, I should come down upon the river where its breadth was
greatest, and thus, at one coup, might try my friend's mettle and his
horse's performance at the same time. On we went, our speed in-
creasing, till the roar of the river we were now approaching was
plainly audible. I looked half around, and now perceived the Cap-
tain was standing in his stirrups, as if to obtain a view of what was


before him ; otherwise his countenance was calm and unmoved, and
not a muscle betrayed that he was not cantering on a parade. I
fixed myself firm in my seat, shook my horse a little together, and
with a shout whose import every Galway hunter well knows, rushed
him at the river. I saw the water dashing among the large stones,
I heard its splash, I felt a bound like the ricochet of a shot, and we
were over, but so narrowly, that the bank had yielded beneath his
hind legs, and it needed a bold effort of the noble animal to regain
his footing. Scarcely was he once more firm, when Hammersley
flew by me, taking the lead, and sitting quietly in his saddle, as if
racing. I know of little in all my after-life like the agony of that
moment ; for although I was far, very far, from wishing real ill to
him, yet I would gladly have broken my leg or my arm if he could
not have been able to follow me. And now, there he was, actually a
length and a half in advance ! Worse than all, Miss Dashwood
must have witnessed the whole, and doubtless his leap over the river
wag better and bolder than mine. One consolation yet remained,
and while I whispered it to myself, I felt comforted again. " His is
an English mare — they understand these leaps, but what can he
make of a Galway wall?" The question was soon to be solved.
Before us, about three fields, were the hounds still in full cry ; a large
stone wall lay between, and to it we both directed our course to-
gether. " Ha !" thought I, " he is floored at last/' as I perceived
that the Captain held his horse rather more in hand, and suffered
me to lead. " Now, then, for it !" So saying, I rode at the largest
part I could find, well knowing that Badger's powers were here in
their element. One spring, one plunge, and away we were, gal-
loping along at the other side. Not so the Captain ; his horse had
refused the fence, and he was now taking a circuit of the field for
another trial of it.

" Pounded, by Jove !" said I, as I turned round in my saddle to
observe him. Once more she came at it, and once more baulked,
rearing up at the same time, almost so as to fall backward.

My triumph was complete, and I again was about to follow the
hounds, when, throwing a look back, I saw Hammersley clearing the
wall in a most splendid manner, and taking a stretch of at least
thirteen feet beyond it. Once more he was on my flanks, and the,
contest renewed. Whatever might be the sentiments of the riders
(mine I confess to), between the horses it now became a tremendous
struggle. The English mare, though evidently superior in stride
and strength, was slightly overweighted, and had not, besides, that
cat-like activity an Irish horse possesses ; so that the advantages and
disadvantages on either side were about equalized. For about half
an hour now the pace was awful. We rode side by side, taking our


leaps exactly at the same instant, and not four feet apart. The
hounds were still considerably in advance, and were heading towards
the Shannon, when suddenly the fox doubled, took the hill-side, and
made for Dangan. " Now, then, comes the trial of strength," I
said, half-aloud, as I threw my eye up a steep and rugged mountain,
covered with wild furze and tall heath, around the crest of which
ran, in a zig-zag direction, a broken and dilapidated wall, once the
enclosure of a deer-park. This wall, which varied from four to six
feet in height, was of solid masonry, and would in the most favor-
able ground have been a bold leap. Here, at the summit of a
mountain, with not a yard of- footing, it was absolutely despera-

By the time that we reached the foot of the hill, the fox, followed
closely by the hounds, had passed through a breach in the wall,
while Matthew Blake with the huntsmen and whipper-in, was
riding along in search of a gap to lead the horses through. Before
I put spurs to Badger, to face the hill, I turned one look towards
Hammersley. There was a slight curl, half-smile, half-sneer, upon
his lip, that actually maddened me, and had a precipice yawned
beneath my feet, I should have dashed at it after that. The ascent
was so steep that I was obliged to take the hill in a slanting direc-
tion, and even thus, the loose footing rendered it dangerous in the

At length I reached the crest, where the wall, more than five feet
in height, stood frowning above and seeming to defy me. I turned
my horse full round, so that his very chest almost touched the
stones, and, with a bold cut of the whip and a loud halloo, the gal-
lant animal rose, as if rearing, pawed for an instant to regain his
balance, and then, with a frightful struggle, fell backwards, and
rolled from top to bottom of the hill, carrying me along with him.
The last object that crossed my sight, as I lay bruised and motion-
less, was the Captain, as he took the wall in a flying leap, and dis-
appeared at the other side. After a few scrambling efforts to rise,
Badger regained his legs and stood beside me ; but such was the
shock and concussion of my fall, that all the objects around seemed
wavering and floating before me, while showers of bright sparks fell
in myriads before my eyes. I tried to rise, but fell back helpless.
Cold perspiration broke over my forehead, and I fainted. From
that moment I can remember nothing, till I felt myself galloping
along at full speed upon a level table-land, with the hounds about
three fields in advance, Hammersley riding foremost, and taking all
his leaps coolly as ever. As I swayed to either side upon my saddle,
from weakness, I was lost to all thought or recollection, save a flick-
ering memory of some plan of vengeance, which still urged me


forward. The chase had now lasted above an hour, and both hounds
and horses began to feel the pace at which they were going. As for
me, I rode mechanically; I neither knew nor cared for the dangers
before me. My eye rested on but one object; my whole being was
concentrated upon one vague and undefined sense of revenge. At
this instant the huntsman came alongside of me.

"Are you hurted, Misther Charles ? Did you fall ? Your cheek
is all blood, and your coat is torn in two ; and, Mother o' God, his
boot is ground to powder ; he does not hear me. Oh, pull up — pull
up, for the love of the Virgin ; there's the clover-field, and the sunk
fence before you, and you'll be killed on the spot."

" Where ?" cried I, with the cry of a madman ; " where's the
clover-field? — where's the sunk fence? Ha! I see it — I see it

So saying, I dashed the rowels into my horse's flanks, and in an
instant was beyond the reach of the poor fellow's remonstrances.
Another moment, I was beside the Captain. He turned round as I
came up ; the same smile was upon his mouth. I could have struck
him. About three hundred yards before us lay the sunk fence ; its
breadth was about twenty feet, and a wall of close brickwork formed
its face. Over this the hounds were now clambering ; some suc-
ceeded in crossing, but by far the greater number fell back howling
into the ditch.

I turned towards Hammersley. He was standing high in his
stirrups, and, as he looked towards the yawning fence, down which
the dogs were tumbling in masses, I thought (perhaps it was but a
thought) that his cheek was paler. I looked again ; he was pulling
at his horse ; ha ! it was true, then — he would not face it. I turned
round in my saddle, looked him full in the face, and, as I pointed
with my whip to the leap, called out in a voice hoarse with passion,
" Come on !" I saw no more. All objects were lost to me from
that moment. When next my senses cleared, I was standing amid
the dogs, where they had just killed. Badger stood blown and
trembling beside me, his head drooping, and his flanks gored with
spur marks. I looked about, but all consciousness of the past had
fled ; the concussion of my fall had shaken my intellect, and I was
like one but half awake. One glimpse, short and fleeting, of what
was taking place, shot through my brain, as old Brackely whispered
to me, " By my soul, ye did for the Captain there." I turned a
vague look upon him, and my eyes fell upon the figure of a man
that lay stretched and bleeding upon a door before me. His pale
face was crossed with a purple stream of blood, that trickled from
a wound beside his eyebrow ; his arms lay motionless and heavily at
either side. I knew him not. A loud report of a pistol aroused me


from my stupor ; I looked back. I saw a crowd that broke sud-
denly asunder, and fled right and left. I heard a heavy crash
upon the ground ; I pointed with my finger, for I could not utter a

" It is the English mare, yer honor ; she was a beauty this morn-
ing, but she's broke her shoulder-bone, and both her legs, and it was
best to put her out of pain."



ON the fourth day following the adventure detailed in the last
chapter, I made my appearance in the drawing-room, my
cheek well blanched by copious bleeding, and my step totter-
ing and uncertain. On entering the room, I looked about in vain
for some one who might give me an insight into the occurrences of
the four preceding days, but no one was to be met with. The ladies,
I learned, were out riding ; Matthew was buying a new setter ; Mr.
Blake was canvassing ; and Captain Hammersley was in bed. Where
was Miss Dashwood ? — in her room : and Sir George ? — he was with
Mr. Blake.

" What ! canvassing too ?"

"Troth, that same was possible," was the intelligent reply of the
old butler, at which I could not help smiling. I sat down, therefore,
in the easiest chair I could find, and, unfolding the county paper,
resolved upon learning how matters were going on in the political
world. But, somehow, whether the editor was not brilliant, or the
fire was hot, or that my own dreams were pleasanter to indulge in
than his fancies, I fell sound asleep.

How differently is the mind attuned to the active busy world of
thought and action, when awakened from sleep by any sudden and
rude summons to arise and be stirring, and when called into exist-
ence by the sweet and silvery notes of softest music, stealing over,
the senses, and while they impart awakening thoughts of bliss and
beauty, scarcely dissipating the dreary influence of slumber ! Such
was my first thought as, with closed lids, the thrilling chords of a
harp broke upon my sleep, and aroused me to a feeling of unutter-
able pleasure. I turned gently round in my chair, and beheld Miss
Dashwood. She was seated in a recess of an old-fashioned window ;
the pale yellow glow of a wintry sun at evening fell upon her
beautiful hair, and tinged it with such a light as I have often since


then seen in Eembrandt's pictures ; her head leaned upon the harp,
and, as she struck its chords at random, I saw that her mind was far
away from all around her. As I looked, she suddenly started from
her leaning attitude, and, parting back the curls from her brow, she
preluded a few chords, and then sighed forth, rather than sung, that
most beautiful of Moore's Melodies, —

" She is far from the land where her young hero sleeps."

Never before had such pathos, such deep utterance of feeling, met
my astonished sense. I listened breathlessly as the tears fell one by
one down my cheek ; my bosom heaved and fell ; and when she
ceased, I hid my head between my hands and sobbed aloud. In
an instant she was beside me, and placing her hand upon my shoul-
der, said, —

"Poor dear boy! I never suspected you of being there, or I
should not have sung that mournful air."

I started and looked up, and from what I know not, but she sud-
denly crimsoned to her very forehead, while she added, in a less
assured tone, —

" I hope, Mr. O'Malley, that you are much better, and I trust
there is no imprudence in your being here."

" For the latter I shall not answer," said I, with a sickly smile ;
u : but already I feel your music has done me service."

" Then let me sing more for you."

" If I am to have a choice, I should say, sit down, and let me
hear you talk to me. My illness and the doctor together have
made wild work of my poor brain ; but, if you will talk to me "

" Well, then, what shall it be about ? Shall I tell you a fairy tale ?"

" I need it not ; I feel I am in one this instant."

" Well, then, what say you to a legend, for I am rich in my stores
of them?"

"The O'Malleys have their chronicles, wild and barbarous
enough, without the aid of Thor and Woden."

" Then, shall we chat of every-day matters ? Should you like to
hear how the election and the canvass go on ?"

" Yes, of all things."

" Well, then, most favorably. Two baronies, with most unspeak-
able names, have declared for us, and confidence is rapidly increas-
ing among our party. This I learned by chance yesterday; for
papa never permits us to know anything of these matters — not even
the names of the candidates."

"Well, that was the very point I was coming to, for the govern-
ment were about to send down some one just as I left home, and I
am most anxious to learn who it is."


" Then am I utterly valueless ; for I really can't say what party
the government espouses, and only know of our own."

"Quite enough for me that you wish it success," said I gal-
lantly. " Perhaps you can tell me if my uncle has heard of my

" Oh yes ; but somehow he has not been here himself, but sent a
friend — a Mr. Considine, I think ; a very strange person he seemed.
He demanded to see papa, and, it seems, asked him if your misfor-
tune had been a thing of his contrivance, and whether he was
ready to explain his conduct about it ; and, in fact, I believe he is

" Heaven confound him I" I muttered between my teeth.

"And then he wished to have an interview with Captain Ham-
mersley ; however, he is too ill ; but as the doctor hoped he might
be down stairs in a week, Mr. Considine kindly hinted that he
should wait."

" Oh, then, do tell me how the Captain is."

" Very much bruised, very much disfigured, they say," said she,
half smiling ; " but not so much hurt in body as in mind."

"As how, may I ask ?" said I, with an appearance of innocence.
„" I don't exactly understand it ; but it would appear that there
was something like rivalry among you gentlemen chasseurs on that
luckless morning, and that while you paid the penalty of a broken
head, he was destined to lose his horse and break his arm."

"I certainly am sorry — most sincerely sorry — for any share I
might have had in the catastrophe ; and my greatest regret, I con-
fess, arises from the fact that I should cause you unhappiness."

"Me — pray explain ?"

" Why, as Captain Hammersley "

" Mr. O'Malley, you are too young now to make me suspect you
have an intention to offend ; but I caution you, never repeat this."

I saw that I had transgressed, but how, I most honestly confess,
I could not guess ; for though I certainly was the senior of my fair
companion in years, I was most lamentably her junior in tact and

The gray dusk of evening had long fallen as we continued to chat
together beside the blazing wood embers ; she evidently amusing
herself with the original notions of an untutored, unlettered boy,
and I drinking deep those draughts of love that nerved my heart
through many a breach and battle-field.

Our colloquy was at length interrupted by the entrance of Sir
George, who shook me most cordially by the hand, and made the
kindest inquiries about my health.

" They tell me you are to be a lawyer, Mr. O'Malley," said he,


" and, if so, I must advise you to take better care of your head-

"A lawyer, papa ; oh dear me ! I should never have thought of
his being anything so stupid."

" Why, silly girl, what would you have a man be ?"

"A dragoon, to be sure, papa," said the fond girl, as she pressed
her arm around his manly figure, and looked up in his face with an
expression of mingled pride and affection.

That word sealed my destiny.



WHEN I retired to my room to dress for dinner, I found my
servant waiting with a note from my uncle, to which he
informed me the messenger expected an answer.
I broke the seal and read :

"Dear Charley : — Do not lose a moment in securing old Blake
— if you have not already done so — as information has just reached
me that the government party has promised a coronetcy to young
Matthew if he can bring over his father. And these are the people
I have been voting with — a few private cases excepted — for thirty
odd years !

" I am very sorry for your accident. Considine informs me that
it will need explanation at a later period. He has been in Athlone
since Tuesday, in hopes to catch the new candidate on his way
down, and get him into a little private quarrel before the day ; if he
succeed, it will save the county much expense, and conduce greatly
to the peace and happiness of all parties. But ' these things/ as
Father Roach says, ' are in the hands of Providence.' You must
also persuade old Blake to write a few lines to Simon Mallock
about the Coolnamuck mortgage. We can give him no satisfaction
at present, at least such as he looks for ; and don't be philandering
any longer where you are, when your health permits a change of

"Your affectionate uncle,

"Godfrey O'Malley.

"P.S. — I have just heard from Considine; he was out this morn-
ing, and shot a fellow in the knee, but finds that after all he was


not the candidate, but a tourist that was writing a book about

"P.S. No. 2. — Bear the mortgage in mind, for old Mallock is a
spiteful fellow, and has a grudge against me since I horsewhipped
his son in Banagher. Oh, the world, the world ! — G. O'M."

Until I read this very clear epistle to the end, I had no very pre-
cise conception how completely I had forgotten all my uncle's
interests, and neglected all his injunctions. Already five days had
elapsed, and I had not as much as mooted the question to Mr. Blake,
and probably all this time my uncle was calculating on the thing as
concluded ; but, with one hole in my head and some half-dozen in
my heart, my memory was none of the best.

Snatching up the letter, therefore, I resolved to lose no more
time, and proceeded at once to Mr. Blake's room, expecting that I
should, as the event proved, find him engaged in the very laborious
duty of making his toilet.

" Come in, Charley," said he, as I tapped gently at the door; " it's
only Charley, my darling ; Mrs. B. won't mind you."

" Not the least in life," responded Mrs. B., disposing at the same
time a pair of her husband's corduroys, tippet fashion, across her
ample shoulders, which before were displayed in the plenitude and
breadth of coloring we find in a Rubens. " Sit down, Charley, and
tell us what's the matter."

As until this moment I was in perfect ignorance of the Adam and
Eve-like simplicity in which the private economy of Mr. Blake's
household was conducted, I would have gladly retired from what I
found to be a mutual territory of dressing-room, had not Mr. Blake's
injunctions been issued somewhat like an order to remain.

" It's only a letter, sir," said I, stuttering, " from my uncle, about
the election. He says that, as his majority is now certain, he should
feel better pleased in going to the poll with all the family, you know,
sir, along with him. He wishes me just to sound your intentions —
to male out how you feel disposed towards him ; and — and, faith,
as I am but a poor diplomatist, I thought the best way was to come
straight to the point and tell you so."

" I perceive," said Mr. Blake, giving his chin at the moment an
awful gash with the razor, — " I perceive ; go on."

" Well, sir, I have little more to say ; my uncle knows what
influence you have in Scariff, and expects you'll do what you can

"Anything more?" said Mr. Blake, with a very dry and quizzical
expression I didn't half like — "anything more?"

44 Oh, yes, you are to write a line to old Mallock."


" I understand ; about Coolnamuck, isn't it ?"

" Exactly ; I believe that's all."

" Well now, Charley, you may go down stairs, and we'll talk it
over after dinner."

" Yes, Charley, dear, go down, for I'm going to draw on my
stockings," said the fair Mrs. Blake, with a .look of very modest

When I had left the room, I couldn't help muttering a " Thank
God !" for the success of a mission I more than once feared for, and
hastened to despatch a note to my uncle, assuring him of the Blake
interest, and adding that, for propriety sake, I should defer my de-
parture for a day or two longer.

This done, with a heart lightened of its load, and in high spirits
at my cleverness, I descended to the drawing-room. Here a very
large party were already assembled, and at every opening of the
door a new relay of Blakes, Burkes, and Bodkins was introduced.
In the absence of the host, Sir George Dashwood was " making the
agreeable" to the guests, and shook hands with every new arrival
with all the warmth and cordiality of old friendship. While thus
he inquired for various absent individuals, and asked most affec-
tionately for sundry aunts and uncles not forthcoming, a slight
incident occurred, which, by its ludicrous turn, served to shorten
the long half-hour before dinner. An individual of the party, a
Mr. Blake, had, from certain peculiarities of face, obtained in his
boyhood the sobriquet of " Shave-the-wind." This hatchet-like
conformation had grown with his growth, and perpetuated upon
him a nickname, by which alone was he ever spoken of among his
friends and acquaintances ; the only difference being that, as he
came to man's estate, brevity, that soul of wit, had curtailed the
epithet to mere " Shave." Now, Sir George had been hearing fre-
quent reference made to him always by this name, heard him ever
so addressed, and perceived him to reply to it ; so that, when he
was himself asked by some one what sport he had found that day
among the woodcocks, he answered at once, with a bow of very
grateful acknowledgment, "Excellent, indeed, but entirely owing
to where I was placed in the copse ; had it not been for Mr. Shave
there "

I need not say that the remainder of his speech, being heard on
all sides, caused one universal shout of laughter, in which, to do
him justice, the excellent Shave himself heartily joined. Scarcely
were the sounds of mirth lulled into an apparent calm, when the
door opened, and the hostess appeared. Mrs. Blake advanced in all
the plenitude of her charms, arrayed in crimson satin, sorely injured
in its freshness by a patch of grease upon the front, about the same


size and shape as the continent of Europe in Arrowsmith's Atlas ;
a swansdown tippet covered her shoulders ! massive bracelets orna-
mented her wrists ; while from her ears descended two Irish diamond
ear-rings, rivalling in magnitude and value the glass pendants of a
lustre. Her reception of her guests made ample amends, in warmth

Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 4 of 80)