Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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soldier. Amputation knives, tourniquets, bandages, and all other
imaginable instruments for giving or alleviating torture, were strewed
about him, and, from the arrangement and preparation, it was clear
that he had pitched upon this spot as a hospital for his patients.
While he continued to perform his functions with a singular speed
and dexterity, he never for a moment ceased a running fire of small
talk, now addressed to the patient in particular, now to the crowd at
large — sometimes a soliloquy to himself, and not unfrequently, ab-
stractedly, upon things in general. These little specimens of ora-
tory, delivered in such a place at such a time, and, not least of all,
in the richest imaginable Cork accent, were sufficient to arrest my
steps, and I stopped for some time to observe him.

The patient, who was a large, powerfully -built fellow, had been
wounded in both legs by the explosion of a shell, but yet not so
severely as to require amputation.

" Does that plaze you, then ?" said the doctor, as he applied some
powerful caustic to a wounded vessel ; " there's no satisfying the like
of you. Quite warm and comfortable ye'll be this morning after
that. I saw that same shell coming, and I called out to Maurice
Blake, ' By your leave, Maurice, let that fellow pass, he's in a hurry !'
and faith, I said to myself, ' there's more where you came from —
you're not an only child, and I never liked the family.' What are
ye grinning for, ye brown thieves?" This was addressed to the
Portuguese. " There, now, keep the limb quiet and easy. Upon
my conscience, if that shell fell into ould Lundy Foot's shop this
morning, there'd be plenty of sneezing in Sackville street. Who's
next?" said he, looking round with an expression that seemed to
threaten that, if no wounded man was ready, he was quite prepared


to carve out a patient for himself. Not exactly relishing the invi-
tation in the searching that accompanied it, I backed my way through
the crowd, and continued my path towards the hospital.

Here the scene which presented itself was shocking beyond
belief — frightful and ghastly wounds from shells and cannon-shot
were seen on all sides, every imaginable species of suffering that man
is capable of was presented to view, while amid the dead and dying,
operations the most painful were proceeding with a haste and bustle
that plainly showed how many more waited their turn for similar
offices. The stairs were blocked up with fresh arrivals of wounded
men, and even upon the corridors and landing-places the sick were
strewn on all sides.

I hurried to that part of the building where my own people were,
and soon learned that our loss was confined to about fourteen
wounded, five of whom were officers ; but, fortunately, we lost not
a man of our gallant fellows, and Talavera brought us no mourn-
ing for a comrade, to damp the exultation we felt in our victory,



DURING the three days which succeeded the battle, all things
remained as they were before. The enemy had gradually
withdrawn all his forces, and our most advanced pickets
never came in sight of a French detachment. Still, although we
had gained a great victory, our situation was anything but flatter-
ing. The most strenuous exertions of the commissariat were barely
sufficient to provision the troops, and we had even already but too
much experience of how little trust or reliance could be reposed in
the most lavish promises of our allies. It was true our spirits failed
us not, but it was rather from an implicit and never-failing confi-
dence in the resources of our great leader, than that any amongst us
could see his way through the dense cloud of difficulty and danger
that seemed to envelope us on every side.

To add to the pressing emergencies of our position, we learned on
the evening of the 31st that Soult was advancing from the north,
and, at the head of fourteen thousand chosen troops, in full march
upon Placentia, thus threatening our rear, at the very moment, too,
when any further advance was evidently impossible.

On the morning of the 1st of August, I was ordered with a small


party to push forward in the direction of the Alberche, upon the
left bank of which it was reported that the French were again con-
centrating their forces, and, if possible, to obtain information as to
their future movements. Meanwhile, the army was about to fall
back upon Oropesa, there to await Soult's advance, and, if neces-
sary, to give him battle — Cuesta engaging with his Spaniards to
secure Talavera, with its stores and hospitals, against any present
movement from Victor.

After a hearty breakfast, and a kind "Good-bye!" from my
brother officers, I set out. My road along the Tagus, for several
miles of the way, was a narrow path scarped from the rocky ledge
of the river, shaded by rich olive plantations, that threw a friendly
shade over us during the noonday heat.

We travelled along silently, sparing our cattle from time to time,
but endeavoring ere nightfall to reach Torrijos, in which village we
had heard several French soldiers were in hospital. Our information
leading us to believe them very inadequately guarded, we hoped to
make some prisoners, from whom the information we sought could
in all likelihood be obtained. More than once during the day our
road was crossed by parties similar to our own, sent forward to re-
connoitre ; and towards evening a party of the Twenty-third Light
Dragoons, returning towards Talavera, informed us that the French
had retired from Torrijos, which was now occupied by an English
detachment, under my old friend O'Shaughnessy.

I need not say with what pleasure I heard this piece of news, and
eagerly pressed forward, preferring the warm shelter and hospitable
board the Major was certain of possessing, to the cold blast and
dripping grass of a bivouac. Night, however, fell fast ; darkness,
without an intervening twilight, set in, and we lost our way. A bleak
table-land, with here and there a stunted, leafless tree, was^-all that
we could discern by the pale light of a new moon. An apparently
interminable heath, uncrossed by path or foot-track, was before us,
and our jaded cattle seemed to feel the dreary uncertainty of the
prospect as sensitively as ourselves, stumbling and overreaching at
every step.

Cursing my ill-luck for such a misadventnre, and once more pic-
turing to my mind the bright blazing hearth and smoking supper I
had hoped to partake of, I concluded to call a halt, and prepared
to pass the night. My decision was hastened by finding myself
suddenly in a little grove of pine-trees, whose shelter was not to be
despised ; besides that, our bivouac fires were now sure of being

It was fortunate the night was fine, though dark. In a calm, still
atmosphere, when not a leaf moved nor a branch stirred, we picketed


our tired horses, and, shaking out their forage, heaped up in the
midst a blazing fire of the fir-tree. Our humble supper was pro-
duced, and even with the still lingering reverie of the Major and his
happier destiny, I began to feel comfortable.

My troopers, who probably had not been flattering their imagina-
tions with such gourmand reflections and views, sat happily around
their cheerful blaze, chatting over the great battle they had so lately
witnessed, and mingling their stories of some comrade's prowess
with sorrows for the dead and proud hopes for the future. In the
midst, upon his knees beside the flame, was Mike, disputing, detail-
ing, guessing, and occasionally inventing, all his arguments only
tending to one view of the late victory, — " that it was the Lord's
mercy the most of the Forty-eighth was Irish, or we wouldn't be
sitting there now I"

Despite Mr. Free's conversational gifts, however, his audience
one by one dropped off in sleep, leaving him sole monarch of the
watch-fire, and — what he thought more of — a small brass kettle
nearly full of brandy and water. This latter, I perceived, he pro-
duced when all was tranquil, and seemed, as he cast a furtive
glance around, to assure himself that he was the only company

Lying some yards off, I watched him for about an hour, as he sat
rubbing his hands before the blaze, or lifting the little vessel to his
lips, his droll features ever and anon seeming acted upon by some
passing dream of former devilment, as he smiled and muttered
some sentences in an under- voice. Sleep at length overpowered me ;
but my last waking thoughts were haunted with a single ditty by
which Mike accompanied himself as he kept burnishing the buttons
of my jacket before the fire, now and then interrupting the melody
by a recourse to the copper.

"Well, well, you're clean enough now; and sure it's little good
brightening you up, when you'll be as bad to-morrow. Like his
father's son, devil a lie in it! Nothing would serve him but his
best blue jacket to fight in, as if the French was particular what
they killed us in. Pleasant trade, upon my conscience ! Well,
never mind. That's beautiful sperets anyhow. Your health, Mickey
Free ; it's yourself that stands to me.

'It's little for glory I care;

Sure ambition is only a fable ;
I'd as soon be myself as Lord Mayor,

With lashings of drink on the table.
I like to lie down in the sun,

And drame, when my Jaytures is scorchin',
That when I'm too ould for more fun,

Why, I'll marry a wife with a fortune.


1 And in winter, with bacon and eggs,

And a place at the turf-fire basking,
Sip my punch as I roasted my legs,

Oh ! the devil a more I'd be asking !
For I haven't ajanius for work, —

It was never a gift of the Bradies, —
But I'd make a most illigant Turk,

For I'm fond of tobacco and ladies.' "

This confounded refrain kept ringing through my dream, and
"tobacco and ladies" mingled with my thoughts of storm and
battle-field, long after their very gifted author had composed him-
self to slumber.

Sleep, and sound sleep, came at length, and many hours elapsed
ere I awoke. When I did so, my fire was reduced to its last embers.
Mike, like the others, had sunk in slumber, and mid the gray dawn
that precedes the morning, I could just perceive the dark shadows
of my troopers as they lay in groups around.

The fatigues of the previous day had so completely overcome me,
that it was with difficulty I could arouse myself so far as to heap
fresh logs upon the fire. This I did with my eyes half closed, and
in that listless, dreamy state which seems the twilight of sleep.

I managed so much, however, and was returning to my couch
beneath a tree, when suddenly an object presented itself to my
eyes that absolutely rooted me to the spot. At about twenty or
thirty yards distant, where but the moment before the long line of
horizon terminated the view, there now stood a huge figure of some
ten or twelve in height ; two heads — which surmounted this colossal
personage — moved alternately from side to side, while several arms
waved loosely to and fro in the most strange and uncouth manner.
My first impression was that a dream had conjured up this dis-
torted image ; but when I had assured myself by repeated pinchings
and shakings that I was really awake, still it remained there. I was
never much given to believe in ghosts ; but even had I been so, this
strange apparition must have puzzled me as much as ever, for it
could not have been the representative of anything I ever heard of

A vague suspicion that some French trickery was concerned, in-
duced me to challenge it in French, so without advancing a step, I
halloed out, " Qui va Id f"

My voice aroused a sleeping soldier, who, springing up beside me,
had his carbine at the cock; while, equally thunderstruck with
myself, he gazed at the monster.

"Qui va Id f" shouted I again, and no answer was returned, when
suddenly the huge object wheeled rapidly around, and without wait-
ing for any further parley, made for the thicket.


The tramp of a horse's feet now assured me as to the nature of at
least part of the spectacle, when click went the trigger behind me,
and the trooper's ball rushed whistling through the brushwood. In
a moment the whole party were up and stirring.

" This way, lads !" cried I, as, drawing my sabre, I dashed into the
pine wood.

For a few moments all was as dark as midnight ; but as we pro-
ceeded farther, we came out upon a little open space which com-
manded the plain beneath for a great extent.

"There it goes!" said one of the men, pointing to a narrow,
beaten path, in which the tall figure moved at a slow and stately
pace, while still the same wild gestures of heads and limbs con-

" Don't fire, men! don't fire!" I cried, "but follow me," as' I set
forward as hard as I could.

As we neared it, the frantic gesticulations grew more and more
remarkable, while some stray words which we half caught, sounded
like English in our ears. We were now within pistol-shot distance,
when suddenly the horse — for that much at least we were assured of
— stumbled and fell forward, precipitating the remainder of the ob-
ject headlong into the road.

In a second we were upon the spot, when the first sounds which
greeted me were the following, uttered in an accent by no means
new to me : —

" Oh, blessed Virgin ! Wasn't it yourself that threw me in the
mud, or my nose was done for? Shaugh, Shaugh, my boy! since
we are taken, tip them the blarney, and say we're generals of divi-
sion !"

I need not say with what a*burst of laughter I received this very
original declaration.

" I ought to know that laugh," cried a voice I at once knew to be
that of my friend O'Shaughnessy. "Are you Charles O'Malley, by
any chance in life?"

" The same, Major, and delighted to meet you ; though^ faith, we
were near giving you a rather warm reception. What in the devil's
name did you represent just now?"

"Ask Maurice, there, bad luck to him ! I wish the devil had him
when he persuaded me into it."

" Introduce me to your friend," replied the other, rubbing his
shins as he spoke. " Mr. O'Mealey,"— so he called me—" I think.
Happy to meet you. My mother was a Ryan of Killdooley, married
to a first cousin of your father's, before she took Mr. Quill, my re-
spected progenitor. I'm Dr. Quill, of the 48th, more commonly
called Maurice Quill. Tear and ages ! how sore my back is ! It was


all the fault of the baste, Mr. O'Mealey. We set out in search of
you this morning, to bring you back with us to Torrijos, but we fell
in with a very pleasant funeral at Barcaventer, and joined them ;
they invited us, I may say, to spend the day ; and a very jovial day
it was. I was the chief mourner, and carried a very big candle
through the village, in consideration of as fine a meat-pie and as
much lush as my grief permitted me to indulge in afterwards. But,
my dear sir, when it was all finished, we found ourselves nine miles
from our quarters, and as neither of us was in a very befitting con-
dition for pedestrian exercise, we stole one of the leaders out of the
hearse — velvet, plumes, and all — and set off home.

" When we came upon your party, we were not over clear whether
you were English, Portuguese, or French, and that was the reason I
called out to you, ' God save all here !' in Irish. Your polite answer
was a shot, which struck the old horse in the knee, and although we
wheeled about in double quick, we never could get him out of his
professional habits on the road. He had a strong notion he was en-
gaged in another funeral — as he was very likely to be — and the devil
a bit faster than a dead march could we get him to, with all our
thrashing. Orderly time, for men in a hurry, with a whole platoon
blazing away behind them ! But long life to the cavalry, they never
hit anything !"

While he continued to run on in this manner, we reached our
watch-fire, when what was my surprise to discover, in my newly-
made acquaintance, the worthy Doctor I had seen a day or two before,
operating at the fountain at Talavera !

" Well, Mr. O'Mealey," said he, as he seated himself before the
blaze, " what is the state of the larder ? Anything savory — anything
drink-inspiring to be had?"

" I fear, Doctor, my fare is of the very humblest ; but still "

" What are the fluids, Charley?" cried the Major ; "the cruel per-
formance I have been enacting on that cursed beast has left me in a

" This was a pigeon-pie formerly," said Dr. Quill, investigating
the ruined walls of a pastry ; " and — but come, here's a duck ; and
if my nose deceive me not, a very tolerable ham. Peter — Larry —
Patsy — What's the name of your familiar there ?"

" Mickey — Mickey Free."

" Mickey Free, then ; come here, avick ! Devise a little drink, my
son — none of the weakest — no lemon— hot ! You understand, hot !
That chap has an eye for punch ; there's no mistaking an Irish
fellow ; nature has endowed them richly — fine features, and a beau-
tiful absorbent system ! That's the gift! Just look at him, blowing
up the fire — isn't he a picture ? Well, O'Mealey, I was fretting that


we hadn't you up at Torrijos ; we were enjoying life very respect-
ably; we established a little system of small tithes upon fowl, sheep,
pigs' heads and wine skins, that throve remarkably for the time.
Here's the lush ! Put it down there, Mickey, in the middle ; that's
right. Your health, Shaugh. O'Mealey, here's a troop to you; and
in the meantime I'll give you a chant :

' Come, ye jovial souls, don't o'er the bowl be sleeping,
Nor let the grog go round like a cripple creeping ;
If your care comes up — in the liquor sink it,
Pass along the lush — I'm the boy can drink it.

Isn't that so, Mrs. Mary Callaghan?

Isn't that so, Mrs. Mary Callaghan?'

" Shaugh, my hearty, this begins to feel comfortable."

" Your man, O'Mealey, has a most judicious notion of punch for
a small party ; and though one has prejudices about a table, chairs,
and that sort of thing, take my word for it, it's better than fighting
the French any day !"

" Well, Charley, it certainly did look quite awkward enough the
other day towards three o'clock, when the Legion fell back before
that French column, and broke the Guards behind them."

" Yes, you're quite right ; but I think every one felt that the con-
fusion was but momentary ; the gallant 48th was up in an instant."

" Faith ! I can answer for their alacrity," said the Doctor; "I was
making my way to the rear with all convenient despatch, when an
aide-de-camp called out, —

"'Cavalry coming ! take care, 48th/

" ' Left face, wheel ! Fall in there, fall in there !' I heard on
every side, and soon found myself standing in a square, with Sir
Arthur himself, and Hill, and the rest of them, all around me.

" ' Steady, men ! Steady, now !' said Hill, as he rode around the
ranks, while we saw an awful column of cuirassiers forming on the
rising ground to our left.

" ' Here they come !' said Sir Arthur, as the French came powder-
ing along, making the very earth tremble beneath them.

"My first thought was, 'The devils are mad! and they'll ride
down into us, before they know they're kilt !' And sure enough,
smash into our first rank they pitched, sabring and cutting all
before them ! when at last the word ' Fire !' was given, and the whole
head of the column broke like a shell, and rolled horse over man on
the earth.

" * Very well done ! very well, indeed !' said Sir Arthur, turning
as coolly round to mo as if he were asking for more gravy.

'"Mighty well done!' said I in reply; and resolving not to be
ou lone in coolness, I pulled out my snuff-box and offered him a


pinch, saying, 'The real thing, Sir Arthur; our own countryman —

" He gave a little grim kind of a smile, took a pinch, and then
called out, —

" ' Let Sherbroke advance !' while turning again towards me, he
said, ' Where are your people, Colonel ?'

" * Colonel !' thought I ; ' is it possible he's going to promote me?'
But before I could answer, he was talking to another. Meanwhile,
Hill came up, and, looking at me steadily, burst out with, —

" ' Why the devil are you here, sir? Why ain't you at the rear?'

" ' Upon my conscience,' said I, ' that's the very thing I'm puz-
zling myself about this minute ! but if you think it's pride in me,
you're greatly mistaken, for I'd rather the greatest scoundrel in
Dublin was kicking me down Sackville street than be here now !'

" You'd think it was fun I was making, if you heard how they all
laughed, Hill and Cameron and the others louder than any.

" ' Who is he?' said Sir Arthur, quickly.

" ' Dr. Quill, surgeon of the 33d, where I exchanged, to be near
my brother, sir, in the 34th.'

" 'A doctor, — a surgeon ! That fellow a surgeon ! D — him, I
took him for Colonel Grosvenor! I say, Gordon, these medical
officers must be docked of their fine feathers, there's no knowing
them from the staff; look to that in the next general order.'

"And sure enough they left us bare and naked the next morning ;
and if the French sharpshooters pick us down now, devil mend them
for wasting powder, for if they look in the orderly books, they'll find
their mistake."

"Ah, Maurice, Maurice !" said Shaugh, with a sigh, " you'll never
improve — you'll never improve !"

" Why the devil would I ?" said he ; " ain't I at the top of my
profession — full surgeon — with nothing to expect — nothing to hope
for? Oh, if I only remained in the light company, what wouldn't
I be now?"

" Then you were not always a doctor ?" said I.

" Upon my conscience I wasn't," said he. "When Shaugh knew
me first, I was the Adonis of the Roscommon militia, with more
heiresses in my list than any man in the regiment; but Shaugh and
myself were always unlucky."

" Poor Mrs. Rogers !" said the Major, pathetically, drinking off his
glass and heaving a profound sigh.

"Ah, the darling !" said the Doctor ; " if it wasn't for a jug of
punch that lay on the hall table, our fortune in life would be very

" True for you, Maurice !" quoth O'Shaughnessy.


" I should like much to hear that story," said I, pushing the jug
briskly round.

" He'll tell it you," said O'Shaughnessy, lighting his cigar, and
leaning pensively back against a tree, — " he'll tell it you."

" I will with pleasure," said Maurice. " Let Mr. Free meantime
amuse himself with the punch-bowl, and I'll relate it."



IT is now some fifteen years since — if it wasn't for O'Shaugh-
nessy's wrinkles, I could not believe it five — we were quartered
in Loughrea. There were besides our regiment the 50th, the
73d, and a troop or two of horse artillery ; the whole town was liter-
ally a barrack, and, as you may suppose, the pleasantest place imag-
inable. All the young ladies, and indeed all those that had got
their brevet some years before, came flocking into the town, not
knowing but the devil might persuade a raw ensign or so to marry
some of them.

" Such dinner parties — such routs and balls — never were heard of
west of Athlone. The gayeties were incessant ; and if good feeding,
plenty of claret, short whist, country-dances, and kissing, could
have done the thing, there wouldn't have been a bachelor with a red
coat for six miles around.

" You know the west, O'Malley ; so I needn't tell you what the
Galway girls are like — fine, hearty, free-and-easy, talking, laughing
devils ; but as deep and as 'cute as a Master in Chancery— ready for
any fun or merriment ; but always keeping a sly look-out for a pro-
posal or a tender acknowledgment, which — what between the heat
of a ball-room, whisky-negus, white satin shoes, and a quarrel with
your guardian — it's ten to one you fall into before you're a week in
the same town with them.

"As for the men, I don't admire them so much ; pleasant and
cheerful enough, when they're handicapping the coat off your back,

* T cannot permit the reader to fall into the same blunder with regard to the worthy
"Maurice" as my friend Charles O'Malley has done. It is only fair to state that the
Doctor in the following tale was hoaxing the " Dragoon." A braver and abetter fellow
than Quill never existed, equally beloved by his brother otlieers as delighted in for his
convivial talents. His favorite amusement was to invent some story or adventure, in
which, mixing up his own name with that of some friend or companion, the veracity

Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 40 of 80)