Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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of the whole was never questioned. Of this nature was the pedigree he devised in the
last chapter to impose upon O'Malley, who believed implicitly all he told him.


and your new tilbury for a spavined pony and a cotton umbrella;
but regular devils if you come to cross them the least in life ; nothing
but ten paces — three shots a piece — to begin and end with some-
thing like Sir Roger de Coverley, when every one has a pull at his
neighbor. I'm not saying they're not agreeable, well-informed, and
mild in their habits ; but they lean over-much to corduroys and
coroners' inquests for one's taste farther south. However, they're a
fine people, take them all in all ; and, if they were not interfered
with, and their national customs invaded with road making, petty
sessions, grand jury laws, and a stray commission now and then,
they are undoubtedly capable of great things, and would astonish
the world.

" But, as I was saying, we were ordered to Loughrea, after being
fifteen months in detachments about Birr, Tullamore, Kilbeggan,
and all that country ; the change was indeed a delightful one, and
we soon found ourselves the centre of the most marked and deter-
mined civilities. I told you they were wise people in the west ; this
was their calculation : the line — ours was the Roscommon militia —
are here to-day, there to-morrow ; they may be flirting in Tralee
this week, and fighting on the Tagus the next ; not that there was
any fighting there in those times, but then there was always Nova
Scotia and St. John's, and a hundred other places that a Galway
young lady knew nothing about, except that people never came
back from them. Now, what good, what use was there in falling in
love with them ? mere transitory and passing pleasure that was.
But as for us : there we were ; if not in Kilkenny, we were in Cork.
Safe cut and come again ; no getting away under pretence of foreign
service ; no excuse for not marrying by any cruel pictures of the
colonies, where they make spatchcocks of the officers' wives, and
scrape their infant families to death with a small tooth-comb. In a
word, my dear O'Mealey, we were at a high premium ; and even
O'Shaughnessy, with his red head and the legs you see, had his ad-
mirers — there now, don't be angry, Dan — the men, at least, were
mighty partial to you.

" Loughrea, if it was a pleasant, was a very expensive place.
White gloves and car-hire — there wasn't a chaise in the town —
short whist, too (God forgive me if I wrong them, but I wonder
were they honest?), cost money; and as our popularity rose, our
purses fell, till at length, when the one was at the flood, the other
was something very like low water.

" Now, the Roscommon was a beautiful corps — no petty jealousies,
no little squabbling among the officers, no small spleen between the
Major's wife and the Paymaster's sister, — all was amiable, kind,
brotherly, and affectionate. To proceed, I need only mention one


fine trait of them — no man ever refused to endorse a brother offi-
cer's bill. To think of asking the amount, or even the date, would
be taken personally ; and thus we went on mutually aiding and
assisting each other — the Colonel drawing on me, I on the Major,
the senior Captain on the Surgeon, and so on, — a regular cross-fire
of ' promises to pay,' all stamped and regular.

"Not but the system had its inconveniences, for sometimes an
obstinate tailor or bootmaker would make a row for his money, and
then we'd be obliged to get up a little quarrel between the drawer
and the acceptor of the bill ; they couldn't speak for some days,
and a mutual friend to both would tell the creditor that the slight-
est imprudence on his part would lead to bloodshed ; - and the Lord
help him ! if there was a duel, he'd prove the whole cause of it.'
This and twenty other plans were employed, and finally the matter
would be left to arbitration among our brother officers, and I need
not say they behaved like trumps. But notwithstanding all this, we
were frequently hard pressed for cash ; as the Colonel said, ' It's a
mighty expensive corps.' Our dress was costly — not that it had
much lace and gold on it, but that, what between falling on the road
at night, shindies at mess, and other devilment, a coat lasted no
time. Wine, too, was heavy on us, for though we often changed
our wine merchant, and rarely paid him, there was an awful con-
sumption at the mess.

" Now, what I have mentioned may prepare you for the fact that,
before we were eight weeks in garrison, Shaugh and myself, upon
an accurate calculation of our joint finances, discovered that, except
some vague promises of discounting here and there through the
town, and seven and fourpence in specie, we were innocent of any
pecuniary treasures. This was embarrassing. We had both em-
barked in several small schemes of pleasurable amusement ; had a
couple of hunters each, a tandem, and a running account — I think
it galloped — at every shop in the town.

" Let me pause for a moment here, O'Mealey, while I moralize a
little in a strain which I hope may benefit you. Have you ever
considered — of course you have not: you're too young and unre-
flecting — how beautifully every climate and every soil possesses some
one antidote or another to its own noxious influences? The tropics
have their succulent and juicy fruits, cooling and refreshing ; the
northern latitudes have their beasts with fur and warm skin to keep
out the frost-bites. And so it is in Ireland ; nowhere on the face of
the habitable globe does a man contract such habits of small debt,
and nowhere, I'll be sworn, 'can he so easily get out of any scrape
concerning them. They have their tigers in the east, their ante-
lopes in the south, their white bears in Norway, their buffaloes in


America; but we have an animal in Ireland that beats them all
hollow — a country attorney!

" Now, let me introduce you to Mr. Matthew Donevan. Mat, as
he was familiarly called by his numerous acquaintances, was a short,
florid, rosy little gentleman, of some four or five-and-forty, with a
well-curled wig of the fairest imaginable auburn, the gentle wave
of the front locks, which played in infantine loveliness upon his
little bullet forehead, contrasting strongly enough with a cunning
leer of his eye, and a certain nisi prius laugh that, however it might
please a client, rarely brought pleasurable feelings to his opponent
in a cause.

" Mat was a character in his way. Deep, double, and tricky in
everything that concerned his profession, he affected the gay fellow ;
liked a jolly dinner at Brown's Hotel — would go twenty miles to see
a steeple-chase and a coursing match — bet with any one, when the
odds were strong in his favor, with an easy indifference about money
that made him seem, when winning, rather the victim of good luck
than anything else. As he kept a rather pleasant bachelor's house,
and liked the military much, we soon became acquainted. Upon
him, therefore, for reasons I can't explain, both our hopes reposed,
and Shaugh and myself agreed that if Mat could not assist us in our
distresses, the case was a bad one.

" A pretty little epistle was accordingly concocted, inviting the
worthy attorney to a small dinner at five o'clock the next day, inti-
mating that we were to be perfectly alone, and had a little business
to discuss. True to the hour, Mat was there ; and, as if instantly
guessing that ours was no regular party of pleasure, his look, dress,
and manner were all in keeping with the occasion — quiet, subdued,
and searching.

" When the claret had been superseded by the whisky, and the
confidential hours were approaching, by an adroit allusion to some
heavy wager then pending, we brought our finances upon the tapis.
The thing was done beautifully — an easy adagio movement — no vio-
lent transition ; but hang me if old Mat didn't catch the matter at

" ' Oh ! it's there ye are, Captain,' said he, with his peculiar grin.
' Two-and-sixpence in the pound, and no assets.'

" 'The last is nearer the mark, my old boy,' said Shaugh, blurt-
ing out the whole truth at once. The wily attorney finished his
tumbler slowly, as if giving himself time for reflection, and then,
smacking his lips in a preparatory manner, took a quick survey
of the room with his piercing green eye.

" ' A very sweet mare of yours that little mouse-colored one is,
with the dip in the back ; and she has a trifling curb — maybe it's a


spavin, indeed — in the near hind leg. You gave five-and-twenty for
her, now, I'll be bound?'

" 'Sixty guineas, as sure as my name's Dan/ said Shaugh, not at
all pleased at the value put upon his hackney ; ' and as to the spa-
vin and curb, I'll wager double the sum she has neither the slight-
est trace of one nor the other.'

" ' I'll not take the bet,' said Mat, dryly ; ' money's scarce in these

" This hit silenced us both, and our friend continued : —

Then there's the bay horse— a great strapping, leggy beast he
is for a tilbury ; and the hunters— worth nothing here ; they don't
know this country. Them's neat pistols ; and the tilbury is not
bad '

" ' Confound you !' said I, losing all patience ; ' we didn't ask you
here to praise our movables ; we want to raise the wind without

" ' I see — I perceive,' said Mat, taking a pinch of snuff very lei-
surely as he spoke ; * I see. Well, that is difficult— very difficult,
just now. I've mortgaged every acre of ground in the two counties
near us, and a sixpence more is not to be had that way. Are you
lucky at the races ?'

" ' Never win a sixpence/

" ' What can you do at whist V

" ' Why, I revoke, and get cursed by my partner — the devil a bit

" ' That's mighty bad, for otherwise we might arrange something
for you. Well, I only see one thing for it — you must marry. A wife
with some money will get you out of your present difficulties, and
we'll manage that easily enough.'

"'Come, Dan/ said I — for Shaugh was dropping asleep — 'cheer
up, old fellow. Donevan has found the way to pull us through our
misfortunes — a girl with forty thousand pounds, the best cock-shoot-
ing in Ireland ; an old family, a capital cellar — all awaits ye. Rouse
up, there !'

" ' I'm convanient/ said Shaugh, with a look intended to be know-
ing, but really very tipsy.

" 'I didn't say much for her personal attractions, Captain/ said
Mat ; ' nor, indeed, did t specify the exact sum ; but Mrs. Rogers
Dooley, of Clonakilty, might be a princess '

"'And so she shall be, Mat ; the O'Shaughnessys were kings of
Ennis in the time of Nero ; and I'm only waiting for a trifle of
money to revive the title. What's her name ?'

" ' Mrs. Rogers Dooley.'

" ' Here's her health, and long life to her, —


' And may the devil cut the toes
Of all her foes,
That we may know them by their limping.' "

" This benevolent wish uttered, Dan fell flat upon the hearth-rug,
and was soon sound asleep. I must hasten on, so need only say that
before we parted that night Mat and myself had finished the half-
gallon bottle of Loughrea whisky, and concluded a treaty for the hand
and fortune of Mrs. Rogers Dooley, he being guaranteed a very hand-
some percentage on the property, and the lady being reserved for
choice between Dan and myself, which, however, I was determined
should fall upon my more fortunate friend.

" The first object which presented itself to my aching senses the
following morning was a very spacious card of invitation from Mr.
Jonas Malone, requesting me to favor him with the seductions of my
society the next evening to a ball ; at the bottom of which, in Mr.
Donevan's hand, I read, —

"' Don't fail ; you know who is to be there. I've not been idle
since I saw you. Would the Captain take twenty-five for the
mare ?'

" ' So far so good/ thought I, as entering O'Shaughnessy's quar-
ters, I discovered him endeavoring to spell out his card, which,
however, had no postscript. We soon agreed that Mat should have
his price ; so, sending a polite answer to the invitation, we des-
patched a still more civil note to the attorney, and begged of him,
as a weak mark of esteem, to accept the mouse-colored mare as a

Here O'Shaughnessy sighed deeply, and even seemed affected by
the souvenir.

" Come, Dan, we did it all for the best. Oh ! O'Mealey, he was
a cunning fellow ; but no matter. We went to the ball, and, to be
sure, it was a great sight. Two hundred and fifty souls, where there
was not good room for the odd fifty ; such laughing, such squeezing,
such pressing of hands and waists in the staircase ! and then such a
row and riot at the top, — four fiddles, a key bugle, and a bagpipe,
playing ' Haste to the Wedding/ amid the crash of refreshment
trays, the tramp of feet, and the sounds of merriment on all sides !

" It's only in Ireland, after all, people have fun ; old and young,
merry and morose, the gay and cross-grained, are crammed into a
lively country dance ; and, ill-matched, ill-suited, go jigging away
together to the blast of a bad band, till their heads, half turned by
the noise, the heat, the novelty, and the hubbub, they all get as
tipsy as if they were really deep in liquor.

"Then there is that particularly free-and-easy tone in every one
about ; there go a couple capering daintily out of the ball-room to


take a little fresh air on the stairs, where every step has its own sep-
arate flirtation party; there, a riotous old gentleman, with a board-
ing-school girl for his partner, has plunged smack into a party at
loo, upsetting cards and counters, and drawing down curses innu-
merable. Here are a merry knot round the refreshments, and well
they may be ; for the negus is strong punch, and the biscuit tipsy
cake, — and all this with a running fire of good stories, jokes, and
witticisms on all sides, in the laughter for which even 'the droll-
looking servants join as heartily as the rest.

" We were not long in finding out Mrs. Eogers, who sat in the
middle of a very high sofa, with her feet just touching the floor.
She was short, fat, wore her hair in a crop, had a species of shining
yellow skin, and a turned-up nose, all of which w^re by no means
prepossessing. Shaugh and myself were too hard-up to be partic-
ular, and so we invited her to dance alternately for two consecutive
hours, plying her assiduously with negus during the lulls in the

" Supper was at last announced, and enabled us to recruit for new
efforts ; and so, after an awful consumption of fowl, pigeon-pie, ham,
and brandy cherries, Mrs. Rogers brightened up considerably, and
professed her willingness to join the dancers. As for us, partly from
exhaustion, partly to stimulate our energies, and in some degree to
drown reflection, we drank deep, and when we reached the drawing-
room, not only the agreeable guests themselves, but even the furni-
ture, the venerable chairs and the stiff old sofa, seemed performing
* Sir Roger de Coverley.' How we conducted ourselves till five in the
morning, let our cramps confess, for we were both bedridden for ten
days after. However, at last, Mrs. Rogers gave in; and, reclining
gracefully upon a window-seat, pronounced it a most elegant party,
and asked me to look for her shawl. While I perambulated the
staircase with her bonnet on my head, and more wearing-apparel
than would stock a magazine, Shaugh was roaring himself hoarse in
the street, calling for Mrs. Rogers's coach.

" ' Sure, Captain,' said the lady, with a tender leer, ' it's only a

"'And here it is,' said I, surveying a very portly-looking old
sedan, newly painted and varnished, that blocked up half the hall.

" ' You'll catch cold, my angel,' said Shaugh, in a whisper, for he
was coming it very strong by this ; ' get into the chair. Maurice,
can't you find those fellows?' said he to me; for the chairmen had
gone down stairs, and were making very merry among the servants.

" ' She's fast now,' said I, shutting the door to. ' Let us do the
gallant thing, and carry her home ourselves.' Shaugh thought this
a great notion ; and in a minute we mounted the poles and sallied


forth, amid a great chorus of laughing from all the footmen, maids,
and teaboys that filled the passage.

" 'The big house, with the bow-window and the pillars, Captain,'
said a fellow, as we issued upon our journey.

" ' I know it,' said I. ' Turn to your left after you pass the square.'

" ' Isn't she heavy ?' said Shaugh, as he meandered across the
narrow streets with a sidelong motion, that must have suggested to
our fair inside passenger some notions of a sea voyage. In truth, I
must confess our progress was rather a devious one ; now zig-zag-
ging from side to side, now getting into a sharp trot, and then sud-
denly pulling up at a dead stop, or running the machine chuck
against a wall, to enable us to stand still and gain breath.

"'Which way now.?' cried he, as we swung round the angle of
a street, and entered the large market-place ; ' I'm getting terribly

" ' Never give in, Dan ; think of Clonakilty, and the old lady
herself;' and here I gave the chair a hoist that evidently aston-
ished our fair friend, for a very imploring cry issued forth immedi-
ately after.

" ' To the right, quick step, forward — charge !' cried I ; and we set
off at a brisk trot down a steep narrow lane.

" ' Here it is now : the light in the window ; cheer up !'

"As I said this, we came short up to a fine portly-looking door-
way, with great stone pillars and cornice.

" ' Make yourself at home, Maurice,' said he ; ' bring her in ;' and
so saying we pushed forward — for the door was open — and passed
boldly into a great flagged hall, silent and cold, and dark as the
night itself.

" 'Are you sure we're right ?' said he.

" 'All right,' said I ; 'go ahead.'

"And so we did, till We came in sight of a small candle that
burned dimly at a distance from us.

" ' Make for the light/ said I ; but just as I said so, Shaugh
slipped and fell flat on the flagway. The noise of his fall sent up a
hundred echoes in the silent building, and terrified us both dread-
fully ; after a minute's pause, by one consent we turned and made
for the door, falling almost at every step ; and frightened out of our
senses, we came tumbling together into the porch, and out in the
street, and never drew breath till we reached the barracks. Mean-
while, let me return to Mrs. Rogers." The dear old lady, who had
passed an awful time since she left the ball, had just rallied out of a
fainting fit when we took to our heels ; so, after screaming and cry-
ing her best, she at last managed to open the top of the chair, and
by dint of great exertions succeeded in forcing the door, and at


length freed herself from bondage. She was leisurely groping her
way round it in the dark, when her lamentations being heard without,
woke up the old sexton of the chapel — for it was there we placed
her — who, entering cautiously with a light, no sooner caught a
glimpse of the great black sedan and the figure beside it, than he
also took to his heels, and ran like a madman to the priest's bouse.

" 'Come, your reverence, come, for the love^of marcy 1 Sure didn't
I see him myself! wirra, wirra !'

" ' What is it, ye old fool ?' said M'Kenny.

" ' It's Father Con Doran, your reverence, that was buried last
week, and there he is up now, coffin and all ! saying a midnight mass
as lively as ever.'

" Poor Mrs. Rogers, God help her ! It was a trying sight for her,
when the priest and the two coadjutors, and three little boys and the
sexton, all came in to lay her spirit ; and the shock she received
that night, they say, she never got over.

"Need I say, my dear O'Mealey, that our acquaintance with Mrs.
Rogers was closed ? The $ear woman had a hard struggle for it
afterwards. Her character was assailed by all the elderly ladies in
Loughrea for going off in our company, and her blue satin, piped
with scarlet, utterly ruined by a deluge of holy water bestowed on
her by the pious sexton. It was in vain that she originated twenty
different reports to mystify the world ; and even ten pounds spent in
masses for the eternal repose of Father Con Doran only increased
the laughter this unfortunate affair gave rise to. As for us, we ex-
changed into the. Line, and foreign service took us out of the road of
duns, debts, and devilment, and we soon reformed, and eschewed
such low company."


The day was breaking ere we separated, and amid the rich and
fragrant vapors that exhaled from the earth, the faint traces of sun-
light dimly stealing, told of the morning. My two friends set out
for Torrijos, and I pushed forward in the direction of the Alberche.

It was a strange thing, that although but two days before the
roads we were then travelling had been the line of retreat of the
whole French army, not a vestige of their equipment, nor a trace of
their materiel, had been left behind. In vain we searched each
thicket by the wayside for some straggling soldier, some wounded
or wearied man — nothing of the kind was to be seen. Except the
deeply-rutted road, torn by the heavy wheels of the artillery, and
the white ashes of a wood fire, nothing marked their progress.

Our journey was a lonely one. Not a man was to be met with.
The houses stood untenanted ; the doors lay open ; no smoke
wreathed from their deserted hearths ; the peasantry had taken to


the mountains, and although the plains were yellow with the ripe
harvest, and the peaches hung temptingly upon the trees, all was de-
serted and forsaken. I had often seen the blackened walls and
broken rafters, the traces of the wild revenge and reckless pillage of
a retiring army — the ruined castle and the desecrated altar are sad
things to look upon ; but, somehow, a far heavier depression sunk
into my heart as my eye ranged over the wide valleys and broad
hills, all redolent of comfort, of beauty, and of happiness, and yet
not one man to say, " This is my home ; these are my household
gods !" The birds carolled gayly in each leafy thicket, the bright
stream sung merrily as it rippled through the rocks, the tall corn,
gently stirred by the breeze, seemed to swell the concert of sweet
sounds ; but no human voice awoke the echoes there. It was as if
the earth was speaking in thankfulness to its Maker; while man,
ungrateful and unworthy man, pursuing his ruthless path of devas-
tation and destruction, had left no being to say, " I thank Thee for
all these."

The day was closing as we drew near the Alberche, and came in
sight of the watch-fires of the enemy. Far as the eye could reach,
their column extended ; but in the dim twilight nothing could be
seen with accuracy. Yet from the position their artillery occupied,
and the unceasing din of baggage wagons and heavy carriages
towards the rear, I came to the conclusion that a still further re-
treat was meditated. A picket of light cavalry was posted upon the
river's bank, and seemed to watch with vigilance the approaches to
the stream.

Our bivouac was a dense copse of pine trees, exactly opposite to
the French advanced posts, and there we passed the night — fortun-
ately, a calm and starlight one — for we dared not light fires, fearful
of attracting attention.

During the long hours, I lay patiently watching the movements
of the enemy till the dark shadows hid all from my sight ; even then,
as my ears caught the challenge of a sentry, or the footsteps of some
officer on his round, my thoughts were riveted upon them, and a hun-
dred fancies as to the future were based upon no stronger foundation
than the click of a firelock or the low-muttered song of a patrol.

Towards morning I slept, and when day broke, my first glance
was towards the river-side ; but the French were gone — noiselessly
— rapidly. Like one man, that vast army had departed ; and a dense
column of dust towards the horizon alone marked the long line of
march where the martial legions were retreating.

My mission was thus ended. Hastily partaking of the humble
breakfast my friend Mike provided for me, I once more set out, and
took the road towards head-quarters.




FOE several months after the battle of Talavera, my life pre-
sented nothing which I feel worth recording. Our good for-

Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 41 of 80)