Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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laughter prevented my hearing the conclusion of Mike's French.

I now crept forward upon my hands and knees, till I could catch
the dark outline of the horses, one hand fixed upon my pistol
trigger, and my sword drawn in the other. Meanwhile the dialogue

" Vous etes d'Alsace, n'est-ce-pas ?" asked the Frenchman, kindly
supposing that Mike's French savored of Strasburg.

" Oh, blessed Virgin ! av I might shoot him," was the muttered


Before I had time to see the effect of the last speech, I pressed
forward with a bold spring, and felled the Frenchman to the earth ;
my hand had scarcely pressed upon his mouth, when Hampden was
beside me. Snatching up the pistol I let fall, he held it to the man's
chest, and commanded him to be silent. To unfasten his girdle,
and bind the Frenchman's hands behind him, was the work of a
moment; and, as the sharp click of the pistol-cock seemed to calm
his efforts to escape, we soon succeeded in fastening his handkerchief
tight across his mouth, and the next minute he was placed behind
Mike's saddle, firmly attached to this worthy individual by his

" Now, a clear run home for it, and a fair start," said Hampden,
as he sprang into the saddle.

"Now, then, for it," I replied, as, turning my horse's head
towards our lines, I dashed madly forward.

The moon was again obscured, but still the dark outline of the
hill which formed our encampment was discernible on the horizon.
Eiding side by side, on we hurried ; now splashing through the deep
and wet marshes, now plunging through small streams. Our horses
were high in mettle, and we spared them not ; by taking a wide
detour we had outflanked the French pickets, and were almost out of
all risk, when suddenly, on coming to the verge of a rather steep
hill, we perceived beneath us a strong cavalry picket standing
around a watch-fire ; their horses were ready saddled, the men ac-
coutred, and quite prepared for the field. While we conversed
together in whispers as to the course to follow, our deliberations
were very rapidly cut short. The French prisoner, who hitherto
had given neither trouble nor resistance, had managed to free his
mouth from the encumbrance of the handkerchief; and, as we stood
quietly discussing our plans, with one tremendous effort he endeav-
ored to hurl himself and Mike from the saddle, shouting out, as he
did so,

"A moi camarades ! a moi !"

Hampden's pistol leaped from the holster as he spoke, and, level-
ing it with a deadly aim, he pulled the trigger ; but I threw up his
arm, and the ball passed high above his head, To have killed the
Frenchman would have been to lose my faithful follower, who
struggled manfully with his adversary, and, at length, by throwing
himself flatly forward upon the mane of his horse, completely dis-
abled him. Meanwhile, the picket had sprung to their saddles, and
looked wildly about on every side.

Not a moment was to be lost; so, turning our horse's heads
towards the plain, away we went. One loud cheer announced to us
that we had been seen, and the next instant the clash of the pur-


suing cavalry was heard behind us. It was now entirely a question
of speed, and little need we have feared had Mike's horse not been
doubly weighted. However, as we still had considerably the start,
and the gray dawn of day enabled us to see the ground, the odds
were in our favor. " Never let your horse's head go," was my often-
repeated direction to Mike, as he spurred with all the desperation of
madness. Already the low meadow-land was in sight which flanked
the stream we had crossed in the morning ; but, unfortunately, the
heavy rains had swollen it now to a considerable depth, and the
muddy current, choked with branches of trees and great stones, was
hurrying down, like a torrent. " Take the river : never flinch it !"
was my cry to my companions, as I turned my head and saw a
French dragoon, followed by two others, gaining rapidly upon us.
As I spoke, Mike dashed in, followed by Hampden, and the same
moment the sharp ring of a carbine whizzed past me. To take off"
the pursuit from the others, I wheeled my horse suddenly round, as
if I feared to take the stream, and dashed along by the river's bank.

Beneath me, in the foaming current, the two horsemen labored ;
now stemming the rush of water, now reeling almost beneath. A
sharp cry burst from Mike as I looked ; and I saw the poor
fellow bend nearly to his saddle. I could see no more, for the chase
was now hot upon myself; behind me rode a French dragoon, his car-
bine pressed tightly to his side, ready to fire as he pressed on in
pursuit. I had but one chance ; so, drawing my pistol, I wheeled
suddenly in my saddle, and fired straight at him. The Frenchman
fell, while a regular volley from his party rung around me ; one ball
striking my horse, and another lodging in the pommel of my saddle.
The noble animal reeled nearly to the earth, but as if rallying for a
last effort, sprang forward with renewed energy and plunged boldly
into the river.

For a moment, so sudden was my leap, my pursuers lost sight of
me ; but the bank being somewhat steep, the efforts of my horse to
climb again discovered me, and before I reached the field, two pistol-
balls took effect upon me : one slightly grazed my side, but my
bridle-arm was broken by the other, and my hand fell motionless to
my side. A cheer of defiance was, however, my reply, as I turned
round in my saddle, and the next moment I was far beyond the
range of their fire.

Not a man durst follow, and the last sight I had of them was the
dismounted group who stood around their dead comrade ; before me
rode Hampden and Mike, still at top speed, and never turning their
heads backward. I hastened after them ; but my poor wounded
horse, nearly hamstrung by the shot, became dead lame, and it was
past daybreak ere I reached the first outposts of our lines.




AND his wound? Is it a serious one?" said a round full voice
as the Doctor left my room at the conclusion of his visit.
" No, sir ; a fractured bone is the worst of it ; the bullet
grazed, but did not cut the artery ; and, as "

" Well, how soon will he be about again?"

" In a few weeks, if no fever sets in."

"There is no objection to my seeing him? — a few minutes only —
I'll be cautious." So saying, and, as it seemed to me, without wait-
ing for a reply, the door was opened by an aide-de-camp, who an-
nouncing General Craufurd, closed it again and withdrew.

The first glance I threw upon the General enabled me to recog-
nize the officer who on the previous morning had ridden up to the
picket and given us the orders to charge. I essayed to rise a little
as he came forward, but he motioned me with his hand to lie still,
while, placing a chair close beside my bed, he sat down.

" Very sorry for your mishap, sir, but glad it is no worse. More-
ton says that nothing of consequence is injured. There, you mustn't
speak, except I ask you. Hampden has told me everything neces-
sary ; at least, as far as he knew. Is it your opinion, also, that any
movement is in contemplation? and from what circumstance?"

I immediately explained, and as briefly as I was able, the reasons
for suspecting such, with which he seemed quite satisfied. I detailed
the various changes in the positions of the troops that were taking
place during the night, the march of the artillery, and the strong
bodies of cavalry that were posted in reserve along the river.

" Very well, sir ; they'll not move ; your prisoner, a quarter-
master of an infantry battalion, says not, also. Yours was a bold
stroke, but could not possibly have been of service, and the best
thing I can do for you is not to mention it ; a court- martial's but a
poor recompense for a gun-shot wound. Meanwhile, when this blows
over, I'll appoint you on my personal staff. There, not a word, I
beg ; and now, good-bye."

So saying, and waving me an adieu with his hand, the gallant
veteran withdrew before I could express my gratitude for his kind-

I had little time for reflecting over my past adventure, such
numbers of my brother officers poured in upon me. All the
Doctor's cautions respecting quietness and rest were disregarded,
and a perfect levee sat the entire morning in my bedroom. I was
delighted to learn that Mike's wound, though painful at the moment,


was of no consequence ; and, indeed, Hampden, who escaped botli
steel and shot, was the worst off amongst us, his plunge in the river
having brought on an ague he had labored under years before.

" The illustrious Maurice has been twice here this morning, but
they wouldn't admit him. Your Scotch physician is afraid of his
Irish confrere, and they had a rare set-to about Galen and Hippo-
crates outside," said Baker.

" By the bye, 7 ' said another, " did you see how Sparks looked when
Quill joined us? Egad, I never saw a fellow in such a fright; he
reddened up, then grew pale, turned his back, and slunk away at the
very first moment."

" Yes, I remember it. We must find out the reason ; for Maurice,
depend upon it, has been hoaxing the poor fellow."

" Well, O'Malley/' growled out the senior Major, " you certainly
did give Hampden a benefit. He'll not trust himself in such com-
pany again ; and, begad, he says the man is as bad as the master.
That fellow of yours never let go his prisoner till he reached the
Quartermaster-General, and they were both bathed in blood by that

" Poor Mike ! we must do something for him."

" Oh ! he's as happy as a king. Maurice has been in to see him,
and they've had a long chat about Ireland, and all the national pas-
times of whisky-drinking and smashing skulls. My very temples
ache at the recollection."

"Is Mister O'Mealey at home?" said a very rich Cork accent, as
the well-known and most droll features of Dr. Maurice Quill ap-
peared at the door.

" Come in, Maurice," said the Major ; " and, for Heaven's sake,
behave properly. The poor fellow must not have a row about his

" A row — a row ! Upon my conscience, it is little you know about
a row, and there's worse things going than a row."

" Which leg is it ?"

" It's an arm, Doctor, I'm happy to say."

"Not your punch hand, I hope. No; all's right. A neat fellow
you have for a servant, that Mickey Free. I was asking him about
a townsman of his own, one Tim Delany — the very cut of himself;
the best servant I ever had. I never could make out what became
of him, Old Hobson, of the 95th, gave him to me, saying, 'There
he is for you, Maurice, and a bigger thief and a greater blackguard
there's not in the 60th.'

" ' Strong words,' said I.

" ' And true,' said he ; ' he'd steal your molar tooth while you were
laughing at him,'


" i Let me have him, and try my hand on him, anyway. I've got
no one just now. Anything is better than nothing.'

"Well, I took Tim, and sending for him to my room, I locked the
door, and sitting down gravely before him, explained in a few words
that I was quite aware of his little propensities.

" ' Now/ said I, ' if you like to behave well, I'll think you as
honest as the Chief Justice ; but if I catch you stealing, if it be only
the value of a brass snuff-box, I'll have you flogged before the regi-
ment, as sure as my name's Maurice.'

" Oh ! I wish you heard the volley of protestations that fell from
him fast as hail. He was a calumniated man ; the world conspired
to wrong him ; he was never a thief nor a rogue in his life. He had
a weakness, he confessed, for the ladies ; but, except that, he hoped
he might die so thin that he could shave himself with his shin-bone
if he ever so much as took a pinch of salt that wasn't his own.

" However this might be, nothing could be better than the way
Tim and I got on together. Everything was in its place — nothing
missing ; and, in fact, for upwards of a year, I went on wondering
when he was to show out in his true colors — for hitherto he had been
a phoenix.

"At last — we were quartered at Limerick at the time — every
morning used to bring accounts of all manner of petty thefts in the
barrack. One fellow had lost his belt, another his shoes, a third
had three-and-sixpence in his pocket when he went to bed, and
woke without a farthing, and so on. Everybody save myself was
mulcted of something. At length some rumors of Tim's former
propensities got abroad ; suspicion was excited ; my friend Delany
was rigidly watched, and some very dubious circumstances attached
to the way he spent his evenings.

"My brother officers called upon me about the matter, and
although nothing had transpired like proof, I sent for Tim, and
opened my mind on the subject.

" You may talk of the look of conscious innocence, but I defy you
to conceive of anything finer than the stare of offended honor Tim
gave me as I began.

" 'They say it's me, Doctor, do they?' said he. 'And you — you
believe them. You allow them to revile me that way ? Well, well,
the world is come to a pretty pass, anyhow ! Now, let me ask your
honor a few questions. How many shirts had yourself when I
entered your service? Two, and one was more like a fishing-net!
And how many have ye now ? Eighteen ; ay, eighteen bran new
cambric ones— devil a hole in one of them ! How many pair of
stockings had you ? Three and an odd one. You have two dozen
this minute. How many pocket-handkerchiefs? One — devil a

THE COA. 419

more I You could only blow your nose two days in the week, and
now may every hour of the twenty-four ! And as to the trifling
articles of small value, snuff-boxes, gloves, boot-jacks, night-caps,
and '

" ' Stop, Tim, that's enough !

" ' No, sir, it is not/ said Tim, drawing himself up to his full
height ; ' you have wounded my feelings in a way I can't forget. It
is impossible we can have that mutual respect our position demands.
Farewell, farewell, Doctor, and forever !'

" Before I could say another word, the fellow had left the room,
and closed the door after him ; and from that hour to this I never
set eyes on him."

In this vein did the worthy Doctor run on, till some more dis-
creet friend suggested that however well-intentioned the visit, I did
not seem to be fully equal to it — my flushed cheek and anxious eye
betrayed that the fever of my wound had commenced ; they left me,
therefore, once more alone, and to my solitary musings over the
vicissitudes of my fortune.



WITHIN a week from the occurrence of the events just men-
tioned, Ciudad Rodrigo surrendered, and Craufurd assumed
another position beneath the walls of Almeida. The
Spanish contingent having left us, we were reinforced by the arrival
of two battalions, renewed orders having been sent not to risk a
battle, but if the French should advance, to retire beyond the Coa.

On the evening of the 21st of July, a strong body of French
cavalry advanced into the plain, supported by some heavy guns,
upon which Craufurd retired upon the Coa, intending, as we sup-
posed, to place that river between himself and the enemy. Three
days, however, passed over without any movement upon either side,
and we still continued, with a force of scarcely four thousand
infantry and a thousand dragoons, to stand opposite to an army of
nearly fifty thousand men. Such was our position as the night of
the 24th set in. I was sitting alone in my quarters. Mike, whose
wound had been severer than at first was supposed, had been sent
to Almeida, and I was musing in solitude upon the events of the
campaign, when the noise and bustle without excited my attention.


The roll of artillery wagons, the clash of musketry, and the distant
sound of marching, all proved that the troops were effecting some
new movement, and I burned with anxiety to learn what it was.
My brother officers, however, came not as usual to my quarters, and
although I waited with impatience while the hours rolled by, no one

Long, low, moaning gusts of wind swept along the earth, carrying
the leaves as they tore them from the trees, and mingling their sad
sounds with the noises of the retiring troops ; for I could perceive
that gradually the sounds grew more and more remote, and only
now and then could I trace their position as the roll of a distant
drum swelled upon the breeze, or the more shrill cry of a pibroch
broke upon my ear. A heavy down-pour of rain followed soon after,
and its unceasing plash drowned all other sounds.

As the little building shook beneath the peals of loud thunder,
the lightning flashed in broad sheets upon the rapid river, which,
swollen and foaming, dashed impetuously beside my window. By
the uncertain but vivid glare of the flashes, I endeavored to ascertain
where our force was posted, but in vain. Never did I witness such
a night of storm. The deep booming of the thunder seemed never
for a moment to cease, while the rush of the torrent grew gradually
louder, till at length it swelled into one deep and sullen roar like
that of distant artillery.

Weak and nervous as I felt from the effects of my wound, feverish
and exhausted by days of suffering and sleepless nights, I paced
my little room with tottering but impatient steps. The sense of my
sad and imprisoned state impressed me deeply; and while from
time to time I replenished my fire, and hoped to hear some friendly
step upon the stair, my heart grew gradually heavier, and every
gloomy and depressing thought suggested itself to my imagination.
My most constant impression was that the troops were retiring
beyond the Coa, and that, forgotten in the haste and confusion of
a night march, I had been left behind to fall a prisoner to the

The sounds of the troops retiring gradually farther and farther
favored the idea, in which I was still more strengthened on finding
that the peasants who inhabited the little hut had departed, leaving
me utterly alone. From the moment I ascertained this fact, my
impatience knew no bounds ; and in proportion as I began to feel
some exertion necessary on my part, so much more did my nervous-
ness increase my debility, and at last I sank exhausted upon my
bed, while a cold perspiration broke out upon my temples.

I have mentioned that the Coa was immediately beneath the
house ; I must also add, that the little building occupied the angle

THE COA. 421

of a steep but narrow gorge which descended from the plain to the
bridge across the stream. This, as far as I knew, was the only-
means we possessed of passing the river, so that, when the last retir-
ing sounds of the troops were heard by me, I began to suspect that
Craufurd, in compliance with his orders, was making a backward
movement, leaving the bridge open to the French, to draw them on
to his line of march, while he should cross over at some more dis-
tant point.

As the night grew later, the storm seemed to increase ; the waves
of the foaming river dashed against the frail walls of the hut, while
its roof, rent by the blast, fell in fragments upon the stream, and all
threatened a speedy and perfect ruin.

How I longed for morning ! The doubt and uncertainty I suf-
fered nearly drove me distracted. Of all the casualties my career
as a soldier opened, none had such horrors for me as imprisonment ;
the very thought of the long years of inaction and inglorious idle-
ness was worse than any death. My wounds, and the state of fever
I was in, increased the morbid dread upon me, and had the French
captured me at the time, I know not that madness of which I was
not capable. Day broke at last, but slowly and sullenly. The gray
clouds hurried past upon the storm, pouring down the rain in tor-
rents as they went, and the desolation and dreariness on all sides
was scarcely preferable to the darkness and glocm of night. My
eyes were turned ever towards the plain, across which the winter
wind bore the plashing rain in vast sheets of water ; the thunder
crashed louder and louder; but except the sounds of the storm, none
others met my ear. Not a man, not a human figure, could I see, as
I strained my sight towards the distant horizon.

The morning crept over, but the storm abated not, and the same
unchanged aspect of dreary desolation prevailed without. At times
I thought I could hear, amidst the noises of the tempest, something
like the roll of distant artillery ; but the thunder swelled in sullen
roar above all, and left me uncertain as before.

At last, in a momentary pause of the storm, a tremendous peal of
heavy guns caught my ear, followed by a long rattling of small-arms.
My heart bounded with ecstasy. The thought of the battle-field,
with all its changing fortunes, was better, a thousand times better,
than the despairing sense of desertion I labored under. I listened
now with eagerness, but the rain bore down again in torrents, and
the crumbling walls and falling timbers left no other sounds to be
heard. Far as my eye could reach, nothing could still be seen save
the dreary monotony of the vast plain, undulating slightly here and
there, but unmarked by a sign of man.

Far away towards the horizon I had remarked for some time pa*t


that the clouds resting upon the earth grew blacker and blacker,
spreading out to either side in vast masses, and not broken or wafted
along like the rest. As I watched the phenomenon with an anxious
eye, I perceived the dense mass suddenly appear, as it were rent
asunder, while a volume of liquid flame rushed wildly out, throwing
a lurid glare on every side. One terrific clap, louder than any thun-
der, shook the air at this moment, while the very earth trembled
beneath the shock.

As I hesitated what it might be, the heavy din of great guns
again was heard, and from the midst of the black smoke rode forth
a dark mass, which I soon recognized as the horse-artillery at full
gallop. They were directing their course towards the bridge.

As they mounted the little rising ground, they wheeled and un-
limbered with the speed of lightning, just as a strong column of
cavalry showed above the ridge. One tremendous discharge again
shook the field, and ere the smoke cleared away they were again far
in retreat.

So much was my attention occupied with this movement, that I
had not perceived the long line of infantry that came from the
extreme left, and were now advancing also towards the bridge at a
brisk, quick step ; scattered bodies of cavalry came up from different
parts, while from the little valley, every now and then, a rifleman
would mount the rising ground, turning to fire as he retreated. All
this boded a rapid and disorderly retreat ; and although as yet I
could see nothing of the pursuing enemy, I knew too well the rela-
tive forces of each to have a doubt for the result.

At last the head of a French column appeared above the mist, and
I could plainly distinguish the gestures of the officers as they hurried
their men onwards. Meanwhile, a loud hurrah attracted my atten-
tion, and I turned my eyes towards the road which led to the river.
Here a small body of the 95th had hurriedly assembled ; and, formed
again, were standing to cover the retreat of the broken infantry as
they pressed on eagerly to the bridge ; in a second after the French
cuirassiers appeared. Little anticipating resistance from a flying
and disordered mass, they rode headlong forward, and although the
firm attitude and steady bearing of the Highlanders might have
appalled them, they rode heedlessly down upon the square, sabring
the very men in the front rank. Till now not a trigger had been
pulled, when suddenly the word " Fire !" was given, and a withering
volley of balls sent the cavalry column in shivers. One hearty
cheer broke from the infantry in the rear, and I could hear "Gal-
lant 95th !" shouted on every side along the plain.

The whole vast space before me was now one animated battle-
ground. Our own troops retiring in haste before the overwhelming

THE COA. 423

forces of the French, occupied every little vantage ground with their
guns and light infantry, charges of cavalry coursing hither and
thither ; while, as the French pressed forward, the retreating col-
umns again formed into squares to permit stragglers to come up.
The rattle of small-arms, the heavy peal of artillery, the earthquake
crash of cavalry, rose on every side, while the cheers which alter-
nately told of the vacillating fortune of the fight rose amidst the wild
pibroch of the Highlanders. «

A tremendous noise now took place on the floor beneath me ; and,

Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 43 of 80)