Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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looking down, I perceived that a sergeant and party of the Sappers
had taken possession of the little hut, and were busily engaged
piercing the walls for musketry; and before many minutes had
elapsed, a company of the Rifles were thrown into the building,
which, from its commanding position above, enfiladed the whole
line of march. The officer in command briefly informed me that
we had been attacked that morning by the French in force, and
" devilishly well thrashed ;" that we were now in retreat beyond the
Coa, where we ought to have been three days previously, and de-
sired me to cross the bridge and get myself out of the way as soon
as I possibly could.

A twenty-four pounder from the French lines struck the angle of
the house as he spoke, scattering the mortar and broken bricks about
us on all sides. This was a warning sufficient for me, wounded and
disabled as I was ; so, taking the few things I could save in my
haste, I hurried from the hut, and descending the path, now slip-
pery by the heavy rain, I took my way across the bridge, and estab-
lished myself on a little rising knoll of ground beyond, from which
a clear view could be obtained of the whole field.

I had not been many minutes in my present position ere the pass
which led down to the bridge became thronged with troops, wagons,
ammunition carts, and hospital stores, pressing thickly forward amid
shouting and uproar ; the hills on either side of the way were
crowded with troops, who formed as they came up, the artillery
taking up their position on every rising ground. The firing had
already begun, aud the heavy booming of the large guns was heard
at intervals amid the rattling crash of musketry. Except the nar-
row road before me, and the high bank of the stream, I could see
nothing; but the tumult and din, which grew momentarily louder,
told that the tide of battle raged nearer and nearer. Still the retreat
continued ; and at length the heavy artillery came thundering across
the narrow bridge, followed by stragglers of all arms, and wounded,
hurrying to the rear. The sharpshooters and the Highlanders held
the heights above the stream, thus covering the retiring columns ;
but I could plainly perceive that their fire was gradually slackening,



424 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

and that the guns which flanked their position were withdrawn, and
everything bespoke a speedy retreat. A tremendous discharge of
musketry at this moment, accompanied by a deafening cheer, an-
nounced the advance of the French, and soon the head of the High-
land brigade was seen descending towards the bridge, followed by
the Kifles and the 95th ; the cavalry, consisting of th£ 11th and 14th
•Light Dragoons, were now formed in column of attack, and the
infantry deployed into line; in an instant after, high above the din
and crash of battle, I heard the word " Charge !" The rising crest
of the hill hid them from my sight, but my heart bounded with
ecstasy as I listened to the clanging sound of the cavalry advance.
Meanwhile, the infantry pressed on, and forming upon the bank,
took up a strong position in front of the bridge ; the heavy guns
were also unlimbered, riflemen scattered through the low copse-
wood, and every precaution taken to defend the pass to the last.
For a moment all my attention was riveted to the movements upon
our own side of the stream, when suddenly the cavalry bugle
sounded the recall, and the same moment the staff came galloping
across the bridge. One officer I could perceive, covered with orders
and trappings; his head was bare, and his horse, splashed with
blood and foam, moved lamely and with difficulty ; he turned in the
middle of the bridge, as if irresolute whether to retreat farther.
One glance at him showed me the bronzed, manly features of our
leader. Whatever his resolve, the matter was soon decided for him,
for the cavalry came galloping swiftly down the slope, and in an
instant the bridge was blocked up by the retreating forces, while the
French, as suddenly appearing above the height, opened a plunging
fire upon their defenceless enemies. Their cheer of triumph was
answered by our fellows from the opposite bank, and a heavy can-
nonade thundered along the rocky valley, sending up a hundred
echoes as it went.

The scene now became one of overwhelming interest. The French,
posting their guns upon the height, replied to our fire, while their
line, breaking into skirmishers, descended the banks to the river
edge, and poured in one sheet of galling musketry. The road to the
bridge, swept by our artillery, presented not a single file; and
although a movement among the French announced the threat of
an attack, the deadly service of the artillery seemed to pronounce
it hopeless.

A strong cavalry force stood inactively, spectators of the combat,
on the French side, among whom I now remarked some bustle
and preparation. As I looked, an officer rode boldly to the river
edge, and spurring his horse forward, plunged into the stream.
The swollen and angry torrent, increased by the late rains, boiled



THE COA. 425

like barm and foamed around him as he advanced ; when suddenly
his horse appeared to have lost its footing, and the rapid current,
circling around him, bore him along with it. He labored madly,
but in vain, to retrace his steps ; the rolling torrent rose above his
saddle, and all that his gallant steed could do was barely sufficient
to keep afloat ; both man and horse were carried down between the
contending armies. I could see him wave his hand to his comrades
as if in adieu. One deafening cheer of admiration rose from the
French lines, and the next moment he was seen to fall from his seat,
and his body, shattered with balls, floated mournfully upon the
stream.

This little incident, to which both armies were witnesses, seemed
to have called forth all the fiercer passions of the contending forces.
A loud yell of taunting triumph rose from the Highlanders, re-
sponded to by a cry of vengeance from the French, and the same
moment the head of a column was seen descending the narrow cause-
way to the bridge, while an officer, with a whole blaze of decora-
tions and crosses, sprang from his horse and took the lead. The
little drummer, a child scarcely ten years old, tripped gayly on,
beating his little pas de charge, seeming rather like the play of in-
fancy than the summons to death and carnage, as the heavy guns of
the French opened a volume of fire and flame to cover the attacking
column. For a moment all was hid from our eyes ; the moment
after the grapeshot swept along the narrow causeway; and the
bridge, which but a second before was crowded with the life and
courage of a noble column, was now one heap of dead and dying.
The gallant fellow who led them on fell among the first rank, and
the little child, as if kneeling, was struck dead beside the parapet;
his fair hair floated across his cold features, and seemed in its motion
to lend a look of life where the heart throb had ceased forever. The
artillery again reopened upon us ; and when the smoke had cleared
away, we discovered that the French had advanced to the middle of
the bridge and carried off the body of their general. Twice they
essayed to cross, and twice the death-dealing fire of our guns covered
the narrow bridge with slain, while by the wild pibroch of the 42d,
swelling madly into notes of exultation and triumph, the High-
landers could scarcely be prevented from advancing hand to hand
with the foe. Gradually the French slackened their fire, their great
guns were one by one withdrawn from the heights, and a dropping,
irregular musketry at intervals sustained the fight, which, ere sunset,
ceased altogether ; and thus ended " The Battle of the Coa I"



426 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

CHAPTER VIII.

THE NIGHT MARCH.

SCARCELY had the night fallen when our retreat commenced.
Tired and weary as our brave fellows felt, but little repose was
allowed them ; their bivouac fires were blazing brightly, and
they had just thrown themselves in groups around them, when the
word to fall in was passed from troop to troop, and from battalion
to battalion — no trumpet, no bugle, called them to their ranks. It
was necessary that all should be done noiselessly and speedily;
while, therefore, the wounded were marched to the front, and the
heavy artillery with them, a brigade of light four-pounders, and two
squadrons of cavalry, held the heights above the bridge, and the in-
fantry, forming into three columns, began their march.

My wound, forgotten in the heat and excitement of the conflict,
was now becoming excessively painful, and I gladly availed myself
of a place in a wagon, where, stretched upon some fresh straw, with
no other covering save the starry sky, I soon fell sound asleep, and
neither the heavy jolting of the rough conveyance nor the deep and
rutty road was able to disturb my slumbers. Still through my sleep
I heard the sounds around me, the heavy tramp of infantry, the
clash of the moving squadrons, and the dull roll of artillery ; and
ever and anon the half-stifled cry of pain, mingling with the reck-
less carol of some drinking song, all flitted through my dreams,
lending to my thoughts of home and friends a memory of glorious
war.

All the vicissitudes of a soldier's life passed then in review before
me, elicited in some measure by the things about. The pomp and
grandeur, the misery and meanness, the triumph, the defeat, the
moment of victory, and the hour of death, were there, and in that
vivid dream I lived a long life.

I awoke at length. The cold and chilling air which follows mid-
night blew around me, and my wounded arm felt as though it were
frozen. I tried to cover myself beneath the straw, but in vain, and
as my limbs trembled and my teeth chattered, I thought again of
home, where, at that moment, the poorest menial of my uncle's
house was better lodged than I, and, strange, to say, something of
pride mingled with the thought, and in my lonely heart a feeling of
elation cheered me.

These reflections were interrupted by the sound of a voice near me,
which I at once knew to be O'Shaughnessy's ; he was on foot, and
speaking evidently in some excitement.

" I tell you, Maurice, some confounded blunder there must be ;



THE NIGHT MARCH 427

sure he was left in that cottage near the bridge, and no one saw him
after."

" The French took it from the Rifles before we crossed the river.
By Jove ! I'll wager my chance of promotion against a pint of sherry
he'll turn up somewhere in the morning ; those Galway chaps have
as many lives as a cat."

"See, now, Maurice, I wouldn't for a full colonelcy anything
would happen to him — I like the boy."

, "So do I myself; but I tell you there's no danger of him. Did
you ask Sparks anything ?"

" Ask Sparks ! God help you ! Sparks would go off in a fit at the
sight of me. No, no, poor creature ! it's little use it would be my
speaking to him."

" Why so, Doctor?" cried I, from my straw couch.

" May I never, if it's not him ! Charley, my son, I'm glad you're
safe. 'Faith, I thought you were on your way to Yerdun by this
time."

" Sure, I told you he'd find his way here ; but, O'Mealey, dear,
you're mighty could — a rigor, as old M'Lauchlan would call it."

" E'en sae, Maister Quill," said a broad Scotch accent behind
him ; " and I canna see ony objection to giein' things their right
names."

" The top of the morning to you !" said Quill, familiarly patting
him on the back ; " how goes it, old Brimstone ?"

The conversation might not have taken a very amicable turn had
M'Lauchlan heard the latter part of this speech ; but as, happily, he
was engaged unpacking a small canteen which he had placed in the
wagon, it passed unnoticed.

" Ye'll no' dislike a toothfu' o' something warm, Major," said he,
presenting a glass to O'Shaughnessy ; " and if ye'll permit me, Mr.
O'Mealey, to help you "

"A thousand thanks, Doctor ; but I fear a broken arm."

* There's naething in the whisky to prevent the proper formation
of callus."

* By the rock of Cashel, it never made any one callous," said
O'Shaughnessy, mistaking the import of the phrase.

" Ye are nae drinking frae the flask ?" said the Doctor, turning in
some agitation towards Quill.

" Devil a bit, my darling. I've a little horn convaniency here,
that holds half a pint, nice measure."

I don't imagine that our worthy friend participated in Quill's ad-
miration of the " convaniency," for he added, in a dry tone,

" Ye may as weel tak' your liquor frae a glass, like a Christian, as
stick your nose in a coo's horn."



428 CHARLES 0>M ALLEY.

" By my conscience, you're no small judge of spirits, wherever you
learned it," said the Major; " it's like Islay malt!"

" I was aye reckoned a gude ane," said the Doctor, w and my
mifher's brither, Caimbogie, hadna his like in the north country. Ye
maybe heerd tell what he aince said to the Duchess of Argyle, when
she sent for him to taste her claret."

*" Never heard of it," quoth Quill j " let's have it by all means. I'd
like to hear what the Duchess said to him."

" It wasna what the Duchess said to him, but what he said to the
Duchess, ye ken. The way of it was this :— My uncle, Caimbogie,
was aye up at the castle, for, besides his knowledge of liquor, there
wasna his match for deer-stalking, or spearing a salmon, in those
parts. He was a great, rough carle, it's true, but ane ye'd rather
crack wi' than fight wi'.

" Weel, ae day they had a grand dinner at the Duke's, and there
were plenty o' great southern lords and braw leddies in velvets and
satin ; and vara muckle surprised they were at my uncle, when he
came in wi' his tartan kilt, in full Highland dress, as the head of a
clan ought to do. Caimbogie, however, paid nae attention to them,
but he ate his dinner and drank his wine, and talked away about
fallow and red deer, and at last the Duchess — for she was aye fond
o' him — addressed him frae the head o' the table : —

" ' Caimbogie, I'd like to hae your opinion about that wine. It's
some the Duke has just received, and we should like to hear what
you think of it.'

" ' It's no sae bad, my leddy,' said my uncle ; for ye see he was a
man o' few words, and never flattered onybody.

" ' Then you don't much approve of it ?' said the Duchess.
" ' I've drank better, and I've drank waur,' quo' he.
" ' I'm sorry you don't like it, Caimbogie,' said the Duchess, ' for
it never can be popular now; we have such a dependence upon
your taste/

" ' I canna say ower muckle for my taste, my leddy ; but ae thing
I will say, I've a most d — smellV

" I hear that never since the auld walls stood was there ever the
like o' the laughing that followed. The puir Duke himsel' was car-
ried away, and nearly had a fit, and a' the grand lords and leddies
a'most died of it. But, see here, the carle hasna left a drap o'
whisky in the flask."

"The last glass I drained to your respectable uncle's health,"
said Quill, with a most professional gravity. "Now, Charley, make
a little room for me in the straw."

The Doctor soon mounted beside me, and giving me a share of his
ample cloak, considerably ameliorated my situation.



THE NIGHT MARCH. 429

" So ^ou knew Sparks, Doctor ?" said I, with a strong curiosity
to hear something of his early acquaintance.

" That I did. I knew him when he was an ensign in the 10th
Foot; and, to say the truth, he is npt much changed since that
time, — the same lively look of a sick codfish about his gray eyes, —
the same disorderly wave of his yellow hair, — the same whining
voice, and that confounded apothecary's laugh."

" Come, come, Doctor, Sparks is a good fellow at heart ; I won't,
have him abused. I never knew he had been in the infantry ; I
should think it must have been another of the same name."

" Not at all ; there's only one like him in the service, and that's
himself. Confound it, man, I'd know his skin upon a bush ; he was
only three weeks in the 10th, and, indeed, your humble servant has
the whole merit of his leaving it so soon."
" Do let us hear how that happened."

" Simply thus : The jolly 10th were some four years ago the plea-
santest corps in the army ; from the lieutenant-colonel down to the
last-joined sub., all were out-and-outers — real gay fellows. The
mess was, in fact, like a pleasant club, and if you did not suit it,
the best thing you could do was to sell out or exchange into a slower
regiment ; and, indeed, this very wholesome truth was not very long
in reaching your ears some way or other, and a man that could re-
main after being given this hint, was likely to go afterwards with-
out one."

Just as Doctor Quill reached this part of his story, an orderly
dragoon galloped furiously past, and the next moment an aide-de-
camp rode by, calling, as he passed us, —

"Close up, there — close up! Get forward, my lads — get for-
ward !" •

It was evident, from the stir and bustle about, that some move-
ment was being made ; and soon after a dropping, irregular fire from
the rear showed that our cavalry were engaged with the enemy. The
affair was scarcely of five minutes' duration, and our march resumed
all its former regularity immediately after.

I now turned to the Doctor to resume his story, but he was gone ;
at what moment he left I could not say. O'Shaughnessy was also
absent, nor did I again meet with them for a considerable time
after.

Towards daybreak we halted at Bonares, when, my wound de-
manding rest and attention, I was billeted in the village, and con-
signed to all the miseries of a sick-bed.



430 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

CHAPTER IX.

THE JOURNEY.

WITH that disastrous day my campaigning was destined, for
some time at least, to conclude. My wound, which grew
from hour to hour more threatening, at length began to
menace the loss of the arm, and, by the recommendation of the
regimental surgeons, I was ordered back to Lisbon.

Mike, by this time perfectly restored, prepared everything for my
departure, and on the third day after the battle of the Coa, I began
my journey with downcast spirits and depressed heart. The poor
fellow was, however, a kind and affectionate nurse, and, unlike
many others, his cares were not limited to the mere bodily wants of
his patient. He sustained, as well as he was able, my drooping
resolution, rallied my spirits, and cheered my courage. With the
very little Portuguese he possessed, he contrived to make every
imaginable species of bargain, always managed a good billet, kept
every one in good humor, and rarely left his quarters in the morn-
ing without a most affecting leave-taking, and reiterated promises
to renew his visit.

Our journeys were usually short ones, and already two days had
elapsed, when, towards nightfall, we entered the little hamlet of
Jaffra. During the entire of that day, the pain of my wounded
limb had been excruciating ; the fatigue of the road and the heat
had brought back violent inflammation, and when at last the little
village came in sight, my reason was fast yielding to the torturing
agonies of my wound. But the transports with which I greeted my
resting-place were soon destined to a change, for as we drew near,
not a light was to be seen, not a sound to be heard, not even a dog
barked, as the heavy mule-cart rattled over the uneven road. No
trace of any living thing was there. The little hamlet lay sleeping
in the pale moonlight, its streets deserted and its homes tenantless ;
our own footsteps alone echoed along the dreary causeway. Here
and there, as we advanced farther, we found some relics of broken
furniture and house-gear ; most of the doors lay open, but nothing
remained within save bare walls ; the embers still smoked in many
places upon the hearth, and showed us that the flight of the inhabi-
tants had been recent. Yet everything convinced us that the
French had not been there; there was no trace of the reckless
violence and wanton cruelty which marked their footsteps every-
where.

All proved that the desertion had been voluntary — perhaps in
compliance with an order of our Commander-in-Chief, who fre-



THE JOURNEY. 431

quently desired any intended line of march of the enemy to be thus
left a desert. As we sauntered slowly on from stfeet to street, half-
hoping that some one human being yet remained behind, and cast-
ing our eyes from side to side in search of quarters for the night,
Mike suddenly came running up, saying, —

" I have it, sir, — I've found it out. There's people living down
that small street there ; I saw a light this minute as I passed."

I turned immediately, and, accompanied by the mule-driver, fol-
lowed Mike across a little open square into a small and narrow
street, at the end of which a light was seen faintly twinkling. We
hurried on, and in a few minutes reached a high wall of solid
masonry, from a niche of which we now discovered, to our utter
disappointment, the light proceeded. It was a small lamp placed
before a little waxen image of the Virgin, and was probably the last
act of piety of some poor villager ere he left his home and hearth
forever. There it burned, brightly and tranquilly, throwing its
mellow ray upon the cold, deserted stones.

Whatever impatience I might have given way to in a moment of
chagrin was soon repressed, as I saw my two followers, uncovering
their heads in silent reverence, kneel down before the little shrine.
There was something at once touching and solemn in this simulta-
neous feeling of homage from the hearts of those removed in country,
language, and in blood ; they bent meekly down, their heads bowed
upon their bosoms, while with muttering voices each offered up his
prayer. All sense of their disappointment, all memory of their
forlorn state, seemed to have yielded to more powerful and absorb-
ing thoughts as they opened their hearts in prayer.

My eyes were still fixed upon them, when suddenly Mike, whose
devotion seemed to be briefest, sprang to his legs, and with a spirit
of levity but little in accordance with his late proceedings, com-
menced a series of kicking, rapping, and knocking at a small oak
postern sufficient to have aroused a whole convent from their cells.
" House there ! — good people within !" — bang, bang, bang ; but the
echoes alone responded to his call, and the sounds died away at
length in the distant streets, leaving all as silent and dreary as
before.

Our Portuguese friend, who by this time had finished his orisons,
now began a vigorous attack upon the small door, and, with the
assistance of Mike, armed with a fragment of granite about the size
of a man's head, at length separated the frame from the hinges and
sent the whole mass prostrate before us.

The moon was just rising as we entered the little park, where
gravelled walks, neatly kept and well trimmed, bespoke recent care
and attention ; following a handsome alley of lime trees, we reached



432 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

a little jet d'eau, whose sparkling fountain shone, diamond-like, irt
the moonbeams ; and, escaping from the edge of a vast shell, ran
murmuring amid mossy stones and water lilies, that however natur-
ally they seemed thrown around, bespoke also the hand of taste in
their position. On turning from the spot, we came directly in front
of an old but handsome chateau, before which stretched a terrace of
considerable extent. Its balustraded parapet, lined with orange-
trees, now in full blossom, scented the still air with their delicious
odor ; marble statues peeped here and there amid the foliage, while a
rich acacia, loaded with flowers, covered the walls of the building, and
hung in vast masses of variegated blossom across the tall windows.

As, leaning on Mike's arm, I slowly ascended the steps of the
terrace, I was more than ever struck with the silence and death-like
stillness around ; except the gentle plash of the fountain, all was at
rest ; the very plants seemed to sleep in the yellow moonlight, and
not a trace of any living thing was there.

The massive door lay open as we entered the spacious hall, flagged
with marble, and surrounded with armorial bearings. We advanced
farther, and came to a broad and handsome stair, which led us to a
long gallery, from which a suite of rooms opened, looking towards
the front part of the building. Wherever we went, the furniture
appeared perfectly untouched ; nothing was removed ; the very chairs
were grouped around the windows and the tables ; books, as if they
suddenly dropped from their readers' hands, were scattered upon the
sofas and the ottomans ; and in one small apartment, whose blue
satin walls and damask drapery bespoke a boudoir, a rich mantilla



Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 44 of 80)