Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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in campaigning, was like a father to us ; while the senior officers,
tempering the warm blood of impetuous youth with their hard-won
experience, threw a charm of peace and tranquillity over all our



THE LINES. 499

intercourse that made us happy when together, and taught us to feel
that, whether seated around the watch-fire, or charging amid the
squadrons of the enemy, we were surrounded by those devoted heart
and soul to aid us.

Gallant 14th I — ever first in every gay scheme of youthful jollity,
as foremost in the van to meet the foe — how happy am I to recall
the memory of your bright looks and bold hearts ! — of your manly
daring and your bold frankness — of your merry voices, as I have
heard them in the battle or in the bivouac! Alas, and alas ! that I
should indulge such recollections alone ! How few — how very few —
are left of those with whom I trod the early steps of life ! whose bold
cheer I have heard above the clashing sabres of the enemy — whose
broken voice I have listened to above the grave of a comrade ! The
dark pines of the Pyrenees wave over some, the burning sands of
India cover others, and the wide plans of Salamanca are now your
abiding-places.

" Here comes O'Malley !" shouted a well-known voice, as I rode
down the little slope, at the foot of which a group of officers were
standing beside their horses.

" Welcome, thou man of Gal way !" cried Hampden.; " delighted
to have you once more amongst us. How confoundedly well the
fellow is looking !"

" Lisbon beef seems better prog than commissariat biscuit !" said
another.

"A'weel, Charley !" said my friend, the Scotch Doctor; " how's
a' wi' ye, man ? Ye seem to thrive on your mishaps ! How cam'
ye by that braw beastie ye're mounted on ?"

"A present, Doctor ; the gift of a very warm friend."

"I hope you invited him to the mess, O'Malley ! For, by Jove,
our stables stand in need of his kind offices ! There he goes ! Look
at him ! What a slashing pace for a heavy fellow !" This observa-
tion w r as made with reference to a well-known officer on the Com-
mander-in-Chiefs staff, whose weight — some two-and-twenty stone —
was never any impediment to his bold riding.

" Egad, O'Malley, you'll soon be as pretty a light-weight as our
friend yonder. Ah I there's a storm going on there ! Here comes
the Colonel !"

" Well, O'Malley, are you come back to us ? Happy to see you,
boy ! — hope we shall not lose you again in a hurry ! — We can't spare
the scapegraces ! There's plenty of skirmishing going on ! — Crau-
furd always asks for the scapegraces for the pickets !"

I shook my gallant Colonel's hand, while I acknowledged, as best
I might, his ambiguous compliment.

"I say, lads," resumed the Colonel, "squad your men and form



500 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

on the road ! Lord Wellington's coming down this way to have a
look at you ! O'Malley, I have General Craufurd's orders to offer
you your old appointment on his staff; without you prefer remain-
ing with the regiment."

" I can never be sufficiently grateful, sir, to the General ; but, in
fact — I think — that is, I believe "

" You'd rather be among your own fellows. Out with it, boy !
I like you all the better ! but come, we mustn't let the General
know that; so that I shall forget to tell you all about it. Eh?
isn't that best? But join your troop now; I hear the staff coming
this way."

As he spoke a crowd of horsemen were seen advancing towards us
at a sharp trot ; their waving plumes and gorgeous aiguillettes de-
noting their rank as generals of division. In the midst, as they
came nearer, I could distinguish one whom, once seen, there was no
forgetting ; his plain blue frock and his gray trousers unstrapped
beneath his boots, not a little unlike the trim accuracy of costume
around him. As he rode to the head of the leading squadron, the
staff fell back and he stood alone before us ; for a second there was
a dead silence, but the next instant — by what impulse tell who can —
one tremendous cheer burst from the entire regiment. It was like
the act of one man — so sudden, so spontaneous. While every
cheek glowed, and every eye sparkled with enthusiasm, he alone
seemed cool and unexcited, as gently raising his hand, he motioned
them to silence.

" Fourteenth, you are to be where you always desire to be — in the
advanced guard of the army. I have nothing to say on the subject
of your conduct in the field. I know you; but if, in pursuit of the
enemy, I hear of any misconduct towards the people of the country,
or any transgression of the general orders regarding pillage, by G — ,
I'll punish you as severely as the worst corps in the service, and you
know me."

" Oh ! tear an' ages, listen to that ; and there's to be no plunder
after all !" said Mickey Free ; and for an instant the most I could
do was not to burst into a fit of laughter. The word " Forward !"
was given at the moment, and we moved past in close column, while
that penetrating eye, which seemed to read our very thoughts,
scanned us from one end of the line to the other.

"I say, Charley," said the captain of my troop in a whisper — "I
say, that confounded cheer we gave got us that lesson ; he can't stand
that kind of thing."

" By Jove ! I never felt more disposed than to repeat it," said I.

" No, no, my boy, we'll give him the honors, nine times nine; but
wait till evening. Look at old Merivale there. I'll swear he's say-



THE RETREAT OF THE FRENCH. 501

ing something devilish civil to him. Do you see the old fellow's
happy look ?"

And so it was ; the bronzed, hard-east features of the veteran sol-
dier were softened into an expression of almost boyish delight, as he
sat bare-headed, bowing to his very saddle, while Lord Wellington
was speaking.

As I looked, my heart throbbed painfully against my side, my
breath came quick, and I muttered to myself, " What would I not
give to be in his place now !"



CHAPTER XXII.

THE RETREAT OF THE FRENCH.

IT is not my intention, were I even adequate to the task, to trace
with anything like accuracy the events of the war at this period.
In fact, to those who, like myself, were performing a mere sub-
altern character, the daily movements of our own troops, not to speak
of the continual changes of the enemy, were perfectly unknown, and
an English newspaper was more ardently longed for in the Penin-
sula than by the most eager crowd of a London coffee-room ; nay,
the results of the very engagements we were ourselves concerned in,
more than once, first reached us through the press of our own country.
It is easy enough to understand this. The officer in command of the
regiment, and, how much more the captain of a troop, or the sub-
altern under him, knows nothing beyond the sphere of his own
immediate duty: by the success or failure of his own party his
knowledge is bounded, but how far he or his may influence the for-
tune of the day, or of what is taking place elsewhere, he is totally
ignorant ; and an old 14th man did not badly explain his ideas on
the matter who described Busaco as " a great noise and a great
smoke, booming artillery and rattling small-arms, infernal confu-
sion, and, to all seeming, incessant blundering, orders and counter-
orders, ending with a crushing charge, when, not being hurt himself
nor having hurt anybody, he felt much pleased to learn that they
had gained a victory." It is, then, sufficient for all the purposes of
my narrative when I mention that Massena continued his retreat by
Santarem and Thomar, followed by the allied army, who, however
desirous of pressing upon the rear of their enemy, were still obliged
to maintain their communication with the lines, and at the same
time to watch the movement of the large armies which, under Ney



502 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

and Soult, threatened at any unguarded moment to attack them in
flank.

The position which Massena occupied at Santarem, naturally one
of great strength, and further improved by intrenchments, defied
any attack on the part of Lord Wellington, until the arrival of the
long-expected reinforcements from England. These had sailed in
the early part of January, but, delayed by adverse winds, only
reached Lisbon on the 2d of March, and so correctly was the French
Marshal apprised of the circumstance, and so accurately did he
anticipate the probable result, that on the 4th he broke up his
encampment, and recommenced his retrograde movement, with an
army now reduced to forty thousand fighting men, and with two
thousand sick, destroying all his baggage and guns that could not
be horsed. By a demonstration of advancing upon the Zezere, by
which he held the allies in check, he succeeded in passing his
wounded to the rear, while Ney, appearing with a large force sud-
denly at Leiria, seemed bent upon attacking the lines. By these
stratagems two days' march were gained, and the French retreated
upon Torres Novas and Thomar, destroying the bridges behind
them as they passed.

The day was breaking, on the 12th of March, when the British
first came in sight of the retiring enemy. We were then ordered
to the front, and, broken up into small parties, threw out our skir-
mishers. The French chasseurs, usually not indisposed to accept
this species of encounter, showed now less of inclination than usual,
and either retreated before us or hovered in masses to check our
advance. In this way the morning was passed, when towards noon
we perceived that the enemy was drawn up in battle array, occupy-
ing the height above the village of Redinha. This little straggling
village is situated in a hollow, traversed by a narrow causeway,
which opens by a long and dangerous defile upon a bridge, on
either side of which a dense wood afforded a shelter for light troops,
while upon the commanding eminence above a battery of heavy
guns was seen in position.

In front of the village a brigade of artillery and a division of in-
fantry were drawn up so skilfully as to give the appearance of a
considerable force, so that when Lord Wellington came up, he spent
some time in examining the enemy's position, Erskine's brigade
was immediately ordered up, and the 52d and 94th, and a company
of the 43d, were led against the wooded slopes upon the French
right. Picton simultaneously attacked the left. In less than an
hour both were successful, and Ney's position was laid bare. His
skirmishers, however, continued to hold their ground in front, and
La Ferriere, a colonel of hussars, dashing boldly forward at this very



THE RETREAT OF THE FRENCH. 503

moment, carried off fourteen prisoners from the very front of our
line. Deceived by the confidence of the enemy, Lord Wellington
now prepared for an attack in force. The infantry were therefore
formed into line, and, at the signal of three shots fired from the
centre, began their forward movement.

Bending up a gentle curve, the whole plain glistened with the
glancing bayonets, and the troops marched majestically onward,
while the light artillery and the cavalry, bounding forward from
the left and centre, rushed eagerly towards the foe. One deafening
discharge from the French guns opened at the moment, with a
general volley of small-arms. The smoke for an instant obscured
everything, and when that cleared away, no enemy was to be seen.

The British pressed madly on, like heated bloodhounds; but
when they descended the slope, the village of Redinha was in
flames, and the French were in full retreat beyond it. A single
howitzer seemed our only trophy, and even this we were not des-
tined to boast of, for from the midst of the crashing flame and dense
smoke of the burning village a troop of dragoons rushed forward,
and, charging our infantry, carried it off. The struggle, though but
for a moment, cost them dear — twenty of their comrades lay dead
upon the spot ; but they were resolute and determined, and the
officer who led them on, fighting hand to hand with a soldier of the
42d, cheered them as they retired. His gallant bearing, and his
coat covered with decorations, bespoke him one of note, and well it
might ; he who thus perilled his life to maintain the courage of his
soldiers at the commencement of a retreat, was no other than Ney
himself — le plus brave des braves. The British pressed hotly on, and
the light troops crossed the river almost at the same time with the
French. Ney, however, fell back upon Condeixa, where his main
body was posted, and all further pursuit was for the present aban-
doned.

At Casa Noval and at Foz d'Aronce the allies were successful ;
but the French still continued to retire, burning the towns and vil-
lages in their rear, and devastating the country along the whole line
of march by every expedient of cruelty the heart of man has ever
conceived. In the words of one whose descriptions, however fraught
with the most wonderful power of painting, are equally marked by
truth, — " Every horror that could make war hideous attended this
dreadful march. Distress, conflagration, death in all modes, — from
wounds, from fatigue, from water, from the flames, from starvation,
— vengeance, unlimited vengeance — was on every side. The country
was a desert !"

Such was the exhaustion of the allies, who suffered even greater
privations than the enemy, that they halted upon the 16th, unable



504 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

to proceed farther, and the river Ceira, swollen and unfordable,
flowed between the rival armies.

The repose of even one day was a most grateful interruption to
the harassing career we had pursued for some time past; and it
seemed that my comrades felt, like myself, that such an opportunity
was by no means to be neglected. But while I am devoting so much
space, and trespassing on my reader's patience thus far, with narra-
tive of flood and field, let me steal a chapter for what will some-
times seem a scarcely less congenial topic, and bring back the recol-
lection of a glorious night in the Peninsula.



CHAPTER XXIII.

PATRICK'S DAY IN THE PENINSULA.

THE reveille had not yet sounded, when I felt my shoulder
shaken gently as I lay wrapped up in my cloak beneath a
prickly pear-tree.
" Lieutenant O'Malley, sir ; a letter, sir ; a bit of a note, your
honor," said a voice which bespoke that the bearer and myself were
countrymen. I opened it, and, with difficulty, by the uncertain
light read as follows : —

" Dear Charley : — As Lord Wellington, like a good Irishman
as he is, wouldn't spoil Patrick's Day by marching, we've got a little
dinner at our quarters to celebrate the holy times, as my uncle
would call it. Maurice, Phil Grady, and some regular trumps, will
all come, so don't disappoint us. I've been making punch all night,
and Casey, who has a knack at pastry, has made a goose-pie as big
as a portmanteau. Sharp seven, after parade. The second battalion
of the Fusiliers are quartered at MelantS, and we are next them.
Bring any of yours worth their liquor. Power is, I know, absent
with the staff. Perhaps the Scotch Doctor would come — try him.
Carry over a little mustard with you, if there be such in your parts.
' ^ ■ "Yours,

"D. O'Shaughnessy.

" Patrick's Day, and raining like blazes."

Seeing that the bearer expected an answer, I scrawled the words
" I'm there" with my pencil on the back of the note, and again
turned myself round to sleep. My slumbers were, however, soon
interrupted once more, for the bugles of the light infantry and the



PATRICK'S DA Y IN THE PENINSULA. 505

hoarse trumpet of the cavalry sounded the call, and I found to my
surprise that, though halted, we were by no means destined to a day
of idleness. Dragoons were already mounted, carrying orders hither
and thither, and staff officers were galloping right and left. A gene-
ral order commanded an inspection of the troops, and within less
than an hour from daybreak the whole army was drawn up under
arms. A thin, drizzling rain continued to fall during the early part
of the day, but the sun gradually dispelled the heavy vapor, and as
the bright verdure glittered in its beams, sending up all the per-
fumes of a southern clime, I thought I had never seen a more lovely
morning. The staff were stationed upon a little knoll beside the
river, round the base of which the troops defiled, at first in orderly,
then in quick time, the bands playing and the colors flying. In the
same brigade with us the 88th came, and as they neared the Com-
mander-in-Chief, their quick step was suddenly stopped, and after a
pause of a few seconds, the band struck up " St. Patrick's Day ;"
the notes were caught up by the other Irish regiments, and, amid
one prolonged cheer from the whole line, the gallant fellows moved
past.

The grenadier company was drawn up beside the road, and I was
not long in detecting my friend O'Shaughnessy, who wore a tre-
mendous shamrock in his shako.

"Left face, wheel! quick march! Don't forget the mustard!"
said the bold Major ; and a loud roar of laughter from my brother
officers followed him off the ground. I soon explained the injunc-
tion, and, having invited some three or four to accompany me to
the dinner, waited with all patience for the conclusion of the
parade.

The sun was setting as I mounted, and, joined by Hampden,
Baker, the Doctor, and another, set out for O'Shaughnessy's quar-
ters. As we rode along, we were continually falling in with others
bent upon the same errand as ourselves, and ere we arrived at Me*
lante our party was some thirty strong ; and truly a most extraordi-
nary procession did we form. Few of the invited came without
some contribution to the general stock; and while a staff-officer
flourished a ham, a smart hussar might be seen with a plucked
turkey, trussed for roasting ; most carried bottles, as the consump-
tion of fluid was likely to be considerable ; and one fat old major
jogged along on a broken-winded pony, with a basket of potatoes
on his arm. Good fellowship was the order of the day, and cer-
tainly a more jovial squadron seldom was met together than ours.
As we turned the angle of a rising ground, a hearty cheer greeted
us, and we beheld in front of an old ordnance marquee a party of
some fifty fellows engaged in all the pleasing duties of the cui&.ne.



506 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

Maurice, conspicuous above all, with a white apron, and a ladle in
his hand, was running hither and thither, advising, admonishing,
instructing, and occasionally imprecating. Ceasing for a second his
functions, he gave us a cheer and a yell like that of an Indian sav-
age, and then resumed his duties beside a huge boiler, which, from
the frequency of his explorations into its contents, we judged to be
punch.

" Charley, my son, I've a place for you ; don't forget. Where's
my learned brother? — haven't you brought him with you? Ah,
Doctor, how goes it ?"

" Nae that bad, Master Quell, a' things considered ; we've had an
awfu' time of it lately." "

"You know my friend Hampden, Maurice. Let me introduce
Mr. Baker — Mr. Maurice Quill. Where's the Major?"

"Here I am, my darling, and delighted to see you. Some of
yours, O'Malley, ain't they ? Proud to have you, gentlemen. Char-
ley, we are obliged to have several tables ; but you are to be beside
Maurice, so take your friends with you. There goes the 'Roast
Beef;' my heart warms to that old tune."

Amid a hurried recognition, and shaking of hands on every side,
I elbowed my way into the tent, and soon reached a corner, where,
at a table for eight, I found Maurice seated at one end ; a huge,
purple-faced old major, whom he presented to us as Bob Mahon,
occupied the other. O'Shaughnessy presided at the table next to
us, but near enough to join in all the conviviality of ours.

One must have lived for some months upon hard biscuit and
harder beef to relish as we did the fare before us, and to form an
estimate of our satisfaction. If the reader cannot fancy Van Am-
burgh's lions in red coats and epaulettes, he must be content to lose
the effect of the picture. A turkey rarely fed more than two people,
and few were abstemious enough to be satisfied with one chicken.
The order of the viands, too, observed no common routine, each
party being happy to get what he could, and satisfied to follow up
his pudding with fish, or his tart with a sausage. Sherry, cham-
pagne, London porter, Malaga, and even, I believe, Harvey's sauce,
were hobnobbed in, while hot punch, in teacups or tin vessels, was
unsparingly distributed on all sides. Achilles himself, they say, got
tired of eating, and though he consumed something like a prize ox
to his own cheek, he at length had to call for cheese, so that we at
last gave in, and, having cleared away the broken tumbrels and
baggage-carts of our army, cleared for a general action.

"Now, lads!" cried the Major, "I'm not going to lose your time
and mine by speaking ; but there are a couple of toasts I must insist
upon you drinking with all the honors : and as I like despatch, we'll



PATRICK'S DA Y IN THE PENINSULA. 507

m

couple them. It so happens that our old island boasts of two of the
finest fellows that ever wore Eussia ducks. None of your non-
sensical geniuses, like poets, or painters, or anything like that ; but
downright, straightforward, no-humbug sort of devil-may-care and
bad-luck-to-you kind of chaps — real Irishmen ! Now, it's a strange
thing that they both had such an antipathy to vermin, they spent
their life in hunting them down and destroying them ; and whether
they met toads at home, or Johnny Crapaud abroad, it was all one.
(Cheers.) Just so, boys; they made them leave that. But I see
you are getting impatient, so I'll not delay you, but fill to the
brim, and, with the best cheer in your body, drink with me the
two greatest Irishmen that ever lived, ' St. Patrick and Lord Wel-
lington.' "

The Englishmen laughed long and loud, while we cheered with
an energy that satisfied even the Major.

"Who is to give us the chant? Who is to sing St. Patrick?"
cried Maurice. " Come, Bob, out with it."

" I'm four tumblers too low for that yet," growled out the Major.

" Well, then, Charley, be you the man ; or why not Dennis him-
self ? Come, Dennis, we cannot better begin our evening than with
a song ; let us have our old friend ' Larry M'Hale.' "

" Larry M'Hale !" resounded from all parts of the room, while
O'Shaughnessy rose once more to his legs.

"Faith, boys, I'm always ready to follow your lead; but what
analogy can exist between ' Larry M'Hale ' and the toast we have
just drunk, I can't see for the life of me ; not but Larry would have
made a strapping light company man had he joined the army."

" The song, the song !" cried several voices.

" Well, if you will have it, here goes."

"LARRY M'HALE."

"Oh! Larry M'Hale he had little to fear,

And never could want when the crops didn't fail,
He'd a house and demesne and eight hundred a year,

And the heart for to spend it, had Larry M'Hale !
The soul of a party, — the life of a feast,

And an illigant song he could sing, I'll he bail ;
He would ride with the rector, and drink with the priest,

Oh ! the broth of a boy was old Larry M'Hale.

" It's little he cared for the judge or recorder,

His house was as big and as strong as a gaol ;
With a cruel four-pounder he kept in great order,

He'd murder the country, would Larry M'Hale.
He'd a blunderbuss, too ; of horse-pistols a pair ;

But his favorite weapon was always a flail ;
I wish you could see how he'd empty a fair,

For he handled it neatly, did Larry M'Hale.



508 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

" His ancestors were kings before Moses was born,

His mother descended from great Grana Uaile ;
He laughed all the Blakes and the Frenches to scorn ;

They were mushrooms compared to old Larry M'Hale.
He sat down every day to a beautiful dinner,

With cousins and uncles enough for a tail ;
And, though loaded with debt, oh ! the devil a thinner

Could law or the sheriif make Larry M'Hale.

" With a larder supplied and a cellar well stored,

None lived half so well, from Fair-Head to Kinsale ;
As he piously said, ' I've a plentiful board,

And the Lord he is good to old Larry M'Hale.'
So fill up your glass, and a high bumper give him,

It's little we'd care for the tithes or repale ;
For ould Erin would be a fine country to live in,

If we only had plenty like Larry M'Hale."

" Very singular style of person your friend Mr. M'Hale," lisped
a spoony-looking Cornet at the end of the table.

" Not in the country he belongs to, I assure you," said Maurice ;
" but I presume you were never in Ireland."

" You are mistaken there," resumed the other ; " I was in Ireland



Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 52 of 80)