Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

. (page 54 of 80)
Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 54 of 80)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


" And what said the redoubted Laurie in reply ?"

" He didna say muckle, but he did something."

"And what might it be ?" inquired Maurice.

" He threw him ower the brig of Ayr into the water, and he was
drowned."

" And did Laurie come to no harm about the matter?"

" Ay ! they tried him for it, and found him guilty ; but when they
asked him what he had to say in his defence, he merely replied,
' When the carle sneered about Scotland, I didna suspect that he
didna ken how to swim ;' and so the end of it was, they did naething
to Laurie."

" Cool that, certainly," said I.

" I prefer your friend with the mittens, I confess," said Maurice ;
"though I'm sure both were most agreeable companions. But come,
Doctor, couldn't you give us, —

" Sit ye down, my heartie, and gie us a crack,

Let the wind tak' the care o' the world on its back."

" You maunna attempt English poetry, my freend Quell ; for it
must be confessed you've a d — accent of your ain."

" Milesian-Phoenician-Corkacian — nothing more, my boy ; and a
coaxing kind of recitative it is, after all. Don't tell me of your soft
Etruscan — your plethoric Hoch-Deutsch — your flattering French.
To woo and win the girl of your heart, give me a rich brogue and
the least taste in life of blarney ! There's nothing like it, believe
me — every inflection of your voice suggesting some tender pressure
of her soft hand or taper waist ; every cadence falling on her gentle
heart like a sea-breeze on a burning coast, or a soft sirocco over a
rose-tree ; and then think, my boys, — and it is a fine thought after
all, — what a glorious gift that is, out of the reach of kings to give
or to take, what neither depends upon the act of Union nor the
Habeas Corpus. No! they may starve us — laugh at us — tax us —
transport us. They may take our mountains, our valleys, and our
bogs ; but, bad luck to them, they can't steal our *■ blarney ;' that's
the privilege one and indivisible with our identity ; and while an
Englishman raves of his liberty — a Scotchman of his oaten meal —
blarney's our birthright, and a prettier portion I'd never ask to leave



F UENTES D ' ONOR 0. 519

behind me to my sons. If I'd as large a family as the ould gentle-
man called Priam we used to hear of at school, it's the only inheri-
tance I'd give them ; and one comfort there would be besides — the
legacy duty would be only a trifle. Charley, my son, I see you're
listening to me, and nothing satisfies me more than to instruct
aspiring youth ; so never forget the old song, —

" If at your ease, the girls you'd please,
And win them, like Kate Kearney,
There's but one way, I've heard them say,
Go kiss the 'Stone of Blarney.' "

" What do you say, Shaugh, if we drink it with all the honors ?"

" But gently : do I hear a trumpet there ?"

u Ah, there go the bugles. Can it be daybreak already ?"

" How short the nights are at this season !" said Quill.

" What an infernal rumpus they're making ! it's not possible the
troops are to march so early."

" It wouldn't surprise me in the least;" quoth Maurice; "there
is no knowing what the Commander-in-Chief's not capable of: the
reason's clear enough."

" And why, Maurice ?"

" There's not a bit of blarney about him."

The reveille rang out from every brigade, and the drums beat to
fall in, while Mike came galloping up at full speed to say that the
bridge of boats was complete, and that the 12th were already ordered
to cross. Not a moment was therefore to be lost ; one parting cup
was drained to our next meeting, and amid a hundred " good-byes "
we mounted our horses. Poor Hampden's brains being sadly con-
fused by the wine and the laughing, he knew little of what was
going on around him, and passed the entire time of our homeward
ride in a vain endeavor to adapt Mary Draper to the air of "Rule
Britannia."



CHAPTEE XXIV.

FUENTES D'ONOKO.

FROM this period the French continued their retreat, closely
followed by the allied armies, and on the 5th of April Mas-
sena once more crossed the frontier into Spain, leaving thirty
thousand of his bravest troops behind him, fourteen thousand of
whom had fallen, or been taken prisoners ; reinforcements, however,



620 CHARLES 0' M ALLEY.

came rapidly pouring in. Two divisions of the ninth corps had
already arrived, and Drouet, with eleven thousand infantry and
cavalry, was preparing to march to his assistance. Thus strength-
ened, the French army marched towards the Portuguese frontier,
and Lord Wellington, who had determined not to hazard much by
his blockade of Ciudad Rodrigo, fell back upon the large table-land
beyond the Turones and the Dos Casas, with his left at Fort Con-
ception, and his right resting upon Fuentes d'Onoro. His position
extended to about five miles ; and here, although vastly inferior in
numbers, yet relying upon the bravery of the troops, and the moral
ascendency acquired by their pursuit of the enemy, he finally re-
solved upon giving them battle.

Being sent with despatches to Pack's Brigade, which formed the
blockading force at Almeida, I did not reach Fuentes d'Onoro until
the evening of the 3d. The thundering of the guns, which, even at
the distance I was at, was plainly heard, announced then an attack
had taken place, but it by no means prepared me for the scene
which presented itself on my return.

The village of Fuentes d'Onoro, one of the most beautiful in
Spain, is situated in a lovely valley, where all the charms of ver-
dure so peculiar to the Peninsula seemed to have been scattered
with a lavish hand. The citron and the arbutus, growing wild,
sheltered every cottage door, and the olive and the laurel threw
their shadows across the little rivulet which traversed the village.
The houses, observing no uniform arrangement, stood wherever the
caprice or the inclination of the builder suggested, surrounded with
little gardens, the inequality of the ground imparting a picturesque
feature to even the lowliest hut, while, upon a craggy eminence
above the rest, an ancient convent and a ruined chapel looked down
upon the little peaceful hamlet with an air of tender protection.

Hitherto, this lovely spot had escaped all the ravages of war.
The light division of our army had occupied it for months long ;
and every family was gratefully remembered by some one or other of
our officers ; and more than one of our wounded found in the kind
and affectionate watching of these poor peasants the solace which
sickness rarely meets with when far from home and country.

It was with an anxious heart that I pressed my horse forward
into a gallop as the night drew near. The artillery had been dis-
tinctly heard during the day, and while I burned with eagerness to
know the result, I felt scarcely less anxious for the fate of that little
hamlet whose name many a kind story had implanted in my memory.
The moon was shining brightly as I passed the outpost ; leading my
horse by the bridle, I descended the steep and rugged causeway to
the village beneath me. The lanterns were moving rapidly to and



F UENTES B ' ON OR 0. 521

fro ; the measured tread of infantry at night — that ominous sound,
which falls upon the heart so sadly— told me that they were burying
the dead. The air was still and breathless ; not a sound was stirring
save the step of the soldiery, and the harsh clash of the shovel as it
struck the earth. I felt sad, and sick at heart, and leaned against a
tree. A nightingale concealed in the leaves was pouring forth its
plaintive notes to the night air, and its low warble sounded like the
dirge of the departed. Far beyond, in the plain, the French watch-
fires were burning, and I could see from time to time the fatigue-
parties moving in search of their wounded. At this moment the
clock of the convent struck eleven, and a merry chime rang out,
and was taken up by the echoes, till it melted away in the distance.
Alas ! where were those whose hearts were wont to feel cheered at
that happy peal? — whose infancy it had gladdened, whose old age it
has hallowed ? The fallen walls, the broken roof-trees, the ruin and
desolation on every side, told plainly that they had passed away
forever. The smoking embers, the torn-up pathway, denoted the
hard-fought struggle ; and, as I passed along, I could see that every
garden where the cherry and the apple-blossom were even still per-
fuming the air, had now its sepulchre.

" Halt, there !" cried a hoarse voice in front. "You cannot pass
this way — the Commander-in-Chief's quarters."

I looked up, and beheld a small but neat-looking cottage, which
seemed to have suffered less than the others around. Lights were
shining brightly from the windows, and I could even detect from
time to time a figure muffled up in a cloak, passing to and fro across
the window, while another, seated at a table, was occupied in writ-
ing. I turned into a narrow path which led into the little square of
the village, and here, as I approached, the hum and murmur of
voices announced a bivouac party. Stopping to ask what had been
the result of the day, I learned that a tremendous attack had been
made by the French in column upon the village, which was at first
successful, but that afterwards the 71st and 79th, marching down
from the heights, had repulsed the enemy, and driven them beyond
the Dos Casas. Five hundred had fallen in that fierce encounter,
which was continued through every street and alley of the little
hamlet. The gallant Highlanders now occupied the battle-field;
and hearing that the cavalry brigade was some miles distant, I wil-
lingly accepted their offer to share their bivouac, and passed the
remainder of the night among them.

When day broke, our troops were under arms, but the enemy
showed no disposition to renew the attack. We could perceive,
however, from the road to the southward, by the long columns of
dust, that reinforcements were still arriving, and learned during the



522 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

morning, from a deserter, that Massena himself had come up, and
Bessieres also, with twelve hundred cavalry, and a battery of the
Imperial Guard.

From the movements observable among the enemy, it was soon
evident that the battle, though deferred, was not abandoned, and
the march of a strong force towards the left of their position in-
duced our Commander-in-Chief to despatch the seventh division,
under Houston, to occupy the height of Naval d'Aver, — our ex-
treme right, — in support of which our brigade of cavalry marched
as a covering force. The British position was thus unavoidably ex-
tended to the enormous length of seven miles, occupying a succes-
sion of small eminences, from the division at Fort Conception to the
height of Naval d'Aver, Fuentes d'Onoro forming nearly the centre
of the line.

It was evident, from the thickening combinations of the French,
that a more dreadful battle was still in reserve for us; and yet never
did men look more anxiously for the morrow.

As for myself, I felt a species of exhilaration I had never before
experienced. The events of the preceding day came dropping in
upon me from every side, and at every new tale of gallantry or dar-
ing I felt my heart bounding with excited eagerness to win also my
meed of honorable praise.

Craufurd, too, had recognized me in the kindest manner, and
while saying that he did not wish to withdraw me from my regi-
ment on a day of battle, added that he would make use of me for
the present on his staff. Thus was I engaged from early morning
till late in the evening bringing orders and despatches along the
line. The troop-horse I rode — for I reserved my gray for the fol-
lowing day — was scarcely able to carry me along, as towards dusk I
jogged along in the direction of Naval d'Aver. When I did reach
our quarters, the fires were lighted, and around one of them I had
the good fortune to find a party of the 14th occupied in discussing
a very ^appetizing little supper. The clatter of plates and the pop-
ping of champagne corks were most agreeable sounds. Indeed, the
latter appeared to me so much too flattering an illusion, that I hesi-
tated to credit my senses in the matter, when Baker called out, —

" Come, Charley, sit down ; you're just in the nick. Tom Mart-
den is giving us a benefit. You know Tom ?"

And here he presented me in due form to that best of commis-
saries and most hospitable of horse-dealers.

" I can't introduce you to my friend on my right," continued
Baker", "for my Spanish is only a skeleton battalion. But he's a
trump — that I'll vouch for ; never flinches his glass, and looks as
though he enjoyed all our nonsense."






THE BATTLE OF FUENTES D'ONORO. 523

The Spaniard, who appeared to comprehend that he was alluded
to, gravely saluted me with a low bow, and offered his glass to hob-
nob with me. I returned the compliment with becoming ceremony,
while Hampden whispered in my ear, —

"A fine-looking fellow. You know who he is? Julian, the
Guerilla chief."

I had heard much of both the strangers. Tom Marsden was a
household word in every cavalry brigade, equally celebrated for his
contracts and his claret. He knew every one, from Lord Welling-
ton to the last-joined cornet ; and, while upon a march, there was
no piece of better fortune than to be asked to dine with him. So, in
the very thick of a battle, Tom's critical eye was scanning the squad-
rons engaged, with an accuracy as to the number of fresh horses
that would be required upon the morrow that nothing but long
practice and infinite coolness could have conferred.

Of the Guerilla I need not speak. The bold feats he accom-
plished, the aid he rendered to the cause of his country, have made
his name historical. Yet still, with all this, fatigue, more powerful
than my curiosity, prevailed, and I sank into a heavy sleep upon the
grass, while my merry companions kept up their revels till near
morning. The last piece of consciousness I am sensible of was see-
ing Julian spreading his wide mantle over me as I lay, while I
heard his deep voice whisper a kind wish for my repose.



CHAPTEK XXV.

THE BATTLE OF FUENTES D'ONOEO.

SO soundly did I sleep, that the tumult and confusion of the
morning never awoke me ; and the Guerilla, whose cavalry
were stationed along the edge of the ravine near the heights
of Echora, would not permit of my being roused before the last
moment. Mike stood near me with my horses, and it was only when
the squadrons were actually forming that I sprang to my feet and
looked around me.

The day was just breaking. A thick mist lay upon the parched
earth, and concealed everything a hundred yards from where we
stood. From this dense vapor the cavalry defiled along the ba$e of
the hill, followed by the horse artillery and the Guards, disappear-
ing as they passed us, but proving, by the mass of troops now



524 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

assembled, that our position was regarded as the probable point of
attack.

While the troops continued to take up their position, the sun
shone out, and a light breeze blowing at the same moment, the
heavy clouds moved past, and we beheld the magnificent panorama
of the battle-field. Before us, at the distance of less than half a
league, the French cavalry were drawn up in three strong columns.
The Cuirassiers of the Guard, plainly distinguishable by their steel
cuirasses, flanked by the Polish lancers and a strong hussar brigade;
a powerful artillery train supported the left, and an infantry force
occupied the entire space between the right and the rising ground
opposite P090 Velho. Farther to the right again, the columns des-
tined for the attack of Fuentes d'Onoro were forming, and we could
see that, profiting by their past experience, they were bent upon
attacking the village with an overwhelming force.

For above two hours the French continued to manoeuvre, more
than one alteration having taken place in their disposition. Fresh
battalions were moved towards the front, and gradually the whole
of their cavalry were assembled on the extreme left in front of our
position. Our people were ordered to breakfast where we stood ;
and a little after seven o'clock a staff officer came riding down the
line, followed in a few moments after by General Craufurd, when no
sooner was his well-known brown cob recognized by the troops, than
a hearty cheer greeted him along the whole division.

" Thank ye, boys ; thank ye, boys, with all my heart ! No man
feels more sensibly what that cheer means than I do. Guards!
Lord Wellington relies upon your maintaining this position, which
is essential to the safety of the whole line. You will be supported
by the light division. I need say no more. If such troops cannot
keep their ground, none can. There's your place, 14th ; the artil-
lery and the 16th are with you. They've the odds of us in numbers,
lads ; but it will tell all the better in the Gazette. I see they're
moving ; so fall in, now, fall in ; and, Merivale, move to the front.
Eamsey, prepare at once to open your fire on the attacking squad-
rons."

As he spoke, the low murmuring sound of distantly-moving cav-
alry crept along the earth, growing louder and louder, till at length
we could detect the heavy tramp of the squadrons as they cam.e on
in a trot, our pace being merely a walk. While we thus advanced
into the plain, the artillery unlimbered behind us, and the Spanish
cavalry, breaking into skirmishers, dashed boldly to the front.

It was an exciting moment. The ground dipped between the two
armies, so as to conceal the head of the advancing column of the
French, and as the Spanish skirmishers disappeared down the



THE BATTLE OF FUENTES D'ONORO. 525

ridge, our beating hearts and straining eyes followed their last
horseman.

" Halt ! halt !" was passed from squadron to squadron, and the
same instant the sharp ring of the pistol-shots and the clash of steel
from the valley told us the battle had begun. We could hear the
Guerilla war-cry mingle with the French shout, while the thickening
crash of fire-arms implied a sharper conflict. Our fellows were
already manifesting some impatience to press on, when a Spanish
horseman appeared above the ridge ; another followed, and another,
and then pell-mell, broken and disordered, they fell back before the
pursuing cavalry in flying masses ; while the French, charging them
hotly home, utterly routed and repulsed them.

The leading squadrons of the French now fell back upon their
support; the column of attack thickened, and a thundering noise
between their masses announced their brigade of light guns as they
galloped to the front. It was then for the first time I felt dispirited;
far as my eye could stretch, the dense mass of sabres extended, de-
filing from the distant hills and winding its slow length across the
plain. I turned to look at our line, scarce one thousand strong, and
could not help feeling that our hour was come. The feeling flashed
vividly across my mind, but the next instant I felt my cheek redden
with shame as I gazed upon the sparkling eyes and bold looks around
me— the lips compressed, the hands knitted to their sabres ; all were
motionless, but burning to advance.

The French had halted on the brow of the hill to form, when
Merivale came cantering up to us.

" Fourteenth, are you ready ? Are you ready, lads ?"

" Eeady, sir ! ready !" re-echoed along the line.

" Then push them home and charge ! Charge I" cried he, raising
his voice to a shout at the last word.

Heavens ! what a crash was there ! Our horses, in top condition,
no sooner felt the spur than they bounded madly onwards. The
pace — for the distance did not exceed four hundred yards — was like
racing. To resist the impetus of our approach was impossible ; and
without a shot fired, scarcely a sabre-cut exchanged, we actually
rode down their advanced squadrons — hurling them headlong upon
their supporting division, and rolling men and horses beneath us on
every side. The French fell back upon their artillery ; but before
they could succeed in opening their fire upon us, we had wheeled,
and, carrying off about seventy prisoners, galloped back to our posi-
tion with the loss of but two men in the affair. The whole thing
was so sudden, so bold, and so successful, that I remember well, as
we rode back, a hearty burst of laughter was ringing through the
squadron at the ludicrous display of horsemanship the French pre-



526 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

sented as they tumbled headlong down the hill ; and I cannot help
treasuring the recollection, for, from that moment, all thought of
anything short of victory completely quitted my mind, and many of
my brother officers, who had participated in my feelings at the com-
mencement of the day, confessed to me afterwards that it was then
for the first time they felt assured of beating the enemy.

While we slowly fell back to our position, the French were seen
advancing in great force from the village of Almeida, to the attack
of Poco Velho ; they came on at a rapid pace, their artillery upon
their front and flank, large masses of cavalry hovering around them.
The attack upon the village was now opened by the large guns ; and
amid the booming of the artillery and the crashing volleys of small
fire-arms, rose the shout of the assailants, and the wild cry of the
Guerilla cavalry, who had formed in front of the village. The
French advanced firmly, driving back the pickets, and actually
inundated the devoted village with a shower of grape ; the blazing
fires burst from the ignited roofs ; and the black, dense smoke rising
on high, seemed to rest like a pall over the little hamlet.

The conflict now was a tremendous one. Our seventh division held
the village with the bayonet ; but the French, continuing to pour in
mass upon mass, drove them back with loss, and, at the end of an
hour's hard fighting, took possession of the place.

The wood upon the left flank was now seen to swarm with light
infantry, and the advancement of their whole left proved that they
meditated to turn our flank. The space between the village and the
hill of Naval d'Aver thus became the central position ; and here
the Guerilla force, led on by Julian Sanches, seemed to await the
French with confidence. Soon, however, the cuirassiers came gal-
loping to the spot, and, almost without exchanging a sabre-cut, the
Guerillas fell back, and retired behind the Turones. This move-
ment of Julian was more attributable to anger than to fear ; for his
favorite lieutenant, being mistaken for a French officer, was shot by
a soldier of the Guards a few minutes before.

Montbrun pursued the Guerillas with some squadrons of horse, but
they turned resolutely upon the French, and not till overwhelmed
by numbers did they show any disposition to retreat.

The French, however, now threw forward their whole cavalry, and,
driving back the English horse, succeeded in turning the right of
the seventh division. The battle by this time was general. The
staff officers who came up from the left informed us that Fuentes
d'Onoro was attacked in force, Massena himself leading the assault
in person ; while thus for seven miles the fight was maintained
hotly at intervals, it was evident that upon the maintenance of our
position the fortune of the day depended. Hitherto we had been



THE BATTLE OF FUENTES D'ONORO. 527

repulsed from the village and the wood ; and the dark masses of
infantry which were assembled upon our right seemed to threaten
the hill of Naval d'Aver with as sad a catastrophe.

Craufurd now came galloping up amongst us, his eye flashing fire,
and his uniform splashed and covered with foam.

" Steady, 16th, steady ! Don't blow your horses ! Have your
fellows advanced, Malcolm?" said he, turning to an officer who
stood beside him. "Ay, there they go I" pointing with his finger to
the wood, where, as he spoke, the short ringing of the British rifle
proclaimed the advance of that brigade. " Let the cavalry prepare
to charge 1 And now, Ramsey, let us give it them home 1"

Scarcely were the words spoken, when the squadrons were formed,
and in an instant after the French light infantry were seen retreat-
ing from the wood, and flying in disorderly masses across the plain.
Our squadrons, riding down amongst them, actually cut them to
atoms, while the light artillery, unlimbering, threw in a deadly dis-
charge of grape-shot.

" To the right, 14th, to the right !" cried General Stewart. " Have
at their hussars f

Whirling by them, we advanced at a gallop, and dashed towards
the enemy, who, not less resolutely bent, came boldly forward to
meet us. The shock was terrific! the leading squadrons on both



Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 54 of 80)