Charles James Lever.

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posal. " I fear I must decline," said I ; " you seem to forget that I
am placed here to watch, not to join you."

" A la bonne heure" cried the younger of the two ; " do both.
Come along; soyez bon camarade; you are always near your own
people ; so don't refuse us."

In proportion as I declined, they both became more pressing in
their entreaties, and at last I began to dread lest my refusal might
seem to proceed from some fear as to the good faith of the invita-
tion, and I never felt so awkwardly placed as when one plumply
pressed me by saying,

" Mais pourquoi pas, mon cherf

I stammered out something about duty and discipline, when they
both interrupted me by a long burst of laughter.

" Come, come !" said they ; " in an hour— in half an hour, if you
will— you shall be back with your own people. We've had plenty
of fighting latterly, and we are likely to have enough in future ; we
know something of each other by this time in the field ; let us see
how we get on in the bivouac !"

Resolving not to be outdone in generosity, I replied at once,
" Here goes, then !"

Five minutes afterwards, I found myself seated at their bivouac
fire. The captain, who was the oldest of the party, was a fine soldier-
like fellow of some forty years old. He had served in the Imperial
Guard, through all the campaigns of Italy and Austria, and abounded
in anecdotes of the French army. From him I learned many of
those characteristic traits which so eminently distinguish the im-
perial troops, and saw how completely their bravest and boldest
feats of arms depended upon the personal valor of him who led
them on. From the daring enterprise of Napoleon at Lodi to the


conduct of the lowest corporal in the grande armte, the picture pre-
sents nothing but a series of the most brilliant chivalrous feats ;
while at the same time, the war-like character of the nation is
displayed by that instinctive appreciation of courage and daring
which teaches them to follow their officers to the very cannon's

" It was at Elchingen," said the captain, "you should have seen
them,. The regiment in which I was a lieutenant was ordered to
form close column, and charge through a narrow ravine to carry a
brigade of guns, which, by a flanking fire, were devastating our
troops. Before we could reach the causeway, we were obliged to
pass an open plain, in which the ground dipped for about a hundred
yards ; the column moved on, and, though it descended one hill,
not a man ever mounted the opposite one. A very avalanche of
balls swept the entire valley ; and yet, amid the thunder and the
smoke, the red glare of the artillery, and the carnage around them,
our grenadiers marched firmly up. At last, Marshal Ney sent an
aide-de-camp with orders to the troops to lie flat down, and in this
position the artillery played over us for about half an hour. The
Austrians gradually slackened, and finally discontinued their fire ;
this was the moment to resume the attack. I crept cautiously to
my knees, and looked about. One word brought my men around
me ; but I found to my horror that of a battalion who came into
action fourteen hundred strong, not five hundred remained, and
that I myself, a mere lieutenant, was now the senior officer of the
regiment. Our gallant colonel lay dead beside my feet. At this
instant a thought struck me. I remembered a habit he possessed,
in moments of difficulty and danger, of placing in his shako a small
red plume which he commonly carried in his belt. I searched for
it, and found it. As I held it aloft, a maddening cheer burst around
me, while from out the line each officer sprang madly forward, and
rushed to the head of the column. It was no longer a march. With
a loud cry of vengeance, the mass rushed forward, the men trying
to outstrip their officers, and come first in contact with the foe. Like
tigers on the spring, they fell upon the enemy, who, crushed, over-
whelmed, and massacred, lay in slaughtered heaps around the
cannon. The cavalry of the Guard came thundering on behind us,
a whole division followed, and three thousand five hundred pri-
soners and fourteen pieces of artillery were captured.

" I sat upon the carriage of a gun, my face begrimed with powder,
and my uniform blackened and blood-stained. The whole thing ap*
peared like some shocking dream. I felt a hand upon my shoulder,
while a rough voice called in my ear, 'Capitaine du soixante-nexwihue,
tu es monfitreP


"It was Ney who spoke. This/' added the brave captain, his
eyes filling with tears as he said the words,— "this is the sabre he
gave me."

I know not why I have narrated this anecdote ; it has little in
itself, but, somehow, to me it brings back in all its fulness the recol-
lection of that night.

There was something so strongly characteristic of the Old Napo-
leonist in the tone of the narrative that I listened throughout- with
breathless attention. I began to feel, too, for the first time, what a
powerful arm in war the Emperor had created by fostering the
spirit of individual enterprise. The field thus opened to fame and
distinction left no bounds to the ambition of any. The humble con-
script, as he tore himself from the embraces of his mother, wiped
his tearful eyes to see before him in the distance the button of a
marshal. The bold soldier who. stormed a battery, felt his heart
beat more proudly and more securely beneath the cordon of the
Legion than behind a cuirass of steel, and to a people in whom the
sense of duty alone would seem cold, barren, and inglorious, he had
substituted a highly-wrought chivalrous enthusiasm, and, by the
prestige of his own name, the proud memory of his battles, and the
glory of those mighty tournaments at which all Europe were the
spectators, he had converted a nation into an army.

By a silent and instinctive compact we appeared to avoid those
topics of the campaign in which the honor of our respective arms
was interested ; and once when, by mere accident, the youngest of
the party adverted to Fuentes d'Onoro, the old captain adroitly
turned the current of the conversation by saying, " Come, Alphonse,
let's have a song."

" Yes," said the other, "Le Pas de Charge."

" No, no," said the Captain ; " if I am to have a choice, let it be
that little Breton song you gave us on the Danube."

" So be it, then," said Alphonse. " Here goes !"

I have endeavored to convey, by a translation, the words he sang;
but I feel conscious how totally their feeling and simplicity are lost
when deprived of their own patois, and the wild but touching melody
that accompanied them.


. "When the battle is oe'r and the sounds of fight

Have closed with the closing day,
How happy, around the watch-fire's light,

To chat the long hours away ;
To chat the long hours away, my boy,

And talk of the days to come,
Or a better still, and a purer joy,

To think of our far-off home.


"How many a cheek will then grow pale,

That never felt a tear !
And many a stalwart heart will quail,

That never quailed in fear !
And the breast that, like some mighty rock,

Amid the foaming sea,
Bore high against the battle's shock,

Now heaves like infancy.

"And those who knew each other not

Tbcir hands together steal,
Each thinks of some long hallowed spot,

And all like brothers feel :
Such holy thoughts to all are given ;

The lowliest has his part ;
The love of home, like love of Heaven,

Is woven in our heart."

There was a pause as he concluded ; each sunk in his own reflect
tions. How long we should have thus remained, I know not ; but
we were speedily aroused from our reveries by the tramp of horses
near us. We listened, -and could plainly detect in their rude voices
and coarse laughter the approach of a body of Guerillas. We looked
from one to the other in silence and fear. Nothing could be more
unfortunate should we be discovered. Upon this point we were left
little time to deliberate ; for, with a loud cheer, four Spanish horse-
men galloped up to the spot, their carbines in the rest. The French-
men sprang to their feet, and seized their sabres, bent upon making
a resolute resistance. As for me, my determination was at once
taken. Remaining quietly seated upon the grass, I stirred not for
a moment, but addressing him who appeared to be the chief of the
Guerillas, said, in Spanish,

" These are my prisoners ; I am a British officer of dragoons, and
my party is yonder."

This evidently unexpected declaration seemed to surprise them,
and they conferred for a few moments together. Meanwhile, they
were joined by two others, in one of whom we could recognize', by
his costume, the real leader of the party.

" I am captain in the light dragoons," said I, repeating my decla-

"Morte de Dios!" replied he ; " it is false ; you are a spy !"

The word was repeated from lip to lip by his party, and I saw, in
their louring looks and darkening features, that the moment was a
critical one for me.

" Down with your arms !" cried he, turning to the Frenchmen.
" Surrender yourselves our prisoners ; I'll not bid you twice !"

The Frenchmen turned upon me an inquiring look, as though to
say that upon me now their hopes entirely reposed.


" Do as he bids you," said I ; while at the same moment I sprang
to my legs, and gave a loud, shrill whistle, the last echo of which
had not died away in the distance ere it was replied to.

"Make no resistance now," said I to the Frenchmen; "our safety
depends on this."

While this was passing, two of the Spaniards had dismounted,
and, detaching a coil of rope which hung from their saddle-peak,
were proceeding to tie the prisoners wrist to wrist ; the others, with
their carbines to the shoulder, covered us man by man, the chief of
the party having singled out me as his peculiar prey.

" The fate of Mascarenhas might have taught you better," said he,
"than to play this game." And then added, with a grim smile,
" But we'll see if an Englishman will not make as good a carbonado
as a Portuguese !"

This cruel speech made my blood run cold, for I knew well to
what he alluded. I was at Lisbon at the time it happened, but the
melancholy fate of Julian Mascarenhas, the Portuguese spy, had
reached me there. He was burned to death "at Torres Vedras !

The Spaniard's triumph over my terror was short-lived, indeed,
for scarcely had the words fallen from his lips, when a party of the
14th, dashing through the river at a gallop, came riding up. The
attitude of the Guerillas, as they sat with presented arms, was
sufficient for my fellows, who needed not the exhortation of him
who rode foremost of the party.

"Ride them down, boys! Tumble them over! Flatten their
broad beavers, the infernal thieves !"

" Whoop !" shouted Mike, as he rode at the chief, with the force
of a catapult. Down went the Spaniard, horse and all ; and before
he could disentangle himself, Mike was upon him, his knee pressed
upon his neck.

At Isn't it enough for ye to pillage the whole country, without
robbing the king's throops?" cried he, as he held him fast to the
earth with one hand, while he presented a loaded pistol to his face.

By this time the scene around me was sufficiently ludicrous.
Such of the Guerillas as had not been thrown by force from their
saddles, had slid peaceably down, and depositing their arms upon
the ground, dropped upon their knees in a semicircle around us,
and, amid the hoarse laughter of the troopers and the irrepressible
merriment of the Frenchmen, rose up the muttered prayers of the
miserable Spaniards, who believed that now their last hour was

" Madre de Bios, indeed!" cried Mike, imitating the tone of a
repentant old sinner, in a patched mantle ; " it's much the blessed
Virgin thinks of the like o' ye, thieves and rogues as ye are ; it


a'most puts me beyond my senses to see ye there crossing yourselves
like rale Christians."

If I could not help indulging myself in this retributive cruelty
towards the chief, and leaving him to the tender mercies of Mike,
I ordered the others to rise and form in line before me. Affecting
to occupy myself entirely with them, I withdrew the attention of
all from the French officers, who remained quiet spectators of the
scene around them. j

" Point defagons, gentlemen," said I, in a whisper. " Get to your
horses and away ! Now's your time. Good-bye !"

A warm grasp of the hand from each was the only reply, and I
turned once more to my discomfited friends, the Guerillas.

"There, Mike, let the poor devil rise. I confess appearances
were strong against me just now."

" Well, Captain, are you convinced by this time that I was not
deceiving you ?"

The Guerilla muttered some words of apology between his teeth,
and, while he shook the dust from his cloak, and arranged the broken
feather of his hat, cast a look of scowling and indignant meaning
upon Mike, whose rough treatment he had evidently not forgiven.

" Don't be looking at me that way, you black thief! or I'll "

" Hold there !" said I ; "no more of this. Come, gentlemen, we
must be friends. If I mistake not, we've got something like refresh-
ment at our bivouac. In any case you'll partake of our watch-fire
till morning."

They gladly accepted our invitation, and ere half an hour had
elapsed, Mike's performance in the part of host had completely
erased every unpleasant impression his first appearance gave rise
to ; and as for myself, when I did sleep at last, the contused mixture
of Spanish and Irish airs which issued from the thicket beside me,
proved that a most intimate alliance had grown up between the


mike's mistake.

BEFORE daybreak the Guerillas were in motion. Having
taken a most ceremonious leave of us, they mounted their
horses and set out upon their journey. I saw their gaunt
figures wind down the valley, and watched them till they disappeared
in the distance. "Yes, brigands though they be," thought I,


" there is something fine, something heroic, in the spirit of their
unrelenting vengeance." The sleuth-hound never sought the lair
of his victim with a more ravening appetite for blood than they
track the retreating columns of the enemy. Hovering around the
line of march, they sometimes swoop down in masses, and carry off
part of the baggage, or the wounded. The wearied soldier, over-
come by heat and exhaustion, who drops behind his ranks, is their
certain victim ; the sentry on an advanced post is scarcely less so.
Whole pickets are sometimes attacked and carried off to a man ;
and when traversing the lonely passes of some mountain gorge, or
defiling through the dense shadows of a wooded glen, the stoutest
heart has felt a fear, lest from behind the rock that frowned above
him, or from the leafy thicket whose branches stirred without a breeze,
the sharp ring of a Guerilla carbine might sound his death knell.

It was thus in the retreat upon Corunna fell Colonel Lefebvre.
Ever foremost in the attack upon our rearguard, this gallant youth
(he was scarce six-and-twenty), a colonel of his regiment, and de-
corated with the Legion of Honor, led on every charge of his bold
" sabreurs" riding up to the very bayonets of our squares, waving
his hat above his head, and seeming actually to court his death-
wound ; but so struck were our brave fellows with his gallant bear-
ing, that they cheered him as he came on.

It was in one of these moments as, rising high in his stirrups, he
bore down upon the unflinching ranks of the British infantry, the
shrill whistle of a ball strewed the leaves upon the roadside, the
exulting shout of a Guerilla followed it, and the same instant
Lefebvre fell forward upon his horse's mane, a deluge of blood
bursting from his bosom. A broken cry escaped his lips — a last
effort to cheer on his men; his noble charger galloped forward
between our squares, bearing to us as our prisoner the corpse of his

" Captain O'Malley," said a mounted dragoon to the advanced
sentry at the bottom of the little hill upon which I was standing.
" Despatches from head-quarters, sir," delivering into my hands a
large sealed packet from the Adjutant-General's office. While he
proceeded to search for another letter of which he was the bearer,
I broke the seal and read as follows :

" Adjutant-General's Office, May 15.
"Sir, — On the receipt of this order you are directed, having pre-
viously resigned your command to the officer next in seniority, to
repair to head-quarters at Fuentes d'Onoro, there to report yourself
under arrest.

" I have the honor to be your obedient servant,

" George HorETON, Military Secretary."


" What the devil can this mean ?" said I to myself, as I read the
lines over again and again. " What have I done lately, or what
have I left undone, to involve me in this scrape? Ah!" thought
I, " to be sure, it can be nothing else. Lord Wellington did recog-
nize me that unlucky morning, and has determined not to let me
pass unpunished. How unfortunate. Scarcely twenty-four hours
have elapsed since fortune seemed to smile upon me from every
side, and now the very destiny I most dreaded stares me fully in the
face." A reprimand, or the sentence of a court-martial, I shrank
from with a coward's fear. It mattered comparatively little from
what source arising, the injury to my pride as a man and my spirit
as a soldier would be almost the same.

" This is the letter, sir," said the orderly, presenting me with a
packet, the address of which was in Power's handwriting. Eagerly
tearing it open, I sought for something which might explain my
unhappy position. It bore the same date as the official letter, and
ran thus :

" My Dear Charley : — I joined yesterday, just in time to enjoy
the heartiest laugh I have had since our meeting. If notoriety can
gratify you, by Jove you have it ; for Charles O'Malley and his man
Mickey Free are by-words in every mess from Villa Formosa to the
rear-guard. As it's only fair you should participate a little in the
fun you've originated, let me explain the cause. Your inimitable
man Mike, to whom it appears you entrusted the report of killed
and wounded for the Adjutant-General, having just at that moment
accomplished a letter to his friends at home, substituted his corres-
pondence for your returns, and, doubtless, sent the list of the casual-
ties as very interesting information to his sweetheart in Ireland- If
such be the case, I hope and trust she has taken the blunder in
better part than old Colbourn, who swears he'll bring you to a court-
martial, under Heaven knows what charges. In fact, his passion
has known no bounds since the event ; and a fit of jaundice has
given his face a kind of neutral tint between green and yellow, like
nothing, I know of, except the facings of the \ dirty Half-hundred.'*

" As Mr. Free's letter may be as great a curiosity to you as it has
been to us, I enclose you a copy of it, which Hopeton obtained for
me. It certainly places the estimable Mike in a strong light as a
despatch-writer. The occasional interruption to the current of the
letter, you will perceive, arises from Mike having used the pen of
a comrade, writing being doubtless an accomplishment forgotten in
the haste of preparing Mr. Free for the world ; and the amanuensis

* For the information of my unmilitary readers, I may remark that this sobriquet
was applied to the 50th Regiment.


has, in more than one instance, committed to paper more than was
meant by the author :

Mrs. M'Gra :— Tear an ages, sure I need not be treating her
that way. Now, just say Mrs. Mary— ay, that'll do— Mrs. Mary, it's
maybe surprised you'll be to be reading a letter from your humble
servant, sitting on the top of the Alps.— Arrah, maybe it's not the
Alps ; but sure she'll never know— foment the whole French army,
with Bony himself and all his jinnerals— God be between us and
harm— ready to murther every mother's son of us, av they was able,
Molly darlin' ; but, with the blessing of Providence, and Lord Wel-
lington, and Mister Charles, we'll bate them yet, as we bate them

" ' My lips is wathering at the thought o' the plunder. I often
think of Tim Eiley that was hanged for sheep-stealing ; he'd be
worth his weight in gold here.

Mr. Charles is now a captain — devil a less— and myself might
be somethin' that same, but ye see I was always of a bashful nature,
and recommended the master in my place. "He's mighty young,
Mister Charles is," says my Lord Wellington to me,—" he's mighty
young, Mr. Free." " He is, my lord," says I ; " he's young, as you
obsarve, bu^he's as much devilment in him as many that might be
his father." " That's somethin', Mr. Free," says my lord ; " ye say
he comes from a good stock ?" " The rale sort, my lord," says I ;
" an ould, ancient family, that's spent every sixpence they had in
treating their neighbors. My father lived near him for years," — you
see, Molly, I said that to season the discoorse. " We'll make him a
captain," says my lord ; " but, Mr. Free, could we do nothing for
you?" "Nothing at present, my lord. When my friends come
into power," says I, " they'll think of me. There's many a little
thing to give away in Ireland, and they often find it mighty hard
to find a man for lord-lieutenant ; and if that same, or a tide-waiter's

place, was vacant " "Just tell me," says my Lord. "It's what

I'll do," says I. " And now, wishing you happy dreams, I'll take
my lave." Just so, Molly, it's hand and glove we are. A pleasant
face, agreeable manners, seasoned with natural modesty, and a good
pair of legs, — them's the gifts to push a man's way in the world.
And even with the ladies — but sure I am forgetting, my master was
proposed for, and your humble servant too, by two illigant creatures
in Lisbon ; but it wouldn't do, Molly, — it's higher nor that we'll be
looking — rale princesses, the devil a less. Tell Kitty Hannigan I
hope she's well: she was a desarving young woman in her situation
in life. Shusey Dogherty, at the cross-roads — if I don't forget the
name — was a good-looking slip too ; give her my affectionate saluta-


tions, as we say in the Portuguese. I hope I'll be able to bear the
inclementuous nature of your climate when I go back ; but I can't
expect to stay long — for Lord Wellington can't do without me. We
play duets on the guitar together every evening. The master is
shouting for a blanket, so no more at present from

" ' Your very affectionate friend,

" ' Mickey Free.

" * P.S. — I don't write this myself, for the Spanish tongue puts me
out o' the habit of English. Tell Father Rush, if he'd study the
Portuguese, I'd use my interest for him with the Bishop of Toledo.
It's a country he'd like— no regular stations, but promiscuous eating
and drinking, and as pretty girls as ever confessed their sins.'

" My poor Charley, I think I am looking at you. I think I can see
the struggle between indignation and laughter, which every line of
this letter inflicts upon you. Get back as quickly as you can, and
we'll try if Craufurd won't pull you through the business. In any
case, expect no sympathy ; and if you feel disposed to be angry with
all who laugh at you, you had better publish a challenge in the next
general order. George Scott, of the Grays, bids me say that if you're
hard up for cash, he'll give you a couple of hundred for Mickey
Free. I told him I thought you'd accept it, as your uncle has the
breed of those fellows upon his estate, and might have no objection
to weed his stud. Hammersley's gone back with the Dashwoods,
but I don't think you need fear anything in that quarter. At the
same time, if you wish for success, make a bold push for the peerage
and half a dozen decorations, for Miss Lucy is most decidedly gone
wild about military distinction. As for me, my affairs go on well ;
I've had half a dozen quarrels with Inez, but we parted good friends,
and my bad Portuguese has got me out of all difficulties with papa,
who pressed me tolerably close as to fortune. I shall want your
assistance in this matter yet. If parchments will satisfy him, I think
I could get up a qualification ; but, somehow, the matter must be
done, for I'm resolved to have his daughter.

" The orderly is starting, so no more till we meet.

" Yours ever,

"Fred Power."

" Godwin," said I, as I closed the letter, " I find myself in a scrape
at head-quarters ; you are to take the command of the detachment,

Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 57 of 80)