Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

. (page 6 of 80)
Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 6 of 80)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


own cross handles, but they'd only spoil your shooting."

"I can hit a wine-glass in the stem at fifteen paces," said I,
rather nettled at the disparaging tone in which he spoke of my per-
formance.

" I don't care sixpence for that : the wine-glass had no pistol in
his hand. Take the old German, then ; see now, hold your pistol
thus : no finger on the guard, there, these two on the trigger. They
are not hair-triggers ; drop the muzzle a bit ; bend your elbow a
trifle more ; sight your man outside your arm — outside, mind, and
take him in the hip, and, if anywhere higher, no matter."

By this time the Count had completed his toilette, and, taking
the small mahogany box which contained his " peace-makers" under
his arm, led the way towards the stables. When we reached the
yard, the only person stirring there was a kind of half-witted boy,
who, being about the house, was employed to run messages for the
servants, walk a stranger's horse, or to do any of the many petty
services that regular domestics contrive always to devolve upon some
adopted subordinate. He was seated upon a stone step, formerly
used for mounting, and though the day was scarcely breaking, and
the weather severe and piercing, the poor fellow was singing an
Irish song, in a low monotonous tone, as he chafed a curb chain
between his hands with some sand. As we came near he started up,
and, as he pulled off his cap to salute us, gave a sharp and piercing
glance at the Count, then at me; then once more upon my com-
panion, from whom his eyes were turned to the bra,s.s-bound box



THE FLIGHT FROM GURT-NA-MORRA. 55

beneath his arm. Then, as if seized with a sudden impulse, he
started on his feet, and set off towards the house with the speed of
a greyhound, not, however, before Considine's practised eye had
anticipated his plan ; for, throwing down the pistol-case, he dashed
after him, and in an instant had seized him by the collar.

" It won't do, Patsey," said the Count; "you can't double on me."
" Oh, Count, darlin', Mister Considine, avick, don't do it, don't
now," said the poor fellow, falling on his knees, and blubbering like
an infant.

" Hold your tongue, you villain, or I'll cut it out of your head,"
said Considine.

"And so I will ; but don't do it — don't, for the love of "

" Don't do what, you whimpering scoundrel ? What does he think
I'll do?"

" Don't I know very well what you're after, what you're always
after, too? oh, wirra, wirra !" Here he wrung his hands and'
swayed himself backward and forward, a true picture of Irish grief.
" I'll stop this blubbering," said Considine, opening the box, and
taking out a pistol, which he cocked leisurely, and pointed at the
poor fellow's head ; " another syllable now, and I'll scatter your
brains upon that pavement."

"And do, and divil thank you ; sure, it's your trade."
The coolness of the reply threw us both off our guard so com-
pletely, that we burst out into a hearty fit of laughing.

" Come, come," said the Count, at last, " this will never do ; if he
goes on this way, we'll have the whole house about us. Come,
then, harness the roan mare, and here's half-a-crown for you."

" I wouldn't touch the best piece in your purse," said the poor
boy ; " sure it's blood-money, no less."

The words were scarcely uttered when Considine seized him by
the collar with one hand, and by the wrist with the other, and car-
ried him over the yard to the stable, where, kicking open the door,
he threw him on a heap of stones, adding, " If you stir now, I'll
break every bone in your body"— a threat that seemed certainly
considerably increased in its terrors from the rough gripe he had
already experienced, for the lad rolled himself up like a ball, and
sobbed as if his heart were breaking.

Very few minutes sufficed us now to harness the mare in the tax-
cart, and when all was ready, Considine seized the whip, and lock-
ing the stable-door upon Patsey, was about to get up, when a sudden
thought struck him. "Charley," said he, "that fellow will find
some means to give the alarm ; we must take him with us." So
saying, he opened the door, and taking the poor fellow by the col-
lar, flung him at my feet in the tax-cart.



f)G CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

We had already lost some time, and the roan mare was put to her
fastest speed to make up for it. Our pace became, accordingly, a
sharp one ; and as the road was bad, and the tax-cart no " patent
inaudible," neither of us spoke. To me this was a great relief.
The events of the last few days had given them the semblance of
years, and all the reflection I could muster was little enough to
make anything out of the chaotic mass — love, mischief, and mis-
fortune — in which I had been involved since my leaving O'Malley
Castle.

"Here we are, Charley," said Considine, drawing up short at the
door of a little country ale-house, or in Irish parlance, shebeen, which
stood at the meeting of four bleak roads, in a wild and barren
mountain tract beside the Shannon. " Here we are, my boy ! jump
out and let us be stirring."

" Here, Patsey, my man," said the Count, unravelling the pros-
trate and doubly-knotted figure at our feet ; " lend a hand, Patsey."
Much to my astonishment, he obeyed the summons with alacrity,
and proceeded to unharness the mare with the greatest despatch.
My attention was, however, soon turned from him to my own more
immediate concerns, and I followed my companion into the house.

" Joe," said the Count to the host, " is Mr. Bodkin up at the house
this morning?"

" He's just passed this way, sir, with Mr. Malowney of Tillnamuck,
in the gig, on their way from Mr. Blake's. They stopped here to
order horses to go over to O'Malley Castle, and the gossoon is gone
to look for a pair."

"All right," said Considine; and added, in a whisper, "we've
done it well, Charley, to be beforehand, or the governor would have
found it all out, and taken the affair into his own hands. Now, all
you have to do is, to stay quietly here till I come back, which will
not be above an hour at farthest. Joe, send me the pony — keep an
eye on Patsey, that he doesn't play us a trick — the short way to Mr.
Bodkin's is through Scariff— ay, I know it well, good-bye, Charley —
by the Lord, we'll pepper him."

These were the last words of the worthy Count as he closed the
door behind him, and left me to my own not very agreeable reflec-
tions. Independently of my youth and perfect ignorance of the
world, which left me unable to form any correct judgment on my
conduct, I knew that I had taken a great deal of wine, and was
highly excited when my unhappy collision with Mr. Bodkin oc-
curred. Whether, then, I had been betrayed into anything which
could fairly have provoked his insulting retort or not, I could not
remember ; and now my most afflicting thought was, what opinion
might be entertained of me by those at Mr. Blake's table; and,



THE FLIGHT FROM GURT-NA-MORRA. 57

above all, what Miss Dashwood herself would think, and what nar-
rative of the occurrence would reach her. The great effort of my
last few days had been to stand well in her estimation, to appear
something better in feeling, something higher in principle, than the
rude and unpolished squirearchy about me, and now here was the
end of it ! What would she, what could she, think, but that I was
'the same punch-drinking, rowing, quarrelling bumpkin as those
whom I had so lately been carefully endeavoring to separate myself
from? How I hated myself for the excess to which passion had
betrayed me, and how I detested my opponent as the cause of all
my present misery. " How very differently," thought I, " her friend
the Captain would have conducted himself. His quiet and gentle-
manly manner would have done fully as much to wipe out an insult
on his honor as I could do, and, after ail, would neither have dis-
turbed the harmony of a dinner-table nor made himself,'' as I shud-
dered to think I had, " a subject of rebuke, if not of ridicule."
These harassing, torturing reflections continued to press on me,
and I paced the room with my hands clasped and the perspiration
upon my brow. " One thing is certain, — I can never see her again,"
thought I ; " this disgraceful business must, in some shape or other,
become known to her, and all I have been saying these last three
days rise up in judgment against this one act, and stamp me an
impostor ; I that decried — nay, derided — our false notion of honor.
Would that Considine would come! What can keep him now?" I
walked to the door. A boy belonging to the house was walking the
roan before the door. "What had, then, become of Pat?" I in-
quired ; but no one could tell. He had disappeared shortly after
our arrival, and had not been seen afterwards. My own thoughts
were, however, too engrossing to permit me to think more of this
circumstance, and I turned again to enter the house, when I saw
Considine advancing up the road at the full speed of his pony.

"Out with the mare, Charley — be alive, my boy — all's settled."
So saying, he sprang from the pony, and proceeded to harness the
roan with the greatest haste, informing me in broken sentences, as
he went on, of all the arrangements.

" We are to cross the bridge of Portumna. They won the ground,
and it seems Bodkin 'likes the spot ; he shot Peyton there three
years ago. Worse luck now, Charley, you know : by all the rule of
chance^ he can't expect the same thing twice — never four by honors
in two deals — didn't say that, though — a sweet meadow, I know it
well; small hillocks, like molehills, all over it — caught him at
breakfast ; I don't think he expected the message to come from
us, but said that it was a very polite attention, and so it was, you
know."



58 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

So he continued to ramble on as we once more took our seats in
the tax-cart, and set out for the ground.

" What are you thinking of, Charley ?" said the Count, as I kept
silent for some minutes.

"I'm thinking, sir, if I were to kill him, what I must do after."

" Right, my boy ; nothing like that, but I'll settle all for you.
Upon my conscience, if it wasn't for the chance of his getting into
another quarrel and spoiling the election, I'd go back for Godfrey ;
he'd like to see you break ground so prettily. And you say you're
no shot ?"

" Never could do anything with the pistol to speak of, sir," said
I, remembering his rebuke of the morning.

" I don't mind that : you've a good eye ; never take it off. him
after you're on the ground — follow him everywhere. Poor Callag-
han, that's gone, shot his man always that way. He had a way of
looking, without winking, that was very fatal at a short distance —
a very good thing to learn, Charley, when you have a little spare
time."

Half an hour's sharp driving brought us to the river's side, where
a boat had been provided by Considine to ferry us over. It was
now about eight o'clock, and a heavy, gloomy morning. Much rain
had fallen over night, and the dark and lowering atmosphere seemed
charged with more, The mountains looked twice their real size,
and all the shadows were increased to an enormous extent. A very
killing kind of light it was, as the Count remarked.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE DUEL.

THE boatmen having pulled in towards the shore, we saw, a few
hundred yards off, a group of persons standing, whom we soon
recognized as our opponents. " Charley," said the Count,
grasping my arm tightly, as I stood up to spring on the land —
" Charley, although you are only a boy, as I may say, I have no fear
for your courage ; but, still, more than that is needful here. This
Bodkin is a noted duellist, and will try to shake your nerve. . Now,
mind that you take everything that happens quite with an air of
indifference ; don't let him think that he has any advantage over
you, and you'll see how the tables will be turned in your favor."
" Trust to me, Count," said I ; " I'll not disgrace you."
He pressed my hand tightly, and I thought that I discerned some-



THE DUEL. 59

thing like a slight twitch about the corners of his grim mouth, as if
some sudden and painful thought had shot across his mind; but in
a moment he was calm and stern-looking as ever.

" Twenty minutes late, Mr. Considine," said a short, red-faced
little man, with a military frock and foraging cap, as he held out his
watch in evidence.

" I can only say, Captain Malowney, that we lost no time since we
parted; we had some difficuly in finding a boat; but, in any case, we
are here now, and that, I opine, is the important part of the matter."

" Quite right — very just indeed. Will you present me to your
young friend — very proud to make your acquaintance, sir; your
uncle and I met more than once in this kind of way. I was out
with him in '92 — was it ? no, I think it was '93 — when he shot
Harry Burgoyne, who, by the bye, was called the crack shot of our
mess ; but, begad, your uncle knocked his pistol hand to shivers,
saying in his dry way, ' He must try the left hand this morning.'
Count, a little this side, if you please."

While Considine and the Captain walked a few paces apart from
where I stood, I had leisure to observe my antagonist, who stood
among a group of his friends, talking and laughing away in great
spirits. As the tone they spoke in was none of the lowest, I could
catch much of their conversation at the distance I was from them.
They were discussing the last occasion that Bodkin had visited this
spot, and talking of the fatal event which happened then.

" Poor devil," said Bodkin, " it wasn't his fault ; but you see some
of the — th had been showing white feathers before that, and he was
obliged to go out. In fact, the Colonel himself said, ' Fight or leave
the corps.' Well, out he came. It was a cold morning in February,
with a frost the night before going off in a thin rain. Well, it seems
he had the consumption or something of that sort, with a great
cough and spitting of blood, and this weather made him worse, and
he was very weak when he came to the ground. Now, the moment
I got a glimpse of him, I said to myself, ' He's pluck enough, but
as nervous as a lady;' for his eyes wandered all about, and his mouth
was constantly twitching. ' Take off your greatcoat, Ned,' said one
of his people, when they were going to put him up ; ' take it off,
man.' He seemed to hesitate for an instant, when Michael Blake
remarked, 'Arrah, let him alone ; it's his mother makes him wear it
for the cold he has.' They all began to laugh at this, but I kept my
eye upon him. And I saw that his cheek grew quite livid, and a
kind of gray color, and his eyes filled up. ' I have you now,' said
I to myself, and I shot him through the lungs."

"And this poor fellow," thought I, " was the only son of a wid-
owed mother." I walked from the spot to avoid hearing further,



60 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

and felt, as I did so, something like a spirit of vengeance rising
within me for the fate of one so untimely cut off.

" Here we are, all ready," said Malowney, springing over a small
fence into the adjoining field — "take your ground, gentlemen."

Considine took my arm and walked forward. " Charley," said he,
" I am to give the signal ; I'll drop my glove when you are to fire,
but don't look at me at all. I'll manage to catch Bodkin's eye, and
do you watch him steadily, and fire when he does."

" I think that the ground we are leaving behind us is rather bet-
ter," said some one.

" So it is," said Bodkin ; " but it might be troublesome to carry
the young gentleman down that way — here all is fair and easy."

The next instant we were placed, and I well remember the first
thought that struck me was, that there could be no chance of either
of us escaping.

" Now, then," said the Count, " I'll walk twelve paces, turn, and
drop this glove, at which signal you fire, and together, mind. The
man who reserves his shot, falls by my hand." This very summary
denunciation seemed to meet general approbation, and the Count
strutted forth. Notwithstanding the advice of my friend, I could
not help turning my eyes from Bodkin to watch the retiring figure
of the Count. At length he stopped — a second or two elapsed — he
wheeled rapidly round, and let fall the glove. My eye glanced
toward my opponent, I raised my pistol and fired. My hat turned
half round on my head, and Bodkin fell motionless to the earth. I
saw the people around me rush forward ; I caught two or three
glances thrown at me with an expression of revengeful passion ; I
felt some one grasp me round the waist, and hurry me from the
spot, and it was at least ten minutes after, as we were skimming the
surface of the broad Shannon, before I could well collect my scat-
tered faculties to remember all that was passing, as Considine,
pointing to the two bullet holes in my hat, remarked, " Sharp prac-
tice, Charley ; it was the overcharge saved you."

"Is he killed, sir?" I asked.

" Not quite, I believe, but as good ; you took him just above the
hip."

"Can he recover?" said I, with a voice tremulous from agitation,
which I vainly endeavored to conceal from my companion.

" Not if the doctor can help it," said Considine ; " for the fool
keeps poking about for the ball. But now let's think of the next
step ; you'll have to leave this, and at once, too."

Little more passed between us. As we rowed towards the shore,
Considine was following up his reflections, and I had mine, alas!
too many and too bitter to escape from.



THE DUEL. 61

As we neared the land, a strange spectacle caught our eye. For
a considerable distance along the coast crowds of country people
were assembled, who, forming in groups, and breaking into parties
of two and three, were evidently watching with great "anxiety what
was taking place at the opposite side. Now, the distance was at
least a mile, and therefore any part of the transaction which had
been enacting there must have been quite beyond their view. While
I was wondering at this, Considine cried out suddenly, " Too infa-
mous, by Jove ! we're murdered men."

" What do you mean ?" said I.

" Don't you see that ?" said he, pointing to something black which
floated from a pole at the opposite side of the river.

"Yes; what is it?"

" It's his coat they've put upon an oar to show the people he's
killed — that's all. Every man here's his tenant, and look — there !
— they're not giving us much doubt as to their intention." Here a
tremendous yell burst forth from the mass of people along the
shore, which, rising to a terrific cry, sunk gradually down to a low
wailing, then rose and fell again several times as the Irish death-
cry filled the air and rose to heaven, as if imploring vengeance on
a murderer.

The appalling influence of the keen, as it is called, had been
familiar to me from my infancy, but it needed the awful situation I
was placed in to consummate its horrors. It was at once my accu-
sation and my doom. I knew well — none better — the vengeful
character of the Irish peasant of the west, and that my death was
certain I had no doubt. The very crime that sat upon my heart
quailed its courage and unnerved my arm. As the boatmen looked
from us towards the shore, and again at our faces, they, as if in-
stinctively, lay upon their oars, and waited for our decision as to
what course to pursue.

" Rig the spritsail, my boys," said Considine, " and let her head
lie up the river, and be alive, for I see they're hauling a boat below
the little reef there, and will be after us in no time."

The poor fellows, who, although strangers to us, sympathized in
what they perceived to be our imminent danger, stepped the light
spar which acted- as mast, and shook out their scanty rag of canvas
in a minute. Considine, meanwhile, went aft, and steadying her
head with an oar, held the small craft up to the wind till she lay
completely over, and, as she rushed through the water, ran dipping
her gunwale through the white foam.

" Where can we make without tacking, boys ?" inquired the Count.

" If it blows on as fresh, sir, we'll run you ashore within half a
mile of the castle."



62 CHARLES O'MALLEY.

"Put an oar to leeward," said Considine, "and keep her up more
to the wind, and I promise you, my lads, you will not go home
fresh and fasting, if you land us where you say."

" Here they come," said the other boatman, as he pointed back
with his finger towards a large yawl which shot suddenly from the
shore, with six sturdy fellows pulling at the oars, while three or
four others were endeavoring to get up the rigging, which ap-
peared tangled and confused at the bottom of the boat ; the white
splash of water, which fell each moment beside her, showed that
the process of bailing was still continued.

"Ah, then, may I never— -av it isn't the ould Dolphin they have
launched for the cruise," said one of our fellows.

" What's the Dolphin, then ?"

"An ould boat of the Lord's (Lord Clanricarde's) that didn't see
water, except when it rained, these four years, and is sun-cracked
from stem to stern."

" She can sail, however," said Considine, who watched with a
painful anxiety the rapidity of her course through the water.

" Nabocklish, she was a smuggler's jolly-boat, and well used to it.
Look how they're pulling. God pardon them ; but they're in no
blessed humor this morning."

" Lay out upon your oars, boys ; the wind's failing us," cried the
Count, as the sail flapped lazily against the mast.

" It's no use, your honor," said the elder ; " w r e'll be only break-
ing our hearts to no purpose; they're sure to catch us."

" Do as I bid you, at all events. What's that ahead of us
there ?"

" The Oat Kock, sir. A vessel with grain struck there, and went
down with all aboard, four years last winter. There's no channel
between it and the shore — all sunk rocks, every inch of it. There's
the breeze" — the canvas fell over as he spoke, and the little craft
lay down to it till the foaming water bubbled over her lee bow —
" keep her head up, sir ; higher — higher still ;" but Considine little
heeded the direction, steering straight for the narrow channel the
man alluded to. " Tear and ages, but you're going right for the
cloch na quirka !"

"Arrah, an' the devil a taste I'll be drowned for your devarsion,"
said the other, springing up.

" Sit down there and be still," roared Considine, as he drew a
pistol from the case at his feet, " if you don't want some leaden
ballast to keep you so. Here, Charley, take this, and if that fellow
stirs hand or foot — you understand me."

The two men sat sulkily in the bottom of the boat, which now was
actually flying through the water. Considine's object was a clear



THE DUEL. 63

one ; lie saw that in sailing we were greatly over-matched, and that
our only chance lay in reaching the narrow and dangerous channel
between the Oat Rock and the shore, by which we should distance
the pursuit, the long reef of rocks that ran out beyond requiring a
wide berth to escape from. Nothing but the danger behind us could
warrant so rash a daring. The whole channel was dotted with
patches of white and breaking foam — the sure evidence of the mis-
chief beneath — while here and there a dash of spurting spray flew
up from the dark water, where some cleft rock lay hid below the
flood. Escape seemed impossible ; but who would not have pre-
ferred even so slender a chance with so frightful an alternative be-
hind him ! As if to add terror to the scene, Considine had scarcely
turned the boat ahead of the channel when a tremendous blackness
spread over all around ; the thunder pealed forth, and, amid the
crashing of the hail and the bright glare of lightning, a squall struck
us, and laid us nearly keel uppermost for several minutes. I well
remember we rushed through the dark and blackening water, our
little craft more than half filled, the oars floating off to leeward, and
we ourselves kneeling on the bottom planks for safety. Eoll after
roll of loud thunder broke, as it were, just above our heads, while,
in the swift dashing rain that seemed to hiss around us, every object
was hidden, and even the other boat wan lost to our view. The two
poor fellows ! I shall never forget their expression. One, a devout
Catholic, had placed a little leaden image of a saint before him in
the bow, and implored its intercession with a torturing agony of
suspense that wrung my very heart ; the other, apparently less alive
to such consolations as his Church afforded, remained with his hands
clasped, his mouth compressed, his brows knit, and his dark eyes
bent upon me with the fierce hatred of a deadly enemy ; his eyes



Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 6 of 80)