Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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the advance of a conquering army.



WHEN I returned to the camp, I found the greatest excite-
ment prevailing on all sides. Each day brought in fresh
rumors that Marmont was advancing in force; that sixty
thousand Frenchmen were in full march upon Ciudad Rodrigo, to
raise the blockade, and renew the invasion of Portugal. Intercepted
letters corroborated these reports; and the Guerillas who joined us
spoke of large convoys which they had seen upon the roads from
Salamanca and Tamanes.

Except the light division, which, under the command of Craufurd,
were posted upon the right of the Aguada, the whole of our army
occupied the country from El Bodon to Gallegos ; the fourth division
being stationed at Fuente Guenaldo, where some entrenchments had
been hastily thrown up.

To this position Lord Wellington resolved upon retreating, as
affording points of greater strength and more capability of defence
than the other line of road, which led by Almeida upon the Coa.
Of the enemy's intentions we were not long to remain in doubt ; for
on the morning of the 24th a strong body was seen descending from
the pass above Ciudad Rodrigo, and cautiously reconnoitring the
banks of the Aguada. Far in the distance a countless train of
wagons, bullock-cars, and loaded mules were seen winding their
slow length along, accompanied by several squadrons of dragoons.

Their progress was slow, but as evening fell they entered the gates
of the fortress ; and the cheering of the garrison mixing with the
strains of martial music, faint from distance, reached us where we
lay upon the far-off heights of El Bodon. So long as the light
lasted, we could perceive fresh troops arriving ; and even when the
darkness came on, we could detect the position of the reinforcing
columns by the bright watch-fires which gleamed along the plain.

By daybreak we were under arms, anxiously watching for the
intentions of our enemy, which soon became no longer dubious.


Twenty-five squadrons of cavalry, supported by a whole division of
infantry, were seen to defile along the great road from Ciudad
Eodrigo to Guenaldo. Another column, equally numerous, marched
straight upon Espeja. Nothing could be more beautiful, nothing
more martial, than their appearance. Emerging from a close
mountain gorge, they wound along the narrow road, and appeared
upon the bridge of the Aguada just as the morning sun was burst-
ing forth; his bright beams tipped the polished cuirassiers and
their glittering equipments, they shone in their panoply like the
gay troop of some ancient tournament. The lancers of Berg, dis-
tinguished by their scarlet dolmans and gorgeous trappings, were
followed by the Cuirassiers of the Guard, who again were succeeded
by the chasseurs a cheval, their bright steel helmets and light blue
uniforms, their floating plumes and dappled chargers, looking the
very beau id6al of light horsemen ; behind, the dark masses of the
infantry pressed forward, and deployed into the plain, while, bring-
ing up the rear, the rolling din, like distant thunder, announced the
" dread artillery."

On they came, the seemingly interminable line converging on to
that one spot upon whose summit now we assembled a force of
scarcely ten thousand bayonets.

While this brilliant panorama was passing before our eyes, we
ourselves were not idle. Orders had been sent to Picton to come
up from the left with his division. Alten's cavalry and a brigade of
artillery were sent to the front, and every preparation which the
nature of the ground admitted was made to resist the advance of
the enemy. While these movements on either side occupied some
hours, the scene was every moment increasing in interest. The
large body of cavalry was now seen forming into columns of attack.
Nine battalions of infantry moved up to their support, and, forming
into columns, echelons, and squares, performed before us all the
manoeuvres of a review with the most admirable precision and
rapidity ; but from these our attention was soon taken by a brilliant
display upon our left. Here, emerging from the wood which flanked
the Aguada, were now to be seen the gorgeous staff of Marmont
himself. Advancing at a walk; they came forward amid the vivas
of the assembled thousands, burning with ardor and thirsting for
victory. For a moment, as I looked, I could detect the Marshal
himself, as, holding his plumed hat above his head, he returned the
salute of a lancer regiment, who proudly waved their banners as he
passed ; but, hark ! what are those clanging sounds, which| rising
high above the rest, seem like the war-cry of a warrior ?

" I can't mistake those tones," said a bronzed old veteran beside
me ; " those are the brass bands of the Imperial Guard. Can Napo-


leon be there? See ! there they come." As he spoke, the head of a
column emerged from the wood, and, deploying as they came, poured
into the plain. For above an hour that mighty tide flowed on, and
before noon, a force of sixty thousand men was collected in the space
beneath us.

I was not long to remain an unoccupied spectator of this brilliant
display, for I soon received orders to move down with my squadron
to the support of the 11th Light Dragoons, who were posted at the
base of the hill. The order at the moment was anything but agree-
able, for I was mounted upon a hack pony, on which I had ridden
over from Craufurd's division early in the morning, and suspecting
that there might be some hot work during the day, had ordered
Mike to follow with my horse. There was no time, however, for
hesitation, and I moved my men down the slope in the direction of
the skirmishers.

The position we occupied was singularly favorable. Our flanks
being defended on either side by brushwood, we could only be
assailed in front ; and here, notwithstanding our vast inferiority of
force, we steadily awaited the attack. As I rode from out the thick
wood, I could not help feeling somewhat surprised at the sounds
which greeted me. Instead of the usual low and murmuring
tones — the muttered sentences which precede a cavalry advance — a
roar of laughter shook the entire divison, while exclamations burst
from every side around me : "Look at him now !" "They have him !
— by Heavens, they have him !" " Well done ! — well done !" " How
the fellow rides !" " He's hit !— he's hit !" " No, no !" " Is he down !"
"He's down!"

A loud cheer rent the air at this moment, and I reached the front
in time to learn the reason, of all this excitement. In the wide plain
before me a horseman was seen, having passed the ford of the
Aguada, to advance at the top of his speed towards the British lines.
As he came nearer, it was perceived that he was accompanied by a
led horse, and, apparently with total disregard of the presence of an
enemy, rode boldly and carelessly forward. Behind him rode three
lancers, their lances couched, their horses at speed. The pace was
tremendous, and the excitement was intense ; for sometimes, as the
leading horseman of the pursuit neared the fugitive, he would bend
suddenly upon the saddle, and, swerving to the right or the left,
totally evade him, while again, at others, with a loud cry of bold
defiance, rising in his stirrups, he would press on, and, with a shake
of his bridle which bespoke the jockey, almost distance the enemy.
" That must be your fellow, O'Malley ; that must be your Irish
groom," cried a brother officer. There could be no doubt of it. It
was Mike himself.


" I'll be hanged if he's not playing with them !" said Baker.
f< Look at the villain ! He's holding in : that's more than the French-
men are doing. Look ! look at the fellow on the gray horse ! he has
flung his trumpet to his back, and drawn his sabre."

A loud cheer burst from the French lines ; the trumpeter was
gaining at every stride. Mike had got into deep ground, and the
horses would not keep together. " Let the brown horse go ; let him
go, man !" shouted the dragoons, while I re-echoed the cry with my
utmost might. But not so. Mike held firmly on, and, spurring
madly, he lifted his horse at each stride, turning from time to
time a glance at his pursuer. A shout of triumph rose from the
French side; the trumpeter was beside him; his arm was uplifted;
the sabre above his head. A yell broke from the British, and with
difficulty could the squadron be restrained. For above a minute the
horses went side by side, but the Frenchman delayed his stroke until
he could get a little 4n the front. My excitement had rendered me
speechless ; if a word could have saved my poor fellow, I could not
have spoken. A mist seemed to gather across my eyes, and the
whole plain, and its peopled thousands, danced before my eyes.

" He's down !" " He's down, by Heavens !" " No ! no ! no !"
" Look there — nobly done !" " Gallant fellow !" " He has him ! — he

has him, by !" A cheer that rent the very air above us broke

from the squadrons, and Mike galloped in amongst us, holding the
Frenchman by the throat with one hand ; the bridle of his horse he
firmly grasped with his own in the other.
" How was it? how did he do it?" cried I.

" He broke his sword-arm with a blow, and the Frenchman's
sabre fell to the earth."

" Here he is, Mister Charles ; and, musha, but it's trouble he gave
me to catch him ! And I hope your honor won't be displeased with
me at losing the brown horse. I was obliged to let him go when
the thief closed on me ; but, sure, there he is ! May I never ! if he's
not galloping into the lines by himself." As he spoke, my brown
charger came cantering up to the squadrons, and took his place in
the line with the rest.

I had scarcely time to mount my horse, amid a buzz of congratu-
lations, when our squadron was ordered to the front. Mixed up
with detachments from the 11th and 16th, we continued to resist
the enemy for above two hours.

Our charges were quick, sharp, and successive, pouring in our

numbers whenever the enemy appeared for a moment to be broken,

and then retreating under cover of our infantry when the opposing

cavalry came down upon us in overwhelming numbers.

Nothing could be more perfect than the manner in which the


different troops relieved each other during this part of the day.
When the French squadrons advanced, ours met them as boldly.
When the ground became no longer tenable, we broke and fell
back, and the bayonets of the infantry arrested their progress. If
the cavalry pressed heavily upon the squares, ours came up to the
relief, and as they were beaten back, the artillery opened upon them
with an avalanche of grape shot.

I have seen many battles of greater duration, and more important
in result, — many there have been in which more tactic was dis-
played, and greater combinations called forth; but never did I
witness a more desperate hand-to-hand conflict than on the heights
of El Bodon.

Baffled by our resistance, Montbrun advanced with the Cuirassiers
of the Guard. Eiding down our advanced squadrons, they poured
upon us like some mighty river, overwhelming all before it, and
charged, cheering, up the heights. Our brave troopers were thrown
back upon the artillery, and many of them cut down beside the
guns. The artillerymen and the drivers shared the same fate, and
the cannon were captured. A cheer of exultation burst from the
French, and their vivas rent the air. Their exultation was short-lived
and that cheer their death-cry ; for the 5th Foot, who had hitherto
lain concealed in the grass, sprang madly to their feet, their gallant
Major Ridge at their head. With a yell of vengeance they rushed
upon the foe ; the glistening bayonets glanced amid the cavalry of
the French ; the troops pressed hotly home ; and while the cuiras-
siers were driven down the hill, the guns were recaptured, limbered
up, and brought away. This brilliant charge was the first recorded
instance of cavalry being assailed by infantry in line.

But the hill could no longer be held. The French were advancing
on either flank ; overwhelming numbers pressed upon the front, and
retreat was unavoidable. The cavalry were ordered to the rear, and
Picton's division, throwing themselves into squares, covered the re-
treating movement.

The French dragoons bore down upon every face of those devoted
battalions ; the shouts of triumph cheered them as the earth trembled
beneath their charge ; but the British infantry, reserving their fire
until the sabres clanked with the bayonet, poured in a shattering
volley, and the cry of the wounded and the groans of the dying rose
from the smoke around them.

Again and again the French came on ; and the same fate ever
awaited them. The only movement in the British squares was
closing up the spaces as their comrades fell or sank wounded to the

At last reinforcements came up from the left : the whole retreated


across the plain, until, as they approached Guenaldo, our cavalry,
having re-formed, came to their aid with one crushing charge, which
closed the day.

That same night Lord Wellington fell back, and, concentrating
his troops within a narrow loop of land bounded on either flank by
the Coa, awaited the arrival of the light division, which joined us
at three in the morning.

The following day Marmont again made a demonstration of his
force, but no attack followed. The position was too formidable to
be easily assailed, and the experience of the preceding day had
taught him that, however inferior in number, the troops he was
opposed to were as valiant as they were ably commanded.

Soon after this, Marmont retired on the valley of the Tagus.
Dorsenne also fell back, and, for the present, at least, no further
effort was made to prosecute the invasion of Portugal.



NOT badly wounded, O'Malley, I hope?" said General Crau-
furd, as I waited upon him soon after the action.
I could not help starting at the question, while he repeated
it, pointing at the same time to my left shoulder, from which a
stream of blood was now flowing down my coat sleeve.

" I never noticed it, sir, till this moment ; it can't be of much con-
sequence, for I have been on horseback the entire day, and never
felt it."

"Look to it at once boy; a man wants all his blood for this
campaign. Go to your quarters; I shall not need you for the
present, so pray see the Doctor at once."

As I left the General's quarters, I began to feel sensible of pain,
and before a quarter of an hour had elapsed, had quite convinced
myself that my wound was a severe one. The hand and arm were
swollen, heavy and distended with hemorrhage beneath the skin ;
my thirst became great, and a cold shuddering sensation passed over
me from time to time.

I sat down for a moment upon the grass, and was just reflecting
within myself what course I should pursue, when I heard the tramp
of feet approaching. I looked up, and perceived some soldiers in


fatigue dresses, followed by a few others, who, from their noiseless
gestures and sad countenances, I guessed were carrying some
wounded comrade to the rear.

" Who is it, boys ?" cried I.

" It's the Major, sir ; the Lord be good to him !" said a hardy-look-
ing 88th man, wiping his eye with the cuff of his coat as he spoke.

"Not your Major? — not Major O'Shaughnessy ?" said I, jumping
up and rushing forward towards the litter. Alas ! too true — it was
the gallant fellow himself; there he lay, pale and cold, his bloodless
cheek and parted lips looking like death itself. . A thin blue rivulet
trickled from his forehead, but his most serious wound appeared to
be in his side ; his coat was open, and showed a mass of congealed
and clotted blood, from the midst of which with every motion of the
way, a fresh stream kept welling upward. Whether from the shock
or my loss of blood, or from both together, I know not, but I sank
fainting to the ground.

It would have needed a clearer brain and a cooler judgment than
I possessed to have conjectured where I was and what had occurred
to me when I next recovered' my senses. Weak, fevered, and with
a burning thirst, I lay, unable to move, and could merely perceive
the objects which lay within the reach of my vision. The place
was cold, calm, and still as the grave. A lamp, which hung high
above my head, threw a faint light around, and showed me within a
niche of the opposite wall the figure of a gorgeously-dressed female.
She appeared to be standing motionless, but as the pale light flick-
ered upon her features, I thought I could detect the semblance of
a smile. The splendor of her costume, and the glittering gems
which shone upon her spotless robe, gleamed through the darkness
with an almost supernatural brilliancy, and so beautiful did she
look, so calm her pale features, that as I opened and shut my eyes
and rubbed my lids, I scarcely dared to trust my erring senses, and
believe it could be real. What could it mean ? Whence this silence
— this cold sense of awe and reverence? Was it a dream ? was it the
fitful vision of a disordered intellect? Could it be death? My
eyes were riveted upon that beautiful figure. I essayed to speak,
but could not. I would have beckoned her towards me, but my
hands refused their office. I felt I knew not what charm she pos-
sessed to calm my throbbing brain and burning heart! but as I
turned from the gloom and darkness around to gaze upon her fair
brow and unmoved features, I felt like the prisoner who turns from
the cheerless desolation of his cell, and looks upon the fair world
and the smiling valleys lying sunlit and shadowed before him.

Sleep at length came over me. When I awoke, the day seemed


breaking, for a faint gray tint stole through a stained-glass win-
dow, and fell in many-colored patches upon the pavement. A
low muttering sound attracted me. I listened — it was Mike's voice.
With difficulty raising myself upon one arm, I endeavored to see more
around me. Scarcely had I assumed this position, when my eyes
once more fell upon the white-clad figure of the preceding night.
At her feet knelt Mike, his hands clasped, and his head bowed upon
his bosom. Shall I confess my surprise — my disappointment ! It
was no other than an image of the blessed Virgin, decked out in all
the gorgeous splendor which Catholic piety bestows upon her saints.
The features, which the imperfect light and my more imperfect
faculties had endowed with an expression of calm angelic beauty,
were, to my waking senses, but the cold and barren mockery of love-
liness. The eyes, which my excited brain gifted with looks of tender-
ness and pity, stared with no speculation in them ; yet, contrasting
my feelings of the night before, full as they were of their deceptions,
with my now waking thoughts, I longed once more for that delusion
which threw a dreamy pleasure over me, and subdued the stormy
passions of my soul into rest and repose.

" Who knows," thought I, " but he who kneels yonder feels now
as I did then ? Who can tell how little the cold, unmeaning reality
before him resembles the spiritualized creation the fervor of his
love and the ardor of his devotion may have placed upon that altar?
Who can limit or bound the depth of that adoration for an object
whose attributes appeal not only to every sentiment of the heart,
but also to every sense of the brain ? I fancy that I can picture to
myself how these tinselled relics, these tasteless wax-works, changed
by the magic of devotion and of dread, became to the humble wor-
shipper images of loveliness and beauty. The dim religious light ;
the reverberating footsteps echoed along those solemn aisles; the
vaulted arches, into whose misty heights the sacred incense floats
upward, while the deep organ is pealing its notes of praise or
prayer, — these are no slight accessories to all the pomp and
grandeur of a church whose forms and ceremonial, unchanged for
ages, and hallowed by a thousand associations, appeal to the mind
of the humblest peasant or the proudest noble, by all the weak-
nesses as by all the more favored features of our nature."

How long I might have continued to meditate in this strain I
know not, but a muttered observation from Mike turned the whole
current of my thoughts. His devotions over, he had seated himself
upon the steps of the altar, and appeared to be resolving some
doubts within himself concerning his late pious duties.

" Masses is dearer here than in Galway. Father Bush would be
well pleased at two-and-sixpence for what I paid three doubloons


for this morning. And sure it's droll enough. How expensive an
amusement it is to kill the French. Here's half a dollar I gave for
the soul of a cuirassier that I kilt yesterday, and nearly twice as
much for an artilleryman I cut down at the guns ; and because the
villain swore like a haythen, Father Pedro told me he'd cost more
nor if he had died like a dacent man."

At these words he turned suddenly round towards the Virgin, and
crossing himself devoutly, added,

" And sure it's yourself knows if it's fair to make me pay for
devils that don't know their duties ; and, after all, if you don't
understand English nor Irish, I've been wasting my time here this
two hours."

"I say, Mike, how's the Major? How's Major O'Shaughnessy ?"

" Charmingly, sir. It was only the loss of blood that ailed him.
A thief with a pike — one of the chaps they call Poles, bekase of the
long sticks they carry with them — stuck the Major in the ribs ; but
Doctor Quill — God reward him ! — he's a great doctor, and a funny
divil too ; he cured him in no time."

" And where is he now, Mike ?"

"Just convanient, in a small chapel off the sacristy; and throuble
enough we have "to keep him quiet. He gave up the wnfusion of
roses, and took to punch; and faith, it isn't hymns nor paslams
[psalms] he's singing all night. And they had me there, mixing
materials and singing songs, till I heard the bell for matins ; and
what between the punch and the prayers, I never closed my eyes."

"What do they call this convent?" «

" It is a hard word, I misremember. It's something like saltpetre.
But how's your honor? it's time to ask."

" Much better, Mike — much better. But, as I see that either your
drink or your devotion seems to have affected your nerves, you'd
better lie down for an hour or two. I shall not want you."

" That's just what I can't ; for you see I'm making a song for this
evening. The Rangers has a little supper, and I'm to be there;
and though I've made one, I'm not sure it'll do. Maybe your
honor would give me your opinion about it ?"

"With all my heart, Mike: let's hear it."

" Arrah ! is it here, before the Virgin and the two blessed saints
that's up there in the glass cases ? But, sure, when they make an
hospital of the place, and after the Major's songs last night "

" Exactly so, Mike : out with it."

"Well, ma'am," said he, turning towards the Virgin, "as I sus-
pect you don't know English, maybe you'll think it's my offices I'm
singing. So, saving your favor, here it is. It is to the air of
'Arrah, Catty, now can't you be aisy?'



" Oh what stories I'll tell when my sodgering's o'er,

And the gallant Fourteenth is disbanded,
Not a drill nor parade will I hear of no more,

When safely in Ireland landed.
With the blood that I spilt— the Frenchmen I kilt,

I'll drive the young girls half crazy ;
And some 'cute one will cry, with a wink of her eye,

'Mister Free, now, — why can't you be aisy?'

" I'll tell how we routed the squadrons in fight,

And destroyed them all at ' Talavera,'
And then I'll just add how we finished the night,

In learning to dance the ' bolera ;'
How by the moonshine we drank rale wine,

And rose next day fresh as a daisy ;
Then some one will cry, with a look mighty sly,

'Arrah, Mickey, — now can't you be aisy ?'

" I'll tell how the nights with Sir Arthur we spent,

Around a big fire in the air too,
Or maybe enjoying ourselves in a tent,

Exactly like Donnybrook fair too.
How he'd call out to me — ' Pass the wine, Mr. Free,

For you're a man never is lazy !'
Then some one will cry, with a wink of her eye,

'Arrah, Mickey, dear, — can't you be aisy ?'

" I'll tell, too, the long years in fighting we passed,

Till Mounseer asked Bony to lead him ;
And Sir Arthur, grown tired of glory at last,

Begged of one Mickey Free to succeed him.
'But, acushla,' says I, 'the truth is I'm shy !

Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 60 of 80)