Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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There's a lady in Ballymacrazy !
And I swore on the book ' He gave me a look,

And cried, ' Mickey, — now can't you be aisy ?' "

"Arrah! Mickey, now can't you be aisy?" sang out a voice in
chorus, and the next moment Dr. Quill himself made his appear-
ance.

" Well, O'Malley, is it a penitential psalm you're singing, or is
my friend Mike endeavoring to raise your spirits with a Galway
sonata?"

" A little bit of his own muse, Doctor, nothing more. But, tell
me, how goes it with the Major — is the poor fellow out of danger?"

" Except from the excess of his appetite, I know of no risk he
runs. His servant is making gruel for him all day in a thing like
the grog-tub of a frigate. But you've heard the news — Sparks has
been exchanged; he came here last night; but the moment he
caught sight of me, he took his departure. Begad ! I'm sure he'd
rather pass a month in Verdun than a week in my company."

" By the bye, Doctor, you never told me how this same antipathy
of Sparks for you had its origin."



586 CHARLES O'MALLEY.

" Sure I drove him out of the 10th, before he was three weeks
with the regiment."

" Ay, I remember ; you began the story for me one night on the
retreat from the Coa, but something happened to break it off in the
middle."

" Just so ; I was sent for to the rear to take off some gentlemen's
legs that weren't in dancing condition; but as there's no fear of
interruption now, I'll finish the story. But first let us have a peep
at the wounded. What beautiful anatomists they are in the French
artillery I Do you feel the thing I have now in my forceps? — there,
don't jump — that's a bit of the brachial nerve, most beautifully dis-
played ; faith, I think I'll give Mike a demonstration."

" Oh ! Mister Quill, dear ! Oh ! Doctor darling ! "

"Arrah! Mickey, now can't you be aisy?" sang out Maurice, with
a perfect imitation of Mike's voice and manner.

"A little lint here — bend your arm — that's it — don't move your
fingers. Now, Mickey, make me a cup of coffee with a glass of
brandy in it. And now, Charley, for Sparks. I believe I told you
what kind of fellows the 10th were — regular out-and-outers ; we
hadn't three men in the regiment that were not from the south of
Ireland — the bocca Corkana on their lips, fun and devilment in their
eyes, and more drollery and humbug in their hearts than in all the
messes in the service put together. No man had any chance among
them if he wasn't a real droll one ; every man wrote his own songs,
and sang them too ; it was no small promotion could tempt a fellow
to exchange out of the corps. You may think, then, what a prize
your friend Sparks proved to us ; we held a court-martial upon him
the week after he joined ; it was proved in evidence that he had
never said a good thing in his life, and had about as much notion
of a joke as a Cherokee has of the Court of Chancery ; and as to
singing, Lord bless you ! he had a tune with wooden turns to it, it
was most cruel to hear ; and then the look of him — those eyes, like
dropsical oysters, and the hair standing every way, like a field of
insane flax, and the mouth, with a curl in it like the slit in the side
of a fiddle. A pleasant fellow that for a mess that always boasted
the best-looking chaps in the service.

" ' What's to be done with him ?' said the Major ; ' shall we tell^
him we are ordered to India, and terrify him about his liver?'

" ' Or drill him into a hectic fever?'

" ' Or drink him dry V

"•'Or get him into a fight, and wing him?'

" ' Oh, no,' said I, f leave him to me ; we'll laugh him out of the
corps.'

" ' Yos, we'll leave him to you, Maurice,' said the rest.



THE SAN PETRO. 587

"And that day week you might read in the Gazette, 'Pierce Flynn
O'Haygerty, to be Ensign, 10th Foot, vice Sparks, exchanged.' "

"But how was it done, Maurice? You haven't told me that."

" Nothing easier. I affected great intimacy with Sparks ; bemoaned
our hard fate, mutually, in being attached to such a regiment. 'A
d — corps this — low, vulgar fellows — practical jokes — not the kind
of thing one expects in the army. But as for me, I've joined it
partly from necessity. You, however, who might be in a crack
regiment, I can't conceive your remaining in it.'

" ' But why did you join, Doctor?' said he ; 'what necessity could
have induced you ?'

" • Ah ! my friend,' said I, '■ that is the secret — that is the hidden
grief that must lie buried in my own bosom.'

" I saw that his curiosity was excited, and took every means to
increase it further. At length, as if yielding to a sudden impulse
of friendship, and having sworn him to secrecy, I took him aside,
and began thus :

" ' I may trust you, Sparks, — I feel I may ; and when I tell you
that my honor, my reputation, my whole fortune is at stake, you
will judge of the importance of the trust.'

" The goggle eyes rolled fearfully, and his features exhibited the
most craving anxiety to hear my story.

" ' You wish to know why I left the 56th. Now, I'll tell you ; but
mind, you're pledged, you're sworn, never to divulge it.'

" ' Honor bright.'

" ' There, that's enough ; I'm satisfied. It was a slight infraction
of the articles of war ; a little breach of the rules and regulations of
the service ; a trifling misconception of the mess-code : they caught
me one evening leaving the mess with — what do you think in my
pocket ? But you'll never tell ! no, no, I know you'll not — eight
forks and a gravy-spoon ; silver forks every one of them. There
now/ said I, grasping his hand, 'you have. my secret; my fame and
character are in your hands ; for, you see, they made me quit the
regiment — a man can't stay in a corps where he is laughed at.'

" Covering my face with my handkerchief, as if .to conceal my
shame, I turned away, and left Sparks to his meditations. That
same evening we happened to have some strangers at mess; the
bottle was passing freely round, and as usual, the good spirits of the
party at the top of their bent, when suddenly, from the lower end of
the table, a voice was heard demanding, in tones of the most pomp-
ous" importance, permission to address the president upon a topic
where the honor of the whole regiment was concerned.

"'I rise, gentlemen,' said Mr. Sparks, 'with feelings the most
painful. Whatever may have been the laxity of habit and freedom



588 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

of conversation habitual in this regiment, I never believed that so
flagrant an instance as this morning came to my ears }

" ' Oh, murder V said I. ' Oh, Sparks, darling ! sure you're not
going to tell ?'

111 Doctor Quill,' replied he, in an austere tone, 'if is impossible
for me to conceal it.'

" ' Oh, Sparks, dear! will you betray me?'

"I gave him here a look of the most imploring entreaty, to which
he replied by one of unflinching sternness.

" ' I have made up my mind, sir,' continued he ; 'it is possible
the officers of this corps may look more leniently than I do upon
this transaction ; but know it they shall.'

" ' Out with it, Sparks — tell it by all means !' cried a number of
voices ; for it was clear to every one by this time that he was in-
volved in a hoax.

"Amid, therefore, a confused volley of entreaty on the one side,
and my reiterated prayers for his silence on the other, Sparks thus
began :

" 'Are you aware, gentlemen, why Dr. Quill left the 56th V

" ' No, no, no !' rang from all sides ; ' let's have it.'

" ' No, sir !' said he, turning towards me, ' concealment is impos-
sible ; an officer detected with the mess-plate in his pocket '

" They never let him finish, for a roar of laughter shook the table
from one end to the other ; while Sparks, horror-struck at the lack
of feeling and propriety that could make men treat such a matter
with ridicule, glared around him on every side.

" ' Oh ! Maurice, Maurice,' cried the Major, wiping his eyes, 'this
is too bad — this is too bad !'

" ' Gracious Heaven !' screamed Sparks, f can you laugh at it?'

" ' Laugh at it ?' re-echoed the Paymaster, ■ God grant I only don't
burst a blood-vessel !' And once more the sounds of merriment
rang out anew, and lasted for several minutes.

" ' Oh ! Maurice Quill/ cried an old captain, ' you've been too
heavy on the lad. Why, Sparks, man, he's been humbugging you.'

" Scarcely were the words spoken when he sprang from the room ;
the whole truth flashed at once upon his mind ; in an instant he
saw that he had exposed himself to the merciless ridicule of a
mess-table, and that all peace for him, in that regiment at least, was
over.

"We got a glorious fellow in exchange for him; and Sparks de-
scended into a cavalry regiment — I ask your pardon, Charley —
where, as you are well aware, sharp wit and quick intellect are by
no means indispensable. There, now, don't be angry, or you'll do
yourself harm. So good-bye, for an hour or two."



THE COUNT'S LETTER. 589



CHAPTEE XXXV.

THE COUNT'S LETTER.

O'SHATJGHNESSY'S wound, like my own, was happily only
formidable from the loss of blood. The sabre or the lance
is rarely, indeed, so death-dealing as the musket or the bay-
onet ; and the murderous fire from a square of infantry is far more
terrific in its consequences than the heaviest charge of a cavalry
column. In a few weeks, therefore, we were once more about, and
fit for duty ; but, for the present, the campaign was ended. The
rainy season, with attendant train of sickness and sorrow, set in ;
the troops were cantoned along the line of the frontier, the infantry
occupying the villages, and the cavalry being stationed wherever
forage could be obtained.

The 14th were posted at Avintas, but I saw little of them. I was
continually employed upon the staff; and as General Craufurd's
activity suffered no diminution from the interruption of the cam-
paign, I rarely passed a day without eight or nine hours on horse-
back.

The preparations for the siege of Ciudad Kodrigo occupied our
undivided attention. To the reduction of this fortress and of Bad-
ajos Lord Wellington looked as the most important objects, and
prosecuted his plans with unremitting zeal. To my staff appoint-
ment I owed the opportunity of witnessing that stupendous feature
of war — a siege ; and as many of my friends formed part of the
blockading force, I spent more than one night in the trenches.
Indeed, except for this, the tiresome monotony of life was most
irksome at this period. Day after day the incessant rain poured
down ; the supplies were bad, scanty, and irregular ; the hospitals
crowded with sick ; field-sports impracticable ; books there were
none ; and a dullness and spiritless depression prevailed on every
side. Those who were actively engaged around Ciud?id Eodrigo
had, of course, the excitement and interest which the enterprise
involved ; but even there the works made slow progress ; the breach-
ing artillery was defective in every way ; the rain undermined the
faces of the bastions; the clayey soil sank beneath the weight of the
heavy guns ; and the storms of one night frequently destroyed more
than a whole week's labor had effected.

Thus passed the dreary months along; the cheeriest and gayest
amongst us were broken in spirits and subdued in heart by the
tedium of our life. The very news which reached us partook of the
gloomy features of our prospects ; we heard only of strong reinforce-
ments marching to the support of the French in Estramadura ; we



590 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

were told that the Emperor, whose successes in Germany enabled
him to turn his active attention to the Spanish campaign, would
himself be present in the coming spring, with overwhelming odds,
and a firm determination to drive us from the Peninsula.

In that frame of mind which such gloomy and depressing pros-
pects are well calculated to suggest, I was returning one night to
my quarters at Mucia, when suddenly I beheld Mike galloping
towards me with a large packet in his hand, which he held aloft to
catch my attention. "Letters from England, sir," said he, "just
arrived with the General's despatches." I broke the envelope at
once, which bore the War-office seal, and as I did so, a perfect
avalanche of letters fell at my feet. The first which caught my eye
was an official intimation from the Horse Guards, that the Prince
Eegent had been graciously pleased to confirm my promotion to the
troop, my commission to bear date from the appointment, &c, &c.
I could not help feeling struck, as my eye ran rapidly across the
lines, that although the letter came from Sir George Dashwood's
office, it Contained not a word of congratulation nor remembrance
on his part, but was couched in the usual cold and formal language
of an official document. Impatient, however, to look over my other
letters, I thought but little of this ; so, throwing them hurriedly into
my sabretasche, I cantered on to my quarters without delay. Once
more alone in silence, I sat down to commune with my far-off
friends, and yet, with all my anxiety to hear of home, passed several
minutes in turning over the letters, guessing from whom they might
have come, and picturing to myself their probable contents. "Ah I
Frank Webber, I recognize your slap-dash, bold hand without the
aid of the initials in the corner ; and this — what can this be? — this
queer, misshapen thing, representing nothing but the forty-seventh
proposition of Euclid, and the address seemingly put on with a cat's
tail dipped in lampblack ? Yes ! true enough, it is from Mr. Free
himself, ^.nd what have we here ? This queer, quaint hand is no
new acquaintance ; how many a time have I looked upon it as the
ne plus ultra of caligraphy ! But here is one I'm not so sure of: who
could have written this bolt-upright, old-fashioned superscription,
not a letter of which seems on speaking terms with its neighbor? — •
the very absolutely turns its back upon the M in O'Malley, and
the final Y wags his tail with a kind of independent shake, as if he
did not care a curse for his predecessors ! And the seal, too — surely
I know that griffin's head, and that stern motto, 'Non rogo sed capio.'
To be sure, it is Billy Considine's, the Count himself. The very
paper, yellow and time-stained, looks coeval with his youth, and I
could even venture to wager that his sturdy pen was nibbed half a
century since. I'll not look further among the confused mass of



THE COUNT'S LETTER. 591

three-cornered billets, and long, treacherous-looking epistles, the
very folding of which denote the dun. Here goes for the Count I"
So saying to myself, I drew closer to the fire, and began the follow-
ing epistle :

" O'Malley Castle, Nov. a.

"Dear Charley: — Here we sit in the little parlor, with your
last letter, the Times, and a big map before us, drinking your health
and wishing you a long career of the same glorious success you have
hitherto enjoyed. Old as I am — eighty-two or eighty-three (I for-
get which) in June — I envy you with all my heart. Luck has stood
to you, my boy ; and if a French sabre or a bayonet finish you now,
you've at least had a splendid burst of it. I was right in my own
opinion of you, and Godfrey himself owns it now, — a lawyer,
indeed ! Bad luck to them ! we've had enough of lawyers. There's
old Hennesy — honest Jack, as they used to call him — that your
uncle trusted for the last forty years, has raised eighteen thousand
pounds on the title deeds, and gone off to America. The old scoun-
drel ! But it's no use talking : the blow is a sore one to Godfrey,
and the gout more troublesome than ever. Drumgold is making a
motion in Chancery about it to break the sale, and the tenants are
in open rebellion, and swear they'll murder a receiver, if one is sent
down among them. Indeed, they came in such force into Galway
during the assizes, and did so much mischief, that the cases for trial
were adjourned, and the judges left, with a military escort to protect
them. This, of course, is gratifying to our feelings ; for, thank Pro-
vidence, there is some good in the world yet. Kilmurry was sold
last week for twelve thousand. Andy Blake would foreclose the
mortgage, although we offered him every kind of satisfaction. This
has done Godfrey a deal of harm ; and some pitiful economy — taking
only two bottles of claret after' his dinner — has driven the gout to his
head. They've been telling him he'd lengthen his days by this, and
I tried it myself, and, faith, it was the longest day I ever spent in
my life. I hope and trust you take your liquor like a gentleman —
and an Irish gentleman.

" Kinshela, we hear, has issued an execution against the house and
furniture ; but the attempts to sell the demesne nearly killed your
uncle. It was advertised in a London paper, and an offer made for
it by an old general, whom you may remember when down here.
Indeed, if I mistake not, he was rather kind to you in the beginning.
It would appear he did not wish to have his name known, but we
found him out, and such a letter as we sent him ! It's little liking
he'll have to buy a Galway gentleman's estate over his head, that
same Sir George Dashwood ! Godfrey offered to meet him anywhere
he pleased, and if the doctor thought he could bear the sea- voyage,



592 CHARLES 0> MALLET.

he'd even go over to Holyhead ; but the sneaking fellow sent an
apologetic kind of a letter, with some humbug excuse about very-
different motives, &c. But we've done with him, and I think he
with us."

When I had read thus far, I laid down the letter, unable to go on ;
the accumulated misfortunes of one I loved best in the world, follow-
ing so fast one upon another, the insult, unprovoked, gratuitous in-
sult, to him upon whom my hopes of future happiness so much de-
pended, completely overwhelmed me. I tried to continue. Alas ! the
catalogue of evils went on ; each line bore testimony to some further
wreck of fortune — some clearer evidence of a ruined house.

All that my gloomiest and darkest forebodings had pictured was
come to pass ; sickness, poverty, harassing, unfeeling creditors,
treachery, and ingratitude, were goading to madness and despair a
spirit whose kindliness of nature was unequalled. The shock of
blasted fortunes was falling upon the dying heart ; the convictions
which a long life had never brought home, that men were false, and
their words a lie, were stealing over the man, upon the brink of the
grave ; and he who had loved his neighbor like a brother was to be
taught, at the eleventh hour, that the beings he trusted were perjured
and forsworn.

A more unsuitable adviser than Considine, in difficulties like
these, there could not be ; his very contempt for all the forms of law
and justice was sufficient to embroil my poor uncle still further, so
that I resolved at once to apply for leave, and if refused, and no
other alternative offered, to leave the service. It was not without a
sense of sorrow bordering on despair that I came to this determina-
tion. My soldier's life had become a passion with me ; I loved it for
its bold and chivalrous enthusiasm ; its hour of battle and strife ; its
days of endurance and hardship ; its trials, its triumphs, — its very
reverses were endeared by those they were shared with, — and the
spirit of adventure, and the love of danger — that most exciting of all
gambling — had now entwined themselves in my very nature. To
surrender all these at once, and to exchange the daily, hourly en-
thusiasm of a campaign for the prospects now before me, was almost
maddening. But still, a sustaining sense of duty, of what I owed to
him who, in his love, had sacrificed all for me, overpowered every
other consideration. My mind was made up.

Father Bush's letter was little more than a recapitulation of the
Count's. Debts, distress, sickness, and the heart-burnings of altered
fortunes, filled it, and when I closed it, I felt like one over all whose
views in life a dark and ill-omened cloud was closing forever.
Webber's I could not read : the light and cheerful raillery of a friend
would have seemed, at such a time, like the cold, unfeeling sarcasm



THE TRENCHES. 593

of an enemy. I sat down, at last, to write to the General, enclosing
my application for leave, and begging of him to forward it, with a
favorable recommendation, to head-quarters.

This done, I lay down upon my bed, and overcome by fatigue and
fretting, fell asleep, to dream of my home and those I had left there,
which, strangely, too, were presented to my mind with all the happy
features that made them so dear to my infancy.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

THE TRENCHES.

I HAVE not had time, O'Malley, to think of your application,"
said Craufurd, " nor is it likely I can for a day or two. Eead
that." So saying, he pushed towards me a note, written in
pencil, which ran thus :

" Ciudad Rodrigo, Dec. 18.

" Dear C. : — Fletcher tells me that the breaches will be practic-
able by to-morrow evening, and I think so myself. Come over, then,
at once, for we shall not lose any time.

" Yours, W."

"I have some despatches for your regiment, but if you prefer
coming along with me "

" My dear General, dare I ask for such a favor ?"

" Well, come along ; only remember that, although my division
will be engaged, I cannot promise you anything to do ; so now, get
your horses ready; let's away."

It was in the afternoon of the following day that we rode into the
large plain before Ciudad Rodrigo, and in which the allied armies
were now assembled to the number of twelve thousand men. The
loud booming of the siege artillery had been heard by me for some
hours before ; but notwithstanding this prelude and my own high-
wrought expectations, I was far from anticipating the magnificent
spectacle which burst upon my astonished view. The air was calm
and still ; a clear blue wintry sky stretched overhead. Below, the
dense blue smoke of the deafening guns rolled in mighty volumes
along the earth, and entirely concealed the lower part of the for-
tress ; above this the tall towers and battlemented parapets rose
into the thin transparent sky like fairy palaces. A bright flash of
flame would now and then burst forth from the walls, and a clang-



594 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

ing crash of the brass metal be heard ; but the unceasing roll of our
artillery nearly drowned all other sounds, save when a loud cheer
would burst from the trenches, while the clattering fall of masonry
and the crumbling stones as they rolled down, bespoke the reason
of the cry. The utmost activity prevailed on all sides ; troops
pressed forward to the reliefs in the parallels ; ammunition wagons
moved to the front ; general and staff officers rode furiously about
the plain, and all betokened that the hour of attack was no longer
far distant.

While all parties were anxiously awaiting the decision of our
chief, the general order was made known, which, after briefly de-
tailing the necessary arrangements, concluded with the emphatic
words, " Ciudad Eodrigo must be stormed to-night." All specula-
tion as to the troops to be engaged in this daring enterprise was
soon at an end. With his characteristic sense of duty, Lord Wel-
lington made no invidious selection, but merely commanded that
the attack should be made by whatever divisions might chance to be
that day in the trenches. Upon the third and light divisions, there-
fore, this glorious task devolved. The former was to attack the
main breach ; to Craufurd's division was assigned the (if possible)
more difficult enterprise of carrying the lesser one ; while Pack's
Portuguese brigade were to menace the convent of La Caridad by
a feint attack, to be converted into a real one, if circumstances
should permit.

The decision, however matured and comprehensive in all its de-
tails, was finally adopted so suddenly that every staff officer upon
the ground was actively engaged during the entire evening in con-
veying the orders to the different regiments. As the day drew to a
close, the cannonade slackened on either side ; a solitary gun would
be heard at intervals, and, in the calm stillness around, its booming
thunder re-echoed along the valleys of the Sierra ; but as the moon
rose and night set in, these were no longer heard, and a perfect
stillness and tranquillity prevailed around. Even in the trenches,
crowded with armed and anxious soldiers, not a whisper was heard,
and amid that mighty host which filled the plain, the tramp of a
patrol could be distinctly noted, and the hoarse voice of a French
sentry upon the walls, telling that all was well in Ciudad Eodrigo.

The massive fortress, looming larger as its dark shadow stood out



Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 61 of 80)