Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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from the sky, was still as the grave, while in the greater breach
a faint light was seen to twinkle for a moment, and then suddenly
to disappear, leaving all gloomy and dark as before.

Having been sent with orders to the third division, of which
the 88th formed a part, I took the opportunity of finding out
O'Shaughnessy, who was himself to lead an escalade party in


M'Kinnon's brigade. He sprang towards me as I came forward,
and, grasping my hand with a more than usual earnestness, called
out, " The very man I wanted ! Charley, my boy, do us a service
now !"

Before I could reply, he continued, in a lower tone, " A young
fellow of ours, Harry Beauclerc, has been badly wounded in the
trenches, but by some blunder his injury is reported a slight one,
and although the poor fellow can scarcely stand, he insists upon
going with the stormers."

" Come here, Major ! come here !" cried a voice at a little dis-

"Follow me, O'Malley," cried O'Shaughnessy, moving in the
direction of the speaker.

By the light of a lantern we could descry two officers leaning
upon the ground ; between them on the grass lay the figure of a
third, upon whose features, as the pale light fell, the hand of death
seemed rapidly stealing. A slight froth, tinged with blood, rested
on his lip, and the florid blood, which stained the buff facing of his
uniform, indicated that his wound was through the lungs.

" He has fainted," said one of the officers, in a low tone.

"Are you certain it i3 fainting?" said the other, in a still lower.

" You see how it is, Charley," said O'Shaughnessy ; " this poor boy
must be carried to the rear. Will you, then, like a kind fellow,
hasten back to Colonel Campbell and mention the fact? It will kill
Beauclerc should any doubt rest upon his conduct, if he ever
recover this."

While he spoke, four soldiers of the regiment placed the wounded
officer in a blanket. A long sigh escaped him, and he muttered a
few broken words.

" Poor fellow ! it's his mother he's talking of. He only joined a
month since, and is a mere boy. Come, O'Malley, lose no time. By
Jove ! it is too late ; there goes the first rocket for the columns to
form. In ten minutes more the stormers must fall in."

" What's the matter, Giles ?" said he to one of the officers who
had stopped the soldiers as they were moving off with their burden ;
"what is it?"

" I have been cutting the white tape off his arm, for if he sees it
on waking, he'll remember all about the storming."

" Quite right — thoughtfully done !" said the other ; " but who is
to lead his fellows ? He was in the forlorn hope."

"I'll do it," cried I, with eagerness. "Come, O'Shaughnessy,
you'll not refuse me."

" Kefuse you, boy !" said he, grasping my hand within both of his,
" never ! But you must change your coat. The gallant 88th will


never mistake their countryman's voice. But your uniform would
be devilish likely to get you a bayonet through it ; so come back
with me, and we'll make you a Ranger in no time."

" I can give your friend a cap."

" And I," said the other, " a brandy flask, which, after all, is not
the worst part of a storming equipage."

"I hope," said O'Shaughnessy, "they may find Maurice in the
rear. Beauclerc's all safe in his hands."

" That they'll not," said Giles, " you may swear. Quill is at this
moment in the trenches, and will not be the last man at the

"Follow me now, lads," said O'Shaughnessy, in a low voice.
" Our fellows are at the angle of this trench. Who the deuce can
that be talking so loud ?"

" It must be Maurice," said Giles.

The question was soon decided by the Doctor himself, who ap-
peared giving directions to his hospital-sergeant.

"Yes, Peter, take the tools up to a convenient spot near the
breach. There's many a snug corner there in the ruins; and
although we mayn't have as good an operation-room as in old
* Stevens's,' yet we'll beat them hollow in cases."

" Listen to the fellow," said Giles, with a shudder. " The thought
of his confounded thumbscrews and tourniquets is worse to me than
a French howitzer."

" The devil a kinder-hearted fellow than Maurice," said O'Shaugh-
nessy, " for all that ; and if his heart was to be known this moment,
he'd rather handle a sword than a saw."

" True for you, Dennis," said Quill, overhearing him ; " but we
are both useful in our way, as the hangman said to Lord Clare."

"But should you not be in the rear, Maurice?" said I.

" You are right, O'Malley," said he, in a whisper ; " but, you see,
I owe the Cork Insurance Company a spite for making me pay a
gout premium, and that's the reason I'm here. I warned them at
the time that their stinginess would come to no good."

" I say, Captain O'Malley," said Giles, " I find I can't be as good
as my word with you ; my servant has moved to the rear with all
my traps."

"What is to be done?" said I.

'"Is it shaving utensils you want?" said Maurice. "Would a
scalpel serve your turn ?"

" No, Doctor ; I'm going to take a turn of duty with your fellows

" In the breach — with the stormers ?"

" With the forlorn hope," said O'Shaughnessy. " Beauclerc is so


badly wounded, that we've sent him back ; and Charley, like a good
fellow, has taken his place."

" Martin told me," said Maurice, " that Beauclerc was only stunned j
but, upon my conscience, the hospital mates nowadays are no
better than the watchmakers ; they can't tell what's wrong with
the instrument till they pick it to pieces. Whiz ! there goes a blue

" Move on, move on," whispered O'Shaughnessy ; " they're telling
off the stormers. That rocket is the order to fall in."

" But what am I to do for a coat ?"

" Take mine, my boy," said Maurice, throwing off an upper gar-
ment of coarse gray frieze as he spoke.

" There's a neat bit of uniform," continued he, turning himself
round for our admiration ; " don't I look mighty like the pictures
of George the First at the battle of Dettingen ?"

A burst of approving laughter was our only answer to this speech,
while Maurice proceeded to denude himself of his most extraordi-
nary garment.

" What, in the name of Heaven, is it?" said I.

" Don't despise it, Charley ; it knows the smell of gunpowder as
well as any bit of scarlet in the service;" while he added, in a whis-
per, " it's the ould Koscommon Yeomanry. My uncle commanded
them in the year '42, and this was his coat. I don't mean to say
that it was new then; for you see it's a. kind of heirloom in the
Quill family ; and it's not every one I'd be giving it to."

" A thousand thanks, Maurice," said I, as I buttoned it on, amid
an ill-suppressed titter of laughter.

" It fits you like a sentry-box," said Maurice, as he surveyed me
with a lantern. " The skirts separate behind in the most picturesque
manner ; and when you button the collar, it will keep your head up
so high, that the devil a bit you'll see except the blessed moon.
It's a thousand pities you haven't the three-cocked hat, with the
feather trimming. If you wouldn't frighten the French, my name's
not Maurice. Turn about here till I admire you. If you only saw
yourself in a glass, you'd never join the dragoons again. And look
now, don't be exposing yourself, for I wouldn't have those blue
facings destroyed for a week's pay."

"Ah then, it's yourself is the darling, Doctor dear !" said a voice
behind me. I turned round : it was Mickey Free, who was standing
with a most profound admiration of Maurice beaming in every
feature of his face. " It's yourself has a joke for every hour o' the

" Get to the rear, Mike — get to the rear with the cattle ; this is no
place for you or them."


" Good-night, Mickey," said Maurice.

"Good-night, your honor," muttered Mike to himself; "may I
never die till you set a leg for me."

" Are you dressed for the ball ?" said Maurice, fastening the white
tape upon my arm. " There now, my boy, move on, for I think I
hear Picton's voice ; not that it signifies now, for he's always in a
heavenly temper when any one's going to be killed. I'm sure he'd
behave like an angel if he only knew the ground was mined under
his feet."

" Charley — Charley !" called out O'Shaughnessy, in a suppressed
voice, " come up quickly."

"No. 24, John Forbes — here ! Edward Gillespie — here !"

" Who leads this party, Major O'Shaughnessy ?"

" Mr. Beauclerc, sir," replied O'Shaughnessy, pushing me forward
by the arm while he spoke.

" Keep your people together, sir ; spare the powder, and trust to
your cold iron." He grasped my hand within his iron grip, and
rode on.

" Who was it, Dennis ?" said I.

" Don't you know him, Charley ? That was Picton."



WHATEVER the levity of the previous moment, the scene
before us now repressed it effectually. The deep-toned bell
of the cathedral tolled seven, and scarcely were its notes
dying away in the distance, when the march of the columns was
heard stealing along the ground. A low murmuring whisper ran
along the advanced files of the forlorn hope ; stocks were loosened,
packs and knapsacks thrown to the ground ; each man pressed his
cap more firmly down upon his brow, and, with lip compressed and
steadfast eye, waited for the word to move.

It came at last. The word " March !" passed in whispers from
rank to rank, and the dark mass moved on. What a moment was
that as we advanced to the foot of the breach ! The consciousness
that, at the same instant, from different points of that vast plain
similar parties were moving on ; the feeling that at a word the flame
of the artillery and the flash of steel would spring from that dense


cloud, and death and carnage, in every shape our imagination can
conceive, be dealt on all sides ; the hurried, fitful thought of home ;
the years long past, compressed into one minute's space ; the last
adieu of all we've loved, mingling with the muttered prayer to
Heaven, with, high above all, the deep pervading sense that earth
has no temptation strong enough to turn us from that path whose
ending must be a sepulchre I

Each heart was too full for words. We followed noiselessly along
the turf, the dark figure of our leader guiding us through the gloom.
On arriving at the ditch, the party with the ladders moved to the
front. Already some hay-packs were thrown in, and the forlorn
hope sprang forward.

All was still and silent as the grave. " Quietly, my men — quietly !"
said M'Kinnon ; " don't press." Scarcely had he spoken when a mus-
ket, whose charge, contrary to orders, had not been drawn, went off.
The whizzing bullet could not have struck the wall, when suddenly
a bright flame burst forth from the ramparts, and shot upward
towards the sky. For an instant the whole scene before us was as
bright as noonday. On one side the dark ranks and glistening
bayonets of the enemy ; on the other, the red uniform of the British
columns. Compressed like some solid wall, they stretched along the

A deafening roll of musketry from the extreme right announced
that the third division was already in action, while the loud cry of
our leader, as he sprang into the trench, summoned us to the charge.
The leading sections, not waiting for the ladders, jumped down,
others pressing rapidly behind them, when a loud rumbling thunder
crept along the earth, a hissing, crackling noise followed, and from
the dark ditch a forked and livid lightning burst like the flame from
a volcano, and a mine exploded. Hundreds of shells and grenades
scattered along the ground were ignited at the same moment ; the
air sparkled with the whizzing fuses, the musketry plied incessantly
from the walls, and every man of the leading company of the
stormers was blown to pieces. While this dreadful catastrophe was
enacting before our eyes, the different assaults were made on all
sides ; the whole fortress seemed girt around with fire. From every
part arose the yells of triumph and the shouts of the assailants. As
for us, we stood upon the verge of the ditch, breathless, hesitating,
and horror-struck. A sudden darkness succeeded to the bright
glare, but from the midst of the gloom the agonizing cries of the
wounded and the dying rent our very hearts.

" Make way there ! make way ! here comes Mackie's party," cried
an officer in the front, and as he spoke the forlorn hope of the 88th
came forward at a run. Jumping recklessly into the ditch, they


made towards the breach ; the supporting division of stormers gave
one inspiring cheer, and sprang after them. The rush was tremen-
dous ; for scarcely had we reached the crumbling ruins of the ram-
part, when the vast column, pressing on like some mighty torrent,
bore down upon our rear. Now commenced a scene to which
nothing I ever before conceived of war could in any degree compare.
The whole ground, .covered with combustibles of every deadly and
destructive contrivance, was rent open with a crash; the huge
masses of masonry bounded into the air like things of no weight ;
the ringing clangor of the iron howitzers, the crackling of the fuses,
the blazing splinters, the shouts of defiance, the more than savage
yells of those in whose ranks alone the dead and the dying were
numbered, made up a mass of sights and sounds almost maddening
with their excitement. On we struggled, the mutilated bodies of
the leading fil^ almost filling the way.

By this time the third division had joined us, and the crush of
our thickening ranks was dreadful. Every moment some well-
known leader fell dead or mortally wounded, and his place was
supplied by some gallant fellow, who, springing from the leading
files, would scarcely have uttered his cheer of encouragement ere
he himself was laid low. Many a voice with whose notes I was
familiar would break upon my ear in tones of heroic daring, and
the next moment burst forth in a death-cry. For above an hour
the frightful carnage continued, fresh troops continually advancing,
but scarcely a foot of ground was made ; the earth belched forth its
volcanic fires, and that terrible barrier did no man pass. In turn
the bravest and the boldest would leap into the whizzing flame,
and the taunting cheers of the enemy triumphed in derision at the

" Stormers, to the front ! Only the bayonet ! trust to nothing but
the bayonet !" cried a voice whose almost cheerful accents contrasted
strangely with the death-notes around, and Gurwood, who led the
forlorn hope of the 52d, bounded into the chasm. All the officers
sprang simultaneously after him ; the men pressed madly on ; a roll
of withering musketry crashed upon them ; a furious shout replied
to it. The British, springing over the dead and dying, bounded like
blood-hounds on their prey. Meanwhile, the ramparts trembled
beneath the tramp of the light division, who, having forced the
lesser breach, came down upon the flank of the French. The garri-
son, however, thickened their numbers, and bravely held their
ground. Man to man now was the combat. No cry for quarter.
No supplicating look for mercy ; it was the death-struggle of ven-
geance and despair. At this instant, an explosion louder than the
loudest thunder shook the air ; the rent and torn-up ramparts sprang


into the sky ; the conquering and the conquered were alike the vic-
tims : for one of the greatest magazines had been ignited by a shell.
The black smoke, streaked with a lurid flame, hung above the dead
and the dying. The artillery and the murderous musketry were
stilled, paralyzed, as it were, by the ruin and devastation before
them. Both sides stood leaning upon their arms ; the pause was
but momentary ; the cries of wounded comrades called upon their
hearts. A fierce burst of vengeance rent the air. The British closed
upon the foe. For an instant they were met ; the next, the bayo-
nets gleamed upon the ramparts, and Ciudad Rodrigo was won.



WHILE such were the scenes passing around me, of my own
part in them I absolutely knew nothing ; for until the mo-
ment that the glancing bayonets of the light division came
rushing on the foe, and the loud, long cheer of victory burst above
us, I felt ljke one in a trance. Then I leaned against an angle of
the rampart, overpowered and exhausted ; a bayonet wound, which
some soldier of our own ranks had given me when mounting the
breach, pained me somewhat; my uniform was actually torn to
rags ; my head bare. Of my sword, the hilt and four inches of the
blade alone remained, while my left hand firmly grasped the ram-
mer of a cannon, but why or wherefore I could not even guess. As
thus I stood, the unceasing tide of soldiery pressed on ; fresh divi-
sions came pouring in, eager for plunder, and thirsting for the spoil.
The dead and the dying were alike trampled beneath the feet of
that remorseless mass, who, actuated by vengeance and by rapine^
sprang fiercely up the breach.

Weak and exhausted, faint from my wound, and overcome by my
exertions, I sank among the crumbling ruins. The loud shouts
which rose from the town, mingled with cries and screams, told the
work of pillage was begun ; while still a dropping musketry could
be heard on the distant rampart, where even yet the French made
resistance. At last even this was hushed ; but to it succeeded the
far more horrifying sounds of rapine and of murder. The forked
flames of burning houses rose here and there amid the black dark-
ness of the night ; and through the crackling of the timbers, and


the falling crash of roofs, the heart-rending shriek of women rent
the very air. Officers pressed forward, but in vain were their efforts
to restrain their men ; the savage cruelty of the moment knew no
bounds of restraint. More than one gallant fellow perished in his
fruitless endeavor to enforce obedience ; and the most awful denun-
ciations were now uttered against those before whom at any other
time they dared not mutter.

Thus passed the long night, far more terrible to me than all the
dangers of the storm itself, with all its death and destruction dealing
around it. I knew not if I slept ; if so, the horrors on every side
were pictured in my dreams ; and when the gray dawn was breaking,
the cries from the doomed city were still ringing in my ears. Close
around me the scene was still and silent ; the wounded had been
removed during the night, but the thickly-packed dead lay side by
side where they fell. It was a fearful sight to see them, as, blood-
stained and naked (for already the camp-followers had stripped the
bodies), they covered the entire breach. From the rampart to the
ditch, the ranks lay where they had stood in life. A faint phos-
phoric flame flickered above their ghastly corpses, making even
death still more horrible. I was gazing steadfastly, with all that
stupid intensity which imperfect senses and exhausted faculties pos-
sess, when the sound of voices near aroused me.

"Bring him along — this way, Bob. Over the breach with the
scoundrel, into the fosse."

" He shall die no soldier's death, by Heaven !" cried another and
a deeper voice, " if I lay his skull open with my axe."

" Oh, mercy, mercy ! as you hope for "

" Traitor ! don't dare to mutter here !" As the last words were
spoken, four infantry soldiers, reeling from drunkenness, dragged
forward a pale and haggard wretch, whose limbs trailed behind him
like those of palsy ; his uniform was that of a French chasseur, but
his voice bespoke him English.

" Kneel down there, and die like a man ! You were one once !" ;

" Not so, Bill ; never. Fix bayonets, boys ! That's right ! Now
take the word from me."

" Oh, forgive me ! for the love of Heaven, forgive me !" screamed
the voice of the victim ; but his last accents ended in a death-cry,
for, as he spoke, the bayonets flashed for an instant in the air, and
the next were plunged into his body. Twice I had essayed to speak,
but my voice, hoarse from shouting, came not, and I could but look
upon this terrible murder with staring eyes and burning brain. At
last speech came, as if wrested by the very excess of my agony, and
I muttered aloud, "O God!" The words were not well spoken,
when the muskets were brought to the shoulders, and, reeking with


the blood of the murdered man, their savage faces scowled at me as

A short and heartfelt prayer burst from my lips, and I was still.
The leader of the party called out, " Be steady I and together. One,
two ! Ground arms, boys ! Ground arms !" roared he, in a voice like
thunder; "it's the Captain himself!" Down went the muskets with
a crash ; while, springing towards me, the fellows caught me in their
arms, and with one jerk mounted me upon their shoulders, the cheer
that accompanied the sudden movement seeming like the yell of
maniacs. " Ha, ha, ha ! we have him now I" sang their wild voices,
as, with blood-stained hands and infuriated features, they bore me
down the rampart. My sensations of disgust and repugnance to the
party seemed at once to have evidenced themselves, for the corporal,
turning abruptly round, called out,

" Don't pity him, Captain ; the scoundrel was a deserter ; he escaped
from the picket two nights ago, and gave information of all our plans
to the enemy."

"Ay," cried another, " and, what's worse, he fired through an
embrasure near the breach, for two hours, upon his own regiment.
It was there we found him. This way, lads."

So saying, they turned short from the walls, and dashed down
a dark and narrow lane into the town. My struggles to get free
were perfectly ineffectual, and to my entreaties they were totally

In this way, therefore, we made our entrance into the Plaza, where
some hundred soldiers, of different regiments, were bivouacked. A
shout of recognition welcomed the fellows as they came; while,
suddenly, a party of 88th men, springing from the ground, rushed
forward with drawn bayonets, calling out, " Give him up this min-
ute, or, by the Father of Moses, we'll make short work of ye !"

The order was made by men who seemed well disposed to execute
it ; and I was accordingly grounded with a shock and a rapidity
that savored much more of ready compliance than any respect for
my individual comfort. A roar of laughter rang through the mot-
ley mass, and every powder-stained face around me seemed con-
vulsed with merriment. As I sat passively upon the ground, looking
ruefully about, whether my gestures or my words heightened the
absurdity of my appearance, it is hard to say ; but certainly the
laughter increased at each moment, and the drunken wretches
danced round me in ecstasy.

"Where is your Major? Major O'Shaughnessy, lads?" said I.

"He's in the church, with the General, your honor," said the
sergeant of the regiment, upon whom the mention of his officer's
name seemed at once to have a sobering influence. Assisting me to


rise (for I was weak as a child), he led me through the dense crowd,
who, such is the influence of example, now formed into line, and,
as well as their state permitted, gave me a military salute as I
passed. " Follow me, sir," said the sergeant ; " this little dark
street to the left will take us to the private door of the chapel."

" Wherefore are they there, sergeant ?"

" There's a general of division mortally wounded."

" You did not hear his name ?"

" No, sir. All I know is, he was one of the storming party at the
lesser breach."

A cold, sickening shudder came over me 1 1 durst not ask further,
but pressed on with anxious steps towards the chapel.

" There, sir, yonder, where you see the light. That's the door."

So saying, the sergeant stopped suddenly, and placed his hand to
his cap. I saw at once that he was sufficiently aware of his condi-
tion not to desire to appear before his officers ; so, hurriedly thank-
ing him, I walked forward.

" Halt, there ! and give the countersign," cried a sentinel, who
with fixed bayonet stood before the door.

" I am an officer," said I, endeavoring to pass in.

"Stand back, stand back!" said the harsh voice of the High-
lander, for such he was.

"Is Major O'Shaughnessy in the church?"

" I dinna ken," was the short, rough answer.

" Who is the officer so badly wounded ?"

" I dinna ken," replied he, as gruffly as before ; while he added,
in a louder key, " Stand back, I tell ye, man ! Dinna ye see the
staff coming?"

I turned round hastily, and at the same instant several officers,
who, apparently from precaution, had dismounted at the end of the

Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 62 of 80)