Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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street, were seen approaching. They came hurriedly forward, but
without speaking. He who was in advance of the party wore a
short blue cape, over an undress uniform. The rest were in full
regimentals. I had scarcely time to throw a passing glance upon
him, when the officer I have mentioned as coming first, called out
in a stern voice,

" Who are you, sir ?"

I started at the sounds ; it was not the first time those accents had
been heard by me.

" Captain O'Malley, 14th Light Dragoons."

" What brings you here, sir ? Your regiment is at Cava."

" I have been employed as acting aide-de-camp to General Crau-
furd," said I, hesitatingly.

"Is that your staff uniform?" said he, as with compressed brow


and stern look he fixed his eyes upon my coat. Before I had time
to reply, or, indeed, before I well knew how to do so, a gruff voice
from behind called out,

" D — me ! if that ain't the fellow that led the stormers through
a broken embrasure ! I say, my lord, that's the yeoman I was
telling you of. Is it not so, sir ?" continued he, turning towards

" Yes, sir. I led a party of the 88th at the breach."
"And devilish well you did it, too !" added Picton, for it was he
who recognized me. " I saw him, my lord, spring down from the
parapet upon a French gunner, and break his sword as he cleft his
helmet in two. Yes, yes ; I shall not forget in a hurry how you
laid about you with the rammer of the gun ! By Jove ! that's it he
has in his hand !"

While Picton ran hurriedly on, Lord Wellington's calm but stern
features never changed their expression. The looks of those around
were bent upon me with interest and even admiration; but his
evinced nothing of either.

Eeverting at once to my absence from my post, he asked me,

" Did you obtain leave for a particular service, sir ?"

" No, my lord. It was simply from an accidental circumstance

that "

"Then report yourself at your quarters as under arrest."

" But, my lord," said Picton . Lord Wellington waited not

for the explanation, but walked firmly forward, and strode into the
church. The staff followed in silence, Picton turning one look of
kindness on me as he went, as though to say, " I'll not forget you."
" The devil take it," cried I, as I found myself once more alone,
" but I'm unlucky. What would turn out with other men the very
basis of their fortune, is ever with me the source of ill luck."

It was evident, from Picton's account, that I had distinguished
myself at the breach ; and yet, nothing was more clear than that
my conduct had displeased the Commander-in-Chief. Picturing
him ever to my mind's eye as the beau idAal of a military leader, by
some fatality of fortune I was continually incurring his displeasure,
for whose praise I would have risked my life. "And this con-
founded costume — what, in the name of every absurdity, could have
ever persuaded me to put it on ? What signifies it though a man
should cover himself with glory, if in the end he is to be laughed
at ? Well, well, it matters not much ; now my soldiering's over !
And yet I could have wished that the last act of my campaigning
had brought with it pleasanter recollections."

As thus I ruminated, the click of the soldier's musket near aroused
me. Picton was passing out. A shade of gloom and depression was


visible upon his features, and his lip trembled as he muttered some
sentences to himself.

" Ha ! Captain — I forget the name. Yes — Captain O'Malley ;
you are released from arrest. General Craufurd has spoken very
well of you, and Lord Wellington has heard the circumstances of
your case."

"Is it General Craufurd, then, that is wounded, sir?" said I,

Picton paused for a moment, while with an effort he controlled his
features into their stern and impassive expression, then added hur-
riedly, and almost harshly : —

" Yes, sir ; badly wounded, through the arm and in the lung. He
mentioned you to the notice of the Commander-in-Chief, and your
application for leave is granted. In fact, you are to have the dis-
tinguished honor of carrying back despatches. There, now ; you had
better join your brigade."

" Could I not see my General once more ? It may be for the last

" No, sir !" sternly replied Picton. " Lord Wellington believes
you under arrest. It is as well he should suppose you obeyed his
orders." /

There was a tone of sarcasm in these words that prevented my
reply ; and muttering my gratitude for his well-timed and kindly
interference in my behalf, I bowed deeply, and turned away.

" I say, sir," said Picton, as he turned towards the church, " should
anything befall — that is, if, unfortunately, circumstances should
make you in want, and desirous of a staff appointment, remember
that you are known to General Picton."

Downcast and depressed by the news of my poor General, I
wended my way, with slow and uncertain steps, towards the ram-
part. A clear, cold, wintry sky, and a sharp, bracing air, made my
wound, slight as it was, more painful, and I endeavored to reach the
reserves, where I knew the hospital staff had established for the
present their quarters. I had not gone far when, from a marauding
party, I learned that my man Mike was in search of me through the
plain. A report of my death had reached him, and the poor fellow
was half distracted.

Longing anxiously to allay his fears on my account, which I well
knew might lead him into any act of folly or insanity, I pressed for-
ward; besides — shall 1 confess it? — amid the manifold thoughts of
sorrow and affliction which weighed me down, I could not divest
myself of the feeling that so long as I wore my present absurd cos-
tume, I could be nothing but an object of laughter and ridicule to
all who met me.


I had not long to look for my worthy follower, for I soon beheld
him cantering about the plain. A loud shout brought him beside
me ; and truly the poor fellow's delight was great and sincere.
With a thousand protestations of his satisfaction, and reiterated
assurances of what he would have done to the French prisoners if
anything had happened me, we took our way together towards the



I WAS preparing to visit the town on the following morning,
when my attention was attracted by a dialogue which took
place beneath my window.

" I say, my good friend," cried a mounted orderly to Mike, who
was busily employed in brushing a jacket, — " I say, are you Captain
O'Malley's man ?"

" The least taste in life o' that same," replied he, with a half-jocu-
lar expression.

" Well, then," said the other, " take up these letters to your mas-
ter. Be alive, my fine fellow, for they are despatches, and I must
have a written return for them."

" Won't ye get off, and take a drop of somethin' refreshin' ? the
air is cowld this mornin'."

" I can't stay, my good friend, but thank you all the same ; so be
alive, will you ?"

" Arrah, there's no hurry in life. Sure it's an invitation to dinner
to Lord Wellington, or a tea-party at Sir Denny's ; sure, my mas-
ter's bothered with them every day o' the week ; that's the misfor-
tune of being an agreeable creature ; and I'd be led into dissipation
myself if I wasn't rear'd prudent."

"Well, come along; take these letters, for I must be off; my
time is short."

"That's more nor your nose is, honey," said Mike, evidently
somewhat piqued at the little effect his advances had made upon
the Englishman. "Give them here," continued he, while he
turned the various papers in every direction, affecting to read their

" There's nothing for me here, I see. Did none of the generals
ask after me ?"


" You are a queer one !" said the dragoon, not a little puzzled
what to make of him.

Mike meanwhile thrust the papers carelessly into his pocket, and
strode into the house, whistling a quickstep as he went, with the air
of a man perfectly devoid of care or occupation. The next moment,
however, he appeared at my door, wiping his forehead with the back
of his hand, and apparently breathless with haste.

" Despatches, Mister Charles — despatches from Lord Wellington.
The orderly is waiting below for a return."

" Tell him he shall have it in one moment," replied I. " And now
bring me a light."

Before I had broken the seal of the envelope, Mike was once more
at the porch.

" My master is writing a few lines to say he'll do it. Don't be
talking of it," added he, dropping his voice, " but they want him to
take another fortress."

What turn the dialogue subsequently took, I cannot say, for I was
entirely occupied by a letter which accompanied the despatches. It
ran as follows : —

" Dear Sir : — The Commander-in-Chief has been kind enough
to accord you the leave of absence you applied for, and takes the
opportunity of your return to England to send you the accompany-
ing letters to his Royal Highness the Duke of York. To his ap-
proval of your conduct in the assault of last night you owe this dis-
tinguished mark of Lord Wellington's favor, which I hope will be
duly appreciated by you, and serve to increase your zeal for that
service in which you have already distinguished yourself.

" Believe me that I am most happy in being made the medium of
this communication, and have the honor to be,

" Very truly yours,

" T. Picton."

" Quarter-General,
"Ciudad Rodrigo, Jan. 20, 1812."

I read and re-read this note again and again. Every line was
conned over by me, and every phrase weighed and balanced in my
mind. Nothing could be more gratifying, nothing more satisfactory
to my feelings, and I would not have exchanged its possession for
the brevet of a lieutenant-colonel.

" Halloo, orderly !" cried I from the window, as I hurriedly sealed
my few words of acknowledgment ; " take this note back to General
Picton, and here's a guinea for yourself." So saying, I pitched into
his ready hand one of the very few which remained to me in the


world. "This is indeed good news !" said I to myself; " this is in-
deed a moment of unmixed happiness !"

As I closed the window, I could hear Mike pronouncing a glow-
ing eulogium upon my liberality, from which he could not, how-
ever, help in some degree detracting, as he added, —

"But the devil thank him, after all! Sure it's himself has the
illegant fortune and the fine place of it!"

Scarcely were the last sounds of the retiring horseman dying away
in the distance, when Mike's meditations took another form, and he
muttered between his teeth — " Oh ! holy Agatha ; a guinea, a raal
gold guinea, to a thief of a dragoon that come with the letter, and here
am I wearing a picture of the holy family for a back to my waist-
coat, all out of economy ; and sure, God knows, but maybe they'll
take their dealing trick out of me in purgatory for this hereafter ;
and faith, it's a beautiful pair of breeches I'd have had, if I wasn't
ashamed to put the twelve apostles on my legs."

While Mike ran on at this rate, my eyes fell upon a few lines of
postscript in Picton's letter, which I had not previously noticed.

" The official despatches of the storming are of course entrusted
to senior officers ; but I need scarcely remind you that it will be a
polite and proper attention to his Koyal Highness to present your
letters with as little delay as possible. Not a moment is to be lost
on your landing in England."

"Mike !" cried I, " how look the cattle for a journey ?"

" The chestnut is a little low in flesh, but in great wind, your
honor ; and the black horse is jumping like a filly."

"And Badger?" said I.

" Howld him, if you can, that's all ; but it's murthering work
this, carrying despatches day after day."

" This time, however, Mike, we must not grumble."

" Maybe it isn't far ?"

"Why, as to that, I shall not promise much. I'm bound for
England, Mickey."

" For England!"

" Yes, Mike, and for Ireland."

" For Ireland ! whoop !" shouted he, as he shied his cap into one
corner of the room, the jacket he was brushing into the other, and
began dancing round the table with no bad imitation of an Indian
war dance.

" How I'll dance like a fairy,
To see oulcl Dunleary,
And think twice ere I leave it to be a dragoon."

" Oh ! blessed hour ! isn't it beautiful to think of the illuminations,


and dinners, and speeches, and shaking of hands, huzzaing, and hip,
hipping. Maybe there won't be pictures of us in all the shops —
Mister Charles and his man Mister Free. Maybe they won't make
plays out of us ; myself dressed in the gray coat with the red cuffs,
the cords, the tops, and the Caroline hat a little cocked, with a phiz
in the side of it." Here he made a sign with his expanded fingers
to represent a cockade, which he designated by this word. " I think
I see myself dining with the Corporation, and the Lord Mayor of
Dublin getting up to propose the health of the hero of El Boden,
Mr. Free ! and three times three, hurrah ! hurrah ! hurrah ! Musha,
but it's dry I am gettin' with the thoughts of the punch and the
potteen negus."

rt If you go on at this rate, we're not likely to be soon at our jour-
ney's end ; so be alive now ; pack up my kit ; I shall start by twelve

With one spring Mike cleared the stairs, and, overthrowing every-
thing and everybody in his way, hurried towards the stable, chant-
ing at the top of his voice the very poetical strain he had indulged
me with a few minutes before.

My preparations were rapidly made. A few hurried lines of leave-
taking to the good fellows I had lived so much with and felt so
strongly attached to, with a firm assurance that I should join them
again ere long, was all that my time permitted. To Power I wrote
more at length, detailing the circumstances which my own letters
informed me of, and also those which invited me to return home.
This done, I lost not another moment, but set out upon my journey.



AFTER an hour's sharp riding we reached the Aguada, where
the river was yet fordable; crossing this, we mounted the
Sierra by a narrow and winding pass which leads through
the mountains towards Almeida. Here I turned once more to cast
a last and farewell look at the scene of our late encounter: It was
but a few hours that I had stood almost on the same spot, and yet
how altered was all around. The wide plain, then bustling with all
the life and animation of a large army, was now nearly deserted;
some dismounted guns, some broken up, dismantled batteries, around
which a few sentinels seemed to loiter rather than to keep guard ; a


strong detachment of infantry could be seen wending their way
towards the fortress, and a confused mass of camp-followers, sutlers,
and peasants, following their steps for protection against the pil-
lagers and the still ruder assaults of their own Guerillas. The for-
tress, too, was changed indeed. Those mighty walls before whose
steep sides the bravest fell back baffled and beaten, were now a mass
of ruin and decay ; the muleteer could be seen driving his mule
along through the rugged ascent of that breach, to win whose top
the best blood of Albion's chivalry was shed ; and the peasant child
looked timidly from those dark enclosures into the deep fosse below,
where perished hundreds of our best and bravest. The air was calm,
clear and unclouded ; no smoke obscured the transparent atmos-
phere ; the cannon had ceased ; and the voices that rang so late in
accents of triumphant victory were stilled in death. Everything,
indeed, had undergone a mighty change ; but nothing brought the
altered fortunes of the scenes so vividly to my mind as when I re-
membered that when last I had seen those walls, the dark shako of the
French grenadiers peered above their battlements, an<^ now the gay
tartan of the Highlander fluttered above them, and the red flag of
England waved boldly in the breeze.

Up to that moment my sensations were those of unmixed pleasure.
The thought of my home, my friends, my country, the feeling that
I was returning with the bronze of battle upon my cheek, and the
voice of praise still ringing in my heart, — these were proud thoughts,
and my bosom heaved short and quickly as I revolved them ; but as
I turned my gaze for the last time towards the gallant army I was
leaving, a pang of sorrow, of self-reproach, shot through me, and I
could not help feeling how far less worthily was I acting in yielding
to the impulse of my wishes, than had I remained to share the for-
tunes of the campaign.

So powerfully did these sensations possess me, that I sat motion-
less for some time, uncertain whether to proceed. Forgetting that I
was the bearer of important information, I only remembered that by
my own desire I was there ; my reason but half convinced me that
the part I had adopted was right and honorable, and more than once
my resolution to proceed hung in the balance. It was just at this
critical moment of my doubts that Mike, who had been hitherto be-
hind, came up.

" Is it the upper road, sir ?" said he, pointing to a steep and
rugged path which led by a zigzag ascent towards the crest of the

I nodded in reply, when he added :

"Doesn't this remind your honor of Sleibh More, above the Shan-
non, where we used to be grouse-shooting ? And there's the keeper's


house m the valley : and that might be your uncle, the master him-
self, waving his hat to you."

Had he known the state of my conflicting feelings at the moment,
he could not more readily have decided this doubt. I turned
abruptly away, put spurs to my horse, and dashed up the steep pass
at a pace which evidently surprised, and as evidently displeased, my

How natural it is ever to experience a reaction of depression and
lowness after the first burst of unexpected joy ! The moment of hap-
piness is scarce experienced ere come the doubts of its reality, the
fears for its continuance, the higher state of pleasurable excitement,
the more painful and the more pressing the anxieties that await on
it; the tension of delighted feelings cannot last, and our over-
wrought faculties seek repose in regrets. Happy he who can so
temper his enjoyments as to view them in their shadows as in their
sunshine ; he may not, it is true, behold the landscape in the blaze
of its noonday brightness, but he need not fear the thunder-cloud
nor the hurricane. The calm autumn of his bliss, if it dazzle not in
its brilliancy, will not any more be shrouded in darkness and in

My first burst of pleasure over, the thought of my uncle's changed
fortunes pressed deeply on my heart, and a hundred plans suggested
themselves in turn to my mind to relieve his present embarrass-
ments ; but I knew how impracticable they would all prove when
opposed by his prejudices. To sell the old home of his forefathers,
to wander from the roof which had sheltered his name for genera-
tions, he would never consent to ; the law might by force expel him,
and drive him a wanderer and an exile, but of his own free will the
thing was hopeless. Considine, too, would encourage rather than
repress such feelings ; his feudalism would lead him to any lengths ;
and, in defence of what he would esteem a right, he would as soon
shoot a sheriff as a snipe, and, old as he was, ask for no better amuse-
ment than to arm the whole tenantry and give battle to the king's
troops on the wide plain of ScarifT. Amid such conflicting thoughts
I travelled on moodily and in silence, to the palpable astonishment
of Mike, who could not help regarding me as one from whom for-
tune met the most ungrateful returns. At every new turn of the
road he would endeavor to attract my attention by the objects
around ; no white-turreted chateau, no tapered spire in the distance
escaped him ; he kept up a constant ripple of half-muttered praise
and censure upon all he saw, and instituted unceasing comparisons
between the country and his own, in which, I am bound to say, Ire-
land rarely, if ever, had to complain of his patriotism.

When we arrived at Almeida, I learned that the Medea sloop of


war was lying off Oporto, and expected to sail for England in a few
days. The opportunity was not to be neglected ; the official de-
spatches, I was aware, would be sent through Lisbon, where the
Gorgon frigate wa3 in waiting to convey them ; but should I be for-
tunate enough to reach Oporto in time, I had little doubt of arriving
in England with the first intelligence of the fall of Ciudad Rodrigo.
. Reducing my luggage, therefore, to the smallest possible compass,
and having provided myself with a juvenile guide for the pass of La
Reyna, I threw myself, without undressing, upon the bed, and wait-
ed anxiously for the break of day to resume my journey.

As I ruminated over the prospect my return presented, I suddenly
remembered Frank Webber's letter, which I had hastily thrust into
a portfolio without reading, so occupied was I by Considine's epistle.
With a little searching I discovered it, and, trimming my lamp, as
I felt no inclination to sleep, I proceeded to the examination of
what seemed a more than usually voluminous epistle. It contained
four closely-written pages, accompanied by something like a plan
in an engineering sketch. My curiosity becoming further stimu-
lated by this, I sat down to peruse it. It began thus :

" Official Despatch of Lieutenant-General Francis Webber to Lord
Castlereagh, detailing the assault and capture of the old pump in
Trinity College, Dublin, on the night of the second of December,
eighteen hundred and eleven, with returns of killed, wounded,
and missing, with other information from the seat of war.

" Head-quarters, No. 2, Old Square.

" My Lord, — In compliance with the instructions contained in
your lordship's despatch of the twenty-first ultimo, I concentrated
the force under my command, and, assembling the generals of div-
ision, made known my intentions in the following general order :

"A. G. O.

" The following troops will this evening assemble at head-quarters,
and, having partaken of a sufficient dinner for the next two days,
with punch for four, will hold themselves in readiness to march in
the following order:

"Harry Nesbitt's brigade of Incorrigibles will form a blockading
force, in the line extending from the Vice-Provost's house to the
library. The light division, under Mark Waller, will skirmish from
the gate towards the middle of the square, obstructing the march of
the Cuirassiers of the Guard, which, under the command of old
Duncan, the porter, are expected to move in that direction. Two
columns of attack will be formed by the senior sophisters of the Old


Guard, and a forlorn hope of the ' cautioned' men at the last four
examinations will form, under the orders of Timothy O'Rourke,
beneath the shadow of the dining-hall.

"At the signal of the Dean's bell the stormers will move forward.
A cheer from the united corps will then announce the moment of

" The word for the night will be • May the devil admire me !'
" The Commander of the Forces desires that the different corps
should be as strong as possible, and expects that no man will re-
main, on any pretence whatever, in the rear, with the lush. Dur-
ing the main assault, Cecil Cavendish will make a feint upon the
Provost's windows, to be converted into a real attack if the ladies

"general order.

" The Commissary-General Foley will supply the following arti-
cles for the use of the troops : — Two hams ; eight pair of chickens,
the same to be roasted ; a devilled turkey ; sixteen lobsters ; eight
hundred of oysters, with a proportionate quantity of cold sherry and
hot punch.

" The army will get drunk by ten o'clock to-night.

" Having made these dispositions, my lord, I proceeded to mis-
lead the enemy as to our intentions, in suffering my servant to be
taken with an intercepted despatch. This, being a prescription by
Doctor Colles, would convey to the Dean's mind the impression that
I was still upon the sick list. This being done, and four canisters
of Dartford gunpowder being procured on tick, our military chest
being in a most deplorable condition, I waited for the moment of

" A heavy rain, accompanied with a frightful hurricane, prevailed
during the entire day, rendering the march of the troops, who came
from the neighborhood of Merrion-square and Fitzwilliam street, a
service of considerable fatigue. The outlying pickets in College-
green, being induced, probably, by the inclemency of the season,

Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 63 of 80)