Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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mother, whose breath had fanned my brow in infancy; and for
her in my manhood my heart beat with every throb of filial affec-
tion. Need I say, then, how ardently I longed to turn homeward ;
for independent of all else, I could not avoid some self-reproach on
thinking what might be the condition of those I prized the most on
earth, at the very moment I was engaging in all the voluptuous
abandonment and all the fascinating excesses of a life of pleasure.
I wrote several letters home, but received no answer ; nor did I, in
the whole round of London society, meet with a single person who
could give me information of my family or my friends. The Easter
recess had sent the different members of Parliament to their homes ;
and thus, within a comparatively short distance of all I cared for, 1
could learn nothing of their fate.

The invitations of the Prince Regent, which were, of course, to be
regarded as commands, still detained me in London ; and I knew
not in what manner to escape from the fresh engagements which
each day heaped upon me. In my anxiety upon the subject, I com-
municated my wishes to a friend on the Duke's staff, and the follow-
ing morning, as I presented myself at his levee, he called me towards
him, and addressed me : —

"What leave have you got, Captain O'Malley?"

" Three months, your Royal Highness."


" Do you desire an unattached troop ? for, if so, an opportunity
occurs just at this moment."

" I thank you most sincerely, sir, for your condescension in think-
ing of me, but my wish is to join my regiment at the expiration of
my leave."

" Why, I thought they told me you wanted to spend some time in

" Only sufficient to see my friends, your Royal Highness. That
done, I'd rather join my regiment immediately/'

"Ah ! that alters the case. So then, probably, you'd like to leave
us at once. I see how it is ; you've been staying here against your
will all this while. Then, don't say a word. I'll make your excuses
at Carlton House ; and the better to cover your retreat, I'll employ
you on service. Here, Gordon, let Captain O'Malley have the des-
patches for Sir Henry Howard at Cork." As he said this, he turned
towards me with an air of affected sternness in his manner, and con-
tinued: "I expect, Captain O'Malley, that you will deliver the
despatches entrusted to your care without a moment's loss of time.
You will leave London within an hour. The instructions for your
journey will be sent to your hotel. And now," said he, again
changing his voice to its natural tone of kindliness and courtesy —
" and now, my boy, good-bye, and a safe journey to you. These
letters will pay your expenses, and the occasion save you all the
worry of leave-taking."

I stood confused and speechless, unable to utter a single word of
gratitude for such unexpected kindness. The Duke saw at once my
difficulty, and, as he shook me warmly by the hand, added, in a
laughing tone, —

" Don't wait, now. You mustn't forget that your despatches are

I bowed deeply, attempted a few words of acknowledgment, hesi-
tated, blundered, and broke down ; and at last got out of the room,
Heaven knows how I and found myself running towards Long's at
the top of my speed. Within that same hour I was rattling along
towards Bristol as fast as four posters could burn the pavement,
thinking with ecstasy over the pleasures of my reception in Eng-
land, but far more than all of the kindness evinced towards me by
him who, in every feeling of his nature, and in every feature of his
deportment, was " every inch a prince."

However astonished I had been at the warmth by which I was
treated in London, I was still less prepared for the enthusiasm which
greeted me in every town through which I passed. There was not
a village where we stopped to change horses whose inhabitants did
not simultaneously pour forth to welcome me with every demonstra-


tion of delight. That the fact of four horses and a yellow chaise
should have elicited such testimonies of satisfaction, was somewhat
difficult to conceive; even had the important news that I was the
bearer of despatches been telegraphed from London by successive
postboys, still the extraordinary excitement was unaccountable. It
was only on reaching Bristol that I learned to what circumstance
my popularity was owing. My friend Mike, in humble imitation of
election practices, had posted a large placard on the back of the
chaise, announcing, in letters of portentous length, something like
the following : —

"Bloody news! Fall of Ciudad Eodrigo ! Five thousand pri-
soners and two hundred pieces of cannon taken I"

This veracious and satisfactory statement, aided by Mike's per-
sonal exertions, and an unwearied performance on the trumpet he
had taken from the French dragoon, had roused the population of
every hamlet, and made our journey from London to Bristol one
scene of uproar, noise and confusion. All my attempts to suppress
Mike's oratory or music were perfectly unavailing. In fact, he had
pledged my health so many times during the day — he had drunk so
many toasts to the success of the British arms — so many to the Eng-
lish nation — so many in honor of Ireland — and so many in honor
of Mickey Free himself, that all respect for my authority was lost
in his enthusiasm for my greatness, and his shouts became wilder,
and the blasts from the trumpet more fearful and incoherent ; and
finally, on the last stage of our journey, having exhausted, as it were,
every tribute of his lungs, he seemed (if I were to judge by the evi-
dence of my ears) to be performing something very like a hornpipe
on the roof of the chaise.

Happily for me there is a limit to all human efforts, and even his
powers at length succumbed ; so that, when we arrived at Bristol, I
persuaded him to go to bed, and I once more was left to the enjoy-
ment of some quiet. To fill up the few hours which intervened
before bedtime, I strolled into the coffee-room. The English look
of every one, and everything around, had still its charm for me ; and
I was contemplating with no small admiration that air of neatness
and propriety so observant from the bright-faced clock, that ticked
unwearily upon the mantelpiece, to the trim waiter himself, with
noiseless step, and that mixed look of vigilance and vacancy. The
perfect stillness struck me, save when a deep voice called for
"another brandy-and-water," and some more modestly-toned re-
quest would utter a desire for " more cream." The attention of
each man, absorbed in the folds of his voluminous newspaper,
scarcely deigning a glance at the new comer who entered, were all
in keeping, giving, in their solemnity and gravity, a character of


almost religious seriousness to what in any other land would be a
scene of riotous noise and discordant tumult. I was watching all
these with a more than common interest, when the door opened,
and the waiter entered with a large placard. He was followed by
another with a ladder, by whose assistance he succeeded in attaching
the large square of paper to the wall, above the fireplace. Every
one about rose up, curious to ascertain what was going forward ; and
I myself joined in the crowd around the fire. The first glance at
the announcement showed me what it meant, and it was with a
strange mixture of shame and confusion I read :

" ' Fall of Ciudad Eodrigo ; with a full and detailed account at
the storming of the great breach — capture of the enemy's cannon,
&c. — by Michael Free, 14th Light Dragoons.' "

Leaving the many around me busied in conjecturing who the
aforesaid Mr. Free might be, and what peculiar opportunities he
might have enjoyed for his report, I hurried from the room and
called the waiter.

"What's the meaning of the announcement you've just put up in
the coffee-room ? Where did it come from ?"

"Most important news, sir; exclusively in the columns of the
Bristol Telegraph; the gentleman has just arrived "

" Who, pray ? What gentleman ?"

" Mr. Free, sir, No. 13 — large bedroom — blue damask — supper for
two — oysters — a devil — brandy-and-water — mulled port."

" What the devil do you mean ? Is the fellow at supper ?"

Somewhat shocked by the tone I ventured to assume towards the
illustrious narrator, the waiter merely bowed his reply.

"Show me to his room," said I ; " I should like to see him."

" Follow me, if you please, sir — this way — what name shall I say,

" You need not mind announcing me — I'm an old acquaintance —
just show me the room."

" I beg pardon, sir, but Mr. Meekins, the editor of the Telegraph,
is engaged with him at present ; and positive orders are given not
to suffer any interruption."

" No matter : do as I bid you. Is that it? Oh ! I hear his voice.
There, that will do. You may go down stairs, I'll introduce my-

So saying, and slipping a crown into the waiter's hand, I pro-
ceeded cautiously towards the door, and opened it stealthily. My
caution was, however, needless ; for a large screen was drawn across
this part of the room, completely concealing the door. Closing this
behind me, I took my place beneath the shelter of this ambuscade,
determined on no account to be perceived by the parties.


Seated in a large arm-chair, a smoking tumbler of mulled port
before him, sat my friend Mike, dressed in my full regimentals,
even to the helmet, which, unfortunately, however, for the effect,
he had put on back foremost ; a short " dudeen " graced his lip, and
the trumpet so frequently alluded to lay near him.

Opposite him sat a short, puny, round-faced little gentleman,
with rolling eyes and turned-up nose. Numerous sheets of paper,
pens, &c, lay scattered about; and he evinced, by his air and
gesture, the most marked and eager attention to Mr. Free's nar-
rative, whose frequent interruptions, caused by the drink and
the oysters, were viewed with no small impatience by the anxious

"You must remember, Captain, time's passing; the placards are
all out ; must be at press before one o'clock to-night ; the morning
edition is everything with us. You were at the first parallel, I

" Devil a one o' me knows. Just ring that bell near you. Them's
elegant oysters ; and you're not taking your drop of liquor. Here's

a toast for you: 'May ' whoop — raal Carlingfords, upon my

conscience. See, now, if I won't hit the little black chap up there,
the first shot."

Scarcely were the words spoken, when a little painted bust of
Shakspeare fell in fragments on the floor as an oyster-shell laid him

A faint effort at a laugh at the eccentricities of his friend was
all the poor editor could accomplish, while Mike's triumph knew
no bounds.

"Didn't I tell you? But come now, are you ready? Give the
pen a drink, if you won't take one yourself."

" I'm ready, quite ready," responded the editor.

"Faith, and it's more nor I am. See now, here it is : The night
was murthering dark ; you could not see a stim."

"Not see a — a what?"

"A stim, bad luck to you; don't you know English? Hand me
the hot water. Have you that down yet?"

" Yes. Pray proceed."

"The 5th division was orthered up, bekase they were fighting

chaps; the 88th was among them; the Eangers Oh! upon my

soul, we must drink to the Rangers. Here, devil a one o' me will
go on till we give them all the honors— hip — begin."

" Hip," sighed the luckless editor, as he rose from his chair, obe-
dient to the command.

" Hurra— hurra— hurra ! Well done ! there's stuff in you yet, ould
foolscap ! The little bottle's empty— ring again, if ye plaze."


" Oh, Father Magan

Was a beautiful man,
But a bit of a rogue, a bit of a rogue,

He was just six feet high,

Had a cast in his eye,
And an illigant brogue, an illigant brogue.

" He was born in Killarney,
And reared up in Blarney "

"Arrah, don't be looking miserable and dissolute that way. Sure
I'm only screwing myself up for you ; besides, you can print the
song av you like : it's a sweet tune — i Teddy, ye Gander.' "

" Really, Mr. Free, I see no prospect of our ever getting done,"

" The saints in heaven forbid," interrupted Mike, piously ; " the
evening's young, and drink plenty. Here now, make ready !"

The editor once more made a gesture of preparation.

" Well, as I was saying," resumed Mike, " it was pitch dark when
the columns moved up, and a cold, raw night, with a little thin rain
falling. Have you that down ?"

" Yes. Pray go on."

" Well, just as it might be here, at the corner of the trench I met
Dr. Quill. ' They're waiting for you, Mr. Free,' says he, • down
there. Picton's asking for you.' ■* Faith and he must wait,' says I,
1 for I'm terrible dry.' With that, he pulled out his canteen and
mixed me a little brandy-and-water. ' Are you taking it without a
toast ?' says Dr. Maurice. ' Never fear, Doctor,' says I ; ' here's Mary
Brady ' "

" But, my dear sir," interposed Mr. Meekins, " pray do remember
this is somewhat irrelevant. In fifteen minutes it will be twelve

" I know it, ould boy, I know it. I see what you're at. You were
going to observe how much better we'd be for a broiled bone."

" Nothing of the kind, I assure you. For Heaven's sake, no more
eating and drinking."

" No more eating nor drinking ! Why not ? You've a nice notion
of a convivial evening. Faith, we'll have the broiled bone sure
enough, and, what's more, a half-gallon of the strongest punch they
can make us ; an' I hope that, grave as you are, you'll favor the
company with a song."

"Really, Mr. Free "

" Arrah ! none of your blarney. Don't be misthering me. Call me
Mickey, or Mickey Free, if you like better."

" I protest," said the editor, with dismay, " that here we are two
hours at work, and we haven't got to the foot of the great breach."

" And wasn't the army three months and a half in just getting that
far, with a battering train, and mortars, and the finest troops ever


were seen ? and there you sit, a little fat creature, with your pen in
your hand, grumbling that you can't do more than the whole British
army. Take care you don't provoke me to beat you ; for I am quiet
till I'm roused. But, by the Eock o' Cashel "

Here he grasped the brass trumpet with an energy that made the
editor spring from his chair.

" For mercy's sake, Mr. Free "

" Well, I won't ; but sit down there, and don't be bothering me
about sieges, and battles, and things you know nothing about."

" I protest," rejoined Mr. Meekins, "that, had you not sent to my
office intimating your wish to communicate an account of the siege,
I never should have thought of intruding myself upon you. And
now, since you appear indisposed to afford the information in ques-
tion, if you will permit me, I'll wish you a very good-night."

" Faith, and so you shall, and help me to pass one too ; for not a
step out o' that chair shall you take till morning. Do ye think I am
going to be left here by myself, all alone ?"

" I must observe " said Mr. Meekins.

" To be sure, to be sure," said Mickey ; " I see what you mean.
You're not the best of company, it's true ; but at a pinch like this
There now, take your liquor."

" Once for all, sir," said the editor, " I would beg you to recollect
that, on the faith of your message to me, I have announced an ac-
count of the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo for our morning edition.
Are you prepared, may I ask, for the consequences of my disappoint-
ing ten thousand readers ?"

" It's little I care for one of them. I never knew much of reading

" If you think to make a jest of me " interposed Mr. Meekins,

reddening with passion.

" A jest of you ! Troth it's little fun I can get out of you ; you're
as tiresome a crayture as ever I spent an evening with. See now,
I told you before not to provoke me. We'll have a little more
drink; ring the bell: who knows but you'll turn out better by-
and-by ?"

As Mike rose at these words to summon the waiter, Mr. Meekins
seized the opportunity to make his escape. Scarcely had he reached
the door, however, when he was perceived by Mickey, who hurled
the trumpet at him with all his force, while he uttered a shout that
nearly left the poor editor lifeless with terror. This time, happily,
Mr. Free's aim failed him, and before he could arrest the progress of
his victim, he had gained the corridor, and with one bound cleared
the first flight of the staircase, his pace increasing every moment as
Mike's denunciations grew louder and louder, till at last, as he


reached the street, Mr. Free's delight overcame his indignation, and
he threw himself upon a chair and laughed immoderately.

" Oh, may I never ! if I didn't frighten the editor. The little
spalpeen, couldn't eat his oysters and take his punch like a man.
But sure if he didn't, there's more left for his betters." So saying,
he filled himself a goblet and drank it off. " Mr. Free, we won't say
much for your inclinations, for maybe they are not the best ; but
here's bad luck to the fellow that doesn't think you good company ;
and here," added he, again filling his glass — " and here's may the
devil take editors, and authors, and compositors, that won't let us
alone, but must be taking our lives, and our songs, and our little
devilments, that belongs to one's own family, and tell them all over
the world. A lazy set of thieves you are, every one of you ; spend-
ing your time inventing lies — devil a more nor less ; and here" — this
time he filled again — " and here's a hot corner and Kilkenny coals,
that's half sulphur, to the villain "

For what particular class of offenders Mike's penal code was now
devised, I was not destined to learn ; for, overcome by punch and
indignation, he gave one loud whoop, and measured his length upon
the floor. Having committed him to the care of the waiters, from
whom I learned more fully the particulars of his acquaintance with
Mr. Meekins, I enjoined them strictly not to mention that I knew
anything of the matter. I then betook myself to my bed, sincerely
rejoicing that in a few hours more Mike would be again in that
land where even his eccentricities and excesses would be viewed
with a favorable and forgiving eye.



ON the second evening after our departure from Bristol, the
Skipper said to Mickey Free, " You'd better call your master
up ; he said he'd like to have a look at the coast."
The words were overheard by me, as I lay between sleeping and
waking in the cabin of the packet, and without waiting for a second
invitation, I rushed upon deck. The sun was setting, and one vast
surface of yellow golden light played upon the water, as it rippled
beneath a gentle gale. The white foam curled at our prow, and the
rushing sound told the speed we were going at. The little craft was


staggering under every sheet of her canvas, and her spars creaked as
her white sails bent before the breeze. Before us, but to my lands-
man's eyes scarcely perceptible, were the ill-defined outlines of
cloudy darkness they called land, at which 1 continued to gaze with
a strange sense of interest, while I heard the names of certain well-
known headlands assigned to apparently mere masses of fog-bank
and vapor.

He who has never been separated in early years, while yet the
budding affections of his heart are tender shoots, from the land of
his birth and of his home, knows nothing of the throng of sensations
that crowd upon him as he nears the shore of his country. The
names, familiar as household words, come with a train of long-
buried thoughts ; the feeling of attachment to all we call our own
— that patriotism of the heart — stirs strongly within him, as the
mingled thrills of hope and fear alternately move him to joy or sad-

Hard as are the worldly struggles between the daily cares of him
who carves out his own career and fortune, yet he has never expe-
rienced the darkest poverty of fate who has not felt what it is to be
a wanderer, without a country to lay claim to. Of all the desolations
that visit us, this is the gloomiest and the worst. The outcast from
the land of his fathers, whose voice must never be heard within
the walls where his infancy was nurtured, nor his step be free upon
the mountains where he gambolled in his youth, — this is indeed
wretchedness. The instinct of country grows and strengthens with
our years ; the joys of early life are linked with it ; the hopes of age
point towards it ; and he who knows not the thrill of ecstasy some
well-remembered, long-lost-sight-of place can bring to his heart when
returning after years of absence, is ignorant of one of the purest
sources of happiness of our nature.

With what a yearning of the heart, then, did I look upon the dim
and misty cliffs, that mighty framework of my island home, their
stern sides lashed by the blue waters of the ocean, and their sum-
mits lost within the clouds ! With what an easy and natural tran-
sition did my mind turn from the wild mountains and the green
valleys to their hardy sons, who toiled beneath the burning sun of
the Peninsula ! and how, as some twinkling light of the distant
shore would catch my eye, did I wonder within myself whether
beside that hearth and board there might not sit some whose
thoughts were wandering over the sea beside the bold steeps of El
Bodon, or the death-strewn plain of Talavera ! their memories call-
ing up some trait of him who was the idol of his home ; whose clos-
ing lids some fond mother had watched over ; above whose peaceful
slumber her prayers had fallen, but whose narrow bed was now


beneath the breach of Badajos, and his sleep the sleep that knows
no waking.

I knew not if in my sad and sorrowing spirit I did not envy him
who thus had met a soldier's fate — for what of promise had my
own ! My hope of being in any way instrumental to my poor uncle's
happiness grew hourly less. His prejudices were deeply rooted and
of long standing. To have asked him to surrender any of what he
looked upon as the prerogatives of his house and name, would be to
risk the loss of his esteem. What then remained for me ? Was I to
watch, day by day and hour by hour, the falling ruin of our for-
tunes ? Was I to involve myself in the petty warfare of unavailing
resistance to the law ? And could I stand aloof from my best, my
truest, my earliest friend, and see him, alone and unaided, oppose
his weak and final struggle to the unrelenting career of persecution?
Between these two alternatives, the former could be my only choice;
and what a choice !

Oh, how I thought over the wild heroism of the battle-field, the
reckless fury of the charge, the crash, the death-cry, and the sad
picture of the morrow, when all was past, and a soldier's glory alone
remained to shed its high halo over the faults and the follies of the

As night fell, the twinkling of the distant lighthouses,— some
throwing a column of light from the very verge of the horizon,
others shining brightly, like stars, from some lofty promontory, —
marked the different outlines of the coast, and conveyed to me the
memory of that broken and wild mountain tract that forms the bul-
wark of the Green Isle against the waves of the Atlantic. Alone
and silently I trod the deck, now turning to look towards the shore,
where I thought I could detect the position of some well-known
headland, now straining my eyes seaward to watch some bright and
flitting star, as it rose from or merged beneath the foaming water,
denoting the track of the swift pilot-boat, or the hardy lugger of the
fisherman, while the shrill whistle of the floating sea-gull was the
only sound, save the rushing waves that broke in spray upon our

What is it that so inevitably inspires sad and depressing thoughts
as we walk the deck of some little craft in the silence of the night's
dark hours? No sense of danger near, we hold on our course
swiftly and steadily, cleaving the dark waves, and bending grace-
fully beneath the freshening breeze. Yet still the motion, which, in
the bright sunshine of the noonday, tells of joy and gladness, brings
now no touch of pleasure to our hearts. The dark and frowning
sky, the boundless expanse of gloomy water, spread like some
gigantic pall around us, and our thoughts either turn back upon the


saddest features of the past, or look forward to the future with a
sickly hope that all may not be as we fear it.

Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 65 of 80)