Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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which fell so harshly upon my ear, gradually made less and less
impression, until at last, when a raw English ensign, just arrived
in the neighborhood, remarked to me in confidence, " What devilish
fine girls they were, if they were not so confoundedly Irish !" I
could not help wondering what the fellow meant, and attributed the
observation more to his ignorance than to its truth.

Papa and Mamma Blake, like prudent generals, so long as they
saw the forces of the enemy daily wasting before them — so long as
they could with impunity carry on the war at his expense — resolved
to risk nothing by a pitched battle. Unlike the Dalrymples, they
could leave all to time.


Oh ! tell me not of dark eyes swimming in their own ethereal
essence ; tell me not of pouting lips, of glossy ringlets, of taper fin-
gers, and well-rounded insteps ; speak not to me of soft voices,
whose seductive sounds ring sweetly in our hearts ; preach not of
those thousand womanly graces so dear to every man, and doubly so
to him who lives apart from all their influences and fascinations;
neither dwell upon congenial temperament, similarity of taste, of
disposition, and of thought; these are not the great risks a man
runs in life. Of all the temptations, strong as these may be, there
is one greater than them all, and that is — propinquity !

Show me the man who has ever stood this test; show me the
man, deserving the name of such, who has become daily and hourly
exposed to the breaching artillery of flashing eyes, of soft voices, of
winning smiles, and kind speeches, and who hasn't felt, and that too
soon, a breach within the rampart of his heart. He may, it is true, —
nay, he will, in many cases, — make a bold and vigorous defence ;
sometimes will he re-intrench himself within the stockades of his
prudence, but, alas ! it is only to defer the moment when he must
lay down his arms. He may, like a wise man, who sees his fate
inevitable, make a virtue of necessity, and surrender at discretion ;
or, like a crafty foe, seeing his doom before him, under the cover
of the night he may make a sortie from the garrison, and run for
his life. Ignominious as such a course must be, it is often the only
one left.

But to come back. Love, like the small-pox, is most danger-
ous when you take it in the natural way. Those made matches,
which Heaven is supposed to have a hand in, when placing an un-
married gentleman's property in the neighborhood of an unmarried
lady's, which destine two people for each other in life, because their
well-judging friends have agreed " they'll do very well ; they were
made for each other," — these are the mild cases of the malady ; this
process of friendly vaccination takes out the poison of the disease,
substituting a more harmless and less exciting affection. But the
really dangerous instances are those from contact, that same pro-
pinquity, that confounded tendency every man yields to, to fall into
a railroad of habit ; that is the risk — that is the danger. What a
bore it is to find that the absence of one person, with whom you are
nowise in love, will spoil your morning's canter, or your rowing
party upon the river ! How much put out you are when she to
whom you always gave your arm at dinner does not make her
appearance in the drawing-room ; and your tea too, some careless
one, indifferent to your taste, puts a lump of sugar too little, or
cream too much, while she — But no matter ; habit has done for you
what no direct influence of beauty could do, and, a slave to your


own selfish indulgences, and the cultivation of that ease you prize
so highly, you fall over head and ears in love.

Now, you are not, my good reader, by any means to suppose that
this was my case. No, no ; I was too much what the world terms
the " old soldier" for that. To continue my illustration : like the for-
tress that has been often besieged, the sentry upon the walls keeps
more vigilant watch ; his ear detects the far-off clank of the dread
artillery ; he marks each parallel ; he notes down every breaching
battery ; and if he be captured, at least it is in fair fight.

Such were some of my reflections as I rode slowly home one even-
ing from Gurt-na-Morra. Many a time, latterly, had I contrasted
my own lonely and deserted hearth with the smiling looks, the
happy faces, and the merry voices I had left behind me ; and many
a time did I ask myself, " Am I never to partake of a happiness like
this ?" How many a man is seduced into matrimony from this very
feeling ! How many a man whose hours have passed fleetingly at
the pleasant tea-table, or by the warm hearth of some old country-
house, going forth into the cold and cheerless night, reaches his far-
off home only to find it dark and gloomy, joyless and companion-
less ? How often has the hard-visaged look of his old butler, as
with sleepy eyes and yawning face he hands a bed-room candle,
suggested thoughts of married happiness ? Of the perils of propin-
quity I have already spoken; the risks of contrast are also great.
Have you never, in strolling through some fragrant and rich con-
servatory, fixed your eye upon a fair and lovely flower, whose blos-
soming beauty seems to give all the lustre and all the incense of the
scene around? and how have you thought it would adorn and grace
the precincts of your home, diffusing fragrance on every side. Alas !
the experiment is not always successful. Much of the charm and
many of the fascinations which delight you are the result of associ-
ation of time and of place. The lovely voice, whose tones have
spoken to your heart, may, like some instrument, be delightful in
the harmony of the orchestra, but, after all, prove a very middling
performer in a duet.

I say not this to deter men from matrimony, but to warn them
from a miscalculation which may mar their happiness. Flirtation
is a very fine thing, but it's only a state of transition, after all. The
tadpole existence of the lover would be great fun if one was never
to become a frog under the hands of the parson. I say all this dis-
passionately and advisedly. Like the poet of my country, for many
years of my life,

" My only books were woman's looks,"

and certainly I subscribed to a circulating library.


All this long digression may perhaps bring the reader to where it
brought me — the very palpable conviction that though not in love
with my cousin Baby, I could not tell when I might eventually
become so.



THE most pleasing part about retrospect is the memory of our
bygone hopes. The past, however happy, however blissful,
few would wish to live over again ; but who is there that does
not long for, does not pine after, the day-dream which gilded the
future — which looked ever forward to the time to come as to a
realization of all that was dear to us, lightening our present cares,
soothing our passing sorrows, by that one thought?

Life is marked out in periods in which, like stages in a journey,
we rest and repose ourselves, casting a look, now back upon the road
we have been travelling, now throwing a keener glance towards the
path left us. It is at such spots as these that remembrance comes
full upon us, and that we feel how little our intentions have swayed
our career or influenced our actions. The aspirations, the resolves
of youth, are either looked upon as puerile follies, or a most distant
day settled on for their realization. The principles we fondly looked
to, like our guide-stars, are dimly visible — not seen ; the friends we
cherished are changed and gone ; the scenes themselves seem no
longer the sunshine and the shade we loved ; and, in fact, we are
living in a new world, where our own altered condition gives the
type to all around us ; the only link that binds us to the past being
that same memory, that, like a sad curfew, tolls the twilight of our
fairest dreams and most cherished wishes.

That these glimpses of the bygone season of our youth should be
but fitful and passing — tinging, not coloring, the landscape of our
life — we should be engaged in all the active bustle and turmoil of
the world, surrounded by objects of hope, love, and ambition, stem-
ming the strong tide in whose fountain is fortune.

He, however, who lives apart, a dreamy and passionless exist-
ence, will find that in the past more than in the future his thoughts
have found their resting-place ; memory usurps the place of hope,
and he travels through life like one walking onward, his eyes still
turning towards some' loved forsaken spot, teeming with all the


associations of his happiest hours, and preserving even in distance
the outline that he loved.

Distance in time, as in space, smooths down all the inequalities
of surface ; and, as the cragged and rugged mountain, darkened by
cliff and precipice, shows to the far-off traveller but some blue and
misty mass, so the long-lost-sight-of hours lose all the cares and
griefs that tinged them, and to our. mental eye are but objects of
uniform loveliness and beauty : and if we do not think of

"The smiles— the tears
Of boyhood's years,"

it is because, like April showers, they but chequer the spring of our

For myself, baffled in hope at a period when most men but begin
to feel it, I thought myself much older than I really was. The dis-
appointments of the world, like the storms of the ocean, impart a
false step of experience to the young heart, as he sails forth upon
his voyage; and it is an easy error to mistake trials for time.

The goods of fortune by which I was surrounded took nothing
from the bitterness of my retrospect ; on the contrary, I could not
help feeling that every luxury of my life was bought by my sur-
render of that career which had elated me in my own esteem, and
which, setting a high and noble ambition before me, taught me to
be a man.

To be happy, one must not only fulfil the duties and exactions of
his station, but the station itself must answer to his views and aspi-
rations in life. Now, mine did not sustain this condition. All that
my life had of promise was connected with the memory of her who
never could share my fortunes — of her for whom I had earned praise
and honor ; becoming ambitious as the road to her affection, only
to learn after that my hopes were but a dream, and my paradise a

While thus the inglorious current of my life ran on, I was not
indifferent to the mighty events the great continent of Europe was
witnessing. The success of the Peninsular campaign ; the triumph-
ant entry of the British into France ; the downfall of Napoleon ;
the restoration of the Bourbons, followed each other with the
rapidity of the most commonplace occurrences; and in the few
short years in which I had sprung from boyhood to man's estate,
the whole condition of the world was altered. Kings deposed;
great armies disbanded; rightful sovereigns restored to their do-
minions; banished and exiled men returned to their country, in-
vested with rank and riches ; and peace, in the fullest tide of its
blessings, poured down upon the devastated and blood-stained earth.


Years passed on ; and between the careless abandonment to the
mere amusement of the hour, and the darker meditation upon the
past, time slipped away. From my own friends and brother officers
I heard but rarely. Power, who at first wrote frequently, grew
gradually less and less communicative. Webber, who had gone to
Paris at the peace, had written but one letter ; while from the rest
a few straggling lines was all I received. In truth, be it told, my
own negligence and inability to reply cost me this apparent neglect.

It was a fine evening in May, when, rigging up a sprit-sail, I
jumped into my yawl, and dropped easily down the river. The
light wind gently curled the crested water, the trees waved gently
and shook their branches in the breeze, and my little bark, bending
slightly beneath, rustled on her foamy track with that joyous bound-
ing motion so inspiriting to one's heart. The clouds were flying
swiftly past, tinging with their shadows the mountains beneath;
the Munster shore, glowing with a rich sunlight, showed every
sheep-cot and every hedge-row clearly out, while the deep shadow
of tall Scariff darkened the silent river where Holy Island, with its
ruined churches and melancholy tower, was reflected in the still

It was a thoroughly Irish landscape : the changeful sky ; the fast
flitting shadows; the brilliant sunlight; the plenteous fields; the
broad and swelling stream ; the dark mountain, from whose brown
crest a wreath of thin blue smoke was rising, were all there smiling
yet sadly, like her own sons, across whose louring brow some fitful
flash of fancy, ever playing, dallies like sunbeams on the darkening
stream, nor marks the depth that lies below.

I sat musing over the strange harmony of nature with the tem-
perament of man, every phase of his passionate existence seeming
to have its type in things inanimate, when a loud cheer from the
land aroused me, and the words " Charley ! Cousin Charley !" came
wafted over the water to where I lay.

For some time I could but distinguish the faint outline of some
figures on the shore, but as I came nearer I recognized my fair
cousin Baby, who, with a younger brother of some eight or nine
years old, was taking an evening walk.

"Do you know, Charley," said she, "the boys have gone over to
the castle to look for you ; we want you particularly this evening."

" Indeed, Baby ! Well, I fear you must make my excuses."

"Then, once for all, I will not. I know this is one of your
sulky moods, and I tell you frankly I'll not put up with them any

" No, no, Baby, not so ; out of spirits if you will, but not out of


"The distinction is much too fine for me, if there be any; but
there, now, do be a good fellow ; come up with us — come up with

As she said this she placed her arm within mine. I thought,
too — perhaps it was but a thought — she pressed me gently. I know
she blushed, and turned away her head to hide it.
' " I don't pretend to be proof against your entreaty, cousin Baby,"
said I, with half-affected gallantry, putting her fingers to my lips.

" There, how can you be so foolish ; look at William, yonder ; I
am sure he must have seen you." But, William, God bless him !
was bird's-nesting, or butterfly-hunting, or daisy-picking, or some-
thing of that kind.

Oh ye young brothers, "who, sufficiently old to be deemed com-
panions and chaperons, but yet young enough to be regarded as
having neither eyes nor ears, what mischief have ye to answer for !
what a long reckoning of tender speeches, of soft looks, of pressed
hands, lies at your door! What an incentive to flirtation is the
wily imp who turns ever and anon from his careless gambols to
throw his laughter-loving eyes upon you, calling up the mantling
blush to both your cheeks ! He seems to chronicle the hours of
your dalliance, making your secrets known unto each other. We
have gone through our share of flirtation in this life. Match-making
mothers, prying aunts, choleric uncles, benevolent and open-hearted
fathers, we understand to the life, and care no more for such man-
traps than a Melton man, well-mounted on his strong-boned tho-
roughbred, does for a four-barred ox-fence that lies before him.
Like him, we take them flying ; never relaxing the slapping stride
of our loose gallop, we go straight ahead, never turning aside, except
for a laugh at those who flounder in the swamps we sneer at. But
we confess honestly we fear the little brother, the small urchin who,
with nankeen trousers and three rows of buttons, performs the part
of Cupid. He strikes real terror into our hearts ; he it is who, with
a cunning wink, or sly smile, seems to confirm the soft nonsense we
are weaving ; by some slight gesture he seems to check off the long
reckoning of our attentions, bringing us every moment nearer to
the time when the score must be settled and the debt paid. He it
is who, by a memory delightfully oblivious of his task and his table-
book, is tenacious to the life of what you said to Fanny ; how you
put your head under Lucy's bonnet; he can imitate to perfection
the way you kneeled upon the grass ; and the wretch has learned to
smack his lips like a gourmand, that he may convey another stage
of your proceeding.

Oh, for infant schools for everything under the age of ten ! Oh,
for factories for the children of the rich ! The age of prying curi-


osity is from four-and-a-half to nine, and Fouche himself might get
a lesson in police from an urchin in his alphabet.

I contrived soon, however, to forget the presence of even the little
brother. The night was falling; Baby appeared getting fatigued
with her walk, for she leaned somewhat more heavily upon my arm,
and I — I cannot tell wherefore — fell into that train of thinking
aloud which, somehow, upon a summer's eve, with a fair girl beside
one, is the very nearest thing to love-making.

"There, Charley — don't now — ah, don't! — do let go my hand—
they are coming down the avenue."

I had scarcely time to obey the injunction, when Mr. Blake called

" Well, indeed ! Charley, this is really fortunate ; we have got a
friend to take tea with us, and wanted you to meet him."

Muttering an internal prayer for something not exactly the wel-
fare of the aforesaid friend, whom I judged to be some Galway
squire, I professed aloud the pleasure I felt in having come in so

" He wishes particularly to make your acquaintance."

"So much the worse," thought I to myself; "it rarely happens
that this feeling is mutual."

Evidently provoked at the little curiosity I exhibited, Blake

"He's on his way to Fermoy with a detachment."

" Indeed ! what regiment, pray ?"

" The 28th Foot."

" Ah ! I don't know them."

By this time we reached the steps of the hall-door, and just as we
did so, the door opened suddenly, and a tall figure in uniform pre-
sented himself. With one spring he seized my hand and nearly
wrung it off.

" Why, what," said I, " can this be? Is it really -"

" Sparks," said he — " your old friend Sparks, my boy ; I've changed
Into the infantry, and here I am. Heard by chance you were in the
neighborhood — met Mr. Blake, your friend here, at the inn, and
accepted his invitation to meet you."

Poor Sparks, albeit the difference of his costume, was the same as
ever. Having left the 14th soon after I quitted them, he knew but
little of their fortunes ; and he himself had been on recruiting stations
nearly the whole time since we had met before.

While we each continued to extol the good fortune of the other —
he mine as being no longer in the service, and I his for still being
so — we learned the various changes which had happened to each of
us during our separation. Although his destination was ultimately


Fermoy, Portumna was ordered to be his present quarter ; and I
felt delighted to have once more an old companion within reach, to
chat over former days of campaigning and nights of merriment in
the Peninsula,

Sparks soon became a constant visitor and guest at Gurt-na-Morra ;
his good temper, his easy habits, his simplicity of character, rapidly
enabled him to fall into all their ways ; and, although evidently not
what Baby would call " the man for Gal way," he endeavored with,
all his might to please every one, and certainly succeeded to a con-
siderable extent.

Baby alone seemed to take pleasure in tormenting the poor sub.
Long before she met with him, having heard much from me of his
exploits abroad, she was continually bringing up some anecdote
of his unhappy loves or misplaced passions, which he evidently
smarted under the more from the circumstance that he appeared
rather inclined to like my fair cousin.

As she continued this for some time, I remarked that Sparks, who
at first was all gayety and high spirits, grew gradually more de-
pressed and dispirited. I became convinced that the poor fellow
was in love ; very little management on my part was necessary to
obtain his confession ; and, accordingly, the same evening the
thought first struck me, as we were riding slowly home towards
O'Malley Castle, I touched at first generally upon the merits of the
Blakes, their hospitality, &c. ; then diverged to the accomplishments
and perfections of the girls ; and, lastly, Baby herself, in all form,
came up for sentence.

"Ah, yes !" said Sparks, with a deep sigh, "it is quite as you say ;
she is a lovely girl ; and that liveliness in her character, that elasti-
city in her temperament, chastened down as it might be by the feel-
ing of respect for the man she loved ! I say, Charley, is it a very
long attachment of yours ?"

" A long attachment of mine ! Why, my dear Sparks, you can't
suppose that there is anything between us ! I pledge you my word
most faithfully."

"Oh no, don't tell me that; what good can there be in mystifying

" I have no such intention, believe me. My cousin Baby, however
I like and admire her, has no other place in my affection than a very
charming girl, who has lightened a great many dreary and tiresome
hours, and made my banishment from the world less irksome than I
should have found it without her."

"And you are really not in love ?"

"Not a bit of it!"

"Not going to marry her either?"


" Not the least notion of it ! — a fact. Baby and I are excellent
friends, for the very reason that we were never lovers ; we have had
no petitsjeux of fallings out and makings up; no hicle-and-seek trials
of affected indifference and real disappointments; no secrets, no
griefs nor grudges ; neither quarrels nor keepsakes. In fact, we are
capital cousins; quizzing every one for our own amusement; riding,
walking, boating together; in fact, doing and thinking of every-
thing save sighs and declarations ; always happy to meet, and never
broken-hearted when we part. And I can only add, as a proof of
my sincerity, that if you feel as I suspect you do from your questions,
I'll be your ambassador to the court of Gurt-na-Morra with sincere

"Will you really? — Will you indeed, Charley, do this for me? —
Will you strengthen my wishes by your aid, and give me all your in-
fluence with the family ?"

I could scarcely help smiling at poor Sparks's eagerness or the un-
warrantable value he put upon my alliance, in a case where his own
unassisted efforts did not threaten much failure.

" I repeat it, Sparks, I'll make a proposal for you in all form,
aided and abetted by everything recommendatory and laudatory I
can think of; I'll talk of you as a Peninsular of no small note and
promise ; and observe rigid silence about your Welsh flirtation and
your Spanish elopement. "

" You'll not blab about the Dalrymples, I hope ?"

" Trust me ; I only hope you will always be as discreet. But now —
when shall it be ? Should you like to consider the matter more?"

" Oh no ! nothing of the kind ; let it be to-morrow ; at once, if I
am to fail ; even that, anything's better than suspense."

" Well then, to-morrow be it," said I.

So I wished him a good-night, and a stout heart to bear his for-
tune withal.



IORDEBED my horses at an early hour ; and long before Sparks
— lover that he was — had opened his eyes to the light, was
already on my way towards Gurt-na-Morra. Several miles
slipped away before I well determined how I should open my nego-
tiations : whether to papa Blake, in the first instance, or to madame,


to whose peculiar province these secrets of the home department
belonged; or why not at once to Baby? because, after all, with her
it rested finally to accept or refuse. To address myself to the heads
of the department seemed the more formal course; and, as I was
acting entirely as an " Envoy Extraordinary," I deemed this the fit-
ting mode of proceeding.

It was exactly eight o'elock as I drove up to the door. Mr. Blake
was standing at the open window of the breakfast-room, sniffing the
fresh air of the morning. The Blake mother was busily engaged
with the economy of the tea-table ; a very simple style of morning
costume, and a nightcap with a flounce like a petticoat, marking her
unaffected toilette. Above stairs, more than one head en papillose
took a furtive peep between the curtains; and the butler of the
family, in corduroys and a fur cap, was weeding turnips in the lawn

Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 70 of 80)