Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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before the door.

Mrs. Blake had barely time to take a hurried departure, when her
husband came out upon the steps to bid me welcome. There is no
physiognomist like your father of a family, or your mother with
marriageable daughters. Lavater was nothing to them, in reading
the secret springs of action — the hidden sources of all character.
Had there been a good respectable bump allotted by Spurzheim to
" honorable intentions," the matter had been all fair and easy, — the
very first salute of the gentleman would have pronounced upon his
views; but, alas ! no such guide is forthcoming ; and the science, as
it now exists, is enveloped in doubt and difficulty. The gay, laugh-
ing temperament of some, the dark and serious composure of others ;
the cautious and reserved, the open and the candid, the witty, the
sententious, the clever, the dull, the prudent, the reckless — in a
word, every variety which the innumerable hues of character im-
print upon the human face divine, are their study. Their convic-
tions are the slow and patient fruits of intense observation and
great logical accuracy. Carefully noting down eVery lineament and
feature, — their change, their action, and their development, — they
track a lurking motive with the scent of a bloodhound, and run
down a growing passion with an unrelenting speed. I have been
in the witness-box, exposed to the licensed badgering and privileged
impertinence of a lawyer ; winked, leered, frowned, and sneered at
with all the long-practised tact of a Nisi Prius torturer ; I have
stood before the cold, fish-like, but searching eye of a prefect of
police, as he compared my passport with my person, and thought
he could detect a discrepancy in both ; but I never felt the same
sense of total exposure as when glanced at by the half-curious,
half-prying look of a worthy father or mother in a family where
there are daughters to marry, and " nobody coming to woo."



682 CHARLES O'MALLEY.

"You're early, Charley," said Mr. Blake, with an affected mixture
of carelessness and warmth. " You have not had breakfast?"

" No, sir. I have come to claim a part of yours ; and, if I mis-
take not, you seem a little later than usual."

"Not more than a few minutes. The girls will be down pres-
ently ; they're early risers, Charley ; good habits are just as easy as
bad ones ; and, the Lord be praised I my girls were never brought
up with any other."

" I am well aware of it, sir ; and, indeed, if I may be permitted
to take advantage of the a propos, it was on the subject of one of
your daughters that I wished to speak to you this morning, and
which brought me over at this uncivilized hour, hoping to find
you alone."

Mr. Blake's look for a moment was one of triumphant satisfaction ;
it was but a glance, however, and repressed the very instant after,
as he said, with a well got-up indifference.

" Just step with me into the study, and we're sure not to be in-
terrupted."

Now, although I have little time or space for such dallying, I
cannot help dwelling for a moment upon the aspect of what Mr.
Blake dignified with the name of his study. It was a small apart-
ment with one window, the panes of which, independent of all
aid from a curtain, tempered the daylight through the medium
of cobwebs, dust, and the ill-trained branches of some wall-tree
without.

Three oak chairs and a small table were the only articles of fur-
niture ; while round on all sides, lay the disjecta membra of Mr.
Blake's hunting, fishing, shooting, and coursing equipments — old
top boots, driving whips, odd spurs, a racing saddle, a blunderbuss,
the helmet of the Gal way Light Horse, a salmon net, a large map
of the county with a marginal index to several mortgages marked
with a cross, a stable lantern, the rudder of a boat, and several
other articles representative of his daily associations ; but not one
book, save an odd volume of Watty Cox's Magazine, whose pages
seemed as much the receptacle of brown hackles for trout-fishing as
the resource of literary leisure.

" Here we'll be quite cosy, and to ourselves," said Mr. Blake, as,
placing a chair for me, he sat down himself, with the air of a man
resolved to assist, by advice and counsel, the dilemma of some
dear friend.

After a few preliminary observations, which, like a breathing canter
before a race, serve to get your courage up, and settle you well in
your seat, I opened my» negotiations by some very broad and sweep-
ing truism about the misfortunes of a bachelor existence, the dis-



A MISTAKE. 683

comforts of his position, his want of home and happiness, the
necessity for his one day thinking seriously about marriage; it
being in a measure almost as inevitable a termination of the free-
and-easy career of his single life as transportation for seven years
is to that of a poacher. " You cannot go on, sir," said I, " tres-
passing forever upon your neighbor's preserves, you must be appre-
hended sooner or later ; therefore, I think, the better way is to take
out a license."

Never was a small sally of wit more thoroughly successful. Mr.
Blake laughed till he cried, and, when he had done, wiped his eyes
with a snuffy handkerchief, and cried till he laughed again. As,
somehow, I could not conceal from myself a suspicion as to the sin-
cerity of my friend's mirth, I merely consoled myself with the
French adage, that " he laughs best who laughs last,*" and went on.

" It will not be deemed surprising, sir, that a man should come
to the discovery I have just mentioned much more rapidly by hav-
ing enjoyed the pleasure or intimacy with your family ; not only by
the example of perfect domestic happiness presented to him, but by
the prospect held out that a heritage of the fair gifts which adorn
and grace a married life may reasonably be looked for among the
daughters of those themselves the realization of conjugal felicity."

Here was a canter, with a vengeance; and as I felt blown, I
slackened my pace, coughed, and resumed :

" Miss Mary Blake, sir, is, then, the object of my present commu-
nication ; she it is who has made an existence that seemed fair and
pleasurable before, appear blank and unprofitable without her. I
have, therefore, to come at once to the point, visited you this morn-
ing, formally to ask her hand in marriage ; her fortune, I may
observe at once, is perfectly immaterial — a matter of no consequence
(so Mr. Blake thought also); a competence fully equal to every
reasonable notion of expenditure n

"There — there; don't — don't," said Mr. Blake, wiping his eyes,
with a sob like a hiccup ; " don't speak of money, I know what you
would say ; a handsome settlement — a well-secured jointure, and all
that. Yes, yes, I feel it all."

" Why yes, sir, I believe I may add, that everything in this re-
spect will answer your expectations."

" Of course ; to be sure. My poor dear Baby ! How to do with-
out her, that's the rub. You don't know, O'Malley, what that girl
is to me — you can't know it ; you'll feel it one day though — that
you will."

" The devil I shall !" said I to myself. " The great point is, after
all, to learn the young lady's disposition in the matter "

"Ah, Charley ! none of this with me, you sly dog ! You think I



684 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

don't know you. Why, I've been watching — that is, I have seen—
no, I mean I've heard — they — they, people will talk, you know."

" Very true, sir. But, as I was going to remark "

Just at this moment the door opened, and Miss Baby herself,
looking most annoyingly handsome, put in her head.

" Papa, we're waiting breakfast. Ah, Charley, how d'ye do !"

" Come in, Baby," said Mr. Blake ; " you haven't given me my
kiss this morning."

The lovely girl threw her arms around his neck, while her bright
and flowing locks fell richly upon his shoulder. I turned rather
sulkily away ; the thing always provokes me. There is as much
cold, selfish cruelty in such coram publico endearments as in the lus-
cious display of rich rounds and sirloins in a chop-house to the eyes
of the starved and penniless wretch without, who, with dripping
rags and watering lip, eats imaginary slices, while the pains of hun-
ger are torturing him !

" There's Tim !" said Mr. Blake, suddenly. " Tim Cronin !— Tim !"
shouted he to, as it seemed to me, an imaginary individual outside,
while, in the eagerness of pursuit, he rushed out of the study, bang-
ing the door as he went, and leaving Baby and myself to our mutual
edification.

I should have preferred it being otherwise ; but, as the Fates willed
it thus, I took Baby's hand, and led her to the window. Now, there
is one feature of my countrymen which, having recognized strongly
in myself, I would fain proclaim ; and, writing as I do — however
little people may suspect me — solely for the sake of a moral, would
gladly warn the unsuspecting against. I mean a very decided ten-
dency to become the consoler, the confidant of young ladies ; seeking
out opportunities of assuaging their sorrow, reconciling their afflic-
tions, breaking eventful passages to their ears ; not from any inher-
ent pleasure in the tragic phases of the intercourse, but for the
semi -tenderness of manner, that harmless hand-squeezing, that
innocent waist-pressing, without which consolation is but like
salmon without lobster— a thing maimed, wanting, and imperfect.

Now, whether this with me was a natural gift, or merely a " way
we have in the army," as the song says, I shall not pretend to say ;
but I venture to affirm that few men could excel me in the practice
I speak of some five-and twenty -years ago. Fair reader, do pray, if
I have the happiness of being known to you, deduct them from my
age before you subtract from my merits.

"Well, Baby dear, I have just been speaking about you to papa.
Yes, dear, — don't look so incredulous — even of your own sweet self.
Well, do you know I almost prefer your hair worn that way ; those
same silky masses look better falling thus heavily "



A MISTAKE. G85

" There, now, Charley ! ah, don't !"

" Well, Baby, as I was saying, before you stopped me, I have been
asking your papa a very important question, and he has referred me
to you for the answer. And now will you tell me, in all frankness
and honesty, your mind on the matter ?"

She grew deadly pale as I spoke these words, then suddenly
flushed up again, but said not a word. I could perceive, however,
from her heaving chest and restless manner, that no common agita-
tion was stirring her bosom. It was cruelty to be silent, so I con-
tinued :

" One who loves you well, Baby dear, has asked his own heart
the question, and learned that without you he has no chance of hap-
piness ; that your bright eyes are to him bluer than the deep sky
above him ; that your soft voice, your winning smile, — and what a
smile it is I — have taught him that he loves, nay, adores you !
Then, dearest, — what pretty fingers those are ! Ah ! what is this ?
Whence came that emerald ? I never saw that ring before, Baby !"

" Oh, that," said she, blushing deeply, — " that is a ring the foolish
creature Sparks gave me a couple of days ago ; but I don't like it —
I don't intend to keep it."

So saying, she endeavored to draw it from her finger, but in
vain.

" But why, Baby, why take it off? Is it to give him the pleasure
of putting it on again ? There, don't look angry ; we must not fall
out, surely."

"No, Charley, if you are not vexed with me, — if you are
not "

" No, no, my dear Baby — nothing of the kind. Sparks was quite
right in not trusting his entire fortune to my diplomacy ; but at
least he ought to have told me that he had opened the negotiation.
Now, the question simply is — Do you love him ? or, rather, because
that shortens matters, will you accept him?"

" Love whom ?"

" Love whom ? Why, Sparks, to be sure !"

A flash of indignant surprise passed across her features, now pale
as marble ; her lips were slightly parted, her large full eyes were
fixed upon me steadfastly, and her hand, which I had held in mine,
she suddenly withdrew from my grasp.

" And so — and so it is of Mr. Sparks's cause you are so ardently
the advocate ?" said she, at length, after a pause of most awkward
duration.

" Why, of course, my dear cousin. It was at his suit and solicita-
tion I called on your father ; it was he himself who entreated me to
take this step ; it was he "



b«b CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

But before I could conclude, she burst into a torrent of tears, and
rushed from the room.

Here was a situation I What the deuce was the matter ? Did she
or did she not care for him ? Was her pride or her delicacy hurt at
my being made the means of the communication to her father?
What had Sparks done or said to put himself and me in such a devil
of a predicament ? Could she care for any one else ?

" Well, Charley !" cried Mr. Blake, as he entered, rubbing his
hands in a perfect paroxysm of good temper — " well, Charley, has
love-making driven breakfast out of your head ?"

"Why, faith, sir, I greatly fear I have blundered my mission
sadly. My cousin Mary does not appear so perfectly satisfied ; her
manner "

" Don't tell me such nonsense. The girl's manner. ! Why, man,
I thought you were too old a soldier to be taken in that way."

" Well, then, sir, the best thing, under the circumstances, is to
send over Sparks himself. Your consent, I may tell him, is already
obtained."

" Yes, my boy ; and my daughter's is equally sure. But I don't
see what we want with Sparks at all. Among old friends and rela-
tives, as we are, there is, I think, no need of a stranger."

" A stranger ! Very true, sir, he is a stranger ; but when that
stranger is about to become your son-in-law "

" About to become what ?" said Mr. Blake, rubbing his spectacles,
and placing them leisurely on his nose to regard me, — " to become
what?"

"Your son-in-law. I hope I have been sufficiently explicit, sir,
in making known Mr. Sparks's wishes to you."

" Mr. Sparks ! Why, d — me, sir, — that is — I beg pardon for the
warmth — you — you never mentioned his name to-day till now. You
led me to suppose that — in fact you told me most clearly "

Here, from the united effects of rage and a struggle for conceal-
ment, Mr. Blake was unable to proceed, and walked the room with
a melodramatic stamp perfectly awful.

" Really, sir," said I at last, " while I deeply regret any miscon-
ception or mistake I have been the cause of, I must, in justice to
myself, say that I am perfectly unconscious of having misled you.
I came here this morning with a proposition for the hand of your
daughter in behalf of "

" Yourself, sir. Yes, yourself. I'll be— no ! I'll not swear ; but—
but just answer me if you ever mentioned one word of Mr. Sparks —
if you ever alluded to him till the last few minutes ?"

I was perfectly astounded. It might be ; alas ! it was exactly as
he stated. In my unlucky effort at extreme delicacy, I became only



A MISTAKE. 687

so very mysterious, that I left the matter open for them to suppose
that it might be the Khan of Tartary who was in love with Baby.

There was but one course now open. I most humbly apologized
for my blunder, repeated, by every expression I could summon up,
my sorrow for what had happened, and was beginning a renewal of
negotiation "in re Sparks," when, overcome by his passion, Mr.
Blake could hear no more, but snatched up his hat and left the
room.

Had it not been for Baby's share in the transaction, I should have
laughed outright. As it was, I felt anything but mirthful ; and the
only clear and collected idea in my mind was, to hurry home with
all speed, and fasten a quarrel on Sparks, the innocent cause of the
whole mishap. Why this thought struck me, let physiologists
decide.

A few moments' reflection satisfied me that, under present cir-
cumstances, it would be particularly awkward to meet with any
others of the family. Ardently desiring to secure my retreat, I suc-
ceeded, after some little time, in opening the window-sash, con-
soling myself for any injury I was about to inflict upon Mr. Blake's
young plantation in my descent, by the thought of the service
I was rendering him, while also admitting a little fresh air into his
sanctum.

For my patriotism's sake I will not record my sensations as I took
my way through the shrubbery towards the stable. Men are ever
so prone to revenge their faults and their follies upon such inoffen-
sive agencies as time and place, wind or weather, that I was quite
convinced that to any other but Galway ears my expose would have
been perfectly clear and intelligible, and that in no other country
under heaven would a man be expected to marry a young lady from
a blunder in his grammar.

"Baby may be quite right," thought I ; "but one thing is assur-
edly true— if I'll never do for Galway, Galway will never do for me.
No, hang it ! I have endured enough for above two years. I have
lived in banishment, away from society, supposing that, at least, if
I isolated myself from the pleasures of the world, I w r as exempt
from its annoyances." But no ; in the seclusion of my remote
abode, troubles found their entrance as easily as elsewhere, so that
I determined at once to leave home — where for, I knew not. If
life had few charms, it had still fewer ties for me. If I was not
bound by the bonds of kindred, I was untrammelled by their re-
straints.

The resolution once taken, I burned to put it into effect ; and so
impatiently did I press forward, as to call forth more than one re-
monstrance on the part of Mike at the pace we were proceeding at.



688 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

As I neared home, the shrill but stirring sounds of drum and fife
met me, and shortly after a crowd of country people filled the road.
Supposing it some mere recruiting party, I was endeavoring to press
on, when the sounds of a full military band, in the exhilarating
measure of a quickstep, convinced me of my error ; and, as I drew
to one side of the road, the advanced guard of an infantry regiment
came forward. The men's faces were flushed, their uniforms dusty
and travel-stained, their knapsacks strapped firmly on, and their
gait the steady tramp of the march. Saluting the subaltern, I asked
if anything of consequence had occurred in the south, that the
troops were so suddenly under orders. The officer stared at me for
a moment or two without speaking, and, while a slight smile curled
his lip, then answered, —

"Apparently, sir, you seem very indifferent to military news,
otherwise you can scarcely be ignorant of the cause of our route."

" On the contrary," said I, " I am, though a young man, an old
soldier, and feel most anxious about everything connected with the
service."

" Then it is very strange, sir, you should not have heard the news.
Bonaparte has returned from Elba, has arrived at Paris, been re-
ceived with the most overwhelming enthusiasm, and at this moment
the preparations for war are resounding from Venice to the Vistula.
All our disposable forces are on the march for embarkation. Lord
Wellington has taken the command, and already, I may say, the
campaign has begun."

The tone of enthusiasm in which the young officer spoke, the
astounding intelligence itself, contrasting with the apathetic indo-
lence of my own life, made me blush deeply, as I muttered some
miserable apology for my ignorance.

"And you are now en route?"

" For Fermoy, from which we march to Cove for embarkation.
The first battalion of our regiment sailed for the West Indies a week
since, but a frigate has been sent after them to bring them back;
and we hope all to meet in the Netherlands before the month is
over. But I must beg your pardon for saying adieu. Good-bye,
sir."

" Good-bye, sir ; good-bye ;" said I, as, still standing in the road,
I was so overwhelmed with surprise that I could scarcely credit my
senses.

A little further on I came up with the main body of the regiment,
from whom I learned the corroboration of the news, and also the
additional intelligence that Sparks had been ordered off with his
detachment early in the morning, a veteran battalion being sent
into garrison in the various towns of the south and west.



BRUSSELS. 689

"Do you happen to know a Mr. O'Malley, sir?" said the Major,
coming up with a note in his hand.

" I beg to present him to you," said I, bowing.

"Well, sir, Sparks gave me this note, which he wrote with a
pencil as we crossed each other on the road this morning. He told
me you were an old 14th man ; but your regiment is in India, I
believe ; at least Power said they were under orders when we met
him."

" Fred Power ! are you acquainted with him ? Where is he now,
pray?"

" Fred is on the staff with General Yandeleur, and is now in Bel-
gium."

" Indeed !" said I, every moment increasing my surprise at some
new piece of intelligence. "And the 88th?" said I, recurring to my
old friends in that regiment.

" Oh, the 88th are at Gibraltar or somewhere in the Mediterra-
nean : at least, I know they are not near enough to open the present
campaign with us. But if you'd like to hear any more news, you
must come over to Borrisokane ; we stop there to-night."

"Then I'll certainly do so."

" Come at six, then, and dine with us."

"Agreed," said I; "and now, good-morning."

So saying, I once more drove on ; my head full of all that I had
been hearing, and my heart bursting with eagerness to join the gal-
lant fellows now bound for the campaign.



CHAPTER LI.

BRUSSELS.

I MUST not protract a tale already far too long by the recital of
my acquaintance with the gallant 26th. It is sufficient that I
should say that, having given Mike orders to follow me to Cove,
I joined the regiment on their march, and accompanied them to
Cork. Every hour of each day brought us in news of moment and
importance ; and, amid all the stirring preparations for the war, the
account of the splendid spectacle of the Champ de Mai burst upon
astonished Europe, and the intelligence spread far and near that
the enthusiasm of France never rose higher in favor of the Em*-
peror ; and, while the whole world made preparations for the deadly
44



690 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

combat, Napoleon surpassed even himself, by the magnificent con-
ceptions for the coming conflict, and the stupendous nature of
those plans by which he resolved on resisting combined and united
Europe.

While our admiration and wonder of the mighty spirit that ruled
the destinies of the Continent rose high, so did our own ardent and
burning desire for the day when the open field of fight should place
us once more in front of each other.

Every hard-fought engagement of the Spanish war was thought
of and talked over ; from Talavera to Toulouse, all was remembered ;
and while among the old Peninsulars the military ardor was so uni-
versally displayed, among the regiments who had not shared the
glories of Spain and Portugal, an equal, perhaps a greater, impulse
was created for the approaching campaign. .

When we arrived at Cork, the scene of bustle and excitement ex-
ceeded anything I ever witnessed. Troops were mustering in every
quarter; regiments arriving and embarking; fresh bodies of men
pouring in ; drills, parades, and inspections going forward ; arms,
ammunition, and military stores distributing ; and, amid all, a spirit
of burning enthusiasm animated every rank for the approaching
glory of the newly-arisen war.

While thus each was full of his own hopes and expectations, I
alone felt depressed and downhearted. My military caste was lost
to me forever ; my regiment many, many a mile from the scene of
the coming strife; though young, I felt like one already old and
bygone. The last-joined ensign seemed, in his glowing aspiration,
a better soldier than I, as, sad and dispirited, I wandered through
the busy crowds, surveying with curious eye each gallant horseman
as he rode proudly past. What were wealth and fortune to me?
What had they ever been, compared with all they cost me ? — the
abandonment of the career I loved — the path in life I sought and
panted for? Day after day I lingered on, watching with beating
heart each detachment as they left the shore ; and when their part-
ing cheer rang high above the breeze, I turned sadly back to mourn
over a life that had failed in its promise, and an existence now
shorn of its enjoyment.

It was on the evening of the 3d of June that I was slowly wending
my way back towards my hotel ; latterly I had refused all invita-
tions to dine at the mess; and, by a strange spirit of contradiction,
while I avoided society, could not yet tear myself away from the



Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 71 of 80)