Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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spot where every remembrance of my past life was daily embittered
by the scenes around me. But so it was ; the movement of the
troops, their reviews, their arrivals and departures, possessed the
most thrilling interest for me; while I could not endure to hear


the mention of the high hopes and glorious vows each brave fellow

It was, as I remember, on the evening of the 3d of June, I entered
my hotel, lower in spirits even than usual ; the bugles of the gallant
71st, as they dropped down v/ith the tide, played a well-known march
I had heard the night before Talavera; all my bold and hardy days
came rushing madly to my mind ; and my present life seemed no
longer endurable. The last Army List and the newspapers lay on
my table, and I turned to read the latest promotions with that feel-
ing of bitterness by which an unhappy man loves to tamper with
his misery.

Almost the first paragraph I threw my eyes upon ran thus : —

" Ostend, May 24. — The sloop-of-war Vixen, which arrived at
our port this morning, brought, among several other officers of in-
ferior note, Lieutenant-General Sir George Dashwood, appointed as
Assistant- Adjutant-General on the staff of his Grace the Duke of
Wellington. The gallant General was accompanied by his lovely
and accomplished daughter, and his military secretary and aide-de-
camp, Major Hammersley, of the 2d Life Guards. They partook of
a hurried dgjeunt with the Burgomaster, and left immediately after
for Brussels."

Twice I read this over, while a burning, hot sensation settled upon
my throat and temples. "So Hammersley still persists — he still
hopes. And what then ? — what can it be to me? My prospects have
long since faded and vanished ! doubtless, ere this, I am as much
forgotten as though we had never met, — would that we never had!"
I threw up the window-sash ; a light breeze was gently stirring, and,
as it fanned my hot and bursting head, I felt cool and relieved.
Some soldiers were talking beneath the window, and among them I
recognized Mike's voice.

" And so you sail at daybreak, sergeant ?"

" Yes, Mr. Free ; we have our orders to be on board before the
flood-tide. The Thunderer drops down the harbor to-night, and we
are merely here to collect our stragglers."

" Faix, it's little I thought I'd ever envy a sodger any more ; but,
some way, I wish I was going with you."

"Nothing easier, Mike," said another, laughing.

" Oh, true for you, but that's not the way I'd like to do it. If my
master, now, would just get over his low spirits, and spake a word
to the Duke of York, devil a doubt but he'd give him his commis-
sion back again, and then one might go in comfort."

" Your master likes his feather pillow better than a mossy stone
under his head, I'm thinking ; and he ain't far wrong, either."


" You're out there, neighbor. It's himself cares as little for hard-
ships as any one of you; and sure it's not becoming me to say it,
but the best blood and the best bred was always the last to give in
for either cold or hunger, ay, or even complain of it."

Mike's few words shot upon me a new and a sudden conviction —
what was to prevent my joining once more ? Obvious as such a
thought now was, yet never until this moment did it present itself
so palpably. So habituated does the mind become to a certain train
of reasoning, framing its convictions according to one preconceived
plan, and making every fact and every circumstance concur in
strengthening what may be but a prejudice, that the absence of the
old 14th in India, the sale of my commission, the want of rank in
the service, all seemed to present an insurmountable barrier to my
re-entering the army. A few chance words now changed all this,
and I saw that, as a volunteer, at least, the path of glory was still
open, and the thought was no sooner conceived than the resolve to
execute it. While, therefore, I walked hurriedly up and down, de-
vising, planning, plotting, and contriving, each instant I would
stop to ask myself how it happened I had not determined upon this

As I summoned Mike before me, I could not repress a feeling of
false shame as I remembered how suddenly so natural a resolve
must seem to have been adopted ; and it was with somewhat of hesi-
tation that I opened the conversation.

"And so, sir, you are going, after all? — long life to you! But I
never doubted it. Sure, you wouldn't be your father's son, and not
join divarsion when there was any going."

The poor fellow's eyes brightened up, his look gladdened, and
before he reached the foot of the stairs I heard his loud cheer of
delight, that once more we were off to the wars.

The packet sailed for Liverpool the next morning ; by it we took
our passage, and on the third morning I found myself in the wait-
ing-room at the Horse Guards, expecting the moment of his Royal
Highness's arrival ; my determination being to serve as a volun-
teer in any regiment the Duke might suggest, until such time as a
prospect presented itself of entering the service as a subaltern.

The room was crowded by officers of every rank and arm in the
service. The old, gray-headed general of division ; the tall, stout-
looking captain of infantry ; the thin and boyish figure of the newly-
gazetted cornet, were all there. Every accent, every look that
marked each trait of national distinction in the empire, had its rep-
resentative, — the reserved, and distant Scotchman ; the gay, laugh-
ing, exuberant Patlander; the dark-eyed and dark-browed North
Briton, collected in groups, talking eagerly together ; while every


instant, as some new arrival would enter, all eyes would turn to the
spot, in eager expectation of the Duke's coming. At last the clash
of arms, as the guard turned out, apprised us of his approach, and
we had scarcely time to stand up and stop the buzz of voices, when
the door opened, and an aide-de-camp proclaimed, in a full tone,
" His Eoyal Highness the Commander-in-Chief 1"
Bowing courteously on every side, he advanced through the crowd,
turning his rapid and piercing 100k here and there through the
room, while with that tact, the essential gift of his family, he re-
cognized each person by his name, directing from one to the other
some passing observation.

" Ah, Sir George Cockburn, how d'ye do ? — your son's appoint-
ment is made out. Major Conyers, that application shall be looked
to. Forbes, you must explain that I cannot possibly put men in
the regiment of their choice — the service is the first thing. Lord

L , your memorial is before the Prince Regent — the cavalry

command will, I believe, however, include your name."

While he spoke thus, he approached the place where I was stand-
ing, when, suddenly checking himself, he looked at me for a mo-
ment somewhat sternly.

" Why not in uniform, sir ?"
" Your Royal Highness, I am not in the army."
" Not in the army — not in the army ? And why, may I beg to
know, have you — but I'm speaking to Captain O'Malley, if I mis-
take not?"

" I held that rank, sir, once, but family necessities compelled me
to sell out ; I have no commission in the service, but am come to
beseech your Royal Highness's permission to serve as a volunteer."
• As a volunteer, eh— a volunteer? Come, that's right, I like
that ; but still, we want such fellows as you — the man of Ciudad
Rodrigo. Yes, my lord, this is one of the stormers ; fought his way
through the trench among the first ; must not be neglected. Hold
yourself in readiness, Captain— hang it, I was forgetting— Mr. O'Mal-
ley, I mean — hold yourself in readiness for a staff appointment.
Smithson, take a note of this." So saying, he moved on ; and I
found myself in the street, with a heart bounding with delight, and
a step proud as an emperor's.

With such rapidity did the events of my life now follow one upon
the other, that I could take no note of time as it passed. On the
fourth day after my conversation with the Duke I found myself in
Brussels. As yet, I heard nothing of the appointment, nor was I
gazetted to any regiment or any situation on the staff. It was
strange enough, too, I met but few of my old associates, and not
one of those with whom I had been most intimate in my Peninsular


career ; but it so chanced that very many of the regiments who most
distinguished themselves in the Spanish campaigns, at the peace of
1814 were sent on foreign service. My old friend Power was, I
learned, quartered at Courtrai ; and, as I was perfectly at liberty to
dispose of my movemerlts at present, I resolved to visit him there.

It was a beautiful evening on the 12th of June. I had been in •
quiring concerning post-horses for my journey, and was returning
slowly through the park. The hour was late — near midnight — but
a pale moonlight, a calm, unruffled air, and stronger inducements
still, the song of the nightingales that abound in this place, pre-
vailed on many of the loungers to prolong their stay j and so, from
many a shady walk and tangled arbor, the clank of a sabre would
strike upon the ear, or the low, soft voice of woman would mingle
its dulcet sound with the deep tones of her companion. I wandered
on, thoughtful and alone ; my mind preoccupied so completely with
the mighty events passing before me, that I totally forgot my own
humble career, and the circumstances of my fortune. As I turned
into an alley which leads from the Great Walk towards the palace
of the Prince of Orange, I found my path obstructed by three per-
sons who were walking slowly along in front of me. I was, as I
have mentioned, deeply absorbed in thought, so that I found myself
close behind them before I was aware of their presence. Two of the
party were in uniform, and by their plumes, upon which a passing
ray of moonlight flickered, I could detect they were general officers;
the third was a lady. Unable to pass them, and unwilling to turn
back, I was unavoidably compelled to follow, and, however unwil-
ling, to overhear somewhat of their conversation.

" You mistake, George, you mistake. Depend upon it, this will
be no lengthened campaign ; victory will soon decide for one snje
or the other. If Napoleon beats the Prussians one day, and beats
us the next, the German states will rally to his standard, and the
old confederation of the Ehine will spring up once more, in all the
plenitude of its power. The Champ de Mai has shown the enthusi-
asm of France for their emperor. Louis Eighteenth fled from his
capital, with few to follow, and none to say, ' God bless him !' The
warlike spirit of the nation is roused again ; the interval of peace,
too short to teach habits of patient and enduring industry, is yet
sufficient to whet the appetite for carnage, and nothing is wanting*
save the presence of Napoleon alone to restore all the brilliant de-
lusions and intoxicating splendors of the empire."

" I confess," said the other, " I take a very different view from
yours in this matter. To me it seems that France is as tired of
battles as of the Bourbons "

I heard no more, for, though the speaker continued, a misty con-


fusion passed across my mind. The tones of his voice, well remem-
bered as they were by me, left me unable to think, and as I stood
motionless on the spot, I muttered, half aloud, " Sir George Dash-
wood." It was he, indeed ; and she who leaned upon his arm could
be no other than Lucy herself. I know not how it was ; for many a
long month I had schooled my heart, and taught myself to believe
that time had dulled the deep impression she had made upon me,
and that were we to meet again, it would be with more sorrow on
my part for my broken dream of happiness than of attachment and
affection for her who inspired it ; but now, scarcely was I near her —
I had not gazed upon her looks, I had not even heard her voice —
and yet, in all their ancient force came back the early passages of
my love, and as her footfall sounded gently upon the ground, my
keart beat scarce less audibly. Alas ! I could no longer disguise
from myself the avowal that she it was, and she only, who implanted
in my heart the thirst for distinction, and the moment was ever
present to my mind in which, as she threw her arms round her
father's neck, she muttered, " Oh, why not a soldier?"

As I thus reflected, an officer in full dress passed me hurriedly,
and taking off his hat as he came up with the party before me,
bowed obsequiously.

" My Lord , I believe, and Sir George Dash wood ?" They

replied by a bow. " Sir Thomas Picton wishes to speak with you
both for a moment ; he is standing beside the ' Basin.' If you will
permit " said he, looking toward Lucy.

" Thank you, sir," said Sir George ; " if you will have the good-
ness to accompany us, my daughter will wait our coming here. Sit
down, Lucy ; we shall not be long away."

The next moment she was alone. The last echoes of their retiring
footsteps had died away in the grassy walk, and in the calm and
death-like stillness I could hear every rustle of her silk dress.
The moonlight fell in fitful, straggling gleams between the leafy
branches, and showed me her countenance, pale as marble. Her
eyes were upturned slightly ; her brown hair, divided upon her fair
forehead, sparkled with a wreath of brilliants, which heightened the
lustrous effect of her calm beauty ; and now I could perceive her
dress bespoke that she had been at some of the splendid entertain-
ments which followed day after day in the busy capital.

Thus I stood within a few paces of her to be near whom, a few
hours before, I would willingly have given all I possessed in the
world ; and yet now a barrier far more insurmountable than time and
space intervened between us ; still, it seemed as though fortune had
presented this incident as a last farewell between us. Why should I
not take advantage of it ? Why should I not seize the only opportu-


nity that might ever occur of rescuing myself from the apparent load
of ingratitude which weighed on me ? I felt in the cold despair of
my heart that I could have no hold upon her affection ; but a pride
scarce less strong than the attachment that gave rise to it urged me
to speak. By one violent effort I summoned up my courage ; and
while I resolved to limit the few words I should say merely to my
vindication, I prepared to advance. Just at this instant, however,
a shadow crossed the path * a rustling sound was heard among the
branches, and the tall figure of a man in a dra*goon cloak stood
before me. Lucy turned suddenly at the sound ; but scarcely had
her eyes been bent in the direction, when, throwing off his cloak, he
sprang forward, and dropped at her feet. All my feeling of shame
at the part I was performing was now succeeded by a sense of savage
and revengeful hatred. It was enough that I should be brought
to look upon her whom I had lost forever without the added
bitterness of witnessing her preference for a rival. The whirlwind
passion of my brain stunned and stapefied me. Unconsciously I
drew my sword from my scabbard, and it was only as the pale light
fell upon the keen blade that the thought flashed across me, " What
could I mean to do ?"

" No, Hammersley," — it was he indeed, — said she, " it is unkind,
it is unfair, nay, it is unmanly to press me thus. I would not pain
you, were it not that in sparing you now I should entail deeper
injury upon you hereafter. Ask me to be your sister — your friend ;
ask me to feel proudly in your triumphs — to glory in your success ;
all this I do feel ; but oh ! I beseech you, as you value your happi-
ness — as you prize mine — ask me no more than this."

There was a pause of some seconds, and at length the low tones
of a man's voice, broken and uncertain in their utterance, said, —

" I know it — I feel it. My heart never bade me hope — and now —
'tis over."

He stood up as he spoke, and while he threw the light folds of his
mantle round him, a gleam of light fell upon his features. They
were pale as death ; two dark circles surrounded .his sunken eyes,
and his bloodless lip looked still more ghastly from the dark mous-
tache that drooped above it.

" Farewell !" said he, slowly, as he crossed his arms sadly upon
his breast ; " I will not pain you more."

"Oh! go not thus from me," said she, as her voice became
tremulous with emotion ; " do not add to the sorrow that weighs
upon my heart. I cannot, indeed I cannot, be other than I am ;
and I do but hate myself to think that I cannot give my love where

I have given all my esteem. If time " But before she could

continue further, the noise of approaching footsteps was heard, and


the voice of Sir George, as he came near. Hammersley disappeared
at once, and Lucy, with rapid steps, advanced to meet her father,
while I remained riveted upon the spot. What a torrent of emotions
then rushed upon my heart! What hopes, long dead or dying,
sprang up to life again I What visions of long-abandoned happi-
ness flitted before me ! Could it be, then ? dare I trust myself to
think of it, that Lucy cared for me ? The thought was maddening.
With a bounding sense of ecstasy I dashed across the park, resolving
at all hazards to risk everything upon the chance, and wait the next
morning upon Sir George Dashwood. As I thought thus, I reached
my hotel, where I found Mike in waiting with a letter. As I walked
towards the lamp in the porte coch&re, my eye fell upon the address.
It was in General Dashwood's hand. I tore it open, and read as

"Dear Sir: — Circumstances, into which you will excuse me
entering, having placed an insurmountable barrier to our former
terms of intimacy, you will, I trust, excuse me declining the honor
of any nearer acquaintance, and also forgive the liberty I take in
informing you of it, which step, however unpleasant to my feelings,
will save us both the great pain of meeting.

"I have only this moment heard of your arrival in Brussels, and
take thus the earliest opportunity of communicating with you.

" With every assurance of my respect for you personally, and an
earnest desire to serve you in your military career,

" I beg to remain,

" Very faithfully yours,

"George Dashwood."

"Another note, sir," said Mike, as he thrust into my hand a
letter he had just received from an orderly.

Stunned, half stupefied, I broke the seal. The contents were but
three lines.

"Sir :— I have the honor to inform you that Sir Thomas Picton
has appointed you an extra aide-de-camp on his personal staff. You
will therefore present yourself to-morrow morning at the Adjutant-
General's office, to receive your appointment and instructions.

"I have the honor to be, &c.

"G. Fitzroy."

Crushing the two letters in my fevered hand, I retired to my room,
and threw myself, dressed as I was, upon my bed. Sleep, that seems


to visit us in the saddest as in the happiest times of our existence,
came over me, and I did not awake until the bugles of the 95th were
sounding the reveille through the park, and the bright beams of the
morning sun were peering through the window.



MR. O'MALLEY," said a voice, as my door opened, and an
officer in undress entered. "Mr. O'Malley, I believe you
received your appointment last night on General Picton's

I bowed in reply, as he resumed :

u Sir Thomas desires that you will proceed to Courtrai with these
despatches in all haste. I -don't know if you are well mounted, but
I recommend you, in any case, not to spare your cattle."

So saying, he wished me a good morning, and left me, in a state of
no small doubt and difficulty, to my own reflections. What the
deuce was I to do ? I had no horse ; I knew not where to find one.
What uniform should I wear? For although appointed on the staff,
I was not gazetted to any regiment that I knew of, and hitherto had
"fceen wearing an undress frock and a foraging cap, for I could not
bear to appear as a civilian among so many military acquaintances.
No time was, however, to be lost, so I proceeded to put on my old
14th uniform, wondering whether my costume might not cost me a
reprimand in the very outset of my career. Meanwhile I despatched
Mike to see after a horse, caring little for the time, the merits, or
the price of the animal, provided he served my present purpose.

In less than twenty minutes my worthy follower appeared beneath
my window, surrounded by a considerable mob, who seemed to take
no small interest in the proceedings.

" What the deuce is the matter ?" cried I, as I opened the sash and
looked out.

"Mighty little's the matter, your honor; it's the savages here
that's admiring my horsemanship," said Mike, as he belabored a
tall, scraggy-looking mule with a stick which bore an uncommon
resemblance to a broom-handle*.

" What do you mean to do with that beast ?" said I. " You surely
don't expect me to ride a mule to Courtrai ?"


" Faith, and if you don't, you are likely to walk the journey ; for
there isn't a horse to be had for love or money in the town ; but I
am told that Mr. Marsden is coming up to-morrow with plenty, so
that you may as well take the journey out of the soft horns as spoil
a better, and if he only makes as good use of his fore legs as he does
of the hind ones, he'll think little of the road."

A vicious lash out behind served in a moment to corroborate
Mike's assertion, and to scatter the crowd on every side.

However indisposed to exhibit myself with such a turnout, my
time did not admit of any delay ; and so, arming myself with my de-
spatches, and having procured the necessary information as to the
road, I set out from the Belle Vue, amid an ill-suppressed titter of
merriment from the mob, which nothing but fear of Mike and his
broomstick prevented becoming a regular shout of laughter.

It was near nightfall as, tired and weary of the road, I entered
the little village of Halle. All was silent and noiseless in the de-
serted streets ; not a lamp threw its glare upon the pavement, not
even a solitary candle flickered through the casement. Unlike a
town garrisoned by troops, neither sentry nor outpost was to be met
with ; nothing gave evidence that the place was held by a large
body of men ; and I could not help feeling struck, as the footsteps of
my mule were echoed along the causeway, with the silence almost of
desolation around me. By the creaking of a sign, as it swung mourn-
fully to and fro, I was directed to the door of the village inn, where,
dismounting, I knocked for some moments, but without success. At
length, when I had made an uproar sufficient to alarm the entire
village, the casement above the door slowly opened, and a head en-
veloped in a huge cotton nightcap — so, at least, it appeared to me
from the size — protruded itself. After uttering a curse in about the
most barbarous French I ever heard, he asked me what I wanted
there; to which I replied, most nationally, by asking in return
where the British dragoons were quartered,

" They left for Nivelle this morning, to join some regiments of
your own country."

" Ah ! ah !" thought I, " he mistakes me for a Brunswicker," to
which, by the uncertain light, my uniform gave me some resem-
blance. As it was now impossible for me to proceed further,
I begged to ask where I could procure accommodation for the

" At the Burgomaster's. Turn to your left at the end of this street,
and you will soon find it. They have got some English officers
there, who, I believe in my soul, never sleep."

This was, at least, pleasant intelligence, and promised a better ter-
mination to my journey than I had begun to hope for ; so wishing


my friend a good-night, to which he willingly responded, I resumed
my way down the street. As he closed the window, once more leav-
ing me to my reflections, I began to wonder within myself to what
arm of the service these officers belonged to whose convivial gifts he
bore testimony. As I turned the corner of the street, I soon dis-
covered the correctness of his information. A broad glare of light
stretched across the entire pavement from a large house with a
clumsy stone portico before it. On coming nearer, the sound of
voices, the roar of laughter, the shouts of merriment that issued
forth, plainly bespoke that a jovial party were seated within. The
half-shutter which closed the lower part of the windows prevented
my obtaining a view of the proceedings ; but having cautiously ap-

Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 72 of 80)