Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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" It must be something of importance ; I'm sure it is," said she,
at the conclusion of a speech of which I had not heard one word.
" Look at General Picton's face !"

"Very pretty, indeed," said I ; "but the air is unbecoming," re-
plying to some previous observation she had made, and still lost in
reverie. A hearty burst of laughter was her answer, and she gently
took my arm, saying,

" You really are too bad ! You never listen to one word I've
been telling you, but keep continually staring with your eyes here
and there, turning this way and looking that; and the dull and
vacant, unmeaning smile, answering at random in the most pro-
voking manner. There, now, pray pay attention, and tell me what
that means." As she said this, she pointed with her fan to where a


dragoon officer, in splashed and spattered uniform, was standing,
talking to some three or four general officers. " But here comes the
Duke ; it can't be anything of consequence."

At the same instant the Duke of Wellington passed, with the
Duchess of Eichmond on his arm.

" No, Duchess ; nothing to alarm you. Did you say ice ?"

"There, you heard that, I hope?" said Inez; "there is nothing
to alarm us."

"Go to General Picton, at once, but don't let it be remarked,"
said an officer, in a whisper, as he passed close by me.

" Inez, I have the greatest curiosity to know what that new arrival
has to say for himself, and if you will permit me, I'll leave you with
Lady Gordon for one moment "

"Delighted, of all things. You are, without exception, the most
tiresome Good-bye."

" Adieu !" said I, as I hurried through the crowd towards an open
window, on the balcony outside of which Sir Thomas Picton was

" Ah, Mr. O'Malley ! have you a pencil ? There, that'll do. Eide
down to Etterbeck with this order for Godwin. You have heard the
news, I suppose, that the French are in advance ? The 79th will
muster in the Grande Place. The 92d and the 28th along the Park
and the Boulevard. Napoleon left Fresnes this morning. The
Prussians have fallen back. Zeithen has been beaten. We march
at once."

" To-morrow, sir ?"

" No, sir ; to-night. There, don't delay. But, above all, let
everything be done quietly and noiselessly. The Duke will remain
here for an hour longer, to prevent suspicion. When you've exe-
cuted your orders, come back here."

I mounted the first horse I could find at the door, and galloped
with top speed over the heavy causeway to Etterbeck. In two
minutes the drum beat to arms, and the men were mustering as I
left. Thence I hastened to the barracks of the Highland brigade
and the 28th Eegiment, and before half an hour was back in the
ball-room, where, from the din and tumult, I guessed the scene of
pleasure and dissipation continued unabated. As I hurried up the
staircase, a throng of persons were coming down, and I was obliged
to step aside to let them pass.

" Ah ! come here, pray," said Picton, who, with a lady, cloaked
and hooded, leaning upon his arm, was struggling to make way
through the crowd. " The very man !"

" Will you excuse me, if I commit you to the care of my aide-de-
camp, who will see you to your carriage? The Duke has just de>


sired to see me." This he said in a hurried and excited tone ; and
the same moment beckoned to me to take the lady's arm.

It was with some difficulty I succeeded in reaching the spot, and
had only time to ask whose carriage I should call for, ere we arrived
in the hall.

" Sir George Dashwood's," said a low, soft voice, whose accents
sank into my very heart. Heaven ! it was Lucy herself; it was her
arm that leaned on mine, her locks that fluttered beside me, her
hand that hung so near, and yet I could not speak. I tried one
word ; but a choking feeling in my throat prevented utterance, and
already we were upon the door-steps.

" Sir George Dashwood's carriage," shouted the footman, and the
announcement was repeated by the porter. The steps were hurried
down ; the footman stood door in hand, and I led her forward, mute
and trembling. Did she know me ? I assisted her as she stepped
in ; her hand touched mine ; it was the work of a second ; to me it
was the bliss of years. She leaned a little forward, and, as the ser-
vant put up the steps, said, in her soft, sweet tone, " Thank you, sir.

I felt my shoulder touched by some one, who, it appeared, was
standing close to me for some seconds ; but so occupied was I in
gazing at her, that I paid no attention to the circumstance. The
carriage drove away, and disappeared in the thick darkness of a
starless night. I turned to re-enter the house, and as I did so, the
night lamp of the hall fell upon the features of the man beside me,
and showed me the pale and corpse-like face of Hammersley. His
eye was bent upon me with an expression of fierce and fiery passion,
in which the sadness of long suffering also mingled. His bloodless
lips parted, moved as though speaking, while yet no sound issued ;
and his nostrils, dilating and contracting by turns, seemed to denote
some deep and hidden emotion that worked within him.

" Hammersley," said I, holding out my hand towards him. "Ham-
mersley, do not always mistake me."

He shook his head mournfully as it fell forward upon his breast;
and, covering his arm, moved slowly away without speaking.

General Picton's voice, as he descended the stairs, accompanied
by Generals Vandeleur and Vivian, aroused me at once, and I hur-
ried towards him.

" Now, sir ; to horse. The troops will defile by the Namur gate ;
meet me there in an hour. Meanwhile tell Colonel Cameron that he
must march with the light companies of his own and the 92d at once."

" I say, Picton, they'll say we were taken by surprise in England ;
won't they ?" said a sharp strong voice, in a half-laughing tone, from


"No, your Grace," said Sir Thomas, bowing slightly; "they'll
scarcely do so when they hear the time we took to get under arms."

I heard no more; but, throwing myself into the saddle of my
troop-horse, once more rode back to the Belle Vue, to make ready
for the road.

The thin pale crescent of a new moon, across which masses of
dark and inky clouds were hurrying, tipped with its faint and sickly
light the tall minarets of the Hotel de Ville, as I rode into the
" Grande Place." Although midnight, the streets were as crowded
as at noonday; horse, foot, and dragoons passing and hurrying
hither; the wild pibroch of the Highlander; the mellow bugle of
the 71st ; the hoarse trumpet of the cavalry ; the incessant roll of
the drum, mingled their sounds with the tide of human voices, in
which every accent was heard, from the reckless cheer of anticipated
victory to the heart-piercing shriek of woman's agony. Lights
gleamed from every window ; from the doors of almost every house
poured forth a crowd of soldiers and townsfolk. The sergeants on
one side might be seen telling off their men, their cool and steady
countenances evidencing no semblance of emotion ; while near them,
some young ensign, whose beardless cheek and vacant smile bespoke
the mere boy, looked on with mingled pride and wonder at the wild
scene before him. Every now and then some general officer, with
his staff, came cantering past ; and as the efforts to muster and form
the troops grew more pressing, I could mark how soon we were des-
tined to meet the enemy.

There are few finer monuments of the architecture of the middle
ages than the Grande Place of Brussels. The rich facade of the
Hotel de Ville, with its long colonnade of graceful arches, upon
every keystone of which some grim grotesque head is peering ; the
massive cornices ; the heavy gorbels carved into ten thousand strange
and uncouth fancies ; but, finer than all, the taper and stately spire,
fretted and perforated like some piece of silver filigree, stretches
upward towards the sky, its airy pinnacle growing finer and more
beautiful as it nears the stars it points to. How full of historic as-
sociations is every dark embrasure, every narrow casement around !
Here may have stood the great Emperor Charles the Fifth, medita-
ting upon that greatness he was about to forego forever ; here, from
this tall window, may have looked the sad and sickly features of
Jeanne Laffolle, as, with wandering eye and idiot smile, she gazed
upon the gorgeous procession beneath. There is not a stone that
has not echoed to the tread of haughty prince or bold baron ; yet
never, in the palmiest days of ancient chivalry, did those proud
dwellings of the great of old look out upon a braver and more valiant
host than now thronged beneath their shadow. It was indeed a


splendid sight, where the bright gleams of torch and lantern threw
the red light around, to watch the measured tread and steady tramp
of the Highland regiments as they denied into the open space, each
footstep, as it met the ground, seeming, in its proud and firm tread,
to move in more than sympathy with the wild notes of their native
mountains ; silent and still they moved along ; no voice spoke within
their ranks, save that of some command to " Close up — take ground
— to the right — rear rank — close order." Except such brief words
as these, or the low muttered praise of some veteran general as
he rode down the line, all was orderly and steady as on a parade.
Meanwhile, from an angle of the square, the band of an approaching
regiment was heard ; and to the inspiriting quickstep of " The Young
May Moon," the gallant 28th came forward, and took up their ground
opposite to the Highlanders.

The deep bell of the Hotel de Ville tolled one. The solemn sound
rang out and died away in many an echo, leaving upon the heart a
sense of some unknown depression ; and there was something like a
knell in the deep cadence of its bay ; and over many a cheek a rapid
trace of gloomy thought now passed, and true — too true, alas! — how
many now listened for the last time !

" March ! March !" passed from front to rear ; and, as the bands
burst forth again in strains of spirit-stirring harmony, the 79th
moved on; the 28th followed; and as they debouched from the
"Place," the 71st and the 92d succeeded them. Like wave after
wave, the tide of armed men pressed on, and mounted the steep and
narrow streets towards the upper town of Brussels. Here Pack's
brigade was forming in the Place Royale; and a crowd of staff
officers dictating orders, and writing hurriedly on the drum heads,
were also seen. A troop of dragoons stood beside their horses at the
door of the Belle Vue, and several grooms with led horses walked to
and fro.

" Ride forward, sir, to the Bois de Cambre," said Picton, " and
pivot the troops on the road to Mont St. Jean. You will then wait
for my coming up, or further orders."

This command, which was given to me, I hastened to obey ; with
difficulty forcing my way through the opposing crowd, I at length
reached the Namur gate. Here I found a detachment of the Guards,
who as yet had got no orders to march, and were somewhat surprised
to learn the forward movement. Ten minutes' ride brought me to
the angle of the wood, whence I wrote a few lines to my host of the
Belle Vue, desiring him to send Mike after me with my horses and
my kit. The night was cold, dark, and threatening; the wind
howled with a low and wailing cry through the dark pine trees ;
and as I stood alone in the solitude, 1 had time to think of the


eventful hours before me, and of that field which ere long was to
witness the triumph or the downfall of my country's arms. The
road which led through the forest of Soignies caught an additional
gloom from the dark, dense woods around. The faint moon only
showed at intervals; and a louring sky, without a single star,
stretched above us. It was an awful and a solemn thing to hear
the deep and thundering roll of that mighty column, awakening the
echoes of the silent forest as they went. So hurried was the move-
ment, that we had scarcely any artillery, and that of the lightest
calibre ; but the clash and clank of cavalry, the heavy monotonous
tramp of infantry was there ; and as division followed after division,
staff officers rode hurriedly to and fro, pressing on the eager troops.

" Move up there, 95th. Ah ! 42d, we've work before us !" said
Picton, as he rode up to the head of his brigade. The air of depres-
sion which usually sat upon his careworn features now changed for
a light and laughing look, while his voice was softened and subdued
into a low and pleasing tone. Although it was midsummer, the
roads were heavy and deep with mud. For some weeks previously
the weather had been rainy; and this, added to the haste and dis-
comfort of the night march, considerably increased the fatigue of
the troops. Notwithstanding these disadvantages, not a murmur nor
complaint was heard on any side.

" I'm unco glad to get a blink o' them, onyhow," said a tall, raw-
boned sergeant, who marched beside me.

" Faith, and maybe you won't be over pleased at the expression of
their faces, when you see them," said Mike, whose satisfaction at the
prospect before him was still as great as that of any other amid the
thousands there.

The day was slowly breaking, as a Prussian officer, splashed and
covered with foam, came galloping up at full speed past us. While
I was yet conjecturing what might be the intelligence he brought,
Power rode up to my side.

" We're in for it, Charley," said he. " The whole French army
are on the march ; and Blucher's aide-de-camp, who has arrived,
gives the number at one hundred and fifty thousand men. The
Prussians are drawn up between Saint Amand and Sombref, and
the Nassau and Dutch troops are at Quatre Bras, both expecting to t
be attacked."

" Quatre Bras was the original rallying spot for our troops, was it
not?" said I.

"Yes, yes. It is that we're now marching upon; but our Prus-
sian friend seems to think we shall arrive too late. Strong French
corps are already at Fresnes, under the command, it is said, of Mar-
shal Ney."


The great object of the British Commander-in-Chief was to arrive
at Quatre Bras in sufficient time to effect his junction with Blucher
before a battle should be fought. To effect this no exertion was
spared : efforts almost superhuman were made ; for, however pre-
pared for a forward movement, it was impossible to have anticipated
anything until the intentions of Napoleon became clearly manifest.
While Nivelle and Chaiieroi were exposed to him on one side, Namur
lay open on the other ; and he could either march upon Brussels,
by Mons or Halle, or, as he subsequently attempted, by Quatre Bras
and Waterloo. No sooner, however, were his intentions unmasked,
and the line of his operations manifested, than Lord Wellington,
with an energy equal to the mighty occasion that demanded it,
poured down with the whole force under his command to meet him.

The march was a most distressing one — upwards of three-and-
twenty miles, with deep and cut-up roads, in hot, oppressive weather,
in a country almost destitute of water. Still the troops pressed for-
ward, and by noon came within hearing of the heavy cannonade in
front, which indicated the situation of the battle. From this time
aide-de-camp followed aide-de-camp in quick succession, who, from
their scared looks and hurried gestures, seemed to bode but ill for-
tune to the cause we cared for. What the precise situation of the
rival armies might be we knew not ; but we heard that the French
were in overwhelming numbers ; that the Dutch troops had aban-
doned their position ; the Hanoverians being driven back, the Duke
of Brunswick — the brave sovereign of a gallant people — fell charg-
ing at the head of his black hussars. From one phrase which con-
stantly met our ears, it seemed that the Bois de Bossu was the key
of the position. This had been won and lost repeatedly by both
sides ; and as we neared the battle-field, a despatch hurriedly an-
nounced to Picton the importance of at once recovering this con-
tested point. The 95th were ordered up to the attack. Scarcely
was the word given, when fatigue, thirst, and exhaustion were for-
gotten. With one cheer the gallant regiment formed into line, and
advanced upon the wood. Meanwhile, the Highland brigade moved
down towards the right ; the Royals and the 28th debouched upon
the left of the road ; and in less than half an hour after our arrival
our whole force was in action.

There is something appalling to the bravest army in coming up to
battle at the time that an overwhelming and conquering foe are
carrying victory triumphantly before them. Such was our position
at Quatre Bras. Bravely and gloriously as the forces of the Prince
of Orange fought, the day, however, was not theirs. The Bois de
Bossu, which opened to the enemy the road to Brussels, w T as held by
their tirailleurs ; the valley to the right was ridden over by their


mounted squadrons, who with lance and sabre carried all before
them ; their dark columns pressed steadily on ; and a death-dealing
artillery swept the allied ranks from flank to flank. Such was the
field when the British arrived, and, throwing themselves into squares,
opposed their unaided force to the dreadful charges of the enemy.
The batteries showered down their storms of grape. Milhaud's
heavy dragoons, assisted by crowds of lancers, rushed upon the
squares, but they stood unbroken and undaunted, as sometimes upon
three sides of their position the infuriated horsemen of the enemy
came down. Once, and once only, were the French successful ; the
42d, who were stationed amid tall corn-fields, w T ere surrounded with
cavalry before they knew it. The word w r as given to form square ;
the Lancers were already among them, and, fighting back to back,
the gallant Highlanders met the foe. Fresh numbers poured down
upon them, and already half the regiment was disabled and their
colonel killed. These brave fellows were rescued by the 44th, who,
throwing in a withering volley, fixed bayonets and charged. Mean-
while, the 95th had won and lost the wood, which, now in the posses-
sion of the French tirailleurs, threatened to turn the left of our
position. It was at this time that a body of cavalry were seen
standing to the left of the Enghien road, as if in observation.
An officer, sent forward to reconnoitre, returned with the intelli-
gence that they were British troops, for he had seen their red uni-

" I can't think it sir," said Picton. " It is hardly possible that
any regiment from Enghien could have arrived already. Ride for-
ward, O'Malley, and if they be our fellows let them carry that
height yonder ; there are two guns there cutting the 92d to pieces."

I put spurs to my horse, cleared the road at once, and dashing
across the open space to the left of the wood, rode on in the direc-
tion of the horsemen. When I came within the distance of three
hundred yards I examined them with my glass, and could plainly
detect the scarlet coats and bright helmets. " Ha," thought I, " the
1st Dragoon Guards, no doubt." Muttering to myself thus much, I
galloped straight on; and waving my hand as I came near, an-
nounced that I was the bearer of an order. Scarcely had I done so,
when four horsemen, dashing spurs into their steeds, plunged hastily
out from the line, and, before I could speak, surrounded me, while
the foremost called out, as he flourished his sabre above his head,
"Rendezvous /" At the same moment I was seized on each side, and
led back a captive into the hands of the enemy.

" We guess your mistake, Capitaine," said the French officer before
whom 1 was brought. "We are the regiment of Berg, and our
scarlet uniform cost us dearly enough yesterday."


This allusion, I afterwards learned, was in reference to a charge
by a cuirassier regiment, which, in mistaking them for English,
poured a volley into them, and killed and wounded about twenty of
their number.



THOSE who have visited the field of Quatre Bras will remem-
ber that on the left of the high road, and nearly at the ex-
tremity of the Bois de Bossu, stands a large Flemish farm-
house, whose high, pitched roof, pointed gables, and quaint,
old-fashioned chimneys, remind one of the architecture so fre-
quently seen in Teniers's pictures. The house, which, with its
dependencies of stables, granaries, and out-houses, resembles a little
village, is surrounded by a large, straggling orchard of aged fruit-
trees, through which the approach from the high road leads. The
interior of this quaint dwelling, like all those of its class, is only
remarkable for a succession of small, dark, low-ceiled rooms, leading
one into another ; their gloomy aspect increased by the dark oak
furniture, the heavy armories, and old-fashioned presses, carved in
the grotesque taste of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Those who visit it now may mark the trace of cannon-shot here and
there through the building ; more than one deep crack will attest
the force of the dread artillery. Still the traveller will feel struck
with the rural peace and quietude of the scene. The speckled oxen
that stand lowing in the deep meadows ; the splash of the silvery
trout as he sports in the bright stream that ripples along over its
gravelly bed ; the cawing of the old rooks in the tall beech-trees ;
but, more than all, the happy laugh of children, speak of the spot
as one of retired and tranquil beauty ; yet, when my eyes opened
upon it on the morning of the 17th of June, the scene presented
features of a widely different interest. The day was breaking as the
deep, full sound of the French bugles announced the reveille. For-
getful of where I was, I sprang from my bed and rushed to the
window ; the prospect before me at once recalled me to my recollec-
tion, and I remembered that I was a prisoner. The exciting events
around left me but little time and as little inclination to think over
my old misfortunes ; and I watched, with all the interest of a sol-
dier, the movement of the French troops in the orchard beneath. A


squadron of dragoons, who seemed to have passed the night beside
their horses, lay stretched or seated in all the picturesque groupings
of a bivouac. Some were already up and stirring ; others leaned
half listlessly upon their elbows, and looked about as if unwilling to
believe the night was over ; and some, stretched in deep slumber,
woke not with the noise and tumult around them. The room in
which I was confined looked out upon the road to Charleroi ; I could
therefore see the British troops; and as the French army had fallen
back during the night, only an advance guard maintaining the posi-
tion, I was left to my unaided conjectures as to the fortune of the
preceding day of battle. What a period of anxiety and agitation
was that morning to me ; what would I not have given to learn the
result of the action since the moment of my capture ! Stubborn as
our resistance had been, we were evidently getting the worst of it ;
and if the Guards had not arrived in time, I knew we must have
been beaten.

I walked up and down my narrow room, tortured and agonized by
my doubts, now stopping to reason over the possibilities of success,
now looking from the window to try if, in the gesture and bearing
of those without, I could conjecture anything that passed. Too well
I knew the vaunting character of the French soldier, in defeat as in
victory, to put much confidence in their bearing. While, however,
I watched them with an eager eye, I heard the tramp of horsemen
coming along the paved causeway. From the moment my ear
caught the sound to that of their arrival at the gate of the orchard,
but few minutes had elapsed;- their pace was indeed a severe one,
and, as they galloped through the narrow path that led to the farm-
house, they never drew rein till they reached the porch. The
party consisted of about a dozen persons, whose plumed hats bespoke
them staff officers ; but their uniforms were concealed beneath their
great-coats. As they came along the picket sprang to their feet, and
the guard at the door beneath presented arms. This left no doubt
upon my mind that some officer of rank was among them, and as I
knew that Ney himself commanded on the preceding day, I thought
it might be he. The sound of voices beneath informed me that the
party occupied the room under that in which I was ; and, although

Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 74 of 80)