Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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I have, as you see, even friends among the staff-, besides, I have
done nothing to compromise or endanger my position."

" No, sir," said he, sternly, " I will not act such a part as this.
The tears you have seen in these old eyes are not for myself. I fear
not death. Better it were it should have come upon the field of
glorious battle; but as it is, my soldier's honor remains intact,
untainted."

" You refuse the service on account of him who proffers it," said
I, as I fell heavily upon a seat, my head bowed upon my bosom.

"Not so, not so, my boy," replied he, kindly. "The near apr
proach of death, like the fading light of day, gives us a longer and
a clearer view before us. I feel that I have wronged you ; that I
have imputed to you the errors of others ; but, believe me, if I have
wronged you, I have punished my own heart ; for, Charles, I have
loved you like a son."

" Then prove it," said I, " and let me act towards you as towards
a father. You will not? You refuse me still? Then, by Heaven,
I remain to share your fate ! I well know the temper of him who
has sentenced you, and that by one word of mine my destiny is
sealed forever."

" No, no, boy ! This is but rash and insane folly. Another year
or two, nay, perhaps a few months more, and in the common course
of nature I had ceased to be ; but you, with youth, with fortune, and
with hope "

" Oh, not with hope !" said I, in a voice of agony.

" Nay, say not so," replied he, calmly, while a sickly smile played
sadly over his face; "you will give this letter to my daughter, you
will tell her that we parted as friends should part ; and if, after that,
when time shall have smoothed down her grief, and sorrow be rather
a dark dream of the past than a present suffering ; if, then, you love
her, and if "

" Oh, tempt me not thus !" said I, as the warm tears gushed from
my eyes ; " lead me not thus astray from what my honor tells me I
should do. Hark ! they are coming already. I hear the clank of



QUATRE BRAS. 729

their sabres ; they are mounting the steps ; not a moment is to be
lost ! Do you refuse me still ?"

" 1 do," replied he, firmly j " I am resolved to abide the course of
fate."

" Then so do I," cried I, as, folding my arms, I sat down beside
the window, determined on my course.

" Charley, Charley," said he, stooping over me, " my friend, my
last hope, the protector of my child "

" I will not go," said I, in a hollow whisper.

Already they were at the door ; I heard -their voices as they chal-
lenged the sentry ; I heard his musket as he raised it to his shoulder.
The thought flashed across me — I jumped up, and, throwing the
loose mantle of the French dragoon around him, and replacing his
own with the foraging cap of St. Croix, I sprang into a corner of
the room, and, seating myself so as to conceal my face, waited the
result. The door opened, the party entered, laughing and talking
together.

" Come, Eugene," said one, taking Sir George by the arm, " you
have spent long enough time here to learn the English language.
We shall be late at the outpost. * Messieurs les Anglais, good-night,
good-night !"

This was repeated by the others as they passed out with Sir
George Dashwood among them, who, seeing that my determination
was not to be shaken, and that any demur on his part must neces-
sarily compromise both, yielded to a coup de main that he never
would have consented to from an appeal to his reason. The door
closed ; their steps died away in the distance. Again a faint sound
struck my ear ; it was the challenge of the sentry beneath, and I
heard the tramp of horses' feet. All was still, and in a burst of
heartfelt gratitude I sank upon my knees, and thanked God that he
was safe.

So soundly did I sleep, that not before I was shaken several times
by the shoulder could I awake on the following morning.

" I thought there were two prisoners here," said a gruff voice, as
an old moustached-looking veteran cast a searching look about the
room. "However, we shall have enough of them before sunset.
Get — get up ; Monsieur le Due de Dalmatie desires some information
you can give him."

As he said this, he led me from the room, and, descending the
flight of stone steps, we entered the court-yard. It was but four
o'clock, the rain still falling in torrents, yet every one was up and
stirring.

" Mount this horse," said my gruff friend, " and come with me
towards the left ; the Marshal has already gone forward."



730 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

The heavy mist of the morning, darkened by the louring clouds
which almost rested on the earth, prevented our seeing above a
hundred yards before us; but the hazy light of the watch-fires
showed me the extent of the French position, as it stretched away
along the ridge towards the Halle road. We rode forward at a trot,
but in the deep clayey soil we sank at each moment to our horses'
fetlocks. I turned my head as I heard the tramp and splash of
horsemen behind, and perceived that I was followed by two dra-
goons, who, with their carbines on the rest, kept their eyes steadily
upon me to prevent any chance of escape. In a slight hollow of
the ground before us stood a number of horsemen, who conversed
together in a low tone as we came up.

" There ! that is the Marshal," said my companion, in a whisper,
as we joined the party.

" Yes, Monsieur le Due," said an engineer colonel, who stood be-
side Soult's horse, with a colored plan in his hand — " Yes, that is
the Chateau de Goumont, yonder. It is, as you perceive, completely
covered by the rising ground marked here; they will, doubtless,
place a strong artillery force in this quarter."

" Ah ! who is this ?" said the Marshal, turning his eyes suddenly
upon me, and then casting a look of displeasure around him, lest I
should have overheard any portion of their conversation. "You
are deficient in cavalry, it would appear, sir ?" said he to me.

" You must feel, Monsieur le Due," said I, calmly, " how impos-
sible it is for me, as a man of honor and a soldier, to afford you any
information as to the army I belong to."

" I do not see that, sir. You are a prisoner in our hands ; your
treatment, your fortune, your very life depends on us. Besides, sir,
when French officers fall into the power of your people, I have heard
they meet not very ceremonious treatment."

" Those who say so, say falsely," said I, " and wrong both your
countrymen and mine. In any case "

" The Guards are an untried force in your service," said he, with
a mixture of inquiry and assertion.

I replied not a word.

"You must see, sir," continued he, "that all the chances are
against you. The Prussians beaten, the Dutch discouraged, the
Belgians only waiting for victory to incline to our standard, to desert
your ranks, and pass over to ours ; while your troops, scarcely forty
thousand, nay, I might say, not more than thirty-five thousand. Is
it not so?"

Here was another question, so insidiously conveyed that even a
change of feature on my part might have given the answer. A half
smile, however, and a slight bow was all my reply ; while Soult mut-



QUATRE BRAS. 731

tered something between his teeth, which called forth a laugh from
those around him.

" You may retire, sir, a little," said he, dryly, to me.

Not sorry to be freed from the awkwardness of my position, I fell
back to the little rising ground behind. Although the rain poured
down without ceasing, the rising sun dispelled, in part, the heavy
vapor, and by degrees different portions of the wide plain presented
themselves to view ; and as the dense masses of fog moved slowly
along, I could detect, but still faintly, the outline of the large,
irregular biylding which I had heard them call the Chateau de Gou-
mont, and from whence I could hear the clank of masonry, as at in-
tervals the wind bore the sounds towards me. These were the sap-
pers piercing the walls for musketry ; and this I could now perceive
was looked upon as a position of no small importance. Surrounded
by a straggling orchard of aged fruit trees, the chateau lay some
hundred yards in advance of the British line, commanded by two
eminences, one of which, in the possession of the French, was
already occupied by a park of eleven guns ; of the other I knew
nothing, except the passing glance I had obtained of its position on
the map. The second corps, under Jerome Bonaparte, with Foy and
Kellerman's brigade of light artillery, stretched behind us. On the
right of these came D'Erlon's corps, extending to a small wood,
which my companion told me was Frischermont ; while Lobau's
division was stationed to the extreme right towards St. Lambert, to
maintain the communication with Grouchy at Wavre, or, if need be,
to repel the advance of the Prussians, and prevent their junction
with the Anglo-Dutch army. The Imperial Guard with the cavalry
formed the reserve. Such was, in substance, the information given
me by my guide, who seemed to expatiate with pleasure over the
magnificent array of battle, while he felt a pride in displaying his
knowledge of the various divisions and their leaders.

" I see the Marshal moving towards the right," said he ; " we had
better follow him."

It was now about eight o'clock, as from the extremity of the line
I could see a party of horsemen advancing at a sharp canter.

" That must be Ney," said my companion. " See how rashly he
approaches the English lines !"

And so it was. The party in question rode fearlessly down the
slope, and did not halt until they reached within about three hun-
dred yards of what appeared a ruined church.

" What is that building yonder ?"

" That— that," replied he, after a moment's thought, "that must
be La Haye Sainte ; and yonder, to the right of it, is the road to
Brussels. There, look now! your people are in motion. See! i>



732 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

column is moving towards the right, and the cavalry are defiling on
the other side of the road. I was mistaken — that cannot be Ney.
Heavens ! it was the Emperor himself, and here he comes."

As he spoke, the party galloped forward, and pulled up short
within a few yards of where we stood.

" Ha !" cried he, as his sharp glance fell upon me, " there is my
taciturn friend of Quatre Bras. You see, sir, I can dispense with
your assistance now ; the chess-board is before me ;" and then added
in a tone he intended not to be overheard, " Everything depends on
Grouchy."

" Well, Haxo," he called out to an officer who galloped up, cha-
peau in hand, " what say you ? are they entrenched in that posi-
tion ?"

" No, sire, the ground is open, and in two hours more will be firm
enough for the guns to manoeuvre."

" Now, then, for breakfast," said Napoleon, as with an easy and
tranquil smile he turned his horse's head, and cantered gently up
the heights towards La Belle Alliance. As he approached the lines
the cry of " Vive VEmpereur /" burst forth. Regiment after regiment
took it up ; and from the distant wood of Frischermont to the far
left beside Merke-braine, the shout resounded. So sudden, so sim-
ultaneous was the outbreak, that he himself, accustomed as he well
was to the enthusiasm of his army, seemed, as he reined in his horse,
and looked with proud and elated eye upon the countless thousands,
astounded and amazed. He lifted with slow and graceful action his
unplumed hat above his head, and while he bowed that proud front
before which kings have trembled, the acclamation burst forth anew,
and rent the very air.

At this moment the sun shone brilliantly out from the dark clouds,
and flashed upon the shining blades and glistening bayonets along
the line. A dark and louring shadow hung gloomily over the
British position, while the French sparkled and glittered in the
sunbeams. His quick glance passed with lightning speed from one
to the other ; and I thought that, in his look, upturned to»heaven,
I could detect the flitting thought which bade him hope it was an
augury. The bands of the Imperial Guard burst forth in joyous and
triumphant strains, and amid the still repeated cries of "VEmpereur 1
VEmpereur /" he rode slowly along towards La Belle Alliance.



WATERLOO. 733



CHAPTER LV



WATEKLOO.



NAPOLEON'S first intention was to open the battle by an
attack upon the extreme right ; but Ney, who returned from
an observation of the ground, informed him that a rivulet,
swollen by the late rains, had now become a foaming torrent, per-
fectly impassable to infantry. To avoid this difficulty, he abandoned
his favorite manoeuvre of a flank movement, and resolved to- attack
the enemy by the centre. Launching his cavalry and artillery by
the road to Brussels, he hoped thus to cut off the communication of
the British with their own left, as well as with the Prussians, for
whom he trusted that Grouchy would be more than a match.

The reserves were in consequence all brought up to the centre.
Seven thousand cavalry and a massive artillery assembled upon the
heights of La Belle Alliance, and waited but the order to march. It
was eleven o'clock, and Napoleon mounted his horse and rode slowly
along the line; again the cry of "Vive V Empereur /" resounded, and
the bands of the various regiments struck up their spirit-stirring
strains as the gorgeous staff moved along. On the British side all
was tranquil ; and still the different divisions appeared to have
taken up their ground, and the long ridge from Terla-Haye to
Merke-braine bristled with bayonets. Nothing could possibly be
more equal than the circumstances of the field. Each army pos-
sessed an eminence whence their artillery might play. A broad and
slightly undulating valley lay between both. The ground permitted
in all places both cavalry and infantry movements, and except the
crumbling walls of the Chateau of Hougoumont, or the farm-house
of La Haye Sainte, both of which were occupied by the British, no
advantage, either by nature or art, inclined to either side. It was a
fair stand-up fight. It was the mighty tournament, not only of the
two greatest nations, but the two deadliest rivals and bitterest
enemies, led on by the two greatest military geniuses that the world
has ever seen — it might not be too much to say or ever will see. As
for me, condemned to be an inactive spectator of the mighty strug-
gle, doomed to witness all the deep-laid schemes and well-devised
plans of attack which were destined for the overthrow of my coun-
try's arms, my state was one of torture and suspense. I sat upon
the little rising ground of Eossomme. Before me, in the valley,
where yet the tall corn waved in ripe luxuriance, stood the quiet and
peaceful-looking old Chateau of Hougoumont, and the blossoming
branches of the orchard ; the birds were gayly singing their songs,
the shrill whistle of the fatal musketry was to be heard, and through



734 CHARLES O'MALLEY.

my glass I could detect the uniform of the soldiers who held the
position, and my heart beat anxiously and proudly as I recognized
the Guards. In the orchard and the garden were stationed some
riflemen — at least their dress and the scattered order they assumed
bespoke them such. While I looked, the tirailleurs of Jerome's
division advanced from the front of the line, and, descending the
hill in a sling trot, broke into scattered parties, keeping up, as they
went, a desultory and irregular fire. The English skirmishers, less
expert in this peculiar service, soon fell back, and the head of
Eeille's brigade began their march towards the chateau. The Eng-
lish artillery is unmasked and opens its fire. Kellermann advances
at a gallop his twelve pieces of artillery; the chateau is concealed
from view by the dense smoke, and as the attack thickens, fresh
troops pour forward, the artillery thundering on either side ; the
entire lines of both armies stand motionless spectators of the terrific
combat, while every eye is turned towards that devoted spot from
whose dense mass of cloud and smoke the bright glare of artillery
is flashing, as the crashing masonry, the burning rafters, and the
loud yell of battle add to the frightful interest of the scene. For
above an hour the tremendous attack continues without cessation ;
the artillery stationed upon the height has now found its range, and
every ringing shot tells upon the tottering walls ; some wounded
soldiers return faint and bleeding from the conflict, but there are
few who escape. A crashing volley of firearms is now heard from
the side where the orchard stands ; a second and a third succeed,
one after the other, as rapid as lightning itself. A silence follows,
when, after a few moments, a deafening cheer bursts forth, and an
aide-de-camp gallops up to say that the orchard has been carried at
the point of the bayonet, the Nassau sharpshooters who held it
having, after a desperate resistance, retired before the irresistible
onset of the French infantry. "A moil maintenant I" said General
Foy, as he drew his sabre, and rode down to the head of his splendid
division, which, anxious for the word to advance, were standing in
the valley. "En avant I mes braves" cried he, while, pointing to the
chateau with his sword, he dashed boldly forward. Scarcely had he
advanced a hundred yards, when a cannon-shot, " ricocheting" as
it went, struck his horse in the counter, and rolled him dead on the
plain. Disengaging himself from the lifeless animal, he at once
sprang to his feet, and hurried forward. The column was soon hid
from my view, and I was left to mourn over the seemingly inevita-
ble fate that impended over my gallant countrymen.

In the intense' interest which chained me to this part of the field,
I had not noticed till this moment that the Emperor and his staff
were standing scarcely thirty yards from where I was. Napoleon,



WATERLOO. 735

seated upon a gray, almost white, Arabian, had suffered the reins to
fall loosely on the neck, as he held with both hands his telescope to
his eye ; his dress, the usual green coat with white facings, the uni-
form of the chasseurs a cheval, was distinguished merely by the cross
of the Legion ; his high boots were splashed and mud-stained, from
riding through the deep and clayey soil ; his compact and clean-"
bred charger looked also slightly blown and heated ; but he himself,
and I watched his features well, looked calm, composed, and tran-
quil. How anxiously did I scrutinize that face ; with what a throb-
bing heart did I canvass every gesture, hoping to find some passing
trait of doubt, of difficulty, or of hesitation ; but none was there :
unlike one who looked upon the harrowing spectacle of a battle-
field, whose all was depending on the game before him; gambling
with one throw his last, his only stake, and that the empire of the
world. Yet, could I picture to myself one who felt at peace within
himself — naught of reproach — naught of regret to move or stir his
spirit, whose tranquil barque had glided over the calm sea of life,
unruffled by the breath of passion — I should have fancied such was
he.

Beside him sat one whose flashing eye and changing features
looked in every way his opposite. Watching with intense anxiety
the scene of the deadly struggle round the chateau, every look,
every gesture, told the changing fortune of the moment ; his broad
and brawny chest glittered with orders and decorations, but his
heavy brow and louring look, flushed almost black with excitement,
could not easily be forgotten. It was Soult, who, in his quality of
Major-General, accompanied the Emperor throughout the day.

" They have lost it again, sire," said the Marshal, passionately ;
" and see, they are forming beneath the cross-fire of the artillery ;
the head of the column keeps not its formation two minutes together.
Why does he not move up ?"

" Domont, you know the British ; what troops are those in the
orchard ? They use the bayonet well."

The officer addressed pointed his glass for a moment to the spot.
Then turning to the Emperor, replied, as he touched his hat, " They
are the Guards, sire."

During this time Napoleon spoke not a word ; his eye ever bent
upon the battle, he seemed to pay little if any attention to the con-
versation about him. As he looked, an aide-de-camp, breathless
and heated, galloped up.

" The columns of attack are formed, sire ; everything is ready,
and the Marshal only waits the order."

Napoleon turned upon his saddle, and, directing his glass towards
Ney's division, looked fixedly for some moments at them. His eye



736 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

moved from front to rear slowly, and at last carrying his telescope
along the line, he fixed it steadily upon the far left. Here, towards
St. Lambert, a slight cloud seems to rest on the horizon, as the Em-
peror continued to gaze steadfastly at it. Every glass of the staff
was speedily turned in that direction.

" It is nothing but a cloud ; some exhalation from the low grounds
in that quarter," whispered one.

" To me," said another, " they look like trees, part of the Bois de
Wavre."

" They are men," said the Emperor, speaking for the first time.
11 Est-ce Grouchy! Est-ce Blucher 1"

Soult inclines to believe it to be the former, and proceeds to give
his reasons, but the Emperor, without listening, turns towards Do-
mont, and orders him, with his division of light cavalry and Suber-
vic's brigade, to proceed thither at once. If it be Grouchy, to
establish a junction with him; to resist, should it prove to be the
advanced guard of Marshal Blucher. Scarcely is the order given
when a column of cavalry, wheeling " fours about," unravels itself
from the immense mass, and seems to serpentine like an enormous
snake between the squares of the mighty army. The pace increases
at every moment, and at length we see them merge from the extreme
right and draw up, as if on parade, above half a mile from the
wood. This movement, by its great precision and beauty, had at-
tracted our entire attention, not only from the attack on Hougou-
mont, but also an incident which had taken place close beside us.
This was the appearance of a Prussian hussar who had been taken
prisoner between Wavre and Planchenoit : he was the bearer of a
letter from Bulow to Wellington, announcing his arrival at St. Lam-
bert, and asking for orders.

This at once explains the appearance on the right ; but the pris-
oner also adds that the three Prussian corps were at Wavre, having
pushed their patrols two leagues from the town without ever encoun- «
tering any portion of the force under the command of Grouchy.
For a moment not a word is spoken. A silence like a panic per-
vades the staff; the Emperor himself was the first to break it.

" This morning," said he, turning towards Soult, " the chances
were ninety to one in our favor ; Bulow's arrival has already lost us
thirty of the number ; but the odds are still sufficient, if Grouchy
but repair the horrible fault he has committed."

He paused for a moment, and, as he lifted up his own hand, and
turned a look of indignant passion towards the staff, added, in a
voice the sarcasm of whose tone there is no forgetting :

"II s'amuse d Gembloux I Still," said he, speaking rapidly and
with more energy than I had hitherto noticed, " Bulow may be en-



WATERLOO. 737

tirely cut off. Let an officer approach. Take this letter, sir," —
giving, as he spoke, Bulow's letter to Lord Wellington — give this
letter to Marshal Grouchy ; tell him that at this moment he should

be before Wavre ; tell him that already, had he obeyed orders

but no, tell him to march at once, to press forward his cavalry, to
come up in two hours, in three at furthest. You have but five
leagues to ride ; see, sir, that you reach him within an hour."

As the officer hurries away at the top of his speed, an aide-de-
camp from General Domont confirms the news ; they are the Prus-
sians whom he has before him. As yet, however, they are debouch-
ing from the wood, and have attempted no forward movement.

"What's Bulow's force, Marshal?"

" Thirty thousand, sire."

" Let Lobau take ten thousand, with the Cuirassiers of the Young
Guard, and hold the Prussians in check."

" Maintenanl, pour les autres." This he said with a smile, as he
turned his eye once more towards the field of battle. The aide-de-
camp of Marshal Ney, who, bareheaded and expectant, sat waiting
for orders, presented himself to view. The Emperor turned towards
him as he said, with a clear and firm voice :

" Tell the Marshal to open the fire of his batteries ; to carry La
Haye Sainte with the bayonet, and leaving an infantry division for
its protection, to march against La Papelotte and La Haye. They
must be carried by the bayonet."



Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 76 of 80)