Charles James Lever.

The adventures of Arthur O'Leary online

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learn something of his own history, but which I did not
feel myself entitled to inquire.

We were returning one evening from a ramble in the
country, when stopping to ask a drink at a wayside inn,
we found a party of soldiers in possession of the only
room, where they were regaling themselves with wine ;
•while a miserable-looking object, bound, with his arms
behind his back, sat pale and woe-begone in one corner of
the apartment, his eyes fixed on the floor, and the tears
slowly stealing along his cheeks.

" What is it ? " asked I of the landlord, as I peeped in
at the half-open door.

"A deserter, sir "

The word was scarcely spoken when the Colonel let fall
the cup he held in his hand, and leaned, almost fainting,
against the wall.

" Let us move on," said he, in a voice scarcely articulate,
while the sickness of death, seemed to work in his features.

" You are ill," said I, " we had better wait "

" No, not here — not here," repeated he anxiously ; " in
a moment I shall be well again — lend me your arm."

We walked on, at first slowly, for with each step ho
tottered like one after weeks of illness; at last he rallied,
and we reached Cassel in about an hour's time, during
which he spoke but once or twice — " I must bid you a
good night here," said he, as we entered the inn ; " I feel
but poorly, and shall hasten to bed." So saying, and
without waiting for a word on my part, he squeezed my
hand affectionately, and left me.

It was not in my power to dismiss from my mind a
number of gloomy suspicions regarding the Baron, as I
slowly wended my way to my room. The uppermost
thought I had was, that some act of his past life — some
piece of military severity, for which he now grieved



deeply — had been bronglit Lack to his memory by the
sight of the poor deserter. It was evident that the settled
melancholy of his character referred to soixie cirourastance
or event of his life, — nothing confirmed this more than
any chance allusions ho would drop concerning his youth-
ful days, which ajDpeared to bo marked by high daring and
buoyant spirits.

"\Vhile I pondered over these thoughts, a noise in the
inn-yard bcueath my window attracted my attention ; I
leaned out and heard the Baron's servant giving orders
for post-horses to be ready by daybreak to take his master's
carriage to !RIeissner, while a courier was already preparing
to have horses in waiting at the stages along the road.

Again my brain was puzzled to account for this sudden
departure, and I could not repress a feeling of pique at
his not having communicated his intention of going, which,
considering our late intimacy, had been only common
courtesy. This little slight — for such I felt it — did not
put me in better temper with my friend, nor more disposed
to be lenient in judging him, and I was already getting
deeper and deeper in my suspicions, when a gentle tap
came to my door, and the Baron's servant entered, with
a request that I would kindly step over to his master's
room — who desired to see me particularly.

I did not delay a moment, but followed the man along
the corridor, and entered the salon, which I found in total

" The Baron is in bed, sir," said the servant; "but ho
wishes to see you in his room."

On a small camp bed, which showed it to have been
once a piece of military equipment, the Baron was lying;
he had not undressed, but merely thrown on his robe do
chambre and removed his cravat from his throat ; his
one hand was pressed closely on his face, and as ho
stretched it out to grasp mine, I was horror-struck at the
altered expression of his countenance. The eyes, blood-
shot and wild, glanced about the room with a hurried and
searching look, while his parched lips muttered rapidly
some indif-tinct sounds. 3 saw that he was very ill, and
asked him if it were not as well he should have some

THE baron's story. 887

*' No, my friend, no," said he, with more composure in
bis manner ; " the attack is going off now. It rarely Lists
so long as this. You have never heard perhaps of that
dreadful malady which physicians call ' Angina,' the most
agonizing of all diseases, and I believe the least under-
stood. I have been subject to it for some years, and as
there is no remedy, and as any access of it may prove
fatal, life is held on but poor conditions "

He paused for a second or two, then resumed, but with
a manner of increased excitement. "They will shoot
him — yes, I have heard it all ; it's the second time he has

deserted — there is not a chance left him. 1 must leave

this by daybreak — I must get me far away before to-
morrow evening — there would not come a stir — the slight-
est sound, but — I should fancy I heard the ' fusillade.' "

I saw now cleai^ly that the deserter's fate had made the
impression which brought on the attack, and although my
curiosity to learn the origin of so powerful a sensibility
was greater than ever, I would willingly have sacrificed
it to calming his mind, and inducing thoughts of less
violent excitement.

" I was senior lieutenant of the * Carabiniers de la
Garde' at eighteen," said he, speaking with a thick and
hurried utterance. " We were quartered, at Strasbourg ;
more than half of the regiment were my countrymen,
some from the very village where I was born. One there
was, a lad of sixteen, my schoolfellow and companion when
a boy ; he was the only child of a widow whose husband
had fallen in the wars of the Revolution. When he was
drawn in the conscription no less than seven othei'S pre-
sented themselves to go in his stead ; but old Girardon,
who commanded the brigade, simply returned for answer,
* Such brave men are worthy to serve France ; let them
all be enrolled,' and they were so. A week afterwards
Louis my schoolfellow deserted. He swam the Rhine at
Kehl, and the sams evening reached his mother's cottage.
He was scarcely an hour at home when a party of his own
regiment captured him ; he was brought back to Stras-
bourg, tried by torchlight, and condemned to death.

" The officer who commanded the party for his execu-
tion fainted when the prisoner Avas led out ; the men

c C 2


horror-struck at the circumstance, grounded their arms
and refused to fire. Girardon was on the ground in an
instant ; he galloped up to the youth who knelt there with
his arms bound behind hiro, and drawing a pistol from his
holster, placed the muzzle on his forehead, and shot him
dead ! The men were sent back to the barracks, and by a
general order of the same day were drafted into different
regiments throughout the army ; the officer was degraded
to the ranks — it was myself."

It was with the greatest difficulty he was enabled to
conclude this brief story ; the sentences were uttered with
short, almost convulsive efforts, and when it was over, he
turned up his face, and seemed buried in grief.

" You think," said he, turning round and taking my
hand in his, — "you think that the sad scene has left me
such as you see me now ; would to Heaven my memory
were charged with but that mournful event. Alas ! it is
not so." He wiped a tear from his eye, and with a falter-
ing voice oontinued. " You shall hear my story ; I never
breathed it to one living, nor do I think now that my
time is to be long here."

Having fortified his nerves with a powerful opiate, the
only remedy in his dreadful malady, he began, —

" I was reduced to the ranks in Strasbourg ; four years
after, day for day, I was named Chef de Bataillon on the
field of Elchingen. Of twelve hundred men our battalion
came out of action with one hundred and eighty ; the
report of the corps that night was made by myself as
senior officer, and I was but a captain.

" ' Who led the division of stormers along the covered
way ? ' said the Emperor, as I handed our list of killed and
wounded to Duroc, who stood beside him.

*' 'It was I, sire.'

" 'You are major of the 7th Regiment,' said he.
'Now there is another of yours I must ask for; how is he
called that surprised the Austrian battery on the Dorran
Kopf ? •

"'Himself again, sire,' interrupted Duroc, who saw
that I hesitated how to answer him.

" 'Very well, very well indeed, Elgenheim ; report hira
as " Chef de Bataillon," Duroc, and colonel of his regi-

THE baron's story. 889

ment. There, sir, jour countrymen call me unjust and
ungenerous. Show them your " brevet " to-night, and do
you, at least, be a witness in my favour.'

" I bowed and uttered a few words of gratitude, and was
about to withdraw, when Duroc, who had been whispering
something in the Emperor's ear, said aloud, ' I'm certain
he's the man to do it. Elgenheim, His Majesty has a most
important despatch to forwai'd to Innspruck to Marshal
Key. It will require something more than mere bravery
to effect this object; it will demand no small share of
address also ; the passes above Saltzbourg ai^e in the pos-
session of the Tyrolese sharpshooters ; two videttes have
been cut off within a week, and it will require at least the
force of a regiment to push through. Are you willing to
take the command of such a party?*

" 'If His Majesty will honour me with '

*' ' Enough, sir,' interrupted the Emperor ; ' we have no
time to lose here — your orders shall be ready by daybreak
— you shall have a squadron of Chasseurs, as scouts, and
be prepared to march to-morrow.'

" The following day I left the camp with my party of
eight hundred men, and moved to the southward. It may
seem strange to think of a simple despatch of a few lines
requiring such a force ; indeed, I thought so at the time ;
but I lived to see two thousand men employed on a similar
service in Spain, and, worse still, not always successfully.
In less than a week we approached Landberg, and entered
the land of mountains. The defiles, which at first were
sufficiently open to afford space for manoeuvres, gradually
contracted, while the mountains at either side became
wilder and more lofty; a low brushwood of holly and white
oak, scarce hiding the dark granite rocks that seemed
actually piled loosely one above another, and ready to crasli
down at the least impulse. In the valleys themselves the
mountain rivulets were collected into a strong current,
which rattled along amid masses of huge rock, and swept
in broad flakes of foam, sometimes across the narrow road
beside it. Here, frequently, not more than four men could
march abreast ; and as the winding of the glens never per-
mitted a view of much more than a mile in advance, the
position, in case of attack, was far from satisfactory. For


tliree entire days we continued our march, adopting, as
we went, every precaution against surprise I could think
of; a portion of the cavahy were always employed as
edaireurs in advance, and the remainder brought up the
rear, following the main body at the distance of a mile or
two. The stupendous crags that frowned above, leaving
us but a narrow streak of blue sky visible — the mournful
echoes of the deep vallej's — the hoarse roar of the waters
— or the wild notes of the black eagle — conspired to throw
an impression of sadues ; over our party, which each strug-
gled against in vain. It was now the third morning since
we entered the Tyrol, and yet never had we seen one
single inhabitant. The few cottages along the roadside
were empty, the herds had disappeared from the hills, and
a dreary waste, unrelieved by one living object, stretched
far away before las. My men felt the solitude far more
deeply than had every step been contested with them.
They were long inured to danger, and would willingly
have encountered an enemy of jnortal mould; but the
gloomy images their minds conjured up were foes they
had never anticipated nor met before. As for myself, the
desolation brought but one thought before me ; and as I
looked upon the wild wastes of mountain, where the chalet
of the hunter or the cot of the shepherd reared its humble
head, the fearful injustice of invasive war came fully to my
mind. Again and again did I ask myself, what could
greatness and power gain by conflict with poverty like
this? How could the humble dweller in these lonely
regions become an object of kingly vengeance, or his bleak
liills a thing for kingly ambition? and, more than all,
Avhat could the Tyrol peasant ever have done thus to bring
down upon his home the devastating tide of war ? To
think that but a few days back and the cheerful song of
the hunter resounded througli those glens, and the laugh
of children was heard in those cottages where now all was
still as death. We passed a small cluster of houses at the
opening of a glen^ — it could scai'ce be called a village — and
liere, so lately had they been deserted, the embers were
yet warm on the hearth, and in one hut the table was
Kproad and the little meal laid out, -while they who were
to have partaken of it were perhaps miles away.

THE baron's story, 391

"Plunged in these sad reflections, I sat on a littlo
eminence of rock behind the party, -while they i-eposed
themselves during the heat of noon. The point I occu-
pied ailbrded a view for some miles of the road we had
travelled, and I turned to see if our cavalry detachment
■were not coming up ; when as I strained my eyes in the
direction, I thought I could jDcrceivc an object moving
along the road, and stooping from time to time. I seized
mj' glass, and now could distinctly perceive the figure of a
man coming slowly onwai'ds. That wc had not passed hina
on the wfiy Avas quite evident, and he must therefore have
been on the mountain or in concealment beside the road.

" Either thouyht v\-as sufhcient to excite ray suspicion,
and without a second's delay I sprang into the saddle, and
putting ray horse to his speed galloped back as fast as I
could. As I came nearer I half fancied I saw the figure
move to one side and then back again, as though irresolute
how to act; and fearing lest he should escape me by taking
to the mountain, I called to him aloud to halt. He stood
still as I spoke, and I now came up beside him. He was
an old man, seemingly above eighty years of age ; his hair
and beard were white as snow, and he was bent almost
double with time ; his dress was the common costume of a
Tyrolese, except that he wore in addition a kind of cloak
with a loose hood, such as the pilgrims wear in Austria ;
and indeed his staff and leathern bottle bespoke him such.
To all my questions as to the road and the villages he
replied in a kind of patois I could make nothing of;
and although tolerably well versed in all the dialects of
Southern Germany, his was quite unintelligible to me.
Still, the question how came he there was one of great
moment. If lie had been concealed while we passed so
Jiear, wliy not others ? His age and decrepitude forbade
the thought of his having descended the mountain, and so
I felt puzzled in no common degree. As these doubts
passed through my mind, the poor old man stood trem-
bling at my side as though fearing what fate might be in
store for him. Anxious to recompense him for the trouljle
I had caused him, 1 drew out my purse, but no sooner did
he see it than he motioned it away with his hand, and
tihook his head in token of refusal.


" * Come, then,' said I, ' I've met a pilgrim ere tbis would
not refuse a cup of wine ;' and with that I uuslung my
canteen and handed it to him. This he seized eagerly and
drained it to the bottom, holding up both hands when he
had finished, and muttering something I conjectured to bf»
a prayer. He was the only living object belonging to the
country that I had seen, — a sudden whim seized me, and I
gave him back the flask, making a sign that he should
keep it.

*' He clutched the gift with the avidity of old age, and
sitting down upon a stone began to admire it with eager
eyes. Despairing of making him understand a word, and
remembering it was time to move forward, I waved my
band in adieu and galloped back.

" The cavalry detachment came up soon after ; and guess
my astonishment to learn that they had not seen the old
man on the road, nor, although they narrowly watched the
mountain, perceived any living tiling near. I confess I
could not dismiss a feeling of uncomfortable suspicion from
my mind, and all the reflections I bestowed upon his age
and decrepitude were very far from reassuring me. More
than once I regretted not having brought him forward with
us; but again the fact of having such a prisoner would
have exposed me to ridicule at head-quarters, if not a heavy

" Full of these reflections, I gave the word to move for-
ward. Our object was, if possible, to reach the opening of
the Mittenwald before night, where I was informed that
a small dismantled fort would afford a secure position, if
attacked by any mountain party. On comparing the
route of the map, however, with the ro:id, 1 discovered
that the real distances were in many cases considerably
greater than they were set down, and perceived that with ,
all our efforts we could not hope to emerge from the
ravine of the Schwartz-thai before the following day.
This fact gave me much uneasiness ; for I remembered!
having heard that as the glen approaches the Mittenwald,
the pass is narrowed to a mere path, obstructed at every
step by masses of fallen rock ; while the mountains, more
thickly covered with underwood, afford shelter for any
party lying in ambush. Nothing could bo more fatal

THE bakon's btory. 8JJ

than an attack in such a position, where a few determined
men in front could arrest the march of a whole retriment •
■while from the close sides of the pass, a well-directed fire
must sweep the ranks of those below.

*' This gorge, which, narrowing to a mere portal, has
been called the Mitten-Thor, was the scene of some fearful
struggles between the French troops and the Tyrolese, and
was always believed to be the most dangerous of all the
passes of the Tyrol ; every despatch to the head-quarters
of the army, referring to the disasters that befell there,
and suggesting plans for the occupation of the block-
house near it, as a means of defence.

" By the advice of my officers, one of whom was
already acquainted with all the circumstances of the
ground, I determined on halting at a part of the glen
about two miles from the ]\Iitten-Thor, where a slight
widening of the valley afforded more space for movement
if attacked : and here we arrived as evening was begin-
ning to fall. It was a small oval spot between the moun-
tains, through which a little stream ran, dividing it almost
into equal portions, and crossed by a bridge of rude
planks, to which a little path conducted, and led up the

" Scarcely were our watchfires lighted when the moon
rose, and although herself not visible to our eyes as we
lay in the deep valley, a rich flood of silver light fell on
one range of the mountains, marking out every cliff' and
crag with the distinctness of day. The opposite mountain,
wrapt in deepest shadow was one mass of undistinguish-
able blackness, and seemed to frown ominously and
gloomily upon us. The men were wearied witli a long
march, and soon laid down to rest beside their fires, and
save the low subdued hum of the little encampment, tlie
valley was in perfect silence. On the bridge, from which
the pass was visible for a good distance in both directions,
I had placed a look-out sentry ; and a chain of patrols
were established around the bivouac.

" These arrangements, which occupied me some time,
being completed, I threw mj^self down beside my fire, and
prepared for sleep ; but somehow, though I had passed
a day of fatigue and exertion, I could not slumber ; every


time I closed my eyes the vision of the old pilgrim was
before me, and a vague, undefined feeling of apprehension
hung over me. I tried to believe it was a mere fancy,
attributable to the place, of whose terrors I had heard so
much ; but my mind dwelt on all the disastei's of the
Schwartz-thai, and banished every desii'e for repose.

*' As I lay there, thinking, my eves were attracted by a
little, rocky point, about thirty feet above me on the
mountain, on which the full splendour of the moonlight
shone at intervals as the dark clouds drifted from before
her, and a notion took me — why and how I never could
explain to myself — to ascend the ci'ag, and take a view
down the valley. A few minutes after and I was seated
on the rock, from which I could survey the pass and the
encam.pment stretched out beneath me. It was just such
a scene as Salvator used to paint ; the wild fantastic
mountains, bristling with rude pines and fragments of
granite ; a rushing torrent, splashing and boiling beneath ;
a blazing watch-firG, and the armed group around it,
their weapons glancing in the red light ; while, to add
to the mere picture, there came the monotonous hum
of the soldier's song as he walked to and fro upon his

" I sat a long while gazing at this scene ; many a
pleasant thought of that bandit life we Germans feel such
interest in, from Schiller's play, passing through my mind :
when I heai'd the rustlincr of the leaves, and a cracklinc:
sound, as of broken branches, issue from the mountain,
almost directly above me. There was not a breath of
■wind, not a leaf stirred, save there. I listened eagerly,
and was almost certain I could hear the sound of voices
talking in a low under tone. Cautiously stealing along,
I began to descend the mountain, when, as I turned a
projecting angle of the path, I saw the sentry on the bridge
with his musket at his shoulder, taking a steady and deli-
berate aim at some object in the direction of the noise.
While I looked he fired, a crashing sound of the branches
followed the report, and something like a cry, and as the
echoes died away in the distance, a heavy mass tumbled
over the cliff, and fell from ledge to ledge, till it rolled
Ljito the deep grass below. I had but time to perceive it

THE baron's story. 895

was the corpse of a man fully armed, when the quick roll
of the drum boat to arms. In an instant the men were
formed ; the cavalry standing beside their horses, and the
officers crowdino- around me for orders. It was the dis-
charge of the sentry's musket had given the alarm ; for,
save himself, no one had seen anything. Just then a wild
unearthly cry of ' Ha ! ha! ' rung out from one mountain
and was answered from the other ; while the sounds,
increasing and multiplied by the echoes, floated hither and
thither, as though ten thousand voices were shouting
there ; they ceased — all was still for a few seconds, and
then a hailstorm of bullets tore through our ranks, and
the valley rang again with the i-oar of musketry. Every
cliff and crag, every tuft of brushwood, seemed to be occu-
pied ; while the incessant roll of the fire showed that our
assailants were in great numbers. Resistance was vain —
our enemy was unseen — our men were falling at each
discharge — what was to be done ? — nothing remained but
to push forward to the Mittenwald, where, the valley
opening into a plain, we should be able to defend our-
selves against any irregular troops that might be brought
against us. The order was given, and the men advanced
in a run, the cavalry leading the way. Meanwhile the
fire of the Tyrolese increased, and the fatal marksmen
seldom missed a shot ; two of our officers already lay
dead, and three others dangerously wounded could scarce
keep up with our party.

" ' The road is ban'icaded and entrenched,' cried the
sergeant of the Dragoons, gallopping back to the main
body in dismay.

" A cry broke from the soldiers as they heard the sad
tidings, while some springing from their ranks called out

- * Forward, and to the storm ! '

i " Rushing to the head of these brave fellows, I waved
my cap, and cheered them on ; the others followed, and
we soon came in sight of the barrier, which was formed
of large trees thrown crossways, and forming, by their
massive trunks and interwoven branches, an obstacle far
beyond our power to remove. To climb the stockade was
our only chance, and on we rushed, but scarcely wei-e we
within halt-musket-shot, when a volley met us directed


point-blank — the leading files of the column went down
like one man, and though others rushed eagerly forward,
despair and desperation goading them, the murderous fire

Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe adventures of Arthur O'Leary → online text (page 35 of 40)