Charles James Lever.

The adventures of Arthur O'Leary online

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of the long rifles dealt death at every discharge ; and we
stood among the cumbered corpses of our fellow comrades.
By this time we were attacked in rear as well as front,
and now, all hope gone, it only remained to sell life as
dearly as we could. One infuriate rush to break through
the barricade had forced a kind of passage, through which,
followed by a dozen others, I leaped, shouting to my men
to follow. The cry of my triumph was, however, met by
a. wilder still, for the same instant a party of Tyrolese,
armed with the two-handed sword of their country, came
down upon us. The struggle was a brief and bloody one,
man for man fell at either side, but overcome by numbers,
I saw my companions drop dead or wounded around me.
As for myself, I clove the leader through the skull with
one stroke, — it was the last my arm ever dealt, the next
instant it was severed from my body. I fell covered with
blood, and my assailant jumped upon my body, and draw-
ing a short knife from his belt, was about to plunge it in
my bosom, when a shout from a wounded Tyrolese at my
side arrested the stroke, and I savf an uplifted arm
stretched out, as if to protect me. I have little memory
after this. I heard — I think I hear still — the wild shouts
and the death-cries of my comrades as they fell beneath
the arm of their enemies. The slaughter was a dreadful
one — of eight hundred and forty men, I alone survived
that terrible night.

" Towards daybreak I found myself lying in a cart
upon some straw, beside another wounded man dressed
in the uniform of the Tyrolese Jiigers. His head was
fearfully gashed by a sabre cut, and a musket ball had
shattered his forearm. As I looked at him, a grim smile
of savage glee lit up his pale features, and he looked from
my wound to his own with a horrid significance. All my
efforts to learn the fate of my comrades were fruitless; he
could neither comprehend me nor I him, and it was only
by conjecturing from the tones and gestures of those who
occasionally came up to the cart to speak to hira, that I
could learn the fearful reality.

THE baron's story. 897

** That clay and tlie following one we journeyed on.
wards, but I knew nought of time. The fever of my
wound, increased by some styptic they had used to stop
the bleeding, had brought on delirium, and I raved of tho
fight, and strove to regain my legs, and get free. To this
paroxysm, which lasted many days, a low lingering fever
succeeded, in which all consciousness was so slight, no
memory has i-emained to tell of my sensations.

" My first vivid sensation — it is before me as this
minute — was on entering the little mountain village of
the ' Marien Kreutz.' I was borne on a litter by four
men, for the path was inaccessible except to foot pas-
sengers. It was evening, and the long procession of the
wounded men wound its way up the mountain defile, and
along tho little street of the village, which now was
crowded by the country people, who with sad and tearful
faces stood looking on their sons and brothers, or asking
for those whom they were never to behold again. The
little chapel of the village was converted into an hospital,
and here beds were brought from every cabin, and all the
preparations for tending the sick began with a readiness
that surprised me.

" As they bore me up the isle of the chapel, a voice
called out some words in Tyrolese ; the men halted and
turned round, and then carried me back into a small
chapelry, where a single sick man was lying, whom in an
instant I recognized as my wounded companion of the
road. With a nod of rude but friendly recognition, he
welcomed me, and I was placed near him on a straw mat-
trass stretched beneath the altar.

" Why I had been spared in the fearful carnage, and
for what destiny I was reserved, were thoughts which
rapidly gave way to others of deep despondency at my
fortune — a despair that made me indifferent to life. The
dreadful issue of the expedition would, I well knew, have
ruined more prosperous careers than mine in that service,
where want of success was the greatest of all crimes.
Careless of my fate, I lived on in gloomy apathy, not one
gleam of hope or comfort to shine upon the darkness of
my misery.

'* This brooding melancholy took entire possession of


me, and I took no note of the scenea around me. My
ear was long since accustomed to the sad sounds of the
sick beds — the cries of sufrering-, and the low meanings
of misery, had ceased to move me — even the wild and
frantic ravings of the wounded man near broke not in
upon my musings, and I lived like one immui'cd within a ^
solitary dungeon.

" I lay thus one night — my sadness and gloom weightier j
than ever on my broken spirits — listening to the echoed
sounds of suffering that rose into the vaulted roof, and
wishing for death to call me away from such a scene of
miser}^, when I heard the low chanting of a priest, coming
along the aisle, and the moment after the footsteps of
several persons came near, and then two acolytes, carrying
lighted tapers, appeared, followed by a venerable man
robed in white, and bearing in his hands a silver chalice.
Two other priests followed him, chanting the last service,
and behind all there came a female figure dressed in deep
mourning. She was tall and gracei'ul-looking, and her
step had the firm tread of youth, but her head was bowed
down with sorrow, and she held her veil pressed closely
over her face.

" They gathered round the bed of the wounded man,
and the priest took hold of his hand, and lifted it slowly
from the bed ; and letting it go, it fell heavily down
again, with a dull soimd. The old man bent over the
bed, and touched the pale features, and gazed into the
eyes, and then, with clasped hands, he sunk down on his
knees and prayed aloud ; the others knelt beside him — •
all save one ; she threw herself with frantic grief upon
the dead body — for he was dead ! — and wept passionately.
In vain they strove to calm her sorrow, or even withdraw
her from the spot. She clung madly to it, and would not
be induced to leave it.

" I think I see her still before me — her long hair, black
as night, streaming back from her pale forehead, and
hanging down her shoulders — her eyes fixed on the dead
man's face, and her hands pressed hard upon her heart,
as if to lull its agony. In all the wild transport of her
grief she was beautiful ; for, although pale to sickness,
and worn with watching, her large and lustrous eyes —

THE baron's story. 899

her nose straight and finely cliisellctl, like the features of
an antique cameo, and her mouth — where mingled pride
and sorrow trembled — gave her an expression of loveli-
ness I cannot convey.

" Such was she, as she watched beside her brother's
death-bed day and night, motionless and still ; for as the
first burst of grief was over she seemed to nerve her (
courage to the task, and even when the hour came, and
they bore the body away to its last resting-place, not a
sigh or sob escaped her.

" The vacant spot — though it had been tenanted by
Eufifering and misery — brought gloom to my heart. I
had been accustomed each day to look for him at sunrise,
and each evening to see him as the light of day declined;
and I sorrowed like one deserted and alone. Not all
alone ! foi', as if by force of habit, when evening came,
she was at her place near the altar.

" The fever, and my own anxious thoughts, preyed on
my mind that night ; and as I lay awake, I felt parched
and hot, and wished to drink, and I endeavoured with
my only ai*m to reach the cup beside me. She saw the
effort, and sprung towards me at once ; and as she held it
to my lips, I remembered then that often in the dreary
nights of my sickness I had seen her at my bed-side,
nursing me and tending me. I muttered a word of grati-
tude in German, when she started suddenly, and stooping
down, said in a clear accent, — •

" ' Bist du ein Deutscher ? — Are you a German ? '

" ' Yes,' said, I, mournfully, for I saw her meaning.

" ' Shame ! shame ! cried she, holding up her hands in
horror ; ' If the wolves ravage the flocks it is but their ■
nature, but that our own kindred, our very flesh and
blood, should do this '

" I turned my head away in very sorrow and self-abase-
ment, and a convulsive sob burst frxDm my heart.

" ' Nay, nay, not so,' said she, a poor peasant like me
cannot judge what motives may have influenced you and
others like you ; and after all,' and she spoke the words
in a trembling voice, ' and after all, you succoui'cd Mm
when you believed Vim sick and weary.'

" * I — how so ? It never was in my power '


" * Yes, yes,' cried slie, passionately ; * it was you ; this
" gourde" was yours ; he told me so, he spoke of you a
hundred times,* And at the instant, she held up the
little flask I had given to the pilgrim in the valley.

" ' And was the pilgrim then '

" ' Yes,' said she, as a proud flash lit up her features,
* he was my brother ; many a weary mile he wandered
over mountain and moor to track you ; faint and hungry,
he halted not, following your footsteps from the first hour
you entered our land. Think you, but for him, that you
had been spared that night's slaughter, or that, for any
cause but his, a Tyrolese girl had watched beside your
sick bed, and prayed for your recovery ?'

" The whole truth now flashed upon me ; every circum-
stance doubtful before became at once clear to my mind,
and I eagerly asked the fate of my comrades.

" A gloomy skake of the head was the only reply.

" ' All ? ' eaid I, trembling at the word.

" ' All ! ' repeated she, in an accent whose pride seemed
almost amounting to ferocity.

" ' "Would I had perished with them ! ' cried T, in tho
bitterness of my heart, and 1 turned my face away and
gave myself up to my grief,

" As if sorry for the burst of feeling she had caused
me, she sat down beside my bed, took my hand in her's,
and placed her cold lips upon it, while she murmured
same words of comfort. Like water to the seared, parched
lips of some traveller in the desert, the accents fell upon
my almost broken heart, suggesting a thought of hope
where all was darkness and despair. I listened to each
word with a tremulous fear lest she should cease to speak,
and dreading that my ecstasy were but a dream. From
that hour I wished to live, a changed spirit came over
me, and I felt as though with higher and more ennobling
thoughts I should once more tread the earth. Yes, from
the humble lips of a peasant girl, I learned to feel that
the path I once deemed the only road to heroism and
high ambition could be but ' the bandit's trade,' who sells
his blood for gain. That war, which, animated by high-
Bouled patriotism, can call forth every sentiment of a
great and generous nature, becomes, in an unjust cause.

TUE baron's story. 401

the lowest slavery and degradation. Lydchen seldom
quitted my bedside, for my malady took many turns, and
it was long — many months — after, that I was enabled tO
leave my bed and move up and down the chapel.

" Meanwhile the successes of our army had gradually
reduced the whole country beneath French rule, and,
except in the very fastnesses of the mountains, the Tyro-
lese had nowhere they could call their own. Each day
some peasant would arrive from the valleys with informa-
tion that fresh troops were pouring in from Germany,
and the hopes of the patriotic party fell lower and lower.
At last, one evening as I sat on the steps of the little
altar, listening to Lydchen reading for me some Tyrol
legend, a wild shout in the street of the village attracted
our notice, which seemed to gain strength as it came
nearer. She started up suddenly, and throwing down
her book rushed from the chapel. In another moment
she was back beside me, her face pale as a corpse, and her
limbs trembling with fear.

" ' What has happened ? Speak, for God's sake, what
is it ? ' said I.

" ' The French have shot the prisoners in the Platz at
Innspruck ; twenty-eight have fallen this morning,' cried
she, ' seven from this very village, and now they cry aloud
for your blood ; hear them, there ! '

" And as she spoke a frightful yell burst from the-
crowd without, and already they stood at the entrance to-
the chapel, which, even at such a time, they had not for-
gotten was a sanctuary. The very wounded men sat up
in their beds and joined their feeble cries to those with
out, and the terrible shout of ' blood for blood ! ' rang
through the vaulted roof.

" ' I am ready,' said I, springing up from the low step
of the altar. ' They must not desecrate this holy spot
with such a crime. I am ready to go where you will.'

" ' No, no,' cried Lydchen, ' yov, are not like our
enemies, you wish us nought of evil, your heart is with
the struggle of a brave people, who fight but for their
homes and Vatcrland. Be of us, then, declare that you
are with us. Oh ! do this, and these will be your bro-
thers, and I your sister ; ay, more than sister ever was.'



*' ' It cannot be ; no, never,' said I ; * it is not when life
is in the balance that fealty can change.*

"With difficulty I freed myself from the clasp of her
arms, for in her grief she had thrown herself at my feet,
when, suddenly, Ave heard the deep accents of the aged
priest, as he stood upon the steps of the altar, and com-
manded silence. His tones were those of severity and
sternness, and I could mark that not a murmur was raised
as he continued.

" ' Yoa. are safe,' whispered Lydchen ; * till to-morrow
you are safe ; before that you must be far away.'

" The respite of the priest was merely to give me time
to prepare ibr death, which it was decreed I should suffer
the following morning in the Platz of the village.

" Scarcely had evening begun to fall when Lydchen
approached my bed, and deposited a small bundle upon it,
whispering gently, ' Lose no time, put on these clothes,
and wait ibr my return.'

" The little chapelry where I lay communicated by a
small door with the dwelling of the priest, and by her
passing through this I saw that the ' Father' was himself
conniving at the plan of my escape. By the imperfect
glimmer of the lading day I could perceive that they
were her brotlier's clothes she had brought me; the jacket
was yet stained with his blood. I was long in equipping
myself, with my single arm, and I heard her voice more
than once calling to me to hasten, ere I was ready.

" At length I arose, and passing through the door
entered the priest's house, where Lydchen, dressed in hat
and mantle, stood ready for the road. As I endeavoured
to remonstrate she pressed her hand on my mouth, and
walking on tiptoe led me forward ; we emerged into a
little garden, crossing which she opened a wicket that
led into the road. There, a peasant was in waiting, who
carried a small bundle on his shoulder, and was armed
with the long staff" used in mountain travelling.

"Again, making a sign for me to be silent, she moved
on before me, and soon turning off the road, entered a
foot-track in the mountain. The fresh breeze of the
night, and the f-ense of liberty, nerved me to exertion, and
I walked on till liay was breaking. Our path generally

THE baron's story. 403

lay in a descending direction, and I felt little fatigue,
•when at sunrise Lydchen told rae that we might rest for
some hours, as our guide could now detect the approach
of any party for miles round, and provide for our conceal-
ment. No pursuit, however, was undertaken in that
direction, the peasants in all likelihood deeming that
I would turn my steps towards Lahn, where a strong
French garrison was stationed ; whereas we were proceed-
ing in the direction of Saltzbourg, the very longest, and
and therefore the least likely route through the Tyrol.

" Day succeeded day, and on we went. Not one living
thing did we meet in our lonely path. Already our little
stock of provisions was falling low, when we came in
sight of the hamlet of Altendorf, only a single day's
inarch from the lake of Saltzbourg.

" The village, though high in the mountain, lay exactly
beneath us as we went, and from the height we stood on
we could see the little streets of the town and its market-
place like a map below us. Scarcely had the guide thrown
his eyes downwards, than he stopped short, and pointing
to the town, cried out, • The French ! the French ! ' and.
true enough, a large party of infantry were bivouacked in
the streets, and several horses were picquetted in the gardens
about. While the peasant crept cautiously forward to in-
spect the place nearer, I stood beside Lydchen, who, with
Ler hands pressed closely on her face, spoke not a word.

" ' We part here ! ' said she, with a strong, full accent, as
though determined to let no weakness appear in her words.

" ' Part, Lydchen ! ' cried I, in an agony ; for up to that
moment I believed that she never intended returning to
the Tyrol.

" ' Yes. Thinkest thou that I hold so light my home
and country as thou dost? Didst thou believe that a
Tyrol girl would live 'midst those who laid waste her
" Vaterland," and left herself an orphan, without one of
her kindred remaining ? '

" ' Are there no ties save those of blood, Lydchen ? Is
your heart so steeled against the stranger, that the devo-
tion, the worship of a life long, would not move j'ou
fiom your purpose ? '

" ' Thou has refused me once,' said she, proudly ; ' I

D D 2


offered to be all your own, when thou couldst have made
nie so with honour. If thou wert the " Kaiser Franz," I
would not have thee now.*

" ' Oh ! speak not thus, Lydchen, to him whose life
you saved, and made him feel that life is a blessing. Re-
member, that if your heart be cold to me, you have made-
mine 3'our own for ever. I will not leave you. No '

" ' Is it that thou mayst bring me yonder and show me
amongst thy comrades ? — the Tyrol maiden that thou
hast captured, thy spoil of war.'

" ' Oil! Lydchen, dearest, why will you speak thus *

" 'Never!' cried she, as her eyes flashed proudly, and
her cheek flushed red ; 'never. I have the blood of Hofer
in my veins ; and bethinkest thou I would stoop to be a
jest, a mockery, before thy high-born dames, who would not
deem me fit to be their waiting-woman ? Farewell, sir. I
hoped to part with thee less in anger than in sorrow.'

" ' Then will I remain,' said I.

" ' Too late, too late,' cried she, waving her hand, mourn-
full}' ; ' the hour is past. See, there come your troops ;
a moment more, and I shall be taken. You wish not this,
at least '

" As she spoke, a cavalry detachment was seen com-
ing up the valley at a canter. A few minutes more and
she Avould be discovered. I knew too well the ruffian:
natures of the soldiery to hazard such a risk. I caught
her to my arms with one last embrace, and the next
moment dashed down the path towards the dragoons. I
turned my head once, but she was gone ; the peasant
guide had left the breach of the chasm, and they both
were lost to my view.

" My story is now soon told. I was tried by a court-
martial, honourably acquitted, and restored to my grade,,
en rctraite, however, for my wound had disabled me
from active service. For three years I lived in retirement
near Maycncc, tho sad memory of one unhappy event
embittering every hour of my life.

" In the early part of 1800, a strong division of ti:e
French army, commanded by my old frend and companion,
Lefebvre, entered ilMayence, on their way to Austria; and
HS my health v/as now restored, I yielded to his persuasion

THE baron's story. 405

to jo>'n Lis staff as first aide-de-camp. Indeed, a careless-
ness and indifference to my fortune had made me submit
to anything, and I assented to every arrangement of the
general, as if I were totally unconcerned in it all.

" T need not trace the events of that rapid and brilliant

«am])aign. I will only remark that Eeknuihl and llatis-

' hon both brought back all the soldiei''s ardour to my heart ;

and once more the crash of battle, and the diu of marching

columns, aroused my dormant enthusiasm.

" In the month of April a corj^s d'armea of twenty
thousand men entered the Tyrol, and pushed forward to
the Nieder wald, whei'e Lefebvre had his head-quarters.
I cannot stay to speak of the terrible scenes of that period,
the most ftarful in the spirit of resistance that ever our
arms encountered. Detachments were cut off every day
— whole columns disappeared, and never again were heard
nf; no bivouac was safe from a nightly attack; and even
the sentinels at the gates of Innspruck were repeatedly found
dead on their posts. But, worse than all, daily instances
of assassination occurred by peasants, who, sometimes
dressed as suttlers, entered the camp, and took the oppor-
tunity to stab or shoot our officers, caring nothing, as it
seemed, for the certain death that awaited them.

" These became of such frequent occurrence that scarce
a report did not contain one or two such casualties,
and, consequently, every precaution that could be thought
of was adopted ; and every peasant taken with arms —
in a country, too, where none are unarmed — was shot
without trial of any kind whatever.

" That little mercy, or indeed justice, was meted out to
the people, [ need only say that Girardon was comman-
dant of the garrison, and daily inspected the executions
on parade. It happened that one morning this savage
•old officer was stabbed by an Austrian peasant, who had
long been employed as a camp servant, and trusted in
situations of considerable confidence. The man was im-
mediately led out for execution io the Platz, where was
another prisoner — a poor boy found rambling within the
lines, and unable to give any account of his presence there.

" Girardon, however, was only slightly wounded, and
•countermanded the execution of his assassin, not from


motives of forgiveness, but in order to defer it till he wa»
himself able to be present and v^'itness it. And upon mo,
as next in command, devolved the melancholy duty of
being present on the parade. The brief note I received
from Girardon reminded me of a former instance of weak-
ness on my part, and contained a sneering hope that I
'had learned some portion of a soldier's duty since I was
reducod to the ranks at Strasbourg,'

" When I reached the Platz, I found the officers of the
Staff in the middle of the square, where a table was placed,
en which the order for the execution was lying, awaiting'
my signature.

" 'The prisoner begs a word with the officer in com-
mand,' said the orderly sergeant.

" 'I cannot accede to his request,' said I, trembling
from head to foot, and knowing how totally such an
interview would unman me.

" ' He implores it, sir, with the utmost earnestness, and
says he has some important secret to reveal before his death.*
" ' The old story— anything for live minutes more of life
and sunshine,' said an officer beside me.

" 'I must refuse,' said J, ' and desire that these requests
may not be brought before me.'

" ' It is the only way. Colonel,' said another ; ' and
indeed such inter%'als have little mercy in them; both
parties suffer the more from them.'

" This speech seemed to warrant my selfish determina-
tion, and I seized the pen, and wrote my name to tho
order; and then handing it to the officer, covered my face
with my hands, and sat with my head leaning on the table.
" A bustle in front, and a wild cry of agony, told mo
that the preparations were begun, and quick as lightning
the roar of a platoon fire followed. A shriek, shrill and
piercing, mingled with the crash, and then came a cry
from the soldiers, ' It is a woman ! '

" With madness in my brain, and a vague dread — I
know not of what — I dashed forward through the crowd, \
and there, on the pavement, weltering in her blood, lay
the body of Lydchen ; she was stone dead, her bosom
shattered by a dozen bullets.

" I fell upon the corpse, the blood poured from my mouth

THE baron's «tory. 407

in torrents; and "when I arose, it was with a broken
heart, whose sufferings are bringing me to the grave."

This sad story I have rekted without any endeavour
to convey to my reader either the tone of liim who told
it or the dreadful conflict of feeling which at many times
prevented his continuing. In some fevr places the very
words he made use of were those I have employed, since

Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe adventures of Arthur O'Leary → online text (page 36 of 40)