Part 1 out of 10
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The Irish Dragoon
BY CHARLES LEVER.
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY PHIZ.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
[Illustration: EXORCISING A SPIRIT.]
I. THE DOCTOR'S TALE
II. THE SKIRMISH
III. THE LINES OF CIUDAD RODRIGO
IV. THE DOCTOR
V. THE COA
VI. THE NIGHT MARCH
VII. THE JOURNEY
VIII. THE GHOST
X. A PLEASANT PREDICAMENT
XI. THE DINNER
XII. THE LETTER
XIII. THE VILLA
XIV. THE VISIT
XV. THE CONFESSION
XVI. MY CHARGER
XVIII. THE MASQUERADE
XIX. THE LINES
XX. THE RETREAT OF THE FRENCH
XXI. PATRICK'S DAY IN THE PENINSULA
XXII. FUENTES D'ONORO
XXIII. THE BATTLE OF FUENTES D'ONORO
XXIV. A RENCONTRE
XXVI. A NIGHT ON THE AZAVA
XXVII. MIKE'S MISTAKE
XXVIII. MONSOON IN TROUBLE
XXIX. THE CONFIDENCE
XXX. THE CANTONMENT
XXXI. MICKEY FREE'S ADVENTURE
XXXII. THE SAN PETRO
XXXIII. THE COUNT'S LETTER
XXXIV. THE TRENCHES
XXXV. THE STORMING OF CIUDAD RODRIGO
XXXVI. THE RAMPART
XXXVII. THE DESPATCH
XXXVIII. THE LEAVE
XL. THE BELL AT BRISTOL
XLII. THE RETURN
XLIV. AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE
XLV. A SURPRISE
XLVI. NEW VIEWS
XLVII. A RECOGNITION
XLVIII. A MISTAKE
L. AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE
LI. THE DUCHESS OF RICHMOND'S BALL
LII. QUATRE BRAS
ILLUSTRATIONS BY PHIZ IN VOL. II
EXORCISING A SPIRIT
THE TABLES TURNED 210
THE GENTLEMEN WHO NEVER SLEEP 405
THE WELCOME HOME 472
Illustrations in the Text
A FLYING SHOT 28
O'MALLEY FOLLOWING THE CUSTOM OF HIS COUNTRY 77
MR. FREE TURNED SPANIARD 96
CHARLEY TRYING A CHARGER 118
GOING OUT TO DINNER 152
DISADVANTAGE OF BREAKFASTING OVER A DUELLING-PARTY 157
MR. FREE PIPES WHILE HIS FRIENDS PIPE-CLAY 218
A HUNTING TURN-OUT IN THE PENINSULA 240
MIKE CAPTURING THE TRUMPETER 248
CAPTAIN MICKEY FREE RELATING HIS HEROIC DEEDS 310
BABY BLAKE 355
MICKEY ASTONISHES THE NATIVES 403
DEATH OF HAMMERSLEY 463
THE IRISH DRAGOON.
* * * * *
THE DOCTOR'S TALE.
"It is now some fifteen years since--if it wasn't for O'Shaughnessy's
wrinkles, I could not believe it five--we were quartered in Loughrea. There
were, besides our regiment, the Fiftieth and the Seventy-third, and a troop
or two of horse artillery, and the whole town was literally a barrack, and
as you may suppose, the pleasantest place imaginable. All the young ladies,
and indeed all those that had got their brevet some years before, came
flocking into the town, not knowing but the Devil might persuade a raw
ensign or so to marry some of them.
"Such dinner parties, such routs and balls, never were heard of west of
Athlone. The gayeties were incessant; and if good feeding, plenty of
claret, short whist, country dances, and kissing could have done the thing,
there wouldn't have been a bachelor with a red coat for six miles around.
[Footnote 1: I cannot permit the reader to fall into the same blunder,
with regard to the worthy "Maurice," as my friend Charles O'Malley has
done. It is only fair to state that the doctor in the following tale was
hoaxing the "dragoon." A braver and a better fellow than Quill never
existed, equally beloved by his brother officers, as delighted in for his
convivial talents. His favorite amusement was to invent some story or
adventure in which, mixing up his own name with that of some friend or
companion, the veracity of the whole was never questioned. Of this nature
was the pedigree he devised in the last chapter of Vol. I. to impose upon
O'Malley, who believed implicitly all he told him.]
"You know the west, O'Mealey, so I needn't tell you what the Galway girls
are like: fine, hearty, free-and-easy, talking, laughing devils, but as
deep and 'cute as a Master in Chancery; ready for any fun or merriment, but
always keeping a sly look-out for a proposal or a tender acknowledgment,
which--what between the heat of a ball-room, whiskey negus, white satin
shoes, and a quarrel with your guardian--it's ten to one you fall into
before you're a week in the same town with them.
"As for the men, I don't admire them so much: pleasant and cheerful enough
when they're handicapping the coat off your back, and your new tilbury for
a spavined pony and a cotton umbrella, but regular devils if you come to
cross them the least in life; nothing but ten paces, three shots apiece, to
begin and end with something like Roger de Coverley, when every one has a
pull at his neighbor. I'm not saying they're not agreeable, well-informed,
and mild in their habits; but they lean overmuch to corduroys and coroners'
inquests for one's taste farther south. However, they're a fine people,
take them all in all; and if they were not interfered with, and their
national customs invaded with road-making, petty-sessions, grand-jury laws,
and a stray commission now and then, they are capable of great things, and
would astonish the world.
"But as I was saying, we were ordered to Loughrea after being fifteen
months in detachments about Birr, Tullamore, Kilbeggan, and all that
country; the change was indeed a delightful one, and we soon found
ourselves the centre of the most marked and determined civilities. I told
you they were wise people in the west; this was their calculation: the
line--ours was the Roscommon militia--are here to-day, there to-morrow;
they may be flirting in Tralee this week, and fighting on the Tagus the
next; not that there was any fighting there in those times, but then there
was always Nova Scotia and St. John's, and a hundred other places that a
Galway young lady knew nothing about, except that people never came back
from them. Now, what good, what use was there in falling in love with them?
Mere transitory and passing pleasure that was. But as for us: there we
were; if not in Kilkenny we were in Cork. Safe out and come again; no
getting away under pretence of foreign service; no excuse for not marrying
by any cruel pictures of the colonies, where they make spatch-cocks of the
officers' wives and scrape their infant families to death with a small
tooth-comb. In a word, my dear O'Mealey, we were at a high premium; and
even O'Shaughnessy, with his red head and the legs you see, had his
admirers. There now, don't be angry, Dan; the men, at least, were mighty
partial to you.
"Loughrea, if it was a pleasant, was a very expensive place. White gloves
and car hire,--there wasn't a chaise in the town,--short whist, too (God
forgive me if I wrong them, but I wonder were they honest), cost money; and
as our popularity rose, our purses fell; till at length, when the one was
at the flood, the other was something very like low water.
"Now, the Roscommon was a beautiful corps; no petty jealousies, no little
squabbling among the officers, no small spleen between the major's wife
and the paymaster's sister,--all was amiable, kind, brotherly, and
affectionate. To proceed, I need only mention one fine trait of them,--no
man ever refused to indorse a brother officer's bill. To think of asking
the amount or even the date would be taken personally; and thus we went on
mutually aiding and assisting each other,--the colonel drawing on me, I
on the major, the senior captain on the surgeon, and so on, a regular
cross-fire of 'promises to pay,' all stamped and regular.
"Not but the system had its inconveniences; for sometimes an obstinate
tailor or bootmaker would make a row for his money, and then we'd be
obliged to get up a little quarrel between the drawer and the acceptor of
the bill; they couldn't speak for some days, and a mutual friend to both
would tell the creditor that the slightest imprudence on his part would
lead to bloodshed; 'and the Lord help him! if there was a duel, he'd be
proved the whole cause of it.' This and twenty other plans were employed;
and finally, the matter would be left to arbitration among our brother
officers, and I need not say, they behaved like trumps. But notwithstanding
all this, we were frequently hard pressed for cash; as the colonel said,
'It's a mighty expensive corps.' Our dress was costly; not that it had much
lace and gold on it, but that, what between falling on the road at night,
shindies at mess, and other devilment, a coat lasted no time. Wine, too,
was heavy on us; for though we often changed our wine merchant, and rarely
paid him, there was an awful consumption at the mess!
"Now, what I have mentioned may prepare you for the fact that before
we were eight weeks in garrison, Shaugh and myself, upon an accurate
calculation of our conjoint finances, discovered that except some vague
promises of discounting here and there through the town, and seven and
fourpence in specie, we were innocent of any pecuniary treasures. This was
embarrassing; we had both embarked in several small schemes of pleasurable
amusement, had a couple of hunters each, a tandem, and a running account--I
think it _galloped_--at every shop in the town.
"Let me pause for a moment here, O'Mealey, while I moralize a little in a
strain I hope may benefit you. Have you ever considered--of course you have
not, you're too young and unreflecting--how beautifully every climate
and every soil possesses some one antidote or another to its own noxious
influences? The tropics have their succulent and juicy fruits, cooling and
refreshing; the northern latitudes have their beasts with fur and warm skin
to keep out the frost-bites; and so it is in Ireland. Nowhere on the face
of the habitable globe does a man contract such habits of small debt, and
nowhere, I'll be sworn, can he so easily get out of any scrape concerning
them. They have their tigers in the east, their antelopes in the south,
their white bears in Norway, their buffaloes in America; but we have an
animal in Ireland that beats them all hollow,--a country attorney!
"Now, let me introduce you to Mr. Matthew Donevan. Mat, as he was
familiarly called by his numerous acquaintances, was a short, florid, rosy
little gentleman of some four or five-and-forty, with a well-curled wig of
the fairest imaginable auburn, the gentle wave of the front locks, which
played in infantine loveliness upon his little bullet forehead, contrasting
strongly enough with a cunning leer of his eye, and a certain _nisi prius_
laugh that however it might please a client, rarely brought pleasurable
feelings to his opponent in a cause.
"Mat was a character in his way; deep, double, and tricky in everything
that concerned his profession, he affected the gay fellow,--liked a jolly
dinner at Brown's Hotel, would go twenty miles to see a steeple-chase and
a coursing match, bet with any one when the odds were strong in his favor,
with an easy indifference about money that made him seem, when winning,
rather the victim of good luck than anything else. As he kept a rather
pleasant bachelor's house, and liked the military much, we soon became
acquainted. Upon him, therefore, for reasons I can't explain, both our
hopes reposed; and Shaugh and myself at once agreed that if Mat could not
assist us in our distresses, the case was a bad one.
"A pretty little epistle was accordingly concocted, inviting the worthy
attorney to a small dinner at five o'clock the next day, intimating that we
were to be perfectly alone, and had a little business to discuss. True to
the hour, Mat was there; and as if instantly guessing that ours was no
regular party of pleasure, his look, dress, and manner were all in keeping
with the occasion,--quiet, subdued, and searching.
"When the claret had been superseded by the whiskey, and the confidential
hours were approaching, by an adroit allusion to some heavy wager then
pending, we brought our finances upon the _tapis_. The thing was done
beautifully,--an easy _adagio_ movement, no violent transition; but hang me
if old Mat didn't catch the matter at once.
"'Oh, it's there ye are, Captain!' said he, with his peculiar grin.
'Two-and-sixpence in the pound, and no assets.'
"'The last is nearer the mark, my old boy,' said Shaugh, blurting out the
whole truth at once. The wily attorney finished his tumbler slowly, as
if giving himself time for reflection, and then, smacking his lips in a
preparatory manner, took a quick survey of the room with his piercing green
"'A very sweet mare of yours that little mouse-colored one is, with the dip
in the back; and she has a trifling curb--may be it's a spavin, indeed--in
the near hind-leg. You gave five-and-twenty for her, now, I'll be bound?'
"'Sixty guineas, as sure as my name's Dan,' said Shaugh, not at all pleased
at the value put upon his hackney; 'and as to spavin and curb, I'll wager
double the sum she has neither the slightest trace of one nor the other.'
"'I'll not take the bet,' said Mat, dryly. 'Money's scarce in these parts.'
"This hit silenced us both; and our friend continued,--
"'Then there's the bay horse,--a great strapping, leggy beast he is for a
tilbury; and the hunters, worth nothing here; they don't know this country.
Them's neat pistols; and the tilbury is not bad--'
"'Confound you!' said I, losing all patience; 'we didn't ask you here to
appraise our movables. We want to raise the wind without that.'
"'I see, I perceive,' said Mat, taking a pinch of snuff very leisurely as
he spoke,--'I see. Well, that is difficult, very difficult just now. I've
mortgaged every acre of ground in the two counties near us, and a sixpence
more is not to be had that way. Are you lucky at the races?'
"'Never win a sixpence.'
"'What can you do at whist?'
"'Revoke, and get cursed by my partner; devil a more!'
"'That's mighty bad, for otherwise, we might arrange something for you.
Well, I only see one thing for it; you must marry. A wife with some money
will get you out of your present difficulties; and we'll manage that easily
"'Come, Dan,' said I, for Shaugh was dropping asleep; 'cheer up, old
fellow. Donevan has found the way to pull us through our misfortunes. A
girl with forty thousand pounds, the best cock shooting in Ireland, an old
family, a capital cellar, all await ye,--rouse up, there!'
"'I'm convanient,' said Shaugh, with a look intended to be knowing, but
really very tipsy.
"'I didn't say much for her personal attractions, Captain,' said Mat; 'nor,
indeed, did I specify the exact sum; but Mrs. Rogers Dooley, of Clonakilty,
might be a princess--'
"'And so she shall be, Mat; the O'Shaughnessys were Kings of Ennis in the
time of Nero and I'm only waiting for a trifle of money to revive the
title. What's her name?'
"'Mrs. Rogers Dooley.'
"'Here's her health, and long life to her,--
'And may the Devil cut the toes
Of all her foes,
That we may know them by their limping.'
"This benevolent wish uttered, Dan fell flat upon the hearth-rug, and was
soon sound asleep. I must hasten on; so need only say that, before we
parted that night, Mat and myself had finished the half-gallon bottle of
Loughrea whiskey, and concluded a treaty for the hand and fortune of Mrs.
Rogers Dooley. He being guaranteed a very handsome percentage on the
property, and the lady being reserved for choice between Dan and myself,
which, however, I was determined should fall upon my more fortunate friend.
"The first object which presented itself to my aching senses the following
morning was a very spacious card of invitation from Mr. Jonas Malone,
requesting me to favor him with the seductions of my society the next
evening to a ball; at the bottom of which, in Mr. Donevan's hand, I read,--
"'Don't fail; you know who is to be there. I've not been idle since I saw
you. Would the captain take twenty-five for the mare?'
"'So far so good,' thought I, as entering O'Shaughnessy's quarters, I
discovered him endeavoring to spell out his card, which, however, had no
postscript. We soon agreed that Mat should have his price; so sending a
polite answer to the invitation, we despatched a still more civil note to
the attorney, and begged of him, as a weak mark of esteem, to accept the
mouse-colored mare as a present."
Here O'Shaughnessy sighed deeply, and even seemed affected by the souvenir.
"Come, Dan, we did it all for the best. Oh, O'Mealey, he was a cunning
fellow; but no matter. We went to the ball, and to be sure, it was a great
sight. Two hundred and fifty souls, where there was not good room for the
odd fifty; such laughing, such squeezing, such pressing of hands and waists
in the staircase, and then such a row and riot at the top,--four fiddles, a
key bugle, and a bagpipe, playing 'Haste to the wedding,' amidst the crash
of refreshment-trays, the tramp of feet, and the sounds of merriment on all
"It's only in Ireland, after all, people have fun. Old and young, merry and
morose, the gay and cross-grained, are crammed into a lively country-dance;
and ill-matched, ill-suited, go jigging away together to the blast of a bad
band, till their heads, half turned by the noise, the heat, the novelty,
and the hubbub, they all get as tipsy as if they were really deep in
"Then there is that particularly free-and-easy tone in every one about.
Here go a couple capering daintily out of the ball-room to take a little
fresh air on the stairs, where every step has its own separate flirtation
party; there, a riotous old gentleman, with a boarding-school girl for
his partner, has plunged smack into a party at loo, upsetting cards and
counters, and drawing down curses innumerable. Here are a merry knot round
the refreshments, and well they may be; for the negus is strong punch,
and the biscuit is tipsy cake,--and all this with a running fire of good
stories, jokes, and witticisms on all sides, in the laughter for which even
the droll-looking servants join as heartily as the rest.
"We were not long in finding out Mrs. Rogers, who sat in the middle of a
very high sofa, with her feet just touching the floor. She was short,
fat, wore her hair in a crop, had a species of shining yellow skin, and a
turned-up nose, all of which were by no means prepossessing. Shaugh and
myself were too hard-up to be particular, and so we invited her to dance
alternately for two consecutive hours, plying her assiduously with negus
during the lulls in the music.
"Supper was at last announced, and enabled us to recruit for new efforts;
and so after an awful consumption of fowl, pigeon-pie, ham, and brandy
cherries, Mrs. Rogers brightened up considerably, and professed her
willingness to join the dancers. As for us, partly from exhaustion, partly
to stimulate our energies, and in some degree to drown reflection, we drank
deep, and when we reached the drawing-room, not only the agreeable guests
themselves, but even the furniture, the venerable chairs, and the stiff old
sofa seemed performing 'Sir Roger de Coverley.' How we conducted ourselves
till five in the morning, let our cramps confess; for we were both
bed-ridden for ten days after. However, at last Mrs. Rogers gave in, and
reclining gracefully upon a window-seat, pronounced it a most elegant
party, and asked me to look for her shawl. While I perambulated the
staircase with her bonnet on my head, and more wearing apparel than would
stock a magazine, Shaugh was roaring himself hoarse in the street, calling
Mrs. Rogers' coach.
"'Sure, Captain,' said the lady, with a tender leer, 'it's only a chair.'
"'And here it is,' said I, surveying a very portly-looking old sedan, newly
painted and varnished, that blocked up half the hall.
"'You'll catch cold, my angel,' said Shaugh, in a whisper, for he was
coming it very strong by this; 'get into the chair. Maurice, can't you find
those fellows?' said he to me, for the chairmen had gone down-stairs, and
were making very merry among the servants.
"'She's fast now,' said I, shutting the door to. 'Let us do the gallant
thing, and carry her home ourselves.' Shaugh thought this a great notion;
and in a minute we mounted the poles and sallied forth, amidst a great
chorus of laughing from all the footmen, maids, and teaboys that filled the
"'The big house, with the bow-window and the pillars, Captain,' said a
fellow, as we issued upon our journey. "'I know it,' said I. 'Turn to the
left after you pass the square.'
"'Isn't she heavy?' said Shaugh, as he meandered across the narrow streets
with a sidelong motion that must have suggested to our fair inside
passenger some notions of a sea voyage. In truth, I must confess our
progress was rather a devious one,--now zig-zagging from side to side, now
getting into a sharp trot, and then suddenly pulling up at a dead stop, or
running the machine chuck against a wall, to enable us to stand still and
"'Which way now?' cried he, as we swung round the angle of a street and
entered the large market-place; 'I'm getting terribly tired.'
"'Never give in, Dan. Think of Clonakilty and the old lady herself.' Here
I gave the chair a hoist that evidently astonished our fair friend, for a
very imploring cry issued forth immediately after.
"'To the right, quick-step, forward, charge!' cried I; and we set off at a
brisk trot down a steep narrow lane.
"'Here it is now,--the light in the window. Cheer up.'
"As I said this we came short up to a fine, portly-looking doorway, with
great stone pillars and cornice.
"'Make yourself at home, Maurice,' said he; 'bring her in.' So saying,
we pushed forward--for the door was open--and passed boldly into a great
flagged hall, silent and cold, and dark as the night itself.
"'Are you sure we're right?' said he.
"'All right,' said I; 'go ahead.'
"And so we did, till we came in sight of a small candle that burned dimly
at a distance from us.
"'Make for the light,' said I; but just as I said so Shaugh slipped and
fell flat on the flagway. The noise of his fall sent up a hundred echoes
in the silent building, and terrified us both dreadfully. After a minute's
pause, by one consent we turned and made for the door, falling almost at
every step, and frightened out of our senses, we came tumbling together
into the porch, and out in the street, and never drew breath till we
reached the barracks. Meanwhile let me return to Mrs. Rogers. The dear
old lady, who had passed an awful time since she left the ball, had just
rallied out of a fainting fit when we took to our heels; so after screaming
and crying her best, she at last managed to open the top of the chair, and
by dint of great exertions succeeded in forcing the door, and at length
freed herself from bondage. She was leisurely groping her way round it
in the dark, when her lamentations, being heard without, woke up the old
sexton of the chapel,--for it was there we placed her,--who, entering
cautiously with a light, no sooner caught a glimpse of the great black
sedan and the figure beside it than he also took to his heels, and ran like
a madman to the priest's house.
"'Come, your reverence, come, for the love of marcy! Sure didn't I see him
myself! Oh, wirra, wirra!'
"'What is it, ye ould fool?' said M'Kenny.
"'It's Father Con Doran, your reverence, that was buried last week, and
there he is up now, coffin and all, saying a midnight Mass as lively as
"Poor Mrs. Rogers, God help her! It was a trying sight for her when the
priest and the two coadjutors and three little boys and the sexton all came
in to lay her spirit; and the shock she received that night, they say, she
never got over.
"Need I say, my dear O'Mealey, that our acquaintance with Mrs. Rogers was
closed? The dear woman had a hard struggle for it afterwards. Her character
was assailed by all the elderly ladies in Loughrea for going off in our
company, and her blue satin, piped with scarlet, utterly ruined by a deluge
of holy water bestowed on her by the pious sexton. It was in vain that she
originated twenty different reports to mystify the world; and even ten
pounds spent in Masses for the eternal repose of Father Con Doran only
increased the laughter this unfortunate affair gave rise to. As for us, we
exchanged into the line, and foreign service took us out of the road of
duns, debts, and devilment, and we soon reformed, and eschewed such low
The day was breaking ere we separated; and amidst the rich and fragrant
vapors that exhaled from the earth, the faint traces of sunlight dimly
stealing told of the morning. My two friends set out for Torrijos, and I
pushed boldly forward in the direction of the Alberche.
It was a strange thing that although but two days before the roads we were
then travelling had been the line of retreat of the whole French army, not
a vestige of their equipment nor a trace of their _materiel_ had been left
behind. In vain we searched each thicket by the wayside for some straggling
soldier, some wounded or wearied man; nothing of the kind was to be seen.
Except the deeply-rutted road, torn by the heavy wheels of the artillery,
and the white ashes of a wood fire, nothing marked their progress.
Our journey was a lonely one. Not a man was to be met with. The houses
stood untenanted; the doors lay open; no smoke wreathed from their deserted
hearths. The peasantry had taken to the mountains; and although the plains
were yellow with the ripe harvest, and the peaches hung temptingly upon the
trees, all was deserted and forsaken. I had often seen the blackened walls
and broken rafters, the traces of the wild revenge and reckless pillage of
a retiring army. The ruined castle and the desecrated altar are sad things
to look upon; but, somehow, a far heavier depression sunk into my heart
as my eye ranged over the wide valleys and broad hills, all redolent of
comfort, of beauty, and of happiness, and yet not one man to say, "This is
my home; these are my household gods." The birds carolled gayly in each
leafy thicket; the bright stream sung merrily as it rippled through the
rocks; the tall corn, gently stirred by the breeze, seemed to swell the
concert of sweet sounds; but no human voice awoke the echoes there. It
was as if the earth was speaking in thankfulness to its Maker, while
man,--ungrateful and unworthy man,--pursuing his ruthless path of
devastation and destruction, had left no being to say, "I thank Thee for
The day was closing as we drew near the Alberche, and came in sight of the
watch-fires of the enemy. Far as the eye could reach their column extended,
but in the dim twilight nothing could be seen with accuracy; yet from the
position their artillery occupied, and the unceasing din of baggage wagons
and heavy carriages towards the rear, I came to the conclusion that a still
farther retreat was meditated. A picket of light cavalry was posted upon
the river's bank, and seemed to watch with vigilance the approaches to the
Our bivouac was a dense copse of pine-trees, exactly opposite to the French
advanced posts, and there we passed the night,--fortunately a calm and
starlight one; for we dared not light fires, fearful of attracting
During the long hours I lay patiently watching the movements of the enemy
till the dark shadows hid all from sight; and even then, as my ears caught
the challenge of a sentry or the footsteps of some officer in his round,
my thoughts were riveted upon them, and a hundred vague fancies as to the
future were based upon no stronger foundation than the clink of a firelock
or the low-muttered song of a patrol.
Towards morning I slept; and when day broke my first glance was towards the
river-side. But the French were gone, noiselessly, rapidly. Like one man
that vast army had departed, and a dense column of dust towards the
horizon alone marked the long line of march where the martial legions were
My mission was thus ended; and hastily partaking of the humble breakfast my
friend Mike provided for me, I once more set out and took the road towards
For several months after the battle of Talavera my life presented nothing
which I feel worth recording. Our good fortune seemed to have deserted us
when our hopes were highest; for from the day of that splendid victory we
began our retrograde movement upon Portugal. Pressed hard by overwhelming
masses of the enemy, we saw the fortresses of Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida
fall successively into their hands. The Spaniards were defeated wherever
they ventured upon a battle; and our own troops, thinned by sickness and
desertion, presented but a shadow of that brilliant army which only a few
months previous had followed the retiring French beyond the frontiers of
However willing I now am--and who is not--to recognize the genius and
foresight of that great man who then held the destinies of the Peninsula
within his hands, I confess at the time I speak of I could ill comprehend
and still less feel contented with the successive retreats our forces made;
and while the words Torres Vedras brought nothing to my mind but the last
resting-place before embarkation, the sad fortunes of Corunna were now
before me, and it was with a gloomy and desponding spirit I followed the
routine of my daily duty.
During these weary months, if my life was devoid of stirring interest or
adventure, it was not profitless. Constantly employed at the outposts,
I became thoroughly inured to all the roughing of a soldier's life, and
learned in the best of schools that tacit obedience which alone can form
the subordinate or ultimately fit its possessor for command himself.
Humble and unobtrusive as such a career must ever be, it was not without
its occasional rewards. From General Crawfurd I more than once obtained
most kind mention in his despatches, and felt that I was not unknown or
unnoticed by Sir Arthur Wellesley himself. At that time these testimonies,
slight and passing as they were, contributed to the pride and glory of my
existence; and even now--shall I confess it?--when some gray hairs are
mingling with the brown, and when my old dragoon swagger is taming down
into a kind of half-pay shamble, I feel my heart warm at the recollection
Be it so; I care not who smiles at the avowal. I know of little better
worth remembering as we grow old than what pleased us while we were young.
With the memory of the kind words once spoken come back the still kinder
looks of those who spoke them, and better than all, that early feeling of
budding manhood, when there was neither fear nor distrust. Alas! these are
the things, and not weak eyes and tottering limbs, which form the burden of
old age. Oh, if we could only go on believing, go on trusting, go on hoping
to the last, who would shed tears for the bygone feats of his youthful
days, when the spirit that evoked them lived young and vivid as before?
But to my story. While Ciudad Rodrigo still held out against the besieging
French,--its battered walls and breached ramparts sadly foretelling the
fate inevitably impending,--we were ordered, together with the 16th Light
Dragoons, to proceed to Gallegos, to reinforce Crawfurd's division, then
forming a corps of observation upon Massena's movements.
The position he occupied was a most commanding one,--the crown of a long
mountain ridge, studded with pine-copse and cork-trees, presenting every
facility for light-infantry movements; and here and there gently sloping
towards the plain, offering a field for cavalry manoeuvres. Beneath, in
the vast plain, were encamped the dark legions of France, their heavy
siege-artillery planted against the doomed fortress, while clouds of their
cavalry caracoled proudly before us, as if in taunting sarcasm at our
Every artifice which his natural cunning could suggest, every taunt a
Frenchman's vocabulary contains, had been used by Massena to induce Sir
Arthur Wellesley to come to the assistance of the beleagured fortress:
but in vain. In vain he relaxed the energy of the siege, and affected
carelessness. In vain he asserted that the English were either afraid or
else traitors to their allies. The mind of him he thus assailed was neither
accessible to menace nor to sarcasm. Patiently abiding his time, he watched
the progress of events, and provided for that future which was to crown his
country's arms with success and himself with undying glory.
Of a far different mettle was the general formed under whose orders we were
now placed. Hot, passionate, and impetuous, relying upon bold and headlong
heroism rather than upon cool judgment and well-matured plans, Crawfurd
felt in war all the asperity and bitterness of a personal conflict. Ill
brooking the insulting tone of the wily Frenchman, he thirsted for any
occasion of a battle, and his proud spirit chafed against the colder
counsels of his superior.
On the very morning we joined, the pickets brought in the intelligence that
the French patrols were nightly in the habit of visiting the villages at
the outposts and committing every species of cruel indignity upon the
wretched inhabitants. Fired at this daring insult, our general resolved to
cut them off, and formed two ambuscades for the purpose.
Six squadrons of the 14th were despatched to Villa del Puerco, three of
the 16th to Baguetto, while some companies of the 95th, and the cacadores,
supported by artillery, were ordered to hold themselves in reserve, for the
enemy were in force at no great distance from us.
The morning was just breaking as an aide-de-camp galloped up with the
intelligence that the French had been seen near the Villa del Puerco, a
body of infantry and some cavalry having crossed the plain, and disappeared
in that direction. While our colonel was forming us, with the intention of
getting between them and their main body, the tramp of horses was heard in
the wood behind, and in a few moments two officers rode up. The foremost,
who was a short, stoutly-built man of about forty, with a bronzed face and
eye of piercing black, shouted out as we wheeled into column:--
"Halt, there! Why, where the devil are you going? That's your ground!" So
saying, and pointing straight towards the village with his hand, he would
not listen to our colonel's explanation that several stone fences and
enclosures would interfere with cavalry movements, but added, "Forward, I
Unfortunately, the nature of the ground separated our squadron, as the
colonel anticipated; and although we came on at a topping pace, the French
had time to form in square upon a hill to await us, and when we charged,
they stood firmly, and firing with a low and steady aim, several of our
troopers fell. As we wheeled round, we found ourselves exactly in front
of their cavalry coming out of Baguilles; so dashing straight at them,
we revenged ourselves for our first repulse by capturing twenty-nine
prisoners, and wounding several others.
The French infantry were, however, still unbroken; and Colonel Talbot rode
boldly up with five squadrons of the 14th; but the charge, pressed home
with all its gallantry, failed also, and the colonel fell mortally wounded,
and fourteen of his troopers around him. Twice we rode round the square,
seeking for a weak point, but in vain; the gallant Frenchman who commanded,
Captain Guache, stood fearlessly amidst his brave followers, and we could
hear him, as he called out from time to time,--
"_C'est ca mes enfans! Tres bien fait, mes braves!_"
And at length they made good their retreat, while we returned to the camp,
leaving thirty-two troopers and our brave colonel dead upon the field in
this disastrous affair.
The repulse we had met with, so contrary to all our hopes and expectations,
made that a most gloomy day to all of us. The brave fellows we had left
behind us, the taunting cheer of the French infantry, the unbroken ranks
against which we rode time after time in vain, never left our minds; and a
sense of shame of what might be thought of us at headquarters rendered the
reflection still more painful.
Our bivouac, notwithstanding all our efforts, was a sad one, and when the
moon rose, some drops of heavy rain falling at intervals in the still,
unruffled air threatened a night of storm; gradually the sky grew darker
and darker, the clouds hung nearer to the earth, and a dense, thick mass
of dark mist shrouded every object. The heavy cannonade of the siege was
stilled; nothing betrayed that a vast army was encamped near us; their
bivouac fires were even imperceptible; and the only sound we heard was the
great bell of Ciudad Rodrigo as it struck the hour, and seemed, in the
mournful cadence of its chime, like the knell of the doomed citadel.
The patrol which I commanded had to visit on its rounds the most advanced
post of our position. This was a small farm-house, which, standing upon a
little rising ledge of ground, was separated from the French lines by a
little stream tributary to the Aguda. A party of the 14th were picketed
here, and beneath them in the valley, scarce five hundred yards distant,
was the detachment of cuirassiers which formed the French outpost. As we
neared our picket the deep voice of the sentry challenged us; and while
all else was silent as the grave, we could hear from the opposite side
the merry chorus of a French _chanson a boire_, with its clattering
accompaniment of glasses, as some gay companions were making merry
Within the little hut which contained _our_ fellows, the scene was a
different one. The three officers who commanded sat moodily over a wretched
fire of wet wood; a solitary candle dimly lighted the dismantled room,
where a table but ill-supplied with cheer stood unminded and uncared for.
"Well, O'Malley," cried Baker, as I came in, "what is the night about? And
what's Crawfurd for next?"
"We hear," cried another, "that he means to give battle to-morrow; but
surely Sir Arthur's orders are positive enough. Gordon himself told me
that he was forbidden to fight beyond the Coa, but to retreat at the first
advance of the enemy."
"I'm afraid," replied I, "that retreating is his last thought just now.
Ammunition has just been served out, and I know the horse artillery have
orders to be in readiness by daybreak."
"All right," said Hampden, with a half-bitter tone. "Nothing like going
through with it. If he is to be brought to court-martial for disobedience,
he'll take good care we sha'n't be there to see it."
"Why, the French are fifty thousand strong!" said Baker. "Look there, what
does that mean, now? That's a signal from the town."
As he spoke a rocket of great brilliancy shot up into the sky, and bursting
at length fell in millions of red lustrous sparks on every side, showing
forth the tall fortress, and the encamped army around it, with all the
clearness of noonday. It was a most splendid sight; and though the next
moment all was dark as before, we gazed still fixedly into the gloomy
distance, straining our eyes to observe what was hid from our view forever.
"That must be a signal," repeated Baker.
"Begad! if Crawfurd sees it he'll interpret it as a reason for fighting. I
trust he's asleep by this time," said Hampden. "By-the-bye, O'Malley, did
you see the fellows at work in the trenches? How beautifully clear it was
towards the southward!"
"Yes, I remarked that! and what surprised me was the openness of their
position in that direction. Towards the San Benito mole I could not see a
"Ah, they'll not attack on that side; but if we really are--"
"Stay, Hampden!" said I, interrupting him, "a thought has just struck me.
At sunset, I saw, through my telescope, the French engineers marking with
their white tape the line of a new entrenchment in that quarter. Would it
not be a glorious thing to move the tape, and bring the fellows under the
fire of San Benito?"
"By Jove, O'Malley, that is a thought worth a troop to you!"
"Far more likely to forward his promotion in the next world than in this,"
said Baker, smiling.
"By no means," added I. "I marked the ground this evening, and have it
perfectly in my mind. If we were to follow the bend of the river, I'll be
bound to come right upon the spot; by nearing the fortress we'll escape the
sentries; and all this portion is open to us."
The project thus loosely thrown out was now discussed in all its bearings.
Whatever difficulties it presented were combated so much to our own
satisfaction, that at last its very facility damped our ardor. Meanwhile
the night wore on, and the storm of rain so long impending began to descend
in very torrents; hissing along the parched ground, it rose in a mist,
while overhead the heavy thunder rolled in long unbroken peals; the crazy
door threatened to give way at each moment, and the whole building trembled
to its foundation.
"Pass the brandy down here, Hampden, and thank your stars you're where you
are. Eh, O'Malley? You'll defer your trip to San Benito for finer weather."
"Well, to come to the point," said Hampden, "I'd rather begin my
engineering at a more favorable season; but if O'Malley's for it--"
"And O'Malley _is_ for it," said I, suddenly.
"Then faith, I'm not the man to balk his fancy; and as Crawfurd is so bent
upon fighting to-morrow, it don't make much difference. Is it a bargain?"
"It is; here's my hand on it."
"Come, come, boys, I'll have none of this; we've been prettily cut up this
morning already. You shall not go upon this foolish excursion."
"Confound it, old fellow! it's all very well for you to talk, with the
majority before you, next step; but here we are, if peace came to-morrow,
scarcely better than we left England. No, no; if O'Malley's ready--and I
see he is so before me--What have you got there? Oh, I see; that's our tape
line; capital fun, by George! The worst of it is, they'll make us colonels
of engineers. Now then, what's your plan--on foot or mounted?"
"Mounted, and for this reason, the country is all open; if we are to have a
run for it, our thoroughbreds ought to distance them; and as we must expect
to pass some of their sentries, our only chance is on horseback."
"My mind is relieved of a great load," said Hampden; "I was trembling in my
skin lest you should make it a walking party. I'll do anything you like in
the saddle, from robbing the mail to cutting out a frigate; but I never was
much of a foot-pad."
"Well, Mike," said I, as I returned to the room with my trusty follower,
"are the cattle to be depended on?"
"If we had a snaffle in Malachi Daly's mouth [my brown horse], I'd be
afeared of nothing, sir; but if it comes to fencing, with that cruel
bit,--but sure, you've a light hand, and let him have his head, if it's
"By Jove, he thinks it a fox-chase!" said Hampden.
"Isn't it the same, sir?" said Mike, with a seriousness that made the whole
"Well, I hope we shall not be earthed, any way," said I. "Now, the next
thing is, who has a lantern? Ah! the very thing; nothing better. Look to
your pistols, Hampden; and Mike, here's a glass of grog for you; we'll want
you. And now, one bumper for good luck. Eh, Baker, won't you pledge us?"
"And spare a little for me," said Hampden. "How it does rain! If one didn't
expect to be water-proofed before morning, one really wouldn't go out in
While I busied myself in arranging my few preparations, Hampden proceeded
gravely to inform Mike that we were going to the assistance of the besieged
fortress, which could not possibly go on without us.
"Tare and ages!" said Mike, "that's mighty quare; and the blue rocket was a
letter of invitation, I suppose?"
"Exactly," said Hampden; "and you see there's no ceremony between us. We'll
just drop in, in the evening, in a friendly way."
"Well, then, upon my conscience, I'd wait, if I was you, till the family
wasn't in confusion. They have enough on their hands just now."
"So you'll not be persuaded?" said Baker. "Well, I frankly tell you, that
come what will of it, as your senior officer I'll report you to-morrow.
I'll not risk myself for any such hair-brained expeditions."
"A mighty pleasant look-out for me," said Mike; "if I'm not shot to-night,
I may be flogged in the morning."
This speech once more threw us into a hearty fit of laughter, amidst which
we took leave of our friends, and set forth upon our way.
THE LINES OF CIUDAD RODRIGO.
The small, twinkling lights which shone from the ramparts of Ciudad Rodrigo
were our only guide, as we issued forth upon our perilous expedition. The
storm raged, if possible, even more violently than before, and gusts of
wind swept along the ground with the force of a hurricane; so that at
first, our horses could scarcely face the tempest. Our path lay along the
little stream for a considerable way; after which, fording the rivulet, we
entered upon the open plain, taking care to avoid the French outpost on the
extreme left, which was marked by a bivouac fire, burning under the heavy
downpour of rain, and looking larger through the dim atmosphere around it.
I rode foremost, followed closely by Hampden and Mike; not a word was
spoken after we crossed the stream. Our plan was, if challenged by a
patrol, to reply in French and press on; so small a party could never
suggest the idea of attack, and we hoped in this manner to escape.
The violence of the storm was such that many of our precautions as to
silence were quite unnecessary; and we had advanced to a considerable
extent into the plain before any appearance of the encampment struck us.
At length, on mounting a little rising ground, we perceived several fires
stretching far away to the northward; while still to our left, there blazed
one larger and brighter than the others. We now found that we had not
outflanked their position as we intended, and learning from the situation
of the fires, that we were still only at the outposts, we pressed sharply
forward, directing our course by the twin stars that shone from the
"How heavy the ground is here!" whispered Hampden, as our horses sunk above
the fetlocks. "We had better stretch away to the right; the rise of the
hill will favor us."
"Hark!" said I; "did you not hear something? Pull up,--silence now. Yes,
there they come. It's a patrol; I hear their tramp." As I spoke, the
measured tread of infantry was heard above the storm, and soon after a
lantern was seen coming along the causeway near us. The column passed
within a few yards of where we stood. I could even recognize the black
covering of the shakos as the light fell on them. "Let us follow them,"
whispered I; and the next moment we fell in upon their track, holding our
cattle well in hand, and ready to start at a moment.
"_Qui va la?_" a sentry demanded.
"_La deuxieme division_," cried a hoarse voice.
"_Halte la! la consigne?_"
"_Wagram!_" repeated the same voice as before, while his party resumed
their march; and the next moment the patrol was again upon his post, silent
and motionless as before.
"_En avant, Messieurs!_" said I, aloud, as soon as the infantry had
proceeded some distance,--"_en avant!_"
"_Qui va la?_" demanded the sentry, as we came along at a sharp trot.
"_L'etat-major, Wagram!_" responded I, pressing on without drawing rein;
and in a moment we had regained our former position behind the infantry. We
had scarcely time to congratulate ourselves upon the success of our scheme,
when a tremendous clattering noise in front, mingled with the galloping of
horses and the cracking of whips, announced the approach of the artillery
as they came along by a narrow road which bisected our path; and as they
passed between us and the column, we could hear the muttered sentences of
the drivers, cursing the unseasonable time for an attack, and swearing at
their cattle in no measured tones.
"Did you hear that?" whispered Hampden; "the battery is about to be
directed against the San Benito, which must be far away to the left.
I heard one of the troop saying that they were to open their fire at
"All right, now," said I; "look there!"
From the hill we now stood upon a range of lanterns was distinctly visible,
stretching away for nearly half a mile.
"There are the trenches; they must be at work, too. See how the lights are
moving from place to place! Straight now. Forward!"
So saying, I pressed my horse boldly on.
We had not proceeded many minutes when the sounds of galloping were heard
coming along behind us.
"To the right, in the hollow," cried I. "Be still."
Scarcely had we moved off when several horsemen galloped up, and drawing
their reins to breathe their horses up the hill, we could hear their voices
as they conversed together.
In the few broken words we could catch, we guessed that the attack upon San
Benito was only a feint to induce Crawfurd to hold his position, while
the French, marching upon his flank and front, were to attack him with
overwhelming masses and crush him.
"You hear what's in store for us, O'Malley?" whispered Hampden. "I think we
could not possibly do better than hasten back with the intelligence."
"We must not forget what we came for, first," said I; and the next moment
we were following the horsemen, who from their helmets seemed to be
The pace our guides rode at showed us that they knew their ground. We
passed several sentries, muttering something at each time, and seeming as
if only anxious to keep up with our party.
"They've halted," said I. "Now to the left there; gently here, for we must
be in the midst of their lines. Ha! I knew we were right. See there!"
Before us, now, at a few hundred yards, we could perceive a number of men
engaged upon the field. Lights were moving from place to place rapidly,
while immediately in front a strong picket of cavalry were halted.
"By Jove! there's sharp work of it to-night," whispered Hampden. "They do
intend to surprise us to-morrow."
"Gently now, to the left," said I, as cautiously skirting the little hill,
I kept my eye firmly fixed upon the watch-fire.
The storm, which for some time had abated considerably, was now nearly
quelled, and the moon again peeped forth amidst masses of black and watery
"What good fortune for us!" thought I, at this moment, as I surveyed the
plain before me.
"I say, O'Malley, what are those fellows at yonder, where the blue light is
"Ah! the very people we want; these are the sappers. Now for it; that's our
ground. We'll soon come upon their track now."
We pressed rapidly forward, passing an infantry party as we went. The blue
light was scarcely a hundred yards off; we could even hear the shouting of
the officers to their men in the trenches, when suddenly my horse came down
upon his head, and rolling over, crushed me to the earth.
"Not hurt, my boy," cried I, in a subdued tone, as Hampden jumped down
It was the angle of a trench I had fallen into; and though both my horse
and myself felt stunned for the moment, we rallied the next minute.
"Here is the very spot," said I. "Now, Mike, catch the bridles and follow
Guiding ourselves along the edge of the trench, we crept stealthily
forward; the only watch-fire near was where the engineer party was halted,
and our object was to get outside of this.
"My turn this time," said Hampden, as he tripped suddenly, and fell head
foremost upon the grass.
As I assisted him to rise, something caught my ankle, and on stooping I
found it was a cord pegged fast into the ground, and lying only a few
inches above it.
"Now, steady! See here; this is their working line. Pass your hand along it
there, and let us follow it out."
While Hampden accordingly crept along on one side, I tracked the cord upon
the other. Here I found it terminating upon a small mound, where probably
some battery was to be erected. I accordingly gathered it carefully up, and
was returning towards my friend, when what was my horror to hear Mike's
voice, conversing, as it seemed to me, with some one in French.
I stood fixed to the spot, my very heart beating almost in my mouth as I
"_Qui etes-vous done, mon ami?_" inquired a hoarse, deep voice, a few yards
"_Bon cheval, non_ beast, _sacre nom de Dieu!_" A hearty burst of laughter
prevented my hearing the conclusion of Mike's French.
I now crept forward upon my hands and knees, till I could catch the dark
outline of the horses, one hand fixed upon my pistol trigger, and my sword
drawn in the other. Meanwhile the dialogue continued.
"_Vous etes d'Alsace, n'est-ce-pas?_" asked the Frenchman, kindly supposing
that Mike's French savored of Strasburg.
"Oh, blessed Virgin! av I might shoot him," was the muttered reply.
Before I had time to see the effect of the last speech, I pressed forward
with a bold spring, and felled the Frenchman to the earth. My hand had
scarcely pressed upon his mouth, when Hampden was beside me. Snatching up
the pistol I let fall, he held it to the man's chest and commanded him to
be silent. To unfasten his girdle and bind the Frenchman's hands behind
him, was the work of a moment; and as the sharp click of the pistol-cock
seemed to calm his efforts to escape, we soon succeeded in fastening a
handkerchief tight across his mouth, and the next minute he was placed
behind Mike's saddle, firmly attached to this worthy individual by his
"Now, a clear run home for it, and a fair start," said Hampden, as he
sprang into the saddle.
"Now, then, for it," I replied, as turning my horse's head towards our
lines, I dashed madly forward.
The moon was again obscured, but still the dark outline of the hill which
formed our encampment was discernible on the horizon. Riding side by side,
on we hurried,--now splashing through the deep wet marshes, now plunging
through small streams. Our horses were high in mettle, and we spared them
not. By taking a wide _detour_ we had outflanked the French pickets, and
were almost out of all risk, when suddenly on coming to the verge of rather
a steep hill, we perceived beneath us a strong cavalry picket standing
around a watch-fire; their horses were ready saddled, the men accoutred,
and quite prepared for the field. While we conversed together in whispers
as to the course to follow, our deliberations were very rapidly cut short.
The French prisoner, who hitherto had given neither trouble nor resistance,
had managed to free his mouth from the encumbrance of the handkerchief; and
as we stood quietly discussing our plans, with one tremendous effort he
endeavored to hurl himself and Mike from the saddle, shouting out as he did
"_A moi camarades! a moi!_"
Hampden's pistol leaped from the holster as he spoke, and levelling it with
a deadly aim, he pulled the trigger; but I threw up his arm, and the ball
passed high above his head. To have killed the Frenchman would have been to
lose my faithful follower, who struggled manfully with his adversary, and
at length by throwing himself flatly forward upon the mane of his horse,
completely disabled him. Meanwhile the picket had sprung to their saddles,
and looked wildly about on every side.
Not a moment was to be lost; so turning our horses' heads towards the
plain, away we went. One loud cheer announced to us that we had been seen,
and the next instant the clash of the pursuing cavalry was heard behind us.
It was now entirely a question of speed, and little need we have feared
had Mike's horse not been doubly weighted. However, as we still had
considerably the start, and the gray dawn of day enabled us to see the
ground, the odds were in our favor. "Never let your horse's head go," was
my often repeated direction to Mike, as he spurred with all the desperation
of madness. Already the low meadow-land was in sight which flanked the
stream we had crossed in the morning, but unfortunately the heavy rains had
swollen it now to a considerable depth, and the muddy current, choked with
branches of trees and great stones, was hurrying down like a torrent. "Take
the river! never flinch it!" was my cry to my companions, as I turned my
head and saw a French dragoon, followed by two others, gaining rapidly upon
us. As I spoke, Mike dashed in, followed by Hampden, and the same moment
the sharp ring of a carbine whizzed past me. To take off the pursuit from
the others, I now wheeled my horse suddenly round, as if I feared to take
the stream, and dashed along by the river's bank.
[Illustration: A FLYING SHOT.]
Beneath me in the foaming current the two horsemen labored,--now stemming
the rush of water, now reeling almost beneath. A sharp cry burst from Mike
as I looked, and I saw the poor fellow bend nearly to his saddle. I could
see no more, for the chase was now hot upon myself. Behind me rode a French
dragoon, his carbine pressed tightly to his side, ready to fire as he
pressed on in pursuit. I had but one chance; so drawing my pistol I wheeled
suddenly in my saddle, and fired straight at him. The Frenchman fell, while
a regular volley from his party rung around me, one ball striking my horse,
and another lodging in the pommel of my saddle. The noble animal reeled
nearly to the earth, but as if rallying for a last effort, sprang forward
with renewed energy, and plunged boldly into the river. For a moment,
so sudden was my leap, my pursuers lost sight of me; but the bank being
somewhat steep, the efforts of my horse to climb again discovered me, and
before I reached the field two pistol-balls took effect upon me,--one
slightly grazed my side, but my bridle-arm was broken by the other, and
my hand fell motionless to my side. A cheer of defiance was, however, my
reply, as I turned round in my saddle, and the next moment I was far beyond
the range of their fire.
Not a man durst follow, and the last sight I had of them was the dismounted
group who stood around their dead comrade. Before me rode Hampden and Mike,
still at top speed, and never turning their heads backwards. I hastened
after them; but my poor, wounded horse, nearly hamstrung by the shot,
became dead lame, and it was past daybreak ere I reached the first outposts
of our lines.
"And his wound? Is it a serious one?" said a round, full voice, as the
doctor left my room at the conclusion of his visit.
"No, sir; a fractured bone is the worst of it,--the bullet grazed, but did
not cut the artery, and as--"
"Well, how soon will he be about again?"
"In a few weeks, if no fever sets in."
"There's no objection to my seeing him?--a few minutes only,--I'll be
cautious." So saying, and as it seemed to me, without waiting for a reply,
the door was opened by an aide-de-camp, who, announcing General Crawfurd,
closed it again, and withdrew.
The first glance I threw upon the general enabled me to recognize the
officer who, on the previous morning, had ridden up to the picket and given
us the orders to charge. I essayed to rise a little as he came forward; but
he motioned me with his hand to lie still, while, placing a chair close
beside my bed, he sat down.
"Very sorry for your mishap, sir, but glad it is no worse. Moreton says
that nothing of consequence is injured; there, you mustn't speak except I
ask you. Hampden has told me everything necessary; at least as far as he
knew. Is it your opinion, also, that any movement is in contemplation; and
from what circumstance?"
I immediately explained, and as briefly as I was able, the reasons for
suspecting such, with which he seemed quite satisfied. I detailed the
various changes in the positions of the troops that were taking place
during the night, the march of the artillery, and the strong bodies of
cavalry that were posted in reserve along the river.
"Very well, sir; they'll not move; your prisoner, quartermaster of an
infantry battalion, says not, also. Yours was a bold stroke, but could not
possibly have been of service, and the best thing I can do for you is not
to mention it,--a court-martial's but a poor recompense for a gun-shot
wound. Meanwhile, when this blows over, I'll appoint you on my personal
staff. There, not a word, I beg; and now, good-by."
So saying, and waving me an adieu with his hand, the gallant veteran
withdrew before I could express my gratitude for his kindness.
I had little time for reflecting over my past adventure, such numbers of my
brother officers poured in upon me. All the doctor's cautions respecting
quietness and rest were disregarded, and a perfect levee sat the entire
morning in my bed-room. I was delighted to learn that Mike's wound, though
painful at the moment, was of no consequence; and indeed Hampden, who
escaped both steel and shot, was the worst off among us,--his plunge in the
river having brought on an ague he had labored under years before.
"The illustrious Maurice has been twice here this morning, but they
wouldn't admit him. Your Scotch physician is afraid of his Irish
_confrere_, and they had a rare set-to about Galen and Hippocrates
outside," said Baker.
"By-the-bye," said another, "did you see how Sparks looked when Quill
joined us? Egad, I never saw a fellow in such a fright; he reddened up,
then grew pale, turned his back, and slunk away at the very first moment."
"Yes, I remember it. We must find out the reason; for Maurice, depend upon
it, has been hoaxing the poor fellow."
"Well, O'Malley," growled out the senior major, "you certainly did give
Hampden a benefit. He'll not trust himself in such company again; and
begad, he says, the man is as bad as the master. That fellow of yours never
let go his prisoner till he reached the quartermaster-general, and they
were both bathed in blood by that time."
"Poor Mike! we must do something for him."
"Oh, he's as happy as a king! Maurice has been in to see him, and they've
had a long chat about Ireland, and all the national pastimes of whiskey
drinking and smashing skulls. My very temples ache at the recollection."
"Is Mister O'Mealey at home?" said a very rich Cork accent, as the
well-known and most droll features of Dr. Maurice Quill appeared at the
"Come in, Maurice," said the major; "and for Heaven's sake, behave
properly. The poor fellow must not have a row about his bedside."
"A row, a row! Upon my conscience, it is little you know about a row, and
there's worse things going than a row. Which leg is it?"
"It's an arm, Doctor, I'm happy to say."
"Not your punch hand, I hope. No; all's right. A neat fellow you have for
a servant, that Mickey Free. I was asking him about a townsman of his
own--one Tim Delany,--the very cut of himself, the best servant I ever had.
I never could make out what became of him. Old Hobson of the 95th, gave
him to me, saying, 'There he is for you, Maurice, and a bigger thief and a
greater blackguard there's not in the 60th.'
"'Strong words,' said I.
"'And true' said he; 'he'd steal your molar tooth while you were laughing
"'Let me have him, and try my hand on him, anyway. I've got no one just
now. Anything is better than nothing.'
"Well I took Tim, and sending for him to my room I locked the door, and
sitting down gravely before him explained in a few words that I was quite
aware of his little propensities.
"'Now,' said I, 'if you like to behave well, I'll think you as honest as
the chief-justice; but if I catch you stealing, if it be only the value of
a brass snuff-box, I'll have you flogged before the regiment as sure as my
"Oh, I wish you heard the volley of protestations that fell from him fast
as hail. He was a calumniated man the world conspired to wrong him; he was
never a thief nor a rogue in his life. He had a weakness, he confessed, for
the ladies; but except that, he hoped he might die so thin that he could
shave himself with his shin-bone if he ever so much as took a pinch of salt
that wasn't his own.
"However this might be, nothing could be better than the way Tim and I got
on together. Everything was in its place, nothing missing; and in fact, for
upwards of a year, I went on wondering when he was to show out in his true
colors, for hitherto he had been a phoenix.
"At last,--we were quartered in Limerick at the time,--every morning used
to bring accounts of all manner of petty thefts in the barrack,--one fellow
had lost his belt, another his shoes, a third had three-and-sixpence in
his pocket when he went to bed and woke without a farthing, and so on.
Everybody save myself was mulet of something. At length some rumors of
Tim's former propensities got abroad; suspicion was excited; my friend
Delany was rigidly watched, and some very dubious circumstances attached to
the way he spent his evenings.
"My brother officers called upon me about the matter, and although nothing
had transpired like proof, I sent for Tim, and opened my mind on the
"You may talk of the look of conscious innocence, but I defy you to
conceive anything finer than the stare of offended honor Tim gave me as I
"'They say it's me, Doctor,' said he, 'do they? And you,--you believe them.
You allow them to revile me that way? Well, well, the world is come to a
pretty pass, anyhow! Now, let me ask your honor a few questions? How many
shirts had yourself when I entered your service? Two, and one was more like
a fishing net! And how many have ye now? Eighteen; ay, eighteen bran new
cambrie ones,--devil a hole in one of them! How many pair of stockings had
you? Three and an odd one. You have two dozen this minute. How many pocket
handkerchiefs? One,--devil a more! You could only blow your nose two days
in the week, and now you may every hour of the twenty-four! And as to
the trilling articles of small value, snuff-boxes, gloves, bootjacks,
"'Stop, Tim, that's enough--'
"'No, sir, it is not,' said Tim, drawing himself up to his full height;
'you have wounded my feelings in a way I can't forget. It is impossible
we can have that mutual respect our position demands. Farewell, farewell,
Doctor, and forever!'
"Before I could say another word, the fellow had left the room, and closed
the door after him; and from that hour to this I never set eyes on him."
In this vein did the worthy doctor run on till some more discreet friend
suggested that however well-intentioned the visit, I did not seem to be
fully equal to it,--my flushed cheek and anxious eye betraying that the
fever of my wound had commenced. They left me, therefore, once more alone,
and to my solitary musings over the vicissitudes of my fortune.
Within a week from the occurrence of the events just mentioned, Ciudad
Rodrigo surrendered, and Crawfurd assumed another position beneath the
walls of Almeida. The Spanish contingent having left us, we were reinforced
by the arrival of two battalions, renewed orders being sent not to risk a
battle, but if the French should advance, to retire beyond the Coa.
On the evening of the 21st of July a strong body of French cavalry advanced
into the plain, supported by some heavy guns; upon which Crawfurd retired
upon the Coa, intending, as we supposed, to place that river between
himself and the enemy. Three days, however, passed over without any
movement upon either side, and we still continued, with a force of scarcely
four thousand infantry and a thousand dragoons, to stand opposite to an
army of nearly fifty thousand men. Such was our position as the night of
the 24th set in. I was sitting alone in my quarters. Mike, whose wound had
been severer than at first was supposed, had been sent to Almeida, and I
was musing in solitude upon the events of the campaign, when the noise and
bustle without excited my attention,--the roll of artillery wagons, the
clash of musketry, and the distant sounds of marching, all proved that the
troops were effecting some new movement, and I burned with anxiety to
learn what it was. My brother officers, however, came not as usual to my
quarters; and although I waited with impatience while the hours rolled by,
no one appeared.
Long, low moaning gusts of wind swept along the earth, carrying the leaves
as they tore them from the trees, and mingling their sad sounds with the
noises of the retiring troops; for I could perceive that gradually the
sounds grew more and more remote, and only now and then could I trace their
position as the roll of a distant drum swelled upon the breeze, or the
more shrill cry of a pibroch broke upon my ear. A heavy downpour of rain
followed soon after, and in its unceasing plash drowned all other sounds.
As the little building shook beneath the peals of loud thunder, the
lightning flashed in broad sheets upon the rapid river, which, swollen and
foaming, dashed impetuously beside my window. By the uncertain but vivid
glare of the flashes, I endeavored to ascertain where our force was posted,
but in vain. Never did I witness such a night of storm,--the deep booming
of the thunder seeming never for a moment to cease, while the rush of the
torrent grew gradually louder, till at length it swelled into one deep and
sullen roar like that of distant artillery.
Weak and nervous as I felt from the effects of my wound, feverish and
exhausted by days of suffering and sleepless nights, I paced my little room
with tottering but impatient steps. The sense of my sad and imprisoned
state impressed me deeply; and while from time to time I replenished my
fire, and hoped to hear some friendly step upon the stair, my heart grew
gradually heavier, and every gloomy and depressing thought suggested itself
to my imagination. My most constant impression was that the troops were
retiring beyond the Coa, and that, forgotten in the haste and confusion of
a night march, I had been left behind to fall a prisoner to the enemy.
The sounds of the troops retiring gradually farther and farther favored the
idea, in which I was still more strengthened on finding that the peasants
who inhabited the little hut had departed, leaving me utterly alone. From
the moment I ascertained this fact, my impatience knew no bounds; and in
proportion as I began to feel some exertion necessary on my part, so much
more did my nervousness increase my debility, and at last I sank exhausted
upon my bed, while a cold perspiration broke out upon my temples.
I have mentioned that the Coa was immediately beneath the house; I must
also add that the little building occupied the angle of a steep but narrow
gorge which descended from the plain to the bridge across the stream. This,
as far as I knew, was the only means we possessed of passing the river; so
that, when the last retiring sounds of the troops were heard by me, I began
to suspect that Crawfurd, in compliance with his orders, was making a
backward movement, leaving the bridge open to the French, to draw them
on to his line of march, while he should cross over at some more distant
As the night grew later, the storm seemed to increase; the waves of the
foaming river dashed against the frail walls of the hut, while its roof,
rent by the blast, fell in fragments upon the stream, and all threatened a
speedy and perfect ruin.
How I longed for morning! The doubt and uncertainty I suffered nearly drove
me distracted. Of all the casualties my career as a soldier opened, none
had such terrors for me as imprisonment; the very thought of the long years
of inaction and inglorious idleness was worse than any death. My wounds,
and the state of fever I was in, increased the morbid dread upon me, and
had the French captured me at the time, I know not that madness of which
I was not capable. Day broke at last, but slowly and sullenly; the gray
clouds hurried past upon the storm, pouring down the rain in torrents as
they went, and the desolation and dreariness on all sides was scarcely
preferable to the darkness and gloom of night. My eyes were turned ever
towards the plain, across which the winter wind bore the plashing rain in
vast sheets of water; the thunder crashed louder and louder; but except the
sounds of the storm none others met my ear. Not a man, not a human figure
could I see, as I strained my sight towards the distant horizon.
The morning crept over, but the storm abated not, and the same unchanged
aspect of dreary desolation prevailed without. At times I thought I could
hear, amidst the noises of the tempest, something like the roll of distant
artillery; but the thunder swelled in sullen roar above all, and left me
uncertain as before.
At last, in a momentary pause of the storm, a tremendous peal of heavy
guns caught my ear, followed by the long rattling of small-arms. My heart
bounded with ecstasy. The thoughts of the battle-field, with all its
changing fortunes, was better, a thousand times better, than the despairing
sense of desertion I labored under. I listened now with eagerness, but
the rain bore down again in torrents, and the crumbling walls and falling
timbers left no other sounds to be heard. Far as my eye could reach,
nothing could still be seen save the dreary monotony of the vast plain,
undulating slightly here and there, but unmarked by a sign of man.
Far away towards the horizon I had remarked for some time past that the
clouds resting upon the earth grew blacker and blacker, spreading out to
either side in vast masses, and not broken or wafted along like the rest.
As I watched the phenomenon with an anxious eye, I perceived the dense mass
suddenly appear, as it were, rent asunder, while a volume of liquid flame
rushed wildly out, throwing a lurid glare on every side. One terrific clap,
louder than any thunder, shook the air at this moment, while the very earth
trembled beneath the shock.
As I hesitated what it might be, the heavy din of great guns again was
heard, and from the midst of the black smoke rode forth a dark mass,
which I soon recognized as the horse-artillery at full gallop. They were
directing their course towards the bridge.
As they mounted the little rising ground, they wheeled and unlimbered with
the speed of lightning, just as a strong column of cavalry showed above the
ridge. One tremendous discharge again shook the field, and ere the smoke
cleared away they were again far in retreat.
So much was my attention occupied with this movement that I had not
perceived the long line of infantry that came from the extreme left, and
were now advancing also towards the bridge at a brisk quick-step; scattered
bodies of cavalry came up from different parts, while from the little
valley, every now and then, a rifleman would mount the rising ground,
turning to fire as he retreated. All this boded a rapid and disorderly
retreat; and although as yet I could see nothing of the pursuing enemy, I
knew too well the relative forces of each to have a doubt for the result.
At last the head of a French column appeared above the mist, and I could
plainly distinguish the gestures of the officers as they hurried their men
onwards. Meanwhile a loud hurra attracted my attention, and I turned my eye
towards the road which led to the river. Here a small body of the 95th had
hurriedly assembled, and formed again, were standing to cover the retreat
of the broken infantry as they passed on eagerly to the bridge; in a second
after the French cuirassiers appeared. Little anticipating resistance from
a flying and disordered mass, they rode headlong forward, and although the
firm attitude and steady bearing of the Highlanders might have appalled
them, they rode heedlessly down upon the square, sabring the very men in
the front rank. Till now not a trigger had been pulled, when suddenly the
word "Fire!" was given, and a withering volley of balls sent the cavalry
column in shivers. One hearty cheer broke from the infantry in the rear,
and I could hear "Gallant Ninety-fifth!" shouted on every side along the
The whole vast space before me was now one animated battle-ground. Our own
troops, retiring in haste before the overwhelming forces of the French,
occupied every little vantage ground with their guns and light infantry,
charges of cavalry coursing hither and thither; while, as the French
pressed forward, the retreating columns again formed into squares to
permit stragglers to come up. The rattle of small-arms, the heavy peal of
artillery, the earth-quake crash of cavalry, rose on every side, while the
cheers which alternately told of the vacillating fortune of the fight rose
amidst the wild pibroch of the Highlanders.
A tremendous noise now took place on the floor beneath me; and looking
down, I perceived that a sergeant and party of sappers had taken possession
of the little hut, and were busily engaged in piercing the walls for
musketry; and before many minutes had elapsed, a company of the Rifles were
thrown into the building, which, from its commanding position above the
road, enfiladed the whole line of march. The officer in command briefly
informed me that we had been attacked that morning by the French in force,
and "devilishly well thrashed;" that we were now in retreat beyond the Coa,
where we ought to have been three days previously, and desired me to cross
the bridge and get myself out of the way as soon as I possibly could.
A twenty-four pounder from the French lines struck the angle of the house
as he spoke, scattering the mortar and broken bricks about us on all sides.
This was warning sufficient for me, wounded and disabled as I was; so
taking the few things I could save in my haste, I hurried from the hut, and
descending the path, now slippery by the heavy rain, I took my way across
the bridge, and established myself on a little rising knoll of ground
beyond, from which a clear view could be obtained of the whole field.
I had not been many minutes in my present position ere the pass which led
down to the bridge became thronged with troops, wagons, ammunition carts,
and hospital stores, pressing thickly forward amidst shouting and uproar;
the hills on either side of the way were crowded with troops, who formed
as they came up, the artillery taking up their position on every rising
ground. The firing had already begun, and the heavy booming of the large
guns was heard at intervals amidst the rattling crash of musketry. Except
the narrow road before me, and the high bank of the stream, I could see
nothing; but the tumult and din, which grew momentarily louder, told that
the tide of battle raged nearer and nearer. Still the retreat continued;
and at length the heavy artillery came thundering across the narrow bridge
followed by stragglers of all arms, and wounded, hurrying to the rear. The
sharpshooters and the Highlanders held the heights above the stream, thus
covering the retiring columns; but I could plainly perceive that their fire
was gradually slackening, and that the guns which flanked their position
were withdrawn, and everything bespoke a speedy retreat. A tremendous
discharge of musketry at this moment, accompanied by a deafening cheer,
announced the advance of the French, and soon the head of the Highland
brigade was seen descending towards the bridge, followed by the Rifles and
the 95th; the cavalry, consisting of the 11th and 14th Light Dragoons, were
now formed in column of attack, and the infantry deployed into line; and in
an instant after, high above the din and crash of battle, I heard the word
"Charge!" The rising crest of the hill hid them from my sight, but my heart
bounded with ecstasy as I listened to the clanging sound of the cavalry
advance. Meanwhile the infantry pressed on, and forming upon the bank,
took up a strong position in front of the bridge; the heavy guns were
also unlimbered, riflemen scattered through the low copse-wood, and every
precaution taken to defend the pass to the last. For a moment all my
attention was riveted to the movements upon our own side of the stream,
when suddenly the cavalry bugle sounded the recall, and the same moment
the staff came galloping across the bridge. One officer I could perceive,
covered with orders and trappings, his head was bare, and his horse,
splashed with blood and foam, moved lamely and with difficulty; he turned
in the middle of the bridge, as if irresolute whether to retreat farther.
One glance at him showed me the bronzed, manly features of our leader.
Whatever his resolve, the matter was soon decided for him, for the cavalry
came galloping swiftly down the slope, and in an instant the bridge was
blocked up by the retreating forces, while the French as suddenly appearing
above the height, opened a plunging fire upon their defenceless enemies;
their cheer of triumph was answered by our fellows from the opposite bank,
and a heavy cannonade thundered along the rocky valley, sending up a
hundred echoes as it went.
The scene now became one of overwhelming interest; the French, posting
their guns upon the height, replied to our fire, while their line, breaking
into skirmishers, descended the banks to the river's edge, and poured
in one sheet of galling musketry. The road to the bridge, swept by our
artillery, presented not a single file; and although a movement among
the French announced the threat of an attack, the deadly service of the
artillery seemed to pronounce it hopeless.
A strong cavalry force stood inactively spectators of the combat, on the
French side, among whom I now remarked some bustle and preparation, and as
I looked an officer rode boldly to the river's edge, and spurring his horse
forward, plunged into the stream. The swollen and angry torrent, increased
by the late rains, boiled like barm, and foamed around him as he advanced;
when suddenly his horse appeared to have lost its footing, and the rapid
current, circling around him, bore him along with it. He labored madly, but
in vain, to retrace his steps; the rolling torrent rose above his saddle,
and all that his gallant steed could do was barely sufficient to keep
afloat; both man and horse were carried down between the contending
armies. I could see him wave his hand to his comrades, as if in adieu. One
deafening cheer of admiration rose from the French lines, and the next
moment he was seen to fall from his seat, and his body, shattered with
balls, floated mournfully upon the stream.
This little incident, to which both armies were witnesses, seemed to have
called forth all the fiercer passions of the contending forces; a loud yell
of taunting triumph rose from the Highlanders, responded to by a cry of
vengeance from the French, and the same moment the head of a column was
seen descending the narrow causeway to the bridge, while an officer with a
whole blaze of decorations and crosses sprang from his horse and took the
lead. The little drummer, a child of scarcely ten years old, tripped gayly
on, beating his little _pas des charge_, seeming rather like the play of
infancy than the summons to death and carnage, as the heavy guns of the
French opened a volume of fire and flame to cover the attacking column. For
a moment all was hid from our eyes; the moment after the grape-shot swept
along the narrow causeway; and the bridge, which but a second before was
crowded with the life and courage of a noble column, was now one heap of
dead and dying. The gallant fellow who led them on fell among the first
rank, and the little child, as if kneeling, was struck dead beside the
parapet; his fair hair floated across his cold features, and seemed in its
motion to lend a look of life where the heart's throb had ceased forever.
The artillery again re-opened upon us; and when the smoke had cleared away,
we discovered that the French had advanced to the middle of the bridge and
carried off the body of their general. Twice they essayed to cross, and
twice the death-dealing fire of our guns covered the narrow bridge with
slain, while by the wild pibroch of the 42d, swelling madly into notes of
exultation and triumph, the Highlanders could scarcely be prevented from
advancing hand to hand with the foe. Gradually the French slackened their
fire, their great guns were one by one withdrawn from the heights, and a
dropping, irregular musketry at intervals sustained the fight, which, ere
sunset, ceased altogether; and thus ended "The Battle of the Coa!"
THE NIGHT MARCH.
Scarcely had the night fallen when our retreat commenced. Tired and weary
as our brave fellows felt, but little repose was allowed them; their
bivouac fires were blazing brightly, and they had just thrown themselves
in groups around them, when the word to fall in was passed from troop to
troop, and from battalion to battalion,--no trumpet, no bugle called them
to their ranks. It was necessary that all should be done noiselessly and
speedily; while, therefore, the wounded were marched to the front, and
the heavy artillery with them, a brigade of light four pounders and two
squadrons of cavalry held the heights above the bridge, and the infantry,
forming into three columns, began their march.
My wound, forgotten in the heat and excitement of the conflict, was now
becoming excessively painful, and I gladly availed myself of a place in a
wagon, where, stretched upon some fresh straw, with no other covering save
the starry sky, I soon fell sound asleep, and neither the heavy jolting of
the rough conveyance, nor the deep and rutty road, were able to disturb my
slumbers. Still through my sleep I heard the sounds around me, the heavy
tramp of infantry, the clash of the moving squadrons, and the dull roll of
artillery; and ever and anon the half-stifled cry of pain, mingling with
the reckless carol of some drinking-song, all flitted through my dreams,
lending to my thoughts of home and friends a memory of glorious war.
All the vicissitudes of a soldier's life passed then in review before me,
elicited in some measure by the things about. The pomp and grandeur, the
misery and meanness, the triumph, the defeat, the moment of victory, and
the hour of death were there, and in that vivid dream I lived a life long.
I awoke at length, the cold and chilling air which follows midnight blew
around me, and my wounded arm felt as though it were frozen. I tried to
cover myself beneath the straw, but in vain; and as my limbs trembled and
my teeth chattered, I thought again of home, where, at that moment, the
poorest menial of my uncle's house was better lodged than I; and strange to
say, something of pride mingled with the thought, and in my lonely heart a
feeling of elation cheered me.
These reflections were interrupted by the sound of a voice near me, which I
at once knew to be O'Shaughnessy's; he was on foot, and speaking evidently
in some excitement.
"I tell you, Maurice, some confounded blunder there must be; sure, he was
left in the cottage near the bridge, and no one ever saw him after."
"The French took it from the Rifles before we crossed the river. By Jove!
I'll wager my chance of promotion against a pint of sherry, he'll turn up
somewhere in the morning; those Galway chaps have as many lives as a cat."
"See, now, Maurice, I wouldn't for a full colonelcy anything would happen
to him; I like the boy."
"So do I myself; but I tell you there's no danger of him. Did you ask
"Ask Sparks! God help you! Sparks would go off in a fit at the sight of me.
No, no, poor creature! it's little use it would be my speaking to him."
"Why so, Doctor!" cried I, from my straw couch.
"May I never, if it's not him! Charley, my son, I'm glad you're safe.
'Faith, I thought you were on your way to Verdun by this time."
"Sure, I told you he'd find his way here--But, O'Mealey, dear, you're
mighty could,--a rigor, as old M'Lauchlan would call it."
"E'en sae, Maister Quill," said a broad Scotch accent behind him; "and I
canna see ony objection to giein' things their right names."
"The top of the morning to you," said Quill, familiarly patting him on the
back; "how goes it, old Brimstone?"
The conversation might not have taken a very amicable turn had M'Lauchlan
heard the latter part of this speech; but, as happily he was engaged
unpacking a small canteen which he had placed in the wagon, it passed
"You'll nae dislike a toothfu' of something warm, Major," said he,
presenting a glass to O'Shaughnessy; "and if ye'll permit me, Mr. O'Mealey,
to help you--"
"A thousand thanks, Doctor; but I fear a broken arm--"
"There's naething in the whiskey to prevent the proper formation of
"By the rock of Cashel, it never made any one callous," said O'Shaughnessy,
mistaking the import of the phrase.
"Ye are nae drinking frae the flask?" said the doctor, turning in some
agitation towards Quill.
"Devil a bit, my darling. I've a little horn convaniency here, that holds
half-a-pint, nice measure."
I don't imagine that our worthy friend participated in Quill's admiration
of the "convaniency," for he added, in a dry tone:--
"Ye may as weel tak your liquor frae a glass, like a Christian, as stick
your nose in a coo's horn."
"By my conscience, you're no small judge of spirits, wherever you learned
it," said the major; "it's like Islay malt!"
"I was aye reckoned a gude ane," said the doctor, "and my mither's brither
Caimbogie had na his like in the north country. Ye may be heerd tell what
he aince said to the Duchess of Argyle, when she sent for him to taste her
"Never heard of it," quoth Quill; "let's have it by all means. I'd like to
hear what the duchess said to him."
"It was na what the duchess said to him, but what he said to the duchess,
ye ken. The way of it was this: My uncle Caimbogie was aye up at the
castle, for besides his knowledge of liquor, there was nae his match for
deer-stalking, or spearing a salmon, in those parts. He was a great, rough
carle, it's true; but ane ye'd rather crack wi' than fight wi'.
"Weel, ae day they had a grand dinner at the duke's, and there were plenty
o' great southern lords and braw leddies in velvets and satin; and vara
muckle surprised they were at my uncle, when he came in wi' his tartan
kilt, in full Highland dress, as the head of a clan ought to do. Caimbogie,
however, pe'd nae attention to them; but he eat his dinner, and drank his
wine, and talked away about fallow and red deer, and at last the duchess,
for she was aye fond o' him, addressed him frae the head o' the table:--
"'Cambogie,' quoth she, 'I'd like to hae your opinion about that wine. It's
some the duke has just received, and we should like to hear what you think
"'It's nae sae bad, my leddy,' said my uncle; for ye see he was a man of
few words, and never flattered onybody.
"'Then you don't approve much of it?' said the duchess.
"'I've drank better, and I've drank waur,' quo' he.
"'I'm sorry you don't like it, Caimbogie,' said the duchess, 'for it can
never be popular now,--we have such a dependence upon your taste.'
"'I cauna say ower muckle for my _taste_, my leddy, but ae thing I _will_
say,--I've a most damnable _smell!_'
"I hear that never since the auld walls stood was there ever the like o'
the laughing that followed; the puir duke himsel' was carried away, and
nearly had a fit, and a' the grand lords and leddies a'most died of it. But
see here, the earle has nae left a drap o' whiskey in the flask."
"The last glass I drained to your respectable uncle's health," said Quill,
with a most professional gravity. "Now, Charlie, make a little room for me
in the straw."
The doctor soon mounted beside me, and giving me a share of his ample
cloak, considerably ameliorated my situation.
"So you knew Sparks, Doctor?" said I, with a strong curiosity to hear
something of his early acquaintance.
"That I did: I knew him when he was an ensign in the 10th Foot; and, to say
the truth, he is not much changed since that time,--the same lively look of
a sick cod-fish about his gray eyes; the same disorderly wave of his yellow
hair; the same whining voice, and that confounded apothecary's laugh."
"Come, come, Doctor, Sparks is a good fellow at heart; I won't have him
abused. I never knew he had been in the infantry; I should think it must
have been another of the same name."
"Not at all; there's only one like him in the service, and that's himself.
Confound it, man, I'd know his skin upon a bush; he was only three weeks
in the Tenth, and, indeed, your humble servant has the whole merit of his
leaving it so soon."
"Do let us hear how that happened."
"Simply thus: The jolly Tenth were some four years ago the pleasantest
corps in the army; from the lieutenant-colonel down to the last joined
sub., all were out-and-outers,--real gay fellows. The mess was, in fact,
like a pleasant club, and if you did not suit it, the best thing you could
do was to sell out or exchange into a slower regiment; and, indeed, this
very wholesome truth was not very long in reaching your ears some way or
other, and a man that could remain after being given this hint, was likely
to go afterwards without one."
Just as Dr. Quill reached this part of his story, an orderly dragoon
galloped furiously past, and the next moment an aide-de-camp rode by,
calling as he passed us,--
"Close up, there! Close up! Get forward, my lads! get forward!"
It was evident, from the stir and bustle about, that some movement was
being made; and soon after, a dropping, irregular fire from the rear showed
that our cavalry were engaged with the enemy. The affair was scarcely of
five minutes' duration, and our march resumed all its former regularity
I now turned to the doctor to resume his story, but he was gone; at what
moment he left I could not say, but O'Shaughnessy was also absent, nor did
I again meet with them for a considerable time after.
Towards daybreak we halted at Bonares, when, my wound demanding rest and
attention, I was billeted in the village, and consigned to all the miseries
of a sick bed.
With that disastrous day my campaigning was destined, for some time
at least, to conclude. My wound, which grew from hour to hour more
threatening, at length began to menace the loss of the arm, and by the
recommendation of the regimental surgeons, I was ordered back to Lisbon.
Mike, by this time perfectly restored, prepared everything for my
departure, and on the third day after the battle of the Coa, I began my
journey with downcast spirits and depressed heart. The poor fellow was,
however, a kind and affectionate nurse, and unlike many others, his cares
were not limited to the mere bodily wants of his patient,--he sustained,
as well as he was able, my drooping resolution, rallied my spirits, and
cheered my courage. With the very little Portuguese he possessed, he
contrived to make every imaginable species of bargain; always managed a
good billet; kept every one in good humor, and rarely left his quarters in
the morning without a most affective leave-taking, and reiterated promises
to renew his visit.
Our journeys were usually short ones, and already two days had elapsed,
when, towards nightfall, we entered the little hamlet of Jaffra. During the
entire of that day, the pain of my wounded limb had been excruciating; the
fatigue of the road and the heat had brought back violent inflammation, and
when at last the little village came in sight, my reason was fast yielding
to the torturing agonies of my wound. But the transports with which I
greeted my resting-place were soon destined to a change; for as we drew
near, not a light was to be seen, not a sound to be heard, not even a dog
barked as the heavy mule-cart rattled over the uneven road. No trace of
any living thing was there. The little hamlet lay sleeping in the pale
moonlight, its streets deserted, and its homes tenantless; our own
footsteps alone echoed along the dreary causeway. Here and there, as we
advanced farther, we found some relics of broken furniture and house-gear;
most of the doors lay open, but nothing remained within save bare walls;
the embers still smoked in many places upon the hearth, and showed us that
the flight of the inhabitants had been recent. Yet everything convinced
us that the French had not been there; there was no trace of the reckless
violence and wanton cruelty which marked their footsteps everywhere.
All proved that the desertion had been voluntary; perhaps in compliance
with an order of our commander-in-chief, who frequently desired any
intended line of march of the enemy to be left thus a desert. As we
sauntered slowly on from street to street, half hoping that some one human
being yet remained behind, and casting our eyes from side to side in search
of quarters for the night, Mike suddenly came running up, saying,--
"I have it, sir; I've found it out. There's people living down that small
street there; I saw a light this minute as I passed."
I turned immediately, and accompanied by the mule-driver, followed Mike
across a little open square into a small and narrow street, at the end
of which a light was seen faintly twinkling. We hurried on and in a few
minutes reached a high wall of solid masonry, from a niche of which we now
discovered, to our utter disappointment, the light proceeded. It was a
small lamp placed before a little waxen image of the Virgin, and was
probably the last act of piety of some poor villager ere he left his home
and hearth forever. There it burned, brightly and tranquilly, throwing its
mellow ray upon the cold, deserted stones.
Whatever impatience I might have given way to in a moment of chagrin was
soon repressed, as I saw my two followers, uncovering their heads in silent
reverence, kneel down before the little shrine. There was something at once
touching and solemn in this simultaneous feeling of homage from the hearts
of those removed in country, language, and in blood. They bent meekly down,
their heads bowed upon their bosoms, while with muttering voices each
offered up his prayer. All sense of their disappointment, all memory of
their forlorn state, seemed to have yielded to more powerful and absorbing
thoughts, as they opened their hearts in prayer.
My eyes were still fixed upon them when suddenly Mike, whose devotion
seemed of the briefest, sprang to his legs, and with a spirit of levity
but little in accordance with his late proceedings, commenced a series of
kicking, rapping, and knocking at a small oak postern sufficient to have
aroused a whole convent from their cells. "House there! Good people
within!"--bang, bang, bang; but the echoes alone responded to his call,
and the sounds died away at length in the distant streets, leaving all as
silent and dreary as before.
Our Portuguese friend, who by this time had finished his orisons, now began
a vigorous attack upon the small door, and with the assistance of Mike,
armed with a fragment of granite about the size of a man's head, at length
separated the frame from the hinges, and sent the whole mass prostrate
The moon was just rising as we entered the little park, where gravelled
walks, neatly kept and well-trimmed, bespoke recent care and attention;
following a handsome alley of lime-trees, we reached a little _jet d'eau_,
whose sparkling fountain shone diamond-like in the moonbeams, and escaping
from the edge of a vast shell, ran murmuring amidst mossy stones and
water-lilies that, however naturally they seemed thrown around, bespoke
also the hand of taste in their position. On turning from the spot, we came
directly in front of an old but handsome chateau, before which stretched
a terrace of considerable extent. Its balustraded parapet lined with
orange-trees, now in full blossom, scented the still air with delicious
odor; marble statues peeped here and there amidst the foliage, while a rich
acacia, loaded with flowers, covered the walls of the building, and hung in
vast masses of variegated blossom across the tall windows.
As leaning on Mike's arm I slowly ascended the steps of the terrace, I was
more than ever struck with the silence and death-like stillness around;
except the gentle plash of the fountain, all was at rest; the very plants
seemed to sleep in the yellow moonlight, and not a trace of any living
thing was there.
The massive door lay open as we entered the spacious hall flagged with
marble and surrounded with armorial bearings. We advanced farther and came
to a broad and handsome stair, which led us to a long gallery, from which
a suit of rooms opened, looking towards the front part of the building.
Wherever we went, the furniture appeared perfectly untouched; nothing was
removed; the very chairs were grouped around the windows and the tables;
books, as if suddenly dropped from their readers' hands, were scattered
upon the sofas and the ottomans; and in one small apartment, whose blue
satin walls and damask drapery bespoke a boudoir, a rich mantilla of
black velvet and a silk glove were thrown upon a chair. It was clear the
desertion had been most recent, and everything indicated that no time had
been given to the fugitives to prepare for flight. What a sad picture of
war was there! To think of those whose home was endeared to them by all
the refinements of cultivated life and all the associations of years of
happiness sent out upon the wide world wanderers and houseless, while
their hearth, sacred by every tie that binds us to our kindred, was to
be desecrated by the ruthless and savage hands of a ruffian soldiery. I
thought of them,--perhaps at that very hour their thoughts were clinging
round the old walls, remembering each well-beloved spot, while they took
their lonely path through mountain and through valley,--and felt ashamed
and abashed at my own intrusion there. While thus my revery ran on, I
had not perceived that Mike, whose views were very practical upon all
occasions, had lighted a most cheerful fire upon the hearth, and disposing
a large sofa before it, had carefully closed the curtains; and was, in
fact, making himself and his master as much at home as though he had spent
his life there.
"Isn't it a beautiful place, Misther Charles? And this little room, doesn't
it remind you of the blue bed-room in O'Malley Castle, barrin' the elegant
view out upon the Shannon, and the mountain of Scariff?"
Nothing short of Mike's patriotism could forgive such a comparison; but,
however, I did not contradict him as he ran on:--
"Faith, I knew well there was luck in store for us this evening; and ye see
the handful of prayers I threw away outside wasn't lost. Jose's making
the beasts comfortable in the stable, and I'm thinking we'll none of us