Part 10 out of 10
own making this two months, not knowing how to send it. May be
Sir Arthur himself would like a taste,--he's an Irishman himself,
and one we're proud of, too! The Maynooth chaps are flying all
about the country, and making us all uncomfortable,--God's will be
done, but we used to think ourselves good enough! Your foster-sister,
Kitty Doolan, had a fine boy; it's to be called after you, and
your uncle's to give a christening. He bids me tell you to draw
on him when you want money, and that there's £400 ready for you
now somewhere in Dublin,--I forget the name, and as he's asleep, I
don't like asking him. There was a droll devil down here in the
summer that knew you well,--a Mr. Webber. The master treated
him like the Lord Lieutenant, had dinner parties for him, and
gave him Oliver Cromwell to ride over to Meelish. He is expected
again for the cock-shooting, for the master likes him greatly. I'm
done at last, for my paper is finished and the candle just out; so with
every good wish and every good thought, remember your own old
P.S. It's Smart and Sykes, Fleet Street, has the money.
Father O'Shaughnessey, of Ennis, bids me ask if you ever met his
nephew. If you do, make him sing "Larry M'Hale." I hear it's a
How is Mickey Free going on? There are three decent young
women in the parish he promised to marry, and I suppose he's pursuing
the same game with the Portuguese. But he was never
remarkable for minding his duties. Tell him I am keeping my eye
[Footnote:2 To excuse Father Rush for any apparent impiety, I must add
that, by "the Lord," he means "Lord Clanricarde."]
Here concluded this long epistle; and though there were many parts I could
not help smiling at, yet upon the whole I felt sad and dispirited. What I
had long foreseen and anticipated was gradually accomplishing,--the wreck
of an old and honored house, the fall of a name once the watch-word for
all that was benevolent and hospitable in the land. The termination of the
lawsuit I knew must have been a heavy blow to my poor uncle, who, every
consideration of money apart, felt in a legal combat all the enthusiasm and
excitement of a personal conflict. With him there was less a question of
to whom the broad acres reverted, so much as whether that "scoundrel Tom
Basset, the attorney at Athlone, should triumph over us;" or "M'Manus live
in the house as master where his father had officiated as butler." It was
at this his Irish pride took offence; and straitened circumstances and
narrowed fortunes bore little upon him in comparison with this feeling.
I could see, too, that with breaking fortunes, bad health was making heavy
inroads upon him; and while, with the reckless desperation of ruin, he
still kept open house, I could picture to myself his cheerful eye and
handsome smile but ill concealing the slow but certain march of a broken
My position was doubly painful: for any advice, had I been calculated to
give it, would have seemed an act of indelicate interference from one who
was to benefit by his own counsel; and although I had been reared and
educated as my uncle's heir, I had no title nor pretension to succeed him
other than his kind feelings respecting me. I could, therefore, only look
on in silence, and watch the painful progress of our downfall without power
to arrest it.
These were sad thoughts, and came when my heart was already bowed down with
its affliction. That my poor uncle might be spared the misery which sooner
or later seemed inevitable, was now my only wish; that he might go down to
the grave without the embittering feelings which a ruined fortune and a
fallen house bring home to the heart, was all my prayer. Let him but close
his eyes in the old wainscoted bed-room, beneath the old roof where his
fathers and grand-fathers have done so for centuries. Let the faithful
followers he has known since his childhood stand round his bed; while his
fast-failing sight recognizes each old and well-remembered object, and the
same bell which rang its farewell to the spirit of his ancestors toll for
him, the last of his race. And as for me, there was the wide world before
me, and a narrow resting-place would suffice for a soldier's sepulchre.
As the mail-cart was returning the next day to Lisbon, I immediately sat
down and replied to the worthy Father's letter, speaking as encouragingly
as I could of my own prospects. I dwelt much upon what was nearest my
heart, and begged of the good priest to watch over my uncle's health, to
cheer his spirits and support his courage; and that I trusted the day was
not far distant when I should be once more among them, with many a story
of fray and battle-field to enliven their firesides. Pressing him to write
frequently to me, I closed my hurried letter; and having despatched it, sat
sorrowfully down to muse over my fortunes.
AN ADVENTURE WITH SIR ARTHUR.
The events of the last few days had impressed me with a weight of years.
The awful circumstances of that evening lay heavily at my heart; and though
guiltless of Trevyllian's blood, the reproach that conscience ever carries
when one has been involved in a death-scene never left my thoughts.
For some time previously I had been depressed and dis-spirited, and the
awful shock I had sustained broke my nerve and unmanned me greatly.
There are times when our sorrows tinge all the colorings of our thoughts,
and one pervading hue of melancholy spreads like a pall upon what we have
of fairest and brightest on earth. So was it now: I had lost hope and
ambition; a sad feeling that my career was destined to misfortune and
mishap gained hourly upon me; and all the bright aspirations of a soldier's
glory, all my enthusiasm for the pomp and circumstance of glorious war,
fell coldly upon my heart, and I looked upon the chivalry of a soldier's
life as the empty pageant of a dream.
In this sad frame of mind, I avoided all intercourse with my brother
officers; their gay and joyous spirits only jarred upon my brooding
thoughts, and feigning illness, I kept almost entirely to my quarters.
The inactivity of our present life weighed also heavily upon me. The
stirring events of a campaign--the march, the bivouac, the picket--call
forth a certain physical exertion that never fails to react upon the torpid
Forgetting all around me, I thought of home; I thought of those whose
hearts I felt were now turning towards me, and considered within myself how
I could have exchanged the home, the days of peaceful happiness there, for
the life of misery and disappointment I now endured.
A brooding melancholy gained daily more and more upon me. A wish, to return
to Ireland, a vague and indistinct feeling that my career was not destined
for aught of great and good crept upon me, and I longed to sink into
oblivion, forgotten and forgot.
I record this painful feeling here, while it is still a painful memory, as
one of the dark shadows that cross the bright sky of our happiest days.
Happy, indeed, are they, as we look back to them and remember the times we
have pronounced ourselves "the most miserable of mankind." This, somehow,
is a confession we never make later on in life, when real troubles and true
afflictions assail us. Whether we call in more philosophy to our aid, or
that our senses become less acute and discerning, I'm sure I know not.
As for me, I confess by far the greater portion of my sorrows seemed to
come in that budding period of existence when life is ever fairest and most
captivating. Not, perhaps, that the fact was really so, but the spoiled
and humored child, whose caprices were a law, felt heavily the threatening
difficulties of his first voyage; while as he continued to sail over the
ocean of life, he braved the storm and the squall, and felt only gratitude
for the favoring breeze that wafted him upon his course.
What an admirable remedy for misanthropy is the being placed in a
subordinate condition in life! Had I, at the period that I write, been Sir
Arthur Wellesley; had I even been Marshal Beresford,--to all certainty I'd
have played the very devil with his Majesty's forces; I'd have brought my
rascals to where they'd have been well-peppered, that's certain.
But as, luckily for the sake of humanity in general and the well-being of
the service in particular, I was merely Lieutenant O'Malley, 14th Light
Dragoons, the case was very different. With what heavy censure did I
condemn the commander of the forces in my own mind for his want of daring
and enterprise! Whole nights did I pass in endeavoring to account for his
inactivity and lethargy. Why he did not _seriatim_ fall upon Soult, Ney,
and Victor, annihilate the French forces, and sack Madrid, I looked upon as
little less than a riddle; and yet there he waited, drilling, exercising,
and foraging, as if he were at Hounslow. Now most fortunately here again I
was not Sir Arthur.
Something in this frame of mind, I was taking one evening a solitary ride
some miles from the camp. Without noticing the circumstance, I had entered
a little mountain tract, when, the ground being broken and uneven, I
dismounted and proceeded a-foot, with the bridle within my arm. I had not
gone far when the clatter of a horse's hoofs came rapidly towards me, and
though there was something startling in the pace over such a piece of road,
I never lifted my eyes as the horseman came up, but continued my slow
progress onwards, my head sunk upon my bosom.
"Hallo, sir!" cried a sharp voice, whose tones seemed, somehow, not heard
for the first time. I looked up, saw a slight figure closely buttoned up
in a blue horseman's cloak, the collar of which almost entirely hid his
features; he wore a plain, cocked hat without a feather, and was mounted
upon a sharp, wiry-looking hack.
"Hallo, sir! What regiment do you belong to?"
As I had nothing of the soldier about me, save a blue foraging cap, to
denote my corps, the tone of the demand was little calculated to elicit
a very polished reply; but preferring, as most impertinent, to make no
answer, I passed on without speaking.
"Did you hear, sir?" cried the same voice, in a still louder key. "What's
I now turned round, resolved to question the other in turn; when, to my
inexpressible shame and confusion, he had lowered the collar of his cloak,
and I saw the features of Sir Arthur Wellesley.
"Fourteenth Light Dragoons, sir," said I, blushing as I spoke.
"Have you not read the general order, sir? Why have you left the camp?"
Now, I had not read a general order nor even heard one for above a
fortnight. So I stammered out some bungling answer.
"To your quarters, sir, and report yourself under arrest. What's your
"Lieutenant O'Malley, sir."
"Well, sir, your passion for rambling shall be indulged. You shall be sent
to the rear with despatches; and as the army is in advance, probably the
lesson may be serviceable." So saying, he pressed spurs to his horse, and
was out of sight in a moment.
Having been despatched to the rear with orders for General Crawfurd, I did
not reach Talavera till the morning of the 28th. Two days' hard fighting
had left the contending armies still face to face, and without any decided
advantage on either side.
When I arrived upon the battle-field, the combat of the morning was over.
It was then ten o'clock, and the troops were at breakfast, if the few
ounces of wheat sparingly dealt out among them could be dignified by that
name. All was, however, life and animation on every side; the merry laugh,
the passing jest, the careless look, bespoke the free and daring character
of the soldiery, as they sat in groups upon the grass; and except when a
fatigue party passed by, bearing some wounded comrade to the rear, no touch
of seriousness rested upon their hardy features. The morning was indeed
a glorious one; a sky of unclouded blue stretched above a landscape
unsurpassed in loveliness. Far to the right rolled on in placid stream the
broad Tagus, bathing in its eddies the very walls of Talavera, the ground
from which, to our position, gently undulated across a plain of most
fertile richness and terminated on our extreme left in a bold height,
protected in front by a ravine, and flanked by a deep and rugged valley.
The Spaniards occupied the right of the line, connecting with our troops at
a rising ground, upon which a strong redoubt had been hastily thrown up.
The fourth division and the Guards were stationed here, next to whom came
Cameron's brigade and the Germans, Mackenzie and Hill holding the extreme
left of all, which might be called the key of our position. In the valley
beneath the latter were picketed three cavalry regiments, among which I was
not long in detecting my gallant friends of the Twenty-third.
As I rode rapidly past, saluting some old familiar face at each moment, I
could not help feeling struck at the evidence of the desperate battle that
so lately had raged there. The whole surface of the hill was one mass of
dead and dying, the bearskin of the French grenadier lying side by side
with the tartan of the Highlander. Deep furrows in the soil showed the
track of the furious cannonade, and the terrible evidences of a bayonet
charge were written in the mangled corpses around.
The fight had been maintained without any intermission from daybreak
till near nine o'clock that morning, and the slaughter on both sides was
dreadful. The mounds of fresh earth on every side told of the soldier's
sepulchre; and the unceasing tramp of the pioneers struck sadly upon the
ear, as the groans of the wounded blended with the funeral sounds around
In front were drawn up the dark legions of France,--massive columns of
infantry, with dense bodies of artillery alternating along the line. They,
too, occupied a gently rising ground, the valley between the two armies
being crossed half way by a little rivulet; and here, during the sultry
heat of the morning, the troops on both sides met and mingled to quench
their thirst ere the trumpet again called them to the slaughter.
In a small ravine near the centre of our line were drawn up Cotton's
brigade, of whom the Fusiliers formed a part. Directly in front of this
were Campbell's brigade, to the left of which, upon a gentle slope, the
staff were now assembled. Thither, accordingly, I bent my steps, and as
I came up the little scarp, found myself among the generals of division,
hastily summoned by Sir Arthur to deliberate upon a forward movement. The
council lasted scarcely a quarter of an hour, and when I presented myself
to deliver my report, all the dispositions for the battle had been decided
upon, and the commander of the forces, seated upon the grass at his
breakfast, looked by far the most unconcerned and uninterested man I had
seen that morning.
He turned his head rapidly as I came up, and before the aide-de-camp could
announce me, called out:--
"Well, sir, what news of the reinforcements?"
"They cannot reach Talavera before to-morrow, sir."
"Then, before that, we shall not want them. That will do, sir."
So saying, he resumed his breakfast, and I retired, more than ever struck
with the surprising coolness of the man upon whom no disappointment seemed
to have the slightest influence.
I had scarcely rejoined my regiment, and was giving an account to my
brother officers of my journey, when an aide-de-camp came galloping at full
speed down the line, and communicating with the several commanding officers
as he passed.
What might be the nature of the orders we could not guess at; for no word
to fall in followed, and yet it was evident something of importance was
at hand. Upon the hill where the staff were assembled no unusual bustle
appeared; and we could see the bay cob of Sir Arthur still being led up and
down by the groom, with a dragoon's mantle thrown over him. The soldiers,
overcome by the heat and fatigue of the morning, lay stretched around upon
the grass, and everything bespoke a period of rest and refreshment.
"We are going to advance, depend upon it!" said a young officer beside me;
"the repulse of this morning has been a smart lesson to the French, and Sir
Arthur won't leave them without impressing it upon them."
"Hark, what's that?" cried Baker; "listen!"
As he spoke, a strain of most delicious music came wafted across the plain.
It was from the band of a French regiment, and mellowed by the distance,
it seemed in the calm stillness of the morning air like something less of
earth than heaven. As we listened, the notes swelled upwards yet fuller;
and one by one the different bands seemed to join, till at last the whole
air seemed full of the rich flood of melody.
We could now perceive the stragglers were rapidly falling back, while high
above all other sounds the clanging notes of the trumpet were heard along
the line. The hoarse drum now beat to arms; and soon after a brilliant
staff rode slowly from between two dense bodies of infantry, and advancing
some distance into the plain, seemed to reconnoitre us. A cloud of Polish
cavalry, distinguished by their long lances and floating banners, loitered
in their rear.
We had not time for further observation, when the drums on our side beat to
arms, and the hoarse cry, "Fall in,--fall in there, lads!" resounded along
It was now one o'clock, and before half an hour the troops had resumed the
position of the morning, and stood silent and anxious spectators of the
scene before them.
Upon the table-land to the rear of the French position, we could descry the
gorgeous tent of King Joseph, around which a large and splendidly-accoutred
staff were seen standing. Here, too, the bustle and excitement seemed
considerable, for to this point the dark masses of the infantry seemed
converging from the extreme right; and here we could perceive the royal
guards and the reserve now forming in column of attack.
From the crest of the hill down to the very valley, the dark, dense ranks
extended, the flanks protected by a powerful artillery and deep masses of
heavy cavalry. It was evident that the attack was not to commence on our
side, and the greatest and most intense anxiety pervaded us as to what part
of our line was first to be assailed.
Meanwhile Sir Arthur Wellesley, who from the height had been patiently
observing the field of battle, despatched an aide-de-camp at full gallop
towards Campbell's brigade, posted directly in advance of us. As he passed
swiftly along, he called out, "You're in for it, Fourteenth; you'll have to
open the ball to-day."
Scarcely were the words spoken, when a signal gun from the French boomed
heavily through the still air. The last echo was growing fainter, and the
heavy smoke breaking into mist, when the most deafening thunder ever my
ears heard came pealing around us; eighty pieces of artillery had opened
upon us, sending a very tempest of balls upon our line, while midst the
smoke and dust we could see the light troops advancing at a run, followed
by the broad and massive columns in all the terror and majesty of war.
"What a splendid attack! How gallantly they come on!" cried an old veteran
officer beside me, forgetting all rivalry in his noble admiration of our
The intervening space was soon passed, and the tirailleurs falling back as
the columns came on, the towering masses bore down upon Campbell's division
with a loud cry of defiance. Silently and steadily the English infantry
awaited the attack, and returning the fire with one withering volley, were
ordered to charge. Scarcely were the bayonets lowered, when the head of the
advancing column broke and fled, while Mackenzie's brigade, overlapping the
flank, pushed boldly forward, and a scene of frightful carnage followed;
for a moment a hand-to-hand combat was sustained, but the unbroken files
and impregnable bayonets of the English conquered, and the French fled,
leaving six guns behind them.
The gallant enemy were troops of tried and proved courage, and scarcely had
they retreated when they again formed; but just as they prepared to come
forward, a tremendous shower of grape opened upon them from our batteries,
while a cloud of Spanish horse assailed them in flank and nearly cut them
While this was passing on the right, a tremendous attack menaced the hill
upon which our left was posted. Two powerful columns of French infantry,
supported by some regiments of light cavalry, came steadily forward to the
attack; Anson's brigade were ordered to charge.
Away they went at top speed, but had not gone above a hundred yards when
they were suddenly arrested by a deep chasm; here the German hussars pulled
short up, but the Twenty-third dashing impetuously forward; a scene of
terrific carnage ensued, men and horses rolling indiscriminately together
under a withering fire from the French squares. Even here, however, British
valor quailed not, for Major Francis Ponsonby, forming all who came up,
rode boldly upon a brigade of French chasseurs in the rear. Victor, who
from the first had watched the movement, at once despatched a lancer
regiment against them, and then these brave fellows were absolutely cut to
atoms, the few who escaped having passed through the French columns and
reached Bassecour's Spanish division on the far right.
During this time the hill was again assailed, and even more desperately
than before; while Victor himself led on the fourth corps to an attack upon
our right and centre.
The Guards waited without flinching the impetuous rush of the advancing
columns, and when at length within a short distance, dashed forward with
the bayonet, driving everything before them. The French fell back upon
their sustaining masses, and rallying in an instant, again came forward,
supported by a tremendous fire from their batteries. The Guards drew back,
and the German Legion, suddenly thrown into confusion, began to retire
in disorder. This was the most critical moment of the day, for although
successful upon the extreme right and left of our line, our centre was
absolutely broken. Just at this moment Gordon rode up to our brigade; his
face was pale, and his look flurried and excited.
"The Forty-eighth are coining; here they are,--support them, Fourteenth."
These few words were all he spoke; and the next moment the measured tread
of a column was heard behind us. On they came like one man, their compact
and dense formation looking like some massive wall; wheeling by companies,
they suffered the Guards and Germans to retire behind them, and then,
reforming into line, they rushed forward with the bayonet. Our artillery
opened with a deafening thunder behind them, and then we were ordered to
We came on at a trot; the Guards, who had now recovered their formation,
cheered us as we proceeded. The smoke of the cannonade obscured everything
until we had advanced some distance, but just as we emerged beyond the line
of the gallant Forty-eighth, the splendid panorama of the battle-field
broke suddenly upon us.
"Charge, forward!" cried the hoarse voice of our colonel; and we were upon
them. The French infantry, already broken by the withering musketry of our
people, gave way before us, and unable to form a square, retired fighting
but in confusion, and with tremendous loss, to their position. One glorious
cheer, from left to right of our line, proclaimed the victory, while a
deafening discharge of artillery from the French replied to this defiance,
and the battle was over. Had the Spanish army been capable of a forward
movement, our successes at this moment would have been, much more
considerable; but they did not dare to change their position, and the
repulse of our enemy was destined to be all our glory. The French, however,
suffered much more severely than we did; and retiring during the night,
fell back behind the Alberche, leaving us the victory and the battle-field.
NIGHT AFTER TALAVERA.
The night which followed the battle was a sad one. Through the darkness,
and under a fast-falling rain, the hours were spent in searching for
our wounded comrades amidst the heap of slain upon the field; and tho
glimmering of the lanterns, as they flickered far and near across the wide
plain, bespoke the track of the fatigue parties in their mournful round;
while the groans of the wounded rose amidst the silence with an accent of
heart-rending anguish; so true was it, as our great commander said, "There
is nothing more sad than a victory, except a defeat."
Around our bivouac fires, the feeling of sorrowful depression was also
evident. We had gained a great victory, it was true: we had beaten the
far-famed legions of France upon a ground of their own choosing, led by the
most celebrated of their marshals and under the eyes of the Emperor's own
brother; but still we felt all the hazardous daring of our position, and
had no confidence whatever in the courage or discipline of our allies; and
we saw that in the very _mêlée_ of the battle the efforts of the enemy
were directed almost exclusively against our line, so confidently did they
undervalue the efforts of the Spanish troops. Morning broke at length, and
scarcely was the heavy mist clearing away before the red sunlight, when the
sounds of fife and drum were heard from a distant part of the field. The
notes swelled or sank as the breeze rose or fell, and many a conjecture was
hazarded as to their meaning, for no object was well visible for more than
a few hundred yards off; gradually, however, they grew nearer and nearer,
and at length, as the air cleared, and the hazy vapor evaporated, the
bright scarlet uniform of a British regiment was seen advancing at a
As they came nearer, the well-known march of the gallant 43d was recognized
by some of our people, and immediately the rumor fled like lightning: "It
is Crawfurd's brigade!" and so it was; the noble fellow had marched his
division the unparalleled distance of sixty English miles in twenty-seven
hours. Over a burning sandy soil, exposed to a raging sun, without rations,
almost without water, these gallant troops pressed on in the unwearied hope
of sharing the glory of the battle-field. One tremendous cheer welcomed the
head of the column as they marched past, and continued till the last file
had deployed before us.
As these splendid regiments moved by we could not help feeling what
signal service they might have rendered us but a few hours before. Their
soldier-like bearing, their high and effective state of discipline, their
well-known reputation, were in every mouth; and I scarcely think that any
corps who stood the brunt of the mighty battle were the subject of more
encomium than the brave fellows who had just joined us.
The mournful duties of the night were soon forgotten in the gay and buoyant
sounds on every side. Congratulations, shaking of hands, kind inquiries,
went round; and as we looked to the hilly ground where so lately were
drawn up in battle array the dark columns of our enemy, and where not one
sentinel now remained, the proud feeling of our victory came home to our
hearts with the ever-thrilling thought, "What will they say at home?"
I was standing amidst a group of my brother officers, when I received an
order from the colonel to ride down to Talavera for the return of our
wounded, as the arrival of the commander-in-chief was momentarily looked
for. I threw myself upon my horse, and setting out at a brisk pace, soon
reached the gates.
On entering the town, I was obliged to dismount and proceed on foot. The
streets were completely filled with people, treading their way among
wagons, forage carts, and sick-litters. Here was a booth filled with all
imaginable wares for sale; there was a temporary gin-shop established
beneath a broken baggage-wagon; here might be seen a merry party throwing
dice for a turkey or a kid; there, a wounded man, with bloodless cheek and
tottering step, inquiring the road to the hospital. The accents of
agony mingled with the drunken chorus, and the sharp crack of the
provost-marshal's whip was heard above the boisterous revelling of the
debauchee. All was confusion, bustle, and excitement. The staff officer,
with his flowing plume and glittering epaulettes, wended his way on foot,
amidst the din and bustle, unnoticed and uncared for; while the little
drummer amused an admiring audience of simple country-folk by some wondrous
tale of the great victory.
My passage through this dense mass was necessarily a slow one. No one made
way for another; discipline for the time was at an end, and with it all
respect for rank or position. It was what nothing of mere vicissitude in
the fortune of war can equal,--the wild orgies of an army the day after a
On turning the corner of a narrow street, my attention was attracted by a
crowd which, gathered round a small fountain, seemed, as well as I could
perceive, to witness some proceeding with a more than ordinary interest.
Exclamations in Portuguese, expressive of surprise and admiration, wore
mingled with English oaths and Irish ejaculations, while high above all
rose other sounds,--the cries of some one in pain and suffering; forcing my
way through the dense group, I at length reached the interior of the crowd
when, to my astonishment, I perceived a short, fat, punchy-looking man,
stripped of his coat and waist-coat, and with his shirt-sleeves rolled
up to his shoulder, busily employed in operating upon a wounded soldier.
Amputation knives, tourniquets, bandages, and all other imaginable
instruments for giving or alleviating torture were strewed about him, and
from the arrangement and preparation, it was clear that he had pitched upon
this spot as an hospital for his patients. While he continued to perform
his functions with a singular speed and dexterity, he never for a moment
ceased 'a running fire of small talk, now addressed to the patient in
particular, now to the crowd at large, sometimes a soliloquy to himself,
and not unfrequently, abstractedly, upon things in general. These little
specimens of oratory, delivered in such a place at such a time, and, not
least of all, in the richest imaginable Cork accent, were sufficient to
arrest my steps, and I stopped for some time to observe him.
The patient, who was a large, powerfully-built fellow, had been wounded
in both legs by the explosion of a shell, but yet not so severely as to
"Does that plaze you, then?" said the doctor, as he applied some powerful
caustic to a wounded vessel; "there's no satisfying the like of you. Quite
warm and comfortable ye'll be this morning after that. I saw the same shell
coming, and I called out to Maurice Blake, 'By your leave, Maurice, let
that fellow pass, he's in a hurry!' and faith, I said to myself, 'there's
more where you came from,--you're not an only child, and I never liked the
family.' What are ye grinning for, ye brown thieves?" This was addressed
to the Portuguese. "There, now, keep the limb quiet and easy. Upon my
conscience, if that shell fell into ould Lundy Foot's shop this morning,
there'd be plenty of sneezing in Sacksville Street. Who's next?" said he,
looking round with an expression that seemed to threaten that if no wounded
man was ready he was quite prepared to carve out a patient for himself. Not
exactly relishing the invitation in the searching that accompanied it,
I backed my way through the crowd, and continued my path towards the
Here the scene which presented itself was shocking beyond
belief,--frightful and ghastly wounds from shells and cannon-shot were seen
on all sides, every imaginable species of suffering that man is capable of
was presented to view; while amidst the dead and dying, operations the most
painful were proceeding with a haste and bustle that plainly showed how
many more waited their turn for similar offices. The stairs were blocked
up with fresh arrivals of wounded men, and even upon the corridors and
landing-places the sick were strewn on all sides.
I hurried to that part of the building where my own people were, and soon
learned that our loss was confined to about fourteen wounded; five of them
were officers. But fortunately, we lost not a man of our gallant fellows,
and Talavera brought us no mourning for a comrade to damp the exultation we
felt in our victory.
During the three days which succeeded the battle, all things remained as
they were before. The enemy had gradually withdrawn all his forces, and our
most advanced pickets never came in sight of a French detachment. Still,
although we had gained a great victory, our situation was anything but
flattering. The most strenuous exertions of the commissariat were barely
sufficient to provision the troops; and we had even already but too much
experience of how little trust or reliance could be reposed in the most
lavish promises of our allies. It was true, our spirits failed us not;
but it was rather from an implicit and never-failing confidence in the
resources of our great leader, than that any among us could see his way
through the dense cloud of difficulty and danger that seemed to envelop us
on every side.
To add to the pressing emergency of our position, we learned on the evening
of the 31st that Soult was advancing from the north, and at the head
of fourteen thousand chosen troops in full march upon Placentia; thus
threatening our rear, at the very moment too, when any further advance was
On the morning of the 1st of August, I was ordered, with a small party, to
push forward in the direction of the Alberche, upon the left bank of which
it was reported that the French were again concentrating their forces, and
if possible, to obtain information of their future movements. Meanwhile the
army was about to fall back upon Oropesa, there to await Soult's advance,
and if necessary, to give him battle; Cuesta engaging with his Spaniards
to secure Talavera, with its stores and hospitals, against any present
movement from Victor.
After a hearty breakfast, and a kind "Good-by!" from my brother officers,
I set out. My road along the Tagus, for several miles of the way, was a
narrow path scarped from the rocky ledge of the river, shaded by rich olive
plantations that throw a friendly shade over us during the noonday heat.
We travelled along silently, sparing our cattle from time to time, but
endeavoring ere nightfall to reach Torrijos, in which village we had heard
several French soldiers were in hospital. Our information leading us to
believe them very inadequately guarded, we hoped to make some prisoners,
from whom the information we sought could in all likelihood be obtained.
More than once during the day our road was crossed by parties similar to
our own, sent forward to reconnoitre; and towards evening a party of the
23d Light Dragoons, returning towards Talavera, informed us that the French
had retired from Torrijos, which was now occupied by an English detachment
under my old friend O'Shaughnessy.
I need not say with what pleasure I heard this piece of news, and eagerly
pressed forward, preferring the warm shelter and hospitable board the
major was certain of possessing, to the cold blast and dripping grass of
a bivouac. Night, however, fell fast; darkness, without an intervening
twilight, set in, and we lost our way. A bleak table-land with here and
there a stunted, leafless tree was all that we could discern by the pale
light of a new moon. An apparently interminable heath uncrossed by path or
foot-track was before us, and our jaded cattle seemed to feel the dreary
uncertainty of the prospect as sensitively as ourselves,--stumbling and
over-reaching at every step.
Cursing my ill-luck for such a misadventure, and once more picturing to my
mind the bright blazing hearth and smoking supper I had hoped to partake
of, I called a halt, and prepared to pass the night. My decision was
hastened by finding myself suddenly in a little grove of pine-trees whose
shelter was not to be despised; besides that, our bivouac fires were now
sure of being supplied.
It was fortunate the night was fine, though dark. In a calm, still
atmosphere, when not a leaf moved nor a branch stirred, we picketed our
tired horses, and shaking out their forage, heaped up in the midst a
blazing fire of the fir-tree. Our humble supper was produced, and even with
the still lingering revery of the major and his happier destiny, I began to
My troopers, who probably had not been flattering their imaginations with
such _gourmand_ reflections and views, sat happily around their cheerful
blaze, chatting over the great battle they had so lately witnessed, and
mingling their stories of some comrade's prowess with sorrows for the dead
and proud hopes for the future. In the midst, upon his knees beside
the flame, was Mike, disputing, detailing, guessing, and occasionally
inventing,--all his arguments only tending to one view of the late victory:
"That it was the Lord's mercy the most of the 48th was Irish, or we
wouldn't be sitting there now!"
Despite Mr. Free's conversational gifts, however, his audience one by one
dropped off in sleep, leaving him sole monarch of the watch-fire, and--what
he thought more of--a small brass kettle nearly full of brandy-and-water.
This latter, I perceived, he produced when all was tranquil, and seemed,
as he cast a furtive glance around, to assure himself that he was the only
Lying some yards off, I watched him for about an hour, as he sat rubbing
his hands before the blaze, or lifting the little vessel to his lips; his
droll features ever and anon seeming acted upon by some passing dream
of former devilment, as he smiled and muttered some sentences in an
under-voice. Sleep at length overpowered me; but my last waking thoughts
were haunted with a singular ditty by which Mike accompanied himself as
he kept burnishing the buttons of my jacket before the fire, now and then
interrupting the melody by a recourse to the copper.
"Well, well; you're clean enough now, and sure it's little good brightening
you up, when you'll be as bad to-morrow. Like his father's son, devil a lie
in it! Nothing would serve him but his best blue jacket to fight in, as if
the French was particular what they killed us in. Pleasant trade, upon my
conscience! Well, never mind. That's beautiful _sperets_, anyhow. Your
health, Mickey Free; it's yourself that stands to me.
"It's little for glory I care;
Sure ambition is only a fable;
I'd as soon be myself as Lord Mayor,
With lashings of drink on the table.
I like to lie down in the sun
And _drame_, when my _faytures_ is scorchin'
That when I'm too _ould_ for more fun,
Why, I'll marry a wife with a fortune.
"And in winter, with bacon and eggs,
And a place, at the turf-fire basking,
Sip my punch as I roasted my legs,
Oh, the devil a more I'd be asking!
For I haven't a _janius_ for work,--
It was never the gift of the Bradies,--
But I'd make a most _illigant_ Turk,
For I'm fond of tobacco and ladies."
This confounded _refrain_ kept ringing through my dream, and "tobacco and
ladies" mingled with my thoughts of storm and battle-field long after their
very gifted author had composed himself to slumber.
Sleep, and sound sleep, came at length, and many hours elapsed ere I awoke.
When I did so, my fire was reduced to its last embers. Mike, like the
others, had sunk in slumber, and midst the gray dawn that precedes the
morning, I could just perceive the dark shadows of my troopers as they lay
in groups around.
The fatigues of the previous day had so completely overcome me, that it was
with difficulty I could arouse myself so far as to heap fresh logs upon the
fire. This I did with my eyes half closed, and in that listless, dreamy
state which seems the twilight of sleep.
I managed so much, however, and was returning to my couch beneath a tree,
when suddenly an object presented itself to my eyes that absolutely rooted
me to the spot. At about twenty or thirty yards distant, where but the
moment before the long line of horizon terminated the view, there now stood
a huge figure of some ten or twelve feet in height,--two heads, which
surmounted this colossal personage, moved alternately from side to side,
while several arms waved loosely to and fro in the most strange and uncouth
manner. My first impression was that a dream had conjured up this distorted
image; but when I had assured myself by repeated pinchings and shakings
that I was really awake, still it remained there. I was never much given
to believe in ghosts; but even had I been so, this strange apparition
must have puzzled me as much as ever, for it could not have been the
representative of anything I ever heard of before.
A vague suspicion that some French trickery was concerned, induced me to
challenge it in French; so, without advancing a step, I halloed out, "_Qui
My voice aroused a sleeping soldier, who, springing up beside me, had his
carbine at the cock; while, equally thunderstruck with myself, he gazed at
"_Qui va là_?" shouted I again, and no answer was returned, when suddenly
the huge object wheeled rapidly around, and without waiting for any further
parley, made for the thicket.
The tramp of a horse's feet now assured me as to the nature of at least
part of the spectacle, when click went the trigger behind me, and the
trooper's ball rushed whistling through the brushwood. In a moment the
whole party were up and stirring.
"This way, lads!" cried I, as drawing my sabre, I dashed into the pine
For a few moments all was dark as midnight; but as we proceeded farther, we
came out upon a little open space which commanded the plain beneath for a
"There it goes!" said one of the men, pointing to a narrow, beaten path,
in which the tall figure moved at a slow and stately pace, while still the
same wild gestures of heads and limbs continued.
"Don't fire, men! don't fire!" I cried, "but follow me," as I set forward
as hard as I could.
As we neared it, the frantic gesticulations grew more and more remarkable,
while some stray words, which we half caught, sounded like English in our
ears. We were now within pistol-shot distance, when suddenly the horse--for
that much at least we were assured of--stumbled and fell forward,
precipitating the remainder of the object headlong into the road.
In a second we were upon the spot, when the first sounds which greeted me
were the following, uttered in an accent by no means new to me:--
"Oh, blessed Virgin! Wasn't it yourself that threw me in the mud, or my
nose was done for? Shaugh, Shaugh, my boy, since we are taken, tip them the
blarney, and say we're generals of division!"
I need not say with what a burst of laughter I received this very original
"I ought to know that laugh," cried a voice I at once knew to be my friend
O'Shaughnessy's. "Are you Charles O'Malley, by any chance in life?"
"The same, Major, and delighted to meet you; though, faith, we were near
giving you a rather warm reception. What, in the Devil's name, did you
represent, just now?"
"Ask Maurice, there, bad luck to him. I wish the Devil had him when he
persuaded me into it."
"Introduce me to your friend," replied the other, rubbing his shins as he
spoke. "Mr. O'Mealey,"--so he called me,--"I think. Happy to meet you; my
mother was a Ryan of Killdooley, married to a first cousin of your father's
before she took Mr. Quill, my respected progenitor. I'm Dr. Quill of the
48th, more commonly called Maurice Quill. Tear and ages! how sore my back
is! It was all the fault of the baste, Mr. O'Mealey. We set out in search
of you this morning, to bring you back with us to Torrijos, but we fell in
with a very pleasant funeral at Barcaventer, and joined them. They invited
us, I may say, to spend the day; and a very jovial day it was. I was the
chief mourner, and carried a very big candle through the village, in
consideration of as fine a meat-pie, and as much lush as my grief permitted
me to indulge in afterwards. But, my dear sir, when it was all finished, we
found ourselves nine miles from our quarters; and as neither of us were in
a very befitting condition for pedestrian exercise, we stole one of the
leaders out of the hearse,--velvet, plumes, and all,--and set off home.
"When we came upon your party we were not over clear whether you were
English, Portuguese, or French, and that was the reason I called out to
you, 'God save all here!' in Irish. Your polite answer was a shot, which
struck the old horse in the knee, and although we wheeled about in
double-quick, we never could get him out of his professional habits on the
road. He had a strong notion he was engaged in another funeral,--as he was
very likely to be,--and the devil a bit faster than a dead march could we
get him to, with all our thrashing. Orderly time for men in a hurry, with a
whole platoon blazing away behind them! But long life to the cavalry, they
never hit anything!"
While he continued to run on in this manner, we reached our watch-fire,
when what was my surprise to discover, in my newly-made acquaintance, the
worthy doctor I had seen a day or two before operating at the fountain at
"Well, Mr. O'Mealey," said he, as he seated himself before the blaze, "What
is the state of the larder? Anything savory,--anything drink-inspiring to
"I fear, Doctor, my fare is of the very humblest; still--"
"What are the fluids, Charley?" cried the major; "the cruel performance I
have been enacting on that cursed beast has left me in a fever."
"This was a pigeon-pie, formerly," said Dr. Quill, investigating the ruined
walls of a pasty; "and,--but come, here's a duck; and if my nose deceive
me not, a very tolerable ham. Peter--Larry--Patsy--What's the name of your
"Mickey Free, then; come here, avick! Devise a little drink, my son,--none
of the weakest--no lemon---hot! You understand, hot! That chap has an eye
for punch; there's no mistaking an Irish fellow, Nature has endowed them
richly,--fine features and a beautiful absorbent system! That's the gift!
Just look at him, blowing up the fire,--isn't he a picture? Well, O'Mealey,
I was fretting that we hadn't you up at Torrijos; we were enjoying life
very respectably,--we established a little system of small tithes upon
fowl, sheep, pigs' heads, and wine skins that throve remarkably for the
time. Here's the lush! Put it down there, Mickey, in the middle; that's
right. Your health, Shaugh. O'Mealey, here's a troop to you; and in the
mean time I'll give you a chant:--
'Come, ye jovial souls, don't over the bowl be sleeping,
Nor let the grog go round like a cripple creeping;
If your care comes, up, in the liquor sink it,
Pass along the lush, I'm the boy can drink it.
Isn't that so, Mrs. Mary Callaghan?
Isn't that so, Mrs. Mary Callaghan?'
"Shaugh, my hearty, this begins to feel comfortable."
"Your man, O'Mealey, has a most judicious notion of punch for a small
party; and though one has prejudices about a table, chairs, and that sort
of thing, take my word for it, it's better than fighting the French, any
"Well, Charley, it certainly did look quite awkward enough the other day
towards three o'clock, when the Legion fell back before that French column,
and broke the Guards behind them."
"Yes, you're quite right; but I think every one felt that the confusion was
but momentary,--the gallant Forty-eighth was up in an instant."
"Faith, I can answer for their alacrity!" said the doctor "I was making my
way to the rear with all convenient despatch, when an aide-de-camp called
"'Cavalry coming! Take care, Forty-eighth!'
"'Left face, wheel! Fall in there, fall in there!' I heard on every side,
and soon found myself standing in a square, with Sir Arthur himself and
Hill and the rest of them all around me.
"'Steady, men! Steady, now!' said Hill, as he rode around the ranks, while
we saw an awful column of cuirassiers forming on the rising ground to our
"'Here they come!' said Sir Arthur, as the French came powdering along,
making the very earth tremble beneath them.
"My first thought was, 'The devils are mad, and they'll ride down into us,
before they know they're kilt!' And sure enough, smash into our first rank
they pitched, sabring and cutting all before them; when at last the word
'Fire!' was given, and the whole head of the column broke like a shell, and
rolled horse over man on the earth.
"'Very well done! very well, indeed!' said Sir Arthur, turning as coolly
round to me as if he was asking for more gravy.
"'Mighty well done!' said I, in reply; and resolving not to be outdone in
coolness, I pulled out my snuff-box and offered him a pinch, saying, 'The
real thing, Sir Arthur; our own countryman,--blackguard.'
"He gave a little grim kind of a smile, took a pinch, and then called
"'Let Sherbroke advance!' while turning again towards me, he said, 'Where
are your people, Colonel?'
"'Colonel!' thought I; 'is it possible he's going to promote me?' But
before I could answer, he was talking to another. Meanwhile Hill came up,
and looking at me steadily, burst out with,--
"'Why the devil are you here, sir? Why ain't you at the rear?'
"'Upon my conscience,' said I, 'that's the very thing I'm puzzling myself
about this minute! But if you think it's pride in me, you're greatly
mistaken, for I'd rather the greatest scoundrel in Dublin was kicking me
down Sackville Street, than be here now!'
"You'd think it was fun I was making, if you heard how they all laughed,
Hill and Cameron and the others louder than any.
"'Who is he?' said Sir Arthur, quickly.
"'Dr. Quill, surgeon of the Thirty-third, where I exchanged, to be near my
brother, sir, in the Thirty-fourth.'
"'A doctor,--a surgeon! That fellow a surgeon! Damn him, I took him for
Colonel Grosvenor! I say, Gordon, these medical officers must be docked of
their fine feathers, there's no knowing them from the staff,--look to that
in the next general order.'
"And sure enough they left us bare and naked the next morning; and if the
French sharpshooters pick us down now, devil mend them for wasting powder,
for if they look in the orderly books, they'll find their mistake."
"Ah, Maurice, Maurice!" said Shaugh, with a sigh, "you'll never
improve,--you'll never improve!"
"Why the devil would I?" said he. "Ain't I at the top of my
profession--full surgeon--with nothing to expect, nothing to hope for? Oh,
if I had only remained in the light company, what wouldn't I be now?"
"Then you were not always a doctor?" said I.
"Upon my conscience, I wasn't," said he. "When Shaugh knew me first, I was
the Adonis of the Roscommon militia, with more heiresses in my list than
any man in the regiment; but Shaugh and myself were always unlucky."
"Poor Mrs. Rogers!" said the major, pathetically, drinking off his glass
and heaving a profound sigh.
"Ah, the darling!" said the doctor. "If it wasn't for a jug of punch that
lay on the hall table, our fortune in life would be very different."
"True for you, Maurice!" quoth O'Shaughnessy.
"I should like much to hear that story," said I, pushing the jug briskly
"He'll tell it you," said O'Shaughnessy, lighting his cigar, and leaning
pensively back against a tree,--"he'll tell it you."
"I will, with pleasure," said Maurice. "Let Mr. Free, meantime, amuse
himself with the punch-bowl, and I'll relate it."
END OF VOLUME I.