Part 6 out of 10
without exception, the most touching and beautiful thing I ever heard. As a
simple story, it beats the 'Vicar of Wakefield' to sticks."
"You don't say so?" said poor Sparks, blushing.
"Ay, that I do; and maintain it, too. I'd rather be the hero of that little
adventure, and be able to recount it as you do,--for, mark me, that's no
small part of the effect,--than I'd be full colonel of the regiment. Well,
I am sure I always thought it affecting. But, somehow, my dear friend, you
don't know your powers; you have that within you would make the fortune of
half the periodicals going. Ask Monsoon or O'Malley there if I did not say
so at breakfast, when you were grilling the old hen,--which, by-the-bye,
let me remark, was not one of your _chefs-d'oeuvre_."
"A tougher beastie I never put a tooth in."
"But the story, the story," said I.
"Yes," said Power, with a tone of command, "the story, Sparks."
"Well, if you really think it worth telling, as I have always felt it a
very remarkable incident, here goes."
MR. SPARKS'S STORY.
"I sat at breakfast one beautiful morning at the Goat Inn at Barmouth,
looking out of a window upon the lovely vale of Barmouth, with its tall
trees and brown trout-stream struggling through the woods, then turning
to take a view of the calm sea, that, speckled over with white-sailed
fishing-boats, stretched away in the distance. The eggs were fresh; the
trout newly caught; the cream delicious. Before me lay the 'Plwdwddlwn
Advertiser,' which, among the fashionable arrivals at the seaside, set
forth Mr. Sparks, nephew of Sir Toby Sparks, of Manchester,--a paragraph,
by the way, I always inserted. The English are naturally an aristocratic
people, and set a due value upon a title."
"A very just observation," remarked Power, seriously, while Sparks
"However, as far as any result from the announcement, I might as well have
spared myself the trouble, for not a single person called. Not one solitary
invitation to dinner, not a picnic, not a breakfast, no, nor even a
tea-party, was heard of. Barmouth, at the time I speak of, was just in that
transition state at which the caterpillar may be imagined, when, having
abandoned his reptile habits, he still has not succeeded in becoming a
butterfly. In fact, it had ceased to be a fishing village, but had not
arrived at the dignity of a watering-place. Now, I know nothing as bad as
this. You have not, on one hand, the quiet retirement of a little peaceful
hamlet, with its humble dwellings and cheap pleasures, nor have you the gay
and animated tableau of fashion in miniature, on the other; but you have
noise, din, bustle, confusion, beautiful scenery and lovely points of view
marred and ruined by vulgar associations. Every bold rock and jutting
promontory has its citizen occupants; every sandy cove or tide-washed bay
has its myriads of squalling babes and red baize-clad bathing women,--those
veritable descendants of the nymphs of old. Pink parasols, donkey-carts,
baskets of bread-and-butter, reticules, guides to Barmouth, specimens of
ore, fragments of gypsum meet you at every step, and destroy every illusion
of the picturesque."
"'I shall leave this,' thought I. 'My dreams, my long-cherished dreams of
romantic walks upon the sea-shore, of evening strolls by moonlight, through
dell and dingle, are reduced to a short promenade through an alley of
bathing-boxes, amidst a screaming population of nursery-maids and sick
children, with a thorough-bass of "Fresh shrimps!" discordant enough to
frighten the very fish from the shores. There is no peace, no quiet, no
romance, no poetry, no love.' Alas, that most of all was wanting! For,
after all, what is it which lights up the heart, save the flame of a mutual
attachment? What gilds the fair stream of life, save the bright ray of warm
"In a word," said Power, "it is the sugar in the punch-bowl of our
existence. _Perge_, Sparks; push on."
"I was not long in making up my mind. I called for my bill; I packed my
clothes; I ordered post-horses; I was ready to start; one item in the bill
alone detained me. The frequent occurrence of the enigmatical word 'crw,'
following my servant's name, demanded an explanation, which I was in the
act of receiving, when a chaise-and-four drove rapidly up to the house. In
a moment the blinds were drawn up, and such a head appeared at the window!
Let me pause for one moment to drink in the remembrance of that lovely
being,--eyes where heaven's own blue seemed concentrated were shaded by
long, deep lashes of the darkest brown; a brow fair, noble, and expansive,
at each side of which masses of dark-brown hair waved half in ringlets,
half in loose falling bands, shadowing her pale and downy cheek, where one
faint rosebud tinge seemed lingering; lips slightly parted, as though to
speak, gave to the features all the play of animation which completed this
intellectual character, and made up--"
"What I should say was a devilish pretty girl," interrupted Power.
"Back the widow against her at long odds, any day," murmured the adjutant.
"She was an angel! an angel!" cried Sparks with enthusiasm.
"So was the widow, if you go to that," said the adjutant, hastily.
"And so is Matilda Dalrymple," said Power, with a sly look at me. "We are
all honorable men; eh, Charley?"
"Go ahead with the story," said the skipper; "I'm beginning to feel an
interest in it."
"'Isabella,' said a man's voice, as a large, well-dressed personage
assisted her to alight,--'Isabella, love, you must take a little rest here
before we proceed farther.'
"'I think she had better, sir,' said a matronly-looking woman, with a plaid
cloak and a black bonnet.
"They disappeared within the house, and I was left alone. The bright dream
was past: she was there no longer; but in my heart her image lived, and I
almost felt she was before me. I thought I heard her voice, I saw her move;
my limbs trembled; my hands tingled; I rang the bell, ordered my trunks
back again to No. 5, and as I sank upon the sofa, murmured to myself, 'This
is indeed love at first sight.'"
"How devilish sudden it was," said the skipper.
"Exactly like camp fever," responded the doctor. "One moment ye are vara
well; the next ye are seized wi' a kind of shivering; then comes a kind of
mandering, dandering, travelling a'overness."
"D---- the camp fever," interrupted Power.
"Well, as I observed, I fell in love; and here let me take the opportunity
of observing that all that we are in the habit of hearing about single or
only attachments is mere nonsense. No man is so capable of feeling deeply
as he who is in the daily practice of it. Love, like everything else in
this world, demands a species of cultivation. The mere tyro in an affair of
the heart thinks he has exhausted all its pleasures and pains; but only
he who has made it his daily study for years, familiarizing his mind with
every phase of the passion, can properly or adequately appreciate it. Thus,
the more you love, the better you love; the more frequently has your heart
"It's vara like the mucous membrane," said the doctor.
"I'll break your neck with the decanter if you interrupt him again!"
"For days I scarcely ever left the house," resumed Sparks, "watching to
catch one glance of the lovely Isabella. My farthest excursion was to the
little garden of the inn, where I used to set every imaginable species of
snare, in the event of her venturing to walk there. One day I would leave a
volume of poetry; another, a copy of Paul and Virginia with a marked page;
sometimes my guitar, with a broad, blue ribbon, would hang pensively from a
tree,--but, alas! all in vain; she never appeared. At length I took courage
to ask the waiter about her. For some minutes he could not comprehend what
I meant; but, at last, discovering my object, he cried out, 'Oh, No. 8,
sir; it is No. 8 you mean?'
"'It may be,' said I. 'What of her, then?'
"'Oh, sir, she's gone these three days.'
"'Gone!' said I, with a groan.
"'Yes, sir; she left this early on Tuesday with the same old gentleman and
the old woman in a chaise-and-four. They ordered horses at Dolgelly to meet
them; but I don't know which road they took afterwards.'
"I fell back on my chair unable to speak. Here was I enacting Romeo for
three mortal days to a mere company of Welsh waiters and chamber-maids,
sighing, serenading, reciting, attitudinizing, rose-plucking,
soliloquizing, half-suiciding, and all for the edification of a set of
savages, with about as much civilization as their own goats.
"'The bill,' cried I, in a voice of thunder; 'my bill this instant.'
"I had been imposed upon shamefully, grossly imposed upon, and would not
remain another hour in the house. Such were my feelings at least, and so
thinking, I sent for my servant, abused him for not having my clothes ready
packed. He replied; I reiterated, and as my temper mounted, vented every
imaginable epithet upon his head, and concluded by paying him his wages and
sending him about his business. In one hour more I was upon the road.
"'What road, sir,' said the postilion, as he mounted into the saddle.
"'To the devil, if you please,' said I, throwing myself back in the
"'Very well, sir,' replied the boy, putting spurs to his horse.
"That evening I arrived in Bedgellert.
"The little humble inn of Bedgellert, with its thatched roof and earthen
floor, was a most welcome sight to me, after eleven hours' travelling on a
broiling July day. Behind the very house itself rose the mighty Snowdon,
towering high above the other mountains, whose lofty peaks were lost amidst
the clouds; before me was the narrow valley--"
"Wake me up when he's under way again," said the skipper, yawning
"Go on, Sparks," said Power, encouragingly; "I was never more interested in
my life; eh, O'Malley?"
"Quite thrilling," responded I, and Sparks resumed.
"Three weeks did I loiter about that sweet spot, my mind filled with images
of the past and dreams of the future, my fishing-rod my only companion.
Not, indeed, that I ever caught anything; for, somehow, my tackle was
always getting foul of some willow-tree or water-lily, and at last, I gave
up even the pretence of whipping the streams. Well, one day--I remember it
as well as though it were but yesterday, it was the 4th of August--I had
set off upon an excursion to Llanberris. I had crossed Snowdon early, and
reached the little lake on the opposite side by breakfast time. There I sat
down near the ruined tower of Dolbadern, and opening my knapsack, made a
hearty meal. I have ever been a day-dreamer; and there are few things I
like better than to lie, upon some hot and sunny day, in the tall grass
beneath the shade of some deep boughs, with running water murmuring near,
hearing the summer bee buzzing monotonously, and in the distance, the
clear, sharp tinkle of the sheep-bell. In such a place, at such a time,
one's fancy strays playfully, like some happy child, and none but pleasant
thoughts present themselves. Fatigued by my long walk, and overcome by
heat, I fell asleep. How long I lay there I cannot tell, but the deep
shadows were half way down the tall mountain when I awoke. A sound had
startled me; I thought I heard a voice speaking close to me. I looked up,
and for some seconds I could not believe that I was not dreaming. Beside
me, within a few paces, stood Isabella, the beautiful vision that I had
seen at Barmouth, but far, a thousand times, more beautiful. She was
dressed in something like a peasant's dress, and wore the round hat which,
in Wales at least, seems to suit the character of the female face so well;
her long and waving ringlets fell carelessly upon her shoulders, and her
cheek flushed from walking. Before I had a moment's notice to recover my
roving thought, she spoke; her voice was full and round, but soft and
thrilling, as she said,--
"'I beg pardon, sir, for having disturbed you unconsciously; but, having
done so, may I request you will assist me to fill this pitcher with water?'
"She pointed at the same time to a small stream which trickled down a
fissure in the rock, and formed a little well of clear water beneath. I
bowed deeply, and murmuring something, I know not what, took the pitcher
from her hand, and scaling the rocky cliff, mounted to the clear source
above, where having filled the vessel, I descended. When I reached the
ground beneath, I discovered that she was joined by another person whom,
in an instant, I recognized to be the old gentleman I had seen with her at
Barmouth, and who in the most courteous manner apologized for the trouble I
had been caused, and informed me that a party of his friends were enjoying
a little picnic quite near, and invited me to make one of them.
"I need not say that I accepted the invitation, nor that with delight I
seized the opportunity of forming an acquaintance with Isabella, who, I
must confess, upon her part showed no disinclination to the prospect of my
joining the party.
"After a few minutes' walking, we came to a small rocky point which
projected for some distance into the lake, and offered a view for several
miles of the vale of Llanberris. Upon this lovely spot we found the party
assembled; they consisted of about fourteen or fifteen persons, all busily
engaged in the arrangement of a very excellent cold dinner, each individual
having some peculiar province allotted to him or her, to be performed by
their own hands. Thus, one elderly gentlemen was whipping cream under a
chestnut-tree, while a very fashionably-dressed young man was washing
radishes in the lake; an old lady with spectacles was frying salmon over a
wood-fire, opposite to a short, pursy man with a bald head and drab shorts,
deep in the mystery of a chicken salad, from which he never lifted his eyes
when I came up. It was thus I found how the fair Isabella's lot had been
cast, as a drawer of water; she, with the others, contributing her share of
exertion for the common good. The old gentleman who accompanied her seemed
the only unoccupied person, and appeared to be regarded as the ruler of the
feast; at least, they all called him general, and implicitly followed every
suggestion he threw out. He was a man of a certain grave and quiet manner,
blended with a degree of mild good-nature and courtesy, that struck me much
at first, and gained greatly on me, even in the few minutes I conversed
with him as we came along. Just before he presented me to his friends, he
gently touched my arm, and drawing me aside, whispered in my ear:--
"'Don't be surprised at anything you may hear to-day here; for I must
inform you this is a kind of club, as I may call it, where every one
assumes a certain character, and is bound to sustain it under a penalty. We
have these little meetings every now arid then; and as strangers are never
present, I feel some explanation necessary, that you may be able to enjoy
the thing,--you understand?'
"'Oh, perfectly,' said I, overjoyed at the novelty of the scene, and
anticipating much pleasure from my chance meeting with such very original
"'Mr. Sparks, Mrs. Winterbottom. Allow me to present Mr. Sparks.'
"'Any news from Batavia, young gentleman?' said the sallow old lady
addressed. 'How is coffee!'
"The general passed on, introducing me rapidly as he went.
"'Mr. Doolittle, Mr. Sparks.'
"'Ah, how do you do, old boy?' said Mr. Doolittle; 'sit down beside me. We
have forty thousand acres of pickled cabbage spoiling for want of a little
"'Fie, fie, Mr. Doolittle,' said the general, and passed on to another.
"'Mr. Sparks, Captain Crosstree.'
"'Ah, Sparks, Sparks! son of old Blazes! ha, ha, ha!' and the captain fell
back into an immoderate fit of laughter.
"_'Le Rio est serci_,' said the thin meagre figure in nankeens, bowing, cap
in hand, before the general; and accordingly, we all assumed our places
upon the grass.
"'Say it again! Say it again, and I'll plunge this dagger in your heart!'
said a hollow voice, tremulous with agitation and rage, close beside me. I
turned my head, and saw an old gentleman with a wart on his nose, sitting
opposite a meat-pie, which he was contemplating with a look of fiery
indignation. Before I could witness the sequel of the scene, I felt a soft
hand pressed upon mine. I turned. It was Isabella herself, who, looking at
me with an expression I shall never forget, said:--
"'Don't mind poor Faddy; he never hurts any one.'
"Meanwhile the business of dinner went on rapidly. The servants, of whom
enormous numbers were now present, ran hither and thither; and duck, ham,
pigeon-pie, cold veal, apple tarts, cheese, pickled salmon, melon, and rice
pudding, flourished on every side. As for me, whatever I might have gleaned
from the conversation around under other circumstances, I was too much
occupied with Isabella to think of any one else. My suit--for such it
was--progressed rapidly. There was evidently something favorable in the
circumstances we last met under; for her manner had all the warmth and
cordiality of old friendship. It is true that, more than once, I caught the
general's eye fixed upon us with anything but an expression of pleasure,
and I thought that Isabella blushed and seemed confused also. 'What care
I?' however, was my reflection; 'my views are honorable; and the nephew and
heir of Sir Toby Sparks--' Just in the very act of making this reflection,
the old man in the shorts hit me in the eye with a roasted apple, calling
out at the moment:--
"'When did you join, thou child of the pale-faces?'
"'Mr. Murdocks!' cried the general, in a voice of thunder; and the little
man hung down his head, and spoke not.
"'A word with you, young gentleman,' said a fat old lady, pinching my arm
above the elbow.
"'Never mind her,' said Isabella, smiling; 'poor dear old Dorking, she
thinks she's an hour-glass. How droll, isn't it?'
"'Young man, have you any feelings of humanity?' inquired the old lady,
with tears in her eyes as she spoke; 'will you, dare you assist a
fellow-creature under my sad circumstances?'
"'What can I do for you, Madam?' said I, really feeling for her distress.
"'Just like a good dear soul, just turn me up, for I'm nearly run out.'
"Isabella burst out a laughing at the strange request,--an excess which, I
confess, I was unable myself to repress; upon which the old lady, putting
on a frown of the most ominous blackness, said:--
"'You may laugh, Madam; but first before you ridicule the misfortunes of
others, ask yourself are you, too, free from infirmity? When did you see
the ace of spades, Madam? Answer me that.'
"Isabella became suddenly pale as death; her very lips blanched, and her
voice, almost inaudible, muttered:--
"'Am I, then, deceived? Is not this he?' So saying, she placed her hand
upon my shoulder.
"'That the ace of spades?' exclaimed the old lady, with a sneer,--'that the
ace of spades!'
"'Are you, or are you not, sir?' said Isabella, fixing her deep and languid
eyes upon me. 'Answer me, as you are honest; are you the ace of spades?'
"'He is the King of Tuscarora. Look at his war paint!' cried an elderly
gentleman, putting a streak of mustard across my nose and cheek.
"'Then am I deceived,' said Isabella. And flying at me, she plucked a
handful of hair out of my whiskers.
"'Cuckoo, cuckoo!' shouted one; 'Bow-wow-wow!' roared another; 'Phiz!' went
a third; and in an instant, such a scene of commotion and riot ensued.
Plates, dishes, knives, forks, and decanters flew right and left; every
one pitched into his neighbor with the most fearful cries, and hell itself
seemed broke loose. The hour-glass and the Moulah of Oude had got me down
and were pummelling me to death, when a short, thickset man came on all
fours slap down upon them shouting out, 'Way, make way for the royal Bengal
tiger!' at which they both fled like lightning, leaving me to the encounter
single-handed. Fortunately, however, this was not of very long duration,
for some well-disposed Christians pulled him from off me; not, however,
before he had seized me in his grasp, and bitten off a portion of my left
ear, leaving me, as you see, thus mutilated for the rest of my days."
"What an extraordinary club," broke in the doctor.
"Club, sir, club! it was a lunatic asylum. The general was no other than
the famous Dr. Andrew Moorville, that had the great madhouse at Bangor, and
who was in the habit of giving his patients every now and then a kind of
country party; it being one remarkable feature of their malady that when
one takes to his peculiar flight, whatever it be, the others immediately
take the hint and go off at score. Hence my agreeable adventure: the Bengal
tiger being a Liverpool merchant, and the most vivacious madman in England;
while the hour-glass and the Moulah were both on an experimental tour to
see whether they should not be pronounced totally incurable for life."
"And Isabella?" inquired Power.
"Ah, poor Isabella had been driven mad by a card-playing aunt at Bath, and
was in fact the most hopeless case there. The last words I heard her speak
confirmed my mournful impression of her case,--
"'Yes,' said she, as they removed her to her carriage, 'I must, indeed,
have but a weak intellect, when I could have taken the nephew of a
Manchester cotton-spinner, with a face like a printed calico, for a trump
card, and the best in the pack!'"
Poor Sparks uttered these last words with a faltering accent, and finishing
his glass at one draught withdrew without wishing us good-night.
In such like gossipings passed our days away, for our voyage itself had
nothing of adventure or incident to break its dull monotony; save some few
hours of calm, we had been steadily following our seaward track with a fair
breeze, and the long pennant pointed ever to the land where our ardent
expectations were hurrying before it.
The latest accounts which had reached us from the Peninsula told that our
regiment was almost daily engaged; and we burned with impatience to share
with the others the glory they were reaping. Power, who had seen service,
felt less on this score than we who had not "fleshed our maiden swords;"
but even he sometimes gave way, and when the wind fell toward sunset, he
would break out into some exclamation of discontent, half fearing we should
be too late. "For," said he, "if we go on in this way the regiment will be
relieved and ordered home before we reach it."
"Never fear, my boys, you'll have enough of it. Both sides like the work
too well to give in; they've got a capital ground and plenty of spare
time," said the major.
"Only to think," cried Power, "that we should be lounging away our idle
hours when these gallant fellows are in the saddle late and early. It is
too bad; eh, O'Malley? You'll not be pleased to go back with the polish on
your sabre? What will Lucy Dashwood say?"
This was the first allusion Power had ever made to her, and I became red to
the very forehead.
"By-the-bye," added he, "I have a letter for Hammersley, which should
rather have been entrusted to your keeping."
At these words I felt cold as death, while he continued:--
"Poor fellow! certainly he is most desperately smitten; for, mark me, when
a man at his age takes the malady, it is forty times as severe as with a
younger fellow, like you. But then, to be sure, he began at the wrong end
in the matter; why commence with papa? When a man has his own consent for
liking a girl, he must be a contemptible fellow if he can't get her; and as
to anything else being wanting, I don't understand it. But the moment you
begin by influencing the heads of the house, good-by to your chances with
the dear thing herself, if she have any spirit whatever. It is, in fact,
calling on her to surrender without the honors of war; and what girl would
"It's vara true," said the doctor; "there's a strong speerit of opposition
in the sex, from physiological causes."
"Curse your physiology, old Galen; what you call opposition, is that
piquant resistance to oppression that makes half the charm of the sex.
It is with them--with reverence be it spoken--as with horses: the dull,
heavy-shouldered ones, that bore away with the bit in their teeth, never
caring whether you are pulling to the right or to the left, are worth
nothing; the real luxury is in the management of your arching-necked
curvetter, springing from side to side with every motion of your wrist,
madly bounding at restraint, yet, to the practised hand, held in check with
a silk tread. Eh, Skipper, am I not right?"
"Well, I can't say I've had much to do with horse-beasts, but I believe
you're not far wrong. The lively craft that answers the helm quick, goes
round well in stays, luffs up close within a point or two, when you want
her, is always a good sea-boat, even though she pitches and rolls a bit;
but the heavy lugger that never knows whether your helm is up or down,
whether she's off the wind or on it, is only fit for firewood,--you can do
nothing with a ship or a woman if she hasn't got steerage way on her."
"Come, Skipper, we've all been telling our stories; let us hear one of
"My yarn won't come so well after your sky-scrapers of love and courting
and all that. But if you like to hear what happened to me once, I have no
objection to tell you.
"I often think how little we know what's going to happen to us any minute
of our lives. To-day we have the breeze fair in our favor, we are going
seven knots, studding-sails set, smooth water, and plenty of sea-room;
to-morrow the wind freshens to half a gale, the sea gets up, a rocky coast
is seen from the lee bow, and may be--to add to all--we spring a leak
forward; but then, after all, bad as it looks, mayhap, we rub through even
this, and with the next day, the prospect is as bright and cheering as
ever. You'll perhaps ask me what has all this moralizing to do with women
and ships at sea? Nothing at all with them, except that I was a going to
say, that when matters look worst, very often the best is in store for us,
and we should never say strike when there is a timber together. Now for my
"It's about four years ago, I was strolling one evening down the side of
the harbor at Cove, with my hands in my pocket, having nothing to do, nor
no prospect of it, for my last ship had been wrecked off the Bermudas, and
nearly all the crew lost; and somehow, when a man is in misfortune, the
underwriters won't have him at no price. Well, there I was, looking about
me at the craft that lay on every side waiting for a fair wind to run down
channel. All was active and busy; every one getting his vessel ship-shape
and tidy,--tarring, painting, mending sails, stretching new bunting, and
getting in sea-store; boats were plying on every side, signals flying, guns
firing from the men-of-war, and everything was lively as might be,--all but
me. There I was, like an old water-logged timber ship, never moving a spar,
but looking for all the world as though I were a settling fast to go down
stern foremost: may be as how I had no objection to that same; but that's
neither here nor there. Well, I sat down on the fluke of an anchor, and
began a thinking if it wasn't better to go before the mast than live on
that way. Just before me, where I sat down, there was an old schooner that
lay moored in the same place for as long as I could remember. She was there
when I was a boy, and never looked a bit the fresher nor newer as long as I
recollected; her old bluff bows, her high poop, her round stern, her flush
deck, all Dutch-like, I knew them well, and many a time I delighted to
think what queer kind of a chap he was that first set her on the stocks,
and pondered in what trade she ever could have been. All the sailors about
the port used to call her Noah's Ark, and swear she was the identical craft
that he stowed away all the wild beasts in during the rainy season. Be that
as it might, since I fell into misfortune, I got to feel a liking for the
old schooner; she was like an old friend; she never changed to me, fair
weather or foul; there she was, just the same as thirty years before, when
all the world were forgetting and steering wide away from me. Every morning
I used to go down to the harbor and have a look at her, just to see that
all was right and nothing stirred; and if it blew very hard at night, I'd
get up and go down to look how she weathered it, just as if I was at sea in
her. Now and then I'd get some of the watermen to row me aboard of her, and
leave me there for a few hours; when I used to be quite happy walking the
deck, holding the old worm-eaten wheel, looking out ahead, and going down
below, just as though I was in command of her. Day after day this habit
grew on me, and at last my whole life was spent in watching her and looking
after her,---there was something so much alike in our fortunes, that
I always thought of her. Like myself, she had had her day of life and
activity; we had both braved the storm and the breeze; her shattered
bulwarks and worn cutwater attested that she had, like myself, not escaped
her calamities. We both had survived our dangers, to be neglected and
forgotten, and to lie rotting on the stream of life till the crumbling hand
of Time should break us up, timber by timber. Is it any wonder if I loved
the old craft; nor if by any chance the idle boys would venture aboard
of her to play and amuse themselves that I hallooed them away; or when a
newly-arrived ship, not caring for the old boat, would run foul of her, and
carry away some spar or piece of running rigging, I would suddenly call out
to them to sheer off and not damage us? By degrees, they came all to notice
this; and I found that they thought me out of my senses, and many a trick
was played off upon old Noah, for that was the name the sailors gave me.
"Well, this evening, as I was saying, I sat upon the fluke of the anchor,
waiting for a chance boat to put me aboard. It was past sunset, the tide
was ebbing, and the old craft was surging to the fast current that ran by
with a short, impatient jerk, as though she were well weary, and wished to
be at rest; her loose stays creaked mournfully, and as she yawed over, the
sea ran from many a breach in her worn sides, like blood trickling from a
wound. 'Ay, ay,' thought I, 'the hour is not far off; another stiff gale,
and all that remains of you will be found high and dry upon the shore.' My
heart was very heavy as I thought of this; for in my loneliness, the old
Ark--though that was not her name, as I'll tell you presently--was all
the companion I had. I've heard of a poor prisoner who, for many and many
years, watched a spider that wove his web within his window, and never lost
sight of him from morning till night; and somehow, I can believe it well.
The heart will cling to something, and if it has no living object to press
to, it will find a lifeless one,--it can no more stand alone than the
shrouds can without the mast. The evening wore on, as I was thinking thus;
the moon shone out, but no boat came, and I was just determining to go home
again for the night, when I saw two men standing on the steps of the wharf
below me, and looking straight at the Ark. Now, I must tell you I always
felt uneasy when any one came to look at her; for I began to fear that some
shipowner or other would buy her to break up, though, except the copper
fastenings, there was little of any value about her. Now, the moment I saw
the two figures stop short, and point to her, I said to myself, 'Ah, my old
girl, so they won't even let the blue water finish you, but they must
set their carpenters and dockyard people to work upon you.' This thought
grieved me more and more. Had a stiff sou'-wester laid her over, I should
have felt it more natural, for her sand was run out; but just as this
passed through my mind, I heard a voice from one of the persons, that I at
once knew to be the port admiral's:--
"'Well, Dawkins,' said he to the other, 'if you think she'll hold together,
I'm sure I've no objection. I don't like the job, I confess; but still the
Admiralty must be obeyed.'
"'Oh, my lord,' said the other, 'she's the very thing; she's a
rakish-looking craft, and will do admirably. Any repair we want, a few days
will effect; secrecy is the great thing.'
"'Yes,' said the admiral, after a pause, 'as you observed, secrecy is the
"'Ho! ho!' thought I, 'there's something in the wind, here;' so I laid
myself out upon the anchor-stock, to listen better, unobserved.
"'We must find a crew for her, give her a few carronades, make her as
ship-shape as we can, and if the skipper--'
"'Ay, but there is the real difficulty,' said the admiral, hastily; 'where
are we to find a fellow that will suit us? We can't every day find a man
willing to jeopardize himself in such a cause as this, even though the
reward be a great one.'
"'Very true, my lord; but I don't think there is any necessity for our
explaining to him the exact nature of the service.'
"'Come, come, Dawkins, you can't mean that you'll lead a poor fellow into
such a scrape blindfolded?'
"'Why, my lord, you never think it requisite to give a plan of your cruise
to your ship's crew before clearing out of harbor.'
"'This may be perfectly just, but I don't like it,' said the admiral.
"'In that case, my lord, you are imparting the secrets of the Admiralty to
a party who may betray the whole plot.'
"'I wish, with all my soul, they'd given the order to any one else,' said
the admiral, with a sigh; and for a few moments neither spoke a word.
"'Well, then, Dawkins, I believe there is nothing for it but what you say;
meanwhile, let the repairs be got in hand, and see after a crew.'
"'Oh, as to that,' said the other, 'there are plenty of scoundrels in the
fleet here fit for nothing else. Any fellow who has been thrice up for
punishment in six months, we'll draft on board of her; the fellows who have
only been once to the gangway, we'll make the officers.'
"'A pleasant ship's company,' thought I, 'if the Devil would only take the
"'And with a skipper proportionate to their merit,' said Dawkins.
"'Begad, I'll wish the French joy of them,' said the admiral.
"'Ho, ho!' thought I, 'I've found you out at last; so this is a secret
expedition. I see it all; they're fitting her out as a fire-ship, and going
to send her slap in among the French fleet at Brest. Well,' thought I,
'even that's better; that, at least, is a glorious end, though the poor
fellows have no chance of escape.'
"'Now, then,' said the admiral, 'to-morrow you'll look out for the fellow
to take the command. He must be a smart seaman, a bold fellow, too,
otherwise the ruffianly crew will be too much for him; he may bid high,
we'll come to his price.'
"'So you may,' thought I, 'when you're buying his life.'
"'I hope sincerely,' continued the admiral, 'that we may light upon some
one without wife or child; I never could forgive myself--'
"'Never fear, my lord,' said the other; 'my care shall be to pitch upon one
whose loss no one would feel; some one without friend or home, who, setting
his life for nought, cares less for the gain than the very recklessness of
"'That's me,' said I, springing up from the anchor-stock, and springing
between them; 'I'm that man.'
"Had the very Devil himself appeared at the moment, I doubt if they would
have been more scared. The admiral started a pace or two backwards, while
Dawkins, the first surprise over, seized me by the collar, and hold me
"'Who are you, scoundrel, and what brings you here?' said he, in a voice
hoarse with passion.
"'I'm old Noah,' said I; for somehow, I had been called by no other name
for so long, I never thought of my real one.
"'Noah!' said the admiral,--'Noah! Well, but Noah, what were you doing here
at this time of night?'
"'I was a watching the Ark, my lord,' said I, bowing, as I took off my hat.
"'I've heard of this fellow before, my lord,' said Dawkins; 'he's a poor
lunatic that is always wandering about the harbor, and, I believe, has no
harm in him.'
"'Yes, but he has been listening, doubtless, to our conversation,' said the
admiral. 'Eh, have you heard all we have been saying?'
"'Every word of it, my lord.'
"At this the admiral and Dawkins looked steadfastly at each other for some
minutes, but neither spoke; at last Dawkins said, 'Well, Noah, I've been
told you are a man to be depended on; may we rely upon your not repeating
anything you overheard this evening,--at least, for a year to come?'
"'You may,' said I.
"'But, Dawkins,' said the admiral, in a half-whisper, 'if the poor fellow
"'My lord,' said I, boldly, 'I am not mad. Misfortune and calamity I have
had enough of to make me so; but, thank God, my brain has been tougher than
my poor heart. I was once the part-owner and commander of a goodly craft,
that swept the sea, if not with a broad pennon at her mast-head, with as
light a spirit as ever lived beneath one. I was rich, I had a home and a
child; I am now poor, houseless, childless, friendless, and an outcast. If
in my solitary wretchedness I have loved to look upon that old bark, it is
because its fortune seemed like my own. It had outlived all that needed or
cared for it. For this reason have they thought me mad, though there are
those, and not few either, who can well bear testimony if stain or reproach
lie at my door, and if I can be reproached with aught save bad luck. I have
heard by chance what you have said this night. I know that you are fitting
out a secret expedition; I know its dangers, its inevitable dangers, and I
here offer myself to lead it. I ask no reward; I look for no price. Alas,
who is left to me for whom I could labor now? Give me but the opportunity
to end my clays with honor on board the old craft, where my heart still
clings; give me but that. Well, if you will not do so much, let me serve
among the crew; put me before the mast. My lord, you'll not refuse this.
It is an old man asks; one whose gray hairs have floated many a year ago
before the breeze.'
"'My poor fellow, you know not what you ask; this is no common case of
"'I know it all, my lord; I have heard it all.'
"'Dawkins, what is to be done here?' inquired the admiral.
"'I say, friend,' inquired Dawkins, laying his hand upon my arm, 'what is
your real name? Are you he who commanded the "Dwarf" privateer in the Isle
"'Then you are known to Lord Collingwood?'
"'He knows me well, and can speak to my character.'
"'What he says of himself is all true, my lord.'
"'True,' said I, 'true! You did not doubt it, did you?'
"'We,' said the admiral, 'must speak together again. Be here to-morrow
night at this hour; keep your own counsel of what has passed, and now
good-night.' So saying, the admiral took Dawkins by the arm and returned
slowly towards the town, leaving me where I stood, meditating on this
singular meeting and its possible consequences.
"The whole of the following day was passed by me in a state of feverish
excitement which I cannot describe; this strange adventure breaking in so
suddenly upon the dull monotony of my daily existence had so aroused and
stimulated me that I could neither rest nor eat. How I longed for night to
come; for sometimes, as the day wore later, I began to fear that the whole
scene of my meeting with the admiral had been merely some excited dream of
a tortured and fretted mind; and as I stood examining the ground where
I believed the interview to have occurred, I endeavored to recall the
position of different objects as they stood around, to corroborate my own
"At last the evening closed in; but unlike the preceding one, the sky
was covered with masses of dark arid watery cloud that drifted hurriedly
across; the air felt heavy and thick, and unnaturally still and calm; the
water of the harbor looked of a dull, leaden hue, and all the vessels
seemed larger than they were, and stood out from the landscape more clearly
than usual; now and then a low rumbling noise was heard, somewhat alike in
sound, but far too faint for distant thunder, while occasionally the boats
and smaller craft rocked to and fro, as though some ground swell stirred
them without breaking the languid surface of the sea above.
"A few drops of thick, heavy rain fell just as the darkness came on, and
then all felt still and calm as before. I sat upon the anchor-stock, my
eyes fixed upon the old Ark, until gradually her outline grew fainter
and fainter against the dark sky, and her black hull could scarcely be
distinguished from the water beneath. I felt that I was looking towards
her; for long after I had lost sight of the tall mast and high-pitched
bowsprit, I feared to turn away my head lest I should lose the place where
"The time went slowly on, and although in reality I had not been long
there, I felt as if years themselves had passed over my head. Since I
had come there my mind brooded over all the misfortunes of my life; as I
contrasted its outset, bright with hope and rich in promise, with the sad
reality, my heart grew heavy and my chest heaved painfully. So sunk was I
in my reflections, so lost in thought, that I never knew that the storm had
broken loose, and that the heavy rain was falling in torrents. The very
ground, parched with long drought, smoked as it pattered upon it; while the
low, wailing cry of the sea-gull, mingled with the deep growl of far-off
thunder, told that the night was a fearful one for those at sea. Wet
through and shivering, I sat still, now listening amidst the noise of the
hurricane and the creaking of the cordage for any footstep to approach, and
now relapsing back into half-despairing dread that my heated brain
alone had conjured up the scene of the day before. Such were my dreary
reflections when a loud crash aboard the schooner told me that some old
spar had given way. I strained my eyes through the dark to see what had
happened, but in vain; the black vapor, thick with falling rain, obscured
everything, and all was hid from view. I could hear that she worked
violently as the waves beat against her worn sides, and that her iron
cable creaked as she pitched to the breaking sea. The wind was momentarily
increasing, and I began to fear lest I should have taken my last look at
the old craft, when my attention was called off by hearing a loud voice cry
out, 'Halloo there! Where are you?'
"'Ay, ay, sir, I'm here.' In a moment the admiral and his friend were
"'What a night!' exclaimed the admiral, as he shook the rain from the heavy
boat-cloak and cowered in beneath some tall blocks of granite near. 'I
began half to hope that you might not have been here, my poor fellow,' said
the admiral; 'it's a dreadful time for one so poorly clad for a storm. I
say, Dawkins, let him have a pull at your flask.' The brandy rallied me a
little, and I felt that it cheered my drooping courage.
"'This is not a time nor is it a place for much parley,' said the admiral,
'so that we must even make short work of it. Since we met here last night I
have satisfied myself that you are to be trusted, that your character
and reputation have nothing heavier against them than misfortune, which
certainly, if I have been rightly informed, has been largely dealt out to
you. Now, then, I am willing to accept of your offer of service if you
are still of the same mind as when you made it, and if you are willing to
undertake what we have to do without any question and inquiry as to points
on which we must not and dare not inform you. Whatever you may have
overheard last night may or may not have put you in possession of our
secret. If the former, your determination can be made at once; if the
latter, you have only to decide whether you are ready to go blindfolded in
"'I am ready, my lord,' said I.
"'You perhaps are then aware what is the nature of the service?'
"'I know it not,' said I. 'All that I heard, sir, leads me to suppose it
one of danger, but that's all.'
"'I think, my lord,' said Dawkins, 'that no more need now be said. Cupples
is ready to engage, we are equally so to accept; the thing is pressing.
When can you sail?'
"'To-night,' said I, 'if you will.'
"'Really, Dawkins,' said the admiral, 'I don't see why--'
'"My lord, I beg of you,' said the other, interrupting, 'let me now
complete the arrangement. This is the plan,' said he, turning towards me
as he spoke: 'As soon as that old craft can be got ready for sea, or some
other if she be not worth, it, you will sail from this port with a strong
crew, well armed and supplied with ammunition. Your destination is Malta,
your object to deliver to the admiral stationed there the despatches
with which you will be entrusted; they contain information of immense
importance, which for certain reasons cannot be sent through a ship of war,
but must be forwarded by a vessel that may not attract peculiar notice. If
you be attacked, your orders are to resist; if you be taken, on no account
destroy the papers, for the French vessel can scarcely escape capture from
our frigates, and it is of great consequence these papers should remain.
Such is a brief sketch of our plan; the details can be made known to you
"'I am quite ready, my lord. I ask for no terms; I make no stipulations. If
the result be favorable it will be time enough to speak of that. When am I
"As I spoke, the admiral turned suddenly round and said something in a
whisper to Dawkins, who appeared to overrule it, whatever it might be, and
finally brought him over to his own opinion.
"'Come, Cupples,' said Dawkins, 'the affair is now settled; to-morrow a
boat will be in waiting for you opposite Spike Island to convey you on
board the "Semiramis," where every step in the whole business shall be
explained to you; meanwhile you have only to keep your own counsel and
trust the secret to no one.'
"'Yes, Cupples,' said the admiral, 'we rely upon you for that, so
good-night.' As he spoke he placed within my hands a crumpled note for ten
pounds, and squeezing my fingers, departed.
"My yarn is spinning out to a far greater length than I intended, so I'll
try and shorten it a bit. The next day I went aboard the 'Semiramis,'
where, when I appeared upon the quarter-deck, I found myself an object
of some interest. The report that I was the man about to command the
'Brian,'--that was the real name of the old craft,--had caused some
curiosity among the officers, and they all spoke to me with great courtesy.
After waiting a short time I was ordered to go below, where the admiral,
his flag-captain, Dawkins, and the others were seated. They repeated at
greater length the conversation of the night before, and finally decided
that I was to sail in three weeks; for although the old schooner was sadly
damaged, they had lost no time, but had her already high in dock, with two
hundred ship-carpenters at work upon her.
"I do not shorten sail here to tell you what reports were circulated about
Cove as to my extraordinary change in circumstances, nor how I bore my
altered fortunes. It is enough if I say that in less than three weeks I
weighed anchor and stood out to sea one beautiful morning in autumn, and
set out upon my expedition.
"I have already told you something of the craft. Let me complete the
picture by informing you that before twenty-four hours passed over I
discovered that so ungainly, so awkward, so unmanageable a vessel never
put to sea. In light winds she scarcely stirred or moved, as if she were
waterlogged; if it came to blow upon the quarter, she fell off from her
helm at a fearful rate; in wearing, she endangered every spar she had; and
when you put her in stays, when half round she would fall back and nearly
carry away every stitch of canvas with the shock. If the ship was bad, the
crew was ten times worse. What Dawkins said turned out to be literally
true. Every ill-conducted, disorderly fellow who had been up the gangway
once a week or so, every unreclaimed landsman of bad character and no
seamanship, was sent on board of us: and in fact, except that there was
scarcely any discipline and no restraint, we appeared like a floating
penitentiary of convicted felons.
So long as we ran down channel with a slack sea and fair wind, so long all
went on tolerably well; to be sure they only kept watch when they were
tired below, when they came up, reeled about the deck, did all just as they
pleased, and treated me with no manner of respect. After some vain efforts
to repress their excesses,--vain, for I had but one to second me,--I
appeared to take no notice of their misconduct, and contented myself with
waiting for the time when, my dreary voyage over, I should quit the command
and part company with such associates forever. At last, however, it came on
to blow, and the night we passed the Lizard was indeed a fearful one.
As morning broke, a sea running mountains high, a wind strong from
the northwest, was hurrying the old craft along at a rate I believed
impossible. I shall not stop to recount the frightful scenes of anarchy,
confusion, drunkenness, and insubordination which our crew exhibited,--the
recollection is too bad already, and I would spare you and myself the
recital; but on the fourth day from the setting in of the gale, as we
entered the Bay of Biscay, some one aloft descried a strange sail to
windward bearing down as if in pursuit of us. Scarcely did the news reach
the deck when, bad as it was before, matters became now ten times worse,
some resolving to give themselves up if the chase happened to be French,
and vowing that before surrendering the spirit-room should be forced, and
every man let drink as he pleased. Others proposed if there were anything
like equality in the force, to attack, and convert the captured vessel, if
they succeeded, into a slaver, and sail at once for Africa. Some were for
blowing up the old 'Brian' with all on board; and in fact every counsel
that drunkenness, insanity, and crime combined could suggest was offered
and descanted on. Meanwhile the chase gained rapidly upon us, and before
noon we discovered her to be a French letter-of-marque with four guns and a
long brass swivel upon the poop deck. As for us, every sheet of canvas we
could crowd was crammed on, but in vain. And as we labored through the
heavy sea, our riotous crew grew every moment worse, and sitting down
sulkily in groups upon the deck, declared that, come what might, they would
neither work the ship nor fight her; that they had been sent to sea in a
rotten craft merely to effect their destruction; and that they cared little
for the disgrace of a flag they detested. Half furious with the taunting
sarcasm I heard on every side, and nearly mad from passion, and bewildered,
my first impulse was to run among them with my drawn cutlass, and ere I
fell their victim, take heavy vengeance upon the ringleaders, when suddenly
a sharp booming noise came thundering along, and a round shot went flying
over our heads.
"'Down with the ensign; strike at once!' cried eight or ten voices
together, as the ball whizzed through the rigging. Anticipating this, and
resolving, whatever might happen, to fight her to the last, I had made the
mate, a staunch-hearted, resolute fellow, to make fast the signal sailyard
aloft, so that it was impossible for any one on deck to lower the bunting.
Bang! went another gun; and before the smoke cleared away, a third, which,
truer in its aim than the rest, went clean through the lower part of our
"'Steady, then, boys, and clear for action,' said the mate.
'She's a French smuggling craft that will sheer off when we show fight, so
that we must not fire a shot till she comes alongside.'
"'And harkee, lads,' said I, taking up the tone of encouragement he spoke
with, 'if we take her, I promise to claim nothing of the prize. Whatever we
capture you shall divide among yourselves.'
"'It's very easy to divide what we never had,' said one; 'Nearly as easy as
to give it,' cried another; 'I'll never light match or draw cutlass in the
cause,' said a third.
"'Surrender!' 'Strike the flag!' 'Down with the colors!' roared several
"By this time the Frenchman was close up, and ranging his long gun to
sweep our decks; his crew were quite perceptible,--about twenty bronzed,
stout-looking follows, stripped to the waist, and carrying pistols in broad
flat belts slung over the shoulder.
"'Come, my lads,' said I, raising my voice, as I drew a pistol from my side
and cocked it, 'our time is short now; I may as well tell you that the
first shot that strikes us amidship blows up the whole craft and every man
on board. We are nothing less than a fireship, destined for Brest harbor
to blow up the French fleet. If you are willing to make an effort for your
lives, follow me!'
"The men looked aghast. Whatever recklessness crime and drunkenness had
given them, the awful feeling of inevitable death at once repelled.
Short as was the time for reflection, they felt that there were many
circumstances to encourage the assertion,--the nature of the vessel, her
riotous, disorderly crew, the secret nature of the service, all confirmed
it,--and they answered with a shout of despairing vengeance, 'We'll board
her; lead us on!' As the cry rose up, the long swivel from the chase rang
sharply in our ears, and a tremendous discharge of grape flew through our
rigging. None of our men, however, fell; and animated now with the desire
for battle, they sprang to the binnacle, and seized their arms.
"In an instant the whole deck became a scene of excited bustle; and
scarcely was the ammunition dealt out, and the boarding party drawn up,
when the Frenchman broached to and lashed his bowsprit to our own.
"One terrific yell burst from our fellows as they sprang from the rigging
and the poop upon the astonished Frenchmen, who thought that the victory
was already their own; with death and ruin behind, their only hope before,
they dashed forward like madmen to the fray.
"The conflict was bloody and terrific, though not a long one. Nearly equal
in number, but far superior in personal strength, and stimulated by their
sense of danger, our fellows rushed onward, carrying all before them to the
quarter-deck. Here the Frenchmen rallied, and for some minutes had rather
the advantage, until the mate, turning one of their guns against them,
prepared to sweep them down in a mass. Then it was that they ceased their
fire and cried out for quarter,--all save their captain, a short, thick-set
fellow, with a grizzly beard and mustache, who, seeing his men fall back,
turned on them one glance of scowling indignation, and rushing forward,
clove our boatswain to the deck with one blow. Before the example could
have been followed, he lay a bloody corpse upon the deck; while our
people, roused to madness by the loss of a favorite among the men, dashed
impetuously forward, and dealing death on every side, left not one man
living among their unresisting enemies. My story is soon told now. We
brought our prize safe into Malta, which we reached in five days. In less
than a week our men were drafted into different men-of-war on the station.
I was appointed a warrant officer in the 'Sheerwater,' forty-four guns; and
as the admiral opened the despatch, the only words he spoke puzzled me for
many a day after.
"'You have accomplished your orders too well,' said he; 'that privateer is
but a poor compensation for the whole French navy.'"
"Well," inquired Power, "and did you never hear the meaning of the words?"
"Yes," said he; "many years after I found out that our despatches were
false ones, intended to have fallen into the hands of the French and
mislead them as to Lord Nelson's fleet, which at that time was cruising
to the southward to catch them. This, of course, explained what fate was
destined for us,--a French prison, if not death; and after all, either was
fully good enough for the crew that sailed in the old 'Brian.'"
It was late when we separated for the night, and the morning was already
far advanced ere I awoke; the monotonous tramp overhead showed me that the
others were stirring, and I gently moved the shutter of the narrow window
beside me to look out.
The sea, slightly rippled upon its surface, shone like a plate of fretted
gold,--not a wave, not a breaker appeared; but the rushing sound close by
showed that we were moving fast through the water.
"Always calm hereabouts," said a gruff voice on deck, which I soon
recognized as the skipper's; "no sea whatever."
"I can make nothing of it," cried out Power, from the forepart of the
vessel. "It appears to me all cloud."
"No, no, sir, believe me; it's no fog-bank, that large dark mass to leeward
"Land!" cried I, springing up, and rushing upon deck; "where,
Skipper,--where is the land?"
"I say, Charley," said Power, "I hope you mean to adopt a little more
clothing on reaching Lisbon; for though the climate is a warm one--"
"Never mind, O'Malley," said the major, "the Portuguese will only be
flattered by the attention, if you land as you are."
"Why, how so?"
"Surely, you remember what the niggers said when they saw the 79th
Highlanders landing at St. Lucie. They had never seen a Scotch regiment
before, and were consequently somewhat puzzled at the costume; till at
last, one more cunning than the rest explained it by saying: 'They are in
such a hurry to kill the poor black men that they came away without their
"Now, what say you?" cried the skipper, as he pointed with his telescope to
a dark-blue mass in the distance; "see there!"
"Ah, true enough; that's Cintra!"
"Then we shall probably be in the Tagus River before morning?"
"Before midnight, if the wind holds," said the skipper. We breakfasted on
deck beneath an awning. The vessel scarcely seemed to move as she cut her
way through the calm water.
The misty outline of the coast grew gradually more defined, and at length
the blue mountains could be seen; at first but dimly, but as the day wore
on, their many-colored hues shone forth, and patches of green verdure,
dotted with sheep or sheltered by dark foliage, met the eye. The bulwarks
were crowded with anxious faces; each looked pointedly towards the shore,
and many a stout heart beat high, as the land drew near, fated to cover
with its earth more than one among us.
"And that's Portingale, Mister Charles," said a voice behind me. I turned
and saw my man Mike, as with anxious joy, he fixed his eyes upon the shore.
"They tell me it's a beautiful place, with wine for nothing and spirits for
less. Isn't it a pity they won't be raisonable and make peace with us?"
"Why, my good fellow, we are excellent friends; it's the French who want to
beat us all."
"Upon my conscience, that's not right. There's an ould saying in Connaught,
'It's not fair for one to fall upon twenty.' Sergeant Haggarty says that
I'll see none of the divarsion at all."
"I don't well understand--"
"He does be telling me that, as I'm only your footboy, he'll send me away
to the rear, where there's nothing but wounded and wagons and women."
"I believe the sergeant is right there; but after all, Mike, it's a safe
"Ah, then, musha for the safety! I don't think much of it. Sure, they might
circumvint us. And av it wasn't displazing to you, I'd rather list."
"Well, I've no objection, Mickey. Would you like to join my regiment?"
"By coorse, your honor. I'd like to be near yourself; bekase, too, if
anything happens to you,--the Lord be betune us and harm," here he crossed
himself piously,--"sure, I'd like to be able to tell the master how you
died; and sure, there's Mr. Considine--God pardon him! He'll be beating my
brains out av I couldn't explain it all."
"Well, Mike, I'll speak to some of my friends here about you, and we'll
settle it all properly. Here's the doctor."
"Arrah, Mr. Charles, don't mind him. He's a poor crayture entirely. Devil a
thing he knows."
"Why, what do you mean, man? He's physician to the forces."
"Oh, be-gorra, and so he may be!" said Mike, with a toss of his head.
"Those army docthers isn't worth their salt. It's thruth I'm telling you.
Sure, didn't he come to see me when I was sick below in the hould?
"'How do you feel?' says he.
"'Terribly dhry in the mouth,' says I.
"'But your bones,' says he; 'how's them?'
"'As if cripples was kicking me,' says I.
"Well, with that he wint away, and brought back two powders.
"'Take them,' says he, 'and you'll be cured in no time.'
"'What's them?' says I.
"'They're ematics,' says he.
"'Blood and ages!' says I, 'are they?'
"'Devil a lie,' says he; 'take them immediately.'
"And I tuk them; and would you believe me, Mister Charles?--it's thruth I'm
telling you,--devil a one o' them would stay on my stomach. So you see what
a docther he is!"
I could not help smiling at Mike's ideas of medicine, as I turned away
to talk to the major, who was busily engaged beside me. His occupation
consisted in furbishing up a very tarnished and faded uniform, whose white
seams and threadbare lace betokened many years of service.
"Getting up our traps, you see, O'Malley," said he, as he looked with no
small pride at the faded glories of his old vestment. "Astonish them at
Lisbon, we flatter ourselves. I say, Power, what a bad style of dress
they've got into latterly, with their tight waist and strapped trousers;
nothing free, nothing easy, nothing _dégagé_ about it. When in a campaign,
a man ought to be able to stow prog for twenty-four hours about his person,
and no one the wiser. A very good rule, I assure you, though it sometimes
leads to awkward results. At Vimeira, I got into a sad scrape that way. Old
Sir Harry, that commanded there, sent for the sick return. I was at dinner
when the orderly came, so I packed up the eatables about me, and rode off.
Just, however, as I came up to the quarters, my horse stumbled and threw me
slap on my head.
"'Is he killed?' said Sir Harry.
"'Only stunned, your Excellency,' said some one.
"'Then he'll come to, I suppose. Look for the papers in his pocket.'
"So they turned me on my back, and plunged a hand into my side-pocket;
but, the devil take it! they pulled out a roast hen. Well, the laugh was
scarcely over at this, when another fellow dived into my coat behind, and
lugged out three sausages; and so they went on, till the ground was covered
with ham, pigeon-pie, veal, kidney, and potatoes; and the only thing like a
paper was a mess-roll of the 4th, with a droll song about Sir Harry written
in pencil on the back of it. Devil of a bad affair for me! I was nearly
broke for it; but they only reprimanded me a little, and I was afterwards
attached to the victualling department."
What an anxious thing is the last day of a voyage! How slowly creep the
hours, teeming with memories of the past and expectations of the future!
Every plan, every well-devised expedient to cheat the long and weary
days is at once abandoned; the chess-board and the new novel are alike
forgotten, and the very quarter-deck walk, with its merry gossip and
careless chit-chat, becomes distasteful. One blue and misty mountain, one
faint outline of the far-off shore, has dispelled all thought of these; and
with straining eye and anxious heart, we watch for land.
As the day wears on apace, the excitement increases; the faint and shadowy
forms of distant objects grow gradually clearer. Where before some tall and
misty mountain peak was seen, we now descry patches of deepest blue and
sombre olive; the mellow corn and the waving woods, the village spire and
the lowly cot, come out of the landscape; and like some well-remembered
voice, they speak of home. The objects we have seen, the sounds we have
heard a hundred times before without interest, become to us now things that
stir the heart.
For a time the bright glare of the noonday sun dazzles the view and renders
indistinct the prospect; but as evening falls, once more is all fair and
bright and rich before us. Rocked by the long and rolling swell, I lay
beside the bowsprit, watching the shore-birds that came to rest upon the
rigging, or following some long and tangled seaweed as it floated by; my
thoughts now wandering back to the brown hills and the broad river of my
early home, now straying off in dreary fancies of the future.
How flat and unprofitable does all ambition seem at such moments as these;
how valueless, how poor, in our estimation, those worldly distinctions
we have so often longed and thirsted for, as with lowly heart and simple
spirit we watch each humble cottage, weaving to ourselves some story of its
inmates as we pass!
The night at length closed in, but it was a bright and starry one, lending
to the landscape a hue of sombre shadow, while the outlines of the objects
were still sharp and distinct as before. One solitary star twinkled near
the horizon. I watched it as, at intervals disappearing, it would again
shine out, marking the calm sea with a tall pillar of light.
"Come down, Mr. O'Malley," cried the skipper's well-known voice,--"come
down below and join us in a parting glass; that's the Lisbon light to
leeward, and before two hours we drop our anchor in the Tagus."
Of my travelling companions I have already told my readers something. Power
is now an old acquaintance; to Sparks I have already presented them; of the
adjutant they are not entirely ignorant; and it therefore only remains for
me to introduce to their notice Major Monsoon. I should have some scruple
for the digression which this occasions in my narrative, were it not that
with the worthy major I was destined to meet subsequently; and indeed
served under his orders for some months in the Peninsula. When Major
Monsoon had entered the army or in what precise capacity, I never yet met
the man who could tell. There were traditionary accounts of his having
served in the East Indies and in Canada in times long past. His own
peculiar reminiscences extended to nearly every regiment in the service,
"horse, foot, and dragoons." There was not a clime he had not basked in;
not an engagement he had not witnessed. His memory, or, if you will, his
invention, was never at fault; and from the siege of Seringapatam to
the battle of Corunna he was perfect. Besides this, he possessed a mind
retentive of even the most trifling details of his profession,--from the
formation of a regiment to the introduction of a new button, from the
laying down of a parallel to the price of a camp-kettle, he knew it all. To
be sure, he had served in the commissary-general's department for a number
of years, and nothing instils such habits as this.
"The commissaries are to the army what the special pleaders are to the
bar," observed my friend Power,--"dry dogs, not over creditable on the
whole, but devilish useful."
The major had begun life a two-bottle man; but by a studious cultivation of
his natural gifts, and a steady determination to succeed, he had, at the
time I knew him, attained to his fifth. It need not be wondered at, then,
that his countenance bore some traces of his habits. It was of a deep
sunset-purple, which, becoming tropical, at the tip of the nose verged
almost upon a plum-color; his mouth was large, thick-lipped, and
good-humored; his voice rich, mellow, and racy, and contributed, with the
aid of a certain dry, chuckling laugh, greatly to increase the effect of
the stories which he was ever ready to recount; and as they most frequently
bore in some degree against some of what he called his little failings,
they were ever well received, no man being so popular with the world as he
who flatters its vanity at his own expense. To do this the major was ever
ready, but at no time more so than when the evening wore late, and the last
bottle of his series seemed to imply that any caution regarding the
nature of his communication was perfectly unnecessary. Indeed, from the
commencement of his evening to the close, he seemed to pass through a
number of mental changes, all in a manner preparing him for this final
consummation, when he confessed anything and everything; and so well
regulated had those stages become, that a friend dropping in upon him
suddenly could at once pronounce from the tone of his conversation on what
precise bottle the major was then engaged.
Thus, in the outset he was gastronomic,--discussed the dinner from the soup
to the Stilton; criticised the cutlets; pronounced upon the merits of the
mutton; and threw out certain vague hints that he would one day astonish
the world by a little volume upon cookery.
With bottle No. 2 he took leave of the _cuisine_, and opened his battery
upon the wine. Bordeaux, Burgundy, hock, and hermitage, all passed in
review before him,--their flavor discussed, their treatment descanted
upon, their virtues extolled; from humble port to imperial tokay, he was
thoroughly conversant with all, and not a vintage escaped as to when the
sun had suffered eclipse, or when a comet had wagged his tail over it.
With No. 3 he became pipeclay,--talked army list and eighteen manoeuvres,
lamented the various changes in equipments which modern innovation had
introduced, and feared the loss of pigtails might sap the military spirit
of the nation.
With No. 4 his anecdotic powers came into play,--he recounted various
incidents of the war with his own individual adventures and experience,
told with an honest _naïveté_, that proved personal vanity; indeed,
self-respect never marred the interest of the narrative, besides, as he had
ever regarded a campaign something in the light of a foray, and esteemed
war as little else than a pillage excursion, his sentiments were singularly
With his last bottle, those feelings that seemed inevitably connected
with whatever is last appeared to steal over him,--a tinge of sadness for
pleasures fast passing and nearly passed, a kind of retrospective glance at
the fallacy of all our earthly enjoyments, insensibly suggesting moral and
edifying reflections, led him by degrees to confess that he was not quite
satisfied with himself, though "not very bad for a commissary;" and
finally, as the decanter waxed low, he would interlard his meditations by
passages of Scripture, singularly perverted by his misconception from
their true meaning, and alternately throwing out prospects of censure or
approval. Such was Major Monsoon; and to conclude in his own words this
brief sketch, he "would have been an excellent officer if Providence had
not made him such a confounded, drunken, old scoundrel."
"Now, then, for the King of Spain's story. Out with it, old boy; we are all
good men and true here," cried Power, as we slowly came along upon the tide
up the Tagus, "so you've nothing to fear."
"Upon my life," replied the major, "I don't half like the tone of our
conversation. There is a certain freedom young men affect now a-days
regarding morals that is not at all to my taste. When I was five or six and
"You were the greatest scamp in the service," cried Power.
"Fie, fie, Fred. If I was a little wild or so,"--here the major's eyes
twinkled maliciously,--"it was the ladies that spoiled me; I was always
something of a favorite, just like our friend Sparks there. Not that we
fared very much alike in our little adventures; for somehow, I believe I
was generally in fault in most of mine, as many a good man and many an
excellent man has been before." Here his voice dropped into a moralizing
key, as he added, "David, you know, didn't behave well to old Uriah. Upon
my life he did not, and he was a very respectable man."
"The King of Spain's sherry! the sherry!" cried I, fearing that the major's
digression might lose us a good story.
"You shall not have a drop of it," replied the major.
"But the story, Major, the story!"
"Nor the story, either."
"What," said Power, "will you break faith with us?"
"There's none to be kept with reprobates like you. Fill my glass."
"Hold there! stop!" cried Power. "Not a spoonful till he redeems his
"Well, then, if you must have a story,--for most assuredly I must drink,--I
have no objection to give you a leaf from my early reminiscences; and in
compliment to Sparks there, my tale shall be of love."
"I dinna like to lose the king's story. I hae my thoughts it was na a bad
"Nor I neither, Doctor; but--"
"Come, come, you shall have that too, the first night we meet in a bivouac,
and as I fear the time may not be very far distant, don't be impatient;
besides a love-story--"
"Quite true," said Power, "a love-story claims precedence; _place aux
dames_. There's a bumper for you, old wickedness; so go along."
The major cleared off his glass, refilled it, sipped twice, and ogled it as
though he would have no peculiar objection to sip once more, took a long
pinch of snuff from a box nearly as long as, and something the shape of a
child's coffin, looked around to see that we were all attention, and thus
"When I have been in a moralizing mood, as I very frequently am about this
hour in the morning, I have often felt surprised by what little, trivial,
and insignificant circumstances our lot in life seems to be cast; I mean
especially as regards the fair sex. You are prospering, as it were, to-day;
to-morrow a new cut of your whiskers, a novel tie of your cravat, mars your
destiny and spoils your future, _varium et mutabile_, as Horace has it.
On the other hand, some equally slight circumstance will do what all your
ingenuity may have failed to effect. I knew a fellow who married the
greatest fortune in Bath, from the mere habit he had of squeezing one's
hand. The lady in question thought it particular, looked conscious, and all
that; he followed up the blow; and, in a word, they were married in a week.
So a friend of mine, who could not help winking his left eye, once opened
a flirtation with a lively widow which cost him a special license and a
settlement. In fact you are never safe. They are like the guerillas, and
they pick you off when you least expect it, and when you think there is
nothing to fear. Therefore, as young fellows beginning life, I would
caution you. On this head you can never be too circumspect. Do you know, I
was once nearly caught by so slight a habit as sitting thus, with my legs
Here the major rested his right foot on his left knee, in illustration, and
"We were quartered in Jamaica. I had not long joined, and was about as raw
a young gentleman as you could see; the only very clear ideas in my head
being that we were monstrous fine fellows in the 50th, and that the
planters' daughters were deplorably in love with us. Not that I was much
wrong on either side. For brandy-and-water, sangaree, Manilla cigars, and
the ladies of color, I'd have backed the corps against the service.
Proof was, of eighteen only two ever left the island; for what with the
seductions of the coffee plantations, the sugar canes, the new rum, the
brown skins, the rainy season, and the yellow fever, most of us settled
"It's very hard to leave the West Indies if once you've been quartered
"So I have heard," said Power.
"In time, if you don't knock under to the climate, you become soon totally
unfit for living anywhere else. Preserved ginger, yams, flannel jackets,
and grog won't bear exportation; and the free-and-easy chuck under the
chin, cherishing, waist-pressing kind of way we get with the ladies would
be quite misunderstood in less favored regions, and lead to very unpleasant
"It is a curious fact how much climate has to do with love-making. In our
cold country the progress is lamentably slow. Fogs, east winds, sleet,
storms, and cutting March weather nip many a budding flirtation; whereas
warm, sunny days and bright moonlight nights, with genial air and balmy
zephyrs, open the heart like the cup of a camelia, and let us drink in the
soft dew of--"
"Devilish poetical, that," said Power, evolving a long blue line of smoke
from the corner of his mouth.
"Isn't it, though?" said the major, smiling graciously. "'Pon my life, I
thought so myself. Where was I?"
"Out of my latitude altogether," said the poor skipper, who often found it
hard to follow the thread of a story.
"Yes, I remember. I was remarking that sangaree and calipash, mangoes and
guava jelly, dispose the heart to love, and so they do. I was not more than
six weeks in Jamaica when I felt it myself. Now, it was a very dangerous
symptom, if you had it strong in you, for this reason. Our colonel, the
most cross-grained old crabstick that ever breathed, happened himself to be
taken in when young, and resolving, like the fox who lost his tail and said
it was not the fashion to wear one, to pretend he did the thing for fun,
determined to make every fellow marry upon the slightest provocation.
Begad, you might as well enter a powder magazine with a branch of candles
in your hand, as go into society in the island with a leaning towards the
fair sex. Very hard this was for me particularly; for like poor Sparks
there, my weakness was ever for the petticoats. I had, besides, no
petty, contemptible prejudices as to nation, habits, language, color, or
complexion; black, brown, or fair, from the Muscovite to the Malabar, from
the voluptuous _embonpoint_ of the adjutant's widow,--don't be angry old
boy,--to the fairy form of Isabella herself, I loved them all round. But
were I to give a preference anywhere I should certainly do so to the West
Indians, if it were only for the sake of the planters' daughters. I say it
fearlessly, these colonies are the brightest jewels in the crown. Let's
drink their health, for I'm as husky as a lime-kiln."
This ceremony being performed with suitable enthusiasm, the major cried
out, "Another cheer for Polly Hackett, the sweetest girl in Jamaica. By
Jove, Power, if you only saw her as I did five and forty years ago, with
eyes black as jet, twinkling, ogling, leering, teasing, and imploring,
all at once, do you mind, and a mouthful of downright pearls pouting
and smiling at you, why, man, you'd have proposed for her in the first
half-hour, and shot yourself the next, when she refused you. She was,
indeed, a perfect little beauty, _rayther_ dark, to be sure,--a little upon
the rosewood tinge, but beautifully polished, and a very nice piece of
furniture for a cottage _orné_, as the French call it. Alas, alas, how
these vanities do catch hold of us! My recollections have made me quite
feverish and thirsty. Is there any cold punch in the bowl? Thank you,
O'Malley, that will do,--merely to touch my lips. Well, well, it's all past
and gone now; but I was very fond of Tolly Hackett, and she was of me.
We used to take our little evening walks together through the coffee
plantation: very romantic little strolls they were, she in white muslin
with a blue sash and blue shoes; I in a flannel jacket and trousers, straw
hat and cravat, a Virginia cigar as long as a walking-stick in my
mouth, puffing and courting between times; then we'd take a turn to the
refining-house, look in at the big boilers, quiz the niggers, and come back
to Twangberry Moss to supper, where old Hackett, the father, sported a
glorious table at eleven o'clock. Great feeding it was; you were always
sure of a preserved monkey, a baked land-crab, or some such delicacy. And
such Madeira; it makes me dry to think of it.
"Talk of West India slavery, indeed. It's the only land of liberty.
There is nothing to compare with the perfect free-and-easy,
devil-may-care-kind-of-a-take-yourself way that every one has there. If it
would be any peculiar comfort for you to sit in the saddle of mutton, and
put your legs in a soup tureen at dinner, there would be found very few to
object to it. There is no nonsense of any kind about etiquette. You eat,
drink, and are merry, or, if you prefer, are sad; just as you please. You
may wear uniform, or you may not, it's your own affair; and consequently,
it may be imagined how insensibly such privileges gain upon one, and how
very reluctant we become ever to resign or abandon them.
"I was the man to appreciate it all. The whole course of proceeding seemed
to have been invented for my peculiar convenience, and not a man in the
island enjoyed a more luxurious existence than myself, not knowing all the
while how dearly I was destined to pay for my little comforts. Among my
plenary after-dinner indulgences I had contracted an inveterate habit of
sitting cross-legged, as I showed you. Now, this was become a perfect
necessity of existence to me. I could have dispensed with cheese, with my
glass of port, my pickled mango, my olive, my anchovy toast, my nutshell of
curaçoa, but not my favorite lounge. You may smile; but I've read of a man
who could never dance except in a room with an old hair-brush. Now, I'm
certain my stomach would not digest if my legs were perpendicular. I
don't mean to defend the thing. The attitude was not graceful, it was not
imposing; but it suited me somehow, and I liked it.
"From what I have already mentioned, you may suppose that West India habits
exercised but little control over my favorite practice, which I indulged
in every evening of my life. Well, one day old Hackett gave us a great
blow-out,--a dinner of two-and-twenty souls; six days' notice; turtle from
St. Lucie, guinea-fowl, claret of the year forty, Madeira _à discrétion_,
and all that. Very well done the whole thing; nothing wrong, nothing
wanting. As for me, I was in great feather. I took Polly in to dinner,
greatly to the discomfiture of old Belson, our major, who was making up in
that quarter; for you must know, she was an only daughter, and had a very
nice thing of it in molasses and niggers. The papa preferred the major,
but Polly looked sweetly upon me. Well, down we went, and really a most
excellent feed we had. Now, I must mention here that Polly had a favorite
Blenheim spaniel the old fellow detested; it was always tripping him up and
snarling at him,--for it was, except to herself, a beast of rather vicious
inclinations. With a true Jamaica taste, it was her pleasure to bring the
animal always into the dinner-room, where, if papa discovered him, there
was sure to be a row. Servants sent in one direction to hunt him out,
others endeavoring to hide him, and so on; in fact, a tremendous hubbub
always followed his introduction and accompanied his exit, upon which
occasions I invariably exercised my gallantry by protecting the beast,
although I hated him like the devil all the time.
"To return to our dinner. After two mortal hours of hard eating, the pace
began to slacken, and as evening closed in, a sense of peaceful repose
seemed to descend upon our labors. Pastels shed an aromatic vapor
through the room. The well-iced decanters went with measured pace along;
conversation, subdued to the meridian of after-dinner comfort, just
murmured; the open _jalousies_ displayed upon the broad veranda the
orange-tree in full blossom, slightly stirring with the cool sea-breeze."
"And the piece of white muslin beside you, what of her?"
"Looked twenty times more bewitching than ever. Well, it was just the hour
when, opening the last two buttons of your white waistcoat (remember we
were in Jamaica), you stretch your legs to the full extent, throw your arm
carelessly over the back of your chair, look contemplatively towards the
ceiling, and wonder, within yourself, why it is not all 'after dinner' in
this same world of ours. Such, at least, were my reflections as I assumed
my attitude of supreme comfort, and inwardly ejaculated a health to Sneyd
and Barton. Just at this moment I heard Polly's voice gently whisper,--
"'Isn't he a love? Isn't he a darling?'
"'Zounds!' thought I, as a pang of jealousy shot through my heart, 'is it
the major she means?' For old Belson, with his bag wig and rouged cheeks,
was seated on the other side of her.
"'What a dear thing it is!' said Polly.
"'Worse and worse,' said I; 'it must be him.'
"'I do so love his muzzy face.'
"'It is him!' said I, throwing off a bumper, and almost boiling over with
passion at the moment.
"'I wish I could take one look at him,' said she, laying down her head as
"The major whispered something in her ear, to which she replied,--
"'Oh, I dare not; papa will see me at once.'
"'Don't be afraid, Madam,' said I, fiercely; 'your father perfectly
approves of your taste.'
"'Are you sure of it?' said she, giving me such a look.
"'I know it,' said I, struggling violently with my agitation.
"The major leaned over as if to touch her hand beneath the cloth. I almost
sprang from my chair, when Polly, in her sweetest accents, said,--
"'You must be patient, dear thing, or you may be found out, and then there
will be such a piece of work. Though I'm sure, Major, you would not betray
me.' The major smiled till he cracked the paint upon his cheeks. 'And I am
sure that Mr. Monsoon--'
"'You may rely upon me,' said I, half sneeringly.
"The major and I exchanged glances of defiance, while Polly continued,--
"'Now, come, don't be restless. You are very comfortable there. Isn't he,
Major?' The major smiled again more graciously than before, as he added,--
"'May I take a look?'
"'Just one peep, then, no more!' said she, coquettishly; 'poor dear Wowski
is so timid.'
"Scarcely had these words borne balm and comfort to my heart,--for I
now knew that to the dog, and not to my rival, were all the flattering
expressions applied,--when a slight scream from Polly, and a tremendous
oath from the major, raised me from my dream of happiness.
"'Take your foot down, sir. Mr. Monsoon, how could you do so?' cried Polly.
"'What the devil, sir, do you mean?' shouted the major.
"'Oh, I shall die of shame,' sobbed she.
"'I'll shoot him like a riddle,' muttered old Belson.
"By this time the whole table had got at the story, and such peals of
laughter, mingled with suggestions for my personal maltreatment, I never
heard. All my attempts at explanation were in vain. I was not listened to,
much less believed; and the old colonel finished the scene by ordering me
to my quarters, in a voice I shall never forget, the whole room being, at
the time I made my exit, one scene of tumultuous laughter from one end to
the other. Jamaica after this became too hot for me. The story was repeated
on every side; for, it seems, I had been sitting with my foot on Polly's
lap; but so occupied was I with my jealous vigilance of the major I was not
aware of the fact until she herself discovered it.
"I need not say how the following morning brought with it every possible
offer of _amende_ upon my part; anything from a written apology to a
proposition to marry the lady I was ready for, and how the matter might
have ended I know not; for in the middle of the negotiations, we were
ordered off to Halifax where, be assured, I abandoned my Oriental attitude
for many a long day after."
What a contrast to the dull monotony of our life at sea did the scene
present which awaited us on landing in Lisbon. The whole quay was crowded
with hundreds of people eagerly watching the vessel which bore from her
mast the broad ensign of Britain. Dark-featured, swarthy, mustached faces,
with red caps rakishly set on one side, mingled with the Saxon faces and
fair-haired natives of our own country. Men-of-war boats plied unceasingly
to and fro across the tranquil river, some slender reefer in the
stern-sheets, while behind him trailed the red pennon of some "tall
The din and clamor of a mighty city mingled with the far-off sounds of
military music; and in the vistas of the opening street, masses of troops
might be seen in marching order; and all betokened the near approach of
Our anchor had scarcely been dropped, when an eight-oar gig, with a
midshipman steering, came alongside.
"Ship ahoy, there! You've troops on board?"
"Ay, ay, sir."
Before the answer could be spoken, he was on the deck.
"May I ask," said he, touching his cap slightly, "who is the officer in
command of the detachment?"
"Captain Power; very much at your service," said Fred, returning the
"Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Douglas requests that you will do him the favor to
come on board immediately, and bring your despatches with you."
"I'm quite ready," said Power, as he placed his papers in his sabretasche;
"but first tell us what's doing here. Anything new lately?"
"I have heard nothing, except of some affair with the Portuguese,--they've
been drubbed again; but our people have not been engaged. I say, we had
better get under way; there's our first lieutenant with his telescope up;
he's looking straight at us. So, come along. Good-evening, gentlemen." And
in another moment the sharp craft was cutting the clear water, while Power
gayly waved us a good-by.
"Who's for shore?" said the skipper, as half-a-dozen boats swarmed around
the side, or held on by their boat-hooks to the rigging.
"Who is not?" said Monsoon, who now appeared in his old blue frock covered
with tarnished braiding, and a cocked hat that might have roofed a pagoda.
"Who is not, my old boy? Is not every man among us delighted with the
prospect of fresh prog, cool wine, and a bed somewhat longer than four feet
six? I say, O'Malley! Sparks! Where's the adjutant? Ah, there he is! We'll
not mind the doctor,--he's a very jovial little fellow, but a damned bore,
_entre nous_; and we'll have a cosy little supper at the Rue di Toledo. I
know the place well. Whew, now! Get away, boy. Sit steady, Sparks; she's
only a cockleshell. There; that's the Plaza de la Regna,--there, to
the left. There's the great cathedral,--you can't see it now. Another
seventy-four! Why there's a whole fleet here! I wish old Power joy of his
afternoon with old Douglas."
"Do you know him then, Major?"
"Do I?--I should rather think I do. He was going to put me in irons here in
this river once. A great shame it was; but I'll tell you the story another
time. There, gently now; that's it. Thank God! once more upon land. How I
do hate a ship; upon my life, a sauce-boat is the only boat endurable in
We edged our way with difficulty through the dense crowd, and at last
reached the Plaza. Here the numbers were still greater, but of a different
class: several pretty and well-dressed women, with their dark eyes
twinkling above their black mantillas as they held them across their faces,
watched with an intense curiosity one of the streets that opened upon the
In a few moments the band of a regiment was heard, and very shortly after
the regular tramp of troops followed, as the Eighty-seventh marched into
the Plaza, and formed a line.
The music ceased; the drums rolled along the line; and the next moment
all was still. It was really an inspiriting sight to one whose heart was
interested in the career, to see those gallant fellows, as, with their
bronzed faces and stalwart frames, they stood motionless as a rock. As I
continued to look, the band marched into the middle of the square, and
struck up, "Garryowen." Scarcely was the first part played, when a
tremendous cheer burst from the troop-ship in the river. The welcome notes
had reached the poor fellows there; the well-known sounds that told of home
and country met their ears; and the loud cry of recognition bespoke their
"There they go. Your wild countrymen have heard their _Ranz des vaches_,
it seems. Lord! how they frightened the poor Portuguese; look how they're
Such was actually the case. The loud cheer uttered from the river was taken
up by others straggling on shore, and one universal shout betokened that
fully one-third of the red-coats around came from the dear island, and in
their enthusiasm had terrified the natives to no small extent.
"Is not that Ferguson there!" cried the major, as an officer passed us with
his arm in a sling. "I say, Joe--Ferguson! oh, knew it was!"
"Monsoon, my hearty, how goes it?--only just arrived, I see. Delighted to
meet you out here once more. Why, we've been as dull as a veteran battalion
without you. These your friends? Pray present me." The ceremony of
introduction over, the major invited Ferguson to join our party at supper.
"No, not to-night, Major," said he, "you must be my guests this evening. My
quarters are not five minutes' walk from this; I shall not promise you very
"A carbonade with olives, a roast duck, a bowl of bishop, and, if you will,
a few bottles of Burgundy," said the major; "don't put yourself out for
us,--soldier's fare, eh?"
I could not help smiling at the _naïve_ notion of simplicity so cunningly
suggested by old Monsoon. As I followed the party through the streets,
my step was light, my heart not less so; for what sensations are more
delightful than those of landing after a voyage? The escape from the
durance vile of shipboard, with its monotonous days and dreary nights,
its ill-regulated appointments, its cramped accommodation, its uncertain
duration, its eternal round of unchanging amusements, for the freedom
of the shore, with a land breeze, and a firm footing to tread upon; and
certainly, not least of all, the sight of that brightest part of creation,
whose soft eyes and tight ankles are, perhaps, the greatest of all
imaginable pleasures to him who has been the dweller on blue water for
several weeks long.
"Here we are," cried out Ferguson, as we stopped at the door of a large
and handsome house. We follow up a spacious stair into an ample room,
sparingly, but not uncomfortably furnished: plans of sieges, maps of the
seat of war, pistols, sabres, and belts decorated the white walls, and a
few books and a stray army list betokened the habits of the occupant.
While Ferguson disappeared to make some preparations for supper, Monsoon
commenced a congratulation to the party upon the good fortune that had
befallen them. "Capital fellow is Joe; never without something good, and
a rare one to pass the bottle. Oh, here he comes. Be alive there, Sparks,
take a corner of the cloth; how deliciously juicy that ham looks. Pass
the Madeira down there; what's under that cover,--stewed kidneys?" While
Monsoon went on thus we took our places at the table, and set to with an
appetite which only a newly-landed traveller ever knows.
"Another spoonful of the gravy? Thank you. And so they say we've not been
faring over well latterly?" said the major.
"Not a word of truth in the report. Our people have not been engaged. The
only thing lately was a smart brush we had at the Tamega. Poor Patrick, a
countryman of ours, and myself were serving with the Portuguese brigade,
when Laborde drove us back upon the town and actually routed us. The
Portuguese general, caring little for anything save his own safety, was
making at once for the mountains when Patrick called upon his battalion to
face about and charge; and nobly they did it, too. Down they came upon the
advancing masses of the French, and literally hurled them back upon the
main body. The other regiments, seeing this gallant stand, wheeled about
and poured in a volley, and then, fixing bayonets, stormed a little mount
beside the hedge, which commanded the whole suburb of Villa Real. The
French, who soon recovered their order, now prepared for a second attack,
and came on in two dense columns, when Patrick, who had little confidence
in the steadiness of his people for any lengthened resistance, resolved
upon once more charging with the bayonet. The order was scarcely given when
the French were upon us, their flank defended by some of La Houssaye's
heavy dragoons. For an instant the conflict was doubtful, until poor
Patrick fell mortally wounded upon the parapet; when the men, no longer
hearing his bold cheer, nor seeing his noble figure in the advance, turned
and fled, pell-mell, back upon the town. As for me, blocked up amidst the
mass, I was cut down from the shoulder to the elbow by a young fellow of
about sixteen, who galloped about like a schoolboy on a holiday. The wound
was only dangerous from the loss of blood, and so I contrived to reach
Amacante without much difficulty; from whence, with three or four others, I
was ordered here until fit for service."
"But what news from our own head-quarters?" inquired I.
"All imaginable kind of rumors are afloat. Some say that Craddock is
retiring; others, that a part of the army is in motion upon Caldas."
"Then we are not going to have a very long sojourn here, after all, eh,
Major? Donna Maria de Tormes will be inconsolable. By-the-bye, their house
is just opposite us. Have you never heard Monsoon mention his friends
"Come, come, Joe, how can you be so foolish?"
"But, Major, my dear friend, what signifies your modesty? There is not a
man in the service does not know it, save those in the last gazette."
"Indeed, Joe, I am very angry with you."
"Well, then, by Jove! I must tell it, myself; though, faith, lads, you lose
not a little for want of Monsoon's tact in the narrative."
"Anything is better that trusting to such a biographer," cried the major;
"so here goes:--
"When I was acting commissary-general to the Portuguese forces some few
years ago, I obtained great experience of the habits of the people; for
though naturally of an unsuspecting temperament myself, I generally
contrive to pick out the little foibles of my associates, even upon a short
acquaintance. Now, my appointment pleased me very much on this score,--it
gave me little opportunities of examining the world. 'The greatest study of
mankind is man,'--Sparks would say woman, but no matter.
"Now, I soon discovered that our ancient and very excellent allies, the
Portuguese, with a beautiful climate, delicious wines, and very delightful
wives and daughters, were the most infernal rogues and scoundrels ever met
with. 'Make yourself thoroughly acquainted with the leading features of the
natives,' said old Sir Harry to me in a despatch from head-quarters; and,
faith, it was not difficult,--such open, palpable, undisguised rascals
never were heard of. I thought I knew a thing or two myself, when I landed;
but, Lord love you! I was a babe, I was an infant in swaddling clothes,
compared with them; and they humbugged me,--ay, _me!_--till I began to
suspect that I was only walking in my sleep.
"'Why, Monsoon,' said the general, 'they told me you were a sharp fellow,
and yet the people here seem to work round you every day. This will never
do. You must brighten up a little or I shall be obliged to send you back.'
"'General,' said I, 'they used to call me no fool in England; but, somehow,
"'I understand,' said he; 'you don't know the Portuguese; there's but one
way with them,--strike quickly, and strike home. Never give them time for
roguery,--for if they have a moment's reflection, they'll cheat the devil
himself; but when you see the plot working, come slap down and decide the
thing your own way.'
"Well, now, there never was anything so true as this advice, and for the
eighteen months I acted upon it, I never knew it to fail.
"'I want a thousand measures of wheat.'
"'Senhor Excellenza, the crops have been miserably deficient, and----'
"'Sergeant-major,' I would say, 'these poor people have no corn; it's a
wine country,--let them make up the rations that way.'
"The wheat came in that evening.
"'One hundred and twenty bullocks wanted for the reserve.'
"'The cattle are all up the mountains.'
"'Let the alcalde catch them before night or I'll catch _him_.'
"Lord bless you! I had beef enough to feed the Peninsula. And in this way,
while the forces were eating short allowance and half rations elsewhere,
our brigade were plump as aldermen.
"When we lay in Andalusia this was easy enough. What a country, to be sure!
Such vineyards, such gardens, such delicious valleys, waving with corn and
fat with olives; actually, it seemed a kind of dispensation of Providence
to make war in. There was everything you could desire; and then, the
people, like all your wealthy ones, were so timid, and so easily
frightened, you could get what you pleased out of them by a little terror.
My scouts managed this very well.
"'He is coming,' they would say, 'after to-morrow.'
"'_Madre de Dios!_'
"'I hope he won't burn the village.'
"'_Questos infernales Ingleses!_ how wicked they are.'
"'You'd better try what a sack of moidores or doubloons might do with him;
he may refuse them, but make the effort.'
"Ha!" said the major, with a long-drawn sigh, "those were pleasant times;
alas, that they should ever come to an end! Well, among the old hidalgos I
met there was one Don Emanuel Selvio de Tormes, an awful old miser, rich as
Croesus, and suspicious as the arch-fiend himself. Lord, how I melted him
down! I quartered two squadrons of horse and a troop of flying artillery
upon him. How the fellows did eat! Such a consumption of wines was never
heard of; and as they began to slacken a little, I took care to replace
them by fresh arrivals,--fellows from the mountains, _caçadores_ they call
them. At last, my friend Don Emanuel could stand it no longer, and he sent
me a diplomatic envoy to negotiate terms, which, upon the whole, I must
say, were fair enough; and in a few days after, the _caçadores_ were
withdrawn, and I took up my quarters at the château. I have had various
chances and changes in this wicked world, but I am free to confess that I
never passed a more agreeable time than the seven weeks I spent there. Don
Emanuel, when properly managed, became a very pleasant little fellow; Donna
Maria, his wife, was a sweet creature. You need not be winking that way.
Upon my life she was: rather fat, to be sure, and her age something verging
upon the fifties; but she had such eyes, black as sloes, and luscious as
ripe grapes; and she was always smiling and ogling, and looking so sweet.
Confound me, if I think she wasn't the most enchanting being in this world,
with about ten thousand pounds' worth of jewels upon her fingers and in
her ears. I have her before me at this instant, as she used to sit in the
little arbor in the garden, with a Manilla cigar in her mouth, and a little
brandy-and-water--quite weak, you know--beside her.
"'Ah, General,' she used to say--she always called me general--'what a
glorious career yours is! A soldier is _indeed_ a man.'
"Then she would look at poor Emanuel, who used to sit in a corner, holding
his hand to his face, for hours, calculating interest and cent per cent,
till he fell asleep.
"Now, he labored under a very singular malady,--not that I ever knew it at
the time,--a kind of luxation of the lower jaw, which, when it came on,
happened somehow to press upon some vital nerve or other, and left him
perfectly paralyzed till it was restored to its proper place. In fact,
during the time the agony lasted, he was like one in a trance; for though
he could see and hear, he could neither speak nor move, and looked as if he
had done with both for many a day to come.
"Well, as I was saying, I knew nothing of all this till a slight
circumstance made it known to me. I was seated one evening in the little
arbor I mentioned, with Donna Maria. There was a little table before us
covered with wines and fruits, a dish of olives, some Castile oranges, and
a fresh pine. I remember it well: my eye roved over the little dessert set
out in old-fashioned, rich silver dishes, then turned towards the lady
herself, with rings and brooches, earrings and chains enough to reward one
for sacking a town; and I said to myself, 'Monsoon, Monsoon, this is better
than long marches in the Pyrenees, with a cork-tree for a bed-curtain, and
wet grass for a mattress. How pleasantly one might jog on in this world
with this little country-house for his abode, and Donna Maria for a
"I tasted the port; it was delicious. Now, I knew very little Portuguese,
but I made some effort to ask if there was much of it in the cellar.
"She smiled, and said, 'Oh, yes.'
"'What a luxurious life one might lead here!' thought I; 'and after all,
perhaps Providence might remove Don Emanuel.'
"I finished the bottle as I thus meditated. The next was, if possible, more
"'This is a delicious retreat,' said I, soliloquizing.
"Donna Maria seemed to know what was passing in my mind, for she smiled,