Part 8 out of 10
"Well, indeed! Charley, this is really fortunate; we have got a friend to
take tea with us, and wanted you to meet him."
Muttering an internal prayer for something not exactly the welfare of the
aforesaid friend, whom I judged to be some Galway squire, I professed aloud
the pleasure I felt in having come in so opportunely.
"He wishes particularly to make your acquaintance."
"So much the worse," thought I to myself; "it rarely happens that this
feeling is mutual."
Evidently provoked at the little curiosity I exhibited, Blake added,--
"He's on his way to Fermoy with a detachment."
"Indeed! what regiment, pray?"
"The 28th Foot."
"Ah, I don't know them."
By this time we reached the steps of the hall-door, and just as we did so,
the door opened suddenly, and a tall figure in uniform presented himself.
With one spring he seized my hand and nearly wrung it off.
"Why what," said I, "can this be? Is it really--"
"Sparks," said he,--"your old friend Sparks, my boy; I've changed into the
infantry, and here I am. Heard by chance you were in the neighborhood; met
Mr. Blake, your friend here, at the inn, and accepted his invitation to
Poor Sparks, albeit the difference in his costume, was the same as ever.
Having left the Fourteenth soon after I quitted them, he knew but little of
their fortunes; and he himself had been on recruiting stations nearly the
whole time since we had met before.
While we each continued to extol the good fortune of the other,--he mine as
being no longer in the service, and I his for still being so,--we learned
the various changes which had happened to each of us during our separation.
Although his destination was ultimately Fermoy, Portumua was ordered to
be his present quarter; and I felt delighted to have once more an old
companion within reach, to chat over former days of campaigning and nights
of merriment in the Peninsula.
Sparks soon became a constant visitor and guest at Gurt-na-Morra; his good
temper, his easy habits, his simplicity of character, rapidly enabled him
to fall into all their ways; and although evidently not what Baby would
call "the man for Galway," he endeavored with all his might to please every
one, and certainly succeeded to a considerable extent.
Baby alone seemed to take pleasure in tormenting the poor sub. Long before
she met with him having heard much from me of his exploits abroad, she was
continually bringing up some anecdote of his unhappy loves or mis-placed
passions; which he evidently smarted under the more, from the circumstance
that he appeared rather inclined to like my fair cousin.
As she continued this for some time, I remarked that Sparks, who at
first was all gayety and high spirits, grew gradually more depressed and
dispirited. I became convinced that the poor fellow was in love; very
little management on my part was necessary to obtain his confession; and
accordingly, the same evening the thought first struck me, as we were
riding slowly home towards O'Malley Castle, I touched at first generally
upon the merits of the Blakes, their hospitality, etc., then diverged to
the accomplishments and perfections of the girls, and lastly, Baby herself,
in all form, came up for sentence.
"Ah, yes!" said Sparks, with a deep sigh, "it is quite as you say; she is a
lovely girl; and that liveliness in her character, that elasticity in her
temperament, chastened down as it might be, by the feeling of respect for
the man she loved! I say, Charley, is it a very long attachment of yours?"
"A long attachment of mine! Why, my dear Sparks, you can't suppose that
there is anything between us! I pledge you my word most faithfully."
"Oh, no, don't tell me that; what good can there be in mystifying me?"
"I have no such intention, believe me. My cousin Baby, however I like and
admire her, has no other place in my affection than a very charming girl
who has lightened a great many dreary and tiresome hours, and made my
banishment from the world less irksome than I should have found it without
"And you are really not in love?"
"Not a bit of it!"
"Nor going to marry her either?"
"Not the least notion of it!--a fact. Baby and I are excellent friends, for
the very reason that we were never lovers; we have had no _petits jeux_
of fallings out and makings up; no hide-and-seek trials of affected
indifference and real disappointments; no secrets, no griefs, nor grudges;
neither quarrels nor keepsakes. In fact, we are capital cousins; quizzing
every one for our own amusement; riding, walking, boating together; in
fact, doing and thinking of everything save sighs and declarations; always
happy to meet, and never broken-hearted when we parted. And I can only add,
as a proof of my sincerity, that if you feel as I suspect you do from your
questions, I'll be your ambassador to the court of Gurt-na-Morra with
"Will you really? Will you, indeed, Charley, do this for me? Will you
strengthen my wishes by your aid, and give me all your influence with the
I could scarcely help smiling at poor Sparks's eagerness, or the
unwarrantable value he put upon my alliance, in a case where his own
unassisted efforts did not threaten much failure.
"I repeat it, Sparks, I'll make a proposal for you in all form, aided and
abetted by everything recommendatory and laudatory I can think of; I'll
talk of you as a Peninsular of no small note and promise; and observe rigid
silence about your Welsh flirtation and your Spanish elopement."
"You'll not blab about the Dalrymples, I hope?"
"Trust me; I only hope you will be always equally discreet: but now--when
shall it be? Should you like to consider the matter more?"
"Oh, no, nothing of the kind; let it be to-morrow, at once, if I am to
fail; even that--anything's better than suspense."
"Well, then, to-morrow be it," said I.
So I wished him a good-night, and a stout heart to hear his fortune withal.
I ordered my horses at an early hour; and long before Sparks--lover that
he was--had opened his eyes to the light, was already on my way towards
Gurt-na-Morra. Several miles slipped away before I well determined how I
should open my negotiations: whether to papa Blake, in the first instance,
or to madame, to whose peculiar province these secrets of the home
department belonged; or why not at once to Baby?--because, after all, with
her it rested finally to accept or refuse. To address myself to the heads
of the department seemed the more formal course; and as I was acting
entirely as an "envoy extraordinary," I deemed this the fitting mode of
It was exactly eight o'clock as I drove up to the door. Mr. Blake was
standing at the open window of the breakfast-room, sniffing the fresh air
of the morning. The Blake mother was busily engaged with the economy of the
tea-table; a very simple style of morning costume, and a nightcap with a
flounce like a petticoat, marking her unaffected toilet. Above stairs, more
than one head _en papillate_ took a furtive peep between the curtains; and
the butler of the family, in corduroys and a fur cap, was weeding turnips
in the lawn before the door.
Mrs. Blake had barely time to take a hurried departure, when her husband
came out upon the steps to bid me welcome. There is no physiognomist like
your father of a family, or your mother with marriageable daughters.
Lavater was nothing to them, in reading the secret springs of action, the
hidden sources of all character. Had there been a good respectable bump
allotted by Spurzheim to "honorable intentions," the matter had been
all fair and easy,--the very first salute of the gentleman would have
pronounced upon his views. But, alas! no such guide is forthcoming; and the
science, as it now exists, is enveloped in doubt and difficulty. The gay,
laughing temperament of some, the dark and serious composure of others; the
cautious and reserved, the open and the candid, the witty, the sententious,
the clever, the dull, the prudent, the reckless,--in a word, every variety
which the innumerable hues of character imprint upon the human face divine
are their study. Their convictions are the slow and patient fruits of
intense observation and great logical accuracy. Carefully noting down
every lineament and feature,--their change, their action, and their
development,--they track a lurking motive with the scent of a bloodhound,
and run down a growing passion with an unrelenting speed. I have been
in the witness-box, exposed to the licensed badgering and privileged
impertinence of a lawyer, winked, leered, frowned, and sneered at with all
the long-practised tact of a _nisi prius_ torturer; I have stood before the
cold, fish-like, but searching eye of a prefect of police, as he compared
my passport with my person, and thought he could detect a discrepancy in
both,--but I never felt the same sense of total exposure as when glanced at
by the half-cautious, half-prying look of a worthy father or mother, in a
family where there are daughters to marry, and "nobody coming to woo."
"You're early, Charley," said Mr. Blake, with an affected mixture of
carelessness and warmth. "You have not had breakfast?"
"No, sir. I have come to claim a part of yours; and if I mistake not, you
seem a little later than usual."
"Not more than a few minutes. The girls will be down presently; they're
early risers, Charley; good habits are just as easy as bad ones; and, the
Lord be praised! my girls were never brought up with any other."
"I am well aware of it, sir; and indeed, if I may be permitted to take
advantage of the _apropos_, it was on the subject of one of your daughters
that I wished to speak to you this morning, and which brought me over at
this uncivilized hour, hoping to find you alone."
Mr. Blake's look for a moment was one of triumphant satisfaction; it was
but a glance, however, and repressed the very instant after, as he said,
with a well got-up indifference,--
"Just step with me into the study, and we're sure not to be interrupted."
Now, although I have little time or space for such dallying, I cannot help
dwelling for a moment upon the aspect of what Mr. Blake dignified with the
name of his study. It was a small apartment with one window, the panes of
which, independent of all aid from a curtain, tempered the daylight through
the medium of cobwebs, dust, and the ill-trained branches of some wall-tree
Three oak chairs and a small table were the only articles of furniture,
while around, on all sides, lay the _disjecta membra_ of Mr. Blake's
hunting, fishing, shooting, and coursing equipments,--old top-boots,
driving whips, odd spurs, a racing saddle, a blunderbuss, the helmet of the
Galway Light Horse, a salmon net, a large map of the county with a marginal
index to several mortgages marked with a cross, a stable lantern, the
rudder of a boat, and several other articles representative of his daily
associations; but not one book, save an odd volume of Watty Cox's
Magazine, whose pages seemed as much the receptacle of brown hackles for
trout-fishing as the resource of literary leisure.
"Here we'll be quite cosey, and to ourselves," said Mr. Blake, as, placing
a chair for me, he sat down himself, with the air of a man resolved to
assist, by advice and counsel, the dilemma of some dear friend.
After a few preliminary observations, which, like a breathing canter before
a race, serves to get your courage up, and settle you well in your seat,
I opened my negotiation by some very broad and sweeping truisms about the
misfortunes of a bachelor existence, the discomforts of his position,
his want of home and happiness, the necessity for his one day thinking
seriously about marriage; it being in a measure almost as inevitable
a termination of the free-and-easy career of his single life as
transportation for seven years is to that of a poacher. "You cannot go on,
sir," said I, "trespassing forever upon your neighbors' preserves; you must
be apprehended sooner or later; therefore, I think, the better way is to
take out a license."
Never was a small sally of wit more thoroughly successful. Mr. Blake
laughed till he cried, and when he had done, wiped his eyes with a snuffy
handkerchief, and cried till he laughed again. As, somehow, I could not
conceal from myself a suspicion as to the sincerity of my friend's mirth,
I merely consoled myself with the French adage, that "he laughs best who
laughs last;" and went on:--
"It will not be deemed surprising, sir, that a man should come to the
discovery I have just mentioned much more rapidly by having enjoyed the
pleasure of intimacy with your family; not only by the example of perfect
domestic happiness presented to him, but by the prospect held out that
a heritage of the fair gifts which adorn and grace a married life may
reasonably be looked for among the daughters of those themselves the
realization of conjugal felicity."
Here was a canter, with a vengeance; and as I felt blown, I slackened my
pace, coughed, and resumed:--
"Mary Blake, sir, is, then, the object of my present communication; she
it is who has made an existence that seemed fair and pleasurable before,
appear blank and unprofitable without her. I have, therefore, to come at
once to the point, visited you this morning, formally to ask her hand in
marriage; her fortune, I may observe at once, is perfectly immaterial, a
matter of no consequence [so Mr. Blake thought also]; a competence fully
equal to every reasonable notion of expenditure--"
"There, there; don't, don't!" said Mr. Blake, wiping his eyes, with a sob
like a hiccough,--"don't speak of money! I know what you would say, a
handsome settlement,--a well-secured jointure, and all that. Yes, yes, I
feel it all."
"Why, yes, sir, I believe I may add that everything in this respect will
answer your expectations."
"Of course; to be sure. My poor dear Baby! How to do without her, that's
the rub! You don't know, O'Malley, what that girl is to me--you can't know
it; you'll feel it one day though--that you will!"
"The devil I shall!" said I to myself. "The great point is, after all, to
learn the young lady's disposition in the matter--"
"Ah, Charley, none of this with me, you sly dog! You think I don't know
you. Why, I've been watching,--that is, I have seen--no, I mean I've
heard--They--they,--people will talk, you know."
"Very true, sir. But, as I was going to remark--"
Just at this moment the door opened, and Miss Baby herself, looking most
annoyingly handsome, put in her head.
"Papa, we're waiting breakfast. Ah, Charley, how d'ye do?"
"Come in, Baby," said Mr. Blake; "you haven't given me my kiss this
The lovely girl threw her arms around his neck, while her bright and
flowing locks fell richly upon his shoulder. I turned rather sulkily away;
the thing always provokes me. There is as much cold, selfish cruelty in
such _coram publico_ endearments, as in the luscious display of rich rounds
and sirloins in a chop-house to the eyes of the starved and penniless
wretch without, who, with dripping rags and watering lip, eats imaginary
slices, while the pains of hunger are torturing him!
"There's Tim!" said Mr. Blake, suddenly. "Tim Cronin!--Tim!" shouted he
to, as it seemed to me, an imaginary individual outside; while, in the
eagerness of pursuit, he rushed out of the study, banging the door as he
went, and leaving Baby and myself to our mutual edification.
I should have preferred it being otherwise; but as the Fates willed it
thus, I took Baby's hand, and led her to the window. Now, there is one
feature of my countrymen which, having recognized strongly in myself, I
would fain proclaim; and writing as I do--however little people may suspect
me--solely for the sake of a moral, would gladly warn the unsuspecting
against. I mean, a very decided tendency to become the consoler, the
confidant of young ladies; seeking out opportunities of assuaging their
sorrow, reconciling their afflictions, breaking eventful passages to
their ears; not from any inherent pleasure in the tragic phases of
the intercourse, but for the semi-tenderness of manner, that harmless
hand-squeezing, that innocent waist-pressing, without which consolation is
but like salmon without lobster,--a thing maimed, wanting, and imperfect.
Now, whether this with me was a natural gift, or merely a "way we have in
the army," as the song says, I shall not pretend to say; but I venture
to affirm that few men could excel me in the practice I speak of some
five-and-twenty years ago. Fair reader, do pray, if I have the happiness
of being known to you, deduct them from my age before you subtract from my
"Well, Baby, dear, I have just been speaking about you to papa. Yes,
dear--don't look so incredulous--even of your own sweet self. Well, do you
know, I almost prefer your hair worn that way; those same silky masses look
better falling thus heavily--"
"There, now, Charley! ah, don't!"
"Well, Baby, as I was saying, before you stopped me, I have been asking
your papa a very important question, and he has referred me to you for the
answer. And now will you tell me, in all frankness and honesty, your mind
on the matter?"
She grew deadly pale as I spoke these words, then suddenly flushed up
again, but said not a word. I could perceive, however, from her heaving
chest and restless manner, that no common agitation was stirring her bosom.
It was cruelty to be silent, so I continued:--
"One who loves you well, Baby, dear, has asked his own heart the question,
and learned that without you he has no chance of happiness; that your
bright eyes are to him bluer than the deep sky above him; that your soft
voice, your winning smile--and what a smile it is!--have taught him that he
loves, nay, adores you! Then, dearest--what pretty fingers those are! Ah,
what is this? Whence came that emerald? I never saw that ring before,
"Oh, that," said she, blushing deeply,--"that is a ring the foolish
creature Sparks gave me a couple of days ago; but I don't like it--I don't
intend to keep it."
So saying, she endeavored to draw it from her finger, but in vain.
"But why, Baby, why take it off? Is it to give him the pleasure of putting
it on again? There, don't look angry; we must not fall out, surely."
"No, Charley, if you are not vexed with me--if you are not--"
"No, no, my dear Baby; nothing of the kind. Sparks was quite right in not
trusting his entire fortune to my diplomacy; but at least, he ought to have
told me that he had opened the negotiation. Now, the question simply is:
Do you love him? or rather, because that shortens matters: Will you accept
"Love whom? Why Sparks, to be sure!"
A flash of indignant surprise passed across her features, now pale as
marble; her lips were slightly parted, her large full eyes were fixed
upon me steadfastly, and her hand, which I had held in mine, she suddenly
withdrew from my grasp.
"And so--and so it is of Mr. Sparks's cause you are so ardently the
advocate?" she said at length, after a pause of most awkward duration.
"Why, of course, my dear cousin. It was at his suit and solicitation I
called on your father; it was he himself who entreated me to take this
step; it was he--"
But before I could conclude, she burst into a torrent of tears and rushed
from the room.
Here was a situation! What the deuce was the matter? Did she, or did she
not, care for him? Was her pride or her delicacy hurt at my being made the
means of the communication to her father? What had Sparks done or said to
put himself and me in such a devil of a predicament? Could she care for any
"Well, Charley!" cried Mr. Blake, as he entered, rubbing his hands in a
perfect paroxysm of good temper,--"well, Charley, has love-making driven
breakfast out of your head?"
"Why, faith, sir, I greatly fear I have blundered my mission sadly. My
cousin Mary does not appear so perfectly satisfied; her manner--"
"Don't tell me such nonsense. The girl's manner! Why, man, I thought you
were too old a soldier to be taken in that way."
"Well, then, sir, the best thing, under the circumstances, is to send over
Sparks himself. Your consent, I may tell him, is already obtained."
"Yes, my boy; and my daughter's is equally sure. But I don't see what we
want with Sparks at all. Among old friends and relatives as we are, there
is, I think, no need of a stranger."
"A stranger! Very true, sir, he is a stranger; but when that stranger is
about to become your son-in-law--"
"About to become what?" said Mr. Blake, rubbing his spectacles, and placing
them leisurely on his nose to regard me,--"to become what?"
"Your son-in-law. I hope I have been sufficiently explicit, sir, in making
known Mr. Sparks's wishes to you."
"Mr. Sparks! Why damn me, sir--that is--I beg pardon for the
warmth--you--you never mentioned his name to-day till now. You led me to
suppose that--in fact, you told me most clearly--"
Here, from the united effects of rage and a struggle for concealment, Mr.
Blake was unable to proceed, and walked the room with a melodramatic stamp
"Really, sir," said I at last, "while I deeply regret any misconception or
mistake I have been the cause of, I must, in justice to myself, say that
I am perfectly unconscious of having misled you. I came here this morning
with a proposition for the hand of your daughter in behalf of--"
"Yourself, sir. Yes, yourself. I'll be--no! I'll not swear; but--but just
answer me, if you ever mentioned one word of Mr. Sparks, if you ever
alluded to him till the last few minutes?"
I was perfectly astounded. It might be, alas, it was exactly as he stated!
In my unlucky effort at extreme delicacy, I became only so very mysterious
that I left the matter open for them to suppose that it might be the Khan
of Tartary was in love with Baby.
There was but one course now open. I most humbly apologized for my blunder;
repeated by every expression I could summon up, my sorrow for what had
happened; and was beginning a renewal of negotiation "in re Sparks," when,
overcome by his passion, Mr. Blake could hear no more, but snatched up his
hat and left the room.
Had it not been for Baby's share in the transaction I should have laughed
outright. As it was, I felt anything but mirthful; and the only clear and
collected idea in my mind was to hurry home with all speed, and fasten a
quarrel on Sparks, the innocent cause of the whole mishap. Why this thought
struck me let physiologists decide.
A few moments' reflection satisfied me that under present circumstances,
it would be particularly awkward to meet with any others of the family.
Ardently desiring to secure my retreat, I succeeded, after some little
time, in opening the window-sash; consoling myself for any injury I was
about to inflict upon Mr. Blake's young plantation in my descent, by the
thought of the service I was rendering him while admitting a little fresh
air into his sanctum.
For my patriotism's sake I will not record my sensations as I took my way
through the shrubbery towards the stable. Men are ever so prone to revenge
their faults and their follies upon such inoffensive agencies as time and
place, wind or weather, that I was quite convinced that to any other but
Galway ears my _exposé_ would have been perfectly clear and intelligible;
and that in no other country under heaven would a man be expected to marry
a young lady from a blunder in his grammar.
"Baby may be quite right," thought I; "but one thing is assuredly true,--if
I'll never do for Galway, Galway will never do for me. No, hang it! I have
endured enough for above two years. I have lived in banishment, away from
society, supposing that, at least, if I isolated myself from the pleasures
of the world I was exempt from its annoyances." But no; in the seclusion of
my remote abode troubles found their entrance as easily as elsewhere, so
that I determined at once to leave home; wherefor, I knew not. If life had
few charms, it had still fewer ties for me. If I was not bound by the bonds
of kindred, I was untrammelled by their restraints.
The resolution once taken, I burned to put it into effect; and so
impatiently did I press forward as to call forth more than one remonstrance
on the part of Mike at the pace we were proceeding. As I neared home, the
shrill but stirring sounds of drum and fife met me; and shortly after a
crowd of country people filled the road. Supposing it some mere recruiting
party, I was endeavoring to press on, when the sounds of a full military
band, in the exhilarating measure of a quick-step, convinced me of my
error; and as I drew to one side of the road, the advanced guard of an
infantry regiment came forward. The men's faces were flushed, their
uniforms dusty and travel-stained, their knapsacks strapped firmly on, and
their gait the steady tramp of the march. Saluting the subaltern, I asked
if anything of consequence had occurred in the south that the troops were
so suddenly under orders. The officer stared at me for a moment or two
without speaking, and while a slight smile half-curled his lip, answered:--
"Apparently, sir, you seem very indifferent to military news, otherwise you
can scarcely be ignorant of the cause of our route."
"On the contrary," said I, "I am, though a young man, an old soldier, and
feel most anxious about everything connected with the service."
"Then it is very strange, sir, you should not have heard the news.
Bonaparte has returned from Elba, has arrived at Paris, been received with
the most overwhelming enthusiasm, and at this moment the preparations for
war are resounding from Venice to the Vistula. All our forces, disposable,
are on the march for embarkation. Lord Wellington has taken the command,
and already, I may say, the campaign has begun."
The tone of enthusiasm in which the young officer spoke, the astounding
intelligence itself, contrasting with the apathetic indolence of my own
life, made me blush deeply, as I, muttered some miserable apology for my
"And you are now _en route?_"
"For Fermoy; from which we march to Cove for embarkation. The first
battalion of our regiment sailed for the West Indies a week since, but a
frigate has been sent after them to bring them back; and we hope all to
meet in the Netherlands before the month is over. But I must beg your
pardon for saying adieu. Good-by, sir."
"Good-by, sir; good-by," said I, as still standing in the road, I was so
overwhelmed with surprise that I could scarcely credit my senses.
A little farther on, I came up with the main body of the regiment, from
whom I learned the corroboration of the news, and also the additional
intelligence that Sparks had been ordered off with his detachment early in
the morning, a veteran battalion being sent into garrison in the various
towns of the south and west.
"Do you happen to know a Mr. O'Malley, sir?" said the major, coming up with
a note in his hand.
"I beg to present him to you," said I, bowing.
"Well, sir, Sparks gave me this note, which he wrote with a pencil as we
crossed each other on the road this morning. He told me you were an old
Fourteenth man. But your regiment is in India, I believe; at least Power
said they were under orders when we met him."
"Fred Power! Are you acquainted with him? Where is he now, pray?"
"Fred is on the staff with General Vandeleur, and is now in Belgium."
"Indeed!" said I, every moment increasing my surprise at some new piece of
intelligence. "And the Eighty-eighth?" said I, recurring to my old friends
in that regiment.
"Oh, the Eighty-eighth are at Gibraltar, or somewhere in the Mediterranean;
at least, I know they are not near enough to open the present campaign
with us. But if you'd like to hear any more news, you must come over to
Borrisokane; we stop there to-night."
"Then I'll certainly do so."
"Come at six then, and dine with us."
"Agreed," said I; "and now, good-morning."
So saying, I once more drove on; my head full of all that I had been
hearing, and my heart bursting with eagerness to join the gallant fellows
now bound for the campaign.
I must not protract a tale already far too long, by the recital of my
acquaintance with the gallant Twenty-sixth. It is sufficient that I should
say that, having given Mike orders to follow me to Cove, I joined the
regiment on their march, and accompanied them to Cork. Every hour of
each day brought us in news of moment and importance; and amidst all the
stirring preparations for the war, the account of the splendid spectacle
of the _Champ de Mai_ burst upon astonished Europe, and the intelligence
spread far and near that the enthusiasm of France never rose higher in
favor of the Emperor. And while the whole world prepared for the deadly
combat, Napoleon surpassed even himself, by the magnificent conceptions for
the coming conflict, and the stupendous nature of those plans by which he
resolved on resisting combined and united Europe.
While our admiration and wonder of the mighty spirit that ruled the
destinies of the continent rose high, so did our own ardent and burning
desire for the day when the open field of fight should place us once more
in front of each other.
Every hard-fought engagement of the Spanish war was thought of and talked
over; from Talavera to Toulouse, all was remembered. And while among the
old Peninsulars the military ardor was so universally displayed, among the
regiments who had not shared the glories of Spain and Portugal, an equal,
perhaps a greater, impulse was created for the approaching campaign.
When we arrived at Cork, the scene of bustle and excitement exceeded
anything I ever witnessed. Troops were mustering in every quarter;
regiments arriving and embarking; fresh bodies of men pouring in; drills,
parades, and inspections going forward; arms, ammunition, and military
stores distributing; and amidst all, a spirit of burning enthusiasm
animated every rank for the approaching glory of the newly-arisen war.
While thus each was full of his own hopes and expectations, I alone felt
depressed and downhearted. My military caste was lost to me forever, my
regiment many, many a mile from the scene of the coming strife; though
young, I felt like one already old and bygone. The last-joined ensign
seemed, in his glowing aspiration, a better soldier than I, as, sad and
dispirited, I wandered through the busy crowds, surveying with curious eye
each gallant horseman as he rode proudly past. What was wealth and fortune
to me? What had they ever been, compared with all they cost me?--the
abandonment of the career I loved, the path in life I sought and panted
for. Day after day I lingered on, watching with beating heart each
detachment as they left the shore; and when their parting cheer rang high
above the breeze, turned sadly back to mourn over a life that had failed in
its promise, and an existence now shorn of its enjoyment.
It was on the evening of the 3d of June that I was slowly wending my way
back towards my hotel. Latterly I had refused all invitations to dine
at the mess. And by a strange spirit of contradiction, while I avoided
society, could yet not tear myself away from the spot where every
remembrance of my past life was daily embittered by the scenes around me.
But so it was; the movement of the troops, their reviews, their arrivals,
and departures, possessed the most thrilling interest for me. While I could
not endure to hear the mention of the high hopes and glorious vows each
brave fellow muttered.
It was, as I remember, on the evening of the 3d of June, I entered my hotel
lower in spirits even than usual. The bugles of the gallant Seventy-first,
as they dropped down with the tide, played a well-known march I had heard
the night before Talavera. All my bold and hardy days came rushing madly to
my mind; and my present life seemed no longer endurable. The last army
list and the newspaper lay on my table, and I turned to read the latest
promotions with that feeling of bitterness by which an unhappy man loves to
tamper with his misery.
Almost the first paragraph I threw my eyes upon ran thus:--
OSTEND, May 24.
The "Vixen" sloop-of-war, which arrived at our port this morning,
brought among several other officers of inferior note
Lieutenant-General Sir George Dashwood, appointed as
on the staff of his Grace the Duke of Wellington. The gallant
general was accompanied by his lovely and accomplished daughter,
and his military secretary and aide-de-camp, Major Hammersley,
of the 2d Life Guards. They partook of a hurried _déjeuné_
with the Burgomaster, and left immediately after for Brussels.
Twice I read this over, while a burning, hot sensation settled upon my
throat and temples. "So Hammersley still persists; he still hopes. And
what then?--what can it be to me?--my prospects have long since faded and
vanished! Doubtless, ere this, I am as much forgotten as though we had
never met,--would that we never had!" I threw up the window-sash; a light
breeze was gently stirring, and as it fanned my hot and bursting head, I
felt cooled and relieved. Some soldiers were talking beneath the window and
among them I recognized Mike's voice.
"And so you sail at daybreak, Sergeant?"
"Yes, Mister Free; we have our orders to be on board before the flood-tide.
The 'Thunderer' drops down the harbor to-night, and we are merely here to
collect our stragglers."
"Faix, it's little I thought I'd ever envy a sodger any more; but someway,
I wish I was going with you."
"Nothing easier, Mike," said another, laughing.
"Oh, true for you, but that's not the way I'd like to do it. If my master,
now, would just get over his low spirits, and spake a word to the Duke of
York, devil a doubt but he'd give him his commission back again, and then
one might go in comfort."
"Your master likes his feather pillow better than a mossy stone under his
head, I'm thinking; and he ain't far wrong either."
"You're out there, Neighbor. It's himself cares as little for hardship as
any one of you; and sure it's not becoming me to say it, but the best blood
and the best bred was always the last to give in for either cold or hunger,
ay, or even complain of it."
Mike's few words shot upon me a new and a sudden conviction,--what was to
prevent my joining once more? Obvious as such a thought now was, yet never
until this moment did it present itself so palpably. So habituated does
the mind become to a certain train of reasoning, framing its convictions
according to one preconceived plan, and making every fact and
every circumstance concur in strengthening what often may be but a
prejudice,--that the absence of the old Fourteenth in India, the sale of
my commission, the want of rank in the service, all seemed to present an
insurmountable barrier to my re-entering the army. A few chance words now
changed all this, and I saw that as a volunteer at least, the path of glory
was still open, and the thought was no sooner conceived, than the resolve
to execute it. While, therefore, I walked hurriedly up and down, devising,
planning, plotting, and contriving, each instant I would stop to ask myself
how it happened I had not determined upon this before.
As I summoned Mike before me, I could not repress a feeling of false shame,
as I remembered how suddenly so natural a resolve must seem to have
been adopted; and it was with somewhat of hesitation that I opened the
"And so, sir, you are going after all,--long life to you? But I never
doubted it. Sure, you wouldn't be your father's son, and not join divarsion
when there was any going on."
The poor fellow's eyes brightened up, his look gladdened, and before he
reached the foot of the stairs, I heard his loud cheer of delight that once
more we were off to the wars.
The packet sailed for Liverpool the next morning. By it we took our
passage, and on the third morning I found myself in the waiting-room at
the Horse Guards, expecting the moment of his Royal Highness's arrival; my
determination being to serve as a volunteer in any regiment the duke might
suggest, until such time as a prospect presented itself of entering the
service as a subaltern.
The room was crowded by officers of every rank and arm in the service. The
old, gray-headed general of division; the tall, stout-looking captain of
infantry; the thin and boyish figure of the newly-gazetted cornet,--were
all there; every accent, every look that marked each trait of national
distinction in the empire, had its representative. The reserved and distant
Scotchman; the gay, laughing, exuberant Patlander; the dark-eyed, and
dark-browed North Briton,--collected in groups, talked eagerly together;
while every instant, as some new arrival would enter, all eyes would turn
to the spot, in eager expectation of the duke's coming. At last the clash
of arms, as the guard turned out, apprised us of his approach, and we
had scarcely time to stand up and stop the buzz of voices, when the door
opened, and an aide-de-camp proclaimed in a full tone,--
"His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief!"
Bowing courteously on every side, he advanced through the crowd, turning
his rapid and piercing look here and there through the room, while with
that tact, the essential gift of his family, he recognized each person by
his name, directing from one to the other some passing observation.
"Ah, Sir George Cockburn, how d' ye do?--your son's appointment is made
out. Major Conyers, that application shall be looked to. Forbes, you must
explain that I cannot possibly put men in the regiment of their choice; the
service is the first thing. Lord L----, your memorial is before the Prince
Regent; the cavalry command will, I believe, however, include your name."
While he spoke thus, he approached the place where I was standing, when,
suddenly checking himself, he looked at me for a moment somewhat sternly.
"Why not in uniform, sir?"
"Your Royal Highness, I am not in the army."
"Not in the army--not in the army? And why, may I beg to know, have
you--But I'm speaking to _Captain_ O'Malley, if I mistake not?"
"I held that rank, sir, once; but family necessities compelled me to sell
out. I have now no commission in the service, but am come to beseech your
Royal Highness's permission to serve as a volunteer."
"As a volunteer, eh--a volunteer? Come, that's right, I like that; but
still, we want such fellows as you,--the man of Ciudad Rodrigo. Yes, my
Lord L----, this is one of the stormers; fought his way through the trench
among the first; must not be neglected. Hold yourself in readiness,
Captain--hang it, I was forgetting; Mr. O'Malley, I mean--hold yourself
in readiness for a staff appointment. Smithson, take a note of this."
So saying, he moved on; and I found myself in the street, with a heart
bounding with delight, and a step proud as an emperor's.
With such rapidity the events of my life now followed one upon the other,
that I could take no note of time as it passed. On the fourth day after
my conversation with the duke I found myself in Brussels. As yet I heard
nothing of the appointment, nor was I gazetted to any regiment or any
situation on the staff. It was strange enough, too, I met but few of my old
associates, and not one of those with whom I had been most intimate in my
Peninsular career; but it so chanced that very many of the regiments who
most distinguished themselves in the Spanish campaigns, at the peace of
1814 were sent on foreign service. My old friend Power was, I learned,
quartered at Courtrai; and as I was perfectly at liberty to dispose of my
movements at present, I resolved to visit him there.
It was a beautiful evening on the 12th of June. I had been inquiring
concerning post-horses for my journey, and was returning slowly through
the park. The hour was late--near midnight--but a pale moonlight, a calm,
unruffled air, and stronger inducements still, the song of the nightingales
that abound in this place, prevailed on many of the loungers to prolong
their stay; and so from many a shady walk and tangled arbor, the clank of
a sabre would strike upon the ear, or the low, soft voice of woman would
mingle her dulcet sound with the deep tones of her companion. I wandered
on, thoughtful and alone; my mind pre-occupied so completely with the
mighty events passing before me, I totally forgot my own humble career, and
the circumstances of my fortune. As I turned into an alley which leads from
the Great Walk towards the Palace of the Prince of Orange, I found my path
obstructed by three persons who were walking slowly along in front of me.
I was, as I have mentioned, deeply absorbed in thought, so that I found
myself close behind them before I was aware of their presence. Two of the
party were in uniform, and by their plumes, upon which a passing ray of
moonlight flickered, I could detect they were general officers; the
third was a lady. Unable to pass them, and unwilling to turn back, I
was unavoidably compelled to follow, and however unwilling, to overhear
somewhat of their conversation.
"You mistake, George, you mistake! Depend upon it, this will be no
lengthened campaign; victory will soon decide for one side or the other.
If Napoleon beats the Prussians one day, and beat us the next, the German
States will rally to his standard, and the old confederation of the Rhine
will spring up once more in all the plenitude of its power. The _Champ de
Mai_ has shown the enthusiasm of France for their Emperor. Louis XVIII fled
from his capital, with few to follow, and none to say, 'God bless him!' The
warlike spirit of the nation is roused again; the interval of peace, too
short to teach habits of patient and enduring industry, is yet sufficient
to whet the appetite for carnage; and nothing was wanting, save the
presence of Napoleon alone, to restore all the brilliant delusions and
intoxicating splendors of the empire."
"I confess," said the other, "I take a very different view from yours in
this matter; to me, it seems that France is as tired of battles as of the
I heard no more; for though the speaker continued, a misty confusion passed
across my mind. The tones of his voice, well-remembered as they were by me,
left me unable to think; and as I stood motionless on the spot, I muttered
half aloud, "Sir George Dashwood." It was he, indeed; and she who leaned
upon his arm could be no other than Lucy herself. I know not how it was;
for many a long month I had schooled my heart, and taught myself to believe
that time had dulled the deep impression she had made upon me, and that,
were we to meet again, it would be with more sorrow on my part for my
broken dream of happiness than of attachment and affection for her who
inspired it; but now, scarcely was I near her--I had not gazed upon her
looks, I had not even heard her voice--and yet, in all their ancient force,
came back the early passages of my love; and as her footfall sounded gently
upon the ground, my heart beat scarce less audibly. Alas, I could no
longer disguise from myself the avowal that she it was, and she only, who
implanted in my heart the thirst for distinction; and the moment was ever
present to my mind in which, as she threw her arms around her father's
neck, she muttered, "Oh, why not a soldier!"
As I thus reflected, an officer in full dress passed me hurriedly,
and taking off his hat as he came up with the party before me, bowed
"My Lord ----, I believe, and Sir George Dashwood?" They replied by a
bow. "Sir Thomas Picton wishes to speak with you both for a moment; he is
standing beside the 'Basin.' If you will permit--" said he, looking towards
"Thank you, sir," said Sir George; "if you will have the goodness to
accompany us, my daughter will wait our coming here. Sit down, Lucy, we
shall not be long away."
The next moment she was alone. The last echoes of their retiring footsteps
had died away in the grassy walk, and in the calm and death-like stillness
I could hear every rustle of her silk dress. The moonlight fell in
fitful, straggling gleams between the leafy branches, and showed me her
countenance, pale as marble. Her eyes were upturned slightly; her brown
hair, divided upon her fair forehead, sparkled with a wreath of brilliants,
which heightened the lustrous effect of her calm beauty; and now I could
perceive her dress bespoke that she had been at some of the splendid
entertainments which followed day after day in the busy capital.
Thus I stood within a few paces of _her_, to be near to whom, a few hours
before, I would willingly have given all I possessed in the world; and yet
now a barrier, far more insurmountable than time and space, intervened
between us; still it seemed as though fortune had presented this incident
as a last farewell between us. Why should I not take advantage of it? Why
should I not seize the only opportunity that might ever occur of rescuing
myself from the apparent load of ingratitude which weighed on my memory?
I felt in the cold despair of my heart that I could have no hold upon her
affection; but a pride, scarce less strong that the attachment that gave
rise to it, urged me to speak. By one violent effort I summoned up my
courage; and while I resolved to limit the few words I should say merely
to my vindication, I prepared to advance. Just at this instant, however, a
shadow crossed the path; a rustling sound was heard among the branches, and
the tall figure of a man in a dragoon cloak stood before me. Lucy turned
suddenly at the sound; but scarcely had her eyes been bent in the
direction, when, throwing off his cloak, he sprang forward and dropped at
her feet. All my feeling of shame at the part I was performing was now
succeeded by a sense of savage and revengeful hatred. It was enough that
I should be brought to look upon her whom I had lost forever without the
added bitterness of witnessing her preference for a rival. The whirlwind
passion of my brain stunned and stupefied me. Unconsciously I drew my sword
from my scabbard, and it was only as the pale light fell upon the keen
blade that the thought flashed across me, "What could I mean to do?"
"No, Hammersley,"--it was he indeed,--said she, "it is unkind, it is
unfair, nay, it is unmanly to press me thus; I would not pain you, were
it not that, in sparing you now, I should entail deeper injury upon you
hereafter. Ask me to be your sister, your friend; ask me to feel proudly
in your triumphs, to glory in your success; all this I do feel; but, oh! I
beseech you, as you value your happiness, as you prize mine, ask me no more
There was a pause of some seconds; and at length, the low tones of a man's
voice, broken and uncertain in their utterance, said,--
"I know it--I feel it--my heart never bade me hope--and now--'tis over."
He stood up as he spoke, and while he threw the light folds of his mantle
round him, a gleam of light fell upon his features. They were pale as
death; two dark circles surrounded his sunken eyes, and his bloodless lip
looked still more ghastly, from the dark mustache that drooped above it.
"Farewell!" said he, slowly, as he crossed his arms sadly upon his breast;
"I will not pain you more."
"Oh, go not thus from me!" said she, as her voice became tremulous with
emotion; "do not add to the sorrow that weighs upon my heart! I cannot,
indeed I cannot, be other than I am; and I do but hate myself to think that
I cannot give my love where I have given all my esteem. If time--" But
before she could continue further, the noise of approaching footsteps was
heard, and the voice of Sir George, as he came near. Hammersley disappeared
at once, and Lucy, with rapid steps, advanced to meet her father, while I
remained riveted upon the spot. What a torrent of emotions then rushed upon
my heart! What hopes, long dead or dying, sprang up to life again! What
visions of long-abandoned happiness flitted before me! Could it be
then--dare I trust myself to think it--that Lucy cared for me? The thought
was maddening! With a bounding sense of ecstasy, I dashed across the park,
resolving, at all hazards, to risk everything upon the chance, and wait
the next morning upon Sir George Dashwood. As I thought thus, I reached my
hotel, where I found Mike in waiting with a letter. As I walked towards the
lamp in the _porte cochere_, my eyes fell upon the address. It was General
Dashwood's hand; I tore it open, and read as follows:--
Dear Sir,--Circumstances into which you will excuse me entering,
having placed an insurmountable barrier to our former terms of
intimacy, you will, I trust, excuse me declining the honor of any
nearer acquaintance, and also forgive the liberty I take in informing
you of it, which step, however unpleasant to my feelings, will save
us both the great pain of meeting.
I have only this moment heard of your arrival in Brussels, and
take thus the earliest opportunity of communicating with you.
With every assurance of my respect for you personally, and an
earnest desire to serve you in your military career, I beg to remain,
Very faithfully yours,
"Another note, sir," said Mike, as he thrust into my unconscious hands a
letter he had just received from an orderly.
Stunned, half stupefied, I broke the seal. The contents were but three
Sir,--I have the honor to inform you that Sir Thomas Picton has
appointed you an extra aide-de-camp on his personal staff. You will,
therefore, present yourself to-morrow morning at the Adjutant-General's
office, to receive your appointment and instructions.
I have the honor to be, etc.,
Crushing the two letters in my fevered hand, I retired to my room, and
threw myself, dressed as I was, upon my bed. Sleep, that seems to visit us
in the saddest as in the happiest times of our existence, came over me,
and I did not wake until the bugles of the Ninety-fifth were sounding the
reveille through the park, and the brightest beams of the morning sun were
peering through the window.
AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE.
"Mr. O'Malley," said a voice, as my door opened, and an officer in undress
entered,--"Mr. O'Malley, I believe you received your appointment last night
on General Picton's staff?"
I bowed in reply, as he resumed:--
"Sir Thomas desires you will proceed to Courtrai with these despatches in
all haste. I don't know if you are well mounted, but I recommend you, in
any case, not to spare your cattle."
So saying, he wished me a good-morning, and left me, in a state of no small
doubt and difficulty, to my own reflections. What the deuce was I to do?
I had no horse; I knew not where to find one. What uniform should I wear?
For, although appointed on the staff, I was not gazetted to any regiment
that I knew of, and hitherto had been wearing an undress frock and a
foraging cap; for I could not bring myself to appear as a civilian among
so many military acquaintances. No time was, however, to be lost; so I
proceeded to put on my old Fourteenth uniform, wondering whether my costume
might not cost me a reprimand in the very outset of my career. Meanwhile
I despatched Mike to see after a horse, caring little for the time, the
merits, or the price of the animal provided he served my present purpose.
In less than twenty minutes my worthy follower appeared beneath my window,
surrounded by a considerable mob, who seemed to take no small interest in
"What the deuce is the matter?" cried I, as I opened the sash and looked
"Mighty little's the matter, your honor; it's the savages, here,
that's admiring my horsemanship," said Mike, as he belabored a tall,
scraggy-looking mule with a stick which bore an uncommon resemblance to a
"What do you mean to do with that beast?" said I. "You surely don't expect
me to ride a mule to Courtrai?"
"Faith, and if you don't, you are likely to walk the journey; for there
isn't a horse to be had for love or money in the town; but I am told that
Mr. Marsden is coming up to-morrow with plenty, so that you may as well
take the journey out of the soft horns as spoil a better; and if he only
makes as good use of his fore-legs as he does of his hind ones, he'll think
little of the road."
[Illustration: MICKEY ASTONISHES THE NATIVES.]
A vicious lash out behind served in a moment to corroborate Mike's
assertion, and to scatter the crowd on every side.
However indisposed to exhibit myself with such a turn-out, my time did not
admit of any delay; and so, arming myself with my despatches, and having
procured the necessary information as to the road, I set out from the Belle
Vue, amidst an ill-suppressed titter of merriment from the mob, which
nothing but fear of Mike and his broomstick prevented becoming a regular
shout of laughter.
It was near night-fall as, tired and weary of the road, I entered the
little village of Halle. All was silent and noiseless in the deserted
streets; nor a lamp threw its glare upon the pavement, nor even a solitary
candle flickered through the casement. Unlike a town, garrisoned by troops,
neither sentry nor outpost was to be met with; nothing gave evidence that
the place was held by a large body of men; and I could not help feeling
struck, as the footsteps of my mule were echoed along the causeway, with
the silence almost of desolation around me. By the creaking of a sign, as
it swung mournfully to and fro, I was directed to the door of the village
inn, where, dismounting, I knocked for some moments, but without success.
At length, when I had made an uproar sufficient to alarm the entire
village, the casement above the door slowly opened, and a head enveloped
in a huge cotton nightcap--so, at least, it appeared to me from the
size--protruded itself. After muttering a curse in about the most barbarous
French I ever heard, he asked me what I wanted there; to which I replied,
most nationally, by asking in return, where the British dragoons were
"They have left for Nivelle this morning, to join some regiments of your
"Ah! ah!" thought I, "he mistakes me for a Brunswicker;" to which, by
the uncertain light, my uniform gave me some resemblance. As it was now
impossible for me to proceed farther, I begged to ask where I could procure
accommodation for the night.
"At the burgomaster's. Turn to your left at the end of this street, and
you will soon find it. They have got some English officers there, who, I
believe in my soul, never sleep."
This was, at least, pleasant intelligence, and promised a better
termination to my journey than I had begun to hope for; so wishing my
friend a good-night, to which he willingly responded, I resumed my way
down the street. As he closed the window, once more leaving me to my own
reflections, I began to wonder within myself to what arm of the service
belonged these officers to whose convivial gifts he bore testimony. As I
turned the corner of the street, I soon discovered the correctness of his
information. A broad glare of light stretched across the entire pavement
from a large house with a clumsy stone portico before it. On coming nearer,
the sound of voices, the roar of laughter, the shouts of merriment that
issued forth, plainly bespoke that a jovial party were seated within.
The half-shutter which closed the lower part of the windows prevented my
obtaining a view of the proceedings; but having cautiously approached the
casement, I managed to creep on the window-sill and look into the room.
[Illustration: THE GENTLEMEN WHO NEVER SLEEP.]
There the scene was certainly a curious one. Around a large table sat a
party of some twenty persons, the singularity of whose appearance may
be conjectured when I mention that all those who appeared to be British
officers were dressed in the robes of the _échevins_ (or aldermen) of the
village; while some others, whose looks bespoke them as sturdy Flemings,
sported the cocked hats and cavalry helmets of their associates. He who
appeared the ruler of the feast sat with his back towards me, and wore, in
addition to the dress of burgomaster, a herald's tabard, which gave him
something the air of a grotesque screen at its potations. A huge fire
blazed upon the ample hearth, before which were spread several staff
uniforms, whose drabbled and soaked appearance denoted the reason of the
party's change of habiliments. Every imaginable species of drinking-vessel
figured upon the board, from the rich flagon of chased silver to the humble
_cruche_ we see in a Teniers picture. As well as I could hear, the language
of the company seemed to be French, or, at least, such an imitation of that
language as served as a species of neutral territory for both parties to
He of the tabard spoke louder than the others, and although, from the
execrable endeavors he made to express himself in French, his natural voice
was much altered, there was yet something in his accents which seemed
perfectly familiar to me.
"Mosheer l'Abbey," said he, placing his arm familiarly on the shoulder of
a portly personage, whose shaven crown strangely contrasted with a pair
of corked moustachios,--"Mosheer l'Abbey, nous sommes frères, et moi,
savez-vous, suis évèque,--'pon my life it's true; I might have been Bishop
of Saragossa, if I only consented to leave the Twenty-third. Je suis bong
Catholique. Lord bless you, if you saw how I loved the nunneries in Spain!
J'ai tres jolly souvenirs of those nunneries; a goodly company of little
silver saints; and this waistcoat you see--mong gilet--was a satin
petticoat of our Lady of Loretto."
Need I say, that before this speech was concluded, I had recognized in the
speaker nobody but that inveterate old villain, Monsoon himself.
"Permettez, votre Excellence," said a hale, jolly-looking personage on his
left, as he filled the major's goblet with obsequious politeness.
"Bong engfong," replied Monsoon, tapping him familiarly on the head.
"Burgomaster, you are a trump; and when I get my promotion, I'll make
you prefect in a wine district. Pass the lush, and don't look sleepy!
'Drowsiness,' says Solomon, 'clothes a man in rags;' and no man knew the
world better than Solomon. Don't you be laughing, you raw boys. Never mind
them, Abbey; ils sont petits garçongs--fags from Eton and Harrow; better
judges of mutton broth than sherry negus."
"I say, Major, you are forgetting this song you promised us."
"Yes, yes," said several voices together; "the song, Major! the song!"
"Time enough for that; we're doing very well as it is. Upon my life,
though, they hold a deal of wine. I thought we'd have had them fit to
bargain with before ten, and see, it's near midnight; and I must have my
forage accounts ready for the commissary-general by to-morrow morning."
This speech having informed me the reason of the Major's presence there,
I resolved to wait no longer a mere spectator of their proceedings; so
dismounting from my position, I commenced a vigorous attack upon the door.
It was some time before I was heard; but at length the door was opened, and
I was accosted by an Englishman, who, in a strange compound of French and
English, asked, "What the devil I meant by all that uproar?" Determining
to startle my old friend the major, I replied, that "I was aide-de-camp to
General Picton, and had come down on very unpleasant business." By this
time the noise of the party within had completely subsided, and from a few
whispered sentences, and their thickened breathing, I perceived that they
"May I ask, sir," continued I, "if Major Monsoon is here?"
"Yes," stammered out the ensign, for such he was.
"Sorry for it, for his sake," said I; "but my orders are peremptory."
A deep groan from within, and a muttered request to pass down the sherry,
nearly overcame my gravity; but I resumed:--
"If you will permit me, I will make the affair as short as possible. The
major, I presume, is here?"
So saying, I pushed forward into the room, where now a slight scuffling
noise and murmur of voices had succeeded silence. Brief as was the
interval of our colloquy, the scene within had, notwithstanding, undergone
considerable change. The English officers, hastily throwing off their
aldermanic robes, were busily arraying themselves in their uniforms, while
Monsoon himself, with a huge basin of water before him, was endeavoring to
wash the cork from his countenance in the corner of his tabard.
"Very hard upon me, all this; upon my life, so it is! Picton is always at
me, just as if we had not been school-fellows. The service is getting worse
every day. Regardez-moi, Curey, mong face est propre? Eh? There, thank you.
Good fellow the Curey is, but takes a deal of fluid. Oh, Burgomaster! I
fear it is all up with me! No more fun, no more jollification, no more
plunder--and how I did do it. Nothing like watching one's little chances!
'The poor is hated even by his neighbor.' Oui, Curey, it is Solomon says
that, and they must have had a heavy poor-rate in his day to make him say
so. Another glass of sherry!"
By this time I approached the back of the chair, and slapping him heartily
on the shoulder, called out,--
"Major, old boy, how goes it?"
"Eh?--what--how!--who is this? It can't be--egad, sure it is, though.
Charley! Charley O'Malley, you scapegrace, where have you been? When did
"A week ago, Major. I could resist it no longer. I did my best to be a
country gentleman, and behave respectably, but the old temptation was too
strong for me. Fred Power and yourself, Major, had ruined my education; and
here I am once more among you."
"And so Picton and the arrest and all that, was nothing but a joke?" said
the old fellow, rolling his wicked eyes with a most cunning expression.
"Nothing more, Major, set your heart at rest."
"What a scamp you are," said he, with another grin. "Il est mon fils--il
est mon fils, Curey," presenting me, as he spoke, while the burgomaster, in
whose eyes the major seemed no inconsiderable personage, saluted me with
Turning at once towards this functionary, I explained that I was the
bearer of important despatches, and that my horse--I was ashamed to say my
mule--having fallen lame, I was unable to proceed.
"Can you procure me a remount, Monsieur?" said I, "for I must hasten on to
"In half an hour you shall be provided, as well as with a mounted guide for
the road. Le fils de son Excellence," said he, with emphasis, bowing to the
major as he spoke; who, in his turn, repaid the courtesy with a still lower
"Sit down, Charley; here is a clean glass. I am delighted to see you, my
boy! They tell me you have got a capital estate and plenty of ready. Lord,
we so wanted you, as there's scarcely a fellow with sixpence among us. Give
me the lad that can do a bit of paper at three months, and always be ready
for a renewal. You haven't got a twenty-pound note?" This was said _sotto
voce_. "Never mind; ten will do. You can give me the remainder at Brussels.
Strange, is it not, I have not seen a bit of clean bank paper like this for
above a twelvemonth!" This was said as he thrust his hand into his pocket,
with one of those peculiar leers upon his countenance which, unfortunately,
betrayed more satisfaction at his success than gratitude for the service.
"You are looking fat--too fat, I think," said he, scrutinizing me from head
to foot; "but the life we are leading just now will soon take that off. The
slave-trade is luxurious indolence compared to it. Post haste to Nivelle
one day; down to Ghent the next; forty miles over a paved road in a
hand-gallop, and an aide-de-camp with a watch in his hand at the end of it,
to report if you are ten minutes too late. And there is Wellington has his
eye everywhere. There is not a truss of hay served to the cavalry, nor a
pair of shoes half-soled in the regiment, that he don't know of it. I've
got it over the knuckles already."
"How so, Major? How was that?"
"Why, he ordered me to picket two squadrons of the Seventh, and a supper
was waiting. I didn't like to leave my quarters, so I took up my telescope
and pitched upon a sweet little spot of ground on a hill; rather difficult
to get up, to be sure, but a beautiful view when you're on it. 'There is
your ground, Captain,' said I, as I sent one of my people to mark the spot.
He did not like it much; however, he was obliged to go. And, would you
believe it?--so much for bad luck!--there turned out to be no water within
two miles of it--not a drop, Charley; and so, about eleven at night, the
two squadrons moved down into Grammont to wet their lips, and what is
worse, to report me to the commanding officer. And only think! They put me
under arrest because Providence did not make a river run up a mountain!"
Just as the major finished speaking, the distant clatter of horses' feet
and the clank of cavalry was heard approaching. We all rushed eagerly to
the door; and scarcely had we done so, when a squadron of dragoons came
riding up the street at a fast trot.
"I say, good people," cried the officer, in French, "where does the
burgomaster live here?"
"Fred Power, 'pon my life!" shouted the major.
"Eh, Monsoon, that you? Give me a tumbler of wine, old boy; you are sure to
have some, and I am desperately blown."
"Get down, Fred, get down! We have an old friend here."
"Who the deuce d'ye mean?" said he, as throwing himself from the saddle he
strode into the room. "Charley O'Malley, by all that's glorious!"
"Fred, my gallant fellow!" said I.
"It was but this morning, Charley, that I so wished for you here. The
French are advancing, my lad. They have crossed the frontier; Zeithen's
corps have been attacked and driven in; Blucher is falling back upon Ligny;
and the campaign is opened. But I must press forward. The regiment is close
behind me, and we are ordered to push for Brussels in all haste."
"Then these despatches," said I, showing my packet, "'tis unnecessary to
"Quite so. Get into the saddle and come back with us."
The burgomaster had kept his word with me; so mounted upon a strong
hackney, I set out with Power on the road to Brussels. I have had occasion
more than once to ask pardon of my reader for the prolixity of my
narrative, so I shall not trespass on him here by the detail of our
conversation as we jogged along. Of me and my adventures he already knows
enough--perhaps too much. My friend Power's career, abounding as it did in
striking incidents, and all the light and shadow of a soldier's life,
yet not bearing upon any of the characters I have presented to your
acquaintance, except in one instance,--of that only shall I speak.
"And the senhora, Fred; how goes your fortune in that quarter?"
"Gloriously, Charley! I am every day expecting the promotion in my regiment
which is to make her mine."
"You have heard from her lately, then?"
"Heard from her! Why, man, she is in Brussels."
"To be sure. Don Emanuel is in high favor with the duke, and is now
commissary-general with the army; and the senhora is the _belle_ of the
Rue Royale, or at least, it's a divided sovereignty between her and Lucy
Dashwood. And now, Charley, let me ask, what of her? There, there, don't
blush, man. There is quite enough moonlight to show how tender you are in
"Once for all, Fred, pray spare me on that subject. You have been far too
fortunate in your _affaire de coeur_, and I too much the reverse, to permit
much sympathy between us."
"Do you not visit, then; or is it a cut between you?" "I have never met her
since the night of the masquerade of the villa--at least, to speak to--"
"Well, I must confess, you seem to manage your own affairs much worse than
your friends'; not but that in so doing you are exhibiting a very Irish
feature of your character. In any case, you will come to the ball? Inez
will be delighted to see you; and I have got over all my jealousy."
"What ball? I never heard of it."
"Never heard of it! Why, the Duchess of Richmond's, of course. Pooh, pooh,
man! Not invited?--of course you are invited; the staff are never left out
on such occasions. You will find your card at your hotel on your return."
"In any case, Fred--"
"I shall insist upon your going. I have no _arrière pensée_ about a
reconciliation with the Dashwoods, no subtle scheme, on my honor; but
simply I feel that you will never give yourself fair chances in the world,
by indulging your habit of shrinking from every embarrassment. Don't be
offended, boy. I know you have pluck enough to storm a battery; I have seen
you under fire before now. What avails your courage in the field, if you
have not presence of mind in the drawing-room? Besides, everything else out
of the question, it is a breach of etiquette towards your chief to decline
such an invitation."
"You think so?"
"Think so?--no; I am sure of it."
"Then, as to uniform, Fred?"
"Oh, as to that, easily managed. And now I think of it, they have sent me
an unattached uniform, which you can have; but remember, my boy, if I put
you in my coat, I don't want you to stand in my shoes. Don't forget also
that I am your debtor in horseflesh, and fortunately able to repay you. I
have got such a charger; your own favorite color, dark chestnut, and
except one white leg, not a spot about him; can carry sixteen stone over a
five-foot fence, and as steady as a rock under fire."
"But, Fred, how are you--"
"Oh, never mind me; I have six in my stable, and intend to share with you.
The fact is, I have been transferred from one staff to another for the last
six months, and four of my number are presents. Is Mike with you? Ah, glad
to hear it; you will never get on without that fellow. Besides, it is a
capital thing to have such a connecting link with one's nationality. No
fear of your ever forgetting Ireland with Mr. Free in your company. You
are not aware that we have been correspondents. A fact, I assure you. Mike
wrote me two letters; and such letters they were! The last was a Jeremiad
over your decline and fall, with a very ominous picture of a certain Miss
"Confound the rascal!"
"By Jove, though, Charley, you were coming it rather strong with Baby. Inez
saw the letter, and as well as she could decipher Mike's hieroglyphics, saw
there was something in it; but the name Baby puzzled her immensely, and she
set the whole thing down to your great love of children. I don't think that
Lucy quite agreed with her."
"Did she tell it to Miss Dashwood?" I inquired, with fear and trembling.
"Oh, that she did; in fact, Inez never ceases talking of you to Lucy. But
come, lad, don't look so grave. Let's have another brush with the enemy;
capture a battery of their guns; carry off a French marshal or two; get the
Bath for your services, and be thanked in general orders,--and I will wager
all my _château en Espagne_ that everything goes well."
Thus chatting away, sometimes over the past, of our former friends and
gay companions, of our days of storm and sunshine; sometimes indulging in
prospects for the future, we trotted along, and as the day was breaking,
mounted the ridge of low hills, from whence, at the distance of a couple of
leagues, the city of Brussels came into view.
THE DUCHESS OF RICHMOND'S BALL.
Whether we regard the illustrious and distinguished personages who thronged
around, or we think of the portentous moment in which it was given, the
Duchess of Richmond's ball, on the night of the 15th of June, 1815, was not
only one of the most memorable, but, in its interest, the most exciting
entertainment that the memory of any one now living can compass.
There is always something of no common interest in seeing the bronzed and
war-worn soldier mixing in the crowd of light-hearted and brilliant
beauty. To watch the eye whose proud glance has flashed over the mail-clad
squadrons now bending meekly beneath the look of some timid girl; to hear
the voice that, high above the battle or the breeze, has shouted the
hoarse word "Charge!" now subdued into the low, soft murmur of flattery or
compliment. This, at any rate, is a picture full of its own charm; but when
we see these heroes of a hundred fights; when we look upon these hardy
veterans, upon whose worn brows the whitened locks of time are telling,
indulging themselves in the careless gayety of a moment, snatched as it
were from the arduous career of their existence, while the tramp of the
advancing enemy shakes the very soil they stand on, and where it may be
doubted whether each aide-de-camp who enters comes a new votary of pleasure
or the bearer of tidings that the troops of the foe are advancing, and
already the work of death has begun: this is, indeed, a scene to make the
heart throb, and the pulse beat high; this is a moment second in its proud
excitement only to the very crash and din of battle itself. And into this
entrancing whirlwind of passion and of pleasure, of brilliant beauty
and ennobled greatness, of all that is lovely in woman and all that is
chivalrous and heroic in man, I brought a heart which, young in years, was
yet tempered by disappointment; still, such was the fascination, such the
brilliancy of the spectacle, that scarcely had I entered, than I felt a
change come over me,--the old spirit of my boyish ardor, that high-wrought
enthusiasm to do something, to be something which men may speak of, shot
suddenly through me, and I felt my cheek tingle and my temples throb, as
name after name of starred and titled officers were announced, to think
that to me, also, the path of glorious enterprise was opening.
"Come along, come along," said Power, catching me by the arm, "you've not
been presented to the duchess. I know her. I'll do it for you; or perhaps
it is better Sir Thomas Picton should. In any case, _filez_ after me, for
the dark-eyed senhora is surely expecting us. There, do you see that dark,
intelligent-looking fellow leaning over the end of the sofa? That is Alava.
And there, you know who that is, that _beau ideal_ of a hussar? Look how
jauntily he carries himself; see the careless but graceful sling with which
he edges through the crowd; and look! Mark his bow! Did you see that,
Charley? Did you catch the quick glance he shot yonder, and the soft smile
that showed his white teeth? Depend upon it, boy, some fair heart is not
the better nor the easier for that look."
"Who is it?" said I.
"Lord Uxbridge, to be sure; the handsomest fellow in the service; and there
goes Vandeleur, talking with Vivian; the other, to the left, is Ponsonby."
"But stay, Fred, tell me who that is?" For a moment or two, I had some
difficulty in directing his attention to the quarter I desired. The
individual I pointed out was somewhat above the middle size; his uniform of
blue and gold, though singularly plain, had a look of richness about it;
besides that, among the orders which covered his breast, he wore one star
of great brilliancy and size. This, however, was his least distinction; for
although surrounded on every side by those who might be deemed the very
types and pictures of their _caste_, there was something in the easy but
upright carriage of his head, the intrepid character of his features, the
bold and vigorous flashing of his deep blue eye, that marked him as no
common man. He was talking with an old and prosy-looking personage in
civilian dress; and while I could detect an anxiety to get free from
a tiresome companion, there was an air of deferential, and even kind
attention in his manner, absolutely captivating.
"A thorough gentleman, Fred, whoever he be," said I.
"I should think so," replied Power, dryly; "and as our countrymen would
say, 'The Devil thank him for it!' That is the Prince of Orange; but see,
look at him now, his features have learned another fashion." And true it
was; with a smile of the most winning softness, and with a voice, whose
slightly foreign accent took nothing from its interest, I heard him
engaging a partner for a waltz.
There was a flutter of excitement in the circle as the lady rose to take
his arm, and a muttered sound of, "How very beautiful, quelle est belle,
c'est un ange!" on all sides. I leaned forward to catch a glance as she
passed; it was Lucy Dashwood. Beautiful beyond anything I had ever seen
her, her lovely features lit up with pleasure and with pride, she looked in
every way worthy to lean upon the arm of royalty. The graceful majesty of
her walk, the placid loveliness of her gentle smile, struck every one
as she passed on. As for me, totally forgetting all else, not seeing or
hearing aught around me, I followed her with my eye until she was lost
among the crowd, and then, with an impulse of which I was not master,
followed in her steps.
"This way, this way," said Power; "I see the senhora." So saying, we
entered a little boudoir, where a party was playing at cards. Leaning on
the back of a chair, Inez was endeavoring, with that mixture of coquetry
and half malice she possessed, to distract the attention of the player. As
Power came near, she scarcely turned her head to give him a kind of saucy
smile; while, seeing me, she held out her hand with friendly warmth, and
seemed quite happy to meet me.
"Do, pray, take her away; get her to dance, to eat ice, or flirt with you,
for Heaven's sake!" said the half-laughing voice of her victim. "I have
revoked twice, and misdealt four times since she has been here. Believe me,
I shall take it as the greatest favor, if you'll--"
As he got thus far he turned round towards me, and I perceived it was Sir
George Dashwood. The meeting was as awkward for him as for me; and while a
deep flush covered my face, he muttered some unintelligible apology, and
Inez burst into a fit of laughter at the ludicrous _contretemps_ of our
"I will dance with you now, if you like," said she, "and that will be
punishing all three. Eh, Master Fred?"
So saying, she took my arm as I led her toward the ball-room.
"And so you really are not friends with the Dashwoods? How very provoking,
and how foolish, too! But really, Chevalier, I must say you treat ladies
very ill. I don't forget your conduct to me. Dear me, I wish we could move
forward, there is some one pushing me dreadfully!"
"Get on, Ma'am, get on!" said a sharp, decided voice behind me. I turned,
half smiling, to see the speaker. It was the Duke of Wellington himself,
who, with his eye fixed upon some person at a distance, seemed to care
very little for any intervening obstruction. As I made way for him to pass
between us, he looked hardly at me, while he said in a short, quick way,--
"Know your face very well: how d'ye do?" With this brief recognition he
passed on, leaving me to console Inez for her crushed sleeve, by informing
her who had done it.
The ball was now at its height. The waltzers whirled past in the wild
excitement of the dance. The inspiriting strains of the music, the sounds
of laughter, the din, the tumult, all made up that strange medley which,
reacting upon the minds of those who cause it, increases the feeling
of pleasurable abandonment, making the old feel young, and the young
intoxicated with delight.
As the senhora leaned upon me, fatigued with waltzing, I was endeavoring to
sustain a conversation with her; while my thoughts were wandering with my
eyes to where I had last seen Lucy Dashwood.
"It must be something of importance; I'm sure it is," said she, at the
conclusion of a speech of which I had not heard one word. "Look at General
"Very pretty, indeed," said I; "but the hair is unbecoming," replying to
some previous observation she had made, and still lost in a revery. A
hearty burst of laughter was her answer as she gently shook my arm,
"You really are too bad! You've never listened to one word I've been
telling you, but keep continually staring with your eyes here and there,
turning this way and looking that, and with a dull, vacant, and unmeaning
smile, answering at random, in the most provoking manner. There now, pray
pay attention, and tell me what that means." As she said this, she pointed
with her fan to where a dragoon officer, in splashed and spattered uniform,
was standing talking to some three or four general officers. "But here
comes the duke; it can't be anything of consequence."
At the same instant the Duke of Wellington passed with the Duchess of
Richmond on his arm.
"No, Duchess; nothing to alarm you. Did you say ice?"
"There, you heard that, I hope!" said Inez; "there is nothing to alarm us."
"Go to General Picton at once; but don't let it be remarked," said an
officer, in a whisper, as he passed close by me.
"Inez, I have the greatest curiosity to learn what that new arrival has to
say for himself; and if you will permit me, I'll leave you with Lady Gordon
for one moment--"
"Delighted, of all things. You are without exception, the most
"Sans adieu," said I, as I hurried through the crowd towards an open
window, on the balcony outside of which Sir Thomas Picton was standing.
"Ah, Mr. O'Malley, have you a pencil? There, that'll do. Ride down to
Etterbeeck with this order for Godwin. You have heard the news, I suppose,
that the French are in advance? The Seventy-ninth will muster in the Grando
Place. The Ninety-second and the Twenty-eighth along the Park and the
Boulevard. Napoleon left Fresnes this morning. The Prussians have fallen
back. Zeithen has been beaten. We march at once."
"No, sir, to-night. There, don't delay! But above all, let everything be
done quietly and noiselessly. The duke will remain here for an hour longer
to prevent suspicion. When you've executed your orders, come back here."
I mounted the first horse I could find at the door, and galloped with top
speed over the heavy causeway to Etterbeeck. In two minutes the drum beat
to arms, and the men were mustering as I left. Thence I hastened to the
barracks of the Highland Brigade and the 28th Regiment; and before half an
hour, was back in the ball-room, where, from the din and tumult, I guessed
the scene of pleasure and dissipation continued unabated. As I hurried up
the staircase a throng of persons were coming down, and I was obliged to
step aside to let them pass.
"Ah, come here, pray," said Picton, who, with a lady cloaked and hooded
leaning upon his arm, was struggling to make way through the crowd. "The
"Will you excuse me if I commit you to the care of my aide-de-camp, who
will see you to your carriage? The duke has just desired to see me." This
he said in a hurried and excited tone; and the same moment beckoned to me
to take the lady's arm.
It was with some difficulty I succeeded in reaching the spot, and had only
time to ask whose carriage I should call for, ere we arrived in the hall.
"Sir George Dashwood's," said a low, soft voice, whose accents sank into
my very heart. Heaven! it was Lucy herself; it was her arm that leaned on
mine, her locks that fluttered beside me, her hand that hung so near, and
yet I could not speak. I tried one word; but a choking feeling in my throat
prevented utterance, and already we were upon the door-steps.
"Sir George Dashwood's carriage," shouted the footman, and the announcement
was repeated by the porter. The steps were hurried down; the footman stood
door in hand; and I led her forward, mute and trembling. Did she know me? I
assisted her as she stepped in; her hand touched mine: it was the work of a
second; to me it was the bliss of years. She leaned a little forward; and
as the servant put up the steps, said in her soft, sweet tone, "Thank you,
I felt my shoulder touched by some one who, it appeared, was standing close
to me for some seconds; but so occupied was I in gazing at her that I paid
no attention to the circumstance. The carriage drove away and disappeared
in the thick darkness of a starless night. I turned to re-enter the house,
and as I did so, the night lamp of the hall fell upon the features of
the man beside me, and showed me the pale and corpse-like face of Fred
Hammersley. His eye was bent upon me with an expression of fierce and fiery
passion, in which the sadness of long-suffering also mingled. His bloodless
lips parted, moved as though speaking, while yet no sound issued; and his
nostril, dilating and contracting by turns, seemed to denote some deep and
hidden emotion that worked within him.
"Hammersley," said I, holding out my hand towards him,--"Hammersley, do not
always mistake me?"
He shook his head mournfully as it fell forward upon his breast, and
covering his arm, moved slowly away without speaking.
General Picton's voice as he descended the stairs, accompanied by Generals
Vandeleur and Vivian, aroused me at once, and I hurried towards him.
"Now, sir, to horse. The troops will defile by the Namur gate, and meet me
there in an hour. Meanwhile tell Colonel Cameron that he must march with
the light companies of his own and the Ninety-second at once."
"I say, Picton, they'll say we were taken by surprise in England; won't
they?" said a sharp, strong voice, in a half-laughing tone from behind.
"No, your Grace," said Sir Thomas, bowing slightly; "they'll scarcely do so
when they hear the time we took to get under arms."
I heard no more; but throwing myself into the saddle of my troop horse,
once more rode back to the Belle Vue to make ready for the road.
The thin pale crescent of a new moon, across which masses of dark and inky
clouds were hurrying, tipped with its faint and sickly light the tall
minarets of the Hotel de Ville, as I rode into the Grande Place. Although
midnight, the streets were as crowded as at noonday; horse, foot, and
dragoons passing and hurrying hither; the wild pibroch of the Highlander;
the mellow bugle of the Seventy-first; the hoarse trumpet of the cavalry;
the incessant roll of the drum,--mingled their sounds with the tide of
human voices, in which every accent was heard, from the reckless cheer of
anticipated victory, to the heart-piercing shriek of woman's agony. Lights
gleamed from every window; from the doors of almost every house poured
forth a crowd of soldiers and townsfolk. The sergeants, on one side,
might be seen telling off their men, their cool and steady countenances
evidencing no semblance of emotion; while near them some young ensign,
whose beardless cheek and vacant smile bespoke the mere boy, looked on with
mingled pride and wonder at the wild scene before him. Every now and then
some general officer with his staff came cantering past; and as the efforts
to muster and form the troops grew more pressing, I could mark how soon we
were destined to meet the enemy.
There are few finer monuments of the architecture of the Middle Ages than
the Grande Place of Brussels,--the rich façade of the Hôtel de Ville, with
its long colonnade of graceful arches, upon every keystone of which some
grim, grotesque head is peering; the massive cornices; the heavy corbels
carved into ten thousand strange and uncouth fancies; but finer than all,
the taper and stately spire, fretted and perforated like some piece of
silver filigree, stretches upward towards the sky, its airy pinnacle
growing finer and more beautiful as it nears the stars it points to.
How full of historic associations is every dark embrasure, every narrow
casement around! Here may have stood the great emperor, Charles the Fifth,
meditating upon that greatness he was about to forego forever; here from
this tall window, may have looked the sad and sickly features of Jeanne
Laffolle, as with wandering eye and idiot smile she gazed upon the gorgeous
procession beneath. There is not a stone that has not echoed to the tread
of haughty prince or bold baron; yet never, in the palmiest days of ancient
chivalry, did those proud dwellings of the great of old look out upon a
braver and more valiant host than now thronged beneath their shadow. It was
indeed a splendid sight, where the bright gleams of torch and lantern threw
the red light around, to watch the measured tread and steady tramp of the
Highland regiments as they defiled into the open space; each footstep as it
met the ground, seeming in its proud and firm tread, to move in more than
sympathy with the wild notes of their native mountains; silent and still
they moved along; no voice spoke within their ranks, save that of some
command to "Close up--take ground--to the right--rear rank--close order."
Except such brief words as these, or the low muttered praise of some
veteran general as he rode down the line, all was orderly and steady as
on a parade. Meanwhile, from an angle of the square, the band of an
approaching regiment was heard; and to the inspiriting quickness of "The
Young May Moon," the gallant Twenty-eighth came forward and took up their
ground opposite to the Highlanders.
The deep bell of the Hôtel de Ville tolled one. The solemn sound rang out
and died away in many an echo, leaving upon the heart a sense of some
unknown depression; and there was something like a knell in the deep
cadence of its bay; and over many a cheek a rapid trace of gloomy thought
now passed; and true--too true, alas!--how many now listened for the last
"March! march!" passed from front to rear; and as the bands burst forth
again in streams of spirit-stirring harmony, the Seventy-ninth moved on;
the Twenty-eighth followed; and as they debouched from the "Place" the
Seventy-first and the Ninety-second succeeded them. Like wave after wave,
the tide of armed men pressed on, and mounted the steep and narrow street
towards the upper town of Brussels. Here Pack's Brigade was forming in the
Place Royale; and a crowd of staff officers dictating orders, and writing
hurriedly on the drum-heads, were also seen. A troop of dragoons stood
beside their horses at the door of the Belle Vue, and several grooms with
led horses walked to and fro.
"Ride forward, sir, to the Bois de Cambre," said Picton, "and pivot the
troops on the road to Mont St. Jean. You will then wait for my coming up,
or further orders."
This command, which was given to me, I hastened to obey; and with
difficulty forcing my way through the opposing crowd, at length reached the
Namur gate. Here I found a detachment of the Guards, who as yet had got no
orders to march, and were somewhat surprised to learn the forward movement.
Ten minutes' riding brought me to the angle of the wood, whence I wrote a
few lines to my host of the Belle Vue, desiring him to send Mike after me
with my horses and my kit. The night was cold, dark, and threatening; the
wind howled with a low and wailing cry through the dark pine-trees; and as
I stood alone and in solitude, I had time to think of the eventful hours
before me, and of that field which ere long was to witness the triumph or
the downfall of my country's arms. The road which led through the forest of
Soignies caught an additional gloom from the dark, dense woods around. The
faint moon only showed at intervals; and a lowering sky, without a single
star, stretched above us. It was an awful and a solemn thing to hear the
deep and thundering roll of that mighty column, awakening the echoes of
the silent forest as they went. So hurried was the movement that we had
scarcely any artillery, and that of the lightest calibre; but the clash and
clank of the cavalry, the heavy, monotonous tramp of infantry were there;
and as division followed after division, staff officers rode hurriedly to
and fro, pressing the eager troops still on.
"Move up there, Ninety-fifth. Ah, Forty-second, we've work before us!" said
Picton, as he rode up to the head of his brigade. The air of depression
which usually sat upon his careworn features now changed for a light and
laughing look, while his voice was softened and subdued into a low and
pleasing tone. Although it was midsummer, the roads were heavy and deep
with mud. For some weeks previously the weather had been rainy; and
this, added to the haste and discomfort of the night march, considerably
increased the fatigue of the troops. Notwithstanding these disadvantages,
not a murmur nor complaint was heard on any side.
"I'm unco glad to get a blink o' them, onyhow," said a tall, raw-boned
sergeant, who marched beside me.
"Faith, and may be you won't be over pleased at the expression of their
faces, when you see them," said Mike, whose satisfaction at the prospect
before him was still as great as that of any other amidst the thousands
The day was slowly breaking, as a Prussian officer, splashed and covered
with foam, came galloping up at full speed past us. While I was yet
conjecturing what might be the intelligence he brought, Power rode up to my
"We're in for it, Charley," said he. "The whole French army are in march;
and Blucher's aide-de-camp, who has arrived, gives the number at one
hundred and fifty thousand men. The Prussians are drawn up between St.
Amand and Sombref, and the Nassau and Dutch troops are at Quatre Bras, both
expecting to be attacked."
"Quatre Bras was the original rallying spot for our troops, was it not?"
"Yes, yes. It is that we're now marching upon; but our Prussian friend
seems to think we shall arrive too late. Strong French corps are already at
Fresnes, under the command, it is said, of Marshal Ney."
The great object of the British commander-in-chief was to arrive at Quatre
Bras in sufficient time to effect his junction with Blucher before a battle
should be fought. To effect this no exertion was spared: efforts almost
super-human were made; for, however prepared for a forward movement, it was
impossible to have anticipated anything until the intentions of Napoleon
became clearly manifest. While Nivelles and Charleroi were exposed to him
on one side, Namur lay open on the other; and he could either march upon
Brussels, by Mons or Halle, or, as he subsequently attempted, by Quatre
Bras and Waterloo. No sooner, however, were his intentions unmasked, and
the line of his operations manifested, than Lord Wellington, with an energy
equal to the mighty occasion that demanded it, poured down with the whole
force under his command to meet him.
The march was a most distressing one; upward of three-and-twenty miles,
with deep and cut-up roads, in hot, oppressive weather, in a country almost
destitute of water. Still the troops pressed forward, and by noon came
within hearing of the heavy cannonade in front, which indicated the
situation of the battle. From this time aide-de-camp followed aide-de-camp
in quick succession, who, from their scared looks and hurried gestures,
seemed to bode but ill-fortune to the cause we cared for. What the precise
situation of the rival armies might be we knew not; but we heard the French
were in overwhelming numbers; that the Dutch troops had abandoned their
position; the Hanoverians being driven back, the Duke of Brunswick--the
brave sovereign of a gallant people--fell charging at the head of his black
hussars. From one phrase which constantly met our ears, it seemed that
the Bois de Bossu was the key of the position. This had been won and lost
repeatedly by both sides; and as we neared the battle-field a despatch
hurriedly announced to Picton the importance of at once recovering this
contested point. The Ninety-fifth were ordered up to the attack. Scarcely
was the word given, when fatigue, thirst, and exhaustion were forgotten;
with one cheer the gallant regiment formed into line, and advanced upon
the wood. Meanwhile the Highland Brigade moved down towards the right; the
Royals and the Twenty-eighth debouched upon the left of the road; and in
less than half an hour after our arrival our whole force was in action.
There is something appalling, to the bravest army, in coming up to battle
at the time that an overwhelming and conquering foe are carrying victory
triumphantly before them: such was our position at Quatre Bras. Bravely and
gloriously as the forces of the Prince of Orange fought, the day, however,
was not theirs. The Bois de Bossu, which opened to the enemy the road to
Brussels, was held by their tirailleurs; the valley to the right was rode
over by their mounted squadrons, who with lance and sabre carried all
before them; their dark columns pressed steadily on; and a death-dealing
artillery swept the allied ranks from flank to flank. Such was the field
when the British arrived, and throwing themselves into squares, opposed
their unaided force to the dreadful charges of the enemy. The batteries
showered down their storms of grape; Milhaud's Heavy Dragoons, assisted by
crowds of lancers, rushed upon the squares, but they stood unbroken and
undaunted, as sometimes upon three sides of their position the infuriated
horsemen of the enemy came down. Once, and once only, were the French
successful; the 42d, who were stationed amidst tall corn-fields, were
surrounded with cavalry before they knew it. The word was given to form
square; the Lancers were already among them, and fighting back to back, the
gallant Highlanders met the foe. Fresh numbers poured down upon them, and
already half the regiment was disabled and their colonel killed. These
brave fellows were rescued by the 44th, who, throwing in a withering
volley, fixed bayonets and charged. Meanwhile the 95th had won and lost the
wood, which, now in the possession of the French tirailleurs, threatened to
turn the left of our position. It was at this time that a body of cavalry
were seen standing to the left of the Enghien road, as if in observation.
An officer sent forward to reconnoitre, returned with the intelligence that
they were British troops, for he had seen their red uniforms.
"I can't think it, sir," said Picton. "It is hardly possible that any
regiment from Enghien could have arrived already. Ride forward, O'Malley,
and if they be our fellows, let them carry that height yonder; there are
two guns there cutting the 92d to pieces."
I put spurs to my horse, cleared the road at once, and dashing across
the open space to the left of the wood, rode on in the direction of the
horsemen. When I came within the distance of three hundred yards I examined
them with my glass, and could plainly detect the scarlet coats and bright
helmets. "Ha," thought I, "the 1st Dragoon Guards, no doubt." Muttering
to myself thus much, I galloped straight on; and waving my hand as I came
near, announced that I was the bearer of an order. Scarcely had I done so,
when four horsemen, dashing spurs into their steeds, plunged hastily out
from the line, and before I could speak, surrounded me. While the foremost
called out, as he flourished his sabre above his head, "Rendez-vous!" At
the same moment I was seized on each side, and led back a captive into the
hands of the enemy.
"We guess your mistake, Capitaine," said the French officer before whom I
was brought. "We are the regiment of Berg, and our scarlet uniform cost us
dearly enough yesterday."
This allusion, I afterwards learned, was in reference to a charge by a
cuirassier regiment, which, in mistaking them for English, poured a volley
into them, and killed and wounded about twenty of their number.
Those who have visited the field of Quatre Bras will remember that on the
left of the high road, and nearly at the extremity of the Bois de Bossu,
stands a large Flemish farm-house, whose high pitched roof, pointed gables,
and quaint, old-fashioned chimneys, remind one of the architecture
so frequently seen in Tenier's pictures. The house, which, with its
dependencies of stables, granaries, and out-houses, resembles a little
village, is surrounded by a large, straggling orchard of aged fruit-trees,
through which the approach from the high road leads. The interior of this
quaint dwelling, like all those of its class, is only remarkable for a
succession of small, dark, low-ceiled rooms, leading one into another;
their gloomy aspect increased by the dark oak furniture, the heavy
armories, and old-fashioned presses, carved in the grotesque taste of the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Those who visit it now may mark the
trace of cannon-shot here and there through the building; more than
one deep crack will attest the force of the dread artillery. Still the
traveller will feel struck with the rural peace and quietude of the scene;
the speckled oxen that stand lowing in the deep meadows; the splash of the
silvery trout as he sports in the bright stream that ripples along over its
gravelly bed; the cawing of the old rooks in the tall beech-trees; but more
than all, the happy laugh of children,--speak of the spot as one of retired
and tranquil beauty; yet when my eyes opened upon it on the morning of the
17th of June, the scene presented features of a widely different interest.
The day was breaking as the deep, full sound of the French bugles announced
the reveille. Forgetful of where I was, I sprang from my bed and rushed to
the window; the prospect before me at once recalled me to my recollection,
and I remembered that I was a prisoner. The exciting events around left me
but little time and as little inclination to think over my old misfortunes;
and I watched, with all the interest of a soldier, the movement of the
French troops in the orchard beneath. A squadron of dragoons, who seemed to
have passed the night beside their horses, lay stretched or seated in all
the picturesque groupings of a bivouac,--some already up and stirring;
others leaned half listlessly upon their elbows, and looked about as if
unwilling to believe the night was over; and some, stretched in deep
slumber, woke not with the noise and tumult around them. The room in which
I was confined looked out upon the road to Charleroi; I could therefore
see the British troops; and as the French army had fallen back during the
night, only an advanced guard maintaining the position, I was left to my
unaided conjectures as to the fortune of the preceding day of battle. What
a period of anxiety and agitation was that morning to me; what would I
not have given to learn the result of the action since the moment of my
capture! Stubborn as our resistance had been, we were evidently getting the
worst, of it; and if the Guards had not arrived in time, I knew we must
have been beaten.
I walked up and down my narrow room, tortured and agonized by my doubts,
now stopping to reason over the possibilities of success, now looking from
the window to try if, in the gesture and bearing of those without, I could
conjecture anything that passed. Too well I knew the vaunting character
of the French soldier, in defeat as in victory, to put much confidence in
their bearing. While, however, I watched them with an eager eye, I heard
the tramp of horsemen coming along the paved causeway. From the moment my
ear caught the sound to that of their arrival at the gate of the orchard,
but few minutes elapsed; their pace was indeed a severe one, and as they
galloped through the narrow path that led to the farm-house, they never
drew rein till they reached the porch. The party consisted of about a dozen
persons whose plumed hats bespoke them staff officers; but their uniforms
were concealed beneath their great-coats. As they came along the picket
sprang to their feet, and the guard at the door beneath presented arms.
This left no doubt upon my mind that some officer of rank was among them,
and as I knew that Ney himself commanded on the preceding day, I thought
it might be he. The sound of voices beneath informed me that the party
occupied the room under that in which I was, and although I listened
attentively I could hear nothing but the confused murmur of persons
conversing together without detecting even a word. My thoughts now fell
into another channel, and as I ruminated over my old position, I heard the
noise of the sentry at my door as he brought his musket to the shoulder,
and the next moment an officer in the uniform of the Chasseurs of the Guard
entered. Bowing politely as he advanced to the middle of the room, he
addressed me thus:--
"You speak French, sir?" and as I replied in the affirmative, continued:--
"Will you, then, have the goodness to follow me this way?"
Although burning with anxiety to learn what had taken place, yet somehow I
could not bring myself to ask the question. A secret pride mingled with my
fear that all had not gone well with us, and I durst not expose myself to
hear of our defeat from the lips of an enemy. I had barely time to ask into
whose presence I was about to be ushered, when with a slight smile of a
strange meaning, he opened the door and introduced me into the saloon.
Although I had seen at least twelve or fourteen horsemen arrive, there were
but three persons in the room as I entered. One of these, who sat writing
at a small table near the window, never lifted his head on my entrance, but
continued assiduously his occupation. Another, a tall, fine-looking man
of some sixty years or upward, whose high, bald forehead and drooping
mustache, white as snow, looked in every way the old soldier of the empire,
stood leaning upon his sabre; while the third, whose stature, somewhat
below the middle size, was yet cast in a strong and muscular mould, stood
with his back to the fire, holding on his arms the skirts of a gray surtout
which he wore over his uniform; his legs were cased in the tall _bottes à
l'écuyère_ worn by the _chasseur à cheval_, and on his head a low cocked
hat, without plume or feather, completed his costume. There was something
which, at the very moment of my entrance, struck me as uncommon in his air
and bearing, so much so that when my eyes had once rested on his pale but
placid countenance, his regular, handsome, but somewhat stern features, I
totally forgot the presence of the others and looked only at him.
"What's your rank, sir?" said he, hurriedly, and with a tone which bespoke
"I have none at present, save--"
"Why do you wear your epaulettes then, sir?" said he, harshly, while from
his impatient look, and hurried gesture, I saw that he put no faith in my
"I am an aide-de-camp to General Picton, but without regimental rank."
"What was the British force under arms yesterday?"
"I do not feel at liberty to give you any information as to the number or
the movements of our army."
"_Diantre! Diantre!_" said he, slapping his boot with his horsewhip, "do
you know what you've been saying there, eh? Cambronne, you heard him, did
"Yes, Sire, and if your Majesty would permit me to deal with him, I would
have his information, if he possess any, and that ere long, too."
"Eh, _gaillard_," said he, laughing, as he pinched the old general's ear in
jest, "I believe you, with all my heart."
The full truth flashed upon my mind. I was in presence of the Emperor
himself. As, however, up to this moment I was unconscious of his presence,
I resolved now to affect ignorance of it throughout.
"Had you despatches, sir?" said he, turning towards me with a look of stern
severity. "Were any despatches found upon him when he was taken?" This
latter question was directed to the aide-de-camp who introduced me, and who
still remained at the door.
"No, Sire, nothing was found upon him except this locket."
As he said these words he placed in Napoleon's hands the keepsake which St.
Croix had left with me years before in Spain, and which, as the reader may