Part 4 out of 12
would have done; and the father discovered what was going on, and one
night the captain was brought on board run through the body. We sailed
immediately for Gibraltar, and it was a long while before he got round
again: and then he had another misfortune."
"What was that?"
"Why he lost his boatswain, Mr Simple; for I could not bear the sight of
him--and then he lost (as you must know, not from your own knowledge,
but from that of others) a boatswain who knows his duty."
"Every one says so, Mr Chucks. I'm sure that our captain would be very
sorry to part with you."
"I trust that every captain has been with whom I've sailed, Mr Simple.
But that was not all he lost, Mr Simple; for the next cruise he lost his
masts; and the loss of his masts occasioned the loss of his ship, since
which he has never been trusted with another, but is laid on the shelf.
Now he never carried away a spar of any consequence during the whole
time that I was with him. A mast itself is nothing, Mr Simple--only a
piece of wood--but fit your rigging properly, and then a mast is strong
as a rock. Only ask Mr Faulkner, and he'll tell you the same; and I
never met an officer who knew better how to support a mast."
"Did you ever hear any more of the young lady?"
"Yes; about a year afterwards I returned there in another ship. She had
been shut up in a convent, and forced to take the veil. Oh, Mr Simple!
if you knew how I loved that girl! I have never been more than polite to
a woman since, and shall die a bachelor. You can't think how I was
capsized the other day, when I looked at the house; I have hardly
touched beef or pork since, and am in debt two quarts of rum more than
my allowance. But, Mr Simple, I have told you this in confidence, and I
trust you are too much of a gentleman to repeat it; for I cannot bear
quizzing from young midshipmen."
I promised that I would not mention it, and I kept my word; but
circumstances which the reader will learn in the sequel have freed me
from the condition. Nobody can quiz him now.
We gained our station off the coast of Perpignan; and as soon as we made
the land, we were most provokingly driven off by a severe gale. I am not
about to make any remarks about the gale, for one storm is so like
another; but I mention it, to account for a conversation which took
place, and with which I was very much amused. I was near to the captain
when he sent for Mr Muddle, the carpenter, who had been up to examine
the main-topsail yard, which had been reported as sprung.
"Well, Mr Muddle," said the captain.
"Sprung, sir, most decidedly; but I think we'll be able to _mitigate_
"Will you be able to secure it for the present, Mr Muddle?" replied the
captain, rather sharply.
"We'll _mitigate_ it, sir, in half an hour."
"I wish that you would use common phrases when you speak to me, Mr
Muddle. I presume, by mitigate, you mean to say that you can secure it.
Do you mean so, sir, or do you not?"
"Yes, sir, that is what I mean, most decidedly. I hope no offence,
Captain Savage; but I did not intend to displease you by my language."
"Very good, Mr Muddle," replied the captain; "it's the first time that I
have spoken to you on the subject, recollect that it will be the last."
"The first time!" replied the carpenter, who could not forget his
philosophy; "I beg your pardon, Captain Savage, you found just the same
fault with me on this quarter-deck 27,672 years ago, and--"
"If I did, Mr Muddle," interrupted the captain, very angrily, "depend
upon it that at the same time I ordered you to go aloft, and attend to
your duty, instead of talking nonsense on the quarter-deck; and,
although, as you say, you and I cannot recollect it, if you did not obey
that order instantaneously, I also put you in confinement, and obliged
you to leave the ship as soon as she returned to port. Do you understand
"I rather think, sir," replied the carpenter, humbly touching his hat,
and walking to the main rigging, "that no such thing took place, for I
went up immediately, as I do now; and," continued the carpenter, who was
incurable, as he ascended the rigging, "as I shall again in another
"That man is incorrigible with his confounded nonsense," observed the
captain to the first lieutenant. "Every mast in the ship would go over
the side, provided he could get any one to listen to his ridiculous
"He is not a bad carpenter, sir," replied the first lieutenant.
"He is not," rejoined the captain; "but there is a time for all things."
Just at this moment, the boatswain came down the rigging.
"Well, Mr Chucks, what do you think of the yard? Must we shift it?"
inquired the captain.
"At present, Captain Savage," replied the boatswain, "I consider it to
be in a state which may be called precarious, and not at all permanent;
but, with a little human exertion, four fathom of three-inch, and
half-a-dozen tenpenny nails, it may last, for all I know, until it is
time for it to be sprung again."
"I do not understand you, Mr Chucks. I know no time when a yard ought to
"I did not refer to our time, sir," replied the boatswain, "but to the
27,672 years of Mr Muddle, when--"
"Go forward immediately, sir, and attend to your duty," cried the
captain, in a very angry voice; and then he said to the first
lieutenant, "I believe the warrant officers are going mad. Who ever
heard a boatswain use such language--'precarious and not at all
permanent?' His stay in the ship will become so, if he does not mind
what he is about."
"He is a very odd character, sir," replied the first lieutenant; "but I
have no hesitation in saying that he is the best boatswain in his
"I believe so too," replied the captain; "but--well, every one has his
faults. Mr Simple, what are you about sir?"
"I was listening to what you said," replied I, touching my hat.
"I admire your candour, sir," replied he, "but advise you to discontinue
the practice. Walk over to leeward, sir, and attend to your duty."
When I was on the other side of the deck, I looked round, and saw the
captain and first lieutenant both laughing.
I go away on service, am wounded and taken prisoner with O'Brien--
Diamond cut diamond between the O'Briens--Get into comfortable quarters
--My first interview with Celeste.
And now I have to relate an event, which, young as I was at the time,
will be found to have seriously affected me in after life. How little do
we know what to-morrow may bring forth! We had regained our station, and
for some days had been standing off and on the coast, when one morning
at daybreak, we found ourselves about four miles from the town of Cette,
and a large convoy of vessels coming round a point. We made all sail in
chase, and they anchored close in shore, under a battery, which we did
not discover until it opened fire upon us. The shot struck the frigate
two or three times, for the water was smooth, and the battery nearly
level with it. The captain tacked the ship, and stood out again, until
the boats were hoisted out, and all ready to pull on shore and storm the
battery. O'Brien, who was the officer commanding the first cutter on
service, was in his boat, and I again obtained permission from him to
smuggle myself into it.
"Now, Peter, let's see what kind of a fish you'll bring on board this
time," said he, after we had shoved off: "or may be, the fish will not
let you off quite so easy." The men in the boat all laughed at this, and
I replied, "That I must be more seriously wounded than I was last time,
to be made a prisoner." We ran on shore, amidst the fire of the
gunboats, who protected the convoy, by which we lost three men, and made
for the battery, which we took without opposition, the French
artillery-men running out as we ran in. The directions of the captain
were very positive, not to remain in the battery a minute after it was
taken, but to board the gunboats, leaving only one of the small boats,
with the armourer to spike the guns, for the captain was aware that
there were troops stationed along the coast, who might come down upon us
and beat us off. The first lieutenant, who commanded, desired O'Brien to
remain with the first cutter, and after the armourer had spiked the
guns, as officer of the boat he was to shove off immediately. O'Brien
and I remained in the battery with the armourer, the boat's crew being
ordered down to the boat, to keep her afloat, and ready to shove off at
a moment's warning. We had spiked all the guns but one, when all of a
sudden a volley of musketry was poured upon us, which killed the
armourer, and wounded me in the leg above the knee. I fell down by
O'Brien, who cried out, "By the powers! here they are, and one gun not
spiked." He jumped down, wrenched the hammer from the armourer's hand,
and seizing a nail from the bag, in a few moments he had spiked the gun.
At this time I heard the tramping of the French soldiers advancing, when
O'Brien threw away the hammer, and lifting me upon his shoulders, cried,
"Come along, Peter, my boy," and made for the boat as fast as he could;
but he was too late; he had not got half way to the boat, before he was
collared by two French soldiers, and dragged back into the battery. The
French troops then advanced, and kept up a smart fire: our cutter
escaped, and joined the other boat, who had captured the gun-boats and
convoy with little opposition. Our large boats had carronades mounted in
their bows, and soon returned the fire with round and grape, which drove
the French troops back into the battery, where they remained, popping at
our men under cover, until most of the vessels were taken out; those
which they could not man were burnt.
In the meantime, O'Brien had been taken into the battery, with me on his
back; but as soon as he was there, he laid me gently down, saying,
"Peter, my boy, as long as you were under my charge, I'd carry you
through thick and thin; but now that you are under the charge of these
French beggars, why let them carry you. Every man his own bundle, Peter,
that's fair play, so if they think you're worth the carrying, let them
bear the weight of ye."
"And suppose they do not, O'Brien, will you leave me here?"
"Will I lave you, Peter! not if I can help it, my boy; but they won't
leave you, never fear them; prisoners are so scarce with them, that they
would not leave the captain's monkey, if he were taken."
As soon as our boats were clear of their musketry, the commanding
officer of the French troops examined the guns in the battery, with the
hope of reaching them, and was very much annoyed to find that every one
of them was spiked. "He'll look sharper than a magpie before he finds a
clear touch-hole, I expect," said O'Brien, as he watched the officer.
And here I must observe, that O'Brien showed great presence of mind in
spiking the last gun; for had they had one gun to fire at our boats
towing out the prizes, they must have done a great deal of mischief to
them, and we should have lost a great many men; but in so doing, and in
the attempt to save me, he sacrificed himself, and was taken prisoner.
When the troops ceased firing, the commanding officer came up to
O'Brien, and looking at him, said, "Officer?" to which O'Brien nodded
his head. He then pointed to me--"Officer?" O'Brien nodded his head
again, at which the French troops laughed, as O'Brien told me
afterwards, because I was what they called an _enfant_, which means an
infant. I was very stiff, and faint, and could not walk. The officer who
commanded the troops left a detachment in the battery, and prepared to
return to Cette, from whence they came. O'Brien walked, and I was
carried on three muskets by six of the French soldiers--not a very
pleasant conveyance at any time, but in my state excessively painful.
However, I must say, that they were very kind to me, and put a great
coat or something under my wounded leg, for I was in an agony, and
fainted several times. At last they brought me some water to drink. O
how delicious it was! I have often thought since, when I have been in
company, where people fond of good living have smacked their lips at
their claret, that if they could only be wounded, and taste a cup of
water, they would then know what it was to feel a beverage grateful. In
about an hour and a half, which appeared to me to be five days at the
least, we arrived at the town of Cette, and I was taken up to the house
of the officer who commanded the troops, and who had often looked at me
as I was carried there from the battery, saying, "_Pauvre enfant_!" I
was put on a bed, where I again fainted away. When I came to my senses,
I found a surgeon had bandaged my leg, and that I had been undressed.
O'Brien was standing by me, and I believe that he had been crying, for
he thought that I was dead. When I looked him in the face, he said,
"Pater, you baste, how you frightened me: bad luck to me if ever I take
charge of another youngster. What did you sham dead for?"
"I am better now, O'Brien," replied I, "how much I am indebted to you:
you have been made prisoner in trying to save me."
"I have been made prisoner in doing my duty, in one shape or another. If
that fool of an armourer hadn't held his hammer so tight, after he was
dead, and it was of no use to him, I should have been clear enough, and
so would you have been! but, however, all this is nothing at all, Peter;
as far as I can see, the life of a man consists in getting into scrapes,
and getting out of them. By the blessing of God, we've managed the
first, and by the blessing of God we'll manage the second also; so be
smart, my honey, and get well, for although a man may escape by running
away on two legs, I never heard of a boy who hopped out of a French
prison upon one."
I squeezed the offered hand of O'Brien, and looked round me; the surgeon
stood at one side of the bed, and the officer who commanded the troops
at the other. At the head of the bed was a little girl about twelve
years old, who held a cup in her hand, out of which something had been
poured down my throat. I looked at her, and she had such pity in her
face, which was remarkably handsome, that she appeared to me as an
angel, and I turned round as well as I could, that I might look at her
alone. She offered me the cup, which I should have refused from any one
but her, and I drank a little. Another person then came into the room,
and a conversation took place in French.
"I wonder what they mean to do with us," said I to O'Brien.
"Whist, hold your tongue," replied he; and then he leaned over me, and
said in a whisper, "I understand all they say; don't you recollect, I
told you that I learnt the language after I was kilt and buried in the
sand, in South America?" After a little more conversation, the officer
and the others retired, leaving nobody but the little girl and O'Brien
in the room.
"It's a message from the governor," said O'Brien, as soon as they were
gone, "wishing the prisoners to be sent to the gaol in the citadel, to
be examined; and the officer says (and he's a real gentleman, as far as
I can judge) that you're but a baby, and badly wounded in the bargain,
and that it would be a shame not to leave you to die in peace; so I
presume that I'll part company from you very soon."
"I hope not, O'Brien," replied I; "if you go to prison, I will go also,
for I will not leave you, who are my best friend, to remain with
strangers; I should not be half so happy, although I might have more
comforts in my present situation."
"Pater, my boy, I am glad to see that your heart is in the right place,
as I always thought it was, or I wouldn't have taken you under my
protection. We'll go together to prison, my jewel, and I'll fish at the
bars with a bag and a long string, just by way of recreation, and to
pick up a little money to buy you all manner of nice things; and when
you get well, you shall do it yourself, mayhap you'll have better luck,
as Peter your namesake had, who was a fisherman before you. There's
twice as much room in one of the cells as there is in a midshipman's
berth, my boy; and the prison yards, where you are allowed to walk, will
make a dozen quarter-decks, and no need of touching your hat out of
respect when you go into it. When a man has been cramped up on board of
a man-of-war, where midshipmen are stowed away like pilchards in a cask,
he finds himself quite at liberty in a prison, Peter. But somehow or
another, I think we mayn't be parted yet, for I heard the officer (who
appears to be a real gentleman, and worthy to have been an Irishman
born) say to the other, that he'd ask the governor for me to stay with
you on parole, until you are well again." The little girl handed me the
lemonade, of which I drank a little, and then I felt very faint again. I
laid my head on the pillow, and O'Brien having left off talking, I was
soon in a comfortable sleep. In an hour I was awakened by the return of
the officer, who was accompanied by the surgeon. The officer addressed
O'Brien in French who shook his head as before.
"Why don't you answer, O'Brien," said I, "since you understand him?"
"Peter, recollect that I cannot speak a word of their lingo; then I
shall know what they say before us, and they won't mind what they say,
supposing I do not understand them."
"But is that honest, O'Brien?"
"Is it honest you mean? If I had a five-pound note in my pocket, and
don't choose to show it to every fellow that I meet--is that dishonest?"
"To be sure it's not."
"And a'n't that what the lawyers call a case in pint?"
"Well," replied I, "if you wish it, I shall of course say nothing; but I
think that I should tell them, especially as they are so kind to us."
During this conversation, the officer occasionally spoke to the surgeon,
at the same time eyeing us, I thought, very hard. Two other persons then
came into the room; one of them addressed O'Brien in very bad English,
saying, that he was interpreter, and would beg him to answer a few
questions. He then inquired the name of our ship, number of guns, and
how long we had been cruising. After that, the force of the English
fleet, and a great many other questions relative to them; all of which
were put in French by the person who came with him, and the answer
translated, and taken down in a book. Some of the questions O'Brien
answered correctly, to others he pleaded ignorance; and to some, he
asserted what was not true. But I did not blame him for that, as it was
his duty not to give information to the enemy. At last they asked my
name, and rank, which O'Brien told them. "Was I noble?"
"Yes," replied O'Brien.
"Don't say so, O'Brien," interrupted I.
"Peter, you know nothing about it, you are grandson to a lord."
"I know that, but still I am not noble myself, although descended from
him; therefore pray don't say so."
"Bother! Pater, I have said it, and I won't unsay it; besides, Pater,
recollect it's a French question, and in France you would be considered
noble. At all events, it can do no harm."
"I feel too ill to talk, O'Brien; but I wish you had not said so."
They then inquired O'Brien's name, which he told them; his rank in the
service, and also, whether he was noble.
"I am an O'Brien," replied he; "and pray what's the meaning of the O
before my name, if I'm not noble? However, Mr Interpreter, you may add,
that we have dropped our title because it's not convanient." The French
officer burst out into a loud laugh, which surprised us very much. The
interpreter had great difficulty in explaining what O'Brien said; but as
O'Brien told me afterwards, the answer was put down _doubtful_.
They all left the room except the officer, who then, to our
astonishment, addressed us in good English. "Gentlemen, I have obtained
permission from the governor for you to remain in my house, until Mr
Simple is recovered. Mr O'Brien, it is necessary that I should receive
your parole of honour that you will not attempt to escape. Are you
willing to give it?"
O'Brien was quite amazed; "Murder an' Irish," cried he; "so you speak
English, colonel. It was not very genteel of you not to say so,
considering how we've been talking our little secrets together."
"Certainly, Mr O'Brien, not more necessary," replied the officer,
smiling, "than for you to tell me that you understood French."
"O, bother!" cried O'Brien, "how nicely I'm caught in my own trap!
You're an Irishman, sure?"
"I'm of Irish descent," replied the officer, "and my name, as well as
yours, is O'Brien. I was brought up in this country, not being permitted
to serve my own, and retain the religion of my forefathers. I may now be
considered as a Frenchman, retaining nothing of my original country,
except the language, which my mother taught me, and a warm feeling
towards the English wherever I meet them. But to the question, Mr
O'Brien, will you give your parole?"
"The word of an Irishman, and the hand to boot," replied O'Brien,
shaking the colonel by the hand; "and you're more than doubly sure, for
I'll never go away and leave little Peter here; and as for carrying him
on my back, I've had enough of that already."
"It is sufficient," replied the colonel. "Mr O'Brien, I will make you as
comfortable as I can; and when you are tired of attending your friend,
my little daughter shall take your place. You'll find her a kind little
nurse, Mr Simple."
I could not refrain from tears at the colonel's kindness: he shook me by
the hand; and telling O'Brien that dinner was ready, he called up his
daughter, the little girl who had attended me before; and desired her to
remain in the room. "Celeste," said he, "you understand a little
English; quite enough to find out what he is in want of. Go and fetch
your work, to amuse yourself when he is asleep." Celeste went out, and
returning with her embroidery, sat down by the head of the bed: the
colonel and O'Brien then quitted the room. Celeste then commenced her
embroidery, and as her eyes were cast down upon her work, I was able to
look at her without her observing it. As I said before, she was a very
beautiful little girl; her hair was light brown, eyes very large, and
eyebrows drawn as with a pair of compasses; her nose and mouth were also
very pretty; but it was not so much her features as the expression of
her countenance, which was so beautiful, so modest, so sweet, and so
intelligent. When she smiled, which she almost always did when she
spoke, her teeth were like two rows of little pearls.
I had not looked at her long, before she raised her eyes from her work,
and perceiving that I was looking at her, said, "You want--something--
want drink--I speak very little English."
"Nothing, I thank ye," replied I; "I only want to go to sleep."
"Then--shut--your--eye," replied she smiling; and she went to the
window, and drew down the blinds to darken the room. But I could not
sleep; the remembrance of what had occurred--in a few hours wounded, and
a prisoner--the thought of my father and mother's anxiety; with the
prospect of going to a prison and close confinement, as soon as I was
recovered, passed in succession in my mind, and, together with the
actual pain of my wound, prevented me from obtaining any rest. The
little girl several times opened the curtain to ascertain whether I
slept or wanted anything, and then as softly retired. In the evening,
the surgeon called again; he felt my pulse, and directing cold
applications to my leg, which had swelled considerably, and was becoming
very painful, told Colonel O'Brien, that, although I had considerable
fever, I was doing as well as could be expected under the circumstances.
But I shall not dwell upon my severe sufferings for a fortnight, after
which the ball was extracted; nor upon how carefully I was watched by
O'Brien, the colonel, and little Celeste, during my peevishness and
irritation, arising from pain and fever. I feel grateful to them, but
partiqularly [sic] to Celeste, who seldom quitted me for more than
half-an-hour, and, as I gradually recovered, tried all she could to
We remove to very unpleasant quarters--Birds of a feather won't always
flock together--O'Brien cuts a cutter midshipman, and gets a taste of
French steel--Altogether _flat_ work--A walk into the interior.
As soon as I was well enough to attend to my little nurse, we became
very intimate, as might be expected. Our chief employment was teaching
each other French and English. Having the advantage of me in knowing a
little before we met, and also being much quicker of apprehension, she
very soon began to speak English fluently, long before I could make out
a short sentence in French. However, as it was our chief employment, and
both were anxious to communicate with each other, I learnt it very fast.
In five weeks I was out of bed, and could limp about the room; and
before two months were over, I was quite recovered. The colonel,
however, would not report me to the governor; I remained on a sofa
during the day, but at dusk I stole out of the house, and walked about
with Celeste. I never passed such a happy time as the last fortnight;
the only drawback was the remembrance that I should soon have to
exchange it for a prison. I was more easy about my father and mother, as
O'Brien had written to them, assuring them that I was doing well; and
besides, a few days after our capture, the frigate had run in, and sent
a flag of truce to inquire if we were alive or made prisoners; at the
same time Captain Savage sent on shore all our clothes, and two hundred
dollars in cash for our use. I knew that even if O'Brien's letter did
not reach them, they were sure to hear from Captain Savage that I was
doing well. But the idea of parting with Celeste, towards whom I felt
such gratitude and affection, was most painful; and when I talked about
it, poor Celeste would cry so much, that I could not help joining her,
although I kissed away her tears. At the end of twelve weeks, the
surgeon could no longer withhold his report, and we were ordered to be
ready in two days to march to Toulon, where we were to join another
party of prisoners, to proceed with them into the interior. I must pass
over our parting, which the reader may imagine was very painful. I
promised to write to Celeste, and she promised that she would answer my
letters, if it were permitted. We shook hands with Colonel O'Brien,
thanking him for his kindness, and, much to his regret, we were taken in
charge by two French cuirassiers, who were waiting at the door. As we
preferred being continued on parole until our arrival at Toulon, the
soldiers were not at all particular about watching us; and we set off on
horseback, O'Brien and I going first, and the French cuirassiers
following us in the rear.
We trotted or walked along the road very comfortably. The weather was
delightful: we were in high spirits, and almost forgot that we were
prisoners. The cuirassiers followed us at a distance of twenty yards,
conversing with each other, and O'Brien observed that it was amazingly
genteel of the French governor to provide us with two servants in such
handsome liveries. The evening of the second day we arrived at Toulon,
and as soon as we entered the gates, we were delivered into the custody
of an officer with a very sinister cast of countenance, who, after some
conversation with the cuirassiers, told us in a surly tone that our
parole was at an end, and gave us in charge of a corporal's guard, with
directions to conduct us to the prison near the Arsenal. We presented
the cuirassiers with four dollars each, for their civility, and were
then hurried away to our place of captivity. I observed to O'Brien, that
I was afraid that we must now bid farewell to anything like pleasure.
"You're right there, Peter," replied he: "but there's a certain jewel
called Hope, that somebody found at the bottom of his chest, when it was
clean empty, and so we must not lose sight of it, but try and escape as
soon as we can; but the less we talk about it the better." In a few
minutes we arrived at our destination: the door was opened, ourselves
and our bundles (for we had only selected a few things for our march,
the colonel promising to forward the remainder as soon as we wrote to
inform him to which depot we were consigned), were rudely shoved in; and
as the doors again closed, and the heavy bolts were shot, I felt a
creeping, chilly sensation pass through my whole body.
As soon as we could see--for although the prison was not very dark, yet
so suddenly thrown in, after the glare of a bright sunshiny day, at
first we could distinguish nothing--we found ourselves in company with
about thirty English sailors. Most of them were sitting down on the
pavement, or on boxes, or bundles containing their clothes that they had
secured, conversing with each other, or playing at cards or draughts.
Our entrance appeared to excite little attention; after having raised
their eyes to indulge their curiosity, they continued their pursuits. I
have often thought what a feeling of selfishness appeared to pervade the
whole of them. At the time I was shocked, as I expected immediate
sympathy and commiseration; but afterwards I was not surprised. Many of
these poor fellows had been months in the prison, and a short
confinement will produce that indifference to the misfortunes of others,
which I then observed. Indeed, one man, who was playing at cards, looked
up for a moment as we came in, and cried out, "Hurrah, my lads! the more
the merrier," as if he really was pleased to find that there were others
who were as unfortunate as himself. We stood looking at the groups for
about ten minutes, when O'Brien observed, "that we might as well come to
an anchor, foul ground being better than no bottom;" so we sat down in a
corner, upon our bundles, where we remained for more than an hour,
surveying the scene, without speaking a word to each other. I could not
speak--I felt so very miserable. I thought of my father and mother in
England, of my captain and my messmates, who were sailing about so
happily in the frigate, of the kind Colonel O'Brien, and dear little
Celeste, and the tears trickled down my cheeks as these scenes of former
happiness passed through my mind in quick succession. O'Brien did not
speak but once, and then he only said, "This is dull work, Peter."
We had been in the prison about two hours, when a lad in a very greasy,
ragged jacket, with a pale emaciated face, came up to us, and said, "I
perceive by your uniforms that you are both officers, as well as
O'Brien stared at him for a little while, and then answered, "Upon my
soul and honour, then, you've the advantage of us, for it's more than I
could perceive in you; but I'll take your word for it. Pray what ship
may have had the misfortune of losing such a credit to the service?"
"Why, I belonged to the _Snapper_ cutter," replied the young lad; "I was
taken in a prize, which the commanding officer had given in my charge to
take to Gibraltar: but they won't believe that I'm an officer. I have
applied for officer's allowance and rations, and they won't give them to
"Well, but they know that we are officers," replied O'Brien; "why do
they shove us in here, with the common seamen?"
"I suppose you are only put in here for the present," replied the
cutter's midshipman; "but why I cannot tell."
Nor could we, until afterwards, when we found out, as our narrative will
show, that the officer who received us from the cuirassiers had once
quarrelled with Colonel O'Brien, who first pulled his nose, and
afterwards ran him through the body. Being told by the cuirassiers that
we were much esteemed by Colonel O'Brien, he resolved to annoy us as
much as he could; and when he sent up the document announcing our
arrival, he left out the word "Officers," and put us in confinement with
the common seamen. "It's very hard upon me not to have my regular
allowance as an officer," continued the midshipman. "They only give me a
black loaf and three sous a day. If I had had my best uniform on, they
never would have disputed my being an officer; but the scoundrels who
retook the prize stole all my traps, and I have nothing but this old
"Why, then," replied O'Brien, "you'll know the value of dress for the
future. You cutter and gun-brig midshipmen go about in such a dirty
state, that you are hardly acknowledged by us who belong to frigates to
be officers, much less gentlemen. You look so dirty, and so slovenly
when we pass you in the dockyard, that we give you a wide berth; how
then can you suppose strangers to believe that you are either officers
or gentlemen? Upon my conscience, I absolve the Frenchmen from all
prejudice, for, as to, your being an officer, we, as Englishmen have
nothing but your bare word for it."
"Well, it's very hard," replied the lad, "to be attacked this way by a
brother officer; your coat will be as shabby as mine, before you have
been here long."
"That's very true, my darling," returned O'Brien: "but at least I shall
have the pleasant reflection that I came in as a gentleman, although I
may not exactly go out under the same appearance. Good night, and
pleasant dreams to you!" I thought O'Brien rather cross in speaking in
such a way, but he was himself always as remarkably neat and well
dressed, as he was handsome and well made.
Fortunately we were not destined to remain long in this detestable hole.
After a night of misery, during which we remained sitting on our
bundles, and sleeping how we could, leaning with our backs against the
damp wall, we were roused, at daybreak by the unbarring of the prison
doors, followed up with an order to go into the prison yard. We were
huddled out like a flock of sheep, by a file of soldiers with loaded
muskets; and, as we went into the yard, were ranged two and two. The
same officer who ordered us into prison, commanded the detachment of
soldiers who had us in charge. O'Brien stepped out of the ranks, and,
addressing them, stated that we were officers, and had no right to be
treated like common sailors. The French officer replied, that he had
better information, and that we wore coats which did not belong to us;
upon which O'Brien was in a great rage, calling the officer a liar, and
demanding satisfaction for the insult, appealing to the French soldiers,
and stating, that Colonel O'Brien, who was at Cette, was his countryman,
and had received him for two months into his house upon parole, which
was quite sufficient to establish his being an officer. The French
soldiers appeared to side with O'Brien after they had heard this
explanation, stating that no common English sailor could speak such good
French, and that they were present when we were sent in on parole, and
they asked the officer whether he intended to give satisfaction. The
officer stormed, and drawing his sword out of the scabbard, struck
O'Brien with the flat of the blade, looking at him with contempt, and
ordering him into the ranks. I could not help observing that, during
this scene, the men-of-war sailors who were among the prisoners, were
very indignant, while, on the contrary, those captured in merchant
vessels appeared to be pleased with the insult offered to O'Brien. One
of the French soldiers then made a sarcastic remark, that the French
officer did not much like the name of O'Brien. This so enraged the
officer, that he flew at O'Brien, pushed him back into the ranks, and
taking out a pistol, threatened to shoot him through the head. I must do
the justice to the French soldiers, that they all cried out "Shame!"
They did not appear to have the same discipline, or the same respect for
an officer, as the soldiers have in our service, or they would not have
been so free in their language; yet, at the same time, they obeyed all
his orders on service very implicitly.
When O'Brien returned to the ranks, he looked defiance at the officer,
telling him, "That he would pocket the affront very carefully, as he
intended to bring it out again upon a future and more suitable
occasion." We were then marched out in ranks, two and two, being met at
the street by two drummers, and a crowd of people, who had gathered to
witness our departure. The drums beat, and away we went. The officer who
had charge of us mounted a small horse, galloping up and down from one
end of the ranks to the other, with his sword drawn, bullying, swearing,
and striking with the flat of the blade at any one of the prisoners who
was not in his proper place. When we were close to the gates, we were
joined by another detachment of prisoners: we were then ordered to halt,
and were informed, through an interpreter, that any one attempting to
escape would immediately be shot, after which information we once more
proceeded on our route.
Nothing remarkable occurred during our first day's march, except perhaps
a curious conversation between O'Brien and one of the French soldiers,
in which they disputed about the comparative bravery of the two nations.
O'Brien, in his argument, told the Frenchman that his countrymen could
not stand a charge of English bayonets. The Frenchman replied that there
was no doubt but the French were quite as brave as the English--even
more so; and that, as for not standing the charge of bayonets, it was
not because they were less brave; but the fact was, that they were most
excessively _ticklish_. We had black bread and sour wine served out to
us this day, when we halted to refresh. O'Brien persuaded a soldier to
purchase something for us more eatable; but the French officer heard of
it, and was very angry, ordering the soldier to the rear.
O'Brien fights a duel with a French officer, and proves that the great
art of fencing is knowing nothing about it--We arrive at our new
quarters, which we find very secure.
At night we arrived at a small town, the name of which I forget. Here we
were all put into an old church for the night, and a very bad night we
passed. They did not even give us a little straw to lie down upon: the
roof of the church had partly fallen in, and the moon shone through very
brightly. This was some comfort; for to have been shut up in the dark,
seventy-five in number, would have been very miserable. We were afraid
to lie down anywhere, as, like all ruined buildings in France, the
ground was covered with filth, and the smell was shocking. O'Brien was
very thoughtful, and would hardly answer any question that I put to him;
it was evident that he was brooding over the affront which he had
received from the French officer. At daybreak, the door of the church
was again opened by the French soldiers, and we were conducted to the
square of the town, where we found the troops quartered, drawn up with
their officers, to receive us from the detachment who had escorted us
from Toulon. We were very much pleased with this, as we knew that we
should be forwarded by another detachment, and thus be rid of the brutal
officer who had hitherto had charge of the prisoners. But we were rid of
him in another way. As the French officers walked along our ranks to
look at us, I perceived among them a captain, whom we had known very
intimately when we were living at Cette with Colonel O'Brien. I cried
out his name immediately; he turned round, and seeing O'Brien and me, he
came up to us, shaking us by the hand, and expressing his surprise at
finding us in such a situation. O'Brien explained to him how we had been
treated, at which he expressed his indignation, as did the other
officers who had collected round us. The major who commanded the troops
in the town turned to the French officer (he was only a lieutenant) who
had conducted us from Toulon, and demanded of him his reason for
behaving to us in such an unworthy manner. He denied having treated us
ill, and said that he had been informed that we had put on officers'
dresses which did not belong to us. At this O'Brien declared that he was
a liar, and a cowardly _foutre_, that he had struck him with the back of
his sabre, which he would not have dared do if he had not been a
prisoner; adding, that all he requested was satisfaction for the insult
offered to him, and appealed to the officers whether, if it were
refused, the lieutenant's epaulets ought not to be cut off his
shoulders. The major commandant and the officers retired to consult,
and, after a few minutes, they agreed that the lieutenant was bound to
give the satisfaction required. The lieutenant replied that he was
ready; but, at the same time, did not appear to be very willing. The
prisoners were left in charge of the soldiers, under a junior officer,
while the others, accompanied by O'Brien, myself, and the lieutenant,
walked to a short distance outside the town. As we proceeded there, I
asked O'Brien with what weapons they would fight.
"I take it for granted," replied he, "that it will be with the small
"But," said I, "do you know anything about fencing?"
"Devil a bit, Peter; but that's all in my favour."
"How can that be?" replied I.
"I'll tell you, Peter. If one man fences well, and another is but an
indifferent hand at it, it is clear that the first will run the other
through the body; but, if the other knows nothing at all about it, why
then, Peter, the case is not quite so clear: because the good fencer is
almost as much puzzled by your ignorance as you are by his skill, and
you become on more equal terms. Now, Peter, I've made up my mind that
I'll run that fellow through the body, and so I will, as sure as I am an
"Well, I hope you will; but pray do not be too sure."
"It's feeling sure that will make me able to do it, Peter. By the blood
of the O'Briens! didn't he slap me with his sword, as if I were a clown
in the pantomime. Peter, I'll kill the harlequin scoundrel, and my
word's as good as my bond!"
By this time we had arrived at the ground. The French lieutenant
stripped to his shirt and trousers; O'Brien did the same, kicking his
boots off, and standing upon the wet grass in his stockings. The swords
were measured, and handed to them; they took their distance, and set to.
I must say, that I was breathless with anxiety; the idea of losing
O'Brien struck me with grief and terror. I then felt the value of all
his kindness to me, and would have taken his place, and have been run
through the body, rather than he should have been hurt. At first,
O'Brien put himself in the correct attitude of defence, in imitation of
the lieutenant, but this was for a very few seconds; he suddenly made a
spring, and rushed on to his adversary, stabbing at him with a velocity
quite astonishing, the lieutenant parrying in his defence, until at last
he had an opportunity of lungeing at O'Brien. O'Brien, who no longer
kept his left arm raised in equipoise, caught the sword of the
lieutenant at within six inches of the point, and directing it under his
left arm, as he rushed in, passed his own through the lieutenant's body.
It was all over in less than a minute--the lieutenant did not live half
an hour afterwards. The French officers were very much surprised at the
result, for they perceived at once that O'Brien knew nothing of fencing.
O'Brien gathered a tuft of grass, wiped the sword, which he presented to
the officer to whom it belonged, and thanking the major and the whole of
them for their impartiality and gentlemanlike conduct, led the way to
the square, where he again took his station in the ranks of the
Shortly after, the major commandant came up to us, and asked whether we
would accept of our parole, as, in that case, we might travel as we
pleased. We consented, with many thanks for his civility and kindness;
but I could not help thinking at the time, that the French officers were
a little mortified at O'Brien's success, although they were too
honourable to express the feeling. O'Brien told me, after we had quitted
the town, that had it not been for the handsome conduct of the officers,
he would not have accepted our parole, as he felt convinced that we
could have easily made our escape. We talked over the matter a long
while, and at last agreed that there would be a better chance of success
by and by, when more closely guarded, than there would be now, under
consideration of all circumstances, as it required previously concerted
arrangements to get out of the country.
I had almost forgotten to say, that on our return after the duel the
cutter's midshipman called out to O'Brien, requesting him to state to
the commandant that he was also an officer; but O'Brien replied, that
there was no evidence for it but his bare word. If he was an officer he
must prove it himself, as everything in his appearance flatly
contradicted his assertion.
"It's very hard," replied the midshipman, "that because my jacket's a
little tarry or so I must lose my rank."
"My dear fellow," replied O'Brien, "it's not because your jacket's a
little tarry; it is because what the Frenchmen call your _tout ensemble_
is quite disgraceful in an officer. Look at your face in the first
puddle, and you'll find that it would dirty the water you look into.
Look at your shoulders above your ears, and your back with a bow like a
_kink_ in a cable. Your trowsers, sir, you have pulled your legs too far
through, showing a foot and a half of worsted stockings. In short, look
at yourself altogether, and then tell me, provided you be an officer,
whether, from respect to the service, it would not be my duty to
contradict it. It goes against my conscience, my dear fellow; but
recollect that when we arrive at the depot, you will be able to prove
it, so it's only waiting a little while, until the captains will pass
their word for you, which is more than I will."
"Well, it's very hard," replied the midshipman, "that I must go on
eating this black rye bread; and very unkind of you."
"It's very kind of me, you spalpeen of the Snapper. Prison will be a
paradise to you, when you get into good commons. How you'll relish your
grub by-and-by! So now shut your pan, or by the tail of Jonah's whale,
I'll swear you're a Spaniard."
I could not help thinking that O'Brien was very severe upon the poor
lad, and I expostulated with him afterwards. He replied, "Peter, if, as
a cutter's midshipman, he is a bit of an officer, the devil a bit is he
of a gentleman, either born or bred: and I'm not bound to bail every
blackguard-looking chap that I meet. By the head of St Peter, I would
blush to be seen in his company, if I were in the wildest bog in
Ireland, with nothing but an old crow as spectator."
We were now again permitted to be on our parole, and received every
attention and kindness from the different officers who commanded the
detachments which passed the prisoners from one town to another. In a
few days we arrived at Montpelier, where we had orders to remain a short
time until directions were received from Government as to the depots for
prisoners to which we were to be sent. At this delightful town, we had
unlimited parole, not even a gendarme accompanying us. We lived at the
table d'hote, were permitted to walk about where we pleased, and amused
ourselves every evening at the theatre. During our stay there we wrote
to Colonel O'Brien at Cette, thanking him for his kindness, and
narrating what had occurred since we parted. I also wrote to Celeste,
inclosing my letter unsealed in the one to Colonel O'Brien. I told her
the history of O'Brien's duel, and all I could think would interest her;
how sorry I was to have parted from her; that I never would forget her;
and trusted that some day, as she was only half a Frenchwoman, we should
meet again. Before we left Montpelier, we had the pleasure of receiving
answers to our letters: the colonel's letters were very kind,
particularly the one to me, in which he called me his dear boy, and
hoped that I should soon rejoin my friends, and prove an ornament to my
country. In his letter to O'Brien, he requested him not to run me into
useless danger--to recollect that I was not so well able to undergo
extreme hardship. I have no doubt but that this caution referred to
O'Brien's intention to escape from prison, which he had not concealed
from the colonel, and the probability that I would be a partner in the
attempt. The answer from Celeste was written in English; but she must
have had assistance from her father, or she could not have succeeded so
well. It was like herself, very kind and affectionate; and also ended
with wishing me a speedy return to my friends, who must (she said) be so
fond of me, that she despaired of ever seeing me more, but that she
consoled herself as well as she could with the assurance that I should
be happy. I forgot to say, that Colonel O'Brien, in his letter to me,
stated that he expected immediate orders to leave Cette, and take the
command of some military post in the interior, or join the army, but
which, he could not tell; that they had packed up everything, and he was
afraid that our correspondence must cease, as he could not state to what
place we should direct our letters. I could not help thinking at the
time, that it was a delicate way of pointing out to us that it was not
right that he should correspond with us in our relative situations; but
still, I was sure that he was about to leave Cette, for he never would
have made use of a subterfuge. I must here acquaint the reader with a
circumstance which I forgot to mention, which was that when Captain
Savage sent in a flag of truce with our clothes and money, I thought
that it was but justice to O'Brien that they should know on board of the
frigate the gallant manner in which he had behaved. I knew that he would
never tell himself, so, ill as I was at the time, I sent for Colonel
O'Brien, and requested him to write down my statement of the affair, in
which I mentioned how O'Brien had spiked the last gun, and had been
taken prisoner by so doing, together with his attempting to save me.
When the colonel had written all down, I requested that he would send
for the major, who first entered the fort with the troops, and translate
it to him in French. This he did in my presence, and the major declared
every word to be true. "Will he attest it, colonel, as it may be of
great service to O'Brien?" The major immediately assented. Colonel
O'Brien then enclosed my letter, with a short note from himself, to
Captain Savage, paying him a compliment, and assuring him that his
gallant young officers should be treated with every attention, and all
the kindness which the rules of war would admit of. O'Brien never knew
that I had sent that letter, as the colonel, at my request, kept the
In ten days we received an order to march on the following morning. The
sailors, among whom was our poor friend the midshipman of the Snapper
cutter, were ordered to Verdun; O'Brien and I, with eight masters of
merchant vessels, who joined us at Montpelier, were directed by the
Government to be sent to Givet, a fortified town in the department of
Ardennes. But, at the same time, orders arrived from Government to treat
the prisoners with great strictness, and not to allow any parole; the
reason of this, we were informed, was that accounts had been sent to
Government of the death of the French officer in the duel with O'Brien,
and they had expressed their dissatisfaction at its having been
permitted. Indeed, I very much doubt whether it would have been
permitted in our country, but the French officers are almost
romantically chivalrous in their ideas of honour; in fact, as enemies, I
have always considered them as worthy antagonists to the English, and
they appear more respectable in themselves, and more demanding our
goodwill in that situation, than they do when we meet them as friends,
and are acquainted with the other points of their character, which
lessen them in our estimation.
I shall not dwell upon a march of three weeks, during which we
alternately received kind or unhandsome treatment, according to the
dispositions of those who had us in charge; but I must observe, that it
was invariably the case, that officers who were gentlemen by birth
treated us with consideration, while those who had sprung from nothing
during the Revolution, were harsh, and sometimes even brutal. It was
exactly four months from the time of our capture that we arrived at our
destined prison at Givet.
"Peter," said O'Brien, as he looked hastily at the fortifications, and
the river which divided the two towns, "I see no reason, either English
or French, that we should not eat our Christmas dinner in England. I've
a bird's eye view of the outside, and now, have only to find out
where-abouts we may be in the inside."
I must say that, when I looked at the ditches and high ramparts, I had a
different opinion; so had a gendarme who was walking by our side, and
who had observed O'Brien's scrutiny, and who quietly said to him in
French, "_Vous le croyez possible!_"
"Everything is possible to a brave man--the French armies have proved
that," answered O'Brien.
"You are right," replied the gendarme, pleased with the compliment to
his nation; "I wish you success, you will deserve it; but--" and he
shook his head.
"If I could but obtain a plan of the fortress," said O'Brien, "I would
give five Napoleons for one," and he looked at the gendarme.
"I cannot see any objection to an officer, although a prisoner, studying
fortification," replied the gendarme. "In two hours you will be within
the walls; and now I recollect, in the map of the two towns, the
fortress is laid down sufficiently accurately to give you an idea of it.
But we have conversed too long." So saying, the gendarme dropped into
In a quarter of an hour, we arrived at the Place d'Armes, where we were
met, as usual, by another detachment of troops, and drummers, who
paraded us through the town previous to our being drawn up before the
governor's house. This, I ought to have observed, was, by order of
Government, done at every town we passed through; it was very
contemptible, but prisoners were so scarce, that they made all the
display of us that they could. As we stopped at the governor's house,
the gendarme, who had left us in the square, made a sign to O'Brien, as
much as to say, I have it. O'Brien took out five Napoleons, which he
wrapped in paper, and held in his hand. In a minute or two, the gendarme
came up and presented O'Brien with an old silk handkerchief, saying,
"_Votre mouchoir, monsieur_."
"_Merci,"_ replied O'Brien, putting the handkerchief which contained the
map into his pocket, "_voici a boire, mon ami_;" and he slipped the
paper with the five Napoleons into the hand of the gendarme, who
This was very fortunate for us, as we afterwards discovered that a mark
had been put against O'Brien's and my name, not to allow parole or
permission to leave the fortress, even under surveillance. Indeed, even
if it had not been so, we never should have obtained it, as the
lieutenant killed by O'Brien was nearly related to the commandant of the
fortress, who was as much a _mauvais sujet_ as his kinsman. Having
waited the usual hour before the governor's house, to answer to our
muster-roll, and to be stared at, we were dismissed; and in a few
minutes, found ourselves shut up in one of the strongest fortresses in
O'Brien receives his commission as lieutenant, and then we take French
leave of Givet.
If I doubted the practicability of escape when I examined the exterior,
when we were ushered into the interior of the fortress, I felt that it
was impossible, and I stated my opinion to O'Brien. We were conducted
into a yard surrounded by a high wall; the buildings appropriated for
the prisoners were built with _lean-to_ roofs on one side, and at each
side of the square was a sentry looking down upon us. It was very much
like the dens which they now build for bears, only so much larger.
O'Brien answered me with a "Pish! Peter, it's the very security of the
place which will enable us to get out of it. But don't talk, as there
are always spies about who understand English."
We were shown into a room allotted to six of us; our baggage was
examined, and then delivered over to us. "Better and better, Peter,"
observed O'Brien, "they've not found it out!"
"What?" inquired I.
"Oh, only a little selection of articles, which might be useful to us
He then showed me what I never before was aware of: that he had a false
bottom to his trunk; but it was papered over like the rest, and very
ingeniously concealed. "And what is there, O'Brien?" inquired I.
"Never mind; I had them made at Montpelier. You'll see by-and-by."
The others, who were lodged in the same room, then came in, and after
staying a quarter of an hour, went away at the sound of the dinner-bell.
"Now, Peter," said O'Brien, "I must get rid of my load. Turn the key."
O'Brien then undressed himself, and when he threw off his shirt and
drawers, showed me a rope of silk, with a knot at every two feet, about
half-an-inch in size, wound round and round his body. There were about
sixty feet of it altogether. As I unwound it, he, turning round and
round, observed, "Peter, I've worn this rope ever since I left
Montpelier, and you've no idea of the pain I have suffered; but we must
go to England, that's decided upon."
When I looked at O'Brien, as the rope was wound off, I could easily
imagine that he had really been in great pain; in several places his
flesh was quite raw from the continual friction, and after it was all
unwound, and he had put on his clothes, he fainted away. I was very much
alarmed, but I recollected to put the rope into the trunk, and take out
the key, before I called for assistance. He soon came to, and on being
asked what was the matter, said that he was subject to fits from his
infancy. He looked earnestly at me, and I showed him the key, which was
For some days O'Brien, who really was not very well, kept to his room.
During this time, he often examined the map given him by the gendarme.
One day he said to me, "Peter, can you swim?"
"No," replied I; "but never mind that."
"But I must mind it, Peter; for observe, we shall have to cross the
river Meuse, and boats are not always to be had. You observe, that this
fortress is washed by the river on one side: and as it is the strongest
side, it is the least guarded--we must escape by it. I can see my way
clear enough till we get to the second rampart on the river, but when we
drop into the river, if you cannot swim, I must contrive to hold you up,
somehow or another."
"Are you then determined to escape, O'Brien? I cannot perceive how we
are even to get up this wall, with four sentries staring us in the
"Never do you mind that, Peter, mind your own business; and first tell
me, do you intend to try your luck with me?"
"Yes," replied I, "most certainly; if you have sufficient confidence in
me to take me as your companion."
"To tell you the truth, Peter, I would not give a farthing to escape
without you. We were taken together, and, please God, we'll take
ourselves off together; but that must not be for this month; our
greatest help will be the dark nights and foul weather."
The prison was by all accounts very different from Verdun and some
others. We had no parole, and but little communication with the
townspeople. Some were permitted to come in and supply us with various
articles; but their baskets were searched to see that they contained
nothing that might lead to an escape on the part of the prisoners.
Without the precautions that O'Brien had taken, any attempt would have
been useless. Still, O'Brien, as soon as he left his room, did obtain
several little articles--especially balls of twine--for one of the
amusements of the prisoners was flying kites. This, however, was put a
stop to, in consequence of one of the strings, whether purposely or
not, I cannot say, catching the lock of the musket carried by one of
the sentries who looked down upon us, and twitching it out of his hand;
after which an order was given by the commandant for no kites to be
permitted. This was fortunate for us, as O'Brien, by degrees,
purchased all the twine belonging to the other prisoners; and, as we
were more than three hundred in number, it amounted to sufficient to
enable him, by stealth, to lay it up into very strong cord, or rather,
into a sort of square plait, known only to sailors. "Now, Peter," said
he one day, "I want nothing more than an umbrella for you."
"Why an umbrella for me?"
"To keep you from being drowned with too much water, that's all."
"Rain won't drown me."
"No, no, Peter; but buy a new one as soon as you can."
I did so. O'Brien boiled up a quantity of bees' wax and oil, and gave it
several coats of this preparation. He then put it carefully away in the
ticking of his bed. I asked him whether he intended to make known his
plan to any of the other prisoners; he replied in the negative, saying,
that there were so many of them who could not be trusted, that he
would trust no one. We had been now about two months in Givet, when a
Steel's List was sent to a lieutenant, who was confined there. The
lieutenant came up to O'Brien, and asked him his Christian name.
"Terence, to be sure," replied O'Brien.
"Then," answered the lieutenant, "I may congratulate you on your
promotion, for here you are upon the list of August."
"Sure there must be some trifling mistake; let me look at it. Terence
O'Brien, sure enough; but now the question is, has any other fellow
robbed me of my name and promotion at the same time? Bother, what can it
mane? I won't belave it--not a word of it. I've no more interest than a
dog who drags cats'-meat."
"Really, O'Brien," observed I, "I cannot see why you should not be made;
I am sure you deserve your promotion for your conduct when you were
"And what did I do then, you simple Peter, but put you on my back as the
men do their hammocks when they are piped down; but, barring all claim,
how could any one know what took place in the battery, except you, and
I, and the armourer, who lay dead? So explain that, Peter, if you can."
"I think I can," replied I, after the lieutenant had left us. And I then
told O'Brien how I had written to Captain Savage, and had had the fact
attested by the major who had made us prisoners.
"Well, Peter," said O'Brien, after a pause, "there's a fable about a
lion and a mouse. If, by your means, I have obtained my promotion, why
then the mouse is a finer baste than the lion; but instead of being
happy, I shall now be miserable until the truth is ascertained one way
or the other, and that's another reason why I must set off to England as
fast as I can."
For a few days after this O'Brien was very uneasy; but fortunately
letters arrived by that time; one to me from my father, in which he
requested me to draw for whatever money I might require, saying that the
whole family would retrench in every way to give me all the comfort
which might be obtained in my unfortunate situation. I wept at his
kindness, and more than ever longed to throw myself in his arms, and
thank him. He also told me that my uncle William was dead, and that
there was only one between him and the title, but that my grandfather
was in good health, and had been very kind to him lately. My mother was
much afflicted at my having been made a prisoner, and requested I would
write as often as I could. O'Brien's letter was from Captain Savage; the
frigate had been sent home with despatches, and O'Brien's conduct
represented to the Admiralty, which had, in consequence, promoted him to
the rank of lieutenant. O'Brien came to me with the letter, his
countenance radiant with joy as he put it into my hands. In return I put
mine into his, and he read it over.
"Peter, my boy, I'm under great obligations to you. When you were
wounded and feverish, you thought of me at a time when you had quite
enough to think of yourself; but I never thank in words. I see your
uncle William is dead. How many more uncles have you?"
"My uncle John, who is married, and has already two daughters."
"Blessings on him; may he stick to the female line of business! Peter,
my boy, you shall be a lord before you die."
"Nonsense, O'Brien; I have no chance. Don't put such foolish ideas in my
"What chance had I of being a lieutenant, and am I not one? Well, Peter,
you've helped to make a lieutenant of me, but I'll make a _man_ of you,
and that's better. Peter, I perceive, with all your simplicity, that
you're not over and above simple, and that, with all your asking for
advice, you can think and act for yourself on an emergency. Now, Peter,
these are talents that must not be thrown away in this cursed hole, and
therefore, my boy, prepare yourself to quit this place in a week, wind
and weather permitting; that is to say, not fair wind and weather, but
the fouler the better. Will you be ready at any hour of any night that I
call you up?"
"Yes, O'Brien, I will, and do my best."
"No man can do much more that ever I heard of. But, Peter, do me one
favour, as I am really a lieutenant, just touch your hat to me only
once, that's all; but I wish the compliment, just to see how it looks."
"Lieutenant O'Brien," said I, touching my hat, "have you any further
"Yes, sir," replied he; "that you never presume to touch your hat to me
again, unless we sail together, and then that's a different sort of
About a week afterwards, O'Brien came to me, and said, "The new moon's
quartered in with foul weather; if it holds, prepare for a start. I have
put what is necessary in your little haversack; it may be to-night. Go
to bed now, and sleep for a week if you can, for you'll get but little
sleep, if we succeed, for the week to come."
This was about eight o'clock. I went to bed, and about twelve I was
roused by O'Brien, who told me to dress myself carefully, and come down
to him in the yard. I did so without disturbing any body, and found the
night as dark as pitch (it was then November), and raining in torrents;
the wind was high, howling round the yard, and sweeping in the rain in
every direction as it eddied to and fro. It was some time before I could
find O'Brien, who was hard at work; and, as I had already been made
acquainted with all his plans, I will now explain them. At Montpelier he
had procured six large pieces of iron, about eighteen inches long, with
a gimlet at one end of each, and a square at the other, which fitted to
a handle which unshipped. For precaution he had a spare handle, but each
handle fitted to all the irons. O'Brien had screwed one of these pieces
of iron between the interstices of the stones of which the wall was
built, and sitting astride on that, was fixing another about three feet
above. When he had accomplished this, he stood upon the lower iron, and
supporting himself by the second, which about met his hip, he screwed in
a third, always fixing them about six inches on one side of the other,
and not one above the other. When he had screwed in his six irons, he
was about half up the wall, and then he fastened his rope, which he had
carried round his neck, to the upper iron, and lowering himself down,
unscrewed the four lower irons: then ascending by the rope, he stood
upon the fifth iron, and supporting himself by the upper iron,
recommenced his task. By these means he arrived in the course of an hour
and a half to the top of the wall, where he fixed his last iron, and
making his rope fast, he came down again. "Now, Peter," said he, "there
is no fear of the sentries seeing us; if they had the eyes of cats, they
could not until we were on the top of the wall; but then we arrive at
the glacis, and we must creep to the ramparts on our bellies. I am going
up with all the materials. Give me your haversack--you will go up
lighter; and recollect, should any accident happen to me, you run to bed
again. If, on the contrary, I pull the rope up and down three or four
times, you may sheer up it as fast as you can." O'Brien then loaded
himself with the other rope, the two knapsacks, iron crows, and other
implements he had procured; and, last of all, with the umbrella. "Peter,
if the rope bears me with all this, it is clear it will bear such a
creature as you are, therefore don't be afraid." So whispering, he
commenced his ascent; in about three minutes he was up, and the rope
pulled. I immediately followed him, and found the rope very easy to
climb, from the knots at every two feet, which gave me a hold for my
feet, and I was up in as short a time as he was. He caught me by the
collar, putting his wet hand on my mouth, and I lay down beside him
while he pulled up the rope. We then crawled on our stomachs across the
glacis till we arrived at the rampart. The wind blew tremendously, and
the rain pattered down so fast, that the sentries did not perceive us;
indeed, it was no fault of theirs, for it was impossible to have made us
out. It was some time before O'Brien could find out the point exactly
above the drawbridge of the first ditch; at last he did--he fixed his
crow-bar in, and lowered down the rope. "Now, Peter, I had better go
first again; when I shake the rope from below, all's right." O'Brien
descended, and in a few minutes the rope again shook; I followed him,
and found myself received in his arms upon the meeting of the
drawbridge; but the drawbridge itself was up. O'Brien led the way across
the chains, and I followed him. When we had crossed the moat, we found a
barrier gate locked; this puzzled us. O'Brien pulled out his picklocks
to pick it, but without success; here we were fast. "We must undermine
the gate, O'Brien; we must pull up the pavement until we can creep
under." "Peter, you are a fine fellow; I never thought of that." We
worked very hard until the hole was large enough, using the crow-bar
which was left, and a little wrench which O'Brien had with him. By these
means we got under the gate in the course of an hour or more. This gate
led to the lower rampart, but we had a covered way to pass through
before we arrived at it. We proceeded very cautiously, when we heard a
noise: we stopped, and found that it was a sentry, who was fast asleep,
and snoring. Little expecting to find one here, we were puzzled; pass
him we could not well, as he was stationed on the very spot where we
required to place our crow-bar to descend the lower rampart into the
river. O'Brien thought for a moment. "Peter," said he, "now is the time
for you to prove yourself a man. He is fast asleep, but his noise must
be stopped. I will stop his mouth, but at the very moment that I do so
you must throw open the pan of his musket, and then he cannot fire it."
"I will, O'Brien; don't fear me." We crept cautiously up to him, and
O'Brien motioning to me to put my thumb upon the pan, I did so, and the
moment that O'Brien put his hand upon the soldier's mouth, I threw open
the pan. The fellow struggled, and snapped his lock as a signal, but of
course without discharging his musket, and in a minute he was not only
gagged but bound by O'Brien, with my assistance. Leaving him there, we
proceeded to the rampart, and fixing the crow-bar again, O'Brien
descended; I followed him, and found him in the river, hanging on to the
rope; the umbrella was opened and turned upwards; the preparation made
it resist the water, and, as previously explained to me by O'Brien, I
had only to hold on at arm's length to two beckets which he had affixed
to the point of the umbrella, which was under water. To the same part
O'Brien had a tow-line, which taking in his teeth, he towed me down with
the stream to about a hundred yards clear of the fortress, where we
landed. O'Brien was so exhausted that for a few minutes he remained
quite motionless; I also was benumbed with the cold. "Peter," said he,
"thank God we have succeeded so far; now must we push on as far as we
can, for we shall have daylight in two hours." O'Brien took out his
flask of spirits, and we both drank a half tumbler at least, but we
should not in our state have been affected with a bottle. We now walked
along the river-side till we fell in with a small craft, with a boat
towing astern: O'Brien swam to it, and cutting the painter without
getting in, towed it on shore. The oars were fortunately in the boat. I
got in, we shoved off, and rowed away down the stream till the dawn of
day. "All's right, Peter; now we'll land. This is the Forest of
Ardennes." We landed, replaced the oars in the boat, and pushed her off
into the stream, to induce people to suppose that she had broken adrift,
and then hastened into the thickest of the wood. It still rained hard; I
shivered, and my teeth chattered with the cold, but there was no help
for it. We again took a dram of spirits, and, worn out with fatigue and
excitement, soon fell fast asleep upon a bed of leaves which we had
Grave consequences of gravitation--O'Brien enlists himself as a
gendarme, and takes charge of me--We are discovered, and obliged to run
for it--The pleasures of a winter bivouac.
It was not until noon that I awoke, when I found that O'Brien had
covered me more than a foot deep with leaves to protect me from the
weather. I felt quite warm and comfortable; my clothes had dried on me,
but without giving me cold. "How very kind of you, O'Brien!" said I.
"Not a bit, Peter: you have hard work to go through yet, and I must take
care of you. You're but a bud, and I'm a full-blown rose." So saying, he
put the spirit-flask to his mouth, and then handed it to me. "Now,
Peter, we must make a start, for depend upon it they will scour the
country for us; but this is a large wood, and they may as well attempt
to find a needle in a bundle of hay, if we once get into the heart of
"I think," said I, "that this forest is mentioned by Shakespeare, in one
of his plays."
"Very likely, Peter," replied O'Brien; "but we are at no playwork now;
and what reads amazing prettily, is no joke in reality. I've often
observed, that your writers never take the weather into consideration."
"I beg your pardon, O'Brien; in King Lear the weather was tremendous."
"Very likely; but who was the king that went out in such weather?"
"King Lear did, when he was mad."
"So he was, that's certain, Peter; but runaway prisoners have some
excuse; so now for a start."
We set off, forcing our way through the thicket, for about three hours,
O'Brien looking occasionally at his pocket compass; it then was again
nearly dark, and O'Brien proposed a halt. We made up a bed of leaves for
the night, and slept much more comfortably than we had the night before.
All our bread was wet, but as we had no water, it was rather a relief;
the meat we had with us was sufficient for a week. Once more we laid
down and fell fast asleep. About five o'clock in the morning I was
roused by O'Brien, who at the same time put his hand gently over my
mouth. I sat up, and perceived a large fire not far from us. "The
Philistines are upon us, Peter," said he; "I have reconnoitred, and they
are the gendarmes. I'm fearful of going away, as we may stumble upon
some more of them. I've been thinking what's best before I waked you;
and it appears to me, that we had better get up the tree, and lie
At that time we were hidden in a copse of underwood, with a large oak in
the centre, covered with ivy. "I think so too, O'Brien; shall we go up
now, or wait a little?"
"Now, to be sure, that they're eating their prog. Mount you, Peter, and
I'll help you."
O'Brien shoved me up the tree, and then waiting a little while to bury
our haversacks among the leaves, he followed me. He desired me to remain
in a very snug position, on the first fork of the tree, while he took
another, amongst a bunch of ivy, on the largest bough. There we remained
for about an hour, when day dawned. We observed the gendarmes mustered
at the break of day, by the corporal, and then they all separated in
different directions, to scour the wood. We were delighted to perceive
this, as we hoped soon to be able to get away; but there was one
gendarme who remained. He walked to and fro, looking everywhere, until
he came directly under the tree in which we were concealed. He poked
about, until at last he came to the bed of leaves upon which we had
slept; these he turned over and over with his bayonet, until he routed
out our haversacks. "Pardi!" exclaimed he, "where the nest and eggs are,
the birds are near." He then walked round the tree, looking up into
every part, but we were well concealed, and he did not discover us for
some time. At last he saw me, and ordered me to come down. I paid no
attention to him, as I had no signal from O'Brien. He walked round a
little farther, until he was directly under the branch on which O'Brien
lay. Taking up this position, he had a fairer aim at me, and levelled
his musket, saying, "_Descendez, ou je tire_." Still I continued
immoveable, for I knew not what to do. I shut my eyes, however; the
musket shortly afterwards was discharged, and, whether from fear or not
I can hardly tell, I lost my hold of a sudden, and down I came. I was
stunned with the fall, and thought that I must have been wounded, and
was very much surprised, when, instead of the gendarme, O'Brien came up
to me, and asked whether I was hurt. I answered, I believed not, and got
upon my legs, when I found the gendarme lying on the ground, breathing
heavily, but insensible. When O'Brien perceived the gendarme level his
musket at me, he immediately dropped from the bough, right upon his
head; this occasioned the musket to go off, without hitting me, and at
the same time, the weight of O'Brien's body from such a height killed
the gendarme, for he expired before we left him. "Now, Peter," said
O'Brien, "this is the most fortunate thing in the world, and will take
us half through the country; but we have no time to lose." He then
stripped the gendarme, who still breathed heavily, and dragging him to
our bed of leaves, covered him up, threw off his own clothes, which he
tied in a bundle, and gave to me to carry, and put on those of the
gendarme. I could not help laughing at the metamorphosis, and asked
O'Brien what he intended. "Sure, I'm a gendarme, bringing with me a
prisoner, who has escaped." He then tied my hands with a cord,
shouldered his musket, and off we set. We now quitted the wood as soon
as we could; for O'Brien said that he had no fear for the next ten days;
and so it proved. We had one difficulty, which was, that we were going
the wrong way; but that was obviated by travelling mostly at night, when
no questions were asked, except at the cabarets, where we lodged, and
they did not know which way we came. When we stopped at night, my youth
excited a great deal of commiseration, especially from the females; and
in one instance I was offered assistance to escape. I consented to it,
but at the same time informed O'Brien of the plan proposed. O'Brien kept
watch--I dressed myself, and was at the open window, when he rushed in,
seizing me, and declaring that he would inform the Government of the
conduct of the parties. Their confusion and distress were very great.
They offered O'Brien twenty, thirty, forty Napoleons, if he would hush
it up, for they were aware of the penalty and imprisonment. O'Brien
replied that he would not accept of any money in compromise of his duty;
that after he had given me into the charge of the gendarme of the next
post, his business was at an end, and he must return to Flushing, where
he was stationed.
"I have a sister there," replied the hostess, "who keeps an inn. You'll
want good quarters, and a friendly cup; do not denounce us, and I'll
give you a letter to her, which, if it does not prove of service, you
can then return and give the information."
O'Brien consented; the letter was delivered, and read to him, in which
the sister was requested, by the love she bore to the writer, to do all
she could for the bearer, who had the power of making the whole family
miserable, but had refused so to do. O'Brien pocketed the letter, filled
his brandy-flask, and saluting all the women, left the cabaret, dragging
me after him with a cord. The only difference, as O'Brien observed after
he went out, was, that he (O'Brien) kissed all the women, and all the
women kissed me. In this way, we had proceeded by Charleroy and Louvain,
and were within a few miles of Malines, when a circumstance occurred
which embarrassed us not a little. We were following our route, avoiding
Malines, which was a fortified town, and at the time were in a narrow
lane, with wide ditches, full of water, on each side. At the turning of
a sharp corner, we met the gendarme who had supplied O'Brien with a map
of the town of Givet. "Good morning, comrade," said he to O'Brien,
looking earnestly at him, "whom have we here?"
"A young Englishman, whom I picked up close by, escaped from prison."
"He will not say; but I suspect from Givet."
"There are two who have escaped from Givet," replied he: "how they
escaped no one can imagine; but," continued he, again looking at
O'Brien, "_avec les braves, il n'y a rien d'impossible_."
"That is true," replied O'Brien; "I have taken one, the other cannot be
far off. You had better look for him."
"I should like to find him," replied the gendarme, "for you know that to
retake a runaway prisoner is certain promotion. You will be made a
"So much the better," replied O'Brien; "_adieu, mon ami_."
"Nay, I merely came for a walk, and will return with you to Malines,
where of course you are bound."
"We shall not get there to-night," said O'Brien, "my prisoner is too
"Well, then, we will go as far as we can; and I will assist you. Perhaps
we may find the second, who, I understand, obtained a map of the
fortress by some means or other."
We at once perceived that we were discovered. He afterwards told us that
the body of a gendarme had been found in the wood, no doubt murdered by
the prisoners, and that the body was stripped naked. "I wonder,"
continued he, "whether one of the prisoners put on his clothes, and
passed as a gendarme."
"Peter," said O'Brien, "are we to murder this man or not?"
"I should say not: pretend to trust him, and then we may give him the
slip." This was said during the time that the gendarme stopped a moment
"Well, we'll try; but first I'll put him off his guard." When the
gendarme came up with us, O'Brien observed, that the English prisoners
were very liberal; that he knew that a hundred Napoleons were often paid
for assistance, and he thought that no corporal's rank was equal to a
sum that would in France make a man happy and independent for life.
"Very true," replied the gendarme; "and let me only look upon that sum,
and I will guarantee a positive safety out of France."
"Then we understand each other," replied O'Brien; "this boy will give
two hundred--one half shall be yours, if you will assist."
"I will think of it," replied the gendarme, who then talked about
indifferent subjects, until we arrived at a small town, called Acarchot,
where we proceeded to a cabaret. The usual curiosity passed over we were
left alone, O'Brien telling the gendarme that he would expect his reply
that night or to-morrow morning. The gendarme said, to-morrow morning.
O'Brien requesting him to take charge of me, he called the woman of the
cabaret to show him a room; she showed him one or two, which he refused,
as not sufficiently safe for the prisoner. The woman laughed at the
idea, observing, "What had he to fear from a _pauvre enfant_ like me?"
"Yet this _pauvre enfant_ escaped from Givet," replied O'Brien; "these
Englishmen are devils from their birth." The last room showed to O'Brien
suited him, and he chose it--the woman not presuming to contradict a
gendarme. As soon as they came down again, O'Brien ordered me to bed,
and went up-stairs with me. He bolted the door, and pulling me to the
large chimney, we put our heads up, and whispered, that our conversation
should not be heard. "This man is not to be trusted," said O'Brien, "and
we must give him the slip. I know my way out of the inn, and we must
return the way we came, and then strike off in another direction."
"But will he permit us?"
"Not if he can help it; but I shall soon find out his manoeuvres."
O'Brien then went and stopped the key-hole, by hanging his handkerchief
across it, and stripping himself of his gendarme uniform, put on his own
clothes; then he stuffed the blankets and pillow into the gendarme's
dress, and laid it down on the outside of the bed, as if it were a man
sleeping in his clothes--indeed, it was an admirable deception. He laid
his musket by the side of the image, and then did the same to my bed,
making it appear as if there was a person asleep in it, of my size, and
putting my cap on the pillow. "Now, Peter, we'll see if he is watching
us. He will wait till he thinks we are asleep." The light still remained
in the room, and about an hour afterwards we heard a noise of one
treading on the stairs, upon which, as agreed, we crept under the bed.
The latch of our door was tried, and finding it open, which he did not
expect, the gendarme entered, and looking at both beds, went away.
"Now," said I, after the gendarme had gone down-stairs, "O'Brien, ought
we not to escape?"
"I've been thinking of it, Peter, and I have come to a resolution that
we can manage it better. He is certain to come again in an hour or two.
It is only eleven. Now I'll play him a trick." O'Brien then took one of
the blankets, make it fast to the window, which he left wide open, and
at the same time disarranged the images he had made up, so as to let the
gendarme perceive that they were counterfeit. We again crept under the
bed, and as O'Brien foretold, in about an hour more the gendarme
returned; our lamp was still burning, but he had a light of his own. He
looked at the beds, perceived at once that he had been duped, went to
the open window, and then exclaimed, "_Sacre Dieu! ils m'ont echappes et
je ne suis plus caporal. F----tre! a la chasse_!" He rushed out of the
room, and in a minute afterwards we heard him open the street door, and
"That will do, Peter," said O'Brien, laughing; "now we'll be off also,
although there's no great hurry." O'Brien then resumed his dress of a
gendarme; and about an hour afterwards we went down, and wishing the
hostess all happiness, quitted the cabaret, returning the same road by
which we had come. "Now, Peter," said O'Brien, "we're in a bit of a
puzzle. This dress won't do any more, still there's a respectability
about it, which will not allow me to put it off till the last moment."
We walked on till daylight, when we hid ourselves in a copse of trees.
At night we again started for the forest of Ardennes, for O'Brien said
our best chance was to return, until they supposed that we had had time
to effect our escape; but we never reached the forest, for on the next
day a violent snowstorm came on; it continued without intermission for
four days, during which we suffered much. Our money was not exhausted,
as I had drawn upon my father for L60, which, with the disadvantageous
exchange, had given me fifty Napoleons. Occasionally O'Brien crept into
a cabaret, and obtained provisions; but, as we dared not be seen
together as before, we were always obliged to sleep in the open air, the
ground being covered more than three feet with snow. On the fifth day,
being then six days from the forest of Ardennes, we hid ourselves in a
small wood, about a quarter of a mile from the road. I remained there
while O'Brien, as a gendarme, went to obtain provisions. As usual, I
looked out for the best shelter during his absence, and what was my
horror at falling in with a man and woman who lay dead in the snow,
having evidently perished from the weather. Just as I discovered them,
O'Brien returned, and I told him; he went with me to view the bodies.
They were dressed in a strange attire, ribands pinned upon their
clothes, and two pairs of very high stilts lying by their sides. O'Brien
surveyed them, and then said, "Peter, this is the very best thing that
could have happened to us. We may now walk through France without
soiling our feet with the cursed country."
"How do you mean?"
"I mean," said he, "that these are the people that we met near
Montpelier, who come from the Landes, walking about on their stilts for
the amusement of others, to obtain money. In their own country they are
obliged to walk so. Now, Peter, it appears to me that the man's clothes
will fit me, and the girl's (poor creature, how pretty she looks, cold
in death!) will fit you. All we have to do is to practise a little, and
then away we start."
O'Brien then, with some difficulty, pulled off the man's jacket and
trowsers, and having so done, buried him in the snow. The poor girl was
despoiled of her gown and upper petticoat, with every decency, and also
buried. We collected the clothes and stilts, and removed to another
quarter of the wood, where we found a well-sheltered spot, and took our
meal. As we did not travel that night as usual, we had to prepare our
own bed. We scraped away the snow, and made ourselves as comfortable as
we could without a fire, but the weather was dreadful.
"Peter," said O'Brien, "I'm melancholy. Here, drink plenty;" and he
handed me the flask of spirits, which had never been empty.
"Drink more, Peter."
"I cannot, O'Brien, without being tipsy."
"Never mind that, drink more; see how these two poor devils lost their
lives by falling asleep in the snow. Peter," said O'Brien, starting up,
"you sha'n't sleep here--follow me."
I expostulated in vain. It was almost dark, and he led me to the
village, near which he pitched upon a hovel (a sort of out-house).
"Peter, here is shelter; lie down and sleep, and I'll keep the watch.
Not a word, I will have it--down at once."
I did so, and in a very few minutes was fast asleep, for I was worn out
with cold and fatigue. For several days we had walked all night, and the
rest we gained by day was trifling. Oh how I longed for a warm bed with
four or five blankets! Just as the day broke, O'Brien roused me; he had
stood sentry all night, and looked very haggard.
"O'Brien, you are ill," said I.
"Not a bit; but I've emptied the brandy-flask; and that's a bad job.
However, it is to be remedied."
We then returned to the wood in a mizzling rain and fog, for the weather
had changed, and the frost had broken up. The thaw was even worse than
the frost, and we felt the cold more. O'Brien again insisted upon my
sleeping in the out-house, but this time I positively refused without he
would also sleep there, pointing out to him, that we ran no more risk,
and perhaps not so much, as if he stayed outside. Finding I was
positive, he at last consented, and we both gained it unperceived. We
lay down, but I did not go to sleep for some time, I was so anxious to
see O'Brien fast asleep. He went in and out several times, during which
I pretended to be fast asleep; at last it rained in torrents, and then
he lay down again, and in a few minutes, overpowered by nature, he fell
fast asleep, snoring so loudly, that I was afraid some one would hear
us. I then got up and watched, occasionally lying down and slumbering
awhile, and then going to the door.
Exalted with our success, we march through France without touching the
ground--I become feminine--We are voluntary conscripts.
At day-break I called O'Brien, who jumped up in a great hurry.
"Sure I've been asleep, Peter."
"Yes, you have," replied I, "and I thank Heaven that you have, for no
one could stand such fatigue as you have, much longer; and if you fall
ill, what would become of me?" This was touching him on the right point.
"Well, Peter, since there's no harm come of it, there's no harm done.
I've had sleep enough for the next week, that's certain."
We returned to the wood; the snow had disappeared, and the rain ceased;
the sun shone out from between the clouds, and we felt warm.
"Don't pass so near that way," said O'Brien, "we shall see the poor
creatures, now that the snow is gone. Peter, we must shift our quarters
to-night, for I have been to every cabaret in the village, and I cannot
go there any more without suspicion, although I am a gendarme."
We remained there till the evening, and then set off, still returning
towards Givet. About an hour before daylight we arrived at a copse of
trees, close to the road-side, and surrounded by a ditch, not above a
quarter of a mile from a village. "It appears to me," said O'Brien,
"that this will do: I will now put you there, and then go boldly to the
village and see what I can get, for here we must stay at least a week."
We walked to the copse, and the ditch being rather too wide for me to
leap, O'Brien laid the four stilts together so as to form a bridge, over
which I contrived to walk. Tossing to me all the bundles, and desiring
me to leave the stilts as a bridge for him on his return, he set off to
the village with his musket on his shoulder. He was away two hours, when
he returned with a large supply of provisions, the best we had ever had.
French saucissons, seasoned with garlic, which I thought delightful;
four bottles of brandy, besides his flask; a piece of hung beef and six
loaves of bread, besides half a baked goose and part of a large pie.
"There," said he, "we have enough for a good week; and look here, Peter,
this is better than all." And he showed me two large horse-rugs.
"Excellent," replied I; "now we shall be comfortable."
"I paid honestly for all but these rugs," observed O'Brien; "but I was
afraid to buy them, so I stole them. However, we'll leave them here for
those they belong to--it's only borrowing, after all."
We now prepared a very comfortable shelter with branches, which we wove
together, and laying the leaves in the sun to dry, soon obtained a soft
bed to put one horse-rug on, while we covered ourselves up with the
other. Our bridge of stilts we had removed, so that we felt ourselves
quite secure from surprise. That evening we did nothing but carouse--the
goose, the pie, the saucissons as big as my arm, were alternately
attacked, and we went to the ditch to drink water, and then ate again.
This was quite happiness to what we had suffered, especially with the
prospect of a good bed. At dark, to bed we went, and slept soundly; I
never felt more refreshed during our wanderings. At daylight O'Brien got
"Now, Peter, a little practice before breakfast."
"What practice do you mean?"
"Mean! why on the stilts. I expect in a week that you'll be able to
dance a gavotte at least; for mind me, Peter, you travel out of France
upon these stilts, depend upon it."
O'Brien then took the stilts belonging to the man, giving, me those of
the woman. We strapped them to our thighs, and by fixing our backs to a
tree, contrived to get upright upon them; but, at the first attempt to
walk, O'Brien fell to the right, and I fell to the left. O'Brien fell
against a tree, but I fell on my nose, and made it bleed very much;
however, we laughed and got up again, and although we had several falls,
at last we made a better hand of them. We then had some difficulty in
getting down again, but we found out how, by again resorting to a tree.
After breakfast we strapped them on again, and practised, and so we
continued to do for the whole day, when we again attacked our
provisions, and fell asleep under our horse-rug. This continued for five
days, by which time, being constantly on the stilts, we became very
expert; and although I could not dance a gavotte--for I did not know
what that was--I could hop about with them with the greatest ease.
"One day's more practice," said O'Brien, "for our provisions will last
one day more, and then we start; but this time we must rehearse in
O'Brien then dressed me in the poor girl's clothes, and himself in the
man's; they fitted very well, and the last day we practised as man and
"Peter, you make a very pretty girl," said O'Brien. "Now, don't you
allow the men to take liberties."
"Never fear," replied I. "But, O'Brien, as these petticoats are not very
warm, I mean to cut off my trowsers up to my knees, and wear them
"That's all right," said O'Brien, "for you may have a tumble, and then
they may find out that you're not a lady."
The next morning we made use of our stilts to cross the ditch, and
carrying them in our hands we boldly set off on the high road to
Malines. We met several people, gens-d'armes and others, but with the
exception of some remarks upon my good looks, we passed unnoticed.
Towards the evening we arrived at the village where we had slept in the
outhouse, and as soon as we entered it we put on our stilts, and
commenced a march. When the crowd had gathered we held out our caps, and
receiving nine or ten sous, we entered a cabaret. Many questions were
asked us, as to where we came from, and O'Brien answered, telling lies
innumerable. I played the modest girl, and O'Brien, who stated I was his
sister, appeared very careful and jealous of any attention. We slept
well, and the next morning continued our route to Malines. We very often
put on our stilts for practice on the road, which detained us very much,
and it was not until the eighth day, without any variety or any
interruption, that we arrived at Malines. As we entered the barriers we
put on our stilts, and marched boldly on. The guard at the gate stopped
us, not from suspicion, but to amuse themselves, and I was forced to
submit to several kisses from their garlic lips, before we were allowed
to enter the town. We again mounted on our stilts, for the guard had
forced us to dismount, or they could not have kissed me, every now and
then imitating a dance, until we arrived at the _Grande Place_, where we
stopped opposite the hotel, and commenced a sort of waltz which we had
practised. The people in the hotel looked out of the window to see our
exhibition, and when we had finished I went up to the windows with
O'Brien's cap to collect money. What was my surprise to perceive Colonel
O'Brien looking full in my face, and staring very hard at me;--what was
my greater astonishment at seeing Celeste, who immediately recognised
me, and ran back to the sofa in the room, putting her hands up to her
eyes, and crying out "_C'est lui, c'est lui_!" Fortunately O'Brien was
close to me, or I should have fallen, but he supported me. "Peter, ask
the crowd for money, or you are lost." I did so, and collecting some
pence, then asked him what I should do. "Go back to the window--you can
then judge of what will happen." I returned to the window; Colonel
O'Brien had disappeared, but Celeste was there, as if waiting for me. I
held out the cap to her, and she thrust her hand into it. The cap sank
with the weight. I took out a purse, which I kept closed in my hand, and
put it into my bosom. Celeste then retired from the window, and when she
had gone to the back of the room kissed her hand to me, and went out at
the door. I remained stupefied for a moment, but O'Brien roused me, and
we quitted the _Grande Place_, taking up our quarters at a little
cabaret. On examining the purse, I found fifty Napoleons in it: these
must have been, obtained from her father. I cried over them with
delight. O'Brien was also much affected at the kindness of the colonel.
"He's a real O'Brien, every inch of him," said he: "even this cursed
country can't spoil the breed."
At the cabaret where we stopped, we were informed, that the officer who
was at the hotel had been appointed to the command of the strong fort of
Bergen-op-Zoom, and was proceeding thither.
"We must not chance to meet him again, if possible," said O'Brien; "it
would be treading too close upon the heels of his duty. Neither will it
do to appear on stilts among the dikes; so, Peter, we'll just jump on
clear of this town and then we'll trust to our wits."
We walked out of the town early in the morning, after O'Brien had made
purchases of some of the clothes usually worn by the peasantry. When
within a few miles of St Nicholas, we threw away our stilts and the
clothes which we had on, and dressed ourselves in those O'Brien had
purchased. O'Brien had not forgotten to provide us with two large
brown-coloured blankets, which we strapped on to our shoulders, as the
soldiers do their coats.
"But what are we to pass for now, O'Brien?"
"Peter, I will settle that point before night. My wits are working, but
I like to trust to chance for a stray idea or so; we must walk fast, or
we shall be smothered with the snow."
It was bitter cold weather, and the snow had fallen heavily during the
whole day; but although nearly dusk, there was a bright moon ready for
us. We walked very fast, and soon observed persons ahead of us. "Let us
overtake them, we may obtain some information." As we came up with them,
one of them (they were both lads of seventeen to eighteen) said to
O'Brien, "I thought we were the last, but I was mistaken. How far is it
now to St Nicholas?"
"How should I know?" replied O'Brien, "I am a stranger in these parts as
well as yourself."
"From what part of France do you come?" demanded the other, his teeth
chattering with the cold, for he was badly clothed, and with little
defence from the inclement weather.
"From Montpelier," replied O'Brien.
"And I from Toulouse. A sad change, comrade, from olives and vines to
such a climate as this. Curse the conscription: I intended to have
taken a little wife next year."
O'Brien gave me a push, as if to say, "Here's something that will do,"
and then continued,--
"And curse the conscription I say too, for I had just married, and now
my wife is left to be annoyed by the attention of the _fermier general_.
But it can't be helped. _C'est pour la France et pour la gloire_."
"We shall be too late to get a billet," replied the other, "and not a
sou have I in my pocket. I doubt if I get up with the main body till
they are at Flushing. By our route, they are at Axel to-day."
"If we arrive at St Nicholas, we shall do well," replied O'Brien; "but I
have a little money left, and I'll not see a comrade want a supper or a
bed who is going to serve his country. You can repay me when we meet at
"That I will with thanks," replied the Frenchman; "and so will Jacques
here, if you will trust him."
"With pleasure," replied O'Brien, who then entered into a long
conversation, by which he drew out from the Frenchmen that a party of
conscripts had been ordered to Flushing, and that they had dropped
behind the main body. O'Brien passed himself off as a conscript
belonging to the party, and me as his brother, who had resolved to join
the army as a drummer, rather than part with him. In about an hour we
arrived at St Nicholas, and after some difficulty obtained entrance into
a cabaret. "_Vive la France_!" said O'Brien, going up to the fire, and
throwing the snow off his hat. In a short time we were seated to a good
supper and very tolerable wine, the hostess sitting down by us, and
listening to the true narratives of the real conscripts, and the false
one of O'Brien. After supper the conscript who first addressed us pulled
out his printed paper, with the route laid down, and observed that we
were two days behind the others. O'Brien read it over, and laid it on
the table, at the same time calling for more wine, having already pushed
it round very freely. We did not drink much ourselves, but plied them
hard, and at last the conscript commenced the whole history of his
intended marriage and his disappointment, tearing his hair, and crying
now and then. "Never mind," interrupted O'Brien, every two or three
minutes, "_buvons un autre coup pour la gloire_!" and thus he continued
to make them both drink until they reeled away to bed, forgetting their
printed paper, which O'Brien had some time before slipped away from the
table. We also retired to our room, when O'Brien observed to me. "Peter,
this description is as much like me as I am to Old Nick; but that's of
no consequence, as nobody goes willingly as a conscript, and therefore
they will never have a doubt but that it is all right. We must be off
early to-morrow, while these good people are in bed, and steal a long
march upon them. I consider that we are now safe as far as Flushing."
What occurred at Flushing, and what occurred when we got out of
An hour before daybreak we started; the snow was thick on the ground,
but the sky was clear, and without any difficulty or interruption we
passed through the towns of Axel and Halst, arrived at Terneuse on the
fourth day, and went over to Flushing in company with about a dozen more
stragglers from the main body. As we landed, the guard asked us whether
we were conscripts. O'Brien replied that he was, and held out his paper.
They took his name, or rather that of the person it belonged to, down in
a book, and told him that he must apply to the _etat major_ before
three o'clock. We passed on delighted with our success, and then O'Brien
pulled out the letter which had been given to him by the woman of the
cabaret, who had offered to assist me to escape, when O'Brien passed off
as a gendarme, and reading the address, demanded his way to the street.
We soon found out the house, and entered.
"Conscripts!" said the woman of the house, looking at O'Brien; "I am
billeted full already. It must be a mistake. Where is your order?"
"Read," said O'Brien, handing her the letter.
She read the letter, and putting it into her neckerchief, desired him to
follow her. O'Brien beckoned me to come, and we went into a small room.
"What can I do for you?" said the woman; "I will do all in my power:
but, alas! you will march from here in two or three days."
"Never mind," replied O'Brien, "we will talk the matter over by-and-by,
but at present only oblige us by letting us remain in this little room;
we do not wish to be seen."
"_Comment done_!--you a conscript, and not wish to be seen! Are you,
then, intending to desert?"
"Answer me one question; you have read that letter, do you intend to act
up to its purport, as your sister requests?"
"As I hope for mercy I will, if I suffer everything. She is a dear
sister, and would not write so earnestly if she had not strong reason.
My house and everything you command are yours--can I say more?"
"But," continued O'Brien, "suppose I did intend to desert, would you
then assist me?"
"At my peril," replied the woman: "have you not assisted my family when
"Well, then, I will not at present detain you from your business; I have
heard you called several times. Let us have dinner when convenient, and
we will remain here."
"If I have any knowledge of phiz--_what d'ye call it_," observed
O'Brien, after she left us, "there is honesty in that woman, and I must
trust her, but not yet; we must wait till the conscripts have gone." I
agreed with O'Brien, and we remained talking until an hour afterwards,
when the woman brought us our dinner.
"What is your name?" inquired O'Brien.
"Louise Eustache; you might have read it on the letter."
"Are you married?"
"Oh yes, these six years. My husband is seldom at home; he is a Flushing
pilot. A hard life, harder even than that of a soldier. Who is this
"He is my brother, who, if I go as a soldier, intends to volunteer as a
"_Pauvre enfant! c'est dommage_."
The cabaret was full of conscripts and other people, so that the hostess
had enough to do. At night, we were shown by her into a small bed-room,
adjoining the room we occupied. "You are quite alone here; the
conscripts are to muster to-morrow, I find, in the _Place d'Armes_, at
two o'clock; do you intend to go?"
"No," replied O'Brien: "they will think that I am behind. It is of no
"Well," replied the woman, "do as you please, you may trust me: but I am
so busy, without any one to assist me, that until they leave the town, I
can hardly find time to speak to you."
"That will be soon enough, my good hostess," replied O'Brien: "_au
The next evening, the woman came in, in some alarm, stating that a
conscript had arrived whose name had been given in before, and that the
person who had given it in, had not mustered at the place. That the
conscript had declared, that his pass had been stolen from him by a
person with whom he had stopped at St Nicholas, and that there were
orders for a strict search to be made through the town, as it was known
that some English officers had escaped, and it was supposed that one of
them had obtained the pass. "Surely you're not English?" inquired the
woman, looking earnestly at O'Brien.
"Indeed, but I am, my dear," replied O'Brien: "and so is this lad with
me: and the favour which your sister requires is, that you help us over
the water, for which service there are one hundred louis ready to be
paid upon delivery of us."
"_Oh, mon Dieu! mais c'est impossible_."
"Impossible!" replied O'Brien; "was that the answer I gave your sister
in her trouble?"
"_Au moins c'est fort difficile_."
"That's quite another concern; but with your husband a pilot, I should
think a great part of the difficulty removed."
"My husband! I've no power over him," replied the woman, putting the