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