Chapter 195861226

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Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article195861226
Full Date1841-10-06
Page Number4
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Word Count3047
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Newspaper TitleAdelaide Chronicle and South Australian Literary Record (SA : 1840 - 1842)
Trove TitleA Chapter from Charles O'Malley the Irish Dragoon
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A CHAPTER FROM "CHARLES O'MALLEY THE IRSH DRAGOON".

THE WATCHFXBE.

There are few things so inspiriting to a young soldier as the being employed with a separate command. The picket and outpost duty have a charm for him no other portion of his "career possesses. The field seems open for individual boldness and heroism: success, if. obtained, must redound to his own credit : and what can equal, in its spirit-stirring enthusiasm, that first moment when we become in any way the arbiter of our own fortunes ? Such were my happy thoughts, as, with a proud and elated heart, £ set forth upon my inarch. The notice the Commander-in-Chief had bestowed upon me had already done much: it had raised me in my own estimation, and implanted within me a longing desire : for farther distinction. I thought too of those far, far away, who were yet to hear of my successes. I fancied to myself how they would severally

receive tbe news. My poor uncle, with tearful eye and quivering lip was before me, as l saw him read the despatch, then wipe his glasses, and read on, tp at last,-with one longdrawn hreath, his manly voice, tremulous with emotion, would break forth—" My boy; my own Charley !" Then I pictured Considirie, with port erect and stern features, listening, silently; not a syllable, not. a motion, betray- ? ing that he felt interested in my fate, till, as If; impatient, he would break in—" 1 knew it ; i said BO; and yet you thought to make him a lawyer !" and then Old Sir Harry, his warm heart glowing with, pleasure, .and his. good humoured face beaming with happiness—how many a blunder he would make in retailing the news, and how many 'a hearty laugh his version of it -would give rise to. I passed in review before me the old servants, as they lingered in the room to hear the stoiy. Poor old Matthew, the butler; fumbling with his corkscrew, to gain a little time j then looking in my uncle's face, half entreatingly, as he asked—" Any news of Master Charles, sir, from thl wars Snch were my passing thoughts as I pressed forward. My men, picked no less for'themselves than their horses, came rapidly along, and ere evening, we had accomplished twelve leagues of our journey. The country through which we journeyed,

though wild and romantic in its character, was singularly rich and fertile, cultivation reaching to the veiy summits of the rugged mountains, and patches of wheat and Indian corn peeping amid masses of granite rock and tangledijrushwood; the vine and the olive grew wild on every side; while the orange-and the arbutus, loading the air with perfume, were mingled with prickly pear trees and variegated hollies. We followed no regular track, but cantered along over hill and valley, through forest and prairie; now in long file through some tall field of waving corn, now in'open order upon some level plain, our-Portuguese guide nding a little in advance of us, upon a jet black mule, carolling merrily some wild Gallician melody as he went. ^ As the sun was setting, we arrived beside a little stream that, flowing along a rocky bed, skirted a vast forest of tall cork trees. Here we called a halt; and, ^picketing our horses, proceeded to make our arrangements for a bivouac. Never do I remember a more lovely night: the watch-fires sent up a delicious odour from the perfumed shrubs, while the glassy water reflected on its still surfacejhe starry sky that, unshadowed and unclouded, stretched above us. I wrapped myself in my trooper's mantle, and lay down beneath a tree—but not to sleep. There was something so exciting, and withal so tranquillizing, that I had no thought of slumber, but fell into a musing reverie. There was

a character of adventure in my position that charmed me much. My men were gathered in little groups beside the fires, some sank in slumber, others sat smoking silently, or chat- 1 ting, in a low and under tone, of some by-gone tale of battle or bivouac; here and there were picketed the : horses ; tbe heavy panoply and piled" carbines flidkering in the red : glare of •the watch-fires, which ever and anon threw a flitting glow upon the stern and swarthy faces of my bold troopers. Upon the trees around sabres and helmets, holsters and cross-belts, were hung like armorial bearings in some antique hall, the dark foliage spreading its heavy shadow around us. Farther off, upon a little rocky ledge, the erect figure of the sentry, with his short carbine resting in the hollow of his arm, was seen slowly pacing in measured tread, or standing for a moment silently as he looked upon the fair and tranquil sky—his thoughts, doubtless, far, far away, beyond the sea, to some hnmble home, where The hum of the spreading sycamore, Hat grew beside his cottage door was again in his ears, while the merry laugh of his children stirred his bold heart. It was a Salvator Rosa'scene, and brought me back, in fancy, to the bandit legends I had read in boyhood. By the uncertain light of' the wood embers I endeavored to sketch the group before me. The night wore on. One by one the soldiers stretched themselves to sleep, and all was still. As the hours rolled by, a drowsy feeling -crept gradually over me; I placed my pistols by my side, and, having replenished the fire by some fresh logs, disposed myself comfortably before it. It was during that half-dreamy state that intervenes between waking and sleep, that a rustling sound of the branches behind attracted my attention. The air was too calm to attri-

bute this'to the wind, so I listened for some minutes ; but ileep, too long deferred, was over powerful, and my head sunk upon my grassy pillow, and I was soon sound asleep. How ~ long I remained so I know not, but I awoke suddenly. I fancied some one had shaken me' rudely by the shoulder, but yet all was tranquil: my men! were sleeping soundly asl saw them last: the fiixs were, becoming low, and a gray streak in the sky, as well as a sharpcrildfeeling ofthe air, betokened the approach of day. Once more I heaped some dry branches together, and .was about again to stretch .myself to rest, when I felt a hand upon my shoulder. I turned quickly round, and by the imperfect lightof the fire saw the figure'of a man'standing motionless beside me; his head was bare, and hishair'^ell in long curls upon his shoulders; one hand was pressed upon his bosom, and with the other he mo-: turned me to silence. My first impression was that our party were surprised by some French patrol, but as I looked again, I recognised, to my amazement, that the individual before me was a young French officer I had seen that morning a prisoner beside the Douro. "How came you here?" said I in a low voice to him in French. " Escaped: one of my own men threw himself between me and the Bentry: I swam the Douro, received a musket ball through my arm, lost my shako, and—here I am." " Tou are aware you are again a prisoner ?" "If you desire it, of course I am," said he, in a voice full of feeling,-that made my very heart creep. " I thought yon were a party of Lorge's Dragoons, scouring the country for forage—tracked you the entire day, and have only now come up with you." j The poor fellow, who had neither eatca nor

drank since day-break, wounded and foot-sore, had accomplished twelveleagues of aJma^chj only once more to fall into thfe hands ^his enemies. His.years could scaredy'h»veJi|oashered nineteen; his countenance was singularly prepossessing; < and,- though bleeding and toni, with tattered uniform, and withoutcovering lo his head, there was no mistaking ibf a moment that he was of gentle blood. Noiselessly anil cautiously I made Mm sitdoWh ta* side the ire, while I^read before trim the roaring remnantinyilast night's supper, and shared my solitaiy bottle of sherry with him. From the moment bespoke I I sever entertained la.thought of making him a prisoner;; but as I knew hot how far l was calpable in permitting, if not actually facilitating his escape, I resolved to keep the circumstance a secret from my party, ^d, if possible, get him away before diiy-bfeak. No sooner did he learn my intentions regarding him, than in an inBtant all memory of his past misfortune, ali lthoughts -of- hfe present destitute condition, seemed to hav6 fled ;_>nd, while I dressed his wound and bound up his shattered fenn, he chatt^ away m unjponcernediy about tjip past antl the 3htiii« as thoiigb ieated 'beside.the fire of his owhbivouac, and surrounded i>y his owii brother ; officers. . ".You took tts by. surprise the other day,'*

said he. "Our marshal looked for the attack from the mouth of the river: we received information that jour 8hips were expected there. In any case our -retreat was • an orderly one, and must have been effected with'slight loss." I smiled ' at the self-complacency of this reasoning, but did not contradict him. " Tour loss must, indeed, have been-great: your men crossed under -the fire of a whole battery." " Not exactly," said I^-" our first party were quietly stationed in Oporto before you knew anything about it." " Ah ! sacre Dieu / Treachery!" cried he, striking lib forehead with'his clenched fist. " Not so; mere daring—nothing more. But come, tell me something of your own adventures. How were-you taken ?" " Simply thus :—I was sent to the rear with orders to the artillery to cut their traces and leave their guns; an'd, when coming baek, my horse grew tired in the heavy ground, and I was spurring him to the -utmost when one of your heavy dragoons—an offieer • ttk^-dashed at me, and actuallyrode ine down, horse and all. I lay for some 1 time bruised by the fall, when an infantry soldier passing by, seized me by the collar, and broUj^ht me to the .rear. No matter, however, here lam now. Ton will not give me tip; and perhaps I may one day live to repay the kindness." " You^have not long joined?'' " It was my first battle; iziy epaulattes

were very smart-things yesterday, though they do look a little passeee to day. You Are advancing I suppose f" I smiled. without answering the question. " Ah, I fee; you don't wish to speak: neve? mind, your discretion is thrown away upon^ me; for -if I rejoined my regiment ^tomorrow, I should have,forgotten all you told me—all but your great kindness." These last words he spoke, slightly bowing his head, and coloring'as he ^poke them. "You kee dragoon, I think feaid I, endeavouring to change.&e topic. " I was two days ago, chassettr a cheval, a sous-lieutenant in the regiment of my father, the General St Croix." " The name is familiar to me," I replied; " and l am sincerely happy to-be in a position to serve the son of so distingoished an officer." " The son of so distinguished an officer is most deeply, obliged, but wishes with all his heart'and soul he had neversought glory under such very excellent auspices. You look surprised, mon chery but let me tell yon, my military ardour is considerably abated' in the last three days; hunger, thirst, and this," lifting his wounded limb as he spoke—" are sharp lessons in so short a campaign, and for one, too, -whose -life hitherto --had" much' mote of ease than adventure to boast xjf, Shall l tell you how I became a soldier?" '' By all means; give me your glass first— and now for a fresh log to-the fire—I'm your man." : - ; " But stay, before I begin, loofc:to this." The blood was flowing rapidly from Ins wound, which, .vrath some; diffictuty^ 1 1 succeeded in staunching.. He- drank off his wine hastily, held out bis glasfi to be refilled, «lnd then began his story.—" Have you never seen the Emperor?"

"Never!" " Sacre bleu! What a rnan he is! I'd rather stand*' undisr the fire'of your grenadiers than meet his eye. When in a passion, he does not say iriuch, it is true; but^ when he does, it comes with' a kind"qf hissing, rushing, sound, wMle the very fire seems to jkindle -In his look: I have him befirc&me this instant; and, ^though you jwill ooofess that^my prolent condition has nothing very pleasing -in : it, ; M should - be sony ind^d to ^diange it' fbr the last time I stood in his ^r^sence. Two moritbs •ago, I sported the gay light- blue and sBver of a pa^d to the Ei&peror; and certBinly; what 'with balls, bonbons, flirtations, Igossip, and champagne supperg, led a very gay, reckless, and indolent life of it. ' Soindnow—I may-tell you more accurately at another period if i we ever meet—I: got myself -into disgrace, 1 and, H «s a punishment, was -ordered to absent myself from the Tuilleries, and retire, forsome weeks, to St -doud. Siberiaj 'to a fiiissian, would scarcely he a heavier inffiction than was 'this hanislmient to me. iWir'BO' court," hp •levee, no ^inilitary parade,. no operal A small household of the Emperor's chosen servants quietly .kept house there. The gloomy walls re-echoed to no muaic ; the dark alleys of . the: dre^ garden seemed the very impersonation of solitude and decay. Nothing broke the dnll monotony of the tir^ome day, except, when occasionally ; near sanset, the clash of the guard wOuld be heard turningout, and tbe claiik of preBrating arms, followed btf the roll of a heavy carnage into the gloom^ • court-yard. '. One^ lamp» ihimqg likea ster, in a small chamber oii the second floor, would remain till near four, sometimes five p'clt^ck, in the morning. The same sounds ofthe guard; and the same dull roll of the carriage, would

break the stillness of the early monm» mA the Emperor—for it was he—w<»ldlbie^n Us Toad back to Paris. We never saw Mm—i say we; for, like myself; some hdf-dozen otherswere also 4here, expiating AdrfoUiee by a life or cheerless -ennui. " It was upon a calm evenifigin April ': sat together chatting over the various AiSaAppga which had consigned us to exile, When sotng one proposed, by tray of passing the time, that we Should visit the small fiower r g*rden that was parted off from the rest, and reserved for : the Emperor alone. It was alraadv beyond the hour, he usually came{ besides that, even should; he arrive,- were -was abundant timeto get tack before he could possibly readi it The garden we had often seen; but there ma Something in the fact that ottr going &ere *was~fe transgression, that so plefeed -us all, ftat jre agreed at once, -and set forth. For above an hour, we loitered about thelonely and deserted ; walks, where already the Emperor's ibottra<d& had worn a marked pathway, when we were weary, and were about to return, jn$t as-one of the party suggested—half In ridumle of die sanctity jpf the spot—Uiat we should have * game -of leap-frog ere .we left it. *Fhe idea pleased -us, and was at once adapted.' Outplan was>: «ach person stationed himself in Somg^iye-wilkor alley, and -waited till &e other %hose turn it was came and leapeK over him ; so that, besides tbe activity displayed,

there was a "knowledge of the locale necessaiy - for, to any one passed over, a forfeit Was to he paid. Our game began at once; andcertainly I doubt if ever those green alleys and shady groves rang to Buch i hearty laughter. Here would <be seen a couple rolling over te^gether on the grass ; there some luckless wight counting out-his pocket money to pay his penally. The hours passed qnietly ovei^ and the moon rose, and it last it came to my turn to make the tour of the garden. As l was supposed, to. know all its intricacies better than the rest, a longer time was; given to conceal themselves. At length the word :WBS given to fetart, and .1 started. Anxious to acquit myself well, I hurried along at top epBed, but guess my surprise to discover that nowhere could I find one of my ^ companions; down one -walk I ecampered—up another—across a third —but ail was -still aid silent; not a sttafid, not a breath, could I detect; there was still one part of the .garden unexplored—it was a small open space ' before a little pond .which usually contained the gold fish the Emperor was so fond of; thither I bent my steps, and had not gone far whm, in the pale moolight, I saw at length one of my companions waiting patiently for my coming—his head bent forward and Ms shoulders "rounded. Anxious to Tepay him for my own disappointmfent, 1 cr^it silently forward on tiptoe till quite ne^, when, rushing madly on, I sprung upon his back. Just, however, as I rose to leap over, he

raised his headj and, staggered by the impulse of my spring, he w«s thrown foiWd, and, flat on his face on the; grass; laughter, Ifell over him mthe ground, and was ti&amg t© assist him, when staj^ralyhe aprang=- upon his feet,~and^-hern>r df &®rort ] —it - was • Napoleon himself: bis usually paid features were purple ' with rage; butsot * word, not a syllable, escaped him. " Qui etes vous /" said he at length. "StCroix,aire," saidl.stillkneeuugbefore him, while my very heart leaped into my moutiu " St Croix! toujours St Groix. Comehere, approach me," eried he in a voice of stMed passion. " I rose, but before I «ould take step -forward, he sprang at me, and, tearing off my epaulettes, trampled them beneath his foet,and then shouted out, rather than spoke, the tme word—'cr/iez.' " I did not wait for a second intimation, but, clearing the paling at a spring, was many a mile from Fountainblegji before d$y-break."