Read CHAPTER XV - CAPTAIN POWER of Charles O' Malley‚ The Irish Dragoon Volume 1, free online book, by Charles Lever, on

Within a few weeks after my arrival in town I had become a matriculated student of the university, and the possessor of chambers within its walls in conjunction with the sage and prudent gentleman I have introduced to my readers in the last chapter. Had my intentions on entering college been of the most studious and regular kind, the companion into whose society I was then immediately thrown would have quickly dissipated them. He voted morning chapels a bore, Greek lectures a humbug, examinations a farce, and pronounced the statute-book, with its attendant train of fines and punishment, an “unclean thing.” With all my country habits and predilections fresh upon me, that I was an easily-won disciple to his code need not be wondered at; and indeed ere many days had passed over, my thorough indifference to all college rules and regulations had given me a high place in the esteem of Webber and his friends. As for myself, I was most agreeably surprised to find that what I had looked forward to as a very melancholy banishment, was likely to prove a most agreeable sojourn. Under Webber’s directions there was no hour of the day that hung heavily upon our hands. We rose about eleven and breakfasted, after which succeeded fencing, sparring, billiards, or tennis in the park; about three, got on horseback, and either cantered in the Phoenix or about the squares till visiting time; after which, made our calls, and then dressed for dinner, which we never thought of taking at commons, but had it from Morrison’s, we both being reported sick in the dean’s list, and thereby exempt from the routine fare of the fellows’ table. In the evening our occupations became still more pressing; there were balls, suppers, whist parties, rows at the theatre, shindies in the street, devilled drumsticks at Hayes’s, select oyster parties at the Carlingford, in fact, every known method of remaining up all night, and appearing both pale and penitent the following morning.

Webber had a large acquaintance in Dublin, and soon made me known to them all. Among others, the officers of the th Light Dragoons, in which regiment Power was captain, were his particular friends; and we had frequent invitations to dine at their mess. There it was first that military life presented itself to me in its most attractive possible form, and heightened the passion I had already so strongly conceived for the army. Power, above all others, took my fancy. He was a gay, dashing-looking, handsome fellow of about eight-and-twenty, who had already seen some service, having joined while his regiment was in Portugal; was in heart and soul a soldier; and had that species of pride and enthusiasm in all that regarded a military career that forms no small part of the charm in the character of a young officer.

I sat near him the second day we dined at the mess, and was much pleased at many slight attentions in his manner towards me.

“I called on you to-day, Mr. O’Malley,” said he, “in company with a friend who is most anxious to see you.”

“Indeed,” said I, “I did not hear of it.”

“We left no cards, either of us, as we were determined to make you out on another day; my companion has most urgent reasons for seeing you. I see you are puzzled,” said he; “and although I promised to keep his secret, I must blab. It was Sir George Dashwood was with me; he told us of your most romantic adventure in the west, and faith there is no doubt you saved the lady’s life.”

“Was she worth the trouble of it?” said the old major, whose conjugal experiences imparted a very crusty tone to the question.

“I think,” said I, “I need only tell her name to convince you of it.”

“Here’s a bumper to her,” said Power, filling his glass; “and every true man will follow my example.”

When the hip-hipping which followed the toast was over, I found myself enjoying no small share of the attention of the party as the deliverer of Lucy Dashwood.

“Sir George is cudgelling his brain to show his gratitude to you,” said Power.

“What a pity, for the sake of his peace of mind, that you’re not in the army,” said another; “it’s so easy to show a man a delicate regard by a quick promotion.”

“A devil of a pity for his own sake, too,” said Power, again; “they’re going to make a lawyer of as strapping a fellow as ever carried a sabretasche.”

“A lawyer!” cried out half a dozen together, pretty much with the same tone and emphasis as though he had said a twopenny postman; “the devil they are.”

“Cut the service at once; you’ll get no promotion in it,” said the colonel; “a fellow with a black eye like you would look much better at the head of a squadron than of a string of witnesses. Trust me, you’d shine more in conducting a picket than a prosecution.”

“But if I can’t?” said I.

“Then take my plan,” said Power, “and make it cut you.”

“Yours?” said two or three in a breath, “yours?”

“Ay, mine; did you never know that I was bred to the bar? Come, come, if it was only for O’Malley’s use and benefit, as we say in the parchments, I must tell you the story.”

The claret was pushed briskly round, chairs drawn up to fill any vacant spaces, and Power began his story.

“As I am not over long-winded, don’t be scared at my beginning my history somewhat far back. I began life that most unlucky of all earthly contrivances for supplying casualties in case anything may befall the heir of the house, a species of domestic jury-mast, only lugged out in a gale of wind, a younger son. My brother Tom, a thick-skulled, pudding-headed dog, that had no taste for anything save his dinner, took it into his wise head one morning that he would go into the army, and although I had been originally destined for a soldier, no sooner was his choice made than all regard for my taste and inclination was forgotten; and as the family interest was only enough for one, it was decided that I should be put in what is called a ‘learned profession,’ and let push my fortune. ’Take your choice, Dick,’ said my father, with a most benign smile, ’take your choice, boy: will you be a lawyer, a parson, or a doctor?’

“Had he said, ’Will you be put in the stocks, the pillory, or publicly whipped?’ I could not have looked more blank than at the question.

“As a decent Protestant, he should have grudged me to the Church; as a philanthropist, he might have scrupled at making me a physician; but as he had lost deeply by law-suits, there looked something very like a lurking malice in sending me to the bar. Now, so far, I concurred with him; for having no gift for enduring either sermons or senna, I thought I’d make a bad administrator of either, and as I was ever regarded in the family as rather of a shrewd and quick turn, with a very natural taste for roguery, I began to believe he was right, and that Nature intended me for the circuit.

“From the hour my vocation was pronounced, it had been happy for the family that they could have got rid of me. A certain ambition to rise in my profession laid hold on me, and I meditated all day and night how I was to get on. Every trick, every subtle invention to cheat the enemy that I could read of, I treasured up carefully, being fully impressed with the notion that roguery meant law, and equity was only another name for odd and even.

“My days were spent haranguing special juries of housemaids and laundresses, cross-examining the cook, charging the under-butler, and passing sentence of death upon the pantry boy, who, I may add, was invariably hanged when the court rose.

“If the mutton were overdone, or the turkey burned, I drew up an indictment against old Margaret, and against the kitchen-maid as accomplice, and the family hungered while I harangued; and, in fact, into such disrepute did I bring the legal profession, by the score of annoyance of which I made it the vehicle, that my father got a kind of holy horror of law courts, judges, and crown solicitors, and absented himself from the assizes the same year, for which, being a high sheriff, he paid a penalty of five hundred pounds.

“The next day I was sent off in disgrace to Dublin to begin my career in college, and eat the usual quartos and folios of beef and mutton which qualify a man for the woolsack.

“Years rolled over, in which, after an ineffectual effort to get through college, the only examination I ever got being a jubilee for the king’s birthday, I was at length called to the Irish bar, and saluted by my friends as Counsellor Power. The whole thing was so like a joke to me that it kept me in laughter for three terms; and in fact it was the best thing could happen me, for I had nothing else to do. The hall of the Four Courts was a very pleasant lounge; plenty of agreeable fellows that never earned sixpence or were likely to do so. Then the circuits were so many country excursions, that supplied fun of one kind or other, but no profit. As for me, I was what was called a good junior. I knew how to look after the waiters, to inspect the decanting of the wine and the airing of the claret, and was always attentive to the father of the circuit, the crossest old villain that ever was a king’s counsel. These eminent qualities, and my being able to sing a song in honor of our own bar, were recommendations enough to make me a favorite, and I was one.

“Now, the reputation I obtained was pleasant enough at first, but I began to wonder that I never got a brief. Somehow, if it rained civil bills or declarations, devil a one would fall upon my head; and it seemed as if the only object I had in life was to accompany the circuit, a kind of deputy-assistant commissary-general, never expected to come into action. To be sure, I was not alone in misfortune; there were several promising youths, who cut great figures in Trinity, in the same predicament, the only difference being, that they attributed to jealousy what I suspected was forgetfulness, for I don’t think a single attorney in Dublin knew one of us.

“Two years passed over, and then I walked the hall with a bag filled with newspapers to look like briefs, and was regularly called by two or three criers from one court to the other. It never took. Even when I used to seduce a country friend to visit the courts, and get him into an animated conversation in a corner between two pillars, devil a one would believe him to be a client, and I was fairly nonplussed.

“‘How is a man ever to distinguish himself in such a walk as this?’ was my eternal question to myself every morning, as I put on my wig. ’My face is as well known here as Lord Manners’s.’ Every one says, ‘How are you, Dick?’ ‘How goes it, Power?’ But except Holmes, that said one morning as he passed me, ‘Eh, always busy?’ no one alludes to the possibility of my having anything to do.

“‘If I could only get a footing,’ thought I, ’Lord, how I’d astonish them! As the song says:

“Perhaps a recruit Might chance to shoo Great General Buonaparte.”

So,’ said I to myself, ’I’ll make these halls ring for it some day or other, if the occasion ever present itself.’ But, faith, it seemed as if some cunning solicitor overheard me and told his associates, for they avoided me like a leprosy. The home circuit I had adopted for some time past, for the very palpable reason that being near town it was least costly, and it had all the advantages of any other for me in getting me nothing to do. Well, one morning we were in Philipstown; I was lying awake in bed, thinking how long it would be before I’d sum up resolution to cut the bar, where certainly my prospects were not the most cheering, when some one tapped gently at my door.

“‘Come in,’ said I.

“The waiter opened gently, and held out his hand with a large roll of paper tied round with a piece of red tape.

“‘Counsellor,’ said he, ‘handsel.’

“‘What do you mean?’ said I, jumping out of bed. ‘What is it, you villain?’

“‘A brief.’

“‘A brief. So I see; but it’s for Counsellor Kinshella, below stairs.’ That was the first name written on it.

“‘Bethershin,’ said he, ‘Mr. M’Grath bid me give it to you carefully.’

“By this time I had opened the envelope and read my own name at full length as junior counsel in the important case of Monaghan v. M’Shean, to be tried in the Record Court at Ballinasloe. ‘That will do,’ said I, flinging it on the bed with a careless air, as if it were a very every-day matter with me.

“‘But Counsellor, darlin’, give us a thrifle to dhrink your health with your first cause, and the Lord send you plenty of them!’

“‘My first,’ said I, with a smile of most ineffable compassion at his simplicity; ’I’m worn out with them. Do you know, Peter, I was thinking seriously of leaving the bar, when you came into the room? Upon my conscience, it’s in earnest I am.’

“Peter believed me, I think, for I saw him give a very peculiar look as he pocketed his half-crown and left the room.

“The door was scarcely closed when I gave way to the free transport of my ecstasy; there it lay at last, the long looked-for, long wished-for object of all my happiness, and though I well knew that a junior counsel has about as much to do in the conducting of a case as a rusty handspike has in a naval engagement, yet I suffered not such thoughts to mar the current of my happiness. There was my name in conjunction with the two mighty leaders on the circuit; and though they each pocketed a hundred, I doubt very much if they received their briefs with one half the satisfaction. My joy at length a little subdued, I opened the roll of paper and began carefully to peruse about fifty pages of narrative regarding a watercourse that once had turned a mill; but, from some reasons doubtless known to itself or its friends, would do so no longer, and thus set two respectable neighbors at loggerheads, and involved them in a record that had been now heard three several times.

“Quite forgetting the subordinate part I was destined to fill, I opened the case in a most flowery oration, in which I descanted upon the benefits accruing to mankind from water-communication since the days of Noah; remarking upon the antiquity of mills, and especially of millers, and consumed half an hour in a preamble of generalities that I hoped would make a very considerable impression upon the court. Just at the critical moment when I was about to enter more particularly into the case, three or four of the great unbriefed came rattling into my room, and broke in upon the oration.

“‘I say, Power,’ said one, ’come and have an hour’s skating on the canal; the courts are filled, and we sha’n’t be missed.’

“‘Skate, my dear friend,’ said I, in a most dolorous tone, ’out of the question; see, I am chained to a devilish knotty case with Kinshella and Mills.’

“‘Confound your humbugging,’ said another, ’that may do very well in Dublin for the attorneys, but not with us.’

“‘I don’t well understand you,’ I replied; ’there is the brief. Hennesy expects me to report upon it this evening, and I am so hurried.’

“Here a very chorus of laughing broke forth, in which, after several vain efforts to resist, I was forced to join, and kept it up with the others.

“When our mirth was over, my friends scrutinized the red-tape-tied packet, and pronounced it a real brief, with a degree of surprise that certainly augured little for their familiarity with such objects of natural history.

“When they had left the room, I leisurely examined the all-important document, spreading it out before me upon the table, and surveying it as a newly-anointed sovereign might be supposed to contemplate a map of his dominions.

“‘At last,’ said I to myself, ’at last, and here is the footstep to the woolsack.’ For more than an hour I sat motionless, my eyes fixed upon the outspread paper, lost in a very maze of revery. The ambition which disappointments had crushed, and delay had chilled, came suddenly back, and all my day-dreams of legal success, my cherished aspirations after silk gowns and patents of precedence, rushed once more upon me, and I was resolved to do or die. Alas, a very little reflection showed me that the latter was perfectly practicable; but that, as a junior counsel, five minutes of very common-place recitation was all my province, and with the main business of the day I had about as much to do as the call-boy of a playhouse has with the success of a tragedy.

“‘My Lord, this is an action brought by Timothy Higgin,’ etc., and down I go, no more to be remembered and thought of than if I had never existed. How different it would be if I were the leader! Zounds, how I would worry the witnesses, browbeat the evidence, cajole the jury, and soften the judges! If the Lord were, in His mercy, to remove old Mills and Kinshella before Tuesday, who knows but my fortune might be made? This supposition once started, set me speculating upon all the possible chances that might cut off two king’s counsel in three days, and left me fairly convinced that my own elevation was certain, were they only removed from my path.

“For two whole days the thought never left my mind; and on the evening of the second day, I sat moodily over my pint of port, in the Clonbrock Arms, with my friend Timothy Casey, Captain in the North Cork Militia, for my companion.

“‘Dick,’ said Tim, ’take off your wine, man. When does this confounded trial come on?’

“‘To-morrow,’ said I, with a deep groan.

“‘Well, well, and if it does, what matter?’ he said; ’you’ll do well enough, never be afraid.’

“‘Alas!’ said I, ‘you don’t understand the cause of my depression.’ I here entered upon an account of my sorrows, which lasted for above an hour, and only concluded just as a tremendous noise in the street without announced an arrival. For several minutes such was the excitement in the house, such running hither and thither, such confusion, and such hubbub, that we could not make out who had arrived.

“At last a door opened quite near us, and we saw the waiter assisting a very portly-looking gentleman off with his great-coat, assuring him the while that if he would only walk into the coffee-room for ten minutes, the fire in his apartment should be got ready. The stranger accordingly entered and seated himself at the fireplace, having never noticed that Casey and myself, the only persons there, were in the room.

“‘I say, Phil, who is he?’ inquired Casey of the waiter.

“‘Counsellor Mills, Captain,’ said the waiter, and left the room.

“‘That’s your friend,’ said Casey.

“‘I see,’ said I; ’and I wish with all my heart he was at home with his pretty wife, in Leeson Street.’

“‘Is she good-looking?’ inquired Tim.

“‘Devil a better,’ said I; ‘and he’s as jealous as old Nick.’

“‘Hem,’ said Tim, ‘mind your cue, and I’ll give him a start.’ Here he suddenly changed his whispering tone for one in a louder key, and resumed: ’I say, Power, it will make some work for you lawyers. But who can she be? that’s the question.’ Here he took a much crumpled letter from his pocket, and pretended to read: ’"A great sensation was created in the neighborhood of Merrion Square, yesterday, by the sudden disappearance from her house of the handsome Mrs.” Confound it!--what’s the name? What a hand he writes! Hill, or Miles, or something like that, “the lady of an eminent barrister, now on circuit. The gay Lothario is, they say, the Hon. George ."’ I was so thunderstruck at the rashness of the stroke, I could say nothing; while the old gentleman started as if he had sat down on a pin. Casey, meanwhile, went on.

“‘Hell and fury!’ said the king’s counsel, rushing over, ’what is it you’re saying?’

“‘You appear warm, old gentleman,’ said Casey, putting up the letter and rising from the table.

“‘Show me that letter! show me that infernal letter, sir, this instant!’

“‘Show you my letter,’ said Casey; ’cool, that, anyhow. You are certainly a good one.’

“‘Do you know me, sir? Answer me that,’ said the lawyer, bursting with passion.

“‘Not at present,’ said Tim, quietly; ’but I hope to do so in the morning in explanation of your language and conduct.’ A tremendous ringing of the bell here summoned the waiter to the room.

“‘Who is that ’ inquired the lawyer. The epithet he judged it safe to leave unsaid, as he pointed to my friend Casey.

“‘Captain Casey, sir, the commanding officer here.’

“‘Just so,’ said Casey. ’And very much, at your service any hour after five in the morning.’

“’Then you refuse, sir, to explain the paragraph I have just heard you read?’

“’Well done, old gentleman; so you have been listening to a private conversation I held with my friend here. In that case we had better retire to our room.’ So saying, he ordered the waiter to send a fresh bottle and glasses to N, and taking my arm, very politely wished Mr. Mills good-night, and left the coffee-room.

“Before we had reached the top of the stairs the house was once more in commotion. The new arrival had ordered out fresh horses, and was hurrying every one in his impatience to get away. In ten minutes the chaise rolled off from the door; and Casey, putting his head out of the window, wished him a pleasant journey; while turning to me, he said,

“’There’s one of them out of the way for you, if we are even obliged to fight the other.’

“The port was soon despatched, and with it went all the scruples of conscience I had at first felt for the cruel ruse we had just practised. Scarcely was the other bottle called for when we heard the landlord calling out in a stentorian voice,

“‘Two horses for Goran Bridge to meet Counsellor Kinshella.’

“‘That’s the other fellow?’ said Casey.

“‘It is,’ said I.

“‘Then we must be stirring,’ said he. ’Waiter, chaise and pair in five minutes, d’ye hear? Power, my boy, I don’t want you; stay here and study your brief. It’s little trouble Counsellor Kinshella will give you in the morning.’

“All he would tell me of his plans was that he didn’t mean any serious bodily harm to the counsellor, but that certainly he was not likely to be heard of for twenty-four hours.

“‘Meanwhile, Power, go in and win, my boy,’ said he; ’such another walk over may never occur.’

“I must not make my story longer. The next morning the great record of Monaghan v. M’Shean was called on; and as the senior counsel were not present, the attorney wished a postponement. I, however, was firm; told the court I was quite prepared, and with such an air of assurance that I actually puzzled the attorney. The case was accordingly opened by me in a very brilliant speech, and the witnesses called; but such was my unlucky ignorance of the whole matter that I actually broke down the testimony of our own, and fought like a Trojan, for the credit and character of the perjurers against us! The judge rubbed his eyes; the jury looked amazed; and the whole bar laughed outright. However, on I went, blundering, floundering, and foundering at every step; and at half-past four, amidst the greatest and most uproarious mirth of the whole court, heard the jury deliver a verdict against us, just as old Kinshella rushed into the court covered with mud and spattered with clay. He had been sent for twenty miles to make a will for Mr. Daly, of Daly’s Mount, who was supposed to be at the point of death, but who, on his arrival, threatened to shoot him for causing an alarm to his family by such an imputation.

“The rest is soon told. They moved for a new trial, and I moved out of the profession. I cut the bar, for it cut me. I joined the gallant 14th as a volunteer; and here I am without a single regret, I must confess, that I didn’t succeed in the great record of Monaghan v. M’Shean.”

Once more the claret went briskly round, and while we canvassed Power’s story, many an anecdote of military life was told, as every instant increased the charm of that career I longed for.

“Another cooper, Major,” said Power.

“With all my heart,” said the rosy little officer, as he touched the bell behind him; “and now let’s have a song.”

“Yes, Power,” said three or four together; “let us have ’The Irish Dragoon,’ if it’s only to convert your friend O’Malley there.”

“Here goes, then,” said Dick, taking off a bumper as he began the following chant to the air of “Love is the Soul of a gay Irishman":


Oh, love is the soul of an Irish dragoon In battle, in bivouac, or in saloon, From the tip of his spur to his bright sabretasche. With his soldierly gait and his bearing so high, His gay laughing look and his light speaking eye, He frowns at his rival, he ogles his wench, He springs in his saddle and châsses the French, With his jingling spur and his bright sabretasche.

His spirits are high, and he little knows care, Whether sipping his claret or charging a square, With his jingling spur and his bright sabretasche. As ready to sing or to skirmish he’s found, To take off his wine or to take up his ground; When the bugle may call him, how little he fears To charge forth in column and beat the Mounseers, With his jingling spur and his bright sabretasche.

When the battle is over, he gayly rides back To cheer every soul in the night bivouac, With his jingling spur and his bright sabretasche. Oh, there you may see him in full glory crowned, As he sits ’midst his friends on the hardly won ground, And hear with what feeling the toast he will give, As he drinks to the land where all Irishmen live, With his jingling spur and his bright sabretasche.

It was late when we broke up; but among all the recollections of that pleasant evening none clung to me so forcibly, none sank so deeply in my heart, as the gay and careless tone of Power’s manly voice; and as I fell asleep towards morning, the words of “The Irish Dragoon” were floating through my mind and followed me in my dreams.