Read CHAPTER XX - THE LAST NIGHT IN TRINITY of Charles O' Malley‚ The Irish Dragoon Volume 1, free online book, by Charles Lever, on ReadCentral.com.

How I might have met Master Webber after his impersonation of Miss Macan, I cannot possibly figure to myself. Fortunately, indeed, for all parties, he left town early the next morning; and it was some weeks ere he returned. In the meanwhile I became a daily visitor at the general’s, dined there usually three or four times a week, rode out with Lucy constantly, and accompanied her every evening either to the theatre or into society. Sir George, possibly from my youth, seemed to pay little attention to an intimacy which he perceived every hour growing closer, and frequently gave his daughter into my charge in our morning excursions on horseback. As for me, my happiness was all but perfect. I loved, and already began to hope that I was not regarded with indifference; for although Lucy’s manner never absolutely evinced any decided preference towards me, yet many slight and casual circumstances served to show me that my attentions to her were neither unnoticed nor uncared for. Among the many gay and dashing companions of our rides, I remarked that, however anxious for such a distinction, none ever seemed to make any way in her good graces; and I had already gone far in my self-deception that I was destined for good fortune, when a circumstance which occurred one morning at length served to open my eyes to the truth, and blast by one fatal breath the whole harvest of my hopes.

We were about to set out one morning on a long ride, when Sir George’s presence was required by the arrival of an officer who had been sent from the Horse Guards on official business. After half an hour’s delay, Colonel Cameron, the officer in question, was introduced, and entered into conversation with our party. He had only landed in England from the Peninsula a few days before, and had abundant information of the stirring events enacting there. At the conclusion of an anecdote, I forget what, he turned suddenly round to Miss Dashwood, who was standing beside me, and said in a low voice:

“And now, Miss Dashwood, I am reminded of a commission I promised a very old brother officer to perform. Can I have one moment’s conversation with you in the window?”

As he spoke, I perceived that he crumpled beneath his glove something like a letter.

“To me?” said Lucy, with a look of surprise that sadly puzzled me whether to ascribe it to coquetry or innocence, “to me?”

“To you,” said the colonel, bowing; “and I am sadly deceived by my friend Hammersley ”

“Captain Hammersley?” said she, blushing deeply as she spoke.

I heard no more. She turned towards the window with the colonel, and all I saw was that he handed her a letter, which, having hastily broken open and thrown her eyes over, she grew at first deadly pale, then red, and while her eyes filled with tears, I heard her say, “How like him! How truly generous this is!” I listened for no more; my brain was wheeling round and my senses reeling. I turned and left the room; in another moment I was on my horse, galloping from the spot, despair, in all its blackness, in my heart, and in my broken-hearted misery, wishing for death.

I was miles away from Dublin ere I remembered well what had occurred, and even then not over clearly. The fact that Lucy Dashwood, whom I imagined to be my own in heart, loved another, was all that I really knew. That one thought was all my mind was capable of, and in it my misery, my wretchedness were centred.

Of all the grief my life has known, I have had no moments like the long hours of that dreary night. My sorrow, in turn, took every shape and assumed every guise. Now I remembered how the Dashwoods had courted my intimacy and encouraged my visits, how Lucy herself had evinced in a thousand ways that she felt a preference for me. I called to mind the many unequivocal proofs I had given her that my feeling at least was no common one; and yet, how had she sported with my affections, and jested with my happiness! That she loved Hammersley I had now a palpable proof. That this affection must have been mutual, and prosecuted at the very moment I was not only professing my own love for her, but actually receiving all but an avowal of its return, oh, it was too, too base! and in my deepest heart I cursed my folly, and vowed never to see her more.

It was late on the next day ere I retraced my steps towards town, my heart sad and heavy, careless what became of me for the future, and pondering whether I should not at once give up my college career and return to my uncle. When I reached my chambers, all was silent and comfortless; Webber had not returned; my servant was from home; and I felt myself more than ever wretched in the solitude of what had been so oft the scene of noisy and festive gayety. I sat some hours in a half-musing state, every sad depressing thought that blighted hopes can conjure up rising in turn before me. A loud knocking at the door at length aroused me. I got up and opened it. No one was there. I looked around as well as the coming gloom of evening would permit, but saw nothing. I listened, and heard, at some distance off, my friend Power’s manly voice as he sang,

“Oh, love is the soul of an Irish dragoon!”

I hallooed out, “Power!”

“Eh, O’Malley, is that you?” inquired he. “Why, then, it seems it required some deliberation whether you opened your door or not. Why, man, you can have no great gift of prophecy, or you wouldn’t have kept me so long there.”

“And have you been so?”

“Only twenty minutes; for as I saw the key in the lock, I had determined to succeed if noise would do it.”

“How strange! I never heard it.”

“Glorious sleeper you must be; but come, my dear fellow, you don’t appear altogether awake yet.”

“I have not been quite well these few days.”

“Oh, indeed! The Dashwoods thought there must have been something of that kind the matter by your brisk retreat. They sent me after you yesterday; but wherever you went, Heaven knows. I never could come up with you; so that your great news has been keeping these twenty-four hours longer than need be.”

“I am not aware what you allude to.”

“Well, you are not over likely to be the wiser when you hear it, if you can assume no more intelligent look than that. Why, man, there’s great luck in store for you.”

“As how, pray? Come, Power, out with it; though I can’t pledge myself to feel half as grateful for my good fortune as I should do. What is it?”

“You know Cameron?”

“I have seen him,” said I, reddening.

“Well, old Camy, as we used to call him, has brought over, among his other news, your gazette.”

“My gazette! What do you mean?”

“Confound your uncommon stupidity this evening! I mean, man, that you are one of us, gazetted to the 14th Light, the best fellows for love, war, and whiskey that ever sported a sabretasche.

‘Oh, love is the soul of an Irish dragoon!’

By Jove, I am as delighted to have rescued you from the black harness of the King’s Bench as though you had been a prisoner there! Know, then, friend Charley, that on Wednesday we proceed to Fermoy, join some score of gallant fellows, all food for powder, and, with the aid of a rotten transport and the stormy winds that blow, will be bronzing our beautiful faces in Portugal before the month’s out. But come, now, let’s see about supper. Some of ours are coming over here at eleven, and I promised them a devilled bone; and as it’s your last night among these classic precincts, let us have a shindy of it.”

While I despatched Mike to Morrison’s to provide supper, I heard from Power that Sir George Dashwood had interested himself so strongly for me that I had obtained my cornetcy in the 14th; that, fearful lest any disappointment might arise, he had never mentioned the matter to me, but that he had previously obtained my uncle’s promise to concur in the arrangement if his negotiation succeeded. It had so done, and now the long-sought-for object of many days was within my grasp. But, alas, the circumstance which lent it all its fascinations was a vanished dream; and what but two days before had rendered my happiness perfect, I listened to listlessly and almost without interest. Indeed, my first impulse at finding that I owed my promotion to Sir George was to return a positive refusal of the cornetcy; but then I remembered how deeply such conduct would hurt my poor uncle, to whom I never could give an adequate explanation. So I heard Power in silence to the end, thanked him sincerely for his own good-natured kindness in the matter, which already, by the interest he had taken in me, went far to heal the wounds that my own solitary musings were deepening in my heart. At eighteen, fortunately, consolations are attainable that become more difficult at eight-and-twenty, and impossible at eight-and-thirty.

While Power continued to dilate upon the delights of a soldier’s life a theme which many a boyish dream had long since made hallowed to my thoughts I gradually felt my enthusiasm rising, and a certain throbbing at my heart betrayed to me that, sad and dispirited as I felt, there was still within that buoyant spirit which youth possesses as its privilege, and which answers to the call of enterprise as the war-horse to the trumpet. That a career worthy of manhood, great, glorious, and inspiriting, opened before me, coming so soon after the late downfall of my hopes, was in itself a source of such true pleasure that ere long I listened to my friend, and heard his narrative with breathless interest. A lingering sense of pique, too, had its share in all this. I longed to come forward in some manly and dashing part, where my youth might not be ever remembered against me, and when, having brought myself to the test, I might no longer be looked upon and treated as a boy.

We were joined at length by the other officers of the 14th, and, to the number of twelve, sat down to supper.

It was to be my last night in Old Trinity, and we resolved that the farewell should be a solemn one. Mansfield, one of the wildest young fellows in the regiment, had vowed that the leave-taking should be commemorated by some very decisive and open expressions of our feelings, and had already made some progress in arrangements for blowing up the great bell, which had more than once obtruded upon our morning convivialities; but he was overruled by his more discreet associates, and we at length assumed our places at table, in the midst of which stood a hecatomb of all my college equipments, cap, gown, bands, etc. A funeral pile of classics was arrayed upon the hearth, surmounted by my “Book on the Cellar,” and a punishment-roll waved its length, like a banner, over the doomed heroes of Greece and Rome.

It is seldom that any very determined attempt to be gay par excellence has a perfect success, but certainly upon this evening ours had. Songs, good stories, speeches, toasts, high visions of the campaign before us, the wild excitement which such a meeting cannot be free from, gradually, as the wine passed from hand to hand, seized upon all, and about four in the morning, such was the uproar we caused, and so terrific the noise of our proceedings, that the accumulated force of porters, sent one by one to demand admission, was now a formidable body at the door, and Mike at last came in to assure us that the bursar, the most dread official of all collegians, was without, and insisted, with a threat of his heaviest displeasure in case of refusal, that the door should be opened.

A committee of the whole house immediately sat upon the question; and it was at length resolved, némine contradicente, that the request should be complied with. A fresh bowl of punch, in honor of our expected guest, was immediately concocted, a new broil put on the gridiron, and having seated ourselves with as great a semblance of decorum as four bottles a man admits of, Curtis the junior captain, being most drunk, was deputed to receive the bursar at the door, and introduce him to our august presence.

Mike’s instructions were, that immediately on Dr. Stone the bursar entering, the door was to be slammed to, and none of his followers admitted. This done, the doctor was to be ushered in and left to our polite attentions.

A fresh thundering from without scarcely left time for further deliberation; and at last Curtis moved towards the door in execution of his mission.

“Is there any one there?” said Mike, in a tone of most unsophisticated innocence, to a rapping that, having lasted three quarters of an hour, threatened now to break in the panel. “Is there any one there?”

“Open the door this instant, the senior bursar desires you, this instant.”

“Sure it’s night, and we’re all in bed,” said Mike.

“Mr. Webber, Mr. O’Malley,” said the bursar, now boiling with indignation, “I summon you, in the name of the board, to admit me.”

“Let the gemman in,” hiccoughed Curtis; and at the same instant the heavy bars were withdrawn, and the door opened, but so sparingly as with difficulty to permit the passage of the burly figure of the bursar.

Forcing his way through, and regardless of what became of the rest, he pushed on vigorously through the antechamber, and before Curtis could perform his functions of usher, stood in the midst of us. What were his feelings at the scene before him, Heaven knows. The number of figures in uniform at once betrayed how little his jurisdiction extended to the great mass of the company, and he immediately turned towards me.

“Mr. Webber ”

“O’Malley, if you please, Mr. Bursar,” said I, bowing with, most ceremonious politeness.

“No matter, sir; arcades ambo, I believe.”

“Both archdeacons,” said Melville, translating, with a look of withering contempt upon the speaker.

The doctor continued, addressing me,

“May I ask, sir, if you believe yourself possessed of any privilege for converting this university into a common tavern?”

“I wish to Heaven he did,” said Curtis; “capital tap your old commons would make.”

“Really, Mr. Bursar,” replied I, modestly, “I had begun to flatter myself that our little innocent gayety had inspired you with the idea of joining our party.”

“I humbly move that the old cove in the gown do take the chair,” sang out one. “All who are of this opinion say, ‘Ay.’” A perfect yell of ayes followed this. “All who are of the contrary say, ‘No.’ The ayes have it.”

Before the luckless doctor had a moment for thought, his legs were lifted from under him, and he was jerked, rather than placed, upon a chair, and put sitting upon the table.

“Mr. O’Malley, your expulsion within twenty-four hours ”

“Hip, hip, hurra, hurra, hurra!” drowned the rest, while Power, taking off the doctor’s cap, replaced it by a foraging cap, very much to the amusement of the party.

“There is no penalty the law permits of that I shall not ”

“Help the doctor,” said Melville, placing a glass of punch in his unconscious hand.

“Now for a ‘Viva la Compagnie!’” said Telford, seating himself at the piano, and playing the first bars of that well-known air, to which, in our meetings, we were accustomed to improvise a doggerel in turn.

“I drink to the graces, Law, Physic, Divinity, Viva la Compagnie! And here’s to the worthy old Bursar of Trinity, Viva la Compagnie!”

“Viva, viva la va!” etc., were chorussed with a shout that shook the old walls, while Power took up the strain:

“Though with lace caps and gowns they look so like asses, Viva la Compagnie!” They’d rather have punch than the springs of Parnassus, Viva la Compagnie! What a nose the old gentleman has, by the way, Viva la Compagnie! Since he smelt out the Devil from Botany Bay, Viva la Compagnie!

Words cannot give even the faintest idea of the poor bursar’s feelings while these demoniacal orgies were enacting around him. Held fast in his chair by Lechmere and another, he glowered on the riotous mob around like a maniac, and astonishment that such liberties could be taken with one in his situation seemed to have surpassed even his rage and resentment; and every now and then a stray thought would flash across his mind that we were mad, a sentiment which, unfortunately, our conduct was but too well calculated to inspire.

“So you’re the morning lecturer, old gentleman, and have just dropped in here in the way of business; pleasant life you must have of it,” said Casey, now by far the most tipsy man present.

“If you think, Mr. O’Malley, that the events of this evening are to end here ”

“Very far from it, Doctor,” said Power; “I’ll draw up a little account of the affair for ‘Saunders.’ They shall hear of it in every corner and nook of the kingdom.”

“The bursar of Trinity shall be a proverb for a good fellow that loveth his lush,” hiccoughed out Fegan.

“And if you believe that such conduct is academical,” said the doctor, with a withering sneer.

“Perhaps not,” lisped Melville, tightening his belt; “but it’s devilish convivial, eh, Doctor?”

“Is that like him?” said Moreton, producing a caricature which he had just sketched.

“Capital, very good, perfect. M’Cleary shall have it in his window by noon to-day,” said Power.

At this instant some of the combustibles disposed among the rejected habiliments of my late vocation caught fire, and squibs, crackers, and detonating shots went off on all sides. The bursar, who had not been deaf to several hints and friendly suggestions about setting fire to him, blowing him up, etc., with one vigorous spring burst from his antagonists, and clearing the table at a bound, reached the floor. Before he could be seized, he had gained the door, opened it, and was away. We gave chase, yelling like so many devils. But wine and punch, songs and speeches, had done their work, and more than one among the pursuers measured his length upon the pavement; while the terrified bursar, with the speed of terror, held on his way, and gained his chambers by about twenty yards in advance of Power and Melville, whose pursuit only ended when the oaken panel of the door shut them out from their victim. One loud cheer beneath his window served for our farewell to our friend, and we returned to my rooms. By this time a regiment of those classic functionaries ycleped porters had assembled around the door, and seemed bent upon giving battle in honor of their maltreated ruler; but Power explained to them, in a neat speech replete with Latin quotations, that their cause was a weak one, that we were more than their match, and finally proposed to them to finish the punch-bowl, to which we were really incompetent, a motion that met immediate acceptance; and old Duncan, with his helmet in one hand and a goblet in the other, wished me many happy days and every luck in this life as I stepped from the massive archway, and took my last farewell of Old Trinity.

Should any kind reader feel interested as to the ulterior course assumed by the bursar, I have only to say that the terrors of the “Board” were never fulminated against me, harmless and innocent as I should have esteemed them. The threat of giving publicity to the entire proceedings by the papers, and the dread of figuring in a sixpenny caricature in M’Cleary’s window, were too much for the worthy doctor, and he took the wiser course under the circumstances, and held his peace about the matter. I, too, have done so for many a year, and only now recall the scene among the wild transactions of early days and boyish follies.