Read CHAPTER XXII - THE ROAD of Charles O' Malley‚ The Irish Dragoon Volume 1, free online book, by Charles Lever, on

Power was detained in town by some orders from the adjutant-general, so that I started for Cork the next morning with no other companion than my servant Mike. For the first few stages upon the road, my own thoughts sufficiently occupied me to render me insensible or indifferent to all else. My opening career, the prospects my new life as a soldier held out, my hopes of distinction, my love of Lucy with all its train of doubts and fears, passed in review before me, and I took no note of time till far past noon. I now looked to the back part of the coach, where Mike’s voice had been, as usual, in the ascendant for some time, and perceived that he was surrounded by an eager auditory of four raw recruits, who, under the care of a sergeant, were proceeding to Cork to be enrolled in their regiment. The sergeant, whose minutes of wakefulness were only those when the coach stopped to change horses, and when he got down to mix a “summat hot,” paid little attention to his followers, leaving them perfectly free in all their movements, to listen to Mike’s eloquence and profit by his suggestions, should they deem fit. Master Michael’s services to his new acquaintances, I began to perceive, were not exactly of the same nature as Dibdin is reported to have rendered to our navy in the late war. Far from it. His theme was no contemptuous disdain for danger; no patriotic enthusiasm to fight for home and country; no proud consciousness of British valor, mingled with the appropriate hatred of our mutual enemies, on the contrary, Mike’s eloquence was enlisted for the defendant. He detailed, and in no unimpressive way either, the hardships of a soldier’s life, its dangers, its vicissitudes, its chances, its possible penalties, its inevitably small rewards; and, in fact, so completely did he work on the feelings of his hearers that I perceived more than one glance exchanged between the victims that certainly betokened anything save the resolve to fight for King George. It was at the close of a long and most powerful appeal upon the superiority of any other line in life, petty larceny and small felony inclusive, that he concluded with the following quotation:

“Thrue for ye, boys!

’With your red scarlet coat, You’re as proud as a goat, And your long cap and feather.’

But, by the piper that played before Moses! it’s more whipping nor gingerbread is going on among them, av ye knew but all, and heerd the misfortune that happened to my father.”

“And was he a sodger?” inquired one.

“Troth was he, more sorrow to him; and wasn’t he a’most whipped one day for doing what he was bid?”

“Musha, but that was hard!”

“To be sure it was hard; but faix, when my father seen that they didn’t know their own minds, he thought, anyhow, he knew his, so he ran away, and devil a bit of him they ever cotch afther. May be ye might like to hear the story; and there’s instruction in it for yez, too.”

A general request to this end being preferred by the company, Mike took a shrewd look at the sergeant, to be sure that he was still sleeping, settled his coat comfortably across his knees, and began:

Well, it’s a good many years ago my father ’listed in the North Cork, just to oblige Mr. Barry, the landlord there. For,’ says he, ‘Phil,’ says he, ’it’s not a soldier ye’ll be at all, but my own man, to brush my clothes and go errands, and the like o’ that; and the king, long life to him! will help to pay ye for your trouble. Ye understand me?’ Well, my father agreed, and Mr. Barry was as good as his word. Never a guard did my father mount, nor as much as a drill had he, nor a roll-call, nor anything at all, save and except wait on the captain, his master, just as pleasant as need be, and no inconvenience in life.

“Well, for three years this went on as I am telling, and the regiment was ordered down to Bantry, because of a report that the ‘boys’ was rising down there; and the second evening there was a night party patrolling with Captain Barry for six hours in the rain, and the captain, God be marciful to him! tuk could and died. More by token, they said it was drink, but my father says it wasn’t: ‘for’ says he, ’after he tuk eight tumblers comfortable,’ my father mixed the ninth, and the captain waived his hand this way, as much as to say he’d have no more. ‘Is it that ye mean?’ says my father; and the captain nodded. ‘Musha, but it’s sorry I am,’ says my father, ’to see you this way; for ye must be bad entirely to leave off in the beginning of the evening.’ And thrue for him, the captain was dead in the morning.

“A sorrowful day it was for my father when he died. It was the finest place in the world; little to do, plenty of divarsion, and a kind man he was, when he was drunk. Well, then, when the captain was buried and all was over, my father hoped they’d be for letting him away, as he said, ’Sure, I’m no use in life to anybody, save the man that’s gone, for his ways are all I know, and I never was a sodger.’ But, upon my conscience, they had other thoughts in their heads, for they ordered him into the ranks to be drilled just like the recruits they took the day before.

“‘Musha, isn’t this hard?’ said my father. ’Here I am, an ould vitrin that ought to be discharged on a pension with two-and-sixpence a day, obliged to go capering about the barrack-yard, practising the goose-step, or some other nonsense not becoming my age nor my habits.’ But so it was. Well, this went on for some time, and sure, if they were hard on my father, hadn’t he his revenge; for he nigh broke their hearts with his stupidity. Oh, nothing in life could equal him! Devil a thing, no matter how easy, he could learn at all; and so far from caring for being in confinement, it was that he liked best. Every sergeant in the regiment had a trial of him, but all to no good; and he seemed striving so hard to learn all the while that they were loath to punish him, the ould rogue!

“This was going on for some time, when, one day, news came in that a body of the rebels, as they called them, was coming down from the Gap of Mulnavick to storm the town and burn all before them. The whole regiment was of coorse under arms, and great preparations was made for a battle. Meanwhile patrols were ordered to scour the roads, and sentries posted at every turn of the way and every rising ground to give warning when the boys came in sight; and my father was placed at the Bridge of Drumsnag, in the wildest and bleakest part of the whole country, with nothing but furze mountains on every side, and a straight road going over the top of them.

“‘This is pleasant,’ says my father, as soon as they left him there alone by himself, with no human creature to speak to, nor a whiskey-shop within ten miles of him; ‘cowld comfort,’ says he, ’on a winter’s day; and faix, but I have a mind to give ye the slip.’

“Well, he put his gun down on the bridge, and he lit his pipe, and he sat down under an ould tree and began to ruminate upon his affairs.

“‘Oh, then, it’s wishing it well I am,’ says he, ’for sodgering; and bad luck to the hammer that struck the shilling that ‘listed me, that’s all,’ for he was mighty low in his heart.

“Just then a noise came rattling down near him. He listened, and before he could get on his legs, down comes’ the general, ould Cohoon, with an orderly after him.

“‘Who goes there?’ says my father.

“‘The round,’ says the general, looking about all the time to see where was the sentry, for my father was snug under the tree.

“‘What round?’ says my father.

“‘The grand round,’ says the general, more puzzled than afore.

“‘Pass on, grand round, and God save you kindly!’ says my father, putting his pipe in his mouth again, for he thought all was over.

“‘D n your soul, where are you?’ says the general, for sorrow bit of my father could he see yet.

“‘It’s here I am,’ says he, ’and a cowld place I have of it; and if it wasn’t for the pipe I’d be lost entirely.’

“The words wasn’t well out of his mouth when the general began laughing, till ye’d think he’d fall off his horse; and the dragoon behind him more by token, they say it wasn’t right for him laughed as loud as himself.

“‘Yer a droll sentry,’ says the general, as soon as he could speak.

“‘Be-gorra, it’s little fun there’s left in me,’ says my father, ’with this drilling, and parading, and blackguarding about the roads all night.’

“‘And is this the way you salute your officer?’ says the general.

“‘Just so,’ says my father; ‘devil a more politeness ever they taught me.’

“‘What regiment do you belong to?’ says the general.

“‘The North Cork, bad luck to them!’ says my father, with a sigh.

“‘They ought to be proud of ye,’ says the general.

“‘I’m sorry for it,’ says my father, sorrowfully, ’for may be they’ll keep me the longer.’

“‘Well, my good fellow,’ says the general, ’I haven’t more time to waste here; but let me teach you something before I go. Whenever your officer passes, it’s your duty to present to him.’

“‘Arrah, it’s jokin’ ye are,’ says my father.

“‘No, I’m in earnest,’ says he, ’as ye might learn, to your cost, if I brought you to a court-martial.’

“‘Well, there’s no knowing,’ says my father, ’what they’d be up to; but sure, if that’s all, I’ll do it, with all “the veins,” whenever yer coming this way again.’

“The general began to laugh again here; but said,

‘I’m coming back in the evening,’ says he, ’and mind you don’t forget your respect to your officer.’

“‘Never fear, sir,’ says my father; ’and many thanks to you for your kindness for telling me.’

“Away went the general, and the orderly after him, and in ten minutes they were out of sight.

“The night was falling fast, and one half of the mountain was quite dark already, when my father began to think they were forgetting him entirely. He looked one way, and he looked another, but sorra bit of a sergeant’s guard was coming to relieve him. There he was, fresh and fasting, and daren’t go for the bare life. ‘I’ll give you a quarter of an hour more,’ says my father, ‘till the light leaves that rock up there; after that,’ says he, ‘by the Mass! I’ll be off, av it cost me what it may.’

“Well, sure enough, his courage was not needed this time; for what did he see at the same moment but a shadow of something coming down the road opposite the bridge. He looked again; and then he made out the general himself, that was walking his horse down the steep part of the mountain, followed by the orderly. My father immediately took up his musket off the wall, settled his belts, shook the ashes out of his pipe and put it into his pocket, making himself as smart and neat-looking as he could be, determining, when ould Cohoon came up, to ask him for leave to go home, at least for the night. Well, by this time the general was turning a sharp part of the cliff that looks down upon the bridge, from where you might look five miles round on every side. ‘He sees me,’ says my father; ’but I’ll be just as quick as himself.’ No sooner said than done; for coming forward to the parapet of the bridge, he up with his musket to his shoulder, and presented it straight at the general. It wasn’t well there, when the officer pulled up his horse quite short, and shouted out, ’Sentry! sentry!’

“‘Anan?’ says my father, still covering him.

“‘Down with your musket you rascal. Don’t you see it’s the grand round?’

“‘To be sure I do,’ says my father, never changing for a minute.

“‘The ruffian will shoot me,’ says the general.

“‘Devil a fear,’ says my father, ‘av it doesn’t go off of itself.’

“‘What do you mean by that, you villian?’ says the general, scarcely able to speak with fright, for every turn he gave on his horse, my father followed with the gun, what do you mean?’

“‘Sure, ain’t I presenting?’ says my father. ’Blood an ages! do you want me to fire next?’

“With that the general drew a pistol from his holster, and took deliberate aim at my father; and there they both stood for five minutes, looking at each other, the orderly all the while breaking his heart laughing behind a rock; for, ye see, the general knew av he retreated that my father might fire on purpose, and av he came on, that he might fire by chance, and sorra bit he knew what was best to be done.

“‘Are ye going to pass the evening up there, grand round?’ says my father; ‘for it’s tired I’m getting houldin’ this so long.’

“‘Port arms!’ shouted the general, as if on parade.

“‘Sure I can’t, till yer past,’ says my father, angrily; ’and my hands trembling already.’

“‘By Heavens! I shall be shot,’ says the general.

“‘Be-gorra, it’s what I’m afraid of,’ says my father; and the words wasn’t out of his mouth before off went the musket, bang! and down fell the general, smack on the ground, senseless. Well the orderly ran out at this, and took him up and examined his wound; but it wasn’t a wound at all, only the wadding of the gun. For my father God be kind to him! ye see, could do nothing right; and so he bit off the wrong end of the cartridge when he put it in the gun, and, by reason, there was no bullet in it. Well, from that day after they never got a sight of him; for the instant that the general dropped, he sprang over the bridge-wall and got away; and what, between living in a lime-kiln for two months, eating nothing but blackberries and sloes, and other disguises, he never returned to the army, but ever after took to a civil situation, and drive a hearse for many years.”

How far Mike’s narrative might have contributed to the support of his theory, I am unable to pronounce; for his auditory were, at some distance from Cork, made to descend from their lofty position and join a larger body of recruits, all proceeding to the same destination, under a strong escort of infantry. For ourselves, we reached the “beautiful city” in due time, and took up our quarters at the Old George Hotel.