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

I had scarcely gone a hundred yards from my quarters when a great tramp of horses’ feet attracted my attention. I stopped to listen, and soon heard the jingle of dragoon accoutrements, as the noise came near. The night was dark but perfectly still; and before I stood many minutes I heard the tones of a voice which I well knew could belong to but one, and that Fred Power.

“Fred Power!” said I, shouting at the same time at the top of my voice, “Power!”

“Ah, Charley, is that you? Come along to the adjutant-general’s quarters. I’m charged with some important despatches, and can’t stop till I’ve delivered them. Come along, I’ve glorious news for you!” So saying, he dashed spurs to his horse, and followed by two mounted dragoons, galloped past. Power’s few and hurried words had so excited my curiosity that I turned at once to follow him, questioning myself, as I walked along, to what he could possibly allude. He knew of my attachment to Lucy Dashwood, could he mean anything of her? But what could I expect there; by what flattery could I picture to myself any chance of success in that quarter; and yet, what other news could I care for or value than what bore upon her fate upon whom my own depended? Thus ruminating, I reached the door of the spacious building in which the adjutant-general had taken up his abode, and soon found myself among a crowd of persons whom the rumor of some important event had assembled there, though no one could tell what had occurred. Before many minutes the door opened, and Power came out; bowing hurriedly to a few, and whispering a word or two as he passed down the steps, he seized me by the arm and led me across the street. “Charley,” said he, “the curtain’s rising; the piece is about to begin; a new commander-in-chief is sent out, Sir Arthur Wellesley, my boy, the finest fellow in England is to lead us on, and we march to-morrow. There’s news for you!” A raw boy, unread, uninformed as I was, I knew but little of his career whose name had even then shed such lustre upon our army; but the buoyant tone of Power as he spoke, the kindling energy of his voice roused me, and I felt every inch a soldier. As I grasped his hand in delightful enthusiasm I lost all memory of my disappointment, and in the beating throb that shook my head; I felt how deeply slept the ardor of military glory that first led me from my home to see a battle-field.

“There goes the news!” said Frederick, pointing as he spoke to a rocket that shot up into the sky, and as it broke into ten thousand stars, illuminated the broad stream where the ships of war lay darkly resting. In another moment the whole air shone with similar fires, while the deep roll of the drum sounded along the silent streets, and the city so lately sunk in sleep became, as if by magic, thronged with crowds of people; the sharp clang of the cavalry trumpet blended with the gay carol of the light-infantry bugle, and the heavy tramp of the march was heard in the distance. All was excitement, all bustle; but in the joyous tone of every voice was spoken the longing anxiety to meet the enemy. The gay, reckless tone of an Irish song would occasionally reach us, as some Connaught Ranger or some 78th man passed, his knapsack on his back; or the low monotonous pibroch of the Highlander, swelling into a war-cry, as some kilted corps drew up their ranks together. We turned to regain our quarters, when at the corner of a street we came suddenly upon a merry party seated around a table before a little inn; a large street lamp, unhung for the occasion, had been placed in the midst of them, and showed us the figures of several soldiers in undress; at the end, and raised a little above his compeers, sat one whom, by the unfair proportion he assumed of the conversation, not less than by the musical intonation of his voice, I soon recognized as my man, Mickey Free.

“I’ll be hanged if that’s not your fellow there, Charley,” said Power, as he came to a dead stop a few yards off. “What an impertinent varlet he is; only to think of him there, presiding among a set of fellows that have fought all the battles in the Peninsular war. At this moment I’ll be hanged if he is not going to sing.”

Here a tremendous thumping upon the table announced the fact, and after a few preliminary observations from Mike, illustrative of his respect to the service in which he had so often distinguished himself, he began, to the air of the “Young May Moon,” a ditty of which I only recollect the following verses:

“The pickets are fast retreating, boys, The last tattoo is beating, boys, So let every man Finish his can, And drink to our next merry meeting, boys.

The colonel so gayly prancing, boys, Has a wonderful trick of advancing, boys, When he sings out so large, ‘Fix bayonets and charge!’ He sets all the Frenchmen a-dancing, boys.

Let Mounseer look ever so big, my boys, Who cares for fighting a fig, my boys? When we play ‘Garryowen,’ He’d rather go home; For somehow, he’s no taste for a jig, my boys.”

This admirable lyric seemed to have perfect success, if one were only to judge from the thundering of voices, hands, and drinking vessels which followed; while a venerable, gray-haired sergeant rose to propose Mr. Free’s health, and speedy promotion to him.

We stood for several minutes in admiration of the party, when the loud roll of the drums beating to arms awakened us to the thought that our moments were numbered.

“Good-night, Charley!” said Power, as he shook my hand warmly, “good-night! It will be your last night under a curtain for some months to come; make the most of it. Adieu!”

So saying, we parted; he to his quarters, and I to all the confusion of my baggage, which lay in most admired disorder about my room.