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

The preparations for the march occupied me till near morning; and, indeed, had I been disposed to sleep, the din and clamor of the world without would have totally prevented it. Before daybreak the advanced guard was already in motion, and some squadrons of heavy cavalry had begun their march.

I looked around my now dismantled room as one does usually for the last time ere leaving, and bethought me if I had not forgotten anything. Apparently all was remembered; but stay, what is this? To be sure, how forgetful I had become! It was the packet I destined for Donna Inez, and which, in the confusion of the night before, I had omitted to bring to the Casino.

I immediately despatched Mike to the commissary with my luggage and orders to ascertain when we were expected to march. He soon returned with the intelligence that our corps was not to move before noon, so that I had yet some hours to spare and make my adieux to the senhora.

I cannot exactly explain the reason, but I certainly did bestow a more than common attention upon my toilet that morning. The senhora was nothing to me. It is true she had, as she lately most candidly informed me, a score of admirers, among whom I was not even reckoned; she was evidently a coquette whose greatest pleasure was to sport and amuse herself with the passions she excited in others. And even if she were not, if her heart were to be won to-morrow, what claim, what right, had I to seek it? My affections were already pledged; promised, it is true, to one who gave nothing in return, and who, perhaps, even loved another. Ah, there was the rub; that one confounded suspicion, lurking in the rear, chilled my courage and wounded my spirit.

If there be anything more disheartening to an Irishman, in his little affaires de coeur, than another, it is the sense of rivalry. The obstinacy of fathers, the ill-will of mothers, the coldness, the indifference of the lovely object herself, obstacles though they be, he has tact, spirit, and perseverance to overcome them. But when a more successful candidate for the fair presents himself; when the eye that remains downcast at his suit, lights up with animation at another’s coming; when the features whose cold and chilling apathy to him have blended in one smile of welcome to another, it is all up with him; he sees the game lost, and throws his cards upon the table. And yet, why is this? Why is it that he whose birthright it would seem to be sanguine when others despond, to be confident when all else are hopeless, should find his courage fail him here? The reason is simply But, in good sooth, I am ashamed to confess it!

Having jogged on so far with my reader, in all the sober seriousness which the matter-of-fact material of these memoirs demands, I fear lest a seeming paradox may cause me to lose my good name for veracity; and that while merely maintaining a national trait of my country, I may appear to be asserting some unheard-of and absurd proposition, so far have mere vulgar prejudices gone to sap our character as a people.

The reason, then, is this, for I have gone too far to retreat, the Irishman is essentially bashful. Well, laugh if you wish, for I conclude that, by this time, you have given way to a most immoderate excess of risibility; but still, when you have perfectly recovered your composure, I beg to repeat, the Irishman is essentially a bashful man!

Do not for a moment fancy that I would by this imply that in any new or unexpected situation, that from any unforeseen conjuncture of events, the Irishman would feel confused or abashed, more than any other, far from it. The cold and habitual reserve of the Englishman, the studied caution of the North Tweeder himself, would exhibit far stronger evidences of awkwardness in such circumstances as these. But on the other hand, when measuring his capacity, his means of success, his probabilities of being preferred, with those of the natives of any other country, I back the Irishman against the world for distrust of his own powers, for an under-estimate of his real merits, in one word, for his bashfulness. But let us return to Donna Inez.

As I rode up to the villa, I found the family assembled at breakfast. Several officers were also present, among whom I was not sorry to recognize my friend Monsoon.

“Ah, Charley!” cried he, as I seated myself beside him, “what a pity all our fun is so soon to have an end! Here’s this confounded Soult won’t be quiet and peaceable; but he must march upon Oporto, and Heaven knows where besides, just as we were really beginning to enjoy life! I had got such a contract for blankets! And now they’ve ordered me to join Beresford’s corps in the mountains; and you,” here he dropped his voice, “and you were getting on so devilish well in this quarter; upon my life, I think you’d have carried the day. Old Don Emanuel you know he’s a friend of mine likes you very much. And then, there’s Sparks ”

“Ay, Major, what of him? I have not seen him for some days.”

“Why, they’ve been frightening the poor devil out of his life, O’Shaughnessy and a set of them. They tried him by court-martial yesterday, and sentenced him to mount guard with a wooden sword and a shooting jacket, which he did. Old Colbourne, it seems, saw him; and faith, there would be the devil to pay if the route had not come! Some of them would certainly have got a long leave to see their friends.”

“Why is not the senhora here, Major? I don’t see her at table.”

“A cold, a sore throat, a wet-feet affair of last night, I believe. Pass that cold pie down here. Sherry, if you please. You didn’t see Power to-day?”

“No: we parted late last night; I have not been to bed.”

“Very bad preparation for a march; take some burned brandy in your coffee.”

“Then you don’t think the senhora will appear?”

“Very unlikely. But stay, you know her room, the small drawing-room that looks out upon the flower-garden; she usually passes the morning there. Leap the little wooden paling round the corner, and the chances are ten to one you find her.”

I saw from the occupied air of Don Antonio that there was little fear of interruption on his part; so taking an early moment to escape unobserved, I rose and left the room. When I sprang over the oak fence, I found myself in a delicious little garden, where roses, grown to a height never seen in our colder climate, formed a deep bower of rich blossom.

The major was right. The senhora was in the room, and in one moment I was beside her.

“Nothing but my fears of not bidding you farewell could palliate my thus intruding, Donna Inez; but as we are ordered away ”

“When? Not so soon, surely?”

“Even so; to-day, this very hour. But you see that even in the hurry of departure, I have not forgotten my trust; this is the packet I promised you.”

So saying, I placed the paper with the lock of hair within her hand, and bending downwards, pressed my lips upon her taper fingers. She hurriedly snatched her hand away, and tearing open the enclosure, took out the lock. She looked steadily for a moment at it, then at me, and again at it, and at length, bursting into a fit of laughing, threw herself upon a chair in a very ecstasy of mirth.

“Why, you don’t mean to impose this auburn ringlet upon me for one of poor Howard’s jetty curls? What downright folly to think of it! And then, with how little taste the deception was practised, upon your very temples, too! One comfort is, you are utterly spoiled by it.”

Here she again relapsed into a fit of laughter, leaving me perfectly puzzled what to think of her, as she resumed:

“Well, tell me now, am I to reckon this as a pledge of your own allegiance, or am I still to believe it to be Edward Howard’s? Speak, and truly.”

“Of my own, most certainly,” said I, “if it will be accepted.”

“Why, after such treachery, perhaps it ought not; but still, as you have already done yourself such injury, and look so very silly, withal ”

“That you are even resolved to give me cause to look more so,” added I.

“Exactly,” said she, “for here, now, I reinstate you among my true and faithful admirers. Kneel down, Sir Knight in token of which you will wear this scarf ”

A sudden start which the donna gave at these words brought me to my feet. She was pale as death and trembling.

“What means this?” said I. “What has happened?”

She pointed with her finger towards the garden; but though her lips moved, no voice came forth. I sprang through the open window; I rushed into the copse, the only one which might afford concealment for a figure, but no one was there. After a few minutes’ vain endeavor to discover any trace of an intruder, I returned to the chamber. The donna was there still, but how changed; her gayety and animation were gone, her pale cheek and trembling lip bespoke fear and suffering, and her cold hand lay heavily beside her.

“I thought perhaps it was merely fancy but I thought I saw Trevyllian beside the window.”

“Impossible!” said I. “I have searched every walk and alley. It was nothing but imagination, believe me, no more. There, be assured; think no more of it.”

While I endeavored thus to reassure her, I was very far from feeling perfectly at ease myself; the whole bearing and conduct of this man had inspired me with a growing dislike of him, and I felt already half-convinced that he had established himself as a spy upon my actions.

“Then you really believe I was mistaken?” said the donna, as she placed her hand within mine.

“Of course I do; but speak no more of it. You must not forget how few my moments are here. Already I have heard the tramp of horses without. Ah! there they are. In a moment more I shall be missed; so, once more, fairest Inez Nay, I beg pardon if I have dared to call you thus; but think, if it be the first it may also be the last time I shall ever speak it.”

Her head gently drooped, as I said these words, till it sank upon my shoulder, her long and heavy hair falling upon my neck and across my bosom. I felt her heart almost beat against my side; I muttered some words, I know not what; I felt them like a prayer; I pressed her cold forehead to my lips, rushed from the room, cleared the fence at a spring, and was far upon the road to Lisbon ere I could sufficiently collect my senses to know whither I was going. Of little else was I conscious; my mind was full to bursting; and in the confusion of my excited brain, fiction and reality were so inextricably mingled as to defy every endeavor at discrimination. But little time had I for reflection. As I reached the city, the brigade to which I was attached was already under arms, and Mike impatiently waiting my arrival with the horses.