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

The hours passed slowly over, and I at length grew weary of waiting. For some time I had amused myself with observing the slouching gait and unsoldier-like air of the Spaniards as they lounged carelessly about, looking in dress, gesture, and appointment, far move like a guerilla than a regular force. Then again, the strange contrast of the miserable hut with falling chimney and ruined walls, to the glitter of the mounted guard of honor who sat motionless beside it, served to pass the time; but as the night was already far advanced, I turned towards my quarters, hoping that the next morning might gratify my curiosity about my friends.

Beside the tent where I was billeted, I found Mike in waiting, who, the moment he saw me, came hastily forward with a letter in his hand. An officer of Sir Arthur’s staff had left it while I was absent, desiring Mike on no account to omit its delivery the first instant he met me. The hand not a very legible one was perfectly unknown to me, and the appearance of the billet such as betrayed no over-scrupulous care in the writer.

I trimmed my lamp leisurely, threw a fresh log upon the fire, disposed myself completely at full length beside it, and then proceeded to form acquaintance with my unknown correspondent. I will not attempt any description of the feelings which gradually filled me as I read on; the letter itself will suggest them to those who know my story. It ran thus:

PLACENTIA, July 8, 1809. DEAR O’MALLEY, Although I’d rather march to Lisbon barefoot than write three lines, Fred Power insists upon my turning scribe, as he has a notion you’ll be up at Cuesta’s headquarters about this time. You’re in a nice scrape, devil a lie in it! Here has Fred been fighting that fellow Trevyllian for you, all because you would not have patience and fight him yourself the morning you left the Douro, so much for haste! Let it be a lesson to you for life.

Poor Fred got the ball in his hip, and the devil a one of the doctors can find it. But he’s getting better any way, and going to Lisbon for change of air. Meanwhile, since Power’s been wounded, Trevyllian’s speaking very hardly of you, and they all say here you must come back no matter how and put matters to rights. Fred has placed the thing in my hands, and I’m thinking we’d better call out the “heavies” by turns, for most of them stand by Trevyllian. Maurice Quill and myself sat up considering it last night; but, somehow, we don’t clearly remember to-day a beautiful plan we hit upon. However, we’ll have at it again this evening. Meanwhile, come over here, and let us be doing something. We hear that old Monsoon has blown up a town, a bridge, and a big convent. They must have been hiding the plunder very closely, or he’d never have been reduced to such extremities. We’ll have a brush with the French soon. Yours most eagerly, D. O’SHAUGHNESSY.

My first thought, as I ran my eye over these lines, was to seek for Power’s note, written on the morning we parted. I opened it, and to my horror found that it only related to my quarrel with Hammersley. My meeting with Trevyllian had been during Fred’s absence, and when he assured me that all was satisfactorily arranged, and a full explanation tendered, that nothing interfered with my departure, I utterly forgot that he was only aware of one half my troubles, and in the haste and bustle of my departure, had not a moment left me to collect myself and think calmly on the matter. The two letters lay before me, and as I thought over the stain upon my character thus unwittingly incurred; the blast I had thrown upon my reputation; the wound of my poor friend, who exposed himself for my sake, I grew sick at heart, and the bitter tears of agony burst from my eyes.

That weary night passed slowly over; the blight of all my prospects, when they seemed fairest and brightest, presented itself to me in a hundred shapes; and when, overcome by fatigue and exhaustion, I closed my eyes to sleep, it was only to follow up in my dreams my waking thoughts. Morning came at length; but its bright sunshine and balmy air brought no comfort to me. I absolutely dreaded to meet my brother officers; I felt that in such a position as I stood, no half or partial explanation could suffice to set me right in their estimation; and yet, what opportunity had I for aught else? Irresolute how to act, I sat leaning my head upon my hands, when I heard a footstep approach; I looked up and saw before me no other than my poor friend Sparks, from whom I had been separated so long. Any other adviser at such a moment would, I acknowledge, have been as welcome; for the poor fellow knew but little of the world, and still less of the service. However, one glance convinced me that his heart at least was true; and I shook his outstretched hand with delight. In a few words he informed me that Merivale had secretly commissioned him to come over in the hope of meeting me; that although all the 14th men were persuaded that I was not to blame in what had occurred, yet that reports so injurious had gone abroad, so many partial and imperfect statements were circulated, that nothing but my return to headquarters would avail, and that I must not lose a moment in having Trevyllian out, with whom all the misrepresentation had originated.

“This, of course,” said Sparks, “is to be a secret; Merivale, being our colonel ”

“Of course,” said I, “he cannot countenance, much less counsel, such a proceeding; Now, then, for the road.”

“Yes; but you cannot leave before making your report. Gordon expects to see you at eleven; he told me so last night.”

“I cannot help it; I shall not wait; my mind is made up. My career here matters but little in comparison with this horrid charge. I shall be broke, but I shall be avenged.”

“Come, come, O’Malley; you are in our hands now, and you must be guided. You shall wait; you shall see Gordon. Half an hour will make your report, and I have relays of horses along the road, and we shall reach Placentia by nightfall.”

There was a tone of firmness in this, so unlike anything I ever looked for in the speaker, and withal so much of foresight and precaution, that I could scarcely credit my senses as he spoke. Having at length agreed to his proposal, Sparks left me to think over my return of the Legion, promising that immediately after my interview with the military secretary, we should start together for headquarters.