During the three days which succeeded
the battle, all things remained as they were before.
The enemy had gradually withdrawn all his forces, and
our most advanced pickets never came in sight of a
French detachment. Still, although we had gained
a great victory, our situation was anything but flattering.
The most strenuous exertions of the commissariat were
barely sufficient to provision the troops; and we
had even already but too much experience of how little
trust or reliance could be reposed in the most lavish
promises of our allies. It was true, our spirits
failed us not; but it was rather from an implicit
and never-failing confidence in the resources of our
great leader, than that any among us could see his
way through the dense cloud of difficulty and danger
that seemed to envelop us on every side.
To add to the pressing emergency of
our position, we learned on the evening of the 31st
that Soult was advancing from the north, and at the
head of fourteen thousand chosen troops in full march
upon Placentia; thus threatening our rear, at the
very moment too, when any further advance was evidently
On the morning of the 1st of August,
I was ordered, with a small party, to push forward
in the direction of the Alberche, upon the left bank
of which it was reported that the French were again
concentrating their forces, and if possible, to obtain
information of their future movements. Meanwhile
the army was about to fall back upon Oropesa, there
to await Soult’s advance, and if necessary,
to give him battle; Cuesta engaging with his Spaniards
to secure Talavera, with its stores and hospitals,
against any present movement from Victor.
After a hearty breakfast, and a kind
“Good-by!” from my brother officers, I
set out. My road along the Tagus, for several
miles of the way, was a narrow path scarped from the
rocky ledge of the river, shaded by rich olive plantations
that throw a friendly shade over us during the noonday
We travelled along silently, sparing
our cattle from time to time, but endeavoring ere
nightfall to reach Torrijos, in which village we had
heard several French soldiers were in hospital.
Our information leading us to believe them very inadequately
guarded, we hoped to make some prisoners, from whom
the information we sought could in all likelihood be
obtained. More than once during the day our road
was crossed by parties similar to our own, sent forward
to reconnoitre; and towards evening a party of the
23d Light Dragoons, returning towards Talavera, informed
us that the French had retired from Torrijos, which
was now occupied by an English detachment under my
old friend O’Shaughnessy.
I need not say with what pleasure
I heard this piece of news, and eagerly pressed forward,
preferring the warm shelter and hospitable board the
major was certain of possessing, to the cold blast
and dripping grass of a bivouac. Night, however,
fell fast; darkness, without an intervening twilight,
set in, and we lost our way. A bleak table-land
with here and there a stunted, leafless tree was all
that we could discern by the pale light of a new moon.
An apparently interminable heath uncrossed by path
or foot-track was before us, and our jaded cattle
seemed to feel the dreary uncertainty of the prospect
as sensitively as ourselves, stumbling and
over-reaching at every step.
Cursing my ill-luck for such a misadventure,
and once more picturing to my mind the bright blazing
hearth and smoking supper I had hoped to partake of,
I called a halt, and prepared to pass the night.
My decision was hastened by finding myself suddenly
in a little grove of pine-trees whose shelter was
not to be despised; besides that, our bivouac fires
were now sure of being supplied.
It was fortunate the night was fine,
though dark. In a calm, still atmosphere, when
not a leaf moved nor a branch stirred, we picketed
our tired horses, and shaking out their forage, heaped
up in the midst a blazing fire of the fir-tree.
Our humble supper was produced, and even with the
still lingering revery of the major and his happier
destiny, I began to feel comfortable.
My troopers, who probably had not
been flattering their imaginations with such gourmand
reflections and views, sat happily around their cheerful
blaze, chatting over the great battle they had so lately
witnessed, and mingling their stories of some comrade’s
prowess with sorrows for the dead and proud hopes
for the future. In the midst, upon his knees beside
the flame, was Mike, disputing, detailing, guessing,
and occasionally inventing, all his arguments
only tending to one view of the late victory:
“That it was the Lord’s mercy the most
of the 48th was Irish, or we wouldn’t be sitting
Despite Mr. Free’s conversational
gifts, however, his audience one by one dropped off
in sleep, leaving him sole monarch of the watch-fire,
and what he thought more of a
small brass kettle nearly full of brandy-and-water.
This latter, I perceived, he produced when all was
tranquil, and seemed, as he cast a furtive glance
around, to assure himself that he was the only company
Lying some yards off, I watched him
for about an hour, as he sat rubbing his hands before
the blaze, or lifting the little vessel to his lips;
his droll features ever and anon seeming acted upon
by some passing dream of former devilment, as he smiled
and muttered some sentences in an under-voice.
Sleep at length overpowered me; but my last waking
thoughts were haunted with a singular ditty by which
Mike accompanied himself as he kept burnishing the
buttons of my jacket before the fire, now and then
interrupting the melody by a recourse to the copper.
“Well, well; you’re clean
enough now, and sure it’s little good brightening
you up, when you’ll be as bad to-morrow.
Like his father’s son, devil a lie in it!
Nothing would serve him but his best blue jacket to
fight in, as if the French was particular what they
killed us in. Pleasant trade, upon my conscience!
Well, never mind. That’s beautiful sperets,
anyhow. Your health, Mickey Free; it’s
yourself that stands to me.
“It’s little for
glory I care;
is only a fable;
I’d as soon be myself
as Lord Mayor,
of drink on the table.
I like to lie down in the
when my faytures is scorchin’
That when I’m too ould
for more fun,
marry a wife with a fortune.
“And in winter, with
bacon and eggs,
And a place, at
the turf-fire basking,
Sip my punch as I roasted
Oh, the devil
a more I’d be asking!
For I haven’t a janius
It was never the
gift of the Bradies,
But I’d make a most
fond of tobacco and ladies.”
This confounded refrain kept
ringing through my dream, and “tobacco and ladies”
mingled with my thoughts of storm and battle-field
long after their very gifted author had composed himself
Sleep, and sound sleep, came at length,
and many hours elapsed ere I awoke. When I did
so, my fire was reduced to its last embers. Mike,
like the others, had sunk in slumber, and midst the
gray dawn that precedes the morning, I could just
perceive the dark shadows of my troopers as they lay
in groups around.
The fatigues of the previous day had
so completely overcome me, that it was with difficulty
I could arouse myself so far as to heap fresh logs
upon the fire. This I did with my eyes half closed,
and in that listless, dreamy state which seems the
twilight of sleep.
I managed so much, however, and was
returning to my couch beneath a tree, when suddenly
an object presented itself to my eyes that absolutely
rooted me to the spot. At about twenty or thirty
yards distant, where but the moment before the long
line of horizon terminated the view, there now stood
a huge figure of some ten or twelve feet in height, two
heads, which surmounted this colossal personage, moved
alternately from side to side, while several arms
waved loosely to and fro in the most strange and uncouth
manner. My first impression was that a dream had
conjured up this distorted image; but when I had assured
myself by repeated pinchings and shakings that I was
really awake, still it remained there. I was never
much given to believe in ghosts; but even had I been
so, this strange apparition must have puzzled me as
much as ever, for it could not have been the representative
of anything I ever heard of before.
A vague suspicion that some French
trickery was concerned, induced me to challenge it
in French; so, without advancing a step, I halloed
out, “Qui va la?”
My voice aroused a sleeping soldier,
who, springing up beside me, had his carbine at the
cock; while, equally thunderstruck with myself, he
gazed at the monster.
“Qui va la?” shouted
I again, and no answer was returned, when suddenly
the huge object wheeled rapidly around, and without
waiting for any further parley, made for the thicket.
The tramp of a horse’s feet
now assured me as to the nature of at least part of
the spectacle, when click went the trigger behind me,
and the trooper’s ball rushed whistling through
the brushwood. In a moment the whole party were
up and stirring.
“This way, lads!” cried
I, as drawing my sabre, I dashed into the pine wood.
For a few moments all was dark as
midnight; but as we proceeded farther, we came out
upon a little open space which commanded the plain
beneath for a great extent.
“There it goes!” said
one of the men, pointing to a narrow, beaten path,
in which the tall figure moved at a slow and stately
pace, while still the same wild gestures of heads
and limbs continued.
“Don’t fire, men! don’t
fire!” I cried, “but follow me,”
as I set forward as hard as I could.
As we neared it, the frantic gesticulations
grew more and more remarkable, while some stray words,
which we half caught, sounded like English in our
ears. We were now within pistol-shot distance,
when suddenly the horse for that much at
least we were assured of stumbled and fell
forward, precipitating the remainder of the object
headlong into the road.
In a second we were upon the spot,
when the first sounds which greeted me were the following,
uttered in an accent by no means new to me:
“Oh, blessed Virgin! Wasn’t
it yourself that threw me in the mud, or my nose was
done for? Shaugh, Shaugh, my boy, since we are
taken, tip them the blarney, and say we’re generals
I need not say with what a burst of
laughter I received this very original declaration.
“I ought to know that laugh,”
cried a voice I at once knew to be my friend O’Shaughnessy’s.
“Are you Charles O’Malley, by any chance
“The same, Major, and delighted
to meet you; though, faith, we were near giving you
a rather warm reception. What, in the Devil’s
name, did you represent, just now?”
“Ask Maurice, there, bad luck
to him. I wish the Devil had him when he persuaded
me into it.”
“Introduce me to your friend,”
replied the other, rubbing his shins as he spoke.
“Mr. O’Mealey,” so he
called me, “I think. Happy to
meet you; my mother was a Ryan of Killdooley, married
to a first cousin of your father’s before she
took Mr. Quill, my respected progenitor. I’m
Dr. Quill of the 48th, more commonly called Maurice
Quill. Tear and ages! how sore my back is!
It was all the fault of the baste, Mr. O’Mealey.
We set out in search of you this morning, to bring
you back with us to Torrijos, but we fell in with
a very pleasant funeral at Barcaventer, and joined
them. They invited us, I may say, to spend the
day; and a very jovial day it was. I was the
chief mourner, and carried a very big candle through
the village, in consideration of as fine a meat-pie,
and as much lush as my grief permitted me to indulge
in afterwards. But, my dear sir, when it was all
finished, we found ourselves nine miles from our quarters;
and as neither of us were in a very befitting condition
for pedestrian exercise, we stole one of the leaders
out of the hearse, velvet, plumes, and all, and
set off home.
“When we came upon your party
we were not over clear whether you were English, Portuguese,
or French, and that was the reason I called out to
you, ‘God save all here!’ in Irish.
Your polite answer was a shot, which struck the old
horse in the knee, and although we wheeled about in
double-quick, we never could get him out of his professional
habits on the road. He had a strong notion he
was engaged in another funeral, as he was
very likely to be, and the devil a bit faster
than a dead march could we get him to, with all our
thrashing. Orderly time for men in a hurry, with
a whole platoon blazing away behind them! But
long life to the cavalry, they never hit anything!”
While he continued to run on in this
manner, we reached our watch-fire, when what was my
surprise to discover, in my newly-made acquaintance,
the worthy doctor I had seen a day or two before operating
at the fountain at Talavera.
“Well, Mr. O’Mealey,”
said he, as he seated himself before the blaze, “What
is the state of the larder? Anything savory, anything
drink-inspiring to be had?”
“I fear, Doctor, my fare is of the very humblest;
“What are the fluids, Charley?”
cried the major; “the cruel performance I have
been enacting on that cursed beast has left me in a
“This was a pigeon-pie, formerly,”
said Dr. Quill, investigating the ruined walls of
a pasty; “and, but come, here’s
a duck; and if my nose deceive me not, a very tolerable
ham. Peter Larry Patsy What’s
the name of your familiar there?”
“Mickey Mickey Tree.”
“Mickey Free, then; come here,
avick! Devise a little drink, my son, none
of the weakest no lemon –hot!
You understand, hot! That chap has an eye for
punch; there’s no mistaking an Irish fellow,
Nature has endowed them richly, fine features
and a beautiful absorbent system! That’s
the gift! Just look at him, blowing up the fire, isn’t
he a picture? Well, O’Mealey, I was fretting
that we hadn’t you up at Torrijos; we were enjoying
life very respectably, we established a
little system of small tithes upon fowl, sheep, pigs’
heads, and wine skins that throve remarkably for the
time. Here’s the lush! Put it down
there, Mickey, in the middle; that’s right.
Your health, Shaugh. O’Mealey, here’s
a troop to you; and in the mean time I’ll give
you a chant:
’Come, ye jovial souls,
don’t over the bowl be sleeping,
Nor let the grog go round
like a cripple creeping;
If your care comes, up, in
the liquor sink it,
Pass along the lush, I’m
the boy can drink it.
so, Mrs. Mary Callaghan?
so, Mrs. Mary Callaghan?’
“Shaugh, my hearty, this begins to feel comfortable.”
“Your man, O’Mealey, has
a most judicious notion of punch for a small party;
and though one has prejudices about a table, chairs,
and that sort of thing, take my word for it, it’s
better than fighting the French, any day.”
“Well, Charley, it certainly
did look quite awkward enough the other day towards
three o’clock, when the Legion fell back before
that French column, and broke the Guards behind them.”
“Yes, you’re quite right;
but I think every one felt that the confusion was
but momentary, the gallant Forty-eighth
was up in an instant.”
“Faith, I can answer for their
alacrity!” said the doctor “I was making
my way to the rear with all convenient despatch, when
an aide-de-camp called out,
“‘Cavalry coming! Take care, Forty-eighth!’
“‘Left face, wheel!
Fall in there, fall in there!’ I heard on every
side, and soon found myself standing in a square,
with Sir Arthur himself and Hill and the rest of them
all around me.
“‘Steady, men! Steady,
now!’ said Hill, as he rode around the ranks,
while we saw an awful column of cuirassiers forming
on the rising ground to our left.
“‘Here they come!’
said Sir Arthur, as the French came powdering along,
making the very earth tremble beneath them.
“My first thought was, ’The
devils are mad, and they’ll ride down into us,
before they know they’re kilt!’ And sure
enough, smash into our first rank they pitched, sabring
and cutting all before them; when at last the word
‘Fire!’ was given, and the whole head of
the column broke like a shell, and rolled horse over
man on the earth.
“‘Very well done! very
well, indeed!’ said Sir Arthur, turning as coolly
round to me as if he was asking for more gravy.
“‘Mighty well done!’
said I, in reply; and resolving not to be outdone in
coolness, I pulled out my snuff-box and offered him
a pinch, saying, ’The real thing, Sir Arthur;
our own countryman, blackguard.’
“He gave a little grim kind
of a smile, took a pinch, and then called out,
“‘Let Sherbroke advance!’
while turning again towards me, he said, ’Where
are your people, Colonel?’
I; ‘is it possible he’s going to promote
me?’ But before I could answer, he was talking
to another. Meanwhile Hill came up, and looking
at me steadily, burst out with,
“‘Why the devil are you
here, sir? Why ain’t you at the rear?’
“‘Upon my conscience,’
said I, ’that’s the very thing I’m
puzzling myself about this minute! But if you
think it’s pride in me, you’re greatly
mistaken, for I’d rather the greatest scoundrel
in Dublin was kicking me down Sackville Street, than
be here now!’
“You’d think it was fun
I was making, if you heard how they all laughed, Hill
and Cameron and the others louder than any.
“‘Who is he?’ said Sir Arthur, quickly.
“’Dr. Quill, surgeon of
the Thirty-third, where I exchanged, to be near my
brother, sir, in the Thirty-fourth.’
“’A doctor, a
surgeon! That fellow a surgeon! Damn him,
I took him for Colonel Grosvenor! I say, Gordon,
these medical officers must be docked of their fine
feathers, there’s no knowing them from the staff, look
to that in the next general order.’
“And sure enough they left us
bare and naked the next morning; and if the French
sharpshooters pick us down now, devil mend them for
wasting powder, for if they look in the orderly books,
they’ll find their mistake.”
“Ah, Maurice, Maurice!”
said Shaugh, with a sigh, “you’ll never
improve, you’ll never improve!”
“Why the devil would I?”
said he. “Ain’t I at the top of my
profession full surgeon with
nothing to expect, nothing to hope for? Oh, if
I had only remained in the light company, what wouldn’t
I be now?”
“Then you were not always a doctor?” said
“Upon my conscience, I wasn’t,”
said he. “When Shaugh knew me first, I was
the Adonis of the Roscommon militia, with more heiresses
in my list than any man in the regiment; but Shaugh
and myself were always unlucky.”
“Poor Mrs. Rogers!” said
the major, pathetically, drinking off his glass and
heaving a profound sigh.
“Ah, the darling!” said
the doctor. “If it wasn’t for a jug
of punch that lay on the hall table, our fortune in
life would be very different.”
“True for you, Maurice!” quoth O’Shaughnessy.
“I should like much to hear
that story,” said I, pushing the jug briskly
“He’ll tell it you,”
said O’Shaughnessy, lighting his cigar, and leaning
pensively back against a tree, “he’ll
tell it you.”
“I will, with pleasure,”
said Maurice. “Let Mr. Free, meantime, amuse
himself with the punch-bowl, and I’ll relate