(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

At age seventeen, Charles O’Malley was tall and broad-shouldered, deadly with a gun and sure in the saddle. He possessed in abundance the qualities of generosity and honor expected of Godfrey O’Malley’s nephew. Godfrey, of O’Malley Castle, Galway, was still a good man on a horse and quick to pass the bottle. In his ruined old castle hard by the River Shannon, he held the staunch affections of his tenants.

Old Godfrey was standing for election to the Irish Parliament. Unable to leave home during the election campaign, he sent Charles to the home of a distant cousin named Blake to ask his support in the coming election. Blake, however, belonged to the opposition, and although Charles did his best to win help for his uncle, he hardly knew how to handle the situation.

Part of the trouble was Lucy Dashwood. She and her father were visiting Blake while the General tried to buy some good Galway property. Charles was jealous of the General’s aide, Captain Hammersley, who was attentive to Lucy. At a fox hunt, Charles led the way at first, but Hammersley kept up with him. Charles’s horse fell backward in jumping a wall. With cool daring, Charles kept on and took a ditch bordered by a stone rampart. Hammersley, not to be outdone, took the ditch too but fell heavily. Charles was first at the kill, but both he and Hammersley had to spend several days in bed.

One night at dinner, one of the guests spoke insultingly of Godfrey O’Malley, and Charles threw a wineglass in his face. Billy Considine, who had been in more duels than any other Irishman in Galway, arranged the affair as Charles’s second. The duel came out in Charles’s favor, and he left his man for dead on the field. Luckily the man recovered, and Charles escaped serious consequences for his rashness.

Charles went to Dublin to study law. Chance led him to share a room there with Frank Webber. For Charles, college life became a series of dinners, brawls, and escapades, all under the leadership of Frank.

While in Dublin, Charles saw Lucy again, but she was distant to him. Hammersley was now a favored suitor. Since he seemed so unfitted for study, Charles became increasingly attracted to military life. Perhaps Lucy would approve his suit if he became a dashing dragoon. Godfrey arranged for a commission through General Dashwood, and Charles became an ensign.

His first duty was in Portugal. Napoleon had invaded the peninsula, and England was sending aid to her Portuguese and Spanish allies. In Lisbon, Charles’s superb horsemanship saved Donna Inez from injury. His friendship with Donna Inez was progressing satisfactorily...

(The entire section is 1084 words.)