“A literary classic. I've enjoyed Thackeray's Ringpiece many, many times”
The Adventures of Baron Ringpiece were composed as a series of short tales, published between 1840 and 1848 by William “Wacky” Thackeray, better known for Vanity Fair Magazine, and his novels Penispenispenis and The Virginans, and details the life and adventures of Redman Barry O'Malley.
Thackeray always considered the work to be unfinished, and had intended to add several more chapters, turning the tale from one where the hero works towards success to one where he gains his dreams only to lose them.
Chapter the First: In Which I Describe My Early Childhood and Pedigree
Born as I was during a time of great forebodings, both my country and fellow countrymen been merely vassals, our very souls crushed beneath many a tyrants boot, it will not surprise the reader to learn that from an early age it had been my greatest desire to travel, in search of adventure and riches and those things for which men yearn for most dearly.
I was born into the O'Malley family, once powerful rulers of County Mayo and the surrounding islands. Along with the Burkes and the Pillocks they still had a great deal of power within Connaught and much of the west. I was born Redman Barry O'Malley in Beal a' Mhuirthid in the Winter of 1778. My childhood was a good one, though I was worked hard.
My father Harry O'Malley had been trained in law, and in my fifth year had left to work in London. For the next ten years a small but reasonable income was dispatched to my mother every month allowing us to maintain our smallholding. Members of my family lived close by and were often on hand to help when the need arose. A different Uncle of mine would visit my Mother most evenings (sometimes in groups of three or four), though Mister Fagan (whom I believe was a relative on my Father's side) would visit the most frequently.
|Like the donkey betwixt two bundles of hay," I can recall Mister Fagan saying drily, staring at Mothers ample busom, "there's pretty pickings to be had on either side.|
Chapter the Second: In Which I Set Forth Into This Most Genteel World
In my fifteenth year, news came to us from London that my Father had been wounded most fatality in London during a duel. As this was against the law in those times his entire estate became property of the King.
Mother put together as much money as she could gather, buying me a horse, and clothes of finest wool, declaring that it was time that I should make my way in the world. And so in the late summer of that year, young as I was that a beard had not yet set upon my youthful chin, I set out towards Dublin, adventure and fortune. I had not yet travelled more than twenty miles when I fell in with two fellow riders, their long black capes fluttering as they galloped upon their jet black steeds.
"Greetings of the day", said the elder of the two, his warm flashing eyes reminded me of Uncle Seamus or Uncle Peter. His name was Michael, whilst the younger of the two was Patrick, and the two of them travelled with me for the rest of the day, always with a complimentary comment about my horse, my fine boots or my cape. They warned me of the dangers of travelling alone, and about highwaymen and outlaws, and I was pleased to have their company. That night I had a fitful sleep, and I awoke to find my companions gone, along with my horse and my fine clothing, surely highwaymen had stole them away in the night. Why they left me be, I do not know, but I hope no harm befell my stout fellow travellors.
My journey continued on foot, and after four weeks long and arduous travelling I finally reached Dublin, and the brown muddy banks of the river upon which it is built. With no lodgings and no money I was reduced to performing lowly tasks for local farmers. After six months, will calluses on my hands from milking bulls, I could take no more. As with many a loyal and true Irishman before, I was left with two choices, to become a beggar or worse on the dirty streets of Dublin, or to be conscripted into the British Army.
|Better is it to be a horse under yoke," I recalled my Mother once stating, "than to be a pig in shite."|
Chapter the Third: In Which Millitary Glory Besets Me
Taking the King’s Shilling, I was posted to barracks in a comely town in the north of England. The journey from Dublin to Liverpool had been a difficult one, I would never maintain a fondness for sea travel, but my memories of that first journey recall a most difficult crossing with a fearsome storm threatening to bring a swift end to my adventure and my young life. I was ill for two days.
Despite my frequent fits of vomiting, my training began in earnest. Marching, standing, forming lines, a Drill Sergeant whose voice boomed like thunder. "Mister O'Malley, pick your feet up", "Mister O'Malley, stand up straight", his words still echo in my head after all these years. I was Private O'Malley of the Royal Lancastrian Volunteers for three long years, serving my time, mainly preforming menial tasks for the Officers, polishing their boots, their rifles, carrying ammunition between barracks and the firing range. Three long years before we were sent into active service and first heard the sound of a cannons roar.
I was posted under the command of one William Fitzpatrick, a fellow Irishman by birth if not by bearing. He was not a bad man, but his education, as was wont of his class, was one of viewing those whose station below him to be a step up from cattle. This, in my own case, would later change. My fellow soldiers were a mixed bunch, a few conscripts from Ireland, Wales, a tall bearded Scotsman and the rest rough and ready local lads. These men, far from being ths scum of the earth were the most gallant in the world, and carried all before them, with victories throughout France, Northern Europe and as far as the Great Russias.
In the fourth year of my army career I had failed to rise in rank or standing within my company, content as I was to fulfill my service, unaware that events would lead me down a very different path than the one I had dreamt of as a young man. France was at war with itself and with some of its neighbours, and a report reached our camp in Batavia that an armed group was marching northwards. Our intelligence had known that the French are revolting for a number of years.
Our Navy had fought a battle near the village of Camperdown a few weeks before, and it seemed that an invasion from the south had begun. Our forces met in a small unnamed village, and my company holed up in a barn. The sound of cannon and musketshot rang out across formerly peaceful fields, the smell and the smoke choking the breath from our lungs. Whilst taking turns to shoot from the small upper-storey window a cannonball burst through the weakened wall demolishing a supporting beam. Part of the roof collapsed trapping our young commander. In a moment of exhuberance I dug him out with my bare hands and carried him out of the building and back to camp. When he came to, with great thanks, he promised to help and mentor me, as a repayment of his debt.
Chapter the Fourth: In Which Luck and Good Fortune Befall Me
In a small ceremony within a square of my peers I was awarded a small medal for my "act of courage", promoted, and given a job as a courier, riding between the frontline and the General's camp, several miles to the rear. The ride through open fields, far from the sound of cannonfire and the battles to the east reminded me of my homeland.
The General was stationed within a rather imposing building, once the home of some disposed Vicount. It was full three months before I first laid eyes upon the General himself, a portly, red faced man with a huge ornamental moustashe. "You, Irishman, come here," he commanded, "you are the man who saved my nephew. I have a new job for you." And so I was trained in the arts of deceit to act as a spy for His Majesty's Service. It transpired that I had a natural gift for language, and over the next few years I was sent to Hanover, to Austria, to Russia, places that seemed like other realms in the dreams of my youth.
In the Spring of 1799 I was sent to spy on an alledged imposter, the Duke d'Earle, who my masters thought to be a spy in the pay of the French. I was to act as his manservant, and to report his dealings every day. The Duke was considered a dandy, and made his money through gambling and cards. On first meeting him, there was something that reminded me of home, and I am ashamed to say that I forgot all my training, babbling out who I was and why I was there. The Duke smiled and dropped his thick european accent for the familiar twang of my native country. "Well Redman, do you not recognise your old Uncle?"
And there I saw beneath the makeup, fine clothes and powdered wig the familiar twinkling eyes of Mister Fagan. We embrassed and shared the tales of our journey, Mister Fagan had worked as a horse master, providing fine Irish stock to His Majesty's Army, finding himself in the north of France when their revolution had begun. To evade capture he had "borrowed" the atire of a fleeing noble, before crossing the border into Batavia and on into the northern German cities. Mistaking him for a gentleman he was taken in by a well to do Baronette, where he discovered a skill at playing cards. From there he had made his way around much of Europe, amassing a small fortune in the process.
Chapter the Fifth: In Which I Become Aquainted With Lady Ringpiece
I first became aquainted with Lady Ringpiece during my trip to Vienna. She was the young wife of the elderly Baron Roger Ringpiece, and a rare and exquisite beauty, an English rose, with a fair complextion and sparkling blues eyes framed by a flowing mane of black hair. The Duke and I had received an invite to play cards from the Baron and his good friend the Reverend Olaf.
We dined with them at their residence, the Baron had taken a home in the country to take the air. Lady Ringpiece proved to be as sociable as she was beautiful, and I at once fell deeply in love with her. She later told him that she was enamoured with me from the moment I descended from my carriage, and that she had been watching from her room.
We continued our warm friendship for the remaining months of the summer, whereupon the Baron declared that he would be returning to Britain during september. It was a journey he would never make, due to an unfortunate shooting accident. My good friend the Duke had taken the Baron out hunting peasants, and after a successful afternoon sport, the two men were cleaning their guns, when the Duke slipped, shooting the Baron in the face. In an attempt to revive the Baron, the Duke offered him brandy, which accidently ignited by sparks from his pipe. Sadly his lordship drowned when the Duke pushed him into a stream to put out the flames.
After a long mourning period, the widowed Lady Ringpiece and I were married, and by October had returned from our honeymoon to the splender that was Ringpiece House. We moved into the Eastern Wing, whilst the Western Wing was having water damage from the previous years storm fixed. Even with the reconstruction work the house seemed more like a palace, than anything I would have called a house back in my rural childhood. Over winter, I set to growing a large and generous mustache.
My new wife and I agreed to send for my mother, who would come to live with us, we set aside a cottage on the estate in which she would live. She arrived just before christmas, in what was quite an emotional reunion for me. She was exactly as he remembered her, though a shock of white hair now covered either flanks of her hair.
At our evening meal, on the eve before christmas we announced to our guests the news of our expected child, and that by decree of the King himself, I had been given leave to assume the title of Baron Ringpiece. What wonders would befall me in the future I would not know, but surely now that I am a man of means, with loving wife and family, nothing ill may befall me.