"Well, I might—upon conditions—!"
"Ah, I suppose the conditions we have just been talking about."
"Something like them," said Patsy, smiling; "but, then, my father has always let me do as I like, and he will now, if only I could get at him—by himself! Only you see, there's Uncle Julian. He's a dear, and I love him, but for him all that the Princess says is gospel—all that she wants must be done instantly. That is why I am here. That is, why this Austrian applejack is forced into the deadly breach and made to make love to me. I don't think he wants to in the least. It is the Princess who is too strong for him, as she is too strong for Uncle Ju, and as she may prove too strong for me, if I don't get out of this and run away!"
"We'll see, bairn! We will just see!" was all she could get out of Kennedy McClure.
* * * * *
Two events fruitful of consequences followed closely on this talk which Patsy had with the Laird of Supsorrow. The first of these was a visit which Patsy received about ten of the clock the very next morning. She was breakfasting in Miss Aline's sitting-room after a cool ramble in the garden. The Princess did not often appear before noon, so Miss Aline and Patsy had the morning to themselves.
"A lady to see Miss Ferris," said the maid, who, in consequence of Miss Aline's prejudice, had been provided to wait upon them; "no, the lady would not give her name. It was Miss Ferris she asked to see, and as soon as possible. No, Miss Aline, I do not think it was some one asking for money. She came in a carriage with liveries, quite the lady."
Patsy went down immediately, and in the Gold Parlour she found the Lady Lucy Raincy—Lady Lucy in tears, Lady Lucy in a pleasant fluffy desolation of woe. She flung her arms about the girl's neck and wept freely on her shoulder.
"Oh, help me," she sobbed, "you will help me, I know. I have not always seemed a good friend to you, but I have always really loved you. Only you know, a mother with an only son—I suppose I was jealous. And oh, how I wish I had made Louis marry you then—"
"Then," said Patsy, turning sharply, "when?"
"When he wanted to and spoke to me about it! If only I had let him!"
"But I would not have 'let him' (as you call it), not then nor any other time!"
"But oh, be kind now," pleaded the mother, her under-lip wickering so that Patsy, even in the act of standing on her dignity, was somehow touched.
"Yes—yes, I will do all I can—of course, Lady Lucy. I mean to be kind," cried Patsy, instantly remorseful, "only I won't be given away like a packet of sweets without my consent being asked!"
"No, nothing of the kind—of course not," said the Lady Lucy, glad to arrive at her purpose with any sacrifice of dignity; "but now you must come away with me at once and help to keep Louis from marrying that horrid Mrs. Arlington, as he swears he will. And he is defying his grandfather, who may have a fit any moment and die—he is so angry—or else kill Louis, I don't know which. As I came out of the door I heard the Earl call out that he would take the dog-whip to him and thrash him within an inch of his life for an insolent puppy. And you know how proud Louis is. So you must come instantly with me and put a stop to it. You know he will listen to you. He won't to me—he pushed me aside, telling me not to meddle with men's business, when his grandfather declared that he would disinherit him of every penny he could lay his hands upon, and leave him with the bare title and as poor as Job."
"But," said Patsy, holding back, "Louis would not care a bit what I said. Why should he? If he wants to marry Mrs. Arlington, what can I say to keep him from doing it?"
The poor lady flopped spongily upon her knees, and taking hold of Patsy's short morning-frock, she besought her to be kind to the most unfortunate of mothers.
"You must come back with me," she wailed, growing more insistent; "you are the only one he really cares about. He used to say so even when—when I did not want him to say it. You have influence, and he will listen to you—and it will kill me if he breaks with his grandfather for the sake of that—woman! I believe the very sight of you would make him forget about that minx. Why, she is nearly as old as I am—besides her history!"
"I can have nothing to do with that, Lady Lucy," said Patsy, who saw no way of refusing. "But if you like I will come and stay a day or two at Raincy House, since you are good enough to ask me. It is no use talking to Louis now. But perhaps we can manage in some other way. At any rate that is the best I can think of. At lunch I shall speak to Miss Aline and the Princess, and if you send the carriage for me this afternoon I shall be ready."
And the poor mother wept joyfully over her till Patsy's nice morning-gown hung about her all limp and bedripped.
"Thank you—thank you, dear," she said, when she had recovered a little of her voice; "I feel that my boy is saved."
"I can only do what I can, but remember, I am not going to be married offhand either to Louis or anybody else. However, I don't mind being the brave, bold Newfoundland dog, who swims in and saves poor Louis from the wicked jaws of the Arlington shark!"
Duly Patsy found the pleasure of her company requested at Raincy House, a pleasant residence overlooking the Green Park, of which indeed, in the previous reign, the few tall trees of its garden had formed part. Occasionally, too, Louis continued to spend some time with Patsy, though less than formerly, till the evening of the great ball at Hertford House.
To this most fashionable event Patsy was going with the Lady Lucy for a chaperon. She had never been to any of the Regency set functions, and this was as much an affair of the Regent as if it had taken place at Carlton House.
The Princess Elsa could not go, or at least would not. But Prince Eitel had obtained an invitation through his embassy, and looked forward to a long evening of dancing and sitting out with Patsy. He argued, quite convincingly, that since Patsy was wholly unknown in Regency circles, she might expect to be left a good deal to herself. But his conclusion was wrong—first, because there were a good many, who, like Louis de Raincy, had a foot in both camps, and for the others, especially such as had heard much talk of Patsy, the charm of the unknown and unexpected was strong.
Many were the young men, therefore, who forsook the trains of Mrs. Fitzherbert, of Miss Golding, Lady Bunyip, the Countess of Carment, and Mrs. Arlington herself to be introduced to Patsy. Louis himself was compelled, much against his will, to make some of these presentations. Captain Laurence, having incautiously admitted that he had some slight acquaintance with the young beauty and her chaperon, found himself victimized by half a regiment at a time. Patsy soon had partners in plenty, and the Prince Eitel, who had looked forward to a pleasant tete-a-tete, retired to a corner from which he gloomed more and more murkily. He folded his arms and regarded the dancers with assassinating glances.
But Patsy wrote a hieroglyphic of her own before half-a-dozen of the dances, especially those just then coming into fashion, the waltz and the Bohemian polka a deux temps. Then, having assured her position, she began her struggle with the Arlington. She had never seen the lady before, and even now she did not find her antipathetic. Mrs. Arlington proved to be a big, blonde, jolly-looking woman, abundant in charms, with the easiest manner and the most laughing eyes in the room. She absolutely refused to let go her grip on youth. She must have been upon the outer confines of forty, yet her tint was as fresh and clear as it had been in her teens. Her hair was done in a froth of a myriad curls. She had ballooned her bust and hour-glassed her waist according to the fashion of the day. With her fan she beckoned this young man and that other out of the ranks of those collected about the door, and he came blushing, indeed, at the favour, and still more at its publicity, but all the same half-running with eager delight. She danced frequently, but did not seem to keep to any order or to have any written programme. She simply told one to go and another to come according to the accredited methods of the Roman centurion. Patsy noticed that Mrs. Arlington made no attempts to attract the older men to her side. The Royal Dukes, indeed, bowed over her hand, said a light word or two, and then moved off with a slight smile and a certain air of satisfied complicity.
From all this it was evident that Mrs. Arlington was a woman of much more discernment and courage than Patsy had been given to expect. There was nothing of the jill-flirt about her. She treated the boys whom she drew about her as if they had been her sons in need of scolding. She did not seek to hide her age. Indeed, she rather insisted upon it, and Patsy heard her bidding a young enthusiast to take himself off and do his duty to his girl cousins.
"When you have danced with them all, and got your toes duly trodden upon, come back and I shall see what I can do for you. Till then I have nothing to say to you. Surely you don't want me to have all the mammas hating me—there are some who look as if they could poniard me. Pray do look at that poor dear Lady Lucy. She slops over the seat as if somebody had opened the tap of a treacle-barrel and let her run out!"
But Mrs. Arlington, for all her loud good-nature, did not see without a pang the desertion of so many of her usual followers, and after she had seen Patsy beginning to dance, it suddenly became clear to her that she must do something to vindicate her rights of property.
"Louis," she said, in that most commanding tone which admitted of no reply, "go and speak to your mother. Then come straight back and dance with me. You have not been near the Lady Lucy to-night. And that I can't have!"
Louis obeyed, but as he made his way round the room he heard remarks which set him wild with anger and jealousy.
"They say he is quite mad about her!" said one.
"Don't they make a handsome couple?" "They are dancing the Hungarian Polka, the real one—it is easy to see that they have been practising it often before." "They say he is never away from Hanover Lodge!" "Oh, the Princess—why, of course she takes an interest in the girl because"—(and the rest was whispered into a carefully inclined ear).
"Louis, Louis," said his mother, taking his hand and keeping it between her two large soft palms, "do come and sit by us—don't go back to that odious woman. I can't think what you see in her. Though, indeed, 'tis easy to see what she has been by the horridly familiar way in which the Dukes treat her. Oh, you will break my heart—besides you make your grandfather so angry!"
For all the effect this homily of his mother produced on Louis Raincy, it might just as well never have been spoken. His eyes watched the smiling face of Mrs. Arlington as she whispered confidentially behind her hand to young Lord Lochend, a smooth-faced puppy whom Louis would like to have thrown out of the window. Then he gave his attention to the two who were dancing. They appeared so wrapped up in each other. The world was lost to them. Indeed, nearly every one else had stopped dancing to watch them. No doubt about it—these two were engaged. Patsy was soon to be a Princess. And with the curious mental blindness which causes a group of people to receive a tale, repeated by a sufficient number of mouths, as true, Patsy was considered already as good as married to Prince Eitel of Altschloss. Certain it was that they danced well together. Certain also that the two-time polka was the dance of the young man's native land. He must, therefore, have spent his time in teaching it to Patsy. The Princess, his neighbour, was of great influence with him. So the conclusion was clear—Patsy and he were to be married immediately, and in ten minutes from their first standing up, it was known what were to be the royal presents on the occasion, and the list of guests had been divulged, as well as the name of the officiating bishop.
Louis heard all this, and his eyes wandered no more to Mrs. Arlington. He thought of the seat in the niche of the beech-tree, the green and secret nest under the wall overlooking the path along which they could see Julian Wemyss pacing to and fro, his hands behind his back, and his eyes on the trout darting and swirling in the pools. Once more he scented the bog-myrtle and was the lad of the night rescue by the White Loch. Again Patsy was his Patsy, and he felt the sting of her hand, little and brown but very strong, on his smitten cheek. Ah, they were good days, those—better than he had ever known since he came to London and donned the uniform of the Blue Dragoons. What a fool he had been!
He did not go back to Mrs. Arlington, but with an eagerness on his face, waited the moment when Patsy should be free. The dance ended. She was coming smilingly back to Lady Lucy. He had nothing to do but to wait.
But the Prince Eitel! He bowed. The Prince Eitel bowed, still radiant after the dance. He twirled his martial moustaches. He had heard from the Princess and others what Patsy had said of Louis Raincy, and considered himself quite at liberty to put on a conquering air which made him particularly hateful to the officer of dragoons.
The Prince said a few words to Lady Lucy, bowed and went away. He had asserted his first rights, and Patsy and he had covered themselves with glory. Mrs. Fitzherbert herself had seen and envied. The Regent had seen and been defied. Best of all, and what he knew would please the Princess most, Lyonesse had seen. "Gad, how happy he would be to stab a rapier through any one of these obese swine!" And Eitel of Altschloss stalked away glancing about him arrogantly, eager and wishful that any one of the Regency party should quarrel with him.
But only poor "Silly Billy" came lolloping up much like a pet rabbit, his cravat undone and his blue ribbon of the Garter slipped from his neck and hanging as low as his knee.
"Cousin," he said, laughing his innocent's giggle, "what do you think? My brother Clarence says that you have been dancing with a mightily pretty girl, but that Lyonesse led her a prettier dance than you! What did he mean, eh, cousin?"
"Go to your brothers, Clarence and Lyonesse, and tell them from me that they are damned, lying scoundrels, and that if they want a foot of steel through them, they have only to say as much in my hearing. Now say it over—don't forget."
The "natural" was delighted with his commission.
"No, Eitel, I shall tell them every word. I like you, Eitel. You never call me 'Silly Billy' like the rest. If you could put some more swears in—I should like that still better!"
"I am sorry I cannot oblige," said Prince Eitel, "but the one there is, will suffice if you shout it loud enough. Thank you, Duke! that will do perfectly."
And the little man trotted off to deliver his message, jerking his arms and cracking his fingers with a real delight. It was not often that he got the chance of swearing at his brothers under the protection of Prince Eitel of Altschloss.
Meanwhile Louis Raincy had not been misusing his time. He knew he had come late in the day, and he was conscious of the queue of aspirants forming behind him.
At first Patsy listened with indifference, her eyes on the other side of the room and her chin in the air. She was so sorry, but she thought that of course Louis had all his arrangements made long before. She had seen him from the time they came in, yet while she was sitting beside his mother, he had never seen fit to come near them!
Whereupon Louis explained. He had been busy—the onerous duties of an attache—and so forth.
Patsy kept him awhile on the tenterhooks. He went on to remind her of the burn of the Glen-wood. He described their nests in the beech-butt and under the shelter of the great march dyke. He would have spoken of the race across the moors and the rescue at the White Gates, save that by instinct he knew that her thoughts would at once be carried to Stair Garland, the man who was a man and as such had played the leading part on these occasions. He hated even to see the Duke of Lyonesse limp and to think that he had not even done that himself!
"Well, the one after next!" said Patsy carelessly, after consulting the list of dances for those she had marked with her own hieroglyphic.
"Meanwhile, stay here with Lady Lucy till I am ready. I am certainly not going to seek you up and down the ball-room."
This she said because she noticed that the Arlington was beginning to waft signals in the young man's direction with her fan. Therefore, before she took her next partner's arm, she saw Louis sit down beside his delighted mother, and talking to her in a manner so completely absorbed that he never so much as raised his eyes.
Patsy proved perfectly entrancing when it came to be Louis's turn to dance with her, but before the end of the music they dropped out, for Patsy said, "Now we shall climb the bank till we find our nook!"
And taking the young man's hand they ran nimbly up the stairs till they came to a dimly curtained recess which, if the truth must be told, Patsy had just vacated.
"Oh," said Louis, delighted, "you are as clever at finding hidie-holes in Hertford House as you used to be in the brows of the Abbey Water!"
"Draw the curtains closer," said Patsy, "or we shall have your Mrs. Arlington spying us out and carrying you off with a single wave of her fan. She reminds me of Circe—a fat, curly-wurly Circe—like that picture Uncle Ju brought back from Italy. Why do you run after her, Louis? I told you to go and make love to as many pretty girls as would let you, and here you go and break the tables of affinity by making love to your grandmother!"
At this Louis was vaguely offended—or perhaps rather hurt than offended. He had not come there to be lectured—at least not about Mrs. Arlington. But Patsy had the good sense to administer the cooling bitter medicine immediately after the waltz, when men are never quite themselves. She would give him time to get over it.
"I am not making love to Mrs. Arlington," he retorted abruptly.
"I should think not," said Patsy, as instantaneously. "As an officer and a gentleman I should hope that you know better what England expects of you—Patsy Ferris also. What does the man suppose he is here for, that he should begin by telling me that? But seriously, Louis, you used to be always one to strike out new paths for yourself—why do you stick to the dusty highway—or, perhaps one might say in Mrs. Arlington's case, the old military road?"
"Patsy," said Louis, "you do not need to say things like that. You are too pretty. Mrs. Arlington is a kind woman, much spoken against and abominably maligned. Besides, she is a great admirer of yours, and would give anything to be introduced to you! She told me so!"
Patsy whistled a mellow but mocking blackbird's note which very nearly brought the Duke of Kent, and half-a-dozen of his compeers, upon them. However, they passed on, in spite of royal instructions to "stop and search—some of these little she-vixens are signalling us!"
While the danger lasted, Patsy had gripped Louis by the wrist as she used to do in the woods when her uncle or some prowling gamekeeper went by. And the pressure of her fingers made his pulses fly. Patsy sighed, for she knew well that she was laying up wrath against herself, but for the present she disregarded the future. She was saving Louis, and in order to do this she must attach him to herself. It was a pity, of course, because it would inevitably lead to entanglements. Louis would blame her. Lady Lucy would blame her, and perhaps, at least till she had an occasion to explain, the Earl would also be angry. But of this last she was in no very deadly fear. Of all the explanations which fall to be made in this weary world, she found those with well-affected old gentlemen to be the easiest. And indeed, she was not very particular whether they were well-affected or not—that is, to begin with. The shikar was only the more interesting if the tiger growled and showed his teeth a bit at first.
Thereafter Patsy laid herself out to tease Louis, to bedazzle the poor boy's brain, and to reduce him to the state of drivelling incompetence induced by disobedience to the Arlington and dancing with herself. She went so far that Louis, filled with a spirit more heady than wine, got down on his knees and was trying to make Patsy understand his undying devotion, when the curtain was pushed furiously aside and Mrs. Arlington appeared menacing in the brilliant illumination of the stairs. Behind, having no connection with her, but equally there on a mission of vengeance, loomed up the chubby giant, Prince Eitel of Altschloss.
"Ah, Prince," said Patsy, not in the least ruffled, "is it time for our dance already?"
"No," said the Prince austerely, "our dance was five or six back!"
Patsy glanced at her programme. She had carried it out to the very hieroglyph. All those dances which she had specially marked, she had sat out with Louis in the niche on the stairs. And now she did not mean to leave the spoil in the hands of the enemy.
She rose to her feet, shook out her skirts, and said, "Now, Louis, give me your arm and take me back to Lady Lucy. I don't think I shall dance any more to-night. You had better come with us to Raincy House! Good-night, Prince! I suppose we shall see you to-morrow!"
And so departed with the honours of war, leaving Eitel and Mrs. Arlington to console each other as best they might.
A CREDIT TO THE "GREEN DRAGON"
The average riverine loafer about the Kew Waterfront, really a potential cheat, robber, and occasional murderer, looked upon the recent arrival at the "Green Dragon" as a prey specially destined by Providence for his necessities. He was never more completely mistaken. Kennedy McClure was, in the loafer's own language, "fly to the tricks of all wrong coves." Had he not held his own (and more) for thirty years in a hundred markets with horse-fakers and cattle-drovers? He did not "go after the lush"—still less "follow the molls." He never walked by the waterside by night, and on the one occasion when a rush had been tried as he strolled back in the twilight from Hanover Lodge, he had cracked Jem Simcoe's head so thoroughly, that there was little likelihood of its ever being much good to him in this world—a pretty thing for a man living by his wits and with a family of three or four young wives intermittently depending upon his efforts.
It was soon known that Mr. Kennedy McClure did not carry his money about with him. He had deposited his pocket book with the city correspondents of Sir Willliam Forbes's bank, and now walked about with a light step, his blackthorn cudgel in his hand, and a glad light of battle in his eye.
"Tell me the day before your bill is due and I shall have the money," he said to the landlord of the "Green Dragon." And on the appointed morning a messenger from the city brought the amount, which Kennedy would open in the presence of Mr. Wormit himself, pay him, and send back the receipt to his correspondents in the city, thus gaining the reputation of being a man who knew his way about, and making a devoted slave of the landlord, who liked all ready-money men as much as he hated all fools.
In this way, by the free speech of the admiring landlord of the "Green Dragon," whose words admitted of no reply, Kennedy McClure grew daily in honour and stature. To Mr. Wormit, himself no mean man, he had at first appeared as a mere pensioner on the bounty of the inhabitant of the royal Lodge. But he soon grew into the Superintendent of her Estates. He became "her confidential man"—"him as looks after her business." He ended by being the Princess's adviser on all her affairs, and in addition a mint of power and wisdom on his own account.
Had he not got the landlord's second son James Wormit into the Lodge gardens, where he had been appointed auxiliary to Miss Aline? Had he not, though declaring himself wholly ignorant of English law, furnished the hint which led to the favourable settlement of the long-disputed case of H. M. Excise Board versus Wormit? Altogether a wonderful man, the landlord declared Kennedy to be, and a credit to the house any way you looked at it.
He knew a thing or two, he did. Would he have all these sailor-men from the docks sent to take their orders from him every day or two if he were an ordinary country gull? Would the young lady from the Lodge—she who went to the Court at Windsor, and drove out with the Princess—be walking all the way back with him if he were a nobody? And no fool either—carried just enough money to get him a bit to eat and a pint, when he wanted them—while there was that great oaf Jem Simcoe lying with his broken head which he was fool enough to trust within reach of such a man's cudgel. "Sarve him right," said Mr. Wormit. If Jem had known what Mr. Wormit knew, or a tenth part of it, he would have made sure that he had not the ghost of a chance with such a man.
So Kennedy and his dangling cowries, his corded kersey-mere shorts, his blue knitted hose and silver buckles, had honour in Loafer Land, and every hulking rascal who carried the pattern of the ornamental wrought-iron posts at the gates of the "Green Dragon" yard permanently imprinted in the small of his back, swore by him just as much as did Wormit the landlord. They saluted him as he went to and fro. They pulled forelocks and touched caps, feeling elated when the great man growled at them and ordered them by his gods to get out of his way. They knew how a gentleman ought to speak, and (though the accent was a little peculiar) Kennedy McClure's way was that way.
And during these spring weeks there is no doubt that the landlord had a great deal of reason for his opinion of his guest. Kennedy went every day to the Lodge. He arrived there early and Patsy met him, equipped for a walk, rain or shine, sleet or brooding river-fog—it made no matter to Patsy.
The two set off into the park, where they talked for a couple of hours—indeed till the approach of the luncheon hour warned them that the Princess, having descended, might be expected to miss her young companion. Patsy clung to the old man's sturdy arm, and certainly Kennedy's bachelor heart beat the kindlier, if not the faster, for the pressure. He was a most reassuring confidant and never took a hopeless view of anything.
"There's more ways o' killing a cat than choking her wi' cream!" he was in the habit of saying. "The craw doesna bigg his nest wi' yae strae!" "It tak's mair than a score o' yowes to stock a muir!" "Bide a wile—God made a' thing for something—even lasses!"
Nevertheless these were hard days for Patsy. Life at the Lodge was becoming extremely complex. Prince Eitel in his pervading way took a great deal too much for granted. He had received a letter from her Uncle Julian giving him every encouragement, and as he had not heard from her father, he was meditating a ride to the North along with his cousin of Thurn-and-Taxis in order to present to the Laird of Cairn Ferris a demand for Patsy's hand in accordance with the due forms of protocol.
Then Louis had forsaken the Arlington even as his mother had hoped. But, just as Patsy had foreseen, he now followed her rather more closely than her shadow. It was only in the early mornings, in company with Kennedy McClure, that she could escape from her wooers. She had Louis in the afternoon, telling her by the hour the tale of his fidelity and of all he had done, was doing, and was going to do for her.
Then would come Prince Eitel, when at sight of Louis Raincy the blond hairs of his moustache would bristle like those of an angry cat, while Louis glowered a more sullen defiance. Only Miss Aline managed to stave off the storm, but even with her shepherding of the elements, it was bound to break one day or another.
Louis was never asked to dinner, so he had perforce to take himself ungraciously off, leaving his rival in possession of the field. Not that that did Eitel much good, for the Princess declined to accept of a man in love as a whist partner. She chose instead Miss Aline who had the gleg eye of the old maid, and a memory sharpened with forty years of "knowing jeely pots by head mark."
Prince Eitel and Patsy lost regularly, sometimes as much as one-and-sixpence on an evening's play, which sent the Princess to bed a happy woman.
Besides, there began to be primroses on the Thames waterside, the sight of which made Patsy cry, and in the gardens a wealth of yellow and blue blossoms began to push up, the blue nestling under the shadows, and the yellow coming boldly out even in the filtered warmth of the spring sunshine, when the east winds blew the smoke of the city far up the river.
Then Patsy had visions. Patsy dreamed dreams—such dreams, visions glorious—thirty miles of Solway swept clean of mist, great over-riding white clouds, crenellated and victorious—the Atlantic thundering on the Back Shore, and all the tides of the North Channel tearing past. She saw the Twin Valleys awakening—a marvel she had never yet missed—the sheltered blooms and shy crozier-headed ferns deep in the trough of the Abbey Burn, the wilder, vaster spaces of broom and gorse, the windflower and hyacinth in the woods and sheltered spaces of the Glenanmays Water! Ah, she knew where to look for every one.—And merely not to be there, made her heart turn to water within her.
And then all of them tearing at her—she must do this—she must promise that! If they would only let her alone. She did not want to marry Eitel. She got tired of him after half-an-hour. She only really liked him when he was talking about the wars, and Louis—what a nuisance Be was becoming! She began to hate the innocent Princess, who for Julian's sake was doing everything for her, and she even grew silent with poor Miss Aline, shutting herself up more and more within herself. Oh, she was sick of everything. Was ever a girl so unhappy?
For which causes and reasons, seemingly quite insufficient to any one but Patsy, she was escaping every day to plot black treason with Kennedy McClure, whenever that worthy old gentleman was not either at Barnet Fair or Smithfield Market, the only two places in London which had any interest for him.
And of course, at this critical moment, there arrived the cataclysmic letter from Stair.
"The Bothy was attacked and surrounded last night. We can hold out for at least a week!
Then everything grew dazed about her—Hanover Lodge and the Princess, the empty phantasmagoria of courts, balls and routs, the disputes and reconciliations of royal Dukes, Louis and his half-cured amours with the Arlington. What did all these things matter? Perhaps at that very moment the Bothy had been taken by storm, and Patsy's quick mind saw Stair and her Uncle Julian lying dead out on the face of the moor, the soldiers who had done the work having no time for even a peat-hag burial.
But Kennedy McClure was a strong tower. If he were affected by the message he certainly did not show it.
"Hoots, lass," he said, patting her shoulder, "greetin' does no good. Come wi' me the morn in the Good Intent. That will be three tides before her regular sailing date, but I ken Captain Penman. He is under some obligations to me, and the Good Intent—weel, she's maistly my ain. But though ye canna speak to the Princess, ye had better tell Miss Aline. Being Gallowa-born and Gallowa-bred, she will understand and speak for ye to the Princess."
Patsy promised, though reluctantly, to do what was necessary in Miss Aline's case. It was monstrous and hateful to her that she should need to go back to Hanover Lodge at all. But she recognized that Kennedy McClure was likely to be right, and as she was only anticipating by a few weeks what she meant to do ever since she had begun to talk with the Laird of Supsorrow, she resolved to interview Miss Aline instantly.
Miss Aline also had her own reasons for being wearied of Hanover Lodge. It "wasna' her ain country" and the "fremit folk (especially the 'flonkies') vexed her sair!" Thus from the first there was no question of her letting Patsy go back alone.
"Fegs, no," she cried, "what do ye tak' me for? Lassie, do ye not ken that I am here for the purpose o' lookin' after you—little as I have been able to accomplish, with you as flichty as the Wemysses and as dour as the Ferrises. It is the Lord's ain peety that ye werena' born reasonable and wise like the Mintos—!"
"And your grandfather—" Patsy suggested, "him they call Hellfire Minto—what was it he did to the poor man at Falkirk Tryst?"
"He wasna' a poor man—he was the chief o' a neibour clan and the twa were at feud. It was that sent my granther doon to Galloway where there are no clans nor ony spites that last for twenty generations. But no matter for that. We are wasting time. Let us go and see the Princess. What for should we steal away like a thief in the night—after all her kindness, when we can get her God-speed by the asking?"
"She will try to stop us—tell her nothing!" cried Patsy, instantly fearful lest she should be locked up, or by some machination prevented from joining the Good Intent.
"And if ye please, Patsy Ferris, wha may it be that is in danger at the Bothy o' Blairmore?"
"Why, Stair Garland, of course!"
"And wha else?"
"I suppose my Uncle Julian is," said Patsy, seeing Miss Aline's point, "but he is not in real danger like Stair."
"Not perhaps if it comes to a trial, but suppose that the sodjers have orders not to let it come to a trial—!"
"Oh, Miss Aline, do you mean that they would kill them on the spot?"
"Weel, lass, Stair and Mr. Julian will doubtless be defending theirsel's, and what is to hinder a musket or so from going off behind their backs? There will be a reward oot and Brown Bess is tricky at the best of times. I am judgin' that the Princess will rather be for coming with us than for standing in our road!"
Miss Aline judged well. The Princess was anxious that they should take half-a-dozen of her retainers who had served in the wars, but Miss Aline pointed out that their ignorance of the country and language would make them only a danger. Finally, however, they agreed to take Heinrich Wolf, called the Silent, a lean, keen-profiled man of fifty, who had been a famous tracker of bear and boar in the Austrian Alps, and in his youth an expert in contraband of no mean fame, and of large experience both on mountain and on sea.
The thought of Julian's danger threw the Princess into a flurry of nervous fever, so that she could get no rest till she saw their boxes packed—each being allowed but one because of the difficulties of a secret landing. The others were to be sent to the care of Eelen Young at Ladykirk.
At first it was not clear to the Princess what they would do to help the besieged when they got there, but Miss Aline assured her that if any one could possibly raise the country and save the situation, that person was Patsy and no other.
Old Silent Wolf took with him a couple of great jaeger "ruk-sacks" full of sausages, together with much ammunition for rifle and pistol. These he nursed as he waited in the hall with a grim expression on his countenance, but as composedly as if he had only come in to report on the possible game for the day's shooting.
THE NIGHT LANDING
It was the gloaming of a late March day when the reefed top-sails of the Good Intent showed up against the horizon of bleak slate-grey which was the Irish Sea. The North Channel foamed boisterously to the left, heaping many waters together, a perpetual cave of the winds, a play-ground for errant tides, or rather, as the folk on its shores say, the meeting-place of all the Seven Seas.
From early morning they had been standing off, not daring to approach nearer till assisted by the westward rush of the Solway tides and the darkness which would hide everything. Captain Penman was a man of few words, and these few he did not waste. Inwardly he was boiling over at the ill-luck of his first spring run. He cursed Stair Garland and Julian Wemyss for mixing private quarrels with so sacred a mission as that of hoodwinking his Majesty's Customs.
"As good a cargo as ever came past the Point of Ayre," he grumbled, "and if young Garland had been attending to his business, we might have run it at the Mays Water as easy as changing money from one trousers pocket to the other. But now I must put these people on shore with the whole countryside humming with Preventives, and as like as not a brig-o'-war hovering about. There always is, when soldiers take a hand. The authorities get into a flurry and order up everything that can carry a gun. I shall have to make for Balcary or that narrow shingly cur's hole of a Portowarren, where a ship can't turn between the Boreland heuchs and the reefs of Port Ling. Then there are never enough boats there, and three tides will not serve to clear her. Why could not Kennedy McClure mind his business, which is also my business? He has been witched, as if he were only twenty, by this lass of Adam Ferris's. And the more shame to him that has passed sixty without ever a chick or a child to hamper him, or a petticoat to drag him to church o' Sundays!"
Yet for all his abuse this close-lipped captain of the Good Intent allowed Patsy many favours. She was often beside him on the bridge, and the Captain would explain to her quite patiently why they were hanging off and on, when the cliffs of the Back Shore were clearly visible, and for a little while even she could make out through the glass the twin rifts of the Valleys of Abbey Burnfoot and the Mays Water.
"Ye see, bairn," Captain Penman would say, "we can see nothing at all of what is going on ashore, while to a Preventive man up on the heuchs yonder with a spy-glass, we are as plain to be seen as a fly on white paper. I changed her rigging about a bit in the winter months, but for all that there is something about the auld Good Intent that makes her as easy to be told as the well-weathered brick-red of a sea-going face on shore!"
But of course Patsy was eager and impatient. She was hard to be held.
"If it is of your cargo you are thinking, why not go straight in and land us? Then you can take your tea and lace and brandy further on."
Captain Penman looked at the girl beside him, and was sorry for her disappointment.
"I would if I could, Mistress Patsy, but they would only grip the whole of you the moment you stepped on shore. Then that rough-haired rascal with the armoury in his belt would loose off half-a-dozen shots before they got him mastered, that would send you all straight to prison. And that's no place for them that want to help their friends in trouble. Besides, there are King's ships about, and who knows whether the wind may hold? If it dropped, we should be taken—all the lot of us, and the Good Intent with her fine winter's cargo would be made a gauger's prize! No, bairn, we are better biding here till the dark of the night comes and then—we shall see where we can set you ashore!"
"Weel, Captain," interrupted Kennedy McClure, who had come up from below, "what think ye of the landing? Can we make the auld place within the bight of the Mays Water? That would be the nearest to the Bothy on the Wild o' Blairmore!"
"Maybe," said the Captain, grimly, "but being the nearest is not to say the safest. They will have a cordon o' marines and, what is far worse, maybe blue-jackets on the lookout. Sodjers and Preventives do not matter so muckle. For at night the sodjers canna see onything, and the Preventives are apt to be lookin' the ither road."
"Ye think, then, that we had better try the Burnfoot?"
"I think nothing," said Captain Penman, irritably. "I am here to sail my ship according to your orders. But I will take nothing to do with what may happen after you set your foot on shore."
"Na, then, wha was thinkin' itherwise?" said Kennedy McClure, soothingly, "but surely a word o' advice is worth having from siccan an auld hand as you!"
"If I were you, then," said the Captain, instantly mollified, "I should e'en keep the lower side o' the Abbey Water, away from the Wild. Even if the red-coats have caged the mice, they are sure to have reset the trap—and great fools would ye be to walk straight into it!"
* * * * *
As soon as it was dark enough, Captain Penman let his vessel drift landward with the tide, then running strong into the wide swallow of the Solway. The wind was light, and a jib was sufficient to give her steerage-way. It was intended that the passengers should be set on shore at a point nearly opposite to Julian Wemyss's house, where a spit of sand and the shoulder of cliff formed a neat little anchorage. The sailors of the Good Intent, accustomed to the work, were ordered to convey the little luggage they had brought with them from London to the nearest "hidie-hole" known to Kennedy McClure, where, if all went well, men from Supsorrow could easily dig them up and carry them to their owners.
Attempts were made to signal as the Good Intent glided along the coast, but all remained obstinately dark. Dark lay Glenanmays at the head of the wide Mays Water. The cliffs of the Wild sent back no answering flashes, and it was not till the Good Intent was well-nigh abreast of the Partan Craig that a faint light glimmered out, low down by the edge of the water.... Flash—flash—flash—(it went, and then darkness). Flash—flash—flash—each double the duration of the first. Then came the blackness of darkness again, and anon half-a-dozen swift needle-points of light chasing one another as quickly as the eye could register them.
"There is danger ... to the north—keep farther away!" Captain Penman read off the coded message. "That's one of our folk. At any rate they are not all hanged!"
When they reached the next bay to the south the whale-boat was manned, and Miss Aline first, and then Patsy, were carefully handed down. After them came Kennedy McClure, cursing his own weight and the rope which had scorched his hands, last of all old huntsman Wolf scrambled down, bags of ammunition and all, as alert as a monkey, his rifle slung over his shoulder and his jaeger's feather stuck rakishly in his green Tyrolean hat.
The men hardly dipped their oars into the water. The mate, Rob Blair from Garlieston, a dark, hook-nosed springald as strong as a horse, sat in the stern and steered, directing the men in whispers. Presently they entered into a purple gloom, and the stars were shut out over a full half of the heavens. On shore and quite near, the lantern flickered six times as swiftly as before.
"Still further to the south!" it said. "Hang the fellow, he will bring us up among the Port Patrick fishing-boats! Ah, there!"
Out of the loom of the land as the current swept them under the cliffs, came one long, steady flare—then a pause, which was followed by a second.
"Head in, men," said Rob Blair, laying his weight on the tiller, "the fellow on shore says that all is safe, which may be and again it may not! There is that devil of a nephew of yours, Spy McClure from Stonykirk. They say he is still at large. If he has sold us to the land-sharks, it is the last Judas-money he will touch. I know ten men in Garlieston who will see to that!"
"Attend to your own business, mate," growled Kennedy McClure. "I will be answerable for my nephew."
"That's more than I should care to undertake," said the black-browed, free-tongued Garliestonian. "'Tis no sort of a hearty welcome ye will get at the Last Day when ye face the Throne, if ye have such a wastrel's sins to answer for."
"Silence!" said Kennedy. "We are close in and we shall see in a minute. You, foreigner, if I tell you to shoot—shoot—but not before!"
Patsy could just see the jaeger's teeth bared in a permanent grin.
"Steady there, men! Back-water! Now, you with the lantern, let us have your name."
"Francis Airie," a voice called out of the darkness.
"Francis Airie—don't know him. Heads low, men—ready there to go about. I never heard of Francis Airie. He is none of ours. Hold on, not so fast, you Austrian, sight your man before you fire!"
"I see him very well in the dark—shall I let off so he dead be?"
"I am Francis Airie, called the Poor Scholar," said the voice; "Miss Patsy Ferris knows me, and Mr. Kennedy also!"
"Of course I do," said Patsy, recognizing the voice of the lad who had helped her with many a hard line of Virgil, and many a passage of Tacitus, in which the verbs were singularly thin-sown. "Is it safe to come in where you are, Francis?"
"Quite, Miss Ferris," said the voice. "They have got Stair and Mr. Wemyss cornered in the Bothy, but they are still holding out. Fergus and Agnew are away on the cliffs to the north, but they are too closely watched to venture a signal. So that is why I am here to meet you."
With a long, even glide the boat's keel touched soft sand.
"Steady now, men,—back her a little!" said the mate, who was afraid of being caught on an ebbing tide, "overboard with you, Lambert, and you McVane, and help the ladies ashore."
But a pair of strong arms came over the side and grasped Patsy.
"No need," said the Poor Scholar, "I know exactly where to land and—"
"Take Miss Aline first!" commanded Patsy; "think of the pious AEneas you used to preach to me about."
And she got herself carried ashore by the hirsute giant McVane.
"'Seniores priores' would have been a better quotation," said the Scholar, as he took up Miss Aline; "take hold of the lapels of my coat, Miss Aline—your arms not so close about my neck, if you please!"
"I doubt if you would have objected to the arms about your neck if they had been Patsy's, you and your 'Seniores'!" Miss Aline observed rather tartly as she was borne off. They were soon all safe in a tiny cove, their feet on the pleasant wet sand, and the dark undefined shapes of the crags overhanging them on every side. A moment more and the boat disappeared into the darkness. A lantern flashed and was answered. They were free to proceed on their quest. Francis the Scholar led them carefully above tide-mark, turned at right-angles into a still deeper darkness, bade them keep their heads low, and with Patsy's hand in his passed into a cave-shelter, in one corner of which the embers of his watch-fire still smouldered red. Francis threw a handful of pine-cones upon the fire. It blazed up instantly with a clear light and a fragrant odour, and the four night-voyagers looked at each other, wondering at the wild eyes and haggard faces which they saw.
One corner of the cavern had been roughly screened off with sacking, and within was a comfortable couch of broom and heather twigs, upon which Miss Aline was advised to lie down. But this she refused emphatically to do.
"And me as near to my ain decent house at Ladykirk," she said, "what for should I do such a thing?"
"Because," said the Poor Scholar, "I have much to tell you, much you must hear, and you will not see Ladykirk this night. In fact you could not, without betraying the secrets of those who have been depending upon your aid."
"Say on, then," quoth Miss Aline; "the Mintos are no tale-pyets, and that ye shall ken. Let us hear what ye hae to say, laddie! Ye will be Nicholas Airie's gyte—I kenned her when she was dairy lass up at the Folds and mony is the time I warned her—but there's nae use harkin' back on the things noo, and when a' is said and dune ye carried me nane so ill, though the deil flee awa' wi' you and your 'Seniores'!—I would have you know that the day has been when I was as young—I am no sayin' sae bonnie or sae flichertsome as Miss Patsy there—but still weel eneuch and young eneuch. 'Seniores,' indeed, and you thinkin' I wad not tak' your meaning! Faith, I hae wasted my time ower Ruddiman's Ruddiments as well as the best o' them."
ORDEAL BY FIRE
The Bothy on the Wild of Blairmore was an entrenched camp, for Stair was too good a general not to see to the state of his defences, to his victualling and armament from the beginning. So, though the moment of the attack was a surprise, its manner had long been foreseen. As Stair had repeatedly said, "The sea is never shut!"
Landing parties from the Britomart and Vandeleur had marched up the Valleys, and the Preventive men of all the West of Galloway had quietly gathered at Stranryan in order to co-operate with them.
It was Stair who stumbled upon a picket of the Britomart men hidden among the eastern sand-dunes. He was on his way to meet Joseph, Whitefoot as usual at his heels, when suddenly the dog sprang forward, eyes blazing, hackles stiff, his nose high in the air, and his teeth bared, ready to bound. Stair restrained him and crept to the lip of a little sandy cup where, from the midst of a clump of dry saw-edged sea-grass, he could look down on a group of men busied about their soup-kettle.
"Silly fools," he muttered to himself, "they do not know that the first handful of heather and dried bracken they throw on their fire, will send a skarrow to the sky that will warn every soul within twenty miles. If I had not been a blind idiot, and thinking of something else, I should have seen it long before I came so far."
And looking over his shoulder he saw to the right, to the left, and behind him towards the cliffs seaward, multitudinous pulsing ruddy camp-fire blooms, waking, waxing and falling, that told of a general investment of their fastness, so long secure. In spite of the surprise, however, Stair managed to meet Joseph and to warn him that nothing further must be attempted except by means of Whitefoot. He introduced the wise collie and made him give his two front paws to the confidential servant in token of amity, while he repeated his name over and over again—"Joseph! Joseph!"
"Ao-ouch!" whispered Whitefoot, as much as to say, "Of course I understand! Do you think that I, Whitefoot Garland, am some silly puppy gambolling through life?"
For Whitefoot was a grave dog and had had to do with many very serious things indeed—things which touched even the life of his master. So it is no wonder that at this time of day he rather resented pains being taken with his education. It was like setting a double-first to construe the first book of Caesar.
Stair returned to the Bothy with his heart heavy and many thoughts churning within him. He reached the Wild safely with nothing worse to report than the fact that he was fired upon by a sentry, which warned him that he must not come that way too often. He did not enter directly into the Bothy, where, as he knew, Julian Wemyss would be doing an hour's reading before turning in. Instead he betook himself to the dam which his brothers and the band had constructed at the close of the autumnal peat-leading.
All the winter the Sunk of Blairmore had been full of black moss water. For the greater part of the cold weather it had been frozen and snow-bound. But now, swollen with spring rains, the ditches of the Sunk were lipping to the overflow. Stair took the great iron gelleck and with a blow or two knocked back the clutches of the flood-barriers. Then flinging down the huge crow-bar, he fled for his life, the ink-black water hissing and spurting at his heels. It was not noisy, that water. It ran silently, almost oilily, but all the same it followed after, and it was swirling black about Stair Garland's knees as he scrambled up the high platform of the Bothy, at the place where you could dig out the sand and sea-shells of a past age from among the roots of the heather.
"That will put out one or two of their fires for them!" he exclaimed triumphantly, and even as he spoke he heard cries announcing danger, hasty preparations for flight, while the red "skarrows" in the sky winked only once or twice more and were then wiped out clean all along the east and west borders of the Wild. Only on the high southern cliffs the fires still shone. And Stair knew that it was thither that the drowned-out investing parties would be compelled to retreat.
From the north there came no sign, for there alone no fires had been lighted. But the Wild spread the farthest and was most dangerous and inaccessible in that direction. Only morning would reveal the solitary tiny zigzag of path which connected them with their fellows, a path which Stair believed to be quite impossible—unless—and here a suspicion went flashing through his mind which sent him indoors with a bound. No, Eben the Spy was lying on his bed apparently sound asleep.
Stair gazed at him with a bitter smile.
"That's what comes of having a bad record against you," he murmured, "the man may be quite innocent. He may be really asleep. Yet as things are I dare not treat him as if he were either. To-morrow he must do a little scouting for us. He shall feel for the enemy, and if they fire upon him—well and good, then he has not brought the enemy down upon us. But because of his past, he must undergo the ordeal by fire and water.
"Well, we will let him sleep, but all the same I shall keep an eye upon him to see that he does not take French leave during the night!"
Stair called Mr. Wemyss from his reading. The ex-ambassador thought that a new parcel of books had arrived, and made haste to obey. He saw the door of the Bothy open and Stair, a large, dark shape vaguely outlined against a rosy illumination, the cause of which he did not understand, leaning easily with his shoulder against the lintel-post, blocking all exit.
"Well, Stair," said Julian, "did you find Joseph? Had he any word of the Good Intent?"
"I did find Joseph," said Stair curtly, "and it will be a long time before I find him again. Do you see that?"
"That" referred to the numerous fires which were now being lighted on the heights of the sand-hills, by the fugitives from the camps in the hollows of the Wild, who had been driven out by the invading waters of the dam constructed by the Garland brothers and their followers.
Julian Wemyss gazed a little stupidly. His eyes were unaccustomed to the dark, and he blinked like one who finds a difficulty in believing the evidence of his senses.
"Are these really fires?" he asked, covering his eyes with his hand.
Stair softly shut the door behind the two of them. It would not now matter whether the spy were asleep or awake.
"Now do you understand?" he said softly.
"They are fires, and we are surrounded by water. You have let out the dam!"
Stair sketched his night's adventure, with his hand on Whitefoot's head, who sat staring out at the winking fires gravely and wisely, as one who knew all about it and would have a great deal to say to the matter before all was done.
"Ah," said Julian Wemyss, "this is no chance business. They have been preparing it with the long hand. But why did they not charge from all sides at once and so rush the Bothy?"
"They could not," said Stair simply, "of course there were three easy paths then where there is only one very difficult one now. But, you see, they did not know that. They did not know and they do not know the strength of our garrison, or how soon we hope to be reinforced."
"I suppose," Julian whispered, "you have every confidence—?" And he indicated the ulterior of the Bothy where the ex-spy was sleeping.
"No," murmured Stair, "but I shall be sure to-morrow as soon as the sun is up. Possible treachery within the camp is not the sort of thing one can afford to let drag!"
"Provisions?" queried Julian.
"For a year!" said Stair.
"As you see!" And he swept his arm largely round the circle of the Wild. "We shall make a filter with a little granite sand (silver sand they call it). After passing it two or three times through this, the peat water will be fairly palatable. At least we shall need to put up with it!" And then Stair communicated to his fellow-prisoner his idea of the defence of the Bothy.
"We do not want to kill any of these men who have been ordered to come and starve us out," he said. "You have your house and your position. It is true that you have killed Lord Wargrove, but if he had not been a friend of the Regent and a confidant of Lyonesse, you might have walked the streets of London after a month or so, and no man would have dreamed of disquieting you. I am in a wholly different case. They are eager to see me hanged, and would not hesitate to make it high treason—"
"High treason only affects the person of the King," said Julian Wemyss; "not that that will help matters much, the Regent's judges being what they are."
"At any rate," said Stair, "killing a blue-jacket or an exciseman will do us no good, and I am for firing blanks except in the very last extremity—of course, if it is our life or that of another man, I think we owe it to ourselves to see that the funeral is the other fellow's!"
Stair Garland slept that night outside, wrapped in his plaid, with Whitefoot crouched in the corner of it. The watcher's back was against the door of the Bothy, the key of which was in his pocket. He was taking care that his ex-spy did not take it into his head to escape the ordeal of the morning.
At daybreak Stair rose to his feet and shook himself comprehensively. His limbs were stiff with the cold and damp. Whitefoot had been alert most of the night. He was unquiet and whined occasionally to himself, but very softly. The fires on the sand-dunes agitated him—perhaps also the unrest of his master, who with his own comfortable bed within a dozen yards, had chosen so incommodious a way of spending the night. Every few minutes Whitefoot aroused himself and paced stealthily round the little hut, his head in the air, sniffing the four winds for information. He tried the black lipping water with his paw and shook it dry again. That also he did not understand. However, he believed that Stair Garland did. The knowledge comforted him and sent him back to the nook of his master's plaid, where he nestled down without turning round, which was perhaps the most wonderful accomplishment of this wonderful dog.
* * * * *
Whether Eben McClure, ex-superintendent of recruitment and common informer, slept well or not during the first night of the investing of the Bothy of the Wild, is known only to himself. He at least pretended to pass an excellent night. The pretence was forced upon him by Stair Garland camping outside, his rifle ready to his hand, and the ceaseless patter of Whitefoot's alert sentry-go going round and round the hut.
By half-past five the day was beginning to come. Stair entered the Bothy, shook Eben by the shoulder and bade him prepare breakfast. Meals must now be taken as occasion served, and the whole business of their daily life would have to be reorganized. For they were now a city in a state of siege.
Eben knew too well the conditions of his life's tenure, to refuse to do anything Stair Garland bade him. He believed that while in the company of any of the band, he existed only by sufferance and had reason to be grateful for each hour of life vouchsafed to him.
So he made the porridge without demur, just as he had gone to bed fully dressed so as to be ready for any demand that the night might bring.
The meal being properly stirred, the porridge was poured into three wooden platters. Then Stair took a lump of fine Glenanmays salt butter from the firkin and dabbed it into the centre of each dish, the same amount for each. After which he went and knocked on the thin partition of Julian Wemyss's cubicle. Mr. Wemyss was already on foot, and had, in fact, almost finished the elaborate toilette which was habitual to him.
He saluted Stair and the spy with his usual calm civility, and with one glance at the stained, "up-all-night" look of Stair's dress, he gathered the truth. Stair Garland had been watching while he slept. He blushed a little at the thought, and resolved that for the future he would do his full share of night duty. Nay, even to-day he would see to it that Stair got his proper hours of repose. In the meantime, however, Stair's mind was full of quite another matter.
The loyalty of Eben McClure must be tested, and Stair was only waiting for the end of the meal in order to instruct the victim how he was to prove it. The door was open and Eben sat on the inner side of the table facing it. Between him and the light were Stair Garland and Stair Garland's gun. As usual Mr. Wemyss sat at the end of the table nearest to the fire.
"Eben," said Stair Garland, setting his elbows squarely on the table and leaning forward, "you are an intelligent man and you will understand that since the Bothy has been surrounded by an armed force and we may expect an assault any hour, your position has very much changed. We took you, to a very great extent, on your own statement. Now I do not think that you have sold us, or that you have brought these people down upon us. But we need to be sure. It will be obvious to you that if we are to depend on a third man in our midst, that third man must have all our confidence. Now, this is what I intend that you shall do. You and I shall follow the path as far as the big peat knoll. There we shall be in full view of the posts of the Preventive men. Having arrived there, you will appear to break from me after a struggle, and run as hard as you can towards the north in the direction of the excisemen. They will know you very well, having been your old cronies. You will have a white handkerchief in your hand which you will wave to them. If they take that signal to mean that you are escaping, we on our side will understand that you have been at your old tricks. If they fire—then you are cleared and can turn and come back to us. I will protect your retreat. Now do you quite understand?"
Frequently in the exercise of his profession, Eben had need of indomitable courage, but now perhaps more than ever. Yet he was steadfast.
"I see no reason why you should trust me," he said. "I am willing to take the risk. When shall we start?"
"Now," said Stair, and in a minute more he was marching his man along the narrowing pathway between the dark pools of peat water. "There is only one thing I have to say. Do not pass the dwarf thorn-tree at the big elbow. If you run past that, I shall know you have it in your mind to desert, and it will be my duty to shoot. You know I do not miss."
It was a grey day with a gentle wind, the sky of a teased pearl woolliness with curious warm tints in it here and there. The face of the moorland was generally black, sometimes broken by borders of vivid green about the pools, and along the path edges by the little rosy rootlets of the plant called Venus's Flytrap.
They came to the outlying peat knoll, where an extra supply of fuel had been left under shelter during the previous autumn. Quite half of it still remained, and the "fause-hoose," or cavernous pit left from the digging out of the peats, afforded the best of cover. From it Stair would be able to follow the spy with his rifle all the way to the posts of the Preventive men which had been established on the rising ground above the edge of the Wild. A portable semaphore stiffly flapped its arms as they looked, no doubt signalling their coming to other and more distant posts.
"There," said Stair, "they are all ready for you. Come outside and let us get our bit of a trial over. There is your handkerchief. As soon as you hear the bullets whistle, you can drop. Then turn about and crawl back to me."
"It does not seem to you somewhat cruel—this test?" said Eben McClure, looking wistfully at Stair. It was his only sign of weakness, and there are few who would have shown so little.
"No," said Stair, sternly, "when I think of those lads beaten insensible in the military prisons of your depots or bleeding at the triangles—they gave Craig Easton a thousand lashes and he had had eight hundred of them before he died—I think I am letting you off easy. I ought to shoot you myself where you stand. And don't let me think too much about it or I may do it even yet. I am giving you your chance to be an honest man!"
They went together out into the open. Before them a little zigzag of pathway angled intricately among the sullen floods of the morass. The sky was pleasantly shell-tinted overhead. There was the way he must go. Never had life appeared so sweet to the spy.
But he went through his part like a man in a dream. He struggled with Stair Garland, and though he did not hear himself he shouted fiercely as if for life. It was very real indeed. Then suddenly he broke loose and ran down the narrow towpath of dry land between the ink-black pools. He was still shouting. He had forgotten to wave the handkerchief. Then suddenly before him he saw the thorn at the angle of the big elbow.
He longed for the rattle of muskets—either from before or behind. It did not seem to matter much to him now which it was to be. He felt desperate and forlorn, hating everybody—Stair Garland most of all.
"Hist—Skip! Crackle!" came a volley from far away to the north, and Eben cast himself down behind a heather bush to draw breath. They had fired, and he was a proven man. He had faced death to certify his truth to the salt he was eating, and now nothing remained but to withdraw as carefully as might be. He crawled backward, now scuttling from one little rickle of peats left forlornly out on the moor to the next sodden whin bush, the prickles of which yirked him as he threw himself down. Stair kept his word, and from his peatstack delivered a lively fire upon the men in the shelters on the northern hillsides.
Eben was very white when he came back and dropped limp among the peat. Stair said nothing, but for the first time he held out his hand. The spy had become a clean man again, and the same would be known from among all the folk from Nith Brig to the heuchs of the Back Shore of Leswalt. His kin would own him openly. Stonykirk parish was again free to him. Eben knew that he had not paid too dearly for his rehabilitation, for whatever the dangers he had faced or might be called upon to face, they were as nothing to the hate and opprobrium of the whole body of one's own people.
PATSY RAISES THE COUNTRY
With three Galloway ponies and the contagion of her own enthusiasm Patsy undertook to arouse the country. She would save Stair and Julian by raising the siege of the Bothy on the Wild of Blairmore. She called upon her father at the gloomy house of Cairn Ferris and explained to him what she meant to do. She would not remain there in the meanwhile, but if he would lend her a pony or two, either from his stable or from among those running wild on the moors, she would not compromise him in any way.
"Whom, then, did she mean to compromise?" Her father put the question patiently.
Oh, Kennedy McClure was helping her, and Frank Airie, the Poor Scholar, and the Glenanmays lads—all the Stair Garland band, in fact. Yes, Miss Aline and the Austrian hunter were safe at Ladykirk. She could not have her mixed up in such a business, and Heinrich Wolf would look after her. Adam Ferris listened and nodded his head.
"I am a barn-door fowl that has hatched out a sparrow-hawk," he said meekly. "Do not pyke your father's eyes out, chicken!"
And with this paternal benediction Patsy went forth on her errand. Stair's Honeypot was at the door. Fergus Garland had brought him, offering at the same time to steal Derry Down from the Castle Raincy meadows. But this Patsy refused. She was not feeling particularly well affected towards Louis Raincy at that moment. Louis, as it were, had outlived his popularity.
Then began a great time. As flame after flame of lambent fire plays over the southern sky some eve of summer lightning, so Patsy came, and flashed, and passed. Hearts waited expectant before her, grew angry and determined as they listened (not the young men only) to the tale of her wrongs, also of Stair Garland's courage and Julian Wemyss's duel. She passed and left armed men with a definite rendezvous in her wake. Still keeping high up upon the pony tracks of the moors, she passed eastwards to the Cree, crossed it, and with Godfrey McCulloch to aid her, she carried the fiery cross along the shore-side of Solway to the great arch of the Needle's Eye, which is at Douglasha', in the parish of Colvend. Here she turned, for she was frightened at what might be going on during her absence in the dim region of the flowes and flooded marshes called the Wild of Blairmore.
Behind her lads were marching. The countryside was moving. They had sworn to save Stair Garland and Julian Wemyss, and, if need be, they were ready to push the invaders of their Free Province into the sea. Rebellion, not such a thing! Merely the affirmation of ancient privileges.
Even the Lord-Lieutenant and the old hereditary sheriffs at Lochnaw were displeased by any display of military force. They resented it, as the intervention of troops has always been resented in Galloway. What could the Government be thinking of? Why not let them settle matters in their own way? They were bound officially, of course, to give the business their countenance. Really, they liked it no better than did any member of Stair Garland's band. Earl Raincy, the Stairs of Castle Kennedy, the Monreith Maxwells, the Garthlands, and my Lord Garlies felt themselves perfectly well able to maintain order in their own lands. They could have removed Julian Wemyss to a quiet place over-seas, there to abide till the Wargrove affair had blown over. Who thought the worse of him for putting ten inches of steel through the pandar of a royal Duke, who had treated Adam Ferris's daughter as if she walked the pavement of Piccadilly or the Palais Royal? And as for Stair Garland—well, their lads would smuggle. They always had smuggled. But he was a good and a safe leader, who took his young men into no mischief and allowed no ribaldry or contempt for local authority. What more could be hoped for or expected, as long as young blood ran in young veins? And as to the little matter of the slugs in the royal haunches—well, the man was more frighted than hurt, and the twinges when the wind blew from the east would remind even a royal duke to leave their maids alone.
If belted earls and honourable baronets, the men of ancientest lineage, thought thus—consider what was the fierceness of public opinion among the farmers and their folk—the herds on the hills, the ploughmen and cattlemen, the crowds that gathered at kirk and market.
The provisions for the investing forces had actually to be brought from Ireland, for the country wives suddenly discovered that they had nothing to sell. Shops in town received known clients at the back door and served them behind closed shutters in the murky gleam of a halfpenny "dip." Had it not been for half-a-dozen sappers who had been busy with the new naval base on Loch Swilly, his Majesty's forces would have been starved out of the country, and Galloway would have added one more to its long tale of the triumphs of passive resistance.
But the six Loch Swilly men had served in the Peninsula, and they were under a Chatham sergeant, who was a perfect Gallio, in that he cared nothing about all the things which were distracting the westernmost end of Galloway which gives on the Atlantic. He looked at the Wild of Blairmore from several sides. He swore that such a set of asses he had never seen, and then he settled himself, with his five soldiers and a couple of score of impressed men, to make a cutting through the sand-dunes on the seaward side. This ditch or drain, now smooth and greyish-green with bent and self-sown saplings, is still known as the Sapper's Cut.
On the morning of the second day after Sergeant Robinson had started his digging team, Stair looked out of the door of the Bothy and, instead of the black spread of water he had left there over-night, the Wild of Blairmore was dry. From the zigzag causeway on either side, stretched away an array of empty moss-hags still glistening with moisture. Only in the very deepest cuts a little water still lurked.
Stair Garland's lips tightened as he turned to the interior of the Bothy.
"It is all up, Mr. Julian," he said, "I am sorry I have led you into this—I knew the thing could be done, but they had been so long in thinking of it that I had come to believe they would never hit on it at all!"
"I am sorry, McClure!" he said to the spy, "you will have to give up the money and jewels, but that I always meant you to do in any case. For the rest—"
He paused a minute, not daring to trust himself to speak more words. Then he continued—
"I have led you into all this. I thought there would have been a rescue-party long before now. There would have been if Patsy Ferris had been here. Now there is nothing for it but to give ourselves up. What is the use of making things worse by shooting two or three poor enlisted men who never did us any harm?"
And so it came to pass that Stair Garland and Eben the Spy were marched under strong escort to the gaol of Stranryan, while Julian Wemyss was shut up in his own house with a guard quartered on him. Thus had it been ordered from London, for there the Princess Elsa had been busy, and the local commanders knew that even when the Government is that of a Regent George, it cannot treat an ex-ambassador like a common felon.
* * * * *
Stranryan is a largish town, historical and ancient, as its narrow and crooked streets sufficiently attest. At that period of the year it was exceedingly malodorous, and in the gutters tangle-headed children fished for spoil, or with noise and clangour dragged the damaged dead cat and the too-long-drowned puppy from the green ooze of one midden hole to another.
But to make some amends for this, one was never far away from the salt waters of the loch. And a breath straight from the great sea came every now and then all day long, to air out the packed houses and crooked alleys. Down on the sea front were many boats. For at the season when the Bothy was captured and Stair and the spy led to the "Auld Castle," the herring boats were getting ready for the Loch Fyne catch—a good three hundred of them, and their brown and red sails brightened everything.
Fish-scales glistened on the cobbled quays of the little port. Salesmen and buyers moved piles of fish contumeliously, saying, "It is naught! It is naught!" after the manner of their kind since the days of Solomon—who had experience in such matters, for he was undoubtedly scandalously "had" in his traffic with the spice merchants.
The gaol of Stranryan was also on the water front, and especially when the Irish harvesters landed among the products of the herring catch, it was the witness of complex and accumulated villainies. There were faction fights among the Irishry themselves. There were fights between all the Irish united and the douce burghers and tradesmen of Stranryan—fights about eggs and chickens, fights about water and other privileges, fights which ended in sleepers being ousted from barns and stables, or triumphantly retaining possession thereof. There were also religious quarrels, in which the true "Protestants" of the two countries broke the heads of the true "Kyatholics," and had their heads broken in turn, all to the greater glory of God.
All these things were normal, and the participants seldom ended their shillelah practice within the walls of "MacJannet's Hotel"—MacJannet being the name of the chief gaoler of the town prison.
"The Castle" itself was a tall old hump of a building set in a courtyard with high-spiked walls. It had once been a town house of the reigning family of the Kennedys of Cassillis. They used to spend some time there by the waterside during the summer after the long winter months at Maybole, and, indeed, their doing so counted for much in the early history of the compact little town at the head of the loch.
The lower part of the "Castle" had been fitted up as a guard-room, and here, at all hours of the day, were to be found groups of soldiers, making the time pass in various games of chance and skill, from plain odd-and-even to bouchon learned from certain captive Frenchmen who were permitted to mingle with them under no very strict supervision. The square tower of the original Cassillis house had been cut down and roofed in, which gave it a very uneven and squat appearance, and all about the walls little sheds had been erected, to shelter this detachment and that on its way through to Ireland. Some of these were as old as Claverhouse and his King's Life Guards in the bad days of the covenant. But, one and all, they were insufficient, out of repair, drippy, smelling of stale bad tobacco and wet wood ashes.
Tony MacJannet, chief keeper of the prison of Stranryan, installed Stair Garland on the second story, immediately over the gate where the guard was on duty. Stair had no view to the front, but two small windows looked out on the courtyard, from which, through thick bars, he could see the comings and goings of the French prisoners, and even watch the ebb and flow of the games. Stair's chamber was spacious—the largest and best in the gaol, but the roof had not been plastered, and he could see the light through the slates, though some attempt had been made at scantling, and even in one corner a quantity of plasterers' laths had been piled. But there the matter had rested and was likely to rest.
As usual, the Town Council objected to spending money. The Government sent down every year lists of "immediate requirements," which the council as promptly filed owing to the lack of any accompanying draft. To spend good siller "oot o' the Common Guid" and then look to a far-off Government to reimburse them, was an affair in which the shrewd burgesses of Stranryan very naturally declined to engage.
Julian Wemyss's case threatened to be a curious one. He had been captured in Scotland at the request of the English Government for an offence committed in France—in which country his crime was no offence at all. Some loss of time and a great deal of employment for the lawyers seemed the worst that could befall him.
It was quite otherwise with Eben McClure. He was a fugitive from justice, and had been guilty of carrying off a large sum of money and various jewels, the property of His Royal Highness the Duke of Lyonesse. He was also suspected of having led the Prince and his party into an ambuscade, where the son of the King had been wounded to the effusion of blood and the danger of his life.
For the theft alone there was one sure penalty—death.
However, as things stood the spy's unpopularity made his fate of little moment to anybody. The thoughts of all were centred on Stair Garland. He was handsome, young and interesting. The maidens of the town of Stranryan trigged themselves out in their best hats and dresses—they donned their most becoming ribbons in order to promenade in front of the "Castle."
"Three months he and the ither twa held the sodjers at bay, till they had them clean wearied oot!" May Girmory explained to her bosom friend, Lizzie McCreath, as they promenaded together; "but to my thinkin' there is little that either of the ither two could do. It would be himsel', Lizzie, that did the thinkin' and the fechtin'. He's the head o' a' the Free Bands, ye ken, Lizzie!"
"Then, to my thinkin', it's but little that the 'bands' have done for him, the poor lad—and the more shame to them," said Lizzie. "Now, over yonder, in Ulster, if a quiet lad had been as long caged up by them divils of red-coats—it's the good dustin' their jackets would be gettin'. 'Tis Elizabeth McCreath and the daughter of a law-abiding Orangeman that will be tellin' ye so!"
"Hoots, lassie," said her friend, "you Stranryan Irish or half-Irish are all for doing a thing like the banging off of a peeoye. But what matters a day or twa for a fine, strong lad in the best chamber of the Castle? Stair Garland is not tried yet and, what is more, he is not sentenced. And if he is sentenced, where will he serve his time? Will he be going ayont seas to be sold in the tobacco plantations or off in a ship to Botany Bay? I tell you the keel is not laid, and the mast is not out of the acorn that will carry away Stair Garland. And as to hanging him—faith, they will need all their forces back from the wars before they could do siccan a thing in Galloway!"
She lowered her voice and spoke in the ear of the Irish girl, the Orangeman's daughter.
"Lizzie McCreath," she whispered, "can you keep a secret?"
"What else, noo?" said Lizzie, with avidity, "did you ever hear tell where you were with Sandy O'Neil on the night of the Saint John?"
"That's nothing," retorted May Girmory, "for where I was on the Beltane eve, there in that very place ye were yourself—you and my brither Jo. It is like that ye would keep that secret? But this is different."
"I will keep it, 'by the hand and fut of Mary,'" said Lizzie McCreath, quite forgetting that she was the daughter of the Grand Master of an Orange Lodge.
"Well, then," said May, "there is a Princess riding about the country, here and there and away. She has all Stair Garland's band ready, and hundreds more, too—aye, thousands if need be, pledged to rescue the lads laid up there. Jo is in it."
"Oh," said Liz McCreath, with a curious alteration of tone, "Jo is in it, is he? And he never said a word to me."
"Neither did he to me, but somebody else telled me—"
"Sandy O'Neil, it would be, maybe then, like as not!"
"And what for no?" demanded the revealer of secrets, and so proceeded unblushingly with her tale. She skipped some parts, to which she had been sworn to particular secrecy. But Miss Liz McCreath, while noting these, let the blanks pass, comfortably sure in her mind that so soon as she got Jo Girmory by himself, she knew a way of making him tell her all about it—the same, indeed, as that by which May Girmory had brought Sandy O'Neil to full auricular confession.
"But what like is your Princess? Does she wear a goold crown now?" said the Irish girl.
"Not her," said May Girmory, "she has a riding skirt, the way folk has them made in London, and gangs by at a hand-gallop, a different powny every time, and Lord, she doesna spare them!"
"That," said Liz McCreath with cold contempt, "is no Princess at all. 'Tis only little Patsy Ferris from Cairn Ferris, and I saw her faither yesterday at the Apothecaries' Hall at the Vennel Head!"
"And what wad he be wantin' there, now?"
"He asked for 'something soothin'' and he appeared most terribly glad to get it. He did be takin' a good drink on the spot."
"Puir man, I am sure he had need o't. He will maybe no be so very anxious aboot this lad Garland as his dochter!"
"So I was thinking, but what garred ye be whistling in my lug that she was a Princess? A laird's lass is no a Princess, that ever I heard of over yonder!"
"There's a heap of things ye have not heard 'over yonder,' and this may be one of them. But Patsy Ferris is a Princess because she could be a Princess the very minute she made up her mind to marry a Prince that has been askin' her and double asking her. Eelen Young, my cousin, that is with Miss Aline at Ladykirk, was telling me all about it, and it appears that up there in London our Miss Patsy could have had the pick of princes and dukes—"
"And with all said an' done she runs away (Glory be to her brave sowl!) just to raise the country and get Stair Garland safe over the sea!"
"Do not be foolish, Liz McCreath," said her comrade, "without doubt it was to save her uncle that was trapped in the Bothy of Blairmore at the same time!"
"Her uncle!—her uncle!" cried Liz McCreath; "the back o' me hand to all your uncles. How much would you be doing now for all the half-score of uncles that ye have in this parish? Not as much as would fatten a fly. No, nor Elizabeth McCreath either. 'Tis her lad she is fightin' for—and well do you know it, May Girmory. She will have sat out the Beltane fires wid him, darlin', and certain that'll be the raison why!"
The nights were fast waxing shorter. It was necessary that no time should be wasted. Patsy waited till there was a change of garrison at Stranryan. Long spoken of, it came at last. The relief had been signalled from afar—at Carlisle, at Dumfries, and now crossing the hills by the military road from New Galloway.
On the night before its arrival the storm burst upon the little fishing town scattered so carelessly along the shores of the Loch of Ryan. The two companies of the light cavalry division had marched out that afternoon leaving their barracks empty, swept and wholly ungarnished for the troops which were to arrive to replace them.
Stranryan will long remember that twenty-fourth of May. In the evening there was a wind off the Loch, a little irregular but pleasantly fanning to cheeks heated with the good-night bumper. So the burgesses stayed out a little longer than usual on the quay in the fading light, standing about in groups or marching up and down in pairs solemnly talking business or of the "Common Guid" of the town. How, for instance, they thought of electing the Earl Raincy to be their provost, honorary as to duties, but exceedingly decorative and possibly useful. The ninety-nine-year leases of the Out Parks would fall in during his time of office, and the feu duties would have to be rearranged. It would be a very suitable thing indeed—in all respects—that is, if the Earl could see his way—and so on and so forth.
He had certainly been more approachable lately, ever since Miss Patsy had gone to stay at Castle Raincy. A year or two before he would have damned them up and down all the hills if they had ventured to mention such a thing to him. They looked forward with hope to a more amicable reception now.
One by one they began to draw out turnip-shaped watches from their fobs, and having first held the case to their ears to make sure that there was no deception, the dial was examined, and with a casual, "Guid nicht to ye—the goodwife will be waitin'," the members of the town council and other municipal dignitaries strolled off each to his own house.
It did not strike any of them that they had not seen the town's night watchman, old Jock McAdam, in the performance of his duties. If it had occurred to any of the burghal authorities, it had only provoked the reflection that Jock would most likely be discussing a pint or two at Lucky Forgan's down by the Brigend, and that presently he would be perambulating the streets of the royal borough, his halbert over his shoulder, and intoning his song—
"Twal' o'clock on the strike, And a fine fresh nicht."
But Jock had been early encountered near the abandoned guardhouse of the cavalry quarters, and there had been safely locked in with a loaf of bread and three gigantic tankards of ale. It was not likely, therefore, that the time of night would be cried in Stranryan by Jock McAdam's booming bellow. Jock was at peace with all the world and the town had better remain so also.
Then came the first of the little ponies. The town had often listened to the clatter of their feet. It was familiar with the jingling of their accoutrements. But never had Stranryan rung with that music from side to side, and from end to end, as it did that night of the twenty-fourth of May!
Patter, patter, tinkle, tinkle—two and three abreast they came. Timid citizens in breezy costumes about to blow out the candle made haste to do so, and peered goggle-eyed round the edges of the drawn-down blind.
"What's to do? It's the lads of the Free Trade—hundreds o' them, all armed, and never a load pony amang them. Every man on his horse and none led!—Not a pack-saddle to be seen. Will they never go by? It's no canny, I declare! I shouldna' be standin' here lookin'. There will be blood shed before the morn's morning. Guid send that they do not burn us a' in our beds!"
"Come to your ain bed, ye auld fule!" was the wife's sleepy rejoinder; "if the gentlemen have onything to sell, we will hear of it the morn as usual. 'Tis not for the like of us to be watching ower closely the doings of them that tak's the risk while we drink the drappie!"
Oh, wise and somnolent lady, somewhat ill-informed in the present case, but on the whole of excellent and approven advice! It were indeed better for your good Thomas that he should neither see nor hear, and be in no wise able to give any evidence as to the doings of "these gentlemen," this one night of the year.
Soon, however, the whole town was awake and listening. But nobody ventured out into the street. Accidents had been known to occur, painful errors in identification. Even the chief civil authority of the town was deterred from sallying forth by a remembrance of a predecessor in the provostship who had been buried in a stable mixen all but his head, to the detriment of his clothes and the still greater and more lasting hurt to his dignity.
The bell of the town steeple clanged loudly half-a-dozen times, and ceased as abruptly as if the breath had been choked out of the bellringer. That was the sole attempt at alarm which was given in the town of Stranryan on the night of the Great Riding.
By all the ports they came hurrying in—ceaseless, close ranked, without end and past counting. Over the wild uplands which lie between Leswalt and Stranryan, the Back Shore men arrived—not a man missing. They were the nearest and their horses were quite unbreathed. Stonykirk and Kirkmaiden came next, and then the lads from the moors with hair bushy about the fetlocks of their steeds. They were a broad-shouldered and go-as-you-please crowd. They marched directly to the door of the Castle, and took up their position before it, awaiting orders. Then you might see two score of black-a-vised Blairs and McKerrows from Garliestown and the two Luces. Last of all, with wearied horses but in ranks of unbroken firmness, came the Stewartry men, headed by Godfrey McCulloch.
On Stair's Honeypot rode Patsy, ordering and ranging everything everywhere. She was as calm as if on her own ground at Cairn Ferris, and neither she nor any of the chiefs made any attempt at concealment. Only some few of the rank-and-file, sons of lairds and functionaries, fiscals and suchlike cattle, wore masks so as not to implicate their fathers.
"And now, MacJannet," it was Patsy's clear voice that rang out, "open your old gates or we will have them down without your permission!"
But MacJannet, keeper of his Majesty's strong house of Stranryan, knew that there was a time to be silent as well as a time to speak. He did not speak, and the next minute tall ladders with ropes arranged from their tops were reared at the word of command against both the gates. The Garlies men swarmed up them and with sailorlike agility descended into the big courtyard of the ancient Cassillis townhouse.
A moment more and the bars were drawn from within. The multitude swarmed in without a sound. No cheer was heard, only the confused noise of many feet and suppressed calls to this one and that to come and help to man the scaling ladders. The young men of the town of Stranryan itself were masked, since it was not fitting that sons of high magistrates should hunt through all the building and wood yards, aye, and even the paternal back-premises, to bring up ladders and forehammers to the fray. It had been their duty to provide these things, and by Patsy's orders they were taking no chances beyond the ordinary personal ones common to all prison-breakers.
"MacJannet, MacJannet—open there, you lurking dog!"
But just then MacJannet was more than usually deaf. He knew that he would have to answer for that night's work and it did not suit him to do anything of his own accord. A pistol at his head and a demand for the keys—well, that would be coercion, and when a man is compelled and put in fear of his life, what can he do? But for the present MacJannet lay safe and quiet behind his six-foot-thick walls and waited for that to happen which should happen.
Torches began to flare smokily in the courtyard and ladders were hooked to roof cornices. More ladders, tied safely together, were hoisted to riggings of buildings and held in place by ropes conveniently cleeked round chimneys. On these little dark figures climbed upwards, up and up interminably, till they reached the grey hump of roof under which lay the prisoners.
Picks and hammers went up from hand to hand, many helping. Fragments of slate and tile began to rain down, but nothing had been achieved till the blacksmith brigade, headed by Andrew Sproat of Clachanpluck, a famous horse-shoer, laid into the iron-bound doors of the prison.
"Clang! Clang!" went the forehammers, as the men holding their torches low made a circle of murky light about the workers. Every blow made the doors leap, striking full on the huge lock. All who stood in the yard could hear them leap on their hinges.
"'Tis the bolts that are holding—can't you feel them draw?" cried Andrew, the smith. "Bring all the hammers to one side! Now for it! Strike a little lower there!" And the three great forehammers struck so accurately that the lock gave way with a grinding crunch. The doors hung only by the bolts at top and bottom. Soon the aperture was so widened that a hand could be introduced and the iron rods shot back. The gates of the prison on the sea-front were thrown back and with the same silence as before the crowd poured in—all, that is, except the unfortunates, chosen by lot, who had been designated to look after the horses.
"MacJannet—MacJannet—the keys, MacJannet!"
The gaoler's quarters were swiftly invaded. One blow of Andrew Sproat's massy hammer did that business, and thereafter the gaoler did not lack for coercion. Godfrey McCulloch had a pistol to his head, and the bell mouth of a huge blunderbuss lay chill between his shoulder-blades, thrusting him forward.
"Open every cell!" he was ordered by Godfrey McCulloch. "We must have them all out. There are torches and the old place might take light. The wood is sure to be as dry as tinder after four centuries!"
And the lads of the "Bands" let the prisoners go, every man and woman of them. Only some Irish reapers clamouring for their reaping-hooks to be returned to them were pitched neck and crop into the street with small consideration and few apologies. And still they pressed on! Above them the hammering on the roof could be heard. It ceased, and it was evident that the gaol from dungeon to rooftree was in the power of the "Lads of the Heather."
But still no Stair Garland! The brows of the seekers grew black.
"If ye have sent him away secretly with the soldier men, 'ware yourself, MacJannet," said Godfrey, "we will roast you in your own black keep. We will gar your accursed Castle of the Press flame like a chimbly on fire, as sure as we came out of Rerrick!"
"He is here—I tell you—there is one of them, at any rate!" He threw open the door of a cell triumphantly and showed the pallid countenance of Eben the Spy.
For one instant the multitude stood silent, then with a howl of anger and disappointment they were flinging themselves upon him.
"Tear him to pieces!—Kill the spy. Who sent our Davie to the hulks?"
But Patsy's voice cried, "Back there, men! He has bought his pardon. He was with Stair Garland for two months on the Wild. He was captured with him. I tell you we owe him his life. Touch him not. Stair will vouch for him. And in the meanwhile, so will I!"
This did not satisfy the crowd, but they obeyed. They were compelled to obey, for that night there was only one leader among them. Smith Andrew, however, took Eben by the collar of his coat and marched him to the door of the prison. In the courtyard a new shout arose.