The rain had ceased when Maurice and Neal, with their charge, left the meeting-house. The direction of the wind had changed since sunset. It blew in from the north and was sweeping the clouds away. The moon, then in its first quarter, seemed to be racing across the sky among the torn fragments of black cloud. Now and then it reached an open space and shed a pale, white light over the landscape. Again, it was hidden and the night was very dark. Already the wind had aroused the sea to its old warfare against the rocks and strands. Its hollow roaring was borne far inland. For a time the little party walked in silence. The Comtesse was the first to speak.
"If that is the way your loyal troops behave, Maurice, I think that I prefer the sans culottes. Ugh! my clothes are half torn off my back. I shall never be able to wear this dress again. It will smell, positively smell, of the grimy hands of that drunken wretch."
"What brought you out?" asked Maurice. "If you had stayed at home nothing would have happened to you."
"Now," said the Comtesse, "if you begin to lecture me, to preach sermons to me, I shall sit down and cry. I could scream and kick at this moment with the greatest ease and pleasure. Then what would you do, my nephew?"
"Maurice," said Una, "let us go home across the fields. Don't let us go by the road. I'm afraid of meeting those men again. They will be coming after us."
"Nonsense, Una," said the Comtesse, "we have climbed walls enough to-night; we have lain in ditches enough. For my part, if there is a road I shall go along it. Come, Maurice."
She walked quickly on, and Maurice, puzzled and uncomfortable, followed her. Then Neal laid his hand on Una's arm.
"This way," he said. "I will take you home by the fields."
He sprang across the ditch and stretched out his hand to the girl. Without a word she took it and followed him. They walked in silence over the rough ground. They crossed a wall, and then another, and each time Neal thrilled at the touch of her hand as he turned to help her.
"You were very brave, Neal," she said.
"It's not much to be brave for you, Una. Oh, I wish I could have saved you."
He had her hand in his again, and this time it seemed as if it lingered in his clasp.
"Una," he said. "Una."
But her face was turned away from him, and she made no answer. The tone of his voice set her pulses beating with a strong excitement, so that she could not look at him or speak. He was silent again. They reached the high wall which bounded the demesne of Dunseveric House. Once more, as they climbed, her hand was in his.
This time he held it fast. It seemed to him that he was doing something that would call down on him swift rebuke and angry reproach. He expected to have the hand snatched from him. Then, with wonder and a glow of rapturous delight, he felt it lie passive in his. He realised that he was being swept beyond his self-control; that his desire for the girl beside him was stronger than his reason. He yielded to an impulse of sheer passion, clasped Una in his arms, and kissed her face. Again and again he kissed her. He felt her arms tighten round him, knew that she was clinging to him. Then suddenly he let her go and stood back from her, terror-stricken.
"Oh, Una, what have I done? I am mad."
She stood before him, her face covered with her hands.
"Una, speak to me. Can you ever forgive me? My love made me mad."
She raised her face and looked at him. In the dim moonlight he saw in her eyes a look of wonderful tenderness. He realised without a word from her that she loved him, too.
"Una—I ought never—I was wrong. But I love you more than my life. Una, you are too far above me. You are a great man's daughter. How did I dare?"
She came close to him and spoke.
"There is no above or below, Neal, when we love each other. How can I be far above the man who loves me?"
"But there is no hope for us, none at all anywhere. Even to-morrow I may have to go—Una, I may have to fight——"
"Whatever comes, Neal, I know that you will be brave and good. Be brave and good, dear Neal, and then God will give us our hearts' desire. I am not afraid of the future. Why should you be afraid? If you do what is right and honourable what is there to fear? God is good."
They walked together to the house. Then Neal turned and went home. The future, so far as he could see into it, was dark enough. His love seemed utterly hopeless, yet his heart was full of unspeakable joy. He knew, beyond all possibility of doubt, that Una loved him and would love him whatever happened. Her strangely simple faith seemed to make all things plain before him. Una loved him and God was good. It was enough.
When Neal arrived at the Manse he found that the sentries who had stood on guard at the door were gone. The yeomen had disappeared from before the meeting-house. The broken door, the fragments of the wrecked pulpit, and the figure of the dead trooper swinging from the branch on which he had been hanged were left as witnesses of the Government's methods of keeping the peace in Ireland.
Inside the house Micah Ward paced restlessly up and down the floor of his study. Donald, his pipe in his mouth, sat on a chair tilted back till its front legs were six inches off the floor, and watched his brother. His attitude was precarious, but he seemed comfortable. Micah paused in his rapid walking as Neal entered the room.
"What have you been doing, Neal?" he said. "Your face is cut, your clothes are torn; you look strangely excited."
"I have been fighting," said Neal. He did not think it necessary to add that he had also been love-making, though it was the interview with Una, far more than the struggle with the yeoman, which was accountable for the gleaming eyes and exalted expression which his father noticed.
"I trust you were victorious," said his father, "that your foot has been dipped in the blood of your enemies, that you have broken their bonds asunder, and cast away their cords from you."
"I was beaten," said Neal, smiling. It did not just then seem to matter in the least whether he got the better or the worse in any fight.
"You take it easily," said Donald. "That's right. You're blooded now, my boy. You'll fight all the better in the future for tasting your own blood to-night. I'm glad you are back with us. Your father has been giving out the most terrific curses against Lord Dunseveric for having brought the yeomen down on us and taken away his little cannons. I tell him he ought to be thankful they went into the meeting-house instead of coming here. They'd have made a fine haul if they'd walked in and taken the papers he and I had before us when you came here. They'd have had the name of every United Irishman in the district, and could have picked them out and hanged them one by one just as they wanted them."
"They've got as much information, pretty near, as they want," said Neal. "They are going to arrest three men to-night."
"God's curse on Eustace St. Clair, him whom men call the Lord of Dunseveric," said Micah Ward.
"Spare your curse," said Neal. "It wasn't Lord Dunseveric who brought the yeomen on us, and what's more, only for Lord Dunseveric you'd be arrested yourself along with the others."
"What's that you are saying, Neal?"
"I'm saying that the yeomen brought orders from Belfast to arrest you, and me, too, and that Lord Dunseveric refused to execute them."
"And so I owe my liberty to him! I must thank him for sparing me. I must fawn on him as my benefactor, I suppose. But I will not. I refuse his mercy. I scorn it. I cast it from me. I shall go out and offer myself to the yeomen. They are to take my friends, my people, and spare me. I will not be spared. Am I the hireling who fleeth when the wolf cometh? I go to deliver myself into their hands."
"You'll be a bigger fool than I take you for if you do," said Donald. "Listen to me now. From what Neal has told us it's evident that you're wrong about Lord Dunseveric. It wasn't he who brought the yeomen on us. There is someone else giving information, and it's someone who knows a good deal. Come now, brother Micah, cudgel your brains; think, man, think, who is it?"
Micah sat down at his writing-table and passed his hand over his forehead.
"I cannot think," he said. "I cannot, I will not believe that any of our people are traitors."
"These orders which Neal speaks of came from Belfast," said Donald. "Who has lately left this place and gone to Belfast?"
"I can tell you," said Neal. "James Finlay. And James Finlay had a grudge against me. The others whom he denounced were United Irishmen, perhaps, I was not. Why was I marked down, unless it was out of private revenge? And there is nobody, nobody in the world, I believe, who has cause to wish for vengeance on me but only James Finlay."
"I cannot believe it of him," said Micah. "He came to me himself and asked to be sworn. He was a member of the committee."
"If you ask me," said Donald, "I think the case looks pretty black against James Finlay. I think, if things are to go on as they ought to, it will be better to cut the throat of James Finlay. I don't know him myself. Perhaps you do, Neal."
"Yes," said Neal, "I know him."
"And he is in Belfast," said Donald. "Now, what was his reason for going to Belfast?"
"He went to obtain employment there," said Micah. "He took letters from me to some of our leaders. He went as my agent, properly accredited. My God! If he is a traitor!"
"I think, Neal," said Donald, slowly, "that you and I will take a little trip to Belfast. I should like to see Belfast. They tell me it's a rising town. I should also very much like to see our friend, James Finlay. I suppose we shall be able to get horses to-morrow. Oh, yes, I've money to pay for them. I didn't come over here with an empty purse. Anyway, I think Belfast would suit me better than this place. Your people, Micah, don't seem very fond of fighting."
"You are wrong, brother. They will lay down their lives right willingly when the hour comes."
Donald shrugged his shoulders. "Their meeting-house has been sacked, their minister has been insulted, three of their members are to be arrested, and they haven't offered to strike a blow. If they had the courage of doe rabbits they'd have chopped up those yeomen into little bits and then scattered them for dung over the fields. I reckon that unless the Belfast people are better than these men of yours I'd be better back in the States. We knew how to fight for our liberty there."
"You don't understand, Donald. Believe me, you do not understand. We must wait for orders before we strike."
"Oh, orders. Waiting for orders. I know the meaning of that. It means waiting till the English have picked off your leaders one by one. I know, I know."
Donald knocked the ashes out of his pipe, filled it, and lit it again, and puffed slowly. Micah sat at the table, his head resting in his hands. Neal sat down and waited. There was silence in the room for a long time. Donald's pipe was smoked out and lit again before he spoke. Then he said—
"I'm sorry, brother, that I spoke as I did. I don't doubt but that your men are brave enough. They would have fought if they had known what was going on."
"No, no," said Micah. "You were right. I ought to have fought if there were no one else. I ought to have died. I would to God that I had died before our meeting-house was pillaged, before my people, the men who trusted me, were taken captive. I was a coward. I am a coward."
"Then I am a coward, too," said Donald, "and no man ever called me that before. But I'm not, and you're not. We were two unarmed men against fifty. I'm fond enough of fighting, and I take on a job with long odds against me, but not such long odds as that. Rouse yourself, brother. Neal and I are going to Belfast. We shall want letters from you. We must be accredited like Mr. James Finlay, whom we hope to meet. Stir yourself now and write for us."
"I will, I will. Neal, there is no ink here. I remember that I used all my ink yesterday. Neal, fetch me ink from the shelf beside the window."
In a few minutes Micah's pen was travelling slowly over the paper. Neal could hear its spluttering and scratching. Suddenly, there was a noise of loud knocking at the door of the house. Donald started and laid down his pipe. Neal rose to his feet, and stood waiting for some order from his father. Micah stopped writing, and turned in his chair. All trace of nervousness and agitation had vanished from his face. His expression was gentle and joyous. He smiled.
"They have come to take me also," he said. "I am right glad. I shall not be indebted to the oppressor for my liberty. I shall be where a shepherd ought to be—with the sheep whom the wolf attacks."
Again came the noise of knocking, heavy, authoritative, threatening.
"Be quick, my son, and open the door. Bid those who enter welcome."
Neal went to the door, and opened it. Lord Dunseveric stood outside, the reins of his horse's bridle thrown over his arm, his riding whip in his hand.
"I suppose your father is within, Neal. I want to speak to him. Will you ask him if I may enter?"
"He bid me say that you were welcome," said Neal.
Lord Dunseveric stared at him in surprise. "How did he know who was at the door? But it does not matter. Show me where to tie my horse, Neal, and I will enter."
Neal led the way into the room where his father and his uncle sat. Lord Dunseveric bowed to Micah Ward, and then, with a glance at Donald, said—
"The matter on which I wish to speak to you, sir, is somewhat private. Is it your wish that this gentleman be present?"
"It is my brother, Donald Ward," said Micah. "He knows my mind. I have no secrets from him."
Lord Dunseveric bowed again, and said, with a slight smile—
"It is possible that Mr. Donald Ward may find some of your secrets rather embarrassing to keep."
"I can take care of myself, master," said Donald, "or, maybe, I ought to say, my lord. But your lordships and dukeships, and countships and kingships stick somewhat in my throat. I come from America, where we hold one man the equal of another."
"You are a young nation," said Lord Dunseveric. "In time you will perhaps learn courtesy. But I did not come here to-night to teach manners to vagrant Yankees. I came to tell Mr. Ward that he has been denounced to the Government as a seditious person, and that I received orders to-night to arrest him."
"And why did you not execute them?" said Micah Ward. "Did I ask you to spare me? Have you come here to be thanked for your mercy? I wish to God you had arrested me."
"I assure you," said Lord Dunseveric, "that I expect no thanks, nor do I claim any credit for being merciful. You owe your escape solely to the fact that I happen to be a gentleman. It did not consist with my honour to arrest a man who was my personal enemy."
"Then," said Micah Ward, "what have you come here for now?"
"I have come, Mr. Ward, to warn you, if you will accept my warning, that you are in great danger, that the ramifications of your conspiracy are known to the Government, that your society is honeycombed with treachery, that your roll of membership contains the names of many spies."
"Is that all?" said Micah.
"No, sir, that is not all. I have a regard for your son. He has been the companion of my children. He has grown up at my feet. He has eaten at my table. I like him and I respect him. I beg of you to consider what the consequences will be for him if you drag him into this insane conspiracy. His name was along with yours on the list of seditious persons placed in my hands to-night. He has an hour or two ago incurred the anger—the dangerous anger—of a body of yeomen and their commander. I beg that you will consider his safety, and not take him with you on the way on which you are going."
"Neal," said Micah Ward, "is no more than a boy. He knows nothing about politics. What has my action to do with Neal?"
"His name," said Lord Dunseveric, "stood next to yours on the list of suspected persons which was put into my hands to-night."
"So be it," said Micah, solemnly! "if my son is to suffer, if he is to die, he can die no better than fighting for liberty against oppression."
"And I'm thinking," said Donald, "that you are going a bit too fast with your talk about dying. I've fought just such a fight as my brother is thinking of. I'm through with it now, and I'm not dead. By God, we saw to it that it was the other men who died. We won, sir. Mark my words, we won. It was the people that carried the day in America. They carried the day in France. What's to hinder us from carrying the day in Ireland, too?"
Lord Dunseveric looked at Donald during this speech and kept his eyes fixed upon him for some minutes afterwards. He was considering whether it was worth while replying to this boastful American Irishman. At last he turned again to Micah Ward.
"I have still one more appeal to make to you, Mr. Ward. You care for Ireland. Is it not so? I believe you do. Believe, me, I care for Ireland, too."
"Yes," said Micah, "you care for Ireland, but what do you mean by Ireland? You mean a bloodthirsty, supercilious, unprincipled ascendancy, for whom the public exists only as a prey to be destroyed, who keep themselves close and mark men's steps that they may lay in wait for them; who forge chains for their country, who distrust and belie the people, who scoff at the complaints of the poor and needy, and who impudently call themselves Ireland. You have made the sick and the lame to go out of their way. You have eaten the good pastures and trodden down the residue with your feet. You care for Ireland, and you mean by Ireland the powers and privileges of a class. I care for Ireland, but I mean Ireland, not for certain noblemen and gentlemen, but Ireland for the Irish people, for the poor as well as the rich, for the Protestant, Dissenter, and Roman Catholic alike."
"I have never denied, nor do I wish to deny, the need of reform," said Lord Dunseveric, "but I see before all the necessity of loyalty to the constitution."
"Ay, to the constitution which gives the whole power of the country to a few proud aristocrats, which excludes three-fourths of the people from its benefits, which allows eight hundred thousand Northerns to be insulted and trampled on because they speak of emancipation, which uses forced oaths, overflowing Bastilles and foreign troops for extorting the loyalty of the Irish people."
"I will not argue these things with you now," said Lord Dunseveric, "my time is short. I would rather pray you to consider what the end of your conspiracy must be. If you succeed, and I do not believe you can succeed, you will deluge the country in blood. If your best hopes are realised, and you receive the help you hope for from abroad, you will make Ireland the cockpit of a European war. Our commerce and manufactures, reviving under the fostering care of our own Irish Parliament, will be destroyed. Our fields, which none will dare to till, will be fouled with the dead bodies of our sons and daughters. But why should I complete the picture? If you fail—and you must fail—you will fling the country into the arms of England. Our gentry will be terrified, our commons will be cowed. Designing Englishmen will make an easy prey of us. They will take from us even the hard-earned measure of independence we already possess. We shall become, and we shall remain, a contemptible province of their Empire instead of a sovereign and independent nation. The English are wise enough to see this, though you cannot see it. Man, they want you to rebel."
"Is that all you have to say?" said Micah.
"That is all."
"Then I bid you farewell, Eustace St. Clair, Lord of Dunseveric. You have spoken well and pleaded speciously for yourself and your class. I might listen to you if I had not seen your armed ruffians break into our meeting-houses; if I had not in memory stories of burnt homesteads, outraged women, tortured men; you might persuade me if I did not know that to-night you have taken my friends, that you will drag them before unjust judges, and condemn them on the evidence of perjured informers, as you condemned William Orr. Human endurance can bear no more. Patience is a virtue of the Gospel, but it becomes cowardice in the face of certain wrongs. Go, I have done with you. Go, torture, burn, shed innocent blood, and then, like the adulterous woman, eat and wipe your mouth, and say 'I have done no wickedness.'"
"I came into your house on a mission of friendliness and mercy," said Lord Dunseveric. "I have been met with insults and lies, lies known to be lies to you who speak them. I go, and I pray that we shall meet no more until the day when, in the light of God's judgment, you will be able to see what is in my heart and understand what is in your own."
"Amen," said Micah Ward, "I bide the test."
Lord Dunseveric bowed and walked to the door of the room. Then he paused, turned, and held out his hand to Neal.
"You will stay with your father, Neal," he said. "I do not deny that you are right, but I will not part from you in unfriendliness. God keep you, boy, and remember, for old time's sake, for the sake of the days when you stood by my knee with my own children, you have always—whatever happens—always a friend in me."
Neal's eyes filled with tears. He could not speak. He carried Lord Dunseveric's hand to his lips, and then let it go reluctantly. He heard the door shut, the trampling of the horse's hoofs on the gravel outside. Then, with a sudden sob, which he could not repress, went across the room and sat down beside his father.
Donald alone remained cheerful and unimpressed.
"I know that kind of man," he said. "A fine kind it is. We had some of the same sort in America. They crossed the border afterwards to Canada. I suppose you mean to ship your aristocracy to England, Micah? From all I hear they like lords over there. But now to work. We can't afford to sit still while Master James Finlay is loose about the country with your letters in his pocket. We must get on his trail, Neal, you and I. We must hinder him from doing more mischief. The first thing we want is horses. Micah, where are we to get horses—two strong nags, fit for the road?"
Micah Ward sat silent and absorbed. His eyes were fixed on the wall in front of him. His lips moved, as if he were speaking, but no sound passed them. His hands on the table in front of him twitched. He was a prey to some violent emotion. Donald called him again, and again failed to arouse his attention. Then he turned to Neal.
"There's no use in trying to rouse your father, Neal. He will not hear us. Do you know anyone who will sell or hire us horses?"
"Rab MacClure has horses," said Neal. "He has two, I know. He lives not far from this, about a mile along the road towards Ballintoy."
"Come, then," said Donald, "I suppose the family will be all abed by this time. We must rouse them. There's Scripture warrant for it. 'Friend, lend me three loaves.' We must imitate the man in the Gospel. If he won't give us the horses for the asking we must weary him with importunity."
It was ten o'clock when Donald and his nephew set out. The clouds were blown away, and the sky clear. The moon rode high, and by its light they caught glimpses from the road of the white foam of the sea breaking on the dark strand below them. The roar of the waves came loud to them as they walked. A quarter of an hour's quick walking brought them to their destination.
"There's the house," said Neal.
"They are not in bed," said Donald, "I can see lights in the windows."
Neal led the way across a stile and over a field. Lights moved from one window to another in the house. A sound of wailing rose! and fell, mingling with the monotonous roar of the waves. The door stood wide open. Within, a woman rocked herself to and fro on a low stool. Three children clung to her petticoats and cried piteously. A farm labourer stood, stupidly motionless, beside the dresser. A maid servant, with a light in her hand, flitted restlessly in and out of the kitchen. Her hair hung loose about her shoulders. She was but half dressed, like one aroused suddenly from bed. A rush-light burned in an iron stand on the floor, shedding a feeble light. Donald and Neal stood at the door astonished.
"Our friends the yeomen have been here," said Donald. "I guess they have taken the man of the house away with them. We've another account to settle with James Finlay when we get him."
"Mistress MacClure," said Neal, "I've come to know if you will hire or sell us two horses. We must be travelling to-morrow morn."
"Horses," cried the woman. "Who speaks o' horses? I wouldna care if ye were to rive horse and beast and a' from me now. My man's gone. Oh, my weans, my weans, who'll care for you now when they've kilt your da? Oh, the bonny man, and the kind!"
"Is it you, Master Neal?" said the farm servant. "Will you no fetch the minister till her?"
"I will, I will," said Neal, conscience-stricken at having mentioned his own need in a home so sorely stricken with grief. He ran from the house back to the manse.
Donald took the labourer outside the door and spoke to him. He explained that he was the minister's brother. He said that he had pressing need of the horses. He offered money. The man shook his head.
"They are no mine, and the mistress is in no way to bargain with you the night."
"I want the horses," said Donald, "to ride after the villain who betrayed your master."
The man's face brightened suddenly.
"Aye, and is that so? Why couldn't ye have tell't me that afore? Keep your money in your pouch. You'll have the horses in the morn. I'll take it on myself to give them to you. I'd like fine to be going along. But there's the mistress and the weans. I darena leave them, and I willna. There's na yin only me and the God that's above us all for her to look to now."
Micah Ward, followed by his son, hastened to the MacClure's house. He stood for a moment on the threshold, lifted his hat solemnly from his head, and invoked a blessing on the building and all in it. Then he went to the woman, took one of her hands in his, and spoke to her with wonderful tenderness.
"Bessie, my poor bairn. Hearken to me, Bessie. Quit crying now, quit crying. Do you mind, Bessie, the day I was in with you and Rab away at Ballymoney? Do you mind how you said to me that every day you thanked God for the good husband he had given you? Do you mind that? Ah, woman, you mind it well. And you know rightly what the blessed book says to you—' The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.' Are you to receive good at the Lord's hand, my bairn, and not evil, too?"
He laid his hand upon her head and prayed aloud. The terrified maid stood still, her light in her hand, her hair in tangled strings, half covering her face. The labourer, Donald, and Neal stood together near the door. The children buried their heads in their mother's lap. Micah Ward poured out his very soul in supplication. Very literally it might be said that he wrestled with his God in prayer. It was in some such terms that he himself would have described the spiritual effort which he made. More than once, after a pause in his outpouring he repeated, in tones which were almost fierce in their determination, the words of Jacob to the angel—"I will not let you go until you bless me." For a long time he continued to pray, interrupted by no sound except an occasional bitter cry from Bessie MacClune. One after another the feeble lights flickered, guttered and went out. The room was in darkness. Through the open door came the long roaring of the sea. Within, Micah Ward's voice rose to passionate cries or sank to a tender whisper. Bessie MacClure's grief found utterance now only in half-choked sobs. At last even these ceased. Her hands ceased wandering over the curly heads of the children, asleep now with her lap for their pillow. She felt upwards along Micah Ward's coat. Her fingers crept along his sleeve, found his hand, pulled it down to her, and laid her cheek against it. He ceased to pray. The victory was won. He had, by sheer violence, dragged peace for a stricken soul from the closely-guarded treasury of the Lord of Sabaoth.
Early next morning Donald Ward and Neal set forth on their journey. Rab MacClure's horses served them well. By breakfast time they reached Ballymoney. They sat in the inn kitchen while the woman of the house broiled salmon for them. She was full of excitement, and very ready to talk. The yeomen had ridden through the town the day before. They had stopped at her house to drink. The officer and some of the men had paid their score and ridden on. Ten of them remained behind, and demanded more drink. Tumblers were brought to them as they sat in their saddles. One of them had proposed a toast—"To hell with all Papists and Presbyterians."
"And that was no civil talk to use to me, when all the town knows that my man is an elder in the kirk."
But there was more to follow. The troopers had flung down the tumblers—"the bonny cut glasses that were fetched from Wexford"—and shattered them on the pavement of the courtyard. Then they rode off without paying a penny, and when the mistress cried after them one man came back with his sword drawn in his hand, and she was fain to flee and hide herself. But the story of her own wrongs did not quench the good dame's curiosity. She recognised Neal as the son of the minister in Dunseveric. It was towards Dunseveric that the yeomen had ridden. What did they do there? Had there been hanging work or burning—the like of what went on in other parts? Had they visited the minister's house? Did Neal see them?
Donald Ward was a talkative man, and somewhat given to boasting; but, apart from the fact that the business of the night before gave him little excuse for glorying, he had plenty of sound sense—too much sense to gossip with the mistresses of inns about serious business. He signed to Neal to keep silent, and himself parried the shower of questions so adroitly that his hostess got no information from him. She tired at last, and with a show of disappointed temper, put the salmon on the table.
"There's your fish for you," she said, "and fadge and oaten farles, and if you want more you'd better show some civility to the woman that does for you."
She left the room, and stood, her hands on her hips, staring into the street.
"We're well rid of her tongue," said Donald.
Before the travellers' appetites were half satisfied she was with them again. She ran into the kitchen with every sign of terror in her face.
"They're coming," she said. "I seen them coming round MacCance's corner, and they have men with them and led horses. I seen them plain, and one of them is Rab MacClure, of Ballintoy. Away with you, Neal Ward, away with you. I'm thinking that them that has Rab MacClure and his feet tied under the horse's belly will be no friends of your father's or yours."
Donald Ward rose to his feet and stretched himself.
"The woman's right, Neal." He showed no signs of hurry in his speech. "I'm thinking it will be safer for us to be out of this. Here, mistress, what's the reckoning?"
"Not a penny, not a penny, will I take. Are them murdering devils to drink without paying and me taking money from the son of Micah Ward or any friend of his? But for God's sake get you gone. I'll keep them dandering about the door for a while, and do you get your horses and out by the back way into the field. You can strike the road again lower down."
It was late in the evening when Donald and Neal, with weary horses and wearier limbs, came close to Antrim. Neal was unused to riding long distances, and Donald complained that a voyage across the Atlantic left a man unfit for land travelling. They accosted a stranger on the road and asked his guidance to the best inn. The man answered them in a civil way. He spoke with a northern accent, but his voice was singularly sweet and gentle, and his words were those of a cultured man.
"I am on my way to the Massereene Arms," he said. "I think you will find the accommodation good both for yourselves and your horses."
He walked with them, chatting about the weather and the condition of the roads. He said that he himself had that day walked from Ballymena, and intended to spend the night in Antrim. He asked no questions and seemed in no way concerned with the affairs of his chance acquaintances.
Donald and Neal took their horses to the inn yard and saw them rubbed down, stabled, and fed. Then they entered the public room of the inn, sat down, and ordered their supper. The man who had guided them to the door sat at a corner of the table eating a frugal meal of bread and cheese. Beside his tumbler stood a large jug of buttermilk. In a few minutes he rose from the table and took his seat on a bench near the fire, where the light from a lamp, which hung on the wall, fell on him. He drew a notebook from his pocket, and proceeded to write in it, referring from time to time to scraps of paper, of which he seemed to have a large number. He was a man of middle height, of a spare frame, which showed no sign of great personal strength, but was well knit, and might easily have been capable of great endurance. His face was thin and narrow. He had very dark hair, and dark, gentle eyes. There was a suggestion about the mouth of the kind of strength which often goes with gentleness.
To Neal the appearance of the man was not very interesting. He watched him in mere idleness while waiting for the girl to bring the supper Donald had ordered. If there had been anyone else in the room Neal would not have wasted a second glance on the unobtrusive stranger. Yet, as he watched the man he became aware of something about him which was attractive. There was a dignity in his movements quite different from Donald Ward's habitual self-assertion, different, too, from the stately confidence of Lord Dunseveric. There was a quiet seriousness in the way he set to work at his writing, and a methodical carefulness in his sorting of the scraps of paper which he drew one by one from his pocket. The maid entered with the wine and food which Donald had ordered.
"You'll be for beds, the night," she said.
"Ay," said Donald, "and do you see that the feathers are well shaken and the beds soft. If you'd ridden all the miles I've ridden to-day, my girl, after not being on the back of a horse for three months, you'd want a soft bed to lie on."
The stranger looked up from his notebook. There was laughter in his dark eyes, but it went no further than his eyes. His lips showed no inclination to smile.
Another man entered the room—a burly, strong man. He wore top boots, as if he had been riding. He looked like a well-to-do farmer. He gave no order to the girl, but walked straight to where the dark-eyed stranger sat. Greetings passed between them, and then talk in a low voice. Both of them looked at Donald and Neal. Then, beckoning to the girl, the stranger asked if he could be accommodated with a private room. The girl nodded, and went to prepare one. Donald Ward finished his supper, rose, stretched himself, yawned, and then drawing a stool near the fire, sat down and filled his pipe. Neal, interested to watch the evening street traffic in a strange town, climbed on to the deep sill of the window and pushed the lattice open. A blind piper sat on a stone bench outside the inn and played a reel for some boys and girls who danced on the road. A horseman—a handsomely-dressed man and well mounted—rode slowly up the street towards Lord Massereene's demesne. One of the dancers crossed his way and caused the horse to shy. The rider cut at the girl with his whip. An angry growl followed the retreating figure. The piper stopped playing for a minute and listened. His face wore that eager look of strained attention which is seen often on the faces of the blind. He began to play again, and this time his tune was the "Ca Ira." It was well-known to his audience and its significance was understood. Several voices began to hum it in unison with the pipes. More voices joined, and in a minute or two the little crowd was shouting the tune. A grave, elderly man, in the dark dress and white bands of a clergyman, stepped out of a house opposite the inn and approached the piper. The dancers and the onlookers stopped singing and saluted him respectfully. He spoke to the piper.
"Don't be playing that tune, Phelim. Play your reel again. There's trouble where those French tunes are played. It was so in Belfast a while ago. We want no riot in Antrim nor dragoons in our streets."
"I'm thinking," said the blind man, "that it's the voice of Mr. Macartney, the Rector of Antrim, that I'm listening to. Well, reverend sir, I'll stop my tune at your bidding. Not because you're a magistrate, nor yet because you're a great man, but just for the sake of the letter you wrote to save William Orr from being hanged."
The pipes gave a long wail and were silent. Then another man came up the street. Neal could not see his face, for his hat was slouched over it, but the sound of his voice reached the open window.
"What's this, boys? What's this? Which of you is it bids the piper stop his tune? It's only cowards and Orangemen that don't like that tune."
The voice struck Neal as one that he had heard before, but he could not recollect where he had heard it. He leaned out of the window to hear better.
The clergyman stepped out into the road and confronted the newcomer.
"It was I who bid the piper stop that tune. What have you to say to me?"
The other approached him swaggering, then hesitated, stood still, took off his hat, and held it in his hand.
"Oh, nothing to you, nothing at all, Mr. Macartney. I did not know you were here. Indeed, you were quite right to stop the man. As for what I said, I beg you to forget it. It was nothing but a joke, a little joke of mine."
He bowed and cringed. He spoke in a deprecating whine, very different from the blustering tone he had used before. Neal's interest in the scene before him became suddenly very acute. He was almost certain now that he recognised the voice. The whining tone brought back to him the night when he had interfered with James Finlay's salmon poaching. The voice was, he felt sure of it, Finlay's voice. He drew back quickly, and from within the window watched Finlay pass through the inn door. He heard his steps in the passage, heard him open the door of the room in which the travellers were gathered. Neal shrank back into the shadow of the window seat and watched.
Finlay swaggered across the floor and then paused and looked at Donald Ward, who smoked his pipe in the chimney corner. Then he turned to the other two.
"I don't know this gentleman," he said. "Is he——?"
He paused, his eyebrows elevated, his face expressing significant interrogation. Neal saw him plainly in the lamp light. He had not been mistaken in the voice. It was James Finlay. The man who had guided them to the inn rose without speaking and led the way to the private room which the maid had prepared for his reception. Neal jumped down from his seat and approached his uncle.
"Uncle Donald," he said, "that was James Finlay, the man we are looking for."
Donald took his pipe out of his mouth and looked hard at Neal.
"Are you quite sure?" he said. "It won't do to be making a mistake in a job of this sort."
"I'm quite sure."
Donald replaced his pipe in his mouth and puffed hard at it for some minutes. Then he said—
"You don't know either of the other two, I suppose? No. Well it can't be helped. It would have been convenient if we had known. They may be honest men or they may be another pair of spies. I think I'll try and find out something about them. Do you stay here, Neal, and watch. Let me know if any of the three of them leave the house. I'll go down the passage to the tap-room. I'll drink a glass or two, and I'll see what information I can pick up. You see, my boy, if the other two are honest men we ought to warn them of our suspicions about Finlay. If they are spies we ought to know their names and warn somebody else. Any way, keep your eye on Finlay, and let me know if he stirs."
A sensation of horror crept over Neal when his uncle left him. He realised that he was hunting a fellow-creature, that the hunt might end at any moment in the taking of human life. In Dunseveric Manse, while the anger which the yeomen's blows and bonds had raised in him was awake, while the enormity of Finlay's treachery was still fresh in his mind, it seemed natural and right that the spy should be killed. Now, when he had seen the man swagger down the street, when he had just watched him cringe and apologize, when he had sat within a few feet of him, it seemed a ghastly and horrible thing to track and pursue him for his life. A cold sweat bathed his limbs. His hands trembled. He sat on the stool near the fire shivering with cold and fear. He listened intently. It was growing late, and the piper had stopped playing in the street. The boys and girls who danced had gone home. There were voices of passers by, but these grew rarer. Now and then there was the trampling of a horse's hoofs on the road as some belated traveller from Belfast pushed fast for home. A murmur of voices came to him from the interior of the inn, he supposed from the tap-room to which his uncle had gone, but he could hear nothing of what was said. Once the girl who had served his supper came in and told him that his bed was ready if he cared to go to it. Neal shook his head. Gradually he became drowsy. His eyes closed. He nodded. Then the very act of nodding awoke him with a start. He blamed himself for having gone near to sleeping at his post, for being neglectful of the very first duty imposed on him. The horror of the watch he was keeping returned on him. He felt that he was like a murderer lurking in the dark for some unsuspecting victim. For Finlay had no thought that he was distrusted, discovered, tracked. Then, to steel himself against pity, he let his mind go back over the events of the previous night. He thought of the scene in the MacClures' cottage, of the heart-broken woman, of her husband riding with the brutal troopers to a trial without justice and a death without pity. He felt with his hand the blood caked on his own cheek, the scab on the cut where the yeoman had struck him. He remembered Una's shriek and the Comtesse's frantic struggles as the soldiers dragged them from their hiding-place. Of his own rush to their rescue he remembered little save the momentary delight of feeling his fists get home on the men's faces.
He had nerved himself now with memories and conquered his qualms. He felt that it would be easy work and pleasant to drag James Finlay to earth and trample the life out of him. The thought of the insults of the brutal men who held Una and his own impotent struggles with the belt which bound him made him fierce enough. But the mood passed. His mind reverted to the subject which had never, all day, been far from his thoughts. He recalled each detail of his walk back to Dun-severic with Una, her words of praise for his bravery, the resting of her hand in his as they crossed stiles and ditches, the times when it rested in his hand longer than it need have rested, the great moment when he had ventured to clasp and keep it fast. He thrilled as he recollected holding her in his arms, the telling of his love, and Una's wonderful reply to him. Emotion flooded him. Una loved him as he loved her. The future was impossible, unthinkable. At the best of times he could not hope that proud Lord Dunseveric would consent to let him marry Una; and now, of all times, now, when he was engaged in a dangerous conspiracy, pledged to a fight which he felt already to be hopeless; when he had the hangman's ladder to look forward to, or, at best, the life of a hunted outlaw and exile to some foreign land; what could he expect now to come of his love for Una? His mind refused to dwell on such thoughts for long. It went back to the simple fact, the glorious, incredible thing which he had learned. Una loved him. That was sufficient for him then. He was happy.
The door of a room somewhere within the house closed noisily. There were footsteps on the stairs and then in the passage. Neal was alert. He quenched the light which hung on the wall and stood in the darkness looking out of the door. He saw three men pass him—James Finlay and the other two. They stood at the street door speaking last words in low voices. Neal sped down the passage to the tap-room. His uncle sat in a cloud of tobacco smoke, with a tumbler in his hand. Round him was gathered a knot of admirers, most of them somewhat tipsy. Donald was telling them stories of the American war. At the sight of Neal he rose quickly and laid down his tumbler. It was evident that he, at least, had drunk no more than he could stand.
"Well, has he moved?" he whispered.
"Yes," said Neal. "He and the second man are going. They had their hats on and were bidding good night to the first, the man who brought us here."
Donald left the tap-room quickly. The street door closed, and in the passage he found himself face to face with the gentle-mannered traveller whom he had accosted in the street.
"I think," said Donald, "that I have the honour of addressing Mr. Hope."
"James Hope," said the other, "or Jemmy Hope. I am but a weaver, a simple man. I take no pride in the titles men give each other."
"James Hope," said Donald, "I've heard of you, and I've heard of you as an honest man. I reckon there's no title higher than that one. I think, sir, that you have a room at your disposal in this house. May I speak with you there? I have matters of some importance."
James Hope turned without a word and led the way upstairs to a small room. Three candles stood on the table. There were also tumblers and an empty whisky bottle. It was noticeable that there were only two tumblers. James Hope had not been drinking. Donald walked over to the table and blew out one of the candles.
"I'm not more superstitious than other men," he said, "but I won't sit in the room with three candles burning. It's damned unlucky."
Again, as earlier in the public room, Neal thought that James Hope was going to laugh. But again the laughter got no further than his eyes.
"Now," said Donald, "if you've no objection, I'll have a fresh bottle on the table and some clean glasses. You know this inn, James Hope, what's their best drink?"
"I have but a poor head," said Hope. "I drink nothing but water. But I believe that the whisky is good enough."
"Neal, my boy," said Donald, "the wench that bought us our supper is gone to bed, and the landlord's too drunk to carry anything upstairs. You go and fill the jug there with hot water in the kitchen, and I'll get some whisky from the taproom."
Donald filled himself a glass with a generous proportion of spirit, and lit his pipe again.
"I've a letter here, addressed to you," he said.
He fumbled in his breast pocket, drew forth a leather case, and took from it one of the letters which Micah Ward had written. James Hope read it carefully.
"You are," he said, "the Donald Ward mentioned in this letter, and you are Neal Ward, the son of a man whom we all respect and admire. I bid you welcome."
He held out his hand, first to Donald, who shook it heartily, and then to Neal. He fixed his dark eyes on the young man's face, and looked long and steadily at him. Neal's eyes wavered and dropped before this earnest scrutiny, which seemed to read his very thoughts.
"God bless you and keep you, my boy," said James Hope. "You are the son of a brave man. I doubt not that you will be a brave man, too, brave in a good cause."
Donald Ward seemed a little impatient at this long scrutiny of Neal and the speech which followed. He took several gulps of whisky and water and blew clouds of tobacco smoke. He cleared his throat noisily and said.
"You'll be satisfied, James Hope, by the letter I've given you that we are men to be trusted?"
"God forbid else," said Hope. "Whom should we trust if not the brother and son of Micah Ward?"
"Then I'll come straight to the point," said Donald. "Who were the two men that were with you just now?"
"The one of them," said Hope, "was Aeneas Moylin, a Catholic, and a friend of Charlie Teeling. He's a man that has done much to bring the Defender boys from County Down and Armagh into the society. He has a good farm of land near by Donegore."
"And the other?"
"The other you ought to know, Neal Ward. He's from Dunseveric. His name's James Finlay."
"I do know him," said Neal, "but I don't trust him."
"He came to me," said Hope, "with a letter from your father, like the letter you bring yourself. I have trusted him a great deal."
"Trust him no more, then," said Donald, "the man's a spy. My brother was deceived in him."
"These are grave words you speak," said Hope. "Can you make them good?"
Donald told the story of the raid on the Dunseveric meeting-house. He dwelt on the fact that only five or six people knew of the buried cannon, that of these, only one, James Finlay, had left Dunseveric, that Neal Ward's name had appeared on the list of suspected persons, though Neal had hitherto taken no part and had no knowledge of the doings of the United Irishmen; that his name must have been given to the authorities by some one who had a private spite against him; that James Finlay, and he alone of the people of Dunseveric, had any cause to seek revenge on Neal.
"It's a case of suspicion," said James Hope, "of heavy suspicion, but you've not proven that the man's a traitor."
"No," said Donald, "it's not proven. I know that well, but the man ought to be trusted no more until his character is cleared. He ought to be tried and given a chance of defending himself."
James Hope sat silent. His fingers pushed back the lock of dark hair which hung over his forehead. His face grew stern, and there was a look of determination in his dark eyes. A frown gathered in deep wrinkles on his forehead. At last he spoke.
"You are on your way to Belfast. I shall give you a letter to Felix Matier, who keeps the inn with the sign of Dumouriez in North Street. You will find him easily. His house is a common meeting-place for members of the society. I shall tell him to have a careful watch kept on Finlay, and to communicate with you."
"I'll deal with the man," said Donald, "as soon as I have anything more than suspicion to go on."
"Deal uprightly, deal justly," said Hope. "Ours is a sacred cause. It may be God's will that we are to be victorious, or it may be written in His book that we shall fail. He alone knows the issue. But, either way, our hands must not be stained with crime. We must do justly, aye, and love mercy when mercy can be shown without imperilling the lives of innocent men."
"Traitors must be dealt with as traitors are in all civilised States," said Donald.
"Ay, truly, when we are sure that they are traitors."
"I shall make sure," said Donald, "and then——"
"Then———," Hope sighed deeply. "Then—— you are right. There is no help for it. But remember, Donald Ward, that you and I must answer for our actions before the judgment seat of God. Remember, also, that our names and our deeds will be judged by posterity. We must not shrink from stern necessities laid upon us. But let us not give the enemy an excuse to brand us as assassins in the time to come."
"God damn it, man, you speak to me as if you thought me a hired murderer. I take such language from no man living, and from you no more than another, James Hope. You shall answer for your words and your insinuations."
Donald stood up as he spoke. His face was deeply flushed. He had drunk heavily during the evening. Even the best men, the leaders of every class and section of society drank heavily in those days. He was an exceptional man who always went to bed in full possession of his senses. Donald Ward was no worse than his fellows. But the man whom he challenged was one of the few for whom the wine bottle had no attractions. He was also one of those—rare in any age—who had learnt the mastery of self, whom no words, even insulting words, can drive beyond the limits of their patience.
"If I have spoken anything which hurts or vexes you, Donald Ward, I am sorry for it. I had no wish to do so. Comrades in a great enterprise must not quarrel with each other. I offer you my hand in token that I do not think of you as anything but an honourable man."
"Spoken like a gentleman," said Donald, grasping the outstretched hand. "Enough said, you have satisfied me that you meant no insult. A gentleman can do no more."
"I am not what they call a gentleman," said James Hope, "I am only a poor weaver with no claim to any such title."
At breakfast the next morning James Hope spoke again about Finlay.
"The man went home last night with Aeneas Moylin. I think that I ought to go to Donegore to-day and tell Aeneas of our suspicions. I had intended to go straight to Templepatrick, and I might have had your company so far, but it will certainly be better for me to go round by Donegore."
Donald Ward nodded.
"I shall not see Finlay himself," said Hope. "He was to leave early this morning for Belfast. You must ride fast to be there before him."
He paused. Then, after a moment's thought, he said:
"I should like to have Neal with me, if you can spare him, Donald Ward, if you do not object to riding alone."
"I am sure," said Donald, "that Neal will benefit much more by your company than mine. He can join me in Belfast this evening."
This was Donald's apology, his confession of contrition for the rough language of the night before; his confession that in James Hope he had met a man who was his superior.
"So be it," said Hope. "I shall not propose to you, Neal, that we ride and tie as the custom of the country is for travellers who have only one horse between them. You shall lead the horse, and so we shall be able to talk to each other."
Neal agreed to the plan gladly. He was greatly attracted by James Hope, and glad to spend some hours with him.
The girl came running into the room, her face flushed with excitement.
"Come, come," she cried, "the soldiers are riding down the street in their braw red coats. Oh, the bonny men and the bonny horses!"
The three travellers went to the door of the inn. Four companies of dragoons were passing through the town at a trot. It was Neal's first view of any considerable body of troops. He stared at them, fascinated by the jingling and clattering of their accoutrements. These were very different from the yeomen he had seen at Dunseveric. Everything about them, the uniformity of their appearance, the condition of their arms and horses, the regularity of their march, expressed the fact that they were highly disciplined men. Donald Ward smiled grimly as he watched them.
"There are the men we've got to beat," he said. "Fine fellows, eh, Neal? They look as if they could sweep you and me and Jemmy Hope here, and a crowd like us, out of their way; but I've seen men in those same pretty clothes glad enough to turn their backs on troops no better organised nor drilled than ours will be."
"Poor fellows!" said Hope "poor fellows! Paid to fight and die in quarrels which are not their own. To fight for their masters, that their masters may grow rich and great. And yet they are of the people, too. It is just starvation, or the fear of it, that led them to enlist."
"Where are they going now?" asked Neal.
"To Belfast," said Hope. "I heard that the garrison there was deemed insufficient and that a fresh regiment of dragoons had been ordered in from Derry."
"Look at them well, Neal," said Donald. "Look at them so that you'll know them when you next see them. You'll meet them again before long."
James Hope and Neal started on their walk soon after the dragoons had passed. Just outside the town they turned aside to view the round tower, the most famous of the buildings of its kind in the north.
"None knows," said Hope, "who built these towers, or why, but it seems certain to me that they were built by men with lofty thoughts, by men who looked upward rather than to the earth. Some say that it was to other gods they looked up and not to the true God. What does it matter? Their hearts, like their towers, rose clear of earthly hamperings and reached towards heaven."
He asked Neal many questions about his way of life and education, about the books he had read, and the periods of history he found specially interesting.
"I had no such opportunities when a boy," said Hope, "as you have had. I am a self-educated man. I never had but fifteen months of schooling in my life. What little knowledge I have I gained with great difficulty."
This surprised Neal, for it seemed to him that he had never talked to anyone who possessed more of that sweetness and wide reasonableness of outlook upon life which ought to be the end of education. He tried to express something of what he felt, but Hope stopped him and turned the talk into other channels.
At Farranshane Hope bade him stand still and look at a farmhouse which stood a little back from the road.
"It was there," he said, "that William Orr lived. His widow and weans are there now. You know the story, Neal?"
"I know it; yes, I know the outlines of it. Do you tell it to me again."
Hope repeated the story, which in those days hardly needed telling among the Antrim peasants, of the man whose name had become a watchword; so that men, seeking to revive failing enthusiasms, said to each other—"Remember Orr." It was a pitiful tale; a man marked down as odious by a powerful faction, spied upon, informed against, tried by prejudiced judges, condemned on the word of false witnesses, hanged. The same tale might have been told of many another then, but William Orr came first on the list of such martyrs, and even now his name is not wholly forgotten.
They reached Donegore. Moylin's house—a comfortable, two-storeyed building, built of large blocks of stone—stood on the side of the steep hill, near the old church and the graveyard. Hope, bidding Neal wait for him on the roadside, entered the house. In about a quarter of an hour he returned.
"It is as I thought," he said. "Finlay left early this morning after arranging for a meeting of the United Irishmen here next week. Well, there is no more to be done for the present. I have warned Moylin to be careful. Come and let me show you the ancient fort from which the parish takes its name and the view from it."
"This," said Hope, when they stood at last on the top of the great rath, "is my Pisgah. From this I have looked many a time over the land. See, west, south, east of you, how it spreads, rich, beautiful, from the shores of Lough Neagh to the shores of Belfast Lough and the sea of Moyle. Here great men, warriors of the past, had their hill-top burial, and it may be fixed their fortress home. From this they looked over the country which they took and held by strength of arm and courage of soul. Are we a meaner race, men of a poorer spirit? Shall we not enter in and possess the land in our turn? All over the world the voice of liberty is heard now, clear and strong, bidding the people assert themselves and claim right and justice. Are our ears alone deaf to the high call? Has the pursuit of riches dulled our souls? Is the clink of gold and silver so loud in our ears that we can hear nothing else?"
They descended the grassy sides of the old fort, walked down the steep lane from Moylin's house, and joined the road again. Turning to the right, they went under the shade of fine trees which reached their branches over the road from the demesne in which they grew.
"The big house in there," said Hope, "belongs to one of the landlord families of this county. It has been their's for generations. On the lawn in front of that house a company of Volunteers used to meet for drill. The owner of the house, the lord of the soil, was their captain. In those days we had all Ireland united—the landlords, the merchants, and the farming people. Now it is not so. Our landlords won then what they wanted—freedom and power. They have ruled Ireland since 1782. The merchants and manufacturers also won what they chiefly wanted—the opportunity of fair and free trade. They have grown rich, and are every year growing richer. They bid fair to make Ireland a great commercial nation—what she ought to be, the link between the Old World and the New. But both the landlords and the traders have been selfish. Having gained the object of their desires, they are unwilling to share either power or riches with the people. They have refused to consider reasonable measures of reform. They have goaded and harried us until——"
He ceased speaking and sighed.
"But," he went on, "they will not be able to keep either their power or their riches. In refusing to trust the people they are ensuring their own doom. They forget that there is a power greater than theirs—that England is continually on the watch to win back again her sovereignty over Ireland. Our upper class and our middle class are too jealous of their privileges to share them with us. They will give England the opportunity she wants. Then Ireland will be brought into the old subjection, and her advance towards prosperity will be checked again as it was checked before. She will become a country of haughty squireens—the most contemptible class of all, men of blackened honour and broken faith, men proud, but with nothing to be proud of—and of ruined traders; a land of ill-cultivated fields and ruined mills; a nation crushed by her conqueror."
Neal listened attentively. It was curious that the fear to which James Hope gave expression was the very same which he had heard from Lord Dun-severic. Each dreaded England. Each saw that out of the turmoil of contemporary politics would come the restoration of the English power over Ireland. But Lord Dunseveric blamed the schemes of the United Irishmen. James Hope blamed the selfishness of the upper classes. Neal tried to explain to his companion what he understood of Lord Dunseveric's opinions.
James Hope broke in on him, interrupting him.
"But the people are slaves, actually slaves, not a whit better. Are nine-tenths of the people to be slaves to one-tenth? The thing is unendurable. Look at the Catholics in the south, men without representation, without power, without direct influence; men marked with a brand of inferiority because of their religion. Look at the men of our own faith here in the north. Our case is not wholly so bad, but it is bad enough. We have asked, petitioned, begged, implored, for the removal of our grievances. If we are men we must do more—we must strike for them. Else we confess ourselves unworthy of the freedom which we claim. They alone are fit for liberty who dare to fight for liberty. Think of it, Neal Ward, think. It is we, the people, digging in the fields, toiling at the looms, it is we who make the riches, who win the good fruit from the hard ground, who weave the thread into the precious fabric. And we are denied a share in what we create. It is from us in the last resort that the power of the governing classes comes. If we had not taken arms in our hands at their bidding, if we had not stood by them, no English Minister would ever have yielded to their demands, and given them the power which they enjoy. And they will not give us the smallest part of what we won for them. 'What inheritance have we in Judah? Now see to thine own house, David. To your tents, O Israel!'"
James Hope's voice rose. His eyes flashed. His whole face was enlightened with enthusiasm as he spoke. Neal listened, awed. Here was the devotion to the cause of suffering and oppressed men, the spirit which had produced revolution, which had begotten from the womb of humanity pure and noble men, which had, in the violence of its self-assertion, deluged cities with blood and defiled a great cause with dreadful deeds. He had no answer to make, and for a long while they walked in silence.
Reaching Templepatrick, Hope took Neal to the house of John Birnie, a hand-loom weaver, a cousin of his own. They were welcomed by the woman of the house and given a share of a meal which even to Neal, brought up as he had been without luxury in his father's manse, seemed poor and meagre. But no thought of the hardness of their fare seemed to trouble the mind of the weaver and his wife. Theirs was the kind of hospitality which disdains apology or pretence. They gave of their best. There was no more that they could do. Also, it was evident that the tickling of the palate with food, or the filling of the belly with delicate things was not a matter of much importance to these people. Living hard and toilsome lives, they had the constant companionship of lofty thoughts. They felt as James Hope did, and spoke like him.
Neal lingered so long in the company of these new friends that it was far on in the afternoon when he started on his ride, and late in the evening when he arrived in the outskirts of Belfast. It was his first visit to the town, and he approached it with feelings of interest and curiosity. Riding down the long hill by which the road from Templepatrick approaches Greencastle on the way to the town, he was able to gaze over the waters of the lough which lay stretched beneath him on his left. In the Carrickfergus roads several ships lay at anchor, among them a frigate of the English navy. Pinnaces and small craft plied between them and the shore, or headed for the entrance of Belfast Harbour by the tortuous channel worn through mud and sand by the Lagan. Below him, by the sea, were the handsome houses which the richer class of merchants were already beginning to build for themselves on the shores of the lough. Between Carnmoney and Belfast he passed the bleach greens of the linen weavers, where the long webs of the cloth, for which Belfast was afterwards to become famous, lay white or yellow on the grass. On his right rose the rugged sides of the Cave Hill. High above its rocks towered MacArt's fort, where Wolfe Tone, M'Cracken, Samuel Neilson, and his new friend, James Hope, with others, had sworn the oath of the United Irishmen. They had separated far from each other since the day of their swearing, but each in his own way—Tone among the intrigues of Continental politics, M'Cracken in Belfast, Neilson and Hope among the Antrim peasantry—had kept the oath and would keep it until the end.
Entering the town, he passed the recently-erected poorhouse and infirmary, a building designed with a curious spacious generosity, as were the buildings in Dublin and elsewhere which Irishmen erected during the short day of their national independence. In Donegall Street he saw the new church—Ann's Church, as the people called it—-thinking rather of the lady of Lord Donegall, who interested herself in its building, than the Mother of the Virgin in whose honour good Protestants were little likely to build a church. But the classic portico and tall tower did not hold his attention long. He could not but notice that there was an air of anxious excitement in the demeanour of the citizens who passed him in the street. They were all hurrying one way, making from one direction or another for the side street whose entrance faced the church. Neal accosted one or two, but received either no answer or words uttered so hurriedly that he could not catch their import. Determined at length to get some intelligible reply to his questions, he pulled his horse across the path of an elderly gentleman of respectable appearance.
"Will you tell me," he said, "the way to North Street? I am a stranger in your town."
"And if you are a stranger you will do well to keep out of North Street the night."
"But I seek a house of entertainment to which I have been directed—Felix Matier's inn at the sign of Dumouriez."
"Who are you, young man, who seek that house? They say——. But let me pass, let me pass. I am the secretary of William Bristow, the sovereign of Belfast, and I must see for myself, I must see for myself what these incarnate devils of dragoons are doing in our streets."
"I will not let you pass," said Neal, "till you give me a civil answer to my question. I think you citizens of Belfast are as uncivil as men say you are, and are all gone mad to-night that you will not direct a stranger on his way."
"A wilful man, a wilful man. Follow me. Or, let me lay my hand on your bridle. The crowd gathers fast. It may be that your horse, if I keep by it, will enable me to push my way through. But blame me not if you come by a broken head through your wilfulness."
Neal's guide, the sovereign's pursy and excited secretary, led the horse down the side street, along which the people were hurrying. Suddenly the crowd hesitated, stopped, began to surge back again. Neal, standing up in his stirrups, saw that the end of the narrow street along which he rode was blocked by another crowd, which fled into it from a larger thoroughfare beyond. There was much trampling and pushing and shouting. Neal's guide, clinging desperately to the horse's bridle, was borne back. The horse began to plunge. This was too much for the old gentleman. He loosed his grip.
"Go on," he said, "go on if you can, young man. That's the North Street in front of you."
The reason for the crowd's flight became obvious. A number of dragoons, dismounted, half-clothed, and apparently free from all discipline, came rushing down North Street. As they swept past the entrance of the side street Neal had a clear view of them over the heads of the crowd. In a moment they had passed out of sight again, but the moment was enough. Running with the soldiers, his arm gripped by a dragoon, but running with his own free will, was James Finlay. Neal was stung to fury by the sight of this man. He had no doubt at all now that he had to do with a traitor. He drove his heels against his horse's side, lashed at the creature's flanks with his rod, and fairly forced his way through the cursing, shouting crowd into North Street.
At the far end of the street he saw the dragoons raging and rioting round a house which stood a storey higher than any other near it. The whole length of the street lay almost empty before him. The soldiers had effectually cleared a way for themselves. He rode towards the scene of the riot. He saw that two civilians were defending the front of the house against the soldiers. They fought with sticks, and Neal recognised one of them as his uncle, Donald Ward. Before he could reach them they were forced into the house, and followed indoors by some of the dragoons. James Finlay had disappeared. Neal hesitated and stopped, uncertain what to do. Some of the soldiers placed a ladder against the wall. One of them mounted, with a sledge hammer in his hand, and battered at the iron supports which held a signboard to the wall. The iron bars bent under his blows, the holdfasts were torn from the wall, and the painted board fell into the street. A yell of triumph greeted the fall. The soldiers stamped on the board with their heavy boots and hacked at it with their swords. Then another man mounted the ladder with a splintered fragment in his hand. He whirled it round his head, and flung it far down the street.
"There's for the rebelly sign," he shouted. "There's for Dumouriez! There's the way we treat damned French and Irish croppies."
The crowd, which had gathered courage and followed Neal down the street, answered him with a groan and a volley of stones. The man sprang from the ladder, called to his comrades, and in a moment the dragoons drew together and, their swords in their hands, charged the crowd. Neal's horse, terrified by the shouting, became unmanageable. Neal flung himself to the ground, staggered, was knocked down and trampled on, first by the flying people, then by the soldiers who pursued them. He rose when the rush was over. The street around him was empty again. The fragments of the shattered signboard lay around. The windows of the house that had been attacked were all broken, either by the stones of the people or the blows of the soldiers. There was a sound of fighting within the house. Neal ran towards the door. A woman's shriek reached him, and a moment later a soldier came out of the door dragging a girl with him. He had a wisp of her hair gathered in his hand, and he pulled at it savagely. The girl stumbled on the doorstep, fell, was dragged a pace or two, staggered to her feet, clutched at the soldier's hand and fastened her teeth in his wrist. Neal sprang forward at the man's throat, grasped it, and, by the sheer impetus of his spring, bore the dragoon to the ground. He was conscious of being uppermost in the fall, of the fierce struggling of the man he held, of the girl tearing with her hands and writhing in the effort to free her hair, of shouting near at hand, of a rush of men from the house. Then he received a blow on the head which stunned him. He awoke to consciousness a few minutes later, and heard his uncle's voice.
"Is the girl inside and the man? Have you got him? Then for the door. They'll hardly venture into the house again after the reception we gave them. It was a mighty nice fight while it lasted. Now a light, a light. Let us see if anyone's hurt."
Someone brought a light. Neal tried to rise, but was too giddy. The girl whom the soldier had dragged into the street stood beside him. Her hair—bright red hair—hung about her shoulders. Her dress was in tatters, she was spitting blood, and wiping it off her mouth with the back of her hand.
"Hullo, Meg, Peg, whatever your name is," said Donald Ward, "you're bleeding. Where are you cut? Let me see to it?"
"Thon's no my blood," said the girl. "It's his. I got my teeth intil him. Ay, faith, it's his blood that I'm spitting out of my mouth. I did hear tell that it was black blood was in the likes of him, but I see now it's red enough. I'm glad of it, for I've swallowed a gill of it since I gripped his wrist, and I wouldna' like to swallow poison."
"Well, then, Peg, my wench, since you're not hurt, let's take a look at the man that helped you. He's lying there mighty quiet. I'm afraid there's some harm done to him."
Donald Ward took the light and bent over Neal.
"By God," he said, "it's Neal, and he's hurt or killed."
"It's all right," said Neal, feebly, "I'm only dizzy. I got a bang on the head. I'll be all right in a minute."
"Matier," said Donald, "come and help me with the boy. I must get him to bed. Where can I put him?"
"There's not a room in the house with a whole pane of glass in the window," said Felix Matier, "except my own. It looks out on the back, and the villains never came at it. We'll take him there. I'll lift his shoulders, and go first."
He approached Neal and was about to lift him when the girl pushed him aside and stooped over Neal herself.
"Come now, what's the meaning of this, Peg Macllrea? Are you so daft with your fighting that you hustle your master aside?"
"Master or no master," said Peg, "you'll not carry him. It was for me that he got hurted, and it's me that'll carry him."
She put her arms under Neal and lifted him. He was a big man, but she carried him up a flight of stairs and laid him on her master's bed. The long matted tresses of her red hair hung over his face, and an occasional drop of the blood which still dripped from her fell on him. Donald Ward and Matier followed her.
"Let's have a look at him," said Donald. "Ah! here's a scalp wound and a cut on the head the length of my finger. This must be seen to. Run, Peg, get me linen and a basin of cold water. It must have been a boot did this. A kick from one of the rascally dragoons as they passed over him when we chased them. Now, Neal, are you hurt anywhere else?"
"I'm bruises from head to foot. Half the people in Belfast have trampled over me this night, and when they wear boots they wear mighty heavy ones."
Donald, with wonderful gentleness, took Neal' clothes off him, put on him a night shirt of Felix Matier's, and laid him between cool sheets.
"Sit you here, Peg," he said, when he had bandaged the cut head, "with the jug of water beside you, and keep the bandage wet. The other bruises are nothing, but a broken head needs to be minded. Now, Neal, don't you talk."
Matier fetched a bottle of wine and set it with the light on the table which stood near the window.
"We'll have to sit here," he said, "if we don't disturb your nephew. Every other room in the house is in a state of scatteration. I have set the girls to clean up a bit, and after a while they'll have beds for us to sleep in. It's a devil of a business, but as poor Tone used to say when things went wrong with him—
'Tis but in vain For soldiers to complain.'"
"What started the riot?" asked Donald. "The Lord knows. Those dragoons only marched into the town this afternoon. I suppose the devil entered into them, if the devil's ever out of them at all."
"I guess," said Donald, "those were the lads that marched through Antrim this morning."
"The very same."
"They're strangers to the town, then?"
"Ay; I don't suppose one of them ever saw Belfast before."
"Tell me this, then. How did they know what house to attack? They came straight here."
"It was my sign angered them. They couldn't abide the sight of Dumouriez' honest face in a Belfast street.
"Then let us fight about, Dumouriez; Then let us fight about, Dumouriez; Then let us fight about, Till freedom's spark is out, Then we'll be damned no doubt—Dumouriez."
"You miss the point, man; you miss my point. How did they know about your sign or you either, unless someone told them?"
There was a knocking, gentle at first, and then more confident, at the street door. Donald looked inquiringly at his host.
"It's all right," said Matlier, "I know that knock. It's James Bigger, a safe man."
He left the room and returned with a young man whom he introduced to Donald Ward.
"We were just talking about the riot," said Donald. "What's your opinion about it, Mr. Bigger?"
"There are five houses wrecked," said Bigger, "and every one of them the house of a man in sympathy with reform and liberty and the Union."
Donald and Matier exchanged glances.
"They were well informed," said Donald. "They knew what they were at, and where to go."
"They say," said Bigger, "that the leaders of the different parties had papers in their hands with directions on them. They were seen looking at them in the streets."
"I'd like to put my hand on one of those papers," said Donald.
"Zipperty, zipperty, zand,"
"I wish I'd a bit of that in my hand."
"You know the old rhyme."
Neal lay quiet, but wide awake. The conversation interested him too much to allow him to sleep. Twice he tried to speak, but each time Peg Macllrea, determined now that he was under her care to keep him quiet, put her hand over his mouth. At last he succeeded in asserting himself in spite of her.
"I saw James Finlay," he said, "along with a party of the soldiers going up this street."
The three men at the table turned to him. Donald seemed about to cross-question him when Peg Macllrea spoke.
"Is it a bit of the soger's paper you're wantin'? Here's for you."
She fumbled in the pocket of her skirt and drew out a crumpled scrap of paper.
"I snapped it out of his hand in the kitchen. It was for grabbing it that he catched me by the hair o' the head. I saw him glowerin' at it as soon as ever he came intil the light."
Donald Ward took it from her hand and read—
"The house of Felix Matier, an inn at the far end of North Street, to be known easily by the sign of Dumouriez which hangs before the door. Felix Matier is + + +."
He passed it without comment to Matier, who read it and laughed.
"They have me marked with three crosses," he said. "I'm dangerous. But what do they mean by it. How do they come to know so much about me?
"'Ken ye aught of Captain Grose Igo and ago. Is he amang friends or foes? Iram, coram, dago.'
"Who set the dragoons on you?" said Donald. "That's the question."
"By God, then, it's easily answered," said Matier. "I'll give it to you in the words of the poet—
"'Letters four do form his name. He let them loose and cried Halloo! To him alone the praise is due.'
"P.I.T.T. Does that content you?"
"Pitt," said Donald. "Oh, I see. That's true, no doubt. But I want some one nearer hand than Pitt. Who gave them this paper? Whose is the writing on it?"
"I can tell you that," said James Bigger. "I have a note in my pocket this minute from the man who wrote that. It's a summons to a meeting for important business at the house of Aeneas Moylin, on the hill of Donegore, next week."
"Have you?" said Donald.
"Ay, and the man's name is James Finlay."
A dead silence followed the statement. It was Donald who broke it.
"I reckon, friend Bigger, that I'll go with you to that meeting. We'll take Neal here along, too. He knows the man. There'll be some important business done that night, though maybe not quite the same as what James Finlay has planned."
Neal Ward was awakened next morning by the noise which Peg Macllrea made sweeping and tidying the room where he slept. He lay for a few minutes watching the girl. Her red hair was coiled up now in a neat roll at the back of her head. Her freckled face was clean, and had apparently escaped bruising in her conflict with the dragoon. She wore a short grey skirt of woollen homespun. The sleeves of her bodice were rolled up, and displayed a pair of muscular red arms. The girl was more than commonly tall, and anyone listening to her heavy footfall, and noting her thick figure and broad shoulders, would have understood that she was well able to carry a young man, even of Neal's height, up a flight of stairs. The dragoon might easily have come to the worst in single combat with such a maiden if he had not obtained an advantage over her at the start by twisting her hair round his hand.
It was not very long before she noticed that Neal was awake. She came over to him smiling.
"You've had a brave sleep," she said. "It's nigh on eleven o'clock. The master and Mr. Ward are out this twa hours. They bid me not stir you. I was just readying up the room a bit, and I went about it as mim as a mouse."
"I'm thinking," said Neal, "that I'll be getting up now."
"'Deed, then, and you'll no. The last word the master said was just that you were to lie in the day. I'm to give you tea and toasted bread, and an egg if you fancy it."
"But," said Neal, "I can't lie here in bed all day."
"Whisht, now, whisht. Be good and I'll get you them twa graven images the master's so set on and let you glower at them. Maybe you never seen the like."
She spoke precisely as if she had a sick child to humour; as if she were the nurse in charge, determined at any sacrifice to keep the peevish little one from crying. She crossed the room to a book-case and took down two bronze busts. With the utmost care she carried them over and laid them on the bed in front of Neal.
"The master's one of them that goes neither to church nor mass nor meeting," she said. "If ever he says his prayers at all, at all, it's to them twa graven images he says them, and the dear knows they're no so eye-sweet."
She left the room, well satisfied apparently that she had provided her patient with playthings which would keep him good till she returned with his breakfast. Neal took up the busts and examined them. He would not have known whose faces were represented had not an inscription on the pedestal of each informed him. "Voltaire," he read on one, "Rousseau" on the other. These were strange household gods for a Belfast innkeeper to revere. Neal, gazing at them, slowly grasped their significance. He had heard talk of French ideas, had seen his father shake his head over the works of certain philosophers. He knew that there was an intellectual freedom claimed by many of those who were most enthusiastic in the cause of political reform. He had not previously met anyone who was likely to accept the teaching of either Voltaire or Rousseau. His eyes wandered from the busts to the book-case on which they had stood. It was well filled, crammed with books. Neal could see them standing in close rows, books of all sizes and thicknesses, but he could not read the names on their backs. Peg Macllrea returned with his breakfast on a wooden tray. She put it down in front of him and then set herself to entertain him while he ate.
"Thon was a brave coup you gave the soger in the street," she said. "You gripped him fine, the ugly devil. But you did na hurt him much. He was up and off when they got us dragged from him, as hard as ever he could lift a foot. You'll be fond of fighting?"
"So far," said Neal, "I have generally got the worst of it when I have fought."
"Ay, you would. Your way of fighting is no just the canniest, but I like you no the worse for it. You might have got off without thon bloody clout on the top of your head if ye'd just clodded stones and then run like the rest of them. But that's no your way of fightin'. Did ye ever fight afore?"
"Just two nights ago," said Neal, "and I got the scrape on the side of my face then."
"And was it for a lassie you were fightin' thon time? I see well by the face of you that it was. And she liked you for it. Did she no? She'd be a quare one that didna. Did she give you a kiss to make the scrab on your face better? I wouldna think twice about giving you one myself only you wouldn't have kisses from the likes of me. Be quiet now, and sup up your tea. I willna have you offering to slabber ower my hand if that's what you're after."
Neal, who had felt himself goaded to some act of gallantry, returned sheepishly to his tea and toast.
"You're no a Belfast boy?" said Peg.
"No," said Neal, "I'm from Dunseveric, right away in the north of the county."
"Ay, are you? Do you mind the old rhyme—
'County Antrim, men and horses, County Down for bonny lasses.'
Maybe your lassie, the one that kissed you, was out of the County Down?"
"She was not," said Neal, unguardedly.
Peg Macllrea laughed with delight and clapped her hands.
"I knew rightly there was a lassie, and that she kissed you. Now you've tellt me yourself. But I willna split on you, nor I willna let on that you tellt on her. But I hope she's bonny, though she does not come from the County Down."
Neal grew angry. It did not seem fitting that this red-haired, freckled servant, with her bold tongue and red arms, should make game of Una St. Clair's kisses. They were sacred things in his memory.
"Now you're getting vexed," she said. "You're as cross as twa sticks. I can see it in your eyes. Well, I've more to do than to be coaxing you."
She turned her back on him and began to sing—
"I would I were in Ballinderry, I would I were in Aghalee, I would I were on bonny Ram's Island, Sitting under an ivy tree. Ochone! Ochone!"
"Peg," said Neal, "Peg Macllrea, don't you be cross with me."
"I would I were in Ballinderry,"
she began again.
"Peg," said Neal, "I've finished my tea, and I wish you'd turn round. Please do, please."
She turned to him at last with a broad smile on her face.
"Is that the way you wheedled the poor lassie out of the kiss? But there now, I'll no say a word more about her if it makes you sore. But I can't sit here crackin' all day. I've the dinner to get ready, and the master'll be quare and angry if it's no ready against he's home."
She picked up the tray as she spoke.
"Would you like me to leave you them twa graven images?" she said.
"I'd like you to take them away," said Neal, "and then get me a book out of the case."
"I will, surely. What sort of a book would you like? A big one or a wee one. There's one here in a braw red cover with pictures of ships in it. Maybe it might content you."
"Read me a few of their names," said Neal, "and I'll tell you which to bring."
"Faith, if you wait for me to read you the names you'll wait till the crack of doom. Nobody ever learned me readin', writin', or 'rithmetic."
"Bring me three or four," said Neal, "and I'll choose the one I like best."
She deposited half a dozen volumes on the chair beside him and left the room. Neal took them up one by one. There was a volume of "Voltaire," Tom Paine's "Rights of Man," "The Vindiciae Gallicae," by Mackintosh, Godwin's "Political Justice," Montesquieu's "Esprit des Lois," and a volume of Burns' poetry, not long out from a Belfast printer. Neal already knew Godwin's works and the "Esprit des Lois." They stood on his father's bookshelves. He glanced at the pages of the others, and finally settled down to read Burns' poetry. The Scottish dialect presents little difficulty to a man bred among County Antrim people. The love songs, with their extraordinary freshness and vivid emotion, delighted Neal. Like many lovers of poetry, he tasted the full pleasure of verse best when he read it aloud. One after another he declaimed the marvellous songs, returning again and again to one which seemed peculiarly suited to his circumstances—