"It's not the roar o' sea or shore Wad make me longer wish to tarry; Nor shouts o' war that's heard afar— It's leaving thee, my bonny Mary."
He read the song aloud for the fourth time. As he uttered the last words he heard a laugh, and, looking up, saw his host, Felix Matier, standing at the door of the room.
"Well, Neal, good morrow to you. You're well enough in body, to judge by your voice. But if that poem's a measure of the state of your mind you're sick at heart. Never mind Mary, man. There's better stuff in Burns than that. He's no bad poet, is Rabbie Burns. Listen to this now. Here's one I'm fond of."
He took the book out of Neal's hand, and read him "Holy Willie's Prayer." His dry intonation', his perfect rendering of the dialect of the poem, the sly twinkle of his eyes as he read, added exquisite malice to the satire.
"But maybe," he said, "I oughtn't to be reading the like of that to you that's the son of the Manse, though nobody would think of Holy Willie and your father together. I'm not very fond of the clergy myself, Neal, either of your Church or another. I'm much of John Milton's opinion that new presbyter is just old priest writ large, but if there's one kind of minister that's not so bad as the rest it's the New Light men of the Ulster Synod, and your father's one of the best of them. But here's something now that Micah Ward would approve of. Just let me read you this. I'll have time enough before your uncle comes in. He's not a man of books, that uncle of yours, and I'd be ashamed if he caught me reading at this hour of the day. But listen to me now."
He took up the volume of "Voltaire" and read—
L'ame des grands travaux, l'objet des nobles voeux, Que tout mortel embrasse, ou desire, ou rapelle, Qui vit dans tous les coeurs, et dont le nom sacre Dans les cours des tyrans est tout bas adore, La Liberte! J'ai vu cette deesse altiere Avec egalite repandant tous les biens, Descendre de Morat en habit de guerriere, Les mains teintes du sang des fiers Autrichiens Et de Charles le Temeraire."
Felix Matier's manner of pronouncing French was somewhat painful to listen to. Voltaire would probably have failed to recognise his solitary lyric if he had heard it read by Mr. Matier. But if the poet had discovered that the verses were his own and had got over his shudder at a mangling of French sounds worse than the worst he can have heard at Potsdam from the courtiers of Frederick William, he would probably have been well enough satisfied with the spirit of the rendering. Mr. Matier, of the North Street, Belfast, was obviously a sincere worshipper of the deesse altiere, and would have been delighted to see her hands teintes du sang of the men who had torn down his sign the night before. Neal, though he could read French easily, did not understand a single word he heard. He took the book from his host to see what the poem was about. Mr. Matier did not seem the least vexed, although he understood what Neal was doing.
"The French are a great people," he said. "Europe owes them all the ideas that are worth having. I'd be the last man to breathe a word against them, but I must say that it requires some sort of a twisted jaw to pronounce their language properly. I understand it all right when it's printed, but as for Speaking it or following it when a Frenchman speaks it——"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"But it's time I stopped moidering you with poetry. I hope you're really feeling better. I hope Peg took good care of you, and brought you your breakfast."
"Indeed she did. She took rather too good care of me. I thought one time she was going to kiss me.
"Did she make to do that? Well, now, just think of it! Isn't she the brazen hussy? And I'm sure her breath reeked of onions or some such like."
"Oh," said Neal, "we didn't get as far as that. Her breath may be roses for all I know."
"You kept her at arm's length. Serve her well right. I never heard of such impudence. But these red-haired ones are the devil. It's the same with horses. I had a chestnut filly one time—a neat little tit in her way—but she'd kick the weathercock off the top of the church steeple whenever she was a bit fresh. Never trust anything red. A red dog will bite you, a red horse will kick you, a red wench will kiss you, besides being a damned unlucky thing to meet first thing in the morning, a red soldier will hang you. There's only one good thing in the world that's red, and that's a red cap—the red cap of Liberty, Neal, and may we soon have all the red coats in the country cut up into such head-gear."
It was fortunate for Neal that he found Felix Matier's conversation amusing and Felix Matier's books interesting. He had ample opportunity of enjoying them during the week which followed the dragoons' riot. Donald Ward refused, as long as possible to allow him to get out of bed, and even when Neal was up and dressed, peremptorily forbade him to leave the house. He spoke weighty words about his experience of wounds, of frightful consequences which followed cuts on the head when the cold of the outer air got at them, of men who had died of lockjaw because they would not take care of scalp wounds, of burning eruptions which broke out on the unwary, of desperate fevers threatening life and reason.
Neal was puzzled. He had tumbled about among the rocks at Ballintoy a good deal during his boyhood, cutting and bruising most parts of his body. Even his head had not escaped. There was a deep scar under his hair which he had come by in the course of an attempt to enter a long fissure among the rocks of the Skerries, off Port-rush. But such wounds had troubled him very little. He had never made a fuss about them or taken any special precautions on account of them, neither knowing nor caring anything about the evils which may follow wounds, which do follow wounds, in pampered bodies. He could not understand why his uncle, who was certainly not otherwise given to morbid coddling, should insist upon such excessive care of a cut which was healing rapidly.
The fact was that Donald Ward was nervous about Neal, not at all on account of his cut head, which was nothing, but because Captain Twinely and his yeomen had returned to Belfast. It leaked out that the military authorities were not pleased with Captain Twinely. He had brought back three prisoners and the cannon, but he had not brought back Micah Ward, who was particularly wanted. Captain Twinely, angry at his cold reception, and furious at the hanging of his trooper, was anxious to revenge himself upon some one. Lord Dun-severic was too great a man to be attacked. The Government could not afford to interfere with his methods of executing justice in North Antrim. Captain Twinely was given a broad hint that he must hawk at lower game, and keep his mouth shut about the hanging of his trooper. There was no objection to the yeomen outraging women so long as they confined themselves to farmers' wives, but an insult offered to Lord Dunseveric's sister and daughter, under Lord Dunseveric's own eyes, was a different matter. The less said the better about the hanging of the man who had distinguished himself by that exploit. Captain Twinely, growing savage at this second snub, and afraid lest perhaps he himself might be sacrificed when Lord Dunseveric's story of his raid came to be told, sought to ingratiate himself with the authorities by offering them a fresh victim. He gave an exaggerated version of Neal Ward's attack on the troopers outside the meeting-house, and drew an imaginary picture of the young man as a deep and dangerous conspirator. He even managed to shift the responsibility for the hanging of the trooper from Lord Dunseveric's shoulders to Neal's. He knew that Neal had left Dunseveric, and he assured Major Fox, the town major, that Neal was at that moment in Belfast arranging for the outbreak of the rebellion. Major Fox was worried by the complaints which respectable citizens were making about the dragoons' riot. He was anxious to prove, if possible, that the soldiers' conduct had been provoked by the violence of the United Irishmen. He produced the man whom Peg Macllrea and Neal had mangled and set him before the public as an object of pity, his wrist tied up and his head elaborately bandaged. A great idea flashed on him. He allowed it to be understood that he was on the track of a most dangerous rebel—a young man who had hanged a yeoman in Dunseveric and nearly murdered a dragoon in Belfast. In reality he was too busy just then with more important matters to make any real search for Neal Ward. But a week later he offered a reward of fifty pounds for such information as would lead to his apprehension.
But the rumours of Captain Twinely's sayings were sufficient to frighten Donald Ward. He did not shrink from danger himself, and, had his own life been threatened, would have taken measures to protect himself without any feeling of panic, but his apprehension of peril for Neal was a different matter. He felt responsible for his nephew, and did not intend to allow him to be captured if caution could save him. Therefore, he insisted on Neal's remaining indoors, and plied him with the most alarming accounts of the danger of his wound. He hoped in a few days to get Neal out of Belfast to the comparative safety of some farmhouse. He was particularly anxious that Finlay, who would certainly recognise the young man, should not see him.
News reached Belfast that the United Irishmen in Wexford were in arms and had taken the field against the English forces. The northern leaders became eager to move at once and to strike vigorously. Everything seemed to depend on their obtaining the command of Antrim and Down, and opening communications with the south. James Hope arrived in Belfast. Henry Joy M'Cracken was there. Henry Monro rode in every day from Lisburn. Meeting after meeting was held in M'Cracken's house in Rosemary Lane, in Bigger's house in the High Street, in Felix Matier's shattered inn, or in Peggy Barclay's. Robert Simms, the general of the northern United Irishmen, resigned his position. His heart failed him at the critical moment, and when pressed by braver men to take the field at once he hung back and gave up his command. He forgot his oath on MacArt's Fort, where he stood side by side with Wolfe Tone. Henry Joy M'Cracken, a man of another spirit, was appointed in his place. With extreme rapidity and an insight into the conditions of the struggle, marvellous in a man with no military training, he laid his plans for simultaneous attacks upon a number of places in Down and Antrim.
The Government was not idle. The northern United Irishmen were the best organised and most formidable body to be dealt with. During the pause before the outbreak of hostilities spies went busily to and fro. Reports were carried to the authorities of every movement made, of almost every meeting held. Men were arrested, imprisoned, flogged in the streets of Belfast. Information was forced from prisoners under the lash. Parties of yeomen rode through the country burning, ravishing, and hanging as they went.
James Finlay earned his pay with the best of his kind, denouncing men whom he knew to be United Irishmen, and giving information about their whereabouts. He was settled in Bridge Street, and, strangely blind to the fact that he was no longer trusted, invited the leaders to confer with him, and allowed his house to be used as a store for ammunition. Donald Ward, grimly determined that this man should get his deserts, insisted that nothing should be said or done to alarm him.
"We can't deal with him here," he said. "Wait, wait till we get him down to Donegore next week. If we frighten him now he won't go."
Of all these doings Neal heard only vague rumours. Sometimes Peg Macllrea, crimson with horror and rage, came to him and told him of a flogging, sparing him no details of the brutality. Sometimes his uncle sat an hour with him and talked of the fight that was coming. He seemed neither impatient nor excited. He looked forward with calm satisfaction to the day when he would have a gun in his hand and an opportunity of shooting at the men who were harrying the country.
"We have a couple of brass cannons, Neal. They're not much to boast of, but if they are properly served they will do some mischief. I have a little experience of artillery, though it wasn't in my regular line of fighting. I think I'll perhaps get charge of one of them."
Felix Matier came often to see Neal. As things grew darker outside he became more and more extravagantly cheerful. His talk was all of liberty, of the dawn of the new era, of the breaking of old chains, and the rising of the peoples of the world in unconquerable might.
"We're to do our share in the grand work, Neal Ward, you and me; we'll have our hands in it in a day or two now.
"'May liberty meet with success! May prudence protect her from evil! May tyrants and tyranny tine in the midst And wander their way to the devil.'
"Ora, but fighting's the work for a man after all. Here am I that have spent my life making up reckonings and seeing to drink and men's dinners and the beds they were to sleep in. But I never was contented with such things, and the money I made didn't content me a bit more. They taught me better, boy." He put his hand on the pile of books which lay on the table in front of Neal. "They taught me that there was something better than making money and eating full and living soft, something in the world a man might fight for. Eh, but I wasn't meant for an innkeeper—I was meant for a fighter.
"'I'd fight at land, I'd fight at sea; At hame I'd fight my auntie, O! I'd meet the devil and Dundee On the braes o' Killiecrankie, O!'"
James Hope also came to see Neal. His talk was very different from the flamboyant exultation of Felix Matier; very different also from Donald Ward's cool delight in the prospect of battle. James Hope seemed to realise the awful gravity of taking up arms against established government. He alone understood the very small chance there was of victory for the United Irishmen. Yet Neal never for an instant doubted Hope's courage. He felt that this man had argued out the whole matter with himself and thought deeply and prayed earnestly and had made up his mind.
"I do not think that we are sure to win, Neal, but I hope that our fighting will enable those coming after us to obtain by other means the liberty and security which will surely be withheld from them unless we fight. I do not say these things to every one, but I feel safe in saying them to you. You will not fear to die, if death is to be the end of it for us."
Neal felt convinced that Hope himself would go calmly, steadfastly on if he were quite sure that the gallows waited for him. It was to Hope, more than to either of the others, that he complained about his confinement in Matier's house.
"I cannot bear," he said, "to be shut up here. I am not ill. The cut on my head is cured now. There must be some other reason for keeping me here. Am I not to be trusted? You say that you believe I will not shrink. Why keep me here as if you were all afraid of my turning coward or traitor?"
Hope parried these complaints as well as he could, telling Neal that a soldier's first duty was obedience, that in good time he would be given something to do; that in the meanwhile he must show himself brave by being patient!
"It is harder," he said, "to conquer yourself than to conquer your enemy."
One day, when Neal had been a week in captivity, he broke out passionately to Hope—
"I cannot bear this any longer. I hear of you and my uncle and the others risking your lives. I hear of the brutality of the soldiers. I hear of great plans on foot. I claim my share of the danger that surrounds us. I understand now why you all combine to keep me here. You are afraid of my running risks. I claim, I claim as a right, that I be allowed to take the same risks as the rest."
James Hope sat silent. His fingers played with the dark lock of hair which hung over his forehead. Neal knew the gesture well. It was common with Hope when he thought deeply and painfully. His fine dark eyes were fixed on Neal's, and there was the same curiously gentle expression in them which had attracted Neal the first time he noticed it.
"I admit your claim," said Hope, slowly, at last. "I shall speak to your uncle. To-morrow, I think I may promise this; to-morrow you shall come with me, and we shall do something which will be difficult, and I think a little dangerous too."
James Hope kept his promise. About noon the next day he came to the inn and found Neal waiting for him impatiently.
"We are going," he said, "to James Finlay's house. Before we start I think I ought to tell you that in any case you could not stay here any longer. I saw this morning a proclamation offering a reward of fifty pounds for your capture, and I have no doubt that Finlay will earn it if he can, even if the soldier you mauled does not trace you here."
"I am ready," said Neal.
"You are not afraid? I see you are not, and we are not going to run into any unnecessary danger. Finlay will not betray you at once. He will not run out and call soldiers to take you the moment he sees you. He has a deeper plan. He has arranged that a meeting of our leaders will be held in Aeneas Moylin's house to-morrow night. He is to be there himself, and he has received assurance that most of our chief men will be there. We have little doubt that he has given information about the meeting, and made his arrangements for capturing us all. We shall tell him that you are to be there, too. Then he will not want to risk exposing himself by betraying you at once. He will wait for you till to-morrow. But when to-morrow comes he will not find our leaders at Donegore. I have not asked, and I do not wish to know, what he will find when he gets there."
"I understand," said Neal. "When we meet I am to pretend that I trust him thoroughly."
"You are a good soldier. You are prepared to obey, and you do not ask too many questions. But I am going to trust you fully, and tell you why we are going to Finlay's house to-day. Some time ago we stored some cases of ball cartridges there. They are in a cellar, and I have no doubt that Major Fox knows all about them, and thinks them as safe as if they were in the munition room of the barrack. You and I are going to carry off those cases. We want the cartridges badly, and we cannot wait for them. We shall be using them, I hope, the day after to-morrow, and if we leave them there till Finlay goes to Donegore to-morrow evening I fear they may be seized by the soldiers. We must take them at once, and it seems to me that our best chance will be to walk off with them in broad daylight without an attempt at concealment. We shall bring them here."
"How many cases are there?" asked Neal.
"Eight," said Hope. "We must manage to carry four each, but the distance is not very great."
Neal drew a deep breath of relief when he reached the street. Any service, however dangerous, any form of activity in the open air, was a joy to him after his long confinement in the house.
The streets, as he and Hope passed through them, were full of soldiers. Companies of yeomen marched and countermarched in indifferent order through every thoroughfare. Pickets of regulars, their bayonets fixed, stood at the street corners and in front of the principal buildings. Troops of dragoons, rattling and jingling, trotted briskly in one direction or another. Orderlies cantered their horses from place to place. Business in the town was almost suspended. Many of the shops were shut. Grave citizens, engaged in pressing affairs, hurried, with downcast eyes, along the causeways, seldom stopping to speak to each other, greeting acquaintances with hasty nods. Women of the better sort, if they ventured out at all, walked quickly, heavily cloaked and veiled. The trollops and street walkers of a garrison town emerged from their lairs even at midday, and stood in little groups at the corners exchanging jests with the soldiers on picket duty, or shouted ribaldries to the yeomen and dragoons who passed them. Idle maid servants, sluttish and dishevelled, leaned far out of the upper windows of the houses to gaze at the pageant beneath them. In the High Street a crowd of loafers—coarse women and soldiers off duty—was gathered in front of an iron triangle where, it was understood, some prisoners were to be flogged. Town, Major Fox, Major Barber, and some other officers in uniform, strolled up and down in front of the Exchange, rudely jostling such merchants as ventured to enter or leave the building.
James Hope walked slowly through the streets, chatting cheerfully to Neal as he went. Now and then he even stopped to watch a troop of dragoons go by or to gaze at the uniforms of the soldiers who stood on guard. In crowded places he waited quietly until he saw a way of passing on without pushing or attracting attention to his movements. The trial was a severe one for Neal's nerves. It was hard to pose as a curious sightseer within a few feet of men who could have earned fifty pounds by arresting him.
At last, after many pauses, and what seemed an interminable walk, Hope stopped at the door of a respectable looking house and knocked. A woman half opened the door and eyed them suspiciously. Then, recognising a whispered pass-word of some sort from Hope, she admitted them and ushered them into a room on the ground floor. James Finlay sat at a table with writing materials spread before him. He started slightly when he saw Neal, but recovered himself instantly. He came forward, shook hands with Hope, and then said to Neal—
"You and I know each other, Mr. Ward. I trust your father is in good health, and that all is well at Dunseveric?"
Neal, though he had schooled himself beforehand to greet Finlay cordially, shrank back. He felt a violent loathing for the man. It became physically impossible for him to take Finlay's hand in his, to speak smooth words to this hypocrite who inquired of the good health of the very people he had betrayed. Hope saw the hesitation and tried to cover it with a casual remark. Finlay also saw it and misinterpreted it.
"I hope," he said, "that you do not bear me any malice on account of the little trouble there was between us long ago in the north. You ought to forgive and forget, Mr. Ward. We are both workers in the same cause now. At least, I suppose you are a United Irishman like your father or you wouldn't come here with James Hope to-day."
"Neal Ward," said Hope, "is going to the meeting at Donegore to-morrow evening."
Neal recovered himself and held out his hand to Finlay.
There was another knock at the door of the house. Finlay started violently and ran to the window.
"It's all right," he said, "it's only a lad I keep employed. I sent him out an hour ago to find out what was going on in the streets and to bring me word."
He returned to Hope with a smile on his face, but he had grown very white, and his hands were trembling slightly. A boy burst into the room, followed by the woman who had opened the door for Hope and Neal.
"Master," he cried, "they've brought out Kelso into the High Street. The soldiers are dragging him along. They are going to flog him."
The boy's eyes were wide with excitement. Having delivered his message, he turned and fled. A flogging was too great a treat for Finlay's boy to miss. The woman, without staying to don hat or shawl, went after him. Finlay called to her to stay. She shouted her answer from the threshold.
"Do you think I'm daft to be sitting my lone in your kitchen and them flogging a clever young man in the next street?"
Then the hall-door slammed. Finlay turned to Hope. He was whiter than ever, and his whole body shook as if with an ague.
"Kelso will tell," he said. "Kelso knows, and they'll flog the secret out of him. He'll tell, I know he will. He must tell; no man could help it."
If Finlay was pretending to be terrified he acted marvellously well. It seemed to Neal that he really was afraid of something, perhaps of some sudden betrayal of his treachery, of vengeance taken speedily by Hope.
"What ails you?" said Hope. "You needn't be frightened."
"The cartridges, the cartridges," wailed Finlay. "Kelso knows they are here."
"If that's all," said Hope, "Neal Ward and I will ease you of them. We came here to take them away."
"You can't, you can't, you mustn't. They'd hang you on the nearest lamp iron if they saw you with the cartridges."
There was a bang on the door and a moment later a knocking on the window of the room, and then a woman's fate was pressed against the glass. Hope sprang across the room and flung open the window. The servant woman who had gone to see the flogging pushed her head into the room and said—
"They're taking down Kelso, and he's telling all he knows. Major Barber and the soldiers are getting ready to march. It's down here they'll be coming."
"It's time for us to be off, then," said Hope.
"Come along, Neal, down to the cellar, and let us get the cartridges."
James Finlay followed them downstairs, begging them not to attempt to carry off the cartridges. He held Hope by the arm as he spoke.
"Don't do it," he said, "for God's sake don't do it. The soldiers are coming. They will be here in a minute. They will meet you. They will hang you. I know they will hang you. Oh! for God's sake go away at once while you have time. Leave the cartridges."
Hope shook off the grip on his arm with a gesture of impatience. He pushed open the cellar door.
"Now, Neal," he said, "pick up as many of the cases as you think you can carry."
James Finlay turned from Hope and seized Neal by the hands. The man was trembling from head to foot; his face was deadly white; the sweat was trickling down his cheeks in little streams.
"Don't let him. Oh! don't let him. He won't listen to me. Stop him. Make him fly."
He fell on his knees on the floor and clasped Neal's legs. He grovelled. There was no possibility of doubting the reality of his emotion. This was not acting. The terror was genuine. James Finlay was desperately frightened.
"Get out of my way. No one is going to hurt you in any case."
"It's not that," he said. "Believe me if you can. Believe me as you hope to be saved. I can't, I won't see him hanged. I can't bear it."
He was speaking the literal truth. He believed that James Hope would be caught and would then and there be hanged. Finlay had betrayed many men, had earned the basest wages a man can earn—the wages of a spy. He knew that his victims went to flogging and death, but he never watched them flogged, he never saw them die. He even bargained never to stand in a witness box. The results, the inevitable issues of his betrayals, were never immediately before his eyes. Between him and the punishment of his victims there was always some space of time spent in prison, some appearance of a legal trial, some pretence of a just judgment. He was able, with that strange power of self-deception which most men possess, to conceal from himself that it was his information which led to the brutalities which followed it. If James Finlay had been obliged himself to execute the men whose execution his testimony secured; if he had been forced to lay the lash on quivering flesh or fit the noose round the necks of living men; it is likely that no bribe would have bought him, that sheer cowardice and an instinctive horror of death and pain would have saved him, as no consideration of honour and truth did, from the extreme baseness of an informer's trade. Here lay part of the meaning of his terrified desire for Hope's escape. He could not bear to see men hanged before the door of his own house, or hear with his ears their shrieks under the lash.
But there was more behind this feeling than utter cowardice. He knew James Hope, knew him intimately, though he had known him only for a short time. Like Neal Ward he had walked with Hope along the roads and lanes of County Antrim, had heard him talking, had seen—as no man, even the basest, could fail to see—the wonderful purity and unselfishness of Hope's character. James Finlay had sold his own honour, but there remained this much good in him, he refused to sell Hope's life. God, reckoning all the evil and baseness of James Finlay's treachery and greed, will no doubt set on the other side of the account the fact that even Finlay recognised high goodness when he saw it, that he did not betray Hope, that he grovelled on the floor before a man whom he hated for the chance of saving Hope from what seemed certain death.
Neal pushed Finlay aside and stepped forward. He took five of the cases of cartridges—three under his right arm two under his left. Hope raised the other three. Then, picking up a bundle from a corner, he said—
"There is more gear here, which we may as well take with us. There is a green jacket which some of our young fellows may like to wear, and a flag; we ought to have a flag to fight under."
They turned to leave the house. Neal cast one glance behind him and saw Finlay lying curled up on the ground, his face covered with his hands, as if he were already trying to shut away from his eyes the sight of Hope's body dangling from a lamp iron.
Reaching the street, Hope stood for a moment and glanced up and down it. A party of soldiers was marching towards them. Hope looked at them carefully.
"These are not the men whom the woman warned us of. Major Barber, if he were coming here from High Street, would be marching the opposite way. This is some company of yeomen."
A band played at the head of the approaching company, and the men stepped out briskly to the tune of "Croppies Lie Down." Their uniforms were gay, their arms and accoutrements in good order, the officer in command was well mounted; a crowd of idle young men and some women were walking beside and behind the soldiers, attracted by the music and the unusually smart appearance of the men.
"I know these," said Hope, "they are the County Down Yeomanry. They have just marched in, and are no doubt going to report themselves. Come, Neal, this is our chance."
He joined the crowd which walked with the soldiers. Neal followed him closely. Hope, as if feeling the weight of the boxes he carried, walked slowly until he found himself in that part of the crowd which followed the regiment. Then, pushing forward briskly, he and Neal came close behind the last soldiers. The ranks were not well kept, nor the march orderly. Hope made his way forward until he and Neal were walking amongst the yeomen. As they swung out of the street they were met by another body of troops.
"These are regulars," whispered Hope, "and Major Barber is in command of them. That is he."
The two bodies of troops halted. There was a brief conversation between their commanding officers. Then an order was given. The yeomen, their band playing briskly again, marched on. Hope and Neal, now in the very middle of the ranks, marched with them. The royal troops presented arms as they passed. Major Barber watched them critically.
"It's a pity these volunteers won't learn their drill," he said to a young officer beside him. "Look at that for marching. The ranks are as ragged as the shirt of the fellow we've just been flogging; but they're fine men and well armed. By Jove, they have two country fellows with them carrying spare ammunition. I'll bet you a bottle of claret there are cartridges in those cases."
He pointed to Hope and Neal.
"Ought to have a baggage waggon," said the officer, "or ought to put the fellows into uniform. They might be damned rebels for all any one could tell by looking at them."
"I'd expect to meet a rebel pretty near anywhere," said Major Barber, "but, by God, I would not expect to find one marching in the middle of a company of yeomen."
The yeomen passed and the infantry marched again towards Finlay's house. Hope turned to Neal. Laughter was dancing in his eyes, but, except for his eyes, his face was grave.
"Now," he whispered, "we've got to slip out of the ranks and make our way into North Street."
As he spoke he lurched against the yeoman next to him and allowed the bundle he carried to slip from his arm. The soldier cursed him for a clumsy drunkard. Hope, in return, abused the soldier for knocking the parcel out of his arms, and then called to Neal—
"Wait for me, mate, wait till I gather up my goods again."
He deposited his cartridge cases on the ground, went after the bundle which had rolled into the gutter, and then, arranging his load slowly, allowed the yeomen to march past.
"Did you hear Major Barber say that he'd be ready to bet that these cases held cartridges? A sharp man, Major Barber! But there are more men than him about with eyes in their heads. The next officer we meet will be wanting to know where we are taking the cartridges. We won't have another company of yeomen to vouch for our characters. I think, Neal, we'd better get something to cover these up. There's a man here in charge of a carman's yard who is sure to have a couple of sacks which will suit us very well."
He passed under an archway, followed by Neal, and entered a small yard.
"Charlie," he cried, "are you there, Charlie?"
A young man emerged from one of the stables. He started at the sight of Hope.
"Are you mad, Jemmy Hope?" he said. "Are you mad, that you come here, and every stable full of dragoons' horses? They have them billeted on us, curse them, and the villains are in the coachhouse polishing their bits and stirrup irons. Hark to them."
"I hear them," said Hope. "Get me two of your oat sacks, Charlie, good strong ones. I have goods here that want protecting from the sunlight."
The man cast a swift glance round, ran to one of the stables, and fetched the sacks.
"Now, Neal, pack up, pack up."
He pushed his own cases into one of the sacks. Neal followed his example.
"It won't do," said Hope, "the sacks don't look natural. There are too many sharp corners bulging out. Charlie, lad, fetch us some straw—a good armful."
While they were stuffing the sacks with the straw one of the dragoons swaggered across the yard. He stood watching Hope and Neal for a minute or two, and then said.
"What have you there that you're so mighty careful of?"
"Whisht, man, whisht," said Hope, "it's not safe to be talking of what's here."
He winked at the soldier as he spoke—a sly, humorous wink—a wink which hinted at a good joke to come. The dragoon, a fat, good-natured man', grinned in reply.
"I won't split on you, you young thieves. I've taken my share of loot before this, and I expect some pickings out of the croppies' houses before I've done. I won't cry halvers on you. What's yours is yours. But tell us what it is."
"It's cases of cartridges," said Hope, winking again. "We're taking them to the general in command of the rebel army, so don't be interfering with us or maybe they'll hold a courtmartial on you."
The fat dragoon laughed. The idea of packing up ammunition for the croppies in the temporary barrack of a squadron of dragoons, and using His Majesty's straw to stuff the sacks, appealed to him as extremely comic. Hope and Neal shouldered their bundles and left the yard.
"I'm afraid," said Hope, "that we can't store these in Matier's house. When Barber learns that the cases are gone he'll search high and low for them, and Matier's will be just one of the places he'll look sooner or later. Are you good for a tramp, Neal, with that load on your back?"
"Yes," said Neal, "I'll carry mine for miles if you like."
"Then," said Hope-, "we'll just look in at Matier's as we pass, and if the coast's clear I'll leave word where we're going. I know a snug place on the side of the Cave Hill where we can lie for the night. To-morrow you can join your uncle at Donegore."
There were no soldiers round the inn when they reached it. Felix Matier and Donald Ward were both out. Hope left his message with Peg Macllrea, who was sanding the parlour.
"So you're going to sleep out the night on the Cave Hill?" she said to Neal. "That'll be queer and good for your clouted head I'm thinkin'."
"It'll do my head no harm," said Neal. "You know well enough, Peg, that there never was much the matter with it."
They shouldered their loads again, walked up the street, and then, quickening their pace, tramped along the Shore Road for about three miles.
"Now," said Hope, "turn to the left up that loaning, and we'll strike for the hill."
They crossed the fields round the homesteads which lay between the hill and the road, reached uncultivated and stony ground, and then commenced their climb. Neal was strong, active, and accustomed to fatigue, but he began to feel the weight of his sack of cartridge cases before he had climbed five hundred feet. When Hope bade him halt he was glad enough to lie panting on the springy heather.
"We're safe now," said Hope, "but we've got further to go before night. We must make the place I named so that the men will be able to find me and the cartridges to-morrow morn."
Neal, ashamed of his weariness, bade Hope lead on.
"I might have trysted with them for Mac Art's Fort," said Hope. "It was there that Neilson and Tone and M'Cracken swore the oath. That would have been a brave romantic spot for you and me to spend the night. We might have thought of great things there with the stars over us and nothing else between us and God's heaven. But it's a draughty place, lad." The laughter came into his eyes as he spoke. "A draughty place and a stony, like Luz, where Jacob lay, and maybe the angels wouldn't come near the likes of us. The place I have in my mind is warmer."
They reached it at last—a little heathery hollow, lying under the shelter of great rocks.
"You might sleep in a worse place, Neal. It was here that Wolfe Tone and the men I told you of dined three years ago—and a merry day they had of it. I could wish we had a few of the scraps they left. It's cold work sleeping in the open on an empty stomach, but we must just cheer each other with Tone's byword—
"''Tis but in vain For soldiers to complain.'"
Neal, lying full length on the heather in the warmth of the afternoon sun, dropped off to sleep. He had undergone severe physical exertion, which told on him. He had been through an hour and more of great excitement, which exhausted him far more than the exertion. When he woke the sun had sunk behind the hill, and the air was pleasantly cool. Hope sat beside him, gazing out across the Lough and the town which lay below them.
"I've been thinking, Neal, of that man Finlay. He was frightened to-day when we were in his house. Now what had he to be frightened about?"
"I don't know," said Neal, "but I agree with you. The man certainly wasn't play-acting. He was in real fear."
"I think," said Hope, "that he was afraid the soldiers would take us and hang us."
"But," said Neal, "why should he fear that when he has betrayed us?"
"The human heart," said Hope, after a pause, "is a strange thing. The Book tells us that no man is altogether good; no, not one, and that's true. Never was a truer word. We try, lad, we try, and the grace of God works in us, but there remains the old leaven of evil; ay, it's there, even in the heart of a saint. Now, it isn't written, but I think it's just as true that there's no man altogether bad. There's a spark of good somewhere in the worst of us, if we could but get at it. There's a spark of good in Finlay."
"How can there be?" said Neal, angrily. "The man's a spy, an informer, a paid liar, a villain that takes gold and perjures himself."
"That's true, over true. And yet he wanted to save our lives to-day. I tell you the man's not all bad. There's something of the grace of God left in him after all."
Neal was not inclined to argue about the matter. He sat silent, watching star after star shine out of the moonless sky. After a long silence Hope spoke again.
"There are men among us who mean to take Finlay's life. I can't altogether blame them. He deserves to die. But Neal, lad, don't you have act or part in that. Remember the word,—'Vengeance is mine and I will repay, saith the Lord.' If there's a spark of good in him at all, who are we that we should cut him off from the chance of repentance? 'The bruised reed shall he not break; the smoking flax shall he not quench.' Remember that, Neal."
From far down the side of the hill the sound of a woman's voice reached them faintly. It drew nearer.
"That's some slip of a lassie from off the farms below us," said Hope. "She's looking out for some cow that's strayed."
"She's singing," said Neal. "I catch the fall of the tune now and then."
"She's coming nearer. It can't be a cow she's seeking. No beast would stray that far up amongst the heather and the stones."
The voice came more and more clearly. The words of the song reached them—
"I would I were in Ballinderry, I would I were in Aghalee, I would I were in bonny Ram's Island Sitting under an ivy tree. Ochone, ochone!"
"I know that song," said Neal.
"Everybody knows that song. There isn't a lass in Antrim or Down but sings it."
"But I know the singer too. I heard Peg Macllrea sing it once, Matier's Peg, and I'm not likely to forget her voice."
"If you're sure of that, Neal, I'll let her know we're here. Anyway it can do no harm. There isn't a farm lass in the whole country would betray us to the soldiers. Wait now till she sings it again."
By the firesides of Irish cottages when songs are sung during the long winter evenings the listeners often "croon" an accompaniment, droning in low voices over and over again a few simple notes which harmonise with the singer's voice. When the girl began her tune again Hope sang with her, repeating "Ochone, ochone" down four notes from the octave of the keynote through the mediate to the keynote again. When she reached the end of the last line his voice rose suddenly to an unexpected seventh, which struck sharply on the ear. Prolonging the note after the girl's voice died away, he rose to his feet and waved his arms. Soon Peg Macllrea was beside them.
"I tell't the master where ye were," she said, "and I tell't Mr. Donald. They couldn't come theirsells, and they were afeard to let me out my lone. But I knew finely I could find you. I knew Neal here would mind my song. I brought you a bite and a sup so as you wouldn't be famished out here on the hillside."
She took a basket from her arm and laid it at Neal's feet.
"Sit down, Peg," said Hope, "sit down and eat with us. You're a good girl to think of bringing us the food, and you'll be wanting some yourself after your walk."
"I canna bide with you, and I ate my supper before I made out. I must be gettin' back now. But I've a word to give you from your uncle, Neal. He bid me tell you that you're trysted with him for Aeneas Moylin's house the morrow night at eight o'clock."
Early next morning Neal bade farewell to Hope and started on his walk to Donegore. For a while he kept along the side of the hill above the homesteads that clustered on the lower slopes. Nearing Carnmoney he descended and entered a small inn in order to obtain some breakfast. He found the master and his wife in a state of great excitement at the news which had just reached them that their son had been arrested in Belfast. It was some time before Neal could persuade the poor people to attend to his wants, and it was a wretched breakfast which he obtained in the end. Leaving the inn, he walked along the high road through Molusk. He felt tolerably safe, though bodies of troops and yeomen occasionally passed him. His appearance was known to very few, and the people of the district through which he was going were either United Irishmen or in strong sympathy with the society. It was unlikely that any small body of troops would venture to make an arrest unless the officer in command was perfectly certain of the identity of his prisoner. So bold and determined were the people that Neal, stopping opposite a forge, saw the smith fashioning pike heads openly, and apparently fearlessly. A number of men stood round the forge door talking earnestly together. Among them was Phelim, the blind piper, whom Neal had seen in the street of Antrim. They did not care to be silent or to lower their tones when Neal came within earshot.
"The place of the muster," said the piper, "is the Roughfort. Mind you that now, and let them that has guns or pikes bring them."
"And will M'Cracken be there?"
"Ay, he will. Did you no see the proclamation?"
"Will Kelso," said some one to the smith, "are you working hard, man? We'll be needing a hundred more of them pike heads by the morrow's morn."
The smith let his hammer fall with a clang on the anvil, and wiped his brow.
"If you do as good a day's work the morrow with what I'm working on the day there'll be no cause to complain of you."
For the first time since he left Dunseveric Neal felt a glow of hope for the success of the movement. He knew what kind of men these farmers and weavers of Carnmoney and Templepatrick were—austere, cold men, difficult to stir to violent action; much more difficult to cow into submission when once roused. And it appeared to him that they were effectually roused now. He recalled his father's fanciful application of the verse from the prophet Jeremiah. He felt, as he listened to the men round the forge, the hardness of "the northern iron and the steel." Was there among the blustering yeomen and the disciplined troops of the King iron strong enough to break this iron?
He left the forge and passed on. His thoughts wandered from the enterprise to which he had pledged himself, and went back, as time after time during the last week they had gone back, to Una. He walked slowly, wrapped in a delicious day dream. Neglecting all fact, driving from his mind the pressing realities which separated him hopelessly from the girl he loved, he imagined himself walking with her hand-in-hand in some fair place far from strife and the oppression which engendered strife. A feeling of fierce anger succeeded his day dream. The sun shone around him, the fields were fair to see. Life ought to be like the sun and the fields—simple and good and beautiful. Instead it was difficult and cruel. He was being dragged into a vortex of hate and battle. He loathed the very thought of it. He wanted peace and love. And yet, what escape was there for him? Did he even want to escape if he could? The wrong and tyranny he was to resist were real, insistent, horrible. He would be less than a man, unworthy of the love and peace he longed for, if he failed to do his part in the struggle for freedom and right.
At midday he reached Templepatrick village, and found the inn occupied by a company of yeomen. He sought the house of the weaver with whom he had dined, in company with James Hope, on his way to Belfast. The door was closed, which struck Neal as strange, for the day was hot and bright. Coming near, he was surprised not to hear the rattle of the loom. Birnie was a diligent man; it was not like him to leave his loom idle. And the house was not empty; he could hear a woman's voice within. He tapped at the door, intending to ask for a meal and for leave to rest awhile in the kitchen. There was no answer, and yet he heard the woman still speaking in low, even tones. He tapped again, and then, despairing of attracting attention, raised the latch, half opened the door, and looked in.
In the centre of the room, before the table, a young woman knelt motionless, her hands stretched out before her. Neal heard her words distinctly. She was praying aloud, steadily, quietly, but with intense earnestness, repeating petition after petition for her husband's safety. Very softly Neal withdrew, and closed the door. He might go dinner-less, but he would not interrupt the woman's prayer. He turned, to find a little girl gazing at him. He recognised her as the Birnies' child.
"Were you wanting my da?"
"Yes, little girl, but I see he's gone away."
"Ay, but if any stranger come for him I was to tell my mammy."
"Never mind," said Neal, "you mustn't disturb her now."
"Will I no, then, when I was bid? Mammy I Mammy!"
In answer to the child's cry, the mother opened the door.
"What ails you, Jinny? I beg pardon, sir, were you waiting long on me?"
"You don't know me, Mrs. Birnie. You don't remember me, but I came here one day before with James Hope."
"I mind you rightly, now," she said. "Come in and welcome, but if it's my Johnny you're wanting to see, he's abroad the day."
"I won't disturb you," said Neal.
"You'll come in. You'll no be disturbing me. There's time enough for me to do what I was doing when the wean called me."
Neal entered the house and sat down.
"You'll be wanting a bite to eat," said Mrs. Birnie. "It's little I have to set for you. The wee bit of meat we had I cooked for him to take with him. It's no much Jinny and I will be wanting while he's awa from us. Ay, and it's no much Jinny and I will get if he doesna come back to us."
"Where has he gone?" said Neal.
"He's gone to the turn-out," she said, "to the turn-out that's to be the morrow. It's more goes to the like, I'm thinking, than comes back again. He's taken the pike with him that lay in the thatch over our bed this year and more. But the will of the Lord be done."
"May God bring him safe home to you," said Neal.
"Ay, for God can do it, God can do it. I take no shame to tell you, young as you are, that I was just beseeching the Lord to do that very thing the now while you were standing at the door with Jinny. But the Lord's ways are not our ways."
She set a plate of oatcake and a jug of buttermilk on the table before Neal, and bade him eat. When he had finished, he sat and talked with her awhile, trying to cheer her. But she was not a woman to whom it was easy to speak comfortable platitudes. She knew the risks her husband ran—the risk of battle, and the worse risks which would follow defeat. Neal rose at last and bid her farewell.
"When you are saying a prayer for your husband," he said, "say one for me; I'll be along with him. I'm going to fight, too."
"And will you be for the turn-out, then, with the rest of them? Ay, I'll say a prayer for you, And—and, young man, will you mind this? When you're killing with your pike and your gun, even if it's a yeo that's forninst you, gie a thought to the woman that's waiting at home for him, and, maybe, praying. What would hinder her to pray for her husband even if he's a yeoman itself?"
It was seven o'clock when Neal reached Aeneas Moylin's house, after climbing the steep lane that led to Donegore Hill. He found six men seated in the kitchen—Donald Ward, Felix Matier, James Bigger, Moylin, and two others whom he did not know.
"It's Neal Ward," said Donald. "It's my nephew. Sit you down, Neal."
No one else spoke, though all nodded a welcome to Neal, and room was made for him at the table round which they sat. Aeneas Moylin rose and fetched another chair from the next room. Neal noticed that all six men were armed with swords and pistols. Donald Ward sat at the head of the table, and had the air of presiding over the assembly. There was dead silence in the room, save for the ticking of a clock which stood in a dark corner out of reach of the rays of the lamp. No man looked at any of his fellows. They stared fixedly at the ceil-ing, the table, or the walls of the room. After about ten minutes, Felix Marier rose, crossed the room, and peered at the face of the clock. He went to the door and looked down the lane. Then, with a sharp in drawing of the breath, he took his seat again. The movement roused Donald Ward. He fumbled in his pocket and took out his tobacco box and pipe. He held up the box—a round metal one—between his finger and thumb. Neal, watching, noticed with surprise that his uncle's hand trembled. Donald held the box without opening it for perhaps two minutes. Then, when he was satisfied that his hand had become quite steady, he filled his pipe. He rose, took a red peat from the hearth, and pressed it into the bowl of the pipe. He did not sit down again, but stood with his back to the fire, smoking slowly.
Aeneas Moylin spoke in a harsh, constrained voice.
"Would you like to drink while you wait? I have whisky in the house."
"No," said Donald.
No one else spoke. Several of the men passed their tongues over their dry lips. They would have liked to drink. Their mouths craved for moisture, their nerves for stimulant, but they did not dispute Donald Ward's emphatic refusal of the offer.
THE NORTHERN IRON. 175
Felix Matier rose again. Again he peered at the clock, again he opened the door and looked down the lane. This time he turned almost immediately, and said in a whisper—
"There's a man coming up the lane, a single rider. I hear the tramp of his horse."
He hurried back to his seat, as if he were afraid of being found apart from his comrades, as if he expected to discover safety in being just as they were. Donald Ward took his seat at the head of the table. His pipe was still between his teeth, but he ceased to puff at it. It went out. The noise of the approaching horse was plainly audible in the room. Felix Matier suddenly laughed aloud, and then, half chanting the words in a cracked falsetto, quoted—
"What is right and what is wrang by the law? What is right and what is wrang? A short sword and a lang, A stout arm and a Strang, For to draw."
"Silence," said Donald.
"It is the man," said Aeneas Moylin, "I hear him putting his horse into the shed. It must be he, for no stranger would know the ways of the place."
James Bigger drew a pistol from his pocket, looked carefully at the priming, cocked it, and laid it on the table before him. He sat at the end of the table opposite Donald Ward, and was nearest to the door.
The latch was lifted from without, and James Finlay entered the room.
"You are welcome," said Donald, and every man at the table repeated the words.
Something in the tone of the greeting, some sense of the feeling of those who sat in the room, startled Finlay. He glanced quickly at the faces before him, became deadly white, took a step forward, and then turned to the door. It was shut, and James Bigger, pistol in hand, stood with his back against it. Finlay stood stock still. Neal, looking at him, saw in his eyes an expression of wild terror—an agonised appeal against the horror of death. In a single instant the man had understood that he was to die. Neal felt suddenly sick. Then a faintness overcame him. He leaned back in his chair unable to move or speak. He heard, as if from a great distance, as if out of some other world, his uncle's voice—
"The men you expected are not here, friend Finlay. M'Cracken is busy elsewhere, Munro has an engagement this evening, Hope, whom you let slip through your fingers yesterday, is not here to meet you."
"I wear to you," said Finlay, "that I tried to save Hope yesterday."
Donald took no notice of the words. He went on in a cool, not unfriendly voice—
"We are here instead, and I think we are quite competent to conduct the business for which we have met; but you will agree with us that this house will not be a suitable place for our meeting. We think it possible that Aeneas Moylin's house may be honoured to-night by a visit from some dragoons or yeomen. They will probably be here in half an hour or so. In the meanwhile, we shall adjourn. There is near at hand a building in which we may do our business with perfect safety. You have heard, no doubt, of the custom of body-snatching. Certain men—resurrectioners, I think, they are called—have of late been robbing the graves of the dead and selling the bodies to the medical schools for the use of students. The good people of Donegore have built in their churchyard a very strong vault with an iron door, of which Aeneas Moylin keeps the key. Here they lock up the bodies of their dead for some time before burying them—until, in fact, the natural process of decay renders them unsuitable for dissection. This is their plan for defeating the resurrectioners. There is no corpse in the vault to-night. We shall adjourn to it for our meeting. The walls are so thick, I am told, that remarks made even in a loud tone inside will be perfectly inaudible to eavesdroppers. The door is very small, and we can hang a cloak over it, so that our light will not be visible. It will be quite safe, I think; besides, it will be very comforting to think that if one of us should die suddenly his body will not become a prey to the ghoulish people of whom we have been speaking."
He paused. Then, changing his tone, gave a series of orders sharply—
"Bind his hands; gag him; bring a lantern and means of lighting it; bring the key of the vault; leave the light burning in this room. Come."
The orders were quickly obeyed. It was evident that every man had his part assigned to him beforehand, and was ready to perform it. There was no confusion, and no talking.
Aeneas Moylin led the way. Two others followed, holding Finlay, gagged and bound, by the arms. Donald Ward, his sword drawn, brought up the rear. They moved like shadows, silent as the prowling body-snatchers of whom Donald had spoken. In front of them, a dark mass in the June twilight, stood the church, and round it rows and rows of gravestones. Moylin crossed the stile. Finlay sank helplessly in a heap in front of it. He could not, or would not, put his feet on the stone steps. Without a word his two guards lifted him over and set him down among the graves. Donald crossed last. Moylin, skirting the north side and east end of the church, led the way to a corner of the cemetery where as yet there were no graves. Here, barely visible among the tangle of brambles, nettles, and high grass which surrounded it, was the vault. Kneeling down, Moylin fumbled with the lock, turned the key with a harsh, grating sound, and swung open the iron door. It was so low that he had to crawl through. Once inside, he lit the lantern which he carried, and set it on a projecting ledge of the rough masonry. Finlay was dragged in. The others followed, until only Neal and his uncle stood outside.
"Go next, Neal."
"I cannot, uncle, I cannot. I am not able to bear this. Let me go away."
"No. Go in, Neal. I want you. I shall let you go before the end."
The vault was very small inside. It was hardly possible to stand upright, and there was little room for moving. James Finlay, still bound and gagged, lay at full length on the floor. Round him, their backs against the walls, crouched the other men. Moylin's lantern cast a feeble, smoky light. The air was heavy and close. It was the air of a charnel house.
"Take from the prisoner the arms he has about him," said Donald. "Search his pockets, and hand me any papers you find. Now unbind his hands and free his mouth.
"James Finlay, we are here to do strict justice. You shall have every opportunity of making any defence you can when you hear the charges against you. If you clear yourself you shall go free. If you fail to clear yourself you must abide the sentence we shall pronounce on you."
"You mean to murder me," said Finlay.
"We do not mean to murder you. We mean to try you fairly, to acquit or condemn you in strict justice. The first charge against you is this. Having been sworn a member of the United Irishmen's society in Dunseveric, having been elected a member of the committee, you did in Belfast betray the fact that there were cannons hidden in Dunseveric meeting-house, and gave the names of your fellow-members to the military authorities."
"I deny it," said James Finlay. "You have no proof of what you assert. Will you murder a man on suspicion?"
"Neal Ward," said Donald, "is this the James Finlay who was sworn into the society by your father?"
"Yes," said Neal.
"Tell us what you know about the visit of the yeomen to Dunseveric."
Neal repeated the story, telling how he knew that his own name was on the list of persons to be arrested. There was a short silence when he had finished. Then James Bigger said—
"You have not proved that charge. The circumstances are suspicious, but you have proved nothing."
Donald Ward bowed. Finlay raised his eyes for the first time since he had been dragged into the vault, and looked round him. There had risen in him a faint gleam of hope.
"You are charged," said Donald again, "with having provided the dragoons who rioted in Belfast last week with information which led them to attack and wreck the houses of those who are in sympathy with the society."
"I deny it. I was not in Belfast that day. I was here in Donegore with Aeneas Moylin."
"You were here the day before," said Moylin. "You left me that day early. You might have been in Belfast."
"I was not," said Finlay.
Donald Ward produced the scrap of paper which Peg Macllrea had taken from the dragoon.
"Is that your handwriting?" he asked.
James Finlay looked at it.
"No," he said.
"James Bigger, give me the last letter you had from Finlay. Now put the lantern down on the floor."
He looked steadily at the two papers, and then said—
"In my opinion these two are written in the same hand."
He passed them to the man next him. They went from one to another, and the lantern followed them on their round. Each man examined them, and each nodded assent to Donald's judgment.
"Let me see them," said Finlay.
They were handed to him.
"I wrote neither of them," he said.
"Your name is signed to one," said Donald.
"I did not write it. I had hurt my hand on the day that note was written. I employed another man to write for me. The writing is his, not mine."
"Name the man you employed."
"Kelso, James Kelso."
"Kelso was flogged yesterday," said Donald, "and is in prison now. Do you expect us to believe that he is an informer? Is flogging the wages the Government pays to spies?"
"I tried to save Hope yesterday," said Finlay. "Neal Ward, you have borne witness against me, tell the truth in my favour now."
"I believe," said Neal, "that he did his best to save Hope and me yesterday. I believe that he wanted to save us."
He told his story, and he told of the conversation on the Cave Hill afterwards. Again the flicker of hope crossed Finlay's face.
"You hear," he said. "Would I have done that if I had been a spy? Could I not have handed them over to Major Barber if I had wished?"
"I shall give you credit for wishing to save Hope," said Donald. "Now I shall pass on to examine the papers found on your person to-night."
Finlay protested eagerly.
"I beg that you do not examine the papers you have taken from me. They are of a very private nature."
"I can believe," said Donald, "that they are of such a kind that you would willingly keep them private."
"I protest against your reading them. You have no right to read them. They concern others besides myself. I give you my word." Donald smiled slightly. "I swear to you, I will take any oath you like that there is no paper there concerned with politics. You will be sorry if you read them. I assure you that you will repent it afterwards. You will be doing a base action. You will pry into a woman's secrets. You will bring dishonour on the name of a lady, a noble lady."
"Do you expect us to believe," said Donald, "that any lady, noble or other—that any woman, that any soldier's drab even—has written love letters to you?"
He opened the first which came to hand of the pile of papers which lay at his feet on the ground. Finlay suddenly collapsed. His impudence, his ready tongue, deserted him. He had fought hard for his life, had lied—though he lied clumsily in his terror—had twisted, doubled, fought point after point. Whatever the papers were that had been found on him, he recognised that they condemned him utterly and hopelessly. The game was up for him. He saw death near at hand, as he had seen it earlier when he first realised that he was trapped in Moylin's kitchen. Donald read paper after paper silently. Some he laid aside, some he passed to the man next him to read. Finlay rallied again. He made another effort to save himself.
"Listen," he said, "I have influence with the Government. I don't deny it. Call me an informer, a spy, any name you like, but admit that I have served my masters well. I can claim my reward from them. Let me go, and I swear to obtain pardons for you. I can save you, and I will. I offer you your lives as a ransom for mine."
"Would you make us what you are?" said Donald, sternly. "Would you buy our honour, you that have sold your own?"
Finlay, who had knelt during his last appeal, fell forward. He grasped Neal with his hands. It was impossible in the dim light to see the faces of the men around him, but some instinct told him that Neal alone felt any pity for him, that from Neal alone he could look for mercy.
"Save me, Neal Ward," he cried. "For God's sake, save me. Plead for me. They will listen to you. I am not fit to die. Grant me one day, only one day. I will do anything you wish. I will—— Oh God, Oh Christ, Oh save me, save me now."
Neal felt drops fall on his hands, sweat from Finlay's brow or tears from his eyes. He spoke—
"Spare him," he said. "Who are we to judge and to slay? James Hope said to me last night that we should refrain from taking vengeance. I ask you to respect what he said. Think of it. This man's case to-day may be your's to-morrow. Remember you may take life, but you cannot give it back again. Oh, this is too horrible—to kill him now, like this."
He felt, while he spoke, Finlay's clasp tighten on him. He felt the wretched man cover his hands with kisses, mumble, and slobber over them. There was silence for a while when Neal ceased speaking. Then Donald Ward said—
"Neal, you had better go outside. This is no work for a boy. It is, as you say, horrible. To inflict death is horrible, but it is sometimes just. If ever it is just for man to shed the blood of his brother man it is just to shed James Finlay's. He has broken oaths, has brought death on men, has made women widows and children fatherless; has wrecked the happiness of homes. He has done these things for the sake of gain, for money counted out to him as the priests counted money out to Judas."
It was impossible to plead his cause any more. Moylin pushed open the iron door of the vault. Neal dragged his hands from Finlay's grasp, and crawled out. He heard the door clang behind him, shut fast again upon the broken, terrified wretch and his judges—relentless men of iron, the northern iron.
No sound reached him from the vault. Save for the occasional belated cawing of some rooks in the trees which shadowed the graveyard, no sound reached him at all. He sat down among the nettles, the brambles, and the rank grass and burst into tears.
The paroxysm of tears swept Neal as the Atlantic waves sweep foaming and furious over Rackle Roy. Then it passed and left him panting, shaking with recurrent sobs, and a prey to an hysterical dread of hearing some sound from the vault beside him. He sat absolutely motionless. He hardly dared to breathe. He waited in horrible expectation of hearing something. He listened intent, agonised, feeling that if a sound reached him he would cry aloud and on the instant become a raving madman. The scene inside the vault rose to his imagination. Far more really than he saw the dim church and the trees, he saw Finlay grovelling on the ground and the stern men crouching over him. He saw a knife gleam in the lantern's light. He shut his eyes, as if by shutting them he could blot out the pictures of his imagination. He waited to hear a shriek, a smothered cry, a groan, the laboured breath of struggling men, the splash of blood. The suspense became an agony. He rose to his feet and fled.
He stumbled over a grave, and fell headlong, bruising his outstretched hands against a tombstone. He rose instantly and fled again. Stumbling again, he struck his head against the wall of the church. Dizzy and bewildered, he hastened on, driven forward by the terror of hearing some death noise from the vault. Tripping, staggering, rushing blindly, he reached the stile at last, and stood beyond it on the road. Before him was Moylin's house. The window was lighted up, the door was open. He saw men seated within, and heard them laugh aloud. They seemed to him not men, but fiends making merry over murder, and the winning for their hell of a new damned soul. He fled from them as he had fled from the sound he dreaded. He rushed down the steep lane. Loose stones rolled under his feet. Sparks started into sudden brightness where the nails in his boot soles struck flints. The hedges rose high on each side of him, making the lane, even in the pale June night, intolerably dark. He fled on, blind, reckless, for the moment mad.
Suddenly he was stopped short. Strong arms were round him. He was flung to the ground. A man knelt on his chest. Rough hands grasped his throat.
"Who have you there, Tarn?"
"A damned fool for certain, whoever he is. What brings him down a hill like this in the dark, as if the devil was after him?"
"Loose his throat; do you want to choke him. Let him speak. Now, then, man, tell us who you are, and what you're doing here."
Neal's powers of reasoning and thought returned to him. With the presence of real danger his fear vanished. He saw the forms of the men above him, discerned against the dull grey of the sky that they were armed and in uniform. He understood at once that he had fallen into the hands of soldiers, perhaps of yeomen.
"Who are you?" said the voice again.
Then the man who knelt on him added a word of warning—
"If you won't speak, we're the boys who know how to loose your tongue. We've made many a damned croppy glad to speak when we'd dealt with him."
Neal remained silent.
"Get him on his feet, Tam, and we'll take him to the Captain. If he's not a rebel himself he'll know where the rebels are hid."
Neal was pulled up by the arms and marched along the lane again to Moylin's house. He was led into the kitchen. Two men sat at the table drinking. They were in uniform. Neal recognised it as that of the Kilulta yeomen, the men who had raided his father's meeting-house. He recognised one of the officers—Captain Twinely. The sergeant made his report. He and his men had been patrolling the lane as they had been ordered. They had heard a man running fast towards them, had stopped him, and arrested him.
"Who are you, and what are you doing here?" asked Captain Twinely.
Neal made no answer. The sergeant peered closely at his face.
"I think I know the man, sir. He's the young fellow that was with the women at the meetinghouse in the north. The man the old lord made us loose when we had him. What do you say, Tarn?"
"You're right as hell," said the trooper who stood by Neal. "I'd know the young cub in a thousand."
Captain Twinely rose, tools the lamp from the hook where it hung, held it close to Neat's face, and looked at him.
"I believe you're right," he said. "Now, young man, we know who you are; You're Neal Ward." He drew a paper from his pocket and looked it over. "Yes, that's the name, 'Neal Ward, son of the Reverend Micah Ward, Presbyterian minister of Dunseveric. A young man, about six foot high, well built, fair hair, grey eyes, active, strong.' Yes, the description fits all right. Now, Mr. Neal Ward, since I've answered my first question myself, perhaps you'll be so good as to answer my second for me. Where are your fellow-rebels?"
Neal was silent.
"Come now, that won't do. We know there's a meeting of United Irishmen here to-night. We know that the leaders, M'Cracken, Monro, Hope, and the rest are somewhere about. Where are they?"
"I don't know," said Neal, "and if I did I wouldn't tell you."
The sergeant struck him sharply across the mouth with the back of his hand.
"Take that for your insolence. I'll learn ye to say 'sir' when ye speak to a gentleman."
"Answer my question," said Captain Twinely, "or, by God, I'll make you."
"Try him with half hanging," said the other officer, speaking for the first time. "I've known a tongue wag freely enough after it's been sticking black out of a man's mouth for a couple of minutes."
"Too risky, Jack. The last fellow you half hanged wouldn't come to life again; turned out to be whole hanged, by gad." He laughed. "There's fifty pounds on the head of this young cock, and it's ten to one but the rascally Government would back out of their promise if we brought them nothing but a damned corpse. Besides, I want the information. The vermin's nest must be somewhere round. I want to get the lot of them. No, no; there's more ways of making a croppy speak than half hanging him. We'll try the strap first, any way. Now, Mr. Neal Ward, will you speak or will you not?"
"I will not."
"Hell to your soul! but I'm glad to hear it. I owe you something, young man, and I like to pay my debts. If you'd spoken without flogging I might have had to bring you into Belfast with a whole skin. Now I'll have you flogged, and you'll speak afterwards. Tam, give the sergeant your belt. Sergeant, there's a tree outside. Tie the prisoner up and flog him till he speaks, but don't kill him. Leave enough life in him to last till we get him to Belfast, unless he speaks at once."
"Yes, sir, but if your orders are so particular I'd rather you'd be present yourself to see how much he can stand."
"I'm not going to leave my bottle," said Captain Twinely, "to stand sentry over croppy carrion. Flog him till you lay his liver bare, sergeant, but don't cut it out of him."
The sergeant saluted, and marched Neal out of the house. His coat was dragged off him, his shirt stripped from his back, his hands tied to the tree which stood before Moylin's house. He set his teeth and waited. The predominating feeling in his mind at first was not fear but furious anger. He had shrunk in terror from the near prospect of seeing Finlay die. He felt nothing now except a passionate desire for revenge.
The sergeant swung the trooper's belt round his head, making it whistle through the air. Neal shivered and shrank, but the blow did not fall. The sergeant was in no hurry.
"You hear that," he said, swinging the belt again. "Will you speak before I lay it on you? You shall have time to consider. Nobody shall say I hurried a prisoner. We'll sing you a psalm, my dearly beloved, a sweet psalm to a most comfortable tune. At the end of the first verse I'll give you another chance. If you don't speak then——. Now Tarn, now lads all, tune up to the Ould Hunderd,
"'There was a Presbyterian cat Who loved her neighbour's cream to sup; She sanctified her theft with prayer Before she went to drink it up.'"
The troopers, who appeared to have learned both tune and words since the night when the sergeant sang them in Dunseveric meeting-house, shouted lustily. Following their sergeant, they drawled the last line until it seemed to Neal as if they would never reach the end of it.
"Now, Mr. Neal Ward," said the sergeant, "you've had a most comfortable and cheering psalm for the hour of your affliction. Will you speak, or——. Damn your soul, Tam, what are you at?"
The man next him lurched suddenly forward, clutching at the sergeant. In another instant there was a dull thud, and Donald Ward stood over the sergeant with a pistol, grasped by its barrel, in his hand. He had brought the butt of it down on the man's skull. Two more of the yeomen fell almost at the same instant. The rest, three of them with wounds, fled, yelling, down the lane.
"The croppies are on us! Hell and murder! We're dead men!"
There were about twenty of them, all well armed, but a night surprise has a tendency to shake the firmest nerves. Captain Twinely and his fellow-officer played no very heroic part. At the first sound of the shouting and the footsteps of the flying troopers they rushed into the inner room and crawled under the bed, fighting desperately with each other for the place nearest the wall, but Donald Ward had no time to go after them.
"Cut the boy down," he said.
It was Felix Matier who set Neal free.
"Oh, whistle and I will come to you, my lad," he quoted, as he hustled the shirt over Neal's shoulders. "Why didn't you whistle, Neal, or shout, or something? Only for that devil's song we'd never have found you. I guessed he was at some mischief when I heard him begin it."
"Silence," said Donald, "and let us get out of this. The place must be swarming with troops, and those yelling cowards will arouse every soldier within a mite of us. It may not be so easy to chase the next lot. Over into the churchyard again, and then, Moylin, we must trust to you. You know the country, or you ought to, and I don't."
Aeneas Moylin led the way into the churchyard again, and across the wall at the lower end of it. The noise of many horsemen riding fast reached them from the lane they had left. The frightened yeomen had gathered troops to aid them, dragoons who had been posted on the main road down below. From the top of the rath, which rose dark above even the tower of the church, there came shouts. Men had been placed there, too, and were gathering to their comrades opposite Moylin's house. The hunt would begin in earnest soon. Donald called a halt and, cowering under the shadow of a thick hedge, the little party of fugitives held a consultation.
"We might go back to the vault," said James Bigger. "They would find it hard to get at us there, even if they discovered us. They couldn't burn us out, for the walls are solid stone and four foot thick at least."
"I'm not going to spend the night with—— with what's there," said Felix Matier. "I'm not a coward, but I won't sit in the dark all night with my knees up against—ugh!"
"James Finlay?" said Bigger. "He won't hurt you now."
"I'm for getting away if possible," said Donald. "I'm not frightened of dead men, but I want to be at the fight tomorrow. If we stay here all night we'll miss it."
"Hark!" said Moylin, "they're in the churchyard. I hear them stumbling about among the graves. We can't get back now, even if we want to. Follow me."
Creeping along the side of the hedge, they crossed the field they were in, another, and another after that. They came upon a by-road.
"We must cross this," said Moylin, "and I think there are soldiers nigh at hand."
Suddenly the sky behind them grew strangely bright. A flame, which cast black shadows from hedge and tree and wall, which lit up every open space of ground, shot up.
"Down," said Donald, "down for your lives, lie flat. Where the devil have they got the fire?"
"It's my house," said Moylin, quietly, "the roof is thatched. It burns well, but it won't burn for long."
The shouts of the soldiers round the burning homestead reached them plainly. A body of horsemen cantered along the lane in front of them.
"Now," said Donald, "now, while their backs are turned, get across."
They crossed unseen, and gained the shelter of the ditch at the far side. They crept along it, seeking some boundary wall or hedge running at right angles which would cast a shadow over them. The horsemen passed again, but this time the risk of discovery was less. The thatch of Moylin's house had almost burned itself out. Only a red glow remained, casting little shadow, lighting the land dimly. They crossed the field in safety and reached a grove of trees.
"We're right now," said Moylin. "We can take it easy from this on."
"Neal Ward," said Felix Matier, "next time you get yourself into a scrape I'll leave you there. I haven't been as nervous since I played 'I spy' twenty years ago among the whins round the Giant's Ring. Fighting's no test of courage. It's running away that tries a man."
"Phew!" said Donald, wiping his brow. Even he seemed to have felt the strain of the last half-hour. "I did some scouting work for General Greene in the Carolinas. I've lain low in sight of the watch-fires of Cornwallis' cavalry, but I'm damned if I ever had as close a shave as that. I felt jumpy, and that's a fact. I think it was the sight of your bare back, Neal, and that blackguard brandishing his belt over you that played up with my nerves."
"Let's be getting on," said Moylin, "my house is ashes now, the house I built with my own hands, the room my wife died in, the bed my girl was born in. She's safe out of this, thank God. I want to be getting on. I want to be in Antrim to-morrow with a pike in my hand and a regiment of dragoons in front of me."
Under Moylin's guidance they travelled across country through the night. About three in the morning, when the east was beginning to grow bright with the coming dawn, they reached a substantial farmhouse and climbed into the haggard.
"We're within twenty yards of the main road now," said Moylin, "about a mile and a half outside the town of Antrim. We can lie here till morning. It's a safe place. The man that owns it won't betray us if he does find us here."
At six o'clock Donald Ward awoke. The rest of the party lay stretched around him, sleeping as men do after severe physical exertion and mental strain. He sat still for a while, and then crept out of the barn where they slept, and reconnoitered the farmhouse. He was surprised to find no sign of life about it. Doors and windows were fast shut. No dog barked at him. No cattle lowed. Not even a hen pecked or cackled in the yard. He returned to the barn and roused the rest of the party.
"I've been looking round," he said, "to see what chance we have of getting breakfast. As far as I can make out the place is deserted."
"I wouldn't wonder," said Moylin, "if the man that owns it has cleared out. He's a bit of a coward, and he's not much liked in the country because he tries to please both parties."
"I thought you said last night," said Donald, "that he wouldn't betray us."
"No more he would," said Moylin, "he'd be afraid of what might happen him after, but I never said he'd help us. It's my belief he's gone off out of this in dread of what may happen in Antrim to-day. He'll be at his brother's farm away down the Six Mile Water."
"Well," said Donald, "it doesn't matter about him. The question is, how are we to get something to eat?"
A long consultation followed. There were serious difficulties. The amount of food required for seven hungry men was considerable, and Donald Ward insisted strongly on the necessity of having a good meal. It was decided at last that two of the party should venture into Antrim to buy bread and wine. No one knew what troops there might be in the town. It would not be safe to count on the support of the inhabitants if they happened to have soldiers in their houses. The inns might be full of officers. The shops might be in the hands of the royal troops.
"It's no use discussing the difficulties and dangers," said Donald at last. "We've got to risk it. We can't fight all day on empty stomachs. We'd fight badly if we did. I and Neal here will go into Antrim, we're the least likely to be recognised. The rest of you are known men. We'll bring you back something to eat."
At eight o'clock they set out, and reached the town just as the people were beginning to open their doors. Donald Ward pressed some money into Neal's hand.
"Go into the inn where we stopped," he said. "Get a couple of bottles of wine and some cold meat if you can. I'll go on to the baker's. We'll meet again opposite the church. If I'm not there in twenty minutes go back without me; I'll wait that long for you. Walk in as if you owned the shanty. There's nothing starts suspicion as quick as looking frightened. Bluster a bit if they look crooked at you, and answer no questions for anybody."
Neal did his best to follow the advice. But it is not easy for a man who has slept two successive nights in the open, who has had no opportunity of shaving, and who has crawled in ditches for several miles, to assume the airs of an opulent and self-contented tourist. Neal was painfully conscious that he must look like a disreputable tramp. Nevertheless he squared his shoulders, held up his head, and jingled his money in his pocket as he passed through the door. He called valiantly for the master. A girl, tousle-headed and heavy-eyed, looking as if she, too, had slept on a hillside or slept very little in bed, came to him. He recognised her as the same who had waited on him and Donald when they spent the night in the inn. She was sharp-sighted in spite of her sleeplessness. She knew Neal.