"In there with you," she said, pointing to a door, "I'll get you what you're after wanting. The dear knows there's broken meat in plenty here the morn."
Neal entered the room. The table was littered with the remains of breakfast. A large party had evidently been there and had gone. Neal guessed that at least a dozen people had sat at the table. With his back to the room, looking out of the window, stood a young man, booted and spurred for riding, well dressed, well groomed, a sword by his side. His figure struck Neal as being familiar. A second glance made him sure that this was Maurice St. Clair. For a moment he hesitated. Then he said—
"Neal," said the other, turning quickly. "What brings you here? God, man, you mustn't stay. My father is in the house and Lord O'Neill. Thank God the rest of them are gone."
"What brings you and your father to Antrim, Maurice?"
"There was to have been a meeting of the magistrates of the county here to-day. My father rode in last night and brought me with him, but there came an orderly from Belfast this morning with news which fluttered our company. The rebels are to attack the town to-day. Oh, Neal, but it was fun to see the hurry the worshipful justices were in to get home this morning. There were a round dozen of them here last night drinking death and damnation to the croppies till the small hours. This morning it was who would get his breakfast and his horse first. You never saw such scrambling."
"You and your father stayed," said Neal.
"Yes. Is it likely my lord would ride away from danger? You know him, Neal."
The girl entered with a basket on her arm. With a glance at Maurice St. Clair she came close to Neal and whispered—
"There's for you. There's plenty wine and cold meat for half a score. I'll be tongued by the master after, it's like, but I'll give it for the sake of Jemmy Hope, who's a better gentleman than them that wears finer coats, that never said a hard word or did an uncivil thing to a poor serving wench no more than if she'd been the first lady in the land."
Neal took the basket and bade farewell to Maurice, but as he turned to leave the room Lord Dunseveric and another gentleman entered. Neal stood back, hoping to escape notice, but Lord Dunseveric saw and recognised him.
"O'Neill," he said to his companion, "pardon me a moment. This is a young friend of mine to whom I would speak a word."
He led Neal to the window.
"Are you on your way home, Neal?"
"No, my lord."
"I suppose I must not ask where you are going or what you mean to do. I don't ask, but I advise you strongly to go home. The game is up, Neal. The plans of your friends have been blown upon. Their secrets are known. See here."
He held out a printed paper. Neal took it and read—
"To-morrow we march on Antrim. Drive the garrison of Randalstown before you, and haste to form a junction with the commander-in-chief.—Henry Joy M'Cracken. First year of Liberty, 6th June, 1798."
"That paper was handed to General Clavering last night," said Lord Dunseveric, "and half a dozen more copies were sent to other officers. Is it any use going on now?"
"My lord," said Neal, "I have heard things—I have seen things. Last night I myself was stripped for flogging. They have set a price on my head. I put it to you as a gentleman, as a just man and a brave, would it be right to go back now?"
"It is no use going on."
"But would you go back? Would you desert friends who did not desert you? Would you leave them?"
"A wise man does not struggle against the inevitable, Neal."
"But a man of honour, my lord. What would a man of honour do?"
"A man of honour," said Lord Dunseveric, "would act as you are going to do."
"Farewell, my lord, I go with an easy mind now, if I go to my death, for I have your approval."
"Neal Ward," said Lord Dunseveric, "I have known you since you were a boy, and I've loved you next to my own children. I don't say you are acting wrongly or dishonourably, but you and your friends are acting foolishly. You cannot win. You and hundreds of innocent people must suffer, and Ireland, Neal, Ireland will come to the worse, to the old subjection, to the old bondage, to the old misery, through your foolishness. I say this, not to dissuade you from going on, for I think that you must go on now, but in order that when you look back on it all afterwards you may remember that there were true friends of Ireland who were not on your side."
Neal bent over Lord Dunseveric's hand and kissed it solemnly.
"I have known two great and good men," he said. "You, my lord, and one whose name you might count contemptible, James Hope, the weaver, of Templepatrick. I think myself happy that I have had the goodwill of both. And, my lord, I think Ireland the most unhappy country in the world because to-day these two men will be in arms against each other."
He sobbed. Then, lest he should betray more emotion, went quickly from the inn.
He found his uncle waiting for him outside the church.
"Well, Neal," he said, "how have you sped? You have a basket; I hope it is full. See here, I have four loaves of bread. The baker man would have denied me. He suspected me, but I had my answer for him. I told him I was groom to a great lord who was staying in the inn. I made free with the name of your friend, Lord Dunseveric. I told him that if he refused my lord the bread he wanted he would hang him for his insolence. I got the bread. For the first time and the last I have been a serving man. Now, back, back as fast as we can go to our hungry comrades."
After they left the town Donald Ward grew grave again.
"My lad," he said, "we shall have a fight to-day—a fight worth fighting. It won't be the first time I've looked on bare steel or heard the bullets sing. I know what fighting means, and I know this, that many of us will lie low enough before the sun sets. It may be my luck to come through or it may not. I have a sort of feeling that I am to fire my last shots to-day. Don't look at me like that, boy, I'm not frightened. I'll fight none the worse. But I want to settle a little bit of business with you now that we are alone. I have a paper here, I wrote it last night while you slept; I signed it this morning, and I have it witnessed. I got a parson to witness it, a kind of curate man, a poor creature. I caught him going into the church to say prayers, and made him witness my signature. I had time enough, for you were longer at the inn than I was at the baker's. Here it is for you, Neal. In case of my death it makes you owner of my share of a little business in the town of Boston. My partner is managing it now. We own a few ships, and were making money when I left. But it did not suit me. I got the fighting fever into my blood during the war. I couldn't settle down to books and figures. Maybe you'll take to the work. If you do you ought to stand a good chance of dying a rich man, and you'll be comfortably off the day you hand that paper to my partner. Not a word now, not a word. I know what you want to say. Twist your lips into a smile again. Look as if you were happy whatever you feel, and when all's said and done you ought to be happy. Whatever the end of it may be we'll get our bellies full of fighting to-day, and what has life got to give a man better than that?"
After breakfast Donald Ward led his party along the road up which M'Cracken's force must march to reach Antrim. At about noon he met the advance guard of United Irishmen. Several of Donald's companions were recognised by these men, and his party were led back to where M'Cracken himself marched with the central division of his army. It was then that Neal first saw this leader—a tall, fair-haired, gentle-faced man, dressed in a white and green uniform, armed with a sword. He spoke to Donald Ward, and then calling Neal, questioned him about the condition of the town of Antrim. Neal repeated all that Lord Dunseveric had said, and told how he had been shown a copy of the proclamation.
"You will not tell anyone else what you have told me, Mr. Ward," said M'Cracken, "the news that our plans are known to the enemy might be discouraging to the men. It does not alter my determination to take Antrim to-day. Now I must give you your orders and your posts." He called Donald Ward to him. "You will take charge of our two pieces of cannon," he said. "They are at the rear of the force. Neal Ward, you will join the first division of the army—the musketeers—and place yourself under James Hope's command. I think this is what both you and he would wish. Felix Matier and James Bigger will do likewise. Moylin, you and your two friends will march with the pikemen, whom I lead myself. Some of the men have arms for you."
The party had fallen somewhat to the rear of the column during this conversation with M'Cracken. Neal and his two companions hurried forward at once in order to reach the division of musketeers which was in the van. They had opportunity as they passed along to admire the steady march and the determined bearing of the men. Green flags were everywhere displayed. The long pikes, iron spear-heads fastened on stout poles, were formidable weapons in the hands of strong men. An almost unbroken silence was preserved in the ranks. The northern Irishmen are not great talkers at any time. Set to work of deadly earnest, they become very silent, very grim.
There were men in the little army belonging to some of the finest fighting stocks in the world. There were descendants of the fiery Celtic tribes to whom Owen Roe O'Neill taught patience and discipline; who, under him, if he had lived, might well have broken even Cromwell's Ironsides and sent the mighty Puritan back to his England a beaten man. Despised, degraded, enslaved for more than a century, these had yet in them the capacity for fighting. There were also the great-grandsons of the citizen soldiers of Derry—of the men who stood at bay so doggedly behind their walls, whom neither French military art nor Celtic valour, nor the long suffering of famine and disease, could cow into surrender. There were others—newcomers to the soil of Ireland—who brought with them to Ulster the traditions of the Scottish Covenantors, memories of many a fierce struggle against persecution, of conflict with the dragoons of Claverhouse. All these, whose grandfathers had stood in arms for widely different causes, marched together on Antrim, an embodiment of Wolfe Tone's dream of a united Ireland. Their flags were green, vividly symbolic of the blending of the Protestant orange with the ancient Irish blue. M'Cracken, with such troops behind him, might march hopefully, even though he knew that the cavalry, infantry, and artillery were hurrying against him along the banks of the Six Mile Water, from Blaris Camp and Carrickfergus.
James Hope greeted Neal warmly.
"There is a musket for you," he said, "and your own share of the cartridges you helped to save. There's a lad here, a slip of a boy, who is carrying them for you."
He looked round and pointed out the boy to Neal.
"There he is; you may march in the ranks along with him."
Neal took his place beside a boy with bright red hair and a pleasant smiling face, who handed him a musket and a pouch of cartridges.
"Them's yours, Neal Ward. Jemmy Hope bid me bring them for you."
"But what are you to do?" said Neal. "You have no musket for yourself."
"Faith I couldn't use it if I had. I never shot off one of them guns in my life. I'd be as like to hit myself as any one. I'll just go along with you, I have a sword, and I'll be able to use that if I get the chance."
Neal looked at the lad beside him, noted his smooth face and sparkling eyes.
"You must be very young," he said, "too young for this work."
"I might be older than you now, young as I look. But is thon Mr. Matier coming till us? Go you and talk to him if you want. I won't have him here, marching along with me."
At about half-past one Hope halted his musketeers. He was in sight of Antrim, and he waited for orders. It was clear that the town was held by English troops. Their red coats were visible in the main street, but, without that, the houses which burnt here and there gave sufficient evidence of the presence of a ravishing army.
M'Cracken made a speech to his men—an eloquent speech. Now-a-days we are inclined to look with some contempt on men who make eloquent speeches. We are so accustomed to the perpetual flow of our Sunday oratory that we have come to think of speeches as mere preliminaries to copious draughts of porter in public-houses—a sort of grace before drink, to which no sensible man attaches any particular importance. But the orators of M'Cracken's day spoke seriously, with a sense of responsibility, because all of them—Flood, Grattan, and the rest—spoke to armed men, who might at any time draw swords to give effect to the speaker's words. M'Cracken spoke to men with swords already drawn and muskets loaded. Therefore, he had some right to be eloquent, and his hearers had some right to cheer.
Felix Matier had somehow laid hands on Phelim, the blind piper, and set him playing. A hundred voices, voices of marching men, caught the tune, whistled, and sang it. Matier's own voice rang out clearest and loudest of all. It was, the "Marseillaise" they sang—a not inappropriate anthem for soldiers about to fight for the liberty of man. But James Hope had something else in his mind besides the storming of a French Bastille and the guillotining of a French aristocracy. He believed that he was fighting: for Ireland, and the foreign tune was not to his mind. Laying his hand on Matier's shoulder he commanded silence. Then whispering to Phelim, he set a fresh tune going on the pipes. An ancient Irish war march shrilled through the ranks—a tune with a rush in it—a tune which sends the battle fever through men's veins. Now and then the passion of it reaches a climax, and the listeners, almost in spite of themselves, must shout aloud. It is called "Brian Boroimhe's March," and it may be that his warriors shouted when the pipers played it marching on Clontarf against the Danes. Hope's musketeers heard it, whistled it as the piper played, hummed it in deep voices, and always, when the moment came, shouted aloud.
The musketeers halted, and the pikemen passed them by. The broad, straight street lay before them, and at the end of it, half sheltered by the market house, were the English infantry. Behind them, blocking the end of the street, splitting it as it were into two roads, which run to the right and left, was the wall of Lord Massereene's demesne. Across the bridge the English cannon, almost too late, were being hurried by an escort of sweating dragoons. There was work with them for Hope's musketeers and Donald Ward's two brass six-pounders. But between the infantry and M'Cracken's men was a body of cavalry, sitting in shelter behind the wall which surrounded the church. These would cut the musketeers to pieces. The pikemen must face them first.
The horsemen wheeled from their shelter and charged. The long pikes were lowered, steadied, held in bristling line. There was trampling, shouting, cursing, torn horses, wounded men, dust, and confusion. Then the horsemen turned back, musket bullets followed them, men reeled from the saddles, horses stumbled, the pikemen at the lower end of the street shook themselves and cheered. They had tasted victory. A louder cheer followed. Another body of pikemen, true almost to the moment of their time, marched in along the Carrickfergus Road and joined M'Cracken. The whole body moved forward together. Down the street to meet them thundered the dragoons who had brought the cannon in across the bridge. Hope's musketeers fired again, but no bullets could stop the furious charge. The dragoons were on the pikes—among the pike men, There was stabbing and cutting, pike and sabre clashed. Again the cavalry were driven back, again the musket bullets followed them—musket bullets fired by marksmen. M'Cracken, at the head of his men, pushed forward. The dragoons took shelter, the English artillery and infantry opened fire. The street was swept with grape-shot and bullets.
Neal, in the front rank of Hope's men, was loading and firing rapidly. He heard a shout behind him.
"Way there, make way!"
He turned. Donald Ward and two men with him had got one of their six-pounders mounted on a country cart. They dragged the gun to the middle of the road. Donald, sweating and dusty, but calm and alert, with a grim smile on his face, laid the gun, loaded, fired. Again he fired. The gun was well aimed. His shot ploughed its way among the men who served the English guns, but at the second discharge a round shot flung it from its carriage and laid it useless on the road. The man who stood beside it cursed and flung his hands up in despair. Donald Ward turned quickly.
"Back," he said, "get the other gun."
The pikemen pressed on against the storm of grape and cannister and bullets. The guns ceased firing to let the dragoons charge. Again the pikemen knelt to receive them, and flung them back. At last the wall of the churchyard was reached. The pikemen leaped into the churchyard and breathed in safety. A flag was raised above the wall, a green flag. A wild cheer greeted it. Hope shouted an order to his men. They rushed forward along the ground that had been so hardly won, and took their places with their comrades behind the wall. Leaning over it, or finding loopholes in the rough masonry, they opened fire on the infantry before them. A large body of pikemen crossed the road and entered a lane. They pressed along behind the houses of the street to turn the flank of the English infantry who were drawn up against the demesne wall. The English commander saw his danger, and sent dragoons charging down the street again. But Hope's musketeers were in the churchyard this time. They fired at close range. The dragoons hesitated. The remaining pikemen rushed out on them. The colonel reeled in his saddle, struck by a bullet. His men wavered. In one instant the pikemen were among them. Three horsemen shouted to the men to rally, and with the flats of their swords struck at those who were retreating. But the dragoons had had too much of the pikes. They turned and fled up the street. Sweeping to the left they galloped in confusion from the battle. The three horsemen who did not fly were surrounded. The main body of the pikemen pressed forward; the flanking party joined them. The English infantry and gunners were driven through the gates and took shelter behind the walls of the demesne.
In the middle of the street the three horsemen fought for their lives against a handful of men who had held back from the main charge. Neal recognised two of them—saw with horror Lord Dun-severic and Maurice cutting at the pikes with their swords. He leaped the wall and rushed to their help. The third horseman—the unfortunate Lord O'Neill—was separated far from them. He fell from his saddle, ripped by a pike thrust. Lord Dunseveric's horse was stabbed, and threw its rider to the ground. Maurice leaped down and raised his father. The two stood back to back while the pikemen pressed on them. Then Neal reached them. With his musket clubbed he beat down two of the pikes. The men cursed him, and, furious at his interference, thrust at him. A sword flashed suddenly beside him, and a pike, which would have pierced him, was turned aside. Neal saw that the red-haired boy who marched with him in the morning had followed him from the churchyard and was fighting fiercely by his side. The pikemen realised that they were attacking their friends. Leaving Neal and his protector, they ran to join their comrades.
"Yield yourselves," shouted Neal. "You are my prisoners. Yield and you are safe."
Lord Dunseveric bowed.
"Thank you, Neal," he said, quietly, "we yield to you."
A bullet struck the ground at their feet, and then another. The soldiers behind the demesne wall were firing at them. The boy who had saved Neal from the pike thrust gave a sudden cry and sank on the ground.
"I think," said Lord Dunseveric, "you had better pick up that boy and walk in front of us. It is possible that our men will cease firing when they see that Maurice and I are between them and you."
Neal stooped and raised the boy.
"I can walk fine," he said, "if you let me put my arm round your neck."
There was a pause in the fighting. The English infantry drawn up on the terrace behind the wall would not fire on Lord Dunseveric and his son. Hope's musketeers in the churchyard watched in silence while the little procession approached them. Neal, with his arm round the wounded boy, walked first. Lord Dunseveric, following, drew his snuff-box from his pocket, tapped it, and took a pinch, drawing the powder into his nostrils with deliberate enjoyment.
"It seems, Maurice," he said, with a slight smile, "that we are people of considerable importance. Two armies are looking on while we march to captivity, and yet we do not appear in a very heroic light. We are the prisoners of one badly-armed young man and a wounded boy."
"Neal saved us," said Maurice.
"Yes," said Lord Dunseveric, "that is, no doubt, the way to look at it. We should certainly have been piked if it had not been for Neal."
Neal lifted the wounded boy over the churchyard wall and knelt beside him on the grass.
"Where are you hit?" he said.
"It's my leg, the calf of my leg, but it's no that bad, I could get along a bit, yet."
The English infantry opened a furious fire on M'Cracken's pikemen, who stood around the cannon they captured. Hope's musketeers replied, firing rapidly. Many of them had fallen. There were muskets to spare, and the wounded men, crawling round their comrades, loaded for them, and passed the guns up to those who still could shoot. The whole churchyard was full of smoke, and a heavy cloud of it hung in the still air before the wall. It became impossible to see plainly what was happening. Neal was aware that Felix Matier stood beside him, and that Lord Dunseveric was somewhere behind him watching, with cool interest, the progress of the fight. Suddenly Felix Matier shouted—
"We're blinded with this smoke. We must see to shoot. We must see to aim. Follow me who dare!"
He leaped into the street, and knelt down. The air was clearer there than in the churchyard. He aimed steadily, fired, loaded, and fired again. The bullets of the infantry splashed on the ground around him like rain drops in a heavy shower. His clothes were cut by them. It seemed a miracle that he did not fall. He began to sing, and this time there was no one to forbid his "Marseillaise." Then, while his voice rose to its highest, while he seemed, out there alone in the bullet-swept street, a very incarnation of the battle spirit—the end came for him. He flung up his arms, rose, staggered towards the shelter of the churchyard, turned half round in the direction of the men who fired at him, and dropped dead.
Lord Dunseveric stepped forward and tapped Neal on the shoulder.
"Listen," he said.
From the Belfast Road, along which the United Irishmen had marched in the morning, came the sound of drums. Through the smoke it was possible to discern dimly that a large body of troops was approaching the town. There could be no doubt as to who they were. No reinforcements for M'Cracken's army could be looked for from the south. Neal grasped the meaning of what he saw. Hope's men in the graveyard, which they had held so long, were caught between the soldiers in the demesne and these fresh troops who marched on them. Others besides Neal saw what was happening. The firing slackened. Here and there a man dropped his musket and stared wildly around. At the top of the street the dragoons who had fled appeared again. They attacked M'Cracken's pike-men once more, and this time victoriously. Shaken by the fire of the soldiers behind the wall, disheartened by the appearance of the enemy in their rear, these men, who had fought so well, could fight no more. Some fled, some, with their leader, faced the dragoons and, their pikes still forming a bristling hedge in front of them, retired sullenly eastwards from the town.
The musketeers were left alone. Their position seemed desperate. Neal stopped firing, and looked round. Hope stood bare-headed, his sword in his hand.
"We have fought a good fight, men, and we'll fight again, but we must get out of this now. Load and reserve your fire till I give the order. Follow me."
He stepped into the street. His men, gaining courage from the cool confidence of his voice, loaded their muskets and went after him.
"Neal," said Lord Dunseveric, "this is madness. Stay. There are at least a thousand men in front of you. You can't cut your way through them."
But Neal did not listen. To him, for the moment, it was enough that Hope was leading.
"Neal, Neal, don't leave me."
It was the voice of the boy who had stood by him in the street and turned the pikes aside.
"See, I have bound up my leg. I can walk."
Neal took him by the arm, and together they joined the remnant of Hope's musketeers in their march against the fresh troops who approached them.
Lord Dunseveric, heedless of the bullets which still swept the street from the demesne, stood on the graveyard wall. He was excited at last.
"Maurice," he cried, "these men are going to certain destruction, but, by God, their courage is glorious. Look, they are out of the town. They have halted. They fire. Now, if the English officer has any horse he can cut them to pieces. He should advance, cavalry or no cavalry. A charge with the bayonets would settle it. See, Maurice, the red coats have halted. They are forming a square; they expect to be charged. The rebels have turned. They are satisfied with having checked the advance. They are making back into the town. Are they mad? No, by God, they wheel to their right. They are off. They have escaped."
The meaning of Hope's manoeuvre broke suddenly on Lord Dunseveric. There was a road at the end of the town leading north-east to Done-gore. By going along it Hope could join M'Cracken and the remains of the army. But to keep it open he had to check the advance of the English reinforcements. He feinted against them, calculating that their commander would not know how the fight had gone in Antrim, and must of necessity move cautiously. He risked the utter destruction of his little force in making his bid for safety. He reaped the reward of courage and skill, extricating his musketeers from what seemed an impossible position.
General Clavering seemed in no way disconcerted by the escape of Hope's musketeers. He marched through the town with drums beating and colours flying, having very much the air of a victorious general. Lord Dunseveric stepped out of the graveyard and saluted him.
"Accept my congratulations," he said, "on your timely arrival. You have released me and my son from what might have been an unpleasant and uncomfortable captivity."
"I am glad," said the general, "to have been of any service to your lordship. I trust you suffered no ill-usage at the hands of the rebels. If you did——-, well, we have an opportunity of settling our scores with them now."
He smiled, but the look on his face was by no means pleasant to see.
"I received no ill-usage at all," said Lord Dunseveric. "On the contrary, I was treated with as much courtesy as was possible under the circumstances. I would ask your forbearance towards any prisoners you may take, and your kindness to the wounded. There are many of them in the churchyard."
"You may be sure that your lordship's recommendation shall have due weight with me."
The words were civil, but Lord Dunseveric detected a sneer in the voice which uttered them. He was not well pleased.
"I trust, sir," he said coldly, "that I am to take your words literally and not interpret them in accordance with the tone in which they are spoken."
"If you want plain speaking, Lord Dunseveric," said the general, "I shall deal with the rebels, whole or wounded, as rebels deserve. I mean to make these Antrim farmers as tame as gelt cats before I've done with them."
He beckoned to an officer of his staff, and gave some orders. In a few minutes several companies of mounted yeomen and dragoons trotted out of the town.
"It is a good job," said General Clavering, "that the rebels succeeded in getting away. If we had cut off their retreat we might have had some hard fighting. There is nothing nastier than tackling a rat in a corner. It is a much simpler business to cut up flying men. All beaten troops straggle and desert. Irregulars, operating in their own country, simply melt away after a defeat. They sneak off home, hide their arms in hay stacks, and pretend they never left their ploughs. I know their ways, and, by God, I'll track them. I'll ferret them out."
General Clavering's estimate of the conduct of irregular troops had something in it. Even James Hope's influence failed to keep his men from straggling. They had fought well while there was any chance of victory, but war was strange to them. The horrors of wounds and death, the bitter disappointment of defeat, the hopeless outlook of the future, depressed them. Their homes were near at hand. Within a few miles of them were the familiar cottages, the waiting, anxious wives, the little children with eager faces. There was always the chance for each man that he might escape unknown, that his share in the rising might be forgotten. One and another dropped out of the ranks, slipped across the fields, sought to get home again along by-paths. It was not possible for Hope to delay his march in order to reason with his men—to hearten and steady them. He knew that the enemy would be swift in pursuit, that he must press on if he were to meet M'Cracken at Donegore. He did what he could. He went to and fro through the ranks, speaking quiet, brave words. Donald Ward, cool and determined as ever, talked of the American war.
"You're young at the work, yet," he said to the disheartened men. "Wait till you've been beaten half a dozen times. It was only by being beaten, and standing up to our beatings, that we won in the end. I remember when I was with General Greene in the Carolinas——"
The men listened to him and listened to Hope. Their spirit began to return to them. The ranks closed up. The march grew more regular, but the straggling did not altogether cease. The lure of home, the thought of rest after struggle, was too strong for some of them. Neal marched near the rear of the column. He had no thought of deserting a beaten side, of trying to save himself, but he knew that he could not go on for very long, and that he would not be able to reach Donegore. The boy whom he supported leaned heavily on him, until he almost had to carry him. The strain became more and more severe. He gave his musket to a comrade to carry for him. He lifted the boy upon his back and staggered on.
After nearly an hour's march Hope called a halt. Half a mile behind them on the road was a body of dragoons advancing rapidly. Hope drew his men up across the road, the few pikemen who were with him kneeling in front, the musketeers behind them. The dragoons came on at a trot. Then a word of command was given by their officer, and they galloped forward. Hope waited, and only at the last moment gave the word to fire. Horses and men fell. The charge was checked. A few staggered forward against the pikes. Most turned and fled. A wild cheer burst from Hope's men. Without waiting for orders they rushed after the retreating dragoons. The misery of defeat was forgotten for a moment. They tasted the joy of victory again. But the horsemen rallied, turned on their pursuers, and rode through them, cutting with their sabres. Neal, who had sat down on the roadside after firing his musket, saw Hope trying to recall his men, saw Donald Ward far down the road gather a few pikemen round him and stand at bay. The dragoons, who had had enough of charging pikes, dismounted, unslung their carbines, and fired. Neal saw his uncle fall. Hope reformed his men and bade them load again, but the dragoons had no taste for another charge. Their officer was wounded. They turned and rode back towards Antrim.
Hope gave the word to march again, but Neal could carry the boy no more.
"I can't do it," he said. "We must stay here and take our chance."
"Go on," said the boy, "go you on. I've been a sore trouble to you the day, have done with me now."
"I will not leave you," said Neal, "we'll take our chance together."
He watched Hope's little force disappear up the road. Then he dragged the boy through the hedge into the meadow beyond it, and lay down in the deep grass.
"Is your leg very bad?" said Neal.
"It's no that bad, only I canna walk. It's bled a power, my stocking's soaked with the blood. Maybe if we could tie it up better we might stop it and I'd get strength to go again."
Neal dragged the lining from his coat, and tore it into strips. He cut the stocking from the boy's leg with his pocket-knife, and bandaged a long flesh wound as best he could.
"Rest now," he said, "and after a while we'll try and get on a bit."
They lay in the deep, cool grass. There was pure air round them, and they drew deep breaths of it into throats and lungs parched by the fumes of sulphurous smoke. A delicious silence wrapped them, folded them as if in a tender, kind embrace. A faint breeze stirred the grass, waved the white plumes of the meadow sweet, shook the blue vetch flowers and the purple spears of lusmor. In the hedge the reddening blooms of faded hawthorn still lingered. The honeysuckle fragrance filled the air. Groups of merry-faced dog-daisies nodded in the ditch, and round their stalks were buttercups, and beyond them the rich yellow of marsh marigolds. Neal fancied himself awaking from some hideous nightmare. It became impossible to believe in the reality of the battle, the fierce passion of it, the smoke, the sweat, the wounds, the cries. He was lulled into delicious ease. Rest was for the time the supreme good of life. His eyes closed drowsily. He was back in Dunseveric again, and in his ears the noise of a gentle summer sea.
He was roused by a touch of his companion's hand.
"I'm afraid there's a wheen o' sogers coming up the road."
Neal rose to his hands and knees and peered cautiously through the hedge. He saw mounted men riding slowly along the road from the direction of Antrim. They were still about half a mile off. Every now and then they halted and peered about them. They rode as if they feared an ambush, or as if they sought something or some one in the fields at each side of the road.
"They're yeomen," said Neal, "and they're coming towards us. We must lie as still as we can. Perhaps they may pass without seeing us."
"They willna," said the boy, "they'll see us. We'll be kilt at last."
Neal peered again. The yeomen had reached the spot where Donald and his pikemen had made their stand. They halted and dismounted to examine, perhaps to plunder, the bodies. Neal could see their uniforms plainly. He shivered. They were men of the Kilulta yeomenry, of Captain Twinely's company.
"Neal Ward, there's something I want to say to you before they catch us."
"Well, what is it? Speak at once. They'll be coming on soon, and then it won't do to be talking."
"Ay, but you mustn't look at me while I tell you."
Neal turned away and waited. He was impatient of this making of mysteries in a moment of extreme peril.
"I would I were in Ballinderry, I would I were in Aghalee, I would I were in bonny Ram's Island Trysting under an ivy tree— Ochone, Ochone!"
The words were sung very softly, but Neal recognised the voice at once. He turned at the second line and gazed in open-eyed astonishment at the singer.
"Ay, it's just me, just Peg MacIlrea." She smiled up at him as she spoke.
"But, Peg, how could you do it? Peg, if I'd only known. Why did you come?"
"It wasna right. It wasna maidenly. If that's what you want to be saying to me, Neal Ward. The other lassie wouldna have done it. Maybe not. But a' the lads I knew well were turning out and going to the fight, and what was to hinder a poor, wild lassie, that nobody cared about, from going, too? Ay, and being there at the break, the sore, sore break, in Antrim town?"
Neal heard the tramp of the yeomen's horses on the road. He heard their voices, their laughter, their oaths.
"Neal," said Peg, "you're a brave lad and a kind. I aye said it of ye from thon night when you throttled the dragoon. Do you mind it? D'you mind how I bit him?"
The yeomen were almost opposite their hiding-place now.
"Neal," whispered Peg, "will ye no gie me a kiss? The other lassie wouldna begrudge it to me now, I'm thinking."
He bent over her, put his arms round her neck, raised her head, and kissed her lips.
"Hush, Peg, hush," he whispered.
"There's a musket on the road in front of you, sergeant." Neal recognised Captain Twinely's voice. "There might be some damned croppy lurking in the meadow there. Dismount and beat him up. Hey! but we'll have some sport hunting him across country if he runs. The earths are all stopped. We'll have a fine burst, and kill the vermin in the end."
Neal stood upright.
"I surrender to you, Captain Twinely. I surrender as a prisoner of war."
It seemed to him the only chance of saving Peg MacIlrea. It was just possible that the yeomen would be satisfied with one prisoner.
"By God," said the captain, "if it isn't that damned young Ward again. Come, croppy, come, croppy, I'll give you a run for your life. I'll give you two minutes start by my watch, and I'll hunt you like a fox. It's a better offer than you deserve."
Neal stood still, and made no answer.
"To him, sergeant, prick him with your sword. Set him running."
The sergeant came blundering through the hedge. Neal stepped forward to meet him, in the hope of keeping Peg concealed, but the sergeant caught sight of her.
"There's another of them, Captain, lying in the grass."
"Rout him out, rout him out," said Captain Twinely, "we'll run the two. We'll have sport."
The sergeant stepped forward and kicked Peg. Neal flew at the man and knocked him down.
"Ho, ho," laughed Captain Twinely, "he's a game cub. Get through the hedge, men, and take a hold of him. We'll hunt the other fellow first."
"The other seems to be wounded, sir," said one of the men. "He has his leg bandaged."
"Then slit his throat," said the captain, "he can't run, and I've no use for wounded men."
Neal, his arms tightly gripped by two troopers, made a last appeal.
"It's a girl," he said, "would you murder a girl?"
Captain Twinely rolled in his saddle with mirth.
"A vixen," he cried. "Damn your soul, Neal Ward, but you're a sly one. To think of a true blue Presbyterian like you, a minister's son, God rot you, lying and cuddling a girl in a field. A vixen, by God. Strip her, sergeant, till we see if he's telling the truth."
Neal, with the strength of a furious man, tore himself from the grasp of his guards. He plunged through the hedge and leaped at Captain Twinely. He gripped the horse's mane with his left hand, and made a wild snatch at the throat of the man above him in the saddle. A blow on the face from the hilt of Twinely's sword threw him to the ground. He fell half stunned. He heard Peg shriek wildly, and then lost consciousness of what was happening.
He was roused again by a prod of a sword, and bidden to stand up. His hands were tied and the end of the rope made fast to the stirrup iron of one of the trooper's horses.
"We're going to take you back into Antrim," said Captain Twinely. "I don't deny that I'd rather deal with you here myself, but you're a fifty-pounder, my lad, and my men won't hear of losing their share of the reward. It'll come to the same thing in the end, any way. Clavering isn't the man to be squeamish about hanging a rebel. Mount men and march."
"Maybe the young cub would like to see his lass before he leaves her. Her face is a bonny one for kissing now."
Neal shuddered, and turned sick. Beyond the hedge in the trampled grass, among the meadow sweet and the loose strife, lay unnamable horror. He shut his eyes, dreading lest he should be forced to look, but the suggestion was too brutal even for Captain Twinely.
"Shut your devil's mouth," he said to the sergeant, "isn't what you've done enough for you? If the croppy that came on you at Donegore had broken your skull, instead of just cracking it, he would have rid the country of the biggest blackguard in it."
"Thon's fine talk," growled the sergeant, "but who bid us strip the wench? Is bloody Twinely turning chicken-hearted at the last?"
Captain Twinely did not choose to hear the sergeant's words, or the grumbling of the men around him. He put his troop in motion, and trotted off towards Antrim. Neal, running and stumbling, dazed, utterly weary and dejected, was dragged with them.
General Clavering sat at dinner in a private room of the Massereene Arms. He had with him Colonel Durham and several of the officers who had commanded troops during the battle. The landlord, obsequious and frightened, waited on the party himself. He had the best food he could get on the table, and the best wine from the cellar was ready for his guests. In the public room a larger party was gathered—yeomanry officers, captains, and lieutenants of the royal troops, and a few of the country squires who had ridden into the town after the fighting was over. Lord Dunseveric and Maurice were in the room where they had slept the night before. Lord O'Neill lay on one of two beds. Life was in him still, but he was mortally wounded. Lord Dunseveric sat beside him, holding his hand, and speaking to him occasionally. Maurice was at the window. The laughter of the party in the room below reached them, and the noisy talk of the troops who thronged the streets. Jests, curses, snatches of song, and calls for wine mingled with the groans which his extreme pain wrung from the wounded man and the solemn, quiet words about strength and courage which Lord Dunseveric spoke.
A party of horsemen clattered up the street, and halted at the inn door. They had a prisoner with them—a wretched-looking man, with torn clothes, a bruised, bloody face, and hair matted with sweat and grime. But Maurice recognised him. It was Neal Ward. He turned to his father.
"A company of yeomen has just marched in and they have Neal Ward with them. Their officer, I think it was that blackguard Twinely, has asked for General Clavering, and entered the inn."
"Very well, Maurice." Lord Dunseveric turned to the wounded man. "I must leave you for a few minutes, my friend; keep quiet and be brave. I shall be back again. Maurice will stay with you, and get you anything you want."
"Where are you going, Eustace?"
"I'm going to the general, to this Clavering man. He has a prisoner now whom I want to help if I can—the young man I told you about, who saved me from being piked in the street to-day. I would to God he could have saved you, too."
"That's past praying for now," said Lord O'Neill, "but you're right, Eustace, you're right. Save him from the hangman if you can. There's been blood enough shed to-day—Irish blood, Irish blood. There should be no more of it."
Lord Dunseveric entered the room where General Clavering and his officers sat at dinner. Captain Twinely stood at the end of the table, and Lord Dunseveric heard the orders he received.
"Put him into the market-house to-night. I'll hang that fellow in the morning, whatever I do with the rest."
"The market-house is full, sir," said Captain Twinely, "the officer in command says he can receive no more prisoners."
"Damn it, man, shut him up somewhere else, then, but don't stand there talking to me and interrupting my dinner. Here, landlord, have you an empty cellar?"
"Your worship, my lord general, there's only the wine cellar; but it's very nigh on empty now."
A shout of laughter greeted the remark.
"Fetch out the rest of the wine that's in it," said the general, "we'll make a clean sweep of it. Or, stay, leave the poor devil one bottle of decent claret. He's to be hanged tomorrow morning. He may have a sup of comfort to-night."
Captain Twinely saluted and withdrew.
"General Clavering," said Lord Dunseveric, "I ask you to spare this young man's life. I will make myself personally responsible for his safe keeping, and undertake to send him out of the country at the first opportunity."
"It can't be done, Lord Dunseveric. I am sorry to disoblige in a small matter, but it can't be done."
"I ask it as a matter of justice," said Lord Dunseveric. "The man saved my life and my son's life to-day in the street at the risk of his own. He deserves to be spared."
"I've given my answer."
Lord Dunseveric hesitated. For a moment it seemed as if he were about to turn and leave the room. Then, with an evident effort, he spoke again.
"I ask this man's life as a personal favour. I am not one who begs often from the Government, or who asks favours easily, but I ask this."
"Anything else, my lord, anything in reason, but this I will not grant. This young man has a bad record—a damned bad record. He was mixed up with the hanging of a yeoman in the north———"
"He was not," said Lord Dunseveric. "I hanged that man."
"You hanged him," said General Clavering, Angrily, "and yet you come here asking favours of me. But there's more, plenty more, against this Neal Ward. He tried to choke a dragoon in the street of Belfast, he took part in a daring capture of some ammunition for the rebels' use, he helped to murder a loyal man at Donegore last night, he was in arms to-day. There's not half a dozen deserve hanging more richly than he does, and hanged he'll be. Never you fret yourself about him, Lord Dunseveric; sit down here and drink a glass with us. We're going to make a night of it."
"I beg leave to decline your invitation," said Lord Dunseveric, stiffly. "I have asked for mercy and been refused. I have asked for justice and been refused. I have begged a personal favour and been refused. I bid you good night. If I thought you and your companions were capable of any feeling of common decency I should request you to restrain your mirth a little out of respect to Lord O'Neill, who lies dying within two doors of you. But I should probably only provide you with fresh food for your laughter if I did."
He bowed coldly, and left the room. The company sat silent for a minute or two. No man cared to look at his neighbour. Lord Dunseveric's last words had been unpleasant ones to listen to. Besides, Lord Dunseveric was a man of some importance. It is impossible to tell how far the influence of a great territorial lord may stretch. Promotion is sometimes stopped mysteriously by influences which are not very easily baffled. There were colonels at the table who wanted to be generals, and generals who wanted commands. There was a feeling that it might have been wiser to speak more civilly to Lord Dunseveric.
General Clavering himself broke the silence.
"These damned Irishmen are all rebels at heart," he said. "The gentry want their combs cut as much as the croppies. I'm not going to be insulted at my own table by a cursed Irishman even if he does put lord before his name. I'll write a report about this Lord Dunseveric. I'll make him smart with a sharp fine. You heard him boast, gentlemen, boast before a company of men holding His Majesty's commission, that he hanged a soldier in discharge of his duty."
"A yeoman," said Colonel Durham, "and some of the yeomen deserve hanging."
"God Almighty!" said Clavering, "are you turning rebel, too? I don't care whether a man deserves it or not, I'll not have the king's troops hanged by filthy Irishmen."
He looked round the table for applause. He got none. General Clavering had boasted too loudly—had gone too far. It was well known that in the existing state of Irish politics Pitt and the English ministers would probably prefer cashiering General Clavering to offending a man like Lord Dunseveric. There were plenty of generals to be got. A great Irish landowner, a man of ability, a peer who commanded the respect of all classes in the country, might be a serious hindrance to the carrying out of certain carefully-matured schemes. General Clavering attempted to laugh the matter off.
"But this," he said, "is over wine. Men say more than they mean when they are engaged in emptying mine host's cellar. Come, gentlemen, another bottle. We must hang the damned young rebel, but we'll do him this much grace—we'll drink a happy despatch to him, a short wriggle at the end of his rope, and a pleasant journey to a warmer climate."
Lord Dunseveric returned to his room and sat down again beside Lord O'Neill. He said nothing to Maurice.
"Well," said Lord O'Neill, "will they spare him?"
"More blood, more blood. God help us, Eustace, our lot is cast in evil times. Would it be any use if I spoke, if I wrote! I think I could manage to write."
"None, my friend, none. Keep quiet, you have enough to bear without taking my troubles and my friend's troubles on your shoulders."
For a long time there was silence in the room, broken only by an occasional groan from the wounded man and a word or two murmured low by Lord Dunseveric. Maurice took his place at the window again. He understood that his father's intercession for Neal had failed, but he was not hopeless. He did not know what was to be said or done next, but he waited confidently. It was not often that Lord Dunseveric was turned back from anything he set his hand to do. It was likely that if he wanted Neal Ward's release the release would be accomplished whatever General Clavering might think or say.
The evening darkened slowly. Lord O'Neill dropped into an uneasy dose. Lord Dunseveric rose, and crossed the room to Maurice.
"You heard what I said, son? They are to hang Neal Ward to-morrow."
"I can do no more. Besides, I am tired. I want to rest."
Maurice looked at his father in surprise. He could not recollect ever having heard before of his being tired or wanting rest.
"I shall sleep here in your bed, Maurice, so as to be at hand if Lord O'Neill wants me. You must go down to the public room of the inn or to the tap-room. You can get James, the groom, to keep you company if you like. You cannot go to bed to-night, you understand. You must sit by the fire till those roisterers have drunk themselves to sleep. James will keep you company, There will be sound sleep for many in this inn to-night, but none for poor Neal, who's down in some cellar, nor the sentry they post over him, nor for you, Maurice, nor for James. Maybe after all Neal won't be hanged in the morning. That's all I have to say to you, my son. A man in my position can't say more or do more. You understand?"
"I understand," said Maurice, "and, by God, they'll not hang——"
"Hush! hush! I don't want to listen to you. I'm tired. I want to go to sleep. Good night to you, Maurice."
With a curious half smile on his face Lord Dun-severic shook his son's hand. It appeared that he had the same kind of confidence in Maurice that Maurice had in him. Like father, like son. When these St. Clairs of Dunseveric wanted anything they generally got it in the end. And none of the race of them had ever been over-scrupulous in dealing with such obstacles as stood in their way, or particularly careful about what those glorified conventions that men call law might have to say about the methods by which they achieved their ends.
Men who have eaten sufficiently and drunk heavily are not anxious to admit into their company any one who has not dined, and whose last glass of wine was drunk the day before. The gentlemen in the public room of the Massereene Arms were not, most of them, drunk when Maurice St. Clair came among them, but they were gay. Their hearts, to use a Scripture phrase, were made glad with wine. They were in the mood in which men crack jokes and laugh loud at jokes which would not pass muster before dinner. They were ready to sing out of time and tune or to applaud the songs of others without criticising them. But they were, with the exception of one or two, men of feeble capacity, sober enough to be conscious of the fact that they were liable to make fools of themselves, and to resent the intrusion of a cool-headed stranger.
They stared angrily at Maurice St. Clair. They said in audible tones things which showed him plainly that his presence was most unwelcome, but Maurice remained unabashed. He crossed the room and sat down on the window seat—the same seat from which Neal had watched the piper and the dancers a week or two before. He beckoned to the harassed and wearied girl who waited on the party.
"Get me," he said, "something to eat—anything. I do not mind what it is, and bring a cup of milk. Then send my groom to me."
"The gentleman," said a young squire, who had certainly crossed the undefined line which separates sobriety from drunkenness, "is going to drink milk. Now, what I want to know is this—has any gentleman a right to drink milk on an evening like this, after the glorious victory which we have won?"
"It's damned little you had to do with winning it," said an officer who sat beside him. "You can drink, but——"
"The man that says I can't drink lies," said the other. "No offence to you, Captain; no offence meant or taken. I give you a toast, and I propose that the milky gentleman in the window—the milk-and-water gentleman—drinks it along with us. Here's success to the loyalists and a long rope and short shrift to the rebelly croppies. Now, Mr. Milk-and-Water——"
Maurice rose to his feet.
"I understand, gentlemen, that this is a public room in which any traveller may be supplied with what he calls for. I have no wish to push myself into your company. I trust that you will allow me to enjoy my own unmolested."
The intoxicated proposer of the toast laid his hand on his sword, blustered out an oath or two, and was pulled down again into his seat. There was good feeling enough left among the better class of his companions to understand that a stranger should be treated with civility. There was sense enough among the rest to recognise that Maurice was not the kind of man whom it would be safe to bully. The girl returned and informed Maurice that his groom was in the kitchen, but refused to attend him.
Maurice rose and sought the man himself. The reason of the refusal was sufficiently obvious. The kitchen was full of troopers who had advanced much further on the way to absolute drunkenness than their officers. James, Lord Dunseveric's groom, was decidedly the most drunken of the party, but Maurice wanted the man, and was prepared to take some trouble to reduce him to a condition of serviceableness again. He grasped him by the collar of the coat, and pushed him through the back door into the yard. A delighted stable boy worked the pump handle while Maurice held the groom under the stream of cold water. The cure was ineffective. Maurice walked him up and down the yard for half an hour, and then put him under the pump again. The man remained obstinately drunk. Maurice flung him down in a corner of a stable and left him.
He returned to the room where the feasters sat, and looked in. The company had advanced rapidly since he had seen them last. The squire who had proposed the toast was under the table. Several others were lying back helplessly in their chairs. Those who could talk were talking loud and all together. The amount of liquor still to be consumed was considerable. Maurice smiled. These officers and gentlemen were little likely to interfere with anything he chose to do at midnight. He went out of doors and sat on the stone bench in front of the inn.
He had no plan in his head for the rescue of Neal Ward, only he was quite determined to accomplish it somehow before morning. He did not even know where his friend was imprisoned, or how he was guarded. His father had spoken of a cellar somewhere in the inn. He supposed that foe would sooner or later be able to find it, overpower the sentry, and set Neal free. In the meanwhile, he had nothing to do but wait.
He felt a touch on his shoulder, and looked round to see the girl, the inn servant, standing beside him.
"You're the gentleman," she whispered, "that was speaking till the young man here the morn—the young man that I give the basket to, that is a friend o' Jemmy Hope's?"
Maurice recollected the incident very well.
"He's here the now," whispered the girl again. "He's down in the wine cellar, and the door's locked on him, and there's a man with a gun forninst the door, and, the Lord save us, it's goin' to hang him they are."
"Will you show me where the cellar is?" said Maurice.
"Ay, will I no? I'll be checked sore by the master, but I'll show you, I will."
The girl led him down a long passage, which was nearly dark, opened a door, and showed him a flight of stone steps.
"There's three doors," she said. "It's the one at the end forninst you that's the cellar door. Are ye going down? It's venturesome ye are. Whisht, then, and go canny, and dinna go ayont the bottom of the steps."
Maurice went cautiously. When he reached the bottom of the steps he saw before him a long passage, stone-flagged, low-roofed, narrow. From an iron hook at the far end hung a lamp. Beyond it stood a sentry, one of Captain Twinely's yeomen. The man was awake and alert. There was no sign of drunkenness about him. He was well armed. The light from the lamp was dim and feeble at Maurice's end of the passage, but it shone brightly enough for a space in front of the sentry. Maurice saw that it would be impossible to approach the man unseen, impossible to steal on him or rush at him without having a shot fired which would startle every one in the inn. He crept up the stairs again. The girl was waiting for him.
"Is the door of the cellar locked?" he asked.
"Ay, it is, I fetched the last bottles of wine out mysel', and I saw them put the man in—sore draggled he was, and looking like a body in a dwam. The master locked the door himsef, and the captain took the keys off with him. But there's no harm in that. There's another key that the mistress used to have afore she died, the creature. It's in a drawer in the master's room, but it's easy got at."
"Get it for me," said Maurice.
He looked into the public room again. The revel was far advanced now. It was nearly midnight, and only three or four of the most seasoned drinkers survived. Even they, as Maurice saw, were in no position to assert themselves, or to understand anything that was going on. A few minutes later even these veterans felt that they had had enough. Supporting each other, reeling against tables and chairs, they staggered upstairs to their beds. The greater part of the merry company lay on the floor in attitudes which were neither dignified nor comfortable, and snored. The rest of the inn was silent. From outside came the steady tramp of the soldiers who patrolled the town, and from far off their challenges to the sentries on watch at the ends of the streets.
The girl came back to Maurice with the key in her hand.
"I got it," she said. "The master's cocked up sleepin' by the kitchen fire. There was a man in his bed, or maybe twa, but I didna wake them."
"Come back to me in half an hour," said Maurice, "I may want your help. And listen, my lass, if you stand by me to-night I'll see you safe afterwards. You shan't want for a handful of silver or a bran new gown."
"I want none of your siller nor your gowns," said the girl. "I'll lend ye a han' because you're a friend of the lad that's the friend of Jemmy Hope."
At about half-past twelve the sentry who stood in front of Neal's cellar heard some one descend the stairs into the passage with shuffling steps. A slatternly girl with shoes so down at the heel that they clattered on the stone flags every time she lifted her feet, approached him. She rubbed her eyes and yawned like one lately wakened out of sleep. She carried a lantern in her hand.
"What do you want here?" said the man.
"The master sent me, sir, with another lamp. He was afeard the yin ye had would be out again the morn. There isna that much oil in it."
"Your master's civil," said the man. "I've no fancy for standing sentry here in the dark. He's a civil man, and I'll speak a good word for him to-morrow to the captain. I hope you're a civil wench like the man you serve."
"Ay, amn't I after fetchin' the lamp till ye?"
"And a kiss along with it," said the soldier. "Come now, you needn't be coy, there's none to see you."
He put his arms round her waist and pulled her towards him.
"Mind now, mind, will ye, have you neither sense nor shame? Ye'll have the lamp spilt and the house in a blaze this minute."
She escaped from him, and, standing on tip-toe, reached the lamp which hung from the roof and put it on the ground. The soldier caught her again, and this time succeeded in kissing her.
"Ye may hang the fresh lamp up yourself," said the girl. "I willna lay a finger on it for ye now."
Rubbing her mouth with her hand, as if to wipe away the kiss forced on her, she shambled down the passage, taking the first lamp with her. The sentry heard her shuffle up the stairs again, making a great deal of noise with her clattering shoes. Then he hung the fresh lamp on his hook and stood back again against the door of the cellar.
It was very dull work standing all night in the passage, but he was determined to keep awake. Neal Ward had slipped through the fingers of Captain Twinely's men twice. There was not much chance of his escaping this time, but the sentry, for the honour of his corps, and for the sake of the personal ill-will that every member of it bore to the prisoner, was not going to run the smallest risk. Earlier in the night he had amused himself by shouting insults of various kinds through the door of the cellar. Later on he had given the prisoner a vivid and realistic description of the way in which men are hanged, but Neal had made no sign of hearing a word that was said to him, so the occupation grew uninteresting. Now he whistled a few of his favourite airs, speculating on the amount of the fifty pounds reward offered for Neal's capture which would fall to his share, and estimating his chances of taking some of the other United Irishmen for whom the Government had offered substantial sums. Then he began to count the flagstones on the floor of the passage. He had done this once or twice before, and had been able to distinguish as many as twenty-five, which brought him more than half way to the staircase, before the light failed him. This time he could only count twenty. Beyond that the floor lay dimly visible, but it was impossible to distinguish one stone from another.
"Damn it," He growled, "this isn't near as good a lamp as the first."
He counted again, and only reached a total of eighteen slabs of stone. He glanced down the passage, and found that he could not see the end of it. He looked at the lamp. It was burning very low. It occurred to him as an unpleasant possibility that the girl had taken away the wrong lamp—had taken the one with the oil in it and left him the empty one. He reassured himself. This lamp was a different shape from that which hung in the passage when he first took his post as sentry. He made up his mind that its wick must require to be turned up. Perhaps it had been badly trimmed. The girl who brought it was evidently sleepy; she would be very likely to forget to trim it. He stepped forward to where the lamp hung. He paused, startled by a slight noise at the far end of the passage. He listened, but heard nothing more. It was necessary to lift the lamp off the hook before he could trim the wick. He laid his musket on the ground and reached up to it. As he did so he heard swift steps, steps of heavy feet, on the flagged passage. They were quite close to him. He looked round and caught a glimpse of Maurice St. Clair in the act of springing on him. He was grappled by strong arms and flung to the ground before he could do anything to defend himself. Maurice, kneeling on him, put the point of a knife to his throat.
"If you speak one word or utter the slightest sound I cut your throat at once."
The unfortunate soldier lay still. Maurice, the knife still pricking the man's throat, crept slowly off him and knelt on the floor. With his left hand he unclasped the soldier's belt.
"Now," he said, "turn over on your face, and put your hands behind you."
The man obeyed, and felt the sharp point of the knife slip slowly round his neck until it rested behind his ear.
"'Remember," said Maurice, "one good cut downwards now and you are a dead man. Put your hands together."
He pulled the leather belt clear with his left hand, then, dropping the knife, he knelt on the man's back and gripped his wrists.
In a moment he had them securely strapped together with the leather belt. Then he stuffed a cloth into the soldier's mouth and bound it there with a stout cord tied tight round his head. Another cord—Maurice had come well supplied with what he was likely to want—was made fast round the man's legs. Then Maurice stood up and surveyed his handiwork. He laughed softly, well satisfied. The lamp flickered and went out.
"It's a good job for you," said Maurice, "that the light lasted as long as it did. I couldn't have gagged and tied you in the dark. I should have been obliged to kill you."
He felt along the wall until he came to the cellar door and found the keyhole. After much fumbling he got the key in, turned it, and pushed open the door.
"Neal," he called. "Neal, are you there?"
"Yes. Who is that? Is it you, Maurice? It's like your voice."
Stumbling forward through the pitch dark, Neal gripped Maurice at last. Hand in hand they went cautiously along the passage and up the stairs.
"Come in here," said Maurice. "There's a light here, and I want to see if it's really you. Oh! you needn't be afraid. There are plenty of soldiers, but they won't hurt you. They're all dead drunk. Now, Neal, there's lots to eat and drink. Sit down and make the best of your time. You'll want a square meal. I'll just take a light and go down to that fellow in the passage. I've got a few fathom of good, stout rope—I'm not sure that it isn't the bit that they meant to hang you with in the morning—and I'll fix him up so that he'll neither stir nor speak till some one lets him loose."
In a quarter of an hour Maurice returned.
"The next thing, Neal, is to get you out of this town. It's full of soldiers, and there are sentries at every turn, but I've got the word for the night, and I think we'll be able to manage."
He walked round the room peering carefully at the drunken men who lay on the floor.
"'Here's a fellow that's about your size, Neal. He seems to be a captain of some sort, a yeomanry captain by the look of him. I'm hanged if it isn't our friend Twinely again. We'll take the liberty of borrowing his uniform for you. There'll be a poetic justice about that, and he'll sleep all the better for having these tight things off him."
He knelt down and stripped Captain Twinely.
"Now then, quick, Neal. Don't waste time. Daylight will be on us before we know where we are. Take your own things with you in a bundle. Change again somewhere when you get out of the town, you'll be safer travelling in your own clothes. Take some food with you. Here, I'll make up a parcel while you dress. I'll stick in a bottle of wine. Now you're right. Walk boldly past the sentries. If you're challenged curse the man that challenges you. The word for the night is 'Clavering.' Travel by night as much as you can. Keep off the main roads. Strike straight for home. It'll be a queer thing if you can't lie safe round Dunseveric for a few days till we get you out of the country."
Lord Dunseveric and Maurice breakfasted together at eight o'clock on the morning of Neal's escape. They sat in the room where Lord O'Neill lay, and had a table spread for them beside the window. It was impossible to eat a meal in any comfort elsewhere in the inn. Indeed, but for the special exertions of the master and his maid it would have been difficult to get food at all. Maurice was triumphant and excited. Since Neal had not been brought back it was reasonable to suppose that he had made good his escape out of the town, and there was every hope that he would get safe to the coast. Once there he had friends enough to feed him, and hiding-places known to few, and almost inaccessible to soldiers or yeomen.
Lord Dunseveric asked no questions about Maurice's doings in the night. He felt perfectly confident that Neal had got off somehow. The details of the business he would hear later on. For the present he preferred to know nothing about them.
An officer entered the room and handed a letter to Lord Dunseveric. It was a request, in civil language enough, that he would meet General Clavering in the public room of the inn at nine o'clock, and that Maurice would accompany his father.
General Clavering sat at the head of the table when Lord Dunseveric and Maurice entered. Three or four of the senior officers of the regular troops sat with him. Captain Twinely, in a suit of clothes he had borrowed from the master of the inn, and one of his men, stood near the fireplace. The room had been cleared of the drunken sleepers, but a good deal of the debris of their revel—empty bottles, broken glasses, and little pools of spilt wine—were still visible on the floor.
"I have to announce to you, Lord Dunseveric," said the general, "that the prisoner who was confined in the inn cellar last night, Neal Ward, has escaped."
Lord Dunseveric bowed, and smiled slightly. His eye lighted on Captain Twinely, and his smile broadened. The landlord's suit fitted the captain extremely ill.
"Indeed," he said, "Captain Twinely seems to be unfortunate with regard to this particular prisoner. This is, let me see, the third time that Neal Ward has—ah!—evaded his vigilance."
"The sentry who guarded the door of the cellar," said General Clavering, "was attacked, overpowered, bound, and gagged."
"By the prisoner?"
"No, my lord, by some one who assisted the prisoner to escape, who, after dealing with the sentry as I have described, unlocked the door of the cellar with a key, the duplicate of that which Captain Twinely had in his pocket. This man and the prisoner subsequently stripped Captain Twinely of his uniform, and, as I learn from my sentries, Neal Ward passed through our lines in the disguise of a captain of yeomanry."
"You surprise me," said Lord Dunseveric, "a daring stratagem; a laughable scheme, too. I trust you took no cold, Captain. I confess that I should have liked to have seen you in your shirt tails this morning. You were, I presume," he stirred a little heap of broken glass with his foot as he spoke, "vino gravatus when they relieved you of your tunic. But what has all this to do with me?"
"Merely this," said General Clavering, "that your son is accused of having effected the prisoner's escape."
Lord Dunseveric looked at Maurice, looked him quietly up and down, as if he saw him then for the first time.
"I can believe," he said, "that my son might overpower the sentry. He is, as you see, a young man of considerable personal strength, but I should be surprised to learn that he dressed the prisoner in the captain's uniform. I may be misjudging my son, but I have hitherto regarded him as somewhat deficient in humour. You must admit, General Clavering, that only a man with a feeling for the ridiculous would have thought of——"
"It will be better for you to hear what the sentry has to say, my lord, and I beg of you to regard the matter seriously. I assure you it will not bear joking on. The rescue of a prisoner is a grave offence. Captain Twinely, kindly order your man to tell his story."
"Since I am not a prisoner at the bar," said Lord Dunseveric, "I shall, with your permission, sit down. As to the seriousness of the business in hand, I confess that for the moment the thought of the worthy Twinely waking this morning not only with a splitting headache but without a pair of breeches on him keeps the humorous side of the situation prominent in my mind."
The sentry told his story. To Maurice's great relief, he omitted all mention of the girl who had supplied the lamp which so conveniently burnt low, but he had recognised Maurice and was prepared to swear to his identity.
"No doubt," said General Clavering, "you will wish to cross-question this man, my lord."
Lord Dunseveric yawned.
"I think that quite unnecessary," he said, "a much simpler way of arriving at the truth of the story will be to ask my son whether he rescued the prisoner or not. Maurice, did you bind and gag this excellent trooper?"
"Did you subsequently release Neal Ward from the cellar?"
"Now, Maurice, be careful about your answer to my next question. Did you take the clothes off Captain Twinely?"
"And was that part of the scheme entirely your own? Did the idea originate with you or with the prisoner whom you helped to escape?"
"It was my idea."
"I apologise to you, Maurice. I did you an injustice. You have a certain sense of humour. It is not perhaps of the most refined kind, still you have, no doubt, provided a joke which will appeal to the officers' mess in Belfast, Dublin, and elsewhere; which will be told after dinner in most houses in the county for many a year to come. And now, General Clavering, I presume there is no more to be said. I wish you good morning."
"Stop a minute," said General Clavering, "you cannot seriously suppose that your son, simply because he is your son, is to be allowed to interfere with the course of justice?"
"Of justice?" asked Lord Dunseveric in a tone of mild surprise.
"With His Majesty's officers in the execution of their duty—that is, to release prisoners whom I have condemned—I, the general in command charged with the suppression of an infamous rebellion. Your son, my lord, will have to abide the consequences of his acts."
"Maurice," said Lord Dunseveric, "it is evident that you are going to be hanged. General Clavering is going to hang you. It is really providential that you didn't steal his breeches. He would probably have flogged you first and hanged you afterwards if you had."
"Damn your infernal insolence," broke out General Clavering furiously, "You think that because you happen to be a lord and own a few dirty acres of land that you can sit there grinning like an ape and insulting me. I'll teach you, my lord, I'll teach you. By God, I'll teach you and every other cursed Irishman to speak civil to an English officer. You shall know your masters, by the Almighty, before I've done with you."
Lord Dunseveric rose to his feet. He fixed his eyes on General Clavering, and spoke slowly and deliberately.
"I ride at once to Dublin," he said. "I shall lay an account of your doings and the doings of your troops before His Majesty's representative there. I shall then cross to England, approach my Sovereign and yours, General Clavering. I shall see that justice is done between you and the people you have outraged and harried. As to my son, I have work for him to do. I shall make myself responsible for his appearance before a court of justice when he is summoned. In the meanwhile, I neither recognise you as my master nor your will as my law. I appeal to the constitutional liberties of this kingdom of Ireland and to the right of every citizen to a fair trial before a jury of his fellow-countrymen. You shall not arrest, try, or condemn my son otherwise than as the law allows."
General Clavering grew purple in the face. He stuttered, cursed, laid his hand on his sword, and took a step forward. Lord Dunseveric, his hands behind his back, a sneer of contempt on his face, looked straight at the furious man in front of him.
"Do you propose," he said, "to stab me and then hang my son?"
This was precisely what General Clavering would have liked to do, but he dared not. He turned instead on Captain Twinely.
"Let me tell you, sir, that you're a damned idiot, an incompetent officer, a besotted fool, and your men are a lot of cowardly loons. You had this infernal young rebel safe and you let him go. You not only allowed him to walk off, but you actually provided him with a suit of clothes to go in. You're the cause of all the trouble. Get your troop to horse. Scour the country for him. Don't leave a house that you don't search, nor a bed that you don't run your sword through. Don't leave a dung-heap without raking it, or a haystack that you don't scatter. Get that man back for me, wherever he hides himself, or, by God, I'll have you shot for neglect of duty in time of war, and your damned yeomen buried alive in the same grave with you."
The general was still bent on teaching the Irish to know their masters and making good his boast of reducing them to the tameness of "gelt cats." With Captain Twinely, at least, he seemed likely to succeed.
"I can imagine, Maurice," said Lord Dun-severic, when they were alone together again, "that Captain Twinely and his men have at last got a job to suit them. Sticking swords through old wives feather beds is safer work than sticking them through rebels. Scattering haystacks will be pleasanter than scattering pikemen. Raking dung heaps will, I suppose, be an entirely congenial occupation."
His tone changed, He spoke rapidly and seriously.
"You will ride with me as far as Belfast. From there you must find some means of communicating with the captain of that Yankee brig of which you told me. If necessary, go yourself to Glasgow and find the man. Pay him what he asks and arrange that he lies off Dunseveric and picks up Neal. You must then go home and see to it yourself that Neal gets safe on board. It may not be easy, for the yeomen will be after him; but it has got to be done. I go to Dublin as I said. I shall have some trouble in settling this business of yours. It really was an audacious proceeding—your rescue of the prisoner. It will take me all my time to get it hushed up. Besides, I must use my influence to prevent bad becoming worse in this unfortunate country of ours. By the way, did you make any arrangement for the return of Captain Twinely's uniform when Neal had finished with it?"
"No, I never thought of that."
"You ought to have thought of it. Poor Captain Twinely looks very odd in the inn-keeper's clothes, which do not fit him in the least."
It was obvious to Captain Twinely that Neal Ward's instinct would be to make for Dunseveric. He spread the men under his command, and the members of a couple of corps similar to his own, in bands of five or six, across a broad belt of country. He arranged what he called a "drive," and pushed slowly northward, searching every possible hiding-place as he went. It seemed to him totally impossible that Neal could escape. Sooner or later he was sure to come on him, and then—Captain Twinely chuckled grimly at the thought that he would leave no chance of a fourth escape.
This excellently-planned search resulted in the discovery of Captain Twinely's clothes, damp and somewhat muddy, in a ditch about a mile out of the town. It did not end in the capture of the fugitive, because it was founded on a miscalculation. Neal did not make straight for Dunseveric. When he got out of the town and changed his clothes he went to Donegore Hill. M'Cracken and Hope were there with the remains of their army, and Neal was most anxious to join them. The murder of Peg MacIlrea had made him so furiously angry that he cared nothing about his own safety. His escape from Antrim was a matter of satisfaction mainly because it seemed to afford him another opportunity for fighting. He neither attempted to weigh the chances of success nor considered the uselessness of continuing the struggle. He wanted vengeance taken on men whom he hated, and he wanted to have some share himself in taking it.
He found the roads round Donegore Hill guarded by sentries. The camp on the top of the old rath had all the appearance of being held by disciplined troops. There was little sign of the disorganisation and panic which often follow defeat. The men were calm, self-possessed, and reasonable, but they were hopeless. Neal realised that this army, at least, would do no more serious fighting. The men were anxious to make terms for themselves and for their leaders. They were perfectly well aware that they were beaten, and could not expect to make any head against their enemies.
Neal found James Hope, and was warmly greeted by him.
"When I discovered that we'd left you behind," said Hope, "I made up my mind that you must have been shot down along with your uncle and the fine fellows who made a stand with him. Ah, Neal, we've lost many—your uncle, Felix Marier, poor Moylin, and many another. One killed here, another there, but all of them in doing their duty. But we mustn't talk of these things, lad. Tell me, what brings you here?"
"Need you ask?" said Neal. "I am come to fight it out to the last."
"Take my advice and slip off home. There's no good to be done by stopping with us. Things are desperate. Most of our people are going home to-day. M'Cracken and a handful—not more than a hundred—are going to Slievemis in the hope of being able to join Monro in County Down, or perhaps to get through to the Wexford men."
"I will go with you."
"No, no, lad, you've done enough. You've done a man's part. Go home now."
"What are you going to do?"
"I? Oh, I'm only a poor weaver. It doesn't matter what I do. I'm going on with M'Cracken."
"So am I. Listen to me, James Hope, till I tell you what is in my mind—till I tell you what has happened to me since yesterday."
They sat on the grassy slope of the old rath. The wide plain stretched before them—green, well wooded, beautiful. There lay Adair's plantations, the Six Mile Water winding like a serpent among the fields, the woods of Castle Upton, and the young trees on Lyle Hill, with the distant water of Lough Neagh glistening in the sunlight. Nearer at hand thatched farmhouses smoked, signs that the yeomen were enjoying the fruits of victory. Hope pointed to Farranshane, where William Orr's house was burning—a witness to a malignity so bitter that it wreaked the vengeance from which the dead man was safe on his widow and his orphans.
Neal told his story, and spoke of the passionate desire for revenge which burned in him. Hope listened patiently to every word. Then he spoke.
"If I were to tell you now, Neal, as I told you once before, that vengeance belongeth only unto the Lord, you would turn away and listen to me no more. Therefore, I shall not speak to you in that way at all, or appeal to those higher feelings which the great God has planted in the breasts of even the humblest of His servants. I will, instead, appeal to that which is lower and smaller than the religion of Christ, and which yet may be in its way a noble thing. I will speak to you as to a man of honour. I am not fond of the title of gentleman, but I think I know what is meant by honour. Sometimes it is no more than a fantastic image bred of prejudice and pride; but sometimes it is high and holy, next to God. I think, Neal, that you would like to reckon yourself a man of honour."
Already James Hope's words were producing an effect on Neal's mind. The extreme bitterness of his passion was dying away from him.
"You are right," he said, "I wish to act always as a man of honour, but my honour is engaged——"
"That is not what you said before. Before, you spoke of revenge and not of honour. But let that pass. I will try to show you, as a truly noble man would, as your friend, Lord Dunseveric, would if he were here to advise you, how your honour really binds you. You were rescued from your imprisonment last night and from death this morning by your friend, Maurice St. Clair, and he bid you go home. He set you free in order that you might go home. I think he would not have done what he did unless he had believed that you would go home. You are in honour bound to him. You are in reality still a prisoner—a prisoner released on parole, although no formal promise was required of you. Do you understand what I mean?"
"Yes, I understand; but you are advising me to do a cowardly thing—to desert you, whom I reckon my friend, in the time of your extremity."
"Maurice St. Clair was your friend before I was, Neal. You are bound to him by earlier ties. Besides, he has given you your life."
"But he is in no danger."
"I am not sure of that. If it is discovered that he let you go last night he will surely suffer for it. They have hanged men for less, and imprisoned or exiled others."
"Oh," said Neal, "I could find it in my heart to wish they would hang Maurice. Hope, you know many men and many things, but you don't know Lord Dunseveric. Why, man, if they hanged Maurice the old lord would hang them—he would hang them in batches of a score at a time. If any escaped him he would wait for them till the resurrection morning. He would meet them as they stepped out of their graves and hang them then. He would hang them if there wasn't another tree in the whole universe to put the rope round except the tree of life which stands by the river in the New Jerusalem."
He laughed exultingly. Hope looked at him with pitying tenderness. He understood the hysterical passion which had dragged such words from him.
"I am glad," he said, "that your friend is in no great danger, but that does not alter the truth of what I say. You are his prisoner, released on your parole, and you must present yourself to him when he calls for you at Dunseveric. Besides, Neal, you owe a duty to your father and to those at home who love you. For their sakes you must not throw your life away."
The anger died out of Neal's heart. This last appeal left him with no feeling but tenderness. He thought of his father, a lone man, waiting for news of him, of Donald, of the battle, and the cause. He thought of Una St. Clair and the ever-new marvel of the love that she had confessed to him. Still he hesitated. Brought up in the stern faith of the Puritans, he believed that because a thing offered a prospect of great delight it must somehow be wrong. The longing to see Una again came on him, sweeping over all other thought and emotion as the flowing spring-tide in late September sweeps over the broad sands of the northern coast. To see her, to hear her, to touch her, perhaps to kiss her again, was the one thing supremely desirable in life. Therefore, he felt instinctively that it must be a tempter's voice which showed him the way to the fulfilment of such desire.
"Are you sure," he asked, "that you are not, out of love for me, advising me to do wrong?"
"I am sure," said Hope.
Afterwards they talked of how Neal might best accomplish his journey to Dunseveric. It was clear to Hope, as it had been to Maurice St. Clair, that the main roads must be avoided, and that all travelling must be done by night; but it was not very easy to go through an unknown country by night, and until Neal got as far as Ballymoney he could not be sure of being able to find his way.
"I might manage it," he said, "if I could keep to the main road. I have travelled it once and I think I should not miss it even at night, but how am I to get along lanes and across fields which I have never seen without losing myself?"
"Ah," said Hope, "that is a difficulty, and yet there is a way out of it. Phelim, the blind piper, is with us here. God knows how he got safe from the battle yesterday, and found his way to us. He will be no use to us any more, only a hindrance. We shall not march to battle again with our pipes playing and our colours flying. I think I shall be able to persuade him to act as your guide. The blind leading the ignorant, eh, Neal? But Phelim knows every lane and path in the country. How he does I don't know. Perhaps some new sense is developed in the blind. Anyway, night and day are alike to him. If he takes you as far as the neighbourhood of Ballymoney you'll be able to find the rest of the way afterwards yourself."
That night, while M'Cracken marched the remnant of his army to Slievemis, Neal and blind Phelim set off on their journey north. They travelled safely in the rear of the yeomen who were searching the country side. Neal lay hid all one day in a little wood while Phelim, who seemed to want little rest and no sleep, wandered in the neighbourhood and brought back tidings of the doings of the yeomen who had passed. Before daybreak the next morning Neal left his guide behind him and made his way to the sandhills near Port Ballin-trae. He lay in a hollow near the mouth of the river Bush. He understood from what Phelim had told him that Captain Twinely and his men had pushed northwards in pursuit of him, and that he had followed in their tracks. He realised that there must be a large force gathered in Bushmills and Ballintoy, and that the whole country would be scoured to find him. Therefore, though he was within a few miles of his home, he dare not stir in the daytime. He lay in his sandy hollow through the long hot day, with the sound of the sea in his ears. He slept for an hour or two now and then. Once he crept among the dunes to a place where a little stream trickled down, in order to get a drink, but he did not venture to stay beside the stream. For some time he amused himself by plaiting the spiked grass into stiff green rods, and then, from a razor shell which he found in his hollow, he fashioned pike heads for the ends of the rods. Afterwards he picked all the yellow crow-toes within reach, and the broad mauve flowers of the wild convolvulus. He set them out in gay beds, like flowers growing in gardens, and edged them round with borders of wild thyme. Then, with great labour, he collected forty or fifty snail shells and laid them in rows, making each row consist only of those like each other in colouring. He had lines of dark brown shells, of pale yellow, and of striped shells. These again he subdivided according to the width and number of their stripes. Once he ventured to creep to a place from which he could watch the sea. He saw that the tide was flowing. Below him on the strand were a number of seagulls, strutting, fluttering, shrieking, splashing with wing-tips and feet in the oncoming waves. He supposed that the young fry of some fish must have drifted shorewards, and that the birds were feasting on them. Then', at the far end of the bay, he saw men's figures moving, near the Black Rock, among the boats hauled up on the shore in the creek from which he and Maurice and Una had set out to fish on Rackle Roy. A dread seized him that these might be yeomen. Since he had come within reach of home, since he had seen and heard the sea, since he had breathed the familiar salt-laden air, his courage had left him. He felt a very coward, desperately anxious not to be caught and dragged back again to the horror of death. He wanted to live now that he was back at home and almost within reach of Una. He eyed the distant figures anxiously, and then crept back and lay trembling in his hollow among his ordered snail-shells and the flowers, already withered, which he had plucked and planted in the sand.