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The Northern Iron - 1907
by George A. Birmingham
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At last the sun set. Neal waited for an hour while the June twilight slowly faded. He watched the sandhills round his lair turn from bright yellow to grey, watched them while they seemed in the fading light to grow loftier, and assume a weird majesty which was not their's in the daytime. The objects near at hand, the faded flowers, and the snail-shells, and the rods of woven bent, lost their bright colours and became almost invisible. The eternal roaring of the sea seemed to be subdued, as if even it felt awed by the stillness of the June night. The sand on which he lay was damped with dew. Only the sharp cry of the corncrake broke the solemnity of the night.

He rose, and, peering anxiously before him as each fresh stretch of his way became visible, crossed the sandhills. Avoiding the stepping-stones and the regular crossing-place, he waded through the brook which ran gurgling between the sandhills and the rough track beyond them. He crossed it, and, skirting the rear of a cottage, reached the top of the Runkerry cliffs. Far below him the sea rushed, white-lipped, against the rocks. The tide was almost full. The scene was as it had been ten days ago, ten years ago, a whole lifetime ago, when he walked this same way with Donald Ward. Still keeping close to the sea, he avoided the high road near the Causeway, plodded along the stony track past the Rocking Stone and the Wishing Well, climbed the Shepherd's Path, and once more walked along the verge of the cliff above Port na Spaniard and the Horse Shoe Bay and Pleaskin Head. He reached Port Moon, and saw far below him the glimmer of a light in the rude shelter where fishermen lodge in summer time. Avoiding the farmhouse near him on his right, and the lane which led past it to the high road, he went on, clinging close to the sea as if for safety. He rested a while in the shelter of the ruins of Dun-severic Castle, and then went on till his feet were stumbling among the graves of Templeastra, where the dust of his mother lay. It was dark now. He guessed that he must have been an hour and a half on his way. He came close to the manse—his home. Below him lay Ballintoy Strand, with its sentinel white rocks which keep eternal watch against invading seas. Between him and his home there was the road to cross and the meadow to wade through. It must, as he guessed, be eleven o'clock. His father and Hannah Macaulay would be in bed. He would have to rouse them with cautious tapping upon window panes.

He reached the back of the house at last, and saw, to his amazement, that a light burned in the kitchen, and that the door stood wide open. A dread seized him. Perhaps the house was occupied by soldiers. For a moment he thought of turning back again to the sea and the cliffs. But he wanted food, and it was absolutely necessary for him to communicate with some one. His plan was to lie hid in the Pigeon Cave, but he must have food brought to him day by day, and he must let his father or Hannah know where he was going.

Very cautiously he crept forward and peered through the window. There was a candle in its tall iron stand on the floor, and the peat fire burned brightly on the hearth. A row of brass candlesticks were on the mantel-board. Hannah Macaulay sat on a chair near the door knitting. The room, he saw, was neat and orderly as ever.

The lids of the pots and the metal dish-covers gleamed from the nails on which they hung round the walls. The pewter plates, bronze jugs, and upturned noggins stood in shining rows on the dresser shelves. Neal waited. Not a sound reached him from the house. He took courage and slipped through the open door.

"Is that you yoursel', Master Neal?" said Hannah, quietly, "I ha' your supper ready for ye. I was sitting up for you. You're late the night."

She rose from her seat and, without a sign of surprise or excitement, closed the door and bolted it.

"Hannah, how is it that you are expecting me? You can't have known that I was coming. How did you know?"

Hannah took plates from the dresser and food from the cupboard while she answered him.

"Master Maurice's groom, the lad they call James, rode in from Antrim the day afore yesterday with a note for Miss Una ower by. She tellt me that you'd be coming and that it was more nor like you'd travel by night. I've had your supper ready, and I've sat waiting for you these two nights, I knew rightly that it was here you'd come first."

"Where is my father?"

"He's gone, Master Neal. The sojers came and took him, but he bid me tell you not to be afeard or taking on about him. He was thinking they'd send him across the sea, maybe to Scotland, he said, but they wouldna hurt him. So eat your bit and take your sup, my bairn. You must be sore troubled with the hunger. How ever did ye thole?"

"I have your bed ready for you," she said as Neal ate, "and it's in it you ought to be by right. I'm thinking it's more than yin night since ye hae lain atween the sheets, judging by the looks of ye."

"It's five, Hannah, and it will be twice five more before I sleep in a bed again. I dare not stay here."

"Thon's what Miss Una said. But, faith, if it's the yeomen you're afeard of, I'll no let them near you."

"I daren't, Hannah; I daren't do it. I must away to-night and lie in the Pigeon Cave. I'll be safe there, and you must manage somehow to get food to me."

"Is it me that you look to be climbing down them sliddery rocks and swimming intil the cold sea among your caves and hiding holes? I'm too old for the like, but there's a lassie with bonny brown eyes that'll do that and more for ye. Don't you be afeard, Master Neal. She'd climb the Causey chimney pots and take the silver sixpence off the top if she thought you were wanting it. Ay, or swim intil them caves, that God Almighty never meant for man nor maid to enter, and if were waiting for her at the hinder end of one of them. She's been here an odd time or twa since ever she got the letter that the groom lad fetched. I've seen the glint in her eyes at the sound o' your name, and the red go out of her cheek at word of them dratted yeos, bad scran to them! I'm no so old yet, but I mind weel how a young lassie feels for the lad she's after. Ay, my bairn, it's all yin, gentle or simple, lord's daughter or beggar's wench, when the love of a lad has got the grip o' them. And there was yin with her—the foreign lady with the lang name. For all that she mocks and fleers as if there was nothing in the wide world but play-actin' and gagin' about. Faith, she's an artist, but she might be more help than Miss Una herself if it came to a pinch. She's a cunning one, that. I'm thinking that she's no unlike the serpent that's more subtle than any beast of the field. She has a way of glowerin' a body and giving a bit of a girn to her mouth. Man or woman or red-coated sojer itself, they'd need to be up gey an' early that would get the better o' her. A bird might be lang afore it could find time to build a nest in her ear, so it might. Eh! but, my poor lad, it's a sorry thing to think of ye lyin' the night through among the hard stones and me in my warm bed. Eh! but it grieves me sore—— whisht, boy, what's thon?"

Hannah started to her feet. Hand to ear, lips parted, with eager eyes and head bent forward she listened.

"It's the tread of horses; they're coming up the loany."

"I must run for it," said Neal, "let me out of the door, Hannah."

"Bide now, bide a wee, they'd see you if you went through the door."

She put out the lamp as she spoke.

"Do you slip through to the master's room and open the window. Go canny now, and make no noise. Get through and off with ye into your cave as hard as ever you can lift a foot, I'll cap them at the door, lad. I'm the woman can do it. Faith and I'll sort them, be they who it may, so as they'll no be in too great a hurry to come ridin' to this house again, the black-hearted villains. But I'll learn them manners or I'm done wi' them else my name's no Hannah Macaulay."

Neal, as he slipped silently from the room, was aware that Hannah meditated a vigorous attack upon her midnight visitors. She took the long kitchen poker in her hand, shook it with a grim smile, and thrust the end of it into the heart of the fire.

There was a knock at the door. Hannah, standing in a corner of the room, and hidden from any one looking in through the window, neither spoke nor stirred. The knocking was repeated, and again repeated. Hannah remained silent.

"Open the door," shouted a voice from without, "open the door at once."

Still there was no reply.

"We know you're within, Hannah Macaulay, we saw the light before you put it out. Open to us, or we'll batter in the door, and then it will be the worse for you."

"And who may be you that come knocking and banging the door of a dacent house at this time o' night, making a hullabaloo fit for to wake the dead; and it the blessed Sabbath too?"

"Sabbath be damned; it's Thursday night."

"Is it, then, is it? There's them that wouldn't know if it was Monday nor Tuesday, nor yet Wednesday, nor the blessed Sabbath day itself, and, what's more, wouldn't care if they did know. That just shows what like lads you are. Away home out o' this to your beds, if so be that you have any beds to go to."

In fact the men outside were perfectly right. The day was Thursday, though it neared Friday. The Sabbath was a long way off yet, as Hannah knew quite well.

"You doited old hag, open the door."

"I'm a lone widow woman," said Hannah, plaintively, "I canna be letting the likes of ye in and me in my bed. It wouldna be dacent if I did. Where'd my good name be if I did the like and me not know ye?"

A savage kick at the door shook it on its hinges.

"Bide quiet, now," said Hannah, "and tell me who ye are afore I open to you. Would you have me let robbers intil the house, and the master awa'?"

"We're men of the Killulta yeomanry, we're here to search the house by order of Captain Twinely. Open in the King's name."

"Why couldn't ye have tellt me that afore? There isn't a woman living has as much respect for the King as mysel'. Wait now, wait till I slip on my petticoat. You wouldna have a woman come to the door to you in her shift, would ye?"

There was a long pause—too long for the yeomen outside. Another kick, and then another, shook the door. Hannah went over to it and began to fumble with the bolt.

"I'm afeard," she said, "that the lock's hampered."

"I'll soon cure that; stand clear of the keyhole till I fire."

"For the Lord's sake, man, dinna be shootin' aff your guns, I canna abide the sound o' the like. It dizzens me. Dinna be hasty, fair and easy goes far in the day. Who is it you said you were?"

"The yeomen, you deaf old hag."

"The yeomen, God bless us, the yeomen. That's the kind of lads that dresses themselves up braw in sojers' coats and then, when there's any fighting going on, let's the real sojers do it, and they stand and look round to see the gommerels admiring them. Faith I'll let you in. There's no call even for a hirplin ould woman with one foot in the grave and the ither out of it to be afeard of the likes of you."

Hannah Macaulay's description of her bodily condition erred on the side of self-depreciation. The one foot which remained out of the grave carried her across the kitchen floor with remarkable speed. She took the poker now red, almost white, hot at the end, darted back to the door, and flung it open. With a wild whoop she rushed at the two yeomen who stood on the threshold. There were other yells besides her's, a smell of burning cloth and singed flesh, a hurried treading of feet, and a clattering of the hoofs of frightened horses. Hannah sent into the night a peal of derisive laughter, and then turned into the house and shut the door.

"I said I'd sort them," she chuckled, "and I've sorted them rightly. Yin o' them will carry a mark on his mug to the day of his death, and lucky if he hasn't lost the sight of an eye. There'll be a hole in the breeks of the other that'll tak a quare width of cloth to make a patch for it. And, what's more, thon man'll no sit easy on his horse for a bit. They'll not be for chasing Master Neal the night any way. But, faith, this house will be no place for me the morrow. I'll just tak my wee bit duds under my arm and away with me up to Dunseveric House. Miss Una'll take me in when she hears the tale I ha' to tell. I'd like to see the yeos or the sojers either that would fetch me out of the ould lord's kitchen. If they tak to ravishing and rieving the master's plenishins I canna help it. Better a ravished house nor a murdered woman."

Neal got out of the window, and once more crossed the meadow. He lay for a minute in the ditch beside the road listening intently. He feared that he might have been tracked home, that the house might be surrounded, and that escape might be difficult or impossible. But there was no sound of any sort on the road—neither voices of men, treading of horses, or jangling of accoutrements. Evidently the men at the door of the manse were no more than a patrol. They were entering the house out of wanton desire to annoy Hannah Macaulay or on the chance of discovering there something which might give them a clue—not because they actually suspected that he was within. He heard the crash of the first kick on the door, rose from the ditch, crossed the road, and took to the edge of the cliffs again. He walked quickly, frightened and shaken. He started into a breathless run when Hannah's battle whoop reached him on the still air. He heard distinctly the men's shrieks, and even the noise of the runaway horses galloping on the hard road. He went the faster—a mad terror driving him.

He passed Port Moon again, crossed the majestic brow of Pleaskin Head, skirted the Causeway, and reached the Runkerry cliffs. He went more slowly, ceased running, sat down, drawing deep laboured breaths. The food he ate in the manse had strengthened him. The assurance of the care and watchfulness of his friends cheered him, but his mind was like that of a hunted animal. He had no courage left, nothing but an overmastering desire to hide himself.

He rose, and went on again, reached the cliff above the Rock Pigeons' Cave, and found the place where descent to the sea was possible. There was no path, just a precipitous grass slope, and then steep rocks, and below them the dark, moaning sea. A timid man might shrink from the climb in daylight, a bold man would be rash to attempt it at night, but of this short, slippery grass and these sharp rocks Neal had no fear at all. He knew them all too well to fear them. He let himself slide down, sure of the resting-place his feet would find. With firm hand-grips and confident steps he descended from rock to rock until he stood at last on a flat shelf, a foot or two above the sea. He saw the long channel, rock-bounded, narrow, dark, along which he and Maurice had piloted their boat. He saw beyond it the mouth of the cave—a space of actual blackness on the gloomy face of the cliff. He heard the water drop from the roof into the sea with heavy splashes. At his feet the long swell writhed between the walls of rock, reached up black lips and drew them down again with hollow, sobbing sound. From the extreme darkness of the cave came the dull moaning of the ocean, as of some inarticulate monster bowed with everlasting woe. A swim through this cold, lonely water, between the smooth walls which rose higher and higher on either side, into the impenetrable gloom of the echoing cavern and on to the extreme end of it, was horrible to contemplate. But for Neal there were worse horrors behind. His cowardice made him brave. He stripped and stood shivering, though the night air was warm enough. He wrapped his clothes into a bundle and, with his neck scarf, bound them firmly on his head. He slipped without a splash into the water and struck out towards the mouth of the cave.

The dull swell lifted him on its breast and drew him down again as if to wrap him with huge cold hands. An undertow of receding water pulled him to the rocks and he touched them with his hands. He reached the mouth of the cave, and felt the splash of the drops which fell from it. He moved very cautiously, fearing to strike suddenly on the sunken rocks. He felt for them with his feet, reached them, stood upright waist-deep. Then, with cold limbs and a numb terror in his heart, he plunged forward again into the deep water within the cave. He swam on, with set teeth, close-pressed lips, and eyes strained to see a foot in front of him into the blackness. Once he turned and looked back. Through the mouth of the cave he saw the dim grey of the June night—a framed space of sky which was not actually black. He felt as if he were looking his last at the familiar world of living things—as if he were on his way to some gloomy other world of moaning, forlorn spirits, of desolate, disappointed loves, of weary, spent souls floating aimlessly on chill, unfathomable sorrow. He swam on, and heard at last the splash of the waves on the shore. His feet touched bottom. He slipped and slid among large slimy stones, worn incredibly smooth by their age-long washing in this sunless place. He struggled forward breast-deep, waist-deep, knee-deep, in the black water. He reached dry ground, crawled upwards till he felt the boulders no longer damp, and knew that he lay above the reach of the tide. He unbound the bundle from his head, clothed himself, and felt the blood steal warm through his limbs again. He staggered further up, groped his way to the side of the cave, as if the touch of solid rock would give him some sense of companionship. Then, like a benediction from the God who watched over him, sleep came.



CHAPTER XVII

The next morning broke cloudless. As the day advanced the sun grew hot. The land at noon seemed to gasp for breath. The sea lay glowing in the light; the waves broke in slow rhythm on the sand and rocks, as if the warmth had imposed even on the Atlantic a mood of luxurious laziness.

Una St. Clair and the Comtesse de Tourneville, attended by Hannah Macaulay, walked shorewards from Dunseveric House. It appeared that they were going to bathe, for they carried bundles of white sheets and coloured garments, large bundles well wrapped together and strapped. Hannah Macaulay had, besides, a little raft made of the flat corks which fishermen use to mark the places where their lobster pots are sunk and to float the tops of salmon nets. It seemed as if one of the party were no great swimmer, and did not mean to venture into deep water without something to which to cling.

A hundred yards from the gate were two yeomen on horseback. The Comtesse greeted them cheerfully as she passed. The men followed the ladies along the road.

"What are we to do?" said Una, "they mean to watch us."

"Perhaps not," said the Comtesse, "let us make sure."

She motioned Una to stop, and sat down on the bank on the roadside. The men halted and waited also. It became obvious that they intended to keep the ladies in view.

"This is abominable," said Una. "How dare they follow us when we are going to bathe?"

"My dear," said the Comtesse, laughing, "they very likely think that we are not going to bathe. So far as I am concerned, their suspicions are quite just. I am certainly not going to undress on a nasty rock which would cut my feet, and then go into cold salt water to have my toes nipped by crabs and lobsters. The worthy Hannah is not going to bathe either. She has too much good sense. Even these stupid yeomen must guess that we are carrying something else besides towels."

"But I am going to bathe," said Una, "and it is intolerable that I should be spied upon and watched."

The Comtesse rose and approached the men.

"Where is Captain Twinely this morning?" she asked, smiling.

"Here he is, coming along the road forninst you, Miss."

The man spoke civilly enough. It was natural to be civil to the Comtesse when she smiled. She had fine eyes, and was not too proud to use them in a very delightful manner even when the man before her was no more than a trooper in a company of yeomen.

"So he is!" she said. "And my good gentleman trooper, how nice your manners are. I am, alas! no longer 'Miss,' though it pleases you to flatter me. I am 'Madam,' a widow, quite an old woman."

She left him and hurried forward to greet Captain Twinely.

"I am charmed to meet you, Captain Twinely. But why have you never been up to call on us? We hear that you have been two whole days in our neighbourhood and not even once have you come to see us. How rude and unkind you are. I would not have believed it of you. But perhaps you have been very busy chasing the odious rebels and had no time to visit us poor ladies."

"I didn't think I was wanted at Dunseveric House, my lady," said the captain.

Like his trooper, he was aware that the Comtesse smiled at him, and that she had beautiful eyes.

"I will not take that as an excuse," she said. "Surely you must know, Captain Twinely, that we are two lonely women, that my lord and my nephew are away. You must have guessed that we should suffer, ah, so terribly, from 'ennui'. Is it not the first duty of an officer to pay his respects to the ladies and to amuse them, especially in this terrible country where it is only the military men who have any manners at all?"

Captain Twinely was delighted and embarrassed. He wished that he had brushed his uniform more carefully in the morning, and that he had not been too lazy to shave. He would gladly have been looking his best now that the eyes of this elegant lady of title and fashion were on him.

"I am at your ladyship's service," he murmured.

"Now that is really kind of you. Please get down from your horse. How can I talk to you when you are so high above me?"

The captain dismounted and gave his horse to one of the troopers. The Comtesse laid her hand on his arm and smiled at him.

"We have a little fete planned for to-day," she said. "We are going to have a pic-nic by the sea. Will you not join us. It will be so kind of you. My niece wishes also to bathe. But I—I am not very anxious to go into the sea. Perhaps you and I might wait for her in some pleasant spot and prepare the pic-nic while she and her maid go to the bathing-place. What do you say, captain?"

"I shall be delighted," he said, "quite delighted."

Captain Twinely had never before been so smiled on by a pretty woman. Never before had such fine eyes looked into his with such an unmistakable challenge to flirtation. He was almost certain that he felt the Comtesse's hand press his arm slightly. He grew pink in the face with pleasure.

"We must tell my niece."

She leaned towards Captain Twinely and whispered in his ear. Her breath touched his cheek. The delicate, faint scent of her clothes reached him.

A confidence, entailing the close proximity of this desirable lady, was an unlooked-for delight.

"My dear niece is very young—a mere child, you understand me, unformed, gauche, what you call shy. You will make excuse for her want of manner."

The apology was necessary. In Una's face, if he had eyes for it at all, Captain Twinely might have seen something more than shyness. There was an expression of loathing on the girl's lips and in her eyes when he stepped up to her, hat in hand.

"Una," said the Comtesse, "the dear captain will take pity on us. He will send one of his men back to the house to fetch a cold chicken and some wine—and all the delightful things we are to eat and drink. Give him a note to the butler, Una, we will go on with Captain Twinely."

Una, puzzled, but obedient to a quick glance from her aunt, wrote the note. The troopers, leading Captain Twinely's horse, rode back to Dunseveric House. The Comtesse, still leaning on the captain's arm, picked up her bundle of bathing clothes.

"Allow me to carry that for you," said the captain, "allow me to carry all the bundles."

"Oh, but no. Have we got a cavalier with such trouble and shall we turn him into a beast of burden, a—how do you say it?—a baggage ass? The good Hannah will carry my bundle.'"

The good Hannah became a baggage animal, but she was not an ass. She was, indeed, struggling with suppressed mirth. She was confirmed in her opinion that the Comtesse possessed a subtlety not unlike that of the serpent in Eden.

The Comtesse led the way, chatting to Captain Twinely, saying things more charmingly provocative than any which poor Twinely had ever heard from a woman's lips. Her eyes flashed on him, drooped before his gaze, sought his again with shy suggestiveness. She even succeeded, when his glance grew very bold, in blushing. They reached the little cove where Maurice's boat lay.

The Comtesse sat down, and then lolled back on the short grass. Her motions and her attitudes were the most easy and natural possible, yet her pose was charming. There was not a fold of her skirt but fell round her gracefully. From the challenging smile on her lips to the point of the little shoe which peeped out beneath her petticoat, there came an invitation to Captain Twinely—a suggestion that he, too, should sit gracefully on the grass.

"Now, Una," she said, "go and have your bathe, if you must do anything so foolish. We will wait for you here, the captain will amuse me till you return. Kiss me, child, before you go."

Una bent over her.

"I'll keep him," whispered the Comtesse, "I'll keep him, even if I have to allow the animal to embrace me. But, dear Una, do not be very long."

Una sped away. Hannah, heavily laden, and laughing now outright, followed her.

"I never seen the like," she said. "Didn't I say to Master Neal last night that she was an early one? Eh, Miss Una, did you no take notice of the eyes of her? She'd wile the fishes out of the sea, or a bird off a bush, so she would, just by looking sweet at them. It's queer manners they have where she comes from. I'm thinking that silly gowk of a captain's no the first man she's beguiled. I was counted a braw lass myself in me day, and one that could twine a lad round my thumb as fine as any, but I couldna have done thon, Miss Una."

Una gave a little shudder of disgust.

"How could she bear to? How could she touch such a man?"

"Ay, I was wondering that myself, her that's so high falutin' in her ways, and no like a common lassie. Not but what thon captain's a clever enough cut of a man for them as thinks of nothing but a clean figure and a good leg. He's no that ill-looking; but, eh, there's a glint in his eye I wouldna trust. I pity the lassie that loves him. But there's no fear of thon lady falling into sic a snare. She can mine herself well, I'm thinkin'."

They reached the cliff above the Pigeon Cave, and Una began her downward climb. Hannah stared at her in horror.

"Mind yourself, Miss Una. You're never going down there, are ye? And you expect me to break my old bones going after you, do ye? Faith and I willna avaw, I'd rather be back rolling my eyes at the captain and letting on to him that I wanted a kiss than go down yon cliff."

"Come," said Una, "it looks worse than it is. Come, Hannah, you must come. Would you have the poor boy starve in the cave?"

The appeal was too strong to be resisted. Hannah, with much grumbling, climbed down. Una carried the bundles one by one to the shelf of rock from which Neal had slipped into the dark water the night before. She took the straps from them, and unwound the sheets and bathing clothes. Within was store of food—parcels of oatcake, baps, cold meat, butter, cheese, a bottle of wine, a flask of whisky and water, a package of candles. She had determined that Neal should feast royally in his hiding-place, and that he should not sit in the dark, though he had to sit alone. She floated the raft of corks, and very carefully loaded it with her good things. Then, with a piece of cord, she moored it to the rock.

"Are ye no afeard, Miss Una?" said Hannah. "Eh, but it's well to be young and strong, I wouldna go in there, not for all the gold and silver and the spices that King Solomon gave to the Queen of Sheba. I wouldna go in a boat, let alone swimming. Miss Una, could you no shout, and let him come for the food himself?"

Una looked at her with a wondering reproach in her eyes.

"Am I the only one that's to do nothing for him? Didn't Maurice get him free in the town of Antrim? Didn't you chase the yeomen from him last night? Isn't Aunt Estelle sitting with that Captain Twinely now? And may I not do something, too? I think mine's the easiest thing of the four."

"You're a venturesome lassie, so you are. I dinna like the looks of thon water. It's over green for me, so it is. I can see right down to the bottom of it, and that's no natural in the sea, and it so deep, too. And thon cave, Miss Una, with the smooth, red, clampy sides to it. What call has the rocks to be red? I'm thinking when God made the rocks black, and maybe white, it's black and white he meant them to be and no red. I wouldna say but what there's something no just canny about a cave with red sides to it higher than a man can stretch. Eh, but you've the chiney white feet, Miss Una. Mind now you dinna scrab them on the wee shells. Bide now, bide like a good lassie, till I spread the sheet for you to tread on. You will no be for going right intil the cave? Would it no do you to shout when you got to the mouth of it? I dinna like that cave with the red sides till it. I'm thinking maybe there was red sides to the cave where the witch of Endor dweft. Are you no sure that there isna something of that kind, something no right in the gloom beyond there?"

"Neal's in it," said Una, "what's to frighten me?"

"Ay, sure enough, he's there, the poor bairn. Lord save us, and keep us! The lassie's intil the water, and it up ower her head, and she's drownded. No, but she's up again, and she's swimmin' along like as if she was a sea maiden with hair all wet. Eh, but she swims fine, and she's gotten hold of the wee boatie wi' the laddie's dinner on it. Look at the white arms of her moving through the water, they're like the salmon fish slithering along when the net is pulled in. She's bonny, so she is. See till her now! See till her if she hasna lighted on some kind of a rock. She's standing up on it, and the sea no more than up to the knees of her. The water is running off her, and she's shaking herself like a wee dog. She doesna mind it. She's waving her hand to me and her in the very mouth of thon awful cave. Mine yourself, Miss Una, take heed now, like a good lass. Dinna go further, you're far enough. Bide where you are, and shout till him. Lord save us, she's off again, and the wee boatie in front of her. I've known a wheen o' lassies in my time that would do queer things for the lads they had their hearts set on, but ne'er a one as venturesome as her. I'm thinking Master Neal himself would look twice e'er he swam into thon dark hole. Eh, poor laddie, but there'll be light in his eyes when he sees the white glint of her coming till him where he's no expecting her or the like of her."

Indeed, Una was not so brave as she seemed. Her heart beat quicker as she struck out into the gloom of the cave. The water was colder, or seemed colder, than it had been outside. The splashing of drops from the roof, and the echoing noise of the sea's wash awed her. She felt a tightening in her throat. She swam with faster and faster strokes. The sides of the cave loomed huge about her. The roof seemed immensely, remotely, high. The water was dark now. It was a solemn thing to swim through it. She began to wonder how far it was to the end of the cave. A sudden terror seized her. Suppose, after all, that Neal was not in the cave, suppose that she was swimming in this awful place alone. She shouted aloud—

"Neal, Neal, Neal Ward, are you there?"

The cave echoed her cries. A thousand repetitions of the name she had shouted came to her from above, from behind, from right, from left. The rocks flung her words to each other, bandied them to and fro, turned them into ridicule, turned them into thundering sounds of terror, turned them into shrill shrieks. The frightened pigeons flew from their rocky perches; their wings set new echoes going. Una swam forward, and, reckless with fright now, shouted again. She heard some one rushing down to meet her from the remote depths of the cave. The great stones rolled and crashed under his feet with a noise like the firing of guns. Then, amid a babel of echoes, came a shout answering her's.

"I'm coming to you, Una."

She felt the bottom with her feet. She stood upright. At the sound of Neal's voice all her fears vanished. She could see him now. He was stumbling down over the slippery stones which the ebb tide left bare. He reached the water and splashed in.

"Stay where you are, you must not come any further."

"Una," he said, "dear Una, you have come to me."

She laughed merrily.

"Don't think I've come to live with you here, Neal, like a seal or a mermaid. No, no. I've brought you something to eat. Here, now, don't upset my little boat." She pushed the raft towards him. "Isn't it just like the boats we used to make long ago when we were little? Oh! do you remember how angry the salmon men were when you and Maurice stole all the corks off their net? But I can't stay talking here, I'm getting cold, and you, Neal, go back to dry land. What's the use of standing there up to your knees in water? There's no sun in here to dry your clothes afterwards. No, you must not come to me, I won't have it. You'd get wet up to your neck. Keep quiet, now. I've something to say to you. Maurice has gone to Glasgow to see that funny Captain Getty, who made you both so angry the day we took your uncle from the brig. He is arranging for the brig to lie off here and pick you up. Maurice and I will take you out in the boat. We will come in to the mouth of the cave and shout to you unless it's rough. If it's rough, Neal, you must swim out and hide somewhere among the rocks. But I hope it will stay calm. Maurice may be back to-morrow or next day. I've given you enough to eat for two days. I may not be able to come to-morrow."

"Do come again, Una, it's very lonely here."

"I will if I can, Neal. Good-bye. Keep a good heart. Good-bye. Oh, but it's hard to be leaving you in this dark place, but I think it's safe, and the country is full of yeomen. Good-bye, Neal. God bless you."

When Una and Hannah reached the little cove again, they found luncheon spread out on the grass ready for them. The troopers who had brought the baskets from Dunseveric House sat on their horses at the end of the rough track which led to the strand. The Comtesse reclined on a cloak spread for her on the grass. Captain Twinely, a worshipper with bold eyes and stupid tongue, sat at her feet and gazed at her. He had ceased even to wonder at his own good fortune in captivating so fair a lady. He had forgotten all about the angular daughter of a neighbouring squire, who was waiting for him to marry her. He was hopelessly, helplessly, fascinated by the woman in front of him. Estelle de Tourneville had never made an easier conquest. And she was already exceedingly weary of the flirtation. The man bored her because he was dull. He disgusted her because he was amorous.

"Oh, Una," she cried, "how quick you've been! It hardly seems a moment since you left. Captain Twinely and I have had such a delightful talk. I was telling him about the Jacobins in Paris, and how they wanted to cut my head off in the Terror. My dear, your hair is all wet. You look just like a seal with your sleek head and your brown eyes. Just fancy, Una, Captain Twinely thought that we were in sympathy with the rebels here. He had actually told his men to watch us in case we should try to help some horrid sans-culotte who is hiding somewhere. Just think of his suspecting me—me, of all people."

She cast a glance at Captain Twinely. Her eyes were full of half serious reproach, of laughter and enticement.

"I'm very hungry after my swim," said Una, "let us have our lunch."

Captain Twinely, awkward but anxious to please, was on his feet in an instant. He waited on the ladies, waited even on Hannah, whom he supposed to be Una's maid. He did not notice that Una shrank from him. He probably would not have cared even if he had seen that she avoided touching his hand as she might have avoided some loathsome reptile. His thoughts and his eyes were all for the Comtesse. She did not shrink from him. Her wonderful eyes thrilled him again and again. He touched her hand, her hair, her clothes, as he handed her this or that to eat or drink. He grew hot and cold in turns with the excitement of her nearness. He was ecstatically, ridiculously happy.

He walked back to Dunseveric House with her. He promised to call on her the next day. He promised to leave troopers on guard round the house all night in case a fugitive rebel, wandering in the demesne, might frighten the Comtesse. He suggested another pic-nic. At last, reluctantly, lingeringly, he bade her farewell.

"Adieu, Monsieur le Capitaine," said the Comtesse, "we shall expect you to-morrow then."

She stretched out her hand to him. He stooped and kissed it. Then she turned from him and ran up the avenue after Una and Hannah. The captain watched her. He pulled himself together, reassumed his habitual swagger, tried to persuade himself that he looked on the Comtesse as he had long been accustomed to look on other women.

"A damned fine woman," he said, "and a bit smitten with me. Begad, these French women have a great deal to recommend them. Thy catch fire at once. A man does not have to spend a month dilly-dallying with them, dancing attendance and looking like a fool while they are as cold as ice all the time. Give me a good full-blooded filly like this one."

"Una," said the Comtesse, when she overtook her niece. "Una, I positively can't stand another day of that man. He's odious. You'll have to do him yourself to-morrow, and let me go to the young man in the cave."

"But, Aunt Estelle, I thought you—you liked it. You looked as if you liked it."

"Mon dieu!" said the Comtesse, laughing, "of course I looked as if I liked it. If I had looked as if I disliked it I could not have kept him for ten minutes, and then what would have happened to you, mademoiselle?"

"It was very, very good of you," said Una, penitently. "I can never thank you enough."

"Oh, it wasn't so very good of me, and I don't want to be thanked at all. I'll tell you a secret, Una, and Hannah shall hear it too. I did like it. Now, what do you think?"

"You would, my lady," said Hannah. "I know that finely, I'd have liked it myself when I was young and frisky like you."

"What would you have liked, Hannah?" asked the Comtesse.

"Eh! just what you liked yourself, my lady; just seeing a man making himself a bigger fool nor the Lord meant him to be for the sake of my bonny face. I'm thinking you're the same as another for a' you're a countess and have a braw foreign name. You just like what I'd have liked, and what all women ever I heard tell on liked in their hearts, though maybe they wouldna own up till it, from thon wench, that might have been a gran' lady, too, for a' I ken, who made the great silly gaby of a Samson lie still while she clipped the seven locks off of his head. She liked fine to see him sleeping there like the tap he was for all the strongness of him."

"You are right, Hannah, you are right. Oh, Una dear, if you could have seen him—but you wouldn't understand. What's the good of telling you? Hannah, if you'd seen him sitting there like a great woolly sheep, with the silliest expression in his eyes; if you'd seen him putting out his hand to touch me, pretending he did it by accident, and then pulling it away again like one of those snails that crawl about in the sandhills when you touch his horns with the end of a blade of grass. If you'd seen him. Oh, I wish you'd seen him!"

"Faith, I seen plenty."

"You did not, Hannah; you didn't see half. He was far, far better before you came back."

She burst into a peal of half hysterical laughter. She may have enjoyed the captain's company, but he had evidently tried her nerves.

"But, Una dear," she said, when she grew calm again, "I hope Maurice will come soon, or that American ship, or something. I won't be able to go on very long."

"There's been an easterly breeze since noon," said Una, "and there's a haze out at sea."

"Do talk sense, Una. Here I've been sacrificing myself for you all day, and when I ask you for a little sympathy you talk to me about an east wind."

"But the east wind will bring the brig, aunt. How could she get here from Glasgow without the wind?"



CHAPTER XVIII

The Comtesse underrated her powers of endurance. For two more whole days she encouraged Captain Twinely to make love to her. She sat with him in the sandhills, she walked with him along the strand, she flattered him, ogled him, enticed him, till the man was beside himself with the desire of her. But in private it was not safe to speak to her about the captain. Her temper, when the hours of her love-making were over for the day, was extremely bad. Even Hannah, who was a match for most women in the use of her tongue, shrank from the sharp gibes of the Comtesse. Una tried in vain to soothe the ruffled lady, and had to bear much from her, but Una could have borne anything patiently. The east wind blew gently day and night, bringing—surely bringing—the white sails of the brig. The sea remained calm and she was able to go twice more to the cave. She saw the yeomen spread over the country, searching everywhere, through fields and hills and along the river banks, by the shore, among the rocks, over the Causeway cliffs, through the sandhills, the ruins of Dunluce, among the white cliffs of Port-rush Strand, at high tide and low tide, everywhere except the one place—the nook where Una bathed. Estelle de Tourneville secured that spot from the searchers' gaze. No man dared go there. Una could forgive the worst of tempers to the woman who purchased such security. And the Comtesse was excusable. Doubtless, she paid a heavy price for a delicately-nurtured and fastidious lady. No one ever knew what she endured. Neither to Una nor any one else did she tell at the time or afterwards the details of the captain's courtship.

At last, one evening after dusk, Maurice rode in from Ballycastle. He brought glorious news. Captain Getty was on his way. He might be expected off the coast the next day. Maurice had left the brig at the quay at Greenock ready to sail. Next morning he was up early. He took bread and meat and went alone to Pleaskin Head, carrying his father's long telescope with him. All morning he lay on the edge of the cliff peering eastward across the sea. He was strangely nervous now that the critical moment had arrived. He understood that the coast was being carefully watched, that the sight of a ship lying-to a mile or two from the shore, would certainly excite suspicion; that it might be very difficult for him to take his boat round to the cave where Neal lay hidden without being followed. It was absolutely necessary for him to catch sight of the brig before any one else did, to get off from the shore before the brig lay to, to be well on his way to her before any other boat put out to chase him. He knew that his own movements were watched. He was followed from the house to Pleaskin Head by two yeomen. As he lay on the cliffs he saw them a few hundred yards inland keeping guard on him.

At ten o'clock he caught sight of the topsails of a ship far east, beyond the blue outline of the Rathlin hills. The wind, very feeble at dawn, was freshening slightly. The lower sails of the vessel rose slowly into view. Maurice guessed her to be a brig—to be the brig he looked for. He lay still, watching her intently, till he was sure. Then he went home. He found Una and the Comtesse in the breakfast room. Captain Twinely, on the lawn outside, leaned on the window sill and talked to them. Maurice, uncontrollably excited, whispered to Una—

"Now."

She rose, and followed him from the room. Captain Twinely eyed them sharply. He had ceased to distrust the Comtesse, but he was keenly suspicious of Maurice. Since he had been robbed of his clothes in Antrim he hated Maurice nearly as bitterly as he did Neal, and was determined to have him strictly watched.

"Pardon me, dear lady," he said, "I must give some orders to the patrol."

"Don't be long, then," she said, "I want you to-day, Captain Twinely. Come back to me."

Their eyes met, and the Comtesse felt certain that her victim would return to her. She leaped from her chair the moment he left her and ran from the room.

"Una," she cried. "Una, Maurice, where are you?"

She found them; they were packing clothes in a hand-bag—clothes, she supposed, for Neal.

"He's gone to give orders to his men about you, Maurice. I know he has. I haven't a moment to explain. Leave everything to me. I'll manage him, only trust me and do what I say. Una, are you a born idiot? Take those things out of the bag. How can you go about with that travelling-bag in your hand and not excite suspicion? If you must have clothes wrap them in a bathing-sheet. Oh, what a fool you are!"

She left them no time to answer her, but fled back to the breakfast-room. A moment later Captain Twinely found her, lounging—a figure of luxurious laziness—among the cushions of Lord Dunseveric's easy chair.

"We are going on the sea to-day," she said, "my nephew, Maurice, has promised to take us in a boat to the Skerries. I have never been there, but I hear they are delightful. I hope you will come with us. Please say yes. I should feel so much safer in a boat if you were there. My nephew is very rash. He frightens me. I do not trust him. I shall not feel secure or easy in my mind unless you come, too. Besides"—her voice sank to a delicious whisper—"I shall not really enjoy myself unless you are there."

She stretched her hand out and laid it with the tenderest motion of caress on his hand. Captain Twinely could not hesitate, he promised to go with her. In the back of his mind was a feeling that if he were of the party Maurice St. Clair could not attempt to communicate with the fugitive.

"Maurice," said the Comtesse, "Maurice, are you ready? Captain Twinely is coming with us to the Skerries for a pic-nic. Won't that be nice? Come along quickly, we are starting."

She took the captain with her, and walked down to the cove where the boat lay. Una and Maurice, with their bundles of clothes, followed.

"Una," said Maurice, "what does she mean? I can't take this man in the boat, and I won't. What does she mean by inviting him?"

"I don't know, but we must trust her. We can trust her. She's been wonderful all these last three days. Only for her I could never have got food to Neal."

"Well," said Maurice, "I suppose if the worst comes to the worst it will only be a matter of knocking him on the head with an oar. I don't want to do that if I can help it. My lord will be angry if he has to get me out of a fresh scrape. It will be a serious matter to assault this captain in cold blood. I'll do it, of course, if necessary, but I would rather not."

The boat was dragged down the beach. The Comtesse looked at it, and protested.

"Maurice, surely you are not going in that little boat. It's far too small. It's not safe."

"Oh, it's safe enough," said Maurice, "and anyway there's no other."

"There is," said the Comtesse. "There, look at that nice broad, flat boat. I'll go in that."

"The cobble for lifting the salmon net!" said Maurice, with a laugh. "My dear aunt, you couldn't go to sea in that. She can't sail, and it takes four men to pull her as fast as a snail would crawl. Who ever heard of going off to the Skerries in a salmon cobble?"

"Well," said the Comtesse, angrily, "I won't go in the other. I know that one is too small. Isn't she too small, Captain Twinely? Look at the size of the sea. Look how far off the island is! No, I won't go. If you persist in being disobliging, Maurice, you and Una can go by yourselves. Captain Twinely and I will stay on shore."

The boat was already in the water and Una sat in the stern. Maurice, ankle deep in water, held her bow. Maurice laughed aloud. He began to understand his aunt's plan.

"Come, Captain Twinely, we will go for a walk along the cliffs."

Her hand was on his arm. She held him. He looked at the boat. A swift doubt shot through his mind. Something in the way Maurice laughed aroused his suspicion. He took a step forward. The Comtesse clung tightly to his arm. Maurice gave a vigorous shove and leapt forward over the bow. The boat shot out and floated clear of the land.

"Isn't he a disagreeable boy?" said the Comtesse. "You wouldn't have refused to do what I asked you, would you, Captain Twinely?"

Her eyes sought his, but he was watching the boat uneasily. Maurice had the oars out, and was pulling round the Black Rock.

"He's not going to the Skerries," he said, "he's going in the other direction."

"What does it matter where he goes? Besides, you know what stupid things boats are. They always turn away from the place they want to go to. It's what they call tacking. Maurice must be tacking now. Let him manage his horrid boat himself. We needn't trouble ourselves about him. We will go for a walk on the tops of the cliffs."

"I thought you did not like walking on the cliffs, you never would walk there with me before."

"Please don't be cross with me. May I not change my mind?"

She stroked his hand and looked up into his face with eyes which actually had tears in them. "I shall be so miserable if you are cross. I shall feel that I have spoiled your day. I wish now that I had gone in the little boat. I wish I had been upset and drowned. Then perhaps you would have been sorry for me."

She was crying in earnest now. Captain Twinely yielded, yielded to her tears, to the fascination of her presence, to the passion of his love for her. Very tenderly and gently he led her up the steep path to the top of the cliffs. Holding her hands in his he walked silently beside her. He was a bad man, revengeful, cruel, cowardly, but he really loved the woman beside him. His was no heroic, spiritual love, but it was the best, the strongest, of which his nature was capable. He could never for her sake have lived purely and nobly, or learned self-denial, but, cowardly as he was, he would have died for her.

Suddenly she stood still, snatched her hand from his grasp, and stepped away from him.

"Now," she cried, "at last! at last! There, Captain Twinely, there is the boat with the sail spread, shooting out to sea. Look at her; look carefully; look well. How many people are there in her? Can you see? I can see very well. There are three, and who is the third?"

The tears were gone out of her eyes now. They blazed with triumph and satisfaction. She laughed aloud, exultingly, bitterly.

"Who is the third? Can you see? He is Neal Ward, the man you've chased, the man you've been seeking day and night. There"—she pointed further eastwards—"there is the American brig which will bear him away from you. Do you understand?"

Captain Twinely followed her gaze and her pointing finger. He began to understand.

"And I did it. I fooled you. I blinded your eyes while my niece fed him in his hiding-place. I encouraged you to seek everywhere, and kept you back from the place where he was. I—I made pretence of tolerating your hateful presence. I made you think that I cared for you, loved you, you, you—I would rather love a toad."

"You have deceived me, then, all the time, played with me."

"Yes," she laughed wildly, "deceived you, played with you, fooled you, cheated you, and hated you—yes, hated, hated the very sight of you, the abominable sound of your voice, the sickening touch of your hand."

"And I loved you," he said, simply. "I loved you so well that I think I would have done anything for you. There was no need for you to fool me. I would have let the man go if you had asked me. I would have let him go, though I hate him, and I could not have asked leave even to kiss your hand for my reward. I would have been content just to have pleased you. Why did you cheat me?"

The Comtesse had no pity for him. The memory of the words he had spoken to her, of his foolish face, of his amorous ways, of the touchings of his hands which she had endured, thronged on her. Her lips curled back over her teeth. Her eyes were hard like shining steel.

"I hate you," she hissed at him. "I have always hated you since the night when you seized me and dragged me into the meeting-house. I would have revenged myself for that even if there had been no prisoner to save from you."

"I did not do that," said Captain Twinely, "and I did not know who you were at the time. Be just to me even if you hate me. God knows that I would have died to save you from the smallest hurt."

He fell on the ground before her.

"Oh," he cried, "have some pity for me. I love you with all my soul. Let me serve you, let me wait on you. Let me see you sometimes and hear your voice. Have you no pity for me? I do not ask for love, or friendship, or the meanest gift. Only do not hate me. I have led an evil life, I know it, but for your sake, for your sake, if you will pity me, I will do anything. I will be anything you bid me. But do not hate me. For the love of God, by the mercy of Christ the Saviour, do not cast me utterly away from you. Do not hate me."

He crawled forward, and clutched the bottom of her skirt with his hand. With a swift movement she snatched it from his grasp.

"I do hate you," she cried, "and I shall always hate you. From this out I shall always hope and pray and strive to get to heaven when I die, not for the love of the saints or because I think that I shall be happy there, but just because I shall be safe from the sight of you, for you will surely be in hell."

She turned and walked down the path they had ascended together. She left him grovelling on the ground, his face slobbered with tears and grimy with the clay his hands rubbed over it.



CHAPTER XIX

The boat sped seawards. The wind had freshened since the morning, and worked round after the sun, as the wind does in settled weather. It blew now from the south-east, and the boat reached out with a free sheet. Una sat in the stern and held the tiller. Her eyes glistened with excitement and delight. At her feet, on the floor boards of the boat, sat Neal, dripping after his swim out of the cave. The sun shone warm on him, and he had Una close to him. He was safe at last, freed from the terrible anxiety and fears. He had life before him—a glad, good thing, yet there was more sorrow than joy in his face. In an hour, or less than an hour, he must say farewell to Una. He felt that he would gladly have gone back to the gloom of the cave for the sake of a brief visit from her every day. He would have accepted the life of a hunted animal rather than part, for years perhaps, from Una. He was sure that he had never known the fulness of his love for her until this hour of parting. His eyes never left her face. Now and then, when she could spare attention from her steering, she answered his glances. In her face there was no sorrow at all, only merry delight and the anticipation of more joy. "I have brought you a suit of my clothes, and some change of linen," said Maurice. "I have them in a bundle here, done up in a great sheet. Hullo! there are two bundles. I didn't notice that you had brought a second one, Brown-Eye. You'll not leave me a rag to my back if you give Neal two suits."

"It's all right, Maurice," said Una, "the second bundle has my clothes in it."

"Your clothes, Brown-Eyes! Why have you brought clothes?"

"I'm going with Neal, of course."

Neal sat upright suddenly and stared at her with a new expression in his eyes. He was the prey of sheer astonishment, then of a rapture which set his heart beating tumultuously.

"You are going with Neal! Nonsense, Brown-Eyes. How can you?"

"I've money to pay my passage," she said, "and if I hadn't I'd go just the same. I shall climb up into the brig, and I won't be turned out of her."

"You can't," said Maurice.

"Oh, but I can, and I will. Do you think you and father are the only two in the family that have wills of your own. You'll take me, Neal, won't you? We'll be married as soon as ever we get to America. I'm like the girl in the song—

"'I'll dye my petticoat, I'll dye it red, And through the world I'll beg my bread,' but I won't leave you now, Neal."

She began to sing merrily, exultingly—

"Though father and brother and a' should go mad, Just whistle and I'll come to you, my lad."

"Well," said Maurice, "if you go I may as well take my passage, too. I daren't go home and face my lord with the news that you've run off from him. But steady, Brown-Eyes, watch what you're doing. We're close on the brig now. We'll neither go to America nor back home if you upset us now."

He took in the sprit of the sail as Una rounded the boat under the brig's stern. A rope was flung to them and made fast. Another rope, a stouter one, was lowered to Neal. Una seized it and climbed up. Willing hands caught her, lifted her over the bulwarks, and set her on the deck.

"Am I to ferry you across, too, young lady?" asked Captain Getty.

"Yes," said Una, "I am going with you."

Neal leaned across the thwarts of the boat to Maurice.

"Stay you here," he said, "leave this to me."

He gained the deck of the brig. Una met him with outstretched hands and sparkling eyes.

"Isn't this glorious?" she said. "You never guessed, Neal. Confess that you never guessed."

Then she shrank back from him, frightened by what she saw. His face was ashy grey, save for two flaming spots on his cheek bones. His lips were trembling. His eyes told her of some desperate resolution, of some counsel adopted with intense pain.

"What is the matter, Neal! Do you not want me after all? Will you not take me?"

"No, I will not take you."

It was all he succeeded in saying before a sob choked him. Una stared at him in terrified surprise; but even then, even with his own words in her ears, she did not doubt his love for her. She waited.

"Una," he said at last, "I cannot take you with me."

She gazed at him with wide, pitiful eyes, like the eyes of a little child struck suddenly and inexplicably by the hand of some trusted friend. Neal trembled and turned away from her. He could not look at her while he spoke.

"Una, dearest, it is not that I do not love you. I love you. Oh, heart of my heart, I love you. I would give——"

He sobbed again. Then, with an effort, he mastered himself, and spoke slowly in low, tender tones.

"Una, your father has trusted me. He has helped me, saved me. He has been my friend. I am bound in honour to him. I cannot take you from him like this."

"Ah!" she said. "Honour! Is your honour more than love?"

"Una, Una, can't you understand? It's because I love you so well that I cannot do this. Wait, dearest, wait a little while. I shall come back to you. The world is not so wide that it can keep me from you. The time will not be long."

He turned to her, and saw again the intolerable stricken sadness of her eyes.

"My darling," he said, "I cannot bear it. I will take you with me. Come. What does it matter about honour or disgrace? What have we to do with right or wrong? Will you come, Una?"

"Her eyes dropped before his gaze. Her hands clasped and unclasped, the fingers of them sliding close-pressed against each other. She trembled.

"If it is wrong——," she whispered. "Oh, Neal, I do not understand, but what you think wrong is wrong for me, too. I will not do what you say is wrong. But, oh! come back to me, come back to me soon. I cannot bear to wait long for you."

All the joy was gone from her. Forgetful of the strangers who stood round her, she covered her face with her hands and wept bitterly.

Maurice's voice reached them from the boat.

"Be quick, Neal. I must cast off and let you get under way. They've got the old salmon cobble out, and they're coming after us. Captain Twinely must have managed to tear himself away from the Comtesse. They are pulling six oars, and the cobble is full of men. Be quick."

Una stopped crying on the instant. She cast a terrified glance at the approaching boat. Then she ran across the deck to Captain Getty. She seized his hand, and fell on her knees before him.

"Keep him safe, Captain Getty. Keep him safe. The soldiers, the yeomen, are after him. Do not give him up to them. They will hang him if they get him. Keep him safe. Do not let them take him."

"Young lady, Miss," said Captain Getty, "stand up and dry your eyes. Your sweetheart's safe while he stands on my deck. Safe from them. For tempests and fire and the perils of the deep, and the act of God"—he lifted his cap from his head—"I can't swear, but as for darned British soldiers of any kind—such scum set no foot on the deck of Captain Hercules Getty's brig—the Saratoga. You see that rag there, young lady, that rag flying from the gaff of the spanker, it's not much to look at, maybe, not up to the high-toned level of the crosses and the lions that spread themselves and ramp about on other flags, but I guess a man's free when that flies over him. You take my word for it, Miss—the word of Captain Hercules Getty—the Britisher will knuckle under to that rag. He's seen the stars and stripes before now, and he knows he's just got to slip his tail in between his hind legs and scoot, scoot tarnation quick from the place where that rag flutters on the breeze."



CHAPTER XX

In the summer of 1800 the Act of Union was passed. The Irish Constitution ceased to exist. The country lay torpid and apathetic under the blow. Blood had been let in Antrim and Down, in Wexford and Wicklow. The society of United Irishmen was broken. The Protestant gentry were frightened or bribed. They, or the greater part of them, surrendered their birthright without even Esau's hunger for excuse. Roman Catholic ecclesiastics, deluded by the promise of emancipation, which was not kept for many a long year afterwards, offered a dubious welcome to the English power. The people, cowed, helpless, expectant of little any way, waited in numb indifference for what the new order was to bring. There was little joy and little cause for joy in Ireland then.

From the gate of Dunseveric House, in the twilight of the short October afternoon, came a young man who seemed to feel no sense of depression or sadness. He strode briskly along the muddy road, swinging his stick in his hand, whistling a merry tune. After a while, for very exuberance of spirits, he broke into song. His voice rang clear through the damp, misty air—

"Oh, my love's like a red, red rose, That's newly sprung in June: Oh, my love's like the melody That's sweetly played in tune."

A hundred yards or so further along the road walked another traveller. He carried a knapsack on his shoulders and a stout staff in his hand. When the song reached his ears he stopped, listened carefully, and then waited for the singer to overtake him. It seemed as if the young man was too glad at heart to sing through one song. He began again, and his voice was full of passion, as if he had abandoned himself to the inspiration of his words—

"Oh, wert thou in the cauld blast, On yonder lea, on yonder lea, My plaidie to the angry airt, I'd shelter thee, I'd shelter thee."

"Neal Ward," said the man who waited.

The singer paused.

"I'm Neal Ward, my friend, who ever are you? And I know your voice. I know it. Let me see your face, man. You're Jemmy Hope. As I'm a living man, you're Jemmy Hope. I couldn't have asked a better meeting."

He seized Hope's hand and wrung it heartily. He held it firm.

"There's no man in the world I'd rather have met to-night. But I might have guessed I'd meet you. When a man's happy every wish of his heart comes to him. It's only the poor devils who are sad that have to wait and sigh for what they want and never get it."

"So you are happy, Neal. I am right glad of it. It makes me happy, too, for all that's come and gone, to listen to your singing. Give me a share of your good news, Neal. We want good news in Ireland now-a-days. What makes you happy?"

"I'm to be married to-morrow, Jemmy Hope. To-morrow, to-morrow, man. Isn't that enough to make me happy?"

He put his arm round Hope, and led him along the road. He walked as if there were music in his ears which made him want to dance.

"She's the best girl in all the world," he said, "the bravest and the truest and the sweetest—

'Or were I a monarch o' the globe, With thee to reign, with thee to reign, The brightest jewel in my crown Wad be my queen, wad be my queen.'

Haven't I the right to be happy, James Hope? Tell me that."

"You have the best gift that God has got to give to man," said Hope, "and I that speak to you know. I have my own dear Rose. I have found that the love of a good woman made all my trouble easy, turned sorrow of heart into a kind of gladness, brought joy out of disappointment, made poverty sweet to bear."

"But I'm not poor," said Neal, "I have a home to offer her, a home not unworthy of her. I have money to give her what she wants. I shall take her across the sea in a fine ship that I own myself, in a cabin I have fitted out for her, fine enough for a crowned queen, but not fine enough for her—

"'Blair in Athol's mine lassie, Fair Dunkeld is mine lassie, St. Johnston's bower and Hunting Tower, And a' that's mine is thine, lassie.'

Oh, man, but I have cause for my happiness. I have the world before me, good work to do, good money to earn, and her love like a "perpetual sun-shine to make life fair to me."

Then suddenly his voice changed.

"Ah, but my happiness is not complete. There are two things I want yet. I want my father to come out with me, and I want you, too, my friend."

"And will your father not go? I heard that they had released him at last from the prison in Scotland, whew they kept him since the year of the break at Antrim. He's home again."

"Ay, he's home, and it's little cause he has to stay here. They have put a new minister in his place. The Synod, the conscienceless villains, declared it vacant. Castlereagh, through his satellite Black, has corrupted them, too. He'll preach no more in the old meeting-house, nor sit over his bodes in the old manse. He's at the Widow Maclure's now, the woman whose husband was hanged. He'll not want his bit while I've money in my pocket. But I'd like to bring him with me, to give him a better home."

"And will he not go?"

"He will not. He says he's too old to go to a new land now; but you'll help me to persuade him. I think, maybe, if you'd come with me that he'd come, too. And you will come, won't you?"

Hope shook his head.

"Don't shake your head at me that way, James Hope. You don't know what you're refusing. I can give you work to do out there, and money to earn, and a fine house to live in. It's a good land, so it is; it's a land of liberty. We've done with the tyrannies of this worn-out old world. A man may speak his mind out there, and think his own thoughts and go his own way. We doff our hats and make our bows to no man living, only to him who shows himself by fine deeds to be our better. It's the land for you and the land for me, and the land for every man that loves freedom. Will you not come?"

They reached the door of the Maclures' house and entered. A bright fine burned on the hearth. The Widow Maclure was busy spreading a white cloth on the table. Her eldest girl, a child of twelve years old, stood near at hand with a pile of wooden porridge bowls in her arms. The two other children, holding by their mother's skirts, followed, smiled on and chidden as they impeded her work, and babbled questions about this or that. Beside the fire, in the chair that had once belonged to the master of the house, sat Micah Ward. He looked very old now and infirm. The months in a prison hulk in Belfast Lough and the long weariness of his confinement in bleak Fort George had set their mark upon him. On his knees lay a Greek lexicon, but he was pursuing no word through its pages. It was open at the fly-leaf inside the cover. He was reading lovingly for the hundredth time an inscription written there—

"This book was given to Rev. Micah Ward by his fellow-prisoners in Fort George, in witness of their gratitude to him for his ministrations during their captivity, and as a token of their admiration for his fortitude, his patience, and his unfailing charity."

There followed a list of twenty names. Four of them belonged to men of the Roman Catholic faith, six of them were the names of Presbyterians, ten were of those who accepted the teaching of that other Church which, trammelled for centuries by connection with the State, hampered with riches secured to her by the bayonets of a foreign power, dragged down very often by officials placed over her by Englishmen, has yet in spite of all won glory. Out of her womb have come the men whose names shine brightest on the melancholy roll of the Irish patriots of the last two centuries. She has not cared to boast of them. She has hidden their names from her children as if they were a shame to her, but they are hers.

Thus far off in a desolate Scottish fortress, after the total failure of every plan, in the hour of Ireland's most hopeless degradation, the great dream which had fired the imagination of Tone and Neilson and the others, the dream of all Irishmen uniting in a common love of their country, a love which should transcend the differences of rival creeds, found a realisation. The witness, written in crabbed characters on the fly-leaf of a lexicon, lay on the knees of a broken old man in the cottage of a widow within earshot of the perpetual clamour of the bleak northern sea.

"Well, father," said Neal, "here I am back again. And here's Jemmy Hope, whom I picked up on the road. He's come to see you. He's going to persuade you to cross the sea with me. You and I and he together, and Hannah Macaulay, who's coming, too. Una will make you all welcome on her sturdy ship. It's her ship now. All that I have is her's."

Micah Ward looked at his son with a gentle, sad smile on his face. Then he turned to welcome his visitor.

"So you have come to see me, James Hope. It was good of you. Ah, man, there's not so many of us left now. Orr, they hanged him; M'Cracken, they hanged him; Monro, they hanged him; Porter, they hanged him. And many another, many another. And the rest are gone across the sea. You and I are left, with one here and there besides—a very small remnant, a cottage in a vineyard, a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, a besieged city."

"It's hard to tell," said Hope, "why they did not hang me, too. There were times when, only for my wife, who would have grieved after me, I could have found it in my heart to wish they would."

"Father," said Neal, "Hope is coming to America with me."

"Nay, lad, nay. I was born in Ireland, I've lived my life in Ireland, I'll die in Ireland when my time comes. Maybe before the end I'll find a chance to strike another blow for her."

"Doubtless," said Micah Ward, "such a blow will be stricken, but not in our time, James Hope. The fighting spirit is gone from us. The men are laid low or scattered or broken. The people speak about the 'break.' They call it well. 'Shall iron break the northern iron and the steel?' Yea, but iron hath broken us. It hath entered into our souls. And if one look unto the land, behold darkness and sorrow and the light is darkened in the heavens thereof."

"But there is another land," said Neal, "where the sun shines, where neither palaces of kings, nor haughty churches, nor the banners and cannon smoke of England's soldiers, nor yet the gallows, casting shadows over the green fields, and overtopping every village, can come between the people and the good light which the Lord God made for them. That's the land for you and me."

"For you, Neal," said Micah Ward, "and for the girl you love. But there is no other land except only this lost land for me and him."

He took Hope's hand and held it. Then, with his other hand, he drew his son down beside him. Neal knelt on the earthen floor of the cottage. He felt hands laid upon his head—his father's hands and James Hope's. The benediction came from both of them, though it was Micah Ward's voice which spoke the words—

"The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble, Neal; The name of the God of Jacob defend thee; Send thee help from the sanctuary, And strengthen thee out of Zion; Remember all thy offerings, And accept thy burnt sacrifice; Grant thee according to thine own heart, And fulfil all thy counsel."

THE END

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