HotFreeBooks.com
The Wild Geese
by Stanley John Weyman
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Cock! cock! cock!" shrieked a tipsy voice, and an orange, hurled at random, missed the Colonel's astonished face by a yard. The mare which had led him so far had disappeared, and instinctively he drew bridle. He stared at the window.

"Mark one!" cried a second roisterer, and a cork, better aimed than the orange, struck the Colonel sharply on the chin. A shout of laughter greeted the hit.

He raised his hat. "Gentlemen," he remonstrated, "gentlemen——"

He could proceed no further. A flight of corks, a renewed cry of "Cock! cock! cock!" a chorus of "Fetch him, Ponto! Dead, good dog! Find him, Ponto!" drowned his remonstrances. Perhaps in the scowling face at his elbow—for William Bale had followed him and was looking very fierce indeed—the wits of the —th found more amusement than in the master's mild astonishment.

"Who the devil is he?" cried one of the seniors, raising his voice above the uproar. "English or Irish?"

"Irish for a dozen!" a voice answered. "Here, Paddy, where's your papers?"

"Ay, be jabers!" in an exaggerated brogue; "it's the broth of a boy he is, and never a face as long as his in ould Ireland!"

"Gentlemen," the Colonel said, getting in a word at last. "Gentlemen, I have been in many companies before this, and——"

"And by G—d, you shall be in ours!" one of the revellers retorted. And "Have him in! Fetch him in!" roared a dozen voices, amid much laughter. In a twinkling half as many young fellows had leapt from the windows, and surrounded him. "Who-whoop!" cried one, "Who-whoop!"

"Steady, gentlemen, steady!" the Colonel said, a note of sternness in his voice. "I've no objection to joining you, or to a little timely frolic, but——"

"Join us you will, whether or no!" replied one, more drunken or more turbulent than the rest. He made as if he would lay hands on the Colonel, and, to avoid violence, the latter suffered himself to be helped from his saddle. In a twinkling he was urged through the doorway, leaving his reins in Bale's hand, whose face, for sheer wrath and vindictiveness, was a picture.

Boisterous cries of "Hallo, sobersides!" and "Cock, cock, cock!" greeted the Colonel, as, partly of his own accord and partly urged by unceremonious hands, he crossed the threshold, and shot forward into the room.

The scene presented by the apartment matched the flushed faces and the wandering eyes which the windows had framed. The long table was strewn with flasks and glasses and half-peeled fruit, the floor with empty bottles. A corner of the table had been cleared for a main at hazard; but to make up for this the sideboard was a wilderness of broken meats and piled-up dishes, and an overturned card-table beside one of the windows had strewn the floor with cards. Here, there, everywhere on chairs, on hooks, were cast sword-belts, neckcloths, neglected wigs.

A peaceful citizen of that day had as soon found himself in a bear-pit; and even the Colonel's face grew a trifle longer as hands, not too gentle, conducted him towards the end of the table. "Gentlemen, gentlemen," he began, "I have been in many companies, as I said before, and——"

"A speech! Old Gravity's speech!" roared a middle-aged, bold-eyed man, who had suggested the sally from the windows, and from the first had set the younger spirits an example of recklessness. "Hear to him!" He filled a glass of wine and waved it perilously near the Colonel's nose. "Old Gravity's speech! Give it tongue!" he cried. "The flure's your own, and we're listening."

Colonel John eyed him with a slight contraction of the features. But the announcement, if ill-meant, availed to procure silence. The more sober had resumed their seats. He raised his head and spoke.

"Gentlemen," he said—and it was strange to note the effect of his look as his eyes fell first on one and then on another, fraught with a dignity which insensibly wrought on them. "Gentlemen, I have been in many companies, and I have found it true, all the world over, that what a man brings he finds. I have the honour to speak to you as a soldier to soldiers——"

"English or Irish?" asked a tall sallow man—sharply, but in a new tone.

"Irish!"

"Oh, be jabers!" from the man with the wineglass.

But the Colonel's eye and manner had had their effect, and "Let him speak!" the sallow man said. "And you, Payton, have done with your fooling, will you?"

"Well, hear to him!"

"I have been in many camps and many companies, gentlemen," the Colonel resumed, "and those of many nations. But wherever I have been I have found that if a man brought courtesy with him, he met with courtesy at the hands of others. And if he brought no offence, he received none. I am a stranger here, for I have been out of my own country for a score of years. On my return you welcome me," he smiled, "a little boisterously perhaps, but I am sure, gentlemen, with a good intent. And as I have fared elsewhere I am sure I shall fare at your hands."

"Well, sure," from the background, "and haven't we made you welcome?"

"Almost too freely," the Colonel replied, smiling good-humouredly. "A peaceable man who had not lived as long as I have might have found himself at a loss in face of so strenuous a welcome. Corks, perhaps, are more in place in bottles——"

"And a dale more in place out of them!" from the background.

"But if you will permit me to explain my errand, I will say no more of that. My name, gentlemen, is Sullivan, Colonel John Sullivan of Skull, formerly of the Swedish service, and much at your service. I shall be still more obliged if any of you will be kind enough to inform me who is the purchaser——"

Payton interrupted him rudely. "Oh, d—n! We have had enough of this!" he cried. "Sink all purchasers, I say!" And with a drunken crow he thrust his neighbour against the speaker, causing both to reel. How it happened no one saw—whether Payton himself staggered in the act, or flung the wine wantonly; but somehow the contents of his glass flew over the Colonel's face and neckcloth.

Half a dozen men rose from their seats. "Shame!" an indignant voice cried.

Among those who had risen was the sallow man. "Payton," he said sharply, "what did you do that for?"

"Because I chose, if you like!" the stout man answered. "What is it to you? I am ready to give him satisfaction when he likes, and where he likes, and no heel-taps! And what more can he want? Do you hear, sir?" he continued in a bullying tone. "Sword or pistols, before breakfast or after dinner, drunk or sober, Jack Payton's your man. D—n me, it shall never be said in my time that the —th suffered a crop-eared Irishman to preach to them in their own mess-room! You can send your friend to me when you please. He'll find me!"

The Colonel was wiping the wine from his chin and neckcloth. He had turned strangely pale at the moment of the insult. More than one of those who watched him curiously—and of such were all in the room, Payton excepted—and who noted the slow preciseness of his movements and the care with which he cleansed himself, albeit his hand shook, expected some extraordinary action.

But no one looked for anything so abnormal or so astonishing as the course he took when he spoke. Nothing in his bearing had prepared them for it; nor anything in his conduct which, so far, had been that of a man of the world not too much at a loss even in the unfavourable circumstances in which he was placed—circumstances which would have unnerved many a one.

"I do not fight," he said. "Your challenge is cheap, sir, as your insult."

Payton stared. He had never been more astonished in his life. "Good L—d!" he cried. "You do not fight? Heaven and earth! and you a soldier!"

"I do not fight."

"After that, man! Not—after——" He did not finish the sentence, but laughed with uplifted chin, as at some great joke.

"No," Colonel John said between his teeth.

And then no one spoke. A something in Colonel John's tone and manner, a something in the repression of his voice, sobered the spectators, and turned that which might have seemed an ignominy, a surrender, into a tragedy. And a tragedy in which they all had their share. For the insult had been so wanton, so gross, so brutal, that there was not one of the witnesses who had not felt shame, not one whose sympathy had not been for a moment with the victim, and who did not experience a pang on his account as he stood, mild and passive, before them.

Payton alone was moved only by contempt. "Lord above us, man!" he cried, finding his voice again. Are you a Quaker? If so, why the devil do you call yourself a soldier?"

"I am no Quaker," Colonel John answered, "but I do not fight duels."

"Why?"

"If I killed you," the Colonel replied, eyeing him steadily, "would it dry my neckcloth or clean my face?"

"No!" Payton retorted with a sneer, "but it would clean your honour!" He had felt the reprehension in the air, he had been conscious for a few seconds that he had not the room with him; but the perception made him only the more arrogant now that he felt his feet again. "It would prove, man, that, unlike the beasts that perish, you valued something more than your life!"

"I do."

"What?" Payton asked with careless disdain.

"Among other things, my duty." Payton laughed brutally. "Why, by the powers, you are a preacher!" he retorted. "Hang your duty, sir, and you for a craven! Give me acts, not words! It's a man's duty to defend his honour, and you talk of your neckcloth! There's for a new neckcloth!" He pulled out a half-crown and flung it, with an insulting gesture, upon the table. "Show us your back, and for the future give gentlemen of honour—a wide berth! You are no mate for them!"

The act and the words were too strong for the stomachs of the more generous among his hearers. A murmur, an undoubted murmur rose—for if Payton was feared he was not loved; and the sallow-faced man, whose name was Marsh, spoke out. "Easy, Payton," he said. "The gentleman——"

"The gentleman, eh?"

"Did not come here of his own accord, and you've said enough, and done enough! For my part——"

"I didn't ask for your interference!" the other cried insolently.

"Well, anyway——"

"And I don't want it! And I won't have it; do you hear, Marsh?" Payton repeated menacingly. "You know me, and I know you."

"I know that you are a better fencer and a better shot than I am," Marsh replied, shrugging his shoulders, "and I daresay than any of us. We are apt to believe it, anyway. But——"

"I would advise you to let that be enough," Payton sneered.

It was then that the Colonel, who had stood silent during the altercation of which he was the subject, spoke—and in a tone somewhat altered. "I am much obliged to you, sir," he said, addressing the sallow-faced man, "but I will cause no further trouble. I crave leave to say one word only, which may come home to some among you. We are all, at times, at the mercy of mean persons. Yes, sir, of mean persons," the Colonel repeated, raising his voice and speaking in a tone so determined—he seemed another man—that Payton, in the act of seizing a decanter to hurl at him, hesitated. "For any but a mean person," Colonel John continued, drawing himself up to his full height, "finding that he had insulted one who could not meet him on even terms—one who could not resent the insult in the manner intended—would have deemed it all one as if he had insulted a one-armed man, or a blind man, and would have set himself right by an apology."

At that word Payton found his voice. "Hang your apology!" he cried furiously.

"By an apology," the Colonel repeated, fixing him with eyes of unmeasured contempt, "which would have lowered him no more than an apology to a woman or a child. Not doing so, his act dishonours himself only, and those who sit with him. And one day, unless I mistake not, his own blood, and the blood of others, will rest upon his head."

With that word the speaker turned slowly, walked with an even pace to the door, and opened it, none gainsaying him. On the threshold he paused and looked back. Something, possibly some chord of superstition in his breast which his adversary's last words had touched, held Payton silent: and silent the Colonel's raised finger found him.

"I believe," Colonel John said, gazing solemnly at him, "that we shall meet again." And he went out.

Payton turned to the table, and, with an unsteady hand, filled a glass. He read disapprobation in the eyes about him, but he had shaken the momentary chill from his own spirits, and he stared them down. "Sink the old Square-Toes!" he cried. "He got what he deserved! Who'll throw a main with me?"

"Thirty guineas against your new mare, if you like?"

"No, confound you," Payton retorted angrily. "Didn't I say she wasn't for sale?"



CHAPTER VI

THE MAITRE D'ARMES

Beyond doubt Colonel John had got himself off the scene with a certain amount of dignity. But with all that he had done and suffered in the lands beyond the Baltic and the Vistula, he had not yet become so perfect a philosopher as to be indifferent to the opinion held of him by others. He was, indeed, as he retired, as unhappy as a more ordinary man might have been in the same case. He knew that he was no craven, that he had given his proofs a score of times. But old deeds and a foreign reputation availed nothing here. And it was with a deep sense of vexation and shame that he rode out of the barrack-yard. Why, oh why! had he been so unlucky as to enter it? He was a man, after all, and the laughter of the mess-room, the taunts of the bully, burned his ears.

Nor were his spirits low on his account only. The cruelty of man to man, the abuse of strength by those who had it, and the pains of those who had it not, the crookedness of the world in which the weak go to the wall—thoughts of these things weighed him down. But more, and more to the purpose, he saw that after what had happened, his chances of success in the enterprise which had brought him to town, and which was itself but a means to an end, were lessened. It might not be possible to pursue that enterprise any farther. This was a mortifying thought, and accounted for the melancholy face with which he sought the inn, and supped; now wishing that he had not done this or that, now pondering how he might turn the flank of a misfortune which threatened to shatter all his plans.

For if he was anxious to recover the mare, his anxiety did not rest there. Her recovery was but a step to other things; to that influence at Morristown which would make him potent for good; to that consideration which would enable him to expel foolish councils, and silence that simmering talk of treason which might at any moment boil up into action and ruin a countryside. But he knew that he could only get the mare from those who held her by imposing himself upon them; and to do this after what had happened seemed impossible. The story would be told, must be told: it would be carried far and wide. Such things were never hid; and he had come off so ill, as the world viewed things, he had cut so poor a figure, that after this he could hope for nothing from his personal influence here or at Morristown. Nothing, unless he could see himself right at Tralee.

He brooded long over the matter, and at length—but not until after his meal—he hit on a plan, promising, though distasteful. He called Bale, and made inquiries through that taciturn man; and next morning he sat late at his breakfast. He had learned that the garrison used the inn much, many of the officers calling there for their "morning"; and the information proved correct. About ten he heard heavy steps in the stone-paved passage, spurs rang out an arrogant challenge, voices called for Patsy and Molly, and demanded this or that. By-and-by two officers, almost lads, sauntered into the room in which he sat, and, finding him there, moved with a wink and a grin to the window. They leant out, and he heard them laugh; he knew that they were discussing him before they turned to the daily fare—the neat ankles of a passing "colleen," the glancing eyes of the French milliner over the way, or the dog-fight at the corner. The two remained thus, half eclipsed as far as the Colonel was concerned, until presently the sallow-faced man sauntered idly into the room.

He did not see the Colonel at once, but the latter rose and bowed, and Marsh, a little added colour in his face, returned the salute—with an indifferent grace. It was clear that, though he had behaved better than his fellows on the previous day, he had no desire to push the acquaintance farther.

Colonel John, however, gave him no chance. Still standing, and with a grave, courteous face, "May I, as a stranger," he said, "trouble you with a question, sir?"

The two lady-killers at the window heard the words and nudged one another, with a stifled chuckle at their comrade's predicament. Captain Marsh, with one eye on them, assented stiffly.

"Is there any one," the Colonel asked, "in Tralee—I fear the chance is small—who gives fencing lessons?—or who is qualified to do so?"

The Captain's look of surprise yielded to one of pitying comprehension. He smiled—he could not help it; while the young men drew in their heads to hear the better.

"Yes," he answered, "there is."

"In the regiment, I presume?"

"He is attached to it temporarily. If you will inquire at the Armoury for Lemoine, the Maitre d'Armes, he will oblige you, I have no doubt. But——"

"If you please?" the Colonel said politely, seeing that Marsh hesitated.

"If you are not a skilled swordsman, I fear that it is not one lesson, or two, or a dozen, will enable you to meet Captain Payton, if you have such a thing in your mind, sir. He is but little weaker than Lemoine, and Lemoine is a fair match with a small-sword for any man out of London. Brady in Dublin, possibly, and perhaps half a dozen in England are his betters, but——" he stopped abruptly, his ear catching a snigger at the window. "I need not trouble you with that," he concluded lamely.

"Still," the Colonel answered simply, "a long reach goes for much, I have heard, and I am tall."

Captain Marsh looked at him in pity, and he might have put his compassion into words, but for the young bloods at the window, who, he knew, would repeat the conversation. He contented himself, therefore, with saying rather curtly, "I believe it goes some way." And he turned stiffly to go out.

But the Colonel had a last question to put to him. "At what hour," he asked, "should I be most likely to find this—Lemoine, at leisure?"

"Lemoine?"

"If you please."

Marsh opened his mouth to answer, but found himself anticipated by one of the youngsters. "Three in the afternoon is the best time," the lad said bluntly, speaking over his shoulder. He popped out his head again, that his face, swollen by his perception of the jest, might not betray it.

But the Colonel seemed to see nothing. "I thank you," he said, bowing courteously.

And re-seating himself, as Marsh went out, he finished his breakfast. The two at the window, after exploding once or twice in an attempt to stifle their laughter, drew in their heads, and, still red in the face, marched solemnly past the Colonel, and out of the room. His seat, now the window was clear, commanded a view of the street, and presently he saw the two young bloods go by in the company of four or five of their like. They were gesticulating, nor was there much doubt, from the laughter with which their tale was received, that they were retailing a joke of signal humour.

That did not surprise the Colonel. But when the door opened a moment later, and Marsh came hastily into the room, and with averted face began to peer about for something, he was surprised.

"Where the devil's that snuff-box!" the sallow-faced man exclaimed. "Left it somewhere!" Then, looking about him to make sure that the door was closed. "See, here sir," he said awkwardly, "it's no business of mine, but for a man who has served as you say you have, you're a d——d simple fellow. Take my advice and don't go to Lemoine's at three, if you go at all."

"No?" the Colonel echoed.

"Can't you see they'll all be there to guy you?" Marsh retorted impatiently. He could not help liking the man, and yet the man seemed a fool! The next moment, with a hasty nod, he was gone. He had found the box in his pocket.

Colonel Sullivan smiled, and, after carefully brushing the crumbs from his breeches, rose from the table. "A good man," he muttered. "Pity he has not more courage." The next moment he came to attention, for slowly past the window moved Captain Payton himself, riding Flavia's mare, and talking with one of the young bloods who walked at his stirrup.

The man and the horse! The Colonel began to understand that something more than wantonness had inspired Payton's conduct the previous night. Either he had been privy from the first to the plot to waylay the horse; or he had bought it cheaply knowing how it had been acquired; or—a third alternative—it had been placed in his hands, to the end that his reputation as a fire-eater might protect it. In any event, he had had an interest in nipping inquiry in the bud; and, learning who the Colonel was, had acted on the instant, and with considerable presence of mind.

The Colonel looked thoughtful; and though the day was fine for Ireland—that is, no more than a small rain was falling—he remained within doors until five minutes before three o'clock. Bale had employed the interval in brushing the stains of travel from his master's clothes, and combing his horseman's wig with particular care; so that it was a neat and spruce gentleman who at five minutes before three walked through Tralee, and, attending to the directions he had received, approached a particular door, a little within the barrack gate.

Had he glanced up at the windows he would have seen faces at them; moreover, a suspicious ear might have caught, as he paused on the threshold, a scurrying of feet, mingled with stifled laughter. But he did not look up. He did not seem to expect to see more than he found, when he entered—a great bare room with its floor strewn with sawdust and its walls adorned here and there by a gaunt trophy of arms. In the middle of the floor, engaged apparently in weighing one foil against another, was a stout, dark-complexioned man, whose light and nimble step, as he advanced to meet his visitor, gave the lie to his weight.

Certainly there came from a half-opened door at the end of the room a stealthy sound as of rats taking cover. But Colonel John did not look that way. His whole attention was bent upon the Maitre d'Armes, who bowed low to him. Clicking his heels together, and extending his palms in the French fashion, "Good-morning, sare," he said, his southern accent unmistakable. "I make you welcome."

The Colonel returned his salute less elaborately. "The Maitre d'Armes Lemoine?" he said.

"Yes, sare, that is me. At your service!"

"I am a stranger in Tralee, and I have been recommended to apply to you. You are, I am told, accustomed to give lessons."

"With the small-sword?" the Frenchman answered, with the same gesture of the open hands. "It is my profession."

"I am desirous of brushing up my knowledge—such as it is."

"A vare good notion," the fencing-master replied, his black beady eyes twinkling. "Vare good for me. Vare good also for you. Always ready, is the gentleman's motto; and to make himself ready, his high recreation. But, doubtless, sare," with a faint smile, "you are proficient, and I teach you nothing. You come but to sweat a little." An observant person would have noticed that as he said this he raised his voice above his usual tone.

"At one time," Colonel John replied with simplicity, "I was fairly proficient. Then—this happened!" He held out his right hand. "You see?"

"Ah!" the Frenchman said in a low tone, and he raised his hands. "That is ogly! That is vare ogly! Can you hold with that?" he added, inspecting the hand with interest. He was a different man.

"So, so," the Colonel answered cheerfully.

"Not strongly, eh? It is not possible."

"Not very strongly," the Colonel assented. His hand, like Bale's, lacked two fingers.

Lemoine muttered something under his breath, and looked at the Colonel with a wrinkled brow. "Tut—tut!" he said, "and how long are you like that, sare?"

"Seven years."

"Pity! pity!" Lemoine exclaimed. Again he looked at his visitor with perplexed eyes. After which, "Dam!" he said suddenly.

The Colonel stared.

"It is not right!" the Frenchman continued, frowning. "I—no! Pardon me, sare, I do not fence with les estropies. That is downright! That is certain, sare. I do not do it."

If the Colonel had been listening he might have caught the sound of a warning cough, with a stir, and a subdued murmur of voices—all proceeding from the direction of the inner room. But he had his back to the half-opened door and he seemed to be taken up with the fencing-master's change of tone. "But if," he objected, "I am willing to pay for an hour's practice?"

"Another day, sare. Another day, if you will."

"But I shall not be here another day. I have but to-day. By-and-by," he continued with a smile as kindly as it was humorous, "I shall begin to think that you are afraid to pit yourself against a manchot!"

"Oh, la! la!" The Frenchman dismissed the idea with a contemptuous gesture.

"Do me the favour, then," Colonel John retorted. "If you please?"

Against one of the walls were three chairs arranged in a row. Before each stood a boot-jack, and beside it a pair of boot-hooks; over it, fixed in the wall, were two or three pegs for the occupant's wig, cravat, and cane. The Colonel, without waiting for a further answer, took his seat on one of the chairs, removed his boots, and then his coat, vest, and wig, which he hung on the pegs above him.

"And now," he said gaily, as he stood up, "the mask!"

He did not see the change—for he seemed to have no suspicion—but as he rose, the door of the room behind him became fringed with grinning faces. Payton, the two youths who had leant from the window of the inn and who had carried his words, a couple of older officers, half a dozen subalterns, all were there—and one or two civilians. The more grave could hardly keep the more hilarious in order. The curtain was ready to go up on what they promised themselves would be the most absurd scene. The stranger who fought no duels, yet thought that a lesson or two would make him a match for a dead-hand like Payton—was ever such a promising joke conceived? The good feeling, even the respect which the Colonel had succeeded in awakening for a short time the evening before, were forgotten in the prospect of such a jest.

The Frenchman made no further demur. He had said what he could, and it was not his business to quarrel with his best clients. He took his mask, and proffered a choice of foils to his antagonist, whose figure, freed from the heavy coat and vest of the day, and the overshadowing wig, seemed younger and more supple than the Frenchman had expected. "A pity, a pity!" the latter said to himself. "To have lost, if he ever was professor, the joy of life!"

"Are you ready?" Colonel John asked.

"At your service, sare," the Maitre d'Armes replied—but not with much heartiness. The two advanced each a foot, they touched swords, then saluted with that graceful and courteous engagement which to an ignorant observer is one of the charms of the foil. As they did so, and steel grated on steel, the eavesdroppers in the inner room ventured softly from ambush—like rats issuing forth; soon they were all standing behind the Colonel, the sawdust, and the fencers' stamping feet as they lunged or gave back, covering the sound of their movements.

They were on the broad grin when they came out. But it took them less than a minute to discover that the entertainment was not likely to be so extravagantly funny as they had hoped. The Colonel was not, strictly speaking, a tyro; moreover, he had, as he said, a long reach. He was no match indeed for Lemoine, who touched him twice in the first bout and might have touched him thrice had he put forth his strength. But he did nothing absurd. When he dropped his point, therefore, at the end of the rally, and, turning to take breath came face to face with the gallery of onlookers, the best-natured of these felt rather foolish. But Colonel John seemed to find nothing surprising in their presence. He saluted them courteously with his weapon. "I am afraid I cannot show you much sport, gentlemen," he said.

One or two muttered something—a good day, or the like. The rest grinned unmeaningly. Payton said nothing, but, folding his arms with a superior air, leant, frowning haughtily, against the wall.

"Parbleu," said Lemoine, as they rested. "It is a pity. The wrist is excellent, sare. But the pointing finger is not—is not!"

"I do my best," the Colonel answered, with cheerful resignation. "Shall we engage again?"

"At your pleasure."

The Frenchman's eye no longer twinkled; his gallantry was on its mettle. He was grave and severe, fixing his gaze on the Colonel's attack, and remaining blind to the nods and shrugs and smiles of amusement of his patrons in the background. Again he touched the Colonel, and, alas! again; with an ease which, good-natured as he was, he could not mask.

Colonel John, a little breathed, and perhaps a little chagrined also, dropped his point. Some one coughed, and another tittered.

"I think he will need another lesson or two," Payton remarked, speaking ostensibly to one of his companions, but loudly enough for all to hear.

The man whom he addressed made an inaudible answer. The Colonel turned towards them.

"And—a new hand," Payton added in the same tone.

Even for his henchman the remark was almost too much. But the Colonel, strange to say—perhaps he really was very simple—seemed to find nothing offensive in it. On the contrary, he replied to it.

"That was precisely," he said, "what I thought when this"—he indicated his maimed hand—"happened to me. And I did my best to procure one."

"Did you succeed?" Payton retorted in an insolent tone.

"To some extent," the Colonel replied, in the most matter-of-fact manner. And he transferred the foil to his left hand.

"Give you four to one," Payton rejoined, "Lemoine hits you twice before you hit him once."

Colonel John had anticipated some of the things that had happened. But he had not foreseen this. He was quick to see the use to which he might put it, and it was only for an instant that he hesitated. Then "Four to one?" he repeated.

"Five, if you like!" Payton sneered.

"If you will wager," the Colonel said slowly, "if you will wager the grey mare you were riding this morning, sir——"

Payton uttered an angry oath. "What do you mean?" he said.

"Against ten guineas," Colonel John continued carelessly, bending the foil against the floor and letting it spring to its length again, "I will make that wager."

Payton scowled at him. He was aware of the other's interest in the mare, and suspected, at least, that he had come to town to recover her. And caution would have had him refuse the snare. But his toadies were about him, he had long ruled the roast, to retreat went against the grain; while to suppose that the man had the least chance against Lemoine was absurd. Yet he hesitated. "What do you know about the mare?" he said coarsely.

"I have seen her. But of course, if you are afraid to wager her, sir——"

Payton answered to the spur. "Bah! Afraid?" he cried contemptuously. "Done, with you!"

"That is settled," the Colonel replied. "I am at your service," he continued, turning to the Maitre d'Armes. "I trust," indicating that he was going to fence with his left hand, "that this will not embarrass you?"

"No! But it is interesting, by G—d, it is vare interesting," the Frenchman replied. "I have encountered les gauchers before, and——"

He did not finish the sentence, but saluting, he assumed an attitude a little more wary than usual. He bent his knees a trifle lower, and held his left shoulder somewhat more advanced, as compared with his right. The foils felt one another, and "Oh, va, va!" he muttered. "I understand, the droll!"

For half a minute or so the faces of the onlookers reflected only a mild surprise, mingled with curiosity. But the fencers had done little more than feel one another's blades, they had certainly not exchanged more than half a dozen serious passes, before this was changed, before one face grew longer and another more intent. A man who was no fencer, and therefore no judge, spoke. A fierce oath silenced him. Another murmured an exclamation under his breath. A third stooped low with his hands on his hips that he might not lose a lunge or a parry. For Payton, his face became slowly a dull red. At length, "Ha!" cried one, drawing in his breath. And he was right. The Maitre d'Armes' button, sliding under the Colonel's blade, had touched his opponent. At once, Lemoine sprang back out of danger, the two points dropped, the two fencers stood back to take breath.

For a few seconds the Colonel's chagrin was plain. He looked, and was, disappointed. Then he conquered the feeling, and he smiled. "I fear you are too strong for me," he said.

"Not at all," the Frenchman made answer. "Not at all! It was fortune, sare. I know not what you were with your right hand, but you are with the left vare strong, of the first force. It is certain."

Payton, an expert, had been among the earliest to discern, with as much astonishment as mortification, the Colonel's skill. With a sudden sinking of the heart, he had foreseen the figure he would cut if Lemoine were worsted; he had endured a moment of great fear. But at this success he choked down his apprehensions, and, a sanguine man, he breathed again. One more hit, one more success on Lemoine's part, and he had won the wager! But with all he could do he could no longer bear himself carelessly. Pallid and troubled, he watched, biting his lip; and though he longed to say something cutting, he could think of nothing. Nay, if it came to that, he could not trust his voice, and while he still faltered, seeking for a gibe and finding none, the two combatants had crossed their foils again. Their tense features, plain through the masks, as well as their wary movements, made it clear that they played for a victory of which neither was confident.

By this time the rank and file of the spectators had been reinforced by the arrival of Marsh; who, discovering a scene so unexpected, and quickly perceiving that Lemoine was doing his utmost, wondered what Payton's thoughts were. Apart from the wager, it was clear that if Lemoine had not met his match, the Captain had; and in the future would have to mend his manners in respect to one person present. Doubtless many of those in the room, on whose toes Payton had often trodden, had the same idea, and felt secret joy, pleased that the bully of the regiment was like to meet with a reverse and a master.

Whatever their thoughts, a quick rally diverted them, and riveted all eyes on the fencers. For a moment thrust and parry followed one another so rapidly that the untrained gaze could not distinguish them or trace the play. The spectators held their breath, expecting a hit with each second. But the rally died away again, neither of the players had got through the other's guard; and now they fell to it more slowly, the Colonel, a little winded, giving ground, and Lemoine pressing him.

Then, no one saw precisely how it happened, whiff-whaff, Lemoine's weapon flew from his hand and struck the wall with a whirr and a jangle. The fencing-master wrung his wrist. "Sacre!" he cried, between his teeth, unable in the moment of surprise to control his chagrin.

The Colonel touched him with his button for form's sake, then stepped rapidly to the wall, picked up the foil by the blade, and courteously returned it to him. Two or three cried "Bravo," but faintly, as barely comprehending what had happened. The greater part stood silent in sheer astonishment. For Payton, he remained dumb with mortification and disgust; and if he had the grace to be thankful for anything, he was thankful that for the moment attention was diverted from him.

Lemoine, indeed, the person more immediately concerned, had only eyes for his opponent, whom he regarded with a queer mixture of approval and vexation. "You have been at Angelo's school in Paris, sare?" he said, in the tone of one who stated a fact rather than asked a question.

"It is true," the Colonel answered, smiling. "You have guessed it."

"And learned that trick from him?"

"I did. It is of little use except to a left-handed man."

"Yet in play with one not of the first force it succeeds twice out of three times," Lemoine answered. "Twice out of three times, with the right hand. Ma foi! I remember it well! I offered the master twenty guineas, Monsieur, if he would teach it me. But because"—he held out his palms pathetically—"I was right-handed, he would not."

"I am fortunate," Colonel John answered, bowing, and regarding his opponent with kind eyes, "in being able to requite your good nature. I shall be pleased to teach it you for nothing, but not now. Gentlemen," he continued, giving up his foil to Lemoine, and removing his mask, "gentlemen, you will bear me witness, I trust, that I have won the wager?"

Some nodded, some murmured an affirmative, others turned towards Payton, who, too deeply chagrined to speak, nodded sullenly. How willingly at that moment would he have laid the Colonel dead at his feet, and Lemoine, and the whole crew, friends and enemies! He gulped something down. "Oh, d—n you!" he said, "I give it you! Take the mare, she's in the stable!"

At that a brother officer touched his arm, and, disregarding his gesture of impatience, drew him aside. The intervener seemed to be reminding him of something; and the Colonel, not inattentive, and indeed suspicious, caught the name "Asgill" twice repeated. But Payton was too angry to care for minor consequences, or to regard anything but how he might most quickly escape from the scene of defeat and the eyes of those who had witnessed his downfall. He shook off his adviser with a rough hand.

"What do I care?" he answered with an oath. "He must shoe his own cattle!" Then, with a poor show of hiding his spite under a cloak of insouciance, he addressed the Colonel. "The mare is yours," he said. "You've won her. Much good may she do you!"

And he turned on his heel and went out of the armoury.



CHAPTER VII

BARGAINING

The melancholy which underlies the Celtic temperament finds something congenial in the shadows that at close of day fall about an old ruin. On fine summer evenings, and sometimes when the south-wester was hurling sheets of rain from hill to hill, and the birch-trees were bending low before its blast, Flavia would seek the round tower that stood on the ledge beside the waterfall. It was as much as half a mile from the house, and the track which scaled the broken ground to its foot was rough. But from the narrow terrace before the wall the eye not only commanded the valley in all its length, but embraced above one shoulder a distant view of Brandon Mountain, and above the other a peep of the Atlantic. Thither, ever since she could remember, she had carried her dreams and her troubles; there, with the lake stretched below her, and the house a mere Noah's ark to the eye, she had cooled her hot brow or dried her tears, dwelt on past glories, or bashfully thought upon the mysterious possibilities of that love, of that joint life, of that rosy-hued future, to which the most innocent of maidens must sometimes turn their minds.

It was perhaps because she often sought the tower at sunset, and he had noted the fact, that Luke Asgill's steps bore him thither on an evening three days after the Colonel's departure for Tralee. Asgill had remained at Morristown, though the girl had not hidden her distaste for his presence. But to all her remonstrances The McMurrough had replied, with his usual churlishness, that the man was there on business—did she want to recover her mare, or did she not? And she had found nothing more to say. But the most slavish observance on the guest's part, and some improvement in her brother's conduct—which she might have rightly attributed to Asgill's presence—had not melted her. She, who had scarcely masked her reluctance to receive a Protestant kinsman, was not going to smile on a Protestant of Asgill's past and reputation; on a man whose father had stood hat in hand before her grandfather, and whose wealth had been wrung from the sweat of his fellow peasants.

Be that as it might, Asgill did not find her at the tower. But he was patient; he thought that she might still come, and he waited, sitting low, with his back against the ruined wall, that she might not see him until it was too late for her to retreat. By-and-by he heard footsteps mounting the path; his face reddened, and he made as if he would rise. Remembering himself, however, he sat down again, with such a look in his eyes as comes into a dog's when it expects to be beaten. But the face that rose above the brow was not Flavia's, but her brother's. And Asgill swore.

The McMurrough understood, grinned, and threw himself on the ground beside him. "You'll be wishing me in the devil's bowl, I'm thinking," he said. "Yet, faith, I'm not so sure—if you're not a fool. For it's certain I am, you'll never touch so much as the sole of her foot without me."

"I'm not denying it," the other answered sulkily.

"So it's mighty little use your wishing me away!" The McMurrough continued, stretching himself at his ease. "You can't get her without me; nor at all, at all, but on my terms! It would be a fine thing for you, no doubt, if you could sneak round her behind my back! Don't I know you'd be all for old Sir Michael's will then, and I might die in a gutter, for you! But an egg, and an egg's fair sharing."

"Have I said it was any other?" Asgill asked gloomily.

"The old place is mine, and I'm minded to keep it."

"And if any other marries her," Asgill said quietly, "he will want her rights."

"Well, and do you think," the younger man answered in his ugliest manner, "that if it weren't for that small fact, Mister Asgill——"

"And the small fact," Asgill struck in, "that before your grandfather died I lent you a clear five hundred, and I'm to take that, that's my own already, in quittance of all!"

"Well, and wasn't it that same I'm saying?" The McMurrough retorted. "If it weren't for that, and the bargain we've struck, d'you think that I'd be letting my sister and a McMurrough look at the likes of you? No, not in as many Midsummer Days as are between this and world without end!"

The look Asgill shot at him would have made a wiser man tremble. But The McMurrough knew the strength of his position.

"And if I were to tell her?" Asgill said slowly.

"What?"

"That we've made a bargain about her."

"It's the last strand of hope you'd be breaking, my man," the younger man answered briskly. "For you'd lose my help, and she'd not believe you—though every priest in Douai backed your word!"

Asgill knew that that was true, and though his face grew dark he changed his tone. "Enough said," he replied pacifically. "Where'll we be if we quarrel? You want the old place that is yours by right. And I want—your sister." He swallowed something as he named her; even his tone was different. "'Tis one and one. That's all."

"And you're the one who wants the most," James replied cunningly. "Asgill, my man, you'd give your soul for her, I'm thinking."

"I would."

"You would, I believe. By G—d," he continued, with a leer, "you're that fond of her I'll have to look to her! Hang me, my friend, if I let her be alone with you after this. Safe bind, safe find. Women and fruit are easily bruised."

Asgill rose slowly to his feet. "You scoundrel!" he said in a low tone. And it was only when The McMurrough, surprised by his movement, turned to him, that the young man saw that his face was black with passion—saw, indeed, a face so menacing, that he also sprang to his feet. "You scoundrel!" Asgill repeated, choking on the words. "If you say a thing like that again—if you say it again, do you hear?—I'll do you a mischief. Do you hear? Do you hear?"

"What in the saints' names is the matter with you?" The McMurrough faltered.

"You're not fit to breathe the air she breathes!" Asgill continued, with the same ferocity. "Nor am I! But I know it, thank God! And you don't! Why, man," he continued, still fighting with the passion that possessed him, "I wouldn't dare to touch the hem of her gown without her leave! I wouldn't dare to look in her face if she bade me not! She's as safe with me as if she were an angel in heaven! And you say—you; but you don't understand!"

"Faith and I don't," The McMurrough answered, his tone much lowered. "That's true for you!" When it came to a collision of wills the other was his master.

"No," Asgill repeated. "But don't you talk like that again, or harm will come of it. I may be what you say—I may be! But I wouldn't lay a finger on your sister against her will—no, not to be in Paradise!"

"I thought you didn't believe in Paradise," the younger man muttered sulkily, striving to cover the check he had received.

"There's a Paradise I do believe in," Asgill answered. "But never mind that." He sat down again.

Strange to relate, he meant what he said. Many changes corrupt loyalty, and of evil times evil men are the natural fruit. In nearly all respects Asgill was as unscrupulous a man as the time in which he lived and the class from which he sprang could show. Following in the steps of a griping, miserly sire, he had risen to his present station by oppression and chicanery; by crushing the weak and cajoling the strong. And he was prepared to maintain his ground by means as vile and a hand as hard. But he loved; and—strange anomaly, bizarre exception, call it what you will—somewhere in the depths of his earthly nature a spark of good survived, and fired him with so pure an ardour that at the least hint of disrespect to his mistress, at a thought of injury to her, the whole man rose in arms. It was a strange, yet a common inconsistency; an inconstancy to evil odd enough to set The McMurrough marvelling, while common enough to commend itself to a thinking mind.

"Enough of that!" Asgill repeated after a moment's pause. While he did not fear, it did not suit him to break with his companion. "And, indeed, it was not of your sister I was thinking when I said where'd we be if we quarrelled. For it's not I'll be the cuckoo to push you out, McMurrough, lad. But a man there is will play the old grey bird yet, if you let him be. And him with the power and all."

"D'you mean John Sullivan?"

"I mean that same, my jewel."

The young man laughed derisively. He had resumed his seat by the other's side. "Pho!" he said, "you'll be jesting. For the power, it's but a name. If he were to use, were it but the thin end of it, it would run into his hand! The boys would rise upon him, and Flavvy'd be the worst of them. It's in the deep bog he'd be, before he knew where he was, and never'd he come out, Luke Asgill! Sure, I'm not afraid of him!"

"You've need to be!" Asgill said soberly.

"Pho! It takes more than him to frighten me! Why, man, he's a soft thing, if ever there was one! He'll not say boh! to a goose with a pistol in its hand!"

"And that might be, if you weren't such a fool as ye are, McMurrough!" Asgill answered. "No, but hear me out, lad!" he continued earnestly. "I say he might not harm you, if you had not the folly we both know of in your mind. But I tell you freely I'll be no bonnet to it while he stands by. 'Tis too dangerous. Not that I believe you are much in earnest, my lad, whatever others may think—what's your rightful king to you, or you to him, that you should risk aught? But whether you go into it out of pure devilment, or just to keep right with your sister——"

"Which is why you stand bonnet for it," McMurrough struck in, with a grin.

"That's possible. But I do that, my lad, because I hope naught may come of it, but just a drinking of healths and the like. So, why should I play the informer and get myself misliked? But you—you may find yourself deeper in it than you think, and quicker than you think, while all the time, if the truth were told"—with a shrewd look at the other—"I believe you've little more heart for it than myself."

The young man swore a great oath that he was in it body and soul, swore it by the bones of his ten toes. But he laughed before the words were out of his mouth. And "I don't believe you," Asgill said coolly. "You know, and I know, what you were ready to do when the old man was alive, and if it had paid you properly. And you'd do the same now, if it paid you now. So what are the wrongs of the old faith to you that you should risk all for them? Or the rights of the old Irish, for the matter of that? But this being so, and you but half-hearted, I tell you, it is too dangerous a game to play for groats. And while John Sullivan's here, that makes it more dangerous, I'll not play bonnet!"

"What'll he know of it, at all, at all?" James McMurrough asked contemptuously. And he took up a stone and flung it over the edge.

"With a Spanish ship off the coast," Asgill answered, "and you know who likely to land, and a preaching, may be, next Sunday, and pike-drill at the Carraghalin to follow—man, in three days you may have smoking roof-trees, and 'twill be too late to cry 'Hold!' Stop, I say, stop while you can, and before you've all Kerry in a flame!"

James McMurrough turned with a start. His face—but the light was beginning to fail—seemed a shade paler. "How did you know there was pike-drill?" he cried sharply. "I didn't tell you."

"Hundreds know it."

"But you!" McMurrough retorted. It was plain that he was disagreeably surprised.

"Did you think I meant nothing when I said I played bonnet to it?"

"You know a heap too much, Luke Asgill!"

"And could make a good market of it?" Asgill answered coolly. "That's what you're thinking, is it? And it's Heaven's truth I could—if you'd not a sister."

"And a care for your own skin."

"Faith," Asgill answered with humorous frankness, "and I'm plain with you, that stands for something in it. For it's a weary way west of Athlone we are!"

"And the bogs are deep," McMurrough said, with a sidelong look.

"Maybe," Asgill replied, shrugging his shoulders. "But that I've not that in my mind—I'm giving you proof, James McMurrough. Isn't it I am praying you to draw out of it in time, for all our sakes? If you mean nothing but to keep sweet with your sister, you're playing with fire, and so am I! And we'd best see it's not carried too far, as it's like to be before we know it. But if you are fool enough to be in earnest, which I'll never believe, d'you think to overturn the Protestant Succession with a few foreigners and a hundred of White-boys that wouldn't stand before the garrison of Tralee? You've neither money nor men nor powder. Half a dozen broken captains who must starve if there's no fighting afoot, as many more who've put their souls in the priests' hands and see with their eyes—these and a few score boys without a coat to their backs or breeches to their nakedness—d'you think to oust old Malbrouk with these?"

"He's dead!"

"He's not, my jewel; and if he be he's left more of his kidney. No; if you must be a fool, be a fool with your eyes open! I tell you old Ireland had her lesson thirty years back, and if you were Sarsfield himself, and called on 'em to rise against the Saxon to-day, you'd not find as many follow you as would take a sessions town!"

"You know a heap of things, Asgill," James McMurrough answered disdainfully. But he looked his discomfiture.

"I do. And more by token, I know this!" Asgill retorted. He had risen to depart, and the two stood with their faces close together. "This!" he repeated, clapping one hand on the other. "If you're a fool, I'm a bigger! By Heaven, I am! Or what would I be doing? Why, I'd be pressing you into this, by the Lord, I would, in place of holding you back! And then when the trouble came, as come it would, and you'd to quit, my lad, and no choice but to make work for the hangman or beg a crust over seas, and your sister 'd no more left than she stood up in, and small choice either, it's then she'd be glad to take Luke Asgill, as she'll barely look at now! Ay, my lad, I'd win her then, if it were but as the price of saving your neck! There's naught she'd not do for you, and I'd ask but herself."

James McMurrough stared at him, confounded. For Asgill spoke with a bitterness as well as a vehemence that betrayed how little he cared for the man he addressed—whether he swung or lived, begged or famished. His tone, his manner, his black look, all made it plain that the scheme he outlined was no sudden thought, but a plan long conceived, often studied, and put aside with reluctance. For the listener it was as if, the steam clearing away, he'd a glimpse of the burning pit of a volcano, on the shelving side of which he stood. He shuddered, and his countenance changed. A creature of small vanities and small vices, utterly worthless, selfish, and cruel, but as weak as water, he quailed before this glimpse of elemental passion, before this view of a soul darker than his own. And it was with a poor affectation of defiance that he made his answer.

"And what for, if it's as easy as you say, don't you do it?" he stammered.

Asgill groaned. "Because—but there, you wouldn't understand—you wouldn't understand! Still, if you must be knowing, there's ways of winning would be worse than losing!"

The McMurrough's confidence began to return. "You're grown scrupulous," he sneered, half in jest, half in earnest.

Asgill's answer flung him down again. "You may thank your God I am!" he replied, with a look that scorched the other.

"Well—well," McMurrough made an effort to mutter—he was thoroughly disconcerted—"at any rate, I'm obliged to you for your warning."

"You will be obliged to me," Asgill replied, resuming his ordinary manner, "if you take my warning, as to the big matter; and also as to your kinsman, John Sullivan. For, I tell you, I'm afraid of him."

"Of him?" James cried.

"Ay, of him. Have a care, have a care, man, or he'll out-general you. See if he doesn't poison your sister against you! See if he does not make this hearth too hot for you! As long as he's in the house there's danger. I know the sort," Asgill continued shrewdly, "and little by little, you'll see, he'll get possession of her—and it's weak is your position as it is, my lad."

"Pho!"

"'Tis not 'pho'! And in a week you'll know it, and be as glad to see his back as I should be to-day!"

"What, a man who has not the spirit to go out with a gentleman!"

"A man you mean," Asgill retorted, showing his greater shrewdness, "who has the spirit to say that he won't go out!"

"Sure, and I've not much opinion of a man of that kind," McMurrough exclaimed.

"I have. He'll stand, or I'm mistaken, for more than'll spoil your sport—and mine," Asgill replied. "I'd not have played the trick about your sister's mare, good trick as it was, if I'd known he'd be here. It seemed the height of invention when you hit upon it, and no better way of commending myself. But I misdoubt it now. Suppose this Colonel brings her back?"

"But Payton's staunch."

"Ah, I hold Payton, sure enough," Asgill answered, "in the hollow of my hand, James McMurrough. But there's accident, and there's what not, and if in place of my restoring the mare to your sister, John Sullivan restored her—faith, my lad, I'd be laughing on the other side of my face. And if he told what I'll be bound he knows of you, it would not suit you either!"

"It would not," The McMurrough replied, with an ugly look which the gloaming failed to mask. "It would not. But there's small chance of that."

"Things happen," Asgill answered in a sombre tone. "Faith, my lad, the man's a danger. D'you consider," he continued, his voice low, "that he's owner of all—in law; and if he said the word, devil a penny there'd be for you! And no marriage for your sister but with his good will. And if Morristown stood as far east of Tralee as it stands west—glory be to God for it!—I'm thinking he'd say that word, and there'd be no penny for you, and no marriage for her, but you'd both be hat in hand to him!"

McMurrough's face showed a shade paler through the dusk.

"What would you have me do?" he muttered.

"Quit this fooling, this plan of a rising, and give him no handle. That, any way."

"But that won't rid us of him?" McMurrough said, in a low voice.

"True for you. And I'll be thinking about that same. If it is to be done, it's best done soon—I'm with you there. He's no footing yet, and if he vanished 'twould be no more than if he'd never come. See the light below? There! It's gone. Well, that way he'd go, and little more talk, if 'twere well plotted."

"But how?" The McMurrough asked nervously.

"I will consider," Asgill answered.



CHAPTER VIII

AN AFTER-DINNER GAME

Easiness, the failing of the old-world Irishman, had been Uncle Ulick's bane through life. It was easiness which had induced him to condone a baseness in his nephew which he would have been the first to condemn in a stranger. And again it was easiness which had beguiled him into standing idle while the brother's influence was creeping like strangling ivy over the girl's generous nature; while her best instincts were being withered by ridicule, her generosity abused by meanness, and her sense of right blunted by such acts of lawlessness as the seizure of the smuggling vessel. He feared, if he did not know, that things were going ill. He saw the blighting shadow of Asgill begin to darken the scene. He believed that The McMurrough, unable to raise money on the estate—since he had no title—was passing under Asgill's control. And still he had not raised his voice.

But, above all, it was easiness which had induced Uncle Ulick to countenance in Flavia those romantic notions, now fast developing into full-blown plans, which he, who had seen the world in his youth, should have blasted; which he, who could recall the humiliation of Boyne Water and the horrors of '90, he, who knew somewhat, if only a little, of the strength of England and the weakness of Ireland, should have been the first to nip in the bud.

He had not nipped them. Instead, he had allowed the reckless patriotism of the young O'Beirnes, the predatory instincts of O'Sullivan Og, the simulated enthusiasm—for simulated he knew it to be—of the young McMurrough to guide the politics of the house and to bring it to the verge of a crisis. The younger generation and their kin, the Sullivans, the Mahoneys, the O'Beirnes, bred in this remote corner, leading a wild and almost barbarous life, deriving such sparks of culture as reached them from foreign sources and through channels wilder than their life, were no judges of their own weakness or of the power opposed to them. But he was. He knew, and had known, that it became him, as the Nestor of the party, to point out the folly of their plans. Instead, he had bowed to the prevailing feeling. For—be it his excuse—he, too, was Irish! He, too, felt his heart too large for his bosom when he dwelt on his country's wrongs. On him, too, though he knew that successful rebellion was out of the question, Flavia's generous indignation, her youth, her enthusiasm, wrought powerfully. And at times, in moments of irritation, he, too, saw red, and dreamed of a last struggle for freedom.

At this point, at a moment when the crisis, grown visible, could no longer be masked, had arrived John Sullivan, a man of experience. His very aspect sobered Uncle Ulick's mind. The latter saw that only a blacker and more hopeless night could follow the day of vengeance of which he dreamt; and he sat this evening—while Asgill talked on the hill with The McMurrough—he sat this evening by the light of the peat-fire, and was sore troubled. Was it, or was it not, too late? He occupied the great chair in which Sir Michael had so often conned his Scudery of winter evenings; but though he filled the chair, he knew that he had neither the will nor the mastery of its old owner. If it had not passed already, the thing might easily pass beyond his staying. Meanwhile, Flavia sat on a stool on the farther side of the blaze—until supper was on the board they used no other light—brooding bitterly over the loss of her mare; and he knew that that incident would not make things more easy. For here was tyranny brought to an every-day level; oppression that pricked to the quick! The Saxons, who had risen for a mere poundage against their anointed king, did not scruple to make slaves, ay, real slaves, of a sister and a more ancient people! But the cup was full and running over, and they should rue it! A short day and they would find opposed to them the wrath, the fury, the despair of a united people and an ancient faith. Something like this Flavia had been saying to him.

Then silence had fallen. And now he made answer.

"I'm low at heart about it, none the less," he said. "War, my girl, is a very dreadful thing." He had in his mind the words Colonel John had used to him on that subject.

"And what is slavery?" she replied. There were red spots in her cheeks, and her eyes shone.

"But if the yoke be made heavier, my jewel, and not lighter?"

"Then let us die!" she answered. "Let there be an end! For it is time. But let us die free! As it is, do we not blush to own that we are Irish? Is not our race the handmaid among nations? Then let us die! What have we to live for? Our souls they will not leave us, our bodies they enslave, they take our goods! What is left, Uncle Ulick?" she continued passionately.

"Just to endure," he said sadly, "till better times. Or what if we make things worse? Believe me, Flavvy, the last rising——"

"Rising!" she cried. "Rising! Why do you call it that? It was no rising! It was the English who rose, and we who remained faithful to our king. It was they who betrayed, and we who paid the penalty for treason! Rising!"

"Call it what you like, my dear," he answered patiently, "'tis not forgotten."

"Nor forgiven!" she cried fiercely.

"True! But the spirit is broken in us. If it were not, we should have risen three years back, when the Scotch rose. There was a chance then. But for us by ourselves there is no chance and no hope. And in this little corner what do we know or hear? God forgive us, 'tis only what comes from France and Spain by the free-traders that we'll be hearing."

"Uncle Ulick!" she answered, looking fixedly at him, "I know where you get that from! I know who has been talking to you, and who"—her voice trembled with anger—"has upset the house! It's meet that one who has left the faith of his fathers, and turned his back on his country in her trouble—it is well that he should try to make others act as he has acted, and be false as he has been false! Caring for nothing himself, cold, and heartless——"

He was about to interrupt her, but on the word the door opened and her brother and Asgill entered, shaking the moisture from their coats. It had begun to rain as they returned along the edge of the lake. She dashed the tears from her eyes and was silent.

"Sure, and you've got a fine colour, my girl," The McMurrough said. "Any news of the mare?" he continued, as he took the middle of the hearth and spread his skirts to the blaze, Asgill remaining in the background. Then, as she shook her head despondently—the presence of Asgill had driven her into herself—"Bet you a hundred crowns to one, Asgill," he said, with a grin, "cousin Sullivan don't recover her!"

"I couldn't afford to take it," Asgill answered, smiling. "But if Miss Flavia had chosen me for her ambassador in place of him that's gone——"

"She might have had a better, and couldn't have had a worse!" James said, with a loud laugh. "It's supper-time," he continued, after he had turned to the fire, and kicked the turfs together, "and late, too! Where's Darby? There's never anything but waiting in this house. I suppose you are not waiting for the mare? If you are, it's empty insides we'll all be having for a week of weeks."

"I'm much afraid of that," Uncle Ulick answered, as the girl rose. Uncle Ulick could never do anything but fall in with the prevailing humour.

Flavia paused half-way across the floor and listened. "What's that?" she asked, raising her hand for silence. "Didn't you hear something? I thought I heard a horse."

"You didn't hear a mare," her brother retorted, grinning. "In the meantime, miss, I'd be having you know we're hungry. And——"

He stopped, startled by a knock on the door. The girl hesitated, then she stepped to it, and threw it wide. Confronting her across the threshold, looking ghostly against the dark background of the night, a grey horse threw up its head and, dazzled by the light, started back a pace—then blithered gently. In a twinkling, before the men had grasped the truth, Flavia had sprung across the threshold, her arms were round her favourite's neck, she was covering its soft muzzle with kisses.

"The saints defend us!" Uncle Ulick cried. "It is the mare!"

In his surprise The McMurrough forgot himself, his role, the company. "D—n!" he said. Fortunately Uncle Ulick was engrossed in the scene at the door, and the girl was outside. Neither heard.

Asgill's mortification, as may be believed, was a hundred times deeper. But his quicker brain had taken in the thing and its consequences on the instant. And he stood silent.

"She's found her way back!" The McMurrough exclaimed, recovering himself.

"Ay, lad, that must be it," Uncle Ulick replied. "She's got loose and found her way back to her stable, heaven be her bed! And them that took her are worse by the loss of five pounds!"

"Broken necks to them!" The McMurrough cried viciously.

But at that moment the door, which led to the back of the house and the offices, opened, and Colonel John stepped in, a smile on his face. He laid his damp cloak on a bench, hung up his hat and whip, and nodded to Ulick.

"The Lord save us! is it you've brought her back?" the big man exclaimed.

The Colonel nodded. "I thought"—he looked towards the open door—"it would please her to find the creature so!"

The McMurrough stood speechless with mortification. It was Asgill who stepped forward and spoke. "I give you joy, Colonel Sullivan," he said. "It is small chance I thought you had."

"I can believe you," the Colonel answered quietly. If he did not know much he suspected a good deal.

Before more could be said Flavia McMurrough turned herself about and came in and saw Colonel Sullivan. Her face flamed hotly, as the words which she had just used about him recurred to her; she could almost have wished the mare away again, if the obligation went with her. To owe the mare to him! Yes, she would have preferred to lose the mare!

But the thing was done, and she found words at last; but cold words. "I am very much obliged to you," she said, "if it was really you who brought her back."

"It was I who brought her back," he answered quietly, hurt by her words and manner, but hiding the hurt. "You need not thank me, however; I did it very willingly."

She felt the meanness of her attitude, and "I do thank you!" she said, straining at warmth, but with poor success. "I am very grateful to you, Colonel Sullivan, for the service you have done me."

"And wish another had done it!" he answered, with the faintest tinge of reproach in his voice. It was a slip from his usual platform, but he could not deny himself.

"No! But that you would serve another as effectively," she responded.

He did not see her drift. And "What other?" he asked.

"Your country," she replied. And, turning to the door again, she went out into the night, to see that the mare was safely disposed.

The four men looked at one another, and Uncle Ulick shrugged his shoulders, as much as to say, "We all know what women are!" Then feeling a storm in the air, he spoke for the sake of speaking. "Well, James," he said, "she's got her mare, and you've lost your wager. It's good-bye to the brandy, anyway. And, faith, it'll be good news for the little French captain. For you, John Sullivan, I give you joy. You'll amend us all at this rate, and make Kerry as peaceable as the Four Courts out of term time! Sure, and I begin to think you're one of the Little People!" As he spoke he slapped Colonel John on the shoulders.

"About the brandy," The McMurrough said curtly. "Things are by way of being changed, I'd have you know. And I'm not going to forgo a good ship——"

"No, no, a bet's a bet," Uncle Ulick interposed hurriedly. "Mr. Asgill was here, and——"

"I'm with you," Asgill said. "Colonel Sullivan's won the right to have his way, and it's better so too, and safer. Faith and I'm glad," he continued cordially, "for there might have been trouble, and now there'll be none!"

"Well, it's not I'll tell O'Sullivan Og," James McMurrough retorted. "It's little he'll like to give up the stuff, and, in my opinion," he added sullenly, "there's more than us will have a word to say to it before it's given up. But you can judge of that for yourselves."

"Mr. Crosby, of Castlemaine——"

"Oh, d—n! It's little he'll count in a week from this!"

"Still, I've no doubt Colonel Sullivan will arrange it," Asgill answered smoothly. It was evident that he thought The McMurrough was saying too much. "Sure he's managed a harder thing."

There was a gleam in his eye and a something sinister in the tone as he said it; but the words were hearty, and Colonel John made no demur. And Darby, entering at that moment with a pair of lights in tall candlesticks—which were silver, but might have been copper—caused a welcome interruption. A couple of footboys, with slipshod feet and bare ankles, bore in the meats after him and slapped them down on the table; at the same moment the O'Beirnes and two or three more of the "family" entered from the back. Their coming lightened the air. They had to hear the news, and pass their opinion upon it. Questions were asked: Where'd the Colonel light on the cratur, and how'd he persuaded the Protestant rogues—ah, be jabbers, begging his honour's pardon entirely!—how'd he persuaded the rogues to give her up? Colonel John refused to say, but laughingly. The O'Beirnes and the others were in a good humour, pleased that the young mistress had recovered her favourite, and inclined to look more leniently on the Colonel. "Faith, and it's clear that you're a Sullivan!" quoth one. "There's none like them to put the comether on man and beast!"

This was not much to the taste of The McMurrough or of Asgill, who, inwardly raging, saw the interloper founding a reputation on the ruse which they had devised for another end. It was abruptly and with an ill grace that the master of the house cut short the scene and bade all sit down if they wanted their meat.

"What are we waiting for?" he continued querulously. "Where's the girl? Stop your jabbering, Martin! And Phelim——"

"Sure, I believe the mare's got from her," Uncle Ulick cried. "I heard a horse, no farther back than this moment."

"I'm wishing all horses in Purgatory," The McMurrough replied angrily. "And fools too! Where's the wench gone? Anyway, I'm beginning. You can bide her time if you like!"

And begin he did. The others, after looking expectantly at the door—for none dared treat Flavia as her brother treated her—and after Asgill had said something about waiting for her, fell to also, one by one. Presently the younger of the slipshod footboys let fall a dish—fortunately the whole service was of pewter, so no harm was done—and was cursed for awkwardness. Where was Darby? He also had vanished.

The claret began to go round in the old Spanish silver jug—for no house in the west lacked Bordeaux in those days; it was called in London coffee-houses Irish wine. Still, neither Flavia nor the butler returned, and many were the glances cast at the door. By-and-by the Colonel—who felt that a cloud hung over the board, as over his own spirits—saw, or fancied that he saw, an odd thing. The door—that which led to the back of the house—opened, as if the draught moved it; it remained open a space, then in a silent, ghostly fashion it fell-to again. The Colonel laid down his knife, and Uncle Ulick, whose eyes had followed his, crossed himself. "That's not lucky," the big man said, his face troubled. "The saints send it's not the white horse of the O'Donoghues has whisked her off!"

"Don't be for saying such unchancy things, Mr. Sullivan!" Phelim answered, with a shiver. And he, too, crossed himself. "What was it, at all, at all?"

"The door opened without a hand," Uncle Ulick explained. "I'm fearing there's something amiss."

"Not with this salmon," James McMurrough struck in contemptuously. "Eat your supper and leave those tales to the women!"

Uncle Ulick made no reply, and a moment later Darby entered, slid round the table to Uncle Ulick's side, and touched his shoulder. Whether he whispered a word or not Colonel John did not observe, but forthwith the big man rose and went out.

This time it was James McMurrough who laid down his knife. "What in the name of the Evil One is it?" he cried, in a temper. "Can't a man eat his meat in peace, but all the world must be tramping the floor?"

"Oh, whisht! whisht!" Darby muttered, in a peculiar tone.

James leapt up. He was too angry to take a hint. "You old fool!" he cried, heedless of Asgill's hand, which was plucking at his skirts. "What is it? What do you mean with your 'whishts' and your nods? What——"

But the old butler had turned his back on his master, and gone out in a panic. Fortunately at this moment Flavia showed at the door. "The fault's mine, James," she said, in a clear, loud tone. And the Colonel saw that her colour was high and her eyes were dancing. "I couldn't bear to leave her at once, the darling! That was it; and besides, I took a fear——"

"The pastern's right enough," Uncle Ulick struck in, entering behind her and closing the door with the air of a big man who does not mean to be trifled with. "Sound as your own light foot, my jewel, and sounder than James's head! Be easy, be easy, lad," he continued, with a trifle of sternness. "Sure, you're spoiling other men's meat, and forgetting the Colonel's present, not to speak of Mr. Asgill, that, being a Justice, is not used to our Kerry tantrums!"

Possibly this last was a hint, cunningly veiled. At any rate, The McMurrough took his seat again with a better grace than usual, and Asgill made haste to take up the talk. The Colonel reflected; nor did he find it the least odd thing that Flavia, who had been so full of distress at the loss of her mare, said little of the rescuer's adventures, nor much of the mare herself. Yet the girl's eyes sparkled, and her whole aspect was changed in the last hour. She seemed, as far as he could judge, to be in a state of the utmost excitement; she had shaken off the timidity which her brother's temper too often imposed on her, and with it her reticence and her shyness before strangers. All the Irish humour in her fluttered to the surface, and her tongue ran with an incredible gaiety. Uncle Ulick, the O'Beirnes, the buckeens, laughed frank admiration—sometimes at remarks which the Colonel could not understand, sometimes at more obvious witticisms. Asgill was her slave. Darby, with the familiarity of the old servant, chuckled openly and rubbed his hands at her sallies; the footboys guffawed in corners, and more than one dish rolled on the floor without drawing down a rebuke. Even her brother regarded her with unwilling amusement, and did not always refrain from applause.

Could all this, could the change in her spring from the recovery of the mare, of which she said scarce a word? Colonel John could hardly believe it; and, indeed, if such were the case, she was ungrateful. For, for the recoverer of her favourite she had no words, and scarce a look. Rather, it seemed to him that there must be two Flavias: the one shy, modest, and, where her country was not assailed, of a reserve beyond reproach; the other Flavia, a shoot of the old tree, a hoyden, a castback to Sir Michael's wild youth and the gay days of the Restoration Court.

He listened to her drollery, her ringing laugh, her arch sayings with some blame, but more admiration. After all, what had he a right to expect in this remote corner of the land, cut off by twenty leagues of bog and mountain from modern refinement, culture, thought, in this old tribal house, the last refuge of a proscribed faith and a hated race? Surely, no more than he found—nay, not a tithe of that he found. For, listening with a kindlier heart—even he, hurt by her neglect, had judged her for a while too harshly—he discerned that at her wildest and loudest, in the act of bandying cryptic jests with the buckeens, and uttering much that was thoughtless—Flavia did not suffer one light or unmaidenly word to pass her lips.

He gave her credit for that; and in the act he learned, with a reflection on his stupidity, that there was method in her madness; ay, and meaning—but he had not hitherto held the key to it—in her jests. On a sudden—he saw now that this was the climax to which she had been leading up—she sprang to her feet, carried away by her excitement. Erect, defiant—nay, triumphant—she flung her handkerchief into the middle of the table, strewn as it was with a medley of glasses and flasks and disordered dishes.

"Who loves me, follows me!" she cried, a queer exultation in her tone—"across the water!"

They pounced on the kerchief, like dogs let loose from the leash—every man but the astonished Colonel. For an instant the place was a pandemonium, a Babel. In a twinkling the kerchief was torn, amid cries of the wildest enthusiasm, into as many fragments as there were men round the table.

"All!—all!" she cried, still standing erect, and hounding them on with the magic of her voice, while her beautiful face blazed with excitement. "All—but you?"—with which, for the briefest space, she turned to Colonel John. Her eyes met his. They asked him a defiant question: they challenged the answer.

"I do not understand," he replied, taken by surprise. But indeed he did understand only too well. "Is it a game?"

The men were pinning the white shreds on their coats above their hearts—even her brother, obedient for once. But at that word they turned as one man to him, turned flushed, frowning faces and passionate eyes on him. But Flavia was before them; excitement had carried her farther than she had meant to go, yet prudence had not quite left her. "Yes, a game!" she cried, laughing, a note too high. "Don't you know the Lady's Kerchief?"

"No," he said soberly; he was even a little out of countenance.

"Then no more of it," Uncle Ulick cried, interposing, with a ring of authority in his voice. "For my part, I'm for bed. Bed! We're all children, bedad, and as fond of a frolic! And I'm thinking I'm the worst. The lights, Darby, the lights, and pleasant dreams to you! After all—

The spoke that is to-day on top, To-morrow's on the ground.

Sure, and I'll swear that's true!"

"And no treason!" The McMurrough answered him, with a grin. "Eh, Asgill?"

And so between them they removed Colonel John's last doubt—if he had one.



CHAPTER IX

EARLY RISERS

Colonel Sullivan had returned from Tralee in high spirits. He had succeeded beyond his hopes in the task he had set himself to perform, and he counted with confidence on gaining by that means a sound footing and a firm influence in the house. But as he sat in his room that evening, staring at the rushlight, with the night silent about him, he feared, nay, he almost knew, that his success came too late. Something had happened behind his back, some crisis, some event; and that which he had done was as if it were undone, and that which he had gained availed nothing.

It was plain—whatever was obscure—that the play of the Lady's Kerchief was a cover for matter more serious. Those who had taken part in it had scarcely deigned to pretend. Colonel John had been duller than the dullest if he had not seen in the white shreds for which the men had scrambled, and which they had affixed with passion to their coats, the white Cockade of the Pretender; or found in Uncle Ulick's couplet—uttered while in a careless fashion he affected disguise,

The spoke that is to-day on top, To-morrow's on the ground,

one of those catchwords which suited the taste of the day, and served at once for a passport and a sentiment.

But Colonel John knew that many a word was said over the claret which meant less than nothing next morning; and that many a fair hand passed the wine across the water-bowl—the very movement did honour to a shapely arm—without its owner having the least intention of endangering those she loved for the sake of the King across the Water. He knew that a fallen cause has ever two sets of devotees—those who talk and those who act: the many, in other words, who sing the songs and drink the toasts, and delight in the badges of treason—in the sucked orange, the sprig of oak, the knot of white ribbon, the fir-planting; and the few who mean more than they say, who mean, and sternly, to be presently the Spoke on Top.

Consequently he knew that he might be wrong in dotting the i's and crossing the t's of the scene which he had witnessed. Such a scene might mean no more than a burst of high spirits: in nine cases out of ten it would not be followed by action, nor import more than that singing of "'Twas a' for our rightful King!" which had startled him on his arrival. In that house, in the wilds of Kerry, sheer loyalty could not be expected. The wrongs of the nation were too recent, the high seas were too near, the wild geese came and went too freely—wild geese of another feather than his. Such outbursts as he had witnessed were no more than the safety-valves of outraged pride. The ease with which England had put down the Scotch rising a few years before—to say nothing of the fate of those who had taken part in it—must deter all reasonable men, whatever their race or creed, from entering on an undertaking beyond doubt more hopeless.

For Ireland was not as Scotland. Scarcely a generation had passed since she had felt the full weight of the conqueror's hand; and if she possessed, in place of the Highland mountains, vast stretches of uncharted bog and lake, to say nothing of a thousand obscure inlets, she had neither the unbroken clan-feeling nor the unbroken national spirit of the sister country. Scotland was still homogeneous, she still counted for a kingdom, her soil was still owned by her own lords and worked by her own peasants. She had suffered no massacre of Drogheda or of Wexford; no Boyne, no Aghrim, no vast and repeated confiscations. Whereas Ireland, a partitioned and subject land, which had suffered during the last two centuries horrors unspeakable, still cowered like a whipped dog before its master, and was as little likely to rebel.

Colonel John leant upon such arguments; and, disappointed and alarmed as he was by Flavia's behaviour, he told himself that nothing was seriously meant, and that with the morning light things would look more cheerful.

But when he awoke, after a feverish and disturbed sleep, the faint grisly dawn that entered the room was not of a character to inspirit. He turned on his side to sleep again if he could; but in the act, he discovered that the curtain which he had drawn across the window was withdrawn. He could discern the dark mass of his clothes piled on a chair, of his hat clinging like some black bat to the whitewashed wall, of his valise and saddle-bags in the corner—finally of a stout figure bent, listening, at the door.

An old campaigner, Colonel John was not easily surprised. Repressing the exclamation on his lips, he rose to his elbow and waited until the figure at the door straightened itself, and, turning towards him, became recognisable as Uncle Ulick. The big man crossed the floor, saw that he was awake, and, finger on lip, enjoined silence. Then he pointed to the clothes on the chair, and brought his mouth near the Colonel's ear.

"The back-door!" he whispered. "Under the yews in the garden! Come!" And leaving the Colonel staring and mystified, he crept from the room with a stealth and lightness remarkable in one so big. The door closed, the latch fell, and made no sound.

Colonel John reflected that Uncle Ulick was no romantic young person to play at mystery for effect. There was a call for secrecy therefore. The O'Beirnes slept in a room divided from his only by a thin partition; and to gain the stairs he must pass the doors of other chambers, all inhabited. As softly as he could, and as quickly, he dressed himself. He took his boots in his hand; his sword, perhaps from old habit, under his other arm; in this guise he crept from the room and down the dusky staircase. Old Darby and an underling were snoring in the cub, which in the daytime passed for a pantry, and both by day and night gave forth a smell of sour corks and mice: but Colonel John slid by the open door as noiselessly as a shadow, found the back-door—which led to the fold-yard—on the latch, and stepped out into the cool, dark morning, into the sobering freshness and the clean, rain-washed air.

The grass was still grey-hued, the world still colourless and mysterious, the house a long black bulk against a slowly lightening sky. Only the earliest sparrows were twittering; in the trees only the most wakeful rooks were uttering tentative caws. The outburst of joy and life and music which would attend the sun's rising was not yet.

Colonel John paused on the doorstep to draw on his boots, then he picked his way delicately to the leather-hung wicket that broke the hedge which served for a fence to the garden. On the right of the wicket a row of tall Florence yews, set within the hedge, screened the pleasaunce, such as it was, from the house. Under the lee of these he found Uncle Ulick striding to and fro and biting his finger-nails in his impatience.

He wrung the Colonel's hand and looked into his face. "You'll do me the justice, John Sullivan," he said, with a touch of passion, "that never in my life have I been overhasty? Eh? Will you do me that?"

"Certainly, Ulick," Colonel John answered, wondering much what was coming.

"And that I'm no coward, where it's not a question of trouble?"

"I'll do you that justice, too," the Colonel answered. He smiled at the reservation.

The big man did not smile. "Then you'll take my word for it," he replied, "that I'm not speaking idly when I say you must go."

Colonel John lifted his eyebrows. "Go?" he answered. "Do you mean now?"

"Ay, now, or before noon!" Uncle Ulick retorted. "More by token," he continued with bitterness, "it's not that you might go on the instant that I've brought you out of our own house as if we were a couple of rapparees or horse-thieves, but that you might hear it from me who wish you well, and would warn you not to say nay—instead of from those who may be 'll not put it so kindly, nor be so wishful for you to be taking the warning they give."

"Is it Flavia you're meaning?"

"No; and don't you be thinking it," Uncle Ulick replied with a touch of heat. "Nor the least bit of it, John Sullivan! The girl, God bless her, is as honest as the day, if——"

"If she's not very wise!" Colonel John said, smiling.

"You may put it that way if you please. For the matter of that, you'll be thinking she's not the only fool at Morristown, nor the oldest, nor the biggest. And you'll be right, more shame to me that I didn't use the prudent tongue to them always, and they young! But the blood must run slow, and the breast be cold, that sees the way the Saxons are mocking us, and locks the tongue in silence. And sure, there's no more to be said, but just this—that there's those here you'll be wise not to see! And you'll get a hint to that end before the sun's high."

"And you'd have me take it?"

"You'd be mad not to take it!" Uncle Ulick replied, frowning. "Isn't it for that I'm out of my warm bed, and the mist not off the lake?"

"You'd have me give way to them and go?"

"Faith, and I would!"

"Would you do that same yourself, Ulick?"

"For certain."

"And be sorry for it afterwards!"

"Not the least taste in life!" Uncle Ulick asseverated.

"And be sorry for it afterwards," Colonel John repeated quietly. "Kinsman, come here," he continued with unusual gravity. And taking Uncle Ulick by the arm he led him to the end of the garden, where the walk looked on the lake and bore some likeness to a roughly made terrace. Pausing where the black masses of the Florence yews, most funereal of trees, still sheltered their forms from the house, he stood silent. The mist moved slowly on the surface of the water and crawled about their feet. But the sky to eastward was growing red, the lower clouds were flushed with rose-colour, the higher hills were warm with the coming of the sun. Here and there on the slopes which faced them a cotter's hovel stood solitary in its potato patch or its plot of oats. In more than one place three or four cottages made up a tiny hamlet, from which the smoke would presently rise. To English eyes, to our eyes, the scene, these oases in the limitless brown of the bog, had been wild and rude; but to Colonel John, long familiar with the treeless plains of Poland and the frozen flats of Lithuania, it spoke of home, it spoke of peace and safety and comfort, and even of a narrow plenty. The soft Irish air lapped it, the distances were mellow, memories of boyhood rounded off all that was unsightly or cold.

He pointed here and there with his hand; and with seeming irrelevance. "You'd be sorry afterwards," he said, "for you'd think of this, Ulick. God forbid that I should say there are no things for which even this should be sacrificed. God forbid I should deny that even for this too high a price may be paid. But if you play this away in wantonness—if that which you are all planning come about, and you fail, as they failed in Scotland three years back, and as you will, as you must fail here—it is of this, it is of the women and the children under these roofs that will go up in smoke, that you'll be thinking, Ulick, at the last! Believe me or not, this is the last thing you'll see! It's to a burden as well as an honour you're born where men doff caps to you; and it's that burden will lie the black weight on your soul at the last. There's old Darby and O'Sullivan Og's wife—and Pat Mahony and Judy Mahony's four sons—and Mick Sullivan and Tim and Luke the Lamiter—and the three Sullivans at the landing, and Phil the crowder, and the seven tenants at Killabogue—it's of them, it's of them"—as he spoke his finger moved from hovel to hovel—"and their like I'm thinking. You cry them and they follow, for they're your folks born. But what do they know of England or England's strength, or what is against them, or the certain end? They think, poor souls, because they land their spirits and pay no dues, and the Justices look the other way, and a bailiffs life here, if he'd a writ, would be no more worth than a woodcock's, and the laws, bad and good, go for naught—they think the black Protestants are afraid of them! While you and I, you and I know, Ulick," he continued, dropping his voice, "'tis because we lie so poor and distant and small, they give no heed to us! We know! And that's our burden."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse