"A fine place for a stand," he said, looking about him with a soldierly eye. "And better for an ambush. Especially on such a morning as this, when you cannot see a man five paces away."
"I trust," the Bishop answered, smiling, "that we shall have no need to make the one, or to fear the other."
"You could hold this," Flavia asked eagerly, "with such men as we have?"
"Against an army," Cammock answered.
"Against an army!" she murmured, as, her heart beating high with pride, they resumed their way, Flavia and the Bishop in the van. "Against an army!" she repeated fondly.
The words had not fully left her lips when she recoiled. At the same moment the Bishop uttered an exclamation, Cammock swore and seized his hilt, The McMurrough turned as if to flee. For on the path close to them, facing them with a pistol in his hand, stood Colonel Sullivan.
He levelled the pistol at the head of the nearest man, and though Flavia, with instant presence of mind, struck it up, the act helped little. Before Cammock could clear his blade, or his companions back up his resistance, four or five men, of Colonel John's following, flung themselves on them from behind. They were seized, strong arms pinioned them, knives were at their throats. In a twinkling, and while they still expected death, sacks were dragged over their heads and down to their waists, and they were helpless.
It was well, it was neatly done; and completely done, with a single drawback. The men had not seized Flavia, and, white as paper, but with rage not fear, she screamed shrilly for help—screamed twice.
She would have screamed a third time, but Colonel Sullivan, who knew that they were scarcely two furlongs from the meeting-place, and from some hundreds of merciless foes, did the only thing possible. He flung his arms round her, pressed her face roughly against his shoulder, smothered her cries remorselessly. Then raising her, aided by the man with the musket, he bore her, vainly struggling—and, it must be owned, scratching—after the others out of the driftway.
The thing done, the Colonel's little band of Frenchmen knew that they had cast the die, and must now succeed or perish. The girl's screams, quickly suppressed, might not have given the alarm; but they had set nerves on edge. The prick of a knife was used—and often—to apprise the blinded prisoners that if they did not move they would be piked. They were dragged, a seaman on either side of each captive, over some hundred paces of rough ground, through the stream, and so into a path little better than a sheep-track which ran round the farther side of the hill of the tower, and descended that way to the more remote bank of the lake. It was a rugged path, steep and slippery, dropping precipitously a couple of feet in places, and more than once following the bed of the stream. But it was traceable even in the mist, and the party from the sloop, once put on it, could follow it.
If no late-comer to the meeting encountered them, Colonel John, to whom every foot of the ground was familiar, saw no reason, apart from the chances of pursuit, why they should not get the prisoners, whom they had so audaciously surprised, as far as the lower end of the lake. There he and his party must fall again into the Skull road and risk the more serious uncertainties of the open way. All, however, depended on time. If Flavia's screams had not given the alarm, it would soon be given by the absence of those whom the people had come to meet. The missing leaders would be sought, pursuit would be organised. Yet, if before that pursuit reached the foot of the lake, the fugitives had passed into the road, the raiders would stand a fair chance. They would at least have a start, the sloop in front of them, and their enemies behind them.
But, with peril on every side of them, Flavia was still the main, the real difficulty. Colonel Sullivan could not hope to carry her far, even with the help of the man who fettered her feet, and bore part of her weight. Twice she freed her mouth and uttered a stifled cry. The Colonel only pressed her face more ruthlessly to him—his men's lives depended on her silence. But the sweat stood on his brow; and, after carrying her no more than three hundred yards, he staggered under the unwilling burden. He was on the path now and descending, and he held out a little farther. But presently, when he hoped that she had swooned, she fell to struggling more desperately. He thought, on this, that he might be smothering her; and he relaxed his hold to allow her to breathe. For reward she struck him madly, furiously in the face, and he had to stifle her again.
But his heart was sick. It was a horrible, a brutal business, a thing he had not foreseen on board the Cormorant. He had supposed that she would faint at the first alarm; and his courage, which would have faced almost any event with coolness, quailed. He could not murder the girl, and she would not be silent. No, she would not be silent! Short of setting her down and binding her hand and foot, which would take time, and was horrible to imagine, he could not see what to do. And the man with him, who saw the rest of the party outstripping them, and as good as disappearing in the fog, who fancied, with every step, that he heard the feet of merciless pursuers overtaking them, was frantic with impatience.
Then Colonel John, with the sweat standing on his brow, did a thing to which he afterwards looked back with great astonishment.
"Give me your knife," he said, with a groan, "and hold her hands! We must silence her, and there is only one way!"
The man, terrified as he was, and selfish as terrified men are, recoiled from the deed. "My God!" he said. "No!"
"Yes!" Colonel John retorted fiercely. "The knife!—the knife, man! And do you hold her hands!"
With a jerk he lifted her face from his breast—and this time she neither struck him nor screamed. The man had half-heartedly drawn his knife. The Colonel snatched it from him. "Now her hands!" he said. "Hold her, fool! I know where to strike!"
She opened her mouth to shriek, but no sound came. She had heard, she understood; and for a moment she could neither struggle nor cry. That terror which rage and an almost indomitable spirit had kept at bay seized her; the sight of the gleaming death poised above her paralysed her throat. Her mouth gaped, her eyes glared at the steel; then, with a queer sobbing sound, she fainted.
"Thank God!" the Colonel cried. And there was indeed thankfulness in his voice. He thrust the knife back into the man's hands, and, raising the girl again in his arms, "There is a house a little below," he said. "We can leave her there! Hurry, man!—hurry!"
He had not traversed that road for twenty years, but his memory had not tricked him. Less than fifty paces below they came on a cabin, close to the foot of the waterfall. The door was not fastened—for what, in such a place, was there to steal?—and Colonel John thrust it open with his foot. The interior was dark, the place was almost windowless; but he made out the form of an old crone who, nursing her knees, crouched with a pipe in her mouth beside a handful of peat. Seeing him, the woman tottered to her feet with a cry of alarm, and shaded her bleared eyes from the inrush of daylight. She gabbled shrilly, but she knew only Erse, and Colonel John attempted no explanation.
"The lady of the house," he said, in that tongue. And he laid Flavia, not ungently, but very quickly, on the floor. He turned about without another word, shut the door on the two, and hurried along the path at the full stretch of his legs. In half a minute he had overtaken his companion, and the two pressed on together on the heels of the main party.
The old beldame, left alone with the girl, viewed her with an astonishment which would have been greater if she had not reached that age at which all sensations become dulled. How the Lady of the House, who was to her both Power and Providence, came to be there, and there in that state, passed her conception. But she had the sense to loosen the girl's frock at the neck, to throw water on her face, and to beat her hands. In a very few minutes Flavia, who had never swooned before—fashionable as the exercise was at this period in feminine society—sighed once or twice, and came to herself.
"Where am I?" she muttered. Still for some moments she continued to look about her in a dazed way; at length she recognised the old woman, and the cottage. Then she remembered, with a moan, what had happened—the ambuscade, the flight, the knife.
She could not turn whiter, but she shuddered and closed her eyes. At last, with shrinking, she looked at her dress. "Am I—hurt?" she whispered.
The old woman did not understand, but she patted Flavia's hand. Meanwhile the girl saw that there was no blood on her dress, and she found courage to raise her hand to her throat. She found no wound. At that she smiled faintly. Then she began to cry—for she was a woman.
But, broken as she was by that moment of terror, Flavia's indulgence in the feminine weakness was short, for it was measured by the time she devoted to thoughts of her own fortunes. Quickly, very quickly, she overcame her weakness; she stood up, she understood, and she extended her arms in rage and grief and unavailing passion. That rage which treachery arouses in the generous breast, that passion which an outrage upon hospitality kindles in the meanest, that grief which ruined plans and friends betrayed have bred a thousand times in Irish bosoms—she felt them all, and intensely. She would that the villains had killed her! She would that they had finished her life! Why should she survive, except for vengeance? For not only were her hopes for Ireland fallen; not only were those who had trusted themselves to The McMurrough perishing even now in the hands of ruthless foes; but her brother, her dear, her only brother, whom her prayers, her influence had brought into this path, he too was snared, of his fate also there could be no doubt!
She felt all that was most keen, most poignant, of grief, of anger, of indignation. But the sharpest pang of all—had she analysed her feelings—was inflicted by the consciousness of failure, and of failure verging on the ignominious. The mature take good and evil fortune as they come; but to fail at first setting out in life, to be outwitted in the opening venture, to have to acknowledge that experience is, after all, a formidable foe—these are mishaps which sour the magnanimous and poison young blood.
She had not known before what it was to hate. Now she only lived to hate: to hate the man who had shown himself so much cleverer than her friends, who, in a twinkling, and by a single blow, had wrecked her plans, duped her allies, betrayed her brother, made her name a laughing-stock, robbed Ireland of a last chance of freedom! who had held her in his arms, terrified her, mastered her! Oh, why had she swooned? Why had she not rather, disregarding her womanish weakness, her womanish fears, snatched the knife from him and plunged it into his treacherous breast? Why? Why?
THE COLONEL'S TERMS
Passive courage—courage in circumstances in which a man cannot help himself, but must abide with bound hands whatever a frowning fortune and his enemy's spite threaten—is so much higher a virtue than that which carries him through hot emprises, and is so much more common among women, that the palm for bravery may fairly be given to the weaker sex. True, it is not in the first face of danger that a woman shines; time must be given her to string her nerves. But grant time and there is no calamity so dreadful, no fate so abhorrent to trembling humanity, that a woman has not met it smiling: in the sack of cities, or in the slow agony of towns perishing of hunger, in the dungeon, or in the grip of disease.
The bravest men share this gift, and some whom the shock of conflict appals. Cammock and the Bishop belonged to the former class. Seized in a moment of activity, certain only that they were in hostile hands, and hurried, blind and helpless, to an unknown doom, they might have been pardoned had they succumbed to despair. But they did not succumb. The habit of danger, and a hundred adventures and escapes, had hardened them; they felt more rage than fear. Stunned for a moment by the audacity of the attack, and humiliated by its success, they had not been dragged a hundred yards before they began to reason and to calculate the chances. If the purpose of those into whose hands they had fallen were to murder them they would have been piked on the spot. On the other hand, if their captors' object was to deliver them to English justice, it was a long way to the Four Courts, and farther to Westminster. Weeks, if not months, must elapse before they stood at the bar on a capital charge; much water must flow under the bridges, and many a thing might happen, by force or fraud, in the interval.
So, half-stifled and bitterly chagrined as they were, they did not waste their strength in a vain resistance. They allowed themselves to be pushed this way and pulled that, took what care they could of their limbs, and for their thoughts gave as many to vengeance as to safety. They had known many reverses in many lands. They did not believe that this was the end. And presently it would be their turn.
With the third of the prisoners it was otherwise. The courage of the Irish is more conspicuous in the advance than in the retreat; and even of that recklessness in fight, that joy in the conflict, which is their birthright and their fame, Flavia had taken more than her woman's share. In James McMurrough's mean and narrow nature there was small room for the generous passions. Unlike his sister, he would have struck the face of no man in whose power he lay; nor was he one to keep a stout heart when his hands were bound. Conscience does not always make cowards. But he knew into whose hands he had fallen, he knew the fate to which he had himself consigned Colonel John—or would have consigned him but for self-interest—and his heart was water, his knees were aspens, his hair rose, as, helpless, he pictured in livid hues the fate that now awaited himself.
As he had meant to do to the other, it would be done to him! He felt the cruel pike rend the gasping throat; he had heard that it was the most painful death that a man could die, and that the shrieks of men dying on the pike-point could be heard a mile! Or would they throw him, bound and blind as he was, into the sullen lake—yes, that was it! They were carrying him that way, they were taking him to the lake.
And once and twice, in the insanity of fear, he fought with his bonds until the blood came, even throwing himself down, until the men, out of patience, pricked him savagely, and drove him, venting choked cries of pain, to his feet again. After the second attempt, if attempt that could be called which had no reasoning behind it, but only sheer animal fear, he staggered on, beaten, hopeless. He was aware that Colonel John was not with them; and then, again, that he was with them; and then—they were on the wide track now between the end of the lake and the sea—that they were proceeding with increased caution. That might have given a braver man hope, the hope of rescue. But rescue had itself terrors for The McMurrough. His captors, if pressed, might hasten the end, or his friends might strike him in the melee. And so, with every furlong of the forced journey, he died a fresh death.
And the furlongs seemed interminable, quickly and roughly as he was hurried along. In his terror the pains of his position, the heat, the friction of the rough sacking, the want of air, went for little. But at last he heard the fall of the waves on the shore, gorse pricked his legs or tripped him up, the men about him spoke louder, he caught a distant hail. Laughter, and exclamations of triumph reached him, and the voices of men who had won in spite of odds.
Then a boat grated on the pebbles, he was lifted into it, and thrust down in the bottom. He felt it float off, and heard the measured sound of the oars in the thole-pins. A few moments elapsed, the sound of the oars ceased, the boat bumped something. He was raised to his feet, his hands were unbound, he was set on a rope-ladder, and bidden to climb. Obeying with shaking knees, he was led across what he guessed to be a deck, and down steep stairs. Then his head was freed from the sack, and, sweating, dishevelled, pale with exhaustion and fear, he looked about him.
The fog was still thick outside, turning day into twilight, and the cabin lamp had been lit and swung above the narrow table, filling the lowbrowed, Dutch-like interior with a strong but shifting light. Behind the table Colonel John and the skipper leant against a bulkhead; before them, on the nearer side of the table, were ranged the three captives. Behind these, again, the dark, grinning faces of the sailors, with their tarred pigtails and flashing eyes, filled the doorway; and, beyond doubt, viewed under the uncertain light of the lamp, they showed a wild and savage crew. As James McMurrough looked, his hopes, which had risen during the last few minutes, sank. Escape, or chance of escape, there was none. He was helpless, and what those into whose hands he had fallen determined, he must suffer. For a moment his heart stood still, his mouth gaped, he swayed on his feet. Then he clutched the table and steadied himself.
"I am—giddy," he muttered.
"I am sorry that you have been put to so much inconvenience," Colonel John answered civilly.
The words, the tone, might have reassured him, if he had not suspected a devilish irony. Even when Colonel John proceeded to direct one of the men to open a porthole and admit more air, he derived no comfort from the attention. But steady! Colonel John was speaking again.
"You, too, gentlemen," he said, addressing Cammock and the Bishop, "I am sorry that I have been forced to put you to so much discomfort. But I saw no other way of effecting my purpose. And," he went on with a smile, "if you ask my warranty for acting as I have acted——"
"I do!" the Bishop said between his teeth. The Admiral said nothing, but breathed hard.
"Then I can only vouch," the Colonel answered, "the authority by virtue of which you seized me yesterday. I give you credit, reverend father, and you, Admiral, for a belief that in acting as you did you were doing your duty; that in creating a rising here you were serving a cause which you think worthy of sacrifice—the sacrifice of others as well as of yourselves. But I tell, you, as frankly, I feel it my duty to thwart that purpose and prevent that rising; and for the moment fortune is with me. The game, gentlemen, is for the present in my hand; the move is mine. Now I need hardly say," Colonel John continued, with an appearance almost of bonhomie, "that I do not wish to proceed to extremities, or to go farther than is necessary to secure my purpose. We might set sail for the nearest garrison port, and I might hand you over to the English authorities, assured that they would pay such a reward as would compensate the shipmaster. But far be it from me to do that! I would have no man's blood on my hands. And though I say at once I would not shrink, were there no other way of saving innocent lives, from sending you to the scaffold——"
"A thousand thanks to you!" the Bishop said. But, brave man as he was, the irony in his voice masked relief; and not then, but a moment later, he passed his handkerchief across his brow. Cammock said nothing, but the angry, bloodshot eyes which he fixed on the Colonel lost a little of their ferocity.
"I say, I would not shrink from doing that," Colonel John continued mildly, "were it necessary. Fortunately for us all, it is not necessary. Still I must provide against your immediate return, against immediate action on your part. I must see that the movement which will die in your absence is not revived by any word from you, or by tidings of you! To that end, gentlemen, I must put you to the inconvenience of a prolonged sea-voyage."
"If I could speak with you in private?" the Bishop said.
"You will have every opportunity," Colonel John answered, smiling, "of speaking to Captain Augustin in private."
"Still, sir, if I could see you alone I think I could convince you——"
"You shall have every opportunity of convincing Captain Augustin," Colonel John returned, smiling more broadly, "and of convincing him by the same means which I venture to think, reverend sir, you would employ with me. To be plain, he will take you to sea for a certain period, and at the end of that time, if your arguments are sufficiently weighty, he will land you at a convenient harbour on the French shore. He will be at the loss of his cargo, and that loss I fear you will have to make good. Something, too, he may charge by way of interest, and for your passage." By this time the sailors were on the broad grin. "A trifle, perhaps, for landing dues. But I have spoken with him to be moderate, and I doubt not that within a few weeks you, Admiral Cammock, will be with your command, and the reverend father will be pursuing his calling in another place."
For a moment there was silence, save for a titter from the group of seamen. Then Cammock laughed—a curt, barking laugh. "A bite!" he said. "A d——d bite! If I can ever repay it, sir, I will! Be sure of that!"
Colonel John bowed courteously.
The Bishop took it otherwise. The veins on his forehead swelled, and he had much ado to control himself. The truth was, he feared ridicule more than he feared danger, perhaps more than he feared death; and such an end to such an enterprise was hard to bear. To have set forth to raise the south of Ireland, to have undertaken a diversion that would never be forgotten, that, on the contrary, would be marked by historians as a main factor in the restoration of the house of Stuart—to have embarked on such an enterprise and to be deported like any troublesome villager delivered to the pressgang for his hamlet's good! To end thus! It was too much.
"Is there no alternative?" he asked, barely able to speak for the chagrin that took him by the throat.
"One, if you prefer it," Colonel Sullivan answered suavely. "You can take your chance with the English authorities. For myself, I lean to the course I have suggested."
"If money were paid down—now? Now, sir?"
"It would not avail."
The Bishop glared at him for a few seconds. Then his face relaxed, his eyes grew mild, his chin sank on his breast. His fingers drummed on the table. "His will be done!" he said—"His will be done! I was not worthy."
His surrender seemed to sting Cammock. Perhaps in the course of their joint adventures he had come to know and to respect his companion, and felt more for him than for himself.
"If I had you on my quarter-deck for only half an hour," he growled, "I would learn who was the better man! Ah, my man, I would!"
"The doubt flatters me," Colonel John answered, viewing them both with great respect; for he saw that, bad or good, they were men. Then, "That being settled," he continued, "I shall ask you, gentlemen, to go on deck for a few moments, that I may say a word to my kinsman."
"He is not to go with us?"
"That remains to be seen," Colonel John replied, a note of sternness in his voice. Still they hesitated, and he stood; but at last, in obedience to his courteous gesture, they bowed, turned—with a deep sigh on the Bishop's part—and clambered up the companion. The seamen had already vanished at a word from Augustin, who himself proceeded to follow his prisoners on deck.
"Sit down!" Colonel Sullivan said, the same sternness in his voice. And he sat down on his side of the table, while James McMurrough, with a sullen look but a beating heart, took his seat on the other. The fear of immediate death had left the young man; he tried to put on an air of bravado, but with so little success that if his sister had seen him thus she had been blind indeed if she had not discerned, between these two men seated opposite to one another, the difference that exists between the great and the small, the strong and the infirm of purpose.
It was significant of that difference that the one was silent at will, while the other spoke because he had not the force to be silent.
"What are you wanting with me?" the young man asked.
"Is it not you," Colonel John answered, with a piercing look, "will be wanting to know where O'Sullivan Og is—O'Sullivan Og, whom you sent to do your bidding this morning?"
The young man turned a shade paler, and his bravado fell from him. His breath seemed to stop. Then, "Where?" he whispered—"where is he?"
"Where, I pray, Heaven," Colonel John answered, with the same solemnity, "may have mercy upon him."
"He is not dead?" The McMurrough cried, his voice rising on the last word.
"I have little doubt he is," the Colonel replied. "Dead, sir! And the men who were with him—dead also, or the most part of them. Dead, James McMurrough, on the errand they went for you."
The shock of the news struck the young man dumb, and for some moments he stared at the Colonel, his face colourless. At length, "All dead?" he whispered. "Not all?"
"For what I know," Colonel John replied. "Heaven forgive them!" And, in half a dozen sentences, he told him what had happened. Then, "They are the first fruits," he continued sternly, "God grant that they be the last fruits of this reckless plot! Not that I blame them, who did but as they were bid. Nor do I blame any man, nor any woman who embarked on this—reckless as it was, foolish as it was—with a single heart, either in ignorance of the things that I know, or knowing them, for the sake of an end which they set above their own lives. But—but"—and Colonel John's voice grew more grave—"there was one who had neither of these two excuses. There was one who was willing to do murder, not in blind obedience, nor for a great cause, but to serve his own private interest and his own advantage!"
"No! no!" the young man cried, cowering before him. "It is not true!"
"One who was ready to do murder," Colonel John continued pitilessly, "because it suited him to remove a man!"
"No! no!" the wretched youth cried, almost grovelling before him. "It was all of them!—it was all!"
"It was not all!" Colonel John retorted; but there was a keenness in his face which showed that he had still something to learn.
"It was—those two-on deck!" The McMurrough cried eagerly. "I swear it was! They said—it was necessary."
"They were one with you in condemning! Be it so! I believe you! But who spared?"
"I!" The McMurrough cried, breathlessly eager to exculpate himself. "It was I alone. I! I swear it. I sent the boy!"
"You spared? Yes, and you alone!" the Colonel made answer. "So I thought, and out of your own mouth you are condemned. You spared because you learned that I had made a will, and you feared lest that which had passed to me in trust might pass to a stranger for good and all! You spared because it was—because you thought it was to your interest, your advantage to spare! I say, out of your own mouth you are condemned."
James McMurrough had scarcely force to follow the pitiless reasoning by which the elder man convicted him. But his conscience, his knowledge of his own motives, filled the hiatus, and what his tongue did not own his colourless face, his terrified eyes, confessed.
"You have fallen into our hands," Colonel John continued, grave as fate. "Why should we not deal with you as you would have dealt with us? No!"—the young man by a gesture had appealed to those on deck, to their escape, to their impunity—"no! They may have consented to my death; but as the judge condemns, or the soldier kills; you—you, for your private profit and advantage. Nevertheless, I shall not deal so with you. You can go as they are going—abroad, to return at a convenient season, and I hope a wiser man. Or——"
"Or—what?" the young man cried hurriedly.
"Or you can stay here," Colonel John continued, "and we will treat the past as if it had not been. But on a condition."
James's colour came back. "What'll you be wanting?" he muttered, averting his gaze.
"You must swear that you will not pursue this foolish plan further. That first."
"What can I be doing without them?" was the sullen answer.
"Very true," Colonel John rejoined. "But you must swear also, my friend, that you will not attempt anything against me, nor be party to anything."
"What'd I be doing?"
"Don't lie!" the Colonel replied, losing his temper for a single instant. "You know what you have done, and therefore what you'd be likely to do. I've no time to bandy words, and you know how you stand. Swear on your hope of salvation to those two things, and you may stay. Refuse, and I make myself safe by your absence. That is all I have to say."
The young man had the sense to know that he was escaping lightly. The times were rough, the district was lawless, he had embarked—how foolishly he saw—on an enterprise too high for him. He was willing enough to swear that he would not pursue that enterprise further. But the second undertaking stuck in his gizzard. He hated Colonel John. For the past wrong, for the past defeat, above all for the present humiliation, ay, and for the very magnanimity which spared him, he, the weak spirit, hated the strong with a furious, if timid malignity.
"I'm having no choice," he said, shrugging his shoulders.
"Very good," Colonel John answered curtly. And, going to the door, he called Bale from his station by the hatchway, and despatched him to the Bishop and to Admiral Cammock, requesting them to do him the honour to descend.
They came readily enough, in the hope of some favourable turn. But the Colonel's words quickly set them right.
"Gentlemen," he said politely, "I know you to be men of honour in private life. For this reason I have asked you to be present as witnesses to the bargain between my cousin and myself. Blood is thicker than water: he has no mind to go abroad, and I have no mind to send him against his will. But his presence, after what has passed, is a standing peril to myself. To meet this difficulty, and to free me from the necessity of banishing him, he is ready to swear by all he holds sacred, and upon his honour, that he will attempt nothing against me, nor be a party to it. Is that so, sir?" the speaker continued. "Do you willingly, in the presence of these gentlemen, give that undertaking?"
The young man, with averted eyes and a downcast face, nodded.
"I am afraid I must trouble you to speak," Colonel John said.
"I do," he muttered, looking at no one.
"Further, that you will not within six months attempt anything against the Government?" Colonel John continued.
"I will not."
"Very good. I accept that undertaking, and I thank these gentlemen for their courtesy in condescending to act as witnesses. Admiral Cammock and you, reverend father," Colonel John continued, "it remains but to bid you farewell, and to ask you to believe"—the Colonel paused—"that I have not pushed further than was necessary the advantage I gained."
"By a neat stroke, Colonel Sullivan," the Bishop replied, with a rather sour smile, "not to say a bold one. I'm not denying it. But one, I'd have you notice, that cannot be repeated."
"Maybe not," the Colonel answered. "I am content to think that for some time to come I have transferred your operations, gentlemen, to a sphere where I am not concerned for the lives of the people."
"There are things more precious than lives," the Bishop said.
"I admit it. More by token I'm blaming you little—only you see, sir, I differ. That is all."
With that Colonel Sullivan bowed and left the cabin, and The McMurrough, who had listened to the colloquy with the air of a whipped hound, slunk after him. On deck the Colonel and Augustin talked apart for a moment, then the former signed to the young man to go down into the boat, which lay alongside with a couple of men at the oars, and Bale seated in the sternsheets. The fog still hung upon the water, and the land was hidden. The young man could not see where they lay.
After the lapse of a minute or two Colonel John joined him, and the rowers pushed off, while Augustin and the crew leant over the rail to see them go, and to send after them a torrent of voluble good wishes. A very few, strokes of the oars brought the passengers within misty view of the land; in less than two minutes after leaving the Cormorant the boat grated on the rocks, and the Colonel, James McMurrough, and Bale landed. The young man made out that they were some half-mile eastward of Skull Harbour.
Bale stayed to exchange a few words with the seamen, while Colonel John and The McMurrough set off along the beach. They had not walked fifty yards before the fog isolated them; they were alone. And astonishment filled the young man, and grew as they walked. Did Colonel John, after all that had happened, mean to return to Morristown? to establish himself calmly—he, alone—in the midst of the conspirators whose leaders he had removed?
It seemed incredible! For though he, James McMurrough, thirst for revenge as he might, was muzzled by his oath, what of the others? What of Sir Donny and old Timothy Burke? What of the two O'Beirnes? Nay, what of his sister, whom he could fancy more incensed, more vindictive, more dangerous than them all? What, finally, of the barbarous rout of peasants, ready to commit any violence at a word from him?
And still the Colonel walked on by his side. And now they were in sight of Skull—of the old tower and the house by the jetty, looming large through the dripping mist. And at last Colonel John spoke.
"It was fortunate that I made my will as I came through Paris," he said.
The Irish of that day, with all their wit and all their courage, had the bad habit of looking abroad for leaders. Colonel John had run little risk of being wrong in taking for granted that the meeting at the Carraghalin, mysteriously robbed of the chiefs from over-seas, whose presence had brought the movement to a head, would disperse; either amid the peals of Homeric laughter that in Ireland greet a monster jest, or, in sadder mood, cursing the detested Saxon for one more added to the many wrongs of a downtrodden land.
Had Flavia indeed escaped, had the raid which Colonel Sullivan had so audaciously conceived failed to embrace her, the issue might have been different. Had she appeared upon the scene at the critical moment, her courage and enthusiasm might have supported the spirits of the assemblage and kept it together. But Uncle Ulick had not the force to do this: much less had old Timothy Burke or Sir Donny. Uncle Ulick, we know, expected little good from the rising; he was prepared for any, the worst mishap; while the faith of the older men in any change for the better was not robust enough to stand alone or to resist the first blast of doubt.
Their views indeed were more singular than cheerful.
"Very like," Sir Donny said, with a fallen under-lip, "the ould earth's opened her mouth and swallowed them. She's tired, small blame to her, with all the heretics burdening her and tormenting her—the cream of hell's fire to them!"
"Whisht, man!" the other answered. "Be easy; you're forgetting one's a bishop. Small chance of the devil's tackling him, and, like enough the holy water and all ready to his hand!"
"Then I'm not knowing what it is," the first pronounced hopelessly.
"There you speak truth, Sir Donny," Tim Burke answered. "Is it they can be losing their way in the least taste of fog there is, do you think?"
"And the young lady knowing the path, so that she'd be walking it blindfold in the dark!"
"I'm fearing, then, it will be the garr'son from Tralee," was Uncle Ulick's contribution. And he shook his head. "The saints be between us and them, and grant we'll not be seeing more of them than we like, and sooner!"
"Amen to that same!" replied old Timothy Burke, with an uneasy look behind him.
There was nothing comforting in this. And the messengers sent to learn what was amiss and why the expected party did not arrive had as little cheer to give. They could learn nothing. On which Uncle Ulick and his fellows rubbed their heads: the small men wondered. A few panic-stricken, began to slip away, but the mass were faithful. An hour went by in this trying uncertainty, and a second and part of a third; and messengers departed and came, and there were rumours and alarms, and presently something like the truth got abroad; and there was talk of pursuit, and a band of young stalwarts was detailed and sent off. Still the greater part of the assemblage, with Irish patience, remained seated in ranks on the slopes of the hills, the women with their drugget shawls drawn over their heads, the men with their frieze coats hanging loose about them. The chill mist which clung to the hillsides, and the atmosphere of doubt which overhung all, were a poor exchange for the roaring bonfires, the good cheer, the enthusiasm, the merriment of the previous evening. But the Irish peasant, if he be less staunch at the waiting—even as he is more forward in the hand-to-hand than his Scottish cousins—has the peasant's gift of endurance; and in the most trying hours—in ignorance, in doubt, in danger—has often held his ground in dependence on his betters, with a result pitiful in the reading. For too often the great have abandoned the little, the horse has borne off the rider, and the naked footman, surprised, surrounded, out-matched, and put to the sword, has paid for all.
But on this day a time came, about high noon, when the assemblage—and the fog—began at last to melt. Sir Donny was gone, and old Tim Burke of Maamtrasna. They had slipped homewards, by little-known tracks across the peat hags; and, shamefaced and fearful of the consequences, the spirit all gone out of them, had turned their minds to oaths and alibis. They had been in trouble before, and were taken to know; and their departure sapped the O'Beirnes' resolution, whose uneasy faces as they talked together spread the contagion. Uncle Ulick and several of the buckeens were away on the search; the handful of Spanish seamen had returned to the house or to the ship: there was no one to check the defection when it set in. An hour after Sir Donny had slipped away, the movement which might have meant so much to so many was spent. The slopes about the ruined gables which they called Carraghalin, and which were all that remained of the once proud abbey, had returned to their wonted solitude; where hundreds had sat a short hour before the eagle hovered, the fox turned his head and scented the wind. Even the house at Morristown had so far become itself again that a scarcity, rather than a plenitude of life, betrayed the past night of orgy; and a quietness beyond the ordinary, the things that had been dreamed. The garrison of Tralee, the Protestant Settlement at Kenmare, facts which had been held distant and negligible in the first flush of hope and action, now seemed to the fearful fancy many an Irish mile nearer and many a shade more real.
Doubtless, in the minds of some, a secret thankfulness that, after all, they were not required to take the leap, relieved the disappointment and lessened the shame. They were well out of an ugly scrape, they reflected; well clear of the ugly shadow of the gallows—always supposing that no informer appeared. It might even be the hand of Providence, they thought, that had removed their leaders, and so held them back. They might think themselves happy to be quit of it for the fright.
But there was one—one who found no such consolation; one to whom the issue was pure loss, a shameful defeat, the end of hopes, the defeat of prayers that had never risen to heaven more purely than that morning.
Flavia sat with her eyes on the dead peat that cumbered the hearth—for in the general excitement the fire had been suffered to go out—and in a stupor of misery refused to be comforted. Of her plans, of her devotion, of her lofty resolves, this was the result. She had aspired, God knew how honestly and earnestly, for her race downtrodden and her faith despised, and this was the bitter fruit. Nor was it only the girl's devotion to her country and to her faith that lay sore wounded: her vanity suffered, and perhaps more keenly. The enterprise that was to have glorified the name of McMurrough, that was to have raised that fallen race, that was to have made that distant province blessed among the provinces of Ireland, had come to an end, derisive and contemptible, before it was born. Her spirit, unbroken by experience and untrained to defeat, fearing before all things ridicule, dashed itself against the dreadful conviction, the dreadful fact. She could hardly believe that all was over. She could hardly realise that the cup was no longer at her lip, that the bird had escaped from the hand. But she looked from the window; and, lo, the courtyard which had hummed and seethed was dead and silent. In one corner a knot of men were carrying out the arms and the powder, and were preparing to bury them. In another, a woman—it was Sullivan Og's widow—sat weeping. It was the Hic jacet of the great Rising that was to have been, and that was to have regenerated Ireland!
And "You must kill him!" she cried, with livid cheeks and blazing eyes. "If you do not, I will!"
Uncle Ulick, who had heard the story of the ambush, and beyond doubt was one of those who felt more relief than disappointment, stretched his legs uneasily. He longed to comfort her, but he did not know what to say. Moreover, he was afraid of her in this mood.
"You must kill him!" she repeated.
"We'll talk of that," he said, "when we see him."
"You must kill him!" the girl repeated passionately. "Or I will! If you are a man, if you are an Irishman, if you are a Sullivan, kill him, the shame of your race! Or I will!"
"If he had been on our side," Uncle Ulick answered soberly, "instead of against us, I'm thinking we should have done better."
The girl drew in her breath sharply, pierced to the quick by the thought. Simultaneously the big man started, but for another reason. His eyes were on the window, and they saw a sight which his mind declined to believe. Two men had entered the courtyard—had entered with astonishing, with petrifying nonchalance, as it seemed to him. For the first was Colonel Sullivan. The second—but the second slunk at the heels of the first with a hang-dog air—was James McMurrough.
Fortunately Flavia, whose eyes were glooming on the cold hearth and the extinct ashes, fit image of her dead hopes, had her back to the casement. Uncle Ulick rose. His thoughts came with a shock against the possibility that Colonel John had the garrison of Tralee at his back! But, although The McMurrough had all the appearance of a prisoner, Ulick thrust away the notion as soon as it occurred. To clear his mind, he looked to see how the men engaged in getting out the powder were taking it. They had ceased to work, and were staring with all their eyes. Something in their bearing and their attitudes told Uncle Ulick that the notion which had occurred to him had occurred to them, and that they were prepared to run at the least alarm.
"His blood be on his own head!" he muttered. But he did not say it in the tone of a man who meant it.
"Amen!" she cried, her back still turned to the window, her eyes brooding on the cold hearth. The words fell in with her thoughts.
By this time Colonel Sullivan was within four paces of the door. In a handturn he would be in the room, he would be actually in the girl's presence—and Uncle Ulick shrank from the scene which must follow. Colonel John was, indeed, and plainly, running on his fate. Already the O'Beirnes, awakening from their trance of astonishment, were closing in behind him with grim faces; and short of the garrison of Tralee the big man saw no help for him; well-nigh—so strongly did even he feel on the matter—he desired none. But Flavia must have no part in it. In God's name, let the girl be clear of it!
The big man took two steps to the door, opened it, slipped through, and closed it behind him. His breast as good as touched that of Colonel Sullivan, who was on the threshold. Behind the Colonel was James McMurrough; behind James were the two O'Beirnes and two others, of whose object, as they cut off the Colonel's retreat, no man who saw their faces could doubt.
For once, in view of the worse things that might happen in the house, Ulick was firm. "You can't come in!" he said, his face pale and frowning. He had no word of greeting for the Colonel. "You can't come in!" he repeated, staring straight at him.
The Colonel turned and saw the four men with arms in their hands spreading out behind him. He understood. "You had better let me in," he said gently. "James will talk to them."
"You had better speak to them," Colonel John continued, addressing his companion. "And you, Ulick——"
"You can't come in," Ulick repeated grimly.
James McMurrough interposed in his harshest tone. "An end to this!" he cried. "Who the devil are you to bar the door, Ulick! And you, Phelim and Morty, be easy a minute till you hear me speak."
Ulick still barred the way. "James," he said, in a voice little above a whisper, "you don't know——"
"I know enough!" The McMurrough answered violently. It went sadly against the grain with him to shield his enemy, but so it must be. "Curse you, let him in!" he continued fiercely; they were making his task more hard for him. "And have a care of him," he added anxiously. "Do you hear? Have a care of him!"
Uncle Ulick made a last feeble attempt. "But Flavia," he said. "Flavia is there and——"
"Curse the girl!" James answered. "Get out of the road and let the man in! Is this my house or yours?"
Ulick yielded, as he had yielded so often before. He stood aside. Colonel John opened the door and entered.
The rest happened so quickly that no movement on his part could have saved him. Flavia had heard their voices in altercation—it might be a half minute, it might be a few seconds before. She had risen to her feet, she had recognised the voice of one of the speakers—he had spoken once only, but that was enough—she had snatched up the naked sword that since the previous morning had leant in the chimney corner. As Colonel John crossed the threshold—oh, dastardly audacity, oh, insolence incredible, that in the hour of his triumph he should soil that threshold!—she lunged with all the force of her strong young arm at his heart.
With such violence that the hilt struck his breast and hurled him bodily against the doorpost; while the blade broke off, shivered by contact with the hard wood.
Uncle Ulick uttered a cry of horror. "My G——d!" he exclaimed, "you have killed him!"
She stopped on the word. For instead of falling Colonel John was regaining his balance. "Flavia!" he cried—the blade had passed through his coat, missing his breast by a bare half-inch. "Flavia, hold! Listen! Listen a moment!"
But in a frenzy of rage, as soon as she saw that her blow had failed, she struck at him with the hilt and the ragged blade that remained—struck at his face, struck at his breast, with cries of fury almost animal. "Wretch! wretch!" she cried—"die! If they are cowards, I am not! Die!"
The scene was atrocious, and Uncle Ulick, staring open-mouthed, gave no help. But Colonel Sullivan mastered her wrists, though not until he had sustained a long bleeding cut on the jaw. Even then, though fettered, and though he had forced her to drop the weapon, she struggled desperately with him—as she had struggled when he carried her through the mist. "Kill him! kill him!" she shrieked. "Help! help!"
The men would have killed him twice and thrice if The McMurrough, with voice and blade and frantic imprecations and the interposition of his own body, had not kept the O'Beirnes and the others at bay—explaining, deprecating, praying, cursing, all in a breath. Twice a blow was struck at the Colonel through the doorway, but one fell short and the other James McMurrough parried. For a moment the peril was of the greatest: the girl's cries, the sight of her struggling in Colonel John's grip, wrought the men almost beyond James's holding. Then the strength went out of her suddenly, she ceased to fight, and but for Colonel Sullivan's grasp she would have fallen her length on the floor. He knew that she was harmless then, and he thrust her into the nearest chair. He kicked the broken sword under the table, staunched the blood that trickled fast from his cheek; last of all, he looked at the men who were contending with James in the doorway.
"Gentlemen," he said, breathing a little quickly, but in no other way betraying the strait through which he had passed, "I shall not run away. I shall be here to answer you to-morrow, as fully as to-day. In the meantime I beg to suggest"—again he raised the handkerchief to his cheek and staunched the blood—"that you retire now, and hear what The McMurrough has to say to you: the more as the cases and the arms I see in the courtyard lie obnoxious to discovery and expose all to risk while they remain so."
His surprising coolness did more to check them than The McMurrough's efforts. They gaped at him in wonder. Then one uttered an imprecation.
"The McMurrough will explain if you will go with him," Colonel John answered patiently, "I say again, gentlemen, I shall not run away."
"If you mean her any harm——"
"I mean her no harm."
"Are you alone?"
"I am alone."
So far Morty. But Phelim O'Beirne was not quite satisfied. "If a hair of her head be hurt——" he growled, pushing himself forward, "I tell you, sir——"
"And I tell you!" James McMurrough retorted, repelling him. "What are the hairs of her head to you, Phelim O'Beirne? Am I not him that's her brother? A truce to your prating, curse you, and be coming with me. I understand him, and that is enough!"
"But His Reverence——"
"His Reverence is as safe as you or me!" James retorted. "If it were not so, are you thinking I'd be here? Fie on you!" he went on, pushing Phelim through the door; "you are good at the talking now, when it's little good it will be doing! But where were you this morning when a good blow might have saved all?"
"Could I be helping it, when——?"
The voices passed away, still wrangling, across the courtyard. Uncle Ulick stepped to the door and closed it. Then he turned and spoke his mind.
"You were wrong to come back, John Sullivan," he said, the hardness of his tone bearing witness to his horror of what had happened. "Shame on you! It is no thanks to you that your blood is not on the girl's hands, and the floor of your grandfather's house! You're a bold man, I allow. But the fox made too free with the window at last, and, take my word for it, there are a score of men, whose hands are surer than this child's, who will not rest till they have had your life! And after what has happened, can you wonder? Be bid and go then; be bid, and go while the breath is firm in you!"
Colonel John did not speak for a moment, and when he did answer, it was with a severity that overbore Ulick's anger, and in a tone of contempt that was something new to the big man. "If the breath be firm in those whom you, Ulick Sullivan," he said—"ay, you, Ulick Sullivan—and your fellows would have duped, it is enough for me! For myself, whom should I fear? The plotters whose childish plans were not proof against the simplest stratagem? The conspirators"—his tone grew more cutting in its scorn—"who took it in hand to pull down a throne and were routed by a Sergeant's Guard? The poor puppets who played at a game too high for them, and, dreaming they were Sarsfields or Montroses, danced in truth to others' piping? Shall I fear them," he continued, the tail of his eye on the girl, who, sitting low in her chair, writhed involuntarily under his words—"poor tools, poor creatures, only a little less ignorant, only a little more guilty than the clods they would have led to the crows or the hangman? Is it these I am to fear; these I am to flee from? God forbid, Ulick Sullivan! I am not the man to flee from shadows!"
His tone, his manner, the truth of his words—which were intended to open the girl's eyes, but did in fact increase her burning resentment—hurt even Uncle Ulick's pride. "Whisht, man," he said bitterly. "It's plain you're thinking you're master here!"
"I am," Colonel John replied sternly. "I am, and I intend to be. Nor a day too soon! Where all are children, there is need of a master! Don't look at me like that, man! And for my cousin, let her hear the truth for once! Let her know what men who have seen the world think of the visions, from which she would have awakened in a dungeon, and the poor fools, her fellow-dupes, under the gibbet! A great rising for a great cause, if it be real, man, if it be earnest, if it be based on forethought and some calculation of the chances, God knows I hold it a fine thing, and a high thing! But the rising of a child with a bladder against an armed man, a rising that can ruin but cannot help, I know not whether to call it more silly or more wicked! Man, the devil does his choicest work through fools, not rogues! And, for certain, he never found a choicer morsel or fitter instruments than at Morristown yesterday."
Uncle Ulick swore impatiently. "We may be fools," he growled. "Yet spare the girl! Spare the girl!"
"What? Spare her the truth?"
"All! Everything!" Uncle Ulick cried, with unusual heat. "Cannot you see that she at least meant well!"
"Such do the most ill," Colonel John retorted, with sententious severity. "God forgive them—and her!" He paused for a moment and then, in a lighter tone, he continued, "As I do. As I do gladly. Only there must be an end of this foolishness. The two men who knew in what they worked and had reason in their wrong-doing are beyond seas. We shall see their faces no more. The McMurrough is not so mad as to wish to act without them. He"—with a faint smile—"is not implacable. You, Ulick, are not of the stuff of whom martyrs are made, nor are Mr. Burke and Sir Donny. But the two young men outside"—he paused as if he reflected—"they and three or four others are—what my cousin now listening to me makes them. They are tow, if the flame be brought near them. And therefore—and therefore," he repeated still more slowly, "I have spoken the truth and plainly. To this purpose, that there may be an end."
Flavia had sat at first with closed eyes, in a state next door to collapse, her head inclined, her arms drooping, as if at any moment she might sink to the floor. But in the course of his speaking a change had come over her. The last heavings of the storm, physical and mental, through which she had passed, still shook her; now a quiver distorted her features, now a violent shudder agitated her from head to foot. But the indomitable youth in her, and the spirit which she had inherited from some dead forefather, were not to be long gainsaid. Slowly, as she listened—and mainly under the influence of indignation—her colour had returned, her face grown more firm, her form more stiff. In truth Colonel John had adopted the wrong course with her. He had been hard—knowing men better than women—when he should have been mild; he had browbeaten where he should have forgiven. And so at his last declaration, "There must be an end," she rose to her feet, and spoke. And speaking, she showed that neither the failure of her attempt on him, nor the bodily struggle with him, horribly as it humiliated her in the remembrance, had quelled her courage.
"An end!" she said, in a voice vibrating with emotion. "Yes, but it will be an end for you! Children, are we? Well, better that, a thousand times better that, than be so old before our time, so cold of heart and cunning of head that there is naught real for us but that we touch and see, nothing high for us but that our words will be measuring, nothing worth risk but that we are safe to gain! Children, are we?" she continued, with deep passion. "But at least we believe! At least we own something higher than ourselves—a God, a Cause, a Country! At least we have not bartered all—all three and honour for a pittance of pay, fighting alike for right or wrong, betraying alike the right and wrong! Children? May be! But, God be thanked, we are warm, the blood runs in us——"
"I say the blood runs in us!" she repeated. "And if we are foolish, as you say, we are wiser yet than one"—she looked at him with a strange and almost awful steadfastness—"who in his wisdom thinks that a traitor can walk our Irish soil unharmed, or one go back and forth in safety who has ruined and shamed us! You have escaped my hand! But I know that all your boasted wisdom will not lengthen your life till the moon wanes!"
He had tried to interrupt her once—eagerly, vividly, as one who would defend himself. He answered her now after another fashion: perhaps he had learnt his lesson. "If God wills," he said simply, "it will be so; it will be as you say. And the road will lie open to you. Only while I live, Flavia, whether I love this Irish soil or not, or my country, or my honour, the storm shall not break here, nor the house fall from which we spring!"
"While you live!" she repeated, with a dreadful smile. "I tell you, I tell you," and she extended her hand towards him, "the winding-sheet is high upon your breast, and the salt dried that shall lie upon your heart."
If, after that, Colonel Sullivan's life had depended on his courage or the vigilance of his servant, it is certain that, tried as was the one and unwinking as was the other, Flavia's prophecy would have been quickly fulfilled. He would not have seen another moon, perhaps he would not have seen another dawn. The part which he had played in the events at the Carraghalin was known to few; but the hundred tongues of rumour were already abroad, carrying as many versions, and in all he was the marplot. His traffic with the Old Fox had spirited away the Holy Father in God—whom the saints preserve!—and swept off also, probably on a broom-stick, the doughty champion whose sole desire it was to lead the hosts of Ireland to victory. In the eyes of some ten score persons, scattered over half a dozen leagues of country, wild, and beyond the pale of law—persons who valued an informer's life no higher than a wolf's—he wore the ugly shape of one. And the logical consequence was certain. That the man who had done these things should continue to walk the sod, that the man who had these things on his black heretic conscience should continue to haunt the scene of his crimes and lord it over those whom his misdeeds had sullied, was to the common mind unthinkable—nay, incredible: a blot on God's good day. To every potato-setter who, out of the corner of his eye, watched his passage, to every beggar by the road whose whine masked heart-felt curses, to the very children who fell back from the cabin door to escape his evil eye, this was plain and known, and the man already as the dead. For if the cotters by the lakeside were not men enough, the nights being at present moonlit, was there not Roaring Andy's band in the hills, not seven miles away, who would cut any man's throat for a silver doubloon, and a Protestant's for the "trate it would be, and sorra a bit of pay at all, the good men!"
Beyond doubt the Colonel's boldness, and the nerve which enabled him to take his place as if nothing threatened him, went for something; and for something the sinister prestige which the disappearance of O'Sullivan Og and his whole party cast about him. For there was wailing in the house by the jetty: the rising had cost some lives though nipped in the bud. The evening tide had cast the body of one of the men upon the shore, where it had been found among the sea-wrack; and, though the fate of the others remained a mystery, the messenger who had sped after Og with the counter-order told the story as he knew it. The means by which the two prisoners, in face of odds so great, had destroyed their captors, were still a secret; but the worst was feared. The Irish are ever open to superstitious beliefs, and the man who singlehanded could wreak such a vengeance, who poured death as it were from a horn, went his way by road and bog, shrouded in a gloomy fame that might provoke the bold, but kept the timid at bay. Before night it was known in a dozen lonely cabins that the Colonel might be shot from behind with a silver bullet: or stabbed, if a man were bold enough, with a cross-handled knife, blest and sprinkled. But woe to him whose aim proved faulty or his hand uncertain! His chance in the grasp of the Father of ill, or of the mis-shapen Trolls, revenants of a heathen race, who yearly profaned the Carraghalin with their orgies, had not been worse!
But this reputation alone, seeing that reckless spirits were not wanting, nor in the recesses of the hills those whose lives were forfeit, would have availed him little if the protection of The McMurrough had not been cast over him. Why it was cast over him, so that he went to and fro in safety—men scarcely dared to guess; it was a dark thing into which it were ill to peer too closely. But the fact was certain; so certain that the anxiety of the young man that the Colonel might meet with no hurt was plain and notorious, a thing observed stealthily and with wonder. Did Colonel John saunter across the court to the gateway, to look on the lake, The McMurrough was at his shoulder in a twinkling, and thence, with a haggard eye, searched the furze-bush for the glint of a gun-barrel, and the angle of the wall for a lurking foe. It was the same if the Colonel, who seemed himself unconscious of danger, fared as far as the ruined tower, or stretched his legs on the road by the shore. The McMurrough could not be too near him, walked with his hand on his arm, cast from time to time vigilant looks to the rear. A score of times between rising and sleeping Colonel John smiled at the care that forewent his steps and covered his retreat; nor perhaps had the contempt in which he held James McMurrough ever reached a higher pitch than while he thus stood from hour to hour indebted to that young man for his life.
What Uncle Ulick, if he held the key to the matter, thought of it, or how he explained it, if he had not, did not appear; nor, certain that the big man would favour a course of action that made for peace, was Colonel John overcurious to know. But what Flavia thought of the position was a point which aroused his most lively curiosity. He gave her credit for feelings so deep and for a nature so downright, that time-serving or paltering were the last faults he looked to find in her. He could hardly believe that she would consent to sit at meat with him after what had happened; and possibly—for men are strange, and the motives of the best are mixed—a desire to see how she would behave and how she would bear herself in the circumstances had something to do with the course he was taking.
That she consented to the plan was soon made clear. She even took part in it. James could not be always at his elbow. The young man must sometimes retire, it might be to vent his spleen in curses he dared not utter openly, it might be to take other measures for his safety. When this happened, the girl took her brother's place, stooped to dog the Colonel's footsteps, and for a day or two, while the danger hung most imminent, and every ditch to James's fancy held a lurking foe, cast the mantle of her presence over the man she hated.
But stoop as she might, she never for a moment stooped to mask her hate. In her incomings and her outgoings, in her risings-up and at table with him, every movement of her body, the carriage of her head, the glance of her eye, showed that she despised him; that she who now suffered him was the same woman who had struck at his life, and, failing, repented only the failure. In all she did, in parleying with him, in bearing with his presence, in suffering his gaze, she made it plain that she did it against her will; as the captive endures perforce the company of the brigand in whose power he lies, but whom, when opportunity offers, he will deliver with avidity to the cord or the garotte. Because she must, and for her brother's sake, for the sake of his name and pride and home, she was willing to do this, though she abhorred it; and though every time that she broke bread with the intruder, met his eyes, or breathed the air that he breathed, she told herself that it was intolerable, that it must end.
Once or twice, feeling the humiliation more than she could bear, she declared to her brother that the man must go. "Let him go!" she cried, in uncontrollable excitement. "Let him go!"
"But he will not be going, Flavvy."
"He must go!" she replied.
"And Morristown his?" James would answer. "Ye are forgetting! Over and above that, he's not one to do my bidding, nor yours!"
That was true. He would not go; he persisted in remaining and being master. But it was not there the difficulty lay. If he had not made a will before he came, a will that doubtless set the property of the family for ever beyond James's reach, the thing had been simple and Colonel John's shrift had been short. But now, to rid the earth of him was to place the power in the hands of an unknown person, a stranger, an alien, for whom the ties of family and honour would have no stringency. True, the law was weak in Kerry. A writ was one thing, and possession another. Whatever right a stranger might gain, it could only be with difficulty and after the lapse of years that he would make it good against the old family, or plant those about him who would ensure his safety. But it did not do to depend on this. Within the last generation, the McCarthys, a clan more powerful than the McMurroughs, had been driven from the greater part of their lands; and on every side English settlers were impinging on the old Irish families. A bold man might indeed keep the forces of law at bay for a time; but James McMurrough, notwithstanding the folly into which he had been led, was no desperado. He had no desire to live with a rope round his neck, to flee to the bog on the least alarm, and, in the issue, to give his name to an Irish Glencoe.
A stranger position it had been hard to conceive; or one more humiliating to a proud and untamed spirit such as Flavia's. What arguments, what prayers, what threats The McMurrough used to bring her to it, Colonel Sullivan could not guess. But though she consented, her shame, her resentment, her hostility, were so patent that the effect was to pair off Colonel John and herself, to pit them one against the other, to match them one to one. The McMurrough, supple and insincere, found little difficulty in subduing his temper to his interests, though now and again his churlishness broke out. For Uncle Ulick, his habit was to be easy and to bid others be easy; the dawn and dark of a day reconciled him to most things. The O'Beirnes, sullen and distrustful, were still glad to escape present peril. Looking for a better time to come, they took their orders, helped to shield the common enemy, supposed it policy, and felt no shame. Flavia alone, in presence of the man who had announced that he meant to be master, writhed in helpless revolt, swore that he should never be her master, swore that whoever bowed the head she never would.
And Colonel Sullivan, seated, apparently at his ease, on the steep lap of danger, found that this hostility and the hostile person held his thoughts. A man may be an enthusiast in the cause of duty, he may have plucked from the hideous slough of war the rare blue flower of loving-kindness, he may in the strength of his convictions seem sufficient to himself; he will still feel a craving for sympathy. Colonel Sullivan was no exception. He found his thoughts dwelling on the one untamable person, on the one enemy who would not stoop, and whose submission seemed valuable. The others took up, in a greater or less degree, the positions he assigned to them, gave him lip-service, pretended that they were as they had been, and he as he had been. She did not; she would not.
Presently he discovered with surprise that her attitude rendered him unhappy. Secure in his sense of right, certain that he was acting for the best, looking from a height of experience on that lowland in which she toiled forward, following will-of-the-wisps, he should have been indifferent. But he was not indifferent.
Meantime, she believed that there was no length to which she would not go against him; she fancied that there was no weapon which she would not stoop to pick up if it would hurt him. And presently she was tried. A week had passed since the great fiasco. Again it was the eve of Sunday, and in the usual course of things a priest would appear to celebrate mass on the following day. This risk James was now unwilling to run. His fears painted that as dangerous which had been done safely Sunday by Sunday for years; and in a hang-dog, hesitating way, he let Flavia know his doubts.
"Devil take me if I think he'll suffer it!" he said, kicking up the turf with his toe. They were standing together by the waterside, Flavia rebelling against the consciousness that it was only outside their own walls that they could talk freely. "May be," he continued, "it will be best to let Father O'Hara know—to let be for a week or two."
The girl turned upon him, in passionate reprehension. "Why?" she cried, "Why?"
"Why, is it you're asking?" James answered sullenly. "Well, isn't he master for the time, bad luck to him! And if he thinks we're beginning to draw the boys together, he'll maybe put his foot down! And I'd rather be stopping it myself, I'm telling you, and it's the truth, too, just for a week or two, Flavvy, than be bidden by him."
"Never!" she cried.
"Never! Never! Never!" she repeated firmly. "Let us turn our back on our king by all means! But on our God, no! Let him do his worst!"
He was ashamed to persist, and he took another line. "I'm thinking of O'Hara," he said. "It'll be four walls for him, or worse, if he's taken."
"There's no one will be taking him," she answered steadfastly.
"But if he is?"
"I'm saying there's no one will be taking him."
James felt himself repulsed. He shrugged his shoulders and was silent. Presently, "Flavvy," he said in a low tone, "I've a notion, my girl. And it'll serve, I'm thinking. This can't be lasting."
She looked at him without much hope.
"Well?" she said coldly. She had begun to find him out.
He looked at her cunningly. "We might put the boot on the other leg," he said. "He's for informing. But what if we inform, my girl? It's the first in the field that's believed. He's his tale of the Spanish ship, and you know who. But what if we tell it first, and say that he came with them and stayed behind to get us to move? Who's to say he didn't land from the Spaniard, if we're all in a tale? And faith, he's no friend here nor one that will open his mouth for him. A word at Tralee will do it, and Luke Asgill has friends there, that will be glad to set the ball rolling at his bidding. Once clapped up John Sullivan may squeal, he'll not be the one to be believed, but those that put him there. It'll be no more than to swear an information, and Luke Asgill will do the rest."
Flavia shuddered. "They won't take his life?" she asked.
James frowned. "That would not suit us at all," he said. "Not at all! We could do that for ourselves. Faith," with a sudden laugh, "you didn't lack much of doing it, Flavvy! No; but a stone box and a ring round his leg, and four walls to talk to—until such time as we have a use for him, would be mighty convenient for everybody. He'd have leisure to think of his dear relations, and of the neat way he outwitted them, the clever devil! But for taking his life—I'm seeing my way there too," with a grin—"it was naming his dear relations made me think of it. They'd not bear to be informing without surety for his life, to be sure! No!" with a chuckle. "And very creditable to them!"
Flavia stared across the water. She was very pale.
"We'll be wanting one or two to swear to it," he continued, "and the rest to be silent. Sorra a bit of difficulty will there be about it!"
"But if," she said slowly, "he gets the first word? And tells the truth?"
"The truth?" James McMurrough replied scornfully. "The truth is what we'll make it! I'll see to that, my jewel."
She shivered. "Still," she said, "it will not be truth."
"What matter?" James answered. "It will cook his goose. Curse him," he continued with violence, "what right had he to come here and thrust himself into other folks' affairs?"
"I could have killed him," she said. "But——"
"But you can't," he rejoined. "And you know why."
"But this"—she continued with a shudder, "this is different."
"What will you be after?" he cried impatiently. "You are not turning sheep-hearted at this time of day?"
"I am not sheep-hearted."
"What is it then, my girl?"
"I can't do this," she said. She was still very pale. Something had come close to her, had touched her, that had never approached her so nearly before.
He stared at her. "But he'll have his life," he said.
"It's not that," she answered slowly. "It's the way. I can't!" she repeated. "I've tried, and I can't! It sickens me."
"And he's to do what he likes with us?" James cried.
"And we're not to touch him without our gloves?"
She did not answer, and twice her brother repeated the taunt—twice asked her, with a confidence he did not feel, what was the matter with the plan. At last, "It's too vile!" she cried passionately. "It's too horrible! It's to sink to what he is, and worse!" Her voice trembled with the intensity of her feelings—as a man, who has scaled a giddy height without faltering, sometimes trembles when he reaches the solid ground. "Worse!" she repeated.
To relieve his feelings, perhaps to hide his shame, he cursed his enemy anew. And "I wish I had never told you!" he added bitterly.
"It's too late now," she replied.
"Asgill could have managed it, and no one the wiser!"
"I believe you!" she replied quickly. "But not you! Don't do it, James," she repeated, laying her hand on his arm and speaking with sudden heat. "Don't you do it! Don't!"
"And we're to let the worst happen," he retorted, "and O'Hara perhaps be seized——"
"That's rubbish! And this man be seized, and that man, as he pleases! We're to let him rule over us, and we're to be good boys whatever happens, and serve King George and turn Protestants, every man of us!"
"God forbid!" she repeated strenuously.
"As well turn," he retorted, "if we are to live slaves all our days! By Heaven, Cammock was right when he said that he would let no woman knit a halter for his throat!"
She did not ask him who had been the life and soul of the movement, whose enthusiasm had set it going, and whose steadfastness maintained it. She did not say that whatever the folly of the enterprise, and however ludicrous its failure, she had gone into it whole-hearted, and with one end in view. She did not tell him that the issue was a hundred times more grievous and more galling to her than to him. Her eyes were beginning to be opened to his failings, she was beginning to see that all men did not override their womenfolk, or treat them roughly. But the habit of giving way to him was still strong; and when, with another volley of harsh, contemptuous words, he flung away from her, though her last interjection was a prayer to him to refrain, she blamed herself rather than him.
Now that she was alone, too, the priest's safety weighed on her mind. If Colonel John betrayed him, she would never forgive herself. Certainly it was unlikely he would; for in that part priests moved freely, the authorities winked at their presence, and it was only within sight of the walls of Tralee or of Galway that the law which proscribed them was enforced. But her experience of Colonel Sullivan—of his activity, his determination, his devilish adroitness—made all things seem possible. He had been firm as fate in the removal of the Bishop and Cammock; he had been turned no jot from his purpose by her prayers, her rage, her ineffectual struggles—she sickened at the remembrance of that moment. He was capable of everything, this man who had come suddenly into their lives out of the darkness of far Scandinavia, himself dark and inscrutable. He was capable of everything, and if he thought fit—but at that point her eyes alighted on a man who was approaching along the lake-road. It was Father O'Hara himself. The priest was advancing as calmly and openly as if no law made his presence a felony, or as if no Protestant breathed the soft Irish air for a dozen leagues about.
Her brother's words had shaken Flavia's nerves. She was courageous, but she was a woman. She flew to meet the priest, and with every step his peril loomed larger before her fluttered spirits. The wretch had said that he would be master, and a master who was a Protestant, a fanatic——
She did not follow the thought to its conclusion. She waved a warning even before she reached the Father. When she did, "Father!" she cried eagerly, "you must get away, and come back after dark!"
The good man's jaw fell. He had been looking forward to good cheer and a good bed, to a rare oasis of comfort in his squalid life. He cast a wary look round him. "What has happened, my daughter?" he stammered.
"Colonel Sullivan!" Flavia gasped. "He is here, and he will certainly give you up."
"Yes. You were at the Carraghalin? You have heard what happened! He will surely give you up!"
"Are the soldiers here?" the priest asked, with a blanched face.
"No, but he is here! He is in the house, and may come out at any moment," Flavia explained. "Don't you understand?"
"Did he tell you——"
"That he would inform?"
"No!" Flavia replied, thinking the man very dull. "But you wouldn't trust him?"
The priest looked round to assure himself that the landscape held no overt signs of danger. Then he brought back his eyes to the girl's face, and he stroked his thin, brown cheek reflectively. He recalled the scene in the bog, Colonel John's courage, and his thought for his servant. And at last, "I am not thinking," he said coolly, "that he will betray me. I am sure—I think I am sure," he continued, correcting himself, "that he will not. He is a heretic, but he is a good man."
Flavia's cheek flamed. She started back. "A good man!" she cried in a voice audible half a hundred yards away.
Father O'Hara looked a little ashamed of himself; but he stood by his guns. "A heretic, of course," he said. "But, I'm thinking, a good man. At any rate, I'm not believing that he will inform against me."
As quickly as it had come, the colour fled from Flavia's face, and left it cold and hard. She looked at the priest as she had never looked at a priest of her Church before. "You must take your own course then," she said. And with a gesture which he did not understand she turned from him, and leaving him, puzzled and disconcerted, she went away into the house.
A good man! Heaven and earth and the sea besides! A good man! Father O'Hara was a fool! A fool!
If there was one man more sorry than another that the Morristown rising had been nipped in the bud it was Luke Asgill. It stood to his credit that, though he had never dared to cross Flavia's will, he had tried, and honestly tried, to turn James McMurrough from the attempt. But even while doing this, he had known—as he had once told James with bitter frankness—that his interest lay in the other scale; he had seen that had he attended to it only, he would not have dissuaded The McMurrough, but, on the contrary, would have egged him on, in the assurance that the failure of the plot would provide his one best chance of winning Flavia. A score of times, indeed, he had pictured, and with rapture, the inevitable collapse. In the visions of his head upon his bed he had seen the girl turn to him in the wreck of things—it might be to save her brother's life, it might be to save her tender feet from the stones of foreign streets. And in the same dream he had seen himself standing by her, alone against the world; as, to do him justice, he would have stood, no matter how sharp the stress or great the cost.
He had no doubt that he would be able to save her—in spite of herself and whatever her indiscretion. For he belonged to a class that has ever owned inordinate power in Ireland: the class of the middlemen with roots in either camp—a grandam, who, perchance, still softens her clay on the old cabin hearth, while a son preens it with his betters in Trinity College. Such men carry into the ruling ranks their knowledge of the modes of thought, the tricks and subterfuges of those from whom they spring; and at once astute and overbearing, hard and supple, turn the needs of rich and poor to their own advantage, and rise on the common loss. Asgill, with money to lend in the town, and protections to grant upon the bog, with the secrets of two worlds in his head or in his deed-box, could afford to await with confidence the day when the storm would break upon Morristown, and Flavia, in the ruin of all about her, would turn to him for rescue.
Keen therefore was his chagrin when, through the underground channels which were in his power, he heard two days after the event, and in distant Tralee, what had happened. Some word of a large Spanish ship seen off the point had reached the mess-room; but only he knew how nearly work had been found for the garrison: only he, walking about with a smooth face, listened for the alarm that did not come. For a wonder he had been virtuous, he had given James his warning; yet he had seen cakes and ale in prospect. Now, not only was the treat vanished below the horizon, but stranger news, news still less welcome, was whispered in his ear. The man whom he had distrusted from the first, the man against whom he had warned The McMurrough, had done this. More, in spite of the line he had taken, the man was still at Morristown, if not honoured, protected, and if not openly triumphant, master in fact.
Luke Asgill swore horribly. But Colonel Sullivan had got the better of him once, and he was not to be duped again by this Don Quixote's mildness and love of peace. He knew him to be formidable, and he took time to consider before he acted. He waited a week and examined the matter on many sides before he took horse to see things with his own eyes. Nor did he alight at the gate of Morristown until he had made many a resolution to be wary and on his guard.
He had reason to call these to mind before his foot was well out of the stirrup, for the first person he saw, after he had bidden his groom take the horses to the stable, was Colonel Sullivan. Asgill had time to scan his face before they met in the middle of the courtyard, the one entering, the other leaving; and he judged that Colonel John's triumph did not go very deep. He was looking graver, sadder, older; finally—this he saw as they saluted one another—sterner.
Asgill stepped aside courteously, meaning to go by him. But the Colonel stepped aside also, and so barred his way. "Mr. Asgill," he said—and there was something of the martinet in his tone—"I will trouble you to give me a word apart."
"A word apart?" Asgill answered. He was taken aback, and do what he could the Colonel's grave eyes discomposed him. "With all the pleasure in life, Colonel. But a little later, by your leave."
"I think now were more convenient, sir," the Colonel answered, "by your leave."
"I will lay my cloak in the house, and then——"
"It will be more convenient to keep your cloak, I'm thinking," the Colonel rejoined with dryness. And either because of the meaning in his voice or the command in his eyes, Asgill gave way and turned with him, and the two walked gravely and step for step through the gateway.
Outside the Colonel beckoned to a ragged urchin who was playing ducks and drakes with his naked toes. "Go after Mr. Asgill's horses," he said, and bid the man bring them back."
The Colonel did not heed his remonstrance. "And follow us!" he continued. "Are you hearing, boy? Go then."
"Colonel Sullivan," Asgill repeated, his face both darker and paler—for there could be no doubt about the other's meaning—"I'm thinking this is a strange liberty you're taking. And I beg to say I don't understand the meaning of it."
"You wish to know the meaning of it?"
"It means, sir," Colonel John replied, "that the sooner you start on your return journey the better!"
Asgill stared. "The better you will be pleased, you mean!" he said. And he laughed harshly.
"The better it will be for you, I mean," Colonel John answered.
Asgill flushed darkly, but he commanded himself—having those injunctions to prudence fresh in his mind. "This is an odd tone," he said. "And I must ask you to explain yourself further, or I can tell you that what you have said will go for little. I am here upon the invitation of my friend, The McMurrough——"
"This is not his house."
Asgill stared. "Do you mean——"
"I mean what I say," the Colonel answered. "This is not his house, as you well know."
"It is mine, and I do not propose to entertain you, Mr. Asgill," Colonel John continued. "Is that sufficiently plain?"
The glove was down. The two men looked at one another, while the knot of beggars, gathered round the gate and just out of earshot, watched them—in the dark as to all else, but aware with Irish shrewdness that they were at grips. Asgill was not only taken by surprise, but he lay under the disadvantage of ignorance. He did not know precisely how things stood, much less could he explain this sudden attack. Yet if the tall, lean man, serious and growing grey, represented one form of strength, the shorter, stouter man, with the mobile face and the quick brain, stood for another. Offhand he could think of no weak spot on his side; and if he must fight, he would fight.
He forced a laugh. And, truly to think of this man, who had not seen Morristown for a score of years, using the experience of a fortnight to give him notice to quit, was laughable. The laugh he had forced became real.
"More plain than hospitable, Colonel," he said. "Perhaps, after all, it will be best so, and we shall understand one another."
"I am thinking so," Colonel Sullivan answered. It was plain that he did not mean to be drawn from the position he had taken up.
"Only I think that you have overlooked this," Asgill continued smoothly. "It is one thing to own a house and another to kick the logs on the hearth; one thing to have the deeds and another—in the west—to pass the punch-bowl! More, by token, 'tis a hospitable country this, Colonel, none more so; and if there is one thing would annoy The McMurrough and the young lady, his sister, more than another, it would be to turn a guest from the door—that is thought to be theirs!"
"You mean that you will not take my bidding?" the Colonel said.
"Not the least taste in life," Asgill answered gaily, "unless it is backed by the gentleman or the lady."
"Yet I believe, sir, that I have a means to persuade you," Colonel John replied. "It is no more than a week ago, Mr. Asgill, since a number of persons in my presence assumed a badge so notoriously treasonable that a child could not doubt its meaning."
"In the west of Ireland," Asgill said, with a twinkle in his eye, "that is a trifle, my dear sir, not worth naming."
"But if reported in the east?"
Asgill averted his face that its smile might not be seen. "Well," he said, "it might be a serious matter there."
"I think you take me now," Colonel John rejoined. "I wish to use no threats. The least said the soonest mended."
Asgill looked at him with half-shut eyes and a lurking smile—in truth, with the amusement of a man watching the transparent scheming of a child. "As you say, the least said the soonest mended," he rejoined. "So—who is to report it in the east?"
"I will, if necessary."
"If you push me to it."
Asgill raised his eyebrows impertinently. "An informer?" he said.
Colonel John did not flinch. "If necessary," he repeated.
"That would be serious," Asgill rejoined, "for many people. In the first place for the young lady, your ward, Colonel. Then for your kinsman—and Mr. Ulick Sullivan. After that for quite a number of honest gentlemen, tolerably harmless and tolerably well-reputed here, whose only fault is a tendency to heroics after dinner. It would be so serious, and for so many, Colonel, that for my part I should be glad to suffer in such good company. Particularly," he continued, with a droll look, the droller for his appreciation of the Colonel's face of discomfiture, "as being a Protestant and a Justice, I should, ten to one, be the only person against whom the story would not pass. Eh, Colonel, what do you think? So that, ten to one, I should go free, and the others go to Geordie's prison!"
Colonel John had not, to be honest, a word to say. He was fairly defeated, his flank turned, his guns captured. He had counted so surely on a panic, on the man whom he knew to be a knave proving also a coward, that even his anger—and he was very angry—could not hide his discomfiture. He looked, indeed, so rueful, and at the same time so wrathful, that Asgill laughed aloud.
"Come, Colonel," he said, "it is no use to scowl at me. We know you never call any one out. Let me just hint that wits in Ireland are not quite so slow as in colder countries, and that, had I been here a week back, you had not found it so easy to——"
"To what, sir?"
"To send two old women to sea in a cockboat," Asgill replied. And he laughed anew and loudly. But this time there was no gaiety in his laugh. If the Colonel had not performed the feat in question, in how different a state things might have been at this moment! Asgill felt murderous towards him as he thought of that; and the weapon of the flesh being out of the question—for he had no mind to face the Colonel's small-sword—he sought about for an arm of another kind, and had no difficulty in finding one. "More, by token," he continued, "if you are going to turn informer, it was a pity you did not send the young woman to sea with the old ones. But I'm thinking you'd not be liking to be without her, Colonel?"
Colonel John turned surprisingly red: perhaps he did not quite know why. "We will leave her out of the question, sir," he said haughtily. "Or—that reminds me! That reminds me," he continued, with increasing sternness. "You question my right to bid you begone——"
"By G—d, I do!" Asgill cried, with zest. He was beginning to enjoy himself.
"But you forget, I think, another little matter in the past that is known to me—and that you would not like disclosed, I believe, sir."
"You seem to have been raking things up, Colonel."
"One must deal with a rogue according to his roguery," Colonel John retorted.
Asgill's face grew dark. This was taking the buttons off with a vengeance. He made a movement, but restrained himself. "You don't mince matters," he said.
"I do not."
"You may be finding it an unfortunate policy before long," Asgill said between his teeth. He was moved at last, angered, perhaps apprehensive of what was coming.
"Maybe, sir," Colonel John returned, "maybe. But in the meantime let me remind you that your tricks as a horsedealer would not go far to recommend you as a guest to my kinswoman."
"Who shall assuredly hear who seized her mare if you persist in forcing your company upon her."
"Upon her?" Asgill repeated, in a peculiar tone. "I see."
Colonel John reddened. "You know now," he said. "And if you persist——"
"You will tell her," Asgill took him up, "that I—shall I say—abducted her mare?"
"I shall tell her without hesitation."
Colonel Sullivan glowered at him, but did not answer.
Asgill laughed a laugh of honest contempt. "And she," he said, "will not believe you if you swear it a score of times! Try, sir! Try! You will injure yourself, you will not injure me. Why, man," he continued, in a tone of unmeasured scorn, "you are duller than I thought you were! The ice is still in your wits and the fog in your brain. I thought, when I heard what you had done, that you were the man for Kerry! But——"
"What is it? What's this?"
The speaker was James McMurrough, who had come from the house in search of the kinsman he dared not suffer out of his sight. He had approached unnoticed, and his churlish tone showed that what he had overheard was not to his liking. But Asgill supposed that James's ill-humour was directed against his enemy, and he appealed to him.
"What is it?" he repeated with energy; "I'll tell you!"
"Then you'll be telling me indoors!" James answered curtly.
"No!" said Colonel Sullivan.
But at that the young man exploded. "No?" he cried. "No? And, why no? Confusion, sir, it's too far you are driving us," he continued passionately. "Is it at your bidding I must stand in a mob of beggars at my own gate—I, The McMurrough? And be telling and taking for all the gossoons in the country to hear? No? But it's yes, I say! There's bounds to it all, and if you must be falling to words with my friends, quarrel like gentlemen within doors, and not in a parcel of loons at the gate."
He turned without waiting for a reply and strode into the courtyard. Colonel John hesitated a moment, then he stood aside, and, with a stern face, he invited Asgill to precede him. The Justice did so, smiling. He had won the first bout; and now, if he was not much mistaken, his opponent had made a false move.
That opponent, following with a sombre face, began to be of the same opinion. In his simplicity he had supposed that it would be easy to bell the cat. He had seen, he fancied, a way to do it in a corner, quietly, with little outcry and no disturbance. But the cat had teeth and claws and the cunning of a cat, and was not, it now appeared, an animal easy to bell.
They passed into the house, The McMurrough leading. There were two or three buckeens in the hall, and Darby and one of the down-at-heel serving-boys were laying the evening meal. "You'll be getting out," James said curtly.
"We will," replied one of the men. And they trooped out at the back.
"Now, what is it?" the McMurrough asked, turning on his followers and speaking in a tone hardly more civil.
"It's what you're saying—Get out!" Asgill answered smiling. "Only it's the Colonel here's for saying it, and it seems I'm the one to get out."
"What the saints do you mean?" James growled. "Sorra bit of your fun am I wishing at this present!" He wanted no trouble, and he saw that here was trouble.
"I can tell you in a few words," Colonel Sullivan answered. "You know on what terms we are here. I wish to do nothing uncivil, and I was looking for this gentleman to take a hint and go quietly. He will not, it seems, and so I must say plainly what I mean. I object to his presence here."