THE NORTHERN IRON
By George A. Birmingham
Dublin: Maunsel & Co., Limited
TO FRANCIS JOSEPH BIGGER,
My Dear Bigger,
This story, as you have already guessed, is the fruit of a recent holiday spent in County Antrim. The writing of it has been a great pleasure, for almost every place mentioned in it recalls the goodness of the friends who received me and made my holiday a happy one. I think of kind people when I write of Dunseveric and Ballintoy—of hours spent in their company among the Runkerry cliffs, the sandhills, the Skerries, and of the morning on which I swam, like Neal and Una, into the Rock Pigeons' Cave, I remember a time—full of interest and delight—spent with you when I mention Donegore, Antrim, and Temple-Patrick. My mind dwells on an older, a very dear friend and relative, when I tell of Neal's visit to Belfast. And the book is more than the recollection of a summer holiday. I go back in it to my own country—to places familiar to me in boyhood as the mountains and bays of Mayo are now; to days very long ago, when I caught cuddings and lithe off the Black Rock or Rackle Roy and learned to swim in the Blue Pool at Port Ballintrae. Yet I know that I could not, for all that I remembered of my boyhood or learned during my holiday, have written this story without your help. You told me what I wanted to know, you corrected, patiently, my manuscript, and you have helped me to enter into the spirit of the time. For all this I owe you many thanks, and if I have succeeded in writing a story which interests my readers they, too, will owe you thanks.
I have tried to be faithful to the facts of history and to represent the thoughts and feelings of the men who took part in the
"Out, unhappy far off things And battles long ago,"
of which I chose to write. Most of my characters are purely imaginary. Of the men who really lived and acted in 1798 only one—James Hope—appears prominently in my story. In his case I have taken pains to understand what manner of man he was before I wrote of him, and I believe that, feeble though my presentation of his character may be, you will not find it actually untruthful.
I am your friend,
GEORGE A. BIRMINGHAM.
THE NORTHERN IRON
The road which connects Portrush with Ballycastle skirts, so far as any road can and dare, the sea coast. Sometimes it is driven inland a mile or so by the impossibility of crossing tracts of sandhills. The mounds and hollows of these dunes are for ever shifting and changing. The loose sand is blown into new fantastic heights and valleys by the winter gales. No road could be built on such insecure foundation. Elsewhere the road shrinks back among the shelterless fields for fear of mighty cliffs by which this northern Antrim coast is defended from the Atlantic. No engineer in the eighteenth century, when the road was made, dared lay his metal close to the Causeway cliffs or the awful precipice of Pleaskin Head. Still, now and then, in places where there are no sandhills and the cliffs are not appalling, the road ventures, for a mile or two, to run within a few hundred yards of the sea, before it is swept, like a cord bent by the wind, further inland. Thus, after passing the ruins of Dunseveric Castle, the traveller sees close beneath him the white limestone rocks and broad yellow stretch of Ballintoy Strand. Here, when northerly gales are blowing, he may, if he is not swept off his feet, cling desperately to his garments and watch the great waves curl their feathered crests as they rush shorewards. He may listen, awestruck, to the ocean's roar of amazement when it batters in vain the hard north coast, the rocks and sand which defy even the strength of the Atlantic.
A quarter of a mile back from this piece of road there stood, in 1798, the meeting-house of the Presbyterians and their minister's manse. The house stands on the site of a bare, shelterless hill. It is three storeys high—a narrow, gaunt building, grey walled, black-slated. Its only entrance is at the back, and on the shoreward side. This house has disdained the shelter which might have been found further inland or among its fellow-houses in the street of Ballintoy. It faces due north, preferring an outlook upon the sea to the warmth and light of a southern aspect. It is bare of all architectural ornament. Its windows are few and small. The rooms within are gloomy, even in early summer. Its architect seems to have feared this gloominess, for he planned great bay windows for three rooms, one above the other. He built the bay. It juts out for the whole height of the house, breaking the flatness of the northern wall. But his heart failed him in the end. He dared not put such a window in the house. He walled up the whole flat front of the bay. Only in its sides did he place windows. Through these there is a side view of the sea and a side view of the main wall of the house. They are comparatively safe. The full force of the tempest does not strike them fair.
In one of the gloomy rooms on a bright morning in the middle of May sat the Reverend Micah Ward, the minister. The sun shone outside on the yellow sand, the green water, and the white rocks; but neither sun nor sea had tempted Micah Ward from his books. Great leather-covered folios lay at his elbow on the table. Before him were an open Hebrew Bible, a Septuagint with queer, contracted lettering, and an old yellow-leaved Vulgate. The subject of his studies was the Book of Amos, who was the ruggedest, the fiercest, and the most democratic of the Hebrew prophets. Micah Ward's face was clean-shaved and marked with heavy lines. Thick, bushy brows hung over eyes which were keen and bright in spite of all his studying. Looking at his face, a man might judge him to be hard, narrow, strong—perhaps fanatical. Near the window:—one of the slanting windows through which it is tantalising to look—sat a young man, tall beyond the common, well knit, strong—Neal Ward, the minister's son. He had grown hardy in the keen sea air and firm of will under his father's rigid discipline. He had never known a mother's care, for Margaret Ward, a bright-faced woman, ill-mated, so they said, with the minister, never recovered strength after her son's birth. She lingered for a year, and then died. They laid her body in Templeastra Graveyard, near the sea. Over her grave her husband set a stone with an austerely-worded inscription to keep her name in memory:—"The burying-ground of Micah Ward. Margaret Neal, his wife, 1778." Such inscriptions are to be found in scores in the graveyards of Antrim. The hard, brave men who chose to mark thus the resting-places of their dead disdained parade of their affliction and their heart-break, and held their creed so firmly that they felt no need of any text to remind them of the resurrection of the dead.
Neal Ward, like his father, had books and papers before him, but his attention was not fixed on them. Now and then, with spasmodic energy, he copied a passage from the page before him. Then, with a sigh, he laid his pen down and gazed out of the window. His father took no notice of the young man's want of application. No words passed between the two. Then suddenly the silence was broken by a cry from the field below the house—
"Hello! Neal! Neal Ward! Hello! Are you there?"
The young man started to his feet and made a step to the window. Then turning, he looked at his father. The frown on Micah Ward's brow deepened slightly. Otherwise he made no sign of having heard the cry. He went on writing in his careful, deliberate manner. The voice from outside reached the room again.
"Neal! Neal Ward! Come out. What right has a man to shut himself indoors on a day like this?"
Neal stood irresolute, looking at his father. At last he spoke.
"Can I go out, father? I have almost finished the transcription of the passage which you set me."
Micah Ward laid down his pen, sprinkled sand on his paper, and looked up. He gazed steadily at his son. The young man's eyes dropped. He repeated his question in a voice that was nearly trembling.
"Can I go out, father?"
"Who is it calls you, Neal?"
"It is Maurice St. Clair."
"Maurice St. Clair," repeated Micah Ward. Then, with a note of deep scorn in his voice, "The Hon. Maurice St. Clair, the son of Lord Dun-severic. Are you to do his bidding, to run like a dog when he calls you?"
"He is my friend, father."
"Is he a fit friend for you? Have I not told you that his people and our people are enemies the one to the other? That the oppression wherewith they oppress us—but there. Go, since you want to go. You do not understand as yet. Some day you will understand."
Neal left the room without haste, closing the door quietly. Once free of his father's presence he seized a cap and ran from the house. Half-way between him and the high road, knee deep in meadow grass, stood Maurice St. Clair.
"Come along, come along quick," he shouted. "I had nearly given up hope of getting you out. We're off for a day's fishing to Rackle Roy. We'll bag a pigeon or two at the mouth of the cave before we land. Brown-Eyes is down on the road waiting for us with rods and guns. We've all day before us. My lord is off to Ballymoney, and can't be back till supper-time."
"What takes Lord Dunseveric to Ballymoney to-day?" asked Neal. "There's no magistrates' meeting, is there?"
"No. He's gone to meet our aunt, Madame de Tourneville. She's been coming these five years, ever since she ran away from Paris at the time of the Terror; but it's only now she has succeeded in arriving."
Together the two young men crossed the field and vaulted the wall which separated the manse land from the road. The girl whom her brother called Brown-Eyes waited for them. The name suited her well, and came naturally from Maurice. He was tall and fair, yellow-haired, blue-eyed, large limbed, a fine type of Antrim Irishman, the heir of the form and face of generations of St. Clairs of Dunseveric. The girl, Una St. Clair, belonged to a different race—came of her mother's people. She was small, brown-skinned, brown-eyed, dark-haired. She grew as the years went on more and more like what her mother had been. Lord Dunseveric, watching his daughter pass from childhood to womanhood, saw in her the very image of Marie Dillon, the French-Irish girl who had won his heart a quarter of a century before in Paris.
"Take the guns, Neal. Here, Brown-Eyes, give me the rods and the basket. There's no need for you to break your little back carrying them."
"Why should I when I've two big men to carry them for me? Indeed, I'm not sure but one of you ought to carry me, too. You're big enough and strong enough."
She smiled gaily at Neal as he shouldered the guns. They had built sand castles together when they were little children, and tempted the waves to chase them up the sand, flying barefoot from the pursuing lip of foam. They had climbed and fallen, explored rocky bays, penetrated to the depths of caves as they grew older. Always Una St. Clair had queened it over the boys, teased them, petted them, scolded them. Now, grown to womanhood, she discovered new powers in herself which made Neal at least more than ever her slave.
They reached the little bay where the boat lay pulled up among the rocks. Maurice and Neal lifted her stern on to a roller and dragged her towards the sea. Una, running before them, laid other rollers on the pathway of slippery rock till the boat floated. Then she climbed the gunwale and settled herself on the stern seat among the rods and guns. The two young men shoved off into deep water, springing into the boat with dripping feet as she slid out clear of the shore. They placed the heavy oars between the wooden thole pins and steadied the boat while Una shipped the rudder. The wind was off shore and the sea, save for the long heave of the Atlantic, was still. The brown sail was hoisted and stretched with the sprit. Then, sailing and rowing, they swept past Carrighdubh, the Black Rock, which guarded the entrance of the little bay, and passed into the shadow of the mighty cliffs.
A silence fell on them. The laughter and gay talk ceased. The sense of holiday joyfulness was overwhelmed by a vague awe of the ocean's greatness, the oppression of its strength, and the black towering rocks which hung over the boat, casting a gloom across the sea. The feeling of this solemnity abides through life with the men and women who have been bred as children on this north Antrim coast. If they live their lives out among its rugged harbours and stern ways they become, as the fishermen are, people of slow thoughts, long memories, and simple outlook upon life. The fear of the Lord is over their lives. If they wander elsewhere, making homes for themselves among the southern or western Irish, or, further still, to England or America, they may learn to be in appearance as other men are—may lose the harsh northern intonation from their talk, but down in the bottom of their hearts will be an awful affection for their sea, which is like no other sea, and the dark overwhelming cliffs whose shadow never wholly leaves their souls. In times of stress and hours of bitterness they will fall back upon the stark, rigid strength of those who, seeing the mightiest of His works, have learned to fear the Lord.
The boat lay off the entrance of the Pigeon Cave. The sportsman's sense awoke in Maurice. He gave a brief order to Neal, laid his oar across the boat, stood up and took in the sprit, letting the sail hang in loose folds. He unstepped the mast and sat down again.
"You may unship the rudder, Brown-Eyes, You had better leave the boat to Neal and me to bring up to the cave. Pass the gun forward to me and the powder horn."
He loaded, ramming the charge down and pressing down the wad. Neal and the girl sat silent. The solemn enchantment of the scene was on them still. Then the two men took the oars again. Very cautiously they rowed along the narrow channel which led to the opening of the cave. The rocks lay low at first on each side of them; brown tangles of weed swayed slowly to and fro with the onward sweep and eddy of the ocean swell. Then, as the boat advanced, the rocks rose higher on each side, sheer shining walls, whose reflection made the clear water almost black. The huge arch of the cave's entrance faced them. Behind was the dark channel, and beyond it the sunlight on the sea, before them the impenetrable gloom of the cave. The noise of the water dropping from its roof into the sea beneath struck their ears sharply. The hollow roar of the sea far off in the utmost recesses of the cave came to them. The girl leaned forward from her seat and laid her hand on Neal's arm. He looked at her. Her eyes, the homes of laughter and quick inconsequences, were wide with dread. Neal knew what she felt. It was not fear of any definite danger or any evil actually threatening.
It was awe, the feeling of mariners of other days who penetrated to unknown seas, of men in primitive times who knew that fairy powers dwelt in dark lakes and precipitous mountain sides.
The bow of the boat touched the huge boulders which formed a bar across the mouth of the cave. Maurice leaped out, gun in hand, and stood knee deep in the water, feeling with his feet for a secure resting-place.
"Keep the boat off, Neal, and take your shot if you get a chance."
The rocky sides and roof of the cave echoed back his cry a hundred times. Again he shouted, and again, until shouts and echoes meeting clashed with each other, and it seemed as if the tremendous laughter of gleeful giants mocked the solemn booming of the sea. There was a rush of many wings, and a flock of terrified rock pigeons flew from the cave. Maurice fired one barrel after another in quick succession, and two birds dropped dead into the water. Neal, shaking the girl's hand from his arm, fired, too. From his seat in the swaying boat it was difficult to aim well. He missed once, but killed with his second shot. The boat was borne forward and bumped sharply on the boulders at the cave's mouth. The laughter of the echo died away. Instead of it came, like angry threats, the repetition of their four shots, multiplied to a fusilade of loud explosions.
"Come back, Maurice," cried Una. "Come back and let us get out of this. I'm frightened. I cannot bear it any longer."
"You shall have all the four wings of my birds to trim your hats with, Brown-Eyes," said Maurice, as he clambered dripping into the boat. "Neal will stuff his bird for you and perch him on a stone. You shall have him to set on the top of your new bureau, the one Aunt Estelle sent you when she escaped from Paris without having her head chopped off."
They pushed the boat cautiously back along the channel, travelling stern first, for there was little room to turn, and even in calm weather men do not willingly lay a boat across the sea in such a place.
"Now for Rackle Roy and a basketful of glashins and lithe," said Maurice.
East a little and out seawards from the mouth of the cave lies a long, flat rock, dry at low water, and even at flood tide in calm weather, swept with desolating surf when the Atlantic swell rolls in or the wind lashes the nearer sea to fury. Right out of the centre of the rock the waves have fashioned a deep bay, curved like a horse-shoe. This is a famous fishing-place. As the tide rises, lithe and glashin, brazers, gurnet, rock codling, and crowds of cuddings come here to feed, and the fisherman, on those rare days, when he can land at all, may count on bringing home with him great bunches of fish strung through the gills.
The rock lay far enough from the cliff to be clear of the shadow. The sun shone on its brown weed-clad sides, glistened on black clusters of mussels, glowed on the red seams of the rock where the iron cropped out, and baked the black basalt of the upper surface. The spirits of the party revived when they landed. Una's gaiety returned to her.
"Have you forgotten the bait, Maurice? I'm sure you have. It would be like you to come for a day's fishing without bait."
"No, then, I haven't. There are three large crabs in the boat, and even if there wasn't one at all we could do nicely with limpets. There's worse bait than a good limpet."
"Well, and if you have the crabs I expect you've forgotten the sheep's wool. What do you think, Neal? Yesterday we were fishing cuddings off the Black Rock and Maurice ran out of wool. The fish simply sucked the bait off our hooks and laughed at us. What did Maurice do but take my hairs. He pulled them out one by one as he wanted them, and wrapped the bait on with them."
"Your wool, Brown-Eyes, doesn't come up to that of the sheep. It's not soft enough. But I shan't want it to-day. I've got my pockets half full of the proper sort."
Neal laughed, but he felt that to use Una's hair as a wrap for the red pulp of a crab's back or the soft, black belly of a limpet was a kind of profanation. He was a keen fisherman, but he would rather have missed the chance of catching the largest lithe that ever swam than lure it with a bait fastened with Una's glossy hair.
They fished till noon, and the tide rose slowly round their rock. Then Una's luncheon basket was fetched from the boat, the mooring rope was made secure above high water mark, and the three sat down on the sun-baked rock and ate with keen appetites. Maurice stared seawards.
"That brig," he said, "is lying very close inshore. Look at her, Neal."
"I saw her pass the point of the Skerries an hour ago." said Neal. "She must have hauled her wind since then to fetch in so close with the tide running against her."
"I wonder why she's doing it," said Maurice. "She'll have to run off again to clear Benmore."
"She looks a big ship," said Una.
"Maybe she's 250 tons," said Neal. "She's about the size of the brig that sailed from Portrush for Boston last summer year with two hundred emigrants in her."
"She's fetching closer in yet," said Maurice. "See, she's hoisted some flag or other, two flags, no, three, from the peak of her spanker. It's a signal. I wonder what they want. Now they've laid her to. She must want a boat out from the shore. Come on, Neal, come on, Brown-Eyes. We'll go out to her. We'll be first. There's no other boat nearer than those at the Port, and we've got a long start of them. Never mind the fish. Or wait. Fling them in. I dare say the men on the brig will be glad of them. She must be an American."
In a few minutes the boat was pulled clear of the little bay and out of the shelter of Rackle Roy. The mast was stepped and the sail set. The sheet was slacked out and the boat sped seawards before the wind. Maurice was all impatience. He got out his oar.
"It's no use," said Neal, "the breeze has freshened since morning. She'll sail quicker than we could row."
The brig lay little more than a mile from the shore. The boat soon reached her.
"Boat, ahoy," yelled a voice from the deck. "Lower your sail, and come up under my lee."
Maurice and Neal obeyed. The sea was rougher than it had been near the shore. The boat, when Maurice had made fast the rope flung to him, plunged up and down beside the brig, and needed careful handling to prevent her being damaged.
The crew looked over the side with eager curiosity.
"Say, boys," said the captain, "what will you take for your fish? I'll trade with you."
"I don't want to sell them," said Maurice. "I'll give them to you."
His voice and accent, his refusal to barter, betrayed the fact that he was a gentleman.
"I guess," said the captain, "that you're an aristocrat, a British aristocrat, too proud to take the money of the men who whipped you in the States. That's so."
"I'm an Irish gentleman," said Maurice.
"Well, Mr. Irish Gentleman, if you're too darned aristocratic to trade, I'll give you a present of a case of good Virginia, and you may give me a present of your fish. I'd call it a swap, but if that turns your stomach I'll let you call it a mutual present, an expression of international goodwill."
"Fling him up the fish, Neal," said Maurice.
Then another man appeared beside the captain on the quarter-deck. He was not a seafaring man. He was lean and yellow, and had keen grey eyes. His face seemed in some way familiar to Neal, though he could not recollect having ever seen the man before.
"Yon are the Causeway cliffs," he said, "and yon's Pleaskin Head, and the islands we passed are the Skerries?"
"You know this coast," said Neal.
"I knew this coast, young man, before your mother had the dandling of you. I know it now, though it's five and twenty years since I set foot on it. But that's not the question. What I want to know is this. Can you put me ashore? I could do well if you land me at the Causeway. I'd make shift with my bag if you put me out at Port Ballin-trae. I don't want to be going on to Glasgow just for the pleasure of coming back again."
"I'll land you at the Black Rock under Run-kerry," said Maurice, "if you can pull an oar. The wind's rising, and I've no mind to carry idle passengers."
"I can pull an oar," said the stranger.
"I guess he can pull enough to break your back, young man," said the captain. "He's an American citizen, and he's been engaged in whipping your British army. I guess an American citizen can lick a darned aristocrat at pulling an oar same as he did at shooting off guns."
"Shut your damned mouth," said Maurice, suddenly angry, "or I'll leave you to land your passenger yourself and see how you like beating the bottom out of your brig against our rocks. You'll find an Irish rock harder than your Yankee wood."
The passenger fetched a small hand-bag and lowered it into the boat. Under a shower of jibes from the captain, Maurice and Neal pushed off and started for the row home against the wind.
The passenger took his seat in the bow of the boat and stripped off his coat in readiness to pull an oar. But no oar was offered to him. Maurice St. Clair seemed to have entirely forgotten the stranger's presence. The remarks of the American captain had angered him, and his mind worked on the insults hurled at him in parting. Neal was angry, too. They pulled viciously at the oars. From time to time Maurice broke out fiercely—
"An unmannerly brute! I wish I had him somewhere off the deck of his brig. I'd teach him how to speak to a gentleman.
"Is that his filthy tobacco at your feet, Brown-Eyes? Pitch it overboard.
"I suppose he's a specimen of the Republican breed. That's what comes of liberty and equality and French Jacobinism and Tom Paine and the Rights of Man. Damned insolence I call it."
"I'd like to remind you, young man———." The words came with a quiet drawl from the passenger in the bow.
Maurice stopped rowing, and turned round.
"Well, what do you want to say? More insolence? Better be careful unless you want to try what it feels like to swim ashore."
"I'd like to remind you, young man, that Captain Hercules Getty, of the State of Pennsylvania, who commands the brig 'Saratoga,' belongs to a nation which has fought for liberty and won it."
"What's that got to do with his insolence?"
"I reckon that an Irishman who hasn't fought and hasn't won ought to sing small when he's dealing with a citizen of the United States of America."
Neal turned in his seat. The stranger's reproach struck him as being unjust as well as being in bad taste. Maurice St. Clair was the son of a man who had done something for Ireland.
"You don't know who you're talking to," he said, "or what you're talking about. Lord Dunseveric, the father of the man in front of you, commanded the North Antrim Volunteers, and did his part in winning the independence of our Parliament."
The stranger looked steadily at Neal for sometime. Then he said—
"Is your name Neal Ward?"
"Yes. How do you know me?"
"You're the son of Micah Ward, the Presbyterian minister?"
"Well, I just guessed as much when I took a good look at your face. Will you ask your father when you go home whether the Volunteers won liberty for Irishmen, and what he thinks of the independence of an Irish Parliament filled with placemen and the nominees of a corrupt aristocracy?"
"Who are you?" asked Neal.
"My name's Donald Ward. I'm your father's youngest brother. I'm on my way to your father's house now, or I would be if you two young men would take to your oars again. If you don't I guess the first land we'll touch will be Greenland. We'd fetch Runkerry quicker if you'd pass forward the two thole pins I see at your feet and let me get an oar out in the bow. The young lady in the stern can keep us straight with the helm."
"Give him the thole pins, Neal," said Maurice, "and then pull away."
"Just let me speak a word with you, Mr. St. Clair," said Donald Ward, as he hammered the thole pins into their holes. "You're angry with Captain Hercules Getty, and I don't altogether blame you. The captain's too fond of brag, and that's a fact. He can't hold himself in when he meets a Britisher. He's so almighty proud of the whipping his people gave the scum. But there's no need for you to be angry with me. I'm an Irishman myself, and not a Yankee. I fought in North Carolina, under General Nathaniel Greene, but I fought with Irishmen beside me, men from County Antrim and County Down, and they weren't the worst men in the army either. When I fight again it'll be in Ireland, and not in America. If I riled you I'm sorry for it, for you're an Irishman as well as myself."
Maurice's anger was shortlived.
"That's all right," he said. "Here, I say, you needn't pull that oar. Neal and I will put you ashore. We'll show that much hospitality to a County Antrim man from over the sea."
"Thank you," said Donald Ward. "Thank you. You mean well, and I take your words in the spirit you speak them; but when I sit in a boat I like to pull my own weight in her."
He shoved out his oar as he spoke, and fell into time with the long, steady stroke which Neal set.
Una leaned forward and spoke in a low voice to Neal, timing her words so that they reached him as he bent forward at the beginning of each stroke.
"Is'nt it curious, Neal, that Maurice and I are going back to welcome an aunt whom we have never seen, and that you are taking an unknown uncle home with you?"
Then, after a pause, she spoke again.
"It's like a kind of fate, Neal, one of the things which happen to people, and alter all their lives, and they can't do anything to help themselves. I wonder will we ever have good times together again, now that this aunt of mine and this uncle of yours have come?"
"Why shouldn't we?" said Neal.
"Oh, I don't know. But your uncle seems to be one of the people who make a great clatter about liberty and equality and the rights of man. And you know Aunt Estelle belonged to the old aristocracy in France. They wanted to guillotine her in the Terror. I don't think she will love Republicans."
"I suppose not," said Neal, gravely.
"But that won't prevent our being friends, Neal?"
"Una, my father is always talking about the struggle that's coming in Ireland. I don't know much about politics. I think I hate the whole thing. But if there is trouble I suppose that I shall be on one side and you on the other."
"Don't look so sad, Neal."
Then, as his spirits grew depressed, her's seemed to rise buoyantly. She raised her voice so that she could be heard in the bow of the boat.
"Mr. Donald Ward! Mr. Donald Ward! Your nephew, Neal, is telling me that when we have a reign of terror in Ireland you will make him cut off my head. Please promise me you won't."
Donald rested on his oar and gazed at the girl as she sat smiling at him in the stern of the boat.
"Young lady," he said, "don't trouble yourself. We didn't hurt woman or girl in America. No woman shall die a violent death in Ireland at the hands of the people."
"And no man, either?" cried Una. "Say it again, Mr. Donald Ward. Say 'And no man, either.' Can't we settle everything without killing men?"
"Men are different," said Donald. "It's right for men to die fighting, or die on the scaffold if need be."
A silence followed Donald Ward's words. In 1798 talk of death in battle or death on a scaffold moved even the youngest and most careless to serious thought. The world was full then of the kind of ideas for which men are well content to die, for the sake of which also they did not hesitate to shed blood. The Americans had set mankind a headline to copy in their Declaration of Independence. The French wrote Liberty with huge red flourishes which set the heart of Europe beating high. Italians were proclaiming a foreign army the liberators of their country, while Jacobins growled fiercely against the Pope. Kosciusko, in Poland, organised a futile revolution, and fell in the cause of national freedom. Even phlegmatic Englishmen caught the spirit of the times, hated intensely or worshipped enthusiastically that liberty which some saw as an imperial goddess for the sake of whose bare limbs and pale, noble face death might be gladly met; while others beheld in her a blood-spattered strumpet whirling in abandoned dance round gallows-altars which reeked with human sacrifice.
Ireland in those days was intellectually and spiritually alive. Men were quick to feel the influence of world-wide ideas, and in Ireland the love of liberty glowed brightly; nowhere more brightly than among the farmers and lower middle classes of the north-eastern counties. The position was a strange one. The landed gentry, who themselves, a few years before, claimed and won from England the independence of their Parliament, grew frightened and drew back from the path of reform on which alone lay security for what they had got. The wealthier merchants and manufacturers, satisfied with the trade freedom which brought them prosperity, were averse to further change. The Presbyterians and the lower classes generally were eager to press forward. They had conceived the idea of a real Irish nation, of Gael and Gall united, of Churchman, Roman Catholic and Dissenter working together for their country's good under a free constitution. But it soon became apparent that the reforms they demanded would not be won by peaceful means. The natural terror of the classes whose ascendancy or prosperity seemed to be threatened, the bribes and cajoleries of British statesmen, turned the hearts of those who ought to have been leaders from Ireland to England. The relentless logic, the clear-sighted grasp of the inevitable trend of events, and the restless energy of men like Wolfe Tone, changed a party of constitutional reformers into a society of determined revolutionaries. Threats of repression were answered by the formation of secret societies. Acts of tyranny, condoned or approved by terror-stricken magistrates, were silently endured by men filled with a grim hope that the day of reckoning was near at hand. Far-seeing English statesmen hoped to fish out of the troubled waters an act of national surrender from the Irish Parliament, and were not ill-pleased to see the sky grow darker. Everyone else, every Irishman, looked with dread at the gathering storm. One thing only was clear to them. There was coming a period of horror, of outrage and burning, of fighting and hanging, the sowing of an evil crop of fratricidal hatred whose gathering would last for many years.
The boat reached the little bay under the Black Rock. There was no need to drag her far up the beach now, for the tide was full. Working in silence, the three men laid her beside the broad-bottomed cobble used for working the salmon-net, and pushed her bow up against the coarse grass which fringed the edge of the rocks. They carried the oars and sails into a fisherman's shelter perched on a rock beside the bay. Then Donald Ward turned to Maurice and said—
"I am going to my brother's house. I shall walk by the path along the cliffs, and my nephew will go with me. Your way home, unless I have entirely forgotten the roads, is not our way. We part here, therefore. I bid you good night, and thank you heartily."
"We had intended," said Maurice, "to walk home with Neal. We have time enough."
His sister, quicker than he to take a hint, pulled him by the arm, and whispered to him. Then she spoke aloud.
"Good night, Mr. Donald Ward. Good night, Neal. Perhaps we shall see you to-morrow."
The uncle and nephew climbed the hill which led to the top of the cliffs together. For a time neither of them spoke. The elder man seemed to be absorbed in picking out the landmarks which had once been very familiar to him. At last he spoke to Neal.
"Does your father wish you to have Lord Dun-severic's son and daughter for your friends?"
Neal hesitated for a moment, and then answered.
"He knows that they are my friends."
"It would be better if they were not your friends. I have heard of Lord Dunseveric, a strong man and an able man, a good friend of his own class, not a good friend of the people."
He paused. Neal wished to speak, to say some good of Lord Dunseveric; to declare the strength of his friendship for Maurice. He could not speak as he wished to speak. An unfamiliar feeling of oppression tied his tongue. His uncle's will dominated his.
"What is the girl's name?" asked Donald.
"Yes, and what did her brother call her?"
"Brown-Eyes." Neal felt as if the words were dragged from him.
"Are you the lover of this Una Brown-Eyes?"
Neal flushed. "You have no right to ask any such question," he said, "and I shall not answer it. I will just say this to you. Do you suppose that Lord Dunseveric would accept me, a penniless man, the son of a Presbyterian minister, a member of a Church he despises, and connected with a party he hates—do you suppose he would accept me as a suitor for his daughter's hand?"
"You have answered my question, though you said you would not answer it. You have told me that you love the girl. I have watched her smile at you, and seen her eyes while she talked to you, and I can tell you something more, something that perhaps you do not know—the girl loves you."
Again Neal flushed. His uncle had put into words what he had never yet dared to think. He loved Una. His uncle had assured him of something else, something so glorious as to be incredible. Una loved him. Then he became conscious that Donald Ward's eyes were on him—cold, impassive, unpitying; that Donald Ward was waiting till the throbs of joy and excitement calmed in him, waiting to speak again.
"Put the thought of the girl from you. She is not for you, nor you for her. Forget her. It will be better for you and for her. You shall have work to do soon. Work is for men. Seeing babies in brown eyes is only for boys."
They left the path which skirted the tops of the cliffs, crossed a field or two, and joined the road which led to Micah Ward's manse. The sound of the sea died away, though the smell of it and the feeling of its neighbourhood were still with them. The savage grandeur of ocean and cliff no longer oppressed their spirits. It seemed natural to talk of common things and to leave high themes behind them in the lonely places they had left. Donald Ward gazed with interest at the white-walled thatched cottages on the roadside. He commented on the disappearance of some homestead he remembered, or the building of a new one where none had been before. It was evident that, in spite of his twenty-five years' absence, he cherished a clear and accurate recollection of the district he was passing through. He inquired after the families who had lived in the different houses, naming them. He learned how one or another had disappeared, how old men were gone, and sons reigned in their stead. He even supplied Neal with information now and then about some young man or girl who had gone to America.
They arrived at the manse. Neal led his uncle through the yard, meaning to enter as usual by the kitchen door. On the threshold the housekeeper met him.
"Is that you, Master Neal? You're queer and late. You've had a brave time gadding with your fine friends and never thinking how you were leaving your old father to eat his dinner his lone. And who's this you have with you? What sort of behaviour is this, to be coming here bringing a stranger with you to a decent, quiet house, and he maybe——"
"Whisht, now, Hannah. Will you hold your whisht (tongue?)?" said Neal. "It's my uncle I have with me. You ought to be able to remember him."
The old woman came forward to the place where Donald Ward stood, and peered at his face.
"Aye, I mind you well, Donald Ward. I mind you well. You hadna' just too much of the grace of God about you when you went across the sea, and I'm doubting by the looks of you now that you've done more fighting than praying where you were."
"Hannah Keady," said Donald Ward.
"Hannah Macaulay," said the housekeeper, "and forbye the old minister and Master Neal here, they call me Mistress Macaulay that have any talk with me. I'm married and widowed since you crossed the sea."
"Mistress Hannah Macaulay," said Donald, "you were a slip of a girl with a sharp tongue when I mind you first, and a woman with a sharp tongue when I said good-bye to you. You have lost your bonny looks and your shining red hair; you've lost a husband, so you tell me, but you haven't lost your tongue."
The old woman smiled. The compliment pleased her.
"Come in," she said, "come in. The minister'll be queer and glad to see you. You know that fine. But have done with your old work. We've no more call for Hearts of Oak boys, nor Hearts of Steel boys, nor for burning ricks, nor firing guns."
She led the way through the kitchen, up a narrow flight of stone stairs, and opened the door of the room where the minister sat over his bodes.
"Here's Master Neal home again," she said, "and he's brought your brother Donald Ward along with him."
Micah Ward rose to his feet and met his brother with outstretched hands.
"Is it you, Donald? Is it you, indeed? I've been thinking long for you this many a time, my brother, and wearying for you. We want you, Donald, we need you sore, sore indeed."
"Why, Micah," said Donald, "you've grown into an old man."
The contrast between the two brothers was striking, more striking than the likeness of their faces, though that was obvious. Micah was stooped and pallid. He walked feebly. His limbs were shrunken. His hair was thin and white. Donald stood upright, a well-knit, vigorous man. The point of his beard and the hair over his ears were touched with iron grey, but no one looking at him would have doubted his energy and capacity for physical endurance.
"Grey hairs are here and there upon us, and we know it not—Hosea, 7th and 9th," said the minister. "But there's fifteen years atween us, Donald. It makes a difference. Fifteen years age a man, but I'm supple and hearty yet."
"Will I cook the salmon for your supper?" said the housekeeper. "You'll not be contenting yourselves with the stirabout now that you have your brother back again with you."
"Cook the salmon, Hannah; plenty of it, and some of the ham and the eggs. And, Neal, do you take the key of the cellar and get us a bottle of wine and the whisky that old Maconchy brought in from Rathlin last summer. It's not often I take the like, Donald, but it is meet that we should make merry and be glad."
Mistress Hannah Macaulay was a competent cook and housekeeper. It is noticeable that women with sharp tongues are generally more efficient than their gentler sisters. Solomon, who knew a good many things, seems also to have known this. He was of opinion that a peaceful dinner of herbs is better than a stalled ox and contention therewith. He knew that he could not have both. It is the shrew who succeeds in giving the males dependent on her stalled oxen and such like dainties to eat.
The caressing wife and the sweet-tempered cook accomplish no more than dinners of herbs, and generally even they are not particularly appetising. The fact is, that the management of domestic affairs is the most trying of all occupations. Cooking, washing, cleaning, and generally doing for men in a house means continuous irritation and worry. A woman, however sweet-natured originally, who is condemned to such work must either lose her temper over it, in which case she may cook stalled oxen, but will certainly serve them with sauce of contention, or she may give up the struggle and preserve her gentleness. Then she will accomplish no more than dinners of herbs, boiled cabbages, from which tepid water exudes, and dishes of pallid turnips, supposed to be mashed but full of lumps. Solomon preferred, or said he preferred, kisses and cauliflowers. On questions of taste there is no use disputing.
Mistress Hannah Macaulay's salmon steaks came to the table with an appetising steam rising from their dish. Her slices of fried ham formed an attractive nest for the white-skinned poached eggs. She had plates of curly oatcake and powdery farles. She had yellow butter in saucers. She brought the porridge to table in well-scoured wooden bowls with horn spoons in them.
"The stirabout is good," she said. "I thought you'd like to sup them before you ate the meat."
Neal poured the wine into an old cut-glass decanter, and set Maconchy's bottle of whisky, distilled, no doubt, by Maconchy himself among the Rathlin Hills, beside his father's plate.
Micah Ward said a long grace, in which he thanked the Almighty for the fish, the ham, the eggs, the porridge, and his brother's return from America. As a kind of supplement, he added a prayer for the peace of his household, in which Hannah Macaulay, appropriately enough under the circumstances, was especially named.
After supper the two brothers drew their chairs to the fire. It was late in May, but the air was still chilly in the evenings. Hannah took down from the mantel-piece two well-polished brass candlesticks, fitted them with tall dipt candles, and set them on the table she had cleared of plates and dishes. Donald took a tobacco-box from his pocket, and filled a pipe.
"Neal," said his father, "you may go to your own room and complete the transcription of the passages of Josephus which you left unfinished this morning."
"Let the lad stay," said Donald.
"Neal knows nothing of the matters about which we must talk, brother, nor do I think it well that he should know; not yet, at least."
"Let the lad stay," repeated Donald. "I've seen younger men than he is doing good work. Neal ought to be working, too. We cannot do anything without the young men."
Micah Ward yielded to his brother.
"Draw your chair to the fire, Neal," he said. "You may stay and listen to us."
At first the talk was of old days. An hour went by. Donald filled his pipe more than once, and finished his tumbler of punch. Story followed story of the doings of the Hearts of Steel and Hearts of Oak. Donald, as a boy, had taken his part—and that a daring part—in the fierce struggle by which the northern tenant-farmers gained fuller security and a chance of prospering a whole century before their brethren in the south and west, with the aid of the English Parliament, won the same privileges. Then Donald, speaking oftener and smoking less, told of his own share in the American War of Independence. Neal, listening, was thrilled with the stories of unequal battles between citizen soldiers and trained troops. He glowed with excitement as he came to understand the indomitable courage which faced reverse after reverse and snatched complete victory in the end. Donald dwelt much on the part which Irishmen had taken in the struggle, especially on the work of Ulster men, Antrim men, men of the hard northern breed, of the Presbyterian faith.
"There's no breaking our people, Micah; men of iron, men of steel."
"Shall iron break the northern iron, and the steel?" quoted Micah Ward, and then, with that wonderful Puritan accuracy of reference to the Bible, gave chapter and verse for the words—Jeremiah the 15th and 12th.
"And the spirit's not dead in you at home, is it, Micah? The breed is pure still."
It was Micah's turn to speak. Neal sat in astonishment while his father told of the wrongs which the northern Presbyterians and the southern Roman Catholics suffered. Never before had he heard his father speak with such passion and fierceness. There was a pause at last, and Donald rose to his feet. He re-filled his glass from the punch-bowl, raised it aloft, and said:—
"I give you a toast. Fill your glass, brother. No, that will not do. Fill it full, and fill a glass for Neal. Stand now. I will have this toast drunk standing. 'Here's to America and here's to France, the pioneers of human liberty, and may Ireland soon be as they are now!'"
"Amen," said Mica h Ward solemnly.
"Drink, Neal, drink. Drain your glass, boy. I will have it," said Donald.
"The northern iron, the northern iron, and the steel," muttered Micah.
Then the brothers drew their chairs closer together, and Micah, speaking low, as if he dreaded the presence of some unseen listener, began to tell of the plans of the United Irishmen. He mentioned the names of one leader and another; told how the Government, vigilant and alert, had already struck at the organisation; of the general dread of spies and informers. He entered into details; told how the cannon, once given by the Government to the Volunteers, were hidden in one place, how muskets were stored in another, how the smiths in every village were fashioning pike heads, how many men in each locality were sworn, how every male inhabitant of Rathlin Island had taken the oath. Donald interrupted him now and then with sharp questions. The talk went on and on. The tones of the speakers grew lower still. Neal lost much of what was said. His interest slackened. His eyes closed at last, and he fell fast asleep.
It was late, close on midnight, when his uncle shook him into consciousness again. The candles were burned down. The fire was out. The atmosphere of the room was heavy with tobacco smoke. The punch-bowl was empty, and the two bottles, empty also, stood beside it. It seemed to Neal that his uncle spoke thickly in bidding him good night, and walked unsteadily across the room. But Micah Ward's voice was clear and his steps were firm. Only, as Neal thought, his eyes shone more brightly than usual, and he held himself upright. The stoop was gone from his shoulders, and the peering, peaked look from his eyes.
The Lords of Dunseveric once lived in a castle perched on the edge of a cliff, a place inferior to the neighbouring Dunluce as a stronghold, but equally uncomfortable as a residence. The walls were thick, the rooms little larger than prison cells, and the windows very small and narrow, but they were wide enough to let the wind whistle through them and the rain trickle over their sills to the stone floors inside. The doctor of a modern sanatorium for consumptive people would have been well satisfied with the ventilation of Dunseveric Castle. On stormy days in winter it must have been most unsafe to venture out of doors. The worst winds, fortunately, always blow inwards from the sea, but there are eddies round buildings, and with precipices on three sides of him, the ancient lord of Dunseveric had need to walk cautiously and provide himself, when possible, with something to hold on to. Some time at the end of the seventeenth century the reigning lord, giving up in despair the attempt to render habitable a home more suited to a seagull than a nobleman, being also less in dread than his ancestors of sea pirates and land marauders, determined to build himself a house in which he could live comfortably. He selected a site about a mile inland from the original castle, and laid the foundations of Dunseveric House. Then, despairing perhaps of living to complete his architect's grandiose plans, he gave up the idea of building and hired a house near Dublin. During the early part of the eighteenth century he interested himself in Irish politics, and succeeded, as influential politicians did in those days, in providing comfortably for outlying members of his family from the public purse. His son, when it came to his turn to reign, ignored the foundations which his father had laid, and erected a mansion such as Irish gentlemen delighted in at the time—a Square block of grey masonry with small windows to light large rooms, a huge basement storey, and an impressive flight of stone steps leading up to the front door. He also enclosed several acres of land with a stone wall, called the space a garden and planted it with some fruit trees which did not flourish.
His son, the Lord Dunseveric of 1798, having little left him to do in the way of building, devoted his early years to planting and laying out pleasure grounds round the new house. His wife, a French woman of Irish extraction, brought a cultivated taste to his aid. No doubt her ideas and her husband's energy would in the end have created a beautiful and satisfying demesne round Dunseveric House if it had not been for the north wind and the sea spray. These were hard enemies for a landscape gardener to fight, and when Lady Dunseveric died her husband gave up the struggle, having nothing better to show for his time and money than some fringes of dejected-looking alders and a few groves of stunted Scotch firs. He even neglected the glass houses which his wife had built. Irish politics became extremely interesting just after Lady Dunseveric died, and an Irish gentleman might well be forgiven for neglecting the culture of his demesne when his time was occupied with drilling Volunteers, passing Grand Jury resolutions in support of the use of Irish manufactured goods, and subsequently preparing schemes for the internal development of Ireland.
Thus Dunseveric House was by no means an attractive place to Estelle, Comtesse de Tour-neville, when she first visited it. Accustomed to the scenery round her dead husband's chateau in the valley of the Loire, and attached to the life of the French Court, the appearance of Dunseveric House struck her as utterly dismal. She had every reason beforehand to suppose that it would be dismal, and was quite convinced that it would not suit her as a place of residence. Forced to flee from France in 1793, she put off taking refuge in her brother-in-law's house as long as possible, and only arrived there after spending three years among hospitable friends in England.
"The poor Marie, my poor sister," she said, when Lord Dunseveric, at the end of the long drive from Ballymoney, turned the horses up the bare avenue.
To her maid, in the privacy of her bedroom, she opened her grief more fully.
"I remember very well when my sister married, though I was but a little girl at the time, eight or perhaps nine years old. I remember that all the world talked of her handsome Irish husband. He was a fine man then. He is a fine man still, and has the grand manner. Oh, yes, he is very well. And my nephew. He is well made, big and strong like all the men of his race and blood. But he has no manner—none. If only my sister had lived she might have formed him. But—poor Marie!"
She sighed. The maid hazarded a suggestion that Lady Dunseveric had found life triste, too triste to be endurable.
"You are right," said the Comtesse, "she must have died of sheer dulness. She had two children. That was occupation for a while, no doubt. But, mon dieu, a lady cannot go on having children every year like a woman of the bourgeoisie. It would be too tedious. She died. She was right. And now I am here in her place. I am here with my lord, who has good manners but does not care about me, wishes me anywhere but in his house; a nephew who has no manners and a great deal of stupidity, and a niece who is much too old to be my niece, and who is too like me in face and figure for us to get on well together. Otherwise, truly, she is not like me. She is content to spend all day in a boat on the sea catching fish. Conceive it yourself, Susanne, she was catching fish, and her companion was the son of the cure, a man of some altogether impossible Protestant sect."
But the Comtesse had the good manners or the good sense not to grumble about her surroundings to anyone except her maid. She so far understood the philosophy of a happy life as to know that pleasure awaits those only who succeed in making themselves pleasant.
She came down the morning after she arrived in time for breakfast, although the English breakfast was a meal she had learned to detest, and the North of Ireland families have made an even more serious business of it. She expressed a delight which she cannot be supposed to have felt at the sight of salmon, fried, cold, kippered; ham, eggs, fowl, farles of home-made bread, oat-cake, honey, jam, butter. To the secret amusement of Lord Dun-severic she even accepted a bowl of porridge which her nephew offered her, and then, to the astonishment of Maurice, asked if she might eat honey with it. She was delightfully optimistic about the prospects of amusement for the day.
"Where are you going to take me, Una? There are so many things that I want to see. I recall the letters which Marie, your mother, used to write to me about wonderful cliffs and gloomy caves and white rocks and long strands. Of course you have all the business of the house to attend to. I quite understand. I will wait. But afterwards, where will you take me?"
Una glanced out of the window. The south wind of the day before had brought, as south winds usually do in County Antrim, abundant rain. Maurice, appealed to, gave it as his opinion that there was no chance of the weather improving until three o'clock, and that there wasn't much chance of sunshine even then.
"But, at least," said the Comtesse, "I shall be able to see your old castle? I have heard so much about the castle. Could we not even go there?"
"We might," said Una dubiously, "but you will have to walk across two fields, and the grass is long at this time of year. I don't mind getting wet, of course, but you——"
"I think, Estelle," said Lord Dunseveric, "that you had better give up the idea of any expedition out of doors. Una will have a good fire lighted for you in the morning-room, and you must make yourself as comfortable as you can."
When breakfast was over, Lord Dunseveric himself conducted his sister to the morning-room. He selected a chair for her. He placed a small table beside her. He stirred the fire into a fair blaze. He even fetched some books for her from the library. But the Comtesse was not content.
"Please sit down," she said, "and talk with me."
The prospect of a long morning spent sitting on a chair talking to a woman was not one which pleased Lord Dunseveric very greatly, but his manners were, as his sister-in-law had observed, excellent. He had letters to write and an important communication from the general in command of the troops in Belfast to consider. But he sat down beside his sister-in-law as if he were really pleased at having the chance of a long chat with her, as if she did him a favour in granting him the privilege of keeping her company.
"What shall we talk about?" she said. "About dear Marie? About old times? That would be too sad. About Maurice and Una? What is Maurice to do? Have you obtained for him—how do you say it?—a commission in the army? There is nothing better for a young man than to spend a short time in the army. He sees the world. He learns manners and how to bear himself and speak to a woman. And Una? We must have Una presented at Court. Will you take her to Dublin this year? I think that you ought to. It is not good for a girl to grow up all alone here."
"I fear it will hardly be possible for me to go to Dublin either this year or next."
"But why? Surely you would be well received? Or is it not so? I suppose that you are one of the grands seigneurs of Ireland, one of the leaders of your aristocracy. Besides, mon frere, your appearance, your manner——. There cannot be many of your Irish gentry——."
She paused and smiled on him most pleasantly. Lord Dunseveric was sufficiently a man of the world to understand that this pretty lady was flattering him. He even thought that she was not doing it very well, that her methods were too obvious to be really artistic. Nevertheless, he liked it. We most of us enjoy being flattered very much, especially by pretty women, though we take a great deal of trouble to persuade ourselves that we despise the flatterer and her ways. The Comtesse would have said similar things to any man whom she wanted to please, and Lord Dunseveric was quite aware of the fact. Still he was pleased. It was a long time since a woman in a pretty dress, a woman who knew how to assume a graceful attitude, had taken the trouble to flatter him. He smiled response to her smile.
"I've no doubt that I should be, as you put it, well received. I'm not afraid that His Excellency would show me the cold shoulder, but the present condition of the country is critical. I think it my duty to stay at home. I am afraid that we are on the brink of an attempt at revolution."
"Mon dieu! And have you Jacobins, too? I thought there were no such things in Ireland. Tell me about your Jacobins."
Again Lord Dunseveric was conscious that the Comtesse was trying to please him, was displaying an interest, which did not seem wholly natural, in a subject on which he would like to talk.
"I'm afraid, Estelle, that an account of our Irish politics would weary you. Politics are dull. You would send me away if I talked about politics."
"I assure you, no," she said. "In France we found politics most exciting. The poor Comte, my husband, found them altogether too exciting. Do tell me about your Irish Jacobins. Are they also sans-culottes?"
"They are mostly Presbyterians, dour, pigheaded, fanatical Republicans, who want to get an army of your French friends over to help them."
"Presbyterians! How droll! I thought Presbyterians were——But is not Maurice's friend, the young man who goes out fishing in the sea with Una, is not he a Presbyterian? I think they said last night that he was the son of a cure."
"Yes, he is. His father has the reputation of being one of the most fanatical of the whole lot. But the young fellow is all right, so far as I know."
The Comtesse was silent for a minute or two. She appeared to be considering Lord Dunseveric's last remark. When she spoke again it was evident that her thoughts had wandered from Neal Ward's politics to another subject.
"Is it right, do you think, that this young man should be so intimate with Una? She is a very attractive girl, and at a very dangerous age."
"Oh, they've played together since they were children. Young Ward is a nice boy and a good sportsman."
"Still, he would not be suitable. Am I right?"
"If you mean that he wouldn't do as a husband for Una, you are right, but I don't think for a moment that any such nonsensical idea ever crossed their minds. I like Neal. He's a fine, straightforward boy, and a good sportsman."
"I should like to see this model young man. Perhaps you English—pardon me, my dear brother, you Irish—are differently made; but with us the nicer a young man is the more dangerous we reckon him."
"There's no difficulty about your meeting him. I'll ask him to dinner to-day if you like. I'm sure Maurice will be pleased to ride over with the invitation."
"Charming," said the Comtesse. "Then I shall judge for myself."
Neal Ward accepted the invitation when he received it. Perhaps he would not have been able to do so had he been obliged to submit it to his father and his uncle; but they had gone out together early in the day. Neal understood that his uncle was to be introduced to several people of importance, members of his father's congregation, men who were deeply involved in the plans of the United Irishmen. He was left alone with a task to perform. He was not now transcribing passages from Josephus. His uncle had decided that he was to be trusted, and, as a proof of confidence, he was set to compile from various papers a list of those in the neighbourhood who could be relied on to take up arms when the day of the contemplated outbreak arrived. The work interested Neal greatly. He knew most of the men whose names he copied. Some of them he knew intimately. Now and then he was surprised to find that some well-to-do and apparently well contented farmer was a member of the society. Once he paused and hesitated about going on with his work. He came to a statement of the fact that one, James Finlay, had been enrolled as a United Irishman and admitted to the councils of the local committee. Neal knew James Finlay, and disliked him. Once he had caught him at night in the act of netting salmon in the river. Neal had threatened to hand him over to Lord Dunseveric. The poacher blustered, threatened, and even attempted an attack upon Neal. He got the worst of the encounter, and after vague threats of future vengeance, relapsed into whining supplication. Neal spared him, considering that the man had been well thrashed, and having the dislike, common to all generous-minded Irishmen, of bringing to justice a delinquent of any kind. But he disliked and distrusted James Finlay, and he did not understand how his father and the others came to trust such a man. He wrote the name, reflecting that Finlay had left the neighbourhood some weeks before in order to seek employment in Belfast. Shortly afterwards he completed his task. Maurice St. Clair arrived with Lord Dunseveric's invitation. Neal locked up his papers, changed his clothes, and went through the rain to Dunseveric House. He was not comfortable or easy in his mind. Yesterday it was natural and pleasant to spend the day with Maurice and Una. To-day he knew things of which he had been entirely ignorant before. He knew that he himself was committed to a share in a desperate struggle, in what might well become a civil war, and that he would be fighting against Lord Dunseveric and against his friend Maurice. It did not seem to him to be a fair and honourable thing to eat the bread of unsuspecting enemies. Twice, as he tramped through the rain to Dunseveric House, he stopped and almost decided to turn back. Twice he succeeded in silencing his scruples and quieting the complaints of his conscience. Each time it was the thought of Una which decided him. There was in him a hunger to see the girl, to be near her, to touch her hand, to hear her voice. Since his uncle had spoken to him about her on the evening of his arrival Neal had become acutely and painfully conscious of his love for her. Long ago he had loved her. Looking back he thought that he had always loved her. Now he knew that he loved her. That made a great difference.
He was welcomed when he arrived by Lord Dun-severic with friendly courtesy—by Una shyly. Her manner was not as it had been the day before. The frank friendliness was gone. There was something else in its place, something which thrilled Neal with hope and fear. Perhaps the girl felt instinctively the change in Neal. Perhaps she was conscious of her aunt's keen laughing eyes. Who can tell how a girl first becomes conscious of the fact that a young man loves her? The Comtesse also welcomed Neal. She set herself to please and flatter him. At dinner she talked brightly and amusingly. It seemed to Neal that she talked brilliantly. She told stories of the old French life. She related her recent experiences of English society. She rallied Lord Dunseveric on his grave dignity of manner. She drew laughter again and again from Una and Maurice. But she addressed herself most to Neal. He was intoxicated with her vivacity, the swift gleams of her wit, her delicate beauty, her exquisite dress. He had never seen, never even imagined, the existence of such a woman. Lord Dunseveric watched her and listened to her with quiet amusement. It seemed to him that his sister-in-law meant not only to rescue Una from an undesirable lover, but to attach a handsome, gauche youth to herself. He understood that a woman like Estelle de Tourneville might find the attentions of Neal Ward vastly diverting in a place like Dunseveric, where nothing better in the way of a flirtation was to be looked for.
The wine and fruit were placed on the table and the servants withdrew. The Comtesse, with her wine-glass in her hand, stood up.
"It is not at all the fashion," she said, "for a lady to make a speech. I shall shock you, my lord, but you will forgive me, for you know the world. I shall shock my sweet Una, but she will forgive me because her heart has no room in it for unkind thoughts of anyone. I shall shock my nephew and the solemn Mr. Neal Ward, and they will not forgive me because they are young and, therefore, have very strict ideas of how a woman ought to behave herself. Nevertheless, I am going to make a speech and propose a toast. I am Irish. Long ago my fathers lived in Ireland and were grands seigneurs as my good brother, Lord Dunseveric, is to-day. They left Ireland for the sake of their faith and their king. They went to France; but I am not, therefore, French. I am Irish. Now that the French people have turned against us, have even wished to cut off my head, which I think is much more ornamental on my shoulders than it would be anywhere else—now I have returned to Ireland, I ask you all to drink my toast with me. I propose—'Ireland.' I, who am loyal to the old faith and the memory of the legitimate king, I will drink it. My lord, who is of another faith and loyal to another king, will drink it also. Mr. Neal, who has a third kind of faith, and is, I understand, not loyal to any king, will, no doubt, drink it. My friends—'Ireland.'!"
She raised her glass to her lips and sipped the wine. All the four listeners stood and raised their glasses.
"'Ireland,'" said Lord Dunseveric gravely. "I drink to Ireland."
Then, with the glass at his lips, he paused. There was a noise of horse hoofs on the gravel outside. A horseman, in military uniform, cantered by. He was followed by another, a trooper. The little company in the diningroom stood still and silent. The bell at the door of the house was rung violently. Its sound reached them. A vague uneasiness came upon them. One by one they sat down and laid their glasses—the wine untasted—on the table before them. A servant entered the room.
"Captain Twinely, my lord, of the Killulta Company of Yeomanry, wishes to see your lordship on important business."
"Ask him to come in here," said Lord Dunseveric.
Una rose as if to leave the room.
"No," said Lord Dunseveric, "stay where you are, and do you stay, too, Estelle. This Captain Twinely must drink a glass of wine with us. He passes for a gentleman. Then if he has business with me I shall take him away. I must not break up our little party. It is not every day that we have the pleasure of listening to such charming speeches as your's, Estelle."
Captain Twinely entered the room with a swagger. He made a great noise with his heavy boots and with his spurs as he crossed the polished floor.
"I ask your pardon, my lord. I ask the ladies' pardon. I am not fit for your company. I have ridden far today, and the roads are bad, damned bad. I rode on the king's business."
"The ladies," said Lord Dunseveric, "will be pleased if you will drink a glass of wine with them. Are you alone?"
"I left my troop in Ballintoy. The sergeant will see that they obtain refreshment. My servant holds my horse outside."
"I shall send him some refreshment," said Lord Dunseveric. "And your horses must be stabled here till you have told me how I can serve you."
Captain Twinely drank his wine, bowed to the ladies, and then said—
"I come at an inconvenient hour, my lord. You have just dined and you have pleasant company, but I must crave your attention for a letter which I bring you. The king's business, my lord."
Lord Dunseveric rose, and led the way to the library.
"I don't doubt," said Captain Twinely, "no one could be such a fool as to doubt the loyalty of every member of your lordship's household and of every guest in your lordship's house; but in deliver-ing my letter and my message I prefer to be where there is no chance of eavesdropping. Will you allow me to make sure that we are not overheard?"
Lord Dunseveric himself shut the door of the room and drew a bolt across it. Captain Twinely took a sealed packet from his breast. Lord Dunseveric looked carefully at the address, broke the seal, and read the contents of the paper within.
"Do you know the contents of this paper, Captain Twinely?"
"My orders are to solicit your lordship's assistance, as a Justice of the Peace for the county, in arresting certain persons and taking possession of some arms concealed in the neighbourhood. I do not know the names of the persons or the place where the arms are concealed. I have not been treated with confidence. I'm a loyal man, but I'm only a plain gentleman. I may say that I feel aggrieved. I deserved more confidence."
Lord Dunseveric read the letter again before he answered.
"I am directed here to arrest, with your assistance, five persons. All of them are men who are well known and respected in this neighbourhood. I know nothing of the evidence against them, beyond the mere fact, stated here, that from information received they are believed to be engaged in a plot for an armed rebellion. Captain Twinely, I have not a very high opinion of the men from whom the Government receives information, and I have reason to believe that the information is not always trustworthy. There have been recently—— but I need not go into that. I am a loyal man. I am willing to assist the Government in any way in my power, but my loyalty has limits. Two of the persons named in this letter I shall not arrest. One of them I believe to be innocent of all designs against the Government; the other is a very feeble old man, who will not in any case be dangerous as a rebel, and whom I have private reasons for not wishing to arrest. I am willing to go with you to the houses of the other three and arrest them. As for the concealed arms—cannon it is stated here—I do not believe they exist, but I shall take you to the place named, and let you see for yourself. Will this satisfy you?"
"Your lordship has to consider whether it will satisfy my commanding officer. I should have thought it better, more advisable, more prudent, for your lordship to obey the orders you have received exactly."
The man's words were perfectly civil, but his manner and tone suggested a threat. Lord Dun-severic stiffened suddenly.
"I shall consider your commanding officer," he said, "when I am shown that he has any right to command me."
"Your loyalty——," began Captain Twinely.
"My loyalty to the king and the Irish constitution is not to be suspected or impugned by Mr. Twinely, of Killulta."
"My lord, I consider that an unhandsome speech. I am only a plain gentleman, but I am loyal. We county gentlemen ought to stand together. I expected more consideration from you, my lord. I do not like your sneering tone. By God, if it were not that I am on the king's busi—"
"Yes, if you were not on the king's business——"
But Captain Twinely did not finish his speech.
"I shall have some refreshment brought in here to you, Captain Twinely," said Lord Dunseveric. "I shall, with your permission, order a servant to ride to Ballintoy and bring your troop here. When they arrive I shall be ready to go with you. In the meanwhile, I beg you to excuse my leaving you. I have some private matters to arrange before we start."
He walked to the door, drew back the bolt, bowed, and left the room.
Lord Dunseveric returned to the dining-room. He found the Comtesse seated on a chair which had been placed on the table to give dignity to her position. On the floor, beneath this lofty throne, knelt Neal Ward, his hands tied behind him with a dinner napkin. Maurice, with a carving-knife in his hand, stood on guard over the prisoner. Una, her eyes shining with laughter, was making a speech.
"Please, don't interrupt," said the Comtesse, "we are holding a courtmartial on Mr. Neal. Una is acting as prosecutor; I am the judge. In a few minutes, when I have delivered my sentence, Maurice will flog the prisoner, and afterwards hang him with one of the bell ropes."
"I want to speak to you, Neal," said Lord Dunseveric, gravely.
Neal pulled his hands from their bandage, and rose, blinking and uncomfortable, to his feet.
"How solemn you are!" said the Comtesse. "What has that very boorish Captain Twinely been telling you? Has a rebellion broken out? Is there going to be a battle? Have they come to arrest Mr. Neal in real earnest? I believe they have. Never mind, Mr. Neal, we will organise a rescue party. They are not real soldiers, you know—only—-only—what do you call them?—ah, yes, yeomen. We will fall upon these yeomen after dark and carry you off to safety."
"Maurice," said Lord Dunseveric, "have two horses saddled, and get on your boots. I shall want you to ride along with me. Come, Neal."
The three men left the room.
"Una," said the Comtesse, "come quick and change your dress. We will go and see what is happening. Oh, this is most exciting, and the day has been so dull and long. Come, Una, come; we will not let anyone see us. We will take the most delightful short cuts. We will lie hidden in ditches while they pass. We must see everything. Come, come, come."
"Oh, you dear dutiful child! Just for once don't mind about your father. I am sure something thrilling is going to happen. Haven't you a duty of obedience towards your aunt? I cannot go without you, for I should certainly lose my way."
The arrival of Captain Twinely, Lord Dun-severic's grave face, and his summons to Neal had filled Una's mind with an undefined dread of some threatening evil. She was nearly as anxious as her aunt to know what was to happen. The prospect of a scamper across country through the rain daunted her very little. She had no doubt of her ability to keep in touch with the horsemen without being discovered. They would keep to the high road. To her every short cut was known, every hill for observation, and every possible hiding-place were as familiar to her as the lawn of Dunseveric House.
Lord Dunseveric led the way to his own dressing-room, beckoning Neal to follow him.
"Sit down, Neal," he said, "and listen. I must talk while I boot and change my coat. This Twinely, who takes rank as a captain of yeomen, and has, as I suppose, a following of blackguards, brings me orders which I cannot disobey—at least which I mean to disobey in only one particular. I am bidden to search your father's meeting-house for cannon supposed to be concealed there. I am going to search, and search thoroughly. Your answer will make no difference to my action; but I should like you to tell me, are the cannon there?"
"I do not believe there are any cannon," said Neal; "I never heard of them, or had any reason to suspect their existence."
Lord Dunseveric watched him keenly as he replied. Then he said—
"I believe what you say, of course. If there are cannon there you know nothing of it. Now, another question. I am to arrest several persons whose names have been sent to me; your name stands second on the list. Are you a United Irishman? Have you sworn the oath?"
"No," said Neal, without hesitation. "I have not sworn. I have not been enrolled as one of the society."
"I may take it that the Government has acted on false information in ordering your arrest?"
"Yes. The man who gave that information certainly lied. I knew nothing of the plans of the United Irishmen yesterday, but it is right that I should tell you——"
"It is not right that you should tell me anything more. You have answered my two questions. I have your word for it that you are not a United Irishman, and I have your word that the information received by the Government is false. I want to hear no more on that subject. I shall take the responsibility of refusing to arrest you. I am also bidden to arrest your father. I ask you no questions about him. I simply inform you that I am not going to arrest him either. I do not believe in his innocence. I think it likely that he is implicated in the conspiracy, but I am not going to arrest him. He is too old to fight, and when the other three men on my list are in prison he will have ceased to be dangerous. Further, your father, in his writings, has attacked, and, in my opinion, slandered me personally."
"You mean in the Northern Star?"
"Yes. In the series of articles called 'Letters of a Democrat,' which are attributed, I think rightly, to your father."
Lord Dunseveric paused. Neal remained silent. He had not read the articles, but he believed his father had attacked the landlord aristocracy with great bitterness, and he thought it likely that Lord Dunseveric had cause for complaint.
"I do not choose," said Lord Dunseveric, "to take part in the arrest of a man who may be regarded as my personal enemy. You may tell your father this, and you may tell him further that if he is a wise man he will leave the country at once. The next magistrate charged with his arrest may not have my scruples or my reasons for hesitating. Now, listen to me, Neal, before I leave you, and mark what I say. I admit, and I always have admitted, the justice of the claims which your people make. There ought to be equality, full and complete, for you and the Catholics. There ought to be an end to the tyranny under which you suffer, but you are going the wrong way about getting your wrongs righted. Your rebellion, if there is to be a rebellion, can't succeed. You will be crushed. And Neal, lad, that crushing will be an evil business. It will be evil for you and your friends, but that's not all. It will be made an excuse for taking away the hard won liberty of Ireland. Keep out of it, Neal. Take my advice, and keep out of it, for your own sake and for Ireland's."
He took the young man's hand, wrung it, and then turned and left the room. Neal stood for a while dazed and bewildered. He had known before that his father was a supporter of the United Irishmen. He had guessed, though until that morning he had not actually known, how deeply he was versed in the secrets of the society. He had never imagined that the doings and sayings of an obscure Presbyterian minister were being watched and noted by Government spies. He found it hard to realise that the eyes of remote authorities, of secretaries of state, of generals of armies, were fixed on the wind-swept, desolate, northern parish, on the gaunt, grey manse he called his home. Yet the evidence of this incredible surveillance was plain and unmistakable. Men of his father's congregation, men whom he supposed he knew personally, were to be seized and marched off, to be flogged perhaps as others had been, to be imprisoned certainly, to be hanged very likely, in the end. His father was a marked man, with the choice before him of exile or imprisonment, perhaps death. He himself was suspected, had been informed against, lied about, by someone. His mind flew back to the list of names he had copied out that morning, to the one name which had arrested his attention especially. He remembered that James Finlay owed him a grudge, desired revenge; he felt sure that James Finlay was the informer. Others might have betrayed the secrets of the society. James Finlay alone, so far as he could recollect, had any motive for incriminating him, an entirely innocent man.
He was roused from his thoughts by the sound of horses trampling on the gravel sweep outside. The yeomen, summoned from Ballintoy, had arrived at Dunseveric House. They were laughing, talking, and singing as they rode, a disorderly mob of horsemen rather than a troop of soldiers. After a few minutes they rode past the window again. Captain Twinely was at their head. Ten or twelve yards in front of him, as if disdainful of his company, rode Lord Dunseveric and Maurice.
They were wrapped in long horsemen's cloaks, for the rain beat down on them. The wind was rising, and blew in strong gusts. The sun had set and the evening was beginning to darken. Neal ran down to the hall, seized his coat and stick, and went out. The horsemen moved along the avenue at a steady trot. Neal saw them turn to the right and go along the road which led to the manse and the meeting-house. He started to run across the fields. He hoped to reach the manse and warn his father before the soldiers arrived at the meeting-house. He ran fast, choosing the shortest and easiest way, avoiding boggy patches of ground which would have checked his progress. After a while, from a point of vantage, he was able to catch a glimpse of the road. He noted that he was level with the yeomen, and he knew that from the point where he saw them the road took a wide curve inland. He calculated that by running fast he would be able to cross it in front of the troop, and by keeping along the cliffs would be able to reach the manse before the soldiers did. He sped forward. Suddenly, as he descended the hill to the road, he became aware of two figures crouching behind the bank which divided the road from the field. He was dimly aware that they were women. He did not look carefully at them. His eyes were fixed on the horsemen against whom he was racing. He gained the edge of the field and sprang upon the bank. He heard his name called softly.
"Neal, Neal, Neal Ward."
Then somewhat louder by another voice.
"Mr. Neal, come and help us."
He recognised Una's voice and then that of the Comtesse. He had no time to think what they wanted or how they came to be crouching in a damp ditch in the rain while the evening darkened over them. He leaped from the bank, crossed the road, and raced off again towards his father's house.
He arrived at the door, breathless, but sure that he was in good time. He burst into the sitting-room and found his father and uncle, their lamp already lighted, bending over a pile of papers which lay before them on the table.
"The soldiers, the yeomen, are on their way here," he gasped.
Micah Ward started to his feet.
"What do you say?"
"The yeomen are on their way to the meetinghouse. They are going to search for arms, for cannon, which they say are concealed there."
Micah Ward stood stock still. His body seemed to have become suddenly rigid. His face grew quite white. Donald, leaning back in his chair, smiled slightly.
"So," he said, "they have begun. Are there cannon there, brother?"
"Yes, there are," said Micah, slowly. "Four six-pounders. They belonged to the Volunteers. We kept them. We thought they might be useful some day."
"Ah," said Donald, "it's a pity. We shall have the trouble of re-capturing them. Come, let us go down to the meeting-house. I should like to see these terrible yeomen."
"Some one has given them information," said Micah. He was silent for a minute. Then he muttered as if to himself—
"Some one has informed against us. Some one has brought this evil upon us. Who has done this thing? Who is our secret enemy?"
"Come," said Donald, "don't stand muttering there."
But Micah did not heed him. Raising both hands above his head, and looking upward, he spoke slowly, clearly—
"May the curse of the Lord God of Israel light on the man who has informed against us. May he be smitten with madness and blindness and astonishment of heart. May he grope at the noonday as the blind gropeth in the darkness. May his life hang in doubt before him. May he fear day and night, and have none assurance of his life. May he say in the morning—'Would God it were even! And at even—'Would God it were morning!' for the fear of his heart wherewith he shall fear and the sight of his eyes which he shall see."
"That," said Donald, "is a mighty fine curse. I'm darned if I ever heard a more comprehensive kind of curse. We had a God-forsaken half-breed in our company, under General Greene, who could curse quite a bit, and he never came near that curse. But I reckon that a good deal of it will have to be wasted. There isn't a man living who could stand it for long. Still, if you name the man for us, I'll do the best I can with him. I may not be able to work the blindness and the groping just as you'd wish, but I'll undertake that his life hangs in doubt before him for a bit."
Micah Ward, without seeming to hear his brother's speech, stalked bare-headed from the room and led the way to the meeting-house.
The yeomen were marching up the hill from the main road. They sang a song with a ribald chorus, such as men sing in a tavern when they have drunk deep. Lord Dunseveric and Maurice had already reached the door of the meeting-house, and sat silent on their horses.
"Mr. Ward," said Lord Dunseveric, "will you give me the keys and save me from the necessity of breaking open the door? I see Neal with you. I suppose he has told you what we have come to do?"
"I shall never render the keys to you," said Micah Ward. "Do the work of scorn and oppression that you intend, but do not ask me to aid you."
The yeomen, still singing, straggled up while Lord Dunseveric and Micah Ward spoke. Suddenly their song ceased, and they listened in a silence of sheer amazement while Donald Ward addressed their captain.
"Say"—his voice was cold, clear, and contemptuous—"do you call yourself a captain? And is this your notion of discipline? I guess, young fellow, if we'd had you with General Greene in Carolina we'd have combed you out and flogged the drunken ragamuffins you're supposed to be commanding. But I reckon you're just the meanest kind of Britisher there is, that kind that swaggers and runs away."
"Seize that man," said Captain Twinely. "Tie him up. Flog him. Cut the life out of him."
Lord Dunseveric touched his horse with the spur and rode forward. "Captain Twinely, I told you I should have no flogging here. I mean to be obeyed. And you, sir, you are a stranger here. Who are you?"
"This," said Micah Ward, laying his hand on his brother's arm, "is my brother."
"Captain Twinely, dismount two of your men. Let them conduct Mr. Ward and his brother back to the manse and mount guard at the door. Maurice, tie your horse to the tree yonder, and go with them. See that no incivility is used. When they are safe in the manse you can return here."
Neal walked to the rear of the troop, and stood at the side of the road near the wall, while his father and uncle were marched away under charge of two troopers and Maurice St. Clair.
"Sergeant," said Captain Twinely, "take four men and force this door."
Neal heard his name called in a low voice by some one near him.
"Neal, Neal, Neal Ward."
It was Una's voice. His father and uncle had passed down the road. The yeomen were eagerly watching their comrades' attempts to force the door.
Neal stepped over the low stone wall. He felt a hand grasp his and heard Una speak again.
"Neal, stay with us. I'm frightened."
A low musical laugh followed, and then the voice of the Comtesse—
"You are a most ungallant cavalier, Mr. Neal. You left us alone in one ditch this evening already. You really must not leave us in another."
The effort to force the door of the meeting-house was unsuccessful.
"Put a musket to the key-hole," said Captain Twinely, "and blow off the lock."
There was an explosion. The woodwork was splintered and shattered. A single push opened the door.
"Now," said Captain Twinely, "come in and search."
The little meeting-house was scantily furnished. A high, octangular wooden pulpit with a precentor's pew in front of it stood at the far end. The place was bare of hanging or cupboard which could have been used as a hiding-place. The men tramped about, upsetting the benches and cursing as they tripped upon them.
"It's as dark as hell," said Captain Twinely. "Send a man down to the minister's house and let him fetch up a bundle of bogwood to serve us for torches. I must have light."
One of the men departed on the errand. The sergeant, mounted on the pulpit, rapped on the desk in front of him to secure silence, and said in a high-pitched, drawling voice—
"Beloved! Brands snatched from the burning! Sanctified vessels! Let us, in this hour of trial and tribulation, when the ungodly triumph and prosper in their way, let us sing the Ould Hunderd to the comfort of our souls."
At the sound of his voice the troopers who remained outside crowded into the building, leaving two or three of their number to take care of the horses. Well satisfied with his congregation, the sergeant sang to the tune sanctified by two centuries of Puritan worship:—
"There was a Presbyterian cat Who loved her neighbour's cream to sup; She sanctified her theft with prayer Before she dared to lap it up."
A burst of applause greeted the performance of this ribald parody. There were calls for more such psalmody. "Give us another verse, Sergeant." "Tune up again, Dick." "Goon, goon." Lord Dunseveric, who had remained outside, dismounted and stalked through the door. He had caught the tune, though not the words of the sergeant's song. He guessed at some ribald irreverence within. His face was white with anger.
"Silence," he cried.
The sergeant, half drunk, looked at him with an insolent grin.
"Your lordship will like the second verse better—
"There was a Presbyterian wife—"
Lord Dunseveric forced his way through the soldiers who stood between him and the singer, and approached the pulpit with clenched fists and lips pressed close together.
"Who found her husband growing old; She sanctified——-"
sang the sergeant, leering at Lord Dunseveric, but before he got any further a woman's shriek rang through the building. The sergeant stopped abruptly. The men crowded through the door, eager for some new excitement. Lord Dunseveric and Captain Twinely followed as quickly as they could. There was another shriek, a sound of blows and cursing. Then men's voices rose above the tumult. "Down with the damned croppy." "Throttle him." "Knife him." "Hold him now you've got him." "Take a belt for his arms." "Ah, here's Tarn with the torches." "Strike a light, one of you." "There's two of them, two wenches, by God, and young ones." "Fetch them into the meeting-house and make them dance." "Ay, by God, we'll tie their petticoats round their necks and then make them dance."
There was a rush of men to the door of the meeting-house. Lord Dunseveric and Captain Twinely were borne back before they could see what was going on. Some one struck a light and illuminated a branch of bogwood which he held above his head as a torch.
"Drag in the prisoner," yelled a voice. "We'll give him a place in the front and let him see his wenches dance."
Lord Dunseveric, unable to make his voice heard above the tumult, saw Neal Ward, his arms bound to his sides by a belt strapped round him, dragged into the meeting-house. His face was cut and bleeding slightly. His coat was rent from collar to skirt.
"Make way, make way, for the ladies."
A trooper entered with two women. He had an arm clasped round each. Lord Dunseveric recognised with amazement and horror his daughter and sister-in-law. Una made no resistance. She was terrified into a state of helplessness. The Comtesse struggled desperately, tearing with her hands at the trooper's face. Captain Twinely recognised the ladies almost immediately, and strove to reach them. Before he could make his way Lord Dun-severic's voice rang out above the tumult.
"Maurice, are you there? Come in here at once."
There was something in his voice, a tone of authority, a note of grim determination, which cowed the rabble of men for an instant. Maurice St. Clair pushed his way through the door in silence.
"Maurice," said Lord Dunseveric, this time in quiet, even tones, "take that scoundrel by the throat, and if he offers any resistance choke him."
The man loosed his hold of the two women, and his hand flew to his sword hilt, but before he could draw it, Maurice bounded upon him and flung him to the ground. Once, twice, thrice, as the trooper strove to raise himself, his head was dashed down on the hard earthen floor of the meeting-house.
After the third time he lay still. Maurice rose and stood over him.
"Captain Twinely," said Lord Dunseveric, "loose the belt from your prisoner's arms at once."
The order was obeyed, and Neal stood free. "Bid your men leave the meeting-house, all but the man who holds the torch and the one who lies there on the floor."
The men, cowed and sullen, went out.
"Now," said Lord Dunseveric, "I will have this matter cleared up and I will have justice done." He turned to Neal.
"How came you here with my daughter and the Comtesse de Tourneville?"
Neal stood silent.
"It was my fault," said the Comtesse. "I brought Una. I wanted to see what was going on. Mr. Neal had nothing to do with it. He tried to save us when, when that man"—she pointed to the soldier on the floor—"found us."
"Is that so?" asked Lord Dunseveric of Neal.
"Maurice," said Lord Dunseveric, "take your sister and your aunt home, and when you get them there see that they do not leave the house again. Stay. Take Neal with you. Those ruffians outside will scarcely venture to molest you, but, in case any of them are drunk enough to try, you will be the better of having Neal beside you. Captain Twinely, you will kindly give orders to your men that my son and his party are to be allowed to pass."
Lord Dunseveric was left alone in the meeting-house save for the man who held the torch and the trooper who lay unconscious on the floor.
"Give me the light," he said, "and go you over to your comrade. Loose his tunic and feel if his heart still beats."
The man did as he was bidden, and reported that the trooper whom Maurice had stunned was still alive. Lord Dunseveric walked to the door of the meeting-house and said—
"Captain Twinely, you will now be so good as to take the man who lies here on the floor and hang him at once. We are not well off for trees in this country, but there is at least one at the back of the meeting-house tall enough for the purpose."
There was a threatening growl from the men outside. They drew together. Their hands were on their swords. Captain Twinely stood a little apart from them. His eyes were fixed on the ground. He made no motion, and showed no sign of obeying the orders he was given. Lord Dunseveric looked first at him and then at the group of angry troopers. He stepped out of the meeting-house and faced them. He took out his watch and looked at it.
"I give you ten minutes," he said, "in which to obey my order. If that man is not hanged in ten minutes I shall march you back to Dunseveric House, where there are trees enough, and hang every one of you there."
They could have killed him easily as he stood there. They probably would have killed him if he had shown the smallest sign of fear. They knew perfectly well that he could not have marched them to Dunseveric House or anywhere else if they had chosen to resist. Nevertheless, they obeyed him. A rope was fetched from the saddle of one of the troopers. In those days the yeomen carried ropes fit for hanging men as they went through the country. The unconscious man was carried from the meeting-house and hung up on the only tree large enough to bear his weight. Lord Dunseveric, with his watch in his hand, saw the thing done with a quiet smile. Then he spoke again to Captain Twinely.
"You had better proceed with your search for the cannon. It is getting late, and you have already wasted a great deal of time."
More torches were lit. The men, now thoroughly cowed, dragged down the pulpit and the precentor's pew. The earth under them was not beaten hard as was the earth of the rest of the floor. Captain Twinely took a torch and peered at it.
"Fetch a spade," he said.
They shovelled the earth into a heap against the wall and uncovered four cannons. They were wrapped in oily rags, and well preserved, in spite of their damp hiding-place. Lord Dunseveric looked at them carefully.
"Ah," he said. "Four of the six-pounders which I bought for my company of volunteer artillery in 1778. I often wondered what had become of them. Now, Captain Twinely, you have got the cannon, you had better go on to arrest your prisoners. I shall go with you, and remember I shall permit no violence unless resistance is offered. I have given your men one lesson to-night already. I am quite prepared to give them another if necessary."