OF A DEED OF TREACHERY

Gervase had not forgotten the promise he had made to Dorothy, but in the
intervals of his duty had watched the house narrowly, and so far as he
was able to discover, Jasper had not attempted to repeat his visits to
the enemy. He had begun to think that his thinly-veiled threat had had a
salutary effect, and that Jasper knowing himself to have been
discovered, would not again rashly put his safety in peril. The task was
not one for which he had any great relish, but he had determined,
however irksome and unpleasant it might prove, that he would save
Dorothy from a public exposure and from the pain that such exposure must
necessarily inflict upon her. Had it not been for her he would have
taken a summary method with the traitor, but his long vigils were
rendered light by the thought that they were undertaken for her sake.
While he stood in the dark street in the shadow of the opposite doorway,
his heart was stirred when he caught sight of her crossing the window of
her chamber, and so long as her light burned there he felt that he was
not altogether alone. For matter-of-fact as he was, his love had waked
whatever of the pathetic and the heroic there was in his nature; and he
felt that this service was a link that bound them more closely together.
Macpherson who knew something of his solitary watching, had laughed in
his own fashion, and told him that no woman could be won in such a
fashion, for while one was sitting sad outside another was fiddling in
the chamber. But Gervase had kept his post, though nothing came of it
and though he had not spoken to Dorothy for days.

To-night he had been ordered with his company to the lines. The enemy
who had been waiting in sullen patience for the famine-stricken garrison
to surrender, had made some show of movement, and it was believed they
meditated another night attack. The guards had therefore been doubled,
and precautions were taken to prevent a surprise. Gervase went the more
willingly since he believed his services in the city were no longer
needed, as a fortnight had elapsed and Jasper had made no sign of
renewing his intrigue; and it was a relief once more to find an outlet
for his feelings in vigorous action. He felt that he had lost his youth
and that he was growing old in witnessing the sights he saw every
day–the gaunt hollow-eyed wretches who came tottering from their ruined
houses in search of food; the men stricken down with hunger where they
stood on duty at the walls; women who had lost their children; children
motherless and fatherless, and left without a protector; the want, the
sorrow, and the death that increased every day. If they might but have
fought out the fight upon the open field, and in one brave struggle have
decided their fate, how willingly he would have taken his part! But half
the fighting men had fallen since they closed the gates, and of the
other half many of them could hardly shoulder their muskets and drag
themselves to the walls.

It was a relief to pass out of the gates, and the sight and sound of so
much misery, into the quiet night with the cool air blowing about him
and the new moon lifting itself slowly through the summer haze. In the
distance he could see the gleam of the watch-fires of the enemy, but
there was a great and unbroken silence round them, as the company made
its way along the path that had been beaten into white dust with
frequent marching. Macpherson was in command of the outpost that night,
and Gervase found him seated by himself in the bastion on the carriage
of a gun that had been brought up from the city. He was quietly
communing with himself while he drew consolation from his favourite
pipe. Of late days the old soldier had been foremost in attack and
counsel. Hard work and scanty fare had had no effect upon him, but his
spirits seemed to have risen the higher as their privations and
hardships increased. In all expeditions of danger he was among the
foremost to volunteer, and on more than one occasion his coolness and
resource had been of immense service to the besieged. Walker´s antipathy
he had long since overcome, for though they had serious differences on
points of doctrine, they had each come to recognize the excellent
qualities of the other.

When Gervase had completed the arrangement of his company, he joined the
old soldier in the bastion. He made the usual inquiries as to the
movement in front, but Macpherson, apparently in a fit of abstraction,
had answered his questions in monosyllables. There was in the face of
the latter the hardness and solemnity that Gervase had seen early in
their acquaintance, but which had disappeared of recent days. Then he
rose up and laid his hand on the young fellow´s shoulder.

“Let us walk down the rampart,” he said, as if awaking from his reverie,
“my legs have grown stiff, and there is something that I would say to
you. Our lads are veterans in the service now and stand up unwinking
without the need of a ramrod.”

With his hand resting on Gervase´s shoulder, they walked along the
trench down the hill. There was no need for speech between them now, for
Gervase had come to understand his friend´s varying moods, and had long
since ceased to resent the fits of silence into which the other was
accustomed to fall. “Here is another day gone,” he said, “and no move
from the Tangier Butcher. Whether he come by Inch or by the river, he
will come too late, if he come at all. I have been thinking that I might
hurry him.”

“You are not serious?

“Faith! the man who drops into the river, and floats himself clear of
the lines yonder till he reaches the ships by the good guidance of God,
would need to have a serious mind. I have been thinking it all over, as
I sat there to-night, and of the poor souls in their tribulation yonder.
If I was a year or two younger I would try it blithely, and I think
Kirke would listen to his old comrade. There were certain passages
between us once–however, as I say, this might be done by one who took
his life in his hand, and I think I am the man. Do you believe in omens,
lad?”

“I know not.” Gervase answered; “I think they are but an idle
superstition.”

“Then you may laugh at me if you will, but as surely as my name is
Ninian I have been called this night to that work, and perhaps to more
also.”

“I had thought,” said Gervase, “you had forgot these idle dreams and
warnings.”

“Though I am a man of prayer,” he went on, disregarding the
interruption, “I am not gifted with the vision, but twice before I have
heard the same voice, and twice my life was put in grievous jeopardy.
When I heard it before, it spoke as if in anger, but to-night it was
sweet and soft like his voice that was my friend. You see I was sitting
there on the bastion figuring out how I might reach the ships, and
reproaching myself for my backwardness in desiring to make the venture,
when I heard a voice as if a great way off coming from up the river
yonder. I listened attentively but there was a deep silence, and I began
to think that it was a mere trick of fancy. Then it came again, sounding
nearer, till I heard the words of his voice.”

“Whose voice?” said Gervase, wonderingly.

Macpherson turned towards him with a white face. “The voice of my old
friend–him that I told you of. But, thank God, I know his spirit is at
peace with mine, and I can die content. I could see him before me with
my mortal eyes, as I heard that familiar voice that has not sounded in
mine ears for twenty years. He has called me and I am going yonder.”

There was no trace of excitement in his manner or in his speech, but he
spoke with the calm deliberateness of a man who has fully made up his
mind and cannot be shaken in his opinion. Gervase knew that it was
useless to attempt to reason with him; and indeed, if the truth must be
told, he himself was not a little impressed by the tale he had heard.
The supernatural played a large part in the lives of the people among
whom he lived, and it was not curious that his own mind should have been
touched by the prevailing spirit. But to Macpherson it was a fact that
required no explanation and hardly seemed to call for wonder.

“And were you not afraid to hear that disembodied voice?” Gervase asked,
“if it be that it was not more than your fancy?”

“Wherefore should I be afraid? was it not the voice of my friend who
spoke to me no longer in anger? I know that my sin is forgiven. Some
day, my lad,” he continued, with the kindly and almost caressing tone he
had adopted towards Gervase, “some day you will understand what I mean,
but not yet. Now forget what I have spoken and help me with your young
and nimble wits.”

“It is madness for you to dream of it,” Gervase answered. “No man could
reach the ships by the water alone, and to land would be certain death.”

“When we were campaigning on the Danube I swam further than that and was
none the worse for it, while the Janissaries were potting at us from
their flat-bottomed boat a good part of the way. But this is an old
story now.”

“Ay! and you were a young man then. If any should undertake this task,
why should not I? I am sick and weary to death of what I have seen
yonder, and I had rather die once and for all than die by inches. Were
there but a chance—-”

“My lad, you must not think of it. You are young and there is still need
for you in the world. The bonnie wench yonder could ill spare you; but
there´ll be none, but mayhap yourself, to wait for the home-coming of
Ninian Macpherson; and the folk yonder are worth venturing a man´s life
for. I have been through many a siege, but I think since the beginning
of time there hath been none like this.”

“Truly there is a fat Cathedral yard,” said Gervase bitterly, “and God
knows when it will end. There are two more of Simon´s sturdy lads dead
yesterday, and I hardly think the little girl I told you of will hold
out till the morning.”

“Poor soul, poor soul!” he continued, “and to think that it should all
be happening under that–” and he lifted up his hand. The night was
clear and cloudless. The river lay before them reflecting the starlight
in its calm unbroken waters, and the moon lifted its slender crescent
through a mellow haze. They were about to retrace their steps along the
lines when Macpherson, whose sight was marvellously keen, caught sight
of a figure moving rapidly under the shelter of a sunken fence. He had
seen it for a moment as it showed clear against the river, as it made
its way swiftly in the shadow. He caught Gervase by the arm, pulling him
under cover of the embankment.

“There is foul play here,” he whispered. “Yon binkie travels too fast to
have an honest errand. He will come this way, if he intend, as I verily
think he does, to pass through to the camp yonder.”

The man made his way toward them rapidly, without stopping for a moment.
It was clear that he intended to pass the angle were they stood, and
they would not have to stir to intercept him as he passed.

“There may be need of this,” said Macpherson, drawing his sword, “but I
think not; the traitor is nearly always a coward.”

They could now hear the man breathing hard as he ran; he was preparing
to leap into the trench, when Macpherson presented himself before him,
with his drawn sword in his hand.

“Stand, and give me the word.”

The man stopped short as if astonished at the unexpected rencontre, and
then thrust his hand into his breast. But Macpherson divined his
purpose. “If you move that hand I will run you through the body,” and he
held the point of the sword perilously near the man´s throat.

Gervase had not moved forward but was still standing in the shadow.
Something warned him that the traitor whom he had been watching so long
had made his attempt to-night, and was discovered at last.

“Now, sir, what is your errand here to-night? if you do not answer me I
shall call the guard.”

“You need not call the guard, Captain Macpherson. I am here on no
sinister business, but have come to seek for Mr. Gervase Orme, who, I am
told, is in the lines to-night.”

He lifted off his hat and stood bareheaded in the midnight. As he
listened, Gervase knew that it was a lie, but did not move from his
place of concealment.

“Good God,” cried Macpherson, “´tis the brave wench´s brother. I´m
thinking, Mr. Carew, it was a strange way you took to find the gentleman
you speak of. It looked like as if you thought to find him yonder.”

“I am not familiar with your outworks, sir,” answered Jasper, who had
recovered his composure, and spoke with studied coolness, “and I thought
you had another line of defence along the hill.”

“There is no accounting for a man´s thoughts,” said Macpherson, “but the
message must have been urgent that needed so much haste. In the future I
would advise you to move more circumspectly when musket balls are
plenty. Now, perhaps, as the gentleman is my friend, you will even give
me your news and I will contrive that it reaches him.”

“It can be delivered to none but himself. If you will tell me where I
may find him, I have no doubt I can make my way thither myself.”

“I have no doubt you could, but you see I cannot let you out of my
sight. We must even see the gentleman together.”

“You do not mean that you doubt my word?”

“Your word, sir, cannot interfere with my plain duty. I am one of those
who strive to give no tongue to their loose thoughts. I would think well
of you for your sister´s sake; and I think we will hear, after all, what
Mr. Orme has to say about the matter.”

“I have no doubt,” said Carew, changing his ground as he saw that
Macpherson was inflexible, “that I have acted heedlessly in venturing
hither, and it may be best for me to return to the city. If you should
consider it well, I am ready to give any explanation that may be
necessary in the morning.”

Macpherson smiled grimly. “I have no doubt you would, but it is a pity
that you should have come so far without fulfilling your errand; and I
think Mr. Orme hath been waiting with some impatience to hear what you
have to say to him.”

Gervase stepped quickly forward.

“You can go no further with this deception, Mr. Carew,” he said, “I gave
you a friendly warning before which you have not followed, and you must
suffer the consequences.”

Carew stepped back with a look of hate on his face. “The curse of heaven
light on you for an intermeddling rogue!” he cried. “Do what you will, I
care not.”

“You knew,” Gervase continued, “that I had learned your secret, and I
think though I may be deceived, you knew how I had learned it. I was
anxious to spare you the humiliation of making a confession of your
treachery, and for the sake of others would have averted the punishment.
But you have not taken my counsel to heart, and for myself I bitterly
regret it.”

“I want neither your counsel nor your regret. Tell me what you mean to
do and let us have an end of it. I cannot see why I should not leave the
city if I would.”




Macpherson had listened to this brief conversation in surprise. He had
not imagined that Gervase had had any suspicion of Jasper´s treachery,
and for a moment it pained him to think that he had withheld his
confidence. Then he said in a low tone, “Does his sister know of this?”

“There is no need for concealment,” Gervase answered; “it was from her
that I first learned it, and I have been watching for a fortnight that
this did not happen. It will break her heart.”

“That need not be: we will even take the law into our own hands, come of
it what will. Now, sir,” he said, turning round towards Jasper, “there
is no need for further deception, for it cannot profit you a whit. I
never doubted that you were a traitor from the moment that I caught
sight of you by the dyke yonder. You know what is the punishment of a
traitor? Hanging is not a very fit end for any man, and hanged you will
be if we carry you back to the city. I cannot tell what is your intent
in stooping to this dishonour, but I think in letting you pass I can do
but little harm. They know how it stands with us, and you can bring them
but little fresh news. Did I think of you alone, as God is my witness, I
should string you up with my own hand without compunction, but for the
sake of them that loved you, unworthy as you are, the way is open for
you. You may go. You may tell them from Ninian Macpherson that never a
man of them will put his foot inside the walls, and you have seen the
last of the city yourself.”

For a moment Jasper could not realize the good news, and appeared
overcome by surprise. “I may be able to return your favour some day,
sir,” he said, “however poor a figure I may cut now.”

“I would take no favour from your hands,” answered Macpherson; “now go
before my mind changes, for I doubt whether I do right in letting you
pass thus easily.”

Without a word Carew crossed the trench and clambered up the rampart. On
the top he turned short, “I have to thank you for your kindness,” he
said, “and for the courteous speech you have made. You, sir, as I have
said I will do my best to repay, but for you, Mr. Orme, you may take my
favour now.”

Quick as thought Gervase saw the barrel of a pistol flashing in the
moonlight, presented straight at his breast. Macpherson saw it too, and
sprang forward as if to leap the trench, when there came a blinding
flash and a loud cry as Macpherson fell forward on his face.

Gervase followed his impulse, which was to secure the miscreant who had
done this base and cowardly act, but when he had reached the summit of
the rampart, he was rapidly disappearing in the darkness and it was
impossible to overtake him. So with a bitter feeling in his heart and
something that sounded like an imprecation on his lips, he turned back
to his wounded friend.

The sound of the shot had attracted the attention of the men nearest to
them in the trenches; they came hurrying up believing that the attack
had begun, but when they saw Macpherson lying on the ground and Gervase
kneeling by his side, their alarm was changed to suspicion and surprise.
There was an unbroken silence in front under the quiet summer sky; not a
blade of grass was stirring on the hillside. It was clear to them that
this blow had not come from the enemy, and full of surprise and wonder,
they watched Gervase as he bent over the fallen man and opened his vest
to find the wound.

Macpherson was still conscious; the blood that was pouring from a wound
in his breast had dyed his shirt deep red, and they noticed that he had
not let go his hold upon the hilt of his sword. But there was that look
in his face that every man in that company had seen too frequently for
months to mistake–that look in the presence of which there is no hope,
and which speaks inevitably of a speedy dissolution. It was clear to
them all that the last sands of his life had nearly run out.

A sergeant of his regiment running up the lines had brought down a
blazing brand of fir, by the light of which Gervase stanched the flowing
blood as well as he was able. He felt his hand shaking as he bound up
the wound, nor could he trust himself to make any answer to the eager
questions that were poured upon him. It required no skill to tell that
the wound was mortal; it was only a question of hours, perhaps of
minutes; and the thought that pressed most strongly upon him was that it
was to save his life that Macpherson had lost his own. Rugged and
staunch and true, a loyal friend, a valiant soldier, he had hardly
recognized his worth or the affection he had begun to bear toward him,
until the time had come for them to part.

From the moment that he fell Macpherson had not spoken; he lay
motionless with his face turned up and the light of the blazing torch
falling on it. Only once he pressed the hand of Gervase with a gentle
pressure; that was all the sign he gave of consciousness. A surgeon had
been sent for but there seemed to be no probability of his arriving in
time, and they hastily began to construct a hurdle on which to carry the
old soldier home. Though he had been quick to punish any breach of
discipline, he had always been forward with his praise, and they had
long since learnt that he would not ask them to go where he was not
ready to lead them. They had come to impose implicit confidence in his
wisdom and courage, while they had seen in a thousand instances that a
warm and kindly heart lay under his rugged manner and surly speech. They
had been wont to say that Roaring Meg and the old Captain were children
of the same mother; but there was many a moist eye in the trenches that
night when they learned that the old fire-eater had come to his end.

While they were getting ready the hurdle on which to carry him to the
city, Gervase had not moved but still knelt holding his head on his
knees. The blow was so sudden and so unexpected that he had not had time
to realize it. Notwithstanding the evidence of his senses, he could not
believe that he was in the presence of death. He did not once think of
his own miraculous escape nor of how this might affect the woman he
loved, but stunned and bewildered, he endeavoured to make clear to his
own mind that his friend was dying.

Macpherson´s lips moved and Gervase bent down to catch the words, but
for a time they were broken and inaudible. Then with an effort he lifted
his hand and motioned to the men who were gathered round, to withdraw.
He had still much difficulty in speaking but Gervase was able to catch
the meaning of his words now.

“I´m going home, lad,” he said, “going home. I was called, and–and–you
will promise me.”

Gervase did not speak but only pressed his hand.

“She must never know who has done this–never till the Judgment. She is
proud, and it would break her heart. Only you and I–we know, and we
will keep the secret. You will promise; you are a good lad, and my old
heart was turned toward you.”

Gervase was not ashamed of the tears that streamed down his face. He
brushed them away with the back of his hand, and tried to speak as well
as his feelings would permit him.

“I am glad you promised. Don´t grieve for me; it was better that I
should go than you. The campaign is over and I am going home.”

They placed him on the stretcher and carried him back to the city.

Already as they passed through Bishops-Gate, the crimson light of the
dawn had filled the sky, and the stars had failed, and the shadows had
passed away in the rosy glow of the pleasant summer morning.

As the bearers of the hurdle halted with their burden on the stone steps
of the house in which Macpherson lodged, he called out to them to stop.
“Let me look at it once more before I go. I´ll never see it again.”

And so they stood there in silence fronting the sunrise; he raised his
head for a minute and then motioned to them to carry him in. They laid
him in his own bed, and left Gervase and the surgeon to examine his
wound.

But it was evident that nothing could be done for him. He was already
past all mortal aid, and as he suffered from no pain they had only to
wait for the end that would not be long in coming.

“He´ll no´ need my aid, Mr. Orme,” said Saunderson, “for there´s none of
us could bring him round. ´Tis a pity there´s no woman body to close his
eyes; but I´m told he was a fine soldier, and I´ll look in and see the
last of him mysel´.”

“No one shall touch him but myself,” said Gervase, “I shall never have
such a friend again, and God knows there is none will miss him as I
will.”

Gervase had never been in the room before, and as he sat down by the bed
he looked round him with a saddened interest. On the table lay the
leather-bound volume he remembered so well. Above the bed hung a broad
sword with its hilt of silver richly chased, and he could see from where
he sat, that there was a legend upon the blade. A pair of spurs, a
silver-mounted pistol, and a long pipe of foreign make, lay on the
mantelshelf. A couple of high-backed chairs, a few simple cooking
utensils in the hearth, and an oak press, the doors of which lay open,
were all the furniture in the room. It looked bare and comfortless, and
it seemed to add to the pathos of the tragedy that a man with so much
that was gallant and loveable, should die friendless and unregretted in
a room like this.

Gervase had found a little wine in a bottle and with this he moistened
Macpherson´s lips from time to time. He lay motionless all day with his
eyes half closed, but toward evening he seemed to Gervase to grow
delirious, and began to talk in a rambling way, with a thick and broken
utterance. His mind was busy with his old campaigning days, and his
speech was full of foreign cities, and of battles and sieges and
ambuscades, and of women he had loved in his wild free life. There was
no coherence in the matter; only a meaningless confusion of unfamiliar
names. Only once before had he raised the curtain that hung over his
past life, but he had made no secret of the fact that his youth had been
a riotous one and full of wayward passion; and he had seemed to have
broken with it utterly. But now it had all come back again, and his mind
was full of the tavern brawl and the low intrigue and the horrors of
sack and siege. It was strange to hear the old man with the white head
and haggard face that had grown so old looking in a day, babbling of the
fierce delights of his youth as if he were living among them again.
Gervase would willingly have closed his ears but he was in a manner
fascinated by it.

“A thousand devils, here they come. Lord, what a change! They ride as if
Hell were loose after them. The pike men will never stand. Close down
your ranks. There they go, rolling one after another. Pooh! a mere
scratch. I´ll pour out my own wine and drink it too; a woman´s lips are
sweeter after a draught like that. Open the windows; we want air–air
and a song. Jack will—-”

Then he gave a loud cry and started up as if in pain. “Oh, God! I have
killed him–wipe it off, that is his blood upon my sword–wipe it off, I
tell you. You see how his eyes will not shut; they stare at me as if he
were still alive. You she-devil, I will kill you as I killed him. I
cannot draw this blade from the scabbard. Listen, and I will tell you
why: his blood hath glued it fast, and I can never draw it again–never.
Pooh! you are a fool.”

So he rambled on, while Gervase sat compelled to listen and put together
the history of that stirring and eventful life. Then the paroxysm died
away, and exhausted with his passion he lay quiet, only his lips moving
and his spare brown hands catching at the coverlet. Once or twice
Gervase thought he heard his own name, but it might have been mere
fancy, for it was now impossible to catch the words his lips tried to
frame.

According to his promise, Saunderson had looked in during the course of
the evening, but as he said, rather to cheer the watcher than in the
hope of assisting the patient. He had been amazed at the great hold he
had upon life, for no ordinary man could have survived such a wound for
an hour. “He’ll be away before the morn,” he said; “you can see how he´s
trying to loose himsel´. Man, ´tis a strange thing this dying, and we a´
take our ain gait about it. Some die hard like the auld man there, and
some slip off easily, but licht or hard ´tis a´ ane. I´ve seen a guid
few lately. I´m afeard ye can´t sit here this nicht, and I´ll look up
some stout body to tak´ your place.”

But Gervase would not hear of it. He had determined to see the last of
his friend and was determined to spend the night at his bedside. He had
seated himself in the chair by the window, and had taken up the little
book which bore the owner´s name on the title page and the words
“Utrecht, 1664,” and was worn and marked by repeated using. He read on
till the sunset had died away and it became too dark to see the page.
Then he closed the book and went downstairs in search of a light.

When he came back with the lighted candle in his hand, Macpherson was
sitting up in the bed, with his eyes staring wide open and his hands
stretched out. The wound had burst out afresh and the blood had stained
the white counterpane.

“Listen, Gervase,” he said, “listen, my son! Do you hear how he is
calling me? I would know the sound of his voice among ten thousand–the
sound of his voice that I loved. I would have waited for you, but I knew
him first and loved him first, and I cannot tarry. Jack, dear Jack, good
comrade, I am coming. Oh! the marvellous light–” He struggled as if to
leave the bed and Gervase was running forward to restrain him, when he
fell back on the pillow, with his eyes and mouth wide open. At a glance
Gervase saw that it was all over; his faithful friend was dead, and
there was no need for watching now. As he stood for a long time looking
at him, the hard and rugged face seemed to soften into a smile, and the
lines that were cut deep in the forehead and the cheeks had disappeared,
and he lay like one asleep. The fight was indeed over, and the reveille
would awaken him from his rest no more.

* * * * *

They buried him the next day in the Cathedral yard, four men of his own
regiment carrying the body on the stretcher on which they had brought
him home. As Gervase saw him laid in the shallow grave, he felt that he
had lost the best friend and the truest comrade he was ever likely to
find. And there the ashes of the old soldier still lie mingled with
those of many another who fell in the same quarrel and found a
resting-place there from all their labours. In after days Gervase
erected a tablet to his memory, with nothing more than the name and the
date upon it and these words: “He laid down his life for his friend.”