OF A MAN´S MEMORY

For upwards of a week Gervase was too ill to travel, though he rapidly
recovered under the care that Macpherson bestowed upon him. No woman
could have nursed him with more tenderness and solicitude. Every want
that he had was anticipated, and during the tedium of the day the old
soldier beguiled the time with stories of the camp and battle-field. He
seemed to have no care or thought for his own comfort but waited
assiduously on his wounded comrade with a simple kindness that touched
Gervase deeply. The darker side of his character seemed to have
disappeared completely; even his devotions he conducted in private, and
it was only at Gervase´s request that he read from the little volume
that he carried about with him continually.

They were left undisturbed in the farm-house, though they heard on two
occasions the jingling of bridles, the clank of weapons, and the tramp
of marching men upon the road, bound apparently for Londonderry; and
upon one occasion they were upon the point of being discovered. Gervase
was alone in the house when he heard the sound of voices without, and
going to the window, he saw half a dozen dragoons drawing water from the
well in the farm-yard. They evidently thought the house deserted, for
they bestowed no attention upon it. At that moment Macpherson came
swinging down the lane in the rear of the house, and was about to enter
the yard when he caught sight of the steel head-pieces, and stopped
short. Having filled their bottles, the fellows rejoined their comrades
without suspecting the discovery they were on the point of making.
Thereafter Macpherson was more careful, going out only when the twilight
came down, and carefully avoiding the highway.

The chickens in the byre had gone the way of all flesh, and the cow in
the meadow had been turned into wholesome beef, from which the old
soldier concocted many a savoury stew. He was a rare hand at cooking,
setting about the matter with sober and becoming earnestness, and
mightily proud of his achievements therein. All the herbs of the field
lent themselves to his purpose; he had studied their uses aforetime, and
now he turned the knowledge to account. He knew something, too, of their
medicinal qualities, and insisted with a solemn persistence on Gervase
swallowing many nauseous draughts, which, indeed, the latter did rather
from a feeling of good comradeship than from any liking for the dose. He
greatly preferred the stories of Macpherson´s earlier days when he
carried a halbert with Turenne, or one of the ballads–of which he had
quite a store–which he crooned in a low tone with a solemn shaking of
the head. They were all of battles, sieges, and warlike fortunes, and
touched not at all upon the lighter passions. “Mary Ambree” was a great
favourite of his, and another whose refrain ran thus:–

“Then be stout of heart when the field is set, and the smoke is hanging
low,
And the pikeheads shine along the line to meet the advancing foe.”

But chiefly he preferred to sing from the psalms in Francis Rous´s
version, especially those which speak of battle and vengeance, and the
rugged metre and halting lines lost their homeliness, and were clothed
with a fine vigour and glowed with inspired fervour as he followed the
measure with the motion of his hand. So earnest he was, indeed, and so
direct, with a touch of childlike simplicity, that Gervase was lost in
continual wonder.

As a rule he was reticent regarding his past life and spoke of it in
only a general way. On one occasion he had been more communicative.
Gervase had become perfectly convalescent and was able to move about
without being supported, the fever having entirely disappeared, and his
strength having returned in some considerable degree. They were sitting
together discussing the various plans by which they might reach
Londonderry, and Macpherson´s brows were drawn into a curious frown, as
always happened when he was engaged in deep thought.

“Could we,” he said, “come haply on a garron, the thing were as good as
done; I doubt not we shall find one to our hand as we proceed, and in
the meantime you will ride Bayard while I tramp as best I can. I have
done as much before, and with a little strategy, which is just and
necessary we shall be able to satisfy all civil inquiries.”

“´Tis out of the question,” Gervase answered. “Turn and turn will I take
if you will; and it may be that this passport of De Laprade´s will be of
some service after all, though I do not think the rogues we may meet
will care much for aught but a strong arm and the sword´s point.”

“´Tis a curious document,” said Macpherson, spreading it out before him
and laying his open palm upon it. “I am not a great scholar, but I think
no man could tell in what language it was written, or what may be its
purport. Even his name has so fallen to vinous pieces that ´tis
impossible to pick up the fragments. But I think he hath a good heart, a
very good heart.”

“That I will answer for,” said Gervase, “and I will answer for it also
that you are rejoiced that you did not harm him. I was not brought up to
understand his ways, but I know he is brave as a lion and true as steel;
and what a handsome fellow he is!”

“Pooh! wax and paint. I have seen too many pretty fellows to care for
the tribe. But he is as you say, I doubt not, though he be a
Frenchman–for which latter reason I do not love him.”

“Still, it is no reason why you should hate him.”

“I know not that; the narrow seas divide us for some wise reason, and we
speak with different tongues for a purpose. I have lived too long with
Frenchmen not to love my own country best. God forbid, however, that I
should hate any, though it is permitted to hate their works. He is, as
you say, a gallant fellow. I remember when I was of an age with him, I
thought as little of the end whereunto all life tends, and wine and
women were the gods I worshipped. The devil is a liberal paymaster but
he pays in his own currency; I have a bagful of his ducats.”

“Then you carry them easily,” said Gervase, feeling that he was treading
on tender ground.

“That do I not. Alas; memory will not die; we cannot slay it even with
prayer, though we may fall back on that to help us to bear the pain. Why
I should talk thus to you I know not, but the spirit prompts me, and
´tis ever safe to follow its promptings. I shall open for you one of the
pages that I have striven to tear out of the book of my life, and
failing in that, to blot out with the tears of penitence and
contrition–haply in vain. ´Twas in ´64, and the April of that year I
was in the service of the Elector of Brandenburg, and we were quartered
at Spandau. Our company was wicked enough, but I think none could touch
me in all manner of iniquity. We drank deep, quarrelled and fought at
will, and rejoiced greatly in fearing not God nor regarding man. I knew
my work as a soldier, and men said I had some skill in the art of war.
Howbeit I had got some preferment which I held lightly enough, as I
cared but little whom I served as long as there was wine in the measure
and women for the asking. One man I was drawn toward in a special
manner, for we had both known better things and had some sorrow together
when our cups were spilt, and the headache and heartache came in the
morning. Jack Killigrew (for he was an Englishman, and well born, as I
have since learnt) should have been a parson, but the devil set him
trailing a pike and drinking deep as the rest of us. After a while I
noticed a change in his ways, which change I could not well understand
at first, but soon I discovered. He drank no more, foreswore the
dicebox, would not beat up the town, and I shrewdly suspected took to
saying his prayers in secret. Then one day he made his confession–I
laughed loud enough thereat–that he was in love with the daughter of
the Protestant parson outside the city gates. He would not rest
satisfied until I had gone thither with him, and in an evil hour I
consented. Beware, boy, of women; avoid them like the pestilence, and
trust not the fairest. Delilah, Jezebel, and Herodias, these are but
samples of the smiling, treacherous, beautiful devils that go up and
down on the earth to catch men´s souls in a silken snare. Annchen was of
the same order but carried her wickedness more demurely. Poor Jack gave
her all his heart, and the little vixen was not content therewith, but
needs must have mine too. And mine she had, ay, and my soul too–all,
all.”

Macpherson rose and paced the kitchen with a hasty stride, his long
brown hands clasped before him, and his leonine head thrown back. His
eyes were filled with the strange, wild light Gervase had noticed once
or twice before; his voice thrilled with suppressed emotion.

“How she purred and ogled and slighted honest Jack, to whom she had
plighted her troth, and whom she was to marry in a sennight! God help
me! I was wicked and mad; I forgot my friend and robbed him of his
mistress. Then the end came. Never, never shall I forgot it. ´Twas a
moonlight night in the pleasant summer time; I was drunken with the
passion of lust, and Annchen and I had forgotten the hours as we stood
locked in each other´s arms, under the shadow of the city´s walls.
Suddenly a tall form came between us, and a sword flashed out in the
moonlight. I knew it was Jack Killigrew, and knew that either he or I
must die for this deed. Our blades crossed, and while Jezebel stood
looking on, my friend and I (and truer comrade had no man) sought each
the heart´s blood of the other. May God in His mercy forgive me, for I
shall never forgive myself. Oh! we fought a bitter fight under the walls
that June night, and he died hard. For I killed him; yes, I killed him.
Do not start or turn away from me–his sweetheart did not, Nay, when he
was down and his life blood was flowing from his breast, she threw her
arms about me, and told me that I was a man, and she loved a man. You do
not know what it is when love turns to hate. I flung her from me,
cursing her, with anguish in my heart that I had not words to speak of.
I never saw her again, but often I see the face of Jack Killigrew lying
there turned up to the moonlight and frowning as he died. ´Twas the sin
against the Holy Ghost, I sometimes think. An ocean of tears will not
wash out the deed.”




“´Tis a sad story,” said Gervase, with emotion, “and better left untold.
But I think not that all women are like Annchen, whom I cannot
understand, else were life hardly worth living, and death better than
life.”

“That it is–that it is. Life is a burden we must bear as best we can–a
heavy load for the back of the strongest. You are young and cannot yet
understand the matter, but for me I would that my salvation was assured,
as sometimes I have hoped it is, and that I were entering into my rest.
But youth cannot understand this, nor will I compel you to listen to
me.”

“Nay,” answered Gervase, “rather would I be by your side fighting in the
good cause, for Heaven knows strong arms like yours are needed now, if
need ever was. I cannot foresee how it will end.”

“Have no fear for the end; Londonderry may fall, but Dutch William is
stronger than a walled city. I know the Stadtholder of old, and I tell
you behind that cold look and slow speech there is the power of many
regiments. I have seen his eyes in the day of battle. He is one of a
race that never knows when it is beaten. I think that he will not leave
the men in Londonderry to die like so many rats. But, believe me, they
are the stuff whereof fighting men are made, and will make a gallant
stand.”

“I would,” said Gervase, “we were among them once more. By this time, I
doubt not, if Colonel Lundy be a true and loyal man, Roaring Meg and her
iron sisters have given joyful voice.”

“Bah! How goes your burghers ditty?”

“‘Scour me bright and keep me clean–
I´ll carry a ball to Calais green.´”

“Your colonel is no true man, but a hypocrite and a coward, and I put no
faith in the long guns, though they have their uses, but in stout and
loyal hearts that will hold out in trial and privation. The Irish do not
understand the practice of artillery; they may not batter down the walls
or breach them, while there are men there to say ‘stand back´; but
hunger and disease are enemies that few can fight against: and hunger
and disease Londonderry will have to face. ´Tis here the Protestant
faith must make its last stand. Should the city fall before relief may
come, then the end is far off, and the Stuart may yet wear the crown of
his ancestors. Relief ever comes slowly–how slowly, only that man knows
who, like myself, with wasted shanks and shrunken jaws, has kept his
place on the ramparts, while women and children were dying indoors by
the score, and brave fellows were struck down at his side by an enemy no
man could see.”

“But William of Orange is a soldier, as you say, and, being a soldier,
will not leave the city to stand alone. Besides, the Irish cannot fight
a stubborn fight.”

“There you are wrong utterly, and here I speak of what I have seen and
known. In the army of Louis is many a gallant gentleman of Irish birth,
who has displayed a courage and devotion in a foreign country that he
might not show in his own. These wild kernes want but the sergeant´s
drill and a cause to fight for to prove the stoutest soldiers in Europe.
But they care not for James Stuart, and I think he has no general who
can take their measure. Rosen is a foreigner, and Hamilton a man of few
parts; while Sarsfield, of whom I have heard much, lacks discretion and
temperate wisdom, else might he do greatly. ´Tis ever the general that
makes the soldier–that is the difference between a rabble and a
regiment. Tilly and Gustavus and Turenne, all of whom fought great
battles, first put heart into their men, and then taught them to fight
as if fighting were the easiest trade in the world.”

“But in Londonderry,” said Gervase, “we fight for all that men hold
dear–for liberty, religion, wife, child, and even for life itself. If
that does not give men heart and inspire them with courage, there is no
general in the world can do it.”

“You are right, and therein I rest my confidence. Religion is the best
cordial in the world to tune the coward´s heart. If all goes well,
behind yon poor walls I look to see as bold a stand as ever was made in
Christendom, even should England leave us to tread our own path–which
Heaven forfend. But ´twere easy to succour the city. With the Foyle
running close by the city walls, men and provisions were easily
furnished. Heaven send a man with a wise head on his shoulders, for
Providence never yet wrought through fools and cowards. Howsoever, it is
for us to do as best we may, and I doubt not, my lad, you will do your
part bravely.”

“Mine is a small part and easily played,” Gervase answered, “but how we
are to get into the town, I see not, even were we so far on our
journey.”

“A way will be provided, I doubt not, with a little strategy. For you,
that fine cloak and hat, even those riding boots, must be left behind,
while like the stage-player, you must enact the rapparee and speak
nought but the Irish speech, or what will pass for such, till you are
behind stone walls. For myself, I think the story I shall tell and my
knowledge of the French tongue, will carry me through. As David played
the madman in the city of Achish, and as the spies went into the walled
city of Jericho and abode in the house of the harlot Rahab, so shall we
do with the like success.”

“I hate all masquerading,” Gervase said, “and had rather take my chance
even as I am.”

“Ay, and find a pikehead between your ribs for your scruples. We have
Scripture precedent which it is ever safe to follow. In this you shall
not thwart me. So to bed, for at cockcrow we must start, first having
commended our lives to Providence, and put a new edge on this sword,
whose late owner was a careless fellow and knew not how to care for a
good blade.”