OF A SERIOUS COMMUNICATION

The prisoners who had been taken by the garrison had been for the most
part confined in Newgate, but several gentlemen of rank had been
permitted on giving their parole to dwell at large with private persons
in the city.

Among the latter was the Vicomte de Laprade. No sooner had Lady Hester
Rawdon learned that her nephew was a prisoner than she insisted on his
being brought to her house, and De Laprade willingly exchanged the
confinement of his prison for the society of his cousin and the
comparative freedom of her house. With his ready power to adapt himself
to his circumstances he was soon at home, and his gay songs and cheerful
wit enlivened for a time the gloom that was gradually settling down on
the household in common with the rest of the city. But even the lively
humour of the Vicomte was unable to withstand the horror and distress
that surrounded them on every side and deepened day by day. The pressure
of famine, as silent as it was terrible, began to make itself sorely
felt. Pestilence that had been lurking in the byways of the city, spread
on every side, and all through the month of June the shells were
crashing through the roofs and ploughing up the streets. The hope of
relief that had burned steadily for a while was now growing fainter and
fainter. Early in June three ships had come up the river as far as
Culmore, but finding the fort in possession of the enemy, had not
attempted to dispute the passage. And again, a little later, the
garrison had seen from the Cathedral tower the friendly fleet far down
the Lough, and had watched them with anxious hearts, till they saw them
riding of Three Trees in the western glow of that summer evening. In the
morning the sails were gone, and now the enemy had thrown a boom across
the river which shut out the passage to the sea. But still the men of
the garrison stood by the walls and manned the great guns and handled
their muskets with a cheerful courage. There were traitors, no doubt,
who deserted to the enemy, and traitors who murmured and plotted
secretly; but for the most part the citizens stood loyally by their
leaders.

Gervase Orme had suffered with the rest. He had seen poor Simon Sproule
bury two of his children, and all the humour out of it, had listened to
the heart-broken little man declare that God had visited him for his
cowardice. The wasted faces and hollow cheeks that he met began to haunt
his dreams; it became his only relief to lose himself in action and
forget the horrors he had seen. His visits to the Rawdon household
lightened the gloom a little. Dorothy bore her troubles with a quiet
strength that put his manhood to shame, and alone in the household
declared that the garrison should keep their guard while one stone stood
upon another. Since De Laprade´s coming, Gervase´s visits had not been
so frequent, for it was now impossible for him to find Dorothy alone
during the day. The light badinage of the Vicomte jarred on his nerves,
and it might be without knowing it he had become jealous of his
presence. For the Vicomte´s admiration of the girl was open and declared
and though he treated her with a quiet deference, it was plain he would
willingly have surrendered his cousinship for a closer relation still.
Dorothy appeared unconscious of his advances and turned away his
flattery with a quiet smile.

Gervase had not called for several days, and had not seen any member of
the household during that time. He was surprised to receive a note in
Dorothy´s hand, asking him to call upon her during the evening, if his
duties permitted him. It was the first letter he had ever received from
her, and though he could not surmise its cause, his heart beat somewhat
faster in his breast, as he pressed it to his lips in the quiet of his
room. Yes, it was Dorothy´s hand, like herself, very strong and free,
yet full of grace; and the words: “Yours in confidence, Dorothy Carew,”
sent him forthwith into a pleasant reverie full of tender hopes.

All day he went about his work with a light and buoyant heart, with the
precious missive out of which he had read so much carefully buttoned up
in his breast, and did his duty none the worse for thinking of the girl
who wrote it. When he called he was shown into the room by Jasper´s
servant Swartz, and Dorothy was waiting to receive him.

“I hope, Miss Carew,” said Gervase, “there is nothing wrong–that Lady
Hester is not worse?”

“My aunt is very well,” Dorothy answered, “but a little nervous and
excited. This is a trying time for her, but she bears up wonderfully. I
did not think she could have endured so much with so great patience.”

“And the Vicomte?”

“Nay, he is well. My brother has lately kept much to his own room, and
Victor has grown tired of our society and joins him often there. How
they spend their hours I hardly know, but I think they both are fond of
play, and give themselves to cards. Your hours are spent otherwise, Mr.
Orme.”

“Yes,” Gervase answered, “but you see I am a soldier and have my work to
look to.”

“And why should all men not be soldiers?” said the girl excitedly. “If a
woman might carry arms–but this is wild talk, and you know I do not
mean it. What news is there to-day?”

“Nothing of much importance: the enemy have hardly fired a shot, but I
hear there is talk of an expedition to-night, I know not whither. As for
the ships, they have not been seen since Thursday, but the wind is from
the north and they may be here to-morrow.”

“If Colonel Kirke should be another traitor?” Dorothy said; “one hardly
knows whom to trust.”

“I hope,” Gervase answered, “you will never find me false.”

“I do not think I shall, and that is why I sent for you to-day. Will you
come with me into the garden, for we may be interrupted here.”

Gervase followed her out through the open window and down the path,
wondering what confidence she was about to impose in him that required
to be so carefully guarded. They came to a little, open space of smooth
lawn where she stopped short and looked round her cautiously.

“I have thought much of this,” she said, “and I know no one but yourself
to whom I can look for advice. I thought, indeed, of Captain Macpherson,
but I did not know how he might act, and was afraid to trust him. What I
am going to say I speak to yourself alone, and must be whispered to no
other till you have my permission. Will you promise that?”

Gervase consented, hardly knowing what he promised, but seeing only the
look of entreaty in her eyes.

“No matter what you feel to be your duty?”

“If it does not touch my honour nor the safety of the city.”

“Then I cannot tell you, for I do not know. Surely,” she went on
pleadingly, “you can trust me, Gervase Orme? I stand alone and have none
to counsel me, and–and I thought you were my friend. Surely you can
trust me?”

“Every drop of blood in my veins is at your service, and though it may
be weak and wrong and we may both regret it, I promise.”

[Illustration: “SHE STOPPED SHORT AND LOOKED ROUND HER CAUTIOUSLY”]

She smiled a little sadly, and said with a touch of her old humour, “I
had rather you had not promised, but you cannot go back on your word
now. Do you think,” she said, putting her hand to her breast and looking
round her, “do you think there are traitors in the city?”

“Indeed I think there are,” Gervase answered, “but we watch them
narrowly and they do little harm. They would stir up rebellion if they
might, but the Town-Major keeps them well in hand.”

“But I mean more than that. Do you think there are any in the city who
hold communication with the enemy?”

“It may be there are, but I hardly see how they could carry out their
treachery. The walls are strictly guarded, and the men on the outposts
are faithful and true; it were a bold thing to attempt it.”

“Then tell me what you think of this.”

Putting her hand into her bosom, she drew out a small scroll of paper
and placed it in his hands. Gervase looked at her in amazement.

“Read it, and tell me what you think of it.”

Gervase took the paper, and his astonishment deepened as he read:

“_June 9. Pass the bearer through the lines. He is doing faithful
service. Given under our hand. Hamilton._

“Miss Carew, where did you get this? If the man who held this paper be
in the city, he is a traitor and a spy, and we should not lose a moment
in discovering his villainy.”

“I knew you would use words like these. But there is something more.
Three days ago, Mr. Orme, I found this paper on the staircase. Now you
know my secret and why I sent for you.”

“Perhaps the Vicomte—-” Gervase began.




“Nay, nay, you see the date, and my cousin Victor is still a man of
honour. He has given his parole, nor would he break it for the world. It
almost breaks my heart to say it, but I feel that this is my brother; I
saw him searching for it where I found it, and he would have questioned
me about it had he dared. And now I know why he left his room at night
and seldom returned before the morning. What is to be done?”

Gervase knit his brow and stood thinking. If Dorothy was right, her
brother was a traitor and in the habit of supplying the enemy with
information. It was clearly his duty to report the matter to the
authorities. But on the other hand he had given his word, however rashly
and inconsiderately, from which he could not withdraw, and stood pledged
to silence. He could not use the woman he loved as a witness against her
brother and destroy him by her hands; he shrank in pain at the thought
of such a course. Had it not been for the mysterious midnight rambles,
the passport might perhaps have been explained. Hamilton had been in the
habit of giving passes to persons in the city who had interest at
head-quarters, but this was of another sort. If Jasper Carew was the
bearer, and that seemed evident, then he must be a traitor in active
communication with the enemy.

“It is hard,” Gervase said, “to know what to do, but I think you may let
me deal with this. There is no need at present that any other person
should know what has come to your knowledge, but meanwhile keep the
paper safely, and tell me if your brother leaves the house at night. I
will try to save him in his own despite, and for your sake and his own,
because he is your brother, will watch him closely. Remember that you
only suspect his guilt, and it may be you judge him wrongly,”

“This is more than suspicion,” said Dorothy holding up the passport.
“Shall I tell him I have found it?”

“There is no need for that; we cannot undo what has been done, but we
can prevent him doing harm in the future. Do not let this grieve or
distress you. Your brother sees things in a different light from you and
me, and while circumstances have kept him here, his heart is still with
the enemy. He makes no secret of it.”

But he could not drive Dorothy from the simple fact. “But to play the
spy! To steal out by night, and to lie hidden through the day while
brave men were fighting, and a great cause is being lost or won! He is
no brother of mine. Say no more or I shall think—-”

“Only this, Miss Carew, that as long as I live I shall not forget the
confidence you have placed in me, and I shall do what I can to show that
I am not wholly unworthy of it. This is no time or place to say more
than that. If it were in my power to save you any pain—-”

“I am sure,” she said frankly, “you would do me a service; I know you
are my friend.”

As he took her hand and led her into the house, she turned to him and
said, “You must not ask too great a price for all you have done for me
when I come to pay you the debt I owe you.”

“One word will repay it all,” Gervase answered, about to forget the
moderation he had promised himself to observe, when she suddenly
withdrew her hand and entered the room before him. There was a certain
restraint in her manner now that was foreign to her native frankness,
and she kept Gervase strictly to his budget of news, and prevented him
from again entering on any personal topic. Presently they heard De
Laprade´s voice in the hall, and he came in followed by Jasper Carew.

“Ah! ma belle cousin, we tire of one another and come to you to bring us
peace. M. Orme, you do not often come to visit–what do you call it, my
cousin?–valour in tribulation.”

“Vice in bonds,” growled Jasper, looking moodily at his sister.

“The Vicomte thinks his visit is growing tedious, Mr. Orme,” said
Dorothy, “and would be back among his friends. He has now exhausted all
the gaieties of Londonderry.”

“If every prison had so fair a jailor,” answered the Vicomte, “I should
prefer captivity to freedom, but my jailor prefers to leave me to the
society of her kinsman, whose virtues are exalted and whose graces
are–what you see.”

Jasper turned his back and walked over to the window where he stood
beating with his fingers upon the panes. In a few minutes Orme walked
over and joined him.

“There is a matter, Mr. Carew,” he said in a low tone, “on which I would
speak with you in private.”

Carew lifted his eyes furtively, and looked at him with a questioning
air. He was about to speak but hesitated as if in doubt, and then
motioning to Gervase to precede him, followed him into the garden.

“Now, sir,” he said, turning round, “what is the matter of mystery that
cannot be spoken before my sister and kinsman? I think you take too much
upon you.”

“I shall pass by your discourtesy, for I have come to you in all
kindness, as one anxious for your welfare. What I wished to say to you
is this, and I will put it briefly. The night airs are dangerous to the
health, Mr. Carew, and should be avoided for the future.”

Carew turned pale for a moment, but the moody composure that was natural
to him remained. Gervase could see from his eyes that he would have been
dangerous had there been a fitting opportunity, but the window was open
near them, and De Laprade was watching them where they stood.

“I do not apprehend your meaning, sir; or is this a further instance of
your damned impertinence?”

“I have no wish to be offensive, but I will put the matter in another
form, and if you fail to take my meaning, you must yourself take the
consequences. It has been said,” Gervase went on calmly, “that there are
certain persons in the city, even gentlemen of rank, who are in
correspondence with the enemy. Rumour is ever full of exaggeration, but
the name of one at least is known,” here he paused, “and others may be
suspected. Perhaps you had not heard of this. But remember, sir, we will
not quarrel, for I make no charge against you. And again I tell you that
they who are not on duty should not walk of nights.”

“We cannot quarrel here, or by heaven! I would even kill you where you
stand.”

“Neither here nor elsewhere,” Gervase answered imperturbably. “I have
given you a friend´s advice, with all a friend´s sincerity, and wish you
well. Your prudence will direct you in your future conduct.”

Gervase left him as he was about to speak and re-entered the house,
where he shortly after took his leave and returned to his duty at the
outposts.