OF A STRATAGEM OF WAR

Day by day the time crept on toward the end of June, and brought no
change to the garrison. There were fewer mouths, it is true, to feed
now, for disease and battle had laid them under heavy contribution, but
the store of provisions was rapidly becoming exhausted. A fortnight
more, so they believed and said, would bring them face to face with
actual starvation, and the city must fall from want of men to line the
walls and man the guns. For surrender they would not. “First the
prisoners and then each other,” was their grim jest that had an edge of
earnest with it. No man now dared to whisper the prudence of surrender,
for the spirit of resistance, which had been strong before, now burned
with a wild and splendid flame as they felt the end was coming. The
enthusiasm of the Ulster man does not find its outlet in boisterous
speech–as his excitement increases his silence deepens, and he is,
unlike his Celtic countryman, ever readier with his hand than with his
tongue. And now, though hope was growing fainter as the days dragged on,
their pride–the stern pride of religion and of race–inspired them with
an obstinacy that had something sublime in it. Yet all the while the
ships lay in the Lough and made no effort to come to their relief. Day
by day they signalled in vain from the Cathedral tower and the great
guns rang out, but Kirke would make no move. So close was the investment
now, every loophole guarded with the extremest vigilance, that
communication was impossible. One brave man had indeed made his way from
the fleet to the city after passing through perils innumerable; but
though he made the attempt, he found himself unable to return. Another
messenger had bravely volunteered to carry out their message of despair,
but he never reached the ships. A day or two after, the enemy erected a
gallows on the bastion across the river, and there in the sight of the
city the gallant fellow met his fate.

Dorothy Carew never looked back on this time without a shudder. She
suffered more than many, for to the hardships she endured she added a
private and peculiar sorrow of her own. The first she bore cheerfully
and uncomplainingly, but her brother´s secret, so base and so
contemptible, oppressed her with a terrible feeling of shame and
distress. After her first outburst of confidence to Gervase Orme, which
she sometimes half regretted, she watched her brother jealously, and lay
night after night listening for his footsteps.

But whether the warning he had received had taught him caution, or
whether he had fulfilled his mission, his midnight excursions were now
abandoned and he kept closely to the house. Still, to her keen and high
sense of honour it was intolerable that her brother–the head of the
house–should be a traitor whose guilt might be discovered at any time,
and among so many brave men should act the coward and the spy. Had he
gone over boldly to the enemy and thrown in his lot with them, she could
have loved him. But now her love had been crushed out of her heart, and
only comtempt and shame were left. Physical suffering seemed a light
thing in comparison, and she envied the women who sent their husbands
out to fight, and prayed for their safety when they were absent. But
still she bore up with uncomplaining fortitude, and no one guessed the
secret grief that was preying on her mind. Lady Hester, who had suffered
agonies of fear while the bombs were raining on the city, she had
encouraged with a simulated cheerfulness, and ordered her little
household as she might have done in times of peace. The pinch of famine
had hardly affected them yet–that was to come–but even that she looked
forward to without any fear for herself.

But besides all this, she had another source of future trouble in her
cousin. She could not long remain blind to the fact that his admiration
for her was undisguised, and that beneath his cynical and flippant
manner there had grown up a regard that was more than cousinly. It is
true that he did not annoy her with his attentions, for Jasper and
himself spent much of their time together. But he had shown clearly on
more than one occasion that he was only waiting for a fitting
opportunity to declare himself her lover. That opportunity she was
anxious should not present itself. It was not, she reasoned with
herself, that she loved another better, but she did not love De Laprade,
and she did not wish to wound him. She did not wholly understand him,
and could not tell whether he was ever in earnest or felt sincerely
about anything. Then she thought of Gervase Orme, with his frank
laughter and quiet speech, who treated her with a distant reverence and
that was all. It was a pleasant thing to have him as a friend, full of
quiet strength and honest as the day. But these were no times to think
of such things, and so she put away the thought and went about her
simple duties, hoping that Gervase would call to see her soon.

That evening she was seated by the open window, for the day had been
close and sultry and the night was warm, a volume of Quarles´ Emblems
spread open on her knees. Her brother and the Vicomte had been closeted
together during the day, and Lady Hester, fatigued and desponding, had
retired for the night. She was very busy with her own thoughts, and had
not heard De Laprade enter the room. He came softly up and took a chair
beside her.

“Of what is my cousin Dorothy so full of thought?” he said.

She looked up with a blush, for just at that moment she was wondering
what a certain fair-haired, long-limbed young giant was doing in the
outposts or elsewhere, and the voice recalled her to herself with a
feeling of self-reproach.

“I am afraid,” she answered, “my thoughts would have little interest for
you. A woman´s head is ever full of idle thoughts.”

“Not the wise head of my cousin; it is only the men of her family who
give themselves to folly.”

“The Vicomte de Laprade for example?”

“Truly he is a chief offender, but he is growing wise and sober and
hardly knows himself. He has not smiled for a week, and thinks he never
will be able to smile again. Even his cousin Jasper has ceased to amuse
him.”

“You are greatly to be pitied,” she said with a smile. “But it is not
duller than you would have found Vincennes. There too you would have
grown wiser.”

“Nay, I think not. A long time ago–it seems like years, I grow so
old–I was for six months a prisoner in the Bastille, and when His
Majesty relented and I returned to court I was no wiser than before. My
folly only took another turn. But then I had not found a friend to warn,
nor a counsellor like my fair cousin to teach me better things.”

“I dare say you deserved your punishment. Now tell me something of your
offence.”

“Indeed, I hardly know myself, but I think it was–yes, I think it was a
lady. By accident I trod on her train in a minuet and she refused to
accept my apology. I could only smile and do penance for my clumsiness,
for one may not lightly offend a great lady like Madame de—-”

“Madame de—-?”

“I have forgotten her name, but it does not matter now. She has
forgotten Victor de Laprade, as he has forgotten her.”

“I do not believe that, my cousin Victor.”

“That I have forgotten the circumstances? Ah, well! it is possible that
I might recall them to memory, but I would, rather let them die, as I
would all that belongs to the past. If my cousin Dorothy would but give
me leave I would begin a new life to-day with new thoughts, new
feelings, and a new heart. She smiles, and thinks it is not possible
that I, who have wasted my youth, should try to save my manhood.”

“Indeed you have my leave, but your reformation is too sudden, and you
know you are not serious.”

“I have been serious all my life; my cousin does not know her kinsman.
Because I followed the fashion of my time, and fought and drank and
played, wasting my youth like many another reckless fellow, therefore I
was merry and had no thought or care. Because I am a gentleman, and not
a solemn citizen who looks with a grim frown on all the devil´s works,
therefore my heart knows no sadness. It is thus the world has judged me,
and so it may. But it is because I am sad and weary that I would have my
cousin judge me differently.”

For the first time since Dorothy had known him, he had lost his light
and cynical manner and spoke with simple earnestness. He had made no
display of emotion, but though he was calm and self-restrained, it was
yet evident he spoke with abundant feeling. If he was not sincere, his
humility and contrition were well assumed.

“I have been looking all my life,” he went on, looking at her steadily
as she kept her eyes bent on the book that still lay open on her knees;
“I have been seeking all my life for a quiet heart–I, the libertine,
the gambler who have squandered my patrimony and wasted my heritage. It
was not to be found where I sought it, and my search was in vain. But
now I know the secret that I was too blind to see before. Do you know,
my cousin, what it is? Nay, you will not rise, for you must hear me out.
It is love–the love a man may feel for what is purer and better than
himself, the love that fills him with fresh hopes and new desires, the
love that raises him to the pure heights of her he worships.”

Then he suddenly stopped. Hardly knowing what answer to make, Dorothy
rose from her seat and the Vicomte stooped down to pick up the book that
had fallen to the floor. He said gravely as he reached it to her, “That
is all my secret, my cousin, and does not sound so terrible when all is
said. I trust you will remember it, for some day I may tell you how I
came to make the great discovery.”

“Lady Hester would have made a better confidante or, perhaps, my brother
Jasper. And that reminds me, Victor,” she continued, with a too evident
anxiety to change the subject of this conversation, “I have often longed
to ask what Jasper and yourself find to talk about during the long hours
you spend together in his chamber.”

“Jasper is learning a very useful lesson,” answered De Laprade resuming
his old manner, “which I teach him out of my experience. But now his
education is nearly finished and we shall see whether he will profit by
it.”

“I suppose like all who learn their lesson in that school,” said Dorothy
soberly enough, “he will pay for it?”

De Laprade looked at her gravely, and then took her hand in both of his.
“It would be an idle affectation in me to pretend that I am ignorant of
your meaning, but I think you are wronging me with an unjust thought. I
am a gambler, it is true, and love the music of the dice, but your
brother, heedless as he is, will not suffer at my hands. Were he not my
kinsman who has given me shelter, he is the brother of Dorothy Carew.”

“I know you will forgive me,” said Dorothy contritely. “But if I know
Jasper he will look to you for payment of your losses. And he is rich
while you—-”

“Am standing in my kingdom,” laughed De Laprade. “Do not trouble your
mind about our play–´tis all for love.”

* * * * *




While this conversation had been going on, a little knot of officers
were gathered on the bastion near Butcher´s Gate. Hard by was Alexander
Poke, the gunner, loading a great gun carefully with Gervase Orme seated
near watching the operation. The siege had already placed its mark on
all of them: the daily horrors were not passing over them without
leaving their traces. Anxious and depressed in mind and wasted in body,
they were like men who had passed through a long vigil without hope.
Their clothes hung loosely about them and were torn and frayed; and it
was clear they had long since ceased to regard appearances and only
looked to what was serviceable. They moved slowly and without
enthusiasm, but on the faces of all of them was to be read the same hard
and stubborn look, as of men who knowing the worst were determined to
endure to the end. A month ago they might have listened to liberal terms
of compromise; now they were determined there should be no surrender
while a man remained alive.

Walker, with his snow-white head and stately presence, bore up under his
anxiety with a higher spirit than many of the younger men, and as he
stood in the centre of the little group, appeared to have suffered less
than any other among them.

“I know not, gentlemen,” he had been saying, “what this missive means
with which this barbarous soldier has favoured us, but this I know, that
they cannot frighten us with a cartel of paper when they have failed to
do so with their guns. For the threat of putting us to the sword and
refusing quarter even to the women, that they may do when they have it
in their power, but for the other–I think ´tis mere bravado spun out of
the Frenchman´s brain. What say you, Colonel Mitchelburn?”

“I have served with De Rosen,” said Mitchelburn, “and know that he hath
the heart to do this and more, and while it seems to us an act too base
and cowardly for words, for him ´tis but an ordinary stratagem of war.
To drive a few hundred wretched women and children under the walls to
starve there, will not trouble the man who has seen the sack of fifty
cities. But there are gallant gentlemen yonder, men of spirit and
honour, who will never suffer this savage Russian to carry out his
threat.”

“I know not that–I know not that. They will believe we cannot help but
take them in, and how in Heaven´s name, can we do otherwise? We cannot
stand here and see them starved before our eyes. It is not well to meet
sorrow half way but at most there is not more than a fortnight´s food in
the magazine and then”—-

“No, Colonel Walker, though it break our hearts to see it, there is
nothing must drive us from our purpose, and though my wife and children
stood yonder they should not enter by my will.”

“Then let us pray God that He may harden our hearts, a prayer I never
hoped to pray. But I take this letter, such as it is, for an omen of
good. They are growing weary of the stand we make and fearful that
relief is coming, though whence we cannot tell, and so would hurry us by
threats. Is Kirke about to make a push at last, think you?”

“When they have strung the bully up to the yard-arm and put a stout
heart in his place, we may look to see the vessels at the quay, but not
till then. And if we had another month´s supplies I do not think we
should need their help, for they have their own troubles in the camp
yonder, and have lost nearly as many men as we. The prisoners say the
sickness is increasing.”

“And the supplies are failing fast.”

“Nay, they say more than that. One fellow declared roundly that there
are still traitors among us who supply the enemy with information. I saw
him myself and questioned him roundly, but he did not know the names or
kept the secret to himself.”

“The traitors, if there are such, can harm us little now unless they are
strong enough to hold the gates and drive us from the walls, and that
could hardly be without its coming to our knowledge. You may have a
quiet mind on that head; treachery has done its worst, and we have all
our foes in front now. And now I think we may quietly disperse, for De
Rosen has not kept his promise, or more humane counsels have turned him
from his purpose. Had he meant to fulfil his threat, we had seen his
victims under the walls before this.”

* * * * *

Half an hour afterwards the alarm bell rang out calling the citizens to
their posts, and word went round that the enemy was about to make an
attack in full force. In the grey evening they could see them from the
walls advancing over the hill opposite Butcher´s Gate, and coming down
steadily towards the lines. The citizens hurrying from their houses,
came thronging to the walls, buckling on their weapons as they came. And
the great gun was turned upon the force that came steadily down the hill
in silence. Once the great gun flashed and only once, for as they came
nearer the men upon the walls listened and held their breath, and then
set up a great cry. The army that came down the hill came without
purpose of offence; not the regiments of Slane or Gormanstown, but a
crowd of tender women and fearful children and old men whose day of
labour and strife was over. On they came with the sound of weeping and
of sorrow, that to hear once was to hear for ever, for the memory of it
would never pass away.

The savage marshal had fulfilled his promise. Torn from their homes and
hurried to the front with expectation of a sudden and violent death,
they had been collected in a body and driven to the walls. Pregnant
women and women carrying their babies in their arms; old men who could
hardly totter forward; the weak, the infirm, all who had not the power
to escape; were gathered together for his purpose, and driven forward
without remorse. And there in sight of their friends, of sons and
brothers, of fathers and lovers, they stood between the famine-stricken
city on the one side and on the other an enemy who showed no pity.

The first impulse of the garrison, an impulse that could hardly be
restrained, was to throw open the gates and bring them within the
shelter of the walls. But an instant´s consideration checked their
generous instincts. It was to this end that they were collected here;
and once admitted, they might as well throw open the gates and throw
down their arms. There was no food for so many mouths–nay, there was no
food for themselves.

No greater trial, no trial half so great, had overtaken them since the
siege began, or brought them so much suffering. They were not given to
emotion, but there was not a dry eye among them on the walls that night,
as they hardened their hearts and swore a deep oath of vengeance.

Then Walker and others went out to have speech with the wretched crowd
of outcasts, and in a little while after came back, filled with
admiration and wonder. Far from desiring shelter with their friends,
they refused to enter the city, and were content to die where they stood
rather than that the safety of the city should be put in peril. So they
made their way toward the lines by the Windmill Hill, and spent the
night huddled together under the open sky, while the enemy looked on in
wonder, and their friends turned away, as if the sight was more than
they could bear.

But a gallows was hastily erected on the Double Bastion in full sight of
the camp, and it was resolved to hang all the prisoners if De Rosen
persisted in his savage purpose. Hitherto they had been treated with
consideration, but now those who were at large were collected and placed
in Newgate, and Gervase Orme who was answerable for the safe custody of
De Laprade, went late in the evening, with a sorrowful heart, to carry
his friend thither.