OF A WARM MORNING´S WORK

The next morning Gervase was lying longer abed than usual, having had a
double share of duty the night before, when he was awakened by the sound
of Mistress Sproule´s voice raised high in expostulation and anger. Of
late she had lost much of her alacrity and it was only on great
occasions and against those to whom her antipathy was strong, that the
old fighting spirit manifested itself.

“The poor lad shall not be awakened, I tell you. He does the work of
three, and you can see that he is even wearing himself to death, if you
can see anything. When he first came to live in my house he had a cheek
like a rose, and now he goes about like an old man as crossgrained as
yourself. This blessed morning he will have his rest, if Elizabeth
Sproule can keep you out.”

Then Gervase heard the low tones of a man´s voice endeavouring to reason
with her. But the honest woman was not to be driven from her position.
“Not for all the colonels or governors who ever wore sword or sash. He
has neither wife nor mother to look after his welfare, and though he is
a gentleman I love him nearly like one of my own. For a week you have
kept the poor lad marching and watching, and you are one of the worst of
them, Captain Macpherson.”

Gervase smiled where he lay, for he dearly loved a battle royal between
the two, in which the victory usually lay with the weaker. Macpherson
had gone grimly to the attack, but he had ended by falling nearly as
much under her power as her husband himself.

“You are very right, Mistress Sproule,” Gervase heard the voice of the
old soldier say, “and though it is an urgent matter, he will have half
an hour more. You are right to be careful for him, and I like you none
the worse for your watchfulness. It may be you will let me sit down
within till he wakens?”

“That I will not. And you may even go whither you came from and tell
them that.”

But Gervase, who had been greatly amused at his friend´s conciliatory
tone, thought it time to interfere, and called out that he was awake and
would see him.

“You see how well I am guarded,” he said, as Macpherson came into the
room, “and I think you did not dispute the passage very warmly. The
enemy was too sharp for you.”

“I have been learning my own weakness,” answered Macpherson, sitting
down on the bed. “Now, my dear lad, how is the world going with you? I
would that I did not see those deep lines on your young face, and the
youth dragged out of you before your manhood has well begun. Did I not
tell you what it was to stand behind stone walls, and hope against hope
for the relief that would never come, and see the tender women and
children stricken down without help or pity?”

“Nay, Macpherson, you are ill or you would not talk thus.”

“Indeed, I think I am, and I am growing old and childish. But I have
been mad or worse for a week. With the deep water to the quays, and the
good ships yonder with brave hearts on board of them, to think of what
might be done and is not! ´Twas all very well,” he went on bitterly,
“for Kirke, the lying rogue, to dragoon the poor ploughmen who stood
gallantly by Monmouth, but ´tis hard to think that for want of a little
courage we should die here like dogs. Better throw open the gates and
let them murder us where we stand, than fight for those who will not
help us.”

“This is but wild talk,” said Gervase.

“Truly, I know that, and I would be apt to shoot another through the
head did he prate as I have done, but twelve hours´ want of food and
rest have somewhat weakened me.”

Gervase sprang from his bed, and hastily dressing himself set out his
scanty breakfast, for meat and meal had become precious, and he could
not afford to waste them. “There is enough for both of us,” he said,
“and there is still tobacco for your pipe. The guns are going merrily
yonder, and we´ll set ourselves to work as merrily here. We march to the
tune of ‘No Surrender.´”

Macpherson smiled at the young man´s simulated gaiety, and set himself
down beside him to their frugal meal. When he had finished, he lighted
his pipe and took a more hopeful tone. “I have not yet told you,” he
said, “why I came here this morning, but the day is young and we have
two good hours before us yet. We had a brave night of it.”

“A raid on the fish-house?” Gervase inquired. “I heard an expedition was
forward, but I did not know that you were out. Have you succeeded?”

“In truth,” Macpherson answered, “we came off better than I hoped. But
the fish had never been caught that we hoped to catch, and we shot our
nets in vain. Having given up hope of Kirke and his ships, the Fourteen
thought we might open up communication with Enniskillen, and Walker
found a lad who thought he knew the way, and had the heart to make the
journey. So having first set the story going that we purposed making a
push for the fish-house, we waited until dark, and then pushed off up
the river with the purpose of landing the lad outside the enemy´s lines.
So there we were in the dark, Murray and myself and some fifteen others
of the die-hard sort, holding by the gunwhale, and listening to the
Irish mounting their guard and singing their idle songs. It passed very
well till we got as far as Evan´s Wood, and then by ill luck the moon
must come out and ruin us wholly. They caught sight of us there in the
boat pulling hard in mid-stream, and then a great gun sent the shot
driving past our ears like ducks in winter. They kept up the fire from
the shore, but the night was, as you know, dark and stormy, and the moon
that had given us so ill a start, went down behind the clouds again. I
was strong for turning back, for I saw the lad had lost his spirit, but
they must needs hold on as far as Dunnalong, and so we got so far and
proposed to land our messenger. But we might as well have been abed, for
the great gun had taken away his appetite for the venture, and he would
not set a foot on shore. There was nothing for it but to go back the way
we came, and put the best face we could on our bootless errand. So we
came pulling down stream, never knowing the minute when a round shot
would send us to the bottom, when we saw two boats making for us in the
gray of the dawn that was now something too clear for safety. They were
our old friends the dragoons, and soon the bullets began to fly, and we
returned their fire with so much fervour that they kept their distance,
like the careful lads they are. Then says Murray, who likes nothing
better than a melée, ‘Lay us alongside the rascals, and we´ll treat them
to a morning dram;´ and though they would have sheered off when they saw
us resolute to close, we even ran up under their stern, and had
clambered on board in a twinkling. We made short work of them and threw
them overboard with a will. Some of them went to the bottom, and some of
them got ashore, but for their boat we brought it with us, and it is
even now lying by the quay.”

“And what became of the other?”

“Oh! they did not like our entertainment and begged to be excused; so
they stole off and left us with our prize.”

“It is good news,” said Gervase; “the best we have had for many a day. I
would have ventured something to have been of your company.”

“I thought of you, my lad, as we clambered over the gunwhale and gave
them the ends of our muskets. But there is still fun in the fair, and I
have come for you this morning to join in it. With the boats we purpose
paying them a visit yonder by the orchard, and drawing the teeth of the
great guns that have been barking somewhat vehemently of late. Baker
himself hath asked for you, which is to your credit in a garrison where
brave men are not few. I think myself, you have come to handle your
sword in a pretty fashion.”

“There is no lack of opportunity to learn,” said Gervase laughing, “but
you must not spoil me with praise before I have deserved it.”

The old soldier looked at him with a friendly glance, as he bent down to
examine the lock of his pistol. Most men were drawn towards Gervase
Orme. His frankness, his courage, and his ready sympathy had no touch of
affectation, while his handsome face and stalwart presence had made him
many friends; but Macpherson, who had been on terms of intimacy with few
for years, had come to look upon him as a father looks on a son. Gervase
had found his way to a heart that had long been closed to human
sympathy, and without knowing it, had brought light to a mind warped and
darkened by a narrow and visionary creed. It was not that Macpherson´s
character had undergone a change, but during the fortnight he had spent
in the farmhouse, a part of his nature had awakened to life which he had
been sedulously trying to stifle, and which he had not been able to
reconcile with the hard and narrow creed he had adopted.

“Lay down your weapon,” he said, as Gervase with some eagerness was
making his preparations to set out, “lay down your weapon, and listen to
me. We have a good hour still; a man should never hurry to put his head
in danger. Have you made it up yet with the sweet lass–you know whom I
mean.”

“I saw Miss Carew last night,” said Gervase with some confusion.

“Tut, man, you will not put me off the scent like a young puppy that
hath not yet found its nose. She is a wench in ten thousand–the good
woman of the preacher, and was made to nurse a brave man´s bairns. You
must not let your gay spark of a Frenchman cut out the prize before your
eyes, as he means to do, if I have an eye to read his purpose. You know
not how to woo, my lad. Women are not to be taken like a town, with the
slow approach of parallels and trenches; they ever love to be carried
with a rush. The bold wooer is twice a man. You must go blithely about
it and tell her what you mean.”




“It is true that I love Miss Carew,” said Gervase, “but this is no time
to make love, and I will not distress her with any importunity of mine.”

“Listen to the lad!” cried Macpherson, with a gesture of impatience;
“importunity of his, quoth he! Our troubles will not last for ever, and
a woman will not find her trouble the harder to bear because a brave man
tells her he would have her to be his wife.”

“You do not know Dorothy Carew,” said Gervase good-humouredly. “I think
she would not love a man the better for thinking of himself when other
work is to be done.”

“Being a woman, I think she would love him none the worse; but you are
an obstinate lad and will take your own course. Her brother favours you
but little, and the Frenchman is not much burdened with tender scruples.
You will see what you will see. But I have spoken my word of warning,
and will start when you please.”

Gervase could see that Macpherson was dissatisfied, but he thought it
useless to prolong the argument and prepared to accompany his friend.

The boats were lying at the quay, and the adventurers were already
embarking when Macpherson and Gervase arrived. The expedition was full
of danger. Every man who took part in it knew that he was taking his
life in his hand; but there was glory to be gained, for the eyes of the
whole city were upon them. On the other side of the river, encircled by
its green hedge, lay the orchard with its battery of guns that seldom
were silent for a day together. Only one company lay in the farmhouse
hard by to protect the gunners, and it was hoped that by a bold and
rapid push, the garrison might cross the river and spike the guns before
a stronger force had time to interfere. But they must first face the
fire of the guns, and having landed, must take their chance of finding
the enemy prepared to give them a warm reception.

It was a fine thing to see the gay courage with which the men of the
garrison took their seats, and examined the priming of their muskets. It
seemed, from their bearing, rather a work of pleasure than one of life
and death they were engaged upon.

Gervase took his seat in the stern of the smaller and lighter boat–the
only one the garrison possessed before they took their prize that
morning. Colonel Murray, who had inspired the venture, sat in the stern
sheets, holding the tiller in his hand. A saturnine man, with the
reserve and silent energy of his race, his face was lighted with the
glow of excitement, and his voice was loud and deep, as he bade them
push off into the stream.

“Now, my lads,” he said, “this is a race for glory–we must be first
across, and first we shall be. Keep low in the boat, and do not fire a
single shot till we meet them on the bank; then we shall treat them to a
taste of our cold steel.”

The boat swung out into the stream, and the rowers bent to their work
with a will. The other boat was heavier, and soon they had out-distanced
it considerably. Murray had been watching the gunners in the orchard,
who had already wakened up to the fact that they were threatened with an
attack.

“What do you make of that, Orme? your eyes are younger than mine, but if
I do not mistake they are about to carry off the guns.”

“You are right,” said Gervase. “One they have already carried past the
farmhouse, and are preparing to do the same with the other. And the foot
are coming down in force to their support.”

“Let them come. We are still in time, and will not turn for twenty
regiments. Now, my sons, bend to it with a will.”

Already they were met with a dropping musket fire which sent the bullets
singing about their ears and splashed up the water round them, but they
held on stoutly and redoubled their efforts. The enemy had been taken by
surprise. They had not dreamt that so small a force, in the light of
open day, would have ventured to make so hazardous an attempt. But they
were now undeceived, and made their preparations to receive their
visitors. They were dragging off the guns to a place of safety, and
three companies of foot were lining the hedge that ran parallel with the
bank. Then the bow of the boat grated on the beach, and the men of the
garrison leaped into the water, holding their muskets above their heads.

Without waiting for their comrades who were straining every nerve to
come up to their support, they clambered up the bank, and rushed at the
hedge where the red-coats showed through the green foliage. As they came
up they fired a volley, and clubbing their muskets, came crashing
through the thorns with the spirit of men who would not be denied. The
fight was short but stubborn. Foot by foot the defenders of the hedge
were driven back, and then as the men of the second boat came up, they
broke and fled. The guns were now being hurried down the road, and every
moment the chance of overtaking them grew less. The delay caused by that
bold stand was fatal. But still the assailants kept pressing on, hoping
that they would be in time to reach the guns before they were
intercepted.

As they came up the gunners abandoned the pieces, but it was too late
now to wait to spike them. Already a strong force was drawing between
them and the boats, and it was with a bitter sense of failure that they
turned their faces towards the river, and prepared to cut their way back
again. The odds were four to one against them. It seemed as if they had
been caught in a trap of their own making. From every clump of bushes
flashed the blaze of the muskets, and here one and there another went
down in his tracks.

“This will not do,” rang out the voice of their leader. “We must try
them hand to hand. After me, my lads!” Leaping the orchard fence they
met the enemy hand to hand, but still pushing forward to where the boats
were lying in the river. The trees that grew closer here and were
covered with their summer foliage, protected them from the fire of the
foot who lay on the other side. Then Gervase saw Macpherson in front of
him stumble and fall, and he feared it was all over with the brave old
soldier. But he was on his feet before Gervase could reach him.

“Don´t tarry for me,” he said, as Gervase seeing him stagger forward,
took him by the arm. “Make what haste you can and do not mind for me.
This trifle will not stop me.”

“We´ll find our way together then. Hold on a little longer and we´ll
reach the boats in spite of them. Ah! that is bravely done.”

From tree to tree and from hedge to hedge the men of the garrison cut
their way, presenting a front, that though ragged and broken, sent the
enemy to right and left. Then they reached the open space by the river,
and restraining the impulse that would have driven them to rush to the
boats, fell back slowly and steadily. The wounded whom they carried with
them were first helped on board, and then they rapidly embarked; the
last man to leave the bank being Murray, who with his sword held in his
teeth pushed off the boat into the deep water. How they lived through
the storm of bullets that were rained upon them Gervase hardly knew, but
barely a man was touched, and they sent back a ringing cheer of defiance
as they passed rapidly beyond reach of the muskets.

It was a glorious, if fruitless and foolhardy deed–one which only brave
men would have undertaken in a spirit of despair, but one that they
might look back on in after years with pride for the glory of it. The
deed was done in sight of all the city. Their friends had watched the
charge from the walls, and seen the stubborn fight for safety, and now
they poured out to meet them as they came through Ship Quay Gate, and
welcomed them back as if they had come in triumph. From want of the
sacred poet their names have grown dim through the gathered years, but
they did not fight for renown–only simple men who sought to do their
homely duty.

Macpherson´s wound had proved a trifling one after all, and with the
help of Gervase he was able to make his way home on foot. A spent bullet
had struck him on the knee, and the wound though painful, was not likely
to incapacitate him for service. He thought, on the whole, they had had
a pleasant morning´s work, and declared that with such stirring
entertainment he would need but half his rations.