OF HOW THE HEROINE COMES UPON THE STAGE

It was an hour after dawn when they bade farewell to the farm-house and
set out upon their journey, Gervase mounted upon Bayard, and Macpherson
trudging sturdily upon foot. The latter had made his preparations for
the journey with abundant care and forethought. The night before he had
baked the little meal that remained, and cooked a portion of the meat,
of which there was still a considerable quantity left, all of which he
stored carefully in the saddle-bags. He then turned his attention to
Gervase, and with very little trouble succeeded in transforming him into
a formidable-looking desperado, whose attire owed nothing to the art of
the tailor, but hung together merely by fortuitous circumstances.
Macpherson had, with studied humour, turned the embroidered coat inside
out and rolled it in the mud that lay round the well in the farmyard,
and then considerately removed one of the skirts with the edge of his
sword. His beaver was divested of all form and shape; and a rope of
straw rolled round the jackboots, which Gervase had refused to part with
on any terms, completed his nondescript costume. He was now a reasonable
representative of any of those lawless marauders who were swarming upon
the roads, or hanging upon the skirts of the Irish army, in the
expectation of plunder.

Macpherson had refused to make any change in his own costume. His rôle
was that of a French soldier on his way to Londonderry–in such a
character De Laprade´s passport would lend verisimilitude to his story,
if there were any learned enough to read it, about which he had his
misgiving. Gervase was to act apparently as his guide, and in such
character the old soldier did not doubt but that with ordinary
discretion, they might smuggle themselves though the Irish lines if the
investment had been completed. If they failed, there was some chance
that the stab of a pike or the end of a rope would put a stop to their
further adventures in this world.

Notwithstanding, Gervase was in high spirits at starting. He was now
completely recovered from his wound, and the eight days´ confinement had
made the anticipation of action and enterprise doubly welcome. He
revelled in the fresh spring wind that blew softly across the bog and
heathy mountain side, and could with difficulty restrain his horse to
keep pace with Macpherson, who trudged at his side with a long swinging
stride.

The hedges were green with verdure, and the sunshine touched with a
warmer colour the bog myrtle and flowering blackthorn in which the birds
were busy building. It was hard to realize that dangers were spread
round them on every side, and that the entire country was up in arms in
a quarrel that could have no end, till one of the combatants went down
utterly. Even Macpherson, whose feelings were not easily moved, was
affected by the brightness of the morning and the beauty of the scene.
His emotions took their own method of expression. For a time he had been
entirely silent, or replied only in monosyllables, as if engrossed in
his own secret meditations, when suddenly he began to sing in loud
resonant tones:

“The Lord doth reign and clothed is He
With majesty most bright.”

When he had finished he threw up his beaver with an air of jubilant
exultation.

“There, young sir, is a song for you to sing when you are merry; that
eases the oppressed heart, and runs along the nerves and sinews,
strengthening them to acts of endurance and valour. Were I a maker of
songs these were the verses I should write–great words wherewith to
hammer out a weapon.”

“I cannot help thinking,” said Gervase, “of the song poor Ralston was
singing as we passed this way, hardly a fortnight ago. We little thought
then that you and I should return alone.”

“They did their duty,” Macpherson answered, “and died in doing it; brave
men want no more. I hope I shall not flinch when my time comes, as come
it will, and that shortly. I have gotten the message and it doth not
sadden me.”

Gervase looked at him inquiringly, but he offered no explanation of his
mysterious speech and again relapsed into silence.

They continued their journey till noon, when they halted to refresh
themselves, Macpherson asserting that if it were not for his great boots
he would as readily walk as ride.

On resuming their march Gervase insisted on Macpherson taking his turn
upon horseback, which the latter did very unwillingly.

“One horse to two is out of all reason,” he said. “You are yet too soft
for this work and your wilfulness will bring its own punishment.”

And Gervase found his words come true. Long after his strength had
exhausted itself, he found himself toiling by Macpherson´s side, too
proud to own his weakness and determined to keep on till he dropped from
sheer fatigue. Macpherson watched him for a while in silence, with the
flicker of a grim smile playing about his lips. Then he spoke;

“´Tis ever wise to confess your weakness in the ear of a friend–keep
your bold looks and your wooden guns for the enemy. My dear lad, thou
art but pickling a rod for thine own whipping, and that to serve no good
or wise purpose. Thank Heaven, I am stout of limb, and nought can tire
me; but for you, your bones are still soft, and I would not have you
again a burden on my hands. There is no need for immediate haste, for we
can accomplish to-morrow all that we might do to-day. Then mount, and
let us proceed leisurely.”

That day they made good progress, and by nightfall were a considerable
distance on their journey. By the next evening they hoped to reach the
ford of the Finn. But in the meantime it was necessary to pass the night
under the open sky, for the country was completely deserted, and nowhere
within sight was there trace of a human dwelling-place–only broad
tracts of rough uncultivated land, and rolling hills of wild heath and
tangled wood. A few houses they had passed, but the roofless walls
afforded neither shelter nor protection. Every dwelling had been given
up to fire and destruction, and the inmates had fled elsewhere for
refuge. A great curse seemed to have fallen on the devoted land; all was
silence and desolation.

That night they passed under a thorn hedge, which proved, as Gervase
found, a cold and uncomfortable lodging, and afforded little protection
from the night dews and the wind that blew across the open with a shrewd
and penetrating keenness. To Macpherson it mattered not at all, for,
rolled in his cloak, he slept the sleep of the just, and did not awake
till the morning was some way up. But Gervase could not sleep. Above his
head the jewels in the sword-belt of Orion flashed with a bright and
still a brighter lustre, and the wind seemed to call with almost a human
articulateness from the distant hills. The lonely night with its mystery
and silence, was instinct with life. In such a presence his own fate
seemed to dwindle into infinitely little importance, and all human
endeavour appeared of no greater moment than that of the ant or the mole
in the ditch hard by. Gervase was not given to talking sermons nor to
much introspection, but he felt these things in his own way. He was glad
when he saw the morning coming up; and when he arose from his damp
uncomfortable couch, felt little inclination for a day´s hard work. But
when he had bathed his face and hands in the neighbouring rivulet, and
partaken of the breakfast Macpherson insisted on their making before
they started, life assumed a somewhat brighter outlook, and his flagging
spirits revived a little.

Macpherson´s spirits were keen and high. The prospect of danger ever
acted upon him like wine, and Gervase saw his eyes kindle, now and
again, under his rugged brows, with that sudden flashing light he had
seen in them before, in the time of peril. He had loaded his pistol
afresh and carefully looked to its priming.

“We may fall in with the enemy now at any moment,” he said, “and it
behoves us to be ready either for peace or war. Peace I should prefer,
but if, haply, the rogues number not more than half a dozen, a skirmish
were not out of place to afford us a little amusement. A young soldier
requires practice, and cannot have his hand in too often.”

“Faith!” said Gervase laughing, “fighting would seem to be meat and
drink to you, but I have not yet acquired such relish for the fare that
I cannot do without it. I fear you are like to prove a troublesome
companion for all your boasted diplomacy.”

“Tut, man, do not fear. We are not an army, nor even a troop, and may
not carry things as we would. But a little fighting is a wonderful
medicine, and clears the humours better than any elixir. I mean but that
when we can we may as well be honest, and keep our stratagems for such
times as we shall be hard pushed, and must employ them, will we, nill
we. D´ye see?”

“Oh! ´tis not easy to mistake your meaning. You give it just emphasis
with that long sword and pistol handle. But I had rather you were less
inclined to violence; there were more chance of our reaching Londonderry
in safety.”

“All in good time, we shall see. By evening we shall arrive at the ford,
which we had better cross in the dark. One pair of legs will then be
worth two pairs of hands, even with toys like these in them;” and he
touched the sword he carried with a smile. Then after a pause he went
on, “Who knows what may have befallen since we left the city last? There
are brave hearts within the walls, but there are traitors and cowards
too; and the latter have sometimes the best of it in this world. Still,
I think not, and will wager that the Protestant cause goes bravely on.
They are a stiff-necked race, these men of Ulster; bend they cannot and
break they will not. I have watched them narrowly; if they did break at
Dromore it was because they were fearful of the treachery of their
friends, not of the violence of their enemies. But I know not what
Colonel Lundy means–if he be not a traitor and a knave at heart, I know
not what he is.”

For the greater part of the day they continued their journey without
adventure. Several small parties of the enemy they met with, but were
subjected to no very rigorous cross-examination. Their replies proved
perfectly satisfactory. The story Macpherson told was eminently
plausible, and about Gervase they did not trouble themselves. There were
many French gentlemen in the Irish army, and it was not a strange thing
to find one on his way to head-quarters accompanied by a guide. One
troop of dragoons had, indeed, stopped them and put several questions to
Gervase, but he managed, with the voluble assistance of Macpherson, to
disarm their suspicions. Fortunately his questioners spoke English only,
and the fragments of the Irish tongue that Gervase had acquired, stood
him in good stead.

It was now two hours to sundown, and they anticipated that another
hour´s travel would bring them to the ford. They were toiling uphill,
Gervase a little in advance mounted upon Bayard, and Macpherson stepping
out sturdily in the rear. On the top of the hill Gervase halted, reined
the horse back hastily within shelter of a clump of hazel, and called
out to Macpherson, who hurried up and joined him where he stood.
Together they looked down the valley.

“What is the matter yonder?” Macpherson asked, instinctively placing his
hand on his pistol-butt.

“I know not,” said Gervase, “but I think it is robbery and murder.”

“Then, my young friend,” said the other, laying his hand on the horse´s
bridle, “it is not our business, and we have cares enough of our own
without taking on us the troubles of others. But how is the day going?”

A quarter of a mile down the steep road lay a post-chaise overturned:
one of the horses lay dead in the ditch, the other was flying with
broken traces over a neighbouring field. A man with his back to the
coach and a sword in his hand, was valiantly striving to keep at bay
half-a-dozen wild-looking fellows armed with half-pikes. Two bodies lay
at his feet, another a little distance away, and outside the ring of
assailants that surrounded the solitary swordsman, a young woman was
kneeling in an agony of distress over the prostrate body of a man. The
man with the sword fought with skill and strength, but the odds were
terribly against him. In the end he must succumb.

“By the living God, it is a woman,” said Gervase, grappling blindly and
eagerly at the holster.

“Softly, what would you–what have we to do with women?”

“Follow me, follow me, for God´s sake, as speedily as you can,” Gervase
cried, dashing his unarmed heels into the horse´s flank, and giving him
free head.

Away went the brave steed thundering down the steep road, as Gervase
gave a great shout and flourished the long pistol above his head.
Macpherson watched his breakneck career down the hill for a few seconds,
and then proceeded to follow him with the best speed that he could make.

“I would not lose the youth or my good horse for all the women in
Christendom. This is but the beginning of trouble, and it begins with a
woman.”

Hearing the shout, the swordsman had turned his head for a moment, and
at that instant one of his assailants sprang within his guard, and
plunged his skene deep into his breast. With one last convulsive effort
the wounded man struck his opponent fair in the face with the sword
hilt, and they both dropped on the road together. Seeing Gervase
approaching, the ruffians appeared to doubt whether they should take to
flight or await his attack, but while they were making up their minds,
Gervase was on the top of them.

Reserving his fire until he was among them, he discharged his pistol
pointblank at the head of one fellow with deadly effect, and riding down
another, wrenched the half-pike from his hand. Then they were utterly
panic-stricken and fled right and left, leaving Gervase master of the
situation.

Meanwhile the young lady had risen to her feet, and was standing looking
in wonder at her unexpected deliverer, who had reined up his horse, and
was watching the fugitives as if in doubt whether to follow them or to
allow them to depart unpursued. Then Gervase turned towards her and
raising his hat, was silent for a moment.

She was only a girl in years, but of a sweet and stately figure and
striking beauty. Her abundant hair loosed from its confinement, streamed
in disorder over her shapely shoulders, and fell in thick folds to her
waist. Her lips were trembling and her cheeks were blanched and
colourless, but her great, dark eyes looked with a steady and courageous
glance. There was no sign of fear in the sweet face–only a high,
resolute courage. Her scarf had been torn from her shoulders, and showed
too much of her white and heaving bosom. Instinctively she put up her
hand to cover it.

“I fear,” said Gervase, hat in hand, “that I have come too late to save
this gallant fellow from these wretched cowards. But I am glad that I
was still in time to render you some service. Haply,” he continued,
dismounting from his horse, “the wound may not be fatal, and something
may still be done.”

The girl looked in great surprise at the strange figure before her, and
was evidently lost in wonder at hearing her wild-looking and ragged
champion deliver himself in such excellent English, and with such a
well-bred air. To outward seeming he was as much a cateran as any of the
scoundrels he had lately put to flight.

“I thank you, sir,” she said simply. “It may be poor Martin is still
living.”

She knelt down by the side of the fallen man and raised his head upon
her knees. But the skene, driven with great force, had passed beneath
the breast-bone and had penetrated the heart–the man was dead. A glance
was sufficient to show that life was extinct. She allowed the head to
remain resting upon her lap for some minutes, gazing at the rugged face
of the dead man in silence, and then she looked up, her eyes filled with
tears. “I have known him all my life,” she said, “and never was there a
braver or a kinder heart. Years ago he saved my father´s life, and now
he has died to save mine.”

Gervase had knelt down beside her, and had been endeavouring to catch
some feeble sign of movement in the pulse. “Yes, he is dead,” he said,
“and we can do nothing for him, but it may be the other needs our help.”

“My grandfather has not been injured,” she said. “He swooned when they
came round the coach, and though they used him roughly, I do not think
he hath suffered from aught but fright. Still, he is an old man and very
frail, and it may be–”




But the old man had raised himself on his elbow, and was looking round
him with an expression of bewilderment, as though not yet able to
realize what had happened. Then suddenly his eye fell upon the chaise
lying overturned, and with a nimbleness that one could not have
expected, he leapt to his feet, and walked with rapid strides to the
vehicle.

“Dorothy,” he shouted, “Dorothy, help me, girl! The rogues have stolen
my treasure. Good God! I am a beggar–a beggar. Why the —- did they
not take my life? The gold that I have watched growing and growing, and
the precious stones that I would not have parted with for a kingdom! Oh
God! I am a beggar, and will die on the road-side after all.”

The old man seemed entirely beside himself with grief and rage, and
began to pour forth such a string of oaths, wild and incoherent, that
Gervase felt deeply for the girl who was in vain endeavouring to calm
him.

“I think, grandfather,” she said, “it is still safe, but I had thought
the matter was of little worth–”

“Worth! Great Heaven! there were ten thousand pounds–” here he stopped
short and looked at Gervase, whose appearance did not tend to reassure
him.

“I am an old man, sir,” he went on piteously, “and I know not what I
say. These are but wild words of mine, and, I prithee, forget them. They
meant nothing–nothing, and I ask you to let them pass. Would it trouble
you too much to assist my servant?–Where the devil is Martin, the
rascal?”

“Your servant, sir, is dead,” said Gervase, losing his temper somewhat,
“and this young lady and yourself are left alone, in great straits and
peril. Therefore I would ask you to dismiss all thoughts of the trash
from your mind, and let me know what you purpose doing.”

But the old man had already clambered into the coach, and in a few
seconds reappeared with a heavy, brass-bound box in his arms, which he
clutched with every expression of delight.

At this moment Macpherson, who seeing Gervase completely victorious, had
been strolling down the hill in a leisurely fashion, had come up.

“What is this Punchinello?” he said roughly, but as he saw the old man
cower terrorstricken, he continued in a more kindly tone, “Fear hath
turned his brain, and, haply, he takes me for one of those marauding
rascals, of whom, I doubt not, we have not yet seen the last. And now,
madam,” he said, turning to the girl, “as you see, this gentleman and I
are your friends and are bound to serve you, though I tell you plainly,
I would it had fallen to other hands. We were even trying to bring
ourselves to some place of safety, which is like to prove a matter of
some difficulty.”

“Then, sir,” and here the girl´s eyes flashed proudly, “I pray you do
not trouble yourself further, or imperil your safety on our account. For
the gallant service this–this gentleman hath rendered me and my
grandfather, I give him our best thanks, poor as they are, but we would
not be a burden to you, and therefore think not of us, but go your way.”

“My friend,” said Gervase, “speaks not as he means, nor will I let him
do discredit to his own kind heart. The sword which this poor fellow
drew to defend you, will still be used for that end in my hands, and if
I cannot use it as well it will be the power and not the will fails me.”

Macpherson turned away, muttering under his breath, “Humph! the young
fool is caught already. I see that she hath him in the snare.”

“We were on the road to Londonderry, and though my friend is somewhat
rough and discourteous withal, I doubt not he will do his best to help
you thither, if such be, as I imagine, your desire.”

“We were on the way to the city when we were attacked as you saw. My
grandfather, who is Colonel Carew of Castleton, refused to believe that
there was any danger in remaining at home; but last night, hearing that
the enemy was burning and plundering round us, he set off at midnight,
and we have been travelling ever since; and now I think the terror has
turned his brain, for I never saw him thus before. What we shall do I
know not, but if we can trust you—-”

“Appearances are against me, I admit,” said Gervase, with a smile, and
feeling, with perhaps excusable vanity, that he would have preferred to
cut a gallanter figure. “Still, I hope that you will believe me when I
say that I am a gentleman, and most desirous of serving you. I have
carried the colours in Mountjoy´s regiment and—-”

“And I think that I can trust you,” she said, holding out her hand, with
a frank look in her eyes, and a sweet, sad smile upon her lips.

“In your service wholly,” said Gervase, bending low over her hand, which
he pressed with unnecessary fervour. “My friend is an old soldier who
has a grudge against your sex for some reason known to himself, but I
have cause to know that a more loyal and faithful friend there never
was. He will scoff and rail, I doubt not, but believe me, he will serve
you with the last drop of blood in his heart. He hath great experience
in matters of danger, and I doubt not some scheme may be devised whereby
we may convey you to Londonderry in safety.”

“I care not for myself,” she answered; “it is for my grandfather that I
fear. He seems to have lost his reason.”

The old man had carried the box to a distance, and had sat down before
it, examining the contents eagerly, and talking to himself in a loud
excited tone. From time to time he glanced round furtively to see if he
was observed, and then went on with his examination. “Safe! safe!” he
muttered. “That was the Spaniard´s gold, and you wear bravely, my
beautiful doubloons. How you shine, my beauties, and I thought you were
gone for ever! It would have broken my old heart–I could not have lived
without you. And my stones of price—-What want you, sir?” he said,
closing the box, and turning round savagely as Macpherson approached.

“I know not what devil´s trinkets you have enclosed there,” said the
soldier, “but I would have you act like a reasonable man, and tell me
what you purpose doing. Yonder lady is young and unprotected, and we
would not willingly leave you, but this is no time to give heed to such
trash as you have shut up there, when your life is in danger every
moment.”

“My life is here,” answered the old man, “and I pray you, for God´s
sake, leave me in peace. I know you not.”

Macpherson turned on his heel and rejoined Gervase and the girl. “His
mind is gone utterly,” he said, “and it is useless endeavouring to
reason with him. My young friend, madam, has, I doubt not, told you how
matters stand with us. If you will, we shall endeavour to carry you with
us, and trust to the fortunes of war to bring you safely through.
Another hour should bring us to the ford. I trust that you are able to
ride, for the chaise is rendered useless, and were it not, we have not
horses to draw it. In the meantime I had better secure your nag.”

Macpherson went after the stray horse which was now quietly grazing at
some distance, and shortly returned with it. “And now,” he said, “I
regret that we cannot give this brave fellow Christian burial, but if
you, madam, will look after your grandfather, my young friend and I will
even place him where he may sleep his last sleep decently, like a brave
and honest man as I doubt not he was.”

The girl went over to the dead man, and kneeling down kissed his
forehead, and then rising without a word, but with a great sob which she
bravely strove to repress, went over to her grandfather. Macpherson and
Gervase carried the body into the field, and placing it in the ditch,
cut a quantity of bramble with which they reverently covered it.

“Sorry I am that we cannot dig a grave,” said Macpherson, “but it may be
that is a pagan thought. He hath died like a man, and at the last day he
will rise, knowing that he fell in the path of duty. What does it matter
for this poor carcase what becomes of it? ´Tis for the living, not for
the dead, that we should mourn. And now look you, Gervase Orme, I love
you like a son, and would not willingly see you come to evil. Yonder
damsel is goodly to look upon and hath the tender ways of a woman. I can
see that you are already drawn towards her, and are ready even now to
let her lead you as she will. Be warned by me, and shun the snare while
you are still heart-whole and your wings are still unplucked. Nay, you
are angry at the wise counsel of a friend; I speak only for your good,
and will say no more. But I would that we had not met them, and would
yet–”

“Surely,” said Gervase, with warmth, “you would not leave this
defenceless girl and the feeble old man, even if you might?”

“Nay, I said not that. In some sort they have been committed to our
care, but it means for both of us, or I am much mistaken, either the
length of a rope or the inside of a prison. I am older than you, my
young friend, and think there is no woman worth the sacrifice either of
my life or of my liberty. Now, go your way, and see her mounted upon
Bayard, while I look after the old man, for I will have nothing to do
with the wench. The rogues you dispersed will be looking for us
presently. Before we meet them I should prefer being within sight of the
Royal troops.”

The old world laughs at Love, as laugh it may. And yet from generation
to generation unheeding youth takes up the foolish old song, and dances
to the ancient measure with a light and joyful heart. What though the
roses wither and the garlands fade? These are fresh, and the morning dew
is on them. What though the lips grow dumb, and the sound of the flute
and the song is hushed and stilled? In the fresh and roseate morning as
yet there are no shadows and no regrets; the heart is full of hope and
joy. And so it has been since the lips of our first parents met in
newly-awakened bliss, in the time when the world was young, and pain and
satiety were unknown to mortals.

As yet Gervase was not in love, but his heart throbbed with an
indefinable emotion as Dorothy Carew rested her hand upon his shoulder,
and placing her dainty foot in his hand, sprang upon the great military
saddle and thanked him with a smile.

“This is a dear old horse,” she said, patting the charger´s neck, and
gathering up the reins in her hand. “We begin early to trouble you, and
shall never be able to repay you and your friend.”

“It were repayment enough,” said Gervase, “to find you safe within the
walls of Londonderry, and I am pleased to think that I have been able to
serve you a little.”

“That is the speech of a gentleman, after all,” she said smiling. “I
little thought you were a friend as you came shouting down the road;
indeed, you would make a great hit at Drury Lane or Sadler´s Wells; and
what a figure you would cut at Saint James´s!”

“I confess I do not make a very gallant show,” said Gervase, “but these
rags will serve their turn, and help us both, I trust, to better
fortune.”

The old man had been helped upon the second horse, and, with his box
placed before him, followed them along the rough and broken road. He
seemed wholly oblivious to what was taking place, and so long as his
treasure was safe, seemed perfectly content to act as he was bidden.
Macpherson, with his head bent, walked by the horse´s bridle and
listened with a frown upon his face to the conversation of Gervase and
the girl. He had cast no glance in her direction, but after he had
delivered his mind to Gervase, had busied himself about the old man with
a rough kindliness.

“Thus we trudge on,” he said, as if talking to himself, “as the world is
doing everywhere. The old fool, at the end of his journey, thinking only
of the pieces of gold for which he will have his throat cut in all
likelihood before sunset. Heaven and Eternity are shut up in his box.
The young fool, thinking only of the brown eyes and tender speeches of
the wench, and willing to dare all things for her foolish sake, while
the wench herself, woman that she is, baits her trap with honied words
and draws the manhood out of him with the glance of her eye. And I–I
must go where the Providence of God directs my steps, though avarice and
vanity and the folly of youth be my companions and my guide. ´Tis a
strange world and full of shadows, and these are of them.”