OF THE ENTERTAINMENT THEY HAD AT THE INN

At the door of the inn Hackett dismounted, and unfastening the latch
with some difficulty entered the kitchen. A fire of peat was smouldering
on the hearth, and the remains of what was evidently a hurried meal were
scattered on the table. A number of pike heads and scythe blades were
piled in a corner. There was no one in the room. He rapped loudly with
the hilt of his sword on the table and presently a woman made her
appearance from one of the inner rooms. She seemed greatly alarmed at
the unexpected arrival of her guests, and as she entered she cast a look
of fear and expectancy round the kitchen. Her eyes fell on the weapons
in the corner and she stopped short.

“We want food and lodgings for the night,” said the sergeant, who had
been examining one of the pewter mugs carefully, “lodgings for the men
and horses. Bacon, I see, you have in plenty. Is there hay in the
stable?”

“Ay,” she answered nervously, “but my man is from home and I cannot
serve you.”

“Oh, for that we will just wait upon ourselves and be beholden to ye all
the same. Your man, I doubt not, has taken to another trade, and belike
it were as well we did not fall across him. And for what do ye keep
these toys?” he asked, kicking the heap of weapons with his jack boot.
“These are not tools an honest man would willingly handle, but we will
inquire further thereinto.”

So saying he went out to make his report to Macpherson, who was awaiting
his return with undisguised impatience. “Things have an ill look, sir,”
he said, with a stiff salute, “and I doubt not there is mischief brewing
hereabouts; but there is a can of ale for ourselves and fodder for the
beasts.”

“We can go no further if we would,” said Macpherson, “there is not
another mile in the horses. And,” he continued, glancing at the
capability of the house to withstand an attack, “we can make good this
place against a hundred. Let the horses be looked to carefully. I myself
will examine the stable. Come, sweetheart, thou hast done a good day´s
work and hast well earned a night´s repose.”

Gervase and the Vicomte entered the house together. The woman had
replenished the fire and was busily engaged making her preparations for
the reception of her unwelcome guests. As De Laprade came in she gave a
start of surprise, but the look of recognition, which for a moment
lighted up her face, immediately gave place to the dull, stolid
expression she had worn in her interview with the sergeant. She
continued her work apparently unconscious of the presence of the two
strangers. The Vicomte threw his hat and sword on the table and sat down
on a stool close to the hearth.

“I am destined to see Madame again,” he said, stretching out his hands
towards the warmth of the hearth, for the evening had grown chilly. “And
how is la belle Marie?”

As he spoke a tall girl of eighteen, barefooted and bareheaded, entered
the door, tall and straight as a young poplar, lissom and graceful, with
the deep blue black eyes and low broad brow that one meets again and
again among the peasants of the West country. Here is the pure Greek,
instinct with life, but touched with a certain grace of sad and pensive
beauty. She also started with surprise when her eyes fell on the young
Frenchman.

“I thought, mother,” she said hesitating–“I thought–”

“Have done thinking and help me with the supper,” her mother answered,
with a glance of warning. “The gentlemen have ridden far and will stay
the night.”

“Madame does not recognize her old friends, ma belle,” said De Laprade
lightly, “but you will not be so cruel. When we parted this morning, I
did not dream that we should meet so soon, but it is the fortune of
war.”

“And the rest,” cried the girl eagerly, “are they also–”

The woman looked up anxiously for a moment. “Poof!–they are
gone–_ecrasés_; they need no roof over their heads to-night, nor a
pretty maiden to wait on them. They drank too deep last night to have
cool heads this morning, and now they will never hear the reveille sound
again. It is a great pity, but the fortunes of war–”

“I don´t understand,” said the girl. “What has become of them?”

“They are lying yonder by the roadside and will waken never again.”

The woman threw up her hands with a loud cry and fell on the floor.

“These barbarians have then some touch of humanity,” said De Laprade
softly, while Gervase ran forward and raised her head upon his knee, and
the girl seized a water can which stood on the table and bathed her
cheeks and forehead. In a few minutes the woman recovered consciousness
and looked round her wildly.

“It is not true,” she cried; “´tis a lie. My beautiful boy that left me
singing this morning with the lovelight dancing in his eyes is not dead.
The sword was never sharpened that could slay him. I care not for King
James or King William and for–why should they not leave me in peace?
Tell me, for the Holy Virgin´s sake, that it is not true.” She rose and
staggering forward threw herself at De Laprade´s feet and caught him
round the knees, with streaming eyes and a look of wild entreaty in her
face.

He endeavoured ineffectually to disengage himself, but she clung to him
with desperate earnestness. His look of placid indifference gave way to
one of profound pity. “It may be,” he said, gently endeavouring to raise
her to her feet, “it may be that I was wrong and your son is not dead. I
remember me he was our guide and did not carry arms. He may have escaped
the fate that befell the others, but one of these gentlemen will tell
you.”

At this moment Macpherson, accompanied by the sergeant, entered the
house.

“What pother is this?” he said roughly. “If you are unwilling to serve
us we will even wait upon ourselves. We do not make war on women, but
they must not hinder us.”

Gervase drew him aside by the sleeve, hastily explaining how matters
stood; but there was no comfort or hope in his answer. He had not seen
the boy, but there might be good reason for that; the woman should have
kept the lad at home if she was unwilling he should take his chance, and
no one could be blamed if he went down with the rest. One more or less,
what did it matter?

The girl stood listening to their brief conversation with flashing eyes,
and then took her mother by the arm, and drawing her into the inner room
closed the door behind them.

Macpherson was in the enemy´s country and accordingly made himself at
home. Under his direction a meal was soon prepared, and a cask of
home-brewed ale that had been discovered in a recess, was rolled into
the middle of the floor, and the men helped themselves. They were too
tired for much speech and devoted themselves to their repast in silence,
addressing one another occasionally in undertones, and making huge
inroads on the rashers and coarse bread that rapidly disappeared before
them. Macpherson sat moodily apart, eating and drinking but sparingly–a
marked contrast to De Laprade who seemed to forget that he was a
prisoner, and laughed at his own conceits with light-hearted gaiety. He
had divested himself of his peruke and riding boots, and stretched
himself along the rude settle that stood near the hearth. He appeared to
pay no attention to the stern leader who scowled more and more deeply as
the Vicomte´s laugh grew louder, and the tone of his conversation
assumed a more unbecoming levity. Gervase could not help feeling
interested, for the type was altogether new to him–there was a life and
colour about the stories to which he was a stranger; it was a little bit
of Versailles, brilliant and careless, set down in the wilds of
Fermanagh.

“Pardieu!” said the Vicomte, “it was play that did it; there was nothing
else left. My creditors will miss me, I do not doubt, but they were
troublesome and I hate trouble; so I hastened to seek glory–bah! it is
a greater trouble than the other. Where is the glory when your soldiers
will not fight, and your king is a poltroon? There is no music like the
rattle of the dicebox, when fortune, the beautiful goddess, is smiling
like a lover. Love and play are the two things that make life worth
living.”

“Of love,” said Gervase, “I know nothing, but for play–I leave that to
the fool and the knave. Nay, I mean not to say that men of honour have
not ere now given themselves up to its strange fascination, but it was
their weakness. For me, I like rather to hear the yelp of the otter
hounds when the morning is young and the spring woods are full of life
and beauty, or the cry of the beagles when the scent is lying strong.
You have never seen the brown trout in the freshet?”

“There were no fish in the ponds at Versailles,” said the Vicomte drily,
“but when a great lady dropped her fan–”

Macpherson rose to his feet and drew out the small leather-bound volume
that Gervase had seen him use before. “There has been enough of this
untimely jesting,” he said. “These are not manners that suit our station
or our work, and if you, sir, care not to join in the devotions of
Christian men, I shall not compel you to remain, but you may retire to
your repose. But as for us, we will thank God for His watchful care this
day.”

“Your devotions, sir, will interest me beyond measure.”

“Hackett, give me the light,” said Macpherson, looking for a moment
sternly at the speaker from under his heavy eyebrows. The sergeant went
to the hearth and taking up a blazing piece of resinous fir held it up
to his leader, who opened the book and began solemnly to read one of
those Psalms that breathe forth vengeance and savage triumph.

“Plead my cause, oh Lord, with them that strive with me, fight against
them that fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler and stand up
for my help.”

Then he closed the book and dropping on his knees (an example which was
followed by all the company except the Vicomte, who was apparently fast
asleep) he prayed loudly and fervently. His prayer was to some extent a
repetition of the verses he had been reading, clothed in more homely
language. He prayed that God would lead His people forth in safety
through the perils and dangers that encompassed them; and that the
wicked oppressor might be taken in his own toils and destroyed utterly.
Then from the language of supplication he passed to the enthusiasm of
prophecy. The day was at hand when a great deliverance would be wrought
for the people of God. The scarlet woman, sunken in her adulteries and
witchcraft, would pass into the darkness of Tophet; they who lived by
the sword would perish by the sword, and the Protestant cause would
triumph over all its enemies. When he had finished, and his loud Amen
was repeated by the kneeling men around him, he remained for some time
on his knees apparently engaged in private prayer. Then he rose to his
feet with the prompt alacrity that distinguished him, and gave the few
necessary instructions for the night.

“We march at three,” he said abruptly. “Ralston will do duty at the
Bridge, and Given will take the church at the upper end of the village.
In three hours they will be relieved. There must be no sleeping on
sentry duty, my lads,” he added, with additional sternness in his tone,
“for we do not want our throats cut while we sleep. This is not child´s
play, and if you fail in aught be assured you have a man to deal with
who knows how to punish laggards.”




With these words he left the room abruptly and the men, with the
exception of the two who had been selected for duty, settled themselves
on the earthen floor of the kitchen to snatch a brief repose. Gervase
had secured for himself a small room at the end of the house in which
there was a rude bed, and which he had proposed to share with the
Vicomte who, however, had declined his offer. The door of the room,
which was of oak, was secured by a heavy bolt and this he fastened
carefully behind him when he entered the apartment. The moon was shining
bright and the sky was full of stars. From the little window Gervase
could see the church tower standing square and black in the soft yellow
moon-light, and the little river winding down the valley like a tangled
silver thread. Placing his sword within reach and his pistols under his
pillow, he threw himself on the pallet. But for some time his mind was
too busy with the events of the day to allow him to settle himself to
sleep. Half dreaming, half awake, he saw again and again in its deadly
agony and unspeakable terror, the face of the man whom he had run
through in the skirmish. He heard ringing in his ears the wild shouts of
the charging horsemen, and his sword was raised aloft to strike, when
his strength seemed suddenly to become as the strength of a little
child, and his heart to die for fear within him. At length, worn out
with the labour of the day, he fell into a profound and dreamless sleep.

It was long past midnight when he was awakened by the sound of the
crashing and splintering of wood, the clash of weapons and the glare of
blazing lights. Leaping, dazed and bewildered, from his bed, he caught
up his sword, and placing his back against the wall, prepared to sell
his life as dearly as possible. Already the stout oak panels had given
way under the heavy blows that were being dealt from the outside. In
another minute the door fell in with a crash, and the room was filled
with flashing lights and a crowd of armed ruffians. At the sight of him
standing with his weapon drawn, his assailants halted for a moment; then
someone raised the cry: “Cut the throat of the heretic,” and there was a
simultaneous rush upon him. They were so crowded together that they
could not effectually use their weapons, and to his own surprise Gervase
was able to keep them at bay.

When the first shock of surprise had passed, and it passed almost
immediately, he felt his eyes clear and his nerves steady themselves
into a cool and deliberate resolve to die, if needs must, like a valiant
fighting man. He realized at a glance the extreme desperateness of the
situation, and his very despair gave him courage. His grasp was firm and
strong on the hilt of his sword, and the pulses of his blood began to
beat steadily. In after days he wondered that it should be so, and like
a simple and courageous gentleman, he set it down to no heroism of his
own, but to the inspiration and direction of a higher Power. In a moment
standing there he knew what had happened. The sentinels had been
surprised at their post, the men below had been taken unawares and
overpowered without resistance, and the hostelry was completely in the
hands of the enemy. For him there was no hope of escape, and he knew he
need expect no quarter. Leaping upon the bed, he parried the blows that
were dealt at him. Again and again his assailants came surging up, and
again and again he cleared the deadly circle round him. Already two or
three bodies lay on the floor below him: his sword streamed with blood
from the point to the hilt. For a moment there was a pause–his courage
and coolness had checked the first rush. Then with a deep oath one of
the fellows sprang forward, and caught him round the knees with a grasp
that he could not disengage, and another leaping on the bed beside him,
sought to wrest the weapon from his hand. He thought that the end was
come and that in another minute it would be all over. But he felt his
strength the strength of ten. Dealing one of the fellows a tremendous
blow fair and straight in the face, he shortened his sword and ran the
other through the body; without a sound the man rolled over and fell in
a heap on the floor. Again the circle cleared round him and he drew a
deep breath. Then there was a sound of rushing water in his ears; the
room swam round him; tottering and falling he clung to the wall for
support. Through a blinding mist he saw, or dreamt he saw, the gleam of
uplifted weapons round him ready to strike, and he wondered that they
did not make an end of him; then the tall figure of De Laprade with his
rapier drawn, striking up the weapons that were aimed at him; surely,
too, that was the voice of the gallant Vicomte?–“What, cowards! would
you slay the boy now that he is down, when you could not face him with
his sword in his hand? Ah, _sang de Dieu_! you shall not touch him. I
command you; I, Victor de Laprade. _Mille de Diables!_ take up these
carcases and see if there is any life left in them. He is a gallant
gentleman, and you shall not injure a hair of his head.”

To the reeling brain of Gervase all was wild tumult and disorder; the
lights blazed round him; the flash of gleaming steel and the shadow of
dark passionate faces came and went; the strident clamour of angry
voices sounded as from immeasurable distances. And then his senses
failed him and he remembered no more.

When consciousness returned he was lying on the bed with the Vicomte
bending over him, while a little dark man in a shabby cloak and wig very
much the worse for wear, was stanching the blood that flowed from a
wound in his shoulder. The room had been cleared, but some fellows whose
faces showed that they had been robbed of their spoil, were gathered
round the door, and looked on with countenances that betokened little
goodwill toward the wounded man. The little surgeon went on busily with
his work and when he had finished, rubbed his hands with an air of
satisfaction.

“A neat bit of work, Vicomte; as pretty a piece of accidental
skilfulness as ever I saw in my life. The one hundred and twelfth part
of an inch would have relieved this tenement of clay of its immortal
soul, and being a heretic—-” and he shook his head vigorously.
“However, ´tis but a trifle to one who hath youth and vigour. This
excessive bleeding will relieve him of sundry humours and affections
that lurk in the veins of youth, and in a day or two at the furthest his
natural strength will assert itself. He must avoid the use of
intoxicating fluids. But I´m thinking,” he added, with a twinkle in his
eyes, “there will be little for him after my lord and myself.”

Gervase opened his eyes and attempted to rise, but De Laprade, sitting
beside him on the bed, gently restrained him.

“Be not in too great haste, my friend,” he said. “My Lord Galmoy will
want to see you presently and you will need all your strength for the
interview.”

“A very deadly disease for which there is no remedy known to the
faculty,” added the surgeon; “especially when he is in his cups.”

“Monsieur le Medicin,” continued De Laprade, “tells me your wound is not
serious, and if you can listen I should like to give you a word of
advice, though little accustomed to give it.”

“I begin to feel better,” Gervase answered. “The wound is a trifle
painful and my head is somewhat dull withal, but I have strength enough
left to thank you, Vicomte, for your help. I doubt not but for your
kindly assistance I had now been past this gentleman´s skill.”

“I assure you, my friend, ´twas nothing. These wolves have a taste for
blood, but they like their game better dead than alive and are easily
shaken off. But the wolf–I mean the gentleman–who will presently be
inquiring for you is altogether different. Him you cannot so easily
satisfy. I should advise you, in all friendship, to answer his questions
as fully as becomes a man of honour, and not needlessly to offend him.
For myself, if I can be of assistance, you may rely upon me.”

“I shall strive to do as you say. But for the others–what became of
Macpherson?”

A smile passed over the Vicomte´s face. “When la belle Marie brought my
Lord Galmoy to the house, he made sure that all your party were within,
and made your men prisoners before they could draw a sword or fire a
shot. But your captain, for what reason I know not, was passing the
night in the stable, and when he was discovered he was already armed and
putting the saddle on his great horse. For a pious Christian who is
given to long prayers, he swears strangely. But he is a brave man and
can fight _sans doute_. It was beautiful to see him swinging his long
sword and swearing great oaths that I did not wholly understand. They
went down before him like the corn, and the others fled crying that it
was the devil. For myself I admire brave men and did not care to help
the cowards. I doubt not he and I will meet again; and we shall finish
our little quarrel and one of us will return no more.”

“Then he made his escape–on foot or on horseback?”

“The great horse is still standing in the bastle and your captain must
walk far, Monsieur Orme, before he is at home. But you cannot kill such
men; they do not easily die. If M. le Medicin will pardon me, I might
suggest that we can now spare him, for I am assured that there are
others who need his services.”

“Faith,” said the surgeon, “you are speaking the truth, Vicomte, for the
mellow Falernian has been going round, and I can hear the gentlemen
already in their cups. For you, sir, I hope to see you in the
morning–though,” he added, under his breath, “as like as not with a
cord round your neck and your feet in the air.”

“And now, my friend,” said De Laprade, when the doctor had left the
room, “I doubt not you have heard of what manner is my Lord Galmoy. It
is best to speak plainly. He can feel no pity nor show mercy. He cares
not for the laws of war. Every prisoner is only an enemy. Should you
answer him boldly I think your death is certain; even I who have some
influence with him could not save you.”

“Have no fear for me,” said Gervase, rising to his feet and feebly
attempting to stand; “for I have little fear for myself. Life is sweet
and I do not wish to die, but the dread of death will not make me a
coward. I shall die as I have humbly striven to live–though,” he added,
with a faint smile, “hanging is hardly seemly for a gentleman. I knew
poor Charleton, and they say he met his death like a man. I hope I may
do the same when my time comes.”

“These are but heroics,” said the Vicomte; “we must not grumble at our
cards but play the game, and yours–Well, sir, what do you want?”

A sergeant of dragoons entered the room and swaggered forward, “My Lord
would see the prisoner, and I was sent to fetch him.”

“Tell my Lord Galmoy he will be with him in an instant, and that he is
badly wounded. I myself will attend him and you need not wait.”

“Now, my dear Orme,” he continued, as the man left the room with a
doubtful nod, “take my arm and rely on my services; I have not forgotten
yours. But act like a man of sense and forget your sermons until you are
among your friends.”

De Laprade gave him his arm, and Gervase painfully descended the crooked
staircase, his heart beating loudly and his hand trembling from weakness
and exhaustion as he leaned on his companion.