OF THE RETURN TO THE CITY

Colonel Sarsfield more than fulfilled the promise he had made. Seeing
that Dorothy had set her heart upon joining her friends in Londonderry,
he had accompanied her part of the way himself, and had provided her
with an escort for the remainder of her journey. To Gervase he had shown
unaffected kindness. He had provided him with a horse and apparel
befitting his condition, and at parting had wrung his hand with an
appearance of great warmth and friendship.

“It is right, perhaps,” he had said, “that we should be on different
sides of this quarrel, but we can part with mutual good-will. I have but
one hope and one thought–to see my country once more a nation, great
and free. I would that all our people were of one mind, and were
striking together for their fatherland. But it is still our curse to be
divided–torn and rent by civil feuds. But believe me when I say that
Patrick Sarsfield has only one desire on earth, and that is that his
country should have her own laws and her own government, and freedom for
the meanest. I think I shall meet my fate on the field of battle, but I
hope not before I have seen that splendid day. Think well of us, Mr.
Orme, and though you do your duty on your own side, remember that there
are among us those whose cause is sacred in their eyes, and whose
country is dearer to them than their lifeblood.”

They never met again, but Gervase felt in after days that there was one
man in Ireland who might have saved his cause, had he not been checked
by narrow prejudices and the bitter envy of those who did not understand
his proud and chivalrous nature. At Limerick that fiery spirit blazed
out for a while in all its native strength, but his cause was already
doomed.

When Gervase had reached Londonderry in safety, and had seen Dorothy
placed under the protection of her aunt, he returned to his old lodgings
over a linendraper´s shop in a small house near the Bishop´s-gate.

In the meantime, memorable events had transpired in his absence. The
Irish army, breaking through the defences of the Bann, had pressed on
toward Londonderry, and having crossed the Finn, had closed upon the
city. Colonel Lundy, whether through vacillation and cowardice or from
deliberate treachery, had made no effort to oppose their approach, and
had done his best to secure the surrender of the city. At the very
moment when he was about to carry out his designs, the citizens awakened
to his intentions, and took the authority into their own hands. They
seized the keys and took possession of the walls; a new government was
established in the city; the garrison was divided into regiments, and
preparations were made to stand a long and stubborn siege.

A great change had taken place in the city and in the spirit of the
citizens since Gervase had ridden out of the gate, a fortnight before.
The old look of dejection and irresolution had disappeared; one of
unbounded enthusiasm and zeal had taken its place. Every able-bodied man
carried arms and bore himself like a soldier. Swords clanked on the
causeway; rusty muskets had been furbished up, and gentlemen and yeomen
alike were filled with the same ardour, and wore the same determined
air. Every regiment had its post. On the ramparts the guards were posted
at regular intervals; little knots of armed and resolute men were
gathered in the great square, and companies were being drilled from
morning till night in the Bogside. A spirit of unyielding loyalty filled
the air. The paving stones had been raised from the streets and were
carried to the walls; blinds had been erected to screen the men on the
ramparts. From the grey Cathedral tower two guns looked down on the
Waterside, and on every bastion were others ready for use. At the Market
house also cannon were planted to sweep the streets. At every gate there
was a great gun.

The siege had indeed commenced. Yonder beyond the Foyle lay Lord
Lumley´s command, three thousand strong, the white tents catching the
last gleam of the sunset as the evening mists crept up the river. At
Brookhall and Pennyburn Mill was a strong force that shut off
communication with Culmore. Away towards St. Johnston´s and Carrigans
was the main army of the enemy under Eustace and Ramsay. From the
heights of Clooney one could see at long intervals a swift leap of
flame, and hear the sullen roar of a great gun breaking on the evening
air. All thought of compromise or capitulation was at an end; here the
citizens must make their last stand, and show the world how dearly they
held their faith and freedom.

At first sight resistance might have seemed a midsummer folly.

On both sides of the river the high ground looked down upon the city,
and that within the range of cannon. The streets clomb up the gradual
slope toward the square-towered Cathedral; the walls were low and might
be easily breached. Still, there were seven thousand men of the imperial
race within those walls, and while one stone stood upon another they had
sworn to make good their defence.

Gervase was up betimes on the morning following his return. He had seen
Colonel Murray the night before at the guard house, whither that gallant
soldier had just returned after a hot encounter with the enemy, and had
heard from his lips an account of their first skirmish that had taken
place that very day. Murray had promised him a vacant cornetcy in his
own regiment of horse, and the prospect of plenty of service.

Gervase buckled on his sword after a hasty breakfast, his mind full of
the hope that a high-spirited young-fellow naturally indulges in at such
a time. His imagination had been touched and his heart had been stirred
by the peril of the situation. He had caught the joyous enthusiasm of
the time, and he whistled merrily a bar of Lillibullero as he went down
the crooked stair, and came into the ill-lighted shop. The door was
lying open, but the shutters had not been taken down. Trade was not of
the briskest of late days, and the stock was somewhat meagre. The varied
assortment of wares–linens, broadcloth, and laces–had nearly
disappeared, and the little linen-draper, Simon Sproule, was seated with
a rueful countenance at his desk, with his ledger spread open before
him. So intent was he on the open page that he had not heard Gervase
come clanking down the stairs, and it was only when the latter stepped
forward and laid his hand on his shoulder, that he raised his head with
a startled look. Then he jumped up and held out his hand.

“God bless my soul! I am glad to see you, Mr. Orme; I had never thought
to have laid my eyes on you again. It was only on Thursday I was telling
Elizabeth–and she´ll bear me out in what I say–that ´twas likely your
dust was mingled by this time with the clods of the valley, and we were
both grieved to have lost you.”

“I am sure I am much bound to both of you,” Gervase answered, laughing,
“but you can see that I look little like a dying man yet; just as much
as you look like an honest tradesman.”

The little man surveyed himself ruefully, and with such solemnity of
visage that Gervase could not suppress a smile of amusement. His coat of
claret-coloured cloth had given place to a buff jacket which had already
seen considerable service on a man larger than himself, and he was
encased to the thighs in a pair of jack-boots that gave his nether
extremities a very striking appearance. On a stool hard by was a steel
head-piece of an antiquated pattern, and leaning against the counter was
a musket, the lock of which he had apparently recently been oiling. The
bulging forehead with its overhanging tuft of red hair, the nose that
providence had carefully tilted up, and the blue eyes that always met
you with a look of mild wonder in them, harmonized but ill with his
military equipment. He shook his head sadly.

“These are but ill times that we have fallen upon. ´Tis very well, sir,
for a young man like yourself whose trade is fighting, to go swaggering
up and down with a long sword by your side and a murderous weapon like
that in your hand, but for a married man like myself with eight children
to his own share, ´tis altogether another matter. But I´m a loyal man
and a good Protestant, and I´ll even try to do my duty, hard as it
seems, with the best of you.”

“Why, Simon, three weeks ago you were the boldest man in the city, and I
remember you made a great speech that was mightily applauded!”

“Ay, but the enemy had not crossed the Bann then, and it is a different
thing, let me tell you, when the bullets begin to whistle about your
head. I was out yesterday, Mr. Orme, and do you know”–here he looked
round to see that there was no one within hearing–“I discovered that I
was no better than a coward.”

“But you stood your ground like a man?”

“Indeed I did no such thing. I dare not tell Elizabeth, but no sooner
did I see those devils of Berwick come galloping up, than I even ran
like a coward for the walls, and never thought of my duty till I was out
of reach of their sword-blades. It was too late to turn back then, had I
been so minded. God hath made us all after our own fashion, and he never
made me for a soldier.”

“All young soldiers feel like that in their first battle,” said Gervase,
with the air of a veteran. “A fortnight hence you will be as bold as a
lion. Mistress Sproule will see that you do not flinch, for I think she
could carry arms herself.”

“You know my wife, Mr. Orme,” said the little man sadly, “and that is
one of my main troubles, for I dare not tell her what I have told you.
She must needs know the whole story when I came back last night, and my
invention would not serve me better than my yard stick yonder. Do you
think, sir, that there will be a great deal of work of the same kind?”

“In faith, Simon, I can give you but little comfort,” said Gervase, half
in amusement, half pitying his evident distress; “these are troublous
times we are living in, and hard knocks are in fashion. You must even
pluck up courage and show a stout heart in that buff coat of yours.
You´ll come to like the smell of powder by and by, and instead of
running you´ll go out to meet them as blithely as the boldest.”

“What I have said I have spoken in confidence, Mr. Orme, and should you
have speech with my wife on the matter, I know you will say a word in my
favour. But I wish with all my heart we could see the end of our
troubles. My trade is even ruined, and there is a list of debts for you
that will never return me the value of a penny. Colonel Lundy himself
owes me eight pounds sterling, which I do not think he will ever return
to discharge.”

“Indeed I do not think he will, and if that were all he owed us the city
would be well quit of him. Are you on duty to-day, Simon?”

“I must turn out at twelve o´clock on the Church bastion,” he answered
gravely, “and I know not what devil´s work I may have to do before the
day is over. But I will take what you have said to heart, sir, and hope
for the time when I´ll have a taste for fighting.”

“I´ll be there to see,” said Gervase, smiling, “and should it give you
courage, I´ll even blow your brains out should you try to run away.”

As Gervase passed up Bishop´s-gate street, he could not help laughing
aloud at the look of consternation depicted on the face of his little
landlord, who had been among the loudest and most eloquent advocates of
resistance while the enemy were at a distance.

The morning was bright and clear, with a warm breath of spring in the
air that blew across the river. The streets were alive with men hurrying
hither and thither; men who carried every imaginable description of
musket and side-arms, and wore the most diverse kinds of defensive
armour, but men who looked as if they had a work to do and meant to do
it. Four companies of Parker´s regiment of foot he met on their way to
the Bogside, and he was struck by their soldierly bearing and the
precision and regularity of their march. From the Royal Bastion a great
gun was firing slowly, in reply to the cannon of the enemy that spoke
iron-lipped from Strong´s orchard on the other side of the river. But
what struck him chiefly was that there were neither women nor children
abroad; the city looked like a great barrack-yard under arms.

In the Diamond, before the guard-house, he met Colonel Murray in company
with Captain Ashe, and Walker, the newly-made governor. Gervase knew the
fighting parson of Donaghmore at a glance. The tall, burly figure and
frank face full of boldness and resolution spoke of action rather than
of study, and the sword that he carried at his side was little in
keeping with his clerical calling. As Gervase came up he was engaged in
an animated conversation, emphasizing his points with copious gestures
and disregarding all interruptions.

“This is the young gentleman of whose adventures I have been telling you
but now, Governor Walker,” said Murray, placing his hand on his arm as
Gervase doffed his beaver.

“I am pleased to meet with you, sir,” said Walker with a fine, pleasant
smile. “I learn that your mission miscarried, as I doubt not it was
intended it should by those who sent you, and that you alone of your
party have returned in safety. We have now, I trust, cleared out the
nest of traitors, and brave men can fight without fearing the treachery
of their friends. You were of Mountjoy´s regiment, I think?”

Gervase bowed in acquiescence.

“Then, sir, you must show that your Colonel was the only traitor in the
regiment, and I do not doubt you will. Our men are eager, but they want
discipline. I am no soldier myself, but I have set myself to learn, and
we want you gentlemen of the sword to teach us. You were not here for
the fight of yesterday?”

“I had not the good fortune.”

“´Tis ever ill fortune, sir, to be in a fight, but being there, ´tis
well to strike hard and stand to it. You would then have seen what it is
our soldiers lack. Their zeal outran their discretion.”




“And some of them outran the enemy,” added Murray, with a shrug of his
shoulders, “but I have no doubt Mr. Orme will do his duty. Have you yet
heard anything of Captain Macpherson?”

“Not a word. I fear he has fallen into the hands of the enemy or we
should have seen him ere now. He is not a man to let the grass grow
under his feet.”

“We can ill spare him now, for a stouter soldier I never met, and one
with knowledge gathered on half the battle-fields of Europe.”

“Was his heart in the cause?–that is the main thing.”

“You would not ask the question if you knew the man; Cromwell won Naseby
with his fellows.”

“H´m!” Walker said, turning away. “Captain Ashe, will you walk as far
with me as the Town House? Good-morning, sir.”

Murray stood for a moment looking after the tall retreating figure of
the old parson, and then turned to Gervase with a smile. “That smacks
too much of dissent for the Governor´s nose, Mr. Orme. There´s a great
heart in yon cassock but half of him is only a parson, after all. He
would have us drilled from the pulpit steps, and no man may march but to
the tune of the prayer-book. A very good tune too, but every man can´t
step to the time. But I wonder how it has gone with your old captain–I
wouldn´t lose Macpherson for a regiment.”

“I spent a fortnight in his company,” said Gervase, “and none can know
his worth better than I do.”

“He will need to make haste if he is alive. In a week not a mouse could
creep into the city. Even now, you can see how the enemy´s lines are
drawn round us, and I can hardly hope he will get through. And they will
draw them closer yet, for they will have to starve us out; storm us they
cannot. Pray God, they do not sleep in England. Now, Mr. Orme, your
commission has been made out, as I promised, and I would have you carry
a message to Colonel Crofton at Windmill Hill. We have much work to do
to-day.”

Gervase found his first day of garrison life full of interest and
excitement. Apparently satisfied with the sharp skirmish of yesterday,
the enemy had not attempted any further offensive operations, but lay
sullenly in their quarters, or employed themselves in exercising their
levies. Occasionally indeed, a great gun sent its iron missive into the
city, but the artillery practice was very imperfect, and as yet did
little injury.

At Windmill Hill Gervase found four companies under arms in the
trenches, but the enemy never came within musket-range, and to Gervase
it seemed that the royal army had very little advantage in discipline
and order over the silent and determined men who sat in the trenches
round him. Ill-armed and ill-clad, the royal troops were wanting in the
fine spirit that inspired the defenders of the city. In his own mind
Gervase came to the conclusion that whatever might be the issue the
struggle would be a long and bitter one.

It was nearly six o´clock when he returned home. Mistress Sproule was
standing in the doorway, like a colossal statue of domestic virtue, with
two of her eight children clutching at her gown. That something had
disturbed her equanimity was evident, for her lips refused to relax in
their severity, as Gervase came up with his customary salutation.

“´Tis a pity you had not come an hour ago, Mr. Orme; your supper is
gone, and your friend is hardly satisfied. One would think he had not
broken bread for a week.”

“I had bidden no one to supper,” Gervase answered in surprise.

“Then he hath bidden himself and overlooked your invitation. Had Simon
been at home, I should have known more about him, but he stopped me
short and told me to mind my own business. He hath very ill manners, and
says that no man should reason with a woman.”

In a moment Gervase surmised that Macpherson had returned. Leaving the
exasperated matron at the door in her growing indignation, he rushed up
the staircase, and burst into the room. Macpherson was still seated at
the table, the empty dishes ranged before him. His long jaws were leaner
than ever, and his clothes were torn and covered with dirt. His head was
bound up with a handkerchief which was deeply stained with blood.

He rose up, holding out both his hands. “I met with a stout resistance,
but nevertheless I have taken possession and wasted your commissariat,”
he said, with a smile on his brown face. “You have a stout guard below
stairs, but an old soldier does not fear the rattle of an empty musket.”

“You are a thousand times welcome,” Gervase said, pushing him back into
his seat, “and all the more as you seem to have fared but ill. We
thought you had fallen into the enemy´s hands.”

“I have been fighting with the wild beasts at Ephesus these two days
past, and since we parted I have not tasted food till now. Have you
brought the lady safely back?”

“Ay, safe and sound.”

“I´m glad of that, I´m glad of that. The thought of her hath weighed on
my mind like lead. I could not but think she fancied I was playing the
poltroon, and deserting my company when it came to the push of sword.
But I could see no other way to help you after I shot yon swaggering
ruffian through the head, and that in lawful self-defence. They were a
score too many to deal with openly. Right glad am I you brought her
through.”

“Having looked through a hempen collar by the way,” said Gervase. “Let
me tell you, Captain Macpherson, it needs cool courage to look the
hangman in the face.”

“And the rogues would have hanged you? I had not thought of that. But in
truth I did not think of you at all. ´Twas the brave wench that I feared
for; she that stood up before me in the oak wood, and with the look in
her eyes that I never saw in a woman before–told me she trusted me.
´Twas like the handshake of a comrade before the battle. She hath a
fearless spirit, and a heavy burden, I doubt not, with the doited old
man on her hands, and I know not what trouble besides.”

“That burden has been taken away,” Gervase said soberly, “We buried him
the next morning, hard by where you left him.”

“You do not mean they murdered him?”

“No, not that; the loss of the treasure broke his heart, and hardly had
you left him when he was dead.”

Macpherson rose to his feet, his two hands resting on the back of his
chair, and a look on his face as of one stricken by a great fear.

“You are jesting with me.”

“In truth, it is no matter for jest. Hardly had you gone than he gave a
great cry and fell dead. The loss of what he loved better than life was
more than he could bear, and he never moved again after he fell. Then
the troopers came up, and had it not been that a gallant gentleman
proved my friend, I should not have been here to tell you the tale.”

“I knew there was a curse on it,” said Macpherson. “A curse on it in his
hands, and a curse on it in mine. A day and a night I carried it with me
and all the while I felt like one pursued by a legion of spirits
clamouring for a man´s soul. I could not rest; I could not sleep; and I
felt that in the end it must drive me mad. As I lay through the night in
the bramble by the river-side, as God is my witness, I could see through
the lid the glint of the gold and the shimmer of the precious stones,
and I, who never feared before, quaked like a schoolboy at the birch
rod. I prayed for light, but I could find no comfort. Then I rose up
with my load, for the girl had placed her trust in me, and come what
might I was minded that she should find me faithful. A while after, I
had some fighting to do which raised my spirits a little and let out
some unwholesome blood. But I have come in empty-handed after all, and
have but a pitiful story to tell for one who boasted so bravely of his
skill and discretion.”

“And the treasure?”

“´Tis safely buried, I trust, where I left it. You see, it happened in
this wise: As ill luck would have it I came on a sergeant and two of his
company, of Gormanstown´s regiment, I think, rifling a poor fellow who
had but lately fallen, and catching sight of me through a tangle of
briars that I had hoped would screen me, they called on me to stand. I
could not do otherwise, for my load would not let me run. That was how I
came by my knock–a shrewd one too; but for them, they will never answer
to their names again till the muster roll is called at the Judgment. I
must have lost my senses for a while, for when I came to reason there
were we four lying stretched upon the road, but myself on the top with
that devil´s box at my feet. With my load under my arm I set off again,
but what with the loss of blood, and the enemy gathered round me so
closely that I could not see my way through, I even crept into the
shelter of a hedge and began to consider what I should do. Then it came
into my mind that it were best buried out of sight for the present, and
I even dug a hole for it where I sat with my sword blade; and marking
the spot with what care I might–indeed, I have the record here–I went
on blithely, with a great weight off my mind. That is the complete
history of the venture, and I would that it had a different end.”

“It was better fortune after all than I had hoped for; but how came you
to get in?”

“Oh! that was no great matter. Putting on a bold face, as though no man
had a right to question me, I even saluted all that I met, inquiring
what way lay Butler´s command, as one having urgent business there. It
passed very well till a meddlesome captain of horse must needs take me
under his protection, and know more of my business than I had a mind he
should. I lied boldly and vehemently, which is a matter permissible by
the laws of war, and having brought me hard by our lines at the
Windmill, I even knocked him down with my fist, and ran for it as fast
as my legs would carry me. They might have brought me down with their
muskets had they taken time to aim, but though I heard the bullets
singing about my ears, never a one touched me, and here I am in no very
ill condition, after eating your supper and thanking Heaven for a
merciful deliverance. And now let me hear how things fell out with you.”

Gervase told his story with little circumlocution, but dwelling,
unconsciously, more than seemed necessary in a plain statement of facts,
on the courage and devotion of Dorothy Carew, a thing which brought a
twinkle into Macpherson´s eyes and a grave smile to his lips. Indeed,
from the beginning to the end the adventure was hers, and the young
soldier was only the companion who had shared her fortune in a humble
way. He told how she had won the heart of Sarsfield; how she had broken
down the boorish ill-will of Luttrel; and how she had carried herself
throughout with a patience and fortitude that a man might envy; and all
the while Macpherson watched him under his half-closed eyelids with the
same grave smile upon his face. It was evident he was no less interested
in the speaker than in the narrative, and when it was done he rose up
and placed his hand on Gervase´s shoulder, and bade him forget that he
had spoken a word in her disparagement. “God hath made few women like
her, my lad,” he went on, “and had I met such another in my youth, I
might not now have been the homeless vagrant that I am. Loyal she is and
true, if the face and the eye have any meaning, and her voice hath a
tender ring in it that might well touch a man´s heart, even if he be an
old fool like myself–which indeed I think I am growing. I have come to
think of you, Gervase Orme, as a son, I who never had wife or child of
my own, and I think here is a woman who might make your life happier
than mine has ever been.”

“Your conversion is of the suddenest,” Gervase said smiling, but the
praise of Dorothy brought a warm flush of pleasure to his cheek. His
love was a thing so new and so incomprehensible to himself that he
preferred to dwell upon it in secret; and besides, he felt that she was
so lifted above him that he dared not trust himself to speak of her. It
did not come to him with surprise that Macpherson, whose cynicism he
regarded as a matter of course, should have been captivated by her grace
and spirit. It was the most natural thing in the world. But when he came
to think of himself as her lover, the thought of his own unworthiness
grew so great that it seemed to raise a barrier between them that it was
a vain presumption to attempt to surmount.

So he passed lightly over Macpherson´s suggestion, and assured him that
he had not forgotten the warning that he had given him before the
journey began. Then, with some solicitude, he insisted on his having his
wound looked to, and making use of his own wardrobe as far as it would
supply his wants.

The old soldier in his careless camaraderie, was at no time loath either
to lend or to borrow, and after his wound (which, he said, proved the
thickness of his skull) had been dressed, arrayed himself in a clean
shirt and stockings, and then lighted a pipe of fragrant Virginia, to
which he had been for some time a stranger.

Gervase in the meantime had with some difficulty prevailed on Mistress
Sproule to furnish him with a second supper, and as she placed it on the
table she cast a look of indignation on the unconscious Macpherson. She
watched him with lowering brows, blowing a cloud of smoke in his placid
contentment; then her pent-up feelings broke out. “Marry,” she said,
“there are some folk who care not what trouble they make in the world.
To break into your house, and eat up your meat without even a ‘by your
leave´, may be manners in some parts, but here we call it by a harder
name.”

“In some parts where I have been,” said Macpherson grimly; “they have a
bridle for the mouth of the shrew, and lead her down to the
Market-place, where she stands for a warning to her neighbours. Your
husband would be a happier man did the custom hold here.”

Long accustomed to an easy conquest in the domestic battle-field, she
was staggered for a moment at this bold attack, but when her surprise
was over, the storm broke out with renewed violence, and while
Macpherson placed his fingers in his ears, Gervase intervened as a
peacemaker with little success. It was only when her passion had
completely exhausted itself, that she flung out of the room with a
tragic stride.

“The tow´s in the fire,” said Macpherson. “Man, that´s a terrible woman.
Have you often to meet a charge like that?”

Gervase laughed good-humouredly at Macpherson´s serious countenance. “We
have none of us the courage to cross her. Poor Simon fears her more than
he fears the bullets of the enemy, and I think I am somewhat in terror
of her myself. But she hath her virtues, and I will not hear her
wronged.”

“I will avoid her for the future like the pestilence. Now finish your
supper, or so much as I have left you. I would have you accompany me to
Miss Carew, and I think you will be willing enough, for I must give her
an account of my stewardship before I sleep, through how I shall bring
myself to tell her what I have done after all my boasting, I do not
know. When one has a man to deal with, he can take him by the hand or by
the throat, but one cannot use plain speech with a woman.”