In the year of grace 1689 men were not a whit more long-suffering nor
more patient than they are to-day. The choleric captain who had been
pacing the guard-room for a quarter of an hour showed evident signs that
he was fast losing what temper he possessed. As he marched with a hasty
stride up and down the oaken floor, and wheeled with military abruptness
on the broad stone that formed the hearth, the rafters of black oak rang
with the clank of his sword and the jingling of the spurs on his heavy
jack-boots. He pulled with a gesture of impatience at the grizzled white
moustache that concealed his mouth, and muttered anathemas which, had
they been heard in the pious city of Londonderry, would have been deemed
little in keeping with his reputation. Nor did he seem a man with whom
others would take unwarrantable liberties, or keep dangling upon their
careless will and pleasure.
At first sight there was no mistaking him for anything but a soldier,
and one who had seen lengthened service where hard blows had been struck
and long marches had to be made. His lean face was brown and seamed with
lines, each of which had in all likelihood its history; and a great
scar, half concealed by his broad beaver, ran from the temple almost to
his chin. His mouth was firm and resolute, giving its character to a
face that did not seem apt either to lighten in humour or to soften in
pity. He wore his own hair, which was nearly white, and, though he must
have been close on sixty, his carriage was upright and soldierly, with a
certain stiffness, probably learnt in early life from the drill-master.
The Town clock struck five. Halting suddenly in his walk he turned to
the door, and his hand was on the latch when a young man entered
hurriedly and stumbled against him. When they recovered themselves, they
stood looking at one another inquiringly for a moment. Then the young
fellow, who wore a military uniform, drew back a step and saluted
gravely. “You are Captain Macpherson, I think?”
“I was Captain Macpherson, sir,” the other answered, “a moment since,
but what I am now I hardly know till my wits come back. You have a
strange way of forcing your company on your neighbours.”
“Such sudden acquaintanceship was wholly unexpected, I assure you, sir,”
the young man answered, with a pleasant smile that lit up his handsome
face. “I was directed to meet you here. My name is Orme.”
The old soldier, without speaking, retired into the embrasure of the
window followed by the younger man, and then turned round sternly.
“Mr. Orme, you must know it hath struck five by the Town clock. A
soldier´s first duty is discipline, and here have I, your commanding
officer, for such I take myself to be, been awaiting your coming a full
quarter of an hour. I have been in countries where the provost-marshal
would have known how to deal with such offences. Cities have been sacked
and great battles lost and won, by less delay than that.”
“I have left the Colonel but now, sir. He said nothing of the time, but
told me that I should meet you here.”
“Very like, very like,” growled the other. “I know the breed of old.
Feather-bed soldiers who need a warming-pan in camp. They take no heed
of time. I was brought up in a different school, and would have you know
that while you keep me company, you must learn my ways. How long have
you served?” He asked the question abruptly, bending on his companion a
keen and penetrating look that nothing seemed to escape.
“I have carried the colours for nearly two years in Mountjoy´s
“And never seen man stricken in fair fight, I warrant; that is before
you and will come speedily. Hath Colonel Lundy spoken of the work we are
about to take in hand?”
“Only that I was to receive my instructions from you, and place myself
under your orders.”
“That is well, at any rate. You are green and tender for the business,
but you may show the right stuff when the time comes. Things are going
crookedly here in Londonderry and elsewhere, Mr. Orme. We go neither
back nor forward, but stand swaying like men who know not whether to
turn to the right hand or to the left. We would fight but we dare not;
we would flee but we cannot. And all the while there are stout fellows
here who would handle a musket or trail a pike with the best troops in
Europe, if there were a man to lead them. These cursed councils and
divided plans breed nothing but failure. You will see Hamilton with his
levies across the Bann and round the wall of Londonderry, before the
month is out.”
“I humbly trust not, but if we do never fear but we shall give a good
account of ourselves.”
The old soldier smiled dubiously. “There is plenty of talk and
furbishing of weapons, but little of the strict drill and discipline
that makes soldiers; I am but a plain man myself and I have spoken out
plainly. The city is open as a village. There are ramparts to be
strengthened, ravelines and fascines to be constructed, supplies to be
furnished, and arms to be collected. We talk of standing a leaguer, as
if these things would do themselves. But needs must when the Devil
drives, and I know whither that carries. These councils have many
tongues and no head. They put forth declarations and think all is done
when they set their hands to paper with much spluttering of ink. I
remember when Francesco de Mello and de Fuentes—-But that is an old
story and may be told again.”
“I doubt not,” said Orme, “you have ripe experience, but I would do my
own work like a simple gentleman, and leave these things to those whose
business they are.”
“Fairly rebuked. You are right, my lad, and I am an old fool to stand
prating of what hath no concern for you. But ´tis an old trick of mine
to find fault where I cannot mend. Natheless, the onfall at the castle
of Carrickfergus and the break of Dromore give me cause to grumble, and
Rawdon and Beresford and the rest of them might have taken a lesson from
a plain soldier like myself, that they might have profited by. They
think me only good enough to fetch and carry, spaniel-like–and you say
that Colonel Lundy hath told you nothing?”
“Merely that I should place myself at your disposal; nothing else.”
“We ride pell-mell for Enniskillen; you and I and some dozen troopers,
less or more, without drawing bridle or tarrying by the way. There is a
precious cartel these Enniskilleners must digest forthwith, inviting
them to leave the safety of their water-walls and, as I hear, good store
of provender, to take their chance with us and fight it out behind these
petty dykes and fences here. If they ask counsel of mine–but it is our
business to see that it carries safely.”
“I had hoped,” said Orme, “that we might have seen some service; this
doth not hold out much hope of that.”
“Hear how these young cockerels are given to crowing!” cried Macpherson;
“I promise you this means no evening stroll upon the battlements, but a
work of danger which may try your mettle. I mean not the gathering of
the desperadoes who make war upon the defenceless, though these have
stood to their half-pikes and other outlandish weapons ere now, but I am
much mistaken if the royal troops be not on the roads and give us play
enough. In this barbarous country we do not look for the courtesies of
war, or even the interchange of prisoners; my Lord Galmoy and others,
whom I hope to remember, have shown that a gentleman can play the
hangman, and a soldier hath other trades than fighting. The journey is
like to prove adventurous though it end in nothing. See that your horse
be sure and fresh, and your pistols such that a man may place his life
on them. I remember me when my life was placed in jeopardy once by a
rotten girth. It was in Flanders in sixty-nine–but this gossip hath no
interest for you. It were more to the purpose that I told you we set out
at three in the morning with what secrecy we can observe, and that you
meet me at the Bishop´s gate. Hackett, who is, I am told, a sergeant of
your company, and knows the country, will bring our horses to the gate.
You know the man; of what character is he?”
“As true and loyal as any in the city–the best man, I think, in the
“And discreet? these good men are ofttimes inconsiderate.”
“He is no babbler, sir,” Orme answered, somewhat nettled by the tone of
his companion, “though a pious man and God-fearing.”
“I, Ninian Macpherson, like him none the worse for that, young
gentleman,” answered the other gravely. “Our religion hath placed you
and me, I humbly trust, in arms this day, and sends us forth on this
embassage to the no small peril of our lives. But the ways of grace are
not always the ways of worldly prudence, and it behoves me who am
answerable for our safety to act with diligence. Now, look you, Mr.
Orme, I have watched you carefully, and I think you honest–dull it may
be but honest, and I speak you plainly. I am suspicious of your
colonel–I do not understand his ways. There is treason in the air,
though who is free and who is touched I hardly know, but I who have
lived among designing men for nigh on seven-and-fifty years think I know
somewhat of honest work, and I was fearful this was but another trap.”
“I think, sir, Colonel Lundy is honest and devoted to Their Majesties.”
“I do not doubt you do, but we shall see. The citizens will give him a
short shrift if they find him a rogue. But I had liked to see such zeal
as befits one who commands a city, and would not be taken unprepared.
When the regiments arrive from England they will find their
entertainment of the poorest. If empty magazines and disordered
companies are evidence of loyalty you might find a sign to hang up
before every house in the city. But Ulster hath a proud heart and a
stiff neck and will fight when she is pushed.”
“The Kingdom´s safety and the Protestant religion depend upon her
stoutness; she will die hard.”
“It may come to that. Now, young gentleman, get you gone. He that would
be early afoot should be early abed, and see that you get to rest
betimes. Let there be no late revelling. We meet at three.”
Gervase Orme who had been lately an ensign in Mountjoy´s regiment of
foot, had been quartered with his company in Londonderry, when his
Colonel was appointed Governor of the City. Like other gentlemen of his
faith he had not wavered in his allegiance or dreamed of taking up arms
against the House of Stuart, till loyalty had become a crime and
resistance an imperative duty. His own slender patrimony was in peril;
his faith was threatened and in danger of being proscribed; his friends,
whose safety and honour were his own, were placed at the mercy of their
bitter and hereditary foes. Civil war was imminent and he could not
hesitate as to the course he should adopt. James had broken faith with
his people; the native Celtic population, steadfast in this, while they
were wayward and fickle in all else, were determined to drive the
English garrison into the sea, and the instincts of religion and of race
intensified their hatred of the dominant caste.
When Colonel Lundy took the oath of allegiance to William and Mary,
Gervase Orme willingly followed the example of his Colonel, and embarked
with enthusiasm on the impending struggle. To him it was the one course
left open, and he felt, like the other simple gentlemen of his time,
that when he drew his sword it was for fatherland, for faith, and even
for life itself. Nor did he very much doubt the result. The descendent
of a Saxon colonist he looked down on the men of Munster and of
Connaught as a race fit only for hewing wood and drawing water, for
Fontenoy and other stricken fields had yet to be fought in which the
Irish proved their splendid qualities as fighting men. And he had the
Saxon´s profound faith in himself and his people.
Therefore it was when Colonel Lundy had directed him to place himself
under Macpherson´s orders, with some prospect of service, he had obeyed
with alacrity, hopeful that their destination might be one of those
towns upon the Bann where the Protestant forces were awaiting the coming
of the Irish army which was rapidly advancing north. In this he had been
disappointed, but he was glad to forsake for a time the comparative
inactivity of garrison life, and almost hoped that Macpherson´s
anticipation of danger might be realized.
The night was raw and cold when he arose unwillingly from his bed, and
his preparations being complete overnight, hurriedly dressed and
endeavoured to partake of the meal his careful landlady had provided the
evening before. When he reached the gate Macpherson was already there
before him. The old soldier, wrapped in a long military cloak, was
standing with his back to the wall, reading from a small volume in a
loud monotonous tone, and the men were drawn in a circle round him,
holding their horses by the bridle. One of the troopers held a lantern
for the reader, who closed the book as Orme came up, and thrust it into
his breast.
“You are close on your time, Mr. Orme. We have just been having our
stirrup-cup from the Word, that, mayhap, will put us in heart for our
cold ride. ´Tis an excellent morning dram. The sergeant hath seen to the
arms and tells me they will serve.”
“Both arms and men, sir,” said Hackett, in a low tone, “I will answer
for them with my life.”
“´Tis well. Now open the gate and get to horse, for we must put many a
mile between us and the city before daybreak. A mile at the start is
worth two at the end.”
Macpherson leapt with surprising activity on the grey charger that
Hackett had brought down to the gate, and the little troop sat patiently
on their horses waiting till the drawbridge had been lowered and the
great gate swung open. With a solemn “God speed” from the men on duty,
they rode silently out into the darkness, Hackett leading at a round
trot over the rough and broken road.
For three hours they pursued their way in a silence broken only by an
occasional word of command, or by a cry of warning from one of the
troopers who had stumbled over some obstacle, or had floundered deep in
the bog by the road side. They were all rejoiced to see the first grey
streak of light that gave promise of the coming day.
The morning had broken red through the mists that lay thick along the
valley as they gained the top of the hill up which they had been
climbing. The road was already visible, winding through a deep gorge,
and skirted by great masses of rock, green with ferns and bramble. Here
and there scattered through the uplands lay a farm steading, surrounded
by its stretch of tilth and orchard close. But no sound of morning
labour could be heard. The fields were lying waste and untilled, and the
homesteads stood deserted. The clank of the horses hoofs made a
melancholy music in the silence. The life and movement of the little
troop brought into still greater relief the desolation round them.
Macpherson halted on the top of the hill, and dismounting loosened his
horse´s girths. Then he removed the saddle and taking off his gloves,
began to rub down the charger.
“That is my prince of steeds,” he said, contemplating his task and
caressing the glossy neck with pride and affection; “nearly four hours´
hard riding and never turning a hair! An old soldier, my young friend,”
he continued, turning to Gervase, “learns a good many things on his
rough journey through the world. He learns to weigh a prince´s promises
and favours, the strength of friendship and the worth of love. And he
finds they are all vanity, even the vanity of vanities, as the Hebrew
hath it. But he grows to love his horse. Together they have faced the
scathe of the battle, and the privations of the march. Often and often
this sleek skin hath been my pillow, and but for him these useless bones
had been whitening on the sandy plains of Utrecht, or the rolling
uplands of the Maas. And for beauty–you youths go mad for beauty–is
there aught in the world to compare with him for comeliness? That little
head and graceful neck, those swift strong legs and deep shoulders
fashioned as if by a cunning sculptor–there is perfect beauty. And he
is faithful even to death. He will carry me till he drops and leave a
royal stable at the whistle of his homeless master. I tell you, young
sir, there is nothing in the world like a noble horse and the joy of
battle in a righteous cause.”
“In truth,” said Gervase, “you are proud of your horse with reason, but
I trust there are other things in the world one may love with as good
“Aye,” answered the other bitterly, “you are young, and youth is full of
hope and trust. The man you call your friend cajoles and tricks you, and
the woman whose favour is the breath of your nostrils, deserts you at
the first whisper of misfortune. These things are of the world and they
endure for an hour; the son of perdition baits his traps with them, but
the man whose hope is fixed, learns to shun them as a snare.”
“I have been taught otherwise,” said Gervase, “and I have had no reason
to question what I have learnt. I have no trick of speech, but I hold by
love and friendship.”
“And I tell you they are but shadows. Here there is no abiding city, and
these things but wean our hearts from the eternal. Seven-and-fifty years
have been the days of my pilgrimage, and at eighteen I saw my first
battle. The blood of the youth is hot, the lusts of the flesh are strong
upon him, and he is slow to see the finger of God writing upon the
tablets of the heart. Mine was a wild youth and a wayward, and like
another prodigal I went forth to riotous living. Surely I dwelt in the
tents of Meshech, but God hath seen good to open the eyes of his
“Captain Macpherson,” said Gervase gravely, “I do not ask you to
vouchsafe me your confidence, and I leave theology to the parson. I
serve God after the fashion of the Church of England, and will do my
duty as becomes my name and manhood. In all other things I am at your
service, but in this we cannot walk together.”
He turned away and left the old soldier gazing after him earnestly.
The sun had already risen above the morning mists that had gathered
themselves into fantastic shapes and were dispersing slowly down the
valley–the promise of a lovely day in spring. The troopers had
dismounted, and were making a frugal meal of dry rye bread and cold
bacon, washed down by a draught of the spring water that trickled down
the rock by the roadside. Weary with their long march, covered with mud
and flaked with foam, the horses cropped the long grass that grew
luxuriantly under the hedge of thorn. Gervase threw himself down on the
grassy sward by the road-side, and watched the picturesque scene around
him. Then, tired as he was, a heavy drowsiness overtook him, and the
deep valley and the swelling uplands, and the horses, and the
travel-stained troopers became part of a broken dream. Over his head he
seemed to hear the jubilant notes of a thrush in the white thorn, and in
a little while a deep voice reading one of the psalms that glow with the
rapture of battle and thrill with the triumph of faith, followed by the
loud “Amen” of the troopers.
Then he fell into a profound sleep. When he awoke the sunshine filled
the valley, and Macpherson was standing over him with a smile on his
rugged face.
“Is it time to march?” cried Gervase.
“It is time to be up and doing,” Macpherson answered solemnly. “This day
will try of what stuff the Lord hath made your sinews and fashioned your
heart. Yonder is the enemy.”
Gervase leapt hastily from his resting-place. Already the men were in
their saddles and were examining the priming of their carbines. Far down
the valley he could see a small body of horse, the sunshine glancing on
their swords and steel head-pieces, and the dust rising thickly under
the hoofs of the chargers. A little in advance were riding two officers,
one of whom rode a grey horse and was conspicuous by the scarlet cloak
he wore over his armour.
Gervase watched Macpherson with surprise and admiration. The old soldier
seemed like another man under the inspiration of the coming struggle;
his eyes flashed, his chest heaved, and his deep strong voice thrilled
like a trumpet. Leaping like a youth into his saddle and laying his hand
lightly for a moment on the restive charger´s neck, he drew his sword
from the scabbard. Then he placed himself across the road in front of
the troopers and pointed with his sword to the enemy, who had already
quickened their pace and were advancing at a sharp trot.
“Yon are Galmoy´s Horse, gentlemen. They are nearly three to one, and I
am told they can fight. What say ye?”
Already the troopers had caught the joyous spirit of their grim leader;
his voice stirred them like a trumpet. They had caught the contagion of
his hope, his faith, and his enthusiasm.
“We are doing God´s work, sir,” said Sergeant Hackett soberly, as he
gathered up his reins and drew his hat tightly over his brow. “We will
follow you, Captain Macpherson, even to the mouth of the pit. Not one of
us will fail you.”
“Then we will show the butchers what we can do. Remember, let ‘no
quarter´ be our word this day. Do not crowd together until we have drawn
their fire. Then give them a salvo steadily, and like brave men and
careful. Thereafter in God´s name, let them feel the sword´s edge and
the power of the true religion.”
Macpherson had risen in his stirrups, his face glowing with the joy of
battle. Already the enemy had shortened the distance between them, and a
few minutes more would bring them within pistol shot. They could already
hear the heavy trampling of the horses as they came galloping up the
hill, the jingling of the bridles and the clank of the swords. As the
little troop swept up the hillside it made a gallant show. Gervase felt
his heart beat fast and loud; his hand trembled with excitement on the
hilt of his sword, and his breath came quick. He found himself longing
with feverish impatience for the word to charge, but Macpherson kept his
men well in hand, trying their temper, and watching them narrowly like a
wary soldier. Not a man showed sign of fear or indecision.

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“You are a young soldier, Mr. Orme,” said Macpherson, with a joyous
laugh, “and young soldiers are ever rash and heedless. Let us give yon
sons of Belial time to think of what they do. You will feel in good time
the thirst to trample down and slay, and the Devil driving you to rend
and to destroy. Wait till they come to where the road widens into the
marsh. Yon fellow rides like a gallant gentleman–a Frenchman too, I
think, and knows his work. Ha! here they come. Now, my children, follow
me, and may God defend his cause this day!”
Macpherson put spurs to his horse, and his troopers followed in an
orderly array at a hard gallop.
It was clear the enemy was uncertain as to their intentions, for
immediately Macpherson had put his horse in motion, they drew up short
and halted. But still the little troop kept on steadily, riding two
abreast along the narrow road, and holding their carbines in readiness
to fire. The young officer on the grey charger had thrown off his
scarlet cloak, and was giving directions to his men with the point of
his sword. Several of the troopers had dismounted and lined the roadside
where a fence of loose stones presented a sort of low screen, or
And now barely a hundred yards divided the combatants. Already a shot or
two had been fired, but as they came within range the dragoons, without
waiting for further orders, fired wildly. Gervase, who rode in advance,
turned to see if any of the men behind him had been struck; not a man
moved in his saddle. Then Macpherson rose in his stirrups and shouted in
a voice of thunder—-
“Now, my gallant fellows, fire! Aim at the horses and let every shot
For an instant, as it seemed, the little troop stood fast, and orderly
as on parade, took aim and fired. Several horses went down, and for a
minute all was confusion and disorder in the royal ranks.
That minute was the turning tide of battle. With a wild shout and a deep
oath, Macpherson waved his sword above his head and gave the charge.
Instinctively Gervase drove his spurs into his horse´s flanks, and
grasped the hilt of his sword with a tighter clutch. In another moment
he was in the middle of the red-coats and almost without knowing how it
was done, he saw his blade buried in the body of the dragoon who had
first encountered him. As in a dream he saw the man catch convulsively
at the horse´s mane and fall in a heap to the ground. Macpherson was at
his side, hammering on sword and head-piece. His voice could be heard
above the clank and clash of steel and the shouts of the fighting men.
“No quarter to the men of Belial. Strike home for the true religion.
God´s wounds! you must have it.”
Two troopers had thrown themselves across his path; one he had charged
so violently that his horse had stumbled and gone down, crushing his
rider; the other parried his thrust and then turned to flee. But his
doom was on him. Down came the deadly steel on the iron head-piece.
Nothing could withstand that blow, but the sword was shivered at the
“The curse of Heaven light on the hand that fashioned thee!” cried
Macpherson, hurling the hilt from him and drawing his pistol from the
holster. His men followed close upon his heels, hacking and hewing with
their heavy swords. No man failed in his duty that day.
Gervase saw the young officer before him gallantly striving to rally his
men, and imploring them to stand. Quick as thought their swords were
crossed, and Gervase saw his eyes light up with inexpressible hate. “Ah!
canaille,” he cried, “you will see at least how a gentleman can fight.”
It was not a time for nice tricks of fence, and Gervase saw in a moment
that his opponent was a more skilful swordsman than himself. He saw the
flash of his opponent´s blade and felt the warm blood streaming down his
face, but he did not give him time to repeat the blow. Throwing himself
upon him he caught him round the neck, and together they fell to the
ground. It was indeed a miracle how they escaped beneath the hoofs of
the trampling horses as they grappled with one another in the dust. Then
the tide of battle swept past them, and they were left alone to fight it
out. But the delicate Frenchman was no match for the stout young giant
whose arms were as strong as an oak sapling. Gervase placed his knee
upon his breast, and wrenched the sword from his hand.
“It is enough, Monsieur; I yield myself prisoner.”
Gervase leapt to his feet and reached out his hand to assist his
prisoner from the ground. But the other refused the proffered courtesy,
and when he had risen, nonchalantly began to arrange his disordered
dress, and to brush the dust from his clothes with an embroidered
handkerchief. “Your arms, monsieur, are very strong, but I do not
understand the fashion of your country. We do not fight thus in France.
It is my regret that you should not see the end of this gallant affair.”
There was a covert sneer in the tone that there was no mistaking.
“I have seen the beginning and the end, sir,” Gervase said simply. “Your
men do not seem to relish the fare we have provided for them.”
“My men are not soldiers; they are poltroons. Let us dismiss them. May I
inquire into whose hands it has been my good fortune to fall?”
“My name, sir, is Gervase Orme, sometime ensign in Mountjoy´s regiment,
and now in arms for the Protestant religion and the liberties of the
kingdom. I am very much at your service.”
“You are very good, but Victor de Laprade, whom men call Vicomte of that
name, seeks favour from none. I think,” he continued, looking down the
road along which the pursuit had rolled, “we are likely to be better
“It is not to be doubted, sir: the skirmish is over and your men are
wholly broken.”
“Nay, Luttrel was a brave man; I am sorry for him, but the rest–let
them go.”
The moment that the Vicomte de Laprade had gone down in Gervase´s grasp,
the dragoons had broken and fled, followed hard by Macpherson and his
troop. The pursuers were in no mood to give quarter that day. The
atrocities of Galmoy some time before had filled their hearts with a
thirst for vengeance; it was a sacred duty not to spare, but to slay,
and slay without remorse or pity. Far down the road thundered the
headlong flight, pursuers and pursued mingled together. De Laprade had
seated himself on the fence by the roadside, and watched without
apparent interest the incidents of the pursuit. It was impossible to
tell from his face what his real feelings might have been.
“_C´est fini_,” he said lightly, as the troopers halted and turned to
retrace their footsteps to where the conflict had commenced.
Macpherson came up, wiping the perspiration from his brow.
“I saw you go down,” he said to Gervase, “and feared it was all over
with you. I should have been sorry to my dying day, for you have shown
the right soldier spirit,–you have been touched?”
“A mere scratch, but we have gained a great success.”
“A pretty affair. What popinjay have we yonder?” and he pointed to De
“One of King James´s new French gentlemen,” said Gervase smiling, “who
is the first captive of my bow and spear.”
“One of the accursed race,” said Macpherson grimly. “And the message
hath come to me; ‘no quarter,´ was our word this day. His blood be upon
his own head.” He drew his pistol from the holster, and dismounted from
his horse. Gervase saw the deep gloom gather on his brow.
“What would you do?” Gervase cried, catching his arm and placing himself
between his Captain and the Vicomte. “In God´s name, you do not mean to
say that you would slay him in cold blood?”
“In cold blood, no, but in righteous vengeance for the evil that hath
been wrought upon our people. Do you forget Dixie and Charleton? I have
taken a vow before the Lord this day that not one of them shall escape
me. The blood of Abel is crying from the ground, and shall I, the least
of his servants, suffer that cry to go unheard?”
“While I live you shall not injure one hair of his head. The lessons
that you have learned in the school of Turenne we will not practise
here. No prisoner shall be slain in cold blood while Gervase Orme can
wield a sword to defend him.”
Macpherson turned away and replaced his pistol in the holster without a
word, and stooping down began to examine the forelegs of his charger.
While this scene was being enacted on which his life depended, the
Vicomte continued sitting upon the fence, flicking the dust from his
riding boots with his handkerchief and smiling an easy smile of apparent
indifference. He seemed to be the only one who had no interest in the
issue of the quarrel. Then he rose, and going over to Gervase held out
his hand.
“However you may yet decide this trivial affair,” he said, “I thank you
for your courtesy. I declined to take your hand; I beg your pardon. You
are a brave man and a gentleman. But it is a matter of regret that you
should quarrel with your friend on my poor account.”
“There is no quarrel, sir,” said Macpherson, who had overheard his
words, raising himself to his full height, and looking steadily as he
spoke. “This young gentleman was right, and I was wrong. He had given
you quarter, which matter he may yet live to repent, and you were under
his protection by the laws of war. I might have shot you down in the
melee but I left him to deal with you. He hath seen good to spare your
life, and in your presence, sir, I now ask his pardon, which will not be
denied me.”
“I cannot pardon where there is no offence, Captain Macpherson,” said
Gervase. “It was my good fortune to fight on the side that can afford
protection, and had it been otherwise I am certain that M. de Laprade
would have rendered me the like service.”
The Vicomte bowing low, raised his hat with a grand air. Then he said,
addressing Macpherson, “Monsieur le Capitaine appears to regret that he
did not shoot me. It is not yet too late to try his skill. By the
kindness of this gentleman I have still my sword, and if you, sir, do
not think it beneath your dignity to try a pass with a poor soldier and
gentleman like myself, I shall be happy to give you the opportunity you
desire. Here is a pretty piece of heath–how say you, sir?”
“I say that I fight only in the way of my duty, but at another time when
public necessity may give way to private entertainment I shall have no
objection to oblige you either with sword or pistol, on foot or
horseback. No man that knows him will say that Ninian Macpherson
declined a duello because he feared the thrust of a rapier or the shot
of a pistol. When our journey is ended and the business now on hand
“Be assured I shall afford you what you are pleased to call your
entertainment. And now may I ask whither you purpose to carry me?”
“We shall carry you, sir, as far as Enniskillen, and, mayhap, if you so
desire it back to Londonderry.”
“I have no desires; I have learnt the uses of adversity.”
“Then you have learnt the last lesson a man can learn,” answered
Macpherson, abruptly turning on his heel, and joining Hackett who was
looking after one of the men who had been wounded.
The skirmish had in every sense been a complete success. Only one man
had been slightly, and another severely wounded, and these raw and
undisciplined yeomen had shown a wonderful steadiness and gallantry.
When the horses of the dragoons had been collected, for Macpherson
believed in gathering the fruits of victory, they were ready to start on
the march.
“The prisoner is in your charge, Sergeant Hackett,” he said. “Shoot him
through the head if he tries to run away.”
De Laprade shrugged his shoulders. “Bah!” he said, “your Captain eats
fire. Whither would he have me run?”
“Not outside the reach of my carbine,” said Hackett drily.
Gervase had fallen into the rear, where he was presently joined by
Macpherson, whose passion had apparently died away, and left his face
pale with an almost ghastly pallor. They rode side by side, neither
speaking a word. Macpherson´s head was bent on his breast, and Gervase
could hear him muttering to himself in a low tone, but he could not
catch the meaning of his words. He was evidently struggling with some
violent emotion. Then he seemed to wake up from the profound reverie in
which he had been sunk, and laying his hand on the arm of his companion,
said in a low voice,
“Mr. Orme, thou art a well-conditioned and, I think, a godly young man,
and though it does not beseem one of my gray hairs and length of years
to open his heart to one young and lacking in experience as thou art,
yet the spirit within me prompts me to speak.”
Gervase was silent.
“There are times,” he continued, “when the Spirit of the Lord is upon
me. Then I can hear the strains of a rich and heavenly minstrelsy, and
my soul is possessed with the joy of everlasting hope. Alas! I do begin
to fear it is but the snare of the fowler. This day the evil one took
possession of me. I relapsed into the gall of bitterness and the bonds
of iniquity. I sware evil oaths; I rejoiced in the shedding of blood,
nor was it the cause of the Lord that I followed this day, but the
promptings of my own carnal heart. Can the Lord of Righteousness and the
Prince of the powers of the air dwell in the same breast?”
“I do not know how these things may be,” Gervase answered, “but I know
that you have done your duty this day like a good and valiant soldier.
It may be that old habits are strong upon you, and an old warhorse like
yourself lifts his ears at the sound of the charge.”
“The hearts of the elect are purified, and old habits cannot draw the
soul from God.”
He looked at Gervase with a look of profound sadness in his eyes, and
there was an undertone of despair in his voice. It was impossible to
doubt his sincerity. Spiritual despair had seized upon him, and his
narrow creed had no word of consolation to offer him in his hour of
doubt. He had drawn aside the veil that concealed the workings of his
“All the days of my youth were vanity,” he continued; “I squandered my
substance in riotous living, and spent my strength in the lap of
harlots. Then the Lord found me in the wilderness, and for ten years I
have walked in the narrow way, till now mine enemy has found me this
day; nay, not this day, but the hour I girt this sword on my side. I am
the same man that fought at St. Gothard, and walked up the breach at
“And may I never fight by the side of a better soldier,” cried Gervase
with assumed gaiety. “The Protestant cause could ill afford to lose an
arm like yours. But for you we had never charged this day.
“Ah! it was a gallant onfall;” said the old soldier meditatively, “I
have seldom seen a brisker, but it is vanity, vanity.” He sighed, and
relapsed into silence, nor did Gervase venture to address him again till
they rode into the village where they intended to pass the night.