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   Chapter 2 THE COMING OF A MESSENGER

No Defense, Volume 1_ By Gilbert Parker Characters: 11637

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


When Dyck entered the library of Playmore, the first words he heard were these:

"Howe has downed the French at Brest. He's smashed the French fleet and dealt a sharp blow to the revolution. Hurrah!"

The words were used by Miles Calhoun, Dyck's father, as a greeting to him on his return from the day's sport.

Now, if there was a man in Ireland who had a narrow view and kept his toes pointed to the front, it was Miles Calhoun. His people had lived in Connemara for hundreds of years; and he himself had only one passion in life, which was the Protestant passion of prejudice. He had ever been a follower of Burke-a passionate follower, one who believed the French Revolution was a crime against humanity, a danger to the future of civilization.

He had resisted more vigorously than most men the progress of revolutionary sentiments in Ireland. He was aware that his son had far less rigid opinions than himself; that he even defended Wolfe Tone and Thomas Emmet against abuse and damnation. That was why he had delight in slapping his son in the face, whenever possible, with the hot pennant of victory for British power.

He was a man of irascible temperament and stern views, given to fits of exasperation. He was small of stature, with a round face, eyes that suddenly went red with feeling, and with none of the handsomeness of his son, who resembled his mother's family.

The mother herself had been a beautiful and remarkable woman. Dyck was, in a sense, a reproduction of her in body and mind, for a more cheerful and impetuous person never made a household happier or more imperfect than she made hers.

Her beauty and continual cheerfulness had always been the joy of Dyck's life, and because his mother had married his father-she was a woman of sense, with all her lightsome ways-he tried to regard his father with profound respect. Since his wife's death, however, Miles Calhoun had deteriorated; he had become unreasonable.

As the elder Calhoun made his announcement about the battle of Brest and the English victory, a triumphant smile lighted his flushed face, and under his heavy grey brows his eyes danced with malicious joy.

"Howe's a wonder!" he said. "He'll make those mad, red republicans hunt their holes. Eh, isn't that your view, Ivy?" he asked of a naval captain who had evidently brought the news.

Captain Ivy nodded.

"Yes, it's a heavy blow for the French bloodsuckers. If their ideas creep through Europe and get hold of England, God only knows what the end will be! In their view, to alter everything is the only way to put things right. No doubt they'll invent a new way to be born before they've finished."

"Well, that wouldn't be a bad idea," remarked Dyck. "The present way has its demerits."

"Yes, it throws responsibility upon the man, and gives a heap of trouble to the woman," said Captain Ivy with a laugh; "but they'll change it all, you'll see."

Dyck poured himself a glass of port, held it up, sniffed the aroma, and looked through the beautiful red tinge of the wine with a happy and critical eye.

"Well, the world could be remade in a lot of ways," he declared. "I shouldn't mind seeing a bit of a revolution in Ireland-but in England first," he hastened to add. "They're a more outcast folk than the Irish." His father scoffed.

"Look out, Dyck, or they'll drop you in jail if you talk like that!" he chided, his red face growing redder, his fingers nervously feeling the buttons on his picturesque silk waistcoat. "There's conspiracy in Ireland, and you never truly know if the man that serves you at your table, or brings you your horse, or puts a spade into your ground, isn't a traitor."

At that moment the door opened, and a servant entered the room. In his hand he carried a letter which, with marked excitement, he brought to Miles Calhoun.

"Sure, he's waiting, sir," he said.

"And who's he?" asked his master, turning the letter over, as though to find out by looking at the seal.

"Oh, a man of consequence, if we're to judge by the way he's clothed."

"Fit company, then?" his master asked, as he opened the heavily sealed letter.

"Well, I'm not saying that, for there's no company good enough for us," answered the higgledy-piggledy butler, with a quirk of the mouth; "but, as messengers go, I never seen one with more style and point."

"Well, bring him to me," said Miles Calhoun. "Bring him to me, and I'll form my own judgment-though I have some confidence in yours."

"You could go further and fare worse, as the Papists say about purgatory," answered the old man with respectful familiarity.

Captain Ivy and Dyck grinned, but the head of the house seemed none too pleased at the freedom of the old butler.

"Bring him as he is," said Miles Calhoun. "Good God!" he added, for he just realized that the stamp of the seal was that of the Attorney-General of Ireland.

Then he read the letter and a flush swept over his face, making its red almost purple.

"Eternal damnation-eternal damnation!" he declared, holding the paper at arm's length a moment, inspecting it. He then handed it to Dyck. "Read that, lad. Then pack your bag, for we start for Dublin by daylight or before."

Dyck read the brief document and whistled softly to himself.

"Well, well, you've got to obey orders like that, I suppose," Dyck said.

"They want to question us as to the state of the country here."

"I think we can tell them something. I wonder if they know how wide your travel is, how many people you see; and if they know, how did they come to know? There's spies all over the place. How do I know but the man who's just left this room isn't a spy, isn't the enemy of all of us here?"

"I'd suspect Michael Clones," remarked Dyck, "just as soon as Mulvaney."

"Michael Clones," said his fat

her, and he turned to Captain Ivy, "Michael Clones I'd trust as I'd trust His blessed Majesty, George III. He's a rare scamp, is Michael Clones! He's no thicker than a cardboard, but he draws the pain out of your hurt like a mustard plaster. A man of better sense and greater roguery I've never met. You must see him, Captain Ivy. He's only about twelve years older than my son, but, like my son, there's no holding him, there's no control of him that's any good. He does what he wants to do in his own way-talks when he wants to talk, fights when he wants to fight. He's a man of men, is Michael Clones."

At that moment the door opened and the butler entered, followed by a tall, thin, Don Quixote sort of figure.

"His excellency," said Mulvaney, with a look slightly malevolent, for the visitor had refused his name. Then he turned and left the room.

At Mulvaney's words, an ironical smile crossed the face of the newcomer. Then he advanced to Miles Calhoun. Before speaking, however, he glanced sharply at Captain Ivy, threw an inquisitive look at Dyck, and said:

"I seem to have hurt the feelings of your butler, sir, but that cannot be helped. I have come from the Attorney-General. My name is Leonard Mallow-I'm the eldest son of Lord Mallow. I've been doing business in Limerick, and I bring a message from the Attorney-General to ask you to attend his office at the earliest moment."

Dyck Calhoun, noting his glance at a bottle of port, poured out a glass of the good wine and handed it over, saying:

"It'll taste better to you because you've been travelling hard, but it's good wine anyhow. It's been in the cellar for forty years, and that's something in a land like this."

Mallow accepted the glass of port, raised it with a little gesture of respect, and said:

"Long life to the King, and cursed be his enemies!" So saying he flung the wine down his throat-which seemed to gulp it like a well-wiped his lips with a handkerchief, and turned to Miles Calhoun again.

"Yes, it's good wine," he said; "as good as you'd get in the cellars of the Viceroy. I've seen strange things as I came. I've seen lights on the hills, and drunken rioters in the roads and behind hedges, and once a shot was fired at me; but here I am, safe and sound, carrying out my orders. What time will you start?" he added.

He took it for granted that the summons did not admit of rejection, and he was right. The document contained these words:

Trouble is brewing; indeed, it is at hand. Come, please, at once to

Dublin, and give the Lord-Lieutenant and the Government a report

upon your district. We do not hear altogether well of it, but no

one has the knowledge you possess. In the name of His Majesty you

are to present yourself at once at these offices in Dublin, and be

assured that the Lord-Lieutenant will give you warm welcome through

me. Your own loyalty gives much satisfaction here. I am, sir,

Your obedient servant,

JOHN MCNOWELL.

"You have confidence in the people's loyalty here?" asked Mallow.

"As great as in my own," answered Dyck cheerily. "Well, you ought to know what that is. At the same time, I've heard you're a friend of one or two dark spirits in the land."

"I hold no friendships that would do hurt to my country," answered Dyck sharply.

Mallow smiled satirically. "As we're starting at daylight, I suppose, I think I'll go to bed, if it may be you can put me up."

"Oh, Lord, yes! We can put you up, Mr. Mallow," said the old man. "You shall have as good a bed as you can find outside the Viceregal Lodge-a fourposter, wide and long. It's been slept in by many a man of place and power. But, Mr. Mallow, you haven't said you've had no dinner, and you'll not be going to bed in this house without your food. Did you shoot anything to-day, Dyck?" he asked his son.

"I didn't bring home a feather. There were no birds to-day, but there are the ducks I shot yesterday, and the quail."

"Oh, yes," said his father, "and there's the little roast pig, too. This is a day when we celebrate the anniversary of Irish power and life."

"What's that?" asked Mallow.

"That's the battle of the Boyne," answered his host with a little ostentation.

"Oh, you're one of the Peep-o'-Day Boys, then," remarked Mallow.

"I'm not saying that," answered the old man. "I'm not an Ulsterman, but I celebrate the coming of William to the Boyne. Things were done that day that'll be remembered when Ireland is whisked away into the Kingdom of Heaven. So you'll not go to bed till you've had dinner, Mr. Mallow! By me soul, I think I smell the little porker now. Dinner at five, to bed at eight, up before daylight, and off to Dublin when the light breaks. That's the course!" He turned to Captain Ivy. "I'm sorry, captain, but there's naught else to do, and you were going to-morrow at noon, anyhow, so it won't make much difference to you."

"No difference whatever," replied the sailorman. "I have to go to

Dublin, too, and from there to Queenstown to join my ship, and from

Queenstown to the coast of France to do some fighting."

"Please God!" remarked Miles Calhoun. "So be it!" declared Mallow.

"Amen!" said Dyck.

Once again Dyck looked the visitor straight in the eyes, and back in the horizon of Mallow's life-sky there shone the light of an evil star.

"There's the call to dinner," remarked Miles Calhoun, as a bell began ringing in the tower outside. "Come with me, Mr. Mallow, and I'll show you your room. You've had your horse put up, I hope?"

"Yes, and my bag brought in."

"Well, come along, then. There's no time to lose. I can smell the porker crawling from the oven."

"You're a master of tempting thoughts," remarked Mallow enthusiastically.

"Sheila-Sheila!" said Dyck Calhoun to himself where he stood.

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