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No Defense, Volume 1_ By Gilbert Parker Characters: 24157

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02

"There's many a government has made a mess of things in Ireland," said Erris Boyne; "but since the day of Cromwell the Accursed this is the worst. Is there a man in Ireland that believes in it, or trusts it? There are men that support it, that are served by it, that fill their pockets out of it; but by Joseph and by Mary, there's none thinks there couldn't be a better! Have a little more marsala, Calhoun?"

With these words, Boyne filled up the long glass out of which Dyck Calhoun had been drinking-drinking too much. Shortly before Dyck had lost all his cash at the card-table. He had turned from it penniless and discomfited to see Boyne, smiling, and gay with wine, in front of him.

Boyne took him by the arm.

"Come with me," said he. "There's no luck for you at the tables to-day. Let's go where we can forget the world, where we can lift the banner of freedom and beat the drums of purpose. Come along, lad!"

Boyne had ceased to have his earlier allurement for Dyck Calhoun, but his smile was friendly, his manner was hospitable, and he was on the spot. The time was critical for Dyck-critical and dangerous. He had lost money heavily; he had even exhausted his mother's legacy.

Of late he had seen little of his father, and the little he had seen was not fortunate. They had quarrelled over Dyck's wayward doings. Miles Calhoun had said some hard things to him, and Dyck had replied that he would cut out his own course, trim his own path, walk his own way. He had angered his father terribly, and Miles, in a burst of temper, had disclosed the fact that his own property was in peril. They had been, estranged ever since; but the time had come when Dyck must at least secure the credit of his father's name at his bank to find the means of living.

It was with this staring him in the face that Erris Boyne's company seemed to offer at least a recovery of his good spirits. Dissipated as Boyne's look was, he had a natural handsomeness which, with good care of himself personally, well-appointed clothes, a cheerful manner, and witty talk, made him palatable to careless-living Dublin.

This Dublin knew little of Boyne's present domestic life. It did not know that he had injured his second wife as badly as he had wronged his first-with this difference, however, that his first wife was a lady, while his second wife, Noreen, was a beautiful, quick-tempered, lovable eighteen-year-old girl, a graduate of the kitchen and dairy, when he took her to himself. He had married her in a mad moment after his first wife -Mrs. Llyn, as she was now called-had divorced him; and after the first thrill of married life was over, nothing remained with Boyne except regret that he had sold his freedom for what he might, perhaps, have had without marriage.

Then began a process of domestic torture which alienated Noreen from him, and roused in her the worst passions of human nature. She came to know of his infidelities, and they maddened her. They had no children, and in the end he had threatened her with desertion. When she had retorted in strong words, he slapped her face, and left her with an ugly smile.

The house where they lived was outside Dublin, in a secluded spot, yet not far from stores and shops. There was this to be said for Noreen- that she kept her home spotlessly clean, even with two indifferent servants. She had a gift for housewifery, which, at its best, was as good as anything in the world, and far better than could be found in most parts of Ireland.

Of visitors they had few, if any, and the young wife was left alone to brood upon her wrongs. Erris Boyne had slapped her face on the morning of the day when he met Dyck Calhoun in the hour of his bad luck. He did not see the look in her face as he left the house.

Ruthless as he was, he realized the time had come when by bold effort he might get young Calhoun wholly into his power. He began by getting Dyck into the street. Then he took him by an indirect route to what was, reputedly, a tavern of consequence. There choice spirits met on occasion, and dark souls, like Boyne, planned adventures. Outwardly it was a tavern of the old class, superficially sedate, and called the Harp and Crown. None save a very few conspirators knew how great a part it played in the plan to break the government of Ireland and to ruin England's position in the land.

The entrance was by two doors-one the ordinary public entrance, the other at the side of the house, which was on a corner. This could be opened by a skeleton key owned by Erris Boyne.

He and Dyck entered, however, by the general entrance, because Boyne had forgotten his key. They passed through the bar-parlour, nodding to one or two habitues, and presently were bestowed in a room, not large, but well furnished. It was quiet and alluring on this day when the world seemed disconcerting. So pleasantly did the place affect Dyck's spirits that, as he sat down in the room which had often housed worse men than himself, he gave a sigh of relief.

They played cards, and Dyck won. He won five times what he had lost at the club. This made him companionable.

"It's a poor business-cards," he said at last. "It puts one up in the clouds and down in the ditch all at the same time. I tell you this, Boyne-I'm going to stop. No man ought to play cards who hasn't a fortune; and my fortune, I'm sorry to say, is only my face!" He laughed bitterly.

"And your sword-you've forgotten that, Calhoun. You've a lot of luck in your sword."

"Well, I've made no money out of it so far," Dyck retorted cynically.

"Yet you've put men with reputations out of the running, men like


"Oh, that was a bit of luck and a few tricks I've learned. I can't start a banking-account on that."

"But you can put yourself in the way of winning what can't be bought."

"No-no English army for me, thank you-if that's what you mean."

"It isn't what I mean. In the English army a man's a slave. He can neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep without being under command. He has to do a lot of dirty work without having voice in the policy. He's a child of discipline and order."

"And a damned good thing that would be for most of us!" retorted Dyck.

"But I'm not one of the most."

"I know that. Try a little more of this marsala, Calhoun. It's the best in the place, and it's got a lot of good stuff. I've been coming to the Harp and Crown for many years, and I've never had a bad drink all that time. The old landlord is a genius. He doesn't put on airs. He's a good man, is old Swinton, and there's nothing good in the drink of France that you can't get here."

"Well, if that's true, how does it happen?" asked Dyck, with a little flash of interest. "Why should this little twopenny, one-horse place- I mean in size and furnishments-have such luck as to get the best there is in France? It means a lot of trouble, eh?"

"It means some trouble. But let me tell you"-he leaned over the table and laid a hand on Dyck's, which was a little nervous-"let me speak as an old friend to you, if I may. Here are the facts. For many a year, you know as well as I do, ships have been coming from France to Ireland with the very best wines and liquors, and taking back the very best wool- -smuggled, of course. Well, our little landlord here is the damnedest rogue of all. The customs never touch him. From the coast the stuff comes up to Dublin without a check, and, as he's a special favourite, he gets the best to be had in la belle France."

"Why is he such a favourite?" asked Dyck.

Erris Boyne laughed, not loudly, but suggestively. "When a lady kisses a man on the lips, of her own free will, and puts her arm around his neck, is it done, do you think, because it's her duty to do it or die? No, it's because she likes the man; because the man is a good friend to her; because it's money in her pocket. That's the case with old Swinton. France kisses him, as it were, because"-he paused, as though debating what to say-"because France knows he'd rather be under her own revolutionary government than under the monarchy of England."

His voice had resonance, and, as he said these words, it had insistence.

"Do you know, Calhoun, I think old Swinton is right. We suffer here because monarchy, with its cruel hand of iron, mistrusts us, brutalizes us."

He did not see enlightenment come into the half-drunken eyes of Dyck. He only realized that Dyck was very still, and strangely, deeply interested.

"I tell you, Calhoun, we need in Ireland something of the spirit that's alive in France to-day. They've cleaned out the kings-Louis's and Marie's heads have dropped into the basket. They're sweeping the dirt out of France; they're cleaning the dark places; they're whitewashing Versailles and sawdusting the Tuileries; they're purging the aristocratic guts of France; they're starting for the world a reformation which will make it clean. Not America alone, but England, and all Europe, will become republics."

"England?" asked Dyck in a low, penetrating voice. "Aye, England, through Ireland. Ireland will come first, then Wales, Scotland, and England. Dear lad, the great day is come-the greatest the world has ever known. France, the spirit of it, is alive. It will purge and cleanse the universe!"

The suspicious, alert look passed from Dyck's eyes, but his face had become flushed. He reached out and poured himself another glass of wine.

"What you say may be true, Boyne. It may be true, but I wouldn't put faith in it-not for one icy minute. I don't want to see here in Ireland the horrors and savagery of France. I don't want to see the guillotine up on St. Stephen's Green."

Boyne felt that he must march carefully. He was sure of his game; but there were difficulties, and he must not throw his chances away. Dyck was in a position where, with his inflammable nature, he could be captured.

"Well, I'll tell you, Calhoun. I don't know which is worse-Ireland bloody with shootings and hangings, Ulster up in the north and Cork in the south, from the Giant's Causeway to Tralee; no two sets of feet dancing alike, with the bloody hand of England stretching out over the Irish Parliament like death itself; or France ruling us. How does the English government live here? Only by bribery and purchases. It buys its way. Isn't that true?"

Dyck nodded. "Yes, it's true in a way," he replied. "It's so, because we're what we are. We've never been properly put in our places. The heel on our necks-that's the way to do it."

Boyne looked at the flushed, angry face. In spite of Dyck's words, he felt that his medicine was working well.

"Listen to me, Calhoun," he said softly. "You've got to do something. You're living an idle life. You're in debt. You've ruined your independent fortune at the tables. There are but two courses open to you. One is to join the British forces-to be a lieutenant, a captain, a major, a colonel, or a general, in time; to shoot and cut and hang and quarter, and rule with a heavy rod. That's one way."

"So you think I'm fit for nothing but the sword, eh?" asked Dyck with irony. "You think I've got no brains for anything except the army."

Boyne laughed. "Have another drink, Calhoun." He poured out more wine. "Oh, no, not the army alone; there's the navy-and there's the French navy! It's the best navy in the world, the freest and the greatest, and with Bonaparte going at us, England will have enough to do-too much, I'm thinking. So there's a career in the French navy open. And listen- before you and I are two months older, the French navy will be in the harbours of Ireland, and the French army will land here." He reached out and grasped Dyck's arm. "There's no liberty of freedom under the Union Jack. What do you think of the tricolour? It's a great flag, and under it the world is going to be ruled-England, Spain, Italy, Holland, Prussia, Austria, and Russia-all of them. The time is ripe. You've got your chance. Take it on, dear lad, take it on."

Dyck did not raise his head. He was leaning forward with b

oth arms on the table, supporting himself firmly; his head was bowed as though with deep interest in what Boyne said. And, indeed, his interest was great- so great that all his manhood, vigour, all his citizenship, were vitally alive. Yet he did not lift his head.

"What's that you say about French ships in the harbours of Ireland?" he said in a tone that showed interest. "Of course, I know there's been a lot of talk of a French raid on Ireland, but I didn't know it was to be so soon."

"Oh, it's near enough! It's all been arranged," replied Boyne. "There'll be ships-war-ships, commanded by Hoche. They'll have orders to land on the coast, to join the Irish patriots, to take control of the operations, and then to march on-"

He was going to say "march on Dublin," but he stopped. He was playing a daring game. If he had not been sure of his man, he would not have been so frank and fearless.

He did not, however, mislead Dyck greatly. Dyck had been drinking a good deal, but this knowledge of a French invasion, and a sense of what Boyne was trying to do, steadied his shaken emotions; held him firmly in the grip of practical common sense. He laughed, hiccuped a little, as though he was very drunk, and said:

"Of course the French would like to come to Ireland; they'd like to seize it and hold it. Why, of course they would! Don't we know all that's been and gone? Aren't Irishmen in France grown rich in industry there after having lost every penny of their property here? Aren't there Irishmen there, always conniving to put England at defiance here by breaking her laws, cheating her officers, seducing her patriots? Of course; but what astounds me is that a man of your standing should believe the French are coming here now to Ireland. No, no, Boyne; I'm not taking your word for any of these things. You're a gossip; you're a damned, pertinacious, preposterous gossip, and I'll say it as often as you like."

"So it's proof you want, is it? Well, then, here it is."

Boyne drew from his pocket a small leather-bound case and took from it a letter, which he laid on the table in front of Dyck.

Dyck looked at the document, then said:

"Ah, that's what you are, eh?-a captain in the French artillery! Well, that'd be a surprise in Ireland if it were told."

"It isn't going to be told unless you tell it, Calhoun, and you're too much of a sportsman for that. Besides:

"Why shouldn't you have one of these if you want it-if you want it!"

"What'd be the good of my wanting it? I could get a commission here in the army of George III, if I wanted it, but I don't want it; and any man that offers it to me, I'll hand it back with thanks and be damned to you!"

"Listen to me, then, Calhoun," remarked Boyne, reaching out a hand to lay it on Dyck's arm.

Dyck saw the motion, however, and carefully drew back in his chair. "I'm not an adventurer," he said; "but if I were, what would there be in it for me?"

Boyne misunderstood the look on Dyck's face. He did not grasp the meaning behind the words, and he said to him:

"Oh, a good salary-as good as that of a general, with a commission and the spoils of war! That's the thing in the French army that counts for so much-spoils of war. When they're out on a country like this, they let their officers loose-their officers and men. Did you ever hear tell of a French army being pinched for fodder, or going thirsty for drink, or losing its head for poverty or indigence?"

"No, I never did."

"Well, then, take the advice of an officer of the French army resident now in Dublin," continued Boyne, laughing, "who has the honour of being received as the friend of Mr. Dyck Calhoun of Playmore! Take your hand in the game that's going on! For a man as young as you, with brains and ambition, there's no height he mightn't reach in this country. Think of it-Ireland free from English control; Ireland, with all her dreams, living her own life, fearless, independent, as it was in days of yore. Why, what's to prevent you, Dyck Calhoun, from being president of the Irish Republic? You have brains, looks, skill, and a wonderful tongue. None but a young man could take on the job, for it will require boldness, skill, and the recklessness of perfect courage. Isn't it good enough for you?"

"What's the way to do it?" asked Dyck, still holding on to his old self grimly. "How is it to be done?" He spoke a little thickly, for, in spite of himself, the wine was clogging his senses. It had been artistically drugged by Boyne.

"Listen to me, Calhoun," continued Boyne. "I've known you now some time. We've come in and gone out together. This day was inevitable. You were bound to come to it one way or another. Man, you have a heart of iron; you have the courage of Caesar or Alexander; you have the chance of doing what no Englishman could ever do-Cromwell, or any other. Well, then, don't you see the fateful moment has come in Irish life and history? Strife everywhere! Alone, what can we do? Alone, if we try to shake off the yoke that binds us we shall be shattered, and our last end be worse than our first. But with French ships, French officers and soldiers, French guns and ammunition, with the trained men of the French army to take control here, what amelioration of our weakness, what confidence and skill on our side! Can you doubt what the end will be? Answer me, man, don't you see it all? Isn't it clear to you? Doesn't such a cause enlist you?"

With a sudden burst of primitive anger, Dyck got to his feet, staggering a little, but grasping the fatal meaning of the whole thing. He looked Erris Boyne in the eyes. His own were bloodshot and dissipated, but there was a look in them of which Boyne might well take heed.

Boyne had not counted on Dyck's refusal; or, if it had occurred to him, the remedy, an ancient one, was ready to his fingers. The wine was drugged. He had watched the decline of Dyck's fortunes with an eye of appreciation; he had seen the clouds of poverty and anxiety closing in. He had known of old Miles Calhoun's financial difficulties. He had observed Dyck's wayside loitering with revolutionists, and he had taken it with too much seriousness. He knew the condition of Dyck's purse.

He was not prepared for Dyck's indignant outburst.

"I tell you this, Erris Boyne, there's none has ever tried me as you have done! What do you think I am-a thing of the dirty street-corner, something to be swept up and cast into the furnace of treason? Look you, after to-day you and I will never break bread or drink wine together. No-by Heaven, no! I don't know whether you've told me the truth or not, but I think you have. There's this to say-I shall go from this place to Dublin Castle, and shall tell them there-without mentioning your name- what you've told about the French raid. Now, by God, you're a traitor! You oughtn't to live, and if you'll send your seconds to me I'll try and do with you as I did with Leonard Mallow. Only mark me, Erris Boyne, I'll put my sword into your heart. You understand-into your filthy heart!"

At that moment the door of the room opened, and a face looked in for an instant-the face of old Swinton, the landlord of the Harp and Crown. Suddenly Boyne's look changed. He burst into a laugh, and brought his fists down on the table between them with a bang.

"By Joseph and by Mary, but you're a patriot, Calhoun! I was trying to test you. I was searching to find the innermost soul of you. The French fleet, my commission in the French army, and my story about the landlord are all bosh. If I meant what I told you, do you think I'd have been so mad as to tell you so much, damn it? Have you no sense, man? I wanted to find out exactly how you stood-faithful or unfaithful to the crown- and I've found out. Sit down, sit down, Calhoun, dear lad. Take your hand off your sword. Remember, these are terrible days. Everything I said about Ireland is true. What I said about France is false. Sit down, man, and if you're going to join the king's army-as I hope and trust you will-then here's something to help you face the time between." He threw on the table a packet of notes. "They're good and healthy, and will buy you what you need. There's not much. There's only a hundred pounds, but I give it to you with all my heart, and you can pay it back when the king's money comes to you, or when you marry a rich woman."

He said it all with a smile on his face. It was done so cleverly, with so much simulated sincerity, that Dyck, in his state of semi-drunkenness, could not, at the instant, place him in his true light. Besides, there was something handsome and virile in Boyne's face-and untrue; but the untruth Dyck did not at the moment see.

Never in his life had Boyne performed such prodigies of dissimulation. He was suddenly like a schoolboy disclosing the deeds of some adventurous knight. He realized to the full the dangers he had run in disclosing the truth; for it was the truth that he had told.

So serious was the situation, to his mind, that one thing seemed inevitable. Dyck must be kidnapped at once and carried out of Ireland. It would be simple. A little more drugged wine, and he would be asleep and powerless-it had already tugged at him. With the help of his confreres in the tavern, Dyck could be carried out, put on a lugger, and sent away to France.

There was nothing else to do. Boyne had said truly that the French fleet meant to come soon. Dyck must not be able to give the thing away before it happened. The chief thing now was to prime him with the drugged wine till he lost consciousness, and then carry him away to the land of the guillotine. Dyck's tempestuous nature, the poetry and imagination of him, would quickly respond to French culture, to the new orders of the new day in France. Meanwhile, he must be soaked in drugged drink.

Already the wine had played havoc with him; already stupefaction was coming over his senses. With a good-natured, ribald laugh, Boyne poured out another glass of marsala and pushed it gently over to Dyck's fingers.

"My gin to your marsala," he said, and he raised his own glass of gin, looking playfully over the top to Dyck.

With a sudden loosening of all the fibres of his nature, Dyck raised the glass of marsala to his lips and drained it off almost at a gulp.

"You're a prodigious liar, Boyne," he said. "I didn't think any one could lie so completely."

"I'll teach you how, Calhoun. It's not hard. I'll teach you how."

He passed a long cigar over the table to Dyck, who, however, did not light it, but held it in his fingers. Boyne struck a light and held it out across the small table. Dyck leaned forward, but, as he did so, the wine took possession of his senses. His head fell forward in sleep, and the cigar dropped from his fingers.

"Ah, well-ah, well, we must do some business now!" remarked Boyne. He leaned over Dyck for a moment. "Yes, sound asleep," he said, and laughed scornfully to himself. "Well, when it's dark we must get him away. He'll sleep for four or five hours, and by that time he'll be out on the way to France, and the rest is easy."

He was about to go to the door that led into the business part of the house, when the door leading into the street opened softly, and a woman stepped inside. She had used the key which Boyne had forgotten at his house.

At first he did not hear her. Then, when he did turn round, it was too late. The knife she carried under her skirt flashed out and into Boyne's heart. He collapsed on the floor without a sound, save only a deep sigh.

Stooping over, Noreen drew the knife out with a little gurgling cry-a smothered exclamation. Then she opened the door again-the side-door leading into the street-closed it softly, and was gone.

Two hours afterwards the landlord opened the door. Erris Boyne lay in his silence, stark and still. At the table, with his head sunk in his arms, sat Dyck Calhoun, snoring stertorously, his drawn sword by his side.

With a cry the old man knelt on the floor beside the body of Erris Boyne.

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