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- No Defense, Volume 1. - 2/13 -


the hills, little tragedies of Celtic life--just bursts of the Celtic soul, as it were, cheerful yet sad, buoyant and passionate, eager yet melancholy. She was singing in Irish too. They were the words of songs taught her by her mother's maid.

She had been tramping over the hills for a couple of hours, virile, beautiful, and alone. She wore a gown of dark gold, with little green ribbons here and there. The gown was short, and her ankles showed. In spite of the strong boots she wore they were alert, delicate, and shapely, and all her beauty had the slender fullness of a quail.

When she saw Dyck, she stopped suddenly, her mouth slightly open. She gave him a sidelong glance of wonder, interest, and speculation. Then she threw her head slightly back, and all the curls gathered in a bunch and shook like bronze flowers. It was a head of grace and power, of charm and allurement--of danger.

Dyck was lost in admiration. He looked at her as one might look at a beautiful thing in a dream. He did not speak; he only smiled as he gazed into her eyes. She was the first to speak.

"Well, who are you?" she asked with a slightly southern accent in her voice, delicate and entrancing. Her head gave a little modest toss, her fine white teeth caught her lower lip with a little quirk of humour; for she could see that he was a gentleman, and that she was safe from anything that might trouble her.

He replied to her question with the words:

"My name? Why, it's Dyck Calhoun. That's all."

Her eyes brightened. "Isn't that enough?" she asked gently.

She knew of his family. She was only visiting in the district with her mother, but she had lately heard of old Miles Calhoun and his wayward boy, Dyck; and here was Dyck, with a humour in his eyes and a touch of melancholy at his lips. Somehow her heart went out to him.

Presently he said to her: "And what's your name?"

"I'm only Sheila Llyn, the daughter of my mother, a widow, visiting at Loyland Towers. Yes, I'm only Sheila!"

She laughed.

"Well, just be 'only Sheila,"' he answered admiringly, and he held out a hand to her. "I wouldn't have you be anything else, though it's none of my business."

For one swift instant she hesitated; then she laid her hand in his.

"There's no reason why we should not," she said. "Your father's respectable."

She looked at him again with a sidelong glance, and with a whimsical, reserved smile at her lips.

"Yes, he's respectable, I agree, but he's dull," answered Dyck. "For an Irishman, he's dull--and he's a tyrant, too. I suppose I deserve that, for I'm a handful."

"I think you are, and a big handful too!"

"Which way are you going?" he asked presently.

"And you?"

"Oh, I'm bound for home." He pointed across the valley. "Do you see that smoke coming up from the plantation over there?"

"Yes, I know," she answered. "I know. That's Playmore, your father's place. Loyland Towers is between here and there. Which way were you going there?"

"Round to the left," he said, puzzled, but agreeable.

"Then we must say good-bye, because I go to the right. That's my nearest way."

"Well, if that's your nearest way, I'm going with you," he said, "because--well, because--because--"

"If you won't talk very much!" she rejoined with a little air of instinctive coquetry.

"I don't want to talk. I'd like to listen. Shall we start?"

A half-hour later they suddenly came upon an incident of the road.

It was, alas, no uncommon incident. An aged peasant, in a sudden fit of weakness, had stumbled on the road, and, in falling, had struck his head on a stone and had lost consciousness. He was an old peasant of the usual Irish type, coarsely but cleanly dressed. Lying beside him was a leather bag, within which were odds and ends of food and some small books of legend and ritual. He was a peasant of a superior class, however.

In falling, he had thrown over on his back, and his haggard face was exposed to the sun and sky. At sight of him Dyck and Sheila ran forward. Dyck dropped on one knee and placed a hand on the stricken man's heart.

"He's alive, all right," Dyck said. "He's a figure in these parts. His name's Christopher Dogan."

"Where does he live?"

"Live? Well, not three hundred yards from here, when he's at home, but he's generally on the go. He's what the American Indians would call a medicine-man."

"He needs his own medicine now."

"He's over eighty, and he must have gone dizzy, stumbled, fallen, and struck a stone. There's the mark on his temple. He's been lying here unconscious ever since; but his pulse is all right, and we'll soon have him fit again."

So saying, Dyck whipped out a horn containing spirit, and, while Sheila lifted the injured head, he bathed the old man's face with the spirit, then opened the mouth and let some liquor trickle down.

"He's the cleanest peasant I ever saw," remarked Sheila; "and he's coming to. Look at him!"

Yes, he was coming to. There was a slight tremor of the eyelids, and presently they slowly opened. They were eyes of remarkable poignancy and brightness--black, deep-set, direct, full of native intelligence. For an instant they stared as if they had no knowledge, then understanding came to them.

"Oh, it's you, sir," his voice said tremblingly, looking at Dyck. "And very kind it is of ye !" Then he looked at Sheila. "I don't know ye," he said whisperingly, for his voice seemed suddenly to fail. "I don't know ye," he repeated, "but you look all right."

"Well, I'm Sheila Llyn," the girl said, taking her hand from the old man's shoulder.

"I'm Sheila Llyn, and I'm all right in a way, perhaps."

The troubled, piercing eyes glanced from one to the other.

"No relation?"

"No--never met till a half-hour ago," remarked Dyck.

The old man drew himself to a sitting posture, then swayed slightly. The hands of the girl and Dyck went out behind his back. As they touched his back, their fingers met, and Dyck's covered the girl's. Their eyes met, too, and the story told by Dyck in that moment was the beginning of a lifetime of experience, comedy, and tragedy.

He thought her fingers were wonderfully soft, warm, and full of life; and she thought that his was the hand of a master-of a master in the field of human effort. That is, if she thought at all, for Dyck's warm, powerful touch almost hypnotized her.

The old peasant understood, however. He was standing on his feet now. He was pale and uncertain. He lifted up his bag, and threw it over his shoulder.

"Well, I'm not needing you any more, thank God!" he said.

"So Heaven's blessing on ye, and I bid ye good-bye. You've been kind to me, and I won't forget either of ye. If ever I can do ye a good turn, I'll do it."

"No, we're not going to leave you until you're inside your home," said Dyck.

The old man looked at Sheila in meditation. He knew her name and her history. Behind the girl's life was a long prospect of mystery. Llyn was her mother's maiden name. Sheila had never known her father. Never to her knowledge had she seen him, because when she was yet an infant her mother had divorced him by Act of Parliament, against the wishes of her church, and had resumed her maiden name.

Sheila's father's name was Erris Boyne, and he had been debauched, drunken, and faithless; so at a time of unendurable hurt his wife had freed herself. Then, under her maiden name, she had brought up her daughter without any knowledge of her father; had made her believe he was dead; had hidden her tragedy with a skilful hand.

Only now, when Sheila was released from a governess, had she moved out of the little wild area of the County Limerick where she lived; only now had she come to visit an uncle whose hospitality she had for so many years denied herself. Sheila was two years old when her father disappeared, and fifteen years had gone since then.

One on either side of the old man, they went with him up the hillside for about three hundred yards, to the door of his house, which was little more than a cave in a sudden lift of the hill. He swayed as he walked, but by the time they reached his cave-house he was alert again.

The house had two windows, one on either side of the unlocked doorway; and when the old man slowly swung the door open, there was shown an interior of humble character, but neat and well-ordered. The floor was earth, dry and clean. There was a bed to the right, also wholesome and dry, with horse-blankets for cover. At the back, opposite the doorway, was a fireplace of some size, and in it stood a kettle, a pot, and a few small pans, together with a covered saucepan. On either side of the


No Defense, Volume 1. - 2/13

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