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- No Defense, Volume 1. - 3/13 -
fireplace was a three-legged stool, and about the middle of the left-hand wall of the room was a chair which had been made out of a barrel, some of the staves having been sawn away to make a seat.
Once inside the house, Christopher Dogan laid his bag on the bed and waved his hands in a formula of welcome.
"Well, I'm honoured," he said, "for no one has set foot inside this place that I'd rather have here than the two of ye; and it's wonderful to me, Mr. Calhoun, that ye've never been inside it before, because there's been times when I've had food and drink in plenty. I could have made ye comfortable then and stroked ye all down yer gullet. As for you, Miss Llyn, you're as welcome as the shining of the stars of a night when there's no moon. I'm glad you're here, though I've nothing to give ye, not a bite nor sup. Ah, yes--but yes," he suddenly cried, touching his head. "Faith, then, I have! I have a drap of somethin' that's as good as annything dhrunk by the ancient kings of Ireland. It's a wee cordial that come from the cellars of the Bishop of Dunlany, when I cured his cook of the evil-stone that was killing her. Ah, thank God!"
He went into a corner on the left of the fireplace, opened an old jar, thrust his arm down, and drew out a squat little bottle of cordial. The bottle was beautifully made. It was round and hunched, and of glass, with an old label from which the writing had faded.
With eyes bright now, Christopher uncorked the bottle and smelled the contents. As he did so, a smile crinkled his face.
"Thank the Lord! There's enough for the two of ye--two fine tablespoonfuls of the cordial that'd do anny man good, no matter how bad he was, and turn an angel of a woman into an archangel. Bless yer Bowl!"
When Christopher turned to lift down two pewter pots, Calhoun reached up swiftly and took them from the shelf. He placed them in the hands of the old man, who drew a clean towel of coarse linen from a small cupboard in the wall above his head.
She and Dyck held the pots for the old man to pour the cordial into them. As he said, there was only a good porridge-spoon of liqueur for each. He divided it with anxious care.
"There's manny a man," he said, "and manny and manny a lady, too, born in the purple, that'd be glad of a dhrink of this cordial from the cellar of the bishop.
"Alpha, beta, gamma, delta is the code, and with the word delta," he continued, "dhrink every drop of it, as if it was the last thing you were dhrinking on earth; as if the Lord stooped down to give ye a cup of blessing from His great flagon of eternal happiness. Ye've got two kind hearts, but there's manny a day of throuble will come between ye and the end; and yet the end'll be right, God love ye! Now-alpha, beta, gamma, delta!"
With a merry laugh Dyck Calhoun turned up his cup and drained the liquid to the last drop. With a laugh not quite so merry, Sheila raised her mug and slowly drained the green happiness away.
"Isn't it good--isn't it like the love of God?" asked the old man. "Ain't I glad I had it for ye? Why I said I hadn't annything for ye to dhrink or eat, Lord only knows. There's nothing to eat, and there's only this to dhrink, and I hide it away under the bedclothes of time, as one might say. Ah, ye know, it's been there for three years, and I'd almost forgot it. It was a little angel from heaven whispered it to me whir ye stepped inside this house. I dunno why I kep' the stuff. Manny's the time I was tempted to dhrink it myself, and manny's the time something said to me, 'Not yet.' The Lord be praised, for I've had out of it more than I deserve!"
He took the mugs from their hands, and for a minute stood like some ancient priest who had performed a noble ritual. As Sheila looked at him, she kept saying to herself:
"He's a spirit; he isn't a man!"
Dyck's eye met that of Sheila, and he saw with the same feeling what was working in her heart.
"Well, we must be going," he said to Christopher Dogan. "We must get homeward, and we've had a good drink--the best I ever tasted. We're proud to pay our respects to you in your own house; and goodbye to you till we meet again."
His hand went out to the shoulder of the peasant and rested there for a second in friendly feeling. Then the girl stretched out her hand also. The old man took the two cups in one hand, and, reaching out the other, let Sheila's fingers fall upon his own. He slowly crooked his neck, and kissed her fingers with that distinction mostly to be found among those few good people who live on the highest or the lowest social levels, or in native tents.
"Ah, please God we meet again! and that I be let to serve you, Miss Sheila Llyn. I have no doubt you could do with a little help some time or another, the same as the rest of us. For all that's come between us three, may it be given me, humble and poor, to help ye both that's helped me so!"
Dyck turned to go, and as he did so a thought came to him.
"If you hadn't food and drink for us, what have you for yourself, Christopher?" he asked. "Have you food to eat?"
"Ah, well--well, do ye think I'm no provider? There was no food cooked was what I was thinking; but come and let me show you."
He took the cover off a jar standing in a corner. "Here's good flour, and there's water, and there's manny a wild shrub and plant on the hillside to make soup, and what more does a man want? With the scone cooked and inside ye, don't ye feel as well as though ye'd had a pound of beef or a rasher of bacon? Sure, ye do. I know where there's clumps of wild radishes, and with a little salt they're good--the best. God bless ye!"
A few moments later, as he stood in his doorway and looked along the road, he saw two figures, the girl's head hardly higher than the man's shoulder. They walked as if they had much to get and were ready for it.
"Well, I dunno," he said to himself. "I dunno about you, Dyck Calhoun. You're wild, and ye have too manny mad friends, but you'll come all right in the end; and that pretty girl--God save her!--she'll come with a smile into your arms by and by, dear lad. But ye have far to go and much to do before that."
His head fell, his eyes stared out into the shining distance.
"I see for ye manny and manny a stroke of bad luck, and manny a wrong thing said of ye, and she not believing wan of them. But oh, my God, but oh!"--his clenched hands went to his eyes. "I wouldn't like to travel the path that's before ye--no!"
Down the long road the two young people travelled, gossiping much, both of them touched by something sad and mysterious, neither knowing why; both of them happy, too, for somehow they had come nearer together than years of ordinary life might have made possible. They thought of the old man and his hut, and then broke away into talk of their own countryside, of the war with France, of the growing rebellious spirit in Ireland, of riots in Dublin town, of trouble at Limerick, Cork, and Sligo.
At the gate of the mansion where Sheila was visiting, Dyck put into her hands the wild flowers he had picked as they passed, and said:
"Well, it's been a great day. I've never had a greater. Let's meet again, and soon! I'm almost every day upon the hill with my gun, and it'd be worth a lot to see you very soon."
"Oh, you'll be forgetting me by to-morrow," the girl said with a little wistfulness at her lips, for she had a feeling they would not meet on the morrow. Suddenly she picked from the bunch of wild flowers he had given her a little sprig of heather.
"Well, if we don't meet--wear that," she said, and, laughing over her shoulder, turned and ran into the grounds of Loyland Towers.
THE COMING OF A MESSENGER
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
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