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- No Defense, Volume 1. - 5/13 -
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.
The journey to Dublin was made by the Calhouns, their two guests, and Michael Clones, without incident of note. Arrived there, Miles Calhoun gave himself to examination by Government officials and to assisting the designs of the Peep-o'-Day Boys; and indeed he was present at the formation of the first Orange Lodge.
His narrow nature, his petty craft and malevolence, were useful in a time of anxiety for the State. Yet he had not enough ability to develop his position by the chances offered him. He had not a touch of genius; he had only bursts of Celtic passion, which he had not mind enough to control.
Indeed, as days, weeks and months went on, his position became less valuable to himself, and his financial affairs suffered from his own and his agent's bad management. In his particular district he was a power; in Dublin he soon showed the weaker side of his nature. He had a bad habit of making foes where he could easily have made friends. In his personal habits he was sober, but erratic.
Dyck had not his father's abstention from the luxuries of life. He drank, he gamed, he went where temptation was, and fell into it. He steadily diminished his powers of resistance to self-indulgence until one day, at a tavern, he met a man who made a great impression upon him.
This man was brilliant, ebullient, full of humour, character and life, knowing apparently all the lower world of Dublin, and moving with an assured step. It was Erris Boyne, the divorced husband of Mrs. Llyn and the father of Sheila Llyn; but this fact was not known to Dyck. There was also a chance of its not becoming known, because so many years had passed since Erris Boyne was divorced.
One day Erris Boyne said to Dyck:
"There's a supper to-night at the Breakneck Club. Come along and have a skinful. You'll meet people worth knowing. They're a damned fine lot of fellows for you to meet, Calhoun !"
"The Breakneck Club isn't a good name for a first-class institution," remarked Dyck, with a pause and a laugh; "but I'll come, if you'll fetch me."
Erris Boyne, who was eighteen years older than Dyck, laughed, flicked a little pinch of snuff at his nose with his finger.
"Dear lad, of course I'll come and fetch you," he said. "There's many a man has done worse than lead a gay stripling like you into pleasant ways. Bring along any loose change you have, for it may be a night of nights."
"Oh, they play cards, do they, at the Breakneck Club?" said Dyck, alive with interest.
"Well, call it what you like, but men must do something when they get together, and we can't be talking all the time. So pocket your shillings."
"Are they all the right sort?" asked Dyck, with a little touch of malice. "I mean, are they loyal and true?"
Erris Boyne laid a hand on Dyck's arm.
"Come and find out. Do you think I'd lead you into bad company? Of course Emmet and Wolfe Tone won't be there, nor any of that lot; but there'll be some men of the right stamp." He watched Dyck carefully out of the corner of his eye. "It's funny," he added, "that in Ireland the word loyal always means being true to the Union Jack, standing by King George and his crowd."
"Well, what would you have?" said Dyck. "For this is a day and age when being loyal to the King is more than aught else in all the Irish world. We're never two days alike, we Irish. There are the United Irishmen and the Defenders on one side, and the Peepo'-Day Boys, or Orangemen, on the other--Catholic and Protestant, at each other's throats. Then there's a hand thrust in, and up goes the sword, and the rifles, pikes, and bayonets; and those that were ready to mutilate or kill each other fall into each other's arms."
Erris Boyne laughed. "Well, there'll soon be an end to that. The Irish Parliament is slipping into disrepute. It wouldn't surprise me if the astute English bribe them into a union, to the ruin of Irish Independence. Yet maybe, before that comes, the French will have a try for power here. And upon my word, if I have to live under foreign rule, I'd as leave have a French whip over me as an English!" He came a step nearer, his voice lowered a little. "Have you heard the latest news from France? They're coming with a good-sized fleet down to the south coast. Have you heard it?"
"Oh, there's plenty one hears one doesn't believe is gospel," answered Dyck, his eyes half closing. "I'm not believing all I hear, as if it was a prayer-meeting. Anything may happen here; Ireland's a woman--very uncertain."
Dyck flicked some dust from his waistcoat, and dropped his eyes, because he was thinking of two women he had known; one of them an angel now in company of her sister angels--his mother; the other a girl he had met on the hills of Connemara, a wonderfully pretty girl of seventeen. How should he know that the girl was Erris Boyne's daughter?--although there were times when some gesture of Boyne, some quick look, some lifting of the eyebrows, brought back the memory of Sheila Llyn, as it did now.
Since Dyck left his old home he had seen her twice; once at Loyland Towers, and once at her home in Limerick. The time he had spent with her had been very brief, but full of life, interest, and character. She was like some piquant child, bold, beautiful, uncertain, caressing in her manner one instant, and distant at another.
She had said radiant things, had rallied him, had shown him where a twenty-nine-pound salmon had been caught in a stream, and had fired at and brought down a pheasant outside the covert at Loyland Towers. Whether at Loyland Towers, or at her mother's house in Limerick, there was no touch of forwardness in her, or in anything she said or did. She was the most natural being, the freest from affectation, he had ever known.
As Erris Boyne talked to him, the memory of Sheila flooded his mind, and on the flood his senses swam like swans. He had not her careful composure. He was just as real, but he had the wilfulness of man. She influenced him as no woman had ever yet done; but he saw no happy ending to the dream. He was too poor to marry; he had no trade or profession; his father's affairs were in a bad way. He could not bring himself to join the army or the navy; and yet, as an Irishman moved by political ideals, with views at once critical and yet devoted to the crown, he was not in a state to settle down.
He did not know that Erris Boyne was set to capture him for the rebel cause. How could he know that Boyne was an agent of the most evil forces in Ireland--an agent of skill and address, prepossessing, with the face of a Celtic poet and the eye of an assassin?
Boyne's object was to bring about the downfall of Dyck Calhoun--that is, his downfall as a patriot. At the Breakneck Club this bad business began. Dyck had seen many people, representing the gaiety and deviltry of life; but it was as though many doubtful people, many reckless ones, all those with purposes, fads, and fancies, were there. Here was an irresponsible member of a Government department; there an officer of His Majesty's troops; beyond, a profligate bachelor whose reputation for traitorous diplomacy was known and feared. Yet everywhere were men known in the sporting, gaming, or political world, in sea life or land life, most of whom had a character untouched by criticism.
It was at this club that Dyck again met that tall, ascetic messenger from the Attorney-General, who had brought the message to Miles Calhoun. It was with this man--Leonard Mallow, eldest son of Lord Mallow--that Dyck, with three others, played cards one afternoon.
The instinctive antipathy which had marked their first introduction was carried on to this later meeting. Dyck distrusted Mallow, and allowed his distrust exercise. It was unfortunate that Mallow won from him three-fourths of the money he had brought to the club, and won it with a smile not easy to forgive.
Dyck had at last secured sudden success in a scheme of his cards when Mallow asked with a sneer:
"Did you learn that at your home in heaven?"
"Don't they teach it where you live in hell?" was Dyck's reply.
At this Mallow flicked Dyck across the face with his handkerchief.
"That's what they teach where I belong."
"Well, it's easy to learn, and we'll do the sum at any time or place you please." After a moment Dyck continued: "I wouldn't make a fuss over it. Let's finish the game. There's no good prancing till the sport's ready; so I'll sit and learn more of what they teach in hell!"
Dyck had been drinking, or he would not have spoken so; and when he was drunk daring was strong in him. He hated profoundly this man-so self- satisfied and satanic.
He kept a perfect coolness, however. Leonard Mallow should not see that he was upset. His wanton wordiness came to his rescue, and until the end of the game he played with sang-froid, daring, and skill. He loved cards; he loved the strife of skill against skill, of trick against trick, of hand against hand. He had never fought a duel in his life, but he had no fear of doing so.
At length, having won back nearly all he had lost, he rose to his feet
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