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- No Defense, Volume 2. - 1/10 -


By Gilbert Parker

Volume 2.





"Is it near the time?" asked Michael Clones of his friend, as they stood in front of the prison.

His companion, who was seated on a stone, wrapped in dark-green coverings faded and worn, and looking pinched with cold in the dour November day, said, without lifting his head:

"Seven minutes, an' he'll be out, God bless him!" "And save him and protect him!" said Michael. "He deserved punishment no more than I did, and it's broke him. I've seen the grey gather at his temples, though he's only been in prison four years. He was condemned to eight, but they've let him free, I don't know why. Perhaps it was because of what he told the government about the French navy. I've seen the joy of life sob itself down to the sour earth. When I took him the news of his father's death, and told him the creditors were swallowing what was left of Playmore, what do you think he did?"

Old Christopher Dogan smiled; his eyes twinkled with a mirth which had more pain than gaiety. "God love you, I know what he did. He flung out his hands, and said: 'Let it go! It's nothing to me.' Michael, have I said true?"

Michael nodded.

"Almost his very words you've used, and he flung out his hands, as you said.

"Aye, he'll be changed; but they've kept the clothes he had when he went to prison, and he'll come out in them, I'm thinking--"

"Ah, no!" interrupted Michael. "That can't be, for his clothes was stole. Only a week ago he sent to me for a suit of my own. I wouldn't have him wear my clothes--he a gentleman! It wasn't fitting. So I sent him a suit I bought from a shop, but he wouldn't have it. He would leave prison a poor man, as a peasant in peasant's clothes. So he wrote to me. Here is the letter." He drew from his pocket a sheet of paper, and spread it out. "See-read it. Ah, well, never mind," he added, as old Christopher shook his head. "Never mind, I'll read it to you!" Thereupon he read the note, and added: "We'll see him of the Calhouns risin' high beyant poverty and misfortune some day."

Old Christopher nodded.

"I'm glad Miles Calhoun was buried on the hilltop above Playmore. He had his day; he lived his life. Things went wrong with him, and he paid the price we all must pay for work ill-done."

"There you're right, Christopher Dogan, and I remember the day the downfall began. It was when him that's now Lord Mallow, Governor of Jamaica, came to summon Miles Calhoun to Dublin. Things were never the same after that; but I well remember one talk I had with Miles Calhoun just before his death. 'Michael,' he said to me, 'my family have had many ups and downs, and some that bear my name have been in prison before this, but never for killing a man out of fair fight.' 'One of your name may be in prison, sir,' said I, 'but not for killing a man out of fair fight. If you believe he did, there's no death bad enough for you!' He was silent for a while; then at last he whispered Mr. Dyck's name, and said to me: 'Tell him that as a Calhoun I love him, and as his father I love him ten times more. For look you, Michael, though we never ran together, but quarrelled and took our own paths, yet we are both Calhouns, and my heart is warm to him. If my son were a thousand times a criminal, nevertheless I would ache to take him by the hand.'"

"Hush! Look at the prison gate," said his companion, and stood up.

As the gates of the prison opened, the sun broke through the clouds and gave a brilliant phase to the scene. Out of the gates there came slowly, yet firmly, dressed in peasant clothes, the stalwart but faded figure of Dyck Calhoun.

Terribly changed he was. He had entered prison with the flush upon his cheek, the lilt of young manhood in his eyes, with hair black and hands slender and handsome. There was no look of youth in his face now. It was the face of a middle-aged man from which the dew of youth had vanished, into which life's storms had come and gone. Though the body was held erect, yet the head was thrust slightly forward, and the heavy eyebrows were like a pent-house. The eyes were slightly feverish, and round the mouth there crept a smile, half-cynical but a little happy. All freshness was gone from his hands. One hung at his side, listless, corded; the other doffed his hat in reply to the salute of his two humble friends.

As the gates closed behind him he looked gravely at the two men, who were standing not a foot apart. There swept slowly into his eyes, enlarging, brightening them, the glamour of the Celtic soul. Of all Ireland, or all who had ever known him, these two were the only ones welcoming him into the world again! Michael Clones, with his oval red face, big nose, steely eye, and steadfast bearing, had in him the soul of great kings. His hat was set firmly on his head. His knee-breeches were neat, if coarse; his stockings were clean. His feet were well shod, his coat worn, and he had still the look that belongs to the well-to-do peasant. He was a figure of courage and endurance. Dyck's hand went out to him, and a warm smile crept to his lips.

"Michael--ever--faithful Michael!"

A moisture came to Michael's eyes. He did not speak as he clasped the hand Dyck offered him. Presently Dyck turned to old Christopher with a kindly laugh.

"Well, old friend! You, too, come to see the stag set loose again? You're not many, that's sure." A grim, hard look came into his face, but both hands went out and caught the old man's shoulders affectionately. "This is no day for you to be waiting at prison's gates, Christopher; but there are two men who believe in me--two in all the world. It isn't the killing," he added after a moment's silence--"it isn't the killing that hurts so. If it's true that I killed Erris Boyne, what hurts most is the reason why I killed him."

"One way or another--does it matter now?" asked Christopher gently.

"Is it that you think nothing matters since I've paid the price, sunk myself in shame, lost my friends, and come out with not a penny left?" asked Dyck. "But yes," he added with a smile, wry and twisted, "yes, I have a little left!"

He drew from his pocket four small pieces of gold, and gazed ironically at them in his palm.

"Look at them!" He held out his hand, so that the two men could see the little coins. "Those were taken from me when I entered prison. They've been in the hands of the head of the jail ever since. They give them to me now--all that's left of what I was."

"No, not all, sir," declared Michael. "There's something left from Playmore--there's ninety pounds, and it's in my pocket. It was got from the sale of your sporting-kit. There was the boat upon the lake, the gun, and all kinds of riffraff stuff not sold with Playmore."

Dyck nodded and smiled. "Good Michael!"

Then he drew himself up stiffly, and blew in and out his breath as if with the joy of living. For four hard years he had been denied the free air of free men. Even when walking in the prison-yard, on cold or fair days, when the air was like a knife or when it had the sun of summer in it, it still had seemed to choke him.

In prison he had read, thought, and worked much. They had at least done that for him. The Attorney-General had given him freedom to work with his hands, and to slave in the workshop like one whose living depended on it. Some philanthropic official had started the idea of a workshop, and the officials had given the best of the prisoners a chance to learn trades and make a little money before they went out into the world. All that Dyck had earned went to purchase things he needed, and to help his fellow prisoners or their families.

Where was he now? The gap between the old life of nonchalance, frivolity, fantasy, and excitement was as great as that between heaven and hell. Here he was, after four years of prison, walking the highway with two of the humblest creatures of Ireland, and yet, as his soul said, two of the best.

Stalking along in thought, he suddenly became conscious that Michael and Christopher had fallen behind. He turned round.

"Come on. Come on with me." But the two shook their heads.

"It's not fitting, you a Calhoun of Playmore!" Christopher answered.

"Well, then, list to me," said Dyck, for he saw the men could not bear his new democracy. "I'm hungry. In four years I haven't had a meal that came from the right place or went to the right spot. Is the little tavern, the Hen and Chickens, on the Liffeyside, still going? I mean the place where the seamen and the merchant-ship officers visit."

Michael nodded.

"Well, look you, Michael--get you both there, and order me as good a meal of fish and chops and baked pudding as can be bought for money. Aye, and I'll have a bottle of red French wine, and you two will have what you like best. Mark me, we'll sit together there, for we're one of a kind. I've got to take to a life that fits me, an ex-jailbird, a man that's been in prison for killing!"

No Defense, Volume 2. - 1/10

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