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- No Defense, Volume 2. - 2/10 -
"There's the king's army," said Michael. "They make good officers in it."
A strange, half-sore smile came to Dyck's thin lips.
"Michael," said he, "give up these vain illusions. I was condemned for killing a man not in fair fight.
"I can't enter the army as an officer, and you should know it. The king himself could set me up again; but the distance between him and me is ten times round the world and back again!" But then Dyck nodded kindly. It was as if suddenly the martyr spirit had lifted him out of rigid, painful isolation, and he was speaking from a hilltop. "No, my friends, what is in my mind now is that I'm hungry. For four years I've eaten the bread of prison, and it's soured my mouth and galled my belly. Go you to that inn and make ready a good meal."
The two men started to leave, but old Christopher turned and stretched a hand up and out.
"Son of Ireland, bright and black and black and bright may be the picture of your life, but I see for you brightness and sweet faces, and music and song. It's not Irish music, and it's not Irish song, but the soul of the thing is Irish. Grim things await you, but you will conquer where the eagle sways to the shore, where the white mist flees from the hills, where heroes meet, where the hand of Moira stirs the blue and the witches flee from the voice of God. There is honour coming to you in the world."
Having said his say, with hand outstretched, having thrilled the air with the voice of one who had the soul of a prophet, the old man turned. Head bent forward, he shuffled away with Michael Clones along the stony street.
Dyck watched them go, his heart beating hard, his spirit overwhelmed.
It was not far to the Castle, yet every footstep had a history. Now and again he met people who knew him. Some bowed a little too profoundly, some nodded; but not one stopped to speak to him, though a few among them were people he had known well in days gone by. Was it the clothes he wore, or was it that his star had sunk so low that none could keep it company? He laughed to himself in scorn, and yet there kept ringing through his brain all the time the bells of St. Anselm's, which he was hearing:
"Oh, God, who is the sinner's friend, Make clean my soul once more!"
When he arrived at the Castle walls he stood and looked long at them.
"No, I won't go in. I won't try to see him," he said at last. "God, how strange Ireland is to me! The soil of it, the trees of it, the grass of it, are dearer than ever, but--I'll have no more of Ireland. I'll ask for nothing. I'll get to England. What's Ireland to me? I must make my way somewhere. There's one in there"--he nodded towards the Castle-- "that owes me money at cards. He should open his pockets to me, and see me safe on a ship for Australia; but I've had my fill of every one in Ireland. There's nothing here for me but shame. Well, back I'll go to the Hen and Chickens, to find a good dinner there."
He turned and went back slowly along the streets by which he had come, looking not to right nor left, thinking only of where he should go and what he should do outside of Ireland.
At the door of the inn he sniffed the dinner Michael had ordered.
"Man alive!" he said as he entered the place and saw the two men with their hands against the bright fire. "There's only one way to live, and that's the way I'm going to try."
"Well, you'll not try it alone, sir, if you please," said Michael. "I'll be with you, if I may."
"And I'll bless you as you go," said Christopher Dogan.
England was in a state of unrest. She had, as yet, been none too successful in the war with France. From the king's castle to the poorest slum in Seven Dials there was a temper bordering on despair. Ministries came and went; statesmen rose and fell. The army was indifferently recruited and badly paid. England's battles were fought by men of whom many were only mercenaries, with no stake in England's rise or fall.
In the army and navy there were protests, many and powerful, against the smallness of the pay, while the cost of living had vastly increased. In more than one engagement on land England had had setbacks of a serious kind, and there were those who saw in the blind-eyed naval policy, in the general disregard of the seamen's position, in the means used for recruiting, the omens of disaster. The police courts furnished the navy with the worst citizens of the country. Quota men, the output of the Irish prisons--seditious, conspiring, dangerous--were drafted for the king's service.
The admiralty pursued its course of seizing men of the mercantile marine, taking them aboard ships, keeping them away for months from the harbours of the kingdom, and then, when their ships returned, denying them the right of visiting their homes. The press-gangs did not confine their activities to the men of the mercantile marine. From the streets after dusk they caught and brought in, often after ill-treatment, torn from their wives and sweethearts, knocked on the head for resisting, tradesmen with businesses, young men studying for the professions, idlers, debtors, out-of-work men. The marvel is that the British fleets fought as well as they did.
Poverty and sorrow, loss and bereavement, were in every street, peeped mournfully out of every window, lurked at street corners. From all parts of the world adventurers came to renew their fortunes in the turmoil of London, and every street was a kaleidoscope of faces and clothes and colours, not British, not patriot, not national.
Among these outlanders were Dyck Calhoun and Michael Clones. They had left Ireland together in the late autumn, leaving behind them the stirrings of the coming revolution, and plunging into another revolt which was to prove the test and trial of English character.
Dyck had left Ireland with ninety pounds in his pocket and many tons' weight of misery in his heart. In his bones he felt tragedies on foot in Ireland which concession and good government could not prevent. He had fled from it all. When he set his face to Holyhead, he felt that he would never live in Ireland again. Yet his courage was firm as he made his way to London, with Michael Clones--faithful, devoted, a friend and yet a servant, treated like a comrade, yet always with a little dominance.
The journey to London had been without event, yet as the coach rolled through country where frost silvered the trees; where, in the early morning, the grass was shining with dew; where the everlasting green hedges and the red roofs of villages made a picture which pleased the eye and stirred the soul, Dyck Calhoun kept wondering what would be his future. He had no profession, no trade, no skill except with his sword; and as he neared London Town--when they left Hendon--he saw the smoke rising in the early winter morning and the business of life spread out before him, brave and buoyant.
As from the heights of Hampstead he looked down on the multitudinous area called London, something throbbed at his heart which seemed like hope; for what he saw was indeed inspiring. When at last, in the Edgware Road, he drew near to living London, he turned to Michael Clones and said:
"Michael, my lad, I think perhaps we'll find a footing here."
So they reached London, and quartered themselves in simple lodgings in Soho. Dyck walked the streets, and now and then he paid a visit to the barracks where soldiers were, to satisfy the thought that perhaps in the life of the common soldier he might, after all, find his future. It was, however, borne in upon him by a chance remark of Michael one day--"I'm not young enough to be a recruit, and you wouldn't go alone without me, would you?"--that this way to a livelihood was not open to him.
His faithful companion's remark had fixed Dyck's mind against entering the army, and then, towards the end of the winter, a fateful thing happened. His purse containing what was left of the ninety pounds--two- fifths of it--disappeared. It had been stolen, and in all the bitter days to come, when poverty and misery ground them down, no hint of the thief, no sign of the robber, was ever revealed.
Then, at last, a day when a letter came from Ireland. It was from the firm in which Bryan Llyn of Virginia had been interested, for the letter had been sent to their care, and Dyck had given them his address in London on this very chance. It reached Dyck's hands on the day after the last penny had been paid out for their lodgings, and they faced the streets, penniless, foodless--one was going to say friendless. The handwriting was that of Sheila Llyn.
At a street corner, by a chemist's shop where a red light burned, Dyck opened and read the letter. This is what Sheila had written to him.
MY DEAR FRIEND:
The time is near (I understand by a late letter to my mother from an official) when you will be freed from prison and will face the world again. I have not written you since your trial, but I have never forgotten and never shall. I have been forbidden to write to you or think of you, but I will take my own way about you. I have known all that has happened since we left Ireland, through the letters my mother has received. I know that Playmore has been sold, and I am sorry.
Now that your day of release is near, and you are to be again a free man, have you decided about your future? Is it to be in Ireland? No, I think not. Ireland is no place for a sane and level man to fight for honour, fame, and name. I hear that things are worse there in every way than they have been in our lifetime.
After what has happened in any case, it is not a field that offers you a chance. Listen to me. Ireland and England are not the only places in the world. My uncle came here to Virginia a poor man. He is now immensely rich. He had little to begin with, but he was young like you--indeed, a little older than you--when he first came. He invested wisely, worked bravely, and his wealth grew fast. No man needs a fortune to start the business of life in this country. He can get plenty of land for almost nothing; he can get credit for planting and furnishing his land, and, if he has friends, the credit is sure.
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