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"And which is, pray?"
"That is my secret. Time will show."
"What!" exclaimed he, "some new conspiracy to rob me? And one of the conspirators a man who presumes to my daughter's hand! Come, Gallagher, let you and me understand each other. I defy you, or Biddy, or any one, to make good your story. But if you are frank with me, you won't find me unreasonable. Let me see the doc.u.ments."
"In good time, sir," said I. "Now, as to the smugglers."
And we proceeded to talk about the object of our cruise. I found he had little news to give me, or else he chose to give little, and after a while I rose to go. He pressed me to stay the night, urging his solitude; but I had no desire to prolong the interview.
"We shall meet again," said I; "and you may rely on hearing from me if I have any news of your daughter."
We were out on the doorstep by this time. It was a beautiful, fresh evening, with a half-moon hanging above the opposite hills and sending a broad track of shimmering light across the lough.
"It's a tempting night," said he. "I've not taken the air for days.
I've a good mind to see you to your boat."
For all that, he looked round uneasily, with the air of a man who suspected a lurking foe in every rustling leaf.
"Two of you men follow," said he to the sentries at the door. "Keep me in view. Ah, how fresh the air is after that close room! Yes, Gallagher, you were speaking of my daughter. Since she left me--keep in the shade, man, it's safer--this place has been a h.e.l.l to me. What's the use of--what's that?" he exclaimed, catching my arm; "it sounded like a man's breathing. What's the use of keeping it up, I say? I've a mind to--"
He got no further. We had emerged from the shady walk into the moonlit path leading down to the pier. The two sentinels were just discernible ahead, and the footsteps of the two behind followed us close. There was no other sound in the stillness but his honour's quavering voice, and nothing stirring but the leaves of the trees and the waves of the lough as they broke gently on the beach.
Suddenly there rang out from the water's edge the sharp crack of a gun, followed by a wild howl. Mr Gorman staggered forward a pace and fell on his face. There was a rapid swish of oars, two hurried shots from the sentries, and the phantom of a little boat as it darted out across the moon track and lost itself in the blackness of the shadows.
In a moment I was kneeling beside the body of the poor dying man. The shot had struck him in the breast, and the life-blood was oozing away fast. He was conscious as we tried to lift him.
"Let me lie here," said he. "I'm safe here now."
But by this time the soldiers had him in their arms, and were bearing him gently towards the house.
It was little a doctor could do if we had one, but a soldier was sent to Fahan to bring one, and to take word of the murder. Meanwhile we laid him on his bed, and I did what I could to stanch the bleeding and ease his suffering.
For half-an-hour he lay in a sort of stupor. Then he said,--
"Gallagher, I want to speak--Send the others away--no, keep one for a witness."
We did as he desired, and waited for what was to come.
Several minutes pa.s.sed; then he tried to lift his head, and said,--
"It is true that one of you is Terence Gorman's boy, I knew it, but only Biddy knows which it is. I had no hand in Terence's murder, nor had Mike Gallagher, though I tried to put it on him. Write that down quickly, and I'll sign it."
I wrote his words hurriedly down, and read them over; but when it came to putting the pen in his hand, he fell back, and I thought all was over. But after a few minutes he rallied again.
"Hold me up--guide my hand--it all swims before me."
The paper with his woeful scrawl affixed lies before me at this moment as I write.
"Gallagher," said he, more faintly yet, "be good to Kit, and forgive me."
"G.o.d will do that, your honour," whispered I.
"Pray for me.--Ah!" cried he, starting suddenly in bed, and throwing up his arm as if to ward off a blow, "I'll take the oath, boys. You shall have the money. G.o.d save--"
And he fell back, dead.
Next day an inquiry was held which ended in nothing. No trace of the murderer was to be found, and no evidence but that of us who saw the tragedy with our own eyes. Plenty of folk, who had given him a wide berth living, crowded to the place to look at the dead Gorman; but in all their faces there was not one sign of pity or compunction--nay, worse, that very night, on Fanad and Knockalla bonfires were lit to celebrate his murder.
The next day we buried him. For miles round no one could be found willing to make his coffin, and in the end we had to lay him in a common soldier's sh.e.l.l. Nor would any one lend horse or carriage to carry him to his grave, and we had to take him by boat to his resting-place, rowing it through the gathering storm with our own arms. The flag half- mast on the _Gnat_ was the only sign of mourning; and when we bore the coffin up to the lonely graveyard on the cliff-top at Kilgorman, and laid it beside that of his lady, in the grave next to that of the murdered Terence, not a voice but mine joined in the "Amen" to the priest's prayer.
When all was said and done, I lingered on, heedless of the wind and rain, in the deserted graveyard, full of the strange memories which the place and scene recalled.
Eight years ago I had stood here with Tim at the open grave of her whom we both called mother. And on that same day her ghostly footstep had sounded in our ears in the grim kitchen of Kilgorman, summoning us to a duty which was yet unfulfilled. What had not happened since then? The boatman's boys were grown, one into the heir of half the lough-side, the other into a servant of his Majesty. Tim, entangled hand and foot in the toils of a miserable conspiracy, was indifferent to the fortune now lying at his feet; I, engaged in the task of hunting down the rebels of whom he was a leader, was eating my heart out for love of her who called by the sacred name of father the murdered man who lay here, to whom we owed all our troubles. Was the day never to dawn? Was there never to be peace between Tim and me? And was Kit, like some will-o'-the-wisp, always to be s.n.a.t.c.hed from my reach whenever I seemed to have found her for my own?
I lingered beside his honour's grave till the daylight failed and the waters of the lough merged into the stormy night, and the black gables of Kilgorman behind me lost themselves against the blacker sky. The weather suited my mood, and my spirits rose as the hard sleet struck my cheek and the buffet of the wind sweeping the cliff-top sent me staggering for support against the graveyard wall. It made me feel at home again to meet nature thus, and I know not how long I drank in courage for my sick heart that night.
At length I turned to go, before even it occurred to me that I had nowhere to go. The _Gnat_ lay in the roadstead off Rathmullan, beyond reach that night. The cottage on Fanad was separated from me by a waste of boiling water. In Knockowen the bloodstains were not yet dry.
Kilgorman--yes, there was no place else. I would shelter there till daylight summoned me to my post of duty on the _Gnat_. Looking back now, I can see that destiny led my footsteps thither.
As I turned towards the house, I thought I perceived in that direction a tiny spark of light, which vanished almost as soon as it appeared.
Still more remarkable, a faint glimmer of light appeared in a small gable-window high up, where a.s.suredly I had never before seen a light.
It may have been on this account or from old a.s.sociation that, instead of approaching the place by the upper path, I descended the cliff and made my way round to the cave by which so many of my former visits had been paid. Fortunately the gale was an easterly one, so that the water in the cave was fairly still, and I was able in the dark to grope my way to the ledge on which the secret pa.s.sage opened.
All was quiet when at last I reached the recess of the great hearth and peered out into the dark kitchen. By all appearance no one had looked into the place since I was there last a year ago and left my note for Tim, and found the mysterious message which warned me of the plot to carry off Miss Kit. I wondered if the former paper was still where I left it, and was about to step out of my hiding-place in search of a light, when the crunching of footsteps on the path without and the flitting of a lantern past a window sent me back suddenly into retirement.
A moment's consideration told me that it was easy to guess who the intruders might be. The night that Maurice Gorman had been laid in his grave would be a grand night for the rebels of Fanad. And who could say whether the object of their meeting might not be to consider the fate of Miss Kit herself, who, now that her father was dead, was no longer a hostage or the price of a ransom in their hands? There might at least be news of her, and even of Tim.
So I stood close, and waited as still as a mouse.
CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.
THE FIGHT IN KILGORMAN.
I had not long to wait before the footsteps sounded in the long pa.s.sage which led to the kitchen, and a dim streak of light appeared at the doorway. Two of the company, rather by their voices than their faces, I recognised--one as Martin, the other as Jake Finn, the treasurer of the rebels, whom I had last seen in this very place on the night that Paddy Corkill was appointed to waylay and shoot his honour on the Black Hill Road. The other two, who carried cutla.s.ses at their belts, were strangers to me, but seemed to be men of importance in the rebel business. Evidently a fifth man was expected.
"Sure, he'll come," said one.
"It's myself met him this blessed day no farther than Malin, and he promised he'd be here."
"Did he know this about Gorman?"
"How should he? Sure, I didn't know it myself. Besides, he's just from the Foyle, and our news doesn't travel east."
"How will he take it?"
"Whisht!" cried Martin. "There he is."