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that you think the Yank is really our Madman. Why is it . . . old friend?"
Herity looked toward the darkness gathering over the valley. Candles could be
seen blinking in the chateau's windows. A cow lowed from somewhere down in
the shadows. He spoke in a musing tone:
"That first day together, us tramping along the road, I turned our
conversation to the terrorism, as they call it. The Yank said the IRA
abandoned Irish honor."
"The very words of the Madman's letters, but everyone knows those words now.
I'm not satisfied, Joseph. What do I tell Dublin?"
"Tell them I'm not sure . . . which means he's still the loaded bomb we cannot
disrupt."
"You let him carry a pistol," Liam said. "Why?"
"To make him think I trust him."
"But you don't."
"No more than I trust you. Shall we be going along to that little hut with
your field telephone?"
"I shouldn't let any of you leave here alive! I've my orders to protect
McCrae's secret."
Herity whirled to confront him, face no more than a nose length from Liam.
"The Yank is mine! You understand? Not yours to decide about life or death!
He's mine!"
"That's what they're saying in Dublin." Liam spoke mildly. He turned then
and led the way back up the trail to where John still stood.
John watched the two men approach and was astonished when Liam, without
pausing, said: "You're coming with us, Yank."
Unable to hear what the men had said below him, John had filled his mind with
conjecture. Herity was his guard, not his guardian, John had decided. He
suspects. But what did he suspect?
He fell into step behind the men, wary and fearful. They picked up Father
Michael at the guard hut, leaving the boy asleep on a pad in a corner. It was
full dark by the time they entered a small wooden hut far down below the
playing field beneath the chateau.
When they entered the hut, a match in Liam's hand scratched and a candle
flared, illuminating the interior. It was all unfinished wood, a crude shed
roof overhead. Only a single chair and table furnished it, a black field
telephone and speaker in a khaki case on the table. A wire trailed from the
telephone out under the eaves. There was the sound of footsteps outside and
Jock's voice came to them:
"All in place, Liam."
Liam visibly relaxed. He indicated the chair for Father Michael. "I've
arranged for McCrae himself to answer. He's anxious to have a theological
discussion, so he says."
Father Michael, who had been silent for the whole trip down to the hut, took
the telephone and put it to his ear. "Thank you, Liam."
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"He'll answer or put a rocket into us right here," Herity muttered. "What
could we do?"
"We could let him go hungry when he runs out of food," Liam said. "Now, be
still! You've caused enough trouble!"
"Harsh words, harsh words," Herity said.
Once more, Liam ground the crank on the telephone.
"Why have we waited for night?" Father Michael asked.
"It's the way Mister McCrae always does," Liam said. "He likes for us to
stumble around in the dark."
"And I'll wager he has a spotter scope with infrared," Herity said.
Silence fell over the room, a strange stillness as though a ghost had entered
and put a hush on the life there.
Liam nipped a switch on the side of the khaki case. A soft humming came from
the instrument. "We'll listen," he said, "but only the priest will do the
talking."
Presently, there was a click from the telephone and a man's deep, carefully
modulated voice asked: "Is that the priest?"
Father Michael cleared his throat. "This is Father Michael Flannery." He
sounded nervous, John thought.
"And what is it you're wanting, Priest?" McCrae sounded amused, a cultivated,
cultured voice being civil to an underling.
Father Michael straightened, pressing the telephone hard against his ear. "I
want to know how those young women became pregnant!"
"Ahhh, the ignorance of the Romish priesthood," McCrae said. "Hasn't anyone
ever explained to you the functioning of --"
"Don't get smart with me!" Father Michael snapped. "I demand to know if those
girls are wed to the fathers of --"
"Keep a civil tongue, Priest, or I'll blow that hut out of this world and you
with it."
Father Michael swallowed convulsively, then: "Will you answer my question,
Mister McCrae?"
"Well, now, the young women are pregnant because that's the function of
priestesses. They lay under the rowan tree at the full of the moon and I
impregnated them. The blessing of the sacred rowan upon us all."
Father Michael took several deep breaths, his face pale.
John used the interval to edge his way toward the hut's single door. He
hesitated there. Was Jock still outside? What had he meant, all in place?
Both Liam and Herity were grinning, their attention on Father Michael.
"The rowan," Father Michael muttered.
"Our ancestors venerated the rowan and they were happier than the ones paying
Peter's pence," McCrae said.
"Next you'll be worshiping Mithra or some other heathen statue!" Father
Michael accused.
"Careful, Priest," McCrae said. "Mithra was an Iranian god brought along by
the Roman legionaries. As a good Gael, I hate all things Roman, including
your Roman Church!"
Herity chuckled: "Listen to them arguing like a pair of Jesuits! Oh, you
were right, Liam. Rare sport."
John put his hand on the door latch and eased it open a crack. McCrae must be
somewhere directly in front of Father Michael. The telephone line trailed out
that way.
"Who's that talking there with you?" McCrae demanded.
"It's Joseph Herity," Father Michael said.
"Himself in the flesh? Ahhh, what a rare bag to tempt an old hunter. You've
Liam Cullen there with you in the hut and one other. Who is that?"
"His name's John O'Donnell."
Herity suddenly thrust out a hand and covered Father Michael's mouth, shaking
his head. The priest looked up at him, startled.
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"Were you about to say more, Priest?" McCrae asked.
Herity removed his hand from Father Michael's mouth and waved a cautionary
finger.
"We're on our way north to find someplace that'll accept us," Father Michael
said, his voice faint. His attention remained on Herity.
"And there's no room at the inn!" McCrae chortled. "Which of you is
pregnant?"
"Mister McCrae," Father Michael said, "I'm trying to save your soul from
eternal damnation. Can't you --"
"That's not in your power," McCrae said. "We're druids here, worshipers of
the tree, innocent as the first babes in the world. You can take your guilty
god, you Romish impostor, and shove him where the moon cannot shine."
A burst of raucous laughter erupted from Herity. Liam chuckled.
John opened the door another few millimeters and slipped out into the
darkness. The trail by which they had come led off to the right, he knew. He
could not see Jock or anyone else but suspected there were other guardians
around. Father Michael's voice could be heard from within the hut.
"Mister McCrae, you must put aside your evil ways, admit the error before it's
too late! God will forgive --"
"I don't need forgiveness!"
There was madness in that voice, John decided. He crept around the corner of
the hut and looked up at the chateau, a gray blob in the darkness, only two
candlelit windows visible now. Bushes brushed his knees. He edged to the
left, seeking a way through where noise would not betray him. The voices in
the hut had been reduced to a murmur. As his eyes adjusted, he discerned a
slope of low gray bushes between him and the chateau, gray patches on a darker [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]