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After the Civil War, Confederate Col. Clay Fitzgerald escapes to Ireland. But Ireland is embroiled in a civil war of its ownthe Fenian Rebellion. Clay wants to avoid the conflict, but after witnessing the plight of the common people, Clay is unable to stand by. Taking the guise of a legendary outlaw, he wages a new rebellion of his own...
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.19(w) x 6.73(h) x 0.85(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Jack Higgins lives on Jersey in the Channel Islands.
Read an Excerpt
The coach lurched violently to one side as a wheel dipped into a pothole and the luggage piled upon the opposite seat was thrown against the man sleeping in the far corner, hat tilted forward over his eyes.
Clay awakened as the vehicle came to a halt. They had been four hours on this apology for a road, and since leaving Galway conditions had got steadily worse.
He glanced out of the window at the rain soaking into the ground. The road ran through a narrow valley beside a small stream, with a scattering of trees on the far side shrouded in mist. He opened the door and stepped down into the mud.
Joshua said, "Correct me if I'm wrong, Colonel, but I always understood you to say that Europe was civilized."
He wore a heavy greatcoat buttoned tightly to his chin and a horse blanket was draped across his knees. Rain dripped steadily from the brim of his felt hat as he sat with the reins of the coach in his hands.
Clay turned slowly and grinned. "This is Ireland," he said. "My father always told me God made things a little bit different here."
Joshua wiped rain from his face with one sleeve. "I'd say the good Lord forgot about this place a long time ago, Colonel. I'm beginning to wonder what we're doing here."
"So am I, Josh," Clay told him. "So am I." As the rain increased in force with a sudden rush, he continued, "You look like a drowned rat. Better let me take over for a while and you can ride inside."
"I'm so wet already, it doesn't make anydifference," Joshua said.
Clay shook his head. "No arguments. Come down and get inside. That's an order."
His tone brooked no denial and Joshua sighed, threw back the blanket and started to clamber down. At that moment, two horsemen moved out of the trees and splashed across the stream.
The leader reined in sharply so that his horse danced sideways on its hind legs, crowding Clay against the side of the coach and splashing him with mud. A shock of yellow hair showed beneath the brim of his battered hat, and the eyes above the red bandana which covered the lower half of his face were vivid blue. His rough coat was buttoned up to the neck and he held a shotgun crooked in his left arm.
Four years of being on the losing side in a particularly unpleasant war had taught Clay Fitzgerald to accept the vagaries of life as they came. He produced his purse and said calmly, "Presumably, this is what you want?"
Before the man could reply, his companion, who had reined in on the other side of the coach, moved round and said in an awed voice, "Would you look at this now, Dennis? A black man. Did you ever see the like?"
The man addressed as Dennis laughed. "Every time a Spanish boat puts in at Galway." He snatched the purse from Clay's hand and hefted it. "Rather light for a fine gentleman like yourself."
Clay shrugged. "Only a fool would carry more in times like these."
The man slipped the purse into a pocket and leaned forward. "That's a fine gold chain you've got there," he said, pointing to Clay's waistcoat. "Would there be a watch to go with it?"
"A family heirloom," Clay told him. "My father left it to me. You'd get little for it."
The man reached down and grabbed for the chain, tearing it free with a ripping of cloth. He held it up and examined the watch. "A gold hunter, no less. I've wanted one all me life." He shook his head reprovingly. "You've not been honest with me, me bucko, and that makes me wonder what might be travelling with you in the coach." He turned to his companion. "Pull his baggage out into the road and go through it quickly."
The boy dismounted, pushed Clay roughly out of the way and leaned inside the coach. After a moment, he turned, a black leather bag in one hand. "You'll find nothing of value in there," Clay told him. "Only some surgical instruments and medical drugs."
The boy opened the bag and examined the contents. "He's telling the truth, Dennis," he said, holding it up so that his companion could have a look.
"So you're a doctor, are you?" Dennis said.
Clay nodded. "Among other things."
"I've the greatest respect for the profession," Dennis told him. "On another occasion, I'd let ye pass, but these are hard times, and at least you'll have the satisfaction of knowing your money is going to a good cause." He nodded to the boy. "See what else ye can find."
Clay thought of the hundred gold sovereigns hidden inside his spare tiding boots at the bottom of the leather travelling trunk and sighed. He slid one foot forward tentatively, ready to grab for the shotgun when the tight opportunity presented itself.
At that moment, a cry sounded from somewhere nearby, that was immediately followed by the flat report of a rifle, muffled by the rain. The bullet dented the ground beside the coach. Dennis cursed, trying to control his frightened horse with one hand, as he turned and looked behind him.
Several riders were plunging down the hillside toward them, and Dennis turned and menaced Clay with the shotgun. "Up with you, Marteen," he said to his companion.
The boy swung a leg over the broad back of his mare and dug his heels into its sides. Without a word, Dennis followed him. They splashed across the stream and broke into a canter on the other side, disappearing like shadows into the mist.
Joshua scrambled down to the ground and leaned against the coach while he mopped his damp face with a handkerchief. "Colonel, what kind of a country is this?"
Clay shrugged. "Everything that lawyer told me in Galway must be true. I thought he was exaggerating." He grinned. "Don't tell me an old campaigner like you were frightened?"
"I stopped being frightened after Pittsburgh Landing, when we rode into that Yankee Artillery regiment in the dark and you bluffed our way right out again," Joshua told him. "I was only worried in case you tried something silly."
"I must admit I was thinking about it," Clay said.
Joshua snorted. "Then that shot came just in time to save you from getting your fool head blown off."
At that moment, the riders who had been making their way down the hillside reached the coach. Three of them galloped straight across the stream without stopping and disappeared into the mist on the other side. The fourth reined in his horse and dismounted.
He was in his early thirties, thickset and muscular, in muddy jackboots and tweed riding coat, his mouth cruel in a pale face. Clay disliked him on sight.
The man glanced curiously at Joshua and touched the brim of his hat briefly with his riding crop. "Colonel Fitzgerald?" Clay nodded and he went on, "It seems we arrived not a moment too soon. My name is Burke. I'm Sir George Hamilton's agent. He heard you had arrived in Galway yesterday and sent me to meet you. Did you receive his letter safely?"
Clay nodded. "It was waiting for me when I visited my uncle's lawyers yesterday." He smiled ruefully. "A pity you didn't arrive five minutes sooner. I'd have been fifteen sovereigns and a gold watch the richer. Have you any idea who they were?"
Burke shrugged. "The country is swarming with such rogues. If we catch them, they'll tell the judge they were true patriots collecting funds for the organization and damn the Queen's eyes in the same breath."
"I see," said Clay. "Do these men belong to this Fenian Brotherhood I heard so much about in Galway?"
"Fenians, Moonlighters, Ribbonmen." Burke shrugged. "There are several of these secret societies, all hell-bent on setting Ireland free, as they call it." The rain continued its steady monotonous downpour and he went on briskly, "But this is no place for a conversation, Colonel. Sir George is hoping you'll spend the night with him. If you'll get back in to your coach, I'll lead the way."
Clay shook his head. "That's very kind of him, but I prefer to go on to Claremont tonight. Is it far from here?"
"Drumore is another four miles along the road," Burke told him. "Claremont is about a mile the other side of it." He seemed to hesitate, a slight frown on his face and then went on, "You'll find cold comfort there tonight, Colonel, and that's a fact. The house isn't fit for man nor beast."
"But I understand my uncle was living in it until his death," Clay said. "Surely it can't have deteriorated to such an extent?"
"But you're forgetting about the fire," Burke said.
Clay shook his head. "No, the lawyers gave me full details. I understand the damage was extensive."
Burke nodded. "Most of the house went. Your uncle lived in the west wing for the last six months of his life. It was the only part left with a roof."
Clay shrugged. "There have been many occasions during the past four years, Mr. Burke, when I desired nothing more of life than a roof over my headany kind of roof. If my uncle managed to continue living there, I'm sure I'll survive."
"Suit yourself, Colonel." Burke swung into the saddle of his horse and gathered the reins in his left hand. "One thing more," he said. "Mind how you go when you reach Drumore. They don't take kindly to strangers."
"Not even to one called Fitzgerald?" Clay asked, with a smile.
Burke's face was grim. "These are hard times, Colonel, as I think you'll be finding out for yourself before very long." He spurred his horse forward and disappeared around a bend in the road.
Clay stood gazing after him, a frown on his face. He turned and said to Joshua, "What do you think?"
Joshua shrugged. "It can't be any worse than some of the places we slept in during the war, Colonel. One thing's for sure, I don't like that man,"
Clay grinned. "As usual, we're in complete agreement. There's something unpleasant about him, something I can't quite put a finger on, but it's there."
Thunder rumbled faintly in the distance and he reached into the coach and, taking out a heavy overcoat, pulled it on. "It looks as if the weather intends to get worse before it gets better, and I'm beginning to get bored with this particular view of the countryside. If you'll get in, we'll move on."
For a moment, Joshua hesitated, as if he intended to argue the point, and then he sighed heavily and climbed inside. Clay slammed the door behind him and then pulled himself up into the driver's seat and reached for the reins. A moment later, they were moving along the muddy road.
Rain dripped from the edge of his hat, but he ignored it, his hands steady on the reins. He considered his conversation with Burke and asked himself again, and not for the first time, why he had come to Ireland.
Certainly there had been nothing to keep him in Georgia. Four years of war had left him with only one desirepeace. It was ironic that he should have come to Ireland of all places in search of it. If the stories he had been told in Galway were true, and the events of the past hour seemed to bear them out, he was stepping straight into the heart of an area racked by every conceivable kind of outrage and murder.
The elementary justice of Ireland's claim to self-government was something he had learned at his father's knee, together with harsh, bitter accounts of the treatment meted out to the unfortunate peasantry by English landlords. Later, his years as a medical student in London and Paris, and then the war, had all conspired to push the matter into a back corner of his mind as something relatively unimportant, in that it did not affect him personally.
However much the native Irish had right on their side, highway robbery was no way in which to attract sympathizers, he reflected, thinking of the two thieves. It occurred to him for the first time that although their clothing had been rough, theft horses had been superb animals and he frowned, wondering who they were and what had driven them to such a deed.
Perhaps they were members of this Fenian Brotherhood he had heard so much about? He brushed rain from his face and dismissed the thought from his mind. Whatever happened, he intended to keep strictly neutral. At most, he would stay at Claremont a month or two. After that, Sir George Hamilton could have his way and buy the place at the price suggested in the letter Clay had found waiting for him in Galway on the previous day.
It was dusk as they came into Drumore and rain was still falling steadily. The cottages were small and mean, with roofs of turf and thatch, and the blue smoke from their fires hung heavily in the rain. There were perhaps twenty or thirty of these dwellings scattered on either side of the narrow, unpaved street for a distance of some hundred yards.
About halfway along the street, they came to a public house, and as Clay heard the sounds of laughter from inside, he reined in the horse and jumped to the ground.
The building was rather more substantial than the others, with a yard to one side and stables in which several horses were standing, their flanks steaming in the damp air. The board nailed to the wall above the door carried the legend COHAN'S BAR in faded lettering.
Joshua leaned out of the window. "What have we stopped for, Colonel?"
Clay shook rain from his hat and replaced it on his head. "Remembering Burke's account of the state of things at Claremont, a bottle of brandy might come in very useful before the night is out. Have you any money handy?"
Joshua fumbled inside his left sleeve and finally extracted a leather purse, which he passed across. Clay opened it and took out a sovereign. "This should be enough to buy the place up, from the looks of it," he said, giving Joshua his purse back. "I'll only be a moment."
The door opened easily at his touch and he stepped inside, closing it behind him. The place was thick with smoke and illuminated by two oil lamps which swung from one of the blackened beams supporting the ceiling. A turf fire smoldered across the room and eight or nine men crowded round the bar, listening attentively to a tall youth of twenty or so, whose handsome and rather effeminate face was topped by a shock of yellow hair.
For the moment, Clay remained unnoticed and he stayed with his back to the door and listened.
"And what happened then, Dennis?" a voice demanded.
Dennis leaned against the bar, face flushed, a glass of whiskey in one hand. "It's for a good cause, me fine gentleman, says I, and if you're honest with me, you'll come to no harm. His face was the color of Whey and his hand was shaking that much, he dropped his purse in the mud."
A young boy of fifteen or sixteen was standing beside him and he said excitedly, "Show them the watch, Dennis. Show them the watch."
"In good time, Marteen," Dennis said. He emptied his glass and placed it ostentatiously down on the bar. Someone immediately filled it and Dennis slipped a hand into his pocket and pulled out Clay's hunter.
He held it up by the chain so that it sparkled in the lamplight, and an excited murmur went up from his audience. "Would you look at the elegance of it," someone said.
Clay moved forward slowly and stood at the edge of the group. The first person to see him was Marteen and his blue eyes widened in astonishment. Men started to turn and Clay pushed his way through them until he faced Dennis. "My watch, I think," he said calmly.
There was a sudden silence. For several moments, Dennis stared stupidly at Clay, and then he seemed to recover his poise. "And what the hell would ye be meaning by that?"
Clay gazed slowly around the room. The faces were hard and unfriendly; some stupid, others with a glimmering of intelligence. Then he noticed the man who leaned negligently against the wall at the far end of the bar. He was tall and powerful, great shoulders swelling beneath his frieze coat.
His hair was the same color as Dennis's, but there the resemblance ended. There was nothing weak in this man's face, only strength and intelligence. He picked up his glass and sipped a little whiskey and there was a smile on his lips. He gazed into Clay's eyes and it was as if they knew each other.
Clay turned back to Dennis and said patiently, "The money isn't important, but the watch was my father's."
No one moved. Dennis scowled suddenly, as if realizing his reputation was at stake, and thrust the watch back into his pocket. He picked up his shotgun, which was leaning against the bar, and rammed the barrel into Clay's chest. "I'll give ye five seconds to get out, me bucko," he said. "Five seconds and no more."
Clay gazed Steadily into that weak, reckless face, then turned abruptly and walked to the door. As he reached it, Dennis said, "Would ye look now? He's messed his breeches for the second time this day." For a moment Clay hesitated, and then as laughter swelled behind him, he opened the door and passed outside.
He pushed Joshua roughly out of the way and dragged a carpetbag out onto the coach step and opened it. He was not angry and yet his hands shook slightly and there was a familiar, hollow sensation in the pit of his stomach.
"What is it, Colonel?" Joshua demanded in alarm.
Clay ignored him. He found what he wanted at the bottom of the bag, his Dragoon Colt, the gun which had been his sidearm ever since his escape from the Illinois State Penitentiary with General Morgan in '63.
He hefted the weapon expertly in his right hand and then walked quickly to the pub door and opened it again. Laughter swelled to the ceiling as Dennis further embellished his story, and for the moment, Clay was again unobserved.
A stone whiskey bottle stood on the bar near Dennis's elbow some twelve feet away. It was not a difficult shot. Clay levelled his weapon and pulled the trigger. The bottle exploded into pieces like a bomb, showering the men with whiskey and scattering them across the room.
Dennis's face had turned sickly-yellow in the lamplight and his eyes were round and staring. His tongue flickered across dry lips as he frantically looked for assistance. No one moved and there was fear on every face, except for the tall man who still leaned against the wall at the end of the bar, but now his smile had gone and he held his right hand inside his coat.
Clay's face was a smooth mask, inscrutable and yet in some way terrible. He moved forward and touched Dennis gently under the chin with the cold barrel of the Colt. "My watch!" he said tonelessly.
The youth's face seemed to crumple into pieces and he produced the watch and purse and placed them on the bar top with shaking hands. "God save us, sir, but it was only a joke," he said. "No harm was intended. No harm at all."
For a moment longer, Clay gazed fixedly at him, and somewhere a voice said in a half-whisper, "Would ye look at the Devil's face on him."
Sweat stood on Dennis's brow in great drops and there was utter fear in his eyes. Then Clay turned away, slipping the Colt into his pocket. The youth lurched to a nearby chair and collapsed into it, covering his face with his hands.
The publican, a large red-faced man, faced Clay across the bar and wiped his hands nervously on his soiled apron. "What's your pleasure, sir?" he asked.
"Presumably you deliver liquor to local residents?" Clay said.
"I do indeed, sir," the publican assured him. "I supply Sir George Hamilton himself." He produced a dirty piece of paper and moistened a stub of pencil with his tongue. "What would ye like, sir?"
Clay pocketed his watch and purse and gave his order in a calm, flat voice, as if nothing had happened. "And I'll take a bottle of brandy with me," he added.
The publican pushed the bottle across and Clay picked it up and started to move away. "By what name, sir, and where shall I deliver it?" the publican demanded.
For the first time, a smile appeared on Clay's face. "I was forgetting. Claremont HouseColonel Clay Fitzgerald."
He turned away as an excited buzz of conversation broke out and, opening the door, went outside.
Joshua was standing by the open door of the coach and an expression of relief appeared on his face. "I was watching through the window, Colonel," he said. "Next to your father, you're the most cold-blooded man I ever did meet."
Clay handed him the brandy and pushed him back into the coach. "I've got my watch back, which is more than I anticipated. All I want now is a meal and a fire. Whatever else we find at Claremont House, I hope we'll be able to supply those things between us."
As he moved to step up to the driver's seat, the door opened behind him and closed again. Clay turned slowly, his hand sliding into his pocket. The tall man was facing him and he held up a hand and smiled. "No trouble, Colonel. I only came to thank you for not killing my brother."
Clay took a quick step forward and brushed back the man's unbuttoned coat, revealing the butt of a pistol sticking out of his waistband. "I noticed where you had your hand," he said wryly.
The other nodded. "Sure, and I saw that you'd noticed."
Clay shrugged. "He was in no danger. I'm not in the habit of killing boys. A whipping would be more in his line."
"When his father hears of this day's work, he'll get that and perhaps more," the big man said. He held out his hand and Clay took it. "Kevin Rogan, Colonel. I knew your uncle well."
Clay's eyes widened in surprise. "Would you be kin to Shaun RoganBig Shaun, as I believe they call him?"
Kevin Rogan smiled. "My fatherwhy do you ask?"
"I met a friend of his in New York," Clay told him. "A man called O'HaraJames O'Hara. He gave me a package for him. If Dennis had stolen it, I wonder what your father would have said to that."
A strange smile appeared on Rogan's face. "You'll be doubly welcome if you visit us with news of James O'Hara, Colonel. There's a track starts at the back of Claremont House. Follow it three miles over the moor and you'll come to Hidden Valley. Rogan soil, every foot of it bought and paid for."
"Perhaps tomorrow," Clay said. "Tell your father to look for me."
He pulled himself up into the driver' s seat and slapped the weary horse lightly with the reins. It started to move forward into the gathering dusk. As they turned past the tiny church at the end of the street, he glanced over his shoulder. Kevin Rogan waved at him and then opened the door and went back inside.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was the first Jack Higgins book I read. I new right away it was going to be an enjoyable read. A very easy, quick paced book about standing up for your beliefs. An excellent storyline with great heroic characters.