“Well, it looks like a rescue,” said I; “and I am your kinsman, Manus McNeill, and have been at some pains to effect it.”
“You!” he peered at me. “I thank you,” said he, “but you have done a bad evening’s work. I am on parole, as a man so clever as you might have guessed by the size of my escort.”
“We will talk of that later,” I answered, and sent Juan and Alonso off to examine the fallen trooper. “Meanwhile the man here has fainted. Oblige me by helping him a little way up the hill, or by leading his horse while I carry him. The road here is not healthy.”
Captain Alan followed in silence while I bore my burden up to the hut. Having tethered the horses outside, he entered and stood above me while I lit a lantern and examined the young officer’s wound.
“Nothing serious,” I announced, “a fracture of the forearm and maybe a splintered bone. I can fix this up in no time.”
“You had better leave it to me and run,” my kinsman answered. “This M. Gerard is an amiable young man and a friend of mine, and I charge myself to see him safe to Tolosa to-night. What are you doing?”
“Searching for his papers.”
“I forbid it.”
“Alain mhic Neill,” said I, “you are not yet the head of our clan.” And I broke the seal of a letter addressed to the Governor of Bayonne. “Ah! I thought as much,” I added, having glanced over the missive. “It seems, my dear kinsman, that my knowledge of the Duke of Ragusa goes a bit deeper than yours. Listen to this: ’The prisoner I send you herewith is one Captain McNeill, a spy and a dangerous one, who has done infinite mischief to our arms. I have not executed him on the spot out of respect to something resembling an uniform which he wears. But I desire you to place him at once in irons and send him up to Paris, where he will doubtless suffer as he deserves’ ...”
Captain Alan took the paper from me and perused it slowly, biting his upper lip the while. “This is very black treachery,” said he.
“It acquits you at any rate.”
“Of my parole?” He pondered for a moment; then, “I cannot see that it does,” he said. “If the Duke of Ragusa chooses to break an implied bond with me it does not follow that I can break an explicit promise to him.”
“No? Well, I should have thought it did.”
At once my kinsman put on that stiff pedantic tone which had irritated me at Huerta. “I venture to think,” said he, “that no McNeill would say so unless he had been corrupted by traffic with the Scarlet Woman.”
“Scarlet grandmother!” I broke out. “You seem to forget that I have ridden a hundred leagues to effect this rescue, for which, by the way, Lord Wellington offers twelve thousand francs. I have promised them to the biggest scoundrel in Spain; but because he happens to be even a bigger scoundrel than the Duke of Ragusa must I break my bond with him and let you go to be shot for the sake of your silly punctilio?”