If you had approached Plemont from Vinchelez-le-Haut, making for the sea, you would have said that it also had no habitation. But when at last you came to a hillock near Plemont point, looking to find nothing but sky and sea and distant islands, suddenly at your very feet you saw a small stone dwelling. Its door faced the west, looking towards the Isles of Guernsey and Sark. Fronting the north was a window like an eye, ever watching the tireless Paternosters. To the east was another tiny window like a deep loop-hole or embrasure set towards the Dirouilles and the Ecrehos.
The hut had but one room, of moderate size, with a vast chimney. Between the chimney and the western wall was a veille, which was both lounge and bed. The eastern side was given over to a few well-polished kitchen utensils, a churn, and a bread-trough. The floor was of mother earth alone, but a strip of handmade carpet was laid down before the fireplace, and there was another at the opposite end. There were also a table, a spinning-wheel, and a shelf of books.
It was not the hut of a fisherman, though upon the wall opposite the books there hung fishing-tackle, nets, and cords, while outside, on staples driven in the jutting chimney, were some lobster-pots. Upon two shelves were arranged a carpenter's and a cooper's tools, polished and in good order. And yet you would have said that neither a cooper nor a carpenter kept them in use. Everywhere there were signs of man's handicraft as well as of woman's work, but upon all was the touch of a woman. Moreover, apart from the tools there was no sign of a man's presence in the hut. There was no coat hanging behind the door, no sabots for the fields or oilskins for the sands, no pipe laid upon a ledge, no fisherman's needle holding a calendar to the wall. Whatever was the trade of the occupant, the tastes were above those of the ordinary dweller in the land. That was to be seen in a print of Raphael's "Madonna and Child" taking the place of the usual sampler upon the walls of Jersey homes; in the old clock nicely bestowed between a narrow cupboard and the tool shelves; in a few pieces of rare old china and a gold-handled sword hanging above a huge, well-carved oak chair. The chair relieved the room of anything like commonness, and somehow was in sympathy with the simple surroundings, making for dignity and sweet quiet. It was clear that only a woman could have arranged so perfectly this room and all therein. It was also clear that no man lived here.
Looking in at the doorway of this hut on a certain autumn day of the year 1797, the first thing to strike your attention was a dog lying asleep on the hearth. Then a suit of child's clothes on a chair before the fire of vraic would have caught the eye. The only thing to distinguish this particular child's dress from that of a thousand others in the island was the fineness of the material. Every thread of it had been delicately and firmly knitted, till it was like perfect soft blue cloth, relieved by a little red silk ribbon at the collar.
The hut contained as well a child's chair, just so high that when placed by the windows commanding the Paternosters its occupant might see the waves, like panthers, beating white paws against the ragged granite pinnacles; the currents writhing below at the foot of the cliffs, or at half-tide rushing up to cover the sands of the Greve aux Langons, and like animals in pain, howling through the caverns in the cliffs; the great nor'wester of November come battering the rocks, shrieking to the witches who boiled their caldrons by the ruins of Grosnez Castle that the hunt of the seas was up.
Just high enough was the little chair that of a certain day in the year its owner might look out and see mystic fires burning round the Paternosters, and lighting up the sea with awful radiance. Scarce a rock to be seen from the hut but had some legend like this: the burning Russian ship at the Paternosters, the fleet of boats with tall prows and long oars drifting upon the Dirouilles and going down to the cry of the Crusaders' Dahindahin! the Roche des Femmes at the Ecrehos, where still you may hear the cries of women in terror of the engulfing sea.
On this particular day, if you had entered the hut, no one would have welcomed you; but had you tired of waiting, and followed the indentations of the coast for a mile or more by a deep bay under tall cliffs, you would have seen a woman and a child coming quickly up the sands. Slung upon the woman's shoulders was a small fisherman's basket. The child ran before, eager to climb the hill and take the homeward path.
A man above was watching them. He had ridden along the cliff, had seen the woman in her boat making for the shore, had tethered his horse in the quarries near by, and now awaited her. He chuckled as she came on, for he had ready a surprise for her. To make it more complete he hid himself behind some boulders, and as she reached the top sprang out with an ugly grinning.
The woman looked at him calmly and waited for him to speak. There was no fear on her face, not even surprise; nothing but steady inquiry and quiet self-possession. With an air of bluster the man said:
"Aha, my lady, I'm nearer than you thought—me!" The child drew in to its mother's side and clasped her hand. There was no fear in the little fellow's look, however; he had something of the same self-possession as the woman, and his eyes were like hers, clear, unwavering, and with a frankness that consumed you. They were wells of sincerity; open-eyed, you would have called the child, wanting a more subtle description.
"I'm not to be fooled-me! Come now, let's have the count," said the man, as he whipped a greasy leather-covered book from his pocket. "Sapristi, I'm waiting. Stay yourself!" he added roughly as she moved on, and his greyish-yellow face had an evil joy at thought of the brutal work in hand.
"Who are you?" she asked, but taking her time to speak.
"Dame! you know who I am."
"I know what you are," she answered quietly.
He did not quite grasp her meaning, but the tone sounded contemptuous, and that sorted little with his self-importance.
"I'm the Seigneur's bailiff—that's who I am. Gad'rabotin, don't you put on airs with me! I'm for the tribute, so off with the bag and let's see your catch."
"I have never yet paid tribute to the seigneur of the manor."
"Well, you'll begin now. I'm the new bailiff, and if you don't pay your tale, up you come to the court of the fief to-morrow."
She looked him clearly in the eyes. "If I were a man, I should not pay the tribute, and I should go to the court of the fief to-morrow, but being a woman—"
She clasped the hand of the child tightly to her for an instant, then with a sigh she took the basket from her shoulders and, opening it, added:
"But being a woman, the fish I caught in the sea that belongs to God and to all men I must divide with the Seigneur whose bailiff spies on poor fisher-folk."
The man growled an oath and made a motion as though he would catch her by the shoulder in anger, but the look in her eyes stopped him. Counting out the fish, and giving him three out of the eight she had caught, she said:
"It matters not so much to me, but there are others poorer than I, they suffer."
With a leer the fellow stooped, and, taking up the fish, put them in the pockets of his queminzolle, all slimy from the sea as they were.
"Ba su, you haven't got much to take care of, have you? It don't take much to feed two mouths—not so much as it does three, Ma'm'selle."
Before he had ended, the woman, without reply to the insult, took the child by the hand and moved along her homeward path towards Plemont.
"A bi'tot, good-bye!" the bailiff laughed brutally. Standing with his legs apart and his hands fastened on the fish in the pockets of his long queminzolle, he called after her in sneering comment: "Ma fistre, your pride didn't fall—ba su!" Then he turned on his heel.
"Eh ben, here's mackerel for supper," he added as he mounted his horse.
The woman was Guida Landresse, the child was her child, and they lived in the little house upon the cliff at Plemont. They were hastening thither now.
A visitor was awaiting Guida and the child: a man who, first knocking at the door, then looking in and seeing the room empty, save for the dog lying asleep by the fire, had turned slowly away, and going to the cliff edge, looked out over the sea. His movements were deliberate, his body moved slowly; the whole appearance was of great strength and nervous power. The face was preoccupied, the eyes were watchful, dark, penetrating. They seemed not only to watch but to weigh, to meditate, even to listen—as it were, to do the duty of all the senses at once. In them worked the whole forces of his nature; they were crucibles wherein every thought and emotion were fused. The jaw was set and strong, yet it was not hard. The face contradicted itself. While not gloomy it had lines like scars telling of past wounds. It was not despairing, it was not morbid, and it was not resentful; it had the look of one both credulous and indomitable. Belief was stamped upon it; not expectation or ambition, but faith and fidelity. You would have said he was a man of one set idea, though the head had a breadth sorting little with narrowness of purpose. The body was too healthy to belong to a fanatic, too powerful to be that of a dreamer alone, too firm for other than a man of action.
Several times he turned to look towards the house and up the pathway leading from the hillock to the doorway. Though he waited long he did not seem impatient; patience was part of him, and not the least part. At last he sat down on a boulder between the house and the shore, and scarcely moved, as minute after minute passed, and then an hour and more, and no one came. Presently there was a soft footstep beside him, and he turned. A dog's nose thrust itself into his hand.
"Biribi, Biribi!" he said, patting its head with his big hand. "Watching and waiting, eh, old Biribi?" The dog looked into his eyes as if he knew what was said, and would speak—or, indeed, was speaking in his own language. "That's the way of life, Biribi—watching and waiting, and watching—always watching."
Suddenly the dog caught its head away from his hand, gave a short joyful bark, and ran slowly up the hillock.
"Guida and the child," the man said aloud, moving towards the house— "Guida and the child!"
He saw her and the little one before they saw him. Presently the child said: "See, maman," and pointed. Guida started. A swift flush passed over her face, then she smiled and made a step forward to meet her visitor.
"Maitre Ranulph—Ranulph!" she said, holding out her hand. "It's a long time since we met."
"A year," he answered simply, "just a year." He looked down at the child, then stooped, caught him up in his arms and said: "He's grown. Es-tu gentiment?" he added to the child—"es-tu gentiment, m'sieu'?"
The child did not quite understand. "Please?" it said in true Jersey fashion—at which the mother was troubled.
"O Guilbert, is that what you should say?" she asked. The child looked up quaintly at her, and with the same whimsical smile which Guida had given to another so many years ago, he looked at Ranulph and said: "Pardon, monsieur."
"Coum est qu'on etes, m'sieu'?" said Ranulph in another patois greeting.
Guida shook her head reprovingly. The child glanced swiftly at his mother as though asking permission to reply as he wished, then back at Ranulph, and was about to speak, when Guida said: "I have not taught him the Jersey patois, Ranulph; only English and French."
Her eyes met his clearly, meaningly. Her look said to him as plainly as words, The child's destiny is not here in Jersey. But as if he knew that in this she was blinding herself, and that no one can escape the influences of surroundings, he held the child back from him, and said with a smile: "Coum est qu'on vos portest?"
Now the child with elfish sense of the situation replied in Jersey English: "Naicely, thenk you."
"You see," said Ranulph to Guida, "there are things in us stronger than we are. The wind, the sea, and people we live with, they make us sing their song one way or another. It's in our bones."
A look of pain passed over Guida's face, and she did not reply to his remark, but turned almost abruptly to the doorway, saying, with just the slightest hesitation: "You will come in?"
There was no hesitation on his part. "Oui-gia!" he said, and stepped inside.
She hastily hung up the child's cap and her own, and as she gathered in the soft, waving hair, Ranulph noticed how the years had only burnished it more deeply and strengthened the beauty of the head. She had made the gesture unconsciously, but catching the look in his eye a sudden thrill of anxiety ran through her. Recovering herself, however, and with an air of bright friendliness, she laid a hand upon the great arm-chair, above which hung the ancient sword of her ancestor, the Comte Guilbert Mauprat de Chambery, and said: "Sit here, Ranulph."
Seating himself he gave a heavy sigh—one of those passing breaths of content which come to the hardest lives now and then: as though the Spirit of Life itself, in ironical apology for human existence, gives moments of respite from which hope is born again. Not for over four long years had Ranulph sat thus quietly in the presence of Guida. At first, when Maitresse Aimable had told him that Guida was leaving the Place du Vier Prison to live in this lonely place with her newborn child, he had gone to entreat her to remain; but Maitresse Aimable had been present then, and all that he could say—all that he might speak out of his friendship, out of the old love, now deep pity and sorrow—was of no avail. It had been borne in upon him then that she was not morbid, but that her mind had a sane, fixed purpose which she was intent to fulfil. It was as though she had made some strange covenant with a little helpless life, with a little face that was all her face; and that covenant she would keep.
So he had left her, and so to do her service had been granted elsewhere. The Chevalier, with perfect wisdom and nobility, insisted on being to Guida what he had always been, accepting what was as though it had always been, and speaking as naturally of her and the child as though there had always been a Guida and the child. Thus it was that he counted himself her protector, though he sat far away in the upper room of Elie Mattingley's house in the Rue d'Egypte, thinking his own thoughts, biding the time when she should come back to the world, and mystery be over, and happiness come once more; hoping only that he might live to see it.
Under his directions, Jean Touzel had removed the few things that Guida took with her to Plemont; and instructed by him, Elie Mattingley sold her furniture. Thus Guida had settled at Plemont, and there over four years of her life were passed.
"Your father—how is he?" she asked presently. "Feeble," replied Ranulph; "he goes abroad but little now."
"It was said the Royal Court was to make him a gift, in remembrance of the Battle of Jersey." Ranulph turned his head away from her to the child, and beckoned him over. The child came instantly.
As Ranulph lifted him on his knee he answered Guida: "My father did not take it."
"Then they said you were to be connetable—the grand monsieur. "She smiled at him in a friendly way.
"They said wrong," replied Ranulph.
"Most people would be glad of it," rejoined Guida. "My mother used to say you would be Bailly one day."
"Who knows—perhaps I might have been!"
She looked at him half sadly, half curiously. "You—you haven't any ambitions now, Maitre Ranulph?" It suddenly struck her that perhaps she was responsible for the maiming of this man's life—for clearly it was maimed. More than once she had thought of it, but it came home to her to-day with force. Years ago Ranulph Delagarde had been spoken of as one who might do great things, even to becoming Bailly. In the eyes of a Jerseyman to be Bailly was to be great, with jurats sitting in a row on either side of him and more important than any judge in the Kingdom. Looking back now Guida realised that Ranulph had never been the same since that day on the Ecrehos when his father had returned and Philip had told his wild tale of love.
A great bitterness suddenly welled up in her. Without intention, without blame, she had brought suffering upon others. The untoward happenings of her life had killed her grandfather, had bowed and aged the old Chevalier, had forced her to reject the friendship of Carterette Mattingley, for the girl's own sake; had made the heart of one fat old woman heavy within her; and, it would seem, had taken hope and ambition from the life of this man before her. Love in itself is but a bitter pleasure; when it is given to the unworthy it becomes a torture—and so far as Ranulph and the world knew she was wholly unworthy. Of late she had sometimes wondered if, after all, she had had the right to do as she had done in accepting the public shame, and in not proclaiming the truth: if to act for one's own heart, feelings, and life alone, no matter how perfect the honesty, is not a sort of noble cruelty, or cruel nobility; an egotism which obeys but its own commandments, finding its own straight and narrow path by first disbarring the feelings and lives of others. Had she done what was best for the child? Misgiving upon this point made her heart ache bitterly. Was life then but a series of trist condonings at the best, of humiliating compromises at the worst?
She repeated her question to Ranulph now. "You haven't ambition any longer?"
"I'm busy building ships," he answered evasively. "I build good ships, they tell me, and I am strong and healthy. As for being connetable, I'd rather help prisoners free than hale them before the Royal Court. For somehow when you get at the bottom of most crimes—the small ones leastways—you find they weren't quite meant. I expect—I expect," he added gravely, "that half the crimes oughtn't to be punished at all; for it's queer that things which hurt most can't be punished by law."
"Perhaps it evens up in the long end," answered Guida, turning away from him to the fire, and feeling her heart beat faster as she saw how the child nestled in Ranulph's arms—her child which had no father. "You see," she added, "if some are punished who oughtn't to be, there are others who ought to be that aren't, and the worst of it is, we care so little for real justice that we often wouldn't punish if we could. I have come to feel that. Sometimes if you do exactly what's right, you hurt some one you don't wish to hurt, and if you don't do exactly what's right, perhaps that some one else hurts you. So, often, we would rather be hurt than hurt."
With the last words she turned from the fire and involuntarily faced him. Their eyes met. In hers were only the pity of life, the sadness, the cruelty of misfortune, and friendliness for him. In his eyes was purpose definite, strong.
He went over and put the child in its high chair. Then coming a little nearer to Guida, he said:
"There's only one thing in life that really hurts—playing false."
Her heart suddenly stopped beating. What was Ranulph going to say? After all these years was he going to speak of Philip? But she did not reply according to her thought.
"Have people played false in your life—ever?" she asked.
"If you'll listen to me I'll tell you how," he answered. "Wait, wait," she said in trepidation. "It—it has nothing to do with me?"
He shook his head. "It has only to do with my father and myself. When I've told you, then you must say whether you will have anything to do with it, or with me.... You remember," he continued, without waiting for her to speak, "you remember that day upon the Ecrehos—five years ago? Well, that day I had made up my mind to tell you in so many words what I hoped you had always known, Guida. I didn't—why? Not because of another man—no, no, I don't mean to hurt you, but I must tell you the truth now—not because of another man, for I should have bided my chance with him."
"Ranulph, Ranulph," she broke in, "you must not speak of this now! Do you not see it hurts me? It is not like you. It is not right of you—"
A sudden emotion seized him, and his voice shook. "Not right! You should know that I'd never say one word to hurt you, or do one thing to wrong you. But I must speak to-day-I must tell you everything. I've thought of it for four long years, and I know now that what I mean to do is right."
She sat down in the great arm-chair. A sudden weakness came upon her: she was being brought face to face with days of which she had never allowed herself to think, for she lived always in the future now.
"Go on," she said helplessly. "What have you to say, Ranulph?"
"I will tell you why I didn't speak of my love to you that day we went to the Ecrehos. My father came back that day."
"Yes, yes," she said; "of course you had to think of him."
"Yes, I had to think of him, but not in the way you mean. Be patient a little while," he added.
Then in a few words he told her the whole story of his father's treachery and crime, from the night before the Battle of Jersey up to their meeting again upon the Ecrehos.
Guida was amazed and moved. Her heart filled with pity. "Ranulph—poor Ranulph!" she said, half rising in her seat.
"No, no—wait," he rejoined. "Sit where you are till I tell you all. Guida, you don't know what a life it has been for me these four years. I used to be able to look every man in the face without caring whether he liked me or hated me, for then I had never lied, I had never done a mean thing to any man; I had never deceived—nannin-gia, never! But when my father came back, then I had to play a false game. He had lied, and to save him I either had to hold my peace or tell his story. Speaking was lying or being silent was lying. Mind you, I'm not complaining, I'm not saying it because I want any pity. No, I'm saying it because it's the truth, and I want you to know the truth. You understand what it means to feel right in your own mind—if you feel that way, the rest of life is easy. Eh ben, what a thing it is to get up in the morning, build your fire, make your breakfast, and sit down facing a man whose whole life's a lie, and that man your own father! Some morning perhaps you forget, and you go out into the sun, and it all seems good; and you take your tools and go to work, and the sea comes washing up the shingle, and you think that the shir-r-r-r of the water on the pebbles and the singing of the saw and the clang of the hammer are the best music in the world. But all at once you remember—and then you work harder, not because you love work now for its own sake, but because it uses up your misery and makes you tired; and being tired you can sleep, and in sleep you can forget. Yet nearly all the time you're awake it fairly kills you, for you feel some one always at your elbow whispering, 'you'll never be happy again, you'll never be happy again!' And when you tell the truth about anything, that some one at your elbow laughs and says: 'Nobody believes—your whole life's a lie!' And if the worst man you know passes you by, that some one at your elbow says: 'You can wear a mask, but you're no better than he, no better, no—"'
While Ranulph spoke Guida's face showed a pity and a kindness as deep as the sorrow which had deepened her nature. She shook her head once or twice as though to say, Surely, what suffering! and now this seemed to strike Ranulph, to convict him of selfishness, for he suddenly stopped. His face cleared, and, smiling with a little of his old-time cheerfulness, he said:
"Yet one gets used to it and works on because one knows it will all come right sometime. I'm of the kind that waits."
She looked up at him with her old wide-eyed steadfastness and replied: "You are a good man, Ranulph." He stood gazing at her a moment without remark, then he said:
"No, ba su, no! but it's like you to say I am." Then he added suddenly: "I've told you the whole truth about myself and about my father. He did a bad thing, and I've stood by him. At first, I nursed my troubles and my shame. I used to think I couldn't live it out, that I had no right to any happiness. But I've changed my mind about that-oui-gia! As I hammered away at my ships month in month out, year in year out, the truth came home to me at last. What right had I to sit down and brood over my miseries? I didn't love my father, but I've done wrong for him, and I've stuck to him. Well, I did love—and I do love—some one else, and I should only be doing right to tell her, and to ask her to let me stand with her against the world."
He was looking down at her with all his story in his face. She put out her hand quickly as if in protest and said:
"Ranulph—ah no, Ranulph—"
"But yes, Guida," he replied with stubborn tenderness, "it is you I mean —it is you I've always meant. You have always been a hundred times more to me than my father, but I let you fight your fight alone. I've waked up now to my mistake. But I tell you true that though I love you better than anything in the world, if things had gone well with you I'd never have come to you. I never came, because of my father, and I'd never have come because you are too far above me always—too fine, too noble for me. I only come now because we're both apart from the world and lonely beyond telling; because we need each other. I have just one thing to say: that we two should stand together. There's none ever can be so near as those that have had hard troubles, that have had bitter wrongs. And when there's love too, what can break the bond! You and I are apart from the world, a black loneliness no one understands. Let us be lonely no longer. Let us live our lives together. What shall we care for the rest of the world if we know we mean to do good and no wrong? So I've come to ask you to let me care for you and the child, to ask you to make my home your home. My father hasn't long to live, and when he is gone we could leave this island for ever. Will you come, Guida?"
She had never taken her eyes from his face, and as his story grew her face lighted with emotion, the glow of a moment's content, of a fleeting joy. In spite of all, this man loved her, he wanted to marry her—in spite of all. Glad to know that such men lived—and with how dark memories contrasting with this bright experience-she said to him once again: "You are a good man, Ranulph."
Coming near to her, he said in a voice husky with feeling: "Will you be my wife, Guida?"
She stood up, one hand resting on the arm of the great chair, the other half held out in pitying deprecation.
"No, Ranulph, no; I can never, never be your wife—never in this world."
For an instant he looked at her dumfounded, then turned away to the fireplace slowly and heavily. "I suppose it was too much to hope for," he said bitterly. He realised now how much she was above him, even in her sorrow and shame.
"You forget," she answered quietly, and her hand went out suddenly to the soft curls of the child, "you forget what the world says about me."
There was a kind of fierceness in his look as he turned to her again.
"Me—I have always forgotten—everything," he answered. "Have you thought that for all these years I've believed one word? Secours d'la vie, of what use is faith, what use to trust, if you thought I believed! I do not know the truth, for you have not told me; but I do know, as I know I have a heart in me—I do know that there never was any wrong in you. It is you who forget," he added quickly—"it is you who forget. I tried to tell you all this before; three years ago I tried to tell you. You stopped me, you would not listen. Perhaps you've thought I did not know what has happened to you every week, almost every day of your life? A hundred times I have walked here and you haven't seen me—when you were asleep, when you were fishing, when you were working like a man in the fields and the garden; you who ought to be cared for by a man, working like a slave at man's work. But, no, no, you have not thought well of me, or you would have known that every day I cared, every day I watched, and waited, and hoped—and believed!"
She came to him slowly where he stood, his great frame trembling with his passion and the hurt she had given him, and laying her hand upon his arm, she said:
"Your faith was a blind one, Ro. I was either a girl who—who deserved nothing of the world, or I was a wife. I had no husband, had I? Then I must have been a girl who deserved nothing of the world, or of you. Your faith was blind, Ranulph, you see it was blind."
"What I know is this," he repeated with dogged persistence—"what I know is this: that whatever was wrong, there was no wrong in you. My life a hundred times on that!"
She smiled at him, the brightest smile that had been on her face these years past, and she answered softly: "'I did not think there was so great faith—no, not in Israel!'" Then the happiness passed from her lips to her eyes. "Your faith has made me happy, Ro—I am selfish, you see. Your love in itself could not make me happy, for I have no right to listen, because—"
She paused. It seemed too hard to say: the door of her heart enclosing her secret opened so slowly, so slowly. A struggle was going on in her. Every feeling, every force of her nature was alive. Once, twice, thrice she tried to speak and could not. At last with bursting heart and eyes swimming with tears she said solemnly:
"I can never marry you, Ranulph, and I have no right to listen to your words of love, because—because I am a wife."
Then she gave a great sigh of relief; like some penitent who has for a lifetime hidden a sin or a sorrow and suddenly finds the joy of a confessional which relieves the sick heart, takes away the hand of loneliness that clamps it, and gives it freedom again; lifting the poor slave from the rack of secrecy, the cruelest inquisition of life and time. She repeated the words once more, a little louder, a little clearer. She had vindicated herself to God, now she vindicated herself to man—though to but one.
"I can never marry you; because I am a wife," she said again. There was a slight pause, and then the final word was said: "I am the wife of Philip d'Avranche."
Ranulph did not speak. He stood still and rigid, looking with eyes that scarcely saw.
"I had not intended telling any one until the time should come"—once more her hand reached out and tremblingly stroked the head of the child —"but your faith has forced it from me. I couldn't let you go from me now, ignorant of the truth, you whose trust is beyond telling. Ranulph, I want you to know that I am at least no worse than you thought me."
The look in his face was one of triumph, mingled with despair, hatred, and purpose—hatred of Philip d'Avranche, and purpose concerning him. He gloried now in knowing that Guida might take her place among the honest women of this world,—as the world terms honesty,—but he had received the death-blow to his every hope. He had lost her altogether, he who had watched and waited; who had served and followed, in season and out of season; who had been the faithful friend, keeping his eye fixed only upon her happiness; who had given all; who had poured out his heart like water, and his life like wine before her.
At first he only grasped the fact that Philip d'Avranche was the husband of the woman he loved, and that she had been abandoned. Then sudden remembrance stunned him: Philip d'Avranche, Duc de Bercy, had another wife. He remembered—it had been burned into his brain the day he saw it first in the Gazette de Jersey—that he had married the Comtesse Chantavoine, niece of the Marquis Grandjon-Larisse, upon the very day, and but an hour before, the old Duc de Bercy suddenly died. It flashed across his mind now what he had felt then. He had always believed that Philip had wronged Guida; and long ago he would have gone in search of him—gone to try the strength of his arm against this cowardly marauder, as he held him—but his father's ill-health had kept him where he was, and Philip was at sea upon the nation's business. So the years had gone on until now.
His brain soon cleared. All that he had ever thought upon the matter now crystallised itself into the very truth of the affair. Philip had married Guida secretly; but his new future had opened up to him all at once, and he had married again—a crime, but a crime which in high places sometimes goes unpunished. How monstrous it was that such vile wickedness should be delivered against this woman before him, in whom beauty, goodness, power were commingled! She was the real Princess Philip d'Avranche, and this child of hers—now he understood why she allowed Guilbert to speak no patois.
They scarcely knew how long they stood silent, she with her hand stroking the child's golden hair, he white and dazed, looking, looking at her and the child, as the thing resolved itself to him. At last, in a voice which neither he nor she could quite recognise as his own, he said:
"Of course you live now only for Guilbert."
How she thanked him in her heart for the things he had left unsaid, those things which clear-eyed and great-minded folk, high or humble, always understand. There was no selfish lamenting, no reproaches, none of the futile banalities of the lover who fails to see that it is no crime for a woman not to love him. The thing he had said was the thing she most cared to hear.
"Only for that, Ranulph," she answered.
"When will you claim the child's rights?"
She shook her head sadly. "I do not know," she answered with hesitation. "I will tell you all about it."
Then she told him of the lost register of St. Michael's, and about the Reverend Lorenzo Dow, but she said nothing as to why she had kept silence. She felt that, man though he was, he might divine something of the truth. In any case he knew that Philip had deserted her.
After a moment he said: "I'll find Mr. Dow if he is alive, and the register too. Then the boy shall have his rights."
"No, Ranulph," she answered firmly, "it shall be in my own time. I must keep the child with me. I know not when I shall speak; I am biding my day. Once I thought I never should speak, but then I did not see all, did not wholly see my duty towards Guilbert. It is so hard to find what is wise and just."
"When the proofs are found your child shall have his rights," he said with grim insistence.
"I would never let him go from me," she answered, and, leaning over, she impulsively clasped the little Guilbert in her arms.
"There'll be no need for Guilbert to go from you," he rejoined, "for when your rights come to you, Philip d'Avranche will not be living."
"Will not be living!" she said in amazement. She did not understand.
"I mean to kill him," he answered sternly.
She started, and the light of anger leaped into her eyes. "You mean to kill Philip d'Avranche—you, Maitre Ranulph Delagarde!" she exclaimed. "Whom has he wronged? Myself and my child only—his wife and his child. Men have been killed for lesser wrongs, but the right to kill does not belong to you. You speak of killing Philip d'Avranche, and yet you dare to say you are my friend!"
In that moment Ranulph learned more than he had ever guessed of life's subtle distinctions and the workings of a woman's mind; and he knew that she was right. Her father, her grandfather, might have killed Philip d'Avranche—any one but himself, he the man who had but now declared his love for her. Clearly his selfishness had blinded him. Right was on his side, but not the formal codes by which men live. He could not avenge Guida's wrongs upon her husband, for all men knew that he himself had loved her for years.
"Forgive me," he said in a low tone. Then a new thought came to him. "Do you think your not speaking all these years was best for the child?" he asked.
Her lips trembled. "Oh, that thought," she said, "that thought has made me unhappy so often! It comes to me at night as I lie sleepless, and I wonder if my child will grow up and turn against me one day. Yet I did what I thought was right, Ranulph, I did the only thing I could do. I would rather have died than—"
She stopped short. No, not even to this man who knew all could she speak her whole mind; but sometimes the thought came to her with horrifying acuteness: was it possible that she ought to have sunk her own disillusions, misery, and contempt of Philip d'Avranche, for the child's sake? She shuddered even now as the reflection of that possibility came to her—to live with Philip d'Avranche!
Of late she had felt that a crisis was near. She had had premonitions that her fate, good or bad, was closing in upon her; that these days in this lonely spot with her child, with her love for it and its love for her, were numbered; that dreams must soon give way for action, and this devoted peace would be broken, she knew not how.
Stooping, she kissed the little fellow upon the forehead and the eyes, and his two hands came up and clasped both her cheeks.
"Tu m'aimes, maman?" the child asked. She had taught him the pretty question.
"Comme la vie, comme la vie!" she answered with a half sob, and caught up the little one to her bosom. Now she looked towards the window. Ranulph followed her look, and saw that the shades of night were falling.
"I have far to walk," he said; "I must be going." As he held out his hand to Guida the child leaned over and touched him on the shoulder. "What is your name, man?" he asked.
He smiled, and, taking the warm little hand in his own, he said: "My name is Ranulph, little gentleman. Ranulph's my name, but you shall call me Ro."
"Good-night, Ro, man," the child answered with a mischievous smile.
The scene brought up another such scene in Guida's life so many years ago. Instinctively she drew back with the child, a look of pain crossing her face. But Ranulph did not see; he was going. At the doorway he turned and said:
"You know you can trust me. Good-bye."
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Being tired you can sleep, and in sleep you can forget Cling to beliefs long after conviction has been shattered Futility of goodness, the futility of all Her voice had the steadiness of despair Joy of a confessional which relieves the sick heart Often, we would rather be hurt than hurt Queer that things which hurt most can't be punished by law Rack of secrecy, the cruelest inquisition of life Sardonic pleasure in the miseries of the world Sympathy, with curiousness in their eyes and as much inhumanity Thanked him in her heart for the things he had left unsaid There is something humiliating in even an undeserved injury There was never a grey wind but there's a greyer Uses up your misery and makes you tired (Work) We care so little for real justice
THE BATTLE OF THE STRONG
[A ROMANCE OF TWO KINGDOMS]
By Gilbert Parker
When Ranulph returned to his little house at St. Aubin's Bay night had fallen. Approaching he saw there was no light in the windows. The blinds were not drawn, and no glimmer of fire came from the chimney. He hesitated at the door, for he instinctively felt that something must have happened to his father. He was just about to enter, however, when some one came hurriedly round the corner of the house.
"Whist, boy," said a voice; "I've news for you." Ranulph recognised the voice as that of Dormy Jamais. Dormy plucked at his sleeve. "Come with me, boy," said he.
"Come inside if you want to tell me something," answered Ranulph.
"Ah bah, not for me! Stone walls have ears. I'll tell only you and the wind that hears and runs away."
"I must speak to my father first," answered Ranulph.
"Come with me, I've got him safe," Dormy chuckled to himself.
Ranulph's heavy hand dropped on his shoulder. "What's that you're saying—my father with you! What's the matter?"
As though oblivious of Ranulph's hand Dormy went on chuckling.
"Whoever burns me for a fool 'll lose their ashes. Des monz a fous—I have a head! Come with me." Ranulph saw that he must humour the shrewd natural, so he said:
"Et ben, put your four shirts in five bundles and come along." He was a true Jerseyman at heart, and speaking to such as Dormy Jamais he used the homely patois phrases. He knew there was no use hurrying the little man, he would take his own time.
"There's been the devil to pay," said Dormy as he ran towards the shore, his sabots going clac—clac, clac—clac. "There's been the devil to pay in St. Heliers, boy." He spoke scarcely above a whisper.
"Tcheche—what's that?" said Ranulph. But Dormy was not to uncover his pot of roses till his own time. "That connetable's got no more wit than a square bladed knife," he rattled on. "But gache-a-penn, I'm hungry!" And as he ran he began munching a lump of bread he took from his pocket.
For the next five minutes they went on in silence. It was quite dark, and as they passed up Market Hill—called Ghost Lane because of the Good Little People who made it their highway—Dormy caught hold of Ranulph's coat and trotted along beside him. As they went, tokens of the life within came out to them through doorway and window. Now it was the voice of a laughing young mother:
"Si tu as faim Manges ta main Et gardes l'autre pour demain; Et ta tete Pour le jour de fete; Et ton gros ortee Pour le Jour Saint Norbe"
"Let us pluck the bill of the lark, The lark from head to tail—"
He knew the voice. It was that of a young wife of the parish of St. Saviour: married happily, living simply, given a frugal board, after the manner of her kind, and a comradeship for life. For the moment he felt little but sorrow for himself. The world seemed to be conspiring against him: the chorus of Fate was singing behind the scenes, singing of the happiness of others in sardonic comment on his own final unhappiness. Yet despite the pain of finality there was on him something of the apathy of despair.
From another doorway came fragments of a song sung at a veille. The door was open, and he could see within the happy gathering of lads and lassies in the light of the crasset. There was the spacious kitchen, its beams and rafters dark with age, adorned with flitches of bacon, huge loaves resting in the racllyi beneath the centre beam, the broad open hearth, the flaming fire of logs, and the great brass pan shining like fresh- coined gold, on its iron tripod over the logs. Lassies in their short woollen petticoats, and bedgones of blue and lilac, with boisterous lads, were stirring the contents of the vast bashin—many cabots of apples, together with sugar, lemon-peel, and cider; the old ladies in mob-caps tied under the chin, measuring out the nutmeg and cinnamon to complete the making of the black butter: a jocund recreation for all, and at all times.
In one corner was a fiddler, and on the veille, flourished for the occasion with satinettes and fern, sat two centeniers and the prevot, singing an old song in the patois of three parishes.
Ranulph looked at the scene lingeringly. Here he was, with mystery and peril to hasten his steps, loitering at the spot where the light of home streamed out upon the roadway. But though he lingered, somehow he seemed withdrawn from all these things; they were to him now as pictures of a distant past.
Dormy plucked at his coat. "Come, come, lift your feet, lift your feet," said he; "it's no time to walk in slippers. The old man will be getting scared, oui-gia!" Ranulph roused himself. Yes, yes, he must hurry on. He had not forgotten his father, but something held him here; as though Fate were whispering in his ear. What does it matter now? While yet you may, feed on the sight of happiness. So the prisoner going to execution seizes one of the few moments left to him for prayer, to look lingeringly upon what he leaves, as though to carry into the dark a clear remembrance of it all.
Moving on quietly in a kind of dream, Ranulph was roused again by Dormy's voice: "On Sunday I saw three magpies, and there was a wedding that day. Tuesday I saw two—that's for joy—and fifty Jersey prisoners of the French comes back on Jersey that day. This morning one I saw. One magpie is for trouble, and trouble's here. One doesn't have eyes for naught—no, bidemme!"
Ranulph's patience was exhausted.
"Bachouar," he exclaimed roughly, "you make elephants out of fleas! You've got no more news than a conch-shell has music. A minute and you'll have a back-hander that'll put you to sleep, Maitre Dormy."
If he had been asked his news politely Dormy would have been still more cunningly reticent. To abuse him in his own argot was to make him loose his bag of mice in a flash.
"Bachouar yourself, Maitre Ranulph! You'll find out soon. No news—no trouble—eh! Par made, Mattingley's gone to the Vier Prison—he! The baker's come back, and the Connetable's after Olivier Delagarde. No trouble, pardingue, if no trouble, Dormy Jamais's a batd'lagoule and no need for father of you to hide in a place that only Dormy knows—my good!"
So at last the blow had fallen; after all these years of silence, sacrifice, and misery. The futility of all that he had done and suffered for his father's sake came home to Ranulph. Yet his brain was instantly alive. He questioned Dormy rapidly and adroitly, and got the story from him in patches.
The baker Carcaud, who, with Olivier Delagarde, betrayed the country into the hands of Rullecour years ago, had, with a French confederate of Mattingley's, been captured in attempting to steal Jean Touzel's boat, the Hardi Biaou. At the capture the confederate had been shot. Before dying he implicated Mattingley in several robberies, and a notorious case of piracy of three months before, committed within gunshot of the men-of- war lying in the tide-way. Carcaud, seriously wounded, to save his life turned King's evidence, and disclosed to the Royal Court in private his own guilt and Olivier Delagarde's treason.
Hidden behind the great chair of the Bailly himself, Dormy Jamais had heard the whole business. This had brought him hot-foot to St. Aubin's Bay, whence he had hurried Olivier Delagarde to a hiding-place in the hills above the bay of St. Brelade. The fool had travelled more swiftly than Jersey justice, whose feet are heavy. Elie Mattingley was now in the Vier Prison. There was the whole story.
The mask had fallen, the game was up. Well, at least there would be no more lying, no more brutalising inward shame. All at once it appeared to Ranulph madness that he had not taken his father away from Jersey long ago. Yet too he knew that as things had been with Guida he could never have stayed away.
Nothing was left but action. He must get his father clear of the island and that soon. But how? and where should they go? He had a boat in St. Aubin's Bay: getting there under cover of darkness he might embark with his father and set sail—whither? To Sark—there was no safety there. To Guernsey—that was no better. To France—yes, that was it, to the war of the Vendee, to join Detricand. No need to find the scrap of paper once given him in the Vier Marchi. Wherever Detricand might be, his fame was the highway to him. All France knew of the companion of de la Rochejaquelein, the fearless Comte de Tournay. Ranulph made his decision. Shamed and dishonoured in Jersey, in that holy war of the Vendee he would find something to kill memory, to take him out of life without disgrace. His father must go with him to France, and bide his fate there also.
By the time his mind was thus made up, they had reached the lonely headland dividing Portelet Bay from St. Brelade's. Dark things were said of this spot, and the country folk of the island were wont to avoid it. Beneath the cliffs in the sea was a rocky islet called Janvrin's Tomb. One Janvrin, ill of a fell disease, and with his fellows forbidden by the Royal Court to land, had taken refuge here, and died wholly neglected and without burial. Afterwards his body lay exposed till the ravens and vultures devoured it, and at last a great storm swept his bones off into the sea. Strange lights were to be seen about this rock, and though wise men guessed them mortal glimmerings, easily explained, they sufficed to give the headland immunity from invasion.
To a cave at this point Dormy Jamais had brought the trembling Olivier Delagarde, unrepenting and peevish, but with a craven fear of the Royal Court and a furious populace quickening his footsteps. This hiding-place was entered at low tide by a passage from a larger cave. It was like a little vaulted chapel floored with sand and shingle. A crevice through rock and earth to the world above let in the light and out the smoke.
Here Olivier Delagarde sat crouched over a tiny fire, with some bread and a jar of water at his hand, gesticulating and talking to himself. The long white hair and beard, with the benevolent forehead, gave him the look of some latter-day St. Helier, grieving for the sins and praying for the sorrows of mankind; but from the hateful mouth came profanity fit only for the dreadful communion of a Witches' Sabbath.
Hearing the footsteps of Ranulph and Dormy, he crouched and shivered in terror, but Ranulph, who knew too well his revolting cowardice, called to him reassuringly. On their approach he stretched out his talon-like fingers in a gesture of entreaty.
"You'll not let them hang me, Ranulph—you'll save me," he whimpered.
"Don't be afraid, they shall not hang you," Ranulph replied quietly, and began warming his hands at the fire. "You'll swear it, Ranulph—on the Bible?"
"I've told you they shall not hang you. You ought to know by now whether I mean what I say," his son answered more sharply.
Assuredly Ranulph meant that his father should not be hanged. Whatever the law was, whatever wrong the old man had done, it had been atoned for; the price had been paid by both. He himself had drunk the cup of shame to the dregs, but now he would not swallow the dregs. An iron determination entered into him. He had endured all that he would endure from man. He had set out to defend Olivier Delagarde from the worst that might happen, and he was ready to do so to the bitter end. His scheme of justice might not be that of the Royal Court, but he would defend it with his life. He had suddenly grown hard—and dangerous.
The Royal Court was sitting late. Candles had been brought to light the long desk or dais where sat the Bailly in his great chair, and the twelve scarlet-robed jurats. The Attorney-General stood at his desk, mechanically scanning the indictment read against prisoners charged with capital crimes. His work was over, and according to his lights he had done it well. Not even the Undertaker's Apprentice could have been less sensitive to the struggles of humanity under the heel of fate and death. A plaintive complacency, a little righteous austerity, and an agreeable expression of hunger made the Attorney-General a figure in godly contrast to the prisoner awaiting his doom in the iron cage opposite.
There was a singular stillness in this sombre Royal Court, where only a tallow candle or two and a dim lanthorn near the door filled the room with flickering shadows-great heads upon the wall drawing close together, and vast lips murmuring awful secrets. Low whisperings came through the dusk like mournful nightwinds carrying tales of awe through a heavy forest. Once in the long silence a figure rose up silently, and stealing across the room to a door near the jury box, tapped upon it with a pencil. A moment's pause, the door opened slightly, and another shadowy figure appeared, whispered, and vanished. Then the first figure closed the door again silently, and came and spoke softly up to the Bailly, who yawned in his hand, sat back in his chair, and drummed his fingers upon the arm. Thereupon the other—the greffier of the court—settled down at his desk beneath the jurats, and peered into an open book before him, his eyes close to the page, reading silently by the meagre light of a candle from the great desk behind him.
Now a fat and ponderous avocat rose up and was about to speak, but the Bailly, with a peevish gesture, waved him down, and he settled heavily into place again.
At last the door at which the greffier had tapped opened, and a gaunt figure in a red robe came out. Standing in the middle of the room he motioned towards the great pew opposite the Attorney-General. Slowly the twenty-four men of the grand jury following him filed into place and sat themselves down in the shadows. Then the gaunt figure—the Vicomte or high sheriff—bowing to the Bailly and the jurats, went over and took his seat beside the Attorney-General. Whereupon the Bailly leaned forward and droned a question to the Grand Enquete in the shadow. One rose up from among the twenty-four, and out of the dusk there came in reply to the Judge a squeaking voice:
"We find the Prisoner at the Bar more Guilty than Innocent."
A shudder ran through the court. But some one not in the room shuddered still more violently. From the gable window of a house in the Rue des Tres Pigeons, a girl had sat the livelong day, looking, looking into the court-room. She had watched the day decline, the evening come, and the lighting of the crassets and the candles, and had waited to hear the words that meant more to her than her own life. At last the great moment came, and she could hear the foreman's voice whining the fateful words, "More Guilty than Innocent."
It was Carterette Mattingley, and the prisoner at the bar was her father.
Mattingley's dungeon was infested with rats and other vermin, he had only straw for his bed, and his food and drink were bread and water. The walls were damp with moisture from the Fauxbie running beneath, and a mere glimmer of light came through a small barred window. Superstition had surrounded the Vier Prison with horrors. As carts passed under the great archway, its depth multiplied the sounds so powerfully, the echoes were so fantastic, that folk believed them the roarings of fiendish spirits. If a mounted guard hurried through, the reverberation of the drum-beats and the clatter of hoofs were so uncouth that children stopped their ears and fled in terror. To the ignorant populace the Vier Prison was the home of noisome serpents and the rendezvous of the devil and his witches of Rocbert.
When therefore the seafaring merchant of the Vier Marchi, whose massive, brass-studded bahue had been as a gay bazaar where the gentry of Jersey refreshed their wardrobes, with one eye closed—when he was transferred to the Vier Prison, little wonder he should become a dreadful being round whom played the lightnings of dark fancy. Elie Mattingley the popular sinner, with insolent gold rings in his ears, unchallenged as to how he came by his merchandise, was one person; Elie Mattingley, a torch for the burning, and housed amid the terrors of the Vier Prison, was another.
Few people in Jersey slept the night before his execution. Here and there kind-hearted women or unimportant men lay awake through pity, and a few through a vague sense of loss; for, henceforth, the Vier Marchi would lack a familiar interest; but mostly the people of Mattingley's world were wakeful through curiosity. Morbid expectation of the hanging had for them a gruesome diversion. The thing itself would break the daily monotony of life and provide hushed gossip for vraic gatherings and veilles for a long time to come. Thus Elie Mattingley would not die in vain!
Here was one sensation, but there was still another. Olivier Delagarde had been unmasked, and the whole island had gone tracking him down. No aged toothless tiger was ever sported through the jungle by an army of shikarris with hungrier malice than was this broken traitor by the people he had betrayed. Ensued, therefore, a commingling of patriotism with lust of man-hunting and eager expectation of to-morrow's sacrifice.
Nothing of this excitement disturbed Mattingley. He did not sleep, but that was because he was still watching for a means of escape. He felt his chances diminish, however, when about midnight an extra guard was put round the prison. Something had gone amiss in the matter of his rescue.
Three things had been planned.
Firstly, he was to try escape by the small window of the dungeon.
Secondly, Carterette was to bring Sebastian Alixandre to the prison disguised as a sorrowing aunt of the condemned. Alixandre was suddenly to overpower the jailer, Mattingley was to make a rush for freedom, and a few bold spirits without would second his efforts and smuggle him to the sea. The directing mind and hand in the business were Ranulph Delagarde's. He was to have his boat waiting to respond to a signal from the shore, and to make sail for France, where he and his father were to be landed. There he was to give Mattingley, Alixandre, and Carterette his craft to fare across the seas to the great fishing-ground of Gaspe in Canada.
Lastly, if these plans failed, the executioner was to be drugged with liquor, his besetting weakness, on the eve of the hanging.
The first plan had been found impossible, the window being too small for even Mattingley's head to get through. The second had failed because the righteous Royal Court forbade Carterette the prison, intent that she should no longer be contaminated by so vile a wretch as her father. For years this same Christian solicitude had looked down from the windows of the Cohue Royale upon this same criminal in the Vier Marchi, with one blind eye for himself the sinner and an open one for his merchandise.
Mattingley could hear the hollow sound of the sentinels' steps under the archway of the Vier Prison. He was quite stoical. If he had to die, then he had to die. Death could only be a little minute of agony; and for what came after—well, he had not thought fearfully of that, and he had no wish to think of it at all. The visiting chaplain had talked, and he had not listened. He had his own ideas about life, and death, and the beyond, and they were not ungenerous. The chaplain had found him patient but impossible, kindly but unresponsive, sometimes even curious, but without remorse.
"You should repent with sorrow and a contrite heart," said the clergyman. "You have done many evil things in your life, Mattingley."
Mattingley had replied: "Ma fuifre, I can't remember them! I know I never done them, for I never done anything but good all my life—so much for so much." He had argued it out with himself and he believed he was a good man. He had been open-handed, had stood by his friends, and, up to a few days ago, was counted a good citizen; for many had come to profit through him. His trade—a little smuggling, a little piracy? Was not the former hallowed by distinguished patronage, and had it not existed from immemorial time? It was fair fight for gain, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. If he hadn't robbed others on the high seas, they would probably have robbed him—and sometimes they did. His spirit was that of the Elizabethan admirals; he belonged to a century not his own. As for the crime for which he was to suffer, it had been the work of another hand, and very bad work it was, to try and steal Jean Touzel's Hardi Biaou, and then bungle it. He had had nothing to do with it, for he and Jean Touzel were the best of friends, as was proved by the fact that while he lay in his dungeon, Jean wandered the shore sorrowing for his fate.
Thinking now of the whole business and of his past life, Mattingley suddenly had a pang. Yes, remorse smote him at last. There was one thing on his conscience—only one. He had respect for the feelings of others, and where the Church was concerned this was mingled with a droll sort of pity, as of the greater for the lesser, the wise for the helpless. For clergymen he had a half-affectionate contempt. He remembered now that when, five years ago, his confederate who had turned out so badly—he had trusted him, too! had robbed the church of St. Michael's, carrying off the great chest of communion plate, offertories, and rents, he had piously left behind in Mattingley's house the vestry-books and parish-register; a nice definition in rogues' ethics. Awaiting his end now, it smote Mattingley's soul that these stolen records had not been returned to St. Michael's. Next morning he must send word to Carterette to restore the books. Then his conscience would be clear once more. With this resolve quieting his mind, he turned over on his straw and went peacefully to sleep.
Hours afterwards he waked with a yawn. There was no start, no terror, but the appearance of the jailer with the chaplain roused in him disgust for the coming function at the Mont es Pendus. Disgust was his chief feeling. This was no way for a man to die! With a choice of evils he should have preferred walking the plank, or even dying quietly in his bed, to being stifled by a rope. To dangle from a cross-tree like a half-filled bag offended all instincts of picturesqueness, and first and last he had been picturesque.
He asked at once for pencil and paper. His wishes were obeyed with deference. On the whole he realised by the attentions paid him—the brandy and the food offered by the jailer, the fluttering kindness of the chaplain—that in the life of a criminal there is one moment when he commands the situation. He refused the brandy, for he was strongly against spirits in the early morning, but asked for coffee. Eating seemed superfluous—and a man might die more gaily on an empty stomach. He assured the chaplain that he had come to terms with his conscience and was now about to perform the last act of a well-intentioned life.
There and then he wrote to Carterette, telling her about the vestry-books of St. Michael's, and begging that she should restore them secretly. There were no affecting messages; they understood each other. He knew that when it was possible she would never fail to come to the mark where he was concerned, and she had equal faith in him. So the letter was sealed, addressed with flourishes, he was proud of his handwriting, and handed to the chaplain for Carterette.
He had scarcely drunk his coffee when there was a roll of drums outside. Mattingley knew that his hour was come, and yet to his own surprise he had no violent sensations. He had a shock presently, however, for on the jailer announcing the executioner, who should be there before him but the Undertaker's Apprentice! In politeness to the chaplain Mattingley forbore profanity. This was the one Jerseyman for whom he had a profound hatred, this youth with the slow, cold, watery blue eye, a face that never wrinkled either with mirth or misery, the square-set teeth always showing a little—an involuntary grimace of cruelty. Here was insult.
"Devil below us, so you're going to do it—you!" broke out Mattingley.
"The other man was drunk," said the Undertaker's Apprentice. "He's been full as a jug three days. He got drunk too soon." The grimace seemed to widen. "O my good!" said Mattingley, and he would say no more. To him words were like nails—of no use unless they were to be driven home by acts.
To Mattingley the procession of death was stupidly slow. As it issued from the archway of the Vier Prison between mounted guards, and passed through a long lane of moving spectators, he looked round coolly. One or two bold spirits cried out: "Head up to the wind, Maitre Elie!"
"Oui-gia," he replied; "devil a top-sail in!" and turned a look of contempt on those who hooted him. He realised now that there was no chance of rescue. The militia and the town guard were in ominous force, and although his respect for the island military was not devout, a bullet from the musket of a fool might be as effective as one from Bonapend's— as Napoleon Bonaparte was disdainfully called in Jersey. Yet he could not but wonder why all the plans of Alixandre, Carterette, and Ranulph had gone for nothing; even the hangman had been got drunk too soon! He had a high opinion of Ranulph, and that he should fail him was a blow to his judgment of humanity.
He was thoroughly disgusted. Also they had compelled him to put on a white shirt, he who had never worn linen in his life. He was ill at ease in it. It made him conspicuous; it looked as though he were aping the gentleman at the last. He tried to resign himself, but resignation was hard to learn so late in life. Somehow he could not feel that this was really the day of his death. Yet how could it be otherwise? There was the Vicomte in his red robe, there was the sinister Undertaker's Apprentice, ready to do his hangman's duty. There, as they crossed the mielles, while the sea droned its sing-song on his left, was the parson droning his sing-song on the right "In the midst of life we are in death," etc. There were the grumbling drums, and the crowd morbidly enjoying their Roman holiday; and there, looming up before him, were the four stone pillars on the Mont es Pendus from which he was to swing. His disgust deepened. He was not dying like a seafarer who had fairly earned his reputation.
His feelings found vent even as he came to the foot of the platform where he was to make his last stand, and the guards formed a square about the great pillars, glooming like Druidic altars. He burst forth in one phrase expressive of his feelings.
"Sacre matin—so damned paltry!" he said, in equal tribute to two races.
The Undertaker's Apprentice, thinking this a reflection upon his arrangements, said, with a wave of the hand to the rope:
"Nannin, ch'est tres ship-shape, Maitre!"
The Undertaker's Apprentice was wrong. He had made everything ship- shape, as he thought, but a gin had been set for him. The rope to be used at the hanging had been measured and approved by the Vicomte, and the Undertaker's Apprentice had carried it to his room at the top of the Cohue Royale. In the dead of night, however, Dormy Jamais drew it from under the mattress whereon the deathman slept, and substituted one a foot longer. This had been Ranulph's idea as a last resort, for he had a grim wish to foil the law even at the twelfth hour.
The great moment had come. The shouts and hootings ceased. Out of the silence there arose only the champing of a horse's bit or the hysterical giggle of a woman. The high painful drone of the chaplain's voice was heard.
Then came the fatal "Maintenant!" from the Vicomte, the platform fell, and Elie Mattingley dropped the length of the rope.
What was the consternation of the Vicomte and the hangman, and the horror of the crowd, to see that Mattingley's toes just touched the ground! The body shook and twisted. The man was being slowly strangled, not hanged.
The Undertaker's Apprentice was the only person who kept a cool head. The solution of the problem of the rope for afterwards, but he had been sent there to hang a man, and a man he would hang somehow. Without more ado he jumped upon Mattingley's shoulders and began to drag him down.
That instant Ranulph Delagarde burst through the mounted guard and the militia. Rushing to the Vicomte, he exclaimed:
"Shame! The man was to be hung, not strangled. This is murder. Stop it, or I'll cut the rope." He looked round on the crowd. "Cowards— cowards," he cried, "will you see him murdered?"
He started forward to drag away the deathmann, but the Vicomte, thoroughly terrified at Ranulph's onset, himself seized the Undertaker's Apprentice, who, drawing off with unruffled malice, watched what followed with steely eyes.
Dragged down by the weight of the Apprentice, Mattingley's feet were now firmly on the ground. While the excited crowd tried to break through the cordon of mounted guards, Mattingley, by a twist and a jerk, freed his corded hands. Loosing the rope at his neck he opened his eyes and looked around him, dazed and dumb.
The Apprentice came forward. "I'll shorten the rope oui-gia! Then you shall see him swing," he grumbled viciously to the Vicomte.
The gaunt Vicomte was trembling with excitement. He looked helplessly around him.
The Apprentice caught hold of the rope to tie knots in it and so shorten it, but Ranulph again appealed to the Vicomte.
"You've hung the man," said he; "you've strangled him and you didn't kill him. You've got no right to put that rope round his neck again."
Two jurats who had waited on the outskirts of the crowd, furtively watching the effect of their sentence, burst in, as distracted as the Vicomte.
"Hang the man again and the whole world will laugh at you," Ranulph said. "If you're not worse than fools or Turks you'll let him go. He has had death already. Take him back to the prison then, if you're afraid to free him." He turned on the crowd fiercely. "Have you nothing to say to this butchery?" he cried. "For the love of God, haven't you anything to say?"
Half the crowd shouted "Let him go free!" and the other half, disappointed in the working out of the gruesome melodrama, groaned and hooted.
Meanwhile Mattingley stood as still as ever he had stood by his bahue in the Vier Marchi, watching—waiting.
The Vicomte conferred nervously with the jurats for a moment, and then turned to the guard.
"Take the prisoner to the Vier Prison," he said. Mattingley had been slowly solving the problem of his salvation. His eye, like a gimlet, had screwed its way through Ranulph's words into what lay behind, and at last he understood the whole beautiful scheme. It pleased him: Carterette had been worthy of herself, and of him. Ranulph had played his game well too. He only failed to do justice to the poor beganne, Dormy Jamais. But then the virtue of fools is its own reward. As the procession started back with the Undertaker's Apprentice now following after Mattingley, not going before, Mattingley turned to him, and with a smile of malice said:
"Ch'est tres ship-shape, Maitre-eh!" and he jerked his head back towards the inadequate rope.
He was not greatly troubled about the rest of this grisly farce. He was now ready for breakfast, and his appetite grew as he heard how the crowd hooted and snarled yah! at the Undertaker's Apprentice. He was quite easy about the future. What had been so well done thus far could not fail in the end.
Events proved Mattingley right. Three days after, it was announced that he had broken prison. It is probable that the fury of the Royal Court at the news was not quite sincere, for it was notable that the night of his evasion, suave and uncrestfallen, they dined in state at the Tres Pigeons. The escape gave them happy issue from a quandary.
The Vicomte officially explained that Mattingley had got out by the dungeon window. People came to see the window, and there, ba su, the bars were gone! But that did not prove the case, and the mystery was deepened by the fact that Jean Touzel, whose head was too small for Elie's hat, could not get that same head through the dungeon window. Having proved so much, Jean left the mystery there, and returned to his Hardi Biaou.
This happened on the morning after the dark night when Mattingley, Carterette, and Alixandre hurried from the Vier Prison, through the Rue des Sablons to the sea, and there boarded Ranulph's boat, wherein was Olivier Delagarde the traitor.
Accompanying Carterette to the shore was a little figure that moved along beside them like a shadow, a little grey figure that carried a gold- headed cane. At the shore this same little grey figure bade Mattingley good-bye with a quavering voice. Whereupon Carterette, her face all wet with tears, kissed him upon both cheeks, and sobbed so that she could scarcely speak. For now when it was all done—all the horrible ordeal over—the woman in her broke down before the little old gentleman, who had been like a benediction in the house where the ten commandments were imperfectly upheld. But she choked down her sobs, and thinking of another more than of herself, she said:
"Dear Chevalier, do not forget the book—that register—I gave you to-night. Read it—read the last writing in it, and then you will know— ah, bidemme—but you will know that her we love—ah, but you must read it and tell nobody till—till the right time comes! She hasn't held her tongue for naught, and it's only fair to do as she's done all along, and hold ours. Pardingue, but my heart hurts me!" she added suddenly, and catching the hand that held the little gold cane she kissed it with impulsive ardour. "You have been so good to me—oui-gia!" she said with a gulp, and then she dropped the hand and turned and fled to the boat rocking in the surf.
The little Chevalier watched the boat glide out into the gloom of night, and waited till he knew that they must all be aboard Ranulph's schooner and making for the sea. Then he turned and went back to the empty house in the Rue d'Egypte.
Opening the book Carterette had placed in his hands before they left the house, he turned up and scanned closely the last written page. A moment after, he started violently, his eyes dilating, first with wonder, then with a bewildered joy; and then, Protestant though he was, with the instinct of long-gone forefathers, he made the sacred gesture, and said:
"Now I have not lived and loved in vain, thanks be to God!"
Even as joy opened wide the eyes of the Chevalier, who had been sorely smitten through the friends of his heart, out at sea Night and Death were closing the eyes of another wan old man who had been a traitor to his country.
For the boat of the fugitives had scarcely cleared reefs and rocks, and reached the open Channel, when Olivier Delagarde, uttering the same cry as when Ranulph and the soldiers had found him wounded in the Grouville road sixteen years before, suddenly started up from where he had lain mumbling, and whispering incoherently, "Ranulph—they've killed me!" fell back dead.
True to the instinct which had kept him faithful to one idea for sixteen years, and in spite of the protests of Mattingley and Carterette—of the despairing Carterette who felt the last thread of her hopes snap with his going—Ranulph made ready to leave them. Bidding them good-bye, he placed his father's body in the rowboat, and pulling back to the shore of St. Aubin's Bay with his pale freight, carried it on his shoulders up to the little house where he had lived so many years. There he kept the death-watch alone.
Guida knew nothing of the arrest and trial of Mattingley until he had been condemned to death. Nor until then did she know anything of what had happened to Olivier Delagarde; for soon after her interview with Ranulph she had gone a-marketing to the Island of Sark, with the results of half a year's knitting. Her return had been delayed by ugly gales from the south east. Several times a year she made this journey, landing at the Eperquerie Rocks as she had done one day long ago, and selling her beautiful wool caps and jackets to the farmers and fisher-folk, getting in kind for what she gave.
When she made these excursions to Sark, Dormy Jamais had always remained at the little house, milking her cow, feeding her fowls, and keeping all in order—as perfect a sentinel as old Biribi, and as faithful. For the first time in his life, however, Dormy Jamais was unfaithful. On the day that Carcaud the baker and Mattingley were arrested, he deserted the hut at Plemont to exploit, with Ranulph, the adventure which was at last to save Olivier Delagarde and Mattingley from death. But he had been unfaithful only in the letter of his bond. He had gone to the house of Jean Touzel, through whose Hardi Biaou the disaster had come, and had told Mattresse Aimable that she must go to Plemont in his stead—for a fool must keep his faith whate'er the worldly wise may do. So the fat Femme de Ballast, puffing with every step, trudged across the island to Plemont, and installed herself as keeper of the house.
One day Mattresse Aimable's quiet was invaded by two signalmen who kept watch, not far from Guida's home, for all sail, friend or foe, bearing in sight. They were now awaiting the new Admiral of the Jersey station and his fleet. With churlish insolence they entered Guida's hut before Maitresse Aimable could prevent it. Looking round, they laughed meaningly, and then told her that the commander coming presently to lie with his fleet in Grouville Bay was none other than the sometime Jersey midshipman, now Admiral Prince Philip d'Avranche, Duc de Bercy. Understanding then the meaning of their laughter, and the implied insult to Guida, Maitresse Aimable's voice came ravaging out of the silence where it lay hid so often and so long, and the signalmen went their ways shamefacedly.
She could not make head or tail of her thoughts now, nor see an inch before her nose; all she could feel was an aching heart for Guida. She had heard strange tales of how Philip had become Prince Philip d'Avranche, and husband of the Comtesse Chantavoine, and afterwards Duc de Bercy. Also she had heard how Philip, just before he became the Duc de Bercy, had fought his ship against a French vessel off Ushant, and, though she had heavier armament than his own, had destroyed her. For this he had been made an admiral. Only the other day her Jean had brought the Gazette de Jersey in which all these things were related, and had spelled them out for her. And now this same Philip d'Avranche with his new name and fame was on his way to defend the Isle of Jersey.
Mattresse Aimable's muddled mind could not get hold of this new Philip. For years she had thought him a monster, and here he was, a great and valiant gentleman to the world. He had done a thing that Jean would rather have cut off his hand—both hands—than do, and yet here he was, an admiral, a prince, and a sovereign duke, and men like Jean were as dust beneath his feet. The real Philip she knew: he was the man who had spoiled the life of a woman; this other Philip—she could read about him, she could think about him, just as she could think about William and his horse' in Boulay Bay, or the Little Bad Folk of Rocbert; but she could not realise him as a thing of flesh and blood and actual being. The more she tried to realise him the more mixed she became.
As in her mental maze she sat panting her way to enlightenment, she saw Guida's boat entering the little harbour. Now the truth must be told— but how?
After her first exclamation of welcome to mother and child, Maitresse Aimable struggled painfully for her voice. She tried to find words in which to tell Guida the truth, but, stopping in despair, she suddenly began rocking the child back and forth, saying only: "Prince Admiral he —and now to come! O my good—O my good!" Guida's sharp intuition found the truth.
"Philip d'Avranche!" she said to herself. Then aloud, in a shaking voice—"Philip d'Avranche!"
She could not think clearly for a moment. It was as if her brain had received a blow, and in her head was a singing numbness, obscuring eyesight, hearing, speech.
When she had recovered a little she took the child from Maitresse Aimable, and pressing him to her bosom placed him in the Sieur de Mauprat's great arm-chair. This action, ordinary as it seemed, was significant of what was in her mind. The child himself realised something unusual, and he sat perfectly still, two small hands spread out on the big arms.
"You always believed in me, 'tresse Aimable," Guida said at last in a low voice.
"Oui-gia, what else?" was the instant reply. The quick responsiveness of her own voice seemed to confound the Femme de Ballast, and her face suffused.
Guida stooped quickly and kissed her on the cheek. "You'll never regret that. And you will have to go on believing still, but you'll not be sorry in the end, 'tresse Aimable," she said, and turned away to the fireplace. An hour afterwards Mattresse Aimable was upon her way to St. Heliers, but now she carried her weight more easily and panted less. Twice within the last month Jean had given her ear a friendly pinch, and now Guida had kissed her—surely she had reason to carry her weight more lightly.
That afternoon and evening Guida struggled with herself: the woman in her shrinking from the ordeal at hand. But the mother in her pleaded, commanded, ruled confused emotions to quiet. Finality of purpose once determined, a kind of peace came over her sick spirit, for with finality there is quiescence if not peace.
When she looked at the little Guilbert, refined and strong, curiously observant, and sensitive in temperament like herself, her courage suddenly leaped to a higher point than it had ever known. This innocent had suffered enough. What belonged to him he had not had. He had been wronged in much by his father, and maybe—and this was the cruel part of it—had been unwittingly wronged, alas! how unwilling, by her! If she gave her own life many times, it still could be no more than was the child's due.
A sudden impulse seized her, and with a quick explosion of feeling she dropped on her knees, and looking into his eyes, as though hungering for the words she so often yearned to hear, she said:
"You love your mother, Guilbert? You love her, little son?"
With a pretty smile and eyes brimming with affectionate fun, but without a word, the child put out a tiny hand and drew the fingers softly down his mother's face.
"Speak, little son, tell your mother that you love her." The tiny hand pressed itself over her eyes, and a gay little laugh came from the sensitive lips, then both arms ran round her neck. The child drew her head to him impulsively, and kissing her, a little upon the hair and a little upon the forehead, so indefinite was the embrace, he said: