"Si, maman, I loves you best of all," then added: "Maman, can't I have the sword now?"
"You shall have the sword too some day," she answered, her eyes flashing.
"But, maman, can't I touch it now?"
Without a word she took down the sheathed goldhandled sword and laid it across the chair-arms.
"I can't take the sword out, can I, maman?" he asked.
She could not help smiling. "Not yet, my son, not yet."
"I has to be growed up so the blade doesn't hurt me, hasn't I, maman?"
She nodded and smiled again, and went about her work.
He nodded sagely. "Maman—" he said. She turned to him; the little figure was erect with a sweet importance. "Maman, what am I now—with the sword?" he asked, with wide-open, amazed eyes.
A strange look passed across her face. Stooping, she kissed his curly hair.
"You are my prince," she said.
A little later the two were standing on that point of land called Grosnez—the brow of the Jersey tiger. Not far from them was a signal- staff which telegraphed to another signal-staff inland. Upon the staff now was hoisted a red flag. Guida knew the signals well. The red flag meant warships in sight. Then bags were hoisted that told of the number of vessels: one, two, three, four, five, six, then one next the upright, meaning seven. Last of all came the signal that a flag-ship was among them.
This was a fleet in command of an admiral. There, not far out, between Guernsey and Jersey, was the squadron itself. Guida watched it for a long while, her heart hardening; but seeing that the men by the signal- staff were watching her, she took the child and went to a spot where they were shielded from any eyes. Here she watched the fleet draw nearer and nearer.
The vessels passed almost within a stone's throw of her. She could see the St. George's Cross flying at the fore of the largest ship. That was the admiral's flag—that was the flag of Admiral Prince Philip d'Avranche, Duc de Bercy.
She felt her heart stand still suddenly, and with a tremor, as of fear, she gathered her child close to her. "What is all those ships, maman?" asked the child. "They are ships to defend Jersey," she said, watching the Imperturbable and its flotilla range on.
"Will they affend us, maman?"
"Perhaps-at the last," she said.
Off Grouville Bay lay the squadron of the Jersey station. The St. George's Cross was flying at the fore of the Imperturbable, and on every ship of the fleet the white ensign flapped in the morning wind. The wooden-walled three-decked flag-ship, with her 32-pounders, and six hundred men, was not less picturesque and was more important than the Castle of Mont Orgueil near by, standing over two hundred feet above the level of the sea: the home of Philip d'Avranche, Duc de Bercy, and the Comtesse Chantavoine, now known to the world as the Duchesse de Bercy.
The Comtesse had arrived in the island almost simultaneously with Philip, although he had urged her to remain at the ducal palace of Bercy. But the duchy of Bercy was in hard case. When the imbecile Duke Leopold John died and Philip succeeded, the neutrality of Bercy had been proclaimed, but this neutrality had since been violated, and there was danger at once from the incursions of the Austrians and the ravages of the French troops. In Philip's absence the valiant governor-general of the duchy, aided by the influence and courage of the Comtesse Chantavoine, had thus far saved it from dismemberment, in spite of attempted betrayals by Damour the Intendant, who still remained Philip's enemy.
But when the Marquis Grandjon-Larisse, the uncle of the Comtesse, died, her cousin, General Grandjon-Larisse of the Republican army—whose word with Dalbarade had secured Philip's release years before for her own safety, first urged and then commanded her temporary absence from the duchy. So far he had been able to protect it from the fury of the Republicans and the secret treachery of the Jacobins. But a time of great peril was now at hand. Under these anxieties and the lack of other inspiration than duty, her health had failed, and at last she obeyed her cousin, joining Philip at the Castle of Mont Orgueil.
More than a year had passed since she had seen him, but there was no emotion, no ardour in their present greeting. From the first there had been nothing to link them together. She had married, hoping that she might love thereafter; he in choler and bitterness, and in the stress of a desperate ambition. He had avoided the marriage so long as he might, in hope of preventing it until the Duke should die, but with the irony of fate the expected death had come two hours after the ceremony. Then, shortly afterwards, came the death of the imbecile Leopold John; and Philip found himself the Duc de Bercy, and within a year, by reason of a splendid victory for the Imperturbable, an admiral.
Truth to tell, in this battle he had fought for victory for his ship and a fall for himself: for the fruit he had plucked was turning to dust and ashes. He was haunted by the memory of a wronged woman, as she herself had foretold. Death, with the burial of private dishonour under the roses of public victory—that had come to be his desire. But he had found that Death is wilful and chooseth her own time; that she may be lured, but she will not come with shouting. So he had stoically accepted his fate, and could even smile with a bitter cynicism when ordered to proceed to the coast of Jersey, where collision with a French squadron was deemed certain.
Now, he was again brought face to face with his past; with the imminent memory of Guida Landresse de Landresse. Where was Guida now? What had happened to her? He dared not ask, and none told him. Whichever way he turned—night or day—her face haunted him. Looking out from the windows of Mont Orgueil Castle, or from the deck of the Imperturbable, he could see—and he could scarce choose but see—the lonely Ecrehos. There, with a wild eloquence, he had made a girl believe he loved her, and had taken the first step in the path which should have led to true happiness and honour. From this good path he had violently swerved—and now?
From all that could be seen, however, the world went very well with him. He was the centre of authority. Almost any morning one might have seen a boat shoot out from below the Castle wall, carrying a flag with the blue ball of a Vice-Admiral of the White in the canton, and as the Admiral himself stepped upon the deck of the Imperturbable between saluting guards, across the water came a gay march played in his honour.
Jersey herself was elate, eager to welcome one of her own sons risen to such high estate. When, the very day after his arrival, he passed through the Vier Marchi on his way to visit the Lieutenant-Governor, the redrobed jurats impulsively turned out to greet him. They were ready to prove that memory is a matter of will and cultivation. There is no curtain so opaque as that which drops between the mind of man and the thing it is advantageous to forget. But how closely does the ear of self-service listen for the footfall of a most distant memory, when to do so is to share even a reflected glory!
A week had gone since Philip had landed on the island. Memories pursued him. If he came by the shore of St. Clement's Bay, he saw the spot where he had stood with her the evening he married her, and she said to him: "Philip, I wonder what we will think of this day a year from now!...... To-day is everything to you, but to-morrow is very much to me." He remembered Shoreham sitting upon the cromlech above singing the legend of the gui-l'annee—and Shoreham was lying now a hundred fathoms deep.
As he walked through the Vier Marchi with his officers, there flashed before his eyes the scene of sixteen years ago, when, through the grime and havoc of battle, he had run to save Guida from the scimitar of the garish Turk. Walking through the Place du Vier Prison, he recalled the morning when he had rescued Ranulph from the hands of the mob. Where was Ranulph now?
If he had but known it, that very morning as he passed Mattingley's house Ranulph had looked down at him with infinite scorn and loathing—but with triumph too, for the Chevalier had just shown him a certain page in a certain parish-register long lost, left with him by Carterette Mattingley. Philip knew naught of Ranulph save the story babbled by the islanders. He cared to hear of no one but Guida, and who was now to mention her name to him? It was long—so long since he had seen her face. How many years ago was it? Only five, and yet it seemed twenty.
He was a boy then; now his hair was streaked with grey. He was light- hearted then, and he was still buoyant with his fellows, still alert and vigorous, quick of speech and keen of humour—but only before the world. In his own home he was fitful of mood, impatient of the grave, meditative look of his wife, of her resolute tenacity of thought and purpose, of her unvarying evenness of mood, through which no warmth played. It seemed to him that if she had defied him—given him petulance for petulance, impatience for impatience, it would have been easier to bear. If—if he could only read behind those passionless eyes, that clear, unwrinkled forehead! But he knew her no better now than he did the day he married her. Unwittingly she chilled him, and he felt he had no right to complain, for he had done her the greatest wrong which can be done a woman. Whatever chanced, Guida was still his wife; and there was in him yet the strain of Calvinistic morality of the island race that bred him. He had shrunk from coming here, but it had been far worse than he had looked for.
One day, in a nervous, bitter moment, after an impatient hour with the Comtesse, he had said: "Can you—can you not speak? Can you not tell me what you think?" She had answered quietly:
"It would do no good. You would not understand. I know you in some ways better than you know yourself. I cannot tell what it is, but there is something wrong in your nature, something that poisons your life. And not myself only has felt that. I never told you—but you remember the day the old Duke died, the day we were married? You had gone from the room a moment. The Duke beckoned me to him, and whispered 'Don't be afraid—don't be afraid—' and then he died. That meant that he was afraid, that death had cleared his sight as to you in some way. He was afraid—of what? And I have been afraid—of what? I do not know. Things have not gone well somehow. You are strong, you are brave, and I come of a family that have been strong and brave. We ought to be near: yet, yet we are lonely and far apart, and we shall never be nearer or less lonely. That I know."
To this he had made no reply and this anger vanished. Something in her words had ruled him to her own calmness, and at that moment he had the first flash of understanding of her nature and its true relation to his own.
Passing through the Rue d'Egypte this day he met Dormy Jamais. Forgetful of everything save that this quaint foolish figure had interested him when a boy, he called him by name; but Dormy Jamais swerved away, eyeing him askance.
At that instant he saw Jean Touzel standing in the doorway of his house. A wave of remorseful feeling rushed over him. He could wait no longer: he would ask Jean Touzel and his wife about Guida. He instantly bethought him of an excuse for the visit. His squadron needed another pilot; he would approach Jean in the matter.
Bidding his flag-lieutenant go on to Elizabeth Castle whither they were bound, and await him there, he crossed over to Jean. By the time he reached the doorway, however, Jean had retreated to the veille by the chimney behind Maitresse Aimable, who sat in a great stave-chair mending a net.
Philip knocked and stepped inside. When Mattresse Aimable saw who it was she was so startled that she dropped her work, and made vague clutches to recover it. Stooping, however, was a great effort for her. Philip instantly stepped forward and picked up the net. Politely handing it to her, he said:
"Ah, Maitresse Aimable, it is as if you had never stirred all these years!" Then turning to her husband "I have come looking for a good pilot, Jean." Mattresse Aimable had at first flushed to a purple, had afterwards gone pale, then recovered herself, and now returned Philip's look with a downright steadiness. Like Jean, she knew well enough he had not come for a pilot—that was not the business of a Prince Admiral.
She did not even rise. Philip might be whatever the world chose to call him, but her house was her own, and he had come uninvited, and he was unwelcome.
She kept her seat, but her fat head inclined once in greeting, and she waited for him to speak again. She knew why he had come; and somehow the steady look in these slow, brown eyes, and the blinking glance behind Jean's brass-rimmed spectacles, disconcerted Philip. Here were people who knew the truth about him, knew the sort of man he really was. These poor folk who had had nothing of the world but what they earned, they would never hang on any prince's favours.
He read the situation rightly. The penalties of his life were teaching him a discernment which could never have come to him through good fortune alone. Having at last discovered his real self a little, he was in the way of knowing others.
"May I shut the door?" he asked quietly. Jean nodded. Closing it he turned to them again. "Since my return I have heard naught concerning Mademoiselle Landresse," he said. "I want to ask you about her now. Does she still live in the Place du Vier Prison?"
Both Jean and Aimable shook their heads. They had spoken no word since his entrance.
"She—she is not dead?" he asked. They shook their heads again.
"Her grandfather"—he paused—"is he living?" Once more they shook their heads in negation. "Where is mademoiselle?" he asked, sick at heart.
Jean looked at his wife; neither moved nor answered. "Where does she live?" urged Philip. Still there was no motion, no reply. "You might as well tell me." His tone was half pleading, half angry—little like a sovereign duke, very like a man in trouble. "You must know I shall find out from some one else, then," he continued. "But it is better for you to tell me. I mean her no harm, and I would rather know about her from her friends."
He took off his hat now. Something in the dignity of these two honest folk rebuked the pride of place and spirit in him. As plainly as though heralds had proclaimed it, he understood that these two knew the abatements on the shield of his honour-argent, a plain point tenne, due to him "that tells lyes to his Prince or General," and argent, a gore sinister tenne, due for flying from his colours.
Maitresse Aimable turned and looked towards Jean, but Jean turned away his head. Then she did not hesitate. The voice so oft eluding her will responded readily now. Anger—plain primitive rage-possessed her. She had had no child, but as the years had passed all the love that might have been given to her own was bestowed upon Guida, and in that mind she spoke.
"O my grief, to think you have come here-you!" she burst forth. "You steal the best heart in the world—there is none like her, nannin-gia. You promise her, you break her life, you spoil her, and then you fly away —ah coward you! Man pethe benin, was there ever such a man like you! If my Jean there had done a thing as that I would sink him in the sea— he would sink himself, je me crais! But you come back here, O my Mother of God, you come back here with your sword, with your crown-ugh, it is like a black cat in heaven—you!"
She got to her feet more nimbly than she had ever done in her life, and the floor seemed to heave as she came towards Philip. "You speak to me with soft words," she said harshly—"but you shall have the good hard truth from me. You want to know now where she is—I ask where you have been these five years? Your voice it tremble when you speak of her now. Oh ho! it has been nice and quiet these five years. The grand pethe of her drop dead in his chair when he know. The world turn against her, make light of her, when they know. All alone—she is all alone, but for one fat old fool like me. She bear all the shame, all the pain, for the crime of you. All alone she take her child and go on to the rock of Plemont to live these five years. But you, you go and get a crown and be Amiral and marry a grande comtesse—marry, oh, je crais ben! This is no world for such men like you. You come to my house, to the house of Jean Touzel, to ask this and that—well, you have the truth of God, ba su! No good will come to you in the end, nannin-gia! When you go to die, you will think and think and think of that beautiful Guida Landresse; you will think and think of the heart you kill, and you will call, and she will not come. You will call till your throat rattle, but she will not come, and the child of sorrow you give her will not come—no, bidemme! E'fin, the door you shut you can open now, and you can go from the house of Jean Touzel. It belong to the wife of an honest man— maint'nant!"
In the moment's silence that ensued, Jean took a step forward. "Ma femme, ma bonne femme!" he said with a shaking voice. Then he pointed to the door. Humiliated, overwhelmed by the words of the woman, Philip turned mechanically towards the door without a word, and his fingers fumbled for the latch, for a mist was before his eyes. With a great effort he recovered himself, and passed slowly out into the Rue d'Egypte.
"A child—a child!" he said brokenly. "Guida's child—my God! And I —have never—known. Plemont—Plemont, she is at Plemont!" He shuddered. "Guida's child—and mine," he kept saying to himself, as in a painful dream he passed on to the shore.
In the little fisherman's cottage he had left, a fat old woman sat sobbing in the great chair made of barrel-staves, and a man, stooping, kissed her twice on the cheek—the first time in fifteen years. And then she both laughed and cried.
Guida sat by the fire sewing, Biribi the dog at her feet. A little distance away, to the right of the chimney, lay Guilbert asleep. Twice she lowered the work to her lap to look at the child, the reflected light of the fire playing on his face. Stretching out her hand, she touched him, and then she smiled. Hers was an all-devouring love; the child was her whole life; her own present or future was as nothing; she was but fuel for the fire of his existence.
A storm was raging outside. The sea roared in upon Plemont and Grosnez, battering the rocks in futile agony. A hoarse nor'-easter ranged across the tiger's head in helpless fury: a night of awe to inland folk, and of danger to seafarers. To Guida, who was both of the sea and of the land, fearless as to either, it was neither terrible nor desolate to be alone with the storm. Storm was but power unshackled, and power she loved and understood. She had lived so long in close commerce with storm and sea that something of their keen force had entered into her, and she was kin with them. Each wind to her was intimate as a friend, each rock and cave familiar as her hearthstone; and the ungoverned ocean spoke in terms intelligible. So heavy was the surf that now and then the spray of some foiled wave broke on the roof, but she only nodded at that, as though the sea were calling her to come forth, tapping on her rooftree in joyous greeting.
But suddenly she started and bent her head. It seemed as if her whole body were hearkening. Now she rose quickly to her feet, dropped her work upon the table near by, and rested herself against it, still listening. She was sure she heard a horse's hoofs. Turning swiftly, she drew the curtain of the bed before her sleeping child, and then stood quiet waiting—waiting. Her hand went to her heart once as though its fierce throbbing hurt her. Plainly as though she could look through these stone walls into clear sunlight, she saw some one dismount, and she heard a voice.
The door of the but was unlocked and unbarred. If she feared, it was easy to shoot the bolt and lock the door, to drop the bar across the little window, and be safe and secure. But no bodily fear possessed her- -only that terror of the spirit when its great trial comes suddenly and it shrinks back, though the mind be of faultless courage.
She waited. There came a knocking at the door. She did not move from where she stood.
"Come in," she said. She was composed and resolute now.
The latch clicked, the door opened, and a cloaked figure entered, the shriek of the storm behind. The door closed again. The intruder took a step forward, his hat came off, the cloak was loosed and dropped upon the floor. Guida's premonition had been right: It was Philip.
She did not speak. A stone could have been no colder as she stood in the light of the fire, her face still and strong, the eyes darkling, luminous. There was on her the dignity of the fearless, the pure in heart.
"Guida!" Philip said, and took a step nearer, and paused.
He was haggard, he had the look of one who had come upon a desperate errand. When she did not answer he said pleadingly:
"Guida, won't you speak to me?"
"The Duc de Bercy chooses a strange hour for his visit," she said quietly.
"But see," he answered hurriedly; "what I have to say to you—" he paused, as though to choose the thing he should say first.
"You can say nothing I need hear," she answered, looking him steadily in the eyes.
"Ah, Guida," he cried, disconcerted by her cold composure, "for God's sake listen to me! To-night we have to face our fate. To-night you have to say—"
"Fate was faced long ago. I have nothing to say."
"Guida, I have repented of all. I have come now only to speak honestly of the wrong I did you. I have come to—"
Scorn sharpened her words, though she spoke calmly: "You have forced yourself upon a woman's presence—and at this hour!"
"I chose the only hour possible," he answered quickly. "Guida, the past cannot be changed, but we have the present and the future still. I have not come to justify myself, but to find a way to atone."
"No atonement is possible."
"You cannot deny me the right to confess to you that—"
"To you denial should not seem hard usage," she answered slowly, "and confession should have witnesses—"
She paused suggestively. The imputation that he of all men had the least right to resent denial; that, dishonest still, he was willing to justify her privately though not publicly; that repentance should have been open to the world—it all stung him.
He threw out his hands in a gesture of protest. "As many witnesses as you will, but not now, not this hour, after all these years. Will you not at least listen to me, and then judge and act? Will you not hear me, Guida?"
She had not yet even stirred. Now that it had come, this scene was all so different from what she might have imagined. But she spoke out of a merciless understanding, an unchangeable honesty. Her words came clear and pitiless:
"If you will speak to the point and without a useless emotion, I will try to listen. Common kindness should have prevented this intrusion— by you!"
Every word she said was like a whip-lash across his face. A devilish light leapt into his eye, but it faded as quickly as it came.
"After to-night, to the public what you will," he repeated with dogged persistence, "but it was right we should speak alone to each other at least this once before the open end. I did you wrong, yet I did not mean to ruin your life, and you should know that. I ought not to have married you secretly; I acknowledge that. But I loved you—"
She shook her head, and with a smile of pitying disdain—he could so little see the real truth, his real misdemeanour—she said: "Oh no, never—never! You were not capable of love; you never knew what it means. From the first you were too untrue ever to love a woman. There was a great fire of emotion, you saw shadows on the wall, and you fell in love with them. That was all."
"I tell you that I loved you," he answered with passionate energy. "But as you will. Let it be that it was not real love: at least it was all there was in me to give. I never meant to desert you. I never meant to disavow our marriage. I denied you, you will say. I did. In the light of what came after, it was dishonourable—I grant that; but I did it at a crisis and for the fulfilment of a great ambition—and as much for you as for me."
"That was the least of your evil work. But how little you know what true people think or feel!" she answered with a kind of pain in her voice, for she felt that such a nature could never even realise its own enormities. Well, since it had gone so far she would speak openly, though it hurt her sense of self-respect.
"For that matter, do you think that I or any good woman would have had place or power, been princess or duchess, at the price? What sort of mind have you?" She looked him straight in the eyes. "Put it in the clear light of right and wrong, it was knavery. You—you talk of not meaning to do me harm. You were never capable of doing me good. It was not in you. From first to last you are untrue. Were it otherwise, were you not from first to last unworthy, would you have—but no, your worst crime need not be judged here. Yet had you one spark of worthiness would you have made a mock marriage—it is no more—with the Comtesse Chantavoine? No matter what I said or what I did in anger, or contempt of you, had you been an honest man you would not have so ruined another life. Marriage, alas! You have wronged the Comtesse worse than you have wronged me. One day I shall be righted, but what can you say or do to right her wrongs?"
Her voice had now a piercing indignation and force. "Yes, Philip d'Avranche, it is as I say, justice will come to me. The world turned against me because of you; I have been shamed and disgraced. For years I have suffered in silence. But I have waited without fear for the end. God is with me. He is stronger than fortune or fate. He has brought you to Jersey once more, to right my wrongs, mine and my child's."
She saw his eyes flash to the little curtained bed. They both stood silent and still. He could hear the child breathing. His blood quickened. An impulse seized him. He took a step towards the bed, as though to draw the curtain, but she quickly moved between.
"Never," she said in a low stern tone; "no touch of yours for my Guilbert—for my son! Every minute of his life has been mine. He is mine—all mine—and so he shall remain. You who gambled with the name, the fame, the very soul of your wife, you shall not have one breath of her child's life."
It was as if the outward action of life was suspended in them for a moment, and then came the battle of two strong spirits: the struggle of fretful and indulged egotism, the impulse of a vigorous temperament, against a deep moral force, a high purity of mind and conscience, and the invincible love of the mother for the child. Time, bitterness, and power had hardened Philip's mind, and his long-restrained emotions, breaking loose now, made him a passionate and wilful figure. His force lay in the very unruliness of his spirit, hers in the perfect command of her moods and emotions. Well equipped by the thoughts and sufferings of five long years, her spirit was trained to meet this onset with fiery wisdom. They were like two armies watching each other across a narrow stream, between one conflict and another.
For a minute they stood at gaze. The only sounds in the room were the whirring of the fire in the chimney and the child's breathing. At last Philip's intemperate self-will gave way. There was no withstanding that cold, still face, that unwavering eye. Only brutality could go further. The nobility of her nature, her inflexible straight-forwardness came upon him with overwhelming force. Dressed in molleton, with no adornment save the glow of a perfect health, she seemed at this moment, as on the Ecrehos, the one being on earth worth living and caring for. What had he got for all the wrong he had done her? Nothing. Come what might, there was one thing that he could yet do, and even as the thought possessed him he spoke.
"Guida," he said with rushing emotion, "it is not too late. Forgive the past-the wrong of it, the shame of it. You are my wife; nothing can undo that. The other woman—she is nothing to me. If we part and never meet again she will suffer no more than she suffers to go on with me. She has never loved me, nor I her. Ambition did it all, and of ambition God knows I have had enough! Let me proclaim our marriage, let me come back to you. Then, happen what will, for the rest of our lives I will try to atone for the wrong I did you. I want you, I want our child. I want to win your love again. I can't wipe out what I have done, but I can put you right before the world, I can prove to you that I set you above place and ambition. If you shrink from doing it for me, do it"—he glanced towards the bed—"do it for our child. To-morrow—to-morrow it shall be, if you will forgive. To-morrow let us start again—Guida—Guida!"
She did not answer at once; but at last she said "Giving up place and ambition would prove nothing now. It is easy to repent when our pleasures have palled. I told you in a letter four years ago that your protests came too late. They are always too late. With a nature like yours nothing is sure or lasting. Everything changes with the mood. It is different with me: I speak only what I truly mean. Believe me, for I tell you the truth, you are a man that a woman could forget but could never forgive. As a prince you are much better than as a plain man, for princes may do what other men may not. It is their way to take all and give nothing. You should have been born a prince, then all your actions would have seemed natural. Yet now you must remain a prince, for what you got at such a price to others you must pay for. You say you would come down from your high place, you would give up your worldly honours, for me. What madness! You are not the kind of man with whom a woman could trust herself in the troubles and changes of life. Laying all else aside, if I would have had naught of your honours and your duchy long ago, do you think I would now share a disgrace from which you could never rise? For in my heart I feel that this remorse is but caprice. It is to-day; it may not—will not—be tomorrow."
"You are wrong, you are wrong. I am honest with you now," he broke in.
"No," she answered coldly, "it is not in you to be honest. Your words have no ring of truth in my ears, for the note is the same as I heard once upon the Ecrehos. I was a young girl then and I believed; I am a woman now, and I should still disbelieve though all the world were on your side to declare me wrong. I tell you"—her voice rose again, it seemed to catch the note of freedom and strength of the storm without— "I tell you, I will still live as my heart and conscience prompt me. The course I have set for myself I will follow; the life I entered upon when my child was born I will not leave. No word you have said has made my heart beat faster. You and I can never have anything to say to each other in this life, beyond"—her voice changed, she paused—"beyond one thing—"
Going to the bed where the child lay, she drew the curtain softly, and pointing, she said:
"There is my child. I have set my life to the one task, to keep him to myself, and yet to win for him the heritage of the dukedom of Bercy. You shall yet pay to him the price of your wrong-doing."
She drew back slightly so that he could see the child lying with its rosy face half buried in its pillow, the little hand lying like a flower upon the coverlet.
Once more with a passionate exclamation he moved nearer to the child.
"No farther!" she said, stepping before him.
When she saw the wild impulse in his face to thrust her aside, she added: "It is only the shameless coward that strikes the dead. You had a wife— Guida d'Avranche, but Guida d'Avranche is dead. There only lives the mother of this child, Guida Landresse de Landresse."
She looked at him with scorn, almost with hatred. Had he touched her— but she would rather pity than loathe!
Her words roused all the devilry in him. The face of the child had sent him mad.
"By Heaven, I will have the child—I will have the child!" he broke out harshly. "You shall not treat me like a dog. You know well I would have kept you as my wife, but your narrow pride, your unjust anger threw me over. You have wronged me. I tell you you have wronged me, for you held the secret of the child from me all these years."
"The whole world knew!" she exclaimed indignantly. "I will break your pride," he said, incensed and unable to command himself. "Mark you, I will break your pride. And I will have my child too!"
"Establish to the world your right to him," she answered keenly. "You have the right to acknowledge him, but the possession shall be mine."
He was the picture of impotent anger and despair. It was the irony of penalty that the one person in the world who could really sting him was this unacknowledged, almost unknown woman. She was the only human being that had power to shatter his egotism and resolve him into the common elements of a base manhood. Of little avail his eloquence now! He had cajoled a sovereign dukedom out of an aged and fatuous prince; he had cajoled a wife, who yet was no wife, from among the highest of a royal court; he had cajoled success from Fate by a valour informed with vanity and ambition; years ago, with eloquent arts he had cajoled a young girl into a secret marriage—but he could no longer cajole the woman who was his one true wife. She knew him through and through.
He was so wild with rage he could almost have killed her as she stood there, one hand stretched out to protect the child, the other pointing to the door.
He seized his hat and cloak and laid his hand upon the latch, then suddenly turned to her. A dark project came to him. He himself could not prevail with her; but he would reach her yet, through the child. If the child were in his hands, she would come to him.
"Remember, I will have the child," he said, his face black with evil purpose.
She did not deign reply, but stood fearless and still, as, throwing open the door, he rushed out into the night. She listened until she heard his horse's hoofs upon the rocky upland. Then she went to the door, locked it, and barred it. Turning, she ran with a cry as of hungry love to the little bed. Crushing the child to her bosom, she buried her face in his brown curls.
"My son, my own, own son!" she said.
If at times it would seem that Nature's disposition of the events of a life or a series of lives is illogical, at others she would seem to play them with an irresistible logic—loosing them, as it were, in a trackless forest of experience, and in some dramatic hour, by an inevitable attraction, drawing them back again to a destiny fulfilled. In this latter way did she seem to lay her hand upon the lives of Philip d'Avranche and Guida Landresse.
At the time that Elie Mattingley, in Jersey, was awaiting hanging on the Mont es Pendus, and writing his letter to Carterette concerning the stolen book of church records, in a town of Brittany the Reverend Lorenzo Dow lay dying. The army of the Vendee, under Detricand Comte de Tournay, had made a last dash at a small town held by a section of the Republican army, and captured it. On the prisons being opened, Detricand had discovered in a vile dungeon the sometime curate of St. Michael's Church in Jersey. When they entered on him, wasted and ragged he lay asleep on his bed of rotten straw, his fingers between the leaves of a book of meditations. Captured five years before and forgotten alike by the English and French Governments, he had apathetically pined and starved to these last days of his life.
Recognising him, Detricand carried him in his strong arms to his own tent. For many hours the helpless man lay insensible, but at last the flickering spirit struggled back to light for a little space. When first conscious of his surroundings, the poor captive felt tremblingly in the pocket of his tattered vest. Not finding what he searched for, he half started up. Detricand hastened forward with a black leather-covered book in his hand. Mr. Dow's thin trembling fingers clutched eagerly—it was his only passion—at this journal of his life. As his grasp closed on it, he recognised Detricand, and at the same time he saw the cross and heart of the Vendee on his coat.
A victorious little laugh struggled in his throat. "The Lord hath triumphed gloriously—I could drink some wine, monsieur," he added in the same quaint clerical monotone.
Having drunk the wine he lay back murmuring thanks and satisfaction, his eyes closed. Presently they opened. He nodded at Detricand.
"I have not tasted wine these five years," he said; then added, "You—you took too much wine in Jersey, did you not, monsieur? I used to say an office for you every Litany day, which was of a Friday."
His eyes again caught the cross and heart on Detricand's coat, and they lighted up a little. "The Lord hath triumphed gloriously," he repeated, and added irrelevantly, "I suppose you are almost a captain now?"
"A general—almost," said Detricand with gentle humour.
At that moment an orderly appeared at the tent-door, bearing a letter for Detricand.
"From General Grandjon-Larisse of the Republican army, your highness," said the orderly, handing the letter. "The messenger awaits an answer."
As Detricand hastily read, a look of astonishment crossed over his face, and his brows gathered in perplexity. After a minute's silence he said to the orderly:
"I will send a reply to-morrow."
"Yes, your highness." The orderly saluted and retired.
Mr. Dow half raised himself on his couch, and the fevered eyes swallowed Detricand.
"You—you are a prince, monsieur?" he said. Detricand glanced up from the letter he was reading again, a grave and troubled look on his face.
"Prince of Vaufontaine they call me, but, as you know, I am only a vagabond turned soldier," he said. The dying man smiled to himself,— a smile of the sweetest vanity this side of death,—for it seemed to him that the Lord had granted him this brand from the burning, and in supreme satisfaction, he whispered: "I used to say an office for you every Litany—which was a Friday, and twice, I remember, on two Saints' days."
Suddenly another thought came to him, and his lips moved—he was murmuring to himself. He would leave a goodly legacy to the captive of his prayers.
Taking the leather-covered journal of his life in both hands, he held it out.
"Highness, highness—" said he. Death was breaking the voice in his throat.
Detricand stooped and ran an arm round his shoulder, but raising himself up Mr. Dow gently pushed him back. The strength of his supreme hour was on him.
"Highness," said he, "I give you the book of five years of my life—not of its every day, but of its moments, its great days. Read it," he added, "read it wisely. Your own name is in it—with the first time I said an office for you." His breath failed him, he fell back, and lay quiet for several minutes.
"You used to take too much wine," he said half wildly, starting up again. "Permit me your hand, highness."
Detricand dropped on his knee and took the wasted hand. Mr. Dow's eyes were glazing fast. With a last effort he spoke—his voice like a squeaking wind in a pipe:
"The Lord hath triumphed gloriously—" and he leaned forward to kiss Detricand's hand.
But Death intervened, and his lips fell instead upon the red cross on Detricand's breast, as he sank forward lifeless.
That night, after Lorenzo Dow was laid in his grave, Detricand read the little black leather-covered journal bequeathed to him. Of the years of his captivity the records were few; the book was chiefly concerned with his career in Jersey. Detricand read page after page, more often with a smile than not; yet it was the smile of one who knew life and would scarce misunderstand the eccentric and honest soul of the Reverend Lorenzo Dow.
Suddenly, however, he started, for he came upon these lines:
I have, in great privacy and with halting of spirit, married, this twenty-third of January, Mr. Philip d'Avranche of His Majesty's ship "Narcissus," and Mistress Guida Landresse de Landresse, both of this Island of Jersey; by special license of the Bishop of Winchester.
To this was added in comment:
Unchurchmanlike, and most irregular. But the young gentleman's tongue is gifted, and he pressed his cause heartily. Also Mr. Shoreham of the Narcissus—"Mad Shoreham of Galway" his father was called—I knew him—added his voice to the request also. Troubled in conscience thereby, yet I did marry the twain gladly, for I think a worthier maid never lived than this same Mistress Guida Landresse de Landresse, of the ancient family of the de Mauprats. Yet I like not secrecy, though it be but for a month or two months—on my vow, I like it not for one hour.
Note: At leisure read of the family history of the de Mauprats and the d'Avranches.
N.: No more secret marriages nor special licenses—most uncanonical privileges!
N.: For ease of conscience write to His Grace at Lambeth upon the point.
Detricand sprang to his feet. So this was the truth about Philip d'Avranche, about Guida, alas!
He paced the tent, his brain in a whirl. Stopping at last, he took from his pocket the letter received that afternoon from General Grandjon- Larisse, and read it through again hurriedly. It proposed a truce, and a meeting with himself at a village near, for conference upon the surrender of Detricand's small army.
"A bitter end to all our fighting," said Detricand aloud at last. "But he is right. It is now a mere waste of life. I know my course. . . . Even to-night," he added, "it shall be to-night."
Two hours later Detricand, Prince of Vaufontaine, was closeted with General Grandjon-Larisse at a village half-way between the Republican army and the broken bands of the Vendee.
As lads Detricand and Grandjon-Larisse had known each other well. But since the war began Grandjon-Larisse had gone one way, and he had gone the other, bitter enemies in principle but friendly enough at heart.
They had not seen each other since the year before Rullecour's invasion of Jersey.
"I had hoped to see you by sunset, monseigneur," said Grandjon-Larisse after they had exchanged greetings.
"It is through a melancholy chance you see me at all," replied Detricand heavily.
"To what piteous accident am I indebted?" Grandjon-Larisse replied in an acid tone, for war had given his temper an edge. "Were not my reasons for surrender sound? I eschewed eloquence—I gave you facts."
Detricand shook his head, but did not reply at once. His brow was clouded.
"Let me speak fully and bluntly now," Grandjon-Larisse went on. "You will not shrink from plain truths, I know. We were friends ere you went adventuring with Rullecour. We are soldiers too; and you will understand I meant no bragging in my letter."
He raised his brows inquiringly, and Detricand inclined his head in assent.
Without more ado, Grandjon-Larisse laid a map on the table. "This will help us," he said briefly, then added: "Look you, Prince, when war began the game was all with you. At Thouars here"—his words followed his finger—"at Fontenay, at Saumur, at Torfou, at Coron, at Chateau- Gonthier, at Pontorson, at Dol, at Antrain, you had us by the heels. Victory was ours once to your thrice. Your blood was up. You had great men—great men," he repeated politely.
Detricand bowed. "But see how all is changed," continued the other. "See: by this forest of Vesins de la Rochejaquelein fell. At Chollet"— his finger touched another point—"Bonchamp died, and here d'Elbee and Lescure were mortally wounded. At Angers Stofflet was sent to his account, and Charette paid the price at Nantes." He held up his fingers. "One—two—three—four—five—six great men gone!"
He paused, took a step away from the table, and came back again.
Once more he dropped his finger on the map. "Tinteniac is gone, and at Quiberon Peninsula your friend Sombreuil was slain. And look you here," he added in a lower voice, "at Laval my old friend the Prince of Talmont was executed at his own chateau, where I had spent many an hour with him."
Detricand's eyes flashed fire. "Why then permit the murder, monsieur le general?"
Grandjon-Larisse started, his voice became hard at once. "It is not a question of Talmont, or of you, or of me, monseigneur. It is not a question of friendship, not even of father, or brother, or son—but of France."
"And of God and the King," said Detricand quickly.
Grandjon-Larisse shrugged his shoulders. "We see with different eyes. We think with different minds," and he stooped over the map again.
"We feel with different hearts," said Detricand. "There is the difference between us—between your cause and mine. You are all for logic and perfection in government, and to get it you go mad, and France is made a shambles—"
"War is cruelty, and none can make it gentle," interrupted Grandjon- Larisse. He turned to the map once more. "And see, monseigneur, here at La Vie your uncle the Prince of Vaufontaine died, leaving you his name and a burden of hopeless war. Now count them all over—de la Rochejaquelein, Bonchamp, d'Elbee, Lescure, Stofflet, Charette, Talmont, Tinteniac, Sombreuil, Vaufontaine—they are all gone, your great men. And who of chieftains and armies are left? Detricand of Vaufontaine and a few brave men—no more. Believe me, monseigneur, your game is hopeless—by your grace, one moment still," he added, as Detricand made an impatient gesture. "Hoche destroyed your army and subdued the country two years ago. You broke out again, and Hoche and I have beaten you again. Fight on, with your doomed followers—brave men I admit—and Hoche will have no mercy. I can save your peasants if you will yield now.
"We have had enough of blood. Let us have peace. To proceed is certain death to all, and your cause worse lost. On my honour, monseigneur, I do this at some risk, in memory of old days. I have lost too many friends," he added in a lower voice.
Detricand was moved. "I thank you for this honest courtesy. I had almost misread your letter," he answered. "Now I will speak freely. I had hoped to leave my bones in Brittany. It was my will to fight to the last, with my doomed followers as you call them—comrades and lovers of France I say. And it was their wish to die with me. Till this afternoon I had no other purpose. Willing deaths ours, for I am persuaded, for every one of us that dies, a hundred men will rise up again and take revenge upon this red debauch of government!"
"Have a care," said Grandjon-Larisse with sudden anger, his hand dropping upon the handle of his sword.
"I ask leave for plain beliefs as you asked leave for plain words. I must speak my mind, and I will say now that it has changed in this matter of fighting and surrender. I will tell you what has changed it," and Detricand drew from his pocket Lorenzo Dow's journal. "It concerns both you and me."
Grandjon-Larisse flashed a look of inquiry at him. "It concerns your cousin the Comtesse Chantavoine and Philip d'Avranche, who calls himself her husband and Duc de Bercy."
He opened the journal, and handed it to Grandjon-Larisse. "Read," he said.
As Grandjon-Larisse read, an oath broke from him. "Is this authentic, monseigneur?" he said in blank astonishment "and the woman still lives?"
Detricand told him all he knew, and added:
"A plain duty awaits us both, monsieur le general. You are concerned for the Comtesse Chantavoine; I am concerned for the Duchy of Bercy and for this poor lady—this poor lady in Jersey," he added.
Grandjon-Larisse was white with rage. "The upstart! The English brigand!" he said between his teeth.
"You see now," said Detricand, "that though it was my will to die fighting your army in the last trench—"
"Alone, I fear," interjected Grandjon-Larisse with curt admiration.
"My duty and my purpose go elsewhere," continued Detricand. "They take me to Jersey. And yours, monsieur?"
Grandjon-Larisse beat his foot impatiently on the floor. "For the moment I cannot stir in this, though I would give my life to do so," he answered bitterly. "I am but now recalled to Paris by the Directory."
He stopped short in his restless pacing and held out his hand.
"We are at one," he said—"friends in this at least. Command me when and how you will. Whatever I can I will do, even at risk and peril. The English brigand!" he added bitterly. "But for this insult to my blood, to the noble Chantavoine, he shall pay the price to me—yes, by the heel of God!"
"I hope to be in Jersey three days hence," said Detricand.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
It is easy to repent when our pleasures have palled Kissed her twice on the cheek—the first time in fifteen years No news—no trouble War is cruelty, and none can make it gentle
THE BATTLE OF THE STRONG
[A ROMANCE OF TWO KINGDOMS]
By Gilbert Parker
The bell on the top of the Cohue Royale clattered like the tongue of a scolding fishwife. For it was the fourth of October, and the opening of the Assise d'Heritage.
This particular session of the Court was to proceed with unusual spirit and importance, for after the reading of the King's Proclamation, the Royal Court and the States were to present the formal welcome of the island to Admiral Prince Philip d'Avranche, Duc de Bercy; likewise to offer a bounty to all Jerseymen enlisting under him.
The island was en fete. There had not been such a year of sensations since the Battle of Jersey. Long before chicane—chicane ceased clanging over the Vier Marchi the body of the Court was filled. The Governor, the Bailly, the jurats, the seigneurs and the dames des fiefs, the avocats with their knowledge of the ancient custom of Normandy and the devious inroads made upon it by the customs of Jersey, the military, all were in their places; the officers of the navy had arrived, all save one and he was to be the chief figure of this function. With each arrival the people cheered and the trumpets blared. The islanders in the Vier Marchi turned to the booths for refreshments, or to the printing-machine set up near La Pyramide, and bought halfpenny chapsheets telling of recent defeats of the French; though mostly they told in ebullient words of the sea-fight which had made Philip d'Avranche an admiral, and of his elevation to a sovereign dukedom. The crowds restlessly awaited his coming now.
Inside the Court there was more restlessness still. It was now many minutes beyond the hour fixed. The Bailly whispered to the Governor, the Governor to his aide, and the aide sought the naval officers present; but these could give no explanation of the delay. The Comtesse Chantavoine was in her place of honour beside the Attorney-General—but Prince Philip and his flag-lieutenant came not.
The Comtesse Chantavoine was the one person outwardly unmoved. What she thought, who could tell? Hundreds of eyes scanned her face, yet she seemed unconscious of them, indifferent to them. What would not the Bailly have given for her calmness! What would not the Greffier have given for her importance! She drew every eye by virtue of something which was more than the name of Duchesse de Bercy. The face, the bearing, had an unconscious dignity, a living command and composure: the heritage, perhaps, of a race ever more fighters than courtiers, rather desiring good sleep after good warfare than luxurious peace.
The silence, the tension grew painful. A whole half hour had the Court waited beyond its time. At last, however, cheers arose outside, and all knew that the Prince was coming. Presently the doors were thrown open, two halberdiers stepped inside, and an officer of the Court announced Admiral his Serene Highness Prince Philip d'Avranche, Duc de Bercy.
"Oui-gia, think of that!" said a voice from somewhere in the hall.
Philip heard it, and he frowned, for he recognised Dormy Jamais's voice. Where it came from he knew not, nor did any one; for the daft one was snugly bestowed above a middle doorway in what was half balcony, half cornice.
When Philip had taken his place beside the Comtesse Chantavoine, came the formal opening of the Cour d'Heritage.
The Comtesse's eyes fixed themselves upon Philip. There was that in his manner which puzzled and evaded her clear intuition. Some strange circumstance must have delayed him, for she saw that his flag-lieutenant was disturbed, and this she felt sure was not due to delay alone. She was barely conscious that the Bailly had been addressing Philip, until he had stopped and Philip had risen to reply.
He had scarcely begun speaking when the doors were suddenly thrown open again, and a woman came forward quickly. The instant she entered Philip saw her, and stopped speaking. Every one turned.
It was Guida. In the silence, looking neither to right nor left, she advanced almost to where the Greffier sat, and dropping on her knee and looking up to the Bailly and the jurats, stretched out her hands and cried:
"Haro, haro! A l'aide, mon Prince, on me fait tort!"
If one rose from the dead suddenly to command them to an awed obedience, Jerseymen could not be more at the mercy of the apparition than at the call of one who cries in their midst, "Haro! Haro!"—that ancient relic of the custom of Normandy and Rollo the Dane. To this hour the Jerseyman maketh his cry unto Rollo, and the Royal Court—whose right to respond to this cry was confirmed by King John and afterwards by Charles—must listen, and every one must heed. That cry of Haro makes the workman drop his tools, the woman her knitting, the militiaman his musket, the fisherman his net, the schoolmaster his birch, and the ecrivain his babble, to await the judgment of the Royal Court.
Every jurat fixed his eye upon Guida as though she had come to claim his life. The Bailly's lips opened twice as though to speak, but no words came. The Governor sat with hands clinched upon his chairarm. The crowd breathed in gasps of excitement. The Comtesse Chantavoine looked at Philip, looked at Guida, and knew that here was the opening of the scroll she had not been able to unfold. Now she should understand that something which had made the old Duc de Bercy with his last breath say, Don't be afraid!
Philip stood moveless, his eyes steady, his face bitter, determined. Yet there was in his look, fixed upon Guida, some strange mingling of pity and purpose. It was as though two spirits were fighting in his face for mastery. The Countess touched him upon the arm, but he took no notice. Drawing back in her seat she looked at him and at Guida, as one might watch the balances of justice weighing life and death. She could not read this story, but one glance at the faces of the crowd round her made her aware that here was a tale of the past which all knew in little or in much.
"Haro! haro! A l'aide, mon Prince, on me fait tort!" What did she mean, this woman with the exquisite face, alive with power and feeling, indignation and appeal? To what prince did she cry?—for what aid? who trespassed upon her?
The Bailly now stood up, a frown upon his face. He knew what scandal had said concerning Guida and Philip. He had never liked Guida, for in the first days of his importance she had, for a rudeness upon his part meant as a compliment, thrown his hat—the Lieutenant-Bailly's hat—into the Fauxbie by the Vier Prison. He thought her intrusive thus to stay these august proceedings of the Royal Court, by an appeal for he knew not what.
"What is the trespass, and who the trespasser?" asked the Bailly sternly.
Guida rose to her feet.
"Philip d'Avranche has trespassed," she said. "What Philip d'Avranche, mademoiselle?" asked the Bailly in a rough, ungenerous tone.
"Admiral Philip d'Avranche, known as his Serene Highness the Duc de Bercy, has trespassed on me," she answered.
She did not look at Philip, her eyes were fixed upon the Bailly and the jurats.
The Bailly whispered to one or two jurats. "Wherein is the trespass?" asked the Bailly sharply. "Tell your story."
After an instant's painful pause, Guida told her tale.
"Last night at Plemont," she said in a voice trembling a little at first but growing stronger as she went on, "I left my child, my Guilbert, in his bed, with Dormy Jamais to watch beside him, while I went to my boat which lies far from my hut. I left Dormy Jamais with the child because I was afraid—because I had been afraid, these three days past, that Philip d'Avranche would steal him from me. I was gone but half an hour; it was dark when I returned. I found the door open, I found Dormy Jamais lying unconscious on the floor, and my child's bed empty. My child was gone. He was stolen from me by Philip d'Avranche, Duc de Bercy."
"What proof have you that it was the Duc de Bercy?" asked the Bailly.
"I have told your honour that Dormy Jamais was there. He struck Dormy Jamais to the ground, and rode off with my child."
The Bailly sniffed.
"Dormy Jamais is a simpleton—an idiot."
"Then let the Prince speak," she answered quickly. She turned and looked Philip in the eyes. He did not answer a word. He had not moved since she entered the court-room. He kept his eyes fixed on her, save for one or two swift glances towards the jurats. The crisis of his life had come. He was ready to meet it now: anything would be better than all he had gone through during the past ten days. In mad impulse he had stolen the child, with the wild belief that through it he could reach Guida, could bring her to him. For now this woman who despised him, hated him, he desired more than all else in the world. Ambition has her own means of punishing. For her gifts of place or fortune she puts some impossible hunger in the soul of the victim which leads him at last to his own destruction. With all the world conquered there is still some mystic island of which she whispers, and to gain this her votary risks all—and loses all.
The Bailly saw by Philip's face that Guida had spoken truth. But he whispered with the jurats eagerly, and presently he said with brusque decision:
"Our law of Haro may only apply to trespass upon property. Its intent is merely civil."
Which having said he opened and shut his mouth with gusto, and sat back as though expecting Guida to retire.
"Your law of Haro, monsieur le Bailly!" Guida answered with flashing eyes, her voice ringing out fearlessly. "Your law of Haro! The law of Haro comes from the custom of Normandy, which is the law of Jersey. You make its intent this, you make it that, but nothing can alter the law, and what has been done in its name for generations. Is it so, that if Philip d'Avranche trespass on my land, or my hearth, I may cry Haro, haro! and you will take heed? But when it is blood of my blood, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh that he has wickedly seized; when it is the head I have pillowed on my breast for four years—the child that has known no father, his mother's only companion in her unearned shame, the shame of an outcast—then is it so that your law of Haro may not apply? Messieurs, it is the justice of Haro that I ask, not your lax usage of it. From this Prince Philip I appeal to the spirit of Prince Rollo who made this law. I appeal to the law of Jersey which is the Custom of Normandy. There are precedents enough, as you well know, messieurs. I demand—I demand—my child."
The Bailly and the jurats were in a hopeless quandary. They glanced furtively at Philip. They were half afraid that she was right, and yet were timorous of deciding against the Prince.
She saw their hesitation. "I call on you to fulfil the law. I have cried Haro, haro! and what I have cried men will hear outside this Court, outside this Isle of Jersey; for I appeal against a sovereign duke of Europe."
The Bailly and the jurats were overwhelmed by the situation. Guida's brain was a hundred times clearer than theirs. Danger, peril to her child, had aroused in her every force of intelligence; she had the daring, the desperation of the lioness fighting for her own.
Philip himself solved the problem. Turning to the bench of jurats, he said quietly:
"She is quite right; the law of Haro is with her. It must apply."
The Court was in a greater maze than ever. Was he then about to restore to Guida her child? After an instant's pause Philip continued:
"But in this case there was no trespass, for the child—is my own."
Every eye in the Cohue Royale fixed itself upon him, then upon Guida, then upon her who was known as the Duchesse de Bercy. The face of the Comtesse Chantavoine was like snow, white and cold. As the words were spoken a sigh broke from her, and there came to Philip's mind that distant day in the council chamber at Bercy when for one moment he was upon his trial; but he did not turn and look at her now. It was all pitiable, horrible; but this open avowal, insult as it was to the Comtesse Chantavoine, could be no worse than the rumours which would surely have reached her one day. So let the game fare on. He had thrown down the glove now, and he could not see the end; he was playing for one thing only—for the woman he had lost, for his own child. If everything went by the board, why, it must go by the board. It all flashed through his brain: to-morrow he must send in his resignation to the Admiralty— so much at once. Then Bercy—come what might, there was work for him to do at Bercy. He was a sovereign duke of Europe, as Guida had said. He would fight for the duchy for his son's sake. Standing there he could feel again the warm cheek of the child upon his own, as last night he felt it riding across the island from Plemont to the village near Mont Orgueil. That very morning he had hurried down to a little cottage in the village and seen it lying asleep, well cared for by a peasant woman. He knew that to-morrow the scandal of the thing would belong to the world, but he was not dismayed. He had tossed his fame as an admiral into the gutter, but Bercy still was left. All the native force, the stubborn vigour, the obdurate spirit of the soil of Jersey of which he was, its arrogant self-will, drove him straight into this last issue. What he had got at so much cost he would keep against all the world. He would—
But he stopped short in his thoughts, for there now at the court-room door stood Detricand, the Chouan chieftain.
He drew his hand quickly across his eyes. It seemed so wild, so fantastic, that of all men, Detricand should be there. His gaze was so fixed that every one turned to see—every one save Guida.
Guida was not conscious of this new figure in the scene. In her heart was fierce tumult. Her hour had come at last, the hour in which she must declare that she was the wife of this man. She had no proofs. No doubt he would deny it now, for he knew how she loathed him. But she must tell her tale.
She was about to address the Bailly, but, as though a pang of pity shot, through her heart, she turned instead and looked at the Comtesse Chantavoine. She could find it in her to pause in compassion for this poor lady, more wronged than herself had been. Their eyes met. One instant's flash of intelligence between the souls of two women, and Guida knew that the look of the Comtesse Chantavoine had said: "Speak for your child."
Thereupon she spoke.
"Messieurs, Prince Philip d'Avranche is my husband."
Every one in the court-room stirred with excitement. Some weak-nerved woman with a child at her breast began to cry, and the little one joined its feeble wail to hers.
"Five years ago," Guida continued, "I was married to Philip d'Avranche by the Reverend Lorenzo Dow in the church of St. Michael's—"
The Bailly interrupted with a grunt. "H'm—Lorenzo Dow is well out of the way-have done."
"May I not then be heard in my own defence?" Guida cried in indignation. "For years I have suffered silently slander and shame. Now I speak for myself at last, and you will not hear me! I come to this court of justice, and my word is doubted ere I can prove the truth. Is it for judges to assail one so? Five years ago I was married secretly, in St. Michael's Church—secretly, because Philip d'Avranche urged it, pleaded for it. An open marriage, he said, would hinder his promotion. We were wedded, and he left me. War broke out. I remained silent according to my promise to him. Then came the time when in the States of Bercy he denied that he had a wife. From the hour I knew he had done so I denied him. My child was born in shame and sorrow, I myself was outcast in this island. But my conscience was clear before Heaven. I took myself and my child out from among you and went to Plemont. I waited, believing that God's justice was surer than man's. At last Philip d'Avranche—my husband—returned here. He invaded my home, and begged me to come with my child to him as his wife—he who had so evilly wronged me, and wronged another more than me. I refused. Then he stole my child from me. You ask for proofs of my marriage. Messieurs, I have no proofs.
"I know not where Lorenzo Dow may be found. The register of St. Michael's Church, as you all know, was stolen. Mr. Shoreham, who witnessed the marriage, is dead. But you must believe me. There is one witness left, if he will but speak—even the man who married me, the man that for one day called me his wife. I ask him now to tell the truth."
She turned towards Philip, her clear eyes piercing him through and through.
What was going on in his mind neither she nor any in that Court might ever know, for in the pause, the Comtesse Chantavoine rose up, and passing steadily by Philip, came to Guida. Looking her in the eyes with an incredible sorrow, she took her hand, and turned towards Philip with infinite scorn.
A strange, thrilling silence fell upon all the Court. The jurats shifted in their seats with excitement. The Bailly, in a hoarse, dry voice, said:
"We must have proof. There must be record as well as witness."
From near the great doorway came a voice saying: "The record is here," and Detricand stepped forward, in his uniform of the army of the Vendee.
A hushed murmur ran round the room. The jurats whispered to each other.
"Who are you, monsieur?" said the Bailly.
"I am Detricand, Prince of Vaufontaine," he replied, "for whom the Comtesse Chantavoine will vouch," he added in a pained voice, and bowed low to her and to Guida. "I am but this hour landed. I came to Jersey on this very matter."
He did not wait for the Bailly to reply, but began to tell of the death of Lorenzo Dow, and, taking from his pocket the little black journal, opened it and read aloud the record written therein by the dead clergyman. Having read it, he passed it on to the Greffier, who handed it up to the Bailly. Another moment's pause ensued. To the most ignorant and casual of the onlookers the strain was great; to those chiefly concerned it was supreme. The Bailly and the jurats whispered together. Now at last a spirit of justice was roused in them. But the law's technicalities were still to rule.
The Bailly closed the book, and handed it back to the Greffier with the words: "This is not proof though it is evidence."
Guida felt her heart sink within her. The Comtesse Chantavoine, who still held her hand, pressed it, though herself cold as ice with sickness of spirit.
At that instant, and from Heaven knows where—as a bird comes from a bush—a little grey man came quickly among them all, carrying spread open before him a book almost as big as himself. Handing it up to the Bailly, he said:
"Here is the proof, Monsieur le Bailly—here is the whole proof."
The Bailly leaned over and drew up the book. The jurats crowded near and a dozen heads gathered about the open volume.
At last the Bailly looked up and addressed the Court solemnly.
"It is the lost register of St. Michael's," he said. "It contains the record of the marriage of Lieutenant Philip d'Avranche and Guida Landresse de Landresse, both of the Isle of Jersey, by special license of the Bishop of Winchester."
"Precisely so, precisely so," said the little grey figure—the Chevalier Orvillier du Champsavoys de Beaumanoir. Tears ran down his cheeks as he turned towards Guida, but he was smiling too.
Guida's eyes were upon the Bailly. "And the child?" she cried with a broken voice—"the child?"
"The child goes with its mother," answered the Bailly firmly.
DURING ONE YEAR LATER
The day that saw Guida's restitution in the Cohue Royale brought but further trouble to Ranulph Delagarde. The Chevalier had shown him the lost register of St. Michael's, and with a heart less heavy, he left the island once more. Intending to join Detricand in the Vendee, he had scarcely landed at St. Malo when he was seized by a press-gang and carried aboard a French frigate commissioned to ravage the coasts of British America. He had stubbornly resisted the press, but had been knocked on the head, and there was an end on it.
In vain he protested that he was an Englishman. They laughed at him. His French was perfect, his accent Norman, his was a Norman face— evidence enough. If he was not a citizen of France he should be, and he must be. Ranulph decided that it was needless to throw away his life. It was better to make a show of submission. So long as he had not to fight British ships, he could afford to wait. Time enough then for him to take action. When the chance came he would escape this bondage; meanwhile remembering his four years' service with the artillery at Elizabeth Castle, he asked to be made a gunner, and his request was granted.
The Victoire sailed the seas battle-hungry, and presently appeased her appetite among Dutch and Danish privateers. Such excellent work did Ranulph against the Dutchmen, that Richambeau, the captain, gave him a gun for himself, and after they had fought the Danes made him a master- gunner. Of the largest gun on the Victoire Ranulph grew so fond that at last he called her ma couzaine.
Days and weeks passed, until one morning came the cry of "Land! Land!" and once again Ranulph saw British soil—the tall cliffs of the peninsula of Gaspe. Gaspe—that was the ultima Thule to which Mattingley and Carterette had gone.
Presently, as the Victoire came nearer to the coast, he could see a bay and a great rock in the distance, and, as they bore in now, the rock seemed to stretch out like a vast wall into the gulf. As he stood watching and leaning on ma couzaine, a sailor near him said that the bay and the rock were called Perce.
Perce Bay—that was the exact point for which Elie Mattingley and Carterette had sailed with Sebastian Alixandre. How strange it was! He had bidden Carterette good-bye for ever, yet fate had now brought him to the very spot whither she had gone.
The Rock of Perce was a wall, three hundred feet high, and the wall was an island that had once been a long promontory like a battlement, jutting out hundreds of yards into the gulf. At one point it was pierced by an archway. It was almost sheer; its top was flat and level. Upon the sides there was no verdure; upon the top centuries had made a green field. The wild geese as they flew northward, myriad flocks of gulls, gannets, cormorants, and all manner of fowl of the sea, had builded upon the summit until it was rich with grass and shrubs. The nations of the air sent their legions here to bivouac, and the discord of a hundred languages might be heard far out to sea, far in upon the land. Millions of the races of the air swarmed there; at times the air above was darkened by clouds of them. No fog-bell on a rock-bound coast might warn mariners more ominously than these battalions of adventurers on the Perce Rock.
No human being had ever mounted to this eyrie. Generations of fishermen had looked upon the yellowish-red limestone of the Perce Rock with a valorous eye, but it would seem that not even the tiny clinging hoof of a chamois or wild goat might find a foothold upon the straight sides of it.
Ranulph was roused out of the spell Perce cast over him by seeing the British flag upon a building by the shore of the bay they were now entering. His heart gave a great bound. Yes, it was the English flag defiantly flying. And more—there were two old 12 pounders being trained on the French squadron. For the first time in years a low laugh burst from his lips.
"O mai grand doux," he said in the Jersey patois, "only one man in the world would do that. Only Elie Mattingley!"
At that moment, Mattingley now issued from a wooden fishing-shed with Sebastian Alixandre and three others armed with muskets, and passed to the little fort on which flew the British and Jersey flags. Ranulph heard a guffaw behind. Richambeau, the captain, confronted him.
"That's a big splutter in a little pot, gunner," said he. He put his telescope to his eye. "The Lord protect us," he cried, "they're going to fight my ship!" He laughed again till the tears came. "Son of Peter, but it is droll that—a farce au diable! They have humour, these fisher- folk, eh, gunner?"
"Mattingley will fight you just the same," answered Ranulph coolly.
"Oh ho, you know these people, my gunner?" asked Richambeau.
"All my life," answered Ranulph, "and, by your leave, I will tell you how."
Not waiting for permission, after the manner of his country, he told Richambeau of his Jersey birth and bringing up, and how he was the victim of the pressgang.
"Very good," said Richambeau. "You Jersey folk were once Frenchmen, and now that you're French again, you shall do something for the flag. You see that 12-pounder yonder to the right? Very well, dismount it. Then we'll send in a flag of truce, and parley with this Mattingley, for his jests are worth attention and politeness. There's a fellow at the gun— no, he has gone. Dismount the right-hand gun at one shot. Ready now. Get a good range."
The whole matter went through Ranulph's mind as the captain spoke. If he refused to fire, he would be strung up to the yardarm; if he fired and missed, perhaps other gunners would fire, and once started they might raze the fishing-post. If he dismounted the gun, the matter would probably remain only a jest, for such as yet Richambeau regarded it.
Ranulph ordered the tackle and breechings cast away, had off the apron, pricked a cartridge, primed, bruised the priming, and covered the vent. Then he took his range steadily, quietly. There was a brisk wind blowing from the south—he must allow for that; but the wind was stopped somewhat in its course by the Perch Rock—he must allow for that.
All was ready. Suddenly a girl came running round the corner of the building.
It was Carterette. She was making for the right-hand gun. Ranulph started, the hand that held the match trembled.
"Fire, you fool, or you'll kill the girl!" cried Richambeau.
Ranulph laid a hand on himself as it were. Every nerve in his body tingled, his legs trembled, but his eye was steady. He took the sight once more coolly, then blew on the match. Now the girl was within thirty feet of the gun.
He quickly blew on the match again, and fired. When the smoke cleared away he saw that the gun was dismounted, and not ten feet from it stood Carterette looking at it dazedly.
He heard a laugh behind him. There was Richambeau walking away, telescope under arm, even as the other 12-pounder on shore replied impudently to the gun he had fired.
"A good aim," he heard Richambeau say, jerking a finger backward towards him.
Was it then? said Ranulph to himself; was it indeed? Ba su, it was the last shot he would ever fire against aught English, here or elsewhere.
Presently he saw a boat drawing away with the flag of truce in the hands of a sous-lieutenant. His mind was made up; he would escape to-night. His place was there beside his fellow-countrymen. He motioned away the men of the gun. He would load ma couzaine himself for the last time.
As he sponged the gun he made his plans. Swish-swash the sponge-staff ran in and out—he would try to steal away at dog-watch. He struck the sponge smartly on ma couzaine's muzzle, cleansing it—he would have to slide into the water like a rat and swim very softly to the shore. He reached for a fresh cartridge, and thrust it into the throat of the gun, and as the seam was laid downwards he said to himself that he could swim under water, if discovered as he left the Victoire. As he unstopped the touch-hole and tried with the priming-wire whether the cartridge was home, he was stunned by a fresh thought.
Richambeau would send a squad of men to search for him, and if he was not found they would probably raze the Post, or take its people prisoners. As he put the apron carefully on ma couzaine, he determined that he could not take refuge with the Mattingleys. Neither would it do to make for the woods of the interior, for still Richambeau might revenge himself on the fishing-post. What was to be done? He turned his eyes helplessly on Perce Rock.
As he looked, a new idea came to him. If only he could get to the top of that massive wall, not a hundred fleets could dislodge him. One musket could defeat the forlorn hope of any army. Besides, if he took refuge on the rock, there could be no grudge against Perce village or the Mattingleys, and Richambeau would not injure them.
He eyed the wall closely. The blazing sunshine showed it up in a hard light, and he studied every square yard of it with a telescope. At one point the wall was not quite perpendicular. There were also narrow ledges, lumps of stone, natural steps and little pinnacles which the fingers could grip and where man might rest. Yes, he would try it.
It was the last quarter of the moon, and the neaptide was running low when he let himself softly down into the water from the Victoire. The blanket tied on his head held food kept from his rations, with stone and flint and other things. He was not seen, and he dropped away quietly astern, getting clear of the Victoire while the moon was partially obscured.
Now it was a question when his desertion would be discovered. All he asked was two clear hours. By that time the deed would be done, if he could climb Perce Rock at all.
He touched bottom. He was on Perce sands. The blanket on his head was scarcely wetted. He wrung the water out of his clothes, and ran softly up the shore. Suddenly he was met by a cry of Qui va la! and he stopped short at the point of Elie Mattingley's bayonet. "Hush!" said Ranulph, and gave his name.
Mattingley nearly dropped his musket in surprise. He soon knew the tale of Ranulph's misfortunes, but he had not yet been told of his present plans when there came a quick footstep, and Carterette was at her father's side. Unlike Mattingley, she did drop her musket at the sight of Ranulph. Her lips opened, but at first she could not speak—this was more than she had ever dared hope for, since those dark days in Jersey. Ranulph here! She pressed her hands to her heart to stop its throbbing.
Presently she was trembling with excitement at the story of how Ranulph had been pressed at St. Malo, and, all that came after until this very day.
"Go along with Carterette," said Mattingley. "Alixandre is at the house; he'll help you away into the woods."
As Ranulph hurried away with Carterette, he told her his design. Suddenly she stopped short, "Ranulph Delagarde," she said vehemently, "you can't climb Perch Rock. No one has ever done it, and you must not try. Oh, I know you are a great man, but you mustn't think you can do this. You will be safe where we shall hide you. You shall not climb the rock-ah no, ba su!"
He pointed towards the Post. "They wouldn't leave a stick standing there if you hid me. No, I'm going to the top of the rock."
"Man doux terrible!" she said in sheer bewilderment, and then was suddenly inspired. At last her time had come.
"Pardingue," she said, clutching his arm, "if you go to the top of Perch Rock, so will I!"
In spite of his anxiety he almost laughed.
"But see—but see," he said, and his voice dropped; "you couldn't stay up there with me all alone, garcon Carterette. And Richambeau would be firing on you too!"
She was very angry, but she made no reply, and he continued quickly:
"I'll go straight to the rock now. When they miss me there'll be a pot boiling, you may believe. If I get up," he added, "I'll let a string down for a rope you must get for me. Once on top they can't hurt me.... Eh ben, A bi'tot, gargon Carterette!"
"O my good! O my good!" said the girl with a sudden change of mood. "To think you have come like this, and perhaps—" But she dashed the tears from her eyes, and bade him go on.
The tide was well out, the moon shining brightly. Ranulph reached the point where, if the rock was to be scaled at all, the ascent must be made. For a distance there was shelving where foothold might be had by a fearless man with a steady head and sure balance. After that came about a hundred feet where he would have to draw himself up by juttings and crevices hand over hand, where was no natural pathway. Woe be to him if head grew dizzy, foot slipped, or strength gave out; he would be broken to pieces on the hard sand below. That second stage once passed, the ascent thence to the top would be easier; for though nearly as steep, it had more ledges, and offered fair vantage to a man with a foot like a mountain goat. Ranulph had been aloft all weathers in his time, and his toes were as strong as another man's foot, and surer.
He started. The toes caught in crevices, held on to ledges, glued themselves on to smooth surfaces; the knees clung like a rough-rider's to a saddle; the big hands, when once they got a purchase, fastened like an air-cup.
Slowly, slowly up, foot by foot, yard by yard, until one-third of the distance was climbed. The suspense and strain were immeasurable. But he struggled on and on, and at last reached a sort of flying pinnacle of rock, like a hook for the shields of the gods.
Here he ventured to look below, expecting to see Carterette, but there was only the white sand, and no sound save the long wash of the gulf. He drew a horn of arrack from his pocket and drank. He had two hundred feet more to climb, and the next hundred would be the great ordeal.
He started again. This was travail indeed. His rough fingers, his toes, hard as horn almost, began bleeding. Once or twice he swung quite clear of the wall, hanging by his fingers to catch a surer foothold to right or left, and just getting it sometimes by an inch or less. The tension was terrible. His head seemed to swell and fill with blood: on the top it throbbed till it was ready to burst. His neck was aching horribly with constant looking up, the skin of his knees was gone, his ankles bruised. But he must keep on till he got to the top, or until he fell.
He was fighting on now in a kind of dream, quite apart from all usual feelings of this world. The earth itself seemed far away, and he was toiling among vastnesses, himself a giant with colossal frame and huge, sprawling limbs. It was like a gruesome vision of the night, when the body is an elusive, stupendous mass that falls into space after a confused struggle with immensities. It was all mechanical, vague, almost numb, this effort to overcome a mountain. Yet it was precise and hugely expert too; for though there was a strange mist on the brain, the body felt its way with a singular certainty, as might some molluscan dweller of the sea, sensitive like a plant, intuitive like an animal. Yet at times it seemed that this vast body overcoming the mountain must let go its hold and slide away into the darkness of the depths.
Now there was a strange convulsive shiver in every nerve—God have mercy, the time was come! . . . No, not yet. At the very instant when it seemed the panting flesh and blood would be shaken off by the granite force repelling it, the fingers, like long antennae, touched horns of rock jutting out from ledges on the third escarpment of the wall. Here was the last point of the worst stage of the journey. Slowly, heavily, the body drew up to the shelf of limestone, and crouched in an inert bundle. There it lay for a long time.
While the long minutes went by, a voice kept calling up from below; calling, calling, at first eagerly, then anxiously, then with terror. By and by the bundle of life stirred, took shape, raised itself, and was changed into a man again, a thinking, conscious being, who now understood the meaning of this sound coming up from the earth below—or was it the sea? A human voice had at last pierced the awful exhaustion of the deadly labour, the peril and strife, which had numbed the brain while the body, in its instinct for existence, still clung to the rocky ledges. It had called the man back to earth—he was no longer a great animal, and the rock a monster with skin and scales of stone.
"Ranulph! Maitre Ranulph! Ah, Ranulph!" called the voice.
Now he knew, and he answered down: "All right, all right, garche Carterette!"
"Are you at the top?"
"No, but the rest is easy."
"Hurry, hurry, Ranulph. If they should come before you reach the top!"
"I'll soon be there."
"Are you hurt, Ranulph?"
"No, but my fingers are in rags. I am going now. A bi'tot, Carterette!"
"'Sh, 'sh, do not speak. I am starting."
There was silence for what seemed hours to the girl below. Foot by foot the man climbed on, no less cautious because the ascent was easier, for he was now weaker. But he was on the monster's neck now, and soon he should set his heel on it: he was not to be shaken off.
At last the victorious moment came. Over a jutting ledge he drew himself up by sheer strength and the rubber-like grip of his lacerated fingers, and now he lay flat and breathless upon the ground.
How soft and cool it was! This was long sweet grass touching his face, making a couch like down for the battered, wearied body. Surely such travail had been more than mortal. And what was this vast fluttering over his head, this million-voiced discord round him, like the buffetings and cries of spirits welcoming another to their torment? He raised his head and laughed in triumph. These were the cormorants, gulls, and gannets on the Perch Rock.
Legions of birds circled over him with cries so shrill that at first he did not hear Carterette's voice calling up to him. At last, however, remembering, he leaned over the cliff and saw her standing in the moonlight far below.