The Battle of the Strong
AT eight o’clock, Guida and her fellow voyagers, bound for the Ecréhos rocks, had caught the first ebb of the tide, and with a fair wind from the southwest had skirted the south coast, ridden lightly over La Roque Platte and the Banc des Violets, and shaped their course northeast. Guida kept the helm all the way, as she had been promised by Ranulph Delagarde. It was still more than half-tide when they approached the rocks, and, with the fair wind, there should be no difficulty in landing.
No more desolate spot could be imagined. To the left, facing toward Jersey, was a long sand-bank. Between the rocks and the sand-bank shot up a tall, lonely shaft of granite, with an evil history. It had been chosen as the last refuge of safety for the women and children of a shipwrecked vessel, in the belief that high tide would not reach them. But the wave rose maliciously, foot by foot, till it drowned their cries forever in the storm. The sand-bank was called Eccrivière, and the rock was afterward known as the Pierre des Femmes. Other rocks, less prominent, but no less dangerous, flanked it, — the Noir Sablonière and the Grande Galère.
To the right of the main island was a group all reef and shingle, intersected by treacherous channels ; in calm lapped by water with the colors of a prism of crystal, in storm beaten by a leaden surf and flying foam. These isles were known as the Colombière, the Grosse Tête, Tas de Pois, the Marmotiers, and so on, — each with its retinue of sunken reefs and needles of granitic gneiss lying low in menace. Happy the sailor, caught in a storm and making for the shelter which the little curves in the island offer, who escapes a twist of the current, a sweep of the tide, and the impaling fingers of the submarine palisades.
What evils had those seafaring Normans done, what blasphemy made that ancient littoral of Normandy so cursed, that the unseen powers dragged down their land, forest and dune and cliff, chapel and castle and hovel, and the sea rose up and covered them ; so that Mont St. Michel, once buried in the gloom of a vast wood, stood out bare and staring upon a lonely coast, the ocean washing the fields at its feet, where once the cattle on a thousand mielles had grazed ? All that remained of the outworks of this northern coast that Cæsar knew were Jersey and this long range of perilous rocks, which from the Ecriviere bank goes on to the Ecréhos and to the Dirouïlles ; on to the Paternosters ; on to Guernsey, Sark, Jethou, Herm; to the Casquets and to Alderney on the north, and south to the Enquêtes, the Minquiers, and the Chausseys, until you come to the bay of St. Malo and its ancient town, where the houses swarm behind the wide walls like bees in a hive, and you anchor free at the foot of Solidor. If the gods intended that for the sins his fathers sinned he who went or came from the Norman or Breton coast should find hard passage, they have had their way: who goes at all goes warily on these coasts.
After Armorica and the Forest of Scissy had passed, and the time of the great mourning was gone, the holy men of the early Church, looking out over the troubled sea to where Maître Ile rose, marked it for a place of prayer and penance and refuge from the storms of war and the follies of the world. So it came to pass, for the honor of God and the Virgin Mary, the Abbey of Val Richer builded a priory there. It prospered awhile : there the good men stayed, burning beacons to warn mariners, and saying masses for the souls of departed kings and warriors of France and England; and there are still the ruins of the ancient monastery and chapel, beneath which lie the bones of the monks of Val Richer in peace beside the skeletons of unfortunate gentlemen of the sea of later centuries, pirates from France, buccaneers from England, and smugglers from Jersey, who kept their trysts in the precincts of the ancient chapel.
The brisk air of early autumn made the blood in Guida’s cheeks tingle. Her eyes were big with light and enjoyment. Her hair was caught close by a gay cap of her own knitting, but a little of it escaped, making a pretty setting to her face.
Jean Touzel’s boat, the Talmouse, rode under all her courses, until, as Jean said, they had put the last lace on her bonnet. Guida’s hands were on the tiller firmly, doing Jean Touzel’s bidding with an exact promptness. In all they were five. Beside Guida and Ranulph, Jean and Jean’s wife, there was a young English clergyman of the parish of St. Michael’s, who had come from England to fill the place of the rector for a few months. “Word had been brought to him that a man was dying on the Ecréhos. He had heard that the boat was going, he had found Jean Touzel, and here he was, with a biscuit in his hand and a black-jack of French wine within easy reach. Not always in secret the Reverend Lorenzo Dow loved the good things of this world. His appetite was large, and if wine was to his hand he drank it; but then it must in justice be said that cider or coffee would have done quite as well, for he loved the mere exercise of drinking, apart from its stimulation.
What struck one most in the young clergyman’s appearance were his outer guilelessness and the oddness of his face. His head was rather big for his body ; he had a large mouth which laughed easily, a noble forehead, and big, shortsighted eyes. Without his spectacles he could scarcely see a foot before him. He knew French well, but could speak almost no Jersey patois ; so, in compliment to him, Jean Touzel, Ranulph, and Guida spoke English. This ability to speak English was the pride of Jean’s life: he babbled it all the way, and chiefly about a certain mythical uncle Elias, who was the text for many sermons.
“ Times past,” said’he, as they neared Maître Ile, “ mon onc’ ’Lias he knows dese Ecréhoses better as all de peoples of de world — respé d’la compagnie ! Mon onc’ ’Lias he was a fine man. Once when dere is a fight between de English and de hopping Johnnies,” — he pointed toward France, — “ dere is seven French ship, dere is two English ship — gentlemen-of-war dey are call. Ah bah ! one of de English ships he is not a gentleman-of-war ; he is what you call goon-your-own-hook — privator. But it is all de same — très-ba, all right! What you t’ink coum to pass ? De big English ship she is hit ver’ bad, she is all break-up. Efin. dat leetle privator he stan’ round on de fighting side of de gentleman-of-war and take de fire by her loneliness. Say, den, wherever dere is troub’ mon onc’ ’Lias he is dere ; he stan’ outside de troub’ an’ look on—dat is his hobby ! You call it hombog? Oh, nannin-gia! Suppose two peoples goes to fight: ah bah! somebody must pick up de pieces — dat is mon onc’ ’Lias! He have his boat full of hoysters ; so he sit dere all alone an’ watch dat great fight, an’ heat de hoyster an’ drink de cider vine. Ah bah ! mon one’ ’Lias he is standin’ in de door dat day. Dat is what we say on Jersey: when a man have some ver’ great luck, we say he stan’ hin de door. I t’ink it is from de Bible or from de helmanac — sacré moi, I not know! ... If I talk too much, you give me dat black-jack.”
They gave him the black-jack. After he had drunk and wiped his mouth on his sleeve, he said : —
“ Oh, my good— ma’m’selle, a leetle more to de wind. Ah, dat is right — tréjous ! . . . Dat fight it go like two bulls on a vergée — respé d’la compagnie ! Mon one’ ’Lias he have been to England, he have sing ‘ God save our greshus King ; ’ so he t’ink a leetle. Ef he go to de French, likely dey will hang him. Mon onc’ ’Lias he is what you call patreeteesm. He say, ‘England, she is mine — tréjous ! ’ Efin, he sail straight for de English ships. Dat is de greates’ man, mon onc’ ‘Lias — respé d’la compagnie ! He coum on de side which is not fighting. Ah bah! he tell dem dat he save de gentleman-of-war. He see a hofficier all bloodiness, and he call hup. ‘ Es-tu gentiment ? ’ he say. ' Gentiment,’ say de hofficier; ‘ han’ you ? ’ ' Naicely, t’ank you ! ’ mon onc’ ’Lias he say. ‘ I will save you,’ say mon onc’ ’Lias, ‘ I will save de ship of God save our greshus King ! ’ De hofficier wipe de tears out of his face. ‘ De King will reward you, man alive,’ he say. Mon onc’ ’Lias he touch his breast and speak out: ‘ Mon hofficier, my reward is here — trejous! I will take you into de Ecréhoses.’ ‘ Coum up and save de King’s ships,’ says de hofficier. ‘I will take no reward,’ say mon onc’ ’Lias, ‘ but, for a leetle pourboire, you will give me de privator— eh ? ’ ‘ Milles sacrés ! ’ say de hofficier, ‘ milles saerés ! de privator ! ’ he say, ver’ surprise’. ‘ Mon doux d’la vie — I am damned ! ’ ‘ You are damned trulee, if you do not get into de Eerdhoses,’ say mon one’ ’Lias — ‘ à bi’tôt, good-by ! ’ he say. De hofficier call down to him, ‘ Is dere nosing else you will take ? ’ ' Nunnin, do not tempt me,’ say mon onc’ ’Lias. ‘ I am not a gourman’. I will take de privator — dat is my hobby.’ All de time de cannons grand dey ' Brou - brou ! Boumboum ! ’ what you call discomfortable. Time is de great t’ing, so de hofficier wipe de tears out of his face again. ‘ Coum up,’ he say ; ‘ de privator is yours.’
“Away dey go. You see dat spot where we coum to land, Ma’m’selle Landresse — where de shingle look white, de leetle green grass above ? Dat is where mon onc’ ’Lias he bring in de King’s ship and de privator. Gatd’en’àle — it is a journee awful ! He twist to de right, he shape to de left t’rough de teet’ of de rocks — all safe — vera happee — to dis nice leetle bay of de Maitre Ile dey coum. De Frenchies dey grind deir teet’ and spit de fire. But de English laugh at dem — dey are safe ! ‘ Frien’ of my heart,’ say de hofficier to mon onc’ ’Lias, ‘ pilot of pilots,’ he say, ' in de name of our greshus King I t’ank you — à bi’tôt, good-by ! ’ he say. ‘ Trèsba,’ mon onc’ ’Lias he say den, ' I will go to my privator.’ ‘You will go to de shore ! ’ say de hofficier. ‘ You will wait on de shore till de captain and his men of de privator coum to you. When dey coum, de ship is yours — de privator is for you.’ Mon onc’ ’Lias he is like a child — he believe. He ’bout ship and go ashore. Misery me, he sit on dat rocking-stone which you see tipping on de wind. But if he wait until de men of de privator coum to him, he will wait till we see him sitting dere ! Gache-à-penn, you say patriote ? Mon onc’ ’Lias he has de patreeteesm, and what happen to him ? He save de ship of de greshus King God save — and dey eat up his hoysters! He get nosing. Gad’rabotin — respé d’la compagnie ! — if dere is a ship of de King to coum to de Ecréhoses, and de hofficier say to me,” — he tapped his breast, — “ ‘ Jean Touzel, take de ships of de King though de rocks,’ ah bah ! I would rememb’ mon onc’ ’Lias. I would say, ‘ A bi’tôt, good-by. . . . Slowlee! Slowlee! We are at de place. Bear wid de land ! Steadee ! As you go ! Vià! hitch now, Maître Ranulph ! ”
The keel of the boat grated on the shingle.
The air of the morning, the sailing, the sport of skillfully utilizing the elements for one’s pleasure, had given Guida an almost elfish sprightliness of spirits. Twenty times during Jean’s recital she had laughed gayly, and never sat a laugh better on any one’s countenance than on hers. Her teeth were strong, white, and regular ; in themselves they gave off a sort of shining mirth. Her lips were full, but they never parted too widely, and the upper one curled slightly with that especial sort of gladness which comes from enjoying a joke rather better than your neighbors.
At first the lugubrious wife of the happy Jean was inclined to resent Guida’s gayety as unseemly, for Jean’s story sounded to her as a serious statement of fact, — which incapacity for humor probably accounted for Jean’s occasional lapses from domestic grace. If Jean had said that he had met a periwinkle dancing a hornpipe with an oyster, she would have muttered heavily, “ Think of that! ” The most she could say to any one was, “ I believe you, ma couzaine.” Some time in her life her voice had dropped into that great well she called her body, and it came up only now and then like an echo. There never was anything quite so fat as she. She was discovered weeping, one day, on the veille in her cottage, because she was no longer able to get her shoulders out of the window to use the clothes-lines that stretched to her neighbor’s over the way ! If she sat down in your presence, it was impossible to do aught but speculate as to whether she could get up alone. She went abroad on the water a great deal with Jean. At first the neighbors suggested sinister suspicions as to Jean’s intentions, for sea-going with one’s own wife was uncommon among the sailors of the coast. But at last these dark suggestions settled down into a belief that Jean took her chiefly for ballast, and thereafter she was familiarly called “ femme de ballast.”
What was going on in her mind no one ever knew. Talking was no virtue, in her eyes. She was more phlegmatic than an Indian, more docile than a cow; and the tails of the sheep on the town hill showed no better the quarter of the wind than the changing color of Aimable’s face indicated Jean’s coming or going. For Maîtresse Aimable had one eternal secret. — an unwavering passion for Jean Touzel. He was probably unaware of it. If he patted her on the back, on a day when the fishing was extra fine, she breathed so hard with excitement that she had to sit down ; if, passing her lonely bed of a morning, he shook her great toe to wake her, she blushed, turned her face to the wall, and smiled a placid smile which augured well for the children who should come about her door that day. She had no children of her own, though the mother was strong in her, and she kept in a little glass jar in the conièthe sweets and licorice and Jersey wonders for the “ babas,” as she called them. She was so credulous and simple and matter of fact that if Jean had told her that she must die on the spot, she would have said, “ Think of that!” or “Je te crais,” and then died. If in the vague dusk of her brain the thought glimmered that she was ballast for Jean on sea and anchor on land, she still was content. For twenty years the massive, straight-limbed Jean had stood to her for all things since the heavens and the earth were created. Once, when she had burnt her hand in cooking supper for him, his arm had made a trial of her girth and he had kissed her. The kiss was nearer her ear than her lips, but to her mind this was the most solemn proof of her connubial happiness and Jean’s devotion. She was a Catholic, unlike Jean and most people of her class in Jersey, and ever after the night he kissed her she told an extra bead on her rosary and said another prayer.
All this was the reason why at first she was inclined to resent Guida’s gayety of heart. But when she saw that Maître Ranulph and the curate and Jean himself laughed, she settled down in a grave content which was not broken until the moment came for her to step upon the shore.
They had scarcely reached the deserted chapel, where their dinner was to be cooked by Maîtresse Aimable, before Ranulph bade them note a vessel bearing in their direction.
“ She’s not a coasting caft,” said Jean.
“ She does n’t look like a merchant vessel,” said Maitre Ranulph, examining her through his telescope. “ Why, she’s a war-ship ! ” he added.
Jean thought she was not, but Maître Ranulph said, " I ought to know, Jean. Ship - building is my trade, to say nothing of the guns. I was n’t two years in the artillery for nothing. See how low the bowsprit lies, and how high the poop. She’s bearing this way. She ’ll be the Narcissus.”
That was Philip d’Avranche’s ship.
Guida’s face lighted up, her heart beat faster. Ranulph turned on his heel.
“ Where are you going, Ro ? ” Guida asked, taking a step after him.
“ On the other side, to my men and the wreck,” he replied, pointing.
Guida glanced once more toward the man-o’-war, and then, with mischief in her eye, turned toward Jean.
“ Suppose,” she said to him, with humorous suggestion, “ suppose that the frigate should want to come in : of course you’d remember your onc’ 'Lias, and say, ‘ A bi’tôt, good-by ’ ! ”
An evasive “ Ah bah ! ” with a shrug of the shoulders, was the only reply Jean vouchsafed to make.
In a few minutes they came to the wreck. Ranulph joined his carpenters, and the Reverend Lorenzo Dow went about the Lord’s business in the little lean-to of sail-cloth and ship’s lumber which had been set up within sight and sound of the toil of Maitre Ranulph’s men.
When the curate entered the hut the sick man was in a doze ; he turned his head from side to side restlessly and mumbled to himself. The curate sat down on the ground beside the man, and, taking from his pocket a book, began writing in a strange, cramped hand. This book was his journal. When a youth he had been a stutterer, and had taken refuge from talk in writing, and the habit stayed even when his affliction grew less. The deeds of every day, the weather, the wind, the tides, were recorded, together with sundry meditations and the inner sensations of the Reverend Lorenzo Dow. The pages were not large, and brevity of statement was the journalistic virtue of the reverend gentleman. Beyond the keeping of this record, this unwavering dissipation of the intelligence, he had no habits, certainly no precision, no remembrance, no system : the business of his life ended there. He had quietly vacated two curacies because there had been bitter complaints that the records of certain baptisms, marriages, and burials might be found only in the checkered journal of his life, sandwiched between fantastic meditations and remarks upon the Rubric. The records had been exact enough, but the system was not canonical, and it depended too largely upon the personal ubiquity of the itinerary priest, and the safety of his journal — and of his life.
While Delagarde was busy at the wreck, Jean Touzel in watching the approach of the third-rate war-ship, and Maîtresse Aimable with cooking, the curate wrote until the sick man woke.
Guida, after the instincts of her nature, had at once sought the highest point on the rocky islet, and there she drank in the joy of sight and sound and feeling. She could see the spire of Coutances, the lofty sands of Hatainville, even the white houses and the cliffs of Carteret, and the trawlers busy along the shore. She could see — so perfect was the day — the line which marked the Minquiers far on the southern horizon, the dark and perfect green of the Jersey slopes, and the white flags of foam which beat against the Dirouïlles and the far-off Paternosters, dissolving as they flew, their places taken by others, succeeding and succeeding, as a soldier steps into the gap in the line of battle when a comrade falls. Something in these rocks and something in the Paternosters — perhaps their distance, perhaps their aloofness from all other rocks — fascinated her. As she looked at them, something seemed all at once to chill her, to depress her, — a premonition, a half-spiritual, half-material telegraphy of the inanimate to the animate: not from off cold rock to beautiful, sentient life, but from out that atmosphere which surrounds the inanimate thing, where the life of man has spent itself and been dissolved, leaving — who can tell what ? — yet something which speaks, but has no sound.
Guida’s eyes were involuntarily held by the lonely granite islets. She could not help but think that somehow they would speak to her if they could. She recalled now the sensation of pain she had often experienced when she had looked into the eyes of dumb animals, because they seemed to be trying to speak to her, and were never able. Biribi, her own dog, would come to her, lifting up his head and looking with a numb intentness into her face, and she would say, " What is it, Biribi ? ’ Sometimes this thought almost overpowered her: that a whole dumb creation, thinking, sentient, nervous beings, were trying to declare themselves, to speak out of their knowledge, to man whose tongue had been loosed, and with all their striving they might not ! It was to her one great universal agony. She could not, with a Jersey up-bringing, escape the superstition of the place of her birth, but in her it took a higher form. Presently, as she looked at the Paternosters, a little shudder of fear passed through her. Physical fear she had never felt, not since that day when the battle raged in the Vier Marchi, and Philip d’Avranche had saved her from the destroying scimiter of the Turk. Now the scene all came back to her in a flash, as it were, and, for the first time remembered since the event, she saw the dark face of the Mussulman, the blue and white silk of his turban, the black and white of his waistcoat, the red of his long robe, and the glint of his uplifted sword. She remembered how the lips of the ruffian had been curled in upon his teeth like the snarl of a vicious dog, and then, in contrast, the warmth, brightness, and bravery on the face of the lad in blue and gold braid who struck aside the descending blade and caught her up in his arms ; and she had nestled there,— in the arms of Philip d’Avranche. She remembered how he had kissed her, and how she had kissed him, — he a lad and she a little child, — as he left her with her mother in the watchmaker’s shop in the Vier Marchi that day. . . . And she had never seen him again until yesterday.
She looked from the rocks to the approaching frigate. Was it the Narcissus coming, — coming to this very island ? She recalled Philip, — how gallant he was yesterday, how cool, with what an air of command! How light he had made of the riot! She did not see that that lightness, command, and gallantry came less from the man than from what, as an officer, he represented. She did not see how much less was Philip’s power than that of Ranulph. She accepted and admired Ranulph’s strength and courage as a matter of course. She was glad that he was so brave, generous, and good, but the glamour of distance and mystery was around d’Avranche, and remembrance, like a comet, circled through the firmament of eleven years, from the Vier Marchi to the Place du Vier Prison.
The girl watched the frigate slowly bearing with the land. The jack was flying from the mizzen. They were now taking in her topsails. She was so near that Guida could see the anchor acockbill and the poop lanterns ; she could count the treble row of guns, like long black horns shooting out from a rhinoceros hide; she could discern the figure-head lion snarling into the spritsail. Presently the frigate came up to the wind and lay to. Then she signaled for a pilot, and Guida ran toward the ruined chapel, calling for Jean Touzel.
In spite of Jean’s late protestations as to piloting a “ gentleman-of-war,” this was one of the joyful moments of his life. He could not loosen his rowboat quick enough ; he was away almost before you could have spoken his name. Excited as Guida was, she could not resist calling after him, mimicking his own voice, “ God save our greshus King! A bi’tôt, good-by ! ”
As Maître Ranulph had surmised, the ship Was the Narcissus, and its first lieutenant was Philip d’Avranche. Orders had reached the frigate from the Admiralty the night before that soundings were to be taken at the Ecréhos. The captain had immediately made inquiries for a pilot, and Jean Touzel had been commended to him. A messenger sent to Jean found that he had already gone to the Ecréhos for his own purposes. The captain at once set sail, and now, under Jean’s skillful pilotage, the Narcissus twisted and crept through the teeth of the rocks at the entrance, and slowly into the cove, reefs on either side gaping and snarling at her, her keel all but scraping the serrated granite beneath. She anchored ; boats put off to take soundings and explore the shore of the Marmotiers and Maître Ile, and Philip d’Avranche was rowed in by Jean Touzel.
Stepping out upon the shore of Maître Ile, Philip slowly made his way over the shingle to the chapel, in no good humor with himself or with the world ; for exploring these barren rocks seemed a useless whim of the Admiralty, and he could not conceive of any incident rising from the monotony of duty to lighten the darkness of this very brilliant day. His was not the nature to enjoy the stony detail of his profession. Excitement and adventure were as the breath of life to him. Since he had played his little part at the Jersey battle in a bandbox, eleven years before, he had touched hands with accidents of flood and field in many countries. He had been wrecked on the island of Trinidad in a tornado, and lost his captain and his ship; had seen active service in America and in India ; had won distinction off the coast of Arabia in an engagement with Spanish cruisers ; was now waiting for his papers as commander of a frigate of his own, and fretted because the road of fame and promotion was so toilsome. Rumors of war with France had set his blood dancing a little, but for him most things were robbed of half their pleasure because they did not come at once.
To-day he was moody, for he had looked to spend it differently. As he walked up the shingle, his thoughts were hanging about a cottage in the Place du Vier Prison. He had hoped to loiter in a doorway there, and to empty his sailor’s heart in well-practiced admiration before the altar of village beauty. The sight of Guida’s face the day before had given a poignant lilt to his emotions, unlike the broken rhythm of past comedies of sentiment and melodramas of passion. According to all logic of habit, the acuteness of yesterday’s impression should have been followed up by to-day’s attack; yet here he was, like another Robinson Crusoe, “ kicking up the shingle of a cursed Patmos,” — so he grumbled to himself. He said Patmos because it was the first name that came to him and suggested dreariness of exile. It was not so wild a shot, after all, for no sooner had he spoken the word than, looking up,, he saw in the doorway of the ruined chapel the gracious figure of a girl, — and a book of revelation was opened and begun.
At first he did not recognize Guida. It was only a picture that he saw, — a picture which, by some fantastic transmission, fitted in with his reveries. What he saw was an ancient building, — just such a humble pile of stone and rough mortar as one should see on some lonely cliff of the Ægean or on the abandoned isles of the equatorial sea. There was the gloom of a windowless vault behind the girl, but the filtered sunshine of late September was on her face. It brightened the white kerchief and the bodice and skirt of a faint pink, throwing the face into a pleasing shadow where the hand curved over the forehead. She stood like some Diana of a ruined temple looking out into the staring light.
At once his pulse beat faster; for at all times a woman was to him the fountain of adventure, and his unmanageable heart sent him headlong to the oasis where he might loiter at the spring of feminine vanity, or truth, or impenitent gayety, as the case might be. Just in proportion as his spirits had sunk into moodiness and sour reflection, they shot up rocket-high at the sight of a girl’s joyous pose of body and the refined color and form of the picture she made. In him the shrewdness of a strong intelligence was mingled with wild impulse. In most men, rashness would be the legitimate offspring of such a marriage of characteristics; but a certain clearness of sight, quickness of decision, and a little unscrupulousness had carried into success many things in his life that otherwise should have been counted foolhardy and impossible. It was the very quality of daring which saved him from disaster.
Impulse quickened his footsteps now.
It quickened them into a run when the hand was dropped from the forehead, and he saw the face whose image and influence had banished sleep from his eyes the night before.
“ Guida ! ” broke from his lips.
The man was transfigured. Brightness leaped into his face, and the grayness of his moody eye became as blue as the sea. The mechanical straightness of his figure relaxed into the elastic grace of an athlete. He was a pipe to be played on, an actor with the ambitious brain of a diplomatist; as weak as water, and as strong as steel; softhearted to foolishness, or unyielding when it pleased him.
Now, if the devil had sent a wise imp to have watch and ward of this man and maid, and report to him the progress of their destiny, the instant Philip took Guida’s hand, and her violet-blue eyes met his, monsieur the reporter of Hades might have clapped to his book and gone back to his dark master with the message and the record: “ The hour of Destiny is struck ! ” When the tide of life beats high in two mortals, and they meet in the moment it reaches its apogee, and all the nature is sweeping along without command, guilelessly, yet thoughtlessly, the mere physical lift of existence lulling to sleep the wisdom of the brain and poor experience — speculation points all one way. Many indeed have been caught away by such a conjunction of tides, and most of them have paid the price.
But paying is part of the game of life ; it is the joy of buying that we crave. Go down into the dark markets of the town. See the long, narrow, sordid streets lined with the cheap commodities of the poor. Mark how there is a sort of spangled gayety, a reckless swing, a grinning exultation, in the grimy caravansary. The cheap colors of the shoddy open-air clothing-house, the blank faded green of the coster’s cart, the dark bluish-red of the butcher’s stall, they all take on a value not their own in the garish lights which flare upon the markets of the dusk. Pause to the shrill music of the street musician, hark to the tuneless voice of the dingy troubadour of the alley-ways, and then listen to the one voice that commands them all, to the call which lightens up faces sodden with devouring vices, eyes bleared with long looking into the dark caverns of crime : “ Buy — buy — buy — buy — buy ! ” That is the tune which the piper pipes. We would buy, and behold, we must pay. Then the lights go out, the voices stop, and only the dark, tumultuous streets surround us, and the grime of life is ours again. Whereupon we go heavily to hard beds of despair, having eaten the cake we bought, and now must pay for unto Penalty, the dark inordinate creditor. And the morning comes again, and then, at last, the evening, when the triste bazaars open once more, and those who are strong of heart and nerve move not from their doorways, but sit still in the dusk to watch the grim world go by. But mostly we hurry out to the bazaars again, and answer to the fevering call, “Buy—buy — buy — buy — buy!” . . . And again we pay the price : and so on to the last foreclosure and the immitigable end.
One of these two standing in the door of the ruined chapel on the Eeréhos was of the nature of those who buy but once, and pay the price but once ; the other was of those who keep open accounts in the markets of life : and the one was the woman, and the other was the man.
There was nothing conventional in their greeting.
“You remembered me! ” he said in English, thinking of yesterday.
“ I should not deserve to be here if I ’d forgotten,” she answered meaningly. “ Perhaps you forget the sword of the Turk ? ” she added.
He laughed, and his cheek flushed with pleasure as he replied, “ I should n’t deserve to be here if I remembered ! ”
Her face was full of exhilaration. “ The worst of it is,” she said, “ I never can pay my debt. I have owed it for eleven years, and if I should live to be ninety I should still owe it.”
His heart was beating hard, and he became daring. “So — thou shalt save my life,” he said, speaking in French. “ We shall he quits, then, thou and I.”
The familiar French “thou” startled her greatly. To hide the instant’s confusion she turned her head away, using a hand to gather in her hair, which the wind was lifting lightly. She had not as yet taught herself subtle control and dissimulation of feeling.
“ That would n’t quite make us quits,” she rejoined; “your life is important, mine is n’t. You’’ — she nodded toward the Narcissus — “you command men.”
“ So dost thou,” he declared, persisting in the endearing pronoun.
He meant it to be endearing. As he had sailed up and down the world, a hundred ports had offered him a hundred adventures, all light in the scales of purpose, but not all bad. He had gossiped and idled and coquetted with beauty before ; but this was different, because the girl was different in nature from all others he had met. It had mostly been lightly come and lightly go with himself, as with the women it had been easily won and easily loosed. Conscience had not smitten him hard, because beauty as he had known it, though often fair and of good report, had bloomed for others before he came. But here was a nature fresh and unspoiled from the hand of the potter Life.
As her head slightly turned from him again, he involuntarily noticed the pulse beating in her neck, the rise and fall of her bosom. Life, — here was life unpoisoned by one drop of ill thought or light experience.
“ Thou dost command men, too,” he repeated.
She stepped forward a little from the doorway and beyond him, answering back at him, “ Oh, I knit, and keep a garden, and command a little home, — that’s all. . . . Won’t you let me show you the island ? ” she added quickly, pointing to the hillock where a flagstaff was set on a cone of rock, and moving toward it.
He followed, speaking over her shoulder. “ That’s what you seem to do,” he said, “ not what you do.”Then, a little rhetorically, “ I’ve seen a man polishing the buckle of his shoe, and he was planning to take a city or manœuvre a fleet! ”
She noticed that he had dropped the “ thou,” and, much as its use had embarrassed her, the gap left when the boldness was withdrawn was filled with regret ; for though no one had dared to say it to her before, somehow it seemed not rude on Philip’s lips. Philip? Yes, Philip she had called him in her childhood, and the name had been carried on into her girlhood ; he had always been Philip to her.
“ Oh no, girls don’t think like that, and they don’t do big things,” she replied. “ When I polish the pans ” — she laughed — “ and when I scour my buckles, I just think of pans and buckles.” She tossed up her fingers lightly, with a perfect charm of archness.
He was very close to her now. “ But girls remember, — they have memories.”
“ If women had n’t memory,” she answered, “ they would n’t have much, would they ? They can’t take cities and manœuvre fleets.” She laughed a little ironically. “ I wonder that we think at all, or have anything to think about except the kitchen and the garden, and baking and scouring and knitting,” — she paused slightly, her voice lowered a little, — “ and the sea, and the work that men do round her. . . . Did you ever go into a market ? ” she added abruptly.
Somehow she could talk easily and naturally to him. There had been no leading up to confidence. She felt a sudden impulse to tell him all her thoughts, — all save a few. To know things, to understand them, was a passion with her. It seemed to flood and obliterate in her all that was conventional; it removed her far from stereotyped feeling and sensitive egotism. Already she had begun “ to take notice ” in the world, and that is like being born again ; it is the beginning of wisdom. As it grows life becomes less cliché; and when the taking notice is supreme we call it genius ; and genius is simple and believing ; it has no pride, it is naive, it is childlike.
Philip appeared to wear no mark of convention, and Guida spoke freely to him. “ To go into a market seems to me so wonderful.” she continued. “ There are the cattle, the fruits, the vegetables, the flowers, the fish, the wood ; the linen from the loom, the clothes that women’s fingers have knitted. And it isn’t just those things that you see, — it’s all that’s behind them : the houses, the fields, the boats at sea, and the men and women working and working, and sleeping and eating, praying a little, it may be, and dreaming a little, — perhaps a very little.” She sighed, and added. “That’s as far as I get with thinking. What else can one do in this little island ? Why, on the globe which Maître Damien has at St. Aubin’s, Jersey is no bigger than the head of a pin. And what should one think of here ? ”
Her eyes were on the sea; its mystery was in them, the distance, the ebb and flow, the light of wonder and of adventure too. “ You — you’ve been everywhere,” she went on. “ Do you remember you sent me once from Malta a tiny silver cross ? That was years ago, soon after the battle of Jersey, when I was a little bit of a girl. Well, after I got big enough I used to find Malta and other places on Maître Damien’s globe. I’ve lived always there, on that spot,” — she pointed toward Jersey, — “ on that spot that one could walk round in a day. What do I know! You’ve been everywhere, everywhere. When you look back, you’ve got a thousand pictures in your mind. You’ve seen great cities, temples, palaces, great armies, fleets; you’ve done tilings; you’ve fought and you’ve commanded, though you 're so young, and you’ve learned about men and about many countries. Look at what you know, and then, if you only think, you 'll laugh at what I know.”
For a moment he was puzzled what to answer. The revelation of the girl’s nature had come so quickly upon him. He had looked for freshness, sweetness, intelligence, warmth of temperament, but it seemed to him that here were flashes of power. Yet she was only seventeen. She had been taught to see things with her own eyes, and not another’s, and she spoke of them as she saw them, — that was all. Her mother, apprehensive always of her own death, had done all in her power to make the child think for herself, yet she had never let Guida imagine that hers was an unusual way of looking at things. The girl would have been astonished if she had been told that she had come to a point far beyond her years, — the point of observation, of withdrawal, when one looks less inward, concerned acutely for one’s own feelings, and outward more to the passing show of life. Never, however, save to her mother, had Guida said so much to any human being as within these past few moments to Philip d’Avranche.
The conditions were almost maliciously favorable, and d’Avranche was as simple and easy as a boy, with his sailor’s bonhomie and his naturally facile spirit. A fateful adaptability was his greatest weapon in life, and his greatest danger. He saw that Guida herself was quite unconscious of the revelation she was making, and he showed no surprise, no marked eagerness, but he caught the note of her simplicity and earnestness, and he responded to it in kind. He flattered her deftly ; not that she was pressed unduly, — he was too wise for that. He took her seriously : and this was not dissimulation, for every word that she had spoken had a glamour, and he now exalted her intelligence beyond reason. He was quite sincere in it: he had never met girl or woman who had talked just as she talked ; and straightway, with the fervid eloquence of his nature, he thought he had discovered a new heaven and a new earth. The perfect health of her face, its unaffectedness and its nascent power, the broad forehead, the hair which a breath would lift in undulations, the eyes like wells of light and flame, all these cast a spell upon him. On the instant his headlong spirit declared his purpose : this was the one being for him in all the world; at this altar he would light a lamp of devotion, and he would keep it burning. He knew what he wanted when he saw it. He had always made up his mind suddenly, always acted on the intelligent impulse of the moment. He felt things, he did not study them ; it was almost a woman’s instinct. He came by a leap to the goal of purpose, not by the toilsome steps of reason.
“ This is my day,” he said to himself. “ I always knew that love would come down on me like a storm.” Then, aloud, he said to her, “ I wish I knew what you know ; but I can’t, because my mind is different, my life has been different. When you get out into the world and see a great deal, and loosen a little the strings of your principles, and watch how sins and virtues contradict one another, you see things after a while in a kind of mist. But you, Guida, you see them clearly, because your mind is clear. You never make a mistake ; you are always right, because your mind is right.”
She interrupted him, a little shocked and a good deal amazed: “ Oh, you must n’t — must n’t speak like that. It’s not so. How can one see and learn unless one sees and knows the world ? Surely one can’t think right if one does n’t see widely ? ”
He changed His tactics instantly. Perhaps she was right, after all. The world, — that was the thing ? Well, then, she should see the world, through him, with him.
“ Yes, yes,you ’re right,” he answered. " You can’t know things unless you see widely. You must see the world, you must know it. You are right: this island, — what is it ? I was born here ; don’t I know? It ’s a foothold in the world, but it’s no more; it’s not a field to walk in ; why, it’s not even a garden ! No ; it’s the little patch of green we play in, in front of a house, behind the railings, before we go out into the world and learn how to live.”
They had now reached the highest point on the island, where the flagstaff stood. Guida was looking far beyond Jersey to the horizon line. There was little haze; the sky was inviolably blue. Far off against the horizon line lay the low black rocks of the Minquiers. They seemed to her, on the instant, like stepping-stones. Beyond them would be other stepping-stones, and others, and others still again, and they would all mark the way and lead to what Philip called the world. The world ! She felt a sudden twist of regret at her heart. Here she was, like a bird tied by its foot to a stake in a garden - bed ; or was n’t it more like a cow grazing within the circle of its tether, just a docile, stupid cow ? Yet it had all seemed so good to her in the past; broken only by slight bursts of wonder and desire concerning that outside world.
“ Do we ever learn how to live ? ” she asked. “ Don’t we just go on from one thing to another, picking our way, but never knowing quite what to do, because we don’t know what’s ahead ? I believe we never do learn how to live,” she added, half smiling, yet a little pensive, too ; “ but I am so very ignorant, and ” —
She stopped, for suddenly it flashed upon her : here she was baring her childish heart, — he would think it, was childish, she was sure he would, — everything she thought, to a man whom she had never known till to-day ! She was wrong : she had known him, but it was only as Philip, the boy who had saved her life. And the Philip of her memory was only a picture, not a being ; something to think about, not something to speak with, not one to whom she might bare her heart. She flushed hotly and turned her shoulder on him. Her eyes followed a lizard creeping up the stones. As long as she lived she remembered that lizard, its color changing in the sun. She remembered the hot stones, and how warm the flagstaff was when she reached out her hand to it mechanically. But the swift, noiseless lizard running in and out among the stones, it was ever afterward like a coat-of-arms upon the shield of her life.
Philip came close to her. At first he spoke over her shoulder; then he faced her. His words forced her eyes up to his, and he held them.
“ Yes, yes, we learn how to live,” he said. “It’s only when we travel alone that we don’t see before us. I will teach you how to live ; we will learn the way together ! Guida ! Guida ! ” — he reached out his hand toward her — “ don’t start so ! Listen to me. I feel for you what I have felt for no other being in all my life. It came upon me yesterday when I saw you in the window at the Vier Prison. I did n’t understand it. All night I lay in my cabin or walked the deck thinking of you. To-day, as soon as I saw your face, as soon as I touched your hand, I knew what it was, and ” — He attempted to take her hand now.
“ Oh no, no ! ” She drew back as if frightened.
“You need not fear me! ” he burst out. “ For now I know that I have but two things to live for : for my work ” — he pointed to the Narcissus — “ and for you. You are frightened at me ! Why, I want to have the right to protect you, to drive away all fear from your life. You shall be the garden, and I shall be the wall ; you the nest, and I the rock; you the breath of life, and I the body that breathes it. Guida, ah, Guida, I love you ! ”
She drew back, leaning against the stones, her eyes riveted upon his, and she spoke scarcely above a whisper, in which were much wonder and a little fear.
“ It is not true, — it is not true. You 've known me only for one day, — only for one hour. How can yon say it! ” There was a tumult in her breast; her eyes shone and glistened ; wonder, embarrassed yet happy wonder, looked at him out of her face, which was touched with an appealing, as of the heart which dared not believe, and yet must believe or suffer. “ Oh, it is madness ! ” she added. “ It is not true ; how can it be true ! ”
Yet it all had the look of reality : the voice had the right ring; the face had truth ; the bearing was gallant, chivalrous, and direct; the force and power of the man overwhelmed her.
She reached out her hand tremblingly, as though to push him back. “ It cannot be true,” she said. “ To think — in one day! ”
“It is true,” he answered, “true as that I stand here ! One day ! It is not one day. I knew you years ago. The seed was sown then, the flower springs up to-day, — that is all. You think I cannot know that it is love which I feel for you ? It is admiration, it is faith, it is desire ; but it is love. When you look upon a flower in a garden, do you not know on the instant if you like it or no ? If it is beautiful you desire it. Do you not know, the moment you look upon a landscape, upon the beauty of a noble building, whether it is beautiful to you ? If, then, with these things one knows, — these that have no speech, no life, like yours or mine, — how much more when it is a girl with a face like yours, when it is a mind noble like yours, when it is a touch that thrills and a voice that drowns your heart in music ! Ah, Guida, believe me that I speak the truth ! I know that you are the one passion, the one love, of my life. All others would be as nothing, so long as you live, and I live to see you, to be beside you ! ”
“ Beside me! ” she broke in, with an incredulous irony which fain would be contradicted ; “ a girl in a village, poor, knowing nothing, seeing no farther ” — she looked out toward the island of Jersey — “ seeing no farther than the little cottage in the little country where I was born! ”
“ But you shall see more,” he said : “ you shall see all, feel all, if you will but listen to me. Don’t deny me that which is life and breathing and hope to me. I will show you the world; I will take you where you may see and know. We will learn it all together. I shall succeed in life. I shall rise. I have needed one thing to make me do my best for some one’s sake beside my own; you will make me do it for your sake. Your ancestors were great people in France ; and you know mine, centuries ago, were great, also, — that the d’Avranches were a noble family in France. You and I will win our place as high as the best of them. In this war that’s coming between England and France is my chance. Nelson said to me the other day, — you have heard of him, of young Captain Nelson, the man they ’re pointing to in the fleet as the one man of them all ? — he said to me, ‘ We shall have our chance now, Philip.’ And we shall. I have wanted it till today for my own selfish ambition ; now I want it for you. This hour, when I landed on this islet, I hated it, I hated my ship, I hated my duty, I hated everything, because I wanted to go where you were, to be with you. It was destiny that brought us both to this place at the same moment. Ah, you can’t escape destiny ! It was to be that I should love you, Guida ! ”
He tried to take her hands, but she put them behind her and drew back.
The lizard suddenly shot out from a hole and crossed over her lingers. She started, shivered at the cold touch, and caught the hand away. A sense of prescience awaked in her, and her eyes followed the lizard’s swift travel with a strange fascination. She lifted her eyes to Philip’s, and the fear and premonition passed.
“ Oh, my brain is in a whirl ! ” she said. “ I do not understand. I am so young. No one has ever spoken to me as you have done. You would not dare " — she leaned forward a little, looking him steadfastly in the face with that unwavering look which was the best sign of her straightforward mind — “ I do not understand — you would not dare to deceive —you would not dare to deceive me. I have — no mother,” she added, with a simple pathos.
The moisture came into his eyes. He must have been stone not to be touched by the appealing, by the tender inquisition of that look.
“ Guida,” he cried impetuously, “ if I deceive you, may every fruit of life turn to dust and ashes in my mouth ! If ever I deceive you, may I die a black, dishonorable death, abandoned and alone! I should deserve that if I deceived you, Guida! ”
For the first time since he had spoken she smiled, yet her eyes filled with tears, too.
“ You will let me tell you that I love you, Guida? It is all I ask now, that you will listen to me.”
She sighed, but did not answer. She kept looking at him, looking as though she would read his inmost soul. Her face was very young, though the eyes were so wise in their simplicity.
“ You will give me my chance, —you will listen to me, Guida, and try to understand ? " he pleaded, leaning closer to her and holding out his hands.
She drew herself up slightly, as with an air of relief and resolve. She put a hand in his.
“ I will listen and try to understand,” she answered.
“ Won’t you call me Philip ? ” he said.
A slight, mischievous smile crossed her lips, as eleven years before it had done in the Rue d’Egypte, and, recalling that moment, she replied, “ Yes, sir — Philip ! ”
Just then the figure of a man appeared on the shingle beneath, looking up toward them. They did not see him. Guida’s hand was still in Philip’s.
The man looked at them for an instant ; then started and turned away. It was Ranulph Delagarde.
They heard his feet upon the shingle now. They turned and looked, and Guida withdrew her hand.
There are moments when a kind of curtain seems dropped over the brain, covering it and smothering it, while yet the body and its nerves are tingling with sensations. It is like the fire-curtain of a theatre let down between the stage and the audience. Were it not for this merciful intervention between the brain and the disaster which would set it aflame, the vital spark of intelligence would burn to white heat and die.
As the years had gone on Maître Ranulph’s nature had grown more powerful, and his outdoor occupation had enlarged and steadied his physical forces. His trouble now was in proportion to the force of his personality. The sight of Guida and Philip hand in hand, of the tender attitude and the light in their faces, was overwhelming and unaccountable. Yesterday these two were strangers ; it was plain to be seen that today they were lovers, — lovers who had reached a point of confidence and of revelation. Nothing in the situation tallied with Ranulph’s ideas of Guida and his knowledge of life. He had been eye to eye with this girl, as one might say, for fifteen years: he had told his love for her in a thousand little ways, as the ant builds its heap to a pyramid that becomes a thousand times greater than itself. He had watched at her doorway, he had followed her footsteps, he had fetched and carried, he had served afar off, he had ministered within the gates. Unknown to her, he had watched like the keeper of the house over all who came and went, neither envious nor over-zealous, neither intrusive nor neglectful ; leaving here a word and there an act to prove himself, above all, the friend whom she could trust, and in all the lover whom she might wake to know and reward. He had waited with patience, believing stubbornly that she might come to put her hand in his one day.
Long ago he would have left the island, to widen his knowledge, earn experience in his craft, or follow a career in the army (he had been an expert gunner when he served in the artillery four years before), and hammer out fame upon the anvils of fortune in England or in France; but he had stayed here that he might be near her when she needed him. His love had been simple, it had been direct, and in its considered and consistent reserve it had been more than wise. He had been self-obliterating. His love desired to make her happy : most lovers desire that they themselves shall be made happy. Because of the crime that his father had committed years before — because of the shame of that hidden and secret crime — he had tried the more to make himself a good citizen, and he had now formed the commendable and modest ambition of making one human being happy. He had always kept this ambition near him in the years that had gone, and a supreme good nature and cheerfulness of heart had welled up out of his early sufferings and his honesty of character. Hope had beckoned him on from year to year, until it seemed at last that the time had almost come when he might speak. He would tell her all, — his father’s crime and the manner of his death on the Grouville road ; of the devoted purpose of trying to expiate that crime by his own uprightness and patriotism.
Now, all in a minute, his horizon was blackened. This stranger, this adventurous gallant, this squire of dames, had done in a day what he had worked, step by step, to do through all these years. This skipping seafarer, with his powder and lace, cocked hat and gold-handled sword, had whistled at the gates which Ranulph had guarded and at which he had prayed ; and instantly every defense had been thrown down, and Guida — his own Guida — had welcomed the invader with a shameless eagerness.
The curtain dropped upon his brain, numbing it; else he had done some wild and foolish thing, something which he had no right to do. A hundred thoughts had gone crowding together through his mind, as the kaleidoscope of a life’s events rushes by the eyes of a drowning man. Then he had turned on his heel and walked away.
He crossed the islet slowly. It seemed to him — and for a moment it was the only thing of which he was conscious — that the heels of his boots shrieked in the shingle, and that with every step he was lifting an immense weight. He paused behind the chapel, where he was hidden from view. The smother lifted slowly from his brain.
“ I ’ll believe in her still,” he said. “ It’s all his cursed tongue. As a boy he could make every other boy do what he wanted, because his tongue knew how to twist words. She ’s been used to honest people ; he’s talked a new language to her ; he ’s caught the trick of it in his travels. But she shall know the truth. She shall find out what sort of a man he is. She shall see beneath the surface of his pretty tricks.”
He turned and leaned against the wall of the chapel. “ Guida, Guida,” he said, speaking as if she were there before him, “ you won’t — you won’t go to him, and spoil your life and mine too ! Guida, ma couzaine. you ’ll stay here, in the land of your birth; you 'll make your home here, here with me, ma chère couzaine. You shall be my wife in spite of him, in spite of a thousand Philip d’Avranches ! ”
He drew himself up as though a great determination was made. His path was clear. It was a fair fight; the odds were not so much against him, after all, for his birth was as good as Philip d’Avranche’s, his energy was greater, and he was as capable and as strong of brain in his own fashion.
He walked firmly and quickly down the shingle on the other side of the islet toward the wreck. As he passed the hut where the sick man lay, he heard a querulous voice. It was not that of the Reverend Lorenzo Dow.
Where had he heard that voice before ? A strange shiver of fear ran through him. Every sense and emotion in him was arrested. His life seemed to reel backward. Curtain after curtain of the past unfolded.
He hurried to the door of the hut and looked in.
A man with long white hair and straggling gray beard turned to him a haggard face, on which were written suffering, outlawry, and evil.
“Great God ! my father ! ” Ranulph said.
He drew back slowly, like a man who gazes upon some horrible, fascinating thing, and turned heavily toward the sea, his face set, his senses paralyzed.
“ My father not dead! My father — the traitor ! ” he said again.
(To be continued.)