The Battle of the Strong
PHILIP D’AVRANCHE sauntered slowly through the Vier Marchi, nodding right and left to people who greeted him. It was Saturday, and market - day. The square was fast becoming crowded. All was a cheerful babel ; there was movement, color, everywhere. Here were the high and the humble, the ugly and the beautiful, — hardi vlon and hardi biaou ; the dwarfed and the tall, the dandy and the dowdy, the miser and the spendthrift ; young ladies gay in silks, laces, and scarves from Spain, and gentlemen with powdered wigs from Paris ; sailors with red tunics from the Mediterranean, and fishermen with blue and purple blouses from Brazil; man-o’-war’s men with Greek petticoats, Turkish fezes, and Portuguese espadras. Jersey housewives, in bedgônes and white caps, with molleton dresses rolled up to the knees, pushed their way through the crowd, with baskets of eggs, or black butter, or jugs of cinnamon brandy on their heads. From La Pyramide — the hospitable base of the statue of King George II. — fishwives called the merits of their conger-eels, lobsters, crack-fish, and ormers ; and the clatter of a thousand sabots made the Vier Marchi to sound like a ship-builder’s yard.
In this square Philip had loitered and played as a child. Down there, leaning against a pillar of the Corn Market piazza, was the grizzly-haired seller of foreign cloths and silks and droll odds and ends, who had given him a silver flageolet when he was a little lad. There were the same swaggering manners, the big gold rings in his ears, the brown stockings ; there was the same red sash about the waist, the loose unbuttoned shirt, the truculent knife-belt; there were the same keen brown eyes that looked you through and through, and the mouth with a middle tooth in both jaws gone. He was stooping over the beautiful brass-nailed bahue, lifting out gay cloths, laces, necklets, slippers, oddments and curios, just as he had done twenty years before.
At least fifteen years had gone since Philip had talked with this picturesque merchant of the pavement, who opened his chest where he pleased, and bought and sold where no one else dared buy or sell ; for most folk in Jersey shrank from interfering with Elie Mattingley, pirate, smuggler, and sometime master of a privateer. He had had dealings with people high and low in the island, and they had not always, nor often, been conducted in the open Vier Marchi.
Fifteen years ago he used to have his little daughter Carterette always beside him when he displayed and sold his wares. Philip wondered what had become of her. He glanced round. . . . Ah ! there she was, not far from her father, over in front of the guard-house, between the Rue des Vignes and the Coin ès Anes, selling, at a little counter with a canopy of yellow silk (brought by her father from that distant land called Piracy), a famous stew made of milk, bacon, colewort, mackerel, and gooseberries ; mogues of hot soupe à la graisse, simnels, curds, coffee, and Jersey wonders, which last she made on the spot by dipping little rings of dough in a bashin of lard on a charcoal fire at her side.
Carterette was short and spare, with soft yet snapping eyes as black as night — or her hair; with a warm, dusky skin; a tongue which clattered pleasantly, and very often wisely ; a hand as small and plump as a baby’s ; a pretty foot, which, to the disgust of some mothers and maidens of greater degree, was encased in a red French slipper instead of a wooden sabot stuffed with straw, her ankles nicely dressed in soft black stockings in place of the woolen native hose which became her station. Once, the Lady of St. Michael’s, passing through the square, and seeing the gay broidered and laced cap which Carterette wore, had snatched it from her head, thrown it on the ground, and bade her dress as became her place. But the Lady of St. Michael’s repented her of that, because her lord saw fit, for certain private reasons persistently urged by Elie Mattingley, to apologize in writing for this high-handed exercise of his wife’s social governance. So Carterette wore her red slippers and her cap whenever she came to the Vier Marchi, and she continued to wear them on Sunday. At all other times she wore the pink bedgône, the molleton dress, the blue stockings, and the plain white cap and apron tied with blue ribbon, like other girls of her class, though indeed she was unique among them by reason of her father’s mysterious life and occupation.
Philip watched Carterette now for a moment, a dozen laughing memories coming back to him ; for he had teased her and played with her when she was a child, had even called her his little sweetheart. But then he had always been doing that sort of thing, even as a lad. Carterette had a sunny, almost languorous temper, and she was not easy to rouse, but when roused she was as uncontrollable as an animal in its rage. Looking at her now, he wondered what her fate would be. To marry one of these fishermen or carters? No, she would look beyond that. Perhaps it would be one of those adventurers wearing bearskin caps and buckskin vests, with strings of ivory ornaments round their necks, home from Gaspé, where they had toiled in the great fisheries, some as common fishermen, some as mates, and maybe one or two as masters. No, she would look beyond that. Perhaps a red coat and pipe-clay would catch her eye: she would drift away to camp or barracks, and become a dreary slattern, with every cheerful prospect dead. No, her own shrewdness would be her safety. Perhaps she would be carried off by some well-to-do, blackbearded young farmer, with red knitted queminzolle, blue breeches, and black cocked hat, with his great pile of Chaumontel pears, kegs of cider, baskets of gooseberries, and bunches of parsley.
Yes, that would be her fate, no doubt, for there was every prejudice in her favor among the people of the island. She was Jersey-born ; her father was reputed to have laid by a goodly sum of money, — not all got in this Vier Marchi; and that he was a smuggler, and had been a pirate, roused a sentiment in their bosoms nearer to envy than anything else. He who went beyond this isle adventuring, and brought back golden proofs that a Jerseyman had gathered profit out of other countries and with a minimum of labor, was to be cherished. Go away naked and come back clothed, empty and come back filled, simple and come back with a wink of knowledge, penniless and come back with the price of numerous vergées of land, and you shall answer the catechism of the Vier Marchi without apprehension. Be lambs in Jersey, but harry the rest of the world with a lion’s tooth, was the eleventh commandment in the Vier Marchi: hence Mattingley’s secure and enviable place therein. Some there were who hated the smuggler, but their time was not yet come.
Yes, thought Philip idly now, as he left the square, the girl would probably marry a farmer, and when he came again he should find her stout of body, and maybe shrewish of face, crying up the virtues of her butter and her knitted stockings ; having made the yellow silk canopy above her there into a gorgeous quilt for the nuptial bed.
Yet the young farmers who hovered near her, buying a glass of cider or a mogue of soup, received but scant attention from the girl. She laughed with them, treated them lightly, and went about her business again with a toss of the head. Not once did she show a moment’s real interest, not until a fine upstanding fellow came round the corner from the Rue des Vignes and passed her booth.
She was dipping a doughnut into the boiling lard, but she paused with it suspended. The little dark face took on a warm glow, the eyes glistened. She paid no attention to the lieutenant-bailly, with whom she was a favorite, and who half paused with a “ Lord love you, little brown angel! ” as he was passing into the Coin ès Anes.
舠 Maître Ranulph ! ” called the girl softly. Then, as the tall fellow turned to her and lifted his cap, she said briskly, “ Where away so fast, with face hard as a hatchet ? ”
“ Garçon Cart’rette ! ” he said abstractedly, — he had always called her that.
He was about to move on. She frowned in vexation, yet she saw that he was pale and heavy-eyed, and she beckoned him to come to her.
“ What’s gone wrong, my big woodworm ? ” she asked, eying him closely, striving anxiously to read his face.
He looked at her sharply, but the softness in her black eyes somehow reassured him, and he said quite kindly, “ Nannin, ’tite garcon, nothing’s the matter.”
“ I thought you ’d be blithe as a sparrow, with your father back from the grave! ” Ranulph’s face seemed to darken, and she added, “ He ’s not worse, he ’s not worse ?
“ No, no, he’s well enough now,” he replied, forcing a smile.
She was not satisfied, but she went on talking, intent to find the cause of his abstraction, “ Only to think,” she said, “ only to think that he was n’t killed at all at the battle of Jersey, and was a prisoner in France, and comes back here to you, — and we all thought him dead, did n’t we ? ”
“ I left him for dead, that morning, on the Grouville road,” he answered. Then, as if with a great effort, and after the manner of one who has learned a part, he said, “ As the French ran away mad, the paw of one on the tail of the other, they found him trying to drag himself along the road. They nabbed him, and made him go aboard one of their boats and pilot them out from La Roque Platte and over to France. Then, because they had n’t gobbled us up here, what did the French gover’ment do? They clapped a lot of ’em in irons and sent ’em away to South America, and my father with ’em. That’s why we heard neither click nor clack of him. He escaped a year ago. Afterward he fell sick. When he got well he set sail for Jersey, was wrecked off the Ecréhos, and everybody knows the rest. Diantre ! he had a hard time, my father.”
The girl had listened intently. She had heard all these things in flying rumors, and she had believed the rumors ; but now that Maître Ranulph told her — Ranulph, whose word she would have taken quicker than the oath of a jurat — she doubted ; and with that doubt her face flushed, as though she herself had been caught in a lie, had done a mean thing. Somehow her heart was aching for him, and yet why it was so she could not have said. All this time she had held the doughnut poised ; she seemed to have forgotten her work. Suddenly the wooden fork which held the cake was taken deftly from her fingers by the daft Dormy Jamais, who had crept near.
“ Des monz à fous,” he cried, “ to spoil good eating so ! What ’s the old Jersey saying ? — When sails flap, owner may whistle for cargo. Tut, tut, goose Cart’rette ! ”
Carterette took no note, but said to Ranulph, “ Of course he had to pilot the Frenchmen back, or they 'd have killed him, and it ’d done no good to refuse. He was the first man that fought the French on the day of the battle, was n’t he ? I ’ve always heard that.”
Unconsciously she was building up a defense for Olivier Delagarde. She was, as it were, anticipating insinuation from other quarters. She was playing Ranulph’s game, because she instinctively felt that behind this story there was gloom in Maître Ranulph’s mind and mystery in the tale itself. She noticed, too, that Ranulph shrank from her words. She was not very quick of intellect, so she had to feel her way fumblingly. She must have time to think, but she asked tentatively, “ I suppose it’s no secret ? I can tell any one at all what happened to your father ? ”
舠 Oh yes, of course ! ” he said rather eagerly. “ Tell every one about it. He does n’t mind.”
Maître Ranulph deceived but badly. Bold and convincing in all honest things, he was as yet unconvincing in this grave deception. He had kept silence all these years, enduring what he thought a buried shame; but now how different it was, and how terrible! His father had conspired with the French, had sought to betray the island into their hands : if the truth were known to - day, he would be hanged for a traitor on the Mont ès Pendus ; no mercy would be shown him.
Whatever came, Ranulph must drink this bitter cup to the dregs. He could never betray his own father. He must consume with inward disgust while Olivier Delagarde shamelessly babbled his monstrous lies to all who would listen. And he must tell these lies, too, conceal, deceive, and live in daily fear of discovery. He must sit opposite his father day by day at table, talk with him, care for him, and shrink inwardly at every knock at the door, lest it should be an officer come to carry the pitiful traitor off to prison. While this criminal lived, his nights must be sleepless, his days heavy and feverish, his thoughts clouded, his work cheerless.
More than all a thousand times, he must give up forever the thought of Guida. Here was the acid that ate home, here the torture, the black hopelessness, the cloud upon his brain, the machine of fate that clamped his heart. Never again could he rise in the morning with a song on his lips ; never again could his happy meditations go lilting with the clanging blows of the adze and the singing of the saws ; never again could he lie at night in his tent upon the shore thinking of Guida in hope, and watching the stars wheel past.
All these things had vanished when he looked into the hut door on the Ecréhos, and heard a querulous voice call his name. Now, in spite of himself, whenever he thought upon Guida’s face, this other fateful figure, this Medusan head of a traitor, shot in between.
His father had not been strong enough to go abroad since his return, but to-day he had determined to walk to the Vier Marchi. At first Ranulph had decided to go to his shipyard at St. Aubin’s; but Something held him in St. Helier’s, and at last, in fear and anxiety, he had come to the Vier Marchi. There was a horrible fascination in being where his father was, in listening to his falsehoods, in watching the turns and twists of his gross hypocrisies.
But sometimes he was moved by a strange pity, for Olivier Delagarde was, ill truth, far older than his years : a thin, shuffling, pallid invalid, with a face of mingled saintliness and viciousness. If the old man lied, and had not been in prison all these years, he must have had misery far worse, for neither vice nor poverty alone could so shatter a human being. The son’s pity seemed to look down from a great height upon the contemptible figure with the soft, beautiful hair, the fine forehead, the unstable eye, and the abominable mouth. This compassion kept him from becoming hard, but it would also preserve him to hourly sacrifice and agony, — Prometheus chained to his rock. In the short fortnight that had gone since the day upon the Ecréhos he had changed as much as do most people in ten years. Since then he had not seen Philip or Guida.
To Carterette he appeared not the man she had known. With her woman’s instinct she knew that he loved Guida, but she also knew that nothing that might have happened between them could have brought this look into his face : it had in it something shrinking and shamed. As these thoughts flashed through her mind her heart grew warmer. Suppose Ranulph was in some trouble : well, now might be her great chance. All that the stubborn, faithful little heart in the little body could do for him she would do. She might show him that he could not live without her friendship, and then, perhaps, by and by, that he could not live without her love.
Ranulph was about to move on. She stopped him.
“ When you need me. Maître Ranulph, you know where to find me,” she said, scarce above a whisper.
He looked at her sharply, almost fiercely ; but again the tenderness of her eyes, the directness of her look, convinced him. She might be, as she was, a little uncertain with other people ; with himself she was invincibly straightforward.
“ P’r’aps you don’t trust me ? ” she added, for she read his changing expression.
“ Oh, I 'd trust you quick enough ! ” he replied.
“ Then do it now — you ’re having some bad trouble,” she rejoined.
He leaned over her stall, and said to her steadily and with a little moroseness, “ If I was in trouble, I ’d bear it by myself ; I’d ask no one to help me. I ’rn a man, and I can stand alone. Don’t go telling folk that I look as if I were in trouble. I’m going to launch to-morrow the biggest ship that has ever gone from a Jersey building-yard : that does n’t look like trouble, does it ? Turn about is fair play, garçon Cart’rette : so when you ’re in trouble come to me. You ‘re not a man, and it’s a man’s place to help a woman, — all the more when she ’s a fine and good little stand-by like you.”
He forced a smile, turned upon his heel, and threaded his way through the square, — nodding to people, answering them shortly, moving on, and keeping a lookout for his father. This he could do easily, for he was the tallest man in the Vier Marchi by at least three inches.
Carterette, quite oblivious of all else, stood looking after him. She was recalled to herself by Dormy Jamais, who was humming some patois verses which had been handed down from generation to generation, passed on from veille to veille, to which, when the whim seized him, he added poignant local allusions. He was diligently cooking Carterette’s Jersey wonders, occasionally turning his eyes up at her, — eyes which were like spots of grayish, yellowish light in a face of putty and flour ; without eyelashes, without eyebrows, a little like a fish’s, something like a monkey’s. They were never still. They were set in the face, as it were, like little round glowworms in a mould of clay. They burned on, night and day ; no man had ever seen Dormy Jamais asleep.
Carterette did not resent his officiousness. He had a kind of kennel in her father’s loft, and he was devoted to her. More than all else, Dormy Jamais was clean. His clothes were mostly rags, but they were comely, compact rags. When he washed them no one seemed to know, but no languid young gentleman who lounged where the sun was warmest against the houses in the Vier Marchi was better laundered.
As Carterette turned round to him he was twirling a cake on the wooden fork, and singing, or rather trolling : —
All lined with paper brown ;
And only when it freezes hard
He wears it in the town.
What do you think of Caderoussel ?
Ah, then, but list to me:
Cadenrossel is a bon e’fant " —
“Come, come, dirty - fingers ! ” she cried. 舠 Leave my work alone, and stop your chatter.”
The daft one held up his fingers, but to do so had to thrust a cake into his mouth.
“ They ’re as clean as a ha’pendy,” he protested. Then he took the cake out of his mouth, and was about to place it with the others.
“ Black béganne,” she cried, “ how dare you ! V’là — into your pocket with it!”
He did as he was bid, humming to himself again : —
Dead of a maladie ;
Quart’ of an hour before his death
He could breathe like you and me!
Ah bah, the poor Msieu’
De la Palisse is dead ! ”
“ Shut up ! Mon doux d’la vie, you chatter like a monkey ! ”
“ The poor Maître, the poor Maître Ranulph! ” said Dormy.
“ What’s the matter with him ? ” asked Carterette, turning on him sharply.
“ Once he was as lively as a basket of mice, but now ” —
“ Well, now, achocre ! ” she exclaimed irritably, and stamping her foot.
“ Now the cat ’s out of the bag, and the mice are gone — oui-gia ! ”
She looked at him keenly. What did this simpleton know, or did he know anything ?
“ You’ve got things in your noddle ! ” she said, in angry impatience.
He nodded, grinning. “ As thick as haws, but I can’t get at them for the brambles.”
“ And they call you an idiot! ” she cried, in furious despair. This fool was eluding her. She gripped her big wooden fork with energy. If it had been a hoe-handle she would have struck him. “ You ’re as deep as the sea ! ”
He nodded again, and his eyes rolled in his head like marbles as he kept them on the wooden fork in her hand, to dodge at the right moment.
“ As cunning as a Norman,” he mumbled.
She heard a laugh behind her, a laugh of foolish good nature, which made her angry, too, for it seemed to be making fun of her. She wheeled to see M. Savary dit Détricand leaning with both elbows on the little counter, his chin in his hand, grinning provokingly.
“ Oh, it’s you ! ” she said snappishly. “ I hope you ’re pleased.”
“ Don’t be cross,” he returned, his head moving about a little unsteadily. “ I wasn’t laughing at you, heaven-born Jersienne ! I was n’t, ’pon my honor ! I was laughing at a thing I saw five minutes ago.” He shook his head from side to side in a gurgling enjoyment now. “You must n’t mind me, seraphine,” he added ; “ I’d a hot night, and 1 ’m warm as a thrush now. But I saw a thing five minutes ago ! ” He rolled on the stall. “ Sh! ” he said in a loud mock whisper. “ Here he comes now. Milles diables ! but here’s a tongue for you, and here’s a royal gentleman that speaks truth like a traveling dentist!
Carterette followed his gesture, and saw coming out of the Route ès Couochons, where the brave Pierson issued to his death eleven years before, the father of Maître Ranulph, Olivier Delagarde.
He walked with the air of a man who courted observation. He imagined himself a hero ; he had told his lie so many times that now he almost believed it himself. The long nose, the overhanging brows, the pale face, the white hair, the rheumatic walk, which still was unlike the stolid stiffness of his laborious fellow countrymen, the unchanging smile, almost a leer, made him an inescapable figure.
He was soon surrounded. Never a favorite when he lived in Jersey before the invasion years ago, all that seemed forgotten now; for the word had gone abroad that he was a patriot raised from the dead, — an honor to his country. Many pressed forward to shake hands with him.
“ Help of heaven, is that you, m’sieu’ ! ” said one.
“ Misery me ! you owed me five chelins, but I wiped it out — oh my good ! ” cried another.
“ Es-tu gentiment, Delagarde ? ” asked a third.
“ Ah, man pèthe bénin, this man ! ” exclaimed a fourth.
“ Shakez ! ” said a tall carter, holding out his hand. He had lived in England, and now made English verbs into French by adding a syllable.
“ Holy morning — me too ! And have a cup of cider ! ” called another, until it would seem as though the whole Marchi were descending upon the hero of the hour.
One after another called on him to tell his story ; some tried to hurry him to La Pyramide, but others placed a cider-keg for him where he stood, almost lifting him upon it.
“ Go on, go on ! tell us the story ! ” they cried. “ To the devil with the Frenchies! ”
“ Here, — here’s a dish of Adam’s ale! ” said an old woman, handing him a bowl of water.
They cheered him lustily. The pallor of his face changed to a warmth. The exaltation of his successful deceit was on him. He had the fatuousness of those who have deceived with impunity ; with confidence he unreeled the dark line out to the end. Still hungry for applause, he repeated the account of how the sombre tatterdemalion brigade of Frenchmen came down upon him out of the night, and how he should have killed Rullecour himself had it not been for a French officer who at the critical moment struck him down from behind.
During this recital both Ranulph and Détricand had drawn near. As it progressed Ranulph’s face became gloomier and gloomier. Of course this lie was necessary from his father’s standpoint, but it was horrible. He watched the enthusiasm with which the crowd received every little detail of the egregious history. Everybody believed the old man : he was safe, no matter what happened to himself, Ranulph Delagarde, ex-artillery - man, ship-builder — and son of a criminal. At any rate, the worst was over now, the first public statement of the lifelong lie. He drew a sigh of mingled relief and misery.
At that instant he caught sight of a flushed face, which broke into a laugh of tipsy mirth when Olivier Delagarde told how the French officer had stricken him down just as he was about to finish off Rullecour. It was Detricand. All at once the whole thing rushed upon Ranulph.
What a fool he had been ! He had met this officer of Rullecour’s these ten years past, and never once had the Frenchman, by so much as a hint, suggested that he knew the truth about his father. Here and now the contemptuous mirth upon the Frenchman’s face told the whole story. The danger and horror of the situation descended on him. He made up his mind immediately what to do, and started toward Détricand.
At that moment his father caught sight of Détricand, also, saw the laugh, the sneer on his face, recognized him, and, halting suddenly in his speech, turned pale and trembled, staring as at a ghost. He had not counted on this. His breath almost stopped as he saw Ranulph approach Détricand.
Now the end was come. His fabric of lies would be torn down ; he would be tried and hanged on the Mont ès Pendus, or perhaps be torn to pieces by this crowd. He could not have moved a foot from where he was if he had been given a million pounds.
The sight of Ranulph’s face revealed to Détricand the true meaning of this farce, and how easily it might become tragedy. He read the story of Ranulph’s torture, of his sacrifice, and his decision was instantly made : he would befriend the son. He looked straight into Ranulph’s eyes, and his own eyes said he had resolved to know nothing whatever about this criminal on the cider-cask. The two men telegraphed to each other a glance of perfectunderstanding, and then Détricand turned on his heel and walked away into the crowd.
The sudden change in the old man’s appearance had not been lost on the spectators, but they attributed it to weakness or a sudden sickness. One ran for a glass of brandy, another for cider, and an old woman handed up to him a hanap of cinnamon drops, saying, “ Ah bidemme, the poor old ê’fant! ”
The old man lifted the brandy with a trembling hand and drank it. When he looked again Détricand had disappeared. A dark, sinister expression crossed his face, and an evil thought pulled down the corners of his mouth. He stepped from the cask. His son went to him, and, taking his arm, said, “ Come, you have done enough for to-day.”
Delagarde made no reply, but submissively walked away into the Coin ès Anes. Once, however, he turned and looked the way Détricand had gone, muttering. Some of the peasants cheered him as he passed. When they were free of the crowd and entering the Rue d’Egypte, he said, “ I’m going alone ; I don’t need you.”
“ Where are you going ? ” asked Ranulph.
“ Home,” answered the old man gloomily.
“ All right; better not come out again to-day.”
“ You ’re not going to let the Frenchman hurt me ?" asked Delagarde, with a morose, querulous anxiety. “ You ’re going to stop that ? They ’d put me in prison.”
Ranulph stooped over his father, his eyes alive with anger, his face blurred with disgust.
“Go home, ’ said he, “ and never again while you live mention this, or I ’ll take you to prison myself.”
Ranulph watched his father disappear down the Rue d’Egypte, and then he retraced his steps to the Vier Marchi. With a new-formed determination he quickened his walk, and ruled his face to a sort of forced gayety, lest any one should think his moodiness strange. One person after another accosted him. He listened eagerly to hear if anything were said which might show suspicion of his father. The gossip, however, was all in M. Delagarde’s favor. From group to group he went, answering greetings playfully, and steeling himself to the whole disgusting business.
Presently he saw entering the square from the Rue des Très Pigeons the Chevalier du Champsavoys and the Sieur de Mauprat. This was the first public appearance of the chevalier since the lamentable business at the Vier Prison, a fortnight before. The simple folk had forgotten their insane treatment of him then, and they saluted him now with a chirping “Es-tu biaou, chevalier ?” and “ Es-tu gentiment, m’sieu’ ? ” to which he responded with an amicable forgiveness. To his idea they were only naughty children, their minds reasoning no more clearly than they saw the streets before their homes through the tiny squares of bottle-glass in the windows.
The two old gentlemen were offered odd little drinks in odd little wooden cups, as they threaded their way among the clattering hucksters; and once or twice, with as odd little courtesies, they drank. They even accepted bunches of leaves from Manon Moignard, the witch, who passed, feared yet favored, among the frequenters of the Vier Marchi. These leaves, steeped in brandy, were to cure them of stiffness of step, to make them young again. By and by they came face to face with Détricand. The chevalier stopped short with pleased yet wistful surprise. His fine smooth brow knitted a little when he saw that his compatriot had been drinking again, and his eyes had a pained look as he said eagerly, “ Have you heard from the Comte de Tournay, monsieur ? I have not seen you these weeks past; you said you would not disappoint me.”
Détrieand drew from his pocket a letter and handed it to the chevalier, saying, “ Here is a letter from the comte.”
The old gentleman took the letter, nervously opened it, and read it slowly, saying each sentence over twice as though to get the full meaning.
“Ah,” he exclaimed, “he is going back to France to fight for the King ! ” Then he looked at Détrieand sadly, benevolently. “ Mon cher,” said he, “ if I could but persuade you to give up the wine-cup and follow his example ! ”
Détrieand drew himself up with a jerk, and made an abrupt motion of the hand. “ You can persuade me, chevalier,” said he. “ This is my last bout. I had sworn to have it with — with a soldier I knew, and I ’ve kept my word. But it’s the last, the very last in my life, on the honor of — of the Détricands. And I 'm going with the Comte de Tournay to fight for the King.”
The little chevalier’s lips trembled, and, taking the young man by the collar of his coat, he stood on tiptoe and kissed him on both cheeks.
“ Will you accept something from me?” asked M. de Mauprat in a shaking voice, joining in his friend’s enthusiasm. He took from his pocket a timepiece which he had carried for fifty years. “ It is a little gift to my France, which I shall see no more,” he added. “ May no time be ill spent that it records for you, monsieur.”
Détrieand laughed in his careless way, but the face that had been seamed with dissipation took on a new and better look, as, with a hand-grasp of gratitude, he put the timepiece in his pocket.
“ I ’ll do my best,” he said simply. “I’ll be with de la Rochejaquelein and the army of the Vendée to-morrow night.”
Then he shook hands with both little gentlemen, and moved away toward the Rue des Très Pigeons. Some one touched his arm. He turned. It was Ranulph.
“ I stood near,” said Ranulph ; “ I chanced to hear what you said to them. You’ve been a friend to me to-day — and these eleven years past. You knew — about my father, all the time.”
Before replying Détricand looked round to see that no one was listening.
“ Look you, monsieur, a man must keep some decencies in his life, or cut his own throat. What a ruffian I ’d be to do you or your father harm ! I ’m silent, of course. Let your mind rest about me. But there’s the baker Carcaud ” —
“The baker escaped?” asked Ranulph, dumfounded. “ I thought he was tied to a rock and left to drown.”
“ I had him set free after Rullecour had gone on. He got away to France. I saw him at St. Brieuc four years ago.”
Ranulph’s anxiety deepened. “ He might come back, and then if anything happened to him ” —
“ He ’d try to make things happen to others, eh ? But there’s little danger of his coming back. They know he’s a traitor, and he knows he ’d be hung. If he’s alive he ’ll stay where he is. Cheer up ! Take my word, Olivier Delagarde has only himself to fear.” He put out his hand. “ Good - by ! We ’ll meet again, if we both live. If ever I can do anything for you, if you ever want to find me, come or send to — No, I ’ll write it,” he suddenly added, and he scribbled something on a piece of paper.
Ranulph took it, and, scarce looking at the address, put it into his pocket.
They parted with another hand-shake, Détrieand making his way down into the Rue d’Egypte and toward the Place du Vier Prison.
Ranulph stood looking at the crowd before him dazedly, misery, revolt, and bitterness in his heart. He who had deserved well of fate, he must live a life of shame and deception, he must feel the ground of his home and his honor crumbling beneath his feet, through no fault of his own. This French adventurer, Détricand, after years of riotous living, could pick up the threads of life again with a laugh and no shame, while he felt himself going down, down, down, with no hope of rising.
As he stood buried in his reflections the town crier entered the Vier Marchi, and going to La Pyramide took his place upon the steps of it, and in a loud voice began reading a proclamation.
It was to the effect that the great fishing company trading to Gaspé needed twenty Jersiais to go out and replace a number of the company’s officers and men who had been drowned in a gale off the rock called Pereé. To these twenty, if they went at once, good pay and rapid promotion would be given. But they must be men of intelligence and force, of well-known character and vigor.
The critical moment in Maitre Ranulph’s life came now. Here he was penned up in a little island with a criminal who had the reputation of a martyr. It was not to be borne. Why not leave it all behind? Why not let his father shift for himself, abide his own fate ? Why not leave him the home, what money he had laid by, and go — go — go where he could forget, go where he could breathe ? Surely self-preservation was the first law; surely no known code of human opinion or practice called upon him to share the daily crimes of any living soul, — it was a daily repetition of his crime for this traitor to maintain the atrocious lie of patriotism.
He would go : it was his right.
Taking a few steps forward toward the officer of the company, who stood by the crier, he was about to speak. Some one touched him.
He turned and saw Carterette. She had divined his intention, and though she was in the dark as to the motive, she saw that he wished to go to Gaspé. Her heart seemed to contract till the pain of it hurt her; then, as a thought flashed into her mind, it was freed again, and began to pound hard against her breast. She must prevent him from leaving Jersey, from leaving her. What she might feel personally would have no effect upon him ; she would appeal to him from a different standpoint.
“ You must not go,” she said. “ You must not leave your father alone, Maître Ranulph.”
For a minute he did not speak. Through his dark wretchedness one thought pierced its way : this girl was his good friend.
“ I ’ll take him with me,” he replied.
“ He would die in the awful cold,” she answered. “ Nannin-gia, you must stay.”
“ Eh ben ! ” he said presently, with an air of heavy resignation, and, turning, walked away.
Her eyes followed him. As she went back to her booth she smiled : he had come one step her way.
When Détricand left the Vier Marchi, he made his way along the Rue d’Egypte to the house of M. de Mauprat. The front door was open, and he could see through to the kitchen, whence came a voice singing an old chanson in the quaint Jersey patois : —
Man cotillon va-t-i bain ?
I va chin, i va là,
I va fort bain comm’ i va.”
Détricand listened for a moment, very well pleased. Guida was singing at her work, — singing unconsciously; for sometimes a line was dropped or broken off, and the verse picked up again after a slight pause. A nice savor of boiling fruit came from within, and altogether the place was so white and clean, so sweet and comfortable, that Détricand would have waited longer at the doorway had he been an older friend in this house. He knocked, and Guida appeared, her sleeves rolled up to her elbows, her fingers stained with the rich red of the black raspberries which she was making into a preserve. Her face was alight with some inward pleasure, her eyes were as blue as the sea. She was slightly flushed with her work, and yet somehow she looked cool and fresh, a wonder of perfect health.
A curious shade of disappointment came into her face when she saw who it was. It was clear to Détricand that she expected some one else ; it was also clear that his coming gave no especial pleasure to her, though she looked at him not without interest. She had thought of him more than once since that day when the famous letter to the chevalier was read, and she had wondered if he had succeeded in getting the message to the Comte de Tournay. She had also instinctively compared him, this ribald, roistering, notorious fellow, with Philip d’Avranche, — Philip the brave, the ambitious, the conquering. She was sure that Philip had never overdrunk himself in his life ; and now, looking into the face of Détricand, she was sure that he had been drinking again. One thing was apparent, however : he was better dressed than she remembered ever to have seen him, —better pulled together and more alert in movement, and bearing himself with an air of purpose. But there still was that curious gray whiteness under the eyes, telling of recent dissipation. There was also the red scar along his temple, showing the track of the bullet fired at him in the Place du Vier Prison two weeks before.
“ I’ve fetched back your handkerchief. You tied up my head with it, you know,” he said, taking it from his pocket. “ I ’m going away, and I wanted to thank you and return it to you.”
“ Come in, will you not, monsieur ? ”
He readily entered the kitchen, still holding the handkerchief in his hand, but he did not give it to her.
“ Where will you sit ? ” she said, looking round. “ I’m very busy. You must n’t mind my working,” she added, going back to the fire. “This preserve will spoil if I don’t watch it.”
He seated himself on the veille, and nodded his head.
“ I like this. I ’m fond of kitchens ; I always was. When I was fifteen, I was sent away from home because I liked the stables and the kitchen too well. I remember I fell in love with the cook.”
Guida flushed, frowned, her lips tightened ; then presently a look of amusement broke over her face, and she burst out laughing.
“ Why do you tell me these things? ” she said. “ Excuse me, monsieur, but why do you always tell unpleasant things about yourself ? People think ill of you, and otherwise they might think — better.”
“ I don’t want them to think better till I am better,” he answered. “ The only way I can prevent myself becoming a sneak is by blabbing my faults. Now, I was drunk last night, — very, very drunk.”
A look of disgust came into her face. “ Why do you relate this sort of thing to me, monsieur ? Do — do I remind you of the cook at home, or of an oystergirl in Jersey ? ”
She was flushed, but her voice was clear and vibrant, the look of the eyes direct and fearless. How dared he hold her handkerchief like that!
“ I tell you them,” he replied slowly, locking at the handkerchief in his hand, then raising his eyes to hers steadily and with whimsical gravity, “ because I want you to ask me never to drink again.”
She looked at him, scarcely comprehending, yet feeling a deep compliment somewhere; for this man was a gentleman by birth, and his manner was respectful now, and had always been respectful to her.
“ Why do you want me to ask you that?” she said.
“ Because I ’m going to France to join the war of the Vendée, and ” —
“ With the Comte de Tournay ? ” she interrupted.
He nodded his head. “ And if I thought I was keeping a promise to a woman of the right sort, I’d not break it. Anyhow, whatever my motive, I want to make it to you.”
“I’m only a girl,—not a woman,” she said.
“ You ’ll be a woman when I see you again,” he returned. “ Will you ask me to promise ? ” he persisted, watching her intently.
“ Why, of course,” she answered kindly, almost gently ; the compliment was so friendly, he could not be all bad.
“ Then say my name, and ask me,” he said.
“ Monsieur ” —
“ Leave out the 舠 monsieur,’ ” he interrupted.
“Yves Sava’ry dit Détricand, will you promise me, Guida Landresse ” —
“ De Landresse,” he interposed.
— “ Guida Landresse de Landresse, that you will never again drink wine to excess, and that you will never do anything that any right sort of woman would not like a man to do ? ”
“ On my honor I promise,” he said slowly ; “ and I ’ll keep the promise, too, because Guida Landresse has asked me.”
A strange feeling came over her. All at once, in some indirect, allusive way, she had become interested in a man’s life. Yet she had done nothing, and in truth she cared nothing. They stood looking at each other, she slightly embarrassed, he hopeful and eager, when suddenly a step sounded without, a voice called, “ Guida ! ” and as Guida colored and Détricand turned toward the door, Philip d’Avranche entered impetuously.
He stopped short on seeing Détricand. They knew each other slightly, and they bowed. Philip frowned. He saw that something had occurred between the two. Détricand, on his part, realized the significance of that familiar “ Guida! ” which had been called from outside.
He took up his cap. “It is greeting and good-by. I am just off for France.”
Philip eyed him coldly and not a little maliciously, for he knew Détricand’s reputation well; the signs of a hard life were thick on him, and he did not like to think of Guida being alone with him.
“ France should offer a wide field for your talents just now,” he said dryly; “ they seem wasted here.”
Détricand’s eye flashed, but he answered coolly, “ It was not talent that brought me here, but a boy’s waywardness and folly ; it’s not talent that has kept me from starving here, I’m afraid, but the ingenuity of the desperate.”
“ Why stay here ? The world was wide, and France was a step away. You would not have needed talents there. You would no doubt have been rewarded by the court which sent you and Rullecour to ravage Jersey ” —
“ The proper order is, Rullecour and me, monsieur.”
Détricand seemed suddenly to have got back a manner to which he had been long a stranger. His temper became imperturbable, and this was not lost on Philip ; his manner had a well-bred distinction and balanced serenity, while Philip himself had no such perfect control, which made him the more impatient and angry. Détricand added, in a composed and nonchalant tone, “ I 've no doubt there were those at court who ’d have clothed me in purple and fine linen, and given me wine and milk, but it was my whim to work in the galleys here, as it were.”
“ Then I trust you have enjoyed your Botany Bay, monsieur,” rejoined Philip mockingly. “You have been your own jailer : you could lay the strokes on heavy or light.” He moved to the veille, and threw a leg across a corner of it. Guida busied herself at the fireplace, but listened intently.
“ I 've certainly been my own enemy, whether the strokes were heavy or light,” replied Détricand, with strange candor, and lifting a shoulder slightly.
“ And a friend to Jersey at the same time, eh ? ” was the sneering retort.
Détricand was quite in the humor to tell the truth even to this man who hated him. He was giving himself the luxury of auricular confession. But Philip did not see that when once such a man has stood in his own pillory and sat in his own stocks, he has voluntarily given satisfaction to the law and paid the piper, and will take no after-insult.
Détricand still would not be tempted out of his composure. 舠No,” he answered, “ I’ve been an enemy to Jersey, too, both by act and by example ; but people here have been kind enough to forget the act, and the example I set is not unique.”
“ You’ve never thought that you 've outstayed your welcome, eh ? ”
“ As to that, every country is free to whoever wills, if one cares to pay the entrance fee and can endure the entertainment. One has n’t to apologize for living in a country. You probably get no better treatment than you deserve, and no worse. One thing balances another.”
The man’s composure of manner, his cool impeachment and defense of himself, intensely irritated Philip, the more so because Guida was present, and this gentlemanly vagrant seemed to have placed him at disadvantage.
“ You paid no entrance fee here ; you stole in through a hole in the wall. You should have been hung.”
“ Monsieur d’Avranche ! ” said Guida reproachfully, turning round from the fire.
Détricand’s answer came biting and dry : “ You are an officer of your King, as was I. You should know that hanging the invaders of Jersey would have been butchery. We were soldiers of France; we had the honor of being treated as prisoners of war, monsieur.”
This shot went home. Philip had been touched in that nerve called military honor. He got to his feet.
“ You are right,” he answered, with a reluctant frankness. “ Our grudge is not individual; it is against France, and we ’ll pay it soon with good interest, monsieur! ”
“ The individual grudge will not be lost sight of in the general, I hope ? ” rejoined Détricand, with cool suggestion, his clear, persistent gray eye looking coldly into Philip’s.
“ I shall do you that honor,” said Philip, with a mistaken disdain.
Détricand bowed low. “You shall always find me in the suite of the Prince of Vaufontaine, monsieur, and ready to be so distinguished by you.” Turning to Guida, he added, “ Mademoiselle will perhaps do me the honor to notice me again, one day ? ” Then, with a mocking nod to Philip, he left the house.
Philip and Guida stood looking after him in silence for a minute. Suddenly Guida said to herself, “ My handkerchief ! Why did he take my handkerchief ? He put it into his pocket again.”
Philip turned on her impatiently. “ What was that adventurer saying to you, Guida? Prince of Vaufontaine indeed ! What did he come here for ? ”
Guida looked at him for an instant in surprise. She scarcely grasped the significance of the question. Before she had time to consider he pressed it again, and without hesitation she told him all that had happened — it was so very little, of course — between Détricand and herself. She omitted nothing save that Détricand had carried off the handkerchief, and she could not have told, if she had been asked, why she did not mention this.
Philip raged inwardly. He saw the meaning of the whole situation from Déricand’s standpoint, but he was wise enough from his own standpoint to keep it to himself; and so each of them reserved something, — she from no motive that she knew, he from an ulterior one. He was angry, too, — angry at Détricand, angry at Guida for her very innocence, and because she had caught and held even this slight line of association which Détricand had thrown.
Yet in any case Déricand was going to-morrow, and to-day — to-day should decide all between Guida and himself. Used to bold moves, in this affair of love he was living to his custom ; and the encounter with Détricand added the last touch to his resolution, nerved him to follow his strong impulse to set all upon one hazard. Two weeks ago he had told Guida that he loved her; to-day there should be a still more daring venture, — a thing which was not captured by a kind of forlorn hope seemed not worth having. The girl had seized his emotions from the first moment, and had held them. She was the most original creature he had ever met, the most natural, the most humorous in temper, the most sincere. She had no duplicity, no guile, no arts.
He said to himself that he knew his own mind always, he believed in inspirations : very well, he would back his knowledge, his inspiration, by an irretrievable move. Yesterday he had received an important communication from his commander : that had decided him, and to-day a still more important communication should be made to Guida.
“ Won’t you come into the garden ? ” he said presently.
“ A moment — a moment! ” She answered him lightly, for the frown had passed from his face, and he was his old buoyant self again. At this time in his life he was not capable of sustained gloom. “ I 'm to make an end to this bashin of berries first,” she added. So saying, she waved him away with a little air of tyranny. He perched himself boyishly on the big chair in the corner, and began playing with the flax on the spinning-wheel near by and swinging his feet with idle impatience. Then he took to humming a ditty which the Jersey housewife used to sing as she spun, while Guida disposed of the sweet-smelling fruit. Suddenly Guida stopped and stamped her foot.
“ No, no, that’s not right, stupid sailorman,” she said, and she sang a verse at him over the last details of her work :
The moon wheels full, and the tide flows
And your wedding-dress you must put it on
Ere the night hath no moon in the sky —
Gigoton Mergaton, spin ! ”
She paused. He was entranced. He had never heard her sing, and the full, beautiful notes of her contralto voice thrilled him like organ music. His look devoured her, her song captured him.
“ Please go on,” he begged. “ I never heard it that way.”
She was embarrassed yet delighted with his praise, and she threw into the next verse a deep weirdness : —
Your gown shall be stitched ere the old
moon fade :
The age of a moon shall your hands spin on,
Or a wife in her shroud shall be laid —
Gigoton Mergaton, spin ! ”
“Yes, yes, that’s it! ” he exclaimed, with gay ardor. “ That’s it. Sing on. There are two more verses.”
“ I ’ll only sing one,” she answered, with a little air of willfulness : —
The Little Good Folk the spell they have
By your work well done while the moon hath
Ye shall cleave unto joy at last —
Gigoton Mergaton, spin ! ”
As she sang the last verse she appeared in a dream, and her rich voice, rising with the spirit of the concluding lines, poured out the notes like a bird drunk with the air of spring.
“ Guida,” he cried, springing to his feet, “ when you sing like that, it seems to me that I live in a world that has nothing to do with the sordid business of life, with my dull craft, with getting the weather-gauge or sailing in triple line ! You 're a planet all by yourself, Mistress Guida! Are you ready to come into the garden ? ”
“ Yes, yes, in a minute,” she answered. “You go out to the big apple-tree, and I 'll come in a minute.”
The apple-tree was in the farthest corner of the large garden. Beehives and currant bushes hid it on one side, and from the other you looked over a low wall to the grim pillars on the Mont ès Pendus, which, despite their horrid associations, appeared like Druidic monuments ; while the hill and the fields around the hill were as green and as sweet as this garden itself. Near to the apple-tree was the little summer-house where Guida and her mother used to sit and read: Guida on the three-legged stool, her mother on the low, wide seat covered with ferns. This place Guida used to flourish with flowers. The vines crept through the rough lattice - work, and all together made the place a bower, secluded and serene. The water of the little stream outside the hedge made music, too.
Not here, but on the bench beneath the apple-tree Philip placed himself. What a change was all this, he thought, from the staring hot stones of Malta, the squalor of Constantinople, the frigid cliffs of Spitzbergen, the noisome tropical forests of the Indies ! This was Arcady ; it was peace and it was content. His life was bound to be varied and perhaps stormy, — this would be the true change; that is, the spirit of this would be. Of course he would have two sides to his life, like most men : that which was lived before the world, and that which was of the home. He would have the fight for fame. In that he would have to use, not duplicity, but diplomacy, to play a kind of game ; but this other side to his life, the side of love and home, should be simple, direct, — all genuine and strong and true. In this way he would have a wonderful career, and Guida should be in that career.
He heard her footstep now, and, standing up, he parted the apple boughs for her entrance. She was dressed all in white, without a touch of color save the wild rose at her throat, and the pretty red shoes with the broad buckles which M. de Mauprat bad purchased of Elie Mattingley and given to her on her birthday. Her face, too, had color, — the soft, warm tint of the peach blossom,— and her auburn hair was like an aureole.
Philip’s eyes gleamed. He stretched out both his hands in greeting and tenderness.
“ Guida — sweetheart! ”
She laughed up at him mischievously, and put her hands behind her back.
“Ma fé! you are so very forward,” she said, seating herself on the bench. “ And you must not call me Guida, and you have no right to call me sweetheart.”
“ I know I’ve no right to call you anything, but to myself I always call you Guida and sweetheart too, and I’ve liked to think that you would care to know my thoughts.”
“Yes, I wish I knew your thoughts,” she responded, looking up at him seriously and intently. “ I should like to know every thought in your mind. . . . Do you know — you don’t mind my saying just what I think ? — I find myself feeling that there’s something in you that I never touch ; I mean, that a friend ought to touch, if it’s a real friendship. Yon appear to be so frank, and I know you are frank and good and true, and yet I seem always to be hunting for something in your mind, and it slips away from me always — always. I suppose it’s because we ’re two different beings, and no two beings can ever know each other in this world, not altogether. We ’re what the chevalier calls ‘separate entities.’ I seem to understand better lately his odd, wise talk. He said the other day, ‘ Lonely we come into the world, and lonely we go out of it.’ That’s what I mean. It makes me shudder sometimes, — that part of us which lives alone forever. We go running on as happy as can be, like Biribi there in the garden, and all at once we stop short at a hedge, as he does there, — a hedge just too tall to look over, and with no foothold for climbing. That’s what I want so much: I want to look over the Hedge.”
How strong and fine her brow was! How perfectly clear the eye ! How natural and powerful the intelligence of the face! When she spoke like this to Philip, as she sometimes did, she seemed quite unconscious that he was a listener ; it was rather as if he were part of her and thinking the same thoughts. Philip had never bothered his head in that way about serious or abstract things, when he was her age, and he could not understand it. What was more, he could not have thought as she did if he had tried. She had that sort of mind which accepts no stereotyped reflection or idea ; she worked things out for herself. Her words were her own. She was not imitative, nor yet was she bizarre ; she was individual, simple, and inquiring.
“ That’s the thing that hurts most in life,” she added presently, —“ that trying to find and not being able to. Ah, voilà, what a child I am to babble so ! ” she broke off, with a little laugh, which had, however, a plaintive note. There was a touch of undeveloped pathos in her character, for she had been left alone too young, been given responsibility too soon.
He knew he must say something, and in a sympathetic tone he said, “Yes, Guida ; but after a while we stop trying to follow and see and find, and we walk in the old paths and take things as they are.”
“ Have you stopped ? ” she asked wistfully.
“ Oh no, not altogether,” he replied, dropping his tones to tenderness, “ for I ’ve been trying to peep over a hedge this afternoon, and I have n’t done it yet.”
“ Have you ? ” she rejoined ; then paused, for the look in his eyes embarrassed her. 舠 Why do you look at me like that ? ” she asked tremulously.
“ Guida,” he said earnestly, leaning toward her, “ two weeks ago I asked you if you would listen to me when I told you of my love, and you said you would. Well, sometimes when we have met since I have told you the same story, and you have kept your promise and listened. Guida, I want to keep on telling you the same story for a long time, — even till you or I die.”
“ Do you, — ah, then, do you ? ” she asked simply. “ Do you really wish that ? ”
“ It is the dearest wish of my life, and always will be,” he added, taking her unresisting hands.
“ I like to hear you say it,” she answered simply, “ and it cannot be wrong, can it ? Is there any wrong in my listening to you? Yet why do I feel that it is not quite right ? Sometimes I do feel that.”
“ One thing will make all right,” he said eagerly, “ one thing. I love you, Guida, love you devotedly. Do you — tell me — do you love me ? Do not fear to tell me, dearest, for then will come the thing that makes all right.”
“ I do not know,” she responded, her heart beating fast, her eyes drooping before him ; “ but when you go from me, I am not happy till I see you again. When you are gone, I want to be alone, that I may remember all that you have said, and say it over to myself again. When I hear you speak, I want to shut my eyes, I am so happy ; and every word of mine seems clumsy when you talk to me; and I feel of how little account I am beside you. Is that love, Philip ? Philip, do you think that is love ? ”
They were standing now. The fruit that hung above Guida’s head was not fairer and sweeter than she. Philip drew her to him, and her eyes lifted to his.
“ Is that love, Philip ?” she repeated. “ Tell me, for I do not know ; it has all come so soon. You are wiser ; do not deceive me ; you understand, and I do not. Philip, do not let me deceive myself.”
“ As the judgment of life is before us, I believe that you love me, Guida, though I don’t deserve it,” he answered, with tender seriousness.
“And it is right that you should love me, — that we should love each other, Philip ? ”
“ It will be right soon,” he returned, “ right forever. . . . Guida, I want you to marry me.”
His arm tightened round her waist, as though he half feared she would fly from him. He was right; she made a motion backward, but he held her firmly, tenderly.
“ Marry — marry you, Philip ! ” she exclaimed, in trembling dismay.
It was true, she had never thought of that; there had not been time. Too much had come all at once.
“ Marry me, — yes, marry me, Guida. That will make all right; that will bind us together forever. Have you never thought of that ? ”
“ Oh, never, never ! ” she replied, impatient to set him right. “ Why should I ? I cannot, cannot do it. Oh, it could not be, — not at least for a long, long time, not for years and years, Philip.”
“ Guida,” he said, gravely and persistently, “ I want you to marry me tomorrow.”
She was overwhelmed. She could scarcely speak. “ To-morrow — to-morrow, Philip ! You are laughing at me. I could not — how could I marry you to-morrow ? ”
“ Guida dearest,” — he took her hands more tightly now, — “ you must, Guida. The day after to-morrow my ship is going to Portsmouth for two months ; then we return again here. But I will not go now unless I go as your husband.”
“ Oh no, I could not; it is impossible, Philip ! It is madness, it is wrong ! My grandfather ” —
“ Your grandfather need not know, sweetheart.”
“ How can you say such wicked things, Philip? ”
“ My dearest, it is not necessary for him to know. I don’t want any one to know until I come back from Portsmouth. Then I shall have a ship of my own, — commander of the Araminta I shall be then. I have word from the Admiralty to that effect. But I dare not let them know that I am married until I get commissioned to my ship. The Admiralty has set its face against lieutenants marrying.”
“Then do not marry, Philip. You ought not, you see.”
Her pleading was like the beating of helpless wings against the bars of a golden cage.
“ But I must marry you, Guida. A sailor’s life is uncertain, and what I want I want now. When I come back from Portsmouth every one shall know, but if you love me — and I know you do — you must marry me to-morrow. Until I come back no one shall know about it except the clergyman, the Reverend Lorenzo Dow, of St. Michael’s, — I have seen him, — and Shoreham, a brother officer of mine. Ah, you must, Guida, you must! Whatever is worth doing is better worth doing at the time one’s own heart says. I want it more, a thousand times more, than I ever wanted anything in my life ! ”
She looked at him in a troubled sort of way. Somehow she felt wiser than he at that moment, wiser and stronger, though she scarcely defined the feeling to herself, though she knew that her brain would yield to her heart in this.
“ Would it make you so much happier, Philip ? ” she said, more kindly than joyfully, more in grave acquiescence than in delighted belief and anticipation.
“ Yes, on my honor, — supremely happy ! ”
“ You are afraid that otherwise — by some chance — yon might lose me?” She said it tenderly, yet with a little pain.
“ Yes, yes, that is it, Guida dearest! ” he replied.
“ I suppose women are different altogether from men,” she returned. “ I could have waited ever so long, believing that you would come again, and that I should never lose you. But men are different: I see, yes, I see that, Philip.”
“ We are more impetuous. We know, we sailors, that now — to-day — is our time ; that to-morrow may be Fate’s, and Fate is a fickle jade : she beckons you up with one hand to-day, and waves you down with the other to-morrow.”
“ Philip.” she said, scarcely above a whisper, and putting her hands on his arms, as her head sank toward him, “ I must be honest with you ; I must be that, or nothing at all. I do not feel as you do about it; I can’t. I would much — much — rather everybody knew. And I feel it almost wrong that they do not.” She paused a minute ; her brow clouded slightly, then cleared again, and she went on bravely : “ Philip, I want you to promise me that you will leave me just as soon as we are married, and that you will not try to see me until you come again from Portsmouth. I am sure that is right, for the deception will not then be so great. I should be better able then to tell the poor grandfather ! Will you promise me, Philip — dear ? It — it is so hard for me! Ah, can’t you understand ? ”
This hopeless everlasting cry of a woman’s soul!
He clasped her close. “ Yes, Guida, my heart, I understand, and I promise you, — I promise you.”
Her head dropped on his breast, her arms ran round his neck. He raised her face ; her eyes were closed, — they were dropping tears. He tenderly kissed the tears away.
I pray you, Monseigneur ;
The king’s princess doth ride to-day,
And I ride forth with her.
Oh, I will ride the maid beside
Till we come to the sea,
Till my good ship receive my hride,
And she sail far with me.
Oh, donnez-moi ma gui-l’année,
Monseigneur, je vous prie ! 舡
The singer was perched on a huge broad stone, which, lying athwart several tall perpendicular stones, made a kind of hut, approached by a pathway of other upright narrow pillars, irregular and crude, such as a child might build in miniature with ragged blocks or bricks. Yet, standing alone on the little cliff overlooking the sea, the primeval structure had a sort of rude nobleness and dignity. How vast must have been the labor of man’s hands to lift the massive table of rock upon the supporting shafts, — relics of an age when they were the only architecture, national monuments, memorials, and barbaric mausoleums ; when savage ancestors in lion-skins, with stone weapons of war, led by white-robed Druid priests, came here and left the mistletoe wreath upon these Houses of Death builded for their adored warriors. As though some protecting spirit were guarding them through the ages, no human habitation is near them, no modern machinery of life touches them with sordid irony or robs them of their lonely pride of years. Castles and towers and forts, Rollo’s and Cæsar’s, have passed, but these remain.
Monseigneur, je vous prie ! 舡
Even this song sung by the singer on the rock carried on the ancient story, the sacred legend that he who wore in his breast the mistletoe got from the Druids’ altar, bearing his bride forth by sea or land, should suffer no mischance ; and for the bride herself, the morgengifn should fail not, but should attest richly the perfect bliss of the nuptial hours.
The light had almost gone from the day, though the last glittering crimson petals had scarce dropped from the rose of sunset. Upon the sea there was not a ripple; it was a lake of molten silver, shading into a leaden silence far away. The tide was high, and the ragged rocks of the Banc des Violets in the south and the Corbière in the west were all but hidden. Only two or three showed their heads placidly above the flow. Who might think that these rocky fields of the main had been covered with dead men, like any field of battle ? Less merciful than the earth, the sea quickly and furtively drags its dead men out of sight, after maltreating and shamelessly disgracing their ruined bodies, leaving the fields of rock and reef deceitfully smiling and forever relentlessly lying in wait; while the just earth in kindness covers and protects those who die within her boundaries. Her warring children ravaging her fields and valleys and hills no longer, — their own bodies nourish her into benignant peace again.
No more the sword they wield;
But oh, how deep the corn upon the battlefield ! ”
Below the mound where the tuneful youth loitered was a path, which led down through the fields and into the highway. In this path walked lingeringly a man and a maid. Despite the peaceful, almost dormant life about them, the great event of their lives had just occurred, that which is at once a vast adventure and a simple testament of nature : they had been joined in marriage in the parish church of St. Michael’s, near by. As the voice of the singer came down to them now, the two glanced up, then passed out of view.
But still the voice followed them, and the man looked down at the maid, repeating the refrain: —
Monseigneur, je vous prie ! ”
The maid looked at the man tenderly, almost devoutly.
“ I have no Druid’s mistletoe from the chapel of St. George, but I will give you, — stoop down, Philip, — I will give you the first kiss I have ever given to any man.”
He stooped. She kissed him on the forehead, then upon the cheek, and lastly upon the lips.
“ Guida, my wife ! ” Philip said, and drew her to his breast.
“ My Philip ! ” she answered softly.
“Won’t you say, ‘Philip, my husband ’ ? ”
She did as he asked, in a voice no louder than a bee’s.
Presently she said, a little abashed, a little anxious, yet tender withal, “ Philip, I wonder what we shall think of this day a year from now ? No, don’t frown ; you look at things differently from me. To-day is everything to you; to-morrow is very much to me. It is n’t that I am afraid ; it is that thoughts of possibilities will come, whether one likes it or not. If I could n’t tell you everything, I feel I should be most unhappy. You see, I want to be able to do that,'—to tell you everything.”
“Of course, of course,” he said, not quite comprehending her, for his thoughts were always more material. He was reveling in the beauty of the girl before him, in her perfect outward self, in her unique personality ; the more subtle and the deeper part of her, the searching soul never in this world to be satisfied with superficial reasons and the obvious cause, — these he did not know; was he ever to know ? It was the law of her nature that she was never to deceive herself, to pretend anything, nor to offer pretense. To see things, to look beyond the hedge, — that was to be a passion with her ; already it was nearly that. But she was very young ; she was yet to pass through the sacred and terrifying ordeal of linking her life past all recall to another’s, soul and body. “.Of course,” Philip continued, “ you must tell me everything, and I 'll understand. And as for what we 'll think of this in another year, why, does n’t it stand to reason that we ’ll think it the best day of our lives — as it is, Guida!" He smiled at her, and touched her soft hair. “ Evil can’t come out of good, can it ? And this is good, —as good as anything in the world can be. . . . There, look into my eyes that way, — just that way.”
“Are you happy, very, very happy, Philip ? ” she asked.
“ Perfectly happy, Guida,” he answered ; and in truth he seemed so, his eyes were so bright, his face so eloquent, his bearing so buoyant.
“And you think we have done quite right, Philip ? ” she asked earnestly.
“ Of course, of course we have. We are honorably disposing of our own fates. We love each other. We are married as surely as other people are married. Where is the wrong? We have told no one, simply because, for a couple of months, it is best not to do so. The clergyman would n’t have married us if there’d been anything wrong.”
“ Oh, it is n’t what the clergyman might think that I mean ; it’s what we ourselves think, down, down deep in our hearts. If you, Philip, if you say it is all right, I will believe that it is right; for you would not want your wife to have one single wrong thing, like a dark spot, on her life with you, would you ? If it is all right to you, it must be all right for me ; don’t you see ? ”
He did see that, and it made him grave for an instant; it made him not quite so sure.
“ If your mother were alive,” he said, “ of course she should have known ; but it was n’t necessary for your grandfather to know : he talks ; he could n’t keep it to himself even for a month. But we have been properly married by a clergyman ; we have a witness, — Shoreham over there ” (he pointed toward the Druids’ cromlech where the young man was singing) ; “ and it concerns only us now, — just you and me.”
“ But if anything happened to you during the next two months, Philip, and you did not come back! ”
“ My dearest, dearest Guida,” he answered, taking her hands in his and laughing boyishly, “ in that case you will announce the marriage. Shoreham and the clergyman are witnesses ; besides, there’s the certificate which Mr. Dow will give you to-morrow ; and, above all, there ’s the formal record on the parish register. There, little critic and sweetest interrogation mark in the world, there is the law and the gospel. Come, come, let us be gay ; let this be the happiest hour we’ve yet had in all our lives.”
“ How can I be altogether gay, Philip, when we part now, and I shall not see you for two whole long months?舡
“ May n’t I see you just for a minute to-morrow morning, before I go ? ”
“ No, no, oh no, Philip, you must not ; indeed, you must not! Remember your promise ; remember that you were not to see me again until you came back from Portsmouth. Even this is not quite what we agreed, for you are still with me, and we’ve been married nearly half an hour! ”
“ Perhaps we were married a thousand years ago, — I don’t know ! ” he answered, drawing her to him. “ It’s all a magnificent dream so far.”
“You must go, you must keep your word. Don’t break the first promise you ever made me, Philip.”
She did not say it very reproachfully, for his look was ardent and worshipful, and she could not be even a little austere in her new joy.
“ I am going,” he said. “ We will go back to the town : I by the road, you by the shore, so no one will see us, and ” —
舠 Philip,” said Guida suddenly, “ is it just the same, being married without banns ? ”
His laugh had again a boyish ring of delight. “ Of course, just the same, my doubting fay. Don’t be frightened about anything. Now promise me that: will you promise me ? ”
She looked at him a moment steadily, her eyes lingering on his face with great tenderness, and then she said, “ Yes, Philip; I will not trouble nor question any longer. I will only believe that everything is all right. Say good-by to me, Philip. I am happy now, but if — if you stay any longer — ah, please, please go, Philip ! ”
A minute afterward Philip and Shoreham were entering the highroad, waving their handkerchiefs to her as they went.
She was now seated on the Druids’ cromlech where Philip’s friend had sat, and, with swimming eyes and smiling lips, she watched the young men until they were lost to view. Her eyes lingered on the road long after the two had passed ; but presently they turned toward the sea, and thoughts began to flash through her mind, many at once, some new, none quite the same as had ever come to her before. She was growing to a new consciousness; a new glass through which to see life was quickly being adjusted to her inner sight.
Her eyes wandered over the sea. How immense it was, how mysterious ! How it begot in one feelings both of love and of fear! She was not at this moment in sympathy with its wonderful calm. There had been times when she had seemed of it, part of it, absorbed by it, till it flowed over her soul and wrapped her in a sleep of content. Now it was different. Mystery and the million happenings of life lay hidden in that far silver haze. It was on the brink of such a sea that her mind appeared to be hovering now. Nothing was defined, nothing was clear. She was too agitated to think; life, being, was one wide, vague sensation, partly of delight, partly of trepidation. Everything had a bright tremulousness. This mystery was not dark clouds; it was a shaking, glittering mist; and yet there came from it an air which made her pulse beat hard, her breath come with joyous lightness.
Many a time, with her mother, she had sat upon the shore at St. Aubin’s Bay, and looked out where white sails fluttered like the wings of restless doves ; then nearer, maybe just beneath her, there had risen the keen singing of the saw, and she could see the white flash of the adze as it shaped the beams; the skeleton of a noble ship being covered with its flesh of wood, and veined with iron ; the tall masts quivering to their places as the workmen hauled at the pulleys, singing snatches of patois rhymes. She had seen more than one ship launched, and a strange shiver of pleasure and of pain had gone through her ; for as the water caught the graceful figure of the vessel, and the wind bellied out the sails, it seemed to her as if some ship of her own hopes were going out between the rocks and the reefs to the open sea. What would the ship bring back to her ? Or would anything ever come back ?
The books of adventure, poetry, history, and mythology she had read with her mother had quickened her mind, had given her intuition, had made her temperament more sensitive — and her heart less peaceful. She suffered the awe of imagination, its delights and its penalties, the occasional contempt which it brings for one’s self, the frequent disdain of the world, the vicarious suffering, and the joys that pain. She was a pipe to be played on. In her was almost every note of human feeling : home and duty, song and gayety, daring and neighborly kindness, love of sky and sea and air and orchards, the good-smelling earth and wholesome animal life, and all the incidents, tragic, comic, or commonplace, of human existence.
How wonderful love was, she thought; how wonderful that so many millions who had loved had come and gone, and yet of all they felt they had spoken no word that laid bare the exact feeling to her or to any other. Every one must feel in order to know. The barbarians who had set up these stones she sat on, they had loved and hated, and everything they had dared or suffered was recorded — but where ? And who could know exactly what they felt ? There again the pain of life came to her, the universal agony, the trying to speak, to reveal ; and the proof, the hourly proof the wisest and most gifted have, that what they feel they cannot quite express, by sound, or by color, or by the graven stone, or by the spoken word. . . . But life was good, ah yes, and all that might be revealed to her she would pray for ; and Philip — her Philip — would help her to the revelation !
Her Philip ! Her heart gave a great throb, for the knowledge that she was a wife came home to her with a pleasant shock. Her name was no longer Guida Landresse de Landresse, but Guida d’Avranche. She had gone from one tribe to another ; she had been adopted, changed. A new life was begun.
She rose, slowly made her way down to the sea, and proceeded along the sands and shore paths to the town.
Presently a large vessel, with new sails, beautiful white hull, and gracious form, came slowly round a point. She shaded her eyes to look at it.
“ Why, it ’s the boat Maître Ranulph has launched to-day,” she said. Then she stopped suddenly. “ Poor Ranulph! poor Ro ! ” she added gently. She knew that he cared for her, loved her. Where had he been these two weeks past ? She had not seen him once since that great day when they had visited the Ecréhos.
(To be continued.)