The Battle of the Strong
AT precisely the same moment, the next morning, two boats set sail from the south coast of Jersey, — one from Grouville Bay, one from the harbor of St. Helier’s — and both bound for the same point; but the first was to sail round the east coast of the island, and the second round the west coast. As to distance, little advantage was with either, the course of sailing practically making two sides of an acute-angled triangle. Once the boat leaving St. Helier’s had rounded the Corbière, the farther the two went, the nearer they should come to each other. The boat from Grouville Bay would have on her right the Ecréhos and the coast of France from Granville to Cap de la Hague, and the Dirouïlles in her course; the other would have the wide Atlantic on her left, and the Paternosters in her course. The two converging lines should meet at the island of Sark.
The boat leaving Grouville Bay was a yacht carrying twelve swivel-guns, bearing Admiralty dispatches to the Channel Islands. The boat from St. Helier’s harbor was a new yawl-rigged craft belonging to Jean Touzel. She was the fruit of ten years’ labor, and he called her the Hardi Biaou, which, in plain English, means “very beautiful.” This was the third time she had sailed under Jean’s hand. She carried two carronades, for war with France was in the air, and it was Jean’s whim to make a show of preparation. “ If the war-dogs come,” he said, “ my pups can bark too. If they don’t, why, glad and good ; the Hardi Biaou is big enough to hold the cough-drops.”
Bat Jean was quite sure that there would be war, for Easter had fallen in March this year ; and when that happened there must be pestilence, war, and famine. In any case, Jean was the true sailor; he was always ready for the chances of life. It was his custom to say that it was easy enough to find a good road when the cart was overturned. So he had his carronades on the Hardi Biaou.
The business of the yacht Dorset was important: that was why so small a boat was sent on the Admiralty’s affairs. Had she been a sloop, she might have attracted the attention of a French frigate or privateer wandering the seas in the interests of Vive la Nation ! The business of the yawl was quite unimportant: Jean Touzel was going to Sark with kegs of wine and tobacco for the seigneur, and to bring back whatever small cargo might be waiting for Jersey. The yacht Dorset had aboard her the Reverend Lorenzo Dow, an old friend of her commander. He was to be dropped at Sark, and was to come back with Jean Touzel in the Hardi Biaou, the matter having been arranged the evening before in the Vier Marchi. The Hardi Biaou had aboard her Maîtresse Aimable, Guida, and a lad to assist Jean in working the yawl. Guida counted as one of the crew, for there was little in the sailing of a boat she did not know.
As the Hardi Biaou was leaving the harbor of St. Helier’s, Jean told Guida that Lorenzo Dow was to join them in the journey back. She had a thrill of excitement: this man was privy to her secret; he was connected with her life history, —to how great purpose she was yet to know. Before the Hardi Biaou passed St. Brelade’s Bay she was lost in her thoughts : in picturing Philip on the Narcissus, in inwardly commenting upon the ambitious designs of his life What he might yet be who could tell! She had read more than a little of the doings of great naval commanders, both French and British. She knew how simple midshipmen had sometimes become admirals, and afterward peers of the realm.
Suddenly a new thought came to her. Suppose that Philip should rise to a very high place, should she be able to follow ? What had she seen ? What did she know ? What social opportunities had been hers ? How would she fit into an exalted station ?
Yet Philip had said that she could take her place anywhere with grace and dignity, and surely Philip knew. If she were gauche or crude in manners, he would not have cared for her; if she were not intelligent, he would scarcely have loved her. Of course she had read French and English to some purpose; she could speak Spanish, — her grandfather had taught her that; she could read Italian fairly, — she had read it aloud on Sunday evenings with the Chevalier du Champsavoys. Then there were Corneille, Shakespeare, Petrarch, Cervantes, — she had read them, and even Wace, the old Norman Jersey trouvère, whose Roman de Rou she knew almost by heart. Was she so very ignorant ?
Though, to be sure, what was a little knowledge like that to all Philip knew! Philip had seen nearly every country; he had spoken nearly every language; he knew astronomy, mathematics, history, all sorts of sciences ; and he knew the arts, too, for could he not draw delightfully ? Had he not shown her the model for a new kind of battleship that he was to bring to the notice of the Admiralty ? Had not the Admiralty commended some wonderful observations he had taken in the arctic seas, and had not the Royal Society in London made him a member because of these same observations ? Then as to ships and naval warfare, one day, as they were sitting in the garden, he had drawn forher in the sand a series of plans — one after the other — of naval engagements and that sort of thing. He had made a diagram of how a line of battle must be disposed, when the centre, or the van, or the middle of the wing is attacked; of how to lay an enemy thwart the hawse ; of how to set up a boom in a tideway ; of how to fortify upon a point; of how to dispose of fireships within booms; of how to make gabions before cannon, — and so on. It was surely wonderful, she thought. Then, too, how gentle and good-natured he always was in showing her everything and in explaining naval terms ; for her little knowledge of sea and ships went no farther than this coast of Jersey, and at the most the sailing of a small schooner. Indeed, but it was worth while doing something well, knowing one thing perfectly. It seemed to her that she knew nothing worth knowing.
There was only one thing to do:she must interest herself in what interested Philip; she must read what he read; she must study naval history; she must learn every little thing about a ship of war. Philip would be glad of that, for then he could talk with her of all he did at sea, and she would understand it.
And still, when, a few days ago, she had said to him that she did not know how she was going to be all that his wife ought to be, he had answered her, “ All I ask is that you be your own sweet self ; for it is just you that I want, you with your own thoughts and opinions and imaginings, and not a Guida who has dropped her own way of looking at things to take on some one else’s, — even mine. It’s the people who try to be who never are clever; the people who are clever never really try to be.”
Was Philip right? Was she really, in some way, a little bit clever ? She would like to believe so, for then she would be a better companion for him. How little she knew of Philip! Now, why did that thought always come up ? It made her shudder. They two would really have to begin with the A B C of understanding. To understand was breathing and life to her; it was a passion. She would never, could never, be satisfied with skimming the surface of life, as the gulls out there skimmed the water. Ah, how beautiful the morning was, and how the bracing air soothed her feverishness ! All this sky and air and uplifting sea were hers ; they fed her with their strength, — they were so companionable.
Since Philip had gone she had sat down a dozen times to write to him, but each time found she could not. She drew back from it because she wanted to empty out her heart, and yet somehow she dared not. She wanted to tell Philip all the feelings that possessed her, but how dared she write just what she felt, — love and bitterness, joy and indignation, exaltation and disappointment, all in one ? How was it these could all exist in a woman’s heart at once ? Was it because Love was greater than all, deeper than all, overpowered all, forgave all? Was that what women felt and did always ? Was that their lot, their destiny ? Must they begin in blind faith, be plunged into the darkness of disillusion, be shaken by the storm of emotion, and taste the sting in the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and then go on again the same, yet not the same ?
More or less indefinitely and vaguely these thoughts flitted through Guida’s mind. As yet her experiences were too new for her to fasten securely upon the meaning of them. In a day or two she would write to Philip freely and warmly of her love and of her hopes ; for maybe by that time nothing but joy and pleasure would be left in the caldron of feeling. There was a packet going to England in three days. —yes, she would wait for that. And Philip — alas ! a letter from him could not reach her for at least a fortnight; and then in another month after that he would be with her, and she would be able to tell the whole world that she was the wife of Commander Philip d’Avranche, of the good ship Araminta, — for that he was to be when he came again. Once commissioned, he could whistle at Admiralty prejudices and official whims concerning marriage and what not.
What would she not give just to see him, to hear him speak ! What did other wives do when they were separated from their husbands ? But then, was there ever another wife wed as she had been, to part from her husband on the wedding-day ? She had no custom to guide her, no knowledge save her own meagre experience of life to serve her, no counsel from any one to direct her : nothing except her own instinct and the feelings of her simple heart to prompt her.
She was not sad; indeed, she was almost happy, for her thoughts had brought her so close to Philip that she could feel his blue eyes looking at her, the strong clasp of his hand ; she could almost touch the brown hair waving back carelessly from the forehead, untouched by powder, in the fashion of the time; and she could hear his cheery laugh quite plainly. How foolish had been her dream the night before ! What mad, dreary fancies she had had !
St. Ouen’s Bay, L’Etacq, Plemont, dropped behind them as they sailed. They drew on to where the rocks of the Paternosters foamed to the unquiet sea. Far over between the Nez du Guet and the sprawling granite pack of the Dirouïlles was the Admiralty yacht winging to the northwest. Far beyond it, again, lay the coast of France, the tall white cliffs, the dark blue smoky curve ending in Cap de la Hague.
To-day there was something new in the picture of this coast of France. Against the far-off sands were some little black spots, seemingly no bigger than a man’s hand. Again and again Jean Touzel eyed these moving specks with serious interest; and Maîtresse Amiable eyed Jean, for Jean never looked so often at anything without good reason. If, perchance, he looked three times at her consecutively, she gaped with expectation, and hoped that he would tell her that her face was not so red to-day as usual, — a mark of rare affection.
Guida noticed Jean’s watchfulness, also. “ What is it that you see, Maître Jean ? ” she said.
“ Little black wasps, I think, ma’m’selle, — little black wasps that sting.”
Guida did not understand.
Jean gave a curious cackle, and continued : “ Ah, those wasps, — they have a sting so nasty.” He paused an instant ; then he added in a lower voice, and not quite so gayly, “That is the way that war begins.”
Guida’s fingers suddenly clenched the tiller rigidly. “War? Do — do you think that’s a French fleet, Maître Jean ? ”
“ Steadee — steadee — keep her head up, ma’m’selle,” he answered, for Guida had neglected her steering for the instant. “ Steadee — ah bah ! that’s right. I remember twenty years ago the black wasps they fly on the coast of France like that. Who can tell now ? ” He shrugged his shoulders. “ P’rhaps they have come out to play ; but see you, when there is trouble in the nest, it is my notion that wasps come out to sting. Look at France, now : they all fight each other there, ma finfre ! When folks begin to slap faces at home, look out when they get into the street. That is when the devil he have a grand fête.”
Guida’s face grew paler as he spoke. The eyes of Maîtresse Aimable were fixed on her now, and unconsciously the ponderous goodwife felt in that warehouse she called her pocket for her rosary. An extra bead was there for Guida, and one for another than Guida. But Maîtresse Aimable did more: she not only fumbled through the warehouse for her rosary, she dived into the well of silence for her voice, and for the first time in her life she showed impatience with Jean. As her voice came forth she colored and her cheeks expanded, and the words sallied out in puffs : —
“ Nannin, Jean, you smell shark when it is but herring ! And you cry wasp when the critchett sing! I will believe war when I see the splinters fly — me ! ”
Jean looked at his wife in astonishment. That was the longest speech he had ever heard her make. It was the first time, also, that her rasp of criticism had ever been applied to him, and with such asperity, too. He could not make it out. He looked from his wife to Guida ; then, suddenly arrested by the look in Guida’s face, he scratched his tousled head in despair and moved about in his seat.
“ Sit you still, Jean,” said his wife sharply ; “ you ’re like a pea on a hot griddle.”
This confused Jean beyond recovery, for never in his life had Aimable spoken to him like that. He saw there was something wrong, and he did not know whether to speak or to hold his tongue ; or, as he afterward said to himself, he “ did n’t know which eye to wink.” He adjusted his spectacles, and pulling himself together — for to a man nothing is more trying than a delicate situation — muttered, “ Sacré fumée, what’s all this ? ”
He knew Guida to have unusual nerve and courage. She was not a wisp of quality to shiver with terror at the first breath of danger ; but, bà sû, there was now in her face a sharp, fixed look of pain, in her eyes a bewildered anxiety.
Jean scratched his head still more. Nothing particular came of that. There was no good in trying to work the thing out suddenly ; he was not clever enough. His mention of the French fleet and possible war had roused his wife out of the still waters of twenty years’ good nature to shake a shower of irritability upon his foolish head, and had turned Guida from a cheerful aspect to a disconcerting seriousness. He resorted to man’s final proof to himself of his own intelligence, and said that it was the way of woman. Then out of an habitual good nature he tried to bring better weather fore and aft.
“Et ben,” said he, “in the dark you can’t tell a wasp from a honey-bee till he lights on you ; and that’s too far off, there,” — he jerked a finger toward the French shore, — “ to be certain sure. But if the wasp nip, you make him pay for it, the head and the tail — yes, I think — me. . . . There ’s the Eperquérie,” he added quickly, nodding in front of him toward the island of Sark, which lifted a green bosom above its perpendicular cliffs, with the pride of an affluent mother among her brood. Dowered by sun and softened by a delicate haze, like an exquisite veil of modesty, this youngest daughter of the isles lay among her kinsfolk in the emerald archipelago between the great seas.
The outlines of the coast grew plainer as the Hardi Biaou drew nearer and nearer. From end to end there was no harbor upon this southern side. There was no roadway, as it appeared, no pathway at all, up the overhanging cliffs. To Guida’s face, as she looked, the old charm of openness and pleasure and blitheness came back. Jean Touzel had startled her with his suggestions of war between England and France; for though she longed to have Philip win some great naval battle, yet the first natural thought was the peril of war, the personal danger to the man she loved. When Jean spoke of war, her heart seemed to shrink within her as shrinks the red anemone to the rock when touched by churlish finger. But the tides of her temperament were fast to flow as quick to ebb. The reaction from pain was in proportion to her splendid natural health. She had never seen Sark nearer than from Plemont, on the northwest shore of Jersey, and her eyes dwelt upon it now with the loving excitement of a spirit keenly sensitive to beauty.
There it was, —ridges of granite and fringes of tall gray and green cliff, belted with mist, crowned by sun, and fretted by the milky, upcasting surf, with little islands like outworks before it, some lying low and slumberously to the sea, as a dog lays its head in its paws and hugs the ground close, with vague, soft-blinking eyes. By the shore the air was white with gulls, flying and circling, rising and descending, shooting up straight into the air, their bodies smooth and long like the body of a babe in white samite, their feathering tails spread like fans, their wings expanding on the ambient air. In the tall cliffs were the sea-gulls’ nests of dried seaweed, fastened to the edges of rocky brackets on lofty ledges, the little ones within piping at the little ones without. Every point of rock had its sentinel gull, looking, looking out to sea, like some watchful defender of a mystic city. Piercing might be the cries of pain or of joy from the earth, more piercing were their cries ; dark and dreadful might be the woe of those who went down to the sea in ships, but they shrilled on, their yellow beaks still yellowing in the sun, keeping their everlasting watch and ward.
Now and again, other birds, dark, quick-winged, low-flying, shot in among the white companies of sea-gulls, and stretched their long necks, and turned their whirling, swift, cowardly eyes here and there, the cruel beak extended, the black body gorged with carrion. Black marauders among blithe birds of peace and joy, they watched like sable spirits near the nests, or on some near sea rocks, sombre and alone, blinked evilly at the tall bright cliffs and the lightsome legions which nested there.
To Guida these gloomy loiterers on the verge of happiness, these swart watchers among the nests of the young, were spirits of fate who might not destroy, who had no power to harm the living, yet who could not be driven forth : the ever present death’s-heads at the feast, the impassive acolytes serving at the altars of destiny.
As the Hardi Biaou drew nearer the lofty, inviolate cliffs, there opened up plainly sombre clefts and caverns which honeycombed the island at all points of the compass. Now slipped past, rugged pinnacles, like buttresses to the island, here trailed with vines and ferns and shrubs of inexpressible beauty, and yonder shriveled and bare like the skin of an elephant.
Some rocks, indeed, were like vast animals round which molten granite had been poured, preserving them eternally. The heads of great dogs, like the dogs of Ossian, sprang out in profile from the repulsing mainland ; stupendous gargoyles laughed hideously at them from dark clefts in excoriated cliffs. Farther off, the face of a battered sphinx stared with unheeding look into the vast sea and sky beyond. Eyes flamed suddenly from the dark depths of mystic crypts, and hollow groanings, like the roaring of lions penned beside the caves of martyrs, broke out upon the sea. followed by plaintive crying as of sleepless children.
Guida, entranced, seemed to lose the sense of concrete things about her. As one is caught up on a wave of exquisite music, and the material is mastered by the intangibly sensuous and beautiful, so she was lost, absorbed, in the poetry of the scene before her.
As she gazed, a strange little feeling stole into her mind, and grew and grew, and presently trembled into a sensitive shiver of discovery and surprise. She had never seen Sark closely in her life, yet it pierced her consciousness that she had looked upon this scene before. Where ? Where ? What was this painful delight and recognition and this familiar sensation that possessed her ? When had she felt, just such a scene, had just, such an impression ? What acute reminiscence was this ?
All at once she gave an exclamation of amazement. Why, this — this was the island of last night’s dream ! Yes, yes, there it was just as she had dreamed !
What strange second-sight was this ? In the morning when she woke she could have drawn the outlines of this island ; to-day there was the island in very truth, living and tangible, — there it was before her!
As a discoverer stands on the tall prow of his ship, looking out upon the new continent to which he has sailed with divers perils and losses, so, for one moment, Guida looked into this picture before her, exalted by the joy of discovery, bewildered by the realization of a dream.
It touched the deepest chord in her nature,—the fulfillment of imagination. Unconsciously she enjoyed the greatest delight that may be given to the human mind, — not merely the contemplation of the thing done, but the remembrance of the moment when the thing was dreamed; unto which is added in due time the glory of a worthy realization.
She had that moment, and it passed. Then came the misery of significance, for now she remembered what had been the end of her dream. She remembered that in a dark cavern Philip had dropped down into darkness from her sight, and only his mocking laughter had come up to her, and he returned no more.
Her thoughts flew to Philip now. Philip would come back, — she was as sure of that as that there was sun in the sky, and that morning and evening duly came. He would come back within the two months, — nothing would prevent his doing that. He loved her. True, he had not kept a promise solemnly made to her, but — but even that was because he loved her!
So the heart of the trusting pleads in its council-chambers for the guilty and the beloved. Somehow — and strange as it may seem — the smile came back again to her lips; for what can long depress the young and the loving when they dream that they are entirely beloved ? Lands and thrones may perish, plague and devastation walk abroad with death, misery and beggary crawl naked to the doorway, and crime cower in the hedges ; but to the egregious egotism of young love there are only two identities bulking in the crowded universe. To these immensities all other beings are audacious who dream of gaining even comfort and obscurity, — happiness would be a presumption, — as though it were intended that each living human being should at some moment in his life have the whole world to himself. Who shall cry out against that egotism with which all are diseased!
So busy was Guida with her own thoughts that she scarcely noticed that their course was changed, and they were skirting the coast westerly, whereby to reach Havre Gosselin, on the other side of the island. On the shore above Havre Gosselin lay the Seigneurie, the destination of the Hardi Biaou.
As they rounded the western point of the island, and made their course easterly by a channel between rocky bulwarks opening Havre Gosselin and the Gouliot Rocks and he Brechou, they suddenly saw a large brig rounding the Eperquérie. She was making to the southeast under full sail. Her main and mizzen masts were not visible and her colors could not be seen, but Jean’s quick eye had lighted on something which made him cast an apprehensive glance at his wife and Guida. What he saw was a gun in the stern port-hole of the vanishing brig ; and he also noted that it was run out for action. His swift glance at his wife and Guida and the lad who sat by the main-sheet assured him that they had not noticed the gun.
Jean’s brain began to work with unusual celerity; he was certain that the brig which had just rounded the Eperquérie was a French sloop or a privateer. In other circumstances, that in itself might not have given him much trouble of mind, for more than once French frigates had sailed round the Channel Isles in insulting strength and mockery; but every man knew that France and England at this moment were only waiting to see who should throw the ball first and set the red game going. Twenty French frigates could do little harm to the island of Sark, — there a hundred men could keep off an army and a navy; but Jean knew that the Admiralty yacht Dorset was sailing within half a league of the Eperquérie. He would stake his life that the brig was French and hostile, and he instantly made up his mind as to his course. At all costs he must watch the designs of the brig and know the fate of the yacht.
If he landed at Havre Gosselin and crossed the island on foot, whatever was to happen would be over and done, and that did not suit the book of Jean Touzel. More than once he had seen a little fighting, and more than once he had shared in it. He would not willfully precipitate a combat, but if there was to be a fight, — he looked affectionately at his carronades, — then he wanted to be within seeing or striking distance.
So, instead of running into Havre Gosselin, he made the course between Brechou and the Moi de Mouton, then the Gouliot Rocks and the Autelets. Running inshore as near as he dared, he set for the Bee du Nez, the eastern point of the island. His object was to land upon the rocks of the Eperquérie, where the women would be safe, whatever befell. The tide was strong round the point and the surf was heavy, so that once or twice the boat was almost overturned vertically, but Jean had measured well the currents and the wind.
He experienced now one of the most exciting moments in his life ; for as they rounded the Bec du Nez there was the Dorset suddenly going about to make for Guernsey, and the brig, under full sail, bearing down upon her. Even as they rounded the point, up ran the tricolor to the brig’s mizzenmast, and the militant shouts of the French sailors came over the water to them.
Too late had the little yacht with her handful of guns seen the danger and gone about. The wind was fair for her ; but it was as fair for the brig, able to outsail her twice over. As the Hardi Biaou neared the landing-place of the Eperquérie a gun was fired from the privateer across the bows of the Dorset, and Guida realized what was happening there before her eyes. She realized that this was war, — at first no more, — that it was war. She trembled with excitement ; she had not now that unconsciousness of peril which, when a little child, had sent her into the Vier Marchi after Ranulph Delagarde, among the slaughtering battalions. Years and wisdom bring also the fears of life.
As they landed from the Hardi Biaou another shot was fired. Guida put her hands before her eyes, and when she looked again the mainmast of the yacht was gone. And now from the heights of Sark above there rang out a cry from the lips of the affrighted islanders: “War! war! war! war!”
Guida sank down upon the rock, and her face dropped into her hands. She trembled violently. Somehow, all at once and for the first time in her life, there was borne in upon her a feeling of awful desolation and loneliness. She was alone — she was alone — she was alone : that was the refrain of her thoughts.
“ War ! war ! war! war ! ” The cry rang along the cliff tops ; and war would take Philip from her. Perhaps she should never see him again. The horror of it, the pity of it, the peril of it!
Shot after shot the 12-pounders of the privateer drove like dun hail at the white timbers of the yacht, and her masts and spars were flying. The privateer was drawing down to where she lay lurching.
A hand touched Guida upon the shoulder. “ Cheer thee, my de-are,” a voice said. It was Maîtresse Aimable. Below, Jean Touzel had eyes only for this sea-fight before him; for, despite the enormous difference of numbers, the Englishmen were now fighting their little craft for all that she was capable. But the odds were terribly against her, though she had the windward side and the firing of the privateer was bad. The carronades on her flush decks were replying valiantly and gallantly to the 12pounders of the brig. At last a chance shot carried, away her mizzenmast, and another dismounted her single great gun, killing a number of men. Carronades being good for only a few discharges, presently the yacht was no better than a battered raisin - box. Her commander had destroyed his dispatches, and nothing remained now but to be sunk or to surrender. In not more than five minutes from the time the first shot was fired, the commander and his brave crew yielded to the foe, and the Dorset’s flag was hauled down.
When her officers and crew were transferred to the brig, her one passenger and guest, the Reverend Lorenzo Dow, passed quietly from the gallant little wreck to the deck of the privateer with a finger between the leaves of his book of meditations. As a prisoner of war, with as much equanimity as he would have breakfasted with his bishop, made breaches of the rubric, or drunk from a sailor’s black-jack, he went calmly into captivity in France, giving no thought to what he left behind, and quite forgetful that his going would affect for good or ill the destiny of the young wife of Philip d’Avranche, of the frigate Narcissus.
Guida watched the yacht go down and the brig bear away toward France, where those black wasps of war were as motes against the white sands. Then she remembered that there had gone with it one of the three persons who knew her secret, — the man who had married her to Philip. She shivered a little, she scarcely knew why, for it did not seem of consequence to her whether Mr. Dow went or stayed. Indeed, was it not better he should go ? Then one less would know her secret. But still an undefined fear possessed her.
“ Cheer thee, cheer thee, my de-are, my sweet dormitte ! ” said Maîtresse Aimable, patting her shoulder. “ It cannot harm thee, bà sû ! 'T is but a flash in the pan.”
Guida’s first impulse was to throw herself into the arms of the slow-tongued, great-hearted woman who hung above her like a cloud of mercy, and tell her whole story. But no, the one necessity of her forlorn condition was secrecy. Placed in a false position, she was compelled to do the thing she loathed : for to her secrecy was deception. Whatever Maîtresse Aimable suspected, she should not surmise the truth. Guida would keep her word to Philip till Philip came again. Her love — the love of the young, lonely wife — should be buried deep in her own heart until he appeared and gave her the right to speak.
Jean was calling to them. They rose to go. Guida looked about her. Was it all a dream, — all that had happened to her and around her ? How sweet the world was to look upon, and yet was it true that here before her eyes there had been war, and that out of war peril might come to her ?
How strange it was ! A week ago she was as free as air, as happy as healthy body, truthful mind, simple nature, and tender love can make a human being. She was then only a young, young girl. To-day ? She sighed. A pathetic smile passed over the beautiful face, now growing wiser and wiser every hour. Long after they put out to sea again she could still hear the affrighted cry of the peasants from the cliff, — or was it only the plaintive echo of her own thoughts ? — “ War! war! war! war!”
“ A moment. Monsieur le Due.”
The duke turned at the door, and looked with listless inquiry into the face of the minister of marine, who, picking up an official paper from his table, ran an eye down it, marked a point with the sharp corner of his snuff-box, and handed the document to his visitor, saying, “ Our roster of English prisoners taken in the action off Brest.”
The duke, puzzled, lifted his glass and scanned the roster mechanically.
“ No, no ; just where I have marked.” interposed the minister.
“ My dear Monsieur Dalbarade.” remarked the other a little querulously, “ I do not see what interest ” —
He stopped short, however, looked closer at the document, and then lowering it in a sort of amazement seemed about to speak ; but instead he raised the paper again and fixed his eyes intently on the spot indicated by the minister.
“ Most curious,” he said after a moment, making little nods of his head toward Dalbarade ; “ my own name — and an English prisoner, you say ? ”
“ Exactly so ; and he gave our fellows some hard knocks before his frigate went on the reefs.”
“ Strange that the name should be my own. I never heard of an English branch of our family.”
A quizzical smile passed over the face of the minister, adding to his visitor’s mystification. “ But suppose he were English, yet French too ? he rejoined.
“ I fail to understand the international entanglement,” answered the duke stiffly.
“ He is an Englishman whose name and native language are French ; he speaks as good French as your own.”
The duke peevishly tapped a chair with his stick. “ I am no reader of riddles, monsieur,” he said with acidity, although eager to know more concerning this Englishman of the same name as himself, the ruler of the sovereign duchy of Bercy.
“ Shall I bid him enter?” asked the minister.
The duke’s face relaxed a little, for the truth was, at this moment of his long life he was deeply concerned with his own name and all who bore it.
“ Is he here, then ? ” he asked, nodding assent.
“ In the nest room,” answered the minister, turning to a bell and ringing. “ I have him here for examination, and was but beginning when I was honored by your highness’s presence.”He bowed politely, yet there was, too, a little mockery in the bow, which did not escape his visitor.
A subaltern entered, received an order, and disappeared. The duke withdrew to the embrasure of a window, and immediately the prisoner was gruffly announced.
The young Englishman stood quietly waiting, his quick eyes going from Dalbarade to the wizened figure by the window and back again to the minister. His look carried both calmness and defiance, but the defiance came from a sense of injury and unmerited disgrace.
“ Monsieur,” said the minister with austerity, “ in your further examination we shall need to repeat some questions.”
The prisoner nodded indifferently, and for a brief space there was silence. The duke stood by the window, the minister by his table. Suddenly, the prisoner, with an abrupt motion of the hand toward two chairs, said, with an assumption of ordinary politeness. “ Will you not be seated ? ”
The remark was so odd in its coolness and effrontery, it struck the duke as so whimsical, that he chuckled audibly. The minister was completely taken aback. He glanced stupidly at the two chairs — the only ones in the room — and at the prisoner. Then the insolence of the thing began to work upon him, and he was about to burst forth, when the duke came forward, and, politely moving a chair near to the young commander, said, “My profound compliments, Monsieur le Capitaine. I pray you accept this chair.”
With quiet self-possession and a matter-of-course air the Englishman bowed politely and seated himself ; then, with a motion of the hand backward toward the door, he said, “ I’ve been standing five hours with some of those moutons in the anteroom. My profound thanks to monseigneur ! ”
Touching the angry minister on the arm, the duke remarked quietly, “ Dear monsieur, will you permit me a few questions to the young gentleman?”
At that moment there came a tap at the door, and an orderly entered with a letter to the minister, who glanced at it hurriedly, then turned to his companions, as though in doubt what to do.
“ I will be responsible for the prisoner, if you must leave us,” said the duke at once.
“ For a little, for a little, — a matter of moment with the minister of war,” answered Dalbarade, nodding ; and with an air of abstraction he left the room.
The duke withdrew to the window again, and seated himself in the embrasure, at some little distance from the Englishman, who got up and brought his chair closer. The warm sunlight, streaming through the window, was now upon his face, which hitherto had been a little pale, and strengthened it, giving it fullness and fire, and making more vivid the eye.
“ How long have you been a prisoner, monsieur ? ” inquired the duke, at the same time acknowledging the other’s politeness with a bow.
“ Since March, monseigneur.”
“ Monseigneur again, — a man of judgment,” said the duke to himself, pleased to have his exalted station recognized. “ H’m ! and it is now June,— three months, monsieur ! You have been well used, monsieur ? ”
“ Vilely, monseigneur,” answered the other. “ A shipwrecked enemy should never be made a prisoner, or at least he should be enlarged on parole ; but I have been confined like a pirate in a sink of a jail.”
“ Of what country are you ? ”
Raising his eyebrows in amazement, the young man answered, “ I am an Englishman, monseigneur.”
“ Monsieur is of England, then ? ”
“ Monseigneur, I am an English officer.”
“ You speak French well, monsieur.”
“ Which serves me well in France, as you see, monseigneur.”
The duke was a trifle nettled. “ Where were you born, monsieur ? ”
There was a short pause, and then the prisoner, who had enjoyed the other’s mystification, said, “ On the Isle of Jersey, monseigneur.”
The perplexed and petulant look passed immediately from the face of the questioner ; the horizon was clear at once.
“ Ah, then you are French, monsieur ! ”
“ My flag is the English flag ; I was born a British subject, and I shall die one,” replied the other steadily, and it might seem somewhat obstinately.
“ The sentiment sounds estimable,” returned the duke ; “ but as for life and death, and what we are or what we may be, we are the sport of Fate.” His brow clouded. “ I myself was born under a monarchy ; I shall probably die under a republic. I was born a Frenchman ; I may die ” — His tone had become low and cynical, and he broke off suddenly, as though he had said more than he meant. “Then you are a Norman, monsieur,” he added in a louder tone.
“ Once all Jerseymen were Normans, and so were many Englishmen, monseigneur.”
“ I come of Norman stock, too, monsieur,” remarked the duke graciously, yet eying the young man keenly.
“ Monseigneur has not the kindred advantage of being English.” said the prisoner dryly.
The Frenchman protested with a deprecatory wave of the fingers and a flash of the sharp eyes, and then, after a slight pause, asked, “ What is your name, monsieur ? ”
“ Philip d’Avranehe,” was the brief reply. Then he added, with a droll im pudence, “ And monseigneur’s, by monseigneur’s leave ? ”
The duke smiled, and that smile relieved the sourness, the fret, of a face which had care and discontent written upon every line of it. It was a face that had never known happiness. It had known diversion, however, and unusual diversion it knew at this moment.
“ My name,” he said, with curious deliberation and a penetrating, quizzical look, “my name is Philip d’Avranche.”
The young man’s quick, watchful eyes fixed themselves like needles on the duke’s face. Through his brain there ran a succession of queries and speculations, and dominating them all was one clear question, — was he to gain anything by this strange conversation ? Who was this great man with a name the same as his own, this crabbed nobleman with skin as yellow as an orange and a body like an orange squeezed dry ? He could surely mean him no harm, however, for flashes of kindliness had lighted the shriveled face as he talked. His look was bent in piercing comment and humor upon Philip, who, trying hard to solve the mystery, now made a tentative rejoinder to the duke’s statement. Rising from his chair and bowing profoundly, he said, with a shrewd foreknowledge of the effect of his words, “ I had not before thought my own name of such consequence.”
The old man grunted amiably. “ My faith, the very name begets a towering conceit wherever it goes,” he answered, and he brought his stick down on the floor with such vehemence that the emerald and ruby rings rattled on his shrunken fingers. “ Be seated — cousin,” he said, with dry compliment, for Philip had remained standing, as if with the unfeigned respect of a cadet in the august presence of the head of his house. It was a sudden and bold suggestion, and it was not lost on the duke. The aged nobleman was too keen an observer not to see the designed flattery; but he was in a mood when flattery was palatable, inasmuch as many of his own class were arrayed against him for not having joined the army of the Vendée, and the revolutionists, with whom he had compromised, for the safety of his lands of d’Avranche and his duchy of Bercy, regarded him with suspicion, — sometimes with a sinister suspicion. Between the two — for at heart he was most profoundly a royalist — he bided his time, in some peril, but with no fear. The spirit of this young Englishman of his own name pleased him ; the flattery, patent as it was, gratified him, for in revolutionary France few treated him now with becoming respect; even the minister of marine, with whom he was on good terms, called him “ citizen ” at times.
All at once it flashed upon Philip that this old man must be the Prince d’Avranche, Duc de Bercy, of that family of d’Avranche from which his own came in long descent, — even from the days of Rollo, Duke of Normandy. He recalled on the instant the token of fealty of the ancient house of d’Avranche, — the offering of a sword.
“ Your serene highness,” he said, with great deference and as great tact, “ I must first offer my homage to the Prince d’Avranche, Due de Bercy ” — Then with a sudden pause, as though he had but now remembered, and a whimsical look, he added,“ But indeed, I had forgotten ; they have taken away my sword.”
“ We shall see,” answered the prince, well pleased, “ we shall see about that sword. Be seated,” he said once again. Then, “ Tell me now, monsieur, of your family, of your ancestry.” His eyes were bent on Philip with great intentness, and his thin lips tightened in some unaccountable agitation.
Philip instantly responded. He explained how, in the early part of the thirteenth century, after the great crusade against the Albigenses, a cadet of the house of d’Avranche had emigrated to England, and had come to place and honor under Henry III., who gave to the son of this d’Avranche certain tracts of land in Jersey, where he settled. Philip had descended in a direct line from this same receiver of king’s favors, and was now the only representative of his family.
While Philip spoke, the duke never took eyes from his face, — that face so facile in the display of feeling or emotion. The voice, too, had a lilt of health and vitality which rang on the ears of age pleasantly. As he listened, he thought of his eldest son, partly imbecile, all but a lusus naturœ, separated from his wife immediately after marriage, and through whom there could never be succession, — he thought of him, and for the millionth time in his life he winced in impotent disdain. He thought, too, of his beloved second son, lying in a soldier’s grave in Macedonia; of the buoyant resonance of that bygone voice; of the soldierly good spirits like to the good spirits of the prisoner before him; and “ his heart yearned toward the young man exceedingly.” If — if that second son had lived, there would be now no compromising with this republican government of France; he would be fighting for the white flag with the golden lilies over in the Vendée.
“ Your ancestors were mine, then,” remarked the duke gravely, after a pause, “ though I had not heard of that emigration to England. However — however. Come, tell me of the engagement in which you lost your ship,” he added hurriedly, in a low tone. He was now so intent that he did not stir in his seat, but sat rigidly still, regarding Philip kindly. Something in the last few moments’ experience had loosened the puckered skin, had softened the crabbed look in the face, and Philip had no longer doubt of the duke’s friendly intentions.
“ I had the frigate Araminta, twentyfour guns, a fortnight out from Portsmouth,” responded Philip at once. “We fell in with a French frigate, thirty guns. She was well to leeward of us, and the Araminta bore up under all sail, keen for action. The enemy was as ready as ourselves for a brush, and tried to get the weather of us; but, failing, she shortened sail and gallantly waited for us. The Araminta overhauled her on the weather quarter, and hailed. She responded with cheers and defiance, — as sturdy a foe as man could wish. We lost no time in getting to work, and, both running before the wind, we fired broadsides as we cracked on. It was tit for tat for a while, with splinters flying and neither of us in the eye of advantage ; but at last the Araminta shot away the mainmast and wheel of the Niobe, and she wallowed like a tub in the trough of the sea. We bore down on her, and our carronades raked her like a comb. Then we fell thwart her hawse, and a couple of 32-pounders through her stern-ports made wild havoc. But before we could board her she veered, and, lurching, fell upon us, carrying away our foremast. We had scarce cut clear of the tangle, and were making once more to board her, when I saw to windward two French frigates bearing down on us under full sail. And then ” —
The prince exclaimed in surprise, “I had not heard of that ! They did not tell the world of those odds against you.”
“ Odds and to spare, Monsieur le Duc ! We had had all we could manage in the Niobe, though she was now disabled, and we could hurt her no more. If the others came up on our weather, we should be chewed like a bone in a mastiff’s jaws. If she must fight again, the Araminta would be little fit for action till we cleared away the wreckage of masts and rigging; so I sheered off to make all sail. We ran under courses with what canvas we had, and got away with a fair breeze and a good squall whitening to windward, while our decks were being cleared for action again. The guns on the main deck had done good service and kept their places ; we were all right there. On the quarter-deck and fo’castle there was more amiss ; but as I watched the frigates overhauling us I took heart of grace still, for I could hear the creaking and screaming of the carronade-slides, the rattling of the carriages of the long 12-pounders amidships as they were shotted and run out again, the thud of the carpenters’ hammers as the shot - holes were plugged, — good sounds in the ears of a fighter” —
“ Of a d’Avranche, of a d’Avranche ! ” interposed the prince softly.
“ We were in no bad way, and my men were ready for another brush with our enemies, everything being done that could be done, everything in its place,” continued Philip. “ When the frigates were a fair gunshot off, I saw that the squall was overhauling us faster than they. This meant good fortune if we wished escape, bad luck if we would rather fight. But I had no time to think of that, for up comes Shoreham, my lieutenant, with a face all white. 'For God’s sake, d’Avranche,’ says he, ‘shoal water, — shoal water ! We ’re ashore ! ’ So much, Monsieur le Prince, for Admiralty charts and soundings ! It’s a hateful thing to see, — the light green water, the deadly sissing of the straight narrow ripples like the grooves of a washboard ; a ship’s length ahead the water breaking over the reefs, two frigates behind ready to eat us.
“ Up we came to the wind ; the sheets were let run, and away flew the halyards. All to no purpose, for a minute later we came broadside on the reef, and were impaled on a pinnacle of rock. The end was n’t long in coming. The Araminta lurched off the reef on the swell. We watched our chance as she rolled, and hove overboard our broadside of long 12-pounders. But it was no use. The swishing of the water as it spouted from the scuppers was a deal louder than the clang of the chain-pumps. It did n’t last long. The gale spilled itself upon us, and the Araminta, sick and spent, slowly settled down. The last I saw of her ” — Philip raised his voice as though he would hide what he felt behind an unsentimental loudness — “ was the white pennant at the maintopgallant masthead. A little while, and then I did n’t see it, and — and so good-by to my first command ! . . . Then,” — he smiled ironically,— “then I was made prisoner by the two French frigates, and have been held in confinement ever since, contrary to every decent principle of warfare ; and now here I am, Monsieur le Duc ! ”
The duke had listened with an immovable attention, his gray eyebrows twitching now and then, his eyes looking out beneath them like sentinels, his arid face betraying a grim enjoyment. When Philip had finished, he still sat looking at him with steady, slow-blinking eyes, as though unwilling to break the spell which the tale had thrown round him. But a semi-abstraction, an inquisition of the eye, a slight cocking of the head as though weighing important things, the ringed fingers softly drumming on the stick before him, —all these told Philip that something was at stake concerning himself.
The old man was just about to speak, when the door of the room opened, and the minister of marine entered. The minister looked at the two inquiringly, and the duke, rising and courteously laying a hand on Dalbarade’s arm, drew him aside, and engaged him in whispered conversation, of which the subject seemed unwelcome to the minister, for now and then he interrupted sharply.
As the two stood fretfully debating, the door of the room again opened, and there appeared an athletic, adventurouslooking officer in brilliant uniform, who was smiling at something called after him from the antechamber. His blue coat was spick and span, and very gay with double embroidery at the collar, coat-tails, and pockets. His white waistcoat and trousers were spotless. His netted sash of blue with its stars on the silver tassels had a look of studied elegance. His black three-cornered hat, broidered with gold and adorned with three ostrich tips of red and a white and blue aigrette, was, however, the glory of his bravery. Philip thought him young to be a general of division, for such his double embroideries and aigrette proclaimed him.
He had a face of considerable force, and as much humor, with also a touch of unscrupulousness, and more than a touch of egotism. He glanced at Philip, and with a half-quizzical but good-natured smile replied to his salute.
“ Dalbarade, Dalbarade,” said he to the minister, “ I have but an hour — Ah, Monsieur le Prince ! ” he added suddenly, as the latter came hurriedly toward him, and, grasping his hand warmly, drew him over where Dalbarade was standing. Philip now knew beyond doubt that he was the subject of debate, for all the time that the duke, in a low tone, half cordial, half querulous, spoke to the newcomer, the latter let his eyes wander curiously toward Philip. That he was an officer of unusual importance was to be seen from the deference paid him by Dalbarade.
All at once he made a polite gesture toward the duke, and, turning to the minister, said in a cavalier-like tone and with a touch of patronage, “ Yes, yes, Dalbarade ; it is of no consequence, and I myself will be surety for both.” Then turning to the nobleman, he added, “ We are beginning to square accounts, duke. Last time we met I had a large favor of you, and to-day you have a small favor of me. Pray present me to your kinsman here before you take him with you,” and he turned squarely toward Philip.
Philip could scarcely believe his ears. The duke’s kinsman ! Had the duke then asked for and obtained his release on the ground that they were of kin, — a kinship which, even if authentic, must go back six centuries for proof ?
Yet here he was being introduced to the revolutionary general as “ my kinsman of the isles of Normandy.” Here, too, was the same General GrandjonLarisse applauding him on his rare fortune to be thus released on parole through the Duc de Bercy, and quoting with a laugh, half sneer and half raillery, the old Norman proverb, “A Norman dead a thousand years will still cry, ‘ Haro! Haro ! ’ if you tread on his grave.” So saying, he saluted the duke with a liberal flourish of the hand and a friendly bow, and turned away to Dalbarade.
A half - hour later Philip was outside with the duke, walking slowly through the courtyard to an open gateway, where waited a carriage with unliveried coachman and outriders. No word was spoken till they entered the carriage and were driven swiftly away.
“ Whither now, your serene highness?” asked Philip.
“ To the duchy,” answered the other shortly, and relapsed into sombre meditation.
The castle of the Prince d’Avranche, Duc de Bercy, was set upon a vast rock, and the town of Bercy huddled round the foot of it and on great granite ledges some distance up. With two hundred defenders, the castle, on its lofty pedestal, might have resisted ten times two thousand assailants; and indeed, it had done so more times than there were pearls in the rings of the present duke who had rescued Commander Philip d’Avranche from the clutches of the red government.
Upon the castle waved the republican tricolor, where for a thousand years had floated a royal banner. When France’s great trouble came to her, and the nobles fled or went to fight for the King in the Vendée, the old duke, with a dreamy indifference to the opinion of Europe, had proclaimed alliance with the new government. He had felt, rightly or wrongly, that he was privileged in being thus selfish, and he had made the alliance that he might pursue unchecked the one remaining object of his existence.
This object had now grown from a habit into a passion. He let nothing stand in the way of it; he hoisted the tricolor because of it, and he compromised his principles for peace in which to pursue it. It was now his life, his goal, to arrange a new succession which should exclude the Vaufontaines, a detested branch of the Bercy family. There had been an ancient feud between his family and this house of Vaufontaine, whose rights to the succession, following his eldest son, were thus far paramount. For three years past he had had a monastery of Benedictine monks at work to find some collateral branch from which he might take a representative to make successor to Leopold John, his imbecile heir, but to no purpose.
In more than a little the duke was superstitious, and on the day when he met Philip d’Avranche in the chamber of M. Dalbarade he had twice turned back toward his hotel in Paris after starting, so extreme was his dislike to pay the visit to the revolutionary minister. He had nerved himself to the distasteful duty, however, and had gone. When he saw the name of the young English prisoner — his own name — staring him in the face, he had had such a thrill as a miracle might have sent through the veins of a doubting Christian.
Since that minute, he, like Philip, had been in a kind of dream, pleasing, but anxious: on his part, to find in the young man, if possible, an heir and successor ; on Philip’s, to make real great possibilities. There had slipped past two months, wherein Philip had seen a new avenue of life opening before him. He had been shut out from the world, cut off from all connection with England and his past; for M. Dalbarade had made it a condition of release that he should hold no communication with any one whatever while at Château Bercy. He was as completely in a new world as though he had been transplanted ; he was as entirely in the atmosphere of fresh ambitions as though he were beginning the world again. For almost from the first the old nobleman treated him like a son. He spoke freely to him of the most private family matters ; he consulted with him ; he seemed to lean upon him. He alluded often, in oblique phrase, to adoption and succession. To imagine that Philip was idly watching the miraculous possibility without furthering its certainty would argue an arch-unconsciousness not his own. From the first moment of their meeting he had seen the bent of the old nobleman’s mind, and had fostered and fed it. Ambition was the deepest passion in him, even as defeating the hopes of the Vaufontaines was a religion with the duke. Philip’s habit of life was to encourage all favors that came his way, upon the ground that even every gift or advantage declined only makes a man more secure in the good will of the world he courts. By no trickery, but by a persistent good nature, alertness of speech, avoidance of dangerous topics, and aptness in anecdote or information, he had hourly made his position stronger in the castle of Bercy. He had also tactfully declined an offer of money from the prince,— none the less decidedly because he was nearly penniless. The duke’s hospitality he was ready to accept, but not his purse.
Yet he was not in all acting a part. He was sincere in his liking for the soured, bereaved sovereign, with an heir who was at once an offense and a reproach, and forced to endure alliance with a government he loathed. He even admired the duke for his vexing idiosyncrasies, for they came of a strong individuality which, in happier case, should have made him a contented and beloved monarch. As it was, the people of his duchy were loyal to him beyond telling, doing his bidding without cavil, standing for the King of France at his will, declaring for the republic at his command ; for, whatever the duke was to the world outside, within his duchy he was just and benevolent, if imperious. The people endured his furies uncomplainingly, for they knew that it was for the sake of the duchy as much as for his own house that he mourned the imbecile son ; and they, like himself, had no wish to see the house of Bercy ingrafted with the house of Vaufontaine.
All these things Philip had come to know in his short sojourn. He had, with the duke, mingled freely among the people of the duchy, and had been introduced everywhere and at all times as the duke’s kinsman,— “in a direct line from an ancient branch,” as his highness declared. He had been received gladly, and he knew well a rumor had gone abroad that the old nobleman had chosen him for heir. A wild rumor, maybe, yet who could tell ? He had made himself an agreeable figure in the duchy, to the delight of his patron, who watched his every motion, every word, and their effect.
One day the duke arranged a conference of the civil and military officers of his duchy. He chuckled to see how reluctant they all were at first to concede their homage to his favorite, and how soon they fell under that favorite’s influence, — all save one man, the intendant of the duchy, charged with the trusteeship of the eldest son, Leopold John. Philip himself was quick to see that this man, Comte Carignan Damour, was bitterly opposed to him, apprehensive for his own selfish ends. But Damour was one among many, and the duke was entirely satisfied.
On this very day, too, was laid before him the result of the long researches of the monks into the genealogy of the d’Avranches ; and there, clearly enough, was confirmation of all Philip had said about his ancestors and their relation to the ancient house of d’Avranche. The duke was overjoyed, and thereupon quietly made ready for the formal adoption and establishment in succession. It never occurred to him that Philip might refuse.
One afternoon he sent for Philip to come to him in the highest room of the tower. It was in this room that, many years before, his young and noble wife, from the province of Aquitaine, had given birth to the second son of the house of Bercy, and had died a year later, happy that she should at last leave behind a healthy, beautiful child to do her honor in her lord’s eyes.
In this same room the duke and the brave second son had spent unnumbered hours ; and here it had come home to him that the young wife was faultless as to the elder, else she had not borne him this perfect younger son. Thus her memory came to be adored; and thus, when the noble second son, the glory of his house and of his heart, was slain, the duke still went to the little upper room for his communion of remembrance. Hour after hour he would sit looking from the great window out over the wide green valley, mourning bitterly, and feeling his heart shrivel up within him, his body grow crabbed and cold, and his face sour and scornful.
When Philip now entered this sanctuary, the duke nodded and motioned him to a chair. In silence he accepted, and in silence they sat for a long time. Philip knew the history of this little room ; he had learned it first from Frange Pergot, the porter at the castle gates. The silence gave him opportunity to recall the whole story.
At last the motionless brown figure huddled in the great chair, not looking at Philip, but out over the wide green valley, began to speak in a low, measured tone, as a dreamer might recite his dream or a priest proclaim his vision : —
“ A breath of life has come again to me through you. Centuries ago our ancestors were brothers, —far back in the direct line, brothers,—the monks have proved it. Now I shall have my spite of the Vaufontaines, and now shall I have another son, strong, and with good blood to beget good blood.”
A strange, lean sort of smile passed over his lips, his eyebrows twitched, his hands clenched the arm of the chair wherein he sat, and he made a motion of his jaws as though he were enjoying some toothsome morsel.
“ H’m ! Henri Vaufontaine shall see, — and all his tribe shall see ! They shall not feed upon these lands of the d’Avranches, they shall not carouse at my table, when I am gone and the fool I begot has returned to his Maker. The fault of him was never mine, but God’s, — does the Almighty think we can forget that ? I was ever sound and strong. When I was twenty I killed two men with my own sword at a blow; when I was thirty, to serve the King, I rode a hundred and twenty miles in one day, — from Paris to Dracourt it was. We d’Avranches have been men of power always. We fought for Christ’s sepulchre in the Holy Land, and three bishops and two archbishops have gone from us to speak God’s cause to the world. And my wife, — she came of the purest stock of Aquitaine, and she was constant in her prayers. What distemper and discourtesy was it, then, for God, who hath been served well by us, to serve me in return so churlishly, with such mockery, — to send me a bloodless zany, whom his wife left ere the wedding-meats were cold! ”
His foot tapped the floor in anger, his eyes wandered restlessly out over the green expanse. Suddenly a dove perched upon the window-sill before him. His quick, shifting gaze settled upon it and stayed, softening and quieting. Presently he said in a low voice : —
“ It was just such a dove came on the very day that my second son was born, and my princess said to me : 'Behold the good omen! Now shall ray agony be as nothing, for this is my assurance of a good gift from God.’ So it was, for back and forward the dove came while her pangs and sufferings were on her, and she smiled in hope, till that a brave strong man child was born into the world. She lived a little longer by reason of her pride and joy, and then she died. Yet it was but the mockery of God, for the lad was swept down in his youth like a wisp of corn in the wind ! ”
After a slight pause he turned to Philip and spoke in a still lower tone : “ Last night in the chapel I spake to God, and I said : 'Lord God, let there be fair speech between us. Wherefore hast thou nailed me like a malefactor to the tree ? Why didst thou send me a fool to lead our house, and afterward a lad as fine and strong as Absalom, and again snatch him from me, and leave me wifeless, with a prince to follow me who is the byword of men, the scorn of women — and of the Vaufontaines ? ’ ”
He paused again, and his eyes seemed to pierce Philip’s, as though he would read if each word was burning its way into his brain.
“ As I stood there alone, a voice spoke to me as plainly as now I speak to you, and said : ‘ Have done with railing. It is written, the first shall be last, and the last first. That which was the elder’s shall be given to the younger. The tree hath grown crabbed and old ; it beareth no longer. Behold the young sapling by thy door ; I have planted it there. The seed is the seed of the old tree. Cherish it, lest it have no nourishment and die, and a grafted tree mock thee.’ ” His voice rose triumphantly. “ Yes, yes, I heard it with my own ears, the voice. The crabbed tree, that is the main line, dying in me ; the grafted tree is the Vaufontaine, the interloper and the mongrel; and the sapling from the same seed as the crabbed old tree,” — he reached out as though to clutch Philip’s arm, but drew back, sat erect in his chair, and said in a voice of decision, — the sapling is Philip d’Avranche, of the Isle of Jersey.”
For a moment there was silence between the two. A strong wind came rushing up the valley in the clear sunlight, the great trees beneath the castle swayed, and the flapping of the tricolor could be heard within. The dove, caught up on the wave of wind, sailed away down the widening glade.
Philip’s first motion was to stand up and say, “ I dare not think your highness intends in very truth to accept me as your kinsman.”
“ And why not, why not ? ” testily answered the duke. Then he added more kindly, “ Why not ? Come, tell me that, cousin. Is it then distasteful ? ”
Philip’s heart gave a leap and his face flushed. “ I have no other kinsman,” he replied, in a low tone of feeling. “ I knew I had your friendship,—else all the evidences of your goodness to me were mockery; but I had scarce let myself count on the higher, more intimate honor, — I, a poor commander in the English navy.”
He said the last words slowly, for, whatever else he was, he was a loyal English sailor, and he wished the Duc de Bercy to know it, — the more convincingly, the better for the part he was going to play in this duchy, if all things favored.
“ Tut, tut! what has that to do with it ? ” returned the duke. “ What has poverty to do with blood ? Younger sons are always poor, younger cousins poorer. As for the captaincy of an English warship, that’s of no consequence where greater games are playing, eh ? ”
He eyed Philip keenly, yet rather quizzically too, and there was an unasked question in his look. He was a critic of human nature ; he understood the code of honor, — none better ; his was a mind that might be willfully but never crassly blind. He was selfish where this young gentleman was concerned, yet he knew well how the same gentleman ought to think, speak, and act.
The moment of the great test was come.
Philip could not read behind the strange, shriveled face. Instinct could help him much, but it could not interpret that parchment. He did not know whether his intended reply would alienate the duke or not ; but if it did, then he must bear it. He had come, as he thought, to the crux of this adventure. Whatever he was, he was an officer of the English navy, and he was not the man to break the code of professional honor lightly. If favor and adoption must depend upon his answer, well, let it be; his last state could not be worse than his first.
So, still standing, he gave his answer boldly, yet quietly, his new kinsman watching him with a grim curiosity. “ Monsieur le Prince,” said Philip, “ I am used to poverty, — that matters little ; but whatever you intend toward me, — and I am persuaded it is to my great honor and happiness. — I am, and must still remain, an officer of the English navy.”
The old man’s brow contracted, and his reply came cold and incisive : “ The navy,— that is a bagatelle ; I had hoped to offer you kinship and heritage. Pooh, pooh! commanding a frigate is a trade, a mere trade ! ”
Philip’s face did not stir a muscle. He was in spirit the born adventurer, the gamester who could play for life’s largest stakes, lose all, draw a long breath — and begin all over again.
“ It’s a busy time in my trade now, as Monsieur Dalbarade would tell you.”
The duke’s lips compressed as though in anger. “ You mean to say, monsieur, that you would let this wretched war between France and England stand before our personal kinship and alliance ! What are you and I in this great shuffle of events ? Have less egotism, less vanity, monsieur. You are no more than a million others ; and I — I am nothing. Come, come, there is more than one duty in the life of every man, and he must choose some time between one and the other. England does not need you, ” — his voice and manner softened, he leaned toward Philip, the eyes almost closing as he peered into his face, — “ but you are necessary to — to the house of Bercy.”
“ I was commissioned to a man-of-war in time of war,” answered Philip quietly, “ and I lost that man-of-war. When I can, it is my duty to go back to the powers that sent me forth. I am still an officer in full commission. Your highness knows well what honor demands of me.”
“ There are hundreds of officers to take your place ; in the duchy of Bercy there is none to stand for you. You must choose between your trade and the claims of name and blood, — older than the English navy, older than Norman England.”
Philip’s color was as good, his manner as easy, as if nothing were at stake, but in his heart he felt that the game was lost; he saw a storm gathering in the duke’s eyes, — the disappointment which would break out into wrath, the injured vanity which would presently speak in snarling disdain. But he replied boldly, nevertheless, for he was resolved that even if he had to return from this duchy to prison, he would go with colors flying.
“ The proudest moment of my life was when the Duc de Bercy called me kinsman,” he responded; “the best” (had he then so utterly forgotten ?) “ was when he showed me friendship. Yet if my trade may not be reconciled with what he may intend for me, I must ask to be sent back to Monsieur Dalbarade.” He smiled rather hopelessly, yet with a stoical disregard of consequences, and continued : “ For my trade is in full swing these days, and I stand my chance of being exchanged and earning my daily bread again. At the Admiralty I am a master workman on full pay, but I’m not earning my salt here. With Monsieur Dalbarade my conscience would be easier.”
He had played his last card, and he waited for the storm to break. Now he was prepared for the fury of a jaundiced, peevish, self-willed old man, who could not brook to be thwarted. He had quickly imagined it all, and not without reason; for surely a furious disdain was at the gray lips, lines of anger were corrugating the forehead, the rugose parchment face was fiery with distemper.
But what Philip expected did not come to pass, for, rising quickly to his feet, the duke took him by the shoulders, kissed him on both cheeks, and said, “ My mind is made up, — my mind is made up. Nothing can change it. You have no father, cousin. — well, I will be your father. You shall retain your post in the English navy. Officer and patriot you shall be, if you choose. A brave man makes a better ruler. But now there is much to do. There is the concurrence of the English King to secure: that shall be — has already been — my business. There is the assent of Leopold John, the fool, to achieve: that I shall command. There are the grave formalities of adoption to arrange : these I shall expedite. You shall see, Master Insolence, you who’d throw me and my duchy over for your trade, you shall see how we ’ll make the Vaufontaines gnash their teeth! ”
In his heart Philip was exultant, though outwardly he was calm. He was, however, unprepared for what followed. Suddenly the duke said, “ One thing, cousin, one thing. You must marry in our order, and at once. There shall be no delay. Succession must be secured. I know the very woman, — the Comtesse Chantavoine, — young, rich, amiable. You shall meet her to - morrow, — tomorrow.”
(To be continued.)