The Battle of the Strong
MATTINGLEY’S dungeon was infested with rats and other vermin ; he had only straw for his bed, and his food and drink were bread and water. The walls were damp with moisture from the Fauxbie which ran beneath, and little more than a glimmer of light came through a small barred window. Superstition had surrounded the Vier Prison with horrors. As carts passed under the great archway, its depth multiplied the sounds so powerfully, the echoes were so fantastic, that folk believed them the roarings of fiendish spirits. If a mounted guard hurried through, the reverberations of the drumbeats and the clatter of hoofs were so uncouth that children stopped their ears and fled in terror. To the ignorant populace, the Vier Prison was the home of noisome serpents, and the rendezvous of the devil and his witches of Rocbert.
When, therefore, the seafaring merchant of the Vier Marchi, whose massive, brass-studded bahue had been as a gay bazaar where the gentry of Jersey refreshed their wardrobes with one eye closed, — when he was transferred to the Vier Prison, little wonder that he should become a dreadful being, round whom played the lightnings of dark fancy and sombre terror ! Elie Mattingley the popular sinner, with insolent gold rings in his ears, and unquestioned as to how he came by his merchandise, was one person ; Elie Mattingley prepared as a torch for the burning, and housed amid the terrors of the Vier Prison, was another.
Few persons in Jersey slept during the night before his execution. Here and there compassionate women or unimportant men lay awake through pity, and a few through a vague sense of loss, — for henceforth the Vier Marchi would lack a familiar interest; but mostly the people of Mattingley’s world were kept awake through curiosity. Morbid expectation of the coming event had for them a touch of gruesome diversion ; it would relieve the monotony of existence, and provide hushed gossip for vraicgatherings and veilles for a long time to come. Thus Elie Mattingley’s death would not be in vain.
Many things had come at once. Mattingley was one sensation, but there was still another. Olivier Delagarde had been unmasked as a traitor, and the whole island had gone tracking him down. No aged toothless tiger was ever sported through the jungle by an army of shikaris with hungrier malice than was the broken, helpless, and evil Olivier Delagarde by the people he had betrayed. Ensued, therefore, a commingling of devout patriotism and lust of man-hunting with a comely content in the expected sacrifice of the morrow.
Nothing of his neighbors’ excitement disturbed Mattingley. He did not sleep, but that was because he was still watching and waiting for a means of escape. He felt his chances diminish, however, when, about midnight, an extra guard was put round the prison, — not so much to prevent escape as further to confirm the dignity of the Royal Court. Something had gone amiss in the matter of his rescue.
Three things had been planned. First, Mattingley was to try escape by the small window of the dungeon.
Secondly, Carterette was to bring Sebastian Alixandre to the Vier Prison disguised as a sorrowing aunt of the condemned man, known to live in Guernsey. Alixandre was suddenly to overpower the jailer ; Mattingley was to make a rush for freedom, and a few bold spirits without would second his efforts and smuggle him to the sea. The directing mind and hand in the business were Ranulph Delagarde’s. He was to have his boat waiting in the harbor of St. Helier’s to respond to a signal from the shore, to pilot them clear of the harbor and make sail for France, where he and his father were to be landed. There he would give Mattingley, Alixandre, and Carterette his own boat, to fare across the seas to the great fishing-ground of Gaspé in Canada.
Lastly, if these projects failed, the executioner was to be drugged with liquor, his besetting weakness, on the eve of the hanging.
The first of these plans had been found impossible, the window being too small for even Mattingley’s head to get through. The second failed because the Royal Court had forbidden Carterette further admittance to the prison, intent that she should no longer be contaminated by so vile a wretch. This Christian solicitude had looked down from the windows of the Cohue Royale upon this same criminal in the Vier Marchi, with a blind eye for himself the sinner, and an open one for his merchandise; but now, restored to full sight by that oculist called accident, it had straightway righteously done what so long it had amiably left undone.
As the night wore on, Mattingley could hear the hollow sound of the sentinels’ steps under the archway of the Vier Prison. He was stoical. If he had to die, then he had to die. Death could only be a little minute of agony ; and for what came after — well, he had not thought fearfully of that, and he had no wish to think of it at all. The clergyman who had visited him had talked, and he had not listened ; he had his own ideas about life and death and the beyond, and they were not ungenerous. He had seemed to his visitor patient, but impossible; kindly, but unresponsive; sometimes even curious, but without remorse.
“ You should repent with sorrow and a contrite heart,” the clergyman had said. “You have done many evil things in your life, Mattingley.”
Mattingley had replied, “ Ah bah, I can’t remember them! I know I never done them, for I never done anything but good all my life, — so much for so much.”
He had argued it out with himself, and he believed he was a good man. He had been open-handed, fair in a bargain, had stood by his friends, and, up to a few days ago, had been outwardly counted a good citizen, for many had come to profit through him. His trades — a little smuggling, a little piracy. Was not the former hallowed by distinguished patronage, and had it not existed from time immemorial ? The latter was fair fight for gain, — an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. If he had not robbed others on the high seas, they would probably have robbed him, — and sometimes they did. His spirit was that of the Elizabethan buccaneers who defeated the invincible Armada; he belonged to a century not his own. As for the crime for which he was to suffer death, it had been the work of a confederate ; and very bad work it was, — to try to steal Jean Touzel’s Hardi Biaou, and then bungle it! He had had nothing to do with it, for he and Jean Touzel were the best of friends, as was proved by the fact that while he lay in his dungeon awaiting death, Jean wandered the shore distracted and sorrowing for Mattingley’s fate.
Thinking now of the whole business and of his past life, Mattingley suddenly had a pang. Yes, remorse smote him at last. There was one thing on his conscience, — only one. He had a profound reverence for the feelings of others, and where the Church was concerned this was mingled with a droll sort of pity, as of the greater for the lesser, the wise for the helpless. For clergymen he had a half-affectionate contempt. He remembered now that his confederate, who had turned out so badly — he had trusted him, too ! — when, four years ago, he wickedly robbed the Church of St. Michael’s, and carried off the great chest with Communion plate, offertories, and rent, had piously left behind in Mattingley’s house the vestry books and register, — a nice definition in rogues’ etiquette and ethics. It smote Mattingley’s soul now, that these stolen books had not been returned to St. Michael’s. His sense of reverence was shocked. Next morning he must send word to Carterette to restore these records. Then his conscience would be clear once more. With this intention quieting his mind, he turned over on his straw and went peacefully to sleep.
Hours afterward he waked with a yawn. There was no start, no terror, but the appearance of the jailer with the devoted clergyman roused in him a sense of disgust for the approaching function at the Mont ès Pendus, — disgust was his chief feeling. This was no way for a man to die ! With a choice of evils, he would have preferred walking the plank, or even dying quietly in his bed, to being stifled by a rope. To dangle from a crosstree like a half-filled bag offended every instinct of picturesqueness ; and always and above all he had been picturesque.
He asked at once for pencil and paper. His wishes were instantly obeyed, and with deference. On the whole, he realized, by the attentions paid him, — the brandy offered by the jailer, the fluttering grave tenderness of the clergyman, — that in the life of a criminal there is one moment when he commands the situation. He refused the brandy, for he was strongly against spirituous liquors in the early morning ; but he ordered coffee, for he was thirsty. Eating seemed superfluous; besides, he thought a man might die more gayly on an empty stomach. He assured the clergyman that he had come to terms with his conscience, and was now about to perform the last act of a well-intentioned life.
There and then he wrote to Carterette, telling her about the vestry books of St. Michael’s, and making his last request that she should restore them. There were no affecting messages between him and the girl, — they understood each other. He knew that when it was possible she would never fail to come to the mark where he was concerned, and she had equal faith in him. So the letter was sealed, addressed with flourishes, — he was proud of his handwriting, — and handed to the clergyman for Carterette.
He had scarcely finished his coffee when there was a roll of drums outside. Mattingley knew that his hour was come, and yet, to his surprise, he had no extraordinary sensations. He had a shock presently, however; for on the jailer’s announcing the executioner, who should be standing there before him but the undertaker’s apprentice ! In politeness to the clergyman Mattingley forbore profanity, — a gracious self-denial. This was the one Jerseyman for whom he had a profound hatred, — this youth with the slow, cold, watery blue eye, a face that never wrinkled with either mirth or misery, the teeth set square in the jaw always showing a little, making an involuntary grimace of cruelty. Here was insult.
“ Help of Heaven, so you ’re going to do it — you! ” broke out Mattingley.
“ The other man is drunk,” said the undertaker’s apprentice; “ he’s been full as a jug three days. He got drunk too soon.” The grimace seemed to widen.
“ Oh my good ! ” said Mattingley, and he would say no more. To him words were like nails, — of no use unless they were to be driven home by acts.
To Mattingley the procession to the Mont ès Pendus was stupidly slow. As it issued from the archway of the Vier Prison between mounted guards, and passed through the lane made by the moving mass of spectators, he looked round coolly. One or two bold spirits cried out, “ Head up to the wind, Maître Elie ! ”
“ Oui-gia,” he replied ; “ devil a topsail in ! ” and turned with a look of contempt on those who hooted him. He realized now that there was no chance of rescue. The island militia and the town guard were in ominous force ; and although his respect for the militia was not devout, a bullet from the musket of a fool was as effective as one from Bonapend’s, — as Napoleon Bonaparte was disdainfully called in Jersey. Yet he could not but wonder why all the plans of Alixandre, Carterette, and Ranulph had gone for nothing, — even the hangman had been got drunk too soon ! He had a high opinion of Ranulph, and that he should fail him was a blow to his judgment of humanity.
He was thoroughly disgusted. Also they had compelled him to put on a white shirt, — he who had never worn linen in his life. He was ill at ease in it. It made him conspicuous; it looked as though he were aping the gentleman at the last. He tried to resign himself ; but resignation was not to be learned so late in life. Somehow, he could not feel that this was really the day of his death. Yet how could it be otherwise ? There was the vicomte in his red robe. There was the sinister undertaker’s apprentice, proud of his importance, ready to do his hangman’s duty with no twinge of sentiment. There, as they crossed the mielles, while the sea droned its singsong on his left, was the parson droning his sing-song on the right, — “ In the midst of life we are in death,” etc. There were the red-coated militia, the unkempt mounted guard, the grumbling drums, and the crowd morbidly enjoying their Roman holiday. And there, looming up before him, were the four stone pillars on the Mont ès Pendus from which he was to swing. His disgust deepened. He was not dying like a seafarer who had fairly earned his reputation.
His feelings found vent even as he came to the foot of the platform where he was to make his last stand, and the guards formed a square about the great pillars, glooming like Druidic altars awaiting their victim. He burst forth in one phrase expressive of his feelings.
“ Sacré matin, so damned paltry ! ” he said, in equal tribute to two races.
The undertaker’s apprentice, mistaking his meaning, and thinking it a reflection upon his arrangements, returned, with a wave of the hand to the rope, “ Ch’est très ship-shape, maître ! ” But he was wrong. He had made everything ship-shape, as he thought; but two obscure, dishonored folk, one a wise man and the other a fool, had set a gin for him. The rope to be used at the hanging had been prepared, examined by the vicomte, approved, and the undertaker’s apprentice had carried it to his room at the top of the Cohue Royale. In the dead of night, however, Dormy Jamais drew it from under the mattress, and substituted one which was too long. This had been Ranulph’s idea as a last resort; for he had a grim satisfaction in trying to foil the law even at the twelfth hour !
The great moment had come. The shouts and hootings ceased. Out of the silence there rose only the champing of a horse’s bit or the hysterical giggle of a woman. The high, painful drone of the parson’s voice was heard.
Then came the fatal “ Maintenant ! ” from the vicomte. The platform fell, and Elie Mattingley dropped the length of the rope.
What was the consternation of the vicomte and the hangman, and the horror of the crowd, to see that Mattingley’s toes just touched the ground ! The body shook and twisted. The man was being slowly strangled, not hanged.
The undertaker’s apprentice was the only person who kept a cool head. The solution of the problem of the rope for afterward ; but he had been sent there to hang a man, and a man he would hang somehow. Without more ado, he jumped upon Mattingley’s shoulders and began to drag him down.
The next instant some one burst through the mounted guard and the militia : it was Ranulph Delagarde. Rushing to the vicomte, he exclaimed, “ Shame ! The man was to be hung, not strangled ! This is murder! Stop it, or I ’ll cut the rope ! ” He looked round on the crowd. “ Cowards ! cowards ! ” he cried, " will you see him murdered ? ”
He started forward to drag away the executioner, but the vicomte, thoroughly terrified at Ranulph’s onset, seized the undertaker’s apprentice, who drew off with unruffled malice, and with steely eyes watched what followed.
Mattingley’s feet were now firmly on the ground. While the excited crowd tried to break through the cordon of militia and mounted guards, Mattingley, by a twist and a jerk, freed his corded hands. Loosing the rope at his neck, he opened his eyes and looked around him, dazed and dumb.
The apprentice came forward. “ I ’ll shorten the rope — oui-gia ! Then you shall see him swing! ” he grumbled viciously to the vicomte.
The gaunt vicomte was trembling with excitement. This was an unexpected situation. He looked helplessly around.
The apprentice caught hold of the rope to tie knots in it and so shorten it; but Ranulph again appealed to the vicomte, although in his voice there was more command than appeal.
“ You’ve hung the man,” he said ; “ you’ve strangled him, and you’ve not killed him. You’ve got no right to put that rope round his neck again ! ”
Two jurats who had waited on the outskirts of the crowd, furtively watching the carrying out of their sentence, burst in, as excited and nervous as the vicomte.
“ Hang the man again, and the whole world will laugh at you,” Ranulph said. " If you ’re not worse than fools or Turks, you ’ll let him go. He has suffered death already. Take him back to the prison, if you ’re afraid to free him ! ” He turned round to the crowd fiercely. “ Have you nothing to say to this butchery ? ” he cried. “ For the love of God, have n’t you anything to say ? ”
Half the crowd shouted, “ Let him go free! ” and the other half, disappointed in the working out of the gruesome melodrama, groaned and hooted.
Meanwhile, Mattingley stood as still as ever he had stood by his bahue in the Vier Marchi, watching — waiting.
The vicomte conferred with the jurats nervously for a moment, and then turned to the guard and said, " Escort the prisoner to the Vier Prison.”
Mattingley had been slowly solving the problem of his salvation. His eye, like a gimlet, had screwed its way through Ranulph’s words into what lay behind, and at last he understood the whole beautiful scheme. It pleased him. Carterette had been worthy of herself and of him. Ranulph had played his game well, too. Sebastian Alixandre, whom now he saw peering over the shoulders of a militiaman, — he was entirely proud of him, also. He failed only to do justice to one, — even to the poor béganne, Dormy Jamais. But then the virtue of fools is its own reward.
As the procession started back, with the undertaker’s apprentice following Mattingley, not going before, Mattingley turned to him, and with a smile of malice said, " Ch’est très ship-shape, maître — eh ? ” and he jerked his head back toward the inadequate rope.
He was not greatly troubled about the rest of this grisly farce. He was now ready for breakfast, and his appetite grew as he heard how the crowd hooted and snarled yah ! at the apprentice. He was quite easy about the future. What had been so well done thus far could not fail in the end.
Events proved Mattingley right. It is more than probable that the fury of the Royal Court, when they heard he had broken prison, was not quite sincere ; for it was notable that the night of his escape, suave and uncrestfallen, they dined in the Rue des Très Pigeons, in the sanctuary provided for them by mine host Maître Lys. The flight of Mattingley gave them a happy issue from their quandary.
No one in Jersey knew how it was that Mattingley broke jail, nor who connived at it, but the vicomte officially explained that he had escaped by the dungeon window. People came to see the window, and there, “ bà sû,” the bars were gone ! But that did not prove the case, and the mystery was deepened by the fact that Jean Touzel, whose head was too small for Elie Mattingley’s hat, could not get that same head through the dungeon window. Having proved so much, Jean left the mystery there, and returned to the Hardi Biaou.
This happened on the morning after the dark night when Mattingley, Carterette, and Alixandre hurried from the Vier Prison through the Rue des Sablons to the sea, and there boarded Ranulph’s boat, wherein was Olivier Delagarde, the traitor.
Accompanying Carterette to the shore was a little figure that moved along beside them like a shadow, — a little gray figure that carried a gold-headed cane given to him by the late monarch of France. At the shore this same little gray figure bade Mattingley good-by with a quavering voice. Whereupon Carterette, her face all wet with tears, kissed him upon both cheeks, and sobbed so that she could scarcely speak. For now when it was all over — all the horrible ordeal over—the woman in her broke down before the little old gentleman who had been so kind to her, who had been like a benediction in the house where the ten commandments were imperfectly upheld. But she choked down her sobs, and, thinking of another woman more than of herself, said : —
“ Dear chevalier, do not forget that book I gave you to-night. Read it — read the last writing in it, and then you will know — ah bidemme ! — but you will know that her we love — ah, but you must read it, and tell nobody till — till you see her. She has n’t held her tongue for naught, and it’s only fair to do as she’s done all along. Pardingue, but my heart hurts me ! ” she added, and she caught the hand that held the gold-headed cane and kissed it with impulsive ardor. " You have been so good to me — oui-gia ! ” she said ; and then she dropped the hand, and fled to the boat rocking in the surf.
The little chevalier watched the boat glide out into the gloom of night, and waited till he knew that they must all be aboard Ranulph’s schooner and making for the sea. Then he went slowly back to the empty house in the Rue d’Egypte.
Opening the book that Carterette had placed in his hands before they left the house, he turned up and scanned closely the last written page. A moment after he started violently ; his eyes dilated, first with wonder, then with a bewildered joy ; and then, Protestant though he was, with the instinct of his longgone forefathers, he made the sacred sign, and said, " Now I have not lived and loved in vain, thanks be to God ! ”
Even as joy opened the eyes of this wan old man who had been sorely smitten through the friends of his heart, out at sea night and death were closing the eyes of another wan old man who had been a traitor to his country.
For indeed the boat of the fugitives had scarcely cleared reefs and rocks, and reached the open Channel, when Olivier Delagarde, uttering the same cry as when Ranulph and the soldiers had found him wounded in the Grouville Road, fifteen years before, suddenly started up from where he had lain mumbling, and whispering hoarsely, “ Ranulph — they 've killed — me! ” fell back dead.
True to the instinct which had kept him faithful to one idea for fifteen years, and in spite of the protests of Mattingley and Carterette, — of the despairing Carterette, who felt the last thread of her hopes snap with his going, — Ranulph at once made ready to leave them, and bade them good-by. Placing his father’s body in the rowboat, he drew back to the shore of St. Aubin’s Bay with his pale freight, and carried it on his shoulders up to the little house where he had lived for years.
There he kept the death-watch alone.
Guida knew nothing of the arrest and trial of Mattingley until he had been condemned to death. Nor until then had she known anything of what had happened to Olivier Delagarde ; for the day after her interview with Ranulph she had gone a-marketing to the island of Sark, with the results of a quarter of a year’s knitting. Several times a year she made this journey, landing at the Eperquérie Rocks, as she had done one day long ago, and selling her beautiful wool caps and jackets to the farmers and fisherfolk, getting in kind for what she sold.
This time she had remained at Sark beyond her intention, for ugly gales from the southeast came on, and then a slight accident happened to her child, the little Guilbert. Thus a month and over passed, and by the time she was ready to return to Plemont Mattingley had been condemned.
When Guida made these excursions to Sark, Dormy Jamais always remained at the little house, milking her cow, feeding her fowls, and keeping all in order, — as perfect a sentinel as Biribi, and as faithful. For the first time in his life, however, Dormy Jamais had been unfaithful. Not long after Carcaud, the baker, and Mattingley were arrested, he deserted the hut at Plemont to exploit the adventure which was at last to save Olivier Delagarde and Mattingley from death. But he had been unfaithful only in the letter of his bond. He had gone to the house of Jean Touzel, through whose Hardi Biaou the disaster had come, and had told Maîtresse Aimable that she must go to Plemont in his stead ; for a fool must keep his faith, whate’er the worldly-wise may do. So the poor simpleton and the fat femme de ballast, puffing with every step, trudged across the island to Plemont. There the fool installed the cumbrous figure in her place as keeper of the house, and, tireless, sleepless, trudged back again in the dark night to his fugitives from justice.
The next day Maîtresse Aimable’s quiet had been invaded by two signalmen, who kept watch, not far from Guida’s home, for all sail, friend or foe, bearing in sight. They were now awaiting the new admiral of the Jersey station and his fleet, and they brought Maîtresse Aimable strange news. With churlish insolence, they had entered the hut before she could prevent it. Looking round, they laughed meaningly, and then told her that the commander presently coming to lie with his fleet in Grouville Bay was none other than the sometime Jersey midshipman, now Admiral Prince Philip d’Avranche, Duc de Bercy. Maîtresse Aimable then understood the meaning of their laughter, and the insult they implied concerning Guida; and again her voice came ravaging out of the silence where it lay hid so often and so long, and the signalmen went their way.
Maîtresse Aimable could not make head or tail of her thoughts ; they were a mixture altogether. She could not see an inch before her nose ; all she could feel was an aching heart for Guida. She had heard strange tales of how Philip had become Prince Philip d’Avranche ; how the old duke had died on the very day that Philip had married the Comtesse Chantavoine; how the imbecile Prince Leopold John had succeeded ; how he had died suddenly; how Prince Philip had become the Duc de Bercy ; and how he had fought his ship against a French vessel off Ushant, and, though she had heavier armament than his own, had destroyed her. For this he had been made an admiral. Only the other day her Jean had brought the Gazette de Jersey, in which all these things were related, and had spelled them out for her. And now this same Philip d’Avranche, with his new name and fame, was on his way to defend the Isle of Jersey.
Maîtresse Aimable’s muddled mind could not get hold of this new Philip. For years she had thought him a monster, and here he was, a great and valiant gentleman to the world. He had done a thing that Jean would rather have cut off his hand — both hands — than do, and yet here he was, an admiral, a prince, and a sovereign duke, and men like Jean were as dust beneath his feet ! The real Philip she had known, and he was the man who had spoiled the life of a woman ; this other Philip, — she could read about him, she could think about him, just as she could think about William and his Horse in Boulay Bay, or the Little Bad Folk of Rocbert, but she could not realize him as a thing of flesh and blood and actual being. The more she trided to realize him, the more mixed she became.
As in her mental maze she sat panting her way to enlightenment, she saw Guida’s boat entering the little harbor. Now the truth must be told ; but how?
After her first exclamation of welcome to mother and child, she struggled painfully for her voice. She tried to find words in which to tell Guida the truth, but stopping in despair, she began rocking the child back and forth, saying only, “ Prince Admiral he — and now ! Oh my good, oh my good! ”
At this point of hesitation Guida’s sharp intuition found the truth.
“ Philip d’Avranche ! ” she said to herself. Then aloud, in a shaking voice, “Philip d’Avranche ! ”
Her heart suddenly leaped within her, not with emotion at thought of him or of anything that he had been to her, but because she felt a crisis near. She could not think clearly for a moment. It was as if her brain had received a blow, and all her head had a numb, singing sensation which obscured eyesight, hearing, speech.
When she had recovered a little, she took the child from Maîtresse Aimable, and, pressing him to her bosom, placed him in the Sieur de Mauprat’s great armchair. Never before had the little Guilbert sat there. The outward action, ordinary as it was, seemed significant of what was in her mind. The child himself realized something unusual, and he sat perfectly still, his small hands spread out on the big arms.
“ You always believed in me, ’Tresse Aimable,” Guida said at last, in a low voice.
“ Oui-gia, what else ? ” was the quick reply. The instant responsiveness of her own voice appeared to confound the femme de ballast, and her face suffused.
Guida stooped quickly and kissed her on the cheek.
“ You ’ll never regret that. And you will have to go on believing still; but you ’ll not be sorry at the end, ’Tresse Aimable,” she said, and turned away to the fireplace.
An hour afterward Maîtresse Aimable was upon her way to St. Helier’s, but now she carried her weight more easily and panted less. No doubt this was because it was all downhill, added to the remembrance that Guida had kissed her. Moreover, twice within a month Jean had given her ear a friendly pinch ; surely she had reason to carry her weight more lightly.
That afternoon and evening Guida struggled with herself. At first all her thoughts were in conflict; the woman in her shrinking from the ordeal that soon must come, almost preferring the peace of this isolation from her own world, in the knowledge of her own uprightness. But the mother in her pleaded, asserted, commanded, ruled confused ideas and emotions to quiet and definite purpose. Finality of purpose once achieved, a kind of peace came over her sick spirit; for with finality there is quiescence, if not peace.
When she looked at the little Guilbert, refined and strong, curiously observant and sensitive in temperament, so like herself, her courage suddenly leaped to a higher point than it had ever known. This innocent had suffered enough. What belonged to him he had not had. He had been wronged in much by his father, and maybe (and this was the cruel part of it) had been unwittingly wronged — alas, how unwittingly ! — by her. If she gave her own life many times, it still could be no more than was the child’s due.
Gazing at him now, seated in the great armchair, his look carrying the consciousness of some new dignity to which he must conform, her heart swelled with pride of him. How well they understood each other, and how wise was the child! He seemed always to feel what was going on in his mother’s mind. It was almost uncanny, his interpretation of her thoughts. Often she had glanced up from her work to find his eyes fixed upon her, just as her own mother’s gaze had been wont to rest upon her, though the looks had been so different ; this later tie was so close, so vital, so intimate.
An impulse seized her now, and, with a quick explosion of feeling, she dropped on her knees in front of the armchair. Looking into his eyes, as though hungering for the word she so often yearned to hear, she said, “You love your mother, Guilbert ? You love her, little son ? ”
With a pretty smile and eyes brimming with affectionate fun, but without a word, the child put out a tiny hand and drew the fingers softly down his mother’s face.
“ Speak, little son : tell your mother that you love her.”
The little hand pressed itself over her eyes, and a gay laugh came from the sensitive lips ; then both arms ran round her neck. The child drew her head to him impulsively, and kissing her, a little upon the hair and a little upon the forehead, so indefinite was the embrace, he said, “ Si, maman, I loves you best of all! ” Then, preoccupied with his new dignity, he sat back, put his hands upon the chair-arms as before, and, as she looked at him entranced, added, “ Maman, can’t I have the sword now ? ”
By what strange primitive instinct did he interpret meanings, and by his infant logic come into line with her own thoughts and purposes ?
“ You shall have the sword some day,” she answered, her eyes flashing.
“ But, maman, can’t I touch it now ? ”
Without a word, she took down the sheathed gold-handled sword and laid it across the chair-arms in front of the child.
“ I can’t take the sword out, can I, maman? ” he asked.
She could not help smiling. “ Not yet, my son, not yet.”
“ I has to be growed up, so the blade does n’t hurt me, has n’t I, maman ? ”
She nodded, and smiled again. Presently she said to him, “ Guilbert, if I let you have the sword, will you stay here alone with Biribi till I come back ? ”
He nodded his head sagely. “ Maman ! ” he called, as she was about to go. She turned to him; the little figure was erect with a sweet importance. “ Maman, what am I now ? ” he asked, with wide-open, amazed eyes.
A strange look passed across her face. She went over to him, and, stooping, kissed his curly hair.
“ You are my prince.”
He did not reply to that, but his eyes blinked as though he were trying to work it out in his own mind.
A little later Guida was standing on that point of land called Grosnez, — the brow of the Jersey tiger. Not far from her was the signal - staff which telegraphed to another signal-staff inland. Upon the staff now was hoisted a red flag. She knew the signals well; the red flag meant men-of-war in sight. Then bags were hoisted that told the number of vessels : one, two, three, four, five, six ; then one next the upright, meaning seven. Last of all came the signal for a flagship among them.
This was a fleet in command of an admiral. There, far out, between Guernsey and Jersey, was the squadron itself. She watched it for a little while, her heart hardening ; then, turning, she went back to the hut, for she saw that the men by the signal-staff were watching her. But presently she came out again with the child, and, in a spot where she was shielded from any eyes on the land or on ships at sea, she watched the fleet draw nearer and nearer.
The vessels passed almost within a stone’s throw of her. She could see the flag, the St. George’s cross, flying at the main of the largest ship. That was the admiral’s flag; that was the flag of Admiral Prince Philip d’Avranche, Duc de Bercy!
She felt her heart stand still, and with a tremor, as of fear, she gathered the child close to her.
“ What is all those ships, maman ? ” asked the boy.
“ They are the ships to defend the island of Jersey,” she replied, watching the Imperturbable and its flotilla range on.
“ Will they affend us, maman ? ”
“ Perhaps, — in the end,” she said; but still the answer was not wholly intended for the child.
Off Grouville Bay, between the Castle of Mont Orgueil and the beautiful, malignant Banc des Violets, lay the squadron of the Jersey station. The St. George’s cross was flying at the main of the Imperturbable, and on every ship of the fleet the white ensign flapped in the morning wind. The wooden-walled three-decked Imperturbable, with her one 68-pounder, seventy-four 32-pounders, and six hundred men, was not less picturesque, and was much move important, than the Castle of Mont Orgueil, standing over two hundred feet above the level of the sea, and flying the flag of a vice-admiral. It had become the home of Admiral Prince Philip d’Avranche, Duc de Bercy, and the Comtesse Chantavoine, now known to the world as the Duchesse de Bercy.
The Comtesse Chantavoine had arrived in the island almost simultaneously with Philip, although he had urged her to remain at the Château of Bercy. But the duchy of Bercy was in hard case. When the imbecile Duke Leopold John died, and Philip succeeded, the neutrality of Bercy was proclaimed; but this neutrality had since been violated, and the duchy was in danger at once from the incursions of the Austrians and the ravages of the Republican troops. In Philip’s absence, the valiant governorgeneral of the duchy, aided by the influence and courage of the Comtesse Chantavoine, had thus far saved it from dismemberment, in spite of attempted betrayals by the intendant, Comte Carignan Damour, who remained Philip’s implacable enemy. But when the Marquis Grandjon-Larisse, the uncle of the comtesse, died, her cousin, General Grandjon-Larisse, — whose word with Dalbarade had secured Philip’s release, years before, — for her own protection, first urged, and then commanded her temporary absence from the duchy. So far he had been able to protect it from the fury of the Republican government and the secret treachery of the Jacobins ; but a time of real peril was now at hand. Under these anxieties and the lack of other inspiration than duty, her health had failed, and at last she obeyed her cousin, joining Philip at the Castle of Mont Orgueil.
More than a year had passed since she had seen him, but there was no emotion, no ardor, in their present greeting. From the first there was nothing to link them together. She had married hoping that she might love thereafter; he had married in choler and bitterness, and in the stress of a desperate ambition. He had avoided the marriage so long as he might, in the hope of preventing it until the duke should die ; but, with the irony of fate, the expected death had come an hour after the marriage. Then, within eighteen months, came the death of the imbecile Leopold John, and Philip found himself the Duke of Bercy ; and not a month later, by reason of a splendid victory for the Imperturbable, an English admiral.
In this battle he had fought for victory for his ship, and a fall for himself. Death, with the burial of private dishonor under the roses of public triumph, — that had been his desire, all other ambitions being now achieved. But he had found that Death is willful, and chooseth his own time ; that he may be lured, but will not come with shouting. So he had stoically accepted his fate, and could even smile with a bitter cynicism when ordered to proceed to the coast of Jersey, where it was deemed certain collision with a French squadron would occur. From Mont Orgueil he could have communication by signals with the leaders of the Vendée, among whose most famous chieftains was now Comte Détricand de Tournay. The high place Philip had striven for, sold his honor for, had been granted him, and now, with sinister amusement, Fate threw him into alliance with the man he hated, the heir by blood and descent to the duchy he ruled.
Thus, too, he was brought face to face with his past, — with the memory of Guida Landresse de Landresse. Looking out from the windows of Mont Orgueil Castle or from the deck of the Imperturbable, he could see — and he could scarce choose but see — the lonely Ecréhos. There, with a wild eloquence, he had made a girl believe he loved her, and had taken the first step in the path which should have led to true happiness and honor. From this good path he had violently swerved — and now ?
From all that appeared, however, the world went very well with him. Almost any morning one might have seen a boat shoot out from below the castle wall, carrying a flag with the blue ball of a vice-admiral of the white in the canton; and as the admiral himself stepped upon the deck of the Imperturbable, the guard under arms offered the ceremony of respect, while across the water came a gay march played in his honor.
Jersey was elate, eager to welcome one of her own sons risen to such high estate; and when, the day after his arrival, he passed through the Vier Marchi on his way to visit the lieutenant-governor, the jurats in their red robes impulsively turned out to greet him. They were ready to prove that memory is a matter of will and cultivation. There is no curtain so opaque as that which drops between the mind of man and the thing which it is to his disadvantage to remember. But how closely does the ear of advantage listen for the footfall of a most distant memory, when to do so is to share even a reflected glory!
A week had gone since Philip had landed on the island. There was scarce an hour of that time when memory had not pursued him, scarce a step he took but reminded him of Guida. If he came along the shore of St. Clement’s Bay, he saw the spot where he had stood with her the evening he married her, and she said to him, “Philip, I wonder what we shall think of this day a year from now ? . . . To-day is everything to you ; to-morrow is very much to me.” He remembered Shoreham sitting upon the cromlech above, singing the legend of the gui-l’année, — and Shoreham was lying now a hundred fathoms deep !
As he walked through the Vier Marchi with his officers, there flashed before his eyes the scene of fifteen years ago, when amid the grime and havoc of battle he had run to save Guida from the scimiter of the garish Turk. Crossing the Place du Vier Prison, he recalled the morning when, with his few sailors, he had rescued Ranulph from the hands of the mob, and Guida’s face at the window had set his pulses beating faster. How many years ago was this, then ? Only four, and yet it seemed twenty.
He was a boy then ; now his hair was streaked with gray. He had been lighthearted then, and he was still buoyant with his fellows, still alert and vigorous, quick of speech and keen of humor,— but only before the world. In his own home he was fitful of temper, impatient of the still, meditative look of his wife, of her resolute tenacity of thought and purpose, of her unvarying evenness of mood through which no warmth played. If she had only defied him, given him petulance for petulance, impatience for impatience, it would have been easier to bear. If — if he could only read behind those still, passionless eyes, that clear, unvarying, unwrinkled forehead ! But he knew her no better now than he did the day he married her. Unwittingly she chilled him, and he knew that he had no right to complain. He knew that he had done her the greatest wrong which can be done a woman ; for, whatever chanced, Guida was still his wife. There was in him yet the strain of Calvinistic morality of the island race that bred him. He had shrunk from coming here, but it had proved far worse than he had looked for.
One day, in a nervous, bitter moment, after an impatient hour with the comtesse, he had said, “ Can you — can you not speak ? Can you not tell me what you think of this ? ” And she had answered quietly, “ It would do no good ; you would not understand. I know you in some ways better than you know yourself, but you do not know me at all. I cannot tell what it is, but there is something wrong in your nature, something that has poisoned your life. And not I alone have felt that. I never told you, but you remember the day the old duke died, — the day we were married ? You had gone from the room an instant. The duke beckoned me to him, and whispered, ' Don’t be afraid — don’t be afraid ’ — and then he died. That meant that he was afraid ; that death had cleared his sight as to you, in some way. He was afraid, — of what ? And I have been afraid, — of what ? I do not know. Things have not gone well, somehow. You are strong, you are brave, and I come of a race that have been strong and brave ; yet — yet we are lonely and far apart, and we shall never be nearer or less lonely, — that I know.”
To this he had made no reply. His anger had vanished. Something in her words had ruled him to her own calmness, and at that moment he had had the first flash of understanding of her nature and its relation to his own. He had simply said that time would probably give them better knowledge, and with that he had left her.
Passing through the Rue d’Egypte one day, in front of the house of Elie Mattingley, the smuggler, he met Dormy Jamais. Forgetful of everything save that this quaint, foolish figure had interested him when a boy, he called him by name ; but Dormy Jamais swerved away, eying him askance.
Immediately afterward, chancing to look up at the windows of Mattingley’s house, he suddenly felt a shiver run through him. There were the faces of the two men whom he least cared to see in this world, — Ranulph Delagarde and the Chevalier du Champsavoys. Ranulph was looking down at him with an infinite scorn and loathing, yet with something of triumph, too ; and there was a disconcerting look of triumph, also, in the chevalier’s face. The triumph in both faces was due to the fact that, but a few minutes before, the chevalier had shown to Ranulph a certain page in a certain book, long lost, which Carterette Mattingley had placed in his hands.
From this page Ranulph knew that Guida would henceforth have stronger champions than himself ; that he might now seek his own fate with one burden the less on his mind; that he was free to go forth and lose himself in the storm of war in the Vendée.
Something in Ranulph’s eye quickened Philip’s footsteps, drove him on, angry and confused. He bitterly reflected that there was no one of these men but was happier than he. He would willingly have changed places with Mattingley, the fugitive, who had had the hangman’s rope round his neck ; with Ranulph Delagarde, the son of a traitor, the poor shipwright with a broken life, whom the people of the island now held in such ill repute. A wave of remorse rushed over him. If lie could only turn back, even now, and throw up all, — go to Guida, beg her to come with him to a new life, and begin the world again. Every sentence of the letter she had written to him at Bercy, renouncing him, he knew only too well. The words would not he erased from his brain, but, like some deadly rust, ate away his pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy. Where would it all end ?
Even at that moment he saw Jean Touzel standing in the doorway of his house. Since his return Philip had not dared to ask about Guida, and no one had said a word concerning her, — whether she was dead or living. He felt now that he must know, and Jean Touzel or Maîtresse Aimable could tell him. He instantly bethought him of an excuse for the visit. His squadron needed another pilot; he would approach Jean Touzel in the matter.
Bidding his flag lieutenant go on to Elizabeth Castle, whither they were bound, and await him there, he crossed over to Jean. By the time he reached the doorway, however, Jean had retreated to the veille by the chimney, behind Maîtresse Aimable, who sat in a great stave chair mending a net.
Philip knocked and stepped inside. When Maîtresse Aimable saw who it was, she was so startled that she dropped her work, and made vague clutches to recover it. Stooping, however, was a great effort for her. Philip stepped forward and picked up the net. Politely handing it to her, he said, “Ah, Maîtresse Aimable, it is as if you had never stirred all these years ! ” Then turning to her husband, “ I have come looking for a good pilot, Jean.”
Maîtresse Aimable had at first flushed to a purple, had afterward gone pale, then recovered herself, and now returned Philip’s look with a downright steadiness. Like Jean, she knew well enough he had not come for a pilot; that was not the business of a prince admiral, — that could easily be a quartermaster’s work. Maîtresse Aimable did not even rise. Philip might be whatever the world chose to call him, but her house was her own ; he had come uninvited, and he was unwelcome.
She kept her seat, but her fat head inclined once in greeting, and she waited for him to speak again. She knew why he had come ; and somehow, the steady look in these slow brown eyes and the blinking glance behind Jean’s brassrimmed spectacles disconcerted Philip. Here were people who knew the truth about him, — knew the sort of man he really was. These poor folk, who had had nothing of the world but what they earned, they would never hang on any prince’s favors.
He read the situation rightly. The penalties of his life had taught him a discernment which could never have come to him through place and good fortune. Having at last discovered his real self a little, he was in the way of knowing others.
“ May I shut the door ? ” he asked cpiietly. Jean nodded. Closing it, Philip turned to them again. " Since my return I have heard naught concerning Mademoiselle Landresse,” he said. “ I want to ask you about her now. Does she still live in the Place du Vier Prison ? ”
Both Jean and Aimable shook their heads. They had spoken no word since his entrance.
“ She — she is not dead ? ” he asked, and he paled. They shook their heads again. “ Her grandfather ” — he paused — " is he living ? ” Once more they shook their heads in negation. “ Where is mademoiselle ? ” he queried, his heart sick.
Jean looked at his wife ; neither moved nor answered. “ Where does she live ? ” urged Philip. Still there was no motion, no reply. “ You might as well tell me,” he added, in a tone half pleading, half angry, — little like a sovereign duke, very like a man in trouble. “ You must know I shall find out from some one else, then,” he continued. “ But it were better for you to tell me. I mean her no harm, and I should rather know about her from her friends.”
He took off his hat now. Something in the dignity of these honest folk rebuked the pride of place and spirit in him. As plainly as though heralds had proclaimed it, he understood that these two knew that upon the shield of his honor there were abatements, — argent, a plain point tenne, due to him “ that tells lyes to his prince or general,” and argent, a gore sinister tenne, due for Hying from his colors.
Maîtresse Aimable turned and looked toward Jean, but Jean turned away his head. Then she did not hesitate. The voice so often eluding her will responded readily now. Anger — plain primitive rage — possessed her. She had had no child, but, as the years had passed, all the love that might have been given to her own was bestowed upon Guida, and she spoke in that mind.
“ Oh my grief, to think you have come here—you! You steal the best heart in the world; there is none like her — naimin-gia. You promise her, you break her life, you spoil her, and then you fly away, — ah, coward, you ! Man pèthe bénin, was there ever such a man like you ! If my Jean, there, had done a thing as that, I would sink him in the sea. Ah bah ! he would sink himself, je me crais. But you come back here, oh my Mother of God, you come back here with your sword, with your crown — ugh, it is like a black cat in heaven — you ! ”
She got to her feet more nimbly than she had ever done in her life, and the floor seemed to heave as she came toward Philip. “ You come to speak to me with soft words,” she said harshly. “ You shall have the hard truth from me — moi. You want to know now where she is. I ask where you have been these four years ! Your voice, it grow soft and tremble when you speak of her now. Oh ho ! it has been nice and quiet these four years. The grandpèthe of her drop dead in his chair when he know. The world turn against her, make light of her, when they know. All alone, — she is all alone, but for one fat old fool like me. She bear all the shame, all the pain, for the crime of you. All alone she take her child and go on to the rock of Plemont to live these three years. But you, you go and get a crown, and be amiral, and marry a grande comtesse, — marry, oh, je crais ben ! This is no world for such men like you. You come to my house, to the house of Jean Touzel ; well, you have the truth of God, bà sû! No good will come to you in the end—nannin-gia. When you come to die, you will think and think and think of the beautiful Guida Landresse ; you will think and think of the heart and life you kill; and you will call, and she will not come. You will call till your throat rattle, but she will not come, and the child of sorrow you gave her will not come, — no, bidemme ! E’fin, the door you shut you can open now, and you can go from the house of Jean Touzel. It belong to the wife of an honest man, — maint’nant! ”
In the moment’s silence that ensued Jean took a step forward. “Ma femme, ma bonne femme! ” he said in a shaking voice. Then he pointed to the door.
Humiliated, overwhelmed by the words of the woman, Philip turned mechanically toward the door without a word, and his fingers fumbled for the latch, for a mist was before his eyes. With a great effort he recovered himself. The door opened now, and he passed slowly out into the Rue d’Egypte.
“ A child — a child ! ” he said aloud, brokenly. “ Guida’s child — my God ! And I — have never — known. Plemont — Plemont — she is at Plemont! ” He shuddered. “ Guida’s child — and mine ! ” he kept on saying to himself, as in a painful dream he passed on to the shore.
In the little fisherman’s cottage he had left, a fat old woman sat sobbing in the great chair made of barrel-staves, and a man, stooping, kissed her twice on the cheek, — the first time in fifteen years. And then she both laughed and cried.
Guida sat by the fire, sewing, Biribi, the dog, at her feet. At a little distance away, to the right of the chimney, lay Guilbert asleep. Twice Guida lowered the work to her lap, and looked at the child on the bed, the reflected light of the fire playing on his face. Stretching out her hand, she touched him, and then she smiled. Hers was an all-devouring love ; the child was everything in life to her; her own present or future was as nothing ; she was but fuel for the fire of his existence.
A storm was raging outside. The sea roared in upon Plemont and Grosnez, and battered the rocks in a futile agony. A hoarse northeaster ranged across the tiger’s head in helpless fury, — a night of awe to inland folk, and of danger to seafarers. To Guida, who was both of the sea and of the land, fearless as to either, it was neither terrible nor desolate to be alone with the storm. Storm was but power unshackled, and power she loved and understood. She had lived so long in close commerce with storm and sea that something of their wild force had entered into her, and she was kin with them. To her, each wind was intimate as a friend, each rock and cave familiar as her hearthstone ; and the ungovernable ocean spoke in terms intelligible. So heavy was the surf that now and then the spray of some foiled wave broke on the roof; but she only nodded at that, as though the sea were calling her to come forth, were tapping upon her rooftree in joyous greeting.
But suddenly she started and bent her head as though listening to other sounds. It seemed as if her whole body were hearkening. Now she rose quickly to her feet, dropped her work upon the table near by, and rested herself against it, still listening. She was sure she heard a horse’s hoofs. Turning swiftly, she drew the curtain of the bed before her sleeping child, and then stood still, waiting, waiting. Her hand went to her heart once, as though its fierce throbbing hurt her. Plainly as though she could look through these stone walls into clear sunlight, she saw some one dismount, and she heard a voice.
The door of the hut was unlocked and unbarred. If she feared, it was easy to shoot the bolt and lock the door, to drop the bar across the little window, and be safe and secure. But no bodily fear possessed her; only that terror of the spirit when its great trial comes and it shrinks back, though the brain be of faultless courage.
She waited. There came a knocking at the door. She did not move from where she stood.
“ Come in,” she said in a clear voice. She was composed and resolute now.
As the latch clicked the door opened, and a cloaked figure entered, the shriek of the storm behind. The door closed. The intruder took a step forward ; his hat came off; the cloak was loosed and dropped upon the floor. Guida’s premonition had been right: it was Philip.
She did not speak. A stone could have been no colder, as she stood in the light of the fire and the crasset, her wonderful hair burnished by the flames, her face still and strong, the eyes darkling, luminous. There was on her the dignity of the fearless, the pure in heart.
“ Guida! ” Philip said, took a step nearer, and paused.
He was haggard ; he had the look of one who had come upon a desperate errand. When she did not answer, he went on pleadingly, “ Guida, won’t you speak to me ? ”
“ Prince Philip d’Avranche chooses a strange hour for his visit,” she returned quietly.
“ But see,” he said hurriedly, “ what I have to say to you.” He paused, as though to choose the thing he should say first.
“ You can say nothing I need hear,” she answered, looking him steadily in the eyes.
“ Ah, Guida,” he cried, disconcerted by her cold composure, “ for God’s sake, listen to me ! To-night we have to face our fate. To-night you have to say ” —
“ Fate was faced long ago. I have nothing to say.”
“ Guida, I have repented of all. I have come now only to speak honestly of the wrong I did you. I have come to ” —
Scorn sharpened her words, though she spoke calmly: “ You have forced yourself upon a woman’s presence, — and at this hour! ”
“ I chose the only hour possible,” he said quickly. “ Ah, Guida, the past cannot be changed, but we have the present and the future still. I have not come to justify myself, but to find a way to atone ” —
“ No atonement is possible.”
“ You cannot deny me the right to confess to you that ” —
“ To you denial should not seem hard usage,” she answered slowly, “and confession should have witnesses if ” — She paused suggestively. The imputation that of all men he had the least right to resent denial; that his present course was dishonest; that he was willing to justify her privately, though not publicly ; that repentance should have been open to the world, — it all stung him.
He threw out his hands in a gesture of protest and pleading. “ As many witnesses as you will, but not now, not this hour, after all these years. Will you not at least listen to me, and then judge and act ? Will you not hear me, Guida ? ”
She had not yet even stirred. Now that it had come, this scene was all so different from what she had ever imagined. But she spoke out of a merciless understanding, an unchangeable honesty. Her words came clear and pitiless : “ If you will speak to the point and without a useless emotion, I will try to listen. Common kindness should have prevented this intrusion — by you ! ”
Every word she said was like a whiplash across his face. A devilish light leaped into his eyes, but it faded as quickly as it came.
“ After to-night, to the public what you will,” he repeated, with dogged persistence, “ but it was right we should speak alone to each other at least this once,—before the open end. I did you wrong, yet I did not mean to ruin your life, and you should know that. I ought not to have married you secretly, — I acknowledge that. But I loved you! ”
She shook her head, and, with a smile of pitying disdain, — he could so little see the real truth, his real misdemeanor, — she said, “ Oh no, never, — never ! You were not capable of love ; you never knew what it means. From the first you were too untrue ever to love a woman. There was a great fire of emotion ; you saw shadows on the wall, and you fell in love with them. That was all.”
“I tell you that I loved you,” he answered, with passionate energy. “ But as you will. Let it be that it was not real love : at least it was all there was in me to give. I never meant to desert you. I never meant to disavow our marriage. I denied you, you will say. I did. In the light of what came after, it was dishonorable, — I grant that ; but I did it at a crisis and for the fulfillment of a great ambition, and as much for you as for me.”
“ Oh, how little you know what true people think or feel ! ” she exclaimed, with a kind of pain in her voice, and as much scorn, for she felt that such a nature could never quite realize its own enormities. Well, since it had gone so far, she would speak openly, though it hurt her sense of self-respect. She had hoped never to speak with him upon the past.
“ Do you think that I or any good woman would have had place or power, been princess or duchess, at the price ? What sort of mind have you ? ” She looked him straight in the eyes. “ Put it in the clear light of right and wrong, it was knavery. You — you talk of not meaning to do me harm, Monsieur le Prince ! You were never capable of doing me good. It was not in you. From first to last you are untrue. Were it otherwise, were you not from first to last unworthy, would you have made a mock marriage — it is no more — with the Comtesse Chantavoine ? No matter what I said or what I did in anger or contempt of you, had you been an honest man you would not have made this mock marriage, and ruined another life. Marriage, alas ! You have wronged the comtesse more deeply than you have wronged me. One day I shall be righted, but what can you say or do to right her wrongs ? ” Her voice had now a piercing indignation and force. “ Yes, Philip d’Avranche, it is as I say. The world turned against me because of you; I have been shamed and disgraced. For years I have suffered in silence. But I have waited without fear for the end. God is with me to justify and to set right. He is stronger than fate or fortune. He has brought you to Jersey once more, to right my wrongs,—mine and my child’s.”
She saw his eyes flash to the little curtained bed. They both stood silent and still. He could hear the child breathing. His blood quickened. An impulse seized him. He took a step toward the bed as though to draw the curtain, but she quickly moved between.
“ Never ! ” she said in a low, stern tone ; “ no touch of yours for my Guilbert, — for my son ! Every minute of his life has been mine. He is mine, — all mine, — and so he shall remain.”
It was as if the outward action of life was suspended in them for a moment, and then came the battle of two strong spirits : the struggle of fretful and indulged egotism, the impulse of a vigorous temperament, against a deep moral force, a high purity of mind and conscience, and the invincible love of the mother for the child. Time, bitterness, and power had hardened Philip’s mind, and his long-restrained emotions, breaking loose now, made him a passionate and willful figure. His force lay in the very unruliness of his spirit, hers in the perfect command of her moods and emotions. Well equipped by the thoughts and sufferings of four long years, her spirit was trained to meet this onset with wisdom and understanding. She understood him, — his nature, if not his deeds. They were like two armies watching each other across a narrow stream, between one conflict and another.
The only sounds in the room were the whirring of the fire in the chimney and the child’s breathing. At last Philip’s intemperate self-will gave way. There was no withstanding that cold, still face, that unwavering eye. Only brutality could go further. The nobility of her nature, her inflexible straightforwardness, came upon him with such force that his mood changed. It appeared to him once again as if all his world lay here before him. Dressed in molleton, with no adornment save the glow of a perfect health, she seemed at this moment the one being on earth worth living and caring for. What had he got for all the wrong he had done her ? Nothing. Come what might, there was one thing that he could yet do, and even as the thought possessed him he spoke.
“ Guida,” he said, with rushing emotion, “ it is not too late. Forgive the past, — the wrong of it, the shame of it. You are my wife ; nothing can undo that. The other woman, — she is not my wife. If we part and never meet again, she will suffer no more than she suffers to go on with me. She has never loved me, nor I her. Ambition did it all, and of ambition God knows I have had enough! Let me proclaim our marriage ; let me come back to you. Then, happen what will, for the rest of our lives I will try to atone for the wrong I did you. I want you ; I want our child. I want to win your love again.
I can’t wipe out what I have done, but I can put you right before the world, I can prove to you that I set you above place and ambition. If you shrink from doing it for me, do it ” — he glanced toward the bed — “do it for our child. To-morrow, to-morrow it shall be, if you will forgive. To-morrow let us start again.”
She did not answer at once; but at last, unmoved, she said, “ Giving up place and ambition would prove nothing now. It is easy to repent when our pleasures have palled. I told you in a letter, four years ago, that your protests came too late. They are always too late. With a nature like yours nothing is sure or lasting; everything changes with the mood. It is different with me: I only speak what I truly mean. Believe me, for I tell you the truth, you are a man whom a woman could forget, but could never forgive. As a prince you are much better than as a plain man, for princes may do what other men may not. It is their way to take all, and give nothing. You should have been born a prince ; then all your actions would have seemed natural. Yet now you must remain a prince, for what you got at such a price to others you must pay for. You say you would come down from your high place, you would give up your worldly honors, for me. What madness ! You are not the kind of man with whom a woman could trust herself in the troubles and changes of life. If I would have naught of your honors and your duchy long ago, do you think I would now share a disgrace from which you could never rise ? For in my heart I feel that this remorse is but caprice. It is to-day ; it may not — will not — be to-morrow.”
“You are wrong, you are wrong. I am honest with you now,” he broke in.
“ No, Philip d’Avranche,” she answered coldly, “ it is not in you to be honest. Your words have no ring of truth in my ears, for the note is the same that I heard once upon the Ecréhos. I was a young girl then, and I believed ; I am a woman now, and I should still disbelieve though all the world were on your side to tell me I was wrong. I tell you,” — her voice rose again ; it seemed to catch the note of freedom and strength of the storm without, — “I tell you, I will still live as my heart and conscience prompt me. The course I have set for myself I will follow; the life I entered upon when my child was born I will not leave. No word you have said has made my heart beat faster. You and I can never have anything to say to each other in this life, beyond ” — her voice changed, she paused — “ beyond one thing.” Going to the bed where the child lay, she drew the curtain softly, and pointing she said, “ There is my child. I have set my life to the one task, to keep him to myself, and yet to win for him the heritage of the dukedom of Bercy. You shall yet pay to him the price of your wrongdoing.”
She drew back slightly, so that he could see the child lying with his rosy face half buried in the pillow, the little hand lying like a flower upon the coverlet.
Once more, with a passionate exclamation, he made a step nearer to the child.
“ No farther ! ” she said in a voice of command, stepping between. When she saw the wild impulse in his face to thrust her aside, she added, “ It is only the shameless coward who strikes the dead ! You had a wife, — Guida d’Avranche ; but Guida d’Avranche is dead. There only lives the mother of this child, Guida Landresse de Landresse.” She drew herself up, and looked at him with scorn, almost with hatred. Had he touched her — but she would rather pity than loathe!
Her words roused all the devilry in him. The face of the child had sent him mad.
“ By Heaven, I will have the child, — I will have the child ! ” he said harshly. “ You shall not treat me like a dog. You know well I would have kept you as my wife, but your narrow pride, your unjust anger, threw me over. You have wronged me. I tell you, you have wronged me, for you kept the secret of the child from me all these years ! ”
“ The whole world knew ! ” she cried indignantly.
“ I will break your pride ! ” he said, incensed and unable to command himself. “ Mark you, I will break your pride. And I will have my child, too ! ”
“ Establish to the world your right to him,” she answered keenly. “ You shall have the right, but the possession shall be mine.”
He was the picture of impotent anger and despair. It was the irony of penalty that the one person in the world who could really sting him was this unacknowledged, almost unknown woman. She was the only human being who had power over him, who could shatter his egotism and resolve him into the common elements of a base manhood. Of little avail his eloquence now ! He had cajoled a sovereign dukedom out of an aged and fatuous prince ; he had cajoled a wife, who yet was no wife, from among the highest of a royal court ; he had cajoled success from fate by a valor informed with vanity and ambition ; years ago, with eloquent arts he had cajoled a young girl into a secret marriage. But he could no longer cajole the woman who was his one true wife. She knew him through and through.
He was so wild with rage that he could almost have killed her, as she stood there, one hand stretched out as though to protect the child, the other pointing to the door.
He seized his hat and cloak, and laid his hand upon the latch ; then suddenly turned to her. A dark project came to him. He himself could not prevail with her, but he would reach her yet through the child ! If the child were his, Guida would come to him.
“ Remember, I will have the child ! ” he said, his face black with evil purpose.
She did not deign reply, but stood fearless and still, as, throwing open the door, he rushed out into the night.
She listened until she heard his horse’s hoofs upon the rocky road of the upland. Then she went to the door, locked it and barred it. Turning, she ran to the bed, with a cry as of hungry love. Crushing the child to her bosom, she buried her face in his brown curls.
“ My son, my own darling son ! ”
(To be continued.)