The Battle of the Strong
DéTRICAND, Prince of Vaufontaine, was no longer in the Vendée. The whole of Brittany was in the hands of the victorious Hoche, the peasants were disbanded, and his work for a time, at least, was done.
On the same day of that momentous scene in the Cohue Roy ale when Guida was vindicated, Détricand had carried to Granville the Comtesse Chantavoine, who presently was passed over to the loving care of her kinsman, General Grandjon-Larisse. This done, he proceeded to England.
From London he communicated with Grandjon-Larisse, who applied himself to secure from the Directory leave for the Chouan chieftain to return to France, with amnesty for his past “ rebellion.”This was got at last through the influence of young Bonaparte himself. Detricand was free now to proceed against Philip.
He straightway devoted himself to a thing conceived on the day when Guida was restored to her rightful status as a wife. His purpose was to wrest from Philip the duchy of Bercy. Philip was heir by adoption only, and the inheritance had been secured at the last by help of a lie. Surely his was a righteous cause !
His motives had not their origin in hatred of Philip alone, nor in desire for honors and estates for himself, nor in racial antagonism ; for had he not been allied with England in this war against the government ? He hated Philip the man, but he hated still more Philip the usurper who had brought shame to the escutcheon of Bercy. There was also at work another and a deeper design, to be shown in good time.
Philip had retired from the English navy, and gone back to his duchy of Bercy. Here he threw himself into the struggle with the Austrians against the French. Received with enthusiasm by the people, who as yet knew little or nothing of the doings in the Cohue Royale, he now took over command of the army, and proved himself almost as able in the field as he had been at sea.
Of these things Détricand knew, and knew also that the lines were closing in round the duchy ; that one day soon Bonaparte would send a force which would strangle the little army and its Austrian allies. The game then would be another step nearer the end.
Free to move at will, he visited the courts of Prussia, Russia, Spain, Italy, and Austria, and laid before them his claims to the duchy ; urging an insistence on its neutrality, and a trial of his cause against Philip. Ceaselessly, adroitly, with persistence and power, he toiled toward his end, the way made easier by tales told of his prowess in the Vendee. He had offers without number to take service in foreign armies, but he was not to be tempted. Gossip of the courts said that there was some strange romance behind this tireless pursuit of an inheritance, but he paid no heed. If at last there crept over Europe wonderful tales of Détricand’s past life in Jersey, of the real Duchesse de Bercy and of the new Prince of Vaufontaine, Détricand did not, or feigned not to hear them ; and the Comtesse Chantavoine had disappeared from public knowledge. The few who guessed his romance were puzzled to understand his course; for if he dispossessed Philip, Guida must also be dispossessed. This, certainly, was not loverlike or friendly.
But Détricand was not at all puzzled ; his mind and purpose were clear. Guida should come to no injury through him, — Guida, who, as they left the Cohue Royale that day of days, had turned on him a look of heavenly trust and gratitude ; who, in the midst of her own great happenings, found time to tell him by a word how well she knew he had kept his promise to her, even beyond belief. Justice for her was now the supreme and immediate object of his life. There were others ready to care for France, to fight for her, to die for her, to struggle toward the hour when the King should come to his own ; but there was only one man in the world who could achieve Guida’s full justification, and that was himself, Détricand of Vaufontaine.
He was glad to turn to the chevalier’s letters from Jersey. It was from the chevalier’s lips he had learned the whole course of Guida’s life during the four years of his absence from the island. It was the chevalier who drew for him pictures of Guida in her new home, — none other than the house of Elie Mattingley, which the Royal Court having confiscated now handed over to her as an act of homage. The little world of Jersey no longer pointed the finger of scorn at Guida Landresse de Landresse, but bent the knee to Princess Guida d’Avranche.
Détricand wrote many letters to the chevalier, and they, with their cheerful and humorous allusions, were read aloud to Guida, — all save one. Writing of himself to the chevalier on one occasion, he laid bare with a merciless honesty his nature and his career. Concerning neither had he any illusions.
“I do not mistake myself,chevalier,” he wrote, “ nor these late doings of mine. What credit shall I take to myself for coming to place and some little fame ? Everything has been with me: the chance of inheritance ; the glory of a cause as hopeless as splendid, and more splendid because hopeless ; and the luck of him who loads the dice, — for all my old comrades, the better men. are dead, and I, the least of them all, remain, having even outlived the cause. What praise shall I take for this ? None, — from all decent fellows of the earth, none at all. It is merely laughable that I should be left, the monument of a sacred loyalty the greatest that the world has ever known.
“ I have no claims — But let me draw the picture, dear chevalier. Here was a discredited, dissolute fellow whose life was worth a pin to nobody. Tired of the husks and the swine, and all his follies grown stale by overuse, he takes the advice of a good gentleman and joins the standard of work and sacrifice. What greater luxury shall man ask ? If this be not running the full scale of life’s enjoyment, pray you what is ! The world loves contrasts. The deep-dyed sinner raising the standard of piety is picturesque. If, charmed by his own new virtues, he is constant in his enthusiasm, behold a St. Augustine! Everything is with the returned prodigal, — the more so if he be of the notorious Vaufontaines, who were ever saints turned sinners, or sinners turned saints.
“ Tell me, my good friend, where is room for pride in me? I am getting far more out of life than I deserve; it is not well that you and others should think better of me than I do of myself. I do not pretend that I dislike it; it is as balm to me. But it would seem that the world is monstrously unjust. One day, when I’m grown old, — I cannot imagine what else Fate has spared me for, — I shall write the Diary of a Sinner, the whole truth. I shall tell how, when my peasant fighters were kneeling round me praying for success, even thanking God for me, I was smiling in my glove, — in scorn of myself, not of them, chevalier; no, no, not of them ! The peasant’s is the true greatness. Everything is with the aristocrat; he has to kick the great chances from his path, but the peasant must go hunting them in peril. Hardly snatching sustenance from Fate, the peasant fights into greatness ; the aristocrat may only win to it by rejecting Fate’s luxuries. The peasant never escapes the austere teaching of hard experience; the aristocrat, the languor of good fortune. There is the peasant, and there am I. Voila ! enough of Detricand of Vaufontaine. The Princess Guida and the child, are they ” —
So the letter ran, and the chevalier read it aloud to Guida up to the point where her name was writ. Afterward Guida would sit and think of what Detricand had said, and of the honesty of nature that never allowed him to deceive himself. It pleased her, also, to think she had in some small way helped a man to the rehabilitation of his life. He had said that she had helped him, and she believed him ; he had proved the soundness of his aims and ambitions ; his career was in the world’s mouth.
The one letter the chevalier did not read to Guida referred to Philip. In it Detricand begged the chevalier to hold himself in readiness to proceed at a day’s notice to Paris.
So it was that when, after months of waiting, the chevalier suddenly left St. Helier’s to join Detricand, Guida did not know the object of his journey. All she knew was that he had leave from the Directory to visit Paris. Imagining this to mean some good fortune for him, with a light heart she sent him off in charge of Jean Touzel, who took him to St. Malo in the Hardi Biaou, and saw him safely into the hands of an escort from Détricand.
Three days later there was opened in one of the chambers of the Emperor’s palace at Vienna a congress of four nations, Prussia, Russia, Austria, and Sardinia. Detricand‘s labors had achieved this result at last. Grandjon-Larisse, his old enemy in battle, now his personal friend and colleague in this business, had influenced Napoleon, and the Directory through him, to respect the neutrality of the duchy of Bercy, for which the four nations of this congress declared.
Philip himself little knew whose hand had secured the neutrality, until summoned to appear at the congress to defend his rights to the title and the duchy against those of Detricand, Prince of Vaufontaine. Had he known that Détricand was behind it all, he would have fought on to the last gasp of power and died on the battlefield. He realized now that such a fate was not for him ; that he must fight, not on the field of battle like a prince, but in a court of nations like a doubtful claimant of sovereign honors.
His whole story had become known in the duchy ; and though it begot no feeling against him in war-time, now that Bercy was in a neutral zone of peace there was much talk of the wrongs of Guida and the Countess Chantavoine. He became moody and saturnine, and saw few of his subjects save the old governor-general and his whilom enemy, now his friend, Count Carignan Damour. That at last he should choose to accompany him to Vienna the man who had been his foe during the lifetime of the old duke seemed incomprehensible. Yet, to all appearance, Damour was now Philip’s zealous adherent. He came frankly repenting his old enmity ; and though Philip did not quite believe him, some perverse temper, some obliquity of vision which overtakes the ablest minds at times, made him almost eagerly accept his new partisan. One thing Philip knew: Damour had no love for Detricand, who indeed had lately sent, him word that for his work in sending Fouche’s men to attempt his capture in Bercy he would have him shot, if the court of nations upheld Détricand’s rights to the duchy. Damour was able, even if Damour was not honest. Damour, the able, the implacable and malignant, should accompany him to Vienna.
The opening ceremony of the congress was simple, but it was made notable by the presence of the Emperor of Austria, who addressed a few words of welcome to the envoys, to Philip, and, very pointedly, to the representative of the French nation, the aged Duc de Mauban, who, while taking no active part in the congress, was present by request of the Directory. The duke’s long residence in Vienna and freedom from share in the civil war in France had been factors in the choice of him when his name was submitted to the Directory by General Grandjon - Larisse, upon whom in turn it had been urged by Détricand.
The Duc de Mauban was the most marked figure of the court, the Emperor not excepted. Clean-shaven, with snowy linen and lace, his own natural hair, silver white, tied in a queue behind, he had large, eloquent, wondering eyes that seemed always looking, looking beyond the thing he saw. At first sight of him at his court, the Emperor had said, “ The stars have frightened him.” No fanciful supposition, for the Duc de Mauban was equally well known as astronomer and as student of history and philanthropist.
When the Emperor mentioned de Mauban’s name, Philip wondered where he had heard it before. Something in the sound of it was associated with his past, — he knew not how. He had a curious feeling, too, that those deliberate, searching dark eyes saw the end of this fight, this battle of the strong. The face fascinated him, though it awed him. He admired it, even as he detested the ardent strength of Détricand’s face, where the wrinkles of dissipation had given way to the bronzed carven look of the war-beaten soldier.
It was fair battle between these two, and there was enough hatred in the heart of each to make the light deadly. Philip knew — and he had known since that day, years ago, in the Place du Vier Prison—that Détricand loved the girl whom he himself had married and dishonored. He felt, also, that Détricand was making this claim to the duchy more out of vengeance than from desire to secure the title for himself. He read the whole deep scheme : how Détricand had laid his mine at every court in Europe to bring him to this pass.
For hours Philip’s witnesses were examined, among them the officers of his duchy and Count Carignan Damour. The physician of the old Duke of Bercy was examined, and the evidence was with Philip. The testimony of Dalbarade, the French ex-minister of marine, was read and considered. Philip’s story, up to the point of the formal signature by the old duke, was straightforward and clear. So far the court was in his favor.
Détricand, as natural heir of the duchy, combated each step in the proceedings from the standpoint of legality, of the duke’s fatuity concerning Philip and his personal hatred of the house of Vaufontaine. On the third day, when the congress would give its decision, Detricand brought the chevalier to the palace. At the opening of the sitting he requested that Damour be examined again. The count was asked what question had been put to Philip immediately before the deeds of inheritance were signed. It was useless for Damour to evade the point, for there were other officers of the duchy present who could have told the truth. Yet this truth, of itself, need not ruin Philip. It was no phenomenon for a prince to have one wife unknown, and, coming to the throne, to take to himself another more exalted.
Détricand was hoping that the nice legal sense of mine and thine would be suddenly weighted in his favor by a prepared tour de force. The sympathies of the congress were largely with himself, for he was of the order of the nobility, and Philip’s descent must be traced through centuries of yeoman blood : yet there was the deliberate adoption by the duke to face, with the formal assent of the states of Bercy, but little lessened in value by the fact that the French government had sent its emissaries to Bercy to protest against it. The court had come to a point where decision upon the exact legal merits of the case was difficult.
After Damour had testified to the question the duke asked Philip when signing the deeds at Bercy, Detricand begged leave to introduce another witness, and brought in the chevalier. Now he made his great appeal. Simply, powerfully, he told the story of Philip’s secret marriage with Guida, and of all that came after, up to the scene in the Cohue Royale when the marriage was proved and the child given back to Guida; when the Countess Chantavoine, turning from Philip, acknowledged to Guida the justice of her claim. He drove home the truth with bare, unvarnished power, — the wrong to Guida, the wrong to the countess, the wrong to the dukedom of Bercy, to that honor which should belong to those in high estate. Then at the last he told them who Guida was: no peasant girl, but the granddaughter of the Sieur Larchant de Mauprat, of the de Mauprats of Chambéry, — the granddaughter of an exile, indeed, but of the noblest blood of France.
The old Duc de Mauban fixed his look on him intently, and as the story proceeded his hand grasped the table before him in strong emotion. When at the close Detricand turned to the chevalier and asked him to bear witness to the truth of what he had said, the duke, in agitation, whispered to the president.
All that Detricand had said had moved the court profoundly; but when the withered little flower of a man, the chevalier, told in quaint, brief sentences the story of the Sieur de Mauprat, his sufferings, his exile, and the nobility of his family, which had indeed, far back, come of royal stock, and then finally of Guida and the child, more than one member of the court turned his head away with misty eyes.
It remained for the Duc de Mauban to speak the word which hastened and compelled the end. Rising in his place.
he addressed to the court a few words of apology, inasmuch as he was without real authority there, and then he turned to the chevalier.
“ Monsieur le Chevalier,” said he, “ I had the honor to know you in somewhat better days for both of us. You will allow me to greet you here with my profound respect. The Sieur Larchant de Mauprat,” — he turned to the president, his voice became louder, — “the Sieur de Mauprat was my friend. He was with me upon the day I married the Duchess Guidabaldine. Trouble, exile, came to him. Years passed, and at last in Jersey I saw him again. It was the very day his grandchild was born. The name given to her was Guidabaldine, — the name of the Duchesse de Mauban. She was Guidabaldine Landresse de Landresse; she is my godchild. There is no better blood in France than that of the de Mauprats of Chambery, and the grandchild of my friend — her father being also of good Norman blood — was worthy to be the wife of any prince in Europe. I speak in the name of our order, I speak for Frenchmen, I speak for France. If Detricand, Prince of Vaufontaine, be not secured in his right of succession to the dukedom of Bercy, France will not cease to protest till protest hath done its work. From France the duchy of Bercy came. It was the gift of a French king to a Frenchman, and she hath some claims upon the courtesy of the nations.”
For a moment after he took his seat there was absolute silence. Then the president wrote upon a paper before him, and it was passed to each member of the court sitting with him. For a moment longer there was nothing heard save the scratching of a quill. Philip recalled that day at Bercy when the duke stooped and signed his name upon the deed of adoption and succession three times, — three fateful times.
Then the president, rising in his place, read the pronouncement, of the court: that Detricand, Prince of Vaufontaine, be declared true inheritor of the duchy of Bercy, the nations represented here confirming him in his title.
The president having spoken, Philip rose, and, bowing to the congress with dignity and composure, left the chamber with Count Carignan Damour.
As he passed from the portico into the grounds of the palace, a figure came suddenly from behind a pillar and touched him on the arm. He turned quickly, and received upon the face a blow from a glove.
The owner of the glove was General Grandjon-Larisse.
“ You understand, monsieur ? ” said Grandjon-Larisse.
“ Perfectly, — and without the glove, Monsieur le General,” answered Philip quietly. “ Where shall my seconds wait upon you ? ” As he spoke he turned with a slight gesture toward Damour.
“ In Paris, monsieur, if it please you.”
“ I should have preferred it here, Monsieur le General; but Paris, if it is your choice.”
“At 22, Rue de Mazarin, monsieur.” Then, with an elaborate bow to Philip, “ I bid you good-day, monsieur.”
“ Monseigneur, not monsieur,” Philip corrected. “ They may deprive me of my duchy, but I am still Prince Philip d’Avranche. I may not be robbed of my adoption.”
There was something so steady, so infrangible, in Philip’s composure now that Grandjon-Larisse, who had come to challenge a great adventurer, a marauder of honor, found his furious contempt checked by some integral power resisting disdain. He intended to kill Philip, — he was one of the most expert swordsmen in France, — yet he was constrained to respect a composure not sangfroid, and a firmness in misfortune not bravado. Philip was still the man who had valiantly commanded men, who had held of the high places of the earth. In whatever adventurous blood his purposes had been conceived or his doubtful plans accomplished, he was still, stripped of power, a man to be reckoned with, — resolute in his course once set upon, and impulsive toward good as toward evil. He was never so much worth respect as when, a dispossessed sovereign with an empty title, discountenanced by his order, disbarred his profession, he held himself ready to take whatever penalty came.
In the presence of General GrandjonLarisse, with whom was the might of righteous vengeance, he was the more distinguished figure. To Philip now there came the cold quiet of the sinner great enough to rise above physical fear, proud enough to say to the world, “ Come, I pay the debt I owe. We are quits. You have no favors to give, and I none to take. You have no pardon to grant, and I none to ask.”
At parting Grandjon-Larisse bowed to Philip with great politeness, and said, “In Paris, then, Monsieur le Prince.”
Philip bowed his head in assent.
When they met again, it was at the entrance to the Bois de Boulogne near the Maillot gate.
It was a damp, gray morning, immediately before sunrise, and at first there was scarce light enough for the combatants to see each other perfectly ; but both were eager and would not delay.
As they came on guard the sun rose. Philip, where he stood, was full in its light. He took no heed, and they engaged at once. After a few passes Grandjon-Larisse said, " You are in the light, monseigneur ; the sun shines full upon you,” and he pointed to the shade of a wall nearby. “ It is darker there.”
“ One of us must certainly be in the dark—soon,” answered Philip grimly, but he removed to the wall.
From the first Philip took the offensive. He was more active, and he was quicker and lighter of fence, than his antagonist. But Grandjon-Larisse had the surer eye, and was invincibly certain of hand and strong of wrist. Presently Philip wounded his opponent slightly in the left breast, and the seconds came forward to declare that honor was satisfied. But neither would listen or heed; their purpose was fixed to fight to the death. They engaged again, and almost at once the Frenchman was slightly wounded in the wrist. Suddenly taking the offensive and lunging freely, Grandjon - Larisse drove Philip, now heated and less wary, backwards upon the wall. At last, by a dexterous feint, he beat aside Philip’s guard, and drove the sword through his right breast at one fierce lunge.
With a moan Philip swayed and fell forward into the arms of Damour.
Grandjon-Larisse stooped to the injured man. Unloosing his fingers from the sword, Philip stretched up a hand to his enemy.
“I am hurt to death,” he said. “ Permit my compliments to the best swordsman I have ever known.” Then, with a touch of sorry humor, he added, “ You cannot doubt their sincerity ! ”
Grandjon-Larisse was turning away, when Philip called him back. " Will you carry my profound regret to the Comtesse Chantavoine ? ” he whispered. " Say that it lies with her whether Heaven pardon me.”
Grandjon-Larisse hesitated an instant; then answered, “ Those who are in heaven, monseigneur, know best what Heaven may do.”
Philip’s pale face took on a look of agony. “ She is dead — she is dead ! ” he gasped.
Grandjon-Larisse inclined his head ; then, after a moment, gravely said, “ What did you think was left for a woman, for a Chantavoine ? It is not the broken heart that kills, but broken pride, monseigneur.”
So saying, he bowed again to Philip and turned upon his heel.
Philip lay on a bed in the unostentatious lodging in the Rue de Vaugirard where Damour had brought him. The surgeon had pronounced the wound mortal, giving him but a few hours to live. For long after he was gone Philip was silent, but at last he said, " You heard what Grandjon-Larisse said, — it is broken pride that kills, Damour.” Then he asked for pen, ink, and paper. They were brought to him. He tried the pen upon the paper, but faintness suddenly seized him, and he fell back unconscious.
When he came to himself he was alone in the room. It was cold and cheerless, — no fire on the hearth, no light save that flaring from a lamp in the street outside his window. He rang the bell at his hand. No one answered. He called aloud, “ Damour ! Damour ! ”
Damour was far beyond earshot. He had bethought him that now his place was in Bercy, where he might gather up what fragments of good fortune remained, what of Philip’s valuables might be secured. Ere he had fallen back insensible, Philip, in trying the pen, had written his own name on a piece of paper. Above this Damour wrote for himself an order upon the chamberlain of Bercy to enter Philip’s private apartments in the castle ; and thither he was fleeing as Philip lay dying in the dark room of the house in the Rue de Vaugirard.
The woman of the house, to whose care Philip had been passed over by Damour, had tired of watching, and had gone to spend one of his goldpieces for supper with her friends.
Meanwhile, in the dark, comfortless room, the light from without flickering upon his blanched face, Philip was alone with himself, with memory, and with death. As he lay gasping, a voice seemed to ring through the silent room, repeating the same words again and again ; and the voice was his own voice. It was himself — some other outside self of him
— saying, in tireless repetition : “ May I die a black, dishonorable death, abandoned and alone, if ever I deceive you. I should deserve that, if I deceived you, Guida ! A black, dishonorable death, abandoned and alone.” It was like some horrible dirge chanting in his ear.
Pictures flashed before his eyes, strange imaginings. Now he was passing through dark corridors, and the stone floor beneath was cold, — so cold ! He was going to some gruesome death, and monks with voices like his own voice were intoning: " Abandoned and alone. Alone
— alone — abandoned and alone.” . . . And now he was fighting, fighting on board the Araminta. There was the roar of the great guns, the screaming of the carronade slides, the rattle of musketry, the groans of the dying, the shouts of his victorious sailors, the crash of the mainmast as it fell upon the bulwarks ; then the swift sissing ripple of water, the thud of the Araminta as she struck, and the cold chill of the seas as she went down. How cold was the sea, — ah, how it chilled every nerve and tissue of his body !
He roused to consciousness again. Here was still the blank, cheerless room ; the empty house ; the lamplight flaring through the window upon his stricken face, upon the dark walls, upon the white paper lying on the table beside him.
Paper, — ah, that was it. He must write, — he must write while he had strength. With the last courageous effort of life, his strenuous will forcing the declining powers into obedience for a final combat, he drew the paper near and began to write. The light flickered, wavered ; he could just see the letters that he formed, — no more.
“Guida,” he began, “on the Ecrehos I said to you, ‘ If I deceive you, may I die a black, dishonorable death, abandoned and alone! ’ It has all come true. You were right, always right, and I was always wrong. I never started fair with myself or with the world. I was always in too great a hurry; I was too ambitious, Guida. Ambition has killed me, and it has killed her, — the comtesse. She is gone. What was it he said — if I could but remember what Grandjon-Larisse said — ah yes, yes ! — after he had given me my deathwound, he said, ‘ It is not the broken heart that kills, but broken pride.’ There is the truth. She is in her grave, and I am going out into the dark,”
He lay back exhausted for a moment, in desperate estate. The body was fighting hard that the spirit might confess itself before the vital spark died down forever. Seizing a glass of cordial near, he drank of it. The broken figure in its mortal defeat roused itself again, leaned over the paper, and a shaking hand traced on the brief, piteous record of a life : —
“ I climbed too fast. Things dazzled me. I thought too much of myself, — myself, myself was everything always; and myself has killed me. In wanton haste I came to be admiral and sovereign duke, and it has all come to nothing, — nothing. I wronged you, I denied you : there was the cause of all. There is no one to watch with me now to the one moment of life that counts. In this hour the clock of time fills all the space between earth and heaven. It will strike soon, — the awful clock. It will soon strike twelve : and then it will be twelve of the clock for me always, — always.
“ I know you never wanted revenge on me, Guida, but still you have it here. My life is no more now than vraic upon a rock. I cling, I cling, but that is all, and the waves break over me. I am no longer an admiral, I am no more a duke, — I am nothing. It is all done. Of no account with men, I am going to my judgment with God. But you remain, and you are Princess Philip d’Avranche, and your son — your son — will be Prince Guilbert d’Avranche. But I can leave him naught, neither estates nor power. There is little honor in the title now, so it may be you will not use it. But you will have a new life : with my death happiness may begin again for you. That thought makes death easier. I was never worthy of you, — never. I understand myself now, and I know that you have read me all these years, read me through and through. The letter you wrote me, never a day or night has passed but, one way or another, it has come home to me.”
There was a footfall outside his window. A roisterer went by in the light of the flaring lamp. He was singing a ribald song. A dog ran barking at his heels. The reveler turned, drew his sword, and ran the dog through, then staggered on with his song. Philip shuddered, but, with a supreme effort, bent to the table again, and wrote on : —
“ You were right: you were my star, and I was so blind with selfishness and vanity I could not see. I am speaking the truth to you now, Guida. I believe I might have been a great man, if I had thought less of myself and more of others, — more of you. Greatness, — I was mad for that, and my madness has brought me to this desolate end, alone. Go tell Maitresse Aimable that she too was a good prophet. Tell her that, as she foresaw, I called your name in death, and you did not come! One thing before all: teach your boy never to try to be great, but always to live well and to be just. Teach him, too, that the world means better by him than he thinks, and that he must never treat it as his foe; he must not try to force its benefits and rewards ; he must not approach it like the highwayman. Tell him never to flatter. That is the worst fault in a gentleman ; for flattery makes false friends, and makes the flatterer himself false. Tell him that good address is for ease and courtesy of life ; but it must not be used to one’s secret advantage, as I have used mine to mortal undoing. If ever Guilbert be in great temptation, tell him his father’s story, and read him these words to you, written, as you see, with the cramped fingers of death.”
He could scarcely hold the pen now, and his eyes were growing dim.
“ . . . I am come to the end of my strength. I thought I loved you, Guida, but I know now that it was not love, — not real love. Yet it was all a twisted manhood had to give. There are some things of mine that you will keep for your son, if you forgive me dead whom you despised living. Détricand, Duke of Bercy, will deal honorably by you. All that is mine at the castle of Bercy he will secure to you. Tell him I have written it so ; though he will do it of himself, I know. He is a great man. As I have gone downward, he has come upward. There has been a star in his sky, too. I know it, I know it, Guida, and he — he is not blind.” He trembled violently. “ The light is going. I cannot see. I can only ” —
He struggled fiercely for breath, but suddenly collapsed upon the table, and his head fell forward upon the paper: one cheek lying on the wet ink of his last-written words; the other, cold and stark, turned to the window. The light from the lamp without flickered on it in gruesome sportiveness. The eyes stared and stared from the little dark room out into the world ; but they did not see.
The night wore on. At last came a knocking, knocking at the door, — tap! tap ! tap ! But he did not hear. A moment of silence, and again came a knocking — knocking — knocking !
The white and red flag of Jersey was flying half-mast from the Cohue Royale, and the bell of the parish church was tolling. It was Saturday, but little business was being done in the Vier Marchi. At familiar points chattering people were gathered, and at the foot of La Pyramide a large group surrounded two sailormen just come from Gaspé, bringing news of adventuring Jersiais, — Elie Mattingley, Carterette, and Ranulph Delagarde. This audience quickly grew, for word was being passed on from one little group to another. So keen was interest in the story told by the home-coming sailors that the great event which had brought them to the Vier Marchi was, for the moment, almost neglected.
Presently, however, a cannon-shot, then another, and another, roused the people to remembrance. The funeral cortege of Admiral Prince Philip d’Avranche was about to leave the Cohue Royale, and every eye was turned to the marines and sailors lining the road from the courthouse to the church.
The Isle of Jersey, ever stubbornly loyal to its own, — even those whom the outside world contemned or cast aside, — jealous of its dignity even with the dead, had come to bury Philip d’Avranche with all good ceremony. There had been abatements to his honor, but he had been a strong man and he had done strong things, and he was a Jerseyman born, a Norman of the Normans. The Royal Court had judged between him and Guida, doing tardy justice to her, but of him they had ever been proud ; and where conscience condemned here, vanity commended there. In any event, they reserved the right, independent of all nonJersiais, to do what they chose with their dead.
For what Philip had been as an admiral they would do his body reverence now; for what he had done as a man, that belonged to another tribunal. It had been proposed by the admiral of the station to bury him from his old ship, the Imperturbable; but the Royal Court had made its claim, and so his body had lain in state in the Cohue Royale. The admiral joined hands with the island authorities. In both cases it was a dogged loyalty. The sailors of England knew Philip d’Avranche as a fighter, even as the Royal Court knew him as a famous and dominant Jerseyman. A battleship is a world of its own, and Jersey is a world of its own. They neither knew nor cared for the comment of the world without; or, knowing, refused to consider it.
When the body of Philip was carried from the Cohue Royale, signals were made to the Imperturbable in the tideway. From all her ships in company forty guns were fired funeral-wise, and the flags were struck half-mast.
Slowly the cortege uncoiled itself to one long, unbroken line from the steps of the Cohue Royale to the porch of the church. The jurats in their red robes, the officers, sailors, and marines added color to the pageant. The coffin was covered by the flag of Jersey with the arms of William the Conqueror in the canton.
Of the crowd, some were curious, some stoical; some wept, some essayed philosophy.
“ Et ben,”said one, “he was a brave admiral! ”
“ Bravery was his trade,” answered another: “act like a sheep and you’ll be eaten by the wolf.”
“ It was a bad business about her that was Guida Landresse,” remarked a third.
“ Every man knows himself; God knows all men,” snuffled the fanatical barber who had once delivered a sermon from the Pompe des Brigands.
“ He made things lively while he lived, ba su! ” droned the jailer of the Vier Prison. “ But he has folded sails now, pergui! ”
“ Ma fé, yes, he sleeps like a porpoise now; and white as a wax he looked up there in the Cohue Royale,” put in a centenier standing by.
A voice came shrilly over the head of the centenier: " As white as you ’ll look yellow one day, bat’ d’la goule ! Yellow and green, oui-gia ! — yellow like a bad apple, and cowardly green as a leek.” This was Manon Moignard, the witch.
“ Mon doux d’la vie, where’s the master of burials ?” babbled the jailer.
“ The apprentice does the obs’quies today.”
“ The master ’s sick of a squinzy,”grunted the centenier. “ So hatchet-face and bundle-o’-nails there brings dust to dust, amen.”
All turned now to the undertaker’s apprentice, a grim, saturnine figure with his gray face, protuberant eyes, and obsequious solemnity, in which lurked a callous smile. The burial of the great, the execution of the wicked, were alike to him. In him Fate seemed to personify life’s revenges, its futilities, its calculating ironies.
The flag-draped coffin was just about to pass, and the fanatical barber harked back to Philip. “ They say it was all empty honors with him afore he died abroad.”
“ A full belly ’s a full belly, if it’s only full of straw! ” snapped Manon Moignard.
“ Who was it brought him home ? asked the jailer.
“ None that was born on Jersey, but two that lived here,” remarked Maitre Damian, the schoolmaster from St. Aubin’s.
“ That Chevalier of Champsavoys and the other Duc de Bercy,” interposed the centenier.
Maître Damian tapped his stick upon the ground, and said oracularly, “ It is not for me to say, but which is the rightful duke, and which is not, — there is the political question! ”
“ Pardi, that’s it! ” answered the centenier. " Why did Detricand Duke turn Philip Duke out of duchy, see him killed, then fetch him home to Jersey like a brother ? Ah, man pèthe bénin, that’s beyond me ! ”
“ Those great folks does things their own ways, oui-gia! ” remarked the jailer.
“ Why did Détricand Duke go back to France?” asked Maître Damian, cocking his head wisely. “ Why did he not stay for obsequies — he ? ”
“ That’s what I say,” answered the jailer: " those great folks does things their own ways.”
“ Ma fistre, I believe you ! ” ejaculated the centenier. “ But for the chevalier there, for a Frenchman, that is a man after God’s own heart, and mine.
“ Ah, then, look at that! ” said Manon Moignard, with a sneer; “when one pleases you and God, it is a ticket to heaven, diantre ! ”
But in truth what Detricand and the chevalier had done was but of human pity. The day after the duel Detricand had arrived in Paris, to proceed thence to Bercy. There he heard of Philip’s death and of Damour’s desertion. Sending officers to Bercy to frustrate any possible designs of Damour, he, with the chevalier, took Philip’s body back to Jersey, delivering it to those who would do it honor.
Detricand did not see Guida. For all that might be said to her now the chevalier should be his mouthpiece. In truth, there could be no better mouthpiece for him. It was Detricand, Detricand, Detricand, like a child, in admiration and in affection. If Guida did not understand all now, there should come a time when she would understand. Detricand would wait. She should find that he was just; that her honor and the honor of her child were safe with him.
As for Guida, it was not grief she felt in the presence of this tragedy. No spark of love sprang up, even when remembrance was now brought to its last vital moment. But a fathomless pity Stirred her heart, that Philip’s life had been so futile, and that all he had done was come to naught. His letter, blotched and blotted by his own dead cheek, she read quietly. Yet her heart ached bitterly, — so bitterly that her face became pinched with pain; for here in this letter was despair, here was the final agony of a broken life, here were the last words of the father of her child to herself. She saw, with a sudden pang, that in writing of Guilbert he only said your child, not ours. What a measureless distance there was between them in the hour of his death, and how clearly the letter showed that he understood at last !
The evening before the burial she went with the chevalier to the Cohue Royale. As she looked at Philip’s dead face, bitterness and aching compassion were quieted within her. The face was peaceful, strong. I here was on it no record ot fret or despair. Its impassive dignity seemed to say that all accounts had been settled, and in this finality there was quiet; as though he had paid the price; as though the long account against him in the markets of life was closed and canceled, and the debtor freed from obligation forever. Poignant impulses in her stilled, pity lost its wounding acuteness. She shed no tears, but at last she stretched out her hand and let it rest upon his forehead for a moment.
“ Poor Philip ! " she said.
Then she turned and slowly left the room, followed by the chevalier, and by the noiseless Dormy Jamais, who had crept in behind them. As Dormy Jamais closed the door he looked back to where the coffin lay, and in the compassion of fools repeated Guida’s words.
“ Poor Philip ! ” he said.
Now, during Philip’s burial Dormy Jamais sat upon the roof of the Cohue Royale, as he had done on the day of the battle of Jersey, looking down on the funeral cortége and the crowd. He watched it all until the ruffle of drums at the grave told that the body was being lowered, — four ruffles for an admiral.
As the people began to disperse and the church bell ceased tolling, Dormy turned to another bell at his elbow, and set it ringing to call the Royal Court together. Sharp, mirthless, and acrid it rang : Chicane-chicane ! Chicane-chicane ! Chicane-chicane!
“ What is that for ? ” asked the child, pointing.
Détricand put the watch to the child’s ear. " It ’s to keep time. Listen. Do you hear it, — tic-tic, tic-tic ? ”
The child nodded his head gleefully, and his big eyes blinked with understanding. " Does n’t it ever stop ? ” he asked.
“ This watch never stops,” replied Détricand, “but there are plenty of watches that do.”
“ I like watches,” said the child sententiously.
“ Would you like this one? ” asked Detricand.
The child drew in a gurgling breath of pleasure. “ I like it. Why does n’t mother have a watch? ”
The man did not answer the last question. “ You like it ? " he said again, and he nodded his head toward the little fellow. " H’m ! it keeps good time, excellent time it keeps,” and he rose to meet the child’s mother, who, having just entered the room, stood looking at them. It was Guida. She had heard the last words, and she glanced toward the watch curiously.
Detricand smiled in greeting, and said to her, “ Do you remember it ? ” He held up the watch.
She came forward eagerly. “ Is it — is it that, indeed, the watch that the dear grandpethe ” —
He nodded and smiled. “ Yes ; it has never once stopped since the moment he gave it me in the Vier Marchi, seven years ago. It has had a charmed existence amid many rough doings and accidents. I was always afraid of losing it, always afraid of an accident to it.
It has seemed to me that if I could keep it things would go right with me, and would come out right in the end. Superstition, of course, but I lived a long time in Jersey. I feel more a Jerseyman than a Frenchman sometimes.”Although his look seemed to rest but casually on her face, it was evident he was anxious to feel the effect of every word upon her, and he added, “ When the Sieur de Mauprat gave me the watch he said, ' May no time be ill spent that it records for you.’ ”
“ Perhaps he knows his wish was fulfilled,” answered Guida.
“ You think, then, that I ’ve kept my promise ? ”
“ I am sure he would say so,” she replied warmly.
“ It is n’t the promise I made to him that I mean, but the promise I made to you.”
She smiled brightly. “ Ah, you know what I think of that. I told you long ago.” She turned her head away, for a bright color had come to her cheek. “ You have done great things, prince,” she said in a low tone.
He flashed a look of inquiry at her. To his ear there was in her voice a little touch, not of bitterness, but of something, as it were, muffled or reserved. Was she thinking how he had robbed her child of the chance of heritage at Bercy ? He did not reply, but, stooping, put the watch again to the child’s ear. “ There you are, monseigneur ! ”
“ Why do you call him monseigneur ? ” she asked. “ Guilbert has no title to your compliment.”
A look half amused, half perplexed, crossed Detricand’s face. " Do you think so ? ” he said musingly. Stooping once more, he said to the child, “ Would you like the watch ? ” and added quickly, “ You shall have it when you ’re grown up.”
“Do you really mean it?” asked Guida, delighted. “ Do you really mean to give him the grandpethe’s watch one day ? ”
“ Oh yes, at least that, — one day. But I have something more, something more for you,” atnl he drew from his pocket a miniature set in rubies and diamonds. " I have brought you this from the Duc de Mauban, — and this,” he went on, taking a letter from his pocket, and handing it with the gift. “ The duke thought you might care to have it. It is the face of your godmother, the Duchess Guidabaldine.”
Guida looked at the miniature earnestly, and then said a little wistfully, “ How beautiful a face ! — but the jewels are much too fine for me. What should one do here with rubies and diamonds ? How can I thank the duke ! ”
“ Not so. He will thank you for accepting it. He begged me to say — as you will find by his letter to you—that if you will but go to him upon a visit with this great man here,” pointing to the child with a smile, “ he will count it one of the greatest pleasures of his life. He is too old to come to you, but he begs you to go to him, — the chevalier, and you, and Guilbert. He is much alone now, and he longs for a little of that friendship which can be given by but few in this world. He counts upon your coming, for I said I thought you would.”
“ It would seem so strange,” she answered, “ to go from this cottage of my childhood, to which I have come back in peace at last, —from this kitchen to the chateau of the Duc de Mauban.”
“ But it was sure to come,” he returned. “ This kitchen, to which I come also to redeem my pledge after seven years, it belongs to one part of your life. But there is another part to fulfill,” — he passed his hands over the curls of the child, — “ and for your child here you should do it.”
“ I do not find your meaning,” she said, after a moment’s deliberation. “ I do not know what you would have me understand.”
“ In some ways you and I would be happier in simple surroundings,” he replied gravely, “ but it would seem that, to play duly our part in the world, we must needs move in wider circles. To my mind this kitchen is the most delightful spot in the world. Here I took a fresh commission of life. I went out, a sort of battered remnant, to a forlorn hope ; and now I come back to headquarters once again, — not to be praised,” he added in an ironical tone, and with a quick gesture of almost boyish shyness, — “ not to be praised ; only to show that from a grain of decency left in a man may grow up some sheaves of honest work and plain duty.”
“ Oh, it is much more than that, — it is much, much more than that! ” she broke in.
“ No, I am afraid it is not; but that is not what I wished to say. I wished to say that for monseigneur here ” —
A little flash of anger came into her eyes. “ He is no monseigneur ; he is Guilbert d’Avranche,” she said bitterly. “ It is not like you to mock my child, prince. Oh, I know you mean it playfully,” she hurriedly added, “ but — but it does not sound right to me.”
“ For the sake of monseigneur the heir to the duchy of Bercy,” he said, laying his hand upon the child’s head, “ these things your devoted friends suggest you should do, princess.”
Her clear, unwavering eye looked steadfastly at him, but her face turned pale. “ Why do you call him monseigneur the heir to the duchy of Bercy ? ” she said almost coldly, and with a little fear in her look, too.
“ Because I have come here to tell you the truth, and to place in your hands the record of an act of justice.”
Drawing from his pocket a parchment gorgeous with seals, he stooped, and taking the hands of the child he placed it in them. “ Hold it tight, hold it tight, my little friend, for it is your very own,” he said, with cheerful kindliness. Then stepping back a little, and looking earnestly at Guida, he continued, with a motion of the hand toward Guilbert, “ You must learn the truth from him.”
“ Oh, what can you mean, — what can you mean ! ” she exclaimed. Dropping upon her knees, and running an arm round the child, she opened the parchment and read.
“ What — what right has he to this ? ” she cried in a voice of dismay. “ A year ago you dispossessed his father from the duchy. Ah, I do not understand it! You — only you are the Duc de Bercy.”
Her eyes were shining with a happy excitement and tenderness. No such look had been in them for many a day. Something that had long slept was waking in her, something long voiceless was speaking. This man brought back to her heart a glow she had thought never to feel again, — the glow of the wonder of life and of a girlish faith.
“ I am only Détricand of Vaufontaine,” he answered. “ What! did you — could you think that I would dispossess your child ? His father was the adopted son of the Duc de Bercy; nothing could wipe that out, neither law nor nations. You are always Princess Guida, and your child is always Prince Guilbert d’Avranche, — and more than that.”
His voice became lower ; His war-beaten face lighted with that fire and force which had made him, during years past, a figure in the war records of Europe.
“ I unseated Philip d’Avranche,” he continued, “because he acquired the duchy through — a misapprehension ; because the claims of the house of Vaufontaine were greater. We belonged; he was an alien. He had a right to his adoption; he had no right to his duchy, — no real right in the equity of nations. But all the time I never forgot that the wife of Philip d’Avranche and her child had rights infinitely beyond his own. All that he achieved was theirs by every principle of justice. My plain duty was to win for your child the succession belonging to him by all moral right. When Philip d’Avranche was killed, I set to work to do for your child what had been done by another for Philip d’Avranche. I have made him my heir. When he is of age, I shall abdicate from the duchy in his favor. This deed, countersigned by the Powers that dispossessed his father, secures to him the duchy, when he is old enough to govern.”
Guida had listened like one in a dream. A hundred feelings possessed her, and one more than all. She suddenly saw all Detricand’s goodness to her stretch out in a long line of devoted friendship, from this day to that far-off hour, seven years before, when he had made a vow to her, — kept how nobly ! Devoted friendship, — was it devoted friendship alone, even with herself ? In a tumult of emotions she exclaimed, “ No, no, no, no ! I cannot accept it. This is not justice ; this is a gift for which there is no example in the world’s history !
“ I thought it best,” he went on quietly, “ to govern Bercy myself during these troubled years. So far its neutrality has been honored, but who can tell what may come ? As a Vaufontaine, it is my duty to see that Bercy’s interests are duly protected amidst the troubles of Europe.”
Guida got to her feet now, and stood looking dazedly at the parchment in her hand. The child, feeling himself neglected, ran out into the garden.
There was moisture in Guida’s eyes as she presently said, “ I had not thought that any man could be so noble, — no, not even you.”
“You should not doubt yourself so,” he answered meaningly. " I am the work of your hands. If I have fought my way back to reputable life again ” — He paused, and took from his pocket a handkerchief. “ This was the gage,” he said, holding it up. “ Do you remember the day I came to return it to you, and carried it off again ? ”
“ It was foolish of you to keep it,” she said softly, — “as foolish of you as to think that I shall accept for my child these great honors.”
“ But suppose the child in after years should blame you ? ” he returned slowly and with emphasis. “ Suppose that Guilbert should say, What right had you, my mother, to refuse what was my due ? ”
This was the question she had asked herself long, long ago. It smote her heart now. What right had she to reject this gift of Fate to her child ?
Scarcely above a whisper she replied, “ Of course he might say that; but how, oh, how should we simple folk, he and I, be fitted for these high places — yet? Now that what I have desired for him has come, I have not the courage.”
“ You have friends to help you in all yon do,” he remarked meaningly.
“ But friends cannot always be with one,” she said.
“ That depends upon the friends. There is one friend of yours who has known you for eighteen years. Eighteen years’ growth should make a strongfriendship, — there was always friendship on his part, at least. He can be a still stronger and better friend. He comes now to offer you the remainder of a life for which your own goodness is the guarantee. He comes to offer you a love of which your own soul must be the only judge, for you have eyes that see and a spirit that knows. The chevalier needs you and the Duc de Mauban needs you, but Detricand of Vaufontaine needs you a thousand times more.”
“ Oh, hush — but no, you must not,” she broke in, her face all crimson, her lips trembling.
“ But yes, I must,” he answered quickly. “ You find peace here, but it is the peace of inaction. It dulls the brain, and life winds in upon itself wearily at the last. But out there are light and fire and action, and the quick-beating pulse, and the joy of power wisely used, even to the end. You come of a great people, you were born to great things ; your child has rights accorded now by every court of Europe. You must act for him. For your child’s sake, for my sake, come out into the great field of life with me — as my wife, Guida.”
She turned to him frankly, she looked at him steadfastly ; the color in her face came and went, but her eyes glowed with feeling,
“ After all that has happened ? ” she asked in a low tone.
“ It could only be because of all that has happened.”
“No, no, you do not understand,” she said quickly, a great pain in her voice. “ I have suffered so, these many, many years. I shall never be light-hearted again. And I am not fitted for such high estate. Do you not see what you ask of me, — to go from this cottage to a palace ? ”
“ I love you too well to ask you to do what you could not. You must trust me,” he answered, “you must give your life its chance, you must ” —
“ But listen to me,” she interjected, with breaking tones. “ I know as surely as I know — as I know the face of my child, that the youth in me is dead. My summer came — and went — long ago. No, no, you do not understand, — I would not make you unhappy. I must live only to make my child happy. That love has not been marred ! ”
“ And I must be judge of what is for my own happiness. And for yours, — if I thought my love would make you unhappy for even one day, I should not offer it. I am your lover, but I am also your friend. Had it not been for you, I might have slept in a drunkard’s grave in Jersey. Were it not for you, my bones would now be lying in the Vendee. I left my peasants, I denied myself death with them, to serve you. The old cause is gone. You and your child are now my only cause ” —
“ You make it so hard for me ! ” she broke in. “ Think of the shadows from the past always in my eyes, always in my heart. You cannot wear the convict’s chain without the lagging footstep afterward.”
“ Shadows ! Friend of my soul, how should I dare come to you if there had never been shadows in your life ! It is because you — you have suffered, because you know, that I come. Out of your miseries, the convict’s lagging step, you say ? Think what I was. There was never any wrong in you, but I was sunk in evil depths of folly ” —
“ I will not have you say so,” she interrupted ; “ you never in your life did a dishonorable thing.”
“ Then again I say, trust me ; for, on the honor of a Vaufontaine, I believe that happiness will be yours as my wife. The boy, — you see how he and I ” —
“ Ah, you are so good to him ! ”
“ You must give me chance and right to serve him. What else have you or I to look forward to ? The honors of this world concern us little. The brightest joys are not for us. We have work before us, no rainbow ambitions. But the boy — think for him ” — He paused.
After a little she held out her hand toward him. “Good-by,” she said softly.
“ Good-by — you say good-by to me ! ” he exclaimed in dismay.
“ Till — till to - morrow,” she answered, and she smiled. The smile had a little touch of the old archness which was hers as a child, yet, too, a little of the sadness belonging to the woman. But her hand-clasp was firm and strong, and her touch thrilled him. Power was there, — power with infinite gentleness. And he understood her, which was more than all.
He turned at the door. She was standing very still, the parchment with the great seals in her hand. Without speaking she held it out to him, as though uncertain what to do with it.
As he passed through the doorway he smiled, and said, “To-morrow, — tomorrow ! ”