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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 28
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The Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 28 Post by :Preston Category :Long Stories Author :Gilbert Parker Date :May 2012 Read :1973

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The Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 28


Guida's once blithe, rose-coloured face was pale as ivory, the mouth had a look of deep sadness, and the step was slow; but the eye was clear and steady, and her hair, brushed under the black crape of the bonnet as smoothly as its nature would admit, gave to the broad brow a setting of rare attraction and sombre nobility. It was not a face that knew inward shame, but it carried a look that showed knowledge of life's cruelties and a bitter sensitiveness to pain. Above all else it was fearless, and it had no touch of the consciousness or the consequences of sin; it was purity itself.

It alone should have proclaimed abroad her innocence, though she said no word in testimony. To most people, however, her dauntless sincerity only added to her crime and to the scandalous mystery. Yet her manner awed some, while her silence held most back. The few who came to offer sympathy, with curiousness in their eyes and as much inhumanity as pity in their hearts, were turned back gently but firmly, more than once with proud resentment.

So it chanced that soon only Maitresse Aimable came--she who asked no questions, desired no secrets--and Dormy Jamais.

Dormy had of late haunted the precincts of the Place du Vier Prison, and was the only person besides Maitresse Aimable whom Guida welcomed. His tireless feet went clac-clac past her doorway, or halted by it, or entered in when it pleased him. He was more a watch-dog than Biribi; he fetched and carried; he was silent and sleepless--always sleepless. It was as if some past misfortune had opened his eyes to the awful bitterness of life, and they had never closed again.

The Chevalier had not been with her, for on the afternoon of the very day her grandfather died, he had gone a secret voyage to St. Malo, to meet the old solicitor of his family. He knew nothing of his friend's death or of Guida's trouble. As for Carterette, Guida would not let her come--for her own sake.

Nor did Maitre Ranulph visit her after the funeral of the Sieur de Mauprat. The horror of the thing had struck him dumb, and his mind was one confused mass of conflicting thoughts. There--there were the terrifying facts before him; yet, with an obstinacy peculiar to him, he still went on believing in her goodness and in her truth. Of the man who had injured her he had no doubt, and his course was clear, in the hour when he and Philip d'Avranche should meet. Meanwhile, from a spirit of delicacy, avoiding the Place du Vier Prison, he visited Maitresse Aimable, and from day to day learned all that happened to Guida. As of old, without her knowledge, he did many things for her through the same Maitresse Aimable. And it quickly came to be known in the island that any one who spoke ill of Guida in his presence did so at no little risk. At first there had been those who marked him as the wrongdoer, but somehow that did not suit with the case, for it was clear he loved Guida now as he had always done; and this the world knew, as it had known that he would have married her all too gladly. Presently Detricand and Philip were the only names mentioned, but at last, as by common consent, Philip was settled upon, for such evidence as there was pointed that way. The gossips set about to recall all that had happened when Philip was in Jersey last. Here one came forward with a tittle of truth, and there another with tattle of falsehood, and at last as wild a story was fabricated as might be heard in a long day.

But in bitterness Guida kept her own counsel.

This day when she passed the undertaker's shop she had gone to visit the grave of her grandfather. He had died without knowing the truth, and her heart was hardened against him who had brought misery upon her. Reaching the cottage in the Place du Vier Prison now, she took from a drawer the letter Philip had written her on the day he first met the Comtesse Chantavoine. She had received it a week ago. She read it through slowly, shuddering a little once or twice. When she had finished, she drew paper to her and began a reply.

The first crisis of her life was passed. She had met the shock of utter disillusion; her own perfect honesty now fathomed the black dishonesty of the man she had loved. Death had come with sorrow and unmerited shame. But an innate greatness, a deep courage supported her. Out of her wrongs and miseries now she made a path for her future, and in that path Philip's foot should never be set. She had thought and thought, and had come to her decision. In one month she had grown years older in mind. Sorrow gave her knowledge, it threw her back on her native strength and goodness. Rising above mere personal wrongs she grew to a larger sense of womanhood, to a true understanding of her position and its needs. She loved no longer, but Philip was her husband by the law, and even as she had told him her whole mind and heart in the days of their courtship and marriage, she would tell him her whole mind and heart now. Once more, to satisfy the bond, to give full reasons for what she was about to do, she would open her soul to her husband, and then no more! In all she wrote she kept but two things back, her grandfather's death--and one other. These matters belonged to herself alone.

No, Philip d'Avranche, (she wrote), your message came too late. All that you might have said and done should have been said and done long ago, in that past which I believe in no more. I will not ask you why you acted as you did towards me. Words can alter nothing now. Once I thought you true, and this letter you send would have me still believe so. Do you then think so ill of my intelligence? In the light of the past it may be you have reason, for you know that I once believed in you! Think of it--believed in you!

How bad a man are you! In spite of all your promises; in spite of the surrender of honest heart and life to you; in spite of truth and every call of honour, you denied me--dared to deny me, at the very time you wrote this letter.

For the hopes and honours of this world, you set aside, first by secrecy, and then by falsehood, the helpless girl to whom you once swore undying love. You, who knew the open book of her heart, you threw it in the dust. "Of course there is no wife?" the Duc de Bercy said to you before the States of Bercy. "Of course," you answered. You told your lie without pity.

Were you blind that you did not see the consequences? Or did you not feel the horror of your falsehood?--to play shuttlecock with a woman's life, with the soul of your wife; for that is what your conduct means. Did you not realise it, or were you so wicked that you did not care? For I know that before you wrote me this letter, and afterwards when you had been made prince, and heir to the duchy, the Comtesse Chantavoine was openly named by the Duc de Bercy for your wife.

Now read the truth. I understand all now. I am no longer the thoughtless, believing girl whom you drew from her simple life to give her so cruel a fate. Yesterday I was a child, to-day----Oh, above all else, do you think I can ever forgive you for having killed the faith, the joy of life that was in me! You have spoiled for me for ever my rightful share of the joyous and the good. My heart is sixty though my body is not twenty. How dared you rob me of all that was my birthright, of all that was my life, and give me nothing--nothing in return!

Do you remember how I begged you not to make me marry you; but you urged me, and because I loved you and trusted you, I did? how I entreated you not to make me marry you secretly, but you insisted, and loving you, I did? how you promised you would leave me at the altar and not see me till you came again to claim me openly for your wife, and you broke that sacred promise? Do you remember--my husband!

Do you remember that night in the garden when the wind came moaning up from the sea? Do you remember how you took me in your arms, and even while I listened to your tender and assuring words, in that moment--ah, the hurt and the wrong and the shame of it! Afterwards in the strange confusion, in my blind helplessness I tried to say, "But he loved me," and I tried to forgive you. Perhaps in time I might have made myself believe I did; for then I did not know you as you are--and were; but understanding all now I feel that in that hour I really ceased to love you; and when at last I knew you had denied me, love was buried for ever.

Your worst torment is to come, mine has already been with me. When my miseries first fell upon me, I thought that I must die. Why should I live on--why should I not die? The sea was near, and it buries deep. I thought of all the people that live on the great earth, and I said to myself that the soul of one poor girl could not count, that it could concern no one but myself. It was clear to me --I must die and end all.

But there came to me a voice in the night which said: "Is thy life thine own to give or to destroy?" It was clearer than my own thinking. It told my heart that death by one's own hand meant shame; and I saw then that to find rest I must drag unwilling feet over the good name and memory of my dead loved ones. Then I remembered my mother. If you had remembered her perhaps you would have guarded the gift of my love and not have trampled it under your feet--I remembered my mother, and so I live still.

I must go on alone, with naught of what makes life bearable; you will keep climbing higher by your vanity, your strength, and your deceit. But yet I know however high you climb you will never find peace. You will remember me, and your spirit will seek in vain for rest. You will not exist for me, you will not be even a memory; but even against your will I shall always be part of you: of your brain, of your heart, of your soul--the thought of me your torment in your greatest hour. Your passion and your cowardice have lost me all; and God will punish you, be sure of that.

There is little more to say. If it lies in my power I shall never see you again while I live. And you will not wish it. Yes, in spite of your eloquent letter lying here beside me, you do not wish it, and it shall not be. I am not your wife save by the law; and little have you cared for law! Little, too, would the law help you in this now; for which you will rejoice. For the ease of your mind I hasten to tell you why.

First let me inform you that none in this land knows me to be your wife. Your letter to my grandfather never reached him, and to this hour I have held my peace. The clergyman who married us is a prisoner among the French, and the strong-box which held the register of St. Michael's Church was stolen. The one other witness, Mr. Shoreham, your lieutenant--as you tell me--went down with the Araminta. So you are safe in your denial of me. For me, I would endure all the tortures of the world rather than call you husband ever again. I am firmly set to live my own life, in my own way, with what strength God gives. At last I see beyond the Hedge.

Your course is clear. You cannot turn back now. You have gone too far. Your new honours and titles were got at the last by a falsehood. To acknowledge it would be ruin, for all the world knows that Captain Philip d'Avranche of the King's navy is now the adopted son of the Duc de Bercy. Surely the house of Bercy has cause for joy, with an imbecile for the first in succession and a traitor for the second!

I return the fifty pounds you sent me--you will not question why ....And so all ends. This is a last farewell between us.

Do you remember what you said to me on the Ecrehos? "If ever I deceive you, may I die a black, dishonourable death, abandoned and alone. I should deserve that if ever I deceived you, Guida."

Will you ever think of that, in your vain glory hereafter?


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