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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 35
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The Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 35 Post by :Preston Category :Long Stories Author :Gilbert Parker Date :May 2012 Read :2687

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The Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 35

CHAPTER XXXV

Guida knew nothing of the arrest and trial of Mattingley until he had been condemned to death. Nor until then did she know anything of what had happened to Olivier Delagarde; for soon after her interview with Ranulph she had gone a-marketing to the Island of Sark, with the results of half a year's knitting. Her return had been delayed by ugly gales from the south east. Several times a year she made this journey, landing at the Eperquerie Rocks as she had done one day long ago, and selling her beautiful wool caps and jackets to the farmers and fisher-folk, getting in kind for what she gave.

When she made these excursions to Sark, Dormy Jamais had always remained at the little house, milking her cow, feeding her fowls, and keeping all in order--as perfect a sentinel as old Biribi, and as faithful. For the first time in his life, however, Dormy Jamais was unfaithful. On the day that Carcaud the baker and Mattingley were arrested, he deserted the hut at Plemont to exploit, with Ranulph, 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 Mattresse 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 fat Femme de Ballast, puffing with every step, trudged across the island to Plemont, and installed herself as keeper of the house.

One day Mattresse Aimable's quiet was 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. With churlish insolence they entered Guida's hut before Maitresse Aimable could prevent it. Looking round, they laughed meaningly, and then told her that the commander coming presently 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. Understanding then the meaning of their laughter, and the implied insult to Guida, Maitresse Aimable's voice came ravaging out of the silence where it lay hid so often and so long, and the signalmen went their ways shamefacedly.

She could not make head or tail of her thoughts now, nor 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, and husband of the Comtesse Chantavoine, and afterwards Duc de Bercy. Also she had heard how Philip, just before he became the Duc de Bercy, 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.

Mattresse 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 knew: 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 realise him as a thing of flesh and blood and actual being. The more she tried to realise 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 harbour. Now the truth must be told--but how?

After her first exclamation of welcome to mother and child, Maitresse Aimable struggled painfully for her voice. She tried to find words in which to tell Guida the truth, but, stopping in despair, she suddenly began rocking the child back and forth, saying only: "Prince Admiral he--and now to come! O my good--O my good!" Guida's sharp intuition found the truth.

"Philip d'Avranche!" she said to herself. Then aloud, in a shaking voice--"Philip d'Avranche!"

She could not think clearly for a moment. It was as if her brain had received a blow, and in her head was a singing numbness, obscuring eyesight, hearing, speech.

When she had recovered a little she took the child from Maitresse Aimable, and pressing him to her bosom placed him in the Sieur de Mauprat's great arm-chair. This action, ordinary as it seemed, was significant of what was in her mind. The child himself realised something unusual, and he sat perfectly still, two 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 instant reply. The quick responsiveness of her own voice seemed 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 in the end, 'tresse Aimable," she said, and turned away to the fireplace. An hour afterwards Mattresse Aimable was upon her way to St. Heliers, but now she carried her weight more easily and panted less. Twice within the last month Jean had given her ear a friendly pinch, and now Guida had kissed her--surely she had reason to carry her weight more lightly.

That afternoon and evening Guida struggled with herself: the woman in her shrinking from the ordeal at hand. But the mother in her pleaded, commanded, ruled confused emotions to quiet. Finality of purpose once determined, 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 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 unwilling, by her! If she gave her own life many times, it still could be no more than was the child's due.

A sudden impulse seized her, and with a quick explosion of feeling she dropped on her knees, and looking into his eyes, as though hungering for the words 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 tiny hand pressed itself over her eyes, and a gay little 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 added: "Maman, can't I have the sword now?"

"You shall have the sword too some day," she answered, her eyes flashing.

"But, maman, can't I touch it now?"

Without a word she took down the sheathed goldhandled sword and laid it across the chair-arms.

"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 doesn't hurt me, hasn't I, maman?"

She nodded and smiled again, and went about her work.

He nodded sagely. "Maman--" he said. She turned to him; the little figure was erect with a sweet importance. "Maman, what am I now--with the sword?" he asked, with wide-open, amazed eyes.

A strange look passed across her face. Stooping, she kissed his curly hair.

"You are my prince," she said.

A little later the two were standing on that point of land called Grosnez--the brow of the Jersey tiger. Not far from them was a signal-staff which telegraphed to another signal-staff inland. Upon the staff now was hoisted a red flag. Guida knew the signals well. The red flag meant warships in sight. Then bags were hoisted that told of the number of vessels: one, two, three, four, five, six, then one next the upright, meaning seven. Last of all came the signal that a flag-ship was among them.

This was a fleet in command of an admiral. There, not far out, between Guernsey and Jersey, was the squadron itself. Guida watched it for a long while, her heart hardening; but seeing that the men by the signal-staff were watching her, she took the child and went to a spot where they were shielded from any eyes. Here she watched the fleet draw nearer and nearer.

The vessels passed almost within a stone's throw of her. She could see the St. George's Cross flying at the fore 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 suddenly, and with a tremor, as of fear, she gathered her child close to her. "What is all those ships, maman?" asked the child. "They are ships to defend Jersey," she said, watching the Imperturbable and its flotilla range on.

"Will they affend us, maman?"

"Perhaps-at the last," she said.

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CHAPTER XXXVIOff Grouville Bay lay the squadron of the Jersey station. The St. George's Cross was flying at the fore of the Imperturbable, and on every ship of the fleet the white ensign flapped in the morning wind. The wooden-walled three-decked flag-ship, with her 32-pounders, and six hundred men, was not less picturesque and was more important than the Castle of Mont Orgueil near by, standing over two hundred feet above the level of the sea: the home of Philip d'Avranche, Duc de Bercy, and the Comtesse Chantavoine, now known to the world as the Duchesse de Bercy. The Comtesse had
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CHAPTER XXXIVEvents proved Mattingley right. Three days after, it was announced that he had broken prison. It is probable that the fury of the Royal Court at the news was not quite sincere, for it was notable that the night of his evasion, suave and uncrestfallen, they dined in state at the Tres Pigeons. The escape gave them happy issue from a quandary. The Vicomte officially explained that Mattingley had got out by the dungeon window. People came to see the window, and there, ba su, the bars were gone! But that did not prove the case, and the mystery was
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