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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 39
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The Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 39 Post by :Preston Category :Long Stories Author :Gilbert Parker Date :May 2012 Read :1686

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The Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 39


The bell on the top of the Cohue Royale clattered like the tongue of a scolding fishwife. For it was the fourth of October, and the opening of the Assise d'Heritage.

This particular session of the Court was to proceed with unusual spirit and importance, for after the reading of the King's Proclamation, the Royal Court and the States were to present the formal welcome of the island to Admiral Prince Philip d'Avranche, Duc de Bercy; likewise to offer a bounty to all Jerseymen enlisting under him.

The island was en fete. There had not been such a year of sensations since the Battle of Jersey. Long before chicane--chicane ceased clanging over the Vier Marchi the body of the Court was filled. The Governor, the Bailly, the jurats, the seigneurs and the dames des fiefs, the avocats with their knowledge of the ancient custom of Normandy and the devious inroads made upon it by the customs of Jersey, the military, all were in their places; the officers of the navy had arrived, all save one and he was to be the chief figure of this function. With each arrival the people cheered and the trumpets blared. The islanders in the Vier Marchi turned to the booths for refreshments, or to the printing-machine set up near La Pyramide, and bought halfpenny chapsheets telling of recent defeats of the French; though mostly they told in ebullient words of the sea-fight which had made Philip d'Avranche an admiral, and of his elevation to a sovereign dukedom. The crowds restlessly awaited his coming now.

Inside the Court there was more restlessness still. It was now many minutes beyond the hour fixed. The Bailly whispered to the Governor, the Governor to his aide, and the aide sought the naval officers present; but these could give no explanation of the delay. The Comtesse Chantavoine was in her place of honour beside the Attorney-General--but Prince Philip and his flag-lieutenant came not.

The Comtesse Chantavoine was the one person outwardly unmoved. What she thought, who could tell? Hundreds of eyes scanned her face, yet she seemed unconscious of them, indifferent to them. What would not the Bailly have given for her calmness! What would not the Greffier have given for her importance! She drew every eye by virtue of something which was more than the name of Duchesse de Bercy. The face, the bearing, had an unconscious dignity, a living command and composure: the heritage, perhaps, of a race ever more fighters than courtiers, rather desiring good sleep after good warfare than luxurious peace.

The silence, the tension grew painful. A whole half hour had the Court waited beyond its time. At last, however, cheers arose outside, and all knew that the Prince was coming. Presently the doors were thrown open, two halberdiers stepped inside, and an officer of the Court announced Admiral his Serene Highness Prince Philip d'Avranche, Duc de Bercy.

"Oui-gia, think of that!" said a voice from somewhere in the hall.

Philip heard it, and he frowned, for he recognised Dormy Jamais's voice. Where it came from he knew not, nor did any one; for the daft one was snugly bestowed above a middle doorway in what was half balcony, half cornice.

When Philip had taken his place beside the Comtesse Chantavoine, came the formal opening of the Cour d'Heritage.

The Comtesse's eyes fixed themselves upon Philip. There was that in his manner which puzzled and evaded her clear intuition. Some strange circumstance must have delayed him, for she saw that his flag-lieutenant was disturbed, and this she felt sure was not due to delay alone. She was barely conscious that the Bailly had been addressing Philip, until he had stopped and Philip had risen to reply.

He had scarcely begun speaking when the doors were suddenly thrown open again, and a woman came forward quickly. The instant she entered Philip saw her, and stopped speaking. Every one turned.

It was Guida. In the silence, looking neither to right nor left, she advanced almost to where the Greffier sat, and dropping on her knee and looking up to the Bailly and the jurats, stretched out her hands and cried:

"Haro, haro! A l'aide, mon Prince, on me fait tort!"

If one rose from the dead suddenly to command them to an awed obedience, Jerseymen could not be more at the mercy of the apparition than at the call of one who cries in their midst, "Haro! Haro!"--that ancient relic of the custom of Normandy and Rollo the Dane. To this hour the Jerseyman maketh his cry unto Rollo, and the Royal Court--whose right to respond to this cry was confirmed by King John and afterwards by Charles--must listen, and every one must heed. That cry of Haro makes the workman drop his tools, the woman her knitting, the militiaman his musket, the fisherman his net, the schoolmaster his birch, and the ecrivain his babble, to await the judgment of the Royal Court.

Every jurat fixed his eye upon Guida as though she had come to claim his life. The Bailly's lips opened twice as though to speak, but no words came. The Governor sat with hands clinched upon his chairarm. The crowd breathed in gasps of excitement. The Comtesse Chantavoine looked at Philip, looked at Guida, and knew that here was the opening of the scroll she had not been able to unfold. Now she should understand that something which had made the old Duc de Bercy with his last breath say, Don't be afraid!

Philip stood moveless, his eyes steady, his face bitter, determined. Yet there was in his look, fixed upon Guida, some strange mingling of pity and purpose. It was as though two spirits were fighting in his face for mastery. The Countess touched him upon the arm, but he took no notice. Drawing back in her seat she looked at him and at Guida, as one might watch the balances of justice weighing life and death. She could not read this story, but one glance at the faces of the crowd round her made her aware that here was a tale of the past which all knew in little or in much.

"Haro! haro! A l'aide, mon Prince, on me fait tort!" What did she mean, this woman with the exquisite face, alive with power and feeling, indignation and appeal? To what prince did she cry?--for what aid? who trespassed upon her?

The Bailly now stood up, a frown upon his face. He knew what scandal had said concerning Guida and Philip. He had never liked Guida, for in the first days of his importance she had, for a rudeness upon his part meant as a compliment, thrown his hat--the Lieutenant-Bailly's hat--into the Fauxbie by the Vier Prison. He thought her intrusive thus to stay these august proceedings of the Royal Court, by an appeal for he knew not what.

"What is the trespass, and who the trespasser?" asked the Bailly sternly.

Guida rose to her feet.

"Philip d'Avranche has trespassed," she said. "What Philip d'Avranche, mademoiselle?" asked the Bailly in a rough, ungenerous tone.

"Admiral Philip d'Avranche, known as his Serene Highness the Duc de Bercy, has trespassed on me," she answered.

She did not look at Philip, her eyes were fixed upon the Bailly and the jurats.

The Bailly whispered to one or two jurats. "Wherein is the trespass?" asked the Bailly sharply. "Tell your story."

After an instant's painful pause, Guida told her tale.

"Last night at Plemont," she said in a voice trembling a little at first but growing stronger as she went on, "I left my child, my Guilbert, in his bed, with Dormy Jamais to watch beside him, while I went to my boat which lies far from my hut. I left Dormy Jamais with the child because I was afraid--because I had been afraid, these three days past, that Philip d'Avranche would steal him from me. I was gone but half an hour; it was dark when I returned. I found the door open, I found Dormy Jamais lying unconscious on the floor, and my child's bed empty. My child was gone. He was stolen from me by Philip d'Avranche, Duc de Bercy."

"What proof have you that it was the Duc de Bercy?" asked the Bailly.

"I have told your honour that Dormy Jamais was there. He struck Dormy Jamais to the ground, and rode off with my child."

The Bailly sniffed.

"Dormy Jamais is a simpleton--an idiot."

"Then let the Prince speak," she answered quickly. She turned and looked Philip in the eyes. He did not answer a word. He had not moved since she entered the court-room. He kept his eyes fixed on her, save for one or two swift glances towards the jurats. The crisis of his life had come. He was ready to meet it now: anything would be better than all he had gone through during the past ten days. In mad impulse he had stolen the child, with the wild belief that through it he could reach Guida, could bring her to him. For now this woman who despised him, hated him, he desired more than all else in the world. Ambition has her own means of punishing. For her gifts of place or fortune she puts some impossible hunger in the soul of the victim which leads him at last to his own destruction. With all the world conquered there is still some mystic island of which she whispers, and to gain this her votary risks all--and loses all.

The Bailly saw by Philip's face that Guida had spoken truth. But he whispered with the jurats eagerly, and presently he said with brusque decision:

"Our law of Haro may only apply to trespass upon property. Its intent is merely civil."

Which having said he opened and shut his mouth with gusto, and sat back as though expecting Guida to retire.

"Your law of Haro, monsieur le Bailly!" Guida answered with flashing eyes, her voice ringing out fearlessly. "Your law of Haro! The law of Haro comes from the custom of Normandy, which is the law of Jersey. You make its intent this, you make it that, but nothing can alter the law, and what has been done in its name for generations. Is it so, that if Philip d'Avranche trespass on my land, or my hearth, I may cry Haro, haro! and you will take heed? But when it is blood of my blood, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh that he has wickedly seized; when it is the head I have pillowed on my breast for four years--the child that has known no father, his mother's only companion in her unearned shame, the shame of an outcast--then is it so that your law of Haro may not apply? Messieurs, it is the justice of Haro that I ask, not your lax usage of it. From this Prince Philip I appeal to the spirit of Prince Rollo who made this law. I appeal to the law of Jersey which is the Custom of Normandy. There are precedents enough, as you well know, messieurs. I demand--I demand--my child."

The Bailly and the jurats were in a hopeless quandary. They glanced furtively at Philip. They were half afraid that she was right, and yet were timorous of deciding against the Prince.

She saw their hesitation. "I call on you to fulfil the law. I have cried Haro, haro! and what I have cried men will hear outside this Court, outside this Isle of Jersey; for I appeal against a sovereign duke of Europe."

The Bailly and the jurats were overwhelmed by the situation. Guida's brain was a hundred times clearer than theirs. Danger, peril to her child, had aroused in her every force of intelligence; she had the daring, the desperation of the lioness fighting for her own.

Philip himself solved the problem. Turning to the bench of jurats, he said quietly:

"She is quite right; the law of Haro is with her. It must apply."

The Court was in a greater maze than ever. Was he then about to restore to Guida her child? After an instant's pause Philip continued:

"But in this case there was no trespass, for the child--is my own."

Every eye in the Cohue Royale fixed itself upon him, then upon Guida, then upon her who was known as the Duchesse de Bercy. The face of the Comtesse Chantavoine was like snow, white and cold. As the words were spoken a sigh broke from her, and there came to Philip's mind that distant day in the council chamber at Bercy when for one moment he was upon his trial; but he did not turn and look at her now. It was all pitiable, horrible; but this open avowal, insult as it was to the Comtesse Chantavoine, could be no worse than the rumours which would surely have reached her one day. So let the game fare on. He had thrown down the glove now, and he could not see the end; he was playing for one thing only--for the woman he had lost, for his own child. If everything went by the board, why, it must go by the board. It all flashed through his brain: to-morrow he must send in his resignation to the Admiralty--so much at once. Then Bercy--come what might, there was work for him to do at Bercy. He was a sovereign duke of Europe, as Guida had said. He would fight for the duchy for his son's sake. Standing there he could feel again the warm cheek of the child upon his own, as last night he felt it riding across the island from Plemont to the village near Mont Orgueil. That very morning he had hurried down to a little cottage in the village and seen it lying asleep, well cared for by a peasant woman. He knew that to-morrow the scandal of the thing would belong to the world, but he was not dismayed. He had tossed his fame as an admiral into the gutter, but Bercy still was left. All the native force, the stubborn vigour, the obdurate spirit of the soil of Jersey of which he was, its arrogant self-will, drove him straight into this last issue. What he had got at so much cost he would keep against all the world. He would--

But he stopped short in his thoughts, for there now at the court-room door stood Detricand, the Chouan chieftain.

He drew his hand quickly across his eyes. It seemed so wild, so fantastic, that of all men, Detricand should be there. His gaze was so fixed that every one turned to see--every one save Guida.

Guida was not conscious of this new figure in the scene. In her heart was fierce tumult. Her hour had come at last, the hour in which she must declare that she was the wife of this man. She had no proofs. No doubt he would deny it now, for he knew how she loathed him. But she must tell her tale.

She was about to address the Bailly, but, as though a pang of pity shot, through her heart, she turned instead and looked at the Comtesse Chantavoine. She could find it in her to pause in compassion for this poor lady, more wronged than herself had been. Their eyes met. One instant's flash of intelligence between the souls of two women, and Guida knew that the look of the Comtesse Chantavoine had said: "Speak for your child."

Thereupon she spoke.

"Messieurs, Prince Philip d'Avranche is my husband."

Every one in the court-room stirred with excitement. Some weak-nerved woman with a child at her breast began to cry, and the little one joined its feeble wail to hers.

"Five years ago," Guida continued, "I was married to Philip d'Avranche by the Reverend Lorenzo Dow in the church of St. Michael's--"

The Bailly interrupted with a grunt. "H'm--Lorenzo Dow is well out of the way-have done."

"May I not then be heard in my own defence?" Guida cried in indignation. "For years I have suffered silently slander and shame. Now I speak for myself at last, and you will not hear me! I come to this court of justice, and my word is doubted ere I can prove the truth. Is it for judges to assail one so? Five years ago I was married secretly, in St. Michael's Church--secretly, because Philip d'Avranche urged it, pleaded for it. An open marriage, he said, would hinder his promotion. We were wedded, and he left me. War broke out. I remained silent according to my promise to him. Then came the time when in the States of Bercy he denied that he had a wife. From the hour I knew he had done so I denied him. My child was born in shame and sorrow, I myself was outcast in this island. But my conscience was clear before Heaven. I took myself and my child out from among you and went to Plemont. I waited, believing that God's justice was surer than man's. At last Philip d'Avranche--my husband--returned here. He invaded my home, and begged me to come with my child to him as his wife--he who had so evilly wronged me, and wronged another more than me. I refused. Then he stole my child from me. You ask for proofs of my marriage. Messieurs, I have no proofs.

"I know not where Lorenzo Dow may be found. The register of St. Michael's Church, as you all know, was stolen. Mr. Shoreham, who witnessed the marriage, is dead. But you must believe me. There is one witness left, if he will but speak--even the man who married me, the man that for one day called me his wife. I ask him now to tell the truth."

She turned towards Philip, her clear eyes piercing him through and through.

What was going on in his mind neither she nor any in that Court might ever know, for in the pause, the Comtesse Chantavoine rose up, and passing steadily by Philip, came to Guida. Looking her in the eyes with an incredible sorrow, she took her hand, and turned towards Philip with infinite scorn.

A strange, thrilling silence fell upon all the Court. The jurats shifted in their seats with excitement. The Bailly, in a hoarse, dry voice, said:

"We must have proof. There must be record as well as witness."

From near the great doorway came a voice saying: "The record is here," and Detricand stepped forward, in his uniform of the army of the Vendee.

A hushed murmur ran round the room. The jurats whispered to each other.

"Who are you, monsieur?" said the Bailly.

"I am Detricand, Prince of Vaufontaine," he replied, "for whom the Comtesse Chantavoine will vouch," he added in a pained voice, and bowed low to her and to Guida. "I am but this hour landed. I came to Jersey on this very matter."

He did not wait for the Bailly to reply, but began to tell of the death of Lorenzo Dow, and, taking from his pocket the little black journal, opened it and read aloud the record written therein by the dead clergyman. Having read it, he passed it on to the Greffier, who handed it up to the Bailly. Another moment's pause ensued. To the most ignorant and casual of the onlookers the strain was great; to those chiefly concerned it was supreme. The Bailly and the jurats whispered together. Now at last a spirit of justice was roused in them. But the law's technicalities were still to rule.

The Bailly closed the book, and handed it back to the Greffier with the words: "This is not proof though it is evidence."

Guida felt her heart sink within her. The Comtesse Chantavoine, who still held her hand, pressed it, though herself cold as ice with sickness of spirit.

At that instant, and from Heaven knows where--as a bird comes from a bush--a little grey man came quickly among them all, carrying spread open before him a book almost as big as himself. Handing it up to the Bailly, he said:

"Here is the proof, Monsieur le Bailly--here is the whole proof."

The Bailly leaned over and drew up the book. The jurats crowded near and a dozen heads gathered about the open volume.

At last the Bailly looked up and addressed the Court solemnly.

"It is the lost register of St. Michael's," he said. "It contains the record of the marriage of Lieutenant Philip d'Avranche and Guida Landresse de Landresse, both of the Isle of Jersey, by special license of the Bishop of Winchester."

"Precisely so, precisely so," said the little grey figure--the Chevalier Orvillier du Champsavoys de Beaumanoir. Tears ran down his cheeks as he turned towards Guida, but he was smiling too.

Guida's eyes were upon the Bailly. "And the child?" she cried with a broken voice--"the child?"

"The child goes with its mother," answered the Bailly firmly.

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The Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 40 The Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 40

The Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 40
CHAPTER XLDURING ONE YEAR LATER The day that saw Guida's restitution in the Cohue Royale brought but further trouble to Ranulph Delagarde. The Chevalier had shown him the lost register of St. Michael's, and with a heart less heavy, he left the island once more. Intending to join Detricand in the Vendee, he had scarcely landed at St. Malo when he was seized by a press-gang and carried aboard a French frigate commissioned to ravage the coasts of British America. He had stubbornly resisted the press, but had been knocked on the head, and there was an end on it. In

The Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 38 The Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 38

The Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 38
CHAPTER XXXVIIIIf at times it would seem that Nature's disposition of the events of a life or a series of lives is illogical, at others she would seem to play them with an irresistible logic--loosing them, as it were, in a trackless forest of experience, and in some dramatic hour, by an inevitable attraction, drawing them back again to a destiny fulfilled. In this latter way did she seem to lay her hand upon the lives of Philip d'Avranche and Guida Landresse. At the time that Elie Mattingley, in Jersey, was awaiting hanging on the Mont es Pendus, and writing his