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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 45
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The Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 45 Post by :istana Category :Long Stories Author :Gilbert Parker Date :May 2012 Read :1657

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The Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 45

CHAPTER XLV

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. Chattering people were gathered at familiar points, and at the foot of La Pyramide a large group surrounded two sailor-men just come from Gaspe, 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 court-house 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 honour, 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 non-Jersiais, 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 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 battle-ship 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 tide-way. From all her ships in company forty guns were fired funeral-wise and the flags were struck halfmast.

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 colour 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."

"Ma fe, 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'lagoule! Yellow and green, oui-gia--yellow like a bad apple, and cowardly green as a leek." This was Manon Moignard the witch.

"Man doux d'la vie, where's the Master of Burials?" babbled the jailer. "The apprentice does the obs'quies to-day."

"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 grey 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 honours 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. Aubins.

"That Chevalier of Champsavoys and the other Duc de Bercy," interposed the centenier.

Maitre 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 pethe benin, that's beyond me!

"Those great folks does things their own ways; oui-gia," remarked the jailer.

"Why did Detricand Duke go back to France?" asked Maitre 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 honour.

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 honour and the honour 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. There was on it no record of 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 cancelled, and the debtor freed from obligation for ever. 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 he 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 cortege 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!

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CHAPTER XLVIIN JERSEY-A YEAR LATER "What is that for?" asked the child, pointing. Detricand 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. "Doesn't it ever stop?" he asked. "This watch never stops," replied Detricand. "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 doesn't mother have a watch?" The man did not answer
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CHAPTER XLIVPhilip 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 length 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.
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