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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 3
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The Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 3 Post by :edwood Category :Long Stories Author :Gilbert Parker Date :May 2012 Read :2852

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The Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 3

CHAPTER III

Since the days of Henry III of England the hawk of war that broods in France has hovered along that narrow strip of sea dividing the island of Jersey from the duchy of Normandy. Eight times has it descended, and eight times has it hurried back with broken pinion. Among these truculent invasions two stand out boldly: the spirited and gallant attack by Bertrand du Guesclin, Constable of France; and the freebooting adventure of Rullecour, with his motley following of gentlemen and criminals. Rullecour it was, soldier of fortune, gambler, ruffian, and embezzler, to whom the King of France had secretly given the mission to conquer the unconquerable little island.

From the Chaussey Isles the filibuster saw the signal light which the traitor Olivier Delagarde had set upon the heights of Le Couperon, where, ages ago, Caesar built fires to summon from Gaul his devouring legions.

All was propitious for the attack. There was no moon--only a meagre starlight when they set forth from Chaussey. The journey was made in little more than an hour, and Rullecour himself was among the first to see the shores of Jersey loom darkly in front. Beside him stood the murderous pilot who was leading in the expedition, the colleague of Olivier Delagarde.

Presently the pilot gave an exclamation of surprise and anxiety--the tides and currents were bearing them away from the intended landing-place. It was now almost low water, and instead of an immediate shore, there lay before them a vast field of scarred rocks, dimly seen. He gave the signal to lay-to, and himself took the bearings. The tide was going out rapidly, disclosing reefs on either hand. He drew in carefully to the right of the rock known as L'Echiquelez, up through a passage scarce wide enough for canoes, and to Roque Platte, the south-eastern projection of the island.

You may range the seas from the Yugon Strait to the Erebus volcano, and you will find no such landing-place for imps or men as that field of rocks on the southeast corner of Jersey called, with a malicious irony, the Bane des Violets. The great rocks La Coniere, La Longy, Le Gros Etac, Le Teton, and the Petite Sambiere, rise up like volcanic monuments from a floor of lava and trailing vraic, which at half-tide makes the sea a tender mauve and violet. The passages of safety between these ranges of reef are but narrow at high tide; at half-tide, when the currents are changing most, the violet field becomes the floor of a vast mortuary chapel for unknowing mariners.

A battery of four guns defended the post on the landward side of this bank of the heavenly name. Its guards were asleep or in their cups. They yielded, without resistance, to the foremost of the invaders. But here Rullecour and his pilot, looking back upon the way they had come, saw the currents driving the transport boats hither and thither in confusion. Jersey was not to be conquered without opposition--no army of defence was abroad, but the elements roused themselves and furiously attacked the fleet. Battalions unable to land drifted back with the tides to Granville, whence they had come. Boats containing the heavy ammunition and a regiment of conscripts were battered upon the rocks, and hundreds of the invaders found an unquiet grave upon the Banc des Violets.

Presently the traitor Delagarde arrived and was welcomed warmly by Rullecour. The night wore on, and at last the remaining legions were landed. A force was left behind to guard La Roque Platte, and then the journey across country to the sleeping town began.

With silent, drowsing batteries in front and on either side of them, the French troops advanced, the marshes of Samares and the sea on their left, churches and manor houses on their right, all silent. Not yet had a blow been struck for the honour of this land and of the Kingdom.

But a blind injustice was, in its own way, doing the work of justice. On the march, Delagarde, suspecting treachery to himself, not without reason, required of Rullecour guarantee for the fulfilment of his pledge to make him Vicomte of the Island when victory should be theirs. Rullecour, however, had also promised the post to a reckless young officer, the Comte de Tournay, of the House of Vaufontaine, who, under the assumed name of Yves Savary dit Detricand, marched with him. Rullecour answered Delagarde churlishly, and would say nothing till the town was taken--the ecrivain must wait. But Delagarde had been drinking, he was in a mood to be reckless; he would not wait, he demanded an immediate pledge.

"By and by, my doubting Thomas," said Rullecour. "No, now, by the blood of Peter!" answered Delagarde, laying a hand upon his sword.

The French leader called a sergeant to arrest him. Delagarde instantly drew his sword and attacked Rullecour, but was cut down from behind by the scimitar of a swaggering Turk, who had joined the expedition as aide-de-camp to the filibustering general, tempted thereto by promises of a harem of the choicest Jersey ladies, well worthy of this cousin of the Emperor of Morocco.

The invaders left Delagarde lying where he fell. What followed this oblique retribution could satisfy no ordinary logic, nor did it meet the demands of poetic justice. For, as a company of soldiers from Grouville, alarmed out of sleep by a distracted youth, hurried towards St. Heliers, they found Delagarde lying by the roadside, and they misunderstood what had happened. Stooping over him an officer said pityingly:

"See--he got this wound fighting the French!" With the soldiers was the youth who had warned them. He ran forward with a cry, and knelt beside the wounded man. He had no tears, he had no sorrow. He was only sick and dumb, and he trembled with misery as he lifted up his father's head. The eyes of Olivier Delagarde opened.

"Ranulph--they've killed--me," gasped the stricken man feebly, and his head fell back.

An officer touched the youth's arm. "He is gone," said he. "Don't fret, lad, he died fighting for his country."

The lad made no reply, and the soldiers hurried on towards the town.

He died fighting for his country! So that was to be the legend, Ranulph meditated: his father was to have a glorious memory, while he himself knew how vile the man was. One thing however: he was glad that Olivier Delagarde was dead. How strangely had things happened! He had come to stay a traitor in his crime, and here he found a martyr. But was not he himself likewise a traitor? Ought not he to have alarmed the town first before he tried to find his father? Had Dormy Jamais warned the Governor? Clearly not, or the town bells would be ringing and the islanders giving battle. What would the world think of him!

Well, what was the use of fretting here? He would go on to the town, help to fight the French, and die that would be the best thing. He knelt, and unclasped his father's fingers from the handle of the sword. The steel was cold, it made him shiver. He had no farewell to make. He looked out to sea. The tide would come and carry his father's body out, perhaps-far out, and sink it in the deepest depths. If not that, then the people would bury Olivier Delagarde as a patriot. He determined that he himself would not live to see such mockery.

As he sped along towards the town he asked himself why nobody suspected the traitor. One reason for it occurred to him: his father, as the whole island knew, had a fishing-hut at Gorey. They would imagine him on the way to it when he met the French, for he often spent the night there. He himself had told his tale to the soldiers: how he had heard the baker and the Frenchman talking at the shop in the Rue d'Egypte. Yes, but suppose the French were driven out, and the baker taken prisoner and should reveal his father's complicity! And suppose people asked why he himself did not go at once to the Hospital Barracks in the town and to the Governor, and afterwards to Gorey?

These were direful imaginings. He felt that it was no use; that the lie could not go on concerning his father. The world would know; the one thing left for him was to die. He was only a boy, but he could fight. Had not young Philip d'Avranche; the midshipman, been in deadly action many times? He was nearly as old as Philip d'Avranche--yes, he would fight, and, fighting, he would die. To live as the son of such a father was too pitiless a shame.

He ran forward, but a weakness was on him; he was very hungry and thirsty-and the sword was heavy. Presently, as he went, he saw a stone well near a cottage by the roadside. On a ledge of the well stood a bucket of water. He tilted the bucket and drank. He would have liked to ask for bread at the cottage-door, but he said to himself, Why should he eat, for was he not going to die? Yet why should he not eat, even if he were going to die? He turned his head wistfully, he was so faint with hunger. The force driving him on, however, was greater than hunger--he ran harder.... But undoubtedly the sword was heavy!

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