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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 38
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The Battle Of The Strong: A Romance Of Two Kingdoms - Chapter 38 Post by :Preston Category :Long Stories Author :Gilbert Parker Date :May 2012 Read :2600

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

CHAPTER XXXVIII

If 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 letter to Carterette concerning the stolen book of church records, in a town of Brittany the Reverend Lorenzo Dow lay dying. The army of the Vendee, under Detricand Comte de Tournay, had made a last dash at a small town held by a section of the Republican army, and captured it. On the prisons being opened, Detricand had discovered in a vile dungeon the sometime curate of St. Michael's Church in Jersey. When they entered on him, wasted and ragged he lay asleep on his bed of rotten straw, his fingers between the leaves of a book of meditations. Captured five years before and forgotten alike by the English and French Governments, he had apathetically pined and starved to these last days of his life.

Recognising him, Detricand carried him in his strong arms to his own tent. For many hours the helpless man lay insensible, but at last the flickering spirit struggled back to light for a little space. When first conscious of his surroundings, the poor captive felt tremblingly in the pocket of his tattered vest. Not finding what he searched for, he half started up. Detricand hastened forward with a black leather-covered book in his hand. Mr. Dow's thin trembling fingers clutched eagerly--it was his only passion--at this journal of his life. As his grasp closed on it, he recognised Detricand, and at the same time he saw the cross and heart of the Vendee on his coat.

A victorious little laugh struggled in his throat. "The Lord hath triumphed gloriously--I could drink some wine, monsieur," he added in the same quaint clerical monotone.

Having drunk the wine he lay back murmuring thanks and satisfaction, his eyes closed. Presently they opened. He nodded at Detricand.

"I have not tasted wine these five years," he said; then added, "You--you took too much wine in Jersey, did you not, monsieur? I used to say an office for you every Litany day, which was of a Friday."

His eyes again caught the cross and heart on Detricand's coat, and they lighted up a little. "The Lord hath triumphed gloriously," he repeated, and added irrelevantly, "I suppose you are almost a captain now?"

"A general--almost," said Detricand with gentle humour.

At that moment an orderly appeared at the tent-door, bearing a letter for Detricand.

"From General Grandjon-Larisse of the Republican army, your highness," said the orderly, handing the letter. "The messenger awaits an answer."

As Detricand hastily read, a look of astonishment crossed over his face, and his brows gathered in perplexity. After a minute's silence he said to the orderly:

"I will send a reply to-morrow."

"Yes, your highness." The orderly saluted and retired.

Mr. Dow half raised himself on his couch, and the fevered eyes swallowed Detricand.

"You--you are a prince, monsieur?" he said. Detricand glanced up from the letter he was reading again, a grave and troubled look on his face.

"Prince of Vaufontaine they call me, but, as you know, I am only a vagabond turned soldier," he said. The dying man smiled to himself,--a smile of the sweetest vanity this side of death,--for it seemed to him that the Lord had granted him this brand from the burning, and in supreme satisfaction, he whispered: "I used to say an office for you every Litany--which was a Friday, and twice, I remember, on two Saints' days."

Suddenly another thought came to him, and his lips moved--he was murmuring to himself. He would leave a goodly legacy to the captive of his prayers.

Taking the leather-covered journal of his life in both hands, he held it out.

"Highness, highness--" said he. Death was breaking the voice in his throat.

Detricand stooped and ran an arm round his shoulder, but raising himself up Mr. Dow gently pushed him back. The strength of his supreme hour was on him.

"Highness," said he, "I give you the book of five years of my life--not of its every day, but of its moments, its great days. Read it," he added, "read it wisely. Your own name is in it--with the first time I said an office for you." His breath failed him, he fell back, and lay quiet for several minutes.

"You used to take too much wine," he said half wildly, starting up again. "Permit me your hand, highness."

Detricand dropped on his knee and took the wasted hand. Mr. Dow's eyes were glazing fast. With a last effort he spoke--his voice like a squeaking wind in a pipe:

"The Lord hath triumphed gloriously--" and he leaned forward to kiss Detricand's hand.

But Death intervened, and his lips fell instead upon the red cross on Detricand's breast, as he sank forward lifeless.

That night, after Lorenzo Dow was laid in his grave, Detricand read the little black leather-covered journal bequeathed to him. Of the years of his captivity the records were few; the book was chiefly concerned with his career in Jersey. Detricand read page after page, more often with a smile than not; yet it was the smile of one who knew life and would scarce misunderstand the eccentric and honest soul of the Reverend Lorenzo Dow.

Suddenly, however, he started, for he came upon these lines:


I have, in great privacy and with halting of spirit, married, this twenty-third of January, Mr. Philip d'Avranche of His Majesty's ship "Narcissus," and Mistress Guida Landresse de Landresse, both of this Island of Jersey; by special license of the Bishop of Winchester.


To this was added in comment:


Unchurchmanlike, and most irregular. But the young gentleman's tongue is gifted, and he pressed his cause heartily. Also Mr. Shoreham of the Narcissus--"Mad Shoreham of Galway" his father was called--I knew him--added his voice to the request also. Troubled in conscience thereby, yet I did marry the twain gladly, for I think a worthier maid never lived than this same Mistress Guida Landresse de Landresse, of the ancient family of the de Mauprats. Yet I like not secrecy, though it be but for a month or two months--on my vow, I like it not for one hour.

Note: At leisure read of the family history of the de Mauprats and the d'Avranches.

N.: No more secret marriages nor special licenses--most uncanonical privileges!

N.: For ease of conscience write to His Grace at Lambeth upon the point.


Detricand sprang to his feet. So this was the truth about Philip d'Avranche, about Guida, alas!

He paced the tent, his brain in a whirl. Stopping at last, he took from his pocket the letter received that afternoon from General Grandjon-Larisse, and read it through again hurriedly. It proposed a truce, and a meeting with himself at a village near, for conference upon the surrender of Detricand's small army.

"A bitter end to all our fighting," said Detricand aloud at last. "But he is right. It is now a mere waste of life. I know my course.... Even to-night," he added, "it shall be to-night."

Two hours later Detricand, Prince of Vaufontaine, was closeted with General Grandjon-Larisse at a village half-way between the Republican army and the broken bands of the Vendee.

As lads Detricand and Grandjon-Larisse had known each other well. But since the war began Grandjon-Larisse had gone one way, and he had gone the other, bitter enemies in principle but friendly enough at heart.

They had not seen each other since the year before Rullecour's invasion of Jersey.

"I had hoped to see you by sunset, monseigneur," said Grandjon-Larisse after they had exchanged greetings.

"It is through a melancholy chance you see me at all," replied Detricand heavily.

"To what piteous accident am I indebted?" Grandjon-Larisse replied in an acid tone, for war had given his temper an edge. "Were not my reasons for surrender sound? I eschewed eloquence--I gave you facts."

Detricand shook his head, but did not reply at once. His brow was clouded.

"Let me speak fully and bluntly now," Grandjon-Larisse went on. "You will not shrink from plain truths, I know. We were friends ere you went adventuring with Rullecour. We are soldiers too; and you will understand I meant no bragging in my letter."

He raised his brows inquiringly, and Detricand inclined his head in assent.

Without more ado, Grandjon-Larisse laid a map on the table. "This will help us," he said briefly, then added: "Look you, Prince, when war began the game was all with you. At Thouars here"--his words followed his finger--"at Fontenay, at Saumur, at Torfou, at Coron, at Chateau-Gonthier, at Pontorson, at Dol, at Antrain, you had us by the heels. Victory was ours once to your thrice. Your blood was up. You had great men--great men," he repeated politely.

Detricand bowed. "But see how all is changed," continued the other. "See: by this forest of Vesins de la Rochejaquelein fell. At Chollet"--his finger touched another point--"Bonchamp died, and here d'Elbee and Lescure were mortally wounded. At Angers Stofflet was sent to his account, and Charette paid the price at Nantes." He held up his fingers. "One--two--three--four--five--six great men gone!"

He paused, took a step away from the table, and came back again.

Once more he dropped his finger on the map. "Tinteniac is gone, and at Quiberon Peninsula your friend Sombreuil was slain. And look you here," he added in a lower voice, "at Laval my old friend the Prince of Talmont was executed at his own chateau, where I had spent many an hour with him."

Detricand's eyes flashed fire. "Why then permit the murder, monsieur le general?"

Grandjon-Larisse started, his voice became hard at once. "It is not a question of Talmont, or of you, or of me, monseigneur. It is not a question of friendship, not even of father, or brother, or son--but of France."

"And of God and the King," said Detricand quickly.

Grandjon-Larisse shrugged his shoulders. "We see with different eyes. We think with different minds," and he stooped over the map again.

"We feel with different hearts," said Detricand. "There is the difference between us--between your cause and mine. You are all for logic and perfection in government, and to get it you go mad, and France is made a shambles--"

"War is cruelty, and none can make it gentle," interrupted Grandjon-Larisse. He turned to the map once more. "And see, monseigneur, here at La Vie your uncle the Prince of Vaufontaine died, leaving you his name and a burden of hopeless war. Now count them all over--de la Rochejaquelein, Bonchamp, d'Elbee, Lescure, Stofflet, Charette, Talmont, Tinteniac, Sombreuil, Vaufontaine--they are all gone, your great men. And who of chieftains and armies are left? Detricand of Vaufontaine and a few brave men--no more. Believe me, monseigneur, your game is hopeless--by your grace, one moment still," he added, as Detricand made an impatient gesture. "Hoche destroyed your army and subdued the country two years ago. You broke out again, and Hoche and I have beaten you again. Fight on, with your doomed followers--brave men I admit--and Hoche will have no mercy. I can save your peasants if you will yield now.

"We have had enough of blood. Let us have peace. To proceed is certain death to all, and your cause worse lost. On my honour, monseigneur, I do this at some risk, in memory of old days. I have lost too many friends," he added in a lower voice.

Detricand was moved. "I thank you for this honest courtesy. I had almost misread your letter," he answered. "Now I will speak freely. I had hoped to leave my bones in Brittany. It was my will to fight to the last, with my doomed followers as you call them--comrades and lovers of France I say. And it was their wish to die with me. Till this afternoon I had no other purpose. Willing deaths ours, for I am persuaded, for every one of us that dies, a hundred men will rise up again and take revenge upon this red debauch of government!"

"Have a care," said Grandjon-Larisse with sudden anger, his hand dropping upon the handle of his sword.

"I ask leave for plain beliefs as you asked leave for plain words. I must speak my mind, and I will say now that it has changed in this matter of fighting and surrender. I will tell you what has changed it," and Detricand drew from his pocket Lorenzo Dow's journal. "It concerns both you and me."

Grandjon-Larisse flashed a look of inquiry at him. "It concerns your cousin the Comtesse Chantavoine and Philip d'Avranche, who calls himself her husband and Duc de Bercy."

He opened the journal, and handed it to Grandjon-Larisse. "Read," he said.

As Grandjon-Larisse read, an oath broke from him. "Is this authentic, monseigneur?" he said in blank astonishment "and the woman still lives?"

Detricand told him all he knew, and added:

"A plain duty awaits us both, monsieur le general. You are concerned for the Comtesse Chantavoine; I am concerned for the Duchy of Bercy and for this poor lady--this poor lady in Jersey," he added.

Grandjon-Larisse was white with rage. "The upstart! The English brigand!" he said between his teeth.

"You see now," said Detricand, "that though it was my will to die fighting your army in the last trench--"

"Alone, I fear," interjected Grandjon-Larisse with curt admiration.

"My duty and my purpose go elsewhere," continued Detricand. "They take me to Jersey. And yours, monsieur?"

Grandjon-Larisse beat his foot impatiently on the floor. "For the moment I cannot stir in this, though I would give my life to do so," he answered bitterly. "I am but now recalled to Paris by the Directory."

He stopped short in his restless pacing and held out his hand.

"We are at one," he said--"friends in this at least. Command me when and how you will. Whatever I can I will do, even at risk and peril. The English brigand!" he added bitterly. "But for this insult to my blood, to the noble Chantavoine, he shall pay the price to me--yes, by the heel of God!"

"I hope to be in Jersey three days hence," said Detricand.

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