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- The Battle Of The Strong [A Romance of Two Kingdoms], Volume 3. - 1/13 -
THE BATTLE OF THE STRONG
[A ROMANCE OF TWO KINGDOMS]
By Gilbert Parker
The night and morning after Guida's marriage came and went. The day drew on to the hour fixed for the going of the Narcissus. Guida had worked all forenoon with a feverish unrest, not trusting herself, though the temptation was sore, to go where she might see Philip's vessel lying in the tide-way. She had resolved that only at the moment fixed for sailing would she go to the shore; yet from her kitchen door she could see a wide acreage of blue water and a perfect sky; and out there was Noirmont Point, round which her husband's ship would go, and be lost to her vision thereafter.
The day wore on. She got her grandfather's dinner, saw him bestowed in the great arm-chair for his afternoon sleep, and, when her household work was done, settled herself at the spinning wheel.
The old man loved to have her spin and sing as he drowsed. To-day his eyes had followed her everywhere. He could not have told why it was, but somehow all at once he seemed to deeply realise her--her beauty, the joy of this innocent living intelligence moving through his home. She had always been necessary to him, but he had taken her presence as a matter of course. She had always been to him the most wonderful child ever given to comfort an old man's life, but now as he abstractedly took a pinch of snuff from the silver box and then forgot to put it to his nose, he seemed suddenly to get that clearness of sight, that perspective, from which he could see her as she really was. He took another pinch of snuff, and again forgot to put it to his nose, but brushed imaginary dust from his coat, as was his wont, and whispered to himself:
"Why now, why now, I had not thought she was so much a woman. Flowers of the sea, but what eyes, what carriage, and what an air! I had not thought--h'm--blind old bat that I am--I had not thought she was grown such a lady. It was only yesterday, surely but yesterday, since I rocked her to sleep. Francois de Mauprat"--he shook his head at himself--"you are growing old. Let me see--why, yes, she was born the day I sold the blue enamelled timepiece to his Highness the Duc de Mauban. The Duc was but putting the watch to his ear when a message comes to say the child there is born. 'Good,' says the Duc de Mauban, when he hears, 'give me the honour, de Mauprat,' says he, 'for the sake of old days in France, to offer a name to the brave innocent--for the sake of old associations,' says de Mauban. 'You knew my wife, de Mauprat,' says he; 'you knew the Duchesse Guida-Guidabaldine. She's been gone these ten years, alas! You were with me when we were married, de Mauprat,' says the Duc; 'I should care to return the compliment if you will allow me to offer a name, eh?' 'Duc,' said I, 'there is no honour I more desire for my grandchild.' 'Then let the name of Guidabaldine be somewhere among others she will carry, and--and I'll not forget her, de Mauprat, I'll not forget her.'... Eh, eh, I wonder--I wonder if he has forgotten the little Guidabaldine there? He sent her a golden cup for the christening, but I wonder-- I wonder--if he has forgotten her since? So quick of tongue, so bright of eye, so light of foot, so sweet a face--if one could but be always young! When her grandmother, my wife, my Julie, when she was young--ah, she was fair, fairer than Guida, but not so tall--not quite so tall. Ah! . . . "
He was slipping away into sleep when he realised that Guida was singing
"Spin, spin, belle Mergaton! The moon wheels full, and the tide flows high, And your wedding-gown you must put it on Ere the night hath no moon in the sky-- Gigoton Mergaton, spin!"
"I had never thought she was so much a woman," he said drowsily; "I-- I wonder why--I never noticed it."
He roused himself again, brushed imaginary snuff from his coat, keeping time with his foot to the wheel as it went round. "I--I suppose she will wed soon. . . . I had forgotten. But she must marry well, she must marry well--she is the godchild of the Duc de Mauban. How the wheel goes round! I used to hear--her mother--sing that song, 'Gigoton, Mergaton spin-spin-spin.'" He was asleep.
Guida put by the wheel, and left the house. Passing through the Rue des Sablons, she came to the shore. It was high tide. This was the time that Philip's ship was to go. She had dressed herself with as much care as to what might please his eye as though she were going to meet him in person. Not without reason, for, though she could not see him from the land, she knew he could see her plainly through his telescope, if he chose.
She reached the shore. The time had come for him to go, but there was his ship at anchor in the tide-way still. Perhaps the Narcissus was not going; perhaps, after all, Philip was to remain! She laughed with pleasure at the thought of that. Her eyes wandered lovingly over the ship which was her husband's home upon the sea. Just such another vessel Philip would command. At a word from him those guns, like long, black, threatening arms thrust out, would strike for England with thunder and fire.
A bugle call came across the still water, clear, vibrant, and compelling. It represented power. Power--that was what Philip, with his ship, would stand for in the name of England. Danger--oh yes, there would be danger, but Heaven would be good to her; Philip should go safe through storm and war, and some day great honours would be done him. He should be an admiral, and more perhaps; he had said so. He was going to do it as much for her as for himself, and when he had done it, to be proud of it more for her than for himself; he had said so: she believed in him utterly. Since that day upon the Ecrehos it had never occurred to her not to believe him. Where she gave her faith she gave it wholly; where she withdrew it--
The bugle call sounded again. Perhaps that was the signal to set sail. No, a boat was putting out from the Narcissus. It was coming landward. As she watched its approach she heard a chorus of boisterous voices behind her. She turned and saw nearing the shore from the Rue d'Egypte a half-dozen sailors, singing cheerily:
"Get you on, get you on, get you on, Get you on to your fo'c'stle'ome; Leave your lassies, leave your beer, For the bugle what you 'ear Pipes you on to your fo'c'stle 'ome-- 'Ome--'ome--'ome, Pipes you on to your fo'c'stle 'ome."
Guida drew near.
"The Narcissus is not leaving to-day?" she asked of the foremost sailor.
The man touched his cap. "Not to-day, lady."
"When does she leave?"
"Well, that's more nor I can say, lady, but the cap'n of the main-top, yander, 'e knows."
She approached the captain of the main-top. "When does the Narcissus leave?" she asked.
He looked her up and down, at first glance with something like boldness, but instantly he touched his hat.
"To-morrow, mistress--she leaves at 'igh tide tomorrow."
With an eye for a fee or a bribe, he drew a little away from the others, and said to her in a low tone: "Is there anything what I could do for you, mistress? P'r'aps you wanted some word carried aboard, lady?"
She hesitated an instant, then said: "No-no, thank you."
He still waited, however, rubbing his hand on his hip with mock bashfulness. There was an instant's pause, then she divined his meaning.
She took from her pocket a shilling. She had never given away so much money in her life before, but she seemed to feel instinctively that now she must give freely--now that she was the wife of an officer of the navy. Strange how these sailors to-day seemed so different to her from ever before--she felt as if they all belonged to her. She offered the shilling to the captain of the main-top. His eyes gloated, but he said with an affected surprise:
"No, I couldn't think of it, yer leddyship."
"Ah, but you will take it!" she said. "I--I have a r-relative"--she hesitated at the word--" in the navy."
"'Ave you now, yer leddyship?" he said. "Well, then, I'm proud to 'ave the shilling to drink 'is 'ealth, yer leddyship."
He touched his hat, and was about to turn away. "Stay a little," she said with bashful boldness. The joy of giving was rapidly growing to a vice. "Here's something for them," she added, nodding towards his fellows, and a second shilling came from her pocket. "Just as you say, yer leddyship," he said with owlish gravity; "but for my part I think they've 'ad enough. I don't 'old with temptin' the weak passions of man."
A moment afterwards the sailors were in the boat, rowing towards the Narcissus. Their song came back across the water:
". . . O you A.B. sailor-man, Wet your whistle while you can, For the piping of the bugle calls you 'ome! 'Ome--'ome--'ome, Calls you on to your fo'c'stle 'ome!"
The evening came down, and Guida sat in the kitchen doorway looking out over the sea, and wondering why Philip had sent her no message. Of course he would not come himself, he must not: he had promised her. But how much she would have liked to see him for just one minute, to feel his arms about her, to hear him say good-bye once more. Yet she loved him the better for not coming.
By and by she became very restless. She would have been almost happier if he had gone that day: he was within call of her, still they were not to see each other.
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