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- The Battle Of The Strong [A Romance of Two Kingdoms], Volume 5. - 1/10 -
THE BATTLE OF THE STRONG
[A ROMANCE OF TWO KINGDOMS]
By Gilbert Parker
When Ranulph returned to his little house at St. Aubin's Bay night had fallen. Approaching he saw there was no light in the windows. The blinds were not drawn, and no glimmer of fire came from the chimney. He hesitated at the door, for he instinctively felt that something must have happened to his father. He was just about to enter, however, when some one came hurriedly round the corner of the house.
"Whist, boy," said a voice; "I've news for you." Ranulph recognised the voice as that of Dormy Jamais. Dormy plucked at his sleeve. "Come with me, boy," said he.
"Come inside if you want to tell me something," answered Ranulph.
"Ah bah, not for me! Stone walls have ears. I'll tell only you and the wind that hears and runs away."
"I must speak to my father first," answered Ranulph.
"Come with me, I've got him safe," Dormy chuckled to himself.
Ranulph's heavy hand dropped on his shoulder. "What's that you're saying--my father with you! What's the matter?"
As though oblivious of Ranulph's hand Dormy went on chuckling.
"Whoever burns me for a fool 'll lose their ashes. Des monz a fous--I have a head! Come with me." Ranulph saw that he must humour the shrewd natural, so he said:
"Et ben, put your four shirts in five bundles and come along." He was a true Jerseyman at heart, and speaking to such as Dormy Jamais he used the homely patois phrases. He knew there was no use hurrying the little man, he would take his own time.
"There's been the devil to pay," said Dormy as he ran towards the shore, his sabots going clac--clac, clac--clac. "There's been the devil to pay in St. Heliers, boy." He spoke scarcely above a whisper.
"Tcheche--what's that?" said Ranulph. But Dormy was not to uncover his pot of roses till his own time. "That connetable's got no more wit than a square bladed knife," he rattled on. "But gache-a-penn, I'm hungry!" And as he ran he began munching a lump of bread he took from his pocket.
For the next five minutes they went on in silence. It was quite dark, and as they passed up Market Hill--called Ghost Lane because of the Good Little People who made it their highway--Dormy caught hold of Ranulph's coat and trotted along beside him. As they went, tokens of the life within came out to them through doorway and window. Now it was the voice of a laughing young mother:
"Si tu as faim Manges ta main Et gardes l'autre pour demain; Et ta tete Pour le jour de fete; Et ton gros ortee Pour le Jour Saint Norbe"
"Let us pluck the bill of the lark, The lark from head to tail--"
He knew the voice. It was that of a young wife of the parish of St. Saviour: married happily, living simply, given a frugal board, after the manner of her kind, and a comradeship for life. For the moment he felt little but sorrow for himself. The world seemed to be conspiring against him: the chorus of Fate was singing behind the scenes, singing of the happiness of others in sardonic comment on his own final unhappiness. Yet despite the pain of finality there was on him something of the apathy of despair.
From another doorway came fragments of a song sung at a veille. The door was open, and he could see within the happy gathering of lads and lassies in the light of the crasset. There was the spacious kitchen, its beams and rafters dark with age, adorned with flitches of bacon, huge loaves resting in the racllyi beneath the centre beam, the broad open hearth, the flaming fire of logs, and the great brass pan shining like fresh- coined gold, on its iron tripod over the logs. Lassies in their short woollen petticoats, and bedgones of blue and lilac, with boisterous lads, were stirring the contents of the vast bashin--many cabots of apples, together with sugar, lemon-peel, and cider; the old ladies in mob-caps tied under the chin, measuring out the nutmeg and cinnamon to complete the making of the black butter: a jocund recreation for all, and at all times.
In one corner was a fiddler, and on the veille, flourished for the occasion with satinettes and fern, sat two centeniers and the prevot, singing an old song in the patois of three parishes.
Ranulph looked at the scene lingeringly. Here he was, with mystery and peril to hasten his steps, loitering at the spot where the light of home streamed out upon the roadway. But though he lingered, somehow he seemed withdrawn from all these things; they were to him now as pictures of a distant past.
Dormy plucked at his coat. "Come, come, lift your feet, lift your feet," said he; "it's no time to walk in slippers. The old man will be getting scared, oui-gia!" Ranulph roused himself. Yes, yes, he must hurry on. He had not forgotten his father, but something held him here; as though Fate were whispering in his ear. What does it matter now? While yet you may, feed on the sight of happiness. So the prisoner going to execution seizes one of the few moments left to him for prayer, to look lingeringly upon what he leaves, as though to carry into the dark a clear remembrance of it all.
Moving on quietly in a kind of dream, Ranulph was roused again by Dormy's voice: "On Sunday I saw three magpies, and there was a wedding that day. Tuesday I saw two--that's for joy--and fifty Jersey prisoners of the French comes back on Jersey that day. This morning one I saw. One magpie is for trouble, and trouble's here. One doesn't have eyes for naught--no, bidemme!"
Ranulph's patience was exhausted.
"Bachouar," he exclaimed roughly, "you make elephants out of fleas! You've got no more news than a conch-shell has music. A minute and you'll have a back-hander that'll put you to sleep, Maitre Dormy."
If he had been asked his news politely Dormy would have been still more cunningly reticent. To abuse him in his own argot was to make him loose his bag of mice in a flash.
"Bachouar yourself, Maitre Ranulph! You'll find out soon. No news--no trouble--eh! Par made, Mattingley's gone to the Vier Prison--he! The baker's come back, and the Connetable's after Olivier Delagarde. No trouble, pardingue, if no trouble, Dormy Jamais's a batd'lagoule and no need for father of you to hide in a place that only Dormy knows--my good!"
So at last the blow had fallen; after all these years of silence, sacrifice, and misery. The futility of all that he had done and suffered for his father's sake came home to Ranulph. Yet his brain was instantly alive. He questioned Dormy rapidly and adroitly, and got the story from him in patches.
The baker Carcaud, who, with Olivier Delagarde, betrayed the country into the hands of Rullecour years ago, had, with a French confederate of Mattingley's, been captured in attempting to steal Jean Touzel's boat, the Hardi Biaou. At the capture the confederate had been shot. Before dying he implicated Mattingley in several robberies, and a notorious case of piracy of three months before, committed within gunshot of the men-of- war lying in the tide-way. Carcaud, seriously wounded, to save his life turned King's evidence, and disclosed to the Royal Court in private his own guilt and Olivier Delagarde's treason.
Hidden behind the great chair of the Bailly himself, Dormy Jamais had heard the whole business. This had brought him hot-foot to St. Aubin's Bay, whence he had hurried Olivier Delagarde to a hiding-place in the hills above the bay of St. Brelade. The fool had travelled more swiftly than Jersey justice, whose feet are heavy. Elie Mattingley was now in the Vier Prison. There was the whole story.
The mask had fallen, the game was up. Well, at least there would be no more lying, no more brutalising inward shame. All at once it appeared to Ranulph madness that he had not taken his father away from Jersey long ago. Yet too he knew that as things had been with Guida he could never have stayed away.
Nothing was left but action. He must get his father clear of the island and that soon. But how? and where should they go? He had a boat in St. Aubin's Bay: getting there under cover of darkness he might embark with his father and set sail--whither? To Sark--there was no safety there. To Guernsey--that was no better. To France--yes, that was it, to the war of the Vendee, to join Detricand. No need to find the scrap of paper once given him in the Vier Marchi. Wherever Detricand might be, his fame was the highway to him. All France knew of the companion of de la Rochejaquelein, the fearless Comte de Tournay. Ranulph made his decision. Shamed and dishonoured in Jersey, in that holy war of the Vendee he would find something to kill memory, to take him out of life without disgrace. His father must go with him to France, and bide his fate there also.
By the time his mind was thus made up, they had reached the lonely headland dividing Portelet Bay from St. Brelade's. Dark things were said of this spot, and the country folk of the island were wont to avoid it. Beneath the cliffs in the sea was a rocky islet called Janvrin's Tomb. One Janvrin, ill of a fell disease, and with his fellows forbidden by the Royal Court to land, had taken refuge here, and died wholly neglected and without burial. Afterwards his body lay exposed till the ravens and vultures devoured it, and at last a great storm swept his bones off into the sea. Strange lights were to be seen about this rock, and though wise men guessed them mortal glimmerings, easily explained, they sufficed to give the headland immunity from invasion.
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