CARETTE OF SARK
BY JOHN OXENHAM
AUTHOR OF "WHITE FIRE" "HEARTS IN EXILE" "BARBE OF GRAND BAYOU" "JOHN OF GERISAU" ETC.
WITH SIXTEEN ILLUSTRATIONS, FROM PHOTOGRAPHS OF SARK, SPECIALLY TAKEN FOR THIS BOOK
HODDER AND STOUGHTON LONDON MCMVII
WORKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR
GOD'S PRISONER RISING FORTUNES A PRINCESS OF VASCOVY BONDMAN FREE OUR LADY OF DELIVERANCE JOHN OF GERISAU UNDER THE IRON FLAIL BARBE OF GRAND BAYOU HEARTS IN EXILE JOSEPH SCORER A WEAVER OF WEBS WHITE FIRE THE GATE OF THE DESERT GIANT CIRCUMSTANCE PROFIT AND LOSS THE LONG ROAD
TO WILLIAM FREDERICK COLLINGS, ESQ. Seigneur of Sark
JOHN LINWOOD PITTS, ESQ., F.S.A. (Normandy) Managing Director of the Guille-Alles Library, Guernsey
AND ALL THOSE GOOD FRIENDS IN THE ISLANDS WHO HAVE SHOWN SO GREAT AN INTEREST IN THIS BOOK I INSCRIBE THE SAME IN HEARTY RECOGNITION OF MANY KINDNESSES
Sercq is a small exclusive land where the forty farm holdings to-day are almost identical with those fixed by Helier de Carteret in the time of Queen Elizabeth; where feudal observances which date back to the time of Rollo, Duke of Normandy, are still the law of the land; and where family names and records in some cases run back unbroken for very many generations.
To obviate any personal feeling, I desire to state that, to the best of my belief, no present inhabitant of Sercq is in any way connected with any of the principal characters named in this book.
The name Carre is still an honoured one in the Island. It is pronounced Caury.
The numbers on the map refer to the farms and tenants in the year 1800—the approximate date of the story. As this map has been specially compiled, and is, I believe, the only one of its kind in existence, it may be of interest to some to find at the end of this volume a list of the holdings and holders in Sercq about one hundred years ago.
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The photographs from which this book is illustrated were specially taken for me at considerable expenditure of time and trouble by various good friends in Sark and elsewhere. If, in one or two cases, we have permitted ourselves some little license in the adaptation of the present to the past, it is only for the purpose of presenting to the reader as nearly as possible what was in the writer's mind when working on the story.
* * * * *
The map and list of the Forty Men of Sark and their properties in the year 1800 were compiled for me from the old Island records, by my friend Mr. W.A. Toplis, over twenty years resident in Sark, and for all the time and labour he expended upon them I here make most grateful acknowledgment.
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The length of the Coupee depends upon—one's feelings, one's temperament, and the exact spots where it really begins and ends. To the nervous it seems endless, and some have found themselves unable to cross it under any conditions whatever. So high an authority as Ansted gives it as 600 feet, others say 300; the simple fact being that, unless one goes for the express methodic purpose of measuring it (which no one ever does), all thought, save that of wonder and admiration, is lost the moment one's foot falls upon it. The span from cliff to cliff is probably something over 300 feet, while, from the dip of the path in Sark to the clearing of the rise in Little Sark, it is probably twice as much.
CHAPTER I PAGE HOW PAUL MARTEL FELL OUT WITH SERCQ 1
CHAPTER II HOW RACHEL CARRE WENT BACK TO HER FATHER 14
CHAPTER III HOW TWO FOUGHT IN THE DARK 19
CHAPTER IV HOW MARTEL RAISED THE CLAMEUR BUT FOUND NO RELIEF 24
CHAPTER V HOW CARETTE AND I WERE GIRL AND BOY TOGETHER 31
CHAPTER VI HOW CARETTE CAME BY HER GOLDEN BRIDGE 43
CHAPTER VII HOW I SHOWED ONE THE WAY TO THE BOUTIQUES 53
CHAPTER VIII HOW I WENT THE FIRST TIME TO BRECQHOU 65
CHAPTER IX HOW WE BEGAN TO SPREAD OUR WINGS 77
CHAPTER X HOW I BEARDED LIONS IN THEIR DENS 85
CHAPTER XI HOW WE GREW, AND GROWING, GREW APART 94
CHAPTER XII HOW AUNT JEANNE GAVE A PARTY 100
CHAPTER XIII HOW WE RODE GRAY ROBIN 117
CHAPTER XIV HOW YOUNG TORODE TOOK THE DEVIL OUT OF BLACK BOY 130
CHAPTER XV HOW I FELT THE GOLDEN SPUR 142
CHAPTER XVI HOW I WENT TO SEE TORODE OF HERM 156
CHAPTER XVII HOW I WENT OUT WITH JOHN OZANNE 167
CHAPTER XVIII HOW WE CAME ACROSS MAIN ROUGE 172
CHAPTER XIX HOW I FELL INTO THE RED HAND 184
CHAPTER XX HOW I LAY IN THE CLEFT OF A ROCK 197
CHAPTER XXI HOW I FACED DEATHS AND LIVED 202
CHAPTER XXII HOW THE JOSEPHINE CAME HOME 214
CHAPTER XXIII HOW I LAY AMONG LOST SOULS 222
CHAPTER XXIV HOW I CAME ACROSS ONE AT AMPERDOO 230
CHAPTER XXV HOW WE SAID GOOD-BYE TO AMPERDOO 237
CHAPTER XXVI HOW WE FOUND A FRIEND IN NEED 246
CHAPTER XXVII HOW WE CAME UPON A WHITED SEPULCHRE AND FELL INTO THE FIRE 253
CHAPTER XXVIII HOW WE WALKED INTO THE TIGER'S MOUTH 264
CHAPTER XXIX HOW THE HAWK SWOOPED DOWN ON BRECQHOU 277
CHAPTER XXX HOW I FOUND MY LOVE IN THE CLEFT 283
CHAPTER XXXI HOW I HELD THE NARROW WAY 294
CHAPTER XXXII HOW WE WENT TO EARTH 307
CHAPTER XXXIII HOW LOVE COULD SEE IN THE DARK 312
CHAPTER XXXIV HOW LOVE FOUGHT DEATH IN THE DARK 324
CHAPTER XXXV HOW WE HEARD STRANGE NEWS 332
CHAPTER XXXVI HOW A STORM CAME OUT OF THE WEST 338
CHAPTER XXXVII HOW WE HELD OUR HOMES 348
CHAPTER XXXVIII HOW WE RAN AGAINST THE LAW FOR THE SAKE OF A WOMAN 357
CHAPTER XXXIX HOW I CAME INTO RICH TREASURE 373
THE WEST COAST OF SARK AND BRECQHOU Frontispiece THE CREUX ROAD Facing Page 5 HAVRE GOSSELIN 19 TINTAGEU 47 THE LADY GROTTO 65 A QUIET LANE 117 THE EPERQUERIE 132 IN THE CLEFT OF A ROCK 197 BELOW BEAUMANOIR 226 BRECQHOU FROM THE SOUTH 273 THE COUPEE 297 THE CHASM OF THE BOUTIQUES 308 THE WATER CAVE 321 EPERQUERIE BAY 349 DIXCART BAY 352 CREUX TUNNEL 355
HOW PAUL MARTEL FELL OUT WITH SERCQ
To give you a clear understanding of matters I must begin at the beginning and set things down in their proper order, though, as you will see, that was not by any means the way in which I myself came to learn them.
For my mother and my grandfather were not given to overmuch talk at the best of times, and all my boyish questionings concerning my father left me only the bare knowledge that, like many another Island man in those times—ay, and in all times—he had gone down to the sea and had never returned therefrom.
That was too common a thing to require any explanation, and it was not till long afterwards, when I was a grown man, and so many other strange things had happened that it was necessary, or at all events seemly, that I should know all about my father, that George Hamon, under the compulsion of a very strange and unexpected happening, told me all he knew of the matter.
This, then, that I tell you now is the picture wrought into my own mind by what I gathered from him and from others, regarding events which took place when I was close upon three years old.
And first, let me say that I hold myself a Sercq man born and bred, in spite of the fact that—well, you will come to that presently. And I count our little isle of Sercq the very fairest spot on earth, and in that I am not alone. The three years I spent on ships trading legitimately to the West Indies and Canada and the Mediterranean made me familiar with many notable places, but never have I seen one to equal this little pearl of all islands.
You will say that, being a Sercq man, that is quite how I ought to feel about my own Island. And that is true, but, apart from the fact that I have lived there the greater part of my life, and loved there, and suffered there, and enjoyed there greater happiness than comes to all men, and that therefore Sercq is to me what no other land ever could be,—apart from all that, I hold, and always shall hold, that in the matter of natural beauty, visible to all seeing eyes, our little Island holds her own against the world.
My grandfather, who had voyaged even more widely than myself, always said the same, and he was not a man given to windy talk, nor, indeed, as I have said, to overmuch talk of any kind.
And for the opening of my eyes to the rare delight and full enjoyment of the simple things of Nature, just as God has fashioned them with His wonderful tools, the wind, the wave, and the weather, I have to thank my mother, Rachel Carre, and my grandfather, Philip Carre,—for that and very much more.
It has occurred to me at times, when I have been thinking over their lives as I knew them,—the solitariness, the quietness, the seeming grayness and dead levelness of them,—that possibly their enjoyment and apprehension of the beauty of all things about them, the small things as well as the great, were given to them to make up, as it were, for the loss of other things, which, however, they did not seem to miss, and I am quite sure would not have greatly valued. If they had been richer, more in the world,—busier they hardly could have been, for the farm was but a small one and not very profitable, and had to be helped by the fishing,—perhaps they might not have found time to see and understand and enjoy those simpler, larger matters. But some may look upon that as mere foolishness, and may quote against me M. La Fontaine's fable about the fox and the grapes. I do not mind. Their grapes ripened and were gathered, and mine are in the ripening.
Sercq, in the distance, looks like a great whale basking on the surface of the sea and nuzzling its young. That is a feature very common to our Islands; for time, and the weather, and the ever-restless sea wear through the softer veins, which run through all our Island rocks, just as unexpected streaks of tenderness may be found in the rough natures of our Island men. And so, from every outstanding point, great pieces become detached and form separate islets, between which and the parent isles the currents run like mill-races and take toll of the unwary and the stranger. So, Sercq nuzzles Le Tas, and Jethou Crevichon, and Guernsey Lihou and the Hanois, and even Brecqhou has its whelp in La Givaude. Herm alone, with its long white spear of sand and shells, is like a sword-fish among the nursing whales.
In the distance the long ridge of Sercq looks as bare and uninteresting as would the actual back of a basking whale. It is only when you come to a more intimate acquaintance that all her charms become visible. Just as I have seen high-born women, in our great capital city of London, turn cold unmoved faces to the crowd but smile sweetly and graciously on their friends and acquaintances.
As you draw in to the coast across the blue-ribbed sea, which, for three parts of the year, is all alive with dancing sunflakes, the smooth bold ridge resolves itself into deep rents and chasms. The great granite cliffs stand out like the frowning heads of giants, seamed and furrowed with ages of conflict. The rocks are wrought into a thousand fantastic shapes. The whole coast is honeycombed with caves and bays, with chapelles and arches and flying buttresses, among which are wonders such as you will find nowhere else in the world. And the rocks are coloured most wondrously by that which is in them and upon them, and perhaps the last are the most beautiful, for their lichen robes are woven of silver, and gold, and gray, and green, and orange. When the evening sun shines full upon the Autelets, and sets them all aflame with golden fire, they become veritable altars and lift one's soul to worship. He would be a bold man who would say he knew a nobler sight, and I should doubt his word at that, until I had seen it with my own eyes.
The great seamed rocks of the headlands are black, and white, and red, and pink, and purple, and yellow; while up above, the short green herbage is soft and smooth as velvet, and the waving bracken is like a dark green robe of coarser stuff lined delicately with russet gold.
Now I have told you all this because I have met people whose only idea of Sercq was of a storm-beaten rock, standing grim and stark among the thousand other rocks that bite up through the sea thereabouts. Whereas, in reality, our Island is a little paradise, gay with flowers all the year round. For the gorse at all events is always aflame, even in the winter—and then in truth most of all, both inside the houses and out; for, inside, the dried bushes flame merrily in the wide hearthplaces, while, outside, the prickly points still gleam like gold against the wintry gray. And the land is fruitful too in trees and shrubs, though, in the more exposed places, it is true, the trees suffer somewhat from the lichen, which blows in from the sea, and clings to their windward sides, and slowly eats their lives away.
And now to tell you of that which happened when I was three years old, and I will make it all as clear as I can, from all that I have been able to pick up, and from my knowledge of the places which are still very much as they were then.
The front door of our Island is the tunnel in the rock cut by old Helier de Carteret nearly three hundred years ago. Standing in the tunnel, you see on one side the shingle of the beach where the boats lie but poorly sheltered from the winter storms, though we are hoping before long to have a breakwater capable of affording better shelter than the present one. You see also the row of great capstans at the foot of the cliff by which the boats are hauled as far out of reach of the waves as possible, though sometimes not far enough. Through the other end of the tunnel you look into the Creux Road, which leads straight up to the life and centre of the Island.
Facing due east and sloping sharply to the sea, this narrow way between the hills gets all the sun, and on a fine summer's morning grows drowsy with the heat. The crimson and creamy-gold of the opening honeysuckle swings heavy with its own sweetness. The hart's-tongue ferns, matted all over the steep banks, hang down like the tongues of thirsty dogs. The bees blunder sleepily from flower to flower. The black and crimson butterflies take short flights and long panting rests. Even the late wild roses seem less saucily cheerful than usual, and the branching ferns on the hillsides look as though they were cast in bronze.
I have seen it all just so a thousand times, and have passed down from the sweet blowing wind above to the crisp breath of the sea below, without wakening the little valley from its sleep.
But on one such day it had a very rude awakening. For, without a moment's warning, half the population of the Island came pouring down the steep way towards the sea. First came four burly fishermen in blue guernseys and stocking caps, carrying between them, in a sling of ropes, a fifth man, whose arms and legs were tightly bound. His dark face was bruised and discoloured, and darker still with the anger that was in him. He was a powerful man and looked dangerous even in his bonds.
Behind these came Pierre Le Masurier, the Senechal, and I can imagine how tight and grim his face would be set to a job which he did not like. For, though he was the magistrate of the Island, and held the law in his own hands, with the assistance of his two connetables, Elie Guille and Jean Vaudin, they were all just farmers like the rest. M. le Senechal was, indeed, a man of substance, and had acquired some learning, and perhaps even a little knowledge of legal matters, but he trusted chiefly to his good common-sense in deciding the disputes which now and again sprang up among his neighbours. And as for Elie Guille and Jean Vaudin, they had very little to do as officers of the law, but had their hands very full with the farming and fishing and care of their families, and when they had to turn constable it was somewhat against the grain, and they did it very mildly, and gave as little offence as possible.
And behind M. le Senechal came two or three more men and half the women and children of the Island, the women all agog with excitement, the children dodging in and out to get a glimpse of the bound man. And none of them said a word. The only sound was the grinding of the heavy boots in front, and the bustle of the passage of such a crowd along so narrow a way. There had been words and to spare up above. This was the end of the matter and of the man in bonds, so far as the Island was concerned,—at least that was the intention. There was no exultation fever the prisoner, no jibes and jeers such as might have been elsewhere. They were simply interested to see the end.
Behind them all, slowly, and as though against his will yet determined to see it out, came a tall man of middle age, like the rest half farmer, half fisherman, but of a finer—and sadder—countenance than any there. When all the rest poured noisily through the tunnel and spread out along the shingle, he stood back among the capstans under the cliff and watched quietly.
The bearers placed their burden in one of the boats drawn up on the beach, and straightened their backs gratefully. They ran the boat rasping over the stones into the water, and two of them sprang in and rowed steadily out to sea. The others stood, hands on hips, watching them silently till the boat turned the corner of Les Laches and passed out of sight, and then their tongues were loosed.
"So!" said one. "That's the end of Monsieur Martel."
"Nom de Gyu! We'll hope so," said the other. "But I'd sooner seen him dead and buried."
"'Crais b'en!" said the other with a knowing nod. For all the world knew that if Paul Martel had never come to Sercq, Rachel Carre might have become Mistress Hamon instead of Madame Martel—and very much better for her if she had.
For Martel, in spite of his taking ways and the polished manners of his courting days, had proved anything but a good husband, and he had wound up a long period of indifference and neglect with a grievous bodily assault which had stirred the clan spirit of the Islanders into active reprisal. They would make of it an object-lesson to the other Island girls which would be likely to further the wooings of the Island lads for a long time to come.
Martel, you see, came from Guernsey, but he was only half a Guernsey man at that. His father was a Manche man from Cherbourg, who happened to get wrecked on the Hanois, and settled and married in Peter Port. Paul Martel had grown up to the sea. He had sailed to foreign parts and seen much of the world. He was an excellent sailor, and when he tired of a roving life turned his abilities to account in those peculiar channels of trade which the situation of the Islands and their ancient privileges particularly fitted them for. The Government in London had, indeed, tried, time after time, to suppress the free-trading, and passed many laws and ordinances against it, but these attempts had so far only added zest to the business, and seemed rather to stimulate that which they were intended to suppress.
Martel was successful as a smuggler, and might in time have come to own his own boat and run his own cargoes if he had kept steady.
The Government now and again had harsh fits which made things difficult for the time being in Guernsey, and at such times the smaller islands were turned to account, and the goods were stored and shipped from there. And that is how he came to frequent Sercq and made the acquaintance of Rachel Carre.
George Hamon, I know, never to his dying day forgave himself for having been the means of bringing Martel to Sercq, and truly he got paid for it as bitterly as man could.
Martel might, indeed, have found his way there in any case, but that, to Hamon, did not in any degree lessen the weight of the fact that it was he brought him there to assist in some of his free-trading schemes. And if he had guessed what was to come of it, he would never have handled keg or bale as long as he lived rather than, with his own hand, spoil his life as he did.
For a time they were very intimate, he and Martel. Then Martel made up to Rachel Carre, and their friendship turned to hatred, the more venomous for what had gone before.
But even George Hamon admits that Paul Martel was an unusually good-looking fellow, with very attractive manners when he chose, and a knowledge of the world and its ways, and of men and women, beyond the ordinary, and he won Rachel Carre's heart against her head and in the teeth of her father's opposition.
Perhaps if her mother had been alive things might have been different. But she died when Rachel was eight years old, and her father was much away at the fishing, for the farm was poorer then than it became afterwards, and Martel found his opportunities and turned them to account.
I do not pretend to understand fully how it came about—beyond the fact that the little god of love goes about his work blindfold, and that women do the most unaccountable things at times. Even in the most momentous matters they are capable of the most grievous mistakes, though, on the other hand, that same heart instinct also leads them at times to wisdom beyond the gauging of man's intelligence. A man reasons and keeps tight hand on his feelings; a woman feels and knows; and sometimes a leap in the dark lands one safely, and sometimes not.
To make a long story short, however, Paul Martel and Rachel Carre were married, to the great surprise of all Rachel's friends and to the great grief of her father.
Martel built a little cottage at the head of the chasm which drops into Havre Gosselin, and her father, Philip Carre, lived lonely on his little farm of Belfontaine, by Port a la Jument, with no companion but his dumb man Krok.
Rachel seemed quite happy in her marriage. There had been many predictions among the gossips as to its outcome, and sharp eyes were not lacking to detect the first signs of the fulfilment of prophecy, nor reasons for visits to the cottage at La Fregondee with a view to discovering them. And perhaps Rachel understood all that perfectly well. She was her father's daughter, and Philip Carre was one of the most intelligent and deep-thinking men I have ever met.
Her nearest neighbour and chief friend was Jeanne Falla of Beaumanoir, widow of Peter Le Marchant, whose brother John lived on Brecqhou and made a certain reputation there both for himself and the island. She was old enough to have been Rachel's mother, and Rachel may have confided in her. If she did so her confidence was never abused, for Jeanne Falla could talk more and tell less than any woman I ever knew, and that I count a very great accomplishment.
She was a Guernsey woman by birth, but had lived on Sercq for over twenty years. Her husband was drowned while vraicking a year after they were married, and she had taken the farm in hand and made more of it than ever he would have done if he had lived to be a hundred, for the Le Marchants always tended more to the sea than to the land, though Jeanne Falla's Peter, I have been told, was more shore-going than the rest. She had no child of her own, and that was the only lack in her life. She made up for it by keeping an open heart to all other children, whereby many gained through her loss, and her loss turned to gain even for herself.
When Rachel's boy came she made as much of him as if he had been her own. And the two between them named him Philip Carre after his grandfather,—instinct, maybe, or possibly simply with the idea of pleasing the old man, whose heart had never come fully round to the marriage,—happily done, whatever the reason.
For Martel, outside business matters, which needed a clear head and all a man's wits about him unless he wanted to run himself and his cargoes into trouble, soon proved himself unstable as water. The nature of his business tended to conviviality. Successful runs were celebrated, and fresh ones planned, and occasional losses consoled, in broached kegs which cost little. Success or failure found equal satisfaction in the flowing bowl, and no home happiness ever yet came out of a bung-hole.
Then, too, Rachel Carre had been brought up by her father in a simple, perhaps somewhat rigorous, faith, which in himself developed into Quakerism. I have thought it not impossible that in that might be found some explanation of her action in marrying Paul Martel. Perhaps her father drew the lines somewhat tightly, and her opening life craved width and colour, and found the largest possibilities of them in the rollicking young stranger. Truly he brought colour enough and to spare into the sober gray of her life. It was when the red blood started under his vicious blows that their life together ended.
Martel had no beliefs whatever, except in himself and his powers of outwitting any preventive officer ever born.
Rachel Carre's illusions died one by one. The colours faded, the gray darkened. Martel was much away on his business; possibly also on his pleasures.
One night, after a successful run, he returned home very drunk, and discovered more than usual cause for resentment in his wife's reproachful silence. He struck her, wounding her to the flowing of blood, and she picked up her boy and fled along the cliffs to Beaumanoir where Jeanne Falla lived, with George Hamon not far away at La Vauroque.
Jeanne Falla took her in and comforted her, and as soon as George Hamon heard the news, he started off with a neighbour or two to Fregondee to attend to Martel.
In the result, and not without some tough fighting, for Martel was a powerful man and furious at their invasion, they carried him in bonds to the house of the Senechal, Pierre Le Masurier, for judgment. And M. le Senechal, after due consideration, determined, like a wise man, to rid himself of a nuisance by flinging it over the hedge, as one does the slugs that eat one's cabbages. Martel came from Guernsey and was not wanted in Sercq. To Guernsey therefore he should go, with instructions not to return to Sercq lest worse should follow. Hence the procession that disturbed the slumbers of the Creux Road that day.
HOW RACHEL CARRE WENT BACK TO HER FATHER
"You paid off some of your old score up there, last night, George," said one of the men who had stood watching the boat which carried Martel back to Guernsey.
"Just a little bit," said Hamon, as he rubbed his hand gently over a big bruise on the side of his head. "He's a devil to fight and as strong as an ox;" and they turned and followed the Senechal and Philip Carre through the tunnel.
"Good riddance!" said a woman in the crowd, taking off her black sun-bonnet and giving it an angry shake before putting it on again. "We don't want any of that kind here,"—with a meaning look at the big fishermen behind, which set them grinning and winking knowingly.
"Aw then, Mistress Guilbert," said one, lurching uncomfortably under her gaze, with his hands deep in his trouser pockets. "We others know better than that."
"And a good thing for you, too. That kind of work won't go down in Sercq, let me tell you. Ma fe, no!" and the crowd dribbled away through the tunnel to get back to its work again.
The Senechal was busy planting late cabbages and time was precious. The grave-faced fisherman, who had stood behind the crowd, tramped up the narrow road by his side.
"Well, Carre, you're rid of him. I hope for good," said the Senechal.
"Before God, I hope so, M. le Senechal! He has a devil."
"How goes it with Mistress Rachel this morning?"
"She says little."
"But thinks the more, no doubt. She has suffered more than we know, I fear."
"I never could understand why she threw herself away on a man like that."
"It was not for want of warning."
"I am sure. Well, she has paid. I hope this ends it."
But the other shook his head doubtfully, and as they parted at the crossways, he said gloomily, "She'll know no peace till he's under the sea or the sod." And the Senechal nodded and strode thoughtfully away towards Beauregard, while Carre went on to Havre Gosselin.
When he reached the cottage at the head of the chasm, he lifted the latch and went in. He was confronted by a small boy of three or so, who at sound of the latch had snatched a stick from the floor, with a frown of vast determination on his baby face—an odd, meaningful action.
At sight of Philip Carre, however, the crumpled face relaxed instantly, and the youngster launched himself at him with a shout of welcome.
At sound of the latch, too, a girlish figure had started up from the lit-de-fouaille in the corner by the hearth—the great square couch built out into the room and filled with dried bracken, the universal lounge in the Islands, and generally of a size large enough to accommodate the entire family.
This was Carre's daughter, Rachel, Martel's wife. Her face was very comely. She was the Island beauty when Martel married her, and much sought after, which made her present state the more bitter to contemplate. Her face was whiter even than of late, at the moment, by reason of the dark circles of suffering round her eyes and the white cloth bound round her head. She sat up and looked at her father, with the patient expectancy of one who had endured much and doubted still what might be in store for her.
Carre gripped the small boy's two hands in his big brown one, and the youngster with a shout threw back his body and planted his feet on his grandfather's leg, and walked up him until the strong right arm encircled him and he was seated triumphantly in the crook of it. Whatever the old man might have against his son-in-law there was no doubt as to his feeling for the boy.
"He is gone," he said, with a grave nod, in response to his daughter's questioning look. "But I misdoubt him. You had much better come with me to Belfontaine for a time, Rachel."
She shook her head doubtfully.
"He's an angry man, and if he should get back—" said her father.
"In his right mind he would be sorry—"
"I misdoubt him," he said again, with a sombre nod. "I shall have no peace if you are here all alone...."
But she shook her head dismally, with no sign of yielding.
"It has been very lonely," he said. "You and the boy—"
And she looked up at him, and the hunger of his face seemed to strike her suddenly. She got up from the fern-bed and said, "Yes, we will come. My troubles have made me selfish."
"Now, God be praised! You lift a load from my heart, Rachel. You will come at once? Put together what you will need and we will take it with us."
"And the house?"
"It will be all safe. If you like I will ask George Hamon to give an eye to it while you are away. Perhaps—" Perhaps she would decide to remain with him at Belfontaine, but experience had taught him to go one step at a time rather than risk big leaps when he was not sure of his footing.
So, while she gathered such things as she and the boy would need for a few days' stay, he strode back down the sunny lane to La Vauroque, to leave word of his wishes with Hamon's mother.
And Philip Carre's heart was easier than it had been for many a day, as they wound their way among the great cushions of gorse to his lonely house at Belfontaine. And the small boy was jumping with joy, and the shadow on his mother's face was lightened somewhat. For when one's life has broken down, and untoward circumstances have turned one into a subject for sympathetic gossip, it is a relief to get away from it all, to dwell for a time where the clacking of neighbourly tongues cannot be heard, and where sympathy is all the deeper for finding no expression in words. At Belfontaine there was little fear of oversight or overhearing, for it lay somewhat apart, and since his daughter's marriage Philip Carre had lived there all alone with his dumb man Krok, who assisted him with the farm and the fishing, and their visitors were few and far between.
Now that jumping small boy was myself, and Rachel Carre was my mother, and Philip Carre was my grandfather. But what I have been telling you is only what I learned long afterwards, when I was a grown man, and it had become necessary for me to know these things in explanation of others.
HOW TWO FOUGHT IN THE DARK
When George Hamon told me the next part of the story of those early days, his enjoyment in the recalling of certain parts of it was undisguised. He told it with great gusto.
As he lay that night on the fern-bed in the cottage above the chasm, he thought of Rachel Carre, and what might have been if Martel's father had only been properly drowned on the Hanois instead of marrying the Guernsey woman. Rachel and he might have come together, and he would have made her as happy as the day was long. And now—his life was empty, and Rachel's was broken,—and all because of this wretched half-Frenchman, with his knowing ways and foreign beguilements. The girls had held him good-looking. Well, yes, he was good-looking in a way, but it passed his understanding why any Sercq girl should want to marry a foreigner while home lads were still to be had. He did not think there would be much marrying outside the Island for some time to come, but it was bitter hard that Rachel Carre should have had to suffer in order to teach them that lesson.
Gr-r-r! but he would like to have Monsieur Martel up before him just for ten minutes or so, with a clear field and no favour. Martel was strong and active, it was true, but there—he was a drinker, and a Frenchman at that, and drink doesn't run to wind, and a Frenchman doesn't run to fists. Very well—say twenty minutes then, and if he—George Hamon—did not make Monsieur Martel regret ever having come to Sercq, he would deserve all he got and would take it without a murmur.
He was full of such imaginings, when at last he fell asleep, and he dreamt that he and Martel met in a lonely place and fought. And so full of fight was he that he rolled off the fern-bed and woke with a bump on the floor, and regretted that it was only a dream. For he had just got Martel's head comfortably under his left arm, and was paying him out in full for all he had made Rachel Carre suffer, when the bump of his fall put an end to it.
The following night he fell asleep at once, tired with a long day's work in the fields. He woke with a start about midnight, with the impression of a sound in his ears, and lay listening doubtfully. Then he perceived that his ears had not deceived him. There was someone in the room,—or something,—and for a moment all the superstitions among which he had been bred crawled in his back hair and held his breath.
Then a hand dropped out of the darkness and touched his shoulder, and he sprang at the touch like a coiled spring.
It was Martel's voice and usual exclamation, and in a moment Hamon had him by the throat and they were whirling over the floor, upsetting the table and scattering the chairs, and George Hamon's heart was beating like a merry drum at feel of his enemy in the flesh.
But wrestling blindly in a dark room did not satisfy him. That which was in him craved more. He wanted to see what he was doing and the full effects of it.
He shook himself free.
"Come outside and fight it out like a man—if you are one," he panted. "And we'll see if you can beat a man as you can a woman."
"Allons!" growled Martel. He was in the humour to rend and tear, and it mattered little what. For the authorities in Guernsey, after due deliberation, had decided that what was not good enough for Sercq was not good enough for Guernsey, and had shipped him back with scant ceremony. He had been flung out like a sack of rubbish onto the shingle in Havre Gosselin, half an hour before, had scaled the rough track in the dark, with his mouth full of curses and his heart full of rage, and George Hamon thanked God that it was not Rachel and the boy he had found in the cottage that night.
Hamon slipped on his shoes and tied them carefully, and they passed out and along the narrow way between the tall hedges. The full moon was just showing red and sleepy-looking, but she would be white and wide awake in a few minutes. The grass was thick with dew, and there was not a sound save the growl of the surf on the rocks below.
Through a gap in the hedge Hamon led the way towards Longue Pointe.
"Here!" he said, as they came on a level piece, and rolled up the sleeves of his guernsey. "Put away your knife;" and Martel, with a curse at the implication, drew it from its sheath at his back and flung it among the bracken.
Then, without a word, they tackled one another. No gripping now, but hard fell blows straight from the shoulder, warded when possible, or taken in grim silence. They fought, not as men fight in battle,—for general principles and with but dim understanding of the rights and wrongs of the matter; but with the bitter intensity born of personal wrongs and the desire for personal vengeance. To Hamon, Martel represented the grievous shadow on Rachel Carre's life. To Martel, Hamon represented Sercq and all the contumely that had been heaped upon him there.
Their faces were set like rocks. Their teeth were clenched. They breathed hard and quick—through their noses at first, but presently, and of necessity, in short sharp gasps from the chest.
It was a great fight, with none to see it but the placid moon, and so strong was her light that there seemed to be four men fighting, two above and two below. And at times they all merged into a writhing confusion of fierce pantings and snortings as of wild beasts, but for the most part they fought in grim silence, broken only by the whistle of the wind through their swollen lips, the light thud of their feet on the trampled ground, and the grisly sound of fist on flesh. And they fought for love of Rachel Carre, which the one had not been able to win and the other had not been able to keep.
Martel was the bigger man, but Hamon's legs and arms had springs of hate in them which more than counterbalanced. He was a temperate man too, and in fine condition. He played his man with discretion, let him exhaust himself to his heart's content, took with equanimity such blows as he could not ward or avoid, and kept the temper of his hatred free from extravagance till his time came.
Martel lost patience and wind. Unless he could end the matter quickly his chance would be gone. He did his best to close and finish it, but his opponent knew better, and avoided him warily. They had both received punishment. Hamon took it for Rachel's sake, Martel for his sins. His brain was becoming confused with Hamon's quick turns and shrewd blows, and he could not see as clearly as at first. At times it seemed to him that there were two men fighting him. He must end it while he had the strength, and he bent to the task with desperate fury. Then, as he was rushing on his foe like a bull, with all his hatred boiling in his head, all went suddenly dark, and he was lying unconscious with his face on the trodden grass, and George Hamon stood over him, with his fists still clenched, all battered and bleeding, and breathing like a spent horse, but happier than he had been for many a day.
Martel lay so still that a fear began to grow in Hamon that he was dead. He had caught him deftly on the temple as he came on. He had heard of men being killed by a blow like that. He knelt and turned the other gingerly over, and felt his heart beating. And then the black eyes opened on him and the whites of them gleamed viciously in the moonlight, and Hamon stood up, and, after a moment's consideration, strode away and kicked about in the bracken till he found the other's knife. Then he picked up his jacket, and went back to the cottage with the knife in one hand and his jacket in the other, and went inside and bolted the door, which was not a custom in Sercq.
HOW MARTEL RAISED THE CLAMEUR BUT FOUND NO RELIEF
George Hamon slept heavily that night while Nature repaired damages. In the morning he had his head in a bucket of water from the well, when he heard footsteps coming up the steep way from the shore, and as he shook the drops out of his swollen eyes he saw that it was Philip Carre come in from his fishing.
"Hello, George—!" and Carre stopped and stared at his face, and knew at once that what he had feared had come to pass.—"He's back then?"
"It feels like it."
"Where did you meet?"
"He came in here in the middle of the night. We fought on Longue Pointe."
"Where is he now?"
"I left him in the grass with his wits out."
"She'll have no peace till he's dead and buried," said Carre gloomily.
Then they heard heavy footsteps in the narrow way between the hedges, and both turned quickly with the same thought in their minds. But it was only Philip Tanquerel coming down to see to his lobster pots, and at sight of Hamon's face he grinned knowingly and drawled, "Bin falling out o' bed, George?"
"Yes. Fell on top of the Frenchman."
"Fell heavy, seems to me. He's back then? I doubted he'd come if he wanted to."
Then more steps between the hedges, and Martel himself turned the corner and came straight for the cottage.
He made as though he would go in without speaking to the others, but George Hamon planted himself in the doorway with a curt, "No, you don't!"
"You refuse to let me into my own house?"
"Yes, I do."
"By what right?"
"By this!" said Hamon, raising his fist. "If you want any more of it you've only to say so. You're outcast. You've no rights here. Get away!"
"I claim my rights," said Martel through his teeth, and fell suddenly to his knees, and cried, "Haro! Haro! Haro! a l'aide mon prince! On me fait tort."
The three men looked doubtfully at one another for a moment, for this old final appeal to a higher tribunal, in the name of Rollo, the first old Norseman Duke, dead though he was this nine hundred years, was still the law of the Islands and not to be infringed with impunity.
All the same, when the other sprang up and would have passed into the cottage, Hamon declined to move, and when Martel persisted, he struck at him with his fist, and it looked as though the fight were to be renewed.
"He makes Clameur, George," said Philip Tanquerel remonstratively.
"He may make fifty Clameurs for me. Let him go to the Senechal and the Greffier and lay the matter before them. He's not coming in here as long as I've got a fist to lift against him."
"You refuse?" said Martel blackly.
"You had better go to the Greffier," said Philip Carre. "The Court will have to decide it."
"It is my house."
"I'm in charge of it, and I won't give it up till the Senechal tells me to. So there!" said Hamon.
Martel turned on his heel and walked away, and the three stood looking after him.
"I'm not sure—" began Tanquerel, in his slow drawling way.
"You're only a witness, anyway, Philip," said Hamon. "I'm the oppressor, and if he comes again I'll give him some more of what he had last night. He may Haro till he's hoarse, for me. Till the Senechal bids me go, I stop here;" and Tanquerel shrugged his shoulders and went off down the slope to his pots.
"More trouble," said Carre gloomily.
"We'll meet it—with our fists," said Hamon cheerfully. "M. le Senechal is not going to be browbeaten by a man he's flung out of the Island."
And so it turned out. The cutter had brought M. Le Masurier a letter from the authorities in Guernsey which pleased him not at all. It informed him that Martel, having married into Sercq and settled on Sercq, belonged to Sercq, and they would have none of him, and were accordingly sending him home again.
When Martel appeared to lodge his complaint, and claim the old Island right to cessation of oppression and trial of his cause, M. le Senechal was prepared for him. It was not the man's fault that he was back on their hands, and he said nothing about that. As to his complaint, however, he drew a rigid line between the past and the future. In a word, he declined to interfere in the matter of the cottage until the case should be tried and the Court should give its judgment.
"Hamon must not, of course, interfere with you any further. But neither must you interfere with him," said the wise man. "If you should do so he retains the right that every man has of defending himself, and will doubtless exercise it."
At which, when he heard it, George smiled crookedly through his swollen lips and half-closed eyes, and Martel found himself out in the cold.
He reconnoitred at a safe distance several times during the day, but each time found Hamon smoking his pipe in the doorway, with a show of enjoyment which his cut lips did not in reality permit.
He stole down in the dark and quietly tried the bolted door, but got only a sarcastic grunt for his pains.
He tried to get a lodging elsewhere, but no one would receive him.
He begged for food. No one would give him a crust, and everyone he asked kept a watchful eye on him until he was clear of the premises.
He pulled some green corn, and husked it between his hands, and tried to satisfy his complaining stomach with that and half-ripe blackberries.
He crept up to a farmsteading after dark, intent on eggs, a chicken, a pigeon,—anything that might stay the clamour inside. The watch-dogs raised such a riot that he crept away again in haste.
The hay had been cut in the churchyard. That was No Man's Land, and none had the right to hunt him out of it. So he made up a bed alongside a great square tomb, and slept there that night, and scared the children as they went past to school next morning.
One of the cows at Le Port gave no milk that day, and Dame Vaudin pondered the matter weightily, and discussed it volubly with her neighbours, but did not try their remedies.
During the day he went over to Little Sercq in hopes of snaring a rabbit. But the rabbits understood him and were shy. When he found himself near the Cromlech it suggested shelter, and creeping in to curl himself up for a sleep, he came unexpectedly on a baby rabbit paralysed with fear at the sight of him. It was dead before it understood what was happening. He tore it in pieces with his fingers and ate it raw. They found its skin and bones there later on.
Under the stimulus of food his brain worked again. There was no room for him in Sercq, that was evident. He was alien, and the clan spirit was too strong for him.
He crept back across the Coupee in the dark, and passed a man there who bade him good-night, not knowing till afterwards who he was.
Next morning, when Philip Carre came in from his fishing and climbed the zigzag above Havre Gosselin, he was surprised at the sight of George Hamon smoking in the doorway of the cottage.
"Why, George, I thought you were off fishing," he said.
"Your boat's away." And Hamon was leaping down the zigzag before he had finished, while Carre followed more slowly. But no amount of anxious staring across empty waters will bring back a boat that is not there. The boat was gone and Paul Martel with it, and neither was seen again in Sercq.
For many months Rachel Carre lived in instant fear of his unexpectedly turning up again. But he never came, and in time her mind found rest. The peace and aloofness of Belfontaine appealed to her, and at her father's urgent desire she stayed on there, and gave herself wholly to the care of the house and the training of her boy. The name of Martel, with its unpleasant memories, was quietly dropped, and in time came to be almost forgotten. The small boy grew up as Phil Carre, and knew no other name.
I am assured that he was a fine, sturdy little fellow, and that he took after his grandfather in looks and disposition. And his grandfather and Krok delighted in him, and fed his hungry little mind from their own hard-won experiences, and taught him all their craft as he grew able for it, so that few boys of his age could handle boat and nets and lines as he could. And Philip the elder, being of an open mind through his early travels, and believing that God was more like to help them that helped themselves than otherwise, made him a fearless swimmer, whereby the boy gained mighty enjoyment and sturdy health, and later on larger things still.
But it was his mother who led him gently towards the higher things, and opened the eyes of his understanding and the doors of his heart. She taught him more than ever the schoolmaster could, and more than most boys of his day knew. So that in time he came to see in the storms and calms, more than simply bad times and good; and in the clear blue sky and starry dome, in the magical unfoldings of the dawn and the matchless pageants of the sunset, more than mere indications of the weather.
Yet, withal, he was a very boy, full of life and the joy of it, and in their loving watchfulness over his development his mother and grandfather lost sight almost of the darker times out of which he had come, and looked only to that which he might in time come to be.
HOW CARETTE AND I WERE GIRL AND BOY TOGETHER
I suppose I could fill a great book with my recollections of those wonderful days when I was a boy of twelve and Carette Le Marchant was a girl of ten, and far and away the prettiest girl in Sercq,—or in Guernsey or Jersey either, for that matter, I'll wager. And at that time I would have fought on the spot any boy not too visibly beyond me who dared to hold any other opinion.
My mother and my grandfather did not by any means approve my endless battles, I am bound to say, and I do not think I was by nature of a quarrelsome disposition, but it seems to me now that a good deal of my time was spent in boyish warfare, and as often as not Carette was in one way or another accountable for it.
Not that herself or her looks could be called in question. These spoke for themselves, though I grant you she was a fiery little person and easily provoked. If any attack was made on her looks or her doings it was usually only for my provocation, as the knights in olden times flung down their gauntlets by way of challenge. But there were other matters relating to Carette, or rather to her family, which I could defend only with my fists, and not at all with my judgment even at twelve years old, and only for her sake who had, of herself, nothing whatever to do with them.
For the Le Marchants of Brecqhou were known and held in a somewhat wholesome respect of fear, by all grown-up dwellers in the Islands, from Alderney to Jersey.
It was not simply that they were bold and successful free-traders. Free-trade—or, as some would call it, smuggling—was the natural commerce of the Islands, and there were not very many whose fingers were not in the golden pie. My grandfather, Philip Carre, was one, however, and he would have starved sooner than live by any means which did not commend themselves to his own very clear views of right and wrong. The Le Marchants had made themselves a name for reckless daring, and carelessness of other people's well-being when it ran counter to their own, which gave them right of way among their fellows, but won comment harsh enough behind their backs. Many a strange story was told of them, and as a rule the stories lost nothing in the telling.
But my boyish recollections of Carette,—Carterette in full, but shortened by everyone to Carette, unless it was Aunt Jeanne Falla under very great provocation, which did not, indeed, happen often but was not absolutely unknown,—my recollections of Carette, and of my mother, and my grandfather, and Krok, and George Hamon, and Jeanne Falla, are as bright and rosy as the dawns and sunsets of those earlier days.
All these seem to have been with me from the very beginning. They made up my little world, and Carette was the sunlight,—and occasionally the lightning,—and the moonlight was my mother, and the bright stars were Jeanne Falla and George Hamon, while my grandfather was a benevolent power, always kind but rather far above me, and Krok was a mystery man, dearly loved, but held in something of awe by reason of his strange affliction.
For Krok could hear and understand all that was said to him, even in our Island tongue which was not native to him, but he had no speech. The story ran that he had been picked off a piece of wreckage, somewhere off the North African coast, by the ship in which my grandfather made his last voyage, very many years ago. He was very intelligent and quick of hearing, but dumb, and it was said that he had been captured by Algerine pirates when a boy and had his tongue cut out by them. This, however, I was in a position to contradict, for I had once got a glimpse of Krok's tongue and so knew that he had one, though his face was so covered with hair that one might have doubted almost if he even had a mouth.
He was said to be Spanish. He was said to be Scotch. Wherever he was born, he was by nature an honest man and faithful as a dog. My grandfather had taken a liking to him, and when he quitted the sea Krok followed him, and became his man and served him faithfully. He could neither read nor write at that time, and his only vocal expression was a hoarse croak like the cawing of a crow, and this, combined with ample play of head and hand and facial expression and hieroglyphic gesture, formed his only means of communication with his surroundings.
The sailors called him Krok, from the sound he made when he tried to speak, and Krok he remained. In moments of intense excitement he was said to have delivered himself of the word "Gug" also, but doubts were cast upon this. He was of a placid and obliging nature, a diligent and trustworthy worker, and on the whole a cheerful companion with whom one could never fall out—by word of mouth, at all events.
He was short and broad but very powerful, and his face, where it was not covered with hair, was seamed and meshed with little wrinkles, maybe from pinching it up in the glare of the sun as a boy. His eyes were brown and very like a dog's, and that was perhaps because he could not speak and tried to tell you things with them. At times, when he could not make you understand, they were full of a straining anxiety, the painful striving of a dumb soul for utterance, which was very pitiful.
I remember very well quite breaking down once, when I was a very little fellow and was doing my best to explain something I wanted and could not make him understand. In my haste I had probably begun in the middle and left him to guess the beginning. Something I had certainly left out, for all I could get from Krok was puzzled shakes of the head and anxious snappings of the bewildered brown eyes.
"Oh, Krok, what a stupid, stupid man you are!" I cried at last, and I can see now the sudden pained pinching of the hairy face and the welling tears in the troubled brown eyes.
I flung my little arms half round his big neck and hugged myself tight to him, crying, "Oh, Krok, I love you!" and he fondled me and patted me and soothed me, and our discussion was forgotten. And after that, boy as I was, and as wild and thoughtless as most, I do not think I ever wounded Krok's soul again, for it was like striking a faithful dog or a horse that was doing his best.
But better times came—to Krok, at all events—when my mother began to teach me my letters.
That was in the short winter days and long evenings, when all the west was a shrieking black fury, out of which hurtled blasts so overpowering that you could lean up against them as against a wall, and with no more fear of falling, and the roar of great waters was never out of our ears.
In the daytime I would creep to the edge of the cliff, and lie flat behind a boulder, and watch by the hour the huge white waves as they swept round the Moie de Batarde and came ripping along the ragged side of Brecqhou like furious white comets, and hurled themselves in thunder on our Moie de Mouton and Tintageu. Then the great granite cliffs and our house up above shook with their pounding, and Port a la Jument and Pegane Bay were all aboil with beaten froth, and the salt spume came flying over my head in great sticky gouts, and whirled away among the seagulls feeding in the fields behind. When gale and tide played the same way, the mighty strife between the incoming waves and the Race of the Gouliot passage was a thing to be seen. For the waves that had raced over a thousand miles of sea split on the point of Brecqhou, and those that took the south side piled themselves high in the great basin formed by Brecqhou and the Gouliot rocks and Havre Gosselin, and finding an outlet through the Gouliot Pass, they came leaping and roaring through, the narrow black channel in a very fury of madness, and hurled themselves against their fellows who had taken the north side of the Island, and there below me they fought like giants, and I was never tired of watching.
But in the evenings, when the lamp was lit, and the fire of dried gorse and driftwood burnt with coloured flames and lightning forks, my grandfather would get out his books with a sigh of great content, and Krok would settle silently to his work on net or lobster pot, and my mother took to teaching me my letters, which was not at all to my liking.
At first I was but a dull scholar, and the letters had to be dinned into my careless little head many times before they stuck there, and anything was sufficient to draw me from my task,—a louder blast outside than usual, or the sight of Krok's nimble fingers, or of my grandfather's deep absorption, which at that time I could not at all understand, and which seemed to me extraordinary, and made me think of old Mother Mauger, who was said to be a witch, and who lost herself staring into her fire just as my grandfather did into his books.
My wits were always busy with anything and everything rather than their proper business, but my mother was patience itself and drilled things into me till perforce I had to learn them, and, either through this constant repetition, or from a friendly feeling for myself in trouble, Krok began to take an intelligent interest in my lessons.
He would bring his work alongside, and listen intently, and watch the book, and at times would drop his work and by main force would turn my head away from himself to that which was of more consequence, when my mother would nod and smile her thanks.
And so, as I slowly learned, Krok learned also, and very much more quickly, for he had more time than I had to think over things, because he wasted none of it in talking, and he was more used to thinking than I was. And then, to me it was still only drudgery, while to him it was the opening of a new window to his soul.
Why, in all these years, he had never learned to read and write—why my grandfather had never thought to teach him—I cannot tell. Perhaps because my mother had learned at the school; perhaps because Krok himself had shown no inclination to learn; perhaps because, in the earlier days, the scanty little farm and the fishing which eked it out took up all the men's time and attention.
However that might be, now that he had begun to learn Krok learned quickly, and the signs of his knowledge were all over the place.
He knew all that wonderful west coast of our Island as well as he knew the fingers of his hand, and before long the ground all round the house was strewn about with smooth flat stones on which were scratched the letters of the alphabet, which presently, according to the pace of my studies indoors, began to arrange themselves into words, and so I was encompassed with learning, inside and out, as it were, and sucked it in whether I would or no.
Well do I remember the puzzlement in old Krok's face when the mischief that dwells in every boy set me to changing the proper order of his stones, and the eagerness with which he awaited the evening lesson to compare the new wrong order of things with his recollections of the original correct one, and then the mild look of reproachful enquiry he would turn upon me.
But my mother, catching me at it one day, sharply forbade me meddling with Krok's studies, and showed me the smallness of it, and I never touched one of his stones again.
Both my mother and my grandfather could read and speak English, in addition to the Norman-French which was the root of our Island tongue, and that was something of a distinction in those days. He had learned it, perforce, during his early voyagings. He had been twice round the world, both times on English ships, and he was the kind of man, steady, quiet, thoughtful, to miss no opportunities of self-improvement, though I do not think there ever can have been a man less desirous of gain. His wants were very few, and so long as the farm and the fishing provided us all with a sufficient living, he was satisfied and grateful. He saw his neighbours waxing fat all about him, in pursuits which he would have starved sooner than set his hand to. To them, and according to Island standards, these things might be right or wrong, but to him, and for himself, he had no doubts whatever in the matter.
You see, long ago, in Guernsey, he had come across Master Claude Gray, the Quaker preacher, and had been greatly drawn to him and the simple high-life he proclaimed. Frequently, on still Sabbath mornings, he would put off in his boat, and, if the wind did not serve, would pull all the way to Peter Port, a good fourteen miles there and back, for the purpose of meeting his friend, and looked on it as a high privilege.
When, at times, he took me with him, I, too, looked on it as a mighty privilege; for Peter Port, even on a Sabbath morning, was, to a boy whose life was spent within the shadow of the Autelets, so to speak, a great and bustling city, full of people and houses and mysteries, and of course of wickedness, all of which excited my liveliest imaginings.
In the evening we would pull back, or run before the west wind if it served, and my grandfather would thoughtfully con over the gains of the day as another might tell the profits of his trading. Master Claude Gray was a man of parts, well read, an Englishman, and it was doubtless from him that my grandfather drew some of that love of books which distinguished him above any man I ever knew on Sercq, not excepting even the Seigneur, or the Senechal, or the Schoolmaster, or the Parson.
His library consisted of five books which he valued beyond anything he possessed, chiefly on account of what was in them and what he got out of them; to some extent also, in the case of three of them, for what they represented to him.
The first was a very large Bible bound in massive leather-covered boards, a present from Master Claude Gray to his friend, and brother in Christ, Philip Carre, and so stated in a very fine round-hand on the front page. It contained a number of large pictures drawn on wood which, under strict injunctions as to carefulness and clean hands and no wet fingers, I was occasionally allowed to look at on a winter's Sabbath evening, and which always sent me to bed in a melancholy frame of mind, yet drew me to their inspection with a most curious fascination when the next chance offered.
Another was Mr. John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, also with woodcuts of a somewhat terrifying aspect, yet not devoid of lively fillips to the imagination.
Then there was a truly awful volume, Foxe's Book of Martyrs, with pictures which wrought so upon me that I used to wake up in the night shrieking with terror, and my mother forbade any further study of it; though Krok, when he came to be able to read, would hang over it by the hour, spelling out all the dreadful stories with his big forefinger and noting every smallest detail of the pictured tortures.
These two my grandfather had bought in Peter Port at a sale, together with a copy of Jean de la Fontaine's Fables Choisies in French, with delightful pictures of all the talking beasts.
And—crowning glory from the purely literary point of view—a massive volume of Plays by William Shakespeare, and to this was attached a history and an inscription of which my grandfather, in his quiet way, was not a little proud.
When the Valentine, East Indiaman, went ashore on Brecqhou in the great autumn gale, the year before I was born,—that was before the Le Marchants set themselves down there,—my grandfather was among the first to put out to the rescue of the crew and passengers. He got across to Brecqhou at risk of his life, and, from his knowledge of that ragged coast and its currents, managed to float a line down to the sinking ship by means of which every man got safe ashore. There was among them a rich merchant of London, a Mr. Peter Mulholland, and he would have done much for the man who had saved all their lives.
"I have done naught more than my duty," said my grandfather, and would accept nothing.
But Mr. Mulholland stopped with him for some days, while such of the cargo as had floated was being gathered from the shores—and, truth to tell, from the houses—of Sercq, that is to say some portion of it, for some went down with the ship, and in some of the houses there are silken hangings to this day. And the rich Englishman came to know what manner of man my grandfather was and his tastes, and some time after he had gone there came one day a great parcel by the Guernsey cutter, addressed to my grandfather, and in it was that splendid book of Shakespeare's Plays which, after his Bible, became his greatest delight. An inscription, too, which he read religiously every time he opened the book, though he must have known every curl of every letter by heart.
It was a wonderful book, even to look at. When I grew learned enough to read it aloud to him and my mother and Krok of a winter's night, I came by degrees, though not by any means at first, to understand what a very wonderful book it was.
When one's reading is limited to four books it is well that they should be good books. Every one of those books I read through aloud from beginning to end, not once, but many times, except indeed the long lists of names in the Bible, which my grandfather said were of no profit to us, and some other portions which he said were beyond me, and which I therefore made a point of reading to myself, but got little benefit from.
But to these books, and to the habit of reading them aloud, which impressed them greatly on my memory, and to my own observation of men and things and places through the eyes which these books helped to open, and to the wise words of my grandfather, and the quiet faithful teaching of my mother, and to all that old Krok taught me without ever speaking one word—I know that I owe everything, and that is why it was necessary to tell you so much about them.
If the telling has wearied you, I am sorry. For myself, I like to think back upon it all, and to trace the beginnings of some things of which I have seen the endings, and of some which are not ended yet, thank God!—and to find, in all that lies between, the signs of a Power that is beyond any power of man's, and is, indeed, and rightly I think, beyond even the power of any man's full understanding.
HOW CARETTE CAME BY HER GOLDEN BRIDGE
I recall her in those days in a thousand different circumstances, and always like the sunlight or the lightning, gleaming, sparkling, flashing. For she could be as steadily radiant as the one and as unexpectedly fickle as the other, and I do not know that I liked her any the less on that account, though truly it made her none too easy to deal with at times. Her quick changes and childish vagaries kept one, at all events, very much alive and in a state of constant expectation. And whenever I think of her I thank God for Jeanne Falla, and all that that wisest and sharpest and tenderest of women was able to do for her.
For, you see, Carette was peculiarly circumstanced, and might have gone to waste but for her aunt Jeanne.
Her mother died when she was six years old, after four years' life on Brecqhou, and Carette was left to be utterly spoiled by her father and six big brothers, wild and reckless men all of them, but all, I am sure, with tender spots in their hearts for the lovely child who seemed so out of place among them, though for anyone outside they had little thought or care.
My own thoughts delight to linger back among these earlier scenes before the more trying times came. If you will let me, I will try to picture Carette to you as I see her in my mind's eye, and I can see her as she was then as clearly as though it were yesterday.
I see a girl of ten, of slight, graceful figure, and of so active a nature that if you found her quite still you feared at once that something was wrong with her.
Her face was very charming, browned richly with the kiss of sun and wind, and without a freckle, yet not so brown as to hide the rich colour of her feelings, which swept across her face as quickly as the cloud-shadows across the sparkling face of the sea.
Her eyes were large and dark—all alight with the joy of life; sparkling with fun and mischief; blazing forked lightnings at some offence, fancied as often as not; big with entreaty that none could refuse; more rarely—in those days—deep with sober thought; but always—shining, sparkling, blazing, entreating—the most wonderful and fascinating eyes in the world to the boy at her side, on whom they shone and sparkled and blazed and entreated, and moulded always to her imperious little will.
A sturdy boy of twelve, short if anything for his age at that time, though later he grew to full Sercq height and something over; but strong and healthy, with a pair of keen blue eyes, and nothing whatever distinctive about his brown face, unless it was a touch of the inflexible honesty which had been diligently instilled into him from the time he was three years old. Perhaps also some little indication of the stubborn determination which must surely have come from his grandfather, and which some people called obstinacy.
Anyway the girl trusted him implicitly, ruled him imperiously, quarrelled with him at times but never beyond reason, and always quickly made it up again, and in so delightful a fashion that one remembered the quarrel no more but only the making-up,—beamed upon him then more graciously than before, and looked to him for certain help in every time of need.
Inseparables these two, except when the Gouliot waters were in an evil humour and rendered the passage impossible, for her home was on Brecqhou and his was on Sercq. Fortunately for their friendship, Aunt Jeanne Falla lived on Sercq also, and Carette was as often to be found at Beaumanoir as at her father's house on Brecqhou, and it was to her father's liking that it should be so. For he and the boys were often all away for days at a time, and on such occasions, as they started, they would drop Carette on the rough shore of Havre Gosselin, or set her hands and feet in the iron rings that scaled the bald face of the rock, and up she would go like a goat, and away to the welcome of the house that was her second and better home. What Carette would have been without Aunt Jeanne I cannot imagine; and so—all thanks to the sweet, sharp soul who took her mother's place.
See these two, then, as they lay in the sweet short herbage of Tintageu or Moie de Mouton, chins on fist, crisp light hair close up alongside floating brown curls, caps or hats scorned impediments to rapid motion, bare heels kicking up emotionally behind, as they surveyed their little world, and watched the distant ships, and dreamed dreams and saw visions.
Very clear in my memory is one such day, by reason of the fact that it was the beginning of a new and highly satisfactory state of matters between the boy and the girl.
Carette, you understand, was practically prisoner on Brecqhou except at such times as the higher powers, for good reasons of their own, put her ashore on Sercq. And, often as this happened, there were still many times when she would have been there but could not.
She had startled her companion more than once by wild threats of swimming the Gouliot, which is a foolhardy feat even for a man, for the dark passage is rarely free from coiling undercurrents, which play with a man as though he were no more than a piece of seaweed, and try even a strong swimmer's nerve and strength. And when she spoke so, the boy took her sharply to task, and drew most horrible pictures of her dead white body tumbling about among the Autelets, or being left stranded in the rock pools by Port du Moulin, nibbled by crabs and lobsters and pecked by hungry gulls; or, maybe, lugged into a sea-cave by a giant devil-fish and ripped into pieces by his pitiless hooked beak.
At all of which the silvery little voice would say "Pooh!" But all the same the slim little figure would shiver in the hot sunshine inside its short blue linsey-woolsey frock, and the dark eyes would grow larger than ever at the prospect, especially at the ripping by the giant pieuvre, in which they both believed devoutly, and eventually she would promise not to throw her young life away.
"But all the same, Phil, I do feel like trying it when I want over and they won't let me."
And—"Don't be a silly," the boy would say. "If you go and get yourself drowned, in any stupid way like that, Carette, I'll never speak to you again as long as I live."
They were lying so one day on the altar rock behind Tintageu, the boy gazing dreamily into the vast void past the distant Casquets, where, somewhere beyond and beyond, lay England, the land of many wonders,—England, where the mighty folks had lived of whom he had read in his grandfather's great book of plays,—and strange, wild notions he had got of the land and the people; England, where they used to burn men and women at the stake, and pinch them with hot irons, and sting them to death with bees, and break them in pieces on wheels—a process he did not quite understand, though it seemed satisfactorily horrible; England, which was always at war with France, and was constantly winning great fights upon the sea; England, of whom they were proud to be a part, though—somewhat confusingly to twelve years old—their own ordinary speech was French; a wonderful place that England, bigger even than Guernsey, his grandfather said, and so it must be true. And sometime, maybe, he would sail across the sea and see it all for himself, and the great city of London, which was bigger even than Peter Port, though that, indeed, seemed almost past belief and the boy had his doubts.
He told Carette of England and London at times, and drew so wildly on his imagination—yet came so very far from the reality—that Carette flatly denied the possibilities of such things, and looked upon him as a romancer of parts, though she put it more briefly.
She herself lay facing west, gazing longingly at Herm and Jethou, with the long line of Guernsey behind. Guernsey bounded her aspirations. Sometime she was to go with Aunt Jeanne to Guernsey, and then she would be level with Phil, and be able to take him down when he boasted too wildly of its wonderful streets and houses and shops.
Suddenly she stiffened, as a cat does at distant sight of a mouse, gazed hard, sat up, jumped to her feet and began to dance excitedly as was her way.
"Phil! Phil!" and the boy's eyes were on the object at which her dancing finger pointed vaguely.
"A boat!" said he, jumping with excitement also, for the boat Carette had sighted was evidently astray, and, moreover, it was, as they could easily see even at that distance, no Island boat, but a stranger, a waif, and so lawful prey and treasure-trove if they could secure it.
"Oh, Phil! Get it! I want it! It's just what I've been wanting all my life!"
It was a mere yellow cockleshell of a thing, almost round, and progressing, with wind and tide, equally well bow or stern foremost, its holding capacity a man and a half maybe, or say two children.
It came joggling slowly along, like a floating patch of sunlight, among the sun-glints, and every joggle brought it nearer to the grip of the current that was swirling south through the Gouliot. Once caught in the foaming Race, ten chances to one it would be smashed like an eggshell on some black outreaching fang of the rocks.
The boy took in all the chances at a glance, and sped off across the narrow neck to the mainland, tore along the cliff round Pegane and Port a la Jument, then away past the head of Saut de Juan, and down the cliff-side to where the black shelves overhang the backwater of the Gouliot.
He shed his guernsey during the safe passage between Jument and Saut de Juan. The rest of his clothing, one garment all told, he thoughtfully dropped at the top of the cliff before he took to the shelves. The girl gathered his things as she ran, and danced excitedly with them in her arms as she saw his white body launch out from the lowest shelf far away below her, and go wrestling through the water like a tiny white frog.
They had travelled quicker than the careless boat, and he was well out among the first writhings of the Race before it came bobbing merrily towards him. She saw his white arm flash up over the yellow side, and he hung there panting. Then slowly he worked round to the fat stern, and hauled himself cautiously on board, and stood and waved a cheerful hand to her.
Then she saw him pick up a small piece of board from the flooring of the boat and try to paddle back into the slack water. And she saw, too, that it was too late. The Race had got hold of the cockleshell, and a piece of board would never make it let go. Oars might, but there were no oars.
She danced wildly, saw him give up that attempt and paddle boldly out, instead, into the middle of the coiling waters, saw him turn the cockleshell's blunt nose straight for the Pass, and stand watchfully amidships with his board poised to keep her to a true course if that might be.
The passage of the Race is no easy matter even with oars and strong men's hands upon them. A cockleshell and a board were but feeble things, and the girl knew it, and, dancing wildly all the time because she could not stand still, looked each second to see the tiny craft flung aside and cracked on the jagged rocks.
But, with a great raking pull here, and a mighty sweep there, kneeling now, and now standing with one foot braced against the side for leverage, the boy managed in some marvellous way to keep his cockleshell in midstream. The girl watched them go rocking down the dark way, and then sped off across the headland towards Havre Gosselin. She got there just in time to see a boat with two strong rowers plunging out into the Race past Pierre au Norman, and knew that the boy was safe, and then she slipped and tumbled down the zigzag to meet them when they came in. The boy would want his clothes, and she wanted to see her boat. For of course it would be hers, and now she would be able to come across from Brecqhou whenever she wished.
The matter was not settled quite so easily as that, however.
She was dancing eagerly among the big round stones on the shore of Havre Gosselin, when the boat came in, with the cockleshell in tow and the small boy sitting in it, with his chin on his knees and shaking still with excitement and chills.
"All the same, mon gars, it was foolishness, for you might have been drowned," said the older man of the two, as they drew in to the shore, and the other man nodded agreement.
"I—w-w-wanted it for C-C-Carette," chittered the boy.
"Yes, yes, we know. But—And then there is M. le Seigneur, you understand."
"But, Monsieur Carre," cried the small girl remonstratively, "it would never have come in if Phil had not gone for it. It would have got smashed in the Gouliot or gone right past and been lost. And, besides, I do so want it."
"All the same, little one, the Seigneur's rights must be respected. You'd better go and tell him about it and ask him—"
"I will, mon Gyu!" and she was off up the zigzag before he had finished.
And it would have been a very different man from Peter le Pelley who could refuse the beguilement of Carette's wistful dark eyes, when her heart was set on her own way, as it generally was.
The Seigneur, indeed, had no special liking for the Le Marchants, who had sat themselves down in his island of Brecqhou without so much as a by-your-leave or thank you. Still, the island was of little use to him, and to oust them would have been to incur the ill-will of men notorious for the payment of scores in kind, so he suffered them without opposition.
Carette told us afterwards that the Seigneur stroked her hair, when she had told all her story and proffered her request, assuring him at the same time that the little boat would be of no use to him whatever, as it could not possibly hold him.
"And what do you want with it, little one?" he asked.
"To come over from Brecqhou whenever I want, M. le Seigneur, if you please."
"My faith, I think you will be better on Sercq than on Brecqhou. But you will be getting yourself drowned in the Gouliot, and that would be a sad pity," said the Seigneur.
"But I can swim, M. le Seigneur, and I will be very, very careful."
"Well, well! You can have the boat, child. But if any ill comes of it, remember, I shall feel myself to blame. So be careful for my sake also."
And so the yellow cockleshell became Carette's golden bridge, and thereafter her comings and goings knew no bounds but her own wilful will and the states of the tides and the weather.
Krok's ideas in the matter of seigneurial rights of flotsam and jetsam were by no means as strict as his master's, especially where Carette was concerned. In his mute, dog-like way he worshipped Carette. In case of need, he would, I believe, have given his left hand in her service; and the right, I think he would have kept for himself and me. He procured from somewhere a great beam of ship's timber, and with infinite labour fixed it securely in a crevice of the rocks, high up by the Gale de Jacob, with one end projecting over the shelving rocks below. Then, with rope and pulley from the same ample storehouse, he showed Carette how she could, with her own unaided strength, hitch on her cockleshell and haul it up the cliff side out of reach of the hungriest wave. He made her a pair of tiny sculls too, and thenceforth she was free of the seas, and she flitted to and fro, and up and down that rugged western coast, till it was all an open book to her. But so venturesome was she, and so utterly heedless of danger, that we all went in fear for her, and she laughed all our fears to scorn.
HOW I SHOWED ONE THE WAY TO THE BOUTIQUES
Another scene stands out very sharply in my recollection of the boy and girl of those early days, from the fact that it gave our Island folk a saying which lasted a generation, and whenever I heard the saying it brought the whole matter back to me.
"Show him the way to the Boutiques," became, in those days, equivalent to "mislead him—trick him—deceive him"—and this was how it came about.
I can see the boy creeping slowly along the south side of Brecqhou in a boat which was big enough to make him look very small. It was the smaller of the two boats belonging to the farm, but it was heavily laden with vraic. There had been two days of storm, the port at Brecqhou was full of the floating seaweed, and the fields at Belfontaine hungered for it. Philip Carre and Krok and the small boy had been busy with it since the early morning, and many boat-loads had been carried to Port a la Jument as long as the flood served for the passage of the Gouliot, and since then, into Havre Gosselin for further transport when the tide turned.
The weather was close and heavy still, sulky-looking, as though it contemplated another outbreak before settling to its usual humour. There was no sun, and now and again drifts of ghostly haze trailed over the long sullen waves.
But the small boy knew every rock on the shore of Brecqhou, and the more deadly ones that lay in the tideway outside, just below the surface, and whuffed and growled at him as he passed. His course shaped itself like that of bird or fish, without apparent observation.