ST. GEORGE'S CROSS; OR, ENGLAND ABOVE ALL.
An Episode of Channel Island History.
GUERNSEY: FREDERICK CLARKE, STATES ARCADE.
LONDON: W.H. ALLEN & CO., 15. WATERLOO PLACE.
TO THE READER.
The following little tale is neither pure fiction nor absolute historic truth; being, indeed, little more than an attempt to show a picture of Channel Island life as it was some two centuries ago. For the background we have been beholden to Dr. S.E. Hoskins, whose "Charles the Second in the Channel Islands" may be commended to all who may feel tempted to pursue the matter further.
On a bright day in September of the year 1649 Mr. William Prynne, a suspended Member of Parliament, sat at the window of his lodging in the Strand, London, where the Thames at high water brimmed softly against the lawn, bearing barges, wherries, and other small craft, and gleaming very pleasantly in the slant brightness of an autumn noon.
The unprosperous politician looked upon the fair scene with quiet cheer. He was a man of austere aspect, and looked farther advanced in middle life than was actually the case. For he was bearing the unjust weight of a double enmity; and though his after conduct showed that the world's injustice by no means threw him off his moral balance, yet it is impossible for a man to get into a position where every one but himself seems wrong and not acquire a certain sense of solitude, which, with a grave nature, will make him graver still. By the Cavaliers he had been pilloried, mutilated, fined and imprisoned: expelled from the University where he was a Master-of-Arts, driven out of the Inn-of-Court in which he had been a Bencher. By the Roundheads, on the other hand, he had been visited with a later and more intolerable wrong, exclusion from that House of Commons which was the only surviving seat of sovereignty. Thus excommunicated on all sides, Prynne still preserved his free and buoyant nature. He had the voice and impulsive manner of a young man; while there was a consistent moderation in his opinions which—however it might weigh against his success as a party-man—yet sprang from conviction, and was a guard against misanthropy.
In his apparel he was plain but not slovenly. His eyes were eager; his lean face, branded with the first letters of the words "Seditious Libeller," was shaded by straight falls of lank hair, streaked here and there with grey, that was combed down on either side of his head to hide the loss of his ears.
Hearing a step without, Prynne laid down the book he had been reading—a pamphlet by John Milton—and advanced, with an air of polite reserve, to meet the entering visitor. This was a man more than ten years his junior, short of stature, with clear-cut features and thoughtful blue eyes contrasting with hair and moustache dark almost to blackness. His neatly brushed garments had a threadbare gloss, and his broad linen falling collar, though white and clean, was somewhat frayed. But his bearing was high-bred and distinguished, with an air of sober yet resolute earnestness. He wore no sword, and the hat which he carried in his hand was plain of shape and without adornment.
"M. de Maufant," said Prynne, with the shy courtesy of a student, "will admire that I should seek speech of him after sundry passages that have been between us."
"Alack! Mr. Prynne," answered the stranger, with a slight foreign accent, "since your captivity in Mont Orgueil many things have befallen. 'Tis not alone I, Michael Lempriere the exile, changed from the state of Seigneur de Maufant and Chief Magistrate of Jersey to that of an outcast deriving a precarious subsistence from teaching French in your Babylon here; but methinks you yourself have had a fall too, since the days you speak of: when you left Jersey for London you came here in a sort of triumph. But by this time, methinks, you must be cured of your high hopes: I say it not for offence, but rather out of sorrow."
"Why no," answered the ex-Member. "Though I be no longer one of yonder assembly, I am still a denizen of London; and, let me tell you, a citizen of no mean city. And I bear my share in advancing the great cause on which so many of us are now engaged. Have you not read what Mr. Milton hath said here as touching this?" And he took up the book which he had dropped in the window-seat "It is well said, as you will find."
Motioning Lempriere to a chair, he took another and read as follows:—
"'Behold now this vast city, a city of refuge, the mansion-house of liberty, encompassed and surrounded with its protection ... pens and hands there, sitting by their studious lamps, musing, searching, revolving new notions and ideas, wherewith to present, as with their homage and their fealty, the approaching reformation.' As he saith a little further on, the fields of our harvest are white already; and it is your privilege and mine that live among this wise and active people, to see it coming, perhaps to put in a sickle. The pamphlet is becoming a force stronger than the sword; and those Ironsides and Woodenheads who turn us out of the Chamber where our fellow citizens had seated us, may find an ill time before them when our work is over. But our work will be the work of freedom."
What more would have been said, now that Prynne was setting forth on his dearly-loved hobby, of which the name was Cedant arma, is unknown; for the serving-man entered at this moment with a simple but plentiful repast carried on his head from the adjacent tavern; and even Prynne's eagerness was dashed with caution enough to keep him to ordinary topics of talk so long as the man was in the room. But Lempriere had seen and heard enough to put him in good humour with his host. The intimacy of the latter with the Carterets, and a suspicion of general lukewarmness in the popular cause, had begotten old enmities, of which Lempriere, in the long probation of failure, exile, and poverty, had already learned to be ashamed; and to see the man he had misjudged, looking him eagerly and earnestly in the face as he uttered the language of a genuine reformer, completed the Jerseyman's conversion. After the servant had brought pipes and glasses and left the gentlemen to their tobacco and their wine, their talk grew more familiar as they looked at the flowing river, and the deserted towers of Lambeth away on the other side.
"The truth is," said Prynne, "that I received from the cavaliers of your island kindnesses that I cannot forget; yet as touching the trial and execution of the late King, if I have gainsayed aught of the other side, yet I need not repeat that I have ever been a friend to Liberty, as witness these indentures," and with a starched smile he pointed to the marks upon his face. "I know that you have reason to be angry with Sir George Cartwright...."
"Let us not talk of him," answered the other, with a flush on his swarthy cheek. "I lose all patience when I think of the many mischiefs entailed upon my country by the cruelty and greed of that house. When his late uncle, your protector, made Sir George a substitute in the Government of the island, he was but 23 years old: but old enough to be a serpent more subtle than any that went before; and see what he hath made of our little Eden! He and his men the servants, not of the people, but of Jermyn; prelacy and malignancy spread abroad. In the twelve parishes seven Captains are Carterets: and the Knight himself, beside his Deputyship, Bailiff and Receiver of the revenues, which he holds at an easy farm."
"I conceive that your Eves and Adams should lose their virtue with such a tempter; yet, had you and Dumaresq been less bent on Sir Philip's ruin, and on grasping his powers and profits, if you can pardon my plain speaking, I will be bold to say Sir Philip was no friend to tyranny, and would, under God's pleasure, have been still alive to forward the cause of reasonable freedom."
"I will follow your good example and use equal plainness, Mr. Prynne. This wise man hath said that 'the simple believeth every word.' But if we should do likewise and believe every word that is told of you, we might say 'that Mr. Prynne was seduced by Sir Philip and Lady Carteret when he was their prisoner in Mont Orgueil.' And farther, it hath even been said that at that time you sent out a recantation to the King of that for which you suffered."
"It skills not," answered the host, with evident self-control, "it skills not to rake into that which is passed."
"Neither did I seek to do so," rejoined the Jerseyman, "I seek no offence, nor mean any. But, as touching the Knight's spirit, and whether he sought the welfare of our island with singleness of heart, let me have leave to be of mine own mind. Will you not let me take the affirmation from the doings of Sir George, his nephew, and present successor? Where is the place of profit that he hath not bestowed upon a kinsman or creature of his own?"
"Methinks," said Prynne, shrewdly, "there be others than he who would gladly share those barley loaves and few small fishes."
"That may be," said Lempriere. "The labourer is worthy of his hire, to give you Scripture for Scripture. But what will you say to the piracies by which the traffic of the seas is intercepted, and Mr. Lieutenant daily enriched by plunder from English vessels? Surely, even the charitable protecting of Mr. Prynne will hardly serve to cover such a multitude of sins!"
The conference was once more growing warm, when fortunately, it was abridged by the sudden entrance of a man not unlike Lempriere in general appearance, though taller and many years his junior. He wore a steel cap, a gorget, and a buff coat; and received a hearty welcome from the Jerseyman, by whom he was presented to Prynne.
"Captain Le Gallais is newly arrived from our island," said Lempriere, "and I made bold to leave word that I was here, in case of his coming to my lodgings while I tarried with you. He brings me news of 'domus et placens uxor,'" added the speaker, taking with a sad smile the letter which Le Gallais handed him. The servant having brought a third long stalked glass and placed it on the table, left the room once more, as the visitor, unbuckling his long basket-hilted sword, threw himself into a high-backed chair, and stretched his limbs, as one who rests after long travel.
"I am come post," said he, "from Southampton. There is that to do in Jersey which it imports the rulers of this land to know."
"That may well be," observed Lempriere, who shared his countryman's idea of the importance of their little island. "But how fares my Rose? A wanderer may love his Ithaca, but he loves his wife most. Have I your leave, Mr. Prynne, to examine this missive?"
Prynne bowed, and Lempriere cut open his letter.
"Penelope maketh such cheer as she may," he added, after glancing at the contents: "but I see nothing of your mighty news, Alain."
"The letter was written before I learned the same. The return of Ulysses did not then seem so far as it does now."
"Leave riddling, Alain, and let us know the worst."
"The worst is, Charles Stuart is in S. Helier, with a large power, warmly received by Sir George, and holding the island as a tool of Jermyn and the Queen, if not a pensioner of France. I saw his barge row into the harbour at high tide, followed by others laden with silken courtiers and musicians; horse-boats and cook-boats swelled the train; the great guns of the Castle fired salvoes, and the militia stood to their arms upon the quay, with drums beating, fifes squeaking, and our own company from Saint Saviour's ranked among the rest, green leaves in their hats and round the poles of their colours."
Lempriere leant his head on his hand with a discomfited and despondent gesture. Prynne addressed him kindly:—
"Have a little patience, H. de Maufant," said he. "The sun shines in heaven though earth's clouds hide his face."
"Lukewarm Reuben!" cried the other, impatiently. "What comfort can I have from such as thou? While we talk my country is indeed undone: my wife perhaps a wanderer, and my lands and house given over to the enemy."
"Nay, but it need not be so," said Prynne. "The Rump that ruleth here, even were it a complete Parliament, cannot be an idol to you and yours. I have read your island laws. Those that say that the Parliament hath jurisdiction there must, sure, be strangely ignorant. And so witnesseth Lord Coke, no slave of the prerogative. Your islands are the ancient patrimony of the Crown: what hinders you from casting in your lot with Charles? For my part, I would willingly compound with him. Let him rule as he pleases there, provided he make not slaves of us."
"There spoke the self-loving Englishman," cried Le Gallais, whom respect for his seniors had hitherto kept silent. "If you speak of hindering, what is to hinder Sir George, now that he hath the King for backer, from confiscating all our remaining lands and applying the produce to fitting out a fleet which will ruin the trade of all England? It is a question for you also, you perceive."
"Proximus Ucalegon," said Lempriere, whom nothing could long restrain from airing his classical knowledge. "But leave me to speak to Mr. Prynne in terms that will not offend, and that he cannot fail to understand. Harkye, Mr. Prynne," he said, turning to his host and resuming use of the English language in lieu of the patois in which he had addressed his countryman. "You love the Commonwealth, I know; your many sufferings in that behalf show you a true friend to the cause of English liberty. But to me it appears that this cause cannot be fitly separated from that of your small satellite yonder."
"I do not seek to deny it," answered Prynne. "Now this good fellow," pursued Lempriere, laying his hand on his young friend's shoulder, "(and let his zeal make amends for his blunt manner) hath brought tidings, from which it appears that our affairs are in such a state as calls for your interposition. And I learn moreover from this letter that Henry Dumaresq is stirring, and the greed and grasping of the Carterets have made them many ill-wishers. Nevertheless, Pierre Benoist hath been taken, and under torture may readily betray our plans. On the other hand, he that is called King there, the young Charles Stuart, is under the regimen of his mother, who is the tool of France. Between them all Jersey may be lost to the Commonwealth before a blow be stricken."
"Nay," cried Prynne, interrupting, "I would not have you say so. We English are neither braggarts nor cowards. Whitelocke knoweth the mind of Mazarin; and I pray you note that Cromwell, though as a man of State I do not uphold him, is a soldier whose zeal never sleeps, and who cares more for the welfare of England and such as depend upon her than any Stuart will ever do, or undo. I sent for you, indeed, on this very behalf; not minded to show you all the springs of politics, yet to give you a word of comfort and to ask of you a word of friendliness in return, yea, word for word, an you will."
The politician's keen eye softened as he looked at the forlorn exile. The latter turned abruptly, as if to reveal no corresponding emotion: then, looking straight before him, said in low tones:—
"For comfort, God knows whether or no it be needed. My place and power are lost—such as they were—a price is set upon my head by those who slew Maximilian Messervy. My wife—who is to me like the apple of mine eye—is alone, battling with hostile authority, and with tenants too ready to profit by her helpless condition. I am as one encompassed by quicksands, and nigh to be swallowed up. I am tempted to say with David, 'Vain is the help of man.' Do you show me a bridge of escape?" he asked, turning to Prynne, "what is your meaning? I pray you speak it out."
"You cannot," said his host, "have forgotten Serjeant-Major Lydcott of this Army; and how with a slender company he landed on your island six years ago. It was about the end of August, 1643, I remember well, for Sir Philip had been dead bare three days and indeed was not yet buried: and the castles of Jersey still held out for the Cartwrights. I said then that, had Lydcott but taken three hundred of our sober, God fearing soldiers, he would have established himself as master of the island on behalf of the Commonwealth. George Cartwright had never come over from S. Maloes; the pirates of S. Aubin would have been confounded and brought to nought; Sir Peter Osborne had never held Castle Cornet in Guernsey (to the shame and sorrow of the well-affected in that island), had they but been backed and aided from Jersey. Even as things were, and with no more help but what he got from you—I say it not to offend you—how much did not Lydcott do? Three days after his landing he called together the States and opened before them his commission from the Earl of Warwick, Warden of the Isles and Lord High Admiral of England. You were present and presiding, as you must needs remember, together with all but three Jurats, all the Constables save one, and nearly half the Rectors. Without a dissentient voice you administered the oath of Lieutenant-Governor to Lydcott, yourself standing forth as Bailiff and sworn the first. What hindered you then from holding fast? Nothing but want of a backbone of strength. The militia, whom you now hold malignant, swore allegiance to a man, save and except one Colonel who was broke then and there. You may say George Cartwright drove you out; but what did he do that could justify your flight? I must be plain with you: with all outward and visible signs of power you gave way before three open boats and a mouldy ruin."
"We gave way," said Lempriere with an indignant flush, "because we were forsook by them on whom we leaned."
"I know it," pursued Prynne, "I say it not to blame you, but to blame the lukewarm weakness of those who held authority there on the part of the Commonwealth: for had Lydcott been ever so able and willing he lacked support from hence. We had our hands full of graver business. Only I neither desire nor expect such things should be done a second time. There be those now in power that will take better order. The future of your islands, the ties that bind them to us, were not known six years ago; and our friends—as I have already said—had other matters, more pressing, to attend to. But now is not then. Now, that a violent policy that I cannot altogether undertake to defend hath shorn the strength of tyranny, and that fair deceiver the late King—whom none could safely trust or utterly despise—is by that blow taken out of our path, we are free to set matters straight around us. It is therefore not to be endured that your small wasps' nest yonder should continue to infest our ambient ocean with her petty and poisonous alarms. This is the word I have to give thee—friendly meant, though thou mayest have been hitherto no friend to me. Jersey will be brought under the power of the Commonwealth, and you will be among the instruments of its reduction. I seek a word from you in return for mine."
"Sir," said the bewildered exile, "you have spoken hardly, but, I believe, with a meaning kinder than seemed: a good intent makes amends for a harsh manner, and a bitter drink may strengthen the heart, as has this day been done to mine by the mingled counsel and reproof that have been poured out for me. I seek not to pry into your affairs of State, and what I have heard Le Gallais hath heard also. I therefore make no scrutiny as touching the means to be employed; the end we will take thankfully according as promised. If the Parliament and the Lord General be so minded, I make no doubt but we shall return to our home. But as regards the word you seek from me, I would fain know to what it shall relate. You seek, I presume, to make conditions with me: let me know, in the hearing of my friend, what they be. That we of the island shall be true and faithful servants to the Commonwealth of England, not seeking to intermeddle in matters that may be beyond our concernment, I would gladly undertake for myself and for all with whom my wishes may have weight: but methinks it shall hardly need. And perchance your Honour may intend to glance at some more private matter?"
"I do so," answered the politician. "I have never hidden from you the love that I bore for good Sir Philip living, nor how dear I hold his memory now that he is dead. I would not that any who were of his party should suffer damage when the cause shall prosper in the island. You have heard of Cromwell's present doings in Ireland: all the world knows what things are being wrought in that unhappy country, where the Lord Ormonde hath been another Cartwright and hath met with an overthrow the like of which I pretell for his Jersey antitype. Cartwright is as unbending and will hold out to the last.
"Mont Orgueil, indeed, can make no opposition to a regular siege: we are not now in the days of Du Guesclin. But it may be otherwise with Elizabeth Castle. Like her whose name she bears that fortress is a virgin, and not without a struggle will she yield. Cromwell loves not such defences. Let us be there when the hour comes, and let us combine to keep the garrison from perishing by the swords of our friends."
"Gladly will I do my best in aid of mercy," answered Lempriere, looking much relieved by the nature of the request. "If that be all that your Honour hath to ask, I can have no hesitancy in giving a hearty and honest pledge in such behalf. Jersey is no Corsica; and we love not revenge, do we, Alain?"
Alain readily endorsing his chief's assertion, Prynne continued:—
"It is not all. I have to pray you for the Lieutenant himself; misguided and grasping as you deem him, he is of my deceased friend's name and blood."
"Alack, Mr. Prynne!" answered Lempriere, "have you quite forgotten what I owe to that blood and name? And I speak not in this for myself only. There are the spirits of the Bandinels before me; unhappy victims of George Carteret's revenge. There is the shade of my friend Maximilian Messervy, judged by an unlawful and corrupt Court, executed under warrant of one who had no warrant for himself."
In his excitement Lempriere had forgotten to quote Latin; he began to pace the floor of the room. Prynne also rose and leaned by the window, looking out at the shrubs standing dark and blotted against the evening light that lay on the smooth water.
"Take not your example," he said; "from those whose deeds you abhor, neither make your enemies your pattern. Recollect who it is that hath said, 'Vengeance is mine:' and in the hour of your triumph remember to spare. Come, give me your word, willingly. I am doing much for you, more than you are aware. I call to mind some solemn words that I have heard Mr. Milton quote:—
"The quality of Mercy is not strained, It droppeth as the gentle dew from Heaven Upon the place beneath: it is twice blessed, It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."
Let your promise to bless come as freely as the dews that are falling out there on my little grass-plot. Peace is upon the world—let peace be in our hearts also!"
The vehement controversial voice changed and became musical as it uttered the words. The fervour of an unwonted mood had brought something of a mist into the speaker's eye; persuasion hung upon his gestures, and the voice of private rancour sank before the pleading of his lips. As the Jerseyman remained silent, Prynne went to the table and filled the glasses from the flagon of Rhenish wine that stood there.
"We Presbyterians," he said, "are not given to the drinking of toasts. But 'tis no common occasion. England's wars are over, may there be peace upon Israel. Let us drink one glass together, and let us join in the blessing of old, invoking it on our land:—'Peace be within thy walls and prosperity within thy palaces: for my brethren and companions' sake!'"
The guests followed their host's example, and seemed to share his mood. Then, setting down their empty glasses, the three men parted in more loving-kindness, it might well be, than what had marked some early stages of their conversation. Prynne, when left alone, called for candles and sat down to his writing-table. The Jerseymen walked together towards Temple Bar.
"Knowest thou, mon cher," said the Ex-Bailiff in the island language, "a heartier friend than one of these English that seem so cold?"
"But tell me, I pray thee, wherefore they call the present master of our island by an English name? For surely yonder gentleman said 'Cartwright,' which is a name not of Jersey but of England." "They are stupid, Alain, that is all; and they think to weigh the world in their own scales. But whether we call him Cartwright or Carteret, it is equally hard to pardon his voracity. He is like Time—Edax rerum. Nevertheless, I feel as if it was not only the sight of you and news from home that had made me of such good cheer to-night: but that I owe something of it to Mons. Prynne; aye! thanks to his schooling and a readiness to perform what he has made me promise, should Carteret ever stand at my disposal. The time may be near or it may be far; but I feel that it must come."
"And then," asked Alain shyly, "shall not I too have something to expect from thee: when thou art Bailiff again, and a man high in power, will thou still be willing to give me thy sister-in-law?"
"Parbleu!" cried Lempriere, "if maids could be given like passports. But Marguerite will have her way; it is for thee, coquin, to make her way thine."
Thus, jointly labouring at airy castles, the pair of islanders pricked their steps through the dirty and dimly-lighted streets till they reached a squalid row of houses on Tower Hill, where was situated the only lodging within the present means of the Seigneur of Maufant.
"To-night thou must share my chamber, telle quelle," he said. "'Tis a poor one, as thou mayest suppose. Infelix, habitum temporis hujus habe?"
"It is all one to me," said Alain, lightly; "whether here or at Maufant thou art always good."
As they neared the door a voice came to them from the shadow of a projecting oriel:—
"Have a care, Jerseymen! You are betrayed."
They ran to the shaded corner; but the moon was young and low and gave but little light in the narrow street. A figure, seemingly that of a tall man, was seen to glide away into another street, but they failed to recognise it or trace its departing movements. Silently, and with downcast looks they sought the entry of Lempriere's lodging, the door of which he opened with a key that he carried in his pocket. Striking a light from flint and steel on the hall table, Lempriere kindled a hand-lamp, and led the way into a small chamber on the ground floor, where they wrapped themselves in their cloaks and lay down on a pallet in the corner. The younger man, fatigued with travel, was soon asleep; Lempriere, with more to think of, passed great part of the night in wakeful anxiety. Before he finally sank to slumber he had resolved to send Alain back at once to Jersey.
In 1649, when Charles II. was uncertain as to what steps he should take on the death of his father, it was considered that the best and safest place for his temporary residence was the Castle at S. Helier, in Jersey, known by the name of Queen Elizabeth, where he had already lived for a short time on an earlier occasion. Founded by order of the Sovereign whose name it bore, it stands on a rocky islet, once a promontory of the mainland, but long since insulated by every high tide. At low water it communicated with the town by a natural causeway of shingly rock called "The Bridge," commanded by its own guns. On the Western curve of the bay, nearly two miles off as the bird flies, was the small town of S. Aubin, guarded by a smaller fortress. The entire bay was protected, by the batteries of these two places, against the entrance of hostile shipping. Circumstances, not now entirely traceable but connected probably with defensive considerations, had taken its ancient preponderance from Gorey, on the eastern coast, which had once been the seat of administration; and thus commenced the importance of S. Helier, though in nothing like the present activity of its quays and wharves, or the throng of its streets and markets. Above the head of the "Bridge," indeed, the view from the North face of the Castle met with no buildings till it struck upon the Town Church, an ancient but plain structure of the fourteenth century, whose square central tower, although by no means of lofty elevation, formed a landmark for mariners out at sea by reason of a beacon that was always kept burning there by night. At the foot of this tower nestled a cemetery containing the tombs of "the rude forefathers" of what had been, till lately, indeed little more than a hamlet. On the southern aspect of this, facing the castle and the sea, the enclosure was marked by a strong granite breastwork armed with cannons mounted en barbette. These pieces were pointed, for the most part, on the bridge, or causeway leading to the Castle, into which they were capable of sending salvos of round-shot, as in fact they had often done a few years before. The rest of the cemetery was strongly walled, though without guns. To the north of the Church ran narrow streets, sloping gently upward from the seaside. The houses of these streets were built of the local granite, hewn and hammered flat and without projection or decoration, and with no other relief but what was afforded by small rectangular lattice-windows. They were usually of two storeys, crowned by high-pitched thatched roofs, with here and there a tiny dormer window. Some were shops or taverns, among which were interspersed the residences of the burgesses and the town houses of the rural gentry. Fronted by miry roadway, or at best an occasional strip of rough boulder pavement, over which wheeled carriages could rarely pass, these lines of houses had no form or comeliness, save what might be due to an occasional bit of small flower-garden before the few that were large and inhabited by persons in comparatively easy circumstances. Farther back the ground rose more rapidly and showed some scattered suburban houses. The "Town Hill" to the east, the "Gallows Hill" to the west, completed the amphitheatre. Up the main hollow ran a road leading due north to the Manor and Church of Trinity parish in the interior of the island, and terminating on the north coast in Boulay Bay, a fine natural harbour, which was the nearest point of embarkation for England. The whole island, scarcely less than the town, bore an appearance of defence, almost of inaccessibility; the manors, farm houses, and even many of the fields, being surrounded by granite walls, and capable of arresting the progress of an invader, unless in great force. Each of the twelve parish churches contained the arsenal of the local militia; and all things betokened a hardy population, ready to do battle against all intruders.
The titular Governor, Lord Jermyn, was an absentee, following the fortunes of the widowed Queen, Henrietta Maria, in France. The actual administration, both civil and military, was in the hands of a naval officer of experience, Sir George Carteret, or de Carteret, cousin and brother-in-law to the Seigneur of S. Owen, a large manor on the western side of the island. This family, distinguished in island history ever since it abandoned its fief of Carteret on the coast of Normandy to follow the fortunes of John Lackland, when the Duchy was confiscated by Philip Augustus, was by far the most powerful in the island. Its only possible rival, the house of Lempriere, of Maufant, had espoused warmly the cause of the Parliament, and had consequently met with reverses when the Carterets, who were royalist, effected the revolution mentioned in our Prologue.
It only remains to be added that the people at large were not at all warmly attached to either of the parties to the Civil War. The language of the majority was an old form of French, now reduced to the condition of a patois; the more educated classes studied the laws and language of France. The proceedings of the Courts and the services of the Church were conducted in modern French, and the sympathies of the community were divided between a mundane attachment to England, and a religious leaning to the creed of the Huguenots, of whom a great number had sought refuge on their shores. Hence the Jersey folks were indifferently submissive to royalty, the only form of English government of which, till these days, they had heard; but they by no means shared the High-Church fervour which had animated the late unfortunate King. Their ultimate motive, as is common to human nature, was for their own interests; and although the influence of the Carterets had kept them, for the most part, nominal followers of the cause of royalty, men like Michael Lempriere and Prynne had good reason for believing that they would, in the long run, favour those who seemed the best friends to Jersey. Let them not be blamed for this. Their love for England was very much founded upon fear of France. By observing the attitude of the Scottish borderers of a slightly earlier period, an Englishman of the seventeenth century could imagine the attitude of the Jersey mind towards the "Normans," by which name they were accustomed to designate their feudal and aggressive Catholic neighbours the Lords and Ministers of the French Kingdom. Even as the Grahams and Scotts of Tweedside stood at arms against each other on either bank of the dividing stream, so did the de Gruchys and Malets, the Le Feuvres and de Quettevilles, on either side the Channel. The danger that was nearest was the most formidable; and the Channel Islanders were ready to side with England much as the Saxon Scots of the Lothians came to make common cause with the Celts of the Highlands.
These explanations may appear tedious: but the reader is implored to pardon them; for without such he could not realise the passions which are exemplified in this little story. Long exposed to invasion, the Jerseymen of the middle ages had handed down to their descendants an abhorrence of France which was fomented by the stories of persecution brought to them by Huguenot refugees; and which, indeed, has hardly yet completely died out among the rural population. Thus sentiment and interest kept the islanders attached to England by a two-fold cord; careless whether their immediate leaders were Cavaliers, as in Jersey, or Parliamentarians, as in the neighbouring island of Guernsey, where the royal Governor was beleaguered in Castle Cornet.
For reasons arising out of this state of things, Carteret did not leave the protection of the King to the unaided loyalty of the local militia. Cooped up in the narrow limits of the Castle rock were no less than three hundred Englishmen and women attached to the Court, and, in addition, a strong force of Irish and Cornish soldiers who had been brought over by Charles on his former visit, as Prince of Wales, after the battle of Naseby. His Sacred Majesty—de jure of England, Scotland, and Ireland, King, to say nothing of France, whose lilies were blazoned on his scutcheon—was de facto monarch of this little island plot of 45 square miles; and his state was at least equal to his temporary sway. The accommodation of the Castle was, in truth, but small; but it was the best that the occasion afforded; the royal palace consisting of a suite of small apartments vacated for the King's convenience by the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir G. Carteret, who had removed to the lower ward. S. Aubin, on the other horn of the bay, was the seat of the naval power; here lived the families of the officers of the corsair-squadron then constituting the Royal Navy. The rest of the King's following was billetted on farm-houses in the parishes nearest to the town. Yet, as a warning that all was not their own, four frigates and two line-of-battle ships, with a commission from the rebel government of London, and flying the broad pennant of Admiral Batten, cruised between Jersey and Guernsey, never far from sight, although giving for the most part a wide berth to both the island castles, whose gunners watched them night and day.
Such was the position of affairs on a Sunday towards the end of September, a few days later than the events related in the Prologue. The morning had been wet and windy, and the sacredness of the day had joined to keep the men of those simple times from all activity save that connected with the services of religion. But, in spite of the weather, it had been judged wise and proper that Charles should show himself at Church on this, the first Sunday of his kingship in Jersey: and he accordingly attended worship at the Town Church of S. Helier's. The tide was low, and the royal cortege, muffled in their cloaks, rode or walked slowly along the causeway, and up the glacis that led to the entrance. The Rector was absent, his opinions being displeasing to the autocratic Carteret; but the Rev. Mr. La Cloche, Rector of S. Owen (the Carteret parish) was in charge; he was the Lieutenant-Governor's private Chaplain; and under strict orders had made splendid preparation for the illustrious congregation. The old temple had been swept and garnished. Laurel boughs and the beautiful flowers and fruits of the season hung from every arch and decorated every pillar. The aisles were covered with a thick natural carpet of fragrant rushes; before the pulpit were chairs for the King and his brother the Duke of York, and the space they stood on was tapestried with glowing colours. Cushioned tables supported the gilded bibles and prayer-books for the royal worshippers, who arrived precisely at eleven followed by their numerous train. Throwing off his wringing roquelaure Charles entered, plumed hat in hand, a young man of middle stature, erect and well-knit for his years—which were but nineteen—and with a countenance which, though even then wanting in flesh and bloom, was not unpleasing: framed in natural curls, and showing (to sympathetic observers) a noble and pleasing dignity often, it must be avowed, contrasting strongly with the mingled frivolity and cynicism that marked his words. Being in mourning for the event of January he was clothed in purple velvet without lace or embroidery. Over his doublet hung a short cloak with a star on the left breast, under which was a silk scarf, cloak and scarf being all of purple. The famous ribbon of the Garter round his left knee was the only bit of other colour visible. James, a few years younger, was similarly attired. Besides the two Princes the only other Knight of the Garter was the Earl of Southampton. The rest of the Lords and Gentlemen in Waiting were also in Court-mourning, and all without the smallest decoration.
After the conclusion of the Service the clergyman ascended the pulpit in his black gown. He took his text from the second book of Chronicles, c. 35, the end of the 24th verse:—"And all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah."
The turn of Mr. La Cloche's discourse may be in great measure anticipated. Setting forth the heinousness of rebellion and regicide, he dwelt upon the virtues of the Royal Martyr, his courage, his patience, his devotion to the Church. As was but natural in the circumstances, there followed an application to local politics. They were there, he informed his hearers (as the old lattices, shaken by the gale, rattled their accompaniment to his monotone) in the character of Englishmen; but he had to notice that to the existing rulers of England they owed no obedience. The so-called Parliament which had judged and murdered the late lamented Monarch, and which now claimed the right of ruling in his stead, was no divinely appointed head of affairs, not even representative of one Estate of the realm. Where were the Peers, the Lords Temporal who had ever formed part of the Government of England, the Lords Spiritual who represented the Church of Christ? The House of Lords was now represented to them, there in the presence of the Honourable Sir George Carteret, Knight and Baronet, whom that High Chamber had set and appointed to bear rule in that Island. Still more had they before them their Sovereign, the Anointed of the Lord, without whose assent all Acts of State must ever be futile and rebellious. Yes, he was there, that Sacred head, covered and guarded by the loyal hearts and arms of one—only one—of his Norman Isles.
As the sermon came to an end the storm without showed signs of abatement; and by the time the blessing had been pronounced and the King and Prince had mounted their richly caparisoned horses, the wind had lulled and the September sun gleamed brightly out upon the attentive and orderly crowd. On returning to the Castle Charles sate down to dinner, and a select portion of the more loyal Jersey society was admitted into the Hall to see the King at table. Only two places were set; and after a Latin grace had been pronounced by the Court-Chaplain, the dishes were taken, one by one, to the King and his brother, and whatever meats were approved were taken to the side-board and carved. The royal youths had stood with uncovered heads while grace was being said; but they replaced their hats when they sate down, and wore them throughout dinner. After they had dined the Page-in-waiting, a tall and handsome youth, richly attired, brought each of them a ewer and basin of parcel-gilt silver, with a fringed damask napkin; and after they had washed their hands a butler served them with Spanish and Gascon wines. Dessert having been placed upon the table and tasted, the princes withdrew; and then the hungry courtiers sate down to finish the repast.
Retired to his private sitting-room, Charles lay back on a window-seat, tooth-pick in hand, and looked out indolently on the sea. The waves scintillated and broke into white foam, among the brown rocks, which disappeared gradually under the rising tide; and the wings of glancing gulls shone out against a rain-cloud which was bearing off the recent storm. Below the dark pall the sky of the horizon glowed bright and clear as jade over the deepening line of the distant waters. At the King's feet sat the page who had served the princes at dinner, a bright rakish-looking young fellow named Thomas Elliot; apparently absorbed in the preparation of fishing-tackle, he was heedfully watching the face of his royal master out of the corner of his dare-devil eyes.
"Where is James, Tom?" asked presently the King.
"Gone to feed the hawks, Sir."
"One's own flesh-and-blood is poor company, he finds. By the Lord, Tom, this is no life for a Christian, be he man or boy. To be lunged round my good mother at the length of her apron-string seemed but dull work, and making love to the Grande Mademoiselle was indifferent pastime. But, odsfish, I would willingly be back there. In this God-forgotten corner you cannot see a petticoat on any terms, save the farthingale of Dame Carteret or her ancient housekeeper, as they cross the courtyard to give corn to the pigeons. James and I went out fishing yesterday, as far as S. Owen's pond; but no sport had we there but the chance of a broken head from a Puritan farmer."
"Why, what a plague did they want by laying hands on our anointed pate?"
"Ah! look you," said Charles, in his languid drawl, "We did but beg a cup of cider from his daughter. James hath a long face and a dull tongue for a boy of his age; but I warrant I spoke the wench fair for my part; and in French that had passed muster at Versailles. But 'tis a perverse and stiff-necked generation. The wench screamed in some language not understandable by us—Carribee it may be—but faith there was no difficulty about the farmer's meaning: he conjugated his fists, but we declined the encounter; and so we were quit as to grammar."
The manner of the speaker was in such dry and droll contrast with his matter that Elliot had no difficulty in according the sympathetic smile which is the tribute of the jovial and manly sycophant to a superior he wishes to please.
"And this is then, the escapade for which the gros bonnets down there have determined that you are not to stir out of this charming retreat without a guard, or suffer your sacred person to meet the air of the island without the hedge of an escort. But I have a plan to defeat them...."
Whatever projects the young men might be disposed to form for the purpose of eluding the prudent precautions of their seniors were for the moment cut short by a knocking at the door, which made them start aside like the disturbed conspirators that they were.
"Quick! vanish," muttered the King sharply; "behind the bureau there. If the comer be Nicholas let him not see thee here. He bears thee no good will."
As Elliot hurriedly obeyed, the door slowly opened, giving entrance to the Rector of S. Owen. The worthy clergyman still wore the gown and bands in which he had preached in the forenoon, and carried in his hand the four-cornered but boardless college-cap which formed part of the clerical costume of those days. Bestowing upon the youthful King a look whose awestruck humility was at curious variance with the respective ages and appearance of the two, and making an awkward obeisance, Mr. La Cloche spoke:—
"I crave your pardon, Sir. Receiving no reply to my knock I presumed to enter, deeming mine errand an excuse."
Charles pointed to a seat and drew himself up with dignity:—
"It needs no further excuse, reverend Sir, say on, and fear nothing." La Cloche seated himself on the corner of the chair.
"It is my humble duty to warn your Majesty that Jersey is no suitable place for your residence," he said.
"We are very much of your mind," answered Charles, "but how made you the mighty discovery?"
"I have been dining," answered the clergyman, "in company with the Honourable Sir Edward Nicholas, Knight, Secretary of State to your Majesty. Certain of your Majesty's affectionate servants and well-wishers were of the party, as also the Lieutenant-Governor, who was the host. The discourse was grave; and albeit without permission of the gentlemen—yet, in virtue of mine office, I hope I but anticipate their humble duty to your Majesty, if I take upon myself to lay their thoughts before you."
"And for your own part, Sir, as a Jerseyman having, both by religion and as a Member of the States, the means of knowing what the people think, you would fain join your own private word to those who are refusing an asylum to Charles Stuart in the dominions of his fathers. You had better let them speak for themselves."
The clergyman shuffled in his uneasy seat. The perspicacity of the young man—it is a part of a Prince's stock-in-trade—had taken him by surprise.
"I am an old man," he faltered, "unversed in affairs of State. If it be true, however, that the Lord Jermyn...."
"Our mother's trusted councillor, Mr. Rector! What of my Lord Jermyn? Thou hast not said enough—or, by God! thou hast said too much."
The Chaplain's island temper hardened under menace, even from the Lord's Anointed. What he felt he did not indeed care to lay bare: yet the upshot he would tell. The King's recent exploit in the parish of which he was Rector had come to his ears, garnished and exaggerated, perhaps; and he was determined to get rid of such visitors if he could. The news from France was an occasion, and he gladly used it. Lord Jermyn, it seemed, had been talking openly—and not for the first time—of selling the Channel Islands to France; and his connection with the Queen made men suspect that he had not entertained such a design without high sanction. On the other hand the Rector knew that Carteret would sooner cede the Island over which he was set to Cromwell than see it occupied by the French. The King would be in obvious danger, and he had determined, under that excuse, to endeavour to dispose the King's mind towards a removal which he himself, on other grounds, considered highly desirable. Charles listened to all the clergyman had to say, with impatience thinly veiled by good breeding. When the speaker came to a pause, the King said, with a kinder manner, "Thou hast done well, and hast given no just cause of offence to anyone. Mr. Secretary is an approved friend: but I need not remind your Reverence of the prayer of the Psalmist: 'Let not his precious balms break mine head!'"
The King's manner indicated that the conference was at an end. He wished to get rid of the Rector, not only because the good man was "boring" him, as would be said now-a-days, but because he had but little trust in Tom Elliot's discretion, and thought that at any moment the page might be led to break forth from what must needs be an irksome confinement. Moreover, the King knew that, sooner or later, he would have to undergo a more serious lecture from some of his councillors, and it was an object with him to make some inquiries in confidential quarters and devise a course of speech if not of action.
But the worthy Rector was, as he said, unversed in the ways of the great; and the young King's affable manner had drawn him into forgetfulness of any little lessons of etiquette that he might have ever learned. Instead of departing on the King's hint, he let his tongue wag afresh.
"Alack, Sir! may your Majesty's prayers be heard. And may what I have done breed myself no harm! For what saith the Wise Man? 'Burden not thyself above thy power while thou livest, and have no fellowship with one that is mightier than thyself: for how agree the kettle and earthen pot together?'"
"It was well said of the Wise Man," observed the King demurely. "And your Reverence will do well to consider the words that follow, if my memory do not deceive me;—'If thou be invited of a great man, withdraw thyself!'"
The underlined words, being pronounced with a voice changed to a sharp and sudden tone from the solemn snuffle into which the King had slid in first quoting Ecclesiasticus, were too much for Elliot, who broke into an irrepressible giggle behind the bureau. Mr. La Cloche started at the sound; then, recollecting himself, retired with a bow into which he threw a look of surprise not unmixed with silent reproach.
Still laughing, the page emerged from his ambush, knocking the dust from his doublet with his hand, and eyeing the door as it closed after the retreating Rector.
"I'll wager he thinks thou wert a wench, Tom," cried Charles; "but tell me, how much of the worthy parson's discourse didst thou hear?"
"As much as you desire, Sir, and no more," was the discreet reply. "But it is true that one is come from France who knows Lord Jermyn."
"Jermyn," said the King, half soliloquising, "is a son of a——; and I would as lief run him through the body as I would open an oyster. But that is neither here nor there; such pleasures are not for Kings." He sate thinking for a few minutes, and then, looking up, added, "Go, Tom, and tell Nicholas and the rest that I would see them here."
The page departed, presently returning to introduce four gentlemen, after which, he again left the room and shut the door, which it would be his office to keep against all intrusion while the conference lasted.
One of the visitors appeared to take precedence; a tall, high-featured man, with a stoop and a receding chin. This was Lord Hopton, one of the most respectable of Charles's followers; an honourable, stupid, middle-aged nobleman, who could never marshal his own thoughts and who, necessarily, spoke without persuading others. The other Englishmen were Nicholas, the Secretary of State, and the old Lord Cottington. The fourth gentleman was Sir George Carteret, the Lieutenant-Governor, a bluff sea-faring man, little used to obey, yet anxious, in that presence, to be deferential; with an unmistakable pugnacity varnished over with a gloss of ruse. There being but one arm-chair in the room Charles took his seat upon it, and awaited the advice of his friends who perforce remained standing.
"I have sent for you, my Lords and gentlemen, to confer on the matter brought me by Mr. La Cloche, the Rector of St. Owen, and Chaplain to Sir George Carteret."
Hopton opened the conference, speaking in a dull, precise manner, from the lips only, hardly opening his teeth:—
"May it please you Sir, Mr. La Cloche hath reported to me, as I met him returning from your presence, that while he was imparting to your Highness—I may say, your Majesty—a matter of great moment, there was one hid in the room that played the eavesdropper. Before proceeding farther I would humbly ask...."
"Hold there, my Lord," broke in Charles. "Remember, I pray you, that—howbeit our present power, by the malice of our enemies, be brought to a narrow pass, we are still, by the grace of God your King, of full age, moreover, and no longer to be schooled. As touching what anyone may have heard here, by our consent, we need answer to no man; neither to Mr. La Cloche nor to your Lordship. There is, however, no one but ourselves in this room, as you may clearly see. As to the matter of the priest's discourse, we opine that it is already known to you. It is of that matter that we now seek to know your minds."
The words were not ungracefully uttered; but Hopton found no immediate answer. He only knit his narrow brow and held his peace. Carteret, however, stepped briskly forward; and would perhaps have committed some indiscretion had not Nicholas plucked him by the cloak. "By your leave, Mr. Lieutenant," said the jovial lawyer, "I would say an humble word to his Majesty, with the freedom of an ancient servant." His round face and merry eye were rendered serious by the resolution of a full-lipped yet firm mouth. "Sir!" said he, turning to the young King with a look in which the bonhomie of an indulgent Mentor was blended with genuine respect, "it will, no doubt, seem to your Majesty both meet and proper that we should not leave a meddlesome parson to let you know that our faithful hearts have been sorely exercised by that which is newly come to us out of France. Not to stay on sundry general advertisements and rumours that have reached us—and which seemed to glance at a very exalted personage—I mean, more particularly, what we have received this morning from a very discreet and knowing gentleman (now residing at Paris) of what he hath learned from persons of honour conversant in the secrets of the Court there."
"If it be her Majesty the Queen that you fear to name, Mr. Secretary," interrupted the King, "it is but vain to fence. Do your duty, as you have ever done."
"With your Majesty's leave, I will name no one, save it be one Mr. Cooly, Secretary to the Lord Jermyn, whom your Majesty, doubtless, graciously recollects. Our informant was plainly asked by this gentleman, how the islanders would take it if there should be an overture of giving them up to the French."
"This is but talk," observed the King.
"Nay Sir, there is yet more. This letter, which is come to one of us in cypher, goes on to tell that it hath been heard, from a very good source, that the chief mover herein is to be made Duke and Peer of France, and receive 200,000 pistoles, for which he is to deliver up not Jersey only but Guernsey, Aurigny, and Serk. Nay, further, his Eminence Cardinal Mazarine hath taken up ships for the transport of 2,000 French soldiers, nominally for the service of your Majesty, actually for the service whereof we are now speaking."
"Let them come," said Charles. "We will put ourself at their head and fall upon Guernsey, that nest of Roundheads where Osborne and honest Baldwin Wake have borne so long the brunt of insult and privation."
"Under your favour, Sir," broke in Carteret, "you would be bubbled. I have seen and spoke with a known creature of my Lord Jermyn's; and I know well that the design of the French is—so to speak—to clap your Majesty under the hatches, and to steer the vessel on their own account. Mr. La Cloche shall answer for this," he added in a lower tone.
"By your leave again, Sir George," put in the beaming Secretary, "we lawyers are to speak by our calling. It is not indeed, Sir, that my Lord Jermyn hath made direct overtures to us. And 'tis to be thought that in this last respect the messenger spoke but according to his own understanding."
"I would cut every throat in the island," cried Carteret, with savage interruption....
"Sir George Cartwright's zeal hath eaten him up," said Nicholas with a twinkle of his merry eye. "Let it suffice that the concurrent information of divers persons (and they strangers to one another), together with the Lord Jermyn's total neglect of the island in regard of the provisions that he hath not sent as promised nor repaid sums of money lent to your service by the people, have led us to sign a paper of association for which we shall crave your gracious approval. We doubt not you will agree with us that the delivery of the islands to the French is not consistent with the duty and fidelity of Englishmen, and would be an irreparable loss to the nation besides being an indelible dishonour to the Crown."
As Charles took the paper handed him for perusal by Nicholas, a flush arose upon his swarthy countenance.
"Enough said, my Lords and gentlemen! We need not that any should instruct us as to our duty."
"We trust not," cried Carteret, bluffly. "If the French come here we shall give them a sour welcome; and as to my Lord the Governor, he will find," and he slipped in his eagerness into his native tongue, "that he has made le marche de la peau de l'ours qui ne seroit pas encore tue."
Presently the little Council broke up. The King, after glancing at the paper of association, consented that Lord Hopton—in whose diplomatic abilities he perhaps did not feel much confidence—should proceed at once to the Hague, and lay the case before the States General of Holland as the power most interested—after England—in sifting and, if need were, opposing the designs of France. Meanwhile the articles of the association were not to be divulged; the whole affair being kept a profound secret and mystery of State.
Somewhat relieved, the associates then retired from the presence of the yawning King, and passed down the little corridor. Here they found Elliot keeping watch, and pacing innocently to and fro. And the graceless page bowed their Honours down the stairs, without betraying by his manner anything to suggest—which was, nevertheless, the simple truth—that he had been attentively listening to as much of their recent conversation as could be gathered through the imperfect channel afforded by the key-hole of the door. Carteret cursed La Cloche's officious meddling all the way to his own quarters, and on arriving there sent a sergeant to the unfortunate clergyman, who deported him to France by the next boat that sailed.
On returning to the room, Elliot found Charles walking up and down the narrow floor of his room in evident excitement.
"Tom," said the King, as the page entered, "what is to do here? It seems that I am not to be master even in this little island of Hop o' my Thumb. They lord it over me even as they did when I was here before, as Prince of Wales in partibus."
"Why then," answered the audacious youth, "I would even show them a clean pair of heels, and take refuge with the Scots."
"The Scots who sold my father!"
"The Scots, Sir, of whom I am one," cried the page, the hot blood of a race of Border-Barons rising to his forehead. "Am I and mine to be confounded with a crew of cuckoldy Presbyterians? I will not listen to any one who says so, King or no King."
And the malapert youth flung out of the room, while his wearied master—not unaccustomed to such outbreaks—lounged into the dining room and called for his supper.
If the page was to be blamed for his disrespectful demeanour in abruptly leaving his helpless but indulgent Sovereign, his next step was still less worthy of commendation. But he had the perfervid temper of his race, and he was not twenty-two. Having attended his royal Master in a former visit to Jersey, he had made friends with some of the island gentry, and among others with the family of St. Martin (then resident at Rozel), in which he found a maiden of his own age with whom he soon imagined himself to have fallen in love. Mdlle. de St. Martin was the sister of Michael Lempriere's wife; with her she had since taken up her abode; and the first thing that Elliot had done after the return of the Court to Jersey had been to acquaint himself with this fact. In the present excitement of his feelings he resolved to seek an interview with the girl whose charms he so well remembered. A boat was moored at the foot of the castle rock; and the impetuous young cavalier sprang on board, loosened the painter, and with the aid of a pair of sculls that had been left in the boat rapidly propelled himself to the shore of the bay aided by the flowing tide. While he is engaged in making his way to the northern extremity of the parish of S. Saviour, where the manor of the Lemprieres was situated, we will anticipate his progress and describe the scene.
The manor-house stood in its own walled grounds, admission being obtained through a round Norman archway, over which was carved the scutcheon of the family—gules, three eagles displayed, proper—with the date 1580. This opened on a long narrow avenue of tall elms, at the end of which two enormous juniper trees made a second arch, of perennial verdure. Such was the entrance, passing under which the visitor found himself in a flower-garden in which summer roses still bloomed, and the bees were still busy. On one side stood the house, a two-storeyed building of stone, pierced with many small latticed windows, and thatched with straw. The main-door bore another scutcheon, of newer stone than the rest of the house, quartering the arms of St. Martin (azure, nine billets or) over a device of two hearts tied together with a cipher formed by the letters L. and M. This doorway opened into a small hall, in front of which was a stair-case of polished oak. On either side of the hall were low-ceiled parlours wainscotted with dark wood, beams of which supported the ceilings. The floor of the room to the right was paved with stone and carpeted with fresh rushes, a yawning chimney of carved granite, on which a fire of drift-wood was burning with parti-coloured flames, occupied one end of the room, which was occupied by the ladies of the house. At the back were the kitchen and offices, looking out upon a paved court-yard containing a well, and backed by farm buildings.
Madame Lempriere (or "de Maufant") and her sister sate by the fire knitting in the autumn twilight. Both were lovely; beautiful women in the typical style of island beauty, which not even the primness of their somewhat old-fashioned costume could wholly disguise. For their eyes were dark and sparkling, and their cheeks glowed with the rosy bloom of a healthy and innocent womanhood. They were talking in low tones of the troubles of the time and of their absent friends; their language was in the island French.
"It is more than a month," said Rose Lempriere, "since I had tidings of M. de Maufant. Methinks your fiance M. le Gallais might show more alacrity in his coming."
"Helas!" replied Marguerite, "poor Alain will never err on the side of precipitancy. But seest thou not, my sister, the equinox here, and gales are abroad. I did not expect him till the S. Michel; and then there are Captain Bowden and M. the Lieutenant's cruisers to reckon with."
"You do not appear to mind making the crane's foot, my sister," said Rose, with a slight smile. "In my youth lovers were expected to be forward and maidens looked for attention."
"It is not so long since your youth, my all fair."
"But perhaps M. le Gallais is better occupied in another part."
"Voyons, ma soeur; it is quite equal, to me. Your M. le Gallais indeed! one would think it was you and M. de Maufant that wanted to marry him. As for me, I do not want to marry at all. Least of all does it import me to marry a man chosen by others. I prefer the ways of England."
"Di va!" exclaimed her sister. "A good man is not bad because our friends like him. Marry this good Alain, and love him after."
The damsel replied by a pretty grimace.
"Marguerite!" said Mme. de Maufant, with a little frown, "on ne badine pas avec l'amour. Or do you love another perhaps? Ah! malheureuse; art thou still thinking of ce beau guilliard, how did they call him? M. Elliot, I think, the King's page? I hear that he is returned with the King; and—oh, Marguerite!——"
"I swear to you Rose, I know nothing of M. Elliot—"
As she spoke a low whistle was heard without.
"It is Alain's signal," cried Rose, all in a flutter. "He brings me news from Michael."
So saying Mme. de Maufant moved with a quick step towards the door opening on the back yard, whence the signal-whistle evidently came. Marguerite site still on her tabouret, her head hidden in her shapely white hands.
On reaching the back-door Rose threw a wimple over her head, and carefully undoing the-chain and bar, admitted le Gallais, weary and travel-stained. Taking both her hands the young man gazed in her face with the honest gaze of a loving brother. Then searching in the lining of his doublet he drew out a letter, or rather a packet tied with string, and gave it to her.
"He is well," he said, "but his heart suffers."
"I know it, I know it," sobbed the wife, "but come in, Alain; come in and take some repose."
With which she led him into the room, and up to the hearth where sate the wilful beauty.
"Marguerite," she said, "do you not see Alain le Gallais?"
"I am delighted to see M. le Capitaine," was the girl's reply, as she rose and made an obeisance, immediately resuming her seat.
Poor Alain! the cold of the autumn evening outside was nothing in comparison with the chill that fell upon him by that blazing hearth. Weary as he was, and—as soon appeared—wounded also, his nerve, shaken by fatigue, gave way before this reception. With giddy brain and wan face he sank into the nearest seat.
"What hast thou, my friend, speak, for the love of God," said the lady of Maufant, while her sister's reluctant eye glanced at him, through unshed tears with yet more tender inquiry.
"A scratch, no more," said Alain, tightening the scarf on his left arm, which showed stains of new blood. "I am but now landed in Boulay Bay, and a militia-sentry discharged his matchlock at me as I ran down the lane under the battery. They are indifferent marksmen, my good compatriots, and their pieces make small impression compared with Cromwell's snaphaunces."
Rose tenderly unbound the bandage, found a mere flesh-wound, to which she applied some lint steeped in styptic, and restored the ligature in a manner more effective.
"Remets-toi Alain, reprends ton haleine, et dis-nous ce que c'est," said she, after paying these quasi-maternal attentions to the fugitive. "And first tell me, how bears himself my Michael, and what greeting sends he to his home?"
But before Alain could answer there came a knocking at the gate: and the scared ladies had barely time to dismiss Le Gallais by a side door almost hidden in the wainscot before Elliot entered, hat in hand, and looking shy and breathless in the leaping light of the hearth.
"Pardon me, fair ladies," he stammered, "have you any welcome for an old friend."
The two women leaned against each other, even more embarrassed than, for a moment, was their visitor. They seemed to remember the voice, yet could not speak to much purpose for the beating of their scared pulses. But it is not easy for female self-love to be deceived. The boy had not changed so much in turning into man but that the face of an old love could resume its familiarity.
"'Tis Mr. Elliot," presently said Marguerite, addressing her sister in English. "Mr. Chevalier, the Centenier, told you of his return but yesterday when we went to the market at S. Helier. I admire to see him here so soon."
Rose advanced, with the restored self-possession of a lady on her own hearth, and gave the visitor her hand. "Welcome back to Jersey, Mr. Elliot. Time hath dealt kindly with you: you are almost grown to man's estate."
The young Scot flushed, somewhat angrily, at this equivocal compliment. "What Time hath done with me I cannot tell," said he, with less than his wonted ease, "save that nothing Time can do can avail to quench old feelings. This is the first liberty that I have had since we landed. I have used it to lay myself at your feet."
The ladies resumed their seats, motioning Tom to the place between them, just vacated by Le Gallais: and the talk soon ran into easier grooves.
"I have that to say," continued the page, "that may shake your spirits, fair ladies. What I have listened to this day it may cost me my ears to have heard. But," with an air of important resolution, "cost what it may, I will not nor cannot keep it from you."
"A groat for your tidings," replied Rose, "we poor women hear none in this remote corner. But is it a secret? Women may keep one," she added, looking at the panel that had closed on Le Gallais, "but walls have ears: and so have you, as yet such as they are, which I would not have you sacrifice in our cause. If therefore your news be dangerous, think not of our curiosity, and give the matter no vent."
Elliot was a scamp, no doubt, yet he could not but be moved by this thoughtful speech of a woman who could decline a secret. But he had come too far, laden with a burden that he would fain lay down. So long as he kept to himself what he had heard in the King's chamber he might be doing his duty to Charles. But Charles had insulted him and his nation. Marguerite de St. Martin was his first love, the welfare of herself and her sister was at stake; he had trudged, four miles and more through the mire of steep and devious lanes to tell them; was he to leave them unwarned? Love and Duty fought their old battle, and with the old result—Love conquered and the secret was told. He had not, it is true, heard the full purport of the Secretary's grave words or of Charles' light replies: but what he had caught, tallying with the Chaplain's disclosures of an earlier hour, had led him to conclude that there was a villainous plot on foot, of which the King did not seem to approve, and which therefore might be made known to those interested without real breach of faith. What he knew he told, and eked it out with what he could but conjecture.
The conference lasted long. While it was confined to the designs of the French, on which the short gusts of the Lieutenant-Governor's stormy impatience had thrown a transient gleam of lurid light, the ladies were all attention. When the page began to talk of the King's loyal resolves and of what great things he would do, they gave less heed. It seemed to them that Charles Stuart was all too young, too much bound to his mother, to be trusted in an affair wherein her favourite took an interest. Tom pleaded his master's cause with the zeal of one who felt himself to have done that master some wrong; but he pleaded in vain. Little did the Jersey ladies care who might bear rule in the British islands; their chief care was for what would affect Jersey, and—above all men and things of Jersey—their dear Michael, now in exile.
It had long grown dusk, and Tom knew that he was absent without leave. His visit must be cut short. If he glanced significantly at Marguerite as he bent over Rose's hand, if he hoped that Marguerite would follow him to the door and allow an integration of former toys, he was only building on a precocious knowledge of the sex. "I will but lock the door after Mr. Elliot," said she to Rose, in patois, "be tranquil, my sister, he is but an infant."
The dismissal of the infant appeared a work of time. In the meanwhile Rose opened the wainscot door, and called softly up the narrow stair to which it led. Alain heard her, and came down, looking anxiously round the parlour as he came inside.
"Is Marguerite gone out," he asked, "with yonder polisson of the Court?"
"Thou knowest her, my friend," answered Madame de Maufant, kindly; "ever since her mother's death she has been a daughter to me. But a sister is not a mother at the end of the account; and our little one will not be kept a prisoner. She has learned English ideas in her girlhood, passed as you know with our London kinsfolk. Once she is married her husband will find her faithful, in life and to the death."
"Such freedoms are not according to our island ways."
"Be not stupid, my good Alain. Mr. Elliot is an old friend; though her dealings with him—or with others—be never so little to thy taste, I advertise thee to seek no cause of quarrel upon them; unless thou wouldst lose her altogether."
"I do not understand how a girl that is promised can do such things. Moreover, his coming here at all is what Michael would not find well."
"He has done us a very friendly act in coming here, and has told us of a matter which it may cost him dear to have revealed. For the rest, we can take very good care of ourselves."
Alain was not a man of the world. With something of a poet's nature, he was born to be the slave of women. Passionately attached to the mother who had brought him up—and who was lately dead—and wholly unacquainted with the coarser aspects of feminine character, he had a romantic ideal of womanhood. The ladies in whose company he might chance to find himself were usually quick enough to discover this; and seeing him at their feet were always trampling upon him, reserving their wiles and fascinations for men who were more artful or less chivalrous. The case was by no means singular in those days, and is believed to be occasionally reproduced even in more recent times.
He was now thoroughly annoyed; and Rose's reasoning, far from composing his mind, had rendered it only the more anxious. Therefore, when Marguerite returned into the parlour, with a somewhat heightened colour, Alain affected to take no notice of her, and sate gazing moodily at the fire.
"I have been plucking these roses," said the girl, offering Alain a bunch of flowers wet with early dew.
He took them with a negligent air, stuck one of the buds into the band of his broad-brimmed hat that lay on the table, and allowed the rest to fall upon the rushes that strewed the stone floor. Marguerite, with a slight and mocking grimace, watched the ill-tempered action without taking any audible notice of it. Then resuming her seat, she took up her wool and needles and applied herself to her interrupted knitting.
Meantime the page, apparently well satisfied with the circumstances of his visit, including those of his parting from the fair Marguerite, pursued his way to S. Helier. The darkness of the autumn evening was relieved by the multitudinous illumination of a cloudless sky. The lanes, bordered by the fortress-like enclosures of the fields, were shaded overhead by tunnels of interlacing boughs still in the full thickness of their summer foliage. A bird, disturbed by Elliot's brushing against the branch on which she roosted, gave a solitary cry of angry alarm; the dogs barked in the distant farms; the grazing cows, tethered in the wayside pastures, made soft noises as they cropped the grass. Passing on by the old grammar school of S. Manelier and then through the village of Five Oaks, where he scared a quiet family assembled in their parlour by looking in at their window with a grimace and a wild scream, he ran on rapidly by the Town Mills and through the town towards the quay. When he reached the bridge-head the tide was ebbing; but partly walking, partly wading, he made good his footing on the Castle-rock. A sleepy sentry challenged, but the page crept through the darkness without deigning a reply. A ball whizzed through his hat, but did not check his progress. Availing himself of projections in the wall with which he seemed well acquainted, he entered his own little room by the open casement, and throwing himself on the pallet soon slept the sleep of youth and healthy fatigue.
At Maufant matters were not quite so peaceful. The ladies there, it may be feared, were ready enough to regret the page's visit and its consequences, if not to express that regret to the old friend who might with some cause have complained.
Pretending indifference, he sate silently in a seat further from the ladies than that which he had occupied before the page's intrusion. Finding him disinclined for talk, Rose read her husband's letter without taking any further notice of him by whom it had been brought.
At length she broke the awkward silence; replacing the letter in her bosom and turning to Alain, she said:—
"I must go and get your chamber ready. I shall be back anon." And she left the room by the concealed door.
Left alone with his mistress, Alain fell into a great embarrassment. Marguerite, for her part, felt a qualm of conscience, had he only known it. But her amour-propre was, none the less, extremely hurt by his cavalier treatment of her flowers. She was by no means in love with the saucy Scot, who had indeed given her some offence by the frankness of his leave-taking, though this was a matter of which she was not likely to complain, least of all to her official adorer.
"Pourquoi me boudez-vous, Monsieur?" at last she said; "are you perhaps permitting yourself to be offended at my seeing M. Elliot to the door? Do you not know that he is our old friend?"
"He is nothing to me," answered Alain, moodily, "it is you of whom I am thinking."
"As Rose says, we can take care of ourselves. Do you for one moment think that I acknowledge any restraining right on your part, any privilege of question even? But come, if M. Elliot is an old friend you are a much older. Do not let us quarrel."
"It takes two to make a quarrel," said the foolish fellow, not observing the olive-branch.
If his display of annoyance was only a mask of jealousy she fancied that she could deal with it, and forgive it, but if it should be really a sign of indifference? so reasoned her rapid female brain; the cruder masculine mind was but too ready to supply the solution of the problem.
"Voyons, Marguerite," said her lover, almost blubbering. "I have loved you all your life. Ever since you were a little totterer whom I carried in my arms and planted on the top of the garden wall to pick coquelicots, I have thought of you as one to be some day mine. I see now how foolish I have been. I will put the sea between us; and I hope my boat will go to the bottom; and then perhaps you will be sorry." ... And in the fervour of self-pity he actually shed tears.
Marguerite watched him, with a joyous sense of triumph. Secure of her victory, she could now assume her turn to show anger. But she did not feel it; and she had not much skill in the feigning of unbecoming passions.
"That is ungenerous, Monsieur. You do not think of the poor boatmen who would go to the bottom with you. They are not sulky young men who have quarrelled with harmless women. The Race of Alderney will do without them; dame! it may afford to wait for you too."
If Alain had but caught the look with which these final words were accompanied! But he was still sitting in the distant darkness, with his moistened eyes bent obstinately on the ground.
And so the misunderstanding widened and deepened; and presently Rose returned. Taking in the situation with a rapid glance, she passed through the room and out into the buttery, whence she soon returned with the materials of a modest supper. "We must be our own domestics," she said with an attempt at lightness: but the attempt was hollow; a cloud seemed to fill the low room, and press upon the inmates. The three sate down, but neither of the young people did much justice to her hospitality. After supper she held a brief consultation with Alain; and after giving him a bag of gold and a letter for her husband, dismissed him, to rest if not to slumber, in the chamber that stood at the head of the stair on which the door in the wainscot opened. Then she and Marguerite retired by the other door to their own part of the upper floor, where I fear the young lady received a lecture before she went to her virgin couch.
Next morning the Militia Captain left before the house was awake, to return to Lempriere in London. When the ladies went, later in the forenoon, to arrange the chamber in which he had passed the night, they found that the bed had not been used during Le Gallais' occupation. A copy of Ben Jonson's Poems lay on the table; by the side of which were pen and ink, and a burnt-out candle. On opening the book, Mdlle. de St. Martin found some lines written on the fly-leaf, which ran as follows:—
"What tho' the floures be riche and rare of hue and fragrancie, What tho' the giver be kinde and fair, they have no charme for me.
The wreathe whose brightest budde is gone is not ye wreathe I'de prise: I'de pluck another, and so passe on, with unregardfull eyes.
And so the heart whose sweet resorte an hundred rivalls share May yielde a moment's passing sporte, but Love's an alyen there."
"He is unpolite, my sister," cried Marguerite, laughing. "But that is only because he is sore. The wounded bird has moulted a feather in his empty nest."
"All the same, he is flown," answered Mdme. de Maufant, gravely.
"N'importe," answered the damsel. "Leave him to me. I can whistle him back when I want him—if I ever do."
Leaving the ladies to the discussion of the topic thus set afoot, let us turn to the more prosaic combinations of the rougher, if not harder, sex. Majora canamus!
About four miles south-east of the manor-house, the old Castle of Gorey arose out of the sea, almost as if it grew there, a part of the granite crag. A survival of the rude warfare of Plantagenet times, it bore—as it still does—the self assertive name of "Mont Orgueil," and boasted itself the only English fortress that had ever resisted the avenger of France, the constable Bertrand du Guesclin. But, in spite of its pride, it proved to be commanded by a yet higher point, sufficiently near to throw round shot into the Castle in the more advanced days to which our tale relates. For this reason, and also because of the smallness of the harbour at its feet, Mont Orgueil had given way to the growing importance of S. Helier, protected by its virgin Castle. Hence the place, though not quite in ruins, had sunk to a minor and subordinate character; the Hall, in which the States had once assembled, was neglected and dirty; the chambers formerly appropriated to the Governor and his family were used as cells, or not used at all; the garden was unweeded; and Mont Orgueil in general had sunk to be a prison and a watch-tower. None the less proudly did it rise—as it does still—with a protecting air above its little town and port, and look defiance upon the opposite shores of Normandy.
In a narrow guard-room on the South side of this castle, a few days later than the visit of La Cloche to the King, the Lieutenant-Governor was sitting at a heavy oaken table, with his steel cap before him and his basket-hilted sword hung by the belt from the back of his carven chair. A writer sate at the left-hand side of the same table, and between them lay militia muster-rolls and other papers. At the further end of the room, between two halberdiers in scarlet doublets, stood a tall Jerseyman in squalid garments, his legs in fetters, his wrists in manacles. Keen little grey eyes peered through the neglected black hair that fell over his narrow brow; and his iron-grey beard showed signs of long neglect.
"Now, Pierre Benoist," said Sir George, "for the last time I give you warning. If you do not speak, freely and to the purpose, it will be the worse for you. There be those who can tell me what I desire to know. As for you, I shall deliver you to the Provost-Sergeant, who will need no words from me to tell him how to deal with you. I ask you, is Michael Lempriere in correspondence with Henry Dumaresq?"
"Palfrancordi! Messire; you press me hard," said the prisoner, but his eye was scarcely that of a pressed man. "When you examined me a week ago in secret I think I answered that. I know of no letters that have passed between M. de Samares and M. de Maufant. That is," he added hastily, as the Governor began to look impatient, "I have carried none myself."
"Who has?" asked the Governor.
The Greffier, at a signal from Carteret, plunged his pen into the ink; the halberdiers shifted their legs and leaned upon their weapons; the prisoner moistened his lips with his tongue.
"Speak, Benoist; who carried the letters?"
"It was Alain Le Gallais," answered Pierre in a low voice.
"It was Alain Le Gallais? Write, Master Greffier, the prisoner says that the letters were carried by one Alain Le Gallais. You are sure of that, Benoist?"
"As sure as my name is Peter." A cock crew in the yard of the castle. The coincidence did not seem to strike any of the party in the room.
"By what route did Le Gallais go?"
"He went by Boulay Bay."
"By what conveyance?"
"By Lesbirel's lugger."
"When did he go last?"
"This is the fourth day."
Carteret compared these replies with some that lay before him, and proceeded:—
"Do you know when he will return?"
"I cannot know; but I can divine. The wind is changing; if he landed at Southampton on Monday night he would be in London in twenty-four hours, riding on the horses of the Parliament. Riding back in the same way he might be back in Boulay Bay, with a fair wind, some time to-morrow."