Read ACT III - THE STATES of St George's Cross, free online book, by H. G. Keene, on

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 Jonsons 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.”

C’est assez,” said the Governor, “take the prisoner away; but not to his former quarters.Lodge him in Prynne’s old cell.”

As the prisoner was being removed, in obedience to these orders, he was seen to limp heavily, and there was a bandage on one of his legs.

“March, comrade,” said one of his guards, when they were in the corridor.

“My leg was hurt, John Le Gros, when I tried to escape last night.”

“Not so badly but you can walk if you like,” and the militia-man emphasised his words by a slight thrust with the point of his weapon.

To which of the parties in the island Master Benoist was faithful, the muse that presides over this history declines to reveal:perhaps he was an impartial traitor to both.It became presently clear that, in any case, his lameness was little more than a feint.During that same night he made a rope of his bedding, and letting himself down from the window of his cell at high water, swam like a fish to the unwatched shore of Anneport, and so effected his escape.It was long ere he was again heard of by the Jersey authorities; but there is no record to show that he was either mourned or missed.

For the next three nights a party of soldiers not militia-men, but Cornishmen of the Royal body-guard occupied a hut on the landing-place at Boulay Bay, belonging to Lesbirel, the man whose lugger was known to be employed in the communication between the Parliamentary party in the island and their English allies.The third night being dark and stormy, the patrol was suspended by orders of the sergeant in command, and the men devoted themselves to the indoor pleasures afforded by cards, tobacco, and cider.But others were less careful of personal comfort.On the western point of the cliff over their heads (the “Belle Hougue”) a beacon was burning, of whose existence the sergeant and his men were unaware.A man watched by the fire, keeping it alive by constant care and attention, or rekindling it from time to time, when it was overcome by the wind and rain.The soldiers in their hut did not see the light; but it was seen by the crew of a lugger, driving through the waves of the flowing tide before a rough but favouring gale.Accordingly, putting the helm down, their steersman drove the craft clear of the threatened danger that was prepared for the occupants below, and made her touch the land in the adjacent bay of Bonne Nuit, hid from observation by the interposing cliffs.Leaping to the shore, Alain Le Gallais, who was the sole passenger, climbing the western heights, made his way by paths with which he was well acquainted from his youth, to the manor-house of his exiled friend the Seigneur of Maufant.

It was near midnight when he arrived.All was dark.The yard-dog, roused by his familiar footsteps, shook himself and sate down without raising any alarm:nay, when Alain lifted the latch and passed through the outer gate of the court-yard, the animal rose once more, and advanced to meet Alain, fawning and wagging his tail.Alain was not sorry that the ladies were asleep.Perhaps the readers of his verses may not have understood that he was a poet; but, be it remembered, those verses were in a language not native to the writer.Those who are able to understand such fragments of his patois-poetry as still survive, declare that it is marked by tenderness and verve; even if this be not so, a man may lack the power of expression and yet have the poet’s temper; Alain was certainly of a deep and sensitive nature; he thought that he had borne much from Marguerite, with whom he was now really angry; it was therefore of set purpose that he had chosen this hour to visit the manor instead of waiting till the morning.Depositing a letter with which Lempriere had entrusted him in a cornbin of the stable which Mdme. de Maufant had instructed him to use in such cases, he went his way without disturbing any of the inmates of the house.

His intention was to pass the rest of the night in the barn of a farm called La Rosiere, where he would be safe from pursuit for the moment, and in the morning could join a party of the “well-affected,” who were in the habit of meeting in the neighbouring parish of S. Lawrence.Man proposes; but his purpose was destined to failure.The sky had cleared in the sudden way so common at midnight in these islands.The guard at Lesbirel’s, turning out to patrol, had at last caught sight of the fire burning on the point above them.Taking alarm, the sergeant, who was an intelligent and aspiring soldier, guessed that something was amiss, and set off at the head of his men to search for the escaped prey.Taking the road to the manor, where he had reason to believe Lempriere’s messenger would be found, and spreading his men among the shadows of the bordering walls and hedges, he came upon the fugitive in a lane.To his challenge, “Who goes there?” he received for answer a pistol-shot, which laid him low in the mire of the lane, with a great flesh wound in the right shoulder; but the soldiers hearing the report ran up from both sides.Le Gallais was overpowered and secured after a brief resistance.

“Search him and take him to the governor,” said the wounded sergeant, as he swooned from loss of blood.

The following morning found Sir George and his clerk in their old places in the Gorey Castle.Pale and draggled, Le Gallais confronted his examiners with such firmness as he could gather from a good cause.

“You have nothing against me, Messire de Carteret,” he said firmly.

“If I have not I shall soon make it,” said the governor fiercely.“Whence were you coming when you pistolled my sergeant?”

“I was going to join my company of militia, in order to be present at morning exercise,” answered the prisoner, undauntedly.“Your sergeant laid hands on me without warrant or warning on a public thoroughfare, and I shot him in self-defence.What would you have done in my place?”

“Insolence will not avail you.If you would save yourself from the gallows, you have but one way.You must make a clean breast of it.”

Le Gallais made no answer, but stooping down, drew a letter out of his boot and threw it on the table.The governor started as he read the address:

“For the honoured hands of Sir George Carteret, Knight and Baronet, these.”

He cut the string and opened the missive.After reading a few lines he looked up.

Clear the room, he said; and as the clerk and guards obeyed, he added, in a changed tone:

“Be seated, M. Le Gallais!

“This letter, as you probably know, is from Mr. Prynne, of the Parliament.Why did you not bring it to me at once?”

“I should have done so,” answered Le Gallais.

“It contains matter of the utmost moment,” added the governor, after finishing the perusal.“Are you aware of its contents?”

“Of its general purport, yes,” answered Le Gallais.“The emissaries of Queen Henrietta are due from S. Malo this day.They will not go to you (unless they are forced) nor yet to Mr. Secretary Nicholas.They are the bringers of a secret communication from the queen mother to her son.You see, sir, that I may be trusted.”

“By the faith of a gentleman, it is too strong,” cried the governor, in an impassioned voice.“Was ever honour or gratitude known among that family?But I care not.Your friends, M. Le Gallais, are my enemies.If Whitelock and company send to this island all the rebels outside the gates of hell I will fight them.You may depart and take them that message from me.”

Le Gallais did not move.“But in case of a French force landing ?”

“In that case, sir,” answered the governor, and his voice rose to a quarter-deck shout.“In that case it would be ’up with the red cross ensign and England for ever!’”

Le Gallais rose and in a gentler tone echoed the cry, sharing the generous impulse.

“Now go,” said the governor, more gently, “go to the buttery and get thyself refreshed.I know what a sailor’s appetite can be.No words; you came from England last night.God bless England and all her friends!”

So saying the governor departed, and in a few minutes more was seen to mount his horse at the fort gate and gallop towards S. Helier, followed by a single orderly.

Immediately on arriving at the town, Sir George’s first care was to send his follower to the Denonciateur and order him to summon an extraordinary meeting of the States.After which be went on to the Castle and demanded an immediate audience of the King.

Charles was sitting in his chamber, indolently trimming his nails.A tall swash-buckler, with a red nose and a black patch over his eye, was with him, also seated and conversing with familiar earnestness, as the governor entered.

“How now?” asked the King, with some show of energy; “To what are we indebted for the honour of this sudden visit?Were you not told, Sir George, that we were giving private audience to Major Querto?”

“Faith I was, Sir,” answered Carteret, with a seaman’s bluntness.“But, under your pardon, I am Lieutenant-Governor of this island and Castle; I know the matter on which Major Querto hath audience, and it is not one that ought to be debated in my absence.”

Charles looked at Carteret with a mixture of impatience and ennui.But the Governor was not a man to be daunted by looks; and with Charles, the last speaker usually prevailed, unless he was much less energetic than in the present instance.

“If there be any man more ready to lay down life in your Majesty’s service than George Carteret, I willingly leave you in his hands.But your Majesty knows that there is not.I am here to claim that the message from the Queen be laid before the States.We are your Majesty’s to deal with; but if we are to help, we must know in what our help is required.”

Charles gave way before a will far stronger and a principle far higher than his own.

“Go, Major,” he said, with an expressive look and gesture.“Let Messieurs les Etats know of our Mother’s message.Sir George! be pleased to bring Major Querto into your assembly.And, I pray you, bid some one send me here Tom Elliott,” added the King, in a more natural tone of voice. “A bientôt! Sir George.”He waved his visitors out and resumed the care of his finger-ends, neglected in the excitement of the discussion.

Carteret, accompanied by Major Querto, repaired to the mainland.They proceeded together to the Market-place (now the Royal Square) and entered the newly-built Cohue or Court-house, where the States were assembling.Seven of the Jurats (or Justices) were already collected, in their scarlet robes of office:Sir Philip de Carteret, Seigneur of S. Owen (the Lieutenant-Bailiff); Amice de Carteret, Seigneur of Trinity; Francis de Carteret, Joshua de Carteret, Elias Dumaresq, Philip Geyt, and John Pipon.These, in official tranquillity as became their high dignity took seats on the dais, to the right and left of the Governor’s chair.Below them gradually gathered the officers of the Crown, the Procureur du Roy, or Attorney-General (another de Carteret), and the Viscount, or Sheriff, Mr. Lawrence Hamptonne.In the body of the hall sate the Constables of the parishes, and some of the Rectors.The townsmen swarmed into the unoccupied space beyond the gangway.When the hall was full, the usher, having placed the silver mace on the table, thrice proclaimed silence.Then Sir George who united the little-compatible offices of Bailiff and Lieutenant-Governor arose from his central seat and presented the Major who stood beside it.

“M. Lieutenant-Bailly, and Messieurs les Etats!” he said, “I have called you together to consider a message from the Queen:this gentleman here will impart it to you, Major Querto, of his Majesty’s army.”

The Major’s face assumed the colour of his nose.

“I am a rough soldier,” he muttered, in English, “and little used to address such an august assembly as I see here; least of all in a foreign language.”

“English, English,” cried a dozen voices.But Querto was silent, and looked at the Governor with a scared and anxious gaze.

“Since our guest is so modest,” resumed Carteret, “it is necessary that I should speak for him.The question is simple.Her Majesty, with her constant care for the subjects of her son, has heard with dismay that the rebels in England are projecting a descent upon Jersey.At the same time, Castle Cornet, in Guernsey, will be attacked by sea.Sir Baldwin Wake, with your active aid, has hitherto held out against the Roundheads of that island; and surely since the time of Troy has seldom been so long a siege, so stout a defence.But, with the Roundheads assaulting him by land, and Blake’s squadron by sea Gentlemen, I know Blake and his brave seamen what can Wake and a hundred half-starved men avail?To guard us against all these dangers, and against the loss of all the profits that we now have from our letters-of-marque in the Channel, her Majesty has been pleased to devise a means of succour.”

Here the Governor’s speech was interrupted by cries of “Vive la Reine,” led by the Constable of S. Brelade, in whose parish was situated the town of S. Aubin, the principal port and residence of the corsairs.

“Nay, but hear her Majesty’s gracious project.Nothing doubting your good affection or your courage, the Queen is persuaded that her royal son’s person (to say little of the other small matters already named by me) cannot be safe in your hands against a serious attempt such as can be made as soon as General Cromwell returns victorious as he doubtless will from the Irish war.She therefore intends and here, Gentlemen, I come to the main purpose of our present meeting she intends, I say, to send over a strong force of French troops to occupy the island.”

Consternation kept the assembly silent.

“You are not ignorant of the history of your country,” pursued the Governor.“When a former Queen sought the aid of France you know on what terms that aid was given.You know the name of Maulevrier; how for six years he held the Castle of Gorey with the Eastern half of our island.‘We have heard with our ears, and our fathers have declared to us’ what things the Papists did in those days, and how the Lord delivered you by the hands of my own ancestor and of the sailors of England.Are we to do it again; it is to be France or England?”

The hall was in an uproar.With startling unanimity the last word was echoed from all sides:“England for ever!England above all!”

Returning to his quarters in the part of the Castle called by the name of the late King, Carteret found Sir Edward Nicholas who was ageing and felt the cold of sunset in a mantle and with a black silk skullcap on his head, pacing up and down the little esplanade by the faint light of a waning moon.There was an old friendliness between the two:Nicholas having been long loved and favoured by Hyde, now in Spain, but formerly the cherished guest of the Carterets.Hence the Secretary was both willing and able to give sympathy and counsel to his host almost as well as could have been done by the author of the famous History of the Rebellion, had himself been once more in the Castle.

“I hear by letter from Prynne, this day received,” said the Lieutenant-Governor, “to the effect that our giving harbour here to his Majesty is a cause of umbrage to yonder cuckoldy knaves in London.Meanwhile I have grave doubts as to the young man himself under your favour, Sir Edward.We are undergoing so many and great dangers and distresses for him that we might well hope to have no renewal of the old dealings to our disadvantage.Yet it seems that things are coming to that pass that we may ere long have to choose between England and France.”

“As for France,” answered the Secretary, “we may expect due provision from his Majesty who is believe me a true lover of his own country; as also from your Honour, whose noble house has done well-known service in bye-gone times.For England, we know what her power is; but that power lies in the collection of her organs (as Sir Edward Hyde hath often taught us) by no means in the hypertrophe of one organ, and that one mutilated.The Church, Lords, Commons, are Three Estates

“Alack, Sir Edward,” interrupted the impatient sailor, “this is that whereto Prynne would lead us.Bethink you of Will Shakspeare’s saying, ‘If two men ride on a horse one must go behind.’How much more if there be three of them.Here, in Jersey, where there is but one organ of Government I mean the States we may have labour, but we have none of these confusions.But in England, look you

“If it were as you suppose,” cried Nicholas, “the King must needs ride before and the Parliament behind.But let me hear more of Mr. Prynne.Barring his sourness in regard of stage-plays and Bishops which seemed strangely coupled in his mind he was ever a wise and moderate man.”

“Marry,” replied Carteret, “I will show you what he hath writ.He would persuade us I will be plain with you to send Charles packing, and to yield ourselves wholly to the present Government in England.He argues that might is right, and that it is to that a weak state like ours must needs bow; Here be your three organs of Government or rather were yet one hath ever the last word, the casting vote; and that it is which in very truth governs:the others are but baubles.For, put case it were otherwise, then how would it fare with the public weal when one organ says, ’This shall be so, while another saith, ’Nay, but it shall be so;’ and a third perhaps is divided.It is put to the touch, as hath been lately seen in this nation, where the King came forth on one side with his cavaliers, followed by tapsters, serving-men and clodhoppers; officers and men for the most part broken in fortune, debauched in body and mind.Against him were ranged the citizens, the gentry, many even of the lords and the sober well-informed part of the yeomen.Your Royal tapsters are scattered in almost every encounter, your King is taken, dethroned, slain.Where be then your joint-organs, your paper-balance?Is it not the merest audit of a bankrupt’s books?’ So far Mr. Prynne, of whose wisdom you perhaps will make short work.”

“I do not say that he is wrong,” answered the Secretary, with a puzzled look.“I must own that we are beaten for the nonce.And it may be that if we were uppermost we should equally destroy the balance.But who will judge a man’s constitution by the symptoms of calenture?The nation is sick, yet it is not like to die.”

“My faith!” said Sir George, after a brief pause of reflection, “I think thou must be right, Sir Edward.This present condition of things cannot endure:but England will not die.When once men are earnestly disposed upon a way of reconciliation there must be give-and-take on either side until we get to work again.Mr. Prynne’s own tyranny, that of the Parliament, hath been already encountered by a stronger tyranny, that of the army.But that is a regimen to which Englishmen will not submit.”

“Then you are for the English, Sir George, rather than for the French.”

“Aye, aye, Sir,” answered the other.“For the King of England, if possible.But for the Gaul we are not.We are of the old blood of the Franks and Normans.We have served our Dukes ever since the battle of Hastings; but when they became English, why, we became English too.We beat the French under Du Guesclin, we beat them under Maulevrier.From England we have had none but good and honest handling.We are English above all.”

“Well said!” cried the Secretary.“I am no boaster, neither do I claim the gift of prophecy, like some of our saints yonder.But I am persuaded that a day will come when your words will be put to the proof.You will have to choose not between King and Commons, but between England and France you yourself said so but now.”

Mon Dieu! the choice will be soon made,” cried Carteret.“And now let us to table.For albeit Dame Carteret is lying-in, it will be hard but I can furnish a friend some junk and biscuit.”