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great English ships, which could not get nearer for want of water. To be brief, the skiffs reached the shore of the island of Ré happily, but the English shot falling on the beach scattered the pebbles, and killed many of ours. Sometimes a cannon-ball would carry off the sack of flour that a man bore on his back, and he deemed himself happy if it did not carry off his head.”
“Diable ! and my son Anthony?" asked Malherbe, rising from his seat in consternation.
Racan made the old man sit down. “ Your son Anthony was not hurt.” Malherbe resumed his repast.
“Nevertheless," continued the captain, “all of us who had remained in
camp, alarmed by such a bombardment, stunned by the shots, of which we could see the flames, and seeing so many guns firing at our men, began, you may imagine, to be much alarmed for the safety of the skiffs; as to the king, he thought that all was lost. Marshal de Schomberg felt how anxious the king would be, and, in order to reassure his majesty, he penned a despatch, but the difficulty lay in sending it from the island of Ré to the camp of La Rochelle. Where was the man to be found who would be daring enough to carry it? It would require to embark with only one boatman, night had come on, and the enemy had placed all their barks, boats, and skiffs in front to scour the shallows in every direction. No one presented himself then to carry the despatch, for no one was anxious to place his existence in such dire jeopardy; your son was as reticent as the rest ; so it was decided to delay till the morrow sending any news to the king.”
“ It was more prudent to do so," observed Malherbe.
“ Meanwhile," continued the captain, “a letter was placed in the hands of your son Anthony—a letter from Madame Arabelle, and in it were the following words
"My dear heart, all to-morrow and the night following my brotherin-law will be absent. I will wait for you to the last minute. If you can come to me secretly at Surgères, and likewise accompany me to Niort to my aunt's, superioress of the convent of - I shall hope to be able to forward thence a petition to the king, and recover that liberty of which I am jealous only to lose it again, but with a husband to my taste.''
“Heavens !” exclaimed Malherbe, alarmed at the turn which the narrative was taking “ Did my son Anthony allow himself to be deceived by so palpable a trick ?"
“Oh! he never hesitated for a moment,” said the young poet; lover was even more audacious than the soldier.”
“Unfortunate boy! And the letter was not from the lady ?”.
“I beg your pardon, master, the letter was from Madame Arabelle, as you shall see, and as he himself knew by the writing; but do not interrupt me, and let me continue my narrative."
The old man had ceased to eat. His eyes were fixed upon Racan, his whole attention was given to the words of his well-beloved disciple. The latter opened another bottle, filled his glass, and emptied it quietly; then, wiping his moustache, he resumed in the following words:
“ Anthony presented himself as a volunteer to carry the despatch to his majesty, that is to say, he offered to pass from the island of Ré to the camp of La Rochelle; which could only be done by crossing an arm of the sea entirely. occupied by the English fotilla. The despatch was rolled
up in a gourd, which your son fastened to his neck in case he had to take to the water. A boat was found, and with it a boatman, a stranger to the young man, and with whom he ventured forth to
“But this boatman," interrupted Malherbe, whose fears as a father, and imagination as a poet, made him anticipate the details of the story, “this boatman was a traitor sold to M. de Pilles ?”
“ You are only half right,” Racan objected, “ but you shall know the truth. Protected by the darkness of a particularly gloomy night, your son, on leaving the Fort de la Prée, kept close to the rocks of Sablan
Not a word was exchanged between himself and his guide ; both of them bending over their oars, skimmed the surface of the water with the lightness of a bird's wings, for the slightest noise might attract the attention of the enemy's boats, the light from which could be seen at a short distance off
. Your son remarked that the boatman persevered in keeping close in to shore, and getting weary of the manoeuvre, he got up, and speaking to him in a low but commanding voice, he said :
“Come now, friend ! out with you, and leave the rest to God!
“ The boatman sighed deeply, and then took to the open. The two together rowed onwards, seeking for the darkest places, and watching for the most favourable opportunities of making their way through the flotilla. At last they came to a part which was actually lit up by the torches of the English; it was impossible to avoid them or to turn them; the boat must pass through that luminous space.
“I fear that we are discovered,' muttered the boatman, with a voice tremulous with fear. "Eh! corbleu,' retorted
your son, we could expect nothing less; let us give way, nevertheless,
“But the boatman, paralysed by fear, could no longer handle his oar with effect.
“Monsieur, monsieur,' he murmured in terror, “a long-boat is making after us. Do not let us go any farther, or we are lost. As you are an honest man, oblige me, your sword on my throat, to return to the island ; perchance we have still time.'
". Are you mad, friend ?" said Anthony, shrugging his shoulders. “To your oar, and briskly, corbleu! or I shall have recourse to make you move on to the very means which you suggested to ensure a disgraceful retreat.
“Excited by this threat, the boatman sighed as if his heart was breaking, and gave way again. At that very moment a general hurrah resounded from the English boats.
“• Diable ! the thing is spoiling,' observed your son, who had become seriously anxious.
"Say that we are lost, sir,' muttered the other, with a failing voice. * It was fitting that it should be so; I was paid too generously to escape.
“« You have been paid! Who paid you?'
Yes, sir, for only these three days past, and I am very sorry for it. If I had only known! My master detected a letter written to you by a lady. It made him furious ; he spoke of calling you to account, and he
; even selected his friend, M. de Bormes, for his second. But then came the question of the despatch to be sent to La Rochelle.
“ Your rival will go, if he reads this note,” said M. de Bormes to my master. “Do you really think so?” “I am sure of it, and by so doing he will be lost without your giving a helping hand.” That is why M. de Pilles sent you the note, and I was heavily bribed to lend myself to the transaction."
“Oh! what abominable treachery !" exclaimed old Malherbe, revolted at such a narrative. And then, actuated by paternal tenderness and pride: “And Anthony," he asked, with emotion,“ did not continue his dangerous navigation ?"
“ He did continue it, master," retorted the captain, haughtily, as if he had associated himself with the bravery of his cadet. “ He continued it, and did well; for to advance or to retire presented nearly equal dangers. The boats' crews had signalised a strange craft, and they were rowing in every direction.
Soon volleys of musketry and occasional guns were directed upon the mysterious boat. What rendered flight still more difficult and more perilous was, that chains had been fixed at distances by iron rings to piles, and it was necessary to stop at each of these obstacles, and wait till a heavy wave came to lift the boat over them.
The English boats were thus enabled to gain upon the little
bark, and at length two shots, fired one after the other, hit the mark. The first killed the boatman, the second went through the frail skiff, which filled with water and went down."
“O mon Dieu !" exclaimed Malherbe, terrified, and taking hold of his head with both hands. “ And my poor son?"
“ Your son cast himself courageously into the sea. Luckily, before the boat went down it had made good way. Anthony was only a quarter of a league from the port of Coreilles. The piles that obstructed him a short time before were now of service, as they enabled him to rest himself ever and anon, whilst they retarded the progress of the English boats. Whilst all this was going on, the noise of the firing had attracted attention on our side. Every one was on foot, and about eleven o'clock I was myself going the rounds on the side of the Fort Chef de Bois. Suddenly I perceived something struggling in the water at no great distance from the shore. I shouted, Qui vive! to this Triton, and the Triton replied by calling me captain. It was your son.
I had the good fortune to help him out of the sea safe and sound."
“Grand Dieu ! at length I breathe," muttered Malherbe, who had been listening almost breathlessly to the continuation of the recital.
" It was then," continued Racan, “ that your son related to me the whole of the adventure. He had no sooner landed, than Marshal de Bassompierre insisted that Anthony should be at once led into the presence of the king and the cardinal, who had been kept from their beds by the cannonade. I leave you to imagine how your son was greeted. The king
condescended to compliment him upon his intrepidity. Every one exclaimed, 'What courage! I alone said to myself, "What love!' Our troops came home this day at noon from the island of Ré, and not one of them would believe that your son was still alive.”
At these words, Malherbe, distracted with joy and radiant with happiness, rose up with a bound, and quitted the table ; he could not, indeed, keep his seat, but walked to and fro in the room, exhaling his admiration and evaporating his gladness. Exclamations, expressions of enthusiasm, tears of pleasure, escaped at the same time from the old man's swollen breast. Dinner was, however, over. Night had
and with it the time for separation. The chevalier rose to depart, and Malherbe offered to go with him part of the way, but as there was no light, Soudrille was rung for to bring one; but no Soudrille came. Whereupon the old man, who was easily irritated, began to storm at his servant.
" The rascal !” he exclaimed. “ You see what attention he pays me! yet I give him ten sous a day for his board, and twenty crowns for wages, which is pretty fair, I think.
When the lazy valet did at length make his appearance, the captain thought that Malherbe was going to cane him, so great was his anger; but addressing Soudrille, “ Boy," he said, “ when one offends one's master, one offends God; when one offends God, one must have absolution for one's sins. To obtain that, we must fast, and do an act of charity. It is with that view that I shall keep back five sous of
your allowance tomorrow, which I will give to the poor in your name.
Racan smiled at this strange method of correction, which chimed in so well with the miserly habits of the poet; but as Soudrille did not seem to appreciate the privation, he slipped a present into his hand, after which, the valet walked with a lighter step, preceding the party with a torch. Malherbe did not, however, go far; but when about to part, Racan still held him by the button-hole to say a few last words. But Malherbe put an abrupt stop to the conversation. My dear friend,” he said to the captain, "good-by! good-by! you are making me waste five sous' worth of torch, whilst all that you say is not worth a farthing!"
As he traced his way back to the “ Royal Dyke,” Malherbe thought how happy he should be at meeting his gallant son on the ensuing day. Mark Anthony was, indeed, the only child left to him, and, with the exception of a little girl, who was carried off by the plague at the age of six, he had loved him most of all.
Whilst thus pondering, his attention was distracted by a group of people coming across the fields, some of whom carried torches, and others à stretcher. They were hangers-on of the army, and Malherbe soon perceived that they bore a wounded man, or a corpse. Painfully affected at the sight, he stopped till they had gone by, and then followed. On arriving at his hostelry, he was, however, still more hurt and annoyed at seeing the same men coming out of the door, but no longer bearing the stretcher,
The innkeeper was also at the door, and, when he saw his guest approaching, he said to him ;
“Sir, it is a gentleman who has just been killed in a duel, and, as he
could not be carried into the camp after nightfall
, he has been brought here till the morning. I had only one room empty, the one that is next to yours, so I was obliged to deposit the body in it. Monsieur is not afraid of ghosts?”
Soudrille turned as white as a sheet. Nor was the poet himself at all pleased with the arrangement.
“Sir,” he said to the innkeeper, “it is very inconsiderate of you to dispose of that room without
sanction.” “ But as monsieur only used one?" humbly observed the host.
“ You are wrong, sir, persisted Malherbe. “I intended my valet to sleep in that room.''
“Oh! well, that does not matter. There are two beds, and the dead will make no disturbance."
" Thank you," interrupted Soudrille; “I can sleep in the stable with Apocalypse. I don't like the dead. They come back again. I know it. I have seen them !”
“Ah! that one won't come back. Only imagine, sir, he has received three sword-wounds, any one of which would have sufficed.”
“Do you know his name?" inquired Malherbe, annoyed at the garrulity of mine host.
“ No, sir; I was not told anything beyond that he was an officer and a person of consequence, but, if it is so disagreeable to you, I will have the body removed to the cellar.”
The poet was, however, indignant at such a proposal. “No, no," he said ; " leave him where he is.” And then making
” ' signs to Soudrille to light the way to the room, “ Poor fellow !” he said to himself
, “ he, too, has perchance a father, who may also perish by this calamity.”
Soudrille, however, instead of preceding his master, as he ought to have done, followed with the torch behind, trembling in every limb. No sooner had he reached the room than he hastened to light the candles, and then as quickly bolted, without even asking his master if he wanted anything else.
The old man, left to himself, could not make up his mind to go to bed. He was not of a timid disposition, but he was a poet and he was aged, and he could not shake off the unpleasant ideas associated with so sad a catastrophe, and the proximity of the dead body. All in the house was, however, soon buried in silence; the old man struggled for some time against his thoughts till nature asserted her supremacy. His gauut head rested in his hands, and he fell asleep. But sleep in such a position was restless and broken. The old man mixed up in his dreams the events related to him by the Chevalier Racan at dinner-time and the catastrophe of the night. He dreamt that the corpse came forth from the adjacent room, touched him on the shoulder, and bade him follow him. That he did so, and that he led him to a place overshadowed by yews and cypresses, and where an antagonist awaited prepared for the combat. But the old man threw himself between the duellists, and in doing so he turned round upon the phantom he had followed, and oh! horror, it was his own son!
At the sight of his son the old man shrieked aloud, and woke up. Aug.–VOL. CXXXIV. NO. DXXXVI.