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Title: The Forest of Vazon - A Guernsey Legend of the Eighth Century
Author: Anonymous
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE FOREST OF VAZON

_A GUERNSEY LEGEND OF THE EIGHTH CENTURY_.

London:
HARRISON & SONS, 59, PALL MALL
Booksellers to the Queen and H.R.H the Prince of Wales
1889.



PREFACE.


Nothing authentic is known of the history of Guernsey previously to its
annexation to the Duchy of Normandy in the tenth century. The only
sources of information as to events which may have occurred before that
date are references in monkish chronicles of the usual semi-mythical
type, and indications conveyed by cromlechs and menhirs, fragments of
Celtic instruments and pottery, and a few Roman relics. It is
unfortunate that we are thus precluded from acquiring any knowledge of
the development of a people as to whom the soundest among conflicting
conjectures seems to be that, coming originally from Brittany, they
preserved the purity of the Celtic race through periods when in other
offshoots of the same stock its characteristics were being obliterated
by the processes of crossing and absorption.

If early local records had existed they would hardly have failed to
have given minute details of the convulsion of nature which resulted in
the destruction by the sea of the forest lands on the northern and
western sides of the island, and in the separation of tracts of
considerable magnitude from the mainland. Geologists are agreed in
assigning to this event the date of March, 709, when great inundations
occurred in the Bay of Avranches on the French coast; they are not
equally unanimous as to the cause, but science now rejects the theory of
a raising of the sea-level and that of a general subsidence of the
island. The most reasonable explanation appears to be that the
overpowering force of a tidal wave suddenly swept away barriers whose
resistance had been for ages surely though imperceptibly diminishing,
and that the districts thus left unprotected proved to be below the
sea-level--owing, as regards the forests, to gradual subsidence easily
explicable in the case of undrained, swampy soil; and, as regards the
rocks, to the fact that the newly exposed surface consisted of
accumulations of already disintegrated deposits.

It is unquestionable that before the inroad of the sea the inlet in the
south-west of the island known as Rocquaine Bay was enclosed by two
arms, the northern of which terminated in the point of Lihou; on which
still stand the ruins of an old priory, while the southern ended in the
Hanois rocks, on which a lighthouse has been erected. Lihou is at
present an island, accessible only at low water by a narrow causeway;
the Hanois is entirely cut off from the shore, but it is a noteworthy
fact that the signs of old cart-ruts are visible at spring tides, and
that an iron hook was recently discovered attached to a submerged rock
which had apparently served as a gatepost; besides these proofs of the
existence of roads now lying under the waves, it is said that an old
order for the repair of Hanois roads is still extant. That Vazon and the
Braye du Valle were the sites of forests is indisputable, though the
former is now a sandy bay into which the Atlantic flows without
hindrance, and the latter, reclaimed within the present century by an
enterprising governor, formed for centuries a channel of the sea by
which the Clos du Valle, on which the Vale Church stands, was separated
from the mainland. A stratum of peat extends over the whole arm of the
Braye, while as regards Vazon there is the remarkable evidence of an
occurrence which took place in December, 1847. A strong westerly gale,
blowing into the bay concurrently with a low spring tide, broke up the
bed of peat and wood underlying the sand and gravel, and lifted it up
like an ice-floe; it was then carried landwards by the force of the
waves. The inhabitants flocked to the spot, and the phenomenon was
carefully inspected by scientific observers. Trunks of full-sized trees
were seen, accompanied by meadow plants and roots of rushes and weeds,
surrounded by those of grasses and mosses; the perfect state of the
trees showed that they had been long buried under the sand. Some of the
trees and boughs were at first mistaken for wreckage, but the fishermen
soon discovered their error and loaded their carts with the treasure
locally known as "gorban." Subsequent researches have shown that acorns
and hazel-nuts, teeth of horses and hogs, also pottery and instruments
of the same character as those found in the cromlechs, exist among the
Vazon peat deposits. There is therefore abundant evidence that the
legends relating to the former inhabitants of the forest are based on
traditions resting on an historical foundation.



CONTENTS.


    CHAPTER   I.--TRADITION

    CHAPTER  II.--SUPERSTITION

    CHAPTER III.--DEVOTION

    CHAPTER  IV.--REVELATION

    CHAPTER   V.--AFFLICTION

    CHAPTER  VI.--CONSOLATION

    CHAPTER VII.--ANNIHILATION



CHAPTER I.

TRADITION.

    "What can he tell that treads thy shore?
    No legend of thine olden time,
    No theme on which the mind might soar
    High as thine own in days of yore."

    _The Giaour_.--BYRON


In the beginning of the eighth century Guernsey was a favoured spot.
Around, over the Continent and the British Isles, had swept successive
conquests with their grim train of sufferings for the conquered; but
these storm-clouds had not burst over the island. The shocks which
preceded the fall of the Roman Empire had not been felt, nor had the
throes which inaugurated the birth of Frankish rule in Gaul and Saxon
supremacy in Britain, disturbed the prevailing tranquillity. Occasional
descents of pirates, Northmen from Scandinavian homes or Southmen from
the Iberian peninsula, had hitherto had a beneficial effect by keeping
alive the martial spirit and the vigilance necessary for self-defence.
In the third century three Roman ships had been driven on shore and
lost; the legionaries who escaped had established themselves in the
island, having indeed for the moment no alternative. When their
commander succeeded in communicating with Gaul he suggested a permanent
occupation, being secretly influenced by tales of mineral wealth to
which he had lent an ear. Disillusioned and recalled, he was followed by
a sybarite, whose palate was tickled by banquets of fish of which he
wrote in raptures to his friends at Capri and Brindisi. This excellent
man, dying of apoplexy in his bath, was replaced by a rough soldier, who
lost no time in procuring the evacuation of a post where he saw with a
glance that troops were uselessly locked up. From this time nothing had
been heard of the Romans; their occupation had lasted forty years, and
in another forty the only physical traces of it remaining were a camp at
Jerbourg, the nearly obliterated tessellated pavement and fragments of
wall belonging to the sybarite's villa, which occupied the site in the
King's Mills Valley where the Moulin de Haut now stands, the pond in
the Grand Mare in which the voluptuary had reared the carp over which,
dressed with sauces the secret of which died with him, he dwelt lovingly
when stretched on his triclinium, and the basins at Port Grat in which
he stored his treasured mullet and succulent oysters. The islanders were
of one mind in speeding the parting guests, but the generation which saw
them go were better men than their fathers who had trembled at the
landing of the iron-thewed demi-gods. Compelled to work as slaves, they
had learnt much from their masters; a knowledge of agriculture and of
the cultivation of the grape, the substitution of good weapons and
implements of husbandry for those of their Celtic ancestors, improved
dwellings, and some insight into military discipline,--these were
substantial benefits which raised them in some respects above their
Continental and British neighbours, among whom patriotism had, on the
disappearance of the civilization of the Romans, revived the more
congenial barbarism. Arrivals among them of Christian monks, scanty at
first, more frequent since the landing of S. Augustine in Britain, had
also had a certain effect. The progress of conversion was, however,
slow; the people were bigoted, and the good fathers were compelled, as
in Brittany, to content themselves with a few genuine converts, wisely
endeavouring rather to leaven the mass by grafting Christian truths on
the old superstitions than to court certain defeat, possible expulsion
or massacre, by striving to overthrow at once all the symbols of
heathenism.

The island was larger in extent than it is at present, as, in addition
to the Vale district, the islet of Lihou, Vazon Bay, and the rock group
known as the Hanois formed part of it. It is with the events that
altered this configuration that the following legend deals.



CHAPTER II.

SUPERSTITION.

    "Awestruck, the much-admiring crowd
    Before the virgin vision bowed,
    Gaz'd with an ever-new delight,
    And caught fresh virtues at the sight."

    EDWARD MOORÉ'S _Fables_.


On the 24th of June, in the year 708, merry crowds were thronging to
Vazon Forest. It was a lovely spot. The other portions of the island
were bare and somewhat rugged; here the humidity of the soil favoured
the growth of fine, vigorous timber. On the low ground flourished oak
and sycamore, torn and bent near the shore where the trees met the force
of the Atlantic gales, growing freely and with rich verdure where better
protected. On the higher slopes were massed beech, birch, and the sweet
chestnut which was even then domesticated in the island. Glades,
bursting with a wealth of flowers nurtured by the mildness of the
climate, penetrated the wood in every direction; streams bubbling up
from springs, and forming little cascades where their course was checked
by granite boulders, lent an additional charm. Towards the centre of the
forest these streams united to form a lake, or rather a natural moat,
surrounding an island in the midst of which stood a gigantic oak. This
was the only tree on the island; round it, at even distances, were
placed twelve stones, beyond which a meadow glittering with varied hues
extended to the surrounding water.

It was to this island that the holiday-makers were wending their way:
young men and maidens, and such elders as had vigour enough to traverse
the rough tracks leading from the interior. They were a small race,
lithe and active, with strong black hair and dark eyes now twinkling
with merriment They poured over the wooden bridges into the precincts of
the towering oak, under which the elders seated themselves with the
musicians, the younger people streaming off to the clear ground between
the stones and the water.

When all were assembled the music struck up at a signal from an elder.
The instruments were akin to the goat-skin pipes of Lower Brittany; the
music wild, weird, appealing to the passion if not melodious to the ear.
At any rate the effect was inspiriting. First, the men danced, the
maidens seating themselves round the dancers and chanting the following
words, to the rhythm of which they swayed their bodies gracefully:--

    "Mille Sarrazins, mille Sarmates,
    Un jour nous avons tués.
    Mille, mille, mille, mille, mille Perses,
    Nous cherchons à present."

The dance, footed to this truculent chant, had no warlike features;
beginning with a march, or rather a tripping walk, it ended with feats
in which each dancer defied his neighbour to out-spring him; nor did the
vocalists appear to expect representations of strife and doughty deeds.
The words, Roman by origin, as is clear from the allusion to the
Persians, had been adapted to a native air by the conquerors, and had
been left by them as a legacy to the islanders. Next, the maidens trod a
measure, the men standing round and applauding; the dance was quiet and
soft, consisting principally of graceful movements of the body as if the
dancers were getting themselves into training for greater efforts; in
this case the dancers themselves chanted words suitable to the music.
This ended, there was a pause before the principal business of the day
began, the dance in which both sexes joined, to be followed by the
bestowal of a wreath on the loveliest of the maidens.

During the pause it was evident that an unusual incident had occurred.
The best-looking of the girls were pouting, the attention of the youths
was distracted. During the latter part of the dance the applause had
been intermittent; towards the close it had almost ceased. The elders,
looking about under their shaggy eyebrows, had not been long in
discovering the cause, and when they had found it allowed their
attention to wander also.

The disturbing element was, indeed, not far to seek. Close to one of the
bridges was seated a maiden, unknown to all of them, but lovely enough
to hold the glance of old and young. Unlike the natives she was tall and
fair; masses of golden hair encircled her oval face and clustered over
her blue eyes. Who was she? Whence came she? None could answer. By
degrees some of the boldest of the youths approached, but their bluff
manners seemed to displease her; though unaccustomed to rebuffs they
retired. One, however, among them fared differently. Jean Letocq, a
member of the family to which the hero belonged who near this very spot
discovered the sleeping troops of the Grand Sarrazin, was admired and
beloved both by youths and maidens. First in every sport, having shown
courage and resource in times of peril both by sea and land, tender of
glance and gentle of tongue, he held a pre-eminence which none disputed,
and which was above the reach of envy. The fair stranger, from his first
glance at her, had fascinated, enthralled him: his eyes fastened
greedily on her every movement; he noted well her reception of those who
had addressed her, and when he approached he came, bare-headed, with a
low obeisance and a deferential air. He seated himself by her in
silence, after murmuring a few words of welcome to the feast, to which
she made no answer. Presently he spoke again, softly and courteously;
she replied without constraint, speaking his own language fluently,
though with a foreign accent. The ice once broken their talk rippled on,
as is the wont of light words, brightly uttered. Jean drank in each
gentle phrase, watched every graceful gesture; his heart bounded when
she carelessly smiled. But he lost not his daring: when the musicians
again struck up he boldly asked her to join in the dance.

She was not offended, her look showed no displeasure, but she refused;
he renewed his request; suddenly a change came over her face, she looked
rapidly round as though searching for some one who was not present, a
flash came into her eyes, she sprang to her feet. "Why should I not
dance!" she said; "they are merry, why should I alone be sad!" She let
him lead her into the ring. If she had been enchanting when seated, what
was her power when she moved! She was a model of grace and loveliness;
the contrast of her colouring to that of her neighbours inspired the
superstitious with some terror, but made the braver spirits gaze more
curiously, indifferent to the half-concealed anger and affected disdain
of their partners. Every moment she gained more hearts, though she let
her eyes rest only on those of Jean. After the dance was over she seated
herself in her former position; the women then, according to custom,
retired outside the stone circle, while the men clustered round the oak
to award the prize. The ceremony had up to this day been looked on as a
pure formality: for the last two summers the wreath had been by common
consent placed on the brows of Suzanne Falla, and none who woke that
morning had doubted that it would rest there again before night. But now
the men's heads were turned; there was commotion both outside and inside
the circle; then a hush, as the old men rose in their places and the
young men formed a lane to the tree. Jean stepped out, and taking the
stranger by the hand, led her to where a white-haired veteran stood with
the wreath in his hand. The next moment it was placed on her brows, and
then all voices burst into a song of triumph, which rang to the remotest
glades of the forest. Suzanne did not join in the song; her little heart
was breaking; all the passion of her hot nature was roused; she felt
herself unfairly, unjustly, treated; insulted on the very day that was
to have crowned her pride. She could not control herself, nor could she
accept her defeat: she stamped her foot on the ground, and poured out a
torrent of objurgation, accusing Jean of treachery, demanding to know
whence he had produced her rival, appealing to the elders to revise the
judgment. Then, suddenly ceasing, as she saw by the looks of those
around her that while in some her fate created pity, in others it gave
rise to amusement, in many to the pleasure which poor human nature felt
then as now in a friend's misfortune, her mood altered: she turned and,
rapidly leaving the crowd, crossed one of the bridges. Hastening her
steps, but not watching them, she tripped over the straggling root of a
yew, and fell, her temple striking a sharp boulder, one of many cropping
up in the forest. Poor girl! in one moment passion and pride had flown;
she lay senseless, blood streaming from the wound.

A quick revulsion of feeling swept through the impressionable people.
Her departure had been watched, the fall observed, and the serious
nature of the accident was soon known; all hurried to the spot where she
lay, full of sympathy and distress. Jean, perhaps not altogether
unremorseful, was among the first to proffer aid; the stranger, left
alone, took off the wreath and placed it on one of the stones of the
circle, by which she stood contemplating the scene.

The blow, struck deep into the temple, was beyond any ordinary means of
cure; life indeed seemed to be ebbing away. "Send for Marie!" the cry
sprang from many mouths: "send for Marie the wise woman! she alone can
save her!" Three or four youths ran hastily off.

"Wish ye for Marie Torode's body or her spirit?" said a harsh female
voice; "her body ye can have! but what avail closed eyes and rigid
limbs? Her spirit, tossed by the whirling death-blast, is beyond your
reach!"

The speaker, on whom all eyes turned, was an aged woman of unusual
height; her snow-white hair was confined by a metal circlet, her eyes
were keen and searching, her gestures imperious; her dress was simple
and would have been rude but for the quaintly ornamented silver girdle
that bound her waist, and the massive bracelets on her arms. Like the
girl she was seen for the first time; her almost supernatural appearance
inspired wonder and awe. She bent over the prostrate form: "Marie said
with her last breath," she muttered to herself, "that ere the oaks were
green again the sweetest maidens in the island would be in her embrace,
but she cannot summon this one now! her vext spirit has not yet the
power!"

She examined the wound, and raising herself said, "No human hand can
save her. The Spirits alone have power: those Spirits who prolong human
life regardless of human ills; but they must be besought, and who will
care to beseech them?"

"Prayers may save her," answered a stern voice, "but not prayers to
devils! The Holy Virgin should we beseech, by whom all pure maidens are
beloved. She will save her if it be God's will, or receive her into her
bosom if it be decreed that she should die."

The words were those of Father Austin, one of the monks of Lihou,
distinguished by his sanctity and the austerity of his habits. He was
spare, as one who lived hardly; his grey eyes had a dreamy look
betokening much inward contemplation, though they could be keen enough
when, as now, the man was roused; there was a gentleness about his mouth
which showed a nature filled with love and sympathy.

The woman drew herself to her full stature, and turned on him a defiant
look.

"Gods or devils!" she said in a ringing tone--"which you will! What can
an immured anchorite know of the vast mysteries of the wind-borne
spirits? Is this child to live or die? My gods can save her; if yours
can, let them take her! She is nought to me."

"When Elijah wrestled with the prophets of Baal, where did victory
rest?" said the priest, and he too stooped down and inspected the wound.
"She is past cure," he said, rising sadly; "it remains but to pray for
her soul."

At this critical moment an agonizing shriek rang through the forest. The
same runners who had sped to Marie Torode's cottage and had learnt there
that the wise woman had in truth passed away, had brought back with
them Suzanne's mother, who threw herself on her child's body
endeavouring to staunch the blood, and to restore animation. Finding her
efforts vain, she had listened anxiously to the words that had passed,
and on hearing the priest's sentence of doom she burst into frantic
grief and supplication. Turning to each disputant she cried--"Save her!
save her young life! I suckled her, I reared her, I love her!--oh, how I
love her!--do not let her die!"

"She can be saved!" curtly responded the stranger. The priest was
silent. A murmur arose. Austin, who had trained himself to study those
among whom he laboured, saw that the feeling was rising strongly against
him. His antagonist saw it also, and pressed her victory.

"Yes!" she said scornfully, "it is a small matter for my Gods to save
her, but they will not be besought while this bald-pate obtrudes his
presence. Let him leave us!"

The priest was much perplexed. He knew the skill of these lonely women;
secretly he had faith in their power of witchcraft, though attributing
it to the direct agency of Satan. He thought it not impossible that
there was truth in the boast; and his heart was wrung with the mother's
grief. On the other hand, the public defeat was a sore trial; but it was
clear to him that for the present at least the analogy of Elijah's
struggle was imperfect: he must wait, and meanwhile bear his
discomfiture with meekness. He prepared to retire. The victor was not,
however, even now satisfied. "Take with you," she said, "yon idol that
defaces the sacred oak!"

The good fathers, following their usual practice of associating emblems
of heathen with those of Christian worship, in the hope of gradually
diverting the reverence to the latter without giving to the former a
ruder shock than could be endured, had suspended a small cross on the
oak, hoping eventually to carve the tree itself into a sacred emblem; it
was to this that the woman was pointing with a sneer.

But this time she had made a blunder. Father Austin turned to the
crucifix and his strength and fire returned. Taking it from the tree,
reverently kissing it and holding it aloft, he said solemnly--"Let my
brothers and sisters come with me! We will pray apart, where no profane
words can reach us. Perchance our prayers may be granted!" Not a few of
the hearers followed him; sufficient indeed to make an imposing
procession: the triumph of the Evil One was at least dimmed.

But his adversary did not appear to notice their departure. She gave a
sharp glance in the direction of the oak, and the now discrowned girl
was quickly at her side. Receiving some rapid instructions, the latter
disappeared into the wood, and shortly returned with some herbs, which
she passed to her companion; she then resumed her position by the stone.
The old woman placed some leaves, which she selected, on the wound: the
bleeding at once ceased; squeezing juice from the herbs, she applied an
ointment made from it; then, opening a phial attached to her waist-belt,
she poured some drops of liquid into the girl's mouth, gently parting
her lips. This done, she stood erect and began an incantation, or rather
a supplication, in an unknown tongue. As she proceeded her form became
rigid, her eye gleamed, her arms, the hands clenched, were raised above
her head. The sun flashed on the circlet, glittered on the embossed
girdle: on the right arm was a heavy bracelet, composed of a golden
serpent winding in weird folds round a human bone; the head was towards
the wearer's wrist, and the jewelled eyes which, being of large size,
must have been formed of rare stones, glowed and shot fire as the red
beams struck on them through the branches. It seemed that a forked
tongue darted in and out, but this may have been imagined by the heated
fancies of the bystanders. The prayer ended; the stillness of death
rested a moment on man and nature; then a wild gust of wind, striking
the oak without any preliminary warning, bent and snapped the upper
branches, and crashed inland through the swaying forest. The watchers
saw the colour return to the cheeks of the wounded girl, who opened her
eyes and sate up. "Take her home," said the sorceress, now quite
composed, to the mother; "she is yours again!--till Marie calls her!"
she added in a low voice to herself. The happy mother, shedding tears of
joy, but in vain attempting to get her thanks accepted, obeyed the
injunction.

As she and her friends disappeared, the old woman, turning to the awed
people who seemed more than ever disposed to look on her as a
supernatural being, said sternly--"Why linger you here? Are you
unmindful of your duties? See you not how the shadows lengthen?" These
words produced a magical effect: the deep emotions by which the mass had
been recently swayed were swiftly replaced by equally profound feelings
of a different nature, as cloud succeeds cloud in a storm-swept sky.

And now a singular scene was enacted. A procession was formed, headed by
the old men, bare-headed; the musicians followed, behind whom walked
with solemn step the younger members of the community. This procession,
emerging from the western border of the forest, slowly climbed the
slopes of the Rocque du Guet, and arriving at the summit bent its way
seaward, halting at the edge of the precipitous cliff.

The sun was nearing the horizon. The scene was one of unsurpassed
loveliness. Behind lay the central and southern portions of the island,
hushed as if their primaeval rocks were still tenantless. The outlines
of the isles of Herm and Jethou were visible, but already sinking into
the shades of evening. On the left the bold bluffs of L'Erée and Lihou,
on the right the rugged masses of the Grandes and the Grosses Rocques,
the Gros Commet, the Grande and Petite Fourque, lay in sharpened
outline, the lapping waves already assuming a grey tint. These masses
formed the framework of a picture which embraced a boundless wealth of
colour, an infinite depth of softness. Straight from the sun shot out
across Cobo Bay a joyous river of gold, so bright that eye could ill
bear to face its glow; here and there in its course stood out
quaintly-shaped rocks, some drenched with the fulness of the glorious
bath, others catching now and again a sprinkling shower. On each side of
the river the sea, clear to its depths where alternate sand and rock
made a tangle of capriciously mingled light and shade; its surface, here
blue as the still waters of the Grotta Azzurra, there green as the
olive, here again red-brown as Carthaginian marble, lay waveless, as
with a sense that the beauty was too perfect to be disturbed. Suddenly
the scene was changed; the lustrous outflow was swiftly drawn in and
absorbed; a grey hue swept over the darkening surface; in the distance
the round, blood-coloured, orb hung above the expectant ocean.

Then all assembled fell on their knees. The music gave out sharp
plaintive notes which were answered by the voices of men and women in
short, wailing, as it were inquiring, rhythm; this continued till the
sun was on the point of disappearance, when music and voices together
burst into a sad chant, seemingly of farewell; the kneeling people
extending their hands seaward with an appealing gesture. One figure only
was erect; on the projecting boulder, which is still so conspicuous a
feature of the Rocque du Guet, stood the sorceress, her arms also
outstretched, her figure, firm, erect, sharply outlined, such as
Turner's mind conceived when he sketched the Last Man.

Father Austin contemplated the scene from a distance. By his side was
his favourite convert, Jean Letocq.

"Strange!" he said, placing his hand on his companion's shoulder. "Your
race are not sun-worshippers. Never, except on this day of the year, do
they show this feeling; but who that saw them to-day would doubt that
they are so! Is it that from old times their intense love of nature has
led them to show in this way their sadness at its decay? or do they by
mourning over the close of the sun's longest day symbolize their
recognition of the inevitable end of the longest life of man? I cannot
tell. But, blind as this worship is, it is better than that of the work
of man's hands. By God's will your countrymen may be led from kneeling
to the created to mount the ladder till they bend the knee only to the
Creator. It may be well, too, that their chosen object of veneration is
the only object in nature which dies but to rise again. Thus may they be
led to the comprehension of the great truth of the resurrection. But
Satan," he added with warmth, "must be wrestled with and cast down,
specially when he takes the forms of temptation which he has assumed
to-day: those of power and beauty. Prayer and fasting are sorely
needed."

For once his pupil was not altogether docile. "Thou hast taught me,
father," he replied, "the lesson of charity. This old woman is sinful,
her error is deep, but may she not be converted and saved?"

"The devils can never regain Paradise," replied the priest sternly. "Arm
thyself, Jean, against their wiles, in which I fear thou art already
entangled. The two forms we have to-day seen are but human in seeming:
demons surely lurked beneath."

Jean was now in open rebellion. "Nay, good father," he said decisively,
"the maiden was no fiend; if her companion be an imp of darkness, as
well she may, be it my task to rescue her from the evil snare into which
she has fallen!" He had indeed a vivid recollection of the soft, human
hand to which he had ventured to give a gentle pressure when he had
assisted in placing the wreath on the fair, marble, brow, and had no
doubt of the girl's womanhood. As he spoke he vanished from the side of
the priest, who, seeing the two objects of his pious aversion entering
the darkening glades of the wood, was at no loss to divine the cause of
his disappearance. The holy father shook his head, and sighed deeply. He
was accustomed to disappointments, but this day his path had to an
unusual extent been beset with thorns. His faith was unshaken, and he
humbly laid the fault on his own shoulders, promising further privations
to his already sorely afflicted body. Meanwhile he descended the hill,
directing his course to Lihou. Pausing on his way through the forest to
replace the cross on the oak, he saw Jean, walking slowly homewards, his
listless step showing that his quest had failed. The Evil One had, he
thought, for the time at least, forborne to press his advantage. Further
off he heard the scattered voices of the dispersing throng.



CHAPTER III.

DEVOTION.

    "There glides a step through the foliage thick,
    And her cheek grows pale and her heart beats quick,
    There whispers a voice through the rustling leaves,
    And her blush returns, and her bosom heaves;
    A moment more--and they shall meet.
    'Tis past--her lover's at her feet."

    _Parasina_.--BYRON.


After visiting all the accessible parts of the island Jean satisfied
himself that it was useless to search further in them for traces of the
strangers. Persons so remarkable could not, it was clear, conceal
themselves from the knowledge of the inhabitants. He must therefore
either admit that the monk's surmise was correct, or must search in
quarters hitherto unexplored. Though his rejection of the former
alternative was a foregone conclusion, his adoption of the latter was a
remarkable proof of the strength of his passion. There was only one
district unexplored, and that was practically unapproachable.

Early in the sixth century some piratical vessels had entered Rocquaine
Bay in a shattered condition; the crews succeeded in landing, but the
ships, for seagoing purposes, were beyond repair. The pirates penetrated
inland, driving out the inhabitants from Torteval and some of the
adjoining valleys. Here they settled; and being skilled in hunting and
fishing, having a fair knowledge of husbandry, and finding the position
peculiarly adapted for their marauding pursuits, throve and prospered:
so much so that when, some years afterwards, they had an opportunity of
leaving, the majority elected to remain. Their descendants had continued
to occupy the same district. Who they were, whether pure Northmen or of
some mixed race, it would be idle to conjecture: they were originally
put down by the islanders as Sarrazins, that being the name under which
the simple people classed all pirates; the strangers, however, resented
this description, and had consequently come to be spoken of as Les
Voizins, a definition to which no exception could be taken. Hardy and
warlike, quick of temper and rough of speech, they had an undisputed
ascendancy over the natives, to whom, though dangerous if provoked, they
had often given powerful aid in times of peril. On the whole they made
not bad neighbours, but a condition was imposed by them the violation
of which was never forgiven: no native was permitted, under any pretext,
to enter their territory; death was the sure fate of an intruder found
in Rocquaine Bay or setting foot in the Voizin hills or valleys.
Whatever may have been the cause of this regulation the result had been
to keep the race as pure as it was on the day of the first landing.

Now it was in the Terre des Voizins that Jean had resolved to seek his
beloved, and his resolution was unalterable. He knew the danger; he
wished to avoid death if possible; he meant to employ to the full the
resources at his command; foolhardy as his enterprise seemed it was long
and carefully planned. He knew that in the summer evenings it was the
custom of the Voizin women to visit the sunny shores of the bay: this he
had seen from Lihou; could he then succeed in landing unperceived, and
in concealing himself in one of the many clefts of the rocks, he felt
sure that if the well-known form were there he would descry it; what
would follow afterwards was a question which had taken many fantastic
shapes in his imagination, none of which had assumed a definite form.

Towards the close of July the conditions were favourable for his
attempt. In the night a strong tide would be running into the bay; the
wind was south-westerly, the moon set early. He prepared to start. He
had selected a small and light boat, which would travel fast under his
powerful strokes, and might be so handled as not to attract attention;
in it he had stored provisions which would last for a few days and a
small cask of fresh water. Towards evening he shaped his course for
Lihou.

He had seen but little of the monk since the day of the feast, but he
was yearning to see him now. His love for the man, his reverence for the
truths he taught, his thought of his own future if he lost his life in
his rash expedition, all urged him to seek a parting interview.

The brothers received him affectionately and bade him join their frugal
meal. The monks were five in number: they had been six, but one had
recently been drowned while returning from a pious mission to Herm. Jean
knew them all; they were honest, God-fearing men, trustful and truthful.
If their reasoning powers were not great, their faith was unswerving.
Their life was a prolonged asceticism, and they had fair reason to
expect that martyrdom would be their earthly crown.

The only exceptional feature of the repast was the appearance of one who
had never yet been seated there in Jean's presence; this guest was the
hermit who dwelt on the extreme point, against which the Atlantic waves
dashed in their fiercest fury. The recluse did not seem to cultivate the
duty of abstemiousness, but he maintained silence. Jean could not
forbear furtively scanning his appearance, which was indeed remarkable.
He would have been of large stature in any country; compared with the
natives his proportions were gigantic. His broad shoulders and muscular
arms betokened enormous strength; his hair and beard were fair; his blue
eyes had a clear, frank, expression; there was firmness of purpose in
his massive jaw; he seemed between forty and fifty, and would have been
strikingly handsome but for three deep scars which totally marred the
expression of his features. As Jean eyed him he returned the compliment,
but the meal was soon over and the youth accompanied Father Austin to
his cell.

There a long and sleepless night was passed by both. The monk in vain
endeavoured to combat Jean's resolution; he argued, prayed, indeed
threatened, but without effect. Finding his efforts hopeless he
abandoned them, and endeavoured to fortify his charge against the
influence of the spell under which he believed him to have fallen. Then
the young man was again the pupil; he listened humbly and reverently to
the repetition of the great truths which the father strove to rivet on
his mind, and joined earnestly in the prayers for truth and constancy.
As daylight broke, and he at length laid himself down to rest, his
latest vision was that of the good man kneeling by him with that rapt
look of contemplation which seemed to foreshadow his immortality.

Jean slept profoundly for some hours. When night began to fall he
received Austin's blessing, no further reference being made to his
expedition, and when the moon was on the eve of disappearance he
launched his boat. As he rounded Lihou point another boat shot out, the
occupant of which hailed him. Recognizing the hermit, Jean paused. "You
steer wrong," said the giant, speaking with an accent which at once
reminded his hearer of that of the maiden; "your course is to the rising
sun." "I go where I will," replied Jean, nettled at this unlooked-for
interruption. "Youth," answered the other, "I have watched thee and wish
thee well! rush not heedlessly to certain death!" "Stay me not!"
resolutely answered Jean, wondering at the interest taken in him by this
strange being. "Thou knowest not!" said the hermit sternly; "it is not
only from death I wish to save thee, but from worse than death; I tell
thee I--" He checked himself, as if fearful of saying too much, and bent
his eyes searchingly into those of Jean, who murmured simply, "I am
resolved." "Then God help thee and speed thee!" said the giant. Glancing
into the boat he saw one of the curved and pierced shells then, as now,
used by Guernsey seamen as signal-horns: pointing to it he said, "If in
peril, where a blast may be heard on Lihou, sound the horn twice: it is
a poor hope but may serve thee!" He was gone.

Jean paddled into the dreaded bay; the moon had now sunk and he was
further favoured by a slight mist. Knowing the tides from infancy, he
worked his way noiselessly till he approached where the Voizin fleet
lay, then laid himself down and let the current take him. He passed
several boats in safety; as far as he could judge, from the observations
he had taken from Lihou, he was nearly past the anchorage when a crash,
succeeded by a grating sound, warned him of danger. A curse, followed by
an ejaculation of surprise and pleasure, enlightened him as to the
nature of the collision: he was in contact with one of the anchored
vessels. "Odin is good!" cried a voice; "ha! a skiff drifted from a
wrecked vessel! and all eyes but mine sleeping!" The speaker threw over
a small anchor and grappled the boat. Jean was prepared; without a
moment's hesitation he cut the anchor-rope: his craft drifted onwards,
leaving the fisherman grumbling at the rottenness of his tackle. He
offered a short prayer of gratitude, and in a few minutes ventured
cautiously to resume his oars. He heard the breaking of the waves, but
seamanship on the unknown and indistinct coast was useless. Two sharp
blows, striking the boat in rapid succession, told him that he had
touched a submerged rock; the strong tide carried him off it, but the
water poured in through a gaping rent. He was now, however, on a sandy
bottom: he sprang out, pulled the boat up as far as possible, and sat
down to wait for light.

The first break of dawn showed him his position: he was facing
northward; he was therefore on the Hanois arm of the bay. Fortune had
indeed been kind to him, for he had drifted into a small cleft sheltered
by precipitous rocks, a place where concealment was fairly possible, as
it was accessible only by land at the lowest tides. He examined his
store of provisions, which was uninjured; storing it among the rocks he
rested till the sun sank. He then cautiously climbed the cliff, and
looked on the scene revealed by the moonlight. Seawards stood a rough
round tower; no other building was visible on the point, which seemed
deserted. The loneliness gave him courage; when the moon set, the night
being clear, he explored further and satisfied himself that there were
no human beings, except the occupants of the tower, living on these
rocks. He retired to his hiding-place to rest; before dawn he again
ascended and concealed himself among the bracken and brambles which
formed the only available shelter. During the whole day he saw but one
person, an elderly woman, whose dark features and bright kerchief showed
her to be of southern or gipsy origin, and who passed backwards and
forwards carrying water to the tower. His examination increased his
confidence; he calculated, by measuring the time occupied by the old
woman in passing with an empty and returning with a full pitcher, that
the spring frequented by her could not be far distant; at night he
found it just beyond the junction of the rocks with the mainland. The
water was cool and fresh, and considerably revived him; he noticed too
that the luxuriant brushwood, nourished by the moisture, offered a good
place for concealment; he returned, removed thither what remained of his
provisions, and ensconced himself in his new retreat.

In the morning he saw two figures approaching from the tower; one was
the same servant he had seen before, but the other!--his heart throbbed
and leaped, his brain reeled, his eyes gazed hungrily; he could not be,
he was not, mistaken!--the second figure was the heroine of his dreams!
She walked silently. Jean saw that memory had not played him false: her
beauty, her grace, were no freak of his imagination; would the holy
father now say that she was a devil, while thus she moved in her
loveliness, a woman to be loved and worshipped!--a very woman, too! not
above the cares of life! Seating herself by the spring she despatched
her companion on an errand to supply domestic wants, promising to await
her return.

Jean's principal characteristic was rapid resolution: he reasoned that a
small alarm might make the girl fly; that his chance of retaining her
was an overpowering shock. He stepped boldly out and stood before her.
The maiden sprang quickly to her feet; there was no terror in her face;
she was of true blood; if she was afraid she did not show it; it was
clear she recognized the apparition, but intense surprise, overpowering
other emotions, kept her dumb. Jean had thus the chance of speaking
first, and deftly he used his opportunity. In a few rapid sentences he
told the tale of his search, of his adventures, of his selection of his
hiding-place; then he paused. The maiden was not long in finding words.
There was a flush on her cheek and a tear hanging on her eyelash which
made Jean very happy. "You must go," she said, "but where? Your life is
forfeit! forfeit to the Gods!" She shuddered as she said this. "In
yonder tower lives my mother, on the shore are my people; there is no
escape on either hand! A chance has saved you hitherto; none dare
approach our home without my mother's permission, which is rarely given;
but on this spot they may find you, may seize you, may--!" She stopped,
with an expression of horror, and covered her face with her hands.

But Jean was not anxious; he was radiant with happiness. He seated
himself and spoke of love, deep passionate love; so gentle was he, so
soft, so courteous, and yet so ardent, that the maiden trembled; when he
dared to take her hand she did not withdraw it. The moment of bliss was
brief; a step was heard. "Hide yourself quickly," she whispered, "Tita
is returning." Jean promptly obeyed the injunction. The old woman
arrived with a well-filled wallet, and looked fondly at her young
mistress. The signs of recent agitation struck her. "What has befallen
thee, Hilda?" she cried anxiously. The girl took her arm and led her
seawards. Jean, watching, could see the start and angry expression of
the older, the coaxing, pleading attitude of the younger woman; he could
satisfy himself that the resistance of the former was gradually being
overcome, and as they returned he saw that the maiden's victory was
indisputable. She summoned Jean, who was inspected by Tita at first with
distrust, then with modified approval. "You must stay here," said the
maiden earnestly, "closely hidden till nightfall; my absence has been
already sufficiently long, and nothing can be done while daylight
lasts." Bidding him farewell she sped with her guardian towards the
tower, while Jean retired to his bushes a prey to fond thoughts and
feverish hopes.

Before sundown he saw the tall figure of the sorceress wending
landwards. She did not approach the spring. Hilda quickly followed with
her former companion. "We have a long journey," she said, "and short
time: we must start at once." Removing all traces of his lair he obeyed
without hesitation. They ascended the steep cliff. The night was clear,
the moon at this hour was bright and lustrous. "We have three hours,"
said the maiden, "ere we leave our guest!"--she looked archly at Jean as
she thus described him--"it should suffice!" They were now on the
heights of Pleinmont; no one was moving, though voices of men and beasts
could be plainly heard in the distance. "They feast to-night to the
Gods," said Hilda; "we need fear only some belated laggard!" The heather
was not yet springing, but Jean could see that gorse was on the bloom,
which he considered a favourable omen: they stepped out bravely on the
short springy turf. Tita's steps were slower than those of the young
pair, who were deaf to her calls for delay. Never to his dying day did
Jean forget that happy night-walk. His soul was poured out in love, and
he knew that his love was returned. He was steeped to the full in joy;
no thought of future cares or perils crossed his mind. They had passed
three or four headlands before the girl halted and waited for her
attendant, who came up muttering to herself and grumbling; compliments
from Jean and caresses from Hilda restored her good humour, and the work
of the evening commenced. "Follow me closely," said the girl; "let your
eye be keen and your step firm: the descent is no child's sport." Jean
looked at the cliff, fitted for the flight of gull or cormorant rather
than the foot of man, still less of gentle maiden: Hilda was already
over the brink: Jean, following, saw that she was on a path no broader
than a goat's track; the difficulties of the descent need not be
described; it was possible for a clear head and practised foot, to the
nervous or the unsteady the attempt must have been fatal. Arrived at
the bottom the climbers found themselves in a small cleft strewn with
huge boulders; the rocks towered high above them. Hilda glanced at the
moon. "We must be quick," said she, showing him some deep caverns in the
rock; "there," she said, "is your home. Here you are safe; my mother
alone knows the secret of these caves. I must mount again; you must
climb with me to mark the path more closely." She sprang to the rock and
commenced to ascend as nimbly as she had come down. Jean saw the
necessity of taking every precaution; he noted carefully each feature of
the track. Arrived at the summit she bade him farewell. She pointed out
a place where Tita would from time to time leave him provisions, and
said that he would find water in the caves; she then tripped quickly
off. Jean did not linger, seeing that if he did so light would fail him
for his return. He crossed the track for the third time, reached the
caves, and slept soundly till dawn.

When he awoke he inspected his strange retreat. He was in a large hall,
two hundred feet long, and some fifty feet high and broad; this chamber
was entered by a small orifice of no great length, through which he had
passed on the preceding night; it was warm, and dry except where the
stream of which Hilda had spoken trickled through to the sea. It was the
fissure now known as the Creux Mahie, and to which an easy access has
been arranged for the benefit of the curious. Here Jean passed three
months. Hilda frequently visited him, and always kept him supplied with
food; she warned him also when he might safely roam on the cliffs above.
There was no obstacle to her visits, even when they extended to a
considerable length, as the mother seemed always to be satisfied as to
her absences when Tita accompanied her; and the latter, whose
infirmities prevented her from descending, had no means of shortening
the interviews.

Thus the lovers had opportunity to study each other's characters. The
maiden's pure heart knew no distrust, and Jean was faithful and
chivalrous as Sir Galahad. They spoke not always of love: words were
unnecessary to explain what every look betokened. Jean found her skilled
in strange, mystical, lore, but ignorant of all that sways and rules
mankind. The history of the selfish struggles of human interests and
passions was to her a sealed book. She had been carefully shrouded from
the knowledge of evil; but, in order to protect her in the rough
turbulent little world in which she lived, it had been necessary to keep
her from association with her countrymen, and so she had never mingled
with them except under the charge of her mother, in whose presence the
fiercest were submissive. Jean, therefore, in speaking to her of family
intercourse, of the intermingling of members of the household, of
bright chat with friends, opened up to her views of life of which she
had formed no conception. Then he told her of his own people; described
the three generations living under one roof; depicted the daily round,
the care of the old and the young, the work, the return of the workers
to their wives, sisters, and children, the love of the mothers for their
infants, the reverence for age, the strong mutual affection of husband
and wife, brother and sister. To these descriptions she listened with a
happy smile, the mission of woman dawning on her; and many were the
questions she asked, till she seemed to have mastered the pictures
painted for her. Above all, Jean strained to bring her to the knowledge
of the God of the Christian, for he himself was an earnest, intelligent
disciple. He found her mind clearer than he had expected. Judith (this
he now knew was the mother's name) was a remarkable woman; her mind was
lofty, if darkened. While others were satisfied with the grossness of a
material creed her spirit soared aloft. Her Gods commanded her implicit
faith, her unswerving allegiance. Seated on the storm-clouds, sweeping
through space, they represented to her infinite force. She attributed to
them no love for mankind, which was in her creed rather their plaything,
but she credited them with the will and the power to scatter good and
ill before they claimed the soul of the hero to their fellowship, or
cast into a lower abyss that of the coward or the traitor. She believed
that she saw their giant forms half bending from their vapoury thrones,
and she thought that she read their decrees. Sorceress she may have
been; in those days sorcery was attributed to many who had obtained a
knowledge of laws of nature, then considered occult, now recognized
among the guiding principles from which scientific deductions are drawn.
She believed in the power of magic, which she was universally understood
to possess; but she was no vulgar witch: rather was she a worthy
priestess of her not ignoble deities. The effect upon Hilda's mind of
the teachings of such a woman is easy to conceive. She had been allowed
to know little of the wild orgies of the barbaric feasts offered to the
Gods by her countrymen, of their brutal excesses, of their human
sacrifices: from this knowledge she had been as far as possible
shielded: she knew only of the dim mystic beings, half men, half Gods,
from whose wrath she shrank with terror. To a mind so constituted and
trained the revelation of the story of the infant Christ was a
passionate pleasure. She never tired of listening to the tale of the
birth in the stable of Bethlehem; but she loved not to dwell on the
history of the passion and death, which was at that time beyond her
understanding. She drank in with parted lips all that concerned the Holy
Mother, of whom she was never weary of hearing. Jean had a rude drawing
of the Madonna and Child, given him by Father Austin: the figures had
the angularity and rigidity of Byzantine art, but the artist had
represented his subject with reverence, and no lack of skill, and she
loved to dwell on the pure mother's face, and on the longing look in the
eyes of the Child. She accepted wholly the idea of a God who loved
mankind, of infinite goodness and mercy: if she could not as yet enter
into the subtlety of doctrine she could give that childlike faith which
is the envy of doctrinarians.



CHAPTER IV.

REVELATION.

    "I curse the hand that did the deid,
      The heart that thocht the ill,
    The feet that bore him wi' sik speid,
      The comely youth to kill."

    _Gil Morrice_.--OLD BALLAD.


Jean had often expressed his curiosity to see the interior of the tower,
and Hilda had promised to gratify it. On the 25th of October an
opportunity occurred. She informed her lover that on that day a feast of
unusual importance would be held from which none would be absent, and
that her mother would be engaged at it from noon to midnight. On that
day, therefore, he walked freely along the cliffs, and was admitted to
the dwelling. He had unconsciously based his idea of its contents upon
his recollections of the squalid abode of Marie Torode, where human
skulls, skeletons, bones of birds and beasts, dried skins, and other
ghastly objects had been so grouped as to add to the superstitious
feeling inspired by the repulsive appearance of the crone herself. His
astonishment was therefore proportionate when he saw what to his eyes
appeared exceptional luxury. A wooden partition divided the room on the
lower story into two chambers of unequal size: the larger, in which he
stood, was the common dwelling apartment, the other was given over to
Hilda. The upper story, approached by a ladder and also by an external
staircase, was sacred to Judith; Tita occupied some outbuildings. The
sitting-room was hung with rich stuffs of warm and glowing colours; here
and there fitful rays of the sun flickered upon gold brocade and
Oriental embroidery; rugs and mats, which must have been offered for
sale in the bazaars of Egypt and Morocco, were littered about in strange
contrast with the bracken-strewed floor. On the walls were inlaid
breastplates and helmets, pieces of chain armour, swords and daggers of
exquisite workmanship. On shelves stood drinking vessels of rougher
make, but the best that northern craftsmen could produce. The seats were
rude and massive: one of them, placed by a window fronting the setting
sun, was evidently the favourite resting-place of Judith. Above this
seat was a shelf on which lay some of the mysterious scrolls of which
Jean had seen specimens in the possession of the fathers. Instruments of
witchcraft, if such existed, must have been in the upper story: none
were visible. All this splendour was manifestly inconsistent with the
homely taste and abstracted mode of thought of the sorceress. In point
of fact she was hardly aware of its existence. The decorator was Tita,
in whom was the instinct of the connoisseur, supported by no
inconsiderable knowledge to which she had attained in those early years
of which she never could be induced to speak. When a rich prize was
brought into the bay, freighted with a cargo from Asia, Africa, or the
European shores of the Mediterranean, she never failed to attend the
unloading, during which, by the help of cajolery, judicious
depreciation, and other ingenious devices still dear to the virtuoso,
she succeeded in obtaining possession of articles which would have
enraptured a modern collector. Judith was apparently indifferent to a
habit which she looked upon as a caprice of her faithful servant, and
the only evidence of her noticing it was her concentration in her own
apartments of all that related to her personal studies and pursuits.

It was now Jean's turn to listen and learn, and Hilda's to explain and
instruct. Towards nine o'clock he was preparing to return. He was
indifferent to the darkness, as by this time he knew the track so well
that he crossed it fearlessly at all hours. His hand was on the bolt
when Tita announced in alarm that Judith was returning and was on the
point of entering. Hardly was there time to conceal him behind the
hangings before she appeared. Her countenance was pale and worn, her
tone, as Hilda took off her outer garments was weary and sad. "The
portents were hostile and dangerous," she said; "they foretold woe,
disaster, ruin. Will the mighty ones reveal to me the future? I cannot
tell! But my spirit must commune with them till dawn breaks. Dost hear
them? They call me now!" She held up her finger as a sudden blast rocked
the tower to its foundations. "Aye," she continued more firmly after a
pause, "they will not forget those who are true to them. But this
people! this people!" She hid her face with her hands as if to cover a
painful vision. After a time she rose to her feet and took the girl by
the hand. Leading her to the seat by the window on which she placed
herself, and making her kneel by her side, she said--

"Hilda! the chill mist closes round! my life draws to its end! Nay, weep
not, child! were it not for thee I would long ere this have prayed the
gods my masters to remove me from my sojourn among the degenerate sons
of our noble fathers; but I trembled for thy fate, sweet one!" These
last words were almost inexpressibly tender. "I dared not trust thy
slight frame to battle unsheltered with the storm. Now the blast
summoning me is sounded. I cannot much longer disobey, though I may
crave for brief respite. But I have found thee refuge! thou wilt be in
a safe haven. Stay! I must speak while the spirit is on me!"

"Mother!" sobbed the girl, clasping the old woman's knees.

"Hilda!" said Judith slowly, "call me no longer by that name! I am not
thy mother; before men only do I call thee daughter. Silence!" she
exclaimed imperatively, as Hilda looked quickly up, doubting whether she
heard aright. "Silence! and listen!"

"I have loved thee truly, child, and have nurtured thee as a mother
would! and thou art no stranger! the same blood runs in our veins! Yes!
thou art mine! for thy father was my brother. Does not that give thee to
me? Hush! thou shalt hear the tale."

Hilda's were not the only ears that drank in every word of the following
story.

"Twenty years ago what a demi-god was Haco! He was a giant, but even men
who feared him loved him. Though brave and strong as Odin himself, his
mind was gentle and kind as a maiden's; first in council, in war, in
manly sports, he ever had an open ear and a helping hand for the
troubled and distressed. He was adored, nay, worshipped, by all. What
wonder then that when he and the proud chief Algar courted the same
maiden, he was preferred! Thou knowest not, Hilda, the mysteries of a
tender heart; may it be long indeed before thy heart is seared by human
passion!" It was fortunate that darkness hid the burning blush which
suffused Hilda's face and neck at this pious wish. Judith
proceeded:--"Thy father wedded and thou wast born. He poured on thy
infant form all the wealth of his great generous heart. Algar nursed his
revenge: he dared not act openly, for our house was as noble as his
own--nay, nobler!" she added haughtily, "but he bided his time. Haco's
tower was near the shore, a pleasant, lovely, spot. One night the news
was borne to me that enemies had landed, and that his dwelling was in
flames; I hurried towards it; I was stopped by armed warriors; Algar's
men, they said, had hastened to the rescue; the chief had ordered that
no women should leave their homes. It was in vain that I urged and
protested. When at last I reached the spot the struggle was said to be
over, and the assailants, beaten off, were declared to have sailed away.
Algar himself came to me with well-assumed grief. He had arrived, he
swore, too late to save. The tower had been fired whilst the inmates
slept, the wife and child had perished; Haco, after performing
incredible feats of valour, had fallen before the strokes of numerous
foes; when he himself had come with a chosen band, while sending the
rest of his forces to other posts which the unforeseen danger might
threaten, nothing remained but to avenge the murder. Why recount the
caitiffs lies? Where were the signs of landing, of hasty re-embarkation?
Where were the dead of the strangers? Thrown into the sea! he said; it
was foul falsehood, and fouler treachery. I found your father's body; he
was smitten and gashed, but nobler than the living. I touched him and
was silent. I knew what none others guessed. I arose. The spirits of the
Gods came over me, and I cursed his slayer. Never had I spoken so
fiercely; men stood and wondered. I prayed the Gods to make the wretch
who had caused my darling's death miserable by land and by sea, by day
and by night, in the field and at the board, loathed by his friends, and
scorned by his foes. The Gods heard my imprecations; as I turned my eyes
skywards they looked from their clouds, wrath kindling on their brows,
and Algar's face was white with fear, his hand trembled and his knee
shook.

"'We must bury him,' he faltered.

"'Yea,' said I, 'but in a hero's grave, and after the custom of our
fathers.'

"There was a murmur of applause. Algar could not refuse.

"They brought the choicest of the boats, they made the sails bright and
gay, they put in it the dead man's arms, and food to accompany him to
the land of spirits. Then they bound him before the mast, his face
turned seaward. At sundown they towed the boat to deep water, so pierced
her that she might sink slowly under the waves, and then they left the
hero to his rest. I had gone out with them: alone I said to him my last
farewell. But they did not know my secret. They did not guess that I had
ascertained by my art that life was yet in him, that I had poured
between his lips subtle drops which would maintain animation for many
days and nights, during which consciousness might be restored; nor did
they imagine that when I kneeled before him I had stopped the leak by
which the water was to flow into the doomed boat. Algar was now the
deceived; it was a living man, not a corpse, who started on that voyage.
Haco lives still, though where my art cannot tell. I thought that Marie
Torode knew, and sought her on her death-bed to question her, but either
she could not or she would not tell." Hilda's mind was in such confusion
that she could not speak. The old woman continued. "Algar lived on--yes,
lived that he might suffer all the evils with which my curse loaded him,
and died that he might be hurled into the abyss where traitors and
cravens writhe and groan. Enough of him!

"When I returned to my tower, a figure was crouching before the hearth:
it was Tita, and you were in her arms. The faithful creature, whom your
father had chosen from a band of captives to be your nurse, had,
unperceived, saved your life from the flames. Thenceforward you were my
care. I took your mother's place as best I could. Others knew not your
parentage, nor did they dare to question me. None suspected the truth."

When she reached this point she bent over the kneeling girl and gave her
a kiss, tender as a mother's if not a mother's kiss; her fingers
caressed the head bowed upon her knees; for a time the silence was only
broken by Hilda's sobs. She then spoke again, this time quickly,
sternly, as if to prevent interruption.

"I cannot leave thee alone, and I will not! Listen, child, and be
silent! What I now tell thee is beyond thy young understanding: thou
hast but to shape thy will to my bidding: it is for me to launch thy
vessel on its voyage, the Gods will help thy riper judgment to steer its
course! The time has come when thou must wed! I have chosen for thee a
suitor, the chief to whom all thy countrymen bend the knee. Garthmund
claims thee as his bride; ere eight days expire the marriage feast will
be held. He is of noble birth, there is none nobler; he is young and
strong, and should be favoured by the Gods if he prove worthy of them.
He is a fitting bridegroom for Haco's daughter."

The girl was dazed and trembling. She knew this chief: he answered
Judith's description, but was rough and coarse. Had she not met Jean
she might not have dared to refuse, but now she felt that death would be
more welcome than this marriage. "Spare me, mother!" she said, as if she
had not heard the disclaimer of maternity. "I am too young, too weak."
The old woman pressed her hand on the girl's lips. "We will not speak
further to-night," she said; "thou canst not see Garthmund for three
days, for so long the feast will last. May the Gods protect thee!" She
rose: the fitful moonlight streamed on her gaunt form; she turned and
slowly ascended to her chamber.

The terrified girl quickly released Jean, who led her from the tower. If
she was broken and trembling he was erect and resolute; no longer the
soft lover, but the prompt man of action. She felt the bracing
influence. "We have three days," he said. "Within that time we must
flee. I will not return to the cave; my task must be to repair the
boat." He mentioned certain articles which he begged her to provide,
pressed her to his breast, and disappeared in the darkness.

At daylight he examined the little vessel. She was no worse than she had
been, as each incoming tide, reaching the place where she was secured,
had floated her, but the rock had opened a large jagged fissure. Hilda
brought him such materials as she could procure, a log of wood, bark
which she stitched with her own hands, a hatchet and nails. Jean
utilized also the vraick with which the sand was strewn. He worked
without fear of detection, knowing that the whole population was inland;
but the lovers had to rely on themselves alone, for, when there was a
question of flight, Tita was no longer to be trusted.

On the third day Jean found the boat fairly seaworthy. Hilda felt a
severe pang at leaving Judith, who had not reverted to the subject of
her marriage. Whether her parent or not, she loved her dearly; she felt
also the pain of parting with Tita, but her resolution never swerved.
She had given her heart to Jean; she felt also a presentiment that she
would discover her father; while it was her belief that the parting from
her old associates was but temporary.

When the sun went down Jean set his sail, meaning to make a rapid dash
across the bay, and seeing no cause for concealing his movements. There
was more swell than he liked for so frail a craft, but wind and tide
were favourable to the enterprise, and the night was exceptionally
bright, the moon being full; this brightness would have been fatal had
the inhabitants been on the alert, but under present circumstances the
pale beams were welcome. Hilda took the helm; she knew every passage in
the labyrinth of submerged rocks, and they were soon in comparatively
open water. Jean then assumed control, wrapping the maiden in his
cloak, for the waves were tossing their spray over the boat as she
heeled over to the breeze.

They had traversed in safety three-fourths of their course when Jean,
looking seaward, saw a dark sail bearing down on them. One of the pirate
ships, delayed by contrary winds, was hurrying homeward, the crew of
five men hoping to arrive ere the feast was over. Jean's hope that the
boat might not be discovered was soon dispelled: the vessel altered her
course slightly and hailed. Jean made no answer. The pirate was
evidently in no mood to parley; the crew were in a fierce temper, angry
and discontented at the postponement of their arrival. She made a
deliberate attempt to run the boat down. Jean divined her object and,
putting up his helm sharply at the right moment, let her shoot by him
astern; he then resumed his course. A second attempt was clumsier, and
was easily evaded; the assailants were hurried and impatient; nor did
they know the seamanlike qualities of the man with whom they were
dealing. But Jean saw that ultimate escape was hopeless, and this was
equally apparent to Hilda who, however, though pale as death, gave a
firm pressure of the hand in response to his grasp. At this moment an
object glimmered under the youth's feet: stooping down he touched the
shell. The hermit's parting words flashed on his mind: he seized on the
hope of rescue, and sounded two loud and clear blasts.

The pirates now altered their tactics. Handling their vessel with more
care they succeeded, after two or three unsuccessful attempts, in
ranging alongside and grappling the boat. A man sprung on board and
seized Hilda. "A rare booty!" he cried,--"the Gods repent of their
waywardness." Jean was engaged with those of the crew who had seized the
boat; the man laughingly gave the girl a rough embrace: it was the last
act he had to record before entering the spirit world. Hilda drew from
her bosom one of the daggers which Jean had noticed on the tower walls,
whose blade, still sharp and keen, might have been forged by a Damascus
smith; it struck deep to the heart of the ruffian, who fell lifeless
into the waves. Jean had now freed the craft, but the respite was short:
before she had made much progress she was again captured. The pirates,
furious at the death of their comrade, made a determined onslaught.
Jean, fighting desperately, received from behind a terrific blow which
laid him senseless. But a superstitious feeling made them hesitate
before committing further outrage; they had recognized Hilda, and feared
the consequence of Judith's vengeance if she were injured. There was no
time, however, for delay; the, rude repairs, torn by the trampling feet,
had given way, and the leak had re-opened: the boat was fast sinking.
The pirates cared not for Jean's lifeless body; that might sink or swim;
but they felt they must save the girl whatever might be her future
doom. Even their hearts softened somewhat as they watched her erect in
the sinking boat, her face pallid, her fair hair shining in the
moonlight, but her lips set, her lovely eyes bent tearless on her
prostrate lover, her right hand, holding the blood-stained dagger,
hanging listlessly by her side.

Watching an opportunity, a stalwart youth seized her from behind and
pinned her arms. The next moment he himself was seized as if he were a
dog, and hurled into the water. The new combatant, whose arrival had so
effectually changed the aspect of affairs, was the hermit, who followed
up his first stroke by another still more decisive. Springing into the
pirate craft, wrenching a weapon from the grasp of the chief of the
assailants, he drove before him the three remaining men, terror-struck
at his sudden and inexplicable appearance, his superhuman size and
strength. One by one he swept them overboard; then grasping a huge
stone, which formed part of the ballast, he dashed it with the full
force of his gigantic strength through the planks of the boat, which at
once began to fill. All this was the work of a few moments. He then
leaped into the skiff, which sank as he swiftly transferred to his own
vessel its two occupants.

Before another hour was over, Jean, stretched on a pallet, was receiving
the attention of loving hands in a cell of the Lihou monastery.



CHAPTER V.

AFFLICTION.

    "The race of Thor and Odin
    Held their battles by my side,
    And the blood of man was mingling
    Warmly with my chilly tide."

    _Danube and the Euxine_.--AYTOUN.


Father Austin received his pupil's companion with the courtesy due to
her distress, but with much misgiving. After tending his patient, whose
situation was critical, he paced thoughtfully towards the cell in which
he had placed her, revolving in his mind the difficulties of the case.
His amazement was intense when he slowly opened the door. The maiden was
kneeling, her back towards him; before her was the little picture of the
Madonna; she was praying aloud; her words were simple but passionately
pathetic; she threw herself and her lover upon the mercy of the Holy
Mother with a trust so absolute, a confidence so infinite, that the monk
could hardly refrain from tears. How had he been blinded! as he looked
and listened the scales fell from his eyes: he humbly owned his error.

The noise of his step startled her; she rose and looked at him
inquiringly. "Maiden," he said, answering her appealing look, "his fate
is in the hands of God, whose ears are ever open to the prayers of those
that fear Him."

Often and often had Jean spoken to her of Father Austin; she loved him
already, but she had yet to fathom the nobleness of his soul. His
single-heartedness and abnegation of self, his tenderness and quick
sympathy (virtues tempering his fierce abhorrence of Paganism), his
stern reprobation of the evil, and his yearning for the good, in the
untutored barbarians among whom he laboured, were gradually revealed in
the discourses which they held daily while Jean lay between life and
death. Reaping and garnering what Jean had sown, he scattered fresh
seed, opening out to her the great history of God in man. Qualities
hitherto unsuspected in her developed; if an apt pupil, she was an
instructive teacher of the wealth of charity and purity that dwells in
an untainted woman's heart. And she had another friend: the hermit
watched over her with touching care and assiduity. He appeared strangely
attracted to her; the holy fathers marvelled to see this rough being,
who had seemed to them an animal to be feared while pitied, caring for
the maiden's comfort with a woman's gentleness: he seemed never weary of
contemplating her, sometimes murmuring to himself as he did so. Any
little delicacy that the island could afford, game, fish, shellfish, was
provided for her by him. Once, thinking her couch hard, he disappeared
and returned bearing, whence none knew, soft stuffs better fitted for
her tender form; on this occasion the whole man seemed transformed, when
he stepped in with a smile in his big frank eyes, and a ruddy glow on
his bronzed scarred cheeks, placed his offering at her feet, and strode
away. Strange, too, to say, Hilda seemed to return the feeling: happy in
the presence of Austin, she was yet with him as the pupil with the
master; but with the recluse she was gentle, affectionate, and even
playful. The monks attempted not to solve the puzzle of the bond that
knitted together the two strange beings; analysis of character troubled
little their saintly minds.

At length consciousness returned; Jean opened his eyes and recognised
Austin. This was a joyful moment. Quiet was all that was now necessary
to complete the restoration of his health, which could not, however, be
anticipated for a considerable time. The first inquiry of the patient
was for Hilda, and he was allowed to see her; on the next day they were
permitted to interchange a few words, after which Austin explained what
he had already decided. Hilda, he pointed out, could not fitly remain
in Lihou, where she had been allowed to reside only until her lover was
out of danger; the laws of the establishment, which forbade the presence
of women, must now be put in force, but a fitting home had been provided
for her; she would be placed with the Sisters at the Vale; the hermit
would conduct her thither on the following day. The girl bowed to this
decision, sorely as she grieved to leave him she loved; the next morning
they parted, and she embarked with her guardian who, shielding her
lovingly from all harm, placed her, ere nightfall, in her new abode.

Judith had not discovered the girl's departure till the sun was well up,
when she heard of her absence from the frantic Tita. The old woman's
force of character was colossal; pettinesses, small passions, were
unknown to her. Had her sphere been larger her promptitude of resource,
keenness of perception, resolute look onwards and upwards, solidity of
purpose, and incisive action might have graven her name on the tables of
history. Stagnating in the shallow pools of the unstoried rocks in which
she passed her life, these grand qualities were wasted and perverted.
She lost no time now in recrimination; a few sharp questions enabled her
to judge how far the weakness of affection had played the traitor with
the old woman, whom she left to settle matters with her own conscience.
She saw Garthmund, and told him that, in consequence of the
unsatisfactory augury of the last sacrifice, she had decided to postpone
the marriage. Nor did she appear to notice the indifference with which
the chief, who could not pretend that he ardently loved a bride who was
practically a stranger to him, received the decision. It took her some
time to discover where Hilda had taken refuge; it speaks ill for female
reticence that she discovered it shortly after the girl's removal to the
sisterhood. She satisfied herself that her own people had no suspicion
of the flight, as none of the crew of the belated boat had reached the
shore; and she gathered, from the transfer of the maiden to the convent,
that Father Austin was, on his side, resolved not to make known the
elopement of Garthmund's intended wife. Her paramount wish was to
recover her niece, but she perceived that she must act warily, and must
be ready to deal with the many contingencies which would inevitably
arise during the development of her schemes. Hilda's position under the
immediate protection of the religious communities was a serious
obstacle. Judith believed that against them her magic arts would be of
no avail; she was therefore driven to confine herself to earthly
combinations; but she was in no wise daunted by this difficulty, which
in point of fact cleared her judgment, and assisted her by inducing her
to make the best of the materials at her disposal. The obvious plan for
the recovery of the girl was to induce Garthmund to attack the nunnery,
and drag his bride from it; but to this there were many objections.
Acknowledgment of Hilda's flight would be in itself a confession of
failure. She had promised to produce the girl when she was required; to
seek the chief's assistance to enable her to fulfil the promise would be
a diminution of her prestige, and consequently of her power. Again, it
was by no means certain that the chief who, it has been said, was no
love-sick bridegroom, would consent to undertake the enterprise; nor, if
he did undertake it, was his prospect of success unquestionable, for the
islanders, though not ready listeners to the Christian teaching, would
have united to repel a heathen attack on their teachers whom they
honoured and respected. Judith therefore rejected this expedient,
arranging her plan of operations with remarkable ingenuity.

Her first aim was to promote ill-feeling between the Voizins and their
neighbours; this part of the campaign was prosecuted with vigour. Cattle
were lost on either side of the boundary; houses were burnt; old wells
ran dry; rumours, mysteriously circulated, spoke of these as no
accidental mishaps; suspicions were whispered; instances of retaliation
followed. At the time when a dangerous feeling was thus growing up a
famine broke out in the Voizin country while the islanders were well
supplied. The hungry Voizin men heard voices in the darkness scoffing
at them, laughter and sneers. When their carts were sent to fetch the
necessaries of life, lynch-pins were loosened; in more than one case the
draught oxen were houghed; the provisions, when received, were mouldy
and unwholesome. At last sickness broke out, with stories of poison;
then the tension became insupportable. The Voizin chief, too proud to go
to his neighbours, summoned them to him; the messenger was murdered.
This assassination, of which the natives denied all knowledge, was met
by prompt reprisals; three Perelle fishermen were hung on the spot where
the body was found. From this date the outbreak of hostilities was but a
question of time. A sternness of purpose ruled in the councils of the
Voizins which frustrated all attempts at conciliation. A little before
Christmas a trivial incident kindled the smouldering flames, and the
hordes, pouring from the Torteval valleys, swept over the districts now
known as the parishes of St. Saviour's and the Câtel; the resistance was
tame and ineffectual, sufficient only to give occasion for considerable
slaughter and plunder. The invaders, seeing no reason for returning to
their famine-stricken fastnesses, settled themselves in the enjoyment of
the abundance of the vanquished, who, in their turn, with their
accustomed versatility, submitted patiently, and even cheerfully, to a
yoke which, after the first onslaught was over, pressed lightly; the
Voizins, to whom fighting was a pastime, bearing no malice, and passing
imperceptibly into a genial mood.

Judith now prepared to develop the next move, the object of which was to
undermine the authority of the monks, and make them vulnerable by
isolation. Derisive hints were dropped respecting the failure of the new
religion to help its votaries in the hour of peril; the victory of the
Voizins was attributed to the superiority of their Gods rather than to
deficiency in courage on the part of their foes: this theory, which was
not unpalatable to those who had been half-hearted in defence of their
homes, was also utilized by the more sober spirits as an argument
wherewith to restrain the more ardent from attempting to renew the
struggle under similar conditions. The observances of the religion of
Thor and Odin, or rather of that debased form of it which prevailed
among this singular people, were celebrated under their more alluring
aspects: frequent feasts and dances captivated the laughter-loving
islanders, who had been tried somewhat severely by the severity of the
_régime_ which Austin had endeavoured to impose since he had seen danger
in his damaging encounter with Judith. After a time it was proclaimed
that none would be permitted to join in the revelries who were enemies
to the Gods who presided at them. This stroke was successful: the
majority openly embraced the creed of their conquerors, and showed the
usual spirit of perverts in exceeding the latter in their zeal to sweep
away all traces of the religion which they had abandoned. The minority
who held true to their faith drew together, a grim and resolute band,
prepared for a bold defence and, if Christ so willed it, for martyrdom.

It was not Judith's purpose, now that the disruption of the islanders
was effected, to leave time for the Christians to mature plans for
resistance. Garthmund, at her instigation, delivered simultaneous
attacks on Lihou and the Vale; he himself superintending the latter
operation in order that he might see that the sorceress's instructions,
that all in the nunnery were to be made prisoners uninjured, and brought
to her closely veiled, were implicitly obeyed. To the surprise of the
islanders, however, both assaults, though made with spirit and absolute
confidence of success, were completely repulsed; the same result
attended a renewed attack, made two days subsequently with fresh and
increased forces supported by native levies. Garthmund found that in
both places he had before him not only resolute troops, but skilled and
enterprising commanders.



CHAPTER VI.

CONSOLATION.

    "Mother! list a suppliant child!
                            Ave Maria!
    Ave Maria! Stainless styled.
    Foul demons of the earth and air,
    From this their wonted haunt exiled,
    Shall flee before thy presence fair."

    _Lady of the Lake_.--WALTER SCOTT.


Jean's recovery after Hilda's departure had been slow and lingering; but
for the unwearied care of the good fathers and of the recluse, aided by
a constitution of no ordinary strength, he must have succumbed to the
terrible injuries which he had received. As, however, the days began to
lengthen, and signs of spring to appear even on the wild rock where he
had taken refuge, his vigour gradually returned. It had been necessary
that he should be protected from excitement; consequently, while
receiving from the hermit regular reports from the Vale, and many a
sweet message from his love which made his heart leap with happiness,
he knew nothing till the beginning of February of the incursion of the
Voizins, and the accompanying events. Since he had been alone, however,
he had dwelt for hours together on the strange story which he had
overheard in the tower, the principal figure of which, while his brain
had been still confused, had been always mingled in his delirium with
the massive form of the hermit. Father Austin, watching him with
anxiety, at length suggested that he should relieve his mind by
repeating the tale to the recluse himself. He readily adopted the
suggestion. His listener, who had been too delicate to question Hilda as
to her antecedents, but who had been burning to learn the explanation of
the striking resemblance of her features to a face which, whether he
waked or slept, ever haunted him, though more often contorted in agony
than wreathed in smiles, heard with impatience the history of Algar's
treachery; but when Jean detailed the escape of Tita and her charge, and
identified the latter with the maiden whom he had rescued, he sprang to
his feet at the risk of plunging his patient into a fresh crisis of
fever, and exclaimed, "May the choicest gifts of heaven be showered on
thee, brave youth! the blessed angels and saints will love thee for this
deed!" He reflected a moment, then turned his eyes full on Jean's face,
"Why should I leave it to Austin to tell thee what he has long known
under the solemn secrecy which binds priest and sinner? Thou shalt know
it from my own lips: I am Haco! Drifted hitherward on that lonely
voyage, I was released by holy men, now saints above, who healed my
wounds and taught me to bury my pride, and to kneel humbly before the
Cross. I never doubted that I was childless as well as wifeless; had I
done so, I should have returned at all risks to claim my own. But she!
Hilda! 'twas her mother's name! this maiden, towards whom my soul went
out in yearning, is my own! yes! my child! If a wild feeling rose when I
watched her I crushed it out, for I thought that I had stifled all human
passions; but now--" He fell on his knees, and hid his face in his
hands, his giant frame convulsed with sobs; but it was evident that he
was controlling himself, and when he rose his rugged face was full of
humanity: youth seemed to have returned to it; under the disfiguring
scars Jean could trace without difficulty the fearless, generous
features of which Judith had spoken with such enthusiasm. Haco warmly
grasped the sick man's hand, and left the cell.

Father Austin had, it appeared, learnt Judith's story from Hilda, but
this confidence also had been made under the seal of confession. He had
been confirmed in his impression of its accuracy by the tale he had
already heard from Haco, whose strange arrival was still a favourite
topic among the monks, though none of those now in the monastery had
witnessed it. The three men were now able openly to discuss the subject
in its various bearings, but they agreed that the mystery should not be
revealed till peace was restored.

Haco had from the first foreseen the danger to be apprehended from the
Voizin incursion. The monks were still further surprised to see the
being, whose gentleness had amazed them on Hilda's arrival, now a leader
of men, active, vigorous, inspiring others with the love of life with
which he himself seemed to be animated. Before the attack came Jean was
sufficiently recovered to be able to render efficient assistance; he had
ably seconded Haco in the two encounters, after which he was specially
entrusted with the defence of the Vale.

Judith was in no degree daunted by temporary failure: her nature
revelled in overcoming opposition; her spirit rose to the occasion.
Garthmund was inclined to be sulky after his second defeat, and might
have abandoned the enterprise had he dared to do so; but fear of the
sorceress kept him firm. For a month the system of blockade was tried,
varied by occasional assaults which, being made with less spirit than
the earlier ones, were easily repulsed. The blockade was not more
successful. Haco had provided ample stores for the small garrison which
he had considered sufficient to protect the promontory of Lihou,
naturally almost impregnable; and the force defending the Vale, camped
chiefly on Lancresse Common, was only nominally blockaded. The sallies,
made from time to time, were ordered more with a view of keeping up the
martial spirit of the men than with that of providing for wants, for the
friendly inhabitants of the eastern side of the island, emboldened by
recent proofs that the dreaded Voizins were not invincible, ran their
boats almost with impunity into the little creeks into which the heavier
craft of the enemy could not follow them.

Judith hardly noticed these details. Her attention was fixed upon the
key of the position. She knew that a resistance of this description was
altogether contrary to the unwarlike character of the natives; she was
convinced that they were actuated by some abnormal spirit, and that if
the motive power were removed the machine would collapse. She made it
her business to ascertain what the spring was that guided them. All her
art failed in detecting the presence of Haco, perhaps because her
engines were powerless when directed against one of her own blood; but
she easily ascertained that the warriors in the opposing camp looked to
Jean as their leader, that his spirit pervaded all, and that his ardour
to protect his sacred charge filled him with a wondrous power which
astonished even those who from childhood had bent to his unchallenged
primacy.

Having satisfied herself as to the character of the opposing force, her
next step was to secure Jean's person. This presented no difficulty to
her. A scroll was delivered to the young leader by an unknown messenger,
who at once disappeared. Jean, seeing that the characters were those
which, as he believed, Austin alone was able to trace, took the scroll
to the sister who alone was able to interpret them. What Sister Theresa
read was alarming:--"Hasten! I am grievously sick; my strength fails! I
must see thee without delay." Jean was distressed beyond measure, but
Hilda, whom he hurried to consult, agreed with him that no time must be
lost in obeying the summons; the fact that Haco was at Lihou convinced
them that the father would not have sent for Jean if his case had not
been one of extreme danger. After a hasty farewell and a promise of
speedy return, for his presence with the forces was imperative and he
grudged every hour of absence from his beloved, he set out alone in his
boat. Before an hour had passed he was captured by a flotilla which had
been lying in ambuscade behind the Grandes Rocques, and was a prisoner
in the enemy's camp.

If Judith had been an ordinary woman she would have been content with
this result, would have executed the prisoner, and have awaited the
submission of his disheartened followers; and she would have failed,
defeated by the indomitable courage and resource of Haco. But it was not
in this clumsy fashion that her genius moulded the materials at her
command. She now controlled, as she believed, the mainspring of the
resistance, which would probably cease with the death of Jean. But her
aim went far beyond the mere submission of her antagonists; she wished
that the blow should be struck in such a manner as to stamp out the
false creed which had held the islanders in thrall, to prove to all
sceptics the powers of her own Gods and the impotence of those of her
opponents, and to commit the recently reconverted islanders so
irretrievably that they could not afterwards backslide. She wished also,
by making an example that would inspire terror, to establish the
undisputed supremacy of her people in the whole island. But, side by
side with these political considerations, were the religious influences
honestly and steadfastly working in her powerful intellect. When she
communed with her Gods she thought of no earthly good or ill: she loved
these strange conceptions, and fixed her whole soul on conciliating
them. It was now her conviction that they were displeased: their
displeasure, awful as she believed it to be, did not terrify her, but it
vexed her to the inmost heart: she feared that they had not been rightly
propitiated, and resolved that the shortcoming must be remedied.

All her reflections pointed with unerring force to the same conclusion.
She held in her hands the strong frame, the stout heart, the ruling
mind. All were concentrated in Jean Letocq. He, then, must be offered up
as a fitting sacrifice. By such an offering the deities could not fail
to be appeased, and by the death of this man in this fashion all the
natural exigencies of the situation would be satisfied. She never
allowed herself to dwell for one moment on the fact that the victim was
beloved by Hilda. On this point she had armed herself with bars of brass
and triple steel. He might have fooled the girl, but at the thought of
love her heart was ice.

The sorceress communicated her resolution to Garthmund. The chieftain
exhibited no surprise: he expressed a grim approval of the proposal,
which seemed likely to give an excuse for revelry and to bring the
campaign to a prompt conclusion, and proceeded to make the requisite
arrangements.

The 30th of March was the day chosen. The forces investing the two
beleaguered positions were ordered to assemble, that on the western side
on the low ground between L'Erée and Lihou, that on the northern under
shelter of the woods of the Braye du Valle, facing the fortifications
thrown up by the defenders. At a given signal, the kindling of a beacon
on the Rocque du Guet, the two hosts were to make simultaneously a
determined assault. The islanders not engaged in these operations, with
the exception of those openly or secretly sympathizing with the
Christians, poured into Vazon Forest, none remaining behind but those
absolutely incapable of conveying themselves or of being conveyed.

By this time the consternation in the enemy's camp was all that the
sorceress could desire. Jean's capture had been ascertained, and all the
particulars respecting his coming fate were known by means of spies.
Haco shook his head at the proposals of rescue made by spirited youths.
"Success would be hopeless," he said; "failure would be fatal to those
whose lives are precious to us. If he dies we will brace every nerve to
avenge him, but we must be patient, and await their onslaught. Then will
come our turn! then will we spring at their dastard throats! then shall
they drink freely of their own gore!" If the man of the sword thought
the case hopeless, what could the men of the cloister do? They did all
in their power--prayed ceaselessly, fasted, did penance under the
guidance of Father Austin; but nevertheless the fatal morning arrived.

Hilda knew her lover's danger. When he failed to return, and when Haco,
arriving from Lihou, admitted that he had not been seen at the
monastery, her heart sank; she, better than any of those around her,
knew the stern, implacable patriotism and fanaticism of Judith's
nature; she fully realized the savage dispositions of her countrymen,
their contempt of human life, and their brutal treatment of captives.
She had some conception of their fearful orgies, and she shuddered when
her mind touched, not daring to dwell, on Jean's possible fate. She had
sufficient presence of mind to bear up bravely before Haco, who had no
suspicion that she had a perception of the terrible truth from which
even his rent and seared feelings shrank; nor did she reveal to Father
Austin, during a short visit which he paid her at great risk this inner
serpent which was devouring her young heart. Sister Theresa and her
fellows marvelled at her as on the morning of the fatal day she passed
between them, her eyes rapt in contemplation, her look serene and calm,
though beneath the surface lay a depth of unutterable woe, sinking,
receding, chill as the dark, haunted, bosom of an unfathomable mountain
lake.

She sought her own cell and begged to be left alone. Then the full heart
burst the bounds imposed by the strong will. She placed before her the
little Madonna, from which she never parted, and fell on her knees. She
prayed till noon, and her prayer continued still; it was not simply a
woman's supplication: her whole essence was poured out before the Holy
Mother, who was the object of her special adoration. This girl had never
known evil: for nineteen years her mind had rippled on, sparkling with
good deeds, little bright thoughts, gentle inspirations sweetly obeyed;
then first streamed in the warm current of human love, followed by the
rapid thrilling rush of the flow of Divine awakening. The little stream
had become a torrent; but one in which every element was pure, for its
component parts were faith in God, trust in man, the will to act, the
power to bear, contentment in joy and resignation in sorrow. Above all,
she had ever before her the words which Austin had told her comprised
the sermon of the universe--"Thy will be done!" Was it possible that, in
the days when miracles were yet wrought, such a prayer at such a time
from such a saint should not be heard? Some three hours had passed after
noon when she felt a sweet languor overspread her. A mist crept before
her eyes, which quickly passed away and was replaced by a radiance
brighter than the sun's rays; her eyes had power however to look aloft,
and she gazed with clasped hands and with loving reverence: the Holy
Virgin herself stood before her, holding in her arms the Blessed Infant;
the Mother looking down with a smile inexpressibly tender and
compassionate, the Child stretching forth its dimpled hand and giving
its blessing. She sank in rapture, the glory too great for her. As the
vision faded she arose, a marvellous strength possessing her. She
stepped forth, and found herself in the midst of a crowd gazing,
horror-stricken, seawards. "Fear nothing," she said with a calm
expression that seemed to permeate the whole assembly like an inner
voice; "he is saved, and you are saved!" The words came opportunely.



CHAPTER VII.

ANNIHILATION.

    "Prophet-like that lone one stood,
      With dauntless words and high,
    That shook the sere leaves from the wood
      As if a storm pass'd by."

    _The Last Man_.--CAMPBELL.

    "So perish the old Gods!
    But out of the sea of time
    Rises a new land of song,
    Fairer than the old."

    _The Seaside and the Fireside_.--LONGFELLOW.


Full of evil augury was the morning of this eventful day in Vazon
Forest. There were the same trees, the same glades and streams, as on
the well-remembered Midsummer day of the preceding year; but nature and
man alike were in a different mood. The trees were leafless and
churlish, the glades ragged and colourless; the turbid, dusky streams
bore but small resemblance to the limpid rivulets of June; the native
youths were absent, engaged in military service; the maidens, headed by
Suzanne Falla, had indeed an appearance of mirth, but there was a hollow
ring in the boisterous recklessness of their merriment; the old men
tramped feebly and aimlessly, for the reverence for age had been
transferred to the veterans of the conquerors. The latter also supplied
the musicians; and the clanging of drums and cymbals, with the blast of
horns, replaced the sylvan melody of the aborigines.

Still there was every sign of festivity. The proceedings began with
dances in which the men, who posed as athletes and warriors, gave
representations of deeds of martial prowess. Then the girls were allowed
to foot their native dances in their own fashion. Dances for both sexes
followed, in which the native maidens found it difficult to conceal
their terror of the rough partners ever ready to become rougher wooers.

These preliminaries concluded, the business of the day began. Though
this wild race sacrificed human beings, they did not treat their victims
with the coldblooded cruelty of the Druids, who slaughtered them as if
they were oxen or sheep; their custom was to burn their captives; and it
is not for critics, whose pious forefathers kindled the fires of
Smithfield, to assert that their practice was wholly barbarous. In the
present case a pyre, some twelve feet high, was built at the foot of a
huge granite boulder, near the sea-coast: it was constructed of dry
wood, and was drenched with combustible materials. Jean was bound firmly
to a strong hurdle, made of birch stems and withies securely lashed
together. Judith, Garthmund, and the principal elders, placed themselves
under the venerable oak; the people stood at a respectful distance.
Twelve stalwart warriors bore the litter on which the prisoner was
stretched, and placed it on stone trestles planted for the purpose in
the intervening space. Then the priests arrived; twelve old men whose
white locks and beards, and snowy dresses, gave them a venerable
appearance which was soon belied by their performances.

Halting when they reached the victim, the priests faced the oak, and
chanted a solemn, wailing dirge; this, which might have been a farewell
to the spirit whose departure they were preparing to accelerate, was not
unimpressive. Then one stepped forward whose voice was yet clear and
loud; he passed a warm eulogy on the qualities of the captive, whom he
described in exaggerated phrases as a sage in council, and a hero in
battle, endowing him also with every domestic virtue which seemed in his
eyes worthy of enumeration. This discourse was followed by a warlike
song in honour of Thor and Odin, and it was during the course of this
hymn that it became clear from their rolling eyes and unsteady gait that
the old men were in a state of no ordinary excitement. All night they
had been feasting their deities, and the solemnity had involved deep
potations; now, as the rapid movements of a dance which accompanied the
inspiriting words sent the fumes into their heads, they appeared to be
beside themselves. The bystanders, however, attributing their frenzy to
religious fervour, and not unaccustomed to such manifestations, looked
on unmoved. The music ceased; and the song of triumph gave way to a
hideous scene over which it were painful to dwell. The drunken old men,
with incredible agility, whirled round the prostrate form of Jean. There
was no question now of eulogizing his virtues: he was accused, in
language which seemed devil-born, of every crime, every infamy, of which
the human race is capable; held up to scorn and ignominy, he was cursed
and execrated with a shower of blasphemy and obscenity; a by-stander,
contemplating his calm, clear face, the lips parted in prayer, gleaming
amidst the contorted features of the screaming miscreants, might have
believed him to be already passing, unscathed, through the terrors of
purgatory.

It is impossible at this day to fathom the mystery of this terrible
relic of some remote superstition. It may have been that the abhorrence
and extinction of evil was roughly typified, or that it was understood
that the death of the victim would, as if he were a scapegoat, cleanse
the worshippers of the sins with which he was thus loaded. It is idle to
grope where all is, and must be, dark; all that can be asserted with
any certainty is that the preliminary eulogy, a more modern practice,
was intended to enhance the value of the offering which they were about
to make to the Gods.

The warriors now resumed their burden, and a procession was formed
towards the pyre, on which the litter-bearers, mounting by an inclined
plane, placed the doomed youth. Judith ascended the huge boulder, which
was some eight feet higher than the pyre at its foot. The chief and
people grouped themselves round its base. The priests stood ready to
apply the torch when the sorceress gave the signal, and the distant
watchman on the Guct waited in his turn for the first flash of flame to
kindle the beacon which was to set the assailing forces in motion.

Judith turned to the expectant crowd: her glance was searching, in her
eye was an ineffable look of scorn. "Down on your knees!" she said,
"craven sons, whose sires would blush to own you! You who have steeped
your hearts in pride and boastfulness! Were your fathers slow to draw
the sword and quick to sheathe it? Did they cower by their hearths when
warm blood was being spilt? did they feast when others fought? would
they not have leaped, as the tempest rushes from its caves, to scatter
like the sand those who should have dared to bend the knee to false
Gods, objects of their loathing and derision? Runs this noble blood in
your stagnant veins? From giants ye have become pigmies!" The majestic
contempt with which these words had been delivered had a crushing
effect. She continued her harangue for some time in the same strain.
Every Voizin's head was bowed, every form bent and trembling. The
sorceress then, slowly turning, faced seaward. Her arms assumed the
well-known beseeching attitude, the serpent bracelet glittering fiercely
in the sun. Her voice changed, became softer. "Yet they are my people!"
she continued, "and the last of our race. Ennoble them, great Gods!
quicken their hearts and spare them!" Looking outward with the rapt look
of a prophetess in whom, though torn with tempests of fanaticism and of
passion, human and superhuman, no thought was mean, no sentiment
ignoble, she poured out this her prayer; not for mercy!--her Gods knew
not this attribute; nor could she understand it; if the craven continued
to be a craven she felt he were better dead;--not for peace and
contentment!--to these blessings neither she nor they attached
value;--but for fearlessness and steadfastness of purpose, and also for
courage to die for the truth! there were petitions poured out by this
woman that would have honoured the lips of the champion of any creed.

The supplication ended, she seemed about to raise her hand to give the
anticipated signal when a look of amazement passed over her features;
she brushed her hand over her eyes and looked again, then folded her
arms and gazed steadily seawards. What she saw might have shattered even
her nerves of iron. At the close of her prayer, which had exactly
coincided with the moment when Hilda stepped from her cell, the bosom of
the sea heaved and rose: a wave, ten feet high, glided, stole as it
were, so gently did it move, into the forest; but so rapidly, that in
one minute every human being except herself and Jean was engulphed. They
were gone, the high-couraged and the craven, the frenzied priest and the
laughing child, with their passions, their hopes, and their fears,
without the faintest note of warning of coming danger! Judith glanced at
Jean, almost contemptuously; he, not having seen what had happened, was
still momentarily expecting the application of the torch. A second wave
crept in, smaller than the former, but overwhelming the pyre. The dazed
warrior on the Guet reported that after this second wave had passed he
saw the tall form still towering on the peak, but that when he looked
again the rock, though still above water, was tenantless; a little later
the granite mass, together with the tops of the tallest trees, lay under
an unruffled surface.

When the pyre was submerged the litter, to which Jean was attached,
floated off and formed a tolerably secure raft. His life was safe for a
time; but he would have been exposed to a still more ghastly fate from
the swooping sea-birds had he not been able by a supreme effort to
wrest one of his arms from its bands. In speechless wonderment he was
carried seaward by the slowly receding tide. Suddenly his raft was
hailed by a well-known voice. Friendly hands cut the ropes that bound
him, and he was lifted into a boat. The occupant was Haco who, attracted
to the spot when hurrying to the Vale, by the cries of the clustering
gulls, had thus again saved his life.

The giant pulled vigorously to the point which, now known as the Hommet,
terminates the northern arm of Vazon Bay; there he landed the youth, to
enable him to stretch his cramped limbs, and to clothe him in such
articles as he could spare from his own equipment. A rapid explanation
passed between them. Haco told him how the force investing Lihou had,
when apparently waiting for a signal to move, been overwhelmed by a wave
which cut off the promontory from L'Erée, and had perished to a man.
Jean could tell of nothing but the sudden cessation of the tumult and
the floating of his litter. The minds of both were wandering, burningly
anxious as they were to know what had passed at the Vale. Scaling the
Hommet, they obtained a sufficient view to satisfy them that Lancresse
Common no longer formed a portion of the mainland; an hour afterwards,
entering the Grand Havre, they saw an unbroken channel between that
inlet and St. Sampson's: every trace of the invading host had
disappeared. Jean was soon in Hilda's arms; and the two lovers, with
Haco, spent the remainder of the day in pious thanksgiving to the Holy
Mother by whose special interposition, testified so miraculously to the
maiden, the cause of Christ had triumphed and the parted had been
reunited, when the last gleam of safety seemed to have been
extinguished.

The next morning Father Austin arrived. Hilda was then made acquainted
with her relationship to Haco, whose tender attentions during her late
troubles had already won her unreserved affection. The news was an
inexpressible joy to her, and it was touching to see how she nestled in
the deep embrace of her father, whose feelings, so long pent up, now at
last found vent. Jean absented himself during the day, but on the
following morning insisted that his nuptials should no longer be
deferred. The same evening, in the little chapel of the nunnery, Austin
bestowed his blessing on a union which had been sanctified by such
special manifestations of Divine approval.

The readjustment of the shattered organization of the island was
imperative. The inhabitants of the eastern side, and those of the Vale,
had for the most part preserved their lives by their absence from the
forest; the Christian converts who had aided in the struggle were also
safe; with these exceptions the island was practically depopulated. Jean
was elected chief by acclamation. After giving such pressing directions
as immediate exigencies required, he acceded to his wife's ardent wish
to obtain intelligence respecting Judith, and also to ascertain the fate
of Tita.

The Lihou monks had already reported that all communication was broken
between the Hanois and the shore, but that the tower appeared to be
intact. On an April morning Haco and the young couple sailed across
Rocquaine Bay, and landed close to the tower, which now stood on a
rugged and inhospitable island. The door was opened by Tita, who smiled,
and prattled, and caressed her young mistress like a lap-dog. She
recognised Jean with indifference, but a start, followed by a shudder,
seized her when she observed Haco; her terror, however, seemed to pass
away when he spoke a few soothing words to her. It was evident that a
shock, or a succession of shocks, had unsettled the poor woman's brain.
On the name of Judith being mentioned, she pointed fearfully to the
upper story. Uncertain as to her meaning, Jean cautiously ascended the
ladder, and ascertained that the sorceress was in truth there. After a
consultation it was decided that Haco and Hilda should seek her
presence.

As father and daughter entered the apartment, they saw the old woman
half-seated, half-lying, on a couch placed close to the window; her
face, which was turned seaward, was haggard, the leanness bringing into
strong relief the handsome chiselling of her profile; the sternness of
her mouth was somewhat relaxed; there was an indication almost of
softness in its corners. Her high spirit had accepted, not resented,
defeat.

As her eye fell on her two visitors there was no gleam of defiance, no
mark of anger, or even surprise; but, when Haco stood fully revealed
before her, a flash of triumph and pleasure shot into it, kindling every
feature with its glow. "You here, Haco!" she cried, "and with her! The
Gods have relented. You will hold her fast in their worship, and lead
her steps to the land of her sires! I die contented." She fell back
exhausted. "Sister," said the giant, laying his hand softly on her
shoulder, "it is too late; when Algar slew my loved one the Pagan died
in me; I am a servant of the God of the Christians." Hilda awaited
fearfully the result of this announcement, but she knew not the
greatness of the old woman's soul. It was long ere her voice was heard
again. Presently, raising herself, she said, "I would it had been
otherwise; but I have erred, I have misjudged. I thought that your Gods
were false; puny creations of a nerveless brain; but they are strong, I
own their power! It may be that the great ones of old have wearied of
our spiritless race, and abandoned us. So perchance you may be wise to
turn to the new-comers!" Her voice failed her, but as they knelt by her
side her hands wandered over their heads and lingered with a caressing
movement among Hilda's locks. She seemed to have forgotten Jean, whom
she doubtless believed to have been lost in the general calamity.
Suddenly she started up and pointed to a storm-cloud rising rapidly from
the western horizon, assuming a succession of fantastic shapes as it
passed upwards. "Do you not see them?" she cried--"the great, the
glorious ones! they bend from their seats; they smile! see their power!
Their majesty! their locks stream, their swords are half drawn! they
sheathe them, they lean forward, they extend their arms! they beckon!--I
come, I come!" She stretched out her arms with the old familiar gesture
and sank back, having breathed her spirit to the tempest which she loved
so well.

They buried her on the cliffs of Pleinmont, where a cairn long marked
her resting-place. Tita was taken to the Vale; all attempts to restore
her from the shock which her nerves had received failed till on one
sunny morning Hilda's infant was placed on her knees: when the child
crowed, and smiled at her, the cloud imperceptibly passed away, never to
return. From that time she assumed her regular place in the household.

Haco abandoned his Lihou cell; his rough readiness of resource,
unfailing good-humour, and skill in managing men, proved invaluable
during the task of the restoration of the broken links of government and
society.

The labours of Father Austin and his coadjutors did not relax, but their
course lay in smoother waters: if their prospects of martyrdom were
diminished they were more than consoled by the knowledge that they
possessed among them a veritable saint, to whom the Holy Virgin had
vouchsafed the honour of a personal appearance, and that they had been
witnesses of a miraculous interposition, the evidence of which would be
indelible as long as the sea should wash the storm-beaten cliffs of
their beloved island.





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