Ten Years Later by Alexandre Dumas
104. Le Terrain de Dieu
During the progress of these events Buckingham and De Wardes traveled in excellent companionship, and made the journey from Paris to Calais in undisturbed harmony together. Buckingham had hurried his departure, so that the greater part of his adieux were very hastily made. His visit to Monsieur and Madame, to the young queen, and to the queen-dowager, had been paid collectively -- a precaution on the part of the queen-mother which saved him the distress of any private conversation with Monsieur, and also the danger of seeing Madame again. The carriages containing the luggage had already been sent on beforehand, and in the evening he set off in his traveling carriage with his attendants.
De Wardes, irritated at finding himself dragged away in so abrupt a manner by this Englishman, had sought in his subtle mind for some means of escaping from his fetters; but no one having rendered him any assistance in this respect, he was absolutely obliged, therefore, to submit to the burden of his own evil thoughts and caustic spirit.
Such of his friends in whom he had been able to confide, had, in their character of wits, rallied him upon the duke's superiority. Others, less brilliant, but more sensible, had reminded him of the king's orders prohibiting dueling. Others, again, and they the larger number, who, in virtue of charity, or national vanity, might have rendered him assistance, did not care to run the risk of incurring disgrace, and would, at the best, have informed the ministers of a departure which might end in a massacre on a small scale. The result was, that, after having fully deliberated upon the matter, De Wardes packed up his luggage, took a couple of horses, and, followed only by one servant, made his way towards the barrier, where Buckingham's carriage was to await him.
The duke received his adversary as he would have done an intimate acquaintance, made room beside him on the same seat with himself, offered him refreshments, and spread over his knees the sable cloak that had been thrown on the front seat. They then conversed of the court, without alluding to Madame; of Monsieur, without speaking of domestic affairs; of the king, without speaking of his brother's wife; of the queen-mother, without alluding to her daughter-in-law; of the king of England, without alluding to his sister-in-law; of the state of the affections of either of the travelers, without pronouncing any name that might be dangerous. In this way the journey, which was performed by short stages, was most agreeable, and Buckingham, almost a Frenchman from wit and education, was delighted at having so admirably selected his traveling companion. Elegant repasts were served, of which they partook but lightly; trials of horses made in the beautiful meadows that skirted the road; coursing indulged in, for Buckingham had his greyhounds with him; and in such ways did they pass away the pleasant time. The duke somewhat resembled the beautiful river Seine, which folds France a thousand times in its loving embrace, before deciding upon joining its waters with the ocean. In quitting France, it was her recently adopted daughter he had brought to Paris whom he chiefly regretted; his every thought was a remembrance of her -- his every memory a regret. Therefore, whenever, now and then, despite his command over himself, he was lost in thought, De Wardes left him entirely to his musings. This delicacy might have touched Buckingham, and changed his feelings towards De Wardes, if the latter, while preserving silence, had shown a glance less full of malice, and a smile less false. Instinctive dislikes, however, are relentless; nothing appeases them; a few ashes may sometimes, apparently, extinguish them; but beneath those ashes the smothered embers rage more furiously. Having exhausted every means of amusement the route offered, they arrived, as we have said, at Calais towards the end of the sixth day. The duke's attendants, since the previous evening, had traveled in advance, and now chartered a boat, for the purpose of joining the yacht, which had been tacking about in sight, or bore broadside on, whenever it felt its white wings wearied, within cannon-shot of the jetty.
The boat was destined for the transport of the duke's equipages from the shore to the yacht. The horses had been embarked, having been hoisted from the boat upon the deck in baskets expressly made for the purpose, and wadded in such a manner that their limbs, even in the most violent fits of terror or impatience, were always protected by the soft support which the sides afforded, and their coats not even turned. Eight of these baskets, placed side by side, filled the ship's hold. It is well known that in short voyages horses refuse to eat, but remain trembling all the while, with the best of food before them, such as they would have greatly coveted on land. By degrees, the duke's entire equipage was transported on board the yacht; he was then informed that everything was in readiness, and that they only waited for him, whenever he would be disposed to embark with the French gentleman; for no one could possibly imagine that the French gentleman would have any other accounts to settle with his Grace than those of friendship. Buckingham desired the captain to be told to hold himself in readiness, but that, as the sea was beautiful, and as the day promised a splendid sunset, he did not intend to go on board until nightfall, and would avail himself of the evening to enjoy a walk on the strand. He added also, that, finding himself in such excellent company, he had not the least desire to hasten his embarkation.
As he said this he pointed out to those who surrounded him the magnificent spectacle which the sky presented, of deepest azure in the horizon, the amphitheatre of fleecy clouds ascending from the sun's disc to the zenith, assuming the appearance of a range of snowy mountains, whose summits were heaped one upon another. The dome of clouds was tinged at its base with, as it were, the foam of rubies, fading away into opal and pearly tints, in proportion as the gaze was carried from base to summit. The sea was gilded with the same reflection, and upon the crest of every sparkling wave danced a point of light, like a diamond by lamplight. The mildness of the evening, the sea breezes, so dear to contemplative minds, setting in from the east and blowing in delicious gusts; then, in the distance, the black outline of the yacht with its rigging traced upon the empurpled background of the sky -- while, dotting the horizon, might be seen, here and there, vessels with their trimmed sails, like the wings of a seagull about to plunge; such a spectacle indeed well merited admiration. A crowd of curious idlers followed the richly dressed attendants, amongst whom they mistook the steward and the secretary for the master and his friend. As for Buckingham, who was dressed very simply, in a gray satin vest, and doublet of violet-colored velvet, wearing his hat thrust over his eyes, and without orders or embroidery, he was taken no more notice of than De Wardes, who was in black, like an attorney.
The duke's attendants had received directions to have a boat in readiness at the jetty head, and to watch the embarkation of their master, without approaching him until either he or his friend should summon them, -- "whatever may happen," he had added, laying a stress upon these words, so that they might not be misunderstood. Having walked a few paces upon the strand, Buckingham said to De Wardes, "I think it is now time to take leave of each other. The tide, you perceive, is rising; ten minutes hence it will have soaked the sands where we are now walking in such a manner that we shall not be able to keep our footing."
"I await your orders, my lord, but ---- "
"But, you mean, we are still upon soil which is part of the king's territory."
"Well, do you see yonder a kind of little island surrounded by a circle of water? The pool is increasing every minute, and the isle is gradually disappearing. This island, indeed, belongs to Heaven, for it is situated between two seas, and is not shown on the king's charts. Do you observe it?"
"Yes; but we can hardly reach it now, without getting our feet wet."
"Yes; but observe that it forms an eminence tolerably high, and that the tide rises on every side, leaving the top free. We shall be admirably placed upon that little theatre. What do you think of it?"
"I shall be perfectly happy wherever I may have the honor of crossing my sword with your lordship's."
"Very well, then, I am distressed to be the cause of your wetting your feet, M. de Wardes, but it is most essential you should be able to say to the king: `Sire, I did not fight upon your majesty's territory.' Perhaps the distinction is somewhat subtle, but, since Port-Royal, your nation delights in subtleties of expression. Do not let us complain of this, however, for it makes your wit very brilliant, and of a style peculiarly your own. If you do not object, we will hurry ourselves, for the sea, I perceive, is rising fast, and night is setting in."
"My reason for not walking faster was, that I did not wish to precede your Grace. Are you still on dry land, my lord?"
"Yes, at present I am. Look yonder! My servants are afraid we shall be drowned, and have converted the boat into a cruiser. Do you remark how curiously it dances upon the crests of the waves? But, as it makes me feel sea-sick, would you permit me to turn my back towards them?"
"You will observe, my lord, that in turning your back to them, you will have the sun full in your face."
"Oh, its rays are very feeble at this hour and it will soon disappear; do not be uneasy on that score."
"As you please, my lord; it was out of consideration for your lordship that I made the remark."
"I am aware of that, M. de Wardes, and I fully appreciate your kindness. Shall we take off our doublets?"
"As you please, my lord."
"Do not hesitate to tell me, M. de Wardes, if you do not feel comfortable upon the wet sand, or if you think yourself a little too close to the French territory. We could fight in England, or even upon my yacht."
"We are exceedingly well placed here, my lord; only I have the honor to remark that, as the sea is rising fast, we have hardly time ---- "
Buckingham made a sign of assent, took off his doublet and threw it on the ground, a proceeding which De Wardes imitated. Both their bodies, which seemed like phantoms to those who were looking at them from the shore, were thrown strongly into relief by a dark red violet-colored shadow with which the sky became overspread.
"Upon my word, your Grace," said De Wardes, "we shall hardly have time to begin. Do you not perceive how our feet are sinking into the sand?"
"I have sunk up to the ankles," said Buckingham, "without reckoning that the water is even now breaking in upon us."
"It has already reached me. As soon as you please, therefore, your Grace," said De Wardes, who drew his sword, a movement imitated by the duke.
"M. de Wardes," said Buckingham, "one final word. I am about to fight you because I do not like you, -- because you have wounded me in ridiculing a certain devotional regard I have entertained, and one which I acknowledge that, at this moment, I still retain, and for which I would very willingly die. You are a bad and heartless man, M. de Wardes, and I will do my very utmost to take your life; for I feel assured that, if you survive this engagement, you will, in the future, work great mischief towards my friends. That is all I have to remark, M. de Wardes," concluded Buckingham, as he saluted him.
"And I, my lord, have only this to reply to you: I have not disliked you hitherto, but, since you give me such a character, I hate you, and will do all I possibly can to kill you; "and De Wardes saluted Buckingham.
Their swords crossed at the same moment, like two flashes of lightning on a dark night. The swords seemed to seek each other, guessed their position, and met. Both were practiced swordsmen, and the earlier passes were without any result. The night was fast closing in, and it was so dark that they attacked and defended themselves almost instinctively. Suddenly De Wardes felt his sword arrested, -- he had just touched Buckingham's shoulder. The duke's sword sunk as his arm was lowered.
"You are wounded, my lord," said De Wardes, drawing back a step or two.
"Yes, monsieur, but only slightly."
"Yet you quitted your guard."
"Only from the first effect of the cold steel, but I have recovered. Let us go on, if you please." And disengaging his sword with a sinister clashing of the blade, the duke wounded the marquis in the breast.
"A hit?" he said.
"No," cried De Wardes, not moving from his place.
"I beg your pardon, but observing that your shirt was stained ---- " said Buckingham.
"Well," said De Wardes furiously, "it is now your turn."
And with a terrible lunge, he pierced Buckingham's arm, the sword passing between the two bones. Buckingham, feeling his right arm paralyzed, stretched out his left, seized his sword, which was about falling from his nerveless grasp, and before De Wardes could resume his guard, he thrust him through the breast. De Wardes tottered, his knees gave way beneath him, and leaving his sword still fixed in the duke's arm, he fell into the water, which was soon crimsoned with a more genuine reflection than that which it had borrowed from the clouds. De Wardes was not dead; he felt the terrible danger that menaced him, for the sea rose fast. The duke, too, perceived the danger. With an effort and an exclamation of pain he tore out the blade which remained in his arm, and turning towards De Wardes said, "Are you dead, marquis?"
"No," replied De Wardes, in a voice choked by the blood which rushed from his lungs to his throat, "but very near it."
"Well, what is to be done; can you walk?" said Buckingham, supporting him on his knee.
"Impossible," he replied. Then falling down again, said, "Call to your people, or I shall be drowned."
"Halloa! boat there! quick, quick!"
The boat flew over the waves, but the sea rose faster than the boat could approach. Buckingham saw that De Wardes was on the point of being again covered by a wave; he passed his left arm, safe and unwounded, round his body and raised him up. The wave ascended to his waist but did not move him. The duke immediately began to carry his late antagonist towards the shore. He had hardly gone ten paces, when a second wave, rushing onwards higher, more furious and menacing than the former, struck him at the height of his chest, threw him over and buried him beneath the water. At the reflux, however, the duke and De Wardes were discovered lying on the strand. De Wardes had fainted. At this moment four of the duke's sailors, who comprehended the danger, threw themselves into the sea, and in a moment were close beside him. Their terror was extreme when they observed how their master became covered with blood, in proportion as the water with which it was impregnated, flowed towards his knees and feet; they wished to carry him.
"No, no," exclaimed the duke, "take the marquis on shore first."
"Death to the Frenchman!" cried the English sullenly.
"Wretched knaves!" exclaimed the duke, drawing himself up with a haughty gesture, which sprinkled them with blood, "obey directly! M. de Wardes on shore! M. de Wardes's safety to be looked to first, or I will have you all hanged!"
The boat had by this time reached them; the secretary and steward leaped into the sea, and approached the marquis, who no longer showed any sign of life.
"I commit him to your care, as you value your lives," said the duke. "Take M. de Wardes on shore." They took him in their arms, and carried him to the dry sand, where the tide never rose so high. A few idlers and five or six fishermen had gathered on the shore, attracted by the strange spectacle of two men fighting with the water up to their knees. The fishermen, observing a group of men approaching carrying a wounded man, entered the sea until the water was up to their waists. The English transferred the wounded man to them, at the very moment the latter began to open his eyes again. The salt water and the fine sand had got into his wounds, and caused him the acutest pain. The duke's secretary drew out a purse filled with gold from his pocket, and handed it to the one among those present who appeared of most importance, saying: "From my master, his Grace the Duke of Buckingham, in order that every possible care may be taken of the Marquis de Wardes."
Then, followed by those who had accompanied him, he returned to the boat, which Buckingham had been enabled to reach with the greatest difficulty, but only after he had seen De Wardes out of danger. By this time it was high tide; embroidered coats and silk sashes were lost; many hats, too, had been carried away by the waves. The flow of the tide had borne the duke's and De Wardes's clothes to the shore, and De Wardes was wrapped in the duke's doublet, under the belief that it was his own, when the fishermen carried him in their arms towards the town.