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The Last Hope

Henry Seton Merriman



  Produced by Jonathan Ingram, Mary Meehan and Distributed Proofreaders

  THE LAST HOPE

  BY HENRY SETON MERRIMAN

  "What is it thou knowest, sweet voice?" I cried. "A hidden hope," the voice replied.

  CONTENTS

  CHAPTER

  I. LE ROI EST MORT

  II. VIVE LE ROI

  III. THE RETURN OF "THE LAST HOPE"

  IV. THE MARQUIS'S CREED

  V. ON THE DYKE

  VI. THE STORY OF THE CASTAWAYS

  VII. ON THE SCENT

  VIII. THE LITTLE BOY WHO WAS A KING

  IX. A MISTAKE

  X. IN THE ITALIAN HOUSE

  XI. A BEGINNING

  XII. THE SECRET OF GEMOSAC

  XIII. WITHIN THE GATES

  XIV. THE LIFTED VEIL

  XV. THE TURN OF THE TIDE

  XVI. THE GAMBLERS

  XVII. ON THE PONT ROYAL

  XVIII. THE CITY THAT SOON FORGETS

  XIX. IN THE BREACH

  XX. "NINETEEN"

  XXI. NO. 8 RUELLE ST. JACOB

  XXII. DROPPING THE PILOT

  XXIII. A SIMPLE BANKER

  XXIV. THE LANE OF MANY TURNINGS

  XXV. SANS RANCUNE

  XXVI. RETURNED EMPTY

  XXVII. OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES

  XXVIII. BAREBONE'S PRICE

  XXIX. IN THE DARK

  XXX. IN THE FURROW AGAIN

  XXXI. THE THURSDAY OF MADAME DE CHANTONNAY

  XXXII. PRIMROSES

  XXXIII. DORMER COLVILLE IS BLIND

  XXXIV. A SORDID MATTER

  XXXV. A SQUARE MAN

  XXXVI. MRS. ST. PIERRE LAWRENCE DOES NOT UNDERSTAND

  XXXVII. AN UNDERSTANDING

  XXXVIII. A COUP-D'ETAT

  XXXIX. "JOHN DARBY"

  XL. FARLINGFORD ONCE MORE

  THE LAST HOPE

  CHAPTER I

  LE ROI EST MORT

  "There; that's it. That's where they buried Frenchman," saidAndrew--known as River Andrew. For there was another Andrew who earnedhis living on the sea.

  River Andrew had conducted the two gentlemen from "The Black Sailor" tothe churchyard by their own request. A message had been sent to him inthe morning that this service would be required of him, to which he hadreturned the answer that they would have to wait until the evening. Itwas his day to go round Marshford way with dried fish, he said; but inthe evening they could see the church if they still set their minds onit.

  River Andrew combined the light duties of grave-digger and clerk to theparish of Farlingford in Suffolk with a small but steady business in fishof his own drying, nets of his own netting, and pork slain and dressed byhis own weather-beaten hands.

  For Farlingford lies in that part of England which reaches seaward towardthe Fatherland, and seems to have acquired from that proximity aninsatiable appetite for sausages and pork. On these coasts the killing ofpigs and the manufacture of sausages would appear to employ the leisureof the few, who for one reason or another have been deemed unfit for thesea. It is not our business to inquire why River Andrew had never usedthe fickle element. All that lay in the past. And in a degree he wassaved from the disgrace of being a landsman by the smell of tar andbloaters that heralded his coming, by the blue jersey and the brownhomespun trousers which he wore all the week, and by the saving wordwhich distinguished him from the poor inland lubbers who had no dealingswith water at all.

  He had this evening laid aside his old sou'wester--worn in fair and foulweather alike--for his Sunday hat. His head-part was therefore officialand lent additional value to the words recorded. He spoke them, moreover,with a dim note of aggressiveness which might only have been racy of asoil breeding men who are curt and clear of speech. But there was morethan an East Anglian bluffness in the statement and the manner of itsdelivery, as his next observation at once explained.

  "Passen thinks it's over there by the yew-tree--but he's wrong. Thatthere one was a wash-up found by old Willem the lighthouse keeper onemorning early. No! this is where Frenchman was laid by."

  He indicated with the toe of his sea-boot a crumbling grave which hadnever been distinguished by a headstone. The grass grew high all overFarlingford churchyard, almost hiding the mounds where the forefathersslept side by side with the nameless "wash-ups," to whom they hadextended a last hospitality.

  River Andrew had addressed his few remarks to the younger of his twocompanions, a well-dressed, smartly set-up man of forty or thereabouts,who in turn translated the gist of them into French for the informationof his senior, a little white-haired gentleman whom he called "Monsieurle Marquis."

  He spoke glibly enough in either tongue, with a certain indifference ofmanner. This was essentially a man of cities, and one better suited tothe pavement than the rural quiet of Farlingford. To have the gift oftongues is no great recommendation to the British born, and River Andrewlooked askance at this fine gentleman while he spoke French. He hadreceived letters at the post-office under the name of Dormer Colville: aname not unknown in London and Paris, but of which the social fame hadfailed to travel even to Ipswich, twenty miles away from this moulderingchurchyard.

  "It's getting on for twenty-five years come Michaelmas," put in RiverAndrew. "I wasn't digger then; but I remember the burial well enough. AndI remember Frenchman--same as if I see him yesterday."

  He plucked a blade of grass from the grave and placed it between histeeth.

  "He were a mystery, he were," he added, darkly, and turned to lookmusingly across the marshes toward the distant sea. For River Andrew,like many hawkers of cheap wares, knew the indirect commercial value ofnews.

  The little white-haired Frenchman made a gesture of the shoulders andoutspread hands indicative of a pious horror at the condition of thisneglected grave. The meaning of his attitude was so obvious that RiverAndrew shifted uneasily from one foot to the other.

  "Passen," he said, "he don't take no account of the graves. He's what youmight call a bookworm. Always a sitting indoors reading books andpictures. Butcher Franks turns his sheep in from time to time. But alongof these tempests and the hot sun the grass has shot up a bit.Frenchman's no worse off than others. And there's some as are fallen inaltogether."

  He indicated one or two graves where the mound had sunk, and suggestivehollows were visible in the grass. "First, it's the coffin that bu'sts inbeneath the weight, then it's the bones," he added, with that grimrealism which is begotten of familiarity.

  Dormer Colville did not trouble to translate these general truths. Hesuppressed a yawn as he contemplated the tottering headstones of certainmaster-mariners and Trinity-pilots taking their long rest in theimmediate vicinity. The churchyard lay on the slope of rising ground uponwhich the village of Farlingford straggled upward in one long street.Farlingford had once been a town of some commercial prosperity. Its storywas the story of half a dozen ports on this coast--a harbour silted up, acommerce absorbed by a more prosperous neighbour nearer to the railway.

  Below the churchyard was the wide street which took a turn eastward atthe gates and led straight down to the river-side. Farlingford Quay--alittle colony of warehouses and tarred huts--was separated fromFarlingford proper by a green, where the water glistened at high tide. Inolden days the Freemen of Farlingford had been privileged to graze theirhorses on the green. In these later times the lord of the manor pretendedto certain rights over the pasturage, which Farlingford, like one man,denied him.

  "A mystery," repeated River Andrew, waiting very clearly for Mr. DormerColville to translate the
suggestive word to the French gentleman. ButColville only yawned. "And there's few in Farlingford as knew Frenchmanas well as I did."

  Mr. Colville walked toward the church porch, which seemed to appeal tohis sense of the artistic; for he studied the Norman work with the eye ofa connoisseur. He was evidently a cultured man, more interested in a workof art than in human story.

  River Andrew, seeing him depart, jingled the keys which he carried in hishand, and glanced impatiently toward the older man. The Marquis deGemosac, however, ignored the sound as completely as he had ignored RiverAndrew's remarks. He was looking round him with eyes which had once beendark and bright, and were now dimly yellow. He looked from tomb to tomb,vainly seeking one that should be distinguished, if only by theevidence of a little care at the hands of the living. He looked down thewide grass-grown street--partly paved after the manner of theNetherlands--toward the quay, where the brown river gleamed between thewalls of the weather-beaten brick buildings. There was a ship lying atthe wharf, half laden with hay; a coasting craft from some of the greatertidal rivers, the Orwell or the Blackwater. A man was sitting on a pieceof timber on the quay, smoking as he looked seaward. But there was no oneelse in sight. For Farlingford was half depopulated, and it was tea-time.Across the river lay the marshes, unbroken by tree or hedge, barren ofeven so much as a hut. In the distance, hazy and grey in the eye of theNorth Sea, a lighthouse stood dimly, like a pillar of smoke. To thesouth--so far as the eye could pierce the sea haze--marshes. To thenorth--where the river ran between bare dykes--marshes.

  And withal a silence which was only intensified by the steady hum of thewind through the gnarled branches of the few churchyard trees which turna crouching back toward the ocean.

  In all the world--save, perhaps, in the Arctic world--it would be hard tofind a picture emphasising more clearly the fact that a man's life is buta small matter, and the memory of it like the seed of grass upon the windto be blown away and no more recalled.

  The bearer of one of the great names of France stood knee-deep in thesun-tanned grass and looked slowly round as if seeking to imprint thescene upon his memory. He turned to glance at the crumbling church behindhim, built long ago by men speaking the language in which his ownthoughts found shape. He looked slowly from end to end of the ill-keptburial ground, crowded with the bones of the nameless and insignificantdead, who, after a life passed in the daily struggle to wrest asufficiency of food from a barren soil, or the greater struggle to holdtheir own against a greedy sea, had faded from the memory of the living,leaving naught behind them but a little mound where the butcher put hissheep to graze.

  Monsieur de Gemosac was so absorbed in his reflections that he seemed toforget his surroundings and stood above the grave, pointed out to him byRiver Andrew, oblivious to the cold wind that blew in from the sea, deafto the clink of the sexton's inviting keys, forgetful of his companionwho stood patiently waiting within the porch. The Marquis was a littlebent man, spare of limb, heavy of shoulder, with snow-white hair againstwhich his skin, brown and wrinkled as a walnut shell, looked sallow likeold ivory. His face was small and aquiline; not the face of a clever man,but clearly the face of an aristocrat. He had the grand manner too, andthat quiet air of self-absorption which usually envelops the bearers ofhistoric names.

  Dormer Colville watched him with a good-natured patience which pointed,as clearly as his attitude and yawning indifference, to the fact that hewas not at Farlingford for his own amusement. Presently he lounged backagain toward the Marquis and stood behind him. "The wind is cold,Marquis," he said, pleasantly. "One of the coldest spots in England. Whatwould Mademoiselle say if I allowed you to take a chill?"

  De Gemosac turned and looked at him over his shoulder with a smile fullof pathetic meaning. He spread out his arms in a gesture indicative ofhorror at the bleakness of the surroundings; at the mournfulness of thedecaying village; the dreary hopelessness of the mouldering church andtombs.

  "I was thinking, my friend," he said. "That was all. It is not surprising... that one should think."

  Colville heaved a sigh and said nothing. He was, it seemed, essentially asympathetic man; not of a thoughtful habit himself, but tolerant ofthought in others. It was abominably windy and cold, although the cornwas beginning to ripen; but he did not complain. Neither did he desire tohurry his companion in any way.

  He looked at the crumbling grave with a passing shadow in his clever andworldly eyes, and composed himself to await his friend's pleasure.

  In his way he must have been a philosopher. His attitude did not suggestthat he was bored, and yet it was obvious that he was eminently out ofplace in this remote spot. He had nothing in common, for instance, withRiver Andrew, and politely yawned that reminiscent fish-curer intosilence. His very clothes were of a cut and fashion never before seen inFarlingford. He wore them, too, with an air rarely assumed even in thestreets of Ipswich.

  Men still dressed with care at this time; for d'Orsay was not yet dead,though his fame was tarnished. Mr. Dormer Colville was not a dandy,however. He was too clever to go to that extreme and too wise not to bewithin reach of it in an age when great tailors were great men, and itwas quite easy to make a reputation by clothes alone.

  Not only was his dress too fine for Farlingford, but his personality wasnot in tune with this forgotten end of England. His movements were tooquick for a slow-moving race of men; no fools, and wiser than theirmidland brethren; slow because they had yet to make sure that a betterway of life had been discovered than that way in which their Saxonforefathers had always walked.

  Colville seemed to look at the world with an exploiting eye. He had aspeculative mind. Had he lived at the end of the Victorian era instead ofthe beginning he might have been a notable financier. His quick glancetook in all Farlingford in one comprehensive verdict. There was nothingto be made of it. It was uninteresting because it obviously had nofuture, nor encouraged any enterprise. He looked across the marshesindifferently, following the line of the river as it made its devious waybetween high dykes to the sea. And suddenly his eye lighted. There was asail to the south. A schooner was standing in to the river mouth, hersails glowing rosily in the last of the sunset light.

  Colville turned to see whether River Andrew had noticed, and saw thatlandsman looking skyward with an eye that seemed to foretell the earlydemise of a favouring wind.

  "That's 'The Last Hope,'" he said, in answer to Dormer Colville'squestion. "And it will take all Seth Clubbe's seamanship to save thetide. 'The Last Hope.' There's many a 'Hope,' built at Farlingford, andthat's the last, for the yard is closed and there's no more buildingnow."

  The Marquis de Gemosac had turned away from the grave, but as Colvilleapproached him he looked back to it with a shake of the head.

  "After eight centuries of splendour, my friend," he said. "Can that bethe end--that?"

  "It is not the end," answered Colville, cheerfully, "It is only the endof a chapter. _Le roi est mort--vive le roi!_"

  He pointed with his stick, as he spoke, to the schooner creeping inbetween the dykes.