« НазадПродовжити »
that a moment long looked forward to had arrived. The so-called king of France, certainly a brave and gallant man, but a usurper and heretic, was about to attempt to lay his hand upon St Malo. That city had enjoyed ten centuries of freedom, of liberty and independence, but of late years had fallen under a kind of semiallegiance to the kings of France, who, however, had never been able to impose taxes, leaving, too, to the people the election of their own officers. But now Henry IV. having become king of France, being a great general, and an ambitious man, was about to attempt the junction of the city of St Malo with his kingdom. He for his part was determined not to consent to this. At all events, at the very worst, the Malouines should assert their freedom so completely, that if ever the power of the kings of France became irresistible, they should be able to make the best terms they could. There was only one way of making terms with a king, and that was to have him on the outside of their walls, or else a prisoner. Now Henry IV. was within their walls, of course with some sinister object. Now, then, or never, was their time. Let them at once fly to arms, and take possession of the citadel; they would then be free.
A loud exclamation of delight and acquiescence burst from the assembly.
But, citizens and people of St Malo,' said Porcon, rising from his chair, though what Pepin proposes be true and just, you must not forget that it is difficult of execution. We can never be independent unless the castle be ours.'
Then let us take it,' replied Pepin quietly. Young man, 'tis easier said than done. The castle is well defended it has within its walls troops of tried valour and heroism. How can we, burghers and citizens, hope to attack and capture such a citadel ?' Stone walls are hard, and man's flesh is Weak.'
“We can try,' continued Pepin de la Blinais modestly. His very tone was heroic.
"We can all die,' replied Porcon shaking his head. "No one ever doubted the valour of the Malouines; but courage can do little against stone ramparts.'
The citizens looked grave, and Pepin bit his lip. He seemed, young and ardent as he was, to fear that the counsels of peace would prevail.
Let us, at all events, prepare some plan. There is no time to lose; not a day'
* Not a moment-not an instant,' said a deep and earnest voice -the voice of one who, as he spoke, stepped up to where Porcon sat, and cast off a thick cloak and slouched hat, which had gained him admittance to the assembly.
Michel the traitor !' cried the whole assembly with one voice. "We are betrayed !'
A rush took place towards the audacious intruder, who, however, stood firm, while Porcon, holding out his hand, implored silence.
"We are not wild beasts !' he thundered ; 'be still; let Michel speak. He is our fellow-citizen. Silence !
A murmur arose from all sides, and then, at the voice of the president, who was universally beloved, silence prevailed.
* Traitor !' exclaimed Michel in a sarcastic voice, at the same time speaking with the air of a commander rather than a criminal before his judges— Traitor! My countrymen, I wish that all men in St Malo were traitors as I have been. You talk of capturing the castle. If I find amongst you but fifty men of heart and courage, the citadel shall this night be yours, and Henry the Fourth your prisoner, and that with little or no bloodshed. You call me traitor! Is there amidst you all one who, for two years, could have borne the obloquy and infamy I have borne, with but one idea in his head-that of freeing his native country? St Malo is my life, my soul! Knowing that no ordinary method could succeed, two years ago, I became the secretary of the Count de Fontaines. 'Tis true I loved his daughter; but even the winning of her heart was secondary with me to the liberty of St Malo. That was my first, my ardent hope. I lived, then, in the castle; I studied its every stone, and as long as nothing was done against my native city, I served my master well. I have no right now to reveal the secrets of my late employer, but this I tell you, the castle must be ours to-night."
Dead silence followed. Men drew long breaths, and all seemed relieved from something that had oppressed them.
O Michel! Michel!' cried Pepin, rushing into his arms; 'why did you not trust me? What misery you caused me for ten months past I have no words to tell !'
My friend, actions like mine cannot bear accomplices. You would have sought to defend my character, and I should have been betrayed. But listen to me; there is no time to be lost. Are all resolved to take the castle to-night?' All! All!' said the citizens. Appoint a chief, then,' replied Michel quietly.
Michel,' exclaimed Porcon rising,' we owe you a reparation of the most marked kind : command- -we obey.
Michel simply bowed his acceptance, and then gave hurried orders.
Pepin, pick out fifty-five of the younger members of our body, youths who can climb, and whose heads are not likely to grow dizzy. Let these follow us. Do you, Porcon, arouse the whole guard, and when you hear the horn sound from the summit of the Generale Tower, attack the Quic-en-Grogne. Its gates will soon open, and the castle is ours. But mark me: take not the life of the count, as you love me; and respect the king. I am no friend to his authority, but I admire and reverence the man.
Not an instant is to be lost-go.'
Pepin had in a few minutes found the fifty-five volunteers required; the rest then dispersed, to prepare for their warlike expedition. The fifty-six remained alone with their young chief. • What orders now?' said Pepin.
Follow me, and let the rest meet us on the port in ten minutes, with such boats as will take us all to the foot of the Tower of Lá Generale!'
A look of stupefaction met the words of Michel, who, however, coldly waved his hand for them to go.
What are you about to do?' said Pepin in a low tone, while the others hurried to provide arms for the expedition, under the influence of a feeling of confidence inspired alone by the manner of their young leader.
• To re-enter the castle as I left it,' replied Michel quietly; and then, as he went along, he explained how he had escaped the vigilance of the king and the governor.
For months he had prepared for the contingency that had occurred. In a hollow of the outward battlements of the tower, beneath some overhanging weeds, he had concealed a long knotted cord, that measured a hundred and twenty feet. This he had fastened, while the king's attention was withdrawn, to a cannon, and then bidding Isabella turn her head away, had descended with the agility of a sailor. Once upon the water, he had swum round to the port, and reaching the gate, partly by persuasion partly by threats, had got it opened. He now proposed that the whole troop should ascend to the summit of the tower, and thus capture the citadel by a bold and audacious act, letting in afterwards their companions to consolidate their victory. Pepin heard with awe, wonder, and delight the narrative of Michel, at whose house they had now arrived. He went in for a moment, and then came out followed by two men, who had been waiting, bearing a heavy parcel. It was now midnight; the fifty-five adventurers were waiting at the port; the city-guard was collecting and arming throughout the town; Henry IV. was watching on the summit of La Generale, convinced that something strange was going on in St Malo. At this moment Pepin sounded the signal-horn, to announce to all to be ready: they had arrived at the port.
The night was dark, gusty, and tempestuous ; the moon had fallen some two hours, and left a gray cold sky, which soon was robed in clouds, that came driving up from the north-west with singular rapidity. It was a night for an act of desperation, such as that which they were about to attempt. When Michel and Pepin came down upon the port, they found four large boats ready launched, their masts stepped, the sails loosely flapping, and eight men at the oars. Not a word was spoken--not a sound was heard beyond the roar of the tempest, the rattling of cords, and the beating of the waves against the shore. Michel chose a boat, and at once entered.
A wild night for fishing,' said a rough sailor, who had assisted to put out the boats, and, with seven others, was about to share the dangers of the night; and a strange captain,' he added, as he recognised Michel.
Silence, Pierre du Parc!? replied Michel; 'but one voice must be heard to-night, and that is mine. Put this packet on board.'
The sailor obeyed with silent wonder. Then Michel and Pepin entered the same boat, the latter taking the helm. The sails were closely furled, but still a small portion was left open to the wind, as the current of the Rancé is strong, and that night ran like a mill-race. When they were outside the port, the helmsman put the helm hard up, and let the boat run right before the wind. The first oarsman almost backed his oar with astonishment.
Where, in God's name, are we going ?' said he. He was one of the sailors who was to take care of the boats and seek shelter up the river, as soon as the party had landed.
Silence, forward there; let the first man who speaks be thrown overboard l' replied Michel in a stern commanding voice.
The man bent quietly to his oar. He now knew that he was on a desperate errand, and, like a bold sailor, determined to do his duty, whatever it might be.
Michel steered directly up the bay which formed the mouth of the river, with the castle to his left. Already did he hear the roar of the rushing waters against the rock, and bidding Pepin be cautious, advanced to the bows of the boat. Behind, he saw the three others labouring, like themselves, heavily in the storm, each moment becoming more alarming: The dull roar of heaven's artillery in the distance soon added to the terror of a scene that, to those who were actors in it, was simply sublime. These hardy natures, these youths who all their lives had been rocked upon the ocean waves, braved the peril with a mysterious feeling of excitement not unlike that with which we gaze at a terrible act in some mimic drama. They had no fear save of failure, and hence only wished themselves at the summit of the Generale. Presently Michel made a sign, just as a flash of lightning illumined the whole scene. Pepin well understood. Following the direction of Michel's arm, he again pressed the helm, shifted the sail, and plunged through the roaring waves towards the rock.
In sail— back your oars!' cried Michel in a low tone, leaping at the same time into the boiling and seething waters, the painter in hand. The boat struck violently against the rock at the same moment, but Michel was above, fastening the line to a projecting block of stone. The other boats were easily moored to the first. This dangerous part of their duty effected, Michel made a sign that the boats should run for shelter up the river, to return in two
hours with a good crew, unless they heard such tidings as rendered their coming back unnecessary. First, however, the heavy parcel was put on shore. Here, then, in the cold, beaten with the surf, stood these fifty-seven men, about to attempt an act almost unexampled in history, and which in days when courage alone obtained much credit, should have immortalised them all. All stood close together, grasping the rock; no one moved a step: They would have rolled into the sea, and none could have stirred to save them. All were silent, waiting the orders of Michel ; and the lightning flashed, and the thunder rolled, and then the clock of the cathedral struck one.
"You see this cord ?' said Michel in a low, firm, but clear voice. 'I must ascend by this. It will safely bear but one man. Once up, I shall haul up the ladder contained in this packet. It will support a dozen at least. Let parties of thirteen and fourteen ascend at a time. But recollect, I will come down again, to head the band that ascends first.'
Nay, stop up there,' said Pepin. "It will be so much time saved. But how know when all is safe?' asked Michel.
At half-past one, the first man shall put his foot on the first rope,' replied Pepin. Michel made no reply. He had thirty minutes to do his work in, and his time was therefore precious. While several below held the cord tight, Michel, his sword in his teeth, his musketoon on his back, began his ascent; shaken by the wind, stunned by the thunder, and seeing, as he mounted, the sea first, then the port, then the ramparts, then the summit of the fortress. No man not inured to the sea, and who had not during a hurricane gone aloft to furl topgallant-sails, or who had not sat out at the leeward end of a yard, plunging almost at every moment in the waves, could have gone up safely. Even Michel looked upward, on one side, but never down. His thoughts, however, were so bent on his enterprise, that he had no time for dizziness to seize him, and in ten minutes he was at the summit. He was about to climb over, and had raised one leg, when he saw a man seated on a stone-bench opposite.
Michel felt his head swim. His daring attempt in favour of the ancient liberties and hereditary independence of his native island, was about to fail before an unforeseen accident. No sentry ever guarded at night the impregnable Generale; they occupied the other
ramparts. But in twenty minutes his companions would be climbing up, perhaps, a half-fastened ladder. Inside the port-hole, which was large, lay a heavy cannon, the carriage of which was mending. On this depended the whole success of the young man's enterprise. He ensconced himself as well as he could outside on the stone projection which served as a gutter, holding on inside the port-hole; then he unfastened the rope, and passed one end round the cannon: to this, watching the sleeper the whole time, he attached a heavy piece of iron prepared