The carved chests of the Channel Islands9th July 2018
'A slightly coloured sketch.'
An oaken chest, half eaten by the worm,
But richly carved by Anthony of Trent,
With Scripture stories from the life of Christ;
A chest that came from Venice, and had held
The ducal robes of some old ancestor.
That by the way—it may be true or false.
[From] Rogers’ Italy.
By Samuel Elliott Hoskins.
Victor Hugo was not, it would seem, the first to transform the carved wooden chests of Guernsey into some other form of decorative furniture. De Beauvoir De Lisle got there before him!
Soon after De Rullecourt's invasion of Jersey, in 1781, gallantly repulsed by the heroic Major Pierson, at the head of a small body of troops of the line, supported by the insular militia, the Channel Islands were strongly garrisoned by British regiments co-operating with the native levies, for the defence of these important military outposts, which had been annexed to England by her Norman conqueror, as part of his original dominions—as a needy bridegroom, with all his worldly goods, endows his heiress bride.
The allegiance of insular Normandy, as this cluster of isles was called, to its hereditary lords, continued after the ducal coronet had been transformed into a regal crown, and ceased not, even when continental Normandy was wrested from the feeble grasp of the Conqueror's successors.* This fidelity to the sovereigns of England was rewarded from time to time by testimonials of esteem and gratitude, in the tangible form of immunities, franchises, and other constitutional comforts, as recorded in still existing charters.
[* Old Peter Heylin, who accompanied the Earl of Danby, in 1629, writes as follows, in his "Survey of the Estate of Guernzey and Jarsey :"—"The sentence or arrest of confiscation given by the parliament of France against King John, nor the surprisall of Normandy by the French forces, could be no perswasion unto them to change their masters. Nay, when the French had twice seized on them, during the reign of that unhappy Prince, and the state of England was embroyled at home, the people valiantly made good their own, and faithfully returned unto their first obedience. In aftertimes, as any war grew hot between the English and the French, these islands were principally aimed at by the enemy, and sometimes also were attempted by them, but with ill successe."]
A union formed by ties of protection on the one part, and gratitude on the other, was gradually but firmly cemented by community of interests. The islanders, through lapse of time and changes of dynasty, preserved their loyalty unshaken to the English crown. Enthusiastically attached to the government and religion; ever ready to resist the common enemy, they became thoroughly identified in feeling with their rulers; although, by a strange anomaly, their laws were administered, and their church services performed, as they continue to be, in the language of Britain's most jealous and enduring foes.
With feelings of patriotism glowing in their bosoms, and foreign invasion at their thresholds, the spirit of war and martial glory now kindled into a fierce flame; the sons of the island gentry eagerly sought commissions in the service of the parent state. Many won lasting distinction, as the annals of succeeding wars abundantly testify; "many died, and there was much glory."
Constant interchange of hospitalities between the natives and their gallant defenders led to intimate social intercourse, and incessant gaieties; the islands, to this day, enjoy the well-earned reputation of affording the most agreeable of the quarters assigned to the British soldier.
As the ardent sons of the isles responded to the stirring sounds of the trumpet and the drum, so did the dark-eyed daughters yield to the magic influence of the martial youths, whose gay uniforms enlivened their routs, and glittered at their balls.
The artificial fly with which Cupid, in a garrison town, is wont to angle for female hearts is often composed of scarlet cloth, cunningly interlaced with gold, and flaunting feathers; whilst his hook baited with Brussels lace and silken fabrics is equally efficacious with the other sex, albeit professing to be formed of" sterner stuff." The sport is abundantly successful, and Hymen ends by placing the victims pair after pair in his matrimonial basket. So stood the case, at the period alluded to, between the officers of the garrison and the island maidens. These alliances became more and more frequent, though sanctioned at first with reluctance by the parental hidalgos of the soil, jealous of the Norman blood so purely preserved within their veins—the transfusion, though it may have spoiled the blood, "very much improved the breed."
A gallant major in one of the fencible corps raised by Great Britain during the French revolutionary war, following the example of many of his brother officers, had taken to himself an island bride—a daughter of one of the most ancient among " the baronial proprietors of the soil." Their son, a captain in the —th Light Infantry, was stationed with his regiment, as his father had been before him, in the picturesque, but still primitive, island of Guernsey, during the summer of 1811—the year of the comet, as connoisseurs in claret called it, before claret and comets were of every-day occurrence.
Sir John Doyle, at that time Lieut.-Governor, by his diplomatic management—some said his eloquence, others his "blarney,"-— had succeeded in inducing the British government to sanction, and the conservative Sarnians to tax themselves for, the conversion of their shady green lanes into formal but useful military roads.
The measure was not generally popular, whether from a love of the picturesque or the breeches-pocket, is of little consequence. As an instance of the feeling here and there manifested, it may be mentioned, that an old farmer, indignant at the innovation, left positive orders, on his death, that his coffin should not pass over a single yard of the new roads. The bearers were in consequence obliged to undertake a steeple-chase with their burthen, over hedges and ditches, to deposit it in the parish churchyard.
In spite of these prejudices, and the opposition they engendered, the new roads multiplied, intersecting the island in all directions,—contributing essentially to its civilisation and prosperity. As an acknowledgment of these benefits, a granite column was erected by the inhabitants in honour of General Doyle, soon after the expiration of his government. It stands on a jutting headland, near the spot where Robert le Diable, of historic, melodramatic, and operatic fame, had, in the eleventh century, erected a castle for the defence of the islanders against the incursions of the pirates, who infested the neighbouring seas. This column, albeit no great specimen of architectural beauty, attests a due appreciation of the services rendered by the ex-governor, and serves as a landmark for mariners approaching the rock-bound coast.
The detachment of which Captain Seymour had the command, formed one of the working parties on the new highways. It was encamped on a green spot overlooking a small wooded ravine, in the vicinity of " les grands moulins," near the picturesque village of the King's mills.
The beauty of the scenery had long, by description, been familiar to him; the fairy legends of the neighbourhood having formed the theme of many a nursery tale related to him by his mother in far distant lands. Born and reared on a neighbouring estate, she knew each shady lane—
'and every alley green,Dingle, and bosky dell"of this sequestered spot.'
The connexion above-mentioned secured to Captain Seymour on his arrival the countenance and hospitality of sundry uncles and aunts, and allowed the ready formation of friendships and flirtations with swarms of cousins. These newly-found relatives formed the aristocracy of the little state, which, owing to its insulation and difficulty of access, when a voyage across the channel often occupied more days than it now does hours, had few 'felicity-hunting' visitors. Those whom business or professional avocations attracted, were astonished to find, in this neglected spot, a society of well-educated persons, with pursuits and manners peculiarly their own, possessing the best attributes of that of England and France, but somewhat different from both; the vivacity of the one being duly tempered by the decorous etiquette of the other; a pleasing intermixture of continental freedom with British formality, in which the stiffness of a first introduction in more precise England was gracefully and cheerfully modified.
Among the gallant captain's kinsmen, a surviving brother of his mother's, who claimed also to be his godfather, had, in consequence of this natural and spiritual propinquity, constituted himself the especial guide and Mentor of the newly-arrived Telemachus. 'Défiez-vous de vous-même, ô jeune homme,' said he, in the style of his favourite Fenelon—'attendez toujours mes conseils. II ne manque pas dans cette île de Calypso, des Déesses et des nymphes qui pourroient rendre votre séjour dangereux.'
This address indicated the old man's apprehension that his nephew might become captivated, at first sight, by the charms of some insular brunette—as his father had been.
The old gentleman—for gentleman he was in aspect and in feeling—after residing, as was then the fashion, at one of the English universities, had passed some years in Paris, where he had learned the graceful paces of the minuet de la cour, and was considered une fine lame by a celebrated maître-d'armes. He could turn a couplet, or pen an epistle with spirit and point, in French of sufficient purity—easily engrafted on his native dialect.
Endued with these accomplishments, and a smattering of Norman law, Monsieur d'Anneville had returned to set up a comfortable bachelor establishment on his patrimonial estates—estates which, as his deeds and records proved, had been in the possession of his family for centuries. They formed a fief or manor, for which, according to the livre d'Estente, 'il doit foy et hommage a nostre sire le Roy quand iceluy nostre sire le Roy sera venu en l'ile.'
This kind of tenure, which still obtains, enabled him to act the chieftain at stated seasons, when he presided at his feudal court, accompanied by his senechal, prevot, bordiers, and his grangier, to receive wheat rents and settle differences between his admiring tenants.—" lis l'appelloient tous monsieur, et ils rioient quand il faisoit des contes."
He was, moreover, Jurat of the Royal Court, and, in due course of promotion, colonel of a militia regiment. His constitutional ambition required no wider range. Like Milton's fallen angel, he deemed it better to reign in one place than serve in another, which shall be nameless.
Monsieur d'Anneville was as pertinacious regarding the purity of his descent, and the peculiar privileges of his native place, as if he had been born in the Celestial Empire instead of the Channel Islands. His race was a race sui generis, according to his views—conservative of the original Norman blood, uncontaminated, from a period anterior to the conquest. Nor was the claim altogether hypothetical, being sustained by historical evidence not to be impugned—the existence of the ancient Norman language— the laws and customs—the titles of estates, from which the proprietor acquired a territorial epithet in addition to his name, rendered grandiose by the aristocratic prefix of de, de la, or du, as high-sounding as any to be met with in Froissart, Monstrelet, or other chroniclers of the middle ages.
After the health of the king and royal family had in due course been proposed at Monsieur d'Anneville's hospitable board, it was his wont to toast his native island and his Norman ancestors, with the following remarks—'The Normans, our progenitors, have a more legitimate right to command in England, than the English to rule in Normandy.'* He supported his proposition with so much plausible reasoning, and [*his notion is seriously and ingeniously propounded in Duncan's Guernsey Magazine, from a manuscript, written about the middle of the last century, by Laurent Carey, one of the Jurats of the Royal Court.] such excellent wine, that at the end of his discourse and the third bottle, it was difficult to refuse assent. The old gentleman was an industrious and well-informed local antiquarian, ever on the hunt for old documents to support his theories. During his researches Captain Seymour was his constant companion; and while his relative was occupied with musty parchments, he was occupied in making pen and pencil sketches of the curious old chests from which the manuscripts were obtained.
From his notes and sketches of what may be termed the oaken age of furniture history, are deduced the following descriptions of the quaintly-carved coffers possessed by every family in the Channel Islands, having any pretension to refinement in the decoration of their household goods.* They were used, generally, for the preservation of family papers or other articles of value ; but their especial service was to contain the paraphernalia of the fiancée—the bridal garments—and were transmitted, in this capacity, as heiress-looms, from mother to daughter. It was at that period the custom for the bride to furnish the household plenishing as part of her trousseau, according to her estate and quality. The custom is confirmed by extant usage—'The court awards it, and the law doth give it,' even to this day.
'Le Paraphernal' says the Norman Coutumier 'signifie les biens que la femme apporte à son mari, outre son dot, c'est à savoir, ses vetements et ses bagues, et autant qu'il se trouve de son trousseau, pour les biens paraphernaux, ayant egard à la valeur des dits biens et à la qualite de la veuve; et se limite à la moitie du tiers, et au lit, et Coffre.'
The variety of carving, as to style and subject, which decorates these coffers, requires that some system of classification, dependent on distinctive character, should be adopted to facilitate description. Methodical arrangement gives dignity to a subject, and imparts an air of learning and research marvellously imposing—it is the fashion of the day, and therefore more imposing.
The Channel Island chests, then, may be classed under the following heads: first, the decorative, with its modification, the flamboyant; second, the theological; third, the mythological; fourth, the allegorical and emblematical.
[* Dr De Beauvoir De Lisle has collected numbers of these old chests, and, with great taste and ingenuity, converted them into various elegant articles of furniture. Indeed, his apartments form a perfect museum, m which specimens of each variety of chest, hereafter to be described, are contained.]
The first group is of early medieval date, and comprises the Flanders or Flemish chest, frequently alluded to in ancient documents as constituting an important article of household furniture. It was also placed in churches, as a receptacle for records, vestments, and holy vessels. The old houses in the Channel Islands afford specimens identical with, and quite as unique, as those still preserved in the churches of Huttoft in Lincolnshire, and Guestling in Sussex. The panels of the fronts and sides of these chests are elaborately ornamented with fret-work and tracery, in the decorative and flamboyant styles of Gothic architecture, in imitation of the cathedral screens, windows, and door-ways of the period.
The theological class contains a greater variety, the carvings in which, though rudely executed, and with little regard to architectural purity, perspective, or proportion, are curious as specimens of the history of modern dncdalian art. It must be remembered that the only models within the reach of the humble carver of oak chests, when pictures and effigies formed the boots of the unlearned, were derived from church architecture, from painted windows, and illuminated manuscripts.
In many of the chests, the front, consisting of a single panel, bounded on either side by Corinthian columns, with or without intervening niches, contains compositions taken from the sacred writings. Conspicuous among these is the sacrifice of Isaac, carved in bold relief, and treated with much attention to detail. The intended victim kneels, with uplifted hands, on the altar—the ram is duly caught in the thicket of stunted willows, which do duty for the wood in the land of Moriah—" the young men" and the saddled ass await the result with exemplary patience; but the spectator trembles for the fate of the angel, who, in spite of his enveloping cloud, seems in danger of impalement on the sacrificial knife of Abraham.
'Scripture stories from the life of Christ' are of frequent occurrence, and very circumstantial; such, for instance, as the incredulity of Thomas, the prayer in the garden, Jesus and the two disciples journeying towards the village of Emmaus. Nor is the Apocryphal story of the decapitation of Holofernes deemed unworthy of illustration; Judith, by no means 'of goodly countenance and beautiful to behold,' is clad in armour, she holds the 'fauchion' in her hand, having on one side the bleeding trunk of her victim, on the the other 'her maid,' into whose extended apron, apparently, she has just flung the severed head.
Other chests consist of three or four panels, each representing the effigy of an apostle or an evangelist, a saint or a martyr, all accompanied by their appropriate emblems—prominent, and though disproportionate not be mistaken. St. Peter's keys are as massive as his flowing beard—St. Paul's sword resembles that of John of Gaunt in the Tower—St. John cherishes his chalice— whilst St. Andrew shelters himself behind his saltier cross—and St. Bartholomew flourishes his knife. The martyrs are distinguished, as usual, by the palm branch borne in the left hand, each being specially designated by the instruments of their martyrdom. St. Catherine is inseparable from the wheel, St. Appolonia from a portentous pair of pincers, grasping a tooth which might with propriety be assigned to a highly respectable middle-aged elephant.
St. George, St. Maurice, and St. Margaret, though in general more rudely carved, belong to this subdivision.
Among the saints of the Catholic Church, the most prominent is 'le grand St. Eloi, eveque de Noyon, ci-devant orfevrier,' in token of which calling he bears a mallet in his hand. He is well known as the 'intendant du palais,' the spiritual and temporal adviser of his sovereign, the hero of the following couplet:—
'Le bon roi Dagobert
Avait son culotte a l’envers:
Le grand St. Eloi
Lui dit, 'Mon bon roi,
Est mal culotté ;*
'C'est vrai,' lui dit le roi,
'Je vais le mettre à l'endroit.'
The mythological class is rich in choice of subject, taken, as might be expected, chiefly from Ovid; designed with taste and some approach to elegance, in spite of certain incongruities attributable more perhaps to lurking humour in the artist's temperament than to ignorance of his subject.
Actaeon, when first he becomes aware of his transformation by the 'sprouting of a horn on either brow,' [* Ut vero solitis sua cornua vidit in undis,]
and feels his first and favourite hound fastening unkindly on his haunches, is skilfully carved, as well as the crowding nymphs about the goddess—who, instead of the cool fountain, are huddled into a bathing-tub of uncomfortably narrow dimensions for ladies of their form and figure.
The story of Phaeton is also classically illustrated :—
'The astonish'd youth, where'er his eyes could turn,
Beheld the universe around him burn,'
and whilst he topples headlong from the skies, the picture is completed, with a trifling anachronism, by the appearance of the Latian nymphs, his sisters, awaiting him on earth, and already undergoing transition into graceful poplars.
The subordinate panels are ornamented with grotesque figures of sylvan and rural deities, often more classical than chaste:—
'Men, towns, and beasts, in distant prospects rise,
And nymphs, and streams, and woods, and rural deities.'
Jupiter appears hurling his thunders as he bestrides a flying eagle, with Mars in the van, Bellona in the rear—whilst Neptune is seen taking a yachting voyage with his domestic circle :—
'Shaking his trident, urging on his steeds,
Who with two feet beat from their brawny breasts
The foaming billows; but their hinder parte
Swim and go smooth against the curling surge.'
In the allegorical group each chest, nay, each particular panel, is a study in itself; the graven images thereon portrayed affording evidence, that the artists of those days were not over strict in their observance of the second commandment. There is scarcely a subject in the nearly obsolete works of Alciat and Ripa on Iconology without its prototype in these curious old coffers, the chimera?, typhons, dragons, and other 'delicate monsters,' bearing so strong a resemblance to the ichthyosaurians, crocodileans, iguanodons and pterodactyles of modern geology, as to render it matter of speculation, whether Buckland and Mantell were not anticipated in their discoveries by these carvers of old chests.
This group likewise contains an emblematical subdivision, in the panels of which the moralist, contemplating the theological and cardinal virtues, and the seven deadly sins, "finds tongues in trees," even in the worm-eaten oak on which the effigies are carved. The seasons, that is three of them, for winter meets with no encouragement, shine forth in all the abundance of bud, blossom and fruit for the edification of the cultivator; and astronomy, painting, poetry, and science exhibit to the amateur their several attributes.
The above humble attempt at forming a catalogue raisonne of these old chests, although less perfect than the classifications of a Cuvier or an Owen, may possibly suggest to the antiquary some clue as to the probable date and country to which they owe their origin. Thus, the rich Gothic tracery of the flamboyant specimens, their resemblance to the church architecture of the Low Countries, and their avowed importation from thence, render it not improbable that they are of Flemish or even Venetian workmanship, in the execution of which Anthony of Trent himself may have had a hand. The allegorical and mythological may reasonably be attributed to French artists; the indelicate designing of some of the figures being no impediment to the idea.
A striking resemblance between the scripture carvings, and the subjects on the old blue tiles which were wont to line our chimney corners, favour an inference that the theological as well as the emblematical chest was fabricated in Holland. In the latter compositions the stork, which is the Dutch emblem of plenty, is associated with bold and highly-finished representations of natural objects indicating abundance; for instance, fruit, flowers, fish, game, to which are added, wine-vessels and drinking-cups, the whole presided over by deities of jovial aspect but questionable virtue, accompanied by figures of Harmony, and lusty nymphs dispensing good things from flowing cornucopia.
One of the most highly ornamented of these venerable relics stood beside a carved oak bedstead in the room assigned to Captain Seymour, during his frequent participations of Monsieur d'Anneville's hospitality.
The mouldings around the summit and the base were boldly carved with a flowing pattern of foliage, flowers, and that peculiar decoration called, by the archa3ologist, diaper work, or diapering. The extremities were formed of groups of female figures, clothed in drapery of much elegance, carved in excellent relief, after the manner of the Caryatides in antique sculptures. One large central panel occupied the front of the chest, within which, surrounded by a foliated wreath, was seen the figure of Apollo reclining on a bank and crowned with laurel; .one hand resting on the lyre, the other grasping his bow and arrows — the panel was also relieved by Nereids laying more at ease than could be expected on scaly antediluvian monsters: the ends of the chest richly carved with tracery, columns and arches, inclosing figures after the manner of Egyptian nondescripts.
The Captain was, one evening, amusing himself by transferring these various designs to a well-stored note-book, when his uncle entered, and, after contemplating the drawing for some time, exclaimed, with much emotion, "How many associations, my dear boy, does that piece of furniture recall, interwoven with many a boyish freak and youthful fancy? One circumstance, however, is vividly suggested by your presence. I have excited your curiosity, and will endeavour to gratify it. Listen, therefore, but continue your sketch, whilst I relate
A Story of the Carved oak chest, 'The chamber we now occupy was in early life your mother's—the chest was hers, destined to contain her trousseau de noces, as it had that of her mother's mothers for some generations. It was not yet however so appropriated, but, besides family papers; served as a receptacle for articles of joint value to us both—for instance, it contained her bijouterie, my foils and fusil de chasse, together with a favourite rapier, presented to me by my fencing master, in consequence of my having overcome with it an officer of the Gardes du Roi, during my residence in Paris.
On my return from that capital, in 17—, I found your mother, whom I had left a mere child, grown into a charming combination of grace, beauty, and good sense—a piquante, agagante brunette. For the truth of my assertion I refer you to an excellent full length portrait of her, taken at the time, which now adorns my library.
She had many admirers. I was not, however, then aware of the impression your father's fine person and elegant manners, to say nothing of his scarlet coat, had made on her heart. I believed that a cousin of our own, my early friend and fellow traveller, was likely to win her affections. Osmond de la Cour was evidently smitten with her charms, and therefore, clear-sighted as to rivalry, he invariably evinced, I knew not why, a marked aversion to the English soldier—the stranger as he called him,—with whom he was constantly seeking subject of dispute.
One evening, rather late, I was surprised by a mysterious visit from Osmond, during which he informed me with sinister joy that the smothered feud between the detested Englishman and himself had at length burst forth. They were to meet, he informed me, with swords, the next morning; he came to claim my services as his second, and requested the loan of my trusty rapier. I did and said all I could to dissuade him from the encounter—the grounds for which, according to his own telling, did not appear to me sufficient; but he was resolved. I still trusted, by my presence and management, to prevent evil consequences, and therefore consented to accompany him.
After he was gone, I remembered that the sword, which must be forthcoming at an early hour in the morning, was lying perdu in the chest in my sister's room, and she had retired for the night. What was to be done? I could not obtain it without her knowledge; to ask, would have been to arouse suspicion and anxiety on my own account. There was no house sufficiently near, from which I could procure a similar weapon within the given period. The only alternative that remained was to await, patiently as might be, until she should be asleep; and then, stealing silently into the room, abstract the deadly instrument from its repose. This plan appeared the more feasible, as the mere lifting of a wooden latch would allow admittance to her chamber.
I listened for some time at the door. She was still: perhaps reading: there was nothing indicative of an intention of retiring to rest. The agitation of conflicting emotions, the desire to serve my friend, and to prevent mischief, rendered me restless and impatient. I descended to the dining-room; the space was too confined, the air too sultry within doors, to soothe my fevered sensations. I rushed into the garden—it was a calm, moonlight, midsummer night,—all was quiet but my own heart. I loathed the very fragrance of the luxuriant flowers at other times so cherished—the soft moonlight streaming through the leaves, defining them in feathery distinctness against the clear-obscure of the horizon seemed glaring as noon-day to my over-excited senses. The lamp gleamed from the poor girl's apartment; her shadow was ever and anon traced upon the curtained window; she too was restless—what could be the cause?
For an hour or two I paced the grassy lawn that allowed me to keep her window in view. Every moment was an age, every pace forewarned me of the approach of dawn. I had not only to get the sword but to walk a considerable distance to the place of rendezvous ;—with what anxiety I watched the flame of that enduring lamp! At length, the shadow passed and repassed more rapidly—the light was extinguished.
I entered the house with cautious steps and ascended to my apartment for a key of the chest, which was always carefully locked. At the door of my sister's room I paused—listening with breathless anxiety, until assured that the only audible sounds were the echoes of my own throbbing pulses. At length I ventured to lift the latch—all was still—there was little difficulty in applying the key to the rude lock; the ponderous lid was lifted without noise; but the object of my search lay at the very bottom of the chest, entangled with the foils and fowling piece; in withdrawing it a metallic clang rang through the chamber. A deep-drawn sigh, almost a groan, issued from my sister's couch. I grasped the weapon—the lid fell with a crash—I rushed from the apartment, leaving the door unclosed, and hastily descending the stairs, regained the garden.
So much time had been expended in manoeuvring to get the sword that it became necessary to set out at once, in order to reach the ground in time. It was impossible to get my horse out of the stable without disturbing the old servants, and subjecting myself to their well-meant offers of service—their surmises, if not inquiries.
Along the rugged footway of the winding lanes I hastened with rapid steps, imbued with an indistinct perception of being followed. My senses seemed conspiring to deceive me. I heard footfalls in every rustle of the leaves, dim shadows appeared to vanish amid the thickets and clumps of trees at every turning, as I cast a retrospective glance along the path.
It may seem strange that after such a lapse of years I should be able minutely to recall the impressions of that night. None but those who have been similarly circumstanced can understand how indelibly events, such as I relate, are engraved upon the mind, how vividly they flash across the memory the moment the key-note of association is touched, though never so gently. I was about to become a participator in the shedding of human blood—an abettor of murder. True it is, the language of the times did not apply to these rencontres so just a stigma; true, I had been brought up in a school where such scenes were daily and approved exercises. Nevertheless, conscience, 'which makes cowards of us all,' was not to be stiffled; the only solace to be applied was the determination, which strengthened with every step I took, to do my utmost to prevent matters from coming to a fatal issue.
At length, just as the dawn was breaking, I reached the appointed spot—a small inclosure of soft turf, studded with tiny flowerets, which sparkled with dewy gems, as the rising sunbeams were reflected from their facets. Osmond was already there, and alone. Again I sought to reason with him, to overcome a stern determination, which the circumstances he had related could in no way justify. I was disgusted to find him dogged, inexorable; little dreaming that his true motives were withheld from me, his friend. My only hope was in the temper of the adverse party—it could not be so deeply vindictive. We had not waited long, when your father, accompanied by a brother officer, appeared. To the latter I appealed, stating my impressions, and strong desire for an accommodation. He replied, with courtesy, that neither himself nor his principal were averse to proper concessions on differences which still appeared too trifling to warrant deadly strife. But Osmond would listen to no appeal. He snatched the weapon from my hand, and casting me from him with a force under which I staggered, fiercely rushed towards your father. The latter had just time to draw his sword —their blades crossed and clashed with quivering harshness—a few passes were exchanged—your father was wounded, and dropped on one knee. At this moment a figure rushed past me, and fell prostrate at the side of the wounded man. It was my sister! Her white garments were instantly saturated with the ensanguined stream. I flew to her assistance. Osmond, also, throwing aside his sword, rushed wildly towards her; but encountering the still upraised blade of the wounded man, became transfixed thereon, and fell bleeding by his side.
Oh, scene of horror! We were far from surgical aid—my sister apparently dead—the two foes lying side by side, their heart's-blood mingling in one gushing current, as it flowed from their dilated wounds. I took my sister in my arms—she slowly recovered her senses. Your father's friend, after binding up his hurt, as best he might, extended the same assistance to his adversary. Then it was that my sister's exclamations of love for the one, and detestation for the other, revealed to me that the affair was of deeper import than I had at first imagined: Osmond was the rejected suitor.
The sound of a sharpening scythe, and the voices of some early mowers in an adjacent field, carolling their merry matins, unconscious of the bloody drama enacting in their vicinity, indicated to me that assistance for carrying the wounded men to a place of succour was at hand. They were speedily summoned to the spot. Some were dispatched to the town for professional aid, others formed litters of boughs, on which some new-mown hay was placed, as means of transport. Osmond was conveyed to his own home, and your father, with my scarcely-revived sister, were borne to this house—to this apartment.
The wounds of the antagonists were not dangerous. Osmond soon recovered, and speedily quitted the island. Your father's convalescence was rather protracted, unaccountably so to his surgeon, who knew nothing of the heart complaint under which he lingered, but for which he ultimately obtained a sovereign panacea—the consent of our parents to his union with my sister. The old oak chest, I need scarcely add, was soon occupied by more pleasing gear than warlike weapons."
S Elliott Hoskins.