Barboux would have fired at once had not Menehwehna checked him with a few rapid words. With a snort of disgust the moose turned slowly, presenting his flank, and crashed away through the undergrowth as the shot rang after him. Bateese and Muskingon had the canoe launched in a second, and the whole party clambered in and paddled across. But before they reached the bank the beast's hoofs could be heard drumming away on the ridge beyond the swamp and the branches snapping as he parted them.
Barboux cursed his luck. The two Indians maintained that the moose had been hit. At length Muskingon, who had crossed the swamp, found a splash of blood among the mosses, and again another on the leaves of a wickup plant a rod or two farther on the trail. The sergeant, hurrying to inspect these traces, plunged into liquid mud up to his knees, and was dragged out in the worst of tempers by John, who had chosen to follow without leave. Bateese and McQuarters remained with the canoe.
Each in his own fashion, then, the trackers crossed the swamp, and soon were hunting among a network of moose-trails, which criss-crossed one another through the burnt wood. John, aware of his incompetence, contented himself with watching the Indians as they picked up a new trail, followed it for a while, then patiently harked back to the last spot of blood and worked off on a new line. Barboux had theories of his own, which they received with a galling silence. It galled him at length to fury, and he was lashing them with curses which made John wonder at their forbearance, when a call from the river silenced him.
It came from Bateese. Bateese, who cared nothing for sport, had paddled up-stream to inspect the next reach of the river, and there, at the first ford, had found the moose lying dead and warm, with the ripple running over his flank and his gigantic horns high out of the water like a snag.
From oaths Barboux now turned incontinently to boasting. This was his first moose, but he—he, Joachim Barboux, was a sportsman from his birth. He still contended, but complacently and without rancour, that had the Indians taken up the trail he had advised from the first it would have led them straight to the ford. They heard him and went on skinning the moose, standing knee deep in the bloody water, for the body was too heavy to be dragged ashore without infinite labour. Menehwehna found and handed him the bullet, which had glanced across and under the shoulder-blade, and flattened itself against one of the ribs on the other side. Barboux pocketed it in high good humour; and when their work was done—an ugly work, from which Bateese kept his eyes averted—a steak or two cut out, with the tongue, and the carcass left behind to rot in the stream—he praised them for brave fellows. They listened as indifferently as they had listened to his revilings.
This shot which slew the moose was the last fired on the upward journey. They had followed the stream up to the hill ridges, where rapid succeeded rapid; and two days of all but incessant portage brought them out above the forest, close beneath the naked ridges where but a few pines straggled.
Bateese pointed out a path by following which, as he promised, they would find a river to carry them down into the St. Lawrence. He unfolded a scheme. There were trees beside that farther stream— elm-trees, for example—blown down and needing only to be stripped; his own eyes had seen them. Portage up and over the ridge would be back-breaking work. Let the canoe, therefore, be abandoned—hidden somewhere by the headwaters—and let the Indians hurry ahead and rig up a light craft to carry the party downstream. They had axes to strip the bark and thongs to close it at bow and stern. What more was needed? As for the loss of his canoe, he understood the sergeant's to be State business, requiring dispatch; and if so, M. the Intendant at Montreal would recompense him. Nay, he himself might be travelling back this way before long, and then how handy to pick up a canoe on this side of the hills!
The sergeant bravo-ed and clapped the little man on his back, drawing tears of pain. The canoe was hauled up and stowed in a damp corner of the undergrowth under a mat of pine-branches, well screened from the sun's rays, and the travellers began to trudge on foot, in two divisions. The Indians led, with John and Barboux, the latter being minded to survey the country with them from the top of the ridge and afterwards allow them to push on alone. He took John to keep him company after their departure, and because the two prisoners could not well be left in charge of Bateese, who besides had his hands full with the baggage. So Bateese and McQuarters toiled behind, the little man grunting and shifting his load from time to time with a glance to assure himself that McQuarters was holding out; now and then slackening the pace, but still, as he plodded, measuring the slopes ahead with his eye, comparing progress with the sun's march, and timing himself to reach the ridge at nightfall. Barboux had proposed to camp there, on the summit. The Indians were to push forward through the darkness.
Meanwhile John stepped ahead with Barboux and the Indians. His spirits rose as he climbed above the forest; the shadow which had lain on them slipped away and melted in the clear air. Here and there he stumbled, his knees reminding him suddenly of his weakness; but health was coming back to him, and he drank in long pure draughts of it. It was good, after all, to be alive and young. A sudden throbbing in the air brought him to a halt; it came from a tiny humming-bird poising itself over a bush-tufted rock on his right. As it sang on, careless of his presence, John watched the music bubbling and trembling within its flame-coloured throat. He, too, felt ready to sing for no other reason than pure delight. He understood the ancient gods and their laughter; he smiled down with them upon the fret of the world and mortal fate. Father Jove, optimus maximus, was a grand fellow, a good Catholic in spite of misconception, and certainly immortal; god and gentleman both, large, lusty, superlative, tolerant, debonair. As for misconception, from this height Father Jove could overlook centuries of it at ease—the Middle Ages, for instance. Everyone had been more or less cracked in the Middle Ages—cracked as fiddles. Likely enough Jove had made the Middle Ages, to amuse himself. . . .
As the climb lulled his brain, John played with these idle fancies. Barboux, being out of condition and scant of breath, conversed very little. The Indians kept silence as usual.
The sun was dropping behind the cleft of the pass as they reached it, and the rocky walls opened in the haze of its yellow beams. So once more John came to the gate of a new world.
Menehwehna led, Barboux followed, with John close behind, and Muskingon bringing up the rear. They were treading the actual pass, and Menehwehna, rounding an angle of the cliff, had been lost to sight for a moment, when John heard a low guttural cry—whether of surprise or warning he could not tell.
He ran forward at Barboux's heels. A dozen paces ahead of the Indian, reclining against the rock-face on a heap of scree, in the very issue of the pass, with leagues of sunlight beyond him and the basin of the plain at his feet, sat a man.
He did not move; and at first this puzzled them, for he lay dark against the sun, and its rays shone in their eyes.
But Menehwehna stepped close up to him and pointed. Then they saw, and understood.
The man was dead; dead and scalped—a horrible sight.
THE FARTHER SLOPE.
Barboux's complexion had turned to a sick yellow beneath its mottles. He had been walking hard, and had eaten too much throughout the voyage; no doubt, too, the sunset light painted his colour deeper. But the man fairly twittered.
Menehwehna muttered an Indian name.
"Eh? Speak low, for the love of God!" The sergeant swept the cliffs above and around with a shuddering glance.
"Les Agniers, as you call them—but Iroquois for certain. The man, you see, is Canayan—" Menehwehna began coolly to handle the corpse. "He has been dead for hours, but not many hours." He lifted an arm and let it fall, after trying the rigidity of the muscles. "Not many hours," he repeated; and signed to Muskingon, who began to crawl forward and, from the gap of the pass, to reconnoitre the slope below.
"And in the interval they have been tracking us, belike?"
"They may, indeed, have spied us coming from the cliffs above," answered Menehwehna unperturbed. "If so, they are watching us at this moment, and there is no escaping; but this we shall learn within twenty paces, since between the rocks here they have us at their will. You, O illustrious, they might suffer to promenade yourself for a while in the open, for the sake of better sport; with us, who are Ojibways, they would deal while yet they could be sure."
He said it without any show of vanity, nor did he trouble himself to glance around or above for signs of the foe. "We had best make trial of this without delay," he added. "For if they fire the noise may reach the other two and warn Bateese, who is clever and may yet save himself."
"What the devil care I for Bateese?" snarled Barboux. "If they have tracked us, they have tracked all. I run no risks for a bossu and a useless prisoner."
"I did not say that they have tracked us. Him they tracked beyond a doubt; and at the end he knew they were after him. See—" Again he lifted the arm of the corpse, and invited the sergeant to feel its shirt along the ribs and under the armpits. "See you how stiff it is; that is where the sweat has dried, and men sweat so when they are in a great hurry. Perhaps he was the last of his company, and they overtook him here. Now, see again—I tell you they have not been tracking us, and I will prove it. In the first place I am no fool, and if one—two—three men have tracked me close (it cannot be far) a day long without my knowing, it will be the first time in Menehwehna's life. But let that pass. See these marks; they overtook him here, and they did with him—so. But where is any mark on the path behind us? Look well; there is only one path and no trail in it at all, else I had not cried out as I did. No man has passed within less time than it takes the moss to grow. Very good; then whoever killed him followed him up from yonder, and here stopped and turned back—I think, in a hurry. To place the body so—that is an Iroquois trick when few and in a hurry; otherwise they take him away and do worse."
"Iroquois? But que diable! The Six Nations are at peace with us! Why on earth should the Iroquois meddle with this man, by the dress of him a coureur de bois?"
"And unarmed, too!" pursued Menehwehna with fine irony, "since they have taken away his gun. Ask me riddles that I can read. The Six Nations are never at peace; there were five hundred of them back at Ticonderoga, seated on a hill opposite and only waiting. Yes, and in peace they have never less reasons than fingers and toes for killing a man. Your questions are for a child; but I say that the Iroquois have been here and killed this man, and in a hurry. Now answer me; if, after killing him, they wished to spy down upon our coming, and were in a hurry, why did they not take the short way through the pass?"
"That is simple. Any fresh track of men at the entrance, or close within it, would warn us back; therefore they would say, 'Let us climb to the ridge and watch, though it take longer.'"
"Good; now you talk with a clear head, and I have less fear for you. They may be aloft there, as you say, having drawn us into their trap. Yet I do not think it, for why should they be expecting us? It is now two days since you killed the moose. They could not have been near in a body to hear that shot fired, for it is hours since they overtook this man, following him up from the other slope. But a scout might have heard it and climbed across to warn them; yes, that is possible."
But here Muskingon came crawling back. He had inspected the ground by the lip of the descent, and in his belief the dead man's pursuers were three or four at the most, and had hurried down the hill again when their work was done.
Menehwehna nodded gravely. "It is as I thought, and for the moment we need not fear; but we cannot spend the night in this trap—for trap it is, whether watched or not. Do we go forward then, or back?"
Barboux cursed. "How in the name of twenty devils can I go back! Back to the Richelieu?—it would be wasting weeks!" His hand went up to his breast, then he seemed to recollect himself and turned upon John roughly. "Step back, you, and find if the others are in sight. We, here, have private matters to discuss."
John obeyed. The first turn of the cliff shut off the warm westerly glow, and he went back through twilight. He knew now why Barboux had lagged behind on the Richelieu, in scorn of discipline. The man must be entrusted with some secret missive of Montcalm's, and, being puffed up with it, had in a luckless hour struck out a line of his own. To turn back now would mean his ruin; might end in his standing up to be shot with his back to a wall. . . .
Between the narrow walls of the pass night was closing down rapidly. John lifted his face towards the strip of sky aloft, greenish-blue and tranquil. . . .
He fell back—his heart, after one leap, freezing—slowly freezing to a standstill; his hands spreading themselves against the face of the rock.
What voice was that, screaming? . . . one—two—three—horrible human screams, rending the twilight, beating down on his ears, echoing from wall to wall. . . .
The third and last scream died out in a low, bubbling wail. Close upon it rose a sound which John could not mistake—the whoop of Indians. He plucked his hands from the rock, and ran; but, as he turned to run, in the sudden silence a body thudded down upon the path behind him.
In twenty strides he was back again at the issue of the pass. The two Indians had vanished. Barboux's gross body alone blocked the pale daylight there. Barboux lingered a moment, stooping over the murdered man; but he too ran at the sound of John's footsteps, and the corpse, as John came abreast of it, slid over in a silly heap, almost rolling against his legs.
He leaped aside and cleared it, and in a moment was pelting down the slope after the sergeant, who flung back an agonised doubtful glance, and recognising his pursuer grunted with relief. At their feet, and far below, spread a wide plain—a sea of forest rolling, wave upon wave, with a gleam of water between. The river, then—Bateese's river—was near at hand.
Fifty yards down the slope, which was bare of cover, he saw the two Indians. Muskingon led by a few strides, and the pair seemed to be moving noiselessly; yet, by the play of their shoulders, both were running for their lives. John raced past the lumbering sergeant and put forth all his strength to catch up with Menehwehna. The descent jarred his knees horribly, and still, as he plunged deeper into the shadow of the plain, the stones and bushes beneath his feet grew dimmer and the pitfalls harder to avoid. His ears were straining for the Indian war-whoop behind him; he wondered more and more as the seconds grew into minutes and yet brought no sounds but the trickle and slide of stones dislodged by Barboux thundering in the rear.
They were close upon the outskirts of the forest. He had caught up with Menehwehna and was running at his heels, stride for stride.
In the first dark shadow of the trees Menehwehna checked himself, came to a sudden halt, and swung round, panting. Somehow, although unable to see his face, John knew him to be furiously angry—with the cold fury of an Indian.
"Englishman, you are a fool!"
"But why?" panted John innocently. "Is it the noise I made? I cannot run as you Indians can."
Menehwehna grunted. "What matters noise more or less, when he is anywhere near?"
"They have not seen us!" gasped Barboux, blundering up at this moment and almost into John's arms.
"To be sure," answered Menehwehna sardonically, "they have not seen us. It may even be that the great Manitou has smitten them with deafness and they have not heard you, O illustrious!—and with blindness, that they cannot trace your footmarks; yes, and perchance with folly, too, so that, returning to a dead man whom they left, they may wonder not at all that he has tumbled himself about!"
"Peste! It was this Englishman's fault. He came running behind and hurried me. But you Indians do not know everything. I found—" but here Barboux checked himself on the edge of a boast.
The Indian had sunk on one knee and laid his ear to the ground. "It will be of great price," said he, "if what you found will take us out of this. They are not following as yet, and the water is near."
MENEHWEHNA SETTLES ACCOUNTS.
Weary as they were, there could be no thought of halting. The river and the plain lay far below them yet, and they must push on through the darkness.
Hitherto the forest had awed John by its loneliness; its night-voices, falling at rare intervals on his ear and awaking him from dreams beside the camp-fire, had seemed to cry and challenge across immense distances as though the very beasts were far astray. But now, as he crouched behind Menehwehna, he felt it to be no less awfully inhabited. A thousand creeping things stirred or slunk away through the undergrowth; roosting birds edged towards one another in the branches, ever on the point of flapping off in panic; the thickets were warm from the flanks of moose and deer. And all this wild life, withdrawing, watched the four fugitives with a thousand eyes.
These imaginary terrors did him one service. They kept him awake. By and by his brain began to work clearly, as it often will when the body has passed a certain point of fatigue. "If these Indians on the ridge are Iroquois, why should I run? The Iroquois are friends of England, and would recognise my red coat. The man they killed was a Canadian, a coureur de bois; they will kill Barboux if they catch him, and also these two Ojibways. But to me capture will bring release."
He understood now why Menehwehna had called him a fool. Nevertheless, as he went, the screams on the cliff rang in his ears again, closing the argument.
Muskingon still led. He had struck a small mountain stream and was tracking it down towards the river—keeping wide of it to avoid the swampy ground, relying on his ears and the lie of the slope. Menehwehna followed close, ready to give counsel if needed; but the young Indian held on in silence, never once hesitating.
The debate in John's brain started afresh. "These Iroquois mean me no harm. I am sure enough of that, at any rate, to face the risk of it. Barboux is my enemy—my country's enemy—and I dislike in him the little I don't despise. As for Menehwehna and Muskingon—they, I suppose, are my enemies, and the Iroquois my friends." Somehow John felt that when civilised nations employ uncivilised allies, the simplest questions of ethics may become complicated. He remembered a hundred small acts of kindness, of good-fellowship; and he recalled, all too vividly, the murdered man and his gory head.
But might he not escape back and show himself without lessening his comrades' chances? It was a nuisance that he must always be thinking of them as comrades. Was he not their prisoner? Would their comradeship help him at the end of the journey? . . .
The moon had risen over the hills when Muskingon's piloting brought them out once more under open sky, at a point where the mountain stream met and poured itself into a larger one hurrying down from the northeast. A few yards below their confluence the riverbed narrowed, and the waters, gathering speed, were swept down through a rocky chasm towards a cataract, the noise of which had been sounding in John's ears while he debated.
Hitherto he had weighed the question as one between himself and his three companions. For the moment he saw no chance of giving them the slip; and, if a chance occurred, the odds must be terribly unequal. Still, supposing that one occurred, ought he to take it? Putting aside the insane risk, ought he to bring death—and such a death— down upon these three men, two of whom he looked upon as friends? Did his country, indeed, require this of him? He wished he had his cousin Dick beside him for counsellor, or could borrow Dick's practical mind. Dick always saw clearly.
And behold! as he stepped out upon the river bank, his wish was given him. He remembered suddenly that this Barboux carried a message—of what importance he could not tell, nor was it for him to consider. Important or not, it must be to England's detriment, and as a soldier, he had no other duty than to baulk it. Why had he not thought of this before? It ruled out all private questions, even that of escape or of saving his own life. The report of a gun would certainly be heard on the ridge above; and if, by forcing Barboux to shoot, he could draw down the Iroquois, why then—live or die—the signal must be given.
He scanned the chasm. It could not measure less than twenty feet across, and the current whirled through it far below—thirty feet perhaps. He eyed his companions. Barboux leaned on his gun a few paces from the brink, where the two Indians stood peering down at the dim waters. John dropped on one knee, pretending to fasten a button of his gaiters, and drew a long breath while he watched for his chance. Presently Muskingon straightened himself up and, as if satisfied with his inspection, began to lead the way again, slanting his course away from the bank and back towards the selvage of the woods. Menehwehna followed close, and Barboux shouldered his musket and fell into third place, grunting to John to hurry after.
And so John did—for a dozen paces back from the river. Then, swinging quickly on his heel, he dashed for the brink, and leapt.
So sudden was the manoeuvre that not until his feet left the rock—it seemed, at that very instant—did he hear the sergeant's oath of dismay. Even as he flew across the whirling darkness, his ear was listening for the shot to follow.
The take-off—a flat slab of rock—was good, and the leap well timed. But he had allowed too little, perhaps, for his weariness and his recent wound; and in the darkness he had not seen that of the two brinks the far one stood the higher by many inches. In mid-air he saw it, and flung his arms forward as he pitched against it little more than breast-high. His fingers clutched vainly for hold, while his toes scraped the face of the rock, but found no crevice to support them.
Had his body dropped a couple of inches lower before striking the bank, or had the ledge shelved a degree or two more steeply, or had it been smooth or slippery with rain, he must have fallen backward into the chasm. As it was, his weight rested so far forward upon his arms that, pressing his elbows down upon the rock, he heaved himself over on the right side of the balance, fell on his face and chest, and so wriggled forward until he could lift a knee.
The roar of the waters drowned all other noise. Only that faint cry of Barboux had followed him across. But now, as he scrambled to his feet, he heard a sudden thud on the ledge behind him. A hand clutched at his heel, out of the night. At once he knew that his stratagem had failed, that Barboux would not fire, that Muskingon was upon him. He turned to get at grips; but, in the act of turning, felt his brain open and close again with a flame and a crash, stretched out both arms, and pitched forward into darkness.
It seemed—for he knew no break in his sensations—that the ground, as he touched it, became strangely soft and elastic. For a while he wondered at this idly, then opened his eyes—but only to blink and close them again, for they were met by broad daylight.
He was lying on the grass; he was resting in Muskingon's arms amid a roaring of many waters; he was being carried between Muskingon and Menehwehna beneath a dark roof of pines—and yet their boughs were transparent, and he looked straight through them into blue sky. Was he dead? Had he passed into a world where time was not, that all these things were happening together? If so, how came the two Indians here? And Barboux? He could hear Barboux muttering: no, shouting aloud. Why was the man making such a noise? And who was that firing? . . . Oh, tell him to stop! The breastwork will never be carried in this way—haven't the troops charged it again and again? Look at Sagramore, there: pull him off somebody and let him die quiet! For pity's sake fetch the General, to make an end of this folly! Forty-sixth! Where are the Forty-sixth? . . .
He was lying in a boat now—a canoe. But how could this be, when the boat was left behind on the other side of the mountain? Yet here it was, plain as daylight, and he was lying in it; also he could remember having been lifted and placed here by Muskingon—not by Menehwehna. To be sure Menehwehna crouched here above him, musket in hand. Between the shouting and firing he heard the noise of water tumbling over rapids. The noise never ceased; it was all about him; and yet the boat did not move. It lay close under a low bank, with a patch of swamp between it and the forest: and across this swamp towards the forest Muskingon was running. John saw him halt and lift his piece as Barboux came bursting through the trees with an Indian in pursuit. The two ran in line, the Indian lifting a tomahawk and gaining at every stride; and Muskingon had to step aside and let them come abreast of him before he fired at close quarters. The Indian fell in a heap; Barboux struggled through the swamp and leapt into the canoe as Muskingon turned to follow. But now three—four—five Indians were running out of the woods upon him; four with tomahawks only, but the fifth carried a gun; and, while the others pursued, this man, having gained the open, dropped swiftly on one knee and fired. At that instant Menehwehna's musket roared out close above John's head; but as the marksman rolled over, dead, on his smoking gun, Muskingon gave one leap like a wounded stag's, and toppled prone on the edge of the bank close above the canoe.
And with that, and even as Menehwehna sprang to his feet to reach and rescue him, Barboux let fly an oath, planted the butt of his musket against the bank, and thrust the canoe off. It was done in a second. In another, the canoe had lurched afloat, the edge of the rapid whirled her bow round, and she went spinning down-stream.
All this John saw distinctly, and afterwards recalled it all in order, as it befell. But sometimes, as he recalled it, he seemed to be watching the scene with an excruciating ache in his brain; at others, in a delicious languor of weakness. He remembered too how the banks suddenly gathered speed and slid past while the boat plunged and was whirled off in the heart of the rapid. Muskingon had uttered no cry: but back—far back—on the shore sounded the whoops of the Iroquois.
Then—almost at once—the canoe was floating on smooth water and Menehwehna talking with Barboux.
"It had better be done so," Menehwehna was saying. "You are younger than I, and stronger, and it will give you a better chance."
"Don't be a fool," growled Barboux. "The man was dead, I tell you. They are always dead when they jump like that. Que diable! I have seen enough fighting to know."
But Menehwehna replied, "You need much sleep and you cannot watch against me. I have reloaded my gun, and the lock of yours is wet. Indeed, therefore, it must be as I say."
After this, Barboux said very little: but the canoe was paddled to shore and the two men walked aside into the woods. The sun was setting and they cast long shadows upon the bank as they stepped out.
John lay still and dozed fitfully, waking up now and then to brush away the mosquitoes that came with the first falling shadows to plague him.
By and by in the twilight Menehwehna returned and stood above the bank. He tossed a bundle into the canoe, stepped after it, and pushed off without hurry.
John laughed, as a child might laugh, guessing some foolish riddle.
"You have killed him!"
"He did wickedly," answered Menehwehna. "He was a fool and past bearing."
John laughed again; and, being satisfied, dropped asleep.
Along the river-front of Boisveyrac, on the slopes between the stone walls of the Seigniory and the broad St. Lawrence, Dominique Guyon, the Seigneur's farmer, strode to and fro encouraging the harvesters.
"Work, my children! Work!"
He said it over and over again, using the words his father had always used at this season. But the harvesters—old Damase Juneau and his wife La Marmite, Jo Lagasse, the brothers Pierre and Telesphore Courteau, with Telesphore's half-breed wife Leelinau (Lelie, in French)—all knew the difference in tone. It had been worth while in former times to hear old Bonhomme Guyon say the words, putting his heart into them, while the Seigneur himself would follow behind, echoing, "Yes, that is so. Work, my children: work is the great cure!" But Bonhomme Guyon was dead these two months—rest his soul; and the Seigneur gone up the river to command a fortress for the King of France; and no one left at Boisveyrac but themselves and half a dozen militiamen and this young Dominique Guyon, who would not smile and was a skinflint.
It was as if the caterpillars had eaten the mirth as well as the profits out of this harvest which (if folks said true) the Seigneur needed so badly. Even the children had ceased to find it amusing, and had trooped after the priest, Father Launoy, up the hill and into the courtyard of the Chateau.
"Work, my friends!" said Dominique. He knew well that they detested him and would have vastly preferred his brother Bateese for overseer. For his part, he took life seriously: but no one was better aware of the bar between him and others' love or liking.
They respected him because he was the best canotier on the river; a better even than his malformed brother Bateese, now with the army. When he drew near they put more spirit into their pitchforking.
"But all the same it breaks the back, this suspense," declared La Marmite. "I never could work with more than one thing in my mind. Tell us, Dominique Guyon: the good Father will be coming out soon, will he not?—that is, if he means to shoot the falls before sunset."
"What can it matter to you, mother?"
"Matter? Why if he doesn't come soon, I shall burst myself with curiosity, that is all!"
"But you know all that can be told. There has been a great victory, for certain."
"Eh? Eh? You are clever enough, doubtless; but you don't think you can question and cross-question a man the way that Father Launoy does it? Why the last time I confessed to him he turned me upside down and emptied me like a sack."
"There has been a great victory: that is all we need to know. Work, my friends, work with a good heart!"
But when his back was turned they drew together and talked, glancing now towards the Seigniory above the slope, now towards the river bank where a couple of tall Etchemin Indians stood guard beside a canoe, and across the broad flood to the woods on the farther shore stretching away southward in a haze of blue. Down in the south there, far beyond the blue horizon, a battle had been fought and a great victory won.
Jo Lagasse edged away towards Corporal Chretien, who kept watch, musket in hand, on the western fringe of the clearing. Harvests at Boisveyrac had been gathered under arms since time out of mind, with sentries posted far up the shore and in the windmill behind the Seigniory, to give warning of the Iroquois. To-day the corporal and his men were specially alert, and at an alarm the workers would have plenty of time to take shelter within the gateway of the Chateau.
"Well, it seems that we may all lift up our hearts. The English are done for, and next season there is to be a big stamping-out of the Iroquois."
"Who told you that, Jo Lagasse?"
"Everyone is saying it. Pierre Courteau has even some tale that two thousand of them were slaughtered after the battle yonder— Onnontagues and Agniers for the most part. At this rate you idlers will soon be using your bayonets to turn the corn with the rest of us."
"Yes; that's right—call us idlers! And the Iroquois known to be within a dozen miles! You would sing to another tune, my friend, if we idlers offered to march off and leave you just now." The corporal swung round on his thin legs and peered into the belt of trees.
Jo Lagasse grinned.
"No, no, corporal; I was jesting only. To think of me undervaluing the military! Why often and often, as a single man with no ties, I have fancied myself enlisting. But now it will be too late."
"If M. de Montcalm has really swallowed the English," answered the other drily, "it will be too late, as you say."
"But these English, now—I have always had a curiosity to see them. Is it true, corporal, that they have faces like devils, and that he who has the misfortune to be killed by one will assuredly rise the third day? The priests say so."
Corporal Chretien had never actually confronted his country's foes. "Much would depend," he answered cautiously, "upon circumstances, and upon what you mean by a devil."
While Jo Lagasse scratched his head over this, the wicket opened in the great gate of the Seigniory, and Father Launoy came forth with a troop of children at his heels. The harvesters crowded about him at once.
He lifted a hand. He was a tall priest and square-shouldered, with the broad brow and set square chin of a fighting man.
"My children," he announced in a voice clear as a bell, "it is certain there has been a great battle at Fort Carillon. The English came on, four to one, gnashing their teeth like devils of the pit. But the host of the faithful stood firm and overcame them, and now they are flying southward whence they came. Let thanks be given to God who giveth us the victory!"
The men bared their heads.
"When I met 'Polyte Latulippe and young Damase on my way down the river, I could scarcely believe their tale. But the Ojibway puts it beyond doubt; and the few answers I could win from the wounded sergeant all confirm the story."
"His name, Father?" asked La Marmite. "We can get nothing out of Dominique Guyon, who keeps his tongue as close as his fist."
"His name is a Clive, and he is of the regiment of Beam. He has come near to death's door, poor fellow, and still lies too near to it for talking. But I think he is strong enough to bear carrying up to Fort Amitie, where the Seigneur—who, by the way, sends greeting to you all—"
"And our salutations go back to him. Would he were here to-day to see the harvest carried!"
"The Seigneur, having heard what 'Polyte and Damase have to tell, will desire to hear more of this glorious fight. For myself, I must hasten down to Montreal, where I have a message to deliver, and perhaps I may reach there with these tidings also before the boats, which are coming up by way of the Richelieu. Therefore I am going to borrow Dominique Guyon of you, to pilot me down through the Roches Fendues. And talking of Dominique"—here the Jesuit laid a hand on the shoulder of the young man, who bent his eyes to the ground— "you complain that he is close, eh? How often, my children, must I ask you to judge a brother by his virtues? To which of you did it occur, when these men came, to send 'Polyte and Damase up to Fort Amitie with their news? No one has told me: yet I will wager it was Dominique Guyon. Who sat up, the night through, with this wounded stranger? Dominique Guyon. Who has been about the field all day, as though to have missed a night's sleep were no excuse for shirking the daily task? Dominique Guyon. Again, to whom do I turn now to steer me down the worst fall in the river? To Dominique Guyon. He will arrive back here to-night tired as a dog, but once more at daybreak it will be Dominique who sets forth to carry the wounded man up to Fort Amitie. And why? Because, when a thing needs to be done well, he is to be trusted; you would turn to him then and trust him rather than any of yourselves, and you know it. Do you grumble, then, that the Seigneur knows it? I say to you that a man is born thus, or thus; responsible or not responsible; and a man that is born responsible, though he add pound to pound and field to field, is a man to be thankful for. Moreover, if he keep his own counsel, you may go to him at a pinch with the more certainty that he will keep yours."
"What did I tell you?" whispered La Marmite to Jo Lagasse, who had joined the little crowd. "The Father's eye turns you inside out: he knows how we have been grumbling all day. But all the same," she added aloud, "he is young and ought to laugh."
"I have told you," said Father Launoy, "that you should judge a man by his virtues: but, where that is hard, at least you should judge him by help of your own pity. All this day Dominique has been copying his dead father; and the same remembrance that has been to him a sorrowful incitement, has been to you but food for uncharitable thoughts. If I am not saying the truth, correct me."
They were silent. The priest had a great gift of personal talk, straight and simple; and treated them as brothers and sisters of a family, holding up the virtues of this one, or the faults of that, to the common gaze. They might not agree with this laudation of Dominique: but no one cared to challenge it at the risk of finding himself pilloried for public laughter. Father Launoy knew all the peccadilloes of this small flock, and had a tongue which stripped your clothes off—to use an expression of La Marmite's.
They followed him down to the shore where the Etchemins held the canoe ready. There they knelt, and he blessed them before embarking. Dominique stepped on board after him, and the two Indians took up their paddles.
Long after the boat had been pushed off and was speeding down the broad waterway, the harvesters stood and watched it. The sunset followed it, gleaming along its wake and on its polished quarter, flashing as the paddles rose and dipped; until it rounded the corner by Bout de l'lsle, where the rapids began.
The distant voice of these rapids filled the air with its humming; but their ears were accustomed to it and had ceased to heed. Nor did they mark the evening croak of the frogs alongshore among the reed beds, until Jo Lagasse imitated it to perfection.
"To work, my children!" he croaked. "Work is the only cure!"
They burst out laughing, and hurried back to gather the last load before nightfall.
FATHER LAUNOY HAS HIS DOUBTS.
For a little while after leaving the shore the priest kept silence.
"Dominique," said he at length, "there is something in your guests that puzzles me; and something too that puzzles me in the manner of their coming to Boisveyrac. Tell me now precisely how you found them."
"It was not I who found them, Father. Telesphore Courteau came running to me, a little before sunset, with news that a man—an Indian—was standing on the shore opposite and signalling with his arms as if for help. Well, at first I thought it might be some trick of the Iroquois—not that I had dreamed of any in the neighbourhood: and Chretien got his men ready and under arms. But the glass seemed to show that this was not an Iroquois: and next I saw a bundle, which might be a wounded man, lying on the bank beside him. So we launched a boat and pushed across very carefully until we came within hail: and then we parleyed for some while, the soldiers standing ready to fire, until the Indian's look and speech convinced me—for I have been as far west as Michilimackinac, and know something of the Ojibway talk. So when he called out his nation to me, I called back to him to leave speaking in French and use his own tongue."
"Yes, yes—he is an Ojibway beyond doubt."
"Well, Father, while I was making sure of this, we had pushed forward little by little and I saw the wounded man clearly. He was half-naked, but lay with his tunic over him, as the Indian had wrapped him against the chill. Indeed he was half-dead too, and past speaking, when at length we took him off."
"And they had lost their boat in the Cedars?"
"So the Ojibway said. The wonder is that they ever came to shore."
"The wonder to my thinking is rather that, coming through the wilderness from the Richelieu River, they should have possessed a canoe to launch on the Great River here."
"Their tale is that they were four, and happened on a small party of Iroquois by surprise: and that two perished while this pair possessed themselves of the Iroquois' canoe and so escaped."
"Yes," mused the priest, "so again the Ojibway told me. A strange story: and when I began to put questions he grew more and more stupid—but I know well enough by this time, I should hope, when an Indian pretends to be duller than he is. The sick man I could not well cross-examine. He told me something of the fight at Fort Carillon, where he, it appears, saw the main fighting upon the ridge, while the Indians were spread as sharpshooters along the swamps below. For the rest he refers me to his comrade." Father Launoy fell to musing again. "What puzzles me is that he carries no message, or will not own to carrying one. But what then brings him across the Wilderness? The other boats with the wounded and prisoners went down the Richelieu to its mouth, and will be travelling up the Great River to Montreal—that is, if they have not already arrived. Now why should this one boat have turned aside? That I could understand, if the man were upon special service: the way he came would be a short cut either down the river to Montreal, or up-stream to Fort Amitie or Fort Frontenac. But, as I say, this man apparently carries no message. Also he started from Fort Carillon with two wounds; and who would entrust special service to a wounded man?"
"Of a certainty, Father, he was wounded, as I myself saw when we drew off his shirt. The hurt in his ribs is scarcely skinned over, and he has a fresh scar on his wrist. But the blow on the head, from which he suffers, is later, and was given him (he says) by an Indian."
"A bad blow—and yet he escaped."
"A bad blow. Either from that or from the drenching, towards morning his head wandered and he talked at full speed for an hour."
"Of what did he talk?" asked the priest quickly.
"That I cannot tell, since he chattered in English."
"English? How do you know that it was English?"
"Why, since it was not French, nor like any kind of Indian! Moreover, I have heard the English talk. They were prisoners brought down from Oswego, twelve bateaux in all, and I took them through the falls. When they talked, it was just as this man chattered last night."
"Then you, too, Dominique, find your guest a strange fellow?"
"Oh, as for that! He is a sergeant, and of the regiment of Bearn. Your reverence saw his coat hanging by the bed."
"Even in that there is something strange. For Bearn lies in the Midi, close to the Pyrenees; and, as I understand, the regiment of Bearn was recruited and officered almost entirely from its own province. But this Sergeant a Clive comes from the north; his speech has no taste of the south in it, and indeed he owns to me that he is a northerner. He says further that he comes from my own seminary of Douai. And this again is correct; for I cross-questioned him on the seminary, and he knows it as a hand knows its glove—the customs of the place, the lectures, the books in use there. He has told me, moreover, why he left it. . . . Dominique, you do right in misliking your guest."
"I do not say, Father, that I mislike him. I fear him a little—I cannot tell why."
"You do right, then, to fear him; and I will tell you why. He is an atheist."
"An atheist? O—oh!"
"He has been of the true Faith. But he rejected me; he would make no confession, but turned himself to the wall when I exhorted him. Voyons—here is a Frenchman who talks English in his delirium; a northerner serving in a regiment of the south; an infidel, from Douai. Dominique, I do not like your guest."
"Nor I, Father, since you tell me that he is an atheist."
While they talked they had been lifting their voices insensibly to the roar of the nearing rapids; and were now come to Bout de l'lsle and the edge of peril. Below Bout de l'lsle the river divided to plunge through the Roches Fendues, where to choose the wrong channel meant destruction. Yet a mile below the Roches Fendues lay the Cascades, with a long straight plunge over smooth shelves of rock and two miles of furious water beyond. Yet farther down came the terrible rapids of La Chine, not to be attempted. There the voyageurs would leave the canoe and reach Montreal on foot.
Father Launoy was a brave man. Thrice before he had let Dominique lead him through the awful dance ahead, and always at the end of it had felt his soul purged of earthly terrors and left clean as a child's.
Dominique reached out a hand in silence and took the paddle from the Etchemin, who crawled aft and seated himself with an expressionless face. Then with a single swift glance astern to assure himself that the other Indian was prepared, the young man knelt and crouched, with his eyes on the V-shaped ripple ahead, for the angle of which they were heading.
On this, too, the priest's eyes were bent. He gripped the gunwale as the current lifted and swept the canoe down at a pace past control; as it sped straight for the point of the smooth water, and so, seeming to be warned by the roar it met, balanced itself fore-and-aft for one swift instant and plunged with a swoop that caught away the breath.
The bows shot under the white water below the fall, lifted to the first wave, knocking up foam out of foam, and so dived to the next, quivering like a reed shaken in the hand. Dominique straightened himself on his knees. In a moment he was working his paddle like a madman, striking broad off with it on this side and that, forcing the canoe into its course, zigzagging within a hand's breadth of rocks which, at a touch, would have broken her like glass, and across the edge of whirlpools waiting to drown a man and chase his body round for hours within a few inches of the surface; and all at a speed of fifteen to eighteen miles an hour, with never an instant's pause between sight and stroke. The Indian in the stern took his cue from Dominique; now paddling for dear life, now flinging his body back as with a turn of the wrist he checked the steerage.
The priest sat with a white drenched face; a brave man terrified. He felt the floor of the world collapsing, saw its forests reeling by in the spray. It cracked like a bubble and was dissolved in rainbows—wisps caught in the rocks and fluttering in the wind of the boat's flight. Then, as the pressure on heart and chest grew intolerable, the speed began to slacken and he drew a shuddering breath; but his brain still kept the whirl of the wild minutes past and his hand scarcely relaxed its grip on the gunwale. As a runaway horse, still galloping, drops back to control, so the canoe seemed to find her senses and leapt at the waves with a cunning change of motion, no longer shearing through their crests, but riding them with a long and easy swoop. Still Father Launoy did not speak. He sat as one for whom a door has been held half-open, and closed again, upon a vision.
Yet when he found his tongue—which was not until they reached the end of the white water, and Dominique, after panting a while, headed the canoe for shore—his voice did not shake.
"It was a bold thought of these men, or a foolhardy, to strike across the Wilderness," he said meditatively, in the tone of one picking up a talk which chance has interrupted.
"There are many ways through those woods," Dominique answered. "Between here and Fort Niagara you may hear tell of a dozen perhaps; and the Iroquois have their own."
"Let us hope that none of theirs crosses the one you and Bateese taught to Monsieur Armand. The Seigneur will be uneasy about his son when he hears what 'Polyte and Damase report; and Monsieur Etienne and Mademoiselle Diane will be uneasy also."
"But this Ojibway saw nothing of M. Armand or his party."
"No news is good news. As you owe the Seigneur your duty, take your guests up to Fort Amitie to-morrow and let them be interrogated."
"My Father, must I go?" There was anguish in Dominique's voice. "Surely Jo Lagasse or Pierre Courteau will do as well?—and there is much work at Boisveyrac which cannot be neglected."
They had come to shore, and the priest had stepped out upon the bank after Dominique for a few parting words.
"But that is not your true reason?" He laid his hand on the young man's shoulder and looked him in the eyes.
Dominique's fell. "Father," he entreated in a choking voice, "you know my secret: do not be hard on me! 'Lead us not into temptation'—"
"It will not serve you to run from yours. You must do battle with it. Bethink you that, as through the Wilderness, there are more ways than one in love, and the best is that of self-denial. Mademoiselle Diane is not for you, Dominique, her father's censitaire: yet you may love her your life through, and do her lifelong service. To-morrow, by taking these men to Fort Amitie, you may ease her heart of its fears: and will you fail in so simple a devoir? There is too much of self in your passion, Dominique—for I will not call it love. Love finds itself in giving: but passion is always a beggar."
"My Father, you do not understand—"
"Who told you that I do not understand?" the priest interrupted harshly. "I too have known passion, and learnt that it is full of self and comes of Satan. Nay, is that not evident to you, seeing what mischief it has already worked in your life? Think of Bateese."
"Do I ever cease thinking of Bateese? Do I ever cease fighting with myself?" Dominique's voice rose almost to a cry of pain. He stared across the water with gloomy eyes and added—it seemed quite inconsequently—"The Cascades is a bad fall, but I think it will be the Roches Fendues that gets me in the end."
He said it calmly, wistfully: and, pausing for a moment, met the priest's eyes.
"Your blessing, Father. I will go."
Generations of voyageurs, upward bound, and porting their canoes to avoid the falls, had worn a track beside the river bank. Dominique made such speed back along it that he came in sight of Boisveyrac as the bell in the little chapel of the Seigniory began to ring the Angelus. Its note came floating down the river distinct above the sound of the falls. He bared his head, and repeated his Aves duly.
"But all the same," he added, working out the train of his thoughts as he gazed across the deserted harvest-fields, impoverished by tree-stumps, to the dense forest behind the Chateau, "let God confound the English, and New France shall belong to a new noblesse that have learned, as the old will not, to lay their hands on her wealth."
THE WHITE TUNIC.
John a Cleeve lay on his bed in the guest-room of the Seigniory, listening to the sound of the distant falls.
That song was his anodyne. All day he had let it lull his conscience, rousing himself irritably as from a drugged sleep to answer the questions put to him by Dominique or the priest. Dominique's questions had been few and easily answered, the most of them relating to the battle.
"A brother of mine was there beyond doubt," he had wound up wistfully. "He is a bateau-man, by name Baptiste Guyon. But of course you will not know him?"
"Ils m'ont tire pour la battue, moi," John had fenced him off with a feeble joke and a feeble laugh. (Why should he feel ashamed? Was this not war, and he a prisoner tricking his captors?)
But the priest had been a nuisance. Heaven be praised for his going!
And now the shadows were closing upon the room, and in the hush of sunset the voice of the waters had lifted its pitch and was humming insistently, with but a semitone's fall and rise. During the priest's exhortations he had turned his face to the wall; but now for an hour he had lain on his other side, studying the rafters, the furniture, the ray of sunlight creeping along the floor-boards and up the dark, veneered face of an armoire built into the wall. Behind the doors of it hung Sergeant Barboux's white tunic; and sometimes it seemed to him that the doors were transparent and he saw it dangling like a grey ghost within.
It was to avoid this sight that he had turned to the wall when the priest began to interrogate him. Heavens! how incurably, after all, he hated these priests!
Menehwehna had answered most of the questions, standing by the bed's foot: and Menehwehna was seated there still in the dusk.
How many lies had Menehwehna told? John himself had told none, unless it were a lie to pronounce his name French-fashion—"John a Cleeve," "Jean a Clive." And, once more, was not this war?
For the rest and for his own part, it was astonishing how easily, the central truth being hidden—that the tunic in the armoire was not his—the deception had run on its own wheels. Why, after all, should that tunic frighten him? He, John a Cleeve, had not killed its wearer. He had never buttoned it about him nor slipped an arm into one of its sleeves. Menehwehna had offered to help him into it and had shown much astonishment on being refused. John's own soiled regimentals they had weighted with a stone and sunk in the river, and he had been lying all but naked, with the accursed garment over his legs, when the rescue-party found them on the bank.
How many lies had Menehwehna told? John could remember the sound of two voices, the priest's and the Indian's, questioning and explaining; but the sound only. As soon as he shut his eyes and tried to recall the words, the priest's voice faded down the song of the falls, and only the Indian and himself were left, dropping— dropping—to the sound, over watery ledges and beneath pendent boughs. Then, as the walls of the room dissolved and the priest's figure vanished with them, Menehwehna's voice grew distinct. At one time it said: "What is done is done. Come with me, and we will go up through the Great Lakes, beyond Michilimackinac, to the Beaver Islands which are in the mouth of Lake Michigan. There we will find the people of my tribe, and when the snow comes and they separate, you shall go with me to the wintering-grounds and learn to be a hunter."
In another dream the voice said: "You will not come because you weary of me and wish to leave me. We have voyaged together, and little by little my heart has been opened to you; but yours will not open in return. I would have made you to me all that Muskingon was; but you would not. When I killed that man, it was for your sake no less than Muskingon's. I told him so when he died. Of what avail is my friendship, brother, when you will give me none in exchange? . . ."
In yet a third dream the canoe floated on a mirror, between a forest and the image of a forest. . . . His eyes followed the silver wake of a musk-rat swimming from shore to shore, and in his ear Menehwehna was saying, "Your head is weak yet: when it grows stronger you will wish to come. Muskingon struck you too hard—so—with the flat of his tomahawk. He did not mean it, but his heart was jealous that already so much of my love had passed over to you. Yet he was a good lad, and my daughter's husband. The White-coat called across the stream to him, to kill you; but he would not, nor would he bring you over the ford until we had made the White-coat promise that you should not be killed for trying to run away. The man could do nothing against us two; but he bore ill-will to Muskingon afterwards, and left him to die when we could have saved him."
So, while John had lain senseless, fate had been binding him with cords—cords of guilt and cords of gratitude—and twining them inextricably. Therefore he feared sleep, because these dreams awoke him to pluck again at the knot of conscience. Ease came only with the brain's exhaustion, when in sheer weakness he could let slip the tangle and let the song of the rapids drug his senses once more.
He turned on his side and watched the sunbeam as it crept up the face of the armoire. "Menehwehna!" he called weakly.
From his seat in the corner among the shadows the Indian came and stood behind him.
"Menehwehna, this lying cannot go on! Make you for this fort they talk of; tell your tale there and push on to join your tribe. Let us fix a length of time, enough for your travel beyond reach, and at the end of it I will speak."
"And what will my brother tell them?"
"The truth—that I am no Frenchman but an English prisoner."
"It is weakness makes you lose patience," answered Menehwehna, as one might soothe a child. "Let the weak listen to the strong. All things I have contrived, and will contrive; there is no danger, and will be none."
John groaned. How could he explain that he abhorred this lying? Worse—how could he explain that he loathed Menehwehna's company and could not be friends with him as of old; that something in his blood, something deep and ineradicable as the difference between white man and red man, cried out upon the sergeant's murder? How could he make this clear? Menehwehna—who had preserved his life, nursed him, toiled for him cheerfully, borne with him patiently—would understand only that all these pains had been spent upon an ingrate. John tugged away from the bond of guilt only to tighten this other yet more hateful bond of gratitude. He must sever them both, and in one way only could this be done. He and Menehwehna must part. "I do not fear to be a prisoner. Moreover, it will not be for long. The river leads, after all, to Quebec; and the English, if they take Louisbourg, will quickly push up that way."
"The White-coat used to speak wisdom once in a while," answered Menehwehna gravely. "'It is a great battle,' he said, 'that battle of If; only it has the misfortune never to be fought.' Take heart, brother, and come with me to the Isles du Castor. When your countrymen take Quebec you shall return to them, if you still have the mind, and I will swear that we held you captive. But to tell this needless tale is a sick man's folly."
John could not meet the Indian's eyes, full as they were of a wondering simplicity. He feared they might read the truth—that his desire to escape was dead. During Father Launoy's exhortations he had lain, as it were, with his ear against its cold heart; had lain secretly whispering it to awake. But it would not. The questions and cross-questions about Douai he had answered almost inattentively. What did it all matter?
The priest had been merely tedious. Back on Lake Champlain and on the Richelieu, when the world of his ken, though lost, lay not far behind him, his hope had been to escape and seek back to it; his comfort against failure the thought that here in the north one restful, familiar face awaited him—the face of the Church Catholic. Now the hope and the consolation were gone together. Perhaps under the lengthening strain some vital spring had snapped in him, or the forests had slowly choked it, or it had died with a nerve of the brain under Muskingon's tomahawk.
He was not Sergeant a Clive of the regiment of Bearn; but almost as little was he that Ensign John a Cleeve of the Forty-sixth who had entered the far side of the Wilderness.
He wanted only to be quit of Menehwehna and guilt. It would be a blessed relief to lie lost, alone, as a ball tossed into a large country. As he had fallen, so he prayed to lie; empty in the midst of a great emptiness. The Communion of all the Saints could not comfort him now, since he had passed all need of comfort.
"You must go, Menehwehna. I will not speak until you are beyond reach."
"It is my brother that talks so. Else would I call it the twitter of a wren that has flown over. Is Menehwehna a coward, that he spoke with thought of saving himself?"
"I know that you did not," answered John, and cursed the knowledge. But the voice of the falls had begun to lull him. "We will talk of it to-morrow," he said drowsily.
"Yes, indeed; for this is a thought of sickness, that a man should choose to be a prisoner when by any means he may be free."
He found a tinder-box and lit the night-lamp—a wick floating in a saucer of oil: then, having shaken up John's pillow and given him to drink from a pannikin, went noiselessly back to his corner.
The light wavered on the dark panels of the armoire. While John watched, it fell into tune with the music of the distant falls. . . .
He awoke, with the rhythm of dance-music in his brain. In his dream the dawn was about him, and he stood on the lawn outside the Schuylers' great house above Albany. From the ballroom came the faint sound of violins, while he lingered to say good-bye to three night-gowned little girls in the window over the porch; and some way down the hill stood young Sagramore, of the Twenty-seventh, who was saying, "It is a long way to go. Do you think he is strong enough?"
Still in his dream John turned on him indignantly. And behold! it was not young Sagramore, but Dominique, standing by the bed and talking with Menehwehna.
"We are to start for the Fort, it appears," said Menehwehna to John.
"Let us first make sure," said Dominique, "that he is strong enough to dress." He thrust his hand within the armoire and unhitched the white tunic from its peg.
John shrank back into his corner.
"Not that!" he stammered.
Across the lamp smoking in the dawn, Dominique stared at him.
The Fort stood high on a wooded slope around which the river swept through narrows to spread itself below in a lake three miles wide and almost thirty long. In shape it was quadrilateral with a frontage of fifty toises and a depth of thirty, and from each angle of its stone walls abutted a flanking tower, the one at the western angle taller than the others by a good twenty feet and surmounted by a flagstaff.
East, west, and south, the ground fell gently to the water's edge, entirely clear of trees: even their stumps had been uprooted to make room for small gardens in which the garrison grew its cabbages and pot-herbs; and below these gardens the Commandant's cows roamed in a green riverside meadow. At the back a rougher clearing, two cannon-shots in width, divided the northern wall from the dark tangle of the forest.
The canoe had been sighted far down the lake, and the Commandant himself, with his brother M. Etienne and his daughter Mademoiselle Diane, had descended to the quay to welcome the voyageurs. A little apart stood Sergeant Bedard, old Jeremie Tripier (formerly major-domo and general factotum at Boisveyrac, now at Fort Amitie promoted to be marechal des logis), and five or six militiamen. And to John, as he neared the shore in the haze of a golden evening, the scene and the figures—the trim little stone fortress, the white banner of France transparent against the sky, the sentry like a toy figure at the gate, the cattle browsing below, the group at the river's brink—appeared as a tableau set for a child's play.
To add to the illusion, as the canoe came to the quay the sun sank, a gun boomed out from the tallest of the four towers, and the flag ran down its staff; all as if by clockwork. As if by clockwork, too, the taller of the two old gentlemen on the quay—the one in a gold-laced coat—stepped forward with a wave of his hand.
"Welcome, welcome, my good Dominique! It will be news you bring from Boisveyrac—more news of the great victory, perhaps? And who are these your comrades?"
"Your servant, Monseigneur; and yours, Monsieur Etienne, and yours, Mademoiselle Diane!" Dominique brought his canoe alongside and saluted respectfully. "All my own news is that we have gathered the harvest at Boisveyrac; a crop not far below the average, we hope. But Father Launoy desired me to bring you these strangers, who will tell of matters more important."
"It is the wounded man—the sergeant from Fort Carillon!" cried Diane, clasping her hands.
"Eh, my child? Nonsense, nonsense—he wears no uniform, as you see. Moreover, 'Polyte Latulippe brought word that he was lying at the point of death."
"It is he, nevertheless."
"Mademoiselle has guessed rightly," said Dominique. "It is the wounded soldier. I have lent him an outfit."
The Commandant stared incredulously from Dominique to John, from John to Menehwehna, and back again to John. A delightful smile irradiated his face.
"Then you bring us a good gift indeed! Welcome, sir, welcome to Fort Amitie! where we will soon have you hale and strong again, if nursing can do it."
Here, if John meant to play his part, was the moment for him to salute. He half lifted his hand as he reclined, but let it fall again. From the river-bank a pair of eyes looked down into his; dark grey eyes—or were they violet?—shy and yet bold, dim and yet shining with emotion. God help him! This child—she could be little more—was worshipping him for a hero!
"Nay, sir, give it to me!" cried the Commandant, stooping by the quay's edge. "I shall esteem it an honour to grasp the hand of one who comes from Fort Carillon—who was wounded for France in her hour of victory. Your name, my friend?—for the messengers who brought word of you yesterday had not heard it, or perhaps had forgotten."
"My name is a Cleeve, monsieur."
"A Clive? a Clive? It is unknown to me, and yet it has a good sound, and should belong to un homme Men ne?" He turned inquiringly towards his brother, a mild, elderly man with a scholar's stoop and a face which assorted oddly with his uniform of captain of militia, being shrivelled as parchment and snuff-dried and abstracted in expression as though he had just lifted his eyes from a book. "A Clive, Etienne. From what province should our friend derive?"
M. Etienne's eyes—they were, in fact, short-sighted—seemed to search inwardly for a moment before he answered:
"There was a family of that name in the Quercy; so late, I think, as 1650. I had supposed it to be extinct. It bore arms counterpaly argent and gules, a canton ermine—"
"My brother, sir," the Commandant interrupted, "is a famous genealogist. Do you accept this coat-of-arms he assigns to you?"
"If M. le Commandant will excuse me—"
"Eh, eh?—an awkward question, no doubt, to put to many a young man of family now serving with the colours?" The Commandant chuckled knowingly. "But I have an eye, sir, for nice shades, and an ear too. Verbum sapienti satis. A sergeant, they tell me—and of the Bearnais; but until we have cured you, sir, and the active list again claims you, you are Monsieur a Clive and my guest. We shall talk, so, upon an easier footing. Tut-tut! I have eyes in my head, I repeat. And this Indian of yours—how does he call himself?"
"Menehwehna, monsieur. He is an Ojibway."
"And you and he have come by way of the Wilderness? Now what puzzles me—"
"Papa!" interposed the girl gently, laying a hand on her father's sleeve; "ought we not to get him ashore before troubling him with all these questions? He is suffering, I think."
"You say well, my child. A thousand pardons, sir. Here, Bedard! Jeremie!"
But it was Menehwehna who, with inscrutable face, helped John ashore, suffering the others only to hold the canoe steady. John tried hard to collect his thoughts to face this new situation. He had dreamed of falling among savages in these backwoods; but he had fallen among folk gentle in manner and speech, anxious to show him courtesy; folk to whom (as in an instant he divined) truth and uprightness were dearer than life and judged as delicately as by his own family at home in Devonshire. How came they here? Who was this girl whose eyes he avoided lest they should weigh him, as a sister's might, in the scales of honour?
A man may go through life cherishing many beliefs which are internecine foes; unaware of their discordance, or honestly persuaded that within him the lion and the lamb are lying down together, whereas in truth his fate has never drawn the bolts of their separate cages. John had his doubts concerning God; but something deeper than reason within him detested a lie. Yet as a soldier he had accepted without examination the belief that many actions vile in peace are in war permissible, even obligatory; a loose belief, the limits of which no man in his regiment—perhaps no man in the two armies—could have defined. In war you may kill; nay, you must; but you must do it by code, and with many exceptions and restrictions as to the how and when. In war (John supposed) you may lie; nay, again, in certain circumstances you must.
With this girl's eyes upon him, worshipping him for a hero, John discovered suddenly that here and now he could not. For an instant, as if along a beam of light, he looked straight into Militarism's sham and ugly heart.
Yes, he saw it quite clearly, and was resolved to end the lie. But for the moment, in his bodily weakness, his will lagged behind his brain. As a sick man tries to lift a hand and cannot, so he sought to rally his will to meet the crisis and was dismayed to find it benumbed and half-asleep.
They were ascending the slope, and still as they went the Commandant's voice was questioning him.
"Through the Wilderness! That was no small exploit, my friend, and it puzzles me how you came to attempt it; for you were severely wounded, were you not?"
"I received two wounds at Fort Carillon, monsieur. The proposal to make across the woods was not mine. It came from the French sergeant in command of our boat."
"So—so. I ought to have guessed it. You were a whole boat's party then, at starting?" John felt the crisis near; but the Commandant's mind was discursive, and he paused to wave a proprietary hand towards the walls and towers of his fortress. "A snug little shelter for the backwoods—eh, M. a Clive? I am, you must know, a student of the art of fortification; c'est ma rengaine, as my daughter will tell you, and I shall have much to ask concerning that famous outwork of M. de Montcalm's, which touches my curiosity. So far as Damase could tell me, Fort Carillon itself was never even in danger—" But here Mademoiselle Diane again touched his sleeve. "Yes, yes, to be sure, we will not weary our friend just now. We will cure him first; and while he is mending, you shall look out a new uniform from the stores and set your needle to work to render it as like as you can contrive to the Bearnais. Nay, sir, to her enthusiasm that will be but a trifle. Remember that you come to us crowned with laurels, and with news for which we welcome you as though you brought a message from the General himself." A sudden thought fetched the Commandant to a standstill. "You are sure that the sergeant, your comrade, carried no message?"
John paused with Menehwehna's arm supporting him.
"If he carried a message, monsieur, he told me of none."
Where were his faculties? Why were they hanging back and refusing to come to grips with the crisis? Why did this twilit riverside persist in seeming unreal to him, and the actors, himself included, as figures moving in a shadow-play?
Once, in a dream, he had seen himself standing at the wings of a stage—an actor, dressed for his part. The theatre was crowded; someone had begun to ring a bell for the curtain to go up; and he, the hero of the piece, knew not one word of his part, could not even remember the name of the play or what it was about. The dream had been extraordinarily vivid, and he had awakened in a sweat.
"But," the Commandant urged, "he must have had some reason for striking through the forest. What was his name?"
John, as he answered, could not see Menehwehna's face; but Menehwehna's supporting arm did not flinch.
"Was he, too, of the regiment of Bearn?"
"He was of the Bearnais, monsieur."
"Tell us now. When the Iroquois overtook you, could he have passed on a message, had he carried one?"
While John hesitated, Menehwehna answered him. "It was I only who saw the sergeant die," said Menehwehna quietly. He gave me no message."
"You were close to him?"
"It is curious," mused the Commandant, and turned to John again. "Your falling in with the Iroquois, monsieur, gives me some anxiety; since it happens that a party from here and from Fort Frontenac was crossing the Wilderness at about the same time, with messages for the General on Lake Champlain. You saw nothing of them?"
Again Menehwehna took up the answer. "We met no one but these Iroquois," he said smoothly.
And as Menehwehna spoke the words John felt that everyone in the group about him had been listening for it with a common tension of anxiety. He gazed around, bewildered for the moment by the lie. The girl stood with clasped hands. "Thank God!" he heard the Commandant say, lifting his hat.
What new mystery was here? Menehwehna stood with a face immobile and inscrutable; and John's soul rose up against him in rage and loathing. The man had dishonoured him, counting on his gratitude to endorse the lie. Well, he was quit of gratitude now. "To-morrow, my fine fellow," said he to himself, clenching his teeth, "the whole tale shall be told; between this and the telling you may save your skin, if you can "; and so he turned to the Commandant.
"Monsieur," he said with a meaning glance at Menehwehna, "I beg you to accept no part of our story until I have told it through to you."
The Commandant was plainly puzzled. "Willingly, monsieur; but I beg you to consider the sufferings of our curiosity and be kind in putting a term to them."
"To-morrow—" began John, and looking up, came to a pause. Dominique Guyon had followed them up from the boat and was thrusting himself unceremoniously upon the Commandant's attention.
"Since this monsieur mentions to-morrow," interrupted Dominique abruptly, "and before I am dismissed to supper, may I claim the Seigneur's leave to depart early to-morrow morning?"
The interruption was so unmannerly that John stared from one to another of the group. The Commandant's face had grown very red indeed. Dominique himself seemed sullenly aware of his rudeness. But John's eyes came to rest on Mademoiselle Diane's; on her eyes for an instant, and then on her lashes, as she bent her gaze on the ground—it seemed to him, purposely, and to avoid Dominique's.
"Dominique," said the Commandant haughtily, "you forget yourself. You intrude upon my conversation with this gentleman." His voice shook and yet it struck John that his anger covered some anxiety.
"Monseigneur must forgive me," answered Dominique, still with an awkward sullenness. "But it is merely my dismissal that I beg. I wish to return early to-morrow to Boisveyrac; the harvest there is gathered, to be sure, but no one can be trusted to finish the stacks. With so many dancing attendance on the military, the Seigniory suffers; and, by your leave, I am responsible for it."
He glared upon John, who gazed back honestly puzzled. The Commandant seemed on the verge of an explosion, but checked himself.
"My excellent Dominique Guyon," said he, "uses the freedom of an old tenant. But here we are at the gate. I bid you welcome, Monsieur a Clive, to my small fortress! Tut, tut, Dominique! We will talk of business in the morning."
Alone with Menehwehna in the bare hospital ward to which old Jeremie as marechal des logis escorted them, John turned on the Ojibway and let loose his indignation.
"And look you," he wound up, "this shall be the end. At daybreak to-morrow the gate of the fort will be opened. Take the canoe and make what speed you can. I will give you until ten o'clock, but at that hour I promise you to tell my tale to the Commandant, and to tell him all."
"If my brother is resolved," said Menehwehna composedly, "let him waste no words. What is settled is settled, and to be angry will do his head no good."
He composed himself to sleep on the floor at the foot of John's bed, pulling his rug up to his ears. There were six empty beds in the ward, and one had been prepared for him; but Menehwehna despised beds.
John awoke to sunlight. It poured in through three windows high in the whitewashed wall opposite, and his first thought was to turn over and look for Menehwehna.
Menehwehna had disappeared.
John lay back on the pillow and stared up at the ceiling. Menehwehna had gone; he was free of him, and this day was to deliver his soul. In an hour or so he would be sitting under lock and key, but with a conscience bathed and refreshed, a companion to be looked in the face, a clear-eyed counsellor. The morning sunlight filled the room with a clean cheerfulness, and he seemed to drink it in through his pores. Forgetting his wound, he jumped out of bed with a laugh.
As he did so his eye travelled along the empty beds in the ward, and along a row of pegs above them, and stiffened suddenly.
There were twelve pegs, and all were bare save one—the one in the wall-space separating his bed from the bed which had been prepared for Menehwehna; and from this peg hung Sergeant Barboux's white tunic.
It had not been hanging there last night when he dropped asleep: to that he could take his oath. He had supposed it to be left behind in the armoire at Boisveyrac. For a full minute he sat on the bed's edge gazing at it in sheer dismay, its evil menace closing like a grip upon his heart.
But by and by the grip relaxed as dismay gave room to rage, and with rage came courage.
He laughed again fiercely. Up to this moment he had always shrunk from touch of the thing; but now he pulled it from its peg, held it at arm's length for a moment, and flung it contemptuously on the floor.
"You, at least, I am not going to fear any longer!"
As he cast it from him something crackled under his fingers. For a second or two he stood over the tunic, eyeing it between old disgust and new surmise. Then, dropping on one knee, he fumbled it over, found the inner breast-pocket, and pulled from it a paper.
It was of many sheets, folded in a blue wrapper, sealed with a large red seal, and addressed in cipher.
Turning it over in his hand, he caught sight, in the lower left-hand corner, of a dark spot which his thumb had covered. He stared at it; then at his thumb, to the ball of which some red dust adhered; then at the seal. The wax bore the impress of a flying Mercury, with cap, caduceus and winged sandals. The ciphered address he could not interpret; it was brief, written in two lines, in a bold clear hand.
This, then, was the missive which Barboux had carried.
Had Menehwehna discovered it and placed it here for him to discover? Yes, undoubtedly. And this was a French dispatch; and at any cost he must intercept it! His soldier's sacrament required no less. He must conceal it—seek his opportunity to escape with it—go on lying meanwhile in hope of an opportunity.
Where now was the prospects of his soul's deliverance?
He crept back to bed and was thrusting the letter under his pillow when a slight sound drew his eyes towards the door.
In the doorway stood Menehwehna with a breakfast-tray. The Indian's eyes travelled calmly across the room as he entered and set the tray down on the bed next to John's. Without speaking he picked up the tumbled tunic from the floor and set it back on its peg.
AGAIN THE WHITE TUNIC.
"But touching this polygon of M. de Montcalm's—"
Within the curtain-wall facing the waterside the ground had been terraced up to form a high platform or terre-plein, whence six guns, mounted in embrasures, commanded the river. Hither John had crept, with the support of a stick, to enjoy the sunshine and the view, and here the Commandant had found him and held him in talk, walking him to and fro, with pauses now and again beside a gun for a few minutes' rest.
"But touching this polygon of M. de Montcalm's, he would doubtless follow Courmontaigne rather than Vauban. The angles, you say, were boldly advanced?"
"So they appeared to me, monsieur; but you understand that I took no part—"
"By advancing the angles boldly"—here the Commandant pressed his finger-tips together by way of illustration—"we allow so much more play to enfilading fire. I speak only of defence against direct assault; for of opposing such a structure to artillery the General could have had no thought."
"Half a dozen six-pounders, well directed, could have knocked it about his ears in as many minutes."
"That does not detract from his credit. Every general fights with two heads—his own and his adversary's; and, for the rest, we have to do what we can do with our material." The Commandant halted and gazed down whimsically upon the courtyard, in the middle of which his twenty-five militiamen were being drilled by M. Etienne and Sergeant Bedard. "My whole garrison, sir! Eh? you seem incredulous. My whole garrison, I give you my word! Five-and-twenty militiamen to defend a post of this importance; and up at Fort Frontenac, the very key of the West, my old friend Payan de Noyan has but a hundred in command! I do not understand it, sir. Stores we have in abundance, and ammunition and valuable presents to propitiate the Indians who no longer exist in this neighbourhood. Yes, and—would you believe it?—no longer than three months ago the Governor sent up a boatload of women. It appeared that his Majesty had forwarded them all the way from France, for wives for his faithful soldiers. I packed them off, sir, and returned them to M. de Vaudreuil. 'With all submission to his Majesty's fatherly wisdom,' I wrote, 'the requirements of New France at this moment are best determined by sterner considerations'; and I asked for fifty regulars to man our defences. M. de Vaudreuil replied by sending me up one man, and he had but one arm! I made Noyan a present of him; his notions of fortification were rudimentary, not to say puerile."
The Commandant paused and dug the surface of the terre-plein indignantly with his heel. "As for fortification, do I not know already what additional defences we need? Fort Amitie, monsieur, was constructed by the great Frontenac himself, and with wonderful sagacity, if we consider the times. Take, for example, the towers. You are acquainted, of course, with the modern rule of giving the bastions a salient angle of fifteen degrees in excess of half the angle of the figure in all figures from the square up to the dodecagon? Well, Fort Amitie being a square—or rather a right-angled quadrilateral—the half of its angle will be forty-five degrees; add fifteen, and we get sixty; which is as nearly as possible the salience of our flanking towers; only they happen to be round. So far, so good; but Frontenac had naturally no opportunity of studying Vauban's masterpieces, and perhaps as the older man he never digested Vauban's theories. He did not see that a quadrilateral measuring fifty toises by thirty must need some protection midway in its longer curtains, and more especially on the riverside. A ravelin is out of the question, for we have no counterscarp to stand it on—no ditch at all in fact; our glacis slopes straight from the curtain to the river. I have thought of a tenaille—of a flat bastion. We could do so much if only M. de Vaudreuil would send us men!—but, as it is, on what are we relying? Simply, M. a Clive, on our enemies' ignorance of our weakness."
John turned his face away and stared out over the river. The walls of the fort seemed to stifle him; but in truth his own breast was the prison.
"Well now," the Commandant pursued, "your arrival has set me thinking. We cannot strengthen ourselves against artillery; but they say that these English generals learn nothing. They may come against us with musketry, and what served Fort Carillon may also serve Fort Amitie. A breastwork—call it a lunette—half-way down the slope yonder, so placed as to command the landing-place at close musket range—it might be useful, eh? There will be trouble with Polyphile Cartier—'Sans Quartier,' as they call him. He is proud of his cabbages, and we might have to evict them; yes, certainly our lunette would impinge upon his cabbages. But the safety of the Fort would, of course, override all such considerations."
He caught John by the arm and hurried him along for a better view of Sans Quartier's cabbage-patch. And just then Mademoiselle Diane came walking swiftly towards them from the end of the terre-plein by the flagstaff tower. An instant later the head and shoulders of Dominique Guyon appeared above the ascent.
Clearly he was following her; and as she drew near John read, or thought he read, a deep trouble in the child's eyes. But from her eyes his glance fell upon a bundle that she carried, and his own cheek paled. For the bundle was a white tunic, and it took a second glance to assure him that the tunic was a new one and not Sergeant Barboux's!
"Eh? What did I tell you? She has been rifling the stores already!" Here the Commandant caught sight of Dominique and hailed him. "Hola, Dominique!"
Dominique halted for a moment and then came slowly forward; while the girl, having greeted John with a grown woman's dignity, stood close by her father's elbow.
"Dominique, how many men can you spare me from Boisveyrac, now that the harvest is over?"
"For what purpose do you wish men, Monseigneur?"
"Eh? That is my affair, I hope."
The young man's face darkened, but he controlled himself to say humbly, "Monseigneur rebukes me with justice. I should not have spoken so; but it was in alarm for his interests."
"You mean that you are unwilling to spare me a single man? Come, come, my friend—the harvest is gathered; and, apart from that, my interests are the King's. Positively you must spare me half a dozen for his Majesty's corvee."
"The harvest is gathered, to be sure; but no one at Boisveyrac can be trusted to finish the stacks. They are a good-for-nothing lot; and now Damase, the best thatcher among them, has, I hear, been sent up to Fort Frontenac along with 'Polyte Latulippe."
"By my orders."
Dominique bent his eyes on the ground.
"Monseigneur's orders shall be obeyed. May I have his permission to return at once to Boisveyrac?—at least, as soon as we have discussed certain matters of business?"
"Business? But since it is not convenient just now—" It seemed to John that the old gentleman had suddenly grown uneasy.
"I speak only of certain small repairs: the matter of Lagasse's holding, for example," said Dominique tranquilly. "The whole will not detain Monseigneur above ten minutes."
"Ah, to be sure!" The Commandant's voice betrayed relief. "Come to my orderly-room, then. You will excuse me, M. a Clive?"
He turned to go, and Dominique stepped aside to allow the girl to accompany her father. But she made no sign. He shot a look at her and sullenly descended the terrace at his seigneur's heels.
Mademoiselle Diane's brow grew clear again as the sound of his footsteps died away, and presently she faced John with a smile so gay and frank that (although, quite involuntarily, he had been watching her) the change startled him. There was something in this girl at once innocently candid and curiously elusive; to begin with, he could not decide whether to think of her as child or woman. Last night her eyes had rested on him with a child's open wonder, and a minute ago in Dominique's presence she had seemed to shrink close to her father with a child's timidity. Now, gaily as she smiled, her bearing had grown dignified and self-possessed.
"You are not to leave me, please, M. a Clive—seeing that I came expressly to find you."
John lifted his hat with mock gravity. "You do me great honour, mademoiselle. And Dominique?" he added. "Was he also coming in search of me?"
She frowned, and turning towards a cannon in the embrasure behind her, spread the white tunic carefully upon it. "Dominique Guyon is tiresome," she said. "At times, as you have heard, he speaks with too much freedom to my father; but it is the freedom of old service. The Guyons have farmed Boisveyrac for our family since first the Seigniory was built." She seemed about to say more, but checked herself, and stood smoothing an arm of the tunic upon the gun. "Ah, here is Felicite!" she exclaimed, as a stout middle-aged woman came bustling along the terrace towards them. "You have kept me waiting, Felicite. And, good heavens! what is that you carry? Did I not tell you that I would get Jeremie to find me a tunic from the stores? See, I have one already."
"But this is not from the stores, mademoiselle!" panted Felicite, as she came to a halt. "It appears that monsieur brought his tunic with him—Jeremie told me he had seen it hanging by his bed in the sick ward—and here it is, see you!" She displayed it triumphantly, spreading its skirts to the sunshine. "A trifle soiled! but it will save us all the trouble in the world with the measurements—eh, mademoiselle?"
Diane's eyes were on John's face. For a moment or two she did not answer, but at length said slowly:
"Nevertheless you shall measure monsieur. Have you the tapes? Good: give me one, with the blue chalk, and I will check off your measurements."
She seated herself on the gun-carriage and drew the two tunics on to her lap. John shivered as she touched the dead sergeant's.
Felicite grinned as she advanced with the tape. "Do not be shy of me, monsieur," she encouraged him affably. "You are a hero, and I myself am the mother of eight, which is in its way heroic. There should be a good understanding between us. Raise your arms a little, pray, while I take first of all the measure of your chest."
Her two arms—and they were plump, not to say brawny—went about him. "Thirty-eight," she announced, after examining the tape. It's long since I have embraced one so slight."
"Thirty-eight," repeated Mademoiselle Diane, puckering up her lips and beginning to measure off the pouces across the breast and back of Sergeant Barboux's tunic. "Thirty-eight, did you say?"
"Thirty-eight, mademoiselle. We must remember that these brave defenders of ours sometimes pad themselves a little; it will be nothing amiss if you allow for forty. Eh, monsieur?" Felicite laughed up in John's face. "But you find some difficulty, mademoiselle. Can I help you?"
"I thank you—it is all right," Diane answered hurriedly.
"Waist, twenty-nine," Felicite continued. "One might even say twenty-eight, only monsieur is drawing in his breath."
"Where are the scissors, Felicite?" demanded her mistress, who had carefully smuggled them beneath her skirt as she sat.
"The scissors? Of a certainty now I brought them—but the sight of that heathen Ojibway, when he gave me the tunic, was enough to make any decent woman faint! I shook like an aspen, if you will credit me, all the way across the drill-ground, and perhaps the scissors . . . no, indeed, I cannot find them . . . but if mademoiselle will excuse me while I run back for another pair. . . ." She bustled off towards the Commandant's quarters.
Mademoiselle Diane reached down a hand to the tunic which had fallen at her feet, and drew it on to her lap again, as if to examine it. But her eyes were searching John's face.
"Why do you shiver?" she asked.
"I beg of you not to touch it, mademoiselle. It—it hurts to see you touching it."
"Did you kill him?"
"Of whom is mademoiselle speaking?"
"Pray do not pretend to be stupid, monsieur. I am speaking of that other man—the owner of this tunic—the sergeant who took you into the forest. Did you kill him?"
"He died in fair fight, mademoiselle."
"It was a duel, then?" He did not answer, and she continued, "I can trust your face, monsieur. I am sure it was only in fair fight. But why should you think me afraid to touch this? Oh, why, M. a Clive, will men take it so cruelly for granted that we women are afraid of the thought of blood—nay, even that we owe it to ourselves to be afraid? If we are what you all insist we should be, what right have we to be born in these times? Think of New France fighting now for dear life—ah! why should I ask you to think, who have bled for her? Yet you would have me shudder at the touch of a stained piece of cloth; and while you hold these foolish prejudices, can you wonder that New France has no Jeanne d'Arc? When I was at the Ursulines at Quebec, they used to pray to her on this side of sainthood, and ask for her intercession; but what they taught was needlework."