HotFreeBooks.com
The Crossing
by Winston Churchill
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12
Home - Random Browse

"Antoinette!" exclaimed the Vicomtesse, going to her.

The girl did not answer at once. Her suffering seemed to have brought upon her a certain acceptance of misfortune as inevitable. Her face, framed in the black veil, was never more beautiful than on that night.

"What is the Alcalde doing here?" she said.

The officer himself answered the question.

"I am leaving, Mademoiselle," said he. He reached out his hands toward her, appealingly. "Do you not remember me, Mademoiselle? You brought the good sister to see my wife."

"I remember you," said Antoinette.

"Do not stay here, Mademoiselle!" he cried. "There is—there is yellow fever."

"So that is it," said Antoinette, unheeding him and looking at her cousin. "She has yellow fever, then?"

"I beg you to come away, Mademoiselle!" the man entreated.

"Please go," she said to him. He looked at her, and went out silently, closing the doors after him. "Why was he here?" she asked again.

"He came to get Mr. Temple, my dear," said the Vicomtesse. The girl's lips framed his name, but did not speak it.

"Where is he?" she asked slowly.

The Vicomtesse pointed towards the bedroom.

"In there," she answered, "with his mother."

"He came to her?" Antoinette asked quite simply.

The Vicomtesse glanced at me, and drew the veil gently from the girl's shoulders. She led her, unresisting, to a chair. I looked at them. The difference in their ages was not so great. Both had suffered cruelly; one had seen the world, the other had not, and yet the contrast lay not here. Both had followed the gospel of helpfulness to others, but one as a religieuse, innocent of the sin around her, though poignant of the sorrow it caused. The other, knowing evil with an insight that went far beyond intuition, fought with that, too.

"I will tell you, Antoinette," began the Vicomtesse; "it was as you said. Mr. Ritchie and I found him at Lamarque's. He had not taken your money; he did not even know that Auguste had gone to see you. He did not even know," she said, bending over the girl, "that he was on your father's plantation. When we told him that, he would have left it at once."

"Yes," she said.

"He did not know that his mother was still in New Orleans. And when we told him how ill she was he would have come to her then. It was as much as we could do to persuade him to wait until we had seen Monsieur de Carondelet. Mr. Ritchie and I came directly to town and saw his Excellency."

It was characteristic of the Vicomtesse that she told this almost with a man's brevity, that she omitted the stress and trouble and pain of it all. These things were done; the tact and skill and character of her who had accomplished them were not spoken of. The girl listened immovable, her lips parted and her eyes far away. Suddenly, with an awakening, she turned to Helene.

"You did this!" she cried.

"Mr. Ritchie and I together," said the Vicomtesse.

Her next exclamation was an odd one, showing how the mind works at such a time.

"But his Excellency was having his siesta!" said Antoinette.

Again Helene glanced at me, but I cannot be sure that she smiled.

"We thought the matter of sufficient importance to awake his Excellency," said Helene.

"And his Excellency?" asked Antoinette. In that moment all three of us seemed to have forgotten the tragedy behind the wall.

"His Excellency thought so, too, when we had explained it sufficiently," Helene answered.

The girl seemed suddenly to throw off the weight of her grief. She seized the hand of the Vicomtesse in both of her own.

"The Baron pardoned him?" she cried. "Tell me what his Excellency said. Why are you keeping it from me?"

"Hush, my dear," said the Vicomtesse. "Yes, he pardoned him. Mr. Temple was to have come to the city to-night with an officer. Mr. Ritchie and I came to this house together, and we found—"

"Yes, yes," said Antoinette.

"Mr. Ritchie wrote to Mr. Temple that his Excellency was to send for him to-night, but Andre told him of the fever, and he came here in the face of danger to see her before she died. He galloped past the sentry at the gate, and the Alcalde followed him from there."

"And came here to arrest him?" cried Antoinette. Before the Vicomtesse could prevent her she sprang from her chair, ran to the door, and was peering out into the darkness. "Is the Alcalde waiting?"

"No, no," said the Vicomtesse, gently bringing her back. "I wrote to his Excellency and we have his permission for Mr. Temple to remain here."

Suddenly Antoinette stopped in the middle of the floor, facing the candle, her hands clasped, her eyes wide with fear. We started, Helene and I, as we looked at her.

"What is it, my dear?" said the Vicomtesse, laying a hand on her arm.

"He will take it," she said, "he will take the fever."

A strange thing happened. Many, many times have I thought of it since, and I did not know its meaning then. I had looked to see the Vicomtesse comfort her. But Helene took a step towards me, my eyes met hers, and in them reflected was the terror I had seen in Antoinette's. At that instant I, too, forgot the girl, and we turned to see that she had sunk down, weeping, in the chair. Then we both went to her, I through some instinct I did not fathom.

Helene's hand, resting on Antoinette's shoulder, trembled there. It may well have been my own weakness which made me think her body swayed, which made me reach out as if to catch her. However marvellous her strength and fortitude, these could not last forever. And—Heaven help me—my own were fast failing. Once the room had seemed to me all in darkness. Then I saw the Vicomtesse leaning tenderly over her cousin and whispering in her ear, and Antoinette rising, clinging to her.

"I will go," she faltered, "I will go. He must not know I have been here. You—you will not tell him?"

"No, I shall not tell him," answered the Vicomtesse.

"And—you will send word to me, Helene?"

"Yes, dear."

Antoinette kissed her, and began to adjust her veil mechanically. I looked on, bewildered by the workings of the feminine mind. Why was she going? The Vicomtesse gave me no hint. But suddenly the girl's arms fell to her sides, and she stood staring, not so much as a cry escaping her. The bedroom doors had been opened, and between them was the tall figure of Nicholas Temple. So they met again after many years, and she who had parted them had brought them together once more. He came a step into the room, as though her eyes had drawn him so far. Even then he did not speak her name.

"Go," he said. "Go, you must not stay here. Go!"

She bowed her head.

"I was going," she answered. "I—I am going."

"But you must go at once," he cried excitedly. "Do you know what is in there?" and he pointed towards the bedroom.

"Yes, yes, I know," she said, "I know."

"Then go," he cried. "As it is you have risked too much."

She lifted up her head and looked at him. There was a new-born note in her voice, a tremulous note of joy in the midst of sorrow. It was of her he was thinking!

"And you?" she said. "You have come and remained."

"She is my mother," he answered. "God knows it was the least I could have done."

Twice she had changed before our eyes, and now we beheld a new and yet more startling transformation. When she spoke there was no reproach in her voice, but triumph. Antoinette undid her veil.

"Yes, she is your mother," she answered; "but for many years she has been my friend. I will go to her. She cannot forbid me now. Helene has been with her," she said, turning to where the Vicomtesse stood watching her intently. "Helene has been with her. And shall I, who have longed to see her these many years, leave her now?"

"But you were going!" he cried, beside himself with apprehension at this new turning. "You told me that you were going."

Truly, man is born without perception.

"Yes, I told you that," she replied almost defiantly.

"And why were you going?" he demanded. Then I had a sudden desire to shake him.

Antoinette was mute.

"You yourself must find the answer to that question, Mr. Temple," said the Vicomtesse, quietly.

He turned and stared at Helene, and she seemed to smile. Then as his eyes went back, irresistibly, to the other, a light that was wonderful to see dawned and grew in them. I shall never forget him as he stood, handsome and fearless, a gentleman still, despite his years of wandering and adventure, and in this supreme moment unselfish. The wilful, masterful boy had become a man at last.

He started forward, stopped, trembling with a shock of remembrance, and gave back again.

"You cannot come," he said; "I cannot let you take this risk. Tell her she cannot come, Madame," he said to Helene. "For the love of God send her home again."

But there were forces which even Helene could not stem. He had turned to go back, he had seized the door, but Antoinette was before him. Custom does not weigh at such a time. Had she not read his avowal? She had his hand in hers, heedless of us who watched. At first he sought to free himself, but she clung to it with all the strength of her love,—yet she did not look up at him.

"I will come with you," she said in a low voice, "I will come with you, Nick."

How quaintly she spoke his name, and gently, and timidly—ay, and with a supreme courage. True to him through all those numb years of waiting, this was a little thing—that they should face death together. A little thing, and yet the greatest joy that God can bestow upon a good woman. He looked down at her with a great tenderness, he spoke her name, and I knew that he had taken her at last into his arms.

"Come," he said.

They went in together, and the doors closed behind them.

* * * * * * *

Antoinette's maid was on the step, and the Vicomtesse and I were alone once more in the little parlor. I remember well the sense of unreality I had, and how it troubled me. I remember how what I had seen and heard was turning, turning in my mind. Nick had come back to Antoinette. They were together in that room, and Mrs. Temple was dying—dying. No, it could not be so. Again, I was in the garden at Les Iles on a night that was all perfume, and I saw the flowers all ghostly white under the moon. And then, suddenly, I was watching the green candle sputter, and out of the stillness came a cry—the sereno calling the hour of the night. How my head throbbed! It was keeping time to some rhythm, I knew not what. Yes, it was the song my father used to sing:—

"I've faught on land? I've faught at sea, At hume I've faught my aunty, O!"

But New Orleans was hot, burning hot, and this could not be cold I felt. Ah, I had it, the water was cold going to Vincennes, so cold!

A voice called me. No matter where I had gone, I think I would have come back at the sound of it. I listened intently, that I might lose no word of what it said. I knew the voice. Had it not called to me many times in my life before? But now there was fear in it, and fear gave it a vibrant sweetness, fear gave it a quality that made it mine—mine.

"You are shivering."

That was all it said, and it called from across the sea. And the sea was cold,—cold and green under the gray light. If she who called to me would only come with the warmth of her love! The sea faded, the light fell, and I was in the eternal cold of space between the whirling worlds. If she could but find me! Was not that her hand in mine? Did I not feel her near me, touching me? I wondered that I should hear myself as I answered her.

"I am not ill," I said. "Speak to me again."

She was pressing my hand now, I saw her bending over me, I felt her hair as it brushed my face. She spoke again. There was a tremor in her voice, and to that alone I listened. The words were decisive, of command, and with them some sense as of a haven near came to me. Another voice answered in a strange tongue, saying seemingly:—

"Oui, Madame—male couri—bon dje—male couri!"

I heard the doors close, and the sound of footsteps running and dying along the banquette, and after that my shoulders were raised and something wrapped about them. Then stillness again, the stillness that comes between waking and sleeping, between pain and calm. And at times when I felt her hand fall into mine or press against my brow, the pain seemed more endurable. After that I recall being lifted, being borne along. I opened my eyes once and saw, above a tile-crowned wall, the moon all yellow and distorted in the sky. Then a gate clicked, dungeon blackness, half-light again, ascent, oblivion.



CHAPTER XII

VISIONS, AND AN AWAKENING

I have still sharp memories of the tortures of that illness, though it befell so long ago. At times, when my mind was gone from me, I cried out I know not what of jargon, of sentiment, of the horrors I had beheld in my life. I lived again the pleasant scenes, warped and burlesqued almost beyond cognizance, and the tragedies were magnified a hundred fold. Thus it would be: on the low, white ceiling five cracks came together, and that was a device. And the device would take on color, red-bronze like the sumach in the autumn and streaks of vermilion, and two glowing coals that were eyes, and above them eagles' feathers, and the cracks became bramble bushes. I was behind the log, and at times I started and knew that it was a hideous dream, and again Polly Ann was clutching me and praying me to hold back, and I broke from her and splashed over the slippery limestone bed of the creek to fight single-handed. Through all the fearful struggle I heard her calling me piteously to come back to her. When the brute got me under water I could not hear her, but her voice came back suddenly (as when a door opens) and it was like the wind singing in the poplars. Was it Polly Ann's voice?

Again, I sat with Nick under the trees on the lawn at Temple Bow, and the world was dark with the coming storm. I knew and he knew that the storm was brewing that I might be thrust out into it. And then in the blackness, when the air was filled with all the fair things of the earth torn asunder, a beautiful woman came through the noise and the fury, and we ran to her and clung to her skirts, thinking we had found safety. But she thrust us forth into the blackness with a smile, as though she were flinging papers out of the window. She, too, grew out of the design in the cracks of the ceiling, and a greater fear seized me at sight of her features than when the red face came out of the brambles.

My constant torment was thirst. I was in the prairie, and it was scorched and brown to the horizon. I searched and prayed pitifully for water,—for only a sip of the brown water with the specks in it that was in the swamp. There were no swamps. I was on the bed in the cabin looking at the shifts and hunting shirts on the pegs, and Polly Ann would bring a gourdful of clear water from the spring as far as the door. Nay, once I got it to my lips, and it was gone. Sometimes a young man in a hunting shirt, square-shouldered, clear-eyed, his face tanned and his fair hair bleached by the sun, would bring the water. He was the hero of my boyhood, and part of him indeed was in me. And I would have followed him again to Vincennes despite the tortures of the damned. But when I spoke his name he grew stouter before me, and his eyes lost their lustre and his hair turned gray; and his hand shook as he held out the gourd and spilled its contents ere I could reach them.

Sometimes another brought the water, and at sight of her I would tremble and grow faint, and I had not the strength to reach for it. She would look at me with eyes that laughed despite the resolution of the mouth. Then the eyes would grow pitiful at my helplessness, and she would murmur my name. There was some reason which I never fathomed why she could not give me the water, and her own suffering seemed greater than mine because of it. So great did it seem that I forgot my own and sought to comfort her. Then she would go away, very slowly, and I would hear her calling to me in the wind, from the stars to which I looked up from the prairie. It was she, I thought, who ordered the world. Who, when women were lost and men cried out in distress, came to them calmly, ministered to them deftly.

Once—perhaps a score of times, I cannot tell—was limned on the ceiling, where the cracks were, her miniature, and I knew what was coming and shuddered and cried aloud because I could not stop it. I saw the narrow street of a strange city deep down between high houses,—houses with gratings on the lowest windows, with studded, evil-looking doors, with upper stories that toppled over to shut out the light of the sky, with slated roofs that slanted and twisted this way and that and dormers peeping from them. Down in the street, instead of the King's white soldiers, was a foul, unkempt rabble, creeping out of its damp places, jesting, cursing, singing. And in the midst of the rabble a lady sat in a cart high above it unmoved. She was the lady of the miniature. A window in one of the jutting houses was flung open, a little man leaned out excitedly, and I knew him too. He was Jean Baptiste Lenoir, and he cried out in a shrill voice:—

"You must take off her ruff, citizens. You must take off her ruff!"

There came a blessed day when my thirst was gone, when I looked up at the cracks in the ceiling and wondered why they did not change into horrors. I watched them a long, long time, and it seemed incredible that they should still remain cracks. Beyond that I would not go, into speculation I dared not venture. They remained cracks, and I went to sleep thanking God. When I awoke a breeze came in cool, fitful gusts, and on it the scent of camellias. I thought of turning my head, and I remember wondering for a long time over the expediency of this move. What would happen if I did! Perhaps the visions would come back, perhaps my head would come off. Finally I decided to risk it, and the first thing that I beheld was a palm-leaf fan, moving slowly. That fact gave me food for thought, and contented me for a while. Then I hit upon the idea that there must be something behind the fan. I was distinctly pleased by this astuteness, and I spent more time in speculation. Whatever it was, it had a tantalizing elusiveness, keeping the fan between it and me. This was not fair.

I had an inspiration. If I feigned to be asleep, perhaps the thing behind the fan would come out. I shut my eyes. The breeze continued steadily. Surely no human being could fan as long as that without being tired! I opened my eyes twice, but the thing was inscrutable. Then I heard a sound that I knew to be a footstep upon boards. A voice whispered:—

"The delirium has left him."

Another voice, a man's voice, answered:—

"Thank God! Let me fan him. You are tired."

"I am not tired," answered the first voice.

"I do not see how you have stood it," said the man's voice. "You will kill yourself, Madame la Vicomtesse. The danger is past now."

"I hope so, Mr. Temple," said the first voice. "Please go away. You may come back in half an hour."

I heard the footsteps retreating. Then I said: "I am not asleep."

The fan stopped for a brief instant and then went on vibrating inexorably. I was entranced at the thought of what I had done. I had spoken, though indeed it seemed to have had no effect. Could it be that I hadn't spoken? I began to be frightened at this, when gradually something crept into my mind and drove the fear out. I did not grasp what this was at first, it was like the first staining of wine on the eastern sky to one who sees a sunrise. And then the thought grew even as the light grows, tinged by prismatic colors, until at length a memory struck into my soul like a shaft of light. I spoke her name, unblushingly, aloud.

"Helene!"

The fan stopped. There was a silence that seemed an eternity as the palm leaf trembled in her hand, there was an answer that strove tenderly to command.

"Hush, you must not talk," she said.

Never, I believe, came such supreme happiness with obedience. I felt her hand upon my brow, and the fan moved again. I fell asleep once more from sheer weariness of joy. She was there, beside me. She had been there, beside me, through it all, and it was her touch which had brought me back to life.

I dreamed of her. When I awoke again her image was in my mind, and I let it rest there in contemplation. But presently I thought of the fan, turned my head, and it was not there. A great fear seized me. I looked out of the open door where the morning sun threw the checkered shadows of the honeysuckle on the floor of the gallery, and over the railing to the tree-tops in the court-yard. The place struck a chord in my memory. Then my eyes wandered back into the room. There was a polished dresser, a crucifix and a prie-dieu in the corner, a fauteuil, and another chair at my bed. The floor was rubbed to an immaculate cleanliness, stained yellow, and on it lay clean woven mats. The room was empty!

I cried out, a yellow and red turban shot across the window, and I beheld in the door the spare countenance of the faithful Lindy.

"Marse Dave," she cried, "is you feelin' well, honey?"

"Where am I, Lindy?" I asked.

Lindy, like many of her race, knew well how to assume airs of importance. Lindy had me down, and she knew it.

"Marse Dave," she said, "doan yo' know better'n dat? Yo' know yo' ain't ter talk. Lawsy, I reckon I wouldn't be wuth pizen if she was to hear I let yo' talk."

Lindy implied that there was tyranny somewhere.

"She?" I asked, "who's she?"

"Now yo' hush, Marse Dave," said Lindy, in a shrill whisper, "I ain't er-gwine ter git mixed up in no disputation. Ef she was ter hear me er-disputin' wid yo', Marse Dave, I reckon I'd done git such er tongue-lashin'—" Lindy looked at me suspiciously. "Yo'-er allus was powe'rful cute, Marse Dave."

Lindy set her lips with a mighty resolve to be silent. I heard some one coming along the gallery, and then I saw Nick's tall figure looming up behind her.

"Davy," he cried.

Lindy braced herself up doggedly.

"Yo' ain't er-gwine to git in thar nohow, Marse Nick," she said.

"Nonsense, Lindy," he answered, "I've been in there as much as you have." And he took hold of her thin arm and pulled her back.

"Marse Nick!" she cried, terror-stricken, "she'll done fin' out dat you've been er-talkin'."

"Pish!" said Nick with a fine air, "who's afraid of her?"

Lindy's face took on an expression of intense amusement.

"Yo' is, for one, Marse Nick," she answered, with the familiarity of an old servant. "I done seed yo' skedaddle when she comed."

"Tut," said Nick, grandly, "I run from no woman. Eh, Davy?" He pushed past the protesting Lindy into the room and took my hand.

"Egad, you have been near the devil's precipice, my son. A three-bottle man would have gone over." In his eyes was all the strange affection he had had for me ever since ave had been boys at Temple Bow together. "Davy, I reckon life wouldn't have been worth much if you'd gone."

I did not answer. I could only stare at him, mutely grateful for such an affection. In all his wild life he had been true to me, and he had clung to me stanchly in this, my greatest peril. Thankful that he was here, I searched his handsome person with my eyes. He was dressed as usual, with care and fashion, in linen breeches and a light gray coat and a filmy ruffle at his neck. But I thought there had come a change into his face. The reckless quality seemed to have gone out of it, yet the spirit and daring remained, and with these all the sweetness that was once in his smile. There were lines under his eyes that spoke of vigils.

"You have been sitting up with me," I said.

"Of course," he answered patting my shoulder. "Of course I have. What did you think I would be doing?"

"What was the matter with me?" I asked.

"Nothing much," he said lightly, "a touch of the sun, and a great deal of overwork in behalf of your friends. Now keep still, or I will be getting peppered."

I was silent for a while, turning over this answer in my mind. Then I said:—

"I had yellow fever."

He started.

"It is no use to lie to you," he replied; "you're too shrewd."

I was silent again for a while.

"Nick," I said, "you had no right to stay here. You have—other responsibilities now."

He laughed. It was the old buoyant, boyish laugh of sheer happiness, and I felt the better for hearing it.

"If you begin to preach, parson, I'll go; I vow I'll have no more sermonizing. Davy," he cried, "isn't she just the dearest, sweetest, most beautiful person in the world?"

"Where is she?" I asked, temporizing. Nick was not a subtle person, and I was ready to follow him at great length in the praise of Antoinette. "I hope she is not here."

"We made her go to Les Iles," said he.

"And you risked your life and stayed here without her?" I said.

"As for risking life, that kind of criticism doesn't come well from you. And as for Antoinette," he added with a smile, "I expect to see something of her later on."

"Well," I answered with a sigh of supreme content, "you have been a fool all your life, and I hope that she will make you sensible."

"You never could make me so," said Nick, "and besides, I don't think you've been so damned sensible yourself."

We were silent again for a space.

"Davy," he asked, "do you remember what I said when you had that miniature here?"

"You said a great many things, I believe."

"I told you to consider carefully the masterful features of that lady, and to thank God you hadn't married her. I vow I never thought she'd turn up. Upon my oath I never thought I should be such a blind slave as I have been for the last fortnight. Faith, Monsieur de St. Gre is a strong man, but he was no more than a puppet in his own house when he came back here for a day. That lady could govern a province,—no, a kingdom. But I warrant you there would be no climbing of balconies in her dominions. I have never been so generalled in my life."

I had no answer for these comments.

"The deuce of it is the way she does it," he continued, plainly bent on relieving himself. "There's no noise, no fuss; but you must obey, you don't know why. And yet you may flay me if I don't love her."

"Love her!" I repeated.

"She saved your life," said Nick; "I don't believe any other woman could have done it. She hadn't any thought of her own. She has been here, in this room, almost constantly night and day, and she never let you go. The little French doctor gave you up—not she. She held on. Cursed if I see why she did it."

"Nor I," I answered.

"Well," he said apologetically, "of course I would have done it, but you weren't anything to her. Yes, egad, you were something to be saved,—that was all that was necessary. She had you brought back here—we are in Monsieur de St. Gre's house, by the way—in a litter, and she took command as though she had nursed yellow fever cases all her life. No flurry. I said that you were in love with her once, Davy, when I saw you looking at the portrait. I take it back. Of course a man could be very fond of her," he said, "but a king ought to have married her. As for that poor Vicomte she's tied up to, I reckon I know the reason why he didn't come to America. An ordinary man would have no chance at all. God bless her!" he cried, with a sudden burst of feeling, "I would die for her myself. She got me out of a barrel of trouble with his Excellency. She cared for my mother, a lonely outcast, and braved death herself to go to her when she was dying of the fever. God bless her!"

Lindy was standing in the doorway.

"Lan' sakes, Marse Nick, yo' gotter go," she said.

He rose and pressed my fingers. "I'll go," he said, and left me. Lindy seated herself in the chair. She held in her hand a bowl of beef broth. From this she fed me in silence, and when she left she commanded me to sleep informing me that she would be on the gallery within call.

But I did not sleep at once. Nick's words had brought back a fact which my returning consciousness had hitherto ignored. The birds sang in the court-yard, and when the breeze stirred it was ever laden with a new scent. I had been snatched from the jaws of death, my life was before me, but the happiness which had thrilled me was gone, and in my weakness the weight of the sadness which had come upon me was almost unbearable. If I had had the strength, I would have risen then and there from my bed, I would have fled from the city at the first opportunity. As it was, I lay in a torture of thought, living over again every part of my life which she had touched. I remembered the first long, yearning look I had given the miniature at Madame Bouvet's. I had not loved her then. My feeling rather had been a mysterious sympathy with and admiration for this brilliant lady whose sphere was so far removed from mine. This was sufficiently strange. Again, in the years of my struggle for livelihood which followed, I dreamed of her; I pictured her often in the midst of the darkness of the Revolution. Then I had the miniature again, which had travelled to her, as it were, and come back to me. Even then it was not love I felt but an unnamed sentiment for one whom I clothed with gifts and attributes I admired: constancy, an ability to suffer and to hide, decision, wit, refuge for the weak, scorn for the false. So I named them at random and cherished them, knowing that these things were not what other men longed for in women. Nay, there was another quality which I believed was there—which I knew was there—a supreme tenderness that was hidden like a treasure too sacred to be seen.

I did not seek to explain the mystery which had brought her across the sea into that little garden of Mrs. Temple's and into my heart. There she was now enthroned, deified; that she would always be there I accepted. That I would never say or do anything not in consonance with her standards I knew. That I would suffer much I was sure, but the lees of that suffering I should hoard because they came from her.

What might have been I tried to put away. There was the moment, I thought, when our souls had met in the little parlor in the Rue Bourbon. I should never know. This I knew—that we had labored together to bring happiness into other lives.

Then came another thought to appall me. Unmindful of her own safety, she had nursed me back to life through all the horrors of the fever. The doctor had despaired, and I knew that by the very force that was in her she had saved me. She was here now, in this house, and presently she would be coming back to my bedside. Painfully I turned my face to the wall in a torment of humiliation—I had called her by her name. I would see her again, but I knew not whence the strength for that ordeal was to come.



CHAPTER XIII

A MYSTERY

I knew by the light that it was evening when I awoke. So prisoners mark the passing of the days by a bar of sun light. And as I looked at the green trees in the courtyard, vaguely troubled by I knew not what, some one came and stood in the doorway. It was Nick.

"You don't seem very cheerful," said he; "a man ought to be who has been snatched out of the fire."

"You seem to be rather too sure of my future," I said, trying to smile.

"That's more like you," said Nick. "Egad, you ought to be happy—we all ought to be happy—she's gone."

"She!" I cried. "Who's gone?"

"Madame la Vicomtesse," he replied, rubbing his hands as he stood over me. "But she's left instructions with me for Lindy as long as Monsieur de Carondelet's Bando de Buen Gobierno. You are not to do this, and you are not to do that, you are to eat such and such things, you are to be made to sleep at such and such times. She came in here about an hour ago and took a long look at you before she left."

"She was not ill?" I said faintly.

"Faith, I don't know why she was not," he said. "She has done enough to tire out an army. But she seems well and fairly happy. She had her joke at my expense as she went through the court-yard, and she reminded me that we were to send a report by Andre every day."

Chagrin, depression, relief, bewilderment, all were struggling within me.

"Where did she go?" I asked at last.

"To Les Iles," he said. "You are to be brought there as soon as you are strong enough."

"Do you happen to know why she went?" I said.

"Now how the deuce should I know?" he answered. "I've done everything with blind servility since I came into this house. I never asked for any reason—it never would have done any good. I suppose she thought that you were well on the road to recovery, and she knew that Lindy was an old hand. And then the doctor is to come in."

"Why didn't you go?" I demanded, with a sudden remembrance that he was staying away from happiness.

"It was because I longed for another taste of liberty, Davy," he laughed. "You and I will have an old-fashioned time here together,—a deal of talk, and perhaps a little piquet,—who knows?"

My strength came back, bit by bit, and listening to his happiness did much to ease the soreness of my heart—while the light lasted. It was in the night watches that my struggles came—though often some unwitting speech of his would bring back the pain. He took delight in telling me, for example, how for hours at a time I had been in a fearful delirium.

"The Lord knows what foolishness you talked, Davy," said he. "It would have done me good to hear you had you been in your right mind."

"But you did hear me," I said, full of apprehensions.

"Some of it," said he. "You were after Wilkinson once, in a burrow, I believe, and you swore dreadfully because he got out of the other end. I can't remember all the things you said. Oh, yes, once you were talking to Auguste de St. Gre about money."

"Money?" I repeated in a sinking voice.

"Oh, a lot of jargon." The Vicomtesse pushed me out of the room, and after that I was never allowed to be there when you had those flights. Curse the mosquitoes! He seized a fan and began to ply it vigorously. "I remember. You were giving Auguste a lecture. Then I had to go."

These and other reminiscences gave me sufficient food for reflection, and many a shudder over the possibilities of my ravings. She had put him out! No wonder.

After a while I was carried to the gallery, and there I would talk to the little doctor about the yellow fever which had swept the city. Monsieur Perrin was not much of a doctor, to be sure, and he had a heartier dread of the American invasion than of the scourge. He worshipped the Vicomtesse, and was so devoid of professional pride as to give her freely all credit for my recovery. He too, clothed her with the qualities of statesmanship.

"Ha, Monsieur," he said, "if that lady had been King of France, do you think there would have been any States General, any red bonnets, any Jacobins or Cordeliers? Parbleu, she would have swept the vicemongers and traitors out of the Palais Royal itself. There would have been a house-cleaning there. I, who speak to you, know it."

Every day Nick wrote a bulletin to be sent to the Vicomtesse, and he took a fiendish delight in the composition of these. He would come out on the gallery with ink and a blank sheet of paper and try to enlist my help. He would insert the most ridiculous statements, as for instance, "Davy is worse to-day, having bribed Lindy to give him a pint of Madeira against my orders." Or, "Davy feigns to be sinking rapidly because he wishes to have you back." Indeed, I was always in a torture of doubt to know what the rascal had sent.

His company was most agreeable when he was recounting the many adventures he had had during the five years after he had left New Orleans and been lost to me. These would fill a book, and a most readable book it would be if written in his own speech. His love for the excitement of the frontier had finally drawn him back to the Cumberland country near Nashville, and he had actually gone so far as to raise a house and till some of the land which he had won from Darnley. It was perhaps characteristic of him that he had named the place "Rattle-and-Snap" in honor of the game which had put him in possession of it, and "Rattle-and-Snap" it remains to this day. He was going back there with Antoinette, so he said, to build a brick mansion and to live a respectable life the rest of his days.

There was one question which had been in my mind to ask him, concerning the attitude of Monsieur de St. Gre. That gentleman, with Madame, had hurried back from Pointe Coupee at a message from the Vicomtesse, and had gone first to Les Iles to see Antoinette. Then he had come, in spite of the fever, to his own house in New Orleans to see Nick himself. What their talk had been I never knew, for the subject was too painful to be dwelt upon, and the conversation had been marked by frankness on both sides. Monsieur de St. Gre was a just man, his love for his daughter was his chief passion, and despite all that had happened he liked Nick. I believe he could not wholly blame the younger man, and he forgave him.

Mrs. Temple, poor lady, had died on that first night of my illness, and it was her punishment that she had not known her son or her son's happiness. Whatever sins she had committed in her wayward life were atoned for, and by her death I firmly believe that she redeemed him. She lies now among the Temples in Charleston, and on the stone which marks her grave is cut no line that hints of the story of these pages.

One bright morning, when Nick and I were playing cards, we heard some one mounting the stairs, and to my surprise and embarrassment I beheld Monsieur de St. Gre emerging on the gallery. He was in white linen and wore a broad hat, which he took from his head as he advanced. He had aged somewhat, his hair was a little gray, but otherwise he was the firm, dignified personage I had admired on this same gallery five years before.

"Good morning, gentlemen," he said in English; "ha, do not rise, sir" (to me). He patted Nick's shoulder kindly, but not familiarly, as he passed him, and extended his hand.

"Mr. Ritchie, it gives me more pleasure than I can express to see you so much recovered."

"I am again thrown on your hospitality, sir," I said, flushing with pleasure at this friendliness. For I admired and respected the man greatly. "And I fear I have been a burden and trouble to you and your family."

He took my hand and pressed it. Characteristically, he did not answer this, and I remembered he was always careful not to say anything which might smack of insincerity.

"I had a glimpse of you some weeks ago," he said, thus making light of the risk he had run. "You are a different man now. You may thank your Scotch blood and your strong constitution."

"His good habits have done him some good, after all," put in my irrepressible cousin.

Monsieur de St. Gre smiled.

"Nick," he said (he pronounced the name quaintly, like Antoinette), "his good habits have turned out to be some advantage to you. Mr. Ritchie, you have a faithful friend at least." He patted Nick's shoulder again. "And he has promised me to settle down."

"I have every inducement, sir," said Nick.

Monsieur de St. Gre became grave.

"You have indeed, Monsieur," he answered.

"I have just come from Dr. Perrin's, David,"—he added, "May I call you so? Well, then, I have just come from Dr. Perrin's, and he says you may be moved to Les Iles this very afternoon. Why, upon my word," he exclaimed, staring at me, "you don't look pleased. One would think you were going to the calabozo."

"Ah," said Nick, slyly, "I know. He has tasted freedom, Monsieur, and Madame la Vicomtesse will be in command again."

I flushed. Nick could be very exasperating.

"You must not mind him, Monsieur," I said.

"I do not mind him," answered Monsieur de St. Gre, laughing in spite of himself. "He is a sad rogue. As for Helene—"

"I shall not know how to thank the Vicomtesse," I said. "She has done me the greatest service one person can do another."

"Helene is a good woman," answered Monsieur de St. Gre, simply. "She is more than that, she is a wonderful woman. I remember telling you of her once. I little thought then that she would ever come to us."

He turned to me. "Dr. Perrin will be here this afternoon, David, and he will have you dressed. Between five and six if all goes well, we shall start for Les Iles. And in the meantime, gentlemen," he added with a stateliness that was natural to him, "I have business which takes me to-day to my brother-in-law's, Monsieur de Beausejour's."

Nick leaned over the gallery and watched meditatively his prospective father-in-law leaving the court-yard.

"He got me out of a devilish bad scrape," he said.

"How was that?" I asked listlessly.

"That fat little Baron, the Governor, was for deporting me for running past the sentry and giving him all the trouble I did. It seems that the Vicomtesse promised to explain matters in a note which she wrote, and never did explain. She was here with you, and a lot she cared about anything else. Lucky that Monsieur de St. Gre came back. Now his Excellency graciously allows me to stay here, if I behave myself, until I get married."

I do not know how I spent the rest of the day. It passed, somehow. If I had had the strength then, I believe I should have fled. I was to see her again, to feel her near me, to hear her voice. During the weeks that had gone by I had schooled myself, in a sense, to the inevitable. I had not let my mind dwell upon my visit to Les Iles, and now I was face to face with the struggle for which I felt I had not the strength. I had fought one battle,—I knew that a fiercer battle was to come.

In due time the doctor arrived, and while he prepared me for my departure, the little man sought, with misplaced kindness, to raise my spirits. Was not Monsieur going to the country, to a paradise? Monsieur—so Dr. Perrin had noticed—had a turn for philosophy. Could two more able and brilliant conversationalists be found than Philippe de St. Gre and Madame la Vicomtesse? And there was the happiness of that strange but lovable young man, Monsieur Temple, to contemplate. He was in luck, ce beau garcon, for he was getting an angel for his wife. Did Monsieur know that Mademoiselle Antoinette was an angel?

At last I was ready, arrayed in my best, on the gallery, when Monsieur de St. Gre came. Andre and another servant carried me down into the court, and there stood a painted sedan-chair with the St. Gre arms on the panels.

"My father imported it, David," said Monsieur de St. Gre. "It has not been used for many years. You are to be carried in it to the levee, and there I have a boat for you."

Overwhelmed by this kindness, I could not find words to thank him as I got into the chair. My legs were too long for it, I remember. I had a quaint feeling of unreality as I sank back on the red satin cushions and was borne out of the gate between the lions. Monsieur de St. Gre and Nick walked in front, the faithful Lindy followed, and people paused to stare at us as we passed. We crossed the Place d'Armes, the Royal Road, gained the willow-bordered promenade on the levee's crown, and a wide barge was waiting, manned by six negro oarsmen. They lifted me into its stern under the awning, the barge was cast off, the oars dipped, and we were gliding silently past the line of keel boats on the swift current of the Mississippi. The spars of the shipping were inky black, and the setting sun had struck a red band across the waters. For a while the three of us sat gazing at the green shore, each wrapped in his own reflections,—Philippe de St. Gre thinking, perchance, of the wayward son he had lost; Nick of the woman who awaited him; and I of one whom fate had set beyond me. It was Monsieur de St. Gre who broke the silence at last.

"You feel no ill effects from your moving, David?" he asked, with an anxious glance at me.

"None, sir," I said.

"The country air will do you good," he said kindly.

"And Madame la Vicomtesse will put him on a diet," added Nick, rousing himself.

"Helene will take care of him," answered Monsieur de St. Gre.

He fell to musing again. "Madame la Vicomtesse has seen more in seven years than most of us see in a lifetime," he said. "She has beheld the glory of France, and the dishonor and pollution of her country. Had the old order lasted her salon would have been famous, and she would have been a power in politics."

"I have thought that the Vicomtesse must have had a queer marriage," Nick remarked.

Monsieur de St. Gre smiled.

"Such marriages were the rule amongst our nobility," he said. "It was arranged while Helene was still in the convent, though it was not celebrated until three years after she had been in the world. There was a romantic affair, I believe, with a young gentleman of the English embassy, though I do not know the details. He is said to be the only man she ever cared for. He was a younger son of an impoverished earl."

I started, remembering what the Vicomtesse had said. But Monsieur de St. Gre did not appear to see my perturbation.

"Be that as it may, if Helene suffered, she never gave a sign of it. The marriage was celebrated with great pomp, and the world could only conjecture what she thought of the Vicomte. It was deemed on both sides a brilliant match. He had inherited vast estates, Ivry-le-Tour, Montmery, Les Saillantes, I know not what else. She was heiress to the Chateau de St. Gre with its wide lands, to the chateau and lands of the Cote Rouge in Normandy, to the hotel St. Gre in Paris. Monsieur le Vicomte was between forty and fifty at his marriage, and from what I have heard of him he had many of the virtues and many of the faults of his order. He was a bachelor, which does not mean that he had lacked consolations. He was reserved with his equals, and distant with others. He had served in the Guards, and did not lack courage. He dressed exquisitely, was inclined to the Polignac party, took his ease everywhere, had a knowledge of cards and courts, and little else. He was cheated by his stewards, refused to believe that the Revolution was serious, and would undoubtedly have been guillotined had the Vicomtesse not contrived to get him out of France in spite of himself. They went first to the Duke de Ligne, at Bel Oeil, and thence to Coblentz. He accepted a commission in the Austrian service, which is much to his credit, and Helene went with some friends to England. There my letter reached her, and rather than be beholden to strangers or accept my money there, she came to us. That is her story in brief, Messieurs. As for Monsieur le Vicomte, he admired his wife, as well he might, respected her for the way she served the gallants, but he made no pretence of loving her. One affair—a girl in the village of Montmery—had lasted. Helene was destined for higher things than may be found in Louisiana," said Monsieur de St. Gre, turning to Nick, "but now that you are to carry away my treasure, Monsieur, I do not know what I should have done without her."

"And has there been any news of the Vicomte of late?"

It was Nick who asked the question, after a little. Monsieur de St. Gre looked at him in surprise.

"Eh, mon Dieu, have you not heard?" he said. "C'est vrai, you have been with David. Did not the Vicomtesse mention it? But why should she? Monsieur le Vicomte died in Vienna. He had lived too well."

"The Vicomte is dead?" I said.

They both looked at me. Indeed, I should not have recognized my own voice. What my face betrayed, what my feelings were, I cannot say. My heart beat no faster, there was no tumult in my brain, and yet—my breath caught strangely. Something grew within me which is beyond the measure of speech, and so it was meant to be.

"I did not know this myself until Helene returned to Les Iles," Monsieur de St. Gre was saying to me. "The letter came to her the day after you were taken ill. It was from the Baron von Seckenbruck, at whose house the Vicomte died. She took it very calmly, for Helene is not a woman to pretend. How much better, after all, if she had married her Englishman for love! And she is much troubled now because, as she declares, she is dependent upon my bounty. That is my happiness, my consolation," the good man added simply, "and her father, the Marquis, was kind to me when I was a young provincial and a stranger. God rest his soul!"

We were drawing near to Les Iles. The rains had come during my illness, and in the level evening light the forest of the shore was the tender green of spring. At length we saw the white wooden steps in the levee at the landing, and near them were three figures waiting. We glided nearer. One was Madame de St. Gre, another was Antoinette,—these I saw indeed. The other was Helene, and it seemed to me that her eyes met mine across the waters and drew them. Then we were at the landing. I heard Madame de St. Gre's voice, and Antoinette's in welcome—I listened for another. I saw Nick running up the steps; in the impetuosity of his love he had seized Antoinette's hand in his, and she was the color of a red rose. Creole decorum forbade further advances. Andre and another lifted me out, and they gathered around me,—these kind people and devoted friends,—Antoinette calling me, with exquisite shyness, by name; Madame de St. Gre giving me a grave but gentle welcome, and asking anxiously how I stood the journey. Another took my hand, held it for the briefest space that has been marked out of time, and for that instant I looked into her eyes. Life flowed back into me, and strength, and a joy not to be fathomed. I could have walked; but they bore me through the well-remembered vista, and the white gallery at the end of it was like the sight of home. The evening air was laden with the scent of the sweetest of all shrubs and flowers.



CHAPTER XIV

"TO UNPATHED WATERS, UNDREAMED SHORES"

Monsieur and Madame de St. Gre themselves came with me to my chamber off the gallery, where everything was prepared for my arrival with the most loving care,—Monsieur de St. Gre supplying many things from his wardrobe which I lacked. And when I tried to thank them for their kindness he laid his hand upon my shoulder.

"Tenez, mon ami," he said, "you got your illness by doing things for other people. It is time other people did something for you."

Lindy brought me the daintiest of suppers, and I was left to my meditations. Nick looked in at the door, and hinted darkly that I had to thank a certain tyrant for my abandonment. I called to him, but he paid no heed, and I heard him chuckling as he retreated along the gallery. The journey, the excitement into which I had been plunged by the news I had heard, brought on a languor, and I was between sleeping and waking half the night. I slept to dream of her, of the Vicomte, her husband, walking in his park or playing cards amidst a brilliant company in a great candle-lit room like the drawing-room at Temple Bow. Doubt grew, and sleep left me. She was free now, indeed, but was she any nearer to me? Hope grew again,—why had she left me in New Orleans? She had received a letter, and if she had cared she would not have remained. But there was a detestable argument to fit that likewise, and in the light of this argument it was most natural that she should return to Les Iles. And who was I, David Ritchie, a lawyer of the little town of Louisville, to aspire to the love of such a creature? Was it likely that Helene, Vicomtesse d'Ivry-le-Tour, would think twice of me? The powers of the world were making ready to crush the presumptuous France of the Jacobins, and the France of King and Aristocracy would be restored. Chateaux and lands would be hers again, and she would go back again to that brilliant life among the great to which she was born, for which nature had fitted her. Last of all was the thought of the Englishman whom I resembled. She would go back to him.

Nick was the first in my room the next morning. He had risen early (so he ingenuously informed me) because Antoinette had a habit of getting up with the birds, and as I drank my coffee he was emphatic in his denunciations of the customs of the country.

"It is a wonderful day, Davy," he cried; "you must hurry and get out. Monsieur de St. Gre sends his compliments, and wishes to know if you will pardon his absence this morning. He is going to escort Antoinette and me over to see some of my prospective cousins, the Bertrands." He made a face, and bent nearer to my ear. "I swear to you I have not had one moment alone with her. We have been for a walk, but Madame la Vicomtesse must needs intrude herself upon us. Egad, I told her plainly what I thought of her tyranny."

"And what did she say?" I asked, trying to smile.

"She laughed, and said that I belonged to a young nation which had done much harm in the world to everybody but themselves. Faith, if I wasn't in love with Antoinette, I believe I'd be in love with her."

"I have no doubt of it," I answered.

"The Vicomtesse is as handsome as a queen this morning," he continued, paying no heed to this remark. "She has on a linen dress that puzzles me. It was made to walk among the trees and flowers, it is as simple as you please; and yet it has a distinction that makes you stare."

"You seem to have stared," I answered. "Since when did you take such interest in gowns?"

"Bless you, it was Antoinette. I never should have known," said he. "Antoinette had never before seen the gown, and she asked the Vicomtesse where she got the pattern. The Vicomtesse said that the gown had been made by Leonard, a court dressmaker, and it was of the fashion the Queen had set to wear in the gardens of the Trianon when simplicity became the craze. Antoinette is to have it copied, so she says."

Which proved that Antoinette was human, after all, and happy once more.

"Hang it," said Nick, "she paid more attention to that gown than to me. Good-by, Davy. Obey the—the Colonel."

"Is—is not the Vicomtesse going with you?" I asked

"No, I'm sorry for you," he called back from the gallery.

He had need to be, for I fell into as great a fright as ever I had had in my life. Monsieur de St. Gre knocked at the door and startled me out of my wits. Hearing that I was awake, he had come in person to make his excuses for leaving me that morning.

"Bon Dieu!" he said, looking at me, "the country has done you good already. Behold a marvel! Au revoir, David."

I heard the horses being brought around, and laughter and voices. How easily I distinguished hers! Then I heard the hoof-beats on the soft dirt of the drive. Then silence,—the silence of a summer morning which is all myriad sweet sounds. Then Lindy appeared, starched and turbaned.

"Marse Dave, how you feel dis mawnin'? Yo' 'pears mighty peart, sholy. Marse Dave, yo' chair is sot on de gallery. Is you ready? I'll fotch dat yaller nigger, Andre."

"You needn't fetch Andre," I said; "I can walk."

"Lan sakes, Marse Dave, but you is bumptious."

I rose and walked out on the gallery with surprising steadiness. A great cushioned chair had been placed there and beside it a table with books, and another chair. I sat down. Lindy looked at me sharply, but I did not heed her, and presently she retired. The day, still in its early golden glory, seemed big with prescience. Above, the saffron haze was lifted, and there was the blue sky. The breeze held its breath; the fragrance of grass and fruit and flowers, of the shrub that vied with all, languished on the air. Out of these things she came.

I knew that she was coming, but I saw her first at the gallery's end, the roses she held red against the white linen of her gown. Then I felt a great yearning and a great dread. I have seen many of her kind since, and none reflected so truly as she the life of the old regime. Her dress, her carriage, her air, all suggested it; and she might, as Nick said, have been walking in the gardens of the Trianon. Titles I cared nothing for. Hers alone seemed real, to put her far above me. Had all who bore them been as worthy, titles would have meant much to mankind.

She was coming swiftly. I rose to my feet before her. I believe I should have risen in death. And then she was standing beside me, looking up into my face.

"You must not do that," she said, "or I will go away."

I sat down again. She went to the door and called, I following her with my eyes. Lindy came with a bowl of water.

"Put it on the table," said the Vicomtesse.

Lindy put the bowl on the table, gave us a glance, and departed silently. The Vicomtesse began to arrange the flowers in the bowl, and I watched her, fascinated by her movements. She did everything quickly, deftly, but this matter took an unconscionable time. She did not so much as glance at me. She seemed to have forgotten my presence.

"There," she said at last, giving them a final touch. "You are less talkative, if anything, than usual this morning, Mr. Ritchie. You have not said good morning, you have not told me how you were—you have not even thanked me for the roses. One might almost believe that you are sorry to come to Les Iles."

"One might believe anything who didn't know, Madame la Vicomtesse."

She put her hand to the flowers again.

"It seems a pity to pick them, even in a good cause," she said.

She was so near me that I could have touched her. A weakness seized me, and speech was farther away than ever. She moved, she sat down and looked at me, and the kind of mocking smile came into her eyes that I knew was the forerunner of raillery.

"There is a statue in the gardens of Versailles which seems always about to speak, and then to think better of it. You remind me of that statue, Mr. Ritchie. It is the statue of Wisdom."

What did she mean?

"Wisdom knows the limitations of its own worth, Madame," I replied.

"It is the one particular in which I should have thought wisdom was lacking," she said. "You have a tongue, if you will deign to use it. Or shall I read to you?" she added quickly, picking up a book. "I have read to the Queen, when Madame Campan was tired. Her Majesty poor dear lady, did me the honor to say she liked my English."

"You have done everything, Madame," I said.

"I have read to a Queen, to a King's sister, but never yet—to a King," she said, opening the book and giving me the briefest of glances. "You are all kings in America are you not? What shall I read?"

"I would rather have you talk to me."

"Very well, I will tell you how the Queen spoke English. No, I will not do that," she said, a swift expression of sadness passing over her face. "I will never mock her again. She was a good sovereign and a brave woman and I loved her." She was silent a moment, and I thought there was a great weariness in her voice when she spoke again. "I have every reason to thank God when I think of the terrors I escaped, of the friends I have found. And yet I am an unhappy woman, Mr. Ritchie."

"You are unhappy when you are not doing things for others, Madame," I suggested.

"I am a discontented woman," she said; "I always have been. And I am unhappy when I think of all those who were dear to me and whom I loved. Many are dead, and many are scattered and homeless."

"I have often thought of your sorrows, Madame," I said.

"Which reminds me that I should not burden you with them, my good friend, when you are recovering. Do you know that you have been very near to death?"

"I know, Madame," I faltered. "I know that had it not been for you I should not be alive to-day. I know that you risked your life to save my own."

She did not answer at once, and when I looked at her she was gazing out over the flowers on the lawn.

"My life did not matter," she said. "Let us not talk of that."

I might have answered, but I dared not speak for fear of saying what was in my heart. And while I trembled with the repression of it, she was changed. She turned her face towards me and smiled a little.

"If you had obeyed me you would not have been so ill," she said.

"Then I am glad that I did not obey you."

"Your cousin, the irrepressible Mr. Temple, says I am a tyrant. Come now, do you think me a tyrant?"

"He has also said other things of you."

"What other things?"

I blushed at my own boldness.

"He said that if he were not in love with Antoinette, he would be in love with you."

"A very safe compliment," said the Vicomtesse. "Indeed, it sounds too cautious for Mr. Temple. You must have tampered with it, Mr. Ritchie," she flashed. "Mr. Temple is a boy. He needs discipline. He will have too easy a time with Antoinette."

"He is not the sort of man you should marry," I said, and sat amazed at it.

She looked at me strangely.

"No, he is not," she answered. "He is more or less the sort of man I have been thrown with all my life. They toil not, neither do they spin. I know you will not misunderstand me, for I am very fond of him. Mr. Temple is honest, fearless, lovable, and of good instincts. One cannot say as much for the rest of his type. They go through life fighting, gaming, horse-racing, riding to hounds,—I have often thought that it was no wonder our privileges came to an end. So many of us were steeped in selfishness and vice, were a burden on the world. The early nobles, with all their crimes, were men who carved their way. Of such were the lords of the Marches. We toyed with politics, with simplicity, we wasted the land, we played cards as our coaches passed through famine-stricken villages. The reckoning came. Our punishment was not given into the hands of the bourgeois, who would have dealt justly, but to the scum, the canaille, the demons of the earth. Had our King, had our nobility, been men with the old fire, they would not have stood it. They were worn out with centuries of catering to themselves. Give me a man who will shape his life and live it with all his strength. I am tired of sham and pretence, of cynical wit, of mocking at the real things of life, of pride, vain-glory, and hypocrisy. Give me a man whose existence means something."

Was she thinking of the Englishman of whom she had spoken? Delicacy forbade my asking the question. He had been a man, according to her own testimony. Where was he now? Her voice had a ring of earnestness in it I had never heard before, and this arraignment of her own life and of her old friends surprised me. Now she seemed lost in a revery, from which I forebore to arouse her.

"I have often tried to picture your life," I said at last.

"You?" she answered, turning her head quickly.

"Ever since I first saw the miniature," I said. "Monsieur de St. Gre told me some things, and afterwards I read 'Le Mariage de Figaro,' and some novels, and some memoirs of the old courts which I got in Philadelphia last winter. I used to think of you as I rode over the mountains, as I sat reading in my room of an evening. I used to picture you in the palaces amusing the Queen and making the Cardinals laugh. And then I used to wonder—what became of you—and whether—" I hesitated, overwhelmed by a sudden confusion, for she was gazing at me fixedly with a look I did not understand.

"You used to think of that?" she said.

"I never thought to see you," I answered.

Laughter came into her eyes, and I knew that I had not vexed her. But I had spoken stupidly, and I reddened.

"I had a quick tongue," she said, as though to cover my confusion. "I have it yet. In those days misfortune had not curbed it. I had not learned to be charitable. When I was a child I used to ride with my father to the hunts at St. Gre, and I was too ready to pick out the weaknesses of his guests. If one of the company had a trick or a mannerism, I never failed to catch it. People used to ask me what I thought of such and such a person, and that was bad for me. I saw their failings and pretensions, but I ignored my own. It was the same at Abbaye aux Bois, the convent where I was taught. When I was presented to her Majesty I saw why people hated her. They did not understand her. She was a woman with a large heart, with charity. Some did not suspect this, others forgot it because they beheld a brilliant personage with keen perceptions who would not submit to being bored. Her Majesty made many enemies at court of persons who believed she was making fun of them. There was a dress-maker at the French court called Mademoiselle Bertin, who became ridiculously pretentious because the Queen allowed the woman to dress her hair in private. Bertin used to put on airs with the nobility when they came to order gowns, and she was very rude to me when I went for my court dress. There was a ball at Versailles the day I was presented, and my father told me that her Majesty wished to speak with me. I was very much frightened. The Queen was standing with her back to the mirror, the Duchesse de Polignac and some other ladies beside her, when my father brought me up, and her Majesty was smiling.

"'What did you say to Bertin, Mademoiselle?' she asked.

"I was more frightened than ever, but the remembrance of the woman's impudence got the better of me.

"'I told her that in dressing your Majesty's hair she had acquired all the court accomplishments but one.'

"'I'll warrant that Bertin was curious,' said the Queen.

"'She was, your Majesty.'

"'What is the accomplishment she lacks?' the Queen demanded; 'I should like to know it myself.'

"It is discrimination, your Majesty. I told the woman there were some people she could be rude to with impunity. I was not one of them.'

"'She'll never be rude to you again, Mademoiselle,' said the Queen.

"'I am sure of it, your Majesty,' I said.

"The Queen laughed, and bade the Duchesse de Polignac invite me to supper that evening. My father was delighted,—I was more frightened than ever. But the party was small, her Majesty was very gracious and spoke to me often, and I saw that above all things she liked to be amused. Poor lady! It was a year after that terrible affair of the necklace, and she wished to be distracted from thinking of the calumnies which were being heaped upon her. She used to send for me often during the years that followed, and I might have had a place at court near her person. But my father was sensible enough to advise me not to accept,—if I could refuse without offending her Majesty. The Queen was not offended; she was good enough to say that I was wise in my request. She had, indeed, abolished most of the ridiculous etiquette of the court. She would not eat in public, she would not be followed around the palace by ladies in court gowns, she would not have her ladies in the room when she was dressing. If she wished a mirror, she would not wait for it to be passed through half a dozen hands and handed her by a Princess of the Blood. Sometimes she used to summon me to amuse her and walk with me by the water in the beautiful gardens of the Petit Triano. I used to imitate the people she disliked. I disliked them, too. I have seen her laugh until the tears came into her eyes when I talked of Monsieur Necker. As the dark days drew nearer I loved more and more to be in the seclusion of the country at Montmery, at the St. Gre of my girlhood. I can see St. Gre now," said the Vicomtesse, "the thatched houses of the little village on either side of the high-road, the honest, red-faced peasants courtesying in their doorways at our berline, the brick wall of the park, the iron gates beside the lodge, the long avenue of poplars, the deer feeding in the beechwood, the bridge over the shining stream and the long, weather-beaten chateau beyond it. Paris and the muttering of the storm were far away. The mornings on the sunny terrace looking across the valley to the blue hills, the walks in the village, grew very dear to me. We do not know the value of things, Mr. Ritchie, until we are about to lose them."

"You did not go back to court?" I asked.

She sighed.

"Yes, I went back. I thought it my duty. I was at Versailles that terrible summer when the States General met, when the National Assembly grew out of it, when the Bastille was stormed, when the King was throwing away his prerogatives like confetti. Never did the gardens of the Trianon seem more beautiful, or more sad. Sometimes the Queen would laugh even then when I mimicked Bailly, Des Moulins, Mirabeau. I was with her Majesty in the gardens on that dark, rainy day when the fishwomen came to Versailles. The memory of that night will haunt me as long as I live. The wind howled, the rain lashed with fury against the windows, the mob tore through the streets of the town, sacked the wine-shops, built great fires at the corners. Before the day dawned again the furies had broken into the palace and murdered what was left of the Guard. You have heard how they carried off the King and Queen to Paris—how they bore the heads of the soldiers on their pikes. I saw it from a window, and I shall never forget it."

Her voice faltered, and there were tears on her lashes. Some quality in her narration brought before me so vividly the scenes of which she spoke that I started when she had finished. There was much more I would have known, but I could not press her to speak longer on a subject that gave her pain. At that moment she seemed more distant to me than ever before. She rose, went into the house, and left me thinking of the presumptions of the hopes I had dared to entertain, left me picturing sadly the existence of which she had spoken. Why had she told me of it? Perchance she had thought to do me a kindness!

She came back to me—I had not thought she would. She sat down with her embroidery in her lap, and for some moments busied herself with it in silence. Then she said, without looking up:—

"I do not know why I have tired you with this, why I have saddened myself. It is past and gone."

"I was not tired, Madame. It is very difficult to live in the present when the past has been so brilliant," I answered.

"So brilliant!" She sighed. "So thoughtless,—I think that is the sharpest regret." I watched her fingers as they stitched, wondering how they could work so rapidly. At last she said in a low voice, "Antoinette and Mr. Temple have told me something of your life, Mr. Ritchie."

I laughed.

"It has been very humble," I replied.

"What I heard was—interesting to me," she said, turning over her frame. "Will you not tell me something of it?"

"Gladly, Madame, if that is the case," I answered.

"Well, then," she said, "why don't you?"

"I do not know which part you would like, Madame. Shall I tell you about Colonel Clark? I do not know when to begin—"

She dropped her sewing in her lap and looked up at me quickly.

"I told you that you were a strange man," she said. "I almost lose patience with you. No, don't tell me about Colonel Clark—at least not until you come to him. Begin at the beginning, at the cabin in the mountains."

"You want the whole of it!" I exclaimed.

She picked up her embroidery again and bent over it with a smile.

"Yes, I want the whole of it."

So I began at the cabin in the mountains. I cannot say that I ever forgot she was listening, but I lost myself in the narrative. It presented to me, for the first time, many aspects that I had not thought of. For instance, that I should be here now in Louisiana telling it to one who had been the companion and friend of the Queen of France. Once in a while the Vicomtesse would look up at me swiftly, when I paused, and then go on with her work again. I told her of Temple Bow, and how I had run away; of Polly Ann and Tom, of the Wilderness Trail and how I shot Cutcheon, of the fight at Crab Orchard, of the life in Kentucky, of Clark and his campaign. Of my doings since; how I had found Nick and how he had come to New Orleans with me; of my life as a lawyer in Louisville, of the conventions I had been to. The morning wore on to midday, and I told her more than I believed it possible to tell any one. When at last I had finished a fear grew upon me that I had told her too much. Her fingers still stitched, her head was bent and I could not see her face,—only the knot of her hair coiled with an art that struck me suddenly. Then she spoke, and her voice was very low.

"I love Polly Ann," she said; "I should like to know her."

"I wish that you could know her," I answered, quickening.

She raised her head, and looked at me with an expression that was not a smile. I could not say what it was, or what it meant.

"I do not think you are stupid," she said, in the same tone, "but I do not believe you know how remarkable your life has been. I can scarcely realize that you have seen all this, have done all this, have felt all this. You are a lawyer, a man of affairs, and yet you could guide me over the hidden paths of half a continent. You know the mountain ranges, the passes, the rivers, the fords, the forest trails, the towns and the men who made them!" She picked up her sewing and bent over it once more. "And yet you did not think that this would interest me."

Perchance it was a subtle summons in her voice I heard that bade me open the flood-gates of my heart,—I know not. I know only that no power on earth could have held me silent then.

"Helene!" I said, and stopped. My heart beat so wildly that I could hear it. "I do not know why I should dare to think of you, to look up to you—Helene, I love you, I shall love you till I die. I love you with all the strength that is in me, with all my soul. You know it, and if you did not I could hide it no more. As long as I live there will never be another woman in the world for me. I love you. You will forgive me because of the torture I have suffered, because of the pain I shall suffer when I think of you in the years to come."

Her sewing dropped to her lap—to the floor. She looked at me, and the light which I saw in her eyes flooded my soul with a joy beyond my belief. I trembled with a wonder that benumbed me. I would have got to my feet had she not come to me swiftly, that I might not rise. She stood above me, I lifted up my arms; she bent to me with a movement that conferred a priceless thing.

"David," she said, "could you not tell that I loved you, that you were he who has been in my mind for so many years, and in my heart since I saw you?"

"I could not tell," I said. "I dared not think it. I—I thought there was another."

She was seated on the arm of my chair. She drew back her head with a smile trembling on her lips, with a lustre burning in her eyes like a vigil—a vigil for me.

"He reminded me of you," she answered.

I was lost in sheer, bewildering happiness. And she who created it, who herself was that happiness, roused me from it.

"What are you thinking?" she asked.

"I was thinking that a star has fallen,—that I may have a jewel beyond other men," I said.

"And a star has risen for me," she said, "that I may have a guide beyond other women."

"Then it is you who have raised it, Helene." I was silent a moment, trying again to bring the matter within my grasp. "Do you mean that you love me, that you will marry me, that you will come back to Kentucky with me and will be content,—you, who have been the companion of a Queen?"

There came an archness into her look that inflamed me the more.

"I, who have been the companion of a Queen, love you, will marry you, will go back to Kentucky with you and be content," she repeated. "And yet not I, David, but another woman—a happy woman. You shall be my refuge, my strength, my guide. You will lead me over the mountains and through the wilderness by the paths you know. You will bring me to Polly Ann that I may thank her for the gift of you,—above all other gifts in the world."

I was silent again.

"Helene," I said at last, "will you give me the miniature?"

"On one condition," she replied.

"Yes," I said, "yes. And again yes. What is it?"

"That you will obey me—sometimes."

"It is a privilege I long for," I answered.

"You did not begin with promise," she said.

I released her hand, and she drew the ivory from her gown and gave it me. I kissed it.

"I will go to Monsieur Isadore's and get the frame," I said.

"When I give you permission," said Helene, gently.

I have written this story for her eyes.



CHAPTER XV

AN EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF A MAN

Out of the blood and ashes of France a Man had arisen who moved real kings and queens on his chess-board—which was a large part of the world. The Man was Napoleon Buonaparte, at present, for lack of a better name, First Consul of the French Republic. The Man's eye, sweeping the world for a new plaything, had rested upon one which had excited the fancy of lesser adventurers, of one John Law, for instance. It was a large, unwieldy plaything indeed, and remote. It was nothing less than that vast and mysterious country which lay beyond the monster yellow River of the Wilderness, the country bordered on the south by the Gulf swamps, on the north by no man knew what forests,—as dark as those the Romans found in Gaul,—on the west by a line which other generations might be left to settle.

This land was Louisiana.

A future king of France, while an emigre, had been to Louisiana. This is merely an interesting fact worth noting. It was not interesting to Napoleon.

Napoleon, by dint of certain screws which he tightened on his Catholic Majesty, King Charles of Spain, in the Treaty of San Ildefonso on the 1st of October, 1800, got his plaything. Louisiana was French again,—whatever French was in those days. The treaty was a profound secret. But secrets leak out, even the profoundest; and this was wafted across the English Channel to the ears of Mr. Rufus King, American Minister at London, who wrote of it to one Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States. Mr. Jefferson was interested, not to say alarmed.

Mr. Robert Livingston was about to depart on his mission from the little Republic of America to the great Republic of France. Mr. Livingston was told not to make himself disagreeable, but to protest. If Spain was to give up the plaything, the Youngest Child among the Nations ought to have it. It lay at her doors, it was necessary for her growth.

Mr. Livingston arrived in France to find that Louisiana was a mere pawn on the chess-board, the Republic he represented little more. He protested, and the great Talleyrand shrugged his shoulders. What was Monsieur talking about? A treaty. What treaty? A treaty with Spain ceding back Louisiana to France after forty years. Who said there was such a treaty? Did Monsieur take snuff? Would Monsieur call again when the Minister was less busy?

Monsieur did call again, taking care not to make himself disagreeable. He was offered snuff. He called again, pleasantly. He was offered snuff. He called again. The great Talleyrand laughed. He was always so happy to see Monsieur when he (Talleyrand) was not busy. He would give Monsieur a certificate of importunity. He had quite forgotten what Monsieur was talking about on former occasions. Oh, yes, a treaty. Well, suppose there was such a treaty, what then?

What then? Mr. Livingston, the agreeable but importunate, went home and wrote a memorial, and was presently assured that the inaccessible Man who was called First Consul had read it with interest—great interest. Mr. Livingston did not cease to indulge in his enjoyable visits to Talleyrand—not he. But in the intervals he sat down to think.

What did the inaccessible Man himself have in his mind?

The Man had been considering the Anglo-Saxon race, and in particular that portion of it which inhabited the Western Hemisphere. He perceived that they were a quarrelsome people, which possessed the lust for land and conquest like the rest of their blood. He saw with astonishment something that had happened, something that they had done. Unperceived by the world, in five and twenty years they had swept across a thousand miles of mountain and forest wilderness in ever increasing thousands, had beaten the fiercest of savage tribes before them, stolidly unmindful of their dead. They had come at length to the great yellow River, and finding it closed had cried aloud in their anger. What was beyond it to stop them? Spain, with a handful of subjects inherited from the France of Louis the Fifteenth.

Could Spain stop them? No. But he, the Man, would stop them. He would raise up in Louisiana as a monument to himself a daughter of France to curb their ambition. America should not be all Anglo-Saxon.

Already the Americans had compelled Spain to open the River. How long before they would overrun Louisiana itself, until a Frenchman or a Spaniard could scarce be found in the land?

Sadly, in accordance with the treaty which Monsieur Talleyrand had known nothing about, his Catholic Majesty instructed his Intendant at New Orleans to make ready to deliver Louisiana to the French Commission. That was in July, 1802. This was not exactly an order to close the River again—in fact, his Majesty said nothing about closing the River. Mark the reasoning of the Spanish mind. The Intendant closed the River as his plain duty. And Kentucky and Tennessee, wayward, belligerent infants who had outgrown their swaddling clothes, were heard from again. The Nation had learned to listen to them. The Nation was very angry. Mr. Hamilton and the Federalists and many others would have gone to war and seized the Floridas.

Mr. Jefferson said, "Wait and see what his Catholic Majesty has to say." Mr. Jefferson was a man of great wisdom, albeit he had mistaken Jacobinism for something else when he was younger. And he knew that Napoleon could not play chess in the wind. The wind was rising.

Mr. Livingston was a patriot, able, importunate, but getting on in years and a little hard of hearing. Importunity without an Army and a Navy behind it is not effective—especially when there is no wind. But Mr. Jefferson heard the wind rising, and he sent Mr. Monroe to Mr. Livingston's aid. Mr. Monroe was young, witty, lively, popular with people he met. He, too, heard the wind rising, and so now did Mr. Livingston.

The ships containing the advance guard of the colonists destined for the new Louisiana lay in the roads at Dunkirk, their anchors ready to weigh,—three thousand men, three thousand horses, for the Man did things on a large scale. The anchors were not weighed.

His Catholic Majesty sent word from Spain to Mr. Jefferson that he was sorry his Intendant had been so foolish. The River was opened again.

The Treaty of Amiens was a poor wind-shield. It blew down, and the chessmen began to totter. One George of England, noted for his frugal table and his quarrelsome disposition, who had previously fought with France, began to call the Man names. The Man called George names, and sat down to think quickly. George could not be said to be on the best of terms with his American relations, but the Anglo-Saxon is unsentimental, phlegmatic, setting money and trade and lands above ideals. George meant to go to war again. Napoleon also meant to go to war again. But George meant to go to war again right away, which was inconvenient and inconsiderate, for Napoleon had not finished his game of chess. The obvious outcome of the situation was that George with his Navy would get Louisiana, or else help his relations to get it. In either case Louisiana would become Anglo-Saxon.

This was the wind which Mr. Jefferson had heard.

The Man, being a genius who let go gracefully when he had to, decided between two bad bargains. He would sell Louisiana to the Americans as a favor; they would be very, very grateful, and they would go on hating George. Moreover, he would have all the more money with which to fight George.

The inaccessible Man suddenly became accessible. Nay, he became gracious, smiling, full of loving-kindness, charitable. Certain dickerings followed by a bargain passed between the American Minister and Monsieur Barbe-Marbois. Then Mr. Livingston and Mr. Monroe dined with the hitherto inaccessible. And the Man, after the manner of Continental Personages, asked questions. Frederick the Great has started this fashion, and many have imitated it.

Louisiana became American at last. Whether by destiny or chance, whether by the wisdom of Jefferson or the necessity of Napoleon, who can say? It seems to me, David Ritchie, writing many years after the closing words of the last chapter were penned, that it was ours inevitably. For I have seen and known and loved the people with all their crudities and faults, whose inheritance it was by right of toil and suffering and blood.

And I, David Ritchie, saw the flags of three nations waving over it in the space of two days. And it came to pass in this wise.

Rumors of these things which I have told above had filled Kentucky from time to time, and in November of 1803 there came across the mountains the news that the Senate of the United States had ratified the treaty between our ministers and Napoleon.

I will not mention here what my life had become, what my fortune, save to say that both had been far beyond my expectations. In worldly goods and honors, in the respect and esteem of my fellow-men, I had been happy indeed. But I had been blessed above other men by one whose power it was to lift me above the mean and sordid things of this world.

Many times in the pursuit of my affairs I journeyed over that country which I had known when it belonged to the Indian and the deer and the elk and the wolf and the buffalo. Often did she ride by my side, making light of the hardships which, indeed, were no hardships to her, wondering at the settlements which had sprung up like magic in the wilderness, which were the heralds of the greatness of the Republic,—her country now.

So, in the bright and boisterous March weather of the year 1804, we found ourselves riding together along the way made memorable by the footsteps of Clark and his backwoodsmen. For I had an errand in St. Louis with Colonel Chouteau. A subtle change had come upon Kaskaskia with the new blood which was flowing into it: we passed Cahokia, full of memories to the drummer boy whom she loved. There was the church, the garrison, the stream, and the little house where my Colonel and I had lived together. She must see them all, she must hear the story from my lips again; and the telling of it to her gave it a new fire and a new life.

At evening, when the March wind had torn the cotton clouds to shreds, we stood on the Mississippi's bank, gazing at the western shore, at Louisiana. The low, forest-clad hills made a black band against the sky, and above the band hung the sun, a red ball. He was setting, and man might look upon his face without fear. The sight of the waters of that river stirred me to think of many things. What had God in store for the vast land out of which the waters flowed? Had He, indeed, saved it for a People, a People to be drawn from all nations, from all classes? Was the principle of the Republic to prevail and spread and change the complexion of the world? Or were the lusts of greed and power to increase until in the end they had swallowed the leaven? Who could say? What man of those who, soberly, had put his hand to the Paper which declared the opportunities of generations to come, could measure the Force which he had helped to set in motion.

We crossed the river to the village where I had been so kindly received many years ago—to St. Louis. The place was little changed. The wind was stilled, the blue wood smoke curled lazily from the wide stone chimneys of the houses nestling against the hill. The afterglow was fading into night; lights twinkled in the windows. Followed by our servants we climbed the bank, Helene and I, and walked the quiet streets bordered by palings. The evening was chill. We passed a bright cabaret from which came the sound of many voices; in the blacksmith's shop another group was gathered, and we saw faces eager in the red light. They were talking of the Cession.

We passed that place where Nick had stopped Suzanne in the cart, and laughed at the remembrance. We came to Monsieur Gratiot's, for he had bidden us to stay with him. And with Madame he gave us a welcome to warm our hearts after our journey.

"David," he said, "I have seen many strange things happen in my life, but the strangest of all is that Clark's drummer boy should have married a Vicomtesse of the old regime."

And she was ever Madame la Vicomtesse to our good friends in St. Louis, for she was a woman to whom a title came as by nature's right.

"And you are about to behold another strange thing David," Monsieur Gratiot continued. "To-day you are on French territory."

"French territory!" I exclaimed.

"To-day Upper Louisiana is French," he answered. "To-morrow it will be American forever. This morning Captain Stoddard of the United States Army, empowered to act as a Commissioner of the French Republic, arrived with Captain Lewis and a guard of American troops. Today, at noon, the flag of Spain was lowered from the staff at the headquarters. To-night a guard of honor watches with the French Tricolor, and we are French for the last time. To-morrow we shall be Americans."

I saw that simple ceremony. The little company of soldiers was drawn up before the low stone headquarters, the villagers with heads uncovered gathered round about. I saw the Stars and Stripes rising, the Tricolor setting. They met midway on the staff, hung together for a space, and a salute to the two nations echoed among the hills across the waters of the great River that rolled impassive by.

THE END

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12
Home - Random Browse