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The Crossing
by Winston Churchill
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"Monsieur," he cried, "you seek your friend? Ha, we have found him,—we will lead you to him."

"Where is he?" said Colonel Chouteau, repressing another laugh.

"On the pond, Monsieur,—in a boat, Monsieur, with Suzanne, Monsieur le Colonel! And, moreover, he will come ashore for no one."

"Parbleu," said the Colonel, "I should think not for any arguments that you two could muster. But we will go there."

"How far is it?" I asked, thinking of Monsieur Gratiot.

"About a mile," said Colonel Chouteau, "a pleasant walk."

We stepped out, Hippolyte and Gaspard running in front, the Colonel and Monsieur Gratiot and myself following; and a snicker which burst out now and then told us that Benjy was in the rear. On any other errand I should have thought the way beautiful, for the country road, rutted by wooden wheels, wound in and out through pleasant vales and over gentle rises, whence we caught glimpses from time to time of the Mississippi gleaming like molten gold to the eastward. Here and there, nestling against the gentle slopes of the hillside clearing, was a low-thatched farmhouse among its orchards. As we walked, Nick's escapade, instead of angering Monsieur Gratiot, seemed to present itself to him in a more and more ridiculous aspect, and twice he nudged me to call my attention to the two vengefully triumphant figures silhouetted against the moon ahead of us. From time to time also I saw Colonel Chouteau shaking with laughter. As for me, it was impossible to be angry at Nick for any space. Nobody else would have carried off a girl in the face of her rivals for a moonlight row on a pond a mile away.

At length we began to go down into the valley where Chouteau's pond was, and we caught glimpses of the shimmering of its waters through the trees, ay, and presently heard them tumbling lightly over the mill-dam. The spot was made for romance,—a sequestered vale, clad with forest trees, cleared a little by the water-side, where Monsieur Lenoir raised his maize and his vegetables. Below the mill, so Monsieur Gratiot told me, where the creek lay in pools on its limestone bed, the village washing was done; and every Monday morning bare-legged negresses strode up this road, the bundles of clothes balanced on their heads, the paddles in their hands, followed by a stream of black urchins who tempted Providence to drown them.

Down in the valley we came to a path that branched from the road and led under the oaks and hickories towards the pond, and we had not taken twenty paces in it before the notes of a guitar and the sound of a voice reached our ears. And then, when the six of us stood huddled in the rank growth at the water's edge, we saw a boat floating idly in the forest shadow on the far side.

I put my hand to my mouth.

"Nick!" I shouted.

There came for an answer, with the careless and unskilful thrumming of the guitar, the end of the verse:—

"Thine eyes are bright as the stars at night, Thy cheeks like the rose of the dawning, oh!"

"Helas!" exclaimed Hippolyte, sadly, "there is no other boat."

"Nick!" I shouted again, reenforced vociferously by the others.

The music ceased, there came feminine laughter across the water, then Nick's voice, in French that dared everything:—

"Go away and amuse yourselves at the dance. Peste, it is scarce an hour ago I threatened to row ashore and break your heads. Allez vous en, jaloux!"

A scream of delight from Suzanne followed this sally, which was received by Gaspard and Hippolyte with a rattle of sacres, and—despite our irritation—the Colonel, Monsieur Gratiot, and myself with a burst of involuntary laughter.

"Parbleu," said the Colonel, choking, "it is a pity to disturb such a one. Gratiot, if it was my boat, I'd delay the departure till morning."

"Indeed, I shall have had no small entertainment as a solace," said Monsieur Gratiot. "Listen!"

The tinkle of the guitar was heard again, and Nick's voice, strong and full and undisturbed:—

"S'posin' I was to go to N' O'leans an' take sick an' die, Like a bird into the country my spirit would fly. Go 'way, old man, and leave me alone, For I am a stranger and a long way from home."

There was a murmur of voices in the boat, the sound of a paddle gurgling as it dipped, and the dugout shot out towards the middle of the pond and drifted again.

I shouted once more at the top of my lungs:—

"Come in here, Nick, instantly!"

There was a moment's silence.

"By gad, it's Parson Davy!" I heard Nick exclaim. "Halloo, Davy, how the deuce did you get there?"

"No thanks to you," I retorted hotly. "Come in."

"Lord," said he, "is it time to go to New Orleans?"

"One might think New Orleans was across the street," said Monsieur Gratiot. "What an attitude of mind!"

The dugout was coming towards us now, propelled by easy strokes, and Nick could be heard the while talking in low tones to Suzanne. We could only guess at the tenor of his conversation, which ceased entirely as they drew near. At length the prow slid in among the rushes, was seized vigorously by Gaspard and Hippolyte, and the boat hauled ashore.

"Thank you very much, Messieurs; you are most obliging," said Nick. And taking Suzanne by the hand, he helped her gallantly over the gunwale. "Monsieur," he added, turning in his most irresistible manner to Monsieur Gratiot, "if I have delayed the departure of your boat, I am exceedingly sorry. But I appeal to you if I have not the best of excuses."

And he bowed to Suzanne, who stood beside him coyly, looking down. As for 'Polyte and Gaspard, they were quite breathless between rage and astonishment. But Colonel Chouteau began to laugh.

"Diable, Monsieur, you are right," he cried, "and rather than have missed this entertainment I would pay Gratiot for his cargo."

"Au revoir, Mademoiselle," said Nick, "I will return when I am released from bondage. When this terrible mentor relaxes vigilance, I will escape and make my way back to you through the forests."

"Oh!" cried Mademoiselle to me, "you will let him come back, Monsieur."

"Assuredly, Mademoiselle," I said, "but I have known him longer than you, and I tell you that in a month he will not wish to come back."

Hippolyte gave a grunt of approval to this plain speech. Suzanne exclaimed, but before Nick could answer footsteps were heard in the path and Lenoir himself, perspiring, panting, exhausted, appeared in the midst of us.

"Suzanne!" he cried, "Suzanne!" And turning to Nick, he added quite simply, "So, Monsieur, you did not run off with her, after all?"

"There was no place to run, Monsieur," answered Nick.

"Praise be to God for that!" said the miller, heartily, "there is some advantage in living in the wilderness, when everything is said."

"I shall come back and try, Monsieur," said Nick.

The miller raised his hands.

"I assure you that he will not, Monsieur," I put in.

He thanked me profusely, and suddenly an idea seemed to strike him.

"There is the priest," he cried; "Monsieur le cure retires late. There is the priest, Monsieur."

There was an awkward silence, broken at length by an exclamation from Gaspard. Colonel Chouteau turned his back, and I saw his shoulders heave. All eyes were on Nick, but the rascal did not seem at all perturbed.

"Monsieur," he said, bowing, "marriage is a serious thing, and not to be entered into lightly. I thank you from my heart, but I am bound now with Mr. Ritchie on an errand of such importance that I must make a sacrifice of my own interests and affairs to his."

"If Mr. Temple wishes—" I began, with malicious delight. But Nick took me by the shoulder.

"My dear Davy," he said, giving me a vicious kick, "I could not think of it. I will go with you at once. Adieu, Mademoiselle," said he, bending over Suzanne's unresisting hand. "Adieu, Messieurs, and I thank you for your great interest in me." (This to Gaspard and Hippolyte.)

"And now, Monsieur Gratiot, I have already presumed too much on your patience. I will follow you, Monsieur."

We left them, Lenoir, Suzanne, and her two suitors, standing at the pond, and made our way through the path in the forest. It was not until we reached the road and had begun to climb out of the valley that the silence was broken between us.

"Monsieur," said Colonel Chouteau, slyly, "do you have many such escapes?"

"It might have been closer," said Nick.

"Closer?" ejaculated the Colonel.

"Assuredly," said Nick, "to the extent of abducting Monsieur le cure. As for you, Davy," he added, between his teeth, "I mean to get even with you."

It was well for us that the Colonel and Monsieur Gratiot took the escapade with such good nature. And so we walked along through the summer night, talking gayly, until at length the lights of the village twinkled ahead of us, and in the streets we met many parties making merry on their homeward way. We came to Monsieur Gratiot's, bade our farewells to Madame, picked up our saddle-bags, the two gentlemen escorting us down to the river bank where the keel boat was tugging at the ropes that held her, impatient to be off. Her captain, a picturesque Canadian by the name of Xavier Paret, was presented to us; we bade our friends farewell, and stepped across the plank to the deck. As we were casting off, Monsieur Gratiot called to us that he would take the first occasion to send our horses back to Kentucky. The oars were manned, the heavy hulk moved, and we were shot out into the mighty current of the river on our way to New Orleans.

Nick and I stood for a long time on the deck, and the windows of the little village gleamed like stars among the trees. We passed the last of its houses that nestled against the hill, and below that the forest lay like velvet under the moon. The song of our boatmen broke the silence of the night:—

"Voici le temps et la saison, Voici le temps et la saison, Ah! vrai, que les journees sont longues, Ah! vrai, que les journees sont longues!"



CHAPTER X

THE KEEL BOAT

We were embarked on a strange river, in a strange boat, and bound for a strange city. To us Westerners a halo of romance, of unreality, hung over New Orleans. To us it had an Old World, almost Oriental flavor of mystery and luxury and pleasure, and we imagined it swathed in the moisture of the Delta, built of quaint houses, with courts of shining orange trees and magnolias, and surrounded by flowering plantations of unimagined beauty. It was most fitting that such a place should be the seat of dark intrigues against material progress, and this notion lent added zest to my errand thither. As for Nick, it took no great sagacity on my part to predict that he would forget Suzanne and begin to look forward to the Creole beauties of the Mysterious City.

First, there was the fur-laden keel boat in which we travelled, gone forever now from Western navigation. It had its rude square sail to take advantage of the river winds, its mast strongly braced to hold the long tow-ropes. But tow-ropes were for the endless up-river journey, when a numerous crew strained day after day along the bank, chanting the voyageurs' songs. Now we were light-manned, two half-breeds and two Canadians to handle the oars in time of peril, and Captain Xavier, who stood aft on the cabin roof, leaning against the heavy beam of the long, curved tiller, watching hawklike for snag and eddy and bar. Within the cabin was a great fireplace of stones, where our cooking was done, and bunks set round for the men in cold weather and rainy. But in these fair nights we chose to sleep on deck.

Far into the night we sat, Nick and I, our feet dangling over the forward edge of the cabin, looking at the glory of the moon on the vast river, at the endless forest crown, at the haze which hung like silver dust under the high bluffs on the American side. We slept. We awoke again as the moon was shrinking abashed before the light that glowed above these cliffs, and the river was turned from brown to gold and then to burnished copper, the forest to a thousand shades of green from crest to the banks where the river was licking the twisted roots to nakedness. The south wind wafted the sharp wood-smoke from the chimney across our faces. In the stern Xavier stood immovable against the tiller, his short pipe clutched between his teeth, the colors of his new worsted belt made gorgeous by the rising sun.

"B'jour, Michie," he said, and added in the English he had picked up from the British traders, "the breakfas' he is ready, and Jean make him good. Will you have the grace to descen'?"

We went down the ladder into the cabin, where the odor of the furs mingled with the smell of the cooking. There was a fricassee steaming on the crane, some of Zeron's bread, brought from St. Louis, and coffee that Monsieur Gratiot had provided for our use. We took our bowls and cups on deck and sat on the edge of the cabin.

"By gad," cried Nick, "it lacks but the one element to make it a paradise."

"And what is that?" I demanded.

"A woman," said he.

Xavier, who overheard, gave a delighted laugh.

"Parbleu, Michie, you have right," he said, "but Michie Gratiot, he say no. In Nouvelle Orleans we find some."

Nick got to his feet, and if anything he did could have surprised me, I should have been surprised when he put his arm coaxingly about Xavier's neck. Xavier himself was surprised and correspondingly delighted.

"Tell me, Xavier," he said, with a look not to be resisted, "do you think I shall find some beauties there?"

"Beauties!" exclaimed Xavier, "La Nouvelle Orleans—it is the home of beauty, Michie. They promenade themselves on the levee, they look down from ze gallerie, mais—"

"But what, Xavier?"

"But, mon Dieu, Michie, they are vair' difficile. They are not like Englis' beauties, there is the father and the mother, and—the convent." And Xavier, who had a wen under his eye, laid his finger on it.

"For shame, Xavier," cried Nick; "and you are balked by such things?"

Xavier thought this an exceedingly good joke, and he took his pipe out of his mouth to laugh the better.

"Me? Mais non, Michie. And yet ze Alcalde, he mek me afraid. Once he put me in ze calaboose when I tried to climb ze balcon'."

Nick roared.

"I will show you how, Xavier," he said; "as to climbing the balconies, there is a convenance in it, as in all else. For instance, one must be daring, and discreet, and nimble, and ready to give the law a presentable answer, and lacking that, a piastre. And then the fair one must be a fair one indeed."

"Diable, Michie," cried Xavier, "you are ze mischief."

"Nay," said Nick, "I learned it all and much more from my cousin, Mr. Ritchie."

Xavier stared at me for an instant, and considering that he knew nothing of my character, I thought it extremely impolite of him to laugh. Indeed, he tried to control himself, for some reason standing in awe of my appearance, and then he burst out into such loud haw-haws that the crew poked their heads above the cabin hatch.

"Michie Reetchie," said Xavier, and again he burst into laughter that choked further speech. He controlled himself and laid his finger on his wen.

"You don't believe it," said Nick, offended.

"Michie Reetchie a gallant!" said Xavier.

"An incurable," said Nick, "an amazingly clever rogue at device when there is a petticoat in it. Davy, do I do you justice?"

Xavier roared again.

"Quel maitre!" he said.

"Xavier," said Nick, gently taking the tiller out of his hand, "I will teach you how to steer a keel boat."

"Mon Dieu," said Xavier, "and who is to pay Michie Gratiot for his fur? The river, she is full of things."

"Yes, I know, Xavier, but you will teach me to steer."

"Volontiers, Michie, as we go now. But there come a time when I, even I, who am twenty year on her, do not know whether it is right or left. Ze rock—he vair' hard. Ze snag, he grip you like dat," and Xavier twined his strong arms around Nick until he was helpless. "Ze bar—he hol' you by ze leg. An' who is to tell you how far he run under ze yellow water, Michie? I, who speak to you, know. But I know not how I know. Ze water, sometime she tell, sometime she say not'ing."

"A bas, Xavier!" said Nick, pushing him away, "I will teach you the river."

Xavier laughed, and sat down on the edge of the cabin. Nick took easily to accomplishments, and he handled the clumsy tiller with a certainty and distinction that made the boatmen swear in two languages and a patois. A great water-logged giant of the Northern forests loomed ahead of us. Xavier sprang to his feet, but Nick had swung his boat swiftly, smoothly, into the deeper water on the outer side.

"Saint Jacques, Michie," cried Xavier, "you mek him better zan I thought."

Fascinated by a new accomplishment, Nick held to the tiller, while Xavier with a trained eye scanned the troubled, yellow-glistening surface of the river ahead. The wind died, the sun beat down with a moist and venomous sting, and northeastward above the edge of the bluff a bank of cloud like sulphur smoke was lifted. Gradually Xavier ceased his jesting and became quiet.

"Looks like a hurricane," said Nick.

"Mon Dieu," said Xavier, "you have right, Michie," and he called in his rapid patois to the crew, who lounged forward in the cabin's shade. There came to my mind the memory of that hurricane at Temple Bow long ago, a storm that seemed to have brought so much sorrow into my life. I glanced at Nick, but his face was serene.

The cloud-bank came on in black and yellow masses, and the saffron light I recalled so well turned the living green of the forest to a sickly pallor and the yellow river to a tinge scarce to be matched on earth. Xavier had the tiller now, and the men were straining at the oars to send the boat across the current towards the nearer western shore. And as my glance took in the scale of things, the miles of bluff frowning above the bottom, the river that seemed now like a lake of lava gently boiling, and the wilderness of the western shore that reached beyond the ken of man, I could not but shudder to think of the conflict of nature's forces in such a place. A grim stillness reigned over all, broken only now and again by a sharp command from Xavier. The men were rowing for their lives, the sweat glistening on their red faces.

"She come," said Xavier.

I looked, not to the northeast whence the banks of cloud had risen, but to the southwest, and it seemed as though a little speck was there against the hurrying film of cloud. We were drawing near the forest line, where a little creek made an indentation. I listened, and from afar came a sound like the strumming of low notes on a guitar, and sad. The terrified scream of a panther broke the silence of the forest, and then the other distant note grew stronger, and stronger yet, and rose to a high hum like unto no sound on this earth, and mingled with it now was a lashing like water falling from a great height. We grounded, and Xavier, seizing a great tow-rope, leaped into the shallow water and passed the bight around a trunk. I cried out to Nick, but my voice was drowned. He seized me and flung me under the cabin's lee, and then above the fearful note of the storm came cracklings like gunshots of great trees snapping at their trunk. We saw the forest wall burst out—how far away I know not—and the air was filled as with a flock of giant birds, and boughs crashed on the roof of the cabin and tore the water in the darkness. How long we lay clutching each other in terror on the rocking boat I may not say, but when the veil first lifted there was the river like an angry sea, and limitless, the wind in its fury whipping the foam from the crests and bearing it off into space. And presently, as we stared, the note lowered and the wind was gone again, and there was the water tossing foolishly, and we lay safe amidst the green wreckage of the forest as by a miracle.

It was Nick who moved first. With white face he climbed to the roof of the cabin and idly seizing the great limb that lay there tried to move it. Xavier, who lay on his face on the bank, rose to a sitting posture and crossed himself. Beyond me crowded the four members of the crew, unhurt. Then we heard Xavier's voice, in French, thanking the Blessed Virgin for our escape.

Further speech was gone from us, for men do not talk after such a matter. We laid hold of the tree across the cabin and, straining, flung it over into the water. A great drop of rain hit me on the forehead, and there came a silver-gray downpour that blotted out the scene and drove us down below. And then, from somewhere in the depths of the dark cabin, came a sound to make a man's blood run cold.

"What's that?" I said, clutching Nick.

"Benjy," said he; "thank God he did not die of fright." We lighted a candle, and poking around, found the negro where he had crept into the farthest corner of a bunk with his face to the wall. And when we touched him he gave vent to a yell that was blood-curdling.

"I'se a bad nigger, Lo'd, yes, I is," he moaned. "I ain't fit fo' jedgment, Lo'd."

Nick shook him and laughed.

"Come out of that, Benjy," he said; "you've got another chance."

Benjy turned, perforce, the whites of his eyes gleaming in the candle-light, and stared at us.

"You ain't gone yit, Marse," he said.

"Gone where?" said Nick.

"I'se done been tole de quality 'll be jedged fust, Marse."

Nick hauled him out on the floor. Climbing to the deck, we found that the boat was already under way, running southward in the current through the misty rain. And gazing shoreward, a sight met my eyes which I shall never forget. A wide vista, carpeted with wreckage, was cut through the forest to the river's edge, and the yellow water was strewn for miles with green boughs. We stared down it, overwhelmed, until we had passed beyond its line.

"It is as straight," said Nick, "as straight as one of her Majesty's alleys I saw cut through the forest at Saint-Cloud."

* * * * * * *

Had I space and time to give a faithful account of this journey it would be chiefly a tribute to Xavier's skill, for they who have not put themselves at the mercy of the Mississippi in a small craft can have no idea of the dangers of such a voyage. Infinite experience, a keen eye, a steady hand, and a nerve of iron are required. Now, when the current swirled almost to a rapid, we grazed a rock by the width of a ripple; and again, despite the effort of Xavier and the crew, we would tear the limbs from a huge tree, which, had we hit it fair, would have ripped us from bow to stern. Once, indeed, we were fast on a sand-bar, whence (as Nick said) Xavier fairly cursed us off. We took care to moor at night, where we could be seen as little as possible from the river, and divided the watches lest we should be surprised by Indians. And, as we went southward, our hands and faces became blotched all over by the bites of mosquitoes and flies, and we smothered ourselves under blankets to get rid of them. At times we fished, and one evening, after we had passed the expanse of water at the mouth of the Ohio, Nick pulled a hideous thing from the inscrutable yellow depths,—a slimy, scaleless catfish. He came up like a log, and must have weighed seventy pounds. Xavier and his men and myself made two good meals of him, but Nick would not touch the meat.

The great river teemed with life. There were flocks of herons and cranes and water pelicans, and I know not what other birds, and as we slipped under the banks we often heard the paroquets chattering in the forests. And once, as we drifted into an inlet at sunset, we caught sight of the shaggy head of a bear above the brown water, and leaping down into the cabin I primed the rifle that stood there and shot him. It took the seven of us to drag him on board, and then I cleaned and skinned him as Tom had taught me, and showed Jean how to put the caul fat and liver in rows on a skewer and wrap it in the bear's handkerchief and roast it before the fire. Nick found no difficulty in eating this—it was a dish fit for any gourmand.

We passed the great, red Chickasaw Bluff, which sits facing westward looking over the limitless Louisiana forests, where new and wondrous vines and flowers grew, and came to the beautiful Walnut Hills crowned by a Spanish fort. We did not stop there to exchange courtesies, but pressed on to the Grand Gulf, the grave of many a keel boat before and since. This was by far the most dangerous place on the Mississippi, and Xavier was never weary of recounting many perilous escapes there, or telling how such and such a priceless cargo had sunk in the mud by reason of the lack of skill of particular boatmen he knew of. And indeed, the Canadian's face assumed a graver mien after the Walnut Hills were behind us.

"You laugh, Michie," he said to Nick, a little resentfully. "I who speak to you say that there is four foot on each side of ze bateau. Too much tafia, a little too much excite—" and he made a gesture with his hand expressive of total destruction; "ze tornado, I would sooner have him—"

"Bah!" said Nick, stroking Xavier's black beard, "give me the tiller. I will see you through safely, and we will not spare the tafia either." And he began to sing a song of Xavier's own:—

"'Marianson, dame jolie, Ou est alle votre mari?'"

"Ah, toujours les dames!" said Xavier. "But I tell you, Michie, le diable,—he is at ze bottom of ze Grand Gulf and his mouth open—so." And he suited the action to the word.

At night we tied up under the shore within earshot of the mutter of the place, and twice that night I awoke with clinched hands from a dream of being spun fiercely against the rock of which Xavier had told, and sucked into the devil's mouth under the water. Dawn came as I was fighting the mosquitoes,—a still, sultry dawn with thunder muttering in the distance.

We breakfasted in silence, and with the crew standing ready at the oars and Xavier scanning the wide expanse of waters ahead, seeking for that unmarked point whence to embark on this perilous journey, we floated down the stream. The prospect was sufficiently disquieting on that murky day. Below us, on the one hand, a rocky bluff reached out into the river, and on the far side was a timber-clad point round which the Mississippi doubled and flowed back on itself. It needed no trained eye to guess at the perils of the place. On the one side the mighty current charged against the bluff and, furious at the obstacle, lashed itself into a hundred sucks and whirls, their course marked by the flotsam plundered from the forests above. Woe betide the boat that got into this devil's caldron! And on the other side, near the timbered point, ran a counter current marked by forest wreckage flowing up-stream. To venture too far on this side was to be grounded or at least to be sent back to embark once more on the trial.

But where was the channel? We watched Xavier with bated breath. Not once did he take his eyes from the swirling water ahead, but gave the tiller a touch from time to time, now right, now left, and called in a monotone for the port or starboard oars. Nearer and nearer we sped, dodging the snags, until the water boiled around us, and suddenly the boat shot forward as in a mill-race, and we clutched the cabin's roof. A triumphant gleam was in Xavier's eyes, for he had hit the channel squarely. And then, like a monster out of the deep, the scaly, black back of a great northern pine was flung up beside us and sheered us across the channel until we were at the very edge of the foam-specked, spinning water. But Xavier saw it, and quick as lightning brought his helm over and laughed as he heard it crunching along our keel. And so we came swiftly around the bend and into safety once more. The next day there was the Petite Gulf, which bothered Xavier very little, and the day after that we came in sight of Natchez on her heights and guided our boat in amongst the others that lined the shore, scowled at by lounging Indians there, and eyed suspiciously by a hatchet-faced Spaniard in a tawdry uniform who represented his Majesty's customs. Here we stopped for a day and a night that Xavier and his crew might get properly drunk on tafia, while Nick and I walked about the town and waited until his Excellency, the commandant, had finished dinner that we might present our letters and obtain his passport. Natchez at that date was a sufficiently unkempt and evil place of dirty, ramshackle houses and gambling dens, where men of the four nations gamed and quarrelled and fought. We were glad enough to get away the following morning, Xavier somewhat saddened by the loss of thirty livres of which he had no memory, and Nick and myself relieved at having the passports in our pockets. I have mine yet among my papers.

"Natchez, 29 de Junio, de 1789.

"Concedo libre y seguro paeaporte a Don David Ritchie para que pase a la Nueva Orleans por Agna. Pido y encargo no se le ponga embarazo."

A few days more and we were running between low shores which seemed to hold a dark enchantment. The rivers now flowed out of, and not into the Mississippi, and Xavier called them bayous, and often it took much skill and foresight on his part not to be shot into the lane they made in the dark forest of an evening. And the forest,—it seemed an impenetrable mystery, a strange tangle of fantastic growths: the live-oak (chene vert), its wide-spreading limbs hung funereally with Spanish moss and twined in the mistletoe's death embrace; the dark cypress swamp with the conelike knees above the yellow back-waters; and here and there grew the bridelike magnolia which we had known in Kentucky, wafting its perfume over the waters, and wondrous flowers and vines and trees with French names that bring back the scene to me even now with a whiff of romance, bois d'arc, lilac, grande volaille (water-lily). Birds flew hither and thither (the names of every one of which Xavier knew),—the whistling papabot, the mournful bittern (garde-soleil), and the night-heron (grosbeck), who stood like a sentinel on the points.

One night I awoke with the sweat starting from my brow, trying to collect my senses, and I lay on my blanket listening to such plaintive and heart-rending cries as I had never known. Human cries they were, cries as of children in distress, and I rose to a sitting posture on the deck with my hair standing up straight, to discover Nick beside me in the same position.

"God have mercy on us," I heard him mutter, "what's that? It sounds like the wail of all the babies since the world began."

We listened together, and I can give no notion of the hideous mournfulness of the sound. We lay in a swampy little inlet, and the forest wall made a dark blur against the star-studded sky. There was a splash near the boat that made me clutch my legs, the wails ceased and began again with redoubled intensity. Nick and I leaped to our feet and stood staring, horrified, over the gunwale into the black water. Presently there was a laugh behind us, and we saw Xavier resting on his elbow.

"What devil-haunted place is this?" demanded Nick.

"Ha, ha," said Xavier, shaking with unseemly mirth, "you have never heard ze alligator sing, Michie?"

"Alligator!" cried Nick; "there are babies in the water, I tell you."

"Ha, ha," laughed Xavier, flinging off his blanket and searching for his flint and tinder. He lighted a pine knot, and in the red pulsing flare we saw what seemed to be a dozen black logs floating on the surface. And then Xavier flung the cresset at them, fire and all. There was a lashing, a frightful howl from one of the logs, and the night's silence once more.

Often after that our slumbers were disturbed, and we would rise with maledictions in our mouths to fling the handiest thing at the serenaders. When we arose in the morning we would often see them by the dozens, basking in the shallows, with their wide mouths flapped open waiting for their prey. Sometimes we ran upon them in the water, where they looked like the rough-bark pine logs from the North, and Nick would have a shot at them. When he hit one fairly there would be a leviathan-like roar and a churning of the river into suds.

At length there were signs that we were drifting out of the wilderness, and one morning we came in sight of a rich plantation with its dark orange trees and fields of indigo, with its wide-galleried manor-house in a grove. And as we drifted we heard the negroes chanting at their work, the plaintive cadence of the strange song adding to the mystery of the scene. Here in truth was a new world, a land of peaceful customs, green and moist. The soft-toned bells of it seemed an expression of its life,—so far removed from our own striving and fighting existence in Kentucky. Here and there, between plantations, a belfry could be seen above the cluster of the little white village planted in the green; and when we went ashore amongst these simple French people they treated us with such gentle civility and kindness that we would fain have lingered there. The river had become a vast yellow lake, and often as we drifted of an evening the wail of a slave dance and monotonous beating of a tom-tom would float to us over the water.

At last, late one afternoon, we came in sight of that strange city which had filled our thoughts for many days.



CHAPTER XI

THE STRANGE CITY

Nick and I stood by the mast on the forward part of the cabin, staring at the distant, low-lying city, while Xavier sought for the entrance to the eddy which here runs along the shore. If you did not gain this entrance, —so he explained,—you were carried by a swift current below New Orleans and might by no means get back save by the hiring of a crew. Xavier, however, was not to be caught thus, and presently we were gliding quietly along the eastern bank, or levee, which held back the river from the lowlands. Then, as we looked, the levee became an esplanade shaded by rows of willows, and through them we caught sight of the upper galleries and low, curving roofs of the city itself. There, cried Xavier, was the Governor's house on the corner, where the great Miro lived, and beyond it the house of the Intendant; and then, gliding into an open space between the keel boats along the bank, stared at by a score of boatmen and idlers from above, we came to the end of our long journey. No sooner had we made fast than we were boarded by a shabby customs officer who, when he had seen our passports, bowed politely and invited us to land. We leaped ashore, gained the gravelled walk on the levee, and looked about us.

Squalidity first met our eyes. Below us, crowded between the levee and the row of houses, were dozens of squalid market-stalls tended by cotton-clad negroes. Beyond, across the bare Place d'Armes, a blackened gap in the line of houses bore witness to the devastation of the year gone by, while here and there a roof, struck by the setting sun, gleamed fiery red with its new tiles. The levee was deserted save for the negroes and the river men.

"Time for siesta, Michie," said Xavier, joining us; "I will show you ze inn of which I spik. She is kep' by my fren', Madame Bouvet."

"Xavier," said Nick, looking at the rolling flood of the river, "suppose this levee should break?"

"Ah," said Xavier, "then some Spaniard who never have a bath—he feel what water is lak."

Followed by Benjy with the saddle-bags, we went down the steps set in the levee into this strange, foreign city. It was like unto nothing we had ever seen, nor can I give an adequate notion of how it affected us,—such a mixture it seemed of dirt and poverty and wealth and romance. The narrow, muddy streets ran with filth, and on each side along the houses was a sun-baked walk held up by the curved sides of broken flatboats, where two men might scarcely pass. The houses, too, had an odd and foreign look, some of wood, some of upright logs and plaster, and newer ones, Spanish in style, of adobe, with curving roofs of red tiles and strong eaves spreading over the banquette (as the sidewalk was called), casting shadows on lemon-colored walls. Since New Orleans was in a swamp, the older houses for the most part were lifted some seven feet above the ground, and many of these houses had wide galleries on the street side. Here and there a shop was set in the wall; a watchmaker was to be seen poring over his work at a tiny window, a shoemaker cross-legged on the floor. Again, at an open wicket, we caught a glimpse through a cool archway into a flowering court-yard. Stalwart negresses with bright kerchiefs made way for us on the banquette. Hands on hips, they swung along erect, with baskets of cakes and sweetmeats on their heads, musically crying their wares.

At length, turning a corner, we came to a white wooden house on the Rue Royale, with a flight of steps leading up to the entrance. In place of a door a flimsy curtain hung in the doorway, and, pushing this aside, we followed Xavier through a darkened hall to a wide gallery that overlooked a court-yard. This court-yard was shaded by several great trees which grew there, the house and gallery ran down one other side of it; and the two remaining sides were made up of a series of low cabins, these forming the various outhouses and the kitchen. At the far end of this gallery a sallow, buxom lady sat sewing at a table, and Xavier saluted her very respectfully.

"Madame," he said, "I have brought you from St. Louis with Michie Gratiot's compliments two young American gentlemen, who are travelling to amuse themselves."

The lady rose and beamed upon us.

"From Monsieur Gratiot," she said; "you are very welcome, gentlemen, to such poor accommodations as I have. It is not unusual to have American gentlemen in New Orleans, for many come here first and last. And I am happy to say that two of my best rooms are vacant. Zoey!"

There was a shrill answer from the court below, and a negro girl in a yellow turban came running up, while Madame Bouvet bustled along the gallery and opened the doors of two darkened rooms. Within I could dimly see a walnut dresser, a chair, and a walnut bed on which was spread a mosquito bar.

"Voila! Messieurs," cried Madame Bouvet, "there is still a little time for a siesta. No siesta!" cried Madame, eying us aghast; "ah, the Americans they never rest—never."

We bade farewell to the good Xavier, promising to see him soon; and Nick, shouting to Benjy to open the saddle-bags, proceeded to array himself in the clothes which had made so much havoc at St. Louis. I boded no good from this proceeding, but I reflected, as I watched him dress, that I might as well try to turn the Mississippi from its course as to attempt to keep my cousin from the search for gallant adventure. And I reflected that his indulgence in pleasure-seeking would serve the more to divert any suspicions which might fall upon my own head. At last, when the setting sun was flooding the court-yard, he stood arrayed upon the gallery, ready to venture forth to conquest.

Madame Bouvet's tavern, or hotel, or whatever she was pleased to call it, was not immaculately clean. Before passing into the street we stood for a moment looking into the public room on the left of the hallway, a long saloon, evidently used in the early afternoon for a dining room, and at the back of it a wide, many-paned window, capped by a Spanish arch, looked out on the gallery. Near this window was a gay party of young men engaged at cards, waited on by the yellow-turbaned Zoey, and drinking what evidently was claret punch. The sounds of their jests and laughter pursued us out of the house.

The town was waking from its siesta, the streets filling, and people stopped to stare at Nick as we passed. But Nick, who was plainly in search of something he did not find, hurried on. We soon came to the quarter which had suffered most from the fire, where new houses had gone up or were in the building beside the blackened logs of many of Bienville's time. Then we came to a high white wall that surrounded a large garden, and within it was a long, massive building of some beauty and pretension, with a high, latticed belfry and heavy walls and with arched dormers in the sloping roof. As we stood staring at it through the iron grille set in the archway of the lodge, Nick declared that it put him in mind of some of the chateaux he had seen in France, and he crossed the street to get a better view of the premises. An old man in coarse blue linen came out of the lodge and spoke to me.

"It is the convent of the good nuns, the Ursulines, Monsieur," he said in French, "and it was built long ago in the Sieur de Bienville's time, when the colony was young. For forty-five years, Monsieur, the young ladies of the city have come here to be educated."

"What does he say?" demanded Nick, pricking up his ears as he came across the street.

"That young men have been sent to the mines of Brazil for climbing the walls," I answered.

"Who wants to climb the walls?" said Nick, disgusted.

"The young ladies of the town go to school here," I answered; "it is a convent."

"It might serve to pass the time," said Nick, gazing with a new interest at the latticed windows. "How much would you take, my friend, to let us in at the back way this evening?" he demanded of the porter in French.

The good man gasped, lifted his hands in horror, and straightway let loose upon Nick a torrent of French invectives that had not the least effect except to cause a blacksmith's apprentice and two negroes to stop and stare at us.

"Pooh!" exclaimed Nick, when the man had paused for want of breath, "it is no trick to get over that wall."

"Bon Dieu!" cried the porter, "you are Kentuckians, yes? I might have known that you were Kentuckians, and I shall advise the good sisters to put glass on the wall and keep a watch."

"The young ladies are beautiful, you say?" said Nick.

At this juncture, with the negroes grinning and the porter near bursting with rage, there came out of the lodge the fattest woman I have ever seen for her size. She seized her husband by the back of his loose frock and pulled him away, crying out that he was losing time by talking to vagabonds, besides disturbing the good sisters. Then we went away, Nick following the convent wall down to the river. Turning southward under the bank past the huddle of market-stalls, we came suddenly upon a sight that made us pause and wonder.

New Orleans was awake. A gay and laughing throng paced the esplanade on the levee under the willows, with here and there a cavalier on horseback on the Royal Road below. Across the Place d'Armes the spire of the parish church stood against the fading sky, and to the westward the mighty river stretched away like a gilded floor. It was a strange throng. There were grave Spaniards in long cloaks and feathered beavers; jolly merchants and artisans in short linen jackets, each with his tabatiere, the wives with bits of finery, the children laughing and shouting and dodging in and out between fathers and mothers beaming with quiet pride and contentment; swarthy boat-men with their worsted belts, gaudy negresses chanting in the soft patois, and here and there a blanketed Indian. Nor was this all. Some occasion (so Madame Bouvet had told us) had brought a sprinkling of fashion to town that day, and it was a fashion to astonish me. There were fine gentlemen with swords and silk waistcoats and silver shoe-buckles, and ladies in filmy summer gowns. Greuze ruled the mode in France then, but New Orleans had not got beyond Watteau. As for Nick and me, we knew nothing of Greuze and Watteau then, and we could only stare in astonishment. And for once we saw an officer of the Louisiana Regiment resplendent in a uniform that might have served at court.

Ay, and there was yet another sort. Every flatboatman who returned to Kentucky was full of tales of the marvellous beauty of the quadroons and octoroons, stories which I had taken with a grain of salt; but they had not indeed been greatly overdrawn. For here were these ladies in the flesh, their great, opaque, almond eyes consuming us with a swift glance, and each walking with a languid grace beside her duenna. Their faces were like old ivory, their dress the stern Miro himself could scarce repress. In former times they had been lavish in their finery, and even now earrings still gleamed and color broke out irrepressibly.

Nick was delighted, but he had not dragged me twice the length of the esplanade ere his eye was caught by a young lady in pink who sauntered between an elderly gentleman in black silk and a young man more gayly dressed.

"Egad," said Nick, "there is my divinity, and I need not look a step farther."

I laughed.

"You have but to choose, I suppose, and all falls your way," I answered.

"But look!" he cried, halting me to stare after the girl, "what a face, and what a form! And what a carriage, by Jove! There is breeding for you! And Davy, did you mark the gentle, rounded arm? Thank heaven these short sleeves are the fashion."

"You are mad, Nick," I answered, pulling him on, "these people are not to be stared at so. And once I present our letters to Monsieur de Saint-Gre, it will not be difficult to know any of them."

"Look!" said he, "that young man, lover or husband, is a brute. On my soul, they are quarrelling."

The three had stopped by a bench under a tree. The young man, who wore claret silk and a sword, had one of those thin faces of dirty complexion which show the ravages of dissipation, and he was talking with a rapidity and vehemence of which only a Latin tongue will admit. We could see, likewise, that the girl was answering with spirit,—indeed, I should write a stronger word than spirit,—while the elderly gentleman, who had a good-humored, fleshy face and figure, was plainly doing his best to calm them both. People who were passing stared curiously at the three.

"Your divinity evidently has a temper," I remarked.

"For that scoundel—certainly," said Nick; "but come, they are moving on."

"You mean to follow them?" I exclaimed.

"Why not?" said he. "We will find out where they live and who they are, at least."

"And you have taken a fancy to this girl?"

"I have looked them all over, and she's by far the best I've seen. I can say so much honestly."

"But she may be married," I said weakly.

"Tut, Davy," he answered, "it's more than likely, from the violence of their quarrel. But if so, we will try again."

"We!" I exclaimed.

"Oh, come on!" he cried, dragging me by the sleeve, "or we shall lose them."

I resisted no longer, but followed him down the levee, in my heart thanking heaven that he had not taken a fancy to an octoroon. Twilight had set in strongly, the gay crowd was beginning to disperse, and in the distance the three figures could be seen making their way across the Place d'Armes, the girl hanging on the elderly gentleman's arm, and the young man following with seeming sullenness behind. They turned into one of the narrower streets, and we quickened our steps. Lights gleamed in the houses; voices and laughter, and once the tinkle of a guitar came to us from court-yard and gallery. But Nick, hurrying on, came near to bowling more than one respectable citizen we met on the banquette, into the ditch. We reached a corner, and the three were nowhere to be seen.

"Curse the luck!" cried Nick, "we have lost them. The next time I'll stop for no explanations."

There was no particular reason why I should have been penitent, but I ventured to say that the house they had entered could not be far off.

"And how the devil are we to know it?" demanded Nick.

This puzzled me for a moment, but presently I began to think that the two might begin quarrelling again, and said so. Nick laughed and put his arm around my neck.

"You have no mean ability for intrigue when you put your mind to it, Davy," he said; "I vow I believe you are in love with the girl yourself."

I disclaimed this with some vehemence. Indeed, I had scarcely seen her.

"They can't be far off," said Nick; "we'll pitch on a likely house and camp in front of it until bedtime."

"And be flung into a filthy calaboose by a constable," said I. "No, thank you."

We walked on, and halfway down the block we came upon a new house with more pretensions than its neighbors. It was set back a little from the street, and there was a high adobe wall into which a pair of gates were set, and a wicket opening in one of them. Over the wall hung a dark fringe of magnolia and orange boughs. On each of the gate-posts a crouching lion was outlined dimly against the fainting light, and, by crossing the street, we could see the upper line of a latticed gallery under the low roof. We took our stand within the empty doorway of a blackened house, nearly opposite, and there we waited, Nick murmuring all sorts of ridiculous things in my ear. But presently I began to reflect upon the consequences of being taken in such a situation by a constable and dragged into the light of a public examination. I put this to Nick as plainly as I could, and was declaring my intention of going back to Madame Bouvet's, when the sound of voices arrested me. The voices came from the latticed gallery, and they were low at first, but soon rose to such an angry pitch that I made no doubt we had hit on the right house after all. What they said was lost to us, but I could distinguish the woman's voice, low-pitched and vibrant as though insisting upon a refusal, and the man's scarce adult tones, now high as though with balked passion, now shaken and imploring. I was for leaving the place at once, but Nick clutched my arm tightly; and suddenly, as I stood undecided, the voices ceased entirely, there were the sounds of a scuffle, and the lattice of the gallery was flung open. In the all but darkness we saw a figure climb over the railing, hang suspended for an instant, and drop lightly to the ground. Then came the light relief of a woman's gown in the opening of the lattice, the cry "Auguste, Auguste!" the wicket in the gate opened and slammed, and a man ran at top speed along the banquette towards the levee.

Instinctively I seized Nick by the arm as he started out of the doorway.

"Let me go," he cried angrily, "let me go, Davy."

But I held on.

"Are you mad?" I said.

He did not answer, but twisted and struggled, and before I knew what he was doing he had pushed me off the stone step into a tangle of blackened beams behind. I dropped his arm to save myself, and it was mere good fortune that I did not break an ankle in the fall. When I had gained the step again he was gone after the man, and a portly citizen stood in front of me, looking into the doorway.

"Qu'est-ce-qu'il-y-a la dedans?" he demanded sharply.

It was a sufficiently embarrassing situation. I put on a bold front, however, and not deigning to answer, pushed past him and walked with as much leisure as possible along the banquette in the direction which Nick had taken. As I turned the corner I glanced over my shoulder, and in the darkness I could just make out the man standing where I had left him. In great uneasiness I pursued my way, my imagination summing up for Nick all kinds of adventures with disagreeable consequences. I walked for some time—it may have been half an hour—aimlessly, and finally decided it would be best to go back to Madame Bouvet's and await the issue with as much calmness as possible. He might not, after all, have caught the fellow.

There were few people in the dark streets, but at length I met a man who gave me directions, and presently found my way back to my lodging place. Talk and laughter floated through the latticed windows into the street, and when I had pushed back the curtain and looked into the saloon I found the same gaming party at the end of it, sitting in their shirt-sleeves amidst the moths and insects that hovered around the candles.

"Ah, Monsieur," said Madame Bouvet's voice behind me, "you must excuse them. They will come here and play, the young gentlemen, and I cannot find it in my heart to drive them away, though sometimes I lose a respectable lodger by their noise. But, after all, what would you?" she added with a shrug; "I love them, the young men. But, Monsieur," she cried, "you have had no supper! And where is Monsieur your companion? Comme il est beau garcon!"

"He will be in presently," I answered with unwarranted assumption.

Madame shot at me the swiftest of glances and laughed, and I suspected that she divined Nick's propensity for adventure. However, she said nothing more than to bid me sit down at the table, and presently Zoey came in with lights and strange, highly seasoned dishes, which I ate with avidity, notwithstanding my uneasiness of mind, watching the while the party at the far end of the room. There were five young gentlemen playing a game I knew not, with intervals of intense silence, and boisterous laughter and execrations while the cards were being shuffled and the money rang on the board and glasses were being filled from a stand at one side. Presently Madame Bouvet returned, and placing before me a cup of wondrous coffee, advanced down the room towards them.

"Ah, Messieurs," she cried, "you will ruin my poor house."

The five rose and bowed with marked profundity. One of them, with a puffy, weak, good-natured face, answered her briskly, and after a little raillery she came back to me. I had a question not over discreet on my tongue's tip.

"There are some fine residences going up here, Madame," I said.

"Since the fire, Monsieur, the dreadful fire of Good Friday a year ago. You admire them?"

"I saw one," I answered with indifference, "with a wall and lions on the gate-posts—"

"Mon Dieu, that is a house," exclaimed Madame; "it belongs to Monsieur de Saint-Gre."

"To Monsieur de Saint-Gre!" I repeated.

She shot a look at me. She had bright little eyes like a bird's, that shone in the candlelight.

"You know him, Monsieur?"

"I heard of him in St. Louis," I answered.

"You will meet him, no doubt," she continued. "He is a very fine gentleman. His grandfather was Commissary-general of the colony, and he himself is a cousin of the Marquis de Saint-Gre, who has two chateaux, a house in Paris, and is a favorite of the King." She paused, as if to let this impress itself upon me, and added archly, "Tenez, Monsieur, there is a daughter—"

She stopped abruptly.

I followed her glance, and my first impression—of claret-color—gave me a shock. My second confirmed it, for in the semi-darkness beyond the rays of the candle was a thin, eager face, prematurely lined, with coal-black, lustrous eyes that spoke eloquently of indulgence. In an instant I knew it to be that of the young man whom I had seen on the levee.

"Monsieur Auguste?" stammered Madame.

"Bon soir, Madame," he cried gayly, with a bow; "diable, they are already at it, I see, and the punch in the bowl. I will win back to-night what I have lost by a week of accursed luck."

"Monsieur your father has relented, perhaps," said Madame, deferentially.

"Relented!" cried the young man, "not a sou. C'est egal! I have the means here," and he tapped his pocket, "I have the means here to set me on my feet again, Madame."

He spoke with a note of triumph, and Madame took a curious step towards him.

"Qu'est-ce-que c'est, Monsieur Auguste?" she inquired.

He drew something that glittered from his pocket and beckoned to her to follow him down the room, which she did with alacrity.

"Ha, Adolphe," he cried to the young man of the puffy face, "I will have my revenge to-night. Voila!!" and he held up the shining thing, "this goes to the highest bidder, and you will agree that it is worth a pretty sum."

They rose from their chairs and clustered around him at the table, Madame in their midst, staring with bent heads at the trinket which he held to the light. It was Madame's voice I heard first, in a kind of frightened cry.

"Mon Dieu, Monsieur Auguste, you will not part with that!" she exclaimed.

"Why not?" demanded the young man, indifferently. "It was painted by Boze, the back is solid gold, and the Jew in the Rue Toulouse will give me four hundred livres for it to-morrow morning."

There followed immediately such a chorus of questions, exclamations, and shrill protests from Madame Bouvet, that I (being such a laborious French scholar) could distinguish but little of what they said. I looked in wonderment at the gesticulating figures grouped against the light, Madame imploring, the youthful profile of the newcomer marked with a cynical and scornful refusal. More than once I was for rising out of my chair to go over and see for myself what the object was, and then, suddenly, I perceived Madame Bouvet coming towards me in evident agitation. She sank into the chair beside me.

"If I had four hundred livres," she said, "if I had four hundred livres!"

"And what then?" I asked.

"Monsieur," she said, "a terrible thing has happened. Auguste de Saint-Gre—"

"Auguste de Saint-Gre!" I exclaimed.

"He is the son of that Monsieur de Saint-Gre of whom we spoke," she answered, "a wild lad, a spendthrift, a gambler, if you like. And yet he is a Saint-Gre, Monsieur, and I cannot refuse him. It is the miniature of Mademoiselle Helene de Saint-Gre, the daughter of the Marquis, sent to Mamselle 'Toinette, his sister, from France. How he has obtained it I know not."

"Ah!" I exclaimed sharply, the explanation of the scene of which I had been a witness coming to me swiftly. The rascal had wrenched it from her in the gallery and fled.

"Monsieur," continued Madame, too excited to notice my interruption, "if I had four hundred livres I would buy it of him, and Monsieur de Saint-Gre pere would willingly pay it back in the morning."

I reflected. I had a letter in my pocket to Monsieur de Saint-Gre, the sum was not large, and the act of Monsieur Auguste de Saint-Gre in every light was detestable. A rising anger decided me, and I took a wallet from my pocket.

"I will buy the miniature, Madame," I said.

She looked at me in astonishment.

"God bless you, Monsieur," she cried; "if you could see Mamselle 'Toinette you would pay twice the sum. The whole town loves her. Monsieur Auguste, Monsieur Auguste!" she shouted, "here is a gentleman who will buy your miniature."

The six young men stopped talking and stared at me With one accord. Madame arose, and I followed her down the room towards them, and, had it not been for my indignation, I should have felt sufficiently ridiculous. Young Monsieur de Saint-Gre came forward with the good-natured, easy insolence to which he had been born, and looked me over.

"Monsieur is an American," he said.

"I understand that you have offered this miniature for four hundred livres," I said.

"It is the Jew's price," he answered; "mais pardieu, what will you?" he added with a shrug, "I must have the money. Regardez, Monsieur, you have a bargain. Here is Mademoiselle Helene de Saint-Gre, daughter of my lord the Marquis of whom I have the honor to be a cousin," and he made a bow. "It is by the famous court painter, Joseph Boze, and Mademoiselle de Saint-Gre herself is a favorite of her Majesty." He held the portrait close to the candle and regarded it critically. "Mademoiselle Helene Victoire Marie de Saint-Gre, painted in a costume of Henry the Second's time, with a ruff, you notice, which she wore at a ball given by his Highness the Prince of Conde at Chantilly. A trifle haughty, if you like, Monsieur, but I venture to say you will be hopelessly in love with her within the hour."

At this there was a general titter from the young gentlemen at the table.

"All of which is neither here nor there, Monsieur," I answered sharply. "The question is purely a commercial one, and has nothing to do with the lady's character or position."

"It is well said, Monsieur," Madame Bouvet put in.

Monsieur Auguste de Saint-Gre shrugged his slim shoulders and laid down the portrait on the walnut table.

"Four hundred livres, Monsieur," he said.

I counted out the money, scrutinized by the curious eyes of his companions, and pushed it over to him. He bowed carelessly, sat him down, and began to shuffle the cards, while I picked up the miniature and walked out of the room. Before I had gone twenty paces I heard them laughing at their game and shouting out the stakes. Suddenly I bethought myself of Nick. What if he should come in and discover the party at the table? I stopped short in the hallway, and there Madame Bouvet overtook me.

"How can I thank you, Monsieur?" she said. And then, "You will return the portrait to Monsieur de Saint-Gre?"

"I have a letter from Monsieur Gratiot to that gentleman, which I shall deliver in the morning," I answered. "And now, Madame, I have a favor to ask of you."

"I am at Monsieur's service," she answered simply.

"When Mr. Temple comes in, he is not to go into that room," I said, pointing to the door of the saloon; "I have my reasons for requesting it."

For answer Madame went to the door, closed it, and turned the key. Then she sat down beside a little table with a candlestick and took up her knitting.

"It will be as Monsieur says," she answered.

I smiled.

"And when Mr. Temple comes in will you kindly say that I am waiting for him in his room?" I asked.

"As Monsieur says," she answered. "I wish Monsieur a good-night and pleasant dreams."

She took a candlestick from the table, lighted the candle, and handed it me with a courtesy. I bowed, and made my way along the gallery above the deserted court-yard. Entering my room and closing the door after me, I drew the miniature from my pocket and stood gazing at it for I know not how long.



CHAPTER XII

LES ILES

I stood staring at the portrait, I say, with a kind of fascination that astonished me, seeing that it had come to me in such a way. It was no French face of my imagination, and as I looked it seemed to me that I knew Mademoiselle Helene de Saint-Gre. And yet I smile as I write this, realizing full well that my strange and foreign surroundings and my unforeseen adventure had much to do with my state of mind. The lady in the miniature might have been eighteen, or thirty-five. Her features were of the clearest cut, the nose the least trifle aquiline, and by a blurred outline the painter had given to the black hair piled high upon the head a suggestion of waviness. The eyebrows were straight, the brown eyes looked at the world with an almost scornful sense of humor, and I marked that there was determination in the chin. Here was a face that could be infinitely haughty or infinitely tender, a mouth of witty—nay, perhaps cutting—repartee of brevity and force. A lady who spoke quickly, moved quickly, or reposed absolutely. A person who commanded by nature and yet (dare I venture the thought?) was capable of a supreme surrender. I was aroused from this odd revery by footsteps on the gallery, and Nick burst into the room. Without pausing to look about him, he flung himself lengthwise on the bed on top of the mosquito bar.

"A thousand curses on such a place," he cried; "it is full of rat holes and rabbit warrens."

"Did you catch your man?" I asked innocently.

"Catch him!" said Nick, with a little excusable profanity; "he went in at one end of such a warren and came out at another. I waited for him in two streets until an officious person chanced along and threatened to take me before the Alcalde. What the devil is that you have got in your hand, Davy?" he demanded, raising his head.

"A miniature that took my fancy, and which I bought."

He rose from the bed, yawned, and taking it in his hand, held it to the light. I watched him curiously.

"Lord," he said, "it is such a passion as I might have suspected of you, Davy."

"There was nothing said about passion," I answered

"Then why the deuce did you buy it?" he said with some pertinence.

This staggered me.

"A man may fancy a thing, without indulging in a passion, I suppose," I replied.

Nick held the picture at arm's length in the palm of his hand and regarded it critically.

"Faith," said he, "you may thank heaven it is only a picture. If such a one ever got hold of you, Davy, she would general you even as you general me. Egad," he added with a laugh, "there would be no more walking the streets at night in search of adventure for you. Consider carefully the masterful features of that lady and thank God you haven't got her."

I was inclined to be angry, but ended by laughing.

"There will be no rivalry between us, at least," I said.

"Rivalry!" exclaimed Nick. "Heaven forbid that I should aspire to such abject slavery. When I marry, it will be to command."

"All the more honor in such a conquest," I suggested.

"Davy," said he, "I have long been looking for some such flaw in your insuperable wisdom. But I vow I can keep my eyes open no longer. Benjy!"

A smothered response came from the other side of the wall, and Benjy duly appeared in the doorway, blinking at the candlelight, to put his master to bed.

We slept that night with no bed covering save the mosquito bar, as was the custom in New Orleans. Indeed, the heat was most oppressive, but we had become to some extent inured to it on the boat, and we were both in such sound health that our slumbers were not disturbed. Early in the morning, however, I was awakened by a negro song from the court-yard, and I lay pleasantly for some minutes listening to the early sounds, breathing in the aroma of coffee which mingled with the odor of the flowers of the court, until Zoey herself appeared in the doorway, holding a cup in her hand. I arose, and taking the miniature from the table, gazed at it in the yellow morning light; and then, having dressed myself, I put it carefully in my pocket and sat down at my portfolio to compose a letter to Polly Ann, knowing that a description of what I had seen in New Orleans would amuse her. This done, I went out into the gallery, where Madame was already seated at her knitting, in the shade of the great tree that stood in the corner of the court and spread its branches over the eaves. She arose and courtesied, with a questioning smile.

"Madame," I asked, "is it too early to present myself to Monsieur de Saint-Gre?"

"Pardieu, no, Monsieur, we are early risers in the South for we have our siesta. You are going to return the portrait, Monsieur?"

I nodded.

"God bless you for the deed," said she. "Tenez, Monsieur," she added, stepping closer to me, "you will tell his father that you bought it from Monsieur Auguste?"

I saw that she had a soft spot in her heart for the rogue.

"I will make no promises, Madame," I answered.

She looked at me timidly, appealingly, but I bowed and departed. The sun was riding up into the sky, the walls already glowing with his heat, and a midsummer languor seemed to pervade the streets as I walked along. The shadows now were sharply defined, the checkered foliage of the trees was flung in black against the yellow-white wall of the house with the lions, and the green-latticed gallery which we had watched the night before seemed silent and deserted. I knocked at the gate, and presently a bright-turbaned gardienne opened it.

Was Monsieur de Saint-Gre at home. The gardienne looked me over, and evidently finding me respectable, replied with many protestations of sorrow that he was not, that he had gone with Mamselle very early that morning to his country place at Les Iles. This information I extracted with difficulty, for I was not by any means versed in the negro patois.

As I walked back to Madame Bouvet's I made up my mind that there was but the one thing to do, to go at once to Monsieur de Saint-Gre's plantation. Finding Madame still waiting in the gallery, I asked her to direct me thither.

"You have but to follow the road that runs southward along the levee, and some three leagues will bring you to it, Monsieur. You will inquire for Monsieur de Saint-Gre."

"Can you direct me to Mr. Daniel Clark's?" I asked.

"The American merchant and banker, the friend and associate of the great General Wilkinson whom you sent down to us last year? Certainly, Monsieur. He will no doubt give you better advice than I on this matter."

I found Mr. Clark in his counting-room, and I had not talked with him five minutes before I began to suspect that, if a treasonable understanding existed between Wilkinson and the Spanish government, Mr. Clark was innocent of it. He being the only prominent American in the place, it was natural that Wilkinson should have formed with him a business arrangement to care for the cargoes he sent down. Indeed, after we had sat for some time chatting together, Mr. Clark began himself to make guarded inquiries on this very subject. Did I know Wilkinson? How was his enterprise of selling Kentucky products regarded at home? But I do not intend to burden this story with accounts of a matter which, though it has never been wholly clear, has been long since fairly settled in the public mind. Mr. Clark was most amiable, accepted my statement that I was travelling for pleasure, and honored Monsieur Chouteau's bon (for my purchase of the miniature had deprived me of nearly all my ready money), and said that Mr. Temple and I would need horses to get to Les Iles.

"And unless you purpose going back to Kentucky by keel boat, or round by sea to Philadelphia or New York, and cross the mountains," he said, "you will need good horses for your journey through Natchez and the Cumberland country. There is a consignment of Spanish horses from the westward just arrived in town," he added, "and I shall be pleased to go with you to the place where they are sold. I shall not presume to advise a Kentuckian on such a purchase."

The horses were crowded together under a dirty shed near the levee, and the vessel from which they had been landed rode at anchor in the river. They were the scrawny, tough ponies of the plains, reasonably cheap, and it took no great discernment on my part to choose three of the strongest and most intelligent looking. We went next to a saddler's, where I selected three saddles and bridles of Spanish workmanship, and Mr. Clark agreed to have two of his servants meet us with the horses before Madame Bouvet's within the hour. He begged that we would dine with him when we returned from Les Iles.

"You will not find an island, Mr. Ritchie," he said; "Saint-Gre's plantation is a huge block of land between the river and a cypress swamp behind. Saint-Gre is a man with a wonderful quality of mind, who might, like his ancestors, have made his mark if necessity had probed him or opportunity offered. He never forgave the Spanish government for the murder of his father, nor do I blame him. He has his troubles. His son is an incurable rake and degenerate, as you may have heard."

I went back to Madame Bouvet's, to find Nick emerging from his toilet.

"What deviltry have you been up to, Davy?" he demanded.

"I have been to the House of the Lions to see your divinity," I answered, "and in a very little while horses will be here to carry us to her."

"What do you mean?" he asked, grasping me by both shoulders.

"I mean that we are going to her father's plantation, some way down the river."

"On my honor, Davy, I did not suspect you of so much enterprise," he cried. "And her husband—?"

"Does not exist," I replied. "Perhaps, after all, I might be able to give you instruction in the conduct of an adventure. The man you chased with such futility was her brother, and he stole from her the miniature of which I am now the fortunate possessor."

He stared at me for a moment in rueful amazement.

"And her name?" he demanded.

"Antoinette de Saint-Gre," I answered; "our letter is to her father."

He made me a rueful bow.

"I fear that I have undervalued you, Mr. Ritchie," he said. "You have no peer. I am unworthy to accompany you, and furthermore, it would be useless."

"And why useless!" I inquired, laughing.

"You have doubtless seen the lady, and she is yours, said he.

"You forget that I am in love with a miniature," I said.

In half an hour we were packed and ready, the horses had arrived, we bade good-by to Madame Bouvet and rode down the miry street until we reached the road behind the levee. Turning southward, we soon left behind the shaded esplanade and the city's roofs below us, and came to the first of the plantation houses set back amidst the dark foliage. No tremor shook the fringe of moss that hung from the heavy boughs, so still was the day, and an indefinable, milky haze stretched between us and the cloudless sky above. The sun's rays pierced it and gathered fire; the mighty river beside us rolled listless and sullen, flinging back the heat defiantly. And on our left was a tropical forest in all its bewildering luxuriance, the live-oak, the hackberry, the myrtle, the Spanish bayonet in bristling groups, and the shaded places gave out a scented moisture like an orangery; anon we passed fields of corn and cotton, swamps of rice, stretches of poverty-stricken indigo plants, gnawed to the stem by the pest. Our ponies ambled on, unmindful; but Nick vowed that no woman under heaven would induce him to undertake such a journey again.

Some three miles out of the city we descried two figures on horseback coming towards us, and quickly perceived that one was a gentleman, the other his black servant. They were riding at a more rapid pace than the day warranted, but the gentleman reined in his sweating horse as he drew near to us, eyed us with a curiosity tempered by courtesy, bowed gravely, and put his horse to a canter again.

"Phew!" said Nick, twisting in his saddle, "I thought that all Creoles were lazy."

"We have met the exception, perhaps," I answered. "Did you take in that man?"

"His looks were a little remarkable, come to think of it," answered Nick, settling down into his saddle again.

Indeed, the man's face had struck me so forcibly that I was surprised out of an inquiry which I had meant to make of him, namely, how far we were from the Saint-Gre plantation. We pursued our way slowly, from time to time catching a glimpse of a dwelling almost hid in the distant foliage, until at length we came to a place a little more pretentious than those which we had seen. From the road a graceful flight of wooden steps climbed the levee and descended on the far side to a boat landing, and a straight vista cut through the grove, lined by wild orange trees, disclosed the white pillars and galleries of a far-away plantation house. The grassy path leading through the vista was trimly kept, and on either side of it in the moist, green shade of the great trees flowers bloomed in a profusion of startling colors,—in splotches of scarlet and white and royal purple.

Nick slipped from his horse.

"Behold the mansion of Mademoiselle de Saint-Gre," said he, waving his hand up the vista.

"How do you know?" I asked.

"I am told by a part of me that never lies, Davy," he answered, laying his hand upon his heart; "and besides," he added, "I should dislike devilishly to go too far on such a day and have to come back again."

"We will rest here," I said, laughing, "and send in Benjy to find out."

"Davy," he answered, with withering contempt, "you have no more romance in you than a turnip. We will go ourselves and see what befalls."

"Very well, then," I answered, falling in with his humor, "we will go ourselves."

He brushed his face with his handkerchief, gave himself a pull here and a pat there, and led the way down the alley. But we had not gone far before he turned into a path that entered the grove on the right, and to this likewise I made no protest. We soon found ourselves in a heavenly spot,—sheltered from the sun's rays by a dense verdure,—and no one who has not visited these Southern country places can know the teeming fragrance there. One shrub (how well I recall it!) was like unto the perfume of all the flowers and all the fruits, the very essence of the delicious languor of the place that made our steps to falter. A bird shot a bright flame of color through the checkered light ahead of us. Suddenly a sound brought us to a halt, and we stood in a tense and wondering silence. The words of a song, sung carelessly in a clear, girlish voice, came to us from beyond.

"Je voudrais bien me marier, Je voudrais bien me marier, Mais j'ai qrand' peur de me tromper: Mais j'ai grand' peur de me tromper: Ils sont si malhonnetes! Ma luron, ma lurette, Ils sont si malhonnetes! Ma luron, ma lure."

"We have come at the very zenith of opportunity," I whispered.

"Hush!" he said.

"Je ne veux pas d'un avocat, Je ne veux pas d'un avocat, Car ils aiment trop les ducats, Car ils aiment trop les ducats, Ils trompent les fillettes, Ma luron, ma lurette, Ils trompent les fillettes, Ma luron, ma lure."

"Eliminating Mr. Ritchie, I believe," said Nick, turning on me with a grimace. "But hark again!"

"Je voudrais bien d'un officier: Je voudrais bien d'un officier: Je marcherais a pas carres, Je marcherais a pas carres, Dans ma joli' chambrette, Ma luron, ma lurette Dans ma joli' chambrette, Ma luron, ma lure."

The song ceased with a sound that was half laughter, half sigh. Before I realized what he was doing, Nick, instead of retracing his steps towards the house, started forward. The path led through a dense thicket which became a casino hedge, and suddenly I found myself peering over his shoulder into a little garden bewildering in color. In the centre of the garden a great live-oak spread its sheltering branches. Around the gnarled trunk was a seat. And on the seat,—her sewing fallen into her lap, her lips parted, her eyes staring wide, sat the young lady whom we had seen on the levee the evening before. And Nick was making a bow in his grandest manner.

"Helas, Mademoiselle," he said, "je ne suis pas officier, mais on peut arranger tout cela, sans doute."

My breath was taken away by this unheard-of audacity, and I braced myself against screams, flight, and other feminine demonstrations of terror. The young lady did nothing of the kind. She turned her back to us, leaned against the tree, and to my astonishment I saw her slim shoulders shaken with laughter. At length, very slowly, she looked around, and in her face struggled curiosity and fear and merriment. Nick made another bow, worthy of Versailles, and she gave a frightened little laugh.

"You are English, Messieurs—yes?" she ventured.

"We were once!" cried Nick, "but we have changed, Mademoiselle."

"Et quoi donc?" relapsing into her own language.

"Americans," said he. "Allow me to introduce to you the Honorable David Ritchie, whom you rejected a few moments ago."

"Whom I rejected?" she exclaimed.

"Alas," said Nick, with a commiserating glance at me, "he has the misfortune to be a lawyer."

Mademoiselle shot at me the swiftest and shyest of glances, and turned to us once more her quivering shoulders. There was a brief silence.

"Mademoiselle?" said Nick, taking a step on the garden path.

"Monsieur?" she answered, without so much as looking around.

"What, now, would you take this gentleman to be?" he asked with an insistence not to be denied.

Again she was shaken with laughter, and suddenly to my surprise she turned and looked full at me.

"In English, Monsieur, you call it—a gallant?"

My face fairly tingled, and I heard Nick laughing with unseemly merriment.

"Ah, Mademoiselle," he cried, "you are a judge of character, and you have read him perfectly."

"Then I must leave you, Messieurs," she answered, with her eyes in her lap. But she made no move to go.

"You need have no fear of Mr. Ritchie, Mademoiselle," answered Nick, instantly. "I am here to protect you against his gallantry."

This time Nick received the glance, and quailed before it.

"And who—par exemple—is to protect me against—you, Monsieur?" she asked in the lowest of voices.

"You forget that I, too, am unprotected—and vulnerable, Mademoiselle," he answered.

Her face was hidden again, but not for long.

"How did you come?" she demanded presently.

"On air," he answered, "for we saw you in New Orleans yesterday."

"And—why?"

"Need you ask, Mademoiselle?" said the rogue, and then, with more effrontery than ever, he began to sing:—

"'Je voudrais bien me marier, Je voudrais bien me marier, Mais j'ai grand' peur de me tromper.'"

She rose, her sewing falling to the ground, and took a few startled steps towards us.

"Monsieur! you will be heard," she cried.

"And put out of the Garden of Eden," said Nick.

"I must leave you," she said, with the quaintest of English pronunciation.

Yet she stood irresolute in the garden path, a picture against the dark green leaves and the flowers. Her age might have been seventeen. Her gown was of some soft and light material printed in buds of delicate color, her slim arms bare above the elbow. She had the ivory complexion of the province, more delicate than I had yet seen, and beyond that I shall not attempt to describe her, save to add that she was such a strange mixture of innocence and ingenuousness and coquetry as I had not imagined. Presently her gaze was fixed seriously on me.

"Do you think it very wrong, Monsieur?" she asked.

I was more than taken aback by this tribute.

"Oh," cried Nick, "the arbiter of etiquette!"

"Since I am here, Mademoiselle," I answered, with anything but readiness, "I am not a proper judge."

Her next question staggered me.

"You are well-born?" she asked.

"Mr. Ritchie's grandfather was a Scottish earl," said Nick, immediately, a piece of news that startled me into protest. "It is true, Davy, though you may not know it," he added.

"And you, Monsieur?" she said to Nick.

"I am his cousin,—is it not honor enough?" said he.

"Yet you do not resemble one another."

"Mr. Ritchie has all the good looks in the family," said Nick.

"Oh!" cried the young lady, and this time she gave us her profile.

"Come, Mademoiselle," said Nick, "since the fates have cast the die, let us all sit down in the shade. The place was made for us."

"Monsieur!" she cried, giving back, "I have never in my life been alone with gentlemen."

"But Mr. Ritchie is a duenna to satisfy the most exacting," said Nick; "when you know him better you will believe me."

She laughed softly and glanced at me. By this time we were all three under the branches.

"Monsieur, you do not understand the French customs. Mon Dieu, if the good Sister Lorette could see me now—"

"But she is safe in the convent," said Nick. "Are they going to put glass on the walls?"

"And why?" asked Mademoiselle, innocently.

"Because," said Nick, "because a very bad man has come to New Orleans,—one who is given to climbing walls."

"You?"

"Yes. But when I found that a certain demoiselle had left the convent, I was no longer anxious to climb them."

"And how did you know that I had left it?"

I was at a loss to know whether this were coquetry or innocence.

"Because I saw you on the levee," said Nick.

"You saw me on the levee?" she repeated, giving back.

"And I had a great fear," the rogue persisted.

"A fear of what?"

"A fear that you were married," he said, with a boldness that made me blush. As for Mademoiselle, a color that vied with the June roses charged through her cheeks. She stooped to pick up her sewing, but Nick was before her.

"And why did you think me married?" she asked in a voice so low that we scarcely heard.

"Faith," said Nick, "because you seemed to be quarrelling with a man."

She turned to him with an irresistible seriousness.

"And is that your idea of marriage, Monsieur?"

This time it was I who laughed, for he had been hit very fairly.

"Mademoiselle," said he, "I did not for a moment think it could have been a love match."

Mademoiselle turned away and laughed.

"You are the very strangest man I have ever seen," she said.

"Shall I give you my notion of a love match, Mademoiselle?" said Nick.

"I should think you might be well versed in the subject, Monsieur," she answered, speaking to the tree, "but here is scarcely the time and place." She wound up her sewing, and faced him. "I must really leave you," she said.

He took a step towards her and stood looking down into her face. Her eyes dropped.

"And am I never to see you again?" he asked.

"Monsieur!" she cried softly, "I do not know who you are." She made him a courtesy, took a few steps in the opposite path, and turned. "That depends upon your ingenuity," she added; "you seem to have no lack of it, Monsieur."

Nick was transported.

"You must not go," he cried.

"Must not? How dare you speak to me thus, Monsieur?" Then she tempered it. "There is a lady here whom I love, and who is ill. I must not be long from her bedside."

"She is very ill?" said Nick, probably for want of something better.

"She is not really ill, Monsieur, but depressed—is not that the word? She is a very dear friend, and she has had trouble—so much, Monsieur,—and my mother brought her here. We love her as one of the family."

This was certainly ingenuous, and it was plain that the girl gave us this story through a certain nervousness, for she twisted her sewing in her fingers as she spoke.

"Mademoiselle," said Nick, "I would not keep you from such an errand of mercy."

She gave him a grateful look, more dangerous than any which had gone before.

"And besides," he went on, "we have come to stay awhile with you, Mr. Ritchie and myself."

"You have come to stay awhile?" she said.

I thought it time that the farce were ended.

"We have come with letters to your father, Monsieur de Saint-Gre, Mademoiselle," I said, "and I should like very much to see him, if he is at leisure."

Mademoiselle stared at me in unfeigned astonishment.

"But did you not meet him, Monsieur?" she demanded. "He left an hour ago for New Orleans. You must have met a gentleman riding very fast."

It was my turn to be astonished.

"But that was not your father!" I exclaimed.

"Et pourquoi non?" she said.

"Is not your father the stout gentleman whom I saw with you on the levee last evening?" I asked.

She laughed.

"You have been observing, Monsieur," she said. "That was my uncle, Monsieur de Beausejour. You saw me quarrelling with my brother, Auguste," she went on a little excitedly. "Oh, I am very much ashamed of it. I was so angry. My cousin, Mademoiselle Helene de Saint-Gre, has just sent me from France such a beautiful miniature, and Auguste fell in love with it."

"Fell in love with it!" I exclaimed involuntarily.

"You should see it, Monsieur, and I think you also would fall in love with it."

"I have not a doubt of it," said Nick.

Mademoiselle made the faintest of moues.

"Auguste is very wild, as you say," she continued, addressing me, "he is a great care to my father. He intrigues, you know, he wishes Louisiane to become French once more,—as we all do. But I should not say this, Monsieur," she added in a startled tone. "You will not tell? No, I know you will not. We do not like the Spaniards. They killed my grandfather when they came to take the province. And once, the Governor-general Miro sent for my father and declared he would put Auguste in prison if he did not behave himself. But I have forgotten the miniature. When Auguste saw that he fell in love with it, and now he wishes to go to France and obtain a commission through our cousin, the Marquis of Saint-Gre, and marry Mademoiselle Helene."

"A comprehensive programme, indeed," said Nick.

"My father has gone back to New Orleans," she said, "to get the miniature from Auguste. He took it from me, Monsieur." She raised her head a little proudly. "If my brother had asked it, I might have given it to him, though I treasured it. But Auguste is so—impulsive. My uncle told my father, who is very angry. He will punish Auguste severely, and—I do not like to have him punished. Oh, I wish I had the miniature."

"Your wish is granted, Mademoiselle," I answered, drawing the case from my pocket and handing it to her.

She took it, staring at me with eyes wide with wonder, and then she opened it mechanically.

"Monsieur," she said with great dignity, "do you mind telling me where you obtained this?"

"I found it, Mademoiselle," I answered; and as I spoke I felt Nick's fingers on my arm.

"You found it? Where? How, Monsieur?"

"At Madame Bouvet's, the house where we stayed."

"Oh," she said with a sigh of relief, "he must have dropped it. It is there where he meets his associates, where they talk of the French Louisiane."

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