Again I felt Nick pinching me, and I gave a sigh of relief. Mademoiselle was about to continue, but I interrupted her.
"How long will your father be in New Orleans, Mademoiselle?" I asked.
"Until he finds Auguste," she answered. "It may be days, but he will stay, for he is very angry. But will you not come into the house, Messieurs, and be presented to my mother?" she asked. "I have been very—inhospitable," she added with a glance at Nick.
We followed her through winding paths bordered by shrubs and flowers, and presently came to a low house surrounded by a wide, cool gallery, and shaded by spreading trees. Behind it were clustered the kitchens and quarters of the house servants. Mademoiselle, picking up her dress, ran up the steps ahead of us and turned to the left in the hall into a darkened parlor. The floor was bare, save for a few mats, and in the corner was a massive escritoire of mahogany with carved feet, and there were tables and chairs of a like pattern. It was a room of more distinction than I had seen since I had been in Charlestown, and reflected the solidity of its owners.
"If you will be so kind as to wait here, Messieurs," said Mademoiselle, "I will call my mother."
And she left us.
I sat down, rather uncomfortably, but Nick took a stand and stood staring down at me with folded arms.
"How I have undervalued you, Davy," he said.
"I am not proud of it," I answered shortly.
"What the deuce is to do now!" he asked.
"I cannot linger here," I answered; "I have business with Monsieur de Saint-Gre, and I must go back to New Orleans at once."
"Then I will wait for you," said Nick. "Davy, I have met my fate."
I laughed in spite of myself.
"It seems to me that I have heard that remark before," I answered.
He had not time to protest, for we heard footsteps in the hall, and Mademoiselle entered, leading an older lady by the hand. In the light of the doorway I saw that she was thin and small and yellow, but her features had a regularity and her mien a dignity which made her impressing, which would have convinced a stranger that she was a person of birth and breeding. Her hair, tinged with gray, was crowned by a lace cap.
"Madame," I said, bowing and coming forward, "I am David Ritchie, from Kentucky, and this is my cousin, Mr. Temple, of Charlestown. Monsieur Gratiot and Colonel Chouteau, of St. Louis, have been kind enough to give us letters to Monsieur de Saint-Gre." And I handed her one of the letters which I had ready.
"You are very welcome, Messieurs," she answered, with the same delightful accent which her daughter had used, "and you are especially welcome from such a source. The friends of Colonel Chouteau and of Monsieur Gratiot are our friends. You will remain with us, I hope, Messieurs," she continued. "Monsieur de Saint-Gre will return in a few days at best."
"By your leave, Madame, I will go to New Orleans at once and try to find Monsieur," I said, "for I have business with him."
"You will return with him, I hope," said Madame.
"And Mr. Temple will remain?" she asked, with a questioning look at Nick.
"With the greatest pleasure in the world, Madame," he answered, and there was no mistaking his sincerity. As he spoke, Mademoiselle turned her back on him.
I would not wait for dinner, but pausing only for a sip of cool Madeira and some other refreshment, I made my farewells to the ladies. As I started out of the door to find Benjy, who had been waiting for more than an hour, Mademoiselle gave me a neatly folded note.
"You will be so kind as to present that to my father, Monsieur," she said.
MONSIEUR AUGUSTE ENTRAPPED
It may be well to declare here and now that I do not intend to burden this story with the business which had brought me to New Orleans. While in the city during the next few days I met a young gentleman named Daniel Clark, a nephew of that Mr. Clark of whom I have spoken. Many years after the time of which I write this Mr. Daniel Clark the younger, who became a rich merchant and an able man of affairs, published a book which sets forth with great clearness proofs of General Wilkinson's duplicity and treason, and these may be read by any who would satisfy himself further on the subject. Mr. Wharton had not believed, nor had I flattered myself that I should be able to bring such a fox as General Wilkinson to earth. Abundant circumstantial evidence I obtained: Wilkinson's intimacy with Miro was well known, and I likewise learned that a cipher existed between them. The permit to trade given by Miro to Wilkinson was made no secret of. In brief, I may say that I discovered as much as could be discovered by any one without arousing suspicion, and that the information with which I returned to Kentucky was of some material value to my employers.
I have to thank Monsieur Philippe de St. Gre for a great deal. And I take this opportunity to set down the fact that I have rarely met a more remarkable man.
As I rode back to town alone a whitish film was spread before the sun, and ere I had come in sight of the fortifications the low forest on the western bank was a dark green blur against the sky. The esplanade on the levee was deserted, the willow trees had a mournful look, while the bright tiles of yesterday seemed to have faded to a sombre tone. I spied Xavier on a bench smoking with some friends of his.
"He make much rain soon, Michie," he cried. "You hev good time, I hope, Michie."
I waved my hand and rode on, past the Place d'Armes with its white diagonal bands strapping its green like a soldiers front, and as I drew up before the gate of the House of the Lions the warning taps of the storm were drumming on the magnolia leaves. The same gardienne came to my knock, and in answer to her shrill cry a negro lad appeared to hold my horse. I was ushered into a brick-paved archway that ran under the latticed gallery toward a flower-filled court-yard, but ere we reached this the gardienne turned to the left up a flight of steps with a delicate balustrade which led to an open gallery above. And there stood the gentleman whom we had met hurrying to town in the morning. A gentleman he was, every inch of him. He was dressed in black silk, his hair in a cue, and drawn away from a face of remarkable features. He had a high-bridged nose, a black eye that held an inquiring sternness, a chin indented, and a receding forehead. His stature was indeterminable. In brief, he might have stood for one of those persons of birth and ability who become prime ministers of France.
"Monsieur de St. Gre?" I said.
He bowed gracefully, but with a tinge of condescension. I was awed, and considering the relations which I had already had with his family, I must admit that I was somewhat frightened.
"Monsieur," I said, "I bring letters to you from Monsieur Gratiot and Colonel Chouteau of St. Louis. One of these I had the honor to deliver to Madame de St. Gre, and here is the other."
"Ah," he said, with another keen glance, "I met you this morning, did I not?"
"You did, Monsieur."
He broke the seal, and, going to the edge of the gallery, held the letter to the light. As he read a peal of thunder broke distantly, the rain came down in a flood. Then he folded the paper carefully and turned to me again.
"You will make my house your home, Mr. Ritchie," he said; "recommended from such a source, I will do all I can to serve you. But where is this Mr. Temple of whom the letter speaks? His family in Charlestown is known to me by repute."
"By Madame de St. Gre's invitation he remained at Les Iles," I answered, speaking above the roar of the rain.
"I was just going to the table," said Monsieur de St. Gre; "we will talk as we eat."
He led the way into the dining room, and as I stood on the threshold a bolt of great brilliancy lighted its yellow-washed floor and walnut furniture of a staid pattern. A deafening crash followed as we took our seats, while Monsieur de St. Gre's man lighted four candles of green myrtle-berry wax.
"Monsieur Gratiot's letter speaks vaguely of politics, Mr. Ritchie," began Monsieur de St. Gre. He spoke English perfectly, save for an occasional harsh aspiration which I cannot imitate.
Directing his man to fetch a certain kind of Madeira, he turned to me with a look of polite inquiry which was scarcely reassuring. And I reflected, the caution with which I had been endowed coming uppermost, that the man might have changed since Monsieur Gratiot had seen him. He had, moreover, the air of a man who gives a forced attention, which seemed to me the natural consequences of the recent actions of his son.
"I fear that I am intruding upon your affairs, Monsieur," I answered.
"Not at all, sir," he said politely. "I have met that charming gentleman, Mr. Wilkinson, who came here to brush away the causes of dissension, and cement a friendship between Kentucky and Louisiana."
It was most fortunate that the note of irony did not escape me.
"Where governments failed, General Wilkinson succeeded," I answered dryly.
Monsieur de St. Gre glanced at me, and an enigmatical smile spread over his face. I knew then that the ice was cracked between us. Yet he was too much a man of the world not to make one more tentative remark.
"A union between Kentucky and Louisiana would be a resistless force in the world, Mr. Ritchie," he said.
"It was Nebuchadnezzar who dreamed of a composite image, Monsieur," I answered; "and Mr. Wilkinson forgets one thing,—that Kentucky is a part of the United States."
At that Monsieur St. Gre laughed outright. He became a different man, though he lost none of his dignity.
"I should have had more faith in my old friend Gratiot," he said; "but you will pardon me if I did not recognize at once the statesman he had sent me, Mr. Ritchie."
It was my turn to laugh.
"Monsieur," he went on, returning to that dignity of mien which marked him, "my political opinions are too well known that I should make a mystery of them to you. I was born a Frenchman, I shall die a Frenchman, and I shall never be happy until Louisiana is French once more. My great-grandfather, a brother of the Marquis de St. Gre of that time, and a wild blade enough, came out with D'Iberville. His son, my grandfather, was the Commissary-general of the colony under the Marquis de Vaudreuil. He sent me to France for my education, where I was introduced at court by my kinsman, the old Marquis, who took a fancy to me and begged me to remain. It was my father's wish that I should return, and I did not disobey him. I had scarcely come back, Monsieur, when that abominable secret bargain of Louis the Fifteenth became known, ceding Louisiana to Spain. You may have heard of the revolution which followed here. It was a mild affair, and the remembrance of it makes me smile to this day, though with bitterness. I was five and twenty, hot-headed, and French. Que voulez-vous?" and Monsieur de St. Gre shrugged his shoulders. "O'Reilly, the famous Spanish general, came with his men-of-war. Well I remember the days we waited with leaden hearts for the men-of-war to come up from the English turn; and I can see now the cannon frowning from the ports, the grim spars, the high poops crowded with officers, the great anchors splashing the yellow water. I can hear the chains running. The ships were in line of battle before the town, their flying bridges swung to the levee, and they loomed above us like towering fortresses. It was dark, Monsieur, such as this afternoon, and we poor French colonists stood huddled in the open space below, waiting for we knew not what."
He paused, and I started, for the picture he drew had carried me out of myself.
"On the 18th of August, 1769,—well I remember the day," Monsieur de St. Gre continued, "the Spanish troops landed late in the afternoon, twenty-six hundred strong, the artillery rumbling over the bridges, the horses wheeling and rearing. And they drew up as in line of battle in the Place d'Armes,—dragoons, fusileros de montanas, light and heavy infantry. Where were our white cockades then? Fifty guns shook the town, the great O'Reilly limped ashore through the smoke, and Louisiana was lost to France. We had a cowardly governor, Monsieur, whose name is written in the annals of the province in letters of shame. He betrayed Monsieur de St. Gre and others into O'Reilly's hands, and when my father was cast into prison he was seized with such a fit of anger that he died."
Monsieur de St. Gre was silent. Without, under the eaves of the gallery, a white rain fell, and a steaming moisture arose from the court-yard.
"What I have told you, Monsieur, is common knowledge. Louisiana has been Spanish for twenty years. I no longer wear the white cockade, for I am older now." He smiled. "Strange things are happening in France, and the old order to which I belong" (he straightened perceptibly) "seems to be tottering. I have ceased to intrigue, but thank God I have not ceased to pray. Perhaps—who knows?—perhaps I may live to see again the lily of France stirred by the river breeze."
He fell into a revery, his fine head bent a little, but presently aroused himself and eyed me curiously. I need not say that I felt a strange liking for Monsieur de St. Gre.
"And now, Mr. Ritchie," he said, "will you tell me who you are, and how I can serve you?"
The servant had put the coffee on the table and left the room. Monsieur de St. Gre himself poured me a cup from the dainty, quaintly wrought Louis Quinze coffeepot, graven with the coat of arms of his family. As we sat talking, my admiration for my host increased, for I found that he was familiar not only with the situation in Kentucky, but that he also knew far more than I of the principles and personnel of the new government of which General Washington was President. That he had little sympathy with government by the people was natural, for he was a Creole, and behind that a member of an order which detested republics. When we were got beyond these topics the rain had ceased, the night had fallen, the green candles had burned low. And suddenly, as he spoke of Les Isles, I remembered the note Mademoiselle had given me for him, and I apologized for my forgetfulness. He read it, and dropped it with an exclamation.
"My daughter tells me that you have returned to her a miniature which she lost, Monsieur," he said.
"I had that pleasure," I answered.
"And that—you found this miniature at Madame Bouvet's. Was this the case?" And he stared hard at me.
I nodded, but for the life of me I could not speak. It seemed an outrage to lie to such a man. He did not answer, but sat lost in thought, drumming with his fingers on the tables until the noise of the slamming of a door aroused him to a listening posture. The sound of subdued voices came from the archway below us, and one of these, from an occasional excited and feminine note, I thought to be the gardienne's. Monsieur de St. Gre thrust back his chair, and in three strides was at the edge of the gallery.
"Auguste!" he cried.
"Auguste, come up to me at once," he said in French.
Another silence, then something that sounded like "Sapristi!" a groan from the gardienne, and a step was heard on the stairway. My own discomfort increased, and I would have given much to be in any other place in the world. Auguste had arrived at the head of the steps but was apparently unable to get any farther.
"Bon soir, mon pere," he said.
"Like a dutiful son," said Monsieur de St. Gre, "you heard I was in town, and called to pay your respects, I am sure. I am delighted to find you. In fact, I came to town for that purpose."
"Lisette—" began Auguste.
"Thought that I did not wish to be disturbed, no doubt," said his father. "Walk in, Auguste."
Monsieur Auguste's slim figure appeared in the doorway. He caught sight of me, halted, backed, and stood staring with widened eyes. The candles threw their light across his shoulder on the face of the elder Monsieur de St. Gre. Auguste was a replica of his father, with the features minimized to regularity and the brow narrowed. The complexion of the one was a clear saffron, while the boy's skin was mottled, and he was not twenty.
"What is the matter?" said Monsieur de St. Gre.
"You—you have a visitor!" stammered Auguste, with a tact that savored of practice. Yet there was a sorry difference between this and the haughty young patrician who had sold me the miniature.
"Who brings me good news," said Monsieur de St. Gre, in English. "Mr. Ritchie, allow me to introduce my son, Auguste."
I felt Monsieur de St. Gre's eyes on me as I bowed, and I began to think I was in near as great a predicament as Auguste. Monsieur de St. Gre was managing the matter with infinite wisdom.
"Sit down, my son," he said; "you have no doubt been staying with your uncle." Auguste sat down, still staring.
"Does your aunt's health mend?"
"She is better to-night, father," said the son, in English which might have been improved.
"I am glad of it," said Monsieur de St. Gre, taking a chair. "Andre, fill the glasses."
The silent, linen-clad mulatto poured out the Madeira, shot a look at Auguste, and retired softly.
"There has been a heavy rain, Monsieur," said Monsieur de St. Gre to me, "but I think the air is not yet cleared. I was about to say, Mr. Ritchie, when my son called to pay his respects, that the miniature of which we were speaking is one of the most remarkable paintings I have ever seen." Auguste's thin fingers were clutching the chair. "I have never beheld Mademoiselle Helene de St. Gre, for my cousin, the Marquis, was not married when I left France. He was a captain in a regiment of his Majesty's Mousquetaires, since abolished. But I am sure that the likeness of Mademoiselle must be a true one, for it has the stamp of a remarkable personality, though Helene can be only eighteen. Women, with us, mature quickly, Monsieur. And this portrait tallies with what I have heard of her character. You no doubt observed the face, Monsieur,—that of a true aristocrat. But I was speaking of her character. When she was twelve, she said something to a cardinal for which her mother made her keep her room a whole day. For Mademoiselle would not retract, and, pardieu, I believe his Eminence was wrong. The Marquise is afraid of her. And when first Helene was presented formally she made such a witty retort to the Queen's sally that her Majesty insisted upon her coming to court. On every New Year's day I have always sent a present of coffee and perique to my cousin the Marquis, and it is Mademoiselle who writes to thank us. Parole d'honneur, her letters make me see again the people amongst whom she moves,—the dukes and duchesses, the cardinals, bishops, and generals. She draws them to the life, Monsieur, with a touch that makes them all ridiculous. His Majesty does not escape. God forgive him, he is indeed an amiable, weak person for calling a States General. And the Queen, a frivolous lady, but true to those whom she loves, and beginning now to realize the perils of the situation." He paused. "Is it any wonder that Auguste has fallen in love with his cousin, Monsieur? That he loses his head, forgets that he is a gentleman, and steals her portrait from his sister!"
Had I not been so occupied with my own fate in the outcome of this inquisition, I should have been sorry for Auguste. And yet this feeling could not have lasted, for the young gentleman sprang to his feet, cast a glance at me which was not without malignance, and faced his father, his lips twitching with anger and fear. Monsieur de St. Gre sat undisturbed.
"He is so much in love with the portrait, Monsieur, that he loses it."
"Loses it!" cried Auguste.
"Precisely," said his father, dryly, "for Mr. Ritchie tells me he found it—at Madame Bouvet's, was it not, Monsieur?"
Auguste looked at me.
"Mille diables!" he said, and sat down again heavily.
"Mr. Ritchie has returned it to your sister, a service which puts him heavily in our debt," said Monsieur de St. Gre. "Now, sir," he added to me, rising, "you have had a tiresome day. I will show you to your room, and in the morning we will begin our—investigations."
He clapped his hands, the silent mulatto appeared with a new candle, and I followed my host down the gallery to a room which he flung open at the far end. A great four-poster bedstead was in one corner, and a polished mahogany dresser in the other.
"We have saved some of our family furniture from the fire, Mr. Ritchie," said Monsieur de St. Gre; "that bed was brought from Paris by my father forty years ago. I hope you will rest well."
He set the candle on the table, and as he bowed there was a trace of an enigmatical smile about his mouth. How much he knew of Auguste's transaction I could not fathom, but the matter and the scarcely creditable part I had played in it kept me awake far into the night. I was just falling into a troubled sleep when a footstep on the gallery startled me back to consciousness. It was followed by a light tap on the door.
"Monsieur Reetchie," said a voice.
It was Monsieur Auguste. He was not an imposing figure in his nightrail, and by the light of the carefully shaded candle he held in his hand I saw that he had hitherto deceived me in the matter of his calves. He stood peering at me as I lay under the mosquito bar.
"How is it I can thank you, Monsieur!" he exclaimed in a whisper.
"By saying nothing, Monsieur," I answered.
"You are noble, you are generous, and—and one day I will give you the money back," he added with a burst of magniloquence. "You have behave very well, Monsieur, and I mek you my friend. Behol' Auguste de St. Gre, entirely at your service, Monsieur." He made a sweeping bow that might have been impressive save for the nightrail, and sought my hand, which he grasped in a fold of the mosquito bar.
"I am overcome, Monsieur," I said.
"Monsieur Reetchie, you are my friend, my intimate" (he put an aspirate on the word). "I go to tell you one leetle secret. I find that I can repose confidence in you. My father does not understan' me, you saw, Monsieur, he does not appreciate—that is the Engleesh. Mon Dieu, you saw it this night. I, who spik to you, am made for a courtier, a noble. I have the gift. La Louisiane—she is not so big enough for me." He lowered his voice still further, and bent nearer to me. "Monsieur, I run away to France. My cousin the Marquis will help me. You will hear of Auguste de St. Gre at Versailles, at Trianon, at Chantilly, and peut-etre—"
"It is a worthy campaign, Monsieur," I interrupted.
A distant sound broke the stillness, and Auguste was near to dropping the candle on me.
"Adieu, Monsieur," he whispered; "milles tonneres, I have done one extraordinaire foolish thing when I am come to this house to-night."
And he disappeared, shading his candle, as he had come.
During the next two days I had more evidence of Monsieur de St. Gre's ability, and, thanks to his conduct of my campaign, not the least suspicion of my mission to New Orleans got abroad. Certain gentlemen were asked to dine, we called on others, and met still others casually in their haunts of business or pleasure. I was troubled because of the inconvenience and discomfort to which my host put himself, for New Orleans in the dog-days may be likened in climate to the under side of the lid of a steam kettle. But at length, on the second evening, after we had supped on jambalaya and rice cakes and other dainties, and the last guest had gone, my host turned to me.
"The rest of the burrow is the same, Mr. Ritchie, until it comes to the light again."
"And the fox has crawled out of the other end," I said.
"Precisely," he answered, laughing; "in short, if you were to remain in New Orleans until New Year's, you would not learn a whit more. To-morrow morning I have a little business of my own to transact, and we shall get to Les Iles in time for dinner. No, don't thank me," he protested; "there's a certain rough honesty and earnestness ingrained in you which I like. And besides," he added, smiling, "you are poor indeed at thanking, Mr. Ritchie. You could never do it gracefully. But if ever I were in trouble, I believe that I might safely call on you."
The next day was a rare one, for a wind from somewhere had blown the moisture away a little, the shadows were clearer cut, and by noon Monsieur de St. Gre and I were walking our horses in the shady road behind the levee. We were followed at a respectful distance by Andre, Monsieur's mulatto body-servant, and as we rode my companion gave me stories of the owners of the different plantations we passed, and spoke of many events of interest in the history of the colony. Presently he ceased to talk, and rode in silence for many minutes. And then he turned upon me suddenly.
"Mr. Ritchie," he said, "you have seen my son. It may be that in him I am paying the price of my sins. I have done everything to set him straight, but in vain. Monsieur, every son of the St. Gre's has awakened sooner or later to a sense of what becomes him. But Auguste is a fool," he cried bitterly,—a statement which I could not deny; "were it not for my daughter, Antoinette, I should be a miserable man indeed."
Inasmuch as he was not a person of confidences, I felt the more flattered that he should speak so plainly to me, and I had a great sympathy for this strong man who could not help himself.
"You have observed Antoinette, Mr. Ritchie," he continued; "she is a strange mixture of wilfulness and caprice and self-sacrifice, and she has at times a bit of that wit which has made our house for generations the intimates—I may say—of sovereigns."
This peculiar pride of race would have amused me in another man. I found myself listening to Monsieur de St. Gre with gravity, and I did not dare to reply that I had had evidence of Mademoiselle's aptness of retort.
"She has been my companion since she was a child, Monsieur. She has disobeyed me, flaunted me, nursed me in illness, championed me behind my back. I have a little book which I have kept of her sayings and doings, which may interest you, Monsieur. I will show it you."
This indeed was a new side of Monsieur de St. Gre, and I reflected rather ruefully upon the unvarnished truth of what Mr. Wharton had told me,—ay, and what Colonel Clark had emphasized long before. It was my fate never to be treated as a young man. It struck me that Monsieur de St. Gre had never even considered me in the light of a possible suitor for his daughter's hand.
"I should be delighted to see them, Monsieur," I answered.
"Would you?" he exclaimed, his face lighting up as he glanced at me. "Alas, Madame de St. Gre and I have promised to go to our neighbors', Monsieur and Madame Bertrand's, for to-night. But, to-morrow, if you have leisure, we shall look at it together. And not a word of this to my daughter, Monsieur," he added apprehensively; "she would never forgive me. She dislikes my talking of her, but at times I cannot help it. It was only last year that she was very angry with me, and would not speak to me for days, because I boasted of her having watched at the bedside of a poor gentleman who came here and got the fever. You will not tell her?"
"Indeed I shall not, Monsieur," I answered.
"It is strange," he said abruptly, "it is strange that this gentleman and his wife should likewise have had letters to us from Monsieur Gratiot. They came from St. Louis, and they were on their way to Paris."
"To Paris?" I cried; "what was their name?"
He looked at me in surprise.
"Clive," he said.
"Clive!" I cried, leaning towards him in my saddle. "Clive! And what became of them?"
This time he gave me one of his searching looks, and it was not unmixed with astonishment.
"Why do you ask. Monsieur?" he demanded. "Did you know them?"
I must have shown that I was strangely agitated. For the moment I could not answer.
"Monsieur Gratiot himself spoke of them to me," I said, after a little; "he said they were an interesting couple."
"Pardieu!" exclaimed Monsieur de St. Gre, "he put it mildly." He gave me another look. "There was something about them, Monsieur, which I could not fathom. Why were they drifting? They were people of quality who had seen the world, who were by no means paupers, who had no cause to travel save a certain restlessness. And while they were awaiting the sailing of the packet for France they came to our house—the old one in the Rue Bourbon that was burned. I would not speak ill of the dead, but Mr. Clive I did not like. He fell sick of the fever in my house, and it was there that Antoinette and Madame de St. Gre took turns with his wife in watching at his bedside. I could do nothing with Antoinette, Monsieur, and she would not listen to my entreaties, my prayers, my commands. We buried the poor fellow in the alien ground, for he did not die in the Church, and after that my daughter clung to Mrs. Clive. She would not let her go, and the packet sailed without her. I have never seen such affection. I may say," he added quickly, "that Madame de St. Gre and I share in it, for Mrs. Clive is a lovable woman and a strong character. And into the great sorrow that lies behind her life, we have never probed."
"And she is with you now, Monsieur?" I asked.
"She lives with us, Monsieur," he answered simply, "and I hope for always. No," he said quickly, "it is not charity,—she has something of her own. We love her, and she is the best of companions for my daughter. For the rest, Monsieur, she seems benumbed, with no desire to go back or to go farther."
An entrance drive to the plantation of Les Iles, unknown to Nick and me, led off from the main road like a green tunnel arched out of the forest. My feelings as we entered this may be imagined, for I was suddenly confronted with the situation which I had dreaded since my meeting with Nick at Jonesboro. I could scarcely allow myself even the faint hope that Mrs. Clive might not prove to be Mrs. Temple after all. Whilst I was in this agony of doubt and indecision, the drive suddenly came out on a shaded lawn dotted with flowering bushes. There was the house with its gallery, its curved dormer roof and its belvedere; and a white, girlish figure flitted down the steps. It was Mademoiselle Antoinette, and no sooner had her father dismounted than she threw herself into his arms. Forgetful of my presence, he stood murmuring in her ear like a lover; and as I watched them my trouble slipped from my mind, and gave place to a vaguer regret that I had been a wanderer throughout my life. Presently she turned up to him a face on which was written something which he could not understand. His own stronger features reflected a vague disquiet.
"What is it, ma cherie?"
What was it indeed? Something was in her eyes which bore a message and presentiment to me. She dropped them, fastening in the lapel of his coat a flaunting red flower set against a shining leaf, and there was a gentle, joyous subterfuge in her answer.
"Thou pardoned Auguste, as I commanded?" she said. They were speaking in the familiar French.
"Ha, diable! is it that which disquiets thee?" said her father. "We will not speak of Auguste. Dost thou know Monsieur Ritchie, 'Toinette?"
She disengaged herself and dropped me a courtesy, her eyes seeking the ground. But she said not a word. At that instant Madame de St. Gre herself appeared on the gallery, followed by Nick, who came down the steps with a careless self-confidence to greet the master. Indeed, a stranger might have thought that Mr. Temple was the host, and I saw Antoinette watching him furtively with a gleam of amusement in her eyes.
"I am delighted to see you at last, Monsieur," said my cousin. "I am Nicholas Temple, and I have been your guest for three days."
Had Monsieur de St. Gre been other than the soul of hospitality, it would have been impossible not to welcome such a guest. Our host had, in common with his daughter, a sense of humor. There was a quizzical expression on his fine face as he replied, with the barest glance at Mademoiselle Antoinette:—
"I trust you have been—well entertained, Mr. Temple. My daughter has been accustomed only to the society of her brother and cousins."
"Faith, I should not have supposed it," said Nick, instantly, a remark which caused the color to flush deeply into Mademoiselle's face. I looked to see Monsieur de St. Gre angry. He tried, indeed, to be grave, but smiled irresistibly as he mounted the steps to greet his wife, who stood demurely awaiting his caress. And in this interval Mademoiselle shot at Nick a swift and withering look as she passed him. He returned a grimace.
"Messieurs," said Monsieur de St. Gre, turning to us, "dinner will soon be ready—if you will be so good as to pardon me until then."
Nick followed Mademoiselle with his eyes until she had disappeared beyond the hall. She did not so much as turn. Then he took me by the arm and led me to a bench under a magnolia a little distance away, where he seated himself, and looked up at me despairingly.
"Behold," said he, "what was once your friend and cousin, your counsellor, sage, and guardian. Behold the clay which conducted you hither, with the heart neatly but painfully extracted. Look upon a woman's work, Davy, and shun the sex. I tell you it is better to go blindfold through life, to have—pardon me—your own blunt features, than to be reduced to such a pitiable state. Was ever such a refinement of cruelty practised before? Never! Was there ever such beauty, such archness, such coquetry,—such damned elusiveness? Never! If there is a cargo going up the river, let me be salted and lie at the bottom of it. I'll warrant you I'll not come to life."
"You appear to have suffered somewhat," I said, forgetting for the moment in my laughter the thing that weighed upon my mind.
"Suffered!" he cried; "I have been tossed high in the azure that I might sink the farther into the depths. I have been put in a grave, the earth stamped down, resurrected, and flung into the dust-heap. I have been taken up to the gate of heaven and dropped a hundred and fifty years through darkness. Since I have seen you I have been the round of all the bright places and all the bottomless pits in the firmament."
"It seems to have made you literary," I remarked judicially.
"I burn up twenty times a day," he continued, with a wave of the hand to express the completeness of the process; "there is nothing left. I see her, I speak to her, and I burn up."
"Have you had many tete-a-tetes?" I asked.
"Not one," he retorted fiercely; "do you think there is any sense in the damnable French custom? I am an honorable man, and, besides, I am not equipped for an elopement. No priest in Louisiana would marry us. I see her at dinner, at supper. Sometimes we sew on the gallery," he went on, "but I give you my oath that I have not had one word with her alone."
"An oath is not necessary," I said. "But you seem to have made some progress nevertheless."
"Do you call that progress?" he demanded.
"It is surely not retrogression."
"God knows what it is," said Nick, helplessly, "but it's got to stop. I have sent her an ultimatum."
"A summons. Her father and mother are going to the Bertrands' to-night, and I have written her a note to meet me in the garden. And you," he cried, rising and slapping me between the shoulders, "you are to keep watch, like the dear, careful, canny, sly rascal you are."
"And—and has she accepted?" I inquired.
"That's the deuce of it," said he; "she has not. But I think she'll come."
I stood for a moment regarding him.
"And you really love Mademoiselle Antoinette?" I asked.
"Have I not exhausted the language?" he answered. "If what I have been through is not love, then may the Lord shield me from the real disease."
"It may have been merely a light case of—tropical enthusiasm, let us say. I have seen others, a little milder because the air was more temperate."
"Tropical—balderdash," he exploded. "If you are not the most exasperating, unfeeling man alive—"
"I merely wanted to know if you wished to marry Mademoiselle de St. Gre," I interrupted.
He gave me a look of infinite tolerance.
"Have I not made it plain that I cannot live without her?" he said; "if not, I will go over it all again."
"That will not be necessary," I said hastily.
"The trouble may be," he continued, "that they have already made one of their matrimonial contracts with a Granpre, a Beausejour, a Bernard."
"Monsieur de St. Gre is a very sensible man," I answered. "He loves his daughter, and I doubt if he would force her to marry against her will. Tell me, Nick," I asked, laying my hand upon his shoulder, "do you love this girl so much that you would let nothing come between you and her?"
"I tell you, I do; and again I tell you, I do," he replied. He paused, suddenly glancing at my face, and added, "Why do you ask, Davy?"
I stood irresolute, now that the time had come not daring to give voice to my suspicions. He had not spoken to me of his mother save that once, and I had no means of knowing whether his feeling for the girl might not soften his anger against her. I have never lacked the courage to come to the point, but there was still the chance that I might be mistaken in this after all. Would it not be best to wait until I had ascertained in some way the identity of Mrs. Clive? And while I stood debating, Nick regarding me with a puzzled expression, Monsieur de St. Gre appeared on the gallery.
"Come, gentlemen," he cried; "dinner awaits us."
The dining room at Les Iles was at the corner of the house, and its windows looked out on the gallery, which was shaded at that place by dense foliage. The room, like others in the house, seemed to reflect the decorous character of its owner. Two St. Gre's, indifferently painted, but rigorous and respectable, relieved the whiteness of the wall. They were the Commissary-general and his wife. The lattices were closed on one side, and in the deep amber light the family silver shone but dimly. The dignity of our host, the evident ceremony of the meal,—which was attended by three servants,—would have awed into a modified silence at least a less irrepressible person than Nicholas Temple. But Nick was one to carry by storm a position which another might wait to reconnoitre. The first sensation of our host was no doubt astonishment, but he was soon laughing over a vivid account of our adventures on the keel boat. Nick's imitation of Xavier, and his description of Benjy's terrors after the storm, were so perfect that I laughed quite as heartily; and Madame de St. Gre wiped her eyes and repeated continually, "Quel drole monsieur! it is thus he has entertained us since thou departed, Philippe."
As for Mademoiselle, I began to think that Nick was not far wrong in his diagnosis. Training may have had something to do with it. She would not laugh, not she, but once or twice she raised her napkin to her face and coughed slightly. For the rest, she sat demurely, with her eyes on her plate, a model of propriety. Nick's sufferings became more comprehensible.
To give the devil his due, Nick had an innate tact which told him when to stop, and perhaps at this time Mademoiselle's superciliousness made him subside the more quickly. After Monsieur de St. Gre had explained to me the horrors of the indigo pest and the futility of sugar raising, he turned to his daughter.
"'Toinette, where is Madame Clive?" he asked. The girl looked up, startled into life and interest at once.
"Oh, papa," she cried in French, "we are so worried about her, mamma and I. It was the day you went away, the day these gentlemen came, that we thought she would take an airing. And suddenly she became worse."
Monsieur de St. Gre turned with concern to his wife.
"I do not know what it is, Philippe," said that lady; "it seems to be mental. The loss of her husband weighs upon her, poor lady. But this is worse than ever, and she will lie for hours with her face turned to the wall, and not even Antoinette can arouse her."
"I have always been able to comfort her before," said Antoinette, with a catch in her voice.
I took little account of what was said after that, my only notion being to think the problem out for myself, and alone. As I was going to my room Nick stopped me.
"Come into the garden, Davy," he said.
"When I have had my siesta," I answered.
"When you have had your siesta!" he cried; "since when did you begin to indulge in siestas?"
"To-day," I replied, and left him staring after me.
I reached my room, bolted the door, and lay down on my back to think. Little was needed to convince me now that Mrs. Clive was Mrs. Temple, and thus the lady's relapse when she heard that her son was in the house was accounted for. Instead of forming a plan, my thoughts drifted from that into pity for her, and my memory ran back many years to the text of good Mr. Mason's sermon, "I have refined thee, but not with silver, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction." What must Sarah Temple have suffered since those days! I remembered her in her prime, in her beauty, in her selfishness, in her cruelty to those whom she might have helped, and I wondered the more at the change which must have come over the woman that she had won the affections of this family, that she had gained the untiring devotion of Mademoiselle Antoinette. Her wit might not account for it, for that had been cruel. And something of the agony of the woman's soul as she lay in torment, facing the wall, thinking of her son under the same roof, of a life misspent and irrevocable, I pictured.
A stillness crept into the afternoon like the stillness of night. The wide house was darkened and silent, and without a sunlight washed with gold filtered through the leaves. There was a drowsy hum of bees, and in the distance the occasional languishing note of a bird singing what must have been a cradle-song. My mind wandered, and shirked the task that was set to it.
Could anything be gained by meddling? I had begun to convince myself that nothing could, when suddenly I came face to face with the consequences of a possible marriage between Nick and Mademoiselle Antoinette. In that event the disclosure of his mother's identity would be inevitable. Not only his happiness was involved, but Mademoiselle's, her father's and her mother's, and lastly that of this poor hunted woman herself, who thought at last to have found a refuge.
An hour passed, and it became more and more evident to me that I must see and talk with Mrs. Temple. But how was I to communicate with her? At last I took out my portfolio and wrote these words on a sheet:—
"If Mrs. Clive will consent to a meeting with Mr. David Ritchie, he will deem it a favor. Mr. Ritchie assures Mrs. Clive that he makes this request in all friendliness."
I lighted a candle, folded the note and sealed it, addressed it to Mrs. Clive, and opening the latticed door I stepped out. Walking along the gallery until I came to the rear part of the house which faced towards the out-buildings, I spied three figures prone on the grass under a pecan tree that shaded the kitchen roof. One of these figures was Benjy, and he was taking his siesta. I descended quietly from the gallery, and making my way to him, touched him on the shoulder. He awoke and stared at me with white eyes.
"Marse Dave!" he cried.
"Hush," I answered, "and follow me."
He came after me, wondering, a little way into the grove, where I stopped.
"Benjy," I said, "do you know any of the servants here?"
"Lawsy, Marse Dave, I reckon I knows 'em,—some of 'em," he answered with a grin.
"You talk to them?"
"Shucks, no, Marse Dave," he replied with a fine scorn, "I ain't no hand at dat ar nigger French. But I knows some on 'em, and right well too."
"How?" I demanded curiously.
Benjy looked down sheepishly at his feet. He was standing pigeon-toed.
"I done c'ressed some on 'em, Marse Dave," he said at length, and there was a note of triumph in his voice.
"You did what?" I asked.
"I done kissed one of dem yaller gals, Marse Dave. Yass'r, I done kissed M'lisse."
"Do you think Melisse would do something for you if you asked her?" I inquired.
Benjy seemed hurt.
"Marse Dave—" he began reproachfully.
"Very well, then," I interrupted, taking the letter from my pocket, "there is a lady who is ill here, Mrs. Clive—"
I paused, for a new look had come into Benjy's eyes. He began that peculiar, sympathetic laugh of the negro, which catches and doubles on itself, and I imagined that a new admiration for me dawned on his face.
"Yass'r, yass, Marse Dave, I reckon M'lisse 'll git it to her 'thout any one tekin' notice."
I bit my lips.
"If Mrs. Clive receives this within an hour, Melisse shall have one piastre, and you another. There is an answer."
Benjy took the note, and departed nimbly to find Melisse, while I paced up and down in my uneasiness as to the outcome of the experiment. A quarter of an hour passed, half an hour, and then I saw Benjy coming through the trees. He stood before me, chuckling, and drew from his pocket a folded piece of paper. I gave him the two piastres, warned him if his master or any one inquired for me that I was taking a walk, and bade him begone. Then I opened the note.
"I will meet you at the bayou, at seven this evening. Take the path that leads through the garden."
I read it with a catch of the breath, with a certainty that the happiness of many people depended upon what I should say at that meeting. And to think of this and to compose myself a little, I made my way to the garden in search of the path, that I might know it when the time came. Entering a gap in the hedge, I caught sight of the shaded seat under the tree which had been the scene of our first meeting with Antoinette, and I hurried past it as I crossed the garden. There were two openings in the opposite hedge, the one through which Nick and I had come, and another. I took the second, and with little difficulty found the path of which the note had spoken. It led through a dense, semi-tropical forest in the direction of the swamp beyond, the way being well beaten, but here and there jealously crowded by an undergrowth of brambles and the prickly Spanish bayonet. I know not how far I had walked, my head bent in thought, before I felt the ground teetering under my feet, and there was the bayou. It was a narrow lane of murky, impenetrable water, shaded now by the forest wall. Imaged on its amber surface were the twisted boughs of the cypresses of the swamp beyond,—boughs funereally draped, as though to proclaim a warning of unknown perils in the dark places. On that side where I stood ancient oaks thrust their gnarled roots into the water, and these knees were bridged by treacherous platforms of moss. As I sought for a safe resting-place a dull splash startled me, the pink-and-white water lilies danced on the ripples, and a long, black snout pushed its way to the centre of the bayou and floated there motionless.
I sat down on a wide knee that seemed to be fashioned for the purpose, and reflected. It may have been about half-past five, and I made up my mind that, rather than return and risk explanations, I would wait where I was until Mrs. Temple appeared. I had much to think of, and for the rest the weird beauty of the place, with its changing colors as the sun fell, held me in fascination. When the blue vapor stole through the cypress swamp, my trained ear caught the faintest of warning sounds. Mrs. Temple was coming.
I could not repress the exclamation that rose to my lips when she stood before me.
"I have changed somewhat," she began quite calmly; "I have changed since you were at Temple Bow."
I stood staring at her, at a loss to know whether by these words she sought to gain an advantage. I knew not whether to pity or to be angry, such a strange blending she seemed of former pride and arrogance and later suffering. There were the features of the beauty still, the eyes defiant, the lips scornful. Sorrow had set its brand upon this protesting face in deep, violet marks under the eyes, in lines which no human power could erase: sorrow had flecked with white the gold of the hair, had proclaimed her a woman with a history. For she had a new and remarkable beauty which puzzled and astonished me,—a beauty in which maternity had no place. The figure, gowned with an innate taste in black, still kept the rounded lines of the young woman, while about the shoulders and across the open throat a lace mantilla was thrown. She stood facing me, undaunted, and I knew that she had come to fight for what was left her. I knew further that she was no mean antagonist.
"Will you kindly tell me to what circumstance I owe the honor of this—summons, Mr. Ritchie?" she asked. "You are a travelled person for one so young. I might almost say," she added with an indifferent laugh, "that there is some method and purpose in your travels."
"Indeed, you do me wrong, Madame," I replied; "I am here by the merest chance."
Again she laughed lightly, and stepping past me took her seat on the oak from which I had risen. I marvelled that this woman, with all her self-possession, could be the same as she who had held her room, cowering, these four days past. Admiration for her courage mingled with my other feelings, and for the life of me I knew not where to begin. My experience with women of the world was, after all, distinctly limited. Mrs. Temple knew, apparently by intuition, the advantage she had gained, and she smiled.
"The Ritchies were always skilled in dealing with sinners," she began; "the first earl had the habit of hunting them like foxes, so it is said. I take it for granted that, before my sentence is pronounced, I shall have the pleasure of hearing my wrong-doings in detail. I could not ask you to forego that satisfaction."
"You seem to know the characteristics of my family, Mrs. Temple," I answered. "There is one trait of the Ritchies concerning which I ask your honest opinion."
"And what is that?" she said carelessly.
"I have always understood that they have spoken the truth. Is it not so?"
She glanced at me curiously.
"I never knew your father to lie," she answered; "but after all he had few chances. He so seldom spoke."
"Your intercourse with me at Temple Bow was quite as limited," I said.
"Ah," she interrupted quickly, "you bear me that grudge. It is another trait of the Ritchies."
"I bear you no grudge, Madame," I replied. "I asked you a question concerning the veracity of my family, and I beg that you will believe what I say."
"And what is this momentous statement?" she asked.
I had hard work to keep my temper, but I knew that I must not lose it.
"I declare to you on my honor that my business in New Orleans in no way concerns you, and that I had not the slightest notion of finding you here. Will you believe that?"
"And what then?" she asked.
"I also declare to you that, since meeting your son, my chief anxiety has been lest he should run across you."
"You are very considerate of others," she said. "Let us admit for the sake of argument that you come here by accident."
It was the opening I had sought for, but despaired of getting.
"Then put yourself for a moment in my place, Madame, and give me credit for a little kindliness of feeling, and a sincere affection for your son."
There was a new expression on her face, and the light of a supreme effort in her eyes.
"I give you credit at least for a logical mind," she answered. "In spite of myself you have put me at the bar and seem to be conducting my trial."
"I do not see why there should be any rancor between us," I answered. "It is true that I hated you at Temple Bow. When my father was killed and I was left a homeless orphan you had no pity for me, though your husband was my mother's brother. But you did me a good turn after all, for you drove me out into a world where I learned to rely upon myself. Furthermore, it was not in your nature to treat me well."
"Not in my nature?" she repeated.
"You were seeking happiness, as every one must in their own way. That happiness lay, apparently, with Mr. Riddle."
"Ah," she cried, with a catch of her breath, "I thought you would be judging me."
"I am stating facts. Your son was a sufficient embarrassment in this matter, and I should have been an additional one. I blame you not, Mrs. Temple, for anything you have done to me, but I blame you for embittering Nick's life."
"And he?" she said. It seemed to me that I detected a faltering in her voice.
"I will hide nothing from you. He blames you, with what justice I leave you to decide."
She did not answer this, but turned her head away towards the bayou. Nor could I determine what was in her mind.
"And now I ask you whether I have acted as your friend in begging you to meet me."
She turned to me swiftly at that.
"I am at a loss to see how there can be friendship between us, Mr. Ritchie," she said.
"Very good then, Madame; I am sorry," I answered. "I have done all that is in my power, and now events will have to take their course."
I had not gone two steps into the wood before I heard her voice calling my name. She had risen, and leaned with her hand against the oak.
"Does Nick—know that you are here?" she cried.
"No," I answered shortly. Then I realized suddenly what I had failed to grasp before,—she feared that I would pity her.
I started violently at the sound of my name, at the new note in her voice, at the change in the woman as I turned. And then before I realized what she had done she had come to me swiftly and laid her hand upon my arm.
"David, does he hate me?"
All the hope remaining in her life was in that question, was in her face as she searched mine with a terrible scrutiny. And never had I known such an ordeal. It seemed as if I could not answer, and as I stood staring back at her a smile was forced to her lips.
"I will pay you one tribute, my friend," she said; "you are honest."
But even as she spoke I saw her sway, and though I could not be sure it were not a dizziness in me, I caught her. I shall always marvel at the courage there was in her, for she straightened and drew away from me a little proudly, albeit gently, and sat down on the knee of the oak, looking across the bayou towards the mist of the swamp. There was the infinite calmness of resignation in her next speech.
"Tell me about him," she said.
She was changed indeed. Were it not so I should have heard of her own sufferings, of her poor, hunted life from place to place, of countless nights made sleepless by the past. Pride indeed was left, but the fire had burned away the last vestige of selfishness.
I sat down beside her, knowing full well that I should be judged by what I said. She listened, motionless, though something of what that narrative cost her I knew by the current of sympathy that ran now between us. Unmarked, the day faded, a new light was spread over the waters, the mist was spangled with silver points, the Spanish moss took on the whiteness of lace against the black forest swamp, and on the yellow face of the moon the star-shaped leaves of a gum were printed.
At length I paused. She neither spoke, nor moved—save for the rising and falling of her shoulders. The hardest thing I had to say I saved for the last, and I was near lacking the courage to continue.
"There is Mademoiselle Antoinette—" I began, and stopped,—she turned on me so quickly and laid a hand on mine.
"Nick loves her!" she cried.
"You know it!" I exclaimed, wondering.
"Ah, David," she answered brokenly, "I foresaw it from the first. I, too, love the girl. No human being has ever given me such care and such affection. She—she is all that I have left. Must I give her up? Have I not paid the price of my sins?"
I did not answer, knowing that she saw the full cruelty of the predicament. What happiness remained to her now of a battered life stood squarely in the way of her son's happiness. That was the issue, and no advice or aid of mine could change it. There was another silence that seemed to me an eternity as I watched, a helpless witness, the struggle going on within her. At last she got to her feet, her face turned to the shadow.
"I will go, David," she said. Her voice was low and she spoke with a steadiness that alarmed me. "I will go."
Torn with pity, I thought again, but I could see no alternative. And then, suddenly, she was clinging to me, her courage gone, her breast shaken with sobs. "Where shall I go?" she cried. "God help me! Are there no remote places where He will not seek me out? I have tried them all, David." And quite as suddenly she disengaged herself, and looked at me strangely. "You are well revenged for Temple Bow," she said.
"Hush," I answered, and held her, fearing I knew not what, "you have not lacked courage. It is not so bad as you believe. I will devise a plan and help you. Have you money?"
"Yes," she answered, with a remnant of her former pride; "and I have an annuity paid now to Mr. Clark."
"Then listen to what I say," I answered. "To-night I will take you to New Orleans and hide you safely. And I swear to you, whether it be right or wrong, that I will use every endeavor to change Nick's feelings towards you. Come," I continued, leading her gently into the path, "let us go while there is yet time."
"Stop," she said, and I halted fearfully. "David Ritchie, you are a good man. I can make no amends to you,"—she did not finish.
Feeling for the path in the blackness of the wood, I led her by the hand, and she followed me as trustfully as a child. At last, after an age of groping, the heavy scents of shrubs and flowers stole to us on the night air, and we came out at the hedge into what seemed a blaze of light that flooded the rows of color. Here we paused, breathless, and looked. The bench under the great tree was vacant, and the garden was empty.
It was she who led the way through the hedge, who halted in the garden path at the sound of voices. She turned, but there was no time to flee, for the tall figure of a man came through the opposite hedge, followed by a lady. One was Nicholas Temple, the other, Mademoiselle de St. Gre. Mrs. Temple's face alone was in the shadow, and as I felt her hand trembling on my arm I summoned all my resources. It was Nick who spoke first.
"It is Davy!" he cried. "Oh, the sly rascal! And this is the promenade of which he left us word, the solitary meditation! Speak up, man; you are forgiven for deserting us."
He turned, laughing, to Mademoiselle. But she stood with her lips parted and her hands dropped, staring at my companion. Then she took two steps forward and stopped with a cry.
The woman beside me turned, and with a supreme courage raised her head and faced the girl.
"Yes, Antoinette, it is I," she answered.
And then my eyes sought Nick, for Mrs. Temple had faced her son with a movement that was a challenge, yet with a look that questioned, yearned, appealed. He, too, stared, the laughter fading from his eyes, first astonishment, and then anger, growing in them, slowly, surely. I shall never forget him as he stood there (for what seemed an age) recalling one by one the wrongs this woman had done him. She herself had taught him to brook no restraint, to follow impetuously his loves and hates, and endurance in these things was moulded in every line of his finely cut features. And when he spoke it was not to her, but to the girl at his side.
"Do you know who this is?" he said. "Tell me, do you know this woman?"
Mademoiselle de St. Gre did not answer him. She drew near, gently, to Mrs. Temple, whose head was bowed, whose agony I could only guess.
"Mrs. Clive," she said softly, though her voice was shaken by a prescience, "won't you tell me what has happened? Won't you speak to me—Antoinette?"
The poor lady lifted up her arms, as though to embrace the girl, dropped them despairingly, and turned away.
"Antoinette," she murmured, "Antoinette!"
For Nick had seized Antoinette by the hand, restraining her.
"You do not know what you are doing?" he cried angrily. "Listen!"
I had stood bereft of speech, watching the scene breathlessly. And now I would have spoken had not Mademoiselle astonished me by taking the lead. I have thought since that I might have pieced together this much of her character. Her glance at Nick surprised him momentarily into silence.
"I know that she is my dearest friend," she said, "that she came to us in misfortune, and that we love her and trust her. I do not know why she is here with Mr. Ritchie, but I am sure it is for some good reason." She laid a hand on Mrs. Temple's shoulder. "Mrs. Clive, won't you speak to me?"
"My God, Antoinette, listen!" cried Nick; "Mrs. Clive is not her name. I know her, David knows her. She is an—adventuress!"
Mrs. Temple gave a cry, and the girl shot at him a frightened, bewildered glance, in which a new-born love struggled with an older affection.
"An adventuress!" she repeated, her hand dropping, "oh, I do not believe it. I cannot believe it."
"You shall believe it," said Nick, fiercely. "Her name is not Clive. Ask David what her name is."
Antoinette's lips moved, but she shirked the question. And Nick seized me roughly.
"Tell her," he said, "tell her! My God, how can I do it? Tell her, David."
For the life of me I could not frame the speech at once, my pity and a new-found and surprising respect for her making it doubly hard to pronounce her sentence. Suddenly she raised her head, not proudly, but with a dignity seemingly conferred by years of sorrow and of suffering. Her tones were even, bereft of every vestige of hope.
"Antoinette, I have deceived you, though as God is my witness, I thought no harm could come of it. I deluded myself into believing that I had found friends and a refuge at last. I am Mrs. Temple."
"Mrs. Temple!" The girl repeated the name sorrowfully, but perplexedly, not grasping its full significance.
"She is my mother," said Nick, with a bitterness I had not thought in him, "she is my mother, or I would curse her. For she has ruined my life and brought shame on a good name."
He paused, his breath catching for very anger. Mrs. Temple hid her face in her hands, while the girl shrank back in terror. I grasped him by the arm.
"Have you no compassion?" I cried. But Mrs. Temple interrupted me.
"He has the right," she faltered; "it is my just punishment."
He tore himself away, and took a step to her.
"Where is Riddle?" he cried. "As God lives, I will kill him without mercy!"
His mother lifted her head again.
"God has judged him," she said quietly; "he is beyond your vengeance—he is dead." A sob shook her, but she conquered it with a marvellous courage. "Harry Riddle loved me, he was kind to me, and he was a better man than John Temple."
Nick recoiled. The fierceness of his anger seemed to go, leaving a more dangerous humor.
"Then I have been blessed with parents," he said.
At that she swayed, but when I would have caught her she motioned me away and turned to Antoinette. Twice Mrs. Temple tried to speak.
"I was going away to-night," she said at length, "and you would never have seen or heard of me more. My nephew David—Mr. Ritchie—whom I treated cruelly as a boy, had pity on me. He is a good man, and he was to have taken me away—I do not attempt to defend myself, my dear, but I pray that you, who have so much charity, will some day think a little kindly of one who has sinned deeply, of one who will love and bless you and yours to her dying day."
She faltered, and Nick would have spoken had not Antoinette herself stayed him with a gesture.
"I wish—my son to know the little there is on my side. It is not much. Yet God may not spare him the sorrow that brings pity. I—I loved Harry Riddle as a girl. My father was ruined, and I was forced into marriage with John Temple for his possessions. He was selfish, overbearing, cruel—unfaithful. During the years I lived with him he never once spoke kindly to me. I, too, grew wicked and selfish and heedless. My head was turned by admiration. Mr. Temple escaped to England in a man-of-war; he left me without a line of warning, of farewell. I—I have wandered over the earth, haunted by remorse, and I knew no moment of peace, of happiness, until you brought me here and sheltered and loved me. And even here I have had many sleepless hours. A hundred times I have summoned my courage to tell you,—I could not. I am justly punished, Antoinette." She moved a little, timidly, towards the girl, who stood motionless, dazed by what she heard. She held out a hand, appealingly, and dropped it. "Good-by, my dear; God will bless you for your kindness to an unfortunate outcast."
She glanced with a kind of terror in her eyes from the girl to Nick, and what she meant to say concerning their love I know not, for the flood, held back so long, burst upon her. She wept as I have never seen a woman weep. And then, before Nick or I knew what had happened, Antoinette had taken her swiftly in her arms and was murmuring in her ear:—
"You shall not go. You shall not. You will live with me always."
Presently the sobs ceased, and Mrs. Temple raised her face, slowly, wonderingly, as if she had not heard aright. And she tried gently to push the girl away.
"No, Antoinette," she said, "I have done you harm enough."
But the girl clung to her strongly, passionately. "I do not care what you have done," she cried, "you are good now. I know that you are good now. I will not cast you out. I will not."
I stood looking at them, bewildered and astonished by Mademoiselle's loyalty. She seemed to have forgotten Nick, as had I, and then as I turned to him he came towards them. Almost roughly he took Antoinette by the arm.
"You do not know what you are saying," he cried. "Come away, Antoinette, you do not know what she has done—you cannot realize what she is."
Antoinette shrank away from him, still clinging to Mrs. Temple. There was a fearless directness in her look which might have warned him.
"She is your mother," she said quietly.
"My mother!" he repeated; "yes, I will tell you what a mother she has been to me—"
It passes my power to write down the pity of that appeal, the hopelessness of it, the yearning in it. Freeing herself from the girl, Mrs. Temple took one step towards him, her arms held up. I had not thought that his hatred of her was deep enough to resist it. It was Antoinette whose intuition divined this ere he had turned away.
"You have chosen between me and her," he said; and before we could get the poor lady to the seat under the oak, he had left the garden. In my perturbation I glanced at Antoinette, but there was no other sign in her face save of tenderness for Mrs. Temple.
Mrs. Temple had mercifully fainted. As I crossed the lawn I saw two figures in the deep shadow beside the gallery, and I heard Nick's voice giving orders to Benjy to pack and saddle. When I reached the garden again the girl had loosed Mrs. Temple's gown, and was bending over her, murmuring in her ear.
* * * * * * *
Many hours later, when the moon was waning towards the horizon, fearful of surprise by the coming day, I was riding slowly under the trees on the road to New Orleans. Beside me, veiled in black, her head bowed, was Mrs. Temple, and no word had escaped her since she had withdrawn herself gently from the arms of Antoinette on the gallery at Les Iles. Nick had gone long before. The hardest task had been to convince the girl that Mrs. Temple might not stay. After that Antoinette had busied herself, with a silent fortitude I had not thought was in her, making ready for the lady's departure. I shall never forget her as she stood, a slender figure of sorrow, looking down at us, the tears glistening on her cheeks. And I could not resist the impulse to mount the steps once more.
"You were right, Antoinette," I whispered; "whatever happens, you will remember that I am your friend. And I will bring him back to you if I can."
She pressed my hand, and turned and went slowly into the house.
THE RIGHTS OF MAN
Were these things which follow to my thinking not extraordinary, I should not write them down here, nor should I have presumed to skip nearly five years of time. For indeed almost five years had gone by since the warm summer night when I rode into New Orleans with Mrs. Temple. And in all that time I had not so much as laid eyes on my cousin and dearest friend, her son. I searched New Orleans for him in vain, and learned too late that he had taken passage on a packet which had dropped down the river the next morning, bound for Charleston and New York.
I have an instinct that this is not the place to relate in detail what occurred to me before leaving New Orleans. Suffice it to say that I made my way back through the swamps, the forests, the cane-brakes of the Indian country, along the Natchez trail to Nashville, across the barrens to Harrodstown in Kentucky, where I spent a week in that cabin which had so long been for me a haven of refuge. Dear Polly Ann! She hugged me as though I were still the waif whom she had mothered, and wept over the little presents which I had brought the children. Harrodstown was changed, new cabins and new faces met me at every turn, and Tom, more disgruntled than ever, had gone a-hunting with Mr. Boone far into the wilderness.
I went back to Louisville to take up once more the struggle for practice, and I do not intend to charge so much as a page with what may be called the even tenor of my life. I was not a man to get into trouble on my own account. Louisville grew amazingly; white frame houses were built, and even brick ones. And ere Kentucky became a State, in 1792, I had gone as delegate to more than one of the Danville Conventions.
Among the nations, as you know, a storm raged, and the great swells from that conflict threatened to set adrift and wreck the little republic but newly launched. The noise of the tramping of great armies across the Old World shook the New, and men in whom the love of fierce fighting was born were stirred to quarrel among themselves. The Rights of Man! How many wrongs have been done under that clause! The Bastille stormed; the Swiss Guard slaughtered; the Reign of Terror, with its daily procession of tumbrels through the streets of Paris; the murder of that amiable and well-meaning gentleman who did his best to atone for the sins of his ancestors; the fearful months of waiting suffered by his Queen before she, too, went to her death. Often as I lighted my candle of an evening in my little room to read of these things so far away, I would drop my Kentucky Gazette to think of a woman whose face I remembered, to wonder sadly whether Helene de St. Gre were among the lists. In her, I was sure, was personified that courage for which her order will go down eternally through the pages of history, and in my darker moments I pictured her standing beside the guillotine with a smile that haunted me.
The hideous image of that strife was reflected amongst our own people. Budget after budget was hurried by the winds across the sea. And swift couriers carried the news over the Blue Wall by the Wilderness Trail (widened now), and thundered through the little villages of the Blue Grass country to the Falls. What interest, you will say, could the pioneer lawyers and storekeepers and planters have in the French Revolution? The Rights of Man! Down with kings! General Washington and Mr. Adams and Mr. Hamilton might sigh for them, but they were not for the free-born pioneers of the West. Citizen was the proper term now,—Citizen General Wilkinson when that magnate came to town, resplendent in his brigadier's uniform. It was thought that Mr. Wilkinson would plot less were he in the army under the watchful eye of his superiors. Little they knew him! Thus the Republic had a reward for adroitness, for treachery, and treason. But what reward had it for the lonely, embittered, stricken man whose genius and courage had gained for it the great Northwest territory? What reward had the Republic for him who sat brooding in his house above the Falls—for Citizen General Clark?
In those days you were not a Federalist or a Democrat, you were an Aristocrat or a Jacobin. The French parties were our parties; the French issue, our issue. Under the patronage of that saint of American Jacobinism, Thomas Jefferson, a Jacobin society was organized in Philadelphia,—special guardians of Liberty. And flying on the March winds over the mountains the seed fell on the black soil of Kentucky: Lexington had its Jacobin society, Danville and Louisville likewise their patrons and protectors of the Rights of Mankind. Federalists were not guillotined in Kentucky in the summer of 1793, but I might mention more than one who was shot.
In spite of the Federalists, Louisville prospered, and incidentally I prospered in a mild way. Mr. Crede, behind whose store I still lived, was getting rich, and happened to have an affair of some importance in Philadelphia. Mr. Wharton was kind enough to recommend a young lawyer who had the following virtues: he was neither handsome nor brilliant, and he wore snuff-colored clothes. Mr. Wharton also did me the honor to say that I was cautious and painstaking, and had a habit of tiring out my adversary. Therefore, in the early summer of 1793, I went to Philadelphia. At that time, travellers embarking on such a journey were prayed over as though they were going to Tartary. I was absent from Louisville near a year, and there is a diary of what I saw and felt and heard on this trip for the omission of which I will be thanked. The great news of that day which concerns the world—and incidentally this story—was that Citizen Genet had landed at Charleston.
Citizen Genet, Ambassador of the great Republic of France to the little Republic of America, landed at Charleston, acclaimed by thousands, and lost no time. Scarcely had he left that city ere American privateers had slipped out of Charleston harbor to prey upon the commerce of the hated Mistress of the Sea. Was there ever such a march of triumph as that of the Citizen Ambassador northward to the capital? Everywhere toasted and feasted, Monsieur Genet did not neglect the Rights of Man, for without doubt the United States was to declare war on Britain within a fortnight. Nay, the Citizen Ambassador would go into the halls of Congress and declare war himself if that faltering Mr. Washington refused his duty. Citizen Genet organized his legions as he went along, and threw tricolored cockades from the windows of his carriage. And at his glorious entry into Philadelphia (where I afterwards saw the great man with my own eyes), Mr. Washington and his Federal-Aristocrats trembled in their boots.
It was late in April, 1794, when I reached Pittsburg on my homeward journey and took passage down the Ohio with a certain Captain Wendell of the army, in a Kentucky boat. I had known the Captain in Louisville, for he had been stationed at Fort Finney, the army post across the Ohio from that town, and he had come to Pittsburg with a sergeant to fetch down the river some dozen recruits. This was a most fortunate circumstance for me, and in more ways than one. Although the Captain was a gruff and blunt man, grizzled and weather-beaten, a woman-hater, he could be a delightful companion when once his confidence was gained; and as we drifted in the mild spring weather through the long reaches between the passes he talked of Trenton and Brandywine and Yorktown. There was more than one bond of sympathy between us, for he worshipped Washington, detested the French party, and had a hatred for "filthy Democrats" second to none I have ever encountered.
We stopped for a few days at Fort Harmar, where the Muskingum pays its tribute to the Ohio, built by the Federal government to hold the territory which Clark had won. And leaving that hospitable place we took up our journey once more in the very miracle-time of the spring. The sunlight was like amber-crystal, the tall cottonwoods growing by the water-side flaunted a proud glory of green, the hills behind them that formed the first great swells of the sea of the wilderness were clothed in a thousand sheens and shaded by the purple budding of the oaks and walnuts on the northern slopes. On the yellow sandbars flocks of geese sat pluming in the sun, or rose at our approach to cast fleeting shadows on the water, their HONK-HONKS echoing from the hills. Here and there a hawk swooped down from the azure to break the surface and bear off a wriggling fish that gleamed like silver, and at eventide we would see at the brink an elk or doe, with head poised, watching us as we drifted. We passed here and there a lonely cabin, to set my thoughts wandering backwards to my youth, and here and there in the dimples of the hills little clusters of white and brown houses, one day to become marts of the Republic.
My joy at coming back at this golden season to a country I loved was tempered by news I had heard from Captain Wendell, and which I had discussed with the officers at Fort Harmar. The Captain himself had broached the subject one cool evening, early in the journey, as we sat over the fire in our little cabin. He had been telling me about Brandywine, but suddenly he turned to me with a kind of fierce gesture that was natural to the man.
"Ritchie," he said, "you were in the Revolution yourself. You helped Clark to capture that country," and he waved his hand towards the northern shore; "why the devil don't you tell me about it?"
"You never asked me," I answered.
He looked at me curiously.
"Well," he said, "I ask you now."
I began lamely enough, but presently my remembrance of the young man who conquered all obstacles, who compelled all men he met to follow and obey him, carried me strongly into the narrative. I remembered him, quiet, self-contained, resourceful, a natural leader, at twenty-five a bulwark for the sorely harried settlers of Kentucky; the man whose clear vision alone had perceived the value of the country north of the Ohio to the Republic, who had compelled the governor and council of Virginia to see it likewise. Who had guarded his secret from all men, who in the face of fierce opposition and intrigue had raised a little army to follow him—they knew not where. Who had surprised Kaskaskia, cowed the tribes of the North in his own person, and by sheer force of will drew after him and kept alive a motley crowd of men across the floods and through the ice to Vincennes.
We sat far into the night, the Captain listening as I had never seen a man listen. And when at length I had finished he was for a long time silent, and then he sprang to his feet with an oath that woke the sleeping soldiers forward and glared at me.
"My God!" he cried, "it is enough to make a man curse his uniform to think that such a man as Wilkinson wears it, while Clark is left to rot, to drink himself under the table from disappointment, to plot with the damned Jacobins—"
"To plot!" I cried, starting violently in my turn.
The Captain looked at me in astonishment.
"How long have you been away from Louisville?" he asked.
"It will be a year," I answered.
"Ah," said the Captain, "I will tell you. It is more than a year since Clark wrote Genet, since the Ambassador bestowed on him a general's commission in the army of the French Republic."
"A general's commission!" I exclaimed. "And he is going to France?" The nation which had driven John Paul Jones from its service was now to lose George Rogers Clark!
"To France!" laughed the Captain. "No, this is become France enough. He is raising in Kentucky and in the Cumberland country an army with a cursed, high-sounding name. Some of his old Illinois scouts—McChesney, whom you mentioned, for one—have been collecting bear's meat and venison hams all winter. They are going to march on Louisiana and conquer it for the French Republic, for Liberty, Equality—the Rights of Man, anything you like."
"On Louisiana!" I repeated; "what has the Federal government been doing?"
The Captain winked at me and sat down.
"The Federal government is supine, a laughing-stock—so our friends the Jacobins say, who have been shouting at Mr. Easton's tavern all winter. Nay, they declare that all this country west of the mountains, too, will be broken off and set up into a republic, and allied with that most glorious of all republics, France. Believe me, the Jacobins have not been idle, and there have been strange-looking birds of French plumage dodging between the General's house at Clarksville and the Bear Grass."
I was silent, the tears almost forcing themselves to my eyes at the pathetic sordidness of what I had heard.
"It can come to nothing," continued the Captain, in a changed voice. "General Clark's mind is unhinged by—disappointment. Mad Anthony is not a man to be caught sleeping, and he has already attended to a little expedition from the Cumberland. Mad Anthony loves the General, as we all do, and the Federal government is wiser than the Jacobins think. It may not be necessary to do anything." Captain Wendell paused, and looked at me fixedly. "Ritchie, General Clark likes you, and you have never offended him. Why not go to his little house in Clarksville when you get to Louisville and talk to him plainly, as I know you can? Perhaps you might have some influence."
 General Wayne of Revolutionary fame was then in command of that district.
I shook my head sadly.
"I intend to go," I answered, "but I will have no influence."
THE HOUSE ABOVE THE FALLS
It was May-day, and shortly after dawn we slipped into the quiet water which is banked up for many miles above the Falls. The Captain and I sat forward on the deck, breathing deeply the sharp odor which comes from the wet forest in the early morning, listening to the soft splash of the oars, and watching the green form of Eighteen Mile Island as it gently drew nearer and nearer. And ere the sun had risen greatly we had passed Twelve Mile Island, and emerging from the narrow channel which divides Six Mile Island from the northern shore, we beheld, on its terrace above the Bear Grass, Louisville shining white in the morning sun. Majestic in its mile of width, calm, as though gathering courage, the river seemed to straighten for the ordeal to come, and the sound of its waters crying over the rocks far below came faintly to my ear and awoke memories of a day gone by. Fearful of the suck, we crept along the Indian shore until we counted the boats moored in the Bear Grass, and presently above the trees on our right we saw the Stars and Stripes floating from the log bastion of Fort Finney. And below the fort, on the gentle sunny slope to the river's brink, was spread the green garden of the garrison, with its sprouting vegetables and fruit trees blooming pink and white.
We were greeted by a company of buff and blue officers at the landing, and I was bidden to breakfast at their mess, Captain Wendell promising to take me over to Louisville afterwards. He had business in the town, and about eight of the clock we crossed the wide river in one of the barges of the fort and made fast at the landing in the Bear Grass. But no sooner had we entered the town than we met a number of country people on horseback, with their wives and daughters—ay, and sweethearts—perched up behind them: the men mostly in butternut linsey hunting shirts and trousers, slouch hats, and red handkerchiefs stuck into their bosoms; the women marvellously pretty and fresh in stiff cotton gowns and Quaker hats, and some in crimped caps with ribbons neatly tied under the chin. Before Mr. Easton's tavern Joe Handy, the fiddler, was reeling off a few bars of "Hey, Betty Martin" to the familiar crowd of loungers under the big poplar.
"It's Davy Ritchie!" shouted Joe, breaking off in the middle of the tune; "welcome home, Davy. Ye're jest in time for the barbecue on the island."
"And Cap Wendell! Howdy, Cap!" drawled another, a huge, long-haired, sallow, dirty fellow. But the Captain only glared.
"Damn him!" he said, after I had spoken to Joe and we had passed on, "HE ought to be barbecued; he nearly bit off Ensign Barry's nose a couple of months ago. Barry tried to stop the beast in a gouging fight."
The bright morning, the shady streets, the homelike frame and log houses, the old-time fragrant odor of cornpone wafted out of the open doorways, the warm greetings,—all made me happy to be back again. Mr. Crede rushed out and escorted us into his cool store, and while he waited on his country customers bade his negro brew a bowl of toddy, at the mention of which Mr. Bill Whalen, chief habitue, roused himself from a stupor on a tobacco barrel. Presently the customers, having indulged in the toddy, departed for the barbecue, the Captain went to the fort, and Mr. Crede and myself were left alone to talk over the business which had sent me to Philadelphia.
At four o'clock, having finished my report and dined with my client, I set out for Clarksville, for Mr. Crede had told me, among other things, that the General was there. Louisville was deserted, the tavern porch vacant; but tacked on the logs beside the door was a printed bill which drew my curiosity. I stopped, caught by a familiar name in large type at the head of it.
"GEORGE R. CLARK, ESQUIRE, MAJOR-GENERAL IN THE ARMIES OF FRANCE AND COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTIONARY LEGION ON THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER.
"For raising volunteers for the reduction of the Spanish posts on the Mississippi, for opening the trade of the said river and giving freedom to all its inhabitants—"
I had got so far when I heard a noise of footsteps within, and Mr. Easton himself came out, in his shirt-sleeves.
"By cricky, Davy," said he, "I'm right glad ter see ye ag'in. Readin' the General's bill, are ye? Tarnation, I reckon Washington and all his European fellers east of the mountains won't be able ter hold us back this time. I reckon we'll gallop over Louisiany in the face of all the Spaniards ever created. I've got some new whiskey I 'low will sink tallow. Come in, Davy."
As he took me by the arm, a laughter and shouting came from the back room.
"It's some of them Frenchy fellers come over from Knob Licks. They're in it," and he pointed his thumb over his shoulder to the proclamation, "and thar's one young American among 'em who's a t'arer. Come in."
I drank a glass of Mr. Easton's whiskey, and asked about the General.
"He stays over thar to Clarksville pretty much," said Mr. Easton. "Thar ain't quite so much walkin' araound ter do," he added significantly.
I made my way down to the water-side, where Jake Landrasse sat alone on the gunwale of a Kentucky boat, smoking a clay pipe as he fished. I had to exercise persuasion to induce Jake to paddle me across, which he finally agreed to do on the score of old friendship, and he declared that the only reason he was not at the barbecue was because he was waiting to take a few gentlemen to see General Clark. I agreed to pay the damages if he were late in returning for these gentlemen, and soon he was shooting me with pulsing strokes across the lake-like expanse towards the landing at Fort Finney. Louisville and the fort were just above the head of the Falls, and the little town of Clarksville, which Clark had founded, at the foot of them. I landed, took the road that led parallel with the river through the tender green of the woods, and as I walked the mighty song which the Falls had sung for ages to the Wilderness rose higher and higher, and the faint spray seemed to be wafted through the forest and to hang in the air like the odor of a summer rain.
It was May-day. The sweet, caressing note of the thrush mingled with the music of the water, the dogwood and the wild plum were in festal array; but my heart was heavy with thinking of a great man who had cheapened himself. At length I came out upon a clearing where fifteen log houses marked the grant of the Federal government to Clark's regiment. Perched on a tree-dotted knoll above the last spasm of the waters in their two-mile race for peace, was a two-storied log house with a little, square porch in front of the door. As I rounded the corner of the house and came in sight of the porch I halted—by no will of my own—at the sight of a figure sunken in a wooden chair. It was that of my old Colonel. His hands were folded in front of him, his eyes were fixed but dimly on the forests of the Kentucky shore across the water; his hair, uncared for, fell on the shoulders of his faded blue coat, and the stained buff waistcoat was unbuttoned. For he still wore unconsciously the colors of the army of the American Republic.
"General!" I said.
He started, got to his feet, and stared at me.
"Oh, it's—it's Davy," he said. "I—I was expecting—some friends—Davy. What—what's the matter, Davy?"
"I have been away. I am glad to see you again, General.
"Citizen General, sir, Major-general in the army of the French Republic and Commander-in-chief of the French Revolutionary Legion on the Mississippi."
"You will always be Colonel Clark to me, sir," I answered.
"You—you were the drummer boy, I remember, and strutted in front of the regiment as if you were the colonel. Egad, I remember how you fooled the Kaskaskians when you told them we were going away." He looked at me, but his eyes were still fixed on the point beyond. "You were always older than I, Davy. Are you married?"
In spite of myself, I laughed as I answered this question.
"You are as canny as ever," he said, putting his hand on my shoulder. "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,—they are only possible for the bachelor." Hearing a noise, he glanced nervously in the direction of the woods, only to perceive his negro carrying a pail of water. "I—I was expecting some friends," he said. "Sit down, Davy."
"I hope I am not intruding, General," I said, not daring to look at him.
"No, no, my son," he answered, "you are always welcome. Did we not campaign together? Did we not—shoot these very falls together on our way to Kaskaskia?" He had to raise his voice above the roar of the water. "Faith, well I remember the day. And you saved it, Davy,—you, a little gamecock, a little worldly-wise hop-o'-my-thumb, eh? Hamilton's scalp hanging by a lock, egad—and they frightened out of their five wits because it was growing dark." He laughed, and suddenly became solemn again. "There comes a time in every man's life when it grows dark, Davy, and then the cowards are afraid. They have no friends whose hands they can reach out and feel. But you are my friend. You remember that you said you would always be my friend? It—it was in the fort at Vincennes."
"I remember, General."
He rose from the steps, buttoned his waistcoat, and straightened himself with an effort. He looked at me impressively.
"You have been a good friend indeed, Davy, a faithful friend," he said. "You came to me when I was sick, you lent me money,"—he waved aside my protest. "I am happy to say that I shall soon be in a position to repay you, to reward you. My evil days are over, and I spurn that government which spurned me, for the honor and glory of which I founded that city,"—he pointed in the direction of Louisville,—"for the power and wealth of which I conquered this Northwest territory. Listen! I am now in the service of a republic where the people have rights, I am Commander-in-chief of the French Revolutionary Legion on the Mississippi. Despite the supineness of Washington, the American nation will soon be at war with Spain. But my friends—and thank God they are many—will follow me—they will follow me to Natchez and New Orleans,—ay, even to Santa Fe and Mexico if I give the word. The West is with me, and for the West I shall win the freedom of the Mississippi. For France and Liberty I shall win back again Louisiana, and then I shall be a Marechal de Camp."
I could not help thinking of a man who had not been wont to speak of his intentions, who had kept his counsel for a year before Kaskaskia.
"I need my drummer boy, Davy," he said, his face lighting up, "but he will not be a drummer boy now. He will be a trusted officer of high rank, mind you. Come," he cried, seizing me by the arm, "I will write the commission this instant. But hold! you read French,—I remember the day Father Gibault gave you your first lesson." He fumbled in his pocket, drew out a letter, and handed it to me. "This is from Citizen Michaux, the famous naturalist, the political agent of the French Republic. Read what he has written me."
I read, I fear in a faltering voice:—
"Un homme qui a donne des preuves de son amour pour la Liberte et de sa haine pour le despotisme ne devait pas s'adresser en vain au ministre de la Republique francaise. General, il est temps que les Americains libres de l'Ouest soient debarasses d'un ennemie aussi injuste que meprisable."
When I had finished I glanced at the General, but he seemed not to be heeding me. The sun was setting above the ragged line of forest, and a blue veil was spreading over the tumbling waters. He took me by the arm and led me into the house, into a bare room that was all awry. Maps hung on the wall, beside them the General's new commission, rudely framed. Among the littered papers on the table were two whiskey bottles and several glasses, and strewn about were a number of chairs, the arms of which had been whittled by the General's guests. Across the rough mantel-shelf was draped the French tricolor, and before the fireplace on the puncheons lay a huge bearskin which undoubtedly had not been shaken for a year. Picking up a bottle, the General poured out generous helpings in two of the glasses, and handed one to me.
"The mists are bad, Davy," said he "I—I cannot afford to get the fever now. Let us drink success to the army of the glorious Republic, France."
"Let us drink first, General," I said, "to the old friendship between us."
"Good!" he cried. Tossing off his liquor, he set down the glass and began what seemed a fruitless search among the thousand papers on the table. But at length, with a grunt of satisfaction, he produced a form and held it under my eyes. At the top of the sheet was that much-abused and calumniated lady, the Goddess of Liberty.
"Now," he said, drawing up a chair and dipping his quill into an almost depleted ink-pot, "I have decided to make you, David Ritchie, with full confidence in your ability and loyalty to the rights of liberty and mankind, a captain in the Legion on the Mississippi."
I crossed the room swiftly, and as he put his pen to paper I laid my hand on his arm.
"General, I cannot," I said. I had seen from the first the futility of trying to dissuade him from the expedition, and I knew now that it would never come off. I was willing to make almost any sacrifice rather than offend him, but this I could not allow. The General drew himself up in his chair and stared at me with a flash of his old look.