Klussman stepped to the wall and looked with her into the fort.
"Take that sweet sight for my thanks," said Le Rossignol, pointing to Marguerite below. The miserable girl had come out of the barracks and was sitting in the sun beside the oven. She rested her head against it and met the sky light with half-shut eyes, lovely in silken hair and pallid flesh through all her sullenness and dejection. As Klussman saw her he uttered an oath under his breath, which the dwarf's hand on the mandolin echoed with a bang. He turned his back on the sight and betook himself to the stairway, the dwarf's laughter following him. She felt high in the world and played with a good spirit. The sentinel below heard her, but he took care to keep a steady and level eye. When the swan rose past him, spreading its wings almost against his face, he prudently trod the wall without turning his head.
"He, Shubenacadie," said the human morsel to her familiar as the wide wings composed themselves beside her. "We had scarce said good-morning when I must be haled before my lady for that box of the Hollandaise." The swan was a huge white creature of his kind, with fiery eyes. There was satin texture delightful to the touch in the firm and glistening plumage of his swelling breast. Le Rossignol smoothed it.
"They have few trinkets in that barbarous Fort Orange in the west. I detest that Hollandaise more since she carries about such a casket. Let us be cozy. Kiss me, Shubenacadie."
The swan's attachment and obedience to her were struggling against some swan-like instinct which made him rear a lofty head and twist it riverward.
"Kiss me, I say! Shall I have to beat thee over the head with my clavier to teach thee manners?"
Shubenacadie darted his snake neck downward and touched bills with her. She patted his coral nostrils.
"Not yet. Before you take to the water we must have some talk. I am shut up here to stay this whole day. And for what? Not because of the casket, for they know not what I have done with it. But because thou and I sometimes go out without the password. Stick out thy toes and let me polish them."
Shubenacadie resisted this mandate, and his autocrat promptly dragged one foot from under him, causing him to topple on the parapet. He hissed at her. Le Rossignol looked up at the threatening flat head and hissed back.
"You are as bad as that Swiss," she laughed. "I will put a yoke on you. I will tie you to the settle in the hall. Why have all man creatures such tempers? Thank heaven I was not born to hose and doublet. Never did I see a mild man in my life except Edelwald. As for this Swiss, I am done with him. He hath a wife, Shubenacadie. She sits down there by the oven now; a miserable thing turned off by D'Aulnay de Charnisay. Have I told thee the Swiss had a soul above a common soldier and I picked him out to pay court to me? Beat me for it. Pull the red hair he condemned. I would have had him sighing for me that I might pity him. The populace is beneath us, but we must amuse ourselves. Beat me, I demand. Punish me well for abasing my eyes to that Swiss."
Shubenacadie understood the challenge and the tone. He was used to rendering such service when his mistress repented of her sins. Yet he gave his tail feathers a slight flirt and quavered some guttural to sustain his part in the conversation, and to beg that he might be excused from holding the sword this time. As she continued to prod him, however, he struck her with his beak. Le Rossignol was human in never finding herself able to bear the punishment she courted. She flew at the swan, he spread his wings for ardent warfare, and they both dropped to the stone floor in a whirlwind of mandolin, arms, and feathers. The dwarf kept her hold on him until he cowered and lay with his neck along the pavement.
"Thou art a Turk, a rascal, a horned beast!" panted Le Rossignol. Shubenacadie quavered plaintively, and all her wrath was gone. She spread out one of his wings and smoothed the plumes. She nursed his head in her lap and sung to him. Two of his feathers, plucked out in the contest, she put in her bosom. He flirted his tail and gathered himself again to his feet, and she broke her loaf and fed him and poured water into her palm for his bill.
Le Rossignol esteemed the military dignity given to her imprisonment, and she was a hardy midget who could bear untold exposure when wandering at her own will. She therefore received with disgust her lady's summons to come down long before the day was spent, the messenger being only Zelie.
"Ah—h, mademoiselle," warned the maid, stumping ponderously out of the stone stairway, "are you about to mount that swan again?"
"Who has ever seen me mount him?"
"I would be sworn there are a dozen men in the fort that have."
"But you never have."
"No. I have been absent with my lady."
"Well, you shall see me now."
The dwarf flung herself on Shubenacadie's back, and thrust her feet down under his wings. He began to rise, and expanded, stretching his neck forward, and Zelie uttered a yell of terror. The weird little woman leaped off and turned her laughing beak toward the terrified maid. Her ear-hoops swung as she rolled her mocking head.
"Oh, if it frightens you I will not ride to-day," she said. Shubenacadie sailed across the battlements, and though they could no longer see him they knew he had taken to the river.
"If I tell my lady this," shivered Zelie, "she will never let you out of the turret. And she but this moment sent me to call you down out of the chill east wind."
"Tell Madame Marie," urged the dwarf insolently.
"And do you ride that way over bush and brier, through mirk and daylight?"
"I was at Penobscot this week," answered Le Rossignol.
Zelie gazed with a bristling of even the hairs upon her lip.
"It goeth past belief," she observed, setting her hands upon her sides. "And the swan, what else can he do besides carry thee like a dragon?"
"He sings to me," boldly asserted Le Rossignol. "And many a good bit of advice have I taken from his bill."
"It would be well if he turned his mind more to thinking and less to roving," respectfully hinted Zelie. "I will go before you downstairs and leave the key in the turret door," she suggested.
"Take up these things and go when you please, and mind that I do not hear my clavier striking the wall."
"Have you not felt the wind in this open donjon?"
"The wind and I take no note of each other," answered the dwarf, lifting her chilled nose skyward. "But the cold water and bread have worked me most discomfort in this imprisonment. Go down and tell the cook for me that he is to make a hot bowl of the broth I like."
"He will do it," said Zelie.
"Yes, he will do it," said the dwarf, "and the sooner he does it the better."
"Will you eat it in the hall?"
"I will eat it wherever Madame Marie is."
"But that you cannot do. There is great business going forward and she is shut with Madame Bronck in our other lady's room."
"I like it when you presume to know better than I do what is going forward in this fort!" exclaimed the dwarf jealously, a flush mounting her slender cheeks.
"I should best know what has happened since you left the hall," contended Zelie.
"Do you think so, poor heavy-foot? You can only hearken to what is whispered past your ear; but I can sit here on the battlements and read all the secrets below me."
"Can you, Mademoiselle Nightingale? For instance, where is Madame Bronck's box?"
The maid drew a deep breath at her own daring.
"It is not about Madame Bronck's box that they confer. It is about the marriage of the Hollandaise," answered Le Rossignol with a bold guess. "I could have told you that when you entered the turret."
Zelie experienced a chill through her flesh which was not caused by the damp breath of Fundy Bay.
"How doth she find out things done behind her back—this clever little witch? And perhaps you will name the bridegroom, mademoiselle?"
"Who could that be except the big Hollandais who hath come out of the west after her? Could she marry a priest or a common soldier?"
"That is true," admitted Zelie, feeling her superstition allayed.
"There must be as few women as trinkets in that wilderness Fort of Orange from which he came," added the dwarf.
"Why?" inquired Zelie, wrinkling her nose and squinting in the sunlight.
But Le Rossignol took no further trouble than to give her a look of contempt, and lifted the furred garment to descend the stairs.
AN ACADIAN POET.
"The woman who dispenses with any dignity which should attend her marriage, doth cheapen herself to her husband," said Lady Dorinda to Antonia Bronck, leaning back in the easiest chair of the fortress. It was large and stiff, but filled with cushions. Lady Dorinda's chamber was the most comfortable one in Fort St. John. It was over the front of the great hall, and was intended for a drawing-room, being spacious, well warmed by a fireplace and lighted by windows looking into the fort. A stately curtained bed, a toilet table with swinging mirror, bearing many of the ornaments and beauty-helpers of an elderly belle, and countless accumulations which spoke her former state in the world, made this an English bower in a French fort.
Her dull yellow hair was coifed in the fashion of the early Stuarts. She held a hand-screen betwixt her face and the fire, but the flush which touched its usual sallowness was not caused by heat. A wedding was a diversion of her exile which Lady Dorinda had never hoped for. There had been some mating in the fort below among soldiers and peasant women, to which she did not lower her thoughts. The noise of resulting merrymakings sufficiently sought out and annoyed her ear. But the wedding of the guest to a man of consequence in the Dutch colony was something to which she might unbend herself.
Antonia had been brought against her will to consult with this faded authority by Marie, who sat by, supporting her through the ordeal. There was never any familiar chat between the lady of the fort and the widow of Claude La Tour. Neither forgot their first meeting behind cannon, and the tragedy of a divided house. Lady Dorinda lived in Acadia because she could not well live elsewhere. And she secretly nursed a hope that in her day the province would fall into English hands, her knight be vindicated, and his son obliged to submit to a power he had defied to the extremity of warring with a father.
If the two women had no love for each other they at least stinted no ceremony. Marie presented the smallest surface of herself to her mother-in-law. It is true they had been of the same household only a few months; but months and years are the same betwixt us and the people who solve not for us this riddle of ourselves. Antonia thought little of Lady Dorinda's opinions, but her saying about the dignity of marriage rites had the force of unexpected truth. Arendt Van Corlaer had used up his patience in courtship. He was now bent on wedding Antonia and setting out to Montreal without the loss of another day. His route was planned up St. John River and across-country to the St. Lawrence.
"I would therefore give all possible state to this occasion," added Lady Dorinda. "Did you not tell me this Sir Van Corlaer is an officer?"
"He is the real patroon of Fort Orange, my lady."
"He should then have military honors paid him on his marriage," observed Lady Dorinda, to whom patroon suggested the barbarous but splendid vision of a western pasha. "Salutes should be fired and drums sounded. In thus recommending I hope I have not overstepped my authority, Madame La Tour?"
"Certainly not, your ladyship," murmured Marie.
"The marriage ceremony hath length and solemnity, but I would have it longer, and more solemn. A woman in giving herself away should greatly impress a man with the charge he hath undertaken. There be not many bridegrooms like Sir Claude de la Tour, who fasted an entire day before his marriage with me. The ceremonial of that marriage hath scarce been forgotten at court to this hour."
Lady Dorinda folded her hands and closed her eyes to sigh. Her voice had rolled the last words in her throat. At such moments she looked very superior. Her double chins and dull light eyes held great reserves of self-respect. A small box of aromatic seeds lay in her lap, and as her hands encountered it she was reminded to put a seed in her mouth and find pensive comfort in chewing it.
"Edelwald should be here to give the proper grace to this event," added Lady Dorinda.
"I thought of him," said Marie. "Edelwald has so much the nature of a troubadour."
"The studies which adorn a man were well thought of when I was at court," said Lady Dorinda. "Edelwald is really thrown away upon this wilderness."
Antonia was too intent on Van Corlaer and his fell determination to turn her mind upon Edelwald. She had, indeed, seen very little of La Tour's second in command, for he had been away with La Tour on expeditions much of the time she had spent in Acadia. Edelwald was the only man of the fortress called by his baptismal name, yet it was spoken with respect and deference like a title. He was of the family of De Born. In an age when religion made political ties stronger than the ties of nature, the La Tours and De Borns had fought side by side through Huguenot wars. When a later generation of La Tours were struggling for foothold in the New World, it was not strange that a son of the De Borns, full of songcraft and spirit inherited from some troubadour soldier of the twelfth century, should turn his face to the same land. From his mother Edelwald took Norman and Saxon strains of blood. He had left France the previous year and made his voyage in the same ship with Madame La Tour and her mother-in-law, and he was now La Tour's trusted officer.
Edelwald could take up any stringed instrument, strike melody out of it and sing songs he had himself made. But such pastimes were brief in Acadia. There was other business on the frontier; sailing, hunting, fighting, persuading or defying men, exploring unyielded depths of wilderness. The joyous science had long fallen out of practice. But while the grim and bloody records of our early colonies were being made, here was an unrecorded poet in Acadia. La Tour held this gift of Edelwald's in light esteem. He was a man so full of action and of schemes for establishing power that he touched only the martial side of the young man's nature, though in that contact was strong comradeship. Every inmate of the fortress liked Edelwald. He mediated between commandant and men, and jealousies and bickerings disappeared before him.
"It would be better," murmured Antonia, breaking the stately silence by Lady Dorinda's fire, "if Mynheer Van Corlaer journeyed on to Montreal and returned here before any marriage takes place."
"Think of the labor you will thereby put upon him," exclaimed Marie. "I speak for Monsieur Corlaer and not for myself," she added; "for by that delay I should happily keep you until summer. Besides, the priest we have here with us himself admits that the town of Montreal is little to look upon. Ville-Marie though it be named by the papists, what is it but a cluster of huts in the wilderness?"
"I was six months preparing to be wedded to Mynheer Bronck," remembered Antonia.
"And will Monsieur Corlaer return here from Montreal?"
"No, madame. He will carry me with him."
"I like him better for it," said Marie smiling, "though it pleases me ill enough."
This was Antonia's last weak revolt against the determination of her stalwart suitor. She gained a three days' delay from him by submitting to the other conditions of his journey. It amused Marie to note the varying phases of Antonia's surrender. She was already resigned to the loss of Jonas Bronck's hand, and in no slavish terror of the consequences.
"And it is true I am provided with all I need," she mused on, in the line of removing objections from Van Corlaer's way.
"I have often promised to show you the gown I wore at my marriage," said Lady Dorinda, roused from her rumination on the aromatic seed, and leaving her chair to pay this gracious compliment to the Dutch widow. "It hath faded, and been discolored by the sea air, but you will not find a prettier fashion of lace in anything made since."
She had no maid, for the women of the garrison had all been found too rude for her service. When she first came to Acadia with Claude La Tour, an English gentlewoman gladly waited on her. But now only Zelie gave her constrained and half-hearted attention, rating her as "my other lady," and plainly deploring her presence. Lady Dorinda had one large box bound with iron, hidden in a nook beyond her bed. She took the key from its usual secret place and busied herself opening the box. Marie and Antonia heard her speak a word of surprise, but the curtained bed hid her from them. The raised lid of her box let out sweet scents of England, but that breath of old times, though she always dreaded its sweep across her resignation, had not made her cry out.
She found a strange small coffer on the top of her own treasures. Its key stood in its lock, and Lady Dorinda at once turned that key, as a duty to herself. Antonia's loss of some precious casket had been proclaimed to her, but she recollected that in her second thought, when she had already laid aside the napkin and discovered Jonas Bronck's hand. Lady Dorinda snapped the lid down and closed her own chest. She rose from her place and stretched both arms toward the couch at the foot of her bed. Having reached the couch she sank down, her head meeting a cushion with nice calculation.
"I am about to faint," said Lady Dorinda, and having parted with her breath in one puff, she sincerely lost consciousness and lay in extreme calm, her clay-colored eyelids shut on a clay-colored face. Marie was used to these quiet lapses of her mother-in-law, for Lady Dorinda had not been a good sailor on their voyage; but Antonia was alarmed. They bathed her face with a few inches of towel dipped in scented water, and rubbed her hands and fanned her. She caught life in again with a gasp, and opened her eyes to their young faces.
"Your ladyship attempted too much in opening that box," said Marie. "It is not good to go back through old sorrows."
"Madame La Tour may be right," gasped Claude's widow.
"I could not now look at that gown, Lady Dorinda," protested Antonia. When her ladyship was able to sit again by the fire, she asked both of them to leave her; and being alone, she quieted her anxiety about her treasures in the chest by a forced search. Nothing had been disturbed. The coals burned down red while Lady Dorinda tried to understand this happening. She dismissed all thought of the casket's belonging to Antonia Bronck;—a mild and stiff-mannered young provincial who had nothing to do with ghastly tokens of war. That hand was a political hint, mysteriously sent to Lady Dorinda and embodying some important message.
D'Aulnay de Charnisay may have sent it as a pledge that he intended to do justice to the elder La Tour while chastising the younger. There was a strange girl in the fort, accused of coming from D'Aulnay. Lady Dorinda could feel no enmity towards D'Aulnay. Her mind swarmed with foolish thoughts, harmless because ineffectual. She felt her importance grow, and was sure that the seed of a deep political intrigue lay hidden in her chest.
The days which elapsed before Antonia Bronck's marriage were lived joyfully by a people who lost care in any festival. Van Corlaer brought the sleek-faced young dominie from camp and exhibited him in all his potency as the means of a Protestant marriage service. He could not speak a word of French, but only Dutch was required of him. All religious rites were celebrated in the hall, there being no chapel in Fort St. John, and this marriage was to be witnessed by the garrison.
During this cheerful time a burning unrest, which she concealed from her people, drove Marie about her domain. She fled up the turret stairs and stood on the cannon to look over the bay. Her husband had been away but eight days. "Yet he often makes swift journeys," she thought. The load of his misfortunes settled more heavily upon her as she drew nearer to the end of woman companionship.
In former times, before such bitterness had grown in the feud between D'Aulnay and La Tour, she had made frequent voyages from Cape Sable up Fundy Bay to Port Royal. The winters were then merry among noble Acadians, and the lady of Fort St. Louis at Cape Sable was hostess of a rich seigniory. Now she had the sickness of suspense, and the wasting of life in waiting. Frequently during the day she met Father Jogues, who also wandered about disturbed by the evident necessity of his return to Montreal.
"Monsieur," said Marie once, "can you on your conscience bless a heretic?"
"Madame," said Father Jogues, "heaven itself blesses a good and excellent woman."
"Well, monsieur, if you could lift up your hand, even with the sign which my house holds idolatrous, and say a few words of prayer, I should then feel consecrated to whatever is before me."
Perhaps Father Jogues was tempted to have recourse to his vial of holy water and make the baptismal signs. Many a soul he truly believed he had saved from burning by such secret administration. And if savages could be thus reclaimed, should he hold back from the only opportunity ever given by this beautiful soul? His face shone. But with that gracious instinct to refrain from intermeddling which was beyond his times, he only lifted his stumps of fingers and spoke the words which she craved. A maimed priest is deprived of his sacred offices, but the pope had made a special dispensation for Father Jogues.
"Thanks, monsieur," said Marie. "Though it be sin to declare it, I will say your religion hath mother-comfort in it. Perhaps you have felt, in the woods among Iroquois, that sometime need of mother-comfort which a civilized woman may feel who has long outgrown her childhood."
The mandolin was heard in the barracks once during those days, for Le Rossignol had come out of the house determined to seek out Marguerite. She found the Swiss girl beside the powder magazine, for Marguerite had brought out a stool, and seemed trying to cure her sick spirit in the sun. The dwarf stood still and looked at her with insolent eyes. Soldiers' wives hid themselves within their doors, cautiously watching, or thrusting out their heads to shake at one another or to squall at any child venturing too near the encounter. They did not like the strange girl, and besides, she was in their way. But they liked the Nightingale less, and pitied any one singled out for her attack.
"Good day to madame the former Madame Klussman," said the dwarf. Marguerite gathered herself in defense to arise and leave her stool. But Le Rossignol gathered her mandolin in equal readiness to give pursuit. And not one woman in the barracks would have invited her quarry.
"I was in Penobscot last week," announced Le Rossignol, and heads popped out of all the doors to lift eyebrows and open mouths at each other. The swan-riding witch! She confessed to that impossible journey!
"I was in Penobscot last week," repeated Le Rossignol, holding up her mandolin and tinkling an accompaniment to her words, "and there I saw the house of D'Aulnay de Charnisay, and a very good house it is; but my lord should burn it. It is indeed of rough logs, and the windows are so high that one must have wings to look through them; but quite good enough for a woman of your rank, seeing that D'Aulnay hath a palace for his wife in Port Royal."
"I know naught about the house," spoke Marguerite, a yellow sheen of anger appearing in her eyes.
"Do you know naught about the Island of Demons, then?"
The Swiss girl muttered a negative and looked sidewise at her antagonist.
"I will tell you that story," said Le Rossignol.
She played a weird prelude. Marguerite sat still to be baited, like a hare which has no covert. The instrument being heavy for the dwarf, she propped it by resting one foot on the abutting foundation of the powder-house, and all through her recital made the mandolin's effects act upon her listener.
"The Sieur de Roberval sailed to this New World, having with him among a shipload of righteous people one Marguerite." She slammed her emphasis on the mandolin.
"There have ever been too many such women, and so the Sieur de Roberval found, though this one was his niece. Like all her kind, madame, she had a lover to her scandal. The Sieur de Roberval whipped her, and prayed over her, and shut her up in irons in the hold; yet live a godly life she would not. So what could he do but set her ashore on the Island of Demons?"
"I do not want to hear it," was Marguerite's muttered protest.
But Le Rossignol advanced closer to her face.
"And what does the lover do but jump overboard and swim after her? And well was he repaid." Bang! went the mandolin. "So they went up the rocky island together, and there they built a hut. What a horrible land was that!
"All day long fiends twisted themselves in mist. The waves made a sadder moaning there than anywhere else on earth. Monsters crept out of the sea and grinned with dull eyes and clammy lips. No fruit, no flower, scarcely a blade of grass dared thrust itself toward the sky on that scaly island. Daylight was half dusk there forever. But the nights, the nights, madame, were full of howls, of contending beasts—the nights were storms of demons let loose to beat on that island!
"All the two people had to eat were the stores set ashore by the Sieur de Roberval. Now a child was born in their hut, and the very next night a bear knocked at the door and demanded the child. Marguerite full freely gave it to him."
The girl shrunk back, and Le Rossignol was delighted until she herself noticed that Klussman had come in from some duty outside the gates. His eye detected her employment, and he sauntered not far off with his shoulder turned to the powder-house.
"Next night, madame," continued Le Rossignol, and her tone and the accent of the mandolin made an insult of that unsuitable title, "a horned lion and two dragons knocked at the door and asked for the lover, and Marguerite full freely gave him to them. Kind soul, she would do anything to save herself!"
"Go away!" burst out the girl.
"And from that time until a ship took her off, the demons of Demon Island tried in vain to get Marguerite. They howled around her house every night, and gaped down her chimney, and whispered through the cracks and sat on the roof. But thou knowest, madame, that a woman of her kind, so soft and silent and downward-looking, is more than a match for any demon; sure to live full easily and to die a fat saint."
"Have done with this," said Klussman behind the dwarf, who turned her grotesque beak and explained,—
"I am but telling the story of the Island of Demons to Madame Klussman."
As soon as she had spoken the name the Swiss caught her in his hand, mandolin and all, and walked across the esplanade, holding her at arm's length, as he might have carried an eel. Le Rossignol ineffectually squirmed and kicked, raging at the spectacle she made for laughing women and soldiers. She tried to beat the Swiss with her mandolin, but he twisted her in another direction, a cat's weight of fury. Giving her no chance to turn upon him, he opened the entrance and shut her inside the hall, and stalked back to make his explanation to his wife. Klussman had avoided any glimpse of Marguerite until this instant of taking up her defense.
"I pulled that witch-midget off thee," he said, speaking for the fortress to hear, "because I will not have her raising tumults in the fort. Her place is in the hall to amuse her ladies."
Marguerite's chin rested on her breast.
"Go in the house," said Klussman roughly. "Why do you show yourself out here to be mocked at?"
The poor girl raised her swimming eyes and looked at him in the fashion he remembered when she was ill; when he had nursed her with agonies of fear that she might die. The old relations between them were thus suggested in one blinding flash. Klussman turned away so sick that the walls danced around him. He went outside the fort again, and wandered around the stony height, turning at every few steps to gaze and strain his eyes at that new clay in the graveyard.
"When she lies beside that," muttered the soldier, "then I can be soft to her," though he knew he was already soft to her, and that her look had driven through him.
The swelling spring was chilled by cold rain, driving in from the bay and sweeping through the half budded woods. The tide went up St. John River with an impulse which flooded undiked lowlands, yet there was no storm dangerous to shipping. Some sails hung out there in the whirl of vapors with evident intention of making port.
Marie took a glass up to the turret and stood on the cannon to watch them. Rain fine as driven stings beat her face, and accumulated upon her muffling to run down and drip on the wet floor. She could make out nothing of the vessels. There were three of them, each by its sails a ship. They could not be the ships of Nicholas Denys carrying La Tour's recruits. She was not foolish enough, however great her husband's prosperity with Denys, to expect of him such a miraculous voyage around Cape Sable.
Sails were a rare sight on that side of the bay. The venturesome seamen of the Massachusetts colony chose other courses. Fundy Bay was aside from the great sea paths. Port Royal sent out no ships except D'Aulnay's, and on La Tour's side of Acadia his was the only vessel.
Certain of nothing except that these unknown comers intended to enter St. John River, Madame La Tour went downstairs and met Klussman on the wall. He turned from his outlook and said directly,—
"Madame, I believe it is D'Aulnay."
"You may be right," she answered. "Is any one outside the gates?"
"Two men went early to the garden, but the rain drove them back. Fortunately, the day being bad, no one is hunting beyond the falls."
"And is our vessel well moored?"
"Her repairing was finished some days ago, you remember, madame, and she sits safe and comfortable. But D'Aulnay may burn her. When he was here before, my lord was away with the ship."
"Bar the gates and make everything secure at once," said Marie. "And salute these vessels presently. If it be D'Aulnay, we sent him back to his seigniory with fair speed once before, and we are no worse equipped now."
She returned down the stone steps where Van Corlaer's courtship had succeeded, and threw off her wet cloak to dry herself before the fire in her room. She kneeled by the hearth; the log had burned nearly away. Her mass of hair was twisted back in the plain fashion of the Greeks—that old sweet fashion created with the nature of woman, to which the world periodically returns when it has exhausted new devices. The smallest curves, which were tendrils rather than curls of hair, were blown out of her fleece over forehead and ears. A dark woman's beauty is independent of wind and light. When she is buffeted by weather the rich inner color comes through her skin, and the brightest dayshine can do nothing against the dusk of her eyes.
If D'Aulnay was about to attack the fort, Marie was glad that Monsieur Corlaer had taken his bride, the missionaries, and his people and set out in the opposite direction. Barely had they escaped a siege, for they were on their way less than twenty-four hours. She had regretted their first day in a chill rain. But chill rain in boundless woods is better than sunlight in an invested fortress. Father Jogues' happy face with its forward droop and musing eyelids came before Marie's vision.
"I need another of his benedictions," she said in undertone, when a knock on her door and a struggle with its latch disturbed her.
"Enter, Le Rossignol," said Madame La Tour. And Le Rossignol entered, and approached the hearth, standing at full length scarcely as high as her lady kneeling. The room was a dim one, for all apartments looking out of the fort had windows little larger than portholes, set high in the walls. Two or three screens hid its uses as bedchamber and dressing-room, and a few pieces of tapestry were hung, making occasional panels of grotesque figures. A couch stood near the fireplace. The dwarf's prominent features were gravely fixed, and her bushy hair stood in a huge auburn halo around them. She wet her lips with that sudden motion by which a toad may be seen to catch flies.
"Madame Marie, every one is running around below and saying that D'Aulnay de Charnisay is coming again to attack the fort."
"Your pretty voice has always been a pleasure to me, Nightingale."
"But is it so, madame?"
"There are three ships standing in."
Le Rossignol's russet-colored gown moved nearer to the fire. She stretched her claws to warm and then lifted one of them near her lady's nose.
"Madame Marie, if D'Aulnay de Charnisay be coming, put no faith in that Swiss!"
"Klussman is the best soldier now in the fort," said Madame La Tour laughing. "If I put no faith in him, whom shall I trust?"
"Madame Marie, you remember that woman you brought back with you?"
"I have not seen her or spoken with her," said Marie self-reproachfully, "since she vexed me so sorely about her child. She is a poor creature. But they feed and house her well in the barracks."
"Madame Marie, Klussman hath been talking with that woman every day this week."
The dwarf's lady looked keenly at her.
"Oh, no. There could be no talk between those two."
"But there hath been. I have watched him. Madame Marie, he took me up when I went into the fort before Madame Bronck's marriage—when I was but playing my clavier before that sulky knave to amuse her—he took me up in his big common-soldier fingers, gripping me around the waist, and flung me into the hall."
"Did he so?" laughed Marie. "I can well see that my Nightingale can put no more faith in the Swiss. But hearken to me, thou bird-child. There! Hear our salute!"
The cannon leaped almost over their heads, and the walls shook with its boom and rebound. Marie kept her finger up and waited for a reply. Minute succeeded minute. The drip of accumulated rain-drops from the door could be heard, but nothing else. Those sullen vessels paid no attention to the inquiry of Fort St. John.
"Our enemy has come."
She relaxed from her tense listening and with a deep breath looked at Le Rossignol.
"Do not undermine the faith of one in another in this fortress. We must all hold together now. The Swiss may have a tenderness for his wretched wife which thou canst not understand. But he is not therefore faithless to his lord."
Taking the glass and throwing on her wet cloak, Marie again ran up to the wall. But Le Rossignol sat down cross-legged by the fire, wise and brooding.
"If I could see that Swiss hung," she observed, "it would scratch in my soul a long-felt itch."
When calamity threatens, we turn back to our peaceful days with astonishment that they ever seemed monotonous. Marie watched the ships, and thought of the woman days with Antonia before Van Corlaer came; of embroidery, and teaching the Etchemins, and bringing sweet plunder from the woods for the child's grave; of paddling on the twilight river when the tide was up, brimming and bubble-tinted; of her lord's coming home to the autumn-night hearth; of the little wheels and spinning, and Edelwald's songs—of all the common joys of that past life. The clumsy glass lately brought from France to master distances in the New World, wearied her hands before it assured her eyes.
D'Aulnay de Charnisay was actually coming to attack Fort St. John a second time. He warily anchored his vessels out of the fort's range; and hour after hour boats moved back and forth landing men and artillery on the cape at the mouth of the river, a position which gave as little scope as possible to St. John's guns. All that afternoon tents and earthworks were rising, and detail by detail appeared the deliberate and careful preparations of an enemy who was sitting down to a siege.
At dusk camp-fires began to flame on the distant low cape, and voices moved along air made sensitively vibrant by falling damp. There was the suggested hum of a disciplined small army settling itself for the night and for early action.
Madame La Tour came out to the esplanade of the fort, and the Swiss met her, carrying a torch which ineffectual rain-drops irritated to constant hissing. He stood, tall and careworn, holding it up that his lady might see her soldiers. Everything in the fort was ready for the siege. The sentinels were about to be doubled, and sheltered by their positions.
"I have had you called together, my men," she spoke, "to say a word to you before this affair begins."
The torch flared its limited circle of shine, smoke wavering in a half-seen plume at its tip, and showed their erect figures in line, none very distinct, but all keenly suggestive of life. Some were black-bearded and tawny, and others had tints of the sun in flesh and hair. One was grizzled about the temples, and one was a smooth-cheeked youth. The roster of their familiar names seemed to her as precious as a rosary. They watched her, feeling her beauty as keenly as if it were a pain, and answering every lambent motion of her spirit.
All the buildings were hinted through falling mist, and glowing hearths in the barracks showed like forge lights; for the wives of the half dozen married soldiers had come out, one having a child in her arms. They stood behind their lady, troubled, but reliant on her. She had with them the prestige of success; she had led the soldiers once before, and to a successful defense of the fort.
"My men," said Marie, "when the Sieur de la Tour set out to northern Acadia he dreaded such a move as this on D'Aulnay's part. But I assured him he need not fear for us."
The soldiers murmured their joy and looked at one another smiling.
"The Sieur de la Tour will soon return, with help or without it. And D'Aulnay has no means of learning how small our garrison is. Bind yourselves afresh to me as you bound yourselves before the other attack."
"My lady, we do!"
Out leaped every right hand, Klussman's with the torch, which lost and caught its flame again with the sudden sweep.
"That is all: and I thank you," said Marie. "We will do our best."
She turned back to the tower under the torch's escort, her soldiers giving her a full cheer which might further have deceived D'Aulnay in the strength of the garrison.
THE SECOND DAY.
The exhilaration of fighting quickened every pulse in the fort. By next dawn the cannon began to speak. D'Aulnay had succeeded in planting batteries on a height eastward, and his guns had immediate effect. The barracks were set on fire and put out several times during the day. All the inmates gathered in the stone hall, and at its fireplace the cook prepared and distributed rations. Great balls plowed up the esplanade, and the oven was shattered into a storm of stone and mortar, its adjoining mill being left with a gap in the side.
Responsive tremors from its own artillery ran through the fortress' walls. The pieces, except that one in the turret, were all brought into two bastions, those in the southeast bastion being trained on D'Aulnay's batteries, and the others on his camp. The gunner in the turret also dropped shot with effect among the tents, and attempted to reach the ships. But he was obliged to use nice care, for the iron pellets heaped on the stone floor behind him represented the heavy labor of one soldier who tramped at intervals up the turret stair, carrying ammunition.
The day had dawned rainless but sullen. It was Good Friday. The women huddling in the hall out of their usual haunts noticed Marguerite's refusal even of the broth the cook offered her. She was restless, like a leopard, and seemed full of electrical currents which found no discharge except in the flicker of her eyes. Leaving the group of settles by the fireplace where these simple families felt more at home and least intrusive on the grandeur of the hall, she put herself on a distant chair with her face turned from them. This gave the women a chance to backbite her, to note her roused mood, and to accuse her among themselves of wishing evil to the fort and consequently to their husbands.
"She hath the closest mouth in Acadia," murmured one. "Doth anybody in these walls certainly know that she came from D'Aulnay?"
"The Swiss, her husband, told it."
"And if she find means to go back to D'Aulnay, it will appear where she came from," suggested Zelie.
"I would he had her now," said the first woman. "I have that feeling for her that I have for a cat with its hairs on end."
Madame La Tour came to the hall and sat briefly and alone at her own table to take her dinner and supper. Later in the siege she stood and merely took food from the cook's hands, talking with and comforting her women while she ate. The surgeon of the fort was away with La Tour. She laid bandages ready, and felt obliged to dress not only the first but every wound received.
Pierre Doucett was brought from one of the bastions stunned and bleeding, and his wife rose up with her baby in her arms, filling the hall with her cries. The baby and her neighbors' children were moved to join her. But the eye of her lady was as awful as Pierre's wound. Her outcry sunk to a whimper; she hushed the children, and swept them off the settle so Pierre could lie there, and even paid out the roll of bandage with one hand while her lady used it. Marie controlled her own faintness; for a woman on whom a man's labors are imposed must bear them.
The four little children stood with fingers in their mouths, looking at these grim tokens of war. All day long they heard the crashing or thumping of balls, and felt the leap and rebound of cannon. The cook, when he came down from a bastion to attend to his kettles, gave them nice bits to eat, and in spite of solemnity, they counted it a holiday to be in the hall. Pierre Doucett groaned upon his settle, and Madame La Tour being on the lookout in the turret, Pierre Doucett's wife again took to wailing over him. The other women comforted her with their ignorant sympathy, and Marguerite sat with her back to it all. But the children adapted themselves to the situation, and trooped across to the foot of the stairway to play war. On that grim pavement door which led down into the keep they shot each other with merry cannonading and were laid out in turn on the steps.
Le Rossignol passed hours of that day sitting on the broad door-sill of the tower. She loved to watch the fiery rain; but she was also waiting for a lull in the cannonading that she might release her swan. He was always forbidden the rooms in the tower by her lady; for he was a pugnacious creature, quick to strike with beak or wings any one who irritated him. Especially did he seem tutored in the dwarf's dislike of Lady Dorinda. In peaceful times when she descended to the ground and took a sylvan excursion outside the fort, he ruffled all his feathers and pursued her even from the river. Le Rossignol had a forked branch with which she yoked him as soon as D'Aulnay's vessels alarmed the fort. She also tied him by one leg under his usual shelter, the pent-house of the mill. He always sulked at restraint, but Le Rossignol maintained discipline. In the destruction of the oven and the reeling of the mill, Shubenacadie leaped upward and fell back flattened upon the ground. The fragments had scarcely settled before his mistress had him in her arms. At the risk of her life she dragged him across to the entrance, and sat desolately crumbling away between her fingers such feathers as were singed upon him, and sleeking his long gasping neck. She swallowed piteously with suspense, but could not bring herself to examine his body. He had his feet; he had his wings; and finally he sat up of his own accord, and quavered some slight remark about the explosion.
"What ails thee?" exclaimed the dwarf indignantly. "Thou great coward! To lie down and gasp and sicken my heart for the singeing of a few feathers!"
She boxed the place where a swan's ear should be, and Shubenacadie bit her. It was a serene and happy moment for both of them. Le Rossignol opened the door and pushed him in. Shubenacadie stood awkwardly with his feet sprawled on the hall pavement, and looked at the scenes to which his mistress introduced him. He noticed Marguerite, and hissed at her.
"Be still, madman," admonished the dwarf. "Thou art an intruder here. The peasants will drive thee up chimney. Low-born people, when they get into good quarters, always try to put their betters out."
Shubenacadie waddled on, scarcely recovered from the prostration of his fright, and inclined to hold the inmates of the tower accountable for it. Marie had just left Pierre Doucett, and his nurses were so busy with him that the swan was not detected until he scattered the children from the stairs.
"Now, Mademoiselle Nightingale," said Zelie, coming heavily across the flags, "have we not enough strange cattle in this tower, that you must bring that creature in against my lady's orders?"
"He shall not stand out there under D'Aulnay's guns. Besides, Madame Marie hath need of him," declared Le Rossignol impudently. "She would have me ride to D'Aulnay's camp and bring her word how many men have fallen there to-day."
Zelie shivered through her indignation.
"Do you tell me such a tale, when you were shut in the turret for that very sin?"
"Sin that is sin in peace is virtue in war," responded Le Rossignol. "Mount, Shubenacadie."
"My lady will have his neck, wrung," threatened Zelie.
"She dare not. The chimney will tumble in. The fort will be taken."
"Art thou working against us?" demanded the maid wrathfully.
"Why should I work for you? You should, indeed, work for me. Pick me up this swan and carry him to the top of the stairs."
"I will not do it!" cried Zelie, revolting through every atom of her ample bulk. "Do I want to be lifted over the turret like thistledown?"
The dwarf laughed, and caught her swan by the back of his neck. With webbed toes and beating wings he fought every step; but she pulled herself up by the balustrade and dragged him along. His bristling plumage scraped the upper floor until he and his wrath were shut within the dwarf's chamber.
"Naught but muscle and bone and fire and flax went to the making of that stunted wight," mused Zelie, setting her knuckles in her hips. "What a pity that she escapes powder and ball, when poor Pierre Doucett is shot down!—a man with wife and child, and useful to my lady besides."
It was easy for Claude La Tour's widow to fill her idleness with visions of political alliance, but when D'Aulnay de Charnisay began to batter the walls round her ears, her common sense resumed sway. She could be of no use outside her apartment, so she took her meals there, trembling, but in her fashion resolute and courageous. The crash of cannon-shot was forever associated with her first reception in Acadia. Therefore this siege was a torture to her memory as well as a peril to her body. The tower had no more sheltered place, however, than Lady Dorinda's room. Zelie had orders to wait upon her with strict attention. The cannonading dying away as darkness lifted its wall between the opposed forces, she hoped for such sleep as could be had in a besieged place, and waited Zelie's knock. War, like a deluge, may drive people who detest each other into endurable contact; and when, without even a warning stroke on the panel, Le Rossignol slipped in as nimbly as a spider, Lady Dorinda felt no such indignation as she would have felt in ordinary times.
"May I sit by your fire, your highness?" sweetly asked the dwarf. Lady Dorinda held out a finger to indicate the chimney-side and to stay further progress. The sallow and corpulent woman gazed at the beak-faced atom.
"It hath been repeated a thousand times, but I will say again I am no highness."
Le Rossignol took the rebuke as a bird might have taken it, her bright round eyes reflecting steadily the overblown mortal opposite. She had never called Lady Dorinda anything except "her highness." The dullest soldier grinned at the apt sarcastic title. When Marie brought her to account for this annoyance, she explained that she could not call Lady Dorinda anything else. Was a poor dwarf to be punished because people made light of every word she used? Yet this innocent creature took a pleasure of her own in laying the term like an occasional lash on the woman who so despised her. Le Rossignol sat with arms around her knees, on the hearth corner. Lady Dorinda in her cushioned chair chewed aromatic seeds.
The room, like a flower garden, exhaled all its perfumes at evening. Bottles of essences and pots of pomade and small bags of powders were set out, for the luxurious use of its inmate when Zelie prepared her for the night. Le Rossignol enjoyed these scents. The sweet-odored atmosphere which clung about Lady Dorinda was her one attribute approved by the dwarf. Madame Marie never in any way appealed to the nose. Madame Marie's garments were scentless as outdoor air, and the freshness of outdoor air seemed to belong to them. Le Rossignol liked to have her senses stimulated, and she counted it a lucky thing to sit by that deep fire and smell the heavy fragrance, of the room. A branched silver candlestick held two lighted tapers on the dressing-table. The bed curtains were parted, revealing a huge expanse of resting-place within; and heavy folds shut the starlit-world from the windows. One could here forget that the oven was blown up, and the ground of the fort plowed with shot and sown with mortar.
"Is there no fire in the hall?" inquired Lady Dorinda.
"It hath all the common herd from the barracks around it," explained Le Rossignol. "And Pierre Doucett is stretched there, groaning over the loss of half his face."
"Where is Madame La Tour?"
"She hath gone out on the walls since the firing stopped. Our gunner in the turret told me that two guns are to be moved back before moonrise into the bastions they were taken from. Madame Marie is afraid D'Aulnay will try to encompass the fort to-night."
"And what business took thee into the turret?"
"Ladyship," corrected Lady Dorinda.
—"I like to see D'Aulnay's torches," proceeded the dwarf, without accepting correction. "His soldiers are burying the dead over there. He needs a stone tower with walls seven feet thick like ours, does D'Aulnay."
Lady Dorinda put another seed in her mouth, and reflected that Zelie's attendance was tardier than usual. She inquired with shadings of disapproval,—
"Is Madame La Tour's woman also on the walls?"
"Not Zelie, your highness"—
"Ladyship," insisted Lady Dorinda.
"That heavy-foot Zelie," chuckled the dwarf, deaf to correction, "a fine bit of thistledown would she be to blow around the walls. Zelie is laying beds for the children, and she hath come to words with the cook through trying to steal eggs to roast for them. We have but few wild fowl eggs in store."
"Tell her that I require her," said Lady Dorinda, fretted by the irregularities of life in a siege. "Madame La Tour will account with her if she neglects her rightful duties."
Le Rossignol crawled reluctantly up to stand in her dots of moccasins.
"Yes, your highness"—
"Ladyship," repeated Claude La Tour's widow, to whom the sting was forever fresh, reminding her of a once possible regency.
"But have you heard about the woman that was brought into the fortress before Madame Bronck went away?"
"What of her?"
"The Swiss says she comes from D'Aulnay."
"It is Zelie that I require," said Lady Dorinda with discouraging brevity. Le Rossignol dropped her face, appearing to give round-eyed speculation to the fire.
"It is believed that D'Aulnay sent by that strange woman a box of poison into the fort to work secret mischief. But," added the dwarf, looking up in open perplexity, "that box cannot now be found."
"Perhaps you can tell what manner of box it was," said Lady Dorinda with irony, though a dull red was startled into her cheeks.
"Madame Marie says it was a tiny box of oak, thick set with nails. She would not alarm the fort, so she had search made for it in Madame Bronck's name."
Lady Dorinda, incredulous, but trembling, divined at once that the dwarf had hid that coffer in her chest. Perhaps the dwarf had procured the hand and replaced some valuable of Madame Bronck's with it. She longed to have the little beast shaken and made to confess. While she was considering what she could do with dignity, Zelie rapped and was admitted, and Le Rossignol escaped into outside darkness.
Hours passed, however, before Shubenacadie's mistress sought his society. She undressed in her black cell which had but one loophole looking toward the north, and taking the swan upon her bed tried to reconcile him to blankets. But Shubenacadie protested with both wings against a woolly covering which was not in his experience. The times were disjointed for him. He took no interest in Lady Dorinda and the box of Madame Bronck, and scratched the pallet with his toes and the nail at the end of his bill. But Le Rossignol pushed him down and pressed her confidences upon this familiar.
"So her highness threw that box out into the fort. I had to shiver and wait until Zelie left her, but I knew she would choose to rid herself of it through a window, for she would scarce burn it, she hath not adroitness to drop it in the hall, show it to Madame Marie she would not, and keep it longer to poison her court gowns she dare not. She hath found it before this. Her looking-glass was the only place apter than that chest. I would give much to know what her yellow highness thought of that hand. Here, mine own Shubenacadie, I have brought thee this sweet biscuit moistened with water. Eat, and scratch me not.
"And little did its studding of nails avail the box, for the fall split it in three pieces; and I hid them under rubbish, for mortar and stones are plentiful down there. You should have seen my shade stretch under the moon like a tall hobgoblin. The nearest sentinel on the wall challenges me. 'Who is there?' 'Le Rossignol.' 'What are you doing?' 'Looking: for my swan's yoke.' Then he laughs—little knowing how I meant to serve his officer. The Hollandais mummy hath been of more use to me than trinkets. I frightened her highness with it, and now it is set to torment the Swiss. Let me tell thee, Shubenacadie: punishment comes even on a swan who would stretch up his neck and stand taller than his mistress. Wert thou not blown up with the oven? Hide thy head and take warning."
THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN POWERS.
The dwarf's report about Klussman forced Madame La Tour to watch the strange girl; but Marguerite seemed to take no notice of any soldier who came and went in the hall. As for the Swiss, he carried trouble on his self-revealing face, but not treachery. Klussman camped at night on the floor with other soldiers off guard; screens and the tall settles being placed in a row between this military bivouac and women and children of the household protected near the stairs. He awoke as often as the guard was changed, and when dawn-light instead of moonlight appeared with the last relief, he sprang up, and took the breastplate which had been laid aside for his better rest. Out of its hollow fell Jonas Bronck's hand, bare and crouching with stiff fingers on the pavement. The soldiers about to lie down laughed at themselves and Klussman for recoiling from it, and fury succeeded pallor in his blond face.
"Did you do that?" he demanded of the men, but before they could utter denials, his suspicion leaped the settles. Spurning Jonas Bronck's treasured fragment with his boot in a manner which Antonia could never have forgiven, Klussman sent it to the hearth and strode after it. He had not far to look for Marguerite. As his eye traveled recklessly into the women's camp, he encountered her beside him, sitting on the floor behind a settle and matching the red of a burning tree trunk with the red of her bruised eyelids.
"Did you put that in my breastplate?" said Klussman, pointing to the hand as it lay palm upwards. Marguerite shuddered and burst out crying. This had been her employment much of the night, but the nervous fit of childish weeping swept away all of Klussman's self-control.
"No; no;" she repeated. "You think I do everything that is horrible." And she sobbed upon her hands.
Klussman stooped down and tossed the hand like an escaped coal behind the log. As he stooped he said,—
"I don't think that. Don't cry. If you cry I will shoot myself."
Marguerite looked up and saw his helplessness in his face. He had sought her before, but only with reproaches. Now his resentment was broken. Twice had the dwarfs mischief thrown Marguerite on his compassion, and thereby diminished his resistance to her. Jonas Bronck's hand, in its red-hot seclusion behind the log, writhed and smoked, discharging its grosser parts up the chimney's shaft. Unseen, it lay a wire-like outline of bone; unseen, it became a hand of fairy ashes, trembling in every filmy atom; finally an ember fell upon it, and where a hand had been some bits of lime lay in a white glow.
Klussman went out and mounted one of the bastions, where the gunners were already preparing for work. The weather had changed in the night, and the sky seemed immeasurably lifted while yet filled with the uncertainties of dawn. Fundy Bay revealed more and more of its clean blue-emerald level, and far eastward the glassy water shaded up to a flushing of pink. Smoke rose from the mess fires in D'Aulnay's camp. The first light puff of burnt powder sprung from his batteries, and the artillery duel again began.
"If we had but enough soldiers to make a sally," said Madame La Tour to her officer, as she also came for an instant to the bastion, "we might take his batteries. Oh, for monsieur to appear on the bay with a stout shipload of men."
"It is time he came," said the Swiss.
"Yes, we shall see him or have news of him soon."
In the tumult of Klussman's mind Jonas Bronck's hand never again came uppermost. He cared nothing and thought nothing about that weird fragment, in the midst of living disaster. It had merely been the occasion of his surrendering to Marguerite. He determined that when La Tour returned and the siege was raised, if he survived he would take his wife and go to some new colony. Live without her he could not. Yet neither could he reespouse her in Fort St. John, where he had himself openly denounced her.
Spring that day leaped forward to a semblance of June. The sun poured warmth; the very air renewed life. But to Klussman it was the brilliancy of passing delirium. He did not feel when gun-metal touched his hands. The sound of the incoming tide, which could be heard betwixt artillery boomings, and the hint of birds which that sky gave, were mute against his thoughts.
Though D'Aulnay's loss was visibly heavy, it proved also an ill day for the fort. The southeast bastion was raked by a fire which disabled the guns and killed three men. Five others were wounded at various posts. The long spring twilight sunk through an orange horizon rim and filled up the measure which makes night, before firing reluctantly stopped. Marie had ground opened near the powder magazine to make a temporary grave for her three dead. They had no families. She held a taper in her hand and read a service over them. One bastion and so many men being disabled, a sentinel was posted in the turret after the gunners descended. The Swiss took this duty on himself, and felt his way up the pitch-black stairs. He had not seen Marguerite in the hall when he hurriedly took food, but she was safe in the tower. No woman ventured out in the storm of shot. The barracks were charred and battered.
As Klussman reached the turret door he exclaimed against some human touch, but caught his breath and surrendered himself to Marguerite's arms, holding her soft body and smoothing her silk-stranded hair.
"I heard you say you would come up here," murmured Marguerite. "And the door was unlocked."
"Where have you been since morning?"
"Behind a screen in the great hall. The women are cruel."
Klussman hated the women. He kissed his wife with the first kiss since their separation, and all the toils of war failed to unman him like that kiss.
"But there was that child!" he groaned.
"That was not my child," said Marguerite.
"The baby brought here with you!"
"It was not mine."
"Whose was it?"
"It was a drunken soldier's. His wife died. They made me take care of it," said Marguerite resentfully.
"Why didn't you tell me that?" exclaimed Klussman. "You made me lie to my lady!"
Marguerite had no answer. He understood her reticence, and the degradation which could not be excused.
"Who made you take care of it?"
"D'Aulnay?" Klussman uttered through his teeth.
"Yes; I don't like him."
"I like him!" said the savage Swiss.
"He is cruel," complained Marguerite, "and selfish."
The Swiss pressed his cheek to her soft cheek.
"I never was selfish and cruel to thee," he said, weakly.
"No, you never were."
"Then why," burst out the husband afresh, "did you leave me to follow that beast of prey?"
Marguerite brought a sob from her breast which was like a sword through Klussman. He smoothed and smoothed her hair.
"But what did I ever do to thee, Marguerite?"
"I always liked you best," she said. "But he was a great lord. The women in barracks are so hateful, and a common soldier is naught."
"You would be the lady of a seignior," hissed Klussman.
"Thou knowest I was fit for that," retorted Marguerite with spirit.
"I know thou wert. It is marrying me that has been thy ruin." He groaned with his head hanging.
"We are not ruined yet," she said, "if you care for me."
"That was a stranger child?" he repeated.
"All the train knew it to be a motherless child. He had no right to thrust it on me."
"I demand no testimony of D'Aulnay's followers," said Klussman roughly.
He let her go from his arms, and stepped to the battlements. His gaze moved over the square of the fortress, and eastward to that blur of whiteness which hinted the enemy's tents, the hint being verified by a light or two.
"I have a word to tell you," said Marguerite, leaning beside her husband.
"I have this to tell thee," said the Swiss. "We must leave Acadia." His arm again fondled her, and he comforted his sore spirit with an instant's thought of home and peace somewhere.
"Yes. We can go to Penobscot," she said.
"Penobscot?" he repeated with suspicion.
"The king will give you a grant of Penobscot."
"The king will give it to—me?"
"Yes. And it is a great seigniory."
"How do you know the king will do that?"
"He told me to tell you; he promised it."
"The king? You never saw the king."
"I would I had him by the throat!" burst out Klussman. Marguerite leaned her cheek on the stone and sighed. The bay seemed full of salty spice. It was a night in which the human soul must beat against casements to break free and roam the blessed dark. All of spring was in the air. Directly overhead stood the north star, with slow constellations wheeling in review before him.
"So D'Aulnay sent you to spy on my lord, as my lord believed?"
"You shall not call me a spy. I came to my husband. I hate him," she added in a resentful burst. "He made me walk the marshes, miles and miles alone, carrying that child."
"Why the child?"
"Because the people from St. John would be sure to pity it."
"And what word did he send you to tell me?" demanded Klussman. "Give me that word."
Marguerite waited with her face downcast.
"It was kind of him to think of me," said the Swiss; "and to send you with the message!"
She felt mocked, and drooped against the wall. And in the midst of his scorn he took her face in his hands with a softness he could not master.
"Give me the word," he repeated. Marguerite drew his neck down and whispered, but before she finished whispering Klussman flung her against the cannon with an oath.
"I thought it would be, betray my lord's fortress to D'Aulnay de Charnisay! Go down stairs, Marguerite Klussman. When I have less matter in hand, I will flog thee! Hast thou no wit at all? To come from a man who broke faith with thee, and offer his faith to me! Bribe me with Penobscot to betray St. John to him!"
Marguerite sat on the floor. She whispered, gasping,—
"Tell not the whole fortress."
Klussman ceased to talk, but his heels rung on the stone as he paced the turret. He felt himself grow old as silence became massive betwixt his wife and him. The moon rose, piercing the cannon embrasure, and showed Marguerite weeping against the wall. The mass of silence drove him resistless before her will. That soft and childlike shape did not propose treason to him. He understood that she thought only of herself and him. It was her method of bringing profit out of the times. He heard his relief stumble at the foot of the turret stairs, and went down the winding darkness to stop and send the soldier back to bed.
"I am not sleepy," said Klussman. "I slept last night. Go and rest till daybreak." And the man willingly went. Marguerite had not moved a fold of her gown when her husband again came into the lighted tower. The Swiss lifted her up and made her stand beside him while he stanched her tears.
"You hurt me when you threw me against the cannon," she said.
"I was rough. But I am too foolish fond to hold anger. It has worn me out to be hard on thee. I am not the man I was."
Marguerite clung around him. He dumbly felt his misfortune in being thralled by a nature of greater moral crudity than his own. But she was his portion in the world.
"You flung me against the cannon because I wanted you made a seignior."
"It was because D'Aulnay wanted me made a traitor."
"What is there to do, indeed?" murmured Marguerite. "He said if you would take the sentinels off the wall on the entrance side of the fort, at daybreak any morning, he will be ready to scale that wall."
"But how will he know I have taken the sentinels off?"
"You must hold up a ladder in your hands."
"The tower is between that side of the fort and D'Aulnay's camp. No one would see me standing with a ladder in my hands."
"When you set the ladder against the outside wall, it is all you have to do, except to take me with you as you climb down. It is their affair to see the signal."
"So D'Aulnay plans an ambush between us and the river? And suppose I did all that and the enemy failed to see the signal? I should go down there to be hung, or my lady would have me thrown into the keep here, and perhaps shot. I ought to be shot."
"They will see the signal," insisted Marguerite. "I know all that is to be done. He made me say it over until I tired of it. You must mount the wall where the gate is: that side of the fort toward the river, the camp being on another side."
Klussman again smoothed her hair and argued with her as with a child.
"I cannot betray my lady. You see how madame trusts me."
She grieved against his hard breastplate with insistence which pierced even that.
"I am indeed not fit to be thought on beside the lady!"
"I would do anything for thee but betray my lady."
"And when you have held her fort for her will she advance you by so much as a handful of land?"
"I was made lieutenant since the last siege."
"But now you may be a seignior with a holding of your own," repeated Marguerite. So they talked the night away. She showed him on one hand a future of honor and plenty which he ought not to withhold from her; and on the other, a wandering forth to endless hardships. D'Aulnay had worked them harm; but this was in her mind an argument that he should now work them good. Being a selfish lord, powerful and cruel, he could demand this service as the condition of making her husband master of Penobscot; and the service itself she regarded as a small one compared to her lone tramping of the marshes to La Tour's stockade. D'Aulnay was certain to take Fort St. John some time. He had the king and all France behind him; the La Tours had nobody. Marguerite was a woman who could see no harm in advancing her husband by the downfall of his mere employers. Her husband must be advanced. She saw herself lady of Penobscot.
The Easter dawn began to grow over the world. Klussman remembered what day it was, and lifted her up to look over the battlements at light breaking from the east.
Marguerite turned her head from point to point of the dewy world once more rising out of chaos. She showed her husband a new trench and a line of breastworks between the fort and the river. These had been made in the night, and might have been detected by him if he had guarded his post. The jutting of rocks probably hid them from sentinels below.
"D'Aulnay is coming nearer," said the Swiss, looking with haggard indifferent eyes at these preparations, and an occasional head venturing above the fresh ridge. Marguerite threw her arms around her husband's neck, and hung on him with kisses.
"Come on, then," he said, speaking with the desperate conviction of a man who has lost himself. "I have to do it. You will see me hang for this, but I'll do it for you."
Marie felt herself called through the deepest depths of sleep, and sat up in the robe of fur which she had wrapped around her for her night bivouac. There was some alarm at her door. The enemy might be on the walls. She tingled with the intense return of life, and was opening the door without conscious motion. Nobody stood outside in the hall except the dwarf, whose aureole of foxy hair surrounded features pinched by anxiety.
"Madame Marie—Madame Marie! The Swiss has gone to give up the fort to D'Aulnay."
"He came down from the turret with his wife, who persuaded him. I listened all night on the stairs. D'Aulnay is ready to mount the wall when he gives the signal. I had to hide me until the woman and the Swiss passed below. They are now going to the wall to give the signal."
Through Marie passed that worst shock of all human experience. To see your trusted ally transmuted into your secret most deadly foe, sickens the heart as death surely cannot sicken it. Like many a pierced wretch who has collapsed suddenly into the dust while the stab yet held the knife, she whispered feebly,—
"He could not do that!"
The stern blackness of her eyes seemed to annihilate all the rest of her face. Was rock itself stable under-foot? Why should one care to prolong life, when life only proved how cruel and worthless are the people for whom we labor?
"Madame Marie, he is now doing it. He was to hold up a ladder on the wall."
"This one—where the gate is."
Marie looked through the glass in her door which opened toward the battlements, rubbed aside moisture, and looked again. While one breath could be drawn Klussman was standing in the dawn-light with a ladder raised overhead. She caught up a pair of long pistols which had lain beside her all night.
"Rouse the men below—quick!" she said to Le Rossignol, and ran up the steps to the wall. No sentinels were there. The Swiss had already dropped down the ladder outside and was out of sight, and she heard the running, climbing feet of D'Aulnay's men coming to take the advantage afforded them. Sentinels in the other two bastions turned with surprise at her cry. They had seen Klussman relieving the guard, but his subtle action escaped their watch-worn eyes. They only noticed that he had the strange woman with him.
D'Aulnay's men were at the foot of the wall planting ladders. They were swarming up. Marie met them with the sentinels joining her and the soldiers rushing from below. The discharge of firearms, the clash of opposing metals, the thuds of falling bodies, cries, breathless struggling, clubbed weapons sweeping the battlements—filled one vast minute. Ladders were thrown back to the stones, and D'Aulnay's repulsed men were obliged to take once more to their trench, carrying the stunned and wounded. A cannon was trained on their breastworks, and St. John belched thunder and fire down the path of retreat. The Swiss's treason had been useless to the enemy. The people of the fort saw him hurried more like a prisoner than an ally towards D'Aulnay's camp, his wife beside him.
"Oh, Klussman," thought the lady of St. John, as she turned to station guards at every exposed point and to continue that day's fight, "you knew in another way what it is to be betrayed. How could you put this anguish upon me?"
The furious and powder-grimed men, her faithful soldiers, hooted at the Swiss from their bastions, not knowing what a heart he carried with him. He turned once and made them a gesture of defiance, more pathetic than any wail for pardon, but they saw only the treason of the man, and shot at him with a good will. Through smoke and ball-plowed earth, D'Aulnay's soldiers ran into camp, and his batteries answered. Artillery echoes were scattered far through the woods, into the very depths of which that untarnished Easter weather seemed to stoop, coaxing growths from the swelling ground.
Advancing and pausing with equal caution, a man came out of the northern forest toward St. John River. No part of his person was covered with armor. And instead of the rich and formal dress then worn by the Huguenots even in the wilderness, he wore a complete suit of hunter's buckskin which gave his supple muscles a freedom beautiful to see. His young face was freshly shaved, showing the clean fine texture of the skin. For having nearly finished his journey from the head of Fundy Bay, he had that morning prepared himself to appear what he was in Fort St. John—a man of good birth and nurture. His portables were rolled tightly in a blanket and strapped to his shoulders. A hunting-knife and two long pistols armed him. His head was covered with a cap of beaver skin, and he wore moccasins. Not an ounce of unnecessary weight hampered him.
The booming of cannon had met him so far off on that day's march that he understood well the state of siege in which St. John would be found; and long before there was any glimpse of D'Aulnay's tents and earthworks, the problem of getting into the fort occupied his mind. For D'Aulnay's guards might be extended in every direction. But the first task in hand was to cross the river. One or two old canoes could be seen on the other side; cast-off property of the Etchemin Indians who had broken camp. Being on the wrong bank these were as useless to him as dream canoes. But had a ferryman stood in waiting, it was perilous to cross in open day, within possible sight of the enemy. So the soldier moved carefully down to a shelter of rocks below the falls, opposite that place where Van Corlaer had watched the tide sweep up and drown the rapids. From this post he got a view of La Tour's small ship, yet anchored and safe at its usual moorings. No human life was visible about it.
"The ship would afford me good quarters," said the soldier to himself, "had I naught to do but rest. But I must get into the fort this night; and how is it to be done?"
All the thunders of war, and all the effort and danger to be undertaken, could not put his late companions out of his mind. He lay with hands clasped under his head, and looked back at the trees visibly leafing in the warm Easter air. They were much to this man in all their differences and habits, their whisperings and silences. They had marched with him through countless lone long reaches, passing him from one to another with friendly recommendation. It hurt him to notice a broken or deformed one among them; but one full and nobly equipped from root to top crown was Nature's most triumphant shout. There is a glory of the sun and a glory of the moon, but to one who loves them there is another glory of the trees.
"In autumn," thought the soldier, "I have seen light desert the skies and take to the trees and finally spread itself beneath them, a material glow, flake on flake. But in the spring, before their secret is spoken, when they throb, and restrain the force driving through them, then have I most comfort with them, for they live as I live."
Shadows grew on the river, and ripples were arrested and turned back to flow up stream. There was but one way for him to cross the river, and that was to swim. And the best time to swim was when the tide brimmed over the current and trembled at its turn, a broad and limpid expanse of water, cold, dangerous, repellent to the chilled plunging body; but safer and more easily paddled through than when the current, angular as a skeleton, sought the bay at its lowest ebb.
Fortunately tide and twilight favored the young soldier together. He stripped himself and bound his weapons and clothes in one tight packet on his head. At first it was easy to tread water: the salt brine upheld him. But in the middle of the river it was wise to sink close to the surface and carry as small a ripple as possible; for D'Aulnay's guards might be posted nearer than he knew. The water, deceptive at its outer edges in iridescent reflection of warm clouds, was cold as glacier drippings in midstream. He swam with desperate calmness, guarding himself by every stroke against cramp. The bundle oppressed him. He would have cast it off, but dared not change by a thought of variation the routine of his struggle. Hardy and experienced woodsman as he was, he staggered out on the other side and lay a space in the sand, too exhausted to move.
The tide began to recede, leaving stranded seaweed in green or brown streaks, the color of which could be determined only by the dullness or vividness of its shine through the dusk. As soon as he was able, the soldier sat up, shook out his blanket and rolled himself in it. The first large stars were trembling out. He lay and smelled gunpowder mingling with the saltiness of the bay and the evening incense of the earth.
There was a moose's lip in his wallet, the last spoil of his wilderness march, taken from game shot the night before and cooked at his morning fire. He ate it, still lying in the sand. Lights began to appear in the direction of D'Aulnay's camp, but the fort held itself dark and close. He thought of the grassy meadow rivulet which was always empty at low tide, and that it might afford him some shelter in his nearer approach to the fort. He dressed and put on his weapons, but left everything else except the blanket lying where he had landed. In this venture little could be carried except the man and his life. The frontier graveyard outlined itself dimly against the expanse of landscape. The new-turned clay therein gave him a start. He crept over the border of stones, went close, and leaned down to measure the length of the fresh grave with his outstretched hands. A sigh of relief which was as strong as a sob burst from the soldier.
"It is only that child we found at the stockade," he murmured, and stepped on among the older mounds and leaped the opposite boundary, to descend that dip of land which the tide invaded. Water yet shone there on the grass. Too impatient to wait until the tide ran low, he found the log, and moved carefully forward, through increasing dusk, on hands and knees within closer range of the fort. Remembering that his buckskin might make an inviting spot on the slope, he wrapped his dark blanket around him. The chorus of insect life and of water creatures, which had scarcely been tuned for the season, began to raise experimental notes. And now a splash like the leap of a fish came from the river. The moon would be late; he thought of that with satisfaction. There was a little mist blown aloft over the stars, yet the night did not promise to be cloudy.
The whole environment of Fort St. John was so familiar to the young soldier that he found no unusual stone in his way. That side toward the garden might be the side least exposed to D'Aulnay's forces at night. If he could reach the southwest bastion unseen, he could ask for a ladder. There was every likelihood of his being shot before the sentinels recognized him, yet he might be more fortunate. Balancing these chances, he moved toward that angle of shadow which the fortress lifted against the southern sky. Long rays of light within the walls were thrown up and moved on darkness like the pulsing motions of the aurora.
"Who goes there?" said a voice.
The soldier lay flat against the earth. He had imagined the browsing sound of cattle near him. But a standing figure now condensed itself from the general dusk, some distance up the slope betwixt him and the bastion. The challenger was entirely apart from the fort. As he flattened himself in breathless waiting for a shot which might follow, a clatter began at his very ears, some animal bounded over him with a glancing cut of its hoof, and galloped toward the trench below St. John's gate. He heard another exclamation,—this rapid traveler had probably startled another sentinel. The man who had challenged him laughed softly in the darkness. All the Sable Island ponies must be loose upon the slope. D'Aulnay's men had taken possession of the stable and cattle, and the wild and frightened ponies were scattered. As his ear lay so near the ground the soldier heard other little hoofs startled to action, and a snort or two from suspicious nostrils. He crept away from the sentinel without further challenge. It was evident that D'Aulnay had encompassed the fort with guards.
The young soldier crept slowly down the rocky hillock, avoided another sentinel, and, after long caution and self-restraint and polishing the earth with his buckskin, crawled into the empty trench. The Sable Island ponies continually helped him. They were so nervous and so agile that the sentinels ceased to watch moving shadows.
The soldier looked up at St. John and its tower, knowing that he must enter in some manner before the moon rose. He dreaded the red brightness of moon-dawn, when guards whom he could discern against the stony ascent might detect his forehead above the breastwork. Behind him stretched an alluvial flat to the river's sands. The tide was running swiftly out, and under starlight its swirls and long muscular sweeps could be followed by a practiced eye.
As the soldier glanced warily in every direction, two lights left D'Aulnay's camp and approached him, jerking and flaring in the hands of men who were evidently walking over irregular ground. They might be coming directly to take possession of the trench. But why should they proclaim their intention with torches to the batteries of Fort St. John? He looked around for some refuge from the advancing circle of smoky shine, and moved backwards along the bottom of the trench. The light stretched over and bridged him, leaving him in a stream of deep shadow, protected by the breastwork from sentinels above. He could therefore lift a cautious eye at the back of the trench, and scan the group now moving betwixt him and the river. There were seven persons, only one of whom strode the stones with reckless feet. This man's hands were tied behind his back, and a rope was noosed around his neck and held at the other end by a soldier.
"It is Klussman, our Swiss!" flashed through the soldier in the trench, with a mighty throb of rage and shame, and anxiety for the lady in the fort. If Klussman had been taken prisoner, the guns of St. John would surely speak in his behalf when he was about to be hanged before its very gate. Such a parade of the act must be discovered on the walls. It was plain that Klussman had deserted to D'Aulnay, and was now enjoying D'Aulnay's gratitude.
"The tree that doth best front the gates," said one of the men, pointing with his torch to an elm in the alluvial soil: "my lord said the tree that doth best front the gates."
"That hath no fit limbs," objected another.
"He said the tree that doth best front the gates," insisted the first man. "Besides this one, what shrub hereabouts is tall enough for our use?"
They moved down towards the elm. A stool carried by one man showed its long legs grotesquely behind his back. There were six persons besides the prisoner, all soldiers except one, who wore the coarse, long, cord-girdled gown of a Capuchin. His hood was drawn over his face, and the torches imperfectly showed that he was of the bare-footed order and wore only sandals. He held up a crucifix and walked close beside Klussman. But the Swiss gazed all around the dark world which he was so soon to leave, and up at the fortress he had attempted to betray, and never once at the murmuring friar.
The soldier in the trench heard a breathing near him, and saw that a number of the ponies, drawn by the light, had left their fitful grazing and were venturing step by step beyond the end of the trench. Some association of this scene with soldiers who used to feed them at night, after a hard day of drawing home the winter logs, may have stirred behind their shaggy foreheads. He took his hunting-knife with sudden and desperate intention, threw off his moccasins, cut his leggins short at the middle of the leg, and silently divided his blanket into strips.
Preparations were going forward under the elm. One of the soldiers climbed the tree and crept out upon an arched limb, catching the rope end thrown up to him. Both torches were given to one man, that all the others might set themselves to the task. Klussman stood upon the stool, which they had brought for the purpose from the cook's galley in one of their ships. His blond face, across which all his thoughts used to parade, was cast up by the torches like a stiffened mask, hopeless yet fearless in its expression.
"Come, Father Vincent," said the man who had made the knot, sliding down the tree. "This is a Huguenot fellow, and good words are lost on him. I wonder that my lord let him have a friar to comfort him."
"Retire, Father Vincent," said the men around the stool, with more roughness than they would have shown to a favorite confessor of D'Aulnay's. The Capuchin turned and walked toward the trench.
The soldier in the trench could not hear what they said, but he had time for no further thought of Klussman. He had been watching the ponies with the conviction that his own life hung on what he might drive them to do. They alternately snuffed at Klussman's presence and put their noses down to feel for springing grass. Before they could start and wheel from the friar, the soldier had thrown his hunting-knife. It struck the hind leg of the nearest pony and a scampering and snorting hurricane swept down past the elm. Klussman's stool and the torch-bearer were rolled together. Both lights were stamped out by the panic-struck men, who thought a sally had been made from the fort. Father Vincent saw the knife thrown, and turned back, but the man in the trench seized him with steel muscles and dragged him into its hollow. If the good father uttered cry against such violence, there was also noise under the elm, and the wounded pony yet galloped and snorted toward the river. The young soldier fastened his mouth shut with a piece of blanket, stripped off his capote and sandals and tied him so that he could not move. Having done all most securely and put the capote and sandals upon himself, the soldier whispered at the friar's ear an apology which must have amused them both,—
"Pardon my roughness, good father. Perhaps you will lend me your clothes?"
D'Aulnay's sentinels about the walls, understanding that all this confusion was made by a stampede of ponies, kept the silence which had been enjoined on them. But some stir of inquiry seemed to occur in the bastions. Father Vincent, lying helpless in the trench, and feeling the chill of lately opened earth through his shaven head and partly nude body, wondered if he also had met D'Aulnay's gratitude for his recent inquiry into D'Aulnay's fitness to receive the sacraments.
"But I will tell my lord of Charnisay the truth about his sins," thought Father Vincent, unable to form any words with a pinioned mouth, "though he should go the length of procuring my death."
The soldier with his buckskin covered by Father Vincent's capote stepped out into the starlight and turned his cowled face toward the fort. He intended to tell the sentinels that D'Aulnay had sent him with a message to the commandant of St. John. The guards, discerning his capote, would perhaps obey a beckoning finger, and believe that he had been charged with silence; for not having heard the churchman's voice he dared not try to imitate it, and must whisper. But that unforeseen element which the wisest cannot rule out of their fate halted him before he took a dozen steps up the hill.
"Where is Father Vincent de Paris?" called some impatient person below the trench. Five figures coming from the tree gained distinctness as they advanced, but it was a new-comer who demanded again,—
"Where is Father Vincent de Paris? Did he not leave the camp with you?"
The soldier went down directly where his gray capote might speak for itself to the eye, and the man who carried the stool pointed with it toward the evident friar.
"There stands the friar behind thee. He hath been tumbled into the trench, I think."
"Is your affair done?"
"And well done, except that some cattle ran mad among us but now, and we thought a sally had been made, so we put out our torches."
"With your stupid din," said the messenger from camp, "you will wake up the guns of the fort at the very moment when Sieur D'Aulnay would send his truce bearer in."
"I thank the saints I am not like to be used for his agent," said the man who had been upset with the torches, "if the walls are to be stormed as they were this morning."
"He wants Father Vincent de Paris," said the under officer from camp. "Good father, you took more license in coming hither than my lord intended."
The soldier made some murmured noise under his cowl. He walked beside the officer and heard one man say to another behind him,—
"These holy folks have more courage than men-at-arms. My lord was minded to throw this one out of the ship when he sailed from Port Royal."
"The Sieur D'Aulnay hath too much respect to his religion to do that," answered the other.
"You had best move in silence," said the officer, turning his head toward them, and no further words broke the march into camp. D'Aulnay's camp was well above the reach of high tide, yet so near the river that soft and regular splashings seemed encroaching on the tents. The soldier noticed the batteries on their height, and counted as ably as he could for the cowl and night dimness the number of tents holding this little army. Far beyond them the palpitating waters showed changeful surfaces on Fundy Bay.
The capote was long for him. He kept his hands within the sleeves. Before the guard-line was passed he saw in the middle of the camp an open tent. A long torch stood in front of it with the point stuck in the ground. The floating yellow blaze showed the tent's interior, its simple fittings for rest, the magnificent arms and garments of its occupant, and first of all, D'Aulnay de Charnisay himself, sitting with a rude camp table in front of him. He was half muffled in a furred cloak from the balm of that Easter night. Papers and an ink-horn were on the table, and two officers stood by, receiving orders.
This governor of Acadia had a triangular face with square temples and pointed beard, its crisp fleece also concealing his mouth except the thin edges of his lips. It was a handsome nervous face of black tones; one that kept counsel, and was not without humor. He noticed his subordinate approaching with the friar. The men sent to execute Klussman were dispersed to their tents.
"The Swiss hath suffered his punishment?" he inquired.
"Yes, my lord D'Aulnay. I met the soldiers returning."
"Did he say anything further concerning the state of the fort?"
"I know not, my lord. But I will call the men to be questioned."
"Let it be. He hath probably not lied in what he told me to-day of its weak garrison. But help is expected soon with La Tour. Perhaps he told more to the friar in their last conference."
"Heretics do not confess, my lord."
"True enough; but these churchmen have inquisitive minds which go into men's affairs without confession," said the governor of Acadia with a smile which lengthened slightly the thread-lines of his lips. D'Aulnay de Charnisay had an eye with a keen blue iris, sorting not at all with the pigments of his face. As he cast it on the returned friar his mere review deepened to a scrutiny used to detecting concealments.
"Hath this Capuchin shrunk?" exclaimed D'Aulnay. "He is not as tall as he was."
All present looked with quickened attention at the soldier, who expected them to pull off his cowl and expose a head of thrifty clusters which had never known the tonsure. His beaver cap lay in the trench with the real Father Vincent.
He folded his arms on his breast with a gesture of patience which had its effect. D'Aulnay's followers knew the warfare between their seignior and Father Vincent de Paris, the only churchman in Acadia who insisted on bringing him to account; and who had found means to supplant a favorite priest on this expedition, for the purpose of watching him. D'Aulnay bore it with assumed good-humor. He had his religious scruples as well as his revenges and ambitions. But there were ways in which an intruding churchman could be martyred by irony and covert abuse, and by discomfort chargeable to the circumstances of war. Father Vincent de Paris, on his part, bore such martyrdom silently, but stinted no word of needed rebuke. A woman's mourning in the dusky tent next to D'Aulnay's now rose to such wildness of piteous cries as to divert even him from the shrinkage of Father Vincent's height. No other voice could be heard, comforting her. She was alone with sorrow in the midst of an army of fray-hardened men. A look of embarrassment passed over De Charnisay's face, and he said to the officer nearest him,—
"Remove that woman to another part of the camp."
"The Swiss's wife, my lord?"
"The Swiss's widow, to speak exactly." He turned again with a frowning smile to the silent Capuchin. "By the proofs she gives, my kindness hath not been so great to that woman that the church need upbraid me."
Marguerite came out of the tent at a peremptory word given by the officer at its opening. She did not look toward D'Aulnay de Charnisay, the power who had made her his foolish agent to the destruction of the man who loved her. Muffling her heartbroken cries she followed the subaltern away into darkness—she who had meant at all costs to be mistress of Penobscot. When distance somewhat relieved their ears, D'Aulnay took up a paper lying before him on the table and spoke in some haste to the friar.
"You will go with escort to the walls of the fort, Father Vincent, and demand to speak with Madame La Tour. She hath, it appears, little aversion to being seen on the walls. Give into her hand this paper."
The soldier under the cowl, dreading that his unbroken silence might be noted against him, made some muttering remonstrance, at which D'Aulnay laughed while tying the packet.
"When churchmen go to war, Father Vincent, they must expect to share its risks, at least in offices of mediation. Look you: they tell me the Jesuits and missionaries of Quebec and Montreal are ever before the soldier in the march upon this New World. But Capuchins are a lazy, selfish order. They would lie at their ease in a monastery, exerting themselves only to spy upon their neighbors."
He held out the packet. The soldier in the capote had to step forward to receive it, and D'Aulnay's eye fell upon the sandal advanced near the torch.
"Come, this is not our Capuchin," he exclaimed grimly. "This man hath a foot whiter than my own!"
The feeling that he was detected gave the soldier desperate boldness and scorn of all further caution. He stood erect and lifted his face. Though the folds of the cowl fell around it, the governor caught his contemptuous eye.
"Wash thy heart as I have washed my feet, and it also will be white, D'Aulnay de Charnisay!"
"There spoke the Capuchin," said D'Aulnay with a nod. His close face allowed itself some pleasure in baiting a friar, and if he had suspected Father Vincent of changed identity, his own men were not sure of his suspicion the next instant.
"Our friar hath washed his feet," he observed insolently, pointing out the evident fact. "Such penance and ablution he hath never before put upon himself since he came to Acadia! I will set it down in my dispatches to the king, for his majesty will take pleasure in such news:—'Father Vincent de Paris, on this blessed Paques day of the year 1645, hath washed his feet.'"
The men laughed in a half ashamed way which apologized to the holy man while it deferred to the master, and D'Aulnay dismissed his envoy with seriousness. The two officers who had taken his orders lighted another torch at the blaze in front of the tent, and led away the willing friar. D'Aulnay watched them down the avenue of lodges, and when their figures entered blurred space, watched the moving star which indicated their progress. The officer who had brought Father Vincent to this conference, also stood musing after them with unlaid suspicion.
"Close my tent," said D'Aulnay, rising, "and set the table within."
"My lord," spoke out the subordinate, "I did not tell you the men were thrown into confusion around the Swiss."
"Well, monsieur?" responded D'Aulnay curtly, with an attentive eye.
"There was a stampede of the cattle loosened from the stable. Father Vincent fell into the empty trench. They doubtless lost sight of him until he came out again."
"It seemed to me as your lordship said, that this man scarce had the bearing of a friar, until, indeed, he spoke out in denunciation, and then his voice sounded a deeper tone than I ever heard in it before."
"Why did you not tell me this directly?"
"My lord, I had not thought it until he showed such readiness to move toward yon fort."
"Did you examine the trench?"
"No, my lord. I hurried the friar hither at your command."
"It was the part of a prudent soldier," sneered his master, "to leave a dark trench possibly full of La Tour's recruits, and trot a friar into camp."