HotFreeBooks.com
The Lady of Fort St. John
by Mary Hartwell Catherwood
Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse

"But the sentinels are there, monsieur, and they gave no alarm."

"The sentinels are like you. They will think of giving an alarm to-morrow sunrise, when the fort is strengthened by a new garrison. Take a company of men, surround that trench, double the guards, send me back that friar, and do all with such haste as I have never seen thee show in my service yet."

"Yes, my lord."

While the officer ran among the tents, D'Aulnay walked back and forth outside, nervously impatient to have his men gone. He whispered with a laugh in his beard, "Charles de Menou, D'Aulnay de Charnisay, are you to be twice beaten by a woman? If La Tour hath come back with help and entered the fort, the siege may as well be raised to-morrow."

The cowled soldier taxed his escort in the speed he made across that dark country separating camp and fortress.

"Go softly, good father," remonstrated one of the officers, stumbling among stones. "The Sieur D'Aulnay meant not that we should break our necks at this business."

But he led them with no abatement and a stern and offended mien; wondering secretly if the real Father Vincent would by this time be able to make some noise in the trench. Unaccountable night sounds startled the ear. He turned to the fortress ascent while the trench yet lay distant.

"There is an easier way, father," urged one of the men, obliged, however, to follow him and bend to the task of climbing. The discomfort of treading stony soil in sandals, and the sensibility of his uncovered shins to even that soft night air, made him smile under the cowl. A sentinel challenged them and was answered by his companions. Passing on, they reached the wall near the gate. Here the hill sloped less abruptly than at the towered corner. The rocky foundation of Fort St. John made a moat impossible. Guards on the wall now challenged them, and the muzzles of three guns looked down, distinct eyes in the lifted torchlight, but at the sign of truce these were withdrawn.

"The Sieur D'Aulnay de Charnisay sends this friar with dispatches to the lady of the fort," said one of the officers. "Call your lady to receive them into her own hand. These are our orders."

"And put down a ladder," said the other officer, "that he may ascend with them."

"We put down no ladders," answered the man leaning over the wall. "We will call our lady, but you must yourselves find an arm long enough to lift your dispatches to her."

During this parley, the rush of men coming from the camp began to be heard. The guards on the wall listened, and two of them promptly trained the cannon in that direction.

"You have come to surprise us again," taunted the third guard, leaning over the wall; "but the Swiss is not here now!"

The soldier saw his escape was cut off, and desperately casting back his monk's hood, he shouted upwards,—

"La Tour! La Tour! Put down the ladder—it is Edelwald!"



XVII.

AN ACADIAN PASSOVER.

At that name, down came a ladder as if shot from a catapult. Edelwald sprung up the rounds and both of D'Aulnay's officers seized him. He had drawn one of his long pistols and he clubbed it on their heads so that they staggered back. The sentinels and advancing men fired on him, but by some muscular flash he was flat upon the top of the wall, and the cannon sprung with a roar at his enemies. They were directly in its track, and they took to the trench. Edelwald, dragging the ladder up after him, laughed at the state in which they must find Father Vincent. The entire garrison rushed to the walls, and D'Aulnay's camp stirred with the rolling of drums. Then there was a pause, and each party waited further aggression from the other. The fort's gun had spoken but once. Perhaps some intelligence passed from trench to camp. Presently the unsuccessful company ventured from their breastwork and moved away, and both sides again had rest for the night.

Madame La Tour stood in the fort, watching the action of her garrison outlined against the sky. She could no longer ascend the wall by her private stairs. Cannon shot had torn down her chimney and piled its rock in a barricade against the door. Sentinels were changed, and the relieved soldiers descended from the wall and returned to that great room of the tower which had been turned into a common camp. It seemed under strange enchantment. There was a hole beside the portrait of Claude La Tour, and through its tunnel starlight could be seen and the night air breathed in. The carved buffet was shattered. The usual log, however, burned in cheer, and families had reunited in distinct nests. A pavilion of tapestry was set up for Lady Dorinda and all her treasures, near the stairs: the southern window of her chamber had been made a target.

Le Rossignol sat on a table, with the four expectant children still dancing in front of her. Was it not Paques evening? The alarm being over she again began her merriest tunes. Irregular life in a besieged fortress had its fascination for the children. No bedtime laws could be enforced where the entire household stirred. But to Shubenacadie such turmoil was scandalous. He also lived in the hall during the day, and as late at night as his mistress chose, but he lived a retired life, squatted in a corner, hissing at all who passed near him. Perhaps he pined for water whereon to spread his wings and sail. Sometimes he quavered a plaintive remark on society as he found it, and sometimes he stretched up his neck to its longest length, a sinuous white serpent, and gazed wrathfully at the paneled ceiling. The firelight revealed him at this moment a bundle of glistening satin, wrapped in sleep and his wings from the alarms of war.

Marie stood at the hearth to receive Edelwald. He came striding from among her soldiers, his head showing like a Roman's above the cowl. It was dark-eyed, shapely of feature, and with a mouth and inward curve above the chin so beautiful that their chiseled strength was always a surprise. As he faced the lady of the fortress he stood no taller than she did, but his contour was muscular.

After dropping on his knee to kiss her hand, he stood up to bear the search of her eyes. They swept down his friar's dress and found it not so strange that it should supplant her immediate inquiry,—

"Your news? My lord is well?"

"Yes, my lady."

"Is he without?"

"My lady, he is at the outpost at the head of Fundy Bay."

Her face whitened terribly. She knew what this meant. La Tour could get no help. Nicholas Denys denied him men. There was no hope of rescue for Fort St. John. He was waiting in the outpost for his ship to bring him home—the home besieged by D'Aulnay. The blood returned to her face with a rush, her mouth quivered, and she sobbed two or three times without tears. La Tour could have taken her in his arms. But Edelwald folded his empty arms across his breast.

"My lady, I would rather be shot than bring you this message."

"Klussman betrayed us, Edelwald! and I know I hurt men, hurt them with my own hands, striking and shooting on the wall!"

She threw herself against the settle and shook with weeping. It was the revolt of womanhood. The soldier hung his head. It relieved him to declare savagely,—

"Klussman hath his pay. D'Aulnay's followers have just hanged him below the fort."

"Hanged him! Hanged poor Klussman? Edelwald, I cannot have Klussman—hanged!"

Le Rossignol had stopped her mandolin, and the children clustered near Edelwald waiting for his notice. One of them now ran with the news to her.

"Klussman is hanged," she repeated, changing her position on the table and laying the mandolin down. "Faith, we are never satisfied with our good. I am in a rage now because they hanged not the woman in his stead."

Marie wiped off her tears. The black rings of sleeplessness around her eyes emphasized her loss of color, but she was beautiful.

"How foolish doth weariness make a woman! I expected no help from Denys—yet rested my last hope on it. You must eat, Edelwald. By your dress and the alarm raised you have come into the fort through danger and effort."

"My lady, if, you will permit me first to go to my room, I will find something which sorts better with a soldier than this churchman's gown. My buckskin, I was obliged to mutilate to make me a proper friar."

"Go, assuredly. But I know not what rubbish the cannon of D'Aulnay have battered down in your room. The monk's frock will scarce feel lonesome in that part of our tower now: we have had two Jesuits to lodge there since you left."

"Did they carry away Madame Bronck? I do not see her among your women."

"She is fortunate, Edelwald. A man loved her, and traveled hither from the Orange settlement. They were wed five days ago, and set out with the Jesuits to Montreal."

Marie did not lift her heavy eyelids while she spoke, and anguish passed unseen across Edelwald's face. Whoever was loved and fortunate, he stood outside of such experience. He was young, but there was to be no wooing for him in the world, however long war might spare him. The women of the fort waited with their children for his notice. His stirring to turn toward them rustled a paper under his capote.

"My lady," he said pausing, "D'Aulnay had me in his camp and gave me dispatches to you."

"You were there in this friar's dress?"

Marie looked sincerely the pride she took in his simple courage.

"Yes, my lady, though much against my will. I was obliged to knock down a reverend shaveling and strip him. But the gown hath served fairly for the trouble."

"Hath D'Aulnay many men?"

"He is well equipped."

Edelwald took the packet from his belt and gave it to her. Marie broke the thread and sat down on the settle, spreading D'Aulnay's paper to the firelight. She read it in silence, and handed it to Edelwald. He leaned toward the fire and read it also.

D'Aulnay de Charnisay demanded the surrender of Fort St. John with all its stores, ammunition, moneys and plate, and its present small garrison. When Edelwald looked up, Marie extended her hand for the dispatch and threw it into the fire.

"Let that be his answer," said Edelwald.

"If we surrender," spoke the lady of the fort, "we will make our own terms."

"My lady, you will not surrender."

As she looked at Edelwald, the comfort of having him there softened the resolute lines of her face into childlike curves. Being about the same age she felt always a youthful comradeship with him. Her eyes again filled.

"Edelwald, we have lost ten men."

"D'Aulnay has doubtless lost ten or twenty times as many."

"What are men to him? Cattle, which he can buy. But to us, they are priceless. To say nothing of your rank, Edelwald, you alone are worth more than all the armies D'Aulnay can muster."

He sheltered his face with one hand as if the fire scorched him.

"My lady, Sieur Charles would have us hold this place. Consider: it is his last fortress except that stockade."

"You mistake him, Edelwald. He would save the garrison and let the fort go. If he or you had not come to-night I must have died of my troubles."

She conquered some sobbing, and asked, "How does he bear this despair, Edelwald? for he knew it must come to this without help."

"He was heartsick with anxiety to return, my lady."

She leaned against the back of the settle.

"Do not say things to induce me to sacrifice his men for his fort."

"Do you think, my lady, that D'Aulnay would spare the garrison if he gets possession of this fort?"

"On no other condition will he get the fort. He shall let all my brave men go out with the honors of war."

"But if he accepts such terms—will he keep them?"

"Is not any man obliged to keep a written treaty?"

"Kings are scarce obliged to do that."

"I see what you would do," said Marie, "and I tell you it is useless. You would frighten me with D'Aulnay into allowing you, our only officer, and these men, our only soldiers, to ransom this fort with your lives. It comes to that. We might hold out a few more days and end by being at his mercy."

"Let the men themselves be spoken to," entreated Edelwald.

"They will all, like you, beg to give themselves to the holding of Charles La Tour's property. I have balanced these matters night and day. We must surrender, Edelwald. We must surrender to-morrow."

"My lady, I am one more man. And I will now take charge of the defense."

"And what could I say to my lord if you were killed?—you, the friend of his house, the soldier who lately came with such hopes to Acadia. Our fortunes do you harm enough, Edelwald. I could never face my lord again without you and his men."

"Sieur Charles loves me well enough to trust me with his most dangerous affairs, my lady. The keeping of this fortress shall be one of them."

"O Edelwald, go away from me now!" she cried out piteously. He dropped his head and turned on the instant. The women met him and the children hung to him; and that little being who was neither woman nor child so resented the noise which they made about him as he approached her table that she took her mandolin and swept them out of her way.

"How fares Shubenacadie?" he inquired over the claw she presented to him.

"Shubenacadie's feathers are curdled. He hath greatly soured. Confess me and give me thy benediction, Father Edelwald for I have sinned."

"Not since I took these orders, I hope," said Edelwald. "As a Capuchin I am only an hour old."

"Within the hour, then, I have beaten my swan, bred a quarrel amongst these spawn of the common soldier, and wished a woman hanged."

"A naughty list," said Edelwald.

"Yes, but lying is worse than any of these. Lying doth make the soul sick."

"How do you know that?"

"I have tried it," said Le Rossignol. "Many a time have I tried it. Scarce half an hour ago I told her forlorn old highness that the fort was surely taken this time, and I think she hath buried herself in her chest."

"Edelwald," said a voice from the tapestried pavilion. Lady Dorinda's head and hand appeared, with the curtains drawn behind them.

As the soldier bent to his service upon the hand of the old maid of honor, she exclaimed whimsically,—

"What, Edelwald! Are our fortunes at such ebb that you are taking to a Romish cloister?"

"No cloister for me. Your ladyship sees only a cover which I think of rendering to its owner again. He may not have a second capote in the world, being friar extraordinary to D'Aulnay de Charnisay, who is notable for seizing other men's goods."

"Edelwald, you bring ill news?"

"There was none other to bring."

"Is Charles La Tour then in such straits that we are to have no relief in this fortress?"

"We can look for nothing, Lady Dorinda."

"Thou seest now, Edelwald, how France requites his service. If he had listened to his father he might to-day be second to none in Acadia, with men and wealth in abundance."

"Yet, your ladyship, we love our France!"

"Oh, you do put me out of patience! But the discomforts and perils of this siege have scarce left me any. We are walled together here like sheep."

"It is trying, your ladyship, but if we succeed in keeping the butcher out we may do better presently."

Marie sent her woman for writing tools, and was busy with them when Edelwald returned in his ordinary rich dark dress. She made him a place beside her on the settle, and submitted the paper to his eye. The women and children listened. They knew their situation was desperate. Whispering together they decided with their lady that she would do best to save her soldiers and sacrifice the fort.

Edelwald read the terms she intended to demand, and then looked aside at the beautiful and tender woman who had borne the hardships of war. She should do anything she wished. It was worth while to surrender if surrendering decreased her care. All Acadia was nothing when weighed against her peace of mind. He felt his rage mounting against Charles La Tour for leaving her exposed in this frontier post, the instrument of her lord's ambition and political feud. In Edelwald's silent and unguessed warfare with his secret, he had this one small half hour's truce. Marie sat under his eyes in firelight, depending on the comfort of his presence. Rapture opened its sensitive flower and life culminated for him. Unconscious of it, she wrote down his suggestions, bending her head seriously to the task.

Edelwald himself finally made a draft of the paper for D'Aulnay. The weary men had thrown themselves down to sleep, and heard no colloquy. But presently the cook was aroused from among them and bid to set out such a feast as he had never before made in Fort St. John.

"Use of our best supplies," directed Marie. "To-morrow we may give up all we have remaining to the enemy. We will eat a great supper together this Paques night."

The cook took an assistant and labored well. Kettles and pans multiplied on coals raked out for their service. Marie had the men bring such doors as remained from the barracks and lay them from table to table, making one long board for her household; and this the women dressed in the best linen of the house. They set on plate which had been in La Tour's family for generations. Every accumulation of prosperity was brought out for this final use. The tunnel in the wall was stopped with blankets, and wax candles were lighted everywhere. Odors of festivity filled the children with eagerness. It was like the new year when there was always merry-making in the hall, yet it was also like a religious ceremony. The men rose from their pallets and set aside screens, and the news was spread when sentinels were changed.

Marie called Zelie up to her ruined apartment, and standing amidst stone and plaster, was dressed in her most magnificent gown and jewels. She appeared on the stairs in the royal blackness of velvet whitened by laces and sparkling with points of tinted fire. Edelwald led her to the head of the long board, and she directed her people to range themselves down its length in the order of their families.

"My men," said Madame La Tour to each party in turn as they were relieved on the walls to sit down at the table below her, "we are holding a passover supper this Paques night because it may be our last night in Fort St. John. You all understand how Sieur de la Tour hath fared. We are reduced to the last straits. Yet not to the last straits, my men, if we can keep you. With such followers your lord can make some stand elsewhere. D'Aulnay has proposed a surrender. I refused his terms, and have set down others, which will sacrifice the fort but save the garrison. Edelwald, our only officer, is against surrender, because he, like yourselves, would give the greater for the less, which I cannot allow."

"My lady," spoke Glaud Burge, a sturdy grizzled man, rising to speak for the first squad, "we have been talking of this matter together, and we think Edelwald is right. The fort is hard beset, and it is true there are fewer of us than at first, but we may hold out somehow and keep the walls around us. We have no stomach to strike flag to D'Aulnay de Charnisay."

"My lady," spoke Jean le Prince, the youngest man in the fortress, who was appointed to speak for the second squad when their turn came to sit down at the table, "we also think Edelwald is right in counseling you not to give up Fort St. John. We say nothing of D'Aulnay's hanging Klussman, for Klussman deserved it. But we would rather be shot down man by man than go out by the grace of D'Aulnay."

She answered both squads,—

"Do not argue against surrender, my men. We can look for no help. The fort must go in a few more days anyhow, and by capitulating we can make terms. My lord can build other forts, but where will he find other followers like you? You will march out not by the grace of D'Aulnay but with the honors of war. Now speak of it no more, and let us make this a festival."

So they made it a festival. With guards coming and going constantly, every man took the pleasure of the hall while the walls were kept.

Such a night was never before celebrated in Fort St. John. A heavier race might have touched the sadness underlying such gayety; or have fathomed moonlight to that terrible burden of the elm-tree down the slope. But this French garrison lent themselves heartily to the hour, enjoying without past or future. Stories were told of the New World and of France, tales of persecuted Huguenots, legends which their fathers had handed down to them, and traditions picked up among the Indians. Edelwald took the dwarf's mandolin and stood up among them singing the songs they loved, the high and courageous songs, loving songs, and songs of faith. Lady Dorinda, having shut her curtain for the night, declined to take any part in this household festivity, though she contributed some unheard sighs and groans of annoyance during its progress. A phlegmatic woman, fond of her ease, could hardly keep her tranquillity, besieged by cannon in the daytime, and by chattering and laughter, the cracking of nuts and the thump of soldiers' feet half the night.

But Shubenacadie came out of his corner and lifted his wings for battle. Le Rossignol first soothed him and then betrayed him into shoes of birch bark which she carried in her pocket for the purpose of making Shubenacadie dance. Shubenacadie began to dance in a wild untutored trot most laughable to see. He varied his paddling on the flags by sallies with bill and wings against the dear mistress who made him a spectacle; and finally at Marie's word he was relieved, and waddled back to his corner to eat and doze and mutter swan talk against such orgies in Fort St. John. The children had long fallen asleep with rapturous fatigue, when Marie stood up and made her people follow her in a prayer. The waxlights were then put out, screens divided the camp, and quiet followed.

Of all nights in Le Rossignol's life this one seemed least likely to be chosen as her occasion for a flight. The walls were strictly guarded, and at midnight the moon spread its ghostly day over all visible earth. Besides, if the fortress was to be surrendered, there was immediate prospect of a voyage for all the household.

The dwarf's world was near the ground, to which the thinking of the tall men and women around her scarcely stooped. But she seized on and weighed and tried their thoughts, arriving at shrewd issues. Nobody had asked her advice about the capitulation. Without asking anybody's advice she decided that the Hollandais Van Corlaer and the Jesuit priest Father Jogues would be wholesome checks upon D'Aulnay de Charnisay when her lady opened the fort to him. The weather must have prevented Van Corlaer from getting beyond the sound of cannon, and neither he nor the priest could indifferently leave the lady of St. John to her fate, and Madame Antonia would refuse to do it. Le Rossignol believed the party that had set out early in the week must be encamped not far away.

Edelwald mounted a bastion with the sentinels. That weird light of the moon which seems the faded and forgotten ghost of day, rested everywhere. The shadow of the tower fell inward, and also partly covered the front wall. This enchanted land of night cooled Edelwald. He threw his arms upward with a passionate gesture to which the soldiers had become accustomed in their experience of the young chevalier.

"What is that?" exclaimed the man nearest him, for there was disturbance in the opposite bastion. Edelwald moved at once across the interval of wall and found the sentinels in that bastion divided between laughter and superstitious awe.

"She's out again," said one.

"Who is out?" demanded Edelwald.

"The little swan-riding witch."

"You have not let the dwarf scale this wall? If she could do that unobserved, my men, we are lax."

"She is one who will neither be let nor hindered. We are scarce sure we even saw her. There was but the swoop of wings."

"Why, Renot, my lad," insisted Edelwald, "we could see her white swan now in this noon of moonlight, if she were abroad. Besides, D'Aulnay has sentinels stationed around this height. They will check her."

"They will check the wind across Fundy Bay first," said the other man.

"You cannot think Le Rossignol has risen in the air on her swan's back? That is too absurd," said Edelwald. "No one ever saw her play such pranks. And you could have winged the heavy bird as he rose."

"I know she is out of Fort St. John at this minute," insisted Renot Babinet. "And how are you to wing a bird which gets out of sight before you know what has happened?"

"I say it is no wonder we have trouble in this seigniory," growled the other man. "Our lady never could see a mongrel baby or a witch dwarf or a stray black gown anywhere, but she must have it into the fort and make it free of the best here."

"And God forever bless her," said Edelwald, baring his head.

"Amen," they both responded with force.

The silent cry was mighty behind Edelwald's lips;—the cry which he intrusted not even to his human breath—

"My love—my love! My royal lady! God, thou who alone knowest my secret, make me a giant to hold it down!"



XVIII.

THE SONG OF EDELWALD.

At daybreak a signal on the wall where it could be seen from D'Aulnay's camp brought an officer and his men to receive Madame La Tour's dispatches. Glaud Burge handed them, down at the end of a ramrod.

"But see yonder," he said to Francois Bastarack his companion, as they stood and watched the messengers tramp away. He pointed to Klussman below the fort—poor Klussman whom the pearly vapors of morning could not conceal. "I could have done that myself in first heat, but I like not treating with a man who did it coolly."

Parleying and demurring over the terms of surrender continued until noon. All that time ax, saw and hammer worked in D'Aulnay's camp as if he had suddenly taken to ship-building. But the pastimes of a victorious force are regarded with dull attention by the vanquished. Finally the papers were handed up bearing D'Aulnay's signature. They guaranteed to Madame La Tour the safety of her garrison, who were to march out with their arms and personal belongings, the household goods of her people; and La Tour's ship with provisions enough to stock it for a voyage. The money, merchandise, stores, jewels and ordnance fell to D'Aulnay with the fort.

D'Aulnay marched directly on his conquest. His drums approached, and the garrison ran to throw into a heap such things as they and their families were to take away. Spotless weather and a dimpled bay adorned this lost seigniory. It was better than any dukedom in France to these first exiled Acadians. Pierre Doucett's widow and another bereaved woman knelt to cry once more over the trench by the powder-house. Her baby, hid in a case like a bolster, hung across her shoulder. Lady Dorinda's belongings, numbered among the goods of the household, were also placed near the gate. She sat within the hall, wrapped for her journey, composed and silent. For when the evil day actually overtook Lady Dorinda, she was too thorough a Briton to cringe. She met her second repulse from Acadia as she had met her first, when Claude La Tour found her his only consolation. In this violent uprooting of family life so long grown to one place, Le Rossignol was scarcely missed. Each one thought of the person dearest to himself and of that person's comfort. Marie noted her absence, but the dwarf never came to harm. She was certain to rejoin the household somewhere, and who could blame her for avoiding the capitulation if she found it possible? The little Nightingale could not endure pain. Edelwald drew the garrison up in line and the gates were opened.

D'Aulnay entered the fort with his small army. He was splendidly dressed, and such pieces of armor as he wore dazzled the eye. As he returned the salute of Edelwald and the garrison, he paused and whitened with chagrin. Klussman had told him something of the weakness of the place, but he had not expected to find such a pitiful remnant of men. Twenty-three soldiers and an officer! These were the precious creatures who had cost him so much, and whom their lady was so anxious to save! He smiled at the disproportionate preparations made by his hammers and saws, and glanced back to see if the timbers were being carried in. They were, at the rear of his force, but behind them intruded Father Vincent de Paris wrapped in a blanket which one of the soldiers had provided for him. The scantiness of this good friar's apparel should have restrained him in camp. But he was such an apostle as stalks naked to duty if need be, and he felt it his present duty to keep the check of religion upon the implacable nature of D'Aulnay de Charnisay.

D'Aulnay ordered the gates shut. He would have shut out Father Vincent, but it could not be managed without great discourtesy, and there are limits to that with a churchman. The household and garrison ready to depart saw this strange action with dismay, and Marie stepped directly down from her hall to confront her enemy. D'Aulnay had seen her at Port Royal when he first came to Acadia. He remembered her motion in the dance, and approved of it. She was a beautiful woman, though her Huguenot gown and close cap now gave her a widowed look—becoming to a woman of exploits. But she was also the woman to whom he owed one defeat and much humiliation.

He swept his plume at her feet.

"Permit me, Madame La Tour, to make my compliments to an amazon. My own taste are women who stay in the house at their prayers, but the Sieur de la Tour and I differ in many things."

"Doubtless, my lord De Charnisay," responded Marie with the dignity which cannot taunt, though she still believed the outcast child to be his. "But why have you closed on us the gates which we opened to you?"

"Madame, I have been deceived in the terms of capitulation."

"My lord, the terms of capitulation were set down plainly and I hold them signed by your hand."

"But a signature is nothing when gross advantage hath been taken of one of the parties to a treaty."

The mistake she had made in trusting to the military honor of D'Aulnay de Charnisay swept through Marie. But she controlled her voice to inquire,—

"What gross advantage can there be, my lord D'Aulnay—unless you are about to take a gross advantage of us? We leave you here ten thousand pounds of the money of England, our plate and jewels and furs, and our stores except a little food for a journey. We go out poor; yet if our treaty is kept we shall complain of no gross advantage."

"Look at those men," said D'Aulnay, shaking his glove at her soldiers.

"Those weary and faithful men," said Marie: "I see them."

"You will see them hanged as traitors, madame. I have no time to parley," exclaimed D'Aulnay. "The terms of capitulation are not satisfactory to me. I do not feel bound by them. You may take your women and withdraw when you please, but these men I shall hang."

While he spoke he lifted and shook his hand as if giving a signal, and the garrison was that instant seized, by his soldiers. Her women screamed. There was such a struggle in the fort as there had been upon the wall, except that she herself stood blank in mind, and pulseless. The actual and the unreal shimmered together. But there stood her garrison, from Edelwald to Jean le Prince, bound like criminals, regarding their captors with that baffled and half ashamed look of the surprised and overpowered. Above the mass of D'Aulnay's busy soldiery timber uprights were reared, and hammers and spikes set to work on the likeness of a scaffold. The preparations of the morning made the completion of this task swift and easy. D'Aulnay de Charnisay intended to hang her garrison when he set his name to the paper securing their lives. The ringing of hammers sounded far off to Marie.

"I don't understand these things," she articulated. "I don't understand anything in the world!"

D'Aulnay gave himself up to watching the process, in spite of Father Vincent de Paris, whose steady remonstrances he answered only by shrugs. In that age of religious slaughter the Capuchin could scarcely object to decreasing heretics, but he did object as a man and a priest to such barbarous treachery toward men with whom a compact had been made. The refined nurture of France was not recent in D'Aulnay's experience, but he came of a great and honorable house, and the friar's appeal was made to inherited instincts.

"Good churchman," spoke out Jean le Prince, the lad, shaking his hair back from his face, "your capote and sandals lie there by the door of the tower, where Edelwald took thought to place them for you. But you who have the soldier's heart should wear the soldier's dress, and hide D'Aulnay de Charnisay under the cowl."

"You men-at-arms," Glaud Burge exhorted the guards drawn up, on each side of him and his fellow-prisoners, "will you hang us up like dogs? If we must die we claim the death of soldiers. You have your pieces in your hands; shoot us. Do us such grace as we would do you in like extremity."

The guards looked aside at each other and then at their master, shamed through their peasant blood by the outrage they were obliged to put upon a courageous garrison. But Edelwald said nothing. His eyes were upon Marie. He would not increase her anguish of self-reproach by the change of a muscle in his face. The garrison was trapped and at the mercy of a merciless enemy. His most passionate desire was to have her taken away that she might not witness the execution. Why was Sieur Charles La Tour sitting in the stockade at the head of Fundy Bay while she must endure the sight of this scaffold?

Marie's women knelt around her crying. Her slow distracted gaze traveled from Glaud Burge to Jean le Prince, from Renot Babinet to Francois Bastarack, from Ambroise Tibedeaux along the line of stanch faces to Edelwald. His calm uplifted countenance—with the horrible platform of death growing behind it—looked, as it did when he happily met the sea wind or went singing through trackless wilderness. She broke from her trance and the ring of women, and ran before D'Aulnay de Charnisay.

"My lord," said Marie—and she was so beautiful in her ivory pallor, so wonderful with fire moving from the deep places of her dilated black eyes that he felt satisfaction in attending to her—"it is useless to talk to a man like you."

"Quite, madame," said D'Aulnay. "I never discuss affairs with a woman."

"But you may discuss them with the king when he learns that you have hanged with other soldiers of a ransomed garrison a young officer of the house of De Born."

D'Aulnay ran his eye along the line. The unrest of Edelwald at Marie's slightest parley with D'Aulnay reminded the keen governor of the face he had last night seen under the cowl.

"The king will be obliged to me," he observed, "when one less heretical De Born cumbers his realm."

"The only plea I make to you, my lord D'Aulnay, is that you hang me also. For I deserve it. My men had no faith in your military honor, and I had."

"Madame, you remind me of a fact I desired to overlook. You are indeed a traitor deserving death. But of my clemency, and not because you are a woman, for you yourself have forgotten that in meddling with war, I will only parade you upon the scaffold as a reprieved criminal. Bring hither a cord," called D'Aulnay, "and noose it over this lady's head." Edelwald raged in a hopeless tearing at his bonds. The guards seized him, but he struggled with unconquered strength to reach and protect his lady. Father Vincent de Paris had taken his capote and sandals at Jean le Prince's hint, and entered the tower. He clothed himself behind one of the screens of the hall, and thought his absence short, but during that time Marie was put upon the finished scaffold. A skulking reluctant soldier of D'Aulnay's led her by a cord. She walked the long rough planks erect. Her garrison to a man looked down, as they did at funerals, and Edelwald sobbed in his fight against the guards, the tears starting from under his eyelids as he heard her foot-fall pass near him. Back and forth she trod, and D'Aulnay watched the spectacle. Her garrison felt her degradation as she must feel their death. The grizzled lip of Glaud Burge moved first to comfort her.

"My lady, though our hands be tied, we make our military salute to you," he said.

"Fret not, my lady," said Renot Babinet.

"Edelwald can turn all these mishaps into a song, my lady," declared Jean le Prince. Marie had that sensation of lost identity which has confused us all. In her walk she passed the loops dangling ready for her men. A bird, poised for one instant on the turret, uttered a sweet long trill. She could hear the river. It was incredible that all those unknown faces should be swarming below her; that the garrison was obliged to stand tied; that Lady Dorinda had braved the rabble of soldiery and come out to wait weeping at the scaffold end. Marie looked at the row of downcast faces. The bond between these faithful soldiers and herself was that instant sublime.

"I crave pardon of you all," said Marie as she came back and the rustle of her gown again passed them, "for not knowing how to deal with the crafty of this world. My foolishness has brought you to this scaffold."

"No, my lady," said the men in full chorus.

"We desire nothing better, my lady," said Edelwald, "since your walking there has blessed it."

Father Vincent's voice from the tower door arrested the spectacle. His cowl was pushed back to his shoulders, baring the astonishment of his lean face.

"This is the unworthiest action of your life, my son De Charnisay," he denounced, shaking his finger and striding down at the governor, who owned the check by a slight grimace.

"It is enough," said D'Aulnay. "Let the scaffold now be cleared for the men."

He submitted with impatience to a continued parley with the Capuchin. Father Vincent de Paris was angry. And constantly as D'Aulnay walked from him he zealously followed.

The afternoon sunlight sloped into the walls, leaving a bank of shadow behind the timbered framework, which extended an etching of itself toward the esplanade. The lengthened figures of soldiers passed also in cloudy images along the broken ground, for a subaltern's first duty had been to set guards upon the walls. The new master of Fort St. John was now master of all southern and western Acadia; but he had heard nothing which secured him against La Tour's return with fresh troops.

"My friends," said D'Aulnay, speaking to the garrison, "this good friar persuades in me more softness than becomes a faithful servant of the king. One of your number I will reprieve."

"Then let it be Jean le Prince," said Edelwald, speaking for the first time to D'Aulnay de Charnisay. "The down has not yet grown on the lad's lip."

"But I pardon him," continued the governor, "on condition that he hangs the rest of you."

"Hang thyself!" cried the boy. "Thou art the only man on earth I would choke with a rope."

"Will no one be reprieved?"

D'Aulnay's eye, traveled from scorn to scorn along the row.

"It is but the pushing aside of a slab. They are all stubborn heretics, Father Vincent. We waste time. I should be inspecting the contents of this fort."

The women and children were flattening themselves like terrified swallows against the gate; for through the hum of stirring soldiery penetrated to them from outside a hint of voices not unknown. The sentinels had watched a party approaching; but it was so small, and hampered, moreover, by a woman and some object like a tiny gilded sedan chair, that they did not notify the governor. One of the party was a Jesuit priest by his cassock, and another his donne. These never came from La Tour. Another was a tall Hollandais; and two servants lightly carried the sedan up the slope. A few more people seemed to wait behind for the purpose of making a camp, and there were scarce a dozen of the entire company.

Marie had borne without visible exhaustion the labors of this siege, the anguish of treachery and disappointment, her enemy's breach of faith and cruel parade of her. The garrison were ranged ready upon the plank; but she held herself in tense control, and waited beside Lady Dorinda, with her back toward the gate, while her friends outside parleyed with her enemy. D'Aulnay refused to admit any one until he had dealt with the garrison. The Jesuit was reported to him as Father Isaac Jogues, and the name had its effect, as it then had everywhere among people of the Roman faith. No soldier would be surprised at meeting a Jesuit priest anywhere in the New World. But D'Aulnay begged Father Jogues to excuse him while he finished a moment's duty, and he would then come out and escort his guest into the fortress.

The urgent demand, however, of a missionary to whom even the king had shown favor, was not to be denied. D'Aulnay had the gates set ajar; and pushing through their aperture came in Father Jogues with his donne and two companions.

The governor advanced in displeasure. He would have put out all but the priest, but the gates were slammed to prevent others from entering, and slammed against the chair in which the sentinels could see a red-headed dwarf. The weird melody of her screaming threats kept them dubious while they grinned. The gates being shut, Marie fled through ranks of men-at-arms to Antonia, clung to her and gave Father Jogues and Van Corlaer no time to stand aghast at the spectacle they saw. Crying and trembling, she put back the sternness of D'Aulnay de Charnisay, and the pity of Father Vincent de Paris, and pleaded with Father Jogues and the Hollandais for the lives of her garrison as if they had come with heavenly authority.

"You see them with ropes around their necks, Monsieur Corlaer and Monsieur Jogues, when here is the paper the governor signed, guaranteeing to me their safety. Edelwald is scarce half a year from France. Speak to the governor of Acadia; for you, Monsieur Corlaer, are a man of affairs, and this good missionary is a saint—you can move D'Aulnay de Charnisay to see it is not the custom, even in warfare with women, to trap and hang a garrison who has made honorable surrender."

A man may resolve that he will not meddle with his neighbor's feuds, or involve a community dependent on him with any one's formidable enemy. Yet he will turn back from his course the moment an appeal is made for his help, and face that enemy as Van Corlaer faced the governor of Acadia, full of the fury roused by outrage. But what could he and Father Jogues and the persevering Capuchin say to the parchment which the governor now deigned to pass from hand to hand among them in reply?—the permission of Louis XIII. to his beloved D'Aulnay de Charnisay (whom God hold in His keeping) to take the Fort of St. John and deal with its rebellious garrison as seemed to him fit, for which destruction of rebels his sovereign would have him in loving remembrance.

During all this delay Edelwald stood with his beautiful head erect above the noose, and his self-repressed gaze still following Marie. The wives of other soldiers were wailing for their husbands. But he must die without wife, without love. He saw Antonia holding her and weeping with her. His blameless passion filled him like a great prayer. That changing phantasm which we call the world might pass from before his men and him at the next breath; yet the brief last song of the last troubadour burst from his lips to comfort the lady of Fort St. John.

There was in this jubilant cry a gush and grandeur of power outmastering force of numbers and brute cunning. It reached and compelled every spirit in the fortress. The men in line with him stood erect and lifted their firm jaws, and gazed forward with shining eyes. Those who had faded in the slightest degree from their natural flush of blood felt the strong throbs which paint a man's best on his face. They could not sing the glory of death in duty, the goodness of God who gave love and valor to man; but they could die with Edelwald.

The new master of Fort St. John was jealous of such dying as the song ceased and he lifted his hand to signal his executioners. Father Jogues turned away praying with tremulous lips. The Capuchin strode toward the hall. But Van Corlaer and Lady Dorinda and Antonia held with the strength of all three that broken-hearted woman who struggled like a giantess with her arms stretched toward the scaffold.

"I will save them—I will save them! My brave Edelwald—all my brave soldiers shall not die!—Where are my soldiers, Antonia? It is dark. I cannot see them any more!"



POSTLUDE.

A TIDE-CREEK.

When ordinary days had settled flake on flake over this tragedy in Acadia until memory looked back at it as at the soft outlines of a snow-obliterated grave, Madame Van Corlaer stood one evening beside the Hudson River, and for half an hour breathed again the salt breath of Fundy Bay. Usually she was abed at that hour. But Mynheer had been expected all day on a sailing vessel from New Amsterdam, and she could not resist coming down once more through her garden to the wharf.

Van Corlaer's house, the best stone mansion in Rensselaerswyck—that overflow of settlement around the stockade of Fort Orange—stood up the slope, and had its farm appended. That delight of Dutchmen, an ample garden, extended its central path almost like an avenue to the river. Antonia need scarcely step off her own domain to meet her husband at the wharf. She had lingered down the garden descent; for sweet herbs were giving their souls to the summer night there; and not a cloud of a sail yet appeared on the river. Some fishing-boats lay at the wharf, but no men were idling around under the full moon. It was pleasanter to visit and smoke from door to door in the streets above.

Antonia was not afraid of any savage ambush. Her husband kept the Iroquois on friendly terms with the settlement. The years through which she had borne her dignity of being Madame Van Corlaer constantly increased her respect for that colonial statesman. The savages in the Mohawk valley used the name Corlaer when they meant governor. Antonia felt sure that the Jesuit missionary, Father Isaac Jogues, need not have died a martyr's death if Van Corlaer had heard in time of his return to the Mohawks.

At the bottom of her garden she rested her hands upon a gate in the low stone wall. The mansion behind her was well ordered and prosperous. No drop of milk was spilled in Antonia's domain without her knowledge. She had noted, as she came down the path, how the cabbages were rounding their delicately green spheres. Antonia was a housewife for whom maids labored with zeal. She could manipulate so deftly the comfort-making things of life. Neither sunset nor moonrise quite banished the dreamy blue light on these rolling lands around the head-waters of the Hudson. Across her tranquil commonplace happiness blew suddenly that ocean breath from Fundy Bay; for the dwarf of Fort St. John, leading a white waddling bird, whose feathers even in that uncertain light showed soil, appeared from the screening masonry of the wall.

She stood still and looked at Antonia; and Antonia inside the gate looked at her. That instant was a bubble full of revolving dyes. It brought a thousand pictures to Antonia's sight. Thus silently had that same dwarf with her swan appeared to a camp in the Acadian woods, announcing trouble at Fort St. John.

Again Antonia lived through confusion which was like pillage of the fort. Again she sat in her husband's tent, holding Marie's dying head on her arm while grief worked its swift miracle in a woman formed to such fullness of beauty and strength. Again she saw two graves and a long trench made in the frontier graveyard for Marie and her officer Edelwald and her twenty-three soldiers, all in line with her child. Once more Antonia saw the household turn from that spot weeping aloud; and De Charnisay's ships already sailing away with the spoil of the fort to Penobscot; and his sentinels looking down from the walls of St. John. She saw her husband dividing his own party, and sending all the men he could spare to navigate La Tour's ship and carry the helpless women and children to the head of Fundy Bay. All these things revolved before her, in that bubble of an instant, before her own voice broke it, saying,—

"Is this you, Le Rossignol?"

"Shubenacadie and I," responded the dwarf, lilting up sweetly.

"Where do you come from?" inquired Antonia, feeling the weirdness of her visitor as she had never felt it in the hall at Fort St. John.

"Port Royal. I have come from Port Royal on purpose to speak with you."

"With me?"

"With you, Madame Antonia."

"You must then go directly to the house and eat some supper," said Antonia, speaking her first thought but reserving her second: "Our people will take to the fields when they see the poor little creature by daylight, and as for the swan, it is worse than a drove of Mynheer's Indians."

"I am not eating to-night, I am riding," answered Le Rossignol, bold in mystery while the moon made half uncertain the draggled state of Shubenacadie's feathers. She placed her hands on his back and pressed him downward, as if his plumage foamed up from an over-full packing-case. Shubenacadie waddled a step or two reluctantly, and squatted, spreading his wings and curving his head around to look at her. The dwarf sat upon him as upon a throne, stroking his neck with her right hand while she talked. She seemed a part of the river's whisper, or of that world of summer night insects which shrilled around.

"I have come to tell you about the death of D'Aulnay de Charnisay," said this pigmy.

"We have long had that news," responded Antonia, "and worse which followed it."

Madame Van Corlaer despised Charles La Tour for repossessing himself of all he had lost and becoming the first power in Acadia by marrying D'Aulnay's widow.

"No ear," declared the dwarf, "hath ever heard how D'Aulnay de Charnisay died."

"He was stuck in a bog," said Antonia.

"He was stuck in no bog," said Le Rossignol, "for I alone was beside him at the time. And I ride from Port Royal to tell thee the whole of it and free my mind, lest I be obliged to fling it in my new lady's face the next time she speaks of his happy memory. Widows who take second husbands have no sense about the first one."

Antonia slightly coughed. It is not pleasant to have your class disapproved of, even by a dwarf. And she did still secretly respect her first husband's prophecy. Had it not been fulfilled on the friend she best loved, if not on the husband she took?

"Mynheer Van Corlaer will soon be home from New Amsterdam, whither he made a voyage to confer with the governor," said Antonia. "Let me take you to the house, where we can talk at our ease."

"I talk most at my ease on Shubenacadie's back," answered Le Rossignol, holding her swan's head and rubbing her cheek against his bill. "You will not keep me a moment at Fort Orange. I fell out of patience with every place while we lived so long in poverty at that stockade at the head of Fundy Bay."

"Did you live there long?" inquired Antonia.

"Until D'Aulnay de Charnisay died out of my lord's way. What could my lord do for us, indeed, with nothing but a ship and scarce a dozen men? He left some to keep the stockade and took the rest to man his ship when he started to Newfoundland to send her forlorn old highness back to England. Her old highness hath had many a dower fee from us since that day."

"Your lord hath mended his fortunes," remarked Antonia without approval.

"Yes, we are now the greatest people in Acadia; we live in grand state at Port Royal. You would never know him for the careworn man he was—except once, indeed, when he came from viewing the ruins of Fort St. John. It is no longer maintained as a fortress. But I like not all these things. I rove more now than when Madame Marie lived."

Silence was kept a moment after Madame La Tour's name, between Antonia and her illusive visitor. The dwarf seemed clad in sumptuous garments. A cap of rich velvet could be discerned on her flaring hair instead of the gull-breast covering she once made for herself.

"Yet I roved much out of the peasants' way at the stockade," she continued, sending the night sounds again into background. "Peasants who have no master over them become like swine. We had two goats, and I tended them, and sat ages upon ages on the bank of a tide-creek which runs up among the marshes at the head of Fundy Bay. Madame Antonia, you should see that tide-creek. It shone like wet sleek red carnelian when the water was out of it. I loved its basin; and the goats would go down to lick the salt. They had more sense than D'Aulnay de Charnisay, for they knew where to venture. I thought D'Aulnay de Charnisay was one of our goats by his bleat, until I looked down and saw him part sunk in a quicksand at the bottom of the channel. The tide was already frothing in like yeast upon him. How gloriously the tide shoots up that tide-creek! It hisses. It comes like thousands of horses galloping one behind the other and tumbling over each other,—fierce and snorting spray, and climbing the banks, and still trampling down and flying over the ones who have galloped in first."

"But what did D'Aulnay de Charnisay do?" inquired Antonia.

"He stuck in the quicksand," responded Le Rossignol.

"But did he not call for help?"

"He did nothing else, indeed, until the tide's horses trampled him under."

"But what did you do?"

"I sat down and watched him," said the dwarf.

"How could you?" shuddered Antonia, feeling how little this tiny being's humanity was developed.

"We had some chat," said Le Rossignol. "He promised me a seigniory if I would run and call some men with ropes. 'I heard a Swiss's wife say that you promised him a seigniory,' quoth I. 'And you had enough ropes then.' He pledged his word and took oath to make me rich if I would get him only a priest. 'You pledged your word to the lady of Fort St. John,' said I. The water kept rising and he kept stretching his neck above it, and crying and shouting, and I took his humor and cried and shouted with him, naming the glorious waves as they rode in from the sea:—

"'Glaud Burge!'

"'Jean le Prince!'

"'Renot Babinet!'

"'Ambroise Tibedeaux!'

"And so on until Francois Bastarack the twenty-third roller flowed over his head, and Edelwald did not even know he was beneath."

Antonia dropped her face upon her hands.

"So that is the true story," said Le Rossignol. "He died a good salt death, and his men pulled him out before the next tide."

Presently Antonia looked up. Her eye was first caught by a coming sail on the river. It shone in the moonlight, moving slowly, for there was so little wind. Her husband must be there. She turned to say so to Le Rossignol; who was gone.

Antonia opened the gate and stepped outside, looking in every direction for dwarf and swan. She had not even noticed a rustle, or the pat of Shubenacadie's feet upon sand. But Le Rossignol and her familiar had disappeared in the wide expanse of moonlight; whether deftly behind tree or rock, or over wall, or through air above, Antonia had no mind to find out.

Even the approaching sail took weirdness. The ship was too distant for her to yet hear the hiss of water around its prow. But in that, Van Corlaer and the homely good happiness of common life was approaching. With the dwarf had disappeared that misty sweet sorrowful Acadian world.

THE END

Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse