"I did not know that it was a matter of regret to monsieur."
"Regret?" said Cazeneau, in a querulous tone—"regret? Monsieur, one does not leave a place like Versailles for a place like Louisbourg without regrets."
"True," said the other, who saw that it was a sore subject.
"With Fleury I had influence; but with the present company at Versailles, it is—well, different; and I am better here. Out of sight, out of mind. It was one of Fleury's last acts—this appointment. I solicited it, for certain reasons; chiefly because I saw that he could not last long. Well, they'll have enough to think of without calling me to mind; for, if I'm not mistaken, the Queen of Hungary will find occupation enough for them."
After some further conversation of this kind, Cazeneau returned to the subject of Mimi, asking particularly about her life in Louisbourg, and whether Claude had seen her often. The information which he received on this point seemed to give him satisfaction.
"Does this young man claim to be a Montresor?" asked the commandant, "or is he merely interesting himself in the affairs of that family by way of au intrigue?"
"It is an intrigue," said Cazeneau. "He does not call himself Montresor openly, but I have reason to know that he is intending to pass himself off as the son and heir of the Count Eugene, who was outlawed nearly twenty years ago. Perhaps you have heard of that."
"O, yes; I remember all about that. His wife was a Huguenot, and both of them got off. His estates were confiscated. It was private enmity, I believe. Some one got a rich haul. Ha, ha, ha!"
At this Cazeneau's face turned as black as a thundercloud. The commandant saw that his remark had been an unfortunate one, and hastened to change the conversation.
"So this young fellow has a plan of that sort, you think. Of course he's put up by others—some wirepullers behind the scenes. Well, he's safe enough now, and he has that hanging over him which will put an end to this scheme, whoever may have started it."
At this Cazeneau recovered his former calmness, and smiled somewhat grimly.
"I can guess pretty well," said Cazeneau, "how this plot may have originated. You must know that when the Count de Montresor and his countess fled, they took with them a servant who had been their steward. This man's name was Motier. Now, both the count and countess died shortly after their arrival in America. The countess died first, somewhere in Canada, and then the count seemed to lose his reason; for he went off into the wilderness, and has never been heard of since. He must have perished at once. His steward, Motier, was then left. This man was a Huguenot and an incorrigible rascal. He found Canada too hot to hold him with his infidel Huguenot faith, and so he went among the English. I dare say that this Motier, ever since, has been concocting a plan by which he might make his fortune out of the Montresor estates. This Claude Motier is his son, and has, no doubt, been brought up by old Motier to believe that he is the son of the count; or else the young villain is his partner. You see his game now—don't you? He hired a schooner to take him here. He would have began his work here by getting some of you on his side, and gaining some influence, or money, perhaps, to begin with. Very well; what then? Why, then off he goes to France, where he probably intended to take advantage of the change in the ministry to push his claims, in the hope of making something out of them. And there is no doubt that, with his impudence, the young villain might have done something. And that reminds me to ask you whether you found anything at his lodgings."
"He should be searched. He must have some papers."
"He shall be searched to-night."
"I should have done that before. I left word to have that done before sending him from Grand Pre; but, as the fellow got off, why, of course that was no use. And I only hope he hasn't thought of destroying the papers. But if he has any, he won't want to destroy them—till the last moment. Perhaps he won't even think of it."
"Do you suppose that this Motier has lived among the English all his life?"
"I believe so."
"His manner, his accent, and his look are all as French as they can possibly be."
"How he has done it I am unable to conjecture. This Motier, pere, must have been a man of superior culture, to have brought up such a very gentlemanly young fellow as this."
"Well, there is a difficulty about that. My opinion of the New Englanders is such that I do not think they would allow a man to live among them who looked so like a Frenchman."
"Bah! his looks are nothing; and they don't know what his French accent may be."
"Do you think, after all, that his own story is true about living in New England? May he not be some adventurer, who has drifted away from France of late years, and has come in contact with Motier? Or, better yet, may he not have been prepared for his part, and sent out by some parties in France, who are familiar with the whole Montresor business, and are playing a deep game?"
Cazeneau, at this, sat for a time in deep thought.
"Your suggestion," said he, at length, "is certainly a good one, and worth consideration. Yet I don't see how it can be so. No—for this reason: the captain of the schooner was certainly a New Englander, and e spoke in my hearing, on several occasions, as though this Motier was, like himself, a native of New England, and as one, too, whom he had known for years. Once he spoke as though he had known him from boyhood. I know enough English to understand that. Besides, this fellow's English is as perfect as his French. No, it cannot be possible that he has been sent out by any parties in France. He must have lived in New England nearly all his life, even if he was not born there; and I cannot agree with you."
"O, I only made the suggestion. It was merely a passing thought."
"Be assured this steward Motier has brought him up with an eye to using him for the very purpose on which he is now going."
"Do you suppose that Motier is alive?"
"He may be dead."
"And what then?"
"In that case this young fellow is not an agent of anybody, but is acting for himself."
"Even if that were so, I do not see what difference it would make. He has been educated for the part which he is now playing."
"Do you think," asked the commandant, after a pause, "that the Count de Montresor had a son?"
"He may have had, and this young fellow may be the one."
"That's what he says," said Cazeneau; "but he can never prove it; and, besides, it was impossible, for the count would never have left him as he did."
Cazeneau improved in health and strength every day. A week passed, during which period he devoted all his attention to himself, keeping quietly to his room, with the exception of an occasional walk in the sun, when the weather was warm, and letting Nature do all she could. The wound had been severe, though not mortal, and hardly what could be called even dangerous. The worst was already past on the journey to Louisbourg; and when once he had arrived there, he had but to wait for his strength to rally from the shock.
While thus waiting, he saw no one outside of the family of the commandant. Mimi was not interfered with. Claude received no communications from him for good or evil. Pere Michel, who expected to be put through a course of questioning, remained unquestioned; nor did he assume the office of commandant, which now was his.
At the end of a week he found himself so much better that he began to think himself able to carry out the various purposes which lay in his mind. First of all, he relieved the late commandant of his office, and took that dignity upon himself.
All this time Mimi had been under the same roof, a prey to the deepest anxiety. The poignant grief which she had felt for the loss of her father had been alleviated for a time by the escape of Claude; but now, since his arrest, and the arrival of the dreaded Cazeneau, it seemed worse than ever; the old grief returned, and, in addition, there were new ones of equal force. There was the terror about her own future, which looked dark indeed before her, from the purposes of Cazeneau; and then there was also the deep anxiety, which never left her, about the fate of Claude. Of him she knew nothing, having heard not one word since his arrest. She had not seen Pere Michel, and there was no one whom she could ask. The lady of the commandant was kind enough; but to Mimi she seemed a mere creature of Cazeneau, and for this reason she never dreamed of taking her into her confidence, though that good lady made several unmistakable attempts to enter into her secret.
Such was her state of mind when she received a message that M. Le Comte de Cazeneau wished to pay his respects to her.
Mimi knew only too well what that meant, and would have avoided the interview under any plea whatever, if it had been possible. But that could not be done; and so, with a heart that throbbed with painful emotions, she went to meet him.
After waiting a little time, Cazeneau made his appearance, and greeted her with very much warmth and earnestness. He endeavored to infuse into his manner as much as possible of the cordiality of an old and tried friend, together with the tenderness which might be shown by a father or an elder brother. He was careful not to exhibit the slightest trace of annoyance at anything that had happened since he last saw her, nor to show any suspicion that she could be in any way implicated with his enemy.
But Mimi did not meet him half way. She was cold and repellent; or, rather, perhaps it may with more truth be said, she was frightened and embarrassed.
In spite of Cazeneau's determination to touch on nothing unpleasant, he could not help noticing Mimi's reserve, and remarking on it.
"You do not congratulate me," said he. "Perhaps you have not heard the reason why I left your party in the woods. It was not because I grew tired of your company. It was because I was attacked by an assassin, and narrowly escaped with my life. It has only been by a miracle that I have come here; and, though I still have something of my strength, yet I am very far from being the man that I was when you saw me last."
At these words Mimi took another look at Cazeneau, and surveyed him somewhat more closely. She felt a slight shock at noticing now the change which had taken place in him. He looked so haggard, and so old!
She murmured a few words, which Cazeneau accepted as expressions of good will, and thanked her accordingly. The conversation did not last much longer. Cazeneau himself found it rather too tedious where he had to do all the talking, and where the other was only a girl too sad or too sullen to answer. One final remark was made, which seemed to Mimi to express the whole purpose of his visit.
"You need not fear, mademoiselle," said he, "that this assassin will escape. That is impossible, since he is under strict confinement, and in a few days must be tried for his crimes."
What that meant Mimi knew only too well; and after Cazeneau left, these words rang in her heart.
After his call on Mimi, Cazeneau was waited on by the ex-commandant, who acquainted him with the result of certain inquiries which he had been making. These inquiries had been made by means of a prisoner, who had been put in with Claude in order to win the young man's confidence, and thus get at his secret; for Cazeneau had been of the opinion that there were accomplices or allies of Claude in France, of whom it would be well to know the names. The ex-commandant was still more eager to know. He had been very much struck by the claim of Claude to be a De Montresor, and by Cazeneau's own confession that the present regime was unfavorable to him; and under these circumstances the worthy functionary, who always looked out for number one, was busy weighing the advantages of the party of Claude as against the party of Cazeneau.
On the evening of the day when he had called on Mimi, Cazeneau was waited on by Pere Michel. He himself had sent for the priest, whom he had summoned somewhat abruptly. The priest entered the apartment, and, with a bow, announced himself. As Cazeneau looked up, he appeared for a moment struck with involuntary respect by the venerable appearance of this man, or there may have been something else at work in him; but, whatever the cause, he regarded the priest attentively for a few moments, without saying a word.
"Pere Michel," said he, at length, "I have called you before me in private, to come to an understanding with you. Had I followed my own impulses, I would have ordered your arrest, on my entrance into Louisbourg, as an accomplice of that young villain. I thought it sufficient, however, to spare you for the present, and keep you under surveillance. I am, on the whole, glad that I did not yield to my first impulse of anger, for I can now, in perfect calmness, go with you over your acts during the journey here, and ask you for an explanation."
The priest bowed.
"Understand me, Pere Michel," said Cazeneau; "I have now no hard feeling left. I may say, I have almost no suspicion. I wish to be assured of your innocence. I will take anything that seems like a plausible excuse. I respect your character, and would rather have you as my friend than—than not."
The priest again bowed, without appearing at all affected by these conciliatory words.
"After I was assassinated in the woods," said Cazeneau, "I was saved from death by the skill and fidelity of my Indians. It seems to me still, Pere Michel, as it seemed then, that something might have been done by you. Had you been in league with my enemy, you could not have done worse. You hastened forward with all speed, leaving me to my fate. As a friend, you should have turned back to save a friend; as a priest, you should have turned back to give me Christian burial. What answer have you to make to this?"
"Simply this," said the priest, with perfect calmness: "that when you left us you gave orders that we should go on, and that you would find your way to us. I had no thought of turning back, or waiting. I knew the Indians well, and knew that they can find their way through the woods as easily as you can through the streets of Paris. I went forward, then, without any thought of waiting for you, thinking that of course you would join us, as you said."
"When did Motier come up with you?" asked Cazeneau.
"On the following day," answered the priest.
"Did he inform you what had taken place?"
"Why, then, did you not turn back to help me?"
"Because Motier informed me that you were dead."
"Very good. He believed so, I doubt not; but, at any rate, you might have turned back, if only to give Christian burial."
"I intended to do that at some future time," said Pere Michel; "but at that time I felt my chief duty to be to the living. How could I have left the Countess Laborde? Motier would not have been a proper guardian to convey her to Louisbourg, and to take her back with me was impossible. I therefore decided to go on, as you said, and take her first to Louisbourg, and afterwards to return."
"You showed no haste about it," said Cazeneau.
"I had to wait here," said the priest.
"May I ask what could have been the urgent business which kept you from the sacred duty of the burial of the dead?"
"A ship is expected every day, and I waited to get the letters of my superiors, with reference to further movements on my mission."
"You say that Motier informed you about my death. Did he tell you how it had happened?"
"He said that you and he had fought, and that you had been killed."
"Why, then, did you not denounce him to the authorities on your arrival here?"
"On what charge?"
"On the charge of murder."
"I did not know that when one gentleman is unfortunate enough to kill another, in fair fight, that it can be considered murder. The duel is as lawful in America as in France."
"This was not a duel!" cried Cazeneau. "It was an act of assassination. Motier is no better than a murderer."
"I only knew his own account," said the priest.
"Besides," continued Cazeneau, "a duel can only take place between two equals; and this Motier is one of the canaille, one not worthy of my sword."
"Yet, monsieur," said the priest, "when you arrested him first, it was not as one of the canaille, but as the son of the outlawed Count de Montresor."
"True," said Cazeneau; "but I have reason to believe that he is merely some impostor. He is now under a different accusation. But one more point. How did Motier manage to escape?"
"As to that, monsieur, I always supposed that his escape was easy enough, and that he could have effected it at once. The farm-houses of the Acadians are not adapted to be very secure prisons. There were no bolts and bars, and no adequate watch."
"True; but the most significant part of his escape is, that he had external assistance. Who were those Indians who led him on my trail? How did he, a stranger, win them over?"
"You forget, monsieur, that this young man has lived all his life in America. I know that he has been much in the woods in New England, and has had much intercourse with the Indians there. It was, no doubt, very easy for him to enter into communication with Indians here. They are all alike."
"But how could he have found them? He must have had them at the house, or else friends outside must have sent them."
"He might have bribed the people of the house."
"Monsieur does not mean to say that anything is impossible to one who has gold. Men of this age do anything for gold."
Cazeneau was silent. To him this was so profoundly true that he had nothing to say. He sat in silence for a little while, and then continued:—
"I understand that at the time of the arrest of Motier, he was in the garden of the residence, with the Countess de Laborde, and that you were with them. How is this? Did this interview take place with your sanction or connivance?"
"I knew nothing about it. It was by the merest accident, as far as I know."
"You did not help them in this way?"
"I did not."
"Monsieur L'Abbe," said Cazeneau, "I am glad that you have answered my questions so fully and so frankly. I confess that, in my first anger, I considered that in some way you had taken part against me. To think so gave me great pain, as I have had too high an esteem for you to be willing to think of you as an enemy. But your explanations are in every way satisfactory. T hope, monsieur, that whatever letters you receive from France, they will not take you away from this part of the world. I feel confident that you, with your influence over the Indians here, will be an invaluable ally to one in my position, in the endeavors which I shall make to further in these parts the interests of France and of the church."
A RAY OF LIGHT.
After leaving Cazeneau, Pere Michel went to the prison where Claude was confined. The young man looked pale and dejected, for the confinement had told upon his health and spirits; and worse than the confinement was the utter despair which had settled down upon his soul. At the sight of the priest, he gave a cry of joy, and hurried forward.
"I thought you had forgotten all about me," said Claude, as he embraced the good priest, while tears of joy started to his eyes.
"I have never forgotten you, my son," said the priest, as he returned his embrace; "that is impossible. I have thought of you both night and day, and have been trying to do something for you."
"For me," said Claude, gloomily, "nothing can be done. But tell me about her. How does she bear this?"
"Badly," said the priest, "as you may suppose."
"My son," said the priest, "I have come to you now on important business; and, first of all, I wish to speak to you about a subject that you will consider most important. I mean that secret which you wish to discover, and which drew you away from your home."
"Do you know anything about it?"
"Much. Remember I was with Laborde in his last hours, and received his confession. I am, therefore, able to tell you all that you wish to know; and after that you must decide for yourself another question, which will grow out of this.
"About twenty years ago there was a beautiful heiress, who was presented at court. Her name was the Countess de Besancon. She was a Huguenot, and therefore not one whom you would expect to see amid the vicious circles at Versailles. But her guardians were Catholic, and hoped that the attractions of the court might weaken her faith. She became the admired of all, and great was the rivalry for her favor. Two, in particular, devoted themselves to her—the Count de Montresor and the Count de Laborde. She preferred the former, and they were married. After this, the count and countess left the court, and retired to the Chateau de Montresor.
"Laborde and Montresor had always been firm friends until this; but now Laborde, stung by jealousy and hate, sought to effect the ruin of Montresor. At first his feeling was only one of jealousy, which was not unnatural, under the circumstances. Left to himself, I doubt not that it would have died a natural death; but, unfortunately, Laborde was under the influence of a crafty adventurer, who now, when Montresor's friendship was removed, gained an ascendency over him. This man was this Cazeneau, who has treated you so shamefully.
"I will not enlarge upon his character. You yourself know now well enough what that is. He was a man of low origin, who had grown up amid the vilest court on the surface of the earth. At that time the Duke of Orleans and the Abbe Dubois had control of everything, and the whole court was an infamous scene of corruption. Cazeneau soon found means to turn the jealousy of Laborde into a deeper hate, and to gain his co-operation in a scheme which he had formed for his own profit.
"Cazeneau's plan was this: The laws against the Huguenots were very stringent, and were in force, as, indeed, they are yet. The Countess de Montresor was a Huguenot, and nothing could make her swerve from her faith. The first blow was levelled at her, for in this way they knew that they could inflict a deeper wound upon her husband. She was to be arrested, subjected to the mockery of French justice, and condemned to the terrible punishment which the laws inflicted upon heretics. Had Montresor remained at court, he could easily have fought off this pair of conspirators; but, being away, he knew nothing about it till all was ready; and then he had nothing to do but to fly, in order to save his wife.
"Upon this, fresh charges were made against him, and lettres de cachet were issued. These would have flung him into the Bastile, to rot and die forgotten. But Montresor had effectually concealed himself, together with his wife, and the emissaries of the government were baffled. It was by that time too late for him to defend himself in any way; and the end of it was, that he decided to fly from France. He did so, and succeeded in reaching Quebec in safety. Here he hoped to remain only for a time, and expected that before long a change in the ministry might take place, by means of which he might regain his rights.
"But Fleury was all-powerful with the king, and Cazeneau managed somehow to get into Fleury's good graces, so that Montresor had no chance. The Montresor estates, and all the possessions of his wife, were confiscated, and Laborde and Cazeneau secured much of them. But Montresor had other things to trouble him. His wife grew ill, and died not long after his arrival, leaving an infant son. Montresor now had nothing which seemed to him worth living for. He therefore left his child to the care of the faithful Motier, and disappeared, as you have told me, and has never been heard of since.
"Of course Laborde knew nothing of this, and I only add this to the information which he gave, in order to make it as plain to you as it is to me. Laborde asserted that after the first blow he recoiled, conscience-stricken, and refused further to pursue your father, though Cazeneau was intent upon his complete destruction; and perhaps this is the reason why Montresor was not molested at Quebec. A better reason, however, is to be found in the merciful nature of Fleury, whom I believe at bottom to have been a good man.
"After this, years passed. To Laborde they were years of remorse. Hoping to get rid of his misery, he married. A daughter was born to him. It was of no use. His wife died. His daughter was sent to a convent to be educated. He himself was a lonely, aimless man. What was worse, he was always under the power of Cazeneau, who never would let go his hold. This Cazeneau squandered the plunder of the Montresors upon his own vices, and soon became as poor as he was originally. After this he lived upon Laborde. His knowledge of Laborde's remorse gave him a power over him which his unhappy victim could not resist. The false information which Laborde had sworn to against the Count de Montresor was perjury; and Cazeneau, the very man who had suggested it, was always ready to threaten to denounce him to Fleury.
"So time went on. Laborde grew older, and at last the one desire of his life was to make amends before he died. At length Fleury died. The new ministry were different. All of them detested Cazeneau. One of them—Maurepas—was a friend to Laborde. To this Maurepas, Laborde told his whole story, and Maurepas promised that he would do all in his power to make amends. The greatest desire of Laborde was to discover some one of the family. He had heard that the count and countess were both dead, but that they had left an infant son. It was this that brought him out here. He hoped to find that son, and perhaps the count himself, for the proof of his death was not very clear. He did, indeed, find that son, most wonderfully, too, and without knowing it; for, as you yourself see, there cannot be a doubt that you are that son.
"Now, Laborde kept all this a profound secret from Cazeneau, and hoped, on leaving France, never to see him again. What, however, was his amazement, on reaching the ship, to learn that Cazeneau also was going! He had got the appointment to Louisbourg from Fleury before his death, and the appointment had been confirmed by the new ministry, for some reason or other. I believe that they will recall him at once, and use his absence to effect his ruin. I believe Cazeneau expects this, and is trying to strengthen his resources by getting control of the Laborde estates. His object in marrying Mimi is simply this. This was the chief dread of Laborde in dying, and with his last words he entreated me to watch over his daughter.
"Cazeneau's enmity to you must be accounted for on the ground that he discovered, somehow, your parentage. Mimi told me afterwards, that he was near you one day, concealed, while you were telling her. He was listening, beyond a doubt, and on the first opportunity determined to put you out of the way. He dreads, above all things, your appearance in France as the son of the unfortunate Count de Montresor. For now all those who were once powerful are dead, and the present government would be very glad to espouse the Montresor cause, and make amends, as far as possible, for his wrongs. They would like to use you as a means of dealing a destructive blow against Cazeneau himself. Cazeneau's first plan was to put you out of the way on some charge of treason; but now, of course, the charge against you will be attempt at murder."
To all this Claude listened with much less interest than he would have felt formerly. But the sentence of death seemed impending, and it is not surprising that the things of this life seemed of small moment.
"Well," said he, with a sigh, "I'm much obliged to you for telling me all this; but it makes very little difference to me now."
"Wait till you have heard all," said the priest. "I have come here for something more; but it was necessary to tell you all this at the first. I have now to tell you that—your position is full of hope; in fact—" Here the priest put his head close to Claude's ear, and whispered, "I have come to save you."
"What!" cried Claude.
The priest placed his hand on Claude's mouth.
"No one is listening; but it is best to be on our guard," he whispered. "Yes, I can save you, and will. This very night you shall be free, on your way to join your friend, the captain. To-day I received a message from him by an Indian. He had reached Canso. I had warned him to go there. The Indians went on board, and brought his message. He will wait there for us."
At this intelligence, which to Claude was unexpected and amazing, he could not say one word, but sat with clasped hands and a face of rapture. But suddenly a thought came to his mind, which disturbed his joy.
"Mimi—what of her?"
"You must go alone," said the priest.
Claude's face grew dark. He shook his head.
"Then I will not go at all."
"Not go! Who is she—do you know? She is the daughter of Laborde, the man who ruined your father."
Claude compressed his lips, and looked with fixed determination at the priest.
"She is not to blame," said he, "for her father's faults. She has never known them, and never shall know them. Besides, for all that he did, her father suffered, and died while seeking to make atonement. My father himself, were he alive, would surely forgive that man for all he did; and I surely will not cherish hate against his memory. So Mimi shall be mine. She is mine; we have exchanged vows. I will stay here and die, rather than go and leave her."
"Spoken like a young fool, as you are!" said the priest. "Well, if you will not go without her, you shall go with her; but go you must, and to-night."
"What? can she go too, after all? O, my best Pere Michel, what can I say?"
"Say nothing as yet, for there is one condition."
"What is that? I will agree to anything. Never mind conditions."
"You must be married before you go."
"Married!" cried Claude, in amazement.
"Married! How? Am I not here in a dungeon? How can she and I be married?"
"I will tell you how presently. But first, let me tell you why. First of all, we may all get scattered in the woods. It will be very desirable that she should have you for her lawful lord and master, so that you can have a right to stand by her to the last. You can do far more for her than I can, and I do not wish to have all the responsibility. This is one reason.
"But there is another reason, which, to me, is of greater importance. It is this, my son: You may be captured. The worst may come to the worst. You may—which may Heaven forbid—yet you may be put to death. I do not think so. I hope not. I hope, indeed, that Cazeneau may eventually fall a prey to his own machinations. But it is necessary to take this into account. And then, my son, if such a sad fate should indeed be yours, we must both of us think what will be the fate of Mimi. If you are not married, her fate will be swift and certain. She will be forced to marry this infamous miscreant, who does not even pretend to love her, but merely wants her money. He has already told her his intention—telling her that her father left nothing, and that he wishes to save her from want, whereas her father left a very large estate. Such will be her fate if she is single. But if she is your wife, all will be different. As your widow, she will be safe. He would have to allow her a decent time for mourning; and in any case he would scarce be able so to defy public opinion as to seek to marry the widow of the man whom he had killed. Besides, to gain time would be everything; and before a year would be over, a host of friends would spring up to save her from him. This, then, is the reason why I think that you should be married."
"I am all amazement," cried Claude, "I am bewildered. Married! Such a thing would be my highest wish. But I don't understand all this. How is it possible to think of marriage at such a time as this?"
"Well, I will now explain that," said the priest. "The late commandant is a friend of mine. We were acquainted with each other years ago in France. As soon as Cazeneau made his appearance here, and you were arrested, I went to him and told him the whole story of your parents, as I have just now told you. He had heard something about their sad fate in former years, and his sympathies were all enlisted. Besides, he looks upon Cazeneau as a doomed man, the creature of the late regime, the fallen government. He expects that Cazeneau will be speedily recalled, disgraced, and punished. He also expects that the honors of the Count de Montresor will be restored to you. He is sufficient of an aristocrat to prefer an old and honorable name, like Montresor, to that of a low and unprincipled adventurer, like Cazeneau, and does not wish to see the Countess Laborde fall a victim to the machinations of a worn-out scoundrel. And so the ex-commandant will do all that he can. Were it not for him, I do not think I could succeed in freeing both of you, though I still might contrive to free you alone."
"O, my dear Pere Michel! What can I say? I am dumb!"
"Say nothing. I must go now."
"When will you come?"
"At midnight. There will be a change of guards then. The new sentry will be favorable; he will run away with us, so as to save himself from punishment."
"And when shall we be married?"
"To-night. You will go from here to the commandant's residence, and then out. But we must haste, for by daybreak Cazeneau will discover all—perhaps before. We can be sure, however, of three hours. I hope it will be light. Well, we must trust to Providence. And now, my son, farewell till midnight."
Claude remained alone once more, with his brain in a whirl from the tumult of thought which had arisen. This interview with the priest had been the most eventful hour of his life. He had learned the secret of his parentage, the wrongs and sufferings of his father and mother, the villany of Cazeneau, the true reason for the bitter enmity which in him had triumphed over gratitude, and made him seek so pertinaciously the life of the man who had once saved his own.
It seemed like a dream. But a short time before, not one ray of hope appeared to illuminate the midnight gloom which reigned around him and within him. Now all was dazzling brightness. It seemed too bright; it was unnatural; it was too much to hope for. That he should escape was of itself happiness enough; but that he should also join Mimi once more, and that he should be joined to her, no more to part till death, was an incredible thing. Mimi herself must also know this, and was even now waiting for him, as he was waiting for her.
Claude waited in a fever of impatience. The monotonous step of the sentry sounded out as he paced to and fro. At times Claude thought he heard the approach of footsteps, and listened eagerly; but over and over again he was compelled to desist, on finding that his senses deceived him. Thus the time passed, and as it passed, his impatience grew the more uncontrollable. Had it been possible, he would have burst open the door, and ventured forth so as to shorten his suspense.
At length a sound of approaching footsteps did in reality arise. This time there was no mistake. He heard voices outside, the challenge and reply of the changing guard. Then footsteps departed, and the tramp died away, leaving only the pacing of the sentinel for Claude to hear. What now? Was this the sentinel who was to be his friend? He thought so. He believed so. The time passed—too long a time, he thought, for the sentinel gave no sign: still he kept up his monotonous tramp. Claude repressed his impatience, and waited till, to his astonishment, what seemed an immense time had passed away; and the sentinel came not to his aid.
Still the time passed. Claude did not know what to think. Gradually a sickening fear arose—the fear that the whole plan had been discovered, and that the priest had failed. Perhaps the commandant had played him false, and had pretended to sympathize with him so as to draw out his purpose, which he would reveal to Cazeneau, in order to gain his gratitude, and lay him under obligation. The priest, he thought, was too guileless to deal with men of the world like these. He had been caught in a trap, and had involved himself with all the rest. His own fate could be no worse than it was before, but it was doubly bitter to fall back into his despair, after having been for a brief interval raised up to so bright a hope.
Such were the thoughts that finally took possession of Claude, and, with every passing moment, deepened into conviction. Midnight had passed; the sentry had come, and there he paced mechanically, with no thought of him. Either the ex-commandant or the sentinel had betrayed them. Too many had been in the secret. Better never to have heard of this plan than, having heard of it, to find it thus dashed away on the very eve of its accomplishment. Time passed, and every moment only added to Claude's bitterness; time passed, and every moment only served to show him that all was over. A vague thought came of speaking to the sentinel; but that was dismissed. Then another thought came, of trying to tear away the iron grating; but the impossibility of that soon showed itself. He sank down upon his litter of straw in one corner, and bade adieu to hope. Then he started up, and paced up and down wildly, unable to yield so calmly to despair. Then once more he sank down upon the straw.
Thus he was lying, crouched down, his head in his hands, overwhelmed utterly, when suddenly a deep sound came to his ears, which in an instant made him start to his feet, and drove away every despairing thought, bringing in place of these a new wave of hope, and joy, and amazement. It was the single toll of the great bell, which, as he knew, always sounded at midnight.
Midnight! Was it possible? Midnight had not passed, then. The change of sentry had been at nine o'clock, which he, deceived by the slow progress of the hours, had supposed to be midnight. He had been mistaken. There was yet hope. He rushed to the grating, and listened. There were footsteps approaching—the tramp of the relieving guard. He listened till the guard was relieved, and the departing footsteps died away. Then began the pace of the new sentry.
What now? Was there to be a repetition of his former experience? Was he again to be dashed down from this fresh hope into a fresh despair? He nerved himself for this new ordeal, and waited with a painfully throbbing heart. At the grating he stood, motionless, listening, with all his soul wrapped and absorbed in his single sense of hearing. There were an inner grating and an outer one, and between the two a sash with two panes of glass. He could hear the sentry as he paced up and down; he could also hear, far away, the long, shrill note of innumerable frogs; and the one seemed as monotonous, as unchangeable, and as interminable as the other.
But at length the pacing of the sentry ceased. Claude listened; the sentinel stopped; there was no longer any sound. Claude listened still. This was the supreme hour of his fate. On this moment depended all his future. What did this mean? Would the sentry begin his tramp?
He would; he did. In despair Claude fled from the grating, and fell back upon the straw. For a time he seemed unconscious of everything; but at length he was roused by a rattle at the door of his cell. In a moment he was on his feet, listening. It was the sound of a key as it slowly turned in the lock. Claude moved not, spoke not; he waited. If this was his deliverer, all well; if not, he was resolved to have a struggle for freedom. Then he stole cautiously to the door.
It opened. Claude thrust his hand through, and seized a human arm. A man's voice whispered back,—
"H-s-s-t! Suivez moi."
A thrill of rapture unutterable passed through every nerve and fibre of Claude. At once all the past was forgotten; forgotten, also, were all the dangers that still lay before him. It was enough that this hope had not been frustrated, that the sentinel had come to deliver him from the cell at the midnight hour. The cool breeze of night was wafted in through the open door, and fanned the fevered brow of the prisoner, bearing on its wings a soothing influence, a healing balm, and life, and hope. His presence of mind all came back: he was self-poised, vigilant, cool: all this in one instant. All his powers would be needed to carry him through the remainder of the night; and these all were summoned forth, and came at his bidding. And so Claude followed his guide.
The sentinel led the way, under the shadow of the wall, towards the Residency. At one end of this was the chapel. Towards this the sentinel guided Claude, and, on reaching it, opened the door. A hand seized his arm, a voice whispered in his ear,—
"Welcome, my son. Here is your bride."
And then a soft hand was placed in his. Claude knew whose hand it was. He flung his arms around the slender figure of Mimi, and pressed her to his heart.
"Come," said the priest.
He drew them up towards the altar. Others were present. Claude could not see them; one, however, he could see, was a female, whom he supposed to be Margot. The moonlight shone in through the great window over the altar. Here the priest stood, and placed Claude and Mimi before him.
Then he went through the marriage service. It was a strange wedding there at midnight, in the moonlit chapel, with the forms of the spectators so faintly discerned, and the ghostly outline of priest, altar, and window before them as they knelt. But they were married; and Claude once more, in a rapture of feeling, pressed his wife to his heart.
They now left the chapel by another door in the rear. The priest led the way, together with the sentinel. Here was the wall. A flight of steps led to the top. On reaching this they came to a place where there was a ladder. Down this they all descended in silence, and found themselves in the ditch. The ladder was once more made use of to climb out of this, and then Claude saw a figure crouched on the ground and creeping towards them. It was an Indian, with whom the priest conversed in his own language for a moment.
"All is well," he whispered to Claude. "The captain is waiting for us many miles from this. And now, forward!"
The Indian led the way; then went the priest; then Claude with Mimi; then Margot; last of all came the sentinel, who had deserted his post, and was now seeking safety in flight under the protection of Pere Michel. Such was the little party of fugitives that now sought to escape from Louisbourg into the wild forest around. After walking for about a mile, they reached a place where five horses were bound. Here they proceeded to mount.
"I sent these out after sundown," said the priest to Claude. "There are not many horses in Louisbourg. These will assist us to escape, and will be lost to those who pursue. Here, my son, arm yourself, so as to defend your wife, in case of need."
With these words the priest handed Claude a sword, pointing also to pistols which were in the holster. The Indian alone remained on foot. He held the bridle of the priest's horse, and led the way, sometimes on what is called an "Indian trot," at other times on a walk. The others all followed at the same pace.
The road was the same one which had been traversed by Claude and Mimi when they first came to Louisbourg—a wide trail, rough, yet serviceable, over which many pack-horses and droves of cattle had passed, but one which was not fitted for wheels, and was rather a trail than a road. On each side the trees arose, which threw a deep shade, so that, in spite of the moon which shone overhead, it was too dark to go at any very rapid pace.
"We must make all the haste we can," said the priest. "In three hours they will probably discover all. The alarm will be given, and we shall be pursued. In these three hours, then, we must get so far ahead that they may not be able to come up with us."
At first the pathway was wide enough for them all to move at a rapid pace; but soon it began to grow narrower. As they advanced, the trees grew taller, and the shadows which they threw were darker. The path became more winding, for, like all trails, it avoided the larger trees or stones, and wound around them, where a road would have led to their removal. The path also became rougher, from stones which protruded in many places, or from long roots stretching across, which in the darkness made the horses stumble incessantly. These it was impossible to avoid. In addition to these, there were miry places, where the horses sank deep, and could only extricate themselves with difficulty.
Thus their progress grew less and less, till at length it dwindled to a walk, and a slow one at that. Nothing else could be done. They all saw the impossibility of more rapid progress, in the darkness, over such a path. Of them all, Claude was the most impatient, as was natural. His sense of danger was most keen. The terror of the night had not yet passed away. Already, more than once, he had gone from despair to hope, and back once more to despair; and it seemed to him as though his soul must still vibrate between these two extremes. The hope which was born out of new-found freedom was now rapidly yielding to the fear of pursuit and re-capture.
In the midst of these thoughts, he came forth suddenly upon a broad, open plain, filled with stout underbrush. Through this the trail ran. Reaching this, the whole party urged their horses at full speed, and for at least three miles they were able to maintain this rapid progress. At the end of that distance, the trail once more entered the woods, and the pace dwindled to a walk. But that three-mile run cheered the spirits of all.
"How many miles have we come, I wonder?" asked Claude.
"About six," said the priest.
"How many miles is it to the schooner?"
Claude drew a long breath.
"It must be nearly three o'clock in the morning now," said he. "I dare say they are finding it out now."
"Well, we needn't stop to listen," said the priest.
"No; we'll hear them soon enough."
"At any rate, the dawn is coming," said the priest. "The day will soon be here, and then we can go on as fast as we wish."
As they hurried on, it grew gradually lighter, so that they were able to advance more rapidly. The path remained about the same, winding as before, and with the same alternations of roots, stones, and swamp; but the daylight made all the difference in the world, and they were now able to urge their horses at the top of their speed. The Indian who was at their head was able to keep there without much apparent effort, never holding back or falling behind, though if the ground had been smoother he could scarcely have done so. With every step the dawn advanced, until at last the sun rose, and all the forest grew bright in the beams of day. A feeling of hope and joy succeeded to the late despondency which had been creeping over them; but this only stimulated them to redoubled exertions, so that they might not, after all, find themselves at last cheated out of these bright hopes.
That they were now pursued they all felt confident. At three o'clock the absence of the sentry must have been discovered, and, of course, the flight of Claude. Thereupon the alarm would at once be given. Cazeneau would probably be aroused, and would proceed to take action immediately. Even under what might be the most favorable circumstances to them, it was not likely that there would be a delay of more than an hour.
Besides, the pursuer had an advantage over them. They had a start of three hours; but those three hours were spent in darkness, when they were able to go over but little ground. All that they had toiled so long in order to traverse, their pursuers could pass over in one quarter the time, and one quarter the labor. They were virtually not more than one hour in advance of the enemy, who would have fresher horses, with which to lessen even this small advantage. And by the most favorable calculation, there remained yet before them at least thirty miles, over a rough and toilsome country. Could they hope to escape?
Such were the thoughts that came to Claude's mind, and such the question that came to him. That question he did not care to discuss with himself. He could only resolve to keep up the flight till the last moment, and then resist to the bitter end.
But now there arose a new danger, which brought fresh difficulties with it, and filled Claude with new despondency. This danger arose from a quarter in which he was most assailable to fear and anxiety—from Mimi.
He had never ceased, since they first left, to watch over his bride with the most anxious solicitude, sometimes riding by her side and holding her hand, when the path admitted it, at other times riding behind her, so as to keep her in view, and all the time never ceasing to address to her words of comfort and good cheer. To all his questions Mimi had never failed to respond in a voice which was full of cheerfulness and sprightliness, and no misgivings on her account entered his mind until the light grew bright enough for him to see her face. Then he was struck by her appearance. She seemed so feeble, so worn, so fatigued, that a great fear came over him.
"O, Mimi, darling!" he cried, "this is too much for you."
"O, no," she replied, in the same tone; "I can keep up as long as you wish me to."
"But you look so completely worn out!"
"O, that's because I've been fretting about you—you bad boy; it's not this ride at all."
"Are you sure that you can keep up?"
"Why, of course I am; and I must, for there's nothing else to be done."
"O, Mimi, I'm afraid—I'm very much afraid that you will break down."
At this Mimi gave a little laugh, but said nothing, and Claude found himself compelled to trust to hope. Thus they went on for some time longer.
But at length Claude was no longer able to conceal the truth from himself, nor was Mimi able any longer to maintain her loving deception. She was exceedingly weak; she was utterly worn out; and in pain Claude saw her form sway to and fro and tremble. He asked her imploringly to stop and rest. But at the sound of his voice, Mimi roused herself once more, by a great effort.
"O, no," she said, with a strong attempt to speak unconcernedly; "O, no. I acknowledge I am a little tired; and if we come to any place where we may rest, I think I shall do so; but not here, not here; let us go farther."
Claude drew a long breath. Deep anxiety overwhelmed him. Mimi was, in truth, right. How could they dare to pause just here? The pursuer was on their track! No; they must keep on; and if Mimi did sink, what then? But he would not think of it; he would hope that Mimi would be able, after all, to hold out.
But at length what Claude had feared came to pass. He had been riding behind Mimi for some time, so as to watch her better, when suddenly he saw her slender frame reel to one side. A low cry came from her. In an instant Claude was at her side, and caught her in his arms in time to save her from a fall.
Mimi had not fainted, but was simply prostrated from sheer fatigue. No strength was left, and it was impossible for her to sit up any longer. She had struggled to bear up as long as possible, and finally had given way altogether.
"I cannot help it," she murmured.
"O, my darling!" cried Claude, in a voice of anguish.
"Forgive me, dear Claude. I cannot help it!"
"O, don't talk so," said Claude. "I ought to have seen your weakness before, and given you assistance. But come now; I will hold you in my arms, and we will still be able to go on."
"I wish you would leave me; only leave me, and then you can be saved. There is no danger for me; but if you are captured, your life will be taken. O, Claude, dearest Claude, leave me and fly."
"You distress me, Mimi, darling, by all this. I cannot leave you; I would rather die than do so. And so, if you love me, don't talk so."
At this, with a little sob, Mimi relapsed into silence.
"Courage, darling," said Claude, in soothing tones. "Who knows but that they are still in Louisbourg, and have not yet left? We may get away, after all; or we may find some place of hiding."
The additional burden which he had been forced to assume overweighted very seriously Claude's horse, and signs of this began to appear before long. No sooner, however, had Claude perceived that it was difficult to keep with the rest of the party, than he concluded to shift himself, with Mimi, to the horse which Mimi had left. This was one of the best and freshest of the whole party, and but a slight delay was occasioned by the change.
After this they kept up a good rate of speed for more than two hours, when Claude once more changed to another horse. This time it was to Margot's horse, which had done less thus far than any of the others. Margot then took the horse which Claude had at first, and thus they went on. It was a good contrivance, for thus by changing about from one to another, and by allowing one horse to be led, the endurance of the whole was maintained longer than would otherwise have been possible.
But at length the long and fatiguing journey began to tell most seriously on all the horses, and all began to see that further progress would not be much longer possible. For many hours they had kept on their path; and, though the distance which they had gone was not more than twenty-five miles, yet, so rough had been the road that the labor had been excessive, and all the horses needed rest. By this time it was midday, and they all found themselves face to face with a question of fearful import, which none of them knew how to answer. The question was, what to do. Could they stop? Dare they? Yet they must. For the present they continued on a little longer.
They now came to another open space, overgrown with shrubbery, similar to that which they had traversed in the night. It was about two miles in extent, and at the other end arose a bare, rocky hill, beyond which was the forest.
"We must halt at the top of that hill," said Claude. "It's the best place. We can guard against a surprise, at any rate. Some of the horses will drop if we go on much farther."
"I suppose we'll have to," said the priest.
"We must rest for half an hour, at least," said Claude. "If they come up, we'll have to scatter, and take to the woods."
With these words they rode on, and at length reached the hill. The path wound up it, and in due time they reached the top.
But scarcely had they done so, than a loud cry sounded out, which thrilled through all hearts. Immediately after, a figure came bounding towards them.
"Hooray! Hip, hip, hooray!" shouted the new comer.
"Heavens! Zac!" cried Claude; "you here?"
"Nobody else," replied Zac, wringing his hand. "But what are you going to do?"
"Our horses are blown; we are pursued, but have to halt for a half hour or so. If they come up, we'll have to scatter, and take to the woods, and start the horses ahead on the path. This is a good lookout place."
With these words Claude began to dismount, bearing his beloved burden. The priest assisted him. Zac, after his first hurried greeting, had moved towards Margot, around whom he threw his arms, with an energetic clasp, and lifted her from the saddle to the ground. Then he shook hands with her.
"I'm ver mooch glad to see you," said Margot. "Ees your sheep far off?"
"So, they're after you—air they?" said he. "Wal, little one, when they come, you stick to me—mind that; an' I engage to get you off free. Stick to me, though. Be handy, an' I'll take you clar of them."
Claude was now engaged in finding a comfortable place upon which Mimi might recline. The Indian stood as lookout; the deserter busied himself with the horses; the priest stood near, watching Claude and Mimi, while Zac devoted himself to Margot. In the midst of this, the Indian came and said something to the priest. Claude noticed this, and started.
"What is it?" he asked.
"He hears them," said the priest, significantly.
"So soon!" exclaimed Claude. "Then we must scatter. The horses will be of no use. Our last chance is the woods."
In a moment the alarm was made; hasty directions were given for each one to take care of himself, and if he eluded the pursuers, to follow the path to the place where the schooner lay. Meanwhile the horses were to be driven ahead by the Indian as far as possible. The Indian at once went off, together with the deserter, and these two drove the horses before them into the woods, along the path. Then Zac followed. Lifting Margot in his arms, he bore her lightly along, and soon disappeared in the woods.
Then Claude took Mimi in his arms, and hastened as fast as he could towards the shelter of the woods. But Claude had not Zac's strength, and besides, Mimi was more of a dead weight than Margot, so that he could not go nearly so fast. Zac was in the woods, and out of sight, long before Claude had reached the place; and by that time the rest of the party, both horses and men, had all disappeared, with the exception of Pere Michel. The good priest kept close by the young man, as though resolved to share his fate, whether in life or death. If it was difficult while carrying Mimi over the path, Claude found it far more so on reaching the woods. Here he dared not keep to the path, for the very object of going to the woods was to elude observation by plunging into its darkest and deepest recesses. Zac had gone there at a headlong rate, like a fox to his covert. Such a speed Claude could not rival, and no sooner did he take one step in the woods, than he perceived the full difficulty of his task. The woods were of the wildest kind, filled with rocks and fallen trees, the surface of the ground being most irregular. At every other step it was necessary to clamber over some obstacle, or crawl under it.
"We cannot hope to go far," said the priest. "Our only course now will be to find some convenient hiding-place. Perhaps they will pass on ahead, and then we can go farther on."
At this very moment the noise of horses and men sounded close behind. One hurried look showed them all. Their pursuers had reached their late halting-place, and were hurrying forward. The place bore traces of their halt, which did not escape the keen eyes of their enemies. At the sight, Claude threw himself down in a hollow behind a tree, with Mimi beside him, while the priest did the same.
The suspicions of the pursuers seemed to have been awakened by the signs which they had seen at the last halting-place. They rode on more slowly. At length they divided, half of them riding rapidly ahead, and the other half moving forward at a walk, and scanning every foot of ground in the open and in the woods.
At last a cry escaped one of them. Claude heard it. The next moment he heard footsteps. The enemy were upon him; their cries rang in his ears. In all the fury of despair, he started to his feet with only one thought, and that was, to sell his life as dearly as possible. But Mimi flung herself in his arms, and the priest held his hands.
"Yield," said the priest. "You can do nothing. There is yet hope."
The next moment Claude was disarmed, and in the hands of his enemies.
ZAC AND MARGOT.
Seizing Margot in his arms at the first alarm, Zac had fled to the woods. Being stronger than Claude, he was fortunate in having a less unwieldy burden; for Margot did not lie like a heavyweight in his arms, but was able to dispose herself in a way which rendered her more easy to be carried. On reaching the woods, Zac did not at once plunge in among the trees, but continued along the trail for some distance, asking Margot to tell him the moment she saw one of the pursuing party. As Margot's face was turned back, she was in a position to watch. It was Zac's intention to find some better place for flight than the stony and swampy ground at the outer edge of the forest; and as he hurried along, he watched narrowly for a good opportunity to leave the path. At length he reached a place where the ground descended on the other side of the hill, and here he came to some pine trees. There was but little underbrush, the surface of the ground was comparatively smooth, and good progress could be made here without much difficulty. Here, then, Zac turned in. As he hurried onward, he found the pine forest continuing along the whole slope, and but few obstacles in his way. Occasionally a fallen tree lay before him, and this he could easily avoid. Hurrying on, then, under these favorable circumstances, Zac was soon lost in the vast forest, and out of sight as well as out of hearing of all his purposes. Here he might have rested; but still he kept on. He was not one to do things by halves, and chose rather to make assurance doubly sure; and although even Margot begged him to put her down, yet he would not.
"Wal," said he, at last, "'tain't often I have you; an' now I got you, I ain't goin' to let you go for a good bit yet. Besides, you can't ever tell when you're safe. Nothin' like makin' things sure, I say."
With these words Zac kept on his way, though at a slower pace. It was not necessary for him to fly so rapidly, nor was he quite so fresh as when he started. Margot also noticed this, and began to insist so vehemently on getting down, that he was compelled to grant her request. He still held her hand, however, and thus the two went on for some distance farther.
At last they reached a point where there was an abrupt and almost precipitous descent. From this crest of the precipice the eye could wander over a boundless prospect of green forest, terminated in the distance by wooded hills.
"Wal," said Zac, "I think we may as well rest ourselves here."
"Dat is ver nice," said Margot.
Zac now arranged a seat for her by gathering some moss at the foot of a tree. She seated herself here, and Zac placed himself by her side. He then opened a bag which he carried slung about his shoulders, and brought forth some biscuit and ham, which proved a most grateful repast to his companion.
"Do you tink dey chase us here?" asked Margot.
"Wal, we're safer here, ef they do," said Zac. "We can't be taken by surprise in the rear, for they can't climb up very easy without our seein' 'em; an' as for a front attack, why, I'll keep my eye open: an' I'd like to see the Injin or the Moosoo that can come unawars on me. I don't mind two or three of 'em, any way," continued Zac, "for I've got a couple of bulldogs."
"Boul-dogs?" said Margot, inquiringly.
"Yes, these here," said Zac, opening his frock, and displaying a belt around his waist, which held a brace of pistols. "But I don't expect I'll have to use 'em, except when I heave in sight of the skewner, an' want to hail 'em."
"But we are loss," said Margot, "in dis great woos. How sall we ever get any whar out of him?"
"O, that's easy enough," said Zac. "I know all about the woods, and can find my way anywhars. My idee is, to go back towards the trail, strike into it, an' move along slowly an' cautiously, till we git nigh the place whar I left the skewner."
Zac waited in this place till towards evening, and then started once more. He began to retrace his steps in a direction which he judged would ultimately strike the trail, along which he had resolved to go. He had weighed the chances, and concluded that this would be his best course. He would have the night to do it in; and if he should come unawares upon any of his enemies, he thought it would be easy to dash into the woods, and escape under the cover of the darkness. Vigilance only was necessary, together with coolness and nerve, and all these qualities he believed himself to have.
The knowledge of the woods which Zac claimed stood him in good stead on the present occasion; he was able to guide his course in a very satisfactory manner; and about sundown, or a little after, he struck the trail. Here he waited for a short time, watching and listening; and then, having heard nothing whatever that indicated danger, he went boldly forward, with Margot close behind. As they advanced, it grew gradually darker, and at length the night came down. Overhead the moon shone, disclosing a strip of sky where the trees opened above the path. For hours they walked along. No enemy appeared; and at length Zac concluded that they had all dispersed through the woods, at the point where they had first come upon them, and had not followed the path any farther. What had become of Claude he could not imagine, but could only hope for the best.
They rested for about an hour at midnight. Then Zac carried Margot for another hour. After this, Margot insisted on walking. At length, after having thus passed the whole night, the path came to a creek. Here Zac paused.
"Now, little gal," said he, "you may go to sleep till mornin', for I think we've got pooty nigh onto the end of our tramp."
With these words Zac led the way a little distance from the path, and here Margot flung herself upon a grassy knoll, and fell sound asleep, while Zac, at a little distance off, held watch and guard over her.
Several hours passed, and Zac watched patiently. He had not the heart to rouse her, unless compelled by absolute necessity. In this case, however, no necessity arose, and he left her to wake herself. When at length Margot awoke, the sun was high in the heavens, and Zac only smiled pleasantly when she reproached him for not waking her before.
"O, no harm; no 'casion has riz, an' so you were better havin' your nap. You'll be all the abler to do what you may hev yet before you. An' now, little un, if you're agreed, we'll hev a bite o' breakfast."
A short breakfast, composed of hard biscuit and ham, washed down with cool water from a neighboring brook, served to fortify both for the duties that lay before them; and after this Zac proposed an immediate start.
He led the way along the bank of the creek, and Margot followed. They walked here for about two miles, until at length they came in sight of a small harbor, into which the creek ran. In the distance was the sea; nearer was a headland.
"This here's the place, the i-dentical place," said Zac, in joyous tones. "I knowed it; I was sure of it. Come along, little un. We ain't got much further to go—only to that thar headland; and then, ef I ain't mistook, we'll find the end to our tramp."
With these cheering words he led the way along the shore, until at last they reached the headland. It was rocky and bare of trees. Up this Zac ran, followed by Margot, and soon reached the top.
"All right!" he cried. "See thar!" and he pointed out to the sea.
Margot had Already seen it: it was the schooner, lying there at anchor.
"Eet ees de sheep," said Margot, joyously; "but how sall we geet to her?"
"O, they're on the lookout," said Zac. "I'll give signals."
The schooner was not more than a quarter of a mile off. Zac and Margot were on the bare headland, and could easily be seen. On board the schooner figures were moving up and down. Zac looked for a few moments, as if to see whether it was all right, and then gave a peculiar cry, something like the cawing of a crow, which he repeated three times. The sound was evidently heard, for at once there was a movement on board. Zac waved his hat. Then the movement stopped, and a boat shot out from the schooner, with a man in it, who rowed towards the headland. He soon came near enough to be recognized. It was Terry. Zac and Margot hurried to the shore to meet it, and in a short time both were on board the Parson.
Great was the joy that was evinced by Terry at the return of his captain. He had a host of questions to ask about his adventures, and reproached Zac over and over for not allowing him to go also. Jericho showed equal feeling, but in a more emphatic form, since it was evinced in the shape of a substantial meal, which was most welcome to Zac, and to Margot also. As for Biler, he said not a word, but stood with his melancholy face turned towards his master, and his jaws moving as though engaged in devouring something.
"Sure, an' it's glad I am," said Terry, "for it's not comfortable I've been—so it ain't. I don't like bein' shut up here, at all, at all. So we'll just up sail, captain dear, an' be off out of this."
"O, no," said Zac; "we've got to wait for the others."
"Wait—is it?" said Terry.
"Sure, thin, an' there's a sail out beyant. Ye can't see it now, but ye'll see it soon, for it's been batin' up to the land all the mornin'."
"A sail!" exclaimed Zac.
"Yis; an' it's a Frinchman—so it is; an' big enough for a dozen of the likes of us."
Further inquiry elicited the startling information that early in the morning Terry had seen, far away in the horizon, a large ship, which had passed backward and forward while beating up towards the land against a head wind, and was just now concealed behind a promontory on the south. At this Zac felt that his situation was a serious one, and he had to decide what to do. To hoist sail and venture forth to sea would be to discover himself, and lay himself open to certain capture; while to remain where he was gave him the chance of being overlooked. So he decided to remain, and trust to luck. Once, indeed, he thought of going ashore once more, but this thought was at once dismissed. On shore he would be lost. The woods were full of his enemies, and he could hardly hope to reach any English settlement. To himself alone the chance was but slight, while for Margot it was impossible. To leave her now was not to be thought of, and besides, the schooner was the only hope for Claude, who might still be in the neighborhood. The consequence was, that Zac decided to do nothing but remain here and meet his fate, whatever that might be.
Scarcely had he come to this decision, when a sight met his eyes out beyond the southern promontory, where his gaze had been turned. There, moving majestically along the sea, he saw a large frigate. It was not more than a mile away. For about a quarter of an hour the ship sailed along, and Zac was just beginning to hope that he had not been seen, when suddenly she came to, and a boat was lowered.
"She sees us!" said Terry.
Zac made no reply.
Yes; there was no doubt of it. They had been seen. Those on board the ship had been keeping a sharp lookout, and had detected the outline of the schooner sharply defined against the light limestone rock of the headland near which she lay. To escape was not to be thought of. The boat was coming towards them, filled with armed men. Zac stood quite overwhelmed with dejection; and thus he stood as the Parson was boarded and seized by the lieutenant of his French majesty's Vengeur, who took possession of her in the name of his king.
No sooner had Zac found himself in the power of the enemy, than a remarkable change took place in the respective positions of himself and Margot with regard to one another. Thus far he had been her protector; but now she became his. The first words that she spoke to the lieutenant served to conciliate his favor, and secure very respectful treatment for Zac, and seemed to convey such important intelligence that he concluded at once to transfer Margot to the Vengeur, where she could tell her story to the captain.
"Adieu," said she. "We sall soon see again. Do not fear. I make zem let you go."
"Wal, little un, I'll try an' hope. But, mind, unless I get you, I don't much mind what becomes o' me."
Margot, on being taken on board the Vengeur, was at once examined by the captain—the Vicomte de Brissac, who found her statement most important. She contented herself with telling everything that was essential, and did not think it at all necessary for her to state that Zac had already been in the hands of French captors, and had effected an escape. She announced herself as the maid of the Countess Laborde, who had accompanied her father in the ship Arethuse. She narrated the shipwreck, and the rescue by Zac and the young Count de Montresor, the encounter with the Aigle, and the subsequent arrest of Claude. She mentioned the death of Laborde, and the journey to Louisbourg by land, with the escape and pursuit of Claude, the fight with Cazeneau, and his subsequent arrival. She then described their escape, their pursuit and separation, down to the time of speaking. She affirmed that Zac had come here from Minas Basin to save his friend, and was awaiting his arrival when the Vengeur appeared.
The captain listened with the most anxious attention to every word; questioned her most minutely about the reasons why Cazeneau had arrested Claude, and also about his designs on Louisbourg. Margot answered everything most frankly, and was able to tell him the truth, inasmuch as she had enjoyed very much of the confidence of Mimi, and had learned from her about Cazeneau's plans. Captain de Brissac showed no emotion of any kind, whether of sympathy or indignation; but Margot formed a very favorable estimate of his character from his face, and could not help believing that she had won him over as an ally. She could see that her story had produced a most profound impression.
Captain de Brissac was anxious to know what had been the fate of the other fugitives, especially of Claude and Mimi; but of this Margot could, of course, give no information. When she had last seen them they were flying to the woods, and she could only hope that they had been sufficiently fortunate to get under cover before the arrival of the enemy.
Captain de Brissac then sent a crew aboard the Parson, and ordered them to follow the Vengeur to Louisbourg. Upon this new crew Terry looked with careful scrutiny.
"Whisper, captain dear," said he, as he drew up to the meditative Zac. "Here's another lot o' Frinchmen. Is it afther thrying agin that ye are, to give 'em the slip?"
Zac drew a long breath, and looked with a melancholy face at the Vengeur, which was shaking out her sails, and heading east for Louisbourg. On the stern he could see a female figure. He could not recognize the face, but he felt sure that it was Margot.
"Wal," said he, "I guess we'd better wait a while fust, and see how things turn out. The little un's oncommon spry, an' may give us a lift somehow."
THE COURT MARTIAL.
Claude was treated roughly, bound, and sent forward on foot; but the representations of Pere Michel secured better treatment for Mimi. A litter was made for her, and on this she was carried. As for Pere Michel himself, he, too, was conducted back as a prisoner; but the respect of the commander of the soldiers for the venerable priest caused him to leave his hands unbound. After a weary tramp they reached Louisbourg. Cazeneau was at the gate, and greeted them with a sinister smile. Mimi, utterly worn out, both by fatigue and grief, took no notice of him, nor did she hear what he said.
"Take the Countess de Laborde to the Residency."
"Pardon," said the priest; "that lady is now the Countess de Montresor."
At this Cazeneau turned upon him in fury.
"Traitor!" he hissed; "what do you mean?"
"I mean that I married her to the Count de Montresor last night."
"It's a lie! It's a lie!"
"There are witnesses," said Pere Michel, "who can prove it."
"It's a lie," said Cazeneau; "but even if it is true, it won't help her. She'll be a widow before two days. And as for you, you villain and traitor, you shall bitterly repent your part in last night's work."
Pere Michel shrugged his shoulders, and turned away. This act seemed to madden Cazeneau still more.
"Why did you not bind this fellow?" he cried, turning to the commander of the detachment.
"Your excellency, I had his parole."
"A curse on his parole! Take him to the prison with Motier, and bind him like the other."
Upon this, Mimi was taken to the Residency, and Claude and Pere Michel were conducted to prison, where both of them were confined. Cazeneau himself then returned to the Residency. The ex-commandant, Florian, was at the door. He saw the whole proceeding, but showed no particular emotion.
Cazeneau regarded him coldly, and Florian returned his gaze with haughty indifference.
"Your plans have not succeeded very well, you see, monsieur," said Cazeneau.
"It is not time enough yet to decide," said Florian.
"To-morrow will decide."
"I think not. You will find, Monsieur le Commandant, that there is public opinion, even in Louisbourg, which cannot be despised."
"Public opinion which favors traitors may safely be despised."
"True," said Florian; and with these words the two parted.
The following day came. A court martial had been called to sit at two in the afternoon. At that hour the session was opened by Cazeneau. The chief officers of the garrison were present. With them came Florian.
"I am sorry, monsieur," said Cazeneau, "that I cannot invite you to a seat in this court."
"By virtue of my military rank," said Florian, "I claim a seat here, if not as judge, at least as spectator. I have come to see that the Count de Montresor has justice."
"There is no such person. We are to try one Motier."
"It can be proved," said Florian, "that he is the Count de Montresor. You yourself arrested him first as such."
"I was mistaken," said Cazeneau.
"As a peer of France, he can appeal to the king; and this court has no final jurisdiction. I call all present to witness this. If my warning is neglected here, it will be felt in a higher quarter. Recollect, monsieur, that I shall soon be able to report to his majesty himself. I flatter myself that my influence at court just now is not inferior to that of the Count de Cazeneau."
"Perhaps, monsieur," said Cazeneau, with a sneer, "you would wish to be commandant a little longer."
"All present," said Florian, "have heard my words. Let them remember that the prisoner is undoubtedly the Count de Montresor, a peer of France. Witnesses can be produced; among others, the Countess de Montresor."
"There is no such person," said Cazeneau, angrily. "That lady is the Countess de Laborde."
"She was married two nights since. All present may take warning by what I have announced. I will say no more."
The words of Florian had made a profound impression. It was no light thing for a colonial court martial to deal with a peer of France. Besides, Florian himself would soon be at court, and could tell his own story. Cazeneau saw that a limit would be placed to his power if he did not manage carefully. He decided to act less harshly, and with more cunning. He therefore assumed a milder tone, assured the court that Florian was mistaken, disclaimed any personal feeling, and finally invited Florian to sit among the judges. Upon this Florian took his seat. The prisoner was now brought forward, and the witnesses prepared.
The charges were then read. These were to the effect that he had been captured while coming to Louisbourg under a suspicious character, calling himself Motier, but pretending to be the son of the outlawed De Montresor; that afterwards he had escaped from confinement, and followed Cazeneau, upon whom he had made a murderous attack.
Claude was then questioned. He told his story fully and frankly as has already been stated. After a severe questioning, he was allowed to sit down, and Pere Michel was then summoned.
Pere Michel was first asked what he knew about the prisoner. The priest answered, simply,—
"What do you mean? Go on and tell what you know about him."
Pere Michel hesitated for a moment, and then, looking at Claude, with a face expressive of the deepest emotion, he said in a low voice,—
"He is my son."
At this declaration amazement filled all present. Claude was affected most of all. He started to his feet, and stood gazing at Pere Michel with wonder and incredulity.
"I don't understand," said Cazeneau; "at any rate, this shows that he is a low-born adventurer."
At this Pere Michel turned to Cazeneau, and said,—
"He is my son, yet neither low-born nor an adventurer. Do you not know—you—who I am? Often have we seen one another face to face within the last few weeks; and yet you have not recognized me! What! have I so changed that not a trace of my former self is visible? Yet what I was once you see now in my son, whom you best know to be what he claims. Yes, gentlemen, I am Eugene, Count de Montresor, and this is my son Claude.—Come, Claude," he continued, "come, my son, to him who has so often yearned to take you to a father's embrace. I hoped to defer this declaration until my name should be freed from dishonor; but in such an hour as this I can keep silent no longer. Yet you know, my son, that the dishonor is not real, and that in the eyes of Heaven your father's name is pure and unsullied."
As he said these words, he moved towards Claude. The young man stood, as pale as death, and trembling from head to foot with excessive agitation. He flung himself, with a low cry, into his father's arms, and leaned his head upon his breast, and wept. The whole court was overcome by this spectacle. There seemed something sacred in this strange meeting of those so near, who for a lifetime had been separated, and had at length been brought together so wonderfully. The silence was oppressive to Cazeneau, who now felt as though all his power was slipping away. It was broken at last by his harsh voice.
"It's false," he said. "The Count de Montresor has been dead for years. It is a piece of acting that may do for the Theatre Francais, but is absurd to sensible men. Gentlemen, these two concocted this whole plan last night when together in their cell. I once knew old Montresor well, and this priest has not a feature in common with him."
The Count de Montresor turned from his son, and faced the court.
"Cazeneau," said he, with scornful emphasis, "now commandant of Louisbourg, once equerry to the Count de Laborde, you never knew me but at a distance, and as your superior. But Florian, here, remembers me, and can testify to my truth. To this court I have only to say that I fled to this country from the result of a plot contrived by this villain; that on the death of my beloved wife I committed my infant son to the care of my faithful valet,—Motier,—and became a missionary priest. For twenty years, nearly, I have labored here among the Acadians and Indians. This year I went to New England in search of Motier. I had already been carrying on correspondence with friends in France, who held out hopes that my wrongs would be righted, and my name saved from dishonor. I did not wish to make myself known to my son till I could give him an unsullied name. I found Motier dead, and learned that my son was going to Louisbourg, en route, to France. I asked for a passage, and was thus able to be near my son, and study his character. It was I who saved him from prison at Grand Pre; it was I who heard the last words of my former enemy, Laborde; it was I who saved my son, two nights since, from prison. He is guilty of nothing. If any one is guilty, that one am I alone. I ask, then, that I be considered as a prisoner, and that this innocent young man be set free. But as a peer of France, I claim to be sent to France, where I can be tried by my peers, since this court is one that can have no jurisdiction over one of my rank."
Here the Count de Montresor ceased, and turning to his son, stood conversing with him in a low whisper.
"Every word is true," said Florian. "I assert that Pere Michel is the Count de Montresor. I had noticed the likeness formerly; but, as I believed the count to be dead, I thought it only accidental, until a few days ago, when he revealed the truth to me. I recognized him by facts and statements which he made. He has changed greatly since the old days, yet not beyond recognition by a friend. This being the case, then, we have nothing to do, except to send him to France by the next ship. As to the young count, his son, I cannot see that we have any charge against him whatever."
All present, with one exception, had been profoundly moved by the meeting between father and son, nor had they been much less deeply moved by the words of the old count, which, though somewhat incoherent, had been spoken with impressiveness and dignity. The announcement of his lofty rank; the remembrance of his misfortunes, of which most present had heard, and which were universally believed to be unmerited; the assertion that Cazeneau had been the arch villain and plotter,—all combined to increase the common feeling of sympathy for the two before them. This feeling was deepened by Florian's words. His influence, but recently so strong, had not yet passed away. The new commandant, even under ordinary circumstances, would have been unpopular; but on the present occasion he was detested. The feeling, therefore, was general that nothing ought to be done; and Cazeneau, his heart full of vengeance, found himself well nigh powerless. But he was not a man who could readily give up the purpose of his heart; and therefore he quickly seized the only resource left him.
"Gentlemen," said he, "we must not allow ourselves to be influenced by purely sentimental considerations. I believe that this priest speaks falsely, and that he has imposed upon the sympathies of M. de Florian. Besides, he is an outlaw and a criminal in the eyes of French justice. As to the young man, whom he calls his son, there is the charge of a murderous assault upon me, the commandant of Louisbourg. This must be investigated. But in the present state of mind of those present, I despair of conducting any important trial, and I therefore declare this court adjourned until further notice. Guards, remove these two prisoners, and this time place them in separate cells, where they can no longer have communication with each other."
To this no one raised any objection. As commandant, Cazeneau had the right to adjourn; and, of course, until some actual decision had been reached, he could dispose of them as he saw fit. They could only bring a moral pressure to bear, at least for the present. Father and son were therefore taken back to their prison, and Cazeneau quitted the court, to take counsel with himself as to his future course. He hoped yet to have the game in his own hands. He saw that until Florian was gone it would be difficult, but after that he might manage to control the opinions of the majority of the officers. Florian, however, could not go until the next ship should arrive, and he now awaited its coming with curiosity and eagerness.
He did not have to wait very long.
The court broke up, and the officers talked over the matter among themselves. Florian was now quite communicative, and told them all about the early career of Montresor, and his misfortunes. Cazeneau was the evil cause of all; and Florian was bitter and unsparing in his denunciations of this man's villany. He took care to remind them that Mimi, though the wife of Claude, was still held by him under the pretence that she was his ward, and that Cazeneau, being the creature of the defunct ministry of the late Fleury, could not be kept long in his present office by the hostile ministry which had succeeded. He also assured them that the Montresors had friends among those now in power, and that the old count was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the next ship, in the confident hope that justice would at last be done to him.
By these words, and by this information about things unknown to Cazeneau, Florian deepened the impression which had been made by the events of the trial. All were desirous that the Montresors should at last escape from the machinations of Cazeneau. All looked for the speedy recall and disgrace of Cazeneau himself, and therefore no one was inclined to sacrifice his feelings or convictions for the purpose of gaining favor with one whose stay was to be merely temporary.
While they were yet gathered together discussing these things, they were disturbed by the report of a gun. Another followed, and yet another. All of them hurried to the signal station, from which a view of the harbor was commanded.
There a noble sight appeared before their eyes. With all sail set, a frigate came into the harbor, and then, rounding to, swept grandly up towards the town. Gun after gun sounded, as the salute was given and returned. After her came a schooner.
"It's the Vengeur," said Florian. "I wonder whether Montresor will get his despatches. Gentlemen, I must go aboard."
With these words Florian hurried away from the citadel to the shore.
NEWS FROM HOME.
Cazeneau had heard the guns, and had learned that the long-expected frigate had arrived, together with a schooner that looked like a prize. To him the matter afforded much gratification, since it offered a quick and easy way of getting rid of Florian, and of making the way easier towards the accomplishment of his own purposes. He did not know that Florian had hurried aboard, nor, had he known, would he have cared. For his own part he remained where he was, awaiting the visit which the captain of the Vengeur would make, to report his arrival. After more than two hours of waiting, it began to strike him that the said captain was somewhat dilatory, and he began to meditate a reprimand for such a neglect of his dignity.
All this time had been spent by Florian on board, where he had much to say to De Brisset, and much to ask of him and also of Margot.
At length a boat came ashore. In the boat were Florian, De Brisset, and Margot. On landing, these three went up to the citadel; and on their way De Brisset was stopped by several of the officers, who were old acquaintances, and were anxious to learn the latest news. Florian also had much to tell them which he had just learned. While they were talking, Margot hurried to the Residency, where she found Mimi, to whom she gave information of a startling kind; so startling, indeed, was it, that it acted like a powerful remedy, and roused Mimi from a deep stupor of inconsolable grief up to life, and hope, and joy, and strength.
The information which De Brisset gave the officers was of the same startling kind, and Florian was able to corroborate it by a despatch which he had received. The despatch was to the effect that he—the Count de Florian—was hereby reinstated in his office as commandant of Louisbourg, and conveyed to him the flattering intelligence that his former administration was favorably regarded by the government, who would reward him with some higher command. With this despatch there came also to Florian, as commandant, a warrant to arrest Cazeneau, the late commandant, on certain charges of fraud, peculation, and malversation in office, under the late ministry. De Brisset also had orders to bring Cazeneau back to France in the Vengeur. These documents were shown to the officers, who were very earnest in their congratulations to Florian.
There were also despatches to the Count de Montresor, the contents of which were known to De Brisset, who also knew that he was now laboring in the colonies as the missionary priest Pere Michel. Florian at once took these to the prison where he was confined, acquainted him with the change that had taken place, and set both him and Claude free with his own hands. Then he presented the despatches.
Pere Michel, as we may still call him, tore open the despatch with a trembling hand, and there read that, at last, after so many years, the wrong done him had been remedied, as far as possible; that all his dignities were restored, together with his estates. These last had passed to other hands, but the strong arm of the government was even now being put forth to reclaim them, so that they might be rendered back to the deeply injured man to whom they rightly belonged.
"There, my boy," said Pere Michel, as he showed it to his son, "all is right at last; and now you can wear your name and dignity in the face of the world, and not be ashamed."
"O, my father!" said Claude, in a voice which was broken with emotion, "Heaven knows I never was ashamed. I believed your innocence, and wept over your wrongs. I am glad now, not for myself, but for you."
"Where is the Countess de Montresor?" said Pere Michel. "She should not be kept in restraint any longer."
Cazeneau all this time sat in his apartment, awaiting the arrival of the captain of the Vengeur and the despatches. The captain at length appeared; but with him were others, the sight of whom awakened strange sensations in his breast. For there was Florian, and with him was Pere Michel; Claude was there also, and beyond he saw some soldiers. The sight was to him most appalling, and something in the face and bearing of De Brisset and Florian was more appalling still.
"Monsieur le Comte de Cazeneau," said Florian, "I have the honor to present you with this commission, by which you will see that I am reappointcd commandant of Louisbourg. I also have the honor to state that I hold a warrant for your arrest, on certain charges specified therein, and for sending you back to France for trial in the Vengeur, on her return voyage."
Cazeneau listened to this with a pallid face.
"Impossible!" he faltered.
"It's quite true," said De Brisset; "I also have orders to the same effect, which I have already shown to Monsieur le Commandant Florian. There is no possibility of any mistake, or of any resistance. You will therefore do well to submit."