The Trail of The Sword by Gilbert Parker
Epoch the Second
Chapter VII. Friends in Council
Montreal and Quebec, dear to the fortunes of such men as Iberville, were as cheerful in the still iron winter as any city under any more cordial sky then or now: men loved, hated, made and broke bargains, lied to women, kept a foolish honour with each other, and did deeds of valour for a song, as ever they did from the beginning of the world. Through the stern soul of Nature ran the temperament of men who had hearts of summer; and if, on a certain notable day in Iberville's life, one could have looked through the window of a low stone house in Notre Dame Street, Montreal, one could have seen a priest joyously playing a violin; though even in Europe, Maggini and Stradivarius were but little known, and the instrument itself was often called an invention of the devil.
The room was not ornamented, save by a crucifix, a pleasant pencil- drawing of Bishop Laval, a gun, a pair of snow-shoes, a sword, and a little shrine in one corner, wherein were relics of a saint. Of necessaries even there were few. They were unremarkable, save in the case of two tall silver candlesticks, which, with their candles at an angle from the musician, gave his face strange lights and shadows.
The priest was powerfully made; so powerful indeed, so tall was he, that when, in one of the changes of the music, a kind of exaltation filled him, and he came to his feet, his head almost touched the ceiling. His shoulders were broad and strong, and though his limbs were hid by his cassock, his arms showed almost huge, and the violin lay tucked under his chin like a mere toy. In the eye was a penetrating but abstracted look, and the countenance had the gravity of a priest lighted by a cheerful soul within. It had been said of Dollier de Casson that once, attacked by two renegade Frenchmen, he had broken the leg of one and the back of the other, and had then picked them up and carried them for miles to shelter and nursing. And it was also declared by the romantic that the man with the broken back recovered, while he with the shattered leg, recovering also, found that his foot, pointing backwards, "made a fool of his nose."
The Abbe de Casson's life had one affection, which had taken the place of others, now almost lost in the distance of youth, absence, and indifference. For France lay far from Montreal, and the priest-musician was infinitely farther off: the miles which the Church measures between the priest and his lay boyhood are not easily reckoned. But such as Dollier de Casson must have a field for affection to enrich. You cannot drive the sap of the tree in upon itself. It must come out or the tree must die-burst with the very misery of its richness.
This night he was crowding into the music four years of events: of memory, hope, pride, patience, and affection. He was waiting for some one whom he had not seen for these four years. Time passed. More and more did the broad sonorous notes fill the room. At length they ceased, and with a sigh he pressed the violin once, twice, thrice to his lips.
"My good Stradivarius," he said, "my pearless one!" Once again he kissed it, and then, drawing his hand across his eyes, he slowly wrapped the violin in a velvet cloth, put it away in an iron box, and locked it up. But presently he changed his mind, took it out again, and put it on the table, shaking his head musingly.
"He will wish to see it, maybe to hear it," he said half aloud.
Then he turned and went into another room. Here there was a prie-dieu in a corner, and above it a crucifix. He knelt and was soon absorbed.
For a time there was silence. At last there was a crunching of moccasined feet upon the crisp snow, then a slight tap at the outer door, and immediately it was opened. A stalwart young man stepped inside. He looked round, pleased, astonished, and glanced at the violin, then meaningly towards the nearly closed door of the other room. After which he pulled off his gloves, threw his cap down, and with a significant toss of the head, picked up the violin.
He was a strong, handsome man of about twenty-two, with a face at once open and inscrutable: the mouth with a trick of smiling, the eyes fearless, convincing, but having at the same time a look behind this--an alert, profound speculation, which gave his face singular force. He was not so tall as the priest in the next room, but still he was very tall, and every movement had a lithe, supple strength. His body was so firm that, as he bent or turned, it seemed as of soft flexible metal.
Despite his fine manliness, he looked very boylike as he picked up the violin, and with a silent eager laugh put it under his chin, nodding gaily, as he did so, towards the other room. He bent his cheek to the instrument--almost as brown as the wood itself--and made a pass or two in the air with the bow, as if to recall a former touch and tune. A satisfied look shot up in his face, and then with an almost impossible softness he drew the bow across the strings, getting a distant delicate note, which seemed to float and tenderly multiply upon itself--a variation, indeed, of the tune which De Casson had played. A rapt look came into his eyes. And all that look behind the general look of his face--the look which has to do with a man's past or future--deepened and spread, till you saw, for once in a way, a strong soldier turned artist, yet only what was masculine and strong. The music deepened also, and, as the priest opened the door, swept against him like a wind so warm that a moisture came to his eyes. "Iberville!" he said, in a glad voice. "Pierre!"
The violin was down on the instant. "My dear abbe!" he cried. And then the two embraced.
"How do you like my entrance?" said the young man. "But I had to provide my own music!" He laughed, and ran his hands affectionately down the arms of the priest.
"I had been playing the same old chansonette--"
"With your original variations?"
"With my poor variations, just before you came in; and that done--"
"Yes, yes, abbe, I know the rest: prayers for the safe return of the sailor, who for four years or nearly has been learning war in King Louis's ships, and forgetting the good old way of fighting by land, at which he once served his prentice time--with your blessing, my old tutor, my good fighting abbe! Do you remember when we stopped those Dutchmen on the Richelieu, and you--"
The priest interrupted with a laugh. "But, my dear Iberville--"
"It was 'Pierre' a minute gone; 'twill be 'Monsieur Pierre le Moyne of Iberville' next," the other said in mock reproach, as he went to the fire.
"No, no; I merely--"
"I understand. Pardon the wild youth who plagues his old friend and teacher, as he did long ago--so much has happened since."
His face became grave and a look of trouble came. Presently the priest said: "I never had a pupil whose teasing was so pleasant, poor humourist that I am. But now, Pierre, tell me all, while I lay out what the pantry holds."
The gay look came back into Iberville's face. "Ahem," he said--"which is the way to begin a wonderful story: Once upon a time a young man, longing to fight for his king by land alone, and with special fighting of his own to do hard by"--(here De Casson looked at him keenly and a singular light came into his eyes)--"was wheedled away upon the king's ships to France, and so
'Left the song of the spinning-wheel, The hawk and the lady fair, And sailed away--'
But the song is old and so is the story, abbe; so here's the brief note of it. After years of play and work,--play in France and stout work in the Spaniards' country,--he was shipped away to
'Those battle heights, Quebec heights, our own heights, The citadel our golden lily bears, And Frontenac--'
But I babble again. And at Quebec he finds the old song changed. The heights and the lilies are there, but Frontenac, the great, brave Frontenac, is gone: confusion lives where only conquest and honest quarrelling were--"
"Frontenac will return--there is no other way!" interposed De Casson.
"Perhaps. And the young man looked round and lo! old faces and places had changed. Children had grown into women, with children at their breasts; young wives had become matronly; and the middle-aged were slaving servants and apothecaries to make them young again. And the young man turned from the world he used to know, and said: 'There are but three things in the world worth doing--loving, roaming, and fighting.' Therefore, after one day, he turned from the poor little Court-game at Quebec, travelled to Montreal, spent a few hours with his father and his brothers, Bienville, Longueil, Maricourt, and Sainte-Helene, and then, having sent word to his dearest friend, came to see him, and found him --his voice got softer--the same as of old: ready with music and wine and aves for the prodigal."
He paused. The priest had placed meat and wine on the table, and now he came and put his hand on Iberville's shoulder. "Pierre," he said, "I welcome you as one brother might another, the elder foolishly fond." Then he added: "I was glad you remembered our music."
"My dear De Casson, as if I could forget! I have yet the Maggini you gave me. It was of the things for remembering. If we can't be loyal to our first loves, why to anything?"
"Even so, Pierre; but few at your age arrive at that. Most people learn it when they have bartered away every dream. It is enough to have a few honest emotions--very few--and stand by them till all be done."
"Even hating?" Iberville's eyes were eager.
"There is such a thing as a noble hate."
"How every inch of you is man!" answered the other, clasping the priest's arms. Then he added: "Abbe, you know what I long to hear. You have been to New York twice; you were there within these three months--"
"And was asked to leave within these three months--banished, as it were."
"I know. You said in your letter that you had news. You were kind to go--"
"Perrot went too."
"My faithful Perrot! I was about to ask of him. I had a birch-bark letter from him, and he said he would come--Ah, here he is!"
He listened. There was a man's voice singing near by. They could even hear the words:
"'O the young seigneur! O the young seigneur! A hundred bucks in a day he slew; And the lady gave him a ribbon to wear, And a shred of gold from her golden hair O the way of a maid was the way he knew; O the young seigneur! O the young seigneur!'"
"Shall we speak freely before him?" said the priest. "As freely as you will. Perrot is true. He was with me, too, at the beginning."
At that moment there came a knock, and in an instant the coureur du bois had caught the hands of the young man, and was laughing up in his face.
"By the good Sainte Anne, but you make Nick Perrot a dwarf, dear monsieur!"
"Well, well, little man, I'll wager neither the great abbe here nor myself could bring you lower than you stand, for all that. Comrade, 'tis kind of you to come so prompt."
"What is there so good as the face of an old friend!" said Perrot, with a little laugh. "You will drink with a new, and eat with a coming friend, and quarrel with either; but 'tis only the old friend that knows the old trail, and there's nothing to a man like the way he has come in the world."
"The trail of the good comrade," said the priest softly.
"Ah!" responded Perrot, "I remember, abbe, when we were at the Portneuf you made some verses of that--eh! eh! but they were good!"
"No fitter time," said Iberville; "come, abbe, the verses!"
"No, no; another day," answered the priest.
It was an interesting scene. Perrot, short, broad, swarthy, dressed in rude buckskin gaudily ornamented, bandoleer and belt garnished with silver,--a recent gift of some grateful merchant, standing between the powerful black-robed priest and this gallant sailor-soldier, richly dressed in fine skins and furs, with long waving hair, more like a Viking than a man of fashion, and carrying a courtly and yet sportive look, as though he could laugh at the miseries of the sinful world. Three strange comrades were these, who knew each other so far as one man can know another, yet each knowing from a different stand-point. Perrot knew certain traits of Iberville of which De Casson was ignorant, and the abbe knew many depths which Perrot never even vaguely plumbed. And yet all could meet and be free in speech, as though each read the other thoroughly.
"Let us begin," said Iberville. "I want news of New York."
"Let us eat as we talk," urged the abbe.
They all sat and were soon eating and drinking with great relish.
Presently the abbe began:
"Of my first journey you know by the letter I sent you: how I found that Mademoiselle Leveret was gone to England with her father. That was a year after you left, now about three years gone. Monsieur Gering entered the navy of the English king, and went to England also."
Iberville nodded. "Yes, yes, in the English navy I know very well of that."
The abbe looked up surprised. "From my letter?"
"I saw him once in the Spaniards' country," said Iberville, "when we swore to love each other less and less."
"What was the trouble?" asked the priest.
"Pirates' booty, which he, with a large force, seized as a few of my men were carrying it to the coast. With his own hand he cut down my servant, who had been with me since from the first. Afterwards in a parley I saw him, and we exchanged--compliments. The sordid gentleman thought I was fretting about the booty. Good God, what are some thousand pistoles to the blood of one honest friend!"
"And in your mind another leaven worked," ventured the priest.
"Another leaven, as you say," responded Iberville. "So, for your story, abbe."
"Of the first journey there is nothing more to tell, save that the English governor said you were as brave a gentleman as ever played ambassador--which was, you remember, much in Count Frontenac's vein."
Iberville nodded and smiled. "Frontenac railed at my impertinence also."
"But gave you a sword when you told him the news of Radisson," interjected Perrot. "And by and by I've things to say of him."
The abbe continued: "For my second visit, but a few months ago. We priests have gone much among the Iroquois, even in the English country, and, as I promised you, I went to New York. There I was summoned to the governor. He commanded me to go back to Quebec. I was about to ask him of Mademoiselle when there came a tap at the door. The governor looked at me a little sharply. 'You are,' said he, 'a friend of Monsieur Iberville. You shall know one who keeps him in remembrance.' Then he let the lady enter. She had heard that I was there, having seen Perrot first."
Here Perrot, with a chuckle, broke in: "I chanced that way, and I had a wish to see what was for seeing; for here was our good abbe alone among the wolves, and there were Radisson and the immortal Bucklaw, of whom there was news."
De Casson still continued: "When I was presented she took my hand and said: 'Monsieur l'Abbe, I am glad to meet a friend--an old friend--of Monsieur Iberville. I hear that he has been in France and elsewhere.'"
Here the abbe paused, smiling as if in retrospect, and kept looking into the fire and turning about in his hand his cassock-cord.
Iberville had sat very still, his face ruled to quietness; only his eyes showing the great interest he felt. He waited, and presently said: "Yes, and then?"
The abbe withdrew his eyes from the fire and turned them upon Iberville.
"And then," he said, "the governor left the room. When he had gone she came to me, and, laying her hand upon my arm, said: 'Monsieur, I know you are to be trusted. You are the friend of a brave man.'"
The abbe paused, and smiled over at Iberville. "You see," he said, "her trust was in your friend, not in my office. Well, presently she added: 'I know that Monsieur Iberville and Mr. Gering, for a foolish quarrel of years ago, still are cherished foes. I wish your help to make them both happier; for no man can be happy and hate.' And I gave my word to do so." Here Perrot chuckled to himself and interjected softly: "Mon Dieu! she could make a man say anything at all. I would have sworn to her that while I lived I never should fight. Eh, that's so!"
"Allons!" said Iberville impatiently, yet grasping the arm of the woodsman kindly.
The abbe once more went on: "When she had ended questioning I said to her: 'And what message shall I give from you?' 'Tell him,' she answered, 'by the right of lifelong debt I ask for peace.' 'Is that all?' said I. 'Tell him,' she added, 'I hope we may meet again.' 'For whose sake,' said I, 'do you ask for peace?' 'I am a woman,' she answered, 'I am selfish--for my own sake.'"
Again the priest paused, and again Iberville urged him.
"I asked if she had no token. There was a flame in her eye, and she begged me to excuse her. When she came back she handed me a little packet. 'Give it to Monsieur Iberville,' she said, 'for it is his. He lent it to me years ago. No doubt he has forgotten.'"
At that the priest drew from his cassock a tiny packet, and Iberville, taking, opened it. It held a silver buckle tied by a velvet ribbon. A flush crept slowly up Iberville's face from his chin to his hair, then he sighed, and presently, out of all reason, laughed.
"Indeed, yes; it is mine," he said. "I very well remember when I found it."
Here Perrot spoke. "I very well remember, monsieur, when she took it from your doublet; but it was on a slipper then."
Iberville did not answer, but held the buckle, rubbing it on his sleeve as though to brighten it. "So much for the lady," he said at last; "what more?"
"I learned," answered the abbe, "that Monsieur Gering was in Boston, and that he was to go to Fort Albany at Hudson's Bay, where, on our territory, the English have set forts."
Here Perrot spoke. "Do you know, monsieur, who are the poachers? No? Eh? No? Well, it is that Radisson."
Iberville turned sharply upon Perrot. "Are you sure of that?" he said. "Are you sure, Nick?"
"As sure as I've a head. And I will tell you more: Radisson was with Bucklaw at the kidnapping. I had the pleasure to kill a fellow of Bucklaw, and he told me that before he died. He also told how Bucklaw went with Radisson to the Spaniards' country treasure-hunting. Ah! there are many fools in the world. They did not get the treasure. They quarreled, and Radisson went to the far north, Bucklaw to the far south. The treasure is where it was. Eh bien, such is the way of asses."
Iberville was about to speak.
"But wait," said Perrot, with a slow, tantalising smile; "it is not wise to hurry. I have a mind to know; so while I am at New York I go to Boston. It makes a man's mind great to travel. I have been east to Boston; I have been west beyond the Ottawa and the Michilimackinac, out to the Mississippi. Yes. Well, what did I find in Boston? Peste! I found that they were all like men in purgatory--sober and grave. Truly. And so dull! Never a saint-day, never a feast, never a grand council when the wine, the rum, flow so free, and you shall eat till you choke. Nothing. Everything is stupid; they do not smile. And so the Indians make war! Well, I have found this. There is a great man from the Kennebec called William Phips. He has traded in the Indies. Once while he was there he heard of that treasure. Ha! ha! There have been so many fools on that trail. The governor of New York was a fool when Bucklaw played his game; he would have been a greater if he had gone with Bucklaw."
Here Iberville would have spoken, but Perrot waved his hand. "De grace, a minute only. Monsieur Gering, the brave English lieutenant, is at Hudson's Bay, and next summer he will go with the great William Phips-- Tonnerre, what a name--William Phips! Like a pot of herring! He will go with him after the same old treasure. Boston is a big place, but I hear these things."
Usually a man of few words, Perrot had bursts of eloquence, and this was one of them. But having made his speech, he settled back to his tobacco and into the orator's earned repose.
Iberville looked up from the fire and said: "Perrot, you saw her in New York. What speech was there between you?"
Perrot's eyes twinkled. "There was not much said.
"I put myself in her way. When she saw me her cheek came like a peach- blossom. 'A very good morning, ma'm'selle,' said I, in English. She smiled and said the same. 'And your master, where is he?' she asked with a fine smile. 'My friend Monsieur Iberville?' I said; 'ah! he will be in Quebec soon.' Then I told her of the abbe, and she took from a chain a little medallion and gave it me in memory of the time we saved. her. And before I could say Thank you, she had gone--Well, that is all --except this."
He drew from his breast a chain of silver, from which hung the gold medallion, and shook his head at it with good-humour. But presently a hard look came on his face, and he was changed from the cheerful woodsman into the chief of bushrangers. Iberville read the look, and presently said:
"Perrot, men have fought for less than gold from a woman's chain and a buckle from her shoe."
"I have fought from Trois Pistoles to Michilimackinac for the toss of a louis-d'or."
"As you say. Well, what think you--"
He paused, rose, walked up and down the room, caught his moustache between his teeth once or twice, and seemed buried in thought. Once or twice he was about to speak, but changed his mind. He was calculating many things: planning, counting chances, marshalling his resources. Presently he glanced round the room. His eyes fell on a map. That was it. It was a mere outline, but enough. Putting his finger on it, he sent it up, up, up, till it settled on the shores of Hudson's Bay. Again he ran the finger from the St. Lawrence up the coast and through Hudson's Straits, but shook his head in negation. Then he stood, looked at the map steadily, and presently, still absorbed, turned to the table. He saw the violin, picked it up, and handed it to De Casson:
"Something with a smack of war," he said. "And a woman for me," added Perrot.
The abbe shook his head musingly at Perrot, took the violin, and gathered it to his chin. At first he played as if in wait of something that eluded him. But all at once he floated into a powerful melody, as a stream creeps softly through a weir, and after many wanderings broadens suddenly into a great stream. He had found his theme. Its effect was striking. Through Iberville's mind there ran a hundred incidents of his life, one chasing upon the other without sequence--phantasmagoria out of the scene--house of memory:
The light upon the arms of De Tracy's soldiers when they marched up Mountain Street many years before--The frozen figure of a man standing upright in the plains--A procession of canoes winding down past Two Mountains, the wild chant of the Indians joining with the romantic songs of the voyageurs--A girl flashing upon the drawn swords of two lads--King Louis giving his hand to one of these lads to kiss--A lady of the Court for whom he might easily have torn his soul to rags, but for a fair-faced English girl, ever like a delicate medallion in his eye--A fight with the English in the Spaniards' country--His father blessing him as he went forth to France--A dark figure taking a hundred shapes, and yet always meaning the same as when he--Iberville--said over the governor's table in New York, "Foolish boy!"--A vast stretch of lonely forest, in the white coverlet of winter, through which sounded now and then the boom-boom of a bursting tree--A few score men upon a desolate northern track, silent, desperate, courageous; a forlorn hope on the edge of the Arctic circle, with the joy of conquest in their bones, and at their thighs the swords of men.
These are a few of the pictures, but the last of them had not to do with the past: a dream grown into a fact, shaped by the music, become at once an emotion and a purpose.
Iberville had now driven home the first tent-peg of a wonderful adventure. Under the spell of that music his body seemed to grow larger. He fingered his sword, and presently caught Perrot by the shoulder and said "We will do it, Perrot."
Perrot got to his feet. He understood. He nodded and seized Iberville's hand. "Bravo! There was nothing else to do," he replied.
De Casson lowered his violin. "What do you intend?" he asked gravely.
Iberville took his great hand and pressed it. "To do what you will commend, abbe: at Hudson's Bay to win back forts the English have taken, and get those they have built."
"You have another purpose," added De Casson softly.
"Abbe, that is between me and my conscience. I go for my king and country against our foes."
"Who will go with you? You will lead?"
"Not I to lead--that involves me." Iberville's face darkened. "I wish more freedom, but still to lead in fact."
"But who will lead? And who will go?"
"De Troyes, perhaps, to lead. To go, my brothers Sainte-Helene and Maricourt, Perrot and a stout company of his men; and then I fear not treble as many English."
The priest did not seem satisfied. Presently Iberville, with a winning smile, ran an arm over his shoulder and added: "We cannot go without you, Dollier."
The priest's face cleared, and a moment afterwards the three comrades shook hands together.