The Trail of The Sword by Gilbert Parker
Epoch the Second
Chapter VIII. As Seen Through a Glass, Darkly
When King Louis and King James called for peace, they could not know that it was as little possible to their two colonies as between rival buccaneers. New France was full of bold spirits who loved conquest for conquest's sake. Besides, in this case there was a force at work, generally unknown, but as powerful as the convincing influence of an army. Behind the worst and the best acts of Charles II was a woman. Behind the glories and follies of Louis XIV was also a woman. Behind some of the most striking incidents in the history of New France, New England, and New York, was a woman.
We saw her when she was but a child--the centre of singular events. Years had passed. Not one of those events had gone for nothing; each was bearing fruit after its kind.
She is sitting alone in a room of a large unhandsome house, facing on Boston harbour. It is evening. The room itself is of dark wood, and evening has thrown it into gloom. Yet somehow the girl's face has a light of its own. She is turned fair towards the window, and is looking out to sea. A mist is rising from the water, and the shore is growing grey and heavy as the light in the west recedes and night creeps in from the ocean. She watches the waves and the mist till all is mist without; a scene which she had watched, how often she could not count. The night closes in entirely upon her, but she does not move. At last the door of the room opens and some one enters and closes it again. "My daughter!" says an anxious voice. "Are you here, Jessica?"
"I am here, father," is the reply. "Shall we have lights?"
"As you will."
Even as they speak a servant enters, and lighted candles are put upon the table. They are alone again. Both are pale. The girl stands very still, and so quiet is her face, one could never guess that she is passing, through the tragic moment of her life.
"What is your answer, Jessica?" he asks. "I will marry him when he comes back."
"Thank God!" is the old man's acknowledgment. "You have saved our fortunes."
The girl sighs, and then, with a little touch of that demure irony which we had seen in her years before, says: "I trust we have not lost our honour."
"Why, you love him, do you not? There is no one you care for more than George Gering?"
"I suppose not," is her reply, but the tone is enigmatical.
While this scene is on, another appears in Cheapside, London. A man of bold and vigorous bearing comes from the office of a well-known solicitor. That very morning he had had an interview with the King, and had been reminded with more exactness than kindness that he had cost King Charles a ship, scores of men, and thousands of pounds, in a fruitless search for buried treasure in Hispaniola. When he had urged his case upon the basis of fresh information, he was drily told that the security was too scant, even for a king. He had then pleaded his case to the Duke of Albemarle and other distinguished gentlemen. They were seemingly convinced, but withheld their answer till the following morning.
But William Phips, stubborn adventurer, destined to receive all sorts of honours in his time, has no intention of quitting London till he has his way; and this is his thought as he steps into Cheapside, having already made preparations upon the chance of success. He has gone so far as to purchase a ship, called the Bridgwater Merchant from an alderman in London, though he has not a hundred guineas at his disposal. As he stands debating, a hand touches his arm and a voice says in his ear: "You were within a mile of it with the Atgier Rose, two years ago."
The great adventurer turns. "The devil I was! And who are you?"
Satanic humour plays in the stranger's eyes as he answers: "I am Edward Bucklaw, pirate and keeper of the treasure-house in the La Planta River."
"Blood of Judas," Phips says, "how dare you speak to me? I'll have you in yon prison for an unhung rascal!"
"Ah! you are a great man," is the unmoved reply. "I knew you'd feel that way. But if you'll listen for five minutes, down here at the Bull- and-Daisy, there shall be peace between us."
An hour later, Phips, following Bucklaw's instructions, is tracing on a map the true location of the lost galleon's treasure.
"Then," says Bucklaw, "we are comrades?"
"We are adventurers."
Another scene. In a northern inland sea two men are standing on the deck of a ship: the one stalwart, clear-eyed, with a touch of strong reserve in face and manner; the other of middle height, with sinister look. The former is looking out silently upon the great locked hummocks of ice surrounding the vessel. It is the early morning. The sun is shining with that hard brightness only seen in the Arctic world--keen as silver, cold as steel. It plays upon the hummocks, and they send out shafts of light at fantastic angles, and a thin blue line runs between the almost unbearable general radiance and the sea of ice stretching indefinitely away. But to the west is a shore, and on it stands a fort and a few detached houses. Upon the walls of the fort are some guns, and the British flag is flying above. Beyond these again are the plains of the north--the home of the elk, musk-ox, silver fox, the white bear and the lonely races of the Pole. Here and there, in the south-west, an island of pines breaks the monotony, but to the north there is only the white silence, the terrible and yet beautiful trail of the Arctic.
The smaller man stands swinging his arms for warmth; the smack of the leather in the clear air like the report of a gun. Presently, stopping his exercise, he says:
"Well, monsieur, what do you say?"
Slowly the young man withdraws his eyes from the scene and turns.
"Radisson," he says, "this is much the same story as Bucklaw told Governor Nicholls. How come you to know of it?"
"You remember, I was proclaimed four years ago? Well, afterwards I fell in with Bucklaw. I sailed with him to the Spaniards' country, and we might have got the treasure, but we quarreled; there was a fight, and I--well, we end. Bucklaw was captured by the French and was carried to France. He was a fool to look for the treasure with a poor ship and a worse crew. He was for getting William Phips, a man of Boston, to work with him, for Phips had got something of the secret from an old sailor, but when he would have got him, Phips was on his way with a ship of King Charles. I will tell you something more.' Mademoiselle Leveret's--"
"What do you know of Mademoiselle Leveret?"
"A little. Mademoiselle's father lost much money in Phips's expedition."
"How know you that?"
"I have ears. You have promised to go with Phips. Isn't that so?"
"I will go with you."
"The man you hate--Iberville."
Gering's face darkens. "We are not likely to meet."
"Pardon! very likely. Six months ago he was coming back from France. He will find you. I know the race."
A sneer is on Gering's face. "Freebooters, outlaws like yourself!"
"Pardon! gentlemen, monsieur; noble outlaws. What is it that once or twice they have quarreled with the governor, and because they would not yield have been proclaimed? Nothing. Proclaimed yesterday, today at Court. No, no. I hate Iberville, but he is a great man."
In the veins of the renegade is still latent the pride of race. He is a villain but he knows the height from which he fell. "He will find you, monsieur," he repeats. "When Le Moyne is the hunter he never will kennel till the end. Besides, there is the lady!"
Radisson knows that he has said too much. His manner changes. "You will let me go with you?" The Englishman remembers that this scoundrel was with Bucklaw, although he does not know that Radisson was one of the abductors.
"Never!" he says, and turns upon his heel.
A moment after and the two have disappeared from the lonely pageant of ice and sun. Man has disappeared, but his works--houses and ships and walls and snow-topped cannon--lie there in the hard grasp of the North, while the White Weaver, at the summit of the world, is shuttling these lives into the woof of battle, murder, and sudden death.
On the shore of the La Planta River a man lies looking into the sunset. So sweet, so beautiful is the landscape, the deep foliage, the scent of flowers, the flutter of bright-winged birds, the fern-grown walls of a ruined town, the wallowing eloquence of the river, the sonorous din of the locust, that none could think this a couch of death. A Spanish priest is making ready for that last long voyage, when the soul of man sloughs the dross of earth. Beside him kneels another priest--a Frenchman of the same order.
The dying man feebly takes from his breast a packet and hands it to his friend.
"It is as I have said," he whispers. "Others may guess, but I know. I know--and another. The rest are all dead. There were six of us, and all were killed save myself. We were poisoned by a Spaniard. He thought he had killed all, but I lived. He also was killed. His murderer's name was Bucklaw--an English pirate. He has the secret. Once he came with a ship to find, but there was trouble and he did not go on. An Englishman also came with the king's ship, but he did not find. But I know that the man Bucklaw will come again. It should not be. Listen: A year ago, and something more, I was travelling to the coast. From there I was to sail for Spain. I had lost the chart of the river then. I was taken ill and I should have died, but a young French officer stayed his men beside me and cared for me, and had me carried to the coast, where I recovered. I did not go to Spain, and I found the chart of the river again."
There is a pause, in which the deep breathing of the dying man mingles with the low wash of the river, and presently he speaks again. "I vowed then that he should know. As God is our Father, swear that you will give this packet to himself only."
The priest, in reply, lifts the crucifix from the dying man's breast and puts his lips to it. The world seems not to know, so cheerful is it all, that, with a sob, that sob of farewell which the soul gives the body,-- the spirit of a man is passing the mile-posts called Life, Time, and Eternity.
Yet another glance into passing incidents before we follow the straight trail of our story. In the city of Montreal fourscore men are kneeling in a little church, as the mass is slowly chanted at the altar. All of them are armed. By the flare of the torches and the candles--for it is not daybreak yet--you can see the flash of a scabbard, the glint of a knife, and the sheen of a bandoleer.
Presently, from among them, one man rises, goes to the steps of the sanctuary and kneels. He is the leader of the expedition, the Chevalier de Troyes, the chosen of the governor. A moment, and three other men rise and come and kneel beside him. These are three brothers, and one we know--gallant, imperious, cordial, having the superior ease of the courtier.
The four receive a blessing from a massive, handsome priest, whose face, as it bends over Iberville, suddenly flushes with feeling. Presently the others rise, but Iberville remains an instant longer, as if loth to leave. The priest whispers to him: "Be strong, be just, be merciful."
The young man lifts his eyes to the priest's: "I will be just, abbe!"
Then the priest makes the sacred gesture over him.