Epoch the Third
Chapter XIV. In Which the Hunters are Out
 

Iberville had a good ship. The Maid of Provence carried a handful of guns and a small but carefully chosen crew, together with Sainte-Helene, Perrot, and the lad Maurice Joval, who had conceived for Iberville friendship nigh to adoration. Those were days when the young were encouraged to adventure, and Iberville had no compunction in giving the boy this further taste of daring.

Iberville, thorough sailor as he was, had chosen for his captain one who had sailed the Spanish Main. He had commanded on merchant-ships which had been suddenly turned into men-of-war, and was suited to the present enterprise: taciturn, harsh of voice, singularly impatient, but a perfect seaman and as brave as could be. He had come to Quebec late the previous autumn with the remnants of a ship which, rotten when she left the port of Havre, had sprung a leak in mid-ocean, had met a storm, lost her mainmast, and by the time she reached the St. Lawrence had scarce a stick standing. She was still at Quebec, tied up in the bay of St. Charles, from which she would probably go out no more. Her captain--Jean Berigord --had chafed on the bit in the little Hotel Colbert, making himself more feared than liked, till one day he was taken to Iberville by Perrot.

A bargain was soon struck. The nature of the expedition was not known in Quebec, for the sailors were not engaged till the eve of starting, and Perrot's men were ready at his bidding without why or wherefore. Indeed, when the Maid of Provence left the island of Orleans, her nose seawards, one fine July morning, the only persons in Quebec that knew her destination were the priest who had brought Iberville the chart of the river, with its accurate location of the sunken galleon, Iberville's brothers, and Count Frontenac himself--returned again as governor.

"See, Monsieur Iberville," said the governor, as, with a fine show of compliment, in full martial dress, with his officers in gold lace, perukes, powder, swords, and ribbons, he bade Iberville good-bye--"See, my dear captain, that you find the treasure, or make these greedy English pay dear for it. They have a long start, but that is nothing, with a ship under you that can show its heels to any craft. I care not so much about the treasure, but I pray you humble those dull Puritans, who turn buccaneers in the name of the Lord."

Iberville made a gallant reply, and, with Sainte-Helene, received a hearty farewell from the old soldier, who, now over seventy years of age, was as full of spirit as when he distinguished himself at Arras fifty years before. In Iberville he saw his own youth renewed, and foretold the high part he would yet play in the fortunes of New France. Iberville had got to the door and was bowing himself out when, with a quick gesture, Frontenac stopped him, stepped quickly forward, and clasping his shoulders kissed him on each cheek, and said in a deep, kind voice: "I know, mon enfant, what lies behind this. A man pays the price one time or another: he draws his sword for his mistress and his king; both forget, but one's country remains--remains."

Iberville said nothing, but with an admiring glance into the aged, iron face, stooped and kissed Frontenac's hand and withdrew silently. Frontenac, proud, impatient, tyrannical, was the one man in New France who had a powerful idea of the future of the country, and who loved her and his king by the law of a loyal nature. Like Wolsey, he had found his king ungrateful, and had stood almost alone in Canada among his enemies, as at Versailles among his traducers--imperious, unyielding, and yet forgiving. Married, too, at an early age, his young wife, caring little for the duties of maternity and more eager to serve her own ambitions than his, left him that she might share the fortunes of Mademoiselle de Montpensier.

Iberville had mastered the chart before he sailed, and when they were well on their way he disclosed to the captain the object of their voyage. Berigord listened to all he had to say, and at first did no more than blow tobacco smoke hard before him. "Let me see the chart," he said at last, and, scrutinising it carefully, added: "Yes, yes, 'tis right enough. I've been in the port and up the river. But neither we nor the Eng lish'll get a handful of gold or silver thereabouts. 'Tis throwing good money after none at all."

"The money is mine, my captain," said Iberville good-humouredly. "There will be sport, and I ask but that you give me every chance you can."

"Look then, monsieur," replied the smileless man, "I'll run your ship for all she holds from here to hell, if you twist your finger. She's as good a craft as ever I spoke, and I'll swear her for any weather. The fighting and the gold as you and the devil agree!"

Iberville wished nothing better--a captain concerned only with his own duties. Berigord gathered the crew and the divers on deck, and in half a dozen words told them the object of the expedition, and was followed by Iberville. Some of the men had been with him to Hudson's Bay, and they wished nothing better than fighting the English, and all were keen with the lust of gold even though it were for another. As it was, Iberville promised them all a share of what was got.

On the twentieth day after leaving Quebec they sighted islands, and simultaneously they saw five ships bearing away towards them. Iberville was apprehensive that a fleet of the kind could only be hostile, for merchant-ships would hardly sail together so, and it was not possible that they were French. There remained the probability that they were Spanish or English ships. He had no intention of running away, but at the same time he had no wish to fight before he reached Port de la Planta and had had his hour with Gering and Phips and the lost treasure. Besides, five ships was a large undertaking, which only a madman would willingly engage. However, he kept steadily on his course. But there was one chance of avoiding a battle without running away--the glass had been falling all night and morning. Berigord, when questioned, grimly replied that there was to be trouble, but whether with the fleet or the elements was not clear, and Iberville did not ask.

He got his reply effectively and duly however. A wind suddenly sprang up from the north-west, followed by a breaking cross sea. It as suddenly swelled to a hurricane, so that if Berigord had not been fortunate as to his crew, and had not been so fine a sailor, the Maid of Provence might have fared badly, for he kept all sail on as long as he dare, and took it in none too soon. But so thoroughly did he know the craft and trust his men that she did what he wanted; and though she was tossed and hammered by the sea till it seemed that she must, with every next wave, go down, she rode into safety at last, five hundred miles out of their course.

The storm had saved them from the hostile fleet, which had fared ill. They were first scattered, then two of them went down, another was so disabled that she had to be turned back to the port they had left, and the remaining two were separated, so that their only course was to return to port also. As the storm came up they had got within fighting distance of the Maid of Provence, and had opened ineffectual fire, which she-- occupied with the impact of the storm--did not return. Escaped the dangers of the storm, she sheered into her course again, and ran away to the south-west, until Hispaniola came in sight.