Epoch the Third
Chapter XVII. The Gift of a Captive
 

Fortune had not been kind to Iberville, but still he kept a stoical cheerfulness. With the pride of a man who feels that he has impressed a woman, and knowing the strength of his purpose, he believed that Jessica should yet be his. Meanwhile matters should not lie still. In those days men made love by proxy, and Iberville turned to De Casson and Perrot.

The night before he started for France they sat together in a little house flanking the Chateau St. Louis. Iberville had been speaking.

"I know the strength of your feelings, Iberville," said De Casson, "but is it wise, and is it right?" Iberville made an airy motion with his hand. "My dear abbe, there is but one thing worth living for, and that is to follow your convictions. See: I have known you since you took me from my mother's last farewell. I have believed in you, cared for you, trusted you; we have been good comrades. Come, now, tell me: what would you think if my mind drifted! No, no, no! to stand by one's own heart is the gift of an honest man--I am a sad rogue, abbe, as you know, but I swear I would sooner let slip the friendship of King Louis himself than the hand of a good comrade. Well, my sword is for my king. I must obey him, I must leave my comrades behind, but I shall not forget, and they must not forget." At this he got to his feet, came over, laid a hand on the abbe's shoulder, and his voice softened: "Abbe, the woman shall be mine."

"If God wills so, Iberville." "He will, He will."

"Well," said Perrot, with a little laugh; "I think God will be good to a Frenchman when an Englishman is his foe."

"But the girl is English--and a heretic," urged the abbe helplessly.

Perrot laughed again. "That will make Him sorry for her."

Meanwhile Iberville had turned to the table, and was now reading a letter. A pleased look came on his face, and he nodded in satisfaction. At last he folded it up with a smile and sealed it. "Well," he said, "the English is not good, for I have seen my Shakespeare little this time back, but it will do--it must do. In such things rhetoric is nothing. You will take it, Perrot?" he said, holding up the letter.

Perrot reached out for it.

"And there is something more." Iberville drew from his finger a costly ring. It had come from the hand of a Spanish noble, whose place he had taken in Spain years before. He had prevented his men from despoiling the castle, and had been bidden to take what he would, and had chosen only this.

"Tell her," he said, "that it was the gift of a captive to me, and that it is the gift of a captive to her. For, upon my soul, I am prisoner to none other in God's world."

Perrot weighed the ring up and down in his hand. "Bien," he said, "monsieur, it is a fine speech, but I do not understand. A prisoner, eh? I remember when you were a prisoner with me upon the Ottawa. Only a boy --only a boy, but, holy Mother, that was different! I will tell her how you never gave up; how you went on the hunt after Grey Diver, the Iroquois. Through the woods, silent--silent for days and days, Indians all round us. Death in the brush, death in the tree-top, death from the river-bank. I said to you, Give up; but you kept on. Then there were days when there was no sleep--no rest--we were like ghosts. Sometimes we come to a settler's cabin and see it all smoking; sometimes to a fort and find only a heap of bones--and other things! But you would not give up; you kept on. What for? That Indian chief killed your best friend. Well, that was for hate; you keep on and on and on for hate--and you had your way with Grey Diver; I heard your axe crash in his skull. All for hate! And what will you do for love?--I will ask her what will you do for love. Ah, you are a great man--but yes! I will tell her so."

"Tell her what you please, Perrot."

Iberville hummed an air as at some goodly prospect. Yet when he turned to the others again there grew a quick mist in his eyes. It was not so much the thought of the woman as of the men. There came to him with sudden force how these two comrades had been ever ready to sacrifice themselves for him, and he ready to accept the sacrifice. He was not ashamed of the mist, but he wondered that the thing had come to him all at once. He grasped the hands of both, shook them heartily, then dashed his fingers across his eyes, and with the instinct of every imperfect man,--that touch of the aboriginal in all of us, who must have a sign for an emotion, he went to a cabinet and out came a bottle of wine.

An hour after, Perrot left him at the ship's side.

They were both cheerful. "Two years, Perrot; two years!" he said.

"Ah, mon grand capitaine!"

Iberville turned away, then came back again. "You will start at once?"

"At once; and the abbe shall write."

Upon the lofty bank of the St. Lawrence, at the Sault au Matelot, a tall figure clad in a cassock stood and watched the river below. On the high cliff of Point Levis lights were showing, and fires burning as far off as the island of Orleans. And in that sweet curve of shore, from the St. Charles to Beauport, thousands of stars seemed shining. Nearer still, from the heights, there was the same strange scintillation; the great promontory had a coronet of stars. In the lower town there was like illumination, and out upon the river trailed long processions of light. It was the feast of good Sainte Anne de Beaupre. All day long had there been masses and processions on land. Hundreds of Jesuits, with thousands of the populace, had filed behind the cross and the host. And now there was a candle in every window. Indians, half-breeds, coureurs du bois, native Canadians, seigneurs, and noblesse, were joining in the function. But De Casson's eyes were not for these. He was watching the lights of a ship that slowly made its way down the river among the canoes, and his eyes never left it till it had passed beyond the island of Orleans and was lost in the night.

"Mon cher!" he said, "mon enfant! She is not for him; she should not be. As a priest it were my duty to see that he should not marry her. As a man" he sighed--"as a man I would give my life for him."

He lifted his hand and made the sign of the cross towards that spot on the horizon whither Iberville had gone.

"He will be a great man some day," he added to himself--"a great man. There will be empires here, and when histories are written Pierre's shall be a name beside Frontenac's and La Salle's."

All the human affection of the good abbe's life centred upon Iberville. Giant in stature, so ascetic and refined was his mind, his life, that he had the intuition of a woman and, what was more, little of the bigotry of his brethren. As he turned from the heights, made his way along the cliff and down Mountain Street, his thoughts were still upon the same subject. He suddenly paused.

"He will marry the sword," he said, "and not the woman."

How far he was right we may judge if we enter the house of Governor Nicholls at New York one month later.