Epoch the Fourth
Chapter XXIII. At the Gates of Misfortune
 

Meanwhile the abbe and Jessica were making their way swiftly towards the manor-house. They scarcely spoke as they went, but in Jessica's mind was a vague horror. Lights sparkled on the crescent shore of Beauport, and the torches of fishermen flared upon the St. Charles. She looked back once towards the heights of Quebec and saw the fires of many homes--they scorched her eyes. She asked no questions. The priest beside her was silent, not looking at her at all. At last he turned and said:

"Madame, whatever has happened, whatever may happen, I trust you will be brave."

"Monsieur l'Abbe" she answered, "I have travelled from Boston here--can you doubt it?"

The priest sighed. "May the hope that gave you strength remain, madame!"

A little longer and then they stood within a garden thick with plants and trees. As they passed through it, Jessica was vaguely aware of the rich fragrance of fallen leaves and the sound of waves washing the foot of the cliffs.

The abbe gave a low call, and almost instantly Perrot stood before them. Jessica recognised him. With a little cry she stepped to him quickly and placed her hand upon his arm. She did not seem conscious that he was her husband's enemy: her husband's life was in danger, and it must be saved at any cost. "Monsieur," she said, "where is my husband? You know. Tell me."

Perrot put her hand from his arm gently, and looked at the priest in doubt and surprise.

The abbe said not a word, but stood gazing off into the night.

"Will you not tell me of my husband?" she repeated. "He is within that house?" She pointed to the manor-house. "He is in danger, I will go to him."

She made as if to go to the door, but he stepped before her.

"Madame," he said, "you cannot enter."

Just then the moon shot from behind a cloud, and all their faces could be seen. There was a flame in Jessica's eyes which Perrot could not stand, and he turned away. She was too much the woman to plead weakly.

"Tell me," she said, "whose house this is." "Madame, it is Monsieur Iberville's."

She could not check a gasp, but both the priest and the woodsman saw how intrepid was the struggle in her, and they both pitied.

"Now I understand! Oh, now I understand!" she cried. "A plot was laid. He was let escape that he might be cornered here--one single man against a whole country. Oh, cowards, cowards!"

"Pardon me, madame," said Perrot, bristling up, "not cowards. Your husband has a chance for his life. You know Monsieur Iberville--he is a man all honour. More than once he might have had your husband's life, but he gave it to him."

Her foot tapped the ground impatiently, her hands clasped before her. "Go on, oh, go on!" she said. "What is it? why is he here? Have you no pity, no heart?" She turned towards the priest. "You are a man of God. You said once that you would help me make peace between my husband and Monsieur Iberville, but you join here with his enemies."

"Madame, believe me, you are wrong. I have done all I could: I have brought you here."

"Yes, yes; forgive me," she replied. She turned to Perrot again. "It is with you, then. You helped to save my life once--what right have you to destroy it now? You and Monsieur Iberville gave me the world when it were easy to have lost it; now when the world is everything to me because my husband lives in it, you would take his life and break mine."

Suddenly a thought flashed into her mind. Her eyes brightened, her hand trembled towards Perrot, and touched him. "Once I gave you something, monsieur, which I had worn on my own bosom. That little gift--of a grateful girl, tell me, have you it still?"

Perrot drew from his doublet the medallion she had given him, and fingered it uncertainly.

"Then you value it," she added. "You value my gift, and yet when my husband is a prisoner, to what perilous ends God only knows, you deny me to him. I will not plead; I ask as my right; I have come from Count Frontenac; he sent me to this good priest here. Were my husband in the citadel now I should be admitted. He is here with the man who, you know, once said he loved me. My husband is wickedly held a prisoner; I ask for entrance to him."

Pleading, apprehension, seemed gone from her; she stood superior to her fear and sorrow. The priest reached a hand persuasively towards Perrot, and he was about to speak, but Perrot, coming close to the troubled wife, said: "The door is locked; they are there alone. I cannot let you in, but come with me. You have a voice--it may be heard. Come."

Presently all three were admitted into the dim hallway.