Epoch the First
Chapter VI. The Kidnapping
 

The rejoicing had reached its apogee, and was on the wane. The Puritan had stretched his austereness to the point of levity; the Dutchman had comfortably sweated his obedience and content; the Cavalier had paced it with a pretty air of patronage and an eye for matron and maid; the Indian, come from his far hunting-grounds, bivouacked in the governor's presence as the pipe of peace went round.

About twilight the governor and his party had gone home. Deep in ceremonial as he had been, his mind had run upon Bucklaw and the Spaniards' country. So, when the dusk was growing into night, the hour came for his visit to the Nell Gwynn. With his two soldier friends and Councillor Drayton, he started by a roundabout for the point where he looked to find Bucklaw. Bucklaw was not there: he had other fish to fry, and the ship's lights were gone. She had changed her anchorage since afternoon.

"It's a bold scheme," Bucklaw was saying to his fellow-ruffian in the governor's garden, "and it may fail, yet 'twill go hard, but we'll save our skins. No pluck, no pence. Once again, here's the trick of it. I'll go in by the side door I unlocked last night, hide in the hallway, then enter the house quietly or boldly, as the case may be. Plan one: a message from his excellency to Miss Leveret, that he wishes her to join him on the Nell Gwynn. Once outside it's all right. She cannot escape us. We have our cloaks and we have the Spanish drug. Plan two: make her ours in the house. Out by this hall door-through the grounds--to the beach--the boat in waiting--and so, up anchor and away! Both risky, as you see, but the bolder the game the sweeter the spoil. You're sure her chamber is above the hallway, and that there's a staircase to it from the main hall?"

"I am very well sure. I know the house up-stairs and down."

Bucklaw looked to his arms. He was about starting on his quest when they heard footsteps, and two figures appeared. It was Iberville and Gering. They paused a moment not far from where the rogues were hid.

"I think you will agree," said Iberville, "that we must fight."

"I have no other mind."

"You will also be glad if we are not come upon, as last night; though, confess, the lady gave you a lease of life?"

"If she comes to-night, I hope it will be when I have done with you," answered Gering.

Iberville laughed a little, and the laugh had fire in it--hatred, and the joy of battle. "Shall it be here or yonder in the pines, where we were in train last night?"

"Yonder."

"So." Then Iberville hummed ironically a song:

          "Oh, bury me where I have fought and fallen,
           Your scarf across my shoulder, lady mine."

They passed on. "The game is in our hands," said Bucklaw. "I understand this thing. That's a pair of gallant young sprigs, but the choice is your Frenchman, Radisson."

"I'll pink his breast-bone full of holes if the other doesn't-- curse him."

A sweet laugh trickled from Bucklaw's lips like oil. "That's neither here nor there. I'd like to have him down Acapulco way, dear lad. . . And now, here's my plan all changed. I'll have my young lady out to stop the duel, and, God's love, she'll come alone. Once here she's ours, and they may cut each other's throats as they will, sweetheart."

He crossed the yard, tried the door,--unlocked, as he had left it,-- pushed it open, and went in, groping his way to the door of the dining- room. He listened, and there was no sound. Then he heard some one go in. He listened again. Whoever it was had sat down. Very carefully he felt for the spring and opened the door. Jessica was seated at the table with paper and an ink-horn before her. She was writing. Presently she stopped--the pen was bad. She got up and went away to her room. Instantly Bucklaw laid his plan. He entered as she disappeared, went to the table and looked at the paper on which she had been writing. It bore but the words, "Dear Friend." He caught up the quill and wrote hurriedly beneath them, this:

"If you'd see two gentlemen fighting, go now where you stopped them last night. The wrong one may be killed unless."

With a quick flash of malice he signed, in half a dozen lightning-like strokes, with a sketch of his hook. Then he turned, hurried into the little hall, and so outside, and posted himself beside a lilac bush, drawing down a bunch of the flowers to drink in their perfume. Jessica, returning, went straight to the table. Before she sat down she looked up to the mantel, but the swords were there. She sighed, and a tear glistened on her eyelashes. She brushed it away with her dainty fingertips and, as she sat down, saw the paper. She turned pale, caught it up, read it with a little cry, and let it drop with a shudder of fear and dismay. She looked round the room. Everything was as she had left it. She was dazed. She stared at the paper again, then ran and opened the panel through which Bucklaw had passed, and found the outer door ajar. With a soft, gasping moan she passed into the garden, went swiftly by the lilac bush and on towards the trees. Bucklaw let her do so; it was his design that she should be some way from the house. But, hidden by the bushes, he was running almost parallel with her. On the other side of her was Radisson, also running. She presently heard them and swerved, poor child, into the gin of the fowler! But as the cloak was thrown over her head she gave a cry.

The firs, where Iberville and Gering had just plucked out their swords, were not far, and both men heard. Gering, who best knew the voice, said hurriedly: "It is Jessica!"

Without a word Iberville leaped to the open, and came into it ahead of Gering. They saw the kidnappers and ran. Iberville was the first to find what Bucklaw was carrying. "Mother of God," he called, "they're taking her off!"

"Help! help!" cried Gering, and they pushed on. The two ruffians were running hard, but it had been an unequal race at the best, and Jessica lay unconscious in Bucklaw's arms, a dead weight. Presently they plunged into the bushes and disappeared. Iberville and Gering passed through the bushes also, but could neither see nor hear the quarry. Gering was wild with excitement and lost his presence of mind. Meanwhile Iberville went beating for a clue. He guessed that he was dealing with good woodsmen, and that the kidnappers knew some secret way out of the garden. It was so. The Dutch governor had begun to build an old-fashioned wall with a narrow gateway, so fitted as to seem part of it. Through this the two had vanished.

Iberville was almost in despair. "Go back," he suddenly said to Gering, "and rouse the house and the town. I will get on the trail again if I can."

Gering started away. In this strange excitement their own foolish quarrel was forgotten, and the stranger took on himself to command; he was, at least, not inexperienced in adventure and the wiles of desperate men. All at once he came upon the wall. He ran along it, and presently his fingers felt the passage. An instant and he was outside and making for the shore, in the sure knowledge that the ruffians would take to the water. He thought of Bucklaw, and by some impossible instinct divined the presence of his hand. Suddenly he saw something flash on the ground. He stooped and picked it up. It was a shoe with a silver buckle. He thrilled to the finger-tips as he thrust it in his bosom and pushed on. He was on the trail now. In a few moments he came to the waterside. He looked to where he had seen the Nell Gwynn in the morning, and there was never a light in view. Then a twig snapped, and Bucklaw, the girl in his arms, came bundling out of the trees upon the bank. He had sent Radisson on ahead to warn his boat's crew.

He saw Iberville as soon as Iberville saw him. He knew that the town would be roused by this time and the governor on fire for revenge. But there was nothing for it but fight. He did not fear the result. Time was life to him, and he swung the girl half behind him with his hook-hand as Iberville came on, and, whipping out his hanger, caught the Frenchman's thrust. Instantly he saw that his opposite was a swordsman, so he let the girl slip to the ground, and suddenly closing with Iberville, lunged desperately and expertly at him, straight for a mortal part. But the Frenchman was too agile and adroit for him: he took the thrust in the flesh of his ribs and riposted like lightning. The pirate staggered back, but pulled himself together instantly, lunged, and took his man in the flesh of his upper sword arm. Iberville was bleeding from the wound in his side and slightly stiff from the slash of the night before, but every fibre of his hurt body was on the defensive. Bucklaw knew it, and seemed to debate if the game were worth the candle. The town was afoot, and he had earned a halter for his pains. He was by no means certain that he could kill this champion and carry off the girl. Moreover, he did not want Iberville's life, for such devils have their likes and dislikes, and he had fancied the chivalrous youngster from the first. But he doubted only for an instant. What was such a lad's life compared with his revenge? It was madness, as he knew, for a shot would guide the pursuit: none the less, did he draw a pistol from his belt and fire. The bullet grazed the lad's temple, carrying away a bit of his hair. Iberville staggered forwards, so weak was he from loss of blood, and, with a deep instinct of protection and preservation, fell at Jessica's feet. There was a sound of footsteps and crackling of brush. Bucklaw stooped to pick up his prey, but a man burst on him from the trees. He saw that the game was up and he half raised his knife, but that was only the mad rage of the instant. His revenge did not comprise so unheard-of a crime. He thought he had killed Iberville: that was enough. He sprang away towards the spot where his comrades awaited him. Escape was his sole ambition now. The new-comer ran forwards, and saw the boy and girl lying as they were dead. A swift glance at Iberville, and he slung his musket shoulderwards and fired at the retreating figure. It was a chance shot, for the light was bad and Bucklaw was already indistinct.

Now the man dropped on his knee and felt Iberville's heart. "Alive!" he said. "Alive, thank the mother of God! Mon brave! It is ever the same --the great father, the great son."

As he withdrew his hand it brushed against the slipper. He took it out, glanced at it, and turned to the cloaked figure. He undid the cloak and saw Jessica's pale face. He shook his head. "Always the same," he said, "always the same: for a king, for a friend, for a woman! That is the Le Moyne."

But he was busy as he spoke. With the native chivalry of the woodsman, he cared first for the girl. Between her lips he thrust his drinking- horn and held her head against his shoulder.

"My little ma'm'selle-ma'm'selle!" he said. "Wake up. It is nothing-- you are safe. Ah, the sweet lady! Come, let me see the colour of your eyes. Wake up--it is nothing."

Presently the girl did open her eyes. He put the drinking-horn again to her lips. She shuddered and took a sip, and then, invigorated, suddenly drew away from him. "There, there," he said; "it is all right. Now for my poor Iberville." He took Iberville's head to his knee and thrust the drinking-horn between his teeth, as he had done with Jessica, calling him in much the same fashion. Iberville came to with a start. For a moment he stared blindly at his rescuer, then a glad intelligence flashed into his eyes.

"Perrot! dear Nick Perrot!" he cried. "Oh, good--good," he added softly. Then with sudden anxiety:

"Where is she? Where is she?"

"I am safe, monsieur," Jessica said gently; "but you--you are wounded." She came over and dropped on her knees beside him.

"A little," he said; "only a little. You cared for her first?" he asked of Perrot.

Perrot chuckled. "These Le Moynes!" he said: under his breath. Then aloud: "The lady first, monsieur."

"So," answered Iberville. "And Bucklaw--the devil, Bucklaw?"

"If you mean the rogue who gave you these," said Perrot, touching the wounds, which he had already begun to bind, "I think he got away--the light was bad."

Jessica would have torn her frock for a bandage, but Perrot said in his broken English: "No, pardon. Not so. The cloak la-bas."

She ran and brought it to him. As she did so Perrot glanced down at her feet, and then, with a touch of humour, said: "Pardon, but you have lost your slipper, ma'm'selle?"

He foresaw the little comedy, which he could enjoy even in such painful circumstances.

"It must have dropped off," said Jessica, blushing. "But it does not matter."

Iberville blushed too, but a smile also flitted across his lips. "If you will but put your hand into my waistcoat here," he said to her, "you will find it." Timidly she did as she was bid, drew forth the slipper, and put it on.

"You see," said Iberville, still faint from loss of blood, "a Frenchman can fight and hunt too--hunt the slipper."

Suddenly a look of pain crossed her face.

"Mr. Gering, you--you did not kill him?" she asked. "Oh no, mademoiselle," said Iberville; "you stopped the game again."

Presently he told her what had happened, and how Gering was rousing the town. Then he insisted upon getting on his feet, that they might make their way to the governor's house. Stanchly he struggled on, his weight upon Perrot, till presently he leaned a hand also on Jessica's shoulder- she had insisted. On the way, Perrot told how it was he chanced to be there. A band of coureurs du bois, bound for Quebec, had come upon old Le Moyne and himself in the woods. Le Moyne had gone on with these men, while Perrot pushed on to New York, arriving at the very moment of the kidnapping. He heard the cry and made towards it. He had met Gering, and the rest they knew.

Certain things did not happen. The governor of New York did not at once engage in an expedition to the Spaniards' country. A brave pursuit was made, but Bucklaw went uncaptured. Iberville and Gering did not make a third attempt to fight; Perrot prevented that. Iberville left, however, with a knowledge of three things: that he was the first Frenchman from Quebec who had been, or was likely to be, popular in New York; that Jessica Leveret had shown a tender gratitude towards him--naive, candid-- which set him dreaming gaily of the future; that Gering and he, in spite of outward courtesy, were still enemies; for Gering could not forget that, in the rescue of Jessica, Iberville had done the work while he merely played the crier.

"We shall meet again, monsieur," said Iberville at last; "at least, I hope so."

"I shall be glad," answered Gering mechanically. "But 'tis like I shall come to you before you come to me," added Iberville, with meaning. Jessica was standing not far away, and Gering did not instantly reply. In the pause, Iberville said: "Au revoir! A la bonne heure!" and walked away. Presently he turned with a little ironical laugh and waved his hand at Gering; and laugh and gesture rankled in Gering for many a day.