Seats Of The Mighty by Gilbert Parker
VII. "Quoth Little Garaine"
I have given the whole story here as though it had been thought out and written that Sunday afternoon which brought me good news of Juste Duvarney. But it was not so. I did not choose to break the run of the tale to tell of other things and of the passing of time. The making took me many, many weeks, and in all that time I had seen no face but Gabord's, and heard no voice but his, when he came twice a day to bring me bread and water. He would answer no questions concerning Juste Duvarney, or Voban, or Monsieur Doltaire, nor tell me anything of what was forward in the town. He had had his orders precise enough, he said. At the end of my hints and turnings and approaches, stretching himself up, and turning the corn about with his foot (but not crushing it, for he saw that I prized the poor little comrades), he would say:
"Snug, snug, quiet and warm! The cosiest nest in the world--aho!"
There was no coaxing him, and at last I desisted. I had no light. With resolution I set my mind to see in spite of the dark, and at the end of a month I was able to note the outlines of my dungeon; nay, more, I was able to see my field of corn; and at last what joy I had when, hearing a little rustle near me, I looked closely and beheld a mouse running across the floor! I straightway began to scatter crumbs of bread, that it might, perhaps, come near me--as at last it did.
I have not spoken at all of my wounds, though they gave me many painful hours, and I had no attendance but my own and Gabord's. The wound in my side was long healing, for it was more easily disturbed as I turned in my sleep, while I could ease my arm at all times, and it came on slowly. My sufferings drew on my flesh, my blood, and my spirits, and to this was added that disease inaction, the corrosion of solitude, and the fever of suspense and uncertainty as to Alixe and Juste Duvarney. Every hour, every moment that I had ever passed in Alixe's presence, with many little incidents and scenes in which we shared, passed before me--vivid and cherished pictures of the mind. One of those incidents I will set down here.
A year or so before, soon after Juste Duvarney came from Montreal, he brought in one day from hunting a young live hawk, and put it in a cage. When I came the next morning, Alixe met me, and asked me to see what he had brought. There, beside the kitchen door, overhung with morning-glories and flanked by hollyhocks, was a large green cage, and in it the gray-brown hawk. "Poor thing, poor prisoned thing!" she said. "Look how strange and hunted it seems! See how its feathers stir! And those flashing, watchful eyes, they seem to read through you, and to say, 'Who are you? What do you want with me? Your world is not my world; your air is not my air; your homes are holes, and mine hangs high up between you and God. Who are you? Why do you pen me? You have shut me in that I may not travel, not even die out in the open world. All the world is mine; yours is only a stolen field. Who are you? What do you want with me? There is a fire within my head, it eats to my eyes, and I burn away. What do you want with me?'"
She did not speak these words all at once as I have written them here, but little by little, as we stood there beside the cage. Yet, as she talked with me, her mind was on the bird, her fingers running up and down the cage bars soothingly, her voice now and again interjecting soft reflections and exclamations.
"Shall I set it free?" I asked her.
She turned upon me and replied, "Ah, monsieur, I hoped you would--without my asking. You are a prisoner too," she added; "one captive should feel for another."
"And the freeman for both," I answered meaningly, as I softly opened the cage.
She did not drop her eyes, but raised them shining honestly and frankly to mine, and said, "I wished you to think that."
Opening the cage door wide, I called the little captive to freedom. But while we stood close by it would not stir, and the look in its eyes became wilder. I moved away, and Alixe followed me. Standing beside an old well we waited and watched. Presently the hawk dropped from the perch, hopped to the door, then with a wild spring was gone, up, up, up, and was away over the maple woods beyond, lost in the sun and the good air.
I know not quite why I dwell on this scene, save that it throws some little light upon her nature, and shows how simple and yet deep she was in soul, and what was the fashion of our friendship. But I can perhaps give a deeper insight of her character if I here set down the substance of a letter written about that time, which came into my possession long afterwards. It was her custom to write her letters first in a book, and afterwards to copy them for posting. This she did that they might be an impulse to her friendships and a record of her feelings.
ALIXE DUVARNEY TO LUCIE LOTBINIERE.
QUEBEC CITY, the 10th of May, 1756.
MY DEAR LUCIE: I wish I knew how to tell you all I have been thinking since we parted at the door of the Ursulines a year ago. Then we were going to meet again in a few weeks, and now twelve months have gone! How have I spent them? Not wickedly, I hope, and yet sometimes I wonder if Mere St. George would quite approve of me; for I have such wild spirits now and then, and I shout and sing in the woods and along the river as if I were a mad youngster home from school. But indeed, that is the way I feel at times, though again I am so quiet that I am frightened of myself. I am a hawk to-day and a mouse to-morrow, and fond of pleasure all the time. Ah, what good days I have had with Juste! You remember him before he went to Montreal? He is gay, full of fancies, as brave as can be, and plays and sings well, but he is very hot-headed, and likes to play the tyrant. We have some bad encounters now and then. But we love each other better for it; he respects me, and he does not become spoiled, as you will see when you come to us.
I have had no society yet. My mother thinks seventeen years too few to warrant my going into the gay world. I wonder will my wings be any stronger, will there be less danger of scorching them at twenty-six? Years do not make us wise; one may be as wise at twenty as at fifty. And they do not save us from the scorching. I know more than they guess how cruel the world may be to the innocent as to--the other. One can not live within sight of the Intendant's palace and the Chateau St. Louis without learning many things; and, for myself, though I hunger for all the joys of life, I do not fret because my mother holds me back from the gay doings in the town. I have my long walks, my fishing and rowing, and sometimes hunting, with Juste and my sweet sister Georgette, my drawing, painting, music, and needlework, and my housework.
Yet I am not entirely happy, I do not know quite why. Do you ever feel as if there were some sorrow far back in you, which now and then rushed in and flooded your spirits, and then drew back, and you could not give it a name? Well, that is the way with me. Yesterday, as I stood in the kitchen beside our old cook Jovin, she said a kind word to me, and my eyes filled, and I ran up to my room, and burst into tears as I lay upon my bed. I could not help it. I thought at first it was because of the poor hawk that Captain Moray and I set free yesterday morning; but it could not have been that, for it was free when I cried, you see. You know, of course, that he saved my father's life, some years ago? That is one reason why he has been used so well in Quebec, for otherwise no one would have lessened the rigours of his captivity. But there are tales that he is too curious about our government and state, and so he may be kept close jailed, though he only came here as a hostage. He is much at our home, and sometimes walks with Juste and me and Georgette, and accompanies my mother in the streets. This is not to the liking of the Intendant, who loves not my father because he is such a friend of our cousin the Governor. If their lives and characters be anything to the point the Governor must be in the right.
In truth, things are in a sad way here, for there is robbery on every hand, and who can tell what the end may be? Perhaps that we go to the English after all. Monsieur Doltaire--you do not know him, I think--says, "If the English eat us, as they swear they will, they'll die of megrims, our affairs are so indigestible." At another time he said, "Better to be English than to be damned." And when some one asked him what he meant, he said, "Is it not read from the altar, 'Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man'? The English trust nobody, and we trust the English." That was aimed at Captain Moray, who was present, and I felt it a cruel thing for him to say; but Captain Moray, smiling at the ladies, said, "Better to be French and damned than not to be French at all." And this pleased Monsieur Doltaire, who does not love him. I know not why, but there are vague whispers that he is acting against the Englishman for causes best known at Versailles, which have nothing to do with our affairs here. I do believe that Monsieur Doltaire would rather hear a clever thing than get ten thousand francs. At such times his face lights up, he is at once on his mettle, his eyes look almost fiendishly beautiful. He is a handsome man, but he is wicked, and I do not think he has one little sense of morals. I do not suppose he would stab a man in the back, or remove his neighbour's landmark in the night, though he'd rob him of it in open daylight, and call it "enterprise"--a usual word with him.
He is a favourite with Madame Cournal, who influences Bigot most, and one day we may see the boon companions at each other's throats; and if either falls, I hope it maybe Bigot, for Monsieur Doltaire is, at least, no robber. Indeed, he is kind to the poor in a disdainful sort of way. He gives to them and scoffs at them at the same moment; a bad man, with just enough natural kindness to make him dangerous. I have not seen much of the world, but some things we know by instinct; we feel them; and I often wonder if that is not the way we know everything in the end. Sometimes when I take my long walks, or go and sit beside the Falls of Montmorenci, looking out to the great city on the Heights, to dear Isle Orleans, where we have our pretty villa (we are to go there next week for three months--happy summer months), up at the blue sky and into the deep woods, I have strange feelings, which afterwards become thoughts; and sometimes they fly away like butterflies, but oftener they stay with me, and I give them a little garden to roam in--you can guess where. Now and then I call them out of the garden and make them speak, and then I set down what they say in my journal; but I think they like their garden best. You remember the song we used to sing at school?
"'Where do the stars grow, little Garaine? The garden of moons, is it far away? The orchard of suns, my little Garaine, Will you take us there some day?' "'If you shut your eyes,' quoth little Garaine, 'I will show you the way to go To the orchard of suns, and the garden of moons, And the field where the stars do grow. "'But you must speak soft,' quoth little Garaine, 'And still must your footsteps be, For a great bear prowls in the field of the stars, And the moons they have men to see. "'And the suns have the Children of Signs to guard, And they have no pity at all-- You must not stumble, you must not speak, When you come to the orchard wall. "'The gates are locked,' quoth little Garaine, 'But the way I am going to tell? The key of your heart it will open them all: And there's where the darlings dwell!'"
You may not care to read these lines again, but it helps to show what I mean: that everything is in the heart, and that nothing is at all if we do not feel it. Sometimes I have spoken of these things to my mother, but she does not see as I do. I dare not tell my father all I think, and Juste is so much a creature of moods that I am never sure whether he will be sensible and kind, or scoff. One can not bear to be laughed at. And as for my sister, she never thinks; she only lives; and she looks it--looks beautiful. But there, dear Lucie, I must not tire you with my childish philosophy, though I feel no longer a child. You would not know your friend. I can not tell what has come over me. Voila!
To-morrow we go to visit General Montcalm, who has just arrived in the colony. Bigot and his gay set are not likely to be there. My mother insists that I shall never darken the doors of the Intendant's palace.
Do you still hold to your former purpose of keeping a daily journal? If so, I beg you to copy into it this epistle and your answer; and when I go up to your dear manor house at Beauce next summer, we will read over our letters and other things set down, and gossip of the changes come since we met last. Do sketch the old place for me (as will I our new villa on dear Isle Orleans), and make interest with the good cure to bring it to me with your letter, since there are no posts, no postmen, yet between here and Beauce. The cure most kindly bears this to you, and says he will gladly be our messenger. Yesterday he said to me, shaking his head in a whimsical way, "But no treason, mademoiselle, and no heresy or schism." I am not quite sure what he meant. I dare hardly think he had Captain Moray in his mind. I would not for the world so lessen my good opinion of him as to think him suspicious of me when no other dare; and so I put his words down to chance hitting, to a humorous fancy.
Be sure, dear Lucie, I shall not love you less for giving me a prompt answer. Tell me of what you are thinking and what doing. If Juste can be spared from the Governor's establishment, may I bring him with me next summer? He is a difficult, sparkling sort of fellow, but you are so steady-tempered, so full of tact, getting your own way so quietly and cleverly, that I am sure I should find plenty of straw for the bricks of my house of hope, my castle in Spain!
Do not give too much of my share of thy heart elsewhere, and continue to think me, my dear Lucie, thy friend, loyal and loving,
P.S.--Since the above was written we have visited the General. Both Monsieur Doltaire and Captain Moray were there, but neither took much note of me--Monsieur Doltaire not at all. Those two either hate each other lovingly, or love hatefully, I know not which, they are so biting, yet so friendly to each other's cleverness, though their style of word-play is so different: Monsieur Doltaire's like a bodkin-point, Captain Moray's like a musket-stock a-clubbing. Be not surprised to see the British at our gates any day. Though we shall beat them back, I shall feel no less easy because I have a friend in the enemy's camp. You may guess who. Do not smile. He is old enough to be my father. He said so himself six months ago.