Seats Of The Mighty by Gilbert Parker
IX. A Little Concerning the Chevalier de la Darante
I was wakened completely by the shooting of bolts. With the opening of the door I saw the figures of Gabord and Voban. My little friend the mouse saw them also, and scampered from the bread it had been eating, away among the corn, through which my footsteps had now made two rectangular paths, not disregarded by Gabord, who solicitously pulled Voban into the narrow track, that he should not trespass on my harvest.
I rose, showed no particular delight at seeing Voban, but greeted him easily--though my heart was bursting to ask him of Alixe--and arranged my clothes. Presently Gabord said, "Stools for barber," and, wheeling, he left the dungeon. He was gone only an instant, but long enough for Voban to thrust a letter into my hand, which I ran into the lining of my waistcoat as I whispered, "Her brother--he is well?"
"Well, and he have go to France," he answered. "She make me say, look to the round window in the Chateau front."
We spoke in English--which, as I have said, Voban understood imperfectly. There was nothing more said, and if Gabord, when he returned, suspected, he showed no sign, but put down two stools, seating himself on one, as I seated myself on the other for Voban's handiwork. Presently a soldier appeared with a bowl of coffee. Gabord rose, took it from him, waved him away, and handed it to me. Never did coffee taste so sweet, and I sipped and sipped till Voban had ended his work with me. Then I drained the last drop and stood up. He handed me a mirror, and Gabord, fetching a fine white handkerchief from his pocket, said, "Here's for your tears, when they drum you to heaven, dickey-bird."
But when I saw my face in the mirror, I confess I was startled. My hair, which had been black, was plentifully sprinkled with white, my face was intensely pale and thin, and the eyes were sunk in dark hollows. I should not have recognized myself. But I laughed as I handed back the glass, and said, "All flesh is grass, but a dungeon's no good meadow."
"'Tis for the dry chaff," Gabord answered, "not for young grass--aho!"
He rose and made ready to leave, Voban with him. "The commissariat camps here in an hour or so," he said, with a ripe chuckle.
It was clear the new state of affairs was more to his mind than the long year's rigour and silence. It seemed to me strange then, and it has seemed so ever since, that during all that time I never was visited by Doltaire but once, and of that event I am going to write briefly here.
It was about two months before this particular morning that he came, greeting me courteously enough.
"Close quarters here," said he, looking round as if the place were new to him and smiling to himself.
"Not so close as we all come to one day," said I.
"Dismal comparison!" he rejoined; "you've lost your spirits."
"Not so," I retorted; "nothing but my liberty."
"You know the way to find it quickly," he suggested.
"The letters for La Pompadour?" I asked.
"A dead man's waste papers," responded he; "of no use to him or you, or any one save the Grande Marquise."
"Valuable to me," said I.
"None but the Grande Marquise and the writer would give you a penny for them!"
"Why should I not be my own merchant?"
"You can--to me. If not to me, to no one. You had your chance long ago, and you refused it. You must admit I dealt fairly with you. I did not move till you had set your own trap and fallen into it. Now, if you do not give me the letters--well, you will give them to none else in this world. It has been a fair game, and I am winning now. I've only used means which one gentleman might use with another. Had you been a lesser man I should have had you spitted long ago. You understand?"
"Perfectly. But since we have played so long, do you think I'll give you the stakes now--before the end?"
"It would be wiser," he answered thoughtfully.
"I have a nation behind me," urged I.
"It has left you in a hole here to rot."
"It will take over your citadel and dig me out some day," I retorted hotly.
"What good that? Your life is more to you than Quebec to England."
"No, no," said I quickly; "I would give my life a hundred times to see your flag hauled down!"
"A freakish ambition," he replied; "mere infatuation!"
"You do not understand it, Monsieur Doltaire," I remarked ironically.
"I love not endless puzzles. There is no sport in following a maze that leads to nowhere save the grave." He yawned. "This air is heavy," he added; "you must find it trying."
"Never as trying as at this moment," I retorted.
"Come, am I so malarious?"
"You are a trickster," I answered coldly.
"Ah, you mean that night at Bigot's?" He smiled. "No, no, you were to blame--so green. You might have known we were for having you between the stones."
"But it did not come out as you wished?" hinted I.
"It served my turn," he responded; and he gave me such a smiling, malicious look that I knew sought to convey he had his way with Alixe; and though I felt that she was true to me, his cool presumption so stirred me I could have struck him in the face. I got angrily to my feet, but as I did so I shrank a little, for at times the wound in my side, not yet entirely healed, hurt me.
"You are not well," he said, with instant show of curiosity; "your wounds still trouble you? They should be healed. Gabord was ordered to see you cared for."
"Gabord has done well enough," answered I. "I have had wounds before, monsieur."
He leaned against the wall and laughed. "What braggarts you English are!" he said. "A race of swashbucklers--even on bread and water!"
He had me at advantage, and I knew it, for he had kept his temper. I made an effort. "Both excellent," rejoined I, "and English too."
He laughed again. "Come, that is better. That's in your old vein. I love to see you so. But how knew you our baker was English?--which he is, a prisoner like yourself."
"As easily as I could tell the water was not made by Frenchmen."
"Now I have hope of you," he broke out gaily; "you will yet redeem your nation."
At that moment Gabord came with a message from the Governor to Doltaire, and he prepared to go.
"You are set on sacrifice?" he asked. "Think--dangling from Cape Diamond!"
"I will meditate on your fate instead," I replied.
"Think!" he said again, waving off my answer with his hand. "The letters I shall no more ask for; and you will not escape death?"
"Never by that way," rejoined I.
"So. Very good. Au plaisir, my captain. I go to dine at the Seigneur Duvarney's."
With that last thrust he was gone, and left me wondering if the Seigneur had ever made an effort to see me, if he had forgiven the duel with his son.
That was the incident.
* * * * *
When Gabord and Voban were gone, leaving the light behind, I went over to where the torch stuck in the wall, and drew Alixe's letter from my pocket with eager fingers. It told the whole story of her heart.
CHATEAU ST. LOUIS, 27th November, 1757.
Though I write you these few words, dear Robert, I do not know that they will reach you, for as yet it is not certain they will let Voban visit you. A year, dear friend, and not a word from you! I should have broken my heart if I had not heard of you one way and another. They say you are much worn in body, though you have always a cheerful air. There are stories of a visit Monsieur Doltaire paid you, and how you jested. He hates you, and yet he admires you too.
And now listen, Robert, and I beg you not to be angry--oh, do not be angry, for I am all yours; but I want to tell you that I have not repulsed Monsieur Doltaire when he has spoken flatteries to me. I have not believed them, and I have kept my spirits strong against the evil in him. I want to get you free of prison, and to that end I have to work through him with the Intendant, that he will not set the Governor more against you. With the Intendant himself I will not deal at all. So I use the lesser villain, and in truth the more powerful, for he stands higher at Versailles than any here. With the Governor I have influence, for he is, as you know, a kinsman of my mother's, and of late he has shown a fondness for me. Yet you can see that I must act most warily, that I must not seem to care for you, for that would be your complete undoing. I rather seem to scoff. (Oh, how it hurts me! how my cheeks tingle when I think of it alone! and how I clench my hands, hating them all for oppressing you!)
I do not believe their slanders--that you are a spy. It is I, Robert, who have at last induced the Governor to bring you to trial. They would have put it off till next year, but I feared you would die in that awful dungeon, and I was sure that if your trial came on there would be a change, as there is to be for a time, at least. You are to be lodged in the common jail during the sitting of the court; and so that is one step gained. Yet I had to use all manner of device with the Governor.
He is sometimes so playful with me that I can pretend to sulkiness; and so one day I said that he showed no regard for our family or for me in not bringing you, who had nearly killed my brother, to justice. So he consented, and being of a stubborn nature, too, when Monsieur Doltaire and the Intendant opposed the trial, he said it should come off at once. But one thing grieves me: they are to have you marched through the streets of the town like any common criminal, and I dare show no distress nor plead, nor can my father, though he wishes to move for you in this; and I dare not urge him, for then it would seem strange the daughter asked your punishment, and the father sought to lessen it.
When you are in the common jail it will be much easier to help you. I have seen Gabord, but he is not to be bent to any purpose, though he is kind to me. I shall try once more to have him take some wine and meat to you to-night. If I fail, then I shall only pray that you may be given strength in body for your time of trouble equal to your courage.
It may be I can fix upon a point where you may look to see me as you pass to-morrow to the Chateau. There must be a sign. If you will put your hand to your forehead-- But no, they may bind you, and your hands may not be free. When you see me, pause in your step for an instant, and I shall know. I will tell Voban where you shall send your glance, if he is to be let in to you, and I hope that what I plan may not fail.
And so, Robert, adieu. Time can not change me, and your misfortunes draw me closer to you. Only the dishonourable thing could make me close the doors of my heart, and I will not think you, whate'er they say, unworthy of my constant faith. Some day, maybe, we shall smile at, and even cherish, these sad times. In this gay house I must be flippant, for I am now of the foolish world! But under all the trivial sparkle a serious heart beats. It belongs to thee, if thou wilt have it, Robert, the heart of thy
An hour after getting this good letter Gabord came again, and with him breakfast--a word which I had almost dropped from my language. True, it was only in a dungeon, on a pair of stools, by the light of a torch, but how I relished it!--a bottle of good wine, a piece of broiled fish, the half of a fowl, and some tender vegetables.
When Gabord came for me with two soldiers, an hour later--I say an hour, but I only guess so, for I had no way of noting time--I was ready for new cares, and to see the world again. Before the others Gabord was the rough, almost brutal soldier, and soon I knew that I was to be driven out upon the St. Foye Road and on into the town. My arms were well fastened down, and I was tied about till I must have looked like a bale of living goods of no great value. Indeed, my clothes were by no means handsome, and save for my well-shaven face and clean handkerchief I was an ill-favoured spectacle; but I tried to bear my shoulders up as we marched through dark reeking corridors, and presently came suddenly into well-lighted passages.
I had to pause, for the light blinded my eyes, and they hurt me horribly, so delicate were the nerves. For some minutes I stood there, my guards stolidly waiting, Gabord muttering a little and stamping upon the floor as if in anger, though I knew he was merely playing a small part to deceive his comrades. The pain in my eyes grew less, and, though they kept filling with moisture from the violence of the light, I soon could see without distress.
I was led into the yard of the citadel, where was drawn up a company of soldiers. Gabord bade me stand still, and advanced towards the officers' quarters. I asked him if I might not walk to the ramparts and view the scene. He gruffly assented, bidding the men watch me closely, and I walked over to a point where, standing three hundred feet above the noble river, I could look out upon its sweet expanse, across to the Levis shore, with its serried legions of trees behind, and its bold settlement in front upon the Heights. There, eastward lay the well-wooded Island of Orleans, and over all the clear sun and sky, enlivened by a crisp and cheering air. Snow had fallen, but none now lay upon the ground, and I saw a rare and winning earth. I stood absorbed. I was recalling that first day that I remember in my life, when at Balmore my grandfather made prophecies upon me, and for the first time I was conscious of the world.
As I stood lost to everything about me, I heard Doltaire's voice behind, and presently he said over my shoulder, "To wish Captain Moray a good-morning were superfluous!"
I smiled at him: the pleasure of that scene had given me an impulse towards good nature even with my enemies.
"The best I ever had," I answered quietly.
"Contrasts are life's delights," he said. "You should thank us. You have your best day because of our worst dungeon."
"But my thanks shall not be in words; you shall have the same courtesy at our hands one day."
"I had the Bastile for a year," he rejoined, calling up a squad of men with his finger as he spoke. "I have had my best day. Two would be monotony. You think your English will take this some time?" he asked, waving a finger towards the citadel. "It will need good play to pluck that ribbon from its place." He glanced up, as he spoke, at the white flag with its golden lilies.
"So much the better sport," I answered. "We will have the ribbon and its heritage."
"You yourself shall furnish evidence to-day. Gabord here will see you temptingly disposed--the wild bull led peaceably by the nose!"
"But one day I will twist your nose, Monsieur Doltaire."
"That is fair enough, if rude," he responded. "When your turn comes, you twist and I endure. You shall be nourished well like me, and I shall look a battered hulk like you. But I shall never be the fool that you are. If I had a way to slip the leash, I'd slip it. You are a dolt." He was touching upon the letters again.
"I weigh it all," said I. "I am no fool--anything else you will."
"You'll be nothing soon, I fear--which is a pity."
What more he might have said I do not know, but there now appeared in the yard a tall, reverend old gentleman, in the costume of the coureur de bois, though his belt was richly chased, and he wore an order on his breast. There was something more refined than powerful in his appearance, but he had a keen, kindly eye, and a manner unmistakably superior. His dress was a little barbarous, unlike Doltaire's splendid white uniform, set off with violet and gold, the lace of a fine handkerchief sticking from his belt, and a gold-handled sword at his side; but the manner of both was distinguished.
Seeing Doltaire, he came forward and they embraced. Then he turned towards me, and as they walked off a little distance I could see that he was curious concerning me. Presently he raised his hand, and, as if something had excited him, said, "No, no, no; hang him and have done with it, but I'll have nothing to do with it--not a thing. 'Tis enough for me to rule at--"
I could hear no further, but I was now sure that he was some one of note who had retired from any share in state affairs. He and Doltaire then moved on to the doors of the citadel, and, pausing there, Doltaire turned round and made a motion of his hand to Gabord. I was at once surrounded by the squad of men, and the order to march was given. A drum in front of me began to play a well-known derisive air of the French army, The Fox and the Wolf.
We came out on the St. Foye Road and down towards the Chateau St. Louis, between crowds of shouting people who beat drums, kettles, pans, and made all manner of mocking noises. It was meant not only against myself, but against the British people. The women were not behind the men in violence; from them at first came handfuls of gravel and dust which struck me in the face; but Gabord put a stop to that.
It was a shameful ordeal, which might have vexed me sorely if I had not had greater trials and expected worse. Now and again appeared a face I knew--some lady who turned her head away, or some gentleman who watched me curiously, but made no sign.
When we came to the Chateau, I looked up as if casually, and there in the little round window I saw Alixe's face--for an instant only. I stopped in my tracks, was prodded by a soldier from behind, and I then stepped on. Entering, we were taken to the rear of the building, where, in an open courtyard, were a company of soldiers, some seats, and a table. On my right was the St. Lawrence swelling on its course, hundreds of feet beneath, little boats passing hither and thither on its flood.
We were waiting about half an hour, the noises of the clamoring crowd coming to us, as they carried me aloft in effigy, and, burning me at the cliff edge, fired guns and threw stones at me, till, rags, ashes, and flame, I was tumbled into the river far below. At last, from the Chateau came the Marquis de Vaudreuil, Bigot, and a number of officers. The Governor looked gravely at me, but did not bow; Bigot gave me a sneering smile, eying me curiously the while, and (I could feel) remarking on my poor appearance to Cournal beside him--Cournal, who winked at his wife's dishonour for the favour of her lover, who gave him means for public robbery.
Presently the Governor was seated, and he said, looking round, "Monsieur Doltaire--he is not here?"
Bigot shook his head, and answered, "No doubt he is detained at the citadel."
"And the Seigneur Duvarney?" the Governor added.
At that moment the Governor's secretary handed him a letter. The Governor opened it. "Listen," said he. He read to the effect that the Seigneur Duvarney felt he was hardly fitted to be a just judge in this case, remembering the conflict between his son and the notorious Captain Moray. And from another standpoint, though the prisoner merited any fate reserved for him, if guilty of spying, he could not forget that his life had been saved by this British captain--an obligation which, unfortunately, he could neither repay nor wipe out. After much thought, he must disobey the Governor's summons, and he prayed that his Excellency would grant his consideration thereupon.
I saw the Governor frown, but he made no remark, while Bigot said something in his ear which did not improve his humour, for he replied curtly, and turned to his secretary. "We must have two gentlemen more," he said.
At that moment Doltaire entered with the old gentleman of whom I have written. The Governor instantly brightened, and gave the stranger a warm greeting, calling him his "dear Chevalier;" and, after a deal of urging, the Chevalier de la Darante was seated as one of my judges: which did not at all displease me, for I liked his face.
I do not need to dwell upon the trial here. I have set down the facts before. I had no counsel and no witnesses. There seemed no reason why the trial should have dragged on all day, for I soon saw it was intended to find me guilty. Yet I was surprised to see how Doltaire brought up a point here and a question there in my favour, which served to lengthen out the trial; and all the time he sat near the Chevalier de la Darante, now and again talking with him.
It was late evening before the trial came to a close. The one point to be established was that the letters taken from General Braddock were mine, and that I had made the plans while a hostage. I acknowledged nothing, and would not do so unless I was allowed to speak freely. This was not permitted until just before I was sentenced.
Then Doltaire's look was fixed on me, and I knew he waited to see if I would divulge the matter private between us. However, I stood by my compact with him. Besides, it could not serve me to speak of it here, or use it as an argument, and it would only hasten an end which I felt he could prevent if he chose.
So when I was asked if I had aught to say, I pleaded only that they had not kept the Articles of War signed at Fort Necessity, which provided I should be free within two months and a half--that is, when prisoners in our hands should be delivered up to them, as they were. They had broken their bond, though we had fulfilled ours, and I held myself justified in doing what I had done for our cause and for my own life.
I was not heard patiently, though I could see that the Governor and the Chevalier were impressed; but Bigot instantly urged the case hotly against me, and the end came very soon. It was now dark; a single light had been brought and placed beside the Governor, while a soldier held a torch at a distance. Suddenly there was a silence; then, in response to a signal, the sharp ringing of a hundred bayonets as they were drawn and fastened to the muskets, and I could see them gleaming in the feeble torchlight. Presently, out of the stillness, the Governor's voice was heard condemning me to death by hanging, thirty days hence, at sunrise. Silence fell again instantly, and then a thing occurred which sent a thrill through us all. From the dark balcony above us came a voice, weird, high, and wailing:
"Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! He is guilty, and shall die! Francois Bigot shall die!"
The voice was Mathilde's, and I saw Doltaire shrug a shoulder and look with malicious amusement at the Intendant. Bigot himself sat pale and furious. "Discover the intruder," he said to Gabord, who was standing near, "and have--him--jailed."
But the Governor interfered. "It is some drunken creature," he urged quietly. "Take no account of it."