Seats Of The Mighty by Gilbert Parker
XX. Upon the Ramparts
The Governor visited me. His attitude was marked by nothing so much as a supercilious courtesy, a manner which said, You must see I am not to be trifled with; and though I have you here in my chateau, it is that I may make a fine scorching of you in the end. He would make of me an example to amaze and instruct the nations--when I was robust enough to die.
I might easily have flattered myself on being an object of interest to the eyes of nations. I almost pitied him; for he appeared so lost in self-admiration and the importance of his office that he would never see disaster when it came.
"There is but one master here in Canada," he said, "and I am he. If things go wrong it is because my orders are not obeyed. Your people have taken Louisburg; had I been there, it should never have been given up. Drucour was hasty--he listened to the women. I should allow no woman to move me. I should be inflexible. They might send two Amhersts and two Wolfes against me, I would hold my fortress."
"They will never send two, your Excellency," said I.
He did not see the irony, and he prattled on: "That Wolfe, they tell me, is bandy-legged; is no better than a girl at sea, and never well ashore. I am always in raw health--the strong mind in the potent body. Had I been at Louisburg, I should have held it, as I held Ticonderoga last July, and drove the English back with monstrous slaughter."
Here was news. I had had no information in many months, and all at once two great facts were brought to me.
"Your Excellency, then, was at Ticonderoga?" said I.
"I sent Montcalm to defend it," he replied pompously. "I told him how he must act; I was explicit, and it came out as I had said: we were victorious. Yet he would have done better had he obeyed me in everything. If I had been at Louisburg--"
I could not at first bring myself to flatter the vice-regal peacock; for it had been my mind to fight these Frenchmen always; to yield in nothing; to defeat them like a soldier, not like a juggler. But I brought myself to say half ironically, "If all great men had capable instruments, they would seldom fail."
"You have touched the heart of the matter," he said credulously. "It is a pity," he added, with complacent severity, "that you have been so misguided and criminal; you have, in some things, more sense than folly."
I bowed as to a compliment from a great man. Then, all at once, I spoke to him with an air of apparent frankness, and said that if I must die, I cared to do so like a gentleman, with some sort of health, and not like an invalid. He must admit that at least I was no coward. He might fence me about with what guards he chose, but I prayed him to let me walk upon the ramparts, when I was strong enough to be abroad, under all due espionage. I had already suffered many deaths, I said, and I would go to the final one looking like a man, and not like an outcast of humanity.
"Ah, I have heard this before," said he. "Monsieur Doltaire, who is in prison here, and is to fare on to the Bastile, was insolent enough to send me message yesterday that I should keep you close in your dungeon. But I had had enough of Monsieur Doltaire; and indeed it was through me that the Grande Marquise had him called to durance. He was a muddler here. They must not interfere with me; I am not to be cajoled or crossed in my plans. We shall see, we shall see about the ramparts," he continued. "Meanwhile prepare to die." This he said with such importance that I almost laughed in his face. But I bowed with a sort of awed submission, and he turned and left the room.
I grew stronger slowly day by day, but it was quite a month before Alixe came again. Sometimes I saw her walking on the banks of the river, and I was sure she was there that I might see her, though she made no sign towards me, nor ever seemed to look towards my window.
Spring was now fully come. The snow had gone from the ground, the tender grass was springing, the air was so soft and kind. One fine day, at the beginning of May, I heard the booming of cannons and a great shouting, and, looking out, I could see crowds of people upon the banks, and many boats in the river, where yet the ice had not entirely broken up. By stretching from my window, through the bars of which I could get my head, but not my body, I noted a squadron sailing round the point of the Island of Orleans. I took it to be a fleet from France bearing re-enforcements and supplies--as indeed afterwards I found was so; but the re-enforcements were so small and the supplies so limited that it is said Montcalm, when he knew, cried out, "Now is all lost! Nothing remains but to fight and die. I shall see my beloved Candiac no more."
For the first time all the English colonies had combined against Canada. Vaudreuil and Montcalm were at variance, and Vaudreuil had, through his personal hatred and envy of Montcalm, signed the death-warrant of the colony by writing to the colonial minister that Montcalm's agents, going for succour, were not to be trusted. Yet at that moment I did not know these things, and the sight made me grave, though it made me sure also that this year would find the British battering this same Chateau.
Presently there came word from the Governor that I might walk upon the ramparts, and I was taken forth for several hours each day; always, however, under strict surveillance, my guards, well armed, attending, while the ramparts were, as usual, patrolled by soldiers. I could see that ample preparations were being made against a siege, and every day the excitement increased. I got to know more definitely of what was going on, when, under vigilance, I was allowed to speak to Lieutenant Stevens, who also was permitted some such freedom as I had enjoyed when I first came to Quebec. He had private information that General Wolfe or General Amherst was likely to proceed against Quebec from Louisburg, and he was determined to join the expedition.
For months he had been maturing plans for escape. There was one Clark, a ship-carpenter (of whom I have before written), and two other bold spirits, who were sick of captivity, and it was intended to fare forth one night and make a run for freedom. Clark had had a notable plan. A wreck of several transports had occurred at Belle Isle, and it was thought to send him down the river with a sloop to bring back the crew, and break up the wreck. It was his purpose to arm his sloop with Lieutenant Stevens and some English prisoners the night before she was to sail, and steal away with her down the river. But whether or not the authorities suspected him, the command was given to another.
It was proposed, however, on a dark night, to get away to some point on the river, where a boat should be stationed--though that was a difficult matter, for the river was well patrolled and boats were scarce--and drift quietly down the stream, till a good distance below the city. Mr. Stevens said he had delayed the attempt on the faint hope of fetching me along. Money, he said, was needed, for Clark and all were very poor, and common necessaries were now at exorbitant prices in the country. Tyranny and robbery had made corn and clothing luxuries. All the old tricks of Bigot and his La Friponne, which, after the outbreak the night of my arrest at the Seigneur Duvarney's, had been somewhat repressed, were in full swing again, and robbery in the name of providing for defense was the only habit.
I managed to convey to Mr. Stevens a good sum of money, and begged him to meet me every day upon the ramparts, until I also should see my way to making a dart for freedom. I advised him in many ways, for he was more bold than shrewd, and I made him promise that he would not tell Clark or the others that I was to make trial to go with them. I feared the accident of disclosure, and any new failure on my part to get away would, I knew, mean my instant death, consent of King or no consent.
One evening, a soldier entered my room, whom in the half-darkness I did not recognize, till a voice said, "There's orders new! Not dungeon now, but this room Governor bespeaks for gentlemen from France."
"And where am I to go, Gabord?"
"Where you will have fighting," he answered.
"Yourself, aho!" A queer smile crossed his lips, and was followed by a sort of sternness. There was something graver in his manner than I had ever seen. I could not guess his meaning. At last he added, pulling roughly at his mustache, "And when that's done, if not well done, to answer to Gabord the soldier; for, God take my soul without bed-going, but I will call you to account! That Seigneur's home is no place for you."
"You speak in riddles," said I. Then all at once the matter burst upon me. "The Governor quarters me at the Seigneur Duvarney's?" I asked.
"No other," answered he. "In three days to go."
I understood him now. He had had a struggle, knowing of the relations between Alixe and myself, to avoid telling the Governor all. And now, if I involved her, used her to effect my escape from her father's house! Even his peasant brain saw my difficulty, the danger to my honour--and hers. In spite of the joy I felt at being near her, seeing her, I shrank from the situation. If I escaped from the Seigneur Duvarney's, it would throw suspicion upon him, upon Alixe, and that made me stand abashed. Inside the Seigneur Duvarney's house I should now feel unhappy, bound to certain calls of honour concerning his daughter and himself. I stood long, thinking, Gabord watching me.
Finally, "Gabord," said I, "I give you my word of honour that I will not put Mademoiselle or Monsieur Duvarney in peril."
"You will not try to escape?"
"Not to use them for escape. To elude my guards, to fight my way to liberty--yes--yes--yes!"
"But that mends not. Who's to know the lady did not help you?"
"You. You are to be my jailer again there?"
He nodded, and fell to pulling his mustache. "'Tis not enough," he said decisively.
"Come, then," said I, "I will strike a bargain with you. If you will grant me one thing, I will give my word of honour not to escape from the seigneur's house."
"You tell me I am not to go to the seigneur's for three days yet. Arrange that mademoiselle may come to me to-morrow at dusk--at six o'clock, when all the world dines--and I will give my word. No more do I ask you--only that."
"Done," said he. "It shall be so."
"You will fetch her yourself?" I asked.
"On the stroke of six. Guard changes then."
Here our talk ended. He went, and I plunged deep into my great plan; for all at once, as we had talked, came a thing to me which I shall make clear ere long. I set my wits to work. Once since my coming to the chateau I had been visited by the English chaplain who had been a prisoner at the citadel the year before. He was now on parole, and had freedom to come and go in the town. The Governor had said he might visit me on a certain day every week, at a fixed hour, and the next day at five o'clock was the time appointed for his second visit. Gabord had promised to bring Alixe to me at six.
The following morning I met Mr. Stevens on the ramparts. I told him it was my purpose to escape the next night, if possible. If not, I must go to the Seigneur Duvarney's, where I should be on parole--to Gabord. I bade him fulfill my wishes to the letter, for on his boldness and my own, and the courage of his men, I depended for escape. He declared himself ready to risk all, and die in the attempt, if need be, for he was sick of idleness. He could, he said, mature his plans that day, if he had more money. I gave him secretly a small bag of gold, and then I made explicit note of what I required of him: that he should tie up in a loose but safe bundle a sheet, a woman's skirt, some river grasses and reeds, some phosphorus, a pistol and a knife, and some saltpetre and other chemicals. That evening, about nine o'clock, which was the hour the guard changed, he was to tie this bundle to a string which I let down from my window, and I would draw it up. Then, the night following, the others must steal away to that place near Sillery--the west side of the town was always ill guarded--and wait there with a boat. He should see me at a certain point on the ramparts, and, well armed, we also would make our way to Sillery, and from the spot called the Anse du Foulon drift down the river in the dead of night.
He promised to do all as I wished.
The rest of the day I spent in my room fashioning strange toys out of willow rods. I had got these rods from my guards, to make whistles for their children, and they had carried away many of them. But now, with pieces of a silk handkerchief tied to the whistle and filled with air, I made a toy which, when squeezed, sent out a weird lament. Once when my guard came in, I pressed one of these things in my pocket, and it gave forth a sort of smothered cry, like a sick child. At this he started, and looked round the room in trepidation; for, of all peoples, these Canadian Frenchmen are the most superstitious, and may be worked on without limit. The cry had seemed to come from a distance. I looked around, also, and appeared serious, and he asked me if I had heard the thing before.
"Once or twice," said I.
"Then you are a dead man," said he; "'tis a warning, that!"
"Maybe it is not I, but one of you," I answered. Then, with a sort of hush, "Is't like the cry of La Jongleuse?" I added. (La Jongleuse is their fabled witch, or spirit, of disaster.)
He nodded his head, crossed himself, mumbled a prayer, and turned to go, but came back. "I'll fetch a crucifix," he said. "You are a heathen, and you bring her here. She is the devil's dam."
He left with a scared face, and I laughed to myself quietly, for I saw success ahead of me. True to his word, he brought a crucifix and put it up--not where he wished, but, at my request, opposite the door, upon the wall. He crossed himself before it, and was most devout.
It looked singular to see this big, rough soldier, who was in most things a swaggerer, so childlike in all that touched his religion. With this you could fetch him to his knees; with it I would cow him that I might myself escape.
At half past five the chaplain came, having been delayed by the guard to have his order indorsed by Captain Lancy of the Governor's household. To him I told my plans so far as I thought he should know them, and then I explained what I wished him to do. He was grave and thoughtful for some minutes, but at last consented. He was a pious man, and of as honest a heart as I have known, albeit narrow and confined, which sprang perhaps from his provincial practice and his theological cutting and trimming. We were in the midst of a serious talk, wherein I urged him upon matters which shall presently be set forth, when there came a noise outside. I begged him to retire to the alcove where my bed was, and draw the curtain for a few moments, nor come forth until I called. He did so, yet I thought it hurt his sense of dignity to be shifted to a bedroom.
As he disappeared the door opened, and Gabord and Alixe entered. "One half hour," said Gabord, and went out again.
Presently Alixe told me her story.
"I have not been idle, Robert, but I could not act, for my father and mother suspect my love for you. I have come but little to the chateau without them, and I was closely watched. I knew not how the thing would end, but I kept up my workings with the Governor, which is easier now Monsieur Doltaire is gone, and I got you the freedom to walk upon the ramparts. Well, once before my father suspected me, I said that if his Excellency disliked your being in the Chateau, you could be as well guarded in my father's house, with sentinels always there, until you could, in better health, be taken to the common jail again. What was my surprise when yesterday came word to my father that he should make ready to receive you as a prisoner; being sure that he, his Excellency's cousin, the father of the man you had injured, and the most loyal of Frenchmen, would guard you diligently; he now needed all extra room in the Chateau for the entertainment of gentlemen and officers lately come from France.
"When my father got the news, he was thrown into dismay. He knew not what to do. On what ground could he refuse the Governor? Yet when he thought of me he felt it his duty to do so. Again, on what ground could he refuse this boon to you, to whom we all owe the blessing of his life? On my brother's account? But my brother has written to my father justifying you, and magnanimously praising you as a man, while hating you as an English soldier. On my account? But he could not give this reason to the Governor. As for me, I was silent, I waited--and I wait; I know not what will be the end. Meanwhile preparations go on to receive you."
I could see that Alixe's mood was more tranquil since Doltaire was gone. A certain restlessness had vanished. Her manner had much dignity, and every movement a peculiar grace and elegance. She was dressed in a soft cloth of a gray tone, touched off with red and slashed with gold, and a cloak of gray, trimmed with fur, with bright silver buckles, hung loosely on her, thrown off at one shoulder. There was a sweet disorder in the hair, which indeed was prettiest when freest.
When she had finished speaking, she looked at me, as I thought, with a little anxiety.
"Alixe," I said, "we have come to the cross-roads, and the way we choose now is for all time."
She looked up, startled, yet governing herself, and her hand sought mine and nestled there. "I feel that, too," she replied. "What is it, Robert?"
"I can not in honour escape from your father's house. I can not steal his daughter and his safety too--"
"You must escape," she interrupted firmly.
"From here, from the citadel, from anywhere but your house; and so I will not go to it."
"You will not go to it?" she repeated slowly and strangely. "How may you not? You are a prisoner. If they make my father your jailer--" She laughed.
"I owe that jailer and that jailer's daughter--"
"You owe them your safety and your freedom. Oh, Robert, I know, I know what you mean. But what care I what the world may think by-and-bye, or to-morrow, or to-day? My conscience is clear."
"Your father--" I persisted.
She nodded. "Yes, yes, you speak truth, alas! And yet you must be freed. And"--here she got to her feet, and with flashing eyes spoke out--"and you shall be set free. Let come what will, I owe my first duty to you, though all the world chatter; and I will not stir from that. As soon as I can make it possible, you shall escape."
"You shall have the right to set me free," said I, "if I must go to your father's house. And if I do not go there, but out to my own good country, you shall still have the right before all the world to follow, or to wait till I come to fetch you."
"I do not understand you, Robert," said she. "I do not--" Here she broke off, looking, looking at me, and trembling a little.
Then I stooped and whispered softly in her ear. She gave a little cry, and drew back from me; yet instantly her hand came out and caught my arm.
"Robert, Robert! I can not, I dare not!" she cried softly. "No, no, it may not be," she added in a whisper of fear.
I went to the alcove, drew back the curtain, and asked Mr. Wainfleet to step forth.
"Sir," said I, picking up my Prayer Book and putting it in his hands, "I beg you to marry this lady and myself."
He paused, dazed. "Marry you--here--now?" he asked shakingly.
"Before ten minutes go round, this lady must be my wife," said I.
"Mademoiselle Duvarney, you--" he began.
"Be pleased, dear sir, to open the book at 'Wilt thou have,'" said I. "The lady is a Catholic; she has not the consent of her people; but when she is my wife, made so by you, whose consent need we ask? Can you not tie us fast enough, a man and woman of sense sufficient, but you must pause here? Is the knot you tie safe against picking and stealing?"
I had touched his vanity and his ecclesiasticism. "Married by me," he replied, "once chaplain to the Bishop of London, you have a knot that no sword can cut. I am in full orders. My parish is in Boston itself."
"You will hand a certificate to my wife to-morrow, and you will uphold this marriage against all gossip?" asked I.
"Against all France and all England," he answered, roused now.
"Then come," I urged.
"But I must have a witness," he interposed, opening the book.
"You shall have one in due time," said I. "Go on. When the marriage is performed, and at the point where you shall proclaim us man and wife, I will have a witness."
I turned to Alixe, and found her pale and troubled. "Oh, Robert, Robert!" she cried, "it can not be. Now, now I am afraid, for the first time in my life, clear, the first time!"
"Dearest lass in the world," I said, "it must be. I shall not go to your father's. To-morrow night, I make my great stroke for freedom, and when I am free I shall return to fetch my wife."
"You will try to escape from here to-morrow?" she asked, her face flushing finely.
"I will escape or die," I answered; "but I shall not think of death. Come--come and say with me that we shall part no more--in spirit no more; that, whatever comes, you and I have fulfilled our great hope, though under the shadow of the sword."
At that she put her hand in mine with pride and sweetness, and said, "I am ready, Robert. I give my heart, my life, and my honour to you--forever."
Then, with great sweetness and solemnity she turned to the clergyman: "Sir, my honour is also in your hands. If you have mother or sister, or any care of souls upon you, I pray you, in the future act as becomes good men."
"Mademoiselle," he said earnestly, "I am risking my freedom, maybe my life, in this; do you think--"
Here she took his hand and pressed it. "Ah, I ask your pardon. I am of a different faith from you, and I have known how men forget when they should remember." She smiled at him so perfectly that he drew himself up with pride.
"Make haste, sir," said I. "Jailers are curious folk."
The room was not yet lighted, the evening shadows were creeping in, and up out of the town came the ringing of the vesper bell from the church of the Recollets. For a moment there was stillness in the room and all around us, and then the chaplain began in a low voice: "I require and charge you both--" and so on. In a few moments I had made the great vow, and had put on Alixe's finger a ring which the clergyman drew from his own hand. Then we knelt down, and I know we both prayed most fervently with the good man that we might "ever remain in perfect love and perfect peace together."
Rising, he paused, and I went to the door and knocked upon it. It was opened by Gabord. "Come in, Gabord," said I. "There is a thing that you must hear."
He stepped back and got a light, and then entered, holding it up, and shutting the door. A strange look came upon his face when he saw the chaplain, and a stranger when, stepping beside Alixe, I took her hand, and Mr. Wainfleet declared us man and wife. He stood like one dumfounded, and he did not stir as Alixe, turning to me, let me kiss her on the lips, and then went to the crucifix on the wall and embraced the feet of it, and stood for a moment, praying. Nor did he move or make a sign till she came back and stood beside me.
"A pretty scene!" he burst forth then with anger. "But, by God! no marriage is it!"
Alixe's hand tightened on my arm, and she drew close to me.
"A marriage that will stand at Judgment Day, Gabord," said I.
"But not in France or here. 'Tis mating wild, with end of doom."
"It is a marriage our great Archbishop at Lambeth Palace will uphold against a hundred popes and kings," said the chaplain with importance.
"You are no priest, but holy peddler!" cried Gabord roughly. "This is not mating as Christians, and fires of hell shall burn--aho! I will see you all go down, and hand of mine shall not be lifted for you!"
He puffed out his cheeks, and his great eyes rolled so like fire-wheels.
"You are a witness to this ceremony," said the chaplain. "And you shall answer to your God, but you must speak the truth for this man and wife."
"Man and wife?" laughed Gabord wildly. "May I die and be damned to--"
Like a flash Alixe was beside him, and put to his lips most swiftly the little wooden cross that Mathilde had given her.
"Gabord, Gabord," she said in a sweet, sad voice, "when you may come to die, a girl's prayers will be waiting at God's feet for you."
He stopped, and stared at her. Her hand lay on his arm, and she continued: "No night gives me sleep, Gabord, but I pray for the jailer who has been kind to an ill-treated gentleman."
"A juggling gentleman, that cheats Gabord before his eyes, and smuggles in a mongrel priest!" he blustered.
I waved my hand at the chaplain, or I think he would have put his Prayer Book to rougher use than was its wont, and I was about to answer, but Alixe spoke instead, and to greater purpose than I could have done. Her whole mood changed, her face grew still and proud, her eyes flashed bravely.
"Gabord," she said, "vanity speaks in you there, not honesty. No gentleman here is a juggler. No kindness you may have done warrants insolence. You have the power to bring great misery on us, and you may have the will, but, by God's help, both my husband and myself shall be delivered from cruel hands. At any moment I may stand alone in the world, friends, people, the Church, and all the land against me: if you desire to haste that time, to bring me to disaster, because you would injure my husband,"--how sweet the name sounded on her lips!--"then act, but do not insult us. But no, no," she broke off softly, "you spoke in temper, you meant it not, you were but vexed with us for the moment. Dear Gabord," she added, "did we not know that if we had asked you first, you would have refused us? You care so much for me, you would have feared my linking my life and fate with one--"
"With one the death-man has in hand, to pay price for wicked deed," he interrupted.
"With one innocent of all dishonour, a gentleman wronged every way. Gabord, you know it so, for you have guarded him and fought with him, and you are an honourable gentleman," she added gently.
"No gentleman I," he burst forth, "but jailer base, and soldier born upon a truss of hay. But honour is an apple any man may eat since Adam walked in garden.... 'Tis honest foe, here," he continued magnanimously, and nodded towards me.
"We would have told you all," she said, "but how dare we involve you, or how dare we tempt you, or how dare we risk your refusal? It was love and truth drove us to this; and God will bless this mating as the birds mate, even as He gives honour to Gabord who was born upon a truss of hay."
"Poom!" said Gabord, puffing out his cheeks, and smiling on her with a look half sour, and yet with a doglike fondness, "Gabord's mouth is shut till 's head is off, and then to tell the tale to Twelve Apostles!"
Through his wayward, illusive speech we found his meaning. He would keep faith with us, and be best proof of this marriage, at risk of his head even.
As we spoke, the chaplain was writing in the blank fore-pages of the Prayer Book. Presently he said to me, handing me the pen, which he had picked from a table, "Inscribe your names here. It is a rough record of the ceremony, but it will suffice before all men, when to-morrow I have given Mistress Moray another record."
We wrote our names, and then the pen was handed to Gabord. He took it, and at last, with many flourishes and ahos, and by dint of puffings and rolling eyes, he wrote his name so large that it filled as much space as the other names and all the writing, and was indeed like a huge indorsement across the record.
When this was done, Alixe held out her hand to him. "Will you kiss me, Gabord?" she said.
The great soldier was all taken back. He flushed like a schoolboy, yet a big humour and pride looked out of his eyes.
"I owe you for the sables, too," she said. "But kiss me--not on my ears, as the Russian count kissed Gabord, but on both cheek."
This won him to our cause utterly, and I never think of Gabord, as I saw him last in the sway and carnage of battle, fighting with wild uproar and covered with wounds, but the memory of that moment, when he kissed my young wife, comes back to me.
At that he turned to leave. "I'll hold the door for ten minutes," he added; and bowed to the chaplain, who blessed us then with tears in his eyes, and smiled a little to my thanks and praises and purse of gold, and to Alixe's sweet gratitude. With lifting chin--good honest gentleman, who afterwards proved his fidelity and truth--he said that he would die to uphold this sacred ceremony. And so he made a little speech, as if he had a pulpit round him, and he wound up with a benediction which sent my dear girl to tears and soft trembling:
"The Lord bless you and keep you: the Lord make his face to shine upon you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace now and for evermore."
A moment afterwards the door closed, and for ten minutes I looked into my wife's face, and told her my plans for escape. When Gabord opened the door upon us, we had passed through years of understanding and resolve. Our parting was brave--a bravery on her side that I do not think any other woman could match. She was quivering with the new life come upon her, yet she was self-controlled; she moved as in a dream, yet I knew her mind was alert, vigilant, and strong; she was aching with thought of this separation, with the peril that faced us both, yet she carried a quiet joy in her face, a tranquil gravity of bearing.
"Whom God hath joined--" said I gravely at the last.
"Let no man put asunder," she answered softly and solemnly.
"Aho!" said Gabord, and turned his head away.
Then the door shut upon me, and though I am no Catholic, I have no shame in saying that I kissed the feet on the crucifix which her lips had blessed.