Seats Of The Mighty by Gilbert Parker
XXV. In the Cathedral
I awoke with the dawn, and, dressing, looked out of the window, seeing the brindled light spread over the battered roofs and ruins of the Lower Town. A bell was calling to prayers in the Jesuit College not far away, and bugle-calls told of the stirring garrison. Soldiers and stragglers passed down the street near by, and a few starved peasants crept about the cathedral with downcast eyes, eager for crumbs that a well-fed soldier might cast aside. Yet I knew that in the Intendant's Palace and among the officers of the army there was abundance, with revelry and dissipation.
Presently I drew to the trap-door of my loft, and, raising it gently, came down the ladder to the little hallway, and softly opened the door of the room where Labrouk's body lay. Candles were burning at his head and his feet, and two peasants sat dozing in chairs near by. I could see Labrouk's face plainly in the flickering light: a rough, wholesome face it was, refined by death, yet unshaven and unkempt, too. Here was work for Voban's shears and razor. Presently there was a footstep behind me, and, turning, I saw in the half-light the widowed wife.
"Madame," said I in a whisper, "I too weep with you. I pray for as true an end for myself."
"He was of the true faith, thank the good God," she said sincerely. She passed into the room, and the two watchers, after taking refreshment, left the house. Suddenly she hastened to the door, called one back, and, pointing to the body, whispered something. The peasant nodded and turned away. She came back into the room, stood looking at the face of the dead man for a moment, and bent over and kissed the crucifix clasped in the cold hands. Then she stepped about the room, moving a chair and sweeping up a speck of dust in a mechanical way. Presently, as if she again remembered me, she asked me to enter the room. Then she bolted the outer door of the house. I stood looking at the body of her husband, and said, "Were it not well to have Voban the barber?"
"I have sent for him and for Gabord," she replied. "Gabord was Jean's good friend. He is with General Montcalm. The Governor put him in prison because of the marriage of Mademoiselle Duvarney, but Monsieur Doltaire set him free, and now he serves General Montcalm.
"I have work in the cathedral," continued the poor woman, "and I shall go to it this morning as I have always gone. There is a little unused closet in a gallery where you may hide, and still see all that happens. It is your last look at the lady, and I will give it to you, as you gave me to know of my Jean."
"My last look?" I asked eagerly.
"She goes into the nunnery to-morrow, they say," was the reply. "Her marriage is to be set aside by the bishop to-day--in the cathedral. This is her last night to live as such as I--but no, she will be happier so."
"Madame," said I, "I am a heretic, but I listened when your husband said, 'Mon grand homme de Calvaire, bon soir!' Was the cross less a cross because a heretic put it to his lips? Is a marriage less a marriage because a heretic is the husband? Madame, you loved your Jean; if he were living now, what would you do to keep him. Think, madame, is not love more than all?"
She turned to the dead body. "Mon petit Jean!" she murmured, but made no reply to me, and for many minutes the room was silent. At last she turned, and said, "You must come at once, for soon the priests will be at the church. A little later I will bring you some breakfast, and you must not stir from there till I come to fetch you--no."
"I wish to see Voban," said I.
She thought a moment. "I will try to fetch him to you by-and-bye," she said. She did not speak further, but finished the sentence by pointing to the body.
Presently, hearing footsteps, she drew me into another little room. "It is the grandfather," she said. "He has forgotten you already, and he must not see you again."
We saw the old man hobble into the room we had left, carrying in one arm Jean's coat and hat. He stood still, and nodded at the body and mumbled to himself; then he went over and touched the hands and forehead, nodding wisely; after which he came to his armchair, and, sitting down, spread the coat over his knees, put the cap on it, and gossiped with himself:
"In eild our idle fancies all return, The mind's eye cradled by the open grave."
A moment later, the woman passed from the rear of the house to the vestry door of the cathedral. After a minute, seeing no one near, I followed, came to the front door, entered, and passed up a side aisle towards the choir. There was no one to be seen, but soon the woman came out of the vestry and beckoned to me nervously. I followed her quick movements, and was soon in a narrow stairway, coming, after fifty steps or so, to a sort of cloister, from which we went into a little cubiculum, or cell, with a wooden lattice door which opened on a small gallery. Through the lattices the nave amid choir could be viewed distinctly.
Without a word the woman turned and left me, and I sat down on a little stone bench and waited. I saw the acolytes come and go, and priests move back and forth before the altar; I smelt the grateful incense as it rose when mass was said; I watched the people gather in little clusters at the different shrines, or seek the confessional, or kneel to receive the blessed sacrament. Many who came were familiar--among them Mademoiselle Lucie Lotbiniere. Lucie prayed long before a shrine of the Virgin, and when she rose at last her face bore signs of weeping. Also I noticed her suddenly start as she moved down the aisle, for a figure came forward from seclusion and touched her arm. As he half turned I saw that it was Juste Duvarney. The girl drew back from him, raising her hand as if in protest, and it struck me that her grief and her repulse of him had to do with putting Alixe away into a nunnery.
I sat hungry and thirsty for quite three hours, and then the church became empty, and only an old verger kept a seat by the door, half asleep, though the artillery of both armies was at work, and the air was laden with the smell of powder. (Until this time our batteries had avoided firing on the churches.) At last I heard footsteps near me in the dark stairway, and I felt for my pistols, for the feet were not those of Labrouk's wife. I waited anxiously, and was overjoyed to see Voban enter my hiding-place, bearing some food. I greeted him warmly, but he made little demonstration. He was like one who, occupied with some great matter, passed through the usual affairs of life with a distant eye. Immediately he handed me a letter, saying:
"M'sieu', I give my word to hand you this--in a day or a year, as I am able. I get your message to me this morning, and then I come to care for Jean Labrouk, and so I find you here, and I give the letter. It come to me last night."
The letter was from Alixe. I opened it with haste, and, in the dim light, read:
MY BELOVED HUSBAND: Oh, was there no power in earth or heaven to bring me to your arms to-day?
To-morow they come to see my marriage annulled by the Church. And every one will say it is annulled--every one but me. I, in God's name, will say no, though it break my heart to oppose myself to them all.
Why did my brother come back? He has been hard--O, Robert, he has been hard upon me, and yet I was ever kind to him! My father, too, he listens to the Church, and, though he likes not Monsieur Doltaire, he works for him in a hundred ways without seeing it. I, alas! see it too well, and my brother is as wax in monsieur's hands. Juste loves Lucie Lotbiniere--that should make him kind. She, sweet friend, does not desert me, but is kept from me. She says she will not yield to Juste's suit until he yields to me. If--oh, if Madame Jamond had not gone to Montreal!
...As I was writing the foregoing sentence, my father asked to see me, and we have had a talk--ah, a most bitter talk!
"Alixe," said he, "this is our last evening together, and I would have it peaceful."
"My father," said I, "it is not my will that this evening be our last; and for peace, I long for it with all my heart."
He frowned, and answered, "You have brought me trouble and sorrow. Mother of God! was it not possible for you to be as your sister Georgette? I gave her less love, yet she honours me more."
"She honours you, my father, by a sweet, good life, and by marriage into an honourable family, and at your word she gives her hand to Monsieur Auguste de la Darante. She marries to your pleasure, therefore she has peace and your love. I marry a man of my own choosing, a bitterly wronged gentleman, and you treat me as some wicked thing. Is that like a father who loves his child?"
"The wronged gentleman, as you call him, invaded that which is the pride of every honest gentleman," he said.
"And what is that?" asked I quietly, though I felt the blood beating at my temples.
"My family honour, the good name and virtue of my daughter."
I got to my feet, and looked my father in the eyes with an anger and a coldness that hurts me now when I think of it, and I said, "I will not let you speak so to me. Friendless though I be, you shall not. You have the power to oppress me, but you shall not slander me to my face. Can not you leave insults to my enemies?"
"I will never leave you to the insults of this mock marriage," answered he, angrily also. "Two days hence I take command of five thousand burghers, and your brother Juste serves with General Montcalm. There is to be last fighting soon between us and the English. I do not doubt of the result, but I may fall, and your brother also, and, should the English win, I will not leave you to him you call your husband. Therefore you shall be kept safe where no alien hands may reach you. The Church will hold you close."
I calmed myself again while listening to him, and I asked, "Is there no other way?"
He shook his head.
"Is there no Monsieur Doltaire?" said I. "He has a king's blood in his veins!"
He looked sharply at me. "You are mocking," he replied. "No, no, that is no way, either. Monsieur Doltaire must never mate with daughter of mine. I will take care of that; the Church is a perfect if gentle jailer."
I could bear it no longer. I knelt to him. I begged him to have pity on me. I pleaded with him; I recalled the days when, as a child, I sat upon his knee and listened to the wonderful tales he told; I begged him, by the memory of all the years when he and I were such true friends to be kind to me now, to be merciful--even though he thought I had done wrong--to be merciful. I asked him to remember that I was a motherless girl, and that if I had missed the way to happiness he ought not to make my path bitter to the end. I begged him to give me back his love and confidence, and, if I must for evermore be parted from you, to let me be with him, not to put me away into a convent.
Oh, how my heart leaped when I saw his face soften! "Well, well," he said, "if I live, you shall be taken from the convent; but for the present, till this fighting is over, it is the only safe place. There, too, you shall be safe from Monsieur Doltaire."
It was poor comfort. "But should you be killed, and the English take Quebec?" said I.
"When I am dead," he answered, "when I am dead, then there is your brother."
"And if he speaks for Monsieur Doltaire?" asked I.
"There is the Church and God always," he answered.
"And my own husband, the man who saved your life, my father," I urged gently; and when he would have spoken I threw myself into his arms--the first time in such long, long weeks!--and, stopping his lips with my fingers, burst into tears on his breast. I think much of his anger against me passed, yet before he left he said he could not now prevent the annulment of the marriage, even if he would, for other powers were at work; which powers I supposed to be the Governor, for certain reasons of enmity to my father and me--alas! how changed is he, the vain old man!--and Monsieur Doltaire, whose ends I knew so well. So they will unwed us to-morrow, Robert; but be sure that I shall never be unwed in my own eyes, and that I will wait till I die, hoping you will come and take me--oh, Robert, my husband--take me home.
If I had one hundred men, I would fight my way out of this city, and to you; but, dear, I have none, not even Gabord, who is not let come near me. There is but Voban. Yet he will bear you this, if it be possible, for he comes to-night to adorn my fashionable brother. The poor Mathilde I have not seen of late. She has vanished. When they began to keep me close, and carried me off at last into the country, where we were captured by the English, I could not see her, and my heart aches for her.
God bless you, Robert, and farewell. How we shall smile, when all this misery is done! Oh, say we shall, say we shall smile, and all this misery cease. Will you not take me home? Do you still love thy wife, thy
I bade Voban come to me at the little house behind the church that night at ten o'clock, and by then I should have arranged some plan of action. I knew not whether to trust Gabord or no. I was sorry now that I had not tried to bring Clark with me. He was fearless, and he knew the town well; but he lacked discretion, and that was vital.
Two hours of waiting, then came a scene which is burned into my brain. I looked down upon a mass of people, soldiers, couriers of the woods, beggars, priests, camp followers, and anxious gentlefolk, come from seclusion, or hiding, or vigils of war, to see a host of powers torture a young girl who by suffering had been made a woman long before her time. Out in the streets was the tramping of armed men, together with the call of bugles and the sharp rattle of drums. Presently I heard the hoofs of many horses, and soon afterwards there entered the door, and way was made for him up the nave, the Marquis de Vaudreuil and his suite, with the Chevalier de la Darante, the Intendant, and--to my indignation--Juste Duvarney.
They had no sooner taken their places than, from a little side door near the vestry, there entered the Seigneur Duvarney and Alixe, who, coming down slowly, took places very near the chancel steps. The Seigneur was pale and stern, and carried himself with great dignity. His glance never shifted from the choir, where the priests slowly entered and took their places, the aged and feeble bishop going falteringly to his throne. Alixe's face was pale and sorrowful, and yet it had a dignity and self-reliance that gave it a kind of grandeur. A buzz passed through the building, yet I noted, too, with gladness that there were tears on many faces.
A figure stole in beside Alixe. It was Mademoiselle Lotbiniere, who immediately was followed by her mother. I leaned forward, perfectly hidden, and listened to the singsong voices of the priests, the musical note of the responses, heard the Kyrie Eleison, the clanging of the belfry bell as the host was raised by the trembling bishop. The silence which followed the mournful voluntary played by the organ was most painful to me.
At that moment a figure stepped from behind a pillar, and gave Alixe a deep, scrutinizing look. It was Doltaire. He was graver than I had ever seen him, and was dressed scrupulously in black, with a little white lace showing at the wrists and neck. A handsomer figure it would be hard to see; and I hated him for it, and wondered what new devilry was in his mind. He seemed to sweep the church with a glance. Nothing could have escaped that swift, searching look. His eyes were even raised to where I was, so that I involuntarily drew back, though I knew he could not see me.
I was arrested suddenly by a curious disdainful, even sneering smile which played upon his face as he looked at Vaudreuil and Bigot. There was in it more scorn than malice, more triumph than active hatred. All at once I remembered what he had said to me the day before: that he had commission from the King through La Pompadour to take over the reins of government from the two confederates, and send them to France to answer the charges made against them.
At last the bishop came forward, and read from a paper as follows:
"Forasmuch as a well-beloved child of our Holy Church, Mademoiselle Alixe Duvarney, of the parish of Beauport and of this cathedral parish, in this province of New France, forgetting her manifest duty and our sacred teaching, did illegally and in sinful error make feigned contract of marriage with one Robert Moray, captain in a Virginian regiment, a heretic, a spy, and an enemy to our country; and forasmuch as this was done in violence of all nice habit and commendable obedience to Mother Church and our national uses, we do hereby declare and make void this alliance until such time as the Holy Father at Rome shall finally approve our action and proclaiming. And it is enjoined upon Mademoiselle Alixe Duvarney, on peril of her soul's salvation, to obey us in this matter, and neither by word or deed or thought have commerce more with this notorious and evil heretic and foe of our Church and of our country. It is also the plain duty of the faithful children of our Holy Church to regard this Captain Moray with a pious hatred, and to destroy him without pity; and any good cunning or enticement which should lure him to the punishment he so much deserves shall be approved. Furthermore, Mademoiselle Alixe Duvarney shall, until such times as there shall be peace in this land, and the molesting English are driven back with slaughter--and for all time, if the heart of our sister incline to penitence and love of Christ--be confined within the Convent of the Ursulines, and cared for with great tenderness."
He left off reading, and began to address himself to Alixe directly; but she rose in her place, and while surprise and awe seized the congregation, she said:
"Monseigneur, I must needs, at my father's bidding, hear the annulment of my marriage, but I will not hear this public exhortation. I am but a poor girl, unlearned in the law, and I must needs submit to your power, for I have no one here to speak for me. But my soul and my conscience I carry to my Saviour, and I have no fear to answer Him. I am sorry that I have offended against my people and my country and Holy Church, but I repent not that I love and hold to my husband. You must do with me as you will, but in this I shall never willingly yield."
She turned to her father, and all the people breathed hard; for it passed their understanding, and seemed most scandalous that a girl could thus defy the Church, and answer the bishop in his own cathedral. Her father rose, and then I saw her sway with faintness. I know not what might have occurred, for the bishop stood with hand upraised and a great indignation in his face, about to speak, when out of the desultory firing from our batteries there came a shell, which burst even at the cathedral entrance, tore away a portion of the wall, and killed and wounded a number of people.
Then followed a panic which the priests in vain tried to quell. The people swarmed into the choir and through the vestry. I saw Doltaire with Juste Duvarney spring swiftly to the side of Alixe, and, with her father, put her and Mademoiselle Lotbiniere into the pulpit, forming a ring round it, and preventing the crowd from trampling on them, as, suddenly gone mad, they swarmed past. The Governor, the Intendant, and the Chevalier de la Darante did as much also for Madame Lotbiniere; and as soon as the crush had in a little subsided, a number of soldiers cleared the way, and I saw my wife led from the church. I longed to leap down there among them and claim her, but that thought was madness, for I should have been food for worms in a trice, so I kept my place.