Seats Of The Mighty by Gilbert Parker
XXVII. A Side-Wind of Revenge
I knew it was Doltaire's life or mine, and I shrank from desecrating this holy place; but our bitter case would warrant this, and more. As I came quickly through the hall, and round the corner where stood Gabord, I saw a soldier talking with the Mother Superior.
"He is not dead?" I heard her say.
"No, holy Mother," was the answer, "but sorely wounded. He was testing the fire-organs for the rafts, and one exploded too soon."
At that moment the Mother turned to me, and seemed startled by my look. "What is it?" she whispered.
"He would carry her off," I replied.
"He shall never do so," was her quick answer. "Her father, the good Seigneur, has been wounded, and she must go to him."
"I will take her," said I at once, and I moved to open the door. At that moment I caught Gabord's eye. There I read what caused me to pause. If I declared myself now, Gabord's life would pay for his friendship to me--even if I killed Doltaire; for the matter would be open to all then just the same. That I could not do, for the man had done me kindnesses dangerous to himself. Besides, he was a true soldier, and disgrace itself would be to him as bad as the drum-head court-martial. I made up my mind to another course even as the perturbed "aho" which followed our glance fell from his puffing lips.
"But no, holy Mother," said I, and I whispered in her ear. She opened the door and went in, leaving it ajar. I could hear only a confused murmur of voices, through which ran twice, "No, no, monsieur," in Alixe's soft, clear voice. I could scarcely restrain myself, and I am sure I should have gone in, in spite of all, had it not been for Gabord, who withstood me.
He was right, and as I turned away I heard Alixe cry, "My father, my poor father!"
Then came Doltaire's voice, cold and angry: "Good Mother, this is a trick."
"Your Excellency should be a better judge of trickery," she replied quietly. "Will not your Excellency leave an unhappy lady to her trouble and the Church's care?"
"If the Seigneur is hurt, I will take mademoiselle to him," was his instant reply.
"It may not be, your Excellency," she said. "I will furnish her with other escort."
"And I, as Governor of this province, as commander-in-chief of the army, say that only with my escort shall the lady reach her father."
At this Alixe spoke: "Dear Mere St. George, do not fear for me; God will protect me--"
"And I also, mademoiselle, with my life," interposed Doltaire.
"God will protect me," Alixe repeated; "I have no fear."
"I will send two of our Sisters with mademoiselle to nurse the poor Seigneur," said Mere St. George.
I am sure Doltaire saw the move. "A great kindness, holy Mother," he said politely, "and I will see they are well cared for. We will set forth at once. The Seigneur shall be brought to the Intendance, and he and his daughter shall have quarters there."
He stepped towards the door where we were. I fell back into position as he came. "Gabord," said he, "send your trusted fellow here to the General's camp, and have him fetch to the Intendance the Seigneur Duvarney, who has been wounded. Alive or dead, he must be brought," he added in a lower voice.
Then he turned back into the room. As he did so, Gabord looked at me inquiringly.
"If you go, you put your neck into the gin," said he; "some one in camp will know you."
"I will not leave my wife," I answered in a whisper. Thus were all plans altered on the instant. Gabord went to the outer door and called another soldier, to whom he gave this commission.
A few moments afterwards, Alixe, Doltaire, and the Sisters of Mercy were at the door ready to start. Doltaire turned and bowed with a well-assumed reverence to the Mother Superior. "To-night's affairs here are sacred to ourselves, Mere St. George," he said.
She bowed, but made no reply. Alixe turned and kissed her hand. But as we stepped forth, the Mother said suddenly, pointing to me, "Let the soldier come back in an hour, and mademoiselle's luggage shall go to her, your Excellency."
Doltaire nodded, glancing at me. "Surely he shall attend you, Mere St. George," he said, and then stepped on with Alixe, Gabord and the other soldier ahead, the two Sisters behind, and myself beside these. Going quietly through the disordered Upper Town, we came down Palace Street to the Intendance. Here Doltaire had kept his quarters despite his growing quarrel with Bigot. As we entered he inquired of the servant where Bigot was, and was told he was gone to the Chateau St. Louis. Doltaire shrugged a shoulder and smiled--he knew that Bigot had had news of his deposition through the Governor. He gave orders for rooms to be prepared for the Seigneur and for the Sisters; mademoiselle meanwhile to be taken to hers, which had, it appeared, been made ready. Then I heard him ask in an undertone if the bishop had come, and he was answered that Monseigneur was at Charlesbourg, and could not be expected till the morning. I was in a most dangerous position, for, though I had escaped notice, any moment might betray me; Doltaire himself might see through my disguise.
We all accompanied Alixe to the door of her apartments, and there Doltaire with courtesy took leave of her, saying that he would return in a little time to see if she was comfortable, and to bring her any fresh news of her father. The Sisters were given apartments next her own, and they entered her room with her, at her own request.
When the door closed, Doltaire turned to Gabord, and said, "You shall come with me to bear letters to General Montcalm, and you shall send one of these fellows also for me to General Bougainville at Cap Rouge." Then he spoke directly to me, and said, "You shall guard this passage till morning. No one but myself may pass into this room or out of it, save the Sisters of Mercy, on pain of death."
I saluted, but spoke no word.
"You understand me?" he repeated.
"Absolutely, monsieur," I answered in a rough peasantlike voice.
He turned and walked in a leisurely way through the passage, and disappeared, telling Gabord to join him in a moment. As he left, Gabord said to me in a low voice, "Get back to General Wolfe, or wife and life will both be lost."
I caught his hand and pressed it, and a minute afterwards I was alone before Alixe's door.
An hour later, knowing Alixe to be alone, I tapped on her door and entered. As I did so she rose from a priedieu where she had been kneeling. Two candles were burning on the mantel, but the room was much in shadow.
"What is't you wish?" she asked, approaching.
I had off my hat; I looked her direct in the eyes and put my fingers on my lips. She stared painfully for a moment.
"Alixe," said I.
She gave a gasp, and stood transfixed, as though she had seen a ghost, and then in an instant she was in my arms, sobs shaking her. "Oh, Robert! oh my dear, dear husband!" she cried again and again. I calmed her, and presently she broke into a whirl of questions. I told her of all I had seen at the cathedral and at the convent, what my plans had been, and then I waited for her answer. A new feeling took possession of her. She knew that there was one question at my lips which I dared not utter. She became very quiet, and a sweet, settled firmness came into her face.
"Robert," she said, "you must go back to your army without me. I can not leave my father now. Save yourself alone, and if--and if you take the city, and I am alive, then we shall be reunited. If you do not take the city, then, whether father lives or dies, I will come to you. Of this be sure, that I shall never live to be the wife of any other man--wife or aught else. You know me. You know all, you trust me, and, my dear husband, my own love, we must part once more. Go, go, and save yourself, keep your life safe for my sake, and may God in heaven, may God--"
Here she broke off and started back from my embrace, staring hard a moment over my shoulder; then her face became deadly pale, and she fell back unconscious. Supporting her, I turned round, and there, inside the door, with his back to it, was Doltaire. There was a devilish smile on his face, as wicked a look as I ever saw on any man. I laid Alixe down on a sofa without a word, and faced him again.
"As many coats as Joseph's coat had colours," he said. "And for once disguised as an honest man--well, well!"
"Beast" I hissed, and I whipped out my short sword.
"Not here," he said, with a malicious laugh. "You forget your manners: familiarity"--he glanced towards the couch--"has bred--"
"Coward!" I cried. "I will kill you at her feet."
"Come, then," he answered, and stepped away from the door, drawing his sword, "since you will have it here. But if I kill you, as I intend--"
He smiled detestably, and motioned towards the couch, then turned to the door again as if to lock it. I stepped between, my sword at guard. At that the door opened. A woman came in quickly, and closed it behind her. She passed me, and faced Doltaire.
It was Madame Cournal. She was most pale, and there was a peculiar wildness in her eyes.
"You have deposed Francois Bigot," she said.
"Stand back, madame; I have business with this fellow," said Doltaire, waving his hand.
"My business comes first," she replied. "You--you dare to depose Francois Bigot!"
"It needs no daring," he said nonchalantly.
"You shall put him back in his place."
"Come to me to-morrow morning, dear madame."
"I tell you he must be put back, Monsieur Doltaire."
"Once you called me Tinoir," he said meaningly.
Without a word she caught from her cloak a dagger and struck him in the breast, though he threw up his hand and partly diverted the blow. Without a cry he half swung round, and sank, face forward, against the couch where Alixe lay.
Raising himself feebly, blindly, he caught her hand and kissed it; then he fell back.
Stooping beside him, I felt his heart. He was alive. Madame Cournal now knelt beside him, staring at him as in a kind of dream. I left the room quickly, and met the Sisters of Mercy in the hall. They had heard the noise, and were coming to Alixe. I bade them care for her. Passing rapidly through the corridors, I told a servant of the household what had occurred, bade him send for Bigot, and then made for my own safety. Alixe was safe for a time, at least--perhaps forever, thank God!--from the approaches of Monsieur Doltaire. As I sped through the streets, I could not help but think of how he had kissed her hand as he fell, and I knew by this act, at such a time, that in very truth he loved her after his fashion.
I came soon to the St. John's Gate, for I had the countersign from Gabord, and, dressed as I was, I had no difficulty in passing. Outside I saw a small cavalcade arriving from Beauport way. I drew back and let it pass me, and then I saw that it was soldiers bearing the Seigneur Duvarney to the Intendance.
An hour afterwards, having passed the sentries, I stood on a lonely point of the shore of Lower Town, and, seeing no one near, I slid into the water. As I did so I heard a challenge behind me, and when I made no answer there came a shot, another, and another; for it was thought, I doubt not, that I was a deserter. I was wounded in the shoulder, and had to swim with one arm; but though boats were put out, I managed to evade them and to get within hail of our fleet. Challenged there, I answered with my name. A boat shot out from among the ships, and soon I was hauled into it by Clark himself; and that night I rested safe upon the Terror of France.