Seats Of The Mighty by Gilbert Parker
V. The Device of the Dormouse
When I had read the letter, I handed it up to Gabord without a word. A show of trust in him was the only thing, for he had enough knowledge of our secret to ruin us, if he chose. He took the letter, turned it over, looking at it curiously, and at last, with a shrug of the shoulders, passed it back.
"'Tis a long tune on a dot of a fiddle," said he, for indeed the letter was but a small affair in bulk. "I'd need two pairs of eyes and telescope! Is it all Heart-o'-my-heart, and Come-trip-in-dewy-grass--aho? Or is there knave at window to bear m'sieu' away?"
I took the letter from him. "Listen," said I, "to what the lady says of you." And then I read him that part of her postscript which had to do with himself.
He put his head on one side like a great wise magpie, and "H'm--ha!" said he whimsically, "aho! Gabord the soldier, Gabord, thou hast a good heart--and the birds fed the beast with plums and froth of comfits till he died, and on his sugar tombstone they carved the words, 'Gabord had a good heart.'"
"It was spoken out of a true spirit," said I petulantly, for I could not bear from a common soldier even a tone of disparagement, though I saw the exact meaning of his words. So I added, "You shall read the whole letter, or I will read it to you and you shall judge. On the honour of a gentleman, I will read all of it!"
"Poom!" said he, "English fire-eater! corn-cracker! Show me the 'good heart' sentence, for I'd see how it is written--how Gabord looks with a woman's whimsies round it."
I traced the words with my fingers, holding the letter near the torch. "'Yet he will not be rougher than his orders,'" said he after me, and "'He did me a good service once.'"
"Comfits," he continued; "well, thou shalt have comfits, too," and he fished from his pocket a parcel. It was my tobacco and my pipe.
Truly, my state might have been vastly worse. Little more was said between Gabord and myself, but he refused bluntly to carry message or letter to anybody, and bade me not to vex him with petitions. But he left me the torch and a flint and steel, so I had light for a space, and I had my blessed tobacco and pipe. When the doors clanged shut and the bolts were shot, I lay back on my couch.
I was not all unhappy. Thank God, they had not put chains on me, as Governor Dinwiddie had done with a French prisoner at Williamsburg, for whom I had vainly sought to be exchanged two years before, though he was my equal in all ways and importance. Doltaire was the cause of that, as you shall know. Well, there was one more item to add to his indebtedness. My face flushed and my fingers tingled at thought of him, and so I resolutely turned my meditations elsewhere, and again in a little while I seemed to think of nothing, but lay and bathed in the silence, and indulged my eyes with the good red light of the torch, inhaling its pitchy scent. I was conscious, yet for a time I had no thought: I was like something half animal, half vegetable, which feeds, yet has no mouth, nor sees, nor hears, nor has sense, but only lives. I seemed hung in space, as one feels when going from sleep to waking--a long lane of half-numb life, before the open road of full consciousness is reached.
At last I was aroused by the sudden cracking of a knot in the torch. I saw that it would last but a few hours more. I determined to put it out, for I might be allowed no more light, and even a few minutes of this torch every day would be a great boon. So I took it from its place, and was about to quench it in the moist earth at the foot of the wall, when I remembered my tobacco and my pipe. Can you think how joyfully I packed full the good brown bowl, delicately filling in every little corner, and at last held it to the flame, and saw it light? That first long whiff was like the indrawn breath of the cold, starved hunter, when, stepping into his house, he sees food, fire, and wife on his hearthstone. Presently I put out the torchlight, and then went back to my couch and sat down, the bowl shining like a star before me.
There and then a purpose came to me--something which would keep my brain from wandering, my nerves from fretting and wearing, for a time at least. I determined to write to my dear Alixe the true history of my life, even to the point--and after--of this thing which now was bringing me to so ill a pass. But I was in darkness, I had no paper, pens, nor ink. After a deal of thinking I came at last to the solution. I would compose the story, and learn it by heart, sentence by sentence, as I so composed it.
So there and then I began to run back over the years of my life, even to my first remembrances, that I might see it from first to last in a sort of whole and with a kind of measurement. But when I began to dwell upon my childhood, one little thing gave birth to another swiftly, as you may see one flicker in the heaven multiply and break upon the mystery of the dark, filling the night with clusters of stars. As I thought, I kept drawing spears of the dungeon corn between my fingers softly (they had come to be like comrades to me), and presently there flashed upon me the very first memory of my life. It had never come to me before, and I knew now that it was the beginning of conscious knowledge: for we can never know till we can remember. When a child remembers what it sees or feels, it has begun life.
I put that recollection into the letter which I wrote Alixe, and it shall be set down forthwith and in little space, though it took me so very many days and weeks to think it out, to give each word a fixed place, so that it should go from my mind no more. Every phrase of that story as I told it is as fixed as stone in my memory. Yet it must not be thought I can give it all here. I shall set down only a few things, but you shall find in them the spirit of the whole. I will come at once to the body of the letter.