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- The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 1. - 3/15 -
not turned to Madame Duvarney and said, "I am most sorry that this mishap falls here; but it is not of my doing, and in colder comfort, Madame, I shall recall the good hours spent in your home."
I think I said it with a general courtesy, yet, feeling the eyes of the young lady on me, perhaps a little extra warmth came into my voice, and worked upon Madame, or it may be she was glad of my removal from contact with her daughter; but kindness showed in her face, and she replied gently, "I am sure it is only for a few days till we see you again."
Yet I think in her heart she knew my life was perilled: those were rough and hasty times, when the axe or the rope was the surest way to deal with troubles. Three years before, at Fort Necessity, I had handed my sword to my lieutenant, bidding him make healthy use of it, and, travelling to Quebec on parole, had come in and out of this house with great freedom. Yet since Alixe had grown towards womanhood there had been strong change in Madame's manner.
"The days, however few, will be too long until I tax your courtesy again," I said. "I bid you adieu, Madame."
"Nay, not so," spoke up my host; "not one step: dinner is nearly served, and you must both dine with us. Nay, but I insist," he added, as he saw me shake my head. "Monsieur Doltaire will grant you this courtesy, and me the great kindness. Eh, Doltaire?"
Doltaire rose, glancing from Madame to her daughter. Madame was smiling, as if begging his consent; for, profligate though he was, his position, and more than all, his personal distinction, made him a welcome guest at most homes in Quebec. Alixe met his look without a yes or no in her eyes--so young, yet having such control and wisdom, as I have had reason beyond all men to know. Something, however, in the temper of the scene had filled her with a kind of glow, which added to her beauty and gave her dignity. The spirit of her look caught the admiration of this expatriated courtier, and I knew that a deeper cause than all our past conflicts--and they were great--would now, or soon, set him fatally against me.
"I shall be happy to wait Captain Moray's pleasure," he said presently, "and to serve my own by sitting at your table. I was to have dined with the Intendant this afternoon, but a messenger shall tell him duty stays me.... If you will excuse me!" he added, going to the door to find a man of his company. He looked back for an instant, as if it struck him I might seek escape, for he believed in no man's truth; but he only said, "I may fetch my men to your kitchen, Duvarney? 'Tis raw outside."
"Surely. I shall see they have some comfort," was the reply.
Doltaire then left the room, and Duvarney came to me. "This is a bad business, Moray," he said sadly. "There is some mistake, is there not?"
I looked him fair in the face. "There is a mistake," I answered. "I am no spy, and I do not fear that I shall lose my life, my honour, or my friends by offensive acts of mine."
"I believe you," he responded, "as I have believed since you came, though there has been gabble of your doings. I do not forget you bought my life back from those wild Mohawks five years ago. You have my hand in trouble or out of it."
Upon my soul, I could have fallen on his neck, for the blow to our cause and the shadow on my own fate oppressed me for the moment.
At this point the ladies left the room to make some little toilette before dinner, and as they passed me the sleeve of Alixe's dress touched my arm. I caught her fingers for an instant, and to this day I can feel that warm, rich current of life coursing from finger-tips to heart. She did not look at me at all, but passed on after her mother. Never till that moment had there been any open show of heart between us. When I first came to Quebec (I own it to my shame) I was inclined to use her youthful friendship for private and patriotic ends; but that soon passed, and then I wished her companionship for true love of her. Also, I had been held back because when I first knew her she seemed but a child. Yet how quickly and how wisely did she grow out of her childhood! She had a playful wit, and her talents were far beyond her years. It amazed me often to hear her sum up a thing in some pregnant sentence which, when you came to think, was the one word to be said. She had such a deep look out of her blue eyes that you scarcely glanced from them to see the warm sweet colour of her face, the fair broad forehead, the brown hair, the delicate richness of her lips, which ever were full of humour and of seriousness--both running together, as you may see a laughing brook steal into the quiet of a river.
Duvarney and I were thus alone for a moment, and he straightway dropped a hand upon my shoulder. "Let me advise you," he said, "be friendly with Doltaire. He has great influence at the Court and elsewhere. He can make your bed hard or soft at the citadel."
I smiled at him, and replied, "I shall sleep no less sound because of Monsieur Doltaire."
"You are bitter in your trouble," said he.
I made haste to answer, "No, no, my own troubles do not weigh so heavy--but our General's death!"
"You are a patriot, my friend," he added warmly. "I could well have been content with our success against your English army without this deep danger to your person."
I put out my hand to him, but I did not speak, for just then Doltaire entered. He was smiling at something in his thought.
"The fortunes are with the Intendant always," said he. "When things are at their worst, and the King's storehouse, the dear La Friponne, is to be ripped by our rebel peasants like a sawdust doll, here comes this gay news of our success on the Ohio; and in that Braddock's death the whining beggars will forget their empty bellies, and bless where they meant to curse. What fools, to be sure! They had better loot La Friponne. Lord, how we love fighting, we French! And 'tis so much easier to dance, or drink, or love." He stretched out his shapely legs as he sat musing.
Duvarney shrugged a shoulder, smiling. "But you, Doltaire--there's no man out of France that fights more."
He lifted an eyebrow. "One must be in the fashion; besides, it does need some skill to fight. The others--to dance, drink, love: blind men's games!" He smiled cynically into the distance.
I have never known a man who interested me so much--never one so original, so varied, and so uncommon in his nature. I marvelled at the pith and depth of his observations; for though I agreed not with him once in ten times, I loved his great reflective cleverness and his fine penetration--singular gifts in a man of action. But action to him was a playtime; he had that irresponsibility of the Court from which he came, its scornful endurance of defeat or misery, its flippant look upon the world, its scoundrel view of women. Then he and Duvarney talked, and I sat thinking. Perhaps the passion of a cause grows in you as you suffer for it, and I had suffered, and suffered most by a bitter inaction. Governor Dinwiddie, Mr. Washington (alas that, as I write the fragment chapters of my life, among the hills where Montrose my ancestor fought, George leads the colonists against the realm of England!), and the rest were suffering, but they were fighting too. Brought to their knees, they could rise again to battle; and I thought then, How more glorious to be with my gentlemen in blue from Virginia, holding back death from the General, and at last falling myself, than to spend good years a hostage at Quebec, knowing that Canada was for our taking, yet doing nothing to advance the hour!
In the thick of these thoughts I was not conscious of what the two were saying, but at last I caught Madame Cournal's name; by which I guessed Monsieur Doltaire was talking of her amours, of which the chief and final was with Bigot the Intendant, to whom the King had given all civil government, all power over commerce and finance in the country. The rivalry between the Governor and the Intendant was keen and vital at this time, though it changed later, as I will show. At her name I looked up and caught Monsieur Doltaire's eye.
He read my thoughts. "You have had blithe hours here, monsieur," he said--"you know the way to probe us; but of all the ladies who could be most useful to you, you left out the greatest. There you erred. I say it as a friend, not as an officer, there you erred. From Madame Cournal to Bigot, from Bigot to Vaudreuil the Governor, from the Governor to France. But now--"
He paused, for Madame Duvarney and her daughter had come, and we all rose.
The ladies had heard enough to know Doltaire's meaning. "But now--Captain Moray dines with us," said Madame Duvarney quietly and meaningly.
"Yet I dine with Madame Cournal," rejoined Doltaire, smiling.
"One may use more option with enemies and prisoners," she said keenly, and the shot ought to have struck home. In so small a place it was not easy to draw lines close and fine, and it was in the power of the Intendant, backed by his confederates, to ruin almost any family in the province if he chose; and that he chose at times I knew well, as did my hostess. Yet she was a woman of courage and nobility of thought, and I knew well where her daughter got her good flavor of mind.
I could see something devilish in the smile at Doltaire's lip's, but his look was wandering between Alixe and me, and he replied urbanely, "I have ambition yet--to connive at captivity"; and then he looked full and meaningly at her.
I can see her now, her hand on the high back of a great oak chair, the lace of her white sleeve falling away, and her soft arm showing, her eyes on his without wavering. They did not drop, nor turn aside; they held straight on, calm, strong--and understanding. By that look I saw she read him; she, who had seen so little of the world, felt what he was, and met his invading interest firmly, yet sadly; for I knew long after that a smother was at her heart then, foreshadowings of dangers that would try her as few women are tried. Thank God that good women are born with greater souls for trial than men; that, given once an anchor for their hearts, they hold until the cables break.
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