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- The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 1. - 4/15 -
When we were about to enter the dining-room, I saw, to my joy, Madame incline towards Doltaire, and I knew that Alixe was for myself--though her mother wished it little, I am sure. As she took my arm, her finger-tips plunged softly into the velvet of my sleeve, giving me a thrill of courage. I felt my spirits rise, and I set myself to carry things off gaily, to have this last hour with her clear of gloom, for it seemed easy to think that we should meet no more.
As we passed into the dining-room, I said, as I had said the first time I went to dinner in her father's house, "Shall we be flippant, or grave?"
I guessed that it would touch her. She raised her eyes to mine and answered, "We are grave; let us seem flippant."
In those days I had a store of spirits. I was seldom dismayed, for life had been such a rough-and-tumble game that I held to cheerfulness and humour as a hillsman to his broadsword, knowing it the greatest of weapons with a foe, and the very stone and mortar of friendship. So we were gay, touching lightly on events around us, laughing at gossip of the doorways (I in my poor French), casting small stones at whatever drew our notice, not forgetting a throw or two at Chateau Bigot, the Intendant's country house at Charlesbourg, five miles away, where base plots were hatched, reputations soiled, and all clean things dishonoured. But Alixe, the sweetest soul France ever gave the world, could not know all I knew; guessing only at heavy carousals, cards, song, and raillery, with far-off hints of feet lighter than fit in cavalry boots dancing among the glasses on the table. I was never before so charmed with her swift intelligence, for I never had great nimbleness of thought, nor power to make nice play with the tongue.
"You have been three years with us," suddenly said her father, passing me the wine. "How time has flown! How much has happened!"
"Madame Cournal's husband has made three million francs," said Doltaire, with dry irony and truth.
Duvarney shrugged a shoulder, stiffened; for, oblique as the suggestion was, he did not care to have his daughter hear it.
"And Vaudreuil has sent bees buzzing to Versailles about Bigot and Company," added the impish satirist.
Madame Duvarney responded with a look of interest, and the Seigneur's eyes steadied to his plate. All at once by that I saw the Seigneur had known of the Governor's action, and maybe had counseled with him, siding against Bigot. If that were so--as it proved to be--he was in a nest of scorpions; for who among them would spare him: Marin, Cournal, Rigaud, the Intendant himself? Such as he were thwarted right and left in this career of knavery and public evils.
"And our people have turned beggars; poor and starved, they beg at the door of the King's storehouse--it is well called La Friponne," said Madame Duvarney, with some heat; for she was ever liberal to the poor, and she had seen manor after manor robbed, and peasant farmers made to sell their corn for a song, to be sold to them again at famine prices by La Friponne. Even now Quebec was full of pilgrim poor begging against the hard winter, and execrating their spoilers.
Doltaire was too fond of digging at the heart of things not to admit she spoke truth.
"La Pompadour et La Friponne! Qu'est que cela, mon petit homme?" "Les deux terribles, ma chere mignonne, Mais, c'est cela-- La Pompadour et La Friponne!"
He said this with cool drollery and point, in the patois of the native, so that he set us all laughing, in spite of our mutual apprehensions.
Then he continued, "And the King has sent a chorus to the play, with eyes for the preposterous make-believe, and more, no purse to fill."
We all knew he meant himself, and we knew also that so far as money went he spoke true; that though hand-in-glove with Bigot, he was poor, save for what he made at the gaming-table and got from France. There was the thing that might have clinched me to him, had matters been other than they were; for all my life I have loathed the sordid soul, and I would rather, in these my ripe years, eat with a highwayman who takes his life in his hands than with the civilian who robs his king and the king's poor, and has no better trick than false accounts, nor better friend than the pettifogging knave. Doltaire had no burning love for France, and little faith in anything; for he was of those Versailles water-flies who recked not if the world blackened to cinders when their lights went out. As will be seen by-and-bye, he had come here to seek me, and to serve the Grande Marquise.
More speech like this followed, and amid it all, with the flower of the world beside me at this table, I remembered my mother's words before I bade her good-bye and set sail from Glasgow for Virginia.
"Keep it in mind, Robert," she said, "that an honest love is the thing to hold you honest with yourself. 'Tis to be lived for, and fought for, and died for. Ay, be honest in your loves. Be true."
And there I took an oath, my hand clenched beneath the table, that Alixe should be my wife if better days came; when I was done with citadel and trial and captivity, if that might be.
The evening was well forward when Doltaire, rising from his seat in the drawing-room, bowed to me, and said, "If it pleases you, monsieur?"
I rose also, and prepared to go. There was little talk, yet we all kept up a play of cheerfulness. When I came to take the Seigneur's hand, Doltaire was a distance off, talking to Madame. "Moray," said the Seigneur quickly and quietly, "trials portend for both of us." He nodded towards Doltaire.
"But we shall come safe through," said I.
"Be of good courage, and adieu," he answered, as Doltaire turned towards us.
My last words were to Alixe. The great moment of my life was come. If I could but say one thing to her out of earshot, I would stake all on the hazard. She was standing beside a cabinet, very still, a strange glow in her eyes, a new, fine firmness at the lips. I felt I dared not look as I would; I feared there was no chance now to speak what I would. But I came slowly up the room with her mother. As we did so, Doltaire exclaimed and started to the window, and the Seigneur and Madame followed. A red light was showing on the panes.
I caught Alixe's eye, and held it, coming quickly to her. All backs were on us. I took her hand and pressed it to my lips suddenly. She gave a little gasp, and I saw her bosom heave.
"I am going from prison to prison," said I, "and I leave a loved jailer behind."
She understood. "Your jailer goes also," she answered, with a sad smile.
"I love you! I love you!" I urged.
She was very pale. "Oh, Robert!" she whispered timidly; and then, "I will be brave, I will help you, and I will not forget. God guard you."
That was all, for Doltaire turned to me then and said, "They've made of La Friponne a torch to light you to the citadel, monsieur."
A moment afterwards we were outside in the keen October air, a squad of soldiers attending, our faces towards the citadel heights. I looked back, doffing my cap. The Seigneur and Madame stood at the door, but my eyes were for a window where stood Alixe. The reflection of the far-off fire bathed the glass, and her face had a glow, the eyes shining through, intent and most serious. Yet how brave she was, for she lifted her handkerchief, shook it a little, and smiled.
As though the salute were meant for him, Doltaire bowed twice impressively, and then we stepped forward, the great fire over against the Heights lighting us and hurrying us on.
We scarcely spoke as we went, though Doltaire hummed now and then the air La Pompadour et La Friponne. As we came nearer I said, "Are you sure it is La Friponne, monsieur?"
"It is not," he said, pointing. "See!"
The sky was full of shaking sparks, and a smell of burning grain came down the wind.
"One of the granaries, then," I added, "not La Friponne itself?"
To this he nodded assent, and we pushed on.
THE MASTER OF THE KING'S MAGAZINE
"What fools," said Doltaire presently, "to burn the bread and oven too! If only they were less honest in a world of rogues, poor moles!"
Coming nearer, we saw that La Friponne itself was safe, but one warehouse was doomed and another threatened. The streets were full of people, and thousands of excited peasants, laborers, and sailors were shouting, "Down with the palace! Down with Bigot!"
We came upon the scene at the most critical moment. None of the Governors soldiers were in sight, but up the Heights we could hear the steady tramp of General Montcalm's infantry as they came on. Where were Bigot's men? There was a handful--one company--drawn up before La Friponne, idly leaning on their muskets, seeing the great granary burn, and watching La Friponne threatened by the mad crowd and the fire. There was not a soldier before the Intendant's palace, not a light in any window.
"What is this weird trick of Bigot's?" said Doltaire, musing.
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