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- The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 1. - 6/15 -
to call for me within two hours. There was little for me to do but to put in a bag the fewest necessaries, to roll up my heavy cloak, to stow safely my pipes and two goodly packets of tobacco, which were to be my chiefest solace for many a long day, and to write some letters--one to Governor Dinwiddie, one to George Washington, and one to my partner in Virginia, telling them my fresh misfortunes, and begging them to send me money, which, however useless in my captivity, would be important in my fight for life and freedom. I did not write intimately of my state, for I was not sure my letters would ever pass outside Quebec. There were only two men I could trust to do the thing. One was a fellow-countryman, Clark, a ship-carpenter, who, to save his neck and to spare his wife and child, had turned Catholic, but who hated all Frenchmen barbarously at heart, remembering two of his bairns butchered before his eyes. The other was Voban. I knew that though Voban might not act, he would not betray me. But how to reach either of them? It was clear that I must bide my chances.
One other letter I wrote, brief but vital, in which I begged the sweetest girl in the world not to have uneasiness because of me; that I trusted to my star and to my innocence to convince my judges; and begging her, if she could, to send me a line at the citadel. I told her I knew well how hard it would be, for her mother and her father would not now look upon my love with favour. But I trusted all to time and Providence.
I sealed my letters, put them in my pocket, and sat down to smoke and think while I waited for Doltaire. To the soldier on duty, whom I did not notice at first, I now offered a pipe and a glass of wine, which he accepted rather gruffly, but enjoyed, if I might judge by his devotion to them.
By-and-bye, without any relevancy at all, he said abruptly, "If a little sooner she had come--aho!"
For a moment I could not think what he meant; but soon I saw.
"The palace would have been burnt if the girl in scarlet had come sooner--eh?" I asked. "She would have urged the people on?"
"And Bigot burnt, too, maybe," he answered.
"Fire and death--eh?"
I offered him another pipeful of tobacco. He looked doubtful, but accepted.
"Aho! And that Voban, he would have had his hand in," he growled.
I began to get more light.
"She was shut up at Chateau Bigot--hand of iron and lock of steel--who knows the rest! But Voban was for always," he added presently.
The thing was clear. The Scarlet Woman was Mathilde. So here was the end of Voban's little romance--of the fine linen from Ste. Anne de Beaupre and the silver pitcher for the wedding wine. I saw, or felt, that in Voban I might find now a confederate, if I put my hard case on Bigot's shoulders.
"I can't see why she stayed with Bigot," I said tentatively.
"Break the dog's leg, it can't go hunting bones--mais, non! Holy, how stupid are you English!"
"Why doesn't the Intendant lock her up now? She's dangerous to him. You remember what she said?"
"Tonnerre, you shall see to-morrow," he answered; "now all the sheep go bleating with the bell. Bigot--Bigot--Bigot--there is nothing but Bigot! But, pish! Vaudreuil the Governor is the great man, and Montcalm, aho! son of Mahomet! You shall see. Now they dance to Bigot's whistling; he will lock her safe enough to-morrow, 'less some one steps in to help her. Before to-night she never spoke of him before the world--but a poor daft thing, going about all sad and wild. She missed her chance to-night--aho!"
"Why are you not with Montcalm's soldiers?" I asked. "You like him better."
"I was with him, but my time was out, and I left him for Bigot. Pish! I left him for Bigot, for the militia!" He raised his thumb to his nose, and spread out his fingers. Again light dawned on me. He was still with the Governor in all fact, though soldiering for Bigot--a sort of watch upon the Intendant.
I saw my chance. If I could but induce this fellow to fetch me Voban! There was yet an hour before I was to go to the intendance.
I called up what looks of candour were possible to me, and told him bluntly that I wished Voban to bear a letter for me to the Seigneur Duvarney's. At that he cocked his ear and shook his bushy head, fiercely stroking his mustaches.
I knew that I should stake something if I said it was a letter for Mademoiselle Duvarney, but I knew also that if he was still the Governor's man in Bigot's pay he would understand the Seigneur's relations with the Governor. And a woman in the case with a soldier--that would count for something. So I said it was for her. Besides, I had no other resource but to make a friend among my enemies, if I could, while yet there was a chance.
It was like a load lifted from me when I saw his mouth and eyes open wide in a big soundless laugh, which came to an end with a voiceless aho! I gave him another tumbler of wine. Before he took it, he made a wide mouth at me again, and slapped his leg. After drinking, he said, "Poom--what good? They're going to hang you for a spy."
"That rope's not ready yet," I answered. "I'll tie a pretty knot in another string first, I trust."
"Damned if you haven't spirit!" said he. "That Seigneur Duvarney, I know him; and I know his son the ensign--whung, what saltpetre is he! And the ma'm'selle--excellent, excellent; and a face, such a face, and a seat like leeches in the saddle. And you a British officer mewed up to kick your heels till gallows day! So droll, my dear!"
"But will you fetch Voban?" I asked.
"To trim your hair against the supper to-night--eh, like that?"
As he spoke he puffed out his red cheeks with wide boylike eyes, burst his lips in another soundless laugh, and laid a finger beside his nose. His marvellous innocence of look and his peasant openness hid, I saw, great shrewdness and intelligence--an admirable man for Vaudreuil's purpose, as admirable for mine. I knew well that if I had tried to bribe him he would have scouted me, or if I had made a motion for escape he would have shot me off-hand. But a lady--that appealed to him; and that she was the Seigneur Duvarney's daughter did the rest.
"Yes, yes," said I, "one must be well appointed in soul and body when one sups with his Excellency and Monsieur Doltaire."
"Limed inside and chalked outside," he retorted gleefully. "But M'sieu' Doltaire needs no lime, for he has no soul. No, by Sainte Helois! The good God didn't make him. The devil laughed, and that laugh grew into M'sieu' Doltaire. But brave!--no kicking pulse is in his body."
"You will send for Voban--now?" I asked softly.
He was leaning against the door as he spoke. He reached and put the tumbler on a shelf, then turned and opened the door, his face all altered to a grimness.
"Attend here, Labrouk!" he called; and on the soldier coming, he blurted out in scorn, "Here's this English captain can't go to supper without Voban's shears to snip him. Go fetch him, for I'd rather hear a calf in a barn-yard than this whing-whanging for 'M'sieu' Voban!'"
He mocked my accent in the last two words, so that the soldier grinned, and at once started away. Then he shut the door, and turned to me again, and said more seriously, "How long have we before Monsieur comes?"--meaning Doltaire.
"At least an hour," said I.
"Good," he rejoined, and then he smoked while I sat thinking.
It was near an hour before we heard footsteps outside; then came a knock, and Voban was shown in.
"Quick, m'sieu'," he said. "M'sieu' is almost at our heels."
"This letter," said I, "to Mademoiselle Duvarney," and I handed four: hers, and those to Governor Dinwiddie, to Mr. Washington, and to my partner.
He quickly put them in his coat, nodding. The soldier--I have not yet mentioned his name--Gabord, did not know that more than one passed into Voban's hands.
"Off with your coat, m'sieu'," said Voban, whipping out his shears, tossing his cap aside, and rolling down his apron. "M'sieu' is here."
I had off my coat, was in a chair in a twinkling, and he was clipping softly at me as Doltaire's hand turned the handle of the door.
"Beware--to-night!" Voban whispered.
"Come to me in the prison," said I. "Remember your brother!"
His lips twitched. "M'sieu', I will if I can." This he said in my ear as Doltaire entered and came forward.
"Upon my life!" Doltaire broke out. "These English gallants! They go to prison curled and musked by Voban. VOBAN--a name from the court of the King, and it garnishes a barber. Who called you, Voban?"
"My mother, with the cure's help, m'sieu'."
Doltaire paused, with a pinch of snuff at his nose, and replied lazily, "I did not say 'Who called you VOBAN?' Voban, but who called you here, Voban?"
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