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- The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 2. - 6/15 -
laid out on my couch without words.
After a little he came again, and laid a book on the improvised table before me. It was an English Bible. Opening it, I found inscribed on the fly-leaf, Charles Wainfleet, Chaplain to the British Army. Gabord explained that this chaplain had been in the citadel for some weeks; that he had often inquired about me; that he had been brought from the Ohio; and had known of me, having tended the lieutenant of my Virginian infantry in his last hours. Gabord thought I should now begin to make my peace with Heaven, and so had asked for the chaplain's Bible, which was freely given. I bade him thank the chaplain for me, and opening the book, I found a leaf turned down at the words,
"In the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast."
When I was left alone, I sat down to write diligently that history of myself which I had composed and fixed in my memory during the year of my housing in this dungeon. The words came from my pen freely, and hour after hour through many days, while no single word reached me from the outside world, I wrote on; carefully revising, but changing little from that which I had taken so long to record in my mind. I would not even yet think that they would hang me; and if they did, what good could brooding do? When the last word of the memoirs (I may call them so), addressed to Alixe, had been written, I turned my thoughts to other friends.
The day preceding that fixed for my execution came, yet there was no sign from friend or enemy without. At ten o'clock of that day Chaplain Wainfleet was admitted to me in the presence of Gabord and a soldier. I found great pleasure in his company, brief as his visit was; and after I had given him messages to bear for me to old friends, if we never met again and he were set free, he left me, benignly commending me to Heaven. There was the question of my other letters. I had but one desire--Voban again, unless at my request the Seigneur Duvarney would come, and they would let him come. If it were certain that I was to go to the scaffold, then I should not hesitate to tell him my relations with his daughter, that he might comfort her when, being gone from the world myself, my love could do her no harm. I could not think that he would hold against me the duel with his son, and I felt sure he would come to me if he could.
But why should I not try for both Voban and the Seigneur? So I spoke to Gabord.
"Voban! Voban!" said he. "Does dickey-bird play at peacock still? Well, thou shalt see Voban. Thou shalt go trimmed to heaven--aho!"
Presently I asked him if he would bear a message to the Governor, asking permission for the Seigneur Duvarney to visit me, if he were so inclined. At his request I wrote my petition out, and he carried it away with him, saying that I should have Voban that evening.
I waited hour after hour, but no one came. As near as I could judge it was now evening. It seemed strange to think that, twenty feet above me, the world was all white with snow; the sound of sleigh-bells and church-bells, and the cries of snowshoers ringing on the clear, sharp air. I pictured the streets of Quebec alive with people: the young seigneur set off with furs and silken sash and sword or pistols; the long-haired, black-eyed woodsman in his embroidered moccasins and leggings with flying thrums; the peasant farmer slapping his hands cheerfully in the lighted market-place; the petty noble, with his demoiselle, hovering in the precincts of the Chateau St. Louis and the intendance. Up there were light, freedom, and the inspiriting frost; down here in my dungeon, the blades of corn, which, dying, yet never died, told the story of a choking air, wherein the body and soul of a man droop and take long to die. This was the night before Christmas Eve, when in England and Virginia they would be preparing for feasting and thanksgiving.
The memories of past years crowded on me. I thought of feastings and spendthrift rejoicings in Glasgow and Virginia. All at once the carnal man in me rose up and damned these lying foes of mine. Resignation went whistling down the wind. Hang me! Hang me! No, by the God that gave me breath! I sat back and laughed--laughed at my own insipid virtue, by which, to keep faith with the fanatical follower of Prince Charlie, I had refused my liberty; cut myself off from the useful services of my King; wasted good years of my life, trusting to pressure and help to come from England, which never came; twisted the rope for my own neck to keep honour with the dishonourable Doltaire, who himself had set the noose swinging; and, inexpressible misery! involved in my shame and peril a young blithe spirit, breathing a miasma upon the health of a tender life. Every rebellious atom in my blood sprang to indignant action. I swore that if they fetched me to the gallows to celebrate their Noel, other lives than mine should go to keep me company on the dark trail. To die like a rat in a trap, oiled for the burning, and lighted by the torch of hatred! No, I would die fighting, if I must die.
I drew from its hiding-place the knife I had secreted the day I was brought into that dungeon--a little weapon, but it would serve for the first blow. At whom? Gabord? It all flashed through my mind how I might do it when he came in again: bury this blade in his neck or heart--it was long enough for the work; then, when he was dead, change my clothes for his, take his weapons, and run my chances to get free of the citadel. Free? Where should I go in the dead of winter? Who would hide me, shelter me? I could not make my way to an English settlement. Ill clad, exposed to the merciless climate, and the end death. But that was freedom--freedom! I could feel my body dilating with the thought, as I paced my dungeon like an ill-tempered beast. But kill Gabord, who had put himself in danger to serve me, who himself had kept the chains from off my ankles and body, whose own life depended upon my security--"Come, come, Robert Moray," said I, "what relish have you for that? That's an ill game for a gentleman. Alixe Duvarney would rather see you dead than get your freedom over the body of this man."
That was an hour of storm. I am glad that I conquered the baser part of me; for, almost before I had grown calm again, the bolts of the dungeon doors shot back, and presently Gabord stepped inside, followed by a muffled figure.
"Voban the barber," said Gabord in a strange voice, and stepping again outside, he closed the door, but did not shoot the bolts.
I stood as one in a dream. Voban the barber? In spite of cap and great fur coat, I saw the outline of a figure that no barber ever had in this world. I saw two eyes shining like lights set in a rosy sky. A moment of doubt, of impossible speculation, of delicious suspense, and then the coat of Voban the barber opened, dropped away from the lithe, graceful figure of a young officer of marines, the cap flew off, and in an instant the dear head, the blushing, shining face of Alixe was on my breast.
In that moment, stolen from the calendar of hate, I ran into the haven where true hearts cast anchor and bless God that they have seen upon the heights, to guide them, the lights of home. The moment flashed by and was gone, but the light it made went not with it.
When I drew her blushing face up, and stood her off from me that I might look at her again, the colour flew back and forth on her cheek, as you may see the fire flutter in an uncut ruby when you turn it in the sun. Modestly drawing the cloak she wore more closely about her, she hastened to tell me how it was she came in such a guise; but I made her pause for a moment while I gave her a seat and sat down beside her. Then by the light of the flickering torch and flaring candles I watched her feelings play upon her face as the warm light of autumn shifts upon the glories of ripe fruits. Her happiness was tempered by the sadness of our position, and my heart smote me that I had made her suffer, had brought care to her young life. I could see that in the year she had grown older, yet her beauty seemed enhanced by that and by the trouble she had endured. I shall let her tell her story here unbroken by my questions and those interruptions which Gabord made, bidding her to make haste. She spoke without faltering, save here and there; but even then I could see her brave spirit quelling the riot of her emotions, shutting down the sluice-gate of tears.
"I knew," she said, her hand clasped in mine, "that Gabord was the only person like to be admitted to you, and so for days, living in fear lest the worst should happen, I have prepared for this chance. I have grown so in height that I knew an old uniform of my brothers would fit me, and I had it ready--small sword and all," she added, with a sad sort of humour, touching the weapon at her side. "You must know that we have for the winter a house here upon the ramparts near the Chateau. It was my mother's doings, that my sister Georgette and I might have no great journeyings in the cold to the festivities hereabouts. So I, being a favourite with the Governor, ran in and out of the Chateau at my will; of which my mother was proud, and she allowed me much liberty, for to be a favourite of the Governor is an honour. I knew how things were going, and what the chances were of the sentence being carried out on you. Sometimes I thought my heart would burst with the anxiety of it all, but I would not let that show to the world. If you could but have seen me smile at the Governor and Monsieur Doltaire--nay, do not press my hand so, Robert; you know well you have no need to fear monsieur--while I learned secrets of state, among them news of you. Three nights ago Monsieur Doltaire was talking with me at a ball--ah, those feastings while you were lying in a dungeon, and I shutting up my love and your danger close in my heart, even from those who loved me best! Well, suddenly he said, 'I think I will not have our English captain shifted to a better world.'
"My heart stood still; I felt an ache across my breast so that I could hardly breathe. 'Why will you not?' said I; 'was not the sentence just?' He paused a minute, and then replied, 'All sentences are just when an enemy is dangerous.' Then said I as in surprise, 'Why, was he no spy, after all?' He sat back, and laughed a little. 'A spy according to the letter of the law, but you have heard of secret history--eh?' I tried to seem puzzled, for I had a thought there was something private between you and him which has to do with your fate. So I said, as if bewildered, 'You mean there is evidence which was not shown at the trial?' He answered slowly, 'Evidence that would bear upon the morals, not the law of the case.' Then said I, 'Has it to do with you, monsieur?' 'It has to do with France,' he replied. 'And so you will not have his death?' I asked. 'Bigot wishes it,' he replied, 'for no other reason than that Madame Cournal has spoken nice words for the good-looking captain, and because that unsuccessful duel gave Vaudreuil an advantage over himself. Vaudreuil wishes it because he thinks it will sound well in France, and also because he really believes the man a spy. The Council do not care much; they follow the Governor and Bigot, and both being agreed, their verdict is unanimous.' He paused, then added, 'And the Seigneur Duvarney--and his daughter--wish it because of a notable injury to one of their name.' At that I cautiously replied, 'No, my father does not wish it, for my brother gave the offense, and Captain Moray saved his
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