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- The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 3. - 1/13 -



By Gilbert Parker

Volume 3.

XIV Argand Cournal XV In the chamber of torture XVI Be saint or imp XVII Through the bars of the cage XVIII The steep path of conquest XIX A Danseuse and the Bastile



The most meagre intelligence came to me from the outer world. I no longer saw Gabord; he had suddenly been with drawn and a new jailer substituted, and the sentinels outside my door and beneath the window of my cell refused all information. For months I had no news whatever of Alixe or of those affairs nearest my heart. I heard nothing of Doltaire, little of Bigot, and there was no sign of Voban.

Sometimes I could see my new jailer studying me, if my plans were a puzzle to his brain. At first he used regularly to try the bars of the window, and search the wall as though he thought my devices might be found there.

Scarrat and Flavelle, the guards at my door, set too high a price on their favours, and they talked seldom, and then with brutal jests and ribaldry, of matters in the town which were not vital to me. Yet once or twice, from things they said, I came to know that all was not well between Bigot and Doltaire on one hand, and Doltaire and the Governor on the other. Doltaire had set the Governor and the Intendant scheming against him because of his adherence to the cause of neither, and his power to render the plans of either of no avail when he chose, as in my case. Vaudreuil's vanity was injured, and besides, he counted Doltaire too strong a friend of Bigot. Bigot, I doubted not, found in Madame Cournal's liking for Doltaire all sorts of things of which he never would have dreamed; for there is no such potent devilry in this world as the jealousy of such a sort of man over a woman whose vanity and cupidity are the springs of her affections. Doltaire's imprisonment in a room of the Intendance was not so mysterious as suggestive. I foresaw a strife, a complication of intrigues, and internal enmities which would be (as they were) the ruin of New France. I saw, in imagination, the English army at the gates of Quebec, and those who sat in the seats of the mighty, sworn to personal enmities--Vaudreuil through vanity, Bigot through cupidity, Doltaire by the innate malice of his nature--sacrificing the country; the scarlet body of British power moving down upon a dishonoured city, never to take its foot from that sword of France which fell there on the soil of the New World.

But there was another factor in the situation which I have not dwelt on before. Over a year earlier, when war was being carried into Prussia by Austria and France, and against England, the ally of Prussia, the French Minister of War, D'Argenson, had, by the grace of La Pompadour, sent General the Marquis de Montcalm to Canada, to protect the colony with a small army. From the first, Montcalm, fiery, impetuous, and honourable, was at variance with Vaudreuil, who, though honest himself, had never dared to make open stand against Bigot. When Montcalm came, practically taking the military command out of the hands of the Governor, Vaudreuil developed a singular jealous spirit against the General. It began to express itself about the time I was thrown into the citadel dungeon, and I knew from what Alixe had told me, and from the gossip of the soldiers, that there was a more open show of disagreement now.

The Governor, seeing how ill it was to be at variance with both Montcalm and Bigot, presently began to covet a reconciliation with the latter. To this Bigot was by no means averse, for his own position had danger. His followers and confederates, Cournal, Marin, Cadet, and Rigaud, were robbing the King with a daring and effrontery which must ultimately bring disaster. This he knew, but it was his plan to hold on for a time longer, and then to retire before the axe fell, with an immense fortune. Therefore, about the time set for my execution, he began to close with the overtures of the Governor, and presently the two formed a confederacy against the Marquis de Montcalm. Into it they tried to draw Doltaire, and were surprised to find that he stood them off as to anything more than outward show of friendliness.

Truth was, Doltaire, who had no sordid feeling in him, loathed alike the cupidity of Bigot and the incompetency of the Governor, and respected Montcalm for his honour, and reproached him for his rashness. From first to last, he was, without show of it, the best friend Montcalm had in the province; and though he held aloof from bringing punishment to Bigot, he despised him and his friends, and was not slow to make that plain. D'Argenson made inquiry of Doltaire when Montcalm's honest criticisms were sent to France in cipher, and Doltaire returned the reply that Bigot was the only man who could serve Canada efficiently in this crisis; that he had abounding fertility of resource, a clear head, a strong will, and great administrative faculty. This was all he would say, save that when the war was over other matters might be conned. Meanwhile France must pay liberally for the Intendant's services.

Through a friend in France, Bigot came to know that his affairs were moving to a crisis, and saw that it would be wise to retire; but he loved the very air of crisis, and Madame Cournal, anxious to keep him in Canada, encouraged him in his natural feeling to stand or fall with the colony. He never showed aught but a hold and confident face to the public, and was in all regards the most conspicuous figure in New France. When, two years before, Montcalm took Oswego from the English, Bigot threw open his palace to the populace for two days' feasting, and every night during the war he entertained lavishly, though the people went hungry, and their own corn, bought for the King, was sold back to them at famine prices.

As the Governor amid the Intendant grew together in friendship, Vaudreuil sinking past disapproval in present selfish necessity, they quietly combined against Doltaire as against Montcalm. Yet at this very time Doltaire was living in the Intendance, and, as he had told Alixe, not without some personal danger. He had before been offered rooms at the Chateau St. Louis; but these he would not take, for he could not bear to be within touch of the Governor's vanity and timidity. He would of preference have stayed in the Intendance had he known that pitfalls and traps were at every footstep. Danger gave a piquancy to his existence. I think he did not greatly value Madame Cournal's admiration of himself; but when it drove Bigot to retaliation, his imagination got an impulse, and he entered upon a conflict which ran parallel with the war, and with that delicate antagonism which Alixe waged against him, long undiscovered by himself.

At my wits' end for news, at last I begged my jailer to convey a message for me to the Governor, asking that the barber be let come to me. The next day an answer arrived in the person of Voban himself, accompanied by the jailer. For a time there was little speech between us, but as he tended me we talked. We could do so with safety, for Voban knew English; and though he spoke it brokenly, he had freedom in it, and the jailer knew no word of it. At first the fellow blustered, but I waved him off. He was a man of better education than Gabord, but of inferior judgment and shrewdness. He made no trial thereafter to interrupt our talk, but sat and drummed upon a stool with his keys, or loitered at the window, or now and again thrust his hand into my pockets, as if to see if weapons were concealed in them.

"Voban," said I, "what has happened since I saw you at the Intendance? Tell me first of mademoiselle. You have nothing from her for me?"

"Nothing," he answered. "There is no time. A soldier come an hour ago with an order from the Governor, and I must go all at once. So I come as you see. But as for the ma'm'selle, she is well. Voila, there is no one like her in New France. I do not know all, as you can guess, but they say she can do what she will at the Chateau. It is a wonder to see her drive. A month ago, a droll thing come to pass. She is driving on the ice with ma'm'selle Lotbiniere and her brother Charles. M'sieu' Charles, he has the reins. Soon, ver' quick, the horses start with all their might. M'sieu' saw and pull, but they go the faster. Like that for a mile or so; then ma'm'selle remember there is a great crack in the ice a mile farther on, and beyond the ice is weak and rotten, for there the curren' is ver' strongest. She see that M'sieu' Charles, he can do nothing, so she reach and take the reins. The horses go on; it make no diff'rence at first. But she begin to talk to them so sof', and to pull ver' steady, and at last she get them shaping to the shore. She have the reins wound on her hands, and people on the shore, they watch. Little on little the horses pull up, and stop at last not a hunder' feet from the great crack and the rotten ice. Then she turn them round and drive them home.

"You should hear the people cheer as she drive up Mountain Street. The bishop stand at the window of his palace and smile at her as she pass, and m'sieu'"--he looked at the jailer and paused--"m'sieu' the gentleman we do not love, he stand in the street with his cap off for two minutes as she come, and after she go by, and say a grand compliment to her, so that her face go pale. He get froze ears for his pains--that was a cold day. Well, at night there was a grand dinner at the Intendance, and afterwards a ball in the splendid room which that man" (he meant Bigot: I shall use names when quoting him further, that he may be better understood) "built for the poor people of the land for to dance down their sorrows. So you can guess I would be there--happy. Ah yes, so happy! I go and stand in the great gallery above the hall of dance, with crowd of people, and look down at the grand folk.

"One man come to me and say, 'Ah, Voban, is it you here? Who would think it!'--like that. Another, he come and say, 'Voban, he can not keep away from the Intendance. Who does he come to look for? But no,

The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 3. - 1/13

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