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- The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 4. - 10/14 -
He nodded, but his thoughts were diverted instantly, and he went from me at once abstracted. But again he came back. "If you return," said he, "you shall serve upon my staff. You will care to view our operations," he added, motioning towards the intrenchments at the river. Then he stepped quickly away, and I was taken by an officer to the river, and though my heart warmed within me to hear that an attack was presently to be made from the shore not far distant from the falls, I felt that the attempt could not succeed: the French were too well intrenched.
At the close of an hour I returned to the General's tent. It was luncheon-time, and they were about to sit as I was announced. The General motioned me to a seat, and then again, as if on second thought, made as though to introduce me to some one who stood beside him. My amazement was unbounded when I saw, smiling cynically at me, Monsieur Doltaire.
He was the envoy from Quebec. I looked him in the eyes steadily for a moment, into malicious, unswerving eyes, as maliciously and unswervingly myself, and then we both bowed.
"Captain Moray and I have sat at meat together before," he said, with mannered coolness. "We have played host and guest also: but that was ere he won our hearts by bold, romantic feats. Still, I dared scarcely hope to meet him at this table."
"Which is sacred to good manners," said I meaningly and coolly, for my anger and surprise were too deep for excitement.
I saw the General look at both of us keenly, then his marvellous eyes flashed intelligence, and a grim smile played at his lips a moment. After a little general conversation Doltaire addressed me:
"We are not yet so overwhelmed with war but your being here again will give a fillip to our gossip. It must seem sad to you--you were so long with us--you have broken bread with so many of us--to see us pelted so. Sometimes a dinner-table is disordered by a riotous shell."
He bent on torturing me. And it was not hard to do that, for how knew I what had happened? How came he back so soon from the Bastile? It was incredible. Perhaps he had never gone, in spite of all. After luncheon, the matter of exchange of prisoners was gone into, and one by one the names of the French prisoners in our hands--ladies and gentlemen apprehended at the chateau were ticked off, and I knew them all save two. The General deferred to me several times as to the persons and positions of the captives, and asked my suggestions. Immediately I proposed Mr. Wainfleet, the chaplain, in exchange for a prisoner, though his name was not on the list, but Doltaire shook his head in a blank sort of way.
"Mr. Wainfleet! Mr. Wainfleet! There was no such prisoner in the town," he said.
I insisted, but he stared at me inscrutably, and said that he had no record of the man. Then I spoke most forcibly to the General, and said that Mr. Wainfleet should be produced, or an account of him be given by the French Governor. Doltaire then said:
"I am only responsible for these names recorded. Our General trusts to your honour, and you to ours, Monsieur le General."
There was nothing more to say, and presently the exchanges were arranged, and, after compliments, Doltaire took his leave. I left the Governor also, and followed Doltaire. He turned to meet me.
"Captain Moray and I," he remarked to the officers near, "are old--enemies; and there is a sad sweetness in meetings like these. May I--"
The officers drew away at a little distance at once before the suggestion was made, and we were left alone. I was in a white heat, but yet in fair control.
"You are surprised to see me here," he said. "Did you think the Bastile was for me? Tut! I had not got out of the country when we a packet came, bearing fresh commands. La Pompadour forgave me, and in the King's name bade me return to New France, and in her own she bade me get your papers, or hang you straight. And--you will think it singular--if need be, I was to relieve the Governor and Bigot also, and work to save New France with the excellent Marquis de Montcalm." He laughed. "You can see how absurd that is. I have held my peace, and I keep my commission in my pocket."
I looked at him amazed that he should tell me this. He read my look, and said:
"Yes, you are my confidant in this. I do not fear you. Your enemy is bound in honour, your friend may seek to serve himself." Again he laughed. "As if I, Tinoir Doltaire--note the agreeable combination of peasant and gentleman in my name--who held his hand from ambition for large things in France, should stake a lifetime on this foolish hazard! When I play, Captain Moray, it is for things large and vital. Else I remain the idler, the courtier--the son of the King."
"Yet you lend your vast talent, the genius of those unknown possibilities, to this, monsieur--this little business of exchange of prisoners," I retorted ironically.
"That is my whim--a social courtesy."
"You said you knew nothing of the chaplain," I broke out.
"Not so. I said he was on no record given me. Officially I know nothing of him."
"Come," said I, "you know well how I am concerned for him. You quibble; you lied to our General."
A wicked light shone in his eyes. "I choose to pass that by, for the moment," said he. "I am sorry you forget yourself; it were better for you and me to be courteous till our hour of reckoning, Shall we not meet some day?" he said, with a sweet hatred in his tone.
"With all my heart."
"In yonder town," said I, pointing.
He laughed provokingly. "You are melodramatic," he rejoined. "I could hold that town with one thousand men against all your army and five times your fleet."
"You have ever talked and nothing done," said I. "Will you tell me the truth of the chaplain?"
"Yes, in private the truth you shall hear," he said. "The man is dead."
"If you speak true, he was murdered," I broke out. "You know well why."
"No, no," he answered. "He was put in prison, escaped, made for the river, was pursued, fought, and was killed. So much for serving you."
"Will you answer me one question?" said I. "Is my wife well? Is she safe? She is there set among villainies."
"Your wife?" he answered, sneering. "If you mean Mademoiselle Duvarney, she is not there." Then he added solemnly and slowly: "She is in no fear of your batteries now--she is beyond them. When she was there, she was not child enough to think that foolish game with the vanished chaplain was a marriage. Did you think to gull a lady so beyond the minute's wildness? She is not there," he added again in a low voice.
"She is dead?" I gasped. "My wife is dead?"
"Enough of that," he answered with cold fierceness. "The lady saw the folly of it all, before she had done with the world. You--you, monsieur! It was but the pity of her gentle heart, of a romantic nature. You--you blundering alien, spy, and seducer!"
With a gasp of anger I struck him in the face, and whipped out my sword. But the officers near came instantly between us, and I could see that they thought me gross, ill-mannered, and wild, to do this thing before the General's tent, and to an envoy.
Doltaire stood still a moment. Then presently wiped a little blood from his mouth, and said:
"Messieurs, Captain Moray's anger was justified; and for the blow he will justify that in some happier time--for me. He said that I had lied, and I proved him wrong. I called him a spy and a seducer--he sought to shame, he covered with sorrow, one of the noblest families of New France--and he has yet to prove me wrong. As envoy I may not fight him now, but I may tell you that I have every cue to send him to hell one day. He will do me the credit to say that it is not cowardice that stays me."
"If no coward in the way of fighting, coward in all other things," I retorted instantly.
"Well, well, as you may think." He turned to go. "We will meet there, then?" he said, pointing to the town. "And when?"
"To-morrow," said I.
He shrugged his shoulder as to a boyish petulance, for he thought it an idle boast. "To-morrow? Then come and pray with me in the cathedral, and after that we will cast up accounts--to-morrow," he said, with a poignant and exultant malice. A moment afterwards he was gone, and I was left alone.
Presently I saw a boat shoot out from the shore below, and he was in it. Seeing me, he waved a hand in an ironical way. I paced up and down, sick and distracted, for half an hour or more. I knew not whether he lied concerning Alixe, but my heart was wrung with misery, for indeed he spoke with an air of truth.
Dead! dead! dead! "In no fear of your batteries now," he had said. "Done with the world!" he had said. What else could it mean? Yet the more I thought, there came a feeling that somehow I had been tricked. "Done with the world!" Ay, a nunnery--was that it? But then, "In no fear of your batteries now"--that, what did that
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