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- The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 4. - 14/14 -

The bitter truth was slowly dawning upon the wife. She was repeating my words in a whisper, as if to grasp their full meaning.

"He said also," I continued, "'Tell Babette I weep with her.'"

She was very still and dazed; her fingers went to her white lips, and stayed there for a moment. I never saw such a numb misery in any face.

"And last of all, he said, 'Ah, mon grand homme de Calvaire--bon soir!'"

She turned round, and went and sat down beside the old man, looked into his face for a minute silently, and then said, "Grandfather, Jean is dead; our Jean is dead."

The old man peered at her for a moment, then broke into a strange laugh, which had in it the reflection of a distant misery, and said, "Our little Jean, our little Jean Labrouk! Ha! ha! There was Villon, Marmon, Gabriel, and Gouloir, and all their sons; and they all said the same at the last, 'Mon grand homme--de Calvaire--bon soir!' Then there was little Jean, the pretty little Jean. He could not row a boat, but he could ride a horse, and he had an eye like me. Ha, ha! I have seen them all say good-night. Good-morning, my children, I will say one day, and I will give them all the news, and I will tell them all I have done these hundred years. Ha, ha, ha--"

The wife put her fingers on his lips, and, turning to me, said with a peculiar sorrow, "Will they fetch him to me?"

I assured her that they would.

The old man fixed his eyes on me most strangely, and then, stretching out his finger and leaning forward, he said, with a voice of senile wildness, "Ah, ah, the coat of our little Jean!"

I stood there like any criminal caught in his shameful act. Though I had not forgotten that I wore the dead man's clothes, I could not think that they would be recognized, for they seemed like others of the French army--white, with violet facings. I can not tell to this day what it was that enabled them to detect the coat; but there I stood condemned before them.

The wife sprang to her feet, came to me with a set face, and stared stonily at the coat for an instant. Then, with a cry of alarm, she made for the door; but I stepped quickly before her, and bade her wait till she heard what I had to say. Like lightning it all went through my brain. I was ruined if she gave an alarm: all Quebec would be at my heels, and my purposes would be defeated. There was but one thing to do--tell her the whole truth, and trust her; for I had at least done fairly by her and by the dead man.

So I told them how Jean Labrouk had met his death; told them who I was, and why I was in Quebec--how Jean died in my arms; and, taking from my breast the cross that Mathilde had given me, I swore by it that every word which I said was true. The wife scarcely stirred while I spoke, but with wide dry eyes and hands clasping and unclasping heard me through. I told her how I might have left Jean to die without a sign or message to them, how I had put the cross to his lips as he went forth, and how by coming here at all I placed my safety in her hands, and now, by telling my story, my life itself.

It was a daring and a difficult task. When I had finished, both sat silent for a moment, and then the old man said, "Ay, ay, Jean's father and his uncle Marmon were killed a-horseback, and by the knife. Ay, ay, it is our way. Jean was good company--none better, mass over, on a Sunday. Come, we will light candles for Jean, and comb his hair back sweet, and masses shall be said, and--"

Again the woman interrupted, quieting him. Then she turned to me, and I awaited her words with a desperate sort of courage.

"I believe you," she said. "I remember you now. My sister was the wife of your keeper at the common jail. You shall be safe. Alas! my Jean might have died without a word to me all alone in the night. Merci mille fois, monsieur!" Then she rocked a little to and fro, and the old man looked at her like a curious child. At last, "I must go to him," she said. "My poor Jean must be brought home."

I told her I had already left word concerning the body at headquarters. She thanked me again. Overcome as she was, she went and brought me a peasant's hat and coat. Such trust and kindness touched me. Trembling, she took from me the coat and hat I had worn, and she put her hands before her eyes when she saw a little spot of blood upon the flap of a pocket. The old man reached out his hands, and, taking them, he held them on his knees, whispering to himself.

"You will be safe here," the wife said to me. "The loft above is small, but it will hide you, if you have no better place."

I was thankful that I had told her all the truth. I should be snug here, awaiting the affair in the cathedral on the morrow. There was Voban, but I knew not of him, or whether he was open to aid or shelter me. His own safety had been long in peril; he might be dead, for all I knew. I thanked the poor woman warmly, and then asked her if the old man might not betray me to strangers. She bade me leave all that to her--that I should be safe for a while, at least.

Soon afterwards I went abroad, and made my way by a devious route to Voban's house. As I did so, I could see the lights of our fleet in the Basin, and the camp-fires of our army on the Levis shore, on Isle Orleans, and even at Montmorenci, and the myriad lights in the French encampment at Beauport. How impossible it all looked--to unseat from this high rock the Empire of France! Ay, and how hard it would be to get out of this same city with Alixe!

Voban's house stood amid a mass of ruins, itself broken a little, but still sound enough to live in. There was no light. I clambered over debris, made my way to his bedroom window, and tapped on the shutter. There was no response. I tried to open it, but it would not stir. So I thrust beneath it, on the chance of his finding it if he opened the casement in the morning, a little piece of paper, with one word upon it--the name of his brother. He knew my handwriting, and he would guess where to-morrow would find me, for I had also hastily drawn upon the paper the entrance of the cathedral.

I went back to the little house by the cathedral, and was admitted by the stricken wife. The old man was abed. I climbed up to the small loft, and lay there wide-awake for hours. At last came the sounds that I had waited for, and presently I knew by the tramp beneath, and by low laments floating up, that a wife was mourning over the dead body of her husband. I lay long and listened to the varying sounds, but at last all became still, and I fell asleep.

The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 4. - 14/14

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