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- The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 4. - 2/14 -

I asked.

"No other," answered he. "In three days to go."

I understood him now. He had had a struggle, knowing of the relations between Alixe and myself, to avoid telling the Governor all. And now, if I involved her, used her to effect my escape from her father's house! Even his peasant brain saw my difficulty, the danger to my honour--and hers. In spite of the joy I felt at being near her, seeing her, I shrank from the situation. If I escaped from the Seigneur Duvarney's, it would throw suspicion upon him, upon Alixe, and that made me stand abashed. Inside the Seigneur Duvarney's house I should now feel unhappy, bound to certain calls of honour concerning his daughter and himself. I stood long, thinking, Gabord watching me.

Finally, "Gabord," said I, "I give you my word of honour that I will not put Mademoiselle or Monsieur Duvarney in peril."

"You will not try to escape?"

"Not to use them for escape. To elude my guards, to fight my way to liberty--yes--yes--yes!"

"But that mends not. Who's to know the lady did not help you?"

"You. You are to be my jailer again there?"

He nodded, and fell to pulling his mustache. "'Tis not enough," he said decisively.

"Come, then," said I, "I will strike a bargain with you. If you will grant me one thing, I will give my word of honour not to escape from the seigneur's house."

"Say on."

"You tell me I am not to go to the seigneur's for three days yet. Arrange that mademoiselle may come to me to-morrow at dusk--at six o'clock, when all the world dines--and I will give my word. No more do I ask you--only that."

"Done," said he. "It shall be so."

"You will fetch her yourself?" I asked.

"On the stroke of six. Guard changes then."

Here our talk ended. He went, and I plunged deep into my great plan; for all at once, as we had talked, came a thing to me which I shall make clear ere long. I set my wits to work. Once since my coming to the chateau I had been visited by the English chaplain who had been a prisoner at the citadel the year before. He was now on parole, and had freedom to come and go in the town. The Governor had said he might visit me on a certain day every week, at a fixed hour, and the next day at five o'clock was the time appointed for his second visit. Gabord had promised to bring Alixe to me at six.

The following morning I met Mr. Stevens on the ramparts. I told him it was my purpose to escape the next night, if possible. If not, I must go to the Seigneur Duvarney's, where I should be on parole--to Gabord. I bade him fulfill my wishes to the letter, for on his boldness and my own, and the courage of his men, I depended for escape. He declared himself ready to risk all, and die in the attempt, if need be, for he was sick of idleness. He could, he said, mature his plans that day, if he had more money. I gave him secretly a small bag of gold, and then I made explicit note of what I required of him: that he should tie up in a loose but safe bundle a sheet, a woman's skirt, some river grasses and reeds, some phosphorus, a pistol and a knife, and some saltpetre and other chemicals. That evening, about nine o'clock, which was the hour the guard changed, he was to tie this bundle to a string which I let down from my window, and I would draw it up. Then, the night following, the others must steal away to that place near Sillery--the west side of the town was always ill guarded--and wait there with a boat. He should see me at a certain point on the ramparts, and, well armed, we also would make our way to Sillery, and from the spot called the Anse du Foulon drift down the river in the dead of night.

He promised to do all as I wished.

The rest of the day I spent in my room fashioning strange toys out of willow rods. I had got these rods from my guards, to make whistles for their children, and they had carried away many of them. But now, with pieces of a silk handkerchief tied to the whistle and filled with air, I made a toy which, when squeezed, sent out a weird lament. Once when my guard came in, I pressed one of these things in my pocket, and it gave forth a sort of smothered cry, like a sick child. At this he started, and looked round the room in trepidation; for, of all peoples, these Canadian Frenchmen are the most superstitious, and may be worked on without limit. The cry had seemed to come from a distance. I looked around, also, and appeared serious, and he asked me if I had heard the thing before.

"Once or twice," said I.

"Then you are a dead man," said he; "'tis a warning, that!"

"Maybe it is not I, but one of you," I answered. Then, with a sort of hush, "Is't like the cry of La Jongleuse?" I added. (La Jongleuse is their fabled witch, or spirit, of disaster.)

He nodded his head, crossed himself, mumbled a prayer, and turned to go, but came back. "I'll fetch a crucifix," he said. "You are a heathen, and you bring her here. She is the devil's dam."

He left with a scared face, and I laughed to myself quietly, for I saw success ahead of me. True to his word, he brought a crucifix and put it up--not where he wished, but, at my request, opposite the door, upon the wall. He crossed himself before it, and was most devout.

It looked singular to see this big, rough soldier, who was in most things a swaggerer, so childlike in all that touched his religion. With this you could fetch him to his knees; with it I would cow him that I might myself escape.

At half past five the chaplain came, having been delayed by the guard to have his order indorsed by Captain Lancy of the Governor's household. To him I told my plans so far as I thought he should know them, and then I explained what I wished him to do. He was grave and thoughtful for some minutes, but at last consented. He was a pious man, and of as honest a heart as I have known, albeit narrow and confined, which sprang perhaps from his provincial practice and his theological cutting and trimming. We were in the midst of a serious talk, wherein I urged him upon matters which shall presently be set forth, when there came a noise outside. I begged him to retire to the alcove where my bed was, and draw the curtain for a few moments, nor come forth until I called. He did so, yet I thought it hurt his sense of dignity to be shifted to a bedroom.

As he disappeared the door opened, and Gabord and Alixe entered. "One half hour," said Gabord, and went out again.

Presently Alixe told me her story.

"I have not been idle, Robert, but I could not act, for my father and mother suspect my love for you. I have come but little to the chateau without them, and I was closely watched. I knew not how the thing would end, but I kept up my workings with the Governor, which is easier now Monsieur Doltaire is gone, and I got you the freedom to walk upon the ramparts. Well, once before my father suspected me, I said that if his Excellency disliked your being in the Chateau, you could be as well guarded in my father's house, with sentinels always there, until you could, in better health, be taken to the common jail again. What was my surprise when yesterday came word to my father that he should make ready to receive you as a prisoner; being sure that he, his Excellency's cousin, the father of the man you had injured, and the most loyal of Frenchmen, would guard you diligently; he now needed all extra room in the Chateau for the entertainment of gentlemen and officers lately come from France.

"When my father got the news, he was thrown into dismay. He knew not what to do. On what ground could he refuse the Governor? Yet when he thought of me he felt it his duty to do so. Again, on what ground could he refuse this boon to you, to whom we all owe the blessing of his life? On my brother's account? But my brother has written to my father justifying you, and magnanimously praising you as a man, while hating you as an English soldier. On my account? But he could not give this reason to the Governor. As for me, I was silent, I waited--and I wait; I know not what will be the end. Meanwhile preparations go on to receive you."

I could see that Alixe's mood was more tranquil since Doltaire was gone. A certain restlessness had vanished. Her manner had much dignity, and every movement a peculiar grace and elegance. She was dressed in a soft cloth of a gray tone, touched off with red and slashed with gold, and a cloak of gray, trimmed with fur, with bright silver buckles, hung loosely on her, thrown off at one shoulder. There was a sweet disorder in the hair, which indeed was prettiest when freest.

When she had finished speaking, she looked at me, as I thought, with a little anxiety.

"Alixe," I said, "we have come to the cross-roads, and the way we choose now is for all time."

She looked up, startled, yet governing herself, and her hand sought mine and nestled there. "I feel that, too," she replied. "What is it, Robert?"

"I can not in honour escape from your father's house. I can not steal his daughter and his safety too--"

"You must escape," she interrupted firmly.

"From here, from the citadel, from anywhere but your house; and so I will not go to it."

"You will not go to it?" she repeated slowly and strangely. "How may you not? You are a prisoner. If they make my father your jailer--" She laughed.

"I owe that jailer and that jailer's daughter--"

"You owe them your safety and your freedom. Oh, Robert, I know,

The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 4. - 2/14

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