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- The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 5. - 1/13 -



By Gilbert Parker

Volume 5.

XXV In the cathedral XXVI The secret of the tapestry XXVII A side-wind of revenge XXVIII "To cheat the Devil yet" XXIX "Master Devil" Doltaire XXX "Where all the lovers can hide" Appendix--Excerpt from 'The Scot in New France'



I awoke with the dawn, and, dressing, looked out of the window, seeing the brindled light spread over the battered roofs and ruins of the Lower Town. A bell was calling to prayers in the Jesuit College not far away, and bugle-calls told of the stirring garrison. Soldiers and stragglers passed down the street near by, and a few starved peasants crept about the cathedral with downcast eyes, eager for crumbs that a well-fed soldier might cast aside. Yet I knew that in the Intendant's Palace and among the officers of the army there was abundance, with revelry and dissipation.

Presently I drew to the trap-door of my loft, and, raising it gently, came down the ladder to the little hallway, and softly opened the door of the room where Labrouk's body lay. Candles were burning at his head and his feet, and two peasants sat dozing in chairs near by. I could see Labrouk's face plainly in the flickering light: a rough, wholesome face it was, refined by death, yet unshaven and unkempt, too. Here was work for Voban's shears and razor. Presently there was a footstep behind me, and, turning, I saw in the half-light the widowed wife.

"Madame," said I in a whisper, "I too weep with you. I pray for as true an end for myself."

"He was of the true faith, thank the good God," she said sincerely. She passed into the room, and the two watchers, after taking refreshment, left the house. Suddenly she hastened to the door, called one back, and, pointing to the body, whispered something. The peasant nodded and turned away. She came back into the room, stood looking at the face of the dead man for a moment, and bent over and kissed the crucifix clasped in the cold hands. Then she stepped about the room, moving a chair and sweeping up a speck of dust in a mechanical way. Presently, as if she again remembered me, she asked me to enter the room. Then she bolted the outer door of the house. I stood looking at the body of her husband, and said, "Were it not well to have Voban the barber?"

"I have sent for him and for Gabord," she replied. "Gabord was Jean's good friend. He is with General Montcalm. The Governor put him in prison because of the marriage of Mademoiselle Duvarney, but Monsieur Doltaire set him free, and now he serves General Montcalm.

"I have work in the cathedral," continued the poor woman, "and I shall go to it this morning as I have always gone. There is a little unused closet in a gallery where you may hide, and still see all that happens. It is your last look at the lady, and I will give it to you, as you gave me to know of my Jean."

"My last look?" I asked eagerly.

"She goes into the nunnery to-morrow, they say," was the reply. "Her marriage is to be set aside by the bishop to-day--in the cathedral. This is her last night to live as such as I--but no, she will be happier so."

"Madame," said I, "I am a heretic, but I listened when your husband said, 'Mon grand homme de Calvaire, bon soir!' Was the cross less a cross because a heretic put it to his lips? Is a marriage less a marriage because a heretic is the husband? Madame, you loved your Jean; if he were living now, what would you do to keep him. Think, madame, is not love more than all?"

She turned to the dead body. "Mon petit Jean!" she murmured, but made no reply to me, and for many minutes the room was silent. At last she turned, and said, "You must come at once, for soon the priests will be at the church. A little later I will bring you some breakfast, and you must not stir from there till I come to fetch you--no."

"I wish to see Voban," said I.

She thought a moment. "I will try to fetch him to you by-and-bye," she said. She did not speak further, but finished the sentence by pointing to the body.

Presently, hearing footsteps, she drew me into another little room. "It is the grandfather," she said. "He has forgotten you already, and he must not see you again."

We saw the old man hobble into the room we had left, carrying in one arm Jean's coat and hat. He stood still, and nodded at the body and mumbled to himself; then he went over and touched the hands and forehead, nodding wisely; after which he came to his armchair, and, sitting down, spread the coat over his knees, put the cap on it, and gossiped with himself:

"In eild our idle fancies all return, The mind's eye cradled by the open grave."

A moment later, the woman passed from the rear of the house to the vestry door of the cathedral. After a minute, seeing no one near, I followed, came to the front door, entered, and passed up a side aisle towards the choir. There was no one to be seen, but soon the woman came out of the vestry and beckoned to me nervously. I followed her quick movements, and was soon in a narrow stairway, coming, after fifty steps or so, to a sort of cloister, from which we went into a little cubiculum, or cell, with a wooden lattice door which opened on a small gallery. Through the lattices the nave amid choir could be viewed distinctly.

Without a word the woman turned and left me, and I sat down on a little stone bench and waited. I saw the acolytes come and go, and priests move back and forth before the altar; I smelt the grateful incense as it rose when mass was said; I watched the people gather in little clusters at the different shrines, or seek the confessional, or kneel to receive the blessed sacrament. Many who came were familiar--among them Mademoiselle Lucie Lotbiniere. Lucie prayed long before a shrine of the Virgin, and when she rose at last her face bore signs of weeping. Also I noticed her suddenly start as she moved down the aisle, for a figure came forward from seclusion and touched her arm. As he half turned I saw that it was Juste Duvarney. The girl drew back from him, raising her hand as if in protest, and it struck me that her grief and her repulse of him had to do with putting Alixe away into a nunnery.

I sat hungry and thirsty for quite three hours, and then the church became empty, and only an old verger kept a seat by the door, half asleep, though the artillery of both armies was at work, and the air was laden with the smell of powder. (Until this time our batteries had avoided firing on the churches.) At last I heard footsteps near me in the dark stairway, and I felt for my pistols, for the feet were not those of Labrouk's wife. I waited anxiously, and was overjoyed to see Voban enter my hiding-place, bearing some food. I greeted him warmly, but he made little demonstration. He was like one who, occupied with some great matter, passed through the usual affairs of life with a distant eye. Immediately he handed me a letter, saying:

"M'sieu', I give my word to hand you this--in a day or a year, as I am able. I get your message to me this morning, and then I come to care for Jean Labrouk, and so I find you here, and I give the letter. It come to me last night."

The letter was from Alixe. I opened it with haste, and, in the dim light, read:

MY BELOVED HUSBAND: Oh, was there no power in earth or heaven to bring me to your arms to-day?

To-morow they come to see my marriage annulled by the Church. And every one will say it is annulled--every one but me. I, in God's name, will say no, though it break my heart to oppose myself to them all.

Why did my brother come back? He has been hard--O, Robert, he has been hard upon me, and yet I was ever kind to him! My father, too, he listens to the Church, and, though he likes not Monsieur Doltaire, he works for him in a hundred ways without seeing it. I, alas! see it too well, and my brother is as wax in monsieur's hands. Juste loves Lucie Lotbiniere--that should make him kind. She, sweet friend, does not desert me, but is kept from me. She says she will not yield to Juste's suit until he yields to me. If--oh, if Madame Jamond had not gone to Montreal!

...As I was writing the foregoing sentence, my father asked to see me, and we have had a talk--ah, a most bitter talk!

"Alixe," said he, "this is our last evening together, and I would have it peaceful."

"My father," said I, "it is not my will that this evening be our last; and for peace, I long for it with all my heart."

He frowned, and answered, "You have brought me trouble and sorrow. Mother of God! was it not possible for you to be as your sister Georgette? I gave her less love, yet she honours me more."

"She honours you, my father, by a sweet, good life, and by marriage

The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 5. - 1/13

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