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- The Trail of the Sword, Volume 1. - 2/9 -
I did not hesitate any longer. The Chief Factor went to Mr. Archibald Clavering Gunter and the Home Publishing Company, and they made a very large sale of it. I never cared for the book however; it seemed stilted and amateurish, though some of its descriptions and some of its dialogues were, I think, as good as I can do; so, eventually, in the middle nineties, I asked Mr. Gunter to sell me back the rights in the book and give me control of it. This he did. I thereupon withdrew it from publication at once, and am not including it in this subscription edition. I think it better dead. But the writing of it taught me better how to write The Trail of the Sword; though, if I had to do this book again, I could construct it better.
I think it fresh and very vigorous, and I think it does not lack distinction, while a real air of romance--of refined romance--pervades it. But I know that Mr. W. E. Henley was right when, after most generously helping me to revise it, with a true literary touch wonderfully intimate and affectionate, he said to me: "It is just not quite big, but the next one will get home."
He was right. The Trail of the Sword is "just not quite," though I think it has charm; but it remained for The Seats of the Mighty to get home, as "W. E. H.", the most exacting, yet the most generous, of critics, said.
This book played a most important part in a development of my literary work, and the warm reception by the public--for in England it has been through its tenth edition, and in America through proportionate thousands--was partly made possible by the very beautiful illustrations which accompanied its publication in The Illustrated London News. The artist was A. L. Forestier, and never before or since has my work received such distinguished pictorial exposition, save, perhaps, in The Weavers, when Andre Castaigne did such triumphant work. It is a joy still to look at the illustrations of The Trail of the Sword, for, absolutely faithful to the time, they add a note of verisimilitude to the tale.
The actors in this little drama played their parts on the big stage of a new continent two hundred years ago. Despots sat upon the thrones of France and England, and their representatives on the Hudson and the St. Lawrence were despots too, with greater opportunity and to better ends. In Canada, Frontenac quarreled with his Intendant and his Council, set a stern hand upon the Church when she crossed with his purposes, cajoled, treated with, and fought the Indians by turn, and cherished a running quarrel with the English Governor of New York. They were striving for the friendship of the Iroquois on the one hand, and for the trade of the Great West on the other. The French, under such men as La Salle, had pushed their trading posts westward to the great lakes and beyond the Missouri, and north to the shores of Hudson's Bay. They traded and fought and revelled, hot with the spirit of adventure, the best of pioneers and the worst of colonists. Tardily, upon their trail, came the English and the Dutch, slow to acquire but strong to hold; not so rash in adventure, nor so adroit in intrigue, as fond of fighting, but with less of the gift of the woods, and much more the faculty for government. There was little interchange of friendliness and trade between the rival colonists; and Frenchmen were as rare on Manhattan Island as Englishmen on the heights of Quebec--except as prisoners.
THE TRAIL OF THE SWORD
EPOCH THE FIRST I. AN ENVOY EXTRAORDINARY II. THE THREAT OF A RENEGADE III. THE FACE AT THE WINDOW IV. THE UPLIFTING OF THE SWORDS V. THE FRUITS OF THE LAW VI. THE KIDNAPPING
AN ENVOY EXTRAORDINARY
One summer afternoon a tall, good-looking stripling stopped in the midst of the town of New York, and asked his way to the governor's house. He attracted not a little attention, and he created as much astonishment when he came into the presence of the governor. He had been announced as an envoy from Quebec. "Some new insolence of the County Frontenac!" cried old Richard Nicholls, bringing his fist down on the table. For a few minutes he talked with his chamberfellow; then, "Show the gentleman in," he added. In the room without, the envoy from Quebec had stood flicking the dust from his leggings with a scarf. He was not more than eighteen, his face had scarcely an inkling of moustache, but he had an easy upright carriage, with an air of self-possession, the keenest of grey eyes, a strong pair of shoulders, a look of daring about his rather large mouth, which lent him a manliness well warranting his present service. He had been left alone, and the first thing he had done was to turn on his heel and examine the place swiftly. This he seemed to do mechanically, not as one forecasting danger, not as a spy. In the curve of his lips, in an occasional droop of his eyelids, there was a suggestion of humour: less often a quality of the young than of the old. For even in the late seventeenth century, youth took itself seriously at times.
Presently, as he stood looking at the sunshine through the open door, a young girl came into the lane of light, waved her hand, with a little laugh, to some one in the distance, and stepped inside. At first she did not see him. Her glances were still cast back the way she had come. The young man could not follow her glance, nor was he anything curious. Young as he was, he could enjoy a fine picture. There was a pretty demureness in the girl's manner, a warm piquancy in the turn of the neck, and a delicacy in her gestures, which to him, fresh from hard hours in the woods, was part of some delightful Arcady--though Arcady was more in his veins than of his knowledge. For the young seigneur of New France spent far more hours with his gun than with his Latin, and knew his bush- ranging vassal better than his tutor; and this one was too complete a type of his order to reverse its record. He did not look to his scanty lace, or set himself seemingly; he did but stop flicking the scarf held loose in his fingers, his foot still on the bench. A smile played at his lips, and his eyes had a gleam of raillery. He heard the girl say in a soft, quaint voice, just as she turned towards him, "Foolish boy!" By this he knew that the pretty picture had for its inspiration one of his own sex.
She faced him, and gave a little cry of surprise. Then their eyes met. Immediately he made the most elaborate bow of all his life, and she swept a graceful courtesy. Her face was slightly flushed that this stranger should have seen, but he carried such an open, cordial look that she paused, instead of hurrying into the governor's room, as she had seemed inclined to do.
In the act the string of her hat, slung over her arm, came loose, and the hat fell to the floor. Instantly he picked it up and returned it. Neither had spoken a word. It seemed another act of the light pantomime at the door. As if they had both thought on the instant how droll it was, they laughed, and she said to him naively: "You have come to visit the governor? You are a Frenchman, are you not?"
To this in slow and careful English, "Yes," he replied; "I have come from Canada to see his excellency. Will you speak French?"
"If you please, no," she answered, smiling; "your English is better than my French. But I must go." And she turned towards the door of the governor's room.
"Do not go yet," he said. "Tell me, are you the governor's daughter?"
She paused, her hand at the door. "Oh no," she answered; then, in a sprightly way--"are you a governor's son?"
"I wish I were," he said, "for then there'd be a new intendant, and we'd put Nick Perrot in the council."
"What is an intendant?" she asked, "and who is Nick Perrot?"
"Bien! an intendant is a man whom King Louis appoints to worry the governor and the gentlemen of Canada, and to interrupt the trade. Nicolas Perrot is a fine fellow, and a great coureur du bois, and helps to get the governor out of troubles to-day, the intendant to-morrow. He is a splendid fighter. Perrot is my friend."
He said this, not with an air of boasting, but with a youthful and enthusiastic pride, which was relieved, by the twinkle in his eyes and his frank manner.
"Who brought you here?" she asked demurely. "Are they inside with the governor?"
He saw the raillery; though, indeed, it was natural to suppose that he had no business with the governor, but had merely come with some one. The question was not flattering. His hand went up to his chin a little awkwardly. She noted how large yet how well-shaped it was, or, rather, she remembered afterwards. Then it dropped upon the hilt of the rapier he wore, and he answered with good self-possession, though a little hot spot showed on his cheek: "The governor must have other guests who are no men of mine; for he keeps an envoy from Count Frontenac long in his anteroom."
The girl became very youthful indeed, and a merry light danced in her eyes and warmed her cheek. She came a step nearer. "It is not so? You do not come from Count Frontenac--all alone, do you?"
"I'll tell you after I have told the governor," he answered, pleased and amused.
"Oh, I shall hear when the governor hears," she answered, with a soft quaintness, and then vanished into the governor's chamber. She had scarce entered when the door opened again, and the servant, a Scotsman, came out to say that his excellency would receive him. He went briskly forward, but presently paused. A sudden sense of shyness possessed him. It was not the first time he had been ushered into vice-regal presence, but his was an odd position. He was in a strange land, charged with an embassy which accident had thrust upon him. Then, too, the presence of the girl had withdrawn him for an instant from the imminence of his duty. His youth came out of him, and in the pause one could fairly see him turn into man.
He had not the dark complexion of so many of his race, but was rather Saxon in face, with rich curling brown hair. Even in that brave time one
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