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- The Trail of the Sword, Volume 1. - 3/9 -
might safely have bespoken for him a large career. And even while the Scotsman in the doorway eyed him with distant deprecation, as he eyed all Frenchmen, good and bad, ugly or handsome, he put off his hesitation and entered the governor's chamber. Colonel Nicholls came forward to greet him, and then suddenly stopped, astonished. Then he wheeled upon the girl. "Jessica, you madcap!" he said in a low voice.
She was leaning against a tall chair, both hands grasping the back of it, her chin just level with the top. She had told the governor that Count Frontenac had sent him a lame old man, and that, enemy or none, he ought not to be kept waiting, with arm in sling and bandaged head. Seated at the table near her was a grave member of the governor's council, William Drayton by name. He lifted a reproving finger at her now, but with a smile on his kindly face, and "Fie, fie, young lady!" he said, in a whisper.
Presently the governor mastered his surprise, and seeing that the young man was of birth and quality, extended his hand cordially enough, and said: "I am glad to greet you, sir;" and motioned him to a seat. "But, pray, sit down," he added, "and let us hear the message Count Frontenac has sent. Meanwhile we would be favoured with your name and rank."
The young man thrust a hand into his doublet and drew forth a packet of papers. As he handed it over, he said in English--for till then the governor had spoken French, having once served with the army of France, and lived at the French Court: "Your excellency, my name is Pierre le Moyne of Iberville, son of Charles le Moyne, a seigneur of Canada, of whom you may have heard." (The governor nodded.) "I was not sent by Count Frontenac to you. My father was his envoy: to debate with you our trade in the far West and our dealings with the Iroquois."
"Exactly," said old William Drayton, tapping the table with his forefinger; "and a very sound move, upon my soul."
"Ay, ay," said the governor, "I know of your father well enough. A good fighter and an honest gentleman, as they say. But proceed, Monsieur le Moyne of Iberville."
"I am called Iberville," said the young man simply. Then: "My father and myself started from Quebec with good Nick Perrot, the coureur du bois--"
"I know him too," the governor interjected--"a scoundrel worth his weight in gold to your Count Frontenac."
"For whose head Count Frontenac has offered gold in his time," answered Iberville, with a smile.
"A very pretty wit," said old William Drayton, nodding softly towards the girl, who was casting bright, quizzical glances at the youth over the back of the chair.
Iberville went on: "Six days ago we were set upon by a score of your Indians, and might easily have left our scalps with them; but, as it chanced, my father was wounded, I came off scot-free, and we had the joy of ridding your excellency of half a dozen rogues."
The governor lifted his eyebrows and said nothing. The face of the girl over against the back of the chair had become grave.
"It was in question whether Perrot or I should bear Count Frontenac's message. Perrot knew the way, I did not; Perrot also knew the Indians."
"But Perrot," said the governor blufily, "would have been the letter- carrier; you are a kind of ambassador. Upon my soul, yes, a sort of ambassador!" he added, enjoying the idea; for, look at it how you would, Iberville was but a boy.
"That was my father's thought and my own," answered Iberville coolly. "There was my father to care for till his wound was healed and he could travel back to Quebec, so we thought it better Perrot should stay with him. A Le Moyne was to present himself, and a Le Moyne has done so."
The governor was impressed more deeply than he showed. It was a time of peace, but the young man's journey among Indian braves and English outlaws, to whom a French scalp was a thing of price, was hard and hazardous. His reply was cordial, then his fingers came to the seal of the packet; but the girl's hand touched his arm.
"I know his name," she said in the governor's ear, "but he does not know mine."
The governor patted her hand, and then rejoined: "Now, now, I forgot the lady; but I cannot always remember that you are full fifteen years old."
Standing up, with all due gravity and courtesy, "Monsieur Iberville," he said, "let me present you to Mistress Jessica Leveret, the daughter of my good and honoured and absent friend, the Honourable Hogarth Leveret."
So the governor and his councillor stood shoulder to shoulder at one window, debating Count Frontenac's message; and shoulder to shoulder at another stood Iberville and Jessica Leveret. And what was between these at that moment--though none could have guessed it--signified as much to the colonies of France and England, at strife in the New World, as the deliberations of their elders.
THE THREAT OF A RENEGADE
Iberville was used to the society of women. Even as a young lad, his father's notable place in the colony, and the freedom and gaiety of life in Quebec and Montreal, had drawn upon him a notice which was as much a promise of the future as an accent of the present. And yet, through all of it, he was ever better inspired by the grasp of a common soldier, who had served with Carignan-Salieres, or by the greeting and gossip of such woodsmen as Du Lhut, Mantet, La Durantaye, and, most of all, his staunch friend Perrot, chief of the coureurs du bois. Truth is, in his veins was the strain of war and adventure first and before all. Under his tutor, the good Pere Dollier de Casson, he had never endured his classics, save for the sake of Hector and Achilles and their kind; and his knowledge of English, which his father had pressed him to learn,--for he himself had felt the lack of it in dealings with Dutch and English traders,--only grew in proportion as he was given Shakespeare and Raleigh to explore.
Soon the girl laughed up at him. "I have been a great traveller," she said, "and I have ears. I have been as far west as Albany and south to Virginia, with my father, who, perhaps you do not know, is in England now. And they told me everywhere that Frenchmen are bold, dark men, with great black eyes and very fine laces and wigs, and a trick of bowing and making foolish compliments; and they are not to be trusted, and they will not fight except in the woods, where there are trees to climb. But I see that it is not all true, for you are not dark, your eyes are not big or black, your laces are not much to see, you do not make compliments--"
"I shall begin now," he interrupted.
"--you must be trusted a little, or Count Frontenac would not send you, and--and--tell me, would you fight if you had a chance?"
No one of her sex had ever talked so to Iberville. Her demure raillery, her fresh, frank impertinence, through which there ran a pretty air of breeding, her innocent disregard of formality, all joined to impress him, to interest him. He was not so much surprised at the elegance and cleverness of her speech, for in Quebec girls of her age were skilled in languages and arts, thanks to the great bishop, Laval, and to Marie of the Incarnation. In response to her a smile flickered upon his lips. He had a quick fierce temper, but it had never been severely tried; and so well used was he to looking cheerfully upon things, so keen had been his zest in living, that, where himself was concerned, his vanity was not easily touched. So, looking with genial dryness, "You will hardly believe it, of course," he said, "but wings I have not yet grown, and the walking is bad 'twixt here and the Chateau St. Louis."
"Iroquois traps," she suggested, with a smile. "With a trick or two of English footpads," was his reply.
Meanwhile his eye had loitered between the two men in council at the farther window and the garden, into which he and the girl were looking. Presently he gave a little start and a low whistle, and his eyelids slightly drooped, giving him a handsome sulkiness. "Is it so?" he said between his teeth: "Radisson--Radisson, as I live!"
He had seen a man cross a corner of the yard. This man was short, dark- bearded, with black, lanky hair, brass earrings, and buckskin leggings, all the typical equipment of the French coureur du bois. Iberville had only got one glance at his face, but the sinister profile could never be forgotten. At once the man passed out of view. The girl had not seen him, she had been watching her companion. Presently she said, her fingers just brushing his sleeve, for he stood eyeing the point where the man had disappeared: "Wonderful! You look now as if you would fight. Oh, fierce, fierce as the governor when he catches a French spy!"
He turned to her and, with a touch of irony, "Pardon!" he retorted. "Now I shall look as blithe as the governor when a traitor deserts to him."
Of purpose he spoke loud enough to be heard by the governor and his friend. The governor turned sharply on him. He had caught the ring in the voice, that rash enthusiasm of eager youth, and, taking a step towards Iberville, Count Frontenac's letter still poised in his hand: "Were your words meant for my hearing, monsieur?" he said. "Were you speaking of me or of your governor?"
"I was thinking of one Radisson a traitor, and I was speaking of yourself, your excellency."
The governor had asked his question in French, in French the reply was given. Both the girl and Councillor Drayton followed with difficulty. Jessica looked a message to her comrade in ignorance. The old man touched the governor's arm. "Let it be in English if monsieur is willing. He speaks it well."
The governor was at work to hide his anger: he wished good greeting to Count Frontenac's envoy, and it seemed not fitting to be touched by the charges of a boy. "I must tell you frankly, Monsieur Iberville," he said, "that I do not choose to find a sort of challenge in your words; and I doubt that your father, had he been here, would have spoke quite so roundly. But I am for peace and happy temper when I can. I may not help it if your people, tired of the governance of Louis of France, come into the good ruling of King Charles. As for this man Radisson: what is it you would have?"
Iberville was now well settled back upon his native courage. He swallowed the rebuke with grace, and replied with frankness: "Radisson is an outlaw. Once he attempted Count Frontenac's life. He sold a band of our traders to the Iroquois. He led your Hollanders stealthily to cut off the Indians of the west, who were coming with their year's furs to
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