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- The Trail of the Sword, Volume 4. - 5/7 -
To her assent, he added: "Then go to him. Ask no questions. If anything can be done, he may do it for you; that he will I do not know."
She could not solve the riddle, but she must work it out. There was the one great fact: her husband had escaped.
"You will do all you can do, your excellency?" she said.
"Indeed, madame, I have done all I can," he said. With impulse she caught his hand and kissed it. A minute afterwards she was gone with Maurice Joval, who had orders to bring her to the abbe's house--that, and no more.
The governor, left alone, looked at the hand that she had kissed and said: "Well, well, I am but a fool still. Yet--a woman in a million!" He took out his watch. "Too late," he added. "Poor lady!"
A few minutes afterwards Jessica met the abbe on his own doorstep. Maurice Joval disappeared, and the priest and the woman were alone together. She told him what had just happened.
"There is some mystery," she said, pain in her voice. "Tell me, has my husband been retaken?"
"Madame, he has."
"Is he in danger?"
The priest hesitated, then presently inclined his head in assent.
"Once before I talked with you," she said, "and you spoke good things. You are a priest of God. I know that you can help me, or Count Frontenac would not have sent me to you. Oh, will you take me to my husband?"
If Count Frontenac had had a struggle, here was a greater. First, the man was a priest in the days when the Huguenots were scattering to the four ends of the earth. The woman and her husband were heretics, and what better were they than thousands of others? Then, Sainte-Helene had been the soldier-priest's pupil. Last of all, there was Iberville, over whom this woman had cast a charm perilous to his soul's salvation. He loved Iberville as his own son. The priest in him decided against the woman; the soldier in him was with Iberville in this event--for a soldier's revenge was its mainspring. But beneath all was a kindly soul which intolerance could not warp, and this at last responded.
His first words gave her a touch of hope. "Madame," he said, "I know not that aught can be done, but come."
FROM TIGER'S CLAW TO LION'S MOUTH
Every nation has its traitors, and there was an English renegade soldier at Quebec. At Iberville's suggestion he was made one of the guards of the prison. It was he that, pretending to let Gering win his confidence, at last aided him to escape through the narrow corner-door of his cell.
Gering got free of the citadel--miraculously, as he thought; and, striking off from the road, began to make his way by a roundabout to the St. Charles River, where at some lonely spot he might find a boat. No alarm had been given, and as time passed his chances seemed growing, when suddenly there sprang from the grass round him armed men, who closed in, and at the points of swords and rapiers seized him. Scarcely a word was spoken by his captors, and he did not know who they were, until, after a long detour, he was brought inside a manor-house, and there, in the light of flaring candles, faced Perrot and Iberville. It was Perrot who had seized him.
"Monsieur," said Perrot, saluting, "be sure this is a closer prison than that on the heights." This said, he wheeled and left the room.
The two gentlemen were left alone. Gering folded his arms and stood defiant.
"Monsieur," said Iberville, in a low voice, "we are fortunate to meet so at last."
"I do not understand you," was the reply.
"Then let me speak of that which was unfortunate. Once you called me a fool and a liar. We fought and were interrupted. We met again, with the same ending, and I was wounded by the man Bucklaw. Before the wound was healed I had to leave for Quebec. Years passed, you know well how. We met in the Spaniards' country, where you killed my servant; and again at Fort Rupert, you remember. At the fort you surrendered before we had a chance to fight. Again, we were on the hunt for treasure. You got it; and almost in your own harbour I found you, and fought you and a greater ship with you, and ran you down. As your ship sank you sprang from it to my own ship--a splendid leap. Then you were my guest, and we could not fight; all--all unfortunate."
He paused. Gering was cool; he saw Iberville's purpose, and he was ready to respond to it.
"And then?" asked Gering. "Your charge is long--is it finished?"
A hard light came into Iberville's eyes.
"And then, monsieur, you did me the honour to come to my own country. We did not meet in the fighting, and you killed my brother." Iberville crossed himself. "Then"--his voice was hard and bitter--"you were captured; no longer a prisoner of war, but one who had broken his parole. You were thrown into prison, were tried and condemned to death. There remained two things: that you should be left to hang, or an escape--that we should meet here and now."
"You chose the better way, monsieur."
"I treat you with consideration, I hope, monsieur." Gering waved his hand in acknowledgment, and said: "What weapons do you choose?"
Iberville quietly laid on the table a number of swords. "If I should survive this duel, monsieur," questioned Gering, "shall I be free?"
"Monsieur, escape will be unnecessary."
"Before we engage, let me say that I regret your brother's death."
"Monsieur, I hope to deepen that regret," answered Iberville quietly. Then they took up their swords.
AT THE GATES OF MISFORTUNE
Meanwhile the abbe and Jessica were making their way swiftly towards the manor-house. They scarcely spoke as they went, but in Jessica's mind was a vague horror. Lights sparkled on the crescent shore of Beauport, and the torches of fishermen flared upon the St. Charles. She looked back once towards the heights of Quebec and saw the fires of many homes--they scorched her eyes. She asked no questions. The priest beside her was silent, not looking at her at all. At last he turned and said:
"Madame, whatever has happened, whatever may happen, I trust you will be brave."
"Monsieur l'Abbe" she answered, "I have travelled from Boston here--can you doubt it?"
The priest sighed. "May the hope that gave you strength remain, madame!"
A little longer and then they stood within a garden thick with plants and trees. As they passed through it, Jessica was vaguely aware of the rich fragrance of fallen leaves and the sound of waves washing the foot of the cliffs.
The abbe gave a low call, and almost instantly Perrot stood before them. Jessica recognised him. With a little cry she stepped to him quickly and placed her hand upon his arm. She did not seem conscious that he was her husband's enemy: her husband's life was in danger, and it must be saved at any cost. "Monsieur," she said, "where is my husband? You know. Tell me."
Perrot put her hand from his arm gently, and looked at the priest in doubt and surprise.
The abbe said not a word, but stood gazing off into the night.
"Will you not tell me of my husband?" she repeated. "He is within that house?" She pointed to the manor-house. "He is in danger, I will go to him."
She made as if to go to the door, but he stepped before her.
"Madame," he said, "you cannot enter."
Just then the moon shot from behind a cloud, and all their faces could be seen. There was a flame in Jessica's eyes which Perrot could not stand, and he turned away. She was too much the woman to plead weakly.
"Tell me," she said, "whose house this is." "Madame, it is Monsieur Iberville's."
She could not check a gasp, but both the priest and the woodsman saw how intrepid was the struggle in her, and they both pitied.
"Now I understand! Oh, now I understand!" she cried. "A plot was laid. He was let escape that he might be cornered here--one single man against a whole country. Oh, cowards, cowards!"
"Pardon me, madame," said Perrot, bristling up, "not cowards. Your husband has a chance for his life. You know Monsieur Iberville--he is a man all honour. More than once he might have had your husband's life, but he gave it to him."
Her foot tapped the ground impatiently, her hands clasped before her. "Go on, oh, go on!" she said. "What is it? why is he here? Have you no pity, no heart?" She turned towards the priest. "You are a man of God. You said once that you would help me make peace between my husband and Monsieur Iberville, but you join here with his enemies."
"Madame, believe me, you are wrong. I have done all I could: I have brought you here."
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