BEYOND THE FRONTIER
BEYOND THE FRONTIER
A Romance of Early Days in the Middle West
By RANDALL PARRISH
"When Wilderness was King," "The Maid of the Forest," Etc.
By THE KINNEYS
A. L. BURT COMPANY
Published by Arrangements with A. C. McCLURG & Co.
A. C. McClurg & Co.
Published October, 1915
Copyrighted in Great Britain
W. F. HALL PRINTING COMPANY, CHICAGO
CHAPTER PAGE I At the Home of Hugo Chevet 1 II The Choice of a Husband 16 III I Appeal for Aid 28 IV In the Palace of the Intendant 45 V The Order of La Barre 61 VI The Wife of Francois Cassion 76 VII The Two Men Meet 87 VIII I Defy Cassion 101 IX The Flames of Jealousy 115 X We Attain the Ottawa 126 XI I Gain Speech With De Artigny 136 XII On the Summit of the Bluff 148 XIII We Reach the Lake 158 XIV At St. Ignace 170 XV The Murder of Chevet 181 XVI My Pledge Saves De Artigny 192 XVII The Break of Storm 200 XVIII Alone With De Artigny 211 XIX We Exchange Confidences 223 XX I Choose My Duty 234 XXI We Decide Our Course 244 XXII We Meet With Danger 254 XXIII The Words of Love 267 XXIV We Attack the Savages 278 XXV Within the Fort 289 XXVI In De Baugis' Quarters 299 XXVII I Send for De Tonty 309 XXVIII The Court Martial 319 XXIX Condemned 330 XXX I Choose My Future 341 XXXI We Reach the River 350 XXXII We Meet Surprise 361 XXXIII Warriors of the Illini 371 XXXIV We Wait in Ambush 380 XXXV The Charge of the Illini 390 XXXVI The Clearing of Mystery 399
BEYOND THE FRONTIER
AT THE HOME OF HUGO CHEVET
It was early autumn, for the clusters of grapes above me were already purple, and the forest leaves were tinged with red. And yet the air was soft, and the golden bars of sun flickered down on the work in my lap through the laced branches of the trellis. The work was but a pretense, for I had fled the house to escape the voice of Monsieur Cassion who was still urging my uncle to accompany him on his journey into the wilderness. They sat in the great room before the fireplace, drinking, and I had heard enough already to tell me there was treachery on foot against the Sieur de la Salle. To be sure it was nothing to me, a girl knowing naught of such intrigue, yet I had not forgotten the day, three years before, when this La Salle, with others of his company, had halted before the Ursuline convent, and the sisters bade them welcome for the night. 'Twas my part to help serve, and he had stroked my hair in tenderness. I had sung to them, and watched his face in the firelight as he listened. Never would I forget that face, nor believe evil of such a man. No! not from the lips of Cassion nor even from the governor, La Barre.
I recalled it all now, as I sat there in the silence, pretending to work, how we watched them embark in their canoes and disappear, the Indian paddlers bending to their task, and Monsieur la Salle, standing, bareheaded as he waved farewell. Beyond him was the dark face of one they called De Tonty, and in the first boat a mere boy lifted his ragged hat. I know not why, but the memory of that lad was clearer than all those others, for he had met me in the hall and we had talked long in the great window ere the sister came, and took me away. So I remembered him, and his name, Rene de Artigny. And in all those years I heard no more. Into the black wilderness they swept and were lost to those of us at home in New France.
No doubt there were those who knew—Frontenac, Bigot, those who ruled over us at Quebec—but 'twas not a matter supposed to interest a girl, and so no word came to me. Once I asked my Uncle Chevet, and he replied in anger with only a few sentences, bidding me hold my tongue; yet he said enough so that I knew the Sieur de la Salle lived and had built a fort far away, and was buying furs of the Indians. It was this that brought jealousy, and hatred. Once Monsieur Cassion came and stopped with us, and, as I waited on him and Uncle Chevet, I caught words which told me that Frontenac was La Salle's friend, and would listen to no charges brought against him. They talked of a new governor; yet I learned but little, for Cassion attempted to kiss me, and I would wait on him no more.
Then Frontenac was recalled to France, and La Barre was governor. How pleased my Uncle Chevet was when the news came, and he rapped the table with his glass and exclaimed: "Ah! but now we will pluck out the claws of this Sieur de la Salle, and send him where he belongs." But he would explain nothing, until a week later. Cassion came up the river in his canoe with Indian paddlers, and stopped to hold conference. The man treated me with much gallantry, so that I questioned him, and he seemed happy to answer that La Barre had already dispatched a party under Chevalier de Baugis, of the King's Dragoons to take command of La Salle's Fort St. Louis in the Illinois country. La Salle had returned, and was already at Quebec, but Cassion grinned as he boasted that the new governor would not even give him audience. Bah! I despised the man, yet I lingered beside him, and thus learned that La Salle's party consisted of but two voyageurs, and the young Sieur de Artigny. I was glad enough when he went away, though I gave him my hand to kiss, and waved to him bravely at the landing. And now he was back again, bearing a message from La Barre, and seeking volunteers for some western voyage of profit. 'Twas of no interest to me unless my uncle joined in the enterprise, yet I was kind enough, for he brought with him word of the governor's ball at Quebec, and had won the pledge of Chevet to take me there with him. I could be gracious to him for that and it was on my gown I worked, as the two planned and talked in secret. What they did was nothing to me now—all my thought was on the ball. What would you? I was seventeen.
The grape trellis ran down toward the river landing, and from where I sat in the cool shadow, I could see the broad water gleaming in the sun. Suddenly, as my eyes uplifted, the dark outline of a canoe swept into the vista, and the splashing paddles turned the prow inward toward our landing. I did not move, although I watched with interest, for it was not the time of year for Indian traders, and these were white men. I could see those at the paddles, voyageurs, with gay cloths about their heads; but the one in the stern wore a hat, the brim concealing his face, and a blue coat. I knew not who it could be until the prow touched the bank, and he stepped ashore. Then I knew, and bent low over my sewing, as though I had seen nothing, although my heart beat fast. Through lowered lashes I saw him give brief order to the men, and then advance toward the house alone. Ah! but this was not the slender, laughing-eyed boy of three years before. The wilderness had made of him a man—a soldier. He paused an instant to gaze about, and held his hat in his hand, the sun touching his tanned cheeks, and flecking the long, light-colored hair. He looked strong and manly in his tightly buttoned jacket, a knife at his belt, a rifle grasped within one hand. There was a sternness to his face too, although it lit up in a smile, as the searching eyes caught glimpse of my white dress in the cool shade of the grape arbor. Hat still in hand he came toward me, but I only bent the lower, as though I knew nothing of his approach, and had no interest other than my work.
"Mademoiselle," he said gently, "pardon me, but is not this the home of Hugo Chevet, the fur trader?"
I looked up into his face, and bowed, as he swept the earth with his hat, seeing at a glance that he had no remembrance of me.
"Yes," I answered. "If you seek him, rap on the door beyond."
"'Tis not so much Chevet I seek," he said, showing no inclination to pass me, "but one whom I understood was his guest—Monsieur Francois Cassion."
"The man is here," I answered quickly, yet unable to conceal my surprise, "but you will find him no friend to Sieur de la Salle."
"Ah!" and he stared at me intently. "In the name of the saints, what is the meaning of this? You know me then?"
I bowed, yet my eyes remained hidden.
"I knew you once as Monsieur's friend," I said, almost regretting my indiscretion, "and have been told you travel in his company."
"You knew me once!" he laughed. "Surely that cannot be, for never would I be likely to forget. I challenge you, Mademoiselle to speak my name."
"The Sieur Rene de Artigny, Monsieur."
"By my faith, the witch is right, and yet in all this New France I know scarce a maid. Nay look up; there is naught to fear from me, and I would see if memory be not new born. Saint Giles! surely 'tis true; I have seen those eyes before; why, the name is on my tongue, yet fails me, lost in the wilderness. I pray you mercy, Mademoiselle!"
"You have memory of the face you say?"
"Ay! the witchery of it; 'tis like a haunting spirit."
"Which did not haunt long, I warrant. I am Adele la Chesnayne, Monsieur."
He stepped back, his eyes on mine, questioningly. For an instant I believed the name even brought no familiar sound; then his face brightened, and his eyes smiled, as his lips echoed the words.
"Adele la Chesnayne! Ay! now I know. Why 'tis no less than a miracle. It was a child I thought of under that name—a slender, brown-eyed girl, as blithesome as a bird. No, I had not forgotten; only the magic of three years has made of you a woman. Again and again have I questioned in Montreal and Quebec, but no one seemed to know. At the convent they said your father fell in Indian skirmish."
"Yes; ever since then I have lived here, with my uncle, Hugo Chevet."
"Here!" he looked about, as though the dreariness of it was first noticed. "Alone? Is there no other woman?"
I shook my head, but no longer looked at him, for fear he might see the tears in my eyes.
"I am the housekeeper, Monsieur. There was nothing else for me. In France, I am told, my father's people were well born, but this is not France, and there was no choice. Besides I was but a child of fourteen."
"And seventeen, now, Mademoiselle," and he took my hand gallantly. "Pardon if I have asked questions which bring pain. I can understand much, for in Montreal I heard tales of this Hugo Chevet."
"He is rough, a woodsman," I defended, "yet not unkind to me. You will speak him fair?"
He laughed, his eyes sparkling with merriment.
"No fear of my neglecting all courtesy, for I come beseeching a favor. I have learned the lesson of when the soft speech wins more than the iron hand. And this other, the Commissaire Cassion—is he a bird of the same plumage?"
I made a little gesture, and glanced back at the closed door.
"Oh, no; he is the court courtier, to stab with words, not deeds. Chevet is rough of speech, and hard of hand, but he fights in the open; Cassion has a double tongue, and one never knows him." I glanced up into his sobered face. "He is a friend of La Barre."
"So 'tis said, and has been chosen by the governor to bear message to De Baugis in the Illinois country. I seek passage in his company."
"You! I thought you were of the party of Sieur de la Salle?"
"I am," he answered honestly, "yet Cassion will need a guide, and there is none save myself in all New France who has ever made that journey. 'Twill be well for him to listen to my plan. And why not? We do not fight the orders of the governor: we obey, and wait. Monsieur de la Salle will tell his story to the King."
"The King! to Louis?"
"Ay, 'twill not be the first time he has had audience, and already he is at sea. We can wait, and laugh at this Cassion over his useless journey."
"But he—he is treacherous, Monsieur."
He laughed, as though the words amused.
"To one who has lived, as I, amid savages, treachery is an old story. The Commissaire will not find me asleep. We will serve each other, and let it go at that. Ah! we are to be interrupted."
He straightened up facing the door, and I turned, confronting my uncle as he emerged in advance. He was a burly man, with iron-gray hair, and face reddened by out-of-doors; and he stopped in surprise at sight of a stranger, his eyes hardening with suspicion.
"And who is this with whom you converse so privately, Adele?" he questioned brusquely, "a young popinjay new to these parts I venture."
De Artigny stepped between us, smiling in good humor.
"My call was upon you, Monsieur Chevet, and not the young lady," he said quietly enough, yet with a tone to the voice. "I merely asked her if I had found the right place, and if, Monsieur, the Commissaire Cassion was still your guest."
"And what may I ask might be your business with the Commissaire Cassion?" asked the latter, pressing past Chevet, yet bowing with a semblance of politeness, scarcely in accord with the studied insolence of his words. "I have no remembrance of your face."
"Then, Monsieur Cassion is not observant," returned the younger man pleasantly, "as I accompanied the Sieur de la Salle in his attempt to have audience with the governor."
"Ah!" the word of surprise exploded from the lips. "Sacre! 'tis true! My faith, what difference clothes make. I mistook you for a courier du bois."
"I am the Sieur Rene de Artigny."
"Lieutenant of La Salle's?"
"Scarcely that, Monsieur, but a comrade; for three years I have been with his party, and was chosen by him for this mission."
Cassion laughed, chucking the gloomy-faced Chevet in the side, as though he would give point to a good joke.
"And little the trip hither has profited either master or man, I warrant. La Barre does not sell New France to every adventurer. Monsieur de la Salle found different reception in Quebec than when Frontenac ruled this colony. Where went the fur-stealer?"
"To whom do you refer?"
"To whom? Heaven help us, Chevet, the man would play nice with words. Well, let it go, my young cock, and answer me."
"You mean the Sieur de la Salle?"
"To be sure; I called him no worse than I have heard La Barre speak. They say he has left Quebec; what more know you?"
"'Tis no secret, Monsieur," replied De Artigny quietly enough, although there was a flash in his eyes, as they met mine. "The Sieur de la Salle has sailed for France."
"France! Bah! you jest; there has been no ship outward bound."
"The Breton paused at St. Roche, held by the fog. When the fog lifted there was a new passenger aboard. By dawn the Indian paddlers had me landed in Quebec."
"Does La Barre know?"
"Faith! I could not tell you that, as he has not honored me with audience."
Cassion strode back and forth, his face dark with passion. It was not pleasant news he had been told, and it was plain enough he understood the meaning.
"By the saints!" he exclaimed. "'Tis a sly fox to break through our guard so easily. Ay, and 'twill give him a month to whisper his lies to Louis, before La Barre can forward a report. But, sacre! my young chanticleer, surely you are not here to bring me this bit of news. You sought me, you said? Well, for what purpose?"
"In peace, Monsieur. Because I have served Sieur de la Salle loyally is no reason why we should be enemies. We are both the King's men, and may work together. The word has come to me that you head a party for the Illinois, with instructions for De Baugis at Fort St. Louis. Is this true?"
Cassion bowed coldly, waiting to discover how much more his questioner knew.
"Ah, then I am right thus far. Well, Monsieur, 'twas on that account I came, to volunteer as guide."
"You! 'Twould be treachery."
"Oh, no; our interests are the same so far as the journey goes. I would reach St. Louis; so would you. Because we may have different ends in view, different causes to serve, has naught to do with the trail thither. There is not a man who knows the way as well as I. Four times have I traveled it, and I am not a savage, Monsieur—I am a gentleman of France."
"And you pledge your word?"
"I pledge my word—to guide you safe to Fort St. Louis. Once there I am comrade to Sieur de la Salle."
"Bah! I care not who you comrade with, once you serve my purpose. I take your offer, and if you play me false—"
"Restrain your threats, Monsieur Cassion. A quarrel will get us nowhere. You have my word of honor; 'tis enough. Who will compose the party?"
Cassion hesitated, yet seemed to realize the uselessness of deceit.
"A dozen or more soldiers of the Regiment of Picardy, some couriers du bois, and the Indian paddlers. There will be four boats."
"You go by the Ottawa, and the lakes?"
"Such were my orders."
"'Tis less fatiguing, although a longer journey; and the time of departure?"
Cassion laughed, as he turned slightly, and bowed to me.
"We leave Quebec before dawn Tuesday," he said gaily. "It is my wish to enjoy once more the follies of civilization before plunging into the wilderness. The Governor permits that we remain to his ball. Mademoiselle la Chesnayne does me the honor of being my guest on that occasion."
"I, Monsieur!" I exclaimed in surprise at his boastful words. "'Twas my uncle who proposed—"
"Tut, tut, what of that?" he interrupted in no way discomposed. "It is my request which opens the golden gates. The good Hugo here but looks on at a frivolity for which he cares nothing. 'Tis the young who dance. And you, Monsieur de Artigny, am I to meet you there also, or perchance later at the boat landing?"
The younger man seemed slow in response, but across Cassion's shoulder our eyes met. I know not what he saw in the glance of mine, for I gave no sign, yet his face brightened, and his words were carelessly spoken.
"At the ball, Monsieur. 'Tis three years since I have danced to measure, but it will be a joy to look on, and thus keep company with Monsieur Chevet. Nor shall I fail you at the boats: until then, Messieurs," and he bowed hat in hand, "and to you, Mademoiselle, adieu."
We watched him go down the grape arbor to the canoe, and no one spoke but Cassion.
"Pouf! he thinks well of himself, that young cockerel, and 'twill likely be my part to clip his spurs. Still 'tis good policy to have him with us, for 'tis a long journey. What say you, Chevet?"
"That he is one to watch," answered my uncle gruffly. "I trust none of La Salle's brood."
"No, nor I, for the matter of that, but I am willing to pit my brains against the best of them. Francois Cassion is not likely to be caught asleep, my good Hugo."
He turned about, and glanced questioningly into my face.
"And so, Mademoiselle, it did not altogether please you to be my guest at the ball? Perchance you preferred some other gallant?"
The sunlight, flickering through the leaves, rested on his face, and brought out the mottled skin of dissipation, the thin line of his cruel lips, the insolent stare of his eyes. I felt myself shrink, dreading he might touch me; yet dominating all else was the thought of De Artigny—the message of his glance, the secret meaning of his pledge—the knowledge that he would be there. So I smiled, and made light of his suspicion.
"It was but surprise, Monsieur," I said gaily "for I had not dreamed of such an honor. 'Tis my wish to go; see, I have been working on a new gown, and now I must work the faster."
I swept him a curtsey, smiling to myself at the expression of his face, and before he could speak had disappeared within. Bah! I would escape those eyes and be alone to dream.
THE CHOICE OF A HUSBAND
It was just before dark when Monsieur Cassion left us, and I watched him go gladly enough, hidden behind the shade of my window. He had been talking for an hour with Chevet in the room below; I could hear the rattle of glasses, as though they drank, and the unpleasant arrogance of his voice, although no words reached me clearly. I cared little what he said, although I wondered at his purpose in being there, and what object he might have in this long converse with my uncle. Yet I was not sent for, and no doubt it was some conference over furs, of no great interest. The two were in some scheme I knew to gain advantage over Sieur de la Salle, and were much elated now that La Barre held power; but that was nothing for a girl to understand, so I worked on with busy fingers, my mind not forgetful of the young Sieur de Artigny.
It was not that I already loved him, yet ever since girlhood the memory of him had remained in my thought, and in those years since I had met so few young men that the image left on my imagination had never faded. Indeed, it had been kept alive by the very animosity which my uncle cherished against Monsieur de la Salle. The real cause of his bitterness, outside of trade rivalry, I never clearly understood, but he was ever seeking every breath of gossip from that distant camp of adventurers, and angrily commenting thereon. Again and again I overheard him conspiring with others in a vain effort to influence Frontenac to withdraw his support of that distant expedition, and it was this mutual enmity which first brought Cassion to our cabin.
With Frontenac's removal, and the appointment of La Barre as Governor, the hopes of La Salle's enemies revived, and when Cassion's smooth tongue won him a place as Commissaire, all concerned became more bold and confident in their planning. I knew little of it, yet sufficient to keep the remembrance of those adventures fresh in my mind, and never did they recur to me without yielding me vision of the ardent young face of De Artigny as he waved me adieu from the canoe. Often in those years of silence did I dream of him amid the far-off wilderness—the idle dreaming of a girl whose own heart was yet a mystery—and many a night I sat at my window gazing out upon the broad river shimmering in the moonlight, wondering at those wilderness mysteries among which he lived.
Yet only once in all those years had I heard mention of his name. 'Twas but a rumor floating back to us of how La Salle had reached the mouth of a great river flowing into the South Sea, and among the few who accompanied him was De Artigny. I remember yet how strangely my heart throbbed as I heard the brief tale retold, and someone read the names from a slip of paper. Chevet sat by the open fire listening, his pipe in his mouth, his eyes scowling at the news; suddenly he blurted out: "De Artigny, say you? In the name of the fiend! 'tis not the old captain?" "No, no, Chevet," a voice answered testily, "Sieur Louis de Artigny has not stepped foot on ground these ten years; 'tis his brat Rene who serves this freebooter, though 'tis like enough the father hath money in the venture." And they fell to discussing, sneering at the value of the discovery, while I slipped unnoticed from the room.
Chevet did not return to the house after Monsieur Cassion's canoe had disappeared. I saw him walking back and forth along the river bank, smoking, and seemingly thinking out some problem. Nor did he appear until I had the evening meal ready, and called to him down the arbor. He was always gruff and bearish enough when we were alone, seldom speaking, indeed, except to give utterance to some order, but this night he appeared even more morose and silent than his wont, not so much as looking at me as he took seat, and began to eat. No doubt Cassion had brought ill news, or else the appearance of De Artigny had served to arouse all his old animosity toward La Salle. It was little to me, however, and I had learned to ignore his moods, so I took my own place silently, and paid no heed to the scowl with which he surveyed me across the table. No doubt my very indifference fanned his discontent, but I remained ignorant of it, until he burst out savagely.
"And so you know this young cockerel, do you? You know him, and never told me?"
I looked up in surprise, scarce comprehending the unexpected outburst.
"You mean the Sieur de Artigny?"
"Ay! Don't play with me! I mean Louis de Artigny's brat. Bah! he may fool Cassion with his soft words, but not Hugo Chevet. I know the lot of them this many year, and no ward of mine will have aught to do with the brood, either young or old. You hear that, Adele! When I hate, I hate, and I have reason enough to hate that name, and all who bear it. Where before did you ever meet this popinjay?"
"At the convent three years ago. La Salle rested there overnight, and young De Artigny was of the party. He was but a boy then."
"He came here today to see you?"
"No, never," I protested. "I doubt if he even had the memory of me until I told him who I was. Surely he explained clearly why he came."
He eyed me fiercely, his face full of suspicion, his great hand gripping the knife.
"'Tis well for you if that be true," he said gruffly, "but I have no faith in the lad's words. He is here as La Salle's spy, and so I told Cassion, though the only honor he did me was to laugh at my warning. 'Let him spy,' he said, 'and I will play at the same game; 'tis little enough he will learn, and we shall need his guidance.' Ay! and he may be right, but I want nothing to do with the fellow. Cassion may give him place in his boats, if he will, but never again shall he set foot on my land, nor have speech with you. You mark my words, Mademoiselle?"
I felt the color flame into my cheeks, and knew my eyes darkened with anger, yet made effort to control my speech.
"Yes, Monsieur; I am your ward and have always been obedient, yet this Sieur de Artigny seems a pleasant spoken young man, and surely 'tis no crime that he serves the Sieur de la Salle."
"Is it not!" he burst forth, striking the table with his fist. "Know you not I would be rich, but for that fur stealer. By right those should be my furs he sends here in trade. There will be another tale to tell soon, now that La Barre hath the reins of power; and this De Artigny—bah! What care I for that young cockerel—but I hate the brood. Listen, girl, I pay my debts; it was this hand that broke Louis de Artigny, and has kept him to his bed for ten years past. Yet even that does not wipe out the score between us. 'Tis no odds to you what was the cause, but while I live I hate. So you have my orders; you will speak no more with this De Artigny."
"'Tis not like I shall have opportunity."
"I will see to that. The fool looked at you in a way that made me long to grip his throat; nor do I like your answer, yet 'twill be well for you to mark my words."
"Oh, you're sweet enough with words. I have heard you before, and found you a sly minx—when my back was turned—but this time it is not I alone who will watch your actions. I have pledged you a husband."
I got to my feet, staring at him, the indignant words stifled in my throat. He laughed coarsely, and resumed his meal.
"A husband, Monsieur? You have pledged me?"
"Ay! why not? You are seventeen, and 'tis my place to see you well settled."
"But I have no wish to marry, Monsieur," I protested. "There is no man for whom I care."
He shrugged his shoulders indifferently, and laughed.
"Pooh! if I waited for that no doubt you would pick out some cockerel without so much as a spur to his heel. 'Tis my choice, not yours, for I know the world, and the man you need. Monsieur Cassion has asked me to favor him, and I think well of it."
"Cassion! Surely, you would not wed me to that creature?"
He pushed back his chair, regarding me with scowling eyes.
"And where is there a better? Sacre! do you think yourself a queen to choose? 'Tis rare luck you have such an offer. Monsieur Cassion is going to be a great man in this New France; already he has the Governor's ear, and a commission, with a tidy sum to his credit in Quebec. What more could any girl desire in a husband?"
"But, Monsieur, I do not love him; I do not trust the man."
"Pah!" He burst into a laugh, rising from the table. Before I could draw back he had gripped me by the arm. "Enough of that, young lady. He is my choice, and that settles it. Love! who ever heard of love nowadays? Ah, I see, you dream already of the young gallant De Artigny. Well, little good that will do you. Why what is he? a mere ragged adventurer, without a sou to his name, a prowling wolf of the forest, the follower of a discredited fur thief. But enough of this; I have told you my will, and you obey. Tomorrow we go to Quebec, to the Governor's ball, and when Monsieur Cassion returns from his mission you will marry him—you understand?"
The tears were in my eyes, blotting out his threatening face, yet there was naught to do but answer.
"And this De Artigny; if the fellow ever dares come near you again I'll crush his white throat between my fingers."
"To your room then, and think over all I have said. You have never found me full of idle threats I warrant."
I drew my arm from his grasp, feeling it tingle with pain where his fingers had crushed the flesh, and crept up the narrow stairs, glad enough to get away and be alone. I had never loved Chevet, but he had taught me to fear him, for more than once had I experienced his brutality and physical power. To him I was but a chattel, an incumbrance. He had assumed charge of me because the law so ordained, but I had found nothing in his nature on which I could rely for sympathy. I was his sister's child, yet no more to him than some Indian waif. More, he was honest about it. To his mind he did well by me in thus finding me a husband. I sank on my knees, and hid my face, shuddering at the thought of the sacrifice demanded. Cassion! never before had the man appeared so despicable. His face, his manner, swept through my memory in review. I had scarcely considered him before, except as a disagreeable presence to be avoided as much as possible. But now, in the silence, the growing darkness of that little chamber, with Chevet's threat echoing in my ears, he came to me in clear vision—I saw his dull-blue, cowardly eyes, his little waxed mustache, his insolent swagger, and heard his harsh, bragging voice.
Ay! he would get on; there was no doubt of that, for he would worm his way through where only a snake could crawl. A snake! that was what he was, and I shuddered at thought of the slimy touch of his hand. I despised, hated him; yet what could I do? It was useless to appeal to Chevet, and the Governor, La Barre, would give small heed to a girl objecting to one of his henchmen. De Artigny! The name was on my lips before I realized I had spoken it, and brought a throb of hope. I arose to my feet, and stared out of the window into the dark night. My pulses throbbed. If he cared; if I only knew he cared, I would fly with him anywhere, into the wilderness depths, to escape Cassion. I could think of no other way, no other hope. If he cared! It seemed to me my very breath stopped as this daring conception, this mad possibility, swept across my mind.
I was a girl, inexperienced, innocent of coquetry, and yet I possessed all the instincts of a woman. I had seen that in his eyes which gave me faith—he remembered the past; he had found me attractive; he felt a desire to meet me again. I knew all this—but was that all? Was it a mere passing fervor, a fleeting admiration, to be forgotten in the presence of the next pretty face? Would he dare danger to serve me? to save me from the clutches of Cassion? A smile, a flash of the eyes, is small foundation to build upon, yet it was all I had. Perchance he gave the same encouragement to others, with no serious thought. The doubt assailed me, yet there was no one else in all New France to whom I could appeal.
But how could I reach him with my tale? There was but one opportunity—the Governor's ball. He would be there; he had said so, laughingly glancing toward me as he spoke the words, the flash of his eyes a challenge. But it would be difficult. Chevet, Cassion, not for a moment would they take eyes from me, and if I failed to treat him coldly an open quarrel must result. Chevet would be glad of an excuse, and Cassion's jealousy would spur him on. Yet I must try, and, in truth, I trusted not so much in Monsieur de Artigny's interest in me, as in his reckless love of adventure. 'Twould please him to play an audacious trick on La Salle's enemies, and make Cassion the butt of laughter.
Once he understood, the game would prove much to his liking, and I could count on his aid, while the greater the danger the stronger it would appeal to such a nature as his. Even though he cared little for me he was a gallant to respond gladly to a maid in distress. Ay, if I might once bring him word, I could rely on his response; but how could that be done? I must trust fortune, attend the ball, and be ready; there was no other choice.
'Tis strange how this vague plan heartened me, and gave new courage. Scarce more than a dream, yet I dwelt upon it, imagining what I would say, and how escape surveillance long enough to make my plea for assistance. Today, as I write, it seems strange that I should ever have dared such a project, yet at the time not a thought of its immodesty ever assailed me. To my mind Rene de Artigny was no stranger; as a memory he had lived, and been portion of my life for three lonely years. To appeal to him now, to trust him, appeared the most natural thing in the world. The desperation of my situation obscured all else, and I turned to him as the only friend I knew in time of need. And my confidence in his fidelity, his careless audacity, brought instantly a measure of peace. I crept back and lay down upon the bed. The tears dried upon my lashes, and I fell asleep as quietly as a tired child.
I APPEAL FOR AID
It had been two years since I was at Quebec, and it was with new eyes of appreciation that I watched the great bristling cliffs as our boat glided silently past the shore and headed in toward the landing. There were two ships anchored in the river, one a great war vessel with many sailors hanging over the rail and watching us curiously. The streets leading back from the water front were filled with a jostling throng, while up the steep hillside beyond a constant stream of moving figures, looking scarcely larger than ants, were ascending and descending. We were in our large canoe, with five Indian paddlers, its bow piled deep with bales of fur to be sold in the market, and I had been sleeping in the stern. It was the sun which awoke me, and I sat up close beside Chevet's knee, eagerly interested in the scene. Once I spoke, pointing to the grim guns on the summit of the crest above, but he answered so harshly as to compel silence. It was thus we swept up to the edge of the landing, and made fast. Cassion met us, attired so gaily in rich vestments that I scarcely recognized the man, whom I had always seen before in dull forest garb, yet I permitted him to take my hand and assist me gallantly to the shore. Faith, but he appeared like a new person with his embroidered coat, buckled shoes and powdered hair, smiling and debonair, whispering compliments to me, as he helped me across a strip of mud to the drier ground beyond. But I liked him none the better, for there was the same cold stare to his eyes, and a cruel sting to his words which he could not hide. The man was the same whatever the cut of his clothes, and I was not slow in removing my hand from his grasp, once I felt my feet on firm earth.
Yet naught I might do would stifle his complacency, and he talked on, seeking to be entertaining, no doubt, and pointing out the things of interest on every hand. And I enjoyed the scene, finding enough to view to make me indifferent to his posturing. Scarcely did I even note what he said, although I must have answered in a fashion, for he stuck at my side, and guided me through the crowd, and up the hill. Chevet walked behind us, gloomy and silent, having left the Indians with the furs until I was safely housed. It was evidently a gala day, for flags and streamers were flying from every window of the Lower Town, and the narrow, crooked streets were filled with wanderers having no apparent business but enjoyment. Never had I viewed so motley a throng, and I could but gaze about with wide-opened eyes on the strange passing figures.
It was easy enough to distinguish the citizens of Quebec, moving soberly about upon ordinary affairs of trade, and those others idly jostling their way from point to point of interest—hunters from the far West, bearded and rough, fur clad, and never without a long rifle; sailors from the warship in the river; Indians silent and watchful, staring gravely at every new sight; settlers from the St. Lawrence and the Richelieu, great seigniors on vast estates, but like children in the streets of the town; fishermen from Cap St. Roche; couriers du bois, and voyageurs in picturesque costumes; officers of the garrison, resplendent in blue and gold; with here and there a column of marching soldiers, or statuesque guard. And there were women too, a-plenty—laughing girls, grouped together, ready for any frolic; housewives on way to market; and occasionally a dainty dame, with high-heeled shoe and flounced petticoat, picking her way through the throng, disdainful of the glances of those about. Everywhere there was a new face, a strange costume, a glimpse of unknown life.
It was all of such interest I was sorry when we came to the gray walls of the convent. I had actually forgotten Cassion, yet I was glad enough to be finally rid of him, and be greeted so kindly by Sister Celeste. In my excitement I scarcely knew what it was the bowing Commissaire said as he turned away, or paid heed to Chevet's final growl, but I know the sister gently answered them, and drew me within, closing the door softly, and shutting out every sound. It was so quiet in the stone passageway as to almost frighten me, but she took me in her arms, and looked searchingly into my face.
"The three years have changed you greatly, my child," she said gently, touching my cheeks with her soft hands; "but bright as your eyes are, it is not all pleasure I see in them. You must tell me of your life. The older man, I take it, was your uncle, Monsieur Chevet."
"Yes," I answered, but hesitated to add more.
"He is much as I had pictured him, a bear of the woods."
"He is rough," I protested, "for his life has been hard, yet has given me no reason to complain. 'Tis because the life is lonely that I grow old."
"No doubt, and the younger gallant? He is not of the forest school?"
"'Twas Monsieur Cassion, Commissaire for the Governor."
"Ah! 'tis through him you have invitation to the great ball?"
I bowed my head, wondering at the kind questioning in the sister's eyes. Could she have heard the truth? Perchance she might tell me something of the man.
"He has been selected by Monsieur Chevet as my husband," I explained doubtfully. "Know you aught of the man, sister?"
Her hand closed gently on mine.
"No, only that he has been chosen by La Barre to carry special message to the Chevalier de Baugis in the Illinois country. He hath an evil, sneering face, and an insolent manner, even as described to me by the Sieur de Artigny."
I caught my breath quickly, and my hand grasp tightened.
"The Sieur de Artigny!" I echoed, startled into revealing the truth. "He has been here? has talked with you?"
"Surely, my dear girl. He was here with La Salle before his chief sailed for France, and yesterday he came again, and questioned me."
"Yes; he sought knowledge of you, and of why you were in the household of Chevet. I liked the young man, and told him all I knew, of your father's death and the decree of the court, and of how Chevet compelled you to leave the convent. I felt him to be honest and true, and that his purpose was worthy."
"And he mentioned Cassion?"
"Only that he had arranged to guide him into the wilderness. But I knew he thought ill of the man."
I hesitated, for as a child I had felt awe of Sister Celeste, yet her questioning eyes were kind, and we were alone. Here was my chance, my only chance, and I dare not lose it. Her face appeared before me misty through tears, yet words came bravely enough to my lips.
"Sister, you must hear me," I began bewildered, "I have no mother, no friend even to whom to appeal; I am just a girl all alone. I despise this man Cassion; I do not know why, but he seems to be like a snake, and I cannot bear his presence. I would rather die than marry him. I do not think Chevet trusts him, either, but he has some hold, and compels him to sell me as though I was a slave in the market. I am to be made to marry him. I pray you let me see this Sieur de Artigny that I may tell him all, and beseech his aid."
"But why De Artigny, my girl? What is the boy to you?"
"Nothing—absolutely nothing," I confessed frankly. "We have scarcely spoken together, but he is a gallant of true heart; he will never refuse aid to a maid like me. It will be joy for him to outwit this enemy of La Salle's. All I ask is that I be permitted to tell him my story."
Celeste sat silent, her white hands clasped, her eyes on the stained-glass window. It was so still I could hear my own quick breathing. At last she spoke, her voice still soft and kindly.
"I scarcely think you realize what you ask, my child. 'Tis a strange task for a sister of the Ursulines, and I would learn more before I answer. Is there understanding between you and this Sieur de Artigny?"
"We have met but twice; here at this convent three years ago, when we were boy and girl, and he went westward with La Salle. You know the time, and that we talked together on the bench in the garden. Then it was three days since that he came to our house on the river, seeking Cassion that he might volunteer as guide. He had no thought of me, nor did he know me when we first met. There was no word spoken other than that of mere friendship, nor did I know then that Chevet had arranged my marriage to the Commissaire. We did no more than laugh and make merry over the past until the others came and demanded the purpose of his visit. It was not his words, Sister, but the expression of his face, the glance of his eye, which gave me courage. I think he likes me, and his nature is without fear. He will have some plan—and there is no one else."
I caught her hands in mine, but she did not look at me, or answer. She was silent and motionless so long that I lost hope, yet ventured to say no more in urging.
"You think me immodest, indiscreet?"
"I fear you know little of the world, my child, yet, I confess this young Sieur made good impression upon me. I know not what to advise, for it may have been but idle curiosity which brought him here with his questioning. 'Tis not safe to trust men, but I can see no harm in his knowing all you have told me. There might be opportunity for him to be of service. He travels with Cassion, you say?"
"And their departure is soon?"
"Before daylight tomorrow. When the Commissaire returns we are to be married. So Chevet explained to me; Monsieur Cassion has not spoken. You will give me audience with the Sieur de Artigny?"
"I have no power, child, but I will speak with the Mother Superior, and repeat to her all I have learned. It shall be as she wills. Wait here, and you may trust me to plead for you."
She seemed to fade from the room, and I glanced about, seeing no change since I was there before—the same bare walls and floor, the rude settee, the crucifix above the door, and the one partially open window, set deep in the stone wall. Outside I could hear voices, and the shuffling of feet on the stone slabs, but within all was silence. I had been away from this emotionless cloister life so long, out in the open air, that I felt oppressed; the profound stillness was a weight on my nerves. Would the sister be successful in her mission? Would the Mother Superior, whose stern rule I knew so well, feel slightest sympathy with my need? And if she did, would De Artigny care enough to come? Perchance it would have been better to have made the plea myself rather than trust all to the gentle lips of Celeste. Perhaps I might even yet be given that privilege, for surely the Mother would feel it best to question me before she rendered decision.
I crossed to the window and leaned out, seeking to divert my mind by view of the scene below, yet the stone walls were so thick that only a tantalizing glimpse was afforded of the pavement opposite. There were lines of people there, pressed against the side of a great building, and I knew from their gestures that troops were marching by. Once I had view of a horseman, gaily uniformed, his frightened animal rearing just at the edge of the crowd, which scattered like a flock of sheep before the danger of pawing hoofs. The man must have gained glimpse of me also, for he waved one hand and smiled even as he brought the beast under control. Then a band played, and I perceived the shiny top of a carriage moving slowly up the hill, the people cheering as it passed. No doubt it was Governor la Barre, on his way to the citadel for some ceremony of the day.
Cassion would be somewhere in the procession, for he was one to keep in the glare, and be seen, but there would be no place for a lieutenant of La Salle's. I leaned out farther, risking a fall, but saw nothing to reward the effort, except a line of marching men, a mere bobbing mass of heads. I drew back flushed with exertion, dimly aware that someone had entered the apartment. It was the Mother Superior, looking smaller than ever in the gloom, and behind her framed in the narrow doorway, his eyes smiling as though in enjoyment of my confusion, stood De Artigny. I climbed down from the bench, feeling my cheeks burn hotly, and made obeisance. The Mother's soft hand rested on my hair, and there was silence, so deep I heard the pounding of my heart.
"Child," said the Mother, her voice low but clear. "Rise that I may see your face. Ah! it has not so greatly changed in the years, save that the eyes hold knowledge of sorrow. Sister Celeste hath told me your story, and if it be sin for me to grant your request then must I abide the penance, for it is in my heart to do so. Until I send the sister you may speak alone with Monsieur de Artigny."
She drew slightly aside, and the young man bowed low, hat in hand, then stood erect, facing me, the light from the window on his face.
"At your command, Mademoiselle," he said quietly. "The Mother tells me you have need of my services."
I hesitated, feeling the embarrassment of the other presence, and scarce knowing how best to describe my case. It seemed simple enough when I was alone, but now all my thoughts fled in confusion, and I realized how little call I had to ask assistance. My eyes fell, and the words trembled unspoken on my lips. When I dared glance up again the Mother had slipped silently from the room, leaving us alone. No doubt he felt the difference also, for he stepped forward and caught my hand in his, his whole manner changing, as he thus assumed leadership. 'Twas so natural, so confidently done, that I felt a sudden wave of hope overcome my timidity.
"Come, Mademoiselle," he said, almost eagerly. "There is no reason for you to fear confiding in me. Surely I was never sent for without just reason. Let us sit here while you retell the story. Perchance we will play boy and girl again."
"You remember that?"
"Do I not!" he laughed pleasantly. "There were few pleasant memories I took with me into the wilderness, yet that was one. Ay, but we talked freely enough then, and there is naught since in my life to bring loss of faith. 'Tis my wish to serve you, be it with wit or blade." He bent lower, seeking the expression in my eyes. "This Hugo Chevet—he is a brute. I know—is his abuse beyond endurance?"
"No, no," I hastened to explain. "In his way he is not unkind. The truth is he has lived so long in the woods alone, he scarcely speaks. He—he would marry me to Monsieur Cassion."
Never will I forget the look of sheer delight on his face as these words burst from me. His hand struck the bench, and he tossed back the long hair from his forehead, his eyes merry with enjoyment.
"Ah, good! By all the saints, 'tis even as I hoped. Then have no fear of my sympathy, Mademoiselle. Nothing could please me like a clash with that perfumed gallant. He doth persecute you with his wooing?"
"He has not spoken, save to Chevet; yet it is seemingly all arranged without my being approached."
"A coward's way. Chevet told you?"
"Three days ago, Monsieur, after you were there, and Cassion had departed. It may have been that your being seen with me hastened the plan. I know not, yet the two talked together long, and privately, and when the Commissaire finally went away, Chevet called me in, and told me what had been decided."
"That you were to marry that coxcomb?"
"Yes; he did not ask me if I would; it was a command. When I protested my lack of love, saying even that I despised the man, he answered me with a laugh, insisting it was his choice, not mine, and that love had naught to do with such matters. Think you this Cassion has some hold on Hugo Chevet to make him so harsh?"
"No doubt, they are hand in glove in the fur trade, and the Commissaire has La Barre's ear just now. He rode by yonder in the carriage a moment since, and you might think from his bows he was the Governor. And this marriage? when does it take place?"
"On Monsieur's safe return from the great West."
The smile came back to his face.
"Not so bad that, for 'tis a long journey, and might be delayed. I travel with him, you know, and we depart at daybreak. What else did this Chevet have to say?"
"Only a threat that if ever you came near me again his fingers would feel your throat, Monsieur. He spoke of hate between himself and your father."
The eyes upon mine lost their tolerant smile, and grew darker, and I marked the fingers of his hand clinch.
"That was like enough, for my father was little averse to a quarrel, although he seldom made boast of it afterwards. And so this Hugo Chevet threatened me! I am not of the blood, Mademoiselle, to take such things lightly. Yet wait—why came you to me with such a tale? Have you no friends?"
"None, Monsieur," I answered gravely, and regretfully, "other than the nuns to whom I went to school, and they are useless in such a case. I am an orphan under guardianship, and my whole life has been passed in this convent, and Chevet's cabin on the river. My mother died at my birth, my father was a soldier on the frontier, and I grew up alone among strangers. Scarcely have I met any save the rough boatmen, and those couriers du bois in my uncle's employ. There was no one else but you, Monsieur—no one. 'Twas not immodesty which caused me to make this appeal, but a dire need. I am a helpless, friendless girl."
"You trust me then?"
"Yes, Monsieur; I believe you a man of honor."
He walked across the room, once, twice, his head bent in thought, and I watched him, half frightened lest I had angered him.
"Have I done very wrong, Monsieur?"
He stopped, his eyes on my face. He must have perceived my perplexity, for he smiled again, and pressed my hand gently.
"If so, the angels must judge," he answered stoutly. "As for me, I am very glad you do me this honor. I but seek the best plan of service, Mademoiselle, for I stand between you and this sacrifice with much pleasure. You shall not marry Cassion while I wear a sword; yet, faith! I am so much a man of action that I see no way out but by the strong arm. Is appeal to the Governor, to the judges impossible?"
"He possesses influence now."
"True enough; he is the kind La Barre finds useful, while I can scarce keep my head upon my shoulders here in New France. To be follower of La Salle is to be called traitor. It required the aid of every friend I had in Quebec to secure me card of admission to the ball tonight."
"You attend, Monsieur?"
"Unless they bar me at the sword point. Know you why I made the effort?"
"Your promise to be present. I had no wish otherwise."
I felt the flush deepen on my cheeks and my eyes fell.
"'Tis most kind of you to say so, Monsieur," was all I could falter.
"Ay!" he interrupted, "we are both so alone in this New France 'tis well we help each other. I will find you a way out, Mademoiselle—perhaps this night; if not, then in the woods yonder. They are filled with secrets, yet have room to hide another."
"But not violence, Monsieur!"
"Planning and scheming is not my way, nor am I good at it. A soldier of La Salle needs more to understand action, and the De Artigny breed has ever had faith in steel. I seek no quarrel, yet if occasion arise this messenger of La Barre will find me quite ready. I know not what may occur. Mademoiselle; I merely pledge you my word of honor that Cassion will no longer seek your hand. The method you must trust to me."
Our eyes met, and his were kind and smiling, with a confidence in their depths that strangely heartened me. Before I realized the action I had given him my hand.
"I do, Monsieur, and question no more, though I pray for peace between you. Our time is up, Sister?"
"Yes, my child," she stood in the doorway, appearing like some saintly image. "The Mother sent me."
De Artigny released my hand, and bowed low.
"I still rely upon your attendance at the ball?" he asked, lingering at the door.
"And may bespeak a dance?"
"I cannot say no, although it may cost you dear."
He laughed gaily, his eyes bright with merriment.
"Faith! most pleasures do I find; the world would be dull enough otherwise. Till then, Mademoiselle, adieu."
We heard his quick step ring on the stone of the passage, and Celeste smiled, her hand on mine.
"A lad of spirit that. The Sieur de la Salle picks his followers well, and knows loyal hearts. The De Artignys never fail."
"You know of them, Sister?"
"I knew his father," she answered, half ashamed already of her impulse, "a gallant man. But come, the Mother would have you visit her."
IN THE PALACE OF THE INTENDANT
The huge palace of the Intendant, between the bluff and the river, was ablaze with lights, and already crowded with guests at our arrival. I had seen nothing of Chevet since the morning, nor did he appear now; but Monsieur Cassion was prompt enough, and congratulated me on my appearance with bows, and words of praise which made me flush with embarrassment. Yet I knew myself that I looked well in the new gown, simple enough to be sure, yet prettily draped, for Sister Celeste had helped me, and 'twas whispered she had seen fine things in Europe before she donned the sober habit of a nun. She loved yet to dress another, and her swift touches to my hair had worked a miracle. I read admiration in Cassion's eyes, as I came forward from the shadows to greet him, and was not unhappy to know he recognized my beauty, and was moved by it. Yet it was not of him I thought, but Rene de Artigny.
There was a chair without, and bearers, while two soldiers of the Regiment of Picardy, held torches to light the way, and open passage. Cassion walked beside me, his tongue never still, yet I was too greatly interested in the scene to care what he was saying, although I knew it to be mostly compliment. It was a steep descent, the stones of the roadway wet and glistening from a recent shower, and the ceaseless stream of people, mostly denizens of Quebec, peered at us curiously as we made slow progress. Great bonfires glowed from every high point of the cliff, their red glare supplementing our torches, and bringing out passing faces in odd distinctness.
A spirit of carnival seemed to possess the crowd, and more than once bits of green, and handfuls of sweets were tossed into my lap; while laughter, and gay badinage greeted us from every side. Cassion took this rather grimly, and gave stern word to the soldier escort, but I found it all diverting enough, and had hard work to retain my dignity, and not join in the merriment. It was darker at the foot of the hill, yet the crowd did not diminish, although they stood in ankle deep mud, and seemed less vivacious. Now and then I heard some voice name Cassion as we passed, recognizing his face in the torch glow, but there was no sign that he was popular. Once a man called out something which caused him to stop, hand on sword, but he fronted so many faces that he lost heart, and continued, laughing off the affront. Then we came to the guard lines, and were beyond reach of the mob.
An officer met us, pointing out the way, and, after he had assisted us to descend from the chair, we advanced slowly over a carpet of clean straw toward the gaily lighted entrance. Soldiers lined the walls on either side, and overhead blazed a beacon suspended on a chain. It was a scene rather grotesque and weird in the red glow, and I took Cassion's arm gladly, feeling just a little frightened by the strange surroundings.
"Where is my Uncle Chevet?" I asked, more as a relief, than because I cared, although I was glad of his absence because of De Artigny.
"In faith, I know not," he answered lightly. "I won him a card, but he was scarce gracious about it. In some wine shop likely with others of his kind."
There were servants at the door, and an officer, who scanned the cards of those in advance of us, yet passed Cassion, with a glance at his face, and word of recognition. I observed him turn and stare after me, for our eyes met, but, almost before I knew what had occurred, I found myself in a side room, with a maid helping to remove my wraps, and arrange my hair. She was gracious and apt, with much to say in praise of my appearance; and at my expression of doubt, brought a mirror and held it before me. Then, for the first time, did I comprehend the magic of Sister Celeste, and what had been accomplished by her deft fingers. I was no longer a rustic maid, but really a quite grand lady, so that I felt a thrill of pride as I went forth once more to join Cassion in the hall. 'Twas plain enough to be seen that my appearance pleased him also, for appreciation was in his eyes, and he bowed low over my hand, and lifted it gallantly to his lips.
I will not describe the scene in the great ballroom, for now, as I write, the brilliant pageant is but a dim memory, confused and tantalizing. I recall the bright lights overhead, and along the walls, the festooned banners, the raised dais at one end, carpeted with skins of wild animals, where the Governor stood, the walls covered with arms and trophies of the chase, the guard of soldiers at each entrance, and the mass of people grouped about the room.
It was an immense apartment, but so filled with guests as to leave scarce space for dancing, and the company was a strange one; representative, I thought, of each separate element which composed the population of New France. Officers of the regiments in garrison were everywhere, apparently in charge of the evening's pleasure, but their uniforms bore evidence of service. The naval men were less numerous, yet more brilliantly attired, and seemed fond of the dance, and were favorites of the ladies. These were young, and many of them beautiful; belles of Quebec mostly, and, although their gowns were not expensive, becomingly attired. Yet from up and down the river the seigniors had brought their wives and daughters to witness the event. Some of these were uncouth enough, and oddly appareled; not a few among them plainly exhibiting traces of Indian blood; and here and there, standing silent and alone, could be noted a red chief from distant forest. Most of those men I saw bore evidence in face and dress of the wild, rough life they led—fur traders from far-off waterways, guardians of wilderness forts, explorers and adventurers.
Many a name reached my ears famous in those days, but forgotten long since; and once or twice, as we slowly made our way through the throng, Cassion pointed out to me some character of importance in the province, or paused to present me with formality to certain officials whom he knew. It was thus we approached the dais, and awaited our turn to extend felicitations to the Governor. Just before us was Du L'Hut, whose name Cassion whispered in my ear, a tall, slender man, attired as a courier du bois, with long fair hair sweeping his shoulders. I had heard of him as a daring explorer, but there was no premonition that he would ever again come into my life, and I was more deeply interested in the appearance of La Barre.
He was a dark man, stern of face, and with strange, furtive eyes, concealed behind long lashes and overhanging brows. Yet he was most gracious to Du L'Hut, and when he turned, and perceived Monsieur Cassion next in line, smiled and extended his hand cordially.
"Ah, Francois, and so you are here at last, and ever welcome. And this," he bowed low before me in excess of gallantry, "no doubt will be the Mademoiselle la Chesnayne of whose charms I have heard so much of late. By my faith, Cassion, even your eloquence hath done small justice to the lady. Where, Mademoiselle, have you hidden yourself, to remain unknown to us of Quebec?"
"I have lived with my uncle, Hugo Chevet."
"Ah, yes; I recall the circumstances now—a rough, yet loyal trader. He was with me once on the Ottawa—and tonight?"
"He accompanied me to the city, your excellency, but I have not seen him since."
"Small need, with Francois at your beck and call," and he patted me playfully on the cheek. "I have already tested his faithfulness. Your father, Mademoiselle?"
"Captain Pierre la Chesnayne, sir."
"Ah, yes; I knew him well; he fell on the Richelieu; a fine soldier." He turned toward Cassion, the expression of his face changed.
"You depart tonight?"
"At daybreak, sir."
"That is well; see to it that no time is lost on the journey. I have it in my mind that De Baugis may need you, for, from all I hear Henri de Tonty is not an easy man to handle."
"Ay! the lieutenant Sieur de la Salle left in charge at St. Louis; an Italian they tell me, and loyal to his master. 'Tis like he may resist my orders, and De Baugis hath but a handful with which to uphold authority. I am not sure I approve of your selecting this lad De Artigny as a guide; he may play you false."
"Small chance he'll have for any trick."
"Perchance not, yet the way is long, and he knows the wilderness. I advise you guard him well. I shall send to you for council in an hour; there are papers yet unsigned."
He turned away to greet those who followed us in line, while we moved forward into the crowd about the walls. Cassion whispered in my ear, telling me bits of gossip about this and that one who passed us, seeking to exhibit his wit, and impress me with his wide acquaintance. I must have made fit response, for his voice never ceased, yet I felt no interest in the stories, and disliked the man more than ever for his vapid boasting. The truth is my thought was principally concerned with De Artigny, and whether he would really gain admission. Still of this I had small doubt, for his was a daring to make light of guards, or any threat of enemies, if desire urged him on. And I had his pledge.
My eyes watched every moving figure, but the man was not present, my anxiety increasing as I realized his absence, and speculated as to its cause. Could Cassion have interfered? Could he have learned of our interview, and used his influence secretly to prevent our meeting again? It was not impossible, for the man was seemingly in close touch with Quebec, and undoubtedly possessed power. My desire to see De Artigny was now for his own sake—to warn him of danger and treachery. The few words I had caught passing between La Barre and Cassion had to me a sinister meaning; they were a promise of protection from the Governor to his lieutenant, and this officer of La Salle's should be warned that he was suspected and watched. There was more to La Barre's words than appeared openly; it would be later, when they were alone, that he would give his real orders to Cassion. Yet I felt small doubt as to what those orders would be, nor of the failure of the lieutenant to execute them. The wilderness hid many a secret, and might well conceal another. In some manner that night I must find De Artigny, and whisper my warning.
These were my thoughts, crystallizing into purpose, yet I managed to smile cheerily into the face of the Commissaire and make such reply to his badinage as gave him pleasure. Faith, the man loved himself so greatly the trick was easy, the danger being that I yield too much to his audacity. No doubt he deemed me a simple country maid, overawed by his gallantries, nor did I seek to undeceive him, even permitting the fool to press my hand, and whisper his soft nonsense. Yet he ventured no further, seeing that in my eyes warning him of danger if he grew insolent. I danced with him twice, pleased to know I had not forgotten the step, and then, as he felt compelled to show attention to the Governor's lady, he left me in charge of a tall, thin officer—a Major Callons, I think—reluctantly, and disappeared in the crowd. Never did I part with one more willingly, and as the Major spoke scarcely a dozen words during our long dance together I found opportunity to think, and decide upon a course of action.
As the music ceased my only plan was to avoid Cassion as long as possible, and, at my suggestion, the silent major conducted me to a side room, and then disappeared seeking refreshments. I grasped the opportunity to slip through the crowd, and find concealment in a quiet corner. It was impossible for me to conceive that De Artigny would fail to come. He had pledged his word, and there was that about the man to give me faith. Ay! he would come, unless there had already been treachery. My heart beat swiftly at the thought, my eyes eagerly searching the moving figures in the ballroom. Yet there was nothing I could do but wait, although fear was already tugging at my heart.
I leaned forward scanning each passing face, my whole attention concentrated on the discovery of De Artigny. Where he came from I knew not, but his voice softly speaking at my very ear brought me to my feet, with a little cry of relief. The joy of finding him must have found expression in my eyes, in my eager clasping of his hand, for he laughed.
"'Tis as though I was truly welcomed, Mademoiselle," he said, and gravely enough. "Could I hope that you were even seeking me yonder?"
"It would be the truth, if you did," I responded frankly, "and I was beginning to doubt your promise."
"Nor was it as easily kept as I supposed when given," he said under his breath. "Come with me into this side room where we can converse more freely—I can perceive Monsieur Cassion across the floor. No doubt he is seeking you, and my presence here will give the man no pleasure."
I glanced in the direction indicated, and although I saw nothing of the Commissaire, I slipped back willingly enough through the lifted curtain into the deserted room behind. It was evidently an office of some kind, for it contained only a desk and some chairs, and was unlighted, except for the gleam from between the curtains. The outer wall was so thick a considerable space separated the room from the window, which was screened off by heavy drapery. De Artigny appeared familiar with these details, for, with scarcely a glance about, he led me into this recess, where we stood concealed. Lights from below illumined our faces, and revealed an open window looking down on the court. My companion glanced out at the scene beneath, and his eyes and lips smiled as he turned again and faced me.
"But, Monsieur," I questioned puzzled, "why was it not easy? You met with trouble?"
"Hardly that; a mere annoyance. I may only suspect the cause, but an hour after I left you my ticket of invitation was withdrawn."
"Withdrawn? by whom?"
"The order of La Barre, no doubt; an officer of his guard called on me to say he preferred my absence."
"'Twas the work of Cassion."
"So I chose to believe, especially as he sent me word later to remain at the boats, and have them in readiness for departure at any minute. Some inkling of our meeting must have reached his ears."
"But how came you here, then?"
He laughed in careless good humor.
"Why that was no trick! Think you I am one to disappoint because of so small an obstacle? As the door was refused me I sought other entrance and found it here." He pointed through the open window. "It was not a difficult passage, but I had to wait the withdrawal of the guards below, which caused my late arrival. Yet this was compensated for by discovering you so quickly. My only fear was encountering someone I knew while seeking you on the floor."
"You entered through this window?"
"Yes; there is a lattice work below."
"And whose office is that within?"
"My guess is that of Colonel Delguard, La Barre's chief of staff, for there was a letter for him lying on the desk. What difference? You are glad I came?"
"Yes, Monsieur, but not so much for my own sake, as for yours. I bring you warning that you adventure with those who would do you evil if the chance arrive."
"Bah! Monsieur Cassion?"
"'Tis not well for you to despise the man, for he has power and is a villain at heart in spite of all his pretty ways. 'Tis said he has the cruelty of a tiger, and in this case La Barre gives him full authority."
"Hath the Governor grudge against me also?"
"Only that you are follower of La Salle, and loyal, while he is heart and hand with the other faction. He chided Cassion for accepting you as guide, and advised close watch lest you show treachery."
"You overheard their talk?"
"Ay! they made no secret of it; but I am convinced La Barre has more definite instructions to give in private, for he asked the Commissaire to come to him later for conference. I felt that you should be told, Monsieur."
De Artigny leaned motionless against the window ledge, and the light streaming in through the opening of the draperies revealed the gravity of his expression. For the moment he remained silent, turning the affair over in his mind.
"I thank you, Mademoiselle," he said finally, and touched my hand, "for your report gives me one more link to my chain. I have picked up several in the past few hours, and all seem to lead back to the manipulations of Cassion. Faith! there is some mystery here, for surely the man seemed happy enough when first we met at Chevet's house, and accepted my offer gladly. Have you any theory as to this change in his front?"
I felt the blood surge to my cheeks, and my eyes fell before the intensity of his glance.
"If I have, Monsieur, 'tis no need that it be mentioned."
"Your pardon, Mademoiselle, but your words already answer me—'tis then that I have shown interest in you; the dog is jealous!"
He laughed, and I felt the tightening of his hand on mine.
"Good! and by all the gods, I will give him fair cause. The thought pleases me, for rather would I be your soldier than my own. See, how it dovetails in—I meet you at the convent and pledge you my aid; some spy bears word of our conference to Monsieur, and an hour later I receive word that if I have more to do with you I die. I smile at the warning and send back a message of insult. Then my invitation to this ball is withdrawn, and, later still, La Barre even advises that I be assassinated at the least excuse. 'Twould seem they deem you of importance, Mademoiselle."
"You make it no more than a joke?"
"Far from it; the very fact that I know the men makes it matter of grave concern. I might, indeed, smile did it concern myself alone, but I have your interests in mind—you have honored me by calling me your only friend, and now I know not where I may serve you best—in the wilderness, or here in Quebec?"
"There can nothing injure me here, Monsieur, not with Cassion traveling to the Illinois. No doubt he will leave behind him those who will observe my movements—that cannot harm."
"It is Hugo Chevet, I fear."
"Chevet! my uncle—I do not understand."
"No, for he is your uncle, and you know him only in such relationship. He may have been to you kind and indulgent. I do not ask. But to those who meet him in the world he is a big, cruel, savage brute, who would sacrifice even you, if you stood in his way. And now if you fail to marry Cassion, you will so stand. He is the one who will guard you, by choice of the Commissaire, and orders of La Barre, and he will do his part well."
"I can remain with the sisters."
"Not in opposition to the Governor; they would never dare antagonize him; tomorrow you will return with Chevet."
I drew a quick breath, my eyes on his face.
"How can you know all this, Monsieur? Why should my uncle sacrifice me?"
"No matter how I know. Some of it has been your own confession, coupled with my knowledge of the man. Three days ago I learned of his debt to Cassion, and that the latter had him in his claws, and at his mercy. Today I had evidence of what that debt means."
"Ay! 'twas from Chevet the threat came that he would kill me if I ever met with you again."
I could but stare at him, incredulous, my fingers unconsciously grasping his jacket.
"He said that? Chevet?"
"Ay! Chevet; the message came by mouth of the half-breed, his voyageur, and I choked out of him where he had left his master, yet when I got there the man had gone. If we might meet tonight the matter would be swiftly settled."
He gazed out into the darkness, and I saw his hand close on the hilt of his knife. I caught his arm.
"No, no Monsieur; not that. You must not seek a quarrel, for I am not afraid—truly I am not; you will listen—"
There was a voice speaking in the office room behind, the closing of a door, and the scraping of a chair as someone sat down. My words ceased, and we stood silent in the shadow, my grasp still on De Artigny's arm.
THE ORDER OF LA BARRE
I did not recognize the voice speaking—a husky voice, the words indistinct, yet withal forceful—nor do I know what it was he said. But when the other answered, tapping on the desk with some instrument, I knew the second speaker to be La Barre, and leaned back just far enough to gain glimpse through the opening in the drapery. He sat at the desk, his back toward us, while his companion, a red-faced, heavily-moustached man, in uniform of the Rifles, stood opposite, one arm on the mantel over the fireplace. His expression was that of amused interest.
"You saw the lady?" he asked.
"In the receiving line for a moment only; a fair enough maid to be loved for her own sake I should say. Faith, never have I seen handsomer eyes."
The other laughed.
"'Tis well Madame does not overhear that confession. An heiress, and beautiful! Piff! but she might find others to her liking rather than this Cassion."
"It is small chance she has had to make choice, and as to her being an heiress, where heard you such a rumor, Colonel Delguard?"
The officer straightened up.
"You forget, sir," he said slowly, "that the papers passed through my hands after Captain la Chesnayne's death. It was at your request they failed to reach the hands of Frontenac."
La Barre gazed at him across the desk, his brows contracted into a frown.
"No, I had not forgotten," and the words sounded harsh. "But they came to me properly sealed, and I supposed unopened. I think I have some reason to ask an explanation, Monsieur."
"And one easily made. I saw only the letter, but that revealed enough to permit of my guessing the rest. It is true, is it not, that La Chesnayne left an estate of value?"
"He thought so, but, as you must be aware, it had been alienated by act of treason."
"Ay! but Comte de Frontenac appealed the case to the King, who granted pardon, and restoration."
"So, 'twas rumored, but unsupported by the records. So far as New France knows there was no reply from Versailles."
The Colonel stood erect, and advanced a step, his expression one of sudden curiosity.
"In faith, Governor," he said swiftly, "but your statement awakens wonder. If this be so why does Francois Cassion seek the maid so ardently? Never did I deem that cavalier one to throw himself away without due reward."
La Barre laughed.
"Perchance you do Francois ill judgment, Monsieur le Colonel," he replied amused. "No doubt 'tis love, for, in truth, the witch would send sluggish blood dancing with the glance of her eyes. Still," more soberly, his eyes falling to the desk, "'tis, as you say, scarce in accord with Cassion's nature to thus make sacrifice, and there have been times when I suspected he did some secret purpose. I use the man, yet never trust him."
"Nor I, since he played me foul trick at La Chine. Could he have found the paper of restoration, and kept it concealed, until all was in his hands?"
"I have thought of that, yet it doth not appear possible. Francois was in ill grace with Frontenac, and could never have reached the archives. If the paper came to his hands it was by accident, or through some treachery. Well,'tis small use of our discussing the matter. He hath won my pledge to Mademoiselle la Chesnayne's hand, for I would have him friend, not enemy, just now. They marry on his return."
"He is chosen then for the mission to Fort St. Louis?"
"Ay, there were reasons for his selection. The company departs at dawn. Tell him, Monsieur, that I await him now for final interview."
I watched Delguard salute, and turn away to execute his order. La Barre drew a paper from a drawer of the desk, and bent over it pen in hand. My eyes lifted to the face of De Artigny, standing motionless behind me in the deeper shadow.
"You overheard, Monsieur?" I whispered.
He leaned closer, his lips at my ear, his eyes dark with eagerness.
"Every word, Mademoiselle! Fear not, I shall yet learn the truth from this Cassion. You suspected?"
I shook my head, uncertain.
"My father died in that faith, Monsieur, but Chevet called me a beggar."
"Chevet! no doubt he knows all, and has a dirty hand in the mess. He called you beggar, hey!—hush, the fellow comes."
He was a picture of insolent servility, as he stood there bowing, his gay dress fluttering with ribbons, his face smiling, yet utterly expressionless. La Barre lifted his eyes, and surveyed him coldly.
"You sent for me, sir?"
"Yes, although I scarcely thought at this hour you would appear in the apparel of a dandy. I have chosen you for serious work, Monsieur, and the time is near for your departure. Surely my orders were sufficiently clear?"
"They were, Governor la Barre," and Cassion's lips lost their grin, "and my delay in changing dress has occurred through the strange disappearance of Mademoiselle la Chesnayne. I left her with Major Callons while I danced with my lady, and have since found no trace of the maid."
"Does not Callons know?"
"Only that, seeking refreshments, he left her, and found her gone on his return. Her wraps are in the dressing room."
"Then 'tis not like she has fled the palace. No doubt she awaits you in some corner. I will have the servants look, and meanwhile pay heed to me. This is a mission of more import than love-making with a maid, Monsieur Cassion, and its success, or failure, will determine your future. You have my letter of instruction?"
"It has been carefully read."
"And the sealed orders for Chevalier de Baugis?"
"Here, protected in oiled silk."
"See that they reach him, and no one else; they give him an authority I could not grant before, and should end La Salle's control of that country. You have met this Henri de Tonty? He was here with his master three years since, and had audience."
"Ay, but that was before my time. Is he one to resist De Baugis?"
"He impressed me as a man who would obey to the letter, Monsieur; a dark-faced soldier, with an iron jaw. He had lost one arm in battle, and was loyal to his chief."
"So I have heard—a stronger man than De Baugis?"
"A more resolute; all depends on what orders La Salle left, and the number of men the two command."
"In that respect the difference is not great. De Baugis had but a handful of soldiers to take from Mackinac, although his voyageurs may be depended upon to obey his will. His instructions were not to employ force."
"And the garrison of St. Louis?"
"'Tis hard to tell, as there are fur hunters there of whom we have no record. La Salle's report would make his own command eighteen, but they are well chosen, and he hath lieutenants not so far away as to be forgotten. La Forest would strike at a word, and De la Durantaye is at the Chicago portage, and no friend of mine. 'Tis of importance, therefore, that your voyage be swiftly completed, and my orders placed in De Baugis' hands. Are all things ready for departure?"
"Ay, the boats only await my coming."
The Governor leaned his head on his hand, crumbling the paper between his fingers.
"This young fellow—De Artigny," he said thoughtfully, "you have some special reason for keeping him in your company?"
Cassion crossed the room, his face suddenly darkening.
"Ay, now I have," he explained shortly, "although I first engaged his services merely for what I deemed to be their value. He spoke me most fairly."
"I have cause to suspect. Chevet tells me that today he had conference with Mademoiselle at the House of the Ursulines."
"Ah, 'twas for that then you had his ticket revoked. I see where the shoe pinches. 'Twill be safer with him in the boats than back here in Quebec. Then I give permission, and wash my hands of the whole affair—but beware of him, Cassion."
"I may be trusted, sir."
"I question that no longer." He hesitated slightly, then added in lower tone: "If accident occur the report may be briefly made. I think that will be all."
Both men were upon their feet, and La Barre extended his hand across the desk. I do not know what movement may have caused it, but at that moment, a wooden ring holding the curtain fell, and struck the floor at my feet. Obeying the first impulse I thrust De Artigny back behind me into the shadow, and held aside the drapery. Both men, turning, startled at the sound, beheld me clearly, and stared in amazement. Cassion took a step forward, an exclamation of surprise breaking from his lips.
I stepped more fully into the light, permitting the curtain to fall behind me, and my eyes swept their faces.
"Yes, Monsieur—you were seeking me?"
"For an hour past; for what reason did you leave the ballroom?"
With no purpose in my mind but to gain time in which to collect my thought and protect De Artigny from discovery, I made answer, assuming a carelessness of demeanor which I was far from feeling.
"Has it been so long, Monsieur?" I returned in apparent surprise. "Why I merely sought a breath of fresh air, and became interested in the scene without."
La Barre stood motionless, just as he had risen to his feet at the first alarm, his eyes on my face, his heavy eyebrows contracted in a frown.
"I will question the young lady, Cassion," he said sternly, "for I have interests here of my own. Mademoiselle!"
"How long have you been behind that curtain?"
"Monsieur Cassion claims to have sought me for an hour."
"Enough of that," his voice grown harsh, and threatening. "You address the Governor; answer me direct."
I lifted my eyes to his stern face, but they instantly fell before the encounter of his fierce gaze.
"I do not know, Monsieur."
"Who was here when you came in?"
"No one, Monsieur; the room was empty."
"Then you hid there, and overheard the conversation between Colonel Delguard and myself?"
"Yes, Monsieur," I confessed, feeling my limbs tremble.
"And also all that has passed since Monsieur Cassion entered?"
He drew a deep breath, striking his hand on the desk, as though he would control his anger.
"Were you alone? Had you a companion?"
I know not how I managed it, yet I raised my eyes to his, simulating a surprise I was far from feeling.
"Alone, Monsieur? I am Adele la Chesnayne; if you doubt, the way of discovery is open without word from me."
His suspicious, doubting eyes never left my face, and there was sneer in his voice as he answered.
"Bah! I am not in love to be played with by a witch. Perchance 'tis not easy for you to lie. Well, we will see. Look within the alcove, Cassion."
The Commissaire was there even before the words of command were uttered, and my heart seemed to stop beating as his heavy hand tore aside the drapery. I leaned on the desk, bracing myself, expecting a blow, a struggle; but all was silent. Cassion, braced, and expectant, peered into the shadows, evidently perceiving nothing; then stepped within, only to instantly reappear, his expression that of disappointment. The blood surged back to my heart, and my lips smiled.
"No one is there, Monsieur," he reported, "but the window is open."
"And not a dangerous leap to the court below," returned La Barre thoughtfully. "So far you win, Mademoiselle. Now will you answer me—were you alone there ten minutes ago?"
"It is useless for me to reply, Monsieur," I answered with dignity, "as it will in no way change your decision."
"You have courage, at least."
"The inheritance of my race, Monsieur."
"Well, we'll test it then, but not in the form you anticipate." He smiled, but not pleasantly, and resumed his seat at the desk. "I propose closing your mouth, Mademoiselle, and placing you beyond temptation. Monsieur Cassion, have the lieutenant at the door enter."
I stood in silence, wondering at what was about to occur; was I to be made prisoner? or what form was my punishment to assume? The power of La Barre I knew, and his stern vindictiveness, and well I realized the fear and hate which swept his mind, as he recalled the conversation I had overheard. He must seal my lips to protect himself—but how? As though in a daze I saw Cassion open the door, speak a sharp word to one without, and return, followed by a young officer, who glanced curiously aside at me, even as he saluted La Barre, and stood silently awaiting his orders. The latter remained a moment motionless, his lips firm set.
"Where is Father Le Guard?"
"In the Chapel, Monsieur; he passed me a moment ago."
"Good; inform the pere that I desire his presence at once. Wait! know you the fur trader, Hugo Chevet?"
"I have seen the man, Monsieur—a big fellow, with a shaggy head."
"Ay, as savage as the Indians he has lived among. He is to be found at Eclair's wine shop in the Rue St. Louis. Have your sentries bring him here to me. Attend to both these matters."
La Barre's eyes turned from the disappearing figure of the officer, rested a moment on my face, and then smiled grimly as he fronted Cassion. He seemed well pleased with himself, and to have recovered his good humor.
"A delightful surprise for you, Monsieur Cassion," he said genially, "and let us hope no less a pleasure for the fair lady. Be seated, Mademoiselle; there may be a brief delay. You perceive my plan, no doubt?"
Cassion did not answer, and the Governor looked at me.
"And yet so simple, so joyful a way out of this unfortunate predicament. I am surprised. Cassion here might not appreciate how nicely this method will answer to close your lips, but you, remembering clearly the private conference between myself and Colonel Delguard, should grasp my purpose at once. Your marriage is to take place tonight, Mademoiselle."
"Tonight! my marriage! to whom?"
"Ah! is there then more than one prospective bridegroom? Monsieur Cassion surely I am not in error that you informed me of your engagement to Mademoiselle la Chesnayne?"