[Frontispiece: "Come, fellow, thou art trapped; give me up my purse."]
The Black Wolf's Breed
A Story of France In the Old World and the New, happening in the Reign of Louis XIV
ILLUSTRATIONS BY C. M. RELYEA
GROSSET & DUNLAP
Publishers -:- New York
The Bowen-Merrill Company
All rights reserved
TO THE MEMORY OF
THE SOLDIER-GOVERNOR OF LOUISIANA
OUT OF WHOSE
MIGHTY PROVINCE HAS GROWN NEARLY ONE-HALF
I The Master II Bienville III Aboard Le Dauphin IV The Road to Versailles V The Decadence of Versailles VI Louis XIV VII At the Austrian Arms VIII A New Friend IX Mademoiselle X In the House of Bertrand XI The Dawn and the Dusk XII Florine to the Rescue XIII The Girl of the Wine Shop XIV The Secretary and the Duke XV New Hopes XVI The Unexpected XVII The Flight From Sceaux XVIII Serigny's Departure XIX The Castle of Cartillon XX From the Path of Duty XXI The Fall of Pensacola XXII The Contents of the Box XXIII A Note Which Went Astray XXIV The Children of the Black Wolf's Breed
LOI "Come, fellow, thou art trapped; give me up my purse." . . Frontispiece
"What is it; what device is there?"
"The old man gazed steadily at me for some moments." ELOI
FRANCE—In the old world and in the new!
The France of romance and glory under Henry of Navarre; of pride and glitter under Louis XIV, in whose reign was builded, under the silver lilies, that empire—Louisiana—in the vague, dim valley of the Mississippi across the sea: these are the scenes wherein this drama shall be played. Through these times shall run the tale which follows. Times when a man's good sword was ever his truest friend, when he who fought best commanded most respect. It was the era of lusty men——the weak went to the wall.
King and courtier; soldier and diplomat; lass and lady; these are the people with whom this story deals. If, therefore, you find brave fighting and swords hanging too loosely in their sheaths; if honor clings round an empty shadow and the women seem more fair than honest, I pray you remember when these things did happen, who were the actors, and the stage whereon they played.
THE BLACK WOLF'S BREED
It is fitting that old men, even those whose trade is war, should end their days in peace, yet it galls me grievously to sit idly here by the fire, in this year of grace 1746, while great things go on in the world about me.
The feeble hound at my feet, stretching his crippled limbs to the blaze, dreams of the chase, and bays delighted in his sleep. Nor can I do more than dream and meditate and brood.
News of Fontenoy and the glory of Prince Maurice thrills my sluggish blood; again I taste the wild joys of conflict; the clashing steel, the battle shouts, the cries of dying men—-yea, even the death scream of those sorely stricken comes as a balm to soothe my droning age. But the youthful vigor is gone. This arm could scarcely wield a bodkin; the old friend of many campaigns rusts in its scabbard, and God knows France had never more urgent need of keen and honest swords.
Thus run my thoughts while I sit here like some decrepit priest, bending over my task, for though but an indifferent clerk I desire to leave this narrative for my children's children.
My early life was spent, as my children already know, for the most part in the American Colonies. Of my father I knew little, he being stationed at such remote frontier posts in the savage country that he would not allow my mother and myself to accompany him. So we led a secluded life in the garrison at Quebec. After the news came of his death somewhere out in the wilderness, my brave mother and I were left entirely alone. I was far too young then to realize my loss, and the memory of those peaceful years in America with my patient, accomplished mother remains to me now the very happiest of my life.
From her I learned to note and love the beauties of mountain and of stream. The broad blue St. Lawrence and the mighty forests on its banks were a constant source of delight to my childish fancy, and those memories cling to me, ineffaceable even by all these years of war and tumult.
When she died I drifted to our newer stations in the south, down the great river, and it is of that last year in Louisiana, while I was yet Captain de Mouret of Bienville's Guards, that I would have my children know.
Along the shore of Back Bay, on the southern coast of our Province of Louisiana, the dense marsh grass grows far out into the water, trembling and throbbing with the ebb and flow of every tide.
Thicker than men at arms, it stands awhile erect where the shallow sea waves foam and fret; then climbing higher ground, it straggles away, thinner and thinner, in oaken-shaded solitudes long innocent of sun.
Beginning on the slopes, a vast mysterious forest, without village, path, or white inhabitant, stretches inland far and away beyond the utmost ken of man. There the towering pines range themselves in ever-receding colonnades upon a carpet smooth and soft as ever hushed the tread of Sultan's foot. Dripping from their topmost boughs the sunlight's splendor flickers on the floor, as if it stole through chancel window of some cool cathedral where Nature in proud humility worshiped at the foot of Nature's God.
It was in those wilds, somewhere, the fabled El Dorado lay; there bubbled the fountain of eternal youth: through that endless wilderness of forest, plain and hill flowed on in turbid majesty the waters of De Soto's mighty grave.
It was late one clear moonlight night in the spring of 17—, when three silent figures emerged from the woodland darkness and struck across the wide extent of rank grass which yet separated us from the bay. Tuskahoma led the way, a tall grim Choctaw chieftain, my companion on many a hunt, his streaming plumes fluttering behind him as he strode. I followed, and after me, Le Corbeau Rouge, a runner of the Choctaws. We were returning to Biloxi from a reconnaissance in the Chickasaw country.
Each straight behind the other, dumb and soundless shadows, we passed along the way, hardly bruising a leaf or brushing the rustling reeds aside.
"See, there is the light," grunted Tuskahoma, pointing to a glimmer through the trees. "Yes, the White Prophet never sleeps," assented Le Corbeau Rouge.
The light which marked our almost ended journey came from a window in one of those low, square log houses, fortress-dwellings, so common in the provinces.
Here, however, the strong pine palisades were broken down in many places; the iron-studded gate hung unhinged and open, the accumulated sand at its base showed it had not been closed in many years.
But the decay and neglect everywhere manifest in its defenses extended no further, for inside the enclosure was a garden carefully tended; a trailing vine clung lovingly to a corner of the wide gallery, and even a few of the bright roses of France lent their sweetness to a place it seemed impossible to associate with a thought of barbaric warfare.
I loved this humble home, for in such a one my mother and I had spent those last years of sweet good-comradeship before her death—the roses, the rude house, all reminded me of her, of peace, of gentler things.
The character of its lone occupant protected this lowly abode far better than the armies of France, the chivalry of Spain, or the Choctaw's ceaseless vigilance could possibly have done. He came there it was said, some fifteen years before, a Huguenot exile, seemingly a man of education and birth. He built his castle of refuge on a knoll overlooking the sheltered bay, hoping there to find the toleration denied him in his native land. The edict of Nantes had been revoked by King Louis, and thousands of exiled Frenchmen of high and low degree sought new fortunes in newer lands.
Many had reached America, and strove with energetic swords and rapacious wallets to wrest blood and gold and fame from whatsoever source they might.
This man alone of all those first explorers had shown no disposition to search out the hidden treasures of the wilderness, to prey upon the natives. He became their friend and not their plunderer.
His quiet life, his kindness, his charity, his knowledge of the simple arts of healing, so endeared him to every warring faction that at his house the Choctaw and the Chickasaw, the Frenchman, Spaniard and the Englishman met alike in peace. So the needless fortifications fell into unrepaired decay.
Many an afternoon I had paddled across the bay and spent a quiet hour with him, as far from the jars and discord at Biloxi as if we were in some other world.
As, this night, we drew nearer the house we saw no signs of life save the chinks of light creeping beneath the door. I rapped, and his voice bade me enter.
The master sat at his table in the center of a great room, about which were a number of surgical and scientific instruments, all objects of mistrust to my Indian friends.
These curious weapons of destruction or of witchcraft, for so the Indians regarded them, contributed to make him an object of fear, which doubtless did much to strengthen his influence among the tribes.
He was at this time somewhat more than sixty, slender and rather above the medium height. With his usual grave courtesy he welcomed us and readily loaned the small pirogue necessary to carry our party across the bay.
The Indians were restless and the governor waited, so I only thanked our host and turned to go.
He rose, and laying his hand upon my arm detained me. "Wait, Placide; I am glad you returned this way, for I have long wished to speak with you; especially do I wish it on this night—on this night. Sit down."
Mechanically I obeyed, for I could see there was something of more than usual import on his mind. The Indians had withdrawn, and the master, pacing uncertainly about the room, paused and regarded me intently, as if he almost regretted his invitation to stay. After several efforts he abruptly began:
"I fear I have not very long to live, and dread to meet death, leaving a solemn duty unperformed. It is of this I would speak."
I listened in silence. He spoke hurriedly as though he doubted his resolution to tell it all.
"You, and every one in these colonies, know me only as Colonel d'Ortez, the Huguenot refugee. So I have been known by the whites ever since I came here to escape persecution at home, and to get forever beyond the sound of a name which has become hateful to me—my own.
"The Counts d'Artin have been a proud race in France for centuries, yet I, the last d'Artin, find the name too great a burden to bear with me in shameful silence to my grave. See this," and he took from his throat a pearl-studded locket, swung by a substantial golden chain, which he opened and handed to me. Inside were the arms of a noble family exquisitely blazoned upon a silver shield.
"What is it; what device is there?"
I knew something of heraldry and read aloud without hesitation the bearings upon the shield, prominent among which were three wolves' heads, chevroned, supported by two black wolves, rampant, the coronet and motto "Praeclare factum."
"Aye," he mused half coherently, "the wolf; 'tis the crest of the d'Artins, quartered with those of many of the most ancient houses of France. So do those arms appear to men. But see."
He took the locket quickly from me and with a swift forceful movement turned the plate in its place, exposing the reverse side.
"What is this? Look!"
I glanced at it and started, looking inquiringly into my old friend's face. He avoided my eye.
I saw now upon the plate the same arms, the same quarterings, but over all there ran diagonally across the scutcheon a flaming bar of red which blazed evilly upon the silver ground. I understood.
"What is it?" he demanded impatiently. I still could find no word to answer.
"Speak out boy, what is it?"
"The same, but here, overall, is the bendlet sinister." I scarcely dared to look up into his face.
"Aye," he replied, his countenance livid with shame. "It is the bar sinister, the badge of dishonor. So do those proud arms appear in the sight of God, and so shall they be seen of men. And for generations each Lord of Cartillon has added to that crimson stripe the indelible stain of cowardice."
The master, his features working convulsively with humbled pride, his eyes never leaving the floor, continued resolutely.
"The story is short. Over a hundred years ago the Count d'Artin was murdered in his castle by the son of a peasant woman, his half brother, who assumed the title and seized the estates. This was easy in those times, for the murdered man was a Huguenot, his slayer a Catholic in the service of Guise, and it was the day after St. Bartholomew's. The count had sent his infant son for safety to an old friend, the abbott of a neighboring monastery. This child was brought up in the Catholic faith, and in him and his descendants resided the true right of the Counts d'Artin. Of this they have always been ignorant. The usurper on his death bed repented, and calling his own son to him, told him the whole story, exacting a solemn oath that he would find the disinherited one and restore to him his own. This oath was kept in part. His son, Raoul d'Ortez, found the child, then an officer in the army, but lacked the courage to declare his own shame, and relinquish the price of his father's crime. By that Raoul d'Ortez this locket was made, and the same vow and the same tradition were handed down to me. I have no child. God knows I would give up the accursed heritage if I could.
"During all these years a careful record has been kept of the true lineage, which was only broken in my father's time. Here in this packet are the papers which prove it; I confide them to you upon my death. After I am gone I want you to find the last d'Artin."
He was silent now a long time, then continued in a lower tone: "My mother was of the reformed religion and I embraced her faith. It seems like a judgment of God that I, a Huguenot, should lose under King Louis what my Catholic ancestor gained under King Charles. Now go, lad."
I could say nothing, but touching his hand in mute sympathy turned away without a word.
I had almost reached the door when he sprang after and again detained me. His glance searched apprehensively into the shadowy corners of the room, his voice wavered, the look of a hunted animal crept into his eyes.
"'Tis said," he whispered, "the restless spirits of my fathers yet haunt our castle in Normandy—oh, merciful God, do you believe it? Oh no, no, after all these troubled years I fain would find a dreamless slumber in my grave."
I soothed him as I would a frightened child, and left him standing at the door.
Musing on this strange story, and the old man's unwonted fear, I walked on down to the water's edge where my Indian friends, already in the pirogue, awaited me. Another half hour and we were in Biloxi.
When we reached the barracks I found orders to attend the governor at once.
Bienville stood before his fire alone, quiet, but in a very different mood from any in which I had theretofore seen him.
"Captain de Mouret," the rough old warrior began, without any prelude or indirection, "I desire to send you at once to Paris on an errand of the utmost importance to myself and to this colony. I select you for this task, though I can ill spare you here, because it is a delicate matter. I believe you to be honest, I know you are courageous."
I bowed, and he went on. Something had evidently occurred to vex and irritate him.
"You know the people who surround me here, the weak, the vicious, the licentious of all the earth. A band of unprincipled adventurers, vile Canadians and half-breeds, all too lazy to work, or even to feed themselves out of the bountiful earth which would give everything we need almost for the asking. The air is full now of rumors of a Spanish war, and a Natchez-Chickasaw alliance. If these things are true we would find ourselves entirely cut off from French supplies, and this colony would literally starve to death. Yes, starve to death with untold millions of fruitful acres all about us. Had we strength to fight I would not care so much. With but two companies of undisciplined troops, a mere straggling handful, officered by drunkards, we could not defend this post a day against any organized attack."
All this I knew to be true, so I made no comment. He pursued the conversation and evidently relieved his mind of much that had troubled him for months.
"Then this beggarly commissary of mine, and the trafficking priest, de la Vente, they are constantly stirring up strife against me here, and putting lies in the hands of my enemies at court. The king, too, is wearied out with this endless drain upon his treasury for money and supplies, and is now, so I am informed, almost ready to accede to Crozat's proposition, and turn over to him the revenues and government of the colonies."
The old man grew earnest and eloquent.
"What! turn over an empire such as this to a miserable trading huckster, the son of a peasant—permit him to name the governors and officers! Why, under his rule, such cattle as la Salle and de la Vente would feed fat upon the miseries of the people! Great God, Placide, do you appreciate what that means? To create this peddler of silks and laces lord of a boundless domain, more magnificent than Louis in his wildest schemes of conquest ever dreamed? Why, boy, the day will come when for a thousand leagues the silver lilies will signal each other from every hill top; marts of commerce will thrive and flourish; the land will smile with farms and cities, with proud palaces and with granite castles. The white sails of our boats will fleck every lake and sea and river with their rich burdens of trade, pouring a fabulous and a willing wealth into the coffers of the king. Gold and silver mines will yield their precious stores, while from these niggard natives we will wrest with mighty arm the tribute they so contemptuously deny the weakling curs who snap and snarl at my heels. Grey tower and fortress will guard every inlet, and watch this sheltered coast. In every vale the low chant of holy nuns will breathe their benediction upon a happy people. And hordes of nations yet unknown and races yet unborn, in future legends, in song, in story and in rhyme, will laud the name of Bourbon and the glory of the French. Oh lad! lad! 'tis an ambition worthy a god."
The governor had risen, and waving his long arms this way and that, pointed out the confines of his mighty dreamland empire with as much assurance as if cities and towns would spring up at his bidding.
His whole frame spoke the most intense emotion. The face, glorified and transfigured by the allurement of his brilliant mirage, seemed that of another man.
"Ah, Placide! Placide! it stings me that this chivalrous king of ours, this degenerate grandson of Henry the Great, should think of selling for a few paltry livres such an heritage as this. Shame to you Louis, shame!"
His tone had grown so loud, so peremptory, I interrupted.
"Caution, sire; who knows what tattler's ears are listening, or where your thoughtless words may be repeated."
He stood moodily with hands behind him gazing into the fire. For years I had known Bienville the soldier, the stern and unyielding governor, with the hand of iron and the tongue of suasion.
Now I saw for the first time Bienville the man, Bienville the visionary, Bienville the enthusiast, the dreamer of dreams and the builder of castles. I watched him in amazement.
"Then these miserable women whom our good father, the Bishop of Quebec, was so kind as to send us, bringing from their House of Correction all the airs and graces of a court. Bringing hither their silly romances of a land of plenty; they vow they came not here to work, and by the grace of God, work they will not. They declare they are not horses to eat of the corn of the fields, and clamor for their dear Parisian dainties. Against such a petticoat insurrection the governor is helpless. Bah! it sickens me. I wonder not that our men prefer the Indian maidens, for they at least have common sense. But by my soul, Captain, here I stand and rant like some schoolboy mouthing his speech. Tush, it is forgotten."
"Tell me, Captain de Mouret, what have you learned of the Chickasaws, for our time grows short."
Glad to change the current of his thought I went on in detail to give the results of my reconnaissance. Everywhere we found preparations among the allied tribes, and felt sure we saw signs of a secret understanding between them and the Spaniard.
The governor made many notes, and carefully examined the charts I had drawn of the Chickasaw towns, systematically marking down the strength and fortifications of each. When I had finished my report we sat for quite a while, he silent and thoughtful, watching the thin blue smoke eddy round and round then dart up the capacious chimney.
"And they charge me at the court of France," he soliloquized, giving half unconscious expression to the matter uppermost in his mind, "they charge me at the court of France, what no man save my king dare say to me—that I divert the public funds to my own use. I, a Le Moyne, who spend my own private fortune in protecting and feeding these ungrateful people. But we waste time in words, like two chattering old women. We need ships and money and men—men who fight like gentlemen for glory, not deserters and convicts who fight unwillingly under the lash for gold.
"What can I do with troops who would as gladly spoil Biloxi as Havana?
"Captain de Mouret, you will sail on le Dauphin to-morrow at daylight. Place these dispatches in my brother Serigny's hands immediately upon your arrival. From that time forward act under his instructions. Remember, sir, your mission is a secret one."
I knew well the name he gave me, for next to Iberville, Serigny was reputed the most accomplished of all the Le Moyne's. To his fame as a soldier, his attainments as a scholar, he added the easy grace of the courtier. His position at the court of Louis gave him great prestige throughout the colonies; he being a sort of adviser to the King on colonial affairs, or so we all then thought him. Little did I then know how scant was the heed paid by power and ambition to real merit and soldierly virtues.
This while we sat without passing a word. Truth to tell I was loath to leave the Governor, for I knew even better than he how much of treachery there was in those about him. Besides that I had no confidence in my lieutenant, and yet hated to acquaint Bienville with the fact for fear he might mistrust my motives. I was heavy at heart and dreaded the future.
When, somewhat after midnight, I arose to go, he came around the table and taking me by both shoulders gazed steadily into my face. I met his glance frankly and quailed not.
"Forgive me, Placide, these are such days of distrust I doubt every one about me. Forgive me, lad, but your old commander's reputation, aye, his honor even, depends now so much upon your fidelity."
I could say nothing. I felt a stealthy tear tremble in my eye, yet was not ashamed, for its mate glistened in his own, and he was a man not given to over-weeping.
ABOARD LE DAUPHIN.
The morning dawned moist and cold, with a stiff westerly wind. Just before daylight a small boat pushed off the low beach, scraped along the shallows, skirted the western edge of the island which there lies endwise across the harbor, and put me aboard le Dauphin.
I alone had no part in all the noisy preparation for departure, but sat absorbed in thought near an open port listening to the straining of the masts, the flapping sails, the low complaining beat of the wind-tormented waters.
Above the creak of the windlass raising anchor, I could catch snatches of whispered conversation just outside the port. The two men were beyond my range of vision. One seemed to be tossing in a boat, the other hung down the vessel's side by a ladder. I made out, disjointedly:
"Along in September—as soon as you return—all will be in readiness—two thousand Creeks, Chickasaws, Natchez—we ought to have no difficulty—Yvard—Spanish ships. The fall of Biloxi will be a great thing for us." And much more that I could not hear clearly.
But I had heard enough to know there was some truth in the rumor of a Spanish-Indian alliance, and an attack on Biloxi. And the name Yvard, being unusual, clung somewhat to my memory.
I immediately ran on deck and sauntered over towards that side, seeking to discover the traitor. No one was there, only a little group of officers walking about; towards the shore were the retreating outlines of a light boat. I knew none of these officers, any one of whom might have been the man I overheard, and so I durst ask no questions. I could therefore confide in no one on board for fear of making a mistake, but must rely upon giving Bienville prompt warning upon my return, and I must needs hide my reluctance and mingle with officers and men, for perchance by this means I might uncover the scoundrel.
Although I made free with the men, pitched quoits, and joined in their rough play, I trusted none, suspected all. No, not all. There were two young fellows whom I was many times on the point of calling to my confidence, but, thinking it wiser, kept my own counsel. Treason could ever wear a smiling front and air of frankness.
Levert was a man much older than myself, of gloomy and taciturn manners, yet something there was so masterful about him men obeyed him whether they would or no. A more silent man I never knew, yet courteous and stately withal, and well liked by the men. But it was to Achille Broussard my heart went out in those days of loneliness. His almost childish lightness of disposition and his friendly ways won me completely, and we became fast comrades. A noble looking lad, with the strength of a young Titan, and the blonde curls of a woman. During the long idle hours of the afternoon it was his custom to banter me for a bout at swords, and Levert generally acted as our master of the lists. At first he was much my superior with the foils, for during his days with the Embassy at Madrid, and in the schools at Paris, he had learned those hundreds of showy and fancy little tricks of which we in the forests knew nothing. However, I doubted not that on the field our rougher ways and sterner methods would count for quite as much.
With all the five long weeks of daily practice, I gathered many things from him, until one day we had an experience which made us lay the foils aside for good.
We had been sitting after the dinner hour, discussing his early life in Paris. He wound up with his usual declaration, "As for myself, give me the gorgeous plays, the fetes and smiles of the Montespan, rather than the prayers, the masses and the sober gowns of de Maintenon. And now it is your turn, comrade; let us know something of your escapades, your days of folly in dear old Paris."
"I have never seen Paris," I answered simply.
"What! Never been to Paris? Then, man, you have never lived. But where have you spent all your days?"
"In the colonies—Quebec, Montreal, Biloxi. But now I will have an opportunity, for I am going—"
I had almost told something of my mission, ere I checked a too fluent confidence.
Levert, who had been pacing up and down the deck in his absorbed and inattentive way, dropped his blade across my shoulder and challenged me to the foils.
"No, it is too early yet," Achille replied, "besides, we were talking of other things. As you were saying, comrade, you go—?"
"Oh, you two talk too much," Levert broke in again, "let us have a bout; I'm half a mind I can handle a foil myself. A still tongue, a clear head and a sharp blade are the tools of Fortune."
It seemed almost that he had twice interrupted purposely to keep me from talking. I thought I read that deeper meaning in his eyes. Somehow I grew to distrust him from that moment. What consequence was it to him of what I spoke?
It was not Levert's business to govern my tongue for roe, so I only said:
"Nay, we'll try our skill somewhat later; not now," and resumed my conversation with Achille.
While his manner showed a concern I deemed the matter little to warrant, yet it did make me consider, so I determined not to speak truly of myself.
"Well, now, comrade, of your own intrigues. You were saying—?"
"Nay, nothing of that kind. I journey to Paris simply for my own pleasure." Levert, who half listened at a distance knew I was going to heed his advice, though I misdoubted his motive, and again took up his pacing to and fro.
"Aye, my dear Captain, but 'tis a long trip for such an errand?"
"Yes, quite a long trip, but I weary of the life at Biloxi, and would amuse myself for a while in France."
"But the garrison at Biloxi; is that strong enough to spare so good a soldier? then the Indians, do you not fear them?"
I glanced at him quickly, only half betraying my thought, but replied nonchalantly:
"No, the Indians are quiet, at least so our scouts tell us, and as for the state of the garrison, you were long enough ashore to know we are strong."
"Ah, then, there is another motive; a woman. Come, is it not true? Confess?"
I blushed in spite of myself; it was an idle way I had, for I had seen little of women. My confusion threw him completely off the track; had I only guessed it, would have taken refuge in that device sooner.
"No, no, comrade; you are wrong"—but still somehow my color came and went like a novice out of the convent. His good-humored raillery continued until I became annoyed in earnest, yet was glad he took the matter so seriously. When Levert passed us again on his walk I spoke to him.
"Now, my dear Levert, we will try our fortune with the foils if it pleases you."
"No, my humor is past. Do you try with Broussard; methinks he had rather the better of you yesterday. You agree, Broussard?"
"Yes, yes," he replied, eagerly, "let us at it."
He fenced rather worse than usual, so I had no trouble in touching him as I pleased. This begat an irritation of manner, and noticing it I suggested we leave off.
He would not hear to it; I saw the color slowly leave his face; his thin lips curled back and showed his teeth, until, fearing a serious outbreak, I stepped back as if I would lay aside the foil. He pressed me close, so close indeed I could not if I would drop my guard. He touched me once or twice.
"I call the bout a draw," declared Levert, who had himself observed Broussard's unusual energy.
"Nay, not so, not so; he gives back. I've much the better," and he lunged at me so vigorously I was forced to act with more aggression. The button snapped from the point of his foil; I cared not, and he affected not to see it, though something made me sure he realized his advantage. I determined now to show him a trick of my own.
From my youth I had the peculiar faculty of using one hand quite as well as the other, and had often practiced changing my sword swiftly from right to left. It was a simple feat, much more showy than difficult, yet exceedingly bewildering to an adversary. In this instance it afforded me an easy means of reaching his undefended side. So I feigned to be driven back, and watching for a more headlong and careless rush, my weapon was apparently twisted from my hand and for an instant seemed to hang suspended in the air. I caught it in my left and before he recovered his footing had thrown his foil from him, sending it whizzing overboard. It took but an instant to press my point firmly against his chest, as he stood panting and disarmed. Never was man more surprised.
"Bravely done," cried Levert.
"A most foul and dishonorable trick," Achille snarled.
"Not so," Levert corrected him gravely, looking at me to observe the effect of the insult. I stood still at guard, but made no move.
"Broussard, you are angry now, and I'll take no heed of your heated words. But to-morrow you must make a gentleman's amends."
"Tush, tush," Levert interposed, "'tis the quarrel of a child. He means nothing."
Broussard said no more, but looked surly and ill pleased. I was secretly elated at the success of my coup against such a skilled swordsman, and only remarked quietly:
"Broussard, when your anger has passed I trust you will do me the honor of an apology."
Behind it all I cared little, for I felt myself his master with his chosen weapon and could afford to be generous. He came up in very manly fashion, after a time, and craved my forgiveness, but we played at foils no more.
The lookouts were beginning to watch for land, I growing more and more impatient as the end of our voyage drew near. And now I had much leisure to contemplate, and wonder at the strange turn of fortune which had called upon me to play a part in the affairs of state, though what the drama was, and what my lines might be, I could only guess. The story of Colonel D'Ortez, too, furnished me much food for reflection these long starlit nights, when I sat in my favorite seat in the very prow of the vessel. There would I sit night after night, watching the phosphorescent waves rippling against the vessel, gleaming fitful in the gloom; there observe the steadfast stars, and seem alone with darkness and with God.
One wet morning, pacing the slippery deck, the sailing master called to me:
"See, sir, yonder dim outline to the nor'east? 'Tis the Norman coast; this night, God willing, we sleep in Dieppe."
My errand now consumed my entire attention, so I thought no more of my companions of the voyage, bidding them both good-night before we had yet landed.
THE ROAD TO VERSAILLES
At the break of day, rumbling out of the little fishing village, I was surprised to see both Broussard and Levert astir as early as myself, each in a separate coach, traveling the same direction. I thought it strange that they chose to go separately, and that neither had told me of his expected journey. However that might be, as it suited my purpose well to be alone, I disturbed not myself with pondering over it. Yet I wondered somewhat.
The King and Court were at Versailles; so judging to find Serigny there I turned aside from my first intention and proceeded thither. I was shocked by the universal desolation of the country through which I passed. Was this the reverse side to all the Grand Monarque's glory? I had pictured la belle France as a country of wine, of roses and of happy people. These ravaged fields, these squalid dens of misery, the sullen, despairing faces of the peasantry, all bore silent protest to the extravagances of Versailles. For the wars, the ambition and the mistresses of Louis had made of this fair land a desert. Through the devastated country roamed thousands of starving people, gaunt and hungry as the wild beasts of the forest; they subsisted upon such berries as they found, but durst not touch a stick of their lord's wood to thaw out their frozen bodies.
Young as I was, and a soldier, the sight of this wide-spread suffering appalled me, though being no philosopher I reasoned not to the cause. Yet this was the real France, the foundation upon which the King had reared the splendid structure of his pride.
It was some time during the second day, I think, when we passed a few scattering hovels which marked the approach to a village where we were to stop for dinner. At the foot of a little incline the horses shied violently, and passed beyond the man's control. My driver endeavored in vain to quiet them, and then jumped from his box and ran to their heads. I looked out to see what the matter was, and observing a squad of soldiers, followed by quite a concourse of villagers, I sprang to the ground.
Down the hill they marched, some ten or fifteen fellows in a dirty half uniform, I knew not what it was, while straggling out behind them seemed to follow the entire population of the hamlet. The old and gray-haired fathers, the mothers, the stalwart children and toddling babies, all came to stand and gape. In the lead there strode a burly ruffian, proud of his low authority, who shouted at intervals:
Behind him skulked four stout varlets, bearing between them a rude plank, on which was stretched a naked body, the limbs being not yet stiffened in death. I hardly credited my sight. Before they came abreast of us I inquired of the driver what it all meant. He only shrugged his shoulders, "A dead Huguenot, I suppose," and gave his care to the horses. Verily this was past belief.
I placed myself in the road and bade the leader of the procession pause. He stopped, staring stupidly at my dress.
"What is here my good fellow? what crime hath he committed?"
He, like the driver, answered carelessly:
"None; she is a Huguenot."
"She," I echoed, and stopped the bearers who laid their ghastly burden down, having little relish in the task. Yes, it was in very truth a woman.
"For the sake of decency, comrade, why do you not cover her and give her Christian burial?"
"It is the law," he replied stolidly.
"Yes, yes, it is the law," eagerly assented the people who gathered about the corpse, not as friends, not as mourners, but as spectators of the horrid scene. Among them, unrebuked, were many white-faced children, half afraid and wholly curious. I looked at them all in disgust. They went their way and came to the outskirts of the village, where they contemptuously tossed the woman from the plank across a ditch into the open field. In spite of my loathing I had followed.
I perceived now a feeble old woman hobble up toward the body and try with loud wailings to make her way through the guard which surrounded it. They shoved her back with their pikes, and finally one of them struck her for her persistence.
"Pierre, look at her old mother; ah, Holy Virgin, what a stubborn lot are these heretics."
Her mother! Great powers of heaven, could it be possible? My indignation blazed out against the inhuman guard.
"Why do ye this most un-Christian thing?" and to the crowd:
"Do you call yourselves men to stand by and witness this?"
At my words one sturdy young fellow, of the better, peasant-farmer class, broke from those who held him and would have thrown himself unarmed against the mail-clad guard. Many strong arms kept him back. He struggled furiously for a while, then sank in the sheer desperation of exhaustion upon the road. As soon as he was quiet the mob, gathering about the more attractive spectacle, left him quite alone. I went up to him, laid my hand upon his shoulder, and spoke to him kindly. He looked up, surprised that one wearing a uniform should show him human sympathy. He had a good, honest face, blue-eyed and frank, yet such an expression of utter hopelessness as never marred a mortal countenance. It haunts me to this day.
I was touched by the man's sullen apathy, succeeding so quickly to the desperate energy I had seen him display, and asked concerning his trouble.
"Oh, God, Monsieur, my wife, Celeste, my young wife! Only a year married, Monsieur." He raised upon his elbow, taking my hand in both of his, "We tried to go; tried to reach England, America, anywhere but France; they brought us back, put us in prison; she died—died, Monsieur, of cruelty and exposure, then they cast her out like some unclean thing; she, so pure, so good. Only look, lying there. Holy Mother of Christ, look down upon her."
He turned his gaze to where his wife lay and sprang up.
"She shall not—shall not," and cast himself again towards the guard. A dozen men seized him.
Deeply pained by his misery and the horror of the thing, I made my way to the front, near where the body lay.
"What is this foul law of which you spoke? Tell me?"
My tone had somewhat of authority and anger in it, so the fellow gave me civil answer.
"The law buries a Huguenot as you see—such unholy flesh could never sleep in holy earth. The beasts and birds will provide her proper sepulcher."
"Nay, but compose her fittingly; here is my cloak."
"It is not the order of the King," he sullenly replied. The brutal throng again gave assent.
"'Tis not the law, 'tis not the law," and bowed their heads at very name of law.
I remembered the Governor's errand, and could waste no time in quarrel which was not mine, yet willingly would I have cast my cloak about her. I inquired of the man:
"And what is the penalty should the hand of charity take this woman from the highway?"
"On pain of death."
"Then death let it be," screamed her husband, and breaking through the line of guard, he threw himself upon his wife, protecting her with his pitying garments.
Whilst I had been talking to the officer, no one observed the man come stealthily to the front, coat in hand, until, seeing his chance, he broke through their line. But these staunch upholders of the law would not have it so. They tore him viciously away, and I, sickened, turned from a revolting struggle I could do nothing to prevent. All these long years have not dimmed the memory of that barbarous scene.
THE DECADENCE OF VERSAILLES
It was nearly noon on the fourth day when I alighted at the Place d'Armes, the grand court-yard of Versailles, and I fear I cut but a sorry figure for a governor's messenger. It appeared that my dress at best was unlike that worn at the court; my fringed leather leggings, hunting knife and long sword differed much from the wigs and frizzes worn by the officers of the guard. However, I made bold to seem at ease and accustomed to court as I addressed the officer of the watch.
"Can you direct me, sir, to M. de Serigny? I have business with him."
The man smiled, I knew not at what, and regarded me curiously. I felt my face flush, but repeated the question.
"M. de Serigny," he replied, "is with the court. Seek him at his apartments. Pass through yonder great gate, turn to the left and inquire of the guard at the door."
I walked on hastily, glad to be quit of his inspection. Such a throng of fine gentlemen in silks, satins and ribbons I never dreamed of; even the soldiers seemed dressed more for bridals than for battles. I held my peace though, walking steadily onward as directed, yet itching to stick my sword into some of their dainty trappings. At the door I came upon a great throng of loungers playing at dice, some throwing and others laying their wagers upon those who threw.
Standing somewhat aloof was a slender young fellow who wore the slashed silver and blue of the King's own guard:—I knew the colors well from some of our older officers in the Provincial army. They had told me of men, soldiers and hard fighters, too, wearing great frizzled wigs outside their natural hair, with ruffles on their sleeves and perfumed laces at their throats—but I had generally discredited such tales. Here was a man dressed more gaily than I had ever seen a woman in my childhood—and he seemed a fine, likely young fellow, too. I fear I examined him rather critically and without proper deference to his uniform, for he turned upon me angrily, catching my glance.
"Well, my good fellow, didst never see the King's colors before? Where hast thou lived then all these years?"
He seemed quite as much amused at my plain forest garb, leggings and service cap, as I had been at his silken trumpery. I replied to him as quietly as might be:
"In our parts beyond the seas we hear often of the King's Guard, but never have my eyes rested upon their uniform before."
Observing my shoulder straps he unbent somewhat and inquired:
"Thou bearest the rank of captain?"
"Aye, comrade, in the service of the King in his province of Louisiana. I pray you direct me to the apartments of M. de Serigny, I would have speech with him."
He was a manly young lad, of soldierly bearing, too, despite his effeminate dress; he turned and himself guided me through the many intricate halls and passages until we reached a door which he pointed out as Serigny's, where, with polite speeches, he left me alone.
Monsieur was out, at what business the servant did not know, but would return at two of the clock. In the meantime I sought to amuse myself strolling about the place. I knew I could find my way along the bayou paths of Louisiana the darkest night God ever sent, for there at least I would have through the trees the glimmer of a friendly star to guide me. But here in the King's palace of Versailles, with the winding passages running hither and yonder, each as like the other as twin gauntlets, I lost myself hopelessly.
Clanking about alone over the tiles in great deserted corridors I grew almost frightened at my own noise until I passed out into an immense gallery, gaily decorated, and thronged with the ladies and gentlemen of the court. I could not make much sense of it all except it seemed greatly painted up, especially overhead, and nearly every figure bore the face of the King.
From the windows I could see a strange forest where every tree grew in the shape of some odd beast or bird, being set in long rows, and among them were white images of some substance like unto the Holy Mother at the shrine in Montreal. Some of these graven stones were in semblance of men with horns and goats' legs, and some of warrior women with plumed helms upon their heads. Verily I marveled much at these strange sights.
The pert little lads who idled about the hall began to make sport of me concerning my dress, and laughed greatly at their own wit. I paid no heed to their foolish gibes, there being no man among them. It irked me more than good sense would admit, and I left the hall, and after many vain endeavors made my way out into the open air—being right glad to breathe again without a roof above my head.
I was ill at ease among all these gay gallants who minced and paced along like so many string-halted nags. It was said the King walked much in that way, and so, forsooth, must all his lords and ladies go. Perhaps it was the fashion of the court, but I stuck to the only gait I knew, a good, honest, swinging stride which could cover fifteen leagues a day at a pinch.
Off to one side the water kept leaping up into the air as I am told the spouting springs do in the Dacotah country. I walked that way and was soon lost in wonderment at the contemplation of a vast bronze basin filled with curious brazen beasts, half men half fishes, the like of which I had never seen. Some had horns from which they blew sparkling streams; others astride of strange sea monsters plunged about and cast up jets of water. It all made so much noise I scarcely heard a voice behind me say:
"I'll lay a golden Louis his coat is of as queer a cut as his nether garment—whatever its outlandish name maybe."
"Done," said another voice.
I gave no heed, thinking they meant not me, until a dapper little chap, all plumed and belaced, stepped in front of me with a most lordly air.
"Hey, friend, who is thy tailor?" and behind me rang out the merry laugh at such a famous jest.
I turned and there being a party of fine ladies at my back full gladly would I have retired, had not the young braggart swaggered to my front again and persisted:
"Friend, let us see the cut of thy coat."
We men of the forest accustomed to the rough ways of a camp, and looking not for insult, are slow to anger, so I only asked as politely as might be, because of the ladies:
"Because I say so, sir," he replied, most arrogantly and stamping his foot, "cast off thy cloak that we may see."
I still stood undecided, scarce knowing what to think, and being ignorant of fashions at court. De Brienne—for that was his name—mistaking my hesitation, advanced and laying his hand upon my cloak would have torn it off, had I not brushed him aside so vigorously he stumbled and fell to the ground.
I had no thought of using strength sufficient to throw him down. He sprang up instantly, and, furious, drew his sword. I felt my own wrath rise at sight of cold steel—it was ever a way of mine beyond control—and asked him hotly:
"How is it affair of thine what manner of coat I wear?"
He made no reply, but, raising his arm, said, menacingly;
"Now, clown, show thy coat, or I'll spit thee like a dog."
I glanced around the circle at the blanched faces of the ladies, seeing such a serious turn to their jest, and would not even then have drawn, but the men made no effort to interfere, so I only answered him, "Nay, I'll wear my cloak," when he made a quick lunge at me. I know not that he meant me serious injury, but taking no risk my blade came readily, and catching his slenderer weapon broke it short off, leaving him raging and defenceless—a simple trick, yet not learned in a day. It was a dainty little jewel-hilted toy, and I hated to spoil it.
"Now, sir, thank the King's uniform for thy life," my blood was up, and I ached to teach him a lesson, "I can not turn the King's sword against one of his servants."
The ladies laughed now, and the hot flush mounted to my cheeks, for I feared a woman, but their merriment quickly died away at sound of an imperious voice saying:
"For shame de Brienne, brawler!" "And thou, my young coxcomb of Orleans," he continued, addressing that dissolute Prince: "How dare you, sir, lead such a throng of revellers into the King's own gardens? Is not your own house of debauchery sufficient for Your Grace? Have a care, young sir, I am yet the King, and thou mayest never be the Regent."
The Duke simulated his profound regret, but when Louis' back was turned made a most unprincely and most uncourtly grimace at his royal uncle, which set them all a-laughing. Whereat all these noble lords and ladies made great pretense of gravity, and ostentatiously held their handkerchiefs before their mouths to hide their mirth.
Already these satellites began to desert the sinking to attach their fortunes to those of the rising sun. I marvelled at this, for the name of Louis had been held in almost Godlike reverence by us in the colonies. Meanwhile he had turned to me:
"Well said, young man; thou hast a loyal tongue."
"And a loyal master, sire," for it needed not the mention of his name to tell me I faced the King. That face, stamped on his every golden namesake, had been familiar to me since the earliest days of my childhood.
"Thy name, sir?"
Kingly still, though a little bent, for he was now well past sixty, Louis stood in his high-heeled shoes tapping the ground impatiently with a long cane, his flowing coat fluttering in the wind. For a period I completely lost my tongue, could see nothing but the blazing cross of the Holy Ghost, the red order of St. Louis, upon the Monarch's breast, could hear nothing but the grating of his cane against the gravel. Yet I was not ashamed, for a brave soldier can proudly fear his God, his conscience and his King.
"Thy name," he sharply demanded, "dost hear?"
"Placide de Mouret, Captain of Bienville's Guards, Province of Louisiana, may it please you, sire," I stammered out.
"Attend me at the morning hour to-morrow," and he strutted away from the giggling crowd.
I too would have turned off, had not my late antagonist proven himself a man at heart. He quickly moved toward me holding out his hand in reconciliation.
"I ask thy pardon, comrade; I too am a soldier, though but an indifferent one in these peaceful times. We mistook thee, and I humbly ask thy pardon."
Of course I could bear no malice against the fellow, and he seeming sincere, I suffered him to present me to his friends. First among these, de Brienne presented me to His Royal Highness, the Duke of Orleans, "First Prince of the Blood, and the coming Regent of France."
This latter speech was given with decided emphasis, and a malicious glance toward a pale, studious looking man, a cripple, who, the center of a more sedate group, was well within hearing. The deformed Duke of Maine, I thought, rival of Orleans for the Regency. The ladies I would have willingly escaped, but they would not hear of it, and soon I was surrounded by a chattering group, asking a thousand questions about the fabled land of gold and glory beyond the seas. Right glad was I when one of the gallants pointed out a thoughtful looking gentleman who walked slowly through the eastern gate.
"There is M. de Serigny, a brother of Bienville, your Governor."
"That de Serigny?" I repeated, "then I must leave you, for I would speak with him," and I bowed myself off with what grace I could muster, knowing naught of such matters. A brisk walk fetched me to Serigny's side. In a few words I communicated my mission. His quick, incisive glance took in every detail of my dress and appearance, but his features never changed.
"Wait, my dear Captain," he drawled out, with a polite wave of his perfumed handkerchief, "time for business after a while. Let us enjoy the beauties of the garden."
My spirits fell. Could this be a brother of the stern Bienville, this the man upon whom my governor's fortunes now so largely depended? His foppish manner impressed me very disagreeably, and, in no pleasant frame of mind, I stalked along by his side listening to the senseless gossip of the court. We soon passed out of the gardens into the great hall, and reached his own apartments.
No sooner was the valet dismissed and the key turned in the lock than his face showed the keenest interest. After satisfying himself of my identity and glancing through the packet which I now handed him, he gave vent to an exclamation of intense relief.
"Not a day too soon, my dear Captain, not a day, not a day, not a day," he kept repeating over and over, looking at the different documents. "The King promises to act on this matter in a few days, to-morrow, probably. Chamillard is against us; he seems all powerful now; the King loves him for his truculence. But these will help, yes, these will help." And again he ran through the various papers with business-like swiftness. His fashionable air and the perfumed handkerchief were alike laid aside. Now I could see the resemblance between him and his sturdy brother.
"To-morrow, yes, to-morrow, my lad—pardon me the familiarity, Captain de Mouret," he apologized, waiving aside my hand raised in protest. "To-morrow we must act. We must gain the King's own ear. These must not go through the department of war. Chamillard will poison the King's mind against us. Most likely they would never reach the King at all. Louis will hardly listen to me even now."
"Then let me speak to the King," I blurted out before I thought.
"You?" he repeated in unconcealed astonishment.
"Yes, I," I replied, for I was now well into it, and determined to wade through; besides I loved my old commander, and would venture much in his service.
Then I told Serigny of the occurrence in the garden, or enough to let him understand why I was summoned to the morning audience.
"Thou art lucky, lad; here half a day and already have an appointment with the King." "Yes," he roused half aloud, "Louis likes such things. He grows suspicious with age, and doubts even his ministers. It is quite possible he may question you of affairs in the colonies. If so, speak out, and freely, too, my lad; Louis loves the plain truth when it touches not his princely person or his vanities. God grant that we may win."
Serigny then told me much of the petty trickery of the court in order that I might understand how the land lay.
"It may be of service to you to know something of the many webs which ambition, cupidity and malice have woven about us here in this great government of France," he went on, speaking bitterly. "We never dare speak our thoughts, for blindness, silence, flattery and fawning seem surer passports to favor than are gallant deeds and honest service. The King grows old, and it is feared his end is near. Of this, men scarcely whisper. His death, as you know, would leave all France to the frail little Duke of Anjou. Looking to this, the court here is already divided in interest between the rivals for the regency, Philip of Orleans, and the Duke of Maine. The Orleans party is the stronger, though the Duke stands accused in the vulgar mind of poisoning all who may come between himself and the throne, save this Anjou child, who will probably die of sheer weakness. The King has recently had his de Montespan children legitimated and rendered capable of inheriting the crown, though the legality of this action is bitterly contested by the Orleanists. He has also, it is said, left a will in favor of the Duke of Maine, giving him all real power, while nominally making Orleans the Regent. And strange as it may seem, it is said this will was made at the persistent request of de Maintenon, so viciously hated by the proud de Montespan. But you know she was the teacher of this little Duke, and they are very much attached to each other. Were the Duke of Maine a more vigorous man, there would be no doubt of his success. If 'that little wasp of Sceaux,' as Madame Orleans calls the wife of the Duke of Maine, were the man of the family, she would surely be the Regent. She's a wonderful woman. Madame du Maine hates Bienville because she can not use him in her dealings with Spain. She has duped the Bretons by the promise of an independent provincial government, but Bienville stands true to his King. So they seek by every means to discredit him. You may surmise from this how unfortunately our affairs here are complicated in the affairs of great personages, where lesser men lose their lives at the first breath of suspicion."
After a little I had ample opportunity to observe the man more closely, for he kept his seat to examine at leisure the dispatches I had brought. He was evidently not entirely pleased with this inspection, giving vent at times to low expressions of annoyance.
"Always the same trouble, la Salle and de la Vente, spies in Biloxi—Ah, here is the fine hand of Madame du Maine, currying favor with the Spaniard in aid of her cripple husband. If we could only make this plain to Louis; this stirring up of strife. Fancy a son of de Montespan on the throne of France. Yes, yes, yes, here is the awkward work of our old friend Crozat, the tradesman, who would purchase an empire of the King. See how clumsily he throws out his golden bait."
I could but listen and observe. Now, more than ever, in the sternness and decision of his countenance he resembled his famous brothers, Iberville, Sauvolle and Bienville—and yet beyond them all he possessed the faculties of a courtier.
"Captain, are you acquainted with the nature of these dispatches?" he asked directly.
"No, sire, only in general, and from my knowledge of affairs at Biloxi."
"My brother tells me I may trust you." My face flushed hotly with the blood of anger.
"Oh, my dear Captain, I meant no offense; I speak plainly, and there are few men about this court whom you can trust. There is an adventure of grave importance upon which I wish to employ you. Your being unknown in Paris may assist us greatly."
I signified my attention.
"It is supposed we are on the eve of war with Spain, and it is my belief the colonies will be the first objects of attack. Some person, and one who is in our confidence, is now carrying on a secret correspondence with the Spanish agent at Paris. Cellamare, the Spanish Ambassador, is concerned in the intrigue. This much we know from letters which have fallen into my hands, and I have permitted them to be delivered rather than interrupt a correspondence which will eventually lead to a discovery of the traitor. We have now good reason to believe that dispatches of a very serious nature are expected daily by Yvard—Yvard is the Spanish spy—"
"Yvard, Yvard," I mentally repeated, where had I heard that name?
"These papers are to give our exact strength at Biloxi, the plans of our fortifications, and a chart of all the navigable waters of Louisiana. We can not afford to let the Spaniards have this information, even if thereby we should capture their agent."
I maintained a strict silence.
"You understand le Dauphin is the last vessel over, and no other is expected for months, so we think all this information came over with you."
When he began I instinctively thought of Levert, who set out alone for Paris just behind me. As he proceeded, the name "Yvard" again fixed my attention. The very name I had heard mentioned by one of the men the morning I left Biloxi. Serigny was right in his surmise, but I let him go on without interruption.
"If I am correct, these plans will be perfected in Paris before le Dauphin sails again. The spy, whoever he may be, will perhaps want to return in her. Now you can see what I want. You can understand what a help you may possibly be in this matter. You doubtless know every person who came over in le Dauphin, yet you must avoid notice yourself, for they would suspect you instantly."
I still said nothing to him of the conversation I had overheard, or of my own suspicions, childishly thinking I would gain the greater credit by unearthing the whole affair and divulging it at one time.
"We have some reliable fellows in Paris, and I will send such letters as will put you in possession of all the information they have. You and they, I trust, can do the work satisfactorily, but in no event shall my name, or that of Bienville, be connected with the enterprise. If the matter should come to the King, we would lose what little hold we now have upon him. It is not an easy or an agreeable task. The Spanish spy bears the name of Carne Yvard, a man of good birth, but a gambler and a profligate. He is known throughout Paris as a reckless gamester, but no man dare question him, because of his marvellous skill with the sword. He spends much of his time at Bertrand's wine and card rooms, though he has the entree at some of the most fashionable houses in the city, even at Madame du Maine's exclusive Villa of Sceaux. But thereby hangs his employment; we do not know how far Madame is involved in this intrigue with Spain and the Bretons."
Verily I felt encouraged as Serigny unfolded his charming plans for my entertainment. In a strange city to hunt up and dispossess a man like this of papers which would hang him. A delightful undertaking forsooth!
"But we plan in advance, my dear Captain. We must wait the pleasure of the King concerning you. We will renew this subject to-morrow."
That night I lodged with Serigny.
Even at this time I remember how nervous I was when I dressed for my interview with the King. What it was for, or how it might result, I could form no idea, so I did not trouble myself with vain thinking.
Promptly at ten I presented myself at that famous door which led to the room where Louis held his morning levee. Already the approaches were crowded, and the officer on watch was busy examining passes and requests for admission. Some there were who passed haughtily in without even so much as a glance at the guard or the crowd which parted obsequiously to let them through. Most probably favorites of the King, or perchance his ministers. When he reached me the officer of the guard, noting my uniform, inquired:
"Captain de Mouret of Louisiana?"
"You are to be admitted, sir," and I found myself ushered immediately through the opening ranks of Swiss mercenaries into the audience chamber of the King.
Louis no longer held his levees in the great vaulted chamber into which I was first shown, but in a smaller and more sombre room, that of de Maintenon. The character and dress of those present reflected with a chameleon's fidelity the change in His Majesty's habits. Madame sat near the King, working upon a piece of tapestry which, when she was interested in what went on, lay idle in her lap. Behind her chair stood the sour-visaged Jesuit confessor, Letellier.
Death, which spared not even the Bourbon, had taken away the Dauphin and his son; leaving as the King's successor an infant yet in his cradle. This embittered every thought of the King's declining years, made him gloomy, petulant and querulous. And yet there were many men still about him capable of upholding the dignity of the throne. I heard announced, one after the other, Grand Marshal Villars, lately placed in command of all the armies of France; the Duke of Savoy, a famous soldier, but a deserter from the English; the brothers de Noailles, one bearing a Marshal's baton, the other, cold, cynical, austere, robed in churchly garments, Archbishop of Paris. There were Villeroi, de Tourville, the admiral; and Marshal Tallard—he who lost the bloody field of Blenheim to the Englishman Churchill.
I confess I was abashed at the sound of so many great names, and advanced in hesitating fashion across the floor, to kneel before the King.
"Tut, tut, Captain de Mouret," he said, kindly, "Rise, we would hear somewhat from you touching matters in our Province of Louisiana, and particularly of their safety in case of war—say, with Spain."
He then asked a few questions about things familiar to me, which put me quite at ease. What I said I can scarce at this time recollect, but I know I spoke with all a soldier's enthusiasm of my beloved commander, of his diplomacy in peace, of his war-won successes.
It did not pass unnoticed that many a venomous glance was shot towards me from that little group behind the King, but in the King's presence I feared nothing, and spoke on, unrestrained.
Once a tall man whom I took to be Chamillard interrupted; the King motioned me to proceed, and I told him all the strength and resources of the colonies, their weakness and their needs. When I thought I had finished, the King's face hardened, and looking me straight in the eye, he inquired:
"What is this I hear of Bienville's presuming to criticise me—me, Louis, his King—for contemplating such a disposition of the colonies as suits my royal pleasure? Can you tell me that as glibly, sir?"
For the moment I was astounded and had no word to say. I could see a faint smile run round the circle as they exchanged glances of intelligence. Serigny was right. The spy had already arrived. His eavesdropping news had reached the King. In my indignation I forgot the man I addressed was the Imperial Louis. Defending my master I spoke vigorously the truth, and that right earnestly.
"Your Majesty is a soldier, and will forgive a soldier's blunt speech. I beg you, Sire, to consider the services and the sorrows of Bienville's people, the loyal le Moynes. Where rests his father? Where his valiant brothers, Ste. Helene and Mericourt? Dead, and for the silver lilies! Where's Iberville, the courteous, the brave; he who ravaged the frozen ocean and the tropic seas in his royal master's name? Dead, Sire, of the pestilence in San Domingo. Does the King not remember his good ship Pelican? Has the King forgotten Iberville? Hast forgotten thine own white flag cruising on thine enemy's coast, borne down by four vessels of superior weight? Did the Eagle stretch her wings to escape the Lion?
"Did the Silver Lilies flee before St. George's Cross? No, by the deathless glory of the Bourbon, no! And who was he that dared—following the example of his King, the Conqueror of the Rhine—who was he that dared meet such enemies and engage such odds? Whose was that boyish face of thirty, waving his curls upon the quarter deck, with the noble front of a very God of War? Iberville! Who is he that brushes away a tear to gaze upon his stripling brother beside the guns, soon to be exposed by his command to such a fearful danger? Iberville, again! Who is that fiery soldier, recking nothing save his duty, who seeth without a tremor that beloved brother lying mangled at his post, where the storms of hell do rage, and flames consume the dead? Who, when the enemy lay dismantled, their hulks afire, their colors struck, their best ships sunk, when the glorious standard of France triumphant dallied with the breeze—who is that dauntless gentleman who kneels upon his battle-riven but victorious deck and sobs aloud in agony above his writhing brother? Who is this stricken gentleman, who, having won that most heroic fight for his King, now prints a kiss, as a tender maiden might, upon the pale lips of a dying lad? Ah, Sire, it was Iberville, it was Iberville, my King, Iberville the gentle, Iberville the true! Hast thou forgotten that wounded lad who lived to serve his King so well on other fields? Dost remember his name? Let me remind you, Sire, that lad was Bienville de la Chaise, your loyal governor of Louisiana. Did the King but know the trials and sufferings of my master in upholding the royal authority, he would forgive him much. Nor do I fear to say it even here, that those men who seek his downfall would as lief line their wallets with Spanish doubloons as with honest Louis d'or. De la Vente, the renegade priest, the center of strife and discontent in the colonies, traffics with the Indians and brings opprobrium upon your Majesty's name. It is he or la Salle who sends this idle tale—la Salle, who, from your Majesty's commissary, supplies this de la Vente with his merchandise. Who their friends are here to tell your Majesty these tales, I care not. Saving the royal presence, I would be pleased to discuss the matter with them elsewhere."
"Thou art a bold lad," observed the King.
I had noted his eyes flash, and the thin nostrils dilate at mention of the passage of the Rhine; so, emboldened by the surety of success, I kept my own courage up.
"Aye, Sire, truth need have no fear from the greatest of all the Bourbons. Bienville is a soldier, not a courtier, and stung beyond endurance by the threat of his enemies that they would yet beguile your Majesty to sell your fair Province of Louisiana, and turn the royal barracks into a peddler's shop—mayhap he did use some such hot and thoughtless expressions to me. These, some spy may have overheard and forwarded here to his hurt. If it please you to hear the words, I will repeat them upon the oath of an officer."
"Go on," he commanded drily.
"Bienville did say it was a matter of shame to forego such abroad domain wherein lay so much wealth, because of present troubles. It is his ambition to found there a new empire in the west, to add a brighter glory to the name of Bourbon, to plant the silver lilies upon the remotest boundaries of the earth, calling it all Louisiana, a mighty continent, without a rival and without a frontier. Ah! Your Majesty has in Bienville a strong heart and a firm hand, a man who prefers to devote his life to your service, rather than live at ease in France; a man who carries more scars for his King than your Majesty has fingers—poorer to-day than when he entered your service, though others about him have grown rich."
I told him, too, without reserve, of the contemplated Indian attack in the spring, of my own haste to return. His face lighted up with the fire of his thought:
"Then, by my faith," he broke in, "you need a bold, ambitious soldier for your Governor. What think you, Villars, Chamillard—gentlemen?"
None dared oppose the King.
"I overheard you, Captain, in the gardens yesterday, and think the master who has taught you such sentiments is a man the King of France can trust. Convey to the trusty and well beloved Governor of our Province of Louisiana our renewed confidence, with our assurance he is not to be disturbed. We make you our royal messenger for the purpose."
Then he gravely inclined his head to signify the interview was done.
As soon as I decently could I left the royal presence and repaired at once to Serigny. I found him still in his apartments waiting me with every appearance of intense impatience. Almost as I rapped he had opened the door himself. The valet had been dismissed. My face—for I was yet flushed with excitement—told of our victory. He grasped my hand in both his own and asked:
"We have won? Tell me, how was it?"
"Aye, sir, and nobly. I have the King's own warrant that our Governor is not to be disturbed."
Every shade of anxiety vanished, and he laughed as unaffectedly as a girl.
"Thou art a clever lad; but tell me of it, tell me of it!"
I told him then of the audience, neglecting not the minutest detail, not even the black looks of those who thronged about the King.
"Chamillard's doing, and Crozat. Crozat the parvenu—Marquis du Chatel, forsooth, with his scissors and yardstick for device."
He questioned me closely concerning the personages present, and what they said. After having heard on to the end he was quite composed and broached again the subject of the previous night.
"Well, Captain," he commenced, half banteringly, "if thou hast done thy conferences with the King, we will talk of your next adventure. Time presses, and you see from what Louis said, our enemies are already at work."
I hearkened with many misgivings, for I felt of a truth uncertain of myself in this new character—and shall I confess it—a trifle ill at ease concerning this bravo, Carne Yvard, the duelist of the iron hand, and the gamester with the luck of the devil. However, I put upon myself a steadfast front and listened.
"We have a fine lad at Paris in our service," said Serigny, "and with him four as staunch fellows as ever dodged a halter. De Greville—Jerome de Greville—has his lodgings in Rue St. Denis, at the sign of the Austrian Arms. The host is a surly, close-mouthed churl who will give you little information until he knows you well. Then you may rely upon him. Jerome has been watching our quarry these many weeks; we hold him in easy reach, as a bait to catch his accomplice. Then we will put them both where they can spy upon us no longer. I desire them to be taken alive if possible, and by all the gods, they shall hang."
Verily, this was a pleasant adventure for me to contemplate, taking alive such a desperado, who handled his sword like a hell-born imp.
"I would not expose you to this," continued Serigny, "but for the stern necessity that those papers should reach me unopened. They are to be delivered to you, and I hold you responsible. You understand?"
I bowed my acquiescence.
Then he went on, talking more at ease, though I was far from placid at the prospect. He told me of the different streets, the lay of the town, and the various men with whom I would be thrown.
"Beyond all," and in this I afterward acknowledged his foresight, "do not neglect the women, for their hands now wield the real power in France."
I must own I thought more on the nature of my new errand than on what he was saying. I felt no small degree of distrust, yet, for my honor's sake, kept it to myself.
"And when shall I set out for Paris?" I asked.
"To-day; at once. Le Dauphin has already lain four days at anchorage, and we know for a surety that the expected spy has come. We can not act too promptly."
And so it came about that I left within the hour.
A carriage had been made ready, and I bade Serigny good-bye in his own rooms. He feared our being seen together too frequently about the palace.
"But one other thing, my lad," he stopped me as I would go, "you must need have other garb than that. Your harness of the wilderness but ill befits a gay gallant in Paris—for such you must now appear. You visit the capital to see the sights, understand; a country gentleman—Greville will instruct you, the rascal has naturally a turn for intrigue and masquerading. A dress like yours would mark you apart from the throng and perchance draw upon you the scathe of idle tongue. Here is gold to array yourself as becomes a well-to-do gentleman, and gold to spend at wine and on the games withal—for, thank Providence, the ancient House of Lemoyne is not yet bankrupt."
I fain would not take his proffered coins, but he urged them upon me with such insistency that I, seeing the good sense of doing as I was bid, placed them in my meager purse, and with a light heart I set out upon my doubtful journey.
The fear of which I spoke died away, for since our success with the King, my spirits rose, and I deemed all things possible. Besides, was I not in the personal service of my beloved commander who never knew a fear?
* * * * * *
The postilion whipped up his horses, and we turned towards the old city of Paris, that treasure-house of varied fortunes whence every man might draw his lot—of poverty or riches, of fame or obscurity, of happiness or misery—as chance and strength directs.
AT THE AUSTRIAN ARMS
It was well into the night when the first dim lights of Paris came into view, and perhaps some two good hours afterwards before we drew up in front of the "Austrian Arms."
It was not a new or prepossessing place, yet much better than those I had seen along the road from Dieppe.
The host well deserved Serigny's appellation of a churl, for he looked suspiciously at me, and when I asked for de Greville replied he knew nothing of him. I could get no satisfaction from him, so I determined to take up my abode and wait. In I went and heeded not the surly host who regarded me askance.
The small public room was vacant, and I possessed myself of it with the settled air of a man who has come to stay. Verily the fire felt most grateful, and it did me much comfort to stretch as I listed, after the tedious confinement of the coach. Mine host busied himself about mending the fire, but whenever I raised my eyes I caught his gaze fixed doubtingly upon me. Evidently the man knew more than he told, and I planned to test his loyalty.
"Here, my good man," I called to him, "dost know anything of this Jerome de Greville? Where is he?"
"By our Lady, noble sir, I know him not. Paris is a great city, and many noble gentlemen come and go at their will."
"But M. de Greville lodges with you, I am told. My business is urgent."
"I do not recall such a name? Jerome de Greville?" and the rascal turned his eyes to the ceiling in the attitude of deep contemplation. I smiled inwardly.
"If it please you, sir, to write your name in my guest book, should Monsieur de Greville call I will show it him. You may tell me where you can be found."
He fetched out a worn and greasy book from a chest in the rear, and handed me a pen, watching, as I thought, with some interest, what name I would write, though I much questioned if he could read it. I pushed the book aside.
"Oh, it matters not, my name; it is an obscure one, and M. de Greville would not recall it. See here my good fellow, here is a gold piece to aid thy memory. At what hour will M. de Greville return?"
He took the coin, and turning it over and over in his palm, said, as if to it:
"If Monsieur will write a note and leave it, I will send to other inns and see if such a man be in Paris. Monsieur is of Gascony?" he ventured.
The Gascons were at this time regarded with distrust, it was such an easy matter for them to carry news into Spain, being on the border.
I soon found there was nothing to be gained from the fellow, and becoming convinced of his steadfastness was willing he should keep the coin as earnest money for future services. De Greville not coming in, I grew restive, and concluded I would stroll about the city. Claude, for so the landlord styled himself, directed me to the principal thoroughfare, and I thought by walking straight along one street I could easily return. There was nothing unusual in the neighboring buildings to make a landmark of, so I chose a great round tower not far away, and carefully laid my bearings from that.
The landlord watched me taking my observations and felt sure I would shortly return; the more so that my few articles of apparel and necessity were left stowed in the corner by his hearth. These I had purposely so arranged that I could detect any meddling. Throwing my cloak about me I took the way he indicated, and soon passed into a wider and more handsome street, which I came afterward to know. Walking idly on, without thought of distance or direction, I tired after a while, and began to think of getting back to the inn fireside. I retraced my steps perfectly, I thought, and if my calculations were right should have stood where the broad, well-lighted street I had traversed corners on Rue St. Denis. But the locality was entirely strange, and I had lost sight of the great tower which I thought would guide me home, when a squad of the watch halted me and questioned my errand.
"I am a gentleman, and officer of the King," I replied with such an air they passed on.
"I pray you, gentlemen, direct me to the Rue St. Denis, thence I can find my way."
The man gave me directions which simply confused me, and, ashamed to confess my ignorance, I blundered on to where five or six narrow, crooked streets ran together, branching out like the fingers from my palm. I paused now uncertain which way to go amid so many devious courses, and deciding almost at hazard, turned down the best paved of all those dingy streets. I had hardly gone past more than two cross streets, when there stood at a corner, looking timidly this way and that, a slight girl, with blonde hair and eyes of Breton blue. She seemed so brave, yet so out of place and helpless at that hour of the night, on such an unfrequented road, I almost made so bold as to address her, thinking I might be of service to a lady in distress. But my tongue was not formed for such well chosen words and polite phrases, so I merely held to one side, she standing to the outer edge to admit of my passage.
At the moment I got opposite her, it seems she had misjudged the width of the pavement, for I heard her give a slight ejaculation, and one foot slipped off the paved way as if she would fall into the muddy street. I passed my arm quickly about her, and raised her to a place of safety, but even then could bring no word of courtly elegance to my assistance.
She thanked me prettily and daintily, and as I pursued my course, I could but turn and give yet another glance in her direction. She caught my eye, and again looking each way, bent her steps down a by-way leading off to the left, which we were that instant nearest. There was that in her manner, I could not say exactly what, which led me to follow her at a respectful distance, seeing which she turned her head, and I fancied I could observe a thankful little smile playing about her lips. At any rate she quickened her pace and walked with more assurance, no longer in doubt about her movements.
For many rods at times she would be lost to view in the dark, and her tread was so light it scarcely made a sound—or the great, clumsy clattering I created drowned it entirely. Just at the time I thought I had lost her, I could catch a glimpse of a flitting skirt beneath one of the flambeaux, which, stuck in niches of the wall here and there, lighted old Paris.
In a very pleasant frame of mind, I strode along behind her. It was wonderful, I thought, how readily a woman's intuition recognizes a protector. And I—for I must admit I was young then; in the ways of women, far younger than my years—I amused myself with many conjectures concerning what manner of errand had taken this young woman abroad alone on such a night. A lady she plainly seemed. Disguised a little, that might be, for her quiet dignity did not fully comport with the style of her dress.
A thousand airy castles I built for my fair heroine to live in, and I, like the knightly heroes of the Crusades, was ever her defender, ever her champion in the lists.
Busied with these fancies and romantic thoughts, I lost count of streets and passages, turning this way, that and the other, through many narrow and tortuous byways and alleys, until I realized I was hopelessly lost. With my fair guide in front and my good sword by my side, lightly I recked of streets or houses. Yet I dared not forget I was on an errand for the Governor and must not expose myself to bootless peril.
At last, and somewhat to my relief, she stopped before a great oaken iron-studded gate, possibly of five good paces width, in one corner of which was cut a smaller door so low a man must stoop to pass. Upon this smaller door she rapped and stood in the attitude of waiting.
I had a moment now to look about me. It was in a quarter of the town that was forbidding. Here were two huge, dismal, gray-stone mansions, separated by a court-yard of probably forty paces across; a high wall fronted the street, flanked by a tower on either side the gate. On top, this wall was defended by bits of broken glass and spikes of steel, stuck into the masonry while it was yet soft. More than this the flickering brazier would not permit me to see. All of this I took in at a glance; across the street the murkiness of the night shut out my view. She rapped again, impatiently, but in the same manner as before. A trifling space thereafter the smaller door was opened, whoever was inside having first peeped out through a round hole, which closed itself with a shutter no bigger than his eye.