The Lifeguard of Marie Antoinette
W. D. LIGHTHALL
F. E. GRAFTON & SONS
This Edition is intended for circulation only in the Dominion of Canada.
(All rights reserved)
CYBEL, MY WIFE,
THE SWEET COMPANION AND CRITIC OF MY LABOURS ON THIS BOOK
I. THE FUR-TRADER'S SON
II. GERMAIN IN FRANCE
III. THE INNKEEPER'S LESSON
IV. THE CASTLE OF QUIET WATERS
V. MONSIEUR DE REPENTIGNY
VI. EPERGNES AND WAX-LIGHTS
VII. "THE LEAP IS TAKEN"
VIII. THE ABBE'S DISASTER
IX. A PHILOSOPHER BEHIND HORSE-PISTOLS
X. THE GALLEY-ON-LAND
XI. THE COURT
XII. GERMAIN GOES TO PARIS
XIII. A JAR IN ST. ELPHEGE
XIV. THE OLD-IRON SHOP
XV. THE BEGGARS' BALL
XVI. BROKEN ON THE WHEEL
XVII. THE SAVING OF LA TOUR
XVIII. MADAME L'ETIQUETTE
XIX. THE COMMISSION
XXI. THE SHADOW OF THE GOLDEN DOG
XXII. THE SECRET OUT
XXIII. THE EXECUTIONER OF DESTINY
XXIV. A CURIOUS PROFESSION
XXV. FACING THE MUSIC
XXVI. A DUEL
XXVII. JUDE AND THE GALLEY
XXVIII. ANOTHER DUEL
XXIX. THE LETTRE DE CACHET
XXX. THE HEAVENS FALL
XXXI. ONE DEFENDER
XXXII. A STRONG PROOF
XXXIII. THE REGISTER OF ST. GERMAIN-DES-PRES
XXXIV. AT QUEBEC
XXXV. AT ST. ELPHEGE
XXXVI. AT MONTREAL
XXXVII. ONCE MORE THE SWORD
XXXVIII. THE RECORD
XXXIX. THE MARQUIS'S VISITOR
XL. AN UNEXPECTED ALLIANCE
XLI. A POOR ADVOCATE
XLII. A HARD SEASON
XLIII. BACK AT EAUX TRANQUILLES
XLV. THE NECESSITIES OF CONDITION
XLVI. THE PATRIOTS
XLVII. THE DEFENCE OF THE BODYGUARD
XLVIII. SISTERS DEATH AND TRUTH
XLIX. CIVIC VIRTUE
L. JUDGMENT DAY
LI. LOVE ENDURETH ALL THINGS
LII. THE SUPREME EXACTITUDE
LIII. RETRIBUTION ACCOMPLISHED
This story is founded on a packet of worm-eaten letters and documents found in an old French-Canadian house on the banks of the St. Lawrence. The romance they rudely outline, its intrigues, its brilliancy of surroundings, its intensity of feelings, when given the necessary touches of history and imagination, so fascinated the writer that the result was the present book. A packet of documents of course is not a novel, and the reader may be able to guess what is mine and what is likely to have been the scanty limit of the original hint.
The student of history will recognise my debt to many authorities; among whom the chief are Paul Lacroix and Taine. I wish it distinctly understood that the person attacked in the documents in question is not the hero of this narrative.
W. D. L.
THE FALSE CHEVALIER
THE FUR-TRADER'S SON
The son of the merchant Lecour was a handsome youth, and there was great joy in the family at his coming home to St. Elphege. For he was going to France on the morrow; it was with that object that his father had sent to town for him—the little walled town of Montreal.
It was evening, early in May, of the year 1786. According to an old custom of the French-Canadians, the merchant, surrounded by his family, was bestowing upon his son the paternal blessing. It was a touching sight—the patriarchal ceremony of benediction.
The father was a fine type of the peasant. His features might, in the strong chiaroscuro of the candle-light, have stood as model for some church fresco of a St. Peter. His dress was of grey country homespun, cut in a long coat, and girded by a many-coloured arrow-pattern sash, and on his feet he wore a pair of well-worn beef-skin mocassins.
The son was some twenty years of age, and his mien and dress told of the better social advantages of the town. Indeed, his costume, though somewhat worn, had marks of good fashion.
His younger sister (for he had two, of whom one was absent), and his mother, a lively, black-eyed woman, who dressed and bore herself ambitiously for her station, gazed on him in fond pride as he knelt.
"My son," the merchant said reverently, his hands outstretched over his boy, "the Almighty keep and guard thee; may the blessing of thy father and thy mother follow thee wherever thou goest."
"Amen," the son responded.
He rose and stood before his parent with bent head.
The old man exhorted him gravely on the dangers before him—on the ruffians and lures of Paris, and the excitements of youth. He warned him to attend to his religious duties, and to do credit to his family and their condition in life by respectful and irreproachable conduct. "Never forget," he concluded, in words which the young man remembered in after years, "that the Eternal Justice follows us everywhere, and calls us to exact account, either on earth or in the after life, for all our acts."
But here Lecour's solemn tone ceased, and he continued—"Now, Germain, I must explain to you more closely the business on which I have sent for you so suddenly. The North-West Company, who, as you know, command the fur-trade of Canada, have word that a new fashion just introduced into Paris has doubled the demand for beaver and tripled the price. They are hurrying over all their skins by their ship which sails in ten days to London from Quebec. I have space on a vessel which goes direct to Dieppe the day after to-morrow, and can therefore forestall them by about two weeks. I have gathered my winter stock into the boats you will see at our landing; and your mother, who has always been so eager to send you to France, has persuaded me to have you as my supercargo. Go, my boy; it is a great opportunity to see the world."
"Yes, my Germain, at last," wife Lecour exclaimed joyfully, throwing her arms around his neck, "at last you will set eyes on Versailles, and my dreams about you will come true!"
The youth himself was in a daze of smiles and tears.
The chamber in which they were was the living-room of the house. Its low ceiling of heavy beams, its spotlessly sanded floor, carpeted with striped catalogne, its pine table, and home-made chairs of elm, were common sights in the country. But a tall, brass-faced London clock in one corner, a cupboard fuller than usual of blue-pattern stone-ware in another, a large copper-plate of the "Descent from the Cross," and an ebony and ivory crucifix on the walls, were indications of more than average prosperity.
So thin was population throughout Canada in those days that to leave the banks of the St. Lawrence almost anywhere was to leave human habitation. The hamlet of St. Elphege was part of the half-wild parish of Repentigny. The cause of its existence was its position some miles up the Assumption, as a gateway of many smaller rivers tributary to the latter, which itself was tributary to the River of Jesus; and that in turn, less than a mile further on, to the vast St Lawrence. It flourished on the trade of wandering tribes from up the Achigan, the Lac-Ouareau, the St Esprit, and the Rouge, and on the sale of supplies to rude settlers above and the farmers below. It flourished by the energy of one man—this man, its founder, the Merchant Lecour. He had started life with small prospects; his ideas were of the simplest, and he was at first even a complete stranger to writing and figures. In his youth a common soldier in the levies of the Marquis de Montcalm on the campaigns towards lake Champlain, he had acquired favour with his colonel by his steadiness, had been given charge of a canteen, and in dispensing brandy to his comrades had found it possible to sell a few small articles. The defence of New France against the British collapsed on the investiture of Montreal by Sir Jeffrey Amherst in 1760. The French army surrendered, and part of it was shipped back to the motherland. Lecour remained, and shouldering a pedlar's pack, plodded about the country selling red handkerchiefs, sashes, and jack-knives to the peasantry. Being attracted by the convenience of the portage for dealings with the Indians of the north, he selected a spot in the forest and built a little log dwelling. Success followed from the first. Beaver-skins rose into fabulous demand in Europe for cocked hats, and made the fortunes of all who supplied them. The streams behind Lecour's post were teeming with beaver-dams. He easily kept his monopoly of the trade, and several times a year would send a fleet of boats down to Quebec, which returned with goods imported from Europe. Finally he extended his dealings throughout the Province into varied branches of business, and "the Merchant of St. Elphege" became a household name with the French-Canadians. The home of the Lecours—half dwelling, half vaulted warehouse—was one of four capacious provincial stone cottage buildings, standing about a quadrangular yard, each bearing high up on its peak a date and brief inscription, one of which read "A Dieu la Gloire!"—"To God the Glory."
Just at the end of the family scene previously described, a noise was heard without, the latch was lifted, and a troop of Lecour's neighbours and dependants pushed in, an old fiddler at their head, who, clattering forward in sabots, removed his blue tuque from his head, and politely bowed to Lecour.
"Father," he said, "these young people ask your permission to give a dance in honour of Monsieur Germain."
The Lecours appreciated the honour; the room was cleared, music struck up, and festivity was soon in progress. What a display of neat ankles and deft feet in mocassins! What a clattering of sabots and shuffling of "beefs"! The perspiration rolled off the brow of the musician, and young Lecour was whirling round like a madcap with the daughter of the ferryman of Repentigny, when the latch was again lifted, and the door silently opened.
Every woman set up a shriek. The threshold was crowded with Indians in warpaint!
All the settlers knew that paint and its dangers.
The dancers drew back to one side of the room, and some opened the door of the warehouse adjoining and took refuge in its vaulted shadows. But Lecour himself, the former soldier, was no man to tremble. "Come in," he said, without betraying a trace of any feeling.
Seven chiefs stalked grimly across the floor in single file, carrying their tomahawks and knives in their hands, their great silver treaty medals hanging from their necks, and their brightly dyed eagle feathers quivering above their heads, and six sat down opposite Lecour on the floor. Their leader, Atotarho, Grand Chief of Oka, stood erect and silent, an expression of warlike fierceness on his face.
"Atotarho!" exclaimed the merchant.
"It is I," the Grand Chief answered. "Where is the young man?"
"Here," replied Germain, stepping forward with a sangfroid which pleased his father. He faced the powerful Indian.
Atotarho shook his tomahawk towards the ceiling, uttered a piercing war-whoop, and commenced to execute the war-dance, chanting this song in his native Six-Nation tongue—
"Our forefathers made the rule and said: 'Here they are to kindle a fire; here at the edge of the woods.'"
One of the chiefs drummed on a small tom-tom. The chant continued—
"Show me the man!
"Hail, my grandsires; now hearken while your grand-children cry unto you, you who established the Great League. Come back, ye warriors, and help us.
"Come back, ye warriors, and sit about our Council. Lend us your magic tomahawks. Lend us your arrows of flint. Lend us your knives of jade. I am the Great Chief, but ye are greater chiefs than I.
"Of old time the nations wandered and warred.
"Ye were wonderful who established the Great Peace.
"Assuredly six generations before the pale-faces appeared, ye smoked the redstone pipe together, giving white wampum to show that war would cease.
"Thenceforth ye bound the nations with a Silver Chain; ye built the Long House; ye established the Great League.
"First Hiawatha of the Onondaga nation proposed it; then Dekanawidah of the Mohawks joined him; then Atotarho, my mighty ancestor.
"First the Mohawks; then their younger brothers, the Oneidas, joined them; then the Cayugas; then the Onondagas, then the Senecas; and then the Tuscaroras were added. Victorious were the SIX NATIONS!"
With a piercing cry of triumph the chiefs sprang up and brandished their tomahawks.
"Then we took the sons of the Wyandots, the Eries, the Algonquins. Wherever we found the son of a brave man we adopted him. Wherever we found a brave man we made him a chief.
"Here is the son of a brave man, our friend. Let us adopt him. Be ye his grandsires, oh ye chiefs of old!
"He is a brave man; let us make him a chief. Our forefathers said: 'Thither shall he be led by the hand, and shall be placed on the principal seat.'
"Smoke the peace-pipe with us, chiefs of old, Hiawatha, Dekanawidah, Atotarho, us who bear your names, to-day, being descended of your blood through the line of the mother."
"Brighten the Silver Chain, extend the Long House, smoke the magic pipe, sharpen his tomahawk, for he is a son of your League, and shall sit with you in the Council for ever, bearing the name of Arahseh, 'Our Cousin,' and the totem of the Wolf.
"Smoke the peace-pipe, Arahseh, 'Our Cousin.'"
The tom-tom beat furiously and the six chiefs leaping up and circling round Germain, struck the air with their tomahawks and cried together—
"Continue to listen Ye who are braves; Ye who established the Great League, Continue to listen."
They gave the peace-pipe to Germain, and again seating themselves in semicircle, gravely passed it from lip to lip.
Gradually the settlers during these rites began to learn by those who understood Iroquois, the friendly nature of the fierce-looking actions of the savages and gazed with delight while the merchant's son was made a chief.
Thus out of a semi-savage corner of the world Germain Lecour was launched on his voyage to Europe, which commenced at the head of the boats of his father next morning when the dawn first carmined the sky through the forests.
GERMAIN IN FRANCE
Along the highway through the ancient Forest of Fontainebleau, the coach of the Chevalier de Bailleul, carven and gilt in elegant forms of the reign of Louis XVI., and driven with the spirit that belonged to the service of a grand seigneur, sped forward.
Within, the frank old soldier sat, fresh from the royal hunt at the Palace; and on his breast coruscated the crimson heart and white rays of the Great Star of St. Louis, the reward of distinguished service.
Suddenly the horses wheeled round and stopped to drink at a small stream, which gushed into a natural basin by the roadside. A mounted young man was about to water his animal at the basin, but noticing the equipage stopping, he backed out and gave up his place, at the same time raising his hat.
The Chevalier never ignored a politeness. Laying his hand on the window frame he saluted the rider, and it was in this glance that his eye caught sight of the sword-strap of the rapier at the rider's side. For—strangely out of place in that longitude—this was a piece of snow-white fawn-skin; embroidered in fantastic colours, woven with porcupine quills; and adorned with a clan totem, known only in the region of the River St. Lawrence.
He looked up promptly to the bearer's face. So bright was the expression of the youth, so fine was his make, so lissome his seat on his chafing horse, that the old man thought he had never seen a picture more martial or handsome. A portrait of the rider would have represented a countenance full of intelligence, a manly bearing, dark eyes, hair jet black, and the complexion clear. He wore a dark red coat and a black hat bordered with silver.
De Bailleul spoke.
"May I ask," said he, with the charming manners of the courtier, "Monsieur's name and country, so that I may link them with the service just done me?"
"The trifle merits no notice, sir," the youth answered respectfully. "My name is Germain Lecour, of Repentigny, in Canada."
"Canada!" exclaimed the Chevalier warmly. "This is good fortune, indeed. It was my lot to have once done service for the king in that country, since which time every Canadian is my brother. And you live in Repentigny? That is near Montreal?"
"Eight leagues below, on the River of L'Assomption, Monsieur."
"Nearly thirty years ago I left your land. To hear fresh news of it would give me the greatest satisfaction of my life. Are you at one of the inns here at Fontainebleau? Yes? Let me offer you the shelter of my house, Eaux Tranquilles, which is less that a league forward. My name is the Chevalier de Bailleul, sir. If you permit it I shall send immediately for your luggage."
The horseman, blushing, protested that the honour was too great.
"The honour and favour are to me," replied the Chevalier.
Lecour gave in with visible joy and named his inn. The two lifted their hats and parted with the profoundest bows. The Chevalier, as his carriage once more sped forward, found himself no less pleased than the other. The embroidered sword-strap and overshadowing trees conjure up for him an hour of the past where he, a young lieutenant, is leading a little column of white-coats through a forest defile in America. The Indian scouts suddenly come gliding in, the fire of an enemy is heard, little spots of smoke burst on the mountain side and dissolve again. Shrill yells resound on every hand, brown arms brandish flashes of brightness. The young commander rises to the emergency. His white-coats are rapidly placed in position behind trees, and a battle is proceeding.
THE INNKEEPER'S LESSON
The chief inn of Fontainebleau town was a rambling galleried quadrangle of semi-deserted buildings situated on the Rue Basse, and bearing the sign of "The Holy Ghost."
This town, in the heart of the woods, had no other sources of livelihood than a vegetable market for the Palace, the small wants of the wooden-shoed foresters and of the workmen employed by the Master of Woods and Waters in planting new trees, and those of the crowd of strangers who flocked to the place during five or six weeks in the autumn of each year, when the king and Court arrived for the pleasures of the hunt.
The host of the inn—formerly an assistant butler in Madame du Barry's hotel at Versailles, was a sharp, sour-natured old fellow, truculent and avaricious. The spine of this man was a sort of social barometer; by its exact degree of curvature or stiffness in the presence of a guest the stable-boys and housemaids knew whether his rank was great or small, and whether, to please their cantankerous master, they were to fly or walk at his beck, or in the case of a mere bourgeois, to drink his wine on the way to his room.
Germain, on first arriving a few days previously, found himself in an atmosphere of Oriental abjectness; for when the Rouen diligence drove through the inn gateway, and mine host at his pot-room window remarked his smart belongings, his landlord soul settled him as a person of quality. But when the innkeeper had thought it out for an hour over his wine, his attitude became one of doubt.
"No valet, no people," he muttered, "this fish then is no noble, and yet, by his mien, no bourgeois. Luggage scanty, dress fine. What is he? Gambler of Paris? Swiss? Italian? No, he speaks French, but without the Court accent. By that he is none of our people—that is one point fixed. A prodigal son, then? Parbleu, I must make him pay in advance."
"Sir," said the landlord, knocking at the door of Germain's room, and then stepping in rather freely, "I regret to tell you that it is the rule in Fontainebleau for travellers to pay in advance."
"How much?" replied Germain, pulling out a purse full of pistoles.
The rascal was taken aback.
"I was about to say," said he, retreating, "that though such is the rule, I am making of your honour an exception."
And he disappeared to further correct his speculations upon the visitor. "Some little spendthrift of the provinces, I wager," was his next conclusion. He instructed the senior stable-boy to go in and light three candles, and chalked up the guest for nine. He also began to concoct his bill. The household thenceforth took small liberties with Lecour's orders.
Next day the landlord, when Monsieur was about to mount the handsomest horse which could be hired in the town, again quitted his post of observation at the pot-room window and advanced. He knew the animal and its saddlery; his suave smile reappeared, and his back bent a little as he noticed with the eye of an expert Germain's ease in his seat.
"Monsieur desires to see the Court, no doubt? He knows, perhaps, that it does not arrive till Thursday?"
"Indeed. Tell me about the doings of the Court. I have never heard about it."
A triumphant, hard expression came over Boniface's visage. He looked up at his guest, straightened himself, turned his back, and went into the house.
"What," he muttered, "I, the entertainer of counts of twenty quarterings and the neighbour of a king—am I to have a plebeian in my house so peasant that he ignores the topic of all society? He shall feel that he does not impose on Fontainebleau."
Germain's apartment, situated in front of the house, consisted of two rooms fitted up with some elegance, and both looking out upon the market-place and church. He was now told that these quarters were engaged by "persons of quality to whom Monsieur would doubtless give place in the usual manner." He submitted without protest, and accepted uncomplainingly the inferior chamber assigned to him on the courtyard in the rear.
The little town shortly began to fill with liveliness and tradesmen. A fine carriage drove up before the inn, its horses ridden by postillions, and followed by two mounted grooms. Three young noblemen, brothers, of an exceedingly handsome type, alighted. The keeper of the "Holy Ghost" and his two rows of servants grovelled before them in a body and conducted them to the best suites within, including that taken from Germain.
It was next morning that the latter met de Bailleul.
His host now placed the final insult upon him. At dinner he motioned him roughly to sit at the table of the rustics.
Germain refused; he was paying for better.
The landlord angrily resisted. The Canadian, now aroused, for he saw at last the intention to slight him, stopped, laid his hand significantly on the hilt of his sword, and looked at the man. That motion in those days had but one meaning. He was let alone.
Within an hour the coach of the Chevalier drove in for him and his baggage. The sycophant recognised the arms on the panel and collapsed. Yet that hour's reflection on the innkeeper's conduct woke Lecour to the power of rank in old Europe.
THE CASTLE OF QUIET WATERS
Having added to his toilet the special elegance of powdering his hair, arrayed himself in his finest flowered waistcoat, and critically disposed his laces, Germain took seat in de Bailleul's coach and was driven away.
As the horses flew along another new feeling came to him. The distinction of a familiar visit with a real "great lord" elated him as debutantes are elated by their first ball. He was no snob, only a very natural young man entering life. He dreamt that he was transferred from the ignoble class to the noble, and in the fancy felt himself lifted to some inconceivable level above the people who passed by. Half a dozen peasants, bronzed and sweaty and trudging in a group, meeting him, took off their hats. One of them said in his hearing: "Baptiste, there is one of the white-wigs."
The carriage rolled through the forest, then out into the open country, and shortly after turned under a stately gate of gilded ironwork, and the grounds of Eaux Tranquilles were entered. The chateau was a mansion of smooth, light sandstone, having four towers at the corners. A turreted side-wing, bridging over water, united it with a more ancient castle which stood, walled in white and capped in black, in the midst of a small lake. In front were gardens; in rear a terrace, and below it a lawn bordered on one side by the lake, on the opposite shore of which a park of poplars, birches, and elms extended, producing, by shading the water, a serenity which doubtless had given the estate its name.
The last light of afternoon, that most beautiful of all lights, fell upon the towers, and long shadows swept across the gardens.
Lecour thought it glorious.
In a few moments he and his host were seated at tea. The lofty window-doors stood open to let in the June zephyrs. With the two wigged and liveried servants attending, the scene to Lecour seemed the acting of a beautiful charade, the introduction to an unreal existence.
De Bailleul noted the delicacy of his hand and the tastefulness of his violet-tinted coat.
"Let us talk of Canada," said he. "I have no friends yet to offer you, though you shall have some young dogs like yourself very soon. What do you like?—riding, hunting, a quiet minuet on the terrace, eh? Ah me, the coquettes of Quebec! I well remember them."
Germain expressed gratitude for the amusements offered.
"I will tell you why I love Canada," continued the Chevalier. "It was there that I passed my military youth. Have you ever eaten Indian bean-cake?"
"I have tasted it."
"And that was enough, eh? But I have lived on it for eight weeks in an Iroquois village. Yes, eight weeks bean-cake was the most horrible of my experiences, except when I saw the hand of an unfortunate Potawatomie turn up in an Abenaki broth-pot. Do you remember General Montcalm?"
"I was not born in his time."
"I saw him die, and heard him refuse to let the women of Quebec weep for him. Montcalm, sir, was the last hero of France. They glorify Lafayette, but between ourselves Lafayette is more the drum-major than the general."
"The lost children of France do not forget the defender of Quebec."
"But who now passes from there to here? The noblesse of the colony sank embracing each other on the luckless ship Auguste in which they fled to France. Alas, my friends so brave and so lovely! Ah, Varennes and La Verandrye, and you my poor Lady de Meziere! Senneville also, my dearest friend," he murmured, speaking to the spirits. "La Corne alone escaped. Pardon me, Monsieur. Who is now Seigneur of Berthier?"
"In place of the Courthillaux! And of Repentigny?"
"In place of Le Gardeurs! And of Longueuil?"
"In the stead of the Le Moynes!"
"He married one of them and calls himself Baron de Longueuil."
"An Englishman Baron of Longueuil! Shades of Le Moyne d'Iberville! And what of La Corne, who used to put on warpaint and dance around the council fires waving a tomahawk against the English?"
"Good old Colonel La Corne! He is now a loyal subject of the king of Great Britain, and very distinguished in the late American war."
"My God, what impossibilities within thirty years!"
Lecour, finding that the Chevalier was eager for a general account of all Canadian beaux and dames, did his best to respond. De Bailleul's cup ran over.
"Do you know," he exclaimed, "I have never met any people like the Canadians. When Montcalm was general, I commanded a certain detachment towards Lake Champlain. Through how many leagues of forest, over how many cedar swamps and rocky hills, across how many icy torrents did my bronzed woodmen not toil! We made beds from boughs of spruce, our walls were the forest, our roofs were the skies. Many a day we fasted the twenty-four hours. More than once we ate our mocassins. 'Twas all for France. Ah, if our young men at Versailles had that to do, they would have to be different persons. I have no respect for these warriors of hair-powder and lace, who wear stays and learn to march from the dancing-master. Give me a people bred in the lap of wild nature and among whom the paths to reputation are courage and intelligence! Give me——"
Lecour saw that the Canada of the good man was an idealised picture, but he admired his affection and asked permission to drink his health. They touched glasses.
"Tell me about your own people, my young friend. Who is your father?"
"A country merchant, sir."
"A well-to-do one, then, I judge."
"He has prospered so well as to be reputed rich for a colony."
"And you live at St. Elphege? In my time it was only a carrying-place for canoes, to avoid the rapid."
"My father is the founder of the little place. He is known throughout our Province as 'The Merchant of St. Elphege.'"
"An honourable title, based on an honourable record no doubt. Would that we rightly respected trade in France. That is one of the nation's weaknesses. You have a mother and brothers?"
"A mother and two sisters—one married, the other at a convent in Quebec. My brother-in-law assists my father. We are very humble people."
"Why have you come to France?"
"Because I have admired it since a child, from my mother's stories at her knee."
"She came from France, then?"
"No, sir, but she was housekeeper in the house of Governor the Marquis de Beauharnois."
When he said this the youth blushed.
"How is it your accent is so good? It is quite that of our gentry."
"I learnt it at the Little Seminary, from the priests, who are gentlemen of Paris. There also the best families send their boys, and we young men grew up together. I have lived a little in Montreal too."
"Ah, what is Montreal now like? Are the town walls still standing?"
"They surround the city, but the commander-in-chief talks of replacing them by avenues and a Champ de Mars."
"The British garrison of course occupies the Arsenal, the British flag flies from the Citadel. Where does the British Governor reside?"
"At the Chateau de Ramezay."
"But why not at the Chateau de Vaudreuil, where Governor de Vaudreuil dwelt? It was larger and its gardens finer."
"That now belongs to Monsieur de Lotbiniere."
"De Lotbiniere! the new Marquis! Lucky devil; but blue death, what changes!"
They rose and strayed into the gardens.
"I seem to find in you already," said the warm-hearted old Chevalier, "one whom I love. There is something frank in your eyes which raises memories of my dead son. In you I see both my offspring's and my own youth recalled to me. You are Canadian—in you I can banish the coldness, hollowness, and degeneracy of Europe. Replace my boy. Let me call you 'Germain' and 'son.'"
The bar of evening glow was fading in the west and twilight falling on the walks. A chill breeze seemed to inspire a question, which Germain began.
"There is some hindrance then?" exclaimed the Chevalier in a disappointed voice.
"Alas, does your honour, perhaps, forget the differences of birth?"
"Differences of birth, my Germain, are illusions; you have the reality."
"Would that I had the illusion," thought poor Lecour.
MONSIEUR DE REPENTIGNY
For several days he revelled in exploring Eaux Tranquilles. He became familiar with the paths of the gardens, the different statues and fountains. Sweet odours continually seemed to fill his breathing. He sat dreaming in the trellised vineries, or wandered with his host along the walks overhung by carefully trimmed shade-trees. Sometimes he would ramble in the park, which occupied about a mile of hill across the mere; sometimes he strolled curiously about in the old castle, along devious passages and from chamber to chamber, wondering at its heavily tapestried walls, its gloomy dungeons with the water lapping just beneath, its small windows painted with little coats of arms, and its walls ten feet thick.
One of his strong recommendations in the eyes of de Bailleul was that he knew a fine horse and how to ride him. The Chevalier, being lord of a large extent of country, and a very conscientious man who sympathised energetically with the broad-minded schemes of the Duke de la Rochefoucauld for bettering the peasants, they did much visiting of cures and cottagers.
"Parsangbleu," he exclaimed to Germain. "What is more simple than that every one of the people is a man like any of the rest of us."
That was then new doctrine to society.
Just when they were starting off one day together, the Chevalier's groom handed him a note.
While they cantered outward he perused it and commented.
"Our visitors arrive from the Palace this afternoon. One is my very amiable friend, the Prince de Poix, of the family of the Noailles, colonel of bodyguards to his Majesty. With him of course comes his Princess. Make yourself agreeable to her, Germain, which is very easily done. She is the key of the situation for you. In her charge will be some ladies. Don't be afraid of the crinoline, my boy. There will also be some officers of the Prince's command, the Noailles company, namely, Baron de Grancey, Viscount Aymer d'Estaing, the Count de Bellecour, the Marquis d'Amoreau, and the Chevalier de Blair. They lead a famous corps, for every private in the bodyguard is a noble, and has the rank of captain. They have come to Fontainebleau with the hunt."
The news brought Germain a shock. Since his experiences at the "Holy Ghost" he had progressively arrived at the conviction that the only parallel to the distinction of caste between the hereditary gentry and all other persons as then drawn in France was the distinction between the heavens above and the earth beneath; the distance between was considered simply immeasurable and impassable except by the transmigration of souls. We cannot understand the extent of it in our day. No aristocrat is now so blind, no plebeian so humble, as to sincerely believe the doctrine. But in that age France was steeped in it. High refinement of manners had grown to really differentiate the Court from the masses, and the members of the governing order were jealous of the privileges of their circle to a degree which has no parallel now. To be suspected of being a farmer or a merchant, no matter how cultivated or wealthy, was to be written "ignoble." The higher noblesse, making up in their own society, by the acquisitions of descent and leisure, a delightful sphere of all that was most fascinating in art, music, dress, and blazonry, as well as power and fame, moved as very gods, flattered with the tenet that other classes were an inferior species actually made out of a different clay. Genealogy and heraldry formed a great part of education. The members of the privileged families all wore territorial titles as their badge. The most beggarly individual who wore the sword claimed precedence of the most substantial citizen. Whatever name was plain, to them was base.
Now Germain's name was plain, and he knew his class was held by these people as base. His Elysian gardens, thought he, were about to be snatched away.
About two o'clock in the day he saw with beating heart a courier gallop up to the staircase of the main entrance, dismount, and wait.
The Chevalier's maitre d'hotel hastily caused the doors to be thrown wide open, and the hall swarmed full of servants. De Bailleul, donning his Grand Cross of St. Louis, placed Germain at his side, and stood at the foot of the steps.
The Princess arrived in a sedan-chair at the head of a procession of carriages, the first of which contained her chief servants and an abbe, who was her reader; those following held her husband and the other guests.
Germain blanched when he saw the latter descend. They wore that bearing which marked their class, and the dress of each seemed to him like the petals of some rich flower. The Canadian youth looked at them, fascinated. At his age the soul watches eagerly from its tower (what is a man but the tower of a soul?); each new turn of the kaleidoscope, each new figure crossing the landscape, is bathed in the rosy glow of morning. Yet he thought of them with a sense of imprisonment and sadness.
"I have not known till now what I desire; alas! I am nothing."
The Chevalier assisted the Princess to alight, and, kissing her hand, turned and said—
"Permit me, Madame, to present to your Excellency Monsieur Lecour, of Repentigny, in Canada."
This was the crucial moment in the history of the merchant's son. As he heard his name uttered the thought rushed into his mind how baldly and badly it sounded. There was a second of suspense, soon over. The great lady, arrayed in all the mountainous spread and shimmering magnificence of the Court costume, glanced at him with formal smile and impassive face, drew back, and made the grande reverence of the woman of high society. He noted it breathlessly, and as he returned it, full of quick-summoned grace and courage, he heard an inner music beginning to sound, loud, triumphant, and strange. He became seized of a new-found confidence that he could sustain his part. Every small doing now appeared of importance. The five Life Guards stood near. De Bailleul introduced Germain to Baron de Grancey and went away. Grancey, not having caught the Canadian's name, amiably asked Germain to repeat it.
He stopped, blushed, and faltered—
"De?" the Baron asked, supposing as a matter of course that a territorial title was to follow.
Lecour, in his confusion taking the requested "de" to mean merely "from," proceeded to utter four fatal words—
"De Repentigny en Canada."
The Baron turned to his nearest companion, and again the formula of introduction fell on Germain's ear—
"Chevalier de Blair, I have the honour of presenting you to Monsieur de Repentigny."
"Monsieur, I have the honour of saluting you," said de Blair.
Before Germain could collect his ideas he had bowed to each of the other Guards under the name "de Repentigny."
It cannot be said that, once he had recovered his self-possession after his narrow escape from being announced as a plebeian, any great qualms for the present overtook him. He reasoned that the title just attributed to him was not the result of his own seeking. Though destined to bring on all the serious consequences which form the matter of this story and to change a lighthearted young man into a desperate adventurer, it came in the aspect of a petty accident, which but facilitated his reception at the hands of the companions who crowded around him.
"Have I not seen you at Court? Were you not presented six months ago in the Oeil de Boeuf?" inquired de Blair.
"I am only a provincial," he answered. "I know nothing of the Court."
"When I first came from Dauphiny up to Versailles," laughed the Count de Bellecour, "I spoke such a patois they thought I was a horse."
"You come from Canada? Tell us about the Revolution in the English colonies. It is not a new affair, but we army men are always talking about it."
Germain ventured on an epigram.
"That was simple; it was the coming of age of a continent."
"A war of liberty against oppression?"
"Rather, gentlemen, a war of human nature against human nature. We had experience of the armies of both sides in our Province."
"Would I had been there with Lafayette!" another Guardsman cried.
"You, d'Estaing!" exclaimed Grancey. "You would cry if an Englishman spoiled your ruffles!"
"Sir, my second shall visit you this evening!"
"Pray, you twin imitations of Modesty-in-Person, let us have a real tragediette in steel and blood," put in d'Amoreau, the fifth Life Guard.
D'Estaing and Grancey, drawing swords, lunged at each other. D'Amoreau and the Count de Bellecour each ran behind one of them and acted as a second, the Chevalier de Blair standing umpire, when the Abbe, the Princess's reader, entered. The blades were thrust, mock respectfully, back into their scabbards, and they all bowed low to the ecclesiastic.
A short, spare man of thirty with a cadaverous face, whose sharp, lustreless black eyes, thin projecting nose, and mouth like a sardonic mere line, combined with a jesuitical downwardness of look, made one feel uneasy—such was the Abbe Jude as he appeared to Germain's brief first glance.
"Never mind, gentlemen; one less of you would not be missed," he retorted to their obeisance.
"You would like a death-mass fee, Abbe?"
The Canadian, brought up to other customs, wondered how a priest could be addressed with such contempt by good Catholics.
"Is he a monk or a cure?" he inquired, when the reader had passed on.
"He is nothing," answered d'Estaing, with clear eye and scornful lip. "Paris is devastated by fellows calling themselves abbes. They have no connection with the Church, except a hole in the top of their wigs. This fellow is Jude, the Princess's parasite."
To Germain the Guardsmen made themselves very agreeable. The manners of the Canadian attracted men who held that the highest human quality after rank was to be amiable. The Baron took him violently into his heart. He was a large, well-made fellow of a certain grand kindliness of bearing, and wore his natural hair, which was golden. The rich-laced blue silk tunic of the Bodyguard shone on his shoulders in ample spaces, and he well set off the deep red facings, the gold stripes, big sleeves, and elegant sword, the coveted uniform, loved of the loveliest and proudest of Versailles.
EPERGNES AND WAX-LIGHTS
Dinner took place at four, with the windows darkened. At the right and left of the host respectively were the Prince and Princess de Poix. Germain presided at the foot of the table, having on his right a Canoness and on his left a young lady to be described presently. As his glances passed down the two rows of guests he thought he could never have imagined a more perfect scene of its kind. He was dazed and intoxicated.
A soft but bright radiance was shed by a host of starry wax-lights in the chandeliers above. An indescribable air of distinction marked every face. Numerous servants moved about noiselessly, and the musicians of the chateau, placed in a recess, played upon violins and a harpsichord. The table was a fairy sight. Flowers, silver statuettes, and candelabra, were placed at intervals down the middle. Between and around these a miniature landscape, representing winter, was extended, with little snowy-roofed temples, an ice-bound stream, bridges, columns, trees and shrubbery, all dusted with hoar frost. The company uttered exclamations of delight at the ingenuity of the idea.
There was particular pleasure in eyes of the lady who sat at Lecour's left, the Baroness de la Roche Vernay. She was one of those startlingly beautiful beings whom one meets only once in a lifetime. Less than eighteen, and fragile-looking at first glance, Nature had given her an erectness and grace and a slender, unconscious symmetry which, characterising every feature, seemed to suggest the analogy of the upward growth of a flower. The purity of innocence and truth lightened her fair brow, at the same time that enjoyment of society shone from her sparkling eyes. Her soft light hair was worn, not in the elaborate manner of the ladies about her, but in the simplest fashion and with merely a trace of powder. The most unusual and characteristic element in her appearance was a white, translucent complexion with touches of colour, and as she was also dressed in white, lightly embroidered with gold, she seemed to Lecour, in the radiant, unreal wax-light, so ethereal as to have just come from heaven. So vision-like and wonderful to him was her beauty that he gasped when she turned to him to speak.
"Your chef is a real Watteau, Monsieur—a marvel at design."
"He doubtless dreamt what stars were to beam over his landscape, Madame," he answered, for he had at least kept grip of his wits.
"What stars, Monsieur?"
"My lady's eyes, n'est-ce pas?" he answered.
The stars thus eulogised brimmed with smiles and searched his face.
"Monsieur," said the Canoness, who was not quite so young, but very pretty, "you should have applied that compliment to all of our eyes. I am in the habit of pleading for the community, as we do in my convent."
"None of these ladies, including yourself, Madame, have any need of compliments, in my humble opinion."
"You deserve a reward, sir. Our Chapter is giving some Arcadian receptions, and you shall be one of the shepherds. We have absolute idylls of white sheep in our garden, though we cannot go to the length, of course, of wearing those old costumes of the nymphs and shepherdesses. How entrancing those costumes were," she added with a careless sigh.
The Canoness was an extraordinary curiosity to him. She was petite and fair. Though a religieuse, she wore crinoline and large paniers, and, was elegantly furbelowed. The colours of her dress were mainly white and gold, but a long light robe of black crape was thrown over her shoulders, and the jewelled cross of an order ornamented her breast.
"Did the ancient nymphs know any better?" cried Mademoiselle de Richeval, who sat a couple of places further on. "Do you not believe that if they lived to-day they would patronise our fashions?"
"Know any better? Do you think they were unconscious that to carry a crook is becoming to the arm? No, they were as careful of their crooks as we of our rouges. What is your judgment, Monsieur de Repentigny?"
"It is a Judgment of Paris you require," he exclaimed, "and I have not been there yet."
Cyrene de la Roche Vernay touched her lovely hand quickly upon the table and turned to him with a delighted little laugh.
"As for me, I shall be glad if these tiresome fine clothes are ever to be banished," she murmured, twisting her wine-glass.
"Baroness, you have been reading the wicked Rousseau and his 'Social Contract,'" de Blair, who sat next to her, bantered.
"It surely ought to cost something to be noble," pronounced the Canoness, in whose convent every candidate was required to prove sixteen quarterings of arms, and received the title of countess.
"Permit me to agree with the Church," laughed Mademoiselle de Richeval; "we women ought to be as elaborate as possible, so as to frighten away all those who are not rich enough to marry."
"I believe I could say, Miss," asserted d'Estaing, "that nevertheless you yourself have brought to Fontainebleau at least twelve short dresses and five pairs of low-heeled shoes."
"More than that—a straw hat and aprons," Cyrene added mischievously, casting a smile also at Germain.
"Hold! hold!" de Blair cried. "This is certainly the revolution they say is to come. We are returning rapidly to the State of Nature."
"Do I hear a phrase of that man Rousseau, ladies?" the Princess called over, nodding her head-dress. "When I was little he was presented to me at the Prince de Conti's, and had no breeding. Is that not true, Abbe?"
"You speak with your unvarying correctness, Madame la Princesse."
"You hear the Abbe, ladies," she said languidly, sitting back again.
D'Estaing, to change the subject, took up the name of the Prince de Conti, and turning to the Canoness and Cyrene, told a story which he had often heard of him.
"Madame de Bouillon, being with the Prince, hinted that she would like a miniature of her linnet set in a ring. The Prince offered to have it made. His offer was accepted on condition that the miniature be set plain, without jewels. Accordingly the miniature is placed in a simple rim of gold. But to cover over the painting, a large diamond, cut very thin, is set above it. Madame returned the diamond. The Prince had it ground to powder, which he used to dry the ink of the note he wrote to Madame on the subject."
"There is a Prince!" cried Mademoiselle de Richeval.
"By the way, Montgolfier has sent up a new balloon which has carried four passengers," went on the volatile d'Estaing.
"Who is this Montgolfier with his balloons?" the Princess asked languidly. "Is he what the new coiffure is named after?"
D'Estaing looked around a little significantly.
"Precisely, Madame—the coiffure Montgolfier," Germain at once replied, for he had looked into hat fashions lately.
"Please describe it to me after dinner. All the world is speaking of it."
"To the devil with coiffures!" Grancey whispered to the Canoness, and struck up a paean of praise on the lean hound Arethuse who led the hunt the previous day.
"Yes, but I believe that dog is possessed of the devil," asserted d'Estaing. "Did you notice her eyes flash when she sprang down the hideous glen where we nearly broke our necks? The foresters once told me about that place."
"What about it?"
"It is the glen of the Great Hunter. The courtiers of King Henry IV were hunting in that part of the forest one day, when they heard a tremendous horn, saw the stag turn, and a strange pack of dogs in full chase fly after it across their path; and with the hounds they saw a hunter, riding on a great black horse. They stopped and shouted at the intruder, and searched about for him, when a gigantic savage of a frightful countenance sprang above the bushes and said in a voice which froze their blood: 'DO YOU HEAR ME?' Since then he has been seen many times by the foresters and others."
"I do not like the subject," shuddered Mademoiselle de Richeval, crossing herself.
"Pardon me," d'Estaing gravely said, bowing.
"Tell me something about those men ascending into the clouds," spoke the silvery voice of the young Baroness, addressing Germain.
He gladly told her all he knew of the late ascent, at which he had been present in Bordeaux; how Montgolfier and his brother made the balloon; how he stood by their enclosure and saw them fill the balloon with inflammable gas; how the brave four got into the car and everybody prophesied their destruction; and of the speechless thrill with which he saw at last the strange machine dart upwards and carry them swiftly higher and higher, until it was but a speck drifting across the clouds.
The vividness of his account pleased her, and at the end she was permitting him to drink her health, when they were interrupted by an exclamation, and saw de Grancey pointing to the table. A surprise of an ingenious nature was occurring before their eyes. The artificial hoar frost which gave such beauty to the miniature landscape was slowly melting with the heat of the room, and during the process the guests saw the thawing of the river, the budding of the trees, and the blossoming of the various flowers take place, as spring succeeded winter. A little cry of delight leaped involuntarily from the lips of the sweet la Roche Vernay and she smiled exquisitely on Germain, who, in that moment, wildly lost his heart.
"THE LEAP IS TAKEN"
"Who is this Monsieur de Repentigny, Chevalier?—tell me," asked the Princess, who was holding her little evening court in full circle on the balustraded terrace behind the chateau. She sat well out where there was plenty of room for the swell and spread of her vast garland-flounced skirts,—a woman of something less than forty, the incarnation of inane condescension. At her feet were her two pages—rosy little boys, dressed exactly like full-grown gentlemen. The ladies of her circle sat around her, each likewise skirt-voluminous, all pretending to be negligently engaged unravelling scraps of gold and silver lace, the great fashionable occupation of the day. Her reader stood behind her.
The Chevalier, when addressed, had just remounted the steps from the lawn to the terrace with the Prince. He made a smiling bow.
"Monsieur de Repentigny?" he inquired. "I do not know of whom—ah, it is of Germain you speak."
Only the little Abbe, crouching, noted the first half of his answer. He treasured it away in his memory.
"Monsieur Germain then," continued the Princess—"this Canadian gentleman. Is he one of your relations?"
"One of my dearest, Madame. Why do you ask?"
"Because he is the most adorable of men. He has explained to me the coiffure Montgolfier."
"He is a picture," exclaimed Mademoiselle de Richeval.
"A man, Mademoiselle," returned de Bailleul warmly.
"Has he a fortune then, Chevalier?" she laughed.
"Perhaps he shall have mine," quizzed the old soldier.
"He must come with us to Versailles, Chevalier," said the Princess. "So agreeable a person will be indispensable to me."
Germain, dallying behind the Chevalier, approached the foot of the terrace steps.
"Monsieur-Germain," she cried to him, "will you do me the honour of returning to Versailles with us?"
What could the poor fellow do but thank her with his profoundest bow, though the situation set his head in a whirl.
"Is it the pleasure of Madame that I should read?" interrupted a harsh and ruffled voice. The Princess, for reply, took out of her work-bag a book of devotions and handed it to the Abbe. He received it with a cringing bow, but as he glanced at it a suggestion of repugnance flitted across his lips. "Or does she care first to hear the trifle of news which I brought from Fontainebleau?"
"What, have you dared conceal a scandal so long, Abbe? Let us have it instantly," cried the Canoness.
"He is certainly an offender," echoed Mademoiselle de Richeval.
"Ladies, listen to the Abbe," said the Princess languidly.
The pseudo-Abbe scanned the faces about him with a cunning look, especially that of Germain, as one he would read through and through were it possible.
"In the name of mercy, Abbe, proceed," the Canoness cried.
"It is a trifle, a piece of mere common talk," he said demurely.
"Speak, Abbe," commanded the Princess de Poix.
"Mademoiselle de Merecour——" he began deliberately.
"Helene?" all exclaimed in astonishment. "Proceed—tell us."
"She is my best friend," the Baroness murmured.
"Mademoiselle de Merecour," he repeated, still delaying. "Have you heard why she looked so disdainful at the Queen's Game last evening?"
"We never guess your enigmas. Go on."
"She has need to look brave."
"She is about to marry Monsieur de Sillon," said Cyrene. "Perhaps that explains any unusual expression."
"Ah, Monsieur de Sillon—yes, Mademoiselle, Monsieur de Sillon—but, ladies, do you know there is no Monsieur de Sillon?"
"No Monsieur de Sillon?"
"Is Monsieur dead?" gasped Cyrene, her hand darting to her breast.
"Monsieur de Sillon will never die, Mademoiselle. It is a maxim of the philosophy of Aquinas that what never existed never ceases to exist. What a grand lord was this Monsieur de Sillon! How he bought himself into that colonelship of Dragoons, invented that band uniform, scattered those broad pieces at play, kept that stable of English hunters, and boasted of those interminable ancestries in Burgundy! Well, this Monsieur de Sillon, who rode in the carriages of the King by right of his four centuries of noblesse, whose coat bore no less than eighteen fine quarterings, whose crest was an eagle and his betrothed a Merecour, is the son of a tanner of Tours."
"You fable exquisitely!"
"The contract of marriage, they said, had actually been signed by the King——"
"Go on, you are a snail!" snapped the Canoness.
"Only then was it discovered that his father had amassed a fortune in ox-skins, that the son had picked up some manners, riding, fencing, and blazonry; none knows how; and that his first introductions were bought and paid for. He is now, some say, in the Bastille, some in Vincennes Dungeon, nobody will ever know exactly which. That is all, ladies."
"Let us thank the saints for Mademoiselle's deliverance!" cried the Princess piously.
Cyrene gasped and said nothing, but tears filled her eyes.
"The horror of but touching one of those creatures—those diners in the kitchen!" exclaimed the Canoness.
"Of his daring to approach a lady in marriage!" added Mademoiselle de Richeval.
"Were she one of my blood, he should die," asserted d'Estaing.
An uncanny, silent light passed across the half-shut eyes of Abbe Jude, and gleamed towards one and another of these haughty exclusives as they talked together so regardlessly before the face of him they thought the only plebeian among them. His eye at last met that of Lecour, and he caught a confusion on the Canadian's countenance which he stored away carefully with the words of de Bailleul.
The evening fell, and a faint silver moon rose in the sky and grew brighter and brighter over park and mere. The Princess went in to play cards, followed by the others. Germain and the Baroness walked up and down the terrace alone, talking of the stars and the delightful speculations about them in the book of Fontenelle.
Under the moonlight the girl's fragile beauty wove its fascination deeper over him. He launched himself upon the strange sea of emotions which were more and more crowding upon him.
"Oh, my God!" he thought, "am I walking the celestial gardens? Am I a spirit doomed to banishment? Am I at the same moment both ravished and damned?"
Once when they came to the end of the terrace they leaned on the balustrade and looked down at the water. Glossy dark in the shadows of the old castle which stood in its midst, and in those of the grove on the further side, it glittered tranquilly where the moonshine fell on its surface, and the foliage around it wore a soft, glittering veil. Some mighty witch, some spirit combining Beauty, Power, and the Centuries, seemed to reign over the lake, holding silent court in the peaked and clustered white walls and turrets of the ancient stronghold.
"Mademoiselle," he said very quietly, "I have reason to be silent; but tell me why you are so pensive?"
"I was sad for my friend Helene. Love must be so sacred."
"Did you know her suitor?"
"Sillon—yes; he had dared to speak to me."
They were silent. It was not he who next spoke. Her clear eyes looked as if into his soul as she said after a long time—
"Monsieur de Repentigny, what would you do were you Helene's brother?"
Germain's sword in an instant slid half-drawn from its sheath, and he gasped, "I would find him."
She drew her slender figure up in the dusk and looked at him with an approving glance as if to say, "You are of other fibre than the baseborn."
"Oh, sweet Cyrene!" he exclaimed, then checked himself, appalled at his presumption, and added, "Alas, what am I saying? Heaven knows I am mad."
"Hush, hush!" she shuddered, glancing back over her shoulder.
Germain turned and caught sight of a shadow advancing. It proved to be the Abbe.
"Excuse the messenger of Madame," said he. "She asks you, Baroness, to take a hand at piquet."
She courtesied graciously to Germain and moved away, followed by the Princess's black parasite. When she passed through the immense glass door which looked from the card-room upon the terrace, and his eyes could no longer follow her loveliness, Lecour turned towards the lake and exclaimed in a low voice—
"There must be some way to win the paradise on earth and this seraph. Castle of ages past, frown not too hardly upon me. You represent what I love—the grand, the brave, the historic, the fair."
* * * * *
As he paced his chamber after the household had retired, the recollection of the day became an elixir, exciting and delicious.
The room was in one of the four towers of the chateau. Sitting down, he looked out through an open window upon the peace of the night-world. There were the gardens, quiet, lovely and ghostly, the weird water, the stately grove beyond it. He sat by the window more than two hours, while the events just over crowded through his brain.
After a time the moonlight lit an unhappy countenance; next it grew fixed and studious. He paced the room, he threw himself back into his chair, rose once more, drew long breaths of cool air at the windows, and knelt at the prie-Dieu in the inmost corner. A violent tempest had arisen within. The sails and yards of the soul-ship were strained, and it was fleeing without a rudder.
At last he undressed quickly and got into bed. He could not sleep, but tossed from side to side. Finally he sprang up and sat on the side of the couch lost in swift, fevered thought.
"For her," he whispered in intensest passion—"yes, for her." Then he hesitated. Suddenly, with fierce decision, he added, "The leap is taken."
At once the inward storm subsided, sleep overpowered him, and he dropped back at rest. The moon laid its rays like bars of silver across the bed, and illuminated his unconscious face and flowing hair with a patch of brightness. Such is the serene look of heaven upon its wandering children.
THE ABBE'S DISASTER
The force of circumstances had proved too great. What strength had his training or his age to resist them? The old master, Love, the compeller of so many heroisms and so many crimes, from Eve and Helen to Manon Lescaut, had grasped him with his wizard power. Poor Germain, thitherto so worthy and so well-intentioned, rose in the morning an adventurer—an adventurer, it is true, driven by desperation and anguish into his dangerous part, and grasping the hope of nevertheless yet winning by some forlorn good deed the forgiveness of her who was otherwise lost to him.
As Dominique, the Auvergnat valet who had been assigned to him by de Bailleul—because he had been foster father to the Chevalier's son—tied his hair, put on his morning coat and sword, buckled the sparkling buckles on his shoes, and handed him his jewelled snuff-box, each process seemed to Germain a preparation for some unknown accident that might happen, and in which he must be ready to conquer. When he stepped down to meet his companions, it was distinctly and consciously to henceforth play a role.
He saw Cyrene sitting on a seat in the garden, putting together, with the critical fingers of a girl, a large bouquet. There was a statue of Fame close by, and beside it a laurel. She had plucked some of the leaves to tie with her blossoms.
He went out to her and proffered a word of greeting. She was about to reply, but the meeting was interrupted by a voice, and the Abbe appeared from behind the pedestal.
"What! a laurel twig among your flowers, Baroness?" said he. "Excellent! for Fame herself is not a goddess more suited to distribute favours. Do I not in you Madame, see again Daphne, the friend of Apollo, who turned into that tree?" and, smiling atrociously over his classical sweet speech, he looked at Lecour.
"The insolence!" thought Germain, who also took it as a good opportunity to begin his role. "Well, sir," he exclaimed sharply, "talking of Apollo, did you ever hear that this god flayed one Marsyas for presumption?"
Cyrene flashed him a surprised and grateful glance.
"I have heard, sir," replied Jude, "that the Princess de Poix desires me to find and conduct to her Madame the Baroness de la Roche Vernay."
So saying, he carried off Cyrene again, like some black piratical cruiser, and she reluctantly accompanied him, looking back regretfully over her shoulder.
Lecour could not understand the eternal use of the formal orders of the Princess. He watched the two in a vexed stupor until they disappeared. Then he recalled the inanity and exacting requests of the great lady, and guessed how her reader was able to so boldly play his annoying trick.
Just then Grancey laid his hand on Germain's shoulder. There was so much friendship in the face of the golden-haired Life Guard that Lecour at once raised the question uppermost in his mind.
"Baron," said he, "tell me, who is Madame de la Roche Vernay?"
Grancey's eyes twinkled intelligently.
"It is an affair, then? I can keep secrets."
"An affair only on my unfortunate side," Germain admitted gloomily.
"As on that of many another. Your Cyrene is the bearer of a very great name: she is a Montmorency."
"Yes; she is a widow, you see."
"While an orphan. Her father, the Vicomte Luc de Montmorency, who was a madman of a spendthrift, ended up in two bankruptcies, and was banished from Court. Cyrene was brought up in a mouldy old chateau near St. Ouen. When only thirteen her hand was sought by an ambitious financier, Trochu, for his son, Baron la Roche Vernay, who was then with his regiment in Dominica. Money was necessary to the Vicomte, and, in short, Mademoiselle was sold for two million livres, and the marriage celebrated by proxy, as both the fathers were impatient to finish the bargain. It appeared by the mails that the young man died of fever two days after.
"She wears no mourning," said Germain.
"Her father forbade it, and he brought her back with her dowry at once to his own roof, away from the Trochus."
"But why is such a beautiful woman not married again?"
"Do you not know that at the Court nobody except the bald and toothless marries, except for fortune. There are plenty of lovers, but no husbands. Because she is poor she is passed about in the family, sometimes as lady of honour to the Princess, sometimes to the Marechale de Noailles, her grand-aunt."
Germain's feelings were trebly disturbed by the history of the child-widow. He made an effort to speak to her once more by inviting her to the tennis-court, but the Abbe informed them just then that she was requested to read correspondence to the Princess.
When he was in his bedchamber having his hunting-boots pulled off after a badger hunt with the male guests, the valet, Dominique, began to talk.
"That is a queer priest—that Messire Jude, the Abbe."
"Yes, Monsieur Germain. He talks very freely with us servants. This morning he inquired a great deal of me about your affairs. He said you were a close friend of his. Was he a Canadian?"
"Not at all. What more, Dominique?"
"He asked how long you had been here; and what relationship you bore to our master; and what were your intentions about staying; and your fortune and your rank; and how many were your clothes and jewels. Then he proposed to see into your chamber here."
"Did you let him?"
"I told him it was against my duty, sir; but he told me I must never dispute the Church, so he walked in and examined everything—everything; he even opened the cupboards."
"The thief! If you allow that man in my apartment again I will spit you both. Remember!"
Grancey and d'Amoreau came in.
"Curses on that black beetle," exclaimed the latter.
"Amen," profoundly echoed the former. "If it were not for the Princess I would feed my rapier with him."
"He has no right to such an honour; I would have him whipped by the lackeys. Repentigny, he has got her to take us back to the Palace to-morrow morning, and spoilt all our pleasure."
"That seems to be his vocation," Germain answered with warmth. "I would undertake to punish him myself."
"On a wager of ten to two half-louis?"
The two officers laughed uproariously at the prospect.
"Repentigny, if you do this," cried Grancey, "we will speak for you to the King for something good."
After dinner Madame proposed a promenade in the park. Strolling in procession, they came to some marble steps by the lakeside, where the host proposed that the young men should take boats and row the ladies about, and he assigned Germain to Cyrene.
They were entering one of the shallops, when Jude suggested that the Princess should be taken too. She objected; she detested water.
"Well, I will enjoy it myself," he said, and with the utmost assurance stepped into the stern; while d'Amoreau and Grancey chuckled and looked at each other and Germain. The latter smiled and rowed down the lake.
On the other side was a clearing in the grove, where a stone seat was placed near the bank. Here Lecour drew to shore, and handed out Cyrene. The two Guardsmen were watching him closely. When Jude rose from the stem seat he felt a sudden strong turn given to the boat. He clutched the air, it did not save him; one black silk leg kicked up, and he disappeared under the water.
The face of Cyrene, who had seated herself on the stone bench, was for a moment one of alarm.
The depth was not, however, above the Abbe's waist, and when he rose his look of furious misery was too comical for any pity. The water streamed in a cataract from his wig over his elongated countenance and ruined clothes. He had screwed his face into the black slime of the bottom; it was now besides distorted with his efforts to breathe, and he unconsciously held up his blackened hands in the attitude of blessing. The whole party could not contain their laughter. D'Amoreau, Grancey, and the other Guardsmen sent up continuous roars on roars from their boats. The Prince smiled; de Bailleul's efforts to control himself were ineffectual; the ladies all tittered, except Madame, who stood on shore, and even the considerate Cyrene could restrain herself no longer, but turned her head from the moving appeal of the unfortunate figure before her, and gave way to a silvery chime of undiluted enjoyment.
"Hush, cousin," cried the Princess de Poix, stilted as ever; "such a sad accident."
"Repentigny, by Castor and Pollux," swore d'Amoreau at the first moment of their meeting in private, "here are not five louis, but twenty. You were made for a Marshal of France."
"Dominique," Germain called out, "spend this with your fellows" (by instinct he knew it was part of his role to be lavish), "and tell them to drink to that meddlesome blackleg."
"In cold water," d'Amoreau added.
A PHILOSOPHER BEHIND HORSE-PISTOLS
The procession of carriages containing the guests rolled back to the Palace through the forest.
The carriage of the Prince came last and in it sat the Prince and Princess, Cyrene and Jude, while Lecour rode alongside for some miles. How more and more he dreaded the revelation of his humble birth. He said his adieux at length and turned back with the keenest misery in his breast he had ever felt—such misery indeed that after a little he could not resist retracing his route.
The Prince's coach meanwhile had lagged behind the others at a point where the road cut through a small gorge. His Excellency was giving the ladies an account and history of the Chevalier's wounds, when in the middle of it the horses stopped with a jerk. A commotion without any words appeared to be going on outside. The Prince put his head out and found himself looking into the barrels of a horse-pistol, while a masked man of heavy build summoned him to be quiet. He saw moreover nine or ten half-naked fellows also disguised in rude masks, posted about, with muskets and pistols pointed at the grooms and himself. The Princess fell in a faint. The Abbe threw himself under the seat. Such scenes were being enacted every day on the highroads in that lumbering old handmade century.
The head of the man who had charge of the Prince was, as it were, thatched with a torn hat and his black hair straggled past his mask in tufts down to his shoulders.
"Purses!" he growled harshly, putting his head in at the window.
"Cut-throat!" cried the Prince. "You shall swing for this as sure as there is a Lieutenant of Police in Paris."
The big man's answer was a ferocious "Enough!"
And as his black finger twitched threateningly upon the trigger, Cyrene laid her restraining hand on her cousin's arm. She took out her purse with her other hand and passed it to the man. She promptly also pulled out that of the Princess. The Prince handed his own to her and it was passed over with that of his wife.
"Watches!" was the next order.
With the same coolness she passed these likewise.
He scowled next at the brooch Cyrene wore at her neck.
"Give me that," he commanded. She stopped and said firmly—
"Thou hast sufficient, thou."
"I must have that."
With a momentary impatience she tore it off.
"Consult thy best interests and go," she said in a stern voice.
He did not lack the necessary quickness of judgment, and signed to his mates who retreated into the woods, keeping the lackeys well covered with their firearms.
"My ladies and my Lord," said the big man, still holding his pistol aimed at the Prince. "We levy this tax in the name of the King." That is what you say when you steal from us, the people. "We commend you the consolation of your formula."
Having made this singular speech, to the infinite fury of the Prince, who would have drawn his sword and leaped out at him had it not been for Cyrene, he retired backward into the forest.
Germain came into sight at this juncture. The scene shocked and astonished him, he drove his spurs into the flanks of his horse, which, with bounds of pain, flew forward, and leaping off, he peered anxiously into the carriage. The situation was clear enough to him, for its like was then only too common, so, placing aside for the time being his rage at the villains, he lifted and straightened the insensible lady into a position on the seat-cushions, and sent a groom forward for help.
The gratitude of the Prince was profuse. Cyrene spoke not a word. The shock to her had been intense, and burying her face in her handkerchief she burst into tears, which more than ever agitated Lecour.
In a few minutes d'Estaing and de Grancey drove up. They were astonished at the speed and audacity of the affair.
At three o'clock a search party of friends and gendarmes from the Palace, at which the occurrence had aroused something of a flutter, came back to the place.
The Guardsmen offered to scour the woods in a body. Lecour soberly recommended a different plan, which they adopted, and placing his six friends and several royal gamekeepers in Indian file he started at their head. They followed him without speaking and watched him closely as, with an intentness quite un-French, he bent down to see farther through the trees, examined the branches for newly-broken twigs, the displaced stones, the crushed mosses, disturbed grass, and soft places of the ground, and the little indications read and looked for by trappers and Indians. As he entered the woods the traces of the first rush back of the robbers gave a mass of easy clues and an initial direction. Following on they came to a marsh, where they found footmarks, and readily put together the number of the thieves and the physical character of each. In an open place the trail would be an unconcealed track across the grass; in dry woods perhaps it would be lost for many yards. Its discovery, of course, was not altogether so marvellous a matter as they thought. But it helped Germain's reputation afterwards.
At last they came into a tangled and difficult region called Apremont, where the rocky ridges were broken into intractable ruins—the most savage portion of the forest. Strange cliffs of shale, eaten by weather and earthquake into the most picturesque columns and caves, confronted them. Here the signs became rare and the advance tedious, but the little column still breathlessly followed the woodsman. They were rewarded by finding a neighbourhood where the damp mosses showed many tracks converging, and as Grancey thought he distinguished a distant sound Germain listened and heard what he judged to be the faint refrain of a song. He now adopted greater caution, placing his gamekeepers in a body to remain ready at call, and at different points setting his friends in easy reach of each other.
Grancey and he crept along, guided by the uncertain sounds of the song, but found that they grew fainter. On this they retraced their path and were gratified to hear the sound increase again. They discovered a point where it would not grow any louder, and here Germain paused. "I have the secret!" he whispered, and placed his ear to the ground. The Baron imitated him. True enough the singing was below. They caught other voices now. Lecour pondered a few moments. He followed an irregular rent in the rock and disappeared to one side. Returning on tiptoe, excited for the first time, he beckoned Grancey to accompany him and led the way with the greatest precaution to a long crack in the side of a hill, scarcely discernible without the closest scrutiny, through which the accents came quite audibly, and they caught sight of the objects below in a grey light. They made out a narrow, oblique cavern, formed by the widening of what geologists call a "fault" in the shaly rock. Eight men, all in rags with one exception, were sitting and lying about. Stretched on the ground, drinking alternately from a bottle, were two, one of whom was singing snatches of a rambling vaudeville.
Grancey touched Germain and pointed out that their firearms were in a heap at the entrance, and that a rope attached there and coiled loosely showed their means of exit down the face of the cliff.
The man who was not in rags was standing up, the centre of attraction. He appeared to be a visitor.
"Stay with us the night," said the leader, a big man of ferocious brows and keen black eyes. "Our friend, his Majesty, has sent us some of his venison."
"The Big Hog?" said the stranger.
A round of laughter echoed through the cavern. The stoutness of the King had given rise to this nickname among the people.
"When his head is ours it will be better than his venison," he added.
About this man's face there was something strikingly horrible and subtle. His countenance was the image of a grinning death's-head. Its intelligent, stealthy, and sinister sunken eyes, its depressed nose and heartless fixed grin aroused repulsion. Its bearing of distinct courage alone somewhat reclaimed it. His cloak was thrown back, showing a gold lace belt stuck with knives and pistols, while on his head was a green cap, which Grancey recognised as the cap of the galley felons.
"What news of the Galley-on-land, Admiral?" asked the robber leader.
"All goes well."
"How many at our oars?"
"Two hundred and forty-eight."
"Besides thirty-four friends. We are all in the salt country now except yourselves and the bench at Paris. We reviewed in the pines of Morlaix last month. Such brave ragmen! Forty-seven had killed a hog."
The circle's eyes glistened.
"Yes, the hogs fear us, but the Galley is dark as wind."
"You should have seen the hogs to-day," cried the cave leader; "stupid beasts, too fat to jump."
"Why didn't you stick them?"
"Sacre Dieu! not here; it's too near the Big Hog."
"The Big Hog does not worry us at Morlaix. Since the salt-tax is raised four sous in the pound we are all in the Brittany marshes, passing salt into Maine. In Maine a poor man can eat no meat because he can have no brine. You can guess that where the people squeal so there is room for our profit. We lie in the marshes; we gather our piles of salt; we creep out by night through the woods, and—flip—past the salt-guards into Maine. Guards, guards, guards—blue men, black men, green men—all over France. Sacre! they are an itch—a leprosy. Do we hate them, we all?"
"By the oath of the Green Cap," they cried all together.
"Well, we were vagabonds," he continued, "in the Morlaix woods. Our great fire lit up the pines at midnight and our men of rags crept up on all sides to the feast. Some brought white bread, some black, some a pigeon or two from the lord's dovecotes, and every one his bottle of wine. There we told what we were doing and planned the campaign. You may swear we were jolly that night. They have sent me to visit your bench of Fontainebleau, and pray you for the ransom-money of Blogue, who lies in Bordeaux prison to be hanged. Two of his guards can be settled for eighty livres. You are rich, they say, and can pay it."
"Yes, we can afford it," cried the cavern-chief boastfully.
"I thought so, handsome ragmen," returned the visitor. He dropped the point for a moment and suddenly throwing his right hand free from his cloak rose into a curious strain of eloquence which made manifest the nature of this strange organisation, or at least the aims which the man of the death's-head chose to claim for it.
"Let us never forget, comrades, who we are—that our Order is the avenger of the wrongs of the people. Give me each your sufferings that I may treasure them in the common treasury. Give me the tears that have been shed, the deaths, the starvations, the griefs, the insults, the cruelties, that I may heap them one upon another in a secret place, whence, on a day which I see rising very bright out of the days of this generation, we shall thrust them out all bleeding and dreadful to fly forth together swift as eagles for the hearts of the rich. Hugues de la Tour, what wrongs have you to tell?"
"Admiral," cried the young man hoarsely, after drinking a gulp from a bottle, his eyes bloodshot, and swinging his knife, "I have suffered till my blood runs like a current of fire against all who are in ease. I hate the King, the Church, the rich, the judges, the strong, the fair. My father was a noble of the Court, my mother a Huguenot, and wedded to him by the rite of the Reformed Religion, his own pretended faith. With this excuse he threw her off. He denied her the name of wife and us of his children. His servants pushed her from his door. She died in a garret at Dijon. I took my little sister by the hand, and travelling to my father's door in Versailles awaited his entry into his carriage. We caught his skirts and cried, "Our father!" With his own hands he threw us to the pavement. For years I felt, brothers, what you have felt—cold, hunger, and disdain—but I hoarded the thought of 'Justice' as the friend of the wronged.
"I at length petitioned the magistrature. My papers were unheeded. I appealed to the Minister. The Minister was silent. I found a way of presenting our griefs and claims to the King himself. For answer, a sealed warrant empowered the monster of our life to throw us into prison. There my poor sister died; I escaped. Join me to your galley-oars. I hate all monarchs, decrees, nobles, priests, courtiers. Crime is justice, justice is the system of crime!"
"Very good, Hugues la Tour," commended the Admiral, "you shall have your hands full of true justice."
"I," shouted a violent man of haggard countenance, "was a cultivator of Auvergne. By incredible hardship I made myself owner of a plot of ground. My woman and I lived scantily on our daily black bread and 'pepperpot'; we spent nothing; we had no comforts, but from year to year, as the sous were piled away in our hoard, we kept our eyes on the neighbouring acre of moorland. One year a drought came. Our sous were diminished by famine. It was then the tax gatherer came upon us, his claims heavier than in the years before, for one of the village tax commissioners was jealous of us. The rest of our sous were not sufficient; we could not borrow. A bailiff, a 'blue man,' was placed in our cabin at our cost. The suit went through the Court: we were discomfited. They took my possessions, as at the commencement they had designed to do. They starved my wife; they killed my children. I, too, will kill."
"I also," shouted another. "The tithe was my ruin."
"The worse avarice is the cassock's," said the visitor. "A day of blood approaches, a day of cutting of priests' throats and burning of churches."
"I—I can say nothing," another grumbled. "I have always been in rags and a vagabond. Is it my fault? Who taught me to steal, to strike?"
"Brave rowers," exclaimed the visitor, "I thank you, and as Blogue has to be ransomed, let us see what you have restored to justice."
"Here is for Blogue, and a little more," exclaimed the cavern-chief, throwing over a packet he had been making up, "when the disciples are lucky, the apostle must not lack."
He then spread out a large black kerchief, and placed upon it, one by one, in the sight of all, the watches, jewels and purses taken from the coach.
There was one part of this which was perhaps the only thing in their power by which they could have disturbed Lecour's self control just then. When he saw Cyrene's brooch in these felonious hands his blood boiled up and he stamped his foot involuntarily on the rock.
Horror! The loose shaly stones gave way with a rush beneath him. Down he slid into the cavern, saved in his descent only by the slope and ledges of the "fault." The astonished bandits fled back with a shout. Before Germain could move, however, the robber captain sprang upon him, and, locking him in a desperate embrace, they quickly rolled to the doorway where, in their struggle, the pile of firearms was swept out into the gorge. The giant lifted him bodily and threw him out down the face of the cliff. At this terrible moment the Indian quickness of his early life came to his rescue, for even as he fell he caught the rope, and slid down to the bottom. There he shouted for the gamekeepers. He could see the robbers looking over the entrance and seeming to debate. Immediately after, two bodies shot down upon him from the cavern, and he found himself face to face with the big man and the Admiral. They sprang upon him in concert, and while the former held him, the second sped off up the gorge and was lost to sight. The robber captain detained him with a grip of immense power, until three more slid down and made off. Then, hearing the shouts of the gamekeepers close at hand, he sprang towards the opposite cliff, climbed straight up it from ledge to ledge with miracles of muscle, and disappeared over the top. Three wretches who were still in the cave were secured, fighting savagely. One was la Tour.
A week or so later, Germain sent his mother the following letter:—
"THE PALACE, FONTAINEBLEAU, 8th September, 1786.