THE LADY OF FORT ST. JOHN
MARY HARTWELL CATHERWOOD
Author of "The Romance of Dollard"
Boston and New York Houghton, Mifflin and Company The Riverside Press, Cambridge 1891 Copyright, 1891, By Mary Hartwell Catherwood. All rights reserved. The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A. Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton & Co.
This book I dedicate
TWO ACADIANS OF THE PRESENT DAY;
NATIVES OF NOVA SCOTIA WHO REPRESENT THE LEARNING AND GENTLE ATTAINMENTS OF THE NEW ORDER:
DR. JOHN-GEORGE BOURINOT, C. M. G., ETC. CLERK OF THE CANADIAN HOUSE OF COMMONS, OF OTTAWA; AND
DR. GEORGE STEWART, OF QUEBEC.
How can we care for shadows and types, when we may go back through history and live again with people who actually lived?
Sitting on the height which is now topped by a Martello tower, at St. John in the maritime province of New Brunswick, I saw—not the opposite city, not the lovely bay; but this tragedy of Marie de la Tour, the tragedy "which recalls" (says the Abbe Casgrain in his "Pelerinage au pays d'Evangeline") "the romances of Walter Scott, and forces one to own that reality is stranger than fiction."
In "Papers relating to the rival chiefs, D'Aulnay and La Tour," of the Massachusetts Historical Collection, vol. vii., may be found these prefatory remarks:—
"There is a romance of History as well as a History of Romance. To the former class belong many incidents in the early periods of New England and its adjacent colonies. The following papers ... refer to two persons, D'Aulnay and La Tour, ... individuals of respectable intellect and education, of noble families and large fortune. While the first was a zealous and efficient supporter of the Roman Church, the second was less so, from his frequent connection with others of a different faith. The scene of their ... prominent actions, their exhibition of various passions and talents, their conquests and defeats, their career and end, as exerting an influence on their associates as well as themselves, on other communities as well as their own—was laid in Nova Scotia. This phrase then comprised a territory vastly more extensive than it does now as a British Province. It embraced not only its present boundaries, which were long termed Acadia, but also about two thirds of the State of Maine."
It startles the modern reader, in examining documents of the French archives relating to the colonies, to come upon a letter from Louis XIII. to his beloved D'Aulnay de Charnisay, thanking that governor of Acadia for his good service at Fort St. John. Thus was that great race who first trod down the wilderness on this continent continually and cruelly hampered by the man who sat on the throne in France.
Prelude. At the Head of the Bay of Fundy 1
I. An Acadian Fortress 13
II. Le Rossignol 21
III. Father Isaac Jogues 40
IV. The Widow Antonia 55
V. Jonas Bronck's Hand 64
VI. The Mending 73
VII. A Frontier Graveyard 82
VIII. Van Corlaer 96
IX. The Turret 107
X. An Acadian Poet 121
XI. Marguerite 133
XII. D'Aulnay 143
XIII. The Second Day 155
XIV. The Struggle between Powers 173
XV. A Soldier 191
XVI. The Camp 211
XVII. An Acadian Passover 227
XVIII. The Song of Edelwald 252
Postlude. A Tide-Creek 273
LADY OF FORT ST. JOHN.
AT THE HEAD OF THE BAY OF FUNDY.
The Atlantic rushed across a mile or two of misty beach, boring into all its channels in the neck of Acadia. Twilight and fog blurred the landscape, but the eye could trace a long swell of earth rising gradually from the bay, through marshes, to a summit with a small stockade on its southern slope. Sentinels pacing within the stockade felt the weird influence of that bald land. The guarded spot seemed an island in a sea of vapor and spring night was bringing darkness upon it.
The stockade inclosed a single building of rough logs clumsily put together, and chinked with the hard red soil. An unhewn wall divided the house into two rooms, and in one room were gathered less than a dozen men-at-arms. Their officer lay in one of the cupboard-like bunks, with his hands clasped under his head. Some of the men were already asleep; others sat by the hearth, rubbing their weapons or spreading some garment to dry. A door in the partition opened, and the wife of one of the men came from the inner room.
"Good-night, madame," she said.
"Good-night, Zelie," answered a voice within.
"If you have further need of me, you will call me, madame?"
"Assuredly. Get to your rest. To-morrow we may have stormy weather for our voyage home."
The woman closed the door, and the face of the one who had hearkened to her turned again to the fireplace. It was a room repeating the men's barrack in hewed floor, loophole windows, and rough joists.
This frontier outpost on the ridge since called Beausejour was merely a convenient halting-place for one of the lords of Acadia. It stood on a detached spot of his large seigniory, which he had received with other portions of western Acadia in exchange for his grant of Cape Sable.
Though in his early thirties, Charles de la Tour had seen long service in the New World. Seldom has a man from central France met the northern cold and sea air with so white a favor. His clean-shaven skin and the sunny undecided color of his hair were like a child's. Part of his armor had been unbuckled, and lay on the floor near him. He sat in a chair of twisted boughs, made of refuse from trees his men had dragged out of the neighboring forest for the building of the outpost. His wife sat on a pile of furs beside his knee. Her Huguenot cap lay on the shelf above the fire. She wore a black gown slashed in the sleeves with white, and a kerchief of lace pushed from her throat. Her black hair, which Zelie had braided, hung down in two ropes to the floor.
"How soon, monsieur," she asked, "can you return to Fort St. John?"
"With all speed possible, Marie. Soon, if we can work the miracle of moving a peace-loving man like Denys to action."
"Nicholas Denys ought to take part with you."
"Yet he will scarce do it."
"The king-favored governor of Acadia will some time turn and push him as he now pushes you."
"D'Aulnay hath me at sore straits," confessed La Tour, staring at the flame, "since he has cut off from me the help of the Bostonnais."
"They were easily cut off," said Marie. "Monsieur, those Huguenots of the colonies were never loving friends of ours. Their policy hath been to weaken this province by helping the quarrel betwixt D'Aulnay and you. Now that D'Aulnay has strength at court, and has persuaded the king to declare you an outlaw, the Bostonnais think it wise to withdraw their hired soldiers from you. We have not offended the Bostonnais as allies; we have only gone down in the world."
La Tour stirred uneasily.
"I dread that D'Aulnay may profit by this hasty journey I make to northern Acadia, and again attack the fort in my absence."
"He hath once found a woman there who could hold it," said Marie, checking a laugh.
La Tour moved his palm over her cheek. Within his mind the province of Acadia lay spread from Penobscot River to the Island of Sable, and from the southern tip of the peninsula now called Nova Scotia nearly to the mouth of the St. Lawrence. This domain had been parceled in grants: the north to Nicholas Denys; the centre and west to D'Aulnay de Charnisay; and the south, with posts on the western coast, to Charles de la Tour. Being Protestant in faith, La Tour had no influence at the court of Louis XIII. His grant had been confirmed to him from his father. He had held it against treason to France; and his loyal service, at least, was regarded until D'Aulnay de Charnisay became his enemy. Even in that year of grace 1645, before Acadia was diked by home-making Norman peasants or watered by their parting tears, contending forces had begun to trample it. Two feudal barons fought each other on the soil of the New World.
"All things failing me"—La Tour held out his wrists, and looked at them with a sharp smile.
"Let D'Aulnay shake a warrant, monsieur. He must needs have you before he can carry you in chains to France."
She seized La Tour's hands, with a swift impulse of atoning to them for the thought of such indignity, and kissed his wrists. He set his teeth on a trembling lip.
"I should be a worthless, aimless vagrant without you, Marie. You are young, and I give you fatigue and heart-sickening peril instead of jewels and merry company."
"The merriest company for us at present, monsieur, are the men of our honest garrison. If Edelwald, who came so lately, complains not of this New World life, I should endure it merrily enough. And you know I seldom now wear the jewels belonging to our house. Our chief jewel is buried in the ground."
She thought of a short grave wrapped in fogs near Fort St. John; of fair curls and sweet childish limbs, and a mouth shouting to send echoes through the river gorge; of scamperings on the flags of the hall; and of the erect and princely carriage of that diminutive presence the men had called "my little lord."
"But it is better for the boy that he died, Marie," murmured La Tour. "He has no part in these times. He might have survived us to see his inheritance stripped from him."
They were silent until Marie said, "You have a long march before you to-morrow, monsieur."
"Yes; we ought to throw ourselves into these mangers," said La Tour.
One wall was lined with bunks like those in the outer room. In the lower row travelers' preparations were already made for sleeping.
"I am yet of the mind, monsieur," observed Marie, "that you should have made this journey entirely by sea."
"It would cost me too much in time to round Cape Sable twice. Nicholas Denys can furnish ship as well as men, if he be so minded. My lieutenant in arms next to Edelwald," said La Tour, smiling over her, "my equal partner in troubles, and my lady of Fort St. John will stand for my honor and prosperity until I return."
Marie smiled back.
"D'Aulnay has a fair wife, and her husband is rich, and favored by the king, and has got himself made governor of Acadia in your stead. She sits in her own hall at Port Royal: but poor Madame D'Aulnay! She has not thee!"
At this La Tour laughed aloud. The ring of his voice, and the clang of his breastplate which fell over on the floor as he arose, woke an answering sound. It did not come from the outer room, where scarcely a voice stirred among the sleepy soldiery, but from the top row of bunks. Marie turned white at this child wail soothed by a woman's voice.
"What have we here?" exclaimed La Tour.
"Monsieur, it must be a baby!"
"Who has broken into this post with a baby? There may be men concealed overhead."
He grasped his pistols, but no men-at-arms appeared with the haggard woman who crept down from her hiding-place near the joists.
"Are you some spy sent from D'Aulnay?" inquired La Tour.
"Monsieur, how can you so accuse a poor outcast mother!" whispered Marie.
The door in the partition was flung wide, and the young officer appeared with men at his back.
"Have you found an ambush, Sieur Charles?"
"We have here a listener, Edelwald," replied La Tour, "and there may be more in the loft above."
Several men sprang up the bunks and moved some puncheons overhead. A light was raised under the dark roof canopy, but nothing rewarded its search. The much-bedraggled woman was young, with falling strands of silken hair, which she wound up with one hand while holding the baby. Marie took the poor wailer from her with a divine motion and carried it to the hearth.
"Who brought you here?" demanded La Tour of the girl.
She cowered before him, but answered nothing. Her presence seemed to him a sinister menace against even his obscurest holdings in Acadia. The stockade was easily entered, for La Tour was unable to maintain a garrison there. All that open country lay sodden with the breath of the sea. From whatever point she had approached, La Tour could scarcely believe her feet came tracking the moist red clay alone.
"Will you give no account of yourself?"
"You must answer monsieur," encouraged Marie, turning, from her cares with the child. It lay unwound from its misery on Marie's knees, watching the new ministering power with accepting eyes. Feminine and piteous as the girl was, her dense resistance to command could only vex a soldier.
"Put her under guard," he said to his officer.
"And Zelie must look to her comfort," added Marie.
"Whoever she may be," declared La Tour, "she hath heard too much to go free of this place. She must be sent in the ship to Fort St. John, and guarded there."
"What else could be done, indeed?" asked Marie. "The child would die of exposure here."
The prisoner was taken to the other hearth; and the young officer, as he closed the door, half smiled to hear his lady murmur over the wretched little outcast, as she always murmured to ailing creatures,—
"Let mother help you."
AN ACADIAN FORTRESS.
At the mouth of the river St. John an island was lashed with drift, and tide-terraces alongshore recorded how furiously the sea had driven upon the land. There had been a two days' storm on the Bay of Fundy, subsiding to the clearest of cool spring evenings. An amber light lay on the visible world. The forest on the west was yet too bare of leaf buds to shut away sunset.
A month later the headlands would be lined distinctly against a blue and quickening sky by freshened air and light and herbage. Two centuries and a half later, long streaks of electric light would ripple on that surface, and great ships stand at ease there, and ferry-boats rush back and forth. But in this closing dusk it reflected only the gray and yellow vaporous breath of April, and shaggy edges of a wilderness. The high shores sank their shadows farther and farther from the water's edge.
Fort St. John was built upon a gradual ascent of rocks which rose to a small promontory on the south side of the river. There were four bastions guarded with cannon, the northeast bastion swelling above its fellows in a round turret topped with battlements. On this tower the flag of France hung down its staff against the evening sky, for there was scarcely any motion of the air. That coast lay silent like a pictured land, except a hint of falls above in the river. It was ebb tide; the current of the St. John set out toward the sea instead of rushing back on its own channel; and rocks swallowed at flood now broke the surface.
A plume of smoke sprang from one bastion, followed by the rolling thunder of a cannon shot. From a small ship in the bay a gun replied to this salute. She stood, gradually clear of a headland, her sails hanging torn and one mast broken, and sentinel and cannoneer in the bastion saw that she was lowering a boat. They called to people in the fortress, and all voices caught the news:—
"Madame has come at last!"
Life stirred through the entire inclosure with a jar of closing doors and running feet.
Though not a large fortification, St. John was well and compactly built of cemented stone. A row of hewed log-barracks stood against the southern wall, ample for all the troops La Tour had been able to muster in prosperous times. There was a stone vault for ammunition. A well, a mill and great stone oven, and a storehouse for beaver and other skins were between the barracks and the commandant's tower built massively into the northeast bastion. This structure gave La Tour the advantage of a high lookout, though it was much smaller than a castle he had formerly held at La Heve. The interior accommodated itself to such compactness, the lower floor having only one entrance, and windows looking into the area of the fort, while the second floor was lighted through deep loopholes.
A drum began to beat, a tall fellow gave the word of command, and the garrison of Fort St. John drew up in line facing the gate. A sentinel unbarred and set wide both inner and outer leaves, and a cheer burst through the deep-throated gateway, and was thrown back from the opposite shore, from forest and river windings. Madame La Tour, with two women attendants, was seen coming up from the water's edge, while two men pushed off with the boat.
She waved her hand in reply to the shout.
The tall soldier went down to meet her, and paused, bareheaded, to make the salutation of a subaltern to his military superior. She responded with the same grave courtesy. But as he drew nearer she noticed him whitening through the dusk.
"All has gone well, Klussman, at Fort St. John, since your lord left?"
"Madame," he said with a stammer, "the storm made us anxious about you."
"Have you seen D'Aulnay?"
"You look haggard, Klussman."
"If I look haggard, madame, it must come from seeing two women follow you, when I should see only one."
He threw sharp glances behind her, as he took her hand to lead her up the steep path. Marie's attendant was carrying the baby, and she lifted it for him to look at, the hairs on her upper lip moved by a good-natured smile. Klussman's scowl darkened his mountain-born fairness.
"I would rather, indeed, be bringing more men to the fort instead of more women," said his lady, as they mounted the slope. "But this one might have perished in the stockade where we found her, and your lord not only misliked her, as you seem to do, but he held her in suspicion. In a manner, therefore, she is our prisoner, though never went prisoner so helplessly with her captors."
"Yes, any one might take such a creature," said Klussman.
"Those are no fit words to speak, Klussman."
He was unready with his apology, however, and tramped on without again looking behind. Madame La Tour glanced at her ship, which would have to wait for wind and tide to reach the usual mooring.
"Did you tell me you had news?" she was reminded to ask him.
"Madame, I have some news, but nothing serious."
"If it be nothing serious, I will have a change of garments and my supper before I hear it. We have had a hard voyage."
"Did my lord send any new orders?"
"None, save to keep this poor girl about the fort; and that is easily obeyed, since we can scarce do otherwise with her."
"I meant to ask in the first breath how he fared in the outset of his expedition."
"With a lowering sky overhead, and wet red clay under-foot. But I thanked Heaven, while we were tossing with a broken mast, that he was at least on firm land and moving to his expectations."
They entered the gateway, Madame La Tour's cheeks tingling richly from the effort of climbing. She saluted her garrison, and her garrison saluted her, each with a courteous pride in the other, born of the joint victory they had won over D'Aulnay de Charnisay when he attacked the fort. Not a man broke rank until she entered her hall. There was a tidiness about the inclosure peculiar to places inhabited by women. It added grace even to military appointments.
"You miss the swan, madame," noted Klussman. "Le Rossignol is out again."
"When did she go?"
"The night after my lord and you sailed northward. She goes each time in the night, madame."
"And she is still away?"
"And this is all you know of her?"
"Yes, madame. She went, and has not yet come back."
"But she always comes back safely. Though I fear," said Madame La Tour on the threshold, "the poor maid will some time fall into harm."
He opened the door, and stood aside, saying under his breath, "I would call a creature like that a witch instead of a maid."
"I will send for you, Klussman, when I have refreshed myself."
The other women filed past him, and entered behind his lady.
The Swiss soldier folded his arms, staring hard at that crouching vagrant brought from Beausejour. She had a covering over her face, and she held it close, crowding on the heels in front of her as if she dared not meet his eye.
A girlish woman was waiting for Marie within the hall, and the two exchanged kisses on the cheek with sedate and tender courtesy.
"Welcome home, madame."
"Home is more welcome to me because I find you in it, Antonia. Has anything unusual happened in the fortress while I have been setting monsieur on his way?"
"This morning, about dawn, I heard a great tramping of soldiers in the hall. One of the women told me prisoners had been brought in."
"Yes. The Swiss said he had news. And how has the Lady Dorinda fared?"
"Well, indeed. She has described to me three times the gorgeous pageant of her marriage."
They had reached the fireplace, and Marie laughed as she warmed her hands before a pile of melting logs.
"Give our sea-tossed bundle and its mother a warm seat, Zelie," she said to her woman.
The unknown girl was placed near the hearth corner, and constrained to take upon her knees an object which she held indifferently. Antonia's eyes rested on her, detecting her half-concealed face, with silent disapproval.
"We found a child on this expedition."
"It hath a stiffened look, like a papoose," observed Antonia. "Is it well in health?"
"No; poor baby. Attend to the child," said Marie sternly to the mother; and she added, "Zelie must go directly with me to my chests before she waits on me, and bring down garments for it to this hearth."
"Let me this time be your maid," said Antonia.
"You may come with me and be my resolution, Antonia; for I have to set about the unlocking of boxes which hold some sacred clothes."
"I never saw you lack courage, madame, since I have known you."
"Therein have I deceived you then," said Marie, throwing her cloak on Zelie's arm, "for I am a most cowardly creature in my affections, Madame Bronck."
They moved toward the stairs. Antonia was as perfect as a slim and blue-eyed stalk of flax. She wore the laced bodice and small cap of New Holland. Her exactly spoken French denoted all the neat appointments of her life. This Dutch gentlewoman had seen much of the world; having traveled from Fort Orange to New Amsterdam, from New Amsterdam to Boston, and from Boston with Madame La Tour to Fort St. John in Acadia. The three figures ascended in a line the narrow stairway which made a diagonal band from lower to upper corner of the remote hall end. Zelie walked last, carrying her lady's cloak. At the top a little light fell on them through a loophole.
"Was Mynheer La Tour in good heart for his march?" inquired Antonia, turning from the waifs brought back to the expedition itself.
"Stout-hearted enough; but the man to whom he goes is scarce to be counted on. We Protestant French are all held alien by Catholics of our blood. Edelwald will move Denys to take arms with us, if any one can. My lord depends much upon Edelwald. This instant," said Marie with a laugh, "I find the worst of all my discomforts these disordered garments."
The stranger left by the fire gazed around the dim place, which was lighted only by high windows in front. The mighty hearth, inclosed by settles, was like a roseate side-chamber to the hall. Outside of this the stone-paved floor spread away unevenly. She turned her eyes from the arms of La Tour over the mantel to trace seamed and footworn flags, and noticed in the distant corner, at the bottom of the stairs, that they gave way to a trapdoor of timbers. This was fastened down with iron bars, and had a huge ring for its handle. Her eyes rested on it in fear, betwixt the separated settles.
But it was easily lost sight of in the fire's warmth. She had been so chilled by salt air and spray as to crowd close to the flame and court scorching. Her white face kindled with heat. She threw back her mufflers, and the comfort of the child occurring to her, she looked at its small face through a tunnel of clothing. Its exceeding stillness awoke but one wish, which she dared not let escape in words.
These stone walls readily echoed any sound. So scantily furnished was the great hall that it could not refrain from echoing. There were some chairs and tables not of colonial pattern, and a buffet holding silver tankards and china; but these seemed lost in space. Opposite the fireplace hung two portraits,—one of Charles La Tour's father, the other of a former maid of honor at the English court. The ceiling of wooden panels had been brought from La Tour's castle at Cape Sable; it answered the flicker of the fire with lines of faded gilding.
The girl dropped her wrappings on the bench, and began to unroll the baby, as if curious about its state.
"I believe it is dead!" she whispered.
But the clank of a long iron latch which fastened the outer door was enough to deflect her interest from the matter. She cast her cloak over the baby, and held it loosely on her knees, with its head to the fire. When the door shut with a crash, and some small object scurried across the stone floor, the girl looked out of her retreat with fear. Her eyelids and lips fell wider apart. She saw a big-headed brownie coming to the hearth, clad, with the exception of its cap, in the dun tints of autumn woods. This creature, scarcely more than two feet high, had a woman's face, of beak-like formation, projecting forward. She was as bright-eyed and light of foot as any bird. Moving within the inclosure of the settles, she hopped up with a singular power of vaulting, and seated herself, stretching toward the fire a pair of spotted seal moccasins. These were so small that the feet on which they were laced seemed an infant's, and sorted strangely with the mature keen face above them. Youth, age, and wise sylvan life were brought to a focus in that countenance.
To hear such a creature talk was like being startled by spoken words from a bird.
"I'm Le Rossignol," she piped out, when she had looked at the vagrant girl a few minutes, "and I can read your name on your face. It's Marguerite."
The girl stared helplessly at this midget seer.
"You're the same Marguerite that was left on the Island of Demons a hundred years ago. You may not know it, but you're the same. I know that downward look, and soft, crying way, and still tongue, and the very baby on your knees. You never bring any good, and words are wasted on you. Don't smile under your sly mouth, and think you are hiding anything from Le Rossignol."
The girl crouched deeper into her clothes, until those unwinking eyes relieved her by turning with indifference toward the chimney.
"I have no pity for any Marguerite," Le Rossignol added, and she tossed from her head the entire subject with a cap made of white gull breasts. A brush of red hair stood up in thousands of tendrils, exaggerating by its nimbus the size of her upper person. Never had dwarf a sweeter voice. If she had been compressed in order to produce melody, her tones were compensation, enough. She made lilting sounds while dangling her feet to the blaze, as if she thought in music.
Le Rossignol was so positive a force that she seldom found herself overborne by the presence of large human beings. The only man in the fortress who saw her without superstition was Klussman. He inclined to complain of her antics, but not to find magic in her flights and returns. At that period deformity was the symbol of witchcraft. Blame fell upon this dwarf when toothache or rheumatic pains invaded the barracks, especially if the sufferer had spoken against her unseen excursions with her swan. Protected from childhood by the family of La Tour, she had grown an autocrat, and bent to nobody except her lady.
"Where is my clavier?" exclaimed Le Rossignol. "I heard a tune in the woods which I must get out of my clavier,—a green tune, the color of quickening lichens; a dropping tune with sap in it; a tune like the wind across inland lakes."
She ran along the settle, and thrust her head around its high back.
Zelie, with white garments upon one arm, was setting solidly forth down the uncovered stairs, when the dwarf arrested her by a cry.
"Go back, heavy-foot,—go back and fetch me my clavier."
"Mademoiselle the nightingale has suddenly returned," muttered Zelie, ill pleased.
"Am I not always here when my lady comes home? I demand the box wherein my instrument is kept."
"What doth your instrument concern me? Madame has sent me to dress the baby."
"Will you bring my clavier?"
The dwarf's scream was like the weird high note of a wind-harp. It had its effect on Zelie. She turned back, though muttering against the overruling of her lady's commands by a creature like a bat, who could probably send other powers than a decent maid to bring claviers.
"And where shall I find it?" she inquired aloud. "Here have I been in the fortress scarce half an hour, after all but shipwreck, and I must search out the belongings of people who do naught but idle."
"Find it where you will. No one hath the key but myself. The box may stand in Madame Marie's apartment, or it may be in my own chamber. Such matters are blown out of my head by the wind along the coast. Make haste to fetch it so I can play when Madame Marie appears."
Le Rossignol drew herself up the back of the settle, and perched at ease on the angle farthest from the fire. She beat her heels lightly against her throne, and hummed, with her face turned from the listless girl, who watched all her antics.
Zelie brought the instrument case, unlocked it, and handed up a crook-necked mandolin and its small ivory plectrum to her tyrant. At once the hall was full of tinkling melody. The dwarf's threadlike fingers ran along the neck of the mandolin, and as she made the ivory disk quiver among its strings her head swayed in rapturous singing.
Zelie forgot the baby. The garments intended for its use were spread upon the settle near the fire. She folded her arms, and wagged her head with Le Rossignol's. But while the dwarf kept an eye on the stairway, watching like a lover for the appearance of Madame La Tour, the outer door again clanked, and Klussman stepped into the hall. His big presence had instant effect on Le Rossignol. Her music tinkled louder and faster. The playing sprite, sitting half on air, gamboled and made droll faces to catch his eye. Her vanity and self-satisfaction, her pliant gesture and skillful wild music, made her appear some soulless little being from the woods who mocked at man's tense sternness.
Klussman took little notice of any one in the hall, but waited by the closed door so relentless a sentinel that Zelie was reminded of her duty. She made haste to bring perfumed water in a basin, and turned the linen on the settle. She then took the child from its mother's limp hands, and exclaimed and muttered under her breath as she turned it on her knees.
"What hast thou done to it since my lady left thee?" inquired Zelie sharply. But she got no answer from the girl.
Unrewarded for her minstrelsy by a single look from the Swiss, Le Rossignol quit playing, and made a fist of the curved instrument to shake at him, and let herself down the back of the settle. She sat on the mandolin box in shadow, vaguely sulking, until Madame La Tour, fresh from her swift attiring, stood at the top of the stairway. That instant the half-hid mandolin burst into quavering melodies.
"Thou art back again, Nightingale?" called the lady, descending.
"Yes, Madame Marie."
"Madame!" exclaimed Klussman, and as his voice escaped repression it rang through the hall. He advanced, but his lady lifted her finger to hold him back.
"Presently, Klussman. The first matter in hand is to rebuke this runaway."
Marie's firm and polished chin, the contour of her glowing mouth, and the kindling beauty of her eyes were forever fresh delights to Le Rossignol. The dwarf watched the shapely and majestic woman moving down the hall.
"Madame," besought Zelie, looking anxiously around the end of the settle. But she also was obliged to wait. Marie extended a hand to the claws of Le Rossignol, who touched it with her beak.
"Thou hast very greatly displeased me."
"Yes, Madame Marie," said the culprit, with resignation.
"How many times have you set all our people talking about these witch flights on the swan, and sudden returns after dark?"
"I forget, Madame Marie."
"In all seriousness thou shalt be well punished for this last," said the lady severely.
"I was punished before the offense. Your absence punished me, Madame Marie."
"A bit of adroit flattery will not turn aside discipline. The smallest vassal in the fort shall know that. A day in the turret, with a loaf of bread and a jug of water, may put thee in better liking to stay at home."
"Yes, Madame Marie," assented the dwarf, with smiles.
"And I may yet find it in my heart to have that swan's neck wrung."
"Shubenacadie's neck! Oh, Madame Marie, wring mine! It would be the death of me if Shubenacadie died. Consider how long I have had him. And his looks, my lady! He is such a pretty bird."
"We must mend that dangerous beauty of his. If these flights stop not, I will have his wings clipped."
"His satin wings,—his glistening, polished wings," mourned Le Rossignol, "tipped with angel-finger feathers! Oh, Madame Marie, my heart's blood would run out of his quills!"
"It is a serious breach in the discipline of this fortress for even you to disobey me constantly," said the lady, again severely, though she knew her lecture was wasted on the human brownie.
Le Rossignol poked and worried the mandolin with antennae-like fingers, and made up a contrite face.
The dimness of the hall had not covered Klussman's large pallor. The emotions of the Swiss passed over the outside of his countenance, in bulk like himself. His lady often compared him to a noble young bullock or other well-conditioned animal. There was in Klussman much wholesomeness and excuse for existence.
"Now, Klussman," said Marie, meeting her lieutenant with the intentness of one used to sudden military emergencies. He trod straight to the fireplace, and pointed at the strange girl, who hid her face.
"Madame, I have come in to speak of a thing you ought to know. Has that woman told you her name?"
"No, she hath not. She hath kept a close tongue ever since we found her at the outpost."
"She ever had a close tongue, madame, but she works her will in silence. It hath been no good will to me, and it will be no good will to the Fort of St. John."
"Who is she, Klussman?"
"I know not what name she bears now, but two years since she bore the name of Marguerite Klussman."
"Surely she is not your sister?"
"No, madame. She is only my wife." He lifted his lip, and his blue eyes stared at the muffled culprit.
"We knew not you had a wife when you entered our service, Klussman."
"Nor had I, madame. D'Aulnay de Charnisay had already taken her."
"Then this woman does come from D'Aulnay de Charnisay?"
"Yes, madame! And if you would have my advice, I say put her out of the gate this instant, and let her find shelter with our Indians above the falls."
"Madame," exclaimed Zelie, lifting the half-nude infant, and thrusting it before her mistress with importunity which could wait no longer, "of your kindness look at this little creature. With all my chafing and sprinkling I cannot find any life in it. That girl hath let it die on her knees, and hath not made it known!"
Klussman's glance rested on the body with that abashed hatred which a man condemns in himself when its object is helpless.
"It is D'Aulnay's child," he muttered, as if stating abundant reason for its taking off.
"I have brought an agent from D'Aulnay and D'Aulnay's child into our fortress," said Madame La Tour, speaking toward Marguerite's silent cover, under which the girl made no sign of being more than a hidden animal. Her stern face traveled from mother back to tiny body.
There is nothing more touching than the emaciation of a baby. Its sunken temples and evident cheekbones, the line of its jaw, the piteous parted lips and thin neck were all reflected in Marie's eyes. Her entire figure softened, and passionate motherhood filled her. She took the still pliant shape from Zelie, held it in her hands, and finally pressed it against her bosom. No sign of mourning came from the woman called its mother.
"This baby is no enemy of ours," trembled Madame La Tour. "I will not have it even reproached with being the child of our enemy. It is my little dead lad come again to my bosom. How soft are his dear limbs! And this child died for lack of loving while I went with empty arms! Have you suffered, dear? It is all done now. Mother will give you kisses,—kisses. Oh, baby,—baby!"
Klussman turned away, and Zelie whimpered. But Le Rossignol thrust her head around the settle to see what manner of creature it was over which Madame Marie sobbed aloud.
FATHER ISAAC JOGUES.
The child abandoned by La Tour's enemy had been carried to the upper floor, and the woman sent with a soldier's wife to the barracks; yet Madame La Tour continued to walk the stone flags, feeling that small skeleton on her bosom, and the pressure of death on the air.
Her Swiss lieutenant opened the door and uttered a call. Presently, with a clatter of hoofs on the pavement, and a mighty rasping of the half-tree which they dragged, in burst eight Sable Island ponies, shaggy fellows, smaller than mastiffs, yet with large heads. The settles were hastily cleared away for them, and they swept their load to the hearth. As soon as their chain was unhooked, these fairy horses shot out again, and their joyful neighing could be heard as they scampered around the fort to their stable. Two men rolled the log into place, set a table and three chairs, and one returned to the cook-house while the other spread the cloth.
Claude La Tour and his wife, the maid of honor, seemed to palpitate in their frames, with the flickering expressions of firelight. The silent company of these two people was always enjoyed by Le Rossignol. She knew their disappointments, and liked to have them stir and sigh. In the daytime, the set courtier smile was sadder than a pine forest. But the chimney's huge throat drew in the hall's heavy influences, and when the log was fired not a corner escaped its glow. The man who laid the cloth lighted candles in a silver candelabrum and set it on the table, and carried a brand to waxlights which decorated the buffet.
These cheerful preparations for her evening meal recalled Madame La Tour to the garrison's affairs. Her Swiss lieutenant yet stood by, his arms and chin settled sullenly on his breast; reluctant to go out and pass the barrack door where his wife was sheltered.
"Are sentinels set for the night, Klussman?" inquired the lady.
He stood erect, and answered, "Yes, madame."
"I will not wait for my supper before I hear your news. Discharge it now. I understand the grief you bear, my friend. Your lord will not forget the faithfulness you show toward us."
"Madame, if I may speak again, put that woman out of the gate. If she lingers around, I may do her some hurt when I have a loaded piece in my hand. She makes me less a man."
"But, Klussman, the Sieur de la Tour, whose suspicions of her you have justified, strictly charged that we restrain her here until his return. She has seen and heard too much of our condition."
"Our Indians would hold her safe enough, madame."
"Yet she is a soft, feeble creature, and much exhausted. Could she bear their hard living?"
"Madame, she will requite whoever shelters her with shame and trouble. If D'Aulnay has turned her forth, she would willingly buy back his favor by opening this fortress to him. If he has not turned her forth, she is here by his command. I have thought out all these things; and, madame, I shall say nothing more, if you prefer to risk yourself in her hands instead of risking her with the savages."
The dwarf's mandolin trembled a mere whisper of sound. She leaned her large head against the settle and watched the Swiss denounce his wife.
"You speak good military sense," said the lady, "yet there is monsieur's command. And I cannot bring myself to drive that exhausted creature to a cold bed in the woods. We must venture—we cannot do less—to let her rest a few days under guard. Now let me hear your news."
"It was only this, madame. Word was brought in that two priests from Montreal were wandering above the falls and trying to cross the St. John in order to make their way to D'Aulnay's fort at Penobscot. So I set after them and brought them in, and they are now in the keep, waiting your pleasure."
"Doubtless you did right," hesitated Madame La Tour. "Even priests may be working us harm, so hated are we of Papists. But have them out directly, Klussman. We must not be rigorous. Did they bear any papers?"
"No, madame; and they said they had naught to do with D'Aulnay, but were on a mission to the Abenakis around Penobscot, and had lost their course and wandered here. One of them is that Father Isaac Jogues who was maimed by the Mohawks, when he carried papistry among them, and the other his donne—a name these priests give to any man who of his own free will goes with them to be servant of the mission."
"Bring them out of the keep," said Madame La Tour.
The Swiss walked with ringing foot toward the stairway, and dropped upon one knee to unbar the door in the pavement. He took a key from his pocket and turned it in the lock, and, as he lifted the heavy leaf of beams and crosspieces, his lady held over the darkness a candle, which she had taken from one of the buffet sconces. Out of the vault rose a chill breath from which the candle flame recoiled.
"Monsieur," she spoke downward, "will you have the goodness to come up with your companion?"
Her voice resounded in the hollow; and some movement occurred below as soft-spoken answer was made:—
"We come, madame."
A cassocked Jesuit appeared under the light, followed by a man wearing the ordinary dress of a French colonist. They ascended the stone steps, and Klussman replaced the door with a clank which echoed around the hall. Marie gave him the candle, and with clumsy touch he fitted it to the sconce while she led her prisoners to the fire. The Protestant was able to dwell with disapproval on the Jesuit's black gown, though it proved the hard service of a missionary priest; the face of Father Jogues none but a savage could resist.
His downcast eyelids were like a woman's, and so was his delicate mouth. The cheeks, shading inward from their natural oval, testified to a life of hardship. His full and broad forehead, bordered by a fringe of hair left around his tonsure, must have overbalanced his lower face, had that not been covered by a short beard, parted on the upper lip and peaked at the end. His eyebrows were well marked, and the large-orbed eyes seemed so full of smiling meditation that Marie said to herself, "This lovely, woman-looking man hath the presence of an angel, and we have chilled him in our keep!"
"Peace be with you, madame," spoke Father Jogues.
"Monsieur, I crave your pardon for the cold greeting you have had in this fortress. We are people who live in perils, and we may be over-suspicious."
"Madame, I have no complaint to bring against you."
Both men were shivering, and she directed them to places on the settle. They sat where the vagrant girl had huddled. Father Jogues warmed his hands, and she noticed how abruptly serrated by missing or maimed fingers was their tapered shape. The man who had gone out to the cook-house returned with platters, and in passing the Swiss lieutenant gave him a hurried word, on which the Swiss left the hall. The two men made space for Father Jogues at their lady's board, and brought forward another table for his donne.
"Good friends," said Marie, "this Huguenot fare is offered you heartily, and I hope you will as heartily take it, thereby excusing the hunger of a woman who has just come in from seafaring."
"Madame," returned the priest, "we have scarcely seen civilized food since leaving Montreal, and we need no urging to enjoy this bounty. But, if you permit, I will sit here beside my brother Lalande."
"As you please," she answered, glancing at the plain young Frenchman in colonial dress with suspicion that he was made the excuse for separating Romanist and Protestant.
Father Jogues saw her glance and read her thought, and silently accused himself of cowardice for shrinking, in his maimed state, from her table with the instincts of a gentle-born man. He explained, resting his hand upon the chair which had been moved from the lady's to his servant's table:—
"We have no wish to be honored above our desert, madame. We are only humble missionaries, and often while carrying the truth have been thankful for a meal of roots or berries in the woods."
"Your humility hurts me, monsieur. On the Acadian borders we have bitter enmities, but the fort of La Tour shelters all faiths alike. We can hardly atone to so good a man for having thrust him into our keep."
Father Jogues shook his head, and put aside this apology with a gesture. The queen of France had knelt and kissed his mutilated hands, and the courtiers of Louis had praised his martyrdom. But such ordeals of compliment were harder for him to endure than the teeth and knives of the Mohawks.
As soon as Le Rossignol saw the platters appearing, she carried her mandolin to the lowest stair step and sat down to play: a quaint minstrel, holding an instrument almost as large as herself. That part of the household who lingered in the rooms above owned this accustomed signal and appeared on the stairs: Antonia Bronck, still disturbed by the small skeleton she had seen Zelie dressing for its grave; and an elderly woman of great bulk and majesty, with sallow hair and face, who wore, enlarged, one of the court gowns which her sovereign, the queen of England, had often praised. Le Rossignol followed these two ladies across the hall, alternately aping the girlish motion of Antonia and her elder's massive progress. She considered the Dutch gentlewoman a sweet interloper who might, on occasions, be pardoned; but Lady Dorinda was the natural antagonist of the dwarf in Fort St. John. Marie herself seated her mother-in-law, with the graceful deference of youth to middle age and of present power to decayed grandeur. Lady Dorinda was not easy to make comfortable. The New World was hardly her sphere. In earlier life, she had learned in the school of the royal Stuarts that some people are, by divine right, immeasurably better than others,—and experience had thrust her down among those unfortunate others.
Seeing there were strange men in the hall, Antonia divined that the prisoners from the keep had been brought up to supper. But Lady Dorinda settled her chin upon her necklace, and sighed a large sigh that priests and rough men-at-arms should weary eyes once used to revel in court pageantry. She looked up at the portrait of her dead husband, which hung on the wall. He had been created the first knight of Acadia; and though this honor came from her king, and his son refused to inherit it after him, Lady Dorinda believed that only the misfortunes of the La Tours had prevented her being a colonial queen.
"Our chaplain being absent in the service of Sieur de la Tour," spoke Marie, "will monsieur, in his own fashion, bless this meal?"
Father Jogues spread the remnant of his hands, but Antonia did not hear a word he breathed. She was again in Fort Orange. The Iroquois stalked up hilly paths and swarmed around the plank huts of Dutch traders. With the savages walked this very priest, their patient drudge until some of them blasphemed, when he sternly and fearlessly denounced the sinners.
Supper was scarcely begun when the Swiss lieutenant came again into the hall and saluted his lady.
"What troubles us, Klussman?" she demanded.
"There is a stranger outside."
"What does he want?"
"Madame, he asks to be admitted to Fort St. John."
"Is he alone? Hath he a suspicious look?"
"No, madame. He bears himself openly and like a man of consequence."
"How many followers has he?"
"A dozen, counting Indians. But all of them he sends back to camp with our Etchemins."
"And well he may. We want no strange followers in the barracks. Have you questioned him? Whence does he come?"
"From Fort Orange, in the New Netherlands, madame."
"He is then Hollandais." Marie turned to Antonia Bronck, and was jarred by her blanching face.
"What is it, Antonia? You have no enemy to follow you into Acadia?"
The flaxen head was shaken for reply.
"But what brings a man from Fort Orange here?"
"There be nearly a hundred men in Fort Orange," whispered Antonia.
"He says," announced the Swiss, "that he is cousin and agent of the seignior they call the patroon, and his name is Van Corlaer."
"Do you know him, Antonia?"
"And is he kindly disposed to you?"
"He was the friend of my husband, Jonas Bronck," trembled Antonia.
"Admit him," said Marie to her lieutenant.
"With all his followers, if he wills it. And bring him as quickly as you can to this table."
"We need Edelwald to manage these affairs," added the lady of the fort, as her subaltern went out. "The Swiss is faithful, but he has manners as rugged as his mountains."
THE WIDOW ANTONIA.
Antonia sat in tense quiet, though whitened even across the lips where all the color of her face usually appeared; and a stalwart and courtly man presented himself in the hall. Some of the best blood of the Dutch Republic had evidently gone to his making. He had the vital and reliable presence of a master in affairs, and his clean-shaven face had firm mouth-corners. Marie rose up without pause to meet him. He was freshly and carefully dressed in clothes carried for this purpose across the wilderness, and gained favor even with Lady Dorinda, as a man bearing around him in the New World the atmosphere of Europe. He made his greeting in French, and explained that he was passing through Acadia on a journey to Montreal.
"We stand much beholden to monsieur," said Marie with a quizzical face, "that he should travel so many hundred leagues out of his way to visit this poor fort. I have heard that the usual route to Montreal is that short and direct one up the lake of Champlain."
Van Corlaer's smile rested openly on Antonia as he answered,—
"Madame, a man's most direct route is the one that leads to his object."
"Doubtless, monsieur. And you are very welcome to this fort. We have cause to love the New Netherlanders."
Marie turned to deliver Antonia her guest, but Antonia stood without word or look for him. She seemed a scared Dutch child, bending all her strength and all her inherited quiet on maintaining self-control. He approached her, searching her face with his near-sighted large eyes.
"Had Madame Bronck no expectation of seeing Arendt Van Corlaer in Acadia?"
"No, mynheer," whispered Antonia.
"But since I have come have you nothing to say to me?"
"I hope I see you well, mynheer."
"You might see me well," reproached Van Corlaer, "if you would look at me."
She lifted her eyes and dropped them again.
"This Acadian air has given you a wan color," he noted.
"Did you leave Teunis and Marytje Harmentse well?" quavered Antonia, catching at any scrap. Van Corlaer stared, and answered that Teunis and Marytje were well, and would be grateful to her for inquiring.
"For they also helped to hide this priest from the Mohawks," added Antonia without coherence. Marie could hear her heart laboring.
"What priest?" inquired Van Corlaer, and as he looked around his eyes fell on the cassocked figure at the other table.
"Monsieur Corlaer," spoke Father Jogues, "I was but waiting fit opportunity to recall myself and your blessed charity to your memory."
Van Corlaer's baffled look changed to instant glad recognition.
"That is Father Jogues!"
He met the priest with both hands, and stood head and shoulders taller while they held each other like brothers.
"I thought to find you in Montreal, Father Jogues, and not here, where in my dim fashion I could mistake you for the chaplain of the fort."
"Monsieur Corlaer, I have not forgot one look of yours. I was a great trouble to you with, my wounds, and my hiding and fever. And what pains you took to put me on board the ship in the night! It would be better indeed to see me at Montreal than ever in such plight again at Fort Orange, Monsieur Corlaer!"
"Glad would we be to have you at Fort Orange again, without pain to yourself, Father Jogues."
"And how is my friend who so much enjoyed disputing about religion?"
"Our dominie is well, and sent by my hand his hearty greeting to that very learned scholar Father Jogues. We heard you had come back from France."
Van Corlaer dropped one hand on the donne's shoulder and leaned down to examine his smiling face.
"It is my brother Lalande, the donne of this present mission," said the priest.
"My young monsieur," said Van Corlaer, "keep Father Jogues out of the Mohawks' mouths henceforth. They have really no stomach for religion, though they will eat saints. It often puzzles a Dutchman to handle that Iroquois nation."
"Our lives are not our own," said the young Frenchman.
"We must bear the truth whether it be received or not," said Father Jogues.
"Whatever errand brought you into Acadia," said Van Corlaer, turning back to the priest, "I am glad to find you here, for I shall now have your company back to Montreal."
"Impossible, Monsieur Corlaer. For I have set out to plant a mission among the Abenakis. They asked for a missionary. Our guides deserted us, and we have wandered off our course and been obliged to throw away nearly all the furniture of our mission. But we now hope to make our way along the coast."
"Father Jogues, the Abenakis are all gone northward. We passed through their towns on the Penobscot."
"But they will come back?"
"Some time, though no man at Penobscot would be able to say when."
Father Jogues' perplexed brows drew together. Wanderings, hunger, and imprisonment he could bear serenely as incidents of his journey. But to have his flock scattered before he could reach it was real calamity.
"We must make shift to follow them," he said.
"How will you follow them without supplies, and without knowing where they may turn in the woods?"
"I see we shall have to wait for them at Penobscot," said Father Jogues.
"Take a heretic's advice instead. For I speak not as the enemy of your religion when I urge you to journey with me back to Montreal. You can make another and better start to establish this mission."
The priest shook his head.
"I do not see my way. But my way will be shown to me, or word will come sending me back."
Some sign from the lady of the fortress recalled Van Corlaer to his duty as a guest. The supper grew cold while he parleyed. So he turned quickly to take the chair she had set for him, and saw that Antonia was gone.
"Madame Bronck will return," said Marie, pitying his chagrin, and searching her own mind for Antonia's excuse. "We brought a half-starved baby home from our last expedition, and it lies dead upstairs. Women have soft hearts, monsieur: they cannot see such sights unmoved. She hath lost command of herself to-night."
Van Corlaer's face lightened with tenderness. Bachelor though he was, he had held infants in his hands for baptism, and not only the children of Fort Orange but dark broods of the Mohawks often rubbed about his knees.
"You brought your men into the fort, Monsieur Corlaer?"
"No, madame. I sent them back to camp by the falls. We are well provisioned. And there was no need for them to come within the walls."
"If you lack anything I hope you will command it of us."
"Madame, you are already too bounteous; and we lack nothing."
"The Sieur de la Tour being away, the conduct and honor of this fort are left in my hands. And he has himself ever been friendly to the people of the colonies."
"That is well known, madame."
Soft waxlight, the ample shine of the fire, trained service, and housing from the chill spring night, abundant food and flask, all failed to bring up the spirits of Van Corlaer. Antonia did not return to the table. The servingmen went and came betwixt hall and cook-house. Every time one of them opened the door, the world of darkness peered in, and over the night quiet of the fort could be heard the tidal up-rush of the river.
"The men can now bring our ship to anchor," observed Marie. Father Jogues and his donne, eating with the habitual self-denial of men who must inure themselves to hunger, still spoke with Van Corlaer about their mission. But during all his talk he furtively watched the stairway.
The dwarf sat on her accustomed stool beside her lady, picking up bits from a well heaped silver platter on her knees; and she watched Van Corlaer's discomfiture when Lady Dorinda took him in hand and Antonia yet remained away.
JONAS BRONCK'S HAND.
The guests had deserted the hall fire and a sentinel was set for the night before Madame La Tour knocked at Antonia's door.
Antonia was slow to open it. But she finally let Marie into her chamber, where the fire had died on the hearth, and retired again behind the screen to continue dabbing her face with water. The candle was also behind the screen, and it threw out Antonia's shadow, and showed her disordered flax-white hair flung free of its cap and falling to its length. Marie sat down in the little world of shadow outside the screen. The joists directly above Antonia flickered with the flickering light. One window high in the wall showed the misty darkness which lay upon Fundy Bay. The room was chilly.
"Monsieur Corlaer is gone, Antonia," said Marie.
Antonia's shadow leaped, magnifying the young Dutchwoman's start.
"Madame, you have not sent him off on his journey in the night?"
"I sent him not. I begged him to remain. But he had such cold welcome from his own countrywoman that he chose the woods rather than the hospitality of Fort St. John."
Much as Antonia stirred and clinked flasks, her sobs grew audible behind the screen. She ran out with her arms extended and threw herself on the floor at Marie's knees, transformed by anguish. Marie in full compassion drew the girlish creature to her breast, repenting herself while Antonia wept and shook.
"I was cruel to say Monsieur Corlaer is gone. He has only left the fortress to camp with his men at the falls. He will be here two more days, and to-morrow you must urge him to stay our guest."
"Madame, I dare not see him at all!"
"But why should you not see Monsieur Corlaer?"
Antonia settled to the floor and rested her head and arms on her friend's lap.
"For you love him."
"O madame! I did not show that I loved him? No. It would be horrible for me to love him."
"What has he done? And it is plain he has come to court you."
"He has long courted me, madame."
"And you met him as a stranger and fled from him as a wolf!—this Hollandais gentleman who hath saved our French people—even priests—from the savages!"
"All New Amsterdam and Fort Orange hold him in esteem," said Antonia, betraying pride. "I have heard he can do more with the Iroquois tribes than any other man of the New World." She uselessly wiped her eyes. She was weak from long crying.
"Then why do you run from him?"
"Because he hath too witching a power on me, madame. I cannot spin or knit or sew when he is by; I must needs watch every motion of his if he once fastens my eyes."
"I have noticed he draws one's heart," laughed Marie.
"He does. It is like witchcraft. He sets me afloat so that I lose my feet and have scarce any will of my own. I never was so disturbed by my husband Jonas Bronck," complained Antonia.
"Did you love your husband?" inquired Marie.
"We always love our husbands, madame. Mynheer Bronck was very good to me."
"You have never told me much of Monsieur Bronck, Antonia."
"I don't like to speak of him now, madame. It makes me shiver."
"You are not afraid of the dead?"
"I was never afraid of him living. I regarded him as a father."
"But one's husband is not to be regarded as a father."
"He was old enough to be my father, madame. I was not more than sixteen, besides being an orphan, and Mynheer Bronck was above fifty, yet he married me, and became the best husband in the colony. He was far from putting me in such states as Mynheer Van Corlaer does."
"The difference is that you love Monsieur Corlaer."
"Do not speak that word, madame."
"Would you have him marry another woman?"
"Yes," spoke Antonia in a stoical voice, "if that pleased him best. I should then be driven to no more voyages. He followed me to New Amsterdam; and I ventured on a long journey to Boston, where I had kinspeople, as you know. But there I must have broken down, madame, if I had not met you. It was fortunate for me that the English captain brought you out of your course. For mynheer set out to follow me there. And now he has come across the wilderness even to this fort!"
"Confess," said Marie, giving her a little shake, "how pleased you are with such a determined lover!"
But instead of doing this, Antonia burst again into frenzied sobbing and hugged her comforter.
"O madame, you are the only person I dare love in the world!"
Marie smoothed the young widow's damp hair with the quieting stroke which calms children.
"Let mother help thee," she said; and neither of them remembered that she was scarcely as old as Antonia. In love and motherhood, in military peril, and contact with riper civilizations, to say nothing of inherited experience, the lady of St. John had lived far beyond Antonia Bronck.
"Your husband made you take an oath not to wed again,—is it so?"
"No, madame, he never did."
"Yet you told me he left you his money?"
"Yes. He was very good to me. For I had neither father nor mother."
"And he bound you by no promise?
"None at all, madame."
"What, then, can you find to break your heart upon in the suit of Monsieur Corlaer? You are free. Even as my lord—if I were dead—would be free to marry any one; not excepting D'Aulnay's widow."
Marie smiled at that improbable union.
"No, I do not feel free." Antonia shivered close to her friend's knees. "Madame, I cannot tell you. But I will show you the token."
"Show me the token, therefore. And a sound token it must be, to hold you wedded to a dead man whom in life you regarded as a father."
Antonia rose upon her feet, but stood dreading the task before her.
"I have to look at it once every month," she explained, "and I have looked at it once this month already."
The dim chill room with its one eye fixed on darkness was an eddy in which a single human mind resisted that century's current of superstition. Marie sat ready to judge and destroy whatever spell the cunning old Hollandais had left on a girl to whom he represented law and family.
Antonia beckoned her behind the screen, and took from some ready hiding-place a small oak box studded with nails, which Marie had never before seen. How alien to the simple and open life of the Dutch widow was this secret coffer! Her face changed while she looked at it; grieved girlhood passed into sunken age. Her lips turned wax-white, and drooped at the corners. She set the box on a dressing-table beside the candle, unlocked it and turned back the lid. Marie was repelled by a faint odor aside from its breath of dead spices.
Antonia unfolded a linen cloth and showed a pallid human hand, its stump concealed by a napkin. It was cunningly preserved, and shrunken only by the countless lines which denote approaching age. It was the right hand of a man who must have had imagination. The fingers were sensitively slim, with shapely blue nails, and without knobs or swollen joints. It was a crafty, firm-possessing hand, ready to spring from its nest to seize and eternally hold you.
The lady of St. John had seen human fragments scattered by cannon, and sword and bullet had done their work before her sight. But a faintness beyond the touch of peril made her grasp the table and turn from that ghastly hand.
"It cannot be, Antonia"—
"Yes, it is Mynheer Bronck's hand," whispered Antonia, subduing herself to take admonition from the grim digits.
"Lock it up; and come directly away from it. Come out of this room. You have opened a grave here."
But Antonia delayed to set in order her hair and cap and all her methodical habits of life. When Jonas Bronck's hand was snugly locked in its case and no longer obliged her to look at it, she took a pensive pleasure in the relic, bred of usage to its company. She came out of her chamber erect and calm. Marie was at the stairs speaking to the soldier stationed in the hall below. He had just piled up his fire, and its homely splendor sent back to remoteness all human dreads. He hurried up the stairway to his lady.
"Go knock at the door of the priest, Father Jogues, and demand his cassock," she said.
The man halted, and asked,—
"What shall I do with it?"
"Bring it hither to me."
"But if he refuses to have it brought?"
"The good man will not refuse. Yet if he asks why," said Madame La Tour smiling, "tell him it is the custom of the house to take away at night the cassock of any priest who stays here."
The soldier kept to himself his opinion of meddling with black gowns, and after some parleying at the door of Father Jogues' apartment, received the garment and brought it to his lady.
"We will take our needles, and sit by the hall fire," said Marie to Antonia. "Did you note the raggedness of Father Jogues' cassock? I am an enemy to papists, especially D'Aulnay de Charnisay; but who can harden her heart against a saint because he patters prayers on a rosary? Thou and I will mend his black gown. I cannot see even a transient member of my household uncomfortable."
The soldier put two waxlights on the table by the hearth, and withdrew to the stairway. He was there to guard as prisoner the priest for whom his lady set herself to work. She drew her chair to Antonia's and they spread the cassock between them. It had been neatly beaten and picked clear of burrs, but the rents in it were astonishing. Even within sumptuous fireshine the black cloth taxed sight; and Marie paused sometimes to curtain her eyes with her hand, but Antonia worked on with Dutch steadiness. The touch of a needle within a woman's fingers cools all her fevers. She stitches herself fast to the race. There is safety and saneness in needlework.
"This spot wants a patch," said Antonia.
"Weave it together with stitches," said Marie. "Daughter of presumption! would you add to the gown of a Roman priest?"
"Priest or dominie," commented Antonia, biting a fresh thread, "he would be none the worse for a stout piece of cloth to his garment."
"But we have naught to match with it. I would like to set in a little heresy cut from one of the Sieur de la Tour's good Huguenot doublets."
The girlish faces, bent opposite, grew placid with domestic interest. Marie's cheeks ripened by the fire, but the whiter Hollandaise warmed only through the lips. This hall's glow made more endurable the image of Jonas Bronck's hand. "When was it cut off, Antonia?" murmured Marie, stopping to thread a needle.
The perceptible blight again fell over Antonia's face as she replied,—
"After he had been one day dead."
"Then he did not grimly lop it off himself?"
"Oh, no," whispered Antonia with deep sighing. "Mynheer the doctor did that, on his oath to my husband. He was the most learned cunning man in medicine that ever came to our colony. He kept the hand a month in his furnace before it was ready to send to me."
"Did Monsieur Bronck, before he died, tell you his intention to do this?" pressed Marie, feeling less interest in the Dutch embalmer's method than in the sinuous motive of a man who could leave such a bequest.
"I do marvel at such an act!" murmured the lady of St. John, challenging Jonas Bronck's loyal widow to take up his instant defense.
"Madame, he was obliged to do it by a dream he had."
"He dreamed that his hand would keep off intruders?" smiled Marie.
"Yes," responded Antonia innocently, "and all manner of evil fortune. I have to look at it once a month as long as I live, and carry it with me everywhere. If it should be lost or destroyed trouble and ruin would fall not only on me but on every one who loved me."
The woman of larger knowledge did not argue against this credulity. Antonia was of the provinces, bred out of their darkest hours of superstition and savage danger. But it was easy to see how Jonas Bronck's hand must hold his widow from second marriage. What lover could she ask to share her monthly gaze upon it, and thus half realize the continued fleshly existence of Jonas Bronck? The rite was in its nature a secret one. Shame, gratitude, the former usages of her life, and a thousand other influences, were yet in the grip of that rigid hand. And if she lost or destroyed it, nameless and weird calamity, foreseen by a dying man, must light upon the very lover who undertook to separate her from her ghastly company.
"The crafty old Hollandais!" thought Marie. "He was cunning in his knowledge of Antonia. But he hath made up this fist at a younger Hollandais who will scarce stop for dead hands."
The Dutch gentlewoman snuffed both waxlights. Her lips were drawn in grieved lines. Marie glanced up at one of the portraits on the wall, and said:—
"The agonies which men inflict on the beings they love best, must work perpetual astonishment in heaven. Look at the Sieur Claude de la Tour, a noble of France who could stoop to become the first English knight of Acadia, forcing his own son to take up arms against him."
The elder La Tour frowned and flickered in his frame.
"Yet he had a gracious presence," said Antonia. "Lady Dorinda says he was the handsomest man at the English court."
"I doubt it not; the La Tours are a beautiful race. And it was that very graciousness which made him a weak prisoner in the hands of the English. They married him to one of the queen's ladies, and granted him all Acadia, which he had only to demand from his son, if he would turn it over to England and declare himself an English subject I can yet see his ships as they rounded Cape Sable; and the face of my lord when he read his father's summons to surrender the claims of France. We were to be loaded with honors. France had driven us out on account of our faith; England opened her arms. We should be enriched, and live forever a happy and united family, sole lords of Acadia."
Marie broke off another thread.
"The king of France, who has outlawed my husband and delivered him to his enemy, should have seen him then, Antonia. Sieur Claude La Tour put both arms around him and pleaded. It was, 'My little Charles, do not disgrace me by refusal;' and 'My father, I love you, but here I represent the rights of France.' 'The king of France is no friend of ours,' says Sieur Claude. 'Whether he rewards or punishes me,' says Charles, 'this province belongs to my country, and I will hold it while I have life to defend it.' And he was obliged to turn his cannon against His own father; and the ships were disabled and driven off."
"Was the old mynheer killed?"
"His pride was killed. He could never hold up his head in England again, and he had betrayed France. My lord built him a house outside our fort, yet neither could he endure Acadia. He died in England. You know I brought his widow thence with me last year. She should have her dower of lands here, if we can hold them against D'Aulnay de Charnisay."
The lady of the fort shook out Father Jogues' cassock and rose from the mending. Antonia picked up their tools and flicked bits of thread from her skirt.
"I am glad it is done, madame, for you look heavy-eyed, as any one ought, after tossing two nights on Fundy Bay and sewing on a black gown until midnight cock-crow of the third."
"I am not now fit to face a siege," owned Marie. "We must get to bed. Though first I crave one more look at the dead baby Zelie hath in charge. There is a soft weakness in me which mothers even the outcast young of my enemy."
A FRONTIER GRAVEYARD.
The next morning was gray and transparent: a hemisphere of mist filled with light; a world of vapor palpitating with some indwelling spirit. That lonesome lap of country opposite Fort St. John could scarcely be defined. Scraps of its dawning spring color showed through the mobile winding and ascending veil. Trees rose out of the lowlands between the fort and the falls.
Van Corlaer was in the gorge, watching that miracle worked every day in St. John River. The tide was racing inland. The steep rapids within their throat of rock were clear of fog. Foam is the flower of water; and white petal after white petal was swept under by the driving waves. As the tide rose the tumult of falls ceased. The channel filled. All rocks were drowned. For a brief time another ship could have passed up that natural lock, as La Tour's ship had passed on the cream-smooth current at flood tide the day before.
Van Corlaer could not see its ragged sails around the breast of rock, but the hammering of its repairers had been in his ears since dawn; and through the subsiding wash of water he now heard men's voices.
The Indians whose village he had joined were that morning breaking up camp to begin their spring pilgrimage down the coast along various fishing haunts; for agriculture was a thing unknown to these savages. They were a seafaring people in canoes. At that time even invading Europeans had gained little mastery of the soil. Camp and fortress were on the same side of the river. Lounging braves watched indifferently some figures wading fog from the fort, perhaps bringing them a farewell word, perhaps forbidding their departure. The Indian often humored his invader's feudal airs, but he never owned the mastery of any white man. Squaws took down cone-shaped tents, while their half-naked babies sprawled in play upon the ashes of last winter's fires. Van Corlaer's men sauntered through the vanishing town, trying at times to strike some spark of information from Dutch and Etchemin jargon.
Near the river bank, between camp and fort, was an alluvial spot in which the shovel found no rock. A rough line of piled stones severed it from surrounding lands, and a few trees stood there, promising summer shade, though, darkly moist along every budded twig, they now swayed in tuneless nakedness. Here the dead of Fort St. John were buried; and those approaching figures entered a gap of the inclosure instead of going on to the camp. Three of La Tour's soldiers, with Father Jogues and his donne, had come to bury the outcast baby. One of the men was Zelie's husband, and she walked beside him. Marguerite lay sulking in the barracks. The lady had asked Father Jogues to consecrate with the rites of his church the burial of this little victim probably born into his faith. But he would have followed it in any case, with that instinct which drove him to baptize dying Indian children with rain-drops and attempt to pluck converts from the tortures of the stake.
"Has this child been baptized?" he inquired of Zelie on the path down from the fort.
She answered, shedding tears of resentment against Marguerite, and with fervor she could not restrain,—
"I'll warrant me it never had so much as a drop of water on its head, and but little to its body, before my lady took it."
"But hath it not believing parents?"
"Our Swiss says," stated Zelie, with a respectful heretic's sparing of this priest, "that it is the child of D'Aulnay de Charnisay." And she added no comment. The soldiers set their spades to last year's sod, cut an oblong wound, and soon had the earth heaped out and a grave made. Father Jogues, perplexed, and heavy of heart for the sins of his enlightened as well as his savage children, concluded to consecrate the baby's bed. The Huguenot soldiers stood sullenly by while a Romish service went on. They or their fathers had been driven out of France by the bitterness of that very religion which Father Jogues expressed in sweetness. They had not the broad sympathy of their lady, who could excuse and even stoop to mend a priest's cassock; and they made their pause as brief as possible.
While the spat and clink of spades built up one child's hillock, Zelie was on her knees beside another some distance from it, scraping away dead leaves. Her lady had bid her look how this grave fared, and she noticed fondly that fern was beginning to curl above the buried lad's head. The heir of the La Tours lay with his feet toward the outcast of the Charnisays, but this was a chance arrangement. Soldiers and servants of the house were scattered about the frontier burial ground, and Zelie noted to report to her lady that winter had partly effaced and driven below the surface some recent graves. Instead of being marked by a cross, each earthen door had a narrow frame of river stones built around it.
Van Corlaer left the drowned falls and passed his own tents, and waited outside the knee-high inclosure for Father Jogues. The missionary, in his usual halo of prayer, dwelt upon the open breviary. Many a tree along the Mohawk valley yet bore the name of Jesu which he had carved in its bark, as well as rude crosses. Such marks helped him to turn the woods into one wide oratory. But unconverted savages, tearing with their teeth the hands lifted up in supplication for them, had scarcely taxed his heart as heretics and sinful believers taxed it now. The soldiers, having finished, took up their tools, and Van Corlaer joined Father Jogues as the party came out of the cemetery.
The day was brightening. Some sea-birds were spreading their white breasts and wing-linings like flashes of silver against shifting vapor. The party descended to a wrinkle in the land which would be dry at ebb-tide. Now it held a stream flowing inland upon grass—unshriveled long grass bowed flat and sleeked to this daily service. It gave beholders a delicious sensation to see the clean water rushing up so verdant a course. A log which would seem a misplaced and useless foot-bridge when the tide was out, was crossed by one after another; and as Van Corlaer fell back to step beside Father Jogues, he said:—
"The Abenakis take to the woods and desert their fishing, and these Etchemins leave the woods and take to the coast. You never know where to have your savage. Did you note that the village was moving?"
"Yes, I saw that, Monsieur Corlaer; and I must now take leave of the lady of the fort and join myself to them."
"If you do you will give deep offense to La Tour," said the Dutchman, pushing back some strands of light hair which had fallen over his forehead, and turning his great near-sighted eyes on his friend. "These Indians are called Protestant. They are in La Tour's grant. Thou knowest that he and D'Aulnay de Charnisay have enough to quarrel about without drawing churchmen into their broil."
Father Jogues trod on gently. He knew he could not travel with any benighted soul and not try to convert it. These poor Etchemins appealed to his conscience; but so did the gracious lady of the fort.
"If I could mend the rents in her faith," he sighed, "as she hath mended the rents in my cassock!"
Two of the soldiers turned aside with their spades to a slope behind the fortress, where there was a stable for the ponies and horned cattle, and where last year's garden beds lay blackened under last year's refuse growth. Having planted the immortal seed, their next duty was to prepare for the trivial resurrections of the summer. Frenchmen love green messes in their soup. The garden might be trampled by besiegers, but there were other chances that it would yield something. Zelie's husband climbed the height to escort the priest and report to his lady, but he had his wife to chatter beside him. Father Jogues' donne walked behind Van Corlaer, and he alone overheard the Dutchman's talk.
"This lady of Fort St. John, Father Jogues, so housed, and so ground between the millstones of La Tour and D'Aulnay—she hath wrought up my mind until I could not forbear this journey. It is well known through the colonies that La Tour can no longer get help, and is outlawed by his king. This fortress will be sacked. La Tour would best stay at home to defend his own. But what can any other man do? I am here to defend my own, and I will take it and defend it."
Van Corlaer looked up at the walls, and his chest swelled with a large breath of regret.
"God He knoweth why so sweet a lady is set here to bear the brunts of a frontier fortress, where no man can aid her without espousing her husband's quarrel!—while hundreds of evil women degrade the courts of Europe. But I can only do mine errand and go. And you will best mend your own expedition at this time by a new start from Montreal, Father Jogues."
The priest turned around on the ascent and looked toward the vanishing Indian camp. He was examining as self-indulgence his strong and gentlemanly desire not to involve Madame La Tour in further troubles by proselyting her people.
"Whatever way is pointed out to me, Monsieur Corlaer," he answered, "that way I must take. For the mending of an expedition rests not in the hands of the poor instrument that attempts it."
Their soldier signaled for the gates to be opened, and they entered the fort. Marie was on her morning round of inspection. She had just given back to a guard the key of the powder magazine. Well, storehouse, fuel-house, barracks, were in military readiness. But refuse stuff had been thrown in spots which her people were now severely cleaning. She greeted her returning guests, and heard the report of Zelie's husband. A lace mantle was drawn over her head and fastened under the chin, throwing out from its blackness the warm brown beauty of her face.
"So our Indians are leaving the falls already?" she repeated, fixing Zelie's husband with a serious eye.
"Yes, madame," witnessed Zelie. "I myself saw women packing tents."
"Have they heard any rumor which scared them off early,—our good lazy Etchemins, who hate fighting?"
"No, madame," Van Corlaer answered, being the only person who came directly from the camp, "I think not, though their language is not clear to me like our western tongues. It is simply an early spring, calling them out."
"They have always waited until Paques week heretofore," she remembered. But the wandering forth of an irresponsible village had little to do with the state of her fort. She was going upon the walls to look at the cannon, and asked her guests to go with her.
The priest and his donne and Van Corlaer ascended a ladder, and Madame La Tour followed.
"I do not often climb like a sailor," she said, when Van Corlaer gave her his hand at the top. "There is a flight of steps from mine own chamber to the level of the walls. And here Madame Bronck and I have taken the air on winter days when we felt sure of its not blowing us away. But you need not look sad over our pleasures, monsieur. We have had many a sally out of this fort, and monsieur the priest will tell you there is great freedom on snowshoes."
"Madame Bronck has allowed herself little freedom since I came to Fort St. John," observed Van Corlaer.
They all walked the walls from bastion to bastion, and Marie examined the guns, and spoke with her soldiers. On the way back Father Jogues and Lalande paused to watch the Etchemins trail away, and to commune on what their duty directed them to do. Marie walked on with Van Corlaer toward the towered bastion, talking quickly, and ungloving her right hand to help his imagination with it. A bar of sunlight rested with a long slant through vapor on the fortress. Far blue distances were opened on the bay. The rippling full river had already begun to subside and sink line by line from its island.
Van Corlaer gave no attention to the beautiful world. He listened to Madame La Tour with a broadening humorous face and the invincible port of a man who knows nothing of defeat. The sentinel trod back and forth without disturbing this intent conference, but other feet came rushing up the stone steps which let from Marie's room to the level of the wall.
"Madame—madame!" exclaimed Antonia Bronck; but her flaxen head was arrested in ascent beside Van Corlaer's feet, and her distressed eyes met in his a whimsical look which stung her through with suspicion and resentment.
"What is it, Antonia?" demanded Marie.
"Madame, it is nothing."
Antonia owned her suitor's baring of his head, and turned upon the stairs.
"But some alarm drove you out."
Marie leaned over the cell inclosing the stone steps. It was not easy to judge from Antonia's erect bearing what had so startled her. Her friend followed her to the door below, and the voices of the two women hummed indistinctly in that vault-like hollow.
"You have told him," accused Antonia directly. "He is laughing about Mynheer Bronck's hand!"
"He does take a cheerful view of the matter," conceded the lady of the fort. Antonia looked at her with all the asperity which could be expressed in a fair Dutch face.
"As long as I kept my trouble to myself I could bear it. But I show it to another, and the worst befalls me."
"Is that hand lost, Antonia?"
"I cannot find it, or even the box which held it."
"Never accuse me with your eye," said Marie with droll pathos. "If it were lost or destroyed by accident, I could bear without a groan to see you so bereaved. But the slightest thing shall not be filched in Fort St. John. When did you first miss it?"
"A half hour since. I left the box on my table last night instead of replacing it in my chest;—being so disturbed."
"Every room shall be searched," said Marie. "Where is Le Rossignol?"
"She went after breakfast to call her swan in the fort."
"I saw her not. And I have neglected to send her to the turret for her punishment. That little creature has a magpie's fondness for plunder. Perhaps she has carried off your box. I will send for her."
Marie left the room. Antonia lingered to glance through a small square pane in the door—an eye which the commandants of the fort kept on their battlements. It had an inner tapestry, but this remained as Marie had pushed it aside that morning to take her early look at the walls. Van Corlaer was waiting on the steps, and as he detected Antonia in the guilty act of peeping at him, his compelling voice reached her in Dutch. She returned into the small stone cell formed by the stairs, and closed the door, submitting defiantly to the interview.
"Will you sit here?" suggested Van Corlaer, taking off his cloak and making for her a cushion upon the stone. Antonia reflected that he would be chilly and therefore hold brief talk, so she made no objection, and sat down on one end of the step while he sat down on the other. They spoke Dutch: with their formal French fell away the formal phases of this meeting in Acadia. The sentinel's walk moved almost overhead, and died away along the wall and returned again, but noises within the fort scarcely intruded to their rocky cell. They did not hear even the voices of Lalande and Father Jogues descending the ladder.
"We have never had any satisfactory talk together, Antonia," began Van Corlaer.
"No, mynheer," breathed the girlish relict of Bronck, feeling her heart labor as she faced his eyes.
"It is hard for a man to speak his mind to you."
"It hath seemed easy enough for Mynheer Van Corlaer, seeing how many times he hath done so," observed Antonia, drawing her mufflings around her neck.
"No. I speak always with such folly that you will not hear me. It is not so when I talk among men or work on the minds of savages. Let us now begin reasonably. I do believe you like me, Antonia."
"A most reasonable beginning," noted Antonia, biting her lips.
"Now I am a man in the stress and fury of mid-life, hard to turn from my purpose, and you well know my purpose. Your denials and puttings-off and flights have pleased me. But your own safety may waste no more good time in further play. I have not come into Acadia to tinkle a song under your window, but to wed you and carry you back to Fort Orange with me."
Antonia stirred, to hide her trembling.
"Are you cold?" inquired Van Corlaer.
"If the air chills you I will warm your hands in mine."
"My hands are well muffled, mynheer."
He adjusted his back against the wall and again opened the conversation.
"I brought a young dominie with me. He wished to see Montreal. And I took care to have with him such papers as might be necessary to the marriage."
"He had best get my leave," observed Madame Bronck.
"That is no part of his duty. But set your mind at rest; he is a young dominie of credit. When I was in Boston I saw a rich sedan chair made for the viceroy of Mexico, but brought to the colonies for sale. It put a thought in my head, and I set skilled fellows to work, and they made and we have carried through the woods the smallest, most cunning-fashioned sedan chair that woman ever stepped into. I brought it for the comfortable journeying of Madame Van Corlaer."
"That unknown lady will have much satisfaction in it," murmured Antonia.
"I hope so. And be better known than she was as Jonas Bronck's wife."
She colored, but hid a smile within her muffling. Her good-humored suitor leaned toward her, resting his arms upon his knees.
"Touching a matter which has never been mentioned between us;—was the curing of Bronck's hand well approved by you?"
"Mynheer, I am angry at Madame La Tour. Or did he," gasped Antonia, not daring to accuse by name the colonial doctor who had managed her dark secret, "did he show that to you?"
"Would the boldest chemist out of Amsterdam cut off and salt the member of any honest burgher without leave of the patroon?" suggested Van Corlaer. "Besides, my skill was needed, for I was once learned in chemistry."
It was so surprising to see this man over-ride her terror that Antonia stared at him.
"Mynheer, had you no dread of the sight?"
"No; and had I known you would dread it the hand had spoiled in the curing. I thought less of Jonas Bronck, that he could bequeath a morsel of himself like dried venison."
"Mynheer Bronck was a very good man," asserted Antonia severely.
"But thou knowest in thy heart that I am a better one," laughed Van Corlaer.
"He was the best of husbands," she insisted, trembling with a woman's anxiety to be loyal to affection which she has not too well rewarded. "It was on my account that he had his hand cut off."
"I will outdo Bronck," determined Van Corlaer. "I will have myself skinned at my death and spread out as a rug to your feet. So good a housekeeper as Antonia will beat my pelt full often, and so be obliged to think on me."
Afloat in his large personality as she always was in his presence, she yet tried to resist him.
"The relic that you joke about, Mynheer Van Corlaer, I have done worse with; I have lost it."
"Yes. It hath been stolen."
"Why, I commend the taste of the thief!"
"And misfortune is sure to follow."
"Well, let misfortune and the hand go together."
"It was not so said." She looked furtively at Bronck's powerful rival, loath to reveal to him the sick old man's prophecies.
"I have heard of the hearts of heroes being sealed in coffers and treasured in the cities from which they sprung," said Van Corlaer, taking his hat from the step and holding it to shield his eyes from mounting light. "But Jonas was no hero. And I have heard of papists venerating little pieces of saints' bones. Father Jogues might do so, and I could behold him without smiling. But a Protestant woman should have no superstition for relics."
"What I cannot help dreading," confessed Antonia, moving her hands nervously in their wrapping, "is what may follow this loss."
"Why, let the hand go! What should follow its loss?"
"Some trouble might befall the people who are kindest to me."
"Because Bronck's hand has been mislaid?" inquired Van Corlaer with shrewd light in his eyes.
"Yes, mynheer," hesitated Antonia. He burst into laughter and Antonia looked at him as if he had spoken against religion.
"It was my duty to open the box once every month."
Van Corlaer threw his hat down again on the step above.
"Are you cold, mynheer?" inquired Antonia considerately.
"No. I am fired like a man in mid-battle. Will nothing move you to show me a little love, madame? Why, look you, there were French women among captives ransomed from the Mohawks who shed tears on these hands of mine. Strangers and alien people have some movement of feeling, but you have none."
"Mynheer," pleaded Antonia, goaded to inconsistent and trembling asperity, "you make my case very hard. I could not tell you why I dare not wed again, but since you know, why do you cruelly blame me? A woman does not weep the night away without some movement of feeling. Yes, mynheer, you have taunted me, and I will tell you the worst. I have thought of you more than of any other person in the world, and felt such satisfaction in your presence that I could hardly forego it. Yet holding me thus bound to you, you are by no means satisfied," sobbed Antonia.
Van Corlaer glowed over her a moment with some smiling compunction, and irresistibly took her in his arms. From the instant that Antonia found herself there unstartled, her point of view was changed. She looked at her limitations no longer alone, but through Van Corlaer's eyes, and saw them vanishing. The sentinel, glancing down from time to time with a furtive cast of his eye, saw Antonia nodding or shaking her flaxen head in complete unison with Van Corlaer's nods and negations, and caught the sweet monotone of her voice repeating over and over:—
"Yes, mynheer. Yes, mynheer."
While Antonia continued her conference on the stone steps leading to the wall, the dwarf was mounting a flight which led to the turret. Klussman walked ahead, carrying her instrument and her ration for the day. There was not a loophole to throw glimmers upon the blackness. The ascent wound about as if carved through the heart of rock, and the tall Swiss stooped to its slope. Such a mountain of unseen terraces made Le Rossignol pant. She lifted herself from step to step, growing dizzy with the turns and holding to the wall.
"Wait for me," she called up the gloom, and shook her fist at the unseen soldier because he gave her no reply. Klussman stepped out on the turret floor and set down his load. Stretching himself from the cramp of the stairway, he stood looking over bay and forest and coast. The battlemented wall was quite as high as his shoulder. One small cannon, brought up with enormous labor, was here trained through an embrasure to command the mouth of the river.
Le Rossignol emerged into the unroofed light and the sea air like a potentate, dragging a warm furred robe. She had fastened great hoops of gold in her ears, and they gave her peaked face a barbaric look. It was her policy to go in state to punishment. The little sovereign stalked with long steps and threw out her arm in command.
"Monsieur the Swiss, stoop over and give me thy back until I mount the battlement."
Klussman, full of his own bitter and confused thinking, looked blankly down at her heated countenance.
"Give me thy back!" sang the dwarf in the melodious scream which anger never made harsh in her.
"Faith, yes, and my entire carcass," muttered the Swiss. "I care not what becomes of me now."
"Madame Marie sent you to escort me to this turret. You have the honor because you are an officer. Now do your duty as lieutenant of this fortress, and make me a comfortable prisoner."
Klussman set his hands upon his sides and smiled down upon his prisoner.
"What is your will?"
"Twice have I told you to stoop and give me your back, that I may mount from the cannon to the battlements. Am I to be shut up here without an outlook?"
"May I be hanged if I do that," exclaimed Klussman. "Make a footstool of myself for a spoiled puppet like thee?"
Le Rossignol ran towards him and kicked his boots with the heel of her moccasin. The Swiss, remonstrating and laughing, moved back before her.
"Have some care—thou wilt break a deer-hoof on my stout leather. And why mount the battlements? A fall from this turret edge would spread thee out like a raindrop. Though the fewer women there are in the world the better," added Klussman bitterly.
"Presume not to call me a woman!"
"Why, what art thou?"
"I am the nightingale."
"By thy red head thou art the woodpecker. Here is my back, clatterbill. Why should I not crawl the ground to be walked over? I have been worse used than that."
He grinned fiercely as he bent down with his hands upon his knees. Le Rossignol mounted the cannon, and with a couple of light bounds, making him a perch midway, reached an embrasure and sat arranging her robes.
"Now you may hand me my clavier," she said, "and then you shall have my thanks and my pardon."
The Swiss handed her the instrument. His contempt was ruder than he knew. Le Rossignol pulled her gull-skin cap well down upon her ears, for though the day was now bright overhead, a raw wind came across the bay. She leaned over and looked down into the fortress to call her swan. The cook was drawing water from the well, and that soft sad note lifted his eyes to the turret. Le Rossignol squinted at him, and the man went into the barracks and told his wife that he felt shooting pains in his limbs that instant.
"Come hither, gentle Swiss," said the dwarf striking the plectrum into her mandolin strings, "and I will reward thee for thy back and all thy courtly services."