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    Chapter 11

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    Chapter 12
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    FATHER LAUNOY HAS HIS DOUBTS.

    For a little while after leaving the shore the priest kept silence.

    "Dominique," said he at length, "there is something in your guests that puzzles me; and something too that puzzles me in the manner of their coming to Boisveyrac. Tell me now precisely how you found them."

    "It was not I who found them, Father. Telesphore Courteau came running to me, a little before sunset, with news that a man--an Indian--was standing on the shore opposite and signalling with his arms as if for help. Well, at first I thought it might be some trick of the Iroquois--not that I had dreamed of any in the neighbourhood: and Chretien got his men ready and under arms. But the glass seemed to show that this was not an Iroquois: and next I saw a bundle, which might be a wounded man, lying on the bank beside him. So we launched a boat and pushed across very carefully until we came within hail: and then we parleyed for some while, the soldiers standing ready to fire, until the Indian's look and speech convinced me--for I have been as far west as Michilimackinac, and know something of the Ojibway talk. So when he called out his nation to me, I called back to him to leave speaking in French and use his own tongue."

    "Yes, yes--he is an Ojibway beyond doubt."

    "Well, Father, while I was making sure of this, we had pushed forward little by little and I saw the wounded man clearly. He was half-naked, but lay with his tunic over him, as the Indian had wrapped him against the chill. Indeed he was half-dead too, and past speaking, when at length we took him off."

    "And they had lost their boat in the Cedars?"

    "So the Ojibway said. The wonder is that they ever came to shore."

    "The wonder to my thinking is rather that, coming through the wilderness from the Richelieu River, they should have possessed a canoe to launch on the Great River here."

    "Their tale is that they were four, and happened on a small party of Iroquois by surprise: and that two perished while this pair possessed themselves of the Iroquois' canoe and so escaped."

    "Yes," mused the priest, "so again the Ojibway told me. A strange story: and when I began to put questions he grew more and more stupid--but I know well enough by this time, I should hope, when an Indian pretends to be duller than he is. The sick man I could not well cross-examine. He told me something of the fight at Fort Carillon, where he, it appears, saw the main fighting upon the ridge, while the Indians were spread as sharpshooters along the swamps below. For the rest he refers me to his comrade." Father Launoy fell to musing again. "What puzzles me is that he carries no message, or will not own to carrying one. But what then brings him across the Wilderness? The other boats with the wounded and prisoners went down the Richelieu to its mouth, and will be travelling up the Great River to Montreal--that is, if they have not already arrived. Now why should this one boat have turned aside? That I could understand, if the man were upon special service: the way he came would be a short cut either down the river to Montreal, or up-stream to Fort Amitie or Fort Frontenac. But, as I say, this man apparently carries no message. Also he started from Fort Carillon with two wounds; and who would entrust special service to a wounded man?"

    "Of a certainty, Father, he was wounded, as I myself saw when we drew off his shirt. The hurt in his ribs is scarcely skinned over, and he has a fresh scar on his wrist. But the blow on the head, from which he suffers, is later, and was given him (he says) by an Indian."

    "A bad blow--and yet he escaped."

    "A bad blow. Either from that or from the drenching, towards morning his head wandered and he talked at full speed for an hour."

    "Of what did he talk?" asked the priest quickly.

    "That I cannot tell, since he chattered in English."

    "English? How do you know that it was English?"

    "Why, since it was not French, nor like any kind of Indian! Moreover, I have heard the English talk. They were prisoners brought down from Oswego, twelve bateaux in all, and I took them through the falls. When they talked, it was just as this man chattered last night."

    "Then you, too, Dominique, find your guest a strange fellow?"

    "Oh, as for that! He is a sergeant, and of the regiment of Bearn. Your reverence saw his coat hanging by the bed."

    "Even in that there is something strange. For Bearn lies in the Midi, close to the Pyrenees; and, as I understand, the regiment of Bearn was recruited and officered almost entirely from its own province. But this Sergeant a Clive comes from the north; his speech has no taste of the south in it, and indeed he owns to me that he is a northerner. He says further that he comes from my own seminary of Douai. And this again is correct; for I cross-questioned him on the seminary, and he knows it as a hand knows its glove--the customs of the place, the lectures, the books in use there. He has told me, moreover, why he left it. . . . Dominique, you do right in misliking your guest."

    "I do not say, Father, that I mislike him. I fear him a little--I cannot tell why."

    "You do right, then, to fear him; and I will tell you why. He is an atheist."

    "An atheist? O--oh!"

    "He has been of the true Faith. But he rejected me; he would make no confession, but turned himself to the wall when I exhorted him. Voyons--here is a Frenchman who talks English in his delirium; a northerner serving in a regiment of the south; an infidel, from Douai. Dominique, I do not like your guest."

    "Nor I, Father, since you tell me that he is an atheist."

    While they talked they had been lifting their voices insensibly to the roar of the nearing rapids; and were now come to Bout de l'lsle and the edge of peril. Below Bout de l'lsle the river divided to plunge through the Roches Fendues, where to choose the wrong channel meant destruction. Yet a mile below the Roches Fendues lay the Cascades, with a long straight plunge over smooth shelves of rock and two miles of furious water beyond. Yet farther down came the terrible rapids of La Chine, not to be attempted. There the voyageurs would leave the canoe and reach Montreal on foot.

    Father Launoy was a brave man. Thrice before he had let Dominique lead him through the awful dance ahead, and always at the end of it had felt his soul purged of earthly terrors and left clean as a child's.

    Dominique reached out a hand in silence and took the paddle from the Etchemin, who crawled aft and seated himself with an expressionless face. Then with a single swift glance astern to assure himself that the other Indian was prepared, the young man knelt and crouched, with his eyes on the V-shaped ripple ahead, for the angle of which they were heading.

    On this, too, the priest's eyes were bent. He gripped the gunwale as the current lifted and swept the canoe down at a pace past control; as it sped straight for the point of the smooth water, and so, seeming to be warned by the roar it met, balanced itself fore-and-aft for one swift instant and plunged with a swoop that caught away the breath.

    The bows shot under the white water below the fall, lifted to the first wave, knocking up foam out of foam, and so dived to the next, quivering like a reed shaken in the hand. Dominique straightened himself on his knees. In a moment he was working his paddle like a madman, striking broad off with it on this side and that, forcing the canoe into its course, zigzagging within a hand's breadth of rocks which, at a touch, would have broken her like glass, and across the edge of whirlpools waiting to drown a man and chase his body round for hours within a few inches of the surface; and all at a speed of fifteen to eighteen miles an hour, with never an instant's pause between sight and stroke. The Indian in the stern took his cue from Dominique; now paddling for dear life, now flinging his body back as with a turn of the wrist he checked the steerage.

    The priest sat with a white drenched face; a brave man terrified. He felt the floor of the world collapsing, saw its forests reeling by in the spray. It cracked like a bubble and was dissolved in rainbows--wisps caught in the rocks and fluttering in the wind of the boat's flight. Then, as the pressure on heart and chest grew intolerable, the speed began to slacken and he drew a shuddering breath; but his brain still kept the whirl of the wild minutes past and his hand scarcely relaxed its grip on the gunwale. As a runaway horse, still galloping, drops back to control, so the canoe seemed to find her senses and leapt at the waves with a cunning change of motion, no longer shearing through their crests, but riding them with a long and easy swoop. Still Father Launoy did not speak. He sat as one for whom a door has been held half-open, and closed again, upon a vision.

    Yet when he found his tongue--which was not until they reached the end of the white water, and Dominique, after panting a while, headed the canoe for shore--his voice did not shake.

    "It was a bold thought of these men, or a foolhardy, to strike across the Wilderness," he said meditatively, in the tone of one picking up a talk which chance has interrupted.

    "There are many ways through those woods," Dominique answered. "Between here and Fort Niagara you may hear tell of a dozen perhaps; and the Iroquois have their own."

    "Let us hope that none of theirs crosses the one you and Bateese taught to Monsieur Armand. The Seigneur will be uneasy about his son when he hears what 'Polyte and Damase report; and Monsieur Etienne and Mademoiselle Diane will be uneasy also."

    "But this Ojibway saw nothing of M. Armand or his party."

    "No news is good news. As you owe the Seigneur your duty, take your guests up to Fort Amitie to-morrow and let them be interrogated."

    "My Father, must I go?" There was anguish in Dominique's voice. "Surely Jo Lagasse or Pierre Courteau will do as well?--and there is much work at Boisveyrac which cannot be neglected."

    They had come to shore, and the priest had stepped out upon the bank after Dominique for a few parting words.

    "But that is not your true reason?" He laid his hand on the young man's shoulder and looked him in the eyes.

    Dominique's fell. "Father," he entreated in a choking voice, "you know my secret: do not be hard on me! 'Lead us not into temptation'--"

    "It will not serve you to run from yours. You must do battle with it. Bethink you that, as through the Wilderness, there are more ways than one in love, and the best is that of self-denial. Mademoiselle Diane is not for you, Dominique, her father's censitaire: yet you may love her your life through, and do her lifelong service. To-morrow, by taking these men to Fort Amitie, you may ease her heart of its fears: and will you fail in so simple a devoir? There is too much of self in your passion, Dominique--for I will not call it love. Love finds itself in giving: but passion is always a beggar."

    "My Father, you do not understand--"

    "Who told you that I do not understand?" the priest interrupted harshly. "I too have known passion, and learnt that it is full of self and comes of Satan. Nay, is that not evident to you, seeing what mischief it has already worked in your life? Think of Bateese."

    "Do I ever cease thinking of Bateese? Do I ever cease fighting with myself?" Dominique's voice rose almost to a cry of pain. He stared across the water with gloomy eyes and added--it seemed quite inconsequently--"The Cascades is a bad fall, but I think it will be the Roches Fendues that gets me in the end."

    He said it calmly, wistfully: and, pausing for a moment, met the priest's eyes.

    "Your blessing, Father. I will go."

    He knelt.

    Generations of voyageurs, upward bound, and porting their canoes to avoid the falls, had worn a track beside the river bank. Dominique made such speed back along it that he came in sight of Boisveyrac as the bell in the little chapel of the Seigniory began to ring the Angelus. Its note came floating down the river distinct above the sound of the falls. He bared his head, and repeated his Aves duly.

    "But all the same," he added, working out the train of his thoughts as he gazed across the deserted harvest-fields, impoverished by tree-stumps, to the dense forest behind the Chateau, "let God confound the English, and New France shall belong to a new noblesse that have learned, as the old will not, to lay their hands on her wealth."
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