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    Chapter 13

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    Chapter 14
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    FORT AMITIE.

    The Fort stood high on a wooded slope around which the river swept through narrows to spread itself below in a lake three miles wide and almost thirty long. In shape it was quadrilateral with a frontage of fifty toises and a depth of thirty, and from each angle of its stone walls abutted a flanking tower, the one at the western angle taller than the others by a good twenty feet and surmounted by a flagstaff.

    East, west, and south, the ground fell gently to the water's edge, entirely clear of trees: even their stumps had been uprooted to make room for small gardens in which the garrison grew its cabbages and pot-herbs; and below these gardens the Commandant's cows roamed in a green riverside meadow. At the back a rougher clearing, two cannon-shots in width, divided the northern wall from the dark tangle of the forest.

    The canoe had been sighted far down the lake, and the Commandant himself, with his brother M. Etienne and his daughter Mademoiselle Diane, had descended to the quay to welcome the voyageurs. A little apart stood Sergeant Bedard, old Jeremie Tripier (formerly major-domo and general factotum at Boisveyrac, now at Fort Amitie promoted to be marechal des logis), and five or six militiamen. And to John, as he neared the shore in the haze of a golden evening, the scene and the figures--the trim little stone fortress, the white banner of France transparent against the sky, the sentry like a toy figure at the gate, the cattle browsing below, the group at the river's brink--appeared as a tableau set for a child's play.

    To add to the illusion, as the canoe came to the quay the sun sank, a gun boomed out from the tallest of the four towers, and the flag ran down its staff; all as if by clockwork. As if by clockwork, too, the taller of the two old gentlemen on the quay--the one in a gold-laced coat--stepped forward with a wave of his hand.

    "Welcome, welcome, my good Dominique! It will be news you bring from Boisveyrac--more news of the great victory, perhaps? And who are these your comrades?"

    "Your servant, Monseigneur; and yours, Monsieur Etienne, and yours, Mademoiselle Diane!" Dominique brought his canoe alongside and saluted respectfully. "All my own news is that we have gathered the harvest at Boisveyrac; a crop not far below the average, we hope. But Father Launoy desired me to bring you these strangers, who will tell of matters more important."

    "It is the wounded man--the sergeant from Fort Carillon!" cried Diane, clasping her hands.

    "Eh, my child? Nonsense, nonsense--he wears no uniform, as you see. Moreover, 'Polyte Latulippe brought word that he was lying at the point of death."

    "It is he, nevertheless."

    "Mademoiselle has guessed rightly," said Dominique. "It is the wounded soldier. I have lent him an outfit."

    The Commandant stared incredulously from Dominique to John, from John to Menehwehna, and back again to John. A delightful smile irradiated his face.

    "Then you bring us a good gift indeed! Welcome, sir, welcome to Fort Amitie! where we will soon have you hale and strong again, if nursing can do it."

    Here, if John meant to play his part, was the moment for him to salute. He half lifted his hand as he reclined, but let it fall again. From the river-bank a pair of eyes looked down into his; dark grey eyes--or were they violet?--shy and yet bold, dim and yet shining with emotion. God help him! This child--she could be little more--was worshipping him for a hero!

    "Nay, sir, give it to me!" cried the Commandant, stooping by the quay's edge. "I shall esteem it an honour to grasp the hand of one who comes from Fort Carillon--who was wounded for France in her hour of victory. Your name, my friend?--for the messengers who brought word of you yesterday had not heard it, or perhaps had forgotten."

    "My name is a Cleeve, monsieur."

    "A Clive? a Clive? It is unknown to me, and yet it has a good sound, and should belong to un homme Men ne?" He turned inquiringly towards his brother, a mild, elderly man with a scholar's stoop and a face which assorted oddly with his uniform of captain of militia, being shrivelled as parchment and snuff-dried and abstracted in expression as though he had just lifted his eyes from a book. "A Clive, Etienne. From what province should our friend derive?"

    M. Etienne's eyes--they were, in fact, short-sighted--seemed to search inwardly for a moment before he answered:

    "There was a family of that name in the Quercy; so late, I think, as 1650. I had supposed it to be extinct. It bore arms counterpaly argent and gules, a canton ermine--"

    "My brother, sir," the Commandant interrupted, "is a famous genealogist. Do you accept this coat-of-arms he assigns to you?"

    "If M. le Commandant will excuse me--"

    "Eh, eh?--an awkward question, no doubt, to put to many a young man of family now serving with the colours?" The Commandant chuckled knowingly. "But I have an eye, sir, for nice shades, and an ear too. Verbum sapienti satis. A sergeant, they tell me--and of the Bearnais; but until we have cured you, sir, and the active list again claims you, you are Monsieur a Clive and my guest. We shall talk, so, upon an easier footing. Tut-tut! I have eyes in my head, I repeat. And this Indian of yours--how does he call himself?"

    "Menehwehna, monsieur. He is an Ojibway."

    "And you and he have come by way of the Wilderness? Now what puzzles me--"

    "Papa!" interposed the girl gently, laying a hand on her father's sleeve; "ought we not to get him ashore before troubling him with all these questions? He is suffering, I think."

    "You say well, my child. A thousand pardons, sir. Here, Bedard! Jeremie!"

    But it was Menehwehna who, with inscrutable face, helped John ashore, suffering the others only to hold the canoe steady. John tried hard to collect his thoughts to face this new situation. He had dreamed of falling among savages in these backwoods; but he had fallen among folk gentle in manner and speech, anxious to show him courtesy; folk to whom (as in an instant he divined) truth and uprightness were dearer than life and judged as delicately as by his own family at home in Devonshire. How came they here? Who was this girl whose eyes he avoided lest they should weigh him, as a sister's might, in the scales of honour?

    A man may go through life cherishing many beliefs which are internecine foes; unaware of their discordance, or honestly persuaded that within him the lion and the lamb are lying down together, whereas in truth his fate has never drawn the bolts of their separate cages. John had his doubts concerning God; but something deeper than reason within him detested a lie. Yet as a soldier he had accepted without examination the belief that many actions vile in peace are in war permissible, even obligatory; a loose belief, the limits of which no man in his regiment--perhaps no man in the two armies--could have defined. In war you may kill; nay, you must; but you must do it by code, and with many exceptions and restrictions as to the how and when. In war (John supposed) you may lie; nay, again, in certain circumstances you must.

    With this girl's eyes upon him, worshipping him for a hero, John discovered suddenly that here and now he could not. For an instant, as if along a beam of light, he looked straight into Militarism's sham and ugly heart.

    Yes, he saw it quite clearly, and was resolved to end the lie. But for the moment, in his bodily weakness, his will lagged behind his brain. As a sick man tries to lift a hand and cannot, so he sought to rally his will to meet the crisis and was dismayed to find it benumbed and half-asleep.

    They were ascending the slope, and still as they went the Commandant's voice was questioning him.

    "Through the Wilderness! That was no small exploit, my friend, and it puzzles me how you came to attempt it; for you were severely wounded, were you not?"

    "I received two wounds at Fort Carillon, monsieur. The proposal to make across the woods was not mine. It came from the French sergeant in command of our boat."

    "So--so. I ought to have guessed it. You were a whole boat's party then, at starting?" John felt the crisis near; but the Commandant's mind was discursive, and he paused to wave a proprietary hand towards the walls and towers of his fortress. "A snug little shelter for the backwoods--eh, M. a Clive? I am, you must know, a student of the art of fortification; c'est ma rengaine, as my daughter will tell you, and I shall have much to ask concerning that famous outwork of M. de Montcalm's, which touches my curiosity. So far as Damase could tell me, Fort Carillon itself was never even in danger--" But here Mademoiselle Diane again touched his sleeve. "Yes, yes, to be sure, we will not weary our friend just now. We will cure him first; and while he is mending, you shall look out a new uniform from the stores and set your needle to work to render it as like as you can contrive to the Bearnais. Nay, sir, to her enthusiasm that will be but a trifle. Remember that you come to us crowned with laurels, and with news for which we welcome you as though you brought a message from the General himself." A sudden thought fetched the Commandant to a standstill. "You are sure that the sergeant, your comrade, carried no message?"

    John paused with Menehwehna's arm supporting him.

    "If he carried a message, monsieur, he told me of none."

    Where were his faculties? Why were they hanging back and refusing to come to grips with the crisis? Why did this twilit riverside persist in seeming unreal to him, and the actors, himself included, as figures moving in a shadow-play?

    Once, in a dream, he had seen himself standing at the wings of a stage--an actor, dressed for his part. The theatre was crowded; someone had begun to ring a bell for the curtain to go up; and he, the hero of the piece, knew not one word of his part, could not even remember the name of the play or what it was about. The dream had been extraordinarily vivid, and he had awakened in a sweat.

    "But," the Commandant urged, "he must have had some reason for striking through the forest. What was his name?"

    "Barboux."

    John, as he answered, could not see Menehwehna's face; but Menehwehna's supporting arm did not flinch.

    "Was he, too, of the regiment of Bearn?"

    "He was of the Bearnais, monsieur."

    "Tell us now. When the Iroquois overtook you, could he have passed on a message, had he carried one?"

    While John hesitated, Menehwehna answered him. "It was I only who saw the sergeant die," said Menehwehna quietly. He gave me no message."

    "You were close to him?"

    "Very close."

    "It is curious," mused the Commandant, and turned to John again. "Your falling in with the Iroquois, monsieur, gives me some anxiety; since it happens that a party from here and from Fort Frontenac was crossing the Wilderness at about the same time, with messages for the General on Lake Champlain. You saw nothing of them?"

    Again Menehwehna took up the answer. "We met no one but these Iroquois," he said smoothly.

    And as Menehwehna spoke the words John felt that everyone in the group about him had been listening for it with a common tension of anxiety. He gazed around, bewildered for the moment by the lie. The girl stood with clasped hands. "Thank God!" he heard the Commandant say, lifting his hat.

    What new mystery was here? Menehwehna stood with a face immobile and inscrutable; and John's soul rose up against him in rage and loathing. The man had dishonoured him, counting on his gratitude to endorse the lie. Well, he was quit of gratitude now. "To-morrow, my fine fellow," said he to himself, clenching his teeth, "the whole tale shall be told; between this and the telling you may save your skin, if you can "; and so he turned to the Commandant.

    "Monsieur," he said with a meaning glance at Menehwehna, "I beg you to accept no part of our story until I have told it through to you."

    The Commandant was plainly puzzled. "Willingly, monsieur; but I beg you to consider the sufferings of our curiosity and be kind in putting a term to them."

    "To-morrow--" began John, and looking up, came to a pause. Dominique Guyon had followed them up from the boat and was thrusting himself unceremoniously upon the Commandant's attention.

    "Since this monsieur mentions to-morrow," interrupted Dominique abruptly, "and before I am dismissed to supper, may I claim the Seigneur's leave to depart early to-morrow morning?"

    The interruption was so unmannerly that John stared from one to another of the group. The Commandant's face had grown very red indeed. Dominique himself seemed sullenly aware of his rudeness. But John's eyes came to rest on Mademoiselle Diane's; on her eyes for an instant, and then on her lashes, as she bent her gaze on the ground--it seemed to him, purposely, and to avoid Dominique's.

    "Dominique," said the Commandant haughtily, "you forget yourself. You intrude upon my conversation with this gentleman." His voice shook and yet it struck John that his anger covered some anxiety.

    "Monseigneur must forgive me," answered Dominique, still with an awkward sullenness. "But it is merely my dismissal that I beg. I wish to return early to-morrow to Boisveyrac; the harvest there is gathered, to be sure, but no one can be trusted to finish the stacks. With so many dancing attendance on the military, the Seigniory suffers; and, by your leave, I am responsible for it."

    He glared upon John, who gazed back honestly puzzled. The Commandant seemed on the verge of an explosion, but checked himself.

    "My excellent Dominique Guyon," said he, "uses the freedom of an old tenant. But here we are at the gate. I bid you welcome, Monsieur a Clive, to my small fortress! Tut, tut, Dominique! We will talk of business in the morning."

    Alone with Menehwehna in the bare hospital ward to which old Jeremie as marechal des logis escorted them, John turned on the Ojibway and let loose his indignation.

    "And look you," he wound up, "this shall be the end. At daybreak to-morrow the gate of the fort will be opened. Take the canoe and make what speed you can. I will give you until ten o'clock, but at that hour I promise you to tell my tale to the Commandant, and to tell him all."

    "If my brother is resolved," said Menehwehna composedly, "let him waste no words. What is settled is settled, and to be angry will do his head no good."

    He composed himself to sleep on the floor at the foot of John's bed, pulling his rug up to his ears. There were six empty beds in the ward, and one had been prepared for him; but Menehwehna despised beds.

    John awoke to sunlight. It poured in through three windows high in the whitewashed wall opposite, and his first thought was to turn over and look for Menehwehna.

    Menehwehna had disappeared.

    John lay back on the pillow and stared up at the ceiling. Menehwehna had gone; he was free of him, and this day was to deliver his soul. In an hour or so he would be sitting under lock and key, but with a conscience bathed and refreshed, a companion to be looked in the face, a clear-eyed counsellor. The morning sunlight filled the room with a clean cheerfulness, and he seemed to drink it in through his pores. Forgetting his wound, he jumped out of bed with a laugh.

    As he did so his eye travelled along the empty beds in the ward, and along a row of pegs above them, and stiffened suddenly.

    There were twelve pegs, and all were bare save one--the one in the wall-space separating his bed from the bed which had been prepared for Menehwehna; and from this peg hung Sergeant Barboux's white tunic.

    It had not been hanging there last night when he dropped asleep: to that he could take his oath. He had supposed it to be left behind in the armoire at Boisveyrac. For a full minute he sat on the bed's edge gazing at it in sheer dismay, its evil menace closing like a grip upon his heart.

    But by and by the grip relaxed as dismay gave room to rage, and with rage came courage.

    He laughed again fiercely. Up to this moment he had always shrunk from touch of the thing; but now he pulled it from its peg, held it at arm's length for a moment, and flung it contemptuously on the floor.

    "You, at least, I am not going to fear any longer!"

    As he cast it from him something crackled under his fingers. For a second or two he stood over the tunic, eyeing it between old disgust and new surmise. Then, dropping on one knee, he fumbled it over, found the inner breast-pocket, and pulled from it a paper.

    It was of many sheets, folded in a blue wrapper, sealed with a large red seal, and addressed in cipher.

    Turning it over in his hand, he caught sight, in the lower left-hand corner, of a dark spot which his thumb had covered. He stared at it; then at his thumb, to the ball of which some red dust adhered; then at the seal. The wax bore the impress of a flying Mercury, with cap, caduceus and winged sandals. The ciphered address he could not interpret; it was brief, written in two lines, in a bold clear hand.

    This, then, was the missive which Barboux had carried.

    Had Menehwehna discovered it and placed it here for him to discover? Yes, undoubtedly. And this was a French dispatch; and at any cost he must intercept it! His soldier's sacrament required no less. He must conceal it--seek his opportunity to escape with it--go on lying meanwhile in hope of an opportunity.

    Where now was the prospects of his soul's deliverance?

    He crept back to bed and was thrusting the letter under his pillow when a slight sound drew his eyes towards the door.

    In the doorway stood Menehwehna with a breakfast-tray. The Indian's eyes travelled calmly across the room as he entered and set the tray down on the bed next to John's. Without speaking he picked up the tumbled tunic from the floor and set it back on its peg.
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