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    Chapter 14

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    Chapter 15
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    AGAIN THE WHITE TUNIC.

    "But touching this polygon of M. de Montcalm's--"

    Within the curtain-wall facing the waterside the ground had been terraced up to form a high platform or terre-plein, whence six guns, mounted in embrasures, commanded the river. Hither John had crept, with the support of a stick, to enjoy the sunshine and the view, and here the Commandant had found him and held him in talk, walking him to and fro, with pauses now and again beside a gun for a few minutes' rest.

    "But touching this polygon of M. de Montcalm's, he would doubtless follow Courmontaigne rather than Vauban. The angles, you say, were boldly advanced?"

    "So they appeared to me, monsieur; but you understand that I took no part--"

    "By advancing the angles boldly"--here the Commandant pressed his finger-tips together by way of illustration--"we allow so much more play to enfilading fire. I speak only of defence against direct assault; for of opposing such a structure to artillery the General could have had no thought."

    "Half a dozen six-pounders, well directed, could have knocked it about his ears in as many minutes."

    "That does not detract from his credit. Every general fights with two heads--his own and his adversary's; and, for the rest, we have to do what we can do with our material." The Commandant halted and gazed down whimsically upon the courtyard, in the middle of which his twenty-five militiamen were being drilled by M. Etienne and Sergeant Bedard. "My whole garrison, sir! Eh? you seem incredulous. My whole garrison, I give you my word! Five-and-twenty militiamen to defend a post of this importance; and up at Fort Frontenac, the very key of the West, my old friend Payan de Noyan has but a hundred in command! I do not understand it, sir. Stores we have in abundance, and ammunition and valuable presents to propitiate the Indians who no longer exist in this neighbourhood. Yes, and--would you believe it?--no longer than three months ago the Governor sent up a boatload of women. It appeared that his Majesty had forwarded them all the way from France, for wives for his faithful soldiers. I packed them off, sir, and returned them to M. de Vaudreuil. 'With all submission to his Majesty's fatherly wisdom,' I wrote, 'the requirements of New France at this moment are best determined by sterner considerations'; and I asked for fifty regulars to man our defences. M. de Vaudreuil replied by sending me up one man, and he had but one arm! I made Noyan a present of him; his notions of fortification were rudimentary, not to say puerile."

    The Commandant paused and dug the surface of the terre-plein indignantly with his heel. "As for fortification, do I not know already what additional defences we need? Fort Amitie, monsieur, was constructed by the great Frontenac himself, and with wonderful sagacity, if we consider the times. Take, for example, the towers. You are acquainted, of course, with the modern rule of giving the bastions a salient angle of fifteen degrees in excess of half the angle of the figure in all figures from the square up to the dodecagon? Well, Fort Amitie being a square--or rather a right-angled quadrilateral--the half of its angle will be forty-five degrees; add fifteen, and we get sixty; which is as nearly as possible the salience of our flanking towers; only they happen to be round. So far, so good; but Frontenac had naturally no opportunity of studying Vauban's masterpieces, and perhaps as the older man he never digested Vauban's theories. He did not see that a quadrilateral measuring fifty toises by thirty must need some protection midway in its longer curtains, and more especially on the riverside. A ravelin is out of the question, for we have no counterscarp to stand it on--no ditch at all in fact; our glacis slopes straight from the curtain to the river. I have thought of a tenaille--of a flat bastion. We could do so much if only M. de Vaudreuil would send us men!--but, as it is, on what are we relying? Simply, M. a Clive, on our enemies' ignorance of our weakness."

    John turned his face away and stared out over the river. The walls of the fort seemed to stifle him; but in truth his own breast was the prison.

    "Well now," the Commandant pursued, "your arrival has set me thinking. We cannot strengthen ourselves against artillery; but they say that these English generals learn nothing. They may come against us with musketry, and what served Fort Carillon may also serve Fort Amitie. A breastwork--call it a lunette--half-way down the slope yonder, so placed as to command the landing-place at close musket range--it might be useful, eh? There will be trouble with Polyphile Cartier--'Sans Quartier,' as they call him. He is proud of his cabbages, and we might have to evict them; yes, certainly our lunette would impinge upon his cabbages. But the safety of the Fort would, of course, override all such considerations."

    He caught John by the arm and hurried him along for a better view of Sans Quartier's cabbage-patch. And just then Mademoiselle Diane came walking swiftly towards them from the end of the terre-plein by the flagstaff tower. An instant later the head and shoulders of Dominique Guyon appeared above the ascent.

    Clearly he was following her; and as she drew near John read, or thought he read, a deep trouble in the child's eyes. But from her eyes his glance fell upon a bundle that she carried, and his own cheek paled. For the bundle was a white tunic, and it took a second glance to assure him that the tunic was a new one and not Sergeant Barboux's!

    "Eh? What did I tell you? She has been rifling the stores already!" Here the Commandant caught sight of Dominique and hailed him. "Hola, Dominique!"

    Dominique halted for a moment and then came slowly forward; while the girl, having greeted John with a grown woman's dignity, stood close by her father's elbow.

    "Dominique, how many men can you spare me from Boisveyrac, now that the harvest is over?"

    "For what purpose do you wish men, Monseigneur?"

    "Eh? That is my affair, I hope."

    The young man's face darkened, but he controlled himself to say humbly, "Monseigneur rebukes me with justice. I should not have spoken so; but it was in alarm for his interests."

    "You mean that you are unwilling to spare me a single man? Come, come, my friend--the harvest is gathered; and, apart from that, my interests are the King's. Positively you must spare me half a dozen for his Majesty's corvee."

    "The harvest is gathered, to be sure; but no one at Boisveyrac can be trusted to finish the stacks. They are a good-for-nothing lot; and now Damase, the best thatcher among them, has, I hear, been sent up to Fort Frontenac along with 'Polyte Latulippe."

    "By my orders."

    Dominique bent his eyes on the ground.

    "Monseigneur's orders shall be obeyed. May I have his permission to return at once to Boisveyrac?--at least, as soon as we have discussed certain matters of business?"

    "Business? But since it is not convenient just now--" It seemed to John that the old gentleman had suddenly grown uneasy.

    "I speak only of certain small repairs: the matter of Lagasse's holding, for example," said Dominique tranquilly. "The whole will not detain Monseigneur above ten minutes."

    "Ah, to be sure!" The Commandant's voice betrayed relief. "Come to my orderly-room, then. You will excuse me, M. a Clive?"

    He turned to go, and Dominique stepped aside to allow the girl to accompany her father. But she made no sign. He shot a look at her and sullenly descended the terrace at his seigneur's heels.

    Mademoiselle Diane's brow grew clear again as the sound of his footsteps died away, and presently she faced John with a smile so gay and frank that (although, quite involuntarily, he had been watching her) the change startled him. There was something in this girl at once innocently candid and curiously elusive; to begin with, he could not decide whether to think of her as child or woman. Last night her eyes had rested on him with a child's open wonder, and a minute ago in Dominique's presence she had seemed to shrink close to her father with a child's timidity. Now, gaily as she smiled, her bearing had grown dignified and self-possessed.

    "You are not to leave me, please, M. a Clive--seeing that I came expressly to find you."

    John lifted his hat with mock gravity. "You do me great honour, mademoiselle. And Dominique?" he added. "Was he also coming in search of me?"

    She frowned, and turning towards a cannon in the embrasure behind her, spread the white tunic carefully upon it. "Dominique Guyon is tiresome," she said. "At times, as you have heard, he speaks with too much freedom to my father; but it is the freedom of old service. The Guyons have farmed Boisveyrac for our family since first the Seigniory was built." She seemed about to say more, but checked herself, and stood smoothing an arm of the tunic upon the gun. "Ah, here is Felicite!" she exclaimed, as a stout middle-aged woman came bustling along the terrace towards them. "You have kept me waiting, Felicite. And, good heavens! what is that you carry? Did I not tell you that I would get Jeremie to find me a tunic from the stores? See, I have one already."

    "But this is not from the stores, mademoiselle!" panted Felicite, as she came to a halt. "It appears that monsieur brought his tunic with him--Jeremie told me he had seen it hanging by his bed in the sick ward--and here it is, see you!" She displayed it triumphantly, spreading its skirts to the sunshine. "A trifle soiled! but it will save us all the trouble in the world with the measurements--eh, mademoiselle?"

    Diane's eyes were on John's face. For a moment or two she did not answer, but at length said slowly:

    "Nevertheless you shall measure monsieur. Have you the tapes? Good: give me one, with the blue chalk, and I will check off your measurements."

    She seated herself on the gun-carriage and drew the two tunics on to her lap. John shivered as she touched the dead sergeant's.

    Felicite grinned as she advanced with the tape. "Do not be shy of me, monsieur," she encouraged him affably. "You are a hero, and I myself am the mother of eight, which is in its way heroic. There should be a good understanding between us. Raise your arms a little, pray, while I take first of all the measure of your chest."

    Her two arms--and they were plump, not to say brawny--went about him. "Thirty-eight," she announced, after examining the tape. It's long since I have embraced one so slight."

    "Thirty-eight," repeated Mademoiselle Diane, puckering up her lips and beginning to measure off the pouces across the breast and back of Sergeant Barboux's tunic. "Thirty-eight, did you say?"

    "Thirty-eight, mademoiselle. We must remember that these brave defenders of ours sometimes pad themselves a little; it will be nothing amiss if you allow for forty. Eh, monsieur?" Felicite laughed up in John's face. "But you find some difficulty, mademoiselle. Can I help you?"

    "I thank you--it is all right," Diane answered hurriedly.

    "Waist, twenty-nine," Felicite continued. "One might even say twenty-eight, only monsieur is drawing in his breath."

    "Where are the scissors, Felicite?" demanded her mistress, who had carefully smuggled them beneath her skirt as she sat.

    "The scissors? Of a certainty now I brought them--but the sight of that heathen Ojibway, when he gave me the tunic, was enough to make any decent woman faint! I shook like an aspen, if you will credit me, all the way across the drill-ground, and perhaps the scissors . . . no, indeed, I cannot find them . . . but if mademoiselle will excuse me while I run back for another pair. . . ." She bustled off towards the Commandant's quarters.

    Mademoiselle Diane reached down a hand to the tunic which had fallen at her feet, and drew it on to her lap again, as if to examine it. But her eyes were searching John's face.

    "Why do you shiver?" she asked.

    "I beg of you not to touch it, mademoiselle. It--it hurts to see you touching it."

    "Did you kill him?"

    "Of whom is mademoiselle speaking?"

    "Pray do not pretend to be stupid, monsieur. I am speaking of that other man--the owner of this tunic--the sergeant who took you into the forest. Did you kill him?"

    "He died in fair fight, mademoiselle."

    "It was a duel, then?" He did not answer, and she continued, "I can trust your face, monsieur. I am sure it was only in fair fight. But why should you think me afraid to touch this? Oh, why, M. a Clive, will men take it so cruelly for granted that we women are afraid of the thought of blood--nay, even that we owe it to ourselves to be afraid? If we are what you all insist we should be, what right have we to be born in these times? Think of New France fighting now for dear life--ah! why should I ask you to think, who have bled for her? Yet you would have me shudder at the touch of a stained piece of cloth; and while you hold these foolish prejudices, can you wonder that New France has no Jeanne d'Arc? When I was at the Ursulines at Quebec, they used to pray to her on this side of sainthood, and ask for her intercession; but what they taught was needlework."

    "The world has altered since her time, mademoiselle," said John, falsely and lamely.

    "Has it? It burnt her; even in those days it did its best according to its lights," she answered bitterly. "Only in these days there are no heroines to burn. No heroines . . . no fires . . . and even in our needlework we must be demure, and not touch a garment that has been touched with blood! Monsieur, was this man a coward?" She lifted the tunic.

    "He was a vain fellow and a bully, mademoiselle, but by no means a coward."

    "He fought for France?"

    "Yes; and, I believe, with credit."

    "Then, monsieur, because he was a bully, I commend the man who killed him fairly. And because he was brave and fought for France, I am proud to handle his tunic."

    As John a Cleeve gazed at her kindled face, the one thought that rose above his own shame was a thought that her earnestness marvellously made her beautiful.
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