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    Chapter 15

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    Chapter 16
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    THE SECOND DISPATCH.

    Dominique Guyon departed shortly before noon; and a week later half a dozen habitants arrived from Boisveyrac to work at the entrenchment which the Commandant had already opened across Sans Quartier's cabbage plot. The Commandant himself donned a blouse and dug with the rest; and M. Etienne; and even old Jeremie Tripier, though grumbling over his rheumatism almost as bitterly as Sans Quartier over his wasted cabbages. Every one, in fact, toiled, and with a will, at the King's corvee: every one, that is, except the women, and John, and Menehwehna (whose Indian dignity revolted against spade-work), and old Father Joly, the chaplain of the fort, who was too infirm.

    From him, as they sat together and watched the diggers, John learned much of the fort's history, and something, too, of his hosts'; for Father Joly delighted in gossip, and being too deaf to derive much profit from asking questions kept the talk to himself--greatly to John's relief. His gossip, be it said, was entirely innocent. The good man seemed to love every one in his small world, except Father Launoy. And again this exception was fortunate; for on learning that John had been visited and exhorted at Boisveyrac by Father Launoy, Father Joly showed no further concern in his spiritual health. He was perhaps the oldest parochial priest in New France, and since leaving the seminary at Quebec had spent almost all his days at Boisveyrac. He remembered the Seigneur's father (he always called the Commandant "the Seigneur"). "Such a man, monsieur! He stood six feet four inches in his stockings, and could lift and cast a grown bullock with his own hands." John pointed out that the present Seigneur--in his working blouse especially--made a fine figure of a man; but this the old priest could hardly be brought to allow. "A heart of gold, I grant you; but to have seen his father striding among his censitaires on St. Martin's Feast! It may be that, having watched the son from childhood, I still think of him as a boy. . . ."

    Of Fort Amitie itself Father Joly had much to tell. It dated from the early days of the great Frontenac, who had planted a settlement here--a collection of wooden huts within a stockade--to be an entrepot of commerce with the Indians of the Upper Lakes. Later it became a favourite haunt of deserters from the army and coureurs de bois outlawed by royal edict; and, strangely enough, these had been the days of its prosperity. Its real decline began when the Governor, toward the end of his rule, replaced the wooden huts with a fortress of stone. The traders, trappers, ne'er-do-wells and Indians deserted the lake-head, which had been a true camp of amity, and moved their rendezvous farther west, leaving the fortress to its Commandant and a sleepy garrison.

    From that time until the war the garrison had been composed of regulars, who lived on the easiest terms with their Commandant and his officers, and retired at the age of forty or fifty, when King Louis presented them with a farm and farm stock and provisions for two or three years, and often completed the outfit with a wife.

    "A veritable Age of Gold, monsieur! But war has put an end to it all--war, and the greed of these English, whom God will confound! The regulars went their ways, leaving only Sergeant Bedard; who had retired upon a farm, but was persuaded by the Seigneur to come back and drill the recruits of the militia."

    --"Who take very kindly to garrison life, so far as I can see."

    "Fort Amitie has its amenities, monsieur," said Father Joly, catching John's glance rather than hearing the words. "There are the allotments, to begin with--the fences between them, you may not have observed, are made of stakes from the original palisade; the mould is excellent. The Seigneur, too, offers prizes for vegetable-growing and poultry-raising; he is an unerring judge of poultry, as one has need to be at Boisveyrac, where the rents are mostly paid in fowls. Indeed, yes, the young recruits are well enough content. The Seigneur feeds them well, and they can usually have a holiday for the asking and go a-hunting in the woods or a-fishing in the river. But, for my part, I regret Boisveyrac. A man of my years does not readily bear transplanting. And here is a curious thing, monsieur; deaf though I am, I miss the sound of the rapids. I cannot tell you how; nevertheless it seems to me that something has gone out of my daily life, and the landscape here is still and empty."

    "And how," John managed to make him hear, "did the Seigneur come to command Fort Amitie?"

    Father Joly glanced nervously down the slope and lowered his voice. "That was M. Armand's doing, monsieur." Then, seeing that John did not understand, "M. Armand--mademoiselle's brother and the Seigneur's only son. He went to Quebec, when the Governor had given him a post in his household; a small post, but with good prospects for a young man of his birth and address. He had wits, monsieur, and good looks; everything in short but money; and there is no better blood in the province than that of the des Noel-Tilly. They have held Boisveyrac now for five generations, and were Seigneurs of Deuxmanoirs and Preaux-Sources even before that. Well, as I say, the lad started with good prospects; but by and by he began to desert the Chateau Saint-Louis for the Intendant's Palace. Monsieur has heard of the Intendant Bigot--is perhaps acquainted with him? No? Then I may say without hurting any one's feelings what I would say to the Intendant himself were he here--that he is a corrupter of youth, and a corrupter of the innocence of women, and a corrupter of honest government. If New France lie under the scourge to-day, it is for the sins of such men as he." The old man's voice shook with sudden anger, but he calmed himself. "In brief, there was a gambling debt-- a huge sum owing; and the Seigneur was forced to travel to Quebec and fetch the lad home. How he paid the amount I cannot tell you; belike he raised the money on Boisveyrac; but pay he did. Dominique Guyon went with him to Quebec, having just succeeded his father, old Bonhomme Guyon, as Boisveyrac's man of business; and doubtless Dominique made some arrangements with the merchants there. He has a head on his shoulders, that lad. M. de Vaudreuil, too, taking pity on a distressed gentleman of New France, gave the Seigneur the command of this fort, to grow fat on it, and hither we have all migrated. But our good Seigneur will never grow fat, monsieur; he is of the poor to whom shall belong the Kingdom of God."

    John did not clearly understand this, being unacquainted with the official system of peculation by false vouchers--a system under which the command of a backwoods fort was reckoned to be worth a small fortune. His mind recurred to Dominique and to the Commandant's uneasiness at Dominique's mention of business.

    "A queer fellow, that Dominique!" he muttered, half to himself; "and a queer fate that made him the brother of Bateese."

    The priest heard, as deaf men sometimes will hear a word or two spoken below ordinary pitch.

    "Ah!" said he, shaking his head. "You have heard of Bateese? A sad case--a very sad case!"

    "There was an accident, I have heard."

    Father Joly glanced at John's face and, reading the question, bent his own dim eyes on the river. John divined at once that the old man knew more than he felt inclined to tell.

    "It was at Bord-a-Loup, a little above Boisveyrac, four years ago last St. Peter's tide. The two brothers were driving some timber which the Seigneur had cleared there; the logs had jammed around a rock not far from shore and almost at the foot of the fall. The two had managed to get across and were working the mass loose with handspikes when, just as it began to break up, Bateese slipped and fell between two logs."

    "Through some careless push of Dominique's, was it not?"

    But Father Joly did not hear, or did not seem to.

    "He was hideously broken, poor Bateese. For weeks it did not seem possible that he could live. The habitants find Dominique a queer fellow, even as you do; and I have observed that even Mademoiselle Diane treats him somewhat impatiently. But in truth he is a lad grown old before his time. It is terrible when such a blow falls upon the young. He and Bateese adored one another."

    And this was all John learned at the time. But three days later he heard more of the story, and from Mademoiselle Diane.

    She was seated in an embrasure of the terrace--the same, in fact, in which she had taken measurements for John's new tunic. She was embroidering it now with the Bearnais badge, and had spread Barboux's tunic on the gun-breach to give her the pattern. John, passing along the terrace in a brown study, while his eyes followed the evolutions of Sergeant Bedard's men at morning parade in the square below, did not catch sight of her until she called to him to come and admire her handiwork.

    "Monsieur is distrait, it appears," she said, mischievously. "It must be weary work for him, whiling away the hours in this contemptible fortress?"

    "I do not find Fort Amitie contemptible, mademoiselle."

    She shook her head and laughed. "If you wish to please me, monsieur, you must find some warmer praise for it. For in some sort it is my ancestral home, and I love every stone of it."

    "Mademoiselle speaks in riddles. I had thought that every one of the Commandant's household--except the Commandant himself, perhaps--was pining to get back to Boisveyrac."

    She let her needlework lie for a moment, and sat with her eyes resting on the facade of the Commandant's quarters across the square.

    "It is foolish in me," she said musingly; "for in the days of which I am thinking not one of these stones was laid. You must know, monsieur, that in those days many and many a young man of family took to the woods; no laws, no edicts would restrain them; the life of the forest seemed to pass into their blood and they could not help themselves . . . ah, I myself understand that, sometimes!" she added, after a pause.

    "Well, monsieur," she went on, "there came to Fort Amitie a certain young Raoul de Tilly, who suffered from this wandering fever. The Government outlawed him in the end; but as yet his family had hopes to reclaim him, and, being powerful in New France, they managed to get his sentence delayed. He came here, and here he fell in love with an Indian girl, and married her--putting, they say, a pistol at the priest's head. The girl was a Wyandot from Lake Huron, and had been baptised but a week before. For a year they lived together in the Fort here; but when a child was born the husband sent her down the river to his father's Seigniory below Three Rivers, and himself wandered westward into the Lakes, and was never again heard of. The mother died on the voyage, it is said; but the child-- a daughter--reached the Seigniory and was acknowledged, and lived to marry a cousin, a de Tilly of Roc Sainte-Anne. My mother was her grand-daughter."

    Why had she chosen to tell him this story? He turned to her in some wonder. But, for whatever reason she had told it, the truth of the story was written in her face. Hardly could he recognise the Mademoiselle Diane who had declaimed to him of Joan of Arc and the glory of fighting for New France. She was gone, and in her place a girl fronted him, a child almost, with a strange anguish in her voice, and in her eyes the look of a wild creature trapped. She was appealing to him. But again, why?

    "I think you must be in some trouble, mademoiselle," said he, speaking the thought that came uppermost. Something prompted him to add, "Has it to do with Dominique Guyon?" The question seemed to stab her. She stood up trembling, with a scared face.

    "Why should you think I am troubled? What made you suppose--" she stammered, and stopped again in confusion. "I only wanted you to understand. Is it not much better when folks speak to one another frankly? Something may be hidden which seems of no importance, and yet for lack of knowing it we may misjudge utterly, may we not?"

    Heaven knew that of late John had been feeling sorely enough the torment of carrying about a secret. But to the girl's broken utterances he held no clue at all, nor could he hit on one.

    "See now," she went on, almost fiercely; "you speak of Dominique Guyon. You suspected something--what, you could not tell; perhaps it had not even come to a suspicion. But, seeing me troubled--as you think--at once Dominique's name comes to your lips. Now listen to the truth, how simple it is. When Armand and I were children . . . you have heard of Armand?"

    "A little; from Father Joly."

    "Papa thinks he has behaved dishonourably, and will scarcely allow his name to be uttered until he shall return from the army, having redeemed his fault. Papa, though he seems easy, can be very stern on all questions of honour. Well, when Armand and I were children, we played with the two Guyon boys. Their father, Bonhomme Guyon, was only my father's farmer; but in a lonely place like Boisveyrac, and with no one to instruct us in difference of rank and birth--for my mother died when I was a baby--"

    "I understand, mademoiselle."

    "And so we played about the farm, as children will. But by and by, and a short while before I left Boisveyrac to go to school with the Ursulines, Dominique began to be--what shall I say? He was very tiresome."

    She paused. "I understand," repeated John quietly. "At first I did not guess what he meant. And the others, of course, did not guess. But he was furiously jealous, even of his brother, poor Bateese. And when Bateese met with his accident--"

    "One moment, mademoiselle. When Bateese fell between the logs, was it because Dominique had pushed him?"

    She wrung her hands as in a sudden fright. "You guessed that? How did you guess? No one knows it but I, and Father Launoy, no doubt, and perhaps Father Joly. But Dominique knows that I know; and his misery seems to give him some hold over me."

    "In what way can I help you, mademoiselle?"

    "Did I ask you to help me?" She had resumed her seat on the gun-carriage and, drawing Sergeant Barboux's tunic off its gun, began with her embroidery scissors to snip at the shanks of its breast-buttons. His cheeks were burning now; she spoke with a trained accent of levity. "I called you, monsieur, to say that I cannot, of course, copy these buttons, and to ask if you consent to my using them on your new tunic, or if you prefer to put up with plain ones. But it appears that I have wandered to some distance from my question." She attempted a laugh; which, however, failed dolefully.

    "Decidedly I prefer any buttons to those. But, excuse me," persisted John, drawing nearer, "though you asked for no help and need none, yet I will not believe you have honoured me so far with your confidence and all without purpose."

    "Oh," she replied, still in the same tone of hard, almost contemptuous, levity. "I had a whim, monsieur, to be understood by you, that is all; and perhaps to rebuke you by contrast for telling us so little of yourself. It is as Felicite said--you messieurs of the army keep yourselves well padded over the heart. See here--" She began to dig with her scissor-point and lay bare the quilting within Barboux's tunic; but presently stopped, with a sharp cry.

    "What is the matter, mademoiselle?"

    For a second or two she snipped furiously, and then--"This is the matter!" she cried, plunging her fingers within the lining. "A dispatch! He carried one after all!" She dragged forth a paper and held it up in triumph.

    "Give it to me, please. But I say that you must and shall, mademoiselle!" John's head swam, but he stepped and caught her by the wrists.

    And with that the paper fell to the ground. He held her wrist; he felt only the magnetic touch, looked into her eyes, and understood. From wonder at his outburst they passed to fear, to appeal, to love. Yes, they shrank from him, sick with shame and self-comprehension, pitifully seeking to hide the wound. But it would not by any means be hid. A light flowed from it, blinding him.

    "You hurt! Oh, you hurt!"

    He dropped her hands and strode away, leaving the paper at her feet.
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