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Chapter 29 A JOURNEY INTO THE HILLS AND THE TEN LIVRES OF CORPORAL FREMIN

  • "Madame, you have studiously avoided me." The vicomte twirled his hat.
  • "And with excellent reason, you will agree."
  • "You have been here six days, and you have not given me the barest chance o_peaking to you." There was a suspicion of drollery in his reproachful tones.
  • "Monsieur," replied madame, who, finding herself finally trapped with n_venue of escape, quickly adapted herself to the situation, the battle o_vasion, "our last meeting has not fully escaped my recollection."
  • "All is fair in love and war. It came near being a good trick,—that blan_aper."
  • "Not quite so near as might be. It is true that I did not suspect your ruse; but it is also true that I had but one idea and one intention, to gain th_aper."
  • "And supposing it had been real, genuine?"
  • "Why, then, I should have at least half of it, which would be the same thin_s having all of it." Contact with this man always put a delicate edge to he_it and sense of defense. She could not deny a particle of admiration for thi_trange man, who proceeded toward his ends with the most intricate subterfuge, and who never drew a long face, who accepted rebuffs with smiles and banter.
  • "You know, Madame, that whatever I have done or shall do is out of love fo_ou."
  • "I would you were out of love with me!"
  • "The quality of my love …"
  • "Ah, that is what disturbs me—the quality!" shrewdly.
  • "There is quality and quantity without end. I am not a lover who pines an_oes without his meals. Madame, observe me—I kneel. I tell you that I ador_ou. Will you be my wife?"
  • "No, a thousand times no! I know you to be a brave man, Monsieur le Vicomte; but who can put a finger on your fancy? To-day it is I; to-morrow, elsewhere.
  • You would soon tire of me who could bring you no dowry save lost illusions an_onfiscated property. Doubtless you have not heard that his Eminence th_ardinal has posted seals upon all that which fell to me through Monsieur d_rissac."
  • "What penetration!" thought the vicomte, rising and dusting his knees.
  • "And yet, Monsieur," impulsively, "I would not have you for an enemy."
  • "One would think that you are afraid of me."
  • "I am," simply.
  • "Why?"
  • "You are determined that I shall love you, and I am equally determined that _hall not."
  • "Ah! a matter of the stronger mind and will."
  • "My will shall never bend toward yours, Monsieur. What I fear is you_ersecution. Let us put aside love, which is impossible, and turn ou_ttention to something nearer and quite possible—friendship." She extended he_and, frankly, without reservation. If only she could in some manner disar_his man!
  • "What!" mockingly, "you forgive my attempt at Quebec to coerce you?"
  • "Frankly, since you did not succeed, Monsieur, I have seen too much of men no_o appreciate a brilliant stroke. Had I not torn that paper from your hand, you might have scored at least half a trick. There is a high place somewher_n this world for a man of your wit and courage."
  • "Mazarin's interpretation of that would be a gibbet on Montfaucon."
  • "I am offering you friendship, Monsieur." The hand remained extended.
  • The vicomte bowed, placed his hands behind his back and bowed again.
  • "Friendship and love; oil and water. Madame, when they mix well, I will com_n the guise of a friend. Sometimes I've half a mind to tell the Chevalier wh_ou are; for, my faith! it is humorous in the extreme. I understand that yo_nd he were affianced, once upon a time; and here he is, making violent lov_o you, not knowing your name any more than Adam knew Eve's."
  • "Very well, then, Monsieur. Since there can be no friendship, there can b_othing. Hereafter you will do me the kindness not to intrude into m_ffairs."
  • "Madame, I am a part of your destiny. I told you so long ago."
  • "I am a woman, and women are helpless." Madame was discouraged. What with tha_nsane D'Hérouville, the Chevalier, and this mocking suitor, her freedom wa_o prove but small. France, France! "And I am here in exile, Monsieur, innocent of any wrong."
  • "You are guilty of beautiful eyes."
  • "I should have thrown myself upon Mazarin's mercy."
  • "Which is like unto the flesh of the fish—little blood and that cold. Yo_orget your beauty, Madame, and your wit. Mazarin would have found you ver_uilty of these. And is not Madame de Montbazon your mother? Mazarin loves he_ot overwell. Ah, but that paper! What the devil did we sign it for? I woul_ive a year of my life could I but put my hands upon it."
  • "Or the man who stole it."
  • "Or the man who stole it," repeated he.
  • "When I return to France, I shall have a deal to revenge," her hand_lenching.
  • "Let me be the sword of wrath, Madame. You have but to say the word. You lov_o one, you say. You are young; I will devote my life to teaching you."
  • Madame's gesture was of protest and of resignation. "Monsieur, if you addres_e again, I shall appeal to Father Le Mercier or Father Chaumonot. I will no_e persecuted longer."
  • "Ah, well!" He moved aside for her and leaned against a tree, watching he_ill she disappeared within the palisade. "Now, that is a woman! She lacks no_ne attribute of perfection, save it be a husband, and that shall be found. _onder what that fool of a D'Hérouville was doing this morning with thos_issatisfied colonists and that man Pauquet? I will watch. Something is goin_n, and it will not harm to know what." He laughed silently.
  • Before the women entered the wilderness to create currents and eddies in th_luggish stream which flowed over the colonists, Victor began to compile _ook on Indian lore. He took up the work the very first night of his arrival; took it up as eagerly as if it were a gift from the gods, as indeed it was, promising as it did to while away many a long night. He depended wholly upo_ather Chaumonot's knowledge of the tongue and the legends; and daring th_irst three nights he and Chaumonot divided a table between them, the one t_cribble his lore and the other to add a page to those remarkable memoirs, th_esuit Relations. The Chevalier watched them both from a corner where he sa_nd gravely smoked a wooden pipe.
  • And then the manuscript of the poet was put aside.
  • "Why?" asked Chaumonot one night. He had been greatly interested in the poet'_ork.
  • Victor flushed guiltily. "Perhaps it may be of no value. There are but half _ozen thoughts worth remembering."
  • "And who may say that immortality does not dwell in these thoughts?" said th_riest. "All things are born to die save thought; and if in passing we leav_ut a single thought which will alleviate the sufferings of man or add beaut_o his existence, one does not live and die in vain." Chaumonot's afterthough_as: "This good lad is in love with one or the other of these women."
  • But Clio knew Victor no more. On the margins he drew faces or began rondeau_hich came to no end.
  • "Laughter has a pleasant sound in my ears, Paul," said Victor; "and I have no_eard you laugh in some time."
  • "Perhaps the thought has not occurred to me," replied the Chevalier, glancin_t the entrance to the palisade. Madame had only that moment passed through, having left the vicomte. "I have lost the trick of laughing. No thought o_ine is spontaneous. With a carpenter's ell I mark out each thought; it is al_dges and angles."
  • "Something must be done, then, to make you laugh. Madame and mademoiselle hav_romised to take a canoe trip back into the hills this afternoon. Come wit_s."
  • "They suggested … ?" the Chevalier stammered.
  • "No. But haven't you the right? At least you know madame."
  • "Madame?"
  • "Madame, always madame. Here formalities would only be ridiculous. You will g_ith us for safety's sake, if for nothing more."
  • "I will go … with that understanding. Ah, lad, if only I knew what you know!"
  • "We should still be where we are," evasively. The poet had a plan in regard t_adame and the Chevalier. It twisted his brave heart, yet he clung to it.
  • Caprice is an exquisite trait in a woman; a woman who has it—and what woma_as not?—is all the seasons of the year compressed into an hour—the mildnes_f spring, the warmth of summer, the glory of autumn, and the chill of winter.
  • And when madame saw the Chevalier that afternoon, she put a foot into th_anoe, and immediately withdrew it.
  • "What is it?" asked Victor.
  • "Is Monsieur le Chevalier going?"
  • "Yes." Victor waited. "Why?" he said finally.
  • "Nothing, nothing." Madame took her place in the canoe.
  • "It is necessary for our general safety, Madame, that the Chevalier goes wit_s."
  • "There is danger, then?"
  • "There will he none," emphatically.
  • "Let us be off," was madame's rejoinder.
  • The Chevalier stepped in and took the paddle, while Victor pushed the cano_nto the water. He and Anne followed presently. Madame sat in the bow, he_ack to the Chevalier, her hands resting lightly on the sides. The rings whic_he Chevalier had seen on those beautiful hands while in Quebec were gone, even to the wedding ring. They were doubtless bedecking the pudgy digits o_ne Corn Planter's wife, far away in the Seneca country. The canoe quivered a_he Chevalier's strong arms swung the narrow-bladed paddle. Past marshes wen_he painted canoes; they swam the singing shallows; they glided under shadin_illow; they sped by wild grape-vine and spreading elm. The stream wa_mbroidered with a thousand grasses, dying daisies, paling goldenrod, berr_ushes, and wild-rose thorn. A thousand elusive perfumes rose to greet them, _housand changing scenes. October, in all her gorgeous furbelows, sat upon he_hrone. The Chevalier never uttered a word, but studied madame's half-turne_heek. Once he was conscious that the color on that cheek deepened, the_aded.
  • "It is the wind," he thought. "She is truly the most beautiful woman in al_he world; and fool that I am, I have vowed to her face that I shall make he_ove me!" He could hear Victor's voice from time to time, coming with th_ind.
  • "Monsieur," madame said abruptly, when the silence Could no longer be endured,
  • "since you are here … Well, why do you not speak?"
  • The paddle turned so violently that the canoe came dangerously near upsetting.
  • "What shall I say, Madame?"
  • "Eh! must I think for you?" impatiently.
  • The fact that her eye was not upon him, gave him a vestige of courage. "It i_ far cry from the galleries of the Louvre, Madame, to this spot."
  • "We have gone back to the beginning of the world. No music save Nicot'_iolin, which he plays sadly enough; no masks, no parties, no galloping to th_unt, no languishing in the balconies. Were it not pregnant with hidde_angers, I should love this land. I wonder who is the latest celebrity at th_ld Rambouillet; a poet possibly, a swashbuckler, more probably."
  • "Move back a little, Madame. We shall land on that stretch of sand by th_illows."
  • Madame did as he required, and with a dexterous stroke the Chevalier sent th_raft upon the beach and jumped out. This manoeuver to assist her did no_ass, for she was up and out almost as soon as he. In a moment Victor came t_he spot. The two canoes were hidden with a cunning which the Chevalier ha_earned from the Indian.
  • Above them was a hill which was almost split in twain by a gorge or gully, down through which a brook leaped and hounded and tumbled, rolling its musical
  • "r's." The four started up the long incline, the women gathering the belate_lowers and the men picking up curious sticks or sending boulders hurtlin_own the hillside. Higher and higher they mounted till the summit was reached.
  • Hill after hill rolled away to the east, to the south, to the west, whil_oward the north the lake glittered with all the brilliancy of a cardinal'_late.
  • "Can it be," said Victor, breaking the spell, "can it be that we once kne_aris?"
  • "Paris!" repeated madame. Her eyes took in her beaded skirt and moccasins an_eplaced them with glowing silks and shimmering laces.
  • Paris! Many a phantom was stirred from its tomb at the sound of this magi_ame.
  • Anne perched herself upon a boulder and the Chevalier rested beside her, whil_adame and the poet strolled a short distance away.
  • "Shall we ever see our dear Paris again, Gabrielle?" asked the poet.
  • "I hope so; and soon, soon!"
  • "How came you to sign that paper?"
  • "He would have broken my arm, else. How I hated him! Tricks, subterfuges, lies, menaces; I was surrounded by them. And I believed in so many thing_hose early days!"
  • "How softly breathes this last, lingering ghost of summer," he said. "Ho_ovingly the pearls and opals and amethysts of heaven linger on the crimsonin_ills! See how the stream runs like a silver thread, laughing and singing, t_oin the grave river. We can not see the river from here, but we know ho_ravely it journeys to the sea. Can you not smell the odor of mint, of earth, of the forest, and the water? Hark! I hear a bird singing. There he goes, _ellow bird, a golden rouleau of song. How the yellow flower stands ou_gainst the dark of the grasses! It is all beautiful. It is the immortality i_s which nature enchants. See how the wooded lands fade and fade till they an_he heavens meet and dissolve! And all this is yours, Gabrielle, for th_eeing and the hearing. Some day I shall know all things, but never agai_hall I know the perfect beauty of this day. Some day I shall know the reaso_or this and for that, why I made a bad step here and a short one there; bu_ever again, this hour." He picked up a chestnut-bur and opened it, extendin_he plump chestnuts to her.
  • How delicately this man was telling her that he still loved her! Absently he_and closed over the chestnuts, and the thought in her eyes was far away. I_nly it had been written that she might love him!
  • "Monsieur de Saumaise," said Anne, "will you take me to the pool? You told m_hat it would make a fine mirror, and I have not seen my face in so long _ime that I declare I have quite forgotten how it looks."
  • "Come along, Mademoiselle; into the heart of the wood. I had a poem to recit_o you, but I have forgotten part of it. It is heroic, and begins like this:
  • " _Laughing at fate and her chilling frown,             Plunging through wilderness, cavern, and cave,         Building the citadel, fortress, and town,             Fearing nor desert, the sea, nor the grave:             Courage finds her a niche in the knave,         Fame is not niggard with laurel or pain;             Pathways with blood and bones do they pave:         These are the hazards that kings disdain!_
  • " _Bright are the jewels they add to the crown,             Levied on savage and pilfered from slave:         Under the winds and the suns that brown,             Fearing nor desert, the sea, nor the grave!
  • High shall the Future their names engrave,         For these are lives that are not spent in vain,             Though their reward be a tomb 'neath the wave.
  • These are the hazards that kings disdain!_
  • "I will try to remember the last stanza and the  _envoi_  as we go along,"
  • added Victor.
  • And together they passed down the ravine, two brave hearts assuming a gaiet_hich deceived only the Chevalier, who still reclined against the boulder an_as proceeding silently to inspect the golden plush of an empty bur. Two o_hree minutes passed; Victor's voice became indistinct and finally was hear_o longer, Madame surveyed the Chevalier with a lurking scornful smile. Thi_an was going to force her to love him!
  • "Monsieur, you seem determined to annoy me. I shall not ask you to spea_gain."
  • "Is it possible that I can still annoy you, Madame?"
  • Madame crushed a bur with her foot … and gasped. She had forgotten the loos_eam in her moccasin. The delicate needles had penetrated the flesh. Thi_ittle comedy, however, passed over his head.
  • "I did not ask you to accompany me to-day."
  • "So I observed. Nor did I ask to come. That is why I believed in silence.
  • Besides, I have said all I have to say," quietly. He cast aside the bur.
  • "Then your vocabulary consists of a dozen words, such as, 'It is a far cr_rom the Louvre to this spot'?"
  • "I believe I used the word 'galleries.'" Their past was indissolubly linked t_his word.
  • "On a certain day you vowed that you should force me to love you. Wha_rogress have you made, Monsieur? I am curious."
  • "No man escapes being an ass sometimes, Madame. That was my particula_orning."
  • Decidedly, this lack of interest on his part annoyed her. He had held her i_is arms one night, and had not kissed her; he had vowed to force her to lov_im, and now he sat still and unruffled under her contempt. What manner of ma_as it?
  • "When are we to be returned to Quebec? I am weary, very weary, of all this.
  • There are no wits; men have no tongues, but purposes."
  • "Whenever Father Chaumonot thinks it safe and men can be spared, he will mak_reparations. It will be before the winter sets in."
  • Madame sat down upon an adjacent boulder, and reflected.
  • "Shall I gather you some chestnuts, Madame? They are not so ripe as they migh_e, but I daresay the novelty of eating them here in the wilderness wil_ppeal to your appetite."
  • "If you will be so kind," grudgingly.
  • So he set to work gathering the nuts while she secretly took off her moccasi_n a vain attempt to discover the disquieting bur-needles. He returne_resently and deposited a hatful of nuts in her lap. Then he went back to hi_eat from where he watched her calmly as she munched the starchy meat. I_radually dawned on him that the situation was absurd; and he permitted _urtive smile to soften his firm lips. But furtive as it was, she saw it, an_olored, her quick intuition translating the smile.
  • "It is absurd; truthfully, it is." She swept the nuts to the ground.
  • "But supposing I change all this into something more than absurd? Supposing _hould suddenly take you in my arms? There is no one in sight. I am strong.
  • Supposing, then, I kissed you, taking a tithe of your promises?"
  • She looked at him uneasily. Starting a fire was all very well, but the touc_f it!
  • "Supposing that I took you away somewhere, alone, with me, to a place where n_ne would find us? I do not speak, you say; but I am thinking, thinking, an_very thought means danger to you, to myself, to the past and the future. Ho_o these suppositions appeal to you, Madame?"
  • Had he moved, madame would have been frightened; but as he remained in th_ame easy attitude, her fear had no depths.
  • "But I shall do none of these things because … because it would be hardl_orth while. I tried to win your love honestly; but as I failed, let us say n_ore about it. I shall make no inquiries into your peculiar purpose; since yo_ave accomplished it, there is nothing more to be said, save that you are no_onest."
  • "Let us be going," she said, standing. "It will be twilight ere we reach th_ettlement."
  • "Very well;" and he halloed for Victor.
  • The way back to the fort was one of unbroken silence. Neither madame nor th_hevalier spoke again.
  • The Chevalier had some tasks to perform that evening which employed his tim_ar beyond the meal hour. When he entered the mess-room it was deserted sav_or the presence of Corporal Frémin, one of the dissatisfied colonists.
  • Several times he had been found unduly under the influence of apricot brandy.
  • Du Puys had placed him in the guardhouse at three different periods for thi_isdemeanor. Where he got the brandy none could tell, and the corporal woul_ot confess to the Jesuit Fathers, nor to his brother, who was a priest.
  • Unfortunately, he had been drinking again to-day. He sat opposite th_hevalier, smoking moodily, his little eyes blinking, blinking.
  • "Corporal," said the Chevalier, "will you pass me the corn?"
  • "Reach for it yourself," replied the corporal, insolently. He went on smoking.
  • The Chevalier sat back in his chair, dumfounded. "Pass me that corn!"
  • peremptorily.
  • The intoxicated soldier saw nothing in the flashing eyes; so he shrugged. "_m not your lackey."
  • The Chevalier was up in an instant. Passing quickly around the table h_nserted his fingers between the corporal's collar and his neck, twisting hi_ut of his chair and literally lifting him to his feet.
  • "What do you mean by this insolence? Pah!" scenting the brandy; "you have bee_rinking."
  • "What's that to you? You are not my superior officer. Let go of my collar."
  • "I am an officer in the king's army, and there is an unwritten law that al_on-commissioned officers are my inferiors, here or elsewhere, and must obe_e. You shall go to the guardhouse. I asked nothing of you but a commo_ourtesy, and you became insolent. To the guardhouse you shall go."
  • "My superior, eh?" tugging uselessly at the hand of iron gripping his collar.
  • "I know one thing, and it is something you, fine gentleman that you are, d_ot know. I know who my mother was …"
  • The corporal lay upon his back, his eyes bulging, his face purple, his breath_oming in agonizing gasps.
  • "Who told you to say that? Quick, or you shall this instant stand in judgmen_efore the God who made you! Quick!"
  • There was death in the Chevalier's eyes, and the corporal saw it. H_truggled.
  • "Quick!"
  • "Monsieur d'Hérouville! … You are killing me!"
  • The Chevalier released the man's throat.
  • "Get up," contemptuously.
  • The corporal crawled to his knees and staggered to his feet. "By God, Monsieur! …" adjusting his collar.
  • "Not a word. How much did he pay you to act thus basely?"
  • "Pay me?"
  • "Answer!" taking a step forward.
  • "Ten livres," sullenly.
  • The Chevalier's hands opened and closed, convulsively. "Give me those livres,"
  • he commanded.
  • "To you?" The corporal's jaw fell. "What do you … ?"
  • "Be quick about it, man, if you love your worthless life!"
  • There was no gainsaying the devil in the Chevalier's eyes.
  • Scowling blackly, the corporal emptied his pockets. Immediately the Chevalie_cooped up the coin in his hand.
  • "When did D'Hérouville give these to you?"
  • "This afternoon."
  • "You lie, wretch!"
  • Both the corporal and the Chevalier turned. D'Hérouville's form stood, frame_n the doorway.
  • "Leave the room!" pointing toward the door.
  • D'Hérouville stepped aside, and the corporal slunk out.
  • The two men faced each other.
  • "He lies. If I have applied epithets to you, it has been done openly an_rankly. I have not touched you over some one's shoulder, as in the D_eviston case. I entertain for you the greatest hatred. It will be a pleasur_ome day to kill you."
  • The Chevalier looked at the coin in his hand, at D'Hérouville, then back a_he coin.
  • "Believe me or not, Monsieur. I overheard what took place, and in justice t_yself I had to speak." D'Hérouville touched his hat and departed.
  • The Chevalier stood alone, staring with blurred eyes at the sinister content_f his hand.