Table of Contents
- IN THE KING’S NAME
- VIVE LE ROI!
- A THREAT
- “JEANNE PORCHÉ — AT YOUR SERVICE”
- A ROSE
- THE TURN OF THE TIDE
- “THEIR VERY FRAGRANCE SPEAKS OF YOU”
- LOVE IS LIFE
- A WARNING
- “I WILL LOVE THEE EVERMORE”
- THE SIEUR DE GLAUCOS IS BAFFLED
- THE SPIES OF FRANCE
- “YOUR LOUISIANA IS FULL OF STRANGE THINGS”
- THE AGENT FROM FRANCE
- “OH, JEANNE, JEANNE, SWEETHEART!”
- “GOOD-BYE, MY CAPTAIN”
- ROSSART’S AMBITION
- FIGHTING FOR A SHADOW
- COME BACK
- ROSSART INTERCEPTS MARCELLO
- AT LAVILLE’S HOUSE
- THE UNEXPECTED
- THE MEETING
- D’ARTIN’S ADVICE
- A PRISONER OF THE KING
- MARCELLO INTERCEDES
- THE PACKET
- THE TOAST
- THE TRIAL
- LOVE’S VICTORY
THE KING’S MESSENGER
IN THE KING’S NAME
IT was the year 1728, in the wild land of Louisiana.
A southern moon poured its silver light down upon the confused mass of palmettoes, low palisade houses, willow jungles, and wide-spreading live-oaks which formed the little settlement of New Orleans at that day. The vapor-laden atmosphere was odorous with the scent of nightblooming plants. The wind swept the green levee, made shadowy ripples on the water in the ditches, and soft harmonies among the reeds at the edges. Bull-frogs croaked from out the shadows; light music, scraps of song, floated on the pensive air, penetrated by some plaintive love melody which vibrated passionately through the stillness of the night.
The whole population of New Orleans seemed to be passing and repassing under the live-oaks around the Place d’Armes — the most animated promenade in the settlement — or agreeably idling away the night hours on the rue Royale and rue de Chartres, where were situated the homes of many of the colony’s officials and potentates. There was much laughter and gay chatter in the dim light of the falling night, a sweet unconsciousness of impending troubles. The soldiers in their plumed hats and swords; the coureurs de bois, with leather-fringed leggings and tunics and fur caps; the priests in black cassocks and broad hats; the women and children; slaves and masters, all moved in a panorama of picturesque groupings In the vast calm of the new country, the bepanniered and bepowdered beauties with their lavish display of jewels and laces, and the officers and fine gentlemen clad in satin doublet and silken hose, whose names have been handed down in lists of honor, had scant provision for amusement save what they made for themselves. The white moon cast a broad sheet of brightness across the mute Place d’Armes, silhouetting the dark walls of the parish church against the steel blue sky. The wind rustled the boughs of a live-oak near the Government House, and up in the shadowy leafage, a mocking-bird warbled its nocturnal song. Myriads of stars, cold and quiet, gemmed the vault of the heavens, and occasionally the church bell, ringing lazily, called the devout to service.
Two men halted on one of the paths that diagonally crossed the coarse grass of the Place d’Armes. The Sieur de Glaucos, a weatherbeaten old soldier, calm, stoical, and almost agressive in his manner, faced the less imposing Rossart, inspector of police. Swift as lightning, the inspector’s searching glance swept over the scene, dwelling longest on the lighted space across the corner in front of the Café d’Orléans, where a crowd of men, the most prominent in the settlement, were sitting about at little tables, drinking and discussing the politics of the day. The sound of their rapid voices, loud and oath-besprinkled, came in quick succession through the stillness. Rossart placed his finger to his lips with a warning gesture.
The Sieur de Glaucos turned sharply about and drew himself up with a soldierly air. He wore the uniform of the French palace guard, and his face suggested a mind fatigued with the burden of many problems.
“What is it?” he inquired.
There was a momentary pause, and the laughter over the way grew louder, mingled with gay badinage.
“Speak cautiously,” urged Rossart, in little above a whisper. “New Orleans has lately taken on a republican air, and he is a wise man who can single out the king’s enemies nowadays from his friends. We hardly dare mention them ourselves, old soldier. Poor France is torn asunder with her troubles. Parbleu! a colonial possession is a hornet’s nest about her ears.”
The Sieur de Glaucos laughed grimly, and Rossart joined him.
“But fortune favors us, Rossart, especially you, and never should duty be more graciously received. Away back yonder your ways seemed narrow, but here duty points to high places.”
“Ma foi!”exclaimed Rossart. “Truly it is a long step from the position I occupied in France to the power I hold here. But it is for that very reason we brave the dangers of colonial service. Do not the years of such duty count double here?”
The man’s handsome face looked ugly as he frowned at the Sieur de Glaucos.
“It may be an unholy thing to gloat over the downfall of a human being, and yet I swear my power would not be half so sweet did it not point to that end.”
The Sieur de Glaucos returned his glance with a severe scrutiny, and then shrugged his shoulders.
“By the blessed saints, you are vindictive, Rossart. Charity becomes the victor, and it is to our triumph you owe your advancement. Bear that in mind, my friend.”
Rossart hung his head, stung for the moment by his companion’s reproach.
“You are a hot man, old soldier,” replied Rossart, cynically. “But despite your warlike demeanor, you are filled with woman’s fancies. This is a time when action and not sentiment speaks for a man.”
The Sieur de Glaucos stood erect, motionless as a statue. He had the air of a Roman general, and the stern, unswerving gaze of one who was not afraid.
“I seek to be just,” he said, quietly. “Rossart, remember that where there is heart, there will always be sentiment, and that is our feeling for France and the king.”
“Self-advancement,” suggested Rossart.
The Sieur de Glaucos looked at him keenly.
“I credit you with better things,” he said, simply. “Self-advancement should be the outgrowth of allegiance.”
“Yours is a very uncompromising policy, old soldier. To be sure, we are all for the king, but each in his own way.”
“There may be various ways, but only one right way, Rossart. You are a man of mischievous suggestions, but I prefer to think your heart is true.” He paused a moment, sighing wearily, then went on, with feeling: “There have been rumors afloat in the colony against every man. You have not escaped, but it is my policy to believe in a man until I know he is not trustworthy. Rossart, do not, I pray you, play us false. If you are with us in our work here, it must be heart and soul. There has been some question of Spanish rule — ” he hesitated. “It is only a whisper, but every true son of France should resent it.”
Rossart moved uneasily.
“There can be no question of Spanish rule here,” he said, quickly. “The entire colony, with one accord, is French in its allegiance.”
“Yes, but Bienville’s friends are not our friends.”
“But his friends are the sons of France.”
“Ah! there lies our hope,” said the Sieur de Glaucos, earnestly. “Bienville’s real friends are as much for Louis as we are; but the mass of trappers, redemptionists, and even some of the soldiers, are easily moved.”
“Think you so?”
“In so small a community a strong voice counts for much, and a strong man could turn the tide either way. Old Bienville could turn the tide his way. There are many who are wild for his return. Every fresh Indian atrocity is laid to the change of government. Périer is a good governor, but he cannot control the Indians as Bienville did. Mon Dieu! these are trying days for Louisiana!”
Rossart shook his head and furtively watched the Café d’Orléans with a jubilant smile on his face.
“Of a truth, Bienville’s rule over these people was of iron; but enough of him. Who comes with the king’s message? If those papers fall into the enemies’ hands" — he lowered his voice and spoke with something of fear — “our cause is lost, and it were better a thousand times to be a Bienville than to bring Fleury’s wrath upon us. The cardinal is a wise father, but, ma foi! what an implacable enemy! He does not wish to appear in this business until the final crash comes. Look to that, old soldier!”
The Sieur de Glaucos smiled mysteriously, the strong mouth, with the wrinkles about it, hardening into a straight line.
“I do not know who the messenger will be, though I hope a tried one,” he replied, thoughtfully. “It was to have fallen to Poché. The ship is expected soon, and the question of the messenger will be settled before long. Poché is not a wise man, but his discretion is his own safety; instinctively he will be on his guard.”
“What a surprise it will be if, after all, the India Company should give up its charter!”
“Ay, and a triumph to Bienville’s friends.”
“It is said that Madame Poché comes out with her husband,” suggested Rossart, carelessly. “D’Artin tells me they expect her also.”
The Sieur de Glaucos turned his eyes on Rossart in amazement, the quick gaze showing for an instant a hidden fire which burned in his eyes. Then he laughed ironically.
“No other woman can equal her for doing unexpected things,” he said, conclusively.
“It is strange that a beauty like Madame Poché should seek to visit a rough country like this,” retorted Rossart, smiling meaningly. “She must know from Poché that Louisiana is in an unsettled condition, and that danger threatens certain persons in case of a change of administration. Did it ever occur to you, old soldier, that women often allow their fear for those they are deeply interested in to run away with their judgment?”
The Sieur de Glaucos frowned stormily.
Rossart continued, impudently:
“My lady Jeanne — pardon the familiarity, it is an old name used by madame’s intimates — may have an object of attraction in Louisiana. She may have a lover out here.”
The Sieur de Glaucos laid his hand, long and thin, with large joints, on Rossart’s shoulder with a fierce pressure.
“A woman like Madame Jeanne Poché needs no such attraction for an adventure. She would go to the devil if the fancy took her, simply for the experience, and no man need flatter himself that he could be the cause. I have not seen her in years, but I remember her bewildering moods, her untamed spirit, her — ”
His voice was oddly gentle, and sank to a whisper. He gazed across the road, with his eyes resting on the moonlit market-place. He had forgotten Rossart’s presence, and his words, though they explained nothing, startled the inspector by their earnest utterance. He looked curiously at the tall military figure. The moonlight streaming full upon the white cloth doublet, trimmed in gold, and the three-cornered hat which he wore firmly on his white queue, idealized the massive strength of the man and the fascinating gravity of the grim face. For several years now this man had been part of the very life of Louisiana. A succession of hazardous enterprises had woven his name into the most critical events of the country, and though earnest and singularly free from guile, he had been taciturn, cynical, and grimly contemptuous of women. There was no vanity in his words, but a certain desperate calmness, peculiar to the man who would forcibly waive aside an abstraction. Rossart was afraid to speak for a moment. The Sieur de Glaucos’s flights of anger were well known. There was a short silence, while the old soldier seemed to be thinking.
“Madame Poché is a rare beauty,” ventured Rossart, at length. “It is said all men at the court of France have been enamoured of her in turn.”
“Madame Poché is not, strictly speaking, a beautiful woman,” replied the Sieur de Glaucos. “Her features are too irregular; but hers is a beauty more of expression and soul than of feature. She has an active, though vagrant brain, and a picturesque mind, with a certain untamable element in her nature that works witchcraft with men. She has a noble character, but a variable nature it is true; volatile, fascinating, brilliant, full of passion and fire. Ah, Rossart! that is what conquers us in a woman! That kind of beauty is more to be feared than mere outward charm; it lasts longer and goes deeper.”
“But she is like ice, as impassive as a moonbeam,” interrupted Rossart, hastily. Then, as if spurred by some reminiscence: “She would goad a man to madness.”
“Madame Poché is one of the women whom fate elects to be loved devotedly, and by many men,” replied the Sieur de Glaucos, unheeding the other’s meaning. “But those who love her soon learn that she favors none; for she is as unattainable as the moonbeam you speak of, Rossart.”
“Be not so certain.”
“But I know,” fiercely returned the Sieur de Glaucos. “Ma foi! one wonders how it happened that the courtly Comte d’Artin gave his daughter to a man like Poché.”
“If report speak truly, d’Artin can hardly sit in judgment on another man,” said Rossart. “He seems to have been renowned in France for his vintage and the number of his cups.”
“There may be evil said of him, but he is a gentleman and a man of fine sensibilities. As for his daughter, Mon Dieu! lead her not into temptation.”
Rossart smote the still air with an ugly laugh.
“She could stand the test as well as any. Doubt not, old soldier, she will yet love, as many women before her have loved. I swear Poché is a mere figurehead, as far as the emotions of her heart are concerned. Ma foi! if the ice ever melt, how my lady Jeanne will love!”
“But how she will suffer!” The Sieur de Glaucos sighed deeply. “Let us hope no such fate awaits her.”
Rossart smiled cynically.
“Who can tell? It may have befallen her ere now. She leaves the gay life of France for this wilderness — why? It is a long journey to gratify a mere whim, and Madame Poché will find our small world dull after Versailles. We are a wild lot for dainty women to associate with. Do you understand, old soldier — what if Madame Poché should have a lover here, after all?”
The Sieur de Glaucos growled savagely.
“Nay! nay! thou grizzled warrior! Love is a moulding passion. It changes many a saintly soul.” Rossart smiled. “Madame Poché will endure New Orleans, but why?” He paused and looked at the Sieur de Glaucos with a meaning glance in his full eyes, which the latter could not see in the darkness, and then, snapping his fingers lightly, he continued: “But our world is what we make it,” he laughed sarcastically, “and I have formed mine pretty much to my liking so far.”
The Sieur de Glaucos did not reply immediately, and when he did he seemed to have forgotten Madame Poché.
“The India Company must last for some time yet, anyway, Rossart. That was the substance of the last petition that went to Cardinal Fleury. We must be sure of ourselves; haste might ruin us.”
Suddenly he stopped, and with a keen ear, trained to catch the slightest sound, he caught and singled out a laugh from the Café d’Orléans. Melodious, far reaching, harmonious, it came through the sweet stillness from the brightly lighted saloon.
“Laville!” he ejaculated, with no change of countenance.
“How I hate him!” said Rossart, impulsively.
“Be careful, Rossart. Laville dominates every scene in this colony. Remember, too, he is for Bienville.”
The Sieur de Glaucos drew a long breath, and his voice was full of emotion, as he continued:
“Upon my soul, I wish he were on our side. Once he was all for the king, but Bienville’s defeat robbed Louis of a worthy champion. If ever Bienville returns, then it will be victory for Laville, and long live the king!”
“He is the king’s enemy,” muttered Rossart under his breath.
“No, you are wrong. Laville resents the state’s interference in Bienville’s career. He looks upon the old commandant as the natural governor of Louisiana, and his loyalty and true-hearted though mistaken patriotism do him honor.”
“Laville is visionary.”
“He is a brave soldier.”
The Sieur de Glaucos turned his face towards the Café d’Orléans.
“I have known Laville for years as a gentleman by birth and instinct. He is a man of unquestionable honor and of unflinching courage.”
“I tell you that, if he is not watched, Laville will yet upset our plans,” exclaimed Rossart. “I hate the man.”
The old soldier sighed regretfully.
“This is no time for personal revenge, Rossart. If Laville is an enemy to our cause, he is an open foe.”
“He must be watched,” said Rossart, remembering old grievances.
The Sieur de Glaucos shook his head and sighed.
“Farewell, comrade; I must be off to Biloxi in an hour. Watch for the messenger from France. If it should be Poché, tell him I will return soon. The message may be to you, or it may be Périer, or myself. In any event it will be the same. We are brothers in one cause. We three have the password. Remember it, Rossart. ‘In the king’s name.’”
The warmth of a cause for which he had often risked life itself stole suddenly over the sternbrowed features of the old soldier, and he pressed Rossart’s hand.
“Remember it well. By the stars! we will be an empire yet. In the king’s name we wait.”
Rossart pressed his hands in silence, then, with a cautious glance across the square, he repeated the password, solemnly:
“In the king’s name we wait!”
VIVE LE ROI!
THE Sieur de Glaucos halted on the banquette outside of the Café d’ Orleans. The picture called to mind by the password burned in his brain, and stayed him for a moment from crossing the threshold.
“A new régime and happy days for Louisiana,” he murmured.
He stood there, tall and straight, his immense mustache and harsh hair prominent in the radiance from the streaming lights within. He had dreams, but to him they were realities, and though his had been a day of action, he often conceived greater deeds than could ever be achieved. Some new vista had been disclosed by the magic words, and his restless face expressed an eager desire for conquest. He was awed into silence by the stupendous prospect, and the fierce vibration of his hopes was mirrored on his strong face.
He glanced up at the low-browed story-and-a-half building before him. It was shadowed by a hoary, moss-shrouded live-oak, through which the moonbeams peeped at intervals, etherealizing the clapboards, and consigning one part of the structure to an oblivion of shadow. The dim walls sheltered many conspirators. What a world of doubt, and what a waste of enthusiasm! He was thinking of those he liked and would have had with him in the cause. He went slowly up the steps, for the structure was raised several feet from the ground, with a wide gallery in front, and an awning-like covering overhead, reaching over the banquette. A barrier of banana-trees and tall, jagged palmettoes on one side formed a screen for those who cared to sit under the cypresstrees in the garden, and a fragrant wall of orangetrees grew not far from the building on the other side.
The Sieur de Glaucos looked in through the open door. Back against the farther wall, he could see tiers and tiers of shelves piled high with flagons and cups. There was every vintage under the sun, strong drink and weak drink, and a variety of tropical syrups, with great baskets of limes and lemons, their yellow skins glowing against the dark shelves.
All through the long room grave men and rollicking men, old men and young men, men of affairs, men who in those early days gave stability to the province and strength to their cause, were congregated in the Café d’Orléans. The Sieur de Glaucos walked in amid the clouds of smoke, the hum of many voices, the click of glasses, and the glare of many lights. He knew them all well, and the wit and capabilities of each had been weighed in his mind more than once. That he was held in high regard could be seen by the manner in which he was greeted.
There was an expression of wistful regret on his face, which caused more than one mind there to become suddenly apprehensive. He strode through the room, and stood looking about as though lost in a dream. Suddenly his eyes lighted on a tall, slender man, in plumed hat and splendid uniform, standing near the door, with a shaggy brown dog on the floor at his feet. When he took his pipe from his lips, he spoke in a soft, drawling voice that, nevertheless, vibrated with a note of passion.
The Sieur de Glaucos surveyed with interest the proud, handsome face. The wide-open blue eyes, straight, dark eyebrows denoted fearless courage, and the strong, clearly chiselled features had an intellectual energy in every outline. Then he sauntered over to him, and patted the dog at his feet.
“Well, Laville, my lad, what a fellow you are for dumb things! To my certain knowledge you are never without this dog.”
“My best friend,” remarked the other, laconically. “There is not another living thing in the wide world that holds me in such affectionate regard.”
He stooped down and stroked the dog’s head, gazing wistfully into its brown eyes, for though companionable and liked by many, there was no affection for Laville so genuine as that borne him by his canine friend.
“We are old comrades,” he said, gently, “but old Jupiter is the better of the two. But how go affairs in the province?”
The Sieur de Glaucos observed Laville’s face grow pensive, with a winning tenderness about the mouth.
“My dear Laville! Have you forgotten that no ship from France has touched our shores these many months? Louisiana is always well until news from the seat of trouble reaches us.”
Laville laughed the same harmonious laugh that had thrilled the blood of the old soldier a short time before, and tilted his hat rakishly on one side.
“A plague upon your black brows! Your countenance is gloomy enough to frighten children. Mon Dieu! I thought surely somewhat must be wrong.”
“To the devil with you, boy! When Louisiana’s fate is mentioned it behooves all good patriots to be brave men, and a brave man shows not a careless face in times like these.”
The Sieur de Glaucos paused to light his pipe.
“But you are young. You can give a good sword-thrust, Laville, but you are too reckless, too careless with your trusty weapon betimes.”
“Thou wise old Glaucos!” cried Laville, advancing. “Come, gentlemen, a drink to our hero’s health. Brave men are dear to the king. He must love you well, old soldier.”
His strong voice went ringing down the room, and he slipped his arm over the Sieur de Glaucos’s shoulder, the gravity and dignity of his carriage commanding a hearing.
“Peste! I feel my head tottering on my shoulders the instant you touch me!” roared the Sieur de Glaucos, in good-humor. “You are like a pirate, with your great sinewy limbs and daredevil manners. Take your iron hands off me, and I swear we’ll drink until you cry quits. To the devil, or I will kill you, Laville!”
The Sieur de Glaucos wrenched himself free from Laville’s grasp, and sat down at one of the little tables.
“Now, then, Laville, bring on your wine.”
Laville seated himself opposite, and several others, among them Antoine d’Artin, counsellor for the India Company, and de la Chaise, the king’s commissary, drew near and formed a picturesque group, gay, pleasure-loving, and composed of the brightest and best wits and finest gentlemen in the young colony.
“Ma foi! but you are a brave lad, Laville,” said de la Chaise, stretching his long legs under the table. “But have a care lest your rashness some time upset your best intentions.”
Laville laughingly twisted his mustache, and spoke with a cavalier air.
“It sometimes leads to folly, I admit, but certes! life is not worth living if patterned by others for me.”
“Bravo!” cried d’Hernenville, a tall guardsman in a red coat. “A truce to moralizing. It is enough to be strong in the head; but, Laville, how about the heart?”
He laughed uproariously, and winked at the Sieur de Glaucos.
Laville smiled grimly.
“Your jest is untimely, monsieur,” said Laville, gravely. “Fair women play so small a part in the colony that we like to hold them in reverence.”
“A plague on matrimony!” exclaimed de Beauchamp, a slim young fellow with a wonderful length of limbs and of graceful build. “Marriage is the death of love, and God forbid all wise men from killing so beautiful a sentiment!”
D’Hernenville retorted, in a mincing tone:
“Beauchamp, it would be very sad, believe me, to slay so fine a thing, but there are different maids as there are different men, and she who loves you will be a woman of your level. But what say you, Laville; wouldst choose from the king’s cargo a maid to make your home less dull?”
Laville laughed easily, and spoke in a tone of reproach.
“My good friends, the king and cardinal are wise beyond a doubt, but I fain would keep myself free from petticoats yet a while. I like not your women of fragile virtue, nor women of little mind. The former are too easily bought, and the latter a prey for fools. None other will condescend to look at me,” he went on, banteringly, “so I’ll bide my time until a lady of high degree comes looking for a husband.”
“Alas! alas!” sighed de Beauchamp, “you are faithful to my theories, but not so honest in your confession.”
“So, so!” cried Laville, laughing. “As it appears you all know my will, we shall wait for my story to make itself before we attempt to tell it. But what of you, old soldier; will you look to the filles á la cassette for a wife?”
He slapped the Sieur de Glaucos on the shoulders.
“Peste!" growled the Sieur de Glaucos, emptying his glass. “I have no intention of placing a mine under my feet.”
“All good women are a merit to the sex,” he said, quietly. “Marry, my friends, marry, I say!”
“Then I commit these worthy men to your ministrations, d’Artin,” said the Sieur de Glaucos. “Lead them into matrimony’s way. Mon Dieu! what a time you’ll have!”
“Enough of women!” cried Laville. “I have a presentiment that the Sieur de Glaucos is drawing us into a snare.”
He smiled with a smile at once sad and frank. The Sieur de Glaucos turned his fierce old eyes towards Laville.
“You are right, Laville,” he said. “If your ardor were not misplaced, you would be a bold champion of Louisiana. We need such men as you, but you are sacrificing yourself for a shadow.”
He felt a thrill of romance as his eyes rested on the other’s strong face. Laville yawned and passed his snuff-box around.
“I swear that is what the whole world is doing,” he said, in his soft, drawling voice. “We are all alike. Even you, my brave old warrior, build out of your own bosom, and Jupiter there" — he paused and looked down at the dog at his feet, then laughed — “sees a man in the moon once in a while, and bays at nothing — fanciful as a, woman’s love and the will-o’-the-wisp. But pardieu! how pleasant it is to hear you talk! It is like the rumbling of guns.” His firm mouth,
always so ready for a smile, expanded into pleasant curves.
“Come, gentlemen,” cried d’Artin, as glasses were set before them. “Drink, drink, gentlemen, or Laville will think we do scant justice to the vintage.”
The Sieur de Glaucos took up one of the goblets and drained it to the last drop.
“Another flask,” he roared, breaking into a great, hoarse laugh. “I hope, Laville, you’ll not find us wanting.”
“A toast, a toast!” cried d’Artin.
All eyes turned to the aristocratic-looking young man, who, small of stature, sprang lightly on to his chair and stood holding his glass aloft. The throng were on their feet in an instant, pressing about him, but the Sieur de Glaucos kept his seat, puffing away at his pipe in silence. The blinking lights threw their glow over the laughing face of d’Artin — a smooth face, with a mouth as delicate as a woman’s.
“Drink to our state, the freedom of Louisiana, and the downfall of Company rule,” interrupted Laville, tempestuously.
D’Artin set his glass down with a bang on the hardwood table. An angry flush overspread his delicately cut features, and his dark eyes flashed angrily.
“For shame, Laville! You are swearing against your king and state!”
“To the devil, d’Artin, thou bantam! Who spoke of the king? Half of the province is tired of the Company’s rule. Prosperity is more to be desired, much more for all of us “ — Laville drew a long breath, and drank his wine at a gulp — “than sham royalty.”
D’Artin’s face grew darker as Laville stood looking upon him with obvious amusement. He moved restlessly under his deliberate gaze, but did not speak.
“We are sufficient unto ourselves,” said Laville, with a courageous air, looking about him with superb disdain. And so brave was the appearance he made, with his intrepid carriage, his shabby scarlet coat embroidered in gold, and clanking sword that had won him such renown, that instinctively every man was impressed and ranged himself on Laville’s side.
“Not so fast, Laville,” cried d’Artin, beside himself with anger. “On the writ and summons of the king depends your safety.”
Laville laughed and looked reflective. He shot a glance at the young man’s crimson face.
“Do you think I care a snap of my finger for Fleury’s edicts? I am a loyal patriot, and a true soldier. As such I will fight for Louisiana. I am a Louisianian, and I am proud of the province which is now my country. Down, I say, with the Company’s rule, whether in king or Company’s name. Mon Dieu! d’Artin, you are much too stanch a man to uphold such tyranny. When Bienville returns, and the India Company is no more, then and then only shall we see fine days for Louisiana.” There was defiance in his flashing eyes, but his voice was calm.
D’Artin hesitated, still standing in his chair, and looked towards the Sieur de Glaucos, who sat solemnly smoking his pipe. The latter shook his head in amusement.
"Allons!” he said, gently, looking up. “The issue will prove the Company’s rule. Laville, you are impatient. D’Artin, you are hot-headed. Drink, and let time deal out our fate. I swear to you that half of New Orleans is mad, and, as I live, our cause is lost if we divide among ourselves.”
He slowly rose to his feet and held his goblet high. Around him crowded the others on every side, in the gay uniforms of soldiers, and in citizens’ dress. They were tingling with excitement and eager for a stirring scene.
“A toast, a toast!” was the unanimous cry.
For a moment there was a dead silence, an awesome quiet. An eager curiosity swept over the crowd as they waited with hushed expectancy. Then the Sieur de Glaucos, frowning from under his heavy brows, took his pipe from his mouth, brushed back his white hair with an impatient gesture and spoke with grave inspiration.
“Drink, comrades, every man of you! Drink to our friendships, our homes, and our loves. Drink to the fate that will make these safe for all.”
"Vive le roi!” shouted the enthusiastic company. “Vive le roi!”
LAVILLE lived just back of the church in the rue d’Orléans, in a low house built of cypress and shaded by magnolias. His garden extended a square in the rear, skirted on one side by a small field of indigo, and on the other by a rank growth of semi-tropical vegetation. The house looked towards the river, and was a picturesque place, with a wide gallery trellised with climbing roses. Laville liked to sit there in the restful calm of evening. It was the embodiment of perfect quiet, and during the night hours as still as death.
After he left the Café d’Orléans, Laville went straight to his house, and immediately sought his favorite corner under the vines. It occurred to him, as he crossed the gallery and seated himself in his accustomed place, that the Sieur de Glaucos had seemed unusually preoccupied that night. He unbuckled his sword and threw it on the floor. The dog, disturbed by the sudden noise, rose and stood at his knee. He patted the animal’s head with a gentle touch.
“Poor old Jupiter!” he said. “We have seen many troubles together, but, by the stars, we’ll weather this one, too!”
He drew himself up proudly, a determined look in his eyes. The dog licked his hand and thumped his tail sympathetically on the hardwood floor.
“Only a dog, Jupiter,” said Laville, musingly. “Only a dog, but dogs don’t lie or bully or betray. Yes, Jupiter, old boy, you are your master’s best friend. We were in favor at court once, but that was long ago. Poor d’Artin! But what can one expect of the India Company’s tools? A dreamer, too; but I liked not his words, Jupiter. The Company does not care for us, old boy; we are in bad odor here. And Rossart — ”
His eyes glinted in the moonlight like cold steel. The very thought of this man set his blood in a fret — so cold, so calculating, with his pleasant sophistries and treacherous ways.
A silver moonbeam stole through the vines and sent white rays across the gallery floor. Laville was a man of great force, strong, with distinction of bearing, and a wonderful determination lurking in his great, cavernous, blue eyes, which could flash and glisten ominously, and in his large, firm mouth. He gave himself up to serious reveries for a time. If Bienville could only be recalled! He must work for that end!
Refreshed by the evening air, he lifted his eyes to the high, star-gemmed vault where the moon was sailing through light clouds.
“I wish I could turn the tide,” he muttered. “I wish I could turn the tide for Bienville.”
He sat long in silent meditation, then all at once he heard some one come up the steps and pause on the gallery. In a flash he recognized Rossart, the man who had been in his thoughts. He marvelled to see him there, and sprang up quickly to meet him, jarred by his presence in the sweet calm of the still night.
As soon as he saw Laville, Rossart spoke in a smooth voice.
“I am not here to do you ill, Laville, though it may seem so, coming thus out of the shadows without a word of warning.”
“The very opportunity I have been wishing for,” said Laville, half to himself, and then, with a steady glance at Rossart: “Good! I will sleep sounder to-night for delivering what is on my mind.”
Rossart cast a doubtful look on Laville, which, however, was lost in the uncertain light. He was very cool, but swift in his speech.
“I have somewhat to discuss with you, Laville.”
Laville considered a moment.
“We had better go inside, then.”
The booming of the frogs sounded ominously through the stillness, and the moonlight flooded the gallery with a luminous radiance. Rossart hesitated for a moment. Laville stepped back near the door, his features settling into an expression of contempt.
“Why do you hesitate? You have nothing to fear. There is no one about, except my servant, Marcello.”
He passed through a hallway to a room lighted by a solitary torch stuck in the wall over the mantel. The big apartment looked dull and desolate, Rossart thought, as he followed Laville and took a seat near the door. Jupiter followed Laville, and growled so fiercely that his master was compelled to make him leave the room.
“A cross brute!” snarled Rossart.
“Something must be wrong,” said Laville, deliberately. “Jupiter never gives a false warning. Be sure, Rossart, dogs and dumb things readily scent an enemy.”
Rossart drew back and grasped the handle of his sword.
“You have a strange way of speaking, Laville. I do not understand.”
“Jupiter does,” said Laville, curtly. “It is not necessary that we should. Dogs scent danger sooner than men, and their fidelity is more reliable. You have an errand here, Rossart. Out with it, and find plain words to tell your meaning, or pardieu! I shall make certain to explain some of your deeds.”
Rossart smiled and raised his eyebrows.
“Evidently I have had the misfortune to annoy you, Laville,” he remarked. “I apologize, I am sure, if I have offended in aught. Upon my soul, I have no idea of the offence.”
Laville crossed the room and, leaning against the mantel-piece with folded arms, fixed his eyes searchingly on Rossart’s face.
The latter felt ill at ease, and let his eyes wander about the room, mechanically noting the barest details of the furnishings. A huge-posted bedstead occupied one corner of the room, a full suit of armor another, an old settle and numerous chairs and tables filled up the otherwise bare chamber. There were several animal-skin rugs on the floor, and many arms hanging high on the walls. A brace of pistols, drinking-cups, and some tobacco lay in confusion on one of the tables. At length Rossart’s eyes met Laville’s.
“I surely never intended to offend you, Laville,” he said.
“And you surely do not suppose your course of the past few months has been unknown to me,” retorted Laville. “Naturally one of your keen sensibilities must credit others with a small measure of judgment in such matters. What of the governor’s attitude to me? Has that come about without your influence? What of the last news sent to the Company? Did that go without your sanction? And Glaucos — even he mistrusts me now, and he was my friend once. I could stand the rest, but, pardieu! Rossart, I will not have that. You understand?”
Rossart started slightly, though he betrayed no signs of surprise.
“I make no false pretences,” he said, quickly recovering himself. “I shall be frank with you. As a man who has seen something of the world, I only use events to further my ends. I think only of my own interests. That is paramount with me on all occasions. Now you are a useful man, Laville. You are liked in the colony. I might go further, and say that there are some here who are given to hero-worship and who sigh for adventure, and to whom you seem a veritable hero. Those men are necessary to our interests here. To win them through you is our object, and it is to make that appeal that I am here. Forswear your democratic theories and join us. We wish to retain all that is best and good for Louisiana. I assure you it will be to your personal interest, Laville,” he concluded, insinuatingly.
Laville stretched his lithe, strong figure to its full height and tossed his head like an angry lion.
“What would you have me do?” he demanded, in suppressed tones. “Be careful, Rossart. I warn you I am a man of little patience.”
Rossart laughed carelessly.
“You are too intense, my friend,” he said, with sarcasm. “You are young. Why wear yourself out? Take the world less seriously, man. Go at a slower gait, and, I venture to say, nine times out of ten, events will shape themselves your way. I never hurry. I think calmly before entering upon any enterprise, and I always succeed. If I cannot do it one way, there are other methods, and I assure you I never allow such a trivial thing as a conscience to stand in the path of my ambition. Conscience is an intolerable inconvenience.”
“Rossart, I tell you that rather than stoop to your base ends, I would shoot myself,” exclaimed Laville, with scorn.
Rossart laughed cynically.
“Gently, my friend, gently.” Then, suddenly changing his mood, he added, “You know that you are not in favor with the powers in France?”
Laville shrugged his broad shoulders and smiled disdainfully.
“Not of late, I admit.”
“But you do not know that even now there are matters afoot which mean — your life, perhaps. Promise to assist me, and at once word goes to France that will acquit you of even the slightest suspicion.”
Every instinct of defiance was aroused in Laville, and he spoke wrathfully.
“No, a thousand times no! I do not fear you, Rossart. I have fought too well in Louisiana for that. And while we are about it this affront had better be settled between us. Name your time and place, and be gone!”
“As you like,” answered Rossart. “But remember, I came here as your friend, and I have tried to save you. You are acting like a madman. You should not answer in a hurry. Calmness is the companion of wisdom, and as for fighting you, that is absurd. I say I am your friend.”
“Look to yourself,” cried Laville, angrily. “I do not fear you, nor all the India Company’s minions. I shall still continue to live as I have hitherto — a free man, and one who lets no man trifle with his honor or dictate to his conscience.”
“I repeat, Laville, that I am your friend. I warn you that even now a messenger from France is expected. This is a matter of grave moment to you, meaning possible death if you continue in your obstinacy to defy us.”
“Then let it be death, and small thanks to you for your warning. But, Rossart, look to your messenger, for, be the bearer fool, wise man, or knave, I swear I will outwit him. I have a good sword, and I know how best to use it. Your tool shall feel its point, or I am not a man. Stifle resolves, Rossart,” he laughed, loudly. “There is a power beyond yours that tells me of conquest. Look to it, Rossart, that you warn your messenger — I reciprocate your trust.”
Rossart rose. His black eyes glistened like evil stars in the extreme pallor of his face. As he turned towards the door, a small dark object fell from the breast of his doublet and rolled towards Laville’s feet. It was an old velvet case, and as it flew open, disclosing the portrait of a woman, Laville stooped down and gravely handed it to Rossart, without examining it.
The latter laughed idly.
“A pretty woman! That expresses the definition of torment,” he said, musingly. “Look at the picture, Laville, for you may soon have an opportunity of meeting the original. It is my lady Jeanne. Perchance news of her has come to you from France.”
Laville gazed at the pictured face with careless admiration. The large eyes, lofty yet kind, the softly rounded chin, and quaintly coiffured hair, strung with pearls, appealed to his sense of beauty with unconscious grace. He felt annoyed at Rossart and his indelicacy in speaking so freely, with a vague notion stirring in him that he ought to say something in defence of this beautiful unknown. He gravely handed the picture back to Rossart.
“An attractive woman, I should think, and with the power that is the dower of all womankind — that of doing much good.”
“And much evil, in truth. She is the very devil for attractiveness, a creature of fascination. Do you know, Laville, I stole that picture, and the very sight of it makes my blood surge?”
Laville raised his eyebrows in disdain.
“The lady should be proud of her conquest.”
“With that spirit of acquisition which dominates me when my interests are at stake,” continued Rossart, “I took that case from d’Artin’s drawing-room. It is the portrait of Madame Poché — ’my lady Jeanne’ is a fanciful name that has fallen to her. She is the only woman I ever absolutely cared for in my life, and the only one who ever repulsed me.” He laughed with a languid air. “But the point of greatest repulsion with some women is often the point of strongest attraction. Madame Poché is a gay coquette, and is not one to raise the siege before an easy conquest.”
Laville smiled contempt at the insinuation.
“I once knew a Pierre Poché,” said he. “Can he belong to the same family, or has the lady a husband? No, in that case Monsieur Rossart would not exhibit such interest.”
“Parbleu! that is just what makes it interesting,” said Rossart, quickly. “Pierre Poché is the brother of this woman’s husband. The mere fact that she is bound to another man troubles me little. When I see a woman who pleases me I do not consider what another man may say about it. I consult my own convenience. Do that, Laville, and you will always be happy.”
“As usual, I do not see from your standpoint,” said Laville. “What about your pleasing the woman?”
"Sang Dieu! a man can win any woman. It is only a question of time,” answered Rossart, moving to the door. “Principle is all very fine in theory, but it does not wear well in actual life. It makes one forget. I never forget. But adieu, Laville. I have warned you. Trust in your proverbial luck, if you will, but beware of the messenger from the king!”
“Does the message from the king take cognizance of the fact that the wily chief of police is conspiring against the state? The coureurs de bois and the planters tell grave tales of muskets and ammunition that have found their way from Monsieur Rossart.”
Rossart frowned, and as quickly smiled.
“In times like these none is above suspicion. Again I warn you, Laville; beware of the king’s messenger!”
But Laville was not the man to quail. In the days that followed he adopted a more reckless course than ever. He had no faith in Rossart’s threats; he relied on popular favor to carry him through every emergency. He knew many of the men in the colony were fearless and highminded, while others were ignorant and simplehearted, but he also knew that they loved freedom with so great an intensity, fostered by the isolation of their lives, as would cause them to risk all in its defence when the time came.
Laville listened to Rossart’s retreating footsteps with smiling insolence. His was a sanguine soul, and now that Rossart was gone, he laughed aloud, and called Marcello, his slave, for more lights and a fire on the hearth, for the night was chilly.
“Bring out the goblets and a flagon or two of wine, Marcello. They will all be here presently — de Beauchamp, la Tour, Dumaine, and the others — all good souls, plotting by day and gambling by night. And Rossart is the greatest gamester of us all, but he deals the devil’s own dice and plays the devil’s own game with fate. And that woman!” — he reflected a moment. “God help her, if she has attracted Rossart!”
Involuntarily the pictured face came before him again — the large gray eyes, the curving lips, and the firmly moulded chin and throat.
“My lady Jeanne!” he murmured, musingly. “How well the name suits her face! Dieu! what fools men are!”
“JEANNE POCHÉ — AT YOUR SERVICE”
ONE morning, six weeks later, the ship, long overdue, arrived from France with her precious cargo of casket girls intended as wives for the settlers. No girls from the streets of Paris these, but pure maidens from the homes of France, and dowered by the king.
It was a little past noon when the ship landed. The sun was high in the heavens; soft opaline clouds floated in the sky, a faint wind stirred the cane-brakes, and the church bell rang tumultously. Beyond the levee, and in the Place d’Armes, a crowd of people, prodigal of laughter and blithe with badinage, moved restlessly about. There was considerable gold lace and shabby luxury in their garments, and a kind of inequality among them, naturally found in the commingling of so many elements. The population was largely composed of men who cared little for public order or discipline. They stood about on the willow-planted levee, and crowded and rushed to see the rosy cheeks and slender forms of the girls of France, as they were landed and grouped together in the Place d’Armes. Cheer upon cheer echoed through the little settlement amid intense excitement. The cries grew wilder; the bell rang louder; the gentlemen from France, in their splendid uniforms, doffed their hats, and, as they stood there in picturesque groupings of comely figures, solemn nuns, brave soldiers, and rough miners, the Jesuit fathers offered up a prayer for the king who had been so good.
On the outskirts of the crowd there hovered a youth, a mere stripling, with green-gray eyes and a fresh complexion, laughing and cheering with the rest of the throng. He wore a full-skirted coat of dull green cloth, knee-breeches of corresponding color, a soft shirt of finest lawn, low, buckled shoes, and a three-cornered hat. His hair, which was powdered, hung in two long curls and was tied with dark green ribbon. His feet and hands were singularly small, but he was finely built, and bore himself with a kingly grace and reckless dash strangely at variance with his boyishness.
He stood among the crowd, holding his head jauntily, swaying and rollicking with laughter.
“Who is the fine little man over yonder?” he asked of a stranger, pointing to d’Artin.
“By our Lady! master,” said the stranger, “that is our counsellor, Monsieur d’Artin, a doughty man, though he be like the bantam.”
The handsome lad laughed and thrust his hands in his breeches-pockets.
“Your pardon, monsieur, but this d’Artin — this strong little man — is he well liked in the province?”
“Not so popular as some,” said the man, lightly, “but, by my faith, he carries a sword with the best of them.”
Then the stranger passed on, and the lad went jauntily from one group to another, speaking here and there with some pretty impudence, and proving himself a youth of ready humor. For several hours he followed the crowd, foremost in their spirit of raillery. Then, towards the close of the day, when the girls had been taken to the convent and the people began to scatter, he looked about for d’Artin. All the afternoon he had followed pretty close in the counsellor’s wake, but never close enough to speak to him. But d’Artin had disappeared — gone home, some one said — and for a second the gay stripling leaned against the trunk of a tree in speculative silence, glancing up impatiently at one man after another as they passed him. At length he addressed two roughly clad men, who nodded soberly to him.
“Hold there!” he called, merrily. “Now that the gay landing is over, can you direct me to Antoine d’Artin’s residence?” The boy retreated a step from the men as he spoke, and thrust his hands in his breeches-pockets with a careless air. “I would hunt him up. Three times this merry day I have tried to find him to hold speech with him, but never a word. All this New World has gone mad. Verily, maidens must be a rich cargo, indeed, when men so lose their minds as to run and halloo like lunatics over them. Tell me, good fellows, where lives Antoine d’Artin?”
“To be sure, we’ll tell you,” cried the taller of the men. “But first you owe us a toast, and a right good one on such a day. We’ll take you to Dan ton’s and drink your health; then away with you to d’Artin’s house. All New Orleans is gay to-day, and most of the lads love-larking.”
“Pardon me, my men,” said the boy, troubled. “It is my pleasure to see Antoine d’Artin at once.”
“Hear the infant!” cried one of the men, pressing nearer. “Perchance you think to give us the slip.”
A sudden haughty resentment shone in the proud stripling’s eyes, and he turned towards them in anger. Another rough-looking fellow drew near, bold-eyed and smiling. He gazed at the boy for a moment with wondering eyes.
“He’s possessed of a devil!” he cried, suddenly. “Only women and devils have green eyes. See, comrades, there’s a dimple in his chin, too. By our holy Lady! he’s a darling that can win every casket girl in the bunch. Here, lad, to Danton’s you must surely go. Doubtless one who sails in such soft company has his pockets full of silver.”
Then, with good-natured raillery, they hurried the unwilling youth forward through the Place d’Armes, across the rue St. Anne, hurrying and jostling him in heedless speed out beyond the rue d’Orléans, through the almost deserted street, with its low buildings on both sides.
“What says the king? How goes it with old Fleury, the featherbrain, whose days are spent in planning for his superiors, and his nights in dreaming of twinkling feet and flying skirts?” asked one of the men.
“Ay, lad,” questioned another. “What of the king’s wife? Does she say her prayers as often now?”
The moon, hanging far down in the southern sky, sent one broad shaft of light straight into the path beyond them, to lose itself in the shadow of a dim, dark building at the corner of the street ahead. The sky was tranquil and jewelled with stars. Piles of silvery clouds lay about the moon like a misty fringe. Far away to the west the great forests loomed in unbroken lines of blackness. On a little gallery beside the road a group of bold women bandied ribald jests, laughing noisily; their light dresses were luminous in the bright light, and their scandalous stories floated after the boy and his pursuers. At another place some girls — half-breeds, a mixture of Choctaw and African — giggled after them, and called to them to stop.
The boy rushed by, flushed, unhappy, and indignant, with defiance in his eyes.
“How about the court, chérie?” asked one of the men, laughing coarsely. “Do they have such beauties there?”
“I know nothing of kings or courts,” he said, breathlessly. “Pray, let me go, good fellows. I have a message for Antoine d’Artin. Please let me go.”
He stood a moment beside a clump of palmettoes. He could hear the shouting voices of the crowd, as the mob disappeared in the distance. His voice trembled.
“Away, men — away, and leave me in peace.”
“A drink, a drink!” cried the three ruffians. “One glass first, and the score to you; then we’ll take you back to d’Artin’s. Lord! you are many a step from his house now. Why, it was back there near the river, where you stopped us.”
They hurried him along across a few squalid squares, passing scattered cabins and reedy sloughs and ponds alive with swarming reptiles and choked with bristling palmetto growths, until, finally, they came to a low palisade building, with upright joists and a dark, sloping roof. A motley group of men, the roughest element of the young city, who worked hard and drank hard, hung around the outside; and through the open doorway another set could be seen about a gamingtable, though at that time gambling was supposed to be forbidden. The air was warm, in spite of the winter season, and the strong smell of wine and the click of flagons came from the cabin.
“No, no, I will not!” cried the lad, at last, in sheer desperation. “I cannot go in there.”
He resisted their efforts to drag him into the cabin, and his breath came hurriedly through his parted, scarlet lips.
“Not good enough for the king’s brat!” cried the tall man. “By our Lady! you’ll see who are your masters.”
“No man is my master but the king,” cried the boy, panting, and quick as a flash he drew his sword and stood on the defensive.
“Who cares for the king?” cried all three. “This is a free land. Who fights best is best. Say your prayers, boy. You’ll be only a swordthrust for one of us. On to the wine. Drink, and be merry with us, or, by our Lady! you’ll turn a cold face up to yonder white moon tonight!”
In spite of his brave showing, the boy shrank from their touch, his cheeks aflame and his eyes ablaze with anger.
“Cowards! dogs!” he cried, “let me go!”
Then, quick as a flash, he darted past them, back from the river, across the moonlit stretches of thatched cabins and isolated willow-brakes, to a clump of live-oaks. A hush of consternation followed his flight, but only for an instant, and then the men ran pell-mell after him. The bravado with which he spoke and the insolence of his glance angered them. When the youth found he was cornered, he turned about and faced his foes, quickly throwing off his doublet and falling into position, sword in hand. Then, with a loud cry, one of the brawlers sprang to meet him. The fellow was twice the size of the lad, but ungainly and untrained, while the boy had evidently been schooled in sword practice. His hand, small and white as a woman’s, grasped the handle of his blade with firmness, and, being much the lighter weight, he easily dodged his opponent’s blows. The other two men stood by laughing, jestingly encouraging their friend to fight it out.
“Give it to the young devil!” cried one.
“Keep up the play,” urged the other. “He’s a pretty child, and makes a gallant fight.”
“Take him on the right,” suggested the first speaker.
With an agile bound, before his opponent had time to be on his guard, the boy sprang forward, dealing him a swift blow in the ribs. It was a mere pin-prick, but it so angered the big fellow that he made a violent lunge, and tripped the boy. He fell headlong, his sword clattering to the ground. His lithe body lay motionless.
“We’ve killed him!” said the big man, in a scared whisper.
There was a sound of crackling leaves and grasses, and suddenly a commanding voice startled them.
From out the shadows Laville and his dog plunged into the moonlight, where the boy lay face downward. He stood a second, and gazed wrathfully at the rascals, while the dog, growling, nosed threateningly at the big man’s feet. “Morbleu!” he cried, as his eyes fell on the tallest man. “Are you at such cowardly work as fighting women and children?” He directed his flashing eyes to the inert figure of the lad. “He is a noble soldier who fights his country’s foes, but it is a dastard’s work to war on women and children.”
The dog showed his teeth with a snarl.
The fellow blinked in the white moonlight, saluting Laville, but keeping his eyes on Jupiter. “The boy is yours, captain,” said he. “It was only a trick to get him to drink. Here, men,” he called to his companions, “let’s go. Please, captain, keep the brute off.”
The three men saluted Laville gravely, then turned and skulked away among the shadows.
Laville stooped and turned the inert body over. Where had he seen that face? He bent over the limp form critically.
“A mere lad,” he said under his breath. “A pretty morsel for those fierce falcons.”
He gazed in admiration on the boy’s broad, white brow, with its clustering curls, and the supple beauty of chin and throat. The dog licked one of the inert hands.
“Pardieu! Jupiter! What times these are when even infants and women are not safe!” He sighed softly. “But we have no time for sentiment, old Jupiter. We must see what can be done for the boy.”
He pillowed the prostrate form against the background of dried brush, and, without a moment’s delay, jerked the thin muslin shirt open at the throat, with a fierceness that rudely tore the fastenings apart and threw a small bundle of papers to the ground.
“Sang Dieu! it is a woman!” he cried, in alarm.
His brow contracted. There could be no mistake; it was a woman.
The pitiless moonlight, shining full upon them, showed the soft curves and white outlines of a woman’s beautifully rounded bosom. The peculiar grace of her limbs was very striking in repose, and oppressed Laville. He rose to his feet, and paused a moment in dismayed silence. Then, quickly stooping again, he drew her disordered garments into place, and raised the woman in his arms. The hasty movement disarranged her wig, and her hair, escaping its bonds, fell over her shoulders in wondrous waves. Laville was a man of quick thought, yet for a brief space he deliberated, undecided how to act. He was saved further doubt, however, as the woman began to stir. A slight shudder passed through her frame; slowly she drifted back to life and opened her eyes. She gazed wonderingly at Laville, a dull questioning in her eyes. She lightty drew herself from his strong, encircling arms, and stood alone. A troubled shadow crept over the brilliancy of her face, and she turned pale again, while a slow trembling seized her as she marked the quick glance of inspection from his penetrating eyes. All at once she thought of the letters she had concealed in her bosom, and with a frantic gesture she clasped her hands over the place where they had been.
“Ah!” she said, in weak confusion. “I — I have lost something — I had some papers. Oh, monsieur, please help me to find them — they are valuable.”
She turned paler as she spoke. Laville could see that she was laboring under deep distress. He looked about him on the ground, and at last discovered a small packet of papers lying close beside her.
She bent her brows and raised her eyes once more to the tall young man.
“I thank you. I — I am sorry to have troubled you.”
Laville gazed down at her, and she could not but notice the winning smile that brightened his face.
“I am — alone.”
She was weak, and rested one arm against the trunk of the tree, her small brown head, with its mass of rumpled hair, against it.
“I appeal to your generosity — your honor. Take me to my friends!”
“I am a gentleman, mademoiselle. You need have no fear. Here are your letters.”
He spoke with unconscious kindness. Her helplessness appealed to him, and his bold eyes gazed softly into hers.
She bowed slightly, smiling reluctantly, and extended her hand for the packet. There was a momentary silence, in which she mechanically noted his fine carriage and handsome uniform, while trying to regain herself. The moon shone clear and white through the trees, and fell upon her uncovered head. Again it occurred to Laville that he had seen her before, but where?
Suddenly she looked up without changing her attitude; her voice was calm and unfaltering.
“I am Madame Poché.”
Laville gave an involuntary start. Madame raised her head, and seemed suddenly to glow with a wonderful life.
“I came on the ship to-day.”
In an instant Laville remembered Rossart and the portrait. And this was Madame Poché. His eyes met hers again with a warmer gaze. She dropped her head, and spoke with averted eyes.
“I wear this garb for my protection — times are rude in this new land. There are those who would not respect a woman situated as I am. Will you take me to Monsieur Antoine d’Artin? He is my cousin.”
The look of recognition in Laville’s eyes deepened.
“I am Laville — Captain Laville, in the governor’s service,” he said. “I have heard of you, Madame Poché, even in this remote province; and this is my dog Jupiter — a good brute, and yours to command,” he laughed.
“Yes, yes, “under her breath. “But, in God’s name, let us go hence!”
The streak of moonlight lengthened through the fretwork of leaves overhead. It was intensely still. Her eyes glanced about like the gaze of a hunted creature.
“I have your promise, monsieur. You are a gentleman. Conduct me to my friends.”
She spoke in a low, thrilling voice, rich with emotion, glancing towards the settlement, where occasional lights flashed in the darkness.
Laville bowed with courteous grace. A faint glow warmed his cheeks, and his manner grew brighter. He extended his hand to lead her through the underbrush. She paused for an anxious instant, and swept her eyes over the stately form of the man before her with a strange questioning. Then she said, in a low voice:
“I pray you lead the way, and I will follow you.”
It was evident to Laville that the young woman was painfully conscious of her masculine attire, and, though amused, he dropped his outstretched hand and resisted his inclination to laugh. With a faint smile playing on his strong features, he whistled to Jupiter and started ahead. Jeanne’s clear eyes searched the whole landscape. The path over which Laville led her was through a small grove of magnificent live-oaks. Stray moonbeams peeped through the foliage overhead, but otherwise the way for a short distance was solemnly monotonous. Beneath their feet lay a carpet of coarse grass, and weird festoons of Spanish moss hung from the trees.
Jeanne trudged with difficulty after Laville. She was unused to rough walking, and once in a while stumbled and would have fallen had he not turned in time to catch her. The scream of a panther came ominously from the woods. She shuddered.
“You had better let me assist you,” he said, gently.
The soft woodland sounds of the night were the only answer for a moment. Then she stretched out her hand gropingly and rested her slender fingers in his with a silent gesture of acknowledgment, feeling a vague sense of unreality.
“There is no help for it,” he said, a trifle curtly. “You will be obliged to accept my assistance. Come — ”
At that moment he felt a sudden rush of tenderness towards this strange woman, but his last word had a tone of authority in it, which angered Jeanne. She instantly snatched her hand from his, impatient and proud.
“You are neither addressing your servant nor your dog, monsieur,” she cried, reprovingly.
“I give you my word of honor I did not realize my peremptory tone,” said Laville, apologetically. “You see, madame, we of this country are not often used to the company of ladies. I regret to have occasioned you alarm.”
There was a mild reproach in his voice, but the next instant her warm, magnetic hand slid back into his firm grasp, and they were moving along side by side again. Vague, half-stormy thoughts swept over Jeanne.
“I am not entirely without shame, nor am I ungrateful,” she broke out suddenly, her frank and candid nature asserting itself. “To you I am the veriest stranger, but yours is the hand that saved me from those wretches. To you I am thankful. But what must you think of me — a woman — a wife, yet disguised as a madcap boy?”
Laville uttered an exclamation of dissent.
“These are rough times,” he said, “and we cannot always see a reason in everything, yet even a woman may find masquerading to her purpose, and the doublet and hose more secure than her petticoats. I never question motives in others, madame, reserving to myself the same privilege.”
They left the woods behind, and went on through the rue St. Anne. They turned into the rue Royale, and thence on to the street facing the levee, where the houses stood far apart with their large gardens. Standing near the end of the square, shadowed by more magnolias and liveoaks, and a trifle more pretentious than the other houses, was a broad dwelling. It was a two-story building, with a flat roof, used as a gallery or belvedere. There were great bulging chimneys at each end, and a door in the middle of each floor opening out on to wide galleries. There were many windows, the frames closed in with thin linen instead of glass, and through the transparent whiteness lights shone feebly, and stretched down across the path to the roadway. Long rows of rose-bushes, lately imported from France, but nourished into quick maturity by the tropical soil; grew on each side of the walk, and threw grotesque shadows over the path. Even the bare walls, the rude pillars of the overhanging gallery, and the expansive garden were dreamy and etherealized in the moonlight.
It seemed unreal and phantom-like to Jeanne, and called up singular hallucinations to her mind in this wilderness of a world. Laville suddenly came to a standstill.
“This is the d’Artin residence. It is one of our show places,” he added with a smile. “There are few others in the colony half so fine.”
He opened the wicket, and they passed in between the nodding wall of rose-bushes.
“I have only to leave you with your friends, and thank fortune for allowing me to be of service to you, madame.”
“And I to thank a gallant gentleman for his protection,” she returned, softly turning her longfringed gray eyes full upon him and smiling.
“The favor is on my side, I assure you, madame. It is an honor, and, though I have no right, I cannot leave until I know that we shall meet again.”
As she toyed with the tendril of a rose-vine which grew in the shadows, their eyes suddenly met. There was something in that quick glance, some mysterious affinity, which made them friends at once. Laville had many odd characteristics, and his theories in regard to women were considered eccentric, though chivalrous. Carelessly indifferent to many, and not famed for his discretion, he was of a nature that, when moved, gave immeasurably and without calculation. He was deeply interested in Jeanne and aroused by the helplessness of her position. It seemed to him that Poché must be a poor sort of a man to let this young, graceful woman, who was his wife, face the dangers of that wild land alone.
“Have I your permission to call, madame? I should like to know how you survive your adventure.”
He felt conscious and awkward as a boy.
She looked away from him in the moonlight, and then instantly turned her eyes to his with a frank gaze, and quietly said she would be pleased to see him again.
“My cousins, no doubt, know you well,” she added, a trifle coldly.
Laville’s pride was stung; it seemed to him that she was trying to repulse him.
“I will not force my presence upon you, madame.”
She smiled brightly and looked up at him.
“Nay, I did not mean that. I shall be glad to have you come. Have you not made me your debtor for life?”
“Think of it in that way, if you will,” he said. “But it is nothing. I am known to your cousins, though I cannot say just how favorably. We in Louisiana are somewhat divided for and against our present government. There are those who do not approve entirely of Julian Laville. I am a reckless free-lance, my lady, but my sword will be always at your service.”
His eyes expressed an admiration which he dare not utter. She laughed softly, and led the way up the rose-bordered walk.
“Well, every one cannot think alike in all things,” she said, lightly. “There are some situations we must define for ourselves. In France, captain, we try to show our favor. Perchance in Louisiana there may come a day when Jeanne Poché shall repay Captain Laville this good turn. In the king’s name, I trust so.”
He stared at her in amazement, trying to see her face, but it was partly turned from him.
“In so small a community we take note of those who speak in his Majesty’s name,” he said quickly, taking a step towards her. “It is not to be supposed that the policies of a government � should be of a woman’s choosing.”
She turned slowly, courtesied with saucy grace, and stood for a moment with haughty insouciance , defiant though smiling.
“It is better sometimes to trust a woman, my captain.”
Her eyes were dazzling, and her tone almost tender. She looked at him, and he flushed. She laughed again at his confusion, and ran quickly up the few steps, he following sedately after. All at once she hesitated on the uppermost step, and looked down on him from her height with her long lashes partly veiling her eyes. She slowly reached up to the rose-vine climbing over her head and plucked a half-open bud.
“There, there, my captain!” tossing the flower to him with a coquettish uplifting of her lashes. “Wear that, and think — of me — Jeanne Poché — at your service, forever and ever.”
She turned quickly, and, with a ripple of laughter that rang mockingly in Laville’s ears, vanished into the house.
MADAME and Antoine d’Artin were sitting at supper when Jeanne rushed in upon them. She stood at the threshold with flaming cheeks and brilliant eyes. She laughed merrily, and greeted them with gay grace.
“Jeanne Poché, as I live!” cried Madame d’Artin, rising precipitately from her chair. “What does this mean?” Her large eyes were filled with glad surprise.
“I’ll be hanged if I know whether this is Jeanne or not,” said d’Artin, in his soft, drawling voice, and instantly started a race with his wife to reach Jeanne first. Madame was victorious, and clasped Jeanne in her arms.
“Mon Dieu! and is this the way you came from France — you, the belle, the gay coquette?”
All the best thoughts of d’Artin’s life were suddenly illumined by the presence of this young creature whose happy companionship in the past had stirred all the harmonies of his nature. He kissed her first on one cheek and then on the other, and held her at arm’s-length, laughing the while in hearty enjoyment.
“I vow,” he said, between bursts of merriment, “if I did not know your face well I should think you some dare-devil boy. But, Jeanne, how could you play such a caper?”
He paused. The singularity of her masquerade seemed to impress him seriously rather than grotesquely.
Jeanne’s rapid glance played like lightning over the dark, handsome face, and she spoke with a nervous energy.
“How could I help it?” she said, hotly, with uncompromising directness. “It seemed to my husband to be the only safe way, and he arranged the dress himself. There had to be a masculine guard to the girls on the ship and I was one of the number. Am I not a worthy one? and do I look like a boy?”
She advanced towards him, then back again and turned herself around. She was like a bird, graceful, alert, and defiant.
D’Artin looked at her with fixed regard.
“And where is your husband all this while, and how does it happen that you are so late? The ship was in hours ago. Really, Jeanne, some of your pranks are most imprudent. I shudder when I think of the chances you run.”
Jeanne took off her hat and tossed it on a chair, a suggestion of teeming life in every motion. Then she went up to d’Artin and raised her face to his all aglow with delight.
“There, there, good Cousin Antoine! Don’t scold any more.”
She patted his hands, and bent over so that the little fluffy rings of her hair touched the black locks on his temples.
“Do stop talking, chérie, and go outside. You will find a gentleman who has been kind to me, who brought me here in safety. But don’t let him come in here.”
“No, Antoine; take him into the drawingroom,” suggested Madame d’Artin, with an assumption of dignity.
“Drawing-room?” repeated Jeanne, laughing. “Do you have drawing-rooms here in the wilderness?”
Madame d’Artin frowned and seemed annoyed.
“We try to live like civilized people,” she said, stiffly.
“Forgive me, Luce,” said Jeanne. “I was only trying to tease you.”
“But what man are you talking about, Jeanne?” asked d’Artin. “Explain yourself.”
“A gentleman who brought me here,” said Jeanne, quickly. “Do go to him, Cousin Antoine. He will think I know nothing of good manners. But be sure, you don’t let him come in here. Take him to the drawing-room.” She emphasized the words with a gesture full of meaning.
“While you are there — in the drawing-room — I will be confidential with Luce, and tell her all about myself. Come, chérie,” to the tall, handsome woman who stood regarding her with large, brown eyes. “I am absolutely starved.”
D’Artin gave an involuntary glance at the table, his spirits leaping into action under the young woman’s bright manner.
“You will have to adapt yourself to stern fare here, little cousin. Sagamité is our chief diet.”
Jeanne’s eyes flashed, as d’Artin remembered they used to do in those far-away days of their childhood.
“Ah, what does it matter now that I am really here, Antoine? Antoine! dear comrade of my youth, I have been miserable and lonely without you! Do you remember back there in France, dear, how we used to sing in the garden at home,
She hummed the refrain, and then stopped abruptly and laughed.
“How gay we were then! but that was a happy time — a happy time.”
There was a vibrant, appealing note in Jeanne’s voice that touched d’Artin. She had the same careless manner which always won him. His eyes grew slightly moist; he felt himself suddenly dominated by the power of her gentle mood, and his heart-strings throbbed with memories of their old home.
“Yes, that was a happy time, Jeanne,” he said, simply. “And your coming will surely make us happier here.”
Then he went out, and Jeanne seated herself beside madame at the table, with a little murmur of content.
Placidity and good-nature were expressed in Madame d’Artin’s every movement. No one had ever seen her angry, and her estimable qualities were as respected in New Orleans as they had been in Versailles. She was built on massive lines, handsome, strong, and complacent, with a smooth, imperturbable countenance, and wondering dark eyes. She always said the most quieting things in the proper place, and now she acted as a sedative on Jeanne’s more impetuous nature. She leaned both plump elbows passively on the table, and took a long survey of her kinswoman. The dining-room, big, whitewashed, and slimly furnished, was very quiet. An old negress in bare feet padded about, waiting on Jeanne. A cluster of candles stood in the centre of the round table. Their low lights caught the gleam of fine silver, and assured Jeanne that her kinswoman was as prodigal as when in France. The napery was white and luminous, the quaint pattern of the table-cloth charming.
All in a breath, Jeanne related the details of her voyage. Madame’s heart sank. It was as she surmised. Poché and his wife were estranged. But no, he was coming later. Then Jeanne spoke of her landing, and subsequent meeting with Laville. Ah! what a cavalier he was! so distinguished, with his great height, his fine carriage, and so modest! Oh, she must know him better — they would be great companions. There was a passionate force in her nature which seemed to delight in the frank, open flow of speech.
At the mention of Laville’s name, madame was moved to mild retrospection. She remembered certain stories she had heard — madame always heard a great deal of gossip — lightly, yet not unkindly commenting on his indiscretions, though acknowledging that he was more to be trusted than many better men.
“He has a way of making love to every attractive woman in New Orleans,” she rambled on, irresponsibly. “And they do say that when he was in France he was the scandal of the hour. But, to tell you the truth, Jeanne, most women here help him on. They all have a fine way of displaying their beauty, but, alas! they care so little for their souls, and are easy victims to such men as Captain Laville.”
Jeanne’s heart sank.
“I cannot believe that Captain Laville is what you say, cousin,” she said, gazing musingly into the candle-light. “He seems such a strong man, one who lives for honor and self-respect. Truly, Cousin Luce, I am delighted with your captain. You know, when it becomes noised about that a man does all sorts of dreadful things, there are innumerable infidelities laid at his door as untrue as they are undeserved. Remember, I shall champion Captain Laville hereafter. You forget I owe him a debt. He saved me from those ruffians, and then — ”
The soft candle-light threw down yellow gleams which glinted in her brilliant eyes, as she added, lightly:
“He really has quite the fine air of a gentleman.’’
“He did no more for you than any other gentleman would have done under the circumstances,” replied Madame d’Artin, hotly. “Captain Laville is a gallant soldier, and, in such matters, a man to be trusted.”
“Well, then — ” Jeanne hesitated, smiling gayly — “I like him.”
“Jeanne, Jeanne! reckless as ever. Ah, child, you were ever a mad-cap, and marriage has not tamed you.”
Jeanne threw back her head and laughed.
“Reckless, dear Cousin Luce? Why, at court I am noted as a prude.”
Again she laughed — a free, irresistible laughter which penetrated to the gallery where d’Artin and Laville sat.
“Well, when you have done laughing at me,” said madame, stiffly, “I will talk to you, Jeanne.”
She pushed her chair from the table, and leaned comfortably back. The color leaped in Jeanne’s face.
“Forgive me,” she said, contritely, “but you know,” pensively, “I am seldom interested in any man. Few of them understand me.”
The green-gray eyes looked sad. In her own mind, Jeanne was conscious of a dim longing that this man should think well of her.
“It is your own fault, Jeanne. You rarely talk of yourself. Even we, your relatives, know so little of what you think. One must surely tell of their own deeds to make them respected.”
“I am not an enthusiast over myself,” said Jeanne, gravely. “Do you remember, Luce, away back yonder, when I was a little girl, how I used to think I was destined to be something great one day? I have a restless nature; there is something about me that keeps me always wishing for some one to understand me — some one I could lay bare my soul to — but that never comes to any of us, does it, Luce — dear, contented Luce?”
She looked up, with pleading eyes and parted lips, then suddenly leaned over and kissed madame on her smooth white brow.
“That would be paradise, wouldn’t it?” She moved restlessly.
Madame frowned, then smiled quietly, as a matron would on a wayward, inexperienced child.
“You are the same intractable creature,” she said, soberly. “I cannot understand it. Antoine says you are poetical, and that he is somewhat like you. To tell the truth, I think you are; both so ardent, so dreamy, and at times so silent; I wish, for your own happiness, you were different. Jeanne, you will have to learn from me. Though you are a married woman, you are a girl yet in years and spirit.”
Jeanne looked reflective.
“I think Cousin Antoine and I have the same defects of character, and they unfit us for much in life. It is the fate of our race. We are too dreamy. Antoine has the best of me there — he is more practical, and so thrifty and wise, or is it your influence, dear?”
Madame smiled, well pleased, and answered with a smile of approval.
“To be happy one must be content. You are not that, Jeanne, and my Antoine is. Contentment makes things so easy — much easier.”
Jeanne smiled uneasily and looked steadily at madame.
“To be content, one must not know too much,” she retorted, bitterly. “I am so afraid I will never be content, Luce. I am forever and forever reaching out after something quite beyond me. I want to know — to know — ”
She blushed, and involuntarily put her hand in madame’s.
Madame sat helpless a moment. Her sympathies went out to Jeanne, though she assured herself that the young woman was unreasonable.
“Voracious little soul!” she exclaimed at length, laughing heartily. “But to return to Captain Laville. You must know that he and my husband are not good friends now. I do not mean that they are enemies, but they disagree in politics, and though Captain Laville is often entertained here, Antoine does not trust him with his confidence.”
Jeanne looked up quickly, measuring madame with a glance. ,
“Perfect friendship requires natures tempered to each other,” she said, clasping her hands, and turning her luminous eyes like stars upon madame. “One can easily see that that is not true of Antoine and Captain Laville.”
“They do say,” continued madame, in a lower tone, “that the captain is in some danger just now. I do not understand what it is, but the Blessed Virgin help him! for he is an attractive man, and — I like him.”
Jeanne nodded soberly. She was conscious of a momentary prompting to find out the facts, and save Captain Laville, if possible — just to show him that she remembered. But she restrained herself.
“It would be too bad,” said madame, after a momentary pause.
Jeanne looked grave. “But come, Cousin Luce, I am tired. Show me a place to sleep, and to-morrow this boy will be gone, and Madame Jeanne Poché reign again. And, Luce, get Antoine to send for my boxes. They are at the ship. I have some pretty things there — laces and satins — and, dear Luce “ — after a brief pause before a tall mirror over the mantel — “ask Captain Laville to call again. I — I am really ashamed to have seen him in these clothes. You know I verily believe he and that big dog of his saved my life. Wait a moment, dear; I am anxious to see him again, just to be sure that I should recognize him if we ever meet. He must not see me, so I’ll go quietly and take a peep — there now — on tiptoe. Hush! not a sound,” placing her finger to her lips.
Like two shadows they glided noiselessly through the hall almost to the door. “There, stop, dear; we can see him quite plainly. Yes,” in a low whisper, “I shall remember him; I should know that face among a thousand. Ah, Luce! what a firm mouth — so unyielding — no, no, I mistake. He has a rose in his hand, dear; see, he has lifted it to his lips; it is a red rose, Luce,” breathlessly. “Some one may have given it to him — perhaps a woman,” laughing tremulously. “He does care, he does, he does. Oh, come away, Luce. I don’t want to see any one. I am tired, and I wonder — I wonder what Captain Laville was thinking of when he kissed that rose?”
“Nothing at all,” said madame. “Probably he forgot even that he had the flower. Jeanne, you act like a silly, romantic girl!”
Jeanne laughed softly.
“But, Luce, I wonder if that woman who gave him the rose knew exactly what she was doing? Women do such thoughtless things without any meaning — even I — sometimes — and then, after it is over, I am — we are — so sorry.”
THE TURN OF THE TIDE
THE very day after Jeanne’s arrival Rossart made a pretext to call on d’Artin. When he called, however, he found the entire family out. D’Artin and his wife were at the governor’s, and Jeanne was walking about the town with the negress Célie in attendance.
Rossart retraced his steps down the rose-bordered walk. The sun was shining full upon the garden. Rossart raised his eyes to the house — the house that was to shelter her, covered with clambering honeysuckle and roses, and suggestive of memories. He looked out on the record of will and perseverance that had dominated his life; and he registered a vow that this Frenchwoman should not thwart and scorn him, as she had done over there in France. He passed through the wicket with determined steps, his eyes following the course of the levee for some distance. With a sudden satisfaction he caught a glimpse of light skirts high up on the levee, embowered in the drooping willows. The slender, graceful figure recalled a vivid memory of the past. It was on such a day, seven years before, that he had seen her, pulsing with youth and beauty, in her veins the current of life coursing tumultuously, and he would have imperilled his soul and committed the greatest folly of his life for her sake. That might happen once, but he was sure he could win her this time, and without the antagonism of his previous encounter. He laughed softly to himself and followed the direction cf his gaze.
“Dreaming,” he said, under his breath. “Impracticable as ever, and as cool as the dawn. Your bewitching, magnetic women are always dreamers.”
He crossed the greensward to where Jeanne was seated upon the grass. Her dark silk draperies were gracefully disposed about her, and a tall negress was in the act of placing a cape over her shoulders, the heavy form of the servant accentuating the slender elegance of her mistress. Both women were unconscious of his approach until he had climbed the levee and stood confronting them some ten feet away. Then Jeanne, , feeling his gaze, turned. She flushed scarlet, and flashed her resentful orbs full upon his face. She hesitated a moment in silence, her eyes darkening momentarily, and her breath coming quickly. Then she uttered a low, smothered exclamation.
She turned deathly pale, and grasped the arm of the kneeling negress in alarm. Her heart beat within her breast, but she sat upright, and even smiled with a cold grace as though she defied him.
Rossart laughed. “Must I introduce myself?” he asked, going nearer to her. “My lady Jeanne seems surprised to see her erstwhile knight. Believe me, dear madame, nothing could equal my delight, when, some two months ago, I heard that so fair a lady would honor these bereft shores. Destiny ever brings you within my horoscope.”
The insolence of his bold glance and the familiarity of his tone angered Jeanne. She shot him a withering look from under her long lashes, and rose to her feet, bowing profoundly.
“Is it the custom in Louisiana for a gentleman to approach a lady uninvited?”
Her red mouth curved with a pout, and she lifted her head with proud scorn.
Rossart felt the charm of her presence. Instinctively he sought to make her manner more gracious.
“Softly, madame,” he said, smiling. “I grant you your impeachment, but he who helps not himself deserves no favor.”
She stared haughtily, and fixed her shining eyes upon him.
“I cannot conceive why any man should feel free to force his presence upon me. In France we do not allow our servants such privileges.”
“Fortune is but the turn of a tide, madame, and he who was low in France is high in power in Louisiana. You choose to bear yourself like a queen, and disdain me as ever.”
He came close, and stood over her with folded arms. Célie had strolled off a short distance from them. Rossart’s voice had an oily sort of persuasion in it; his speech was deliberate, also his movements, but they were those of a man who was used to having his own way. lie waited a moment for her to speak, in no way disconcerted by her defiant manner.
“Believe me, madame, I am servant only to such as you, and that by power of love alone. Cupid is a fickle sovereign, but he holds his subjects by bonds as strong as steel. Seven years ago I first met you, and one year ago, in France, I vowed that this day should come.”
She looked at him with disgust and loathing which would have made a more sensitive man quail, and then laughed in his face.
He bent towards her, confident, compelling in manner.
“Why did you come out to Louisiana, my dainty lady? Why were you — ” he hesitated and watched her face — “selected as the emissary of the king?”
He stopped and smiled down upon her, a flame growing in his eyes.
She turned pale, and faced him in deadly silence. She feared his knowledge, and knew that he would be hard to thwart. Then her eyes turned from him, and wandered musingly towards the Mississippi, where the cruel yellow waves lapped the green bank in greedy exultation.
“I came to Louisiana, Monsieur Rossart, because it was my will. You have made a blunder, as many before you have done.”
“There are men of affairs in every community,” he said, convincingly. “Louisiana has her heroes, but we who make the heroes are men of cooler blood and better mettle. We are the men who deal death, or make way for all who come to Louisiana. We dress our puppets in scarlet and satin for the greater show, and pull the string when the time comes. Doubtless Poché gave you admonitions of this fact. He is the puppet, and the string has been pulled — madame is here — her husband may follow.”
She trembled, and for a moment there was a wild look in her eyes, but the mood instantly changed.
“Why did you single out my husband?”
He laughed shamelessly, with an evil mocking in his face.
“Where the husband goes, perforce the wife will follow,” he said, quickly. “The king and the India Company demand a messenger. What easier than to depute Captain Poché, cousin to d’Artin. Here in Louisiana we are not prudes, and women such as you, madame, young, beautiful, and of fine wit, find ready homage from men of worth. Believe me, madame, I am a diplomat. It is easier to lead than to force. Captain Poché desires glory as a soldier. What more alluring than this Louisiana, with conquests to be made, gold to be unearthed, and renown through statecraft? The king evidently has use for his services at present in France. Abroad madame has courtiers to command, but none more anxious to obey than your humble servant.” He suddenly drew very close to her. “Nay, long I have loved you, madame, long I have planned to bring you out to Louisiana.”
Before she had time to realize his purpose his arm was around her and he had pressed his hot lips to her cheek.
She struggled violently, her breath coming hurriedly through her parted lips, and mad defiance within her.
“How dare you?”
Her whole soul rose in fierce revolt. Her eyes blazed with wrath, and she struggled to release herself from his encircling arms. Another moment, and Jupiter, Laville’s dog, dashed up to them with a low, savage growl. In an instant he had one of Rossart’s ankles in his huge jaws, and would have done him serious injury had not his master’s voice called to him from below the levee.
Rossart’s hold on Jeanne relaxed. She sprang from him to the willow hedge, and Célie ran to her side. All Jeanne’s soul was in a tumult. She loathed Rossart, and condemned herself for listening to him even for a moment.
By this time Laville had climbed up the bank. Crimson spots burned in Jeanne’s cheeks and her eyes flashed fire.
Laville bowed with respectful formality, glancing quickly at Rossart, and holding his cocked hat lightly to one side.
“Did you call, madame?”
Jeanne gazed from Rossart to Laville and back again, instantly recognizing Laville.
“No,” she answered. “I may have made an outcry, but not for help. I wish you both goodevening, gentlemen.”
She swept them a stately courtesy, and, with her little head held high, stepped between them, and down the green bank, followed by Celié , leaving the perfume of roses and violets in her wake.
“THEIR VERY FRAGRANCE SPEAKS OF YOU”
IT occurred to Laville a few days later that he ought to go to d’Artin’s and inquire for Jeanne. He had often been heard to make the assertion savagely that no woman could ever hold sway over him, yet every step of the way to d’Artin’s he was beset by melancholy forebodings. He had often made mistakes in his life, sometimes foolish ones, sometimes of graver import, but he had managed withal to maintain his peace of mind and general equipoise. For the first time in his adventurous, careless life he was suddenly brought to a pause. In all the years of his buoyant youth he had never once met a woman who had cost him a single thought when she was out of sight. With mocking banter he assured himself that Jeanne was but a novelty in these dull times, and laughed with a mingled sense of ridicule and shame at the impulse that took him to d’Artin’s to see another man’s wife. He had spent so much time alone in the wilds of Louisiana, wandering for days with only an Indian for company, that he had become something of a philosopher, and often found himself reflecting the feelings and sentiments of a man who is closely in touch with nature. He walked along the rue Royale, and turned into the rue de St. Pierre, accusing himself of folly in desiring to see this woman from the court of France.
It was towards evening, near the hour when Madame d’Artin generally received. In every house, and on every gallery, women and children aired their best wardrobes, drifting here and there by an open doorway, or flitting about the gardens in the sunlight, prattling, restless, hightempered as were the Louisianians of those early days. In nearly every face he saw suggestions of some point of history of the young colony. Few of the women but hid in their own hearts deep feelings engendered by the uncertainty of the times, and few of the children but had a father or brother who mingled in the affairs of the little French colony.
Laville thought of these homes, the happy faces suddenly reminding him, with a sickening sense of desolation, that he had none. He wondered that evening, with no definiteness of thought, whether he was as happy as they. He remembered d’Artin’s contented home life, and then again his mind recurred to Jeanne. Did her husband love her? Did she love him? If so, why was she here alone? When two people love, do they not desire to be together? — now, hereafter, even beyond the grave? That is what he had thought of, once in a while, in his lonely moments. A love that could not bear separation, something steadfast, something true, a symbol of eternal life, which, amid the confusions and cynicisms of the world, would shine steadily to the end, the love of one man for one woman.
He sighed, and turned into the street that faced the river, and went slowly on towards d’Artin’s. He passed up the walk between the nodding wall of roses. From somewhere up-stairs he heard a silvery peal of laughter. It found its way through the high chamber and across the gallery, down among the trees, and thence to the rose-bordered pathway. Laville knew it to be Jeanne. No other woman could laugh in that way, with such careless abandon. What could have put her in such a gay mood? But then she had the reputation of being always glad. He hoped she was not light, frivolous, soulless, like the roses. Somehow her face did not warrant that. There must be a few women somewhere who were true, or else the old world was sadly out of joint.
He turned quickly up the steps. The laugh came again. He crossed the gallery, and after a while Célie let him in, telling him that Madame d’Artin would have to be excused for a short time, but that Madame Poché would receive him. Then she led him into the big reception-room, and left him in front of the fire, leaning against the dark mantel-piece surmounted by a pair of huge vases. They were filled with great bunches of late roses, those that grew along the foot-path, and their faint perfume innocently reminded Laville of his boyhood days. The exhaled sweetness brought back a vivid picture of an old French chateau. His affections forced him to think of his mother, and his heart leaped at the fragrance of that bygone time. His mother had had blue eyes, not just like his, and a delicate brilliancy of complexion. Her eyes flashed up from the past. He had not lost his lofty ideals since her day, but his feet had wandered into many bypaths. Women had amused him, interested him for brief spells, but he had never cared or thought of them after they had gone, until this one — the lady Jeanne — had forced herself into his thoughts. He had known more beautiful women — for she was not, strictly speaking, beautiful — but none so alluring, so like a sorceress; and to save his soul he could not get her out of his mind. Vague, dreamy, half-tender thoughts swept through him. There was a sudden fragrance of violet and rose, a subtle suggestion of elegance in the atmosphere. It was like the scent of his mother’s garments, or was it simply a memory of some perfume? Then, looking up, he saw Jeanne coming down the stairs and through the wide hall. She did not dream that the man standing by the fire had conjured up a shadow figure as she came to meet him in rose-satin petticoat, with gayly flowered pannier and low bodice. She wore a soft kerchief of finest lace knotted about her shoulders. Her hair of sunny brown was powdered, and fastened loosely behind. There was a languorous grace about her movements, and the sweet scent of violets — that fragrance of the past — exuded from her.
Laville went smilingly to greet her. She bowed low with a sweep of her skirts. Her eyes were very bright, and she flushed gladly when he took her hand like an acquaintance of long standing.
She turned her face away, and laughed to hide her embarrassment.
“Madame is herself to-day.”
He looked down on her with unveiled admiration in his sombre eyes. She drew a long breath as he gazed at her.
“Oh, happy transformation!” cried Laville. For a moment he was perfectly happy with a happiness quite foreign to him.
“I am sorry you look at it in that way. I am afraid we are not going to be friends.” She glanced up in his face with girlish piteousness, and added: “And that will be a disappointment.”
He bent over her impetuously.
“You do me an injustice,” he said, quickly. “But a man can find more pleasure in a woman than in a boy, be he never so charming.” He ignored their last meeting, when Rossart had been present.
The rose satin, deepening into crimson in the folds, swept by him as Jeanne passed over to a high-backed divan and sat down by the fire. She had not been surprised when he was announced, and had come down to meet him with an anticipation of pleasure. She smiled at him, noting his fine, rugged head and magnificent height. There was a worn look about the eyes for a man of his years which made the charm for her the stronger. Expression and action and the tale of his life had traced lines which are never found on some faces though they live to be a hundred. She wondered what manner of man he was. Strange she should have so liked him from the moment of meeting. She folded her slender, jewelled hands in her lap, and Laville observed that on one of her fingers there glittered a diamond and emerald ring. The charm of her manner was so irresistible that, when she looked up, Laville fancied she was observing him as no other woman had done before; not as a chance acquaintance, but as some one she had known always. A sudden elation seized him.
“It seems as though we had known each other long ago, and that this is but a renewal of a pleasant friendship,” he remarked lamely, still standing.
Jeanne looked up sympathetically.
“It may have been when we were on earth before,” she replied, gayly. “I have a vague idea that I was here long ago; only then I must have been an Egyptian queen or some grand princess.”
“And I was one of your courtiers in that faraway, almost forgotten time.”
Then they both laughed impulsively, and Laville seated himself near the fire also, for, though it was spring, the air was damp.
“You are a luxurious lady,” said Laville, indicating the mass of pillows surrounding her with a wave of his hand.
Jeanne laughed a merry, rippling laugh, and her white fingers clasped and unclasped in her lap.
“And what a creature you are for flowers! I have never seen so many here before.”
He glanced about with pleased eyes. There were bowls of jasmine and roses everywhere — on the mantel-piece, on the tables, in the windows, displaying a wealth of color, and dispersing a rich fragrance and dainty freshness through the room.
“Yes, I do love them,” said Jeanne, quickly. “I always have them about me at home.”
“Home!” he echoed, moodily. “How the word carries my fancy back to France! I have not known the meaning of home since I came out here. Isolation decivilizes a man. It is the woman who makes the home and brings fragrance into life. You, Madame Poché, seem to gather much that is fairest and home-like about you.”
“I have some regard for the pleasant things of this life,” she said, disregarding his sudden sensitiveness, “and I have gathered many of them about me. New Orleans may take exception to my manners,” she continued, looking up with laughing insolence, “but I am accustomed to having my own way; and Cousin Luce has almost made me believe it is a very wild sort of way. Ah, life is so gay, so gay at court. We live in the sun. It unfits us for anything but pleasure.”
Laville’s eyes darkened, and his lips curled scornfully.
“One should not lose one’s personality by pandering to the world; it cares naught for us in the end. Virtues are estimated by the popular demand; sometimes the demand is for nonentity, and you, madame, are fortunate to have seen the sunny side of life. We of the wilderness can hardly understand that sort of existence. Those of us who lived another life once seem to have forgotten it here.”
She smiled dreamily, and spoke in a low voice, as if to herself, and continued to gaze with eyes that were far away.
“I do not believe we really care for the opinion of the world — only for a few — sometimes one is enough — one who understands — and then — there are things one likes to do, and we always want some one to help us.”
There was a sudden silence. The low fire burned on the wide-mouthed fireplace. The ruddy blaze illumined the high walls, which, though rudely fashioned, were arranged after those in vogue in Versailles, brilliant with yellow hangings and mirrors and Louis XIV furniture.
Jeanne at length drew herself back to earth with a heavy sigh. Her eyes lost their far-away expression, and she looked at Laville, laughing softly.
“Air castles!” she exclaimed. “I am forever building them.”
“I suppose you have begun to feel at home,” remarked Laville, “though many of our pioneers, as I have said, never experience that feeling here.”
“Yes, and to feel how much I am in your debt. I know now that I did not fully realize my danger that night. I thank you so much.”
She stretched out her hand with a gesture of graceful acknowledgment — very eloquent, but very unconventional. She was utterly unconstrained, and strikingly free from affectation, yet repelling anything but the utmost deference and respect.
Laville asked her no question, but listened, as she drifted from one subject to another with the freedom and spontaneous gayety of a child.
“Now do you feel that you know who I am?”
She asked the question abruptly, after having told him something of her home and her life in France. The green-gray eyes were turned on him for a moment with more than contemplation in the look.
He shook his head in the negative, and answered, with a rueful countenance, quiet and self-poised, though inwardly disquieted:
“I am told you are Madame Poché, a messenger of the king; that your husband is detained in France, but will follow you here later; and you are cousin to Antoine d’Artin. But, as I am a man, I do not understand you. No man knows a woman, if he live to be a graybeard.”
She nodded her head and spoke quickly.
“A merry jest, and yet you may be right. We do not know ourselves. Human nature — the feminine nature in particular — is very complex, and how should one understand?”
Laville listened gravely as she smoothed out the lap of her gay satin gown uneasily with her small white hands, and, with trouble gathering in her eyes, went on earnestly:
“All jesting aside, I cannot tell why, but, Captain Laville, I want to stand well with you. I think it must be because you saved my life that night.”
A sudden pang seized Laville’s heart when he realized how little this woman could ever be to him — she so inspiring, so graceful, so alluring. The joy of her presence was like the sweetness of forbidden fruit.
“Don’t you think I owe you some sort of an explanation for my appearance on that occasion? I am not quite pleased with myself, but for some one else to be displeased — some one I would stand well with — Oh, I won’t have that!”
She spoke frankly, almost impetuously, and lowered her eyes.
“You must — you will think well of me,” she repeated.
Laville unconsciously moved his chair nearer to her. If she had been like some women he had known, he would have taken her hand and said something sentimental. But he would not have presumed to lay a familiar finger on Jeanne. There was something utterly unapproachable about her, in spite of her gay spirits and frank confessions. He stooped down and picked a book up from the floor, and aimlessly turned the leaves over. Jeanne noticed that his hands were long and slender, extremely well shaped and strong, with narrow finger-nails. Hers were soft and white as snowballs, plump and dimpled. Never in her life before had they seemed so small and weak to her as at that moment. Then, as she looked, she was smitten with an overwhelming sense of his strength, of his manhood.
“Oh, what a fine thing it is to be big and strong. Ah, that is it — to be strong! How I love power!”
“What an enthusiastic little woman you are!” exclaimed Laville.
“I am honest at least. I was looking at your hands when I spoke. You ought to have a strong nature, if outward signs mean anything.”
Laville was moved to admiration by her frankness.
“Come,” she said, inquisitively. “How about the confidence you were about to repose in me? I always want the best the world can give, and anything you have to give will be of your best, I am sure.”
“You flatter me, madame.”
Still he hesitated and looked absently in the fire. When he spoke it was more to himself.
“God knows, what little I have I would gladly give you.”
A flash of incredulous rapture ran like fire through her veins. She did not weigh his meaning, this courted darling of fair France, who had been accustomed to flattering speeches all her life. She only felt that she was pleasing to him, and she was drawn to him all unheeding of consequences.
“Go on,” she said, impatiently. “What were you going to tell me of yourself?”
“There is little to tell, madame. A soldier’s life is pretty much the same everywhere — a dream of glory soon quenched in hard realities that make us forget the visions of our youth. But you who come from a world of life and beauty — tell me, madame, what of yourself?”
“My past glories all seem.dead now,” she said, drearily. “Somehow my home and all that went with it are a long way off.”
The firelight playing about her caressed her graceful form, kissed her round, white arms and white bosom. A rosy color burned in her cheeks, and her bright eyes glanced up at him with royal pride. Her rose-satin skirt almost touched him where he sat, and the poignant perfume in its folds absolutely pained his senses. In the grace and brightness of her beauty, she seemed to him like a young queen.
“I was brought up near the court,” she continued. “I am an only daughter.”
“Spoiled!” he interjected, carelessly.
She made a wry mouth.
“And if I am spoiled, who is to blame? You men make us so.”
She laughed a little bitterly, then sighed and sank her chin — a voluptuous little chin, with soft curves — into the palm of one hand, and gazed into the dying embers thoughtfully.
“I would that you men spoke the truth,” she said, simply. “We women never know when you are in earnest. From the cradle, on through life, you tell us the same old story, always the same.”
She smiled again, but with a sad droop to the corners of her mouth, and she shook her head disparagingly.
“It is the tale that draws us all on to our ruin, slightly varied, but always the same — beauty, admiration, love — ah, love, that is best.” A quick, shivering sigh ran through her.
“I grant you the truth of that,” Laville replied with quiet force. “But to one so lately from the court, such rude gallantry as my poor tongue can utter must sound like folly.”
As he spoke he rose and leaned against the mantel-piece. The fire on the hearth burned still lower before either broke the silence again. At last she rose also and stood near him. The faint fragrance of her garments continued to affect him with a strange poignancy. Then she spoke very slowly in a voice evidently under strong control.
“Does it, indeed, seem strange to you, Captain Laville, that a woman such as I should leave her home in France and sail to this wild land alone, unprotected, unattended by — her husband?”
There was intense anxiety in her questioning words. She had a dim perception that she was making a poor appearance before this gallant soldier, who touched her womanhood in an unwonted manner.
“Yes, madame. Since you ask me, I confess I have thought of it in that way,” he replied, honestly, yet not without a suggestion of sympathy.
Her haughty eyes suddenly flashed resentment. His confession was a trifle galling to her pride, though it did not fail to deepen her impression of his truthfulness. All her life men had flattered her, lied to her. Oh, she knew it well! What of it? It was the way of her world, and she had won her way with them all. An honest man was so rare as to be unfashionable.
“Then think of it as a woman’s whim,” she replied, hotly.
“I will not think of it at all unless you bid me,” he answered, gently. “It was you who asked the question. It would have been grave discourtesy in me to criticise your procedure. Doubtless you know your own affairs best, madame, and I am willing to believe that your husband is a brave gentleman who would have been your escort if he could.”
A faint blush of shame overspread her face. She was for the moment embarrassed and bewildered. Her eyes gathered a certain retrospection. Her voice sank lower.
“Only a woman’s whim,” she reassured him. The flexible mouth that had smiled proudly a moment ago had a pathetic droop. “You must believe that my husband is all that is chivalrous and noble. Don’t blame him.”
She broke off with a nervous laugh, and bent over a bunch of red roses on the table. Her heart was oppressed with remorse. Was it possible that she had led Laville to believe that Poché was not all a husband ought to be? Then suddenly it came to her that it was nothing to her what he thought. She raised her head with a determination to make him think better of her, and plunged into a spirited conversation, chattering and laughing with simplicity and freedom. She was a woman of keen wit and animation, and she surprised Laville by her knowledge of colonial affairs and her grasp of the Company’s policy. She talked of the court and many people he had never seen, but he was interested in all she said. He had been interested in the young masquerader when he rescued her from the drunken brawlers and took her for a youth in distress, but the winsome face, the soft eyes, and the silvery laugh of the woman before him had a dangerous fascination for him that held him in a spell.
“How beautiful is this Louisiana!” she suddenly exclaimed. “I wonder if I shall ever forget it?”
“It is the fate of those who go — to forget; of those who stay behind — to remember. You will be going some day, but I will be here.”
“Yes, you will be here,” she said, musingly, “and I shall remember you and think of you sometimes.”
He laughed quickly, but there was a daring appeal in his grave eyes.
“How will you care?”
“More than you imagine,” she responded. “Oh yes, I shall always remember you, I think.” Then, with one of her sudden changes of mood, “You know one must have amusement in life. You have amused me.”
He frowned disapprovingly. He could not brook ridicule. Jeanne saw her mistake.
“No, no! It is not that,” she cried passionately. “You make me feel as I have longed to make others feel — I — I want to touch their hearts, but you — you are different. All my life I have been an observer of others, and approved or disapproved. Nobody has questioned my sentiments. A woman is a bundle of chords, notes, and strings — a delicate instrument waiting to be played on to bring out the fine harmonies of her soul. I often wonder if there is really anything fine in me. I have felt that there was, but it has lain dormant; I think it will go on so to the end, and I will never know.”
Laville breathed hard. This was an unlookedfor confession of the strong, restless heart of the woman before him. He was moved by her unconscious appeal, but he merely smiled, strangely transfigured by the kindling light in his eyes.
“Do you know,” she ventured, in a rush of confidence, “I fear I am on the black books of most people. They do not understand me.”
“Not even your husband?” he hazarded, half playfully, half earnestly.
“Don’t speak of him, please,” she said, gently, with an appealing look. “At least let me be loyal.”
She gave an involuntary glance at the sombre face so near her own, and continued, cheerily:
“I suppose you, too, will think I am dreaming most of the time. Now there is Luce, dear old Luce, with her big velvety eyes, and her profound faith. She would kneel down in a mud-puddle and say her prayers if there was a cross before her. She only needs the symbol; the rest is real, and she believes her prayers are immediately answered. Antoine seems to love her. If he does not she will never know it. But I am different. I want so much. I would give all, and want all. I would sacrifice my soul for love. There is no such thing as absolute love, is there? No woman quite commands every thought of any man, does she?”
She courtesied to him with a wide sweep of her rose-satin skirts, half ashamed of her warmth. She moved over to the table which held the bowl of red roses, and began stripping the petals of a rose to cover her embarrassment. Then she came back and stood beside him.
“Have you no answer?”
“Madame, if I should answer you truly, I might offend.”
“Then don’t. I like you so well — I want your friendship so much — that I cannot afford to be angry with you.”
She held out her hand impulsively and clasped his with a warm, magnetic pressure.
“God bless you for an honest woman,” he broke out, “and one who is not afraid.” His heart sang jubilantly. “With that look in your eyes, the devil himself would believe in you, and it means so much to a man to believe in a woman. I have never had such faith in any woman as I have in you, except my mother. God knows we have need of a good woman’s inspiration and faith in these stormy times.”
His expression grew wistful, as he went on, frankly:
“That is what we love in a woman, truth in the large sense. No matter how vile a man may be, he is never so base as to be blind to the virtue of a good woman.”
She flushed slightly, and clasped her hands.
“I believe you,” she said, intensely. “If we were only true to our aspirations! Oh, I long for some things, and — and — do you know — I am sometimes ashamed of myself — of my frivolity.”
“For what do you long?” The words came from him in strange force.
“For success in my work,” she replied, reverting to a lighter mood.
“Your work?” lifting his eyebrows inquiringly. “The grand dame does no work.”
Jeanne flushed. It seemed to her as if for the first time in all her brilliant career she was checked by some staying power that turned the current of her thoughts, and not unwillingly.
“Do I impress you as being so very frivolous?”
An unholy delight shone in his eyes at her evident dejection.
“You must not consider what others think. Besides, it can hardly matter to you what a rough soldier of Louisiana thinks of a lady of France.”
“But it does,” impulsively. “I cannot expect you to care much, but I do — I — I do care for your opinion.”
At that moment Madame d’Artin entered, apologizing for her absence, and their conversation was abruptly ended. She noticed Jeanne’s flushed face and Laville’s absorption. She sat near Jeanne, stiffly upright for a moment, letting her mind dwell on the comedy these two presented to her unawares.
“Poor fool! He is trying to impress Jeanne,” she conjectured. “Little does he know that my lady has never a thought in her mind but to win hearts and turn heads.”
Laville became conscious of the slighting coldness of her manner, and quickly adopted a frankness of demeanor intended to reassure madame.
“I have been telling Madame Poché what a benediction she is to us all,” he said, cordially.
Jeanne looked up for a moment, uneasily, and then smiled innocently at her cousin.
Madame returned the smile and made a movement to lift her embroidery frame from the table. Anticipating her wishes, Laville courteously handed her the work, but in so doing he detached a rose from a bowl on the table, and it held to his sleeve by a thorn.
“Give me that,” cried Jeanne. “I have an odd fancy for it.”
All at once she blushed furiously at her impulsiveness, then quickly extended her hand for the rose.
Laville looked at the little hand for a moment. It was so white and soft, such a womanly, sympathetic hand, that his impulse to touch it was strong. He laid the flower in her warm palm, tingling with the magnetic contact as his fingers touched hers for an instant.
“I love flowers,” she said, softly. “They are the passion of my life.”
“Jeanne, what is the use of romancing?” interrupted madame, stiffly. “You know you like roses and all other flowers because they are fine adornments. I remember how you wrote to Antoine when you sent those rose-bushes two years ago, insisting that their charm would increase each day. And my foolish husband planted every one of them, even to the smallest little dried-up slip. I like flowers too, but do you think I could waste so much time on senseless things, and so much money? Tell me, child, what did you spend on the sweet trifles — a pretty fortune, I venture to say?”
“Nay, Luce, but it was money well spent, dear,” said Jeanne, laughing at her parsimonious cousin. “Flowers are silent monitors, and one must have delightful thoughts where there are many. But I don’t believe I foresaw their sweet profusion when I sent those roots out to you. There are so many now; the garden is growing to be like a corner of Paradise.”
“What do you know about that?” asked madame.
“Only that I cannot imagine such a place without them, and red roses — ah, how I love them!”
She looked reflectively at the red rose in her hand, heavy headed and rich in perfume, like its color. Then she flushed consciously and glanced at Laville.
“Henceforth the red rose will have a new meaning for me,” said Laville.
“Yes,” said madame, without noticing the significance of Laville’s words, “grandmother
used to say that the red rose is a passion flower, and that it is symbolical of love, but, of course, that is nonsense. All I know is that in New Orleans they are souvenirs of Jeanne Poché and her foolishness.”
LOVE IS LIFE
THE day following Laville’s call on Madame Poché he went to Biloxi, and Jeanne did not see him again for some time, though his name was frequently mentioned in the d’Artin household. Light, buoyant, and always charming, Jeanne took her share of the pleasures to be found in the little colony. She would fain have seen Laville again. An occult power in the man attracted her wonderfully, and there came a gentle look in her face when she thought of his upright manhood and graceful homage. She had been used to the admiration of men, but, as she had told him, Laville was different. There was a grave earnestness about his personality that attracted her impetuous nature. She did not fail to listen intently whenever she heard his name spoken, and she soon learned that there was discontent abroad and even serious displeasure with him for his stanch faith in Bienville, the deposed governor. The soldiers who had gone to battle with him were faithful to a man, but others, high in power, were ill satisfied with the stubborn stand he took. Almost unconsciously she found herself taking his side in every argument.
One day, about the beginning of April, she went out walking alone. There were occasions of ceremony when she liked Célie to follow her, but once in a while she preferred to wander out by herself.
She walked aimlessly along the weedy streets, straying from one into another with a careless disregard of her course, here and there plucking a rose or a spray of late fruit blossom.
It was a dull afternoon and very warm, with a heavy murkiness in the atmosphere that suggested rain. The half-clouded sky was radiated with alternating green and reddish glows off towards the west. Jeanne, always a lover of nature, admired the gigantic live-oaks that frowned down upon the low houses in every direction, and sometimes stretched their long boughs over an area of fifty feet. Every house had its imitation of a formal garden after the style of the French, but in other respects small interest in agriculture was manifested, and long stretches of arable soil were given over to a waste of wild hemp diversified by palmettoes and weeds. What mattered the waste of vegetable life, for in those days the energies of men were directed to wild dreams of gold and silver mines.
Jeanne throbbed with a sense of freedom. Every nerve responded to the beauty of the strange, wild landscape, its wilderness of rushes and reeds, its hoary moss-shrouded live-oaks, and the quaint, low buildings. She went on as though in a dream, the observed of all, and scarce realizing that the sky was growing blacker and a storm imminent. The low rumbling of thunder gave her the first alarm. Great drops of rain began to fall. She started to retrace her steps, but she was now a long distance from d’Artin’s house. The heavy downpour was fast drenching her garments, and, looking for shelter, she observed a small enclosure with a house standing back a short distance from the street, towards which she rushed pell-mell — through the wicket and up the pathway with averted head. She flew up the steps, and found herself confronted by a man’s arms. She looked up in alarm, which instantly gave way to surprise and relief when she saw Laville.
“Ah, it is you!” she exclaimed.
His laugh was pleasant to hear.
“Do you mean that you are sorry to see me?”
“No, no, but — I was taken by surprise — and is this your house?”
She looked about curiously. They stood on the broad gallery crowned with flowering vines which climbed about the pillars of white masonry. Spanish daggers reached almost up to the steps, and magnolia-trees grew close to the house. There was an open hallway through the centre of the house, running from front to back. The walls were plentifully hung with deer antlers and trophies of the chase; the timbers in the roof and the shingles in the walls, resembling slate, looked weather-beaten and stained. Cobwebs hung in the corners, and dirt daubers had built their nests under the eaves. There was a sense of novelty about the place to Jeanne, added to the sense of comfort which its hospitable shelter offered. The streets were literally running rivers of water; she knew she would be obliged to remain here for some time.
Laville stood awkward and speechless; Jeanne began to think he was not going to ask her into the house. Her limbs felt stiff and cold, and the water ran from her garments in little rivulets. She wondered if there was a fire inside.
“How did you happen to be here?” he asked, at last.
“If you will only take me inside, where I can get warm, perhaps I may tell you,” she replied, smiling. “I am cold and wet — ”
“How thoughtless of me!” said Laville, quickly. “Of course you cannot stand here in this plight.”
He quickly turned to the door on the right and threw it open.
“Forgive me; the pleasure of seeing you made me forget.”
Jeanne followed him into the great chamber, wonderingly.
“How comfortable!” as the warm air greeted her. “I am so glad to be here. For all the mildness of your climate, there is a sepulchral dampness on a day like this that chills one to the heart.”
Laville pushed up the logs on the hearth.
“Yes,” he said, quietly. “We need a good fire when it rains at this season. Here, madame, take this chair. It is too large for so small a lady, but you will find its roomy depths comfortable.”
The soft firelight streaming across the room mingled with the failing light and cast dancing shadows on walls and floor. The rough timbers looked stained and blackened, but armor and muskets hanging high were polished to a brilliancy that reflected the warm firelight.
Laville stood on the doeskin rug by the hearth, watching Jeanne as she gravely surveyed the room.
“Well,” he asked, gravely. “What do you think of bachelor quarters in Louisiana?”
She laughed softly and brought her greengray eyes back to his. Her face flushed slightly, and the rain trickled from her garments.
“I have not had time to think, I am so surprised to be here and to see you. I did not know you had returned.”
“I only came back last night. And it is really you, madame, who condescend to honor my humble abode.”
“Yes, it is I — Madame Poché — a storm-driven bird seeking shelter. Are you not glad to see me, captain?”
The face, with its mocking eyes and quivering mouth, was upturned to his again.
“More glad than you can ever know, .madame. For the first time, this place feels like home. Hitherto it has been an empty word to me in this wilderness.”
“That is pleasant,” she said, in a low and winning voice. “We women are glad to know that we can fill even a picture at times.”
There was an indefinable sense of softness in her manner, something almost caressing. In a vague way she was conscious of a deep feeling of pity for this big, grave man, and a tone of friendliness crept into her voice.
“I am really happy to meet you again.”
Laville’s heart beat faster, and the blood stirred in his veins. How natural she seemed, how frank and true!
There was a deep silence for a moment. A burning stick of wood fell upon the hearth and flamed up. The vapor was rising from Jeanne’s wet clothes, and recalled Laville to her sorry condition.
“Why, the water is running from your clothes in rivers,” he cried. “That will never do.” Unconsciously he assumed the air of a protector. “I cannot suffer harm to come to you under my roof.”
“I am wet,” she said, laughing, “and I am still cold. Have you any women about, Captain Laville? I would like to borrow some dry garments.”
Laville looked dismayed.
“This is a forlorn household,” he said, ruefully. “There is none about but Marcello, my servant, and myself. But, madame, if you continue to sit there rain soaked, you will have a chill. What sort of clothes do you want?”
She looked up and laughed at his helplessness, and then gazed shyly at her silk gown.
“The clothes of a lady, of course.”
“What say you to the clothes of a gentleman?”
She colored furiously.
“I had hoped you had forgotten that escapade,” she said, with hauteur.
“I did not mean that. I am in earnest. You will have to wear something — why not try something of mine? I swear, madame, I am in a quandary.”
“Yours would not fit.”
“Let me see. I have some Indian blankets. Could you not robe yourself in them after the manner of the squaws?”
They laughed together in merriment, but in the midst of her laughter Jeanne caught her breath, shivering with a violent chill.
Laville’s mirth was abruptly stayed; he went quickly to one of the tables and poured some wine into a goblet.
“Drink this,” he said. There was a tender look in his eyes, and his manner was nervous.
She drank the wine without remonstrance, but still she shivered until her teeth chattered.
“There — is — no — use trying to be brave,” she said, at last.
Her face was full of nervous terror, and she looked up at him like a helpless child.
“I believe you are ill,” he said, alarmed. “Are your feet wet?”
“Those shoes must come off, and you must have dry clothes.”
His eyes met and mastered hers; a sense of determination marked his manner.
Laville knelt on the rug and took one mudbespattered foot, scarcely larger than a child’s, and, handling it tremulously, removed the shoe; then he repeated the same office for the other. Could this be the same woman, he asked himself, so dominant and commanding at one time, now so appealing in her helplessness?
Jeanne’s physical sensibilities were so dulled by the chill that she seemed scarcely conscious of his movements, and allowed him to remove her shoes without question.
As soon as Laville had taken off the shoes and placed them in front of the fire, he went over to the settee, where a pile of bright-colored coverings lent a glow to that corner of the room.
“There are several blankets here. If you will but try, I think you can relieve yourself of your wet clothes. I will go across the hall, and if you care to have me come back, call to me or knock on the door. I shall be within hearing.”
Jeanne rose to her feet, still trembling with the chill.
“I thank you, captain. I will be glad to see you, if I can make myself presentable.”
Laville laughed lightly, and bending low in deep reverence, left the room.
Jeanne glided quickly over to the fire and stooped closer to the flames. It seemed as if she never could warm herself. Shaking with nervousness, she began to remove her wet clothing, first taking the packet, which never left her, from her bosom, and assuring herself that it was dry. Gradually, as she grew warmer, her spirits revived, and by the time she had arranged the soft Indian cloths about her, she was as gay as a bird and enjoying the masquerade with childish abandon — so happy once more that she laughed aloud. Twenty times, at least, she fastened and refastened the impromptu skirt about her limbs, a brilliant mass of floating yellow and scarlet; and as many times pulled on and off an old scarlet coat of Laville’s which she found on a chair.
The next moment she bit her lip with vexation and almost cried, for, peeping out from beneath her parti-colored skirt, she saw her rosy bare feet. What should she do? No stockings, no shoes, and he, the captain, in the other room, waiting all this time to be called. Slowly she arranged her wet skirts before the fire, modestly hiding the petticoat, voluminous with lace flounces, under the silk gown.
“But those feet!”
She clasped her hands and groaned, when suddenly, oh, joy! protruding from under the bed, she saw a pair of Laville’s moccasins. She clapped her hands gleefully, and then slipped them on — first one dainty foot and then the other. Ah! the blessed Virgin keep him from looking! She shambled over to the door, laughing all the while, and gave a peremptory knock. Then she hurried back to the centre of the room and waited with smiling face. There was a pause, then the silence was broken by Laville’s firm tread crossing the hall.
As he opened the door, a faint and distant melody, mingling with the sound of the storm, came from the church across the way. It was the vesper hymn, a chanting, dreamy petition which seemed to fit in well with the scene. Almost in rhythm with the measure, Jeanne bent her body in a picturesque salute, with her hands raised above her head, after the fashion of an Oriental’s greeting. Every movement of her body and every expression of her face followed with infinite grace the measure of the chant. She glowed with warm, pulsing life, a dreamy abandon in every line of her lithe form that added piquancy to her presence.
She laughed and waited for him to speak, then, as he remained silent in evident admiration, she hurriedly questioned him:
“What do you think of me now? Do I look like a lady of New France? And,” hesitating, “I would be very glad if you would move that big chair over here. I am sorely afraid I might lose my shoes if I attempted to walk so far.”
Laville’s eyes twinkled merrily. Though fantastically attired, Jeanne seemed more radiant and alluring than ever. He regarded her for a few seconds in silence, wondering at the vitality that gave even childish things a new interest.
“On my conscience!” he said, at last. “You are a poem incarnate — you have transformed this humble room into a palace of beauty. True it is as shabby as ever, but you have created an atmosphere — ”
She paused and followed his eyes. He was looking at her garments drying before the fire.
“There was nothing else to do,” she said. “Those things must remain there, for I will have to go home shortly.”
“Alas, yes!” he muttered to himself, as he rolled the big chair over to where Jeanne stood.
She looked up for a moment with a laugh, and then averted her head and sat down at once to hide her embarrassment.
“Now tell me,” when she had settled herself comfortably, “what do you do here, all by yourself?”
“Ah! it is not such a bad home, captain,” she replied, staring about. “I dare say with a few changes — that tobacco put away, for instance, those ashes brushed up, the pistols removed, and, on the outside of the farthest window, the cane cut away — it would look much more inviting.”
Laville watched her with a flush in his pale cheeks, while she continued, her voice and form vibrating with pleasure.
“And if I were you, I’d have my servant — Marcello, is that what you call him?”
“Well, I would surely have him dust.”
“That would be such an unusual occurrence that even the spiders would resent the intrusion.”
“Doubtless, but then think how comfortable they would be afterwards.”
Laville was deeply stirred. What a change she wrought everywhere! Now he saw her in a new light. He forgot the court beauty, the woman of strange fascinations, and saw only a sympathetic girl with a soft light in her strange green-gray eyes.
“The pleasures of a well-ordered home are not for all men,” he said, quickly. “Madame, you are an advocate of heart-sickness when you talk of such subjects.”
“Ah, well!” with quick grace. “Both sides have their compensations. Rejoice that you have every freedom. That is a worldI” she laughed.
Outside the rain still poured. Lightning chased across the leaden sky, and peals of thunder reverberated through the stillness.
After some time Marcello came in with supper on a tray. Jeanne started, uncomfortably, but, conscious of her moccasined feet, sat still.
“Ah, is it so late?”
“Not so late, but I thought you might honor me. It is one more boon I ask of you, to sit at my table. It may be the last request I can make of you. Here I am master — fate brought you to my door.”
He glanced at her furtively, fearing her refusal. There was a dead silence for a few momerits while Marcello set the table and served the supper.
“I told Marcello to bring supper in here,” Laville said, at last, apologetically. “The other room is cold — not fit for you. It is not in my power to do better, madame, but my welcome must testify to that desire. Marcello, my man, your linen is not over neat.”
Marcello, well knowing the supply was scant, tried to catch his master’s eye.
“Alas! my master, you must berate the woman who washes it.”
“Will it please you, madame?” said Laville, assisting Jeanne to the table with a fine air, in spite of the lack of linen and silver. “Let me serve you to some of this fowl. It is said our meat here is even better than in France. Tealduck, quails, venison — all abound in this region.”
Jeanne laughed like a happy child. It was so novel, so gay to be there alone with him.
“Now I am queen of your banquet,” she exclaimed, merrily. “We can make believe all sorts of things, and be as merry as we like. The arrangements are perfect; your supper is just right. No lady in the world could possess a higher art in serving than you, Marcello. Perchance you cannot make a ragout, but your fowl is done to a turn. Long live Marcello, a genius among cooks!”
She was in a merry mood, and laughed and talked foolishness with reckless abandon. Gradually the daylight faded outside, and the room grew dark save for the red firelight playing across the floor.
“One can hardly think of you as a married woman,” Laville said, quite suddenly.
Jeanne gave a start and looked up. Laville divined quickly that he had touched a wound.
“I forget it myself sometimes,” said Jeanne, blushing deeply in the firelight. “I suppose I ought not — but then I do.”
“How did it ever happen? Tell me something of yourself. I am your friend, am I not?”
Her jewelled hands smoothed the lap of her soft blanket robe. Her eyes took on a hard look, and her delicate mouth closed firmly as if she would not speak. Then her lips moved slightly, tremblingly.
“A short sketch of my life?” she asked, with a nervous little laugh.
“Only what you care to tell.”
“Well, long ago, I lived as a child with my parents and only brother in Versailles. I lost my mother when I was so young that I scarcely remember her, but my father brought me up, and loved and pampered me as fathers are apt to do with an only daughter. I was taught all sorts of things in books, and learned many arts that live in the world of fashion. Then, when I was seventeen, I was married.”
She paused, forgetting herself for the instant, and keeping silence while Laville waited.
“I was only a girl,” she resumed. “I did not know anything of love.” She paused again. Then she went on more slowly. “Lately I have sometimes wondered what it is to be a girl. I never had any girlhood.”
She nervously twisted the fastenings on the coat she wore and glanced up into Laville’s eyes. They were looking so steadily down on her that her heart gave a great leap and seemed to stand still.
Laville watched the serious face, feeling a sudden mad hatred of the man who shared her life. He sat entranced, watching the firelight playing in the folds of her strange robe, in the gold of her hair, in the deep orbs of her luminous eyes.
“Your world over yonder is very gay,” he said. “When I think of the life I once lived amid those scenes, it seems evanescent, almost like a dream. I suppose over there in that world of gayety, where the king sets the pattern of fashion, that the sentiment you refer to — love — is a sort of unknown emotion.”
She nodded her head gravely.
“Yes, with most of us. But sometimes I wonder if we would not be happier if we believed as the peasants do.”
She leaned back in her chair in front of the fire and fixed her eyes on the immense pair of antlers above the mantel. “Some are so strong, so brave,” she mused. “Better to share life and love with the lowly and humble if one could be true.”
“I am like a bark without a rudder,” she continued. “I am so restless — so restless, and all at sea!”
She looked at him, blushing furiously at her admission. The firelight lay lightly under her chin, and lingered on her finger tips and rosy nails.
“But then,” recovering herself alertly. “Love is not the only thing. If it were, then a world would be well lost for it. But I do not understand it, captain. The women of my world are so hollow, so frivolous, and they make of love a mockery. Bah! It makes me sick of the very sound. I loathe the base intrigues which are sanctioned in the name of love and marriage. I could understand a woman’s forsaking all and defying the world for one man if she loved him. It means something to leave old traditions, old friends, everything for a great love. It surely takes a strong woman to do that.”
“And could you do that — if you loved a man?”
He asked the question with intense feeling, scarce realizing what he said.
She raised her eyes to his for an instant all aglow with a dazzling light. Oh. the fascination of those eyes for him! There was a tremor in her voice when she answered.
“Perchance, but I would have to love him more than passing well.”
Her mood was gay now, and before he could answer, she broke into singing, her eyes dancing, and an inexpressible witchery in every movement.
A sudden unreasoning anger took possession of Laville as he listened to her. This woman, was she cold and frivolous after all? Was she playing with him? — She could frolic, she could coquette, she could make love eloquent in her eyes, but the heart within her? Well, what of it? Was she not famed for her conquests over there in France? Echoes of her triumphs had reached the shores of Louisiana, but all men acknowledged the unattainable in her.
“Your thoughts, tell me — what are they?” cried Jeanne, her song ended. “I know they must be beautiful, because they are serious.”
“Are you ever serious?”
Jeanne was hurt and surprised. Sudden tears came into her eyes. Laville inwardly scourged himself. There was heart and soul in this woman; passion, too — a generous and royal nature.
“The rain has ceased,” said Jeanne, soberly, “and the frogs are croaking. I think I will go home now, Captain Laville.”
A wave of irresponsibility seemed to come over her. She felt as though she were drifting into some new world. Even after Laville had left her and she was changing her clothes the impression remained.
At last she was ready, and Laville joined her to escort her to d’Artin’s. As they left the house together it seemed to both that they had been dreaming, and the cool evening air brought a rude awakening. Laville was vaguely conscious that this hour would color his life hereafter. For some time they walked on in silence.
“I wish I could tell you how happy I have been,” he said, in a low voice, “but — I cannot.”
“I think I know. There are some things we feel instinctively. That is so with me.”
They went on in the darkness, and Laville could not see her face, but he felt that she spoke earnestly.
“My sun sets to-night,” he said, with quick passion. “You have brought so full a measure of joy into my life that everything will seem colorless hereafter.”
“And you have been a measure of usefulness to me,” she said, quickly misinterpreting his words, and adding lightly: “How could I ever have reached home, monsieur, without your aid? Water everywhere — one needs help in the worst places.”
With a gesture of extreme weariness, she crowded the packet farther down in the bosom of her dress.
“I am beginning to learn many things here in Louisiana,” said Jeanne, thoughtfully.
“And since you came I fear I have learned the saddest and the gladdest lesson of my life.”
Laville spoke recklessly, the power of his passion overcoming his discretion, but with a dreary hopelessness.
She looked up with a sudden swift smile, which he felt rather than saw, but she answered him not.
“Love!” he said, passionately. “It is strong — it is life, but, oh, mon Dieu! they are only fools who say love is happiness — it is the torments of hell.”
“Hush, my captain!” she said, in admonishment. “The speech of courtiers becomes you not.”
AS the days went slowly by in dreamy Louisiana, Laville became a more frequent visitor at Antoine d’Artin’s residence. The aristocracy of the settlement was so small that where one went all were congregated, and madame’s home was the centre of the beauty and fashion of the little colonial city. The amusements were of a gay character, interspersed with much dancing and music, and there was none so audacious and gay as Jeanne, who soon became the cynosure of all eyes, the pivot of all social ceremonies. In the evenings every one strolled about the streets or found pleasure in sitting on the vine-embowered galleries, eating and drinking and making merry under the stars. Laville and Jeanne were often thrown together, at the governor’s levees, in church, at Madame d’Artin’s. Everywhere Jeanne was an object of attraction, with her seductive graces and personal charm. She wore the costliest gowns of fine satins and laces, and when she walked abroad Célie, the slave girl, was her faithful attendant. The odor of rose and violet clung to her garments, and at every movement gave out their sweet perfume. There was languid grace in her carriage, and her lustrous green-gray eyes, with the little nervous frown between the eyebrows, shone out radiantly and won the hearts of the colony. People were divided in their attentions between her and Périer, the new governor, their curiosity often leading them into indiscretions, which, however, never touched Madame Poché with a breath of harm.
There was a ball at the government house, one evening, and Jeanne, as usual, queened it royally.
The Sieur de Glaucos, who had been absent ever since Jeanne’s arrival in the colony, came late to look on for a few moments. The old soldier had just returned from Biloxi, and, wearing his soiled uniform, stood in an obscure corner to avoid observation. He had sent for Rossart, and the violins were sounding and the dance in full swing when the chief of police made his appearance.
“What news?” asked the old soldier, in a low voice fraught with emotion. “Has the king’s messenger come?”
“I do not know,” replied Rossart, cautiously. “The ship has come, but as yet no despatch.”
At that moment the violins rose to a louder strain, and the dancers advanced and swept by them in their secluded corner. Jeanne and Laville danced together. Laville was undoubtedly the most distinguished looking man in the room, and Jeanne the most magnificent among the women. Laughing, posturing, trembling with joy in the dance, they courtesied again and again, stepping to the rhythm of the stately dance music.
The Sieur de Glaucos rubbed his brow in puzzled bewilderment.
“Who is that woman?” he asked.
“Madame Poché. She comes from France alone. No other messenger was on the ship. What think you, old soldier?”
The Sieur de Glaucos gasped in dismay, and Rossart stepped back with a diabolical smile on his lips.
“Morbleu! what does it mean?”
“Think you that the cardinal would entrust a woman with the king’s message?”
“I do not understand. You say no message has come. Madame Poché is here, and not her husband. What think you of it, Rossart?”
“That Madame Poché may be the king’s messenger. I know not, but I have reason to suspect it.”
“It cannot be,” said the Sieur de Glaucos. “And yet one never knows what the cardinal will do. How lovely she looks, Rossart! It seems but yesterday since I was in France.”
“But it is passing strange that she should come here alone, so young, so attractive, and without her husband,” insinuated Rossart. “I told you, old soldier, that a lover must be the magnet, and now it looks as if graver matters were concealed in that haughty head. I fear that it means danger for us.”
Rossart smiled in scorn and watched the effect of his words.
“See you not that Laville is her gallant?”
“Well, what of that?”
“These many weeks he has been constantly at her side. What if he should know of the despatch?”
“It is inconceivable, Rossart; put the foul suspicion from your mind.”
“You forget, surely. Women will stop at nothing, and this one is the bravest of her sex, and would dare anything where she loved.”
“And you have had some experience?” suggested the Sieur de Glaucos, keenly eying Rossart with no kindly expression.
Rossart did not venture to question the flattering sarcasm. It did not disturb him in the least. The implication in the Sieur de Glaucos’s speech made him smile, however.
“I have always found women pretty much like the world in general — to be won your way if you pay the price,” he answered, coolly. “Doubtless Madame Poché is no exception to the rule.”
“An unjust judgment, my friend, and untrue, I swear.”
His sense of justice was aroused, and the instinct that inspired him to champion all women.
“The man who stoops to meanness is apt to believe that a woman is capable of meanness also.”
“You take them too seriously,” laughed Rossart, nothing daunted. “What woman is worth it? At best, they are a necessary evil, but they make the world much too pleasant a place to complain of them, and I, for one, am not willing to change aught that makes life endurable. I have never denied myself a single pleasure the old world could give, so far. I shall not begin now.”
He smiled coldly, and his eyes dwelt covetously on Jeanne.
The Sieur de Glaucos gave a snort of disdain and walked abruptly away. Rossart crossed the room, and, seeing his opportunity, he joined Jeanne in the embrasure of a large window where she sat watching the dancers. The sensuous odor of some lilies in a tall jar near her perfumed the atmosphere, and Jeanne’s languor affected Rossart as strangely in keeping with the subtle fragrance. As soon as they were alone, Rossart gave a quick, searching glance about, and turned his eyes on Jeanne’s face — strange, sinister eyes they were, cold as steel, hawklike and gleaming under his beetling brows.
Jeanne was dangerously attractive to the chief of police. He had seen her often during her stay in New Orleans, and though she had repulsed him on every occasion, he persisted after each rebuff in renewing his attentions. He turned upon her now with a bold glance of admiration.
“My lady Jeanne, you are pale to-night. Nevertheless, you are more beautiful to me than all other women, and you have more power over me than any woman for good or evil.”
The insulting warmth of his tones made her lift her head and look at him in amazement.
“You forget yourself,” she said, haughtily. “Perhaps you also fail to remember that I am the wife of a man you call your friend.”
“What do I care for that? You are the one woman in the world I want. I admire you — I love you. I have often told you so.”
Jeanne’s eyes blazed.
“Stop!” she cried, angrily. “I will not listen.” She rose and attempted to escape from the alcove.
Rossart stepped in front of her.
“Since when has my lady Jeanne grown so punctilious? In France it was your pleasure to count your victims. Nothing can be more strange than your gentle ways of late.”
She smiled disdainfully, though the heart within her beat with sudden fear.
“Do you know that the eyes of the whole community are upon you?” he questioned, sternly.
“As one arrived from the court of France so lately, it is not strange,” she answered, lightly.
“And is that the only reason, madame?”
“Unless it be that Monsieur Rossart makes me conspicuous by his presumptuous attentions,” she replied, scornfully. “No gentleman would do a lady such grave injustice.”
There was no defiance in her manner, but an angry scorn that spoke through her flashing eyes and heaving bosom.
His eyes travelled over her, and his brows met in a black frown.
“This thing must end,” he exclaimed, fiercely. “Madame Poché, you are playing with fire. Have you learned to love this soldier, or are you using him as a tool, as you have used other men?”
“My affairs concern none but myself,” she replied, without faltering.
“They must — they shall concern me. I have sworn it.”
Her heart sank, but she forced a smile to her lips.
“Listen, my lady Jeanne, I swear you shall never be anything to Julian Laville.”
Jeanne’s heart gave a bound, and she turned cold with fear.
“Monsieur Rossart, you insult me — why, I care not. I do not understand your insinuations; I have only known this man a few short weeks. In that time I have learned that Captain Laville is what you will never be — a gentleman.”
He reflected a moment. He had gone too far. He must not lose his power over her.
“Forgive me. Perchance I erred,” he said, humbly. “It was jealousy that maddened me. There is no room in my heart for anything but you, and rather than see another man come between us I would kill him.”
She started violently and trembled from head to foot, scarce knowing why. What was Laville to her? She did not know. Why should she care for his fate? Why imperil her honor for him? Rossart was speaking again.
“I can strip this man of every honor — beggar him — send him back to France in disgrace. All this I would do, and more, for you.”
He spoke the last words in a caressing tone, and leaned over her shoulder, looking down upon her where the diamond fireflies glistened on her white bosom.
She shrank back against the window-frame. She was conscious of a deep desire to save Laville from harm.
“Do your worst,” she muttered, resolutely. “Deal death or any vengeance you desire — only let it fall on me alone. No one else is to blame. I despise you, I loathe you. I never could love you, to the last day of my life. It is I — I alone who defy you.”
She rose from her seat and stood confronting him with a wild fire in her eyes.
“I have no wish to hurt you, my lady Jeanne,” said Rossart, frightened for a moment by her vehemence. “I only want your love, and I swear I shall have it.”
“And that, I repeat, you will never have. I hate you!”
“Beware, madame. I am an enemy not to be despised. There are other matters to be inquired into. The penalty of treason is death.”
In spite of her self-control, Jeanne’s face blanched
“Ha! There are those near the throne who knew when the king’s messenger left France. Believe me, dear lady, it is perilous to trifle with one who has his finger on the pulse of state affairs.”
“Then pray keep your secrets,” she retorted, undaunted. “I like not, nor do I care for your threats. And remember this, though you be the chief of police, the messenger will never yield his message to any but to whom it is sent. Think you his majesty the king would send a message to you?”
She laughed insolently. He looked at her and smiled with the cruel sneer that was so often on his lips.
“Continue, I am listening,” he said, covertly. “Since when did my lady Jeanne become my judge?”
“Since the emergency arose. Why are you so concerned in the king’s will? Has the cardinal aught against you? Only traitors, monsieur, need fear the penalty of treason.”
It was a random remark, yet it impressed the chief of police, for he started guiltily, and for a moment lost his self-control. He shuddered, and his thoughts recoiled from the picture Jeanne’s words had raised so vividly in his mind.
There was a tense silence between them for a moment. Beads of perspiration stood on Rossart’s forehead. What a hoarse, metallic sound the music from the ball-room had. He gasped as if for air. The shadowy corner seemed to become a place full of dread, and he shuddered visibly.
Jeanne could not understand Rossart’s change of manner. It was enough that in some way she had silenced him.
“Monsieur Rossart,” she said, “will you let me pass?”
Her words seemed to rouse him, and his face resumed its old mocking.
“You are easily deceived, madame, if you think you can escape me. I swear I will make you suffer for this.”
“I am not afraid,” she said, with an assurance she did not feel. “One who uses your weapons is like a barking dog. I fear you not.”
As she moved towards the outer room, he stole quickly to her side with a stealthy, animal-like movement. His eyes were blazing as he whispered in her ear:
“You are suspected, you are watched. Better turn to me, my lady, before it is too late. I have warned you.”
“I WILL LOVE THEE EVERMORE”
“GOOD-MORNING, good-morning, Captain Laville.”
The buoyant, laughing tones rang merrily out on the morning air.
Laville trembled as he heard the voice. He looked around and saw Jeanne walking rapidly behind him. He suppressed the delight he felt at seeing her and the triumph of vanity stirred by her happy greeting.
She smiled gayly as she approached, and bore herself like a young queen. Very tender was her glance, and very soft the expression of her eyes. The sun shone on the lustre of her unpowdered hair, loosely knotted under a large, picturesque hat, on the folds of her morning gown of daintiest muslin, and on the sweet-smelling rose at her bosom.
Laville turned, and Jeanne stepped forward, holding her dainty skirts from the ground.
“Thank fortune that you live on a day like this, my captain, and that you find such excellent company for a morning walk. Ah, look how the sun shines! It makes one glad to live. Verily, the gods are good to mortals in this land. Such sunshine, such air!” She laughed rapturously. “Think you there is any time more beautiful than the spring, Captain Laville? All the world seems a vision of bloom. Look over yonder — in those gardens the wild plum blossoms in such profusion — and those pink blooms — how lovely is nature here in this wilderness! Oh, this is indeed a world of flowers.”
“What rapture you find in nature,” he remarked, gravely.
“Well, it is said that God leads us all by different paths. Mine goes through a flowery way, I am sure, and without the sun, monsieur — ah! one could not live.”
The brooding darkness that had overshadowed Laville’s face at their meeting cleared with the increasing gladness of her presence.
“The sun always shines in Louisiana,” he said.
“I grant you that. Six weeks to a day have I been here in this land of perpetual brightness, and only one rainy day — and, after all, that was not a dark hour.” She laughed consciously. “If climate has any influence upon our natures, then those who live in Louisiana should continually radiate sunshine.”
“There are some from France who bring it with them,” he said, gallantly, gazing at her with earnest eyes.
She looked up at the tall, strong figure and smiled gladly. Her eyes were held by his for a moment, and then fell in sudden embarrassment under his sober gaze.
“I should like to go to the forest,” she said, eagerly. “The gates are open now. Come, Captain Laville, will you be my escort? I have longed to see those ancient woods. We have heard of them in France — the wide-spreading live-oaks, the ghastly cypresses, and the sun shining over all. I think the sunshine is best of all. Is it not the great life-giver? What mysteries it unfolds from the dark bosom of earth!”
“Do you know,” he said, fervently, “in my mind I have come to associate you with flowers and glad things — a vine, a bud, a blossom. Such simple things seem to give you the deepest joy.”
Laville walked beside Jeanne, passing through the rue Toulouse towards the woods. Soon the homes of the colony’s potentates were left behind, and the straggling, lowly abodes on the fringe of the forest. He kept wondering all the way why it was that this gay-hearted woman, this child of luxury, had willingly chosen exile. Her dainty muslin gown, with its pungent aroma, seemed curiously out of place in this setting, and he looked ruefully down at his soiled hose and frayed coat. For once in his life, the consciousness smote him that he was not looking his best.
“Captain Laville” — the voice startled him from his reveries — “please tell me — are you not the same Laville who was such a stanch friend of Governor Bienville?”
Laville looked up inquiringly.
“I must be the man,” he replied, lightly. “I know of no other of the name in Louisiana. I was, and still am, a friend of our dear old ex-governor. The ambition of my life is to have him reinstated.”
As she walked beside him, her breath suddenly came hurriedly through her parted lips. “Do you take an active interest in the affairs of the state now?” she questioned, eagerly.
“Why do you ask that?”
He faced her almost rudely, but her eyes failed to meet his. She shrugged her shoulders and clasped her white hands.
“I have the proverbial woman’s desire to know things. But see, here is the gate. I suppose there are all manner of horrors out there in the cool, green forest — just as sometimes human beings have smiling faces and wretched hearts.”
They passed through the gates and down a woodland path bordered on both sides by palmettoes, laughing like a couple of children. Everything in nature appealed to Jeanne’s warm, tender temperament. Though essentially a woman bred in the crushing refinement of civilization, she loved the tall, dark trees, the sunshine, the birds, the ripples on the water, the fall of a leaf, and the thousand and one sweet things born of the earth and air. When they reached the entrance to the forest, Laville spread some fragrant boughs on the ground under the shade of a live-oak, and threw himself on the grass at Jeanne’s feet.
“Are you one of the soldiers now?” asked Jeanne, when they had been seated a few moments. “I think Luce once said that you belonged to the governor’s guard. It seems as though you men spent your days in idleness in times of peace. We hear of your doing nothing all day long but gambling and drinking. Have you no ambition?”
She seemed very earnest as she asked the question, with bent head and slender, white fingers clasping and unclasping in her lap.
“Madame Poché,” he said, gravely, mentally recounting the longings of his heart, the dreams and ambitions of the soldier, “I know you think us a wild, rough lot, but we have our aspirations. I hoped once to stand high in our beloved Louisiana, but with Bienville gone and with Périer in power — who is no friend of ours, though possibly upright in his relations with Fleury — what is likely to become of our vaunted civilization? Better to drift with the tide than to defy fate. When the issue comes, its scenes will be bloody, and God knows Louisiana will need the sword and brain of every patriot. Meanwhile I stand and wait, defensive, and, it may be at times, offensive, but with no pangs of selfreproach.”
“But you could do much; you are so brave.”
He bent his head, noting the dainty poise of her slender ankles as she lifted her skirt. “I do not know why it is,” he confessed, slowly, “but somehow I feel inclined to talk to you of my affairs. I have never cared to speak to any woman about myself.”
“But what are you going to do?” she asked, with an eager interest in her question.
He paused a moment. Then, with the grand air of a cavalier of old France, he answered:
“Pin my faith to my country. Affairs are even now shaping themselves. If we can have Bienville restored, a new era will begin for Louisiana and her friends. Our present governor is merely a tool. Cardinal Fleury shapes all means to his ends. We are not the loyal royalists of old, and if Bienville should be returned to us, then to the devil with the king and his ministers.”
She started and uttered a hurried exclamation of dissent.
“Oh, don’t speak in that way. Some one might hear you.”
He saw her press her hand to her side and crowd something in her bosom behind the folds of her kerchief. He felt strangely agitated for a moment. The blood leaped through his veins like torrents of fire.
“You seem disturbed,” he said, quietly. “Tell me, do you really care for my welfare?”
She met his gaze with bright, moist eyes, and drew her breath in momentary relief.
“I am not indifferent. Let me be your friend. It is my turn now. Did you not save me from those ruffians?”
“It is an honor never to be forgotten to have done you even so slight a service.”
She laughed, but he fancied the nervous little trill sounded bitter, and sitting close to her, so close that her sleeve almost touched him, with the gentle air blowing the tendrils of brown hair against her neck, he could see the heaving of her bosom and feel the warmth of her emotion.
“Let me see your hand a moment,” she said, to hide her embarrassment. “I am something of a fortune-teller, and I can read the lines in your palm. An old soothsayer taught me long ago.”
“Are you a daughter of the stars? You know the old legend goes that the love of such a woman is fatal.”
“I did not say anything about the stars,” she said, quickly. “I think I am rather akin to the sun. But give me your hand, and I will tell you of your lady-love, and whether she be dark or fair.”
“I can see her now, God pity me!” he said to himself, “and she is fair, with brown hair and green-gray eyes.”
She took the brown palm in hers with a merry laugh. Suddenly, as she studied the lines, the laughter died in her throat.
“Is it a good hand — I mean a strong one?” he asked.
She turned her head and shook it slightly, with a gesture of dissent.
“There is truly some good in your hand.”
“But you must tell me. What do you see there, sorceress?”
“You will love unwisely,” she said, with constraint.
The blood rushed to his face, and he glanced up at her with a hopeless longing in his eyes.
“You gypsy!” he cried, impetuously. “Your words are only too true; I fear — I think I see my fate already before me. Are you indeed a sorceress come out of France to take us all in bonds?”
She raised her eyebrows disdainfully and flung his hand from her.
“I hate that sort of thing,” she said, indignantly. “I have liked you so much because you seemed so different from all other men I have known. I despise flattery. I thought you sincere, and now you disappoint me.”
“It is as I thought — as I knew,” he interrupted; “I am afraid to tell you anything. You have heard so much about yourself from others that when I speak truth you call it flattery.”
There was a certain honest seeming about his manner and speech that convinced her. She turned to him, took his hand again, and studied it critically for a moment.
“I can read other things in your palm,” she went on, ignoring his words. “If you will listen, I will try to tell you what they are.”
“I am listening, madame.”
“You are masterful. You want your own way, but you are not selfish. You are bold.”
“I always wanted the best the world can give, and, mon Dieu!” he cried, with sudden fire, “I mean to have it.”
“Hush, hush, my masterful captain! There are things that may conquer you yet — a woman’s will, a woman’s way. There is much strength in weakness sometimes, and more to be dreaded in a woman’s eyes than in the strongest battery ever made by man — so the wise ones of the world tell us.”
“They make this world perfect for us — that is, some women.”
Jeanne laughed, slightly embarrassed at his warmth, and drew her hand away. A change came over Laville’s face which she did not fail to notice. He studied the grass at her feet in silence, distraught in mind.
“You are right. God knows there are men — a few poor fools — who would sell their soul to see what they long for in the eyes of some woman. Strong men are weaker than the world knows.” Then, after a pause, “I have a notion, madame,” he said, turning to the tree against which she leaned, “to cut your initials in this bark, so that in the years to come any one wandering this way may see what is carved thereon. J — that’s for Jeanne, the most bewitching little siren that ever left France to win the hearts of men in this strange land of Louisiana. These letters will be here long after we are gone,” he went on, as he carved her initials in the bark of the live-oak. “So much of our lives will be together, at least,” he said, fiercely, without once glancing at her.
“I must forgive your shameless jests, I suppose,” she said, laughing lightly and trying to avoid his meaning. “Now cut your initials also. There — it really looks like the work of a pair of rural lovers — J and J — how romantic!”
Her large, limpid eyes, changing from gray to green with every emotion, smiled and then looked sad.
“You have the siren’s eyes,” he said, looking at her. “First brown, then gray, then green. One could never stake much on their color, with their variations. Who ever heard of anyone but an enchantress or a siren having such eyes?”
“You forget,’ she said, mischievously, “there is the cat.”
She leaned against the tree, with her gaze fixed on the blue space overhead, softly striking her lips with the long-stemmed crimson rose from her bodice.
“Will you let me call you Jeanne?” he asked, suddenly. “I confess I do not like the name for you. It is very inappropriate, but it is less formal than Madame Poché.”
“Why?” she asked, laughing tremulously.
The laughter faded from her eyes and lips as she looked at him. He was deathly pale, and there was a strange excitement in his face.
“It does not fit you,” he said, with suppressed emotion. “In my heart I call you sweetheart. Let me kiss your hand. That is the homage a subject pays his sovereign.”
Her eyes filled with sudden fear and surprise. Then she turned her proud face to him in contemptuous anger.
“Captain Laville, is this gallant?”
She sat up with proud erectness, her face still turned from him.
“Forgive me,” he entreated “There are emotions that lash one’s soul to a tumult at times and make one forget. I fear to offend you. With any other woman the asking would have been the taking. With you it is different. I want you to think well of me. Forgive me, Jeanne. I swear I meant no offence. I will never take advantage of your friendship, I promise. Ask your own heart if there are not times when strong emotions sway us beyond control.”
“You are very generous,” she said, with sarcasm.
“Jeanne,” he cried, pleadingly, “I have never wanted a friend as I have since I knew you. You have inspired a desire hardly acknowledged to myself. In spite of your coldness, I think you are my friend. If you could understand me, you would know that my regard for you is the purest inspiration of my life — possibly a worthless life,” he added, bitterly. “And if you were a free woman, I would make you listen to me and believe in me. As it is, personal sacrifice and endurance make up our lives.” He waited a moment and then rose. “May I escort you back to the settlement?”
The glory of the bright day had faded. Jeanne rose from her green throne on the fragrant boughs and turned her face homeward. They were both strangely subdued, both conscious, in a vague way, of the coming conflict. The waving trees, the bright sunshine, the flecking vistas of Spanish moss, the insect hum and stir, and the bustle of woodland life failed to awaken any response in Jeanne. Somehow she felt that an ideal had been shattered. She had thought herself happy, away off there in France, in that old life whose problems had been accepted as the traditions of previous generations. Poché had been a cold-blooded, heartlessly selfish husband; in a girlish way she had accepted the fact of her marriage with him. But now — there were hidden depths in Laville’s nature that she had never found in her husband. Other men in the dissolute French capital, after the manner in vogue at the gay court, had made love to her, but she had laughed them down and treated it all with disdain. Now, ah! now, it all seemed different.
“You are not offended?” asked Laville, anxiously, when they reached d’Artin’s and had passed through the wicket between the rosewalls. “Never did knight hold lady in higher regard than I do you. I can suffer for you, I would die for you. You are the one woman in all the world to me.”
She raised her hand entreatingly and turned to him in weary wistfulness. Suddenly, from the gallery, came the sound of Madame d’Artin’s lute, and her voice, sweet, vibrant, singing the old French love song that Jeanne liked so well —
They felt drawn to each other by an uncomprehending force. The old love song thrilled the air, and intensified the harmony that knit their souls together in a strange fate.
“You have learned something to-day, Jeanne,” he said, under his breath.
“And you too,” she repeated.
They paused a moment, with the song still vibrating in their ears. Jeanne made effort to speak, but her voice failed her. He stepped closer to her, and tried to see her face, but she kept it averted from him.
“What is it, Jeanne?”
He spoke breathlessly, almost afraid to break the spell. She answered so low he could scarcely hear.
“I believe in you, but do not speak to me; do not look at me. I want to be true — to be loyal!”
“Do not be so grave,” he implored. “I know that I am in danger of losing your friendship, but there are times when the devil tempts us all, and we utter sentiments that should not be spoken. The shifting uncertainties of this world make us long to grasp the little that seems to come within our grasp. If we dared — ”
She interrupted him quickly.
“Captain Laville, I — I am — your friend.” She started to walk rapidly. “I have lately come, from the court I know what is said. My husband is Cardinal Fleury’s friend.” The bushes caught her skirts and tore them. “Don’t, I beseech you, speak about the king as you did today. Believe me, I know.”
She was strangely excited. Something wild and clamorous in her nature warned her not to look at him. Suddenly it came to Laville that she was acting as the king’s emissary and seeking to corrupt his allegiance to Bienville.
“So! You would convert me to the cardinal’s way of thinking?” he cried, hoarsely. “I might have known. What do you care? What is one man to you more than another except as a step in a woman’s ambition? Mon Dieu, you are all alike! We are all tools or playthings to one like you. Life in this wilderness is sad enough at best, but there are things that make it sadder.”
Her face flushed, her heart failed her, and all in an instant the light and joy seemed to have died out of the world.
Again the plaintive old love melody came floating down the garden to them.
They paused with averted heads. That day had brought them nothing, but instinctively both realized something had gone from them, something that never would come back — the old peace, the quiet of ignorance.
“Good-bye, Captain Laville. This has been a lovely morning.” She did not hold out her hand, but her eyes were moist.
“Not good-bye yet,” he pleaded, wistfully. “Forgive me. I was mad a moment ago. See, madame beckons to me from the doorway. Shall I go? Do you wish me to leave?”
“Nay, not if you wish to stay.”
THE SIEUR DE GLAUCOS IS BAFFLED
JEANNE and Laville found Madame d’Artin waiting for them in the doorway. She was dressed extravagantly, as was her custom, and wore her patches and paint with quite a grand air. Her lute was still in her hands.
“Oh, Jeanne!” she cried, with unusual excitement, when they reached her side, ’we could not imagine where you had gone. Célie said she saw you pass towards the western gate. You must be more careful. Antoine says the Indians are growing restless and offensive again. I was so worried lest something had happened.”
“Nothing can happen to me from that source while Bras Piqué lives. You know I have a faithful ally in her,” said Jeanne, confidently. Her heart was happy. She had forgotten her late sally with Laville.
“There is no cause for alarm,” Laville assured them. “Yesterday a band of Choctaws were found wandering in our streets, and several incendiary fires had to be extinguished. Otherwise everything seems perfectly safe. Chopart has had some difficulty at Fort Rosalie, but I do not think we need apprehend any danger.”
“The holy Virgin forbid!” said madame, piously crossing herself.
Jeanne sat down on the top step, while Laville loitered near. It was a typical Louisiana day, filled with sunshine and pleasant odors. The whole landscape was one of harmonious greens and grays — the neutral clouds hovering over the levee, the river beyond, the long, straight roads, the perspective of ditches, the Place d’Armes, where figure after figure passed and repassed and flung a cheery greeting to the gay New Orleans world.
“Jeanne, I forgot to tell you,” said madame, with a sudden mischievous look. “There’s a letter from your husband. It came to-day. A soldier from Biloxi brought it from the ship that arrived there last week.”
Jeanne was chatting amiably with Laville. Suddenly she clasped and unclasped her hands in her silken lap when madame spoke. She breathed with a sort of pained ecstasy. Something had happened. Her husband was coming. No, that could not be. She felt alarmed, and almost trembled when she took the letter from madame. All her courage and hope were gone, and for one thoughtless, unashamed moment she turned her impassioned eyes full upon Laville, who was regarding her with jealous scrutiny. He could help her. Ah, the rapture of that moment! Her face grew radiant, but almost instantly it changed. With shame, with remorse, she realized her disloyalty.
“Captain Laville,” she said, with an indescribable mingling of mirth and humility in her voice and manner, “a wife’s duty is to her husband. I must read my letter at once. Pray excuse me.”
She laughed brightly. All her gay grace of manner seemed to have returned. Then she went up-stairs to her chamber. The room was dark, for the shutters were closed. Jeanne threw them open, and let in a flood of sunlight. It was a large chamber with two windows and a fireplace at one end, scrupulously clean, betraying the refined taste of a dainty woman. A roomy bed, with an immense canopy draped with flowered silk, stood against the wall, and Jeanne sank down at the foot and tore her letter open with a shiver. She read:
“Dear Jeanne, — It is now some weeks since you left France. I know you must be safe with Antoine and Luce ere this, although I have received no letter as yet.
“I trust you have delivered the king’s despatch. It was a mark of favor that you should have been selected as the bearer, and may mean great things for me, your husband; and yet sometimes I wish on my soul I knew the contents of the message. Fleury is a grim counsellor, and, mark you, when I asked to be sent instead of you, he was utterly unmovable.
“If the Sieur de Glaucos is not in New Orleans when you arrive, guard the despatch as if your life depended on it until he comes. The king will brook no mistake, and to the Sieur de Glaucos, and him only, must you give the message, unless, as may be the case, another has the password. A mistake may undo me. Remember you are surrounded by the enemies of France. I am under the impression that the despatch contains instructions regarding one of our country’s foes — a certain Captain Laville. The despatch may mean his recall to France and probable death, as becomes a traitor.”
Jeanne stood up at that, with her head thrown back and her breath coming in gasps through her parted lips. Her hand clutched her bosom where the packet lay.
“No one knows I have it,” she said. “Only Rossart suspects. Oh, thank God! thank God! the Sieur de Glaucos was gone so long. Why give up the despatch — a life — his life.”
She could hear Laville laugh. The deep barytone voice floated on the breeze. Ah, how she was thrilled by that tone! Every intonation set her pulses throbbing. It was as if her own death sentence had been written in that letter. Full of regret for the past, dissatisfied, desperate, she would have given up life at that moment to undo it all.
“Alas, alas! how powerless to struggle against the forces that bind one!”
A spot of crimson burned in each cheek. She laughed nervously as her large eyes travelled about the room, and suddenly met her image in the mirror. The fixed gaze was that of a poor, hunted creature. Shapes rose before her in long array — shapes that peopled her happy childhood, her brief girlhood, and careless wifehood. She could see herself once more the idol of the court, the gay coquette. She could feel her blood move quicker through her veins. Her limbs shook.
“I can do it,” she murmured. “No one will ever know. It will be nothing to my husband, and it will save Captain Laville.”
She turned her haggard eyes from the mirror, afraid of the anguish and terror she saw there. “Alone, friendless — a woman!” she murmured, pacing the floor. “Holy Virgin Mother, to be so helpless!” Ah, if all the fine people of her world could know all — know that she, the gentle born, the proud woman of the court of France, loved this soldier of fortune more than her life! But she was glad they would never know. That should be buried deep in her own rebellious heart. They would never dream, when she went back to France, that the best of her life was left in these Louisiana woods — the dearest treasure of her heart, the only love of all her life.
She seemed to have sat there a long time when she heard Laville bid madame good-morning. She bounded across the room and looked wistfully at the tall figure walking rapidly down the rose-bordered walk, his head and shoulders thrown back with superb grace. She stretched out her arms imploringly. She saw him close the little wicket after him. He was gone, and in an instant the world became empty and dark. She closed her eyes and dropped her arms to her sides and went slowly away from the window. She felt faint and tired. Kneeling, she laid her head on the table.
“Everything is sad,” she moaned. “The clouds that darken my horizon fill me with hopelessness. Oh, God! I am overwhelmed. What is the use of life and love?”
She paced up and down the floor of the great chamber, now pausing near the window, where she caught a glimpse of Laville passing beyond the market and into the rue St. Anne, and now hovering over the fire, trembling and shivering as if stricken with a chill. All at once her quick ear caught the sound of some one coming up the stairs. Then there was a tapping on the door; the latch was lifted, and Celié , the negress, pushed it open and announced the Sieur de Glaucos.
Jeanne looked at her with troubled eyes and actually laughed. The Sieur de Glaucos! What did he want? Where was he? When did he come back? How did he know she was there? Oh, yes, the letter. Directly she would go dowa Tell him to wait.
“It has come, it has come,” she moaned, with palpitating heart. She felt so strange, so afraid — she, Jeanne Poché, who had never been afraid of any living creature. She hurriedly changed her dress for one more befitting the occasion. “You will help me to be beautiful, Celié ,” she said to the negress. “The Sieur de Glaucos has been in France not so long ago that he has forgotten how women ought to look. He used to know me there. Now brush out my hair. See, without the powder it is like sunshine. My head aches. I am pale. Here, put a pink rose in my bodice.” She touched the negress on the arm with a furtive caress. “I am thankful. Everything is right now.” She turned from the mirror, a radiant vision in lavender, with only the faintest rose color in her cheeks and the fatal packet over her heart.
She descended the stairs slowly, followed by Celié , as became a lady of quality, and went forward indifferently to meet the Sieur de Glaucos. A change came over the old soldier’s face when he greeted her. He was not quick of wit nor versed in social usages, and for a time he was dazed by the splendid vision. Captivating, smiling, the scent of her garments haunting his senses, she met him with uplifted eyes and unquestioning frankness. He had fancied this meeting time and time again, dreading, yet longing, to see Jeanne.
She slightly lifted her silk skirt with graceful ease, and swept him a low bow.
“Ah, madame!” he said, kissing her white hand, “I forget the lapse of years when I see you, and try to think I am young again.”
“Upon my word, it is inhuman to remind me that it is five years at least since the Sieur de Glaucos was last in France.”
“That gives you fewer pangs than me,” he returned, gallantly. “It is a longer way off to you than to me. Time is a rapid messenger to the old.”
She motioned him to a seat and settled herself close beside a window where the sunlight streamed across her hair, bringing out the red glints in the brown and adding lustre to the green lights in her eyes.
“I have it that madame has lately come from France, and the dazzling picture of her social triumphs is in my mind.”
She met his glance boldly, with the fearless look of a child.
“Full six weeks since the ship arrived.”
“A brave woman, by our Lady, to venture so far alone.”
“And does it seem to you so far away?” her voice faltered.
“Yes, for a woman so young and beautiful to come unattended.”
“I suppose I am a daring woman,” she said, with flashing eyes. “My husband is a soldier, and a courtier. As such he is absent much, and I might as well be here as there. We are not always together. Then I had the ambition for a long time to visit Louisiana and see once more my cousin Antoine. In these times, women as well as men have their eccentricities, and experience teaches us that even a bright woman requires change. I aspire at least to be that.”
“Then, by my faith,” he exclaimed, enthusiastically, “you should be a royal envoy and come in the king’s name.”
Every shade of anxiety seemed to vanish from Jeanne. “Oh, monsieur!” she cried, raising her hands with a little forbidding gesture.
The Sieur de Glaucos never dreamed that her whole soul, all her strength, was absorbed in throwing him off his guard Regret, at first, in failing to secure the despatch now gave place to a hope that Jeanne was not the bearer. Women ought not to be burdened with such grave matters. He liked her gracious, joyous mood.
“Was it truly only the love of novelty that brought you into our lonely country?”
There was an almost fearful anxiety in his question.
Jeanne threw herself about between the pillows on the divan in the most fascinating attitudes, but under her lavender bodice her heart beat violently. She laughed carelessly, and the brave light in her eyes was not quenched.
“Yes, I love novelty well enough even to dare that,” she said, in a tone that carried conviction. “My husband was coming, too, but it was impossible at the last moment, and so I came over on the ship with the nuns.”
“And his affair, what did he do about that?” he demanded, so suddenly as almost to take her breath away.
Jeanne did not like deceit. This was her first experience in strategy, and it gave her a shock to see the fierce expression in the Sieur de Glaucos’s burning eyes. He turned suspiciously towards her to watch the effect of his words.
She laughed nervously; a sob escaped from her overcrowded heart.
“In the king’s name, madame, does that mean aught to you? There is a grave matter between us, I fear.”
Jeanne smiled brilliantly, with an abrupt change in her manner. She had evidently displayed too much interest. Immediately she concentrated all the force of her intense nature to remove the impression she had created. She remembered what was at stake. Laville was her dominant object — to save him at any cost. Deception was utterly distasteful to her, and made the part she played harder; yet she must go on unflinchingly.
“You presume too much,” she said, with a shrug of her shoulders, rising at once from her seat and walking towards the door. “In his zeal for the state, the Sieur de Glaucos forgets he is addressing a lady — an unprotected lady — and not one of his subordinates.”
Her hands fell to her sides, and she watched him keenly, an eager hope shining in her eyes.
He stumbled awkwardly to his feet, with a faint blush of shame mantling his rugged old face. He looked at her, bewildered. With his unerring judgment of human nature, he still felt that she knew more than she was willing to confide, yet it seemed unmanly to attempt to coerce her.
“Pardon, madame,” he begged. “One must accept a woman’s word.” His voice trembled as he stooped closer to her ear. “But there may be those who can command your submission.”
She drew back from him in anger and looked at him without fear, stung to superb scorn by his words. There was too much directness in her nature to permit her successfully to delude him.
“No one can force me against my will. But, monsieur, let us talk no more about it. I want the Sieur de Glaucos for my friend. If your meaning seem obscure to me, pardon my stupidity, and still be my friend.”
She held out her hand in cordial invitation and turned her feverishly brilliant eyes on him. He stooped low and touched her hand with his bearded lips. Stern man as he was, and even fierce at times, the irresistible seduction of her manner was too strong for him.
His eyes seemed to probe her very soul. “We only learn the folly of trusting a woman with secrets of importance when it is too late. Ah, madame, the face which I last saw, six years ago in the ball-room of the palace, has still the loveliness that made me remember you all these years — the attraction is resistless. No matter what time brings, I will believe in you. I acknowledge I have played my game like an old fool, but I have only done what others before me have for a woman.”
“No, no!” she cried, eagerly, with quivering lips. “You must not — I am not what you think, though I — I want you still to believe in me.”
The Sieur de Glaucos knit his shaggy brows.
“I repeat, I believe in you, madame, and am in all sincerity your friend. An old man such as I, who has seen so much of the cynicism and untruthfulness of the “world, likes to think that once in a while he finds a true woman — somewhere.”
She bowed her head in silence, rebuked by his faith.
“I am not an untruthful woman, I give you my word,” she said, proudly. “The combination of circumstances that forces us to certain acts are often beyond our control.”
She hesitated and looked at him with a smile pathetic in its wistfulness.
“I have really few friends — I cannot afford to part with even one. Perhaps some time I shall throw off this burden, that is weighing me down, and be fair with you. Oh, Sieur de Glaucos, turn your eyes away. They are so good, so kind! If I ever needed courage it is now, and I weaken when I look at you. I do not want you to think evil of me — life seems so out of tune. Oh, I know not what to do.”
He made no answer for a moment, but when he spoke his voice was strangely low and tender.
“Has anything gone seriously wrong with you? Tell me.”
“I cannot,” she exclaimed. “Not now. I do not want to deceive you. It is not my nature. I can endure, but I cannot lie.”
She clasped her listless fingers and looked unfalteringly up in his face.
“Don’t ask about that despatch again. I know something about it, but I am a desperate woman. I can see no way out — I cannot tell you more. No, no! a thousand times no! Not if I were to be tortured until my life should end.”
She waited for him to speak. She almost expected that he would demand the packet. She was mistaken. He only stood looking down upon her in silent, sick wonderment. Then he lifted her cold hand to his lips, kissed it, and quickly dropped it.
“I would not have you tell me more.”
The stern lines about his mouth softened, and he spoke with feeling.
“We will have to look elsewhere for information regarding the packet,” he said, “but you can trust me, madame. I do not understand, but, dear lady, I honor you and I wish you happiness. Truth will always shed a serene light upon the many confusions of the world, and among the many who defy it, it is well to know some who fear it.”
He bowed low, and went towards the door, the sweet perfume from her garments mingling with the bitter thought that he had been baffled.
THE SPIES OF FRANCE
AFFAIRS in the thinly populated little New Orleans town had taken on a prosperous air. Périer, the new governor, and the Jesuits working in collusion, had gradually pushed the agricultural interests until very soon the vast lands lying about the city were tilled, and by degrees developed into myrtle, orange, and fig orchards, diversified by fields of rice, tobacco, and corn. A mild though rapidly increasing system of slavery began to thrive, producing a form of feudalism only a few degrees removed from the patriarchal conditions of older countries. Périer had done much for the interests of the colony, but the faction bent on Bienville’s return remained discontented and dissatisfied. Rossart was Périer’s most active ally, and was ever on the alert. He had always despised Laville, and now, when he saw Jeanne manifesting a decided interest in him, Rossart found his growing impulse to remove Laville from the scene of his ambition wax stronger than ever.
“It will be easy to handle him,” he reasoned. “Give him time, watch him closely; he is sure to step into the trap — then France and disgrace!”
Meanwhile Rossart was in an unenviable state of mind. Jeanne’s presence constantly reminded him of certain painful encounters with her back yonder in France, and to this was added the’ affront of her latest repulses. Since the night of the ball he had attempted to see her alone on several occasions, but she had successfully avoided him, until one day he met her and Célie as they were passing from the church.
It was a hazy morning. There had been rain during the night, and the atmosphere was still charged with moisture. Jeanne was going up the steps, with Célie following behind, when Rossart accosted her. The singing from the church came through the open door, faintly, sweetly falling upon the heavy air.
Jeanne was evidently in a hurry, but Rossart had no notion of allowing her to escape him this time. He went straight up to her and bowed, with determination gleaming in his beady black eyes.
“It will be wise if you hear what I have to say,” he said, frowning until his brows met.
Jeanne wheeled about and faced him.
“I begin to think that certain gentlemen of France left their manners behind when they came to Louisiana.”
Her proud lips curled with a scornful smile, and she turned to enter the church. The chanting voices fell softly on the air.
Rossart shook his head as with an air of penitence, and sighed.
“Ah, madame, stay. It is indeed true, but the provocation is great. Can one think of embellishments when one’s heart is torn with emotion? Madame Poché, you have much to answer for.”
While he was speaking a tall figure in the garb of the Jesuits ascended the steps. He was a dark man, with a lofty forehead and eyes filled with mingled softness and fire. He glanced keenly at Jeanne and Rossart, and in an instant both recognized Father Beauvois, one of the priests who ministered to the spiritual needs of the colony.
Bending towards him, with a gesture of appeal, Jeanne would have spoken, but Father Beauvois spoke first.
“Are you ready to come to us yet?” he asked. “There is consolation in the Church, Madame Poché.”
He saw the haggard expression in her eyes. She had interested him from their first meeting, and with fiery zeal he had endeavored to win her to his order.
Jeanne lifted up her eyes and smiled sadly.
“Not now, Father Beauvois.”
“The conflict will end some day, my child,” he said.
She started and turned pale and looked at Rossart. What did the priest mean? True, he had sought her confidence, but she never suspected that he might know of her mission, and yet — and yet — Cardinal Fleury had his allies in every part of the dominion of France.
“When that day comes, madame,” concluded the priest, as he bowed gravely and passed up the steps, “I shall be waiting for you.”
Rossart’s gaze followed the tall figure until it had vanished within the shadows of the church.
“They think to conquer us,” he said, scornfully, “but the victory will not be theirs.”
Jeanne wondered, but controlled herself.
“Ah, my chief of police, are you not for the king? Surely, the victory of the Church is King Louis’s gain.”
Rossart smiled with good-natured superiority.
“Father Beauvois presumes. What did he mean, my lady Jeanne, when he asked you to come to them?”
He watched Jeanne closely.
“Did he know, for example, that a messenger from France has withheld a despatch from the king?”
He looked squarely at Jeanne.
“I have learned that such a messenger has landed here among us. Doubtless Father Beauvois knows the king’s henchmen are good marksmen, and that their arrows rarely miss the mark. It would be a thousand pities, my lady Jeanne, if so beauteous a head as thine should fall.”
She did not stir, but her face grew a shade paler. She wanted to get away from the malevolent power with which this evil man seemed to hold her.
“But I assure you it will be best not to appeal to the Church in case of a forced surrender — a forced surrender, I say.”
He laughed cynically.
“I have learned not to trust a woman, my lady Jeanne. When women meddle with the affairs of men they need watching. Be warned — you are watched.”
She started, and would have passed on, but Rossart’s gaze held her.
“With your interests ever in view,” he continued, gravely, “I warn you, my dear, inconsiderate madame, that I am never thwarted in anything. I will not be crossed now. Do you realize that Laville, he whom you favor with your smiles, is — ”
“I will not listen to you, monsieur,” she interrupted, with cold disdain in her eyes.
“ — That Laville is under the ban of the king’s displeasure, and by the king I mean the India Company, the cardinal, and all the powers that crush. You who come from the court of France know what that implies. Beware, madame, that you do not hasten the ruin of Captain Laville, and when he falls remember that those who love him shall fall with him.” He lifted his eyes in cool triumph. “Unless, perchance, they retract in time.”
Jeanne winced, but only for a moment. Before she had time to reply Rossart joined the people coming from the church and passed on.
Jeanne went home in a more thoughtful mood than usual. Rossart’s threats were becoming unendurable; she had thought, after their last encounter, that she had silenced him forever. Oh, if she could only know what it was that had made him cower that night. He awakened a strange fear in her breast. To know that he suspected her love for Laville, and would dare to strike her through him, had the power to move her more than any other consideration. She became terrified at the hold he had upon her.
A slight Indian disturbance had taken Laville from the colony for a short period, and after his return the interviews between him and Jeanne were brief and constrained. The pleasant season was at its height, and Jeanne went everywhere. There were many evenings spent on the broad galleries with the brightest wits of the colony — the little drawing-room parties, the languid noons with a book or a chat with madame, the afternoons idled under the live-oaks in madame’s garden, with rumors of war and hints of Indian strife — stories of adventure and bloodshed that shook Jeanne’s very soul. All this made up her life in a small compass, and as the days and nights passed on in a perpetual round of dreamy pleasure, France and that other life off there seemed a thing apart, remembered only as a vision.
“YOUR LOUISIANA IS FULL OF STRANGE THINGS”
IN the days that followed Jeanne did not see much of Rossart nor of Laville. Meanwhile the Indian trouble was growing, and the governor, after some delay, called a council of the Indian chiefs. Every man in the colony waited anxiously for the important day. Proclamation had been made to the effect that the warriors would come up the river, so that preparations were being made along their route to impress the chiefs with the concourse of people and their strong means of defence. Doors, windows, galleries swarmed with human life in the thoroughfares through which the savages would have to pass.
Laville returned to the settlement the night before the Indian council was to take place, and on the morning of that important day he called at the d’Artin residence long before the chiefs were to arrive. It was a public holiday, and when he arrived Laville found d’Artin in the act of hanging a floral decoration over the front of his house. Madame had a way of hovering about her husband when he was engaged in any sort of labor about the place, and so it happened that on this occasion they were together. Jeanne was in the house, but the moment she heard Laville’s voice she came out on the gallery and greeted him with a shy seriousness.
“Laville! How lucky!” exclaimed d’Artin from his elevated position. “Of all times we need you most now. Jeanne there" — he shook a reproving finger at his cousin — “restless, unreasonable woman that she is, wants to ride along the river front and see the frolic. We have a new jennet, and the little carriage, and nothing will do but she must ride in state to see the procession. Now, Laville, will you, like a good fellow, go in my place?”
“I thank you, d’Artin. I shall be glad to accompany madame, if she will bear with my society in place of yours.”
He involuntarily glanced towards Jeanne, who was shading her eyes and looking off towards the river. He dreaded yet longed for the coveted tête-à-tête with her.
“You know the Suns,” said d’Artin. “Tell Jeanne about them. The old devils will be out in all their glory of war paint and feathers, and a brave sight for one who has not grown weary of their very names. Jeanne wants to see everything — she lives in perpetual motion;" the young man laughed merrily at his cousin’s waywardness.
“Well, ’tis a short life and a merry one,” laughed Jeanne. “A little more dancing, a little more laughter, some great joy, and then a sudden good-night. It is better to say farewell when one is still young enough to be remembered with regret. I cannot imagine a more depressing thing than to outlive all the sensations of youth.”
In the act of turning towards Jeanne, Laville’s eyes rested on Madame d’Artin, who was exchanging a meaning look with her husband. He knew that Jeanne’s philosophy was held in contempt by this thoroughly practical woman. He was strangely moved by the impassioned voice. The reserve and control of the past few weeks were breaking down. It was all so true, what she said — to live, even for one day, was it not worth a whole lifetime of loveless existence?
There was a decided contradiction in madame’s eyes.
“It is wrong to feel as you do, Jeanne,” she said, curtly.
D’Artin looked down from his height with a strong sense of mirth in him.
“I never saw such a little woman,” he said. “Jeanne revels in our Louisiana weather. She enjoys everything; even the tamest affairs take on a rosy hue to her. What madame calls romancing is her penchant .”
“I fear to say another word,” said Jeanne, merrily, “lest I breathe discord into the domestic felicity of this household. You know, Captain Laville, they never can quite agree over me. But come, let us be off.”
They had no more than started on their ride when it became evident to Laville that Jeanne was in one of her most reckless moods. She talked and laughed like a happy child, and skeptical and cynical as he had grown of late, Laville was completely overcome, and melted under her warmth and gayety. In truth, she had never seemed more bewitching. Her lithe, active body, robed in a rich silken gown, her exquisitely shaped arms veiled by a thin covering, and her curving bosom incased in its silk bodice which rose and fell with her ecstatic bursts of laughter — all made her seem a creature of wonderful life and vitality in the insolence of perfect health. She talked incessantly, contrary to her usual custom, and her voice, like her personality, was indefinable. She was continually changing — now gay, now pathetic, now dangerously caressing, with merely a look or a sigh, then cold and haughty again; always frank and selfunconscious, but never conventional. She had a whole lapful of roses some one had given her on the way, and she pelted Laville with their petals from time to time with a charming semblance of raillery that made a carnival of their holiday.
A group of dignitaries stood in front of the government house as they rode past. The Sieur de Glaucos was among them, and, following the gaze of the others, he fixed his eyes upon Jeanne and her escort.
“A good old man,” remarked Jeanne, as she caught sight of the Sieur de Glaucos.
“And my enemy,” Laville returned, quickly.
She looked up and met his eyes with an expression of alarm.
“Do you mean that? Is the Sieur de Glaucos really your enemy?”
“Practically that,” he said. “You see,” when they had gone beyond the convent grounds, “he wants Périer retained in office. I have been misrepresented at court, and though I am true to my principles, I am sure that Glaucos is of a mind with those who would like to see me recalled to France. But what a woman you are for state secrets! How does it happen that you care about matters of statecraft?”
“I do care more than you know,” she replied. “Do you still think me frivolous?”
“I have never thought that of you.” He looked at her humbly. “But you seem to live in an atmosphere of perpetual happiness.”
Her eyes looked wistful as she answered him.
“What is the use of mourning when one has to live in the world? No one has any use for tears — everybody loves our smiles. I always mean to smile.” There was a piteous wistfulness in her eyes and a catch in her voice. “Of course, it is hard sometimes.”
“You seem to have no troubles; your life has evidently flowed in smooth channels, Madame Jeanne. I sometimes wonder whether you have ever loved a human being with all the passion of your soul. I know you do not love the man you married.”
A flush crimsoned her face and neck; her lips trembled, and her happy abandon was suddenly checked.
“I begged you to leave his name unspoken,” she said, quickly; “you have forgotten.” There was a pause, and then she went on passionately: “But I will answer you. I was so young then. What can a child know of marriage? I was a gay, thoughtless girl — but so happy. All girls married, wherefore should not I? I thought I loved my husband, but I have only just realized that I have lived all these years without some of the best things life can give.” She sighed wearily. “Perchance I shall go laughing through life to the end, but — you have no right to judge me.”
Laville looked at the proud, flushed face. He could not bear to have her think that he would judge her and accuse her harshly.
“God knows I would not judge you, madame.”
His tone was almost aggressive, and he turned his pleading eyes on her with a fierce challenge. He wanted to snatch her to his breast and hold her in his strong arms until he had taught her the meaning of happiness.
She did not reply, and a constrained silence held them for a long time. They were on the edge of the settlement, near to the spot where Governor Bienville was afterwards to dwell. They were riding near the levee. They could hear the slow gurgling of water as the waves slipped through the reeds on the other side. The light of the sun brightened the tops of the broadspreading live-oaks and gleamed like fire on the cypresses on the farther side of the road. There was a solemn beauty in the dreary marshes and dusky swamp land, a silent loveliness that appealed to Jeanne’s imaginative nature and aroused a feeling of great tenderness in her. Afar off the church bell rang.
“Sometimes I wish I were a good churchwoman,” she said, gently. “Then I might indeed be happy, for I am not happy, in spite of all my laughter and gayety.”
“You would never make a good churchwoman,” replied Laville. He smiled down at her in a friendly way and drew the jennet up beside the levee where they could look over the top and see the far-stretching river. “Creeds narrow one down. A great soul chafes at bonds, and I cannot imagine you living within the confines of the Church.”
Her wandering eyes looked far over the water.
“Captain Laville, I think true love is religion, love is redemptive. If I should ever find it, I think I could be happy.”
His glance sought hers quickly, but he saw she was in one of her dreaming, impersonal moods.
“The world rarely gives us what we want,” he answered, carelessly studying the wild-flowers blooming in the sunshine on top of the levee. “With me, things seem always to have gone awry. I was sent out here from France when I wanted to remain there. I lost my mother — the only creature I ever loved — when I needed her most; and now Bienville is gone, and — well, it is no use going farther. Sufficient that everything generally is going to the devil with me. Oh, how good the river smells!” He pulled himself up. “The freshness of it makes me think of the sea and of France.”
Jeanne had turned pale. The muscles of her mouth twitched, and her eyes filled with sudden tears. There was no sound but that of the lapping of the waves against the reeds.
“Are you threatened with immediate danger?” she asked, looking at him searchingly.
He made no answer, but, glancing up suddenly, he saw the tears in her eyes. With a cry that wrung her heart, he caught her in his arms and kissed her face, her hair, her eyes, fairly smothering her with the vehemence of his passion.
“Jeanne, Jeanne, you do care!” he cried. “You do love me!”
All at once he dropped his arms, smitten by remorse. He looked at her wet face, where the tears still dropped, realizing what a hopeless, ghastly thing is a man’s resolve.
“Sweetheart, there is no crime where there is love. Love is the natural heritage of the human race. I am wild — wild with love of you. This, is fate’s last stroke — that I should love you, another man’s wife. Ah, God in heaven!”
She drew back from him, panting, white with shame. There was a strange, intense light in her eyes, the tears had all gone, and she spoke in low, passionate tones.
“You promised to heed me not so long ago. You must respect me now. I have never given you cause for this. I — I have tried to be different with you — no, no, it is not that; I have not tried; it has been so — I have always been sincere with you; but you shall not treat me in this way. I prefer that you admire me less. I can do anything — anything; but you must be yourself, and let me go my way.”
Every glance, every sharp word cut him like a knife, and he gave a muffled cry of anguish.
“Oh, I know I have no right,” he cried bitterly, stung by her rebuke. “But you do not understand. If you loved me as I love you, you would know what is in my heart — you would understand.”
She gave a convulsive sob.
“Forgive me, sweetheart. You trusted me; I have done you wrong; but my love for you has maddened me, Jeanne. I would do anything on this earth if I really knew I could win you for my own. Oh, I know you don’t care for me; how could that be possible — a rough devil-may-care fellow such as I am? — you who could have the love of the noblest and best of the earth. I care not that you were given to another in your childhood. If you were of my mind, I would take you away to the farthest end of the earth and deem you the purest woman in the world. I swear no fear of hell could keep me from you if you bade me stay. I could bear any torture to know you cared a little for me.” He caught her wrist again. “Keep quiet,” he commanded. “Do not struggle. As I am a man, I won’t harm you; but listen — look into my eyes — I want to see what there is in yours.”
Her lips quivered, and she returned his glance with one of infinite scorn. Then she turned to him in violent anger.
“I hate you when you talk like that,” she cried. “I hate you, and I won’t be held at bay. I won’t be questioned, and you shall not say those things to me. If you cannot be silent, I will leave you at once and never speak to you or see you again. Oh, mon Dieu, I thought you were honest. I have looked up to you as the very soul of honor, of tenderness — ”
“I would to God you would go where I could never see you again,” he cried, still holding her wrist. “Why should you come into my life and crown my helpless misery with the hopelessness of your love?”
With another wrench, she drew her hand away. Involuntarily she looked at him, white with anger, but there was fear as well as anger in her heart. She sank back in the carriage, pale and troubled.
He folded his arms across his breast with stoical resolve. “Forgive me, forgive me,” he pleaded. “I was rude, unmanly, but think of me, Jeanne, of my life. The best, the sweetest thing in life has only come to me now. But as God lives, I will do my part. You need not fear, Jeanne; I shall not trouble you any more. I know you do not care, and if I love you, as I do with my life, you cannot help that.”
“It will not be hard,” she said, wearily, in an unsteady voice. “I am going back to France; I cannot bear your Louisiana. It is full of strange things — mystery and heartaches. I will be glad to be gone. We manage things better in France.” There was pathos in her voice, unshed tears in her eyes. At last, this thing she had hoped for, yet feared, had come to pass; she loved and was loved, but now it must be ended.
They drove back to the settlement in silence.
From that day Jeanne would never allow herself to be alone with Laville. They met at d’Artin’s and elsewhere, but the old frankness was gone and a cold constraint withheld them. Only a few months ago Jeanne’s incredulity of the sweet, turbulent emotions that now possessed her had been absolute, and she would have bartered everything but honor for this great love. But she had not foreseen the tumult of unrest that it had brought with it.
And there was that fatal despatch still locked in her bosom.
THE AGENT FROM FRANCE
ONE evening about sundown a ship, delayed by adverse winds, arrived from France. Jeanne walked down to the levee to see it, attended by several ladies and their escorts, among them her cousin Antoine and his wife. She detected a certain coldness and suspicion in d’Artin’s manner that boded no good to her, but with that fine dignity which was her heritage she pretended not to notice it. Jeanne was dressed that evening in all her splendor. Her brocade skirts glistened with threads of gold, and the people, unused to such magnificence, stared in wonder. Her eyes, green-gray that day, with a nervous little frown between them, were shining radiantly beneath the brim of her hat with its silver lace and nodding plumes. Célie walked behind her mistress, carrying her fan and cloak. There were many who cast bold glances at “my lady Jeanne,” but she passed on with unconscious grace, her satin gown rustling and leaving a delicate perfume in its trail.
A couple of Jesuit fathers — the fiery Beauvois and the sweet-tempered Le Petit — were standing on the quay when Jeanne arrived. Both men bowed to her, but the former approached and whispered:
“My child, be guided by me. France has many spies. In confession only lies your safety.”
Jeanne was disturbed by the priest’s confident manner, and resented his interference.
“I do not understand,” she said, hotly. “If I were in the confessional, I might ask for absolution. As it is, I prefer to arrange my own affairs.”
“I would spare you. There is need of such a life and example as madame might set in the colony. Look to the ship to-day. Be warned in time. One comes from France, I hear, in search of the king’s messenger.”
Without another word he moved from her and mingled with the crowd. Jeanne looked after him in troubled amazement. Was even the church spying on her? Her heart gave a great throb. They could take her life, but if the packet were not found, there would be none to condemn Laville, and he would gain time. Every new moon brought a change at court in those times. A little time — only a little more time — and he would be safe. She regained courage, and with a bold grace crossed the road to where her cousin Antoine stood on the levee. The soft light shone on her fair face, so smiling, so pale.
“Ma foi! but you are white, Jeanne,” said d’Artin as she reached his side.
At that a scarlet flame covered her face and throat, and she gave his arm a little pinch to hide her confusion. The next moment she laughed softly, and was her old brilliant self again.
“There, my girl, you look happy again. What was Beauvois saying to you to drive the color from your face? Was he giving you a sermon on the vanities of this world?”
She nodded assent. Her heart was beating fast, but she stood there a silent figure of restraint.
“Perchance you needed the lecture, Jeanne. I have not been pleased with you myself.”
“We won’t speak of that now,” she said, stiffly. “The ship is about here.”
“Do you think your husband is on board?”
He asked the question uneasily, watching the glowing face.
“You do not confide in me now, Jeanne. I know nothing of your thoughts lately. Away back yonder we were like brother and sister. I was nearest of all — even closer to you than Poché — but you are changed, Jeanne. You do not love me as you used to do.”
Jeanne breathed quickly and turned pale at the mention of her husband. She involuntarily clasped her hands to her bosom as if in sudden fright.
“Oh, Antoine, you are the same as ever, and I love you just as much. You used to bear with my childish troubles. Try to believe in me now. I am worried, Antoine, but I cannot explain.”
They withdrew a little space from the others. “I wish you would confess what is making you so unkind to me, Antoine.” Her eyes grew humid. “You vex me, you know that you are as dear to me as ever, cousin. It is heartless of you to treat me thus.”
The manly little figure, so elegant in gray doublet and hose, became rigid in every line. His eyes expanded with increasing seriousness, and he dropped his snuff-box, and forgot to pick it up, while scrutinizing her with wistful earnestness. “You make me sad, Jeanne. You are not your old gay self. What is it?”
She looked up with a start and laid her hand on his arm.
“I try to be strong, Antoine. God knows I do. You know what a grave my married life has been, and you should understand.” Her voice was choked by a dry sob.
This was not lost on d’Artin. He looked ruefully at her face beneath the brilliant sunshine, and then his gaze travelled down the yellow river to the ship coming into port.
He aroused himself and brought his eyes back to her face, with a vague fear in them.
“You must trust me as you used to do, Jeanne. We were good friends back yonder; we can still be as true friends here. You must let me help you.”
He shrugged his shoulders impatiently, his small mouth, delicate and rich as a girl’s, unrelenting.
“Your father is old, your brother is ill. I alone am capable of defending you. If Poché forgets his duty, you may be sure I shall remember mine.”
D’Artin had no sooner uttered those last words than he wished them unspoken. Jeanne turned coldly from him and turned to greet the Sieur de Glaucos. Standing beside him, she watched the landing. What Father Beauvois had said troubled her deeply. Whom did he refer to? And Antoine — what did he mean? Was her husband indeed coming? She waited anxiously, scanning the faces of the arrivals, but there appeared to be no one for her. Jeanne returned wearily to d’Artin’s house, but with a decided feeling of relief.
Later on a letter from her husband was sent her. It had come on the ship. At the end of the letter he mentioned the despatch, and supposed that before the sailing of the next ship he would hear she had delivered it It seemed to Jeanne that fate had her by the hand and held her fast.
There was a ball in the Government House that night, and Jeanne had accompanied the others thither, but, troubled by Laville’s presence and d’Artin’s suspicion, she returned home early, with the plea of a headache. She stole out on the broad gallery and sat there under the shadow of the vines in her ball-gown. She tried to form some plan of action with regard to the despatch. Sometimes it seemed as though she must warn Laville. But she knew this man; he would not allow her to be compromised; he would give himself up first.
She had only been on the gallery a short time when she heard whispering in the garden close to where she sat concealed by the foliage. Instantly she recognized Rossart’s smooth accents and another voice — that of a stranger who had evidently arrived that day on the ship now in port.
“Peste! Rossart, I know she has them. I saw Cardinal Fleury place them in her hands, and I was with Poché an hour before the ship sailed.”
Jeanne caught her breath and listened in alarm.
“I heard Poché admonish her to be careful,” continued the same voice. “Between you and me, I believe there is more in those pages than you think — death for others besides Laville. I tried to find out what the message portended, but in vain. If Madame Poché knew, she kept it well from her husband, for I swear he knows nothing.”
“We must have those papers,” said Rossart.
“Where does the lady lodge?” questioned the other.
“It is Lesseur,” moaned Jeanne, in agony. “He knows. He saw the despatch.”
“Madame Poché’s chamber is the one on the right,” she heard Rossart say, “there where the light is burning now. She is at the ball. You can climb up one of the pillars of the gallery and search the room. If you do not find them, she must have them about her person. Get those papers for me, Lesseur, and I shall be your debtor for life. Fail, and you may repent it.”
“Never fear,” said Lesseur. “She has the papers yet. They have not been delivered, and they must be in her possession. And if so, by our Holy Lady, I’ll get them. She has the very devil of a temper, but doubtless we can make her give them up. What do you say to making the first attempt in an hour? The servants are moving about down-stairs yet, and though each moment counts, we must take every precaution. The very next ship that sails may upset our plans.”
Jeanne crouched deeper in the shadow. “Tonight they will get that letter.” She shuddered. “They will climb the pillar of the gallery when all are asleep. Rossart is determined.” Her eyes flashed. “There will be no danger; the despatch would be theirs.” Jeanne tried to think. Her hand closed over the cluster of a rose-vine and crushed it with a gesture of despair. What if the papers should be found? She almost cried out.
Rossart was speaking again. “Captain Laville little thinks what is in store for him. We can take him into custody, in all probability, the moment the papers are found. Fleury has sent nobles to the scaffold for less crimes than his. And then, my lady Jeanne, methinks you will sue in vain. She loves him. Did you notice to-night how luminous her eyes were when she spoke of him?”
“Perdition!” exclaimed Lesseur. “If that be true, our task grows more difficult. Her husband, too — he expects to come on the next ship sailing from France.”
“Not so fast,” replied Rossart. “As for her belonging to Poché, what of that? Does any man in Louisiana deny himself anything under the light of heaven?”
Jeanne’s hand tightened over her bosom. She gazed up at the starry skies and down at the quiet town with the levee in front of it. The moon, now high in the heavens, cast a beam through the rose-vines and shone upon her white, set face. She waited breathlessly for what seemed an interminable time until the dark figures had faded out of sight. Then she crept out of her hiding-place and passed through the shadows in the hall to her room above. Once in the friendly shelter of her own chamber, she closed and fastened the door and fell against it in despair. Her mind was racked by fear and indecision. She thought of Laville, and the thought was full of pain. An instinct, an impulse, warned her to act quickly, but what could she do? Suddenly a smile lighted up her wan features. “I will do it,” she laughed, softly. “It is the only way. I know I can trust him.” All in a moment her pride and daring returned. She hesitated no longer, but hastily wrapping her long cloak about her and pulling the hood over her head, she started to carry out her great resolve. Then she felt in her bosom for the letter. It was there.
“OH, JEANNE, JEANNE, SWEETHEART!”
IT was ten o’clock when Jeanne stepped out of the door of d’Artin’s house. The night was dark and damp. It had been raining, and a moist wind blew in her face. The d’Artins had their permit with them, and without it she knew there was a risk in her being abroad at that hour. Up and down the wet street, as far as she could see in the gloom, there was no one in sight, but somewhere far off in the town she heard the watchman’s “ all’s well" and a dog’s melancholy howl. It chilled Jeanne and sent a tremor of foreboding through her. She tried to dispel her gloomy thoughts as she passed out into the dark road and up the street she had grown to know so well.
All at once she remembered that she still wore her ball slippers; her delicate feet were almost on the damp ground. The fatal goad of memory deepened her sense of helpless womanhood in this hour of need — how her husband had always left her to be dependent on herself, and how all her life she had missed in him the thousand and one little courtesies showered on her by others. She slipped along through the mud, past the grim market-house with its empty stalls and dark corners, and turned into the rue de St. Anne. She could see the lights blazing in the Government House and hear the music. She hurried faster through the chill atmosphere, rushing past the guard-house like one pursued. Finally she reached Laville’s abode and turned into the shadowy yard under the friendly shelter of the magnolias. She ran breathlessly up the steps and on to the gallery, vaguely thinking of that happy time when she had been there before. She hesitated on the gallery. She was only a few paces from him. But was he there, or was he still at the ball? In an instant she had entered the open hallway and was knocking timidly on the door of his room. There was a dead silence for a few moments — how her heart beat! Hark, she heard the bolt slide in the socket. The door was partly opened and Jupiter shot out, almost knocking her down in his delight. She patted the animal on the head and slipped noiselessly in, while the door was closed behind her, shutting out the dog.
It was Marcello, Laville’s servant, who bade her enter. Her eyes met his with eager questioning. The negro had seen her and his master together, but she had never been there since that memorable night when he waited on them at supper together. He stared in amazement and almost stumbled in dumb alarm.
Jeanne failed to notice the negro’s awkward salute. Not a word had been spoken, yet Marcello felt that nothing short of pure terror had brought this woman, young, alone, and unprotected, at that late hour of the night, to his master’s house.
She dropped her scarlet cloak to the floor, whereupon the negro gathered it up and threw it across a chair, gazing at her as at a radiant vision.
“Your master, Marcello. Is he within?”
Her glance sought the negro’s face with intense anxiety.
Marcello pointed silently to a recumbent figure lying on the great bed of carved wood canopied with faded silk. Laville, his doublet off, lay calm in the tranquillity of sleep.
Jeanne gazed at him in mute appeal, with the softest compassion in her eyes. She stood a moment, smiling, and then, aroused by a movement from Marcello, drew nearer the fire.
“You can go, Marcello,” she whispered. “I will call your master.”
Marcello, obedient to her nod, left the room.
Then, pale and trembling, she moved to the great chair drawn up before the fire, and sat there with her slender feet crossed on the doeskin rug. She was a dazzling apparition in that dreary room, sitting so still, so cold, in her silver brocade and laces. Ashamed, though impenitent, she wondered what Laville would think of her untimely call. She had thought of nothing but his safety when she set out, but when she looked about at the great bare room with the muskets on the walls, the arms and accoutrements, the books, pipes, and other appurtenances of bachelorhood, she swiftly realized the awkwardness of her position.
She sat close to the table upon which the drinking-cups, powder-horns, revolvers, and a pair of buckskin gloves lay huddled together. She shivered at the sight of the weapons so near, and reached over and took up one of the soiled gloves. She held it a moment in her hand, mechanically noting the impress of the long, slender fingers in the worn leather. She held it closely in her hands, and with a sudden emotion touched it caressingly with her lips.
“Oh, Julian, Julian!”
She sobbed aloud and dropped her head on the table, still clasping the gauntlet.
A profound silence reigned in the large room. Laville awoke suddenly and gazed dreamily about, wondering at the strange red garment on the chair near the bed and the bright form between him and the fire. He thought he was still dreaming, but when he leaned forward he recognized Jeanne, and the sound of her sobs came to him. He rose and crossed the floor to her side. “Jeanne!” He called her name incredulously, and gazed down upon her bowed head with radiant face and burning eyes. For a moment his emotions overpowered him.
The glove dropped to the floor, and Jeanne rose quickly to her feet and faced him.
A dead silence followed. The dismal call of an owl came from the woods and made Jeanne shudder. All her pride, daring, and beauty were up in arms, but her wilfulness was gone, and she met Laville’s inquiring gaze with a shy grace and proud bearing.
“I am sorely pressed,” she burst forth, in passionate abandonment. “In all the world I do not know whom to trust but you.”
Laville’s heart went out to her in a great longing. He wanted to clasp her to his heart and soothe her troubles, but he folded his arms across his breast, and his eyes grew absolutely fierce with a stricken sense of helplessness. She had come to him for help.
“Sweetheart, what is mine is yours to command — my sword — my name — my life. They are all for you.”
She made a quick negative motion of her head and pressed her hands convulsively against her bosom. The red rose which had been pinned there stained her white skin, and a few shattered petals fell to the floor. The vagrant light from the burning logs on the hearth brought out every curve of her graceful form, touching the crown of her powdered head, and a few dishevelled strands of loose hair falling at the nape of her white neck.
She looked so helpless, so miserable. Laville would have willingly laid down his life for her at that moment. He shook himself like a chained lion and stretched out his hand to grasp her arm.
“Let me help you.”
He faltered and paused, then turned his eyes resolutely away from her. She saw the tenderness and entreaty in his face, and put her slim jewelled hand in his brown palm, which closed over it like a vise. Her cheeks grew crimson and her eyes were humid.
“I came to ask a favor.”
“It is granted before you ask it.”
“I have some valuable papers which I want you to keep for me. You love danger; it may mean that for you, if you keep them for me.”
She drew a small package of papers from her bosom and handed it to him. He took the packet gravely and raised it to his lips with a smile.
“They are of priceless value to me — they have been near you.”
She detected the unsteadiness in his voice and shivered.
“If they are found, they mean death to one — to one I — love,” she faltered. “Keep them safe until I ask for them. On your life I beg you not to give them up — it would ruin me.” She spoke hurriedly, passionately. “You have said you are at my service. Swear that you will never hand them over to any one until I give you leave — you will swear?”
She drew her hand from his and clasped it impetuously, her passionate eyes looking up at him, her face all aglow. He stooped and kissed one of her white hands.
“As you command. I swear by — by my love for you — but whom do you love?”
There was a tone of demand in his voice and the rough impatience of a man who would be obeyed. She snatched her hand from his warm embrace haughtily.
“You are forgetting your promise, Captain Laville. You have no right to question me.”
The beating of her heart almost choked her, and she clasped her hands to her breast to stifle the tumult.
“Can you not be generous for once? I — I came to you for help — you are making my task hard, and I thought I was so sure of you.”
“Jeanne, Jeanne,” — then, quickly recovering himself — “forgive me, sweetheart. I have no right to speak thus.” He dared not look at her, knowing that he would be tempted to take her jn his arms. She had come to him for help and not for love. He must control himself. He turned from her and stooped down and took the soiled leather gauntlet from the floor, kissing the hem of her skirt as he bent forward.
“I know I have no right to speak so, but I have been so much alone. Have you ever thought what this life off here in this new land means? Forgive my blundering if you can.”
A quick sigh shivered through her frame. She dropped her hands to her sides in silent misery.
“A little kindness — a little love — is not much. It is only a great love that teaches restraint, and one must always think of others,” she said.
“But I would deem a world of others well lost for you. If you loved me, my first, my only thought would be you — you. Here in this wilderness we recognize no laws. I love you; I would take you away, worship you, honor and protect you, holding you purer than all women in the world always. Oh, Jeanne, Jeanne, if you only loved me!”
“You must learn to give up the things you want most. It is part of life.” Her impassioned face and low, vibrant voice moved him unspeakably.
“If I give you up,” he replied, “it is only because I must, not that I think it right. If there is a God beyond the stars, He does not sit in judgment on what nature has put in our hearts.”
Jeanne stood silent, her heart beating tumultuously. The old conflict between love and duty stirred her to the depths.
“Oh, sweetheart, surely you must see you are mine. My love must awaken some response in you. Jeanne, have you no feeling, or are you ice to all men?” He groaned audibly, the muscles about his mouth tightening.
He did not move towards her, but Jeanne could see the desolation of his face. She could hardly bear the agony of it. She gave a sudden, convulsive sob and spoke with mute entreaty:
“Ah, surely there is another world somewhere — a place where there are no broken hearts.”
Her voice trembled, and she was pale as death. The battle between her ideals and the fierce temptation of his love sorely oppressed her.
He drew nearer to her. “Yes, yes, Jeanne, there is a world — another world — a heaven we can make for ourselves. You are mine by a higher power than that of this world. A priest has no authority to make a wrong right. Higher than any laws of men, higher than any power on earth, is the affinity of the human soul. By that, Jeanne, you belong to me.”
Her face grew strangely sweet as she spoke, fearing to lift her eyes to his face.
“You have brought so much joy into my life, and in spite of the heartaches and pain, it is something to have experienced a great gladness — do not spoil it now — do not take the memory away — ”
He looked at her with anguished scrutiny.
“And you do care a little?”
He felt how utterly desolate life lay before him and longed to break down her resistance.
“Oh, Jeanne, Jeanne, sweetheart! I cannot bear to think what life will be without you. Must we go our ways alone?”
She suddenly looked up at him in her old magnetic way, her head erect and her eyes shining like stars, though her lips trembled when she spoke.
“We must be true to our ideals. You forget my duty — my honor.”
Laville bent his head, with an impatient movement of his hands. To the wild cry of his soul there seemed to be no answer.
“Honor,” he repeated, bitterly. . “Nature never intended so gross an injustice as marriage without love. Leave me, rob me of all life holds dear, go back to your own people, where I can never see you again, but sunder yourself from Poché, Jeanne. I can endure separation, anything, if you will only be true to yourself.”
She breathed softly.
“Ah, yes! it is the spiritual within us that brings us nearer divinity — and I want your best thoughts — ”
Every nerve thrilled under her confession. He stretched out his hands to her in earnest pleading.
“The loves, the fears, the very frailties that are born with you, Jeanne, make you dear to me. What matter if my day be short, it would be happy to the end if I had you always to love and shield with my strength. Sweetheart, I love you with the best that is in me. I would not grieve you nor abuse your faith, but if there were nothing in this wide world to keep us apart, I could make you love me,” he cried, fiercely.
She drew back with a startled cry.
“Don’t be afraid. I swear I won’t touch you. No man cares for a caress from the woman he loves unless it is freely given.” He stooped and kissed the bottom of her skirt. “I kneel to you, my life! I shall always kneel to you. Oh, Jeanne, Jeanne,” catching her hands frantically, “do you know the battle I have been fighting, fighting for something dearer than life? And yet — nothing in life is worth what I have gained — no power, no fame. The ideal world I have built is all my own. Into it there has come one real thing — my love for you — that is perfect beyond any doubting, a wild rapture that fires me with the rashest impulses. Jeanne, sweetheart, you are sacrificing both of us for shadows. I have never seen Poché. What do I care if your life has been bound to his? I think of you as a girl — my lady Jeanne. If I had known you in France it might have been different. Now you belong to me — mine to love, to care for all my days. Jeanne, if you could only care for me a little.”
He knelt at her feet, and she dropped back in her chair. She who had been so proud, so calm, a moment before began now to tremble. She stretched out her hand gropingly.
“Then take your hand away,” he cried, in a thick voice. “Don’t tempt me, Jeanne. I am trying to be brave, but it is no use — no use.”
All at once she rose quickly and faced him, her eyes flashing and her bosom heaving.
“Your honor and mine, have you forgotten that?”
“It is an empty word,” he said, fiercely. “I could take you away in the face of everything. I want to crush you in my arms and smother you with love. Oh, Jeanne, Jeanne, you must, you shall love me!”
“Stop, stop!” she cried. “I will not listen.”
“But you shall! Do you care not what becomes of me? Well, remember; when I go, it will be forever. Unless you send for me, I will never come back, and then if you do, it must mean that you love me as I love you.”
She flew by him like the wind, frightened by the vehemence of his mad suggestions, and disappeared under the shadows of the magnolias.
Laville caught up his hat and sword and followed her out into the night
“GOOD-BYE, MY CAPTAIN”
IN following Jeanne, Laville was careful not to overtake her, but he kept her in sight until he saw her disappear into d’Artin’s house. He looked up where a dim glow from Jeanne’s window shone through the heavy fog. A dark shadow passed between the window and the light. “It is Jeanne,” he muttered. “God bless you, sweetheart!” Then he turned abruptly and walked off into the darkness again.
It was near dawn when he reached his cabin. He had Jeanne’s packet in the bosom of his doublet, and so felt some alarm when two figures came from the shadows of his own door to meet him. His fears were instantly allayed, however, when he recognized de Beauchamp, a brother officer, and his friend d’Hernenville.
“Back at last,” said de Beauchamp. “Sang Dieu! I we’ve been waiting this past hour for you. Here’s a letter from the governor for you. You are a lucky dog, Laville, and yet in a manner I pity you, for it means that you are to go to Fort Rosalie, where you will be under Chopart. He is a tyrannical devil, and makes himself more odious to the officers and Indians every day. This looks a little like Rossart’s work. It appears you are not ordered to Fort Rosalie on duty, but on a sort of a go-as-you-please trip — the danger without the honor,” he added, with a shrug, “if there should be any.”
“Chopart will have nothing to do with Laville,” remarked d’Hernenville. “Captain, you are merely requested to see if reinforcements are needed at Fort Rosalie. Périer and Rossart have heard that the soldiers there are without sufficient arms and ammunition. They have also learned that Chopart is treating the Indians with extreme cruelty. I believe the trouble originated over the village of White Apple, upon which Chopart has a covetous eye.”
Laville smiled, but inwardly he felt some uneasiness at this new move, especially if Rossart had anything to do with it.
“Well, gentlemen,” said he, “if I am to leave New Orleans to-day, let us drink to the success of my mission.”
He opened the door and, signing to the others to follow him, walked into the room so lately occupied by Jeanne. A faint odor of roses still lingered in the chamber.
“You are almost feminine in your preferences for sweet-smelling perfumes,” said deBeauchamp, throwing himself in the great chair where Jegnne had sat. “I say, Laville, that scent is like the confounded stuff Madame Poché affects. Dieu, what a creature of luxury she is! They say that that slave-woman of hers spends most of her time drying rose-petals and spreading them in my lady’s clothes. By-the-way, that reminds me, there is much gossip in the colony regarding the caprice that brings the lady Jeanne here. Some whisper that she is in the service of the king, and others that she came hither to be near Rossart. They say that back yonder in France he was her lover,” de Beauchamp laughed, carelessly. “You know what his attentions to any woman mean.”
Involuntarily Laville turned on him, a vindictive passion gleaming in his eyes. He grasped de Beauchamp’s arm violently.
“And could you stand by and hear her defiled? Pardieu! I would teach them what it is to speak slightingly of a woman like her.”
“Oh, it is doubtless false.” De Beauchamp spoke stiffly, startled by Laville’s outburst.
“False? Sang Dieu! it is a lie — a cowardly lie!”
Laville relaxed his grip on the other’s arm, his eyes suddenly caught by the red rose Jeanne had worn, and which still lay on the table like an accusing witness. His hand moved idly about among the things scattered there, and finally rested on the rose, where it remained for a moment. When he removed it, the rose was gone.
“You know there can be little in common between Madame Poché and a man like Rossart. But let us change the subject, gentlemen,” he said, with a nourish. “Fort Rosalie is more to the point just now.”
“Yes,” said de Beauchamp. “Fate sends you to Fort Rosalie, and after all it may be the opportunity of your life. Chopart certainly has been making a fool of himself over the White Apple business. A little more despotism, and the Indians will revolt. If they should — well, Laville, the moment is yours. Strike for Bienville and Louisiana. We may have our good governor back yet, and then our sun will rise again.”
Marcello set out flagons of wine and drinkingcups.
“Bravo, Marcello,” cried d’Hernenville. “Bring out the wine, the good red wine that lightens our hearts and sends up our courage.”
“Laville,” said de Beauchamp, pouring out some of the wine and holding the bottle high between himself and the light, “methinks I like the color of your vintage. ’Twas a good fortune that made me your friend in the same year our wise cardinal sent you this peace offering.” De Beauchamp poured the liquid down his throat at one draught. He wiped his dripping beard and cried with enthusiasm, “A cup fit for the king.”
They drank until they had drained the flagons, and Laville ventured to suggest that the convent bell was ringing, and it must be five o’clock.
“Tut, man, six is your hour. When you have once started, you can go as if the devil were after you.”
De Beauchamp laughed, but in an instant grew grave. “There are times, Laville, when I would swear Périer and Rossart both suspect you. They would be glad to see you out of their way. You are not in high favor with the chief of police. He does you the honor to consider you a dangerous enemy, and your recall is one of his cherished aims. Of a truth, man, if the Indians should scalp you, Rossart would rest easier.”
“No doubt,” said Laville, musingly, “but I shall try to cheat him yet.”
“Bravo, captain! Well, this is your opportunity. The king and the India Company will not look with favor on a chief of police who sends you on a mission of this kind. Rossart ought to go himself.”
“God knows you may be right,” said Laville, with an expression of wistful regret on his face. He was thinking of Jeanne, that some difficulty might confront her, and he dreaded to leave her at this time. But he was gracious to his companions, and even merry with them, as he donned his captain’s uniform and hummed a gay troubadour song:
De Beauchamp rose to his feet, yawning. He repeated the last two lines:
“I don’t believe death has many terrors for you, my friend,” he said, slapping Laville on the shoulder.
Laville looked thoughtful for a moment and then cried, jovially: “To the devil with fear! Who fears when there is but one end after all? Here, Marcello, more wine — more wine, I say, boy. We’ll drink and forget that there are any woes in the world. There’s joy in the wine-cup. Come, comrades, another bumper. Here’s to the god of war — drink to him that he may send us stirring times, for I swear my sword is rotting with rust.”
“No breakfast and too much wine play the devil with a man’s legs,” cried d’Hernenville, gayly, “but we’ll drink to your war god and be off.”
“For love and glory willingly he dies,” sang de Beauchamp, uproariously.
“We’ll tell Périer we saw you off. Good luck, comrade, and come back soon. We’ll miss you. If there is any trouble with those cursed Indians, we know you are the man to teach them a lesson. Adieu, Laville. The Holy Virgin protect you.”
Both men wrung Laville’s hand and went off unsteadily. The moment they were out of sight Laville ordered Marcello to take away the flagons and cups. Once alone, he threw himself on a chair and closed his eyes for an instant.
“Good-bye, little sweetheart.”
He remembered the packet. He had forgotten it until that instant. “She may want it while I am gone.”
Then a dreary hopelessness settled on his face. He clinched his strong hands and with erect head passed from the house. He went slowly along the rue d’Orléans and turned into the rue de Toulouse, swinging along with rapid strides until he came to the d’Artin residence fronting the levee. It was then past six o’clock. He strained his eyes towards her window until he had turned the corner of the house. It was the same in front; no one was in sight. The trees, the paths, the bushes, and all the little out-houses were wet with dew. Everything was quiet. A cool wind blew over the levee, and a strong smell of roses and jasmine filled the air. The sun, shining aslant, sent a broad golden shaft along the d’Artin property and covered the entire front of the red roof and brick walls with yellow light. When he drew nearer Laville saw Célie and another negress chatting together at the farther side of the house. Their faded dresses and giant head-handkerchiefs contrasted picturesquely with the sun-glow of the early morning.
Célie speedily recognized him. There, in gay New Orleans, in that wanton day of intrigues, every man in the settlement was familiar to the house-servants. Célie knew her mistress was often with Laville. She had been exposed to evil all her life, and scarcely knew the difference between right and wrong.
Laville called to her in a subdued voice, yielding to a sudden thought.
The woman left her companion immediately and went at once to him. His manners were punctiliously courteous and winning, even to inferiors. He held a scrap of paper up to the light. Upon it was written:
“I am leaving the colony at once. Is it possible to see you again for a few moments?
“Take this to Madame Poché,” he said, hurriedly. “Do not awake the others. I shall wait in the reception-room.”
Then he went up the steps and through the open doorway to the great yellow room where he had spent so many precious hours with Jeanne. Célie had kindled a small fire, and he seated himself comfortably in front of it, thoughtful and disturbed, with a sad perplexity in his face.
“If I could only see my way clear,” he groaned. “Poor little woman, with no one to protect her!”
He shook with a mighty wrath at the thought that somewhere in the world there was a man whose name she bore and who should have been her protector. His mind was filled with a profound sense of the confusion and injustice of life. He looked through the window and far across the rose-bordered walk to the green levee. The willow hedge on the bank undulated with the breeze and was luminous in the morning light. Laville had no strength left to think or plan. He could only dream of Jeanne as he saw her first — sunny serene, light-hearted, and then of the pathos in her eyes last night. Suddenly, without warning, as noiselessly as a summer breeze, she came down the stairs and stood beside him before he knew she was there. She wore a white negligee robe, soft and clinging, with open sleeves and a lace kerchief knotted about her throat. Her hair was without powder, and her eyes, pathetic, wondering, were upturned to his. Had the magnetism of her presence been less potent, Laville would have been more guarded; but the mere sight of her made him happy and as a man inspired.
Jeanne, without knowing why, laughed fearlessly, and yet there was a tense, nervous ring in her voice. The full morning light from the windows fell upon her, and in spite of the careless little laugh, Laville could see the muscles about her mouth quiver and the piteous inquiry deepen in her eyes.
“Jeanne, I could not go without seeing you again.”
“But why didn’t you say something of it before — before I left you last night?”
“I did not know then that I was going.”
The fire on the hearth crackled and sent tiny sparks out on the floor.
“Jeanne, if you need me, I will stay even now.”
She shook her head negatively.
“But your duty — and — mine — ” She almost forgot her caution. “Captain Laville, my friend, we must think of our duty — ”
“I hate that word,” he said, impatiently. “What have we to do with duty? But I will do whatever you wish, Jeanne. Forgive me for last night — I would not grieve you for the world.”
“And I shall always think of the happy times we have had together,” she said. “You must go — you must fight for France in the years to come — for Louisiana. I love Louisiana, for in Louisiana I met you — my friend — ”
“I did not know I was going away when I accepted your letters,” he said, with a drawn look in his face. “Do you want them back? It was because of them I came here this morning. I will not be gone long. I am only going to Fort Rosalie on a mission of investigation.” firm friend, a brave soldier, though often wondering what life lacked. That moment was fraught with sweetness for both, though they remained quiet with the quietness of death.
“Trouble with the Indians?”
He thought she turned pale.
“There is some imminent trouble with the Indians, I believe. It is a question of supplies and ammunition that takes me there. When I learn of the condition of things I am free to return at any moment. But there is no longer the same joy here, Jeanne — I cannot see you as I have been doing these many months — I — am not strong enough for that. Perchance in the course of time we may some day stand on equal ground. Now you are so far off — so cold, like a pale moonbeam that has never been warmed by the sun. Remember, Jeanne, if the day ever comes when you need me, when you feel your life is not complete without mine, you will find me waiting — a strong man, ready to defend you, your lover — waiting for the future that will bring us together.”
She stood silent for a moment, with a yearning look on her face, and when she spoke there were tears in her eyes.
“Hush, my captain; in every earnest life there must be some sacrifice.”
Both were silent for a few minutes. In their lives there had been very little happiness. Hers had been brilliant, it is true, in that far away French court. He had been a good comrade, a firm friend, a brave soldier, though often wondering what life lacked. That moment was fraught with sweetness for both, though they remained quiet with the quietness of death.
He lifted his head at last and looked about the familiar room.
“God knows best. He did not send you into my life for naught. I must live on without you; but men have to do things that wring their souls, and — ”
Whatever he would have said was cut short by a sudden movement in the hall. Laville rose to his feet and turned to the door just as Madame d’Artin appeared in haste.
“I thought I heard voices, and I feared there might be some fresh Indian trouble, so I stole down to see.”
“No real trouble,” said Laville, “but I am going to Fort Rosalie, and I wanted to see Madame Poché particularly before leaving, so presumed upon my friendship here to dare intrude at this early hour.”
“It is no intrusion,” replied Madame d’Artin. “Jeanne is not generally down at this hour, but I should have been glad to carry your message. Are you to be away long, Captain Laville?”
“No, I think not. The governor thinks we had better see how Rosalie is garrisoned. The Indians in that region have been a trifle uneasy of late, and Governor Périer believes in being prepared.”
“I am so glad it is not a war mission. The very thought of war has such terror for me.”
“I am expected to leave to-day,” said Laville. “A boat sails up the river this morning, and I must catch it. So, adieu, ladies.”
Jeanne’s mind was unsettled about the packet. What if her husband should come? She dare not keep the packet with her — it was safe with Laville — he would be back soon.
She turned to Madame d’Artin with sudden resolution.
“Come, Luce, let us walk to the levee with Captain Laville. See how the sun shines! There is no tonic like a breath of fresh morning air.”
She rose to her feet, wilful and impetuous.
“But the dew, Jeanne. You forget this Louisiana moisture is like rain.”
“Prudence becomes age, chérie. It is only youth and — love that take grave chances.” She smiled confidently and drew madame to her with gentle persuasion.
“Come — my captain.”
Laville fancied he detected a serious earnestness underlying her arch smile and a strange emphasis in her words. He was a strong man, yet for a moment he faltered.
“Come, both of you,” she repeated, peremptorily. “We shall pretend you are going to war, Captain Laville, and that I am your lady fair.”
He bowed, with grave wondering in his heart.
“Jeanne, Jeanne, for shame!” cried madame. “Would you have Captain Laville know you for a brazen girl? For shame, I say, Jeanne — ”
Jeanne drew a long breath, and her bosom rose and fell tumultuously underneath her loose gown. But she was not to be gainsaid, and laughed aside madame’s objections.
She linked her arm in madame’s, and they left the house together, Captain Laville following. Oh, the misery of parting! She felt it entering her very soul, and yet he must not know — madame must not know. All at once she started ahead, dragging Madame d’Artin with nervous energy.
“Come, come, good people, lest the ship sail without the captain.”
She talked recklessly, and started to sing as they walked along:
Laville trembled under the spell of her voice. She seemed so glowing, so full of life and inexpressible witchery. How could she be so happy when she knew he was leaving her? “She does not care,” he thought, bitterly. “I was a fool to think it.”
The sedate Madame d’Artin was vexed and annoyed. She could not understand Jeanne’s moods.
“You irritate me, Jeanne,” she said. “You are heartless, child. It becomes you not to appear so gay when parting with a friend. Is it not so, Captain Laville?”
Her voice startled Laville. He had forgotten her presence, and only saw Jeanne, with her passionate eyes fixed upon him in mute pleading. He knew it was folly, but every nerve thrilled under her glance, and the rich perfume from her garments oppressed him. He answered Madame d’Artin as though in a dream.
“Yes, one is usually oppressed with sad thoughts when parting with friends.”
“Life is uncertain,” said madame, complacently. “We never know what will happen.”
She walked along beside Laville, while Jeanne tarried near one of the rose-bushes.
She hummed the words softly, almost to herself.
“Go back and bring Jeanne, Captain Laville,” said Madame d’Artin, irritably. “At this rate you will fail to reach the ship. Do tell her that she must keep pace with us.”
Madame sailed majestically forward, while Laville hurried back to Jeanne.
The sunlight was falling straight upon her flushed face. She saw Laville look at her with an inquiring countenance, but she bore the scrutiny with composure, and looked up at him with well-feigned surprise.
“What brings you back? I deemed your hurry great.”
“But you lingered.”
“I forgot for a moment. I stopped to pluck this rose.”
She did not look at him, but let her eyes wander over the wall of roses.
“I came for you — you — you!” he cried, passionately. “If you called, I would go to the end of the world for you. Jeanne, Jeanne, say you meant those words.”
“The song — the one you were singing just now.”
She hummed softly and smiled brilliantly up at him. Ah, so variable, so coquettish, and so fascinating!
“Did you mean the words for me?” he demanded, hoarsely. “Tell me. I would give my soul to know.”
She still hummed the refrain — “I will love thee evermore” — but at his question she stopped and capriciously swept past him.
“Come, my captain, lest the sailors leave you behind. Yonder is Luce on the levee, waiting for me. Farewell, Captain Laville; a fair wind and a safe return.”
There was a little catch in her voice.
He started. A change had passed over her face, and he wondered to find her hand so cold. They stood a moment in silence. In an instant the old battle was on him again. How could he be strong with that impassioned face so near his own?
“You inspire me with new courage,” he said, earnestly. “Mine, mine in the end, Jeanne. Say it will be so.”
Her mood changed again, and she laughed up in his face, a wanton, joyous laugh. He turned abruptly from her, his face ablaze with anger.
She watched him for a moment, with something pulling at her heart-strings and tears dangerously near an overflow. She could not bear that he should go from her with that look on his face. She raised her voice and called, gently:
“Good-bye, my captain.”
But Laville did not look back.
When he turned the corner and was lost to view, she joined Madame d’Artin on the levee. She tried desperately to smile when she reached madame’s side, but reeled and fell limply to the ground, and buried her pallid face in madame’s lap. She had found it easy to bid Laville leave her, and to feign a semblance of joy while he was with her, but now that he was gone, her heart melted within her and strength failed her.
“I wish him to be always happy,” she murmured, under her breath.
“What is that you are saying, Jeanne? How tired you look, child! A moment ago, and you were like a bird, and now — my child!”
Jeanne raised her face and smiled. “Dear Luce,” was all she said as she patted madame’s cheek. Then her gaze travelled to the marketplace and on beyond to the anchorage where she knew the vessel was preparing to clear.
What a picture it made — the shipping, the bales of merchandise, the busy decks of strained timbers, where a girl sat listening to an old man in a rough seaman’s dress, her red petticoat a bright bit of color mid the gray tones; the broad sunlight on the man’s neutral-tinted jacket, the half-glooms and deeper shadows changing with the ever-moving life. They were strong; they had a place to fill in the world. Several men, a soldier, and two coureurs des bois, the latter dressed in skins, with picturesque leggings and moccasins, went aboard. She knew the last two very well as hardy sons of the soil, who conveyed goods imported from France to the farthest Indian villages. They were men of endurance, brave, and would be faithful friends for Laville in case of trouble with the Indians. She shuddered. The very thought made her soul sick. But where was Laville? Ah, yes, at last — there he was, and Jupiter with him. She saw him pause on the deck and look her way. Then he took off his plumed hat and waved it with a free grace; she snatched a scarf from her neck and returned his salute.
“Thou hast made for me so many happy days,” she murmured. “I think I never knew joy before.” She waved the blue banner again. “Oh, God, I cannot, I cannot bear to give him up.”
“Jeanne, Jeanne!” cried madame. “What ails you, child?”
Jeanne grew very cold, and suddenly looked fearfully back towards the town where the sober industries of civil strife went on. She saw a dark figure hurrying through the Place d’Armes which instinctively she knew to be Rossart. Her wandering gaze turned back to the d’Artin house half hidden behind the magnolia-trees. The garden looked wet and forsaken, and the magnolias were hung with great, heavy seed-pods. The rose-vines on the gallery waved incessantly, and the sun rays tinged the walls of the house and lingered over the solitary garden. It was all so cold and lonely; all the world was cold, and she shivered. Unbidden tears coursed down her cheeks; they were foolish tears, she knew, mute witnesses of her sorrowful heart. She forgot herself, forgot Madame d’Artin, and thought only of the tender memories recalled by the garden.
“They were joyous days. Alas! little garden, the past can never come back — good-bye, good-bye, dear days, and a long farewell, my captain.”
She looked for the ship again. She shivered with a nervous chill as the report of a gun boomed across the water. A cheer went up. God help her! The ship had hoisted anchor and swung majestically out into midstream. Slowly, like a great white phantom, it sailed outward, tacking under full canvas, onward up the river.
Jeanne gazed at the flying white sails spread like wings of silver-gray in a sea of azure — gazed at the diminishing ship that bore away from her the best of her life.
“My love, my love,” she moaned, passionately. “God knows how I love you — I will love thee evermore! But you must never know — that is my punishment.”
ROSSART came rapidly along the road. He climbed the grassy levee and went straight towards Madame d’Artin and Jeanne.
“By my faith, ladies, you are brave to venture out in the dew.”
“We find pleasure where and when it best suits us, Monsieur Rossart,” said Jeanne, keeping her face turned from him.
Rossart smiled with an indulgent air.
“Your tongue is, as ever, keen as your wit, Madame Poché,” he said, coldly, and turned towards Madame d’Artin.
“Jeanne is in an ill humor,” said the latter. “I know not whether it is her gown or her hair that troubles her.”
“Or her lover,” returned Rossart, insinuatingly.
Jeanne turned on him with a deep scarlet flush creeping through the white of her face. What evil was it that this man held suspended over her head? Did he know she loved Laville, and would he injure him to hurt her? She could not believe that. Laville was too strong — he could protect himself; and now he was gone away up the river. She caught the faint whiffs of salt water wafted from the gulf. She could almost see Laville in fancy sailing up the wide expanse of the river. Her face plainly reflected her thoughts, and there was a tense calmness in her manner that did not escape Rossart.
He watched her for a moment as the sun, slanting across the levee, fell upon her uplifted head. The wind played in the willows and moved the soft tendrils of hair on her forehead. She moved uneasily.
“A ship has sailed.” She spoke nervously and rose to her feet. He bowed, smiling.
“Then the world has changed for you, madame,” he said, fearlessly. “Since Captain Laville has left New Orleans, there must be a cloud on Madame Poché’s horizon.”
“Oh no, you are mistaken,” interrupted Madame d’Artin, slowly. “Jeanne is much too whimsical to care for any man once he is out of sight.”
“Whims are the privilege of beauty. But it is well for Laville that he has gone. I hear that diligent search is being made for the despatch from the king. It has been long delayed, and it must be found at once.”
Jeanne leaned back against the willow-tree and gazed steadily at Rossart with puzzled inquiry. For an instant they faced each other, the one smiling, the other questioning.
He stepped close up to Jeanne and out of madame’s hearing, and bent over her with an insinuating air.
“Madame Poché, if you will listen to me, I can save Laville; otherwise he will have to plead to the king. Louis has been known to listen to a pretty face, but never, madame, to a traitor. My lady Jeanne, you know I have loved you passionately for years. Surrender yourself to me, and I will promise to save Laville.”
She drew herself up with a queenly air and answered him with scornful pride.
“Coward! You pollute a noble sentiment, and I despise you. The passion that inspires such baseness is worthy only of darkness or death.”
Rossart’s eyes grew darker with passion. He read the intense loathing of her soul in her face, and he felt a mad, fighting desire to take her in spite of herself.
“I love you, do you hear? And I shall yet win you.”
She looked back to the river. The whirl of the water made music against the willow bank; far off, among the sunlit clouds, the ship sailed, a dark spot against the azure sky.
Rossart watched the keen play of emotions on her face, with his heart beating fiercely and a crimson flush on his dark cheeks.
“Do you know, Madame Poché, that soon or late, if you continue to torment me in this way, you will be my prisoner — you, and your lover too? Do you realize what that means? You will be confined wherever I shall name. None shall have access to you but the chief of police. I can visit you at all hours. Think of that, my lady. You will belong to me then. And Laville — what think you he will do then? Oh, I shall humble that proud head yet. I have sworn to win you by fair means or foul, and it must be soon.”
A tragic smile flitted over her features.
“I am not afraid of you, monsieur. I shall find means to outwit you yet.”
She moved farther from him, with uplifted head and crimson cheeks.
“In the face of your brave air, madame, I can see the misery of your heart,” he said, quickly. “You fear for him — that despatch, if found, will condemn him.”
“You have no proofs against him. The despatch has not been found.”
“Thanks to you.”
She smiled serenely and turned a deeper crimson.
“Smiles will not become you later on, my lady. I will find that despatch. I tell you, no power on earth shall prevent me. And when it is found, remember that I warned you in time and you spurned your opportunity.”
The sun shone broadly on the water, and on the low horizon the white sails, now grown gray like the down on a gull’s breast, shimmered against the blue tone of cloud and water-cumuli. Mist closed the distances and the entire landscape seemed dreamlike.
Madame grew restless, sitting alone, with the drowsy hum of their voices coming to her through the sunshine. She rose and yawned and called to Jeanne.
“Jeanne, the sun is getting high. Antoine will be looking for us. Let us go.”
She went down the green bank, and Jeanne mechanically looked after her as her figure vanished behind the nodding rose wall. The glory of her eyes was dimmed. She knew that she was playing a desperate part. She looked over the water to the tiny speck of darkness just beyond the far-off bend in the river.
Rossart held out his hand. “Come, my lady Jeanne, your promise.”
She laughed scornfully. “Oh, Monsieur Rossart, your taunts are useless. I do not fear you. Advance one step, or even attempt to lay a finger on me, and I will call for help. My cousin is within hearing, and our men are ever ready to resent an insult to their women.”
“Beware, madame,” cried Rossart, baffled and enraged. “I have sworn that you shall belong to me. I have but two ambitions — to possess that packet — and you, my scornful beauty.”
FIGHTING FOR A SHADOW
THERE was a decided reminiscence of France in the formal garden surrounding the d’Artin residence. It was laid out in prim parterres planted with lilies and fleur de luce in the shady places; riotous roses and sweet-scented jasmine bloomed in every corner, along the hedges, up the sides of the house, by the gallery, and in every conceivable place, shadowing thousands of violets. Giant creepers ran up the trunks of the trees, wild heliotrope and sweet olive perfumed the air, and blossom-laden crape myrtles, planted indiscriminately about, gave a glow of color to the atmosphere. There was a group of orange and oleander trees near the house, where at night mocking-birds sang until day. Cedar-birds flitted from magnolia to magnolia, and noisy jays flew in the more open spaces.
Farthest from the house on the upper side, and bordered by close-clipped hedges, there was a wide expanse of greensward under some liveoaks. Here, late in the afternoons, after they had risen from their siesta, and still on into the fragrant evenings, Madame d’Artin and Jeanne were wont to sit, and hither came the brightest and best of the little colony to while away the long, sweet hours. Everything was very decorous at these gatherings, but they were all so gay, so dangerously gay.
About a month after Laville had gone, Jeanne sat there one evening, dressed in costly silks and laces, the brightness of her beauty overshadowed by a retrospective mood. The sun was low in the horizon, and the warm rays gilded the rosebushes and jasmines and made red and yellow paths between the garden ways. The sky was streaked with crimson and gold, the levee was bathed in a golden haze, and the encompassing forests, though warmed by the sunset effulgence, looked distant and unreal.
Jeanne sat in a low chair. She and madame had been holding court during the afternoon. Many wondered why Jeanne’s husband was not with her, but she was young and attractive, and the very daring that had brought her appealed to the love of bravery in the hearts of those adventurous people. Many had become her friends; some there were who secretly believed she was in league with the Sieur de Glaucos, others with Rossart, but all thought well of her. Her wit was so ready, her sympathy so warm; she was a social power in their limited little world, and queened it with that sovereignty only to be found in a woman’s subtle attraction.
The sun was sinking when madame and the last of her guests but one had retired. The Sieur de Glaucos still lingered behind Jeanne’s chair. He had come last, and for the past hour had stood silently by, listening to the laughter and the general murmur of the gay voices without taking an active part.
The odor of jasmine and roses floated on the breeze from the gay parterres. The Sieur de Glaucos stood idly staring over Jeanne’s head. He, like all the other men who came in contact with Jeanne, had become devoted to her, but he never relinquished the hope that she would yet give up the private despatches. He wondered dreamily, as he gazed in the direction of the forest down the river, how she preserved her discreet demeanor with her girlish hopes and plans. He watched a tall figure moving from one clump of bushes to another as though anxious to avoid detection. He did not think enough about it, however, to allow it to occupy his mind beyond an instant. Finally, when the skulking form disappeared, he came around in front of Jeanne’s chair and sat on the grass at her feet.
The garden was now bathed in the sunset radiance. The Sieur de Glaucos looked up admiringly at the young woman sitting like a queen on her throne. Her dainty feet were crossed before her, and through the delicate meshes of her silken hose the warm, rosy flesh caught the sun rays. The ruddy light caressed her slender white fingers as she pulled a rose to pieces, letting the petals fall in her lap, where they lay in a pink and fragrant heap on her flowered silk gown; the warm light lay on the cobwebby lace over her swelling bosom, glanced on her powdered hair, and lent a new beauty to her soft, sad eyes. That day seemed like a dream to the Sieur de Glaucos. He had never seen a woman of Jeanne’s attractions. She was brilliantly fascinating, with a wild coquetry in her manner. What thoughts were in those candid eyes? The old man dared not ask. It seemed impossible that this young creature, this twoman so unaffected, so frank, could carry about with her the momentous anxieties of state affairs that perhaps doomed men to prison or death. He missed a certain spontaneity about her that had marked her in the first days of their meeting.
“What do you see away off there?” he suddenly asked.
Her dreaming eyes turned from the landscape before them. She had been watching the sunshine and shadows flitting in the woods, and she looked at him with a smile that seemed a surety of good faith.
“I thought I saw an Indian moving through the tangle of woods over there,” she said. “I imagine it is one of the squaws coming to barter game.”
“I thought perhaps your dreams were of our fair France,” he answered, with an effort at cheerfulness. “You had a very distant look in your eyes, as though your thoughts were far off. But one can never be sure of you.”
She flushed slightly and leaned forward as if examining the grass at her feet.
“Are you homesick?” There was a sympathetic ring in his voice.
“No, not that. I was only watching that dark shifting figure, and wondering in a desultory way what was its object, and if it were looking for something that would never be found — or, perchance, that would come too late.”
“It is impossible for human nature to be satisfied,” he returned, with a sudden darkening of his face as he took note of her words.
“I suppose that is so,” she replied, with thoughtful seriousness. “I used to think I was happy — very happy, but now I know it was only because I was asleep.”
Her eyes were filling with tears, and she did not wish the Sieur de Glaucos to see them. She looked about in vague uncertainty, and shivered as if she were cold. Then her desperate gaze met his with a sad questioning, but the tears had gone.
“Sometimes one doubts the reality of human affection,” she said, in a low voice. “One hates to be misjudged. Ah, yes, it is that which hurts us most.”
He looked at her pityingly. Something in Jeanne’s words — or was it her voice? — stirred the old soldier with its pathos.
“You are so lately from the court of France that its cynicism still clings to you. But we who live so much alone in these Louisiana woods are not so readily appealed to by the ways of your world of fashion, of scandal and intrigue, where love is a mockery — a passionate game of chance, as unreal as your men and women. I reverence purity, and to me love is the most saving grace in the world, for, believe me, little lady, it is the one unfailing power in the universe.”
“Yes, yes!” with a passionate outburst. “It must be true, or else we wear out our lives chasing a shadow. Ah, yes, I have been asleep — but I am waking now.”
“Too much knowledge has its penalty,” he interrupted.
“Yes, I know now. Soon or late we wake up, but, oh, me! is it worth while? It is better to sleep sometimes.” She paused and let her broad, dreamy eyes, reflecting her feelings, rest wistfully on his.
“You are disquieted,” he said, kindly. “I suppose your husband will be coming soon, and then we shall lose our sunny little Jeanne.” He spoke earnestly, with a troubled look in his fierce brown eyes. The strident chirr of a cicada came from the grass, and a long ray of crimson sunglow shot across the sky.
“There is no certainty of anything,” she said, sighing heavily.
“Forgive me,” he pleaded, gravely, “but a husband’s place is by his wife’s side, especially in times like these. We may be on the eve of dark days in Louisiana.”
The peculiar weariness of her eyes appealed to the Sieur de Glaucos, and he read in them the tragedy of a loveless marriage.
Jeanne listened to his words, but said nothing.
“And it behooves our women to be on their guard. If they know aught that will help the state, now is the time to trust it to wiser heads and stronger hands.” The Sieur de Glaucos glanced grimly at her, inviting her confidence.
“Indeed?” she asked, curtly, and the light in her eyes was as brave as ever.
“Ah, Madame Jeanne, you know to what I refer.” He raised his grizzled old head and looked steadily in her eyes. “We are still expecting that despatch from France.” He gazed unflinchingly at her, though with the deepest sympathy, Jeanne returned his gaze. While recognizing her peril, she remained undaunted, and though the white fingers plucking at the rose-petals were cold, they were steady, and the light in her eyes was unquenched.
“Madame Jeanne, you have the despatch in your possession.”
“I have no despatch, and I hold myself accountable to no man.” She spoke with proud patience that completely baffled the Sieur de Glaucos, though her restless spirit raged with the conflict of despair.
“The king’s will is our law,” said the Sieur de Glaucos, half pleadingly, half fiercely. Somehow Jeanne appealed strongly to his manhood, and he would protect her if he could.
“You mean the laws made in the king’s name,” she ventured, imperiously, folding her hands in her silken lap over the dismembered rose.
“Whether or not that may be true, Madame Poché,” he said, in his bluff, off-hand way, “I beg you in your own interests to give me that letter. Believe me, I would save you from the consequences that must follow your detention of the despatch.”
“I tell you I have no despatch.” She frowned, then smiled capriciously, her green-gray eyes looking at him with penitence. Then she playfully tossed a handful of rose-leaves over his serious upturned face. “See, my lord, I cannot be vexed with you.” There was a gentle persuasion in her voice. “Oh, let us pretend there are no breaking hearts about us and that all the world is a garden of roses.” She laughed beseechingly. She felt safe, now that the papers were out of her possession. She leaned back in her chair. Under the silver and lace her heart beat in fierce palpitation.
The old soldier at her feet moved restlessly. In spite of the trouble and misunderstanding between them, he liked Jeanne. He remembered how her father and himself had lived at one time as brothers, back there in France. He thought of her as a child, then as a woman, and admitted that only some strong provocation could justify her wilful course. He rose to his feet and stood beside her chair, the lines of the keen, fiery old face drawn with pain and his martial figure reared to its fullest height. He was disturbed and showed it in his deliberate speech, while seeking to disguise his anxiety.
“If that packet is not found before the next ship sails I fear your husband will be compromised.”
He glanced at Jeanne pityingly. A generous sense of protection was strong within him.
“You forget that in withholding the letter you are endangering his fate.”
The color fled from her cheeks, and in her eyes, where there had been gayety, fright suddenly appeared. She rose and stood beside the Sieur de Glaucos. In all her short, thoughtless life she had never been a traitor to a human soul. She had experienced little tenderness and happiness in her marriage, but she had tried to be fair and honest. For the first time it flashed across her that in saving Laville she might be sacrificing her husband.
“I take it that you would save Captain Poché, madame.”
She stared vacantly ahead and clasped her hands uneasily. Suddenly she laughed sceptically, and the Sieur de Glaucos knew he was baffled for the second time. She smoothed out the wrinkles in her silken skirt, deliberately brushing every little crease, with the diamonds and emeralds glittering on her white hands.
“You mistake me. Sieur de Glaucos,” she said, gently; “I have no packet and no commissions.” She smiled innocently at him, and, sinking her chin in the palm of one hand, gazed up in his face wistfully.
The old soldier lifted her disengaged hand and kissed it. “One admires courage, even in an enemy,” he said, gravely “Let me hope that you are as wise as you are brave in your decision.” Then he turned and left her.
The moment he had ’gone the laughter died from Jeanne’s lips. She uttered a low moan and looked helplessly about her. The sun had set, leaving a black gloom overhead and a hazy grayness over the shifting tree-tops.
“Not that, not that,” she muttered. “Oh, God! I must save my husband. Julian, Julian!” she cried, with dry lips. “I must give you up — it must be you, my love, my love.”
JEANNE stood under the live-oaks watching the Sieur de Glaucos until he vanished from her sight. She wondered if she had lost the old man’s respect. It seemed that his friendship was slipping, slipping away from her like a shadow. The evening was falling and the convent bell ringing in her ears. She thought of the journey she had made across the ocean with those pious Ursuline nuns. Her heart gave a great bound. She had felt so safe. Oh, to possess that peace again! Did the nuns carry their sorrows beyond the convent walls, or were they cast aside with their worldly garb at the entrance and forgotten? In the hush of the October evening the bell sounded softer, more appealing, like a benediction coming through the shadows from realms beyond. It had never seemed so to Jeanne before, and she held her breath and listened. In the days of happiness with Laville she had taught herself to resist, to sacrifice, but now a new danger confronted her. Which way should she turn, where look for help, for guidance?
“Not for me, oh, God, not for me! I can bear anything for myself, but how shall I save him?” she moaned.
An owl hooted in the woods, and a bat stirred in the dark depths over Jeanne’s head. She was so completely occupied with her thoughts that she did not see a figure advancing from the direction of the southern gate, threading its way over the wooded expanse between the forest and the settlement, crossing the heavy growth of coarse grass, until at last it climbed into the d’Artin demesne and stood beside Jeanne, looking down in deep and dignified silence. Hearing a slight movement, Jeanne looked up and instantly recognized Bras Piqué, an Indian princess who had long been friendly to the French. She was a gray-haired woman of light mahogany complexion and jet-black eyes. Her figure was erect and tense with native energy. She wore rings of painted bones in her ears, and string after string of colored glass beads, intermixed with alligator teeth and animals’ claws, about her neck. Her body was half naked and painted with heraldic devices in vermilion, which, in the uncertain light, looked grotesque.
Jeanne greeted Bras Piqué cordially, and, knowing something of Indian manners, waited for her to communicate the object of her visit. After standing in silence for a few moments, the squaw stepped close to Jeanne.
“I know you, white sister, as my friend. You interceded for my grandson once. I remember. Open your heart now to receive my communication, but after this hour seal your lips close. Never breathe what I am about to tell you.”
She paused in solemn dignity and looked about at the twilight garden, the purple shadows under the trees, and the subdued lights that were beginning to appear in the windows of the house. It was very silent. Darkness began to creep over the little settlement. Mosquitoes hummed, and the frogs in the tall reeds and grasses along the river began their nightly concert. Far beyond the levee the broad Mississippi, filling the air with uneasy murmurs, flowed to the gulf.
“My people do not love Chopart,” continued Bras Piqué. “One you love is with him.”
Jeanne started and gazed at her with sudden terror. Her face flushed in the gloom. How could this savage woman know her secret?
“White sister, the Natchez have lost their heads. Even now through all their moons the totem poles in front of each village have been painted red. There will be no mistake — there can be none — a bundle of sticks like this “ — she thrust a parcel of reeds into Jeanne’s hands and her quick, keen eyes sought hers. “Every sunrise one reed is taken out. When the last remains — that is the day. Beware of the Natchez on that day! Look out for big Sun Chopart and he that is with him. The Natchez strike there first.”
Before Jeanne could reply Bras Piqué had pressed her hand and was gone, disappearing in the darkness like a bird of ill omen.
Jeanne stood a moment in the hush of the October evening, staggered by the sudden blow. It was warm, and the leaves of the great tree overhead were motionless and threw heavy shadows underneath. The only sound in the silence was the croaking of the bull-frogs and the lowing of some cattle in a distant field.
Jeanne clasped her hands convulsively about the reeds. She uttered no sound. She began counting the reeds — ten, fifteen, twenty, twentyfive, twenty-eight. Twenty-eight! So soon? Could it be true? Surely, it must be a horrible dream! But the reeds? Each one doles out captivity — torture — death. She turned despairingly and passed through the garden with a feeble, wandering gait. Her face had a stunned look upon it. The gallery was deserted, and she sank upon a chair in the shadow of the great rose-vine. She tried to think. She fingered the reeds and counted them over and over again. She clung to them in terror. She could see the men and women passing in the lighted places about the Place d’Armes. Still farther on, behind the trees, she could see the dim outline of Laville’s house, but he was not there. He was in danger — such danger! She rose with a feeling of extreme helplessness and went to the yellow-hung drawing-room. A light was burning there, and d’Artin sat polishing his gun. He was smiling and singing an old tune, renowned as having been turned from the original by his Majesty King Louis XV.:
“Oh, Cousin Antoine!” cried Jeanne, rushing to him.
“Holy Virgin!” he exclaimed. “Have you the heart to ruin my song?” He laughed merrily. “I was right in the midst of King Louis’s address to old Adam.”
“Hush! hush!” cried Jeanne, looking around and speaking in an agitated whisper. “The Indians are rising. Oh, Antoine, go to the governor — tell him — warn him that something must be done. There is grave danger.” Then she related her meeting with Bras Piqué. D’Artin was a phlegmatic young man, not given to much serious thought, and treated Jeanne’s report as visionary. He assured her she was unnecessarily alarmed.
“Don’t say another word about it,” he urged. “You know Laville is at Fort Rosalie just now, and your interest at this time — well, it would not look well, to say the least.”
He went on polishing his gun with renewed vigor.
“I will,” cried Jeanne. “I will not sacrifice so many lives for a scruple.” Her eyes flashed. “You ought to be ashamed, Cousin Antoine. How would you feel if the entire garrison was to be wiped out?”
“Oh, come, Jeanne, don’t talk such wild nonsense,” he said, carelessly. “Believe me, I know these Indians better than you do. Rest easy. We are quite safe. Now, not a word to Luce! Why disturb other nervous women like yourself to no purpose?”
Jeanne gazed at him in apparent stupefaction, overpowered for an instant by his indifference. During the remainder of the evening she was in an excitable state, now bursting into occasional fits of laughter and again a prey to restless spells that drove her from one part of the house to another. The next day she reported what she knew to the Sieur de Glaucos, the governor, and several French officers, but all thought her unduly nervous, like most of the women in the settlement at that time.
At length, in sheer desperation, she realized that none shared her fears. If Laville knew of Bras Piqué’s warning, or even suspected it, he would not forsake his post. The fort was improperly garrisoned, and if he remained the chances were he would be killed. Laville must return; to that end she bent her whole mind. Consideration of duty or responsibility towards others vanished when she saw how futile her attempts were to convince the authorities. They believed it to be a false warning; they were accustomed to these rumors and threats that came to nothing. But she had faith in the squaw. Laville must be recalled from Fort Rosalie, but how?
She thought of Marcello, Laville’s servant. He could be trusted, even unto death. She could send a message to Laville; but the message — what could she say? There must be no doubt about his coming. Unless her message was imperative, he might, like the others, deem her view of the tragic issue an exaggerated one. Her own cousin, secretly resenting the influence Laville seemed to be exerting on her, had tried to dissuade her from any communication with the fort. His expostulations revealed to her how others would regard her action, and she could see beyond any doubting that a knowledge of her movements would compromise her in the eyes of the entire colony. It was pitiful, but she must save Laville at any cost. Her happiness was lost, but his life — she had no right to let it be sacrificed without making an effort to save it. Despite her pride, her illusions seemed dead, and her anxiety for Laville threatened to overwhelm her. Already two of the reeds were gone — two days — the triumph of the Natchez was drawing near.
“Oh, he must, he shall leave Fort Rosalie!” she exclaimed in her agony, as she sat alone in her room that night looking out on the shining little settlement in the hush of the rosy twilight. The soft autumn air was charged with the pleasant hum of voices, the Café d’Orléans flared with light; she could hear the gossiping of the soldiers and the clinking of flagons. The entire settlement seemed so full of life and pleasure, so oblivious of any threatened danger. But Laville was there — there in that place of gloom and death. “Only a woman,” she moaned, “the weakest thing under the sun! A fair face, a soft hand, a gentle voice with the power of winning men — so much — but of what avail are these things now?” She groaned in agony. “The weakest man in the settlement is stronger than I. He can do things. If I could only save him, I would give my life, my honor — ”
She paused and reflected. She was a woman of lofty ideals — grave, poetic, stainless, even when loving Laville most. Her heart had expanded under his strong manhood with a joyous wave of happiness. Laville’s face came back to her now, strong, earnest, appealing. What was honor to her if he were dead? From girlhood she had held the highest ideals of womanhood. She had lived under their inspiration, believing it impossible to act against her ideal of honor and live.
She rose and walked aimlessly about the long chamber. Everywhere her gay gowns and laces of all shades and degrees of prettiness and richness met her eyes. They were hung over the chairs, in prim rows in the ancient armoire, and the dressing-table was littered with precious trifles. That bracelet the king had given her. This ring with the five brilliants that flashed under the dim light as she set a candle near had belonged to her aunt, a pious dame who, grown weary of trying to unravel the tangled threads of life, had extinguished her brilliant light and withdrawn to a convent for consolation. And there were fans and handkerchiefs and jewelled baubles that seemed to her the outward symbols of the emptiness of human life. These trifles told the tale of her life — the blazing diamonds, the splendid satins, dazzling, overwhelming witnesses of her hollow existence. Dancing, laughing, pleasure-loving, with the splendid exuberance of buoyant health and vitality, but through it all she knew how her heart had hungered for the love which, now that it had come to her, was not hers to keep. Ah, well, what did it matter? She had found it easy in the old days to be joyous and gay. She had not waked up then, and life was a pleasant dream. It is the intangible, the visionary, that lifts us to rapturous heights; but the stern realities — do they not show us that we are but the instruments of fate?
She seated herself at a desk near the candlelight. She was sure Laville would come if she sent for him. She was indifferent now to what the world might think of her.
“What does it matter?” she murmured. “At least, a life will be saved and this hopeless agony ended.” The white years of the past, with their stainless record, seemed to count for nothing. Without a regret, unrepenting, resolute, she wrote to him:
“I am sorely pressed, dear heart — I cannot live without you. I care not for creeds, nor for the opinion of the world. You have inspired me with new courage. Come to me. Suffering has made me gloomy, and my heart is in a tumult of fear. I shall be at the house where you saw me that last night. It is so deserted, and so lonely since you went away, but safe for me. Remember, on the night of November 28th, not later than two hours before midnight I will be there. Love possesses me wholly — I am yours entirely — I care for nothing but you — you — you. If you fail me, I shall return to France instantly.
She hurried to Marcello with the note, fearing to trust another hand.
“Go, go, Marcello! Give your master this message. Tell him I am in danger. Tell him to come at once.”
She spoke with such eager earnestness that the negro was impressed with a sense of her peril.
When she had seen the negro start off with the message a wave of peace came to her. He would be saved. She would never regret the sacrifice. Did it not mean her life for his? The thought thrilled her with its self-abnegation. In that moment of triumph the woman rose to her supreme height of triumph; her self-effacement was complete.
ROSSART INTERCEPTS MARCELLO
IT was nightfall when Marcello left his master’s house with the note he had received from Jeanne, and set out for Fort Rosalie. He had a vague idea that her danger was of vital interest to his master, and intuitively he felt the need of reaching Fort Rosalie as soon as possible. He secreted the note under his hat for safety.
It was a remarkably mild evening for the season. The air stirred softly, and the breeze blew the odor of salt water in from the gulf. Beyond the levee a young moon was rising above the Place d’Armes; the trees, the low houses, and the streets were white under its silver radiance.
Marcello had reached the church, and was presently among straggling groups of marine cadets, officers, women, and children going in and coming out of the sacred edifice. It was a simple building in those days, but to Marcello it was the finest structure in the world, boasting of all the solemn symbols of heaven. He stopped for a moment, his rude ear caught by the chanting voices of the choir, and was about to pass on when some one called his name. He looked around cautiously. Madame Périer, accompanied by Rossart, was coming from the church towards him. All New Orleans knew the lady as a pious woman, kind, gentle, and compassionate towards all.
“Marcello,” she called. “Wait a moment. I wish to speak to you.”
Marcello regarded her with silent awe. In the colony there was so much lawlessness that this woman was looked upon as a majestic saint who kept up a silent account with God. She greeted Marcello kindly.
“Is your master still absent, Marcello?”
He answered in the affirmative.
“One of my servants is ill,” she said, “and I want you to come to-night and help us out. I shall acquaint Captain Laville with the fact when he returns. You must come at once, Marcello. The governor has called a special conference to-night, and I shall need you to wait on them.”
Marcello held his peace awkwardly; then bluntly explained that his master was at Fort Rosalie, and that he was bound on a commission to him that brooked no delay.
“What a pity!” said Madame Périer. “I am disappointed. I thought I could count on you. Could you not go to your master to-morrow?”
Marcello shook his head in confusion, casting down and lifting his eyes in apparent apology.
“What may this important mission be, Marcello?” asked Rossart, suavely.
Marcello started violently and begged Madame Périer to excuse him. Impressed by his consideration for his master, she allowed him to depart at once.
As soon as he had left them Marcello hurried towards the river and followed the levee until he came to a marshy place where a negro fisherman dwelt, and who frequently loaned his pirogue to the other negroes. He lived in an isolated spot, and was supposed to have some quiet business of his own with smugglers, but, in spite of suspicion, he continued to escape detection and flourished in his contraband trade, keeping neither the laws nor the creeds of the settlement.
He was pleased to see Marcello, and at once put his pirogue at Marcello’s disposal. What would he not do for Laville, the brave captain, the soul of honor, the idol of the people? Well he knew, this crafty smuggler, that Laville would make the enterprise a profitable one to him; none ever lost by the valiant captain.
Marcello was the happiest negro in the settlement when he had secured the pirogue. He had made it ready for his voyage up the river and was stooping down to push it out from the reeds when a crushing blow, delivered with the full strength of a strong arm, struck him to the ground, insensible. His hat caught on the bushes, and Jeanne’s note fluttered downward.
The moon, slender and white, hung over the tangle of reeds and bushes, and lighted up a grasping white hand which reached forward and picked up the note. Rossart — for it was he — broke into a diabolical fit of laughter as Jeanne’s familiar handwriting met his sight. Every word was visible in the clear moonlight — so plain, so suggestive of the passionate force of her nature, that he could almost fancy he heard her voice. His face burned with a sudden rush of blood, and his eyes flamed with a devilish light.
“Ha, ha, my lady Jeanne! Now you are in my power,” he cried aloud in triumph. “With this note I can defy you, my haughty one, and ruin you if I will. No one knows what is in this message, and — ” he bent over the negro and lifted one of his hands, which fell limp — “he will tell no tales,” he added, kicking the prostrate form. “One black dog less, and one friend the less for Laville. My lady Jeanne, this night’s work has made me your master.”
Shortly after Rossart had left Marcello for dead, the recumbent figure of the negro began to stir. He felt a numbness in his right shoulder, and there was a wound on the side of his head. With much effort he managed to crawl to the river, where he washed away the blood on his face and head. The cool water revived him, and soon he was able to bethink himself what he had best do. In vain he searched for Jeanne’s message. It was not to be found, and his heart smote him. What would his master say? Who had struck the blow? What would happen to Madame Poché in the mean time? He must reach Laville. There was no time to lose. He remembered Jeanne’s words — “Tell him I am in danger — tell him to come at once.”
The negro proceeded to get into the pirogue, fearing each moment that his assailant might return. His shoulder hurt him, and paddling upstream was difficult, but he went on doggedly, making progress, if slowly, towards his destination.
At last, after a painful journey, he drew his pirogue up to the foot of the hill on the summit of which, six hundred yards a way,-he could see the fort. It was an irregular pentagon in shape, built of thin plank. There were no bastions, and the buildings consisted of a storehouse, magazine, houses for the officers, and barracks for the soldiers.
The morning sun shone over the top of the stockade and on the beautiful country around. Marcello fixed his eyes upon the fort, named in honor of Madame la Duchesse de Pontchartrain. He had struggled painfully for many days to reach the place, and at last he was within sight of it. His master was there; he was a soldier; he would avenge his wrongs. Yes, and there was Jupiter. “Good dog, good dog!” It seemed like home again.
He beached the pirogue and slowly climbed the hill. There were plenty to welcome him. Every new-comer in sight was hailed with interest in those early days. Presently he was with his master, and Jupiter’s great paws were about his neck. He dropped at Laville’s feet, telling his story in a breath and begging forgiveness.
“Brave Marcello!” cried Laville, excitedly. “And she, Madame Poché, sent you? Did she say aught else than that she was threatened with danger? Has there been any ship come in lately? Is the lady’s husband arrived? Oh, the rogue who stole that note, Marcello! If we knew, his life would pay the forfeit. He did not count on your fealty, Marcello. Good boy, good boy! One day you shall wear a new scarlet coat for this, and sit in the sun all day long.”
The negro grinned. His master’s bright coats had long been his admiration.
Laville tried to fathom Jeanne’s meaning. She trusted him; she had need of him; she had sent for him. A soft light came into his eyes. “But, mon Dieu, what danger she may be in at this very moment!” His face grew pale with sudden fear. He thought of her as he had last seen her — so capricious, so melting, so adorable. “Ah, Jeanne, Jeanne!” he cried. “I will not fail you. I am coming, sweetheart!”
AT LAVILLE’S HOUSE
JEANNE removed one of the reeds each morning. Just beyond the market-place she could see the flash of arms at the parade in the Place d’Armes, and the daily sight of the martial array of men made her long for news of the ultimate safety of that other soldier at Fort Rosalie. As the bundle of reeds grew less the sight of every soldier from the barracks, every drum-tap, the boom of the sunset guns, and the faintest hint of war made her sick with apprehension. After the mad excitement of that reckless night, when she wrote to Laville, had settled down into the practical reflections of daily routine, she shuddered to think how she had perhaps forfeited his high respect by actually throwing herself into his arms. There was a subtle alteration in her mute, passionate face; the struggle of her love and self-sacrifice wrought a marked change in her which those about her could not fail to notice.
“Jeanne, you grow quiet,” Madame d’Artin often said, and the repetition began to irritate her husband. He showed plainly his contempt for these tactless remarks, but nevertheless the truth jarred upon him as he became painfully conscious of its source.
In those days New Orleans was a place of wild revelry and unlicensed dissipation. People did not take time to be moral. Everybody in the colony followed the fashion and affected the life of the French court and the philosophy of the times. On the threshold of the palace, in Versailles, all that was fine and noble was forgotten. Little wonder, therefore, that in New Orleans the settlers should doubt the existence of virtue and nobility. Women in general laid aside their virtue as easily as a cloak, and men looked upon it as an asylum for every indiscretion under the sun.
Jeanne was vaguely conscious of the evil about her. She had lived in the same atmosphere, but she had sprung from two old families of Southern France whose aristocratic ideals and inherent moral tendencies were lofty by nature. In her there were born a love of truth and an instinctive hatred of deception. She could not understand how so many lived from day to day without hope or memory, dazzled by the fictitious glamour of the false life about them. And now she reflected that if the passions of her own rebellious heart were only known, she would be hailed and discussed as a fresh subject for scandal, and then condoned and forgotten as the natural outcome of the times. She held to the truth that she was not to blame for the perplexing situation in which she found herself; she was but the victim of a fate that had been too strong for her. She could not help loving Laville, and while she knew her love to be as pure as heaven, she also knew that its very sweetness was preserved by her silence and renunciation. She shuddered at the thought that any one should think she had followed the ways of the fashionable, self-loving world. That she and Laville should love each other was a tragedy to both of them. She knew that she could never go back to Poché to do that now would be a crime against her natura She had learned that love was not only a great happiness, but a great sorrow.
On the night of November 28th, faithful to her tryst, Jeanne went to Laville’s house. Only one reed was left. She unlocked the door and stumbled across the threshold in the dark and stared into the gray obscurity with dread reflections. The air smelled damp and mouldy, and a monster rat shot across her feet. She staggered in fright against the door; then she closed and bolted it before she made a light. When the candle-beams flickered across the dusty floor she dropped nervously into a chair, observing the bare dreariness of the room in weary abstraction. A lump swelled in her throat as she surveyed the surroundings that spoke of Laville. It was chilly. She rose and lighted the papers and pine knots on the hearth with one end of the candle. The small flame suddenly expanded into a big blaze, and she drew the great chair up to the fireplace.
The green-gray had faded from her eyes, and they looked almost black as they resumed their restless wandering around the cheerless chamber. The air of neglect made it seem forlorn. Dust lay on everything. The armor on the wall was tarnished, the flagons, the drinking-cups, the pipe on the table, the powder-horn, and a brace of pistols all spoke to her of him — the man she loved. Away back yonder in France she had never known the new, strange passion that had broken with such tempestuous sweetness upon her life, and then this sorrow — it was better that none should know of her grief. It was all buried deep down in her own heart; she felt cold and sick with misery. She had prayed so many nights and days that she could not pray any more. Her prayers had not been answered.
Vaguely she knew now how great her loneliness had always been. It had not weighed on her like this before — her life had been so gay, so brilliant, that she had never paused to think, to feel. Here, alone and solitary, it overwhelmed her, and the thought of his coming seemed to fill the world with light and gladness. She could hardly believe her senses. How good it was to be alive — to be young — and to love!
Hush! Was that a footstep? She listened with her heart beating loudly; a choking sensation made her breathing labored, and she stood tense and silent.
The footsteps came nearer, up the steps. Now he was at the door — ah! he was here! he was safe! A smile danced in her eyes; her lips trembled. Palpitating, frightened, she heard him try the latch and tap softly on the door.
A moment of suspense, then she drew back the bolt, the warm blood flushing her face as she threw the door wide open. The next moment a tall, muffled figure had stepped over the threshold and bolted the door behind him.
Oh, the supreme joy of that moment! A sudden rush of happy tears blinded Jeanne for an instant; she was a radiant, an adorable vision. Her eyes danced through the mist, her curving lips smiled joyously, and a crimson glow overspread her face and neck. She trembled in every limb, and shrank back against the wall with lowered head, afraid to let him see the infinite gladness in her face. The next instant he advanced to her side and snatched one of her hands to his lips.
“Jeanne, at last we are alone, with none to hear, none to see.”
At the first hoarse sound Jeanne looked wildly up, and stood a second confronting the man. In terror she saw that it was not Laville, but Rossart.
“You, you!” she gasped, in horror. “How came you here?” There was a pitiful wail in her voice. He looked at her, smiling with ironical humor.
“And you, my spotless lady, how does it happen I find you in Captain Laville’s house?”
“Some unfortunate accident has evidently caused mistress and menial to seek the same shelter. I bid you good-evening, monsieur.” She swept him a stately courtesy and turned to the door.
“Nay, nay, my lady Jeanne!” cried Rossart, springing between her and the door. “You must listen to me now.” His face was white, and there was a devilish intensity in it she had never seen before.
Jeanne saw that protest would be unavailing. Her bosom heaved tumultuously, and a hopeless look settled on her face as she moved slowly towards the fireplace. The room seemed to have become strangely shadowy with its one little light, the small disk of radiance glimmering weirdly. She stood by the fireplace, the long, clinging white folds of her gown sweeping the dusty floor. The dying firelight flickered on her bare arms and on the slender, white-robed figure, throwing into relief the curving softness of her limbs.
Rossart left his position by the door and crossed to where she stood.
“My lady Jeanne,” he said, with sinister passion, “it is heaven to be thus close to you. We are alone at last, you and I, my proud lady.”
Her face was as impassive as a mask.
“I have loved you always,” he said, and laughed uneasily. “You have been the one baffling thing in my life. Not content with making me long for you, torturing me with all the torments of hell, you interpose yourself between me and my ambition. But the hour of reckoning has come.”
“The man who was your lover is miles away, perhaps fighting with Indians even as we stand here. A week, a month hence, even if he should escape with his life, you will have faded from his thoughts, and in a year he will have quite forgotten you, for a soldier loves easily and often.”
She raised her arms to her head and dropped them helplessly to her side with a movement of hopelessness. Anxiety and despair were ravaging her heart. In imagination she could hear the cries of women and*children and the fearful Indian war-whoops echoing through the forests of Fort Rosalie. Her face became tragic. She turned with fierce indignation on Rossart.
“Fiend! — coward! I call on Heaven to revenge the wrongs you have done.”
“What of your wrongs — your crime against king and state? What about the packet intrusted to you by the king?”
“You speak a strange language,” she said. “What packet is in your thoughts? I have no packet.”
“Madame, a lie comes not easily to your lips, and it ill becomes beauty to tamper with the secrets of men. I tell you, you must give up that despatch. If you will not give it up fairly, then there are other means of bending you to my will. My lady Jeanne, you are the one woman I desire above all women" — he came closer to her — “the woman that I love most under heaven. You are at my mercy here. It is near midnight; cry aloud, and none will hear you. I love you, my beauty, and you shall love me yet.” He attempted to take her hand.
“Back!” she cried, with angry scorn. “How dare you touch me?”
“Peste! you shall be mine!” he cried, vehemently. “You have kindled a fire in my veins that bids me do and dare anything to win you.” Moved by a strong, passionate impulse, he sought to clasp Jeanne in his arms, but she wrenched herself free from him and rushed madly to one of the windows.
“Coward!” she cried, trembling.
“You are mine at last, my proud lady, my gay coquette!” he cried. “You shall be mine!” Again he made a futile effort to clasp her in his arms, but at that moment footsteps were heard on the gallery.
“Hush!” he warned her. “It may be your husband, for even now a ship from France is at the landing.”
She turned pale, and stood in fear, like a hunted animal.
“Give me the packet, madame, or on my life you shall answer to your husband for this.”
Again the sound of footsteps penetrated to the room as some one passed the door.
Jeanne strained her ears intently.
Some one spoke in a rich, mellow voice:
“Here, Marcello, take Jupiter and give him a bone. See how slowly he walks. Poor beast! He, like his master, is like to drop with weariness.”
“Laville!” exclaimed Rossart, in alarm, and listened intently, with his eyes fixed on Jeanne.
“Ah!” she sighed, “at last, at last! Oh, thank God, thank God!”
She clasped her hands to her heart in silent ecstasy. A rush of vitality coursed through her veins. How safe she now felt! “Do you hear, Monsieur Rossart? Do you hear that?” she cried, rapturously. “Methinks you are caught in your own snare.” There was a triumphant ring in her voice, and she laughed through her tears. Oh, the joy of hearing his voice, and to know he was safe — safe!
“Sang Dieu!" hissed Rossart, through set lips, and drawing his sword. “Cry not! utter no sound, I warn you!”
Jeanne shrank from his grasp.
“You would not harm him?”
The footsteps were returning again. Rossart laughed sardonically.
“If you but utter a sound, I swear I will kill him.”
The footsteps came nearer. The fire had almost died out, and only a few red embers marked the place where it had been. Jeanne felt Rossart’s hot breath on her face, and he clasped one of her hands tightly in his.
“Give me that despatch,” he said, quickly, under his breath, still straining his ears to catch Laville’s voice as he talked to Marcello. “Give it to me, and I will spare him.” His sword rattled ominously against its scabbard. “I hate Laville. You shall not thwart me. Give me the despatch,” and he wrung her hand so that she groaned with pain.
“I — I — have it not. You will be sorry for this night’s work — ”
There was a rattling of the latch at this juncture, which became more violent with resistance. Ah! the casement cracks. Laville was growing impatient.
“We shall meet again, madame,” hissed Rossart, with the ferocity of a beast balked of its prey. Then he sprang to the threshold, and, drawing back the bolt, threw the door wide open, tripping Laville as he entered. Laville uttered a stifled cry of rage, and nimbly rose to his feet.
At that moment one of the door-like windows was opened, letting in a long, white moonbeam, which fell athwart the sill and followed a slender course across the bare floor. Instantaneously with the opening of the window, Laville saw Rossart climb out, his dark figure clearly silhouetted against the white world outside, the sleeping town and moss-hung trees in the moonlight making a shining background for the escaping figure.
“Rossart, as I live!” he cried. “Ho, there, Marcello! Lights! lights! The devil has just been here. There is mischief brewing somewhere.”
Jeanne held her breath with suspense, and tottered against the wall for support. Smothering the impulse in her heart to cry out to him, she waited in the shadows. He was safe — safe! She thought only of that, and that Rossart had gone. When Marcello brought lights the sudden illumination blinded her for a moment. She actually smiled — her scarlet mouth and famishing eyes eloquent with a glad salutation.
“You?” cried Laville, hoarsely, as his eyes fell upon the dazzling figure. “You here — and with that villain?”
A world of scorn and surprise rang in his voice and leaped from his blazing eyes. He walked over to her and for a moment gazed at her, a figure of motionless reproach, but so convulsed by passion as to frighten her.
She made no answer, but gave a low cry of mingled astonishment and dismay. The world outside was intensely still, and from far off came the nocturnal sound of a wild bird.
Jeanne’s heart leaped into her throat. It had made her so happy just to hear his voice, so glad to see him, that she had thought of nothing else. Gradually the light died out of her eyes, the scarlet fled from her cheeks and lips, and a frozen silence seemed to envelop her entire being. Her tongue clove to her mouth. She tried to speak, but her lips would not frame the words.
“God in heaven! and I would have staked my soul on your truth!”
The words broke from him in bitter denunciation. His face turned ashen gray.
“I might have known,” he cried, turning from her and walking to the fireplace. “Fool, fool that I have been! It is no secret in the colony that he was your lover in days gone by. Back there in France his name and yours were a byword. Men have whispered it over their cups here in the province, and I — I — I would not believe. It was something to think that there was one perfect woman soul in the world.”
She breathed heavily. His words were an accusation which smote her to dumbness.
“I am not the first man who has been mistaken in a woman,” he said, crossing and standing before her. “The damnable treachery, the siren charms are the dower of your sex, and the poor devils of men are duped by a smile or the pressure of a soft, white hand.”
Tears gathered in her eyes, but did not fall.
“You are a blind man,” she said, pitifully, through compressed lips. Her hands tightened in their grasp of each other. “Your suspicions are infamous.” She looked at him with crimson cheeks, and her voice trembled in spite of her efforts to keep it firm, but there was the proud uplifting of the head that Laville knew so well.
“You deny it, and yet he was here with you alone — here where you thought none would know.” He laughed scornfully.
“You shall not speak to me in this way,” she cried, throwing out her hands as if to repel his accusations. “I will hear no more. You shall not insult me. By what right do you dare to accuse me?” she demanded, with straining eyes.
“True,” he said, in an altered voice, and dropping his arms wearily. “I have no right, and yet there has been something in your voice and something in your eyes — I thought I could trust you. I wish you happiness of this night’s work, madame. Before Heaven, I have been taught a lesson!” He spoke savagely, and walked to the door, his eyes blazing. “I hope never to see you again as long as I live. I will take myself out of your life at once. A ship has just come in. When it returns to France I shall go with it” He moved nearer the door, his sword clinking in its scabbard.
She felt as though she would suffocate. In an instant he would be gone forever, and he would go thinking her guilty; with her mind torn by regret and despair, she staggered after him. At that instant there was the sound of crackling grasses and a smothered imprecation uttered by a man coming up the path in front of the house.
Laville turned back quickly and met her in the doorway. Outraged, betrayed, and ridiculed, notwithstanding he must protect her from further ignominy and detection.
“Some one is coming,” he said, speaking rapidly, without looking at her. “You must not be seen here.” He almost pushed her back into the room. “Here — you must conceal yourself,” with a motion of his hand towards the window. “In this embrasure, behind the hangings, you will not be seen. Hide yourself — quick!”
“ROSSART, Rossart, you villain! Ho, there, are you within? Speak, man, speak, that I may know the living are about!” The man’s voice was thick and unsteady, as if he had been drinking heavily.
There was a little convulsive gasp in the room, and Jeanne staggered against the window with a sharp cry. “It is my husband — my husband!” she cried, feebly, looking out for a moment from behind the curtains with blanched face and staring eyes.
There was time for neither remonstrance nor advice from Laville; the man advanced, and presently came to the threshold. Laville carelessly took his sword from the table and was polishing it when Poché — for it was he — knocked on the open portal.
“Ho, there, Rossart, thou flatterer of fair faces and winner of errant dames! Are you within?” Again he rapped with a resounding noise.
“Enter,” said Laville, without looking up and still rubbing his sword. “Methinks you have come to the wrong place, my wanderer. Rossart is not here, but perchance you will find him at his house.”
“Peste! what devils there are here! I went to his house, and, not content with lying to me, they must send me walking at this hour of the moon. A thousand pardons, good soldier, and a thousand thanks,” said Poché, with a bravado air. Then, sweeping his plumed hat from his head, he bowed waggishly.
“I’m Poché — Captain Poché — at your service — captain of the king’s guard from France. What in the devil is the matter with this town? No wine — no water. Sang Dieu! what does a man do for drink?”
Laville put down his sword and rose from the table where he had been sitting. He looked gravely at the portly figure and bowed coldly. He felt his face grow hot with resentment as the thought swept through him that this was Jeanne’s husband. “I am at your service, Monsieur Poché,” he said, with difficulty controlling his voice.
“Doubtless you have heard of me,” said Poché, with tipsy importance, “for Madame Poché, my wife, is somewhere in the settlement. You know her?”
“In so small a community we know all,” said Laville, quietly, “and one of madame’s grace and beauty could scarcely hope to escape observation. I have met madame.”
Poché laughed easily.
“Jeanne makes easy conquests,” he said, lightly; “but your name, monsieur, and tell me if you know aught of Rossart.”
Laville motioned Poché to a seat and rested himself on the table, carelessly playing with a pistol lying there.
“I am called Laville,” he said, gravely.
Poché turned towards him with a drunken stare. “Ah! the friend of Bienville?” he asked, with studied carelessness. “Yes, I’ve heard your name before.”
“Doubtless. I am not in favor at the court. There are bold traitors playing with my name.” He folded his arms and fearlessly watched the other’s face.
The candle-light flushed Poché’s cheeks to a deeper red, and he stared at Laville, finding it hard to believe that this calm, self-contained man could be the treacherous fellow represented by Rossart.
There was a momentary silence. Poché was a trifle embarrassed by Laville’s searching scrutiny, but his brain was too befogged to think clearly.
“Have you heard hereabouts of a messenger from the king?” he asked, lowering his voice.
“There has been some such threat in the air for months,” he said, “but until events happen it is best not to be foreshadowed by them. We of the wilderness never portend a storm until it comes.”
“I must see Rossart,” said Poché, ignoring Laville’s words. “Between him and my wife lies a story of treachery, but Jeanne will know.” He spoke in low, muddled tones, as though to himself. “The king gave her a letter, you see — she will know where it is. Between you and me,” he went on in tipsy confidence, “there’s been the devil of a mess somewhere, and — I want that packet — it may be a matter of life and death to me — you see?”
Laville started, fired with jealous distrust. “Ah, Rossart — the traitor!” he mused, and then, aloud, “You mean you will suffer for a crime not of your making if you do not find that letter?” His voice was steady, but great passion marked his face with deep-set lines.
There was a muffled sound behind the window-curtain.
“What the devil is that noise?” asked Poché.
“A rat, I suppose, that has strayed from its hole. There are many hereabouts.”
“Humph!” said Poché. “Why don’t you rout them out?” He shuddered and cowered in his seat. “I despise them. I like not your company here,” shrugging his shoulders. “Hideous suggestions lurk behind your walls. Quick! Direct me to d’Artin’s house, where my wife lives.” He yawned sleepily, then rose and shook himself. “I’d like to get hold of those rascals of Rossart’s. To the devil with them! You are certain he has not been here?”
“I have just come home, and you have been the first to enter. You can see for yourself my rooms are empty. I will direct you to d’Artin’s house at once.”
“Thanks. You are not half a bad fellow, Laville,” replied Poché, but he made no effort to go, and would fain have sat down again.
“Take two turns back to the right, then two to the left, and thence on to the river. There are shorter ways, but the masses of tall weeds and grasses are filled with reptiles — ”
Again Poché shuddered. “This whole place is like a nightmare,” he interrupted. “I like not your New Orleans by moonlight. It looks like one vast camping-ground for an army of ghosts. Wherever you look you see some gray shape beckoning — beckoning, always beckoning — and when you get there it is only the devilish trees.”
“You will have no trouble finding your way, though it is a trifle long. You will reach d’Artin’s in safety. Good-night, monsieur.” Laville raised the candle from the table and started for the door.
Poché looked at him in stupid astonishment, and followed him unwittingly.
“Good-night,” said Laville. “I think you will find the letter. The cardinal is a wise man. Never fear, Captain Poché, the king’s messenger will be faithful.”
“Ay, that’s the worst of it,” cried Poché — “too damnably faithful.”
Laville watched Poché until he slowly disappeared from sight. Then he turned away, sick at heart, embittered, sad. Why had he dared hope she was true? She had duped him for Rossart, and used him as a medium for his safety. Oh, he saw it all now; it was a rude awakening, and yet he might have known. His meeting with her and the subsequent developments had been a strange combination of events to that end. A sort of fury seized him.
She had stepped from her hiding- place, and confronted him as he re-entered the room. She did not speak, but the color rose in her cheeks and her fingers trembled as they closed over each other. There was a sort of dreamy abandon in her pose that brought back the first days of her coming to Louisiana.
“So you are the king’s messenger?” The words broke from him in bitter denunciation.
“Well?” She held her head high, all her indignation aroused by his distrust. Even her lips turned cold, and her eyes were no longer tender.
“Are you going to sacrifice your husband and others without a word, and all for that man — disloyal to your king and country and a traitor to your womanhood? Ah, mon Dieu!" His voice was full of deep-throbbing pain, and his eyes flashed with jealous anger.
A look of agony passed over her face, which he interpreted as mute acknowledgment of her guilt.
“Take your ill-starred packet!” He drew out the letter from the bosom of his doublet and threw it at her feet. “Take it! Its very touch burns me! Only a woman could be guilty of such a crime.” He turned instantly from her and strode out of the room.
She stood for a moment dumfounded, then gropingly gathered up the packet. She held it deliberating, hesitant, and then stretched it towards the candle-flame. “It would save him,” she faltered. “But I cannot, I cannot — my husband, my duty.”
She dropped her hands wearily, with a hopeless sob. She caught at the table for support, trembling with sudden weakness. Yes, she would do her duty. Outside, on the gallery, a mocking-bird began its song of love. Laville’s voice, speaking to Marcello, penetrated to the great bare chamber — so strong, so kind, so gentle to his servant, and, ah, so cruel to her!
She stretched out her arms yearningly to the blank walls, and a hopeless misery settled on her face. “My love — my love!” she murmured. “Oh, cruel fate! I would have saved you, and now I must save my husband; but it may mean death to you.”
IT was near dawn when Jeanne reached d’Artin’s house.
The moon had gone, and a slow, misty rain had set in, which now came down so fast that the streets were like rivers and the ditches raging torrents.
Just as dawn was approaching Jeanne heard a shrill, thin bugle-call on the river, mingling with the sound of the rain. It must be from the ship that had brought her husband; the thought quickened her mind into activity. She looked out of one of the windows — how long would it be before he came? She could see the dim outlines of a ship in the vast sea of gloom, and she turned a shade paler, wondering what Poché would say to her. She did not go to bed at all, but waited for him, still arrayed in her ball-gown, without a thought of her appearance.
She turned from the window and paced the floor in nervous unrest. The terrible scene she had just gone through was swallowed up in the thought of the ordeal before her upon her husband’s arrival. Laville and Poché — they kept coming into her mind, warring with each other. What a contrast they presented! Laville, in his worn uniform, pale and resolute, strong in his young manhood; and Poché, his clothes of the latest French fashion, and his maudlin eyes and puffy cheeks flushed with wine. Strange that her life should be so bound up, yet torn asunder, by these two men, so unlike, so opposite in every way.
In vain she tried to quell the emotions that crowded fast upon her thoughts. Her heart was tortured with despair and her eyes blinded with tears. To be true, she must surely give up the packet now, and yet what agony to know that in so doing she would sacrifice Laville. He was her life, her very soul. How bitter she had always been in her condemnation of women who seemingly stepped aside from the conventional paths of life! In Versailles she had come in contact more than once with such women, condoning their weaknesses, but refusing to understand their conduct, judging their shortcomings by her own sense of superiority. She went to the window again and looked out on the dawn, with her face uplifted to the dull, murky sky.
“My course is justified,” she murmured, in self-defence. “I must sacrifice him. At least I shall do what is right. That is all that is left to me now — my duty to my husband.”
Nothing seemed to matter now. Love had proved to her a martyrdom — its outcome, renunciation bitter as death, hopeless as the grave. It was a tragic ending to the delicious rapture of love’s beginnings in her; an ignoble satire on the waking dreams of her womanhood. Her face was drawn with pain at the swift memory. She turned from the window and threw up her arms, tortured by the piercing remembrance of her brief happiness. She paced the floor, agonized, and great sobs shook her tempestuously.
“It was all wrong from the beginning,” she wailed, piteously. “All wrong — and there was none to warn me, to help me. I have been so lonely — so lonely always, and none to understand me. If love had only come in time — ah, God! why did he come so late?”
She fiercely pressed her hands to her breast, battling with herself. Gradually the storm of her emotions spent itself, and she grew calmer.
“And yet I regret nothing; I cannot repent. It is better to have loved and suffered; he belongs to me — I know it, though he has been so cruel. He is mine — mine, always — to all eternity, though I should never see him again nor listen to his voice.”
The innocent rapture of her girlhood came back to her, expectant, vibrating, joyous. As then, so now she refused to recognize the creeds of her world. Her young life had been interfused with the beauty and loveliness of nature, her spirit had bathed in that subtle, divine air that breathed in the flowers, in the skies, the dawn, and the sunset, the wide expanses of the universe. Though Laville’s love had been a temptation, never for one single instant had she deviated from her duty to Poché. With the sudden recollection of her husband came an overwhelming sense of the hopelessness of her situation.
“Too late, too late! Oh, what have I done?” she moaned, in the oppressive agony of her soul.
Her thoughts began to drift again to the man she loved. The great tears blinded her. She knew she could only mete out pain to him, and she would be repaid with oblivion. “Oh, not that, not that!” she moaned. “Not oblivion; love me, Julian — think of me always! Cost what it will, I cannot bear to be forgotten.” She uttered a stifled cry and rose to her feet. She lighted more candles on the dressing-table and looked in the mirror at the reflection of her haggard beauty, at the splendidly arrayed figure. She scorned the fair image. “Bah!” with a shudder. “I hate myself. I hate those big eyes and that white throat.” She peered long and earnestly at the sad, tragic eyes, gleaming so wild and strange at her. “True — true to the end, my soul — you and I,” she whispered, defiantly. “We know — whatever the cruel world may say.” Then, with a baffled cry of longing and despair, she sank on the floor by the dressing-table and buried her head in her hands, sobbing as if her heart would break. She had searched for human sympathy and truth, and she had found them — too late.
Suddenly, through the silence, disturbed only by her passionate sobs, a wet, draggled gum-ball fell through the window on the floor at her feet. A husky voice she knew only too well called up to her in a hoarse whisper:
“Jeanne, are you there? It is I — Émile, your husband.”
She started to her feet and took a step forward with outstretched hands as if in protest. For one brief instant her heart seemed to stop beating. The lights danced before her, and her breath came in gasps. A sudden gust of wind blew in at one of the open windows and extinguished some of the candles. Poché moved impatiently on the lower gallery. She closed her eyes and clasped her hands tight over her eyes.
“Oh, God, let me die first!”
Poché knocked on the door again. She stood up straight and cold, and pulled herself together. Summoning her remaining strength, she crept through the hall and down the stairs. Groping in the dark, she found the latch, and, with one last overwrought effort, pulled back the bolt and fell on the floor in a dead faint.
Poché stepped in. He stumbled over his wife’s prostrate figure, but quickly stooped down and lifted her up. “In Heaven’s name, Jeanne, what is the matter? Are you ill?” He listened, frightened by the silence. Then, gathering her in his arms, he carried her up the stairs, following the glimmer of light which came from her chamber. He laid her on the bed and bathed her face, regarding her with anxiety and amazement. He disliked demands on his sympathy, and had expected to find Jeanne waiting for him with her bright vivacity and native pride, which distinguished her over there in France. Now there were sad little lines traced on her face which told a story of conflict and pain. He noted the bold grace of her unconscious form in its gay balldress. He recalled the happy girl who had queened it so royally at the French court, and there seemed something incongruous about this prostrate woman with the look of suffering in her face when he thought of her former defiant beauty. His small black eyes gleamed with a quick fire when he remembered her triumphs, even how she had won the favor of the young king, Louis XV., for him, her husband. He continued to bathe her forehead and chafe her hands.
At last Jeanne opened her eyes and saw Poché standing over her. She looked about with a dazed, dreaming glance. She rubbed her eyes. “You, Émile?” she said, with a wan smile. “I think I must have fainted. I fear I am — ill.”
She raised herself on the bed. He threw his arms about her, only half sobered. His eyes shone, and he laughed again as he crushed her soft body to him for an instant.
“Don’t, Émile; please don’t,” she beseeched, hastily drawing herself feebly away and sitting up white and strange against the pillows. “I — I — feel faint again. We were at the ball last night — we — that is, I — came home late — I must have danced too much.”
Poché had never seen his wife like this; her pride of bearing gone, her very voice dulled with sadness, and her face ashen. She rose to her feet with difficulty and walked to one of the windows. The gray dawn was faintly tinged with red in the east. White mists hung over the river, and a breeze wafted moist odors from the garden. She extinguished the candles, and then paused before her husband with her head thrown back in a well-remembered attitude, a crimson spot burning in each cheek.
Poché advanced and attempted to throw his arm around her.
“Don’t touch me. For God’s sake, don’t touch me!”
Poche laughed confusedly. “You are an odd little devil,” he said, looking at her suspiciously from under lowering brows. “Peste! what does it mean?”
She grew chilly again. “I am overwrought — tired out,” she said, lamely.
The rain still fell with melancholy monotony. Something in the sound made Jeanne more miserable. She caught a sob in her throat and clenched her teeth.
“You will be all right in the morning,” said Poché throwing off his damp coat. “Climb into your nest now as quick as you can.”
Jeanne made a vain effort to speak. It seemed that she had forgotten everything and was yielding to some compelling force. She watched Poché unfasten his silver-hilted rapier and toss it carelessly on the floor, one speculation chasing another in her sluggish brain. A dreadful anguish took hold of her. She felt that something must be done. To-morrow Poché would know all — he must — she wanted him to know. She would not deceive him. She had never loved him, but she could not stand infamy — now. She trembled violently, mute, pitiful, with a terrible fear in her eyes. The silence, but for the falling of the rain, was intense. At last she began to speak in broken words.
“Émile, leave me — leave me — you must leave me!”
She raised her head in her old, dauntless way, but the words came with an effort.
“Go to some other chamber. Don’t stay here now. Across the hall you will find a chamber prepared for you. I want to be alone now — I must be alone. Please, Émile — nay, nay, but you must.”
“What does this mean?” Poché demanded, fiercely.
Jeanne shuddered violently as mad thoughts went racing through her brain.
The instinct of suspicion was now aroused in Poché. He still retained sufficient self-possession not to touch her, but he lost his temper completely and spoke angrily.
“Thousand devils! Are you mad, madame?”
A sudden flame leaped into her eyes, and quick words broke from her in involuntary defence.
“You have never understood. You have never tried.”
“Dieu! What devilish fancy has taken possession of your brain now?” exclaimed Poché.
She did not answer, but shrank back against the footboard of the bed and stared with tragic intentness.
“Have you found at last that you have no need for me?” he demanded, hoarsely.
She closed her eyes and bit her under lip to keep it from quivering.
“Speak!” he cried, standing over her threateningly. “Speak, I say, or I will kill you.” He seized her arm and shook it roughly.
Like a flash she pulled herself from his grip. Panting and scornful, she looked him steadily in the eyes, superb in her fearless pride.
“You have spoken truly.”
She spoke unfalteringly now, with a new courage, her bosom heaving and her eyes sparkling.
“There was a time, perhaps, when it might have been different. But your frequent infidelities made that impossible long ago. God knows I do not want to accuse you, but how have you helped me? All my life I have hungered for love — to love and be beloved.”
Her tone stung Poché to madness.
“You love another?”
The words broke from him in suspicious rage. The gray morning light from the windows fell upon his face. It was flushed and brutish.
“Answer me,” he cried, “or by the holy Virgin, I will kill you.”
A brave light came into her eyes, though the pathos of her destiny smote her with cruel oppression. Her lips quivered. The platitudes and trivialities of life seemed far off then in the face of this tragedy.
“You are right. I do love another, though I would have spared you that. I love him so well that I would give my life for him. Were I not your wife, I would follow him to the end of the world, though he were a beggar. Yours has been the crime without the soul, mine is the soul without the crime. Judge for yourself which of us is most to blame.”
“Curse you!” he hissed, and would have said more, but she stayed him for a moment with a look. He broke into a sneering laugh. “No man expects to find his wife true nowadays, and you are not the first of your sex to help yourself to a lover in your husband’s absence; but you are mine — my wife, to do with as I will. Do you hear? — mine, I say!”
She looked steadily at him, too proud to reply.
He winced under her calm gaze and changed his manner. “Have you no regard for me after all these years, have you no thought — you know I trusted you?”
“That is what I do care for.” There was a piteous wail in her voice. “I know you trusted me. I want to be honest with you. Can you not see that I am your friend yet? I cannot love you as a wife should, but I can do my duty — ”
“Then where is that despatch, Jeanne? You must know. They say it has not been delivered. Give it to me. I have the password — ‘In the king’s name.’ I tell you I must have it before Rossart sees it. Strange tales have lately come to France about him. I must — I will have that packet. Do you hear? Give it to me. I will leave you then — anything — only give me the despatch.”
Jeanne had never seen him so distraught. Daylight was flooding the room, and his face looked ghastly. The convent bell began to ring. At the sound Jeanne dropped her head. Father Beauvois was right; the eyes of France were upon her. She stood in silence for an instant, helpless, torn by conflicting emotions.
They were both trembling. He drew nearer until she could feel his hot breath on her face while he poured forth passionate vituperations.
“Look at me!” he suddenly commanded.
Her eyes met his without fear.
“Do you think I am afraid?” she said. “Do you think I would taunt you at a moment like this?”
“Then why lie to me?”
“So you think I would lie? If I were a base woman I could deceive you, and you would be none the wiser. Listen to me. I will return the packet unopened, but not now. I will give it up, but you will never know what it has cost me.
She paused, and her voice wailed pitifully through the room.
“I vowed before you came that if this issue arose I would do my duty. Now leave me. I have answered you.”
MADAME and d’Artin had finished their breakfast when Jeanne came down the next morning. Madame had gone to see a sick friend, and d’Artin was waiting to see Jeanne. He had met Poché earlier, and there had been a slight explanation, but he hoped to hear the truth from Jeanne.
He had been troubled all night. The sound of her voice as it came to him in the silent hours while his wife slept had haunted him, and he slept but little after, and, when he did, harassing dreams tortured him. The conviction that Jeanne loved Laville was a chilling agony, and could hardly be endured. When he approached Jeanne as she came down-stairs there was a curious reticence in his manner for a few minutes.
“I want to talk to you, Jeanne. I have just learned of your difference with Émile.”
She opened her eyes wonderingly and shrugged her shoulders. She flashed a quick glance at him and passed on indifferently to the dining-room, where he followed her. Célie was there with the coffee, but as soon as Jeanne had been served they were left alone together.
After the negress had gone he stood for a few minutes, embarrassed and unhappy, with the warm blood coming and going in his smooth, beardless cheeks.
“Won’t you sit down, Cousin Antoine?” she asked.
He took a seat across the table from her. He hardly knew what to say to her. He had an unformed idea that she might resent any interference in her affairs, and yet, as her protector, he must say something.
“You are not happy with your husband, Jeanne?”
He hesitated, as though waiting for some confirmation of his words.
She drank her coffee deliberately and set the cup down. She looked straight into her cousin’s eyes, with a dim idea of appealing to him for silence, feeling that in her overwrought condition she could scarcely stand further strain.
“No.” She gave a great gulp.
“I have spoken to him this morning. He says he will remain here for the present.”
She started violently.
“You will have to bear meeting him, Jeanne. Our good name demands it. He will return when the ship sails, and meanwhile I promise you he will not trouble you.”
She looked relieved.
D’Artin looked at her with all the old tenderness in his eyes that had ever melted her childish heart.
“He is not a bad man, Jeanne.”
Her sole response was a stare and a scowl. She felt that if she attempted to speak she would cry out.
“You are my cousin, almost my sister.”
Her thoughts and emotions were rapidly chasing each other. The details of the past few months, the battle with herself, the rapture of her love, the misery and renunciation, and then, last, her husband’s arrival, were all registered with exacting fidelity.
“I know you have not loved Émile,” said d’Artin, gravely, “but you used to find him a good companion.” He laughed nervously.
She winced, and her eyes filled with tears.
“Let us go to the other room,” she said, shortly.
They passed from the dining-room into the hall and sat down near the door. The vapors had cleared, and a fresh breeze mingled with the scent of the river and the roses. Jeanne leaned back in her chair wearily and stared at her cousin with brooding, melancholy eyes. D’Artin bent slightly forward and spoke in his gentlest tones, observing the misery in her face and attitude.
“I don’t want to be brutal with you,” he said, “and I have thought of late that I may have seemed harsh, but I have been distraught about you.”
She suppressed an exclamation of assent and kept her eyes on the floor.
“You are a creature of the moment,” he said, sadly, “and the ghost of your deeds may come back to haunt you.”
She shook her head.
“You have given freely of your nature to others always, but yourself — there is something lacking there — a want that has never been satisfied. Look at me, Jeanne. I understand. Years ago, in France, I loved Léontine Dupaquier and was loved by her.”
Jeanne started. She remembered the beautiful girl who had been sacrificed as a victim to her father’s ambition.
“I never forget those days, Jeanne, but I have mastered myself.”
“I did not suspect this.”
“Oh, Jeanne, you are smiling now. You are another woman when you smile. You think me incapable of understanding your heart, but what you are suffering now I have suffered. I know you love Laville. It is madness. I speak from my heart, and for your own good.”
She continued to watch his flushed face, but made no reply.
“Jeanne, when I leave this world,” he continued, bravely, “I know that that woman’s name will be on my lips and her image in my heart. I have suffered and endured. I have known the wildest rapture, and I have experienced the deepest misery. Perchance I did wrong, but I have tried to be a man. Here in this wilderness I live my life and try to forget. It seems the fate of our race, child, to love without love’s reward.”
She reached over and took his hand and patted it caressingly.
“Poor Antoine! I never thought this of you. And you always so light-hearted.”
“The deepest griefs are the deepest buried,” he answered, briefly. “But you will make up this difference with your husband, Jeanne? You have done him grievous wrong, but I do not condemn you — I can only beg that you will become reconciled to your husband.”
She shook her head slowly and loosened her grasp on his hands.
“I cannot. I could not live with him now. It is too late. It seems to me there can be no greater crime than to live a lie. Oh, cousin, we can wear smiling faces, but we cannot tear the passion out of our hearts.”
She shivered with sudden foreboding.
“I have tried to be true — but I have failed.”
She turned to him with sudden fierceness.
“You believe in me, you love me, Antoine?”
“Whatever comes, little cousin,” d’Artin replied, softly, “I shall stand by you and love you to the end. The romance of a life comes but once, but it lasts always. The glamour lives on after the reality has faded, softened by distance and hallowed by time.”
A PRISONER OP THE KING
ON the eventful night of Laville’s return to New Orleans and the arrival of Poché, the Natchez fell upon Fort Rosalie and massacred two hundred and fifty people. The fort was practically wiped out of existence, with the exception of the women and children, who were held as prisoners.
It was several days before the news reached New Orleans. In the middle of December, 1729, Sieur Richard reached the settlement in a terror-stricken condition, with a full account of the massacre, which was verified later by other arrivals.
Jeanne heard the news as she went about the town. In the tumult that ensued there were many versions of the story, but the substance was the same — Laville had favored the Indians. He had concealed their leaders in the fort, and at the last moment abandoned his fellow-soldiers to their fate without a word of warning. Day after day this report gained ground, until even Périer was convinced of its truth. News reached the settlement of fresh Indian atrocities, and the public excitement ran so high that the governor was compelled to take action. At last he summoned the colony and neighboring planters up and down the river to a meeting in the Place d’Armes.
Laville chafed under the aspersions cast upon him. He had many stout defenders, but what could they do with the government against them? He suspected Rossart, but that wily individual took care, while appearing to gather all the evidence in the case, to simulate an anxiety to sift the facts and get at the truth. In his own mind he let his confederates know he had little doubt of Laville’s complicity. It was consistent with the policy of the Bienville faction, he argued, to arouse public feeling by casting the blame of these Indian atrocities on the present government.
One morning, just after the call to arms by Périer, Laville sat in his cabin planning a letter to the governor. He could see the tall grass along the ditches stirring in the light wind. Little gleams of sunlight shot through the foliage of live-oaks and willows, and danced on the dark water and threw the dull shadows of the foliage on the sombre surface. He looked towards the levee — a long, troubled look. In Louisiana courage covered a multitude of sins. He had not lacked that. Cheerful endurance and unfailing kindness had made him many friends. His intrepid daring, his voyages of discovery, his treaties with the Indians, and his use of the sword had made him a great favorite while Bienville was in power. It was natural to think of him as built for power; he had the brave spirit and build of a man who could easily command in any cause. His open countenance and personal valor added to his influence. He could not rest under this awful suspicion. He had been premeditating a letter to the governor for several days, and the one distinctly defined thought in his mind was to keep Jeanne’s name out of this affair at any hazard. He would make no plea — ask for no favor. He would only crave permission to leave the colony with an untarnished name. What next? He knew not, nor cared. He began:
“Your Excellency, — With deep concern, I find I am suspected of a crime — ”
Laville threw down the quill in disgust. Letter-writing was perhaps the least of his acquirements, and his soul rose in revolt, not so much at the labor of writing as at the cause of it. Impatient and rebellious, he rose from the table and left the room — the room haunted by memories of Jeanne.
He stood on the gallery. A strong wind came in from the Mississippi, and the willows on the levee were swaying back and forth like messengers hurrying from France. He gave a nervous laugh as he thought of it. The king’s messenger — Jeanne! He had not met his ideal woman until Jeanne came into his life. He had never known a woman like her. She would have made him such a royal mate; hand in hand, they would have gloried in life — but that was all past now, and the world had suddenly grown dark.
He stepped down into the yard. A few late cabbages were standing in rows. Marcello was not a good gardener, and the enclosure was badly laid out and planted. Laville stood bare-headed a moment, affected by the dismal aspect, when Jupiter suddenly came bounding towards him, leaping at his chest and nearly upsetting his master.
“Down, Jupiter, down, good dog!” he said, fondly patting the animal’s head. “Always faithful, Jupiter. We will stick together — you and I alone, to the end.” He stooped and straightened a small rose-bush that had bent to one side with its weight of seed-pods. Laville had ever been tender with the unfortunate things of this world.
He went back to the house for his hat, followed by Jupiter. The letter must wait. He could not write now. He would see the governor before the meeting with the soldiers took place. He made a tour of the narrow path from his house to the rue St. Philippe, thence along the rue Chartres to the Government House. The city, though sparsely peopled at that day, was already laid out in streets.
Although the hour was early, Laville requested an immediate audience with the governor, but was informed that Périer had gone to the Place d’Armes. Laville hastened from the Government House and hurried through the gathering throng to the Place d’Armes. He found the square already the scene of great excitement and wild cheering. Every man or boy who could hold a musket was there to receive his arms, and most of them had been supplied with their weapons of war and were leaving the square when Laville arrived. The governor was not in sight. There was nothing left Laville to do now but to join his company at once.
He had gone but a short distance with his company on the march to the ramparts when he suddenly came upon the governor, who was apparently waiting for them to approach. In those days the governor was the supreme military commander of the army. Périer called on Laville to halt, and Laville immediately called his company to order.
“Captain Laville,” said the governor, sternly, “I come to demand your sword.”
Laville stood in amazement. The governor’s harsh tone aroused his indignation.
“In what way have I been so unfortunate as to displease your excellency?” inquired Laville.
“You have been accused of complicity in the Fort Rosalie massacre,” said Périer, calmly.
The situation was a trying one, but suspicion had been levelled so directly with damaging evidence against Laville that the governor could not pass by the charge without censure. He had resolved to make an example of Laville before the eyes of the colony.
“By whom am I accused?” demanded Laville.
“A fine story, and doubtless concocted by my enemies,” retorted Laville, hotly.
“Your sword, Captain Laville,” repeated the governor.
Resistance was useless. Laville stepped forward and lifted his head haughtily.
“This is a grave injustice, your excellency.”
“You will be under arrest, Captain Laville,” replied Périer, as Laville handed him his sword, “until your trial takes place. You understand?”
The word broke from Laville in bitter vehemence. He knew that Rossart was his evil genius. This last stroke was undoubtedly his work. His heart beat fast, and a strange mist came before his eyes — a mist through which he saw as in a vision the swaying rose-wall in the d’Artin garden, and Jeanne’s eyes fixed on him in passionate pleading. It was the memory of another time, and the cruel reality of the present banished it in an instant. Did she know of his humiliation? Surely not. Yet why should she care — a woman who could play so lightly with the hearts of men? He smiled cheerily on his company, then stepped aside. The governor, looking in his face, marvelled to see the deepdrawn lines of anguish, as if caused by mortal pain. But Laville only thought of the woman with the passionate eyes over yonder in the rosegarden — the woman who had deceived him.
THAT night, when darkness had fallen upon the little colony, Jupiter went to the d’Artin residence. He had been there so frequently with Jeanne that she stood next to his master in his canine affections. She could not understand the dog’s presence, knowing he was rarely away from Laville. The animal looked at her with great, pathetic eyes, and whined from time to time, until Jeanne began to feel uneasy at the dog’s strange actions. But she was dressing for a ball, and could only comfort Jupiter by an occasional kind word and affectionate pat, wondering the while where his master was.
When she had dressed, Jeanne went down-stairs. Her cousins were still preparing for the ball. There was no light in the hall, and Jeanne stepped out on the gallery, where a brilliant moonlight shimmered. She was still patting the dog’s head, and wondering about Laville, when Marcello came out of the shadows below and begged her to let him speak to her. Her heart beat tremulously, and she bade the negro join her on the gallery.
She looked upon the negro’s patient face with a dejected air while she listened to the story of his master’s arrest.
“Never fear, good Marcello. Your master will come out of this all right.” She stood imperious in the full light of the moon. Excitement had brought a sparkle to her eyes, and the negro grinned as he looked at her and thought her an angel from heaven, — a holy spectacle, as mysterious a creation to him as the starry sky overhead or the great yellow river out yonder. He wanted to save his master. He was faithful with the best he had to give — a dog’s affection. He would barter his life for his master if it were necessary. He had heard the dreadful accusation; they were talking about it on the streets. No one else knew that his master had been in New Orleans on that fateful night, except Rossart and Poché. Neither would speak — they were his enemies, and knew that they held him in a trap.
“Never fear, Marcello,” she said, as if divining his thoughts. “They shall know he was in New Orleans that night. I, myself, will tell them.”
She looked at him, smiling through her tears. Then she turned her gaze wistfully in the direction where she knew Laville to be confined. Marcello could not see her face, only the high coiffured hair and the heaving bosom.
She felt so weary as she loitered on the gallery after the negro had taken his departure as stealthily as he had come. She turned at last and crossed the gallery to the hall beyond. There was a rustling of silk as d’Artin and the imposing madame came forward to meet her.
“Oh, Jeanne!” cried the latter. “Antoine tells me that Captain Laville has been arrested. What a pity! — such a pleasant gentleman!”
“Arrested?” repeated Jeanne.
“As becomes a traitor,” cried d’Artin, savagely.
“Captain Laville is no traitor. He is an honest gentleman, the noblest man in the colony,” retorted Jeanne, undaunted.
“He is an enemy to the king,” answered d’Artin, without looking at her.
She laughed imperiously.
D’Artin shifted uncomfortably, raging inwardly at her folly. “Périer means to despatch a vessel to France to-morrow with an account of the horrible butchery, and demanding soldiers and supplies. Laville will be examined immediately and perchance sent to France with the ship.”
She shrank back against the wall with a muffled cry and turned with outstretched hands towards d’Artin. “What fiend’s work is this? He is innocent, and you know it. It is his enemies who plot his ruin. Oh, Cousin Antoine! you will not allow this outrage.”
There was a feverish crimson in her cheeks and a delirious brilliancy in her eyes.
“Oh, if I were only a man — a man!” she cried, “I would not stand by and see the innocent suffer. You know it is false — false!”
“Shame upon you, Jeanne. How can you defend that man? I should think that the shrieks and groans of those murdered soldiers and imprisoned women and children would echo in your ears forever. Do you realize the danger that threatens us? Fortifications have been begun around New Orleans; a moat is being sunk; the intrenching tools and artillery are now in the rue St. Peter, and all our men are armed to the teeth. To-night, as you dance, your gallants will each be armed under their silken doublets. This very ball is only a pretext to disguise the grave anxiety of the colonial officials.”
Jeanne’s face moved in the shadow, but the white moonlight touched her bare shoulders and satin skirts.
Her eyes flashed at d’Artin incredulously. She only thought of Laville — his danger, his sacrifice. Without a word she challenged d’Artin with a glance of mingled scorn and pride, and stepped into the broad moonlight. She pressed her hands to her bosom. The packet — it was there.
THE Sieur de Glaucos advanced to meet Jeanne with a low bow. His military appearance was splendid, though severe. He wore brown flowered velvet breeches, and his coat was lace with gold; a gold stuff waistcoat flowered in white, with the finest Mechlin lace in the bosom of his shirt and at the wrists of his sleeves. Goldclocked were his hose, and red the heels of his low, diamond-buckled shoes. His wig was curled and tied with ribbon. The Sieur de Glaucos had not been much of a dancing man, but he certainly was an old beau who liked to dress handsomely. Jeanne glanced up at him in admiration, and then her eyes wandered across the ballroom, dazed by the magnificence of color, the soldiers’ uniforms contrasting sharply with the splendor of the ladies’ gay gowns. The, slow, smooth dance of the minuet, with its graceful postures, tempted the gallants to lead with measured steps their fair partners up and down the big, bare room, which was hung with greenery and boughs of mistletoe.
“It is my minuet. Shall we dance it, madame?”
“As you please.”
Jeanne raised her eyes to the Sieur de Glaucos and took his arm. The rhythmic music and the dance, slow, stately, with graceful atti tudes, went on, and they passed down the ballroom, swaying, changing, in the postures of the minuet. The air was freighted with the music of soft laughter and the hum and stir of low voices. Jeanne fought bravely against the bitterness and despair at her heart. She had need of courage, of self-possession; there was work for her to do. The Sieur de Glaucos was a power in the colony. If his voice were heard in Laville’s cause, he might be able to save him. She trembled inwardly, but her eyes smiled beneath their dark fringes. She talked rapidly, in a tone of serious banter, with a touch of playfulness that fascinated the old soldier.
“New Orleans will always be beautiful and dreamy to me,” she said once. “Even when I am back in France I shall remember this time and the picturesque grace of these men and women.”
“Not one of whom, madame, bears a prouder or more commanding presence than thine.”
Her satin swept the floor, and louder strains of the music broke in upon their conversation, as Jeanne, smiling with coquetry, clasped his hand in the graceful attitudes of the dance. When it was over, and the current of gladsome life surged like a glittering river, they strolled out on the gallery and sat in a recess near the door. It was a cool evening, and Jeanne put her cloak over her shoulders, trembling under the soft folds in the moonlight. Her brain was in a perfect whirl. All the evening she had laughed and danced and smiled upon the throng in the ballroom, captivating all hearts by her wit and mirth. Her eyes were bright, her tongue keen, her unnaturally scarlet lips curved with smiles, and her spirit brave and gay.
The Sieur de Glaucos pondered over the elusive character of the woman beside him. He felt the magnetism of her presence, and gazed at her with inquiring eyes. There was a tired droop to the pensive mouth, he noticed, and once he caught her serious eyes regarding him with wistful anxiety, which seemed to contradict strangely her gayety and abandon.
“Thine is a strange nature, my little lady,” he ventured.
“Indeed — why?”
“Because of its sudden transitions.”
“Am I so variable?”
“As much so as the breeze that stirs our oaks.”
“Is there not a charm in variety?” She laughed softly.
“The world has told you that truth, madame. None should know it so well as you. We like the first changeful spring days, but oftentimes there follows a storm.”
“Ah!” The exclamation broke from her in sudden fear.
“Madame Poché, Lady Jeanne,” he said, abruptly, “you need a friend now, not a courtier. I am old enough to be your father. Will you forgive my rudeness if I talk to you frankly?”
A slight gust of wind blew across the gallery and through the ballroom. The lights flecked and scintillated over Jeanne’s gay dress and made her girdle, set with Bristol stones, blaze like a thousand lights. She never looked more beautiful and alluring than on that night.
“Will you allow me this honor?” he urged.
“That would be an honor to confer,” she said, softly.
Jeanne suddenly felt very cold. The lights flashed over the Sieur de Glaucos’s face, and she saw the sombre earnestness of his rugged features. His eyes sought hers in the starlight. The lilting music of the dance went merrily on.
“Madame Poché — my little Jeanne, for you are scarcely more than a child to me — I came to you first, not so long ago, on a serious matter as a representative of the state. Now I approach you as a friend. I think you need me.”
Jeanne looked straight out from under her level brows. She was silent, while her right hand nervously fingered the rose at her bosom. She marked the trouble in his voice, and, leaning back in her chair, looked up at him piteously.
“I have no desire to know your secrets,” he said, distraught. “What hapless errand brought you to these alien shores, madame? Be frank, and show me in what way I can serve you best.”
She locked her hands tightly under the protection of her cloak. She sat silently looking at him, with unshed tears in her eyes, though in her heart there was a dumb cry.
“I am not bold enough to tell you what is being said of you in New Orleans,” continued the Sieur de Glaucos. “Your beauty and wit have given you power, but you cannot escape the tongue of folly and envy. The flattering voices are also the jeering ones.”
“What — what do you mean?”
“Calumny,” he repeated, fearlessly. “It is generally the fate of an attractive woman when her generosity leads her to defy the conventions. Actuality is warped by doubt, and seeming becomes sinning.”
The folded hands tightened in her satin lap.
“The cruelty of the world to a woman!” she murmured, with an involuntary sigh. “It is the abiding phantom of our sex.”
“But he is not worth it, dear lady Jeanne. There is no man among us worthy of such a sacrifice.”
She started violently and rose feeby to her feet.
“You are not offended, madame?” He rose also, his bearded face shadowed by a grave consideration. “The occasion, believe me, demands plain speech. I fain would be honest, yet I fear to seem rude.”
“Oh no, no! I do not think of that,” she cried, with sudden passion. “What do such trifling considerations matter now? It has come — the end of all things for me.” She drew nearer and caught him by the arm. “I am so miserable, Sieur de Glaucos — so crazed — I know not where to turn. I am beaten and hounded on every side. I have withheld the king’s message — oh yes, I must tell you now — I have defied my husband, and — and — now — there is nothing left but a sacrifice more bitter than death.”
The Sieur de Glaucos turned pale, and the lines about his stern old mouth grew deeper.
“My lady Jeanne,” he said, calmly, taking one of her small hands in one of his brown palms, “tell me how I can serve you. I have been a faithful soldier; I can also be a loyal friend.”
“Oh, Sieur de Glaucos! you asked for the packet from the king.” Her voice sank almost to a whisper. “You — you — have been robbed all this time, and now — now — it is for my husband I must give it up. He bids me give it to him — to him,” she wailed.
“And you have it?” His grasp on her hand tightened.
“Yes, yes — and can’t you see? I must be loyal to my husband — I must give it up — but, oh, there is another — dearer than life — dearer than my soul’s salvation — what of him — what of him, Sieur de Glaucos?” She almost wept in the tensity of the moment, and snatched her hand from his grasp.
The Sieur de Glaucos stared at her in awed silence, vaguely realizing the deep despair of her soul. For a few moments neither spoke, and then the old man said, with compressed lips:
“You must give me the despatch. Your first duty is to the king.”
“But my husband — I must be loyal.” Jeanne made a quick gesture of despair and buried her face in her hands.
“You must give up the despatch at once. Trust to me. The king’s mandates must be obeyed. That is pre-eminent. To whom is the message addressed?”
“You, you,” said Jeanne, looking up and nervously crumpling the folds of her dress. “It has your name on it — you will act according to the king’s order, but if it mean death to him, Sieur de Glaucos, what then?” She stood facing him with wild eyes.
The Sieur de Glaucos folded his palms tightly together.
“Nevertheless, you must give me the packet,” he replied, gravely. “I cannot make promises. Give me the packet, madame. I insist.”
“Sieur de Glaucos,” Jeanne choked, “you are robbing me of all peace.” She slowly took the packet from its hiding-place without looking in his face. “There — there it is.” She spoke the words faintly and dully, as if uttering them over the dead. “I have been honest with you; be merciful to me.” For an instant a bitter yearning shone in her eyes. “Do your duty, Sieur de Glaucos. The king is first; you are right — oh, you are right, old friend.”
He bent over her hand for a moment with tears in his eyes.
“You are a brave little woman, and you have a friend in me.”
She seized his hand and pressed it convulsively between her warm palms. The next instant she shook her head at him in a friendly way and clasped her hands behind her, gently swaying to the time of the music, her young blood seeming suddenly to respond to the measure of the old, sweet tune. She was suddenly transfigured, this baffling woman of many moods.
The Sieur de Glaucos was stupefied with wonder. Could it be possible that this radiant figure was the trembling, passionate woman of a moment before?
Jeanne saw his wondering look and turned pale, but held her head erect and smiled enigmatically.
“Come,” she said, bewitchingly, “I want to dance. Give me your arm.” She threw her cloak over the back of a chair and glided by his side through the mirthful crowd of fluttering, swaying dancers with proud mien and breaking heart.
THE dance came swiftly to an end, the cadence of the music lingering in the air as it vi- brated into silence. At the close of the dance the Sieur de Glaucos led Jeanne to the supper- room, where they found Rossart standing over an immense punch-bowl wreathed with leaves and filled with a spicy, amber-colored liquid.
“Madame Poché is warm,” said the Sieur de Glaucos to Rossart. “Will you serve her?”
Rossart glanced around quickly, then filled a goblet with the sparkling fluid. An ominous flash in his eyes told Jeanne that he had not forgotten their long feud, but he smilingly spoke as he handed her the goblet.
“Madame is welcome.”
She raised the cup and held it high, with her white teeth flashing as her lips parted with a smile.
“A toast,” she cried, gayly, to hide her confusion. “Let us drink to all that is good and true in Louisiana.”
Rossart quickly raised his goblet, keeping his eyes daringly fixed on Jeanne.
“Drink a toast with me,” he repeated, with smiling insolence. “To the king, and death to all traitors. Drink to the arch-traitor, and tomorrow’s ship that sails with him.”
He laughed in harsh glee, and, flashing a meaning glance at Jeanne, put the cup to his lips.
Instantly Jeanne sent her goblet to the floor with a loud clattering, the amber liquor staining her gown and satin slippers. Then she turned to the Sieur de Glaucos, her warm blushes contrasting vividly with her cool selfpossession.
“Another goblet of wine, my lord.”
The lids of her eyes curved proudly and the diamond fireflies on her bosom quivered as if alive. She looked at Rossart without flinching.
The Sieur de Glaucos filled another goblet and gallantly passed it to her, his brave, honest eyes fixed on her face with anxious trepidation.
“Another toast, gentlemen. Drink with me to the consummation of our cherished dreams. Each one knows his own.”
She quaffed the wine and set the goblet down.
“And now, gentlemen, what is this about the ship that sails on the morrow?”
There was no trace of agitation in her face. She glanced at the two men with unfaltering eyes, and her voice rang with its old, exulting melody. Rossart watched her, troubled and incredulous. The Sieur de Glaucos turned abruptly; his stiff mouth twitched nervously and the perspiration was standing on his forehead in beads. He avoided Jeanne’s eyes, and spoke with a constrained smile on his lips.
“There is to be a court in session at midnight in the other wing of this building. The governor gives Captain Laville a hearing. If the evidence convicts him of being an accessory to the Rosalie massacre, he sails for France tomorrow.”
“Truly the times call for prompt and decisive action,” Jeanne answered, simply. “Captain Laville is a man of honor, and it is well that his name should be cleared of this base accusation without delay.”
She looked up at the Sieur de Glaucos with candid eyes, simulating an unconcern and assurance she was far from feeling. Her heart beat rapidly, and a chill swept over her.
“Come, Sieur de Glaucos,” she said, lightly, “I have much patience, but, certes! I cannot stand here longer gossiping with you gentlemen.”
She swept Rossart a stately courtesy without looking at him, and, taking the Sieur de Glaucos’s arm, moved towards the ballroom with a serene and smiling face. The color was still in her cheeks, and she pressed the rose close to her bosom. The fragrance of the crushed flower was faintly sweet, and when she lifted her hand, swiftly falling one by one, the petals fell apart
“I must be present at Captain Laville’s trial, Sieur de Glaucos,” she said, the moment they were alone. “I have some evidence to offer which may be necessary. I know Captain Laville to be innocent of this crime.”
She broke off and turned her face from him.
They paused and stood under a big archway garlanded with mistletoe and late roses. Close beside them, against the wall, an old ebony clock ticked the precious minutes away. Like some evil prognostication, there sounded the warning whir of the fatal hour about to strike.
“Oh, Sieur de Glaucos, the clock is about to strike the hour. You said he would be tried at midnight. Yonder goes Monsieur Rossart and the governor.”
One — the old clock began its slow record of the passing hour.
Her eyes met his, affrighted. “It begins to strike. I wonder what they will do there, in that chamber of justice.”
The moon was at its full. The broad rays came in at the rear window and lay on the floor in front of the clock.
“Think, my friend. Perchance in there they will sign away a life — an innocent life.”
She stepped close to the clock and looked up at its face in solemn sadness. “How you mark time for us, sometimes slowly, sometimes swiftly, from our cradle to the grave — ”
“He is slipping away from me.” She half muttered the words through dry lips, and then burst out passionately: “I tell you, I must save Captain Laville.”
“Oh, my friend, he is a brave gentleman. Louisiana has need of him.”
The candle-light fell dimly on the rugged features of the old soldier and on the woman’s piteous face appealing to him with all her woman’s soul.
“If he should be condemned because I do not speak, I could not live. The hour of despair is friendship’s test.”
She lifted her eyes like a hunted animal to the Sieur de Glaucos, but her tongue clove to her dry mouth and refused to form a sound.
Ten . . . Eleven . . . Twelve. She turned to him with pathetic anxiety and grasped his arm. “Ask his excellency to admit Madame Poché as a witness. He will listen to me. Every moment counts. We may be too late. See — I will go down on my knees to you — I implore you — ”
The pleading face was very near his shoulder. A great tenderness came into his old seared face; his eyes grew dim with moisture. A sudden flash of memory came to him — a swift vision of the time when he was young and he had loved. His voice was very gentle when he spoke.
“Laville is a brave man, but — you cannot help him, believe me.”
The music seemed to float around them in melancholy waves. Jeanne staggered against the wall, with white, set face. What was life to her if Laville were lost?
“But I can — and I will save him.”
She clasped her hands desperately.
“What if I have to sacrifice myself for him? It is the life of the man I love that is at stake. Oh, Sieur de Glaucos, I am not proud now — I care not what the world thinks — I love Captain Laville — and what is dishonor to me if I save his life — ”
And the ancient clock encased in ebony, with its battered face grinning through its worn hands, continued its tale of the hours, peacefully settling to the monotonous round of a new day, as if relieved of the burden of the old:
Tick-tock! . . . Tick-tock! . . . Tick-tock!
THE members of the hurriedly assembled tribunal in that room of justice consisted of Governor Périer, de la Chaise, the king’s emissary, and Messieurs d’Artin, Rossart, Dartaguelle, and a few others in high authority.
The stately dance music penetrated through the closed doors, falling upon the hushed atmosphere like a requiem — now swelling to a crescendo, now sinking into a minor cadence, throbbing through the tense silence. Candle-flies, attracted by the hazy luminosity of the room, flew in at the open windows, and beat their little lives out against the flames.
Most of the faces of the men assembled wore a gloomy expression of settled conviction. The menacing shadow of death from which there seemed no escape forced Laville to a realization of his situation. He felt himself drifting on a stream that carried him to the whirlpool of his fate, and there was no help for him. It had been a cruel ordeal. One little word would save him. Ah! those days seemed so far off now, when life had brought him a new and marvellous gladness. He knew that his conviction was the work of his enemies, and though Périer might have shown mercy had he dared, the evidence was such as to prove him a traitor. When he was asked if he had any defence to make, he drew himself up proudly and answered in a firm voice, “None.” His soul quivered under the lash of this reproach — he whose word had always been a guarantee of good faith.
From time to time, as he stood there confronting his judges, he thought of Jeanne with wild rapture and pain. Why had she deceived him? Did she really love Rossart? He could not believe it now, and yet she had been there at his house with the man.
Rossart was smiling, cold and cynical, but careful to avoid Laville’s gaze. Laville had spoken the truth when he denied utterly any knowledge of the Rosalie massacre. But the evidence gathered through the assiduity of the chief of police was fatally against him.
Rossart flushed with the assurance of success. Laville would keep silent to save her. They would not know he was in the settlement that night. No one else knew except Marcello, and his testimony was worthless.
The Sieur de Glaucos entered suddenly, and, taking the governor aside, conferred with him earnestly.
Laville could see their faces. . He saw the unexpected flash of hope that lighted up the governor’s countenance and the grave anxiety in the Sieur de Glaucos’s eyes. This unforeseen suspension of the proceedings somewhat revived his hopes in a vague way. Hope lightened his heart and recalled Jeanne. His thoughts wandered at random, buoyant, happy, for a brief space, thrilled with joyous remembrances.
Suddenly he was brought back to the present by an abrupt movement near the door. Rossart was there, speaking rapidly and admonishing the Sieur de Glaucos and the governor by word and gesture. His features were imperative, and for the first time since he had entered the room he cast a glance at Laville. A pause, more whispers, and the Sieur de Glaucos went out. Then a prolonged silence, during which Laville’s heart throbbed curiously. Was there no means of ridding himself of his enemies? He had the natural rights of a man to live — he would make his way — he would show them he was master of his destiny — What was happening? A movement at the door, the gentle frou-frou of silken skirts, a faint, sweet violet odor, and the governor rose and bowed as Jeanne stepped into the room, followed by her slave woman Célie.
For a few minutes there was a dead silence, broken only by the sobbing violin voices as the wail of the music came faintly through the walls, rising and falling in measure to the dance.
Jeanne advanced a few steps, bowed profoundly to the governor, and made a slight acknowledgment of the presence of the others, every one of whom she knew well. Then she slowly raised her head, and all the loveliness of her face confronted the awe-struck group of men. The Sieur de Glaucos moved close to her side, his halfaverted face more eloquent in its gloom than even in its grace.
Laville stifled an exclamation of alarm, as if some one had dealt him a mortal wound. He gazed at Jeanne in glad surprise, only to be shadowed by a breathless, numbing horror, which seemed to kill the light in his eyes and freeze his very blood. Why had she come there? A hopeless despair seized him, for all at once he had a presentiment of what would happen. The sublime in Jeanne, speaking through the eloquence of her eyes, told him that she was equal to any sacrifice. Surely he had wronged her. Would she tell them that she knew he was in the settlement that night? Yet how prove it? Did she not love Rossart? She must not think of him. Oh, the irony of fate! But she must not speak. He looked at her steadfastly, to stay her, if possible, by a look, but her glance, transient as a moonbeam, met his only for one furtive instant.
His senses seemed to swim. What was it he saw in her eyes? — for love shone out through the misty haze of her despair like a fleeting vision.
The Sieur de Glaucos, grim old war-horse as he was, could not stand the strain any longer, and left the room precipitately. Jeanne advanced to the governor, trailing her silks and splendid laces behind her, passing among the men like a queen. Her eyes were bright, and she stood erect. The wan, sickly candle-light fell from overhead and lit up the passionate eagerness in her colorless face. She turned to Governor Périer and waited for him to speak.
“The Sieur de Glaucos tells me, Madame Poché, that you have testimony to offer on behalf of Captain Laville?”
A leaping flash of anger darted from Laville’s eyes. Jeanne held her head high, and her voice was clear and distinct.
“Yes, your excellency.”
The circle of men stirred and looked about. Rossart drew a deep breath, and his eyes gleamed ferociously.
“You know Captain Laville, madame?”
Rossart frowned. Laville trembled. An appalling sense of remorse smote him. He knew she had ever been truthful to recklessness. He feared she would be so to the end — the royal woman — the great soul! And he had misjudged her. Oh, if he could stay her! But she was not looking at him. Her hands were tightly clasped, and she was watching the governor.
Several of the men leaned forward. Her mobile face grew tragic under the curious scrutiny. The dance tune, so gay, so wildly rapturous, came through the momentary silence.
“What do you know about this case?” The governor’s voice was constrained, as though the words came unwillingly.
Laville’s face grew haggard with intense agony. He rose from his seat and faced her with burning eyes, but she kept her face turned towards the governor.
“Nothing, nothing,” cried Laville, in a deep voice, answering the governor. “Governor Périer — gentlemen — this lady is laboring under some delusion. She can know absolutely nothing of this affair. I beg you to have her excused.”
The rose dropped from Jeanne’s bosom. Laville could not see her eyes, but beneath the lace, where the rose had been, he saw her breath come and go convulsively.
“I do know, your excellency,” she said, firmly, her eyes kindling with sacrificial fire.
The men about her drew their breath heavily, and some sprang to their feet — all the gallantry, all the chivalry, in their nature aroused by this woman’s determination.
Jeanne continued: “I know very well, beyond all doubting, that Captain Laville did not assist the Indians at Fort Rosalie. He could not have done so, gentlemen. He was not there.”
Every man in the room was surprised into exclamation. All eyes were turned to her — so proud, so calm, so majestic!
Laville’s eyes grew absolutely fierce, and an ashen grayness overspread his face.
“Do you know where Captain Laville was on the night of November twenty-eighth?” questioned the governor.
Rossart eagerly leaned forward, and his spirits rose within him at her imminent downfall. He made a gesture of appeal with his hands. She did not see him, so he took a rose from his breast, and, while apparently twisting it carelessly in his fingers, threw it deliberately towards her. It was a big, thick-stemmed red rose, with a heavy head, strong petalled and sensuous smelling. It hit her squarely on her snowy bosom, bringing a crimson flush to the fair skin, like a sinister blood stain. When she looked up, dazed by the act, he covertly held his outstretched hands towards her, smiling cynically.
For a moment after the flower struck her Jeanne was transfixed with fear. She wondered for one appalling second if Laville had seen whence it came. She glanced towards him and saw the sombre countenance fixed on the floor in deep thought.
Again the governor questioned her kindly, with extreme gentleness.
She fixed her eyes steadily on him, and htr voice, though clear, sank to a whisper. “Yes, your excellency, I do know that Captain Laville was at his house on that night — for — I was there with him.”
She held herself with her old, bold grace for an instant, then suddenly she swayed, tottered, and turned ghastly pale, but the next instant she recovered herself with a superhuman effort and stood facing that crowd of gaping men in all the mockery of royal robes of silver-brocade. She did not hear the motion of those about her, but stood resolute and swaying, gropingly reaching out her hand towards her slave girl, not knowing where to turn.
The woman caught her mistress’s hands, rubbing and chafing them between her own slender, brown palms. D’Artin immediately followed Célie to Jeanne’s side. His face was terrible to see, but he stood bravely by Jeanne, with his eyes flashing defiance.
Dumb with excitement, the curious men gazed upon the little group in the middle of the room. The stillness was intense; only the everlasting music wailed through the hushed air.
Rossart leaned forward and strained his burning eyes until they ached. He did not notice Poché’s somewhat unsteady entrance; he was too intent on the scene before him. His lips were firmly set, and his expression, though painfully eager, was altogether triumphant. A kind fate had served him. Jeanne was disgraced, and by her own admission. Oh, his way was growing clear — rshe would come to him at last. The packet, he was certain, would recall Laville — he would soon be out of the way. That brought a sudden fear. Where was it? What had Jeanne done with it?
His self-complacency was abruptly interrupted by Laville’s penetrating voice.
“Governor Périer — gentlemen,” he said, earnestly, “I beg that you will not consider this woman’s words. In trying to save me, she is sacrificing herself. She can know absolutely nothing of this matter. Two hours before midnight I was at my house, it is true, but Madame Poché was not there, as I — ”
Rossart sprang quickly to his feet, a diabolical smile curving his lips. “Gentlemen,” he cried, “your excellency — pardon me — Madame Poché was at Captain Laville’s house on that night. But I swear Laville was not there. It was I who had an appointment with Madame Poché, and Laville’s house was the rendezvous. This letter of hers will testify to that. Everybody knows that back yonder in France,” he smiled, “I was madame’s suitor. I regret this step for madame’s sake, but in a crisis like this, when so much is at stake in Louisiana, all personal considerations must be set aside.”
He walked over to Périer and handed the note Jeanne had written to Laville.
“Your excellency,” she exclaimed, “that man lies.”
Laville sprang from his seat. Jeanne’s letter! It was Rossart then who had stolen it from Marcello. In a flash he understood all.
“Coward! Liar!” he roared.
A slight trembling shook Jeanne’s frame. At last — at last — he understood.
Poché had been drinking heavily all the evening; but a slow light began gradually to dawn on him. They were all wrong, and Rossart was playing a treacherous game. He had been to Laville’s house himself that night, and he had found Laville there alone, and Jeanne at d’Artin’s house immediately afterwards.
“Stand back,” he cried to Laville, rushing at Rossart with drawn sword. “This is my quarrel. I know this man lies. Gentlemen, Laville was at his house on the night of November twenty-eighth. It was the evening I arrived in New Orleans. I found him there alone about two hours before midnight. Rossart was not there, and my wife was at d’Artin’s. Curse you! Draw and defend yourself, you coward! pardieu! you shall answer to me.” He trembled with rage, and flew, sword in hand, at Rossart, who met him with cool deliberation.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” cried the surrounding group, “you forget Madame Poché is here.”
Jeanne made an effort to get between them, but was stopped by d’Artin, who held her tightly in his arms, while she struggled for breath.
“Stop — stop them,” she panted.
There was a clashing of steel as the two swords met. Trembling, terrified, yet fascinated by the sight, Jeanne stared wildly at the duellists.
The faint, sickly smell of dying roses was on the air, and the violins from the ballroom wailed on. The two men fought desperately. Parry and thrust — thrust and parry. Like lightning the swords flew swiftly through the air, then suddenly Poché made a false lunge, and, with a wild cry, Rossart flew at him. There was an agonizing cry, a few muttered imprecations, and Poché threw up his hands. His sword went clanking to the floor; he staggered, reeled half-way across the room, and fell lifeless at Jeanne’s feet.
D’Artin’s arms tightened about Jeanne’s trembling form, and before either could move or speak the Sieur de Glaucos suddenly burst into the room.
His eyes quickly took in the situation — the amazed group, the prostrate figure, and Jeanne supported by d’Artin, all the light gone out of her face.
“Gentlemen,” said the Sieur de Glaucos, in a hushed voice, “I see that God, in His mercy, has forestalled human justice. The king’s messenger has at length brought the despatch from France which we have long waited for. Among other things, it orders the immediate arrest of Monsieur Rossart for conspiring against the government, and Monsieur Poché for complicity, while in France.”
Rossart gave vent to a sarcastic laugh. “He who plays well loses well.”
Périer lifted his head and gazed with indignation at Rossart, then turned to the Sieur de Glaucos and the others.
“Gentlemen,” he said, solemnly, “there may be fair days dawning for Louisiana, and honors for brave men, but remember we are in the presence of the dead. There will be but one prisoner for the king sailing to France to-morrow. Captain Laville, you have been falsely accused of a heinous crime, of which you are now declared innocent.”
Jeanne, as she heard the last words, uttered a low, exulting cry and fell back into d’Artin’s arms.
The next day, Rossart, under arrest, sailed for France. It was proved conclusively that, under the guise of loyalty, he had conspired against the India Company and France, in the hope of advancing himself in the colony through the Spanish interests. Whether he met death on the scaffold or in prison history does not say, but he was never heard of again in Louisiana.
A few weeks later Jeanne, accompanied by her cousins, also sailed for France.
TWO years passed away. It was the spring of the year.
No explanation had ever passed between Jeanne and Laville, and it was with strange elation he heard that she was returning to the colony with her cousins. Laville never spoke of that time to any one. He felt as though those chapters in his life could never be opened. They were sacred to him, though possibly forgotten by her. The remembrance would come to him how once in a far-off, dim time, though it seemed but yesterday, she had loved him. Her face would come back to him as he had seen it last at the trial — passionate, proud and intense, with all the great sorrow of a noble soul in it. There could be no mistake, she had loved him then, but how had these two years — years of bitter struggle and longing on his part — affected her? He had tried to think of her as outside of his life, as one he had seen in a sweet, never-to-be-forgotten dream. Various rumors had reached him from time to time of her conquests at the court. What could he ever be to her again? So he went back to his duties and tried to forget.
One memorable day in the history of New Orleans Bienville was returned as governor of Louisiana. It was a season of general rejoicing. The church bells rang, cannons were fired, and from far and near the people congregated at the anchorage to welcome back the faithful old commandant.
It was April, and all the world of New Orleans was glad with laughter and gay with flowers. With the first peep of the sun that morning the nuns marshalled the children under their charge, principally those orphans surviving the Natchez massacre of St. André, and they had gone into the gardens and gathered millions of blossoms. They were early at the landing, and, although the Marine Cadets and officers of infantry were nearest the old commandant when he came ashore, the children soon had right of way, and literally strewed his path with flowers.
Long before the vessel reached port Laville had espied it coming up the river. At last it seemed as if part of his hopes were to be realized. After the massacre at Fort Rosalie many were convinced that Périer was not capable of coping with the Indians, and the governor was not popular. Public feeling was aroused, and the friends of the ex-governor at last persuaded the powers in France that Louisiana’s survival meant Bienville’s return. Possibly, thought Laville, she who was over there in France would know, and remember that she had told him to fight for Louisiana. His heart beat fast at the mere thought of her, for, try as he might, he never forgot for a moment the desire of his life — the woman he loved and had lost.
When the French vessel came to her anchorage and the old commandant set foot once more on his beloved shore, a volley of muskets fired a salute, and loud cries, swelling to shouts of triumph, echoed along the water and in the reedy willow recesses. The youth and gallantry that marked the early days of Louisiana were prominent in the gay grace and splendid uniforms of the army. As the old commandant walked across the grassy levee and onward to the Place d’Amies, his head erect and his eyes moist with emotion, many an eye looked at him with glances of respect and admiration. Laville was on duty at the head of his company in the Place d’Armes, and, without a moment’s hesitation, Bienville made straight for him, indifferent to all else, and grasped both Laville’s hands. They had not met for years, but Bienville knew well the prominent part Laville had taken in their common triumph.
“Ho, my trusty one, the old warrior finds much joy in the warm welcome of the people of Louisiana, but a greater gladness fills my heart to greet you, Laville — stanch defender of the colony, faithful friend and ally! To you I owe much of the triumph of this hour. Your untiring patience, your faithful service and loyalty, shall not go unrewarded. There is no bond like that of gratitude, my friend, and in the days to come we will fight side by side, brothers in one cause for Louisiana.”
Laville’s heart thrilled; his eyes grew wet with tears. For the past two years he had been gradually climbing to prominence, rising by virtue of his gallant service and ready devotion to the people’s cause. Respected and admired by every man in the colony, his courtesy, daring, and courage had won him a place in their very hearts, while the story of his love for Jeanne Poché had placed him on a pinnacle of romantic interest.
The Sieur de Glaucos stood near and heard Bienville’s words. He raised his voice in a loud shout:
“Vive le Bienville!”
Every martial instinct within him was aroused, and the fire in his eyes and voice kindled a kindred feeling in those about him. Shouts, growing louder each moment, rose from the people, until the air was rent with the wave of their excited enthusiasm.
At this juncture the children, under the nuns’ direction, sang a solemn chant, and the people joined them in giving thanks for the dawn of a new and brighter day for Louisiana.
Laville’s tall form towered everywhere above the level of the crowd. He looked grave and thoughtful; there was less of triumph in his eyes than of solemn gladness. When the people gathered close around Bienville, he moved to one side, on the edge of the crowd, where his soldiers were stationed. He had dreaded this first meeting of the old soldier with the colonists, fearing the people might waver and fail to rise to the daring aims his ambition had planned for Bienville. But the old soldier had come home like a conqueror, and an outburst of enthusiasm met him on every side. He had looked forward to this event as the proudest day of his life, and yet why did it leave him so calm, so cold? Had the flavor gone out of his life forever? If she had only been there to share his victory 1 But she who might have rejoiced with him on this proud occasion was far away in France, and with the passage of time doubtless she had forgotten.
His eyes travelled towards the river. It seemed as if only yesterday he had seen her sail away for France. She had not seen him, but he had watched her go aboard the little vessel and sail away — away forever. There was the vessel; it was the same ship, but the timbers looked older, more weather-beaten, and she — she — He caught his breath with a great gasp. Who was that coming from the ship attired in such magnificence, her beauty enhanced by the brilliant sunlight which seemed to envelop her in a golden haze?
Flushed, dazzled, bewildered by the great crowd after the long period of ocean calm and solitude, Jeanne Poché stepped on shore with her cousins, the d’Artins.
Laville’s eyes were dim, and his senses seemed to fail him for a moment. Yes, surely, that was Jeanne. She did not see him, but went on and up between the rose walls where they had spent so many happy hours. Bienville’s conquest, the glittering array of the military splendor, the joy of that eventful day, were all dim and distant. Yonder in the garden, so sweet with roses, passed the fairest, the dearest that earth held for him.
Three or four days later, Laville met d’Artin, one afternoon, crossing the Place d’Armes. A funeral train had just passed into the church across the way, and for a few seconds the whispered vows of a couple of lovers on the promenade and the merry shouts of the children at play were hushed. The chanting voices from the church sounded strangely sweet, and all in an instant reminded Laville of that rainy day when Jeanne had sought shelter at his house from the storm. She was in New Orleans, but he had not met her yet. Every night since she arrived he had stolen up the rose-bordered walk just to catch a glimpse of her or to hear her voice. When in all his life had Laville been so cordial to d’Artin as at that moment of their meeting?
D’Artin hailed Laville with boyish eagerness.
“Oh, Laville!” he cried, quickly, “why haven’t you been around to see us? You have been tardy with your greetings of welcome. Have you forgotten old friends in the day of your triumph? And Jeanne — you must see her, Laville. She is looking well.”
Laville’s hand played nervously with the handle of his sword. How different, d’Artin thought, this stately figure, so cold, so distant, from the man he had known Laville to be two years ago. Could it be true that he had forgotten her so soon?
“Madame Poché always looked well, if my memory fail me not,” said Laville, stiffly, in spite of his inward emotion.
D’Artin laughed. “That is a cold word for Jeanne. You should see her — so radiant, so happy. The sunshine follows her everywhere.”
Laville’s heart gave a great bound.
“Come up, Laville. You must come soon. Madame d’Artin is dying to see you. The roses in the garden are at their best now — you always loved the roses, Laville. Jeanne sent them to me long ago from France. You know how she loves them, too.” He laughed with happiness. “I believe flowers are the strongest passion of her soul.”
Laville had rarely gone near the d’Artin residence. The place was so full of memories, and to go now, with all that nodding wall of roses in full bloom — each rose would be a haunting reminder of those dear dead days.
But d’Artin was strangely persistent in his gay, good-natured way, and so Laville promised to call.
Laville passed on when d’Artin left him, and crossed the Place d’Armes and along the shady street facing the levee to d’Artin’s house. Now that the excitement of the past few days was over, his thoughts of Jeanne had rushed upon him in full torrent. He knew now that he had utterly failed to crush her out of his life; he could not forget her. He saw her again on top of the green levee. He could hear the passionate quiver in her voice, singing that little French love tune —
There was no one in sight. The levee rose like a tall, green wall, but away beyond he could see the Mississippi, with a solitary vessel on its bosom, fading off towards the gulf. Along the road the sunlight flashed in the open places like patches of gold. Long pendants of Spanish moss waved from the dark boughs of the live-oak at the gate, and from the heavy shadows a night bird flew across the garden. The song — her song again, but this time it was no dream.
Beyond any doubt it was she. Quickly he passed through the wicket to where she stood.
It was a supreme moment for both, but it was the woman who had perfect command of herself.
“Well, my captain!”
She swept him a bewildering courtesy, the shimmering folds of her light gown crumpling and following the shape of her limbs. One highheeled slippered foot peeped out beneath the lace of her uplifted skirts, and she moved to meet him, holding out her hand in welcome. Laville took her hand in his, fearing to betray his emotion.
The roses nodded in the faint April breeze.
“Welcome back, madame,” he said, lamely, “to our Louisiana.”
She smiled and drew a long breath, then as quickly frowned and feigned discontent.
“Ah, my captain, you do not look glad to see me.”
He started and looked into her eyes. But no, she was so cool, so calmly poised; she did not care.
“Come, monsieur, let us go into the garden and sit under the oaks and watch the sunset. Madame d’Artin has gone to church, so I will have to entertain you.”
“You have only to open your lips, madame,” replied Laville, “or even smile, and we come under your spell instantly.”
She raised her face to his, a shade of disappointment crossing its life and color.
“Flattery used not to come easily to your tongue, my captain. The years have brought you better grace. Perchance I see a courtier who may yet enliven King Louis’s court. Faith, he is in sad need of recruits.” She laughed merrily.
“Madame, the free manners of honest men best become us rough soldiers of the wilderness. The court of France will never lure me from my duty in Louisiana.”
They walked slowly up the rose-bordered walk and thence across the wide garden to the little arbor under the live-oaks. Over against the house great rose-vines climbed up to the secondstory windows and dropped down in a wealth of blossoms; big, well-trimmed bushes crowded the crape-myrtles, and in every available place the fragrant beauties bloomed in extravagant lavishness. The whole air was perfumed by roses and night-blooming jasmine.
Jeanne shivered with the rapture of it all.
“Was ever anything so beautiful as this?” she said, nestling the red rose in her hand against her cheek.
“Nothing but the eyes of a woman.”
The words were uttered lightly, but there was a wondrous thrill in his voice that belied flattery.
“The eyes of a woman are like the heart of a rose — a subtle mystery.”
She laughed softly and sat down on the old rustic seat.
Laville hesitated for a moment and then sat on the grass near her feet, where he could look up and see every change in the variable, smiling face. Her ready reply nonplussed him. The penetrating perfume that had ever clung to her garments floated around him like a caress.
“Would that I could decipher the mystery that lies in one pair of eyes,” he said, in an undertone.
“Oh, my captain, if you were not blind, you might find what you seek.”
“Jeanne! What do you mean?” His eyes were averted from her face. “The years have left deep scars on my heart, Jeanne. I cannot bear to have the old wounds opened.”
In the silence drifting rose-petals fell softly on her hair and gown. Her lips were slightly parted, her green-gray eyes soft and brilliant. She was so near him — there was a hint of surrender in her manner — could it be true?
“I do not understand, my captain,” she replied, toying with the rose. “You mean that — ”
“That it is cruel to awaken old memories. Jeanne, Jeanne, I thought I had learned to live as if you were not — I thought I had schooled myself for this meeting, but God knows I cannot forget you — I long for you with my whole soul, Jeanne — ”
He rose to his feet. Her heart was in a tumult.
“You are unjust to me,” he went on, with a dark flush on his face. “I have thought of scarcely anything but you — you — you — and now that we are together again, you seem to forget it all.”
There was a dangerous catch in her voice when she spoke.
“It is the season of the rose-blooms. I have always wanted to come back to Louisiana at this time.”
“Because — because roses seem the unconscious symbols of love.”
“And what is that to you?”
Her eyes changed. The green-gray faded, and they grew wonderfully soft and caressing as she met his searching gaze.
“It is life to me.”
She held her white arms out and gave herself to him with a look of infinite tenderness.
It was the first time she had ever called him by his name. With a great cry he bent over her and caught her close — so close to his heart. The world was well lost for that hour in the garden of love.
The sun set, and the swift rose twilight flushed all the wondrous beauty of the Southern land. High up in the vaulted heavens, clear, pure, radiant, a new star shone on its course, while over in the darkening garden, faintly drifting, sweetly falling, one by one, the rose-petals crowned love’s victory.
- Coureurs de bois. A woodsman or trader. Lit., woods runner, French.
- Parbleu! Good heavens!
- Ma Foi! Frankly, long story short, indeed. Lit., my faith French.
- Mon Dieu! My God!
- Peste! Pest, plague, nuisance.
- Filles á la cassette! Casket girl, A french woman brought to French colonies of Louisiana to marry.
- Certes! Assuredly! I assure you!
- Vive Dieu! Living God!
- Pardieu! By God!
- Allons! Lets go!
- Vive le roi! Long live the king!
- Sang Dieu! God’s Blood!
- Chérie. Beloved, dearest, dear, darling.
- Morbleu! Damn!, gadzooks!, dagnabbit.
- Insouciance. Casual lack of concern; indifference.
- Tête-à-tête. A private conversation between two people.
- Penchant. A strong or habitual liking for something or tendency to do something.
- Fleur de luce. The same as a fleur de lis. A stylized lily that is used commonly for design or a symbol of saints.
- Frou-frou. A rustling noise.
Text prepared by:
- Bruce R. Magee
- Tyler Washington
- Cory Young
Antrobus, Suzanne. The King’s Messenger. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1901. Google Books. 9 Nov. 2006. Web. 14 Nov. 2016. <https:// books. google. com/ books?id= ZkEeAAAA MAAJ&hl=en> .