THE BOND TRIUMPHANT
GORDON HILL GRAHAME
ETIENNE ST. DENIS stood with arms spread on the topmost rail of the split-cedar fence and moodily gazed across the river to where the wooded heights of Point Levis shimmered and danced in the pitiless heat of the noonday.
Down the road from the direction of Beauport a distant dust cloud appeared and the black object which preceded it slowly resolved itself into the soutaned figure of a very corpulent priest, who shuffled wearily along the road humming spiritlessly to himself, the while he wiped the dusty sweat from his shining forehead with a pudgy finger.
The sound of the song ceased as he neared the silent figure by the fence and Père Jolicoeur’s eyes lighted and he licked his lips with an anticipatory tongue as he prepared to salute the gentleman with whom he hoped to have dinner; Etienne St. Denis’ kitchen was famed from Tadousac to Trois Rivieres —and the Jesuit’s belly craved refreshment.
But St. Denis did not apparently notice the approach of the priest. Without moving his head he turned his gaze slightly to the right to where, above the far-off line of the river, rose the distant spires and battlemented walls of Quebec; then, closing his eyes, he passed a sweating hand across the feverish lids and muttered impatiently to himself.
“A good day to you, Etienne, my son,” shouted Père Jolicoeur genially as he came abreast of the brooding man. “What a day it is!—What a warm day it is, to be sure! I was wondering if I might be allowed to occupy a seat at your hospitable table, Etienne?”
He stopped and panted for a moment—just as a big, fat spaniel pants during the heat of the day—then, noting the dejected attitude of the young man, he enquired solicitously as to his health, fanning his flushed and shiny jowls with his looped hat as he stood beside the fence.
“Good day to you, Father,” answered Etienne with a sad smile, pulling down the top fence-post so that the one below it might serve as a seat for his reverend guest. “Sit you down and rest.” He seated himself beside the panting priest.
“It may be the sun,” he continued, in answer to the Jesuit’s question, “or it may be the ‘sickness.’ My head is buzzing and my eyes hurt me sore. I am worried, Father.”
“Tut, tut, boy!” responded the jovial ecclesiastic, placing a fat arm upon the broad shoulders of the younger man. “The sickness will not trouble you if you do not give it too much thought. Look at me—-working night and day among the sick; burying the dead; giving last unction to the dying—I am not affected, because I do not fear the disease. Glance about you at your well-tilled fields; listen to the happy songs of your well-fed censi-, taries; ponder on the fact that no man between Quebec and Beauport is half so well endowed with worldly goods as is the master of Crèvecoeur—then shake off that pessimism and fear which so often leaves the body an easy prey to disease. God bless my soul! Your body is too young and healthy to be affected very seriously by the sickness, even though you should be attacked.”
Etienne looked up into the half-scowling, half-smiling face of the priest and shook his head sadly.
“I hope you are right, Father,” he sighed, gazing off toward the heights of the city,
“but I fear that my pessimism is justified.”
The two friends sat side by side in silence for the space of a few minutes, the priest glad of a chance to rest his weary limbs, and the boy—for Etienne was but five and
twenty—pleased with the good man’s cheering company.
Before them stretched a vista that even in this land of lovely views had few equals, and which the priest, for all his ten years in Canada, appreciated to the utmost. It is to be feared that the beauty of the scene was lost on the fever-stricken eyes of Etienne.
The league-wide basin of the St. Lawrence, where it widened out below the city, lay in front of them, its surface scarce agitated by the few small craft which, looking from the distance like little water-bugs, slowly traversed it. Closing the lower entrance of the river, loomed the green slopes of the Island of Orleans, its softened outlines merging into the mass of the river’s farther shore. Directly across the water was Point Levis and, a little to the right, the citadel-crowned rock of Quebec, which, even at this early date—August 6, 1661—was the strongest fortress in America, thrust its pointed spires to the sky.
To the right and left, as they sat on the fence, stretched the hot, dusty road; merely a glorified trail, wide enough for one of the rude, two-wheeled carts of the time to pass along—that was all. Behind them, across the road, surrounded by a stout wall, or palisade, of pointed stakes, was the log-and-stone-built chateau which Etienne St. Denis called his home, and around it were a halfdozen ruder structures of logs, in which lived the censitaries who, under the wise and helpful guidance of their seigneur, this same Etienne St. Denis, tilled the fertile fields that pertained to the seigneury of Crèvecoeur. On either side of the protected stockade were small clumps of trees, well underbrushed so that no lurking savage might take shelter therein; to their front a long field stretched its length toward the forest that bordered the river, while, along the road in either direction, other clumps of forest-land divided the clearings of the indus-
trious Canadian habitants.
Despite the pallor of his face and the lack-lustre of his eyes, the master of Crèvecoeur was a striking figure of a young man, and a type of the highest product of the civilization of his times. Of medium height, his stature seemed greater owing to the military erectness with which he held his proud head and muscular shoulders, and in his walk was the poise and spring of one who had spent his whole life in healthy occupation. Steady grey eyes; brown, curling hair; clear, smooth-shaven face and resolute chin, made up a set of features which were pleasing in their youthfulness and determination. Etienne St. Denis was a man at whom one would glance twice, and one whose frank, cheerful personality w-ould gain for him a host of friends.
“Michel Huppé is down with the sickness,” murmured the priest. “I promised to call in and give his wife some assistance when I return from Quebec.”
Etienne turned listless eyes upon his companion.
“Are you going to the city?” he asked.
The priest nodded his head.
“The Vicar-Apostolic is in a great ferment owing to the return from France of M. de Queylus, who appears determined to oppose him”
A MILD interest showed in Etienne’s pallid face.
“I thought Laval had expelled the fellow from the country,” he remarked, “and that de Queylus and his fellow Sulpitians had had to acknowdedge the authority of the Jesuits—and the Vicar-Apostolic.”
“Be that as it may,” chuckled Jolicoeur, “the fact remains that the Abbe de Queylus is back again in Canada, armed with Papal bulls favorable to the Sulpitians and to his own claim as Grand Vicar of Canada. Needless to say, Monsignor Laval is exceedingly angry and he immediately forbade de Queylus to proceed to Montreal—to which order the incorrigible Sulpitian paid no attention whatsoever; he left for Ville Marie on the same night that he landed at Quebec.”
The jolly fellowchuckled again, and then, suddenly remembering that he wras conversing with a layman, his expression changed to one of extreme gravity and he coughed guiltily.
“The Jansenist!” he grumbled fiercely. “What colossal nerve the man has to go against the wishes of the Bishop of Petraea!”
Etienne St. Denis looked up in interrogation.
“One of Monsignor Laval’s titles,” explained his friend soberly. “Let us hope that that empty designation will be soon changed to one more to his own liking—that of Bishop of Quebec!”
“Has the reverend father requested your presence in Quebec on de Queylus' account?” asked St. Denis in languid tones.
Jolicoeur’s fat paunch quivered with amusement.
“Tonnerre, Etienne!” he gurgled. “You must think me an important body indeed to be considered worthy of giving advice to the Vicar-Apostolic in such a matter. No, my son, I heard the news this morning by the boat that came down from Quebec to Beauport—I had stopped overnight with the curé, Brother Dumesnil—and I decided to make the trip merely out of curiosity. And what a trip it has been!” He sighed vastly. “I have had to wade through both streams of the Ruisseau, and the sharp rocks cut into my feet. Then again the road has been hot and dusty and I—well, I am not as slim as are you. Etienne.” The jolly chap glanced down over his own rotund form, then gazed enviously at St. Denis’ compact and well-muscled body, and sighed again.
The younger man’s head slowly sank and his fingers gripped his knees convulsively. Père Jolicoeur’s expression changed from vain regret to one of alarm and he regarded the youth closely.
"Pardon me. Father.” began Etienne apologetically. "It must be the fever—I—I—Behind you. Father!— the Iroquois!—the Iroquois!—"
The priest tumbled off the rail fence in alarm and, drawing up the skirts of his soutane, turned in the direction indicated by Etienne.
"Pierre!—Jacques! Henri! — u mai—u mot!” cried the delirious man. and immediately from the smaller houses surrounding the chateau the worried peasants darted toward their master.
Père Jolicoeur. on seeing that the Iroquois band w as a figment of the young man's disordered fancy, turned to the task of soothing him. with small success.
"There, there. Etienne!” he murmured sympathetically.
"See>! The rogues have all vanished—there is nothing to fear!”
But Etienne, tearing himself from the priest's grasp, outdistanced his astonished henchmen and raced madly towards the chateau, leaving the priest gaping after him in bewilderment. The running figures disappeared among the buildings, and Père Jolicoeur. with a resigned sigh, rubbed his stomach mournfully and. with limping footsteps, continued on his painful journey toward Quebec.
r.uns of the Hotel-Dieu ere getting
ven,' little rest on these hot summer days.
Despite the scantiness of the population of New France and the immense distances which lay between scattered farms and settlements, the hospital was full of sick. and. not only the hospital nuns, but the Ursuline
sisters as well, were sadly overworked, for the smallpox was ravaging the land and its victims were many.
Sister Jacqueline de Montmorenci leaned out of one of the upper windows of the Hotel-Dieu mildly amused at the antics of several little Indian boys from the Ursuline convent nearby who. with sticks on their shoulders, were gravely imitating the movements of a body of soldiers.
Sister Jacqueline was young and pretty, and her youthful figure belied the austere garb which clothed it, as did the merry laughter which the gambols of the children evoked. But despite the brightness of her smile and the merry twinkle in her eyes, Sister Jacqueline looked weary—as indeed she was; the unremitting attentions paid to her patients throughout the hot afternoon and the exacting demands which the sick people made upon her, had taxed her strength to the utmost, and she welcomed this little respite from her labours with keen gratitude.
It was early afternoon and the torrid heat which had half stifled the country for the past week had in no wise abated, though, from its altitude on the rock of Quebec, the hospital received a grateful breeze from the broad river that stretched it3 shimmering length below the town. From the direction of the fort came the shouted commands of soldiers at drill; from the street below arose the merry babble of the children. Save for these sounds— and the shrill drone of an energetic cicada—all else was still : the town was wrapped in the lethargy of the hot summer afternoon.
The rough, wooden floor boards behind her creaked as someone approached the window and Sister Jacqueline looked quickly around. Her expression of amusement changed to one of obstinacy and dislike as she recognized the newcomer. It was Sister Hortense, like herself a layworker in the hospital and, like herself also, called “sister” by courtesy.
"Ah. Sister Jacqueline,” purred Hortense spitefully. “What a thing it is to be niece to the Vicar-Apostolic and able to rest when one’s companions are working. We other poor women, alas, have not your advantages.”
Jacqueline’s eyes flashed.
"That I am related to the Reverend Father has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I have endeavoured to snatch a few moments’ rest here, Sister Hortense,” she answered, controlling her anger with difficulty. "I was faint—for I have been on my feet since dawn this morning—and I wished to recuperate my strength.”
Hortense smiled sceptically and looked out at the children playing in the street below them, while Jacque-
line, her face flushed with annoyance, regarded her companion with an expression that was a quaint blend of pity and contempt.
That Hortense should be jealous of her, a mere layworker in this house of mercy, was a circumstance that puzzled Jacqueline greatly whenever she thought upon it. The mere fact that she was a relative of the VicarApostolic was, she knew, sufficient to give her a certain prestige in the eyes of her associates of more humble
birth—a certain definiteness of outline that the other helpers in the Hotel-Dieu lacked. But she had not been aware that her relationship to Laval had, in a.ny way, influenced the superior of the hospital to show her more favours than had been bestowed upon any of the other girls; if anything, Sister Marie des Anges had been particular that to Jacqueline should fall more than her share of the odious duties connected with the care of the hospital’s many patients.
THE two girls, as they stood for the moment in the open window, presented a decided contrast. Jacqueline was blue-eyed and fair where her companion was dark. Her hair, where the sun shone on it, reflected the tawny glow of unpolished gold. Hortense’s hair was jetblack.
“Dirty little brats!” ejaculated Hortense, looking with disdain upon the ragged soldiers in embryo who were marching past to the sound of a rat-a-plan beaten on a piece of pine bark with a stick. “Smelly, grubby little savages!”
Jacqueline smiled sadly and turned her gaze in the direction of the urchins.
“I love them,” she said gently. “I should like to be able to go down there and play with them. Dear little
Hortense sniffed disdainfully and shrugged her dainty shoulders with disgust.
“They look wormy and unclean,” she said with a shudder. “It is bad enough tending some of the cases we get here from the country—and I always appear to get the worst of them—but I would rather a thousand times associate with any of our filthy patients than touch those little half-bred beasts down there!”
“Sister Hortense!” gasped Jacqueline.
Hortense looked up in surprise at this outburst and then laughed ironically.
“Oh, ’tis well for a de Montmorenci to speak in such fine fashion,” she declared bitterly. “You can leave this accursed Canada at any time, and return to your luxury and riches in France whenever the mood takes you; but I—” she laughed again in the same mirthless fashion, “—I have no other way of making my living, unless—She shrugged her shoulders.
Jacqueline looked at the other girl in surprise.“Do you mean to say,” she asked earnestly, “that you would leave all this—” with a comprehensive wave of the hand, “—if you had the opportunity? Do you not intend to take the veil?”
“I?—Do nothing all my life but drudge in this smelly hole? La, I should say not! If I could get married, I would leave the place to-morrow!”
Jacqueline digested this surprising information with pursed lips.
“But surely you would have little difficulty in finding a husband in Quebec, Sister Hortense!”
“Faugh!” Hortense’s ejaculation was expressive. “All the eligible youngjmen are married—all except one.”
She smirked slyly, and Jacqueline, her woman’s curiosity aroused, gazed interestedly at her companion.
“I think it very wrong in you to talk this way,” she murmured. She assumed an air of nonchalance as she glanced down again at the children playing in the street.
“Who is this young man?” she asked quietly.
Hortense smiled in a mysterious manner and looked at her questioner with a provoking smile.
“Who is he, Sister Hortense? Please tell me—I will say nought of it.”
Hortense lowered her eyes and said quietly:—
“I dare not tell you—but,” she added gaily, “if I succeed in getting him to ask me to be his wife I will surely invite you to the wedding.”
JACQUELINE was somewhat shocked at the heartless and sordid manner in which the other girl spoke of love and though herself a stranger as yet to every phase of it she could not refrain from asking:
“Please tell me who this strange man is, Sister Hortense.' I will mention his name to no one if you confide in me.”
“I will tell you nought, save that he was brought to the hospital this morning, suffering from the sickness.”
Jacqueline’s eyes opened wide.
“Then it must be Monsieur Etienne St. Denis!” she exclaimed. “He is the only person of consequence who has entered the hospital this morning!”
Hortense lowered her eyes and a flush of what might have been embarrassment mounted to her cheeks.
“I am not telling you who he is,” she affirmed. “But what if it is Monsieur St. Denis?” she asked petulantly. “How did you know that he had been brought to Quebec?”
“I happened to be in the common room when Monsieur Pierre Boucher drove up to the gate with the delirious man,” answered Jacqueline soberly. “I heard him tell the superior that he had driven in from Trois Rivieres and had taken the opportunity of bringing his friend to the city for treatment.”
“Did you see him—Monsieur St. Denis, I mean?” asked Hortense suspiciously.
“I caught a glimpse of him as he was being brought in to the hospital—”
“You did not speak to him?” There was distrust in Hortense’s question.
“I—? Speak to Monsieur St. Denis? Why certainly not!” declared Jacqueline coldly. “It is not my habit to speak to strange men—besides, the poor fellow was out of his mind.”
Hortense regarded Jacqueline gravely.
“You are a funny little thing,” she declared wonder -ingly; “pure and innocent, as befits a Sister of Mercy! I, on the other hand, always speak to men whenever I get the opportunity. One never knows what delightful adventure may be started a-brewing. But perhaps, being a de Montmorenci, you feel it lowering to your dignity to become at all familiar with any man of less rank than a baron—though Monsieur St. Denis is a seigneur in his own right.”
“Sister Hortense!" exclaimed Jacqueline, scandalized and angry. “Why must you always throw my relationship to Monsignor Laval in my face! It is not through any feeling of superiority that I do not attempt to flirt with the men who pass through this hospital. Had Monsieur St. Denis asked me a question I would have answered him courteously—beyond that I would never have gone. But,” she added, with a touch of pique in her voice that was wholly feminine, “my dignity does not prevent me from doing tilings in this hospital that you would not deign to do!”
Hortense laughed maliciously.
“Humility of the flesh is good for the soul.” she said.
"While you are doing things this afternoon that I ‘would not deign to do,’ be comforted with the assurance that I will be doing my utmost to make Monsieur St. Denis’ stay in our midst as comfortable as possible.”
FOR some unaccountable reason Jacqueline resented the idea of the young seigneur being nursed by this designing schemer. That it might be a slight sentiment of jealousy that prompted this feeling she would have indignantly denied, for she had seen the man but once.
“Has the superior ordered you to attend him, then?” she asked, with an attempt at indifference that did not deceive the sharp ears of Hortense.
“Not yet,” answered the other, “but I was on my way to suggest the idea to her when I stopped to talk to you. I have known Etienne St. Denis ever since I was a little girl—though I doubt if he remembers me.”
Jacqueline said nothing, but turned as though about to resume her duties in the sick wards.
“Be not discouraged, Sister Jacqueline,” remarked Hortense acidly, as a parting shot. “When you have become adept in the art of making love, mayhap you can induce some tall, handsome fellow to fall opportunely sick—”
“My child!” came in horrified tones from the doorway and both girls wheeled guiltily around. “What means this chatter of falling in love! They are strange words to hear from the lips of a Sister of Mercy! Get ye about your business—I am surprised to see ye wasting your time in idle discourse when there is so much to be done!”
Jacqueline and Hortense turned and started toward the door, abashed under the reproachful gaze of the superior, who stood, arms folded and head held severely erect, just inside the doorway.
“Stay!” she commanded as the silent girls passed her. They stopped and looked at her in a frightened manner, Hortense’s lips twitching with nervousness. “You, Hortense, will report to the laundry where there is much to be done, and you, Jacqueline, will attend to the 'wants of Monsieur Etienne St. Denis until further.notice. Now, about your business!”
jV/fONSIGNOR Francois Xavier De Laval Montmorenci, Abbe de Montigny, Bishop of Petraea, and Vicar-Apostolic of the Pope for Canada, was in a towering rage as he walked with determined stride from the governor’s residence, the Chateau St. Louis, toward the Hotel-Dieu, on a morning about a fortnight after the events narrated in the preceding chapter.
He had visited the governor, d’Argenson, that morning for the express purpose of demanding that two soldiers of the garrison, who had acted in an unseemly manner during the service in the cathedral on the occasion of a recent celebration of the Mass, be punished.
D’Argenson had, however, been quite firm in his refusal to do anything of the kind.
“The two young men did but smile at a couple of girls with whom they were acquainted,” he had said.
“They have been properly reprimanded and have given assurance that they will act more circumspectly when next they go to church.”
“It is not enough, monsieur le gouverneur,” replied Laval firmly. “Such examples of levity within the sacred precincts of God’s house are not to be tolerated. The offending soldiers must receive more fitting punishment.”
But d’Argenson, who had suffered much at the hands of this imperious churchman, and who had recently —by the vessel upon which M. de Queylus had returned from France—received notice that, in accordance with the Vicar-Apostolic’s expressed wish, his successor had been appointed, was in no mood to be conciliatory.
“I have admonished the two men,” he coldly replied.
“In my opinion the gravity of their offence did not call for even so stern a measure as that. They shall receive no further punishment.”
Laval closed his thin-lipped mouth and stared savagely at the governor.
“I shall forbid them the entry to the church,” he declared resolutely.
“And I,” retorted the governor, “shall see that they attend the services, even though it become necessary to open the church doors by force of arms!”
“I shall refuse to celebrate the mass, nor will I permit any of my subordinate priests to officiate, should you persist in your heinous course,” retaliated the Jesuit, white with rage.
“In that case, Monsignor Laval,” returned d’Argenson suavely, “I shall instruct the Sulpitians of Ville Marie to send down one of their number. I bid you a very good day, Reverend Father.”
The priest stood irresolute for a moment, speechless with anger. His pallid brow grew moist with sweat and his bulbous nose twitched spasmodically. Then, gathering the skirts of his cassock in his hand, he turned and swept irately from the governor’s presence, and it was with the rancour of this scene within him that he was making his way toward the Hotel-Dieu.
THE Vicar-Apostolic was a man who could brook no opposition. He believed firmly that the princes and rulers of this world stood subject to guidance and control at the hands of the Pope, the Vicar of Christ on earth. He himself was the Pope’s vicar, and, as far as the bounds of Quebec and Canada extended, the Holy Father had clothed him with his own authority. The glory of God demanded that this authority should suffer no abatement, and he, Laval, would be guilty before Heaven if he did not uphold the supremacy of the church over the powers both of earth and of hell.
In appearance Laval was of the priestly type, with stern, rigid features of that indescribable cast which marks the zealot and fanatic. He had a drooping nose of portentous size; a well-formed forehead; a brow strongly arched; bright, clear eyes; scanty hair, generally half hidden by a black skull-cap; and thin lips, compressed and rigid, betraying a spirit not easy to move or convince.
He was arbitrary and imperious; yet, at times, gentle and forgiving. He was one of those who by nature lean always to the side of authority, but, being above all things a Catholic and a priest, he was drawn by a constitutional necessity to the ultramontane party, or the party of centralization. He allowed himself none of the so-called natural pleasures save that of humility (sic), and humility in the flesh, was the virtue to the culture of which he gave his chief attention. His life was one long assertion of the authority of the church, and this authority was lodged in himself. As a consequence of this belief the spiritual and secular authorities in New France were ever at logger-heads.
D’Argenson’s position as governor of the colony had been an exacting and arduous one before the arrival of Laval; since the landing of the Vicar-Apostolic it had been little short of purgatory. The governor was a man of education, moderation, and sense, and he was also an earnest Catholic; but if Laval had his duties to God, so had d’Argenson his duties to the King, of whose authority he was the representative and guardian. If the first collisions between the pair appeared, in their outward seeming, trivial, they were nevertheless the first symptoms of a grave antagonism. D’Argenson could have secured peace only by becoming an agent of the church.
The Bishop, as Laval was usually styled, for he was, in addition to being the Pope’s Vicar in Canada, titular Bishop of Petraea in Arabia, very soon fell into a quarrel touching the relative position of their seats in church— which point was a moot one for many years, and under several successive governors. Then, shortly after this affair had been settled by the ex-governor d’Aillebout. when the case had been referred to him, another difficulty arose. Should the governor or the bishop have the higher seat at table when dining together? In quick succession other seemingly trivial difficulties arose, until the bishop and the governor saw red whenever the other’s name was mentioned. Needless to say then, on this sunny August morning, smarting under his defeat at the hands of the governor, and still exceedingly wroth over de Queylus’ obstinate refusal to recognize the bishop’s authority over him, Laval was in a villainous frame of mind.
ACCOMPANYING the bishop, and panting with the exertion of keeping up with the reverend gentleman as he strode impetuously across the city, was the aged Père Chauvain, a Jesuit of Jesuits, and as ultramontane and fanatical a disciple of Loyola as Laval himself. This aged ecclesiastic, owing to his prying nature and the zeal with which he uncovered infractions of the ecelesiastical law, was exceedingly unpopular amongst the citizenry of Quebec. It was this gentleman who established the association of women and girls known as the Congregation of the Holy Family. This congregation, or sorority, which met every Thursday behind the closed doors of the cathedral, was very useful to Pères Chauvain, Boisseau and others of that ilk in their social investigation. The sisters of the Holy Family lived under an interesting vow —the regular reporting in assembly of the affairs, good or evil, of every person of their acquaintance. Sister Hortense was an active member of the Congregation of the Holy Family.
Their way led directly across the solidly-built Upper Town. Scores of people, noting the stern, determined mien of Laval, saluted him respectfully and then stopped to stare curiously at the bishop and his perspiring companion.
“There has been more trouble between the governor and the bishop!” they whispered, one to another, and then went wonderingly about their business.
The Hotel-Dieu, with its sharp-pointed spire, stood at the northern edge of the town, overlooking the bay into which flows the River St. Charles. Laval, on his arrival, quickly despatched Chauvain in search of the superior and hastened himself into one of the large lower rooms where several hopeless smallpox sufferers were awaiting the inevitable end.
It was not a pleasant sight that greeted the bishop’s eyes as he entered the apartment. Stretched on rude, bunk-like affairs, the stricken lay in various stages of dissolution, their fever-wracked bodies vile with the marks of the dread disease which had laid them low, the nauseating ichor from their sores tainting the air with sickening effluvia. One poor fellow, over whom a nun was bending with a goblet of water, lay gasping in the throes of death, and towards him strode the Vicar-Apostolic, his grim eyes softened now with a pity that transformed his stern face into an almost Christ-like benignity.
“Ah, my poor Gaborde!”
he murmured sympathetically, gently patting one of the man's shrunken hands. Kneeling beside the bed he offered up a prayer for the sufferer’s soul and then, rising, with the nun’s assistance he administered the Holy Sacrament. A bare flutter of his eyelids and the faint semblance of a smile were the only indications Gaborde could give that he understood and appreciated what was being done.
"Mon pauvre enfant!” murmured Laval sadly. With a sigh, he turned his attention to the other victims of the plague that was ravaging the countryside. When the superior, following the still perspiring Chauvain, reached the apartment, the bishop was, with his own hands, dressing the putrescent sores of another poor fellow.
THESE acts of unselfish devotion were typical of the man. Hard and domineering as he was where the sanctity or authority of Holy Church was concerned, he was the soul of tenderness, generosity and sympathy when any of his humble flock were in need of spiritual or material assistance.
“You wished to see me. Father?” asked Sister Marie when the bishop had finished his self-imposed task and had washed his hands in a basin.
Laval’s expression became set and stern again as befitted the head of the church in New France when dealing with a subordinate.
He curtly nodded his head, and, followed by Sister Marie and Père Chauvain, he left the room and walked across the hall to the refectory where two nuns, eating a frugal and belated meal, swiftly arose, made their obeisance to the bishop, and left the room.
Laval waited until the chamber was clear, and then, motioning to Sister Marie to be seated, he took a chair beside her. Père Chauvain stood in a respectful attitude near the door. During the course of the bishop’s discussion with the superior of the hospital, he sank quietly into a chair, his ears attuned for what interesting items of scandal the superior might relate concerning her charges.
“About this matter of masses for the coming year.” remarked Laval at length, coming directly, as was his wont, to the subject.
“Payment for saying masses twice a day has been made up to the end of the present month.”
Sister Marie nodded her head.
“To the 6th of September, to be exact,” she replied.
“And we received for our services last year—?” prompted Laval.
“Six hundred francs, Father.”
“Exactly.” acquiesced the bishop. Then looking the superior in the eye with his cold gaze, he asked:
“Do you not think you could do better than that this coming year?”
Sister Marie bit her lip and glanced down at her demurely folded hands.
“Times are rather hard, Father,” she ventured: “so many sick—”
"Precisely,” interrupted the bishop. “There are so many sick and there is so much distress on every hand that the tithes collected are barely sufficient to relieve the suffering in Quebec alone. For that very reason do I ask that a great effort be made in every quarter to increase the offerings for the coming year.”
“Therefore will I expect eight hundred francs for the year’s payment,” he continued, as though he had not been interrupted. “I find it exceedingly difficult to persuade the King that our colony is 3hort of funds, and so it is necessary that we all do our utmost toward the support of our cures and missions.”
“But eight hundred francs, Father!” protested the superior, aghast. “Bven as it is we find it exceedingly difficult to purchase the barest necessities! Père Buisset offered to say the masses for only three hundred francs—and I thought that too much!” she added bitterly.
J AVAL rose quickly to his feet and fastened his blazing ' eyes upon the woman.
“Do you mean to tell me,” he demanded, “that you have been negotiating with one of the Recollet brotherhood, in defiance of my strict injunction that you should have naught to do with such?”
Père Chauvain stiffened in his seat by the door, his sparae beard bristling with indignation, but Sister Marie sat quiet and unabashed before the bishop’s displeasure. “He preaches the word of God,” she quietly remarked. Laval gasped.
“He is a Recollet!” he exclaimed, as though by that name he had accused the unfortunate Buisset of being everything that was heretical and vile.
“Profanum vulgus!” muttered Chauvain indignantly.
“Be quiet!” barked Laval, turning sharply on the priest, who immediately subsided.
“I refused his offer,” said Sister Marie.
Laval acknowledged this remark with a quick jerk of the head and his eyes bored into those of the superior until, with a sigh, she lowered them humbly toward the floor.
“I will expect you to make every endeavour to pay eight hundred francs for the celebration of the masses,” he said. “See to it that you encourage none but teachers of the true faith to enter your establishment henceforward, Sister Marie des Anges!”
The woman dumbly nodded her head.
“It shall be as you wish, Father,” she answered.
She rose from her seat and quietly followed the bishop as he started on his round of inspection. Père Chauvain also rose with a suppressed sigh, and followed in the footsteps of the superior.
In the kitchens Sister Hortense, with another young lay-worker, was engaged in menial labour when the bishop stepped through the door. At sight of her—one of
the most zealous of his pious informers in the Congregation of the Holy Family—Père Chauvain rubbed his hands with satisfaction and nodded mute approbation of her industry in cleaning the dirtiest of the cooking pots —one she had hurriedly seized at the sound of approaching footsteps.
“A devout worker, Monsignor,” he smirked, as he addressed Laval.
SISTER MARIE made no comment, but Laval glanced approvingly at the girl’s pretty hands and arms, which were black with grease and dirt.
“This young helper appears to be a most willing servant of the Lord,” said the bishop in an aside to Sister Marie. “I have remarked on her industry and humility every time I have visited the hospital.”
The superior raised her eyebrows but did not dispute the ecclesiastic’s encomium, and as the party left the room, Hortense dropped the dirty pot with which she was playing and grinned triumphantly at her companion.
In a small, bare room on the second floor of the building, Etienne St. Denis, his face wan and pale, but his eyes bright with a new vitality, gazed with interest on the dainty figure of Sister Jacqueline as she busied herself with some decorations in the broad, stone window recess—a few early roses and a cluster or two of wild flowers.
“Those will brighten your room a bit,” she said when she had arranged the plants to her taste, turning to her patient and smoothing his pillow.
“They are pretty,” he said gratefully, as she lowered his head down on to the pillow again; “but the sweetest flower of them all is not in the window-frame.”
“You mean the lily,” remarked Jacqueline. “Never mind, monsieur; to-morrow I will get Jean Ba’tis’ to bring me some wild tiger-lilies. They will add another touch of colour to your room. It is so bare!”
Etienne smiled warmly.
“I did not mean the lily,” he said with feeling. “The fairest flower of them all is you, Sister. The others, when you are in the room, must blush and hang their heads from very jealousy.”
Jacqueline lowered her eyes and tried to hide the colour that mounted to her cheeks when Etienne spoke. Her heart beat tumultuously and she worked in a far corner of the room for fear her agitation might be noticeable.
“You must nbt speak to me in that manner, monsieur,” she said, endeavouring unsuccessfully to appear as though he had displeased her. “I am but an humble assistant in this house of mercy and it is not meet that you should address me in terms of flattery— nor should I listen to you.”
“You are very beautiful,” mused Etienne, unheedingly.
Jacqueline bit her lip as she turned and looked severely into the eyes of the unabashed young man, who returned her stare with frank and friendly admiration. Before his unwinking contemplation she lowered her eyes, frowned—and then laughed merrily, and her laughter was sweet to hear.
“Why should I not express my appreciation of your loveliness?” asked Etienne, smiling in sympathy with her merriment—and because her trilling laughter was so contagious. “There can be no harm in it—no idea of love—although—”
“I owe you a debt of gratitude that I can never repay,” he faltered. “But for your care and unselfish attention during the past fortnight the smallpox would have left me marked for life. No soldier, facing bullet and sword, is braver than you have proved yourself to be in exposing yourself to this horrible disease.”
JACQUELINE flushed with pleasure.
*•* “I have not regarded myself as a heroine,” she said simply. “It has been a pleasure doing what I have—for you.”
She would have given all she possessed to have been able to recall those last two words, but they were uttered before sbe had time to realize their significance. She did not dare look at Etienne, but stooped and picked up the basket in which lay his dinner dishes, intending to hide her embarrassment by making a speedy exit from the room.
In the basket, beside the dishes, was a scarlet silk neckerchief belonging to Etienne, with which he was wont to protect his weakened eyes from the light as he lay dozing during the day. She picked up the kerchief, intending to hand it to him but, dismayed by the delighted smile with which he was regarding her, she hastily thrust it into her girdle and started toward the door.
At that instant the tall, austere figure of the bishop^ blocked the entrance to the room and at the sight of him the girl drew back apace and set down her basket.
“Good morning, Reverend Father,” she said respectfully.
Laval raised his hand in benediction of the room’s occupants and gravely acknowledged the salutations of Jacqueline and her patient. He advanced toward the bed and then suddenly stiffened in his tracks as his eyes caught sight of the flowers blocking the window casement.
“What is the meaning of this trumpery?” he demanded of Sister Marie, pointing toward the offending plants. “ ’Tis most unseemly that this house of mercy should be decorated like a tavern! That trash must be removed!”
Père Chauvain nodded pious approval of his superior’s verdict.
Continued on page 28
Continued from page 16
"They brighten the room, Father,” declared Etienne apologetically. "It was 1 who suggested to Sister Jacqueline that they would make the room more cheery.” "They must be removed,” repeated the prelate, motioning to Jacqueline to carry away the flowers.
"But, Father,” remonstrated Etienne, his choler rising at this implied rebuke to Jacqueline. "I am paying for the use of this room. Those little flowers will aid me in ragaining my health. It is my wish that they be allowed to remain.” "Nonsense!" retorted Laval sternly. “Idolatrous nonsense! Jacqueline, do as I bid you!”
ETIENNE swallowed his wrath, but his teeth clenched together in impotent fury. The girl started to do her uncle’s bidding but, btdore she reached the window, he seized her by the shoulder and swung her around facing him.
"What is that?” he demanded, pointing to the kerchief which was tucked in her girdle. "What wicked impulse has induced you to adorn your person with gewgaws of that description? Sister Marie des Anges!” he said furiously, turning to the superior, “your conduct in allowing this'misguided young person to cater to her silly vanity is reprehensible! Take it off, girl! take it off!” Père Chauvain's hands were held high in holy horror at this fresh evidence of the devil's handiwork, and Etienne, weak as he was. felt an irresistible desire to kick the pious old bigot.
"That also is mine,” he said quietly; but there was a dangerous undercurrent of passion in his voice that caused Chauvain a momentary pang of uneasiness. "Sister Jacqueline picked it up from the floor just before you came into the room. You may take those flowers and do what you will with them, Father, but that kerchief is my personal property. Sister Jacqueline had not the slightest intention of trying to adorn her person with it.”
"It should be destroyed!” muttered Chauvain.
"It is my property!” affirmed Etienne doggedly.
“A wholly worldly possession!” reiterated the priest.
"If you don’t take this babbling old hypocrite away from here,” cried Etienne in a passion of rage, ‘T shall—I shall—
Chauvain backed nervously away and, for a moment, a ghost of a smile flickered on the thin lips of the bishop. He turned again to Jacqueline and took the kerchief from her, laying it alongside Etienne’s pillow.
“My niece is becoming too worldlyminded,” he said to the superior as he walked toward the door. “See to it, Sister des Anges, that she is given work that is more in keeping with her humble station. I would suggest that she and that devoted young worker, Hortense Dubois, of whom I have spoken to you before, exchange places. Come, Chauvain!”
He left the room followed by his lieutenant. Sister Marie, lingering behind the bishop, waited until he had turned the corner, then, with a reassuring nod of her head, she put her finger to her lips and followed after Laval.
Etienne gazed in dumb misery at the wistful figure of the girl as she listlessly swept the flowers from the casement into the basket.
"I am sorry,” he whispered, at length. Jacqueline looked over to him and smiled sadly.
“You have no reason for reproaching yourself,” she said. “My uncle is opposed to all forms of innocent amusement—but I did not for a moment imagine that he would take exception to these flowers. As for Père Chauvain—” "Pious old parasite!” blurted Etienne passionately.
“You must not speak in that fashion of a man of God!” .Jacqueline reproached him. “He is doing the Master’s work!” “We disagree there,” retorted Etienne. “For my part I consider that Satan smiles when Chauvain gets busy!”
“Monsieur St. Denis!” cried Jacqueline in horrified tones. “If you cannot control your tongue I do not wish to hear anything further from you!”
“Ah, forgive me. Sister!” begged
Etienne contritely. “I keep forgetting that you are a bride of the church— though le bon Dieu knows that, if you were not, I might have the courage to tell you a very great secret.”
JACQUELINE’S anger vanished and «J she caught her breath at the emotion with which the man uttered this last.
“What would you tell me if you knew me to be free?” she asked shyly.
Etienne crushed the scarlet kerchief in his bands and pressed it to his lips.
"I should be unworthy to partake of the Bread and Wine, and I would not dare to go to confession were I to tell you,” he whispered. “But this little silken kerchief, which caused all the trouble between yourself and your uncle, will be my fidus Achates. To it will I confide the secret which I dare not tell you. Jacqueline, can you not guess what my confession would be?”
The arrival of Hortense to take over her new duties prevented Jacqueline from answering Etienne’s fervent question, but, as she left the room with the basket under her arm, she turned and smiled into the man’s eager eyes. She needed not the aid of her woman’s intuition to tell her what his secret was, and her heart was strangely light as she left him with Hortense.
MAITRE ABRAHAM MARTIN, formerly King’s Pilot for the port of Quebec, but now aged, bearded and grey, leaned on his staff and scowlingly regarded a troupe of prim-looking young women who were leaving the Cathedral. The warm sun of a September day, tempered by a cool breeze which blew in from the river, making him draw his close-buttoned .coat the tighter, had induced the old fellow to sally forth and take the air. He was accompanied by his little grandson, Medard Chouart, son of the great trader whose name he bore, and, as the old man stood in the corner of a building, sheltered from the chill autumn breeze,. the boy pulled a rude wooden top from his pocket and started spinning it on the smooth dirt surface of the road.
Coming along the street from the direction of the Chateau St. Louis a tall, soldierly man of about two score years, walked toward the pair and stopped to pat the youngster’s tousled head.
“A stout boy, Abraham,” he said smilingly. “He resembles his grandsire greatly.”
“B’jour, Pierre,” replied the old man. “He is a likely lad but he is sadly in need of his father’s attention. I am getting too old now to look after him properly. He runs wild.”
“You too old!” scoffed Pierre Boucher. “Nonsense, Abraham! I only wish I could be assured that you were to pilot the ship in which I sail for France next month, down the river to Tadousac.” Abraham Martin shook his head sadly, but a smile of appreciation illumined his withered cheeks.
“Nay, Pierre,” he replied; “my old arms will nevermore steer a vessel past Orleans—but tell me, when do you leave for Rouen?”
“Sometime toward the end of October,” replied the younger man. “I have just been in conference with M. d’Avaugour, the governor. He is determined that the Iroquois be punished so severely that they will nevermore dare lift their hands against a Frenchman. At the present time the colony is helpless and communication between the various settlements is practically stopped. Will you believe it, Abraham, when I tell you that it has taken one month for the news of the death of Major Close, in Ville Marie, to reach us here in Quebec?” “What!” gasped Martin. “Close dead! How did it occur?”
“Waylaid and killed by the Iroquois,” replied Boucher sadly. “But he is only one of over four score who have met their deaths at the hands of the red devils since d’Argenson sailed for France, two weeks ago. The savages must be punished—and punished to the limit!” “And you go to solicit aid from the King?”
“Assuredly! If we do not get extraneous aid—if troops are not sent for our protection, this country cannot continue
to be inhabited by white men; we must abandon it, or perish!”
“Abandon New France! Leave Quer bec to the Iroquois!” cried Martin passionately. “Rather would I die fighting for the roof that covers my head than leave a single stone of this city to the savages! But surely you exaggerate the danger, friend Pierre!”
THE two men stared in meditative silence at the last of the young women leaving the church.
“I am sorry for Close’s young widow,” sighed Martin at length. “It is too bad —too bad!”
“It is distressing,” acknowledged Boucher. “But away with pessimism!” He turned and nudged the old man slyly in the ribs. “I must say, Abraham,” he jocularly said, “that I am surprised to see a man of your age ogling the daughters of the Holy Family!”
The old man smiled his appreciation of this rough jest.
“The spirit is still young, Pierre,” he said, “though the body be crippled. But, seriously, I consider those young informers a serious menace to the social life of our small community.”
“They must do some good. Père Chauvain, their spiritual advisor, is considered a very holy man.”
“Bah!” The old man spat contemptuously on the ground. “Pere Chauvain—!
I bear that busy-body no great love! A pity it is that the Society of Jesus—which has given to the world so many Christian, saintly men—should be encumbered with such worthless offal as that scandalmongering Chauvain!”
“I gather that you and the reverend .. gentleman are not exactly boon companions,” remarked Boucher, smiling at the wrathful old man.
“Companions!” snorted Martin scornfully. “Look—do you see that young girl?” He clutched his companion by the arm and pointed toward the hurrying figure of Sister Hortense, who was among the last of the Holy Family to leave the sacred edifice across the street.
“Eh?” queried Boucher, surprised at the man’s vehemence. “You .mean Hortense Dubois? Certainly I see her— What has she to do with Père Chauvain?” “That young woman, as you know, was my adopted daughter. She received the best of care and the most loving attention from Madam Martin and myself, from the time her parents were killed by the Iroquois until the sisters of the Hotel-Dieu begged me to allow them to complete her education. Now, owing to the pernicious influence of Père Chauvain, she will not reco ¿e me; both she and her mentor regard me as an infidel and a heretic because of my sympathy toward the Recollects. She even told the bishop that I harboured heretical writings, and my house was searched by Père Chauvain!”
THE old man’s voice quavered with indignation and his grandson looked up in surprise from his top-spinning.
“I trust the priest found nothing in your house that would damage your character in the eyes of Laval,” remarked Boucher interestedly.
“I had a bound copy of the romance of Petronius,” replied Martin, “which I valued more than my life because it was not mutilated. Chauvain came to the house during my absence and tore out almost all the leaves, so that, when I came in and saw the miserable wreck, I wanted to run out after this rampant shepherd and tear out every hair of his beard.”
“Too bad, too bad!” murmured Boucher sympathetically. “The zeal of these Jesuits is sometimes misdirécted. I am sorry to hear that a misunderstanding has arisen between you and your adopted daughter. However, one must give her credit for her courage in attending the victims of the sickness. By the by, what of Etienne St. Denis?”
“Etienne is almost recovered,” replied the pilot, mollified at this thought. “He leaves the hospital next week and is coming to stay with me for a space, until his strength is thoroughly restored.
I am looking forward with pleasure to Iris visit.”
He turned and looked in the direction in which Hortense had disappeared.
“I hope that young malapert will not try to influence Etienne against me,” he said. “Though, knowing the lad as I do and being well aware of the fact that
he bears Père Chauvain no good will, I do not fear for his loyalty or friendship.”
HORTENSE was in high fettle that morning. Her soul was elevated with the anticipation of coming conquest and the realization of a good day’s work already done. She had created a mild sensation in the cathedral that morning by airing her suspicions of the character of a woman who had hitherto borne an unsullied reputation for kindliness and piety. That she had no grounds for thinking that this unfortunate woman had sinned, save that she had seen her conversing outside her house with a man other than her husband, was immaterial to a woman of Hortense’s prurient proclivities; the woman might have been arranging a rendezvous, or discussing things forbidden. Be that as it may, thirty malicious tongues would soon blast Madame Lalonde’s reputation in all quarters of the town, and as Hortense sat down, after the denunciation of her victim, a glow had pervaded her being.
In her sombre robe, relieved somewhat by a white head-covering, Sister Hortense presented a picture of gentle devotion that was far from being a characteristic of her warped nature. She slackened her pace as she neared the hospital, and entered the building quietly and sedately, as Sister Marie des Anges was wont to do. She directed her steps toward the room where she had left her patient sitting in a chair. As she opened the door she wore an eager smile on her pretty lips, which quickly changed to a puzzled frown of disappointment—for the room was empty.
She walked over to the window and flung it open. Spread out before her eyes was the hospital garden, a well-kept expanse of green in which, here and there, the clustered colours of many flowers gladdened eyes capable of finding gladness in beauty. For a space she could see no sign of her patient among the trees and bushes below her and she had almost decided that Etienne had gone to some other part in search of recreation when she observed a movement in the shrubbery close to the stone fence on the farther side of the enclosure. Shielding her eyes against the glare of the reflected sun on the water of the river, she intently peered at the spot whence had come the movement that had arrested her attention; then she gave an involuntary gasp of mingled surprise and jealous rage as a strong gust of wind swayed a branch of a concealing tree and revealed to her, sitting on a bench together, Etienne St. Denis and Jacqueline de Montmorenci.
ETIENNE had tired of sitting alone in his room and had wandered into the garden in the hope that Jacqueline might also take advantage of the bright sun to breathe a little fresh air. Hortense had tentatively suggested a turn in the garden before dinner and he had half promised to await her return from the Cathedral before he left his room. He was still weak, she had told him, and she doubted if he could make the journey alone. But the monotony of doing nothing but sit on a chair and look out over the water at distant Orleans had palled on him, and he had successfully made the attempt to gain the garden unassisted.
He was very glad, however, to avail himself of the first bench that he came to, and it was while sitting there that he saw the idol of his hopeless dreams come to a lower window to breathe the scent of the flowers.
“Sister Jacqueline!” he called softly— and she had responded with a pleased smile and a wave of the hand. Then, though she protested that she was very busy, he prevailed upon her to leave her work for a space and come into the garden with him.
“Here we will rest a while,” suggested Etienne when they had reached a little sheltered spot beneath a wide-spreading cherry tree. “My legs are still weak.” “You stay here then, monsieur,” said Jacqueline, “while I go back to attend to my duties. When you desire to return just wave that kerchief and I will see it. There!—you are comfortably
settled. I must go.”
“If you go, Sister Jacqueline," replied Etienne earnestly, "I will arise and follow after you—and will probably faint from weakness if I do it!”
“But, monsieur!” protested the girl.
"I will send one of the other sisters out to you—"
"If you do, I will be rude to her and tell her to go away!” asserted the man. "But—!”
"Sister Jacqueline,” said Etienne in a shaking voice, "I wish to have you remain with me because your very presence seems to fill me with life and health. If you had continued to nurse me instead of turning me over to Sister Hortense, 1 would have been well ages ago—though 1 would have pretended that I was still an invalid.”
"1 did not voluntarily desert you, monsieur; it was my uncle’s doing.” "Would you have cared to continue as my nurse?” asked Etienne eagerly.
"1 take pleasure in helping all who are in need of help, monsieur. You were weak and helpless—therefore it was a pleasure to nurse you.”
U'TIENNE looked into her blue, wide-L-' set eyes and tried to fathom her mind. What he saw there must have assured him that, nun though she be, Sister Jacqueline’s heart was still human and capable of holding more than spiritual love.
"Sister!” he breathed desperately. “I am going to tell you something that may damn my soul through all Eternity! I shall ever rue the mad impulse that has got beyond my control; but the exquisite pleasure of telling you that—that I love you—is more than recompense for the pangs of regret that may sear my conscience!”
To his surprise Jacqueline did not rise and indignantly leave him. Instead, she blushed and averted her gaze. He put out a tentative hand—withdrew it, and then—under the mad impulse of passion, he seized her dainty fingers and pressed ardent kisses upon them—and she did not attempt to free them.
‘‘Why do you do that?” she asked softly, though her burning cheeks and the palpitations of her heart, proved that the question was one whereof she already knew the answer.
“Because my whole body aches with love of you, Jacqueline—Sister Jacqueline! And may the Virgin have mercy on my soul!”
“But why should your soul be doomed to perdition just because you make love to me? I—I am not angry.”
“But you are wedded to the church, and I have acted like a beast—”
A look of hopeless despair darkened his boyish face and he reluctantly loosed her hand, but, as a fresh wave of emotion enveloped him, he clutched it passionately again.
“Forgive me, Jacqueline—!”
“There is nothing to forgive, you foolish boy!” said Jacqueline, smiling upon him. “I also—I like you very much, Etienne, and what you have just said to me flatters and pleases me. Your soul is in no danger of damnation.” Etienne’s eyes opened wide and he clutched her hand feverishly as he panted: “Then you are not—?”
“I am as free as you are, Etienne; though I tell you this only that your troubled mind may be set at rest and that your weakened body—”
But there was no sign of weakness in his arms as he madly pressed her lips to his and held her tightly to him—and at that moment Sister Hortense quietly parted the bushes and stood before them!
THE cold, bleak wind of a night in mid-October swept through the narrow streets of lower Quebec. Scudding clouds which hurried across the dour grey sky gave promise of early snow, and the occasional pedestrian, shielding his face against the bitter sting of the gale, made haste to reach his destination.
In the house of Abra ,a.,i Martin a huge fire was blazing on the earth, and before its grateful warmt1' were seated the old man, Etienne . Denis and Père Jolicoeur. Around 'he stone chimney and the eaves of the house the gale shrieked and moaned, and against the tight-drawn wooden window shutters— for Martin’s house boasted no glass—dead leaves and flying chips impinged with a pattering rustle.
“Winter is not far off,” commented Etienne as he poked a gR— 'ng log into a blaze. The fire leaped up and in its ruddy glare the faces of the three men loomed grave and thoughtful.
Abraham Martin shuddered and drew his chair closer to the fire.
“I dread the thought of it,” he said. “My old bones feel the cold more and more each year.”
The priest stretched his naked toes nearer the blaze and wriggled them appreciatively.
“Ohe!” he yawned. “Let us be thankful for the comfort of this good house and fire. Think of the warm weather that invariably follows the first chill blast from the north. You will yet be sunning yourself outside your door before many days have passed, friend Abraham.”
“I keep thinking of that rash woman, Madame Lalonde,” quavered the old man. “I see, her body floating down the river in the cold, dark water! Ugh! She was but a child!”
Père Jolicoeur stirred uneasily.
“It was very wrong of her to take her life,” he'solemnly declared; “such as she are doomed to everlasting hell-fire.”
“She had great provocation,” asserted Martín wrathfully. “That malicious, slanderous collection of gossiping females, with their superior, the sanctimonious Madame Bourdon, should be utterly broken up. If I had my way I would hang them all to the topmost rafter of the Cathedral by their lying tongues!”
“Tut, tut, Abraham!” expostulated the priest in scandalized tones. “You are talking of a very saintly body of Christian workers! I must refuse to listen to such talk; your words are positively blasphemous!. As for Madame Bourdon, no woman ‘in the colony is held in higher respect by his Reverence, the Bishop, than that self-same zealous woman.”
MARTIN grunted cynically and wrapped his scarf more closely about his withered neck as a particularly ferocious blast rattled the windows and doors of the house.
“Mÿ opinion of a woman whose relations with her husband are those of monk and nun had best remain unspoken,” he said bitterly. “Devout and saint-like she may be, according to the view-point of a bigoted puritan, but such a mode of life is unnatural and is quite in keeping with the character of a woman who subordinates all charitableness and human sympathy and compassion to her own absurdities. Had she and her gang of babbling sneaks been put under the civil ban, Quebec were a happier place to live in—and little Babette Lalonde would still be alive! Holy Family, forsooth!”
Jolicoeur gulped, and cleared his throat as though he were about to speak; but he changed his mind and relapsed into a dignified silence.
“Madame Lalonde has had the finger of scorn pointed at her whenever she showed her face in public,” continued the old man. “Her innocent children have been jeered at; her devoted husband has had to hear the name cuckold applied to him and, ’tis said, Père Chauvain refused the poor woman the Sacrament!” “Your shoes are burning, Father!” exclaimed Etienne.
The priest moved his shoes farther from the fire with the side of his foot.
“I bear no brief for Brother Chauvain,” he remarked, after ruefully examining a burnt patch on the point of one of his heavy-soled shoes. “Nor do I maintain that the Congregation of the Holy Family is wholly infallible in all its doings. Nevertheless, they are held in high esteem by all right-thinking people, and whether they have acted unjustly in the case of Madame Lalonde or no, there can be no excuse for self-murder!” Madame Martin, her household duties over for the day, approached the fire at this juncture and all talk of a religious or acrimonious nature was stopped. Under the joint influence of the cheery heat of the fire and of copious draughts of an excellent home-made wine that the good wife brought in from the cellar in a large stone flagon, Père Jolicoeur’s natural joviality of spirit asserted itself and, in his inimitable way, the jolly chap kept his friends roaring with laughter at his rough witticisms and humorous stories, so that, for the nonce they forgot their troubles—ana forgot the sodden driftage that was slowly floating down the St. Lawrence; mute and pathetic testimony to the pious activity of the Holy Family.
Etienne was late in getting to sleep that night. It was not the fury of the storm that kept him awake, nor was it the after effects of his recent illness. The young man was worrying over the
possible result to Jacqueline of their discovery by Sister Hortense while they were wrapped in each other’s arms in the garden of the Hotel-Dieu.
He had not seen Jacqueline since that tragic moment. Next day he had left the hospital and had journeyed back to his estate. There he rested for a few days before returning to Quebec, where he purposed staying until the New Year, living with his friend Abraham Martin in order to be near his love; a contingency which he, in his ignorance, would have scoffed at short weeks before for impossible.
KNOWING Hortense as he did, he was sure that their indiscretion would soon reach the ears of the bishop, Jacqueline’s uncle, and he dreaded the possible result of the knowledge reaching him. It was likely that he might shut Jacqueline away from Etienne completely or send her back to France. He knew full well the stern and inflexible character of the Vicar-Apostolic, and that he would brook no interference with his authority, spiritual or otherwise, over his niece. That it was his dearest desire that Jacqueline emulate the worthy example of these two holy women, Madame de la Peltrie, and the equally devout Sister Marie de l’Incarnation— both of the Ursuline convent in Quebec —and give her life wholly to the church, he also knew.
“A pest on that Hortense!” he muttered savagely, and little Medard, with whom he was sharing a bed, stirred uneasily in his sleep.
The bright sun of another day was well above the horizon before Etienne was astir. Medard had slipped out of bed hours before and, after partaking of his simple breakfast, had hastened off to the convent where, in company with the other children of the city, he laboriously acquired an education. Madame Martin had been minded to call the sleeping man several times, but Abraham had persuaded her that, as he was but recently come from a sick bed, he needed all the sleep he could get.
What finally aroused him was the sound of a peremptory tapping on the door, and, as he sprang hurriedly from his bed, he recognized, with a curious foreboding of evil, the high-pitched voice of Père Chauvain.
He hurriedly washed and donned his clothes, but before he was half dressed, his host entered the apartment and told him that Monsignor the Bishop desired that he present himself before him that morning.
_ Martin’s face was grave as he delivered his message and he expressed the hope that there was nothing amiss.
“The bishop never desires a person’s attendance,” he said soberly, “unless it be to rebuke him for some misdoing. And that old fox, Chauvain, appeared very pleased with himself as he delivered the message.”
This was indeed disquieting information. Chauvain hated the young seigneur with a fervour that was only equalled by the aversion which Etienne felt for the old priest, and if the Jesuit were pleased with his mission, it was a certain sign that something particularly unpleasant was in store for the young man. He felt a strong desire to unburden himself to his aged host, whose kindly advice he felt sure would strengthen his wavering spirit for the coming interview. On second thought he decided to say nothing—for the present, at least—and, after a hastily bolted breakfast he set out to obey the bishop’s summons.
LAVAL lived in a small hired house in the Lower Town, not far removed from that of Abraham Martin, and like Martin’s, it boasted neither wooden doors nor glass windows. It was not because he could not afford to live in a more pretentious dwelling that the Vicar-Apostolic chose to live in this fashion; it was because the simple austerity of his belief forbade any show of what might be considered by the most humble of his parishioners, ostentation or luxury. He would not, he said, have a house of his own if he could build it for five sous. He had but two servants, a gardener—whom he lent on occasion to his needy neighbours—and a valet, one Houssart. The bishop slept on a hard bed, and would not suffer it to be changed even when it became filthy and full of fleas. He kept cooked meat five, six, seven or eight days in the heat of
summer, and when it was moulded and ¡wormy he washed it in warm water and ate it, and gave thanks to God for his bounty. The mortification of the flesh practised by this truly sincere ecclesiast often caused a shudder of repugnance in those who witnessed them, but, what is more to the purpose, Laval gave fifteen hundred or two thousand francs to the poor every year, and, though the more liberal-minded of Quebec’s inhabitants were ever at loggerheads with the man, he was idolized by the masses and by them was regarded as more than human.
THERE was an odour of more than sanctity about Laval’s dwelling place. To put it baldly, the place stank abominably, and Etienne gagged as he crossed the threshold and confronted the bishop.
“You wished to see me, Father?” he asked as, hat in hand, he stood nervously before the tall, spare figure of Laval. In a darkened corner of the room stood the ubiquitous Chauvain, his arms folded across his breast, a slight frown puckering his wizened features. Busy cleaning out the hearth was the servant Houssart.
“You may go, Houssart,” said the bishop to his valet, after acknowledging Etienne’s salute with a curt nod of the head. “Sit down, monsieur.”
Etienne glanced sideways at the only chair in the sparsely furnished room. It bore undisputable evidence of having recently been the resting place of a large, greasy cooking pot.
“Thank you, Father,” he replied. “I would prefer to stand.”
“As you please,” replied the bishop. “Now, Monsieur St. Denis, I will come directly to the point of the matter which I wish to thresh out with you; you are probably not in ignorance of the deplorable incident to which I am about to refer.”
Etienne remained silent, but he looked askance at Père Chauvain who, like a bird of ill omen, hovered in his dark corner.
“I forbid you to have any further dealing with my niece, Jacqueline de Montmorenci, Monsieur St. Denis,” snapped the prelate savagely. He stared down upon Etienne from his great height and his monstrous nose twitched with suppressed emotion—a characteristic of th-e man when he was at all perturbed. “Is it true,” he asked, with a malevolent expression in his piercing eyes, “that you had the consummate audacity to make love to her—my niece?”
Etienne felt uncomfortable under that piercing gaze, but he braced himself and stared back into the bishop’s face.
“That is a matter which I do not care to discuss in the presence of another,” he replied, nodding meaningly toward Chauvain.
LAVAL eyed the young man coldly for a moment and then turned to his subordinate and pointed meaningly to the door; whereat Chauvain, his arms folded on his breast, moved slowly out of the room and left the two men alone.
“Now, monsieur,” remarked Laval. “Answer my question!”
“I told Jac—your niece that I loved her.”
Etienne’s voice shook with nervous emotion but he returned gaze for gaze.
“Did you—kiss her?” asked the bishop, and his voice was tense as he asked the question.
“Why should you interrogate me as though I were a criminal?” demanded Etienne impassionedly. “Surely if your niece had not cared for my attentions she would have forbidden them!”
Laval’s expression changed not an iota at this outburst.
“Did you kiss her?” he repeated inexorably.
“I did kiss her!” replied Etienne with fervour. “I kissed her—I put my arms about her and hugged her to me! I would have asked her to marry me had we not been interrupted!”
Laval might have been a graven image for all the effect that this confession had upon him; but a cold light gleamed from his eyes and his cheek-bones gleamed white through the tight-drawn skin of his face.
“Why did you do that?”
“Because I love her—because I wish to make her my wife! Because she loves me!”
“She does not love you!” was the lifeless reply from those grim lips, and Etienne shuddered—though the blood ran hot in his veins.
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“She does not love you!” reiterated the bishop. “She does not know her mind. I have forbidden her to have anything to do with you. You may go!”
“You may go!”
The bishop’s tone was decisive and brooked no defiance, and Etienne, awed by the look in the man’s eyes, turned on his heel and left the house. Had he been able to see the effects of the interview on the prelate he would have been dumbfounded, for, on his departure, Laval stared fixedly after him, fighting hard to control his emotions, and then, with a sigh that came from the soul, he kneeled down on the hard earthen floor and bowed his head in his hands.
In so far as a man of Laval’s character and temperament can feel affection, the bishop loved his niece. She was the one object on earth for whom he felt any
human emotion, and it was his dearest wish that she, his only living relative in New France, should attain the highest spiritual post possible for a woman. Now, despite his assurance to Etienne that she did not love him, he knew that he had lied. This fact did not trouble his conscience at all, for, being a Jesuit, he believed that a lie that was useful in helping him to gain his ends was good in the sight of God; but Jacqueline had refused to drive her lover from her thoughts and, though she had agreed to give Etienne no encouragement, Laval knew that if the two young people continued to remain in close proximity to each other, a time would come when they would eventually meet—but he was determined to prevent such an occurrence, if it were humanly possible to Ho so.
To be Continued