THE COUREUR'S WAY
THE Chevalier de Brouillan, Governor of Port Royal, paced to and fro across his library floor. The great leonine head was bent, the strong face harassed with bitter lines.
“Name of a Name!” he cried, pausing before the window to gaze out on the broad expanse of harbor and the rolling marshes beyond, “Is this New France not worth more than the wages of intrigue? My hands are tied—and here is an empire for the taking. Heaven, I—”
His outburst was broken short by the entrance of his secretary, Jean Ladoux, whose cold gray eyes, at the sight of his master’s face, seemed to gleam in their sinister depths. “Comte Louis de Merlaine is here, Excellency,” he announced in a voice strangely oily for such a countenance.
The Chevalier’s back straightened; his features cleared. “Bid him enter at once!”
The young man who stepped lithely into the room a moment later was a coureur-de-bois, the scion of a noble French family who, for the sheer love of peril and adventure, had left the ease of the Court of King Louis to brave the rigors of a new world. A slim arrow of a man, with fierce proud eyes and the hauteur of an eagle, his grace of bearing seemed almost feminine until one knew.
“You sent for me, Excellency?” he exclaimed, conveying by tone and manner that, while he would render to the Governor of Acadie the respect that was his due, he acknowledged no man master.
“I did, M. le Comte—on a matter of import. Pray be seated.”
'T'HE Chevalier dropped into a chair *and faced his visitor across the long oak table upon which were scattered maps
and papers that visualized a dream of empire. An obscure smile started about the corners of his mouth. “I suppose there comes a time in every man’s life,” he said with a shrug, “when he must have help—when he feels the noose of circumstance tightening about his throat and is powerless to loosen it. That time has come to me, M. le Comte, and I have chosen to ask you of all Port Royal to lend me aid.”
“You honor me, Excellency.”
As though he had not heard the remark, the Chevalier went on, more sombrely now: “'Because I have done my best to strengthen King Louis’s hold in Acadie, because I have worked unceasingly to build up the empire of France in this New World, I have made enemies. The dogs who would use this colony to fill their purses hate me. The material that has been sent from France to build up our fortifications has been diverted into private channels. .1 cannot get honest men to work on the ramparts. The King’s monies are being stolen. But that is not the worst,
Bound hand and foot to stout oak, imprisoned in a desolate cabin by traitors to New France, robbed of a message on which hung the fate of Acadie—such was the predicament of Comte Fouis de Merlaine. Yet, nerve and the will to conquer did not forsake him.
M. le Comte. Information concerning our affairs has been leaking out to the English. Two months ago I sent a most private and urgent dispatch to the King’s Ministers asking for more soldiers and explaining our precarious situation here. Only yesterday I learned from one of the
prisoners brought in by the privateer, de Morpain, that the English in Boston knew the full content of that dispatch. When I asked the prisoner if the frigate bearing it had been captured he laughed in my face. ‘No,’ he replied, ‘but we have a way of finding out such matters.’ He would divulge no more, but what he had said forced upon me the unpleasant conviction that there are traitors in Port Royal—that someone in my confidence is in the enemy’s pay.”
Comte Louis laughed curtly. “You do not surprise me, Excellency. There are those in this town would sell their souls for a louis d or.” “The pity of it! The pity of it!” Distress twisted the Chevalier’s fine old face. Suddenly he clenched his hand and his voice rang out in an almost frantic challenge that touched the coureur’s heart: “I will not see this colony pass into English hands! I will not see the work I have done go for naught! That is why I have sent for you, M. íe Comte. I have learned that an expedition is to start this
Autumn from Boston against us. I cannot possibly withstand an attack of any consequence with the forces at my disposal. It is too late to send another dispatch to France. There remains one hope—that the Governor of Quebec will send me troops. But if his help is to arrive in time I must get word to him at once. Do you see my position? If I send a message through the ordinary channels it will probably full into the enemy’s hands and he may hasten his expedition. I have taken every precaution to keep my purpose secret. You are the only man who knows of it. Will you take my message to the Comte de Frontenac?”
The coureur sprang with a laugh to his feet. “I thank you, Excellency!” he cried enthusiastically. “Only last night I was bemoaning to my comrades the dearth of adventure. I am your man!”
“A thousand thanks, my good fellow!” exclaimed the Chevalier with emotion, an immense wave of relief sweeping across his features. “If you will come here to-night at ten o’clock the dispatch will be ready.”
'T will come!”
“And, M. le Comte, I beg of you to speak to no man of your going. Have I your word?”
npHE coureur hesitated—exclaimed the least uneasily: A “I beg your leave, Excellency, to tell this matter to my companions of the Circle of Blood—Livarot, de Brissac and D’Ancoup. We are comrades. We have sworn not only to preserve each other’s honor, but to keep no secrets from one another. If aught should happen to me on this journey I cannot deny them the opportunity of avenging my death or dishonor.”
“I beg you to keep this matter between ourselves, M. le Comte. A secret told is a secret lost, and while I have every respect for your comrades—”
Comte Louis, drawing himself up with hauteur, interrupted coldly: “I beg to inform you, Excellency,
that every member of the Circle of Blood is a gentleman and knows the duties of a gentleman. Either you accept my condition or I must refuse to carry your message."
For the bare moment anger seemed to gather behind the Chevalier’s dark eyes, and then something in the other’s fearless bearing struck a spark of admiratior from the flint of his displeasure. “Name of a Name!” he cried, thumping the table with a laugh, “I like your spirit, M. le Comte! If there was more of your loyalty in the town I would not have to ask you to go on such a journey. Have it your own way, but fail me not. It is for France, the great mother who bore us all.”
Comte Louis bowed gravely. “I thank you, Excellency,” he murmured, and passed out of the room.
In the hall without, and not many paces from the door through which he had just come, he ran into the Governor’s Secretary. Ladoux had the furtive, hovering air of a vulture, of one waiting to swoop upon the carrion, and the coureur strode past him with the curtest nod. Leaving the house he made his way through the gathering evening towards the hostel of Henri Theriault, that rendezvous of Port Royal, where nightly the gentlemen of New France made merry.
HP HE play waxed high. Against the counter where the A Circle of Blood flung dice a crowd of young bloods had gathered in an ever increasing circle. Time after time the shout went up for cognac— now in de Merlaine’s imperious tones, now in Livarot’s penetrating drawl—to which mine host, Henri, his round red face wreathed in smiles and little beads of perspiration, gave ready service. Scattered about at a dozen or more tables the more sedate and elderly played chess and picquet, sipping their wine with the caution of age.
Comte Louis’s good luck that night was of the devil. The pile of louis d'or on the counter in front of him rose steadily; already de Brissac and D’Ancoup had emptied their pockets, and now Livarot was faring no better.
"Diable!'' cried the winner, turning laughingly on the crowd as he raked in the tallest coureur’s last coin. “Will no one send me a player of obstinacy? See, I have here fifty louis! Come, Messieurs, a stake!”
Theophile Comeau, Giles Gamier and the other gallants gathered about shook their heads shrewdly. “Do I own the King’s Mint that I can cover such a sum?” demanded the Ensign of Regiment, du Saillant. “And if I did what chance would it have against your luck to-night?”
“Ah,” spoke up a heavier voice from the outskirts of the crowd, “perhaps there is reason for Comte Louis’s luck.” A sudden silence fell. There had been an insinuation in that voice, which belonged to the Sieur Georges Bonaventure, the King’s Treasurer, who but a moment before, accompanied by his friends Jules Legros and the Governor’s Secretary, Ladoux, had entered the hostel. Nor could there be any doubt after one glance into the eyes that gleamed malice from the gentlemar’s blotched heavy face that he meant insult.
“Of a certainty, M’sieu,” Comte Louis exclaimed with a shrug, “the gods favor me.”
M. Bonaventure’s laugh was coarsely derisive. “The gods favor you, eh? Perhaps the truth is that the gods favor one who favors himself.” A murmur passed through the crowd. From the tables others came to join the circle about the counter. There could be but one meaning to this encounter.
“Can it be that M’sieu has suspicions concerning my honor?” exclaimed the coureur, with a fine show of incredulity. One would have thought he merely jested had one not caught deep in his dark eyes the chill glitter of something glacial.
“When one always wins at a game of chance it is a suspicious circumstance.”
“So—you have come here deliberately to insult me? You name me cheat?”
“As you will, M. le Comte.”
The coureur laughed, and his laugh was like the ring of steel on steel. Snatching his gauntlet from his belt he stepped forward and swung it across the other’s face. “M. Bonaventure, you shall eat your words before you leave this place!” he cried.
Purple with rage, the older man sprang back a pace, drew his rapier and bellowed: “Draw, you bragging puppy, or I’ll run you through! This town has had enough of your aristocratic airs and petty insolences!”
A S THE coureur’s hand dropped to his sword-hilt his ft comrades of the Circle of Blood dashed to his side. "Diable, Louis,” the earnest de Brissac hissed in his ear, “have you forgotten your promise to his Excellency? This fellow may lay you out. He’s the best swordsman in Acadie.”
“Aye,” agreed Livarot, “you haven’t a dog’s chance against him!”
Comte Louis brushed them aside laughingly. “Messieurs,” he addressed the crowd at large, “my friends would persuade me that I can overlook M. Bonaventure’s insult.
Such is the counsel of friends!”
Drawing his rapier he swung on his opponent.
"En j' garde,
The first clash of steel rose above the silence of the gaping crowd which, pressing back somewhat, made a wider circle about the two swordsmen.
At first glance they looked illmatched. M. Bonaventure was a full three inches the taller, his body heavy and muscular, and for his weight he moved with an astonishing lightness.
Darting to and fro before his rapier the coureur seemed pitifully boyish and frail.
"Diable!" cackled old Jean Belliveau in Notary Leblanc’s ear. “It is the young David and Goliath again!”
“Let us hope that history will repeat itself,” muttered the Notary gravely. “I do not love M. Bonaventure.”
As the fight proceeded the anxiety which had been so plainly writ on the faces of the other members of the Circle of Blood deepened. Comte Louis, for all his agility, appeared to be no match for his opponent, whose rapier had twice missed its mark only by what seemed a hair’s breadth. M. Bonaventure, to whom this was but one of many similar contests, stood with feet firmly planted in one place, seemed to have rooted himself there like a tree, and with a wrist of steel kept the coureur at his rapier’s end. A sardonic smile twisted his heavy lips into a sort of sneer; he kept up all the time a running fire of raillery.
“ . . . presently I shall spit you, garçon . . . In the meantime I but make a fool of you like this! . . Ah
you parried it . . A moment, my young buck, and one will slip past your guard ...”
The coureur set his mouth grimly. He had realized before ever accepting the other’s challenge that he was
entering the fight of his life, but he had a buoyant youthful confidence in his luck—the luck that had been impugned to-night. His sharp glance never left the other’s eyes, in whose bloodshot depths he seemed to read every thrust that was to come.
“Ha! Ha!” cackled old Jean Belliveau, when fully five minutes had passed without a touch on either side. “M. Bonaventure takes time to make good his boast!”
A laugh rose from the crowd, among whom the King’s Treasurer was anything but popular. Angered by it, the big man sprang with a growl towards his slim opponent. For the moment there was a furious series of passes. The two rapiers whistled and thrust with an incredible speed. The coureur was forced grimly to give way. Suddenly M. Bonaventure’s point flicked his forehead. A cry of sympathy rose as the blood began to trickle down into the young man’s left eye.
“Ah!” cried M. Bonaventure with a triumphant leer, “I will mark you a few times yet before the end! . I will spoil that haughty face of yours! . . . Like this!” Comte Louis parried the thrust but the point ripped through the shoulder of his tunic, scratching the flesh beneath. As he sprang back from yet another furious lunge his heel caught on the edge of a board in the uneven floor, and he fell—his sword clattering out of his hand. With a hoarse oath M. Bonaventure dashed towards him, and a cry of indignation rose from fifty throats as his purpose became clear. He was going to run the defenceless man through. De Brissac and Livarot leaned out from the opposite edge of the circle to lend their comrade aid, but with the quickness of a cat the coureur had sprung to his hands and knees. Flinging himself forward under M. Bonaventure’s blade, whose vicious thrust he escaped only by a miracle, he caught him by the waist and slipped behind him. Suddenly, and before his opponent realized what was happening, his slender body tautened. The big man went hurtling over his hip, sprawled like a sack of corn upon the floor a dozen feet away.
In falling M. Bonaventure’s head
struck rather sharply against the stout leg ol a table so that he lay still for some moments. When he came to himself again he found his
friend, Jules Legros, pouring brandy through his lips. Backed by a cheering crowd Comte Louis de Merlaine was smiling at him in scornful triumph. With a
curse, he staggered to his feet. Jean Ladoux handed him his rapier which had lain on the floor beside him, and he started towards the door.
“You have left something, M. Bonaventure!” a voice called after him.
He swung about with a snarl.
“Your prowess as a swordsman and your honor as a gentleman remain behind you,” Comte Louis informed him coldly. “I doubt^ifjyou will ever recover either.”
“Bah,^ you young braggart!” roared the discomfited King’s Treasurer, his face livid with rage, “I’ll prove to you yet who is the better man!”
As he flung himself from the place followed o fall hy his two friends’ Comte Louis turned
• with a laugh to the
crowd who pressed forward to felicitate him. “Come, Messieurs! You will one and all drink with me this night. Henri, here is gold—” he pushed across the counter the louis d'or he had won at dice before M. Bonaventure’s intrusion. “Cognac for the gentlemen of New France! And a murrain on all false servants of the King!”
It was a later hour than agreed upon when the coureur presented himself at the Governor’s house and was ushered at once into the library. A frown, which had for the past hour been slowly gathering between the Chevalier de Brouillan’s shaggy brows, lifted at the sight of the confident young figure entering the room.
Fe handed the coureur the sealed packet. “Guard it with your life, M’sieu,” he cautioned gravely. “If it falls into the enemy’s hands Port Royal is doomed.”
“It shall not, Excellency, I promise you.”
“ Good ! May God speed you.”
De Merlaine had got half way to the door when suddenly he halted and, turning slowly, came back to the table. “It has struck me, Excellency,” he said, with the oddest expression on his face, “that I am badly weaponed for this journey. Have you by chance a pistol and some ball that you could loan me against my return?”
“How thoughtless of me not to enquire!” exclaimed the Chevalier, springing apologetically to his feet. “My good fellow, I shall be delighted to lend you my own weapon. I will go for it now.”
Fe hastened from the room. Hardly had the door closed upon him when Comte Louis picked up from the table a certain article which, with a chuckle, he dropped into his tunic pocket. When the G overnor returned he was standing by the window, peering out into the dark. Some two minutes later he joined his three companions of the Circle of Blood in the road without and with them hastened through the town to their cabin which lay hidden in a clump of maple trees on the edge of the banlieue. It was another hour before he issued from the cabin again and set off alone towards the town. A s he walked he chuckled. Laughter bubbled up silently within him, as though at some tremendous jest.
In fact the last thing he remembered of that walk was laughing over the joke he was about to peroetrate on King Louis’s enemies, for suddenly, just as he was approaching the outskirts of the town, the very heavens themselves seemed to crash upon his skull—and a great darkness descended.
E BECAME aware of a splitting headache, of motion, of men’s voices. Then he realized that, trussed like a fowl, he was bound stomach down across the back of a horse that was being led up a hill. He opened his eyes. It was still night. There were two horsemen ahead, one behind. All about lay the thick forest. The path was abominably rough, and his arms and legs ached from the stout cords that bound them so tightly.
A t length the cavalcade came to a stop. It had reached a little clearing among tall trees. He was unbound, lifted from the horse, carried into a cabin. A candle flickered into flame. He found himself staring into the face of none other than M. Bonaventure.
“So, my bold young buck, we meet again!” exclaimed the King’s Treasurer with a coarse laugh. “Tie him to that chair— and tie him securely,” he ordered his companions, Legros and the Governors Secretary. '‘We’ll find out what he knows.”
When they had done his bidding he faced the hapless captive again. “Now, fellow, what business are you on for M de Brouillan?” he demanded harshly.
Comte Louis laughed. “If I told you that, M’sieu, you would know as much as I do. Have you not heard that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing?”
“None of your damned insolence!” cried the other, his face darkening menacingly. “This is not the hostel of Henri Theriault! Speak up! You were closeted with the Governor this afternoon and again to-night.”
"Why should I deny it? Did not your accomplice here, M. Ladoux, admit me to his Excellency’s presence on one of the occasions?”
“Diable!" bellowed M. Bonaventure in a fury. “I will teach you to answer civilly!” He swung his gauntlet across the pinioned man’s face. “Now will you answer me?”
“I will tell you this, M. Bonaventure: for the insult you have just offered me you will pay in blood!” the coureur retorted.
The other laughed, recovered his temper. “He thinks to meet us again, Messieurs,” he exclaimed to the other two, who smiled grimly. Turning on the prisoner once more he demanded: “What passed between you and the Chevalier de Brouillan to-day?”
“I will tell you that when we meet again.”
“Since that will be in heaven, or hell, I desire the information now.”
“And I will see you in either place before I will give it you.”
“My bold blade has epurage, Messieurs. Shall we loosen his tonge with a hot iron?” “Perhaps he has papers,” suggested Ladoux. “Let us search him.”
“Aye,” agreed Legros eagerly. “The sooner we get back to Port Royal the better. I have no desire to arouse suspicions with my absence.”
“Bah!” growled the King’s Treasurer, “you two will always hie after safety. For myself I would drag the truth from his throat with a branding iron. But search him then, since you have no kidney for stouter measures.”
Ladoux, who was standing nearest, ran his hands quickly into the inside of Comte Louis’s tunic. Tied though he was the coureur did his best to make the search as difficult as possible, twisting and squirming under his ropes. When that failed, he jeered at the searcher. “Y’ou seem to have had practise at this business, M. Ladoux. Your fingers'are light—like a thief’s.”
“Sacre!” roared M. Bonaventure, “you’ll learn to keep a silent tongue before we are through with you!”
“Ah!” Ladoux tore suddenly from the prisoner’s inner pocket a sheaf of papers across which was splashed the Governor’s seal. “It would seem that M. de Brouillan has taken the young fool into his confidence,” he exclaimed with a laugh, handing the dispatch to M. Bonaventure. “I warrant we shall find what we want there.”
The other tore the packet open and, hurrying over to the table upon which the single candle stood, began to read. As he did so his bulbous eyes widened with amazement and his progress through the dispatch was punctured with oaths that bespoke his surprise. Nor were his companions, to whom he handed the papers when he had finished, any less astonished.
“Diable, when the Englishman comes to-morrow night he shall pay well for this!” cried Legros, his beady little eyes gloating at the thought of an enhanced reward.
M. Bonaventure silenced him with a brusque: "You talk too much, Legros!” and turned again on the prisoner, who had been watching them with a scornful smile. “So you were to bear this message to the Comte de Frontenac!” he laughed sinisterly. “It is really your good fortune that we intercepted you to-night. You should be grateful to us that we have decided to save you the journey to Quebec should he not. Messieurs?”
The others gFinned.
“Instead of which—” M. Bonaventure rose to his feet and stepped towards the pinioned man— “we are sending you on another journey, one on which you will have time to reflect upon the unwisdom of crossing Georges Bonaventure. 1 h s cabin lies in the depths of the forest. It is four leagues to Port Roval and three to the nearest house. We will leave you here. If you cry out none will hear you. There is but one release from your bondsyou will find it at the end of the pleasant journey upon which we send you.
Lie was on his way to the door when Legros, his beady eyes wavering with doubt, cried out: "I pray you, M. Eonaventure, give me permission to dispatch him at once. I would rest better knowing he was dead.”
“'Ï our rest is as nothing to my satisfaction, M. Legros." replied the King's Treasurer, turning coldly. "I have made up my mind to teach this young foo! a lesson. I desire that he learn thoroughly the folly of standing in my way. It will take him four davs to die 1 would not lessen the time y one hour. Come. Messieurs, let us leave him to his reflections!"
L e held the door open. Legros, shaking his head in stubborn doubt, followed the Governor’s Secretary into the night. M. Bonaventure, with a last jeer at his victim, banged the door behind him, the draft from it extinguishing the candle. A moment later came the sound of horses’ hoofs on the rocky path—then silence.
Comte Louis strained at his bonds like a madman, until the sweat began to pour from his face. But not by an inch did he budge the ropes that had been only too skilfully tied. Frenzy passed to be followed by weakness. His head began to ache again sickeningly. Lights flickered before his eyes. His senses swam. And then forgetfulness fell like a soothing blanket.
A GRAY light was creeping through the cabin window and the air was chill with dawn. For the moment he had the feeling of awakening from a hideous nightmare, and then, as he moved his stiff body, felt the ropes taut against his flesh, he realized the stark and terrible reality.
The hope that during the night his bonds might have slackened somewhere sufficient to start the lot loose proved on investigation to be a false one. Indeed, his numbed arms and legs seemed to have swollen so that the ropes held them even tighter; he was as if riveted to the heavy oak chair. If only his feet had not been secured cléar of the ground he might have been able to move about the cabin; as it was he could not and the feeling of utter impotence became so poignant as to wring a bitter laugh through his clenched teeth.
Things had certainly gone awry. Suddenly he remembered the remark that Jules Legros had let drop about an Englishman who would come to-night to pay for the stolen papers. There was evidently a regular system of espionage going on between these fellows and the English at Boston. Had he been able to gain confirmation of the fact by any other method than the one he had he might have used the knowledge to make a pretty coup. As it was, he sat bound, helpless, four days from death.
“Diable, no!” he muttered at that last thoughts “It is incredible! I have escaped death too often to meet it in this ignominious fashion!”
He began to work again with his feet, trying to press them down so as to touch the floor. The only result of fifteen minutes effort was to set the raw flesh bleeding where the ropes crossed his shins and ankles. Angered by failure, he gave his body a sudden jerk. To his surprise he noticed that the chair moved slightly. He repeated the manoeuvre purposively. Again the chair moved— this time about an inch He laughed grimly.
“At such a pace I might reach Port Royal by the winter—were the entire distance paved like this floor,” he muttered.
Nevertheless he continued the jerking movement, and at the end of ten minutes had gained some four feet on the door. He paused for breath. Thesweat stood out in beads on his forehead and he was blowing like a winded horse. He renewed his efforts doggedly. Finally he reached his objective. The door was latched. Was it barred? Worming his way close against it, he got his head under the latch and lifted it up. But he could not draw the door inward; when he attempted to do so the latch slipped off his head. “Diable,” he cried in exasperation after a score of futile attempts, “what foul luck! If it only opened outward! . . . But perhaps after all it is barred on the other side.”
Once again that sense of impotence—of utter helplessness - surged up within him on a hot wave of anger. He cursed furiously. He cursed his enemies—his luck— his folly. But that did not in one whit alter his situation. He tried again at the latch, his teeth clenched, every muscle tense. Again he failed to budge the door. Yet again he tried, pressing his head so tightly against the end of the latch that it seemed well nigh to press through his skull into his very brain.
Suddenly, with a creak, the door gave way an inch. Again he pressed against the latch. It slipped. With an ominous thud the door shut to. But he had discovered one thing: it was not barred! If he could open it an inch he could open it a yard. Something trickling down over his ear, on to his shoulder, caught his eye. Blood! He laughed. If he had to scrape his scalp to the bone he would get that door open. He tackled it again.
He finally got the door sufficiently open to jerk his way out to the wide verandah. He discovered now his whereabouts. The
cabin lay on the slopes of the Mont du Sud. Below stretched the panorama of valley and harbor, white houses straggling along the narrow peninsula towards Port Royal, and, beyond all, the purple rim of the Mont du Nord.
SO FAR, so good. But though he had made a beginning he realized that it was nothing to what he still had to do, and that the prospects facing him were wholly desperate. From the cabin the clearing sloped for a hundred feet towards a path that led down the mountainside. Chair and all he could roll, so long as the way led downhill, but after that his only hope lay in encountering some habitant who would set him free.
He worked his way to the verandah edge, from which there was a drop of a little over a foot to the ground below. He edged nearer, drew a deep breath, tumbled over. The grassy sward broke his fall and beyond some slight bruising he received no hurt. He was down on his side now. Twisting himself 'nto a better direction he began to roll over and over, taking great care not to lose control of his speed, lest he go crashing into the line of trees and rocks below.
It was a gruelling business, not so bad while crossing the grass-covered clearing, but painful and heartbreaking when he started along the rock-strewn path. With his arms bound he was unable to protect himself. His knees and the backs of his hands were scratched and torn by the jagged twigs and sharp stones. .On.ce he pitched headlong on a jagged rock which reopened above his eye the wound M. Bonaventure’s rapier had made the night before. Sweating, grunting, cursing, he rolled on. The struggle began to take its toll. After half a mile he was exhausted, lay on his back face up to the blazing sun, panting heavily under ropes that seemed to be searing their way through his chest.
With a groan he began to roll on again —on—on leaving a trail of blood on many a jagged stone to mark his passing. He was becoming insensitive to pain now, his body so numb and bruised that it lost feeling. Fantastic images played upon his brain. Instead of him turning on the world, the world seemed to be turning, over and over, upon him. The sun rose higher in the sky, but he had lost all account of time. He was merely a relentless will forcing on the torn, bruised thing that was his body.
He came at last to the rocky bank of a stream; halted there for breath. Suddenly, with a sinking heart he saw that he could go no further. The path led now down into the stream-bed by a narrow winding ledge not more than three feet wide. He could not possibly slide or roll down it; even if he could, there was the opposite bank, equally precipitous, to mount, a feat he could not possibly perform, tied as he was. The end had come. He would die here like a dog. He lay on his back cursing bitterly.
But even in such desperate straits the will to succeed stirred within him. He stopped cursing, moved cautiously to the edge of the bank. Craning his neck so that he could look over the brink he saw the sheer drop of ten feet to the jagged rocks below. If he went over he would be broken to pieces.
But so would the chair, the damnable chair to which he was bound as to a rack! His mind dilated on the desperate chance. If he could break that chair the ropes would be loosed. The chair—himself— both? It was the last chance. He must take it! He could not lie here and give up while one possibility of returning to Port Royal and bringing the betrayers of New France to boot remained. If death were to be his lot, far better that it came through such a hazard.
With infinite care he twisted himself about so that he was face downward, worked himself in that position to the very edge of the rock. A prayer wrung itself from his tense lips. He rolled himself slowly over—began to fall . . . fall
THE candles fluttered the least in a gentle wind that blew in through the French windows freighted with perfume from the rose garden without. About the table, where for upwards of half an hour they had discussed a certain matter secretively, four men sat. M. Bonaventure, grimly obstinate, passed the wine again, perhaps in hones of loosening the deadlock that was holding up the deliberations.
“We should have much more for this
information, M’sieu,” protested the oily voice of Jean Ladoux*
“Aye—and I warrant the Governor of Massachusetts would pay double if he knew the nature of the document we are turning over to you,” added Legros.
The gentleman addressed, a tall, powerfully built young man with closecropped blonde curls and the face of a British sailor, shrugged non-committally. “I am not the Governor of Massachusetts, Messieurs,” he retorted in fluent French. “Nor can I judge of the value of your information—which you refuse to divulge without previous payment.”
M. Bonaventure laughed coarsely. “You are paying us for what is a secret, Monsieur Winslow. If we divulge it, it is no longer a secret.”
“As you will, Messieurs,” replied the Englishman coldly, his lips curling with scorn. “I have named my price—one hundred and fifty pounds. I have not been authorized to pay more. You will either take it— or—” He shrugged significantly.
“It would pay you to treat us with proper respect, Monsieur Winslow!” The King’s Treasurer rapped out angrily. “Perhaps you forget where you are. A word from us and you will find yourself in the dungeon of the fort.”
“Indeed?” The Englishman appeared to regard the threat with considerable amusement. “And you, M’sieu, forget I have a tongue. It would not be pleasant for you if I were to tell what I know of your loyalty to the Governor of Acadie.” “Bah! He would not believe your word against ours!”
“Perhaps not. At the same time my disclosures, whether believed or not, might arouse suspicions which would place you gentlemen in an embarrassing position.”
Legros broke in heavily, his beady little eyes flecked with fear. “I have no desire that this fellow tell his tale. Let us take what he offers. But understand—” he swung on the Englishman—“when you come next month you must be prepared to pay a higher price for any information we give you.”
“I shall inform the Governor of Massachusetts to that effect, M’sieu,” replied the other coolly.
“I agree with Jules, Monsieur Bonaventure,” Ladoux spoke up. “I prefer to remain like Caesar’s wife—above suspicion.”
With a surly grunt the King’s Treasurer gave in. “But remember, M. Winslow.” he growled at the Englishman, “you get no information from us next month unless you are prepared to pay the price.”
“I understand, Messieurs.” Winslow pushed the bag of gold that had been resting all this time at his elbow across the table. Bonaventure seized hold of it and dumped out the flood of yellow coins, at sight of which the little eyes of Jules Legros glittered greedily.
“Quite correct,” he announced after counting them. “I thank you, M’sieu— and here are the papers.”
Rising from his place the Englishman took up the sealed packet and placed it in an inner pocket. With a twisted smile that showed quite openly his contempt for the three conspirators he bowed deeply and ironically.
“LTntil our next meeting. Messieurs." Turning, he strode swiftly towards the windows and vanished through them into the night.
“That fellow’s insolent demeanor angers me!” growled Bonaventure. "One of these days I shall be driven to run him through."
“I find his insults better to bear when I look on yon heap of gold,” Legros exclaimed with a chuckle.
“Aye,” agreed the Governor's Secretary. “Let us divide it forthwith."
Presently, when the golden coins had found resting place in their purses. M. Bonaventure, with a most expansive smile, passed the wine decanter again. “After all, Messieurs, while we have not received what we should. I am not wholly dissatisfied. Fifty livres and riddance from that swaggering young pup, de Merlaine, are something to be thankful for. I drink to his damnation.” He raised his glass. “By this time doubtless he is wishing earnestly he had not chosen to carry de Brouillan's messages.”
A sudden laugh that held the quality of a bark caused the three goblets to be snatched from drinking lips. As they sprang to their feet and stared towards the open window consternation sat heavily upon the faces of the three conspirators. Comte Louis de Merlaine, a pistol in one hand and a horsewhip in the other, a most grim and resolute smile upon his bold young face, stood just within the room.
“ F-T ANDS up!” It was as if the levelled -*■ pistol in his right hand had spoken.
The three pairs of hands went grudgingly ceilingwards.
“You, M. Bonaventure, stand forward sharply!”
The King’s Treasurer advanced. Comte Louis quickly drew the rapier from his scabbard and flung it across the room.
The heavy Jules, his furtive eyes seeking like a terrified animal’s, for some loophole of escape, lumbered forward. From his belt the coureur lifted a large hunting knife. He was feeling inside the big fellow’s tunic for a concealed weapon when a quick movement at the far end of the table caught his eye. Ladoux had drawn his pistol, was taking hurried aim. Grasping Legros by the waist, de Merlaine, just as the shot rang out, swung the big fellow between himself and the Governor’s Secretary. With a bellow of pain Legros staggered to one side against the wall and clapped his hand to his left shoulder.
“Now, M'sieu le Secretaire!” Comte Louis rapped out.
Flinging his useless pistol to the floor with an oath, Ladoux stepped forward, but a search of his person revealed no further weapon. By this time M. Bonaventure, having recovered some of his aplomb, began to bluster. The coureur silenced him with a curt order to hold his tongue and, picking up the rawhide whip from the chair upon which he had left it, announced briskly:
“We go now to interview the Chevalier de Brouillan. Do you lead the way, M. Bonaventure.”
A shudder passed through the huge bulk of Jules Legros. Ladoux paled. The King’s Treasurer, livid with rage, burst out: “Diable, I’ll do no such—”
Hissing like a snake the whip struck the stockinged calves of his legs. It hissed again. With a roar of pain and rage he dashed towards the door, followed by the other two.
Never in its history had the road into Port Royal witnessed such a sight as it did that night. Three gentleman of the town being driven like cattle along it. The long whip curling and hissing, hissing and curling about three pairs of legs. Roars of pain echoing through the darkness.
Drove and drover reached the town. Opposite old Henri’s hostel, from whose door came sounds of revelry, the coureur called a halt.
“I desire an audience, Messieurs,” he informed his victims, and lifting his voice cried out to those within the hostel. In a moment faces appeared at the door.
“I pray you, Messieurs, come witness a pretty exhibition!” he sang out. “I drive treacherous swine to his Excellency, the Governor.”
The crowd poured out, surrounding him. “What means this, Comte Louis?” a dozen voices cried in blank amazement.
“Come with me and you shall learn, Messieurs! . . Onward!” He curled his whip again about the robust calves of M. Bonaventure.
THE Chevalier de Brouillan stared blankly at the scene which greeted him as he entered his library — the dishevelled figures of the three conspirators—the crowd of townspeople. “Sainted Lady, M. le Comte,” he cried in dismay, as his eyes rested finally on the grim face of the coureur, “I thought— ” “Excellency,” interrupted the young man coolly, “I have caught three traitors, and I name them—M. Georges Bonaventure, Jules Legros, and your own secretary. This evening I came to the house of M. Bonaventure and hid myself outside his library behind a shutter. I overheard him and his two accomplices conniving with an English spy. A certain set of papers which they had stolen from me last night they turned over to this spy for the consideration of a hundred anf fifty livres. They—”
“He lies, Excellency!” broke in Bonaventure with a blustering attempt at assurance. “It is a plot he has concocted to ruin three gentlemen!”
The barking laugh of the coureur rang out derisively. “I lie, do I, M. Bonaventure? We shall see. Turn out your purses! The three of you!”
The conspirators hesitated, glancing uneasily at one another, until Comte Louis raised his whip again. A sudden murmur swept through the crowd as the pieces of gold clattered to the floor. Picking one of them up, the coureur handed it to the Governor.
“See, Excellency, it is English gold!” ,lDiable, Messieurs,” cried the Chevalier, turning on the traitors, “what have you to say in the face of this proof?”
A stubborn silence was his only answer, Legros, who was about to whine out something, being cowed by a kick from the King’s Treasurer.
At the back of the crowd someone shouted: “To the dungeon with the traitors!” The angry cry was taken up by the rest.
“Aye!” agreed the Chevalier. “To the dungeon with them! Ensign du Saillant!” The young officer stepped forward. “Take them away!”
When, followed by the angry crowd the prisoners had been led out, the Governor turned with a troubled expression on the grim-faced coureur. “I thank you, M. le Comte, for the service you have rendered the colony—but what of my dispatch to the Governor of Quebec?”
De Merlaine chuckled.
“Excellency, when M. Bonaventure deliberately picked a quarrel with me last night I smelled a rat. I remembered, first, what you had told me of the leakage of news to the English. Secondly, that I had found M. Ladoux loitering in the hall outside yonder door when I left here yesterday afternoon. And, thirdly, that M. Bonaventure when he made his unprovoked insult was accompanied by M. Ladoux. It flashed across my brain that that pretty pair and their tool, Legros, might well be responsible for the leakage of news to the English. When I received the dispatch from you last night I had already decided to bait a trap for them. I took the dispatch to the cabin I share with my comrades, and there we took the liberty of concocting in your name a false dispatch. My good friend, D’Ancoup, is a clever penman. I set off with the dispatch he wrote for M. Bonaventure’s house with the intention of using it in a certain fashion. Unfortunately, M. Bonaventure forestalled me. It seems he was as anxious to get my dispatch as I was to let him have it. He and his accomplices set on me while I was on the way, knocked me senseless and carried me off to a cabin in the Mont du Sud. There, after taking the dispatch from me they left me bound to a chair. I got away. It does not matter how. Having overheard Legros babble something to the effect that an Englishman was to meet them by appointment to-night, what was more natural than that I should make my way at once to M. Bonaventure’s house? When I arrived there the interview was already under way and they were haggling with the Englishman over the price they should get for the document they had stolen from me. They haggled ill, for the Englishman beat them out and departed finally for Boston. I let him go, Excellency. I thought it just as well that he take the document our good D’Ancoup had written to the Governor of Massachusetts. For that document lays out reasons why you, the Governor of Acadie, do not require help of the Comte de Frontenac. It states quite explicitly that you have heard from King Louis's Ministers to the effect that a great fleet of French vessels is leaving forthright for Port Royal.”
“Death!” exclaimed the astounded Chevalier, “you are of a guile unbelievable, M. le Comte! . But -" his face sobered suddenly—“we still remain in peril in Acadie. I trust that you will set off without delay for Quebec with the true dispatch.”
“It has gone already, Excellency," answered the coureur. "My comrades of the Circle of Blood have been on the way with it since last night. And, Excellency — ” he withdrew his hand from his pocket —“allow me to return your seal which I pilfered last night for the purpose of baiting a trap for traitors and fooling the messieurs of Boston."
And with an exquisite bow he left the presence of the dumbfounded Governor of Acadie.