By Right of Seizure
A scamp, that Vicente, but of a truth he knew the way to the heart of a woman
THE straight, slim back of Mademoiselle Helene S.t. Aubin stiffened. Her grip tightened on the reins of the sleek black gelding upon which she rode out of Port Royal, along the banlieu road. The obscure smile which had been shimmering over the wild beauty of her gypsy-like features became displaced by quivering scorn.
Down the road came Vicente Miraud, the wastrel of Port Royal, plotting an unsteady course toward her. Having dallied all afternoon over a flask of cognac with Jean Pellerin he was somewhat drunk, and his pleasant face had a flushed, dishevelled look, which stole from it its natural fier. Until he laid eyes upon her, which happened opposite the high willow at the eastern end of the cemetery, he had been conversing aloud and absurdly with himself. The conversation ceased abruptly. He made a valiant and not entirely successful effort to pull himself together. And then he became aware of the disdain in her expression, realized the contempt in those wild, dark eyes. A sardonic imp stirred within him.
She was annoyed at this encounter? Let the imperious baggage be more annoyed!
He swept his plume flamboyantly in the dust. “Bo’ jo', princessel" he murmured, a hand over his heart.
She glared at him; brought her whip sharply across the gelding’s flank; disappeared in a cloud of dust. Staring after her, and swaying like a tree in a gentle wind, laughter welled up within him. But without bitterness. He replaced his hat upon his head at a most rakish angle.
He flung out a hand magniloquently after her.
“So Circe looked upon those she turned into swine!” he declaimed to the waning afternoon,
“but I am Ulysses!” With yet another laugh he passed on into the town.
TN THE far corner of that haven of good fellowship, the hostel of Henri Theriault, Jacques du Minot played a rollicking tune upon his fiddle. At the tables, men gossiped lightly over their cognac. At the counter, where ever the wildest and gayest spirits gathered, the group included Pierre de Morpain, the corsair, the two coureurs, Livarot and D’Ancoup, the beau of Port Royal, Pierre Landry, and young Théophile Comeau. From the fort across the road the bugle pealed reveille, at which moment Vicente Miraud, having slept off the afternoon’s excess in a room upstairs, entered the store and joined the five young men.
“Cognac!” he cried in a slightly hoarse voice, “Cognac, Henri, for the love of heaven! My throat aches with dryness. I pray you drink with me, messieurs, a damnation to drought!” He flipped a golden coin upon the wood with a throaty laugh.
“I have heard,” observed the great de Morpain, “that good fresh water is the best moisture for a parched throat.”
“You have listened to a lying rumor, my big one. I grant you there are uses for water—to float a corsair’s ship for instance—but for a man’s throat, cognac!”
The others shook their heads laughingly. It was a
matter of regret that one so entirely amiable as Vicente Miraud went too far in the worship of Bacchus. There was no resisting his drollery. The toast passed. And still from the corner came that rollicking tune of du Minot's fiddle.
De Morpain cried out suddenly in his booming voice: “A song , messieurs, from this dry-throated Vicente!” “Aye! . . . Aye!” A score of voices echoed about the room.
“Name of Heaven, I have neither the heart nor the
throat to sing to-night!” replied Vicente banging down his glass.
From the fiddle in the corner a new melody was stealing—a haunting, plaintive melody. As he heard it a look of laughing surrender came into the bloodshot eyes of Vicente. That devil of a Jacques would make such a melody: what could he do but make a song to go with it? Flinging back his head, he sang. Miraculously, at the first note of his husky lyric voice a silence fell in that smoke-filled room. Listening, men began to stare distantly, through walls of wood, upon visions his magic conjured up:
Sing, little bird, oh sing away, You with your heart so light and gay;
Yours is a heart that laughter cheers,
Mine is a heart so full of tears— Long have I loved . . .
In the singer’s face was the wistfulness of ancient troubadors; in his voice their yearning passion. De Morpain sunk his head between his huge shoulders. On the faces of the other gallants at the counter, there was a pensiveness. Yonder, old Jean Belliveau wiped a furtive tear from his leathery cheek.
Another verse. Another tugging and twisting at the heartstrings. The voice died. The fiddle throbbed into silence.
“Diable!” said de Morpain, with an unusual huskiness in his throat, “one might think it was your own heart had broken!” The singer’s quick “Why not?” broke the spell of silence that had followed his song.
A laugh of derision passed about the room. That cynic Vicente! Singing with his tongue in his cheek! Making jest of the very sentiment he wrung from a man’s heart!
And then into the hostel strode portentously those two close friends and rivals, Philippe Duchesne and Ovide de Chaillons. Messieurs," announced Philippe, “we bear tidings!”
“Diablel” cried de Morpain, with a wink at the others, “has Mademoiselle St. Aubin at last chosen between you?”
“She will choose to-morrow!” replied Philippe, swaggering against the counter and flinging a coin thereon. “Cognac, Henri!’ “What then, is it dawn?” demanded Vicente with a great show of astonishment, “I heard a cock crow.”
Duchesne turned hotly, looked him up and down with scorn. “You will laugh to-morrow on the other cheek, M. Miraud,” he sneered.
“In the meantime let me laugh with both. To that end I pray you enlighten us.”
De Chaillons explained ingenuously: “It is to be a trial by combat, messieurs. To-night, Philippe and I went to the house of Mademoiselle Helene and begged her to choose finally between us. After some coaxing she agreed. But in strange fashion. She insists that ve prove which is the better man. To-morrow afternoon ve are to meet on the marsh behind the Governor s garden. We shall be mounted. We shall draw lots. The winner then goes to one end of the field, mademoiselle to the other. They gallop together. If he can seize her from her mount she is his. If he fails the other has his chance.
"And if both fail?” demanded Vieente.
"But surety we cannot both fail!”
”Diable'." cried the huge corsair, banging his fist upon the counter. "She is a wild creature, that one! She must be wooed and won in barbaric fashion!”
"It would seem a pity,” murmured the beau, Pierre Landry, sighing sententiously, "that she had not laid the list open to us all.”
A swift questioning glance passed between the two rivals.
Not without embarrassment Duchesne exclaimed: "But the list isopen, messieurs.
Since, however, none of you have paid Mademoiselle Helene court but Ovide and myself, we did not consider it necessary to mention the fact.”
The head of Vicente the singer, who had been staring vaguely at the floor, went up with a start. "You did not consider it necessary?" he demanded, staring disconcertingly into the other's eyes. ‘"Sacred name, my bold lover, you erred greatly.”
He banged his fist upon the table. "MessUurj, 1 shall enter this contest!"
A titter rose. Another. And then a wild chorus of derision. Ho-ho! that droll Vicente!
‘ But, my good fellow," protested Théophile Comeau, "you are no horseman. These two are
"Does a man refuse to take up the gauntlet merely because the odds are against him? Name of a name, am I an old woman? Success—” he raised his glass from the counter— “to the three horsemen—and as many more
as care to ride!”
When the laughter died, Duchesne, who had not drunk, demanded hotly: “Why do you make a farce of
"Aye—” de Chaillons added his milder protest—“ "you were not meant, Vicente.”
"I was not? If Mademoiselle Helene meant this contest to be between yourselves only why did she extend the entry? I have the odd notion—” Vicente smiled naively —"that in doing so she had me in mind.”
The hot blood surged into the faces of the two lovers at the ribald laughter that greeted this remark. Their hands fell menacingly to their sword-hilts.
"Softly! Softly, mes braves'.” Vicente waved them back good-humoredly. “Let us not quarrel over this matter. My participation will but add excitement to what would be, otherwise, a tame affair. Uncertainty, my bold lovers, is the very breath of adventure.” "Diable, yes!” agreed de Morpain chuckling, “Not for a thousand livres would I miss this contest Vicente.”
"I shall ride! Come, Henri, hasten that cognac! . . . W'nat, do my two rivals leave us? And so indignantly into the night? A song then! Music, Jacques!” With a leap the singer was on the counter, a reckless, laughing Bacchant. "The chorus, messieurs!” he cried, as the fiddle broke rollickingly into a new melody.
"A gallant came riding upon a white steed—
sang the wild minstrel.
rang the lusty chorus from two score throats, every man banging time to the measure upon the oak tables.
'Long had he loved a maiden who dwelt in the south,
With a rose in her hair and a rose in her mouth— But roses will fade with the fading of youth—
The rafters shook. The voice of Pierre de Morpain, leading the chorus, was rolling thunder. Ah, what a night that was in the hostel of old Henri!,
Very late, in fact into the morning, a decidedly unsteady minstrel laid his plumed hat upon his cabin table. It was the same hat that had swept the dust that afternoon before a lady of disdain. From the large demijohn he brought from the cupboard he poured himself a last measure of red wine.
“Mademoiselle,” he murmured, smiling shrewdly into the beading liquor, “for a glance of scorn I, Vicente Miraud, demand a broken pride. Do I love you that I ride in this absurd contest? Aha! To the three horsemen, then!”
THE edge of the marsh at the foot of the Governor’s garden was black with laughing, excited people. In the group of gallants Philippe Duchesne and the young de Chaillons stood holding their steeds by the reins. A splendid pair of lovers that! The reddish-haired Philippe with his slim straight wiry figure had such a hauteur in his bearing. The slightly taller, pleasant-faced de Chaillons, with his grave dark eyes and curling brown hair had so much the air of a poet and the manners of a prince.
But who is this that cometh riding upon the field of honor? The third horseman. And in such guise!
“Name of heaven,” cried D’Ancoup, “his legs!”
“And his plume!”
“And that tunic!”
Vicente the singer came arrayed in a grotesque costume and mounted on a great gangling-eared mule. On one leg was a yellow stocking, on the other a green. His breeches, great bagging things, were of flaming scarlet. His tunic was half blue, half pink. And from a hat so small it barely clung to his tousled head a great purple feather stuck cockily up into the air.
“Diablel” he exclaimed, dismounting at the edge of the roaring crowd and gazing upon his rivals with fine disdain, “you fellows come shabbily accoutred!”
“You are a fool!” spluttered Duchesne furiously. “You insult mademoiselle with that mummery—and that mule!”
“Better men than you have ridden in triumph on a mule, my bold lover. And did not Joseph, who became a ruler in Egypt, wear a coat of many colors? What then?” A stir at the far end of the field stopped further argument. On her mettlesome mount came Mademoiselle Helene, riding like a princess. Her lips curled scornfully as though she disdained the cheers that greeted her. An untamed malice gleamed in her wild gypsy eyes.
Silence fell as she drew up to the group where the three
horsemen waited. Suddenly, her sharp query snapped like the lash of a whip. “What does this mean, messieurs!', she demanded of the two embarrassed rivals, pointing con temptuously with her riding whip at the vari-colored muleman.
“Mademoiselle—” the muleman himself stepped forward and bowed low—“I am the third rider in the lists of love.”
Her wild features darkened. Her eyes flashed balefully. “Imbecile!” She withered him with the word. “I flung no challenge to you!”
“Then, of a truth, there has been lying!” exclaimed the muleman with a fine show of indignation. “I was told you had thrown down an open challenge, mademoiselle. In that case, it was my right to ride. What then, messieurs!” He swung upon the unhappy rivals.
They shrugged helplessly. Mademoiselle Helene bit her lip, glanced about the crowd. Must she allow herself to be made a laughing stock by these people? And yet how could she repudiate her word. Fool that she had been to speak so rashly last night!
Suddenly she flung hack her head, laughed dangerously. “Very well, M. Miraud,” she said, “you shall ride. And if need be I shall make a greater fool of you than you are already!”
“That is mademoiselle's privilege.” The muleman bowed cynically.
De Morpain, who had been constituted master of ceremonies, now passed his hat in which were three strips of paper to the three participants.
“Ah, Ovide rides first! Lucky fellow! ”
“And Philippe second! Ho—ho!”
A great laugh went up. What a chance had Vicente to follow such horsemen. The girl would surely be won by one of the two. Surely fate had paid a droll trick on him for all his pains. But the muleman seemed quite unperturbed either by the jeering of the crowd or the gleam of malice in the girl’s eyes.
At a word from de Morpain, she and de Chaillons rode to opposite ends of the field which was a hundred yards from fence to fence. Halfway between them, the crowd pressing behind him, the corsair held aloft a white handkerchief, It fluttered to the ground. On came the two riders. But while the girl rode all out, de Chaillons held tight rein, allowing his horse to go no faster than at a
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By Right of Seizure
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mild canter. This did not please the crowd, who, realizing that the riders would meet not in the centre of the field where they were waiting but at de Chaillons' end of it, bawled out:
“The spur, Ovide!” . . . “Faint heart ne’er won fair lady!” . . . “Is it that your steed is spavined?” And similar taunts.
The riders drew together—nearer— nearer. Silence fell and there was not a sound but the thud of hoofs on soft turf. Suddenly, just as they came together, the girl bent far back over the rump of her horse. Under de Chaillons’ outflung arm she sped. Rode on laughingly to the other end of the field.
“She favors Philippe!”
So the crowd, as the flushed, luckless de Chaillons rode back bravely enough and dismounted.
“Good, Philippe! Do you better, my hot one!” cackled old Jean Belliveau after Duchesne, who had started towards the end of the field.
“What odds will you lay me against Vicente?” D’Ancoup chuckled in his friend Livarot’s ear.
“Ten to one! He hasn’t a chance.” “Taken—in livres!”
Again the handkerchief fell. But what a difference now! There was no caution in the riding of the impetuous Philippe. He came down the field like a whirlwind; as swiftly as the girl; and there was the gleam of triumph in his dark eye. The crowd yelled with delight. Here was mettle! Closer—closer they approached. When but two yards separated them the girl moved suddenly. What, another trick? No, she but crooked her slim body invitingly forward. There was a surrendering smile on her lips as Duchesne’s arm shot out.
A wild yell from a hundred throats! He has her! She has desired it! Then a gasp of dismay. Silence. At the crowd’s yell Duchesne’s horse had swerved. His hand, missing the girl’s body, carried down the field but a frill of lace from her cuff.
“Eh, a pity!”
“Diable, what mischance!”
Biting her lip Mademoiselle Helene rode slowly to the end of the field. Duchesne, his face livid with anger, plunged his horse into the crowd. “Name of a devil,” he cried furiously, “why could you not keep silent!”
“Patience, my good fellow,” exclaimed the third rider; “ ’tis the luck of combat. Mademoiselle favored you, but fate has saved her for my arms.”
But what chance had the mad Vicente mounted on that mule when two fine horsemen had failed? And had not the girl promised to make a fool of him? There would be fun now!
Amid a hubbub of jeering and laughter the muleman cantered to his end of the field. For the last time the handkerchief fluttered to the ground. The girl shot forward like an arrow from a bow. And Vicente? That was a mulish mule he rode. For some inexplicable reason it refused at that, the crucial moment, to move. It stood there with great ears flat back baulking stubbornly in spite of Vicente’s violent exhortation. The crowd bellowed with laughter. A smile of triumph gleamed in the girl’s wild eyes as she shot past de Morpain.
“Ah, he is off at last!”
With a final kick which took the midrail off the fence behind, the mule plunged forward, so suddenly that its rider was all but unseated. When he had recovered himself, but a score of yards separated him from the girl, who was approaching him at a break-neck pace. He dug his heels into the mule’s flank. The beast leaped forward. They came closer. Suddenly, when they had all but met Vicente swung
his mount directly across the girl’s path. There was no time for her to draw off. She gave a savage tug at her reins. The horse reared suddenly into the air.
Bent low over the mule’s neck the other rider swerved from under the descending hoofs, came abreast. The girl swung her whip across her horse’s flank, ducked forward. But the muleman’s arm was out. It crooked about her slim waist. She was being borne aloft toward the madly cheering crowd while her riderless horse galloped off. She could hear a sardonic triumphant laugh close to her ear.
From a hundred hoarse throats came the wild shout: “Bravo, Vicente!” Only two were silent, standing apart, cursing between tight lips.
“Unhand me! At once, m’sieuV'
The victor had dismounted before the surging crowd, the girl still in his arms.
“Messieurs,” he cried, as though he had not heard her, “to the victor belong the spoils! I bid you all to a wedding which will take place as soon as mademoiselle has collected her trousseau. Is it not so, my sweet?” He grinned tantalizingly into her wild white face.
Like a fury she broke from him, drew herself rigidly up, glared at him.
“You—buffoonl” she choked.
“Softly,” he cautioned her amiably. “You may regret that word when we are wed.”
“I’ll not marry you! Never!”
“Nay, I cannot believe that you have spoken those words! The man lies who says Mademoiselle St. Aubin would repudiate a promise given.”
Before the silent and by now uneasy crowd the girl stood irresolute. She knew the buffoon spoke truth. She could see it in a score of eyes around her. She had given her word. She, a lady of France, must keep it. She was caught in a net. A net of her own making. And this—this buffoon—held the string. The indignity of it swept through her like a hot flame. She swung her whip back. The crowd gasped. But the young man opposite her stirred not an inch, nor did the smile frozen on his face melt the slightest. The lash seared across it, splitting its derision with a white welt. And still it remained. Driven almost to a frenzy by his imperturbable calm, she stamped her foot, choked out a malediction and hurried over to where Philippe Duchesne stood at the crowd’s edge holding his horse.
“M'sieu,” she said, her voice quivering, “I beg of you to lend me your mount that Lmay escape that creature.”
He lifted her into the saddle, followed her off the field.
With a chuckle, Vicente Miraud turned to the group of gallants about him. “Come, messieurs,” he exclaimed, “there is cognac at old Henri’s to crown this victory!”
SIX weeks passed. In vain the gossips ferreted about for news of a consummation of this mad wooing. Mademoiselle Helene kept a tight-lipped silence, spent her days riding furiously on the trails leading out of the banlieu, and it was said she had already done to death two horses. The unfortunates, Duchesne and de Chaillons, thrown together in a common misery, wandered about like distrait David and Jonathan. The buffoon drank nightly at the well-known rendezvous, smiling sardonically, breaking new and then into some wild song, ending the night in drunken -slumber. When reproached by de Morpain that he was going completely to the devil, he demanded recklessly: “May not the bridegroom drink against his coming marriage day?” But further information anent that day did not pass his lips.
One morning, as he sat nursing a sore head, a servant came bearing a note. He
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read with bloodshot eyes, snapped curtly .at the fellow: “Tell your mistress I have waited this tardy summons many days.
I will come. And do you hand me yonder demijohn while I slake this dry throat of mine.”
Alone again, staring at the full glass, a grin spread across his face. “We proceed now—” he drained the wine at a gulp—“to tame the tigress!”
That afternoon he went to her house, was ushered into the large drawing room. She rose at his entry, and her eyes were colder than winter’s ice.
“What then?” he exclaimed pleasantly, “You have sent for me that we may set a day for our wedding?”
“I have not!” she retorted coldly, “Merely to discuss with you an impossible situation.”
“As you will,” he murmured, and leaning negligently against the mantel gave his moustaches a quick twist.
“M’sieu, I ask you. as a gentleman to release me from the promise I have made. Surely you will do so when I tell you I would never have made it had I thought you would take up the challenge.”
“Why did you throw it down?”
Stirring uneasily under the glance of his narrowed eyes she replied: “I wished to discover which of my two lovers was the better man.”
“Ho! Ho!” He threw back his head in great amusement. “Permit me to laugh, Helene. It is droll, this. You wished to discover which of your two lovers was the better man, and yet you loaded the dice against one and not against the other! You humiliate one lover before the whole town by playing a trick on him. You favor the other lover so greatly that only the most malignant mischance snatches you from his arms. Yet you wish me to believe that you threw down that silly challenge in order to choose the best man!” She bit her lip. There was murder in her gypsy eyes.
“Shall I tell you why you did it? Because you are a barbaric creature and wanted to be wooed in a barbaric way. Because you are a haughty creature and must be won as no other maiden of Port Royal had been. It was sheer bravado that caused you to extend the challenge beyond those two unhappy lovers. You do not deny it!”
“I—I hate you!” she spat at him, her slender body rigid with rage.
“That is unfortunate, since I love you.”
She stared at him as though he had gone mad.
“You might care to hear the story of my love? Eh? You do not answer. I will tell it. I did not think it was for love of you I entered the contest, Helene. I thought it was to humble the pride of one who passed me in the streets of Port Royal with disdain. I, the wastrel, desired to humiliate you. I was wrong. I know that now. I know that for aeons I have loved you. But strangely I did not know it until that moment when I snatched you from your horse, felt your wild, lovely beauty struggling against my heart. Remarkable, was it not?”
Her eyes gleamed maliciously. She broke into a derisive laugh. “M'sieu is a sentimental buffoon!”
For the moment anger stirred within him and then something in the sight of her crouching there like a spiteful tigress, claws unsheathed, caused him to laugh too—albeit a little sharply. Suavely he said: “Were I not a buffoon my heart had doubtless been softened in behalf of the favored Duchesne. It is now stubbornly hardened. May I ask respectfully that you set a date for our marriage? I wish to make arrangements.”
“You fool!” she cried in a sudden tempest of fury, “I have given you a chance to withdraw like a gentleman. Now I will do as I—”
“As you have promised,” he interrupted gently.
“—as I please! I will! I will!”
“We shall see,” he murmured, smiling down into her wild eyes.
He left her.
TO THE surprise of most, and the ¡ satisfaction of many, of the gallants I of Port Royal, it was noticed that the erstwhile wastrel had suddenly ceased to ¡ pass with the end of the evening into his usual drunken oblivion. True, he still I drank and rollicked with the crowd, but somewhere about the hour of midnight he departed mysteriously from old Henri’s hostel into the night. Why? Whither? No one knew, but there was considerable gossip about the fact.
One night, as he was on the point of leaving the hostel, some of the older men asked him for a song. He sang again the Chantez Rossignol. While he sang, the ex-lovers, Duchesne and de Chaillons entered the hostel. It was the first time they had been there since the affair on the marsh, and there could be no mistaking the sneer on Philippe’s face as he listened to the end of the song. Into the silence, which was the crowd’s tribute, his voice grated harshly, deliberately: “Such a quaint song for a buffoon! Is it not, Ovide?”
The silence in the hostel became suddenly deathlike. Here was the sort of insult no gallant could overlook. But Vicente merely grinned. “An impudent remark, from one of whom I have already made a laughing stock,” he exclaimed. In the next instant Duchesne’s glove swung like a lash across his face. To the surprise of all the singer’s hand did not fall to his rapier; instead he grasped the other gallant by the wrists. There was a short sharp tussle, and then Duchesne found himself helpless in a vice-like grip, heard a mocking voice in his ear. “Name of a name, my young lover, you shall not pick a quarrel with me to-night. Is it not enough that with superior skill as a horseman you were beaten? Must you try me also with your superior skill at the rapier? Diable, no! Go back to your mistress! Tell her that not in such manner will I be done away with!”
Conducting the helpless gallant to the door he shot him out into the night. Returning, he eyed de Chaillons with cold reproach. “I regret infinitely, Ovide, that you should have lent your friendship to such a purpose,” he said. “I am no coward. You know that. Why am I called upon to defend with my sword a wager I have fairly won?”
De Chaillons colored shamefacedly, tried to stammer an apology. Vicente saved him further embarrassment by turning on the gaping crowd and crying: “Messieurs, the buffoon will sing a song less sentimental!” He broke into a rollicking chanson that set feet stamping and drew a lusty chorus from eager throats. And then he disappeared into the night.
Eh, that Vicente! gossiped the crowd. Better perhaps if the wild Mademoiselle Helene married such an one. Who could laugh? Who had such patience? But, diable, there will be blood spilt yet in this affair! That Philippe will not forget the indignity of this night! And while they gossiped he who had so short a time before held them captivated with a song came to a white house hidden behind high walls of stone. Swinging himself up by an overhanging bough he seated himself on the top of the parapet and stared with an oddly softened gaze at a certain window wherein lay one upon whose wild gypsy eyes sleep had already fallen.
He began to sing softly, so softly that his voice could not be heard a dozen paces away:
“Chantez, rossignol, chantez ...”
THE following afternoon as he sat on the stoop of his cabin gazing distantly at the purple rampart of the Mont du Nord, Ovide de Chaillons came to him, and lost no time in stating his mission. “I beg of you to make amends, Vicente!” he implored. “Surely you have been suf-
fidently revenged. Is your pride so hard to satisfy?”
“My pride? What of my love?” "Love?” Ovide stared incredulously. "May not even the buffoon love her?” "You jest with me, Vicente!”
“Is it a jest then that in my poor way I love Mademoiselle Helene?”
“If you loved her you would not stand in the way of her happiness. That is indeed a poor way to love, Vicente,”
The singer found reason to stare fixedly for some moments at the distant mountain. Half musing he said: “That is a worthy argument. It does you credit, Ovide. Strangely, I had not thought of it until this moment.”
“I beg of you to give it more thought.” Vicente rose. Placing his hands on the other's shoulders he exclaimed affectionately: “Spoken like a true gentleman— who has himself made the word deed. But leave me, my good fellow. I shall give this matter thought.”
Which, when the other had gone, he did. Through the long afternoon he gave it thought, and night had already fallen before he entered his cabin finally and set about preparing his evening meal. Later, after an unusually meticulous toilet he started off slowly down the trail towards Port Royal. He moved reluctantly, as though regret were tugging at his heels.
Such were his musings he did not hear the thud of hoofs behind him until they were almost upon him. He drew aside from the narrow trail to let the travellers pass, became invisible in the shadows. The cavalcade swept by. Suddenly he stiffened, stared intently after it. Name of a name, on what business rode Philippe Duchesne leading a riderless horse?
He would find out!
He set off running after the disappearing cavalcade. Down the long hill. Into the banlieu. Arrived at a certain high stone wall in time to see the animals being made fast to the limb of a bushy maple which overhung it. Waited until Duchesne disappeared over the high barrier. Followed him. They came face to face at the edge of a grassy lawn within a few yards of the low vine-covered piazza.
“What then, Duchesne,” he said, “you come stealing through this garden?” “Sacred name!” The other’s hand fell to his sword-hilt. “You shall fight now, you buffoon! Or I’ll run you through as I would a dog!”
A sharp cry from the verandah. The girl, white-faced, wide-eyed, appeared suddenly on the steps. At which moment Vicente "sprang, snatched at Duchesne’s rapier, wrenched it from his grasp. Far into the bushes he flung it and stood watching with an amused, pitying smile while the girl swept to the infuriated gallant’s side.
“C'est drole, ca,’’ he murmured. “Listen then, my little ones! I was on my way here, to-night, to deliver you from the bondage of a promise. Yes, mademoiselle, the buffoon would have made amends. But now not! If you can repudiate, I can claim what is mine. I demand that you set a day for our wedding this very moment. If you do not I shall take other, less agreeable means of making you.”
An odd look came into the girl’s eyes— a surprise—a wonder! And then the old defiance blazed again. “I will not be coerced! I refuse—”
“Name of heaven—” Duchesne sprang like a fury.
For the space of several minutes the two figures were a wild blur in the shadows. Duchesne fought with the ferocity of desperation. Over and over they rolled, clawing and grunting, until finally Vicente sat astride a prostrate adversary from whom the breath had been knocked. Then he rose and stepped toward the girl, who had been watching with a dumb fascination.
“Now, my little one,” he said, “you shall be tamed!” Snatching her up he set off through the shrubbery. She kicked. She bit. She scratched. Laughing he held
her closer, carried her through the garden gate, to the overhanging maple where two horses champed.
A FAINT gray light was breaking over the Mont du Sud, up whose steep sides they had ridden all night. In his arms now the girl lay asleep. Diable, what a night! What a battle! Yet with never a tear, never a broken supplication to be taken back. Nor was her wild spirit broken when finally exhausted she fell asleep in his arms. On the crest of a hill that overlooked the still sleeping valley he pulled in the tired horse, dismounted. The burden stirred drowsily in his arms, as he moved towards the moss-topped rock which dominated the scene below, was asleep again as he seated himself upon it. The horse, a few yards away, began to graze peacefully.
Below the first slanting shafts of dawn picked out in golden lines the houses of Port Royal, the ships floating on the broad harbour. He glanced down at the sleeping burden in his arms. Diable, how could one believe that calm face, that soft body, housed so wild a spirit!
A bird began to sing in the valley below, trilling its glad matins. Chanter, rossignol . . . chantez . . . He seemed to forget the burden in his arms. In the gentle melancholy of that dawn his lips moved softly.
‘Sing little bird, oh sing away,
You with your heart so light and gay; Yours is a heart that laughter cheers, Mine is a heart so full of tears—
Long have I loved——’
He became suddenly aware of an altered quality in the burden in his arms, an intentness in the warm slim body. He found himself gazing startled into two deep liquid eyes.
“M’sieu is a sad buffoon this morning.” Was he dreaming—or did those eyes smile?
She sat suddenly upright, leaped to her feet. “See, the dawn!” She cried, with a gay little laugh, “It will be so pleasant riding back to Port Royal! Eh, my buffoon?”
“But perhaps we do not ride that way,” he said, rising gravely beside her. “Oh, but yes!”
“Oh, but no—unless you have decided on our wedding day.”
She gazed quaintly into his grim face. She turned away and looked towards the town, bathed in fiery topaz. She turned to him again.
“Last night,” she said, “I dreamed that I was a fairy princess. I had a secret in my heart and only he who discovered it might wed me. But. someone did discover it. He carried me away—up—up—Aere!” She flung back her head, laughed gaily. “How did you learn that secret, Vicente?”
Could he believe his ears? His eyes? His laugh mingled with hers. “Is it not enough, Helene, that I have tamed you? Must I also tell you how?”
“Tamed me? . . . Tamed me ” The old defiance, the old wild spirit flashed again in those gypsy eyes. “But you will never tame me, my Vicente!” she cried gaily. “No—no! Otherwise, where
would be the zest in this loving?”
Being a wise buffoon he pressed the only possible answer upon her two red defiant lips.