The Luck of Lajeunesse
There were strange wooings in the day when gallants swaggered at Port Royal
DIABLE, Rene,” exclaimed the coureur, Andre Livarot, with a laugh, flinging out a hand to encompass the wide ocean about them, “let the sailorman have his sea—for me the forest, eh?”
The other member of the Circle of Blood, the pleasant-faced D’Ancoup, nodded his head. “Aye,” he replied wryly, “one grows weary after seven days of these waves. Trees, now, they vary one from the other. The widest lake of the Mont du Sud has its shore of glistening white sand to delight the eye. But these waves! What a monotony! Eh, well, we must not cavil. We are here of our own offering, and because of the need of a friend.”
For a while, the two landsmen gazed scornfully over the little ship’s rail at the horizonless sea. “Sacre,” D’Ancoup murmured finally with a sigh, “it is apparently not without reason that men speak in Port Royal of the luck of Lajeunesse. Here we have been a full week at sea and not the sight of a merchantmen bound for Boston that we can attack.”
“Aye! and soon we must give up the hunt. Only yesterday I heard the cook inform our good Gabriel that the provisions were running low.”
“I warrant he was well cursed for his pains.”
“He was! ‘Tell the crew,’ cried our freebooter, ‘to tighten their belts and think less of their bellies. We do not return to Port Royal until we have taken an English prize or been sent to the sea’s bottom. ’ Poor Gabriel, I fear wre have not changed his fortune by joining his crew.”
D’Ancoup shrugged. “Eh, well,” he murmured, “let us waken those sluggards, Duchesne and de Chaillons, and dice with them. Otherwise, Andre, I die of boredom.” The two friends strolled aft to the cabin, and the little privateering ship, La Rose, seemed now deserted, except for the watch, who loitered near the fo’csle, sullen-faced. Gabriel Lajeunesse manned the helm on the poop-deck. The young freebooter’s strong face was dark with the anger of despair, twisted with a bitterness that knew no bounds. The very fates were against him. Some special malignity hovered over this sea when he sailed it. And yet, though failure gibbered at him, though despair gnawed deep at his heart, he could not yield. Mouth set, dark eyes fierce with resolve, tall, strong figure erect and defiant, he stared, like some viking who had sought through endless days and nights the shore of a fabulous land, into the horizon seeking quarry.
And well might bitterness send the protesting oaths spluttering through his tight lips as he stared at the patched sails and unpainted hull of his ship. Once, she had been the pride of Port Royal’s privateering fleet: that was before he purchased her—since then failure had dogged her. The very first prize he took had been sunk by her own crew as she was being sailed into Port Royal harbor. The next English ship he encountered had been so well gunned she had driven him off with a broken mainmast. Thereafter, disaster followed disaster with incredible constancy, until, one by one, her crew began to forsake her, believing she was doomed. He had been forced to replace trained seamen and gunners with the riffraff of Port Royal’s water front. He had sunk, livre by livre, what remained of his fortune, in a dogged attempt to hang out until the heart of fate was softened.
Nor would this voyage have been possible but for the charity of his four friends in the cabin below. When he had entered Port Royal eight days ago he had reached the end of his tether. His money was gone; he had been unable after fruitless interviews with the merchants of the town to borrow cash, provisions or gunpowder. Indeed, he had been on the point of accepting the sneering offer of the money-lender, Charles le Moyne, to buy the La Rose and had only been saved that indignity through the offer of the four gallants to outfit him and themselves join his crew. This was his last voyage. He must either take home a prize Ot bow to the damnable luck that had clung to him like a vampire these last two years.
Wrung by the torment of the latter possibility, he did not notice that the crew, as pretty a looking lot of ruffians as the Atlantic might look upon, had gathered outside the fo’c’sle hatch, were muttering there furtively in some sort of conclave. Nor did he see the red-capped head of his bos’un, Nicole, until the latter was within a few feet of him.
Brought suddenly out of his reverie, he snapped at the burly sailor: “What
brings you here?”
“I come from the crew,
M’sieu. They send me as messenger.”
Glaring at him Lajeunesse growled: “Name of a name, what ill-news do you bear, coming here like a crow ?
Uneasy, but obstinate, the sailor replied: “M’sieu, it is three days voyage to Port Royal and we have only food for another day.
Men cannot fight on an empty belly. M’sieur, this ship is doomed! Take us back to Port Royal!”
Retaining the wheel with one hand, the freebooter lurched towards him.“Away with you!” he bellowed; “back to your yellow-livered mates, or, as God’s my life, I’ll hang you to the yard arm! Tell them I’ll see them burn in hell rather than turn back before encountering an English ship! Go!” Completely unnerved by this outburst, the big bos’un retreated hastily down the companionway. The low mutterings of men in anger marked his return to the fold forwards* But these Gabriel Lajeunesse did not seem to hear; his eye was fixed again on the western horizon, beyond which lay the port of Boston. An hour passed. Overhead, the sun had begun its downward way towards that great continent for whose possession France and England fought, neither realizing the full measure of the prize.
Suddenly the deck below was swarming with men, and a wild yell rose. Lajeunesse had barely time to secure the wheel and snatch up an iron pin before the foremost mutineers were at the foot of the companionway.
“Back, you dogs!” he roared, leaping down into their midst; “back to your places, you scum!”
He laid about him with his weapon. In a trice, the two coureurs, Duchesne and de Chaillons, were at his side, swords drawn. But in what matter that fight might have ended no man knows, for suddenly above the melee came a shout:
The mutineers wavered. Every' eye turned eastward, following the pointed finger of a sailor near the rail.
“Name of a saint!” cried Lajeunesse, his eyes lighting with an incredulous hope; he swung upon the now silent crew. “Here comes a real battle for you! You attack me and my friends four to one— attack this English ship with me one to four! If we capture it you can fill your bellies to your heart’s content. Back to your places, now! Back—and show that the blood of France runs in your veins!”
'T'HAT young red-head, Philippe Duchesne, could lay a gun! Not for nothing had he hung around the emplacements of Port Royal with his friend Captain de Vivier of the Artillery.
“Satan’s teeth!” cried the rascally swabber, Jean Alloin, turning with a grin on the rest of the gun crew as the second shot from the La Rose's forward gun shattered the English ship’s jib-boom, “we will eat to-day, my little ones!”
The two vessels came closer together. As long as he could, Lajeunesse had kept under the enemy’s bow to avoid a broadside; the time had now come to accept that risk. He swung his helm. When less than a quarter of a mile separated them, the other ship’s starboard battery thundered out. There was a splintering of wood where a large ball hit the deck and bounded off; two shots went through the mainsail, but the wind carried the La Rose past before another volley could flay her. In the meantime, Duchesne had loaded again; as they swept by had given the order to fire.
Lajeunesse let out a roar of triumph. “Name of a name, Philippe,” he bellowed from the poop, as he swung the La Rose back after her quarry, “you have smashed her rudder!”
Again the grinning swabber spoke of food.
There was now a great hubbub aboard the other ship, and she was plainly out of control. The La Rose began to draw up on her again, and twice more Duchesne’s gun spoke, yet without effect. In the meantime, the other three guns of the privateer, which had been wasting ammunition lavishly without effect up to this time, suddenly got the range, and their salvo swept the deck of the larger ship.
Closer and closer, Lajeunesse forced his slim craft to the floundering merchantman. They drew level again, not fifty feet apart. A cloud of smoke belched from the enemy’s port battery.
“St. Peter!” It was the swabber who yelled. The La Rose’s foremast had crashed over the side
“Axes. To your axes and cut her clear!” bellowed Lajeunesse.
Here was work for men of the woods! In a trice, the itwo coureurs were astride the foremast, swinging them
axes. By this time the hampered privateer was falling away from the bigger ship, on whom sailors could be seen piling canvas frantically. Duchesne laid his gun again. Again his shot went wild. Slowly the enemy was gaining speed, and already her master seemed to have rigged some sort of steering gear, for she held fairly steady her course. Like men possessed, the coureurs laid about them with their axes.
Yet again Duchesne laid his gun, screaming the order to fire into his bombadier’s ear. The long nosed gun spat forth.
“Beloved saints!” yelled Lajeunesse, fairly dancing at the wheel. The big vessel’s mainmast was going over the side like a great white bird falling; it plunged crashing into the ocean on the starboard side. Livarot and D’Ancoup, who had severed the splintered foremast, were now slashing at the rigging. Another moment and with a tearing roar the wreckage swung clear. Again the La Rose felt her helm, swept forward.
“Prepare to board!” bellowed the privateer
Leaving their guns, with a wild shout the crew followed Duchesne and de Chaillons to the near rail. The two ships were within fifty feet of one another when the enemy gunners fired their last salvo. A scream of pain rose from the deck below, and when the smoke cleared three of the crew were lying bleeding there and the mainsail had been shot to ribbons. The two vessels crashed together. Men with cursing lips flung grappling irons over the enemy rail and made them fast. Lajeunesse and the two coureurs leaped from the poop-deck to the other ship. Duchesne and de Chaillons led the wharf rats over the side from below
What a battle! For a full half hour it raged until the very scuppers ran blood. Outnumbered two to one, faced by a crowd made up of enemy crew and passengers, the freebooters fought with the ferocity of tigers and the desperation of empty bellies. Three times, Lajeunesse and the two coureurs, who faced a group of a dozen armed
passengers of the after deck, were driven to the rail. A half-dozen times Duchesne, the impetuous, had to rally the wharf-rats, who would have returned to their own decks and loosed the grappling irons but for his stinging curses. A dozen bodies lay scattered about the decks where the wounded groaned. De Chaillon’s left arm hung limp at his side. Lajeunesse’s shirt had been torn from his body and his bare chest was ripped across and across with sword slashes.
Suddenly, realizing that human flesh could not much longer stand this strain, Lajeunesse flung his sword into the group of men opposite, and snatched a marlin spike from its pivot in the rail. With a wild yell he leapt in between the two coureurs, crashed his weapon on the nearest English head. There was no withstanding his impetus. As though, suddenly, the strength of ten had been given him, he bowled over his adversaries with that length of iron, while the coureurs, marvelling, slashed their way at his side. The after deck was cleared.
But, on the main-deck below, the battle had definitely set against Duchesne and de Chaillons. The latter’s face was like a sheet and he staggered drunkenly, holding only with effort his point against the crowding enemy. The wharf rats were giving way, would break, it seemed, in another moment. Lajeunesse and the two coureurs leapt down the companionway and plunged into the fight there, just as de Chaillons slithered to the deck in a slippery pool of blood.
And then for a time the battle hung in doubt. The enemy still had the advantage in numbers and had the taste of victory in their hearts. But the wharf rats were fighting now with renewed courage. Slowly the other side were forced to give way. Suddenly, Lajeunesse lunged forward with the shout: “Satan’s death, we win!” Again and again his marlin spike rose and fell. The enemy seemed to go down before him like ninepins. The coureurs’ rapiers drew hot blood at every thrust. Duchesne ran through a great burly sailor, who had formed the pivot of the other crew’s defence.
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“We win!” yelled Livarot hoarsely.
Suddenly, a shot rang out, and Lajeunesse collapsed with a groan, pierced through the shoulder Yet, miraculously, he staggered to his feet, lurched back from under the descending sweep of an English sword. A girl on the after-deck began to reload her pistol with feverish haste. It was she who had brought the freebooter down—she, a slim tall English girl with clear resolute face and a crown of golden hair—but ere she could accomplish her task the fight was ended, and with sullen despair the big ship’s company flung down their weapons.
As the shout of triumph of the wharfrats died down, Lajeunesse turned dazedly about, caught sight of the girl above, her pistol pointed at him; heard her cry:
“We do not surrender! Lay down your swords, you French dogs, or I fire!”
Blank amazement sat upon the faces of the freebooters. “Here,” muttered D’Ancoup in his comrade’s ear, “is a pretty to-do!”
But Lajeunesse, the blood streaming down his side from his wounded shoulder, was moving aft.
“Halt—or I fire!”
He did not seem to hear the peremptory command. He staggered up the stairs, the pistol following him, while his comrades below held their breath. He came face to face with those two resolute blue-green eyes.
“Mademoiselle—” his voice was thick, yet without a tremor—“I will thank you for that weapon.” He held out his hand.
For a terrible moment it seemed that she would fire. Then her glance wavered, swept the bloody deck below, the cowed English crew, the wreckage—even the wide sea, as though to find their strength to empower her arm. And then she looked again into the face of the tall young freebooter—a face, from which the color was ebbing.
Suddenly the pistol fell from her nerveless hand and clattered to the deck. M’sieu Lajeunesse had fainted, lay limp at her feet.
TpHE luck of Lajeunesse! Men could still laugh over that phenomenon .in Port Royal. For what mattered it that, in the three months following, the La Rose brought in two more rich prizes, since one wound made in her master’s heart by a pair of green-blue eyes had not yet ceased to bleed? What booted it that her hull shone with freshest paint under that August sun, that her furled sails were of the snowiest canvas, that she bore two new guns in erstwhile empty emplacements, when the lady of the radiant hair entertained that afternoon M. Charles le Moyne in preference to a tall young freebooter?
Sprawled, at full length under a great tree at the edge of the wood of the high hill near L’Equille, Gabriel Lajeunesse stared moodily down at the distant harbor and the purple Mont du Nord beyond. And had he known the tenor of the conversation that was going on at that moment in the drawing room of the Notary Leblanc’s house, where the Mistress Rachel Beilew was quartered as prisoner, he might have been plunged deeper into gloom. For she was stating with the bluntness of her race: “I have told you a dozen times, M. le Moyne, that I will not give you answer while I am prisoner here.”
Under the gaze of those disconcerting eyes, Charles le Moyne appeared to tremble with an exasperation he could but barely control. He flung out his hands helplessly.
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“Mademoiselle, how am I to get you to Boston with France and England at war?”
“That is for you to discover,” she replied curtly.
For a moment the eyes of the loaner of monies rested thoughtfully on the two white hands clasped upon the silken dress opposite. Did they gleam the least shrewdly as he raised them to her face? “And how am I to know what your answer will be when I get you there? If I do take my life into my hands on this venture will you marry me if I succeed?”
“That, sir, I will tell you when you succeed.”
“It would seem to me that in this matter I take all the chances and you none,” he suggested, not without a certain bitterness.
“I am not asking you to take them,” she replied with hauteur, “I am merely making it plain that if you wish to gain my hand you must first undertake certain preliminaries before I will so much as consider you.”
M. le Moyne appeared to weigh this ultimatum for the moment. Rising, he paced the length of the room twice, and finally came to a halt in front of the girl. A low laugh, calculating and mirthless, fell from his somewhat thick lips.
“You are a hard bargainer, mademoi-' selle,” he exclaimed. “Nevertheless since you have set your price artd will not yield I must take steps to meet it.” He started towards the door,
Her eager, almost breathless query halted him. “You will take me to Boston?”
“Mademoiselle—” he bowed suavely, “I would take you to heaven for the sake of your sweet love.”
Again her slim body stiffened, the eagerness froze upon her face. “I only ask to be taken to Boston,” she said.
The merest shiver of distaste passed through her as the door closed behind him. In that instant she wished it were some other to whom she would owe gratitude. And yet, what else mattered so long as she got to Boston? This M. le Moyne must take his chances. If she were playing falsely upon his feelings was not her need great, and was she doing aught else than men did in times of war? In war, so that unspeakable freebooter, Gabriel Lajeunesse had informed her, all things were fair. She would adopt those manly ethics!
With a shrug she left the room, went upstairs to her bedroom and there, before a mirror, donned her bonnet. She would go for a walk— escape momentarily from these entanglements of men and love. And thus it happened that, issuing from the wood path at the top of the hill, she almost stepped upon the long sprawling figure of the freebooter, who had not ceased yet from gazing moodily at the distant panorama of harbor and blue hills.
She would have turned back at once but for the fact that, suddenly she found herself gazing up into his smiling face.
“Mademoiselle—” he bowed with such ironic humor—“I had no idea when I called at the notary’s this afternoon and found you engaged that you would have the goodness to seek me out like this!”
The chill of her hauteur became wellnigh glacial. “You are the last man in the world I would seek!” she informed him scornfully.
“And yet the first you find! Is there not a portent in that?”
Anger swept through her. If ever she hated anyone it was this freebooter who had put her in her present position, prevented her going to the place where she was needed.
“Let me pass, sir!” She tried to brush by him.
But he planted himself resolutely in her path. “Mademoiselle—” a note of tenderness pled through his voice—“I beg you to listen to me for a short moment. However harshly you may treat my advances I must tell you that I love you. I love you from the golden crown that sits upon your head to your adorable feet that strayed here unawares. I will continue to love you though you treat me as the dirt beneath those feet. I—”
“You show your love in a strange way!” she interrupted scornfully. “I have told you how urgent it is that I get to Boston. I have made it more than clear that I will listen to no words of love until then. Will you not learn that I mean what I say?” .
“But, mademoiselle, I cannot return you to Boston. You know that I have spoken of the matter to his Excellency, Governor de Brouillan. You know that he has refused to let you go until the English agree on an exchange of prisoners.”
“If your love is all you protest, that would prove no hindrance to helping me,” she exclaimed impatiently. “You have your ship. You could easily get me away.”
“Only by soiling my honor as a Frenchman, mademoiselle.”
“Your honor! But what of me? What of my sick father—whom I crossed the wide ocean to join—who may be dying at this moment with no loved one near? And you talk of honor!”
His face became suddenly sombre. “My sister died in Boston three years ago, mademoiselle. She was wounded during the engagement between the ship on which she was journeying from France to Port Royal and the privateer that took her prisoner. I was not allowed to enter Boston to see her. Mademoiselle, when men make war it is of necessity that they do cruel things. That is the way of war, and I do not blame the English for what they did, since they were preparing an expedition against us and she might have heard of their plans and brought the secret to us.”
“You are a brute then!” she cried contemptuously, “if you will put honor of such kind above love!”
“If I put love above such kind of honor I would be a traitor. I prefer to be a brute. You have had the freedom of Port Royal, mademoiselle. You know how feeble our garrison is, how poor our defences. If you carried such news to Boston, your countrymen would be anchored in yonder harbor within the month, besieging us. They would surely capture the town. Could you respect a man who would be so untrue to his country as to make such a calamity possible?” She shot a startled glance up at him. The close-set eyes of M. le Moyne seemed suddenly to be leering at her. And then the urgency of her need swept all doubt away.
“I assure you, sir, that I will say nothing of what I have seen in Port Royal if you will get me back to my father!” she cried.
He shook his head sadly, murmuring: “I regret, Mademoiselle.”
The tears smarted suddenly in those blue-green eyes. Stamping her foot angrily she burst out: “Have no more to say to me then! If I must stay here at least spare me the indignity of having to listen to your love-struck moonings!”
She brushed past him, disappeared along the path, left him there staring after her dazedly.
EJE SAILED out of Port Royal on the -*■ morning tide and for ten days scoured those waters where the Baie Française and the ocean meet for shipping bound for Boston. But the sea had lost its zest. He was sick of freebooting and the ways of war. These had made the abyss between him and that imprisoned girl who ate her heart out in Port Royal.
And then, on the evening of the tenth day, the miracle arrived. He encountered a French frigate bearing supplies and settlers for Acadie. But she bore more than that, as he learned when he came within hailing distance. Their majesties of France and England had made peace. All prisoners of war were to be returned, forthwith. English merchantmen bound for New England were no longer to be the prey of Port Royal’s freebooters. He swung his helm about, roared at the crew to pile on full sail, and headed homewards. He would be the first to bring her this glad news! His ship would be at her disposal for a speedy voyage to Boston! After that? He could only hope that time and the change of circumstance might soften her heart.
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But Charles le Moyne had not been inactive all this time. He had gone on a five day journey with his half-breed servant, Baptiste. He returned the day after Lajeunesse’s encounter with the frigate, while the latter’s sails strained before the wind up the Baie Française within twelve hours of port. He had arranged, so he informed Mistress Bellew when he called upon her that afternoon, for her escape. That night she was to meet him at a certain place in the banlieu where he and his servant would be waiting. They would travel overland to Port Mouton where he had hired a small fishing vessel which would land them on the New England coast.
Gratitude banished the hauteur with which she had greeted him on his arrival. Flinging out an impulsive hand she cried: “How can I ever thank you for this release!”
Le Moyne smiled shrewdly. “By ful• filling your promise,” he replied.
Did conscience stir beneath her eager breast? Face sombre, she exclaimed: “Supposing I cannot—” she hesitated; went on uneasily—“I must be fair to you, M. le Moyne. I can hold out little hope that my feelings will change when I get to Boston. I—”
He silenced her with a gesture; smiling obscurely murmured: “I am willing to take that chance,” and left her to prepare further against their rendezvous,
'T'HE La Rose swept up the broad harbor and came to anchor off the King’s Quay. What a morning that was in Port Royal when Gabriel Lajeunesse’s news got abroad! The bell in the little church pealed out riotously. Guns boomed from the fort. People crowded in from the banlieu and the streets and the hostel of Henri Theriault were filled with an eager cheering crowd. Peace at last! A respite to all the hate and death with which the colony had been harried these many years. Trade with New England and fine prices for produce that had found no market since old men were young.
Suddenly into the crowd surrounding the bearer of all these tidings at M’sieu Henri’s plunged young Théophile Comeau in a state of much excitement. “Diable,” he cried, “have you heard this droll news?”
The gallants swung about. “What! Has war been declared again?” demanded D’Ancoup, whimsically.
“Nay—the Mademoiselle Bellew has escaped!’
“Escaped?” The astonished query rose from a dozen throats. Lajeunesse, with a muffled oath, pushed himself forward, came face to face with young Comeau, demanding: “When did this
happen? Tell me—quick!”
“Through the night. Her room was found empty this morning. I have just had it from the Notary Leblanc whom I met returning from making his report to the governor.’
Into the silence that followed his announcement rumbled the freebooter’s oath. “Satan’s teeth,” he cried, “someone has given her aid! Who?”
His only answer was a drunken laugh from the edge of the group about him, where swayed that erstwhile rascally swabber of the La Rose, who had loaned Philippe Duchesne such aid not long since, but of late had given up the sea for wine. He lurched forward, hiccoughing. “V’la, M’sieu Lajeunesse! I know. I, Jean Allain, understand all this. Hear me, M’sieu. Last night I drank cognac and flung dice with that half-breed Baptiste Leroy. He filched me of my money, and threw up the game before I could win it back. But for all his haste the devil’s tongue wagged after the last cognac. He was off on a journey overland with his master, M. le Moyne, that very night. To Port Mouton, he told me, M’sieu. And then the devil winked at me—winked his evil eye. I did not know the meaning of that wink, M’sieu, till just now when M’sieu Comeau brought his news. I know it now! That is the truth, > M’sieu—and I am thirsty and without a sou because of that rascally Baptiste.”
Thrusting a coin into the sailor’s hand, who departed, pulling his forelock, Lajeunesse let out a laugh that was like a bark. He had dashed out of the hostel, was on his way up the street, before the two coureurs caught him up.
“Would it not be a matter of wisdom to again employ the Circle of Blood,” suggested D’Ancoup, “It is possible that we could be of service if your destination is Port Mouton.”
Lajeunesse waved them back grimly. “I handle this business alone, my friends,” he informed them.
Turning from staring after his disappearing figure, D’Ancoup put his hand through his comrade’s arm. “Our impulsive friend takes great chances,” he said, “but can we deny him his privilege?”
FOR two days le Moyne, with the girl and the half-breed, had traveled the network of lake and river across the Mont du Sud and on the second evening reached the southern end of Lac Rossignol. Dusk was falling as they entered the little cabin on the lake’s shore, and the girl sank with a sigh of exhaustion into a rude wooden chair. Listlessly she watched her rescuers prepare the evening meal. An uneasy apprehension, that had grown steadily since they left Port Royal, had hold of her. Perhaps weariness due to the hardships she had gone through in those two days had something to do with it, and yet she could not rid herself of the suspicion that there was something sinister in the manner of these two men who were aiding her to return to her own people. Not that they had said or done anything covert but she had caught stray furtive glances which frightened her.
Presently the meal was waiting on the rude table and with a suave bow le Moyne invited her to draw up her chair. Afterwards the half-breed left them, wandered off outside. By this time darkness had fallen completely and the room was lit only by the two candles on the table. She rose to her feet and bidding le Moyne goodnight started towards the door of the other room in which a palisse had been placed for her.
She turned. Le Moyne was standing by the table, eyeing her with an odd intentness. Again a pang of apprehension shot through her.
‘Tomorrow Mademoiselle, we journey down a river to the great ocean. Tomorrow night we arrive at Port Mouton,” he informed her in a voice that sounded the least uneven.
“It cannot be too soon, for I fear I am unused to such voyages as this.”
“Mademoiselle perhaps finds her companions tiring?”
“No-no! It is the strain—the weariness.”
“I trust Mademoiselle is not too weary to come to a decision to-night?”
Her hand fluttered slowly to her breast. He was coming towards her, smiling oddly under his heavy moustache.
“I have decided to take no further chances with you than you have already forced me to take, Mademoiselle. And heaven knows they are enough! You propose to make up your mind concerning me when you reach Boston—I propose that you make it up to-night.”
Anger suddenly drove fear away; her eyes flamed with scorn. “So you repudiate the bargain you made with me? Is this the way your gentlemen of France show their chivalry?”
“We do not discuss chivalry to-night,” he retorted with a laugh, “but other matters. We discuss this question: Why should you not marry me at Port Mouton rather than at Boston?”
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“You agreed, sir—” her voice trembled with indignation—“to leave that discussion until we reached Boston. It was only on that condition that I accepted your help.”
“You will not agree to marry me at Port Mouton, then?”
“I will not!”
“And I would have had the same answer from you in Boston?” He laughed harshly, caught her roughly by the shoulders. “You thought to trick Charles le Moyne, my pretty! You would use me for your purpose and cast me aside! You made error. Do you think I ever intended taking you to Boston? Ha-ha! I am not yet that kind of fool. I brought you here, my proud one, to teach you that what I want I get. I grew tired of being the laughing stock of Port Royal with that fool, Lajeunesse. I give you your opportunity, Mademoiselle; if you agree we will go on to Port Mouton to-morrow and be wed there; if you do not agree we continue to wander these woods until you learn reason. I have provisions to last a month. When they fail I can get more. What is it tobe, my sweet?”
Wrenching herself free of his grasp, she drew herself to her slim height, blazing contempt. “I would not marry you if you were the last man in the world!”
“But I am the last man in the world— so far as you are concerned,” he retorted with a laugh. “My servant, Baptiste, does not count in this forest universe of ours.’
What unwisdom urged her to that next move? She swept her open palm against his face with all her strength and turning made a dash for the door. But she had no time to shut and bar it before he had flung his weight furiously against it, pressed it open, grabbed her into his arms
“Diablel” he growled savagely, dragging her back to the other room again, “I will teach you, you little cat!”
He drew her into his arms, pressed her closer in a fierce grasp. She fought with every ounce of her strength; kicked, clawed, punched at his loathesome face with her doubled fists. She could not break his grip. His close-set eyes, fierce with triumph, drew nearer—nearer. She closed her own ; sick and shuddering sent a last hopeless cry of despair out through the darkness that seemed failing upon her.
How long before that unexpected sound came from across the room she did not know She seemed to have lost count of time in that hideous moment. A growl it was—like an animal’s. The arms of le Moyne loosened about her. She found herself staring at two men, who faced one another with the width of the cabin between them.
A choking little gasp of relief escaped her^-until, with a poignant quiver about her heart, she realized just what this scene meant. She could see it in their eyes—where rage burned—could feel it in that passionate silence that seemed to shriek of hate. Not a word was spoken. There was no longer need of words between these two. Le Moyne whipped out his rapier only a second before the freebooter; they sprang at each other at the same instant, their blades whirring through the air like two hawks meeting.
Pressed back against the wall she stared fascinated, her heart pounding as though it were a clock ticking the seconds of this hour of hate; watched the swift to and fro movement of their bodies, the thrust and parry of swordpoints tipped with fury. A shuddering little squawk escaped her as Le Moyne’s blade darted so close to the freebooter’s neck that only a hair must have separated it.
Back and forth the two men swayed and grunted—slashing, thrusting, parrying with incredible speed. Neither blade had yet drawn blood. They seemed so equally mated that she wondered if they would continue this pace without decision until both fell with exhaustion. Suddenly her eyes dilated. In the open doorway yet another figure had appeared—a stealthy, creeping figure with glittering cruel eyes. The half-breed Baptiste!
A sharp cry escaped her, but neither swordman seemed to hear, and the halfbreed sprang into the room. Again—in an agony of apprehension—she shrieked at Lajeunesse. At that very instant, when the half-breed’s knife gleamed within a yard of his back, the freebooter lunged fiercely at le Moyne, who dodged. Brought about, Lajeunesse finally discovered that he faced two adversaries.
A laugh barked from his lips. Back to the wall he waited while master and servant crept steadily towards him. As the half-breed, knife lifted, sprang at him, he shot like a cat under the descending blade and the other went crashing into the wall. Once again, for the briefest interlude he crossed swords with le Moyne in a furious riposte, until with a bellow the man, Baptiste, plunged furiously at him. He backed away, caught the breed a slash across the cheek which halted his rush, and keeping both adversaries at safe distance retreated further and further across the room. He could see le Moyne was weakening but the big half-breed was still fresh and eager, and he knew that before long he must find opportunity to lay at least one of them out.
The girl’s cry of warning came too late. He backed into a chair; before he could recover himself, had toppled backwards over it, and with simultaneous shouts of triumph le Moyne and the half-breed sprang. But falling he clung to the chair, rolled over on his back with it, flung it suddenly with all his strength. The howl of pain that shot from le Moyne’s lips was sweet music in his ears; but only blurredly did he see the other’s sword fall, see him clasp cursing his broken forearm, for the half-breed’s long-bladed knife was flashing above him.
As that blade descended the girl, with a long sighing moan, closed her eyes, leaned weakly against the wall . . When she opened them again—stared wildly, incredulously—Lajeunesse was in the centre of the room, a dazed look in his face, a great gash in his shoulder and his left arm hanging useless. The blood trickled in a quick stream from his fingers to the floor. Opposite, his evil face still betraying his surprise at his adversary’s escape from what had seemed a certain finish, the half-breed tightened his grip upon his knife. Face white as chalk, the freebooter staggered a step backwards. He was dazed and sick; the strength had gone out of his body; he could not withstand another onslaught. Suddenly, just as the half-breed, at his wounded master’s blasphemous command sprang again, he caught a glimpse of the girl’s face. The strength seemed to surge back into his sinews. Tightening his grip on his sword he lunged forward. The half-breed let out a shriek. Behind him the girl saw the point of a sword and six inches of blade issue through his back. His knife clattered to the floor. He went down with a sickening thud.
It was not until that moment that those two members of the Circle of Blood, Andre Livarot and Rene D’Ancoup, who after considerable argument had finally decided to follow their rash friend, dashed in at the cabin door. A strange sight greeted their eyes. On the floor lay the groaning half-breed. M. le Moyne, cursing with a steady volubility, sat in a chair clutching his broken arm. Gabriel Lajeunesse, dragging his sword after him, its point trailing a narrow line of blood upon the boards, had staggered towards the wide-eyed girl; now stood gazing down into her face. She seemed on the point of speaking when suddenly, and for the second time, he fell in a faint at her feet.
IT WAS four-days later. On the King’s Quay at Port Royal a group of people had gathered which included certain gallants of the town. A boat was coming in from the frigate anchored off in the stream to gather those English prisoners of war who were to be taken to Boston. The Mistress Rachel Bellew, bearing an unusual pallor in her cheeks and a decided nervousness in her manner, stood listening to the grave regrets of the Notary Leblanc.
The boat drew in at the landing stage. There was a restrained shaking of hands, a moment of embarrassment which lasted until the little group of English prisoners started down the stone steps. The Mistress Bellew alone had hung back, as though her feet were being shackled there by warring emotions.
At last she lifted her eyes, drew back her shoulders, and started towards the steps. Flanked by his four friends, Livarot, D’Ancoup, Duchesne and de Chaillons, Gabriel Lajeunesse watched her passing with a strange impassivity. He was there that day against the fort chirurgeon’s orders, and his pallid face still bore witness of the blood he had lost. Had he come then only for this: to feel, as he watched her move towards those steps, that she was tearing out his heart to take with her?
He leaned a little heavier on D’Ancoups arm.
Suddenly, his heartbeat with a suffocating anguish, like a wild bird’s. She.had turned! Their eyes met—held for what seemed to him an eternity. Then, she was coming back! She was moving slowly, hesitatingly towards him, cheeks flushed, eyes glittering with tears! Could he believe it?
From his side the gallants swiftlymelted, leaving him there alone. She came closer—closer; leaned towards him until the breath of her hair was in his brain; whispered impulsively a few hurried words—and then was gone.
The boat moved away from the quay. The frigate moved down the harbor. He turned at last with his old confident ringing laugh to the four gallants.
“Voila, my braves!” he cried, “I sail for Boston on the next tide!”