A dramatic story of a bold bid for treasure and its effect on a girl’s quest for happiness
MAUD PETTIT HILL
UNDERSTAND me, Dumeresque, if I catch you hanging around here after my daughter, I’ll take one of these chairs and break it over your head.” There was a moment of silence.
"A man who has gathered his possessions as carefully as Mr. Lenfort would be more consistent if he were more careful with his chairs,” young Peter Dumeresque replied coolly. "But I've prospects, Mr. Lenfort. Give me time; three years’ time. Cecilia has promised to wait.”
“Pros|x.*cts!” snorted Lenfort. “You’ll be a partner of Estau’s, I sup|x>se, running a rival store to mine; forcing me to put up my shutters with your new methods. Cecilia has her prospects, too, let me tell you. She’s a handsome girl, and my only daughter. She can marry well, that girl. She’s too young to know what she’s doing. What’ve you got to offer her? I sup|x>sc you’d take her to live in that old house with your grandmother. I tell you, you’ve got impudence, asking to marry Cecilia. Don’t let me catch you hanging around here any more.” And father Lenfort shut the door with emphasis behind his guest.
In the big, open-hailed type of house,sounds carry through the walls, and Lenfort had meant that hi*words should carry.
That was why the pretty nineteen-year-old girl at the window upstairs sat taut, her nails dinting her palms, her heart palpitating.
She watched Peter go down the path; and, as if Peter felt her eyes on him. he turned and waved to her. Handsome, strong, well-knit Peter. He had admirers enough in Percé, even to his employer's daughter. Cecilia smiled as she thought of her father's threat to break a chair over his head; her somewhat undersized father. Peter could catch the chair, calmly put it down with one hand, and seat her father in it with the other.
From her home on the hill’s crest and the sea’s rim, she could see Peter going down the street of the village that followed like a crescent the white line of surf. Here in the eighteenth century a group of settlers from the Channel Isles, the Lenforts among them, had formed an English village on the fringe of a French province, trading with, and importing for, the French habitants of the Gaspé peninsula. Proud old families clinging to their afternoon tea, willow china, old mahogany and classical authors; bearing, many of them. French names, because back there in the English Channel their ancestors had intermarried with the people of old France.
Peter Dumeresque was not one of them. An orphan raised by his grandmother, his family had come from over Mont Louis way. They were newer in Percé by a hundred years than the Lenforts. Peter’s father had been a gentleman of old France, it was true. But to go and live in the little
weatherworn house of Grandma Dumeresque, where the cliff road plunged down to Le Grand Coup—Cecilia wouldn’t like that, she owned to herself. And yet, Peter was the man she loved.
In five minutes her eyes were red and swollen with weeping.
The sound of the door knocker startled her.
What a sight she was if she had to go down. But no, it was just François Doucette to see her father.
She heard them talking softly.
“After all these years!” her father exclaimed once.
“See right dere, see where dat path zigzags?”
Francois raised his voice a little. “Right dere, he tell me is de chest full of de gold sovereigns; just twenty yards from de top o’ de cliff, he tell me.”
Cecilia sat suddenly alert.
“How could he tell the exact spot, when he was waiting for him in the boat at the bottom all the time?” said her father.
“Yes, me, I t’ink dat, too. But he tell me he row out away while he waited, an’ he see de top of his head as he worked an’ he mark de spot on dis chart.”
“Mighty good chart it is, too.”
Cecilia was gazing at the grim wall of Percé Isle, just out from the mainland, shooting straight up in the air nearly three hundred feet, a horde of sea birds careening about its Hat top. The whole Gaspé peninsula had been steeped in the tradition of old Peter John Duval burying a chest of gold up there on the Rock in the days when there were still footholds going up its side. An old licensed privateer of the Franco-English war, he had captured the treasures of many a vessel. Tradition said he had gone out in a boat at night, rowed by this Doucette’s great grandfather and an Indian. He had taken the Indian up the Rock with him, buried the treasure, shot the Indian and left his dead body on guard, then paid Doucette to go away and never come back to Percé. Shortly after he had died, a sudden and speechless death.
Doucette had gone to the West Indies. When this young François was in his teens, his father had taken him down there, tix). Now he was back, apparently with the secret.
“You say young Peter Duval knows all about it?” asked Lenfort.
“Yes, an’ he say he don’ care who gets it. If dey give him one t’ird. dey are welcome to de rest.”
“But. François, why don’t you ask a young man? I’m forty-three. I expect to be a grandfather tonight. I’m just going over to Barachois with the old family cradle for my son’s wife. No, that’s a job for young blood. If I were ten years younger ...”
“But you're not old, Monsieur Lenfort. You have better head den de young ones and you’re light. De sandstone won’t crumble away so easy under your feet."
“But I don’t think I’d like to venture. I’m a family man. Why don’t you go up alone, Doucette? Why divide your money?”
“I not like to go alone. Dere’s dat Indian up dere.”
Père Lenfort laughed aloud.
“A dead Indian’ll do you no harm.”
“But de winds dey blow so up dere on de rock. No, I won’t go alone. Beside I might not get it up from de ground alone.”
"There’s that—er—Peter Dumeresque. Why don’t you take him?”
“I have fear he’s too heavy. He’s beeg fellow. Eef somebody go up an’ break some o’ de footholds, so no one else can go. den we never get de treasure. I did talk with heem about it.”
“He’d be afraid to tackle it anyway.”
Flame shot through Cecilia’s face.
..xr6 * wan*try it heemself.” François admitted.
No, 111 bet he didn’t. He sees easier and safer wavs to get rich than climbing the Rock.”
But if I had your young blood I’d try it alone, Doucette, it s too bad you have to go up by night. That tom-fool law the town council made, making it illegal to climb since Fierre L’Aigle got killed trying to go up ! But it’s full moon tonight. It’ll shine on this side the Rock, too. But, say, ve got to get back to the store. I promised to meet a man.” evertheless, tor a quarter of an hour after Francois oucette left, Lenfort did not go to keep his appointment. He was busy and quiet at the big living-room table. Cecilia id not venture down. She was in no hurry to meet him
That afternoon she sat and listlessly polished the cradle. What else was there for her to do? What else but polish cradles for other p e o p1e ’ s children, when the man you loved—• She bit her lip hard and looked out of the window at the Rock, with its chest of gold up there where the birds were flaunting their white and silver wings.
Her father arrived in great haste an hour earlier than she expected him.
after his interview with Peter. She heard him shove his chair back from the table, rustle some paper. Then he chuckled softly to himself. Queer. What amused him so?
‘‘Celia,” he called, “tell René to have supper ready at five. I’m going over to Barachois. And get that old cradle out of the storeroom ready for me.”
The door closed behind him, and she was alone in the house except for the little French maid in the kitchen. She watched her father descending the hill as she had watched Peter an hour before. How lithe and active he was for a man about to be a grandfather. Not big and strong like Peter, but with a spring in his step all the same. And young François Doucette had picked on him for the climb up the rock. Perhaps it was because he, like every one else, knew those golden sovereigns would appeal to Père Lenfort.
Cecilia rose and went to get the old wooden cradle out of the storeroom.
“I’m going down in about twenty minutes. I want to drop Ferguson on the way to the train. I’ll stay all night, in case I’m wanted for anything, Celia. I’ll stop at Estau’s and send Yvonne up to stay with you. It’s a nuisance having a maid that goes home every night.”
He bolted his supper and was gone. The last clink of supper dishes died away in the kitchen. The maid left.
The darkness settled down. Yvonne Estau did not come. Cecilia did not care. She did not want Yvonne tonight. She just wanted to be alone and cry. And tonight another Lenfort was to be bom. Would it be another girl to live and love and suffer? She roused herself and looked out the window. Over there in the churchyard on the hill was the white shaft at her mother’s resting place.
A moon like a big copper disc hung above the dark brow of Mont Ste. Anne, sending a floodlight over the Gaspé
hills as they tumbled toward the sea; lighting, too, the Great Rock yonder across the channel. There was some strange pressure bearing down upon her tonight. It was as if she suffered with the woman in her birth throes over there at Barachois. And her father had made her stay home to save her suffering; home alone in the dark, looking out at the Rock ! Once one of her great grandfathers had climbed that Rock and cut the hay on top, tied it in bales and dropped it over the edge to be picked up and put in the dories. The bkxxi of that old settler from Sark was surging in her veins. The voices of her Channel Isle ancestors spoke tonight in the silence of the old house that had sheltered three generations before her. If she were a man . . .
Was it a whisper in the silent house? Yes. Why not? If she went up with FYançois Doucette, would he not share his wealth with her? She was strong, she could help, she would at least drive away his fears of the dead Indian and the winds up there. When they returned Peter and she would not need to live in the little grey house. And if she did not return, well . . . But there was only tonight in which to make the attempt.
When the moon was riding well out from the brow of Ste. Anne, when it stood straight above the white gravestone of her mother, the slim girl in breeks and leather coat went gliding up the beach.
"pRANCOIS DOUCETTE was staying alone in his L mother’s old cabin, somewhat isolated, not far from the Percé Rock Hotel, where a few tourists still lingered this late in autumn. She would have to call him out. She would not for worlds have been caught going up to Doucette’s cabin. Just now the thought of knocking on the man’s door was worse than climbing the Rock.
He was still up. There was a ray of light from the window. Perhaps François had found some one to share his venture. She would have to listen a minute before she knocked. If there was a stranger’s voice within, she would linger atout the beach a bit to see if he went away.
She would rather climb the Rock alone, but she had no clue to the treasure spot.
She drew softly up to the rickety old steps. A woman’s voice came from within.
“But François, I love you. Don’t try to go up there. You’ll never reach the top. Never. Don't do it. You’ll be dead and b-bleeding on the nxks tomorrow. I pray you, don’t, FYançois. It’s totter to stay jx>or always.”
It was Audré Gagnier pleading with FYançois not to make the climb.
Cecilia stole away and sat down in the shadow of a boulder on the beach. She looked back and saw the light go out in the Doucette home. The door ojxmed and François and Audré came out. He was taking her home.
The walk back up the beach with the monotonous beat of the breakers at her side helped to cool the madness that had toen surging in Cecilia’s veins. Once she step;x*d on a starfish cast up on a rock in its fresh gelatinous state. Her heel sank in, and she who would have dared the rock shuddered over a mangled sea creature.
The darkness of her old house smote her like a smothering blanket as she stepped in out of the rmxmlight and sea wind. Her forefathers had built too near the shore line. They were going to be undermined. All night she lay listening to the thud of the incoming tide almost beneath her. Toward dawn she slept a little, and dreamed the rock was smeared with bkxxi and falling over ujxm her. She wakened with a start.
The gulls were screaming out their morning directions to one another. She remembered she must rise early. This was the morning that the little maid stayed late at the home to help her mother, and the fowls had to to fed.
Wearily Cecilia put up the blind on her window, which looked out toward Bonaventure Island. She was glad the Rock wasn’t the first thing she had to face again. Strange that there was no sign of the axi fleet at anchor out on the horizon.
A sudden rough knocking at the d;x>r. Jack Matoe from Barachois stepped in.
“Hello, auntie,” he called. Brand new nephew' over at Barachois. They asked me to stop in and tell you Amy and the baby are all right.”
“Oh, thanks, Jack.”
“I suppose you haven’t heard the news from the village yet?”
“I haven’t heard anything but the gulls. Why, what’s happened?”
“François Doucette attempted to climb the Rock last night. He is after old Duval’s treasure. He got up about two hundred feet, and there he’s stuck. He can’t get any higher and he can’t get back. That’s why the birds are making such a row. He’s up near their nests. It’s just a question of how long he can hang on. Nobody know's how many hours he’s been there. You haven’t looked out on the south side yet. The whole village is out on the shore watching. Me, I can’t stand it. I’m going on to the station. It’s aw ful to stand there and see him drop and nobody able
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Gold Beyon d
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to do a thing. They can never get up there
“But how did he get up to a place he can’t get down from?” asked Cecilia.
“A big chunk of rock fell in the night right below where he stands. They think he loosened it when climbing to the next point, and just managed to scramble on to the ledge above as it fell. Poor devil, he might better have dropped, too, an’ made an end of it.”
“But surely—isn’t there anything they can do but just stand still?”
A sudden pounding on the door interrupted her. It opened without her invitation.
“Jack Mabee here? Jack, you got your horses here? Drive us down to the beach, quick ! Peter Dumeresque is going to climb the Rock to help Doucette dowm if he can. Everybody's coming for miles.”
“Why, he can’t get him off that ledge. It’s madness,” said young Mabee.
"Oh, stop him, stop him!” cried Cecilia when she could get her voice. “They’ll both be killed !”
“Come. I’ll drive you down, Cecilia,” said Jack Mabee gently as he saw her white face. “Slip on your coat. I’ll take you both. There’s rmm in the old democrat if you don’t mind the jolting.”
SHE looked for her father’s red sweater, but it was missing from its peg. She seized her good coat and ran after the others.
Mabee whipped up the horses and started over the hill. Down the mile or two of road ahead of them the whole countryside was moving—a queer jumble of men and women running, one-horse buggies, motors struggling with the traffic, and down there by her father’s big store an ox team blocking the road. A car was coming behind them.
“Hey, there!” allied Mabee. “Take this lady down with you. You can make room for one more, can’t you?”
And he handed the daughter of the best house in the village down to the more comfortable accommodation.
Ÿhe girls in the back seat of the motor were strangers from away up country.
"My, he must be brave, this Peter!” said one. “Doesn’t it give you a thrill to think of watching him climb? They say he’s a handsome one. too.”
“Yes, there’s never been such a sight in Percé. It must be wonderful to have such courage.”
“It’ll do no good, though,” said the woman in the front seat. “François Doucette’s met his end. And poor Dumeresque, too. They say Dumeresque got Estau and several of the rich men to guarantee his grandmother’s keep before he’d climb. The poor old soul is alone in her house praying while everybody else watches him.”
"I don’t think I can get the car any closer. Better get out here,” said the driver.
Cecilia went scrambling with the others down the bank to the beach; a beach black with a silent crowd, their eyes upon the Rock. She hardly noticed how they made way for her.
The tide was high. The cod fleet was anchored in the narrow channel between the Rock and the mainland, every boat loaded with watching men.
“Peter!” She had not meant to cry his name.
“There he is. See just beyond the big red sandstone,” said the old schoolmaster gently.
Yes, there he was halfway out the length of the Island and already up a dizzy hundred feet above the sea. She could discern, as her eyes became more accustomed to it, the shiny brown of his leather coat as he edged his way onward— scrambling, stooping. reaching up, leaning over, picking his footing on what looked to the watchers on the beach like a straight rock wall, with the tide churning on the shale a hundred feet beneath him and with another hundred feet to climb to a red spot which Cecilia realized
was François Doucette’s red sweater. He was standing, his face to the rock, leaning against it, his red sleeves stretched out as he clung to the little projections. It made one’s blood suddenly cold the sight of him seemingly pinioned to the wall up there, the great flocks of birds flapping their wings and screeching angrily about as he clung too near their nests. The sea was rising, too. The waves broke as if trying to waken some response in that silent sea of humans on the shore. Crash-sh ! Crash-sh ! on the pebbly beach. Ki-ike! ki-ike! from the cloud of swirling wings above.
CECILIA sat watching Peter’s every step.
He gained a place that looked straight and easy for a little way, probably some stream bed running down the side. She felt herself breathe for the first time. She became conscious for a moment of the crowd about her; the crowd that had come to watch her Peter. There was the cassocked priest reading his prayers, the Anglican minister from the little church in the hills, the few late and swagger-looking guests from the Percé Rock Hotel, the woman in the leopard coat who had just rushed up with a pair of binoculars, the dignified faces of the old Channel Isle settlers. The habitant fisherfolk and farmers who still, even in the twentieth century, kept Gaspé a quaint land of the bake oven and ox-team, with here and there a sprinkling of Irish and Cockney.
“Le bon dieu lui soit aide,” said a wrinkled old woman with a sob. François had played on her doorstep as a child.
Peter seemed to have come suddenly to a place where he was perplexed. He paused, looked backward, studied the ledges, then went tentatively on.
“Oh! Oh!” But before the cry had died on her lips he had landed dexterously on another ledge straight below. The piece of rock that had crumbled under his feet was sending up a splash from the sea beneath. He paused.
Cecilia felt a gigantic hand clamp her chest. It was as though she were stifled suddenly. But with one long drawn gasp her breath came back. He was working his way backward a little, then up another tier of ledges. There was evidently a sounder layer of footholds higher up. Peter wras ascending rapidly now; assuredly gaining on that lone scarlet cross above him.
“Mon dieu! Lord save us! François Doucette! Is it his ghost?” A hundred mingled cries swept like a wave through the crowd. Every one had turned from the Rock to look inland. A man in a red sweater strolling out between the cod racks stopped suddenly, bewildered, as he beheld the shore full of people, every one looking at him in terror. He was P'rançois Doucette.
“Den who de debil is de man up de rock? Here’s Doucette,” said Jacques Le Favre, the first to realize that the man who had slept late in his lone cabin while all the village was astir, was flesh and blood.
“Madame! Madame! Donnez-moi les lorgnettes!” Anton Giroux was pulling frantically at the sleeve of the lady tourist with the binoculars. Madame well understood his frenzy.
“Mon dieu! C’est Monsieur Lenfort soimême! Lenfort!” Some one tried to hush the word near Cecilia, but her hand had gone to her heart as if she had been stabbed.
That was why her father’s red sweater was not on its peg this morning. That was why he had lingered alone in the kitchen after Doucette had gone out yesterday. She remembered the chuckle, the rattle of paper. He had copied Doucette’s chart from memory and decided to go up alone on his way from Barachois.
Faintness overcame her. The sea and the rock were floating up against the sky. Kind arms encircled her. would have helped her away. No. no; she must not be taken away ! She rallied. She had the blood of the old Islanders.
The lady in the leopard coat came toward her with the binoculars. Cecilia waved them away. She needed nothing to help her visualize her father up there in his misery.
And Peter had gone up, thinking the imperilled man was young Doucette. He would not know the truth until he got around that last column. Would the surprise startle him too much on his narrow footing? Startle her father, too? Would one sudden, terrible splash—a shiver like an icicle ran down her spine.
HTHE exclamations and speculations of the crowd died down again. Everybody was tense. Utter silence on the beach. The tide was dropping. Cecilia edged her way out a little on the low, wet rocks of Petit Point, the nearest point to the great Rock Isle.
There ! Peter had arrived ! He was standing right beneath her father, his head not quite as high as her father’s feet.
“Now wot’ll ’e do; ’e can’t get no ’igher.”
The red arms of the cross dropped. The red trunk relaxed, the head turned.
“’E’s talkin’ to ’im. But ’e can’t get ’im.”
What was passing between them?
Then they saw Monsieur Lenfort lower one foot, step backward slowly till the foot rested firmly on Peter's shoulder. Slowly, deliberately, he lowered the other foot to the other shoulder. They saw the scarlet back curve. He was working his hands lower on the wall. He slipped one leg forward. Another moment and he was balanced firmly on the great strong shoulders, his legs hanging down Peter’s chest, his arms locked about his neck.
Slowly Peter stepped down to a lower and safer ledge with his burden. It was evidently too narrow for standing room for both. He edged his way around the grey stone column. Mere toy men they looked up there on the wall two hundred feet above the sea.
Inch by inch. Angry guillemots and cormorants flapped, enraged, all round them. There they were, both safe on a larger landing. Peter discharged his load. They stood, and the arms of the scarlet sweater were thrown about Peter’s neck.
Peter turned and waved his cap toward the shore.
“Hurrah! Bravo! Bravo! Hurrah!”
The air and the sea rang with the cheers of two languages. Frenchmen danced; arms and hats waved wildly.
Cecilia suddenly weakened and sank to a sitting posture on a great boulder. Never once did she take her eyes off the Rock.
They had yet to come down, those two.
They beg;in their descent, Peter pausing and looking back often to steady the exhausted one over the slippery places.
The hum of conversation began to overspread the beach. Scraps never meant for Cecilia’s ears reached her on the vagaries of the wind.
“Always after money, Lenfort. Well, maybe he’ll be satisfied now.”
“Tut, tut! The old duffer wanted to show the young bloods what he could do, now he’s a grandfather this morning. None of the young ones would take up Doucette’s challenge.”
The brown leather coat and the scarlet sweater grew gradually larger as they edged lower.
“It’s ten twenty-five,” announced the town magistrate as though it were a historic event to be chronicled when the two stepped down from the last ledge.
There was a sudden clank of anchors and creaking of masts. At the same moment the bells from the little Anglican church on the hill and the great church of the cross alongshore pealed forth their welcome in unison.
The air was filled with “Hurrahs!” and “Bien jails!”
Strong arms were rowing the hero and the rescued across the narrow neck of tide water straight to the great boulder where Cecilia Sat. The End