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The Grey Cloak By Harold MacGrath Characters: 22617

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

At the noon meal madame's chair at the table was vacant, and Anne, who had left madame outside the convent gate and had not seen her since, went up to the room to ascertain the cause of the absence. She found the truant asleep, the last vestige of her recent violent tears fringing her lashes. Silently Anne contemplated the fall and rise of the lovely bosom, eyed thoughtfully the golden thread which encircled the white throat; and wondered. Had this poor victim of conspiracy, this puppet in the cruel game of politics, left behind in France some unhappy love affair? What was this locket which madame hid so jealously? She bent and pressed a kiss upon the blooming cheek, lightly and lovingly. And light as the touch of her lips was, it was sufficient to arouse the sleeper.

"What is it?" madame said, sitting up. "Oh, it is you, Anne. I am glad you awoke me. Such a frightful dream! I dreamt that I had married the Chevalier du Cévennes! What is the hour?"

"It is the noon meal, dear. You have been weeping."

"Yes, for France, beloved France, with all its Mazarins and its cabals. Anne, dear, I must confess. I can not remain here. I am afraid, afraid of D'Hérouville, the vicomte. I am going to return on the Henri IV. I can bear it here no longer. I shall find a hiding place beyond the reach of Mazarin."

"As you think best. But why not enter the Ursulines with me? There is peace in the House of God."

"Is there not peace wherever the peaceful heart is? Walls will not give me peace."

"You should have known your heart before you left France," shrewdly.

"Anne, does any one know the human heart? Do you know yours?"

Anne's eyes closed, for the briefest moment. Know her heart? Alas!

"Come, Gabrielle; they are waiting for us at the table."

"I will go with you, but I have no appetite."

"We will go upon the water after four. It will pass away the time. You are certain that you wish to return to France; from passive danger into active?"

Madame nodded.

"I will inform his Excellency, for it is no more than right that he should be acquainted with your plans."

"How serious you have become, Anne," wistfully. "I am sure that I should be livelier and more contented if you were not always at prayer. I am lonely at times."

"You have been here scarce more than a week."

Madame did not reply.

At four her calm and even spirits returned; and the thought of seeing France again filled her with subdued gaiety. The sun was nearing the forests' tops when the two women sauntered down to the river front, to put about the governor's pleasure boat. They put blankets and mats into the skiff and were about to push off, when Brother Jacques approached them.

"Now, what may he want?" asked Anne, in a whisper.

"You are going for a row upon the river?" asked Brother Jacques, respectfully.

"Yes, Brother Jacques," replied Anne. "Is not the water beautiful and inviting?"

"I would not venture far," he said. "Iroquois have been reported in the vicinity of Orléans."

"We intend to row as far as Sillery and back. There can be no danger in that."

Brother Jacques looked doubtful.

"And are not the Iroquois our friends?" asked madame. "Are not Frenchmen building a city in the heart of their kingdom?"

Brother Jacques smiled sadly. "Madame, I should not be surprised to learn on the morrow that the expedition to Onondaga had already been exterminated."

"You, of all persons, should be loyal to the Indian," replied Anne, arranging the mats in the bottom of the boat.

"Mademoiselle, I know him thoroughly. That is why I undertake to warn you. The rattlesnake which you dread is less terrible to me than the Iroquois. My duty, not my inclination, makes me walk among them."

"We promise not to go beyond sight of the warehouses."

"Come with us," said Anne. "We will read to you and you will in turn tell us the legend of Hiawatha, so long delayed."

"If madame is agreeable," replied the priest, his heart beating a trifle faster than normal: he was human, and these two women were beautiful.

"Come with us, by all means," said madame graciously.

"You will sit in the stern, Gabrielle," said the admiral's granddaughter; "I shall sit on the mat, as the Indian says, and Brother Jacques shall take the oars. And take care that we do not run away with you."

"I am not afraid," returned Brother Jacques, a secret happiness possessing him. "Besides, I can swim." He recognized the danger of beauty in close proximity, but he unwisely forgot the dangers of time and place. How much rarer the world becomes to the man who has seen flower gardens and beautiful women moving to and fro among them! Ah, that ragged, rugged highway which he had traversed: dry crusts of life, buffets, bramble, curses and mockery. And here was realized one of his idle dreams. He took a dozen long strokes, which sent the craft up stream in the direction of Sillery, and let the oars drift. "You were to read a book?" he asked.

"It would burn your godly ears," said madame: "Malherbe."

"I have read him," quietly.

"What? Oh, fie, Monsieur le Jesuit!" And madame laughed at his confusion.

"When I was eighteen. That was before I took the orders." He picked up the oars again and pulled strongly and noiselessly. His thought was far away just then: when he was eighteen.

Anne, with her shoulders resting against madame's knees, opened the book which Victor had given her on a Sunday the year before. Sometimes Brother Jacques's stroke beat rhythmically with the measures; sometimes the oars trailed through the water with a low, sweet murmur. He could see nothing but those two fair faces.

They were nearing the heights of Sillery when Anne closed the book. "And now for Hiawatha and his white canoe," she said.

"Very well; I will tell you of the good Hiawatha, his daughter, and his white canoe. He came from the sky one day, in this very wonderful canoe. He had given up his rights as a deity in order to mingle with men and teach them wisdom. He was the wisest of all Indians as Nestor was the wisest of all the Greeks. As a god he was known as Taounyawatha, and he presided over the fisheries and the waterways. Whenever there was dissension among the various nations of the Iroquois, it was his word which settled the dispute. Grey-haired he was, penetration marked his eye, dark mystery pervaded his countenance. One day there was internal war and great slaughter followed. The wise men of the nations got together and summoned Hiawatha. They built great council fires on the shores of Genentaha Lake, which we call Onondaga. For three days these fires burned, but the great sage did not put in appearance, and nothing could be done without his counsel. When at last messengers found him in his secret abode, he was in a most melancholy state of mind. Great evil lay in his path, he said; and he had concluded not to attend the council at Genentaha. But the messengers said that the great wise men could not proceed with business until the council was graced with his presence. And if he did not come, annihilation awaited his children."

Brother Jacques rested on his oars again. Only his voice was with his narrative; his mind was filled with longing, the same longing which had always blocked his path to priestly greatness: the love of women.

"So Hiawatha removed his sacred white canoe from the lodge built for it, and the messengers reverentially assisted him to launch it. The wise man once again took his accustomed seat, and bade his daughter, a girl of twelve, and his heart's darling, to accompany him. She unhesitatingly obeyed; and together they made all possible speed toward the grand council ground. At the approach of the venerable sage, a shout of joy resounded throughout the assembled host, and every demonstration of respect was paid to the illustrious one. As he landed and was passing up the steep bank toward the council ground, a loud noise was heard, like the rushing of a mighty wind. All eyes were instantly turned upward, and a dark spot was discovered rapidly descending from the clouds above. It grew larger and larger as it neared the earth, and was descending with frightful velocity into their very midst. Terror filled every breast, and every one seemed anxious for his own safety. Confusion prevailed. All but the venerable Hiawatha sought safety in flight. He gravely uncovered his silvered head and besought his darling daughter to await the approaching danger with becoming resignation, at the same time reminding her of the futility and impropriety of attempting to prevent the designs of the Great Spirit.

"'If,' he said, 'the Great Spirit is determined upon our destruction, we shall not escape by removal, nor evade his decrees.'"

"And he was an Indian who expressed that thought?" said madame, wonderingly.

The boat drifted: not down stream as was natural, but up against the current, contrary to the laws of nature. Had they all been less interested in what was going on in their minds, they would have at once remarked this phenomenal performance.

"There is a mysterious particle of God in every savage," replied Brother Jacques, mentally comparing Anne's eyes with flashing water. "Well, to go on. Hiawatha's daughter modestly acquiesced to her kind parent's advice, and with patient submission awaited the catastrophe. All this was but the work of an instant; for no sooner had the resolution of the wise man become fixed and his latest words uttered than an immense bird, with long and pointed beak, with wide extended wings, came down with a mighty swoop and crushed the beautiful girl to the earth. With such force did the monster fall, and so great was the commotion of the air, that when it struck the ground, the whole assemblage was forced violently back several rods. Hiawatha alone remained unmoved, and silently witnessed the melancholy end of his beloved. 'Ai, ai, ai, agatondichou! Alas, alas, alas, my beloved! His darling had been killed before his eyes and her destroyer had been killed with her. His own time on earth was at an end.

"It was found upon examining the bird that it was covered with beautiful white plumage; and every warrior as he advanced plucked a plume from this singular bird, and with it adorned his crown. And forever after the braves of the confederate nations made choice of the plumes of the white herons as their most appropriate military ornament.

"Hiawatha was not to be consoled. He remained prostrate three nights and days, neither eating nor drinking. Then he roused and delivered the great harangue to the multitude, gave them the advice which made them so powerful. To the Mohawks he said that they should be called the first nation, because they were warlike and mighty; the Oneidas should be second, because of their wisdom; the Onondagas should be third, because they were mightiest of tongue and swiftest of foot; the Cayugas should be fourth, because of their superior cunning in hunting; and the Senecas should be fifth, because of their thrift in the art of raising corn and making cabins. To avoid all internal wars, all civil strife, they must band together in this wise, and they should conquer all their enemies and become great forever.

"'Lastly,' he said, 'I have now assisted you to form

a mighty league, a covenant of strength and friendship. If you preserve it, without admission of other people, you will always be free, numerous and mighty. If other nations are admitted into your councils, they will sow jealousies among you, and you will become enslaved, few and feeble. Remember these words; they are the last you will hear from Hiawatha. Listen, my friends, the Great Master of Breath calls me to go. I have patiently awaited his summons. I am ready; farewell.'

"And as the wise man closed his speech, there burst upon the air the sound of wondrous music. The whole sky was filled with sweetest melody. Amid the general confusion which prevailed, Hiawatha was seen majestically seated in his white canoe, gracefully rising higher and higher above their heads through the air, until the clouds obscured it from view. Thus, as he came, he left them; but he had brought wisdom and had not taken it away, the godlike Taounyawatha, and son of the Great and Good Spirit Hawahneu. It is the learning of these poetical legends that has convinced us that some day we shall convert these heretics into Christians. It is …" Brother Jacques seemed turned into stone.

A hand, dark and glistening with water resting upon the gunwale of the boat, just back of madame, had caught his eye. Both women saw the horror grow in his face.

"What is it?" they cried.

Without replying he caught up the oars. The water boiled around the broad blades: the boat did not turn, but irresistibly maintained its course up the river. With an exclamation of despair, he wrenched loose one of the oars, lifted it above his head and brought it swiftly down toward the hand. The blade splintered on the gunwale. The hand had been withdrawn too swiftly. At the same instant the boat careened and a bronzed and glistening savage raised himself into the boat; and another, and another. They were captives, madame, Anne, and Brother Jacques. There stood the frowning fortress in the distance, help; but no voice could reach that distance. They were lost.

One of the Indians drew a knife and held it suggestively against Brother Jacques's breast. Neither madame nor Anne screamed; they were daughters of soldiers.

There were four Indians in all. They had daringly breasted the stream, and had grasped the towing line and the stern and had silently propelled the boat up the current.

"For myself I do not care," said Brother Jacques, his voice breaking. "But God forgive me for not being firm when I warned you."

"You are not to blame, Father," said madame. She was pale, but calm.

"What will they do with us?" asked Anne, a terrible thought dazing her.

"We are in the hands of God."

The boat moved diagonally across the river. When the forest-lined shore was gained, the leader motioned his captives to disembark, which they did. He put the remaining oar into the lock and pushed the governor's pleasure craft down stream, smiling as he did so. Next he drew forth two canoes from under drooping elderberry bushes and motioned to the women and Brother Jacques to enter.

"What are you going to do with us?" asked Brother Jacques in his best Iroquois.

"Make slaves of the white man's wives," gruffly. "The squaws of the Senecas long for them. And shall the Seneca see his favorite wife weep like a mother who has lost her firstborn?"

"Ah!" cried the priest, a light of recognition coming into his eyes. "So it is you, Corn Planter, whom I baptized Peter, whom I saved from starvation three times come the Winter Maker! So the word and gratitude of Corn Planter become like walnuts which have no meat? Beware; these are the daughters of Onontio, and his wrath will be great."

"It is the little Father," replied the Seneca. "It is well. He shall have food in plenty, and his days shall be long in my village, where he will teach my children the laws of his fathers. As for Onontio, he sleeps in his stone house while my brothers from the Mohawk valley carry away his Huron children. The daughters of Onontio shall become slaves. I have said."

"I will give my body to the stake," said Brother Jacques; "my flesh and bones to torture. Let Onontio's daughters go."

"I have seen the little Father with his thumb in the pipe, and he smiles like a brave man. No. They are fairer than the blossom of the wild plum, and their hair is like the silk of corn. They shall be slaves or wives, as they choose. Make haste," pushing the priest toward the canoe in which madame and Anne had already taken their places.

Had he been alone he would have resisted, so great was his wrath. A moment's vanity placed him and these poor women in this predicament. He had been warned by a trader that a small band of Iroquois were hanging about, and yet he had been drawn into this! Yonder was the marquis, who might die … !

"Take care, little Father," warned the Seneca, realizing by the Jesuit's face the passion which was mounting to his brain. "It would cause the Corn Planter great sorrow to strike."

Brother Jacques's shoulders drooped, and he sat down in the bottom of the canoe.

"They will not harm us for the present," he said to the women encouragingly. "And there is hope for us is the fact that these are Senecas. To reach their villages they will perforce travel the same route as the Onondaga expedition. And we shall probably pass close to where our friends are."

"But the boat," said madame, "Monsieur de Lauson will think that we have been drowned!"

"Jean Pauquet saw me enter the boat with you, and he knows that I am a good sailor. Monsieur de Lauson will suspect immediately that we have fallen into the hands of savages, and will instantly send us aid. So keep a good heart and show the savage that you do not fear him. If you can win his respect he will be courteous to you; and that will be something, for the journey to Seneca is long."

Neither woman replied. Madame's thought went back rebelliously to the morning. "To the ends of the world," the Chevalier had said. She shook her head wearily. It was all over. She cared not whither these savages took her. Mazarin would not find her indeed! What a life had been hers! Only twenty-two, and nothing but unhappiness, disillusion, with here and there an hour of midsummer's madness. And that note she had written! The thought of it sustained her spirits. By now he knew all. She shut her eyes and pictured in fancy his pain and astonishment and chagrin. It was exhilarating. She would have liked to cry.

The Seneca chief spoke softly, commanding silence, and the canoes glided noiselessly along the southern shores of the great river. The sun sank presently, and night became prodigal with her stars. Occasionally there was the sound of gurgling water as some brook poured into the river, or the whisper of stirring branches lightly swept by the feathered heads of the Indians. Aside from these infrequent sounds, the silence was vast and imposing. Anne, with her head in madame's lap, wept bitterly but without sound. She was a girl again; the dignity of womanhood was gone, being no longer in the shadow of the convent walls.

Brother Jacques saw nothing in the velvet glooms but the figure of Monsieur le Marquis as it lay that night after the duel.

Whenever the Senecas came to a habitation, they drew up the canoes and carried them overland, far distant into the forest, making a half-circuit of the point. During these portages the fatigue of the women was great. Several times Anne broke down, unable to proceed. Sometimes the savages waited patiently for her to recover, at other times they were cruel in their determination to go on. Once Brother Jacques took Anne's slight figure in his strong arms and carried her a quarter of a mile. She hung upon his neck with the content of a weary child, and the cool flesh of her cheek against his neck disturbed the tranquillity of his dreams for many days to come.

Madame, on her part, struggled on without complaint. If she stumbled and fell, no sound escaped her lips. She regained her feet without assistance. Madame's was a great spirit; she knew the strength of resignation.

It was after two o'clock when the Iroquois signified their intention of pitching camp till dawn. They were far away from the common track now. The last portage had carried them across several small streams. They were in the heart of the forest. All night Brother Jacques sat at the side of the women, guarding with watchful eyes. How the spirit and the flesh of this man warred! And all the while his face in the filtered moonlight was marbled and set of expression. He was made of iron, constitutionally; his resolution, tempered steel.

Anne slept, but not so madame. She listened and listened: to the stir of the leaves, to the dim murmur of running water, to the sighs of the night wind, to the crackling of a dry twig when Anne turned uneasily in her sleep. She listened and listened, but the sound she hungered for never came.

At Quebec the news of the calamity did not become known till near midnight. As the wind-drifted pleasure-boat told its grim story, desolation fell upon the hearts of four men, each being conscious in his own way that some part of the world had shifted from under his feet. The governor recommended patience; he was always recommending that attribute; he was always practising it, and fatally at times. The four men shook their heads. The Chevalier and Victor bundled together a few necessities, such as cloaks, blankets and arms. They set out at once while the moon was yet high; set out in silence and with sullen rage.

Jean Pauquet and the vicomte were in the act of following, when D'Hérouville, disheveled and breathing heavily from his run down from the upper town, arrested them.

"Vicomte," he cried, "you must take me with you. I can find no one to go with me."

"Stay here then. Out of the way, Monsieur." The vicomte was not patient to-night, and he had not time for banter.

"I say that you shall!"

"Not to-night. Now, Pauquet."

"One of us dies, then!" D'Hérouville's sword was out.

"Are you mad?" exclaimed the vicomte, recoiling.

"Perhaps. Quick!" The sword took an ominous angle, and the point touched the vicomte.

"Get in!" said the vicomte, controlling his wild rage. "I will kill you the first opportunity. To-night there is not time." He seized his paddle, which he handled with no small skill considering how recently he had applied himself to this peculiar art of navigation.

Pauquet took his position in the stern, while D'Hérouville crouched amidships, his bare sword across his knees. The vicomte's broad back was toward him, proving his contempt of fear. They were both brave men.

"Follow the ripple, Monsieur," said Pauquet; "that is the way Monsieur le Chevalier has gone."

It was all very foolhardy, this expedition of untried men against Indian cunning; but it was also very gallant: the woman they loved was in peril.

So the two canoes stole away upon the broad bosom of the river and presently disappeared in the pearly moon-mists, the one always hugging the wake of the other. The weird call of the loon sometimes sounded close by. The air was heavy with the smell of water, of earth, and of resin.

Three of these men had taken the way from which no man returns.

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