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We got our bearings, a pair of boots for D'ri, and a hearty meal in the cabin of a settler. The good man was unfamiliar with the upper shore, and we got no help in our mystery. Starting west, in the woods, on our way to the Harbor, we stopped here and there to listen, but heard only wood-thrush and partridge--the fife and drum of nature. That other music had gone out of hearing. We had no compass, but D'ri knew the forest as a crow knows the air. He knew the language of the trees and the brooks. The feel of the bark and what he called "the lean of the timber" told him which way was south. River and stream had a way of telling him whence they had come and where they were going, but he had no understanding of a map. I remember, after we had come to the Harbor at dusk and told our story, the general asked him to indicate our landing-place and our journey home on a big map at headquarters. D'ri studied the map a brief while. There was a look of embarrassment on his sober face.
"Seems so we come ashore 'bout here," said he, dropping the middle finger of his right hand in the vicinity of Quebec. "Then we travelled aw-a-a-ay hellwards over 'n this 'ere direction." With that illuminating remark he had slid his finger over some two hundred leagues of country from Quebec to Michigan.
They met us with honest joy and no little surprise that evening as we came into camp. Ten of our comrades had returned, but as for ourselves, they thought us in for a long stay. We said little of what we had gone through, outside the small office at headquarters, but somehow it began to travel, passing quickly from mouth to mouth, until it got to the newspapers and began to stir the tongue of each raw recruit. General Brown was there that evening, and had for me, as always, the warm heart of a father. He heard our report with a kindly sympathy.
Next morning I rode away to see the Comte de Chaumont at Leraysville. I had my life, and a great reason to be thankful, but there were lives dearer than my own to me, and they were yet in peril. Those dear faces haunted me and filled my sleep with trouble. I rode fast, reaching the chateau at luncheon time. The count was reading in a rustic chair at the big gate. He came running to me, his face red with excitement.
"M'sieur le Capitaine!" he cried, my hand in both of his, "I thought you were dead."
"And so I have been--dead as a cat drowned in a well, that turns up again as lively as ever. Any news of the baroness and the young ladies?"
"A letter," said he. "Come, get off your horse. I shall read to you the letter."
"Tell me--how were they taken?"
I was leading my horse, and we were walking through the deep grove.
"Eh bien, I am not able to tell," said he, shaking his head soberly. "You remember that morning--well, I have twenty men there for two days. They are armed, they surround the Hermitage, they keep a good watch. The wasp he is very troublesome, but they see no soldier. They stay, they burn the smudge. By and by I think there is nothing to fear, and I bring them home, but I leave three men. The baroness and the two girls and their servants they stay awhile to pack the trunk. They are coming to the chateau. It is in the evening; the coach is at the door; the servants have started. Suddenly--the British! I do not know how many. They come out of the woods like a lightning, and bang! bang! bang! they have killed my men. They take the baroness and the Misses de Lambert, and they drive away with them. The servants they hear the shots, they return, they come, and they tell us. We follow. We find the coach; it is in the road, by the north trail. Dieu! they are all gone! We travel to the river, but--" here he lifted his shoulders and shook his head dolefully--"we could do nothing."
"The general may let me go after them with a force of cavalry," I said. "I want you to come with me and talk to him."
"No, no, my capitaine!" said he; "it would not be wise. We must wait. We do not know where they are. I have friends in Canada; they are doing their best, and when we hear from them--eh bien, we shall know what is necessary."
I told him how I had met them that night in Canada, and what came of it.
"They are a cruel people, the English," said he. "I am afraid to find them will be a matter of great difficulty."
"But the letter--"
"Ah, the letter," he interrupted, feeling in his pocket. "The letter is not much. It is from Tiptoes--from Louison. It was mailed this side of the river at Morristown. You shall see; they do not know where they are."
He handed me the letter. I read it with an eagerness I could not conceal. It went as follows:--
"MY DEAR COUNT: If this letter reaches you, it will, I hope, relieve your anxiety. We are alive and well, but where? I am sure I have no better idea than if I were a baby just born. We came here with our eyes covered after a long ride from the river, which we crossed in the night. I think it must have taken us three days to come here. We are shut up in a big house with high walls and trees and gardens around it--a beautiful place. We have fine beds and everything to eat, only we miss the bouillabaisse, and the jokes of M. Pidgeon, and the fine old claret. A fat Englishwoman who waddles around like a big goose and who calls me Mumm (as if I were a wine-maker!) waits upon us. We do not know the name of our host. He is a tall man who says little and has hair on his neck and on the back of his hands. Dieu! he is a lord who talks as if he were too lazy to breathe. It is 'Your Lordship this' and 'Your Lordship that.' But I must speak well of him, because he is going to read this letter: it is on that condition I am permitted to write. Therefore I say he is a great and good man, a beautiful man. The baroness and Louise send love to all. Madame says do not worry; we shall come out all right: but I say worry! and, good man, do not cease to worry until we are safe home. Tell the cure he has something to do now. I have worn out my rosary, and am losing faith. Tell him to try his.
"She is an odd girl," said the count, as I gave back the letter, "so full of fun, so happy, so bright, so quick--always on her tiptoes. Come, you are tired; you have ridden far in the dust. I shall make you glad to be here."
A groom took my horse, and the count led me down a wooded slope to the lakeside. Octagonal water-houses, painted white, lay floating at anchor near us. He rowed me to one of them for a bath. Inside was a rug and a table and soap and linen. A broad panel on a side of the floor came up as I pulled a cord, showing water clear and luminous to the sandy lake-bottom. The glow of the noonday filled the lake to its shores, and in a moment I clove the sunlit depths--a rare delight after my long, hot ride.
At luncheon we talked of the war, and he made much complaint of the Northern army, as did everybody those days.
"My boy," said he, "you should join Perry on the second lake. It is your only chance to fight, to win glory."
He told me then of the impending battle and of Perry's great need of men. I had read of the sea-fighting and longed for a part in it. To climb on hostile decks and fight hand to hand was a thing to my fancy. Ah, well! I was young then. At the count's table that day I determined to go, if I could get leave.
Therese and a young Parisienne, her friend, were at luncheon with us. They bade us adieu and went away for a gallop as we took cigars. We had no sooner left the dining room than I called for my horse. Due at the Harbor that evening, I could give myself no longer to the fine hospitality of the count. In a few moments I was bounding over the road, now cool in deep forest shadows. A little way on I overtook Therese and the Parisienne. The former called to me as I passed. I drew rein, coming back and stopping beside her. The other went on at a walk.
"M'sieur le Capitaine, have you any news of them--of Louise and Louison?" she inquired. "You and my father were so busy talking I could not ask you before."
"I know this only: they are in captivity somewhere, I cannot tell where."
"You look worried, M'sieur le Capitaine; you have not the happy face, the merry look, any longer. In June you were a boy, in August--voila! it is a man! Perhaps you are preparing for the ministry."
She assumed a solemn look, glancing up at me as if in mockery of my sober face. She was a slim, fine brunette, who, as I knew, had long been a confidante of Louison.
"Alas! ma'm'selle, I am worried. I have no longer any peace."
"Do you miss them?" she inquired, a knowing look in her handsome eyes. "Do not think me impertinent."
"More than I miss my mother," I said.
"I have a letter," said she, smiling. "I do not know--I thought I should show it to you, but--but not to-day."
"Is it from them?"
"It is from Louison--from Tiptoes."
"And--and it speaks of me?"
"Ah, m'sieur," said she, arching her brows, "it has indeed much to say of you."
"And--and may I not see it?" I asked eagerly. "Ma'm'selle, I tell you I--I must see it."
"Why?" She stirred the mane of her horse with a red riding-whip.
"Why not?" I inquired, my heart beating fast.
"If I knew--if I were justified--you know I am her friend. I know all her secrets."
"Will you not be my friend also?" I interrupted.
"A friend of Louison, he is mine," said she.
"Ah, ma'm'selle, then I confess to you--it is because I love her."
"I knew it; I am no fool," was her answer. "But I had to hear it from you. It is a remarkable thing to do, but they are in such peril. I think you ought to know."
She took the letter from her bosom, passing it to my hand. A faint odor of violets came with it. It read:--
"MY DEAR THERESE: I wish I could see you, if only for an hour. I have so much to say. I have written your father of our prison home. I am going to write you of my troubles. You know what we were talking about the last time I saw you--myself and that handsome fellow. Mon Dieu! I shall not name him. It is not necessary. Well, you were right, my dear. I was a fool; I laughed at your warning; I did not know the meaning of that delicious pain. But oh, my dear friend, it has become a terrible thing since I know I may never see him again. My heart is breaking with it. Mere de Dieu! I can no longer laugh or jest or pretend to be happy. What shall I say? That I had rather die than live without him? No; that is not enough. I had rather be an old maid and live only with the thought of him than marry another, if he were a king. I remember those words of yours, 'I know he loves you.' Oh, my dear Therese, what a comfort they are to me now! I repeat them often. If I could only say, 'I know'! Alas! I can but say, 'I do not know,' nay, even, 'I do not believe.' If I had not been a fool I should have made him tell me, for I had him over his ears in love with me one day, or I am no judge of a man. But, you know, they are so fickle! And then the Yankee girls are pretty and so clever. Well, they shall not have him if I can help it. When I return there shall be war, if necessary, between France and America. And, Therese, you know I have weapons, and you have done me the honor to say I know how to use them. I have told Louise, and--what do you think?--the poor thing cried an hour--for pity of me! As ever, she makes my trouble her own. I have been selfish always, but I know the cure. It is love--toujours l'amour. Now I think only of him, and he recalls you and your sweet words. God make you a true prophet! With love to you and the marquis, I kiss each line, praying for happiness for you and for him. Believe me as ever,
"P.S. I feel better now I have told you. I wonder what his Lordship will say. Poor thing! he will read this; he will think me a fool. Eh bien, I have no better thought of him. He can put me under lock and key, but he shall not imprison my secrets; and, if they bore him, he should not read my letters. L."
I read it thrice, and held it for a moment to my lips. Every word stung me with the sweet pain that afflicted its author. I could feel my cheeks burning.
"Ma'm'selle, pardon me; it is not I she refers to. She does not say whom."
"Surely," said Therese, flirting her whip and lifting her shoulders. "M'sieur Le Capitaine is never a stupid man. You--you should say something very nice now."
"If it is I--thank God! Her misery is my delight, her liberation my one purpose."
"And my congratulations," said she, giving me her hand. "She has wit and beauty, a true heart, a great fortune, and--good luck in having your love."
I raised my hat, blushing to the roots of my hair.
"It is a pretty compliment," I said. "And--and I have no gift of speech to thank you. I am not a match for you except in my love of kindness and--and of Louison. You have made me happier than I have been before."
"If I have made you alert, ingenious, determined, I am content," was her answer. "I know you have courage."
"And will to use it."
"Good luck and adieu!" said she, with a fine flourish of her whip; those people had always a pretty politeness of manner.
"Adieu," I said, lifting my hat as I rode off, with a prick of the spur, for the road was long and I had lost quite half an hour.
My elation gave way to sober thought presently. I began to think of Louise--that quiet, frank, noble, beautiful, great-hearted girl, who might be suffering what trouble I knew not, and all silently, there in her prison home. A sadness grew in me, and then suddenly I saw the shadow of great trouble. I loved them both; I knew not which I loved the better. Yet this interview had almost committed me to Louison.
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