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I felt foolish for a moment. I had careful plans for Mme. St. Jovite. She would have vanished utterly on our return; so, I fancy, none would have been the wiser. But in that brief sally I had killed the madame; she could serve me no more. I have been careful in my account of this matter to tell all just as it happened, to put upon it neither more nor less of romantic color than we saw. Had I the skill and license of a novelist, I could have made much of my little mystery; but there are many now living who remember all these things, and then, I am a soldier, and too old for a new business. So I make as much of them as there was and no more.
In private theatricals, an evening at the Harbor, I had won applause with the rig, wig, and dialect of my trip to Wrentham Square. So, when I proposed a plan to my friend the general, urging the peril of a raw hand with a trust of so much importance, he had no doubt of my ability.
I borrowed a long coat, having put off my dress, and, when all was ready, went with a lantern to get the ladies. Louise recognized me first.
"Grace au ciel! le capitaine!" said she, running to meet me.
I dropped my lantern as we came face to face, and have ever been glad of that little accident, for there in the dark my arms went around her, and our lips met for a silent kiss full of history and of holy confidence. Then she put her hand upon my face with a gentle caressing touch, and turned her own away.
"I am very, very glad to see you," I said.
"Dieu!" said her sister, coming near, "we should be glad to see you, if it were possible."
I lighted the lantern hurriedly.
"Ciel! the light becomes him," said Louison, her grand eyes aglow.
But before there was time to answer I had kissed her also.
"He is a bold thing," she added, turning soberly to the baroness.
"Both a bold and happy thing," I answered. "Forgive me. I should not be so bold if I were not--well--insanely happy."
"He is only a boy," said the baroness, laughing as she kissed me.
"Poor little ingenu!" said Louison, patting my arm.
Louise, tall and lovely and sedate as ever, stood near me, primping her bonnet.
"Little ingenu!" she repeated, with a faint laugh of irony as she placed the dainty thing on her head.
"Well, what do you think of him?" said Louison, turning to help her.
"Dieu! that he is very big and dreadful," said the other, soberly. "I should think we had better be going."
These things move slowly on paper, but the greeting was to me painfully short, there being of it not more than a minuteful, I should say. On our way to the lights they plied me with whispered queries, and were in fear of more fighting. The prisoners were now in the coach, and our men--there were twelve--stood on every side of it, their pikes in hand. The boats were near, and we hurried to the river by a toteway. Our schooner lay some twenty rods off a point. A bateau and six canoes were waiting on the beach, and when we had come to the schooner I unbound the prisoners.
"You can get ashore with this bateau," I said. "You will find the horses tied to a tree."
"Wha' does thet mean?" said D'ri.
"That we have no right to hold them," was my answer. "Ronley was, in no way responsible for their coming."
Leaning over the side with a lantern, while one of our men held the bateau, I motioned to the coachman.
"Give that 'humberreller' to the butler, with my compliments," I whispered.
Our anchors up, our sails took the wind in a jiffy.
"Member how we used ye," D'ri called to the receding Britishers, "an' ef ye ever meet a Yankee try t' be p'lite tew 'im."
Dawn had come before we got off at the Harbor dock. I took the ladies to an inn for breakfast, wrote a report, and went for my horse and uniform. General Brown was buttoning his suspenders when they admitted me to his room.
"What luck, my boy?" said he.
"All have returned safely, including the ladies," I replied quickly, "and I have the honor to submit a report."
He took a chair, and read the report carefully, and looked up at me, laughing.
"What a lucky and remarkable young man!" said he. "I declare, you should have lived in the Middle Ages."
"Ah, then I should not have enjoyed your compliments or your friendship," was my answer.
He laughed again heartily.
"Nor the demoiselles'," said he. "I congratulate you. They are the loveliest of their sex; but I'm sorry they're not Americans."
"Time enough. I have decided that one of them shall become an American," said I, with all the confidence of youth.
"It is quite an undertaking," said he. "You may find new difficulties. Their father is at the chateau."
"M'sieur de Lambert?" I exclaimed.
"M'sieur de Lambert. Came yesterday, via Montreal, with a fine young nobleman--the Count Esmon de Brovel," said he. "You must look out for him; he has the beauty of Apollo and the sword of a cavalier."
"And I no fear of him," I answered soberly, with a quick sense of alarm.
"They rode over in the afternoon with Chaumont," he went on. "It seems the young ladies' father, getting no news of them, had become worried. Well, you may go and have three days for your fun; I shall need you presently."
Breakfast over, I got a team for the ladies, and, mounting my own horse, rode before them. I began to consider a very odd thing in this love experience. While they were in captivity I had begun to think less of Louison and more of Louise. In truth, one face had faded a little in my memory; the other, somehow, had grown clearer and sweeter, as if by a light borrowed from the soul behind it. Now that I saw Louison, her splendid face and figure appealed to me with all the power of old. She was quick, vivacious, subtle, aggressive, cunning, aware and proud of her charms, and ever making the most of them. She, ah, yes, she could play with a man for the mere pleasure of victory, and be very heartless if--if she were not in love with him. This type of woman had no need of argument to make me feel her charms. With her the old doubt had returned to me; for how long? I wondered. Her sister was quite her antithesis--thoughtful, slow, serious, even-tempered, frank, quiet, unconscious of her beauty, and with that wonderful thing, a voice tender and low and sympathetic and full of an eloquence I could never understand, although I felt it to my finger-tips. I could not help loving her, and, indeed, what man with any life in him feels not the power of such a woman? That morning, on the woods-pike, I reduced the problem to its simplest terms: the one was a physical type, the other a spiritual.
"M'sieur le Capitaine," said Louison, as I rode by the carriage, "what became of the tall woman last night?"
"Left us there in the woods," I answered. "She was afraid of you."
"Afraid of me! Why?"
"Well, I understand that you boxed her ears shamefully."
A merry peal of laughter greeted my words.
"It was too bad; you were very harsh," said Louise, soberly.
"I could not help it; she was an ugly, awkward thing," said Louison. "I could have pulled her nose'"
"And it seems you called her a geante also," I said. "She was quite offended."
"It was a compliment," said the girl. "She was an Amazon--like the count's statue of Jeanne d'Arc."
"Poor thing! she could not help it," said Louise.
"Well," said Louison, with a sigh of regret, "if I ever see her again I shall give her a five-franc piece."
There was a moment of silence, and she broke it.
"I hope, this afternoon, you will let me ride that horse," said she.
"On one condition," was my reply.
"And it is--?"
"That you will let me ride yours at the same time."
"Agreed," was her answer. "Shall we go at three?"
"With the consent of the baroness and--and your father," I said.
"Father!" exclaimed the two girls.
"Your father," I repeated. "He is now at the chateau."
"Heavens!" said Louison.
"What will he say?" said the baroness.
"I am so glad--my dear papa!" said Louise, clapping her hands.
We were out of the woods now, and could see the chateau in the uplands.
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