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They had run the Galops rapids, Point Iroquois, Point Cardinal, the Rapide Plat, without disaster though not without heavy toil. The fury of the falls far exceeded Amherst's expectations, but he believed that he had seen the worst, and he blessed the pilotage of Dominique and Bateese Guyon.
Here and there the heavier bateaux carrying the guns would be warped or pushed and steadied along shore in the shallow water under the bank, by gangs, to avoid some peril over which the whaleboats rode easily; and this not only delayed the flotilla but accounted for the loss of a few men caught at unawares by the edge of the current, swept off their legs, and drowned.
On the first day of September they ran the Long Saut and floated across the still basin of Lake St. Francis. At the foot of the lake the General landed a company or two of riflemen to dislodge La Corne's militia; but La Corne was already falling back upon the lower rapids, and, as it turned out, this redoubtable partisan gave no trouble at all.
They reached and passed Coteau du Lac on the 3rd.
Dominique and Bateese steered the two leading whaleboats, setting the course for the rest as they had set it all the way down from Fort Amitie. By M. Etienne's request, he and his niece and the few disabled prisoners from the fort travelled in these two boats under a small guard. It appeared that the poor gentleman's wits were shaken; he took an innocent pride now in the skill of the two brothers, his family's censitaires, and throughout the long days he discoursed on it wearisomely. The siege--his brother's death--Fort Amitie itself and his two years and more of residence there--seemed to have faded from his mind. He spoke of Boisveyrac as though he had left it but a few hours since.
"And the General," said he to Diane, "will be interested in seeing the Seigniory."
"A sad sight, monsieur!" put in Bateese, overhearing him. (Just before embarking, M. Etienne, Diane and Felicite had been assigned to Bateese's boat, while Father Launoy, Father Joly and two wounded prisoners travelled in Dominique's.) "A sight to break the heart! We passed it, Dominique and I, on our way to and from Montreal. Figure to yourself that the corn was standing already over-ripe, and it will be standing yet, though we are in September!"
"The General will make allowances," answered M. Etienne with grave simplicity. "He will understand that we have had no time for harvesting of late. Another year--"
Diane shivered. And yet--was it not better to dote thus, needing no pity, happy as a child, than to live sane and feel the torture? Better perhaps, but best and blessedest to escape the choice as her father had escaped it! As the river bore her nearer to Boisveyrac she saw his tall figure pacing the familiar shores, pausing to con the acres that were his and had been his father's and his father's father's. She saw and understood that smile of his which had so often puzzled her as a child when she had peered up into his face under its broad-brimmed hat and noted his eyes as they rested on the fields, the clearings, the forest; noted his cheeks reddened with open-air living; his firm lips touched with pride--the pride of a king treading his undisputed ground. In those days she and Armand had been something of an enigma to their father, and he to them; their vision tinged and clouded, perhaps, by a drop or two of dusky Indian blood. But now he had suddenly become intelligible to her, an heroic figure, wonderfully simple. She let her memory call up picture after picture of him--as he sat in the great parlour hearing "cases," dispensing fatherly justice; as he stood up at a marriage feast to drink the bride's and bridegroom's health and commend their example to all the young habitants; as he patted the heads of the children trooping to their first communion; as he welcomed his censitaires on St. Martin's day, when they poured in with their rents--wheat, eggs and poultry--the poultry all alive, heels tied, heads down, throats distended and squalling--until the barnyard became Babel, and still he went about pinching the fowls' breasts, running the corn through his hands, dispensing a word of praise here, a prescription there, and kindness everywhere. Now bad harvests would vex him no more, nor the fate of his familiar fields. In the wreck of all he had lived for, his life had stood up clear for a moment, complete in itself and vindicated. And the moment which had revealed had also ended it; he lay now beneath the chapel pavement at Fort Amitie, indifferently awaiting judgment, his sword by his side.
They ran the Cedars and, taking breath on the smooth waters below, steered for the shore where the towers and tall chimneys of Boisveyrac crept into view, and the long facade of the Seigniory, slowly unfolding itself from the forest.
Here the leading boats were brought to land while the flotilla collected itself for the next descent. A boat had capsized and drowned its crew in the Long Saut, and Amherst had learnt the lesson of that accident and thenceforward allowed no straggling. Constant to his rule, too, of leaving no post in his rear until satisfied that it was harmless, he proposed to inspect the Seigniory, and sent a message desiring M. Etienne's company--and Mademoiselle's, if to grant this favour would not distress her.
Diane prayed to be excused; but M. Etienne accepted with alacrity. He had saluted the first glimpse of the homestead with a glad cry, eager as a schoolboy returning for his holidays. He met the General on the slope with a gush of apologies. 'He must overlook the unkempt condition of the fields. . . . Boisveyrac was not wont to make so poor a show . . . the estate, in fact, though not rich, had always been well kept up . . . the stonework was noted throughout New France, and every inch of timber (would M. le General observe?) thoroughly well seasoned. . . . Yes, those were the arms above the entrance--Noel quartering Tilly--two of the oldest families in the province . . . If M. le General took an interest in heraldry, these other quarterings were worth perusal . . . de Repentigny, de Contrecoeur, Traversy, St. Ours, de Valrennes, de la Mothe, d'Ailleboust . . . and the windmill would repay an ascent . . . the view from its summit was magnificent. . . .'
Diane, seated in the boat and watching, saw him halt and point out the escutcheons; saw him halt again in the gateway and spread out his arms to indicate the solidity of the walls; could almost, reading his gestures, hear the words they explained; and her cheeks burned with shame.
"A fine estate!" said a voice in the next boat.
"Yes, indeed," answered Bateese at her elbow; "there is no Seigniory to compare with Boisveyrac. And we will live to welcome you back to it, mademoiselle. The English are no despoilers, they tell me."
She glanced at Dominique. He had filled a pipe, and, as he smoked, his eyes followed her uncle's gestures placidly. Scorn of him, scorn of herself, intolerable shame, rose in a flood together.
"If my uncle behaves like a roturier, it is because his mind is gone. Shall we spy on him and laugh?--ghosts of those who are afraid to die!"
Father Launoy looked up from his breviary.
"Mademoiselle is unjust," said he quietly. "To my knowledge, those servants of hers, whom she reproaches, have risked death and taken wounds, in part for her sake."
Diane sat silent, gazing upon the river. Yes, she had been unjust, and she knew it. Felicite had told her how the garrison had rushed after Dominique to rescue her, and of the struggle in the stairway of the tower. Dominique bore an ugly cut, half-healed yet, reaching from his right eyebrow across the cheekbone--the gash of an Indian knife. Bateese could steer with his left hand only; his right he carried in a sling. And the two men lying at this moment by Father Launoy's feet had taken their wounds for her sake. Unjust she had been; bitterly unjust. How could she explain the secret of her bitterness--that she despised herself?
Boats were crowding thick around them now, many of them half filled with water. The crews, while they baled, had each a separate tale to tell of their latest adventure; each, it seemed, had escaped destruction by a hair's-breadth. The Cedars had been worse even than the Long Saut. They laughed and boasted, wringing their clothes. The nearest flung questions at Dominique, at Bateese. The Cascades, they understood, were the worst in the whole chain of rapids, always excepting the La Chine. But the La Chine were not to be attempted; the army would land above them, at Isle Perrot perhaps, or at the village near the falls, and cover the last nine or ten miles on foot. But what of the Buisson? and of the Roches Fendues?
More than an hour passed in this clamour, and still the boats continued to crowd around. The first-comers, having baled, were looking to their accoutrements, testing the powder in their flasks, repolishing the locks and barrels of their muskets. "To be sure La Corne and his militiamen had disappeared, but there was still room for a skirmish between this and Lake St. Louis; if he had posted himself on the bank below, he might prove annoying. The rapids were bad enough without the addition of being fired upon during the descent, when a man had work enough to hold tight by the gunwale and say his prayers. Was the General sending a force down to clear La Corne out?"
A crowd of soldiers had gathered on the bank, shutting out all view of the Seigniory. Diane, turning at the sound of her uncle's voice, saw the men make way, and caught her breath. He was not alone. He came through the press triumphantly, dragging by the hand an Indian--an Indian who hung back from the river's brink with eyes averted, fastened on the ground--the man whom, of all men, she most feared to meet.
"Diane, the General has been telling me--this honest fellow--we have been most remiss--"
M. Etienne panted as he picked his steps down the bank. His face was glowing.
"--He understands a little French, it seems. I have the General's permission to give him a seat in our boat. He tells me he is averse to being thanked, but that is nonsense. I insisted on his coming."
"You have thanked me once already, monsieur," urged John a Cleeve in a voice as low as he could pitch it.
"But not sufficiently. You hear, Diane?--he speaks French! I was confused at the time; I did not gather--"
She felt Dominique's eyes upon her. Was her face so white then? He must not guess. . . . She held out her hand, commanding her voice to speak easily, wondering the while at the sound of it.
"Welcome, my friend. My uncle is right; we have been remiss--"
Her voice trailed off, as her eyes fell on Father Launoy. He was staring, not at her, but at the Indian; curiously at first, then with dawning suspicion.
Involuntarily she glanced again towards Dominique. He, too, slowly moved his gaze from her face and fastened it on the Indian.
He knew. . . . Father Launoy knew. . . . Oh, when would the boats push off?
They pushed off and fell into their stations at length, amid almost interminable shouting of orders and cross-shouting, pulling and backing of oars. She had stolen one look at Bateese. . . . He did not suspect . . . but, in the other boat, they knew.
Her uncle's voice ran on like a brook. She could not look up, for fear of meeting her lover's eyes--yes, her lover's! She was reckless now. They knew. She would deceive herself no longer. She was base--base. He stood close, and in his presence she was glad-- fiercely, deliciously, desperately. She, betrayed in all her vows, was glad. The current ran smoothly. If only, beyond the next ledge, might lie annihilation!
The current ran with an oily smoothness. They were nearing the Roches Fendues. Dominique's boat led.
A clear voice began to sing, high and loud, in a ringing tenor:
"Malbrouck s'en va-t'en guerre: Mironton, mironton, mirontaine . . ."
At the first note John a Cleeve, glancing swiftly at Bateese, saw his body stiffen suddenly with his hand on the tiller; saw his eyes travel forward, seeking his brother's; saw his face whiten. Dominique stood erect, gazing back, challenging. Beyond him John caught a glimpse of Father Launoy looking up from his breviary; and the priest's face, too, was white and fixed.
Voices in the boats behind began to curse loudly; for "Malbrouck" was no popular air with the English. But Bateese took up the chant:
"Malbrouck s'en va-t'en guerre-- Ne sais quand reviendra!"
They were swinging past Bout de l'lsle. Already the keel under foot was gathering way. From Bateese, who stood with eyes stiffened now and inscrutable, John looked down upon Diane. She lifted her face with a wan smile, but she, too, was listening to the challenge flung back from the leading boat.
"Il reviendra-z a Paques . . ."
He flung one glance over his shoulder, and saw the channel dividing ahead. Dominique was leaning over, pressing down the helm to starboard. Over Dominique's arm Father Launoy stared rigidly. Father Joly, as if aware of something amiss, had cast out both hands and was grasping the gunwale. The boat, sucked into the roar of the rapids, shot down the left channel--the channel of death.
"Il reviendra-z a Paques, Ou--a la Trinite!"
The voice was lost in the roar of the falls, now drumming loud in John's ears. He knew nothing of these rapids; but two channels lay ahead and the choice between them. He leapt across M. Etienne, and hurling Bateese aside, seized the tiller and thrust it hard over, heading for the right.
Peering back through the spray as he bent he saw the helmsmen astern staring--hesitating. They had but a second or two in which to choose. He shouted and shouted again--in English. But the tumbling waters roared high above his shouts.
He reached out and gripping Bateese by the collar, forced the tiller into his hand. Useless now to look back to try to discover how many boats were following!
Bateese, with a sob, crept back to the tiller and steered.
Not until the foot of the falls was reached did John know that the herd had followed him. But forty-six boats had followed Dominique's fatal lead: and of their crews ninety red-coated corpses tossed with Dominique's and the two priests' and spun in the eddies beneath the Grand Bouilli.
At dawn next morning the sentries in Montreal caught sight of them drifting down past the walls, and carried the news. So New France learnt that its hour was near.
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