The Golden Dog/Chapter IV
Chapter IV: Confidences
Angelique took the arm of Amelie in her old, familiar schoolgirl way, and led her to the sunny corner of a bastion where lay a dismounted cannon.
The girls sat down upon the old gun. Angelique held Amelie by both hands, as if hesitating how to express something she wished to say. Still, when Angelique did speak, it was plain to Amelie that she had other things on her mind than what her tongue gave loose to.
"Now we are quite alone, Amelie," said she, "we can talk as we used to do in our school-days. You have not been in the city during the whole summer, and have missed all its gaieties?"
"I was well content. How beautiful the country looks from here!" replied Amelie. "How much pleasanter to be in it, revelling among the flowers and under the trees! I like to touch the country as well as to look at it from a distance, as you do in Quebec."
"Well, I never care for the country if I can only get enough of the city. Quebec was never so gay as it has been this year. The Royal Roussillon, and the freshly arrived regiments of Bearn and Ponthieu, have turned the heads of all Quebec,--of the girls, that is. Gallants have been plenty as bilberries in August. And you may be sure I got my share, Amelie." Angelique laughed aloud at some secret reminiscences of her summer campaign.
"It is well that I did not come to the city, Angelique, to get my head turned like the rest; but now that I am here, suppose I should mercifully try to heal some of the hearts you have broken!"
"I hope you won't try. Those bright eyes of yours would heal too effectually the wounds made by mine, and that is not what I desire," replied Angelique, laughing.
"No! then your heart is more cruel than your eyes. But, tell me, who have been your victims this year, Angelique?"
"Well, to be frank, Amelie, I have tried my fascinations upon the King's officers very impartially, and with fair success. There have been three duels, two deaths, and one captain of the Royal Roussillon turned cordelier for my sake. Is that not a fair return for my labor?"
"You are shocking as ever, Angelique! I do not believe you feel proud of such triumphs," exclaimed Amelie.
"Proud, no! I am not proud of conquering men. That is easy! My triumphs are over the women! And the way to triumph over them is to subdue the men. You know my old rival at school, the haughty Francoise de Lantagnac: I owed her a grudge, and she has put on the black veil for life, instead of the white one and orange-blossoms for a day! I only meant to frighten her, however, when I stole her lover, but she took it to heart and went into the Convent. It was dangerous for her to challenge Angelique des Meloises to test the fidelity of her affianced, Julien de St. Croix."
Amelie rose up in honest indignation, her cheek burning like a coal of fire. "I know your wild talk of old, Angelique, but I will not believe you are so wicked as to make deadly sport of our holiest affections."
"Ah, if you knew men as I do, Amelie, you would think it no sin to punish them for their perjuries."
"No, I don't know men," replied Amelie, "but I think a noble man is, after God, the worthiest object of a woman's devotion. We were better dead than finding amusement in the pain of those who love us; pray what became of Julien de St. Croix after you broke up his intended marriage with poor Francoise?"
"Oh! I threw him to the fishes! What did I care for him? It was mainly to punish Francoise's presumption that I showed my power and made him fight that desperate duel with Captain Le Franc."
"O Angelique, how could you be so unutterably wicked?"
"Wicked? It was not my fault, you know, that he was killed. He was my champion, and ought to have come off victor. I wore a black ribbon for him a full half-year, and had the credit of being devoted to his memory; I had my triumph in that if in nothing else."
"Your triumph! for shame, Angelique! I will not listen to you: you profane the very name of love by uttering such sentiments. The gift of so much beauty was for blessing, not for pain. St. Mary pray for you, Angelique: you need her prayers!" Amelie rose up suddenly.
"Nay, do not get angry and go off that way, Amelie," ejaculated Angelique. "I will do penance for my triumphs by relating my defeats, and my special failure of all, which I know you will rejoice to hear."
"I, Angelique? What have your triumphs or failures to do with me? No, I care not to hear." Angelique held her half forcibly by the scarf.
"But you will care when I tell you that I met an old and valued friend of yours last night at the Castle--the new Aide-de-Camp of the Governor, Colonel Philibert. I think I have heard you speak of Pierre Philibert in the Convent, Amelie?"
Amelie felt the net thrown over her by the skilful retiaria. She stood stock-still in mute surprise, with averted eye and deeply blushing cheek, fighting desperately with the confusion she feared to let Angelique detect. But that keen-sighted girl saw too clearly--she had caught her fast as a bird is caught by the fowler.
"Yes, I met with a double defeat last night," continued Angelique.
"Indeed! pray, from whom?" Amelie's curiosity, though not usually a troublesome quality, was by this time fairly roused.
Angelique saw her drift, and played with her anxiety for a few moments.
"My first rebuff was from that gentlemanly philosopher from Sweden, a great friend of the Governor, you know. But, alas, I might as well have tried to fascinate an iceberg! I do not believe that he knew, after a half-hour's conversation with me, whether I was man or woman. That was defeat number one."
"And what was number two?" Amelie was now thoroughly interested in Angelique's gossip.
"I left the dry, unappreciative philosopher, and devoted myself to charm the handsome Colonel Philibert. He was all wit and courtesy, but my failure was even more signal with him than with the cold Swede."
Amelie's eyes gave a sparkle of joy, which did not escape Angelique, but she pretended not to see it. "How was that? Tell me, pray, how you failed with Colonel Philibert?"
"My cause of failure would not be a lesson for you, Amelie. Listen! I got a speedy introduction to Colonel Philibert, who, I confess, is one of the handsomest men I ever saw. I was bent on attracting him."
"For shame, Angelique! How could you confess to aught so unwomanly!" There was a warmth in Amelie's tone that was less noticed by herself than by her companion.
"Well, it is my way of conquering the King's army. I shot my whole quiver of arrows at Colonel Philibert, but, to my chagrin, hit not a vital part! He parried every one, and returned them broken at my feet. His persistent questioning about yourself, as soon as he discovered we had been school companions at the Convent, quite foiled me. He was full of interest about you, and all that concerned you, but cared not a fig about me!"
"What could Colonel Philibert have to ask you about me?" Amelie unconsciously drew closer to her companion, and even clasped her arm by an involuntary movement which did not escape her friend.
"Why, he asked everything a gentleman could, with proper respect, ask about a lady."
"And what did you say?"
"Oh, not half enough to content him. I confess I felt piqued that he only looked on me as a sort of pythoness to solve enigmas about you. I had a grim satisfaction in leaving his curiosity irritated, but not satisfied. I praised your beauty, goodness, and cleverness up to the skies, however. I was not untrue to old friendship, Amelie!" Angelique kissed her friend on the cheek, who silently allowed what, in her indignation a few moments ago, she would have refused.
"But what said Colonel Philibert of himself? Never mind about me."
"Oh, impatient that you are! He said nothing of himself. He was absorbed in my stories concerning you. I told him as pretty a fable as La Fontaine related of the Avare qui avait perdu son tresor! I said you were a beautiful chatelaine besieged by an army of lovers, but the knight errant Fortunatus had alone won your favor, and would receive your hand! The brave Colonel! I could see he winced at this. His steel cuirass was not invulnerable. I drew blood, which is more than you would have dared to do, Amelie! But I discovered the truth hidden in his heart. He is in love with you, Amelie de Repentigny!"
"Mad girl! How could you? How dare you speak so of me? What must Colonel Philibert think?"
"Think? He thinks you must be the most perfect of your sex! Why, his mind was made up about you, Amelie, before he said a word to me. Indeed, he only just wanted to enjoy the supernal pleasure of hearing me sing the praises of Amelie De Repentigny to the tune composed by himself."
"Which you seem to have done, Angelique!"
"As musically as Mere St. Borgia when singing vespers in the Ursulines," was Angelique's flippant reply.
Amelie knew how useless it was to expostulate. She swallowed her mingled pleasure and vexation salt with tears she could not help. She changed the subject by a violent wrench, and asked Angelique when she had last seen Le Gardeur.
"At the Intendant's levee the other day. How like you he is, too, only less amiable!"
Angelique did not respond readily to her friend's question about her brother.
"Less amiable? that is not like my brother. Why do you think him less amiable than me?"
"Because he got angry with me at the ball given in honor of the arrival of the Intendant, and I have not been able to restore him to perfect good humor with me since."
"Oh, then Le Gardeur completes the trio of those who are proof against your fascinations?" Amelie was secretly glad to hear of the displeasure of Le Gardeur with Angelique."
"Not at all, I hope, Amelie. I don't place Le Gardeur in the same category with my other admirers. But he got offended because I seemed to neglect him a little to cultivate this gay new Intendant. Do you know him?"
"No; nor wish to! I have heard much said to his disadvantage. The Chevalier La Corne St. Luc has openly expressed his dislike of the Intendant for something that happened in Acadia."
"Oh, the Chevalier La Corne is always so decided in his likes and dislikes: one must either be very good or very bad to satisfy him!" replied Angelique with a scornful pout of her lips."
"Don't speak ill of my godfather, Angelique; better be profane on any other topic: you know my ideal of manly virtues is the Chevalier La Corne," replied Amelie.
"Well, I won't pull down your idol, then! I respect the brave old soldier, too; but could wish him with the army in Flanders!"
"Thousands of estimable people augur ill from the accession of the Intendant Bigot in New France, besides the Chevalier La Corne," Amelie said after a pause. She disliked censuring even the Intendant.
"Yes," replied Angelique, "the Honnetes Gens do, who think themselves bound to oppose the Intendant, because he uses the royal authority in a regal way, and makes every one, high and low, do their devoir to Church and State."
"While he does his devoir to none! But I am no politician, Angelique. But when so many good people call the Intendant a bad man, it behooves one to be circumspect in 'cultivating him,' as you call it."
"Well, he is rich enough to pay for all the broken pots: they say he amassed untold wealth in Acadia, Amelie!"
"And lost the province for the king!" retorted Amelie, with all the asperity her gentle but patriotic spirit was capable of. "Some say he sold the country."
"I don't care!" replied the reckless beauty, "he is like Joseph in Egypt, next to Pharaoh in authority. He can shoe his horses with gold! I wish he would shoe me with golden slippers--I would wear them, Amelie!"
Angelique stamped her dainty foot upon the ground, as if in fancy she already had them on.
"It is shocking if you mean it!" remarked Amelie pityingly, for she felt Angelique was speaking her genuine thoughts. "But is it true that the Intendant is really as dissolute as rumor says?"
"I don't care if it be true: he is noble, gallant, polite, rich, and all-powerful at Court. He is reported to be prime favorite of the Marquise de Pompadour. What more do I want?" replied Angelique warmly.
Amelie knew enough by report of the French Court to cause her to shrink instinctively, as from a repulsive insect, at the name of the mistress of Louis XV. She trembled at the thought of Angelique's infatuation, or perversity, in suffering herself to be attracted by the glitter of the vices of the Royal Intendant.
"Angelique!" exclaimed she, "I have heard things of the Intendant that would make me tremble for you, were you in earnest."
"But I am in earnest! I mean to win and wear the Intendant of New France, to show my superiority over the whole bevy of beauties competing for his hand. There is not a girl in Quebec but would run away with him tomorrow."
"Fie, Angelique! such a libel upon our sex! You know better. But you cannot love him?"
"Love him? No!" Angelique repeated the denial scornfully. "Love him! I never thought of love and him together! He is not handsome, like your brother Le Gardeur, who is my beau-ideal of a man I could love; nor has the intellect and nobility of Colonel Philibert, who is my model of a heroic man. I could love such men as them. But my ambition would not be content with less than a governor or royal intendant in New France. In old France I would not put up with less than the King himself!"
Angelique laughed at her own extravagance, but she believed in it all the same. Amelie, though shocked at her wildness, could not help smiling at her folly.
"Have you done raving?" said she; "I have no right to question your selection of a lover or doubt your power, Angelique. But are you sure there exists no insurmountable obstacle to oppose these high aspirations? It is whispered that the Intendant has a wife, whom he keeps in the seclusion of Beaumanoir. Is that true?"
The words burnt like fire. Angelique's eyes flashed out daggers. She clenched her delicate hands until her nails drew blood from her velvet palms. Her frame quivered with suppressed passion. She grasped her companion fiercely by the arm, exclaiming,--"You have hit the secret now, Amelie! It was to speak of that I sought you out this morning, for I know you are wise, discreet, and every way better than I. It is all true what I have said, and more too, Amelie. Listen! The Intendant has made love to me with pointed gallantry that could have no other meaning but that he honorably sought my hand. He has made me talked of and hated by my own sex, who envied his preference of me. I was living in the most gorgeous of fool's paradises, when a bird brought to my ear the astounding news that a woman, beautiful as Diana, had been found in the forest of Beaumanoir by some Hurons of Lorette, who were out hunting with the Intendant. She was accompanied by a few Indians of a strange tribe, the Abenaquais of Acadia. The woman was utterly exhausted by fatigue, and lay asleep on a couch of dry leaves under a tree, when the astonished Hurons led the Intendant to the spot where she lay.
"Don't interrupt me, Amelie; I see you are amazed, but let me go on!" She held the hands of her companion firmly in her lap as she proceeded:
"The Intendant was startled out of all composure at the apparition of the sleeping lady. He spoke eagerly to the Abenaquais in their own tongue, which was unintelligible to the Hurons. When he had listened to a few words of their explanation, he ran hastily to the lady, kissed her, called her by name, 'Caroline!' She woke up suddenly, and recognizing the Intendant, embraced him, crying 'Francois! 'Francois!' and fainted in his arms.
"The Chevalier was profoundly agitated, blessing and banning, in the same breath, the fortune that had led her to him. He gave her wine, restored her to consciousness, talked with her long, and sometimes angrily; but to no avail, for the woman, in accents of despair, exclaimed in French, which the Hurons understood, that the Intendant might kill and bury her there, but she would never, never return home any more."
Angelique scarcely took breath as she continued her eager recital.
"The Intendant, overpowered either by love of her or fear of her, ceased his remonstrances. He gave some pieces of gold to the Abenaquais, and dismissed them. The strange Indians kissed her on both hands as they would a queen, and with many adieus vanished into the forest. The lady, attended by Bigot, remained seated under the tree till nightfall, when he conducted her secretly to the Chateau, where she still remains in perfect seclusion in a secret chamber, they say, and has been seen by none save one or two of the Intendant's most intimate companions."
"Heavens! what a tale of romance! How learned you all this, Angelique?" exclaimed Amelie, who had listened with breathless attention to the narrative.
"Oh, partly from a hint from a Huron girl, and the rest from the Intendant's Secretary. Men cannot keep secrets that women are interested in knowing! I could make De Pean talk the Intendant's head off his shoulders, if I had him an hour in my confessional. But all my ingenuity could not extract from him what he did not know--who that mysterious lady is, her name and family."
"Could the Huron hunters give no guess?" asked Amelie, thoroughly interested in Angelique's story.
"No. They learned by signs, however, from the Abenaquais, that she was a lady of a noble family in Acadia which had mingled its patrician blood with that of the native chiefs and possessors of the soil. The Abenaquais were chary of their information, however: they would only say she was a great white lady, and as good as any saint in the calendar."
"I would give five years of my life to know who and what that woman is!" Angelique added, as she leaned over the parapet, gazing intently at the great forest that lay beyond Charlebourg, in which was concealed the Chateau of Beaumanoir."
"It is a strange mystery. But I would not seek to unravel it, Angelique," remarked Amelie, "I feel there is sin in it. Do not touch it: it will only bring mischief upon you if you do!"
"Mischief! So be it! But I will know the worst! The Intendant is deceiving me! Woe be to him and her if I am to be their intended victim! Will you not assist me, Amelie, to discover the truth of this secret?"
"I? how can I? I pity you, Angelique, but it were better to leave this Intendant to his own devices."
"You can very easily help me if you will. Le Gardeur must know this secret. He must have seen the woman--but he is angry with me, for-- for--slighting him--as he thinks--but he was wrong. I could not avow to him my jealousy in this matter. He told me just enough to madden me, and angrily refused to tell the rest when he saw me so infatuated--he called it--over other people's love affairs. Oh, Amelie, Le Gardeur will tell you all if you ask him!"
"And I repeat it to you, Angelique, I cannot question Le Gardeur on such a hateful topic. At any rate I need time to reflect, and will pray to be guided right."
"Oh, pray not at all! If you pray you will never aid me! I know you will say the end is wicked and the means dishonorable. But find out I will--and speedily! It will only be the price of another dance with the Chevalier de Pean, to discover all I want. What fools men are when they believe we love them for their sakes and not for our own!"
Amelie, pitying the wild humors, as she regarded them, of her old school companion, took her arm to walk to and fro in the bastion, but was not sorry to see her aunt and the Bishop and Father de Berey approaching.
"Quick," said she to Angelique, "smooth your hair, and compose your looks. Here comes my aunt and the Bishop--Father de Berey too!"
Angelique prepared at once to meet them, and with her wonderful power of adaptation transformed herself in a moment into a merry creature, all light and gaiety. She saluted the Lady de Tilly and the reverend Bishop in the frankest manner, and at once accepted an interchange of wit and laughter with Father de Berey.
"She could not remain long, however, in the Church's company," she said, "she had her morning calls to finish." She kissed the cheek of Amelie and the hand of the Lady de Tilly, and with a coquettish courtesy to the gentlemen, leaped nimbly into her caleche, whirled round her spirited horses like a practised charioteer, and drove with rapid pace down the crowded street of St. John, the observed of all observers, the admiration of the men and the envy of the women as she flashed by.
Amelie and the Lady de Tilly, having seen a plenteous meal distributed among their people, proceeded to their city home--their seigniorial residence, when they chose to live in the capital.