The Black Wolf's Breed/Chapter 22
THE CONTENTS OF THE BOX
ONE day very soon thereafter my servant presented me a box, which he said had been brought there by an Indian from Colonel d'Ortez, with the request that it be delivered into my own hand. And further, to beg I would make him a visit as soon as my duties would permit.
The evening being far advanced I could not go that night, so contented myself with the promise I would cross the bay on the morrow.
Later, my company being my own, I gave attention to the box, such a metal receptacle as was commonly used for articles of value. It responded easily to the key, and opened without difficulty.
The reasons for d'Ortez's fear and retirement lay bare before me, if I would but search them out. Within the box, bound together by deerskin thongs, were many writings, some on parchment, some paper, of different dates and degrees of preservation. Some were well worn from age and handling, others more recent, were in better condition. Some there were which appeared quite new and fresh; these must have been the latest to find a resting place in his keeping.
All were arranged in due and systematic order; of whatever age, each bore a careful superscription, giving in brief the contents of the paper written by his own exact hand. Beside this, each document was numbered and placed in sequence. Verily, it was most methodically done, so any child could read and understand.
It was with much misgiving I approached the task of making myself familiar with my old friend's secret. Had he committed some youthful crime which weighed heavily upon his trembling age, and had driven him to these savage shores, where, shut out from all companionship with his kind, he did a lonely penance? If so, I preferred to remain in ignorance, for his was a friendship so dear, so pure, I desired not to taint it with the odor of guilt.
He had, however, made his request in such urgent terms, even pathetic, I could not disregard it, and putting aside the reluctance I felt, I took up the paper which lay on top, directed to myself, and began its perusal. It was as follows:
My dear Placide:
The great feebleness of my worn-out frame warns me again that time for me is almost past. It may be, when you recross the seas, I shall have gone to final judgment. * * * remember my request, and carry on to the end that work which generations of cowards have left undone. * * * All is here contained in these papers, except some recent news I have of the Pasquiers from the northern colonies.
Possibly if you went to Quebec and sought out the Cure of St. Martin's (who wrote this last letter, No. 32) you may right it all, and give to my soul its eternal peace. * * * With the strong affection which my bodily infirmities have in no wise diminished, I am,
Your old friend.
Raoul Armand Xavier d'Ortez.
of Cartillon, Normandy.
Having carefully read this letter, I then proceeded to peruse the various documents in the order he had arranged them.
The first, written by the hand of the Benedictine, Laurent of Lorraine, Abbot of Vaux, told of the admission to the monastery of a child, son of Henri d'Artin, to whom the good monks gave the name Bartholomew Pasquier. This child, though designed for orders, left the monastery, cast his fortunes with the King of Navarre, and became a great officer in the household of King Henri the Fourth.
Other documents gave an account of the posterity of this child down to one Francois Rene Alois de Pasquier, who fled to America in 1674 to escape the vengeance of a certain great lord whose son he slew in a duel. This was he who was reputed to have been killed in battle, and to have left no issue. And this was he whom I afterward found to be my own good father.
There was also contained an account of the later life of Pedro d'Ortez, who, profiting not by his blood-gotten gains, threw himself, while in delirium, into the same old well whereon he had hanged his brother, Henri d'Artin.
Some further notes by the good abbot told of how Raoul, the second son of Pedro, slew his own brother, before their father's eyes, in order that he, Raoul, might be Count of Cartillon. And this same Raoul, some years later, did have the locket made and forced his own son to swear that he would restore the real sons of d'Artin, the true children of the Black Wolf's Breed, to their own again. All of these accounts are of surpassing interest, old and quaint, to a perusal of which I recommend my children.
For the first time, in reading these manuscripts, did I begin clearly to associate the name d'Ortez with the name used by the madman in his story at the old Norman ruin. With this new light, link by link did the whole knotted chain untangle. Curiously enough, the tale I had heard at the ruined castle tallied in the main with the monkish documents here preserved. Indeed it supplied me with knowledge of much which otherwise I would not have comprehended so completely. The horrible reality of that weird recital was still fresh and distinct before me, undimmed by time and unforgotten through all my troubles.
I had sought refuge many times from brooding over my own affairs by turning to this for interest and occupation. Every further detail was supplied by a number of quaint documents, which Colonel d'Ortez had digested into this:
|Table Showing The Male Descendants Of|
|Henri Francois Placide d'Artin, died Aug. 28, 1572.|
|Bartholomew Pasquier (son of above, died 1609.|
|Bartholomew Placide Pasquier killed in wars of the Fronde.||Sons of above.|
|Henri Louis John (brother to above, died 1654.|
|Francois Rene Xavier de Pasquier (ennobled), killed 1650.|
|Francois Rene Alois de Pasquier, fled to America. Supposed to have been killed about 1681. No known descendants. Well known to the Cure of St. Martin's, Quebec.|
|Pedro d'Ortez, suicided 1604.|
|Charles Pedro, killed by Raoul 1602.||Sons of above.|
|Raoul, died 1618.|
|Charles Francis Peter (son of Raoul, died without issue.|
|Pedro d'Ortez (brother to above, died 1663|
|Henry (son of above), killed in battle.|
|Alphonze, killed in battle.||Sons of above.|
|Felix, died in infancy.|
|Raoul Armand Xavier d'Ortez, born 1641 (myself.) Died —. No children.|
|She who was born my daughter I disowned, and she died without issue.|
It appeared that the only thing to be done was to visit the good Cure of St. Martin's, and, enlisting him in the search, find whatever descendants might have been left by this Francois Rene Alois de Pasquier. The task need not be a difficult one, as many old people should still be living who might have known of the man.
I now bethought me of this enterprise as a fair excuse whereby I could leave Biloxi for a space. I would, therefore, call upon my old friend, and having obtained leave, matters now being safe with the colony, make the journey to Quebec.
But, alas for the weakness of fallen humanity; my last act before putting myself out of temptation's way was to run full tilt into it.
While this came so near to causing my dishonourable death, yet it was, under Divine Providence, the direct means of spreading before me a long life of happiness and honour. After a hard battle with my weaker self I lost the fight.
Just as on the day I departed from Versailles, I determined, cost what it would, to see Agnes once again. So I wrote her a note. Such a blunt and clumsy billet as only a love-sick soldier or a country clown could have written. It craved pardon for the heat and the haste displayed by me when we parted at Sceaux; it implored one last interview before I left the colonies forever. I had not the art to conceal or veil my meaning, but told it out and plainly. Such a note as an idiotic boy might pen, or a simpering school lass be set fluttering to receive.
I bade my man deliver this to Madame de la Mora on the morrow, charging him minutely and repeatedly to see it safe in her own hands. So careful was I, I did not doubt that even so stupid a lout as Jacques understood me perfectly.
His further instructions were to meet me at the Bay when I should return in the evening from my visit to Colonel d'Ortez, and there beside its rippling waters—or so I had arranged—I was to receive her answer.
It had now turned late of the night, and I sought repose. Sleep evaded my bed. What with my own restless desires, my chiding sense of ill-doing, and the d'Ortez story I had read, I tossed and tumbled through the remaining hours of darkness. Tumbled and tossed, whilst the sins and sufferings of men long dead passed and repassed with their spectral admonitions.
Early on the morrow, while the day was yet cool, I crossed the Bay, and climbed the slope of sand before the lonely house. It looked more deserted and desolate than I had ever seen it. The stillness of solitary death clung as a pall about the place. Pachaco, the Indian servant, sat beside the gate, as motionless as the post against which he leaned.
"How is the master, Pachaco?" I inquired, passing in.
"Him die yesterday," came the stolid reply.
"What? Dead! When?"
"The shadows were at the longest," he answered, indicating by a gesture the western horizon.
I hurried into the master's room. In the same position he had occupied, when, months ago, he had beckoned me to remain, he sat there, dead in his chair. His clothing hung about him in that sharply angular fashion in which garments cling to a corpse. Long, thin locks were matted above his brow, awesomely disarranged. But the pose of his head, drooped a little forward, suggested a melancholy reverie, nothing more.
The golden locket, which he had shown me that well-remembered night, rested within his shrunken palm. I noted that the side was open which revealed the blazing bar of red. As if absorbed in that same unpleasant thought, there sat the master, dead; dead, and I alone knew his story. How vividly the old man's sorrow came back; how it oppressed me.
I bent down in tender sympathy to look again upon his wasted features, and kneeling, gazed into his wide-open eyes. The calm of promised peace upon his brow was distorted by the unsatisfied expression of one who has left his work undone.
So are the sins of the fathers visited upon their children, for I was no longer in doubt but that the murderer, Pedro Ortez, was the sinning ancestor of my old-time friend. Even in his presence my thoughts flew to Agnes; had she not spoken of her grandsire as being such a man? The stiffening body at my side was speedily forgotten in the music of this meditation.
I gained my feet again and looked down upon him, fascinated by the changeless features of the dead. It was probably natural that standing there I should revolve the whole matter over and over again, from the first I knew of it until the last. A young man's plans, though, work ever with the living; the dead he places in their tomb, covers them with earth, bids them "God-speed," and banishes the recollection. I was already busy with my contemplated search for the last d'Artin, and stood there leaning against the oaken table pondering over the question, "Where is the last d'Artin?"
My mind wandered, returning with a dogged persistence to that one thought, "Where is the last d'Artin?" "Where could I find him?" My restless eyes roamed round the cheerless room, coming always back to rest upon a long dust-covered mirror set in the wall across the way.
As wind-driven clouds gather and group themselves in fantastic shapes, so, deep in that mirror's shadowy depths, a vague figure gradually took form and character—myself.
With the vacant glance of a man whose mind is intensely preoccupied, I studied minutely the reflection, my own bearing, my dress, my weapons. I even noted a button off my coat, and tried dimly to remember where I had lost it, until—great God—this chamber of death and revelation had turned my brain.
What face was that I saw? My own, assuredly, but so like another.
Aghast, powerless to move or cry out, I stared helplessly into the glass. Every other sensation vanished now before this new-born terror which held my soul enslaved. I closed my eyes, I dared not look.
My body seemed immovable with horror, but a trembling hand arose and pointed at the mirror. Scant need there was to call attention to that dim, terrible presence; my whole soul shrank from the ghostly face reflected in the glass. For there, there was the same pallid countenance, death-distorted and drawn, which I had conjured up in many a frightened dream as that of the murdered Count—there was Henri d'Artin.
How long I stood transfixed, pointing into the mirror, I know not. As men think of trifles even in times of deadly fear, so did my lips frame over and over again the last question I had in mind before all sense forsook me, "Where is the last d'Artin? Where is the last d'Artin? Where—?"
And in answer to my question, that long, rigid finger pointed directly at me from out the dusty glass. It was as if the hand of the dead had told me who I was.
It had been no blind chance, then, which led me to the Paris house of the "Black Wolf's Head;" the girl's ring with the same device, and the grewsome narrative beneath the shadow of the Wolf at the Norman ruin—nothing less than fate had brought these lights to me.
Verily some more logical power than unreasoning accident must direct the steps of men. A God of justice perhaps had placed these tokens in my path. And soldiers call this "Fortune."
I dispatched Pachaco to Biloxi with the news of death, and long before the afternoon our few simple arrangements for his funeral had been made.
"Bury me here, Placide, beneath this great oak," he had said to me one day. "The Infinite Mercy will consecrate the grave of penitence, wherever it may be."He had his wish.
- These documents have been included in an appendix to this volume.
- A very slight investigation showed that this last named Francois Rene Alois de Pasquier was none other than my own good father, who assumed the name de Mouret to avoid the consequences of a fatal duel in France. This I learned from the pious Cure of St. Martin's, who knew him well.