The Black Wolf's Breed/Chapter 24
THE CHILDREN OF THE BLACK WOLF'S BREED
ACCORDING to the Governor's recollection, I had been gone only a short space when a peremptory knock came upon his door. He opened it, and there stood the Chevalier de la Mora, dishevelled and with evidences of haste, but courteous as was his wont.
"I desire to speak with Captain de Mouret, at once, at once."
"That you can not do; he has gone. Chevalier, I am astonished. Had I not a gentleman's parole that you should remain in your house this night?"
"You had, sire, but the conditions were urgent, and see, I have sought Captain de Mouret without arms, so no breach could occur between us."
"Fortunately, M. le Chevalier, Captain de Mouret has consented to leave this colony to-night, and before the day dawns he will doubtless be many miles away."
The Chevalier heard like one dumb and undecided, a great doubt tugging at his heart. He departed unsteadily in the direction of the barracks.
"Here, my good fellow, hast seen Captain de Mouret?" he inquired of a straggler.
The man saluted.
"Yes, sire, he but lately went the path towards the Bay."
"How long since?"
"A bare quarter of an hour. He was dressed for the forest and went alone."
During this while I, Placide de Mouret, stranger and outcast, sat upon a grassy hillock awaiting Pachaco with his boat. The echoes of my horn had died away in the night, and soon after I caught the sound of running feet, and heard a man's voice calling my name as he ran. To my utter astonishment it was the Chevalier, breathless from his speed.
"Is it you—Captain de Mouret?"
"It is—Chevalier," I replied, uncertain at the first who the man could be.
Seeing him in such a state of mind I knew the struggle had come. There be times in every man's life when he recks lightly of consequences, and this was not my night for caring. I had, in a measure, run away thus far from him, and he, not content with this, had pursued me past the limit of forbearance. So anticipating his own action, I began carefully to take off my own coat, and remembered with pleasure that it was not a slight rapier which now hung confidently by my side.
"No, Captain, not that. I have sought you this time in peace. See, I have no weapons."
Suiting the gesture to the speech, he flung wide his arms, and showed himself unprepared for battle.
"Captain, you and I have fought side by side. You are a man of courage, and if you have injured me you will render me due account upon my demand. I do demand this of you now, that you return with me to Biloxi at once, upon my assurance as a soldier that no harm will there befall you. This, sir, upon a soldier's honour."
It was a most unexpected outcome to such an interview. I hesitated warily at his request, and then thinking it could make matters no worse, inquired:
"How long will you require me, and for what purpose?"
"The time will be most brief, a moment should suffice. The purpose I can not give, but it will bring you into no danger. I repeat, upon the word of a man of honour, that you will be permitted to return safely as you came, and no one will follow."
I must say, in spite of these protests, I did not want to go. But he pressed his wish so earnestly that I followed the Chevalier down the winding path back to Biloxi, not without great trepidation, however. He walked rapidly in front, and not a word was exchanged between us. We passed the barracks and the Governor's house, where I thought to stop, but he led me on. Leaving the thicker portions of the little town, he soon paused before his own gate and swung it open. The wild thought now entered my brain that perhaps he had planned some terrible revenge upon his wife, and desired to torture me by forcing me to witness it. I hung back at the gate. My own good sword re-assured me, and he mounted the step to throw open the door.
"Come in, Captain. I regret that I can not give you a more sincere welcome."
Truly, there was nothing in the aspect of the room to cause alarm. Two ladies were inside, one at either end of a simple working table—Agnes and another lady, about her own figure, whom I did not know. The elder woman looked straight in my face with an anxious air.
The Chevalier did not formally present me. Agnes drooped her head somewhat, and never raised her eyes at my entrance. It was a most awkward situation. As to what de la Mora contemplated I could not venture the wildest guess; certainly no violence in the presence of this other lady who looked so cool while yet so pale.
"Captain de Mouret, as you hope for your soul's salvation, I conjure you to tell me the whole truth. I do solemnly promise you, upon a soldier's honour, at the very worst which may come, I will only leave this colony, and will not injure any one."
I had seen de la Mora on many a field, but never did he look stronger or nobler than on that night. His voice sounded full and clear despite the intensity of his suffering.
"Captain de Mouret, you are a soldier, a brave one, as my own eyes have witnessed, reputed a man of untarnished honour. Will you truly answer me one question upon the sacred Blood of Christ?"
His earnestness appealed to every better instinct of my nature, so I replied to him:
"Have I your oath?"
"Then, sir, to which of these ladies, if either, did you intend this note should be delivered; and which, if either, did you meet at the ruined chapel at Sceaux? Speak, in God's name, and do not spare me! Suspicion is more terrible than truth."
The very worst had come, and I felt my resolution waver. I knew not what story Agnes had told her husband, nor did I know who that other lady was. She looked enough like Agnes to have afforded shallow pretext for an evasion. Verily here was a strong temptation for a lie, and I was almost minded to tell it and relieve Agnes. Agnes, though, would give me no cue; never once did she lift her eyes to mine. I might even then have told the lie, but for the reflection it would compromise an innocent woman.
"Captain, in God's name, speak! do you not see that I am quiet and self-controlled?"
"Chevalier de la Mora, I shall tell you the exact truth, and hold you to your promise that there shall be no violence—now. What I did was through my fault alone, nor did your lady give me the slightest encouragement—she is blameless. It is a sore strait you have placed me in, but this is the lady who has all a soldier's love, and a soldier's respect, which she has done nothing to forfeit."
As I spoke, I indicated the shrinking figure of Agnes, and turned to meet the storm. Verily the storm did come, but from a different source.
The elder lady rose with a fervent "Thank God!" which I could find no reason for her saying. Agnes nervously twisted at the table cover, her cheeks crimson with the shame. I could not resist a long look down upon her, and do what I might, my love showed full and strong in my face and mien.
De la Mora keenly watched us all. That other lady, for whom I had no thought, to my utter surprise, moved toward him with hands outstretched, and cried: "Charles."
For a moment he hesitated, then:
"Oh, Agnes, Agnes, a lifetime's love and service can not compensate you for what I've made you suffer—the doubt I bore my loyal wife."
He fell upon his knee before her and carried her hand to his lips as though she were a goddess, and then sprang toward me with the gladdest of glad smiles, thrust his hand at me, and came near to cracking mine by the vigor of his grasp. His throat choked up, and he said nothing.
And all this while I looked from one to the other with a most dull and stupid stare.
Agnes looked up at me once, radiant and confused, then lowered her eyes again.
The Chevalier broke a silence which was becoming intolerable, to me at least, who did not understand it all.
"Captain de Mouret, you have been in error, and have done me no wrong. This lady here is my worshipped wife, Madame Agnes de la Mora." I looked upon her incredulously, while that gracious woman took one hand from her husband long enough to extend to me her greeting.
Thoroughly perplexed by this most unlooked for denouement, I asked:
"Who, then, is this?"
"This chit," he replied, walking round the table, happy as a boy, and almost lifting her bodily, "this is Madame's little sister, Charlotte. She confessed this evening to having spoken with you once in the Chapel at Sceaux—and I, may God forgive me, doubted but she had done it to shield her sister. I knew the little minx had warned you in the Park, but thought nothing of it. Charlotte, come here!"
And Charlotte de Verges laid her warm little hand in mine. For thirty years it has rested there in peace.
Thus, through many strange perils and purifying sorrows came the abiding happiness which blessed these last two children of the "Black Wolf's Breed."