Only four or five men, besides themselves, were left in the great room of the Inn of the Eagle. The looks they gave the three were not hostile, and Robert judged that they belonged to the party known in Quebec as honnetes gens and described to him already by de Galisonniere. He thought once of speaking to them, but he decided not to put any strain upon their friendliness. They might have very bitter feelings against Bigot and his corrupt following, but the fact would not of necessity induce them to help the Bostonnais.
"I thought it would be best to go to bed," he said, "but I've changed my mind. A little walk first in the open air would be good for all of us. Besides we must stay up long enough to receive the seconds of de Mezy."
"A walk would be a good thing for you," said Willet--it was noteworthy that despite his great affection for the lad, he did not show any anxiety about him.
"Your wrist feels as strong as ever, doesn't it, Robert?" he asked.
Young Lennox took his right wrist in his left hand and looked at it thoughtfully. He was a tall youth, built powerfully, but his wrists were of uncommon size and strength.
"I suppose that paddling canoes during one's formative period over our lakes and rivers develops the wrists and arms better than anything else can," he said.
"It makes them strong and supple, too," said the hunter. "It gives to you a wonderful knack which with training can be applied with equal ability to something else."
"As we know."
"As we know."
They went out and walked a little while in the streets, curious eyes still following them, a fact of which they were well aware, although they apparently took no notice of it. Willet observed Robert closely, but he could not see any sign of unsteadiness or excitement. Young Lennox himself seemed to have forgotten the serious business that would be on hand in the morning. His heart again beat a response to Quebec which in the dusk was magnificent and glorified. The stone buildings rose to the size of castles, the great river showed like silver through the darkness and on the far shore a single light burned.
A figure appeared before them. It was de Galisonniere, his ruddy face anxious.
"I was hoping that we might meet you," said Robert.
"What's this I hear about a quarrel between you and de Mezy and a duel in the morning?"
"You hear the truth."
"But de Mezy, though he is no friend of mine, is a swordsman, and has had plenty of experience. You English, or at least you English in your colonies, know nothing about the sword, except to wear it as a decoration!"
"I appreciate your anxiety for me," he said. "It's the feeling of a friend, but don't worry. A few of us in the English colonies do know the use of the sword, and at the very head of them I should place David Willet, whom you know and who is with us."
"But de Mezy is not going to fight Willet, he is going to fight you."
"David Willet has been a father to me, more, in truth, than most fathers are to their sons. I've been with him for years, Captain de Galisonniere, and all the useful arts he knows he has tried long and continuously to teach to me."
"Then you mean that the sword you now wear at your thigh is a weapon and not an ornament?"
"Primarily, yes, but before we go further into the matter of the sword, I wish to ask you a favor."
"Ask a dozen, Lennox. We've been companions of the voyage and your quarrel with de Mezy does not arouse any hostility in me."
"I felt that it was so, and for that reason I ask the favor. We are strangers in Quebec. We did not come here to seek trouble with anybody, and so I ask you to be a second for me in this affair with de Mezy. Dave and Tayoga, of course, would act, but at the present juncture, ours being an errand of peace and not of war, I'd prefer Frenchmen."
"Gladly I'll serve you, Lennox, since you indicate that you're a swordsman and are not going to certain death, and I'll bring with me in the morning a trusty friend, Armand Glandelet, one of our honnetes gens who likes de Mezy as little as I do."
"I thank you much, my good friend. I knew you would accept, and if all are willing I suggest that we go back now to the Inn of the Eagle."
"A little trial of the sword in your room would not hurt," said de Galisonniere.
"That's a good suggestion," said Willet. "A few turns will show whether your wrists and your arms and your back are all right. You come with us, of course, Captain de Galisonniere."
They went to their large room, Captain de Galisonniere procuring on the way two buttons for rapiers from Monsieur Berryer--it seemed that duels were not uncommon in Quebec--and Willet and Robert, taking off their coats and waistcoats, faced each other in the light of two large candles. The young Frenchman watched them critically. He had assisted at many affairs of honor in both Quebec and Montreal and he knew the build of a swordsman when he saw one. When Robert stood in his shirt sleeves he noted his powerful chest and shoulders and arms, and then his eyes traveling to the marvelous wrists were arrested there. He drew in his breath as he saw, from the way in which Robert flexed them for a moment or two that they were like wrought steel.
"If this lad has been taught as they indicate he has, our ruffling bully, Jean de Mezy, is in for a bad half hour," he said to himself. Then he looked at Willet, built heavily, with great shoulders and chest, but with all the spring and activity of a young man. His glance passed on to Tayoga, the young Onondaga, in all the splendor of his forest attire, standing by the wall, his eyes calm and fathomless. It occurred all at once to Captain de Galisonniere that he was in the presence of an extraordinary three, each remarkable in his own way, and, liking the unusual, his interest in them deepened. It did not matter that they were his official enemies, because on the other hand they were his personal friends.
"Now, Robert," said Willet, "watch my eye, because I'm going to put you to a severe test. Ready?"
"Aye, ready, sir!" replied Robert, speaking like a pupil to his master. Then the two advanced toward the center of the room and faced each other, raising their slim swords which flashed in the flame of the candles like thin lines of light. Then Willet thrust like lightning, but his blade slipped off Robert's, and young Lennox thrust back only to have his own weapon caught on the other.
"Ah," exclaimed the gallant Frenchman. "Well done! Well done for both!"
Then he held his breath as the play of the swords became so fast that the eye could scarcely follow. They made vivid lines, and steel flashed upon steel with such speed that at times the ringing sound seemed continuous. Willet's agility was amazing. Despite his size and weight he was as swift and graceful as a dancing master, and the power of his wrist was wonderful. The amazement of young de Galisonniere increased. He had seen the best swordsmanship in Quebec, and he had seen the best swordsmanship in Paris, but he had never seen better swordsmanship than that shown in a room of the Inn of the Eagle by a man whom he had taken to be a mere hunter in the American wilderness.
De Galisonniere was an artist with the sword himself, and he knew swordsmanship when he saw it. He knew, too, that Lennox was but little inferior to Willet. He saw that the older man was not sparing the youth, that he was incessantly beating against the strongest parts of his defense, and that he was continually seeking out his weakest. Robert was driven around and around the room, and yet Willet did not once break through his guard.
"Ah, beautiful! beautiful!" exclaimed the Frenchman. "I did not know that such swordsmen could come out of the woods!"
His eyes met those of the Onondaga and for the first time he saw a gleam in their dark depths.
"Their swords are alive," said Tayoga. "They are living streaks of flame."
"That describes it, my friend," said de Galisonniere. "I shall be proud to be one of the seconds of Mr. Lennox in the morning."
Willet suddenly dropped the buttoned point of his rapier and raised his left hand.
"Enough, Robert," he said, "I can't allow you to tire yourself tonight, and run the risk of stiffening in the wrist tomorrow. In strength you are superior to de Mezy, and in wind far better. You should have no trouble with him. Watch his eye and stand for a while on the defensive. One of his habits, will soon wear himself down, and then he will be at your mercy."
"You are a wonderful swordsman, Mr. Willet," said de Galisonniere, frank in his admiration. "I did not think such skill, such power and such a variety in attack and defense could be learned outside of Paris."
"Perhaps not!" said Willet, smiling. "The greatest masters of the sword in the world teach in Paris, and it was there that I learned what I know."
"What, you have been in Paris?"
"Aye, Captain de Galisonniere, I know my Paris well."
But he volunteered nothing further and Louis de Galisonniere's delicacy kept him from asking any more questions. Nevertheless he had an intensified conviction that three most extraordinary people had come to Quebec, and he was glad to know them. Jean de Mezy, count of France, and powerful man though he might be, was going to receive a punishment richly deserved. He detested Bigot, Cadet, Pean and all their corrupt crowd, while recognizing the fact that they were almost supreme in Quebec. It would be pleasing to the gods for de Mezy to be humiliated, and it did not matter if the humiliation came from the hands of a Bostonnais.
"Would you mind trying a round or two at the foils with me?" he said to Willet. "Since you don't have to fight in the morning you needn't fear any stiffening of the wrist, and I should like to learn something about that low thrust of yours, the one well beneath your opponent's guard, and which only a movement like lightning can reach. You used it five times, unless my eye missed a sixth."
"And so you noticed it!" said Willet, looking pleased. "I made six such thrusts, but Robert met them every time. I've trained him to be on the watch for it, because in a real combat it's sure to be fatal, unless it's parried with the swiftness of thought."
"Then teach me," said de Galisonniere eagerly. "We're a fighting lot here in Quebec, and it may save my life some day."
Willet was not at all averse, and for nearly an hour he taught the young Frenchman. Then de Galisonniere departed, cautioning Robert to sleep well, and saying that he would come early in the morning with his friend, Glandelet.
"His advice about sleeping was good, Robert," said Willet. "Now roll into bed and off with you to slumberland at once."
Robert obeyed and his nerves were so steady and his mind so thoroughly at peace that in fifteen minutes he slept. The hunter watched his steady breathing with satisfaction and said to Tayoga:
"If our bibulous friend, Count Jean de Mezy, doesn't have a surprise in the morning, then I'll go back to the woods, and stay there as long as I live."
"Will Lennox kill him?" asked Tayoga.
"I hadn't thought much about it, Tayoga, but he won't kill him. Robert isn't sanguinary. He doesn't want anybody's blood on his hands, and it wouldn't help our mission to take a life in Quebec."
"The man de Mezy does not deserve to live."
"That's so, Tayoga," he said, "but it's no part of our business to go around taking the lives away from all those who don't make good use of 'em. Why, if we undertook such a job we'd have to work hard for the next thousand years. I think we'd better fall on, ourselves, and snatch about eight good hours of slumber."
In a few minutes three instead of one slept, and when the first ray of sunlight entered the room in the morning Tayoga awoke. He opened the window, letting the fresh air pour in, and he raised his nostrils to it like a hound that has caught the scent. It brought to him the aromatic odors of his beloved wilderness, and, for a time, he was back in the great land of the Hodenosaunee among the blue lakes and the silver streams. He had been educated in the white man's schools, and his friendship for Robert and Willet was strong and enduring, but his heart was in the forest. Enlightened and humane, he had nevertheless asked seriously the night before the question: "Will Lennox kill him?" He had discovered something fetid in Quebec and to him de Mezy was a noxious animal that should be destroyed. He wished, for an instant, that he knew the sword and that he was going to stand in Lennox's place.
Then he woke Robert and Willet, and they dressed quickly, but by the time they had finished Monsieur Berryer knocked on the door and told them breakfast was ready. The innkeeper's manner was flurried. He was one of the honnetes gens who liked peace and an upright life. He too wished the insolent pride of de Mezy to be humbled, but he had scarcely come to the point where he wanted to see a Bostonnais do it. Nor did he believe that it could be done. De Mezy was a good swordsman, and his friends would see that he was in proper condition. Weighing the matter well, Monsieur Berryer was, on the whole, sorry for the young stranger.
But Robert himself showed no apprehensions. He ate his excellent breakfast with an equally excellent appetite, and Monsieur Berryer noticed that his hand did not tremble. He observed, too, that he had spirit enough to talk and laugh with his friends, and when Captain de Galisonniere and another young Frenchman, Lieutenant Armand Glandelet, arrived, he welcomed them warmly.
The captain carried under his arm a long thin case, in which Monsieur Berryer knew that the swords lay. Lieutenant Armand Glandelet was presented duly and Robert liked his appearance, his age apparently twenty-three or four, his complexion fair and his figure slender. His experience in affairs of honor was not as great as de Galisonniere's, and he showed some excitement, but he was one of the honnetes gens and he too wished, the punishment of de Mezy. Perhaps he had suffered from him some insult or snub which he was not in a position to resent fully.
"Is your wrist strong and steady and without soreness, Mr. Lennox?" asked Captain de Galisonniere.
"It was never more flexible," replied Robert confidently. "Shall we go to the field? I should like to be there first."
"A praiseworthy attitude," said Captain de Galisonniere. "The sun is just rising and the light is good. Come."
Keeping the long, thin case under his arm, he went forth, and the rest followed. Monsieur Berryer also came at a respectful distance, and others fell into line with him. Robert walked by the side of Willet.
"Don't forget that low thrust," said the hunter, "and watch his eye. You feel no apprehensions?"
"None at all, thanks to you. I'm quite sure I'm his master."
"Then it's a good morning for a fight, and the setting is perfect. You'll remember this day, Robert. What a wonderful situation has the Quebec of the French that was the Stadacona of the Mohawks! A fine town, a great rock and the king of rivers! The St. Lawrence looks golden in the early sunlight, and what a lot of it there is!"
"Yes, it's a great stream," said Robert, looking at the golden river and the far shores, green and high.
"Here we are," said de Galisonniere, passing beyond some outlying houses. "It's a good, clear opening, pretty well surrounded by trees, with plenty of sunlight at all points, and as you wished, Mr. Lennox, we're the first to arrive."
They stood together, talking with apparent unconcern, while the morning unfolded, and the golden sunlight over the river deepened. Although he had been trained with the sword for years, it would be Robert's first duel, and, while he approached it with supreme confidence, he knew that he could find no joy in the shedding of another's blood. He felt it a strange chance that such an affair should be forced upon him, and yet this was a dueling city. The hot young spirits of France had brought their customs with them into the North American wilderness, and perhaps the unsought chance, if he used it as he thought he could, would not serve him so ill after all.
De Mezy, with his seconds, Nemours and Le Moyne, was approaching among the trees. It appeared that the seconds for both had arranged everything at a meeting the night before, and nothing was left for the two principals but to fight. Robert saw at a single glance that de Mezy's head was clear. Some of the mottled color had left his cheeks, but the effect was an improvement, and he bore himself like a man who was strong and confident. He and his seconds wore dark blue cloaks over their uniforms, which they laid aside when they saw that Robert and his friends were present.
Nemours stepped forward and asked to speak with Captain de Galisonniere.
"Count Jean de Mezy," he said, "is an experienced swordsman, a victor in a dozen duels, a man of great skill, and he does not wish to take an advantage that might seem unfair to others. He considers the extreme youth of his opponent, and if by chance his friend, Mr. Willet, should know the sword, he will meet him instead."
It was, on the whole, a handsome offer, better than they had expected from de Mezy, and Galisonniere looked with inquiry, first at young Lennox and then at Willet. But Robert shook his head.
"No," he said, "Captain de Mezy's offer does him credit, but I decline it. I am his inferior in years, but his equal in stature and strength, and I have had some experience with the sword. Mr. Willet would gladly take my place, but I can support the combat myself."
Nemours stepped back, and Robert resolved that de Mezy's offer should not have been made wholly in vain. It would save the Frenchman some of his blood, but Nemours and de Galisonniere were now choosing the positions in such a manner that neither would have the sun in his eyes but merely his shoulder against the disc. Robert took off his coat and waistcoat and Willet folded them over his own arm. De Mezy prepared in like manner. Nemours gazed at young Lennox's shoulders and arms, and the muscles swelling beneath his thin shirt, and he was not quite so sure of his principal's victory as he had been.
Then the two faced each other and Robert looked straight into his opponent's eyes, reading there the proof that while outwardly de Mezy might now show no signs of dissipation, yet drink and lost hours had struck a blow at the vital organism of the human machine. He was more confident than ever, and he repeated to himself Willet's advice to be cautious and slow at first.
"Your positions, gentlemen!" said de Galisonniere, and they stood face to face. The turf was short and firm, and the place was ideal for their purpose. Among the trees the eager eyes of Monsieur Berryer and a score of others watched.
"Ready!" said de Galisonniere, and then, after a pause of two or three moments, he added:
Robert had not looked straight into his opponent's eye so long for nothing. He knew now that de Mezy was choleric and impatient, that he would attack at once with a vigorous arm and a furious heart, expecting a quick and easy victory. His reading of the mind through the eye was vindicated as de Mezy immediately forced the combat, cutting and thrusting with a fire and power that would have overwhelmed an ordinary opponent.
Robert smiled. He knew now beyond the shadow of a doubt that he was de Mezy's master. Not in vain did he have those large and powerful wrists, firm and strong as wrought steel, and not in vain had he been taught for years by the best swordsman in America. He contented himself with parrying the savage cuts and thrusts, and gave ground slowly, retreating in a circle. De Mezy's eyes blazed at first with triumph. He had resented Robert's refusal of his offer to substitute Willet, and now, the victory which he had regarded as easy seemed to be even easier than he had hoped. He pushed the combat harder. His sword flashed in a continuous line of light, and the whirring of steel upon steel was unceasing. But the face of Nemours, as he watched with an understanding eye, fell a little. He saw that the breathing of young Lennox was long and regular, and that his eye was still smiling.
Robert continued to give ground, but he never took his eye from that of de Mezy, and at last the count began to feel that something lay behind that calm, smiling gaze. The drink and the multitude of lost hours came back to demand their price. Something bit into his bone. Was it physical weakness or a sudden decay of confidence? He did not see any sign of weariness in his young opponent, and putting forth every effort of his muscles and every trick and device he knew he could not break through that shining guard of circling steel.
The strange apprehension that had suddenly found a place in de Mezy's mind began to grow. The slow retreat of his young antagonist was becoming slower and then it ceased entirely. Now the leaping sword before him began to drive him back, and always the calm smiling eyes probed into his, reading what he would keep hidden deep in his heart. They saw the terror that was growing there. The disbelief in his antagonist's prowess was now fast turning into a hideous contradiction, and all the while drink and the lost hours that had clamored for their price were taking it.
De Mezy began to give back. His breath grew shorter and he gasped. The deep mottled red returned to his cheeks, and terror took whole possession of him. He had struck down his man before and he had laughed, but he had never faced such a swordsman as this strange youth of the woods, with his smiling eyes and his face which was a mask despite the smile.
Nemours and Le Moyne turned pale. They saw that their leader had never once passed the bar of steel before him, and that while he panted and grew weary Lennox seemed stronger than ever. They saw, too, that the youth was a swordsman far surpassing de Mezy and that now he was playing with his enemy. He struck down his opponent's guard at will, and his blade whistled about his body and face. Nemours' hand fell to his own hilt, but the watchful Willet saw.
"Be careful," the hunter said in a menacing tone. "Obey the rules or I'll know the reason why."
Nemours' hand fell away from the hilt, and he and Le Moyne exchanged glances, but stood helpless. De Mezy had been driven backward in an almost complete circle. His wrist and arm ached to the shoulder, and always he saw before him the leaping steel and the smiling mask of a face. He caught a glimpse of the blue sky and the shining river, and then his eyes came back to the one that held his fate. Well for de Mezy that he had made the offer that morning to substitute Willet for Lennox, since youth, with the hot blood of battle pulsing in its veins, may think too late of mercy. But Robert remembered. His revenge was already complete. All had seen the pallid face of de Mezy, and all, whether they knew anything of the sword or not, knew that he lay at the mercy of his foe.
"Strike and make an end!" gasped de Mezy.
The sword flashed before his eyes again, but the blade did not touch him. Instead his own sword was torn from his weakening grasp, and was flung far upon the grass. Young Lennox, turning away, sheathed his weapon.
"Well done, Robert!" said Willet.
De Mezy put his hand to his face, which was wet with perspiration, and steadied himself. He had grown quite dizzy in the last few moments, and the pulses in his head beat so heavily that he could neither see nor think well. He was conscious that he stood unarmed before a victorious foe, but he did not know Robert had put away his sword.
"Why don't you strike?" he muttered.
"Mr. Lennox is satisfied," said Nemours. "He does not wish the combat to go further."
"Unless Captain de Mezy insists on another trial," said de Galisonniere, smiling a little, "but if he will take the advice of a countryman of his he will let the matter rest where it is. Enough has been done to satisfy the honor of everybody."
He and Nemours exchanged significant glances. It was quite evident to de Mezy's seconds that he was no match for Robert, and that another trial would probably result in greater disaster, so Nemours and Le Moyne, in behalf of their principal, promptly announced that they were satisfied, and de Galisonniere and Glandelet said as much for theirs. Meanwhile Monsieur Berryer and the other spectators, who had now risen to the number of two score, continued to watch from the shelter of the trees. They had seen the result with protruding eyes, but they had not understood when the young victor thrust his sword back in its sheath. They could not hear the talk, but it was quite clear that the duel was over, and they turned away, somewhat disappointed that one of their own had lost the combat, but somewhat pleased, too, that he had not lost his own life at the same time.
"Shake hands, gentlemen," said de Galisonniere blithely. "Although no blood was shed it was a hot battle and I hope when you two meet again it will be in friendship and not in enmity. You are a fine swordsman, Lennox, and it was honorable of you, de Mezy, when you didn't know his caliber, to offer to take on, because of his youth, the older man, Mr. Willet."
Robert came back and offered his hand frankly. De Mezy, whose head was still ringing from his uncommon exertions and chagrin, took it. It was bitter to have lost, but he still lived. In a manner as he saw it, he had been disgraced, but time and the red wine and the white would take away the sting. He still lived. That was the grand and beautiful fact. Many more joyous days and nights awaited him in the company of Bigot and Cadet and Pean, powerful men who knew how to exercise their power and how to live at the same time. He should be grateful for a little while, at least, to the young Bostonnais, and he shook the proffered hand as heartily as his own damp, limp fingers would admit.
"May your stay in Quebec be as pleasant as you wish," he said, a bit thickly.
"Thanks," said Robert, who read the man's mind thoroughly.
De Galisonniere put away the unstained swords, quite satisfied with the affair, himself and everybody. An important follower of Bigot had been humbled, and yet he had not suffered in such a manner that he could call for the punishment of the one who had humbled him. The very youth of the Bostonnais would disarm resentment against him.
De Mezy's party with formal bows drew away, and Robert and his friends returned to the Inn of the Eagle.