Robert turned away, not wishing to meet Boucher again, as he felt that the man would say something provocative, and, standing on one side with de Courcelles, he watched the players. The air was heated, and the faces of the men were strained and eager. It was all unwholesome to the last degree, and he felt repulsion, yet it held him for the time with a fascination due to curiosity. He saw Boucher begin to play and as the latter held his cards, noticed again his thick and strong, but supple wrists. Uncommon wrists they were, and Robert knew that an uncommon amount of power was stored in them.
Bigot presently observed Robert, and asked him to play, but the lad declined, and he was brave enough to say that he never played. Bigot laughed and shook his head.
"Ah, you Puritan Bostonnais!" he said; "you'll never learn how to live."
Then he went back to his game.
"I think," said Robert, upon whom the heat and thick air were beginning to tell, "that I'd like to go outside and breathe a little fresh air."
"It is like a hothouse in here," said de Courcelles.
"It's but a step from this room to a little garden, where we can find all the cool air we want."
"Then show the way," said Robert quickly. He was eager to escape from the room, not alone for the sake of air, but because the place choked him. After a period of excitement and mental intoxication the reaction had come. The colors were growing dimmer, the perfume in the air turned to poison, and he longed for the clean out-of-doors.
De Courcelles opened a small door and they stepped out. Robert did not notice that Boucher instantly put down his cards and followed. Before them was a grassy lawn with borders of rose bushes, and beyond, the vast sweep of the hills, the river and the far shore showed dimly through the dusk. The air, moved by a light wind, was crisp, fresh and pure, and, as Robert breathed it deeply, he felt his head grow clear and cool. Several men were walking in the garden. One of them was Jumonville, and the others he did not know.
"A wonderful site and a wonderful view," said Robert.
"But from Montmartre in Paris one may see a far greater city," said Boucher at his elbow.
Robert turned angrily upon him. He felt that the man, in some manner, was pursuing him, and that he had stood enough.
"I did not speak to you, Monsieur Boucher," he said.
"But I spoke to you, my young sprig of a Bostonnais."
He spoke with truculence, and now de Courcelles did not interfere. The others, hearing loud and harsh words, drew near. Jumonville came very close and regarded Robert with great intentness, evidently curious to see what he would do. The youth stared at Boucher in amazement, but he exercised his utmost self-control.
"I know that you spoke to me, Monsieur Boucher," he said, "but as I do not see any relevancy in your remarks I will ask you to excuse me. I came here merely for the air with Colonel de Courcelles."
He turned away, expecting de Courcelles to resume the walk with him, but the figure of the Frenchman stiffened and he did not move. All at once a wind of hostility seemed to be blowing. Somewhere in the dusk, somebody laughed lightly. Robert's face blazed, but he was still master of himself.
"And so you would leave after speaking to me in a manner that is an insult," sneered Boucher.
"You were the first to give an insult."
"If you think so I am ready to return satisfaction."
Boucher folded his arms across his chest, his powerful wrists crossed, and stared at Robert, his lips wrinkling in ugly fashion. It was a look like that which Tandakora had given him, and there in the background was the huge and sinister figure of the Indian, wrapped in his blanket of flame. He also saw de Mezy and he too was sneering in insolent triumph. De Courcelles, from whom he had a right at that time to expect friendship, or at least support, had drawn farther away.
"I am a guest here," said Robert, "and I seek no trouble. I don't wish to mar the hospitality of Monsieur Bigot by being a party to a quarrel in his garden."
Again that light laugh came from a point somewhere in the dusk and again Robert's face blazed, but he still held himself under firm control.
"You were ready enough to fight Count Jean de Mezy this morning," said Boucher, "knowing that he was not in condition and that you had a skill with the sword not suspected by him."
The truth of it all flashed upon Robert with the certainty of conviction. The entire situation had been arranged and de Courcelles was one of its principals. He had been brought into the garden that a fight might be forced upon him there. Boucher was a bravo and undoubtedly a great swordsman. He understood now the secret of those thick flexible wrists and of the man's insulting manner. His blood became ice in his veins for a moment or two, but it was good for him, cooling his head and quickening his mind. His heart beat with regularity and steadiness.
"I thank you, Monsieur de Courcelles," he said, "for your action in this matter, which I now understand. It's true that it departs in some respects from what I have understood to be the code and practice of a French gentleman, but doubtless, sir, it's your right to amend those standards as you choose."
De Courcelles flushed, bit his lip and was silent.
"Very pretty! Very pretty!" sneered Boucher, "but French gentlemen are the best judges of their own manners and morals. You have your sword, sir, and I have mine. Here is a fine open space, well lighted by the moon, and no time is better than the present. Will you draw, sir?"
"He will not," said a voice over Robert's shoulder, which he instantly recognized as that of the hunter. He felt suddenly as if a great wall had been raised for his support. He was no longer alone among plotting enemies.
"And why will he not, and what affair is it of yours?" asked Boucher, his manner threatening.
Willet took a step forward, his figure towering and full of menace. Just behind him was Tayoga. Robert had never seen the hunter look taller or more charged with righteous wrath. But it was an anger that burned like a white hot flame, and it was alive with deadly menace.
"He will not draw because he was brought here to be assassinated by you, bully and bravo that you are," replied Willet, plumbing the very depths of Boucher's eyes with his stern gaze. "I like the French, and I know them to be a brave and honest people. I did not think that in a gathering of French gentlemen enough could be found to form a treacherous and murderous conspiracy like this."
Nobody laughed in the dusk. The silence was intense. A cool wind blew across Robert's face, and he felt anew that an invincible champion stood by his side. Boucher broke the silence with a contemptuous laugh.
"Out of the way, sir," he said. "The affair does not concern you. If he does not draw and defend himself I will chastise him with the flat of my sword."
"You will not," said the hunter, in his cool, measured tones. "You will fight me, instead."
"My quarrel is not with you."
"But it soon will be."
Near Willet was a rose bush with fresh earth heaped over its roots. Stooping suddenly he picked up a handful and flung it with force into the bravo's face. Boucher swore under his breath, stepped back, and wiped away the earth.
"You've earned the precedence, sir," he said, "though I reserve the right to attend to Mr. Lennox afterward. 'Tis a pity that I should have to waste my steel on a common hunter. I call all of you to witness that this quarrel was forced upon me."
"Your pity does you credit," said the hunter, "but it's not needed. 'Twere better, sir, if you have such a large supply of that commodity that you save a little of it for yourself. And as for your attending to Mr. Lennox afterward, that meeting, I think, will not occur."
A long breath came from the crowd. This strange hunter spoke in a confident tone, and so he must know more than a little of the sword. De Galisonniere had just come into the garden, and was about to speak, but when he saw that Willet was face to face with Boucher he remained silent.
"Robert," said the hunter, "do you give me full title to this quarrel of yours?"
"Yes, it is yours," replied the youth, knowing that the hunter would not be denied, and having supreme confidence in him.
"And now, Monsieur Boucher," continued Willet, "the quicker the better. Mr. Lennox will be my second and I recommend that you choose for yours one of three gentlemen, Colonel de Courcelles, Count de Mezy or the Captain de Jumonville, all of whom conspired to lead a boy into this garden and to his death."
The faces of the three became livid.
"And," said the hunter, "if any one of the three gentlemen whom I have mentioned should feel the need of satisfaction after I have attended to Monsieur Pierre Boucher, I shall be very glad to satisfy him."
De Mezy recovering himself, and assuming a defiant manner, took the part of Boucher's second. Willet removed his coat and waistcoat and handed them to Robert, beside whom Tayoga was now standing. Then he drew his sword and balanced it a moment in his hand, before he clasped it lightly but firmly by the hilt.
Another long breath came from the crowd which had increased. Every man there was aware that something uncommon was afoot. Who and what Boucher was most of them knew, but the hunter was an unknown quantity, all the more interesting because of the mystery that enshrouded him. And the interest was deepened when they saw his swift, easy motion, his wonderful lightness for so large a man, and the manner in which the hilt of his sword fitted into his hand, as if they had long been brothers.
"I call you all to witness once again," said Boucher, "that this quarrel was forced upon me, and that I had no wish to slay a wandering hunter of the Bostonnais."
Willet made no reply for the present. He took his position and Boucher took his. The seconds gave the word, their swords clashed together, and they stepped back, each looking for an opening in the other's guard. Then it dawned upon the bravo that a swordsman stood before him. But he had not the slightest fear. He knew his own skill and strength.
"It's strange that a hunter should know anything about the sword," he said, "but it seems that you do and the fact pleases me much. I would not have it said that I cut down an ignorant man."
"And yet it might be said," replied the hunter. "Do you remember the boy, Gaston Lafitte, whom you fought behind the Luxembourg near twenty years ago?"
The face of Boucher suddenly went deathly white, and, for a moment, he trembled.
"Who are you, you mumming hunter?" he cried. "I know no Gaston Lafitte."
"There you lie, Boucher. You knew him well enough and you can't forget him if you would. Your face has shown it. It was well that you had powerful friends then, or you would soon be completing your twentieth year in the galleys."
The blood rushed back into Boucher's face until it was a blazing red, and he attacked savagely. Few men could have stood before that powerful and cunning offense, but Willet met him at every point. Always the flashing steel was turned aside, and the hunter, cool, patient and wary, looked like one who, in absolute faith, bided his time.
A gasp came from the spectators. The omens had foretold something unusual, but here was more than they had expected or had hoped. The greatest swordsman whom France could send forth had been checked and held by an unknown hunter, by a Bostonnais, among whom one would not look for swordsmanship. They stopped for breath and Boucher from under his dark brows stared at the hunter.
"Mummer," he said. "You claim to know something of me. What other lie about me can you tell?"
"It's not necessary to tell lies, Pierre Boucher. There was Raoul de Bassempierre whom you compelled to fight you before he was fairly recovered of a sickness. His blood is still on your hands. Time has not dried it away. Look! Look! See the red bubbles standing on your wrists!"
Boucher, again as white as death, looked down hastily, and then uttered a fierce oath. The hunter laughed.
"It's true, Boucher," he said, "and everyone here knows it's true. Why speak of lies? I don't carry them in my stock, and I've proved that I don't need them. Come, you wish my death, attack again, but remember that I'm neither the untrained boy, Gaston Lafitte, nor Raoul de Bassempierre, wasted from illness."
Boucher rushed at him, and Robert thought he could hear the angry breath whistling through his teeth. Then he grew cooler, steadied himself and pushed the offense. His second attack was even more dangerous than the first, and he showed all the power and cunning of the great swordsman that he was. Willet slowly gave ground and the spectators began to applaud. After all, Boucher was a Frenchman and one of themselves, although it was not the best of the French who were gathered there in the garden that night--except de Galisonniere and one or two others.
Robert watched the hunter and saw that his breathing was still regular and easy, and that his eye was as calm and confident as ever. Then his own faith, shaken for a moment, returned. Boucher was still unable to break through that guard of living steel, and when they paused a second time for breath each was still untouched.
"You are a swordsman, I'll admit that," said Boucher.
"Yes, a better than the raw lad, Gaston Lafitte, or Raoul de Bassempierre who was ill, and a better than a third whom I recall."
"What do you mean, mummer?"
"There was a certain Raymond de Neville who played at dice with another whom I could name. Neville said that the other cheated, but he was a great swordsman while Neville was but an indifferent fencer, and the other slew him. Yet, they say Neville's charges were true. Shall I name that man, Boucher?"
Boucher, livid with rage, sprang at him.
"Mummer!" he cried. "You know too much. I'll close your mouth forever!"
Now it seemed to Boucher that a very demon of the sword stood before him. His own fierce rush was met and he was driven back. The ghosts of the boy, Gaston Lafitte, of the sick man Raoul de Bassempierre, and of the indifferent swordsman, Raymond de Neville who had been cheated at cards, came back, and they helped Willet wield his weapon. His figure broadened and grew. His blade was no longer of steel, it was a strip of lightning that played around the body and face of the dazzled bravo. It was verily true that the hands of four men grasped the hilt, the ghosts of the three whom he had murdered long ago, and Willet who stood there in the flesh before him.
A reluctant buzz of admiration ran through the crowd. Many of them had come from Paris, but they had never seen such swordsmanship before. Whoever the hunter might be they saw that he was the master swordsman of them all. They addressed low cries of warning to Boucher: "Have a care!" "Have a care!" "Save your strength!" they said. But de Galisonniere stood, tight-lipped and silent. Nor did Robert and Tayoga feel the need of saying anything to their champion.
Now Boucher felt for the first time in his life that he had met the better man. The great duelist who had ruffled it so grandly through the inns and streets of Paris looked with growing terror into the stern, accusing eyes that confronted him. But he did not always see Willet. It was the ghosts of the boy, Gaston Lafitte, of the sick man Raoul de Bassempierre and of the indifferent swordsman, Raymond de Neville, that guided the hunter's blade, and his forehead became cold and wet with perspiration.
De Galisonniere had moved in the crowd, until he stood with Robert and Tayoga. He was perhaps the only one of the honnetes gens in the garden, and while he was a Frenchman, first, last and all the time, he knew who Boucher was and what he represented, he understood the reason why Robert had been drawn into the garden and he was willing to see the punishment of the man who was to have been the sanguinary instrument of the plot.
"A miracle will defeat the best of plans," he said to de Courcelles.
"What do you mean, de Galisonniere?" asked de Courcelles with a show of effrontery.
"That an unknown hunter should prove himself a better swordsman than your great duelist and bravo, Boucher."
"Why do you call him my duelist and bravo, de Galisonniere?"
"I understand that you brought young Lennox into the garden, apparently his warm friend on the way, and then when he was here, stood aside."
"You must answer for such insinuations, Captain de Galisonniere."
"But not to you, my friend. My sword will be needed in the coming war, and I'm not called upon to dull it now against one who was a principal in a murderous conspiracy. I may be over particular about those with whom I fight, de Courcelles, but I am what I am."
"You mean you will not fight me?"
"Certainly not. A meeting would cause the reasons for it to be threshed out, and we are not so many here in Canada that those reasons would not become known to all, and you, I fancy, would not relish the spread of such knowledge. The Intendant is a powerful man, but the Marquis Duquesne is the head of our military life, and he would not be pleased to hear what one of his officers so high in rank has done here tonight."
All the blood left de Courcelles' face, and he shook with anger, but he knew in his heart that de Galisonniere spoke the deadly truth. Besides, the whole plan had gone horribly wrong. And it had been so well laid. Who could have thought that a wandering hunter would appear at such a time, take the whole affair into his hands, and prove himself a better swordsman than Boucher, who was reputed not to have had his equal in France. It was the one unlucky chance, in a million! Nay, it was worse! It was a miracle that had appeared against them, and in that de Galisonniere had told the truth. Rage and terror stabbed at his heart, rage that the plan laid so smoothly had failed, and terror for himself. No, he would not challenge de Galisonniere.
"You will notice, de Courcelles," said the young Captain, "that Boucher is approaching exhaustion. Perhaps not another man in the world could have withstood his tremendous offense so well, but the singular hunter seems to be one man in a world, at least with the sword. Now, the seconds will give them a little rest before they close once more, and, I think, for the last time."
"For God's sake, de Galisonniere, cease! It's bad enough without your unholy glee!"
"'Bad enough' and 'unholy glee,' de Courcelles! Not at all! It's very well, and my pleasure is justified. I fear that villany is not always punished as it should be, and seldom in the dramatic manner that leaps to the eye and that has the powerful force of example. Ah, a foul blow before the seconds gave the word! Boucher has gone mad! But you and I won't trouble ourselves about him, since he will soon pay for it. I think I see a change in the hunter's eye. It has grown uncommonly stern and fierce. He has the look of an executioner."
De Galisonniere had read aright. When the treacherous blow was dealt and turned aside barely in time, Willet's heart hardened. If Boucher lived he would live to add more victims to those who had gone before. The man's whole fiber, body and mind, was poison, nothing but poison, and the murdered three whom Willet had known cried upon him to take vengeance. He began to press the bravo and Boucher's followers were silent. De Galisonniere was not the only one who had marked the change in the hunter's eye.
"You will note, de Courcelles," said he, "that your man, Boucher, has thrown his life away."
"He's not my man, de Galisonniere!"
"You compel me to repeat, de Courcelles, that your man, Boucher, has thrown away his own life. It's not well to deal a foul blow at a consummate swordsman. But I suppose it's hard for a murderer to change his instincts. Ah, what a stroke! What a stroke! It was so swift that I saw only a flash of light! And so, our friend, Boucher, has sped! And when you seek the kernel of the matter, de Courcelles, it was you who helped to speed him!"
De Courcelles, unable to bear more, strode away. Boucher was lying upon his back, and the bravo had fought his last fight. Willet looked down at him, shook his head a little, but he did not feel remorse. The ghosts of the untrained boy, Gaston Lafitte, of the sick man, Raoul de Bassempierre, and of Raymond de Neville, who had been murdered at dice, guided his hand, and it was they who had struck the blow. Robert helped him to put on the waistcoat and coat, as a group of men, Bigot, Cadet, and Pean at their head, invaded the garden.
"What's this! What's this!" exclaimed Bigot, staring at the motionless prostrate figure with the closed eyes.
Then de Galisonniere spoke up, and Robert was very grateful to him.
"It was done by Mr. Willet, as you see, sir, and if ever a man had justification he has it. The quarrel was forced upon him, and, during a pause, Boucher struck a foul blow, which, had it not been for Mr. Willet's surpassing skill, would have proved mortal and would have stained the honor of all Frenchmen in Quebec. Colonel de Courcelles will bear witness to the truth of all that I have said, will you not, de Courcelles?"
"Yes," said de Courcelles, though he shook in his uniform with anger.
"And so will Count Jean de Mezy. He too is eager to give testimony and support me in what I say. Is it not so, de Mezy?"
"Yes," said de Mezy, the purple spots in his face deepening.
"Then," said the Intendant, "I see nothing left to do but bury Boucher. He was but a quarrelsome fellow with none too good a record in France. And keep it from the ladies at present."
He returned with his courtiers to the house, and the dancing continued, but Robert felt that he could not stay any longer. Such cynicism shocked him, and paying his respects to Bigot and his friends, he left with Tayoga and the hunter for the Inn of the Eagle.
"It was a great fight," said Tayoga, as they stood outside and breathed the cool, welcome air again. "What Hayowentha was with the bow and arrow the Great Bear is with the sword."
"I don't like to take human life," said the hunter, "and it scarcely seems to me that I've done it now. I feel as if I had been an instrument in the hands of others, giving to Boucher the punishment deferred so long."
"There will be no trouble about it," said Tayoga. "I read the face of Bigot and no anger was there. It may be that he was glad to get rid of the man Boucher. The assassin becomes at times a burden."
But Willet remained silent and thoughtful.
"I've a feeling, Robert," he said, "that our mission to Quebec will fail. We've passed through too much, and all the signs are against us. As for me, I'm going to get ready for war."
"Maybe the Governor General will arrive tomorrow," said Robert, "and if so we can give him our letters and go. I was glad to come to Quebec, and I'll be equally glad to leave."
"And we can see the lodges of the Hodenosaunee again," said Tayoga, his eyes glistening.
"Yes, Tayoga, and glad I'll be to be once more among your great people, the hunters of the hills."
It was about two o'clock in the morning, when Robert went to bed, and he slept very late. Willet awoke shortly after dawn, dressed himself and went to the window, where he stood, gazing absently at the deepening sunlight on the green hills, although he saw the incidents of the heated night before far more vividly. He was a man who did not favor bloodshed, though it was a hard and stern age, and the slaying of Boucher, who would have added another to his victims, did not trouble him even the morning after. In his mind was the thought, expressed so powerfully, that the mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small. However, his anxiety to be away from Quebec had grown with the hours. The dangers were too thick, and they also had a bad habit of increasing continually.
When Robert awoke he found the hunter and Tayoga awaiting him.
"I've ordered breakfast," said Willet, "and it will be ready for us as soon as you dress. After that I'll have to comply with some formalities, owing to last night's affair, and then if the Governor General arrives this afternoon, we can deliver our letters and depart. It seems strange, Robert, that we should be here such a little while and that both you and I should fight duels. Perhaps it will be Tayoga's turn today, and he too will have to fight."
"Not unless Tandakora seeks me," said the young Onondaga.
"Did you see what became of him last night, Tayoga?" asked Willet.
"I watched him all the time you and the Frenchman were fighting, and I watched also when we came back to the inn. He would willingly have thrown a tomahawk in the dark at the head of any one of us, but he knew I watched and he did not dare."
"And that Ojibway savage is another of our troubles. He's gone clean mad with his hate of us."
Their late breakfast was served by Monsieur Berryer himself with much deference and some awe. The large room also held many more guests than usual at such an hour, but most of them ate little, only an egg or a roll, perhaps, or they dallied over a cup of coffee, reserving most of their attention for Willet, whom they regarded covertly, but with extraordinary interest. The youth with him had shown himself to be a fine swordsman, as Count Jean de Mezy could testify, but the elder man, who had appeared to be a hunter, and who claimed to be one, was such a master of the weapon as had never before appeared in New France. And it was said by the French officers that his equal could not be found in old France either. The interest aroused by his fame was increased by the mystery that enshrouded him, and they gave him an attention that was not at all hostile. In truth, it was strongly compounded with admiration. A man who had removed Pierre Boucher as he had done, was to be regarded with respect. Boucher had given every promise of becoming a public danger in Quebec, and perhaps they owed gratitude to the hunter, Bostonnais though he was.
Late in the afternoon they had word that the Marquis Duquesne had come and would receive them. Again they arrayed themselves with the greatest care, and took their way to the Castle of St. Louis. They found a man very different in appearance and manner from the Intendant, Bigot. Tall, austere, belonging to a race that was reckoned very noble in France, the Marquis Duquesne was not popular in New France. He had none of the geniality and easy generosity of Bigot, as he spent his own money, but he had shown a military energy and foresight which the British governors to the south were far from imitating. While Canada did not love him, it respected him and his boldness, and his daring and foresight had deeply impressed the powerful Indian tribes whose friendship and alliance were so important in the coming war.
The manner of the Marquis was high, when he received the three in his chamber of audience, but it was not deficient in courtesy. He looked intently at each of them in turn.
"You come, so I am told, from the Governor of New York," he said, "and judging from what I have heard he has chosen messengers who are able to make a stir. Two days in Quebec and already you have fought two duels, one of them ending fatally."
"My lord," said Willet, gravely, "they were not of our seeking."
"That also, I hear. They tell me, too, Mr. Willet, that you are an incomparable swordsman, and it must be true, or you would not have been able to defeat Boucher. But that matter is adjusted. You will not be held here because of his death. It seems that the Intendant, Monsieur Bigot himself, does not wish to carry it further. But the letters from the Governor of New York?"
"Mr. Lennox has them," said Willet.
Robert bowed and took from an inner pocket of his waistcoat the letters he had carried through so many dangers. They were contained in a small deerskin pouch, and were only two in number. Bowing again, he handed them to the Governor General, who said:
"Pray be seated, and excuse me for a few minutes while I read them."
He read slowly, stopping at times to consider, and when he had finished he read them over again.
"Do you and Mr. Willet know the contents of these letters?" he said to Robert.
"We do," replied the youth. "They were read to us by the Governor of New York before he sealed them. If we were robbed of them on the way to Quebec, and he knew the way was dangerous, we were to continue our journey and deliver the message to you verbally."
"Their nature does credit to both the heart and head of the Governor of New York. He makes a personal appeal to me to use all my influence against the war seemingly at hand. He says that England and France have nothing to gain by attacking each other in the American woods, which are large enough to hide whole European kingdoms. But he wishes the letters to be a secret with him and me and you three who have brought them. You understand that?"
Robert bowed once more.
"The second letter explains and amplifies the first, contains, I should say, his afterthoughts. As I said, 'tis a noble act, but what can I do? A war may look to many men like a sudden outburst, but it is nearly always the result of conditions that have been a long time in the growth. Your hunters, your traders and your surveyors pressed forward into the Ohio country, which is ours."
He looked at them as if he expected them to challenge the French claim to the Ohio regions, but they were wisely silent.
"The letters do not demand an immediate reply," he continued. "His Excellency prays me to consider. Perhaps I shall send one later through a trusted messenger by sloop or schooner to New York, and naturally, I shall choose one of my own officers."
"Naturally, my lord," said Robert. "We did not expect to take back the answer."
The Marquis Duquesne looked at him very keenly.
"You speak as if you were relieved at not having the errand," he said. "Perhaps there is something else on your mind which you wish to do and with which such a mission would interfere."
Robert was silent and the Marquis laughed.
"I will not press the question, because I've no right to do so," he said. "But I will let it remain an inference."
Then his eye rested upon Tayoga, at whom he looked long and searchingly, and the eye of the Onondaga met him with an answering gaze, fixed and unfaltering.
"Captain de Galisonniere has told me," said the Marquis, "that you are a young chief, or coming chief, of the Iroquois, that despite your youth you have thought much and have influence with your people. How do the Iroquois feel toward the French who wish them so well?"
"They do not forget that this Quebec is the Stadacona of one of their great warrior nations, the Mohawks," replied Tayoga.
The Marquis started and flushed.
"Quebec is ours," he said slowly, after taking due thought. "You cannot undo what was done two centuries ago."
"The nations of the Hodenosaunee do not forget, what are two centuries to them?"
"When you return to the Long House in the vale of Onondaga, and the fifty sachems meet in council, tell them Onontio has only kindness in his heart for them. The war clouds that hang over England and France grow many and thick, and my children are brave and vigilant. They know the ways of the forest. They travel by day and by night, and they strike hard. The English are not a match for them."
"If I should tell them what Onontio tells to me they would say: 'Go back to Quebec, which is by right the Stadacona of our great warrior nation, the Mohawks, and say to Onontio that his words are like the songs of birds, but we, the Hodenosaunee, do not forget. We remember Frontenac, and we remember Champlain, the first of the white men to come among us with guns, the use of which we did not know, killing our warriors.'"
"Time makes changes, Tayoga, and the Iroquois must change too."
Tayoga, was silent, but his haughty face did not relax a particle. The Marquis was about to say more upon the subject, but he had a penetrating mind and he saw that his words would be wasted.
"We shall see what we shall see," he said. "My master, His Majesty King Louis, keeps his promises. Mr. Lennox, as I take it, still clinging to my inference, it will be some time before you see the Governor of New York again. But, when you do see him, and if my letter has not then reached him, tell him it is coming by ship to New York. As for you and your comrades, I wish you a safe journey whithersoever you go. An aide-de-camp will give the three of you, as you go out, passports which will be your safe conduct until you reach the borders of Canada. Of course, I cannot speak with certainty concerning anything that will happen to you beyond that point. Mr. Willet, I am sorry that a sword such as yours is not French."
Willet bowed, and so did Robert. Then the three withdrew, receiving their safe conducts as they went. At the inn they made hurried preparations for departure, deciding that they would cross at once to the south side of the St. Lawrence and travel on foot through the woods until they reached the Richelieu, where in a secret cove a canoe belonging to Willet lay hidden. The canoe would take them into Lake Champlain and then they could proceed by water to the point they wished.
Robert wrote a note of thanks to the Intendant for his courtesy, expressing their united regrets that the brevity of time would not permit them to pay a formal call, and as it departed in the hands of a messenger, de Galisonniere came to say farewell.
"It's likely," he said, "that if we meet again it will be on the battlefield. I see nothing for it but a war, but if we do meet, Mr. Willet, you must promise that you will not use that sword against me."
"I promise, Captain de Galisonniere," said Willet, smiling, "but if the war does come, and I hope it may not, it will be fought chiefly in the woods, and there will be little need for swords. And now we wish to thank you for your great kindness and help."
He shook hands with them all, showing some emotion, and then left hastily. The three deferred their departure, concluding to spend the night at the inn, but before dawn the next morning they crossed the St. Lawrence and began their journey.