Read CHAPTER XV - FLIGHT of The Lily and the Cross A Tale of Acadia , free online book, by James De Mille, on ReadCentral.com.

On leaving the house, the Indian led the way in silence for some distance.  In the immediate neighborhood of the house were open fields, while in front of it was the road which ran down to the river.  The house was on the declivity of a hill, at the foot of which were broad dike-lands, which ran far out till they terminated at the island already mentioned.  Beyond this lay the Basin of Minas, and in the distance the shadowy outline of the surrounding shores.

The Indian led the way for some distance across the fields, and then turned into the road.  Along this he passed till he reached the river.  It was the Gaspereaux, at the mouth of which was the place where Claude had landed.  Here the Indian crossed, and Claude followed, the water not being much above their knees.  On reaching the other side, the Indian walked down the stream, keeping in the open as much as possible.

At length they left the river, and went on where the ground rose gradually.  Here they soon entered the woods.  It was a broad trail, and though in the shadow of the trees it was rather dark, yet the trail was wide enough to allow of Claude following his guide without any difficulty whatever.  For about an hour they walked on in this way, ascending steadily most of the time, until at length Claude found himself upon an open space overgrown with shrubbery, and altogether bare of trees.  Here several dusky figures appeared, and the guide conversed with them for some time.

Claude now seated himself on the ground.  He felt so fatigued already from this first tramp, that he began to experience a sense of discouragement, and to think that his confinement had affected his strength.  He gazed wearily and dreamily upon the scene before him.  There, spread out at his feet, was a magnificent prospect.  The land went sloping down to the water.  Towards the left were the low dike-lands running out to the island; beyond this the waters of Minas Basin lay spread out before him.  Thus far there had been no moonlight; but now, as he looked towards the east, he noticed that the sky was already flushing with the tints of dawn.  But even this failed to rouse him..  A profound weariness and inertness settled slowly over every sense and limb, and falling back, he fell into a deep sleep.

When he awaked, he saw that it was broad day, and that the sun was already high up in the sky.  He started to his feet, and his first thought was one of joy at finding that his strength had all returned.

At his question, the Indian who was the spokesman told him that Louisbourg was more than twelve days’ journey away, and that the path lay through the woods for the whole distance.

Before setting forth, the Indian gave him a rifle and a sword, which he said Pere Michel had requested him to give him.  There was also a sufficient supply of powder and ball.  Taking these, Claude then set out on his long tramp.  There were six Indians.  Of these, three went in front, and three in the rear, the whole party going in single file.  The trail was a wide one, and comparatively smooth.  The guide drew Claude’s attention to tracks on the ground, which could easily be recognized as the prints of horse hoofs.  To Claude’s inquiry how many there were, the Indian informed him that there were four.  By this it seemed to Claude that Mimi and her maid had each one, while the other two were used by Cazeneau and the priest.

After several hours they at length came to a river.  It was like the Gaspereaux in one respect, for it was turbid, and rolled with a swift current.  The banks also were lined with marshes, and the edges were composed of soft mud.  No way of crossing it appeared, and as they approached it, the Indians turned away to go up the stream.  The prospect of a long detour was very unpleasant to Claude; and when at length he came to a place where the tracks of the horses went towards the river, he asked why this was.  The Indians informed him that the horses had crossed here, but that they would have to go farther up.  It did not turn out so bad as Claude had feared, for after about half an hour’s further walk, they stopped at the bank of the river, and waited.

To Claude’s question why they waited, an extraordinary answer was given.  It was, that they were waiting till the water ran out.  This reminded him of the old classic story about the fool who came to a river bank and waited for the water to run out, so that he might cross.  Claude could not understand it; but, supposing that his guides knew what they were about, he waited for the result, taking advantage of this rest to fortify his inner man with a sound repast.  After this was over, he rose to examine the situation; and the first sight showed him an astonishing change.  He had lingered over his repast, now eating, now smoking, for about an hour, and in that time there had been wrought what seemed to him like a wonder of Nature.  The water of the river had indeed been running out, as the Indian said; and there before him lay the channel, running low, with its waters still pouring forward at a rate which seemed to threaten final emptiness.  And as he looked, the waters fell lower and lower, until at length, after he had been there three hours, the channel was almost empty.

This particular spot was not so muddy as other parts of the river bed, and therefore it had been chosen as the best place for crossing.  It was quite hard, except in the middle, where the mud and water together rose over their knees; and thus this mighty flood was crossed as though it had been some small brook.

A few hours more served to bring them to the foot of some hills; and here the party halted.  They had once more picked up the trail, and Claude was encouraged by the sight of the horse tracks.

He now unfolded to the Indian his design.  To his great pleasure he found that Pere Michel had already anticipated him, and that the Indian understood very well what was wanted.  He assured Claude that he could easily communicate with the others so as not to be suspected, and lead back Pere Michel and the women to him.  His plan was to make a detour, and get ahead of them, approaching them from that direction, so as to avoid suspicion, while Claude might remain with the other Indians in some place where they could be found again.  This plan seemed to Claude so simple and so feasible that he grew exultant over the prospect, forgetting the many difficulties that would still be before him, even if this first enterprise should succeed.

Their repast was simple and easily procured.  The woods and waters furnished all that they required.  A hare and some snipe and plover, with a few trout and a salmon, were the result of a short excursion, that did not extend much farther than a stone’s throw from the encampment.

The next day they resumed their journey.  It lay over the hills, which were steep, though not very high.  The trail now grew rougher, being covered with stones in many places, so as to resemble the dry channel of a mountain torrent, while in other places the roots of trees which ran across interfered with rapid progress.  This Claude saw with great satisfaction, for he knew that horses could go but slowly over a path like this; and therefore every step seemed to lessen the distance between him and Mimi.  All that day they were traversing these hills.

The next day their journey lay through a gentle, undulating country, where the towering trees of the forest rose high all around, while at their feet were mosses, and wild grasses, and ferns, and flowers of a kind that were utterly strange to Claude.  It was the month of June, the time when all nature in Acadie robes herself in her fairest charms.

Thus day after day passed, each day being the counterpart of the other in its cloudless skies, its breath from the perfumed woods, and the song of birds.  On the sixth day the tracks of the horses seemed to be fresher than usual; and to Claude’s question the Indian replied that they must be close by them.  At this Claude hurried on more vigorously, and kept up his march later than usual.  He was even anxious to go forward all night; but the Indian was unwilling.  He wished to approach them by day rather than by night, and was afraid of coming too suddenly upon them, and thus being discovered, if they went on while the others might be resting.  Thus Claude was compelled to restrain his impatient desires, and wait for the following day.

When it came they set forth, and kept up a rapid pace for some hours.  At length they came to an opening in the woods where the scene was no longer shut in by trees, but showed a wide-extended prospect.  It was a valley, through which ran a small stream, bordered on each side with willows.  The valley was green with the richest vegetation.  Clusters of maples appeared like groves, here and there interspersed with beech and towering oaks, while at intervals appeared the magnificent forms of grand elms all covered with drooping foliage, and even the massive trunks green with the garlands of tender and gracefully-bending shoots.

For a moment Claude stood full of admiration at this lovely scene, and then hurried on after his guide.  The guide now appeared desirous of slackening his pace, for he saw that if the other party were not far away he would be more liable to discovery in this open valley; but it was not very wide.  About half a mile farther on, the deep woods arose once more; and, as there were no signs of life here, he yielded to Claude’s impatient entreaty, and went on at his usual pace.

Half way across the valley there was a grove of maple trees; the path ran close beside it, skirting it, and then going beyond it.  Along this they went, and were just emerging from its shelter, when the guide made a warning movement, and stood still.  The next instant Claude was at his side.  The Indian grasped Claude’s arm, and made a stealthy movement backward.

That very instant Claude saw it all.  A man was there ­a European.  Two Indians were with him.  He was counting some birds which the Indians were carrying.  It seemed as though they had been shooting through the valley, and this was their game.  They could not have been shooting very recently, however, as no sound had been heard.  This was the sight that met Claude’s eyes as he stood by the Indian, and as the Indian grasped his arm.

It was too late.  The European looked up.  It was Cazeneau!

For a moment he stood staring at Claude as though he was some apparition.  But the Indians who were behind, and who came forward, not knowing what was the matter, gave to this vision too practical a character; and Cazeneau saw plainly enough that, however unaccountable it might be, this was in very deed the man whom he believed to be in safe confinement at Grand Pre.  A bitter curse escaped him.  He rushed towards Claude, followed by his Indians.

“Scoundrel,” he cried, “you have escaped!  Aha! and do you dare to come on my track!  This time I will make sure of you.”

He gnashed his teeth in his fury, and, snatching a rifle from one of his Indians who were near him, aimed it at Claude, and pulled the trigger.

But the trigger clicked, and that was all.  It was not loaded.  With another curse Cazeneau dashed the rifle to the ground, and turned towards the other Indian.  All this had been the work of a moment.  The next moment Claude sprang forward with drawn sword.

“Villain,” he cried, “and assassin! draw, and fight like a man!”

At these words Cazeneau was forced to turn, without having had time to get the other Indian’s rifle, for Claude was close to him, and the glittering steel flashed before his eyes.  He drew his sword, and retreating backward, put himself on guard.

“Seize this fellow!” he cried to his Indians; “seize him!  In the name of your great father, the King of France, seize him, I tell you!”

The Indians looked forward.  There, behind Claude, they saw six other Indians ­their own friends.  They shook their heads.

“Too many,” said they.

“You fellows!” cried Cazeneau to Claude’s Indians, “I am the officer of your great father, the King of France.  This man is a traitor.  I order you to seize him, in the king’s name.”

Claude’s Indians stood there motionless.  They did not seem to understand.

All this time Cazeneau was keeping up a defence, and parrying Claude’s attack.  He was a skilful swordsman, and he wished to take Claude alive if possible, rather than to fight with him.  So he tried once more.  He supposed that Claude’s Indians did not understand.  He therefore told his Indians to tell the others in their language what was wanted.  At this the two walked over to the six, and began talking.  Caseneau watched them earnestly.  He saw, to his infinite rage, that his words had no effect whatever on Claude’s Indians.

“Coward,” cried Claude, “coward and villain! you must fight.  My Indians are faithful to me.  You hate to fight, ­you are afraid, ­but you must, or I will beat you to death with the blade of my sword.”

At this Cazeneau turned purple with rage.  He saw how it was.  He determined to show this colonist all his skill, and wound him, and still take him alive.  So, with a curse, he rushed upon Claude.  But his own excitement interfered with that display of skill which he intended to show; and Claude, who had regained his coolness, had the advantage in this respect.

A few strokes showed Cazeneau that he had found his master.  But this discovery only added to his rage.  He determined to bring the contest to a speedy issue.  With this intent he lunged forward with a deadly thrust.  But the thrust was turned aside, and the next instant Claude’s sword passed through the body of Cazeneau.