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

After leaving Cazeneau, Pere Michel went to the prison where Claude was confined.  The young man looked pale and dejected, for the confinement had told upon his health and spirits; and worse than the confinement was the utter despair which had settled down upon his soul.  At the sight of the priest, he gave a cry of joy, and hurried forward.

“I thought you had forgotten all about me,” said Claude, as he embraced the good priest, while tears of joy started to his eyes.

“I have never forgotten you, my son,” said the priest, as he returned his embrace; “that is impossible.  I have thought of you both night and day, and have been trying to do something for you.”

“For me,” said Claude, gloomily, “nothing can be done.  But tell me about her.  How does she bear this?”

“Badly,” said the priest, “as you may suppose.”

Claude sighed.

“My son,” said the priest, “I have come to you now on important business; and, first of all, I wish to speak to you about a subject that you will consider most important.  I mean that secret which you wish to discover, and which drew you away from your home.”

“Do you know anything about it?”

“Much.  Remember I was with Laborde in his last hours, and received his confession.  I am, therefore, able to tell you all that you wish to know; and after that you must decide for yourself another question, which will grow out of this.

“About twenty years ago there was a beautiful heiress, who was presented at court.  Her name was the Countess de Besancon.  She was a Huguenot, and therefore not one whom you would expect to see amid the vicious circles at Versailles.  But her guardians were Catholic, and hoped that the attractions of the court might weaken her faith.  She became the admired of all, and great was the rivalry for her favor.  Two, in particular, devoted themselves to her ­the Count de Montresor and the Count de Laborde.  She preferred the former, and they were married.  After this, the count and countess left the court, and retired to the Chateau de Montresor.

“Laborde and Montresor had always been firm friends until this; but now Laborde, stung by jealousy and hate, sought to effect the ruin of Montresor.  At first his feeling was only one of jealousy, which was not unnatural, under the circumstances.  Left to himself, I doubt not that it would have died a natural death; but, unfortunately, Laborde was under the influence of a crafty adventurer, who now, when Montresor’s friendship was removed, gained an ascendency over him.  This man was this Cazeneau, who has treated you so shamefully.

“I will not enlarge upon his character.  You yourself know now well enough what that is.  He was a man of low origin, who had grown up amid the vilest court on the surface of the earth.  At that time the Duke of Orleans and the Abbe Dubois had control of everything, and the whole court was an infamous scene of corruption.  Cazeneau soon found means to turn the jealousy of Laborde into a deeper hate, and to gain his co-operation in a scheme which he had formed for his own profit.

“Cazeneau’s plan was this:  The laws against the Huguenots were very stringent, and were in force, as, indeed, they are yet.  The Countess de Montresor was a Huguenot, and nothing could make her swerve from her faith.  The first blow was levelled at her, for in this way they knew that they could inflict a deeper wound upon her husband.  She was to be arrested, subjected to the mockery of French justice, and condemned to the terrible punishment which the laws inflicted upon heretics.  Had Montresor remained at court, he could easily have fought off this pair of conspirators; but, being away, he knew nothing about it till all was ready; and then he had nothing to do but to fly, in order to save his wife.

“Upon this, fresh charges were made against him, and lettres de cachet were issued.  These would have flung him into the Bastile, to rot and die forgotten.  But Montresor had effectually concealed himself, together with his wife, and the emissaries of the government were baffled.  It was by that time too late for him to defend himself in any way; and the end of it was, that he decided to fly from France.  He did so, and succeeded in reaching Quebec in safety.  Here he hoped to remain only for a time, and expected that before long a change in the ministry might take place, by means of which he might regain his rights.

“But Fleury was all-powerful with the king, and Cazeneau managed somehow to get into Fleury’s good graces, so that Montresor had no chance.  The Montresor estates, and all the possessions of his wife, were confiscated, and Laborde and Cazeneau secured much of them.  But Montresor had other things to trouble him.  His wife grew ill, and died not long after his arrival, leaving an infant son.  Montresor now had nothing which seemed to him worth living for.  He therefore left his child to the care of the faithful Motier, and disappeared, as you have told me, and has never been heard of since.

“Of course Laborde knew nothing of this, and I only add this to the information which he gave, in order to make it as plain to you as it is to me.  Laborde asserted that after the first blow he recoiled, conscience-stricken, and refused further to pursue your father, though Cazeneau was intent upon his complete destruction; and perhaps this is the reason why Montresor was not molested at Quebec.  A better reason, however, is to be found in the merciful nature of Fleury, whom I believe at bottom to have been a good man.

“After this, years passed.  To Laborde they were years of remorse.  Hoping to get rid of his misery, he married.  A daughter was born to him.  It was of no use.  His wife died.  His daughter was sent to a convent to be educated.  He himself was a lonely, aimless man.  What was worse, he was always under the power of Cazeneau, who never would let go his hold.  This Cazeneau squandered the plunder of the Montresors upon his own vices, and soon became as poor as he was originally.  After this he lived upon Laborde.  His knowledge of Laborde’s remorse gave him a power over him which his unhappy victim could not resist.  The false information which Laborde had sworn to against the Count de Montresor was perjury; and Cazeneau, the very man who had suggested it, was always ready to threaten to denounce him to Fleury.

“So time went on.  Laborde grew older, and at last the one desire of his life was to make amends before he died.  At length Fleury died.  The new ministry were different.  All of them detested Cazeneau.  One of them ­Maurepas ­was a friend to Laborde.  To this Maurepas, Laborde told his whole story, and Maurepas promised that he would do all in his power to make amends.  The greatest desire of Laborde was to discover some one of the family.  He had heard that the count and countess were both dead, but that they had left an infant son.  It was this that brought him out here.  He hoped to find that son, and perhaps the count himself, for the proof of his death was not very clear.  He did, indeed, find that son, most wonderfully, too, and without knowing it; for, as you yourself see, there cannot be a doubt that you are that son.

“Now, Laborde kept all this a profound secret from Cazeneau, and hoped, on leaving France, never to see him again.  What, however, was his amazement, on reaching the ship, to learn that Cazeneau also was going!  He had got the appointment to Louisbourg from Fleury before his death, and the appointment had been confirmed by the new ministry, for some reason or other.  I believe that they will recall him at once, and use his absence to effect his ruin.  I believe Cazeneau expects this, and is trying to strengthen his resources by getting control of the Laborde estates.  His object in marrying Mimi is simply this.  This was the chief dread of Laborde in dying, and with his last words he entreated me to watch over his daughter.

“Cazeneau’s enmity to you must be accounted for on the ground that he discovered, somehow, your parentage.  Mimi told me afterwards, that he was near you one day, concealed, while you were telling her.  He was listening, beyond a doubt, and on the first opportunity determined to put you out of the way.  He dreads, above all things, your appearance in France as the son of the unfortunate Count de Montresor.  For now all those who were once powerful are dead, and the present government would be very glad to espouse the Montresor cause, and make amends, as far as possible, for his wrongs.  They would like to use you as a means of dealing a destructive blow against Cazeneau himself.  Cazeneau’s first plan was to put you out of the way on some charge of treason; but now, of course, the charge against you will be attempt at murder.”

To all this Claude listened with much less interest than he would have felt formerly.  But the sentence of death seemed impending, and it is not surprising that the things of this life seemed of small moment.

“Well,” said he, with a sigh, “I’m much obliged to you for telling me all this; but it makes very little difference to me now.”

“Wait till you have heard all,” said the priest.  “I have come here for something more; but it was necessary to tell you all this at the first.  I have now to tell you that ­your position is full of hope; in fact ­” Here the priest put his head close to Claude’s ear, and whispered, “I have come to save you.”

“What!” cried Claude.

The priest placed his hand on Claude’s mouth.

“No one is listening; but it is best to be on our guard,” he whispered.  “Yes, I can save you, and will.  This very night you shall be free, on your way to join your friend, the captain.  To-day I received a message from him by an Indian.  He had reached Canso.  I had warned him to go there.  The Indians went on board, and brought his message.  He will wait there for us.”

At this intelligence, which to Claude was unexpected and amazing, he could not say one word, but sat with clasped hands and a face of rapture.  But suddenly a thought came to his mind, which disturbed his joy.

“Mimi ­what of her?”

“You must go alone,” said the priest.

Claude’s face grew dark.  He shook his head.

“Then I will not go at all.”

“Not go!  Who is she ­do you know?  She is the daughter of Laborde, the man who ruined your father.”

Claude compressed his lips, and looked with fixed determination at the priest.

“She is not to blame,” said he, “for her father’s faults.  She has never known them, and never shall know them.  Besides, for all that he did, her father suffered, and died while seeking to make atonement.  My father himself, were he alive, would surely forgive that man for all he did; and I surely will not cherish hate against his memory.  So Mimi shall be mine.  She is mine; we have exchanged vows.  I will stay here and die, rather than go and leave her.”

“Spoken like a young fool, as you are!” said the priest.  “Well, if you will not go without her, you shall go with her; but go you must, and to-night.”

“What? can she go too, after all?  O, my best Pere Michel, what can I say?”

“Say nothing as yet, for there is one condition.”

“What is that?  I will agree to anything.  Never mind conditions.”

“You must be married before you go.”

“Married!” cried Claude, in amazement.

“Yes.”

“Married!  How?  Am I not here in a dungeon?  How can she and I be married?”

“I will tell you how presently.  But first, let me tell you why.  First of all, we may all get scattered in the woods.  It will be very desirable that she should have you for her lawful lord and master, so that you can have a right to stand by her to the last.  You can do far more for her than I can, and I do not wish to have all the responsibility.  This is one reason.

“But there is another reason, which, to me, is of greater importance.  It is this, my son:  You may be captured.  The worst may come to the worst.  You may ­which may Heaven forbid ­yet you may be put to death.  I do not think so.  I hope not.  I hope, indeed, that Cazeneau may eventually fall a prey to his own machinations.  But it is necessary to take this into account.  And then, my son, if such a sad fate should indeed be yours, we must both of us think what will be the fate of Mimi.  If you are not married, her fate will be swift and certain.  She will be forced to marry this infamous miscreant, who does not even pretend to love her, but merely wants her money.  He has already told her his intention ­telling her that her father left nothing, and that he wishes to save her from want, whereas her father left a very large estate.  Such will be her fate if she is single.  But if she is your wife, all will be different.  As your widow, she will be safe.  He would have to allow her a decent time for mourning; and in any case he would scarce be able so to defy public opinion as to seek to marry the widow of the man whom he had killed.  Besides, to gain time would be everything; and before a year would be over, a host of friends would spring up to save her from him.  This, then, is the reason why I think that you should be married.”

“I am all amazement,” cried Claude, “I am bewildered.  Married!  Such a thing would be my highest wish.  But I don’t understand all this.  How is it possible to think of marriage at such a time as this?”

“Well, I will now explain that,” said the priest.  “The late commandant is a friend of mine.  We were acquainted with each other years ago in France.  As soon as Cazeneau made his appearance here, and you were arrested, I went to him and told him the whole story of your parents, as I have just now told you.  He had heard something about their sad fate in former years, and his sympathies were all enlisted.  Besides, he looks upon Cazeneau as a doomed man, the creature of the late regime, the fallen government.  He expects that Cazeneau will be speedily recalled, disgraced, and punished.  He also expects that the honors of the Count de Montresor will be restored to you.  He is sufficient of an aristocrat to prefer an old and honorable name, like Montresor, to that of a low and unprincipled adventurer, like Cazeneau, and does not wish to see the Countess Laborde fall a victim to the machinations of a worn-out scoundrel.  And so the ex-commandant will do all that he can.  Were it not for him, I do not think I could succeed in freeing both of you, though I still might contrive to free you alone.”

“O, my dear Pere Michel!  What can I say?  I am dumb!”

“Say nothing.  I must go now.”

“When will you come?”

“At midnight.  There will be a change of guards then.  The new sentry will be favorable; he will run away with us, so as to save himself from punishment.”

“And when shall we be married?”

“To-night.  You will go from here to the commandant’s residence, and then out.  But we must haste, for by daybreak Cazeneau will discover all ­perhaps before.  We can be sure, however, of three hours.  I hope it will be light.  Well, we must trust to Providence.  And now, my son, farewell till midnight.”