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23 W hat fools,” said Doltaire presently, “to burn the bread and oven too! If only they were less honest in a world of rogues, poor moles!” Coming nearer, we saw that La Friponne itself was safe, but one warehouse was doomed and another threatened. The streets were full of people, and thousands of excited peasants, labourers, and sailors were shouting, “Down with the palace! Down with Bigot!” We came upon the scene at the most critical moment. None of the Governor’s soldiers were in sight, but up the Heights we could hear the steady tramp of General Montcalm’s infantry as they came on. Where were Bigot’s men? There was a handful—one company—drawn up before La Friponne, idly leaning on their muskets, seeing the great granary burn, and watching La Friponne threatened by the mad crowd and the fire. There was not a soldier before the Intendant’s palace, not a light in any window. “What is this weird trick of Bigot’s?” said Doltaire, musing. The Governor, we knew, had been out of the city that day. But where was Bigot? At a word from Doltaire we pushed forward towards the palace, the soldiers keeping me in their midst. We were not a hundred feet from the great steps when two gates at the right suddenly Chapter II The Master of the King’s Magazine 24 swung open, and a carriage rolled out swiftly and dashed down into the crowd. I recognised the coachman first—Bigot’s, an old one-eyed soldier of surpassing nerve, and devoted to his master. The crowd parted right and left. Suddenly the carriage stopped, and Bigot stood up, folding his arms, and glancing round with a disdainful smile without speaking a word. He carried a paper in one hand. Here were at least two thousand armed and unarmed peasants, sick with misery and oppression, in the presence of their undefended tyrant. One shot, one blow of a stone, one stroke of a knife—to the end of a shameless pillage. But no hand was raised to do the deed. The roar of voices subsided—he waited for it—and silence was broken only by the crackle of the burning building, the tramp of Montcalm’s soldiers on Palace Hill, and the tolling of the cathedral bell. I thought it strange that almost as Bigot issued forth the wild clanging gave place to a cheerful peal. After standing for a moment, looking round him, his eye resting on Doltaire and myself (we were but a little distance from him), Bigot said in a loud voice: “What do you want with me? Do you think I may be moved by threats? Do you punish me by burning your own food, which, when the English are at our doors, is your only hope? Fools! How easily could I turn my cannon and my men upon you! You think to frighten me. Who do you think I am—a Bostonnais or an Englishman ? You—revolutionists! T’sh! You are wild dogs without a leader. You want one that you can trust; you want no coward, but one who fears you not at your wildest. Well, I will be your leader. I do not fear you, and I do not love you, for how might you deserve love? By ingratitude and aspersion? Who has the King’s favour? François Bigot. Who has the ear of the Grande Marquise? François Bigot. Who stands firm while others tremble lest their power pass to-morrow? François Bigot. Who else dare invite revolution, this danger”—his hand sweeping to the flames—“who but François Bigot?” He paused for a moment, and 25 looking up to the leader of Montcalm’s soldiers on the Heights, waved him back; then continued: “And to-day, when I am ready to give you great news, you play the mad dog’s game; you destroy what I had meant to give you in our hour of danger, when those English came. I made you suffer a little, that you might live then. Only to-day, because of our great and glorious victory—” He paused again. The peal of bells became louder. Far up on the Heights we heard the calling of bugles and the beating of drums; and now I saw the whole large plan, the deep dramatic scheme. He had withheld the news of the victory that he might announce it when it would most turn to...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781771120456
Related ISBN
9781771120449
MARC Record
OCLC
966771243
Pages
408
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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