“Where is Mlle. Duchaine?” I burst out.
“Ah, M. Hewlett,” said the priest, looking at me severely, “that was a wild undertaking of yours, and God does not prosper such schemes, though I confess I do not understand why you were taking her to her home. Rest assured she is in good hands. I met the sleigh containing her, and M. Leroux informed me that all would be well. It is strange that he did not speak of you, though, and I do not understand how——”
“He stole her from me when I was snow-blind, and left me to die!” I exclaimed. “I must rescue her——”
Father Antoine laid a heavy hand upon my shoulder.
“Be assured, monsieur, that madame is perfectly happy and contented with her friends,” he said. “And no doubt she has already regretted her escapade. Did I not warn you in Quebec, monsieur, that your enterprise would be brought to naught? And now you will doubtless be glad of your lesson, and will abandon it willingly and return homeward. I have to depart at daybreak upon an urgent mission a hundred miles away, which was interrupted by your rescue; but I shall be back within a week, by which time you will doubtless be able to accompany me to the coast. Meanwhile, you will rest here, and my provisions and a few books are at your disposal.”
“I shall not!” I cried weakly. “I am going on to the chateau!”
He looked at me steadily.
“You cannot,” he said. “If you attempt it you will perish by the way.”
“You cannot stop me!” I cried desperately.
“Perhaps not, monsieur; nevertheless, you will not be able to reach the chateau.”
“Who are you that you should stop me?” I exclaimed angrily. “You are a priest, and your duty is with souls.”
“That is why,” answered Pere Antoine. “You are in pursuit of a married woman.”
“I do not know anything about that, but I am the protector of a defenceless one,” I answered, “and I shall seek her until she sends me away. Do you know where her husband is?”
“No, monsieur,” answered the old man. “And you?”
I burst into an impassioned appeal to him. I told him of Leroux and his conspiracy to obtain possession of the property, of my encounter with Jacqueline, and how I had rescued her, omitting mention of course of the murder.
As I went on I could see the look of surprise upon his face gradually change into belief.
I told him of our journey across the snow and begged him to help me to rescue Jacqueline, or at least to find her. I added that the trouble had partially destroyed her memory, so that she was not competent to decide who her protectors were.
When I had ended he was looking at me with a benignancy that I had never seen before upon his face.
“M. Hewlett,” he answered, “I have long suspected a part of what you have told me, and therefore I readily accept your statements. I believe now that madame has suffered no wrong from you. But I am a priest, and, as you say, my care is only that of souls. Madame is married. I married her——”