The Prisoner Dubois
MISS Cecilia Maxwell was the only child of Sir Robert
Maxwell, K.C.M.G., member of the Cabinet, chief orator of the
Liberal party, and understudy for the part of Premier, who,
although a Scotchman by birth, was a typical Canadian--free,
unaffected, honest and sincere. His bushy iron-gray hair, his keen
gray eyes, his healthy florid color, and the well-trimmed black
moustache, which gave his face an unusually youthful appearance for
a man of his age, went with a fine stalwart physique and a general
bodily conformation apparently in keeping with the ideas of early
rising, cold ablutions and breakfasts of oatmeal porridge that the
ingenuous mind is apt to associate with Scotch descent and
bringing-up. His daughter was a very beautiful girl. Born in the
shadow of the pines, she had been educated successively in
Edinburgh, Brussels and Munich, had been presented at Court, been
through two London seasons, spent half of one winter in South
America, another in Bermuda, had been ogled by lords, worshipped by
artists, and loved by everybody.
Once more in Canada, she took her place in the
limited yet exacting political circles of the Capital, of Toronto,
and of distant Winnipeg. Life was full of duties, and she shirked
none, though on days when they were put away earlier than usual she
would fall to musing of the country place down river she had not
seen for years, with the beautiful woods, and the simple, contented
French, and the evenings on the water.
"That great, lonely river," she thought on
one occasion, looking idly out of her window. "What other
river in the world is like it?--and the tiny French villages with
the red roofs and doors, and the sparkling spires and the queer
people. Delle Lisbeth, and veuve Macleod, and Pierre--poor
Pierre. I have never forgotten Pierre, with his solemn eyes and
beautiful brown hair. And how he knew the flowers in the wood, and
what were those songs he used to sing?" And Cecilia sang a
couple of verses of
"Un Canadien errant,
Banni de ses foyers."
When Sir Robert entered later he found her listless
and pre-occupied. "You mustn't look like that to-night,"
he said. "Don't forget that this is your first important
dinner-party: three French members and their wives, and La
Colombière, the new Minister of Finance, to whom you must be
as charming as possible. This North-West business is quickening as
fast as it can. The Métis are really up, there's no doubt
"In rebellion?" asked Cecilia
breathlessly. There was an added interest in life directly to the
"Ay," said her father, "there's a
rascal at the bottom of it we've been after a good long time; but
now, run away and look bright at dinner, like a good girl."
The small clique of Frenchmen and their wives could
not but have been charmed with their reception that evening. The
dinner was good, and not too heavy nor long, the wines excellent
(for Sir Robert did not as yet favor the "Scott" Act),
and the suavity of his manner combined with the appearance and
grace of his daughter, in a delicate dress of primrose and brown,
with amber in her beautiful golden plaits and round her whitest
neck, left nothing to be desired. And yet on that very first night
in her capacity as hostess, Cecilia found she had to learn to play
a part, the part of woman, which all women who have just left off
being girls find so hard to play at first. For naturally the
report of the M&etis revolt had spread. Sir Robert did a brave
thing. He refeacute;rred to it directly they were seated, and then
everybody felt at ease. Now it could be talked about if anybody
chose--and Cecilia did so choose.
"Who is this young Frenchman," she asked
of La Columbiè, "that is identified with
this new rising? I have been away, and am ignorant of it
"His name is Dubois--Pierre Dubois,"
returned La Columbiè with a gleaming smile.
"He calls himself the representative of the French-Canadian
party. Bah! such men!" But Cecilia's heart had given a might
leap and then stopped, she almost thought, for ever.
"Pierre--Pierre Dubois?" she reiterated in
her surprise. He fan of yellow feathers dropped from her lap, and
her face showed extraordinary interest for a moment.
"You know him M'lle.?" said La
Colombière, returning her the fan. For an instant she was
the centre of attention. Then with a flutter of the yellow
feathers that subjugated the four impressionable Frenchmen
completely, she resumed her usual manner.
"I know the name, certainly. There was some
body of that name living at Port Joli where we go in the Summer you
"Oh!" said Laflamme carelessly, a little
man with a bald head and a diplomatist's white moustache,
"Dubois is not a new offender. He has been recognized as an
agitator for three or four years. He has the eyes of the ox and the
wavy hair of the sculptor. He is to be
admired--vraiment--and has the gift of speech."
When the dinner was over Cecilia played for them in
the drawing-room. Somehow or other, she wandered into the tender
yet buoyant melody of the chanson she had hummed earlier in
"Un Canadien errant,
Banni de ses foyers."
"Hum-hum," trolled little Laflamme.
"So you know our songs? Ca va bien!"
"That was taught me" said Cecilia,
"once down the river at Port Joli." But she did not say
who had taught her. Later on when the guests were gone and Sir
Robert was preparing to go back to the office, his daughter said
"Papa do you remember that young man at Port
Joli who was staying with the curé for his health, the one
who was so kind and showed me so many things, the woods, you know
and the water, and who talked so beautifully?"
"I remember the one you mean, I think, but not
his name. Why, dear child?"
"His name was Dubois," returned Cecilia.
"Dubois? Are you sure? That is very
singular" said her father. "And he talked beautifully you
say? It must be this one."
"That is what I think" said Cecilia,
seeing her father to the door.
Then ensued a period of hard work for Cecilia. She
read the papers assiduously, going up every day to the
Parliamentary reading-rooms for that purpose that she might lose no
aspect of the affair. She followed every detail of the rebellion,
even possessing herself of many of her father's papers bearing on
the matter. Those details are well known; how the whisper ran
through our peaceful land, breathing of war and battle and
bloodshed; how our gallant men marched to the front in as superb a
faith and as perfect a manhood as ever troops have shown in this
country or the Old; how some fell by the way, and how others were
reserved to be clasped again to the bosoms of wife and mother and
how some met with the finest fate of all, or at least the most
fitting fate for a true soldier--death on the battle-field. For a
month the country was in a delirium. Then joy-bells rang, and
bonfires blazed, and hands were struck in other hands for very
delight that the cause of all the mischief, the rebel chief, the
traitor Dubois was taken. Cecilia alone sat in her room in horror.
"What will they do with the prisoner
Dubois?" she said with a vehemence that dismayed Sir Robert.
"The prisoner Dubois? Why, they will hang him
of course. He has caused too much blood to be shed not to have to
give some of his own." Cecilia writhed as if in extreme pain.
Her beauty, her grace, her youth all seemed to leave her in a
moment, and she stood faded and old before her father.
"Oh, they will not do that! Imprison him or
send him away--anything, anything save that! See, they do not know
him--poor Pierre, so kind, so good--they do not know him as I knew
him. Father, he could not hurt a thing--he would step aside from
the smallest living thing in the path when we walked together that
summer, and he helped everybody that wanted help, there was nothing
he could not do. And he loves his country--at least he did so
then. There is that song, 'O mon cher Canada,' he used to
sing, and he told me of the future of his country, and how he had
prayed to be allowed to aid it and push it forward. And he does
not hate the English, only how can he help loving the French more
when he is one of them, and has good French blood in his
veins--better than many of the so-called English! And he was born
to be a leader and to bring men away from their home into battle
and make war for them, and where in that does he differ from other
heroes we are taught to love and admire? If you had ever heard him
talk, and had seen the people all gathered round him when he spoke
of all these things--as for his church and the Virgin, and the
priests, it would be well if you and all of us thought as much
about our religion, and loved and revered it as he did his!"
Cecilia broke down into incoherent sobs. Sir Robert
sat aghast at this startling confession. No need to tell him that
it was prompted by love.
"But what if he be insane, my dear?" he
asked very quietly.
"Then it is still bad--it is worse," said
Cecilia. "Will hanging an insane man bring back the others
who are slain? Will it make foul fair and clean still cleaner?
Will it bring peace and friendliness, and right feeling, or will it
bring a fiercer fire and a sharper sword than our country has yet
seen--a hand-to-hand fight between rival races, a civil war based
on national distinction!"
"What would you do?" said her father,
walking up and down the room. "What can I or anybody do? It
is common law and common justice; if he be found guilty he must
swing for it. Personal intercession----"
"Might save him!" said the girl.
"Must not be thought of!" said her father.
"You mean, you may not think of it.
But others may--I may. I am a woman, free and untrammelled
by either party or personal considerations or any kind. Father,
let me try!"
"Cecilia, it is madness to take such a thing
upon yourself. How is it possible? What are your plans?"
"I do not know. I have not thought. All is in
a haze though which I see
that vision of the hangman and the rope. Father, let me try!"
Sir Robert thought for a moment, then he said:
"Very well, my dear, you shall try, on one condition; that
first of all you have an interview with Dubois himself. In fact,
for your purpose it is absolutely necessary that you should see
him, in order to identify him with the other Dubois you used to
know. After that interview, if you still persist in your course,
I promise--rash as it certainly seems--to help you. Now hold
yourself in readiness to start for the North-West at a moment's
notice. I have private information that tells me Dubois will be
hung and any intervention on your part or that of anybody else must
be set on foot immediately, do you see?"
A few days afterwards Cecilia, unveiled, and dressed
in an irreproachable walking costume of gray, was taken to the
gloomy prison outside the little northern town of -----, where the
prisoner Dubois was confined. There was a bit of tricolor in her
hat and her cheeks were very pale. As the beautiful daughter of
Sir Robert Maxwell her way was sufficiently paved with politeness
as she presented her private order to see the prisoner. Her heart
was beating tumultuously and the blood surged round her temples.
The turnkey showed her into a small whitewashed room, opposite the
cell in which Dubois spent his time and informed her that in
compliance with strict orders he would have to be present during
the interview, to which Cecilia bent her head in assent; she could
not have spoken just then. "It is a strange thing that I am
doing," she thought, "but
I shall see Pierre--poor Pierre!" Approaching, footsteps were
soon heard and the prisoner Dubois entered, escorted by two warders.
He started when he saw his visitor, and stared.
"Madamemoiselle ----," he said, evidently
trying to recall her name and failing.
"Cecile," she said, eagerly,
"Ma'amselle Cecile you always called me, and I liked it so
much better than Cecilia. I think I like it
The prisoner Dubois frowned.
"If Mdme. Dubois had ears through these walls,
you had not called me 'Pierre.' But--" laying his hand on his
heart and bowing low, "Pierre himself is flattered--oui,
mademoiselle--by your attention--oui, vraiment--and he
is rejoiced to know that his image is still cherished in that heart
so fair, so Anglaise, so pure, so good. Belle enfant, Je
n'ai pas oublié nos amours!"
The three men in the room suppressed a smile.
Dubois stood with his head thrown back, his arms folded and his
soft dark eyes fixed on Cecilia. She was still standing, indeed
there was no chair in the rooms, and her eyes were fixed on him as
his upon herself. It was Pierre, and yet not her Pierre. Rather an
exaggerated growth--of the man she had once known. The same soft
brown hair, only thicker and rougher, one drooping wave looked
tangled and unkempt--the dreamy eyes with the latent sneer in them
dreamier than ever and yet the sneer more visible, the thin
sensitive nose thinner, the satisfied mouth more satisfied, the
weak chin fatally weaker. And he was married too! Mdme.
Dubois--that must be his wife! How strange it was! Cecilia's
brain was in a frightful state of doubt and fever and hesitation.
It was necessary for her to explain her presence there, however,
for she could not but resent the opening speech of the prisoner
Dubois. She was growing very tired of standing, moreover, but she
would have died rather than have demanded a chair. At length the
turnkey observed her fatigue and sent one of the warders for a
"Fetch two," interposed Dubois, with a
flourish of his hand. "I myself shall sit down." When
the man returned, bringing only one chair on the plea that he could
not find another, Cecilia, whose nerve was returning, offered it to
Dubois. He accepted it calmly and sat down upon it, waiting to
hear what she had to say. At this signal instance of arch
selfishness Cecilia felt her heart tighten and her temples grow
cold as if fillets of fire had been exchanged for ribbons of snow.
"Sir," she began, "I am sorry to find
you here." Dubois smiled the smile of a great man who listens
with condescension to what an inferior has to say. "I am glad
you have not forgotten me, because all the time I was away, and it
has been a long time, I never--it is quite true--forgot you--I mean
(for Dubois smiled again) I never forgot that summer you spent near
us at Port Joli, and the things you talked about, your future.
When I came home I found you had gone so much further than I know
you ever intended to, and have been the cause of so much trouble,
and of brave men, and I was very sorry." Cecilia leant on the
bare table before her, and felt that every moment as it passed
brought with it a cooling of the once passionate feeling she had
entertained for the Dubois of her childhood. But if the lover were
gone, there remained the man, husband and father, maybe the leader,
the orator, the martyr, the dear human being.
"So I thought that if it were possible at all,
some step should be taken to--to prevent the law from taking its
course--its final course perhaps." Cecilia felt her throat
tighten as she spoke. "You have plenty of friends--you must
have--all the French will help and many, many English, for it is no
cause to die for, it is no cause at all! There should never have
been bloodshed on either side!"
Dubois uncrossed his long legs at last and said in
his loftiest tone:
"Chère enfant, the French will
not let me die. I--I myself--Pierre Dubois--allowed to hang by
the neck until I am dead! That will never happen.
donc chèrie, I am their King, their prophet, their
anointed, their fat priests acknowledge me, their women adore
Cecilia shrank together as she listened. She had
sought and she had not found, she had expected and it had been
denied her. At this moment
the turnkey signified that time was up. She felt her heart
burning in an agony of undefined grief and disappointment in which
was also mingled the relief of resignation. The prisoner Dubois
bowed low with his hand on his heart and then pressing her own hand
lingeringly, gave her a tenderly insinuating glance. As she
turned away she heard him exchange a laugh and a jest with one of
the wardens, and her cheeks flamed with indignant anger.
"Were he a good or suffering man as I dreamed he was, I would
have bent low and kissed his hand; as it was, I am sorry I let him
She was calm when she reached her carriage in which
sat her father waiting. He divined at once that his plan had been
successful. "You look tired, my dear," was all he said.
"Yes, I have been standing for some time,"
Cecilia returned in a peculiar voice.
"Could they not find you a chair in the
"They found one," she said grimly,
"and that was appropriated by the prisoner Dubois."
"The prisoner Dubois!" thought Sir Robert.
"It is well. We shall hear no more of Pierre."
Two days before Christmas the prisoner Dubois
underwent the extreme penalty of the law. Cecilia sat in her room
all that day. She never quite made up her mind as to whether
Pierre had been a lunatic or a fanatic, a martyr or a fiend, an
inspired criminal or a perverted enthusiast. Perhaps he was a
mixture of all.