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The Black Wolf's Breed/Foreword

 

THE BLACK WOLF'S BREED


FOREWORD

IT is fitting that old men, even those whose trade is war, should end their days in peace, yet it galls me grievously to sit idly here by the fire, in this year of grace 1746, while great things go on in the world about me.

The feeble hound at my feet, stretching his crippled limbs to the blaze, dreams of the chase, and bays delighted in his sleep. Nor can I do more than dream and meditate and brood.

News of Fontenoy and the glory of Prince Maurice thrills my sluggish blood; again I taste the wild joys of conflict; the clashing steel, the battle shouts, the cries of dying men—yea, even the death scream of those sorely stricken comes as a balm to soothe my droning age. But the youthful vigor is gone. This arm could scarcely wield a bodkin; the old friend of many campaigns rusts in its scabbard, and God knows France had never more urgent need of keen and honest swords.

Thus run my thoughts while I sit here like some decrepit priest, bending over my task, for though but an indifferent clerk I desire to leave this narrative for my children's children.

My early life was spent, as my children already know, for the most part in the American Colonies. Of my father I knew little, he being stationed at such remote frontier posts in the savage country that he would not allow my mother and myself to accompany him. So we led a secluded life in the garrison at Quebec. After the news came of his death somewhere out in the wilderness, my brave mother and I were left entirely alone. I was far too young then to realize my loss, and the memory of those peaceful years in America with my patient, accomplished mother remains to me now the very happiest of my life.

From her I learned to note and love the beauties of mountain and of stream. The broad blue St. Lawrence and the mighty forests on its banks were a constant source of delight to my childish fancy, and those memories cling to me, ineffaceable even by all these years of war and tumult.

When she died I drifted to our newer stations in the south, down the great river, and it is of that last year in Louisiana, while I was yet Captain de Mouret of Bienville's Guards, that I would have my children know.

Along the shore of Back Bay, on the southern coast of our Province of Louisiana, the dense marsh grass grows far out into the water, trembling and throbbing with the ebb and flow of every tide.

Thicker than men at arms, it stands awhile erect where the shallow sea waves foam and fret; then climbing higher ground, it straggles away, thinner and thinner, in oaken-shaded solitudes long innocent of sun.

Beginning on the slopes, a vast mysterious forest, without village, path, or white inhabitant, stretches inland far and away beyond the utmost ken of man. There the towering pines range themselves in ever-receding colonnades upon a carpet smooth and soft as ever hushed the tread of Sultan's foot. Dripping from their topmost boughs the sunlight's splendor flickers on the floor, as if it stole through chancel window of some cool cathedral where Nature in proud humility worshiped at the foot of Nature's God.

It was in those wilds, somewhere, the fabled El Dorado lay; there bubbled the fountain of eternal youth: through that endless wilderness of forest, plain and hill flowed on in turbid majesty the waters of De Soto's mighty grave.