A LITTLE GIRL IN OLD QUEBEC
By AMANDA M. DOUGLAS
A. L. BURT COMPANY PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
Copyright, 1906 BY DODD, MEAD & COMPANY
I. A WILD ROSE
II. THE JOY OF FRIENDSHIP
III. SUMMER TIME
IV. A HUSBAND
V. CHANGING ABOUT
VI. FINDING AMUSEMENTS
VII. JOURNEYING TO A FAR COUNTRY
VIII. WHAT ROSE DID NOT LIKE
IX. ABOUT MARRIAGES
X. MILADI AND M. DESTOURNIER
XI. A FEAST OF SUMMER
XII. A LOVER IN EARNEST
XIII. FROM A GIRL'S HEART
XIV. A WAY OVER THORNS
XV. HELD IN AN ENEMY'S GRASP
XVI. A LOVER OF THE WILDERNESS
XVII. THE PASSING OF OLD QUEBEC
A LITTLE GIRL IN OLD QUEBEC
A WILD ROSE
Ralph Destournier went gayly along, whistling a merry French song that was nearly all chorus, climbing, slipping, springing, wondering in his heart as many a man did then what had induced Samuel de Champlain to dream out a city on this craggy, rocky spot. Yet its wildness had an impressive grandeur. Above the island of Orleans the channel narrowed, and there were the lovely green heights of what was to be Point Levis, more attractive, he thought, than these frowning cliffs. The angle between the St. Charles and St. Lawrence gave an impregnable site for a fortress, and Champlain was a born soldier with a quick eye to seize on the possibility of defence.
On the space between the cliffs and the water a few wooden buildings, rough hewn, marked the site of the lower town. A wall had been erected, finished with a gallery, loopholed for musketry, and within this were the beginnings of a town that was to be famous for heroic deeds, for men of high courage, for quaintness that perpetuates old stories which are perfect romances yet to-day after the lapse of three centuries.
There was a storehouse quite well fortified, there was a courtyard with some fine walnut trees, and a few gardens stretching out with pleasant greenery, while doves were flying about in wide circles, a reminder of home. Ralph Destournier had a spirit of adventure and Champlain was a great hero to him. Coming partly of Huguenot stock he had fewer chances at home, and he believed there was more liberty in the new world, a better outlook for a restless, eager mind.
He went on climbing over the sun-baked cliffs, while here and there in a depression where rain could linger there were patches of verdure, trees that somehow maintained a footing. How unlike the level old seaport town where he had passed a good part of his youth, considered his grandfather's heir, when in the turn of fortune's wheel the sturdy old Huguenot had been killed in battle and his estates confiscated.
Something stirred up above him, not any small animal either. It crackled the bushes and moved about with a certain agility. Could it be a deer? He raised his gun.
Then a burst of song held him in amaze. It was not a bird, though it seemed to mock several of them. There were no especial words or rhymes, but the music thrilled him. He strode upward. Out of a leafy bower peered a face, child or woman, he could not tell at first, a crown of light, loose curling hair and two dark, soft merry eyes, a cherry-red mouth and dimpled chin.
"Hello! How did you get up there?" he asked in his astonishment. Indians sometimes lurked about.
"I climbed. You did not suppose I flew?"
The tone was merry rather than saucy, and taking a few steps nearer, he saw she was quite a child. But she wore no cap and she shook the wind-blown hair aside with a dainty gesture. There was a fearlessness about her that charmed him.
"And you live—here?"
"Not here in the woods—no. But down in the town. Down there by the garden, M'sieu Hebert and the General. And Maman has one. But I hate working in it. So I ran away. Do you know what will happen to me when I go back?"
"No, what?" with a sense of amusement. "Perhaps you will get no supper!"
"I shall be whipped. And to-morrow I shall not be let out of the garden. When I get to be a woman I won't work in the garden. I won't even have a husband. They make you do just as they like. Why isn't one's way as good as another's?"
A line of perplexity settled between her eyes that were soft enough to melt the heart of a stone, he thought, if stones really had hearts.
"Older people are generally wiser. And mothers——"
"Oh, she isn't my mother," interrupted the child. "Even Catherine was not my mother. I was very sorry for that. She was good and tender, but she died. And Jean was very angry because she was not my real mother, and he would have nothing to do with me. So he brought me to Maman. Oh, it was a long while ago. Maman is good in some ways. She gives me plenty to eat when we have it and she does not beat me often, as she does Pani."
"And who is Pani?"
"Oh, the little slave. His tribe was driven away after they had lost their battle, but some of the children were left behind and they are slaves. Do you suppose the Indians will ever conquer M. de Champlain? Then we should be slaves—or killed."
He shuddered. Already he had heard tales of awful cruelty in the treatment of prisoners.
"Are you not afraid some Indians may be prowling about?" and he glanced furtively around.
"Oh, they do not come here. They are good friends with M. de Champlain. And the fort is guarded. I should hide if one came."
She began to descend and presently reached his level.
"There are long shadows. It gets to be supper time."
He smiled. "Are the shadows your clock hands?"
"We have no clock. M. de Champlain carries his in his pocket. But you see the sun sends long shadows over to the east. It is queer. The sun keeps going round. What is on the other side?"
"It would take a good deal of study to understand it all," he returned gravely.
"I like to hear them talk. There are wonderful places. And where is India? Can any one find the passage they are looking for and sail round the world?"
"They have sailed round it."
"And have you seen Paris and the King?"
"I fought for the dead King. And Paris—why, you cannot imagine anything like it."
"Ah, but we are going to have new France here. And perhaps Paris."
There were pride and gladness in her voice. He smiled inwardly, he would not disturb her childish dream. Would she ever see the beautiful city and the pageants that were almost daily occurrences?
"When did you come here?" she asked presently.
"A fortnight ago, when the storeship arrived."
"Ah, yes. Maman and I went to see it and M. Hebert sent us some curious, delicious dried fruits. M. de Champlain is quite sure we shall grow them in time and have beautiful gardens, and fine people who know many things. Can you read?"
"I wish I could. But we have no books. Maman thinks it a waste of time, except for the men who must do business and write letters. Can you write letters?"
"Yes"—studying her with amusement.
"Catherine could read. But she had no books. I once learned some of the letters. Jean could make figures."
"Where is he?"
"Oh, off with the fur-hunters. And Antoine makes ever so much money. And he says he and Maman will go back to France. And I suppose they will leave me here. Antoine has two brothers and one is at Brouage, where M. de Champlain was born."
She leaped from point to point in a graceful, agile manner, ran swiftly down some declivity, while he held his breath, it seemed so fraught with danger, but she only looked back laughingly. What a daring midget she was!
And when they were in sight of the palisades they saw a group of men, Pontgrave and Champlain among them. Destournier quickened his pace and touched his hat to them with a reverent grace.
"Have you had a guide?" and Champlain held out his hand to the little girl while he asked the question of Destournier. She took Champlain's hand in both of hers and pressed it against her cheek. Pontgrave smiled at her as well.
Destournier glanced up at the eminence where he had first seen the moving figure. How steep and unapproachable!
"Could you find no fairer site for a new Paris?" he inquired smilingly. "How will you get up and down the streets when you come to that?"
"Is it not the key to the north and a natural fortress? Look you, with a cannon at its base and over opposite, no trading vessel could steal up, no hostile man-of-war invade us. There will come a time when the old world will divide this mighty continent between them and the struggle will be tremendous. It will behoove France to see that her entrances are well guarded. And from this point we must build. What could be a fairer, prouder, more invincible heritage for France? For we shall sweep across the continent, we shall have the whole of the fur trade in time. We shall build great cities," and Champlain's face glowed with the pride he took in the new world.
Yet it was a small beginning, and a less intrepid soul would have been daunted by the many discouragements. A few dwelling houses, a moat with a drawbridge, and the space of land running down to the river divided into gardens. The Sieur de Champlain found time to sow various seeds, wheat and rye as well, to set out berries brought from the woods and native grape vines that were better fitted to withstand the rigorous climate. But now it was simply magnificent, glowing with the early autumn suns.
"I have a good neighbor who takes a great interest in these things. You must inspect Mere Dubray's garden. With a dozen emigrants like her we should have the wilderness abloom. She rivals Hebert. We must have some agriculture. We cannot depend on the mother country for all our food. And if the Indians can raise corn and other needful supplies, why not we?"
"Ah, ha! little truant!" cried Mere Dubray, with a sharp glance at the child, "where hast thou been all the afternoon, while weeds have been growing apace?"
"She has been playing guide to a stranger," explained Destournier, "and I have found her most interesting. It has been time well spent."
Mere Dubray smiled. She always felt honored by the encomiums of M. de Champlain. She was proud of her garden, as well, and pleased to have visitors inspect it. Indeed the young man thought he had seen no neater gardens in sunny France.
"Mere Dubray," he said, "convert this young man into an emigrant. I am a little sorry to have him begin in the autumn when the summer is so much more enticing. But if the worst is taken first there is hope for better to cheer the heart."
Something about her brought to mind the women of old France who sturdily fought their way to a certain prosperity. She was rather short and stout, but with no loosely-hanging flesh, her hair was still coal-black, with a sharp sort of waviness, and her eyes had the sparkle of beads. Her brown skin was relieved by a warm color in the cheeks and the red, rather smiling lips. No one could imagine the child hers. It was nothing to him, yet he felt rather glad.
Destournier was very friendly, however, and found her really intelligent. The little girl ran hither and thither, quite a privileged character. There were very few children beyond the Indians and half-breeds. The fur-hunters often went through a sort of ceremony with the Indian girls during their weeks of dickering with the traders. Some returned another season to renew their vows, others sought new loves.
"I suppose the child has some sort of story?" he said to Champlain as they sat in the evening smoking their pipes.
"The child? The reputed mother came over with some emigrants sent by the King, and as a widow she married Jean Arlac. He, it seems, was much disappointed at not having children of his own and was not over-cordial to the little girl. Rather more than a year ago his wife was taken ill, she had never been robust. And in her last moments she confessed the child was not her own, but that of a friend, and before she told the whole story a convulsion seized her. Jean was very angry and declared the child was nothing to him. He brought it to Mere Dubray and then went off to the fur regions, from whence the tidings came that he had married an Indian woman and taken a post station. She is a bright little thing, and I think must have come of gentle people. Her only trinket is a chain and locket, with a sweet young face in it."
"But there is no chance here for any sort of education. She seems naturally intelligent."
"There will be soon. There is a plan to bring out some nuns, and we shall build a chapel. We cannot do everything at once. The mother country cannot be roused to the importance of this step. It is not simply to discover, one must hold with a secure hand. And we must make homes, we must people them."
Pontgrave was to return to France. Ralph Destournier had half a mind to accompany him, but he was young and adventurous and desirous of seeing more of this strange country. At last he cast in his lot with them for the year at least.
October was a gorgeous month with its changing colors, its rather sharp nights when the log fires were a delight, and its days of sunshine that brought a summer warmth at noon. At night the sky sparkled with stars.
The buildings were calked on the outside and hung with furs within. Harsh winds swept down from the northwest, everything was hooded with snow. Now one counted stores carefully and wasted nothing, though Champlain's ever sympathetic heart dealt out a little from his not too abundant supplies to the wandering Montagnais and gave their women and children food and shelter. There was a continual fight to keep even tolerably well. Scurvy was one enemy, a low sort of fever another.
There were many plans to make for the opening of spring. Yet Ralph Destournier would have found it intolerably dull but for the little girl whose name was Rose. He taught her to read—Champlain fortunately had some books in French and Latin. There were bits of old history, a volume of Terence, another of Virgil, and out of what he knew and read he reconstructed stories that charmed her. Most of all she liked to hear about the King. The romances of Henry of Navarre fired her rapidly-awakening imagination.
Destournier took several little excursions with the intrepid explorer before the severest of the winter set in. What faith he had in this wonderful new France that was to add so much glory and prosperity to the old world! If its rulers could have but looked through his eyes and had his aims. There was Tadoussac, there was the upper St. Charles, where Jacques Cartier and his men had passed a winter that in spite of the utmost heroism had ended in the tragedy of death. To the south there was a sturdy band of Englishmen trying the same experiment, not merely for their King and country, but also some reward for themselves. Neither were they eager to plant the standard of religion; that was left for Puritans and French missionaries.
It seemed to Destournier that the scheme of colonization was hardly worth while. He had not Champlain's enthusiasm—there was much to do for France, and that land had always to be on the defensive with England. Would it not be so here in the years to come? And the Indians would be a continual menace.
But there was a whole continent to convert, to civilize. He went back to the times of Charlemagne and the struggles that had brought out a glorious France. And no one had given up the passage to India. Lying westward was a great river, and what was beyond that no one knew. It was the province of man to find out.
It was a dull life for a little girl in the winter. Rose almost longed for the garden, even if weeds did grow apace. In the old country Mere Dubray had spun flax and wool, here there was none to spin. She had learned a little work from the Indian women, but she was severely plain. What need of fringes and bead work and laying feathers in rows to be stitched on with a sort of thread made of fine, tough grass? And as for cooking, one had to be economical and make everything with a view to real sustenance, not the high art of cooking, though her peasant life had inducted her into this.
The little girl made a playhouse in one corner of the cabin and stood up sticks for Indian children to whom she told over what had been taught her. They blundered just as she had done, but she had a curious patience with them that would have touched one's heart.
"What nonsense!" Mere Dubray would exclaim. "It is well enough for men, and priests must know Latin prayers, but this is beyond anything a woman needs. And to be repeating it to sticks——"
"But I get so lonely when they are all away," and the child sighed. "The real Indian girls were a pleasure, but I'm afraid you could not teach them to read any more than these make-believes."
"Yes, winter is a dreary time. I'm not sure but I would rather be up in the fur country with my man. It seems they find plenty of game."
There was not so much game here, for the Indians were ever on the alert and the roving bands always on the verge of starvation. But once in a while there was a feast of fresh meat and Mere Dubray made tasty messes for the hungry men.
Rose, bundled up in furs sometimes, ran around the gallery where they had cleared the snow. Then there were the forge and the workshop, where the men were hewing immense walnut trees into slabs and posts for spring building. Some days the doves were let out of the cote in the sunshine and it was fascinating to see them circle around. They knew the little girl and would alight on her shoulder and eat grains out of her hand, coo to her and kiss her. Destournier loved to watch her, a real child of nature, innocent as the doves themselves. Mere Dubray had scarcely more idea of the seriousness of life or the demands of another existence beyond. She told her beads, prayed to her patron saint with small idea of what heaven might be like, unless it was the beautiful little hamlet where she was born. And as she was not sure the child had been christened, she thought it best to wait for the advent of a priest to direct her in the right way.
She was not a little horrified by Destournier's curious familiarity with God and heaven, as it seemed to her. Rose understood almost intuitively that it terrified her, that it seemed a sacrilege, though she would not have known what the word meant. So she said very little about it—it was a beautiful land beyond the sky where people went when they died. Sometimes, when the wonderful beauty of sunset moved her to a strange ecstasy, she longed to be transported thither. And in the moving white drifts she saw angel forms with out-stretched arms and called to them.
The beginning of the new year was bitter indeed. Snow piled mountain high, it seemed a whole world of snow. For windows they had cloth soaked in oil, but now the curtains of fur were dropped within and a barricade raised without. There were only the blazing logs to give light and make shadows about. They hovered around it, ate nuts, parched corn, and heated their smoked eels. They slept late in the morning and went to bed early. The lack of exercise and vegetables told on health, and towards spring more than one of the little band went their way to the land beyond and left a painful vacancy. But one week there came a marvellous change. The mountains of snow sank down into hills, there was a rush in the river, the barricades were removed from the windows and the fur hangings pushed aside to let in some welcome light.
Rose ran around wild. "I can recall last spring," she said, with a burst of gayety. "The trees coming out in leaf, the birds singing, the blossoms——"
"And the garden," interposed Destournier.
Rose made a wry face.
"It will be an excellent thing for you to run about out of doors. You have lost your rosy cheeks."
"But I am Rose still," she said archly.
She ran gayly one day, she went up the stream in the canoe with Destournier and was full of merriment. But the next day she felt strangely languid. Most of the men had gone hunting. Mere Dubray was piling away some of the heaviest furs.
"Thou wilt roast there in the chimney corner," she said rather sharply. "Get thee out of doors in the fresh air again. It is silly to think one cannot stir without a troop of men tagging to one. Thou art too young for such folly."
"My legs ache," returned the child, "and my head feels queer and goes round when I stir. And I am sleepy, as if there had not been any night."
Mere Dubray glanced at her sharply.
"Why, thy cheeks are red and thy eyes bright. Come, stir about or I shall take a stick to thee. That will liven thee up."
The child rose and made a few uncertain steps. Then she flung out her hands wildly, and the next instant fell in a little heap on the floor.
The elder looked at her in amaze and shook her rather roughly by the arm. And now the redness was gone and the child had a strange gray look, with her eyes rolled up so that only a little of the pupil showed.
"Saint Elizabeth have mercy!" she cried. "The child is truly ill. And she has been so well and strong. And the doctor gone up to Tadoussac!"
She laid her on the rude couch. Rose began to mutter and then broke into a pitiful whine. There were some herbs that every householder gathered, there were secrets extorted from the squaws much more efficacious than those of their medicine men. The little hand was burning hot; yes, it was fever. There had been scurvy and dysentery, but she was a little non-plussed by the fever. And the Sieur would not be here until to-morrow; the doctor, no one knew when.
She took out her chest of simples, a quaintly-made birchen-bark receptacle. They had been carefully labelled by the doctor. Yes, here was "fever"—here another. Which to take puzzled her.
"I might try first one and then the other," she ruminated. "I would get the good of both. And they might not mix well."
She boiled some water and poured it over the herbs. It diffused a bitter, but not unpleasant flavor. Then she put it out of doors to cool.
Rose was sleeping heavily, but her eyes were half open and it startled Mere Dubray.
"A child is a great responsibility," she moaned to herself. "If the Sieur were only here, or the doctor!" She woke her presently and administered the potion. But it brought on a desperate sickness.
"Perhaps I had better try the other." She took the hot, limp hand, the cheeks were burning, but great drops of perspiration stood out on the forehead. She twisted the soft hair in a knot and struck one of her highly-prized pins through it, then she thought a night-cap would be better. Only they would be a world too large for the child. But she succeeded in pinning it to the right shape, though she grudged the two pins. They were a great rarity in those days, and if one was lost hours were spent hunting it up.
The second dose fared better. There was nothing to do but let the child sleep. She busied herself about the few household cares, studied the weather and the signs of spring. Oh, was that a bird! Surely he was early with his song. The river went rushing on joyously, leaping, foaming as if glad to be unchained. The air had softened marvellously. Ah, why should one be ill when spring had come!
The kindly Mere repeated her dose. Towards night the fever seemed to abate, but the child was desperately restless and the worthy woman much troubled. Yet what was the child to her? to any one? And death was sure to come sometime. She would be spared much trouble. She would also lose much happiness. But was there any great share of it in this new world?
Rose was no better the next day. The nausea returned and clearly she was out of her head. But late this afternoon the Sieur and the young guest returned and were so much alarmed they dispatched an Indian servitor with instructions to bring the doctor at once.
"A pretty severe case," he said, with a grave shake of the head. "You have done the best you could, Mere Dubray, and children have wonderful recuperative powers. So we will try."
"Poor, pretty little thing," thought Destournier. "Will she find anything worth living for?" Women had so few opportunities in those times. And when one was poor and unknown, and in a strange country. Yet he could not bear to think of her dying. There was always a hopeful future to living.
THE JOY OF FRIENDSHIP
She went down to the very boundaries of the other country, this little Rose. One night and one day they gave her up. She lay white and silent and Mere Dubray brought out a white muslin dress and ironed it up, much troubled to know whether she had a right to Christian burial or not.
And then she opened her eyes with their olden light and began to ask in a weak voice what happened to her yesterday, and found her last remembrance was six weeks agone.
She could hardly raise her thin little hand, but all the air was sweet with growing things. The tall trees had come into rich leafage, the sunshine glowed upon the grass that danced as if each blade was fairy-born, and sparkled on the river that went hurrying by as if to tell a wonderful story. The great craggy upper town glinted in a thousand varying tints, and at evening was wreathed in trailing mists that seemed some strange army marching across. The thickly wooded hills were nodding and smiling to each other, some native fruit trees were in bloom, and the air was delicious with the scent of wild-grape fragrance.
"It was a bad fever. And we had no priest to call upon. As if people here did not need one as well as in that wild place with a long name where they are hunting copper and maybe gold. But thanks to the saints and the good doctor, you have come through. Ah, we ought to have a chapel at least where one could go and pray."
"It is so beautiful and sweet. One would not want to be put in the ground."
She shuddered thinking of it.
"No, no! And M. Pontgrave has come in with two ships. There is plenty of provisions and fruits from La Belle France. See, M'sieu Ralph brought them in for you. Now you have only to get well."
Mere Dubray's face was alight with joy. The child smiled faintly.
"And the Sieur de Champlain?" she asked.
"Oh, he is as busy as any two men with plans for building up the town, and workmen, and some women for wives—two of whom are married already, though one couple did their courting on shipboard. Oh, you must soon get about. We are going to have a rare summer."
The child raised herself up a trifle and then sank back.
"Oh, dear!" with a little cry.
"Do not mind, ma petite. People are always so at first. To-morrow maybe you can sit up, and a few days after walk. And then go out."
"The world is so lovely and sweet," she murmured. And she was glad she had not died.
The next day M'sieu Ralph came in. He appeared changed some way, but the old smile was there. The eyes seemed to have taken on a deeper blue tint. She stretched out her hands.
"Thank the good God that you are restored, little one," he exclaimed, with deep fervor. "Only you are a shadow of the Rose who climbed rocks like a joyous kid less than a year agone. When will you pilot me again?"
She drew a long breath like a sigh.
"And there have been so many happenings. There are new people, though no little girls among them, for which I am sorry. And already they are building houses. The Sieur de Champlain has great plans. He will have a fine city if they work. Why, when thou art an old lady and goest dressed in silks and velvets and furs, as the women of the mother country, thou wilt have rare stories to tell to thy grandchildren. And no doubt thou wilt have seen Paris as well."
Then she smiled, but it was a pitiful attempt.
It was true Quebec had received a wonderful hastening in the new-comers and in several grants the King had made concerning the fur trade. The dreary winter was a thing of the past.
Destournier came in the next day and insisted the child should be wrapped up and carried out in the sunshine. She seemed light as a baby when he took her in his arms. He seated himself on a bench and held her closely wound up in Mere's choicest blanket she had brought from St. Malo, and which had been woven by her grandmother.
Ah, how lovely that savage primeval beauty looked to the child, who felt more than she could understand. Every pulse seemed instinct with new life. The gardens with their beds of vegetables, the tall slim spikes of onions which everybody had been requested to plant plentifully, the feathery leaves of the young carrots, the beans already in white bloom, the sword-like leaves of the corn hardly long enough to wave as yet, and the river with boats and canoes—why, it had never been so brisk and wonderful before.
She drew in long breaths of health-giving fragrance. There had been some trouble with the Indians and the Sieur de Champlain had gone to chastise them. There were fur-traders on the way and soon everything would be stirring with eager business. And when she could they would take a sail around and up the St. Charles, and visit the islands, for besides Pani the Mere had another Indian boy the Sieur had sent her, so there would be no gardening for the small, white Rose. And he had made a new friend for her, who was waiting anxiously to see her.
Presently she went soundly asleep in the fragrant air, and he carried her back and laid her on the bed. Mere Dubray came and looked at her and shook her head. She was indeed a white Rose now. They had cut her hair when she had tangled it with her tossing about, and it was now a bed of golden rings, but the long lashes that were like a fringe on her cheeks were black.
"It will take her a good while to get back all she has lost," said the young man. "It is little short of a miracle that she is here."
She gained a little every day. But she felt very shaky when she walked about, and light in the head. And then Destournier brought her a visitor one afternoon, a lady the like of whom the child had not dreamed of in her wildest imaginings, as she had listened to tales of royalty. A tall, fair woman whose bright hair was a mass of puffs and short dainty curls held by combs that sparkled with jewels, and the silken gown that was strewn with brocaded roses on a soft gray ground. It had dainty ruffles around the bottom that barely reached her ankles, and showed the clocked and embroidered stockings and elegant slippers laced back and forth with golden cord, and a buckle that sparkled with gems like the combs. Even royalty condescended to wear imitation jewels, so why should not the lower round? Her shapely shoulders were half veiled by a gauze scarf on which were woven exquisite flowers.
The child gazed with fascinated admiration. Did the Greek women Destournier had read about, who won every heart, look like this?
"This is the lady I told you of, little one, who has lately come from France, Madame Giffard. And this is Rose——" He paused suddenly with a half smile. "I believe the child has no other name."
"Was she born here?" How soft and winning the voice was.
Destournier flushed unconsciously.
"She has a story and a mystery that no one has fathomed. The Sieur made some inquiries. A woman of the better class who came over with some emigrants brought her, and was supposed to be her mother. But some secret lay heavy on her mind, it seemed, and when she was dying she confessed that the child was not hers, but she had no time for explanations. The husband brought her here and has gone to one of the fur stations. His disappointment was so intense he gave up the child. And so—her name is neither Arlac nor Dubray. We shall have to rechristen her."
"What a curious romance! If one knew what town she came from. Oh, my little one, will you let me be your friend? I had a little golden-haired girl who died when she was but four, and no children have come since to gladden my heart."
Madame Giffard bent over and took the small hand, noting the taper fingers and slender wrist that seemed to indicate good birth. She pressed it to her lips. Rose looked up trustfully and smiled.
"I like you," she said, with frank earnestness.
"Then I shall come to see you often. This is such a queer place with no ready-made houses and really nothing but log huts or those made of rough slabs. I wonder now how I had the courage to come. But I could not be separated from my dear husband. And when he makes his fortune we shall go back to our dearly beloved France."
The child smiled. The story had no embarrassment for her—Catherine had brought her from France and she had never called her mother until on shipboard. Back of it was vague and misty, though Catherine was in it all. But this beautiful woman with her soft voice, different from anything she had ever heard—why, she liked her already almost as much as M'sieu Ralph.
"And you have been ill a long while?"
"It seemed only a day when I first woke up. Then the snow was on the ground. I was so cold. I wanted to go to sleep on the chimney seat and Mere would not let me. And now everything is in bloom and the garden is planted and the sun shines in very gladness. I shall never like winter again," and she shuddered.
"Are the winters so dreadful?" she inquired of Destournier.
"I never knew anything like it. I can't understand why the Sieur de Champlain should want to found a city here when the country south is so much more congenial. Although this is the key to the North, as he says. And there is a north to the continent over there."
"You think there are fortunes to be made?"
"For those who come to make them. But the mother country will squeeze hard. We have not found the gold and silver yet. But after all, trade is your best pioneer. And this is an era of exploring, of fame, rather than money-getting. We are just coming to know there are other sides to the world. Ah, here is Mere Dubray."
The child glanced from one woman to the other. She saw the same difference as there was between the workmen and the few of the better class. Was it knowledge such as M'sieu Ralph had? And the good-hearted home-making Mere scouted learning for women. Their business was cooking and keeping the house. But she decided she liked the lady the best, just as she liked M'sieu Ralph better than the brawny leathern- and fur-clad workmen. But the Mere had been very good and never scolded her now.
She brought in some little cakes and a glass of beer brewed from roots and herbs. Madame Giffard thanked her and sipped it delicately. Some vague memory haunted the child, as if she had seen this lady before with the dead Catherine.
"It is a wild, wild country. There is nothing like it in France," the lady said, in a tone of disparagement. "And how one is to live——"
"You were not in France two or three centuries ago," he returned good-naturedly. "Most countries go through this period. Beginnings are not always agreeable."
"But I cannot admit this is a city. Yet they talk about it at home. The furs are certainly fine. But the Indians! You are in fear of them all the time. And if they should make an attack here?"
"They will hardly dare now. Indeed one Indian tribe is practically wiped out. And the fortifications are to be strengthened. We manage to keep quite friendly, though we do not trust too far."
"But it is horrible to live in perpetual fear," and she shuddered.
"You must not look on that side of it. It is a hard country for women, I shall have to admit."
"But I have not come to stay, thank the saints. A year maybe at the longest. My husband is to go back when he has—what you call it—established his claim—concession. We like sunny France the best. Only one wants a fortune to enjoy it."
"That is true, too. But here one can do without. At least a man can"—laughing a little as he surveyed the dainty figure.
"A year," repeated the child. "How long is a year?"
Mere Dubray had been standing in the doorway, waiting to take the cup when my lady had finished. Now she said in an unemotional tone—
"It is a summer and a winter. It was last May when Jean Arlac brought you here."
The child nodded thoughtfully and there came a far-away expression in her eyes.
"Jean Arlac went up to the fur country," she said to the guest.
"Does he return when the furs come in?"
She glanced at Mere Dubray, who shook her head.
"He comes back no more. He has married an Indian woman. But my husband will be here."
"Does M. Gifford desire to go out himself?"
"That is his plan, I believe. Can he get back before winter?"
"Oh, yes, or by that time."
"I shall come often to see the little one. And when they have finished the—the hut, the child must come often to me. I have brought some furnishings and pictures and a few books. There is much more in the old chateau, and my aunt is there to take care of it. But I wanted some old friends about me."
At the mention of books Rose had glanced up eagerly at Destournier. Then there was a sudden rush without. Both Indian boys were racing and yelling in their broken language.
"They are coming; they are coming! The canoes are in," and both began to caper about.
Mere Dubray took down a leathern thong and laid it about them; but they were like eels and glided out of her reach.
"One was bad enough, but I could manage him. The other"—and she gave her shoulders a shrug.
The lady laughed. "That is like home," she said.
"It is quite a sight. And I hope you will not be frightened, for the next few days. I had better escort you back, I think, for there will be a crowd."
They were guests of M. de Champlain, who had quite comfortable quarters. Beside his governmental business he was much engrossed with a history of his journeys and explorations and the maps he was making. All the furnishings were plain, as became a hardy soldier who often slept out in the open. But the keeping room already showed some traces of a woman's love for adornment. He looked rather grim over it, but made no comment.
"I will come again to-morrow." Madame Giffard pressed a kiss upon the white forehead. The child grasped her hand with convulsive warmth.
An hour had changed the aspect of everything. Instead of the quiet, deserted, winding ways, you could hardly call them streets, everything seemed alive with a motley, moving throng. A long line of boats, and what one might call a caravan, seemed to have risen from the very earth, or been evolved from the wilderness. There were shouting and singing, white men turned to brown by exposure, Indians, half-breeds of varying shades, and attire that was really indescribable.
"Is it an attack?" and Madame Giffard clung to her guide in affright.
He laughed reassuringly.
"It is only the awakening of Quebec after its long hibernation. They have been expected some days. Ah, now you will see the true business side and really believe the town flourishing, be able to carry a good report back to France."
They looked over the land side from the eminence of the fortifications. Quebec did not mean to admit these roisterers within her precincts, which were none too well guarded. Still the cannons looked rather formidable from their embrasures. But as little would these lawless men have cared to be under the guard of the soldiery.
They seemed to come to a pause. Indians and half-breeds threw down their packs. Some sat on them and gesticulated fiercely, as if on the verge of a quarrel. A few, who seemed the leaders, went about ordering, pointing to places where a few stakes had been driven. Great bundles were unpacked, a centre pole reared, and a tent was in progress.
"Why, it is like a magic play," and she clapped her hands in eager delight. "Will they live here? Oh, where is Laurent, I wonder. He ought to see this."
"They will live here a month or so. Some of the earlier ones will go away, new ones come. The company's furs will be packed and loaded on vessels for France, but there are plenty of others who trade on their own account. There will be roistering and drinking and quarrelling and dickering, and then the tents will be folded and packed and the throng take up their march for the great north again, and months of hunting."
It was fascinating to watch them. They were building stone fireplaces outside and kindling fires. Here some deft hands were skinning a moose or a deer and placing portions on a rude spit. And there was the Sieur de Champlain and a dozen or so of armed soldiers, he holding parley with some of the leaders.
"Oh, there is M. Giffard," she cried presently. "And look—are there—women?"
"Squaws. Oh, yes."
"Do they travel, I mean come from the fur country? What a long journey it must be for them."
"They do not mind. They are nomads of the wilderness. You know the Indians never build towns as we do. Some of them settle for months until the hunting gives out, then they are off on a new trail."
"What queer people. One would think the good missionaries would civilize them, teach them to be like—can they civilize them?"
"After centuries, perhaps"—dryly.
"Is all this country theirs?"
"Well"—he lifted his eyebrows in a queer, humorous fashion. "The King of France thinks he has a right to what his explorers discover; the King of England—well, it was Queen Elizabeth, I believe, who laid claim to a portion called Virginia. She died, but the English remain. Their colony is largely recruited from their prisons, I have heard. Then his Spanish majesty has somewhat. It is a great land. But the French set out to save souls and convert the heathen savages into Christian men. They have made friends with some of the tribes. But they are not like the people of Europe, rather they resemble the barbarians of the north. And the Church, you know, has labored to convert them."
"How much men know!" she said, with a long sigh of admiration.
The sun was dropping down behind the distant mountains, pine- and fir-clad. She had never looked upon so grand a scene and was filled with a tremulous sort of awe. Up there the St. Charles river, here the majestic St. Lawrence, islands, coves, green points running out in the water where the reedy grass waved to and fro, tangles of vines and wild flowers. And here at their feet the settlement that had just sprung into existence.
"You must be fatigued," he said suddenly. "Pardon my forgetfulness. I have been so interested myself."
"Yes, I am a little tired. It has been such a strange afternoon. And that poor little girl, Monsieur—does that woman care well for her? She has the coarseness of a peasant, and the child not being her own——"
"Oh, I think she is fairly good to her. We do not expect all the graces here in the wilderness. But I could wish——"
Madame Gifford stumbled at that moment and might have gone over a ledge of rock, and there were many there, but he caught her in strong arms.
"How clumsy!" she cried. "No, I am not hurt, thanks to you. I was looking over at that woman with something on her back that resembles a child."
"Yes, a papoose. That is their way of carrying them."
"Poor mother! She must get very weary."
They threaded their way carefully to the citadel. The guard nodded and they passed. An Indian woman was bringing in a basket of vegetables and there was a savory smell of roasting meat.
"Now you are safe," he said. "The Sieur would have transported me to France or hung me on the ramparts if any evil had happened to you."
He gave a short laugh as if he had escaped a danger, but there was a gleam of mirth in his eyes.
"A thousand thanks, M'sieu. Though I can't think I was in any great danger. And another thousand for the sweet little girl. I must see a good deal of her."
The room she entered was within the double fortification and its windows were securely barred. The walls were of heavy timbers stained just enough to bring out the beautiful grain. But some of the dressed deerskins were still hanging and there were festoons of wampum, curiously made bead and shell curtains interspersed with gun racks, great moose horns and deer heads, and antlers. Tables and chairs curiously made and a great couch big enough for a bed.
But the adjoining room was the real workroom of the Sieur. Here were his books, he brought a few more every time he came from France; shelves of curiosities, a wide stone fireplace, with sundry pipes of Indian make on the ledges. A great table occupied the centre of the room and all about it were strewn papers,—maps in every state,—plans for the city, plans of fortifications, diagrams of the unsuccessful settlements, and the new project of Mont Real. Notes on agriculture and the propagation of fruits, for none better than the Sieur understood that the colony must in some way provide its own food, that it could not depend upon sustenance from the mother country. For his ambition desired to make New France the envy of the nations who had tried colonizing. He ordered crops of wheat and rye and barley sown, and often worked in his own field when the moon shone with such glory that it inspired him. And though he had all the ardor of an explorer, he meant to turn the profits of trade to this end, but to further it settlements were necessary, and he bent much of his energy to the duller and more trying task of building colonies. Though the route to the Indies fired his ambition he was in real earnest to bring this vast multitude of heathens within the pale of the Church, and to do that he must be friendly with them as far as they could be trusted, but there were times when he almost lost faith.
The child sat in a dream on a rude, squarely-built settle with a coarse blanket on it of Indian make and some skins thrown over the back, for often at sundown the air grew cool and as yet women were not spinning or weaving as in old France. A few luxuries had been brought thither, but the mother government had a feeling that the colonists ought mostly to provide for themselves, and was often indifferent to the necessary demands.
Mere Dubray went out to the kitchen and began to prepare supper. There was a great stone chimney with a bench at each side, and for a fireplace two flat stones that would be filled in with chunks of wood. When the blaze had burned them to coals the cooking began. Corn bread baked on both sides, sometimes rye or wheaten cakes, a kettle boiled, though the home-brewed beer was the common drink in summer, except among those who used the stronger potions. The teas were mostly fragrant herbs, thought to be good for the stomach and to keep the blood pure.
Mere Dubray dressed half a dozen birds in a trice. It was true that in the summer they could live on the luxuries of the land in some respects. Fish and game of all kinds were abundant, and as there were but few ways of keeping against winter it was as well to feast while one could. They dried and smoked eels and some other fish, and salted them, but they had learned that too much of this diet induced scurvy.
The birds were hung on an improvised spit, with a pan below to catch the drippings with which they were basted. Between whiles the worthy woman unexpectedly bolted out to the garden with a switch in her hand and laid it about the two Indian boys, who did not bear it with the stoicism of their race, as they learned the greater the noise the shorter their punishment.
The little girl did not heed the screams or the shrill scolding, or even the singing of the birds that grew deliciously tender toward nightfall. She often watched the waving branches as the wind blew among them until it seemed as if they must be alive, bending over caressing each other and murmuring in low tones. If she could only know what they said. Of course they must be alive; she heard them cry piteously in winter when they were stripped of their covering. Why did God do it? Why did He send winter when summer was so much better, when people were merry and happy and could hunt and fish and wander in the woods and fight Indians? She had not had much of an idea of God hitherto only as a secret charm connected with Mere Dubray's beads, but now it was some great power living beyond the sky, just as the Indians believed. You could only go there by growing cold and stiff and being put in the ground. She shrank from that thought.
Something new had come in her life now. There was a vague, confused idea of gods and goddesses, that she had gathered from the Latin verses that she no more understood than the language. And this must be one that descended upon her this afternoon. The soft, sweet voice still lingered in her ears, entrancing her. The graceful figure that was like some delicate swaying branch, the attire the like of which she had never even dreamed of. How could she indeed, when the finest things she had seen were the soldiers' trappings?
And this beautiful being had kissed her. Only once she remembered being kissed, but Catherine's lips were so cold that for days when she thought of it she shuddered and connected it with that mysterious going away, that horrid, underground life. This was warm and sweet and strange, like the nectar of flowers she had held to her lips. Oh, would the lovely being come again? But M'sieu Ralph had said so, and what he promised came to pass. There was a sudden ecstasy as if she could not wait, as if she could fly out of the body after her charmer. Whither was she going? Oh, M'sieu Ralph would know. But could she wait until to-morrow?
Into this half-delirious vision broke the strong, rather harsh voice that filled her for an instant with a curious hate so acute that if she had been large enough, strong enough, she would have thrust the woman out of doors.
"Oh, have you been asleep? Your eyes look wild. And your cheeks! Is it the fever coming back again? That chatter went through my head. And to be gowned as if she were going to have audience with the Queen! I don't know about such things. There is a King always—I suppose there must be a Queen."
The child had recovered herself a little and the enraptured dream was slipping by.
"And here is your supper. Such a great dish of raspberries, and some juice pressed out for wine. And the birds broiled to a turn. Here is a little wheaten cake. The Sieur sent the wheat and it is a great rarity. And now eat like a hungry child."
She raised her up and put a cushion of dried hay at her back. The food was on a small trencher with a flat bottom, and was placed on the settle beside her.
"No, no, the tea first," she said, holding a birch-bark cup to her lips.
Rose made a wry face, but drank it, nevertheless. Then she took the raspberry juice, which was much pleasanter.
"Yes, a great lady, no doubt. We have few of them. This is no place for silken hose and dainty slippers, and gowns slipping off the shoulders, and my lady will soon find that out. I wondered at M. Destournier. The saints forbid that we should import these kind of cattle to New France."
"She is very sweet"—protestingly.
"Oh, yes. So is the flower sweet, and it drops off into withered leaves. And her eyes looked askance at M'sieu Ralph, yet she hath a husband. Come, eat of thy bird and bread, and to-morrow maybe thou wilt run about lest thy limbs stiffen up to a palsy."
"Mistress, mistress," called Pani—"here is a man to see thee."
She went through both rooms. The man stood without, rather rough, unkempt, with buckskin breeches, fringed leggings, an Indian blanket, a grizzled beard hanging down on his breast, and his tousled hair well sprinkled with white; his face wrinkled with the hardships he had passed through, but the gray-blue eyes twinkled.
"Ha! ha!" A coarse, but not unfriendly laugh finished the greeting as he caught both hands in an impetuous embrace. "Lalotte, old girl, has thy memory failed in two years? Or hast thou gotten another husband?"
The woman gave a shriek of mingled surprise and delight. "The saints be praised, it is Antoine. And how if thou hast taken some Indian woman to wife? Braves do not consort with white women who cannot be made into slaves," she answered, with spirit.
"Lalotte, thou wert hard to win in those early days. But now a dozen good kisses with more flavor in them than Burgundy wine, and I will prove to you I am the same old Antoine. And then—but thy supper smell is good to a hungry man. And a dish of shallots. It takes a man back to old Barbizon."
Stout and strong as was Madame Dubray, her husband almost kissed the breath out of her body in his rapturous embrace.
"But I had no word of your coming——"
"How could you, pardieu! But you knew the traders were coming in. And a man can't send messengers hundreds of miles."
"I looked last year——"
"Pouf! There are men who stay five or ten years, and have left a wife in France. You can't blame them for taking a new one when you are invited to. It is a wild, hard life, but not worse than a soldier's. And when you are your own master the hardships are light. But some of this good supper."
"Out with you," she said to the Indian boys, who had snatched a piece of the broiled fish. Then she put down a plate, took up two birds that dripped delicious gravy, and a squirrel browned to a turn. From the cupboard beside the great stone chimney, so cunningly devised that no one would have suspected it, she brought forth a bottle of wine from the old world, her last choice possession, that she had dreamed of saving for Antoine, and now her dream had come true.
There was much to tell on both sides, though her life had been comparatively uneventful. He related incidents of his wilder experiences far away from civilization that he had grown to enjoy in its perfect freedom that often lapped over into lawlessness. And he ate until squirrel, fish, and the cakes, both of rye and corn, had disappeared. The slave boys fared ill that night.
Rose had eaten her supper more daintily. The great pile of raspberries was a delight; large, luscious; melting in one's mouth without the aid of sugar, and being picked up with the fingers. She had been startled at the sudden appearance of the husband she had heard talked of, but of course not seen. His loud voice grated on her ears, made more sensitive by illness, and when, a long while after, the pine torch that was flaring in the kitchen defined his brawny frame as he stood in the doorway, she wanted to scream.
"Oh—what have you here—a ghost?" he asked.
"A child who was left here more than a year ago. Jean Arlac lost his wife, and not knowing what to do with her—she was not his own child—left her here. He went out with the fur-hunters."
"Jean Arlac!" Antoine scratched among his rough locks as if to assist his memory. "Yes. And on the way he picked up a likely Indian girl who has given him a son. And he saddled her on you?"
"Oh, the Sieur will look after her—perhaps take her back to France," she answered, indifferently.
"The best place for her, no doubt. She looks a frail reed. And women need strength in this new world. A little infusion of Indian blood will do no harm. I wouldn't mind a son myself, but a girl—pouf!"
The child was glad he would not want her. She turned her face to the wall. She had not known what loneliness was before, but now she felt it through all her body, like a great pain.
On the opposite side of the room was another settle, part of which turned over and was upheld by drawing out two rounds of logs. Mere Dubray made up the wider bed now, and soon Antoine was snoring lustily. At first it frightened the child, though she was used to the screech of the owl that spent his nights in the great walnut tree inside the palisade.
Was it a dream, she wondered the next morning. She slept soundly at last and late and found herself alone in the house. She put on her simple frock and went to the doorway. Ah, what a splendid glowing morning it was! The sunshine lay in golden masses and fairly gilded the green of the maize, the waving grasses, the bronze of the trees, and the river threw up lights and shadows like birds skimming about.
No one was in the garden. The table had been despoiled to the last crumb. Even the cupboard had been ransacked and all that remained was some raw fish. She was not hungry and the fragrant air was reviving. It seemed to speed through every pulse. Why, she suddenly felt strong again.
She wandered out of the enclosure and climbed the steps, sitting down now and then and drawing curious breaths that frightened her, they came so irregularly. There were workmen building additional fortifications around the post, there were houses going up. It was like a strange place. She reached the gallery presently and looked over what was sometime to be the city of Quebec. The long stretch was full of tents and tepees and throngs of men of every description, it would seem; Indians, swarthy Spaniards who had roamed half round the world, French from the jaunty trader, with a certain air of breeding, down to the rough, unkempt peasant, who had been lured away from his native land with visions of an easily-made fortune and much liberty in New France, and convicts who had been given a choice between death and expatriation. Great stacks of furs still coming in from some quarter, haranguing, bargaining, shouting, coming to blows, and the interference of soldiers. Was it so last summer when she sometimes ran out with Pani, though she had been forbidden to?
It was growing very hot up here. The sun that looked so glorious through the long stretches of the forest and played about the St. Lawrence as if in a game of hide-and-seek with the boats, grew merciless. All the air was full of dancing stars and she was so tired trying to reach out to them, as if they were a stairway leading up to heaven, so that one need not be put in the dark, wretched ground. Oh, yes, she could find the way, and she half rose.
It seemed a long journey in the darkness. Then there was a coolness on her brow, a soft hand passed over it, and she heard some murmuring, caressing words. She opened her eyes, she tried to rise.
"Lie still, little one," said the voice that soothed and somehow made it easy to obey. She was fanned slowly, and all was peace.
"Did you climb up to the gallery all alone? And yesterday you seemed so weak, so fragile."
"I wanted—some one. They had all gone——"
"Quebec looks like a besieged camp. Laurent, that is my husband," with a bright color, "said I could see it from the gallery, and that it resembled a great show. I went out and found you. At first I thought you were dead. But the Indian woman, Jolette is her Christian name, but I should have liked Wanamee better, carried you in here and after a while brought you to. But I thought sure you were dead. Poor little white Rose! Truly named."
"But once I had red cheeks," in a faint voice.
"Then thou wouldst have been a red Rose."
She sang a delicious little chanson to a red rose from a lover. The child sighed in great content.
"Were they good to you down there? That woman seemed—well, hard. And were you left all alone?"
Rose began to tell the story of how the husband came home, and Madame Giffard could see that she shrank from him. "And when she woke they had all gone away. There was nothing to eat."
"Merci! How careless and unkind!" But Madame Giffard could not know the little slave boys had ransacked the place.
"I was not hungry. And it was so delightful to walk about again. Though I trembled all over and thought I should fall down."
"As you did. Now I have ordered you some good broth. And you must lie still to get rested."
"But it is so nice to talk. You were so beautiful yesterday I was afraid. I never saw such fine clothes."
Madame Giffard was in a soft gray gown to-day that had long wrinkled sleeves, a very short waist, and a square neck filled in with ruffles that stood up in a stiff fashion. She looked very quaint and pretty, more approachable, though the child felt rather than understood.
"Are there no women here, and no society? Merci! but it is a strange place, a wilderness. And no balls or dinners or excursions, with gay little luncheons? There is war all the time at home, but plenty of pleasure, too. And what is one to do here!"
"The Indians have some ball games. But they often fight at the end."
The lady laughed. What a charming ripple it was, like the falls here and there, and there were many of them.
"Not that kind," she said, in her soft tone that could not wound the child. "A great room like a palace, and lights everywhere, hundreds of candles, and mirrors where you see yourself at every turn. Then festoons of gauzy things that wave about, and flowers—not always real ones, they fade so soon. And the men—there are officers and counts and marquises, and their habiliments are—well, I can't describe them so you would understand, but a hundred times finer than those of the Sieur de Champlain. And the women—oh, if I had worn a ball dress yesterday, you would have been speechless."
She laughed again gayly at the child's innocence. And just then Wanamee came in with the broth.
"Madame Dubray's husband has come," nodding to the child.
"Yes, yesterday, just at night."
"He has great stores, they say. He is shrewd and means to make money. But there will be no quiet now for weeks. And it will hardly be safe to venture outside the palisades."
Jolette had been among the first converts, a prisoner taken in one of the numerous Indian battles, rescued and saved from torture by the Sieur himself, and though she had been a wife of one of the chiefs, she had been beaten and treated like a slave. Champlain found her amenable to the influences of civilization, and in some respects really superior to the emigrants that had been sent over, though most of them were eagerly seized upon as wives for the workmen. Frenchwomen were not anxious to leave their native land.
Madame Giffard fed her small protegee in a most dainty and enticing manner. The little girl would have thought herself in an enchanted country if she had known anything about enchantment. But most of the stories she had heard were of Indian superstition, and so horrid she never wanted to recur to them. Madame Dubray was much too busy to allow her thoughts to run in fanciful channels, and really lacked any sort of imagination.
After she had been fed she leaned back on the pillow again. Madame soon sang her to sleep. The child was very much exhausted and in the quietude of slumber looked like a bit of carving.
"Her eyelashes are splendid," thought her watcher, "and her lips have pretty curves. There is something about her—she must have belonged to gentle people. But she will grow coarse under that woman's training."
She sighed a little. Did she want the child, she wondered. If Laurent could make a fortune here in this curious land where most of the population seemed barbarians.
She drew from a work-bag a purse she was knitting of silken thread, and worked as she watched the sleeping child. Once she rose, but the view from the window did not satisfy her, so she went out on the gallery. A French vessel was coming up into port, with its colors at half mast and its golden lilies shrouded with crape. Some important personage must be dead—was it the King?
She heard her husband's voice calling her and turned, took a few steps forward. "Oh, what has happened?" she cried.
"The King! Our heroic Bearnese! For though we must always regret his change of religion, yet it was best for France and his rights. And a wretched miscreant stabbed him in his carriage, but he has paid the penalty. And the new King is but a child, so a woman will rule. There is no knowing what policies may be overturned."
"Our brave King!" There were tears in her eyes.
"They are loading vessels to return. Ah, what a rich country, even if they cannot find the gold the Spaniards covet. Such an array of choice furs bewilders one, and to see them tossed about carelessly makes one almost scream with rage. Ah, my lady, you shall have in the winter what the Queen Mother would envy."
"Then you mean to stay"—uncertainly.
"Yes, unless there should be great changes. I have not seen the Sieur since the news came. He was to go to Tadoussac the first of the week, and I had permission to go with him. One would think to-day that Quebec was one of the most flourishing of towns, and it is hard to believe the contrary. But every soldier is on the watch. They trust no one. What have you been doing, ma mie?"
"Oh, I have something to show you. Come."
She placed her finger to her lips in token of silence and led him back to the room she had left. The child was still sleep.
"What an angel," he murmured. "Is it—how did it come here? I thought you said the little girl was ill."
"She was, and is. Doesn't she look like a marvellous statue? But no one seems to regard her beauty here."
"She is too delicate."
"But she was well and strong and daring, and could climb like a deer, M. Destournier says. She will be well again with good care. I want to keep her."
"She will be a good plaything for thee when I am away. Though this may change many plans. The Sieur is bent on discoveries, and now he has orders to print his book. The maps are wonderful. What a man! He should be a king in this new world. France does not understand the mighty empire he is founding for her."
"Then you do not mind—if I keep the child? She has crept into the empty niche in my heart. I must have been directed by the saints when I felt the desire to go out. She would have died from exhaustion in the broiling sun."
"Say the good Father, rather."
"And yet we must adore the saints, the old patriarchs. Did not the disciples desire to build a memento to them?"
"They were not such men as have disgraced the holy calling by fire and sword and persecution. And if one can draw a free breath in this new land. The English with all their faults allow freedom in religion. It is these hated Jesuits. And I believe they are answerable for the murder of our heroic King."
Wanamee summoned them to the midday repast. The plain walnut boards that formed the table had been polished until the beautiful grain and the many curvings were brought out like the shades of a painting. If the dishes were a motley array, a few pieces of silver and polished pewter with common earthenware and curious cups of carved wood as well as birch-bark platters, the viands were certainly appetizing.
"One will not starve in this new country," he said.
"But it is the winter that tries one, M. Destournier says."
"There must be plenty of game. And France sends many things. But a colony must have agricultural resources. And the Indian raids are so destructive. We need more soldiers."
He was off again to plunge in the thick of business. It was supposed the fur company and the concessions ruled most of the bargain-making, but there were independent trappers who had not infrequently secured skins that were well-nigh priceless when they reached the hands of the Paris furrier. And toward night, when wine and whiskey had been passed around rather freely, there were broils that led to more than one fatal ending. Indian women thronged around as well, with curious handiwork made in their forest fastnesses.
The child slept a long while, she was so exhausted.
"Why, the sun is going over the mountains," she began, in vague alarm. "I must go home. I did not mean to run away."
She sprang up on her feet, but swayed so that she would have fallen had not Madame caught her.
"Nay, nay, thou art not well enough to run away from me, little one. I will send word down to the cabin of Mere Dubray. She has her husband, whom she has not seen for two years, and will care naught for thee. Women are all alike when a man's love is proffered," and she gave a gay little laugh.
"My head feels light and swims around as if it was on the rapid river. But I must go home, I——"
"Art afraid? Well, I promise nothing shall harm thee. Lie down again. I will send Wanamee with the word. Will it make thee happy—content?"
The child looked at her hostess as if she was studying her, but her intellect had never been roused sufficiently for that. There was a vague delight stealing over her as slumber does at times, a confusion of what might have been duty if she had understood that even, in staying away from what was really her home. Mere Dubray would be angry. She would hardly beat her, she had only slapped her once during her illness, and that was to make her swallow some bitter tea. And something within her seemed to cry out for the adjuncts of this place. She had been in the room before, she had even peered into the Sieur's study. He always had a kindly word for her, she was different from the children of the workmen, and looked at one with sober, wondering eyes, as if she might fathom many things.
"You do not want to go back?"—persuasively.
Was it the pretty lady who changed the aspect of everything for her?
"Oh, if I could stay here always!" she cried, with a vehemence of more years than had passed over her head. "It is better than the beautiful world where I sit on the rocks and wonder, and dream of the great beyond that goes over and meets the sky. There are no cruel Indians then, and I want to wander on and on and listen to the voices in the trees, the plash of the great river, and the little stream that plays against the stones almost like the song you sung. If one could live there always and did not get hungry or cold——"
"What a queer, visionary child! One would not look for it in these wilds. The ladies over yonder talk of them because it is a fashion, but when they ride through the parks and woods they want a train of admirers. And with you it is pure love. Could you love any one as you do nature? Was any one ever so good to you that you could fall down at their feet and worship them? Surely you do not love Madame Dubray?"
"M'sieu Ralph has been very kind. But you are like a wonderful flower one finds now and then, and dares not gather it lest the gods of the woods and trees should be angry."
"But I will gather you to my heart, little one," and she slipped down beside the couch, encircling the child in her arms, and pressing kisses on brow and legs and pallid cheeks, bringing a roseate tint to them.
"And you must love me, you must want to stay with me. Oh, there was a little one once who was flesh of my flesh, on whom I lavished the delight and tenderness of my soul, and the great Father took her. He sent nothing in her place, though I prayed and prayed. And now I shall put you there. Surely the good God cannot be angry, for you have no one."
She had followed a sudden impulse, and was not quite sure it was for the best. Only her mother heart cried out for love.
The child stared, motionless, and it dampened her ardor for the moment. She could not fathom the eyes.
"Are you not glad? Would you not like to live with me?"
"Oh, oh!" It was a cry of rapture. She caught the soft white hands and kissed them. The joy was so new, so unexpected, she had no words for it.
Lalotte Dubray had had the gala day of her life. Her peasant wedding had been simple enough. The cure's blessing after the civil ceremony, the dance on the green, the going home to the one room in the small thatched hut, the bunk-like bed along the wall, the two chests that answered for seats, a kitchen table, two shelves for a rude dresser, with dishes that had been earned by the hardest toil, but they were better off than some, for there was a pig grunting and squealing outside, and a little garden.
Times had grown harder and harder. Antoine had been compelled to join the army and fight for he knew not what. Then he had decamped, and instead of being shot had been sent to New France. Lalotte was willing enough to go with him.
Hard as it was, it bettered their fortunes. He had gone out once as a sort of servant and handy man to the company. Then he had struck out for himself. He was shrewd and industrious, and did not mind hard work, nor hardships.
Now he was in the lightest of spirits. He had some choice furs that were eagerly snapped up. The Indian women had been shrewd enough to arrange tempting booths, where frying fish and roasted birds gave forth an appetizing fragrance. There were cakes of ground maize baked on hot stones, and though Champlain had used his best efforts to keep some restraint on spirituous liquors, there were many ways of evading.
Lalotte was fairly stupefied with amazement at her husband's prosperity.
"Why, you are rich with that bag of money," she cried. "I never saw so much."
He laughed jovially. "Better than standing up to be shot—he! he! Jacques Lallemont had the idea, and they wanted emigrants for New France bad enough. Why don't they send more? The English understand better. Sacre! But it is a great country. Only Quebec stays little, when it should be a great place. Why can they not see?"
Lalotte could venture no explanation of that. She seemed to be in a maze herself.
Vessels were taking on cargoes of furs as soon as they were inspected. The river as far as Tadoussac looked thriving enough. Antoine met old friends, but he was more level-headed than some, and did not get tipsy. Lalotte held her head higher than ever.
When it was getting rather too rough they made their way out.
"Oh, the child!" she exclaimed, with a sudden twinge of conscience. "And those wretched slave boys. If your back is turned they are in league with the evil one himself. Baptism does not seem to drive it out. Whether the poor thing had her breakfast."
"Let that alone. It was mighty cool in Jean Arlac to foist her on thee. And now that we have left the crowd behind and are comfortable in the stomach."
"But the cost, Antoine. I could have gotten it for half!"
"A man may treat his wife, when he has not seen her for two years," and he gave a short chuckling laugh. "There has been a plan in my head, hatched in the long winter nights up at the bay. Why should man and wife be living apart when they might be together? Thou hast a hot temper, Lalotte, but it will serve to warm up the biting air."
"A hot temper!" resentfully. "Much of it you have taken truly! Two years soldiering—months in prison, and now two years again——"
He laughed good-humoredly, if it was loud enough to wake echoes.
"The saints know how I have wished for the sound of your voice. Indian women there are ready enough to be a wife for six months, and then perhaps some brave steals in at night and pouf! out goes your candle."
"The sin of it!"—holding up both hands.
"Sins are not counted in this wild land. But there are no old memories, no talks with each other. Oh, you cannot think how the loneliness almost freezes up one's very vitals. And I said to myself—I will bring Lalotte back with me. Why should we not share the same life and live over together our memories of sunny France?—not always sunny, either."
"To—take me with you"—gasping.
"Yes, why not? As if a man cannot order his wife about!" he exclaimed jocosely, catching her around the waist and imprinting half a dozen kisses with smacks that were like an explosion. "Yes—I have sighed for thee many a night. There are high logs for firing, there are piles of bearskins, thick and fleecy as those of our best sheep at home. There is enough to eat at most times, and with thy cookery, ma mie, a man would feast. It is a rough journey, to be sure, but then thou wilt not refuse, or I shall think thou hast a secret lover."
"The Virgin herself knows I shall be glad to go with thee, Antoine," and the tears of joy stood in her eyes. "There is nothing in all Quebec to compare with thee. And heaven knows one sometimes grows hungry of a winter night, when food is scarce and one depends upon sleep to make it up. No, I should be happy anywhere with thee."
They jogged along in a lover-like fashion, but they were not quite out of hearing of the din. At nightfall all dickering was stopped and guards placed about. But in many a tent there were drinking and gambling, and more than one affray.
They came to the small unpretentious cabin. The door stood wide open, and the shaggy old dog was stretched on the doorstep, dozing. No soul was to be seen.
"Where is the child, Britta? Why, she must have been carried off. She could not walk any distance."
The dog gave a wise look and flicked her ear. Lalotte searched every nook.
"Where could she have gone?" in dismay.
"Let the child alone. What is she to us? Does Jean Arlac stay awake nights with trouble in his conscience about her? She was not his wife's child and so nothing to him. What more is she to us? Come, get some supper; I've not tasted such fried fish in an age as yours last night."
"The fish about here has a fine flavor, that is true. Those imps of boys, and not a stick of wood handy. Their skins shall be well warmed; just wait until I get at them."
"Nay, I will get some wood. I am hungry as a bear in the thaw, when he crawls out."
But Lalotte, armed with a switch, began a survey of the garden. The work had been neglected, that was plain. There under a clump of bushes lay Pani, sleeping, with no fear of retribution on his placid face. And Lalotte put in some satisfactory work before he even stirred.
But he knew nothing of his compeer, only they had been down to the river together. As for the child, when he returned she was gone.
"Let the child alone, I say!" and Antoine brought his fist heavily down on the table. "Next thing you will be begging that we take her. Since the good Lord in His mercy has refrained from giving us any mouths to feed, we will not fly in His face for those who do not concern us. And the puling thing would die on the journey and have to be left behind to feed the wolves. Come! come! Attend to thy supper."
The slim Indian convert was coming up the path. She was one of the Abenaqui tribe, and she had mostly discarded the picturesque attire.
"The lady Madame Giffard sent me to say the girl is safe with her and will not be able to return to-night."
"So much the better," growled Antoine, looking with hungry eyes on the fish browning before the coals.
"Did she come and take her? I went with my husband to see the traders."
"She has been very poorly, but is much better now. And miladi thought——"
"Oh, yes, it is all right. Yes, I am glad," nodding definitely, as if the matter was settled. She did not want to quarrel with Antoine about a child that was no kin to them, when he was so much like her old lover. He seemed to bring back the hopes of youth and a certain gayety to which she had long been a stranger.
After enjoying his meal he brought out his pipe and stretched himself in a comfortable position, begging her to attend to him and let the slave boy take the fragments. He went on to describe the settlement of the fur merchants and trappers at Hudson Bay, but toned down much of the rudeness of the actual living. A few of the white women, wives of the leaders and the men in command, formed a little community. There was card-playing and the relating of adventures through the long winter evenings, that sometimes began soon after three. Dances, too, Indian entertainments, and for daylight, flying about on snowshoes, and skating. There was a short summer. The Indian women were expert in modelling garments—everything was of fur and dressed deerskins.
Few knew how to read at that day among the seekers of fortune and adventurers, but they were shrewd at keeping accounts, nevertheless. There were certain regulations skilfully evaded by the knowing ones.
No, it would never do to take the child. She had no real mother love for it, yet she often wondered whose child it might be, since it was not Catherine Arlac's? Strange stories about foundlings often came to light in old France.
The death of the King rather disorganized matters, for no one quite knew what the new order of things would be. The Sieur de Champlain sorrowed truly, for he had ever been a staunch admirer of Henry of Navarre. Demont had not had his concession renewed and to an extent the fur trade had been thrown open. Several vessels were eagerly competing for stores of Indian peltries, as against those of the company. Indeed it was a regular carnival time. One would think old Quebec a most prosperous settlement, if judged only by that. But none of the motley crew were allowed inside the palisades. The Sieur controlled the rough community with rare good judgment. He had shown that he could punish as well as govern; fight, if need be, and then be generous to the foe. Indeed in the two Indian battles he had won much prestige, and had frowned on the torture of helpless prisoners.
Madame Giffard besought her husband that evening to consent to her taking the care of little Rose, at least while they remained in Canada, the year and perhaps more.
"And that may unfit her for her after life. You will make a pet and plaything of her, and then it would be cruel to return her to this woman to whom it seems she was given. She may be claimed some day."
"And if we liked her, might we not take her home with us? There seems no doubt but what she came from France. Not that I could put any one quite in the place of my lost darling, but it will afford me much interest through the winter, which, by all accounts, is dreary. I can teach her to read—she hardly knows a French letter. M. Destournier has taken a great interest in her. And she needs care now, encouragement to get well."
"Let us do nothing rash. The Sieur may be able to advise what is best," he returned gently. He felt he would rather know more of the case before he took the responsibility.
"She is so sweet, so innocent. She did not really know what love was," and Madame laughed softly. "This Catherine Arlac must have been a maid, I think. Yes, I am sure she must have come from gentle people. She has every indication of it."
"Well, thou canst play nurse a while and it will interest thee, and fill up thy lonely hours, for I have much to do and must take some journeys quite impossible for a woman. And then we will decide, if this woman is ready to part with her. Ma mie, thou knowest I would not refuse thee any wish that was possible."
"That is true, Laurent," and she kissed him fondly.
Destournier had been busy every moment of the day and had been closeted with the Sieur until late in the evening. Champlain felt now that he must give up an exploring expedition, on which his heart was set, and return to France, where large interests of the colony were at stake. There was much to be arranged.
So it was not until the next morning that he found his way to the Dubray house, and then he was surprised at the tidings. Lalotte was almost a girl again in her interest in the new plans. As soon as a sufficient number had sold their wares to make a journey safe from marauders they would start for Hudson's Bay, while the weather was pleasant. Of course the child must be left behind. She had no real claim on them; neither could she stand the journey. She was now with Madame Giffard.
Thither he hurried. Little Rose had improved wonderfully, though she was almost transparently thin, and her eyes seemed larger and softer in their mysterious darkness. Already love had done much for her.
He told his story and the plans of the Dubrays.
"Then I can stay here," she cried with kindling eyes, reaching out her small hand as if to sign her right in Madame's.
Madame's eyes, too, were joyous as she raised them in a sort of gratitude to her visitor.
"How strange it comes about," she cried. "And now, M. Destournier, will you learn all you can about this Catherine Arlac; where she came from in France, and if she was any sort of a trustworthy person? It may some day be of importance to the child."
"Yes, anything I can do to advance her interest you may depend on. Are you happy, little one?"
"I could fly like a bird, I am so light with joy. But I would not fly away from here. Oh, then I shall not have to go back! I was frightened at M. Dubray."
"I don't wonder. Yet these are the kind of men New France needs, who are not afraid of the wilderness and its trials. The real civilization follows on after the paths are trodden down. Did you go out yesterday?" to the lady.
"Only on the gallery."
"That was safest. Such a crowd was fit only for Indian women, and some of them shrank from it, I noticed. You heard the news about the King?"
"The sad, sad news. Yes."
"And the Sieur feels he must go back to France."
"What is Quebec to do? And if there is an Indian raid? Oh, this new land is full of fears."
"And think of the strifes and battles of the old world! Ah, if peace could reign. Yet the bravest of men are in the forefront."
Then he came over to the child.
"Who brought you here yesterday?" he asked, with a smile.
"I was all alone. I had nothing to eat. I wanted to get out in the sunshine. I walked, but presently I shook so, I crawled up on the gallery. And then——"
She looked wistfully at miladi, who took up the rest of the journey.
"You were a brave little girl. But what if Madame had not chanced to come out? Why, you might have died."
The dark eyes grew humid. "It does not hurt to die," she said slowly. "Only if you did not have to be put in the ground."
"Don't talk of such things," interposed Madame, with a half shudder. "You are going to get well now, and run about and show me the places you love. And we can sail up to the islands and through the St. Charles, that looks so fascinating and mysterious, can we not?" smiling up at Destournier.
"Oh, yes, a month will finish the trading, for the ships will want to start with their freight, while the weather is fine. True, the Indians and many of the coureurs de bois will loiter about until the last moment. There is to be a great Indian dance, I hear. They generally break up with one that has a good deal of savagery in it, but this early one is quite mild, I have understood, and gives one an opportunity to see them in their fine feathers and war paint."
"Oh, it must be interesting. Would it be safe to go?" she inquired.
"With a bodyguard, yes. Your husband and myself, and we might call in the services of the Dubrays. Madame is a host in herself. And they are glad, it seems, to shift the care of the child on some one else," lowering his voice.
"You will not forget to inquire——"
"Why, there must be a record here. The Sieur has the name and addresses of all the emigrants, I think. There have not been many shiploads of women."
"She has no indication of peasant parentage. There is a curious delicacy about her, but merci! what wonderful and delightful ignorance. It is like a fallow field. Mere Dubray seems to have sown nothing in it. Oh, I promise myself rare pleasure in teaching her many things."
"She has a quick and peculiar imagination. I am glad she has fallen into other hands. Settling a new country is a great undertaking, especially when one has but a handful of people and you have to uproot other habits of life and thought. I wonder if one can civilize an Indian!" and he laughed doubtfully.
"But it is to save their souls, I thought!"
"Yet some of them worship the same God that we do, only He is called the Great Manitou. And they have an hereafter for the braves at least, a happy hunting ground. But they are cruel and implacable enemies with each other. And we have wars at home as well. It is a curious muddle, I think. You come from a Huguenot family, I believe."
"My mother did. But she went with my father. There were no family dissensions. Does it make so much difference if one is upright and honest and kindly?"
"Kindly. If that could be put in the creed. 'Tis a big question," and he gave a sigh. "At least you are proving that part of the creed," and he crossed over to the child, chatting with her in a pleasant manner until he left them.
That evening there was a serious discussion in the Sieur's study. Captain Chauvin was to return also, and who was most trustworthy to be put in command of the infant colony was an important matter. There had been quite an acreage of grain sown the year before, maize was promising, and a variety of vegetables had been cultivated. Meats and fish were dried and salted. They had learned how to protect themselves from serious inroads of the scurvy. The houses in the post were being much improved and made more secure against the rigors of the long winter.
An officer who had spent the preceding winter at the fort was put in command, and the next day the garrison and the workmen were called in and enjoined to render him full obedience.
Destournier and Gifford were to undertake some adventures in a northerly direction, following several designated routes that Champlain had expected to pursue. Their journeys would not be very long.
As for Rose, she improved every day and began to chatter delightfully, while her adoration of Madame Giffard was really touching, and filled hours that would otherwise have been very tedious.
They had brought with them a few books. Madame was an expert at embroidery and lace-making, but was aghast when she realized her slender stock of materials, and that it would be well-nigh a year before any could come from France.
"But there is bead work, and the Indian women make threads out of grasses," explained Wanamee. "And feathers of birds are sewed around garments and fringes are cut. Oh, miladi will find some employment for her fingers."
Mere Dubray made no objection to accompanying them to the Indian dance. She had been to several of them, but they were wild things that one could not well understand; nothing like the village dances at home. "But what would you? These were savages!"
"I wish I could go, too," the child said wistfully. "But I could not climb about nor stand up as I used. When will I be able to run around again?"
She was gaining every day and went out on the gallery for exercise. She was a very cheerful invalid; indeed miladi was so entertaining she was never weary when with her, and if her husband needed her, Wanamee came to sit with the child. Rose knew many words in the language, as well as that of the unfortunate Iroquois.
All they had been able to learn about Catherine Arlac was that she had come from Paris to Honfleur, a widow, with a little girl. And Paris was such a great and puzzling place for a search.
"But she is a sweet human rose with no thorns, and I must keep her," declared miladi.
Laurent Giffard made no demur. He was really glad for his wife to have an interest while he was away.
The party threaded their way through the narrow winding paths that were to be so famous afterward and witness the heroic struggle, when the lilies of France went down for the last time, and the heritage that had cost so much in valiant endeavor and blood and treasure was signed away.
There were flaming torches and swinging lanterns and throngs wending to the part beyond the tents. The dance was not to pass a certain radius, where guards were stationed. Already there was a central fire of logs, around which the braves sat with their knees drawn up and their chins resting upon them, looking as if they were asleep.
"A fire this warm night," said miladi, in irony.
"We could hardly see them without it," returned her husband.
At the summons of a rude drum that made a startling noise, the braves rose, threw down their blankets and displayed their holiday attire of paint, fringes, beads, and dressed deerskins with great headdresses of feathers. Another ring formed round them. One brave, an old man, came forward, and gesticulating wildly, went through a series of antics. One after another fell in, and the slow tread began to increase. Then shrill songs, with a kind of musical rhythm, low at first, but growing louder and louder, the two or three circles joining in, the speed increasing until they went whirling around like madmen, shouting, thrusting at each other with their brawny arms, until all seemed like a sudden frenzy.