MARY HARTWELL CATHERWOOD
AUTHOR OF "THE LADY OF FORT ST. JOHN," "THE ROMANCE OF DOLLARD," ETC.
BOSTON AND NEW YORK HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY The Riverside Press, Cambridge 1893
By HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO., and MARY HARTWELL CATHERWOOD.
All rights reserved.
The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A. Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton & Company.
PART FIRST: PAGE
The Bonfire of St. John 1
A Field Day 55
The Rising 106
The Flood 160
THE BONFIRE OF ST. JOHN.
Early in the century, on a summer evening, Jean Lozier stood on the bluff looking at Kaskaskia. He loved it with the homesick longing of one who is born for towns and condemned to the fields. Moses looking into the promised land had such visions and ideals as this old lad cherished. Jean was old in feeling, though not yet out of his teens. The training-masters of life had got him early, and found under his red sunburn and knobby joints, his black eyes and bushy eyebrows, the nature that passionately aspires. The town of Kaskaskia was his sweetheart. It tantalized him with advantage and growth while he had to turn the clods of the upland. The long peninsula on which Kaskaskia stood, between the Okaw and the Mississippi rivers, lay below him in the glory of sunset. Southward to the point spread lands owned by the parish, and known as the common pasture. Jean could see the church of the Immaculate Conception and the tower built for its ancient bell, the convent northward, and all the pleasant streets bowered in trees. The wharf was crowded with vessels from New Orleans and Cahokia, and the arched stone bridge across the Okaw was a thoroughfare of hurrying carriages.
The road at the foot of the bluff, more than a hundred feet below Jean, showed its white flint belt in distant laps and stretches through northern foliage. It led to the territorial governor's country-seat of Elvirade; thence to Fort Chartres and Prairie du Rocher; so on to Cahokia, where it met the great trails of the far north. The road also swarmed with carriages and riders on horses, all moving toward Colonel Pierre Menard's house. Jean could not see his seignior's chimneys for the trees and the dismantled and deserted earthworks of Fort Gage. The fort had once protected Kaskaskia, but in these early peaceful times of the Illinois Territory it no longer maintained a garrison.
The lad guessed what was going on; those happy Kaskaskians, the fine world, were having a ball at Colonel Menard's. Summer and winter they danced, they made fetes, they enjoyed life. When the territorial Assembly met in this capital of the West, he had often frosted himself late into the winter night, watching the lights and listening to the music in Kaskaskia. Jean Lozier knew every bit of its history. The parish priest, Father Olivier, who came to hear him confess because he could not leave his grandfather, had told it to him. There was a record book transmitted from priest to priest from the earliest settlement of Cascasquia of the Illinois. Jean loved the story of young D'Artaguette, whom the boatmen yet celebrated in song. On moonlight nights, when the Mississippi showed its broad sheet four miles away across the level plain, he sometimes fooled himself with thinking he could see the fleet of young soldiers passing down the river, bearing the French flag; phantoms proceeding again to their tragedy and the Indian stake.
He admired the seat where his seignior lived in comfort and great hospitality, but all the crowds pressing to Pierre Menard's house seemed to him to have less wisdom than the single man who met and passed them and crossed the bridge into Kaskaskia. The vesper bell rung, breaking its music in echoes against the sandstone bosom of the bluff. Red splendors faded from the sky, leaving a pearl-gray bank heaped over the farther river. Still Jean watched Kaskaskia.
"But the glory remains when the light fades away,"
he sung to himself. He had caught the line from some English boatmen.
"Ye dog, ye dog, where are you, ye dog?" called a voice from the woods behind him.
"Here, grandfather," answered Jean, starting like a whipped dog. He took his red cap from under his arm, sighing, and slouched away from the bluff edge, the coarse homespun which he wore revealing knots and joints in his work-hardened frame.
"Ye dog, am I to have my supper to-night?"
But Jean took one more look at the capital of his love, which he had never entered, and for which he was unceasingly homesick. The governor's carriage dashed along the road beneath him, with a military escort from Fort Chartres. He felt no envy of such state. He would have used the carriage to cross the bridge.
"If I but lived in Kaskaskia!" whispered Jean.
The man on horseback, who met and passed the ball-goers, rode through Kaskaskia's twinkling streets in the pleasant glow of twilight. Trade had not reached its day's end. The crack of long whips could be heard, flourished over oxen yoked by the horns, or three or four ponies hitched tandem, all driven without reins, and drawing huge bales of merchandise. Few of the houses were more than one story high, but they had a sumptuous spread, each in its own square of lawn, orchard, and garden. They were built of stone, or of timbers filled in with stone and mortar.
The rider turned several corners, and stopped in front of a small house which displayed the wares of a penny-trader in its window.
From the open one of the two front doors a black boy came directly out to take the bridle; and behind him skipped a wiry shaven person, whose sleek crown was partly covered by a Madras handkerchief, the common headgear of humble Kaskaskians. His feet clogged their lightness with a pair of the wooden shoes manufactured for slaves. A sleeved blanket, made with a hood which lay back on his shoulders, almost covered him, and was girdled at the waist by a knotted cord.
"Here I am again, Father Baby," hailed the rider, alighting.
"Welcome home, doctor. What news from Fort Chartres?"
"No news. My friend the surgeon is doing well. He need not have sent for me; but your carving doctor is a great coward when it comes to physicking himself."
They entered the shop, while the slave led the horse away; and no customers demanding the trading friar's attention, he followed his lodger to an inner room, having first lighted candles in his wooden sconces. Their yellow lustre showed the tidiness of the shop, and the penny merchandise arranged on shelves with that exactness which has been thought peculiar to unmarried women. Father Baby was a scandal to the established confessor of the parish, and the joke of the ungodly. Some said he had been a dancing-master before he entered the cloister, and it was no wonder he turned out a renegade and took to trading. Others declared that he had no right to the gray capote, and his tonsure was a natural loss of hair; in fact, that he never had been a friar at all. But in Kaskaskia nobody took him seriously, and Father Olivier was not severe upon him. Custom made his harlequin antics a matter of course; though Indians still paused opposite his shop and grinned at sight of a long-gown peddling. His religious practices were regular and severe, and he laid penance on himself for all the cheating he was able to accomplish.
"I rode down from Elvirade with Governor Edwards," said the doctor. "He and all Kaskaskia appear to be going to Colonel Menard's to-night."
"Yes, I stood and counted the carriages: the Bonds, the Morrisons, the Vigos, the Sauciers, the Edgars, the Joneses"—
"Has anything happened these three days past?" inquired the doctor, breaking off this list of notable Kaskaskians.
"Oh, many things have happened. But first here is your billet."
The young man broke the wafer of his invitation and unfolded the paper.
"It is a dancing-party," he remarked. His nose took an aquiline curve peculiar to him. The open sheet, as he held it, showed the name of "Dr. Dunlap" written on the outside. He leaned against a high black mantel.
"You will want hot shaving-water and your best ruffled shirt," urged the friar.
"I never dance," said the other indifferently.
"And you do well not to," declared Father Baby, with some contemptuous impatience. "A man who shakes like a load of hay should never dance. If I had carried your weight, I could have been a holier man."
Dr. Dunlap laughed, and struck his boot with his riding-whip.
"Don't deceive yourself, worthy father. The making of an abbot was not in you. You old rascal, I am scarcely in the house, and there you stand all of a tremble for your jig."
Father Baby's death's-head face wrinkled itself with expectant smiles. He shook off his wooden shoes and whirled upon one toe.
The doctor went into another room, his own apartment in the friar's small house. His office fronted this, and gave him a door to the street. Its bottles and jars and iron mortar and the vitreous slab on which he rolled pills were all lost in twilight now. There were many other doctors' offices in Kaskaskia, but this was the best equipped one, and was the lair of a man who had not only been trained in Europe, but had sailed around the entire world. Dr. Dunlap's books, some of them in board covers, made a show on his shelves. He had an articulated skeleton, and ignorant Kaskaskians would declare that they had seen it whirl past his windows many a night to the music of his violin.
"What did you say had happened since I went away?" he inquired, sauntering back and tuning his fiddle as he came.
"There's plenty of news," responded Father Baby. "Antoine Lamarche's cow fell into the Mississippi."
Dr. Dunlap uttered a note of contempt.
"It would go wandering off where the land crumbles daily with that current setting down from the northwest against us; and Antoine was far from sneering in your cold-blooded English manner when he got the news."
"He tore his hair and screamed in your warm-blooded French manner?"
"That he did."
The doctor stood in the bar of candle-light which one of the shop sconces extended across the room, and lifted the violin to his neck. He was so large that all his gestures had a ponderous quality. His dress was disarranged by riding, and his blond skin was pricked through by the untidy growth of a three-days' beard, yet he looked very handsome.
Dr. Dunlap stood in the light, but Father Baby chose the dark for those ecstatic antics into which the fiddle threw him. He leaped high from the floor at the first note, and came down into a jig of the most perfect execution. The pat of his bare soles was exquisitely true. He raised the gown above his ankles, and would have seemed to float but for his response in sound. Yet through his most rapturous action he never ceased to be conscious of the shop. A step on the sill would break the violin's charm in the centre of a measure.
But this time no step broke it, and the doctor kept his puppet friar going until his own arm began to weary. The tune ended, and Father Baby paused, deprived of the ether in which he had been floating.
Dr. Dunlap sat down, nursing the instrument on his crossed knees while he altered its pitch.
"Are you not going to Colonel Menard's at all?" inquired the friar.
"It would be a great waste of good dancing not to," said the doctor lazily. "But you haven't told me who else has lost a cow or had an increase of goats while I was away."
"The death of even a beast excites pity in me."
"Yes, you are a holy man. You would rather skin a live Indian than a dead sheep."
The doctor tried his violin, and was lifting it again to position when Father Baby remarked:—
"They doubtless told you on the road that a party has come through from Post Vincennes."
"Now who would doubtless tell me that?"
"The governor's suite, since they must have known it. The party was in almost as soon as you left. Perhaps," suggested the friar, taking a crafty revenge for much insolence, "nobody would mention it to you on account of Monsieur Zhone's sister."
The violin bow sunk on the strings with a squeak.
"The only sister of Monsieur Reece Zhone, Mademoiselle Zhone, from Wales. She came to Kaskaskia with the party from Post Vincennes."
On Dr. Dunlap's face the unshorn beard developed like thorns on a mask of wax. The spirit of manly beauty no longer infused it.
"Why didn't you tell me this at first?" he asked roughly.
"Is the name of Zhone so pleasant to you?" hinted the shrugging friar. "But take an old churchman's advice now, my son, and make up your quarrel with the lawyer. There will be occasion. That pretty young thing has crossed the sea to die. I heard her cough."
The doctor's voice was husky as he attempted to inquire,—
"Did you hear what she was called?"
"Mademoiselle Mareea Zhone."
The young man sagged forward over his violin. Father Baby began to realize that his revel was over, and reluctantly stuck his toes again into his wooden shoes.
"Will you have something to eat and drink before you start?"
"I don't want anything to eat, and I am not going to Colonel Menard's to-night."
"But, my son," reasoned the staring friar, "are you going to quit your victuals and all good company because one more Zhone has come to town, and that one such a small, helpless creature? Mademoiselle Saucier will be at Menard's."
Dr. Dunlap wiped his forehead. He, and not the cool friar, appeared to have been the dancer. A chorus of slaves singing on some neighboring gallery could be heard in the pause of the violin. Beetles, lured by the shop candles, began to explore the room where the two men were, bumping themselves against the walls and buzzing their complaints.
"A man is nothing but a young beast until he is past twenty-five years old," said Dr. Dunlap.
Father Baby added his own opinion to this general remark.—
"Very often he is nothing but an old beast when you catch him past seventy. But it all depends on what kind of a man he is."
"Friar, do you believe in marriage?"
"How could I believe in marriage?"
"But do you believe in it for other people?"
"The Church has always held it to be a sacred institution."
Dr. Dunlap muttered a combination of explosive words which he had probably picked up from sailors, making the churchman cross himself. He spoke out, with a reckless laugh:—
"I married as soon as I came of age, and here I am, ruined for my prime by that act."
"What!" exclaimed Father Baby, setting his hands on his hips, "you a man of family, and playing bachelor among the women of Kaskaskia?"
"Oh, I have no wife now. She finally died, thank Heaven. If she had only died a year sooner! But nothing matters now."
"My son," observed Father Baby severely, "Satan has you in his net. You utter profane words, you rail against institutions sanctioned by the Church, and you have desired the death of a human being. Repent and do penance"—
"You have a customer, friar," sneered the young man, lifting his head to glance aside at a figure entering the shop. "Vigo's idiot slave boy is waiting to be cheated."
"By my cappo!" whispered Father Baby, a cunning look netting wrinkles over his lean face, "you remind me of the bad shilling I have laid by me to pass on that nigger. O Lamb of mercy,"—he turned and hastily plumped on his knees before a sacred picture on the wall,—"I will, in expiation for passing that shilling, say twelve paters and twelve aves at the foot of the altar of thy Virgin Mother, or I will abstain from food a whole day in thy honor."
Having offered this compromise, Father Baby sprung with a cheerful eagerness to deal with Vigo's slave boy.
The doctor sat still, his ears closed to the chatter in the shop. His bitter thoughts centred on the new arrival in Kaskaskia, on her brother, on all her family.
She herself, unconscious that he inhabited the same hemisphere with her, was standing up for the reel in Pierre Menard's house. The last carriage had driven to the tall flight of entrance steps, discharged its load, and parted with its horses to the huge stone stable under the house. The mingling languages of an English and French society sounded all around her. The girl felt bewildered, as if she had crossed ocean and forest to find, instead of savage wilderness, an enchanted English county full of French country estates. Names and dignitaries crowded her memory.
A great clear glass, gilt-framed and divided into three panels, stood over the drawing-room mantel. It reflected crowds of animated faces, as the dance began, crossing and recrossing or running the reel in a vista of rooms, the fan-lights around the hall door and its open leaves disclosing the broad gallery and the dusky world of trees outside; it reflected cluster on cluster of wax-lights. To this day the great glass stands there, and, spotless as a clear conscience, waits upon the future. It has held the image of Lafayette and many an historic companion of his.
On the other side of the hall, in the dining-room, stood a carved mahogany sideboard holding decanters and glasses. In this quiet retreat elderly people amused themselves at card-tables. Apart from them, but benignantly ready to chat with everybody, sat the parish priest; for every gathering of his flock was to him a call for social ministration.
A delicious odor of supper escaped across a stone causeway from the kitchen, and all the Menard negroes, in their best clothes, were collected on the causeway to serve it. Through open doors they watched the flying figures, and the rocking of many a dusky heel kept time to the music.
The first dance ended in some slight confusion. A little cry went through the rooms: "Rice Jones's sister has fainted!" "Mademoiselle Zhone has fainted!" But a few minutes later she was sitting on a gallery chair, leaning against her brother and trying to laugh through her coughing, and around her stood all girlish Kaskaskia, and the matrons also, as well as the black maid Colonel Menard had sent with hartshorn.
Father Olivier brought her a glass of wine; Mrs. Edwards fanned her; the stars shone through the pecan-trees, and all the loveliness of this new hemisphere and home and the kindness of the people made her close her eyes to keep the tears from running out. The separation of the sick from all healthy mankind had never so hurt her. Something was expected of her, and she was not equal to it. She felt death's mark branding in, and her family spoke of her recovery! What folly it was to come into this gay little world where she had no rights at all! Maria Jones wondered why she had not died at sea. To be floating in that infinity of blue water would be better than this. She pictured herself in the weighted sack,—for we never separate ourselves from our bodies,—and tender forgiveness covering all her mistakes as the multitude of waters covered her.
"I will not dance again," laughed Maria. Her brother Rice could feel her little figure tremble against him. "It is ridiculous to try."
"We must have you at Elvirade," said the governor's wife soothingly. "I will not let the young people excite you to too much dancing there."
"Oh, Mrs. Edwards!" exclaimed Peggy Morrison. "I never do dance quite as much anywhere else, or have quite as good a time, as I do at Elvirade."
"Hear these children slander me when I try to set an example of sobriety in the Territory!"
"You shall not want a champion, Mrs. Edwards," said Rice Jones. "When I want to be in grave good company, I always make a pilgrimage to Elvirade."
"One ought to be grave good company enough for himself," retorted Peggy, looking at Rice Jones with jealous aggressiveness. She was a lean, sandy girl, at whom he seldom glanced, and her acrid girlhood fought him. Rice Jones was called the handsomest man in Kaskaskia, but his personal beauty was nothing to the ambitious force of his presence. The parted hair fitted his broad, high head like a glove. His straight nose extended its tip below the nostrils and shadowed the long upper lip. He had a long chin, beautifully shaped and shaven clean as marble, a mouth like a scarlet line, and a very round, smooth throat, shown by his flaring collar. His complexion kept a cool whiteness which no exposure tanned, and this made striking the blackness of his eyes and hair.
"Please will you all go back into the drawing-room?" begged Maria. "My brother will bring me a shawl, and then I shall need nothing else."
"But may I sit by you, mademoiselle?"
It was Angelique Saucier leaning down to make this request, but Peggy Morrison laughed.
"I warn you against Angelique, Miss Jones. She is the man-slayer of Kaskaskia. They all catch her like measles. If she stays out here, they will sit in a row along the gallery edge, and there will be no more dancing."
"Do not observe what Peggy says, mademoiselle. We are relations, and so we take liberties."
"But no one must give up dancing," urged Maria.
They arranged for her in spite of protest, however. Rice muffled her in a shawl, Mademoiselle Saucier sat down at her right side and Peggy Morrison at her left, and the next dance began.
Maria Jones had repressed and nestling habits. She curled herself into a very small compass in the easy gallery chair, and looked off into the humid mysteries of the June night. Colonel Menard's substantial slave cabins of logs and stone were in sight, and up the bluff near the house was a sort of donjon of stone, having only one door letting into its base.
"That's where Colonel Menard puts his bad Indians," said Peggy Morrison, following Maria's glance.
"It is simply a little fortress for times of danger," said Mademoiselle Saucier, laughing. "It is also the colonel's bureau for valuable papers, and the dairy is underneath."
"Well, you French understand one another's housekeeping better than we English do; and may be the colonel has been explaining these things to you."
"But are there any savage men about here now?"
"Oh, plenty of them," declared Peggy. "We have some Pottawatomies and Kickapoos and Kaskaskias always with us,—like the poor. Nobody is afraid of them, though. Colonel Menard has them all under his thumb, and if nobody else could manage them he could. My father says they will give their furs to him for nothing rather than sell them to other people. You must see that Colonel Menard is very fascinating, but I don't think he charms Angelique as he does the Indians."
Mademoiselle Saucier's smile excused anything Peggy might say. Maria thought this French girl the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. The waist of her clinging white gown ended under the curve of her girlish breasts, and face, neck, and arms blossomed out with the polish of flower-petals. Around her throat she wore gold beads suspending a cross. Her dark hair, which had an elusive bluish mist, like grapes, was pinned high with a gold comb. Her oval face was full of a mature sympathy unusual in girls. Maria had thought at first she would rather be alone on the gallery, but this reposeful and tender French girl at once became a necessity to her.
"Peggy," said Angelique, "I hear Jules Vigo inquiring for you in the hall."
"Then I shall take to the roof," responded Peggy.
"Have some regard for Jules."
"You may have, but I shan't. I will not dance with a kangaroo."
"Do you not promise dances ahead?" inquired Maria.
"No, our mothers do not permit that," answered Angelique. "It is sometimes best to sit still and look on."
"That means, Miss Jones," explained Peggy, "that she has set a fashion to give the rest of the girls a chance. I wouldn't be so mealy-mouthed about cutting them out. But Angelique has been ruined by waiting so much on her tante-gra'mere. When you bear an old woman's temper from dawn till dusk, you soon forget you're a girl in your teens."
"Don't abuse the little tante-gra'mere."
"She gets praise enough at our house. Mother says she's a discipline that keeps Angelique from growing vain. Thank Heaven, we don't need such discipline in our family."
"It is my father's grand-aunt," explained Angelique to Maria, "and when you see her, mademoiselle, you will be surprised to find how well she bears her hundred years, though she has not been out of her bed since I can remember. Mademoiselle, I hope I never shall be very old."
Maria gave Angelique the piercing stare which unconsciously belongs to large black eyes set in a hectic, nervous face.
"Would you die now?"
"I feel always," said the French girl, "that we stand facing the mystery every minute, and sometimes I should like to know it."
"Now hear that," said Peggy. "I'm no Catholic, but I will say for the mother superior that she never put that in your head at the convent. It is wicked to say you want to die."
"But I did not say it. The mystery of being without any body,—that is what I want to know. It is good to meditate on death."
"It isn't comfortable," said Peggy. "It makes me have chills down my back."
She glanced behind her through the many-paned open window into the dining-room. Three little girls and a boy were standing there, so close to the sill that their breath had touched Peggy's neck. They were Colonel Menard's motherless children. A black maid was with them, holding the youngest by the hand. They were whispering in French under cover of the music. French was the second mother tongue of every Kaskaskia girl, and Peggy heard what they said by merely taking her attention from her companions.
"I will get Jean Lozier to beat Monsieur Reece Zhone. Jean Lozier is such an obliging creature he will do anything I ask him."
"But, Odile," argued the boy, with some sense of equity, "she is not yet engaged to our family."
"And how shall we get her engaged to us if Monsieur Reece Zhone must hang around her? Papa says he is the most promising young man in the Territory. If I were a boy, Pierre Menard, I would do something with him."
"What would you do?"
"I would shoot him. He has duels."
"But my father might punish me for that."
"Very well, chicken-heart. Let Mademoiselle Saucier go, then. But I will tell you this: there is no one else in Kaskaskia that I will have for a second mother."
"Yes, we have all chosen her," owned Pierre, "but it seems to me papa ought to make the marriage."
"But she would not know we children were willing to have her. If you did something to stop Monsieur Zhone's courtship, she would then know."
"Why do you not go out on the gallery now and tell her we want her?" exclaimed Pierre. "The colonel says it is best to be straightforward in any matter of business."
"Pierre, it is plain to be seen that you do not know how to deal with young ladies. They like best to be fought over. It is not proper to tell her we are willing to have her. The way to do is to drive off the other suitors."
"But there are so many. Tante Isidore says all the young men in Kaskaskia and the officers left at Fort Chartres are her suitors. Monsieur Reece Zhone is the worst one, though. I might ask him to go out to papa's office with me to-night, but we shall be sent to bed directly after supper. Besides, here sits his sister who was carried out fainting."
"While he is in our house we are obliged to be polite to him," said Odile. "But if I were a boy, I would, some time, get on my pony and ride into Kaskaskia"—The conspiring went on in whispers. The children's heads bobbed nearer each other, so Peggy overheard no more.
It was the very next evening, the evening of St. John's Day, that young Pierre rode into Kaskaskia beside his father to see the yearly bonfire lighted. Though many of the old French customs had perished in a mixing of nationalities, St. John's Day was yet observed; the Latin race drawing the Saxon out to participate in the festival, as so often happens wherever they dwell.
The bonfire stood in the middle of the street fronting the church. It was an octagonal pyramid, seven or eight feet high, built of dry oak and pecan limbs and logs, with straw at all the corners.
The earth yet held a red horizon rim around its dusky surface. Some half-distinct swallows were swarming into the church belfry, as silent as bats; but people swarming on the ground below made a cheerful noise, like a fair. The St. John bonfire was not a religious ceremony, but its character lifted it above the ordinary burning of brushwood at night. The most dignified Kaskaskians, heretics as well as papists, came out to see it lighted; the pagan spell of Midsummer Night more or less affecting them all.
Red points appeared at the pile's eight corners and sprung up flame, showing the eight lads who were bent down blowing them; showing the church front, and the steps covered with little negroes good-naturedly fighting and crowding one another off; showing the crosses of slate and wood and square marble tombs in the graveyard, and a crowd of honest faces, red kerchiefs, gray cappos, and wooden shoes pressing close around it. Children raced, shouting in the light, perpetuating unconsciously the fire-worship of Asia by leaping across outer edges of the blaze. It rose and showed the bowered homes of Kaskaskia, the tavern at an angle of the streets, with two Indians, in leggins and hunting-shirts, standing on the gallery as emotionless spectators. It illuminated fields and woods stretching southward, and little weeds beside the road whitened with dust. The roaring and crackling heat drove venturesome urchins back.
Father Baby could be seen established behind a temporary counter, conveniently near the pile, yet discreetly removed from the church front. Thirsty rustics and flatboat men crowded to his kegs and clinked his glasses. The firelight shone on his crown which was bare to the sky. Father Olivier passed by, receiving submissive obeisance from the renegade, but returning him a shake of the head.
Girls slipped back and forth through the church gate. Now their laughing faces grouped three or four together in the bonfire light. In a moment, when their mothers turned to follow them with the eye, they were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps outside the beacon's glare hobgoblins and fairies danced. Midsummer Night tricks and the freemasonry of youth were at work.
People watched one another across that pile with diverse aims. Rice Jones had his sister on his arm, wrapped in a Spanish mantilla. Her tiny face, with a rose above one ear, was startling against this black setting. They stood near Father Baby's booth; and while Peggy Morrison waited at the church gate to signal Maria, she resented Rice Jones's habitual indifference to her existence. He saw Angelique Saucier beside her mother, and the men gathering to her, among them an officer from Fort Chartres. They troubled him little; for he intended in due time to put these fellows all out of his way. There were other matters as vital to Rice Jones. Young Pierre Menard hovered vainly about him. The moment Maria left him a squad of country politicians surrounded their political leader, and he did some effectual work for his party by the light of the St. John fire.
Darkness grew outside the irregular radiance of that pile, and the night concert of insects could be heard as an interlude between children's shouts and the hum of voices. Peggy Morrison's lifted finger caught Maria's glance. It was an imperative gesture, meaning haste and secrecy, and separation from her brother Rice. Maria laughed and shook her head wistfully. The girlish pastimes of Midsummer Night were all done for her. She thought of nights in her own wild county of Merionethshire, when she had run, palpitating like a hare, to try some spell or charm which might reveal the future to her; and now it was revealed.
An apparition from the other hemisphere came upon her that instant. She saw a man standing by the friar's booth looking at her. What his eyes said she could not, through her shimmering and deadly faintness, perceive. How could he be here in Kaskaskia? The shock of seeing him annihilated physical weakness in her. She stood on limbs of stone. Her hand on her brother's arm did not tremble; but a pinched blueness spread about her nostrils and eye sockets, and dinted sudden hollows in her temples.
Dr. Dunlap took a step toward her. At that, she looked around for some place to hide in, the animal instinct of flight arising first, and darted from her brother into the graveyard. Rice beheld this freak with quizzical surprise, but he had noted the disappearance of more than one maid through that gate, and was glad to have Maria with them.
"Come on," whispered Peggy, seizing her. "Clarice Vigo has gone to fetch Angelique, and then we shall be ready."
Behind the church, speaking all together like a chorus of blackbirds, the girls were clustered, out of the bonfire's light. French and English voices debated.
"Oh, I wouldn't do such a thing."
"Your mother did it when she was a girl."
"But the young men may find it out and follow."
"Then we'll run."
"I'm afraid to go so far in the dark."
"What, to the old Jesuit College?"
"It isn't very dark, and our old Dinah will go with us; she's waiting outside the fence."
"But my father says none of our Indians are to be trusted in the dark."
"What a slander on our Indians!"
"But some of them are here; they always come to the St. John bonfire."
"All the men in Kaskaskia are here, too. We could easily give an alarm."
"Anyhow, nothing will hurt us."
"What are you going to do, girls?" inquired the voice of Angelique Saucier. The whole scheme took a foolish tinge as she spoke. They were ashamed to tell her what they were going to do.
Peggy Morrison drew near and whispered, "We want to go to the old Jesuit College and sow hempseed."
"Yes. You do it on Midsummer Night."
"Will it grow the better for that?" asked the puzzled French girl.
"We don't want it to grow, you goose. We want to try our fortunes."
"It was Peggy Morrison's plan," spoke out Clarice Vigo.
"It's an old English custom," declared Peggy, "as old as burning brushwood."
"Would you like to observe this old English custom, Mademoiselle Zhone?" questioned Angelique.
"Yes, let us hurry on."
"I think myself it would be charming." The instant Angelique thought this, Peggy Morrison's plan lost foolishness, and gained in all eyes the dignity of adventure. "But we have no hempseed."
"Yes, we have," responded Peggy. "Our Dinah is there outside the fence with her lap full of it."
"And how do you sow it?"
"You scatter it and say, 'Hempseed, I sow thee,—hempseed, I sow thee; let him who is to marry me come after me and mow thee.'"
An abashed titter ran through girlish Kaskaskia.
"And what happens then?"
"Then you look back and see somebody following you with a scythe."
A suppressed squeal ran through girlish Kaskaskia.
"Now if we are going, we ought to go, or it will all be found out," observed Peggy with decision.
They had only to follow the nearest cross-street to reach the old Jesuit College; but some were for making a long detour into the common fields to avoid being seen, while others were for passing close by the bonfire in a solid squad. Neither Peggy nor Angelique could reconcile these factions, and Peggy finally crossed the fence and led the way in silence. The majority hung back until they were almost belated. Then, with a venturous rush, they scaled the fence and piled themselves upon Dinah, who was quietly trying to deal out a handful of hempseed to every passer; and some of them squalled in the fear of man at her uplifted paw. Then, shying away from the light, they entered a street which was like a canal of shadow. The houses bounding it were all dark, except the steep roof slopes of the southern row, which seemed to palpitate in the bonfire's flicker.
Finding themselves away from their families in this deserted lane, the girls took to their heels, and left like sheep a perceptible little cloud of dust smoking in the gloom behind them.
Beyond the last house and alongside the Okaw river stood the ruined building with gaping entrances. The girls stumbled among irregular hummocks which in earlier days had been garden beds and had supplied vegetables to the brethren. The last commandant of Kaskaskia, who occupied the Jesuits' house as a fortress, had complained to his superiors of a leaky and broken roof. There was now no roof to complain of, and the upper floors had given way in places, leaving the stone shell open to the sky. It had once been an imposing structure, costing the Jesuits forty thousand piasters. The uneven stone floor was also broken, showing gaps into vaults beneath; fearful spots to be avoided, which the custom of darkness soon revealed to all eyes. Partitions yet standing held stained and ghastly smears of rotted plaster.
The river's gurgle and rush could be distinctly heard here, while the company around the bonfire were lost in distance.
Angelique had given her arm to Maria Jones in the flight down the road; but when they entered the college Maria slipped away from her. A blacker spot in an angle of the walls and a smothered cough hinted to the care-taker where the invalid girl might be found, but where she also wished to be let alone.
Now a sob rising to a scream, as if the old building had found voice and protested against invasion, caused a recoil of the invaders. Girls brought up in neighborly relations with the wilderness, however, could be only a moment terrified by the screech-owl. But at no previous time in its history, not even when it was captured as a fort, had the Jesuit College inclosed such a cluster of wildly beating hearts. Had light been turned on the group, it would have shown every girl shaking her hand at every other girl and hissing, "S—s—sh!"
"Girls, be still."
"Girls, do be still."
"Girls, if you won't be still, somebody will come."
"Clarice Vigo, why don't you stop your noise?"
"Why do you not stop yours, mademoiselle?"
"I haven't spoken a word but sh! I have been trying my best to quiet them all."
"So have I."
"Ellen Bond fell over me. She was scared to death by a screech-owl!"
"It was you fell over me, Miss Betsey."
"If we are going to try the charm," announced Peggy Morrison, "we must begin. You had better all get in a line behind me and do just as I do. You can't see me very well, but you can scatter the hempseed and say what I say. And it must be done soberly, or Satan may come mowing at our heels."
From a distant perch to which he had removed himself, the screech-owl again remonstrated. Silence settled like the slow fluttering downward of feathers on every throbbing figure. The stir of a slipper on the pavement, or the catching of a breath, became the only tokens of human presence in the old college. These postulants of fortune in their half-visible state once more bore some resemblance to the young ladies who had stood in decorum answering compliments between the figures of the dance the night before.
On cautious shoe leather the march began. One voice, two voices, and finally a low chorus intoned and repeated,—
"Hempseed, I sow thee,—hempseed, I sow thee; let him who is to marry me come after me and mow thee."
Peggy led her followers out of the east door towards the river; wheeling when she reached a little wind-row of rotted timbers. This chaos had once stood up in order, forming makeshift bastions for the fort, and supporting cannon. Such boards and posts as the negroes had not carried off lay now along the river brink, and the Okaw was steadily undermining that brink as it had already undermined and carried away the Jesuits' spacious landing.
Glancing over their shoulders with secret laughter for that fearful gleam of scythes which was to come, the girls marched back; and their leader's abrupt halt jarred the entire line. A man stood in the opposite entrance. They could not see him in outline, but his unmistakable hat showed against a low-lying sky.
"Who's there?" demanded Peggy Morrison.
The intruder made no answer.
They could not see a scythe about him, but to every girl he took a different form. He was Billy Edgar, or Jules Vigo, or Rice Jones, or any other gallant of Kaskaskia, according to the varying faith which beating hearts sent to the eyes that saw him.
The spell of silence did not last. A populous roost invaded by a fox never resounded with more squalling than did the old Jesuit College. The girls swished around corners and tumbled over the vegetable beds. Angelique groped for Maria, not daring to call her name, and caught and ran with some one until they neared the light, when she found it was the dumpy little figure of her cousin Clarice.
As soon as the girls were gone, the man who had broken up their hempseed sowing advanced a few steps on the pavement. He listened, and that darker shadow in the angle of the walls was perceptible to him.
"Are you here?"
"I am here," answered Maria.
Rice Jones's sister could not sit many minutes in the damp old building without being missed by the girls and her family. His voice trembled. She could hear his heart beating with large strokes. His presence surrounded her like an atmosphere, and in the darkness she clutched her own breast to keep the rapture from physically hurting her.
"Maria, did you know that my wife was dead?"
"Oh, James, no!"
Her whisper was more than a caress. It was surrender and peace and forgiveness. It was the snapping of a tension which had held her two years.
"Oh, James, when I saw you to-night I did not know what to do. I have not been well. You have borne it so much better than I have."
"I thought," said Dr. Dunlap, "it would be best for us to talk matters over."
She caught her breath. What was the matter with this man? Once he had lain at her feet and kissed the hem of her garment. He was hers. She had never relinquished her ownership of him even when her honor had constrained her to live apart from him. Whose could he be but hers?
Dr. Dunlap had thought twenty-four hours on what he would say at this unavoidable meeting, and he acknowledged in a business-like tone,—
"I did not treat you right, Maria. My wretched entanglement when I was a boy ruined everything. But when I persuaded you into a secret marriage with me, I meant to make it right when the other one died. And you found it out and left me. If I treated you badly, you treated me badly, too."
He knew the long chin of the Joneses. He could imagine Maria lifting her slim chin. She did not speak.
"I came over here to begin life again. When you ran off to your friends, what was there for me to do but take to the navy again or sail for America? Kaskaskia was the largest post in the West; so I came here. And here I found your family, that I thought were in another Territory. And from the first your brother has been my enemy."
His sulky complaint brought no response in words; but a strangling sob broke all restraint in the angle of the wall.
"Maria," exclaimed the startled doctor, "don't do that. You excite yourself."
In her paroxysm she rolled down on the stone floor, and he stooped in consternation and picked her up. He rested his foot on the ledge where she had sat, and held her upon his knee. She struggled for breath until he thought she would die, and the sweat of terror stood on his forehead. When he had watched her by the bonfire, his medical knowledge gave her barely two months of life; and within those two months, he had also told himself bitterly then, Rice Jones could marry Angelique Saucier; but to have her die alone with him in this old building was what he could not contemplate.
Scarcely conscious of his own action, the doctor held her in positions which helped her, and finally had the relief of hearing her draw a free breath as she lapsed against his shoulder. Even a counterfeit tie of marriage has its power. He had lived with this woman, she believing herself his lawful wife. Their half-year together had been the loftiest period of his life. The old feeling, smothered as it was under resentment and a new passion, stirred in him. He strained her to his breast and called her the pet names he used to call her. The diminutive being upon his knee heard them without response. When she could speak she whispered,—
"Set me down."
Dr. Dunlap moved his foot and placed her again on the stone ledge. She leaned against the wall. There was a ringing in her ears. The unpardonable sin in man is not his ceasing to love you. That may be a mortal pain, but it has dignity. It is the fearful judgment of seeing in a flash that you have wasted your life on what was not worth the waste.
"Now if you are composed, Maria," said Dr. Dunlap hurriedly, "I will say what I followed you here to say. The best thing for us to do, now that I am free to do it, is to have the marriage ceremony repeated over us and made valid. I am ready and willing. The only drawback is the prejudice of your family against me."
A magnanimous tone in his voice betrayed eagerness to put the Joneses under obligations to him.
"Dr. Dunlap,"—when Maria had spoken his name she panted awhile,—"when I found out I was not your wife, and left you, I began then to cough. But now—we can never be married."
She began those formidable sounds again, and he held his breath.
Somebody in the distance began playing a violin. Its music mingled with the sounds which river-inclosed lands and the adjacent dwellings of men send up in a summer night.
"You know," said Maria when she could speak, "how we deceived my people in Wales and in London. None of my family here know anything about that marriage."
Another voice outside the walls, keen with anxiety, shouted her name. Dr. Dunlap hurried a few yards from her, then stopped and held his ground. A man rushed into the old building regardless of the broken floor.
"Maria, are you here?"
"Yes, brother Rice."
She was leaving her corner to meet him. The doctor could see that she sunk to her hands and knees with weakness and helped herself up by the wall.
"Where are you? Is any one with you?"
As they met in the darkness the brother felt her hands and trembling figure.
"What possessed you to sit down here in this damp old place? You are clammy as stone. Poor little thing, were you frightened? What have you been doing?"
"I have been talking," replied Maria.
The doctor's heart labored like a drum. Perhaps she would tell it all out to Rice Jones now.
The same acrid restraint may be heard in a mother's voice when she inquires, as Rice did,—
"Who was talking with you?"
"Dr. Dunlap? You don't know Dr. Dunlap."
"We met in England," daringly broke out Dr. Dunlap himself.
"He is here yet, is he?" said Rice Jones. "Doctors are supposed to be the natural protectors of ailing women; but here's one that is helping a sick girl to take her death cold."
An attack on his professional side was what Dr. Dunlap was not prepared for. He had nothing to say, and Maria's brother carried her out of the old college and took the nearest way home.
Noise was ceasing around the sinking bonfire, a clatter of wooden shoes setting homeward along the streets of Kaskaskia. Maria saw the stars stretching their great network downward enmeshing the Mississippi. That nightly vision is wonderful. But what are outward wonders compared to the unseen spiritual chemistry always at work within and around us, changing our loves and beliefs and needs?
Rice stopped to rest as soon as they were out of Dr. Dunlap's hearing. Light as she was, he felt his sister's complete prostration in her weight.
"For God's sake, Maria," he said to her in Welsh,—"is that fellow anything to you?"
She shook her head.
"But he says he met you in England."
She said nothing, and Rice also remained in silence. When he spoke again, it was in the tone of dry statement which he used for presenting cases in court.
"My pistols have hair triggers and go off at a touch. I had a political difference with a gentleman some time ago, and this Dr. Dunlap acted as his second. We were standing ready, but before the word was given, and while the pistol hung down in my hand, it went off, and the ball struck the ground at my feet. Then Dr. Dunlap insisted I had had my shot, and must stand still and be fired at without firing again. His anxiety to have me shot was so plain that my opponent refused to fire, and we made up our difference. That's the Dr. Dunlap we have here in the Territory, whatever he may have been in England."
Rice hurried on with her, his motherless little sister, who had been left with kinspeople in Wales because she was too delicate to bear the hardships of the family transplanting. He blamed himself for her exposure and prostration, and held her tenderly, whispering,—
She tried to answer the Welsh caressing name, but her throat gurgled and a warm stream ran out of her mouth, and he knew it was blood.
A FIELD DAY.
The gallery pillars of the Sauciers' house hung full of fragrant vines. The double doors stood hospitably wide, but no one was visible through the extent of hall, though the sound of harp music filled it, coming from a large darkened room. Angelique was playing for her great-grand-aunt Angelique, the despot of the Saucier family.
This survivor of a past century had her treasures displayed and her throne set up in the state apartment of the house. The Sauciers contented themselves with a smaller drawing-room across the hall. Her throne was a vast valanced, canopied, gilded bed, decorated with down sacks in chintz covers to keep her warm, high pillows set up as a background for her, and a little pillow for every bone which might make a dint in the feather bed. Another such piece of furniture was not to be found in the Territory. It and her ebony chairs, her claw-footed tables, her harp and dower chest, had come with her from France. The harp alone she had already given to Angelique, who was to inherit all she owned.
From childhood the girl had been this aged woman's constant attendant. Some days the black servants took their orders at the door, and nobody but Angelique was allowed to enter that room. Then the tyrant would unbend, and receive family and neighborhood visits. Though she had lived a spinster's life, she herself taught Angelique to call her "tante-gra'mere," and this absurd mixture of names had been taken up by the entire family. So tight a grip did she hold on the growing child that Angelique was educated by half-days at the convent; she never had an entire day free from tante-gra'mere. Madame Saucier often rose against such absorption, and craved the privilege of taking the girl's place.
"There is a fete of the children on the bluffs to-day," madame would plead; or, "There is a religious procession, and the mother superior has particularly sent for Angelique."
But tante-gra'mere lifted her thin shout against every plea, and, if pushed, would throw the little pillows at her grand-nephew's wife. What were fetes and processions to her claims?
"I am the godmother of this child," she declared; "it is for me to say what she shall do."
The patriarch of a French family was held in such veneration that it was little less than a crime to cross her. The thralldom did not ruin Angelique's health, though it grew heavier with her years; but it made her old in patient endurance and sympathetic insight while she was a child. She sat pitying and excusing her elder's whims when she should have been playing. The oldest story in humanity is the story of the house tyrant,—that usurper often so physically weak that we can carry him in our arms, yet so strong that he can tumble down the pillars of family peace many times a day.
There was something monkey-like in the tempers of tante-gra'mere. To see her grasp her whip and beat her slaves with a good will, but poor execution, was to smile self-reproachfully as at the antics of a sick child. Though it is true, for a woman who had no use of her legs, she displayed astonishing reach in her arms. Her face was a mass of puckers burnt through by coal-black eyes. Her mouth was so tucked and folded inward that she appeared to have swallowed her lips. In the daytime she wore a black silk cap tied under the chin, and a dimity short gown over a quilted petticoat. Tante-gra'mere was rich in stored finery. She had inherited brocades, and dozen dozens of linen, including sheets and napkins. Her things were washed by themselves and bleached on their own green, where the family washing never dared intrude.
Fortunately for Angelique, tante-gra'mere's hours were early, and she slept as aged people seldom do. At sunset, summer or winter, she had herself promptly done up in linen, the whip placed near her hand, and her black woman's bed made within reach on the floor. She then went into a shell of sleep which dancing-parties in the house had not broken, and required no further attention until the birds stirred in the morning. Angelique rushed out to evening freedom with a zest which became rapture when she danced. Perhaps this fresh delight made her the best dancer in Kaskaskia.
The autocrat loved to compound her own dinners. She had a salver which Angelique placed before her on the bed; and the old child played in pastry or salads, or cut vegetable dice for her soup. The baking or boiling or roasting was done with rigor at her own fireplace by her blacks, the whiplash in her hand hovering over their bare spots. Silence was the law of the presence-chamber when she labored with her recipes, of which she had many, looking like spider tracks on very yellow paper. These she kept locked up with many of the ingredients for creating them. She pored over them with unspectacled eyes whenever she mixed a cunning dish; and even Angelique dared not meddle with them, though they were to be part of the girl's inheritance.
Angelique now played on the harp to soothe tante-gra'mere's digestion after her midday dinner, while outdoors all Kaskaskia buzzed with excitement. It was a field day in territorial politics. All the girls were at Peggy Morrison's house, watching the processions march by, and making bouquets to send up to the speakers, of whom Rice Jones was chief. Tante-gra'mere had her heavy green shutters closed, to keep out disturbing sights and the noise of fife and drum. Her eyes snapped in the gloom. It was a warm day, and the large apartment looked like a linen bazaar, so many garments had tante-gra'mere discarded on account of the heat, and hung about her. The display made Angelique's face burn when Colonel Menard was announced; but it was one of tante-gra'mere's unshakable beliefs that her linen was so superior to other people's its exposure was a favor to the public. Any attempt to fold it away would put her into a fury.
The colonel had his hat and riding-whip in his hand. He stood smiling at both the aged woman and the girl, with his comprehensive grasp of all individualities. The slave woman placed a chair for him between the bed and the harp. Angelique loved the harp; but she was glad to let her hands fall in her lap, and leave Colonel Menard to work good nature in her tante-gra'mere. The autocrat tolerated him with as much liking as she could give to any suitor of Angelique's. The intentions of the others were discovered only through slaves used as spies; but he came into her state apartment and showed her consideration. She sat up on her broad throne, against the background of pillows, and received his salute upon her hand. Afterwards he bowed over Angelique's fingers.
"I hope the seven children of monsieur the colonel are well," said tante-gra'mere in her tiny scream.
"Four, madame," corrected the visitor. "Thanks, they are very well."
They spoke in French, for although she understood English she never condescended to use it. Their conference begun each time by her inquiry after his seven children.
"And madame, I hope she is comfortable to-day?"
"I neither sleep nor eat," declared tante-gra'mere. "And with the streets full of a shouting rabble, there is no comfort to be had in Kaskaskia."
"We are rather noisy to-day. But we are very earnest in this matter. We want to be separated from the Indiana Territory and be made an independent State."
Tante-gra'mere caught up her whip, and cracked it so suddenly on the back of her little page, who was prying into a wall closet, that he leaped like a frog, and fell on all fours at the opposite corner of the hearth. His grandmother, the black woman, put him behind her, and looked steadily at their tyrant. She sat on the floor like an Indian; and she was by no means a soft, full-blooded African. High cheek-bones and lank coarse hair betrayed the half-breed. Untamed and reticent, without the drollery of the black race, she had even a Pottawatomie name, Watch-e-kee, which French usage shortened to Wachique.
Tante-gra'mere put this sullen slave in motion and made her bring a glass of wine for Colonel Menard. The colonel was too politic to talk to Angelique before her elder, though she had not yet answered his proposal. He had offered himself through her father, and granted her all the time she could require for making up her mind. The colonel knew of her sudden decisions against so many Kaskaskians that he particularly asked her to take time. Two dimpling grooves were cut in his cheeks by the smile which hovered there, as he rose to drink the godmother's health, and she said,—
"Angelique, you may leave the room."
Angelique left the room, and he drew his chair toward the autocrat for the conference she expected.
"It is very kind of you, madame," said Colonel Menard, "to give me this chance of speaking to you alone."
"I do so, monsieur the colonel, because I myself have something to say." The little elfin voice disregarded Wachique and the page. They were part of the furniture of the room, and did not count as listeners.
"You understand that I wish to propose for mademoiselle?"
Tante-gra'mere nodded. "I understand that you are a man who will make a contract and conduct his marriage properly; while these Welsh and English, they lean over a gallery rail and whisper, and I am told they even come fiddling under the windows after decent people are asleep."
"I am glad to have you on my side, madame."
"I am not on your side, monsieur. I am on nobody's side. And Angelique is on nobody's side. Angelique favors no suitor. She is like me: she would live a single life to the end of her days, as holy as a nun, with never a thought of courtship and weddings, but I have set my face against such a life for her. I have seen the folly of it. Here am I, a poor old helpless woman, living without respect or consideration, when I ought to be looked up to in the Territory."
"You are mistaken, madame. Your name is always mentioned with veneration."
"Ah, if I had sons crowding your peltry traffic and taking their share of these rich lands, then you would truly see me venerated. I have thought of these things many a day; and I am not going to let Angelique escape a husband, however such creatures may try a woman's religious nature."
"I will make myself as light a trial as possible," suggested Colonel Menard.
"You have had one wife."
"But she died." The tiny high voice had the thrust of an insect's stinger.
"If she were alive, madame, I could not now have the honor of asking for Mademoiselle Angelique's hand."
The dimpling grooves in his cheeks did not escape tante-gra'mere's black eyes.
"I do not like widowers," she mused.
"Nor do I," responded the colonel.
"Poor Therese might have been alive to-day, if she had not married you."
"And you have seven children?"
"On the whole, I like young men."
"Then you reject my suit?" observed the unmoved wooer.
"I do not reject it, and I do not accept it, monsieur the colonel. I consider it."
This gracious promise of neutrality Colonel Menard carried away with him without again seeing Angelique; and he made his way through the streets of Kaskaskia, unconscious that his little son was following Rice Jones about with the invincible persistence of a Menard.
Young Pierre had been allowed to ride into the capital this thronging day under charge of his father's body-servant and Jean Lozier. The body-servant he sent out of his way with the ponies. Jean Lozier tramped at his young seignior's heels, glad of some duty which would excuse him to his conscience.
This was the peasant lad's first taste of Kaskaskia. He could hardly believe he was there. The rapture of it at first shook him like a palsy. He had risen while the whole peninsula was yet a network of dew, and the Mississippi's sheet, reflecting the dawn, threw silver in his eyes. All thoughts of his grandfather he put resolutely out of his mind; and such thoughts troubled him little, indeed, while that sea of humanity dashed around him. The crash of martial music stirred the man in him. And when he saw the governor's carriage and the magnates of the Territory, heading the long procession; the festooned galleries, on which sat girls dressed in white, like angels, sending their slaves out with baskets of flowers to strew in the way; when he saw floating tableaux of men and scenes in the early history of the Territory,—heroes whose exploits he knew by heart; and when he heard the shouting which seemed to fill the rivers from bluff to bluff, he was willing to wade through purgatory to pay for such a day.
Traffic moved with unusual force. It was the custom for outdwelling men who had something to sell or to trade to reserve it until they came to a convention in Kasky, when they were certain to meet the best buyers. All the up-river towns sent lines of vehicles and fleets of boats to the capital. Kickapoo, Pottawatomie, and Kaskaskia Indians were there to see the white-man council, scattered immovably along the streets, their copper faces glistening in the sun, the buckskin fringes on their leggins scarcely stirring as the hours crept by. Squaws stood in the full heat, erect and silent, in yellow or dark red garments woven of silky buffalo wool, and seamed with roebuck sinews. Few of them had taken to civilized finery. Their barbaric and simple splendor was a rebuke to poor white women.
Many ease-loving old Frenchmen denied themselves the pleasure of following the day's pageant from point to point, and chose the best of the vacant seats fronting the empty platform in the common meadow. There they waited for speech-making to begin, smoking New Orleans tobacco, and stretching their wooden-shod feet in front of them. No kind of covering intervened betwixt their gray heads and the sky's fierce light, which made the rivers seem to wrinkle with fire. An old Frenchman loved to feel heaven's hand laid on his hair. Sometimes they spoke to one another; but the most of each man's soul was given to basking. Their attitudes said: "This is as far as I have lived. I am not living to-morrow or next day. The past has reached this instant as high-water mark, and here I rest. Move me if you can. I have arrived."
Booths were set up along the route to the common meadow, where the thirsty and hungry might find food and drink; and as the crowd surged toward its destination, a babel of cries rose from the venders of these wares. Father Baby was as great a huckster as any flatboat man of them all. He outscreamed and outsweated Spaniards from Ste. Genevieve; and a sorry spectacle was he to Father Olivier when a Protestant circuit-rider pointed him out. The itinerant had come to preach at early candle-lighting to the crowd of sinners which this occasion drew to Kaskaskia. There was a flourishing chapel where this good preacher was esteemed, and his infrequent messages were gladly accepted. He hated Romish practices, especially the Sunday dancing after mass, which Father Olivier allowed his humbler parishioners to indulge in. They were such children. When their week's work was over and their prayers were said, they could scarcely refrain from kicking up their heels to the sound of a fiddle.
But when the preacher saw a friar peddling spirits, he determined to denounce Kaskaskia as Sodom and Gomorrah around his whole circuit in the American bottom lands. While the fire burned in him he encountered Father Olivier, who despised him as a heretic, and respected him as a man. Each revered the honest faith that was in the other, though they thought it their duty to quarrel.
"My friend," exclaimed the preacher, "do you believe you are going in and out before this people in a God-fearing manner, when your colleague is yonder selling liquor?"
"Oh, that's only poor half-crazy Father Baby. He has no right even to the capote he wears. Nobody minds him here."
"He ought to be brought to his knees and soundly converted," declared the evangelist.
"He is on his knees half the time now," said Father Olivier mischievously. "He's religious enough, but, like you heretics, he perverts the truth to suit himself."
The preacher laughed. He was an unlearned man, but he had the great heart of an apostle, and was open to jokes.
"Do you think I am riding the wilderness for the pleasure of perverting the truth?"
"My friend," returned Father Olivier, "you have been in our sacristy, and seen our parish records kept here by the hands of priests for a hundred years. You want to make what you call revivals; I am content with survivals, with keeping alive the faith. Yet you think I am the devil. As for me, I do not say all heretics ought to be burned."
The preacher laughed again with Father Olivier, but did not fail to add,—
"You say what I think better than I could say it myself."
The priest left his Protestant brother with a wave of the hand and a smiling shrug, and passed on his way along the array of booths. His presence was a check on many a rustic drinker. His glance, dropped here and there, saved more than one sheep from the shearer. But his own face fell, and he stopped in astonishment, when an awkward figure was pushed against him, and he recognized his upland lamb.
"Jean Lozier, what are you doing here?" said Father Olivier.
Jean had dodged him many times. The lad stood still, cap in hand, looking down. Nothing could make him sorry he had come to Kaskaskia; but he expected to do penance for it.
"Where is your grandfather?"
"He is at home, father."
"Did you leave that blind old man alone, to wander out and fall over the bluff?"
"I left him, father, but I tied him to a joist in the ceiling with a long rope."
"To hang himself?"
"No, father; it is a very long rope."
"And what will the old man do when he grows hungry?"
"His food for the day is on the table."
"My son, my son!"
"Father," exclaimed the boy with passion, "I was never in Kaskaskia before. And Colonel Menard lent me a pony to ride after my young master. I have no pleasure but watching the lights of the town at night." The great fellow began to sob. "If my grandfather would but come here, I could keep him well. I have been watching how they do things in Kaskaskia. But no, he will stay on the hills. And when I could stand it no more I tied him and came."
Father Olivier had looked into the eyes of soldiers and seen the sick longing for some particular place which neither courage nor resolution seems able to control. He saw even more than this in Jean Lozier's eyes. He saw the anguish of a creature about to be driven back from its element to another in which it cannot develop. The priest had hitherto used Jean's fondness for the capital as means of moral discipline. But the sympathy which gave so many simple natures into his literal keeping enlightened him now.
"My son," said Father Olivier, "I see how it is with you better than I ever did before. You shall come and live in Kaskaskia. I will myself forbid your grandfather to keep you longer on the hills."
"But, father, he says he will die in a great town."
"Then, my son, the crown of a little martyrdom is yours. Will you wear it until this old man ends his days, and then come to Kaskaskia as your reward? Or will you come trampling down your duty, and perhaps shortening the life of your father's father? I will not lay any penance on you for following this strong desire."
Jean's spirit moved through his rough features, and responded to the priest's touch.
"I will wait, father," he said.
"You do right, my son. Now enjoy the remainder of this day, but do not make it too long a trial to the old man dependent on you."
Jean Lozier knew very little about the fierce partisan war raging in the Territory over separation and non-separation, and all the consequences which lay beyond either. But he took his place in a sea of listeners, having a man's object in life to struggle for. He was going to live in Kaskaskia, and have a little house of his own, a cart and two oxen; and when he had made enough by hauling bales from the wharf, he could set up in trade. His breast lifted and fell freely as he looked into this large and possible future. The patience and frugality and self-confidence of the successful man of affairs were born in him.
Rice Jones was on the speaker's platform, moulding the politics of the Territory. His voice reached over the great outdoor audience, compelling and convincing; now sinking to penetrating undertones, and now rising in thrilling music. His irony was so cutting, his humor so irrepressible. Laughter ran in waves across the sea of heads as wind runs across the grass. On many a homeward road and in many a cabin would these issues be fought over before election day, and Rice Jones's arguments quoted and propagated to the territorial limits. The serious long-jawed Virginia settler and the easy light-minded French boatman listened side by side. One had a homestead at stake, and the other had his possessions in the common fields where he labored as little as possible; but both were with Rice Jones in that political sympathy which bands unlike men together. He could say in bright words what they nebulously thought. He was the high development of themselves. They were proud of him, with that touching hero worship which is the tribute of unlettered men to those who represent their best.
Dr. Dunlap stopped an instant at the edge of the crowd, carrying his saddle-bags on his arm. He was so well known to be Rice Jones's political and personal enemy that his momentary lingering there drew a joke or two from his observers. He was exhorted to notice how the speaker could wipe up Kasky with such as he, and he replied in kind. But his face was wearing thin in his deeper and silent struggle with Rice Jones.
He knew that that judicial mind was fathoming and understanding his past relations with Maria upon the evidence he had himself furnished. Every day since their encounter in the college the doctor had armed himself. If he saw Rice Jones appear suddenly on the street, his hand sought his pocket. Sometimes he thought of leaving the Territory; which would be giving up the world and branding himself a coward. The sick girl was forgotten in this nightmare of a personal encounter. As a physician, he knew the danger of mania, and prescribed hard labor to counteract it. Dismounting under the bluff and tying his horse, he had many times toiled and sweated up the ascent, and let himself down again, bruised and scratched by stones and briers.
Very trivial in Dr. Dunlap's eyes were the anxieties of some poor fellows whom he saw later in the day appealing to Colonel Menard. The doctor was returning to a patient. The speeches were over, and the common meadow had become a wide picnic ground under the slant of a low afternoon sun. Those outdwelling settlers, who had other business to transact besides storing political opinions, now began to stir themselves; and a dozen needy men drew together and encouraged one another to ask Colonel Menard for salt. They were obliged to have salt at once, and he was the only great trader who brought it in by the flatboat load and kept it stored. He had a covered box in his cellar as large as one of their cabins, and it was always kept filled with cured meats.
They stood with hands in their pockets and coonskin caps slouching over their brows, stating the case to Colonel Menard. But poverty has many grades. The quizzical Frenchman detected in some of his clients a moneyed ability which raised them above their fellows.
"I have salt," admitted the colonel, speaking English to men who did not understand French, "but I have not enough to make brine of de Okaw river. I bet you ten dollaire you have not money in your pockets to pay for it."
More than half the pockets owned this fact. One man promised to pay when he killed his hogs. Another was sure he could settle by election day. But the colonel cut these promises short.
"I will settle this matter. De goats that have no money will stand on this side, and de sheep that have money will stand on that."
The hopeless majority budged to his right hand, and the confident ones to his left. He knew well what comfort or misery hung on his answer, and said with decision which no one could turn:—
"Now, messieurs, I am going to lend all my salt to these poor men who cannot get it any other way. You fellows who have money in your pockets, you may go to Sa' Loui', by gar, and buy yourselves some."
The peninsula of Kaskaskia was glorified by sunset, and even having its emerald stretches purpled by the evening shadows of the hills, before Rice Jones could go home to his sister. The hundreds thronging him all day and hurrahing at his merciless wit saw none of his trouble in his face.
He had sat by Maria day after day, wiping the cold dampness from her forehead and watching her self-restraining pride. They did not talk much, and when they spoke it was to make amusement for each other. This young sister growing up over the sea had been a precious image to his early manhood. But it was easier to see her die now that the cause of Dr. Dunlap's enmity was growing distinct to him.
"No wonder he wanted me shot," thought Rice. "No wonder he took all her family as his natural foes at sight."
Sometimes the lawyer dropped his papers and walked his office, determining to go out and shoot Dr. Dunlap. The most judicial mind has its revolts against concise statement. In these boiling moods Rice did not want evidence; he knew enough. But cooler counsel checked him. There were plenty of grounds and plenty of days yet to come for a political duel, in which no names and no family honor need be mixed.
Rice turned back from the gallery steps with a start at hearing a voice behind him. It was only young Pierre Menard at his father's gate. The veins on the child's temples were distended by their embarrassed throbbing, and his cheeks shone darkly red.
"I want, in fact, to speak to you, Monsieur Zhone," stammered Pierre, looking anxiously down the street lest the slave or Jean Lozier should appear before he had his say.
"What is it, colonel junior?" said Rice, returning to the gate.
"I want, in fact, to have some talk about our family."
"I hope you haven't any disagreement in your family that the law will have to settle?"
"Oh, no, monsieur, we do not quarrel much. And we never should quarrel at all if we had a mother to teach us better," said young Pierre adroitly.
Rice studied him with a sidelong glance of amusement, and let him struggle unhelped to his object.
"Monsieur Zhone, do you intend to get married?"
"Certainly," replied the prompt lawyer.
"But why should you want to get married? You have no children."
"I might have some, if I were married," argued Rice.
"But unless you get some you don't need any mother for them. On the contrary, we have great need of a mother in our family."
"I see. You came to take my advice about a stepmother. I have a stepmother myself, and I am the very man to advise you. But suppose you and I agree on the person for the place, and the colonel refuses her?"
The boy looked at him sharply, but there was no trace of raillery on Rice's face.
"You never can tell what the colonel intends to do until he does it, monsieur, but I think he will be glad to get her. The girls—all of us, in fact, think he ought to be satisfied with her."
"You are quite right. I don't know of a finer young woman in Kaskaskia than Miss Peggy Morrison."
"But she isn't the one, Monsieur Zhone. Oh, she wouldn't do at all."
"She wouldn't? I have made a mistake. It's Mademoiselle Vigo."
"Oh, no, she wouldn't do, either. There is only one that would do." The boy tried to swallow his tumult of palpitation. "It is Mademoiselle Angelique Saucier, monsieur."
Rice looked reproachfully at him over folded arms.
"That's why I came to you about it, monsieur. In the first place, Odile picked her out because she is handsome; Berenice and Alzira want her because she is good-natured; and I want her because I like to sit in the room where she is."
"Young man, this cannot be," said Rice Jones.
"Have you engaged her yourself, monsieur? If you haven't, please don't. Nobody else will suit us; and you can take Mademoiselle Peggy Morrison that you think is such a fine young woman."
"You and I are not the only men in Kaskaskia who admire Mademoiselle Saucier, my lad."
"But you are the worst one," said Pierre eagerly. "Odile thinks if you let her alone we may get her."
"But I can't let her alone. I see the force of your claims, but human nature is so perverse, Pierre, that I want her worse than ever."
Pierre dug with his heel in the grass. His determined countenance delighted the rival.
"Monsieur, if you do get her, you have our whole family to beat."
"Yes, I see what odds there are against me," owned Rice.
"We are going to marry her if we can—and my father is willing. He is nearly always willing to please us."
"This is fair and open," pronounced Rice, "and the way for gentlemen to treat each other. You have done the right thing in coming to talk this matter over with me."
"I'm not sure of that, m'sieur."
"I am, for there is nothing better than fair and open rivalry. And after all, nobody can settle this but Mademoiselle Saucier herself. She may not be willing to take any of us. But, whatever the result, shake hands, Pierre."
The boy transferred his riding-whip, and met the lawyer's palm with a hearty grasp. They shook hands, laughing, and Pierre felt surprised to find how well he liked Rice Jones.
As the wide and capacious Kaskaskia houses were but a single story high, Maria's bedroom was almost in the garden. Sweet-brier stretched above the foundation and climbed her window; and there were rank flowers, such as marigolds and peppery bouncing-betties, which sent her pungent odors. Sometimes she could see her stepmother walking the graveled paths between the vegetable beds, or her father and Rice strolling back and forth together of an evening. Each one was certain to bring her something,—a long-stemmed pink, or phlox in a bunch, like a handful of honeycomb. The gardener pulled out dead vines and stalks and burned them behind a screen of bushes, the thin blue smoke trailing low.
Her father would leave his office to sit beside her, holding the hand which grew thinner every day. He had looked forward to his daughter's coming as a blossoming-time in his life. Maria had not left her bed since the night of her hemorrhage. A mere fortnight in the Territory seemed to have wasted half her little body.
When you have strained to bear your burden and keep up with the world's march, lightly commiserated by the strong, there is great peace in finally giving up and lying down by the roadside. The hour often fiercely wished for, and as often repelled with awe, is here. The visible is about to become invisible. It is your turn to pass into the unknown. You have seen other faces stiffen, and other people carried out and forgotten. Your face is now going to chill the touch. You are going to be carried out. But, most wonderful of all, you who have been so keenly alive are glad to creep close to Death and lay your head in his lap.
There are natures to whom suffering is degradation. Sympathy would burn them like caustic. They are dumb on the side which seeks promiscuous fellowship. They love one person, and live or die by that love.
"I have borne it by myself so far," Maria would think; "I can bear it by myself the rest of the way."
Yet the sleepy nurse was often roused at dead of night by her sobbing: "Oh, James, that you should be in the same town with me, and never come near to see me die! And I love you,—I love you so in spite of everything."
Sometimes she resolved to tell her brother the whole story. He would perhaps think better of Dr. Dunlap than he now did. Yet, on the contrary, his implacable pride and sense of justice might drive him directly out to kill the man she loved. And again she would burn with rage and shame at Dr. Dunlap's condescension to a legal marriage. He was willing.
"You are not willing," she would whisper fiercely at the night candle. "You do not love me any more."
The old glamour again covering her, she would lie in a waking dream for hours, living over their stolen life together. And she puzzled herself trying to fit the jagged pieces of her experience, and to understand why all these things should happen. The mystery to come is not greater than the mystery which has been, when one lies on a dying bed and counts the many diverse individuals that have lived in his skin and been called by his name.
At other times, all she had lost of common good flashed through Maria in a spark: the deeds to other souls; the enjoyment of nature, which is a continual discovery of new worlds; the calm joy of daily life, that best prayer of thanks to Almighty God.
Maria always thought of these wholesome things when Angelique came in at twilight, a little exhilarated by her escape from the tyrant at home. The nurse would give place, and go out to talk with the other negroes, while Angelique sat down and held Maria's hand. Perhaps invisible streams of health flowed from her, quieting the sick girl. She smiled with pure happiness, on account of general good and comfort; her oval face and dark hair and eyes having a certain freshness of creation. Maria looked at her and wondered what love and sorrow would do to her.
Angelique had one exquisite characteristic which Maria did not at first notice, but it grew upon her during these quiet half-hours when she was spared the effort of talking or listening. It was a fixed look of penetrating sweetness, projecting the girl herself into your nature, and making her one with you. No intrusive quality of a stare spoiled it. She merely became you for the time being; and this unconscious pretty trick had brought down many a long Kaskaskian, for it drove directly through the hearts of men.
The provincial girl sometimes puzzled herself about the method of education abroad which had produced such a repressed yet such an appealing creature as Maria Jones. When she talked to the triangular little face on the pillow, she talked about the outdoor world rather than its people; so that after Angelique went away Maria often fell asleep, fancying herself on the grass, or lying beside the rivers or under the cool shadows of rocks.
As Rice Jones entered the house, after his talk about Angelique with young Pierre Menard, he met her coming out. It was the first time that her twilight visits to his sister had brought them face to face, and Rice directly turned off through the garden with her, inquiring how Maria had borne the noise of the day.
"She is very quiet," said Angelique. "She was indeed falling asleep when I came out."
"I sent my man at noon and at three o'clock to bring me word of her."
There was still a great trampling of horses in the streets. Shouts of departing happy voters sounded from the Okaw bridge, mixing with the songs of river men. The primrose lights of many candles began to bloom all over Kaskaskia. Rice parted the double hedge of currant bushes which divided his father's garden from Saucier's, and followed Angelique upon her own gravel walk, holding her by his sauntering. They could smell the secluded mould in the shadow of the currant roots, which dew was just reaching. She went to a corner where a thicket of roses grew. She had taken a handful of them to Maria, and now gathered a fresh handful for herself, reaching in deftly with mitted arms, holding her gown between her knees to keep it back from the briers. Some of them were wild roses, with a thin layer of petals and effulgent yellow centres. There was a bouquet of garden-breaths from gray-green sage and rosemary leaves and the countless herbs and vegetables which every slaveholding Kaskaskian cultivated for his large household. Pink and red hollyhocks stood sentinel along the paths. The slave cabins, the loom-house, the kitchen, and a row of straw beehives were ranged at the back of the lawn, edging the garden.
Angelique came back to the main walk, picking her way with slipper toes, and offered part of her spoil to Rice. He took some roses, and held the hand which gave them. She had come in his way too soon after his mocking little talk with young Pierre Menard. He was occupied with other things, but that had made him feel a sudden need.
Angelique blushed in the dense twilight, her face taking childlike lines of apprehension. Her heart sank, and she suffered for him vicariously in advance. Her sensibility to other presences was so keen that she had once made it a subject of confession. "Father, I cannot feel any separateness from the people around me. Is this a sin?" "Believe that you have the saints and holy angels also in your company, and it will be no sin," answered Father Olivier.
Though she was used to these queer demonstrations of men, her conscience always rebuked her for the number of offers she received. No sooner did she feel on terms of excellent friendliness with any man than he began to fondle her hand and announce himself her lover. It must be as her tante-gra'mere said, that girls had too much liberty in the Territory. Jules Vigo and Billy Edgar had both proposed in one day, and Angelique hid herself in the loom-house, feeling peculiarly humbled and ashamed to face the family, until her godmother had her almost forcibly brought back to the usual post.
"I love you," said Rice Jones.
"But please, no, Monsieur Zhone, no."
"I love you," he repeated, compressing his lips. "Why 'no, Monsieur Zhone, no'?"
"I do not know." Angelique drew her hand back and arranged her roses over and over, looking down at them in blind distress.
"Is it Pierre Menard?"
She glanced up at him reproachfully.
"Oh, monsieur, it is only that I do not want"—She put silence in the place of words. "Monsieur," she then appealed, "why do men ask girls who do not want them to? If one appeared anxious, then it would be reasonable."
"Not to men," said Rice, smiling. "We will have what is hard to be got. I shall have you, my Angelique. I will wait."
"Monsieur," said Angelique, thinking of an obstacle which might block his way, "I am a Catholic, and you are not."
"Priests don't frighten me. And Father Olivier is too sensible an old fellow to object to setting you in the car of my ambition."
They stood in silence.
"Good-night, Monsieur Zhone," said Angelique. "Don't wait."
"But I shall wait," said Rice.
He had bowed and turned away to the currant hedge, and Angelique was entering her father's lawn, when he came back impetuously. He framed her cheeks in his hands, and she could feel rather than see the power of possession in his eyes.
"Angelique!" he said, and the word rushed through her like flame. She recoiled, but Rice Jones was again in his father's garden, moving like a shadow toward the house, before she stirred. Whether it was the trick of the orator or the irrepressible outburst of passion, that appeal continued to ring in her ears and to thrill.
More disturbed than she had ever been before by the tactics of a lover, Angelique hurried up the back gallery steps, to find Peggy Morrison sitting in her chamber window, cross-legged, leaning over with one palm supporting a pointed chin. The swinging sashes were pushed outward, and Peggy's white gown hung down from the broad sill.
"Is that you, Peggy?" said Angelique. "I thought you were dancing at Vigo's this evening."
"I thought you were, too."
"Mama felt obliged to send our excuses, on account of going to sister's baby."
"How beautiful these large French families are!" observed Peggy; "some of them are always dying or teething, and the girls are slaves to their elders."
"We must be beautiful," said Angelique, "since two of the Morrisons have picked wives from us; and I assure you the Morrison babies give us the most trouble."
"You might expect that. I never saw any luck go with a red-headed Morrison."
Angelique sat down on the sill, also, leaning against the side of the window. The garden was becoming a void of dimness, through which a few fireflies sowed themselves. Vapor blotted such stars as they might have seen from their perch, and the foliage of fruit trees stirred with a whisper of wind.
"I am so glad you came to stay with me, Peggy. But you are dressed; why did you not go?"
"I am hiding."
"What are you hiding from?"
"Jules Vigo, of course."
"Yes, you are always saying poor this and that, after you set them on by rejecting them. They run about like blind, mad oxen till they bump their stupid heads against somebody that will have them. I shouldn't wonder if I got a second-hand husband one day, taking up with some cast-off of yours."
"Peggy, these things do not flatter me; they distress me," said Angelique genuinely.
"They wouldn't distress me. If I had your face, and your hands and arms, and the way you carry yourself, I'd love to kill men. They have no sense at all."
Angelique heard her grind her teeth, and exclaimed,—
"Why, Peggy, what has poor Jules done?"
"Oh, Jules!—he is nothing. I have just engaged myself to him to get rid of him, and now I have some right to be let alone. He's only the fourth one of your victims that I've accepted, and doctored up, and set on foot again. I take them in rotation, and let them easily down to marrying some girl of capacity suitable to them. And until you are married off, I have no prospect of ever being anything but second choice."
"Your clever tongue so fascinates men that this is all mockery, your being second choice. But indeed I like men, Peggy; if they had not the foolishness of falling in love."
"Angelique Saucier, when do you intend to settle in life?"
"I do not know," said the French girl slowly. "It is pleasant to be as we are."
Peggy glanced at her through the dark.
"Do you intend to be a nun?"
"No, I have no vocation."
"Well, if you don't marry, the time will come when you'll be called an old maid."
"That is what mama says. It is a pity to make ugly names for good women."
"I'll be drawn and quartered before I'll be called an old maid," said Peggy fiercely. "What difference does it make, after all, which of these simpletons one takes for a husband? Were you ever in love with one of them, Angelique?"
Peggy had the kind of eyes which show a disk of light in the dark, and they revealed it as she asked this question.
"No, I think not," answered Angelique.
"You think not. You believe, to the best of your knowledge and recollection, that such a thing has never happened to you," mocked Peggy. And then she made a sudden pounce at Angelique's arm. "What was the matter with you when you ran up the gallery steps, a minute ago?"
The startled girl drew in her breath with surprise, but laughed.
"It was lighter then," hinted Peggy.
"Did you see him?"
"Yes, I saw him. And I saw you coaxing him along with a bunch of roses, for all the world like catching a pony with a bunch of grass. And I saw him careering back to neigh in your face."
"Oh, Peggy, I wish Monsieur Reece Zhone could but hear what you say. Do teach me some of your clever ridicule. It must be that I take suitors too seriously."
"Thank you," said Peggy dryly, "I need it all for my second-hand lot. He is the worst fool of any of them."
"Take care, Peggy, you rouse me. Why is a man a fool for loving me?"
"He said he loved you, then?"
The Saucier negroes were gathering on doorsteps, excited by the day and the bustle of crowds which still hummed in the streets. Now a line of song was roared from the farthest cabin, and old and young voices all poured themselves into a chorus. A slender young moon showed itself under foliage, dipping almost as low as the horizon. Under all other sounds of life, but steadily and with sweet monotony, the world of little living things in grass and thicket made itself heard. The dewy darkness was a pleasure to Angelique, but Peggy moved restlessly, and finally clasped her hands behind her neck and leaned against the window side, watching as well as she could the queen of hearts opposite. She could herself feel Angelique's charm of beautiful health and outreaching sympathy. Peggy was a candid girl, and had no self-deceptions. But she did have that foreknowledge of herself which lives a germ in some unformed girls whose development surprises everybody. She knew she could become a woman of strength and influence, the best wife in the Territory for an ambitious man who had the wisdom to choose her. Her sharp fairness would round out, moreover, and her red head, melting the snows which fell in middle age on a Morrison, become a softly golden and glorious crown. At an age when Angelique would be faded, Peggy's richest bloom would appear. She was like the wild grapes under the bluffs; it required frost to ripen her. But women whom nature thus obliges to wait for beauty seldom do it graciously; transition is not repose.
"Well, which is it to be, Rice Jones or Pierre Menard? Be candid with me, Angelique, as I would be with you. You know you will have to decide some time."
"I do not think Monsieur Reece Zhone is for me," said Angelique, with intuitive avoidance of Colonel Menard's name; Peggy cared nothing for the fate of Colonel Menard. "Indeed, I believe his mind dwells more on his sister now than on any one else."
"I hate people's relations!" cried Peggy brutally; "especially their sick relations. I couldn't run every evening to pet Maria Jones and feed her pap."
"I do not pet her nor feed her pap," declared Angelique, put on the defensive. "Don't be a little beast, Peggy," she added in French.
"I see how it is: you are going to take him. The man who needs a bug in his ear worse than any other man in the Territory will never be handed over to me to get it. But let me tell you, you will have your hands full with Rice Jones. This Welsh-English stock is not soft stuff to manage. When he makes that line with his lips that looks like a red-hot razor edge, his poor wife will wish to leave this earth and take to the bluffs."
"You appear to think a great deal about Monsieur Reece Zhone and his future wife," said Angelique mischievously.
"I know what you mean," said Peggy defiantly, "and we may as well have it out now as any time. If you throw him at me, I shall quarrel with you. I detest Rice Jones. He makes me crosser than any other person in the world."
"How can you detest a man like that? I am almost afraid of him. He has a wonderful force. It is a great thing at his age to be elected to the National Assembly as the leader of his party in the Territory."
"I am not afraid of him," said Peggy, with a note of pride.
"No,—for I have sometimes thought, Peggy, that Monsieur Reece Zhone and you were made for each other."
Peggy Morrison sneered. Her nervous laughter, however, had a sound of jubilation.
The talk stopped there. They could see fog rising like a smoke from the earth, gradually making distant indistinct objects an obliterated memory, and filling the place where the garden had been.
"We must go in and call for candles," said Angelique.
"No," said Peggy, turning on the broad sill and stretching herself along it, "let me lay my head in your lap and watch that lovely mist come up like a dream. It makes me feel happy. You are a good girl, Angelique."
Father Baby's part in the common fields lay on the Mississippi side of the peninsula, quite three miles from town. The common fields as an entire tract belonged to the community of Kaskaskia; no individual held any purchased or transferable right in them. Each man who wished to could claim his proportion of acres and plant any crop he pleased, year after year. He paid no rent, but neither did he hold any fee in the land.