THE ROSE OF OLD ST. LOUIS
With Illustrations by Andre Castaigne and C. M. Relyea
New York Grosset & Dunlap Publishers
Copyright, 1904, by The Century Co. Published July, 1904 Reprinted July, 1904, August, 1904, September, 1904, October, 1904, December, 1904, January, 1906, February, 1907
I I MAKE MY BOW IN CAHOKIA 3
II I PROPOSE A TOAST 17
III I MEET AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE 31
IV I MAKE AN ENGAGEMENT 44
V I GO TO A PICNIC ON CHOUTEAU'S POND 55
VI WHIPPOORWILLS 79
VII I TWINE CHRISTMAS GREENS 92
VIII I GO TO MIDNIGHT MASS 104
IX MADAME CHOUTEAU'S BALL 119
X LA GUIGNOLEE 135
XI CHOISSEZ LE ROI 147
XII A MIDNIGHT FRAY 157
XIII "A PRETTY BOY!" 168
XIV A CREOLE LOVE-SONG 181
XV "AU REVOIR" 203
XVI A VIRGINIA FARMER 212
XVII A GREAT DEBATE 225
XVIII A MAGIC COACH 245
XIX CHECK TO THE ABBE! 266
XX BONAPARTE GIVES ENGLAND A RIVAL 281
XXI A TEMPEST IN A BATH-TUB 308
XXII MR. MONROE ARRIVES! 328
XXIII THE CONSUL'S SENTENCE 338
XXIV A NEW CHEVALIER OF FRANCE 363
XXV THE COMTESSE DE BALOIT SENDS FOR HER HUNTER 375
XXVI THE CONSUL'S COMMISSION 386
XXVII "GOOD-BY, SWEETHEART!" 397
XXVIII EXIT LE CHEVALIER 414
XXIX UNDER THE OLD FLAG 426
XXX THE ROSE OF ST. LOUIS 448
"'Very well, I shall expect to hear from you'" Frontispiece
"In solitary dignity stood Black Hawk" 152
"He stopped and turned suddenly to the two ministers" 295
The Signing of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty by Marbois, Livingston, and Monroe 370
My story does not claim to be history, but in every important historical detail it is absolutely faithful to the records of the times as I have found them. Every word of the debate in Congress, every word of Marbois, Livingston, Decres, Napoleon, and his two brothers on the subject of the Louisiana Cession is verbatim from the most authentic accounts. I am indebted for the historical part of my story to Gayarre's "History of Louisiana," to Martin's "History of Louisiana," to James K. Hosmer's "History of the Louisiana Purchase," to Lucien Bonaparte's "Memoirs," to numerous lives of Napoleon, Jefferson, Talleyrand, and others, and particularly to Marbois himself, whose account of the negotiations on the subject of the cession is preserved in his own handwriting in the St. Louis Mercantile Library.
As to the local color of old St. Louis, both in its topographical setting and in its customs, I have also tried to be exact. And here I am very largely indebted to that simple and charming old writer, H. M. Brackenridge, in his "Recollections of the West" and in his "Views of Louisiana"; and also to Timothy Flint in his "Recollections"; to J. Thomas Scharf's interesting "History of St. Louis," and especially to Mr. Frederic L. Billon, St. Louis's historian par eminence. I make also the same claim for exactness as to the local color of Washington at that early day; for which I have made so many gleanings in many fields—a little here, a little there—that it seems hardly worth while to give special credit to each.
In non-essential points I have occasionally taken the liberty belonging to a writer of fiction, having condensed into one several debates in Congress, as well as several interviews between Talleyrand and Livingston, and two interviews between Bonaparte and Marbois.
Nor have I hesitated to use the names of the early St. Louis settlers, because they are names still well known and honored in the city which they helped to found. I have touched upon them but lightly, and have tried to make those touches true to the characters of those estimable gentlemen and gentlewomen of the old French regime.
THE ROSE OF OLD ST. LOUIS
THE ROSE OF OLD ST. LOUIS
I MAKE MY BOW IN CAHOKIA
"The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft a-gley."
"And this is the village of St. Louis, sir?"
I bowed respectfully to my captain standing in the prow of the boat and looking across an expanse of swirling muddy water to the village on the bluffs beyond. I spoke more after the manner of making polite conversation than because I was desirous of information, for I knew without asking that it could be none other.
My captain answered me: "Yes, my lad, yonder is St. Louis, and this is De Soto's river; what dost think of it?"
"I think, sir, 'tis a great river, though not so clear a stream as the Delaware, and muddier even than the Ohio."
I spoke calmly, but my heart was beating fast, and I could feel the blood rushing through my veins. I had been ill with what the boatmen call river fever, and had lain in the bottom of the boat wrapped in my blanket, alternately shivering with chills and burning with fever, oblivious to all about me, so that I had not known when we swept out of the Ohio into the Mississippi, past Fort Massac, nor when we had tied up at Kaskaskia for a long rest.
We had landed late the evening before at Cahokia, and been most hospitably entertained by Mr. Gratiot. There had been a great banquet in honor of Captain Clarke, with dancing far into the night, and many guests from St. Louis. I, being still an invalid, had been put to bed in Mr. Gratiot's beautiful guest-chamber, and given a hot posset that put me to sleep at once, though not so soundly but that I could dreamily catch occasional strains of the fiddles and the rhythmic sound of feet on the waxed walnut, and many voices and much laughter.
Had I been well, it would have vexed me sore not to have been able to lead in the minuet one of the beauties of Cahokia, whose fame had reached even my distant home in Philadelphia, for I had been carefully trained in the steps and the figures, and was young enough to be proud of my skill in the dance. But feeling ill as I did, the sounds of revelry combined with the posset only to soothe me into a heavy slumber.
I woke in the early dawn to find Yorke, Captain Clarke's big black, standing beside my bed, with a bowl of smoking gruel. He showed a formidable array of white ivory as he grinned amiably in response to my questioning look:
"Mars' Gratiot send you de gruel wid his complimen's, sah, and he and de capen bofe say you's not to git up dis mohnen, sah."
Yorke always considered that to state a request of "de capen" was sufficient to insure compliance. He could not dream of any one setting his authority at naught. With me, too, Captain Clarke's authority was paramount. It had only been by a promise of absolute submission to that authority that I had persuaded my kinsman in Kentucky to allow me to accompany the captain on his mission to the governor of Illinois at St. Louis.
So, when Yorke said the captain had ordered me to remain in bed, I thought for a moment I would have to obey; but having swallowed the hot gruel, into which Yorke had put a modicum of good Orleans ratafia, I was straightway infused with new spirit (I meant not that for wit), and such strength flowed through my limbs as I had not felt for days.
"Yorke," I said, springing out of bed with a haste that made me light-headed for a moment, "help me into my clothes, and be quick about it; I think I hear sounds below that betoken getting ready for departure."
Even as I spoke I ran to a stand on which stood a basin and a small ewer of water. I filled the basin, and plunged my head into the icy water. I drew it out, sputtering and shivering, and, seizing a towel, gave my head and neck and hair so vigorous a rubbing that I did not see Yorke slip out of the room. When I turned to speak to him I found him gone, afraid either of being a partner in my disobedience to the captain, or of being left behind if he delayed longer.
Left to myself, I did my best to hurry with my clothing. I had not much experience in dressing myself, but I had been compelled to leave behind me in Philadelphia the black boy who had never before, since I could remember, been absent from me a day. I had been eager enough to part with him, thinking it ill befitted a soldier of fortune, as I intended to be, to be coddled by a valet, and I had not missed him much, for Yorke had been always ready to lend a helping hand when I needed it. Now I was of a mind to curse the vanity that had led me to fit myself out with doeskins that were of so snug a cut they needed much tugging to get into them, and with endless lacings with which my awkward fingers, clumsier than ever from the icy water and the trembling the fever had left me in, fumbled desperately.
But I was ready at last, and seizing my sword-belt in one hand and my hat in the other, I started with hot haste for the door, fearing I might be, after all, too late. As I opened it, a sound smote my ears that struck terror to my heart: the voices and the laughter of young maidens. I stepped back involuntarily. I had not thought of the possibility of meeting any one at that early hour but my host and my captain, and I had not given a thought to my appearance. Now I took an anxious survey of myself in the small French mirror that hung above the stand. I was vexed beyond measure at what I saw.
"They will take me for a girl," I muttered between my teeth, "and flout me accordingly."
It had ever been a source of extreme mortification to me that I should have rosy cheeks like any maiden's, but now, owing to the hard scrubbing I had given them, they were all aflame, and their color was heightened by the pallor my recent illness had given to brow and temples. My hair, from its wetting, was curling in ringlets all around my head. I seized a brush and tried desperately to reduce them to straightness, but the brushing served only to bring out in stronger relief the glint of gold that I despised, and certainly my eyes had never looked more blue and shining.
"They will think me a girl or a baby!" I muttered once more, and was in such disgust with myself I was ready to go back to bed. But bethinking me that would only leave me the longer in this House of Dames, I seized my belt once more, buckled it on with a vicious twitch, and strode boldly to the door.
There I stopped a moment to collect all my courage, soothing myself with the reflection that I stood a good six feet in my moccasins, and though I carried no superfluous flesh, my shoulders were as broad as my captain's and my muscles like whip-cords. Fortified by these considerations, I strode on boldly to the landing at the head of the wide staircase leading down to the great hall.
There I stopped again; for while the landing was in gloom, the hall was brilliantly illuminated by a roaring, blazing lightwood fire, looking cheery enough in the gray light of the frosty morning, and throwing into strong relief two groups on either side of the fireplace. On one side stood my captain, evidently ready for a start, and making his adieus to his host. I glanced eagerly at Mr. Gratiot and at the elderly man who stood beside him, who, I thought, was likely to be none other than Mr. Francis Vigo. I had heard much of these two men from General George Rogers Clarke, whose lonely retreat on the Ohio I had often visited during my stay in Kentucky. They had been General Clarke's best friends and helpers in the early days of the war, when he had made that daring attack on Vincennes, and I knew Captain Clarke's mission to St. Louis had something to do with discharging his brother's obligation to them. They were smaller men than my captain, of a slender, graceful build, and the hair of both was quite white, but from my post of observation I could see that they were men of courtly manners, well used to the ways of the world, and talking now quite eagerly with all the wealth of gesture and expression natural to Frenchmen.
The firelight played strongly on the face of my captain, whom I had already begun to adore, as did every one who came into close companionship with him. I gazed admiringly at his broad, white brow, clear-cut features, and firmly knit figure, a little square of build, but looking every inch the frontier soldier in his leathern doublet and leggings and high-laced moccasins. Over one shoulder he had thrown his blue military cloak, for the trip across the river promised to be a cold one, and he carried in his hand a hat with a drooping plume. I wondered if the merry group of girls on the other side of the fireplace was not impressed by such a handsome and soldierly stranger, and a bachelor to boot. I thought I could detect an occasional conscious glance in his direction and a furtive preening of skirts and fluttering of fans, that betokened they were not insensible to the presence of the brave captain.
There were six of the young maidens, and all but two of them were in ball costume; flowered silks, and arms and shoulders gleaming white through fine lace, powdered hair, and patches and paint, they might have stepped out of a Philadelphia ball-room, I thought, and was astonished at the thought. I had not expected to find court beauties on the frontier, yet the Chouteaus, the Gratiots, and the Papins were names I had often heard in my own home as men of wealth and vast emprise.
The six girls were chatting gaily in French, and I was so absorbed in my contemplation of them that I did not at first consider the strangeness of their appearance in that costume so early in the morning. When it did occur to me, I concluded the four must have come over from St. Louis to attend the ball and had no other dress to return in, and the other two were doubtless Mr. Gratiot's daughters, which I learned afterward was the true explanation.
But now bethinking me it was high time to make my descent, and running quickly over in my mind the way to make it most effective,—for I wished to bear myself bravely before the young maidens,—I determined to place my left hand on the hilt of my sword, to hold my hat, which also bore a sweeping plume, in my right hand pressed close to my heart, and with head held high and borne a little backward, to descend with the stately minuet step. I flattered myself that with such a manner as I felt sure I could assume those saucy maidens would forget my rosy cheeks and my curls and think only of my air of grand seigneur.
I glanced down to see that my costume was all right, and now I was glad that my doeskins fitted so perfectly, even if they were hard to get into in a hurry, that my high moccasins were so beautifully and elaborately beaded in purple and yellow, with broad slashes of fringe falling from the tops of them, and that my leathern doublet sat so well, as my peep into the mirror had convinced me it did.
As I started down, feeling well satisfied with my costume, yet trembling inwardly at the thought of the array of bright eyes I was to encounter, my glance fell on an untied lacing at one knee. I stooped to retie it, and at that moment heard what seemed to me the sweetest voice I had ever listened to, call:
"A moi, Leon, a moi," followed by a clear, soft whistle.
I was still clumsily fumbling with my lacers (my fingers have ever been all thumbs when there is any dainty task to be performed) when I heard a rush of soft, padded feet, and down the corridor behind me, in response to that clear whistle, bounded a great dog. Through the arch that my bent limbs made in stooping he saw the glow of the firelight from below and made straight for it. But alas! the arch was narrower than he thought, and dog and man went rolling and tumbling down the staircase, bumping and bounding from stair to stair, a wild melee of doeskin legs and shaggy paws and clanging sword and wildly brandished arms, making vain clutches at the air to stay the headlong descent.
Deep-mouthed yelps voiced the terror of the dog at this unexpected Sindbad who refused to be shaken off. No words could voice the overwhelming shame of the man at this unmannerly presentation of himself before a group of young maidens, when so dignified an entrance had been planned.
As we struck the polished walnut of the hall floor, I disentangled myself and sprang to my feet, where I stood, scarlet with shame, head drooping, a pitiable object indeed. There had been an amazed, and perhaps on the maidens' side a terrified, silence during our noisy descent. Now from the maidens there arose first a suppressed giggle and then an irresistible peal of laughter, joined to the hearty guffaws of the men. My shame was fast giving place to rising wrath, in no degree appeased by the consciousness of the spectacle I presented. The dog, a magnificent mastiff, by that time recovering from his confusion, and feeling as keenly as I, no doubt, the derogation of his dignity, and, with a dog's unreason, regarding me as the agent of his humiliation when I was in fact the victim of his own stupidity, sprang at me with a vicious growl.
Here was an occasion to vent my boiling wrath. Quick as thought my sword sprang from its sheath and came down flat-sided with a ringing blow on the brute's head. I have ever been a merciful man to all beasts, and dogs and horses I have loved and they have loved me; and even in my wrath and the quick necessity of defense I remembered to use the flat of my sword; yet such is the strength of my sword-arm from much practice, increased, I fear, by a venom instigated by those silvery peals of laughter, that I bowled the brute over as easily as if he had been a ninepin.
With a howl of mingled rage and pain he recovered himself instantly and crouched to spring upon me once more, with such bloodthirst in his eyes that I saw now I would have to defend myself in earnest. But as he was almost in the act of springing, from among the group of maidens there rushed what seemed to my dazzled vision a small whirlwind of satins and laces and velvets and jewels, and flung itself upon the dog with a ringing cry of "A bas, Leon! tais-toi, mon ange!"
The brute yielded obedience at once to the restraining arm and tones of command, though still regarding me with vicious eyes and uttering threatening growls.
As for me, I stood as if turned to stone, still in an attitude of defense, the weight of my body thrown forward on the right foot, the hilt of my sword pressed against my breast, the point presented to receive the onslaught of the brute. In that attitude I stood frozen, for never had I beheld such a vision of loveliness. The arm that encircled the shaggy neck of the dog was bare almost to the shoulder, the sleeve of finest lace having fallen back in the energy of her action, and never have I seen an arm so white, so round, or tapering so finely to the slender wrist and exquisite little hand clutching a lock of Leon's mane. Masses of wavy dark hair were drawn loosely back from a brow of dazzling whiteness into a cluster of soft curls on top of the head, where it seemed to be caught by a jeweled aigret, which yet permitted tiny ringlets to escape about the temples and the nape of the snowy neck. She had thrown herself with such abandon on the dog, and was holding him with such exertion of strength, that the narrow skirt of her satin gown, flowered in palest pink and silver, revealed every line of a most exquisite figure down to the little foot extending backward from her skirts and showing the high arch of the instep in its stocking of embroidered silk.
I had gazed with impunity, for the drooping white lids and the long, dark lashes sweeping the perfect curve of the cheek showed all her looks were for the dog, to whom she incessantly murmured in French mingled words of command and endearment. But suddenly she lifted her little head and flung it proudly back, with such a blaze of indignation and scorn in her dark eyes I felt withered under it. The scarlet curve of her lips fell away to disclose two rows of pearly teeth, close set, and through them, with a vicious snap, came the one word:
I could not for a moment think that the word was meant for the dog, and such a rage slowly welled in my veins as restored me at once to my self-command. I dropped the point of my sword to the floor and straightened myself to as proud a pose as hers.
"I pray you pardon, Mademoiselle," I said haughtily. The words were meek enough, but not the tone nor the manner, and so enraged was I that I hesitated not a moment over my French. My accent, I knew, was good, for, my aunt having married Monsieur Barbe Marbois, I was thrown much with French people; but I had been ever careless of my grammar, and in a moment of less excitement I might have hesitated in venturing on the native tongue of so fair a creature. But now my French poured from me in an angry torrent:
"I pray you pardon. Danger alone is my excuse. I do not doubt a dog is worth much more to Mademoiselle than the life of an American gentleman. I make you, Mademoiselle, my compliments and my excuses."
Then returning my sword to its scabbard with an angry ring, I made her a low and sweeping bow of ironical courtesy and strode hotly from the room. I was in such a tumult of rage and mortification that not until I reached the landing on the banks of Cahokia Creek, where the boats were tied and the men busily making ready for the departure, did I bethink me that I had left the house without a word of adieus or thanks to my host for his courtesy. I began to fear that my sense of self-respect would compel my return, and rather would I have faced a battalion of the British than another flash from those dark eyes; nor could I hope to make another so masterly a retreat as I plumed myself this one had been. But as I glanced back toward the house on the bluffs that had proved my undoing, to my intense relief I saw that the three gentlemen had followed not far behind me and were even now descending the pathway to the creek. I hastened to meet them and make my apologies.
A more courteous gentleman than Mr. Gratiot I never met. He spoke very good English indeed, his accent I believe not so good as my French one, but his grammar much better.
"My dear young gentleman, you acquitted yourself nobly," he was kind enough to say. "In the eyes of the young ladies, if I may possibly except Mademoiselle Pelagie, you are a hero. But they are much chagrined that you should have left them without giving them a chance to express their sympathy or their admiration."
The sound of those silvery peals of laughter was too vividly in my remembrance to permit me to accept Mr. Gratiot's compliments without a large grain of allowance for a Frenchman's courtesy, but I bowed low in seeming to accept them. Then he introduced me to his companion, who proved not to be Mr. Vigo after all, but Dr. Saugrain, the French emigre so renowned for his learning. I looked at him keenly as I made my bow, for I had heard something of him in Philadelphia, and in Kentucky there had been so many tales of the wonderful things he could do that I think most people looked upon him as a dealer in black arts. But he was in no respect my idea of a Mephisto. He was small and wiry of build, and dressed in black small-clothes, with ruffles of finest lace at wrist and knee.
Black silk stockings showed a well-turned calf in no whit shrunken with age, and his silver shoe-buckles glittered with brilliants. His hair, iron-gray and curly, was tied in a short queue with a black satin ribbon, and beneath a rather narrow and high brow beamed two as kindly blue eyes as it had ever been my lot to meet.
His greeting was most cordial, though there was a merry twinkle in his eye while speaking to me that made me feel he might still be laughing inwardly at my ridiculous descent of Mr. Gratiot's staircase. With a very grand manner indeed, and with much use of his hands, as is the fashion of Frenchmen, he said:
"My dear sir, it mek me mos' proud and mos' 'appy to know you. Vous etes veritablement un brave. Le capitaine dine chez moi to-day; I s'all be desole and inconsolable if he bring not also his ver' dear young frien'." Then, with a sudden and entire change of manner, he laid his finger beside his nose and said in a loud whisper:
"My frien', I would not min' you kill that dog, moi! I lofe 'im not."
But while his words did not sound kind to me, who am such a lover of dogs that nothing but the necessity of self-defense would ever make me lift a hand against one, yet, all the time he spoke, his eyes twinkled more merrily than ever, and I wondered at the man whose manner could change so quickly from the grand seigneur's to that of a king's jester, and I puzzled my brains mightily to know what his connection with the dog could be.
I PROPOSE A TOAST
"The rose that all are praising."
"And this is the village of St. Louis, sir?"
My discomfiture, my mortification, my rage, the vision of dainty beauty, the strange little savant—every remembrance of my brief visit to Cahokia had been swept away by the rushing waters of the great river of which I had read and heard so much.
My brain was teeming with tales of the Spanish adventurer De Soto; of the French trader Joliet; of the devoted and saintly Jesuit, beloved of the Indians, Pere Marquette; and of the bold Norman La Salle, who hated and feared all Jesuits. I saw the river through a veil of romance that gilded its turbid waters, but it was something far other than its romantic past that set my pulses to beating, and the blood rushing through my veins so that I hardly heard my captain's answer, and hardly knew what I replied to him.
Through the months of my sojourn in Kentucky there had been one all-absorbing theme—the closing of the Mississippi to American boats by the Spanish, and their refusal to grant us a right of deposit on the Isle of New Orleans. Feeling had run so high that there were muttered threats against the government at Washington.
There were two factions, each acting secretly and each numbering thousands. One was for setting off at once down the river to capture New Orleans and take exclusive possession of both sides of the river; and if the government at Washington would not help them, or, still worse, forbade them the emprise, they would set up an independent government of the West. The other faction, inspired by secret agents of the Spanish government, was for floating the Spanish flag and proclaiming themselves subjects of Charles of Aragon. Spain's secret emissaries were eloquent of the neglect of the home government in the East, and its powerlessness to help the Westerners if it would, and it was said they clenched their arguments with chink of Spanish gold. Treason and patriotism, a wild indignation at wrongs unredressed, and a wilder enthusiasm for conquest sent the blood of Kentucky to fever-heat. Passions were inflamed until it needed but a spark from a tinder to set them ablaze.
With me, friend and distant kinsman of the Clarkes, there was no possibility of being touched by the taint of treason. But while it would be treason of the blackest dye, and most abhorrent to my soul, to submit to Spain's rule, to my young blood there could be no treason in compelling Spain at the point of the sword to submit to our demands. I was all for war, and when the cooler judgment of General Clarke and his brother, my captain, prevailed to calm for a time the wild tumult of war, I was bitterly disappointed.
Now for the first time I was beholding the river that had aroused the mighty tempest in Kentucky, and it was not the tales of De Soto and La Salle, of Joliet and Pere Marquette, that sent the blood rushing through my veins, but the thought that this was the mighty river forbidden to our commerce, that the swirling brown water at my feet was rushing down to the Spanish city on the Gulf, and I longed to be one of an army rushing with it to secure our natural and inalienable rights by conquest.
I knew that Captain Clarke was visiting St. Louis to make some arrangements for his brother's debts—debts incurred principally to Mr. Gratiot and Mr. Vigo for no benefit to himself, but in rescuing and protecting the people of Illinois from the Indians and the British; debts belonging of right to the government, but repudiated by it, and left to be borne by the noble man who, almost alone, by a heroism and genius for war unparalleled had saved all that Western country to the Union.
I knew this was my captain's errand, yet I hoped there might be some touching on the question of the river navigation with the Spanish governor of St. Louis, and I had visions of returning to Kentucky and, amid the acclaims of our fellow-citizens, announcing that Captain Clarke, assisted by his young kinsman, had succeeded in convincing the Spanish governor Delassus of the wrongs inflicted upon American commerce by the unjust interdiction; that Delassus had thereupon remonstrated with the intendant at New Orleans, and, as a result, the river was thrown open to the Gulf, and a port of deposit granted on the Isle of New Orleans where our merchants might store the goods they brought down the river for sale.
It was because my brain was teeming with such sweet dreams of glory that I answered my captain so absent-mindedly and so little to the point. It was still so early that the low morning sun at our backs had just begun to gild the bluffs before us. We could not have had a finer first view of the Spanish town of which we had heard so much. High and dry on its limestone bluffs, where no floods for which the great river is so famous could ever reach it, it extended in a straggling line for a mile and a half. Its dwellings, some of them of imposing size, were embowered in trees, and, at that distance, seemed to stand in the midst of large gardens. Behind the village rose another hill, on the summit of which stood a fort, and from the fort, in either direction, palisades curved around the town, interrupted at intervals by demilunes, and terminating at the bluffs in stone towers. Behind this second terrace the land continued to rise in a succession of terraces, covered partly with low bushes and shrubs and partly with high, waving woods, giving an impression of indescribable richness to the landscape, every detail of which the level rays of the bright morning sun brought out in strong relief. The whole made a most impressive appearance, more like the picture of walled towns on the Rhine than like anything I had seen in our country.
We were now so far out in the stream that the men could no longer use their poles, and were trusting to the great sail they had spread to catch a stiff south-eastern breeze, assisted by vigorous strokes of their paddles, and I could see that against the swift current they were straining every nerve and yet were steadily being borne below the village and the landing-place.
Paddling on the Schuylkill and the Delaware was ever a favorite pastime with me, and I doubt not I was a little proud of my skill. Forgetting my recent illness and the weak state it had left me in, I seized the paddle from a young fellow who seemed to me well-nigh giving over, and unceremoniously tumbled him out of his seat into the bottom of the boat, while I took his place. To my astonishment, I found this was an entirely different stream from the steadily flowing rivers of the East. My paddle was like to be snatched from my hand at the first dip into the powerful current, and though I saved it by a mad and desperate clutch, yet it felt like a feather in my hands, and I saw my captain (who had witnessed my peremptory usurpation of the paddle) trying to suppress a sly smile, while my mortified ears caught the sound of derisive snickers behind me, and Yorke, the impudent black, grinned openly from ear to ear.
The worst of it was, I myself could see we were losing ground more rapidly than before. Now, I had ever a horror of owning myself beaten (unless it were in argument, for I have no skill with words). I would fight to the last gasp, but I would never surrender, which is sometimes a foolish way, but more often wins victory out of defeat. With my captain looking on, I felt that defeat even in so small a matter would be a disgrace I could never survive. And so, admonishing myself to keep cool, and remembering a turn of the wrist that an old Indian had taught me in Pennsylvania, I very soon caught the trick of the blade and found myself holding my own. Hope returned, and I gradually put forth more and more strength, until, to my great satisfaction, I at last saw that we were no longer drifting down-stream, but steadily making head against the current, with fair promise of reaching our landing-place. Then, indeed, did I feel exultant, and such courage leaped through my veins, and so swift and sure and strong were my strokes, that I felt I could alone, with my single arm, bring the great boat to harbor. But for the second time that morning was my vanity my undoing. We did indeed make the landing, where a great concourse of people had gathered to meet us, among them a stately Spanish don (who, I had no doubt, was the governor) surrounded by a retinue of officers; but as the keel of our boat grounded in the soft mud and my captain called me to come with him to meet the governor, and I arose in my place to obey him, suddenly a great blackness and dizziness seized me, and I knew no more until I opened my eyes to find myself being borne, on the shoulders of four men, up the steep bluff toward the village street. I insisted in the most forcible terms on being put upon my feet at once, but as I spoke in English, and the soldiers were either Spanish or creole French, my entreaties and imprecations were lost upon them. Nor did my kicking and pushing avail me any better; they but held me the more firmly for my struggles. Then I called out lustily for help, and the ever-ready Yorke (but with the grin that I had learned at times to consider detestable) ran to my aid.
"Yorke!" I shouted to him; "make the rascals put me down this minute, and do you, sir, shut that domtiferous mouth of yours. I warn you, sir, you grin at your peril!"
My mother had ever a horror of the oaths with which gentlemen lard their conversation, and because I loved and honored her greatly, I had resolved that I would never, to use her words, "sully my mouth" with one. But often feeling the need of some more emphatic expressions than our language provides except in the form of oaths, I had coined for myself a small vocabulary to be used on occasions requiring great emphasis. Since these words all began with a d, I had the satisfaction of feeling that I was sufficiently emphatic without violating the respect due my mother.
Whether it was the strangeness of the form of my imprecations or the length of my adjective that scared Yorke, certain it is that he was sobered at once, and with the solemnity of the Spanish don himself he soon made the soldiers understand that they must put me down. Once on my own feet, though I still felt a little shaky, I was able, by availing myself of Yorke's arm, to climb the steep path leading up the bluff, and soon found myself in the main street of the village, which the habitans called the Rue Royale.
We had come out into a large square or marketplace, filled with the throng of people I had seen at the landing and many more, so that, as the people surged backward and forward to get a nearer view, the whole open space looked like a great posy-bed of many-hued flowers waving in a summer breeze. And if St. Louis had had a foreign look to me when viewed from a distance, still more did I feel as if I were in a strange town in a strange land as I heard the babble of strange tongues about me and saw the picturesque costumes of the habitans, so unlike anything I had ever seen in Philadelphia or Kentucky. Negroes were chattering their queer creole patois, and Indians of many nations were gathered into groups, some of them bedizened with the cheap finery of the stores, some of them wearing only bright-hued blankets, but with wonderful head-dresses of eagle feathers, and all of them looking gravely on with a curiosity as silent as that of the habitans was noisy and babbling. The presence of so many Indians and on such friendly terms struck me as strange, for in Kentucky there were no such friendly relations between Indians and whites, and the presence of so many of them would have betokened danger and caused much uneasiness.
It thrilled me much that our coming should have made so great excitement in the village, and doubtless my vanity would have taken fire again if I had not known that it was my captain these people had come to see, and not myself, of whom they had never heard. Even my captain I knew must shine in a reflected glory, as the brother of General George Rogers Clarke, whom the people of St. Louis worshiped as their savior in the affair of 1780, when the Osages surprised the men at work in the fields, and whom all the Indians of Illinois regarded with fear and reverence as the great "Captain of the Long Knives." Yet I could see that many of their curious glances fell on me also, and I let go of Yorke's arm and walked steadily with my head in the air, as befitted the friend of Captain Clarke.
We had stopped in front of a large stone building set inside a walled inclosure. My captain, who was in advance with the governor and his party, as he entered the inclosure turned and beckoned to Yorke and me to follow him. The throng parted to let us through, and as we entered the gates I saw that the governor had stopped on the wide gallery that ran round the four sides of the building, and with a stately flourish was bidding my captain welcome to Government House.
With Yorke close at my footsteps, I followed the governor's party through a wide door into a great room that extended through the house (as I could see by the open doors and windows at the rear), and that was almost as wide as it was long, with doors opening into rooms on both sides. Here I was presented to Governor Delassus, who received me cordially, and who, with his dark eyes and punctilious manners, was my idea of a Spanish don.
On either side of him stood two men who also greeted me cordially, but without the punctiliousness of the Spaniard. They were the two Chouteaus, Auguste and Jean Pierre. I had heard much of them, both in Philadelphia and in Kentucky, and I found it difficult to conceal the curiosity with which I regarded them. I had expected to find two rough frontiersmen, somewhat after the manner of Daniel Boone or Simon Kenyon, both of whom I had seen at General Clarke's; but they were very far from that. Auguste, the elder, and who, almost more than his step-father, Laclede, was the founder of St. Louis, was the graver of the two, with keen, shrewd eyes that betokened the successful man of business. Pierre (as everybody called the younger) looked not at all like his brother: taller and slenderer of build, his flashing dark eyes and gay manners must have been inherited from his father, Laclede, for Madame Chouteau (whom I came to know very well later) was even graver and sterner in manner than her eldest son, Auguste.
But interested as I was in meeting these men,—and there were many others of whom I had heard, Manuel Lisa, Gabriel Cerre, Francis Vigo, and Josef Marie Papin,—I could not resist casting many a furtive glance toward a table set in the rear of the great room. My bowl of gruel in the early morning had satisfied me at the time, but I was still weak from illness and much fasting, and my hard pull at the paddles had left me famished indeed. It was now, I was quite sure by the sun and the shadows, nearly eleven o'clock, and I began to feel the dizziness once more, and to be seized with a terrible fear that I should again be overcome. It was with a great joy, therefore, that I began to observe black servants bringing in smoking viands and arranging them upon the table, and no words ever sounded more pleasant in my ears than the governor's invitation to breakfast.
As we were about to sit down, my captain on the governor's right, and I very kindly placed on his left, with Mr. Pierre Chouteau beside me, there was a noise at the door, and Mr. Gratiot and Dr. Saugrain entered. They were welcomed in such fashion it was easy to see they were both prime favorites in that society. In response to my captain's inquiries, they said they had left Cahokia very shortly after us, bringing the young ladies over in two small boats, and the boats being light and easily handled, they had nearly overtaken us.
At the mention of the young ladies I felt myself flush painfully, and I almost thought the little doctor regarded me with a wicked twinkle in his eyes. But I was not sure, and I resolutely put the thought of them out of my mind, while I devoted myself to the more serious matters of the table.
And, indeed, seldom has it been my lot to sit down to a more delicious meal. It was my first taste of French cookery, and I proved then, what I had often heard, that the French have a talent for savors and seasonings, and for dainty service, denied to us Anglo-Saxons. It may be, also, that my long fasting (for my light breakfast had hardly broken my fast) added a sauce to the viands more potent than any Frenchman's skill, for my appetite had come back with a rush, and for the first time in many days I ate like a well man, and a very hungry one. So well, forsooth, did I ply my knife and fork that Pierre Chouteau could not forbear congratulating me, in his polished French manner, on my prowess as a trencherman; at which I had the grace to blush.
And now, having taken the edge off my hunger, I had leisure to enjoy the swift exchange of wit and repartee flashing back and forth across the table in mixed English, French, and Spanish. There had been many toasts, most courteously worded and delicately drunk, for I noticed these Frenchmen were not deep drinkers, and did not feel it necessary to drain their glasses at every toast, as is the manner in Kentucky. My captain's health had been drunk and he had responded with the governor's (nor did our polite hosts forget to honor me), and the gaiety began to grow somewhat noisy, when a youngster, who had, no doubt, been drinking a little more than was good for him, sprang to his feet. Waving his goblet toward Yorke (who stood behind Captain Clarke's chair grinning delightedly at every flash of wit, whether he understood it or not), he called out:
"I drink to the health of Monsieur Yorke, gentlemen, tallest and most smiling of sable Mercurys. May his inches never be fewer nor his smiles grow less."
I saw my captain frown, and Yorke, who did not understand one word that was said, since it was all in French, easily understood the gesture toward him, and the hesitating glances in his direction, and the half-lifted glasses as their owners were in doubt whether the toast was to be taken in jest or earnest. His eyes rolled in terror from the proposer of the toast to Captain Clarke, and back again. I knew my captain would never brook the indignity of having his health drunk at the same table and by the same people who afterward drank his slave's, and fearing an awkward contretemps, I sprang to my feet to avert it. I lifted my glass high as I cried:
"Listen to me, messieurs! Is there no fair lady to whose honor your young men would drink? For never could we drink to the ladies after drinking to a negro and a slave. I give you, messieurs, the fairest lady in St. Louis!"
As I said it, for one fleeting moment I had a vision of a round white arm bare to the shoulder, a slender hand grasping a tawny mane, and black eyes flashing with scorn. Perhaps it was due to that vision that my voice had a ring in it that brought every man to his feet, and as glasses clinked, each man drank to the lady of his love with a rousing cheer.
As we brought our glasses to the table, rims down, the young man who had proposed Yorke's health said, with a bow of apology to me:
"I accept my rebuke, and if the gentleman permit I would like to repeat his toast: To the fairest lady in St. Louis—Dr. Saugrain's ward!"
"Fill up your glasses, gentlemen, drain them to the lees, and throw them over your shoulders; 'tis a worthy toast," cried the governor; and, filling his to the brim, and draining it at one draught, he flung it over his shoulder—an example which the others, benedict and bachelor, followed with ardor. In the midst of the crashing of glass, I thought I caught Dr. Saugrain's and Mr. Gratiot's eyes fixed curiously on me. I turned to Mr. Pierre Chouteau:
"Dr. Saugrain's ward must be fair indeed, to rouse such enthusiasm," I said.
"Vraiment," returned Pierre, "she is the Rose of St. Louis. But you dine with Dr. Saugrain to-day: you will see, and then you will know. Young Josef Papin yonder, who proposed the toast, is wild about her. And so are half the young men of the village."
"Vraiment," I murmured to myself, "if she is fairer than the scornful Mademoiselle Pelagie, she is fair indeed!"
And yet I found myself looking forward to Dr. Saugrain's dinner with suppressed excitement, while I puzzled my brains to interpret his and Mr. Gratiot's enigmatical glances in my direction.
I MEET AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE
"I am his Highness's dog at Kew; Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?"
"Allons!" said Mr. Pierre Chouteau, "I will show you the village. There are yet two hours before Dr. Saugrain's dinner-hour arrives."
We were standing on the wide gallery of Government House, looking up the Rue de la Tour to the "Fort on the Hill" with its massive round towers of stone and high stockade. We had made our adieus to Governor Delassus, and we were quite ready to accept Mr. Chouteau's invitation. Mr. Gratiot and Mr. Auguste Chouteau excused themselves from accompanying us on the ground of pressing business, but Mr. Auguste Chouteau said he hoped soon to see us at his own house, and Mr. Gratiot promised to meet us at dinner at Dr. Saugrain's.
So it was only four of us who set out (or five, if you count the black as one), Mr. Chouteau and my captain leading, Dr. Saugrain and I following, with Yorke trailing in the rear; for Captain Clarke did not dare leave that ingenious black to his own devices, being well assured that it would certainly result in disaster to himself or to some of the habitans.
Diagonally across the street, at the corner of the Rue de la Tour and the Rue Royale, was a large garden, shut in by solid stone walls higher than a man's head. Over the top of the walls fell branches of fruit-trees, and grape-vines still with a few clusters of late grapes hanging from them. Beyond were the tops of lofty shade-trees, and between the branches, where the foliage was rapidly thinning, we could catch glimpses of the stone chimneys and dormer-windows of a great house.
We turned into the Rue Royale and walked by the stone wall stretching north a long distance. The morning had been frosty, but the noon sun was hot, and we were glad to shelter ourselves under the overhanging boughs. It was Auguste Chouteau's place, but Pierre said he would let his brother have the pleasure of showing it to us; and we were about to pass the wide entrance-gate half-way down the long wall when we were stopped by a strange procession. Out of the gate filed slowly, solemnly, one at a time, a long line of fantastically dressed Indians. The two in front were attired alike in shabby old United States uniforms, with gold epaulets much tarnished and worn, dilapidated gold lace on collars and sleeves, and wearing on their heads military hats with long draggled plumes. From thigh to the low moccasins their legs were entirely unclothed, and a more ludicrous combination than the civilized coats and the bare brown legs I had never seen. The two in military coats were evidently chiefs, and were followed by a long line of braves sweltering under heavy Mackinac blankets, each armed with a scarlet umbrella in one hand and a palm-leaf fan in the other, to protect them from the sun. Apparently they did not glance in our direction, but each one as he passed Mr. Chouteau saluted him with a guttural "Ugh!" to which Mr. Chouteau responded in the most military fashion.
"They are on their way to my place, and we will let them get well ahead of us," Mr. Chouteau said, as the last brave passed us. "It would hardly be dignified to be trailing in their rear; we will step into my brother's garden for a moment and give them time to get out of our way."
The massive gates, which, I saw, could be heavily bolted and barred, stood open, and we passed through into a park-like inclosure, beautifully laid out and kept in perfect order, with velvet turf and noble forest trees, and, in one part, a garden of vegetables and flowers. Set in the midst was a noble stone mansion some sixty feet in front, with wide galleries shaded by a projection of sloping roof, which was pierced by dormer-windows. Several smaller stone buildings were grouped around it, and from one to the other negroes were passing on various errands, giving a cheerful impression of industry and prosperity. I caught the flutter of a white dress disappearing through a wide door opening from the gallery into the house, and I would have liked to get a nearer view of the mansion and its inmates. But an exclamation from Mr. Chouteau put all thoughts of petticoats out of my mind.
"Diable!" he ejaculated, "'tis Black Hawk himself. Now what is the meaning of this, think you?"
I followed his glance, and saw coming from one of the outbuildings the noblest specimen of a savage I had ever beheld. Unlike the others, he was decked in no worn-out finery of the white man, bestowed upon him in exchange for valuable furs, but in the fitting costume of a great chief, his head-dress of eagle feathers falling back from the top of his head almost to his high beaded moccasins. He was far above the usual stature of Indians, and what increased his appearance of height was the lofty brow and noble dome, beneath which two piercing eyes and strong aquiline nose gave additional character to a most striking face.
I thought both Mr. Chouteau and Dr. Saugrain looked a little troubled for a moment, but as the savage stalked majestically toward us, Pierre advanced to meet him, and with a courteous but commanding wave of his hand stopped him.
"What has brought my brother from his island on the bosom of the Great Father of Waters?" he asked, after both had exchanged formal greetings.
Black Hawk turned his piercing eyes upon my captain. "It was whispered among my braves," he said, "that the great Captain of the Long Knives had sent his brother to St. Louis. I bring him a greeting from my people."
Most men would have been abashed by the ceremonial tone and gestures with which Black Hawk accompanied his speech, but if my captain felt any embarrassment he did not show it. With as ceremonious a manner as the chief's, he replied at once:
"The great chief of the Sacs has honored my brother and myself. I will bear your greeting to the Captain of the Long Knives, and it will fill his heart with happiness to know his red brother has not forgotten him."
Black Hawk only grunted approval, but I think he was pleased, for he turned to Mr. Chouteau with a more condescending manner:
"I will go with my brother to his wigwam. I will eat with him and sleep with him."
There was nothing for Mr. Chouteau to do but acquiesce, though when his back was turned on Black Hawk he made a queer grimace and said rapidly, in English, which probably Black Hawk did not understand:
"There will be trouble, my friends; my yard is full of Mandans, Arickarees, and Osages. They love not the Sacs, and Black Hawk is a turbulent fellow if any misunderstanding should arise. You see," he said to Captain Clarke, lapsing again into French, "these fellows have usually started back up the Missouri long before this time, but they have all waited this year to see the brother of the great Captain of the Long Knives. They planned their exit from Auguste's yard at the exact moment to get a good look at you."
My captain laughed his hearty laugh.
"And then they glanced not in my direction even, after all."
"Do not deceive yourself, mon capitaine; they looked you over thoroughly. Not one of them but would know you again among a thousand. But they timed their exit also with the hope of making an impression on you, and to that end, as you saw, had donned their finest toggery."
We had left Auguste Chouteau's yard and were going north again along the stone wall, Black Hawk stalking majestically beside Captain Clarke, upon whom he from time to time looked down and bestowed a grunt of approval. Across the street from us now was an open square (La Place Publique, Mr. Chouteau called it), and drawn up around it were many queer little French charrettes, loaded with cord-wood and drawn by small mustangs. The owners of the charrettes were most of them taking a noonday nap under the shade of the trees in La Place, and their mustangs were nodding drowsily in their shafts in sympathy with their owners. This was the same open place we had first come upon after climbing the bluff, and now, as we came to the corner of La Place, and the street leading down to the river (Mr. Chouteau said the street was called La Rue Bonhomme), I looked down the steep road and saw at the foot of it the landing-place, and our boats tied to great posts, with some of our men in charge.
I could distinguish on the great flatboat that had followed us, carrying our provisions and our horses, my own mare, Fatima, with her proudly arched neck. Before I had time to think of my manners I had put my fingers to my lips and uttered through them the shrill whistle with which I had used to call her. Instantly her head was flung swiftly up, and I saw her start as if to come to me, while up the bluff was borne her shrill whinnies, high above the shouts of the men, who had as much as they could do to keep her from breaking halter in her mad plunge for liberty to answer the call she had never disobeyed.
I was ashamed of my boyish trick, and apologized at once to the two gentlemen and to my captain. But Dr. Saugrain said it was a fortunate reminder: if we cared to send for our horses they could meet us at Mr. Chouteau's, for it would be a long and hot walk from there to his house at the extreme southern end of the village. So Yorke was despatched for the two horses, and right glad was I at the thought of being on Fatima's back once more, for it was a full two weeks since I had mounted her.
We were on the next block now, skirting another stone wall with overhanging boughs. Mr. Chouteau said it was his mother's place, and he would have to insist upon our stopping to pay our respects to her.
"You know," he said, "madame ma mere is a sort of mother to the village, and she would feel herself deeply aggrieved should such distinguished guests pass her by."
We entered another inclosure beautifully embowered in trees, and found a long, low building, not of stone, like her son's house, but built, in the French fashion, of upright logs. On the wide gallery sat Madame Chouteau herself, dressed in the style of the habitans who had filled the streets on our arrival, but in richer materials. Her petticoat was of black satin, and her short gown, or jacket, was of purple velvet with wide lace in sleeves and at the neck, and gorgeously beaded moccasins on her feet. But it was her head-dress which struck me as the most remarkable part of her costume, and Pierre Chouteau whispered to us, with a droll grimace:
"Regardez the head-dress of madame; she expects us, is it not? She is en fete."
It seemed to be a handkerchief of some thin material, purple in color, and worn like a turban, but entwined with ribbons and flowers until it became a gorgeous coronet, and added indescribably to the majesty of her presence. Already over seventy, with white hair, she was yet as erect as a girl, and her eye was as keen as an eagle's. Even my captain was abashed before its glances, which seemed to be taking a complete inventory of his physical, mental, and moral qualities. It was a bad quarter of an hour for me (whom she hardly deigned to notice), in spite of the good ratafia and delicious croquecignolles a small black boy brought out on a tray and placed on a stand at her side, and which she served to us with stately courtesy.
As for Black Hawk, it was more than he could stand when her severely questioning glance fell upon him. Without losing an ace of his dignified solemnity of demeanor, he turned his back abruptly on the old lady, and stalked slowly and majestically down the path and out the gate. We hoped we had rid ourselves of him, but we found him waiting for us when we had made our formal adieus to madame. Just before we reached Pierre Chouteau's house he dropped back and walked beside Dr. Saugrain and myself. I thought he wished to pay me some of the respect he had been showing my captain, and I felt flattered accordingly. But I was mistaken; he had something to say to Dr. Saugrain. With many premonitory grunts he said it finally, and it had a startling effect upon the little doctor.
"Let great medicine-man watch," said Black Hawk, solemnly; "White Wolf will steal Little Black Eyes. Black Hawk has many ears and many eyes; he has seen White Wolf talking to Red Dog, and he has heard their whispers."
Such was the doctor's agitation that, although we were just entering Mr. Chouteau's great yard (so filled with all manner of buildings, warehouses, shops, and cabins for negroes and Indians that it seemed like a separate village of itself), he called to my captain and Mr. Chouteau and begged them to excuse him. He felt that he must return home at once and assure himself of the safety of his ward, he said, though we need not cut short our visit to Mr. Chouteau, but come to him later, in time for dinner. But Yorke coming up at that moment with our horses, and riding his own, Captain Clarke bade him dismount and give his horse to Dr. Saugrain, and insisted upon accompanying him home. Mr. Chouteau readily excused us, only courteously making a condition that the visit cut short now should be renewed at our earliest convenience.
As for me, I was a little sorry not to see more of Mr. Chouteau's place, for everywhere there were throngs of Indians in picturesque costume, and on the gallery of the great house a bevy of young maidens evidently awaiting our approach. But Fatima was calling me frantically with her delighted neighs, and the moment I was on her back, and felt her silken muscles stretch and tighten rhythmically beneath me, I cared no more for Mr. Chouteau's interesting place with its Indians and young maidens, and only longed for a right to leave my companions and have one good dash with Fatima across country, over fences and ditches. I would not have been afraid, in my present mood, to have put her at the high stone walls with which every one in St. Louis seemed to fence in his place, and so wild with delight was Fatima at meeting her master once more I think she would have taken them like a bird.
But the doctor was more impatient than I, and first taking Black Hawk aside for a minute's low-toned consultation, he made his hasty adieus to our host, and bidding us follow him, he was off. Turning off the Rue Royale into the Rue Bonhomme, he went up the hill a long block to the Rue de l'Eglise, and then, turning to the left, he called back to us:
"'Tis a straight road from here on, messieurs; shall we race for it? It may mean more than life to a fair lady."
For answer I laid the reins on Fatima's glossy neck and whispered to her:
"Get up, Sweetheart!"
In a flash she had passed the two other horses and her dainty hoofs were flinging the soft dirt of the road in their faces. It was more a country lane than a village street, with scattered houses tree-embowered, and just back of Auguste Chouteau's place, which I recognized from the rear, was a church, and behind it the crosses of many graves, and beside it a priest's house with two black-robed priests taking a noonday siesta in comfortable chairs on the shady, vine-covered gallery. They awoke with a start as Fatima thundered by, and the two other horses, now well in the rear, pounded after, and I doubt not they thought it was the beginning of another 1780 affair, so frightened did they look.
It did not take Fatima long to cover that mile and a half, and when I saw that we were approaching the stockade at the end of the road, with only one house between (which, like the Chouteaus', was set in a great yard inclosed with high stone walls), I drew rein under a wide-spreading oak and waited for the others. And as I waited I began once more to wonder what kind of creature Dr. Saugrain's ward could be: the acknowledged belle of St. Louis and now in some extreme danger from a white villain and a rascally Indian, for so I had easily understood Black Hawk's figurative language—the White Wolf and the Red Dog.
I could hear the soft thrumming of a guitar, and a low voice crooning songs, of which I could now and then catch a word of the creole French. I did not doubt it was the doctor's ward who thus beguiled the hours with melody, and I grew vastly impatient to meet the loveliest lady in St. Louis and the sweetest of singers, if I could judge from the snatches of song that floated to my ears.
In a minute more the doctor himself rode up, shouting lustily before he reached the gate, "Narcisse, Narcisse!" which put a sudden end to the music. As a black boy ran out in answer to his call, the doctor sprang as nimbly from his horse as I myself could have done, and flung the boy his reins with a sharp command to take care of the horses. He started swiftly for the house, but stopped suddenly and turned to Narcisse.
"Where are your mistress and mademoiselle?" he asked, in a tone so sharp and excited the boy was frightened and stammered as he answered:
"In the house, sir."
"You are sure?"
"Yes, sir; 'fore God, sir, they're in the living-room this minute."
"Thank God!" ejaculated the doctor, and then I saw, to my astonishment, that he was all white and trembling. He recovered himself in a moment and turned to us with the suavity of a genial host:
"Gentlemen, I fear that rascal Black Hawk has played us a scurvy trick; very likely for reasons of his own he wanted to get rid of me. He has given me a bad quarter of an hour, but otherwise he has only given me the pleasure of welcoming you a little earlier to Emigre's Retreat. Let us go find the ladies."
Before we had time to reply, round the corner of the house sauntered slowly a huge mastiff, and as I caught a glimpse of him my heart sank into my boots, and there seemed to rise into my throat a tumultuous beating that was nigh to choking me: not from fear of the dog, though the moment he caught sight of me he stopped, every muscle tense, the hair on his mane erect, his eyes red, glowing, vicious, while he uttered one deep angry growl after another.
It was not fear of the brute that set my pulses throbbing painfully: it was the truth that flashed upon me for the first time—Dr. Saugrain's ward was Mademoiselle Pelagie! At that moment through the open door came a clear whistle and the sweetest voice I had ever heard, calling in ringing tones of command:
"A moi, Leon!"
I MAKE AN ENGAGEMENT
"A rosebud set with little wilful thorns"
It was too late to beat a retreat. I caught once more a merry twinkle in the little doctor's eyes as we followed the dog, who, obedient to his mistress's voice, had rushed before us into the house. I felt the red blood surging to the roots of my hair, and I knew when I stopped on the threshold beside my captain to make my grand bow that I looked more like an awkward country lout than the fine gentleman I was in the habit of considering myself.
I hardly dared raise my eyes, and yet I saw very distinctly that if Mademoiselle Pelagie in ball costume was bewitching, Mademoiselle Pelagie in simple morning dress was an angel. The room was a long, low one, cool and shady from the sheltering galleries outside, and with many windows, all open to catch the southern breezes that kept the dimity curtains bellying like white sails. On a low seat beside one of the open windows, looking out into cool depths of dusky green, sat Mademoiselle Pelagie. Her white dress, short of skirt and reaching hardly to the daintiest of ankles, was just low enough in the neck to show the round, white throat, and just short enough in the sleeve to leave uncovered below the elbow the beautifully molded arm. Across her shoulders was a broad blue ribbon that held the guitar to whose soft thrumming I had been listening, and one restraining hand was laid on Leon's head, who sat beside her, erect on his haunches, regarding me with angry suspicion.
She rose as we entered, and still holding her guitar with one arm, while the other hand lifted her skirt daintily, she made us the deepest and most graceful of curtsies. Then she lifted her dark eyes shyly to Captain Clarke and with a ravishing smile bade him welcome in broken English. To me she vouchsafed not even a glance. I stood by stiff as any martinet while she made soft speeches to the captain in her adorable baby-English, and the captain responded in his most gallant fashion.
I grew more rigid and more gauche every minute, and I know not what would have become of me if the doctor, who had left the room to look for his wife, had not come to my relief. He came in, bringing Madame Saugrain with him, and a sweet and simple little old lady she proved to be. Her cap was almost as flowery as Madame Chouteau's, but she was as warm and cordial in her manner as the other was stern and forbidding. She greeted my captain first, of course, but she was as cordial to me as to him, and in her motherly way she called me "My son," which, after my icy reception from another lady, went straight to my heart. I was grateful to her in spite of the fear I felt that it was my very youthful appearance had called forth the endearing term.
We were all comfortably seated, Captain Clarke chatting gaily with Mademoiselle Pelagie, I pointedly addressing all my conversation to Dr. Saugrain and madame, when Narcisse came in with a tray of cooling drinks—a mild and pleasant beverage made of raspberry conserves and lime-juice mixed with some spirits and plenty of cold spring water. I liked it well, and would have taken another glass, for I was thirsty and our ride had been a warm one, and Madame Saugrain urged it upon me, but as I was about to take it I heard a saucy voice saying:
"'Tis no wonder that you empty not your glass, Captain Clarke; 'tis a drink much more suited to maidens and to young boys than to men."
My glass was half extended, but I drew it back hastily, and then was angry with myself, for I heard a mocking laugh that I was sure was intended for me, and for the life of me I could not refrain from glancing quickly in mademoiselle's direction. Her eyes met mine with more of scorn in their dark depths than I could well stand. I gazed steadily into them for as much as half a second with all the defiance in my glance I knew how to convey, and then I turned again to Madame Saugrain:
"If you will permit me to change my mind, madame," I said, "I would like another glass of your delicious beverage."
And then, lifting it to my lips, I added:
"I drink to the ladies: they add fragrance and beauty to our lives, like the red berries; comfort and strength, like this good ratafia; sweetness, like the sugar; and if sometimes they also add bitterness and acid, like the limes, it is doubtless for our good."
The gentlemen both touched glasses with me as they drank to my toast, the little doctor preternaturally solemn, and my captain almost as grave, but for a wicked twinkle in his eye. I knew they thought my toast a boyish one, and doubtless understood its inspiration, while they struggled to preserve their gravity out of courtesy to me. Whether mademoiselle's eyes were more mocking than ever I did not know, for I looked not in her direction. But madame glowed with genuine pleasure and declared 'twas a pretty toast, and she thanked me for her share in it. Whereupon mademoiselle said in the gravest voice:
"I also, monsieur, thank you for my share in it, for I suppose the lime-juice is mine," and, to my amazement, when, as in duty bound, I glanced at her, since she spoke directly to me, I saw that her eyes were downcast, and the richest color had flamed into the warm white of her cheeks.
I know not what I might have said or done, so repentant was I at once for having caused her annoyance, had not a short, sharp exclamation from Dr. Saugrain startled us all:
"'Tis that skulking Osage again. What does he here, Narcisse?"
"He bring note, m'seh, for La Petite," answered Narcisse, rolling his eyes at the unwonted sharpness in his master's tones.
Dr. Saugrain turned at once to mademoiselle.
"Pelagie," he said, "what does this mean? Who is sending you notes by Red Jean?"
Mademoiselle looked up half defiantly, half inclined not to reply to such peremptory questioning in the presence of strangers. But on second thought she answered quite submissively:
"It was the young Chevalier Le Moyne who is staying at Gabriel Cerre's."
"Now, I like not that," said the doctor, hastily; and then bethinking himself, he ordered Narcisse to take away the empty glasses and keep an eye on Red Jean.
"Don't let him get out of your sight as long as he stays about the place; he will be stealing the horses if you don't watch him."
The moment Narcisse had left the room the doctor repeated:
"I like not that; I begin to think Black Hawk may have had good reason to warn us against the White Wolf and the Red Dog."
Then, turning to mademoiselle, he added more gently:
"I like not to inquire into mademoiselle's little affairs, but this is of the gravest importance. Will you tell us the contents of that note, ma chere?"
Mademoiselle hesitated, and glanced almost unconsciously at the captain and at me. We both sprang to our feet at the same moment, and the captain spoke:
"The lad and I will step out on the gallery, where, if you permit, we will light our pipes."
But with a quick gesture of dissent, mademoiselle also sprang to her feet.
"No, no! mon capitaine, no, no! Meestaire, it is not'ing, not'ing. I will say all before you. 'Tis only that the chevalier asks may he escort me to the peek-neek on Chouteau's Pond."
"Sit down, gentlemen, if you please," said the doctor; "I think it wise for us to hold a council of war. I shall need your advice much, possibly your help. First, I want to say that some weeks ago I received letters from France warning me of a plot to capture Mademoiselle Pelagie and carry her back to France. A week ago this mysterious stranger arrived in St. Louis. Gabriel Cerre picked him up in Ste. Genevieve and brought him home with him, and that is about all any one knows of him, except that he claims to be of an old French family, who has saved enough from the wreck to permit him to travel and see the world. When he has finished this trip he declares he will return and settle on his estates on the Loire which he says have been returned to him by Bonaparte. Whether Black Hawk meant him when he bade me beware of the White Wolf I know not. I could get very little information when I spoke to him before leaving Pierre Chouteau's, and I am not sure he had any to give me, yet I think he knows something. I confess I have been suspicious of this fellow from the first, arriving, as he did, on the heels of my letter of warning. And now what think you 'tis best to do?"
I was eager enough to say what I thought best to do, but I knew my place better than to speak before my elders, and so I waited for my captain. Mademoiselle was not so modest, or perhaps she thought no one had a better right than herself to speak on a subject so nearly concerning her.
"I think, sir," she said, lapsing into her native tongue, "you wrong the Chevalier Le Moyne. I have seen much of him in the week of his stay at Gabriel Cerre's, and he has been invariably respectful and most gentleman-like in all his demeanor."
"'Tis the very fact of his seeing so much of you, my child, that first roused my suspicions. He is forever hanging round you at dance and dinner; not even Josef Papin gets much chance to come nigh you."
Mademoiselle flushed slightly at the mention of Josef Papin's name—a name I was beginning, for some reason, to dislike.
"I should think," she said demurely, "there might be other reasons for that than suspicious ones"; and then she laughed merrily when I murmured, "Vraiment!" and touched my heart with my handkerchief. I thought she was mocking me again.
"Mademoiselle is quite right," said Captain Clarke, gravely; "there are doubtless very natural reasons for the chevalier's devotion, yet I think it would be well, nevertheless, to act on Dr. Saugrain's suspicions. May I inquire whether mademoiselle has accepted the chevalier's offer of escort?"
We all listened eagerly for the answer.
"No," said mademoiselle; "I had just received the note when you arrived, and I would not answer it until I had consulted my guardian. He is very stern with me, messieurs," turning to us with a witching smile that I could see pleased the good doctor greatly.
"Then," continued the captain, "it would be a very easy matter, I suppose, to decline his escort."
But La Petite pouted.
"Not so easy, mon capitaine. I have no reason to offer, and it would shut me off from accepting a second invitation."
"I think," said Dr. Saugrain, "it would be better that you should not go to the picnic. Chouteau's Pond is beyond the stockade, and shut in by the woods; it would be an ideal spot for a surprise and a capture. There are always plenty of rascally Osages to be hired for a trifle to carry out any such villainy."
"Not go!" exclaimed mademoiselle, in dismay. "But it is given for me! It is my fete! Josef Papin planned it entirely for me, he said."
Mademoiselle was now growing rosy red, for, with a child's eagerness to carry her point at all hazards, she had said more than she meant to.
"Then why did not Josef offer himself as your escort?"
"He will, probably, later; but," and she tossed her head like the spoiled beauty she was, "it will serve him right, for being so slow, to find that I have accepted another. Besides which," and she shrugged her shoulders with all the airs of a Parisian dame, "you know your bourgeois etiquette. I cannot accept another: it would be a just cause for a duel au pistolets."
"C'est vrai," said the doctor, with an answering shrug, and looking woefully perplexed.
"Now, if you will permit me," suggested the captain, "since mademoiselle is so sure Mr. Papin will ask her later, why can she not plead to the chevalier a previous engagement?"
But not for a moment would mademoiselle listen to that.
"And be the laughing-stock of all St. Louis when it gets about, as it surely will. I refuse the chevalier because I prefer to wait for Monsieur Papin. Monsieur Papin hears of it and invites some one else to teach me not to be so sure, or," primly, "I have given him undue encouragement."
"Then," said the doctor, gravely, "I see nothing for it but that you stay away from the picnic and write the chevalier that you have decided not to go. Unless," he added hastily, seeing the gathering storm on Pelagie's brow, "unless—" and then he hesitated, much embarrassed. "Perhaps our young friend here would like to attend one of our rural picnics, and would be willing to look after you and give you the opportunity of writing to the chevalier that you have a previous engagement."
It was now my turn to blush. I had been ardently longing to offer my services, but not for a moment had I thought of daring. Now it was thrust upon me.
"If mademoiselle would be so good," I murmured, bowing low, "I am her obedient servant."
But mademoiselle was speechless. One moment she turned white, and the next she turned red, and then white again. When she found her voice she said, looking not at all at me, but straight at Dr. Saugrain:
"I will remain at home, monsieur. I care not to be a burden upon unwilling hands."
And then rising to her feet, with her head held high, her guitar on one arm, and the other hand still on the mastiff's head, she said:
"Allons, Leon!" and was sweeping proudly from the room.
I was in such consternation that probably I would have sat like any bumpkin and let her go, if not that, as she passed me, although her head was turned from me, it was not quite so much turned but that I caught a sudden quiver of the little chin, held proudly in air, and something bright glistening on the long, dark lashes. I sprang quickly before her. There was an angry growl from Leon, who no doubt thought I intended to serve his mistress the same trick I had served him, but I did not heed it.
"Mademoiselle!" I entreated, "I beg you will reconsider. Nothing could give me more pride and pleasure. Besides," adopting an argumentative tone, "you know it would be my only chance for attending the picnic, and I have a vast desire to engage in some of your St. Louis festivities, and to meet some of the young maidens I was deprived of meeting last night."
She was compelled to stop,—I barred her way; but for a few moments she showed no signs of relenting. She dashed away the shining drops from her lashes, and quieted Leon with a low "Taise-toi." But gradually I saw her face change, and then, still holding herself proudly, and with the air of a queen graciously condescending to bestow a favor upon a suppliant, but also with a smile of radiant sweetness, she spoke, and her voice was like the song of the thrush beside running waters:
"Very well, monsieur; if I am not to be considered as putting myself under obligations to a stranger, I will go and write the chevalier that I have a previous engagement."
I GO TO A PICNIC ON CHOUTEAU'S POND
"Many a youth and many a maid Dancing in the chequered shade."
The good doctor uttered a sigh of relief as mademoiselle left the room, followed by madame, who no doubt, in the goodness of her heart, went out to praise the young lady for having done as she ought, and to condole with her for being obliged to go to the picnic with a man she knew so slightly, and knew but to dislike.
The sigh was quickly followed by a frown.
"I wish that my ward had not so strong a will of her own. I scarce think it safe for her to go to Chouteau's Pond at all if, as I fear, her enemies are plotting to capture her."
"I will defend her with my life, sir," I hastened to aver, "since you are so good as to intrust her to me."
The doctor smiled at my boyish ardor, but said kindly:
"I would trust her with you sooner than with most, my lad, for I believe I have seen enough of you to know that you are brave to a fault, and entirely trustworthy. But you know not the wiles of these treacherous Osages, and if this Chevalier Le Moyne is the man I fear he is, he is a much to be dreaded villain."
"Whom do you fear him to be?" the captain and I uttered in one breath.
The good doctor hesitated a moment and then seemed to take a sudden determination.
"I am afraid I have no right to be letting you into my confidence, for it is not mine alone. In what I am about to say to you it is my country reposing a confidence as well. But our brief acquaintance has inspired me with trust in you both, and I have need of advice and help in this emergency, and perhaps of a good sword, if one of you be free to offer it. It is not the fortunes of a simple maid, such as my little Pelagie seems to be, that are alone involved, and yet I am not at liberty to tell you what great issues are at stake. We will say, by way of illustration, it would be to the advantage of an Orleanist to get rid of all possible Bourbon claimants to the throne of France, would it not? Merely by way of further illustration, suppose there were some young Orleanist, far removed from any pretensions to the throne, who by marrying a young Bourbon maid much closer to the throne, but, of course, barred from it by her sex, should prevent her marrying royalty and so having a son who might succeed to the throne. Do you follow me?"
We both bowed our comprehension, for we were too eager to interrupt him by a word. The doctor went on:
"And suppose by such a marriage he removed one more obstacle from the path of a powerful kinsman in his progress toward the throne. And if this young Orleanist were penniless and the Bourbon maid rich in prospect, he would save his kinsman the necessity of providing for him. And if he were dissolute and unprincipled, he would hesitate at no means to accomplish his ends. And if he were handsome, after a fashion, and accomplished in all Parisian arts, there would be reasonable chance of his success with a young maiden but little versed in the wiles of the world. Although I have used this merely as an illustration, this is very much the situation that confronts Pelagie's friends. You see, I have some reason to feel alarmed, and I fear I have no right to permit her to go to this picnic. Yet," with a grimace, "what can I? Where a wilful maiden will, a man is helpless.
"And now, messieurs, you see how fully I have trusted you, not only with my affairs, but the affairs of France. I am not asking for a pledge of secrecy, for I feel no such pledge is necessary. Pelagie and her interests and the interests of her house in France I believe to be as safe in your hands as in my own."
As the doctor uttered these last words he sprang to his feet, and betrayed the intensity of his feeling by the mist in his eyes, the tremor in his voice, and the dramatic clasping of his hands.
By a simultaneous emotion of sympathy, both the captain and I found ourselves on our feet also. The captain extended his hand, and, like the straightforward, simple-minded gentleman he is, said only:
"Your trust is not misplaced, Dr. Saugrain; your secret is safe."
I was almost too deeply moved for words; I could only murmur as I bowed low over the hilt of my sword:
"Safe as my honor!"
I know not with what emotions my captain had listened to this long recital. As for me, I had been intensely interested. Yet I could not tell why it should not please me to find that this scornful little lady was presumptive heiress to wealth and titles, probably even of royal rank, for so I could not but understand the doctor's illustration.
"Does Mademoiselle Pelagie know all this?" inquired the captain. "Does she know her rank and prospects? Is it permitted to speak of them to her?"
"Oh, no, no, no!" uttered the doctor, rapidly, with vigorous protestations of head and hands. "Pelagie knows nothing but that almost longer ago than she can remember she lived in a beautiful house with many servants, and with a father and mother who idolized her, but who went away from her one day never to return. Of course she knows now why they never returned, but that is all. She has lived with us in America nearly ten years, and I think she has learned to love Madame Saugrain and me almost as if we were indeed her father and mother, and we could not love child of our own more tenderly.
"And so you see, my dear young sir," regarding me with affectionate concern, "what a weighty responsibility I have put upon your young shoulders. If the burden is too great for you, I absolve you from your offer as escort, and Pelagie shall stay at home whether she will or not. I think it would be far the better way."
"Oh, no, no, sir!" I protested eagerly. "I am proud you think me worthy such a responsibility. I will never let her out of my sight for one moment, and I promise to bring her back to you in safety."
"Thank you," said the doctor, gravely; "that is what I would wish. Do not let her out of your sight if it is possible. Even if she seems to be fretted by your espionage I hope you will bear with her temper,—which I know to be a royal one,—and persist in your watchfulness. I shall be deeply grateful to you."
By the time the day of the picnic arrived, I flattered myself I had made some slight progress in Mademoiselle Pelagie's regard. Very slight, to be sure, yet I thought she did not treat me with quite the disdain she had shown at first. Indeed, I even thought I sometimes detected that she was listening with interest when Madame Saugrain or the good doctor was questioning me about my life at home in Philadelphia.
Twice a day at least we were brought together at the table, for the captain and I had taken up our abode at Dr. Saugrain's. It was not without much demur that we had, at last, accepted the doctor's urgent invitations to do so. To be sure, there was no hostelry in the village, except the low tavern where the disreputable Indians and rough river-men congregated, and we would have been obliged to accept some of the many hospitable invitations extended us by the Chouteaus, the Papins, the Cerres, indeed by nearly every leading citizen of St. Louis, all eagerly vying with one another for the privilege of entertaining General Clarke's brother. I think the captain's hesitancy arose from the feeling that he ought to accept Emile Yosti's or Manuel Lisa's hospitality, since his business was chiefly concerned with them; but with me it was the feeling that it would be intolerable to dwell under the same roof with my Lady Disdain, and be subjected to countless little ignominies at her hands. Yet when the doctor presented it to us as a very great favor to him at this time, when he might need our assistance as well as our advice in protecting Mademoiselle Pelagie, we could object no further, and I, at least, was as eager to stay as I had before been unwilling. To me it seemed the more reasonable that he might easily need what assistance our swords could give him, if there were really on foot a plan to capture mademoiselle, because the doctor's house was set in a large garden, at the extreme borders of the village, next to the stockade and with no neighbor within hearing.
The day of the picnic rose clear and bright, changing soon to the purple haze and soft air of a day in late November. Breakfast was hardly over when the picnickers began to pass the house, some of them walking in merry groups, some in little French carts drawn by oxen or small, hardy ponies, but many of them, I noted with a beating heart, on horseback carrying double, the maiden on a pillion holding fast with her arm around her escort's waist. Was it thus my Lady Disdain expected to be carried to the picnic, I wondered, and could not tell for the life of me whether I most hoped it or dreaded it.
But my hopes and fears were alike vain. I sat smoking on the shady gallery, and was beginning to wonder when my lady would see fit to start, for by now the procession had thinned out to almost none, only a straggling couple occasionally hurrying by as if they feared they were late and must hasten to be in time for the sport. I began to think it possible she had changed her mind and would stay at home rather than go with an undesired escort.
I had risen early, and though I had made an unusually careful toilet, calling Yorke to my aid to see that every lacer was fresh and securely tied, and my buckles shining, yet I had made much haste also, not knowing at what hour mademoiselle proposed starting, and fearing greatly to annoy her by being one moment tardy. So here had I sat smoking on the shady gallery a good two hours awaiting my lady's pleasure, and beginning inwardly to fume, for my temper was not such as to bear meekly even the caprices of a beautiful maiden—no, not though she might be also some great lady in disguise.
But when I had for the tenth time started up to stride angrily up and down the gallery, I heard the creaking of wheels, and around the corner of the house came a little French charrette, its wooden wheels making a great noise, drawn by one ox and Narcisse walking beside it, driving. I was filled with dismay, for to me it seemed not a mode of conveyance suited to the dignity of the son of one of the proudest families of Philadelphia, to say nothing of Mademoiselle Pelagie. Besides, I had had visions of the fine figure I was to cut before the St. Louis beaus and belles on my prancing and curveting Fatima, whose glossy coat was like satin this morning from the extra rubbing I had ordered Yorke to give her.
But as Narcisse passed me and pulled off his hat with an amiable grin, I saw a great hamper in the charrette, and from a spicy whiff borne to my nostrils by a passing breeze I knew he was conveying our dinner to the picnic-grounds, and I was duly thankful that neither Fatima nor I was to be hampered ('tis a poor pun, and my father hath ever taught me 'tis the lowest form of wit) with clumsy packages dangling from saddle and arm.
In a moment more, around the corner of the house again came a black, leading a small Indian horse gaily caparisoned, and fitted with a lady's pillion, and immediately behind, Yorke, leading my own Fatima. I knew then we were about to start, and my heart began once more its silly thumpings. Yet would I not move from my seat, where I had assumed an attitude of indifference, until I suddenly heard behind me a cool and haughty voice:
"Are you not ready, sir? It is high time, I should think, we were on our way, or we will be too late for the dejeuner."
Now was I in wrath indeed, to be spoken to in tones of reproach when I had every reason to expect at least an excuse, if not an apology, for having been kept so long waiting. I rose to my feet in leisurely fashion and made mademoiselle a most elaborate bow, as I replied in a voice as cool and haughty as her own:
"Had I been informed at what hour mademoiselle would require my presence, I should have been belted and hatted and not have detained your ladyship for even a moment, to say nothing of having wasted two good hours of my own time in idle waiting."
As I spoke I stooped to pick up my sword-belt from the floor beside my chair, and began slowly to buckle it on. My eyes were on my belt, but not so closely but that I could see a little smile hover around mademoiselle's lips, and I thought she was not displeased to find I had a little spirit of my own and was not always to be cowed by her scornful airs. I was so elated by the discovery that I, foolishly, prolonged the buckling beyond all possible necessity, and mademoiselle's good humor was quickly exhausted. She tapped her little foot impatiently for a moment and then spoke as icily as before:
"Since monsieur finds difficulty with his belt, I will ask Yorke to put me on my horse and then send him to your assistance."
All my foolish elation was gone in a moment, and, between my mortification and my impatient haste, I fumbled in earnest. I was in desperate haste; for not for a moment did I intend to let Yorke put her upon her horse: yet so swiftly had she swept down the long gallery and the steps to the driveway a little distance off, and so slow had I been with my buckle, that I reached her side just in time to hear her say:
"Yorke, put me on my horse, and then go at once and buckle your master's belt. We are like to be all day getting to Chouteau's Pond."
"Yes, missy," said Yorke, and flinging Fatima's reins to Narcisse, prepared to obey her, though he could only have comprehended by intuition, for not a word of her tongue did he understand.
I was restored at once to my equanimity by her impatient tones, and I spoke to Yorke with a calm authority he dared not disobey:
"Take care of Fatima, Yorke; I will attend to mademoiselle," and without giving her time to object I coolly lifted her to her horse. She was only a feather's weight, but I think she liked not that fashion of mounting, and was minded for a moment to kick and scream like an angry child. But she thought better of it, and though the quick flame sprang into her cheek, she bowed her thanks in stately fashion, and I springing on Fatima's back and bidding Yorke to follow at once, we set forth at a round pace.
Not a word did she speak as we galloped side by side down the driveway, through the gate, and along the short bit of road that extended to the stockade. When we had passed through, there was not much more than a rough foot-path, that began to descend very soon from the high bluffs, sometimes by a gentle incline, sometimes by a steep and rocky descent, to the valley of La Petite Riviere.
The path was no longer wide enough for two horses, and we were compelled to ride in Indian fashion. Fatima was ahead and was picking her way daintily and surely, but slowly. The little Indian horse, being much more used to such rough paths, would have gone on more rapidly, and fretted at being kept back by Fatima. So, no doubt, did his rider, for presently, in her formal way, she said:
"If monsieur will permit, I will take the lead. I think my pony knows the path better and can show you the way."
But I had been specially warned to keep ever in advance, and it did not add to mademoiselle's good humor that I was compelled to refuse her the pas. I was beginning to feel that my task was a thankless one, and the picnic on Chouteau's Pond did not look to me quite so alluring as it had looked a few days before. Perhaps my face betrayed my feeling; for when we reached the foot of the incline and our path broadened out as it turned to follow the windings of the little river toward the pond, mademoiselle rode up beside me, and with a very pretty air indeed, half arch, half shy, wholly sweet, she said:
"I pray monsieur will not think me ungrateful. I do not forget that but for his courtesy I could not have gone to my fete."
Then she added roguishly:
"But I will make amends. I will introduce you to many St. Louis belles, the fascinating Pelagie Chouteau, Emilie Gratiot, who dances like a fairy, and Marguerite and Marie Papin, the beautiful sisters. And there are many more just as beautiful."
I bowed gravely:
"I thank you, mademoiselle. I have heard much of the beauty of the St. Louis demoiselles, and have desired much to meet them. You remember it was largely for that inducement I consented to undertake the difficult task of looking after your ladyship."
"Why do you persist in calling me 'your ladyship'? I am only mademoiselle."
"Indeed!" I said, with affected surprise: "your manner has led me to suppose you marquise at least, if not duchesse."
Mademoiselle reddened, but spoke very seriously and very sweetly,
"I am afraid I have very bad manners, and a very bad temper. But I intend to be good now, and to remind me I give you permission when I am haughty or disagreeable to call me comtesse."
The sycamores and cottonwoods that bordered our path had lost more than half their leaves, and the soft haze of the late November sun filtering through flecked mademoiselle with pale gold. It touched her dark hair and turned it to burnished bronze, it brought a faint rose to the warm white of her cheek, and made little golden lights dance in the shadows of her eyes uplifted to mine. The mysterious fragrance of late autumn, of dying leaves and bare brown earth, and ripening nuts and late grapes hanging on the vines, and luscious persimmons on the leafless trees, rose like incense to my nostrils and intoxicated me. I hardly knew how I answered as I looked deep into her shadowy eyes, and I was almost glad that, our way crossing the little river by a steep path leading down to a shallow ford, I was compelled once more to take the lead.
Half-way across we stopped to let our horses dip their noses in the cool water dashing merrily over the stones. Fatima only played with it, swashing her muzzle well, and flinging the bright drops over mademoiselle's horse, who drank steadily. The opposite bank was more heavily wooded, and I became aware, as I sat idly flecking the foam from Fatima's flanks with my riding-whip, that I had for some time been hearing a whippoorwill calling and its mate replying. The woods looked dense enough to be the haunts of the lonely birds, but, nevertheless, I felt uneasy and began to listen—for rarely, indeed, does one hear a whippoorwill in the daytime. I knew birds well, and I soon became convinced that these whippoorwills were like none I had ever heard. They were too deliberate in their calls and replies, and the varying number of each sounded like a system of signals. I began to wish mademoiselle had not been so tardy in starting, that we might have had company on our way, and I strained my ears if I might hear anything of Yorke, who should be not far behind.
But there were no signs of Yorke; and mademoiselle's horse had finished drinking, and there was no excuse for our delaying longer. I would not alarm mademoiselle with my suspicions, yet I wanted my firearms ready to my hand. I drew my pistol from its holster and laid it across my saddle-bow, saying carelessly that if I caught a glimpse of that whippoorwill in the woods I should shoot it for my aunt in Paris, who was making a collection of American birds.
Mademoiselle Pelagie accepted my explanation without comment, and I led the way up the steep bank opposite. Once up, I saw, to my satisfaction, that the path was still wide enough for two. I put mademoiselle on the side nearest La Petite Riviere, and I rode next the woods; and though mademoiselle had suddenly grown talkative, and was full of a saucy French wit, I fear I must have seemed very stupid to her, for all the while I was trying to keep up my share of repartee and quip I was listening, listening. Mademoiselle noticed at last that I was somewhat distrait.
"Why do you keep your eyes turned upon the woods, monsieur? In France we are taught that it is polite to look at a lady when she speaks."
"Pardon, mademoiselle," I stammered. "I am looking for that whippoorwill."
"Your apology is more than sufficient, monsieur," in her haughtiest tones. "There will, no doubt, be no other opportunity so suitable for adding to your aunt's collection."
I had kept my eyes fixed on the woods even while speaking to her, not daring to turn them away, but at her tone I turned quickly toward her.
"Pardon, mademoiselle la comtesse," I began saucily, but went on seriously. "Permit me, I beg, to seem rude, though it is farthest from my desire to appear so. It is more than the whim of my aunt that is at stake. Some day I will explain to you."
Even as I spoke I was startled by a sharp crackle followed by a stealthy rustle, as if some one had inadvertently stepped upon a dry twig and had then glided quickly away. I turned at once to the woods, and could almost have sworn I caught a fleeting glimpse of a copper-colored hand, and the flash of a rifle-barrel. But as I gazed longer I saw nothing but the dense foliage of the low scrub-oaks that grew under the tall forest trees, and I hoped I was mistaken.