We sometimes walked in the burying ground among dead Williamses, while he argued down my claims, leaving them without a leg to stand on. Reversing the usual ministerial formula, "If what has been said is true, then it follows, first, secondly," and so on, he used to say:
"Eleazar, you were brought up among the Indians, conscious only of bodily existence, and unconscious of your origin; granted. Money was sent—let us say from Europe—for your support; granted. Several persons, among them one who testified strongly against his will, told you that you resembled the Bourbons; granted. You bear on your person marks like those which were inflicted on the unfortunate dauphin of France; granted. You were malignantly pursued while abroad; granted. But what does it all prove? Nothing. It amounts simply to this: you know nothing about your early years; some foreign person—perhaps an English Williams—kindly interested himself in your upbringing; you were probably scalded in the camps; you have some accidental traits of the Bourbons; a man who heard you had a larger pension than the idiot he was tending, disliked you. You can prove nothing more."
I never attempted to prove anything more to Pastor Storrs. It would have been most ungrateful to persuade him I was an alien. At the same time he prophesied his hopes of me, and many a judicious person blamed him for treating me as something out of the ordinary, and cockering up pride.
A blunter Williams used to take me by the button on the street.
"Eleazar Williams," he would say, "do you pretend to be the son of the French king? I tell you what! I will not let the name of Williams be disgraced by any relationship to any French monarch! You must do one of two things: you must either renounce Williamsism or renounce Bourbonism!"
Though there was liberty of conscience to criticise the pastor, he was autocrat of Longmeadow. One who preceded Pastor Storrs had it told about him that two of his deacons wanted him to appoint Ruling Elders. He appointed them; and asked them what they thought the duties were. They said he knew best.
"Well," said the pastor, "one of the Ruling Elders may come to my house before meeting, saddle my horse, and hold the stirrup while I get on. The other may wait at the church door and hold him while I get off, and after meeting bring him to the steps. This is all of my work that I can consent to let Ruling Elders do for me."
The Longmeadow love of disputation was fostered by bouts which Ruling Elders might have made it their business to preserve, if any Ruling Elders were willing to accept their appointment. The pastor once went to the next town to enjoy argument with a scientific doctor. When he mounted his horse to ride home before nightfall the two friends kept up their debate. The doctor stood by the horse, or walked a few steps as the horse moved. Presently both men noticed a fire in the east; and it was sunrise. They had argued all night.
In Longmeadow a man could not help practicing argument. I also practiced oratory. And all the time I practiced the Iroquois tongue as well as English and French, and began the translation of books into the language of the nation I hoped to build. That Indians made unstable material for the white man to handle I would not believe. Skenedonk was not unstable. His faithfulness was a rock.
For some reason, and I think it was the reach of Pastor Storrs, men in other places began to seek me. The vital currents of life indeed sped through us on the Hartford and Springfield stage road. It happened that Skenedonk and I were making my annual journey to St. Regis when the first steamboat accomplished its trip on the Hudson river. About the time that the Wisconsin country was included in Illinois Territory, I decided to write a letter to Madame Tank at Green Bay, and insist on knowing my story as she believed she knew it. Yet I hesitated; and finally did not do it. I found afterwards that there was no post-office at Green Bay. A carrier, sent by the officers of the fort and villagers, brought mail from Chicago. He had two hundred miles of wilderness to traverse, and his blankets and provisions as well as the mail to carry; and he did this at the risk of his life among wild men and beasts.
The form of religion was always a trivial matter to me. I never ceased to love the sacrifice of the mass, which was an abomination and an idolatrous practice to Pastor Storrs. The pageantry of the Roman Church that first mothered and nurtured me touches me to this day. I love the Protestant prayers of the English Church. And I love the stern and knotty argument, the sermon with heads and sequences, of the New England Congregationalist. For this catholicity Catholics have upbraided me, churchmen rebuked me, and dissenters denied that I had any religion at all.
When the Episcopal Bishop of New York showed me kindness, and Pastor Storrs warned me against being proselyted, I could not tell him the charm in the form of worship practiced by the woman I loved. There was not a conscious minute when I forgot her. Yet nobody in Longmeadow knew of her existence. In my most remorseful days, comparing myself with Pastor Storrs, I was never sorry I had clung to her and begged her not to let me go alone. For some of our sins are so honestly the expression of nature that justification breaks through them.
On the western border there was trouble with dissatisfied Indians, and on the sea there was trouble with the British, so that people began to talk of war long before it was declared, and to blame President Madison for his over-caution in affairs. A battle was fought at Tippecanoe in the Indiana Territory, which silenced the Indians for a while. But every one knew that the English stood behind them. Militia was mustered, the army recruited, and embargo laid upon shipping in the ports, and all things were put forward in April of that year, before war was declared in June.
I had influence with our tribes. The Government offered me a well paid commission to act as its secret agent. Pastor Storrs and the Williamses, who had been nurturing a missionary, were smitten with grief to see him rise and leap into camps and fields, eager for the open world, the wilderness smell; the council, where the red man's mind, a trembling balance, could be turned by vivid language; eager, in fact, to live where history was being made.
The pastor had clothed me in his mind with ministerial gown and band, and the martial blood that quickened he counted an Iroquois strain. Yet so inconsistent is human nature, so given to forms which it calls creeds, that when I afterwards put on the surplice and read prayers to my adopted people, he counted it as great a defection as taking to saddle and spur. We cannot leave the expression of our lives to those better qualified than we are, however dear they may be. I had to pack my saddlebags and be gone, loving Longmeadow none the less because I grieved it, knowing that it would not approve of me more if I stayed and failed to do my natural part.
The snuffbox and the missal which had belonged to my family in France I always carried with me. And very little could be transported on the road we took.
John Williams, who came to Longmeadow in deerskins, and paraded his burnished red poll among the hatted Williamses, abetted me in turning from the missionary field to the arena of war, and never left me. It was Skenedonk who served the United States with brawn and endurance, while I put such policy and color into my harangues as I could command. We shared our meals, our camps, our beds of leaves together. The life at Longmeadow had knit me to good use. I could fast or feast, ride or march, take the buckskins, or the soldier's uniform.
Of this service I shall write down only what goes to the making of the story. The Government was pleased to commend it, and it may be found written in other annals than mine.
Great latitude was permitted us in our orders. We spent a year in the north. My skin darkened and toughened under exposure until I said to Skenedonk, "I am turning an Indian;" and he, jealous of my French blood, denied it.
In July we had to thread trails he knew by the lake toward Sandusky. There was no horse path wide enough for us to ride abreast. Brush swished along our legs, and green walls shut our view on each side. The land dipped towards its basin. Buckeye and gigantic chestnut trees, maple and oak, passed us from rank to rank of endless forest. Skenedonk rode ahead, watching for every sign and change, as a pilot now watches the shifting of the current. So we had done all day, and so we were doing when fading light warned us to camp.
A voice literally cried out of the wilderness, startling the horses and ringing among the tree trunks:
"The spirit of the Lord is upon me, and He hath anointed me to blow the trumpet in the wilderness, and sound an alarm in the forest; for behold the tribes of the heathen are round about your doors, and a devouring flame followeth after them!"
"That's Johnny Appleseed," said Skenedonk, turning in his saddle.
"What is Johnny Appleseed?"
"He is a man that God has touched," said Skenedonk, using the aboriginal phrase that signified a man clouded in mind.
God had hidden him, too. I could see no one. The voice echo still went off among the trees.
"Where is he?"
"Maybe one side, maybe the other."
"Does he never show himself?"
"Oh, yes," Skenedonk said. "He goes to all the settlements. I have often seen him when I was hunting on these grounds. He came to our camp. He loves to sleep outdoors better than in a cabin."
"Why does he shout at us like a prophet?"
"To warn us that Indians are on the warpath."
"He might have thought we were on the warpath ourselves."
"Johnny Appleseed knows Shawanoes and Tecumseh's men."
The trees, lichened on their north sides, massed rank behind rank without betraying any face in their glooms. The Ohio and Indiana forests had a nameless quality. They might have been called home-forests, such invitations issued from them to man seeking a spot of his own. Nor can I make clear what this invitation was. It produced thoughts different from those that men were conscious of in the rugged northwest.
"I think myself," said Skenedonk, as we moved farther from the invisible voice, "that he is under a vow. But nobody told me that."
"Why do you think so?"
"He plants orchards in every fine open spot; or clears the land for planting where he thinks the soil is right."
"Don't other men plant orchards?"
"No. They have not time, or seed. They plant bread. He does nothing but plant orchards."
"He must have a great many."
"They are not for himself. The apples are for any one who may pass by when they are ripe. He wants to give apples to everybody. Animals often nibble the bark, or break down his young trees. It takes long for them to grow. But he keeps on planting."
"If other men have no seeds to plant, how does he get them?"
"He makes journeys to the old settlements, where many orchards have grown, and brings the seeds from ciderpresses. He carries them from Pennsylvania on his back, in leather bags, a bag for each kind of seed."
"Doesn't he ever sell them?"
"Not often. Johnny Appleseed cares nothing for money. I believe he is under a vow of poverty. No one laughs at him. The tribes on these grounds would not hurt a hair of his head, not only because God has touched him, but because he plants apples. I have eaten his apples myself."
"Johnny Appleseed!" I repeated, and Skenedonk hastened to tell me:
"He has another name, but I forget it. He is called Johnny Appleseed."
The slim and scarcely perceptible tunnel, among trees, piled with fallen logs and newly sprung growths, let us into a wide clearing as suddenly as a stream finds its lake. We could not see even the usual cow tracks. A cabin shedding light from its hearth surprised us in the midst of stumps.
The door stood wide. A woman walked back and forth over a puncheon floor, tending supper. Dogs rushed to meet us, and the playing of children could be heard. A man, gun in hand, stepped to his door, a sentinel. He lowered its muzzle, and made us welcome, and helped us put our horses under shelter with his own.
It was not often we had a woman's handiwork in corn bread and game to feed ourselves upon, or a bed covered with homespun sheets.
I slept as the children slept, until a voice rang in the clearing:
"The spirit of the Lord is upon me, and He hath anointed me to blow the trumpet in the wilderness, and sound an alarm in the forest; for behold the tribes of the heathen are round about your doors, and a devouring flame followeth after them!"
Every sleeper in the cabin sat upright or stirred. We said in whispered chorus:
A tapping, light and regular, on the window, followed. The man was on the floor in a breath. I heard the mother groping among the children, and whispering:
"Don't wake the baby!"
The fire had died upon the hearth, and they lighted no candle. When Johnny Appleseed gave his warning cry in the clearing, and his cautious tap on the window, and was instantly gone to other clearings and other windows, it meant that the Indians were near.
Skenedonk and I, used to the night alarm and boots and saddle in a hurry, put ourselves in readiness to help the family. I groped for clothing, and shoved small legs and arms into it. The little creatures, obedient and silent, made no whimper at being roused out of dreams, but keenly lent themselves to the march.
We brought the horses, and put the woman and children upon them. The very dogs understood, and slunk around our legs without giving mouth. The cabin door was shut after us without noise, closing in what that family called home; a few pots and pans; patchwork quilts; a spinning-wheel; some benches; perhaps a child's store of acorn cups and broken yellow ware in a log corner. In a few hours it might be smoking a heap of ashes; and the world offered no other place so dear. What we suffer for is enriched by our suffering until it becomes priceless.
So far on the frontier was this cabin that no community block-house stood near enough to give its inmates shelter. They were obliged to go with us to Fort Stephenson.
Skenedonk pioneered the all-night struggle on an obscure trail; and he went astray sometimes, through blackness of woods that roofed out the stars. We floundered in swales sponging full of dead leaves, and drew back, scratching ourselves on low-hung foliage.
By dawn the way became easier and the danger greater. Then we paused and lifted our rifles if a twig broke near by, or a fox barked, or wind rushed among leaves as a patter of moccasins might come. Skenedonk and I, sure of the northern Indians, were making a venture in the west. We knew nothing of Tecumseh's swift red warriors, except that scarcely a year had passed since his allies had tomahawked women and children of the garrison on the sand teach at Chicago.
Without kindling any fire we stopped once that day to eat, and by good luck and following the river, reached that Lower Sandusky which was called Fort Stephenson, about nightfall.
The place was merely a high stockade with blockhouses at the angles, and a gate opening toward the river. Within, besides the garrison of a hundred and sixty men, were various refugees, driven like our family to the fort. And there, coming heartily from the commandant's quarters to receive me, was George Croghan, still a boy in appearance, though intrusted with this dangerous post. His long face had darkened like mine. We looked each other over with the quick and critical scrutiny of men who have not met since boyhood, and laughed as we grasped hands.
"You are as welcome to the inside of this bear-pen," said Major Croghan, "as you made me to the outside of the one in the wilderness."
"I hope you'll not give me such another tramp after shelter for the night as I gave you," I said.
"The best in Fort Stephenson is yours. But your rest depends on the enemy. A runner has just come in from the General warning me Proctor and Tecumsch are turning their attention this way. I'm ordered to evacuate, for the post is considered too weak to hold."
"How soon do you march?"
"I don't march at all. I stay here. I'm going to disobey orders."
"If you're going to disobey orders, you have good reason for doing so."
"I have. It was too late to retreat. I'm going to fight. I hear, Lazarre, you know how to handle Indians in the French way."
"My dear Croghan, you insinuate the American way may be better."
"It is, on the western border. It may not be on the northern."
"Then you would not have advised my attempting the Indians here?"
"I shouldn't have discouraged it. When I got the secret order, I said: 'Bring the French—bring the missionaries—bring anything that will cut the comb of Tecumseh!'"
"The missionaries and the French like being classed with—anything," I said.
"We're Americans here," Croghan laughed. "The dauphin may have to fight in the ditch with the rest of us."
"The dauphin is an American too, and used to scars, as you know. Can you give me any news from Green Bay in the Wisconsin country?"
"I was ordered to Green Bay last year to see if anything could be done with old Fort Edward Augustus."
"Does my Holland court-lady live there?"
"Not now," he answered soberly. "She's dead."
"That's bad," I said, thinking of lost opportunities.
"Is pretty Annabel de Chaumont ever coming back from France?"
"Not now, she's married."
"That's worse," he sighed. "I was very silly about her when I was a boy."
We had our supper in his quarters, and he busied himself until late in the night with preparations for defense. The whole place was full of cheer and plenty of game, and swarmed like a little fair with moving figures. A camp-fire was built at dark in the center of the parade ground, heaped logs sending their glow as far as the dark pickets. Heads of families drew towards it while the women were putting their children to bed; and soldiers off duty lounged there, the front of the body in light, the back in darkness.
Cool forest night air flowed over the stockade, swaying smoke this way and that. As the fire was stirred, and smoke turned to flame, it showed more and more distinctly what dimness had screened.
A man rose up on the other side of it, clothed in a coffee sack, in which holes were cut for his head and arms. His hat was a tin kettle with the handle sticking out behind like a stiff queue.
Indifferent to his grotesqueness, he took it off and put it on the ground beside him, standing ready to command attention.
He was a small, dark, wiry man, barefooted and barelegged, whose black eyes sparkled, and whose scanty hair and beard hung down over shoulders and breast. Some pokes of leather, much scratched, hung bulging from the rope which girded his coffee sack. From one of these he took a few unbound leaves, the fragment of a book, spread them open, and began to read in a chanting, prophetic key, something about the love of the Lord and the mysteries of angels. His listeners kept their eyes on him, giving an indulgent ear to spiritual messages that made less demand on them than the violent earthly ones to which they were accustomed.
"It's Johnny Appleseed," a man at my side told me, as if the name explained anything he might do.
When Johnny Appleseed finished reading the leaves he put them back in his bag, and took his kettle to the well for water. He then brought some meal from the cook-house and made mush in his hat.
The others, turning their minds from future mysteries, began to talk about present danger, when he stood up from his labor to inquire:
"Is there plenty in the fort for the children to eat?"
"Plenty, Johnny, plenty," several voices assured him.
"I can go without supper if the children haven't enough."
"Eat your supper, Johnny. Major Croghan will give you more if you want it," said a soldier.
"And we'll give you jerked Britisher, if you'll wait for it," said another.
"Johnny never eats meat," one of the refugees put in. "He thinks it's sinful to kill critters. All the things in the woods likes him. Once he got into a holler log to sleep, and some squirrels warned him to move out, they settled there first; and he done it. I don't allow he'd pick a flea off his own hide for fear he'd break its legs so it couldn't hop around and make a living."
The wilderness prophet sat down quietly to his meal without appearing to notice what was said about him; and when he had eaten, carried his hat into the cook-house, where dogs could not get at his remaining porridge.
"Now he'll save that for his breakfast," remarked another refugee. "There's nothing he hates like waste."
"Talking about squirrels," exclaimed the man at my side, "I believe he has a pasture for old, broke-down horses somewhere east in the hills. All the bates he can find he swaps young trees for, and they go off with him leading them, but he never comes into the settlements on horseback."
"Does he always go barefoot?" I asked.
"Sometimes he makes bark sandals. If you give him a pair of shoes he'll give them away to the first person that can wear them and needs them. Hunters wrap dried leaves around their leggins to keep the rattlesnakes out, but Johnny never protects himself at all."
"No wonder," spoke a soldier. "Any snake'd be discouraged at them shanks. A seven-year rattler'd break his fang on 'em."
Johnny came out of the cook-house with an iron poker, and heated it in the coals. All the men around the fire waited, understanding what he was about to do, but my own breath drew with a hiss through my teeth as he laid the red hot iron first on one long cut and then another in his travel-worn feet. Having cauterized himself effectually, and returned the poker, he took his place in perfect serenity, without any show of pain, prepared to accommodate himself to the company.
Some boys, awake with the bigness of the occasion, sat down near Johnny Appleseed, and gave him their frank attention. Each boy had his hair cut straight around below the ears, where his mother had measured it with an inverted bowl, and freshly trimmed him for life in the fort, and perhaps for the discomfiture of savages, if he came under the scalping knife. Open-mouthed or stern-jawed, according to temperament, the young pioneers listened to stories about Tecumseh, and surmises on the enemy's march, and the likelihood of a night attack.
"Tippecanoe was fought at four o'clock in the morning," said a soldier.
"I was there," spoke out Johnny Appleseed.
No other man could say as much. All looked at him as he stood on his cauterized feet, stretching his arms, lean and sun-cured, upward in the firelight.
"Angels were there. In rain and darkness I heard them speak and say, 'He hath cast the lot for them, and His hand hath divided it unto them by line; they shall possess it forever; from generation to generation shall they dwell therein. The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose!'"
"Say, Johnny, what does an angel look like?" piped up one of the boys, quite in fellowship.
Johnny Appleseed turned his rapt vision aside and answered:
"'White robes were given unto every one of them.' There had I laid me down in peace to sleep, and the Lord made me to dwell in safety. The camp-fires burned red in the sheltered place, and they who were to possess the land watched by the campfires. I looked down from my high place, from my shelter of leaves and my log that the Lord gave me for a bed, and saw the red camp-fires blink in the darkness.
"Then was I aware that the heathen crept betwixt me and the camp, surrounding it as a cloud that lies upon the ground. The rain fell upon us all, and there was not so much sound as the rustling of grasshoppers in tall grass. I said they will surprise the camp and slay the sleepers, not knowing that they who were to possess the land watched every man with his weapon. But when I would have sounded the trumpet of warning, I heard a rifle shot, and all the Indians rose up screeching and rushed at the red fires.
"Then a sorcerer leaped upon my high place, rattling many deer hoofs, and calling aloud that his brethren might hear his voice. Light he promised them for themselves, and darkness for the camp, and he sang his war song, shouting and rattling the deer hoofs. Also the Indians rattled deer hoofs, and it was like a giant breathing his last, being shot with many musket flashes.
"I saw steam through the darkness, for the fires were drenched and trampled by the men of the camp, and no longer shone as candles so that the Indians might see by them to shoot. The sorcerer danced and shouted, the deer hoofs rattled, and on this side and that men fought knee to knee and breast to breast. I saw through the wet dawn, and they who had crept around the camp as a cloud arose as grasshoppers and fled to the swamp.
"Then did the sorcerer sit upon his heels, and I beheld he had but one eye, and he covered it from the light.
"But the men in the camp shouted with a mighty shouting. And after their shouting I heard again the voices of angels saying: 'He hath cast the lot for them, and His hand hath divided it unto them by line; they shall possess it forever; from generation to generation shall they dwell therein. The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose!'"
The speaker sat down, and one of the men remarked:
"So that's the way the battle of Tippecanoe looked to Johnny Appleseed."
But the smallest boy thoughtfully inquired:
"Say, Johnny, haven't the Indians any angels?"
"You'll wish they was with the angels if they ever get you by the hair," laughed one of the men.
Soldiers began moving their single cannon, a six-pounder, from one blockhouse to another. All the men jumped up to help, as at the raising of a home, and put themselves in the way so ardently that they had to be ordered back.
When everybody but ourselves had left the starlit open place, Johnny Appleseed lay down and stretched his heels to the blaze. A soldier added another log, and kicked into the flame those fallen away. Though it was the end of July, Lake Erie cooled the inland forests.
Sentinels were posted in the blockhouses. Quiet settled on the camp; and I sat turning many things in my mind besides the impending battle. Napoleon Bonaparte had made a disastrous campaign in Russia. If I were yet in France; if the Marquis du Plessy had lived; if I had not gone to Mittau; if the self I might have been, that always haunts us, stood ready to take advantage of the turn—
Yet the thing which cannot be understood by men reared under old governments had befallen me. I must have drawn the wilderness into my blood. Its possibilities held me. If I had stayed in France at twenty, I should have been a Frenchman. The following years made me an American. The passion that binds you to a land is no more to be explained than the fact that many women are beautiful, while only one is vitally interesting.
The wilderness mystic was sitting up looking at me.
"I see two people in you," he said.
"Two separate men."
"What are their names?"
"Their names I cannot see."
"Well, suppose we call them Louis and Lazarre."
His eyes sparkled.
"You are a white man," he pronounced. "By that I mean you are not stained with many vile sins."
"I hadn't an equal chance with other men. I lost nine years."
"Mebby," hazarded Johnny Appleseed cautiously, "you are the one appointed to open and read what is sealed."
"If you mean to interpret what you read, I'm afraid I am not the one. Where did you get those leaves?"
"From a book that I divided up to distribute among the people."
"Doesn't that destroy the sense?"
"No. I carry the pages in their order from cabin to cabin."
He came around the fire with the lightness of an Indian, and gave me his own fragment to examine. It proved to be from the writings of one Emanuel Swedenborg.
With a smile which seemed to lessen the size of his face and concentrate its expression to a shining point, Johnny Appleseed slid his leather bags along the rope girdle, and searched them, one after the other. I thought he wanted me to notice his apple seeds, and inquired how many kinds he carried. So he showed them in handfuls, brown and glistening, or gummed with the sweet blood of cider. These produced pippins; these produced russets; these produced luscious harvest apples, that fell in August bursting with juicy ripeness. Then he showed me another bagful which were not apple seeds at all, but neutral colored specks moving with fluid swiftness as he poured them from palm to palm.
"Do you know what this is?"
I told him I didn't.
"It's dogfennel seed."
I laughed, and asked him what kind of apples it bore.
Johnny Appleseed smiled at me again.
"It's a flower. I'm spreading it over the whole of Ohio and Indiana! It'll come up like the stars for abundance, and fill the land with rankness, and fever and ague will flee away!"
"But how about the rankness?"
"Fever and ague will flee away," he repeated, continuing his search through the bags.
He next brought out a parcel, wrapped up carefully in doeskin to protect it from the appleseeds; and turned foolish in the face, as bits of ribbon and calico fell out upon his knees.
"This isn't the one," he said, bundling it up and thrusting it back again. "The little girls, they like to dress their doll-babies, so I carry patches for the little girls. Here's what I was looking for."
It was another doeskin parcel, bound lengthwise and crosswise by thongs. These Johnny Appleseed reverently loosened, bringing forth a small book with wooden covers fastened by a padlock.
"Where did you get this?" I heard myself asking, a strange voice sounding far down the throat.
"From an Indian," the mystic told me quietly. "He said it was bad medicine to him. He never had any luck in hunting after it fell to his share, so he was glad to give it to me."
"Where did he get it?"
"His tribe took it from some prisoners they killed."
I was running blindly around in a circle to find relief from the news he dealt me, when the absurdity of such news overtook me. I stood and laughed.
"Who were the prisoners?"
"I don't know," answered Johnny Appleseed.
"How do you know the Indians killed them?"
"The one that gave me this book told me so."
"There are plenty of padlocked books in the world," I said jauntily. "At least there must be more than one. How long ago did it happen?"
"Not very long ago, I think; for the book was clean."
"Give it to me," I said, as if I cursed him.
"It's a sacred book," he answered, hesitating.
"Maybe it's sacred. Let me see."
"There may be holy mysteries in it, to be read only of him who has the key."
"I have a key!"
I took it out of the snuffbox. Johnny Appleseed fixed his rapt eyes on the little object in my fingers.
"Mebby you are the one appointed to open and read what is sealed!"
"No, I'm not! How could my key fit a padlocked book that belonged to prisoners killed by the Indians?"
He held it out to me and I took hold of the padlock. It was a small steel padlock, and the hole looked dangerously the size of my key.
"I can't do it!" I said.
"Let me try," said Johnny Appleseed.
"No! You might break my key in a strange padlock! Hold it still, Johnny. Please don't shake it."
"I'm not shaking it," Johnny Appleseed answered tenderly.
"There's only one way of proving that my key doesn't fit," I said, and thrust it in. The ward turned easily, and the padlock came away in my hand. I dropped it and opened the book. Within the lid a name was written which I had copied a thousand times—"Eagle Madeleine Marie de Ferrier."
Still I did not believe it. Nature protects us in our uttermost losses by a density through which conviction is slow to penetrate. In some mysterious way the padlocked book had fallen into strange hands, and had been carried to America.
"If Eagle were in America, I should know it. For De Chaumont would know it, and Skenedonk would find it out."
I stooped for the padlock, hooked it in place, and locked the book again.
"Is the message to you alone?" inquired Johnny Appleseed.
"Did you ever care for a woman?" I asked him.
Restless misery came into his eyes, and I noticed for the first time that he was not an old man; he could not have been above thirty-five. He made no answer; shifting from one bare foot to the other, his body settling and losing its Indian lightness.
"A woman gave me the key to this book. Her name is written inside the lid. I was to read it if it ever fell into my hands, after a number of years. Somebody has stolen it, and carried it among the Indians. But it's mine. Every shilling in my wallet, the clothes off my back you're welcome to—"
"I don't want your money or your clothes."
"But let me give you something in exchange for it."
"What do I need? I always have as much as I want. This is a serviceable coat, as good as any man need wish for; and the ravens feed me. And if I needed anything, could I take it for carrying a message? I carry good tidings of great joy among the people all the time. This is yours. Put it in your pocket."
I hid the padlocked book in the breast of my coat, and seized his wrist and his hand.
"Be of good courage, white double-man," said Johnny Appleseed. "The Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon you, the Lord make His face to shine upon you and give you peace!"
He returned to his side of the fire and stretched himself under the stars, and I went to Croghan's quarters and lay down with my clothes on in the bunk assigned to me.
The book which I would have rent open at twenty, I now carried unsealed. The suspense of it was so sweet, and drew my thoughts from the other suspense which could not be endured. It was not likely that any person about Mont-Louis had stolen the book, and wandered so far. Small as the volume was, the boards indented my breast and made me increasingly conscious of its presence. I waked in the night and held it.
Next morning Johnny Appleseed was gone from the fort, unafraid of war, bent only on carrying the apple of civilization into the wilderness. Nobody spoke about his absence, for shells began to fall around us. The British and Indians were in sight; and General Proctor sent a flag of truce demanding surrender.
Major Croghan's ensign approached the messenger with a flag in reply.
The women gathered their children as chickens under shelter. All in the fort were cheerful, and the men joked with the gush of humor which danger starts in Americans. I saw then the ready laugh that faced in its season what was called Indian summer, because the Indian took then advantage of the last pleasant weather to make raids. Such pioneers could speak lightly even of powwowing time—the first pleasant February days, when savages held councils before descending on the settlements.
Major Croghan and I watched the parley from one of the blockhouses that bastioned the place. Before it ended a Shawanoe sprang out of a ravine and snatched the ensign's sword. He gave it back reluctantly, and the British flag bearer hurried the American within the gates.
General Proctor regretted that so fine a young man as Major Croghan should fall into the hands of savages, who were not to be restrained.
"When this fort is taken," said Croghan on hearing the message, "there will be nobody left in it to kill."
British gunboats drawn up on the Sandusky river, and a howitzer on the shore, opened fire, and cannonaded all day with the poor execution of long range artillery. The northwestern angle of the fort was their target. Croghan foresaw that the enemy's intention was to make a breach and enter there. When night came again, his one six-pounder was moved with much labor from that angle into the southwest blockhouse, as noiselessly as possible. He masked the embrasure and had the piece loaded with a double charge of slugs and grape shot and half a charge of powder. Perhaps the British thought him unprovided with any heavy artillery.
They were busy themselves, bringing three of the ineffectual six-pounders and the howitzer, under darkness, within two hundred and fifty yards of the fort; giving a background of woods to their battery. About dawn we saw what they had been doing. They concentrated on the northwest angle; and still Croghan replied only with muskets, waiting for them to storm.
So it went on all day, the gun-proof blockhouse enduring its bombardment, and smoke thickening until it filled the stockade as water fills a well, and settled like fog between us and the enemy. An attack was made on the southern angle where the cannon was masked.
"This is nothing but a feint," Croghan said to the younger officers.
While that corner replied with musketry, he kept a sharp lookout for the safety of the northwest blockhouse.
One soldier was brought down the ladder and carried through the murky pall to the surgeon, who could do nothing for him. Another turned from a loophole with blood upon him, laughing at his mishap. For the grotesqueness and inconvenience of a wound are sometimes more swiftly felt than its pain. He came back presently with his shoulder bandaged and resumed his place at the loophole.
The exhilaration of that powder atmosphere and its heat made soldiers throw off their coats, as if the expanding human body was not to be confined in wrappings.
In such twilight of war the twilight of Nature overtook us. Another feint was made to draw attention from a heavy force of assailants creeping within twenty paces, under cover of smoke, to surprise the northwest blockhouse.
Musketry was directed against them: they hesitated. The commander led a charge, and himself sprang first into the ditch. We saw the fine fellows leaping to carry the blockhouse, every man determined to be first in making a breach. They filled the ditch.
This was the instant for which Croghan had waited. He opened the porthole and unmasked his exactly trained cannon. It enfiladed the assailants, sweeping them at a distance of thirty feet; slugs and grapeshot hissed, spreading fan rays of death! By the flash of the re-loaded six-pounder, we saw the trench filled with dead and wounded.
The besiegers turned.
Croghan's sweating gunners swabbed and loaded and fired, roaring like lions.
The Indians, of whom there were nearly a thousand, were not in the charge, and when retreat began they went in panic. We could hear calls and yells, the clatter of arms, and a thumping of the earth; the strain of men tugging cannon ropes; the swift withdrawal of a routed force.
Two thousand more Indians approaching under Tecumseh, were turned back by refugees.
Croghan remarked, as we listened to the uproar, "Fort Stephenson can hardly be called untenable against heavy artillery."
Then arose cries in the ditch, which penetrated to women's ears. Neither side was able to help the wounded there. But before the rout was complete, Croghan had water let down in buckets to relieve their thirst, and ordered a trench cut under the pickets of the stockade. Through this the poor wretches who were able to crawl came in and surrendered themselves and had their wounds dressed.
By three o'clock in the morning not a British uniform glimmered red through the dawn. The noise of retreat ended. Pistols and muskets strewed the ground. Even a sailboat was abandoned on the river, holding military stores and the clothing of officers.
"They thought General Harrison was coming," laughed Croghan, as he sat down to an early breakfast, having relieved all the living in the trench and detailed men to bury the dead. "We have lost one man, and have another under the surgeon's hands. Now I'm ready to appear before a court-martial for disobeying orders."
"You mean you're ready for your immortal page in history."
"Paragraph," said Croghan; "and the dislike of poor little boys and girls who will stick their fists in their eyes when they have to learn it at school."
Intense manhood ennobled his long, animated face. The President afterwards made him a lieutenant-colonel, and women and his superior officers praised him; but he was never more gallant than when he said:
"My uncle, George Rogers Clark, would have undertaken to hold this fort; and by heavens, we were bound to try it!"
The other young officers sat at mess with him, hilarious over the outcome, picturing General Proctor's state of mind when he learned the age of his conqueror.
None of them cared a rap that Daniel Webster was opposing the war in the House of Representatives at Washington, and declaring that on land it was a failure.
A subaltern came to the mess room door, touching his cap and asking to speak with Major Croghan.
"The men working outside at the trenches saw a boy come up from the ravine, sir, and fall every few steps, so they've brought him in."
"Does he carry a dispatch?"
"No, sir. He isn't more than nine or ten years old. I think he was a prisoner."
"Is he a white boy?"
"Yes, sir, but he's dressed like an Indian."
"I think it unlikely the British would allow the Shawanoes to burden their march with any prisoners."
"Somebody had him, and I'm afraid he's been shot either during the action or in the retreat. He was hid in the ravine."
"Bring him here," said Croghan.
A boy with blue eyes set wide apart, hair clinging brightly and moistly to his pallid forehead, and mouth corners turning up in a courageous smile, entered and stood erect before the officer. He was a well made little fellow. His tiny buckskin hunting shirt was draped with a sash in the Indian fashion, showing the curve of his naked hip. Down this a narrow line of blood was moving. Children of refugees, full of pity, looked through the open door behind him.
"Go to him, Shipp," said Croghan, as the boy staggered. But he waved the ensign back.
"Who are you, my man?" asked the Major.
"I believe," he answered, "I am the Marquis de Ferrier."
He pitched forward, and I was quicker than Ensign Shipp. I set him on my knees, and the surgeon poured a little watered brandy clown his throat.
"Paul!" I said to him.
"Stand back," ordered the surgeon, as women followed their children, crowding the room.
"Do you know him, Lazarre?" asked Croghan.
"It's Madame de Ferrier's child."
"Not the baby I used to see at De Chaumont's? What's he doing at Fort Stephenson?"
The women made up my bunk for Paul, and I laid him in it. Each wanted to take him to her care. The surgeon sent them to the cook-house to brew messes for him, and stripped the child, finding a bullet wound in his side. Probing brought nothing out, and I did not ask a single question. The child should live. There could be no thought of anything else. While the surgeon dressed and bandaged that small hole like a sucked-in mouth, I saw the boy sitting on saddle-bags behind me, his arms clipping my waist, while we threaded bowers of horse paths. I had not known how I wanted a boy to sit behind me! No wonder pioneer men were so confident and full of jokes: they had children behind them!
He was burning with fever. His eyes swam in it as he looked at me. He could not eat when food was brought to him, but begged for water, and the surgeon allowed him what the women considered reckless quantities. Over stockades came the August rustle of the forest. Morning bird voices succeeded to the cannon's reverberations.
The surgeon turned everybody out but me, and looked in by times from his hospital of British wounded. I wiped the boy's forehead and gave him his medicine, fanning him all day long. He lay in stupor, and the surgeon said he was going comfortably, and would suffer little. Once in awhile he turned up the corners of his mouth and smiled at me, as if the opiate gave him blessed sensations. I asked the surgeon what I should do in the night if he came out of it and wanted to talk.
"Let him talk," said the doctor briefly.
Unlike the night before, this was a night of silence. Everybody slept, but the sentinels, and the men whose wounds kept them awake; and I was both a sentinel, and a man whose wounds kept him awake.
Paul's little hands were scratched; and there was a stone bruise on the heel he pushed from cover of the blankets. His small body, compact of so much manliness, was fine and sweet. Though he bore no resemblance to his mother, it seemed to me that she lay there for me to tend; and the change was no more an astounding miracle than the change of baby to boy.
I had him all that night for my own, putting every other thought out of mind and absorbing his presence. His forehead and his face lost their burning heat with the coolness of dawn, which blew our shaded candle, flowing from miles of fragrant oaks.
He awoke and looked all around the cabin. I tried to put his opiate into his mouth; but something restrained me. I held his hand to my cheek.
"I like you," he spoke out. "Don't you think my mother is pretty?"
I said I thought his mother was the most beautiful woman in the world. He curled up his mouth corners and gave me a blue-eyed smile.
"My father is not pretty. But he is a gentleman of France."
"Where are they, Paul?"
He turned a look upon me without answering.
"Paul," I said brutally, "tell me where your father and mother are."
He was so far gone that my voice recalled him. He simply knew me as a voice and a presence that he liked.
"With poor old Ernestine," he answered.
"And where is poor old Ernestine?"
He began to shake as if struck with a chill. I drew the blanket closer.
"Paul, you must tell me!"
He shook his head. His mouth worked, and his little breast went into convulsions.
He shrieked and threw himself toward me. "My pretty little mother!"
I held him still in a tight grip. "My darling—don't start your wound!"
I could have beaten myself, but the surgeon afterwards told me the child was dying when he came into the fort. About dawn, when men's lives sink to their lowest ebb with night, his sank away, I smoothed his head and kissed and quieted him. Once he looked into space with blurred eyes, and curled up his mouth corners when I am sure he no longer saw me.
Thus swiftly ended Paul's unaccountable appearance at the fort. It was like the falling of a slain bird out of the sky at my feet. The women were tender with his little body. They cried over him as they washed him for burial. The children went outside the stockade and brought green boughs and August wild flowers, bearing the early autumn colors of gold and scarlet. With these they bedded the child in his plank coffin, unafraid of his waxen sleep.
Before Croghan went to report to his General, he asked me where we should bury the little fellow.
"In the fort, by the southern blockhouse," I answered. "Let Fort Stephenson be his monument. It will stand here forever. The woods around it will be trampled by prowling savages, and later on by prowling white men. Within, nothing will obliterate the place. Give a little fellow a bed here, who died between two countries, and will never be a citizen of either."
"I don't want to make a graveyard of the fort," said Croghan. But he looked at Paul, bent low over him, and allowed him to be buried near the southwest angle.
There the child's bones rest to this day. The town of Fremont in the commonwealth of Ohio has grown up around them. Young children who climb the grassy bastion, may walk above his head, never guessing that a little gentleman of France, who died like a soldier of his wound, lies deeply cradled there.
Before throwing myself down in the dead heaviness which results from continual loss of sleep, I questioned the wounded British soldiers about Paul. None of them had seen him. Straggling bands of Indians continually joined their force. Captives were always a possibility in the savage camp. Paul might have been taken hundreds of miles away.
But I had the padlocked book, which might tell the whole story. With desperate haste that could hardly wait to open the lids, I took it out, wondering at the patience which long self-restraint had bred in me. I was very tired, and stretched my arms across the pillow where Paul's head had lain, to rest one instant. But I must have slept. My hand woke first, and feeling itself empty, grasped at the book. It was gone, and so was the sun.
I got a light and searched, thrusting my arm between the bunk and the log wall. It was not on the floor, or in my breast pocket, or in my saddle-bags.
The robbery was unendurable. And I knew the Indian who had done it. He was the quietest, most stubborn Oneida that ever followed an adopted white man. Why he had taken the book I could not understand. But I was entirely certain that he had taken it out of my hand while I slept. He would not break the padlock and read it, but like a judicious father he would take care of a possibly unwholesome volume himself.
I went out and found the bald-headed and well-beloved wretch. He was sitting with his knees to his chin by the evening log fire.
"Skenedonk," I said, "I want my book."
"Children and books make a woman of you," he responded. "You had enough books at Longmeadow."
"I want it at once," I repeated.
"It's sorcery," he answered.
"It's a letter from Madame de Ferrier, and may tell where she is."
His fawn eyes were startled, but he continued to hug his knees.
"Skenedonk, I can't quarrel with you. You were my friend before I could remember. When you know I am so bound to you, how can you deal me a deadly hurt?"
"White woman sorcery is the worst sorcery. You thought I never saw it. But I did see it. You went after her to Paris. You did not think of being the king. So you had to come back with nothing. That's what woman sorcery does. Now you have power with the tribes. The President sees you are a big man! And she sends a book to you to bewitch you! I knew she sent the book as soon as I saw it."
"Do you think she sent Paul?"
He made no answer.
"Madame de Ferrier does not know I have the book."
"You haven't it," said Skenedonk.
"But you have."
"If she wrote and sent a letter she expected it would be received."
"When I said a letter I meant what is called a journal: the writing down of what happens daily. Johnny Appleseed got the book from an Indian. That is how it was sent to me."
"If you read it you will want to drop everything else and go to find her."
This was the truth, for I was not under military law.
"Where is the book?"
"Down my back," said Skenedonk.
I felt the loose buckskin.
"It isn't there."
"In my front," said Skenedonk.
I ran my hand over his chest, finding nothing but bone and brawn.
"There it is," he said, pointing to a curled wisp of board at the edge of the fire. "I burnt it."
"Then you've finished me."
I turned and left him sitting like an image by the fire.
Before I left Fort Stephenson, I wrote a letter to Count de Chaumont, telling him about Paul's death and asking for news of the De Ferriers. The answer I begged him to send to Sandusky, which the British now despaired of taking. But although Skenedonk made a long journey for it twice during the half year, I got no answer.
The dangerous work of the next few months became like a long debauch. Awake, we were dodging betwixt hostile tribes, or dealing with those inclined to peace. Asleep, I was too exhausted to dream. It was a struggle of the white force of civilization with the red sense of justice. I wrestled with Algonquin dialects as I had wrestled with Greek. Ottawas and Chippewas, long friendly to the French, came more readily than other tribes to agreement with Americans.
Wherever I went I pushed the quest that was uppermost in my mind, but without finding any trace of Madame de Ferrier.
From the measure constantly taken betwixt other men of my time and myself, this positive knowledge resulted.
In spite of the fact that many treated me as a prince, I found myself an average man. I had no military genius. In argument, persuasive, graceful—even eloquent—were the adjectives applied to me; not sweeping and powerful. I should have made a jog-trot king, no better than my uncle of Provence; no worse than my uncle of Artois, who would rather saw wood than reign a constitutional monarch, and whom the French people afterward turned out to saw wood. My reign might have been neat; it would never have been gaudily splendid. As an average man, I could well hold my own in the world.
Perry on the lakes, General Jackson in the southwest, Harrison in the west, and Lawrence on the ocean were pushing the war towards its close; though as late as spring the national capital was burned by the British, and a gentleman whom they gaily called "Old Jimmy Madison," temporarily driven out. But the battle on the little river Thames, in October, settled matters in the Northwest.
The next April, after Leipsic, Napoleon Bonaparte was banished to the island of Elba; and Louis XVIII passed from his latest refuge at Hartwell House in England, to London; where the Prince Regent honored him and the whole capital cheered him; and thence to Paris where he was proclaimed king of France. We heard of it in due course, as ships brought news. I was serving with the American forces.
The world is fluid to a boy. He can do and dare anything. But it hardens around a man and becomes a wall through which he must cut. I felt the wall close around me.
In September I was wounded at the battle of Plattsburg on Lake Champlain. Three men, besides the General and the doctor, and my Oneida, showed a differing interest in me, while I lay with a gap under my left arm, in a hospital tent.
First came Count de Chaumont, his face plowed with lines; no longer the trim gentleman, youthfully easy, and in his full maturity, that he had been when I first saw him at close range.
He sat down on a camp seat by my cot, and I asked him before he could speak—
"Where is Madame de Ferrier?"
"She's dead," he answered.
"I don't believe it."
"You're young. I'm going back to France for a while. France will not be what it was under the Empire. I'm tired of most things, however, and my holdings here make me independent of changes there."
"What reason have you to think that she is dead?"
"Do you know the Indiana Territory well?"
"The northern part only."
"It happened in what was called the Pigeon Roost settlement at the fork of the White River. The Kickapoos and Winnebagoes did it. There were about two dozen people in the settlement."
"I asked how you know these things."
"I have some of the best Indian runners that ever trod moccasins, and when I set them to scouting, they generally find what I want;—so I know a great many things."
"It's an old custom to adopt children into the tribes. You know your father, Chief Williams, is descended from a white girl who was a prisoner. There were about two dozen people in the settlement, men, women and children. The majority of the children were dashed against trees. It has been consolation to me to think she did not survive in the hands of savages."
The hidden causes which work out results never worked out a result more improbable. I lay silent, and De Chaumont said,
"Do you remember the night you disappeared from the Tuileries?"
"I remember it."
"You remember we determined not to let the Marquis de Ferrier see Napoleon. When you went down the corridor with Eagle I thought you were luring him. But she told us afterward you were threatened with arrest, and she helped you out of the Tuileries by a private stairway."
"Did it make any stir in the palace?"
"No. I saw one man hurrying past us. But nobody heard of the arrest except Eagle."
"How did she get out?"
"Out of what?"
"The queen's closet."
"She was in the garden. She said she went down the private stairway to avoid the gendarme. She must have done it cleverly, for she came in on the arm of Junot and the matter was not noticed. There stood my emergency facing me again. You had deserted. What made you imagine you were threatened with arrest?"
"Because a gendarme in court dress laid his hand on my shoulder and told me I was to come with him."
"Well, you may have drawn the secret police upon you. You had been cutting a pretty figure. It was probably wise to drop between walls and get out of France. Do you know why you were arrested?"
"I think the groundless charge would have been an attack upon Napoleon."
"You never attacked the emperor!"
"No. But I had every reason to believe such a charge would be sworn against me if I ever came to trial."
"Perhaps that silly dauphin story leaked out in Paris. The emperor does hate a Bourbon. But I thought you had tricked me. And the old marquis never took his eyes off the main issue. He gave Eagle his arm, and was ready to go in and thank the emperor."
"You had to tell him?"
"I had to tell him."
"What did he say?"
"Not a word. All the blood seemed to be drawn out of his veins, and his face fell in. Then it burned red hot, and instead of good friend and benefactor, I saw myself a convict. His big staring blue eyes came out of a film like an owl's, and shot me through. I believe he saw everything I ever did in my life, and my intentions about Eagle most plainly of all. He bowed and wished me good-night, and took her out of the Tuileries."
"But you saw him again?"
"He never let me see him again, or her either. I am certain he forbade her to communicate with us. They did not go back to Mont-Louis. They left their hotel in Paris. I wrote imploring him to hold the estates. My messages were returned. I don't know how he got money enough to emigrate. But emigrate they did; avoiding Castorland, where the Saint-Michels, who brought her up, lived in comfort, and might have comforted her, and where I could have made her life easy. He probably dragged her through depths of poverty, before they joined a company bound for the Indiana Territory, where the Pigeon Roost settlement was planted. I have seen old Saint-Michel work at clearing, and can imagine the Marquis de Ferrier sweating weakly while he chopped trees. It is a satisfaction to know they had Ernestine with them. De Ferrier might have plowed with Eagle," said the count hotly. "He never hesitated to make use of her."
While I had been living a monk's studious, well-provided life, was she toiling in the fields? I groaned aloud.
De Chaumont dropped his head on his breast.
"It hurts me more than I care to let anybody but you know, Lazarre. If I hadn't received that letter I should have avoided you. I wish you had saved Paul. I would adopt him."
"I think not, my dear count."
"Nonsense, boy! I wouldn't let you have him."
"You have a child."
"Her husband has her. But let us not pitch and toss words. No use quarreling over a dead boy. What right have you to Eagle's child?"
"Not your right of faithful useful friendship. Only my own right."
"Nothing that she ever admitted."
"I was afraid of you," said De Chaumont, "when you flowered out with old Du Plessy, like an heir lost in emigration and found again. You were a startling fellow, dropping on the Faubourg; and anything was possible under the Empire. You know I never believed the dauphin nonsense, but a few who remembered, said you looked like the king. You were the king to her; above mating with the best of the old nobility. She wouldn't have married you."
"Did she ever give you reason to think she would marry you?"
"She never gave me reason to think she would marry anybody. But what's the use of groaning? There's distraction abroad. I took the trails to see you, when I heard you were with the troops on Champlain. I shall be long in France. What can I do for you, my boy?"
"Nothing, count. You have already done much."
"She had a foolish interest in you. The dauphin!—Too good to sit at table with us, you raw savage!—Had to be waited on by old Jean! And she would have had me serve you, myself!"
He laughed, and so did I. We held hands, clinging in fellowship.
"I might not have refused your service; like Marquis de Ferrier."
The count's face darkened.
"I'll not abuse him. He's dead."
"Are you sure he's dead this time, count?"
"A Kickapoo is carrying his scalp. Trust my runners. They have traced him so much for me they know the hair on his stubborn head. I must go where I can have amusement, Lazarre. This country is a young man's country. I'm getting old. Adieu. You're one of the young men."
Some changes of light and darkness passed over me, and the great anguish of my wound increased until there was no rest. However, the next man who visited me stood forth at the side of the stretcher as Bellenger. I thought I dreamed him, being light-headed with fever. He was unaccountably weazened, robbed of juices, and powdering to dust on the surface. His mustache had grown again, and he carried it over his ears in the ridiculous manner affected when I saw him in the fog.
"Where's your potter's wheel?" I inquired.
"In the woods by Lake George, sire."
"Do you still find clay that suits you?"
"Have you made that vase yet?"
"No, sire. I succeed in nothing."
"You succeed in tracking me."
He swam before my eyes, and I pointed to the surgeon's camp-chair.
"Not in your presence, sire."
"Have you lost your real dauphin?" I inquired.
"I have the honor of standing before the real dauphin."
"So you swore at Mittau!"
"I perjured myself."
"Well, what are you doing now?"
"Sire, I am a man in failing health. Before the end I have come to tell you the truth."
"Do you think you can do it?"
"Your king is Louis XVIII," I reminded him.
"He is not my king."
"Taken your pension away, has he?"
"I no longer receive anything from that court."
"And your dauphin?"
"He was left in Europe."
"Look here, Bellenger! Why did you treat me so? Dauphin or no dauphin, what harm was I doing you?"
"I thought a strong party was behind you. And I knew there had been double dealing with me. You represented some invisible power tricking me. I was beside myself, and faced it out in Mittau. I have been used shamefully, and thrown aside when I am failing. Hiding out in the hills ruined my health."
"Let us get to facts, if you have facts. Do you know anything about me, Bellenger?"
"Who am I?"
"Louis XVII of France."
"What proof can you give me?"
"First, sire, permit a man who has been made a wretched tool, to implore forgiveness of his rightful sovereign, and a little help to reach a warmer climate before the rigors of a northern winter begin."
"Bellenger, you are entrancing," I said. "Why did I ever take you seriously? Ste. Pelagie was a grim joke, and tipping in the river merely your playfulness. You had better take yourself off now, and keep on walking until you come to a warmer climate."
He wrung his hands with a gesture that touched my natural softness to my enemy.
"Talk, then. Talk, man. What have you to say?"
"This, first, sire. That was a splendid dash you made into France!"
"And what a splendid dash I made out of it again, with a gendarme at my coat tails, and you behind the gendarme!"
"But it was the wrong time. If you were there now;—the French people are so changeable—"
"I shall never be there again. His Majesty the eighteenth Louis is welcome. What the blood stirs in me to know is, have I a right to the throne?"
"Sire, the truth as I know it, I will tell you. You were the boy taken from the Temple prison."
"Who did it?"
"Agents of the royalist party whose names would mean nothing to you if I gave them."
"I was placed in your hands?"
"You were placed in my hands to be taken to America."
"I was with you in London, where two royalists who knew me, recognized me?"
"The two De Ferriers."
"Did a woman named Madame Tank see me?"
Bellenger was startled.
"You were noticed on the ship by a court-lady of Holland; a very clever courtier. I had trouble in evading her. She suspected too much, and asked too many questions; and would have you to play with her baby on the deck, though at that time you noticed nothing."
"But where does the idiot come into my story?"
"Sire, you have been unfortunate, but I have been a victim. When we landed in New York I went directly and made myself known to the man who was to act as purveyor of your majesty's pension. He astonished me by declaring that the dauphin was already there, and had claimed the pension for that year. The country and the language were unknown to me. The agent spoke French, it is true, but we hardly understood each other. I supposed I had nothing to do but present my credentials. Here was another idiot—I crave your majesty's pardon—"
"Quite right—at the time, Bellenger."
—"drawing the annuity intended for the dauphin. I inquired into his rights. The agent showed me papers like my own. I asked who presented them. He knew no more of the man than he did of me. I demanded to face the man. No such person could be found. I demanded to see the idiot. He was shut in a room and fed by a hired keeper. I sat down and thought much. Clearly it was not the agent's affair. He followed instructions. Good! I would follow instructions also. Months would have been required to ask and receive explanations from the court of Monsieur. He had assumed the title of Louis XVIII, for the good of the royalist cause, as if there were no prince. I thought I saw what was expected of me."
"And what did you see, you unspeakable scoundrel?"
"I saw that there was a dauphin too many, hopelessly idiotic. But if he was the one to be guarded, I would guard him."
"Who was that idiot?"
"Some unknown pauper. No doubt of that."
"And what did you do with me?"
"A chief of the Iroquois Indians can tell you that."
"This is a clumsy story, Bellenger. Try again."
"If you knew so little of the country, how did you find an Iroquois chief?"
"I met him in the woods when he was hunting. I offered to give you to him, pretending you had the annuity from Europe. Sire, I do not know why trickery was practiced on me, or who practiced it: why such pains were taken to mix the clues which led to the dauphin. But afterwards the same agent had orders to give you two-thirds and me only one-third of the yearly sum. I thought the court was in straits;—when both Russia and Spain supported it! I was nothing but a court painter. But when you went to France, I blocked your way with all the ingenuity I could bring."
"I would like to ask you, Bellenger, what a man is called who attempts the life of his king?"
"Sire, the tricks of royalists pitted us against each other."
"That's enough, Bellenger. I don't believe a word you say, excepting that part of your story agreeing with Madame de Ferrier's. Put your hand under my pillow and find my wallet. Now help yourself, and never let me see you again."
He helped himself to everything except a few shillings, weeping because his necessities were so great. But I told him I was used to being robbed, and he had done me all the harm he could; so his turn to pluck me naturally followed.
Then I softened, as I always do towards the claimant of the other part, and added that we were on the same footing; I had been a pensioner myself.
"Sire, I thank you," said Bellenger, having shaken the wallet and poked his fingers into the lining where an unheard-of gold piece could have lodged.
"It tickles my vanity to be called sire."
"You are a true prince," said Bellenger. "My life would be well spent if I could see you restored to your own."
"So I infer, from the valuable days you have spent trying to bring that result about."
"Your majesty is sure of finding support in France."
"The last king liked to tinker with clocks. Perhaps I like to tinker with Indians."
"Sire, it is due to your birth—"
"Never mind my birth," I said. "I'm busy with my life."
He bowed himself out of my presence without turning. This tribute to royalty should have touched me. He took a handsome adieu, and did not afterward seek further reward for his service. I heard in the course of years that he died in New Orleans, confessing much regarding myself to people who cared nothing about it, and thought him crazy. They doubtless had reason, so erratic was the wanderer whom I had first consciously seen through Lake George fog. His behavior was no more incredible than the behavior of other Frenchmen who put a hand to the earlier years of their prince's life.
The third to appear at my tent door was Chief Williams, himself. The surgeon told him outside the tent that it was a dangerous wound. He had little hope for me, and I had indifferent hope myself, lying in torpor and finding it an effort to speak. But after several days of effort I did speak.
The chief sat beside me, concerned and silent.
"Father," I said.
The chief harkened near to my lips.
"Tell me," I begged, after resting, "who brought me to you."
His dark sullen face became tender. "It was a Frenchman," he answered. "I was hunting and met him on the lake with two boys. He offered to give you to me. We had just lost a son."
When I had rested again, I asked:
"Do you know anything else about me?"
The subject was closed between us. And all subjects were closed betwixt the world and me, for my face turned the other way. The great void of which we know nothing, but which our faith teaches us to bridge, opened for me.
But the chief's and Skenedonk's nursing and Indian remedies brought me face earthward again, reviving the surgeon's hope.
When blood and life mounted, and my torn side sewed up its gap in a healthy scar, adding another to my collection, autumn was upon us. From the hunting lodges on Lake George, and the Williamses of Longmeadow, I went to the scorched capital of Washington. In the end the Government helped me with my Indian plan, though when Skenedonk and I pushed out toward Illinois Territory we had only my pay and a grant of land. Peace was not formally made until December, but the war ended that summer.
Man's success in the world is proportioned to the number of forces he can draw around himself to work with him. I have been able to draw some forces; though in matters where most people protect themselves, I have a quality of asinine patience which the French would not have tolerated.
The Oneidas were ready to follow wherever I led them. And so were many families of the Iroquois federation. But the Mohawk tribe held back. However, I felt confident of material for an Indian state when the foundation should be laid.
We started lightly equipped upon the horse paths. The long journey by water and shore brought us in October to the head of Green Bay. We had seen Lake Michigan, of a light transparent blueness, with fire ripples chasing from the sunset. And we had rested at noon in plum groves on the vast prairies, oases of fertile deserts, where pink and white fruit drops, so ripe that the sun preserves it in its juice. The freshness of the new world continually flowed around us. We shot deer. Wolves sneaked upon our trail. We slept with our heels to the campfire, and our heads on our saddles. Sometimes we built a hunter's shed, open at front and sloping to ground at back. To find out how the wind blew, we stuck a finger in our mouths and held it up. The side which became cold first was the side of the wind.
Physical life riots in the joy of its revival. I was so glad to be alive after touching death that I could think of Madame de Ferrier without pain, and say more confidently—"She is not dead," because resurrection was working in myself.
Green Bay or La Baye, as the fur hunters called it, was a little post almost like a New England village among its elms: one street and a few outlying houses beside the Fox River. The open world had been our tavern; or any sod or log hut cast up like a burrow of human prairie dogs or moles. We did not expect to find a tavern in Green Bay. Yet such a place was pointed out to us near the Fur Company's block warehouse. It had no sign post, and the only visible stable was a pen of logs. Though negro slaves were owned in the Illinois Territory, we saw none when a red-headed man rushed forth shouting:
"Sam, you lazy nigger, come here and take the gentleman's horses! Where is that Sam? Light down, sir, with your Indian, and I will lead your beasts to the hostler myself."
In the same way our host provided a supper and bed with armies of invisible servants. Skenedonk climbed a ladder to the loft with our saddlebags.
"Where is that chambermaid?" cried the tavern keeper.
"Yes, where is she?" said a man who lounged on a bench by the entrance. "I've heard of her so often I would like to see her myself."
The landlord, deaf to raillery, bustled about and spread our table in his public room.
"Corn bread, hominy, side meat, ven'zin," he shouted in the kitchen. "Stir yourself, you black rascal, and dish up the gentleman's supper."
Skenedonk walked boldly to the kitchen door and saw our landlord stewing and broiling, performing the offices of cook as he had performed those of stableman. He kept on scolding and harrying the people who should have been at his command:—"Step around lively, Sam. Tell the gentleman the black bottle is in the fireplace cupboard if he wants to sharpen his appetite. Where is that little nigger that picks up chips? Bring me some more wood from the wood-pile! I'll teach you to go to sleep behind the door!"
Our host served us himself, running with sleeves turned back to admonish an imaginary cook. His tap-room was the fireplace cupboard, and it was visited while we ate our supper, by men in elkskin trousers, and caps and hooded capotes of blue cloth. These Canadians mixed their own drink, and made a cross-mark on the inside of the cupboard door, using a system of bookkeeping evidently agreed upon between themselves and the landlord. He shouted for the lazy barkeeper, who answered nothing out of nothingness.
Nightfall was very clear and fair in this Northwestern territory. A man felt nearer to the sunset. The region took hold upon me: particularly when one who was neither a warehouseman nor a Canadian fur hunter, hurried in and took me by the hand.
"I am Pierre Grignon," he said.
Indeed, if he had held his fiddle, and tuned it upon an arm not quite so stout, I should have known without being told that he was the man who had played in the Saint-Michel cabin while Annabel de Chaumont climbed the chimney.
We sat and talked until the light faded. The landlord brought a candle, and yelled up the loft, where Skenedonk had already stretched himself in his blanket, as he loved to do:
"Chambermaid, light up!"
"You drive your slaves too hard, landlord," said Pierre Grignon.
"You'd think I hadn't any, Mr. Grignon; for they're never in the way when they're wanted."
"One industrious man you certainly have."
"Yes, Sam is a good fellow; but I'll have to go out and wake him up and make him rub the horses down."
"Never mind," said Pierre Grignon. "I'm going to take these travelers home with me."
"Now I know how a tavern ought to be kept," said the landlord. "But what's the use of my keeping one if Pierre Grignon carries off all the guests?"
"He is my old friend," I told the landlord.
"He's old friend to everybody that comes to Green Bay. I'll never get so much as a sign painted to hang in front of the Palace Tavern."
I gave him twice his charges and he said:
"What a loss it was to enterprise in the Bay when Pierre Grignon came here and built for the whole United States!"
The Grignon house, whether built for the whole United States or not, was the largest in Green Bay. Its lawn sloped down to the Fox River. It was a huge square of oak timbers, with a detached kitchen, sheltered by giant elms. To this day it stands defying time with its darkening frame like some massive rock, the fan windows in the gables keeping guard north and south.
A hall divided the house through the center, and here Madame Grignon welcomed me as if I were a long-expected guest, for this was her custom; and as soon as she clearly remembered me, led me into a drawing-room where a stately old lady sat making lace.
This was the grandmother of the house. Such a house would have been incomplete without a grandmother at the hearth.
The furniture of this hall or family room had been brought from Montreal; spindle chairs and a pier table of mahogany; a Turkey carpet, laid smoothly on the polished floor to be spurned aside by young dancers there; some impossible sea pictures, with patron saints in the clouds over mariners; an immense stuffed sofa, with an arm dividing it across the center;—the very place for those head-to-head conversations with young men which the girls of the house called "twosing." It was, in fact, the favorite "twosing" spot of Green Bay.
Stools there were for children, and armchairs for old people were not lacking. The small yellow spinning wheel of Madame Ursule, as I found afterwards Madame Grignon was commonly called, stood ready to revolve its golden disk wherever she sat.
The servants were Pawnee Indians, moving about their duties almost with stealth.
The little Grignon daughter who had stood lost in wonder at the dancing of Annabel de Chaumont, was now a turner of heads herself, all flaxen white, and contrasting with the darkness of Katarina Tank. Katarina was taken home to the Grignon's after her mother's death. Both girls had been educated in Montreal.
The seigniorial state in which Pierre Grignon lived became at once evident. I found it was the custom during Advent for all the villagers to meet in his house and sing hymns. On Christmas day his tables were loaded for everybody who came. If any one died, he was brought to Pierre Grignon's for prayer, and after his burial, the mourners went back to Pierre Grignon's for supper. Pierre Grignon and his wife were god-father and god-mother to most of the children born at La Baye. If a child was left without father and mother, Pierre Grignon's house became its asylum until a home could be found for it. The few American officers stationed at the old stockade, nearly every evening met the beauties of Green Bay at Pierre Grignon's, and if he did not fiddle for them he led Madame in the dancing. The grandmother herself sometimes took her stick and stepped through a measure to please the young people. Laughter and the joy of life filled the house every waking hour of the twenty-four. Funerals were never horrible there. Instead, they seemed the mystic beginning of better things.
"Poor Madame Tank! She would have been so much more comfortable in her death if she had relieved her mind," Madame Ursule said, the first evening, as we sat in a pause of the dancing. "She used to speak of you often, for seeing you made a great impression upon her, and she never let us forget you. I am sure she knew more about you than she ever told me. 'I have an important disclosure to make,' she says. 'Come around me, I want all of you to hear it!' Then she fell back and died without telling it."
A touch of mystery was not lacking to the house. Several times I saw the tail of a gray gown disappear through an open door. Some woman half entered and drew back.
"It's Madeleine Jordan," an inmate told me each time. "She avoids strangers."
I asked if Madeleine Jordan was a relative.
"Oh, no," Madame Ursule replied; "but the family who brought her here, went back to Canada, and of course they left her with us."
Of course Madeleine Jordan, or anybody else who lacked a roof, would be left with the Grignons; but in that house a hermit seemed out of place, and I said so to Madame Ursule.
"Poor child!" she responded. "I think she likes the bustle and noise. She is not a hermit. What difference can it make to her whether people are around her or not?"
The subject of Madeleine Jordan was no doubt beyond a man's handling. I had other matters to think about, and directly plunged into them. First the Menominees and Winnebagoes must be assembled in council. They held all the desirable land.
"We don't like your Indian scheme in Green Bay," said Pierre Grignon. "But if the tribes here are willing to sell their lands, other settlers can't prevent it."
He went with me to meet the savages on the opposite side of the Fox near the stockade. There the talking and eating lasted two days. At the end of that time I had a footing for our Iroquois in the Wisconsin portion of the Illinois Territory; and the savages who granted it danced a war dance in our honor. Every brave shook over his head the scalps he had taken. I saw one cap of soft long brown hair.
"Eh!" said Pierre Grignon, sitting beside me. "Their dirty trophies make you ghastly! Do your eastern tribes never dance war dances?"
After the land was secured its boundaries had to be set. Then my own grant demanded attention; and last, I was anxious to put my castle on it before snow flew. Many of those late autumn nights Skenedonk and I spent camping. The outdoor life was a joy to me. Our land lay up the Fox River and away from the bay. But more than one stormy evening, when we came back to the bay for supplies, I plunged into the rolling water and swam breasting the waves. It is good to be hardy, and sane, and to take part in the visible world, whether you are great and have your heart's desire or not.
When we had laid the foundation of the Indian settlement, I built my house with the help of skilled men. It was a spacious one of hewn logs, chinked with cat-and-clay plaster, showing its white ribs on the hill above the Fox. In time I meant to cover the ribs with perennial vines. There was a spring near the porches. The woods banked me on the rear, and an elm spread its colossal umbrella over the roof. Fertile fields stretched at my left, and on my right a deep ravine lined with white birches, carried a stream to the Fox.
From my stronghold to the river was a long descent. The broadening and narrowing channel could be seen for miles. A bushy island, beloved of wild ducks, parted the water, lying as Moses hid in osiers, amidst tall growths of wild oats. Lily pads stretched their pavements in the oats. Beyond were rolling banks, and beyond those, wooded hills rising terrace over terrace to the dawn. Many a sunrise was to come to me over those hills. Oaks and pines and sumach gathered to my doorway.
In my mind I saw the garden we afterward created; with many fruit trees, beds, and winding walks, trellised seats, squares of flaming tulips, phlox, hollyhocks, roses. It should reach down into the ravine, where humid ferns and rocks met plants that love darkling ground. Yet it should not be too dark. I would lop boughs rather than have a growing thing spindle as if rooted in Ste. Pelagie!—and no man who loves trees can do that without feeling the knife at his heart. What is long developing is precious like the immortal part of us.
The stoicism that comes of endurance has something of death in it. I prepared a home without thought of putting any wife therein. I had grown used to being alone, with the exception of Skenedonk's taciturn company. The house was for castle and resting place after labor. I took satisfaction in the rude furniture we made for it. In after years it became filled with rich gifts from the other side of the world, and books that have gladdened my heart. Yet in its virginhood, before pain or joy or achievement had entered there, before spade struck the ground which was to send up food, my holding on the earth's surface made me feel prince of a principality.
The men hewed a slab settle, and stationed it before the hearth, a thing of beauty in its rough and lichen-tinted barks, though you may not believe it. My floors I would have smooth and neatly joined, of hard woods which give forth a shining for wear and polish. Stools I had, easily made, and one large round of a tree for my table, like an Eastern tabouret.
Before the river closed and winter shut in, Skenedonk and I went back to Green Bay. I did not know how to form my household, and had it in mind to consult Madame Ursule. Pawnees could be had: and many French landholders in the territory owned black slaves. Pierre Grignon himself kept one little negro like a monkey among the stately Indians.
Dealing with acres, and with people wild as flocks, would have been worth while if nothing had resulted except our welcome back to Pierre Grignon's open house. The grandmother hobbled on her stick across the floor to give me her hand. Madame Ursule reproached me with delaying, and Pierre said it was high time to seek winter quarters. The girls recounted harvest reels and even weddings, with dances following, which I had lost while away from the center of festivity.
The little negro carried my saddlebags to the guest room. Skenedonk was to sleep on the floor. Abundant preparations for the evening meal were going forward in the kitchen. As I mounted the stairway at Madame Ursule's direction, I heard a tinkle of china, her very best, which adorned racks and dressers. It was being set forth on the mahogany board.
The upper floor of Pierre Grignon's house was divided by a hall similar to the one below. I ran upstairs and halted.
Standing with her back to the fading light which came through one fan window at the hall end, was a woman's figure in a gray dress. I gripped the rail.
My first thought was: "How shall I tell her about Paul?" My next was: "What is the matter with her?"
She rippled from head to foot in the shiver of rapture peculiar to her, and stretched her arms to me crying:
"Oh, Madame!" I said, bewildered, and sick as from a stab. It was no comfort that the high lady who scarcely allowed me to kiss her hand before we parted, clung around my neck. She trembled against me.
"Have you come back to your mother, Paul?"
"Eagle!" I pleaded. "Don't you know me? You surely know Lazarre!"
She kissed me, pulling my head down in her arms, the velvet mouth like a baby's, and looked straight into my eyes.
"Madame, try to understand! I am Louis! If you forget Lazarre, try to remember Louis!"
She heard with attention, and smiled. The pressure of my arms spoke to her. A man's passion addressed itself to a little child. All other barriers which had stood between us were nothing to this. I held her, and she could never be mine. She was not ill in body; the contours of her upturned face were round and softened with much smiling. But mind-sickness robbed me of her in the moment of finding her.
"She can't be insane!" I said aloud. "Oh, God, anything but that! She was not a woman that could be so wrecked."
Like a fool I questioned, and tried to get some explanation.
Eagle smoothed my arm, nested her hand in my neck.
"My little boy! He has grown to be a man—while his mother has grown down to be a child! Do you know what I am now, Paul?"
I choked a sob in my throat and told her I did not.
"I am your Cloud-Mother. I live in a cloud. Do you love me while I am in the cloud?"
I told her I loved her with all my strength, in the cloud or out of it.
"Will you take care of me as I used to take care of you?"
I swore to the Almighty that she should be my future care.
"I need you so! I have watched for you in the woods and on the water, Paul! You have been long coming back to me."
I heard Madame Ursule mounting the stairs to see if my room was in order.
Who could understand the relation in which Eagle and I now stood, and the claim she made upon me? She clung to my arm when I took it away. I led her by the hand. Even this sight caused Madame Ursule a shock at the head of the stairs.
My hostess paused and looked at us.
"Did she come to you of her own accord?"
"I never knew her to notice a stranger before."
"Madame, do you know who this is?"
"It is the Marquise de Ferrier."
"The Marquise de Ferrier?"
"Did you know her?"
"I have known her ever since I can remember."
"The Marquise de Ferrier! But, M's'r Williams, did she know you?"
"She knows me," I asserted. "But not as myself. I am sure she knows me! But she confuses me with the child she lost! I cannot explain to you, madame, how positive I am that she recognizes me; any more than I can explain why she will call me Paul. I think I ought to tell you, so you will see the position in which I am placed, that this lady is the lady I once hoped to marry."
"Saints have pity, M's'r Williams!"
"I want to ask you some questions."
"Bring her down to the fire. Come, dear child," said Madame Ursule, coaxing Eagle. "Nobody is there. The bedrooms can never be so warm as the log fire; and this is a bitter evening."
The family room was unlighted by candles, as often happened. For such an illumination in the chimney must have quenched any paler glare. We had a few moments of brief privacy from the swarming life which constantly passed in and out.
I placed Eagle by the fire and she sat there obediently, while I talked to Madame Ursule apart.
"Was her mind in this state when she came to you?"
"She was even a little wilder than she is now. The girls have been a benefit to her."
"They were not afraid of her?"
"Who could be afraid of the dear child? She is a lady—that's plain. Ah, M's'r Williams, what she must have gone through!"
"Yet see how happy she looks!"
"She always seemed happy enough. She would come to this house. So when the Jordans went to Canada, Pierre and I both said, 'Let her stay.'"
"Who were the Jordans?"
"The only family that escaped with their lives from the massacre when she lost her family. Madame Jordan told me the whole story. They had friends among the Winnebagoes who protected them."
"Did they give her their name?"
"No, the people in La Baye did that. We knew she had another name. But I think it very likely her title was not used in the settlement where they lived. Titles are no help in pioneering."
"Did they call her Madeleine?"
"She calls herself Madeleine."
"How long has she been with your family?"
"Nearly a year."
"Did the Jordans tell you when this change came over her?"
"Yes. It was during the attack when her child was taken from her. She saw other children killed. The Indians were afraid of her. They respect demented people; not a bit of harm was done to her. They let her alone, and the Jordans took care of her."
The daughter and adopted daughter of the house came in with a rush of outdoor air, and seeing Eagle first, ran to kiss her on the cheek one after the other.
"Madeleine has come down!" said Marie.
"I thought we should coax her in here sometime," said Katarina.
Between them, standing slim and tall, their equal in height, she was yet like a little sister. Though their faces were unlined, hers held a divine youth.
To see her stricken with mind-sickness, and the two girls who had done neither good nor evil, existing like plants in sunshine, healthy and sound, seemed an iniquitous contrast.
If ever woman was made for living and dying in one ancestral home, she was that woman. Yet she stood on the border of civilization, without a foothold to call her own. If ever woman was made for one knightly love which would set her in high places, she was that woman. Yet here she stood, her very name lost, no man so humble as to do her reverence.
"Paul has come," Eagle told Katarina and Marie. Holding their hands, she walked between them toward me, and bade them notice my height. "I am his Cloud-Mother," she said. "How droll it is that parents grow down little, while their children grow up big!"
Madame Ursule shook her head pitifully. But the girls really saw the droll side and laughed with my Cloud-Mother.
Separated from me by an impassable barrier, she touched me more deeply than when I sued her most. The undulating ripple which was her peculiar expression of joy was more than I could bear. I left the room and was flinging myself from the house to walk in the chill wind; but she caught me.
"I will be good!" pleaded my Cloud-Mother, her face in my breast.
Her son who had grown up big, while she grew down little, went back to the family room with her.
My Cloud-Mother sat beside me at table, and insisted on cutting up my food for me. While I tried to eat, she asked Marie and Katarina and Pierre Grignon and Madame Ursule to notice how well I behaved. The tender hearted host wiped his eyes.
I understood why she had kept such hold upon me through years of separateness. A nameless personal charm, which must be a gift of the spirit, survived all wreck and change. It drew me, and must draw me forever, whether she knew me again or not. One meets and wakes you to vivid life in an immortal hour. Thousands could not do it through eternity.
The river piled hillocks of water in a strong north wind, and no officer crossed from the stockade. Neither did any neighbor leave his own fire. It seldom happened that the Grignons were left with inmates alone. Eagle sat by me and watched the blaze streaming up the chimney.
If she was not a unit in the family group and had no part there, they were most kind to her.
"Take care!" the grandmother cried with swift forethought when Marie and Katarina marshaled in a hopping object from the kitchen. "It might frighten Madeleine."
Pierre Grignon stopped in the middle of a bear hunt. Eagle was not frightened. She clapped her hands.
"This is a pouched turkey!" Marie announced, leaning against the wall, while Katarina chased the fowl. It was the little negro, his arms and feet thrust into the legs of a pair of Pierre Grignon's trousers, and the capacious open top fastened upon his back. Doubled over, he waddled and hopped as well as he could. A feather duster was stuck in for a tail, and his woolly head gave him the uncanny look of a black harpy. To see him was to shed tears of laughter. The pouched turkey enjoyed being a pouched turkey. He strutted and gobbled, and ran at the girls; tried to pick up corn from the floor with his thick lips, tumbling down and rolling over in the effort; for a pouched turkey has no wings with which to balance himself. So much hilarity in the family room drew the Pawnee servants. I saw their small dark eyes in a mere line of open door, gazing solemnly.
When the turkey was relieved from his pouching and sent to bed, Pierre Grignon took his violin. The girls answered with jigs that ended a reel, when couples left the general figure to jig it off.
When Eagle had watched them awhile she started up, spread her skirts in a sweeping courtesy, and began to dance a gavotte. The fiddler changed his tune, and the girls rested and watched her. Alternately swift and languid, with the changes of the movement, she saluted backward to the floor, or spun on the tips of rapid feet. I had seen her dance many times, but never with such abandon of joy.
Our singular relationship was established in the house, where hospitality made room and apology for all human weakness.
Nobody of that region, except the infirm, stayed indoors to shiver by a fire. Eagle and the girls in their warm capotes breasted with me the coldest winter days. She was as happy as they were; her cheeks tingled as pink as theirs. Sometimes I thought her eyes must answer me with her old self-command; their bright grayness was so natural.
I believed if her delusions were humored, they would unwind from her like the cloud which she felt them to be. The family had long fallen into the habit of treating her as a child, playing some imaginary character. She seemed less demented than walking in a dream, her faculties asleep. It was somnambulism rather than madness. She had not the expression of insane people, the shifty eyes, the cunning and perverseness, the animal and torpid presence.
If I called her Madame de Ferrier instead of my Cloud-Mother, a strained and puzzled look replaced her usual satisfaction. I did not often use the name, nor did I try to make her repeat my own. It was my daily effort to fall in with her happiness, for if she saw any anxiety she was quick to plead:
"Don't you like me any more, Paul? Are you tired of me, because I am a Cloud-Mother?"
"No," I would answer. "Lazarre will never be tired of you."
"Do you think I am growing smaller? Will you love me if I shrink to a baby?"
"I will love you."
"I used to love you when you were so tiny, Paul, before you knew how to love me back. If I forget how"—she clutched the lapels of my coat—"will you leave me then?"