"Eagle, say this: 'Lazarre cannot leave me.'"
"Lazarre cannot leave me."
I heard her repeating this at her sewing. She boasted to Marie Grignon—"Lazarre cannot leave me!—Paul taught me that."
My Cloud-Mother asked me to tell her the stories she used to tell me. She had forgotten them.
"I am the child now," she would say. "Tell me the stories."
I repeated mythical tribe legends, gathered from Skenedonk on our long rides, making them as eloquent as I could. She listened, holding her breath, or sighing with contentment.
If any one in the household smiled when she led me about by the hand, there was a tear behind the smile.
She kept herself in perfection, bestowing unceasing care upon her dress, which was always gray.
"I have to wear gray; I am in a cloud," she had said to the family.
"We have used fine gray stuff brought from Holland, and wools that Mother Ursule got from Montreal," Katarina told me. "The Pawnees dye with vegetable colors. But they cannot make the pale gray she loves."
Eagle watched me with maternal care. If a hair dropped on my collar she brushed it away, and smoothed and settled my cravat. The touch of my Cloud-Mother, familiar and tender, like the touch of a wife, charged through me with torture, because she was herself so unconscious of it.
Before I had been in the house a week she made a little pair of trousers a span long, and gave them to me. Marie and Katarina turned their faces to laugh. My Cloud-Mother held the garment up for their inspection, and was not at all sensitive to the giggles it provoked.
"I made over an old pair of his father's," she said.
The discarded breeches used by the pouched turkey had been devoted to her whim. Every stitch was neatly set. I praised her beautiful needlework, and she said she would make me a coat.
Skenedonk was not often in the house. He took to the winter hunting and snow-shoeing with vigor. Whenever he came indoors I used to see him watching Madame de Ferrier with saturnine wistfulness. She paid no attention to him. He would stand gazing at her while she sewed; being privileged as an educated Indian and my attendant, to enter the family room where the Pawnees came only to serve. They had the ample kitchen and its log fire to themselves. I wondered what was working in Skenedonk's mind, and if he repented calling one so buffeted, a sorceress.
Kindly ridicule excited by the incongruous things she did, passed over without touching her. She was enveloped in a cloud, a thick case guarding overtaxed mind and body, and shutting them in its pellucid chrysalis. The Almighty arms were resting her on a mountain of vision. She had forgot how to weep. She was remembering how to laugh.
The more I thought about it the less endurable it became to have her dependent upon the Grignons. My business affairs with Pierre Grignon made it possible to transfer her obligations to my account. The hospitable man and his wife objected, but when they saw how I took it to heart, gave me my way. I told them I wished her to be regarded as my wife, for I should never have another; and while it might remain impossible for her to marry me, on my part I was bound to her.
"You are young, M's'r Williams," said Madame Ursule. "You have a long life before you. A man wants comfort in his house. And if he makes wealth, he needs a hand that knows how to distribute and how to save. She could never go to your home as she is."
"I know it, madame."
"You will change your mind about a wife."
"Madame, I have not changed my mind since I first wanted her. It is not a mind that changes."
"Well, that's unusual. Young men are often fickle. You never made proposals for her?"
"I did, madame, after her husband died."
"But she was still a wife—the wife of an old man—in the Pigeon Roost settlement."
"Her father married her to a cousin nearly as old as himself, when she was a child. Her husband was reported dead while he was in hiding. She herself thought, and so did her friends, that he was dead."
"I see. Eh! these girls married to old men! Madame Jordan told me Madeleine's husband was very fretful. He kept himself like silk, and scarcely let the wind blow upon him for fear of injuring his health. When other men were out toiling at the clearings, he sat in his house to avoid getting chills and fever in the sun. It was well for her that she had a faithful servant. Madeleine and the servant kept the family with their garden and corn field. They never tasted wild meat unless the other settlers brought them venison. Madame Jordan said they always returned a present of herbs and vegetables from their garden. It grew for them better than any other garden in the settlement. Once the old man did go out with a hunting party, and got lost. The men searched for him three days, and found him curled up in a hollow tree, waiting to be brought in. They carried him home on a litter and he popped his head into the door and said: 'Here I am, child! You can't kill me!'"
"What did Madame de Ferrier say?"
"Nothing. She made a child of him, as if he were her son. He was in his second childhood, no doubt. And Madame Jordan said she appeared to hold herself accountable for the losses and crosses that made him so fretful. The children of the emigration were brought up to hardship, and accepted everything as their elders could not do."
"I thought the Marquis de Ferrier a courteous gentleman."
"Did you ever see him?"
"He used to tell his wife he intended to live a hundred years. And I suppose he would have done it, if he had not been tomahawked and scalped. 'You'll never get De Chaumont,' he used to say to her. 'I'll see that he never gets you!' I remember the name very well, because it was the name of that pretty creature who danced for us in the cabin on Lake George."
"De Chaumont was her father," I said. "He would have married Madame de Ferrier, and restored her estate, if she had accepted him, and the marquis had not come back."
"Saints have pity!" said Madame Ursule. "And the poor old man must make everybody and himself so uncomfortable!"
"But how could he help living?"
"True enough. God's times are not ours. But see what he has made of her!"
I thought of my Cloud-Mother walking enclosed from the world upon a height of changeless youth. She could not feel another shock. She was past both ambition and poverty. If she had ever felt the sweet anguish of love—Oh! she must have understood when she kissed me and said: "I will come to you sometime!"—the anguish—the hoping, waiting, expecting, receiving nothing, all were gone by. Even mother cares no longer touched her. Paul was grown. She could not be made anything that was base. Unseen forces had worked with her and would work with her still.
"You told me," I said to Madame Ursule, "the Indians were afraid of her when they burned the settlement. Was the change so sudden?"
"Madame Jordan's story was like this: It happened in broad daylight. Two men went into the woods hunting bee trees. The Indians caught and killed them within two miles of the clearing—some of those very Winnebagoes you treated with for your land. It was a sunshiny day in September. You could hear the poultry crowing, and the children playing in the dooryards. Madeleine's little Paul was never far away from her. The Indians rushed in with yells and finished the settlement in a few minutes. Madame Jordan and her family were protected, but she saw children dashed against trees, and her neighbors struck down and scalped before she could plead for them. And little good pleading would have done. An Indian seized Paul. His father and the old servant lay dead across the doorstep. His mother would not let him go. The Indian dragged her on her knees and struck her on the head. Madame Jordan ran out at the risk of being scalped herself, and got the poor girl into her cabin. The Indian came back for Madeleine's scalp. Madeleine did not see him. She never seemed to notice anybody again. She stood up quivering the whole length of her body, and laughed in his face. It was dreadful to hear her above the cries of the children. The Indian went away like a scared hound. And none of the others would touch her."
After I heard this story I was thankful every day that Eagle could not remember; that natural happiness had its way with her elastic body.
Madame Ursule told me the family learned to give her liberty. She rowed alone upon the river, and went where she pleased. The men in La Baye would step aside for her. Strangers disturbed her by bringing the consciousness of something unusual.
Once I surprised Marie and Katarina sitting close to the fire at twilight, talking about lovers. Eagle was near them on a stool.
"That girl," exclaimed Katarina, speaking of the absent with strong disapproval, "is one of the kind that will let another girl take her sweetheart and then sit around and look injured! Now if she could get him from me she might have him! But she'd have to get him first!"
Eagle listened in the attitude of a young sister, giving me to understand by a look that wisdom flowed, and she was learning.
We rose one morning to find the world buried in snow. The river was frozen and its channel padded thick. As for the bay, stretches of snow fields, with dark pools and broken gray ridges met ice at the end of the world.
It was so cold that paper stuck to the fingers like feathers, and the nails tingled with frost. The white earth creaked under foot, and when a sled went by the snow cried out in shrill long resistance, a spirit complaining of being trampled. Explosions came from the river, and elm limbs and timbers of the house startled us. White fur clothed the inner key holes. Tree trunks were black as ink against a background of snow. The oaks alone kept their dried foliage, which rattled like many skeletons, instead of rustling in its faded redness, because there was no life in it.
But the colder it grew the higher Grignon's log fires mounted. And when channels were cut in the snow both along the ridge above Green Bay, and across country in every direction, French trains moved out with jangling bells, and maids and men uttered voice sounds which spread as by miracle on the diffusing air from horizon to horizon. You could hear the officers speaking across the river; and dogs were like to shake the sky down with their barking. Echoes from the smallest noises were born in that magnified, glaring world.
The whole festive winter spun past. Marie and Katarina brought young men to the peaks of hope in the "twosing" seat, and plunged them down to despair, quite in the American fashion. Christmas and New Year's days were great festivals, when the settlement ate and drank at Pierre Grignon's expense, and made him glad as if he fathered the whole post. Madame Grignon spun and looked to the house. And a thousand changes passed over the landscape. But in all that time no one could see any change in my Cloud-Mother. She sewed like a child. She laughed, and danced gavottes. She trod the snow, or muffled in robes, with Madame Ursule and the girls, flew over it in a French train; a sliding box with two or three horses hitched tandem. Every evening I sat by her side at the fire, while she made little coats and trousers for me. But remembrance never came into her eyes. The cloud stood round about her as it did when I first tried to penetrate it.
My own dim days were often in mind. I tried to recall sensations. But I had lived a purely physical life. Her blunders of judgment and delusion of bodily shrinking were no part of my experience. The thinking self in me had been paralyzed. While the thinking self in her was alive, in a cloud. Both of us were memoryless, excepting her recollection of Paul.
After March sent the ice out of river and bay, spring came with a rush as it comes in the north. Perhaps many days it was silently rising from tree roots. In February we used to say:—"This air is like spring." But after such bold speech the arctic region descended upon us again, and we were snowed in to the ears. Yet when the end of March unlocked us, it seemed we must wait for the month of Mary to give us soft air and blue water. Then suddenly it was spring, and every living soul knew it. Life revived with passion. Longings which you had forgotten came and took you by the throat, saying, "You shall no longer be satisfied with negative peace. Rouse, and live!" Then flitting, exquisite, purple flaws struck across milk-opal water in the bay. Fishing boats lifted themselves in mirage, sailing lightly above the water; and islands sat high, with a cushion of air under them.
The girls manifested increasing interest in what they called the Pigeon Roost settlement affair. Madame Ursule had no doubt told them what I said. They pitied my Cloud-Mother and me with the condescending pity of the very young, and unguardedly talked where they could be heard.
"Oh, she'll come to her senses some time, and he'll marry her of course," was the conclusion they invariably reached; for the thing must turn out well to meet their approval. How could they foresee what was to happen to people whose lives held such contrasts?
"Father Pierre says he's nearly twenty-eight; I call him an old bachelor," declared Katarina; "and she was a married woman. They are really very old to be in love."
"You don't know what you'll do when you are old," said Marie.
"Ah, I dread it," groaned Katarina.
"So do I."
"But there is grandmother. She doesn't mind it. And beaux never trouble her now."
"No," sighed the other. "Beaux never trouble her now."
Those spring days I was wild with restlessness. Life revived to dare things. We heard afterwards that about that time the meteor rushed once more across France. Napoleon landed at a Mediterranean port, gathering force as he marched, swept Louis XVIII away like a cobweb in his path, and moved on to Waterloo. The greatest Frenchman that ever lived fell ultimately as low as St. Helena, and the Bourbons sat again upon the throne. But the changes of which I knew nothing affected me in the Illinois Territory.
Sometimes I waked at night and sat up in bed, hot with indignation at the injustice done me, which I could never prove, which I did not care to combat, yet which unreasonably waked the fighting spirit in me. Our natures toss and change, expand or contract, influenced by invisible powers we know not why.
One April night I sat up in the veiled light made by a clouded moon. Rain points multiplied themselves on the window glass; I heard their sting. The impulse to go out and ride the wind, or pick the river up and empty it all at once into the bay, or tear Eagle out of the cloud, or go to France and proclaim myself with myself for follower; and other feats of like nature, being particularly strong in me, I struck the pillow beside me with my fist. Something bounced from it on the floor with a clack like wood. I stretched downward from one of Madame Ursule's thick feather beds, and picked up what brought me to my feet. Without letting go of it I lighted my candle. It was the padlocked book which Skenedonk said he had burned.
And there the scoundrel lay at the other side of the room, wrapped in his blanket from head to foot, mummied by sleep. I wanted to take him by the scalp lock and drag him around on the floor.
He had carried it with him, or secreted it somewhere, month after month. I could imagine how the state of the writer worked on his Indian mind. He repented, and was not able to face me, but felt obliged to restore what he had withheld. So waiting until I slept, he brought forth the padlocked book and laid it on the pillow beside my head; thus beseeching pardon, and intimating that the subject was closed between us.
I got my key, and then a fit of shivering seized me. I put the candle stand beside the pillow and lay wrapped in bedding, clenching the small chilly padlock and sharp-cornered boards. Remembering the change which had come upon the life recorded in it, I hesitated. Remembering how it had eluded me before, I opened it.
The few entries were made without date. The first pages were torn out, crumpled, and smoothed and pasted to place again. Rose petals and violets and some bright poppy leaves, crushed inside its lids, slid down upon the bedcover.
The padlocked book—In this book I am going to write you, Louis, a letter which will never be delivered; because I shall burn it when it is finished. Yet that will not prevent my tantalizing you about it. To the padlocked book I can say what I want to say. To you I must say what is expedient.
That is a foolish woman who does violence to love by inordinate loving. Yet first I will tell you that I sink to sleep saying, "He loves me!" and rise to the surface saying, "He loves me!" and sink again saying, "He loves me!" all night long.
The days when I see you are real days, finished and perfect, and this is the best of them all. God forever bless in paradise your mother for bearing you. If you never had come to the world I should not have waked to life myself. And why this is I cannot tell. The first time I ever saw your tawny head and tawny eyes, though you did not notice me, I said, "Whether he is the king or not would make no difference." Because I knew you were more than the king to me.
Sire, you told me once you could not understand why people took kindly to you. There is in you a gentle dignity and manhood, most royal. As you come into a room you cast your eyes about unfearing. Your head and shoulders are erect. You are like a lion in suppleness and tawny color, which influences me against my will. You inspire Confidence. Even girls like Annabel, who feel merely at their finger ends, and are as well satisfied with one husband as another, know you to be solid man, not the mere image of a man. Besides these traits there is a power going out from you that takes hold of people invisibly. My father told me there was a man at the court of your father who could put others to sleep by a waving of his hands. I am not comparing you to this charlatan; yet when you touch my hand a strange current runs through me.
When we were in Paris I used to dress myself every morning like a priestess going to serve in a temple. And what was it for? To worship one dear head for half an hour perhaps.
You robbed me of the sight of you for two months.
* * * * *
Sophie Saint-Michel told me to beware of loving a man. To-day he says, "I love you! I need you! I shall go to the devil without you!" To-morrow he turns to his affairs. In six months he says, "I was a fool!" Next year he says, "Who was it that drove me wild for a time last year? What was her name?"
* * * * *
Is love a game where men and women try to outwit each other, and man boasts, "She loves me"—not "I love her"?
You are two persons. Lazarre belongs to me. He follows, he thinks about me. He used to slip past my windows at Lake George, and cast his eyes up at the panes. But Louis is my sovereign. He sees and thinks and acts without me, and his lot is apart from mine.
* * * * *
We are in a ship going to the side of the world where you are. Except that we are going towards you, it is like being pushed off a cliff. All my faith in the appearances of things is at an end. I have been juggled with. I have misjudged.
I could have insisted that we hold Mont-Louis as tenants. The count is our friend. It is not a strong man's fault that a weak man is weak and unfortunate. Yet seeing Cousin Philippe wince, I could not put the daily humiliation upon him. He is like my father come back, broken, helpless. And Paul and I, who are young, must take care of him where he will be least humbled.
I was over-pampered in Mont-Louis and Paris. I like easy living, carriages, long-tailed gowns, jewels, trained servants, music, and spectacles on the stage; a park and wide lands all my own; seclusion from people who do not interest me; idleness in enjoyment.
I am the devil of vanity. Annabel has not half the points I have. When the men are around her I laugh to think I shall be fine and firm as a statue when she is a mass of wrinkles and a wisp of fuzz. When she is a mass of wrinkles and a wisp of fuzz she will be riper and tenderer inside. But will the men see that? No. They will be off after a fresher Annabel. So much for men. On the other hand, I had but a few months of luxury, and may count on the hardness that comes of endurance; for I was an exile from childhood. There is strength in doing the right thing. If there were no God, if Christ had never died on the cross, I should have to do the right thing because it is right.
Why should we lay up grievances against one another? They must disappear, and they only burn our hearts.
Sometimes I put my arms around Ernestine, and rest her old head against me. She revolts. People incline to doubt the superiority of a person who will associate with them. But the closer our poverty rubs us the more Ernestine insists upon class differences.
There should be a colossal mother going about the world to turn men over her lap and give them the slipper. They pine for it.
Am I helping forward the general good, or am I only suffering Nature's punishment?
A woman can fasten the bonds of habit on a man, giving him food from her table, hourly strengthening his care for her. By merely putting herself before him every day she makes him think of her. What chance has an exiled woman against the fearful odds of daily life?
Yet sometimes I think I can wait a thousand years. In sun and snow, in wind and dust, a woman waits. If she stretched her hand and said "Come," who could despise her so much as she would despise herself?
What is so cruel as a man? Hour after hour, day after day, year after year, he presses the iron spike of silence in.
Coward!—to let me suffer such anguish!
Is it because I kissed you? That was the highest act of my life! I groped down the black stairs of the Tuileries blinded by light. Why are the natural things called wrong, and the unnatural ones just?
Is it because I said I would come to you sometime? This is what I meant: that it should give me no jealous pang to think of another woman's head on your breast; that there is a wedlock which appearances cannot touch.
No, I never would—I never would seek you; though sometimes the horror of doing without you turns into reproach. What is he doing? He may need me—and I am letting his life slip away. Am I cheating us both of what could have harmed no one?
It is not that usage is broken off.
Yet if you were to come, I would punish you for coming!
Fine heroic days I tell myself we are marching to meet each other. If the day has been particularly hard, I say, "Perhaps I have carried his load too, and he marches lighter."
You have faults, no doubt, but the only one I could not pardon would be your saying, "I repent!"
The instinct to conceal defeat and pain is so strong in me that I would have my heart cut out rather than own it ached. Yet many women carry all before them by a little judicious whining and rebellion.
I never believe in your unfaith. If you brought a wife and showed her to me I should be sorry for her, and still not believe in your unfaith.
Louis, I have been falling down flat and crawling the ground. Now I am up again. It didn't hurt.
It is the old German fairy story. Every day gold must be spun out of straw. How big the pile of straw looks every morning, and how little the handful of gold every night!
This prairie in the Indiana Territory that I dreaded as a black gulf, is a grassy valley.
I love the garden; and I love to hoe the Indian corn. It springs so clean from the sod, and is a miracle of growth. After the stalks are around my knees, they are soon around my shoulders. The broad leaves have a fragrance, and the silk is sweet as violets.
We wash our clothes in the river. Women who hoe corn, dig in a garden, and wash clothes, earn the wholesome bread of life.
To-day Paul brought the first bluebells of spring, and put them in water for me. They were buds; and when they bloomed out he said, "God has blessed these flowers."
We have to nurse the sick. The goodness of these pioneer women is unfailing. It is like the great and kind friendship of the Du Chaumonts. They help me take care of Cousin Philippe.
Paul meditated to-day, "I don't want to hurt the Father's feelings. I don't want to say He was greedy and made a better place for Himself in heaven than He made for us down here. Is it nicer just because He is there?"
His prayer: "God bless my father and mother and Ernestine. God keep my father and mother and Ernestine. And keep my mother with me day and night, dressed and undressed! God keep together all that love each other."
When he is a man I am going to tell him, and say: "But I have built my house, not wrecked it, I have been yours, not love's."
He tells me such stories as this: "Once upon a time there was such a loving angel came down. And they ran a string through his stomach and hung him on the wall. He never whined a bit."
The people in this country, which is called free, are nearly all bound. Those who lack money as we do cannot go where they please, or live as they would live. Is that freedom?
* * * * *
On a cool autumn night, when the fire crackles, the ten children of the settlement, fighting or agreeing, come running from their houses like hens. We sit on the floor in front of the hearth, and I suffer the often-repeated martyrdom of the "Fire Pig." This tale, invented once as fast as I could talk, I have been doomed to repeat until I dread the shades of evening.
The children bunch their heads together; their lips part, as soon as I begin to say:
Do you see that glowing spot in the heart of the coals? That is the house of the Fire Pig. One day the Fire Pig found he had no more corn, and he was very hungry. So he jumped out of his house and ran down the road till he came to a farmer's field.
"Good morning, Mr. Farmer," said the little pig. "Have you any corn for me to-day?"
"Why, who are you?" said the farmer.
"I'm a little Fire Pig."
"No, I haven't any corn for a Fire Pig."
The pig ran on till he came to another farmer's field.
"Good morning, Mr. Farmer, have you any corn for me to-day?"
"Who are you?" said the farmer.
"Oh, I'm the little Fire Pig."
"I don't know," said the farmer. "I would give you a great bagful if you could kill the snake which comes every night and steals my cattle."
The pig thought, "How can I kill that snake?" but he was so hungry he knew he should starve without corn, so he said he would try. The farmer told him to go down in the field, where the snake came gliding at night with its head reared high in air. The pig went down in the meadow, and the first creature he saw was a sheep.
"Baa!" said the sheep. That was its way of saying "How do you do?" "Who are you?"
"I'm the little Fire Pig."
"What are you doing here?"
"I've come to kill the great snake that eats the farmer's cattle."
"I'm very glad," said the sheep, "for it takes my lambs. How are you going to kill it?"
"I don't know," said the pig; "can't you help me?"
"I'll give you some of my wool."
The pig thanked the sheep, and went a little farther and met a horse. "He-ee-ee!" said the horse. That was his way of saying "How do you do?" "Who are you?"
"I am the little Fire Pig."
"What are you doing here?"
"I've come to kill the great snake that eats the farmer's cattle."
"I'm glad of that," said the horse; "for it steals my colts. How are you going to do it?"
"I don't know," said the pig. "Can't you help me?"
"I'll give you some of the long hairs from my tail," said the horse.
The pig took them and thanked the horse. And when he went a little farther he met a cow.
"Moo!" said the cow. That was her way of saying "How do you do?" "Who are you?"
"I'm the little Fire Pig."
"What are you doing here?"
"I've come to kill the great snake that eats the farmer's cattle."
"I am glad of that, for it steals my calves. How are you going to do it?"
"I don't know. Can't you help me?"
"I'll give you one of my sharp horns," said the cow.
So the pig took it and thanked her. Then he spun and he twisted, and he spun and he twisted, and made a strong woolen cord of the sheep's wool. And he wove and he braided, and he wove and he braided, and made a cunning snare of the horse's tail. And he whetted and sharpened, and he whetted and sharpened, and made a keen dart of the cow's horn.
—Now when the little pig has all his materials ready, and sees the great snake come gliding, gliding—I turn the situation over to the children. What did he do with the rope, the snare and the horn? They work it out each in his own way. There is a mighty wrangling all around the hearth.
One day is never really like another, though it seems so.
Perhaps being used to the sight of the Iroquois at Lake George, makes it impossible for me to imagine what the settlers dread, and that is an attack. We are shut around by forests. In primitive life so much time and strength go to the getting of food that we can think of little else.
It is as bad to slave at work as to slave at pleasure. But God may forgive what people cannot help.
There is a very old woman among the settlers whom they call Granny. We often sit together. She cannot get a gourd edge betwixt her nose and chin when she drinks, and has forgotten she ever had teeth. She does not expect much; but there is one right she contends for, and that is the right of ironing her cap by stretching it over her knee. When I have lived in this settlement long enough, my nose and chin may come together, and I shall forget my teeth. But this much I will exact of fate. My cap shall be ironed. I will not—I will not iron it by stretching it over my knee!
Count du Chaumont would be angry if he saw me learning to weave, for instance. You would not be angry. That makes a difference between you as men which I feel but cannot explain.
We speak English with our neighbors. Paul, who is to be an American, must learn his language well. I have taught him to read and write. I have taught him the history of his family and of his father's country. His head is as high as my breast. When will my head be as high as his breast?
Skenedonk loves you as a young superior brother. I have often wondered what he thought about when he went quietly around at your heels. You told me he had killed and scalped, and in spite of education, was as ready to kill and scalp again as any white man is for war.
I dread him like a toad, and wish him to keep on his side of the walk. He is always with you, and no doubt silently urges, "Come back to the wigwams that nourished you!"
Am I mistaken? Are we moving farther and farther apart instead of approaching each other? Oh, Louis, does this road lead to nothing?
I am glad I gave you that key. It was given thoughtlessly, when I was in a bubble of joy. But if you have kept it, it speaks to you every day.
Sophie Saint-Michel told me man sometimes piles all his tokens in a retrospective heap, and says, "Who the deuce gave me this or that?"
Sophie's father used to be so enraged at his wife and daughter because he could not restore their lost comforts. But this is really a better disposition than a mean subservience to misfortune.
The children love to have me dance gavottes for them. Some of their mothers consider it levity. Still they feel the need of a little levity themselves.
We had a great festival when the wild roses were fully in bloom. The prairie is called a mile square, and wherever a plow has not struck, acres of wild roses grow. They hedge us from the woods like a parapet edging a court. These volunteers are very thorny, bearing tender claws to protect themselves with. But I am nimble with my scissors.
We took the Jordan oxen, a meek pair that have broken sod for the colony, and twined them with garlands of wild roses. Around and around their horns, and around and around their bodies the long ropes were wound, their master standing by with his goad. That we wound also, and covered his hat with roses. The huge oxen swayed aside, looking ashamed of themselves. And when their tails were ornamented with a bunch at the tip, they switched these pathetically. Still even an ox loves festivity, whether he owns to it or not. We made a procession, child behind child, each bearing on his head all the roses he could carry, the two oxen walking tandem, led by their master in front. Everybody came out and laughed. It was a beautiful sight, and cheered us, though we gave it no name except the Procession of Roses.
Often when I open my eyes at dawn I hear music far off that makes my heart swell. It is the waking dream of a king marching with drums and bugles. While I am dressing I hum, "Oh, Richard, O my king!"
Louis! Louis! Louis!
I cannot—I cannot keep it down! How can I hold still that righteousness may be done through me, when I love—love—love—when I clench my fists and walk on my knees—
I am a wicked woman! What is all this sweet pretense of duty! It covers the hypocrite that loves—that starves—that cries, My king!—my king!
Strike me!—drive me within bounds! This long repression—years, years of waiting—for what?—for more waiting!—it is driving me mad!
You have the key.
I have nothing!
My God! What had she seen in me to love? I sat up and held the book against my bosom. Its cry out of her past filled the world from horizon to horizon. The ox that she had wreathed in roses would have heard it through her silence. But the brutal, slow Bourbon had gone his way, turning his stupid head from side to side, leaving her to perish.
Punctuated by years, bursting from eternities of suppression, it brought an accumulated force that swept the soul out of my body.
All that had not been written in the book was as easily read as what was set down. I saw the monotony of her life, and her gilding of its rudeness, the pastimes she thought out for children; I saw her nursing the helplessness which leaned upon her, and turning aside the contempt of pioneer women who passionately admired strong men. I saw her eyes waiting on the distant laggard who stupidly pursued his own affairs until it was too late to protect her. I read the entries over and over. When day broke it seemed to me the morning after my own death, such knowing and experiencing had passed through me. I could not see her again until I had command of myself.
So I dressed and went silently down stairs. The Pawnees were stirring in the kitchen. I got some bread and meat from them, and also some grain for the horse; then mounted and rode to the river.
The ferryman lived near the old stockade. Some time always passed after he saw the signals before the deliberate Frenchman responded. I led my horse upon the unwieldly craft propelled by two huge oars, which the ferryman managed, running from one to another according to the swing of the current. It was broad day when we reached the other shore; one of those days, gray overhead, when moisture breaks upward through the ground, instead of descending. Many light clouds flitted under the grayness. The grass showed with a kind of green blush through its old brown fleece.
I saw the first sailing vessel of spring coming to anchor, from the straits of the great lakes. Once I would have hailed that vessel as possible bearer of news. Now it could bring me nothing of any importance.
The trail along the Fox river led over rolling land, dipping into coves and rising over hills. The Fox, steel blue in the shade, becomes tawny as its namesake when its fur of rough waves is combed to redness in the sunlight. Under grayness, with a soft wind blowing, the Fox showed his blue coat.
The prospect was so large, with a ridge running along in the distance, and open country spreading away on the other side, that I often turned in my saddle and looked back over the half-wooded trail. I thought I saw a figure walking a long way behind me, and being alone, tried to discern what it was. But under that gray sky nothing was sharply defined. I rode on thinking of the book in the breast of my coat.
It was certain I was not to marry. And being without breakfast and unstimulated by the sky, I began to think also what unstable material I had taken in hand when I undertook to work with Indians. Instinctively I knew then what a young southern statesman named Jefferson Davis whom I first met as a commandant of the fort at Green Bay—afterwards told me in Washington: "No commonwealth in a republic will stand with interests apart from the federated whole." White men, who have exclaimed from the beginning against the injustice done the red man, and who keep on pitying and exterminating him, made a federated whole with interests apart from his.
Again when I looked back I saw the figure, but it was afoot, and I soon lost it in a cove.
My house had been left undisturbed by hunters and Indians through the winter. I tied the horse to a gallery post and unfastened the door. A pile of refuse timbers offered wood for a fire, and I carried in several loads of it, and lighted the virgin chimney. Then I brought water from the spring and ate breakfast, sitting before the fire and thinking a little wearily and bitterly of my prospect in life.
Having fed my horse, I covered the fire, leaving a good store of fuel by the hearth, and rode away toward the Menominee and Winnebago lands.
The day was a hard one, and when I came back towards nightfall I was glad to stop with the officers of the stockade and share their mess.
"You looked fagged," said one of them.
"The horse paths are heavy," I answered, "and I have been as far as the Indian lands."
I had been as far as that remote time when Eagle was not a Cloud-Mother. To cross the river and see her smiling in meaningless happiness seemed more than I could do.
Yet she might notice my absence. We had been housed together ever since she had discovered me. Our walks and rides, our fireside talks and evening diversions were never separate. At Pierre Grignon's the family flocked in companies. When the padlocked book sent me out of the house I forgot that she was used to my presence and might be disturbed by an absence no one could explain.
"The first sailing vessel is in from the straits," said the lieutenant.
"Yes, I saw her come to anchor as I rode out this morning."
"She brought a passenger."
"Anybody of importance?"
"At first blush, no. At second blush, yes."
"Why 'no' at first blush?"
"Because he is only a priest."
"Only a priest, haughty officer! Are civilians and churchmen dirt under army feet?"
The lieutenant grinned.
"When you see a missionary priest landing to confess a lot of Canadians, he doesn't seem quite so important, as a prelate from Ghent, for instance."
"Is this passenger a prelate from Ghent?"
"That is where the second blush comes in. He is."
"How do you know?"
"I saw him, and talked with him."
"What is he doing in Green Bay?"
"Looking at the country. He was inquiring for you."
"What could a prelate from Ghent want with me?"
"Says he wants to make inquiries about the native tribes."
"Oh! Did you recommend me as an expert in native tribes?"
"Naturally. But not until he asked if you were here."
"He mentioned my name?"
"Yes. He wanted to see you. You'll not have to step out of your way to gratify him."
"From that I infer there is a new face at Pierre Grignon's."
"Your inference is correct. The Grignons always lodge the priests, and a great man like this one will be certainly quartered with them."
"What is he like?"
"A smooth and easy gentleman."
"In a cassock?"
"Tell a poor post lieutenant what a cassock is."
"The long-skirted black coat reaching to the heels."
"Our missionary priests don't wear it here. He has the bands and broad hat and general appearance of a priest, but his coat isn't very long."
"Then he has laid aside the cassock while traveling through this country."
The prelate from Ghent, no doubt a common priest, that the lieutenant undertook to dignify, slipped directly out of my mind.
Madame Ursule was waiting for me, on the gallery with fluted pillars at the front of the house.
"M's'r Williams, where is Madeleine?"
Her anxiety vibrated through the darkness.
"Isn't she here, madame?"
"She has not been seen to-day."
We stood in silence, then began to speak together.
"I went away early—"
"When I heard from the Pawnees that you had gone off on horseback so early I thought it possible you might have taken her with you."
"Madame, how could I do that?"
"Of course you wouldn't have done that. But we can't find her. We've inquired all over La Baye. She left the house when no one saw her. She was never out after nightfall before."
"But, madame, she must be here!"
"Oh, m's'r, my hope was that you knew where she is—she has followed you about so! The poor child may be at the bottom of the river!"
"She can't be at the bottom of the river!" I retorted.
The girls ran out. They were dressed for a dance, and drew gauzy scarfs around their anxious faces. The house had been searched from ground to attic more than once. They were sure she must be hiding from them.
I remembered the figure that appeared to me on the trail. My heart stopped. I could not humiliate my Cloud-Mother by placing her before them in the act of tracking me like a dog. I could not tell any one about it, but asked for Skenedonk.
The Indian had been out on the river in a canoe. He came silently, and stood near me. The book was between us. I had it in the breast of my coat, and he had it on his conscience.
"Bring out your horse and get me a fresh one," I said.
"Where shall I find one?"
"Pierre will give you one of ours," said Madame Ursule. "But you must eat."
"I had my supper with the officers of the fort, madame. I would have made a briefer stay if I had known what had happened on this side of the river."
"I forgot to tell you, M's'r Williams, there is an abbe here from Europe. He asked for you."
"I cannot see him to-night."
Skenedonk drew near me to speak, but I was impatient of any delay. We went into the house, and Madame Ursule said she would bring a blanket and some food to strap behind my saddle. The girls helped her. There was a hush through the jolly house. The master bustled out of the family room. I saw behind him, standing as he had stood at Mittau, a priest of fine and sweet presence, waiting for Pierre Grignon to speak the words of introduction.
"It is like seeing France again!" exclaimed the master of the house. "Abbe Edgeworth, this is M's'r Williams."
"Monsieur," said the abbe to me with perfect courtesy, "believe me, I am glad to see you."
"Monsieur," I answered, giving him as brief notice as he had given me in Mittau, yet without rancor;—there was no room in me for that. "You have unerringly found the best house in the Illinois Territory, and I leave you to the enjoyment of it."
"You are leaving the house, monsieur?"
"I find I am obliged to make a short journey."
"I have made a long one, monsieur. It may be best to tell you that I come charged with a message for you."
I thought of Madame d'Angouleme. The sister who had been mine for a few minutes, and from whom this priest had cast me out, declaring that God had smitten the pretender when my eclipse laid me at his feet—remembered me in her second exile, perhaps believed in me still. Women put wonderful restraints upon themselves.
Abbe Edgeworth and I looked steadily at each other.
"I hope Madame d'Angouleme is well?"
"She is well, and is still the comforter of his Majesty's misfortune."
"Monsieur the Abbe, a message would need to be very urgent to be listened to to-night. I will give you audience in the morning, or when I return."
We both bowed again. I took Pierre Grignon into the hall for counsel.
In the end he rode with me, for we concluded to send Skenedonk with a party along the east shore.
Though searching for the lost is an experience old as the world, its poignancy was new to me. I saw Eagle tangled in the wild oats of the river. I saw her treacherously dealt with by Indians who called themselves at peace. I saw her wandering out and out, mile beyond mile, to undwelt-in places, and the tender mercy of wolves.
We crossed the ferry and took to the trail, Pierre Grignon talking cheerfully.
"Nothing has happened to her, M's'r Williams," he insisted. "No Indian about La Baye would hurt her, and the child is not so crazy as to hurt herself."
It was a starless night, muffled overhead as the day had been, but without rain or mist. He had a lantern hanging at his saddle bow, ready to light. In the open lands we rode side by side, but through growths along the Fox first one and then the other led the way.
We found my door unfastened. I remembered for the first time I had not locked it. Some one had been in the house. A low fire burned in the chimney. We stirred it and lighted the lantern. Footprints not our own had dried white upon the smooth dark floor.
They pointed to the fireplace and out again. They had been made by a woman's feet.
We descended the hill to the river, and tossed our light through every bush, the lantern blinking in the wind. We explored the ravine, the light stealing over white birches that glistened like alabaster. It was no use to call her name. She might be hidden behind a rock laughing at us. We had to surprise her to recover her. Skenedonk would have traced her where we lost the trail.
When we went back to the house, dejected with physical weariness, I unstrapped the blanket and the food which Madame Ursule had sent, and brought them to Pierre Grignon. He threw the blanket on the settee, laid out bread and meat on the table, and ate, both of us blaming ourselves for sending the Indian on the other side of the river.
We traced the hard route which I had followed the day before, and reached Green Bay about dawn. Pierre Grignon went to bed exhausted. I had some breakfast and waited for Skenedonk. He had not returned, but had sent one man back to say there was no clue. The meal was like a passover eaten in haste. I could not wait, but set out again, with a pillion which I had carried uselessly in the night strapped again upon the horse for her seat, in case I found her; and leaving word for the Oneida to follow.
I had forgotten there was such a person as Abbe Edgeworth, when he led a horse upon the ferry boat.
"You ride early as well as late. May I join you?"
"I ride on a search which cannot interest you, monsieur."
"You are mistaken. I understand what has disturbed the house, and I want to ride with you."
"It will be hard for a horseman accustomed to avenues."
"It will suit me perfectly."
It did not suit me at all, but he took my coldness with entire courtesy.
"Have you breakfasted, monsieur?"
"I had my usual slice of bread and cup of water before rising," he answered.
Again I led on the weary trail to my house. Abbe Edgeworth galloped well, keeping beside me where there was room, or riding behind where there was not. The air blew soft, and great shadow clouds ran in an upper current across the deepest blueness I had seen in many a day. The sun showed beyond rows of hills.
I bethought myself to ask the priest if he knew anything about Count de Chaumont. He answered very simply and directly that he did; that I might remember Count de Chaumont was mentioned in Mittau. The count, he said, according to common report, had retired with his daughter and his son-in-law to Blois, where he was vigorously rebuilding his ruined chateau of Chaumont.
If my mind had been upon the priest, I should have wondered what he came for. He did not press his message.
"The court is again in exile?" I said, when we could ride abreast.
"Bellenger visited me last September. He was without a dauphin."
"We could supply the deficiency," Abbe Edgeworth pleasantly replied.
"With the boy he left in Europe?"
"Oh, dear no. With royal dukes. You observed his majesty could not pension a helpless idiot without encouraging dauphins. These dauphins are thicker than blackberries. The dauphin myth has become so common that whenever we see a beggar approaching, we say, 'There comes another dauphin.' One of them is a fellow who calls himself the Duke of Richemont. He has followers who believe absolutely in him. Somebody, seeing him asleep, declared it was the face of the dead king!"
I felt stung, remembering the Marquis du Plessy's words.
"Oh, yes, yes," said Abbe Edgeworth. "He has visions too. Half memories, when the face of his mother comes back to him!"
"What about his scars?" I asked hardily.
"Scars! yes, I am told he has the proper stigmata of the dauphin. He was taken out of the Temple prison; a dying boy being substituted for him there. We all know the dauphin's physician died suddenly; some say he was poisoned; and a new physician attended the boy who died in the Temple. Of course the priest who received the child's confession should have known a dauphin when he saw one. But that's neither here nor there. We lived then in surprising times."
"Madame d'Angouleme would recognize him as her brother if she saw him?" I suggested.
"I think she is not so open to tokens as at one time. Women's hearts are tender. The Duchess d'Angouleme could never be convinced that her brother died."
"But others, including her uncle, were convinced?"
"The Duke of Richemont was not. What do you yourself think, Monsieur Williams?"
"I think that the man who is out is an infinite joke. He tickles the whole world. People have a right to laugh at a man who cannot prove he is what he says he is. The difference between a pretender and a usurper is the difference between the top of the hill and the bottom."
The morning sun showed the white mortar ribs of my homestead clean and fair betwixt hewed logs; and brightened the inside of the entrance or hall room. For I saw the door stood open. It had been left unfastened but not ajar. Somebody was in the house.
I told Abbe Edgeworth we would dismount and tie our horses a little distance away. And I asked him to wait outside and let me enter alone.
He obligingly sauntered on the hill overlooking the Fox; I stepped upon the gallery and looked in.
The sweep of a gray dress showed in front of the settle. Eagle was there. I stood still.
She had put on more wood. Fire crackled in the chimney. I saw, and seemed to have known all night, that she had taken pieces of unbroken bread and meat left by Pierre Grignon on my table; that her shoes were cleaned and drying in front of the fire; that she must have carried her dress above contact with the soft ground.
When I asked Abbe Edgeworth not to come in, her dread of strangers influenced me less than a desire to protect her from his eyes, haggard and draggled as she probably was. The instinct which made her keep her body like a temple had not failed under the strong excitement that drove her out. Whether she slept under a bush, or not at all, or took to the house after Pierre Grignon and I left it, she was resting quietly on the settle before the fireplace, without a stain of mud upon her.
I could see nothing but the foot of her dress. Had any change passed over her face? Or had the undisturbed smile of my Cloud-Mother followed me on the road?
Perhaps the cloud had thickened. Perhaps thunders and lightnings moved within it. Sane people sometimes turn wild after being lost, running from their friends, and fighting against being restrained and brought home.
The gray dress in front of my hearth I could not see without a heaving of the breast.
How a man's life is drawn, turned, shaped, by a woman! He may deny it. He may swagger and lie about it. Heredity, ambition, lust, noble aspirations, weak self-indulgence, power, failure, success, have their turns with him. But the woman he desires above all others, whose breast is his true home, makes him, mars him.
Had she cast herself on the settle exhausted and ill after exposure? Should I find her muttering and helpless? Worse than all, had the night made her forget that she was a Cloud-Mother?
I drew my breath with an audible sound in the throat. Her dress stirred. She leaned around the edge of the settle.
Eagle de Ferrier, not my Cloud-Mother, looked at me. Her features were pinched from exposure, but flooded themselves instantly with a blush. She snatched her shoes from the hearth and drew them on.
I was taken with such a trembling that I held to a gallery post.
Suppose this glimpse of herself had been given to me only to be withdrawn! I was afraid to speak, and waited.
She stood up facing me.
"What is the matter, sire?"
"Nothing, madame, nothing."
"Where is Paul?"
I did not know what to do, and looked at her completely helpless; for if I told her Paul was dead, she might relapse; and evasions must be temporary.
"The Indian took him," she cried.
"But the Indian didn't kill him, Eagle."
"How do you know?"
"Because Paul came to me."
"He came to you? Where?"
"At Fort Stephenson."
"Where is my child?"
"He is at Fort Stephenson."
"Bring him to me!"
"I can't bring him, Eagle."
"Then let me go to him."
I did not know what to say to her.
"And there were Cousin Philippe and Ernestine lying across the step. I have been thinking all night. Do you understand it?"
"Yes, I understand it, Eagle."
By the time I had come into the house her mind leaped forward in comprehension. The blanket she had held on her shoulders fell around her feet. It was a striped gay Indian blanket.
"You were attacked, and the settlement was burned."
"But whose house is this?"
"This is my house."
"Did you bring me to your house?"
"I wasn't there."
"No, I remember. You were not there. I saw you the last time at the Tuileries."
"When did you come to yourself, madame?"
"I have been sick, haven't I? But I have been sitting by this fire nearly all night, trying to understand. I knew I was alone, because Cousin Philippe and Ernestine—I want Paul!"
I looked at the floor, and must have appeared miserable. She passed her hands back over her forehead many times as if brushing something away. "If he died, tell me."
"I held him, Eagle."
"They didn't kill him?"
"Or scalp him?"
"The knife never touched him."
"It was in battle."
"My child died in battle? How long have I been ill?"
"More than a year, Eagle."
"And he died in battle?"
"He had a wound in his side. He was brought into the fort, and I took care of him."
She burst out weeping, and laughed and wept, the tears running down her face and wetting her bosom.
"My boy! My little son! You held him! He died like a man!"
I put her on the settle, and all the cloud left her in that tempest of rain. Afterwards I wiped her face with my handkerchief and she sat erect and still.
A noise of many birds came from the ravine, and winged bodies darted past the door uttering the cries of spring. Abbe Edgeworth sauntered by and she saw him, and was startled.
"Who is that?"
"When did he come?"
"He rode here with me this morning."
"Louis," she asked, leaning back, "who took care of me?"
"You have been with the Grignons since you came to the Illinois Territory."
"Am I in the Illinois Territory?"
"Yes, I found you with the Grignons."
"They must be kind people!"
"They are; the earth's salt."
"But who brought me to the Illinois Territory?"
"A family named Jordan."
"The Indians didn't kill them?"
"Why wasn't I killed?"
"The Indians regarded you with superstition."
"What have I said and done?"
"Nothing, madame, that need give you any uneasiness."
"But what did I say?" she insisted.
"You thought you were a Cloud-Mother."
"A Cloud-Mother!" She was astonished and asked, "What is a Cloud-Mother?"
"You thought I was Paul, and you were my Cloud-Mother."
"Did I say such a foolish thing as that?"
"Don't call it foolish, madame."
"I hope you will forget it."
"I don't want to forget it."
"But why are you in Illinois Territory, sire?"
"I came to find land for the Iroquois. I intend to make a state with the tribe."
"But what of France?"
"Oh, France is over supplied with men who want to make a state of her. Louis XVIII has been on the throne eleven months, and was recently chased off by Napoleon.
"Louis XVIII on the throne? Did true loyalists suffer that?"
"Sire, what became of Napoleon?"
"He was beaten by the allies and sent to Elba. Louis XVIII was brought in with processions. But in about eleven months Napoleon made a dash across France—"
"Tell me slowly. You say I have been ill more than a year. I know nothing of what has happened."
"Napoleon escaped from Elba, made a dash across France, and incidentally swept the Bourbon off the throne. The last news from Europe shows him gathering armies to meet the allies."
"Oh, sire, you should have been there!"
"Abbe Edgeworth suggests that France is well supplied with dauphins also. Turning off dauphins has been a pastime at court."
"Abbe Edgeworth? You do not mean the priest you saw at Mittau?
"Confessor and almoner to his majesty. The same man."
"Is he here?"
"You saw him pass the door."
"Why has he come to America?"
"I have not inquired."
"Why is he here with you?"
"Because it pleases him, not me."
"He brings you some message?"
"So he says."
"What is it?"
"I have not had time to ask."
She stood up. As she became more herself and the spirit rushed forward in her face, I saw how her beauty had ripened. Hoeing corn and washing in the river does not coarsen well-born women. I knew I should feel the sweetness of her presence stinging through me and following me wherever I went in the world.
"Call the priest in, sire. I am afraid I have hindered the interview."
"I did not meet him with my arms open, madame."
"But you would have heard what he had to say, if I had not been in your house. Why am I in your house?"
"You came here."
"Was I wandering about by myself?"
"I thought I must have been walking. When I came to myself I was so tired, and my shoes were muddy. If you want to see the priest I will go into another room."
"No, I will bring him in and let him give his message in your presence."
When Abbe Edgeworth was presented to her, he slightly raised his eyebrows, but expressed no astonishment at meeting her lucid eyes. Nor did I explain—"God has given her back her senses in a night."
The position in which she found herself was trying. She made him a grave courtesy. My house might have been the chateau in which she was born, so undisturbed was her manner. Her night wandering and mind-sickness were simply put behind us in the past, with her having taken refuge in my house, as matters which need not concern Abbe Edgeworth. He did not concern himself with them, but bent before her as if he had no doubt of her sanity.
I asked her to resume her place on the settle. There was a stool for the abbe and one for myself. We could see the river glinting in its valley, and the windrows of heights beyond it. A wild bee darted into the room, droning, and out again, the sun upon its back.
"Monsieur," I said to Abbe Edgeworth, "I am ready now to hear the message which you mentioned to me last night."
"If madame will pardon me," he answered, "I will ask you to take me where we can confer alone."
"It is not necessary, monsieur. Madame de Ferrier knows my whole story."
But the priest moved his shoulders.
"I followed you in this remote place, monsieur, that we might talk together without interruption, unembarrassed by any witness."
Madame de Ferrier rose. I put her into her seat again with authority.
"It is my wish, madame, to have at least one witness with Abbe Edgeworth and myself."
"I hope," he protested, "that madame will believe there can be no objection to her presence. I am simply following instructions. I was instructed to deliver my message in private."
"Monsieur," Eagle answered, "I would gladly withdraw to another room."
"I forbid it, madame," I said to her.
"Very well," yielded Abbe Edgeworth.
He took a folded paper from his bosom, and spoke to me with startling sharpness.
"You think I should address you as Monseigneur, as the dauphin of France should be addressed?"
"I do not press my rights. If I did, monsieur the abbe, you would not have the right to sit in my presence."
"Suppose we humor your fancy. I will address you as Monseigneur. Let us even go a little farther and assume that you are known to be the dauphin of France by witnesses who have never lost track of you. In that case, Monseigneur, would you put your name to a paper resigning all claim upon the throne?"
"Is this your message?"
"We have not yet come to the message."
"Let us first come to the dauphin. When dauphins are as plentiful as blackberries in France and the court never sees a beggar appear without exclaiming: 'Here comes another dauphin!'—why, may I ask, is Abbe Edgeworth sent so far to seek one?"
"We are supposing that Monseigneur, in whose presence I have the honor to be, is the true dauphin."
"That being the case, how are we to account for the true dauphin's reception at Mittau?"
"The gross stupidity and many blunders of agents that the court was obliged to employ, need hardly be assumed."
"Poor Bellenger! He has to take abuse from both sides in order that we may be polite to each other."
"As Monseigneur suggests, we will not go into that matter."
Eagle sat as erect as a statue and as white.
I felt an instant's anxiety. Yet she had herself entirely at command.
"We have now arrived at the paper, I trust," said the priest.
"Oh, no. The paper in which you resign all claim to the throne of France, and which may give you the price of a principality in this country."
"I do not sign any such paper."
"Not at all?"
"Not at all."
"You are determined to hold to your rights?"
"I am determined not to part with my rights."
"Inducements large enough might be offered." He paused suggestively.
"The only man in France," I said, "empowered to treat for abdication of the throne at present, is Napoleon Bonaparte. Did you bring a message from him?"
Abbe Edgeworth winced, but laughed.
"Napoleon Bonaparte will not last. All Europe is against him. I see we have arrived at the message."
He rose and handed me the paper he held in his hand. I rose and received it, and read it standing.
It was one brief line:—
"Louis: You are recalled. Marie-Therese."
The blood must have rushed over my face. I had a submerged feeling, looking out of it at the priest.
"It is like her heavenly goodness."
"Do you see nothing but her heavenly goodness in it?"
"This is the message?"
"It is a message I crossed the ocean to bring."
"With the consent of her uncle?"
"Madame d'Angouleme never expresses a wish contrary to the wishes of his majesty."
"We are then to suppose that Louis XVIII offers me, through you, monsieur, the opportunity to sign away my rights, and failing that, the opportunity of taking them?"
"Supposing you are Monseigneur the dauphin, we will let our supposition run as far as this."
I saw distinctly the position of Louis XVIII. Marquis du Plessy had told me he was a mass of superstition. No doubt he had behaved, as Bellenger said, for the good of the royalist cause. But the sanction of heaven was not on his behavior. Bonaparte was let loose on him like the dragon from the pit. And Frenchmen, after yawning eleven months or so in the king's august face, threw up their hats for the dragon. In his second exile the inner shadow and the shadow of age combined against him. He had tasted royalty. It was not as good as he had once thought. Beside him always, he saw the face of Marie-Therese. She never forgot the hushed mystery of her brother. Her silence and obedience to the crown, her loyalty to juggling and evasion, were more powerful than resistance.
A young man, brought suddenly before the jaded nation and proclaimed at an opportune moment, might be a successful toy. The sore old king would oil more than the royalist cause, and the blessing of heaven would descend on one who restored the veritable dauphin.
I never have seen the most stupid man doubt his power to ride if somebody hoists him into the saddle.
"Let us go farther with our suppositions," I said. "Suppose I decline?"
I heard Madame de Ferrier gasp.
The priest raised his eyebrows.
"In that case you will be quite willing to give me a signed paper declaring your reasons."
"I sign no paper."
"Let me suggest that Monseigneur is not consistent. He neither resigns his supposed rights nor will he exercise them."
"I will neither resign them nor exercise them."
"This is virtually resigning them."
"The abbe will pardon me for saying it is not. My rights are mine, whether I use them or not."
"Monseigneur understands that opportunity is a visitor that comes but once."
"I understand that the most extraordinary thing has happened to-day that will ever go unrecorded in history. One Bourbon offers to give away a throne he has lost and another Bourbon refuses it."
"You may well say it will go unrecorded in history. Excepting this lady,"—the abbe bowed toward Eagle,—"there is no witness."
"Wise precautions have been taken," I agreed. "This scrap of paper may mean anything or nothing."
"You decline?" he repeated.
"I think France is done with the Bourbons, monsieur the abbe. A fine spectacle they have made of themselves, cooling their heels all over Europe, waiting for Napoleon's shoes! Will I go sneaking and trembling to range myself among impotent kings and wrangle over a country that wants none of us? No, I never will! I see where my father slipped. I see where the eighteenth Louis slipped. I am a man tenacious beyond belief. You cannot loose my grip when I take hold. But I never have taken hold, I never will take hold—of my native country, struggling as she is to throw off hereditary rule!"
"You are an American!" said Abbe Edgeworth contemptuously.
"If France called to me out of need, I would fight for her. A lifetime of peaceful years I would toss away in a minute to die in one achieving battle for her. But she neither calls me nor needs me. A king is not simply an appearance—a continuation of hereditary rights!"
"Your position is incredible," said the priest.
"I do not belittle the prospect you open before me. I see the practical difficulties, but I see well the magnificence beyond them."
"Then why do you hesitate?"
"I don't hesitate. A man is contemptible who stands shivering and longing outside of what he dare not attempt. I would dare if I longed. But I don't long."
"Monseigneur believes there will be complications?"
"I know my own obstinacy. A man who tried to work me with strings behind a throne, would think he was struck by lightning."
"Sire," Madame de Ferrier spoke out, "this is the hour of your life. Take your kingdom."
"I should have to take it, madame, if I got it. My uncle of Provence has nothing to give me. He merely says—'My dear dauphin, if Europe knocks Napoleon down, will you kindly take hold of a crank which is too heavy for me, and turn it for the good of the Bourbons? We may thus keep the royal machine in the family!'"
"You have given no adequate reason for declining this offer," said the priest.
"I will give no reason. I simply decline."
"Is this the explanation that I shall make to Madame d'Angouleme? Think of the tender sister who says—'Louis, you are recalled!"
"I do think of her. God bless her!"
"Must I tell her that Monseigneur planted his feet like one of these wild cattle, and wheeled, and fled from the contemplation of a throne?"
"You will dress it up in your own felicitous way, monsieur."
"What do you wish me to say?"
"That I decline. I have not pressed the embarrassing question of why I was not recalled long ago. I reserve to myself the privilege of declining without saying why I decline."
"He must be made to change his mind, monsieur!" Madame de Ferrier exclaimed.
"I am not a man that changes his mind every time the clock strikes."
I took the padlocked book out of my breast and laid it upon the table. I looked at the priest, not at her. The padlocked book seemed to have no more to do with the conversation, than a hat or a pair of gloves.
I saw, as one sees from the side of the eye, the scarlet rush of blood and the snow-white rush of pallor which covered her one after the other. The moment was too strenuous. I could not spare her. She had to bear it with me.
She set her clenched hands on her knees.
I faced her. The coldest look I ever saw in her gray eyes repelled me, as she deliberately said—
"You are not such a fool!"
I stared back as coldly and sternly, and deliberately answered—
"I am—just—such a fool!"
"Consider how any person who might be to blame for your decision, would despise you for it afterwards!"
"A boy in the first flush of his youth," Abbe Edgeworth said, his fine jaws squared with a grin, "might throw away a kingdom for some woman who took his fancy, and whom he could not have perhaps, unless he did throw his kingdom away. And after he had done it he would hate the woman. But a young man in his strength doesn't do such things!"
"A king who hasn't spirit to be a king!" Madame de Ferrier mocked.
I mercilessly faced her down.
"What is there about me? Sum me up. I am robbed on every side by any one who cares to fleece me. Whenever I am about to accomplish anything I fall down as if knocked on the head!"
She rose from her seat.
"You let yourself be robbed because you are princely! You have plainly left behind you every weakness of your childhood. Look at him in his strength, Monsieur Abbe! He has sucked in the vigor of a new country! The failing power of an old line of kings is renewed in him! You could not have nourished such a dauphin for France in your exiled court! Burying in the American soil has developed what you see for yourself—the king!"
"He is a handsome man," Abbe Edgeworth quietly admitted.
"Oh, let his beauty alone! Look at his manhood—his kinghood!"
"Of what use is his kinghood if he will not exercise it?"
She turned upon me fiercely.
"Have you no ambition?"
"Yes, madame. But there are several kinds of ambition, as there are several kinds of success. You have to knock people down with each kind, if you want it acknowledged. As I told you awhile ago, I am tenacious beyond belief, and shall succeed in what I undertake."
"What are you undertaking?"
"I am not undertaking to mount a throne."
"I cannot believe it! Where is there a man who would turn from what is offered you? Consider the life before you in this country. Compare it with the life you are throwing away." She joined her hands. "Sire, the men of my house who fought for the kings of yours, plead through me that you will take your inheritance."
I kept my eyes on Abbe Edgeworth. He considered the padlocked book as an object directly in his line of vision. Its wooden covers and small metal padlock attracted the secondary attention we bestow on trifles when we are at great issues.
I answered her,
"The men of your house—and the women of your house, madame—cannot dictate what kings of my house should do in this day."
"Well as you appear to know him, madame," said Abbe Edgeworth, "and loyally as you urge him, your efforts are wasted."
She next accused me—
"You hesitate on account of the Indians!"
"If there were no Indians in America, I should do just as I am doing."
"All men," the abbe noted, "hold in contempt a man who will not grasp power when he can."
"Why should I grasp power? I have it in myself. I am using it."
"Using it to ruin yourself!" she cried.
"Monseigneur!" The abbe rose. We stood eye to eye. "I was at the side of the king your father upon the scaffold. My hand held to his lips the crucifix of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his death no word of bitterness escaped him. True son of St. Louis, he supremely loved France. Upon you he laid injunction to leave to God alone the punishment of regicides, and to devote your life to the welfare of all Frenchmen. Monseigneur! are you deaf to this call of sacred duty? The voice of your father from the scaffold, in this hour when the fortunes of your house are lowest, bids you take your rightful place and rid your people of the usurper who grinds France and Europe into the blood-stained earth!"
I wheeled and walked across the floor from Abbe Edgeworth, and turned again and faced him.
"Monsieur, you have put a dart through me. If anything in the universe could move me from my position, what you have said would do it. But my father's blood cries through me to-day—'Shall the son of Louis XVI be forced down the unwilling throats of his countrymen by foreign bayonets?—Russians—Germans—English!—Shall the dauphin of France be hoisted to place by the alien?'—My father would forbid it! . . . You appeal to my family love. I bear about with me everywhere the pictured faces of my family. The father whose name you invoke, is always close to my heart. That royal duchess, whom you are privileged to see daily, monsieur, and I—never—is so dear and sacred to me that I think of her with a prayer. . . . But my life is here. . . . Monsieur, in this new world, no man can say to me—'Come,' or 'Go.' I am as free as the Indian. But the pretender to the throne of France, the puppet of Russia, of England, of the enemies of my country,—a slave to policy and intrigue—a chained wanderer about Europe—O my God! to be such a pretender—gasping for air—for light—as I gasped in Ste. Pelagie!—O let me be a free man—a free man!"
The old churchman whispered over and over—
"My royal son!"
My arms dropped relaxed.
There was another reason. I did not give it. I would not give it.
We heard the spring wind following the river channel—and a far faint call that I knew so well—the triangular wild flock in the upper air, flying north.
"Honk! honk!" It was the jubilant cry of freedom!
"Madame," said Abbe Edgeworth, resting his head on his hands, "I have seen many stubborn Bourbons, but he is the most obstinate of them all. We do not make as much impression on him as that little padlocked book."
Her terrified eyes darted at him—and hid their panic.
"Monsieur Abbe," she exclaimed piercingly, "tell him no woman will love him for throwing away a kingdom!"
The priest began once more.
"You will not resign your rights?"
"You will not exercise them?"
"If I postpone my departure from to-day until to-morrow, or next week, or next month, is there any possibility of your reconsidering this decision?"
"Monseigneur, must I leave you with this answer?"
"Your staying cannot alter it, Monsieur Abbe."
"You understand this ends all overtures from France?"
"Is there nothing that you would ask?"
"I would ask Madame d'Angouleme to remember me."
He came forward like a courtier, lifted my hand to his lips, and kissed it.
"With your permission, Monseigneur, I will now retire and ride slowly back along the river until you overtake me. I should like to have some time for solitary thought."
"You have my permission, Monsieur Abbe."
He bowed to Madame de Ferrier, and so moving to the door, he bowed again to me, and took his leave.
His horse's impatient start, and his remonstrance as he mounted, came plainly to our ears. The regular beat of hoofs upon the sward followed; then an alternating tap-tap of horse's feet diminished down the trail.
Eagle and I avoided looking at each other.
A bird inquired through the door with inquisitive chirp, and was away.
Volcanoes, and whirlwinds, fire, and all force, held themselves condensed and quiescent in the still room.
I moved first, laying Marie-Therese's message on the padlocked book. Standing with folded arms I faced Eagle, and she as stonily faced me. It was a stare of unspeakable love that counts a thousand years as a day.
She shuddered from head to foot. Thus a soul might ripple in passing from its body.
"I am not worth a kingdom!" her voice wailed through the room.
I opened my arms and took her. Volcanoes and whirlwinds, fire, and all force, were under our feet. We trod them breast to breast.
She held my head between her hands. The tears streamed down her face.
"Louis!—you are a king!—you are a king!"
A LIST OF RECENT FICTION OF THE BOWEN-MERRILL COMPANY
WHEN KNIGHTHOOD WAS IN FLOWER
Over one-quarter of a million copies have been sold of this great historical love-story of Princess Mary Tudor, sister of Henry VIII. Price, $1.50
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A VIVACIOUS ROMANCE OF REVOLUTIONARY DAYS
ALICE of OLD VINCENNES
By MAURICE THOMPSON
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12mo, with five illustrations and a frontispiece in color, all drawn by Mr. F.C. Yohn
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"A NOVEL THAT'S WORTH WHILE"
The REDEMPTION of DAVID CORSON
By CHARLES FREDERIC GOSS
A Mid-century American Novel of Intense Power and Interest
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THE PUPPET CROWN
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Superior to most of the great successes.—St. Paul Pioneer Press.
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With illustrations by R. Martine Reay
12mo. Price, $1.50.
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FULL of INCIDENT, ACTION & COLOR
LIKE ANOTHER HELEN
By GEORGE HORTON
Mr. Horton's powerful romance stands in a new field and brings an almost unknown world in reality before the reader—the world of conflict between Greek and Turk.
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With illustrations by C.M. Relyea
12mo, Cloth bound
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ANOTHER SUCCESSFUL HISTORICAL NOVEL
THE BLACK WOLF'S BREED
By HARRIS DICKSON
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"A vigorous tale of France in the old and new world during the reign of Louis XIV."
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"As delightfully seductive as certain mint-flavored beverages they make down South."
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Illustrated by C.M. Relyea. Price $1.50
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A FINE STORY OF THE COWBOY AT HIS BEST
WITH HOOPS of STEEL
By FLORENCE FINCH KELLY
"The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel"
* * * * *
From the San Francisco Chronicle:
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With six illustrations, in color, by Dan Smith
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A NOVEL OF EARLY NEW YORK
PATROON VAN VOLKENBERG
By HENRY THEW STEPHENSON
* * * * *
From the New York Press:
"Many will compare 'Patroon Van Volkenberg,' with its dash, style and virility, with 'Richard Carvel,' and in that respect they will be right, as one would compare the strong, sturdy and spreading elm with a slender sapling."
The action of this stirring story begins when New York was a little city of less than 5,000 inhabitants.
The Governor has forbidden the port to the free traders or pirate ships, which sailed boldly under their own flag; while the Patroon and his merchant colleagues not only traded openly with the buccaneers, but owned and managed such illicit craft. The story of the clash of these conflicting interests and the resulting exciting happenings is absorbing.
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Illustrated in color by C.M. Relyea
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A STORY OF THE MORGAN RAID, DURING THE WAR of the REBELLION
By HENRY SCOTT CLARK
* * * * *
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12mo, illustrated Price, $1.50
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THE STORY OF AN AMERICAN CRUCIFIXION
By LOUIS HOW
The Chicago Record says:
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The Chicago Tribune says:
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12mo, Cloth, Ornamental
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THE SUBTLE SPIRIT OF THE SEA
SWEEPERS OF THE SEA
The Story of a Strange Navy
By CLAUDE H. WETMORE
* * * * *
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From the Buffalo Review:
"It rivals Stevenson in its ingenuity of plot and dramatic interest."
From the Albany Journal:
"There rings the exultant note of tossing billows and a crashing ship."
From the Minneapolis Times:
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Illustrated Price, $1.50
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A STORY TOLD BY A REAL STORYTELLER
A SON OF AUSTERITY
By GEORGE KNIGHT
* * * * *
Mr. Knight has created a real atmosphere for his men and women to breathe, and his men and women take deep breaths. They are alive, they are human, they are real.
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With a frontispiece by Harrison Fisher
12mo, Cloth. Price, $1.50
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VIGOROUS, ELEMENTAL, DRAMATIC
A HEART OF FLAME
The story of a Master Passion
BY CHARLES FLEMING EMBREE
Author of "A Dream of a Throne."
* * * * *
The men and women in this story are children of the soil. Their strength is in their nearness to nature. Their minds are vigorous, their bodies powerful, their passions elemental, their courage sublime. They are loyal in friendship, persistent in enmity, determined in purpose.
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With illustrations by Dan Smith
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