THE CHASE OF SAINT-CASTIN
AND OTHER STORIES OF
THE FRENCH IN THE
MARY HARTWELL CATHERWOOD
THE CHASE OF SAINT-CASTIN.
The waiting April woods, sensitive in every leafless twig to spring, stood in silence and dim nightfall around a lodge. Wherever a human dwelling is set in the wilderness, it becomes, by the very humility of its proportions, a prominent and aggressive point. But this lodge of bark and poles was the color of the woods, and nearly escaped intruding as man's work. A glow lighted the top, revealing the faint azure of smoke which rose straight upward in the cool, clear air.
Such a habitation usually resounded at nightfall with Indian noises, especially if the day's hunting had been good. The mossy rocks lying around, were not more silent than the inmates of this lodge. You could hear the Penobscot River foaming along its uneasy bed half a mile eastward. The poles showed freshly cut disks of yellow at the top; and though the bark coverings were such movables as any Indian household carried, they were newly fastened to their present support. This was plainly the night encampment of a traveling party, and two French hunters and their attendant Abenaquis recognized that, as it barred their trail to the river. An odor of roasted meat was wafted out like an invitation to them.
"Excellent, Saint-Castin," pronounced the older Frenchman. "Here is another of your wilderness surprises. No wonder you prefer an enchanted land to the rough mountains around Bearn. I shall never go back to France myself."
"Stop, La Hontan!" The young man restrained his guest from plunging into the wigwam with a headlong gesture recently learned and practiced with delight. "I never saw this lodge before."
"Did you not have it set up here for the night?"
"No; it is not mine. Our Abenaquis are going to build one for us nearer the river."
"I stay here," observed La Hontan. "Supper is ready, and adventures are in the air."
"But this is not a hunter's lodge. You see that our very dogs understand they have no business here. Come on."
"Come on, without seeing who is hid herein? No. I begin to think it is something thou wouldst conceal from me. I go in; and if it be a bear trap, I cheerfully perish."
The young Frenchman stood resting the end of his gun on sodden leaves. He felt vexed at La Hontan. But that inquisitive nobleman stooped to lift the tent flap, and the young man turned toward his waiting Indians and talked a moment in Abenaqui, when they went on in the direction of the river, carrying game and camp luggage. They thought, as he did, that this might be a lodge with which no man ought to meddle. The daughter of Madockawando, the chief, was known to be coming from her winter retreat. Every Abenaqui in the tribe stood in awe of the maid. She did not rule them as a wise woman, but lived apart from them as a superior spirit.
Baron La Hontan, on all fours, intruded his gay face on the inmates of the lodge. There were three of them. His palms encountered a carpet of hemlock twigs, which spread around a central fire to the circular wall, and was made sweetly odorous by the heat. A thick couch of the twigs was piled up beyond the fire, and there sat an Abenaqui girl in her winter dress of furs. She was so white-skinned that she startled La Hontan as an apparition of Europe. He got but one black-eyed glance. She drew her blanket over her head. The group had doubtless heard the conference outside, but ignored it with reticent gravity. The hunter of the lodge was on his heels by the embers, toasting collops of meat for the blanketed princess; and an Etchemin woman, the other inmate, took one from his hand, and paused, while dressing it with salt, to gaze at the Frenchman.
La Hontan had not found himself distasteful to northwestern Indian girls. It was the first time an aboriginal face had ever covered itself from exposure to his eyes. He felt the sudden respect which nuns command, even in those who scoff at their visible consecration. The usual announcement made on entering a cabin—"I come to see this man," or "I come to see that woman,"—he saw was to be omitted in addressing this strangely civilized Indian girl.
"Mademoiselle," said Baron La Hontan in very French Abenaqui, rising to one knee, and sweeping the twigs with the brim of his hat as he pulled it off, "the Baron de Saint-Castin of Pentegoet, the friend of your chief Madockawando, is at your lodge door, tired and chilled from a long hunt. Can you not permit him to warm at your fire?"
The Abenaqui girl bowed her covered head. Her woman companion passed the permission on, and the hunter made it audible by a grunt of assent. La Hontan backed nimbly out, and seized the waiting man by the leg. The main portion of the baron was in the darkening April woods, but his perpendicular soles stood behind the flap within the lodge.
"Enter, my child," he whispered in excitement. "A warm fire, hot collops, a black eye to be coaxed out of a blanket, and full permission given to enjoy all. What, man! Out of countenance at thought of facing a pretty squaw, when you have three keeping house with you at the fort?"
"Come out, La Hontan," whispered back Saint-Castin, on his part grasping the elder's arm. "It is Madockawando's daughter."
"The red nun thou hast told me about? The saints be praised! But art thou sure?"
"How can I be sure? I have never seen her myself. But I judge from her avoiding your impudent eye. She does not like to be looked at."
"It was my mentioning the name of Saint-Castin of Pentegoet that made her whip her head under the blanket. I see, if I am to keep my reputation in the woods, I shall have to withdraw from your company."
"Withdraw your heels from this lodge," replied Saint-Castin impatiently. "You will embroil me with the tribe."
"Why should it embroil you with the tribe," argued the merry sitter, "if we warm our heels decently at this ready fire until the Indians light our own? Any Christian, white or red, would grant us that privilege."
"If I enter with you, will you come out with me as soon as I make you a sign?"
"Doubt it not," said La Hontan, and he eclipsed himself directly.
Though Saint-Castin had been more than a year in Acadia, this was the first time he had ever seen Madockawando's daughter. He knew it was that elusive being, on her way from her winter retreat to the tribe's summer fishing station near the coast. Father Petit, the priest of this woodland parish, spoke of her as one who might in time found a house of holy women amidst the license of the wilderness.
Saint-Castin wanted to ask her pardon for entering; but he sat without a sound. Some power went out from that silent shape far stronger than the hinted beauty of girlish ankle and arm. The glow of brands lighted the lodge, showing the bark seams on its poles. Pale smoke and the pulse of heat quivered betwixt him and a presence which, by some swift contrast, made his face burn at the recollection of his household at Pentegoet. He had seen many good women in his life, with the patronizing tolerance which men bestow on unpiquant things that are harmless; and he did not understand why her hiding should stab him like a reproach. She hid from all common eyes. But his were not common eyes. Saint-Castin felt impatient at getting no recognition from a girl, saint though she might be, whose tribe he had actually adopted.
The blunt-faced Etchemin woman, once a prisoner brought from northern Acadia, now the companion of Madockawando's daughter, knew her duty to the strangers, and gave them food as rapidly as the hunter could broil it. The hunter was a big-legged, small-headed Abenaqui, with knees over-topping his tuft of hair when he squatted on his heels. He looked like a man whose emaciated trunk and arms had been taken possession of by colossal legs and feet. This singular deformity made him the best hunter in his tribe. He tracked game with a sweep of great beams as tireless as the tread of a modern steamer. The little sense in his head was woodcraft. He thought of nothing but taking and dressing game.
Saint-Castin barely tasted the offered meat; but La Hontan enjoyed it unabashed, warming himself while he ate, and avoiding any chance of a hint from his friend that the meal should be cut short.
"My child," he said in lame Abenaqui to the Etchemin woman, while his sly regard dwelt on the blanket-robed statue opposite, "I wish you the best of gifts, a good husband."
The Etchemin woman heard him in such silence as one perhaps brings from making a long religious retreat, and forbore to explain that she already had the best of gifts, and was the wife of the big-legged hunter.
"I myself had an aunt who, never married," warned La Hontan. "She was an excellent woman, but she turned like fruit withered in the ripening. The fantastic airs of her girlhood clung to her. She was at a disadvantage among the married, and young people passed her by as an experiment that had failed. So she was driven to be very religious; but prayers are cold comfort for the want of a bouncing family."
If the Etchemin woman had absorbed from her mistress a habit of meditation which shut out the world, Saint-Castin had not. He gave La Hontan the sign to move before him out of the lodge, and no choice but to obey it, crowding the reluctant and comfortable man into undignified attitudes. La Hontan saw that he had taken offense. There was no accounting for the humors of those disbanded soldiers of the Carignan-Salieres, though Saint-Castin was usually a gentle fellow. They spread out their sensitive military honor over every inch of their new seigniories; and if you chucked the wrong little Indian or habitant's naked baby under the chin, you might unconsciously stir up war in the mind of your host. La Hontan was glad he was directly leaving Acadia. He was fond of Saint-Castin. Few people could approach that young man without feeling the charm which made the Indians adore him. But any one who establishes himself in the woods loses touch with the light manners of civilization; his very vices take on an air of brutal candor.
Next evening, however, both men were merry by the hall fire at Pentegoet over their parting cup. La Hontan was returning to Quebec. A vessel waited the tide at the Penobscot's mouth, a bay which the Indians call "bad harbor."
The long, low, and irregular building which Saint-Castin had constructed as his baronial seat was as snug as the governor's castle at Quebec. It was only one story high, and the small square windows were set under the eaves, so outsiders could not look in. Saint-Castin's enemies said he built thus to hide his deeds; but Father Petit himself could see how excellent a plan it was for defense. A holding already claimed by the encroaching English needed loop-holes, not windows. The fort surrounding the house was also well adapted to its situation. Twelve cannon guarded the bastions. All the necessary buildings, besides a chapel with a bell, were within the walls, and a deep well insured a supply of water. A garden and fruit orchard were laid out opposite the fort, and encompassed by palisades.
The luxury of the house consisted in an abundant use of crude, unpolished material. Though built grotesquely of stone and wood intermingled, it had the solid dignity of that rugged coast. A chimney spacious as a crater let smoke and white ashes upward, and sections of trees smouldered on Saint-Castin's hearth. An Indian girl, ruddy from high living, and wearing the brightest stuffs imported from France, sat on the floor at the hearth corner. This was the usual night scene at Pentegoet. Candle and firelight shone on her, on oak timbers, and settles made of unpeeled balsam, on plate and glasses which always heaped a table with ready food and drink, on moose horns and gun racks, on stores of books, on festoons of wampum, and usually on a dozen figures beside Saint-Castin. The other rooms in the house were mere tributaries to this baronial presence chamber. Madockawando and the dignitaries of the Abenaqui tribe made it their council hall, the white sagamore presiding. They were superior to rude western nations. It was Saint-Castin's plan to make a strong principality here, and to unite his people in a compact state. He lavished his inherited money upon them. Whatever they wanted from Saint-Castin they got, as from a father. On their part, they poured the wealth of the woods upon him. Not a beaver skin went out of Acadia except through his hands. The traders of New France grumbled at his profits and monopoly, and the English of New England claimed his seigniory. He stood on debatable ground, in dangerous times, trying to mould an independent nation. The Abenaquis did not know that a king of France had been reared on Saint-Castin's native mountains, but they believed that a human divinity had.
Their permanent settlement was about the fort, on land he had paid for, but held in common with them. They went to their winter's hunting or their summer's fishing from Pentegoet. It was the seat of power. The cannon protected fields and a town of lodges which Saint-Castin meant to convert into a town of stone and hewed wood houses as soon as the aboriginal nature conformed itself to such stability. Even now the village had left home and gone into the woods again. The Abenaqui women were busy there, inserting tubes of bark in pierced maple-trees, and troughs caught the flow of ascending sap. Kettles boiled over fires in the bald spaces, incense of the forest's very heart rising from them and sweetening the air. All day Indian children raced from one mother's fire to another, or dipped unforbidden cups of hands into the brimming troughs; and at night they lay down among the dogs, with their heels to the blaze, watching these lower constellations blink through the woods until their eyes swam into unconsciousness. It was good weather for making maple sugar. In the mornings hoar frost or light snows silvered the world, disappearing as soon as the sun touched them, when the bark of every tree leaked moisture. This was festive labor compared with planting the fields, and drew the men, also.
The morning after La Hontan sailed, Saint-Castin went out and skirted this wide-spread sugar industry like a spy. The year before, he had moved heartily from fire to fire, hailed and entertained by every red manufacturer. The unrest of spring was upon him. He had brought many conveniences among the Abenaquis, and taught them some civilized arts. They were his adopted people. But he felt a sudden separateness from them, like the loneliness of his early boyhood.
Saint-Castin was a good hunter. He had more than once watched a slim young doe stand gazing curiously at him, and had not startled it by a breath. Therefore he was able to become a stump behind the tree which Madockawando's daughter sought with her sap pail. Usually he wore buckskins, in the free and easy life of Pentegoet. But he had put on his Carignan-Salieres uniform, filling its boyish outlines with his full man's figure. He would not on any account have had La Hontan see him thus gathering the light of the open woods on military finery. He felt ashamed of returning to it, and could not account for his own impulses; and when he saw Madockawando's daughter walking unconsciously toward him as toward a trap, he drew his bright surfaces entirely behind the column of the tree.
She had taken no part in this festival of labor for several years. She moved among the women still in solitude, not one of them feeling at liberty to draw near her except as she encouraged them. The Abenaquis were not a polygamous tribe, but they enjoyed the freedom of the woods. Squaws who had made several experimental marriages since this young celibate began her course naturally felt rebuked by her standards, and preferred stirring kettles to meeting her. It was not so long since the princess had been a hoiden among them, abounding in the life which rushes to extravagant action. Her juvenile whoops scared the birds. She rode astride of saplings, and played pranks on solemn old warriors and the medicine-man. Her body grew into suppleness and beauty. As for her spirit, the women of the tribe knew very little about it. They saw none of her struggles. In childhood she was ashamed of the finer nature whose wants found no answer in her world. It was anguish to look into the faces of her kindred and friends as into the faces of hounds who live, it is true, but a lower life, made up of chasing and eating. She wondered why she was created different from them. A loyalty of race constrained her sometimes to imitate them; but it was imitation; she could not be a savage. Then Father Petit came, preceding Saint-Castin, and set up his altar and built his chapel. The Abenaqui girl was converted as soon as she looked in at the door and saw the gracious image of Mary lifted up to be her pattern of womanhood. Those silent and terrible days, when she lost interest in the bustle of living, and felt an awful homesickness for some unknown good, passed entirely away. Religion opened an invisible world. She sprang toward it, lying on the wings of her spirit and gazing forever above. The minutest observances of the Church were learned with an exactness which delighted a priest who had not too many encouragements. Finally, she begged her father to let her make a winter retreat to some place near the headwaters of the Penobscot. When the hunters were abroad, it did them no harm to remember there was a maid in a wilderness cloister praying for the good of her people; and when they were fortunate, they believed in the material advantage of her prayers. Nobody thought of searching out her hidden cell, or of asking the big-legged hunter and his wife to tell its mysteries. The dealer with invisible spirits commanded respect in Indian minds before the priest came.
Madockawando's daughter was of a lighter color than most of her tribe, and finer in her proportions, though they were a well-made people. She was the highest expression of unadulterated Abenaqui blood. She set her sap pail down by the trough, and Saint-Castin shifted silently to watch her while she dipped the juice. Her eyelids were lowered. She had well-marked brows, and the high cheek-bones were lost in a general acquiline rosiness. It was a girl's face, modest and sweet, that he saw; reflecting the society of holier beings than the one behind the tree. She had no blemish of sunken temples or shrunk features, or the glaring aspect of a devotee. Saint-Castin was a good Catholic, but he did not like fanatics. It was as if the choicest tree in the forest had been flung open, and a perfect woman had stepped out, whom no other man's eye had seen. Her throat was round, and at the base of it, in the little hollow where women love to nestle ornaments, hung the cross of her rosary, which she wore twisted about her neck. The beads were large and white, and the cross was ivory. Father Petit had furnished them, blessed for their purpose, to his incipient abbess, but Saint-Castin noticed how they set off the dark rosiness of her skin. The collar of her fur dress was pushed back, for the day was warm, like an autumn day when there is no wind. A luminous smoke which magnified the light hung between treetops and zenith. The nakedness of the swelling forest let heaven come strangely close to the ground. It was like standing on a mountain plateau in a gray dazzle of clouds.
Madockawando's daughter dipped her pail full of the clear water. The appreciative motion of her eyelashes and the placid lines of her face told how she enjoyed the limpid plaything. But Saint-Castin understood well that she had not come out to boil sap entirely for the love of it. Father Petit believed the time was ripe for her ministry to the Abenaqui women. He had intimated to the seignior what land might be convenient for the location of a convent. The community was now to be drawn around her. Other girls must take vows when she did. Some half-covered children, who stalked her wherever she went, stood like terra-cotta images at a distance and waited for her next movement.
The girl had just finished her dipping when she looked up and met the steady gaze of Saint-Castin. He was in an anguish of dread that she would run. But her startled eyes held his image while three changes passed over her,—terror and recognition and disapproval. He stepped more into view, a white-and-gold apparition, which scattered the Abenaqui children to their mothers' camp-fires.
"I am Saint-Castin," he said.
"Yes, I have many times seen you, sagamore."
Her voice, shaken a little by her heart, was modulated to such softness that the liquid gutturals gave him a distinct new pleasure.
"I want to ask your pardon for my friend's rudeness, when you warmed and fed us in your lodge."
"I did not listen to him." Her fingers sought the cross on her neck. She seemed to threaten a prayer which might stop her ears to Saint-Castin.
"He meant no discourtesy. If you knew his good heart, you would like him."
"I do not like men." She made a calm statement of her peculiar tastes.
"Why?" inquired Saint-Castin.
Madockawando's daughter summoned her reasons from distant vistas of the woods, with meditative dark eyes. Evidently her dislike of men had no element of fear or of sentimental avoidance.
"I cannot like them," she apologized, declining to set forth her reasons. "I wish they would always stay away from me."
"Your father and the priest are men."
"I know it," admitted the girl, with a deep breath like commiseration. "They cannot help it; and our Etchemin's husband, who keeps the lodge supplied with meat, he cannot help it, either, any more than he can his deformity. But there is grace for men," she added. "They may, by repenting of their sins and living holy lives, finally save their souls."
Saint-Castin repented of his sins that moment, and tried to look contrite.
"In some of my books," he said, "I read of an old belief held by people on the other side of the earth. They thought our souls were born into the world a great many times, now in this body, and now in that. I feel as if you and I had been friends in some other state."
The girl's face seemed to flare toward him as flame is blown, acknowledging the claim he made upon her; but the look passed like an illusion, and she said seriously, "The sagamore should speak to Father Petit. This is heresy."
Madockawando's daughter stood up, and took her pail by the handle.
"Let me carry it," said Saint-Castin.
Her lifted palm barred his approach.
"I do not like men, sagamore. I wish them to keep away from me."
"But that is not Christian," he argued.
"It cannot be unchristian: the priest would lay me under penance for it."
"Father Petit is a lenient soul."
With the simplicity of an angel who would not be longer hindered by mundane society, she took up her pail, saying, "Good-day, sagamore," and swept on across the dead leaves.
Saint-Castin walked after her.
"Go back," commanded Madockawando's daughter, turning.
The officer of the Carignan-Salieres regiment halted, but did not retreat.
"You must not follow me, sagamore," she remonstrated, as with a child. "I cannot talk to you."
"You must let me talk to you," said Saint-Castin. "I want you for my wife."
She looked at him in a way that made his face scorch. He remembered the year wife, the half-year wife, and the two-months wife at Pentegoet. These three squaws whom he had allowed to form his household, and had taught to boil the pot au feu, came to him from many previous experimental marriages. They were externals of his life, much as hounds, boats, or guns. He could give them all rich dowers, and divorce them easily any day to a succeeding line of legal Abenaqui husbands. The lax code of the wilderness was irresistible to a Frenchman; but he was near enough in age and in texture of soul to this noble pagan to see at once, with her eyesight, how he had degraded the very vices of her people.
"Before the sun goes down," vowed Saint-Castin, "there shall be nobody in my house but the two Etchemin slave men that your father gave me."
The girl heard of his promised reformation without any kindling of the spirit.
"I am not for a wife," she answered him, and walked on with the pail.
Again Saint-Castin followed her, and took the sap pail from her hand. He set it aside on the leaves, and folded his arms. The blood came and went in his face. He was not used to pleading with women. They belonged to him easily, like his natural advantages over barbarians in a new world. The slopes of the Pyrenees bred strong-limbed men, cautious in policy, striking and bold in figure and countenance. The English themselves have borne witness to his fascinations. Manhood had darkened only the surface of his skin, a milk-white cleanness breaking through it like the outflushing of some inner purity. His eyes and hair had a golden beauty. It would have been strange if he had not roused at least a degree of comradeship in the aboriginal woman living up to her highest aspirations.
"I love you. I have thought of you, of nobody but you, even when I behaved the worst. You have kept yourself hid from me, while I have been thinking about you ever since I came to Acadia. You are the woman I want to marry."
Madockawando's daughter shook her head. She had patience with his fantastic persistence, but it annoyed her.
"I am not for a wife," she repeated. "I do not like men."
"Is it that you do not like me?"
"No," she answered sincerely, probing her mind for the truth. "You yourself are different from our Abenaqui men."
"Then why do you make me unhappy?"
"I do not make you unhappy. I do not even think of you."
Again she took to her hurried course, forgetting the pail of sap. Saint-Castin seized it, and once more followed her.
"I beg that you will kiss me," he pleaded, trembling.
The Abenaqui girl laughed aloud.
"Does the sagamore think he is an object of veneration, that I should kiss him?"
"But will you not at least touch your lips to my forehead?"
"No. I touch my lips to holy things."
"You do not understand the feeling I have."
"No, I do not understand it. If you talked every day, it would do no good. My thoughts are different."
Saint-Castin gave her the pail, and looked her in the eyes.
"Perhaps you will some time understand," he said. "I lived many wild years before I did."
She was so glad to leave him behind that her escape was like a backward blow, and he did not make enough allowance for the natural antagonism of a young girl. Her beautiful free motion was something to watch. She was a convert whose penances were usually worked out afoot, for Father Petit knew better than to shut her up.
Saint-Castin had never dreamed there were such women. She was like a nymph out of a tree, without human responsiveness, yet with round arms and waist and rosy column of neck, made to be helplessly adored. He remembered the lonesome moods of his early youth. They must have been a premonition of his fate in falling completely under the spell of an unloving woman.
Saint-Castin took a roundabout course, and went to Madockawando's lodge, near the fort. All the members of the family, except the old chief, were away at the sugar-making. The great Abenaqui's dignity would not allow him to drag in fuel to the fire, so he squatted nursing the ashes, and raked out a coal to light tobacco for himself and Saint-Castin. The white sagamore had never before come in full uniform to a private talk, and it was necessary to smoke half an hour before a word could be said.
There was a difference between the chatter of civilized men and the deliberations of barbarians. With La Hontan, the Baron de Saint-Castin would have led up to his business by a long prelude on other subjects. With Madockawando, he waited until the tobacco had mellowed both their spirits, and then said,—
"Father, I want to marry your daughter in the French way, with priest and contract, and make her the Baroness de Saint-Castin."
Madockawando, on his part, smoked the matter fairly out. He put an arm on the sagamore's shoulder, and lamented the extreme devotion of his daughter. It was a good religion which the black-robed father had brought among the Abenaquis, but who had ever heard of a woman's refusing to look at men before that religion came? His own child, when she was at home with the tribe, lived as separate from the family and as independently as a war-chief. In his time, the women dressed game and carried the children and drew sledges. What would happen if his daughter began to teach them, in a house by themselves, to do nothing but pray? Madockawando repeated that his son, the sagamore, and his father, the priest, had a good religion, but they might see for themselves what the Abenaqui tribe would come to when the women all set up for medicine squaws. Then there was his daughter's hiding in winter to make what she called her retreats, and her proposing to take a new name from some of the priest's okies or saint-spirits, and to be called "Sister."
"I will never call my own child 'Sister,'" vowed Madockawando. "I could be a better Christian myself, if Father Petit had not put spells on her."
The two conspirators against Father Petit's proposed nunnery felt grave and wicked, but they encouraged one another in iniquity. Madockawando smiled in bronze wrinkles when Saint-Castin told him about the proposal in the woods. The proper time for courtship was evening, as any Frenchman who had lived a year with the tribe ought to know; but when one considered the task he had undertaken, any time was suitable; and the chief encouraged him with full consent. A French marriage contract was no better than an Abenaqui marriage contract in Madockawando's eyes; but if Saint-Castin could bind up his daughter for good, he would be glad of it.
The chapel of saplings and bark which first sheltered Father Petit's altar had been abandoned when Saint-Castin built a substantial one of stone and timber within the fortress walls, and hung in its little tower a bell, which the most reluctant Abenaqui must hear at mass time. But as it is well to cherish the sacred regard which man has for any spot where he has worshiped, the priest left a picture hanging on the wall above the bare chancel, and he kept the door repaired on its wooden hinges. The chapel stood beyond the forest, east of Pentegoet, and close to those battlements which form the coast line here. The tide made thunder as it rose among caverns and frothed almost at the verge of the heights. From this headland Mount Desert could be seen, leading the host of islands which go out into the Atlantic, ethereal in fog or lurid in the glare of sunset.
Madockawando's daughter tended the old chapel in summer, for she had first seen religion through its door. She wound the homely chancel rail with evergreens, and put leaves and red berries on the walls, and flowers under the sacred picture; her Etchemin woman always keeping her company. Father Petit hoped to see this rough shrine become a religious seminary, and strings of women led there every day to take, like contagion, from an abbess the instruction they took so slowly from a priest.
She and the Etchemin found it a dismal place, on their first visit after the winter retreat. She reproached herself for coming so late; but day and night an influence now encompassed Madockawando's daughter which she felt as a restraint on her freedom. A voice singing softly the love-songs of southern France often waked her from her sleep. The words she could not interpret, but the tone the whole village could, and she blushed, crowding paters on aves, until her voice sometimes became as distinct as Saint-Castin's in resolute opposition. It was so grotesque that it made her laugh. Yet to a woman the most formidable quality in a suitor is determination.
When the three girls who had constituted Saint-Castin's household at the fort passed complacently back to their own homes laden with riches, Madockawando's daughter was unreasonably angry, and felt their loss as they were incapable of feeling it for themselves. She was alien to the customs of her people. The fact pressed upon her that her people were completely bound to the white sagamore and all his deeds. Saint-Castin's sins had been open to the tribe, and his repentance was just as open. Father Petit praised him.
"My son Jean Vincent de l'Abadie, Baron de Saint-Castin, has need of spiritual aid to sustain him in the paths of virtue," said the priest impressively, "and he is seeking it."
At every church service the lax sinner was now on his knees in plain sight of the devotee; but she never looked at him. All the tribe soon knew what he had at heart, and it was told from camp-fire to camp-fire how he sat silent every night in the hall at Pentegoet, with his hair ruffled on his forehead, growing more haggard from day to day.
The Abenaqui girl did not talk with other women about what happened in the community. Dead saints crowded her mind to the exclusion of living sinners. All that she heard came by way of her companion, the stolid Etchemin, and when it was unprofitable talk it was silenced. They labored together all the chill April afternoon, bringing the chapel out of its winter desolation. The Etchemin made brooms of hemlock, and brushed down cobwebs and dust, and laboriously swept the rocky earthen floor, while the princess, standing upon a scaffold of split log benches, wiped the sacred picture and set a border of tender moss around it. It was a gaudy red print representing a pierced heart. The Indian girl kissed every sanguinary drop which dribbled down the coarse paper. Fog and salt air had given it a musty odor, and stained the edges with mildew. She found it no small labor to cover these stains, and pin the moss securely in place with thorns.
There were no windows in this chapel. A platform of hewed slabs had supported the altar; and when the princess came down, and the benches were replaced, she lifted one of these slabs, as she had often done before, to look into the earthen-floored box which they made. Little animals did not take refuge in the wind-beaten building. She often wondered that it stood; though the light materials used by aboriginal tribes, when anchored to the earth as this house was, toughly resisted wind and weather.
The Etchemin sat down on the ground, and her mistress on the platform behind the chancel rail, when everything else was done, to make a fresh rope of evergreen. The climbing and reaching and lifting had heated their faces, and the cool salt air flowed in, refreshing them. Their hands were pricked by the spiny foliage, but they labored without complaint, in unbroken meditation. A monotonous low singing of the Etchemin's kept company with the breathing of the sea. This decking of the chapel acted like music on the Abenaqui girl. She wanted to be quiet, to enjoy it.
By the time they were ready to shut the door for the night the splash of a rising tide could be heard. Fog obliterated the islands, and a bleak gray twilight, like the twilights of winter, began to dim the woods.
"The sagamore has made a new law," said the Etchemin woman, as they came in sight of the fort.
Madockawando's daughter looked at the unguarded bastions, and the chimneys of Pentegoet rising in a stack above the walls.
"What new law has the sagamore made?" she inquired.
"He says he will no more allow a man to put away his first and true wife, for he is convinced that God does not love inconstancy in men."
"The sagamore should have kept his first wife himself."
"But he says he has not yet had her," answered the Etchemin woman, glancing aside at the princess. "The sagamore will not see the end of the sugar-making to-night."
"Because he sits alone every night by his fire," said Madockawando's daughter; "there is too much talk about the sagamore. It is the end of the sugar-making that your mind is set on."
"My husband is at the camps," said the Etchemin plaintively. "Besides, I am very tired."
"Rest yourself, therefore, by tramping far to wait on your husband and keep his hands filled with warm sugar. I am tired, and I go to my lodge."
"But there is a feast in the camps, and nobody has thought of putting a kettle on in the village. I will first get your meat ready."
"No, I intend to observe a fast to-night. Go on to the camps, and serve my family there."
The Etchemin looked toward the darkening bay, and around them at those thickening hosts of invisible terrors which are yet dreaded by more enlightened minds than hers.
"No," responded the princess, "I am not afraid. Go on to the camps while you have the courage to be abroad alone."
The Etchemin woman set off at a trot, her heavy body shaking, and distance soon swallowed her. Madockawando's daughter stood still in the humid dimness before turning aside to her lodge. Perhaps the ruddy light which showed through the open fortress gate from the hall of Pentegoet gave her a feeling of security. She knew a man was there; and there was not a man anywhere else within half a league. It was the last great night of sugar-making. Not even an Abenaqui woman or child remained around the fort. Father Petit himself was at the camps to restrain riot. It would be a hard patrol for him, moving from fire to fire half the night. The master of Pentegoet rested very carelessly in his hold. It was hardly a day's sail westward to the English post of Pemaquid. Saint-Castin had really made ready for his people's spring sowing and fishing with some anxiety for their undisturbed peace. Pemaquid aggressed on him, and he seriously thought of fitting out a ship and burning Pemaquid. In that time, as in this, the strong hand upheld its own rights at any cost.
The Abenaqui girl stood under the north-west bastion, letting early night make its impressions on her. Her motionless figure, in indistinct garments, could not be seen from the river; but she discerned, rising up the path from the water, one behind the other, a row of peaked hats. Beside the hats appeared gunstocks. She had never seen any English, but neither her people nor the French showed such tops, or came stealthily up from the boat landing under cover of night. She did not stop to count them. Their business must be with Saint-Castin. She ran along the wall. The invaders would probably see her as she tried to close the gate; it had settled on its hinges, and was too heavy for her. She thought of ringing the chapel bell; but before any Abenaqui could reach the spot the single man in the fortress must be overpowered.
Saint-Castin stood on his bachelor hearth, leaning an arm on the mantel. The light shone on his buckskin fringes, his dejected shoulders, and his clean-shaven youthful face. A supper stood on the table near him, where his Etchemin servants had placed it before they trotted off to the camps. The high windows flickered, and there was not a sound in the house except the low murmur or crackle of the glowing backlog, until the door-latch clanked, and the door flew wide and was slammed shut again. Saint-Castin looked up with a frown, which changed to stupid astonishment.
Madockawando's daughter seized him by the wrist.
"Is there any way out of the fort except through the gate?"
"None," answered Saint-Castin.
"Is there no way of getting over the wall?"
"The ladder can be used."
"Run, then, to the ladder! Be quick."
"What is the matter?" demanded Saint-Castin.
The Abenaqui girl dragged on him with all her strength as he reached for the iron door-latch.
"Not that way—they will see you—they are coming from the river! Go through some other door."
"Who are coming?"
Yielding himself to her will, Saint-Castin hurried with her from room to room, and out through his kitchen, where the untidy implements of his Etchemin slaves lay scattered about. They ran past the storehouse, and he picked up a ladder and set it against the wall.
"I will run back and ring the chapel bell," panted the girl.
"Mount!" said Saint-Castin sternly; and she climbed the ladder, convinced that he would not leave her behind.
He sat on the wall and dragged the ladder up, and let it down on the outside. As they both reached the ground, he understood what enemy had nearly trapped him in his own fortress.
"The doors were all standing wide," said a cautious nasal voice, speaking English, at the other side of the wall. "Our fox hath barely sprung from cover. He must be near."
"Is not that the top of a ladder?" inquired another voice.
At this there was a rush for the gate. Madockawando's daughter ran like the wind, with Saint-Castin's hand locked in hers. She knew, by night or day, every turn of the slender trail leading to the deserted chapel. It came to her mind as the best place of refuge. They were cut off from the camps, because they must cross their pursuers on the way.
The lord of Pentegoet could hear bushes crackling behind him. The position of the ladder had pointed the direction of the chase. He laughed in his headlong flight. This was not ignominious running from foes, but a royal exhilaration. He could run all night, holding the hand that guided him. Unheeded branches struck him across the face. He shook his hair back and flew light-footed, the sweep of the magnificent body beside him keeping step. He could hear the tide boom against the headland, and the swish of its recoiling waters. The girl had her way with him. It did not occur to the officer of the Carignan regiment that he should direct the escape, or in any way oppose the will manifested for the first time in his favor. She felt for the door of the, dark little chapel, and drew him in and closed it. His judgment rejected the place, but without a word he groped at her side across to the chancel rail. She lifted the loose slab of the platform, and tried to thrust him into the earthen-floored box.
"Hide yourself first," whispered Saint-Castin.
They could hear feet running on the flinty approach. The chase was so close that the English might have seen them enter the chapel.
"Get in, get in!" begged the Abenaqui girl. "They will not hurt me."
"Hide!" said Saint-Castin, thrusting her fiercely in. "Would they not carry off the core of Saint-Castin's heart if they could?"
She flattened herself on the ground under the platform, and gave him all the space at her side that the contraction of her body left clear, and he let the slab down carefully over their heads. They existed almost without breath for many minutes.
The wooden door-hinges creaked, and stumbling shins blundered against the benches.
"What is this place?" spoke an English voice. "Let some one take his tinder-box and strike a light."
"Have care," warned another. "We are only half a score in number. Our errand was to kidnap Saint-Castin from his hold, not to get ourselves ambushed by the Abenaquis."
"We are too far from the sloop now," said a third. "We shall be cut off before we get back, if we have not a care."
"But he must be in here."
"There are naught but benches and walls to hide him. This must be an idolatrous chapel where the filthy savages congregate to worship images."
"Come out of the abomination, and let us make haste back to the boat. He may be this moment marshaling all his Indians to surround us."
"Wait. Let a light first be made."
Saint-Castin and his companion heard the clicks of flint and steel; then an instant's blaze of tinder made cracks visible over their Heads. It died away, the hurried, wrangling men shuffling about. One kicked the platform.
"Here is a cover," he said; but darkness again enveloped them all.
"Nothing is to be gained by searching farther," decided the majority. "Did I not tell you this Saint-Castin will never be caught? The tide will turn, and we shall get stranded among the rocks of that bay. It is better to go back without Saint-Castin than to stay and be burnt by his Abenaquis."
"But here is a loose board in some flooring," insisted the discoverer of the platform. "I will feel with the butt of my gun if there be anything thereunder."
The others had found the door, and were filing through it.
"Why not with thy knife, man?" suggested one of them.
"That is well thought of," he answered, and struck a half circle under the boards. Whether in this flourish he slashed anything he only learned by the stain on the knife, when the sloop was dropping down the bay. But the Abenaqui girl knew what he had done, before the footsteps ceased. She sat beside Saint-Castin on the platform, their feet resting on the ground within the boards. No groan betrayed him, but her arms went jealously around his body, and her searching fingers found the cut in the buckskin. She drew her blanket about him with a strength of compression that made it a ligature, and tied the corners in a knot.
"Is it deep, sagamore?"
"Not deep enough," said Saint-Castin. "It will glue me to my buckskins with a little blood, but it will not let me out of my troubles. I wonder why I ran such a race from the English? They might have had me, since they want me, and no one else does."
"I will kiss you now, sagamore," whispered the Abenaqui girl, trembling and weeping in the chaos of her broken reserve. "I cannot any longer hold out against being your wife."
She gave him her first kiss in the sacred darkness of the chapel, and under the picture of the pierced heart. And it has since been recorded of her that the Baroness de Saint-Castin was, during her entire lifetime, the best worshiped wife in Acadia.
THE BEAUPORT LOUP-GAROU.
October dusk was bleak on the St. Lawrence, an east wind feeling along the river's surface and rocking the vessels of Sir William Phips on tawny rollers. It was the second night that his fleet sat there inactive. During that day a small ship had approached Beauport landing; but it stuck fast in the mud and became a mark for gathering Canadians until the tide rose and floated it off. At this hour all the habitants about Beauport except one, and even the Huron Indians of Lorette, were safe inside the fort walls. Cattle were driven and sheltered inland. Not a child's voice could be heard in the parish of Beauport, and not a woman's face looked through windows fronting the road leading up toward Montmorenci. Juchereau de Saint-Denis, the seignior of Beauport, had taken his tenants with him as soon as the New England invaders pushed into Quebec Basin. Only one man of the muster hid himself and stayed behind, and he was too old for military service. His seignior might lament him, but there was no woman to do so. Gaspard had not stepped off his farm for years. The priest visited him there, humoring a bent which seemed as inelastic as a vow. He had not seen the ceremonial of high mass in the cathedral of Upper Town since he was a young man.
Gaspard's farm was fifteen feet wide and a mile long. It was one of several strips lying between the St. Charles River and those heights east of Beauport which rise to Montmorenci Falls. He had his front on the greater stream, and his inland boundary among woods skirting the mountain. He raised his food and the tobacco he smoked, and braided his summer hats of straw and knitted his winter caps of wool. One suit of well-fulled woolen clothes would have lasted a habitant a lifetime. But Gaspard had been unlucky. He lost all his family by smallpox, and the priest made him burn his clothes, and ruinously fit himself with new. There was no use in putting savings in the stocking any longer, however; the children were gone. He could only buy masses for them. He lived alone, the neighbors taking that loving interest in him which French Canadians bestow on one another.
More than once Gaspard thought he would leave his farm and go into the world. When Frontenac returned to take the paralyzed province in hand, and fight Iroquois, and repair the mistakes of the last governor, Gaspard put on his best moccasins and the red tasseled sash he wore only at Christmas. "Gaspard is going to the fort," ran along the whole row of Beauport houses. His neighbors waited for him. They all carried their guns and powder for the purpose of firing salutes to Frontenac. It was a grand day. But when Gaspard stepped out with the rest, his countenance fell. He could not tell what ailed him. His friends coaxed and pulled him; they gave him a little brandy. He sat down, and they were obliged to leave him, or miss the cannonading and fireworks themselves. From his own river front Gaspard saw the old lion's, ship come to port, and, in unformed sentences, he reasoned then that a man need not leave his place to take part in the world.
Frontenac had not been back a month, and here was the New England colony of Massachusetts swarming against New France. "They may carry me away from my hearth feet first," thought Gaspard, "but I am not to be scared away from it."
Every night, before putting the bar across his door, the old habitant went out to survey the two ends of the earth typified by the road crossing his strip of farm. These were usually good moments for him. He did not groan, as at dawn, that there were no children to relieve him of labor. A noble landscape lifted on either hand from the hollow of Beauport. The ascending road went on to the little chapel of Ste. Anne de Beaupre, which for thirty years had been considered a shrine in New France. The left hand road forded the St. Charles and climbed the long slope to Quebec rock.
Gaspard loved the sounds which made home so satisfying at autumn dusk. Faint and far off he thought he could hear the lowing of his cow and calf. To remember they were exiled gave him the pang of the unusual. He was just chilled through, and therefore as ready for his own hearth as a long journey could have made him, when a gray thing loped past in the flinty dust, showing him sudden awful eyes and tongue of red fire.
Gaspard clapped the house door to behind him and put up the bar. He was not afraid of Phips and the fleet, of battle or night attack, but the terror which walked in the darkness of sorcerers' times abjectly bowed his old legs.
"O good Ste. Anne, pray for us!" he whispered, using an invocation familiar to his lips. "If loups-garous are abroad, also, what is to become of this unhappy land?"
There was a rattling knock on his door. It might be made by the hilt of a sword; or did a loup-garou ever clatter paw against man's dwelling? Gaspard climbed on his bed.
"Father Gaspard! Father Gaspard! Are you within?"
"Who is there?"
"Le Moyne de Sainte-Helene. Don't you know my voice?"
"My master Sainte-Helene, are you alone?"
"Quite alone, except for my horse tied to your apple-tree. Let me in."
The command was not to be slighted. Gaspard got down and admitted his visitor. More than once had Sainte-Helene come to this hearth. He appreciated the large fire, and sat down on a chair with heavy legs which were joined by bars resting on the floor.
"My hands tingle. The dust on these, flint roads is cold."
"But Monsieur Sainte-Helene never walked with his hands in the dust," protested Gaspard. The erect figure, bright with all the military finery of that period, checked even his superstition by imposing another kind of awe.
"The New England men expect to make us bite it yet," responded Sainte-Helene. "Saint-Denis is anxious about you, old man. Why don't you go to the fort?"
"I will go to-morrow," promised Gaspard, relaxing sheepishly from terror. "These New Englanders have not yet landed, and one's own bed is very comfortable in the cool nights."
"I am used to sleeping anywhere."
"Yes, monsieur, for you are young."
"It would make you young again, Gaspard, to see Count Frontenac. I wish all New France had seen him yesterday when he defied Phips and sent the envoy back to the fleet. The officer was sweating; our mischievous fellows had blinded him at the water's edge, and dragged him, to the damage of his shins, over all the barricades of Mountain Street. He took breath and courage when they turned him loose before the governor,—though the sight of Frontenac startled him,—and handed over the letter of his commandant requiring the surrender of Quebec."
"My faith, Monsieur Sainte-Helene, did the governor blow him out of the room?"
"The man offered his open watch, demanding an answer within the hour. The governor said, 'I do not need so much time. Go back at once to your master and tell him I will answer this insolent message by the mouths of my cannon.'"
"By all the saints, that was a good word!" swore Gaspard, slapping his knee with his wool cap. "Neither the Iroquois nor the Bostonnais will run over us, now that the old governor is back. You heard him say it, monsieur?"
"I heard him, yes; for all his officers stood by. La Hontan was there, too, and that pet of La Hontan's, Baron de Saint-Castin's half-breed son, of Pentegoet."
The martial note in the officer's voice sunk to contempt. Gaspard was diverted from the governor to recognize, with the speechless perception of an untrained mind, that jealousy which men established in the world have of very young men. The male instinct of predominance is fierce even in saints. Le Moyne de Sainte-Helene, though of the purest stock in New France, had no prejudice against a half-breed.
"How is Mademoiselle Clementine?" inquired Gaspard, arriving at the question in natural sequence. "You will see her oftener now than when you had to ride from the fort."
The veins looked black in his visitor's face. "Ask the little Saint-Castin. Boys stand under windows and talk to women now. Men have to be reconnoitering the enemy."
"Monsieur Anselm de Saint-Castin is the son of a good fighter," observed Gaspard. "It is said the New England men hate his very name."
"Anselm de Saint-Castin is barely eighteen years old."
"It is the age of Mademoiselle Clementine."
The old habitant drew his three-legged stool to the hearth corner, and took the liberty of sitting down as the talk was prolonged. He noticed the leaden color which comes of extreme weariness and depression dulling Sainte-Helene's usually dark and rosy skin. Gaspard had heard that this young man was quickest afoot, readiest with his weapon, most untiring in the dance, and keenest for adventure of all the eight brothers in his noble family. He had done the French arms credit in the expedition to Hudson Bay and many another brush with their enemies. The fire was burning high and clear, lighting rafters and their curious brown tassels of smoked meat, and making the crucifix over the bed shine out the whitest spot in a smoke-stained room.
"Father Gaspard," inquired Sainte-Helene suddenly, "did you ever hear of such a thing as a loup-garou?"
The old habitant felt terror returning with cold feet up his back and crowding its blackness upon him through the windows. Yet as he rolled his eyes at the questioner he felt piqued at such ignorance of his natural claims.
"Was I not born on the island of Orleans, monsieur?"
Everybody knew that the island of Orleans had been from the time of its discovery the abode of loups-garous, sorcerers, and all those uncanny cattle that run in the twilights of the world. The western point of its wooded ridge, which parts the St. Lawrence for twenty-two miles, from Beauport to Beaupre, lay opposite Gaspard's door.
"Oh, you were born on the island of Orleans?"
"Yes, monsieur," answered Gaspard, with the pride we take in distinction of any kind.
"But you came to live in Beauport parish."
"Does a goat turn to a pig, monsieur, because you carry it to the north shore?"
"Perhaps so: everything changes."
Sainte-Helene leaned forward, resting his arms on the arms of the chair. He wrinkled his eyelids around central points of fire.
"What is a loup-garou?"
"Does monsieur not know? Monsieur Sainte-Helene surely knows that a loup-garou is a man-wolf."
"A man-wolf," mused the soldier. "But when a person is so afflicted, is he a man or is he a wolf?"
"It is not an affliction, monsieur; it is sorcery."
"I think you are right. Then the wretched man-wolf is past being prayed for?"
"If one should repent"—
"I don't repent anything," returned Sainte-Helene; and Gaspard's jaw relaxed, and he had the feeling of pin-feathers in his hair. "Is he a man or is he a wolf?" repeated the questioner.
"The loup-garou is a man, but he takes the form of a wolf."
"Not all the time?"
"No, monsieur, not all the time?"
"Of course not."
Gaspard experienced with us all this paradox: that the older we grow, the more visible becomes the unseen. In childhood the external senses are sharp; but maturity fuses flesh and spirit. He wished for a priest, desiring to feel the arm of the Church around him. It was late October,—a time which might be called the yearly Sabbath of loups-garous.
"And what must a loup-garou do with himself?" pursued Sainte-Helene. "I should take to the woods, and sit and lick my chaps, and bless my hide that I was for the time no longer a man."
"Saints! monsieur, he goes on a chase. He runs with his tongue lolled out, and his eyes red as blood."
"What color are my eyes, Gaspard?"
The old Frenchman sputtered, "Monsieur, they are very black."
Sainte-Helene drew his hand across them.
"It must be your firelight that is so red. I have been seeing as through a glass of claret ever since I came in."
Gaspard moved farther into the corner, the stool legs scraping the floor. Though every hair on his body crawled with superstition, he could not suspect Le Moyne de Sainte-Helene. Yet the familiar face altered strangely while he looked at it: the nose sunk with sudden emaciation, and the jaws lengthened to a gaunt muzzle. There was a crouching forward of the shoulders, as if the man were about to drop on his hands and feet. Gaspard had once fallen down unconscious in haying time; and this recalled to him the breaking up and shimmering apart of a solid landscape. The deep cleft mouth parted, lifting first at the corners and showing teeth, then widening to the utterance of a low howl.
Gaspard tumbled over the stool, and, seizing it by a leg, held it between himself and Sainte-Helene.
"What is the matter, Gaspard?" exclaimed the officer, clattering his scabbard against the chair as he rose, his lace and plumes and ribbons stirring anew. Many a woman in the province had not as fine and sensitive a face as the one confronting the old habitant.
Gaspard stood back against the wall, holding the stool with its legs bristling towards Sainte-Helene. He shook from head to foot.
"Have I done anything to frighten you? What is the matter with me, Gaspard, that people should treat me as they do? It is unbearable! I take the hardest work, the most dangerous posts; and they are against me—against me."
The soldier lifted his clenched fists, and turned his back on the old man. The fire showed every curve of his magnificent stature. Wind, diving into the chimney, strove against the sides for freedom, and startled the silence with its hollow rumble.
"I forded the St. Charles when the tide was rising, to take you back with me to the fort. I see you dread the New Englanders less than you do me. She told her father she feared you were ill. But every one is well," said Sainte-Helene, lowering his arms and making for the door. And it sounded like an accusation against the world.
He was scarcely outside in the wind, though still holding the door, when Gaspard was ready to put up the bar.
"Good-night, old man."
"Good-night, monsieur, good-night, good-night!" called Gaspard, with quavering dispatch. He pushed the door, but Sainte-Helene looked around its edge. Again the officer's face had changed, pinched by the wind, and his eyes were full of mocking laughter.
"I will say this for a loup-garou, Father Gaspard: a loup-garou may have a harder time in this world than the other beasts, but he is no coward; he can make a good death."
Ashes spun out over the floor, and smoke rolled up around the joists, as Sainte-Helene shut himself into the darkness. Not satisfied with barring the door, the old habitant pushed his chest against it. To this he added the chair and stool, and barricaded it further with his night's supply of firewood.
"Would I go over the ford of the St. Charles with him?" Gaspard hoarsely whispered as he crossed himself. "If the New England men were burning my house, I would not go. And how can a loup-garou get over that water? The St. Charles is blessed; I am certain it is blessed. Yet he talked about fording it like any Christian."
The old habitant was not clear in his mind what should be done, except that it was no business of his to meddle with one of Frontenac's great officers and a noble of New France. But as a measure of safety for himself he took down his bottle of holy water, hanging on the wall for emergencies, and sprinkled every part of his dwelling.
Next morning, however, when the misty autumn light was on the hills, promising a clear day and penetrating sunshine, as soon as he awoke he felt ashamed of the barricade, and climbed out of bed to remove it.
"The time has at last come when I am obliged to go to the fort," thought Gaspard, groaning. "Governor Frontenac will not permit any sorcery in his presence. The New England men might do me no harm, but I cannot again face a loup-garou."
He dressed himself accordingly, and, taking his gathered coin from its hiding-place, wrapped every piece separately in a bit of rag, slid it into his deep pocket, and sewed the pocket up. Then he cut off enough bacon to toast on the raked-out coals for his breakfast, and hid the rest under the floor. There was no fastening on the outside of Gaspard's house. He was obliged to latch the door, and leave it at the mercy of the enemy.
Nothing was stirring in the frosted world. He could not yet see the citadel clearly, or the heights of Levis; but the ascent to Montmorenci bristled with naked trees, and in the stillness he could hear the roar of the falls. Gaspard ambled along his belt of ground to take a last look. It was like a patchwork quilt: a square of wheat stubble showed here, and a few yards of brown prostrate peavines showed there; his hayfield was less than a stone's throw long; and his garden beds, in triangles and sections of all shapes, filled the interstices of more ambitious crops.
He had nearly reached the limit of the farm, and entered his neck of woods, when the breathing of a cow trying to nip some comfort from the frosty sod delighted his ear. The pretty milker was there, with her calf at her side. Gaspard stroked and patted them. Though the New Englanders should seize them for beef, he could not regret they were wending home again. That invisible cord binding him to his own place, which had wrenched his vitals as it stretched, now drew him back like fate. He worked several hours to make his truants a concealing corral of hay and stakes and straw and stumps at a place where a hill spring threaded across his land, and then returned between his own boundaries to the house again.
The homesick zest of one who has traveled made his lips and unshaven chin protrude, as he smelled the good interior. There was the wooden crane. There was his wife's old wheel. There was the sacred row of children's snow-shoes, which the priest had spared from burning. One really had to leave home to find out what home was.
But a great hubbub was beginning in Phips's fleet. Fifes were screaming, drums were beating, and shouts were lifted and answered by hearty voices. After their long deliberation, the New Englanders had agreed upon some plan of attack. Gaspard went down to his landing, and watched boatload follow boatload, until the river was swarming with little craft pulling directly for Beauport. He looked uneasily toward Quebec. The old lion in the citadel hardly waited for Phips to shift position, but sent the first shot booming out to meet him. The New England cannon answered, and soon Quebec height and Levis palisades rumbled prodigious thunder, and the whole day was black with smoke and streaked with fire.
Gaspard took his gun, and trotted along his farm to the cover of the trees. He had learned to fight in the Indian fashion; and Le Moyne de Sainte-Helene fought the same way. Before the boatloads of New Englanders had all waded through tidal mud, and ranged themselves by companies on the bank, Sainte-Helene, who had been dispatched by Frontenac at the first drumbeat on the river, appeared, ready to check them, from the woods of Beauport. He had, besides three hundred sharpshooters, the Lorette Hurons and the muster of Beauport militia, all men with homes to save.
The New Englanders charged them, a solid force, driving the light-footed bush fighters. But it was like driving the wind, which turns, and at some unexpected quarter is always ready for you again.
This long-range fighting went on until nightfall, when the English commander, finding that his tormentors had disappeared as suddenly as they had appeared in the morning, tried to draw his men together at the St. Charles ford, where he expected some small vessels would be sent to help him across. He made a night camp here, without any provisions.
Gaspard's house was dark, like the deserted Beauport homes all that night; yet one watching might have seen smoke issuing from his chimney toward the stars. The weary New England men did not forage through these places, nor seek shelter in them. It was impossible to know where Indians and Frenchmen did not lie in ambush. On the other side of the blankets which muffled Gaspard's windows, however, firelight shone with its usual ruddiness, showing the seignior of Beauport prostrate on his old tenant's bed. Juchereau de Saint-Denis was wounded, and La Hontan, who was with the skirmishers, and Gaspard had brought him in the dark down to the farmhouse as the nearest hospital. Baron La Hontan was skillful in surgery; most men had need to be in those days. He took the keys, and groped into the seigniory house for the linen chest, and provided lint and bandages, and brought cordials from the cellar; making his patient as comfortable as a wounded man who was a veteran in years could be made in the first fever and thirst of suffering. La Hontan knew the woods, and crept away before dawn to a hidden bivouac of Hurons and militia; wiry and venturesome in his age as he had been in his youth. But Saint-Denis lay helpless and partially delirious in Gaspard's house all Thursday, while the bombardment of Quebec made the earth tremble, and the New England ships were being splintered by Frontenac's cannon; while Sainte-Helene and his brother themselves manned the two batteries of Lower Town, aiming twenty-four-pound balls directly against the fleet; while they cut the cross of St. George from the flagstaff of the admiral, and Frenchmen above them in the citadel rent the sky with joy; while the fleet, ship by ship, with shattered masts and leaking hulls, drew off from the fight, some of them leaving cable and anchor, and drifting almost in pieces; while the land force, discouraged, sick, and hungry, waited for the promised help which never came.
Thursday night was so cold that the St. Charles was skimmed with ice, and hoarfrost lay white on the fields. But Saint-Denis was in the fire of fever, and Gaspard, slipping like a thief, continually brought him fresh water from the spring.
He lay there on Friday, while the land force, refreshed by half rations sent from the almost wrecked fleet, made a last stand, fighting hotly as they were repulsed from New France. It was twilight on Friday when Sainte-Helene was carried into Gaspard's house and laid on the floor. Gaspard felt emboldened to take the blankets from a window and roll them up to place under the soldier's head. Many Beauport people were even then returning to their homes. The land force did not reembark until the next night, and the invaders did not entirely withdraw for four days; but Quebec was already yielding up its refugees. A disabled foe—though a brave and stubborn one—who had his ships to repair, if he would not sink in them, was no longer to be greatly dreaded.
At first the dusk room was packed with Hurons and Montreal men. This young seignior Sainte-Helene was one of the best leaders of his time. They were indignant that the enemy's last scattering shots had picked him off. The surgeon and La Hontan put all his followers out of the door,—he was scarcely conscious that they stood by him,—and left, beside his brother Longueuil, only one young man who had helped carry him in.
Saint-Denis, on the bed, saw him with the swimming eyes of fever. The seignior of Beauport had hoped to have Sainte-Helene for his son-in-law. His little Clementine, the child of his old age,—it was after all a fortunate thing that she was shut for safety in Quebec, while her father depended for care on Gaspard. Saint-Denis tried to see Sainte-Helene's face; but the surgeon's helpers constantly balked him, stooping and rising and reaching for things. And presently a face he was not expecting to see grew on the air before him.
Clementine's foot had always made a light click, like a sheep's on a naked floor. But Saint-Denis did not hear her enter. She touched her cheek to her father's. It was smooth and cold from the October air. Clementine's hair hung in large pale ringlets; for she was an ashen maid, gray-toned and subdued; the roughest wind never ruffled her smoothness. She made her father know that she had come with Beauport women and men from Quebec, as soon as any were allowed to leave the fort, to escort her. She leaned against the bed, soft as a fleece, yielding her head to her father's painful fondling. There was no heroism in Clementine; but her snug domestic ways made him happy in his house.
"Sainte-Helene is wounded," observed Saint-Denis.
She cast a glance of fright over her shoulder.
"Did you not see him when you came in?"
"I saw some one; but it is to you that I have been wishing to come since Wednesday night."
"I shall get well; they tell me it is not so bad with me. But how is it with Sainte-Helene?"
"I do not know, father."
"Where is young Saint-Castin? Ask him."
"He is helping the surgeon, father."
"Poor child, how she trembles! I would thou hadst stayed in the fort, for these sights are unfit for women. New France can as ill spare him as we can, Clementine. Was that his groan?"
She cowered closer to the bed, and answered, "I do not know."
Saint-Denis tried to sit up in bed, but was obliged to resign himself, with a gasp, to the straw pillows.
Night pressed against the unblinded window. A stir, not made by the wind, was heard at the door, and Frontenac, and Frontenac's Recollet confessor, and Sainte-Helene's two brothers from the citadel, came into the room. The governor of New France was imposing in presence. Perhaps there was no other officer in the province to whom he would have galloped in such haste from Quebec. It was a tidal moment in his affairs, and Frontenac knew the value of such moments better than most men. But Sainte-Helene did not know the governor was there. The Recollet father fell on his knees and at once began his office.
Longueuil sat down on Gaspard's stool and covered his face against the wall. He had been hurt by a spent bullet, and one arm needed bandaging, but he said nothing about it, though the surgeon was now at liberty, standing and looking at a patient for whom nothing could be done. The sterner brothers watched, also, silent, as Normans taught themselves to be in trouble. The sons of Charles Le Moyne carried his name and the lilies of France from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico.
Anselm de Saint-Castin had fought two days alongside the man who lay dying. The boy had an ardent face, like his father's. He was sorry, with the skin-deep commiseration of youth for those who fall, whose falling thins the crowded ranks of competition. But he was not for a moment unconscious of the girl hiding her head against her father from the sight of death. The hope of one man forever springing beside the grave of another must work sadness in God. Yet Sainte-Helene did not know any young supplanter was there. He did not miss or care for the fickle vanity of applause; he did not torment himself with the spectres of the mind, or feel himself shrinking with the littleness of jealousy; he did not hunger for a love that was not in the world, or waste a Titan's passion on a human ewe any more. For him, the aching and bewilderment, exaltations and self-distrusts, animal gladness and subjection to the elements, were done.
Clementine's father beckoned to the boy, and put her in his care.
"Take her home to the women," Saint-Denis whispered. "She is not used to war and such sight as these. And bid some of the older ones stay with her."
Anselm and Clementine went out, their hands just touching as he led her in wide avoidance of the figure on the floor. Sainte-Helene did not know the boy and girl left him, for starlight, for silence together, treading the silvered earth in one cadenced step, as he awaited that moment when the solitary spirit finds its utmost loneliness.
Gaspard also went out. When the governor sat in his armchair, and his seignior lay on the bed, and Le Moyne de Sainte-Helene was stretched that way on the floor, it could hardly be decent for an old habitant to stand by, even cap in hand. Yet he could scarcely take his eyes from the familiar face as it changed in phosphorescent light. The features lifted themselves with firm nobility, expressing an archangel's beauty. Sainte-Helene's lips parted, and above the patter of the reciting Recollet the watchers were startled by one note like the sigh of a wind-harp.
The Montreal militia, the Lorette Hurons, and Beauport men were still thronging about, overflowing laterally upon the other farms. They demanded word of the young seignior, hushing their voices. Some of them had gone into Gaspard's milk cave and handed out stale milk for their own and their neighbors' refreshment. A group were sitting on the crisp ground, with a lantern in their midst, playing some game; their heads and shoulders moving with an alacrity objectless to observers, so closely was the light hemmed in.
Gaspard reached his gateway with the certainty of custom. He looked off at both ends of the world. The starlit stretch of road was almost as deserted as when Quebec shut in the inhabitants of Beauport. From the direction of Montmorenci he saw a gray thing come loping down, showing eyes and tongue of red fire. He screamed an old man's scream, pointing to it, and the cry of "Loup-garou!" brought all Beauport men to their feet. The flints clicked. It was a time of alarms. Two shots were fired together, and an under officer sprung across the fence of a neighboring farm to take command of the threatened action.
The camp of sturdy New Englanders on the St. Charles was hid by a swell in the land. At the outcry, those Frenchmen around the lantern parted company, some recoiling backwards, and others scrambling to seize their guns. But one caught up the lantern, and ran to the struggling beast in the road.
Gaspard pushed into the gathering crowd, and craned himself to see the thing, also. He saw a gaunt dog, searching yet from face to face for some lost idol, and beating the flinty world with a last thump of propitiation.
Frontenac opened the door and stood upon the doorstep. His head almost reached the overhanging straw thatch.
"What is the alarm, my men?"
"Your excellency," the subaltern answered, "it was nothing but a dog. It came down from Montmorenci, and some of the men shot it."
"Le Moyne de Sainte-Helene," declared Frontenac, lowering his plumed hat, "has just died for New France."
* * * * *
Gaspard stayed out on his river front until he felt half frozen. The old habitant had not been so disturbed and uncomfortable since his family died of smallpox. Phips's vessels lay near the point of Orleans Island, a few portholes lighting their mass of gloom, while two red lanterns aloft burned like baleful eyes at the lost coast of Canada. Nothing else showed on the river. The distant wall of Levis palisades could be discerned, and Quebec stood a mighty crown, its gems all sparkling. Behind Gaspard, Beauport was alive. The siege was virtually over, and he had not set foot off his farm during Phips's invasion of New France. He did not mind sleeping on the floor, with his heels to the fire. But there were displacements and changes and sorrows which he did mind.
"However," muttered the old man, and it was some comfort to the vague aching in his breast to formulate one fact as solid as the heights around, "it is certain that there are loups-garous."
THE MILL AT PETIT CAP
August night air, sweet with a half salt breath from the St. Lawrence, met the miller of San Joachim as he looked out; but he bolted the single thick door of the mill, and cast across it into a staple a hook as long as his body and as thick as his arm. At any alarm in the village he must undo these fastenings, and receive the refugees from Montgomery; yet he could not sleep without locking the door. So all that summer he had slept on a bench in the mill basement, to be ready for the call.
All the parishes on the island of Orleans, and on each side of the river, quite to Montmorenci Falls, where Wolfe's army was encamped, had been sacked by that evil man, Captain Alexander Montgomery, whom the English general himself could hardly restrain. San Joachim du Petit Cap need not hope to escape. It was really Wolfe's policy to harry the country which in that despairing summer of 1759 he saw no chance of conquering.
The mill was grinding with a shuddering noise which covered all country night sounds. But so accustomed was the miller to this lullaby that he fell asleep on his chaff cushion directly, without his usual review of the trouble betwixt La Vigne and himself. He was sensitive to his neighbors' claims, and the state of the country troubled him, but he knew he could endure La Vigne's misfortunes better than any other man's.
Loopholes in the hoary stone walls of the basement were carefully covered, but a burning dip on the hearth betrayed them within. There was a deep blackened oven built at right angles to the fireplace in the south wall. The stairway rose like a giant's ladder to the vast dimness overhead. No other such fortress-mill was to be found between Cap Tourmente and the citadel, or indeed anywhere on the St. Lawrence. It had been built not many years before by the Seminaire priests of Quebec for the protection and nourishment of their seigniory, that huge grant of rich land stretching from Beaupre to Cap Tourmente, bequeathed to the church by the first bishop of Canada.
The miller suddenly dashed up with a shout. He heard his wife scream above the rattle of the mill, and stumbling over basement litter he unstopped a loophole and saw the village already mounting in flames.
The mill door's iron-clamped timbers were beaten by a crowd of entreating hands, and he tore back the fastenings and dragged his neighbors in. Children, women, men, fell past him on the basement floor, and he screamed for help to hold the door against Montgomery's men. The priest was the last one to enter and the first to set a shoulder with the miller's. A discharge of firearms from without made lightning in the dim inclosure, and the cure, Father Robineau de Portneuf, reminded his flock of the guns they had stored in the mill basement. Loopholes were soon manned, and the enemy were driven back from the mill door. The roaring torch of each cottage thatch showed them in the redness of their uniforms,—good marks for enraged refugees; so they drew a little farther westward still, along the hot narrow street of San Joachim du Petit Cap.
At an unoccupied loophole Father Robineau watched his chapel burning, with its meagre enrichments, added year by year. But this was nothing, when his eye dropped to the two or three figures lying face downward on the road. He turned himself toward the wailing of a widow and a mother.
The miller's wife was coming downstairs with a candle, leaving her children huddled in darkness at the top. Those two dozen or more people whom she could see lifting dazed looks at her were perhaps of small account in the province; but they were her friends and neighbors, and bounded her whole experience of the world, except that anxiety of having her son Laurent with Montcalm's militia. The dip light dropped tallow down her petticoat, and even unheeded on one bare foot.
"My children," exhorted Father Robineau through the wailing of bereaved women, "have patience." The miller's wife stooped and passed a hand across a bright head leaning against the stair side.
"Thy mother is safe, Angele?"
"Oh, yes, Madame Sandeau."
"Thy father and the children are safe?"
"Oh, yes," testified the miller, passing towards the fireplace, "La Vigne and all his are within. I counted them."
"The saints be praised," said his wife.
"Yes, La Vigne got in safely," added the miller, "while that excellent Jules Martin, our good neighbor, lies scalped out there in the road."
"He does not know what he is saying, Angele," whispered his wife to the weeping girl. But the miller snatched the candle from the hearth as if he meant to fling his indignation with it at La Vigne. His worthy act, however, was to light the sticks he kept built in the fireplace for such emergency. A flame arose, gradually revealing the black earthen floor, the swarm of refugees, and even the tear-suspending lashes of little children's eyes.
La Vigne appeared, sitting with his hands in his hair. And the miller's wife saw there was a strange young demoiselle among the women of the cote, trying to quiet them. She had a calm dark beauty and an elegance of manner unusual to the provinces, and even Father Robineau beheld her with surprise.
"Mademoiselle, it is unfortunate that you should be in Petit Cap at this time," said the priest.
"Father, I count myself fortunate," she answered, "if no worse calamity has befallen me. My father is safe within here. Can you tell me anything about my husband, Captain De Mattissart, of the Languedoc regiment, with General Montcalm?"
"Madame, I never saw your husband."
"He was to meet me with escort at Petit Cap. We landed on a little point, secretly, with no people at all, and my father would have returned in his sailboat, but my husband did not meet us. These English must have cut him off, father."
"These are not times in which a woman should stir abroad," said the priest.
"Monsieur the cure, there is no such comfortable doctrine for a man with a daughter," said a figure at the nearest loophole, turning and revealing himself by face and presence a gentilhomme. "Especially a daughter married to a soldier. I am Denys of Bonaventure, galloping hither out of Acadia at her word of command."
The priest made him a gesture of respect and welcome.
"One of the best men in Acadia should be of advantage to us here. But I regret madame's exposure. You were not by yourselves attempting to reach Montcalm's camp?"
"How do I know, monsieur the cure? My daughter commanded this expedition." Denys of Bonaventure shrugged his shoulders and spread his palms with a smile.
"We were going to knock at the door of the cure of Petit Cap," said the lady. "There was nothing else for us to do; but the English appeared."
Successive shots at the loopholes proved that the English had not yet disappeared. Denys seized his gun again, and turned to the defense, urging that the children and women be sent out of the way of balls.
Father Robineau, on his part, gave instant command to the miller's wife, and she climbed the stairs again, heading a long line of distressed neighbors.
The burrs were in the second story, and here the roaring of the mill took possession of all the shuddering air. Every massive joist half growing from dimness overhead was hung with ghostly shreds of cobweb; and on the grayish whiteness of the floor the children's naked soles cut out oblongs dotted with toe-marks.
Mother Sandeau made her way first to an inclosed corner, and looked around to invite the attention of her followers. Such violence had been done to her stolid habits that she seemed to need the sight of her milk-room to restore her to intelligent action. The group was left in half darkness while she thrust her candle into the milk-room, showing its orderly array of flowered bowls amidst moist coolness. Here was a promise of sustenance to people dependent for the next mouthful of food. "It will last a few days, even if the cows be driven off and killed!" said the miller's good wife.
But there was the Acadian lady to be first thought of. Neighbors could be easily spread out on the great floor, with rolls of bedding. Her own oasis of homestead stood open, showing a small fireplace hollowed in one wall, two feet above the floor; table and heavy chairs; and sleeping rooms beyond. Yet none of these things were good enough to offer such a stranger.
"Take no thought about me, good friend," said the girl, noticing Mother Sandeau's anxiously creased face. "I shall presently go back to my father."
"But, no," exclaimed the miller's wife, "the priest forbids women below, and there is my son's bridal room upstairs with even a dressing-table in it. I only held back on account of Angele La Vigne," she added to comprehending neighbors, "but Angele will attend to the lady there."
"Angele will gladly attend to the lady anywhere," spoke out Angele's mother, with a resentment of her child's position which ruin could not crush. "It is the same as if marriage was never talked of between your son Laurent and her."
"Yes, neighbor, yes," said the miller's wife appeasingly. It was not her fault that a pig had stopped the marriage. She gave her own candle to Angele, with a motherly look. The girl had a pink and golden prettiness unusual among habitantes. Though all flush was gone out of her skin under the stress of the hour, she retained the innocent clear pallor of an infant. Angele hurried to straighten her disordered dress before taking the candle, and then led Madame De Mattissart up the next flight of stairs.
The mill's noise had forced talkers to lift their voices, and it now half dulled the clamp of habitante shoes below, and the whining of children longing again for sleep. Huge square wooden hoppers were shaking down grain, and the two or three square sashes in the thickness of front wall let in some light from the burning cote.
The building's mighty stone hollows were as cool as the dew-pearled and river-vapored landscape outside. Occasional shots from below kept reverberating upward through two more floors overhead.
Laurent's bridal apartment was of new boards built like a deck cabin at one side of the third story. It was hard for Angele to throw open the door of this sacred little place which she had expected to enter as a bride, and the French officer's young wife understood it, restraining the girl's hand.
"Stop, my child. Let us not go in. I came up here simply to quiet the others."
"But you were to rest in this chamber, madame."
"Do you think I can rest when I do not know whether I am wife or widow?"
The young girls looked at each other with piteous eyes.
"This is a terrible time, madame."
"It will, however, pass by, in some fashion."
"But what shall I do for you, madame? Where will you sit? Is there nothing you require?"
"Yes, I am thirsty. Is there not running water somewhere in this mill?"
"There is the flume-chamber overhead," said Angele. "I will set the light here, and go down for a cup, madame."
"Do not. We will go to the flume-chamber together. My hands, my throat, my eyes burn. Go on, Angele, show me the way."
Laurent's room, therefore, was left in darkness, holding unseen its best furniture, the family's holiday clothes of huge grained flannel, and the little yellow spinning-wheel, with its pile of unspun wool like forgotten snow.
In the fourth story, as below, deep-set swinging windows had small square panes, well dusted with flour. Nothing broke the monotony of wall except a row of family snow-shoes. The flume-chamber, inclosed from floor to ceiling, suggested a grain's sprouting here and there in its upright humid boards.
As the two girls glanced around this grim space, they were startled by silence through the building, for the burrs ceased to work. Feet and voices indeed stirred below, but the sashes no longer rattled. Then a tramping seemed following them up, and Angele dragged the young lady behind a stone pillar, and blew out their candle.
"What are you doing?" demanded Madame De Mattissart in displeasure. "If the door has been forced, should we desert our fathers?"
"It is not that," whispered Angele. And before she could give any reason for her impulse, the miller's head and light appeared above the stairs. It was natural enough for Angele La Vigne to avoid Laurent's father. What puzzled her was to see her own barefooted father creeping after the miller, his red wool night-cap pulled over dejected brows.
These good men had been unable to meet without quarreling since the match between Laurent and Angele was broken off, on account of a pig which Father La Vigne would not add to her dower. Angele had a blanket, three dishes, six tin plates, and a kneading-trough; at the pig her father drew the line, and for a pig Laurent's father contended. But now all the La Vigne pigs were roasted or scattered, Angele's dower was destroyed, and what had a ruined habitant to say to the miller of Petit Cap?
Father Robineau had stopped the mill because its noise might cover attacks. As the milder ungeared his primitive machinery, he had thought of saving water in the flume-chamber. There were wires and chains for shutting off its escape.
He now opened a door in the humid wall and put his candle over the clear, dark water. The flume no longer furnished a supply, and he stared open-lipped, wondering if the enemy had meddled with his water-gate in the upland.
The flume, at that time the most ambitious wooden channel on the north shore, supported on high stilts of timber, dripped all the way from a hill stream to the fourth story of Petit Cap mill. The miller had watched it escape burning thatches, yet something had happened at the dam. Shreds of moss, half floating and half moored, reminded him to close the reservoir, and he had just moved the chains when La Vigne startled him by speaking at his ear.
The miller recoiled, but almost in the action his face recovered itself. He wore a gray wool night-cap, and its tassel hung down over one lifted eyebrow.
"Pierre Sandeau, my friend," opened La Vigne with a whimper, "I followed you up here to weep with you."
"You did well," replied the miller bluntly, "for I am a ruined man with the parish to feed, unless the Seminaire fathers take pity on me."
"Yes, you have lost more than all of us," said La Vigne.
"I am not the man to measure losses and exult over my neighbors," declared the miller; "but how many pigs would you give to your girl's dower now, Guillaume?"
"None at all, my poor Pierre. At least she is not a widow."
"Nor ever likely to be now, since she has no dower to make her a wife."
"How could she be a wife without a husband? Taunt me no more about that pig. I tell you it is worse with you: you have no son."
"What do you mean? I have half a dozen."
"But Laurent is shot."
"Laurent—shot?" whispered the miller, relaxing his flabby face, and letting the candle sink downward until it spread their shadows on the floor.
"Yes, my friend," whimpered La Vigne. "I saw him through my window when the alarm was given. He was doubtless coming to save us all, for an officer was with him. Jules Martin's thatch was just fired. It was bright as sunrise against the hill, and the English saw our Laurent and his officer, no doubt, for they shot them down, and I saw it through my back window."
The miller sunk to his knees, and set the candle on the floor; La Vigne approached and mingled night-cap tassels and groans with him.
"Oh, my son! And I quarreled with thee, Guillaume, about a pig, and made the children unhappy."
"But I was to blame for that, Pierre," wept La Vigne, "and now we have neither pig nor son!"
"Perhaps Montgomery's men have scalped him;" the miller pulled the night-cap from his own head and threw it on the floor in helpless wretchedness.
La Vigne uttered a low bellow in response, and they fell upon each other's necks and were about to lament together in true Latin fashion, when the wife of Montcalm's officer called to them.
She stood out from the shadow of the stone column, dead to all appearances, yet animate, and trying to hold up Angele whose whole body lapsed downward in half unconsciousness. "Bring water," demanded Madame De Mattissart.
And seeing who had overheard the dreadful news, La Vigne ran to the flume-chamber, and the miller scrambled up and reached over him to dip the first handful. Both stooped within the door, both recoiled, and both raised a yell which echoed among high rafters in the attic above. The miller thought Montgomery's entire troop were stealing into the mill through the flume; for a man's legs protruded from the opening and wriggled with such vigor that his body instantly followed and he dropped into the water.
His beholders seized and dragged him out upon the floor; but he threw off their hands, sprang astride of the door-sill, and stretched himself to the flume mouth to help another man out of it.
La Vigne ran downstairs shrieking for the priest, as if he had seen witchcraft. But the miller stood still, with the candle flaring on the floor behind him, not sure of his son Laurent in militia uniform, but trembling with some hope.
It was Madame De Mattissart's cry to her husband which confirmed the miller's senses. She knew the young officer through the drenching and raggedness of his white and gold uniform; she understood how two wounded men could creep through any length of flume, from which a miller's son would know how to turn off the water. She had no need to ask what their sensations were, sliding down that slimy duct, or how they entered it without being seen by the enemy. Let villagers talk over such matters, and shout and exclaim when they came to hear this strange thing. It was enough that her husband had met her through every danger, and that he was able to stand and receive her in his arms.
Laurent's wound was serious. After all his exertions he fainted; but Angele took his head upon her knee, and the fathers and mothers and neighbors swarmed around him, and Father Robineau did him doctor's service. Every priest then on the St. Lawrence knew how to dress wounds as well as bind up spirits.
Denys of Bonaventure, notwithstanding the excitement overhead, kept men at the basement loopholes until Montgomery had long withdrawn and returned to camp.
He then felt that he could indulge himself with a sight of his son-in-law, and tiptoed up past the colony of women and children whom the priest had just driven again to their rest on the second floor; past that sacred chamber on the third floor, and on up to the flume loft. There Monsieur De Bonaventure paused, with his head just above the boards, like a pleasant-faced sphinx.
"Accept my salutations, Captain De Mattissart," he said laughing. "I am told that you and this young militia-man floated down the mill-stream into this mill, with the French flag waving over your heads, to the no small discouragement of the English. Quebec will never be taken, monsieur."
Long ago those who found shelter in the mill dispersed to rebuild their homes under a new order of things, or wedded like Laurent and Angele, and lived their lives and died. Yet, witnessing to all these things, the old mill stands to-day at Petit Cap, huge and cavernous; with its oasis of home, its milk-room, its square hoppers and flume-chamber unchanged. Daylight refuses to follow you into the blackened basement; and the shouts of Montgomery's sacking horde seem to linger in the mighty hollows overhead.
[Footnote 1: Wolfe forbade such barbarities, but Montgomery did not always obey. It was practiced on both sides.]
The cannon was for the time silent, the gunners being elsewhere, but a boy's voice called from the bastion:—
"Come out here, mademoiselle. I have an apple for you."
"Where did you get an apple?" replied a girl's voice.
"Monsieur Bigot gave it to me. He has everything the king's stores will buy. His slave was carrying a basketful."
"I do not like Monsieur Bigot. His face is blotched, and he kisses little girls."
"His apples are better than his manners," observed the boy, waiting, knife in hand, for her to come and see that the division was a fair one.
She tiptoed out from the gallery of the commandant's house, the wind blowing her curls back from her shoulders. A bastion of Fort St. Louis was like a balcony in the clouds. The child's lithe, long body made a graceful line in every posture, and her face was vivid with light and expression.
"Perhaps your sick mother would like this apple, Monsieur Jacques. We do not have any in the fort."
The boy flushed. He held the halves ready on his palm.
"I thought of her; but the surgeon might forbid it, and she is not fond of apples when she is well. And you are always fond of apples, Mademoiselle Anglaise."
"My name is Clara Baker. If you call me Mademoiselle Anglaise, I will box your ears."
"But you are English," persisted the boy. "You cannot help it. I am sorry for it myself; and when I am grown I will whip anybody that reproaches you for it."
They began to eat the halves of the apple, forgetful of Jacques's sick mother, and to quarrel as their two nations have done since France and England stood on the waters.
"Don't distress yourself, Monsieur Jacques Repentigny. The English will be the fashion in Quebec when you are grown."