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   Chapter 3 ON THE RIVER.

A Little Girl in Old Detroit By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 22510

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


The remainder of the day was devoted to gayety, and with the male population carousing in too many instances, though there were restrictions against selling intoxicants to the Indians inside the stockade. The Frenchman drank a little and slowly, and was merry and vivacious. Groups up on the Parade were dancing to the inspiriting music, or in another corner two or three fiddles played the merriest of tunes.

Outside, and the larger part of the town was outside now, the farms stretched back with rude little houses not much more than cabins. There was not much call for solidity when a marauding band of Indians might put a torch to your house and lay it in ashes. But with the new peace was coming a greater feeling of security.

There were little booths here and there where squaws were cooking sagamite and selling it in queer dishes made of gourds. There were the little maize cakes well-browned, piles of maple sugar and wild summer plums just ripening. The De Ber children, with Jeanne and Pani, took their dinner here and there out of doors with much merriment. It was here Marsac joined them again, his hands full of fruit, which he gave to the children.

"Come over to the Strait," he exclaimed. "That is a sight worth seeing. Everything is out."

"O yes," cried Jeanne, eagerly. "And, Louis, can you not get a boat or a canoe? Let us go out on the water. I'm tired of the heat and dust."

They threaded their way up to Merchants' wharf, for at King's wharf the crowd was great. At the dock yard, where, under the English, some fine vessels had been built, a few were flying pennons of red and white, and some British ships that had not yet left flaunted their own colors. As for the river, that was simply alive with boats of every description; Indian rowers and canoers, with loads of happy people singing, shouting, laughing, or lovers, with heads close together, whispering soft endearments or promising betrothal.

"Stay here while I see if I can get a boat," said Louis, darting off, disappearing in the crowd.

They had been joined by another neighbor, Madame Ganeau and her daughter Delisse, and her daughter's lover, a gay young fellow.

"He will have hard work," declared Jacques. "I tried. Not a canoe or a pirogue or a flat boat. I wish him the joy of success."

"Then we will have to paddle ourselves," said Jeanne. "Or float, Marie. I can float beautifully when the tide is serene."

"I would not dare it for a hundred golden louis d'or," interposed Delisse.

"But Jeanne dares everything. Do you remember when she climbed the palisade? When one has a lover-" and Marie sighed a little.

"One comes to her senses and is no longer a child," said Madame Ganeau with a touch of sharpness in her voice. "The saints alone know what will become of that wild thing. Marie, since your mother is so busy with her household, some one should look you up a lover. Thou art most fourteen if I remember rightly."

"Yes, Madame."

"Well, there is time to be sure. Delisse will be fifteen on her wedding day. That is plenty old enough. For you see the girl bows to her husband, which is as it should be. A girl well brought up should have no temper nor ways of her own and then she more easily drops into those of her husband, who is the head of the house."

"I have a temper!" laughed Jeanne. "And I do not want any husband to rule over me as if I were a squaw."

"He will rule thee in the end. And if thou triest him too far he may beat thee."

"If he struck me I should-I should kill him," and Jeanne's eyes flashed fire.

"Thou wilt have more sense, then. And if lovers are shy of thee thou wilt begin to long for them when thou art like a dried up autumn rose on its stem."

Jeanne bridled and flung up her chin.

Pierre took her soft hand in his rough one.

"Do not mind," he said in a whisper; "I would never beat you even if you did not have dinner ready. And I will bring you lovely furs and whatever you want. My father is willing to send me up in the fur country next year."

Jeanne laughed, then turned to sudden gravity and gave back the pressure of the hand in repentance.

"You are so good to me, Pierre. But I do not want to marry in a long, long time, until I get tired of other things. And I want plenty of them and fun and liberty."

"Yes, yes, you are full of fun," approvingly.

Louis was coming up to them in a fine canoe and some Indian rowers. He waved his hand.

"Good luck, you see! Step in. Now for a glorious sail. Is it up or down?"

"Down," cried Jeanne hopping around on one foot, and still hanging to Pani.

They were soon settled within. The river was like a stream of golden fire, each ripple with a kind of phosphorescent gleam as the foam slipped away. For the oars were beating it up in every direction. The air was tensely clear. There was Lake St. Clair spread out in the distance, touching a sky of golden blue, if such colors fuse. And the opposite shore with its wealth of trees and shrubs and beginnings of Sandwich and Windsor and Fort Malden; Au Cochon and Fighting island, Grosse island in the far distance, and Bois Blanc.

"Sing," said the lover when they had gone down a little ways, for most of the crafts were given over to melody and laughter.

He had a fine voice. Singing was the great delight of those days, and nothing was more beguiling than the songs of the voyageurs. Delisse joined and Marie's soft voice was like a lapping wave. Madame Ganeau talked low to Pani about the child.

"It will not do for her to run wild much longer," she said with an air of authority. "She is growing so fast. Is there no one? Had not Father Rameau better write to M. Bellestre and see what his wishes are? And there is the Recollet house, though girls do not get much training for wives. Prayers and beads and penance are all well enough, some deserve them, but I take it girls were meant for wives, and those who can get no husbands or have lost them may be Saint Catherine's maids."

"Yes," answered Pani with a quaking heart; "M. Bellestre would know."

"A thousand pities Madame should die. But I think there is wild blood in the child. You should have kept the Indian woman and made her tell her story."

"She disappeared so quickly, and Madame Bellestre was so good and kind. The orphan of Le bon Dieu, she called her. Yes, I will see the good father."

"And I will have a talk with him when Delisse goes to confession." Madame Ganeau gave a soft, relieved sigh. "My duty is done, almost, to my children. They will be well married, which is a great comfort to a mother. And now I can devote myself to my grandchildren. Antoine has two fine boys and Jeanne a little daughter. It is a pleasant time of life with a woman. And Jean is prospering. We need not worry about our old age unless these Americans overturn everything."

Pani was a good listener and Madame Ganeau loved to talk when there was no one to advance startling ideas or contradict her. Her life had been prosperous and she took the credit to herself. Jean Ganeau had been a good husband, tolerably sober, too, and thrifty.

The two older girls chatted when they were not singing. It was seldom Marie had a holiday, and this was full of delight. Would she ever have a lover like Jacques Graumont, who would look at her with such adoring eyes and slyly snatch her hand when her mother was not looking?

Jeanne was full of enjoyment and capers. Every bird that flashed in and out of the trees, the swans and wild geese that squawked in terror and scuttled into little nooks along the shore edge as the boats passed them, the fish leaping up now and then, brought forth exclamations of delight. She found a stick with which she beat up the water and once leaned out so far that Louis caught her by the arm and pulled her back.

"Let go. You hurt me!" she exclaimed sharply.

"You will be over."

"As if I could not care for myself."

"You are the spirit of the river. Are your mates down there? What if they summon you?"

"Then why should I not go to them?" recklessly.

"Because I will not let you."

He looked steadily into her eyes. His were a little blurred and had an expression that did not please her. She turned away.

"If I should go down and get the gold hidden under the sands-"

"But a serpent guards it."

"I am not afraid of a snake. I have killed more than one. And there are good spirits who will help you if you have the right charm."

"But you do not need to go. Some one will work for you. Some one will get the gold and treasure. If you will wait-"

"Well, I do not want the treasure. Pani and I have enough."

She tossed her head, still looking away.

"Do you know that I must go up to Micmac? I thought to stay all summer, but my father has sent."

"And men have to obey their fathers as girls do their mothers;" in an idly indifferent tone.

"It is best, Jeanne; I want to make a fortune."

"I hope you will;" but there was a curl to her lip.

"And I may come back next spring with the furs."

She nodded indifferently.

"My father has another secret, which may be worth a good deal."

She made no answer but beat up the water again. There was nothing but pleasure in her mind.

"Will you be glad to see me then? Will you miss me?"

"Why-of course. But I think I do not like you as well as I used," she cried frankly.

"Not like me as well?" He was amazed. "Why, Jeanne?"

"You have grown so-so-" neither her thoughts nor her vocabulary were very extensive. "I do not think I like men until they are quite old and have beautiful white beards and voices that are like the water when it flows softly. Or the boys who can run and climb trees with you and laugh over everything. Men want so much-what shall I say?" puzzled to express herself.

"Concession. Agreement," he subjoined; "that is right," with a decisive nod. "I hate it," with a vicious swish in the water.

"But when your way is wrong-"

"My way is for myself," with dignity.

"But if you have a lover, Jeanne?"

"I shall never have one. Madame Ganeau says so. I am going to keep a wild little girl with no one but Pani until-until I am a very old woman and get aches and pains and perhaps die of a fever."

She was in a very willful mood and she was only a child. One or two years would make a difference. If his father made a great fortune, and after all no one knew where she came from-he could marry in very good families, girls in plenty had smiled on him during the past two months.

Was it watching these lovers that had stirred his blood? Why should he care for this child?

"Had we not better turn about?" said Jacques Graumont, glancing around.

There were purple shadows on one side of the river and high up on the distant hills and a soft yellow pink sheen on the water instead of the blaze of gold. A clear, high atmosphere that outlined everything on the Canadian shore as if it half derided its proud neighbor's jubilee.

Other boats were returning. Songs that were so gay an hour ago took on a certain pensiveness, akin to the purple and dun stealing over the river. It moved Jeanne Angelot strangely; it gave her a sense of exaltation, as if she could fly like a bird to some strange country

where a mother loved her and was waiting for her.

When Louis Marsac spoke next to her she could have struck him in childish wrath. She wanted no one but the fragrant loneliness and the voices of nature.

"Don't talk to me!" she cried impatiently. "I want to think. I like what is in my own mind better."

Then the anger went slowly out of her face and it settled in lovely lines. Her mouth was a scarlet blossom, and her hair clung mistlike about brow and throat, softened by the warmth.

They came grating against the dock after having waited for their turn. Marsac caught her arm and let the others go before her, and she, still in a half dream, waited. Then he put his arm about her, turned her one side, and pressed a long, hot kiss on her lips. His breath was still tainted with the brandy he had been drinking earlier in the day.

She was utterly amazed at the first moment. Then she doubled up her small hand and struck the mouth that had so profaned her.

"Hah! knave," cried a voice beside her. "Let the child alone! And answer to me. What business had you with this canoe? Child, where are your friends?"

"My business with it was that I hired and paid for it," cried Marsac, angrily, and the next instant he felt for his knife.

"Paid for it?" repeated the other. "Then come and convict a man of falsehood. Put up your knife. Let us have fair play. I had hired the canoe in the morning and went up the river, and was to have it this afternoon, and he declared you took it without leave or license."

"That is a lie!" declared Marsac, passionately.

"Jeanne! Jeanne!" cried Pani in distress.

The stranger lifted her out. Jeanne looked back at Marsac, and then at the young man.

"You will not fight him?" she said to the stranger. Fights and brawls were no uncommon events.

"We shall have nothing to fight about if the man has lied to us both. But I wouldn't care to be in his skin. Come along, my man."

"I am not your man," said Marsac, furiously angry.

"Well-stranger, then. One can hardly say friend," in a dignified fashion that checked Marsac.

Pani caught the child. Pierre was on the other side of her. "What was it?" he asked. How good his stolid, rugged face looked!

"A quarrel about the boat. Run and see how they settle it, Pierre."

"But you and Marie-and it is getting dark."

"Run, run! We are not afraid." She stamped her foot and Pierre obeyed.

Marie clung to her. People jostled them, but they made their way through the narrow, crowded street. The bells were ringing, more from long habit now. Soldiers in uniform were everywhere, some as guards, caring for the noisier ones. Madame De Ber was leaning over her half door, and gave a cry of joy.

"Where hast thou been all day, and where is Pierre, my son?" she demanded.

The three tried to explain at once. They had had a lovely day, and Madame Ganeau, with her daughter and promised son-in-law, were along in the sail down the river. And Pierre had gone to see the result of a dispute-

"I sent him," cried Jeanne, frankly. "Oh, here he comes," as Pierre ran up breathless.

"O my son, thou art safe-"

"It was no quarrel of mine," said Pierre, "and if it had been I have two good fists and a foot that can kick. It was that Jogue who hired his boat twice over and pretended to forget. But he gave back the money. He had told a lie, however, for he said Marsac took the canoe without his knowledge, and then he declared he had been so mixed up-I think he was half drunk-that he could not remember. They were going to hand him over to the guard, but he begged so piteously they let him off. Then he and Louis Marsac took another drink."

Jeanne suddenly snatched up her skirt and scrubbed her mouth vigorously.

"It has been a tiresome day," exclaimed Pani, "and thou must have a mouthful of supper, little one, and go to bed."

She put her arm over the child's shoulder, with a caress; and Jeanne pressed her rosy cheek on the hand.

"I do not want any supper but I will go to bed at once," she replied in a weary tone.

"It is said that at the eastward in the Colonies they keep just such a July day with flags and confusion and cannon firing and bells ringing. One such day in a lifetime is enough for me," declared Madame De Ber.

They kept the Fourth of July ever afterward, but this was really their national birthday.

Jeanne scrubbed her mouth again before she said her little prayer and in five minutes she was soundly asleep. But the man who had kissed her and who had been her childhood's friend staggered homeward after a roistering evening, never losing sight of the blow she had struck him.

"The tiger cat!" he said with what force he could summon. "She shall pay for this, if it is ten years! In three or four years I will marry her and then I will train her to know who is master. She shall get down on her knees to me if she is handsome as a princess, if she were a queen's daughter."

Laurent St. Armand went home to his father a good deal amused after all his disappointment and vexation, for he had been compelled to take an inferior canoe.

"Mon père," he said, as his father sat contentedly smoking, stretched out in a most comfortable fashion, "I have seen your little gossip of the morning, and I came near being in a quarrel with a son of the trader De Marsac, but we settled it amicably and I should have had a much better opinion of him, if he had not stopped to drink Jogue's vile brandy. He's a handsome fellow, too."

"And is the little girl his sister?"

"O no, not in anyway related." Then Laurent told the story, guessing at the kiss from the blow that had followed.

"Good, I like that," declared St. Armand. "Whose child is it?"

"That I do not know, but she lives up near the Citadel and her name is Jeanne Angelot. Shall I find her for you to-morrow?"

"She is a brave little girl."

"I do not like Marsac."

"His mother was an Indian, the daughter of some chief, I believe. De Marsac is a shrewd fellow. He has great faith in the copper mines. Strange how much wealth lies hidden in the earth! But the quarrel?" with a gesture of interest.

"Oh, it was nothing serious and came about Jogue's lying. I rated him well for it, but he had been drinking and there was not much satisfaction. Well, it has been a grand day and now we shall see who next rules the key to the Northwest. There is great agitation about the Mississippi river and the gulf at the South. It is a daring country, mon père."

The elder laughed with a softened approval.

Louis Marsac did not come near St. Joseph street the next day. He slept till noon, when he woke with a humiliating sense of having quite lost his balance, for he seldom gave way to excesses. It was late in the afternoon when he visited the old haunts and threw himself under Jeanne's oak. Was she very angry? Pouf! a child's anger. What a sweet mouth she had! And she was none the worse for her spirit. But she was a tempestuous little thing when you ran counter to her ideas, or whims, rather.

Since she had neither birth nor wealth, and was a mere child, there would be no lovers for several years, he could rest content with that assurance. And if he wanted her then-he gave an indifferent nod.

Down at the Merchants' wharf, the following morning, he found the boats were to sail at once. He must make his adieus to several friends. Madame Ganeau must be congratulated on so fine a son-in-law, the De Bers must have an opportunity to wish him bon voyage.

Pani sat out on the cedar plank that made the door-sill, and she was cutting deerskin fringe for next winter's leggings. "Jeanne," she called, "Louis has come to say good-by."

Jeanne Angelot came out of the far room with a curious hesitation. Pani had been much worried for fear she was ill, but Jeanne said laughingly that she was only tired.

"Why, you run all day like a deer and never complain," was the troubled comment.

"Am I complaining, Pani?"

"No, Mam'selle. But I never knew you to want to lie on the cot in the daytime."

"But I often lie out under the oak with my head in your lap."

"To be sure."

"I'm not always running or climbing."

"No, little one;" with smiling assent.

The little one came forward now and leaned against Pani's shoulder.

"When I shall come back I do not know-in a year or two. I wonder if you will learn to talk English? We shall all have to be good Americans. And now you must wish me bon voyage. What shall I bring you when I come? Beaver or otter, or white fox-"

"Madame Reamaur hath a cape of beautiful silver fox, and when the wind blows through it there are curious dazzles on every tip."

"Surely thou hast grand ideas, Jeanne Angelot."

"I should not wear such a thing. I am only a little girl, and that is for great ladies. And Wenonah is making me a beautiful cape of feathers and quills, and the breast of wild ducks. She thinks Pani cured her little baby, and this is her offering. So I hardly want anything. But I wish thee good luck and prosperity, and a wife who will be meek and obedient, and study your pleasure in everything."

"Thank you a thousand times." He held out his hand. Pani pressed it cordially, but Jeanne did not touch it.

"The little termagant!" he said to himself. "She has not forgiven me. But girls forget. And in a year or two she will be longing for finery. Silver fox, forsooth! That would be a costly gift. Where does the child get her ideas? Not from her neighborhood nor the Indian women she consorts with. Nor even Madame Ganeau," with an abrupt laugh.

Jeanne was rather quiet all that day and did not go outside the palisade. But afterward she was her own irrepressible self. She climbed the highest trees, she swung from one limb to another, she rode astride saplings, she could manage a canoe and swim like a fish, and was the admiration of the children in her vicinity, though all of the southwestern end of the settlement knew her. She could whistle a bird to her and chatter with the squirrels, who looked out of beady eyes as if amazed and delighted that a human being belonging to the race of the destroyer understood their language. She had beaten Jacques Filion for robbing birds' nests, and she was a whole year younger, if anyone really knew how old she was.

"There will never be a brave good enough for you," said the woman Wenonah, who lived in a sort of wigwam outside the palisades and had learned many things from her white sisters that had rather unsettled her Indian faith in braves. She kept her house and little garden, made bead work and embroidery for the officers and official ladles, and cared for her little papooses with unwonted mother love. For Paspah spent most of his time stretched in the sunshine smoking his pipe, and often sold his game for a drink of rum. Several times he had been induced to go up north with the fur hunters, and Wenonah was happy and cheerful without him.

"I do not want a brave," Jeanne would fling out laughingly. "I shall be brave enough for myself."

"And thou art sensible, Red Rose!" nodding sagely. "There is no father to bargain thee away."

"Well, if fathers do that, then I am satisfied to be without one," returned the child gayly.

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