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A Little Girl in Old Detroit By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 23902

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

"There was a pretty wedding to-day in St. Anne's," said Madelon Fleury, glancing up at Laurent St. Armand, with soft, dark eyes. "I looked for you. I should have asked you formally," laughing and showing her pearly teeth, "but we had hardly thought of going. It was a sudden thing. And the bridesmaids were quite a sight."

"There is an old English proverb," began Madame Fleury-

"'Who changes her name and not the letter,

Marries for worse and not the better.'

and both names begin alike."

"But they are French," appended Lisa, brightly. "The prediction may have no effect."

"It is to be hoped it will not," commented Monsieur Fleury. "Jacques Graumont is a nice, industrious young fellow, and not given to drink. Now there will be business enough, and he is handy and expert at boat building, while the Ganeaus are thrifty people. M. Ganeau does a good business in provisioning the traders when they go north. Did you wish the young couple success, Madelon?"

The girl flushed. "I do not know her. We have met the mother occasionally. To tell the truth, I do not enjoy this mixing up of traders and workmen and-" she hesitated.

"And quality," appended Lisa, with a mischievous glance at her sister.

"We are likely to have more of it than less," said her father, gravely. "These Americans have some curious ideas. While they are proud enough to trace their ancestry back to French or English or even Italian rank, they taboo titles except such as are won by merit. And it must be confessed they have had many brave men among them, heroes animated by broader views than the first conquerors of the country."

"Yes," exclaimed St. Armand, "France made a great mistake and has lost her splendid heritage. She insisted on continuing the old world policy of granting court favorites whatever they asked, without studying the conditions of the new world. Then England pinned her faith and plans to a military colonization that should emanate from a distant throne. It is true she gave a larger liberty, a religious liberty, and exploited the theory of homes instead of mere trading posts. The American has improved on all this. It is as if he said, 'I will conquer the new world by force of industry; there shall be equal rights to homes, to labor, to'-there is a curious and delightful sounding sentence in their Declaration, which is a sort of corner stone-'life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.' One man's idea of happiness is quite different from another's, however;" smiling.

"And there will be clashing. There is much to do, and time alone can tell whether they will work out the problem."

"They seem to blend different peoples. There is the Puritan in the East, who is allowing his prejudices to soften; there are the Dutch, about the towns on the Hudson, the Friends in Pennsylvania, the proud old cavaliers in Virginia and Carolina."

"And the Indians, who will ever hate them! The French settlements at the West, up and down the mighty river, who will never forget La Salle, Tonti, Cadillac, and the De Bienvilles. There's a big work yet to do."

"I think they will do it," returned St. Armand, his eyes kindling. "With such men as your brave, conciliatory General Wayne, a path is opened for a more reasonable agreement."

"You cannot trust the Indians. I think the French have understood them better, and made them more friendly. In many respects they are children, in others almost giants where they consider themselves wronged. And it is a nice question, how much rights they have in the soil."

"It has been a question since the world began. Were not the children of Israel commanded to drive the Canaanites out of their own land? Did not the Romans carry conquests all over Europe? And the Spaniard here, who has been driven out for his cruelty and rapacity. The world question is a great tree at which many nations have a hack, and some of them get only the unripe fruit as the branches fall. But the fruit matures slowly, and some one will gather it in the end, that is certain."

"But has not the Indian a right to his happiness, to his liberty?" said Laurent, rather mischievously. He had been chaffing with the girls, yet listening to the talk of the elders.

"In Indian ethics might makes right as elsewhere. They murder and destroy each other; some tribes have been almost wiped out and sold for slaves, as these Pawnee people. Depend upon it they will never take kindly to civilization. A few have intermarried, and though there is much romance about Rolfe and his Indian princess, St. Castin and his, they are more apt to affiliate with the Indians in the next generation."

"My young man who was so ready to fight was a half-breed, I heard," said Laurent. "His French father is quite an important fur trader, I learned. Yet the young fellow has been lounging round for the past three months, lying in the sun outside the stockade, flirting and making love alike to Indian and French maids, and haunting Jogue's place down on the river. Though, for that matter, it seems to be headquarters for fur traders. A handsome fellow, too. Why has he not the pride of the French?"

"Such marriages are a disgrace to the nation," said Madame Fleury, severely.

"And that recalls to my mind,-" St. Armand paused with a retrospective smile, thinking of the compliment his little friend had paid him,-"to inquire if you know anything about a child who lives not far from the lower citadel, in the care of an Indian woman. Her name is Jeanne Angelot."

The girls glanced at each other with a little curl of the lip as St. Armand's eyes wandered around.

"My father met her at the flag-raising and was charmed with her eyes and her ignorance," said Laurent, rather flippantly.

"If I were going to become a citizen of Detroit I should interest myself in this subject of education. It is sinful to allow so many young people to grow up in ignorance," declared the elder St. Armand.

"Most of our girls of the better class are sent to Montreal or Quebec," exclaimed Madame Fleury. "The English have governesses. And there is the Recollet school; there may be places outside the stockade."

Monsieur Fleury shook his head uncertainly. "Angelot, Angelot," he repeated. "I do not know the name."

"Father Gilbert or Father Rameau might know. Are these Angelots Catholics?"

"There is only one little girl."

"Oh!" a light broke over Madame's face. "I think I can recall an event. Husband, you know the little child the Bellestres had?"

"I do not remember," shaking his head.

"It was found queerly. They had a slave who became its nurse. The Bellestres were Huguenots, but Madame had a leaning toward the Church and the child was baptized. Madame Bellestre, who was a lovely woman, deferred to her husband until she was dying, when Father Rameau was sent for and she acknowledged that she died in the holy faith. There was some talk about the child, but M. Bellestre claimed it and cares for it. Under the English reign, you know, the good fathers had not so much authority."

"Where can I find this Father Rameau?"

"At the house beside the church. It is headquarters for the priests who come and go. A delightful old man is the father, though I could wish at times he would exercise a little more authority and make a stand for our rights. I sometimes fear we shall be quite pushed to the wall."

St. Armand had come of a long line of Huguenots more than one of whom had suffered for his faith. He was a liberal now, studying up religion from many points, but he was too gallant to discuss it with a lady and his hostess.

The young people were getting restive. It was just the night for delightful canoeing on the river and it had been broached in the afternoon. Marie the maid, quite a superior woman, was often intrusted with this kind of companionship. Before they were ready to start a young neighbor came in who joined them.

Monsieur Fleury invited his guest to an end porch shaded by a profusion of vines, notable among them the sweetbrier, that gave out a fragrant incense on the night air. Even here they could catch sounds of the music from the river parties, for the violin and a young French habitan were almost inseparable.

"Nay," he replied, "though a quiet smoke tempts the self-indulgent side of my nature. But I want to see the priest. I am curiously interested in this child."

"There were some whispers about her, Monsieur, that one does not mention before young people. One was that she had Indian blood in her veins, and-" here Madame Fleury lowered her voice almost to a whisper,-"and that Madame Bellestre, who was very much of the haute noblesse, should be so ready to take in a strange child, and that M. Bellestre should keep his sort of guardianship over her and provide for her. Some of the talk comes back to me. There have been many questionable things done we older people know."

St. Armand gave an assenting nod. Then he asked himself what there was about the child that should interest one so much, recalling her pretty eager compliment that he resembled a king, or her vague idea of one.

His dinner dress set him off to a fine advantage. It was much in the old French fashion-the long waistcoat of flowered satin and velvet with its jeweled buttons; the ruffled shirt front, the high stock, the lace cuffs about the hand, the silken small clothes and stockings. And when he was dressed in furs with fringed deerskin leggings and a beaver cap above the waving brown hair, with his snowy beard and pink cheeks, and his blue eyes, he was a goodly picture as well.

The priest's house was easily found. The streets were full of people in the early evening, for in this pleasant weather it was much more refreshing out of door than in. The smells of furs and skins lingered in the atmosphere, and a few days of good strong wind was a godsend. The doorways were full, women caressing their babies and chanting low lullabies; while elsewhere a pretty young girl hung over the lower half of the door and laughed with an admirer while her mother sat drowsing just within.

A tidy old woman, in coif and white apron over her black gown, bowed her head as she answered his question. The good father was in. Would the stranger walk this way?

Père Rameau was crossing the hall. In the dim light, a stone basin holding oil after the fashion of a Greek lamp, the wick floating on top, the priest glanced up at his visitor. Both had passed each other in the street and hardly needed an introduction.

"I hope I have not disturbed you in any way," began M. St. Armand in an attractive tone that gained a listener at once. "I have come to talk over a matter that has a curious interest for me, and I am told you have the key, if not to the mystery exactly, to some of the links. I hope you will not consider me intrusive."

"I shall be glad to give you any information that is possible. I am not a politician, Monsieur, and have been trained not to speak evil of those appointed to rule over us."

He was a tall, spare man with a face that even in the wrinkles and thinness of age, and perhaps a little asceticism, was sweet and calm, and the brown eyes were soft, entreating. Clean shaven, the chin showed narrow, but the mouth redeemed it. He wore the black cassock of the Recollets, the waist girded by a cord from which was suspended a cross and a book of devotions.

"Then if it is a serious talk, come hither. There may be a little smoke in the air-"

"I am a smoker myself," said St. Armand cordially.

"Then you may not object to a pipe. I have some most excellent tobacco. I bethink me sometimes that it is not a habit of self-sacrifice, but the fragrance is delightful and it soothes the nerves."

The room was rather long, and somewhat narrow. At the far end there was a small altar and a prie dieu. A candle was burning and its light defined the ivory crucifix above. In the corner a curtained something

that might be a confessional. Indeed, not a few startling confessions had been breathed there. An escritoire with some shelves above, curiously carved, that bespoke its journey across the sea, took a great wall space and seemed almost to divide the room. The window in the front end was quite wide, and the shutters were thrown open for air, though a coarse curtain fell in straight folds from the top. Here was a commodious desk accommodating papers and books, a small table with pipes and tobacco, two wooden chairs and a more comfortable one which the priest proffered to the guest.

"Shall we have a light? Marcel, bring a candle."

"Nay," protested the visitor, "I enjoy this dimness. One seems more inclined to talk, though I think I have heard a most excellent reason educed for such a course;" and a mirthful twinkle shone in his eyes.

The priest laughed softly. "It is hardly applicable here. I sat thinking. The sun has been so brilliant for days that the night brings comfort. You are a stranger here, Monsieur?"

"Yes, though it is not my first visit to Detroit. I have gone from New York to Michilimackinac several times, to Montreal, Quebec, to France and back, though I was born there. I am the guest of Monsieur Fleury."

The priest made an approving inclination of the head.

"One sees many strange things. You have a conglomerate, Père Rameau. And now a new-shall I say ruler?"

"That is the word, Monsieur. And I hope it may last as long as the English reign. We cannot pray for the success of La Belle France any more."

"France has her own hard battles to fight. Yet it makes one a little sad to think of the splendid heritage that has slipped from her hands, for which her own discoverers and priests gave up their lives. Still, she has been proved unworthy of her great trust. I, as a Frenchman, say it with sorrow."

"You are a churchman, Monsieur?"

"A Christian, I hope. For several generations we have been on the other side. But I am not unmindful of good works or good lives."

Père Rameau bowed his head.

"What I wished to talk about was a little girl," St. Armand began, after a pause. "Jeanne Angelot, I have heard her called."

"Ah, Monsieur, you know something about her, then?" returned the priest, eagerly.

"No, I wish I did. I have crossed her path a time or two, though I can't tell just why she interests me. She is bright, vivacious, but curiously ignorant. Why does she live with this Indian woman and run wild?"

"I cannot tell any further than it seems M. Bellestre's strange whim. All I know of the child is Pani's story. The De Longueils went to France and the Bellestres took their house. Pani had been given her freedom, but remained with the new owners. She was a very useful woman, but subject to curious spells of longing for her olden friends. Sometimes she would disappear for days, spending the time among the Indian squaws outside the stockade. She was there one evening when this child was dropped in her lap by a young Indian woman. Touchas, the woman she was staying with, corroborates the story. The child was two years or more old, and talked French; cried at first for her 'maman.' Madame Bellestre insisted that Pani should bring the child to her. She had lost a little one by death about the same age. She supposed at first that some one would claim it, but no one ever did. Then she brought the child to me and had it christened by the name on the card, Jeanne Angelot. Madame had a longing for the ministrations of the Church, but her husband was opposed. In her last illness he consented. He loved her very dearly. I think he was afraid of the influence of a priest, but he need not have been. She gave me all the things belonging to the child, and I promised to yield them up to the one who claimed her, or Jeanne herself when she was eighteen, or on her wedding day when she was married. Her husband promised to provide for the child as long as she needed it. He was very fond of her, too."

"And was there no suspicion?" St. Armand hesitated.

The pale face betrayed a little warmth and the slim fingers clasped each other.

"I understand, Monsieur. There was and I told him of it. With his hand on God's word he declared that he knew no more about her than Pani's story, and that he had loved his wife too well for his thoughts ever to stray elsewhere. He was an honest, upright man and I believe him. He planned at first to take the child to New Orleans, but Mademoiselle, who was about fourteen, objected strenuously. She was jealous of her father's love for the child. M. Bellestre was a large, fair man with auburn hair and hazel eyes, generous, kindly, good-tempered. The child is dark, and has a passionate nature, beats her playmates if they offend her, though it is generally through some cruel thing they have done. She has noble qualities but there never has been any training. Yet every one has a good word for her and a warm side. I do not think the child would tell a lie or take what did not belong to her. She would give all she had sooner."

"You interest me greatly. But would it not be wiser for her to have a better home and different training? Does M. Bellestre consent to have her grow up in ignorance?"

"I have proposed she and Pani should come to the Recollet house. We have classes, you know, and there are orphan children. Several times we have coaxed her in, but it was disastrous. She set our classes in an uproar. The sister put her in a room by herself and she jumped out of the window and threatened to run away to the woods if she were sent again. M. Bellestre thinks to come to Detroit sometime, when it will be settled no doubt. His daughter is married now. He may take Jeanne back with him."

"That would be a blessing. But she has an eager mind and now we are learning that a broader education is necessary. It seems a pity-"

"Monsieur, there are only two lines that seem important for a woman. One is the training to make her a good wife and mother, and in new countries this is much needed. It is simplicity and not worldly arrogance, obedience and not caviling; first as a daughter, then as a wife. To guide the house, prepare the meals, teach her children the holy truths of the Church, and this is all God will require of her. The other is to devote her whole life to God's work, but not every one has this gift. And she who bears children obeys God's mandate and will have her reward."

"Whether the world is round or square," thought the Sieur St. Armand, but he was too courteous even to smile. Jeanne Angelot would need a wider life than this, and, if unduly narrowed, would spring over the traces.

"You think M. Bellestre means to come?"

"He has put it off to next year now. There is so much unrest and uncertainty all over the country, that at present he cannot leave his business."

St. Armand sighed softly, thinking of Jeanne.

"Would you show the clothes and the trinkets?"

"O yes, Monsieur, to a person like you, but not to the idly curious. Indeed, for that matter, they have been mostly forgotten. So many things have happened to distract attention."

He rose and went to the old escritoire. Unlocking a drawer he took out a parcel folded in a piece of cloth.

"The clothes she wore," he said, "even to the little shoes of deerskin. There is nothing special about them to denote that she was the child of a rich person."

That was very true, St. Armand saw, except that the little stockings were fine and bore the mark of imported goods. He mused over them.

The priest opened a small, oblong box that still had the scent of snuff about it. On it was the name of Bellestre. So that was no clew.

"Here is the necklet and the little ring and the paper with her name. Madame Bellestre placed these in my hand some time before she died."

The chain was slender and of gold, the locket small; inside two painted miniatures but very diminutive, and both of them young. One would hardly be able to identify a middle aged person from them. There was no mark or initials, save an undecipherable monogram.

"It is a pity there are no more chances of identification," St. Armand said. "This and the stockings come from France. And if the poor mother was dead-"

"There are so many orphans, Monsieur. Kind people take them in. I know of some who have been restored to their families. It is my dream to gather them in one home and train them to useful lives. It may come if we have peace for a while."

"She has a trusty guardian in you."

"If I could decide her fate, Monsieur. Truly she is a child of the Church, but she is wild and would revolt at any abridgment of her liberty. We may win her by other means. Pani is a Christian woman though with many traits of Indian character, some of the best of them," smiling. "It cannot be that the good Father above will allow any of his examples to be of none effect. Pani watches over her closely and loves her with untiring devotion. She firmly upholds M. Bellestre's right and believes he will return. The money to support them is sent to M. Loisel, the notary, and he is not a churchman. It is a pity so many of out brave old fathers should die for the faith and the children not be gathered in one fold. In Father Bonaventure's time it was not so, but the English had not come."

The good priest sighed and began folding up the articles.

"Father Gilbert believes in a stricter rule. But most of the people have years of habit that they put in the place of faith. Yet they are a good, kindly people, and they need some pleasures to compensate for their hard lives. They are gay and light-hearted as you have no doubt seen, but many of them are tinctured with Indian superstitions as well. Then for a month, when the fur traders come in, there is much drinking and disorder. There have been many deep-rooted prejudices. My nation cannot forgive the English for numberless wrongs. We could always have been friends with the Indians when they understood that we meant to deal fairly by them. And we were to blame for supplying them with fire water, justly so called. The fathers saw this and fought against it a century ago. Even the Sieur Cadillac tried to restrict them, though he did not approve the Jesuits. Monsieur, as you may have seen, the Frenchman drinks a little with the social tendency of his race, the Indian for the sake of wild expansion. He is a grand hero to himself, then, ready for a war dance, for fighting, cruelty, rapine, and revenge. I hope the new nation will understand better how to deal with them. They are the true children of the forest and the wilderness. I suppose in time they would even destroy each other."

St. Armand admitted to himself that it was hard to push them farther to the cold, inhospitable north, which would soon be the only hunting ground left them unless the unknown West opened a future resource.

"They are a strange race. Yet there have been many fierce peoples on our earth that have proved themselves amenable to civilization."

"Let us hope for better times and a more lasting peace. Prejudices die out in a few generations." Then he rose. "I thank you sincerely for your kindness, father, and hope you will be prospered in your good work, and in the oversight of the child."

"You are not to remain-"

St. Armand smiled. "I have much business on my hands. There are many treaty points to define and settle. I go to Washington; I may go to France. But I wish you all prosperity under the new government."

The priest bowed.

"And you will do your best for the child?"

"Whatever I am allowed to do, Monsieur."

There was still much soreness about religious matters. The English laxity had led to too much liberty, to doubting, even.

They bade each other a cordial adieu, with hopes of meeting again.

"Strange there should be so many interested in the child," St. Armand mused. "And she goes her own way serenely."

* * *

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