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A Little Girl in Old Detroit By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 26846

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

General Anthony Wayne was a busy man for the next few weeks, though he was full of tireless activity to his finger tips. There was much to be done in the town that was old already and had seen three different régimes. English people were packing their worldly goods and starting for Canada. Some of the French were going to the farther western settlements. Barracks were overhauled, the palisades strengthened, the Fort put in a better state of defense. For there were threats that the English might return. There were roving bands of Indians to the north and west, ready to be roused to an attack by disaffected French or English.

But the industrious inhabitants plied their vocations unmindful of change of rulers. Boat loads of emigrants came in. Stores of all kinds were dumped upon the wharf. The red painted windmills flew like great birds in the air, though some of the habitans kept to their little home hand mill, whose two revolving stones needed a great expenditure of strength and ground but coarsely. You saw women spinning in doorways that they might nod to passers-by or chat with a neighbor who had time to spare.

The children played about largely on the outside of the palisade. There were waving fields of maize that farmers had watched with fear and trembling and now surveyed with pride. Other grains were being cultivated. Estates were staked out, new log houses were erected, some much more pretentious ones with great stone chimneys.

Yet people found time for pleasure. There were canoe loads of merry girls going down or up the river, adroitly keeping out of the way of the larger craft and sending laughing replies to the chaff of the boatmen. And the evenings were mostly devoted to pleasure, with much music and singing. For it was not all work then.

Jeanne roamed at her own wayward will, oftenest within the inclosure with Pani by the hand. The repairs going on interested her. The new soldiers in their Continental blue and buff, most of it soiled and worn, presented quite a contrast to the red and gold of the English to which their eyes had become so accustomed. Now and then some one spoke respectfully to her; there was much outward deference paid to women even if the men were some of them tyrants within.

And Jeanne asked questions in her own fearless fashion. She had picked up some English and by dint of both languages could make herself understood.

"Well?" exclaimed a young lieutenant who had been overseeing some work and cleaning up at the barracks, turning a smiling and amused face towards her, "well, Mademoiselle, how do you like us-your new masters?"

"Are you going to be masters here for long? Are you sure the English will not come back?"

She raised her head proudly and her eyes flashed.

"It looks as if we might stay," he answered.

"You will not be everybody's master. You will not be mine."

"Why, no. What I meant was the government. Individuals you know have always a certain liberty."

She wondered a little what individuals were. Ah, if one could know a good deal! Something was stirring within her and it gave her a sort of pain, perplexing her as well.

What a bright curious face it was with the big eyes that looked out so straightforwardly!

"You are French, Mam'selle, or-"

"Am I like an Indian?"

She stood up straight and seemed two or three inches taller. He turned a sudden scarlet as he studied the mop of black curling hair, the long lashes, through which her eyes glittered, the brown skin that was sun kissed rather than of a copper tint, the shapely figure, and small hands that looked as if they might grasp and hold on.

"No, Mam'selle, I think you are not." Then he looked at Pani. "You live here?"

"Oh, not far away. Pani is my-oh, I do not know what you call it-guard, nurse, but I am a big girl now and do not need a nurse. Monsieur, I think I am French. But I dropped from the clouds one evening and I can't remember the land before that."

The soldier stared, but not impertinently.

"Mam'selle, I hope you will like us, since we have come to stay."

"Ah, do not feel too sure. The French drove out the Indians, the English conquered the French, and they went away-many of them. And you have driven out the English. Where will the next people come from?"

"The next people?" in surprise.

"The people to drive you out." She laughed softly.

"We will not be driven out."

"Are you as strong as that?"

"Mam'selle, we have conquered the English from Maine to the Carolinas, and to the Mississippi river. We shall do all the rest sometime."

"I think I shall be an American. I like people who are strong and can never be beaten."

"Of course you will have to be an American. And you must learn to speak English well."

"Monsieur," with much dignity, "if you are so grand why do you not have a language of your own?"

"Because"-he was about to say-"we were English in the beginning," but the sharp, satirical curves lurking around her mouth checked him. What an odd, piquant creature she was!

"Come away," and Pani pulled her hand. "You talk too much to people and make M'sieu idle."

"O Pani!" She gave an exultant cry and sprang away, then stopped short. For it was not only her friend, but a number of gentlemen in military attire and mounted on horses with gay trappings.

Monsieur St. Armand waved his hand to her. She shrank back and caught Pani's gown.

"It is General Wayne," said the lieutenant, and paid him something more than the demands of superior rank, for admiration was in his eyes and Jeanne noticed it.

"My little friend," said St. Armand, leaning down toward Jeanne, "I am glad to see you again." He turned a trifle. The general and his aids were on a tour of inspection, and now the brave soldier leaped from the saddle, giving the child a glance.

"I have been coming to find you," began Monsieur. "I have many things to say to your attendant. Especially as in a few days I go away."

"O Monsieur, is it because you do not like-" her eyes followed the general's suite.

"It is because I like them so well. I go to their capital on some business, and then to France. But I shall return in a year, perhaps. A year is not very long."

"Just a winter and a summer. There are many of them to life?"

"To some lives, yes. I hope there will be to yours, happy ones."

"I am always happy when I can run about or sail on the river. There are so many delightful things when no one bothers you."

"And the bothers are, I suppose, when some one considers your way not the best for you. We all meet with such things in life."

"My own way is the best," she replied, willfully, a daring light shining in her eyes. "Do I not know what gives me the most pleasure? If I want to go out and sing with the birds or run mad races with the dogs, or play with the children outside, that is the thing which gives me joy and makes my blood rush warm and bright in my veins. Monsieur, I told you I did not like to be shut up."

"Well, well. Remain in your little cottage this afternoon, and let me come and talk to you. I think I will not make you unhappy."

"Your voice is so sweet, Monsieur, but if you say disagreeable things, if you want me to learn to sew and to read-and to spin-the De Bers have just had a spinning wheel come. It is a queer thing and hums strangely. And Marie will learn to spin, her mother says. Then she will never be able to go in the woods for wild grapes and nuts. No, I cannot spend my time being so busy. And I do not care for stockings. Leggings are best for winter. And Touchas makes me moccasins."

Her feet and ankles were bare now. Dainty and shapely they were, and would have done for models.

"Monsieur, the soft grass and the warm sand is so pleasant to one's feet. I am glad I am not a grand lady to wear clumsy shoes. Why, I could not run."

St. Armand laughed. He had never seen such a free, wild, human thing rejoicing exultantly in its liberty. It seemed almost a shame to capture her-like caging a bird. But she could not always be a child.

General Wayne had made his round and given some orders, and now he reappeared.

"I want to present you to this little girl of Detroit," began M. St. Armand, "so that in years to come, when she hears of all your exploits, she will be proud that she had the honor. Jeanne Angelot is the small maid's name. And this is our brave General Wayne, who has persuaded the Indians to peace and amity, and taught the English to keep their word. But he can fight as well as talk."

"Monsieur, when they gave you welcome, I did not think you looked grand enough for a great general. But when I come near by I see you are brave and strong and determined. I honor you, Monsieur. I am glad you are to rule Detroit."

"Thank you, my little maid. I hope Detroit will become a great city, and that you may live many years in it, and be very happy."

She made a courtesy with free, exquisite grace. General Wayne leaped into his saddle and waved his hand.

"What an odd and charming child," he remarked to St. Armand. "No woman of society could have been more graceful and less abashed, and few would own up change of opinion with such na?ve sweetness. Of course she is a child of the people?"

"I am interested in learning who she really is;" and St. Armand repeated what he knew of her story.

"Her mother may have been killed by the Indians. There will be many a sad romance linked in with our early history, Sieur St. Armand."

As for Jeanne Angelot, many a time in after years she recalled her meeting with the brave general, and no one dreamed then that his brilliant career was to end so soon. Until November he held the post, repairing fortifications, promulgating new laws, redressing abuses, soothing the disaffected and, as far as he could, studying the best interests of the town. In November he started for the East, but at Presque Isle was seized with a fatal malady which ended his useful and energetic career, and proved a great loss to the country.

Monsieur St. Armand was late in keeping his word. There had been many things pressing on his attention and consideration. Jeanne had been very restless. A hundred desires flew to her mind like birds on the wing. Never had there seemed so many charms outside of the walls. She ran down to see Marie at the new spinning wheel. Madame De Ber had not used one in a long time and was a little awkward.

"When I have Marie well trained I think I will take thee in hand," she said, rather severely. "Thou wilt soon be a big girl and then a maiden who should be laying by some garments and blankets and household gear. And thou canst not even knit."

"But why should I? There are no brothers and sisters, and Wenonah is glad to make garments for me. Though I think M. Bellestre's money pays for them. And Touchas sends such nice fur things."

"I should be ashamed to have other people work while I climbed trees and ran about with Indian children. Though it is half suspected they are kin to thee. But the French part should rule."

Jeanne threw up her head with a proud gesture.

"I should not mind. I often feel that they must be. They like liberty, so do I. We are like birds and wild deer."

Then the child ran back before any reply could be made. Yet she was not as indifferent as she seemed. She had not minded it until lately, but now when it came in this sort of taunt she could not tell why a remembrance of Louis Marsac should rise before her. After all, what did a little Indian blood matter? Many a girl smiled on Louis Marsac, for they knew his father was a rich fur trader. Was it the riches that counted?

"He will not come," she said half angrily to Pani. "The big ladies are very proud to have him. They wear fine clothes that come from France, and they can smile and Madame Fleury has a harp her daughters play upon. But they might be content with the young men."

"It is not late yet," trying to console her darling.

"Pani, I shall go outside the gates. I am so tired. I want to run races to get my breath. It stops just as it does when the fog is in the air."

"No, child, stay here a little longer. It would be sad to miss him. And he is going away."

"Let him go. I think all men are a great trouble! You wait and wait for them. Then, if you go away they are sure to come."

Pani laughed. The child was brimming over with unreason. Yet her eyes were like stars, and in an uncomprehended way the woman felt the charm of her beauty. No, she would never part with her.

"O Pani!" The child sprang up and executed a pas seul worthy of a larger audience. Her first impulse was to run to meet him. Then she suddenly subsided from some inexplicable cause, and a flush came to her cheek as she dropped down on a seat beside the doorway, made of the round of a log, and folded her hands demurely, looking out to the barracks.

Of course she turned when she heard the steps. There was a grave expression on her face, charming innocence that would have led anyone astray.

Pani rose and made an obeisance, and brought forward a chair.

"Or would Monsieur rather go in doors?" she inquired.

"O no. Little one-" he held out his hand.

"I thought you had forgotten. It is late," she said plaintively.

"I am a busy man, my child. I could wish for a little of the freedom that you rejoice in so exuberantly, though I dare say I shall have enough o

n my journey."

What a companion this gay, chattering child would be, going through new scenes!

"Mademoiselle, are you ever serious? Or are you too young to take thought of to-morrow?"

"I am always planning for to-morrow, am I not, Pani? And if it rains I do not mind, but go the same, except that it is not always safe on the river, which sometimes seems as if the giant monster of the deep was sailing about in it."

"There is another kind of seriousness, my child, and a thought of the future that is not mere pleasure. You will outgrow this gay childhood. You may even find it necessary to go to some other country. There may be friends awaiting you that you know nothing of now. You would no doubt like to have them pleased with you, proud of you. And for this and true living you need some training. You must learn to read, to speak English, and you will find great pleasure in it. Then you will enjoy talking to older people. You see you will be older yourself."

His eyes were fixed steadily on hers and would not allow them to waver. She felt the power of the stronger mind.

"I have been talking with M. Bellestre's notary. He thinks you should go to school. There are to be some schools started as soon as the autumn opens. You know you wanted to learn why the world was round, and about the great continent of Europe and a hundred interesting subjects."

"But, Monsieur, it is mostly prayers. I do not so much mind Sunday, for then there are people to see. But to have it every day-and the same things over and over-"

She gave a yawn that was half ridiculous grimace.

"Prayers, are very good, Mam'selle. While I am away I want you to pray for me that sometime God will bring me back safe and allow me to see you again. And I shall say when I see the sun rising on the other side of the world, 'It is night now in old Detroit and there is a little girl praying for me.'"

"O Monsieur, would you be glad?" Her eyes were suffused with a mistlike joy. "Then I will pray for you. That is so different from praying for people you don't know anything about, and to-to saints. I don't know them either. I feel as if they sat in long rows and just nodded to you."

"Pray to the good God, my child," he returned gravely. "And if you learn to read and write you might send me a letter."

Her eyes opened wide in amazement. "Oh, I could never learn enough for that!" she cried despairingly.

"Yes, you can, you will. M. Loisel will arrange it for you. And twice a week you will go to the sisters, I have promised Father Rameau. There will be plenty of time to run and play besides."

Jeanne Angelot looked steadily down on the ground. A caterpillar was dragging its length along and she touched it with her foot.

"It was once a butterfly. It will spin itself up in a web and hang somewhere all winter, and in the spring turn to a butterfly again."

"That ugly thing!" in intense surprise.

"And how the trees drop their leaves in the autumn and their buds are done up in a brown sheath until the spring sunshine softens it and the tiny green leaf comes out, and why the birds go to warmer countries, because they cannot stand snow and sleet, and return again; why the bee shuts himself up in the hollow tree and sleeps, and a hundred beautiful things. And when I come back we will talk them over."

"O Monsieur!" Her rose lips quivered and the dimple in her chin deepened as she drew a long breath that stirred every pulse of her being.

He had touched the right chord, awakened a new life within her. There was a struggle, yet he liked her the better for not giving up her individuality in a moment.

"Monsieur," she exclaimed with a new humility, "I will try-indeed I will."

"That is a brave girl. M. Loisel will attend to the matter. And you will be very happy after a while. It will come hard at first, but you must be courageous and persevering. And now I must say good-by for a long while. Pani I know will take excellent care of you."

He rose and shook hands with the woman, whose eyes were full of love for the child of her adoption. Then he took both of Jeanne's little brown hands in his and pressed them warmly.

She watched him as he threaded his way through the narrow street and turned the corner. Then she rushed into the house and threw herself on the small pallet, sobbing as if her heart would break. No one for whom she cared had ever gone out of her life before. With Pani there was complete ownership, but Monsieur St. Armand was a new experience. Neither had she really loved her playmates, she had found them all so different from herself. Next to Pani stood Wenonah and the grave brown-faced babies who tumbled about the floor when they were not fastened to their birch bark canoe cradle with a flat end balancing it against the wall. She sometimes kissed them, they were so quaint and funny.

"Ma mie, ma mie, let me take thee to my bosom," Pani pleaded. "He will return again as he said, for he keeps his word. And thou wilt be a big girl and know many things, and he will be proud of thee. And M. Bellestre may come."

Jeanne's sobs grew less. She had been thrust so suddenly into a new world of tender emotion that she was frightened. She did not want to go out again, and sat watching Pani as she made some delicious broth out of fresh green corn, that was always a great treat to the child.

It was true there was a new stir in the atmosphere of old Detroit. For General Wayne with the prescience of an able and far-sighted patriot had said, "To make good citizens they must learn the English language and there must be schools. Education will be the corner stone of this new country."

Governor St. Clair had a wide territory to look after. There were many unsettled questions about land and boundaries and proper laws. New settlements were projected, but Detroit was left to adjust many questions for itself. A school was organized where English and various simple branches should be taught. It was opposed by Father Gilbert, who insisted that all the French Catholics should be sent to the Recollet house, and trained in Church lore exclusively. But the wider knowledge was necessary since there were so many who could not read, and the laws and courts would be English.

The school session was half a day. The better class people had a few select schools, and sometimes several families joined and had their children taught at the house of some parent and shared expenses.

Jeanne felt like a wild thing caught and thrust into a cage. There were disputes and quarrels, but she soon established a standing for herself. The boys called her Indian, and a name that had been flung at her more than once-tiger cat.

"You will see that I can scratch," she rejoined, threateningly.

"I will learn English, Pani, and no one shall interfere. M. Loisel said if I went to the sisters on Wednesday and Friday afternoons that Father Rameau would be satisfied. He is nice and kindly, but I hate Father Gilbert. And," laughingly, "I think they are all afraid of M. Bellestre. Do you suppose he will take me home with him when he comes? I do not want to leave Detroit."

Pani sighed. She liked the old town as well.

Jeanne flew to the woods when school was over. She did envy the Indian girls their freedom for they were not trained in useful arts as were the French girls. Oh, the frolics in the woods, the hunting of berries and grapes, the loads of beautiful birch and ash bark, the wild flowers that bloomed until frost came! and the fields turning golden with the ripening corn, secure from Indian raids! The thrifty French farmers watched it with delight.

Marie De Ber had been kept very busy since the spinning began. Madame thought schooling shortsighted business except for boys who would be traders by and by, and must learn how to reckon correctly and do a little writing.

They went after the last gleaning of berries one afternoon, when the autumn sunshine turned all to gold.

"O Marie," cried Jeanne, "here is a harvest! Come at once, and if you want them don't shout to anyone."

"O Jeanne, how good you are! For you might have called Susanne, who goes to school, and I have thought you liked her better than you do me."

"No, I do not like her now. She pinched little Jacques Moet until he cried out and then she laid it to Pierre Dessau, who was well thrashed for it, and I called her a coward. I am afraid girls are not brave."

"Come nearer and let us hide in this thicket. For if I do not get a big lot of berries mother will send Rose next time, she threatened."

"You can have some of mine. Pani will not care; for she never scolds at such a thing."

"Pani is very good to you. Mother complains that she spoils you and that you are being brought up like a rich girl."

Jeanne laughed. "Pani never struck me in my life. She isn't quite like a mother, you see, but she loves me, loves me!" with emphasis.

"There are so many for mother to love," and the girl sighed.

"Jeanne," she began presently, "I want to tell you something. Mother said I must not mention it until it was quite settled. There is-some one-he has been at father's shop and-and is coming on Sunday to see mother-"

Jeanne stood up suddenly. "It is Martin Lavosse," she said. "You danced with him. He is so gay. O Marie!" and her face was alight.

"No, it is not Martin. I would not mind if it were. But he is so young, only eighteen."

"You are young, too."

Marie sighed again. "You have not seen him. It is Antoine Beeson. He is a boat builder, and has been buying some of the newly surveyed land down at the southern end. Father has known him quite a long while. His sister has married and gone to Frenchtown. He is lonely and wants a wife."

"But there are many girls looking for husbands," hesitated Jeanne, not knowing whether to approve or oppose; and Marie's husband was such a new idea.

"So father says. And we have five girls, you know. Rose is as tall as I and has a prettier face and dances like a sprite. And there are so many of the fur hunters and traders who drink and spend their money, and sometimes beat their wives. Margot Beeson picked out a wife for him, but he said she was too old. It was Lise Moet."

Jeanne laughed. "I should not want to live with her, her voice goes through your head like a knife. She is little Jacques' aunt and the children are all afraid of her. How old is Antoine?"

"Twenty-eight!" in a low, protesting tone.

"Just twice as old as you!" said Jeanne with a little calculation.

"Yes, I can't help but think of it. And when I am thirty he will be an old man sixty years old, bent down and wrinkled and cross, maybe."

"O no, Marie," cried Jeanne, eagerly. "It is not that way one reckons. Everything does not double up so fast. He is fourteen years older than you, and when you are thirty he can only be fourteen years older than you. Count up on your ten fingers-that makes forty, and four more, he will be forty-four."

Marie's mouth and eyes opened in surprise. "Are you quite sure?" with an indrawn breath.

"O yes, sure as that the river runs to the lake. It is what they teach at school. And though it is a great trouble to make yourself remember, and you wonder what it is all about, then at other times you can use the knowledge and are happy and glad over it. There are so many queer things," smiling a little. "And they are not in the catechism or the prayers. The sisters shake their heads over them."

"But can they be quite right?" asked Marie in a kind of awesome tone.

"Why they seem right for the men to know," laughed Jeanne. "How else could they be bartering and counting money? And it is said that Madame Ganeau goes over her husband's books every week since they found Jules Froment was a thief, and kept wrong accounts, putting the money in his own pocket."

Jeanne raised her voice triumphantly.

"Oh, here they are!" cried Cecile followed by a string of girls. "And look, they have found a harvest, their pails are almost full. You mean, selfish things!"

"Why you had the same right to be hunting everywhere," declared Jeanne stoutly. "We found a good place and we picked-that is all there is of it."

"But you might have called us."

Jeanne laughed in a tantalizing manner.

"O Jeanne Angelot, you think yourself some great things because you live inside the stockade and go to a school where they teach all manner of lies to the children. Your place is out in some Indian wigwam. You're half Indian, anyhow."

"Look at us!" Jeanne made a sudden bound and placed herself beside Cecile, whose complexion was swarthy, her hair straight, black, and rather coarse, and her dark eyes had a yellowish tinge, even to the whites. "Perhaps I am the descendant of some Indian princess-I should be proud of it, for the Indians once held all this great new world; and the French and English could not hold it."

There was a titter among the girls. Never had Jeanne looked prouder or handsomer, and Cecile's broad nose distended with anger while her lips were purple. She was larger but she did not dare attack Jeanne, for she knew the nature and the prowess of the tiger cat.

"Let us go home; it gets late," cried one of the girls, turning her companion about.

"O Jeanne," whispered Marie, "how splendid you are! No husband would ever dare beat you."

"I should tear out his eyes if he did."

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