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   Chapter 20 THE LAST OF OLD DETROIT.

A Little Girl in Old Detroit By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 26968

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


The Sieur Angelot was gladly consulted on many points. The British still retained the command of the Grand Portage on Lake Superior, and the Ottawa river route to the upper country. By presents and subsidies they maintained an influence over the savages of the Northwest. The different Indian tribes, though they might have disputes with each other, were gradually being drawn together with the desire of once more sweeping the latest conquerors out of existence.

The fur company endeavored to keep friendly with all, and the Indians were well aware that much of their support must be drawn from them. The new governor was expected shortly, and Detroit was to be his home.

The Sieur Angelot advised better fortifications and a larger garrison. Many points were examined and found weak. The general government had been appealed to, but the country was poor and could hardly believe, in the face of all the treaties, there could be danger.

There was also the outcome of the fur trade to be discussed with the merchants, and new arrangements were being made, for the Sieur was to return before long.

Jeanne had spent a sorrowful time within her own soul, though she strove to be outwardly cheerful. June was upon them in all its glory and richness. Sunshine scattered golden rays and made a clarified atmosphere that dazzled. The river with rosy fogs in the morning, the quivering breath of noon when spirals of yellow light shot up, changing tints and pallors every moment, the softer purplish coloring as the sun began to drop behind the tree tops, illuminating the different shades of green and intensifying the birches until one could imagine them white-robed ghosts. The sails on the river, the rambles in the woods, were Jeanne's delight once more, and with so charming a companion as M. St. Armand, her cup seemed full of joy.

At times the thought of her lonely mother haunted her. Yet what a dreary life it must be that had robbed her of every semblance of youth and set stern lines in her face, that had uprooted the sweetest human love! How could she have turned from the husband of her choice, and that husband so brave and tender a man as Sieur Angelot? For day by day it seemed to Jeanne that she found new graces and tenderness in him.

Yet she knew she must pain him, too. Only for a brief while, perhaps. And-there was a curious hesitation about the new home.

"Jeanne," he said one afternoon, when they, too, were lingering idly about the suburban part of the town, the gardens, the orchards, the long fields stretching back distantly, here and there a cottage, a nest of bloom. There were the stolid farmers working in their old-fashioned methods, there was a sound of strokes in the dusky woods where some men were chopping that brought faint, reverberating echoes, there was the humming of bees, the laughter of children. Little naked Indian babies ran about, the sun making the copper of their skins burnished, squaws sat with bead work, young fellows were playing games with smooth stones or throwing at a mark. French women had brought their wheels out under the shade of some tree, and were making a pleasant whir with the spinning.

"Jeanne," he began again, "it is time for me to go up North. And I must take you, my daughter-" looking at her with questioning eyes.

She raised her hand as if to entreat. A soft color wavered over her face, and then she glanced up with a gentle gravity.

"Oh, my father, leave me here a little longer. I cannot go now;" and her voice was persuasively sweet.

"Cannot-why?" There was insistence in his tone.

"There is Pani-"

"But we will take Pani. I would not think of leaving her behind."

"She will not go. I have planned and talked. She is no longer strong. To tear her up by the roots would be cruel. And do you not see that all her life is wound about me? She has been the tenderest of mothers. I must give her back some of the care she has bestowed upon me. She has never been quite the same since I was taken away. She came near to dying then. Yes, you must leave me awhile."

"Jeanne, my little one, I cannot permit this sacrifice;" and the tenderness in his eyes smote her.

"Ah, you cannot imagine how I should pine for Detroit and for her. Then besides-"

A warm color flooded her face; her eyes drooped.

"My darling, can you not trust yourself to my love?"

"There is another to share your love. Oh, believe me, I am not jealous that one so beautiful and worthy should stand in the place my mother contemned. She has the right."

"Child, you have wondered how I found the clew to your existence. I have meant to tell you but there have been so many things intervening. Do you remember one night she asked your name, after having heard your story? She had listened to the other side more than once, and, piecing them together, she guessed-"

Jeanne recalled the sudden change from delight to coldness. Ah, was this the key?

"The boys were full of enthusiasm over the strange guest, whose eyes were like their father's. No suspicion struck me. Blue eyes are not so unusual, though they all have dark ones. Neither was it so strange that one should be captured by the Indians and escape. But I saw presently that something weighed heavily on the heart that had always been open as the day. Now and then she seemed on the point of some confession. I have large patience, Jeanne, and I waited, since I knew it had nothing to do with any lack of love towards me. And one night when her secret had pricked her sorely she told me her suspicions. My little child might be alive, might have escaped by some miracle; and she besought me with all eagerness to hasten to Detroit and find this Jeanne Angelot. She had been jealous and unhappy that there should be another claimant for my love, but then she was nobly sweet and generous and would give you a warm welcome. I sent her word by a boat going North, and now I have received another message. Women's hearts are strange things, child, but you need not be afraid to trust her, though the welcome will be more like that of a sister," and he smiled. "I am your rightful protector. I cannot leave you here alone."

"Nothing would harm me," she made answer, proudly. "There are many friends. Detroit is dear to me. And for Pani's sake-oh, leave me here a little while longer. For I can see Pani grows weaker and day by day loses a little of her hold on life. Then there is Monsieur Loisel, who will guard me, and Monsieur Fleury and Madame, who are most kind. Yes, you will consent. After that I will come and be your most dutiful daughter. But, oh, think; I owe the Indian woman a child's service as well."

Her lovely eyes turned full upon him with tenderest entreaty. He would be loth to reward any such devotion with ingratitude, and it would be that. Pani could not be taken from Detroit.

"Jeanne, it wrings my heart to find you and then give you up even for a brief while. How can I?"

"But you will," she said, and her arms were about his neck, her soft, warm cheek was pressed to his, and he could feel her heart beat against his. "It pains me, too, for see, I love you. I have a right to love you. I must make amends for the pang of the other defection. And you will tell her, yes. I think I ought to be sister to her. And there are the two charming boys and Angelique-she will let me love them. I will not take their love from her."

He drew a long breath. "I know not how to consent, and yet I see that it would be the finest and loveliest duty. I honor you for desiring it. I must think and school myself," smiling sadly.

He consulted M. St. Armand on the matter.

"Give her into my guardianship for a while," that gentleman said. "It is noble in her to care for her foster mother to the last. I shall be in and out of Detroit, and the Fleurys will be most friendly. And look you, mon cousin, I have a proffer to make. I have a son, a young man whose career has been most honorable, who is worthy of any woman's love, and who so far has had no entanglements. If these two should meet again presently, and come to desire each other, nothing would give me greater happiness. He would be a son quite to your liking. Both would be of one faith. And to me, Jeanne would be the dearest of daughters."

The Sieur Angelot wrung the hand of his relative.

"It must be as the young people wish. And I would like to have her a little while to myself."

"That is right, too. I could wish she were my daughter, only then my son might miss a great joy."

So the matter was settled. M. and Madame Fleury would have opened their house to Jeanne and her charge, but it was best for them to remain where they were. Wenonah came in often and Margot was always ready to do a service.

One day Jeanne went down to the wharf to see the vessel depart for the North. It was a magnificent June morning, with the river almost like glass and a gentle wind from the south. She watched the tall figure on the deck, waving his hand until the proud outline mingled with others and was indistinct-or was it the tears in her eyes?

M. St. Armand had some business in Quebec, but would remain only a short time.

It seemed strangely solitary to Jeanne after that, although there was no lack of friends. Everybody was ready to serve her, and the young men bowed with the utmost respect when they met her. She took Pani out for short walks, the favorite one to the great oak tree where Jeanne had begun her life in Detroit. Children played about, brown Indian babies, grave-faced even in their play, vivacious French little ones calling to each other in shrill patois, laughing and tumbling and climbing. Had she once been wild and merry like them? Then Pani would babble of the past and stroke the soft curls and call her "little one." What a curious dream life was!

They were busy with the governor's house and the military squares and the old fort. The streets were cleared up a little. Houses had been painted and whitewashed. Stores and shops spread out their attractions, booths were flying gay colors and showing tempting eatables. All along the river was the stir of active life. People stayed later in the streets these warm evenings and sat on stoops chatting. Young men and maids planned pleasures and sails on the river and went to bed gay and light-hearted. Was there any place quite like Old Detroit?

Early one morning while the last stars were lingering in the sky and the east was suffused with a faint pink haze, a scarlet spire shot up that was not sunrise. No one remarked it at first. Then a broad flash that might have been lightning but was not, and a cry on the still air startled the sleepers. "Fire! Fire!"

Suddenly all was terror. There had been no rain in some time, and the inflammable buildings caught like so much tinder. From the end of St. Anne's street up and down it ran, the dense smoke sometimes hiding the flames. Like the eruption of a great crater the smoke rose thick, black, with here and there a tongue of flame that was frightful. The streets were so narrow and crowded, the appliances for fighting the terrible enemy so limited, that men soon gave up in despair. On and on it went devouring all within its reach.

Shop keepers emptied their stores, hurried their stocks down to the wharf, and filled the boats. Furniture, century-old heirlooms, were tumbled frantically out of houses to some place of refuge as the fire swept on, carried farther and farther. Daylight and sunlight were alike obscured. Frantic people ran hither and thither, children were gathered in arms, and hurried without the palisades, which in many instances were burned away. And presently the inhabitants gave way to the wildest despair. It was a new and terrible experience. The whole town must go.

Jeanne had been sleeping soundly, and in the first uproar listened like one dazed. Was it an Indian assault, such as her father had feared presently? Then the smoke rushed into every crack and crevice.

"Oh, what is it, what is it?" she cried, flinging her door open wide.

"Oh, Mam'selle," cried Margot, "the street is all aflame. Run! run! Antoine has taken the children."

Already the streets were crowded. St. Anne's was a wall of fire. One could hardly see, and the roar of the flames was terrific, drowning the cries and shrieks.

"Come, quick!" Margot caught her arm.

"Pani! Pani!" She darted back into the house. "Pani," she cried, pulling at her. "Oh, wake, wake! We must fly. The town is burning up."

"Little one," said Pani, "nothing shall harm thee."

"Come!" Jeanne pulled her out with her strong young arms, and tried to slip a gown over the shaking figure that opposed her efforts.

"I will not go," she cried. "I know, you want to take me away from dear old Detroit. I heard something the Sieur Angelot said. O Jeanne, the good Father in Heaven sent you back once. Do not go again-"

"The street is all on fire. Oh, Margot, help me, or we shall be burned to death. Pani, dear, we must fly."

"Where is Jeanne Angelot," exclaimed a sturdy voice. "Jeanne, if you do not escape now-see, the flames have struck the house."

It was the tall, strong form of Pierre De Ber, and he caught her in his arms.

"No, no! O Pierre, take Pani. She is dazed. I can follow. Cover her with a blanket, so," and Jeanne, having struggled away, threw the blanket about the woman. Pierre caught her up. "Come, follow behind me. Do not let go. O Jeanne, you must be

saved."

Pani was too surprised for any resistance. She was not a heavy burthen, and he took her up easily.

"Hold to my arm. There is such a crowd. And the smoke is stifling. O Jeanne! if you should come to harm!" and almost he was tempted to drop the Indian woman, but he knew Jeanne would not leave her.

"I am here. O Pierre, how good you are!" and the praise was like a draught of wine to him.

The flames flashed hither and thither though there was little wind. But the close houses fed it, and in many places there were inflammable stores. Now and then an explosion of powder shot up in the air. Where one fancied one's self out of danger the fire came racing on swift wings.

"There will be only the river left," said some one.

The crowd grew more dense. Pierre felt that he could hardly get to the gate. Then men with axes and hatchets hewed down the palisades, and, he being near, made a tremendous effort, and pushed his way outside. There was still crowd enough, but they soon came to a freer space, and he laid his burthen down, standing over her that no one might tread on her.

"O Jeanne, are you safe? Thank heaven!"

Jeanne caught his hand and pressed it in both of hers.

"If we could get to Wenonah!" she said.

He picked up his burthen again, but it was very limp.

"Open the blanket a little. I was afraid to have her see the flames. Yes, let us go on," said Jeanne, courageously.

Men and women were wringing their hands; children were screaming. The flames crackled and roared, but out here the way was a little clearer. They forced a path and were soon beyond the worst heat and smoke.

Wenonah's lodge was deserted. Pierre laid the poor body down, and Jeanne bent over and kissed the strangely passive face.

"Oh, she is dead! My poor, dear Pani!"

"I did my best," said Pierre, in a beseeching tone.

"Oh, I know you did! Pierre, I should have gone crazy if I had left her there to be devoured by the flames. But I will try-"

She bathed the face, she chafed the limp hands, she called her by every endearing name. Ah, what would he not have given for one such sweet little sentence!

"Pierre-your own people," she cried. "See how selfish I have been to take you-"

"They were started before I came. Father was with them. They were going up to the square, perhaps to the Fort. Oh, the town will all go. The flames are everywhere. What an awful thing! Jeanne, what can I do? O Jeanne, little one, do not weep."

For now Jeanne had given way to sobs.

There was a rushing sound in the doorway, and Wenonah stood there.

"Oh," she exclaimed, "I tried to get into the town, but could not. Thank the good God that you are safe. And Pani-no, she is not dead, her heart beats slowly. I will get her restored."

"And I will go for further news," said Pierre.

Very slowly Pani seemed to come back to life. The crowd was pouring out to the fields and farms, and down and up the river. The flames were not satisfied until they had devoured nearly everything, but they had not gone up to the Fort. And now a breeze of wind began to dissipate the smoke, and one could see that Old Detroit was a pile of ashes and ruins. Very little was left,-a few buildings, some big stone chimneys, and heaps of iron merchandise.

Pierre returned with the news. Pani was lying on the couch with her eyes partly open, breathing, but that was all.

"People are half crazy, but I don't wonder at it," said Pierre. "The warehouses are piles of ashes. Poor father will have lost everything, but I am young and strong and can help him anew."

"Thou art a good son, Pierre," exclaimed Wenonah.

Many had been routed out without any breakfast, and now it was high noon. Children were clamoring for something to eat. The farmers spread food here and there on the grass and invited the hungry ones. Jacques Giradin, the chief baker in the town, had kneaded his bread and put it in the oven, then gone to help his neighbors. The bakery was one of the few buildings that had been miraculously spared. He drew out his bread-it had been well baked-and distributed it to the hungry, glad to have something in this hour of need.

It was summer and warm, and the homeless dropped down on the grass, or in the military gardens, and passed a strange night. The next morning they saw how complete the destruction had been. Old Detroit, the dream of Cadillac and De Tonti, La Salle and Valliant, and many another hero, the town that had prospered and had known adversity, that had been beleaguered by Indian foes, that had planted the cross and the golden lilies of France, that had bowed to the conquering standard of England, and then again to the stars and stripes of Liberty, that had brimmed over with romance and heroism, and even love, lay in ashes.

In a few days clearing began and tents and shanties were erected for temporary use. But poverty stared the brave citizens in the face. Fortunes had been consumed as well. Business was ruined for a time.

Jeanne remained with Wenonah. Pani improved, but she had been feeble a long while and the shock proved too much for her. She did not seem to suffer but faded gently away, satisfied when Jeanne was beside her.

Tony Beeson, quite outside of the fire, opened his house in his rough but hospitable fashion to his wife's people. Rose had not fared so well. Pierre was his father's right hand through the troublous times. Many of the well-to-do people were glad to accept shelter anywhere. The Fleurys had saved some of their most valuable belongings, but the house had gone at last.

"Thou art among the most fortunate ones," M. Loisel said to Jeanne a week afterward, "for thy portion was not vested here in Detroit. I am very glad."

It seemed to Jeanne that she cared very little for anything save the sorrows and sufferings of the great throng of people. She watched by Pani through the day and slept beside her at night. "Little one," the feeble voice would say, "little one," and the clasp of the hand seemed enough. So it passed on until one day the breath came slower and fainter, and the lips moved without any sound. Jeanne bent over and kissed them for a last farewell. Father Rameau had given her the sacred rites of the Church, and said over her the burial service. A faithful woman she had been, honest and true.

And this was what Monsieur St. Armand found when he returned to Detroit, a grave girl instead of the laughing child, and an old town in ashes.

"I have news for you, too," he said to Jeanne, "partly sorrowful, partly consoling as well. Two days after reaching her convent home, your mother passed quietly away, and was found in the morning by one of the sisters. The poor, anxious soul is at peace. I cannot believe God means one to be so troubled when a sin is forgiven, especially one that has been a mistake. So, little one, if thou hadst listened to her pleadings thou wouldst have been left in a strange land with no dear friend. It is best this way. The poor Indian woman was nearer a mother to thee."

A curious peace about this matter filled Jeanne Angelot's soul. Her mother was at rest. Perhaps now she knew it was not sinful to be happy. And for her father's sake it was better. He could not help but think of the poor, lonely woman in her convent cell, expiating what she considered a sin.

"When Laurent comes we will go up to your beautiful island," he said. "I have bidden him to join me here."

Jeanne took Monsieur around to the old haunts: the beautiful woods, the stream running over the rocky hillside, the flowers in bloom that had been so fateful to her, the nooks and groves, the green where they put up the Maypole, and her brave old oak, with its great spreading branches and wide leaves, nodding a welcome always.

One day they went down to the King's wharf to watch a vessel coming up the beautiful river. The sun made it a sea of molten gold to-day, the air was clear and exhilarating. But it was not a young fellow who leaped so joyously down on to the dock. A tall, handsome man, looking something like his own father, and something like hers, Jeanne thought, for his eyes were of such a deep blue.

"There is no more Old Detroit. It lies in ashes," said M. St. Armand, when the first greetings were over. "A sorrowful sight, truly."

"And no little girl." Laurent smiled with such a fascination that it brought the bright color to her face. "Mademoiselle, I have been thinking of you as the little girl whose advice I disdained and had a ducking for it. I did not look for a young lady. I do not wonder now that you have taken so much of my father's heart."

"We can give you but poor accommodations; still it will not be for long, as we go up North to accept our cousin's hospitality. You will be delighted to meet the Sieur Angelot. The Fleury family will be glad to see you again, though they have no such luxuriant hospitality as before."

They all went to the plain small shelter in which the Fleurys were thankful to be housed, and none the less glad to welcome their friends. They kept Jeanne to dinner, and would gladly have taken her as a guest. M. Loisel had offered her a home, but she preferred staying with Wenonah. Paspah had never come back from his quest. Whether he had met with some accident, or simply found wild life too fascinating to leave, no one ever knew. To Wenonah it was not very heart-breaking.

"Oh, little one," she said at parting, "I shall miss thee sorely. Detroit will not be the same without thee."

And then Jeanne Angelot went sailing up the beautiful lakes again, past shores in later summer bloom and beauty and islands that might be fairy haunts. They were enchanted bowers to her, but it was some time before she knew what had lent them such an exquisite charm.

So she came home to her father's house and met with a warm welcome, a noisy welcome from two boys, who could not understand why she would not climb and jump, though she did run races with them, and they were always hanging to her.

"And you turn red so queerly sometimes," said Gaston, much puzzled. "I can't tell which is the prettier, the red or the white. But the red seems for M. St. Armand."

Loudac and the dame were overjoyed to see her again. The good dame shook her head knowingly.

"The Sieur will not keep her long," she said.

Old Detroit rose very slowly from its ashes. In August Governor Hull arrived and found no home awaiting him, but had to go some distance to a farm house for lodgings. He brought with him many eastern ideas. The old streets must be widened, the lanes straightened, the houses made more substantial. There was a great outcry against the improvements. Old Detroit had been good enough. It was the center of trade, it commanded the highway of commerce. And no one had any money to spend on foolery.

But he persevered until he obtained a grant from Congress, and set to work rectifying wrongs that had crept in, reorganizing the courts, and revising property deeds. The old Fort was repaired, the barracks put in better shape, the garrison augmented.

But the event the Sieur Angelot had feared and foreseen, came to pass. Many difficulties had arisen between England and the United States, and at last culminated in war again. This time the northern border was the greatest sufferer on land. The Indians were aroused to new fury, the different tribes joining under Tecumseh, resolved to recover their hunting grounds. The many terrible battles have made a famous page in history. General Hull surrendered Detroit to the British, and once more the flag of England waved in proud triumph.

But it was of short duration. The magnificent victories on the lakes and Generals Harrison's and Winchester's successes on land, again changed the fate of the North. Once more the stars and stripes went up over Detroit, to remain for all time to come.

But after that it was a new Detroit,-wide streets and handsome buildings growing year by year, but not all the old landmarks obliterated; and their memories are cherished in many a history and romance.

Jeanne St. Armand, a happy young wife, with two fathers very fond of her, went back to Detroit after awhile. And sometimes she wondered if she had really been the little girl to whom all these things had happened.

When Louis Marsac heard the White Chief had found his daughter and given her to Laurent St. Armand, he ground his teeth in impotent anger. But for the proud, fiery, handsome Indian wife of whom he felt secretly afraid, he might have gained the prize, he thought. She was extravagantly fond of him, and he prospered in many things, but he envied the Sieur Angelot his standing and his power, though he could never have attained either.

Pierre De Ber was a good son and a great assistance to his father in recovering their fortunes. After awhile he married, largely to please his mother, but he made an excellent husband. He knew why Jeanne Angelot could never have been more than a friend to him. But of his children he loved little Jeanne the best, and Madame St. Armand was one of her godmothers, when she was christened in the beautiful new church of St. Anne, which had experienced almost as varying fortunes as the town itself.

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Transcriber's Notes

Obvious punctuation errors were corrected.

The remaining corrections made are indicated by dotted lines under the corrections. Scroll the mouse over the word and the original text will appear.

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