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A Little Girl in Old St. Louis By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 24261

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

It was only a short distance to the priest's house, where the classes met. She ran off by herself. There was quite a throng of girls, though, as with most of the early Western settlers, education was not esteemed the one thing needful for girls. To make good wives was the greatest attainment they could achieve. Still, Father Lemoine labored with perseverance at the tillage of their brains on the two afternoons, and the tillage of their souls on Saturday.

After the two hours were over the restless children had a run up to the Fort. The Guions there were Madame Renaud's relatives. There was a great thicket of roses that covered the line of palings, and some ladies were having refreshments under a sort of arbor, little cakes and glasses of wine much diluted with water.

"Oh, yes, come in," exclaimed Sophie as Renée hung back. "You have been here before, you needn't feel strange."

That was true enough. Then she had been Sophie's guest. Now she had a curious hesitation.

Elise was going around courtesying to the ladies, and answering their inquiries. Sophie stooped to play with the cat. An old lady nearest Renée handed her a plate of small spiced cakes.

"You have gone to Monsieur Denys," she said in a soft tone. "He is-" raising her eyes in inquiry.

"He is my uncle." Renée made a graceful little courtesy as she said this, and thanked the lady for the cake.

"I suppose M. Denys means to settle down now," said another. "It is high time. He ought to marry. There is nothing like a good wife."

"That will come along," and another nodded with a mysterious but merry smile. "That is why he is smartening up so. And he has brought some elegant stuffs from Canada to dress her in when he gets her. Madame Aubrey was in yesterday and bought of him a gown for Genevieve. He was showing her some finery that would adorn a bride. I think we shall hear before long."

They all nodded and glanced sidewise from Elise to Sophie as if they might have something to do with it.

"I must go," exclaimed Renée, her face flushing.

"No, wait, I am not ready," said Sophie.

But Renée courtesied to them all and flashed through the rose-hung entrance. She ran swiftly down the street, turned the corner to her own home, and entered the gate. Mère Lunde sat at the doorway knitting.

"Where is Uncle Gaspard?" she cried breathlessly.

"In the shop chaffering. They have found him out, you see, and I hope the good Father of all will send him prosperity," crossing herself devoutly.

Renée dropped down on the doorstep. Her child's heart was in a tumult. Had not the house been planned for her, and the pretty room made especially? Where would he put a wife? His small place in the corner of the shop, hung about with curtains, was not fit, since the wife would be Ma'm'selle Barbe, whose pretty white bed had fringed hangings that she had learned to knot while she was in New Orleans.

"Why do you sigh so, little one?"

Renée could not contain her anxiety.

"O ma mère, do you think Uncle Gaspard will marry?" she cried with passionate vehemence. "Will he bring a wife here to live with us?"

"What has put such a thing in thy head, child? Surely the good priest would not venture to suggest that to thee!"

"It was in the Guions' garden. I went there with the girls. And some one said he had fixed the house for that, and they smiled and I knew who they meant."

She wiped some tears from her hot cheek.

"Who was it?" the dame asked simply.

"Who should it be but Ma'm'selle Barbe! Oh, I could guess who they thought would come."

"Ma'm'selle is a pretty girl and sweet tempered. She has a dot, too," said the placid woman. "But then I think--"

Renée burst into a passion of tears, and springing up stamped on the ground.

"She shall not come here!" she cried vehemently. "She shall not have Uncle Gaspard! Oh, why did he go clear to Canada for me, why did he bring me here?"

"There was your gran'père--"

"But he doesn't want me. No one wants me!"

"Chut! chut! little one. Do not get in such a passion. Surely a child could not help it if it was to be so. But now that I think the matter over, he said I must come, as there would be no one here to look after you, and that your gran'père's was no place for you. Truly, it is not, if the whispers about him are well grounded. It is said the river pirates gather there. And he goes away for weeks at a time. No, I do not believe M. Denys means to marry."

"Oh, truly? truly?" Renée flung her arms about the woman's neck. "Say again you do not believe it."

Every pulse was throbbing, and her breath came in tangled gasps. The woman's tranquillity rasped her.

"Nay, he would have planned different. And Ma'm'selle Barbe has young admirers. Ah, you should have seen her at Christmas and Epiphany! She was chosen Queen, she had one of the lucky beans. She would hardly want so grave a man. All young things love pleasure, and it is right; care comes fast enough."

And now Renée remembered that a young man had spent evenings with his violin, and they two had sat out on the gallery. But she could not divest her mind of the curious sort of suspicion that Barbe cared very much for Uncle Gaspard.

"No, no," went on Mère Lunde. "People gossip. They often mate two who have no such intention. Dry thy eyes, petite, and laugh again. There has a robin built in the beech near thy window, and now I think there are young ones in the nest. I heard them cry for food. And the father bird goes singing about as if he wanted to tell the news. It is pleasanter than thine."

Renée smiled then. Yes, if the young man loved, ma'm'selle. How they had laughed and talked. Perhaps-and yet she was not quite satisfied.

But she went out and glanced up at the tree. Yes, there was a nest, and a funny, peeping sound, a rustle in the branches.

The path had been packed clear down to the gate. Some garden beds were laid out, and the neglected grass trimmed up. It began to look quite pretty. If there was something to do, to keep away thoughts.

"Mère Lunde, will you teach me to knit?" she asked suddenly.

"And sew, child. A woman needs that."

"I can sew a little. But I have nothing to sew."

"That will be provided if you wish for it. I think your uncle will be glad. I have heard that where there are holy Sisters they teach girls, but we have none here. And now you may help me get the supper."

That tended to divert her troubled thoughts. And then Uncle Gaspard came in with a guest and the meal was a very merry one. Afterward the two sat over the desk busy with writing and talking until she was sleepy and went to bed.

She studied Uncle Gaspard furtively the next morning. He asked about the school, and said in the afternoon they would take a walk, and this morning she had better go to market with Mère Lunde.

She found that quite an entertainment. The old market was not much, a little square with some stalls, all kept by old women, it seemed. One had cakes, the croquecignolles, the great favorite with everybody. A curious kind of dry candied fruit, and a sausage roll that the men and boys from the levees bought and devoured with hearty relish. Then there was a stall of meats and a portly butcher in a great white gown. Some of the stands were there only two or three days in the week. Most of the inhabitants looked out for their own stores, but there were the boatmen and the fur traders, and the voyageurs. There was but one bake shop, so the market stall was well patronized.

Some one called to Renée as she neared her own corner, and she turned. It was a little girl she had seen in the class at the priest's house.

"I am glad you have come here to live," she began. "Your name is Renée de Long--"

"Renée de Longueville," with a touch of formality.

"And mine is Rosalie Pichou. I live just down in the street below. I have five brothers and not one sister. How many have you?"

"None at all."

"Oh, I shouldn't like that. And I am always wishing for a sister. But one of my brothers will be married shortly, only he is not coming home to live."

"Do you like him to marry?"

"Oh, yes, we shall have a gay time and a feast. And then there will be the new house to visit. Andre is just twenty-one, Pierre is eighteen, Jules sixteen, and I am twelve. I am larger and older than you."

They had walked up to the gate. Mère Lunde stood by it. "Will you not come in and see Renée?" she asked, on the child's behalf.

"Oh, yes," was the frank answer. "I came to see the new room when M. Denys was building it. Oh, how pretty you have it!" in an almost envious tone.

"But then you can have all. At home, there are two little boys to provide for, and I think boys are always hungry. Jules gets lots of game, he is such a good shot. Oh, I have such a pretty cat and a kitten. I wonder if you would like the kitten?"

"Oh, yes," said Mère Lunde. "A cat is a comfortable creature to have about, and a kitten full of play, merci! One never tires of her pranks. You will like it, Renée?"

The child's eyes shone with delight.

"And your mother will let you bestow it?" the mère asked tentatively.

"Oh, yes. You see, there are two dogs and a tame squirrel, and Jules is always bringing home something. Ma mère scolds about it. And Jules is afraid the kitten may get at his birds. Oh, yes, you can have it without doubt. I'll run and fetch it now."

Rosalie was back before she had time to go even one way, Renée thought. A beautiful striped gray kitten, with a very cunning face. A fine black stripe went from the outer corner of the eyes to his ears, and gave him the appearance of wearing spectacles, which amused Renée very much. Then they talked about the class.

"I hate to study," declared Rosalie. "And reading is such slow work when you don't understand. But it is beginning to be the fashion, ma mère says, and presently people will be despised if they do not know how to read. I like the sums best. You can say them after the Father and not bother your brains. And that's why I don't mind the catechism. It isn't like picking the words out of a page."

"I can read quite well," said Renée, with a little pride. "And I like it."

"I can make netting and knit stockings and am learning to cook. Oh, I must go home at once and help ma mère with the dinner. She told me not to stay, and that I was to ask you to visit me. Come soon," and she made a pretty gesture of farewell.

Renée picked up the kitten. It was very tame, and made believe bite her hand. Then it gave a sudden spring.

"Oh, it will run away!" cried Renée in alarm.

But one of the men in the garden caught it and gave it back to her.

"Let us make him eat something. Then he will wash his face and stay. And he will be excellent to catch mice in the shop. They destroy the skins so."

The kitten enjoyed a bit of meat. Then he sat down very gravely and washed his face, which made Renée laugh.

Uncle Gaspard came home and expressed himself delighted with the kitten. He was fond of cats, and had been thinking of one. They had their dinner, and he said he knew the Pichous very well, and was glad Renée had a playmate so near.

Presently they went out for their walk. Already Denys had explained to Mère Lunde the prices of some of the ordinary articles, and where the powder and shot were kept, so that she might provide for a casual customer. But being a little out of the way, trade was not likely to be very brisk.

They went up the Rue de la Place and out at the side of the fort. There were no houses save here and there a few wigwams, and Indian children playing about in the front of them. Cultivated fields stretched out. The King's Highway marked the western limit of the municipality; all the rest was the King's domain, to be granted to future settlers. There was the wide prairie, and to the northward the great mound. They mounted this, and then they could see up the winding of the river to the chain of rocks, and the Missouri on its way to join the greater stream and be merged in it. Farther still, vague woodlands, until all was lost in

dim outlines and seemed resting against the sky.

Gaspard Denys liked this far view. Sometimes he had thought of coming out here and losing himself in the wilds, turning hunter like Blanchette Chasseur, as a famous hunting friend of Pierre Laclede's was called. North of the Missouri he had built a log cabin for himself, where any hunter or traveller was welcome to share his hospitality. Denys himself had partaken of it.

Now he wondered a little if he had been wise to choose the child instead, and give up his freedom. Blanchette had also established a post at Les Pettites C?tes, which was the headquarters for many rovers, and became the nucleus of another city. He was fond of adventures.

But if he, Denys, had married, as he had once dreamed! Then he would have given up the wild life long ago. Then there would have been home and love.

"O Uncle Gaspard," Renée cried, "you squeeze my hand so tight. And you walk so fast."

He paused suddenly and gazed down in the flushed face, the eyes humid under their curling lashes.

"My little dear!" and his heart smote him. "Let us sit down here in the shade of this clump of trees and rest. You see, I never had a little girl before, and forgot that she could not stride with my long legs."

"And I am so thirsty."

He glanced about. "We are only going a little farther," he said, "and then we shall find a splendid spring and something to eat. Are you very tired?"

She drew a long breath and held up her little red hand.

"Poor hand!" he said tenderly, pressing it to his lips. "Poor little hand!"

She leaned her head down on his shoulder.

"You wouldn't like to have me go away?" she murmured plaintively.

"Go away?" in surprise. "What put such an idea in your head?"

"You wouldn't send me?"

Strange these thoughts should find entrance in her mind when he had just asked himself that curious question so akin to it.

"What do you mean, little one?"

"If-if you married-some one-who did not want me," in so desolate a tone that it gave him a pang.

"But I am not going to marry any one."

"Are you very, very sure?" with an indrawn breath.

He took her face between his hands suddenly and turned it upward. It was scarlet and tears beaded the long lashes.

"Come," he said in soft persuasion, "what is behind all this? Who has been talking to you? If it is Mère Lunde--"

"No-she said it was not true."

"Surely that little Pichou girl is not a mischief maker! If so, she must keep clear of us. I will not have you tormented."

Then Renée began to cry softly and the truth came out with sobs.

He smiled, and yet he was deeply touched. The little thing was jealous. Yet was it not true that he was all she had in the world to love, and that no one had really loved her until he came into her life? How she had trusted him back there in Quebec after the first few hours!

Now he gathered her up in his arms as if she been a baby, and kissed the small hot face, tasting the salt tears.

"Little one," he began in a tender, comforting tone, "set your heart at rest. If the good God spares us, there will be many pleasant years together, I hope. I am not going to marry any one, and Ma'm'selle Barbe has a fine young admirer. She doesn't want an old fellow like me. You can't understand now, but when you are older I will tell you the whole story. I loved your mother and your grandfather took her away, married her to some one else. That is why you are so dear to me."

"Oh!" she cried, with a depth of feeling that surprised him. "Oh!" Then she dropped down on her knees and put her arms about his neck, and he could feel her heart beat against his breast. He was immeasurably impressed. Could she understand what that meant?

When he raised her face it was sweet and grave as that of an older person might have been. Then she said softly. "I shall love you my whole life long. I shall never love any one so dearly."

How did she who had never had any one to love understand affection so well? Perhaps because it is natural to the sex to own something it can adore, and yet the little Renaud girls liked him very much, but there was no such absorption in their regard. Ah, he was her all. They had the natural ties of childhood on which to lavish their love. Barbe-he had never thought of marrying her, though he had seen her grow up to womanhood, and very charming at that. She was for some younger mate, and there were plenty of them. Pretty girls, nor scarcely any girls, went begging in the new countries. They were tempting enough without much dot.

And that her little heart should be torn by jealousy! He could have smiled, only it seemed pitiful. He pressed her closer, sorry any innuendoes should have been made before her.

"Come, dear," he began tenderly, "we have not finished our walk. Or will I have to carry you?"

She sprang up lightly, her face all abloom, though her long lashes still glistened.

"Oh, no, no," smilingly. "But you have carried me-over part of the long portage when I was so tired, and that night when it was dark. Oh, how big and strong you are. There was some one in a book in the old chateau-I have nearly forgotten, who was strong and brave. Uncle Gaspard, why haven't you any books? The little ones at the Father's are so queer, with their short sentences, and the children blunder so. I like best to know about some person. Oh, can't we all tell that the dog barks and the kitten mews, the cock crows, without reading it in a primer! And-I would like to have a prayer book of my very own."

"I think I have one somewhere about. But I will send to New Orleans for some books the next time the boats go down. People have not had much time for learning thus far."

"And I had nothing to do in the old chateau but play and read. There was no one to play with," sadly. "How funny that little girl was who brought me the kitten! Five brothers! Well, I have two at home, in Paris, I mean, but I never saw them only once. Rosalie! Isn't it a pretty name? I wonder if you would like me to be called anything else?"

"No, dear. You are a queen, my little queen. I don't want you changed in any way. I only want you to be happy and content."

She was so thoroughly rested now that although she gave little skips occasionally and held his hand tightly, her heart seemed as light as the birds flying overhead. And now they were coming to a small Indian settlement, with a few wigwams, and long stretches of corn up high enough to make a beautiful waving green sea as the wind moved it in undulating billows. Women were cooking out of doors on little stone fireplaces. Children played about; two small papooses hung up to a tree branch were rocking to and fro. In the sun lay two braves asleep, too lazy to hunt or fish. Yet it was a pretty picture.

The tepees were in a semi-circular form. Denys passed the first one. At the second a woman sat beside the flap doing some beautiful bead and feather work. She raised her eyes and then sprang up with a glad smile, holding her work in a sort of apron.

"It is M'sieu Denys," in broken French, that sounded soft for an Indian voice. "He has come back. He has taken a long journey to the Far East." She glanced curiously at the stranger.

"And brought home a little girl," smiling at the child. "She has come from the land of the great Onontio, and I am to care for her. I am not going to rove about any more, but trade with the residents and send goods up and down the river. And I shall want many articles of you, Mattawissa."

She smiled and nodded. "I make not much for trade, but sometimes the hunters buy for their sweethearts as they return. And will you trade beads and silks? The threads we make are so troublesome to dye, and sometimes the color is rough, not pretty," with a shrug. "I have heard it comes up from the great city down below."

"New Orleans. Yes. But I brought it with me from Canada. They use it in the convents, where they do fine work. And the Spanish often take it home to show, and ornament their houses for the strangeness of it, and moccasins and bands, and the pretty things for real service. No one makes them quite as well as you."

"Will not the child sit down?" She brought a bag stuffed with grass, much like the more modern hassock. Renée thanked her, and seated herself.

Mattawissa was proud of her French, and lame as it was, brought it out on every occasion when talking to the white people. Denys had a smattering of several Indian tongues, which most of the fur hunters and traders soon acquired.

Some of the little children of the forest crept up cautiously. Men they were used to seeing; white women rarely, as those at a distance seldom went into the settlements in their early youth. They were not strange to Renée, and she smiled a little, but they retained their natural gravity and evinced no disposition to make friends.

Then Renée's attention was directed to the articles Mattawissa brought out. Beautiful strips of wampum, collars ornamented with bits of shells hanging by threads that made a soft, rhythmic sound as they were handled about, bits of deerskin that were like velvet, on which she had traced out delicate fancies that were really fascinating. Denys grew enthusiastic over them, and begged them all.

"This is for Talequah, the daughter of the Sioux who marries the son of a chief before the moon of roses ends. I cannot part with that. But I want beads, and if I could come in and choose?" inquiringly.

"Oh, yes, come in by all means," Denys answered quickly. "I want to send down the river-in a fortnight perhaps, and will take whatever you can spare. You shall look over my store and select."

"To-morrow if you like," hesitatingly.

"Yes, the sooner the better."

"I will bring these."

"No, I will take them. It is not a heavy load," with a pleasant smile. "And surely I am as able as you to carry the parcel. Then I am not a brave. A trapper is used to waiting on himself."

"But-I have something for the child."

"O Renée, you will like that. Ma'm'selle is getting her chamber furnished."

"And you must eat." She went in the wigwam and returned with a red earthen bowl decorated on the outside with a good deal of taste, not unlike Egyptian pottery, the yellow edge so burned in and rubbed by some process that it suggested dull gold burnished. Also a dainty boat made of birch bark embroidered and beaded, with compartments inside for trinkets, or it could be used for a work-box.

"Oh, how very pretty! Uncle Gaspard, I can keep the boat on my table, and the bowl on the little shelf you put up. And I shall fill it with flowers. Madame, I thank you with all my heart. I know it is because you like Uncle Gaspard so well, for an hour ago you did not know of me;" and she pressed the Indian woman's hand.

"I am glad it pleases you. I may find some other article. And now be seated again. There is a long walk before you, and you must have something to eat."

She went out to the old woman bending over her preparations, and brought for each a bowl of sagamity, a common Indian repast, oftener cooked with fish than bits of pork; and a plate of cakes made of Indian corn pounded fine in a rude mortar, or sometimes ground with one stone on top of another. For though there were mills that ground both corn and wheat, the Indians kept to their primitive methods. What did it matter so long as there were squaws to do the work?

Renée did not like the sagamity, but the cakes were good and the birch beer was fine she thought. In spite of protest she insisted on carrying her treasures home.

Then Mattawissa wove a few strands of grass together, and bringing the four ends up over the bowl knotted them into a bunch and made a kind of basket. A piece of bark was slipped under the joining and this wound around with a bit of deerskin so that it would not cut the fingers. Renée watched the process with much interest, and thought it very ingenious.

Then they started homeward quite fresh from their long rest, but at the last they had to hurry a little lest the gate at the fort should be closed.

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