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   Chapter 8 THE SURPRISE

A Little Girl in Old St. Louis By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 17411

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

There was, it is true, a side not so simple and wholesome, and this had been gathering slowly since the advent of the governor. More drunken men were seen about the levee. There was talk of regular orgies taking place at the government house, and the more thoughtful men, like the Chouteaus, the Guerins, the Guions, and the Lestourniers, had to work hard to get the fortifications in any shape, and the improvements made were mostly done by private citizens.

Of course there were many rumors, but old St. Louis rested securely on her past record. What the people about her were losing or gaining did not seem to trouble her. Now and then a river pirate was caught, or there was some one tripped up and punished who had traded unlawfully.

This had been the case with a French Canadian named Ducharme, who had been caught violating the treaty law, trading with Indians in Spanish territory, and giving them liberal supplies of rum in order to make better bargains with furs. His goods were seized and confiscated, but he was allowed to go his way, breathing threats of retaliation.

France had recognized the independence of the colonies, which had stirred up resentment in the minds of many of the English in northern Michigan. It was said an English officer at Michilimackinac had formed a plan of seizing or destroying some of the western towns and stations where there was likely to be found booty enough to reward them. Ducharme joined the scheme eagerly and gathered roving bands of Ojibways. Winnebagoes and Sioux, and by keeping well to the eastern side of the Mississippi marched down nearly opposite Gabaret Island, and crossed over to attack the town.

Corpus Christi was a great festival day of the church. Falling late in May, on the 25th, it was an out-of-doors entertainment. After mass had been said in the morning, women and children, youths and maidens, and husbands who could be spared from business, went out for a whole day's pleasure with baskets and bags of provisions.

The day was magnificent. The fragrance of spruce and fir, the breath of the newly grown grasses, the bloom of trees and flowers, was like the most exhilarating perfume, and stirred all the senses.

Spies had crept down the woods to reconnoitre and assure themselves their arrival had not been suspected. It seemed indeed an opportune moment. It was now mid-afternoon. There had been dancing and merriment, the children had run and played, gathered wild strawberries and flowers, and some of the more careful ones had collected their little children and started homeward.

To the westward was Cardinal Spring, owned by a man of that name, but considered free property. He and another hunter had been shooting game, and as he stooped for a drink his companion espied an Indian cautiously creeping through the trees.

"Indians! Indians!" he shouted, and fired.

Cardinal snatched up his gun, but a storm of bullets felled him. Rivière was captured. A young Frenchman, catching sight of the body of Indians, gave the alarm.

"Run for your lives! Fly to the fort!" he shouted.

There were men working in the fields, and nearly every one took his gun, as much for the chance at game as any real fear of Indians. They covered the retreat a little, and as this was a reconnoitring party, the main body was at some distance.

"Fly! Fly!" Men who had no weapons caught little ones in their arms and ran toward the fort. All was wild alarm.

"What is it?" cried Colonel Chouteau, who had been busy with some papers of importance.

"The Indians! The Indians!" shouted his brother.

"Call out the militia! Where is the Governor?"

"In his own house, drunk as usual," cried Pierre indignantly, and he ran to summon the soldiers.

There had been a small body of troops under the command of Captain Cartabona, a Spaniard sent from Ste. Genevieve at the urgent request of the chief citizens, but it being a holiday they were away, some canoeing down the river or fishing, and of the few to be found most of them were panic stricken. The captain had been having a carouse with the Governor.

"Then we must be our own leaders. To arms! to arms! every citizen! It is for your wives and children!" was the inspiriting cry.

"You shall be our leader!" was shouted in one voice almost before the Colonel had ceased. For Colonel Chouteau was not only admired for his friendliness and good comradeship, but trusted to the last degree.

Every man rushed for his gun and ran to the rescue, hardly knowing what had happened save that the long-feared attack had come upon them unawares. They poured out of the fort, but the flying women and children were in the advance with the Indians back of them.

Colonel Chouteau marshalled his little force in a circuitous movement, and opened a volley that took the Indians by surprise. They fell back brandishing their arms and shouting to their companions to come on. Then the Colonel saw that it was no mere casual attack, but a premeditated onslaught. Already bodies were lying on the ground struggling in death agonies.

The aim was so good that the assailants halted, then fell back to wait for their companions. This gave most of the flying and terrified throng an opportunity to reach the fort. For the wounded nothing could be done at present.

Now the streets were alive with men who had no time to pick out their own families, but ran, musket or rifle in hand, to man the fort. Colonel Chouteau and his brother Pierre were experienced artillerists, and stationed themselves at the cannon.

The Indians held a brief colloquy with the advancing body. Then it was seen that an attack was determined upon. They approached the fort, headed by several white leaders, and opened an irregular fire on the place.

"Let them approach nearer," commanded the Colonel. The walls of the stockade and the roofs of the nearest houses were manned with the residents of the town. A shower of arrows fell among them. Surprised at no retaliation, the enemy ventured boldly, headed by Ducharme.

Then the cannons poured out their volley, which swept down the foremost. From the roofs muskets and guns and even pistols made a continuing chorus. Ducharme fell. Two of the white leaders were wounded also. Then another discharge from the cannons and the red foes fell back. The plan had been to wait until almost dusk for the attack, but the incident at the spring had hastened it.

Ducharme had not counted on the strength of the fort, and he knew the town was but poorly supplied with soldiers, so he had persuaded the Indians it would fall an easy prey and give them abundant pillage. But the roar and the execution of the cannon dismayed them, and many of them fled at once. Others marched slowly, helping some of the wounded.

General Cartabona came out quite sobered by the fierceness of the attack.

"Would it not be well to order a pursuit?" he questioned.

"And perhaps fall into a trap!" returned Colonel Chouteau with a touch of scorn. "No, no; let us bring in the wounded as we can."

Gaspard Denys had been among the first to rush to the defence of the town. Marchand had gone out with the party, and Mère Lunde was to care for Renée. He had not stopped to look or inquire. He saw Madame Renaud.

"Oh, thank heaven my children are safe! But Barbe! I cannot find Barbe!" she cried.

"And Renée?" his voice was husky.

"She was with the Marchands. They were going to the woods. Oh, M'sieu Denys, what a horrible thing! And we felt so safe. The Indians have been so friendly. But can you trust them?"

He was off to look after the wounded. A number were lying dead on the field. No, Renée was not among them. They carried the wounded in gently, the dead reverently. The good priest proffered his services, and Dr. Montcrevier left his beloved experiments to come and minister to them. The dead were taken to the church and the priest's house.

All was confusion, however. Darkness fell before families were reunited. Children hid away in corners crying, and were too terrified to come out even at the summons of friendly voices. Colonel Chouteau and his brother were comforting, aiding, exhorting, and manning the fort anew. General Cartabona set guards at the gates and towers, for no one knew what might happen before morning.

Denys had hurried home as soon as he could be released. "Renée!" he called. "Mère Lunde!" but no one replied. He searched every nook and corner. He asked the Pichous. No one had seen them. A great pang rent his heart. And yet-they might have hidden in the forest. Ah, God send that they might not be taken prisoners! But Marchand was with them. He knew the man's courage well. He would fight to the

death for them.

"I must go out and search," he said in a desperate tone. "Who will accompany me?"

A dozen volunteered. They were well armed, and carried a rude lantern made of tin with a glass in one side only. They saw now that their fire had done good execution among their red foes. The trampled ground showed which way the party had gone, and they were no longer in sight.

"Let us try the woods. They came by the way of the spring," said one of the party.

They found the body of Cardinal and that of an old man, both dead. They plunged into the woods, and, though aware of the danger, Denys shouted now and then, but no human voice replied. Here, there, examining some thicket, peering behind a clump of trees, startling the denizen of the woods, or a shrill-voiced nighthawk, and then all was silence again.

They left the woods and crossed the strip of prairie. Here lay something in the grass-a body. Denys turned it over.

"My God!" he exclaimed in a voice of anguish. "It is Fran?ois Marchand."

He dropped on the ground overwhelmed. If he was dead, then the others were prisoners. There was no use to search farther to-night. To-morrow a scouting party might go out.

They made a litter of the men's arms and carried Marchand back to the fort, to find that he was not dead, though he had a broken leg and had received a tremendous blow on the head.

A sad morning dawned over St. Louis, where yesterday all had been joy. True, it might have been much worse. In all about a dozen had been killed, but the wounded and those who had fallen and been crushed in the flight counted up many more. And some were missing. What would be their fate? And oh, what would happen to Wawataysee if some roving Indian should recognize her! As for Renée, if he had not wholly understood before, he knew now how the child had twined herself about his heart, how she had become a part of his life.

Marchand's blow was a dangerous one. The Garreaus insisted upon nursing and caring for him, but Madame Garreau was wild about the beautiful Wawataysee. She knew the Indian character too well to think they would show her any mercy, if she was recognized by any of the tribe. And Renée, what would be her fate?

General Cartabona was most anxious to make amends for past negligence. The militia was called to a strict account and recruited as rapidly as possible, and the fortifications made more secure. He took counsel with Colonel Chouteau, who had the best interests of the town at heart.

"We must make an appeal for the Governor's removal," insisted the Colonel. "It is not only this cowardly episode, but he is narrow-minded and avaricious, incompetent in every respect, and drunk most of the time. He cares nothing for the welfare of the town, he takes no interest in its advancement. After such men as Piernas and Cruzat he is most despicable. Any Frenchman born would serve Spain better."

"That is true. I will head a petition of ejectment, and make it strong enough to be heeded."

The dead were buried, the living cared for. Even the fallen enemies had been given decent sepulture outside the town. And Gaspard Denys felt that he must start on his journey of rescue, if indeed that was possible.

He chose two trusty young fellows, after shutting his house securely, providing his party with ammunition, and provisions for a part of their journey, as much as they could carry. He found the Indians had boats in waiting on the Illinois River, and after proceeding some distance they had separated in two parties, going in different directions. Some of the prisoners had been left here, as they did not care to be bothered with them.

The one party kept on up the river. They learned there were some women with them, and were mostly Indians. It was not an easy trail to follow. There had been a quarrel and another separation, a drunken debauch, part stopping at an Indian village. And here Denys heard what caused him almost a heart-break.

They had fallen in with some Hurons who had bought two of the captives. An old woman was set free with two men and sent down the river. The others were going up north.

"It is as I feared, Jaques," he said. "They will carry Madame Marchand to her old home as a great prize. Ah, if Fran?ois were only well! But I shall go on for life or death. I will not ask you to share my perils. Wawataysee came from somewhere up by the straits. She ran away with Marchand. She was to be married to an old Indian against her will. And no doubt he will be wild with gratification at getting her back, and will treat her cruelly. The child is mine and I must save her from a like fate. But you and Pierre may return. I will not hold you bound by any promises."

"I am in for the adventure," and Pierre laughed, showing his white teeth. "I am not a coward nor a man to eat one's words. I am fond of adventure. I will go on."

"I, too," responded Jaques briefly.

"You are good fellows, both of you. I shall pray for your safe return," Denys said, much moved by their devotion.

"And we have no sweethearts," subjoined Pierre with a touch of mirth. "But if I could find one as beautiful and sweet as Madame Marchand I should be paid for a journey up to Green Bay."

"It might be dangerous," said Denys sadly.

He wondered if it was really Mère Lunde they had set free. It would be against her will, he was sure, and it would leave the two quite defenceless. A thousand remembrances haunted him day and night. He could see Renée's soft brown eyes in the dusk, he could hear her sweet voice in the gentle zephyrs, that changed and had no end of fascinating tones. All her arch, pretty moods came up before him, her little piquant jealousies, her pretty assumptions of dignity and power, her dainty, authoritative ways. Oh, he could not give her up, his little darling.

There was sorrow in more than one household in old St. Louis, but time softened and healed it. And now the inhabitants congratulated themselves on their freedom heretofore from raids like these. Towns had been destroyed, prisoners had been treated to almost every barbarity. Giving up their lives had not been the worst.

But the summer came on gloriously, and Colonel Chouteau made many plans for the advancement of the town. He was repairing the old house where his friend had lived, and improving the grounds, and everyone felt that in him they had a true friend.

One July day three worn and weary people came in at the northern gate, and after the guards had looked sharply at them there was a shout of joy. Pierre Duchesne, whose family had lived on a faint hope, young Normand Fleurey, and Mère Lunde, looking a decade older and more wrinkled than ever.

She sat down on a stone and wept while the sounds of joy and congratulation were all about her.

Who could give her any comfort? She suffered Gaspard Denys's pain as well as her own. And though there had been adventures and hiding from roving Indians, living on barks and roots, she could not tell them over while her heart was so sore.

She went to the old house, where the three had known so much content.

"He will come back some day," she said, "but the child-" and her voice would break at that.

She heard Marchand had been very ill with a fever, beside the wounds. He had come near to losing his leg, and was still a little lame, and very weak and heartbroken. His wife had been torn from his arms when an Indian had given him the blow on his head with a club, and there memory had stopped. Though Mère Lunde would talk to no one else, to him she told the sad story. And he had been lying helpless all the time Wawataysee had been in such danger! Yes, he knew what would happen to her now, but presently he would go up to the strait and never rest until he had killed all who worked her ill. Oh, if she had fallen into the hands of her old tribe!

That thought was madness. But he understood what the courage of her despair would be. She would not suffer any degradation, death would be a boon instead. Ah, if he could have joined Denys! He knew the cruelty and treachery of those whose hands she had fallen into. And the child!

But it would be useless to start disabled as he was, although his anger was fierce enough, and Denys was well on the journey. Yet it was terrible to wait with awful visions before his eyes. He had seen both men and women tortured, and the agonies prolonged with fiendish delight.

Mère Lunde opened the house and cleared up the dust and disorder. The garden was overgrown with weeds and everything was running riot. Marchand insisted upon lending a helping hand here. Many an evening they sat in the doorway wondering, hoping and despairing.

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