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   Chapter 19 THIS WAY AND THAT

A Little Girl in Old St. Louis By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 24310

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


All the world was abloom and fragrant with later spring. The children were ranging out on the great mound, learning lessons of the sky, with all its variations; of the woods, with their many kinds of trees; of the flowers that were budding and blossoming; of the river winding about, guessing at other rivers and other countries and great lakes and frozen regions up at the far north where the white bear lived and the beautiful white and silver fox, whose fur was rare and held in high esteem. They peopled it with strange, fierce Indians, and sometimes the boys divided in two parties and fought. The girls made circles for wigwams, collected dried grass and sticks and built fires in the centre; and if there were but few books and no real schools, they were skilful in many things. They could shoot smaller game, they could manage a canoe, they could fish, and they acquired much useful knowledge by the time they were men and women.

Even to-day youth is attracted by the wild, free life, and the spirit of adventure still runs in the blood.

The line of boats were coming up north again. There had been much floating ice in the river this spring, which had delayed travelling. Flags were flying, so all was well. Down on the levee bells were ringing and horns blew out a welcome. Everything had a natural look again, only the new places were built higher up, and even some of these had been damaged by the crushing of ice cakes.

The men collected who had this sort of interest at heart. Many others and the slaves were out on the King's Highway and beyond, tilling and planting fields. Women sauntered down the Rue Royale and chatted. The old market was full of eagerness and activity, and the air had a fragrance of cooked viands to tempt the palates of the sailors. Women in coifs and little shoulder shawls that gave them a picturesque look, men in close caps or a kerchief tied over their heads, their blue blouses with red belts and wide collars exposing brawny or sinewy throats, tanned already by sun and wind.

The leader, the most pretentious boat generally, carried some passengers; the others had loads of bales and bundles covered with coarse canvas or deers' hide. They looked not unlike a funeral procession, the sails a dull gray, but the shouts and songs dispelled so sombre a thought. Some of the men remembered when the sad news of Pierre Laclede had reached them, when all had been silence.

The first boat unloaded the few passengers, valuable papers, and the slaves began with the cargo. One tall, fine-aspected young fellow sprang ashore and was warmly welcomed by the Chouteaus and several of the more prominent men, and then Gaspard Denys seized his hand, but neither of them spoke except with the eyes.

And now all was a brisk, seeming confusion. Rude barrows and a kind of hand-carts were loaded and run to the storehouses. Slaves, Indians and the lower class of French, many of them hunters as well, worked with a hearty will. Then there were groups of Indian traders who had been watching for days for the arrival of the boats, and were eager with their packs for trade. Others had already disposed of their pelts and taken notes with the signature of the Chouteaus, quite as good as gold or silver, and making trade easier, giving them more time to devote to their own selection. Squaws eager for blankets, calicoes, coarse, crash-like stuffs, beads and gewgaws, chaffering in their guttural tones, and shrill French voices raised to the point of anger, it would seem, from the eagerness, but good-humored for all that.

Several men went into the counting house where the old sign still obtained, "Maxent Laclede & Company," just as it still remained in New Orleans. It would look queer enough to-day, the small one-story log house with its rough inside wall built up to the ceiling with shelves, its great iron-bound boxes that served for seats as well as receptacles.

Andre Valbonais had a big buckskin bag full of papers and invoices, and he had much to say to his employers. Pierre Chouteau went in and out; he could hear the particulars afterward, and he was needed every few moments to tell where this and that should go.

There was a great commotion, to be sure. Millions of dollars in transactions could pass now without a tithe of excitement. But, then, when a town has been shut in all winter it is natural the outburst should stir like wine in the blood. The shops farther up in the town were deserted.

As for Renée de Longueville, she kept very tranquil.

"I suppose M'sieu André came up on this voyage?" Mère Lunde said as she was preparing dinner.

Renée had been working among her flowers; then she had kept in her room, busying herself with sewing.

"Perhaps so. There will be fleets in all the time now. And Indians and voyageurs and piles of pelts and evil smells, and such a confusion in the streets it will hardly be safe to go out unless one is willing to be jostled and pushed hither and yon."

"And M'sieu Denys does not come home to dinner. It is all ready."

"Let us have ours, then," with cordial assent.

"Perhaps he may bring home M'sieu Valbonais."

"Well, there may be something left. I am hungry, but I cannot eat all this bountiful meal," with a gay laugh.

"It will be spoiled, ma'm'selle," complainingly.

"The more need that we eat ours while it is just right," she answered, with smiling emphasis. "Will it make them any happier to have ours less inviting?"

So she took her seat at the table with a merry audacity, and praised the cookery so heartily that Mère Lunde was good humored in a moment or two. Still there was no step on the path.

"They will not come," in a tone of disappointment.

"But, you know, there is enough to get at the market in such times as these," returned Renée, with a lightsome air. "Trust them for not starving."

"Pah! It may do for sailors and voyageurs and Indians, but never for gentlemen, mademoiselle."

When Mère Lunde was a little affronted she gave Renée the full length of the syllables.

Renée went out and looked at the flowers again, and up and down the street. "If there was any news," she said to herself, "Uncle Denys would come and tell me."

"Mère Lunde, I am going over to Madame Marchand's with my work," she exclaimed. "I do hope they have brought in no end of beads and spangles. What do you suppose the Indian women did before the French came here?"

That was beyond the simple mère's comprehension.

M. Marchand was returning from his dinner.

"I just ran down to hear the luck, ma'm'selle; they had a splendid voyage and no mishap. And André Valbonais-you would not know him!"

She nodded indifferently, but would ask no questions. Wawataysee sat out under a pretty rose arbor that was heavy with pink buds. There were four babies now, sturdy Gaspard and Denys tumbling about on the grass, Renée, with her fair hair and her father's deep blue eyes, much more French than Indian, and baby Fran?ois. Wawataysee was more lovely than ever, Renée thought, but she did not understand that it was the largeness and sweetness of life so intimately connected with others.

"Did M'sieu Denys come home?" Wawataysee asked.

"No. I suppose it is all a hurly-burly down there. It is good to have something to stir up the town now and then," Renée returned brightly.

"Yes. The trappers were growing very impatient. And I think there will be a good trade, an excellent thing for you and me," with a grateful expression in her beautiful eyes. "Renée, I wonder if M. Denys ever realizes all that he has done for Fran?ois, and good Mère Lunde nursed him through all his long illness. Men's regard for each other has such a strong, true quality in it. And, then, M'sieu André-oh, Renée, what would we have done without him? I hope he came up on this voyage."

"Yes," returned Renée. "M. Marchand just told me so."

"I am all impatience to see him. Almost two years! Fran?ois declares sometimes that he is jealous, but that is for amusement. I wonder if he is much changed? He was very boyish, you know."

"Was he?" commented Renée absently.

"You would not remark it so much. You were a child yourself. And how you used to order him about."

"It was a habit of mine. Uncle Gaspard spoiled me. And now I have only to raise my finger and he does my bidding; but he knows there is no one I love so well."

Would she always love him the best of any one?

"And I suppose we shall be glad to have a new store of beads and those lovely spangles that make the work glitter so, and the soft silk threads. Merci! What would we do but for the work?" laughing.

No books or papers to read, no letters to write, no large questions to discuss, not much of fashion, since garments were handed down through generations, no journeys about. It was no wonder they were so largely given to the gayety and pleasures of every-day life. There were loves and disputes and jealousies, yet they seldom reached the desperate point, and all, both men and women, looked forward to marriage, which was made happy by unfailing good humor and a clear sense of duty. It was, indeed, Arcadian simplicity.

They chatted and worked, then they took the children and went up on the mound, where they had a view of the busy hive below, and the conglomerate of nations, it seemed to their limited sense. Renée was in a most merry mood. She sang snatches of songs, she played with the children, she told the older ones Indian legends that were like fairy stories. Wawataysee studied her in a sort of amazement.

Renée had half a mind to go home to supper with her. That would look inhospitable. Gay as she had been, there was a curious unrest in her heart, a longing to have the first meeting over. Would André expect her to be very glad? Well, she would put on her finest dignity. She was quite grown up now.

The table was set for two.

"M'sieu Denys has sent word-they are to go to the Chouteaus' for supper. Oh, I forgot! M. Valbonais has come," glancing up to see if it pleasured her young lady.

"Yes, yes!" Renée nodded impatiently, and took her seat. "Of course, there is business. He is clerk of the great house, you know, and brings news not only of New Orleans, but France, and perhaps of the new colonies. I think I have heard there is some trade with them. You see, Mère Lunde, New Orleans is a wonderful place."

But after all her exercise and apparent good spirits, she scarcely ate any supper. There was a hurt feeling lying heavily at her heart that she could not banish, with all her pride. If he had cared, would he not have found a few moments to announce his safe return? Perhaps he had left a wife behind. Then, of course, he had no right to think of any other woman.

She went out and paced up and down in the garden, trying to think what she would do to-morrow. She would go down to the mill-pond; there were always parties out boating. Then Sophie Borrie would be glad to see her. And the day after, the day after that-how long and lonely the procession looked!

There was a bright twinkling star emerging from a drift of white into a patch of almost blue-black sky. The night was serene, balmy, and there were but few sounds. It was not yet time for insects to begin their choruses. Steps sounded of people chatting gayly, but they were not the voices she knew. Something brushed against her forehead-she reached up and pulled a rose, sweet with the first greeting of its brief life. And then--

She hurried swiftly to the house. Mère Lunde was scolding Chloe, but through the rasping sound she heard the steps, the cordial greeting. It was quite dark within, and she was lighting the pine torch when the two entered and her uncle said:

"We have reached home at last. What a day! Renée, here is a guest," and Uncle Gaspard gave his hearty, cheerful laugh.

"We were in the dark." She rose in some confusion, the short curls drooping almost into her eyes, her face quite flushed, and turned, drawing a long, startled breath.

"The saints only know how glad I am to get home again!" and the strong voice was full of rapture.

"And you don't know yourse

lf?" she interrupted quickly.

"Ah, you must not take me up like that!" laughing. "I doubt if even the saints could understand my delight. No one but myself truly knows. Is that better?"

The torch began to flame, and its red light threw him out boldly. He seemed to have grown taller-no, it was not that, for Uncle Gaspard still towered above him, but he was stouter, and the way he carried himself had in it a new character and power. And the indescribable something in his face that no girl could read at a glance, the shaping and tone experience gives when one has been learning to rule his fellow-men and to depend upon himself.

She was silent and a warm color played about her face. He took both hands, drew her nearer to him, and suddenly she was afraid of the intense personality. Her rosy lips quivered, her eyes drooped, her breath came rapidly.

"Haven't you a word of welcome for André?" asked Uncle Gaspard, surprised.

"I was confused by the light, and-you are quite sure it is Monsieur Valbonais?" turning to her uncle. "For he seems to have changed mysteriously."

"And you have not changed at all. Nothing has changed. M. Denys, light your pipe and sit in the corner, and I will take this one. Ma'm'selle Renée, sit here in the middle." He pushed the chair and placed her gently in it. "Now we can almost believe that I have not been away at all, only there is the great gladness of coming back."

"Has the time passed so quickly, monsieur?"

There was the faintest suggestion of mischief in her tone.

"Mademoiselle, you have not outgrown all your naughtiness, I perceive. You find a second meaning in my simple words. No, there have been days that seemed like months-last summer, when I hoped to return, when I was homesick and heartsick. But what are you to do when the kindest employer in the world begs you to stay and there is no one to take your place, unless matters go at a great loss?"

"But New Orleans is gay and bright. And Madame Gardepier says the women are lovely, and there is music and light-heartedness everywhere."

"When you are in a close and dark office or out on the muddy, crowded, vile-smelling levees with men of every nation shouting and hustling and swearing all about you, and you have almost to fight to get your bidding done, you have no thought for pretty women. But a man cannot always choose. And my greatest grief is that I must go back or disappoint my very good friends."

"Oh!" with a toss of the head and a curve of the swelling lip that he longed to kiss.

"Ma'm'selle, let us not talk about that now. There are pleasanter subjects-all our old friends-for through the day it has been business, business, until my head seemed in a whirl with it. M. Denys will tell you. And we had to go to supper to finish, as if there would not be another day. But it is so lovely here. And the pretty Madame Marchand is well, and the Renaud girls, and the Aubrys with their husbands, and Madame Gardepier with her little one! Ah, I shall have a fine time presently, when I get a little leisure!"

What a new sound his voice had! A strength and resolution that swayed one curiously, a definite manner of stating opinions that somehow impressed one not only with a sense of security, but a sense of power that she was minded to rebel against.

They talked late. Why could she not slyly disappear, as she often did, and leave him with Uncle Denys, since he would remain all night?

But she shook off the mysterious chain with an effort and rose and wished them good-night in a timid sort of way, though she stood up very straight.

He caught her hand. "I am tempted to wish there could be no nights for a long while," he said. "They are not good nights."

"Think how sleepy we should get. And mine are always good," laughing lightly. But she did not go across and kiss Uncle Denys.

There were several busy days, and friends that proffered André a warm welcome. The Valbonais cousins were wedded long ago, but they claimed him quite as cordially, and the old people were proud enough of him. The Marchands offered him their home, and were delighted to have him drop in. Then he was being asked to dine or sup with the Chouteaus, and he was at the Government House, for his intelligent understanding of other subjects besides commercial matters made him a desirable guest.

Renée experienced a curious sensation, as if she was being neglected. She had lost her old power over him, which was mortifying. He teased her a little, then he let her trifle with him and say saucy things. But it was like a bird with a chain; he brought her back, he let her see it was only playing. Then she grew indignant and flounced away, met him coldly the next time, or was proud and silent.

Uncle Gaspard never raised a finger in the matter.

"I do not like him. I almost hate him!" she cried vehemently one day. "Of course, I know he saved me in that dreadful peril, but he has been thanked a hundred times over. And we do not owe him anything."

"Oh, yes," Uncle Gaspard said tenderly, as he pressed her to his heart. "I owe him a great deal. For if I had lost you--"

"And you could never give me to any one else?"

"Well, whoever wanted one would have to take both."

Presently the trafficking was about over. The Indians had gone to their respective lodges, the voyageurs sailed up the river, and now only occasional boats and canoes came in. André was not so busy. He joined the parties on their rambles when he was certain Renée would be among them. He did not hesitate to make himself agreeable to other demoiselles. She could not help drawing contrasts. He had certain ways of the better class, though social lines were not strongly marked and few people knew what culture meant. He talked Spanish fluently; he was quite an adept in English, though he had acquired a little of that before. But the difference was largely one of manner, the small, delicate attentions that went to her heart and understanding. Uncle Gaspard always had some of them, M. Marchand also, and a few of the others. The rather rough good nature had much honesty, but it was not so flattering to a girl of Renée's cast.

There were times when she was quite as jealous as she had ever been of Uncle Gaspard. Yet it was strange to be so shaken by his coming when she told herself she did not care for him, to have the touch of his hand thrill through every nerve, to have the steady glance of his eye conquer the spirit of rebellion until there was nothing left except the thin outside crust, that would surely fall at the next assault if she did not run away. This was cowardly, too, and she despised herself for it, but she was not the first who had escaped in this fashion.

He was amused. In the earlier days he had experienced a great terror at the thought of losing her. It might be the elder man's wisdom had helped open his eyes. He liked her piquant independence, and he learned, too, there was a mood of most fascinating dependence as well. But she never wholly gave up.

"Is it true you are going back to New Orleans?" Renée asked one day in her charming, but imperious fashion.

"Yes, ma'm'selle. And I must start in another month."

He looked so brave and dignified, his clear eyes shining, his shoulders thrown back, his head securely poised, as if he could lead an army. There was not his match in all St. Louis. Oh, yes, Uncle Gaspard and M. Marchand, and Madame Chouteau's splendid sons, who had risked various dangers! And M. Marchand had carried off the pretty Wawataysee when he knew if they should be captured he would be put to cruel tortures and death. Well, had not André escaped with them both when a like fate would have awaited him in being taken?

"You care nothing for us now, André," in her most plaintive tone, a hundred times more dangerous than her pride tinctured with sweetness. And the sorrow that flooded her beautiful brown eyes almost swept him from his standing-ground.

"Yes, ma'm'selle, I care a great deal. I love M. Denys as an elder brother. And you-" hesitatingly.

She blushed scarlet and her eyes drooped.

"No, you want the gayety and the excitement and the crowds of pretty women and the theatres. We are dull and simple here, yet I think we are good and happy and honest and true. And, then, you are all absorbed in money-making. Uncle Gaspard said you would be a rich man before you died. But they do dreadful things in New Orleans, and drink and carouse. You may be murdered some day, and then what will all the money be worth?"

She looked so aggrieved, so bewitching in her regret that, after all, was half assumed, though she would not confess it to herself even, that he had much ado to keep tranquil.

"Ma'm'selle, I go because I see it is quite necessary. A man who hopes for advancement must study the interest of those who have his welfare at heart and can favor him in many ways. Then I hold the key to much of the business at that end of the line, and I do not see who there is to put in my place. It is true the life here is simple and delightful. There one has a good deal of sharp dealing to fight against, since he must meet men of all governments and all sorts of schemes. If M'sieu Chouteau could go-but he cannot. Do not for a moment think it is the gayety and the pretty women."

"Then you will go. There is no use in arguing."

She turned away. How distractingly pretty she was this morning in the old garden, herself a part of its bloom! Over the gate she had given him a rose, and renewed friendship after a dispute.

"I must go. I have passed my word. Renée-" in a beseeching tone.

She half turned, like a bird who wonders whether he will fly or not, but her lowered eyes had a laugh in them.

"Renée, you know I love you--"

"No, I do not." He could see the swelling of her bosom that sent a throb up to her throat. "You do nothing for me now. You are off with the men. You are-oh, so very charming to the girls!" with a cutting little emphasis. "And you are always talking to Uncle Gaspard about business--"

"And last night you ran away to bed without even a good-night!" with upbraiding in his voice.

"Oh, did you miss me? I never supposed you would. I was tired sitting there, thinking my own thoughts."

"Now we have plenty of time; tell them to me," and his persuasive tone penetrated her inmost being. What foolish things could she repeat? Her face was scarlet.

"You know now I love you. I have told you so in words. I have told it in many other ways. I confessed it to M. Denys before I went away and he bade me wait patiently. For two years I have carried you in my heart, yes, longer than that. You had your fling about other women; no one has ever moved me. Every night I said, 'One more day has gone, and at the last I shall go back to the little girl in old St. Louis that I carried in my arms all one night when she was worn out with fatigue and hunger and cold. Renée--"

"I cannot leave Uncle Denys. I have said hundreds of times I never would," and her voice was sweet with pathos that penetrated his inmost soul.

"But you need not. We have planned that. I will be a son to him in all his declining years. No, you need never be separated."

"Then you will stay!" exultingly. If she could once conquer she would be generous and consent afterward. Did not love yield everything?

"I must go. We three will go." His breath came in a gasp, his eyes deepened with fervor, he caught both her hands; he could have clasped her in his arms in a transport of rapture. Only-she stood up so straight and resolute.

"So you have planned all this!" she cried in a passion that had a pang for her as well as him. "And I am not anywhere. It makes no difference what I want. I am like any bale of merchandise tossed from one to the other. That is all a woman is worth! But you will find I am not to be bandied about."

She had lashed her emotion into tears, and pulled away her hands with an impatient gesture.

"Heaven above knows what you are worth to both of us. No one will ever love you more truly, more devotedly."

Renée de Longueville fled swiftly away.

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