A little girl in old st.., p.1
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       A Little Girl in Old St. Louis, p.1

           Amanda M. Douglas
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A Little Girl in Old St. Louis

  E-text prepared by Roger Frank and the Online Distributed ProofreadingTeam (https://www.pgdp.net)




  Author of "A Little Girl in Old Boston," "A Little Girl in Old Detroit,""A Little Girl in Old Washington," etc.

  New YorkDodd, Mead & Company1903

  Copyright, 1903.By Dodd, Mead and Company.

  Published, September, 1903.

  Burr Printing House,New York.


  Cities that have grown from small hamlets seldom keep register of their earlier days, except in the legends handed down in families. St. Louis has the curious anomaly of beginning over several times. For the earliest knowledge of how the little town looked I wish to express my obligations for some old maps and historical points to Mr. Frederick M. Crunden, Public Librarian, Miss Katharine I. Moody, and Colonel David Murphy.

  A. M. Douglas.



  The bell had clanged and the gates of the stockade were closed. Therewere some houses on the outside; there was not so much fear of theIndians here, for the French had the art of winning them intofriendship. Farms were cultivated, and the rich bottom lands producedfine crops. Small as the town was twenty years before the eighteenthcentury ended, it was the headquarters of a flourishing trade. Thewisdom of Pierre Laclede had laid the foundation of a grand city. Thelead mines even then were profitably worked, and supplied a large tractof the Mississippi River east and west.

  Antoine Freneau stood a few moments in the door of his log hut, down bythe old Mill Creek, listening with his hand to one ear. There weresounds of spring all about, but he was not heeding them. Then he turned,closed the door, which was braced on the inner side with some rough ironbands; fastened it with the hook, and let down a chain. He was seldomtroubled with unexpected evening visitors.

  The log hut was hidden at the back with trees enough to form a sort ofgrove. It had two rooms. This at the front was a sort of miscellaneousstorehouse. Freneau did quite a trade with the Indians and the boatmengoing up and down the river. There was no real attempt at orderlystore-keeping. Articles were in heaps and piles. One had almost tostumble over them.

  The back room was larger. There was a stone chimney, with a great widefireplace, where Freneau was cooking supper. In the far corner was a bedraised on sawed rounds of logs, with skins stretched over the framework,on which was a sack of hay with a heap of Indian blankets, just as hehad crawled out of it in the morning. A table and three stoolsmanufactured by himself; a rude sort of closet, and a curious oldbrass-bound chest, now almost black with age, completed the furnishing.The puncheon floor, in common use at that time, was made with logs splitin the middle and the rounding side laid in a sort of clay plaster thathardened and made it very durable. The top would get worn smoothpresently. The walls were hung with various trophies and arms ofdifferent kinds. Two windows had battened shutters; one stood a littleway open, and this was on the creek side.

  The supper had a savory fragrance. He had baked a loaf of bread on aheated flat stone, spreading the dough out thin and turning it two orthree times. A dish of corn stewed with salted pork, a certain kind ofcoffee compounded of roasted grains and crushed in the hollow of astone, gave out a fragrance, and now he was broiling some venison on thecoals.

  There were sundry whispers about the old man as to smuggling. Once hisplace had been searched, he standing by, looking on and jibing the menso engaged, turning any apparent mystery inside out for them. Then hewould be gone days at a time, but his house was securely fastened.Occasionally he had taken longer journeys, and once he had brought backfrom New Orleans a beautiful young wife, who died when her baby girl wasborn. The nurse had taken it to her home in Kaskaskia. Then it had beensent to the Sisters' School at New Orleans. She had been home all onewinter and had her share in the merry making. In the spring her fathertook her to Canada, to the great disappointment of hosts of admirers. AtQuebec she was married and went to France. That was ten years ago. Hehad grown queer and morose since, and turned miserly.

  There was a peremptory thump at the door, and Antoine started, glancingwildly about an instant, then went through and unfastened the stouthook. The chain he did not remove: it was about a foot from the floorand well calculated to trip up any unwary intruder and send himsprawling face downward.

  The night had grown dark, and a mist-like rain had set in. The treeswere beating about in the rising wind.

  "Open wide to us, Antoine Freneau! See what I have brought you, if youcan make light enough."

  "Gaspard Denys--is it you? Why, I thought you were in the wilds ofCanada. And----"

  He kicked aside the chain and peered over at the small figure besideGaspard.

  Gaspard had just stood the child down, and his arms tingled with thestrain when the muscles were set loose.

  "You have brought her!"

  There was a sound in the voice far from welcome, almost anger.

  "Yes; your messenger from New Orleans told the truth. The nurse orcompanion, whatever you may call her, had instructions, if no oneclaimed her, to place her in a convent."

  "And you--you interfered?" Freneau struck his clinched fist hard on apile of skins.

  Gaspard laughed.

  "What I am to do with a child is more than I can tell," Freneau saiddoggedly, almost threateningly.

  "Well, you can give us something to eat. Your supper has a grandfragrance to a hungry man. Then we can discuss the other points. A beartaken away from his meal is always cross--eh, Antoine?"

  Freneau turned swarthy; he was dark, and the red tinge added made himlook dangerous.

  "I don't understand----"

  "Well, neither do I. You married your daughter to a French title whenyou knew she would have been happier here with a young fellow who lovedher; and--yes, I am sure she loved me. Somewhere back, when my forebearscalled themselves St. Denys, there might have been a title in thefamily. In this New World we base our titles on our courage, ambitions,successes. Then her little daughter was born, and she pined away in theold Chateau de Longueville and presently died, while her husband waspaying court and compliments to the ladies at the palace of Louis XVII.There are deep mutterings over in France. And De Longueville, with hishalf dozen titles, marries one of Marie Antoinette's ladies in waiting.The child goes on in the old chateau. Two boys are born to the Frenchinheritance, and little mademoiselle is not worth a rush. She will besent to her grandfather somewhere in the province of Louisiana. But thenurse goes to Canada to marry her lover, expatriated for some cause. Yousee, I know it all. If mademoiselle had stayed in France she would havebeen put in a convent."

  "The best thing! the best thing!" interrupted the old man irascibly.

  "Word was sent to enter her in a convent at Quebec. Well, I have broughther here. Give us some supper."

  He had been taking off the child's cap and coat after they entered theliving room. A great flaming torch stood up in one corner of thechimn
ey, and shed a peculiar golden-red light around the room, leavingsome places in deep shadow. The old man turned his meat, took up hiscake of bread, and put them on the table. Then he went for plates andknives.

  "This is your grandfather, Renee," Denys said, turning the child to facehim.

  The girl shrank a little, and then suddenly surveyed him from his yarnstockings and doeskin breeches up to his weather-beaten and notespecially attractive face, surmounted by a shock of grizzled hair. Shelooked steadily out of large brown eyes. She was slim, with a clear-cutface and air of dignity, a child of nine or so. Curiously enough, hiseyes fell. He turned in some confusion without a word and went on withhis preparations.

  "Let us have some supper. It is not much. Even if I had expected a guestI could not have added to it."

  "It is a feast to a hungry man. Our dinner was not over-generous."

  Gaspard took one side of his host and placed the little girl oppositeher grandfather. She evinced no surprise. She had seen a good deal ofrough living since leaving old Quebec.

  Antoine broke the bread in chunks and handed it to each. The dish ofcorn was passed and the venison steak divided.

  "After this long tramp I would like to have something stronger than yourhome-brewed coffee, though that's not bad. Come, be a little friendly toa returned traveller," exclaimed the guest.

  "You should have had it without the asking, Gaspard Denys, if you hadgiven me a moment's time. You came down the Illinois, I suppose?"

  "To St. Charles. There the boat was bound to hang up for the night. ButPierre Joutel brought us down in his piroque after an endless amount oftalk. There was a dance at St. Charles. So it was dark when we reachedhere. Lucky you are outside the stockade."

  "And you carried me," said the child, in a clear, soft voice that had apenetrative sound.

  Antoine started. Why should he hear some pleading in the same voicesuddenly strike through the years?

  Gaspard poured out a glass of wine. Then he offered the bottle toAntoine, who shook his head.

  "How long since?" asked Gaspard mockingly.

  "I do not drink at night."

  "Renee, you are not eating. This corn is good, better than with thefish. And the bread! Antoine, you could change the name of the town orthe nickname. Go into the baking business."

  Freneau shrugged his shoulders.

  Scarcity of flour and bread had at one time given the town theappellation of Pain Court. Now there were two bakeries, but many of thesettlers made excellent bread. Freneau's bread cake was split in themiddle and buttered, at least Gaspard helped himself liberally andspread the child's piece with the soft, sweet, half-creamy compound.

  "You must eat a little of the meat, Renee. You must grow rosy and stoutin this new home."

  The men ate heartily enough. Everything was strange to her, though forthat matter everything had been strange since leaving the old chateau.The post-chaise, the day in Paris, the long journey across the ocean,the city of Quebec with its various peoples, and the other journeythrough lakes and over portages. Detroit, where they had stayed two daysand that had appeared beautiful to her; the little towns, the sail downthe Illinois River to the greater one that seemed to swallow it up.

  Marie Loubet had said her rich grandfather in the new country had sentfor her, and that her father did not care for her since his sons wereborn. Indeed, he scarcely gave her a thought until it occurred to himthat her American-French grandfather was well able to provide for her.Her mother's dot had been spent long ago. He wanted to sell the oldchateau and its many acres of ground, for court living was high, and thetrend of that time was extravagance.

  "You had better place your daughter in a convent," said the amiablestepmother, who had never seen the little girl but twice. "The boys willbe all we can care for. I hope heaven will not send me any daughters.They must either have a large dot or striking beauty. And I am sure thisgirl of yours will not grow up into a beauty."

  Yet her mother had been beautiful the Count remembered. And he smiledwhen he thought of the dower he had exacted from the old trader. Nodoubt there was plenty of money still, and this grandchild had the bestright to it. She might like it better than convent life.

  Marie's lover had emigrated two years before, and had sent her money topay her passage. Why, it was almost a miraculous opening. So Renee deLongueville was bundled off to the new country.

  And now she sat here, taking furtive glances at her grandfather, who didnot want her. No one in her short life had been absolutely cross to her,and she was quite used to the sense of not being wanted until she metGaspard Denys. Of the relationships of life she knew but little; yet herchildish heart had gone out with great fervor to him when he said, "Iloved your mother. I ought to have married her; then you would have beenmy little girl."

  "Why did you not?" she asked gravely. Then with sweet seriousness, "Ishould like to be your little girl."

  "You shall be." He pressed her to his heart, and kissed down amid thesilken curls.

  So now she did not mind her grandfather's objection to her; she knewwith a child's intuition he did not want her. But she could, she _did_,belong to Uncle Gaspard, and so she was safe. A better loved child mighthave been crushed by the knowledge, but she was always solacing herselfwith the next thing. This time it was the first, the very first thing,and her little heart gave a beat of joy.

  Yet she was growing tired and sleepy, child fashion. The two men weretalking about the fur trade, the pelts that had come in, the Indians andhunters that were loitering about. It had been a long day to her, andthe room was warm. The small head drooped lower with a nod.

  There was a pile of dressed skins one side of the room, soft and silken,Freneau's own curing.

  Gaspard paused suddenly, glanced at her, then rose and took her in hisarms and laid her down on them tenderly. She did not stir, only the rosylips parted as with a half smile.

  "Yes, tell me what to do with her," Antoine exclaimed, as if that hadbeen the gist of the conversation. "You see I have no one to keep house;then I am out hunting, going up and down the river, working my farm. Icouldn't be bothered with womankind. I can cook and keep house and washeven. I like living alone. I could send her to New Orleans," raising hiseyes furtively.

  "You will do nothing of the kind," said the other peremptorily. "AntoineFreneau, you owe me this child. You know I was in love with the mother."

  "You were a mere boy," retorted the old man disdainfully.

  "I was man enough to love her then and always. I have never put any onein her place. And the last time we walked together over yonder by thepond, I told her I was going up north to make money for her, and that ina year I should come back. I was twenty, she just sixteen. I can see hernow; I can hear her voice in the unformed melody of the child's. We madeno especial promise, but we both knew. I meant to ask your consent whenI came back. Seven months afterward, on my return, I found you hadwhisked her off and married her to the Count, who, after all, cared solittle for her that her child is nothing to him. I don't know what liesyou told her, but I know she would never have given me up without somepersuasion near to force."

  The old man knew. It had been a lie. He kept out of Gaspard's way forthe next two years, and it was well for him.

  "There was no force," he returned gruffly. "Do you not suppose a girlcan see? He was a fine fellow and loved her, and she was ready to gowith him. No one dragged her to church. Well, the priest would have hadsomething to say. They are not wild Indians at Quebec, and know how totreat a woman."

  Gaspard had never forced more than this out of him. But he was sure sometrickery had won the day and duped them both.

  "Well, what have you gained?" mockingly. "You might have kept yourdaughter here and had grandchildren growing up about you, instead ofliving like a lonely old hermit."

  "The life suits me well enough," in a gruff tone.

  "Then give me the child that should have been mine. You don't want her."

  "What will you do with her?"

  "Have a home s
ome day and put her in it."

  "Bah! And you are off months at a time!"

  "There would be some one to look after her. I shall not lead this rovinglife forever. If she were less like her mother you might keep her, sinceyou were so won by her father. And I am not a poor man, AntoineFreneau."

  "She is such a child." Did Gaspard mean that some day he might want tomarry her?

  "That is what I want. Oh, you don't know----"

  He paused abruptly. Antoine could never understand the longing that hadgrown upon him through these weeks to possess the child, to play atfatherhood.

  "No, I shall not be likely to marry," almost as if he had suspected whatwas in Antoine's pause, but he did not. "And I've envied the fathers ofchildren. They had something to work for, to hope for. And now I say Iwant Renee because she is such a child. I wish she could stay like thisjust five years; then I'd be willing to have her grow up. But I knowyou, Antoine Freneau, and you won't take half care of her; you couldn'tlove her, it isn't in you. But you shall not crowd her out of love."

  "You talk like a fool, Gaspard Denys! But if you want the child--I am anold man, and I tell you frankly that I don't know what to do with her. Iwould have to change my whole life."

  "And I would be glad to change mine for such a cause. You must promisenot to interfere in any way. We will have some writings drawn up andsigned before the priest."

  Antoine gave a yawn. "To-morrow, or any time you like. What are yougoing to do now? It is late. If you will take a shakedown in the otherroom--you see, I'm not prepared for visitors."

  "Yes; I have slept in worse places. The child has a box of clothes atSt. Charles. Hers will have to do for to-night."

  He straightened out the impromptu bed and fixed the child morecomfortably. He was tired and sleepy himself. Antoine lighted a bit ofwick drawn through a piece of tin floating in a bowl of oily grease andtook it in the storeroom, where both men soon arranged a sort of bunk.

  "Good-night," said Antoine, and shut the door.

  But he did not go to bed. The fire had mostly burned out, and now thetorch dropped down and the room was full of shadows. He sat awhile onthe edge of the bed and made it creak; then he rose and opened theshutter very softly, creeping out. Even then he listened suspiciously.Turning, he ran swiftly down to the river's edge, through the wet sedgeof last year's grass. Then he gave a low whistle.

  Some one answered with an oath. "We were just going away," in a hissingFrench voice. "What the devil kept you so?"

  "I could not get away. There was a fellow," and Antoine prefaced theexcuse with an oath. "He wouldn't go; I had to fix a bunk for him."

  "Antoine Freneau, if you betray us--" in a threatening tone.

  "Ah, bah! Would I kill the goose that lays golden eggs? Come, hurry."

  They unloaded some cases from the piroque and dumped them on the softground.

  "Now, carry them yourself. What! No barrow? You are a fool! But we mustbe off up the river."

  There was considerable smuggling in spite of the watchfulness of theauthorities. Duties were levied on so many things, and some--many,indeed--closely under government supervision.

  Antoine Freneau tugged and swore. The cases of brandy were not light. Hewent back and forth, every time peering in the window and listening; butall was quiet. The cases he hid among the trees. He had drawn some treebranches, ostensibly for firewood, and covered the cases with this brushuntil he could dispose of them more securely.

  Once, several years before, his house had been thoroughly ransacked inhis absence. He knew he was suspected of unlawful dealings, and he had adim misgiving that Gaspard had one end of the secret. He had more thanonce been very overbearing.

  He came in wet and tired, and, disrobing himself, crawled into bed. Finework, indeed, it would be to have a housekeeper and a prying child! Helaughed to think Gaspard fancied that he would be unwilling to give herup.

  Still he had hated Count de Longueville that he should have extorted somuch dowry. But then it seemed a great thing to have titled grandsonsand a daughter with the entree of palaces, although he would never havegone to witness her state and consequence.

  Every year money had grown dearer and dearer to him, though, miser like,he made no spread, never bragged, but pleaded poverty when he paidchurch dues at Christmas and Easter.

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