A little girl in old que.., p.14
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       A Little Girl in Old Quebec, p.14

           Amanda M. Douglas
 
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  CHAPTER XIV

  A WAY OVER THORNS

  Champlain found on his arrival five Jesuit priests, who had received apoor welcome, even from their French brethren. The Recollets had offeredthem the hospitality of their convent, which had been gratefullyaccepted. So far not much advance had been made among the Indians, whoseemed incapable of discerning the spiritual side of religion, thoughthey eagerly caught up any superstition.

  There had also come over a number of emigrants, two or three families,the others, men of no high degree, who had been tempted by the lure of aspeedy fortune. It was a long, hard, cold winter, and throngs of Indiansapplied for relief. Champlain had established a farm at Beaupre, downthe river, and stocked it with cattle he had imported. But for weekseverything was half-buried in snow.

  One morning M. Destournier came in. Rose was sitting by the fire in M.Hebert's study and shop. The great fireplace was full of blazing logs,and she looked the picture, not only of comfort, but delight. She hadnot seen much of him for the month past. There was no opportunity forsledging even, the roads had been so piled with snow. Then she hadtaken quite a domestic turn, much to the gratification of Madame Hebert.

  M. Destournier looked thin and careworn. Rose sprang up, deeply touched.

  "Oh, you are ill," she cried. "I have not seen you in so long. Sit herein the warmth. And miladi?"

  She always inquired after her.

  "That is what I have come about. Rose, my dear child, can you forgetenough of the past, and the long silence, to come back to us? Miladiwants you, needs you, has sent me to see. She is very ill, and lonely."

  Rose flushed warmly, with both pain and pleasure, and her eyes softened,almost to tears.

  "I shall be glad to come." There was a tremble of emotion in her voice."I realize how great a disappointment it was to her, but you know I wasright, and when I asked the Sieur if I had been too hasty, or unjust, heapproved. He thinks no woman ought to marry without giving her wholeheart, and somehow I had none to give," blushing deeply and lookinglovelier than ever. "I think it is because--because I am a foundling,and could not go to any man with honor. So I must make myself happy inmy own way."

  Her figure had taken on more womanly lines, though it was still slim andexquisitely graceful. And the girlish beauty had ripened somewhat,losing none of its olden charm.

  She colored still more deeply under his glance.

  "Is there anything new with miladi?" she inquired, with some hesitation.

  "It seems a gradual wasting away and weakness. She thinks she will bebetter when spring opens, and longs to return to France. I am putting myaffairs in shape to make this possible. She is very lonely. She hasmissed your brightness and vivacity. It has seemed a different place."

  Rose's heart swelled with pity. She forgave Madame from the depths ofher heart, remembering only the old times and the tenderness.

  "When shall I come?"

  "At once. She begged for you last week, but I was afraid it was arestless fancy. The road is quite well broken. What a winter we havehad! The drought last summer shortened crops, and there have been somany extra mouths to feed among the unfortunate Indians. So if you willinform the Heberts--I have seen Monsieur."

  She went through to the kitchen, where mother and daughter wereconcocting savory messes for the sick. They both returned with her andexpressed much sympathy for the invalid. M. Hebert had said to his wifethat miladi was slowly nearing her end, while her real disease seemed amystery, but medical lore in the new world had not made much advance.

  "We shall only lend her to you for a while," Madame Hebert said, with afaint smile. "I hardly know how Monsieur will do without her. She istruly a rose-bloom in this dreary winter, that seems as if it wouldnever end."

  "And I want her to bloom for a while in the room where my poor sick wifehas to stay. She longs for some freshness and sweetness," he said, in apleading tone.

  "She was rightly named," said Madame, with a smile. "Her poor mothermust have died, I am quite sure, for she could not have sent away suchan adorable child. Even when Mere Dubray had her, she was charming, inher wild, eager ways, like a bird. The good God made her a living Rose,indeed, to show how lovely a human Rose could be."

  She came in the room wrapped in her furs, her hood with its border ofsilver-fox framing in her face, that glowed with youth and health.

  "You have all been so good to me," and her beautiful eyes were alightwith gratitude. "I shall come in often, and oh, I shall think of youevery hour in the day."

  "Do not forget the latest pattern of lace-making," added the practical,industrious Therese.

  It was glorious without, a white world with a sky of such deep blue italmost sparkled. Leafless trees stretched out long black or gray arms,and here and there a white birch stood up grandly, like some fairgoddess astray. Stretches of evergreens suggested life, but beyond themhills of snow rising higher and higher, until they seemed lost in theblue, surmounted by a sparkling frost line.

  The paths had been beaten down--occasionally a tract around a doorwayshovelled. It was hard and smooth as a floor. Destournier slipped herarm within his, and then gazed at her in surprise.

  "You must have grown. How tall you are. I wonder if I shall getaccustomed to the new phase? I seem always to see the little girl whosat upon my knee. Oh, do you remember when you were ill at MereDubray's?"

  "All my life comes to me in pictures. I sometimes think I can rememberwhat was before the long sail in the boat, but it is so vague. Now it isall here, its rough ways, its rocks, its beautiful river are a part ofme. I am never longing to go elsewhere. I am sorry Madame de Champlaindid not love it as well. And the Sieur was such a good, tender husband."

  Destournier sighed a little, also. The Sieur kept busy and full ofplans, but occasionally there came a wistfulness in his eyes and a painin the lines that were settling so rapidly about his face.

  They crunched over the icy paths. A time or two she slipped, and he drewher nearer, the touch of her body, though wrapped in its furs, givinghim a delicious thrill. He lifted her up the steep ways he had seen herclimb with the litheness of a squirrel.

  Wanamee came out with a fervent welcome. The old kitchen was the same.Pani was toasting himself in his favorite corner. Mawha was doing Indianbead and feather work, and looked up with a cordial nod.

  "Get good and warm. I will tell miladi you have come. You will find hermuch changed, but she does not like it remarked upon."

  She and Wanamee were in an earnest talk when she was summoned. The roomhad in it some new appointments, brought from France, but even aluxurious court beauty might have envied the rich fur rugs lying aboutand hanging over the rude and somewhat clumsy chairs of homemanufacture.

  Pillowed up in a half-sitting posture in the bed was miladi. Rose couldhardly forbear a shocked exclamation. When she had seen her every day,the changes had passed unremarked, for they had begun, even then. Thelovely skin was yellowed and wrinkled and defined the cheek bones, thebeautiful hair had grown dull, and the eyes had lost their lustre. Allher youth was gone, she was an old lady, even before the time.

  And this vision of youthful, vigorous beauty was like a sudden sunburst,when the day had been dull and cloudy. She seemed to animate the room,to light up the farthest recesses, to bring a breath of revivifying airand hope.

  "I have wanted you so," the invalid said piteously. "Oh, how strong andwell you are! I never was very strong, and so the illness has taken adeeper hold on me. And now you must help me to get well. Your freshnesswill be an elixir--that is what I have wanted. Wanamee is good for aservant nurse, but I have needed something finer and better."

  She held out her hand and Rose pressed it to her lips. It was bony,showing swollen blue veins, and had a clammy coldness that struck achill to the rosy lips.

  "Did you like them at the Heberts? They are very staid people, and thinkonly of work, I believe."

  "They were very kind, and I found them well-informed about everything."

  "Why, when they know so muc
h, can they not cure me? You know it is notas though my case was very serious. I am weak, that is all. The doctorcame down from Tadoussac, but he just shook his head, and his powdersdid me no good. M. Hebert sent some extracts of herbs, but nothing givesme any strength. And the snow and cold stays on as if spring would nevercome. What have you been doing all this while? You couldn't run about inthe woods."

  "Oh, Madame, I am outgrowing that wild longing, though the trees have ahundred voices, and I seem to understand what they say, and the song ofthe birds, the ripple and plash of the river. But I have been learningother things. How great the world is, and the stories of kings andqueens, and brave travellers, who go about and discover new places. Itwidens one's subjects of thought. And I have learned some cooking, andhow to make home seem cheerful, and the weaving of pretty laces, likethose the ships bring over. I am not so idle now."

  "And you liked them very much?" She uttered this rather resentfully.

  "Ah, Madame, how could one help, when people were so good, and took somuch pains with one."

  Her voice was sweet and appealing, yet it had a strand of strength andappreciation. But had _she_ not been good to the little girl all theseyears!

  "Has Mam'selle Therese any lover?" she asked, after a pause.

  "Not yet, Madame. Some old family friends are to come over in thesummer, and one has a son that Therese played with in childhood. It maybe that she will like him."

  "And she will do as her parents desire!"

  "They are very just with her, and love her dearly."

  "And the brother?"

  "He went to Mont Real before the hard cold. If there were only people tosettle there it would be finer than Quebec, it is said."

  "I am so tired of Quebec. Next summer we will go home; that is thecountry for me. M. Destournier is willing to go at last, and I shall seethat he never returns to this dreary hole."

  "It can hardly be called a hole, when there are so many heights allabout," laughed the girl.

  "It is a wretched place. And you will soon like France, and wonder howpeople are content to stay here. You see the Governor's wife had enoughof it. She had good sense."

  "But, Madame, the priests teach that a wife's place is beside herhusband."

  "What have I gained by staying beside mine, who is always planning howto civilize those wretched squaws, and make life better for them? Thebetter should have been for me. And now I have lost my health, and mybeautiful hair has fallen out and begins to turn white. Am I very muchchanged?"

  Rose was embarrassed. Years ago miladi hated the thoughts of growingold.

  "Illness tries one very much," she said evasively. "But you will gain itup when you begin to mend."

  "Oh, do you think so? You see I must get something to restore the wastedflesh. How plump you are. And I had such an admirable figure. M. Laurentthought me the most graceful girl he had ever seen, had so many prettycompliments, and that keeps one in heart, spurs one on to new efforts.M. Destournier is not of that kind. He is cold-blooded, and seems moreEnglish than French."

  Rose colored. The dispraise hurt her.

  "Fix my pillows, and put me down. I get so tired. And stir up the fire."

  Rose did this very gently, smoothing out wrinkles, holding the coldhands in hers, so warm and full of strength. The room seemed smotheringto her, but she stirred the fire vigorously, and sent a vivid shower ofsparks upward.

  "Now if you had a little broth----"

  "But I cannot bear to have you go away. Yes, I know I shall get strongerwith you here."

  "You need some nourishment. I will not be gone long," giving a heartsomesmile.

  A gallery ran along this side of the house, built for miladi'sconvenience. She stepped out on it, in the clear air and sunshine, andtook a few turns. Poor Madame! Would she get well when she seemed sonear dying?

  The broth was reviving. Rose fed her with a teaspoon, instead of givingher the cup to drink from, and they both laughed like children. Then shearranged the pillows and bathed the poor, wrinkled face and hair withsome fragrant water, and miladi fell asleep under these ministrations.

  Rose moved lightly about the room, changing its aspect with defttouches. She was glad to do something in return. Miladi had been verysweet when she was ill, and there had been the pleasant years when shehad not minded the exactions. Was there really a plan to go to France?Would they take her from her beloved Quebec?

  M. Destournier brought in a book from the Governor's store and Rose readaloud in the evening. That was a restless time for miladi, but thesweet, cheerful voice tranquillized her. M. Ralph sat in the corner ofthe wide stone fireplace, watching the changes in the lovely face, asshe seemed to enter into the spirit of the adventures. Heroism appealedto her. The flush came and went in her cheek, her eyes sent out gleamsof glory, and her bosom rose and fell.

  There came an instant of rapture to Ralph Destournier, that mysteriousand almost sublime appreciation of a woman's love, a love such as thisgirl could give. He had possessed the childish affection, the innocentgirlish fondness, but some other would win the woman's heart, the prizehe would lay down his life for. What had been the pity and weaktenderness was given to the woman in the bed yonder. He knew now she hadonly touched his heart in sympathy, and a fancied duty. In a thousandyears she would never be capable of such love as this girl, blossominginto womanhood, could give.

  "There should be some women at hand," declared a weak voice from thebed. "It adds an interest to the discoveries, to think, if a woman didnot inspire it, she crowned it with her admiration. But for a party ofmen to go off alone----"

  "The hardships would be too great for a woman."

  Destournier's voice was husky with repressed emotion. This girl wouldkeep step and inspire an explorer.

  "They would not take so many hardships then. What if there is a greatriver or ocean leading to India! A man can live but one life, and thatshould be devoted to some woman."

  He rose, crossed the room, and kissed his wife on the forehead. Helearned by accident one day that she used something to keep her lips redwith the lost bloom of youth, and they had never been sweet to himsince.

  "Good-night. I hope you will sleep. Rose had better not read any more.We must not have all the good things in one day."

  He ran down the steps to where a street had been straightened andwidened in the summer. The moonlight gave everything a weird glow, thestars were tinted in all colors, as one finds in the clear cold of thenorth. Only the planets and the larger ones, the myriad of small oneswere outshone. What beauty, what strength, what wonders lay hidden inthe wide expanse. He was tempted to plunge into the wilderness, to thefrozen north, to the blooming south, or that impenetrable expanse of thewest, and leave behind the weak woman, who in her selfish way loved him,and the girl who could create a new life for him, that he could lovewith the force of manhood suddenly aroused, that had been clean andwholesome. He was glad of that, though he could not lay it at the girl'sfeet. Miladi had been in this state so long, sometimes rallying, and inthe summer they would go to France. But they would leave Rose of oldQuebec behind.

  Over there at the fort a man sat poring over maps and papers, asolitary man now, who had wedded youth and beauty, and found only DeadSea fruit. But he was going bravely on his way. That was a man's duty.

  In a few days there was a decided improvement in miladi. She wasdressed, and sat up part of the time. She evinced an eager resolve toget well, she put on a sort of childish brightness, that was at timespitiful. But nothing could conceal the ravages of time. She looked olderthan her years. She was, in a curious manner, drawing on the vitality ofthe young girl, and it was generously given.

  Then came to Rose a great sorrow. M. Hebert, who had been such aninspiring influence to her, died from the effects of a fall. There was ageneral mourning in the small settlement. The Governor felt he had lostone of his most trusty friends. The eldest daughter, Guillemette, whohad married one Guillaume Couillard, came down from Tadoussac, and theytook his place on the farm. Hers had bee
n the first wedding in Quebec.

  Rose felt that this must change the home for her. She had counted ongoing back to them. There were days when she grew very tired of miladi'swhims and inanities, and longed to fly to her beloved wood.

  "If I should die, he will marry her," miladi thought continually. "Iwill not die. I will take her to France and marry her to some one beforeher beauty fades. She will make a sensation."

  Rose never dreamed she was so closely watched. After that moonlightbattle with himself, Destournier allowed his soul no further thought ofthe present Rose, but dreamed over the frank child-charm she hadpossessed for him. He grew grave and silent, and spent much of his timewith the Sieur.

  Spring was very late. It seemed as if old Quebec would never throw offher ermine mantle. Richelieu was now at the helm in France, and thatcountry and England were at war with each other. Quebec was lookingforward to supplies and reinforcements that had been promised.

  From a cold and unusually dry May, they went into summer heats. TheSieur de Champlain spent much of his time getting his farm at CapeTourmente in order. M. Destournier was engrossed with the improvementsof the town, and keeping the Indians at work, who were, it must beconfessed, notoriously lazy. Miladi complained. Rose grew weary. Shemissed her dear friend M. Hebert, and she was puzzled at the coldnessand distance of M. Destournier. But the rambles were a comfort and akind of balance to her life. She brought wild flowers to miladi, and thefirst scarlet strawberries. And there was always such an enchantingfreshness after these excursions, that the elder woman liked her to takethem.

  Richelieu understood better than any one yet the importance of thiscolony to France, when the English were making such rapid strides in thenew world. He was planning extensive improvements in colonizing, andfitting out ships with stores and men.

  The news came to Cape Tourmente that vessels had been sighted. Word wassent on to Quebec, and there was a general rejoicing.

  But it was soon turned to terror and anguish. Some savages came paddlingfuriously to the town, and though the cries were indistinguishable atfirst, they soon gathered force.

  "The English have burned and pillaged Cape Tourmente, and are atTadoussac! Save yourselves. Man the fort. Call all to arms!"

  Alas! The fort was considerably out of repair. The Indians had beenpeaceable for some time and the mother country had kept them short ofsupplies. The walled settlement was protection from marauding bands, andthe fort could have been made impregnable if the Governor had carriedout his plans and not been hampered by the lack of all-neededimprovements.

  The farmer at Cape Tourmente had been slightly wounded, and was broughtdown with the boat, on which several had escaped. The buildings had beenburned, the cattle killed, the crops laid waste. No doubt they were nowpillaging Tadoussac.

  Champlain began to prepare for defense with all the force available.Muskets were loaded, cannon trained down the river, the fort manned.Friendly Indians offered their services. All was wild alarm, the blowwas so unexpected.

  Miladi, hearing the noise and confusion, explained it her way.

  "It is always so when the horde of traders come in," she said. She hadbeen looking over old finery, and getting ready for a return to France.

  The little convent on the St. Charles was prepared to repel anysurprise. But at mid-afternoon a boat hovered about in the river, and itwas learned presently that it conveyed some captives taken by theEnglish, who were sent with a letter from the commander of the fleet,that now appeared quite formidable, with its six well-manned vessels.

  The Governor at once called together the leading men of the place andlaid before them the summons of surrender, and the first news of the warbetween France and England. It was couched in polite terms, butcontained a well-laid plan. In all, eighteen ships had been despatchedby His Majesty, the King of Britain. Several small stations had beencaptured, also a boat with supplies from France, and all resources wereto be cut off. By surrendering they would save their homes and property,and be treated with the utmost courtesy, but it was the intention of theEnglish to take the town, although they preferred to do it withoutbloodshed.

  It was quite a lengthy document, and Champlain read it slowly, that eachsentence might be well considered. The hard winter, the late spring, thesupplies at Cape Tourmente and Tadoussac being cut off, rendered them inno situation for a prolonged struggle. But they would not yield soeasily to the demand of the English. They had the courage of men who hadundergone many hardships, and the pride of their nation. Quebec had beenthe child of the Sieur de Champlain's work and love. With one voice theyresolved to refuse, and the word was sent to Captain David Kirke.

  He meanwhile turned his fleet down the river, fancying the town an easyprey, when he espied the relief stores sent from France, a dozen or sovessels, bringing colonists, workmen, priests, women, and children, andfarming implements, as well as stores, convoyed by a man-of-war. It wasa rich prize for the Englishman, and an order for surrender was sent,which was refused.

  The battle was indeed disastrous for Quebec, though they were not toknow it until months afterward. Most of the emigrants Captain Kirkedespatched back to France, some of the least valuable vessels he burned,and sailed home with his trophies, leaving Quebec for another attempt.

  Meanwhile the little colony waited in ill-defined terror. Day after daypassed and no attack was made. Then they ventured to send out some boatsand found to their surprise the river was clear of the enemy, but everylittle settlement had been laid waste. The stock of food was growinglow, the crops were not promising. Every consignment sent from Francehad miscarried, and since the two nations were at war there was smallhope of supplies. What would they do in winter? Already the woods werescoured for nuts and edible roots, and stores were hidden away withtrembling hands. There were many plans discussed. If they could sendpart of their people out to find a Basque fishing fleet, and thus returnhome.

  No heart was heavier than that of the Sieur de Champlain. To be surethere was his renown as a discoverer and explorer, but the city he hadplanned, that was to be the crowning point of France's possessions, wasslowly falling to decay.

 
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