A little girl in old que.., p.9
A Little Girl in Old Quebec, p.9Amanda M. Douglas
The new fort was begun on the summit of the cliff, almost two hundredfeet above the water, and the guns would command it up and down. A gooddeal of stone was used. New houses were being reared in a much betterfashion, the crevices thickly plastered with mortar, the chimneys ofstone, with generous fireplaces. Destournier had repaired his smallsettlement and added some ground to the cultivated area.
"The only way to colonize," declared the Sieur. "If we could rouse theIndians into taking more interest. Civilization does not seem to attractthem, though the women make good wives, and they are a scarce commodity.The English and the Dutch are wiser in this respect than we. Whenchildren are born on the soil and marry with their neighbors, one may besure of good citizens."
The church, too, was progressing, and was called Notre Dame des Anges.Madame de Champlain was intensely religious, and used her best effortsto further the plans. She took a great interest in the Indian children,and when she found many of the women were not really married to thelaborers around the fort, insisted that Pere Jamay should perform theceremony. The women were quite delighted with this, considering it agreat mark of respect.
She began to study the Algonquin language, which was the most prevalent.She had brought three serving women from France, but they were notheroic enough to be enamored of the hardships. There was so littlecompanionship for her that but for her religion she would have had alonely time. The Heberts were plain people and hardly felt themselves ona par with the wife of their Governor, though Champlain himself, withmore democratic tastes, used often to drop in to consult the farmer andtake a meal.
Madame Giffard was not really religious. She was fond of pleasure andgames of cards, and really hated any self-denial, or long prayers,though she went to Mass now and then. But between her and the earnest,devoted Helene there was no sympathy.
The new house was ready by October. Helene would fain have had it madeless comfortable, but this the Governor would not permit. It would behung with furs when the bitter weather came in.
No one paid much attention to Rose, who came and went, and wanderedabout at her own sweet will. Eustache Boulle was fairly fascinated withher, and followed her like a shadow when he was not in attendance on hissister. He persuaded her to sit for a picture, but it was quiteimpossible to catch her elusive beauty. She would turn her head, changethe curve of her pretty lips, allow her eyes to rove about and then letthe lids drop decorously in a fashion he called a nun's face; but it wasadorable.
"I shall not be a nun," she would declare vehemently.
"No, Mam'selle, thou art the kind to dance on a man's heart and make himmost happy and most wretched. No nun's coif for that sunny, tangled mopof thine."
He would fain have lingered through the winter, but a peremptory messagecame for him.
"I shall be here another summer and thou wilt be older, and understandbetter what life is like."
"It is good enough and pleasant enough now," she answered perversely.
"I wonder--if thou wilt miss me?"
"Why, yes, silly! The splendid canoeing and the races we run, and I maybe big enough next summer to go to Lachine. I would like to rush throughthe rapids that Antoine the sailor tells about, where you feel as if youwere going down to the centre of the world."
"No woman would dare. It would not be safe," he objected.
"Men are not always lost, only a few clumsy ones. And I can swim withthe best of them."
"M. Destournier will not let you go."
"He is not my father. I belong just to myself, and I will do as Ilike."
She stamped her foot on the ground, but she laughed as well. He was notnineteen yet, but a man would be able to manage her.
She did miss him when he was gone. And it seemed as if Marie grew morestupid and cared less for her. And that lout of a Jules Personeau wouldsit by her on the grass, or help her pick berries or grapes and openthem skilfully, take out the seeds or the pits of plums, and place themon the flat rocks to dry. He never seemed to talk. And Rose knew that M.Destournier scolded because he was not breaking stone.
He was building a new house himself, and helping the Sieur plan out thepath from the fort up above to the settlement down below. They did notdream that one day it would be the upper and the lower town, and that onthe plain would be fought one of the historic battles of the world,where two of the bravest of men would give up their lives, and thelilies of France go down for the last time. Quebec was beginning to lookquite a town.
Destournier's house commanded his settlement, which was more stronglyfortified with a higher palisade, over which curious thorn vines weregrowing for protection. He had a fine wheat field, and some tobacco. OfIndian corn a great waving regiment planted only two rows thick so as togive no chance for skulking marauders.
The house of M. Giffard was falling into decay. Miladi had sent toFrance early in the season for many new stuffs and trinkets, and thesettlement of some affairs, instead of turning all over to Destournier.The goods had come at an exorbitant price, but there had been a greattangle in money matters, and at his death his concessions had passedinto other hands.
"They always manage to rob a woman," he thought grimly.
"I supposed you were to leave things in my hands," he said, a littleupbraidingly, to her.
"I make you so much trouble. And you have so much to do for the Governorand your settlement, and I am so weak and helpless. I have never beenstrong since that dreadful night. I miss all the care and love. Oh, ifyou were a woman you would know how heart-breaking it was. I wish I weredead! I wish I were dead!"
"And you do not care to go back to France?"
"Do not torment me with that question. I should die on the voyage. Andto be there without friends would be horrible. I have no taste for aconvent."
A great many times the vague plan had entered his mind as a sort ofduty. Now he would put it into execution.
"Become my wife," he said. He leaned over and took her slim hands in hisand glanced earnestly into her eyes, and saw there were fine wrinklessetting about them. What did it matter? She needed protection and care,and there was no woman here that he could love as the romancesdescribed. He was too busy a man, too practical.
She let her head drop on his broad breast. She had dreamed of this andused many little arts, but had never been sure of their effect. Therewere the years between, but she needed his strength and devotion morethan a younger woman.
"Oh, ought I be so happy again?" she murmured. "There is so much that isstrong and generous to you that a woman could rest content in giving herwhole life to you, her best love."
He wished she had not said that. He would have been content that herbest love should lie softly in the grave, like an atmosphere around thesleeping body of Laurent Giffard, whom he had admired very much, and whohad loved his wife with the fervor of youth. He drew a long breath ofpity for the man. It seemed as if he was taking something away from him.
"Is it true?" she asked, in a long silence.
"That I shall care for you, yes. That you will be my wife." Then hekissed her tenderly.
"I am so happy. Oh, you cannot think how sad I have been for months,with no one to care for me," and her voice was exquisitely pathetic.
"I have cared for you all this while," he said. "You were like a sisterto whom I owed a duty."
"Duty is not quite love," in her soft murmurous tone, touching his cheekcaressingly.
He wondered a little what love was like, if this tranquil half pity wasall. Madame de Champlain was like a child to her husband, the womenemigrants thus far had not been of a high order, and the marriages hadbeen mostly for the sake of a helpmeet and possible children. TheGovernor had really encouraged the mixed marriages, where the Indianwomen were of the better sort. A few of them were taking kindly toreligion, and had many really useful arts in the way of making garmentsout of dressed deerskins. He chose rather some of those who had beentaken prisoners and had no real affiliation with the tribes. The
"Oh, what do you think!" and Rose sprang eagerly to Destournier,catching him by the arm with both hands and giving a swing, as he waspacing the gallery, deep in his new plans. "It is so full of amusementfor me. And I can't understand how she can do it. Jules Personeau issuch a stupid! And that great shock of hair that keeps tumbling into hiseyes. It is such a queer color, almost as if much sitting in the sun wasturning it red."
"What about Jules? He is very absent-minded nowadays, and does notattend to his work. The summer will soon be gone."
"Oh, it isn't so much about Jules. Marie Gaudrion is going to marryhim."
"Why, then I think it is half about Jules," laughing down into the eagerface. "A girl can't be married alone."
"Well, I suppose you would have to go and live with some one," in apuzzled tone. "But Jules has such rough, dirty hands. He caught me a fewdays ago and patted my cheek, and I slapped him. I will not have roughhands touch me! And Marie laughs. She is only thirteen, but she says sheis a woman. I don't want to be a woman. I won't have a husband, and betaken off to a hut, and cook, and work in the garden. M'sieu, I shouldfly to the woods and hide."
"And the poor fellow would get no dinner." He laughed at her vehemence."I suppose Jules is in love and we must excuse his absent-mindedness.Will it be soon?"
"Why, yes, Jules is getting his house ready. Barbe is to help her motherand care for the babies. I like Marie some," nodding indecisively, "butI wish there was a girl who liked to run and play, and climb trees, andtalk to the birds, and oh, do a hundred things, all different from theother."
She gave a little hop and a laugh of exquisite freedom. She was full ofrestless grace, as the birds themselves; her blooming cheeks and shiningeyes, the way she carried her head, the face breaking into dimples withevery motion, the mouth tempting in its rosy sweetness. He bent andkissed her. She held him a moment by the shoulders.
"Oh, I like you, I like you," she cried. "You are above them all, youhave something,"--her pretty brow knit,--"yet you are better than theSieur even, the best of them all. If you will wait a long while I mightmarry you, but no other, no other," shaking her curls.
He laughed, yet it was not from her naive confession. She did notrealize what she was saying.
"How old am I?" insistently.
"About ten, I think."
"Ten. And ten more would be twenty. Is that old?"
"And Madame de Champlain was twelve when she was married in France.Well, I suppose that is right. And--two years more! No, M'sieu, I shallwait until I am twenty. Maybe I shall not want to climb trees then, norscramble over rocks, nor chase the squirrels, and pelt them with nuts."
"Thou wilt be a decorous little lady then."
"That is a long way off."
"Yes. And Wanamee is calling thee."
"The priest says we must call her Jolette, that is her Christian name.Must I have another name? Well, I will not. Good-night," and away sheran.
He fell into rumination again. What would she say to his marriage? Hehad a misgiving she would take it rather hardly. She had not been sorapturously in love with miladi of late, but since the death of herhusband, the rather noisy glee of the child had annoyed her. She wouldbe better now. Of course they would keep the child, she had no otherfriends, nor home.
Marie Gaudrion's marriage was quite a mystery to Rose. That any onecould love such an uncouth fellow as Jules, that a girl could leave thecomfortable home and pretty garden, for now the fruit trees had grownand were full of fragrant bloom in the early season, and the ripeningfruit later on, and go to that dismal little place under the rocks.
"You see it will be much warmer," Jules had said. It was built againstthe rock. "This will shield us from the north wind and the heavy snows,and another year we will take a place further down in the allotment. Iwill lay in a store of things, and we will be as happy as the squirrelsin their hollow tree."
Marie and her mother cleared it up a bit. The floor was of rough planksfilled in with mortar, and skins were laid down for carpet. There wasbut one window looking toward the south, and the door was on that sidealso. Then a few steps and a sort of plateau. Inside there was a boxbunk, where the household goods were piled away inside. A few shelveswith dishes, a table, and several stools completed the furnishing.
So on Sunday they went up to the unfinished chapel on the St. Charles,where a Mass was said, and the young couple were united. It was a lovelyday, and they rowed down in the canoes to the Gaudrions, where a feastwas given and healths drank to the newly-wedded couple, in which theywere wished much happiness and many children. The table was spreadluxuriously; the Mere had been two days cooking. Roasts and broils, gameand fish, and many of the early fruits in preserve and just ripened.Sunday was a day for gorging in this primitive land, while summerlasted. No one need starve then.
Afterward the young couple were escorted home.
Rose sat out in the moonlight thinking of the strangeness of it all. Howcould Marie like it? Mere Gaudrion had said, "Jules will make a goodhusband, if he is clumsy and not handsome. He will never beat Marie, andnow he will settle to work again, and make a good living, since courtingdays are over."
The child wondered what courting days were. Several strange ideas cameinto her mind. It was as if it grew suddenly and there were things inthe world she would like to know about. Perhaps M. Ralph could tell her.Miladi said she was tiresome when she asked questions, and there wasalways a headache. Would her head ache when she was grown up? And shestood in curious awe of Madame de Champlain, who would only talk of thesaints and martyrs, and repeat prayers. She was very attractive to thechildren, and gathered them about her, letting them gaze in her littlemirror she carried at her belt, as was the fashion in France. They likedthe touch of her soft hand on their heads, they were sometimes allowedto press their tawny cheeks against it. Then she would try to instructthem in the Catechism. They learned the sentences by rote, in an eagersort of way, but she could see the real understanding was lacking.
"It seems an almost hopeless task," she said one day to Pere Jamay. "Andthough the little girls in the convent seemed obtuse, they didunderstand what devotion was. These children would worship me. When Italk of the blessed Virgin they are fain to press their faces to the hemof my gown, taking it to mean that I am our dear Lady of Sorrows.Neither do they comprehend penance, they suppose they have offended mepersonally."
"'Tis a curious race that God has allowed to sink to the lowest ebb,that His laborers should work the harder in the vineyard. I do notdespair. There will come a glorious day when every soul shall bow theknee to our blessed Lord. The men seem incapable of any true discernmentof holy things. But we must not weary in well-doing. Think what aglorious thing it would be to convert this nation to the true faith."
The lady sighed. Many a day she went to her _prie-dieu_ not seven times,but twice that, to pray for their conversion.
"We must win the children. They will grow up with some knowledge andcast aside their superstitions. We must be filled with holy zeal andnever weary doing our Master's will."
She had tried to win Rose, as well as some of the more intelligenthalf-breeds. But prayers were wearisome to the child. And why should youask the same thing over and over again? Even M. Destournier, she hadnoticed, did not like to be importuned, and why then the great God, whohad all the world to care for, and sent to His creatures what He thoughtbest.
The child looked out on the wide vault so full of stars, and her heartwas thrilled with the great mystery. What was the beautiful world beyondthat was called heaven? What did they know who had never seen it? Thesplendor of the great white moon--moving majestically through theblue--touched her with a sort of ecstasy. Was it another world? And howtenderly it seemed to touch the tree tops, silvering the branches anddeepening the shadows until they were haunts of darkness. Did not othergods dwell there, as those old people
"_Ma fille, ma fille_," and the half-inquiring accent of Wanamee's voicefell on her ear.
"I am here. It is so beautiful. Wanamee, did you ever feel that you mustfloat away to some other world and learn things that seem to hover allabout you, and yet you cannot grasp?"
"You cannot, child, until you are admitted to the company of the saints.And this life is very comfortable, to some at least. Thou hast notrouble, little one. But it is time for the bed."
"Why can I not sleep out here? The Indians sleep under the tree. So hasM'sieu Ralph, and the Governor. Oh, I should like to and have just thatgreat blue sky and the stars over me."
"They would not show under the tree branches. And there are wolves andstrollers that it would not be safe to see at this time of the year,when there are so many drunken traders. So come in, child."
She rose slowly. A little room in the end of the Giffard house wasdevoted to her and Wanamee. Two small pallets raised a little above thefloor, a stand with a crucifix, that the Governor's wife insisted wasnecessary, a box, in which winter bedding was stored, and that servedfor a seat, completed the simple furniture.
Rose knelt before the stand. There were two or three Latin prayers sheoften said aloud, but to-night her lips did not move. This figure on thecross filled her with a kind of horror just now.
"Mam'selle," said the waiting Wanamee.
The child rose. "You must pray for yourself to-night," she said in asoft voice, throwing her pliant body on the pallet. "I do not understandanything about God any more. I do not see why He should send His Son todie for the thousands of people who do not care for Him. The greatManitou of the Indians did not do it."
"_Ma fille_, ask the priest. But then is it necessary to ask God when wehave only to believe?"
"I am afraid I don't even believe," was the hesitating reply.
"Surely thou art wicked. There will be penance for thee."
"I will not do penance either. You are cruel if you torture dumbanimals, and it is said they have not the keen feeling of humans. I amnot sure. But where one thinks of the pain or punishment he is bearingit is more bitter. And what right has another to inflict it upon you?"
Wanamee was silent. She would ask the good priest. But ah, could shehave her darling punished?
A Little Girl in Old Quebec by Amanda M. Douglas / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on20 votes