Part 3 out of 3
his belt. Our French people took up too easily, indeed, with savage
ways; but Le Maudit Pensonneau was always full of his pranks.
Oh, yes, Gabriel himself untied Celeste. She was wild with joy, and
cried on Gabriel's shoulder; and all the young men who had taken their
first communion with Gabriel and had played with this dear girl when
she was a child, felt the tears come into their own eyes. All but Le
Maudit Pensonneau. He was busy rounding up the horses.
"Here's my uncle Larue's filly that was taken two weeks ago," said Le
Maudit, calling from the hobbling place. "And here are the blacks that
Ferland lost, and Pierre's pony--half these horses are Caho' horses."
He tied them together so that they could be driven two or three
abreast ahead of the party, and then he gathered up all the guns left
by the Indians.
Gabriel now called a council, for it had to be decided directly what
they should do next. Pain Court was seven miles in a straight line
from the spot where they stood; while Cahokia was ten miles to the
"Would it not be best to go at once to Pain Court?" said Gabriel.
"Celeste, after this frightful day, needs food and sleep as soon as
she can get them, and my aunt Choutou is ready for her. And boats can
always be found opposite Pain Court."
All the young men were ready to go to Pain Court. They really thought,
even after all that had happened, that it would be wisest to deal with
Alexis Barbeau at a distance. But Celeste herself decided the matter.
Gabriel had not let go of her. He kept his hand on her as if afraid
she might be kidnaped again.
"We will go home to my grandfather and grandmother au Caho'," said
Celeste. "I will not go anywhere else."
"But you forget that Beauvois is au Caho'?" said one of the young men.
"Oh, I never can forget anything connected with this day," said
Celeste, and the tears ran down her face. "I never can forget how
willingly I let those Puants take me, and I laughed as one of them
flung me on the horse behind him. We were nearly to the bluffs before
I spoke. He did not say anything, and the others all had eyes which
made me shudder. I pressed my hands on his buckskin sides and said
to him, 'Gabriel.' And he turned and looked at me. I never had seen a
feature of his frightful face before. And then I understood that the
real Puants had me. Do you think I will ever marry anybody but the
man who took me away from them? No. If worst comes to worst, I will
go before the high altar and the image of the Holy Virgin, and make a
public vow never to marry anybody else."
The young men flung up their arms in the air and raised a hurrah. Hats
they had none to swing. Their cheeks were burnt by the afternoon sun.
They were hungry and thirsty, and so tired that any one of them could
have flung himself on the old leaves and slept as soon as he stretched
himself. But it put new heart in them to see how determined she was.
So the horses were brought up, and the captured guns were packed upon
some of the recovered ponies. There were some new blankets strapped on
the backs of these Indian horses, and Gabriel took one of the blankets
and secured it as a pillion behind his own saddle for Celeste to ride
upon. As they rode out of the forest shadow they could see the moon
just coming up over the hills beyond the great Cahokian mound.
It was midnight when the party trampled across the rigole bridge into
Cahokia streets. The people were sleeping with one eye open. All
day, stragglers from the wedding procession had been coming in, and a
company was organized for defense and pursuit. They had heard that the
whole Pottawattamie nation had risen. And since Celeste Barbeau was
kidnaped, anything might be expected. Gabriel and his men were missed
early, but the excitement was so great that their unexplained absence
was added without question to the general calamity. Candles showed
at once, and men with gun barrels shining in the moonlight gathered
quickly from all directions.
"Friends, friends!" Celeste called out; for the young men in buckskin,
with their booty of driven horses, were enough like Puants to be in
danger of a volley. "It is Celeste. Gabriel Chartrant and his men have
killed the Indians and brought me back."
"It is Celeste Barbeau! Gabriel Chartrant and his men have killed the
Indians and brought her back!" the word was passed on.
Her grandfather hung to her hand on one side of the horse, and her
grandmother embraced her knees on the other. The old father was in his
red nightcap and the old mother had pulled slippers on her bare feet.
But without a thought of their appearance they wept aloud and fell on
the neighbors' necks, and the neighbors fell upon each others' necks.
Some kneeled down in the dust and returned thanks to the saints they
had invoked. The auberge keeper and three old men who smoked their
pipes steadily on his gallery every day took hold of hands and danced
in a circle. Children who had waked to shriek with fear galloped
the streets to proclaim at every window, "Celeste Barbeau is brought
back!" The whole town was in a delirium of joy. Manette Le Compt, who
had been brought home with the terrified bridesmaids and laughed in
her sleeve all day because she thought Gabriel and his men were the
Puants, leaned against a wall and turned sick. I have heard her say
she never was so confused in her life as when she saw the driven
horses, and the firearms, and those coarse-haired scalps hanging to Le
Maudit Pensonneau's belt. The moon showed them all distinctly. Manette
had thought it laughable when she heard that Alexis Barbeau was shut
up in his brick house at Prairie du Pont, with all the men and guns
he could muster to protect his property; but now she wept indignantly
The priest had been the first man in the street, having lain down in
all his clothes except his cassock, and he heartily gave Celeste
and the young men his blessing, and counseled everybody to go to bed
again. But Celeste reminded them that she was hungry, and as for the
rescuers, they had ridden hard all day without a mouthful to eat. So
the whole town made a feast, everybody bringing the best he had to
Barbeau's house. They spread the table and crowded around, leaning
over each, other's shoulders to take up bits in their hands and eat
with and talk to the young people. Gabriel's mother sat beside him
with her arm around him, and opposite was Celeste with her grandfather
and grandmother, and all the party were ranged around. The feathers
had been blown out of their hair by that long chase, but their
buckskins were soiled, and the hastily washed colors yet smeared their
ears and necks. Yet this supper was quite like a bridal feast. Ah,
my child, we never know it when we are standing in the end of the
rainbow. Gabriel and Celeste might live a hundred years, but they
could never be quite as happy again.
Paul and Jacques Le Page sat down with the other young men, and the
noise of tongues in Barbeau's house could be heard out by the rigole.
It was like the swarming of wild bees. Paul and Jacques had waited
with the boat until nightfall. They heard the firing when the Puants
took Celeste, and watched hour after hour for some one to appear from
the path; but at last concluding that Gabriel had been obliged to
change his plan, they rowed back to Caho'.
Claudis Beauvois was the only person who did not sit up talking until
dawn. And nobody thought about him until noon the next day, when
Captain Jean Saucier with a company of fusileers rode into the village
from Fort Chartres.
That was the first time my mother ever saw Captain Saucier. Your uncle
Francois in Kaskaskia, he was also afterward Captain Saucier. I was
not born until they had been married fifteen years. I was the last
of their children. So Celeste Barbeau was kidnaped the day before my
mother met my father.
Glad as the Cahokians were to see them, the troops were no longer
needed, for the Puants had gone. They were frightened out of the
country. Oh, yes, all those Indians wanted was a good whipping, and
they got it. Alexis Barbeau had come along with the soldiers from
Prairie du Pont, and he was not the only man who had made use of
military escort. Basil Le Page had come up from New Orleans in the
last fleet of pirogues to Kaskaskia. There he heard so much about the
Puants that he bought a swift horse and armed himself for the ride
northward, and was glad when he reached Fort Chartres to ride into
Cahokia with Captain Saucier.
You might say Basil Le Page came in at one end of Cahokia and Claudis
Beauvois went out at the other. For they knew one another directly,
and it was noised in a minute that Basil said to his cousins Paul and
"What is that notorious swindler and gambler doing here? He left New
Orleans suddenly, or he would be in prison now, and you will see if he
stops here long after recognizing me."
Claudis Beauvois did not turn around in the street to look at any
woman, rich or poor, when he left Cahokia, though how he left was not
certainly known. Alexis Barbeau and his other associates knew better
how their pockets were left.
Oh, yes, Alexis Barbeau was very willing for Celeste to marry Gabriel
after that. He provided for them handsomely, and gave presents to each
of the young men who had helped to take his daughter from the Puants;
and he was so ashamed of the son-in-law he had wanted, that he never
could endure to hear the man's name mentioned afterward. Alexis
and the tavern-keeper used--when they were taking a social cup
together--to hug each other without a word. The fine guest who had
lived so long at the auberge and drank so much good wine, which was as
fine as any in New Orleans, without expense, was as sore a memory
to the poor landlord as to the rich landowner. But Celeste and
Gabriel--my mother said when they were married the dancing and
fiddling and feasting were kept up an entire week in Caho'.
[Footnote 1: To Cahokia.]
[Footnote 2: To Peoria.]
[Footnote 3: To Kaskaskia.]
[Footnote 4: Cahokian softening of cursed.]
Jenieve Lalotte came out of the back door of her little house on
Mackinac beach. The front door did not open upon either street of the
village; and other domiciles were scattered with it along the strand,
each little homestead having a front inclosure palisaded with oaken
posts. Wooded heights sent a growth of bushes and young trees down to
the pebble rim of the lake.
It had been raining, and the island was fresh as if new made. Boats
and bateaux, drawn up in a great semicircle about the crescent bay,
had also been washed; but they kept the marks of their long voyages
to the Illinois Territory, or the Lake Superior region, or Canada. The
very last of the winterers were in with their bales of furs, and some
of these men were now roaring along the upper street in new clothes,
exhilarated by spending on good cheer in one month the money it
took them eleven months to earn. While in "hyvernements," or winter
quarters, and on the long forest marches, the allowance of food per
day, for a winterer, was one quart of corn and two ounces of tallow.
On this fare the hardiest voyageurs ever known threaded a pathless
continent and made a great traffic possible. But when they returned to
the front of the world,--that distributing point in the straits,--they
were fiercely importunate for what they considered the best the world
A segment of rainbow showed over one end of Round Island. The sky was
dull rose, and a ship on the eastern horizon turned to a ship of fire,
clean-cut and poised, a glistening object on a black bar of water. The
lake was still, with blackness in its depths. The American flag on the
fort rippled, a thing of living light, the stripes transparent. High
pink clouds were riding down from the north, their flush dying as they
piled aloft. There were shadings of peacock colors in the shoal water.
Jenieve enjoyed this sunset beauty of the island, as she ran over the
rolling pebbles, carrying some leather shoes by their leather strings.
Her face was eager. She lifted the shoes to show them to three little
boys playing on the edge of the lake.
"Come here. See what I have for you."
"What is it?" inquired the eldest, gazing betwixt the hairs scattered
on his face; he stood with his back to the wind. His bare shins
reddened in the wash of the lake, standing beyond its rim of shining
"Shoes," answered Jenieve, in a note triumphant over fate.
"What's shoes?" asked the smallest half-breed, tucking up his smock
around his middle.
"They are things to wear on your feet," explained Jenieve; and her
red-skinned half-brothers heard her with incredulity. She had told
their mother, in their presence, that she intended to buy the children
some shoes when she got pay for her spinning; and they thought it
meant fashions from the Fur Company's store to wear to mass, but never
suspected she had set her mind on dark-looking clamps for the feet.
"You must try them on," said Jenieve, and they all stepped
experimentally from the water, reluctant to submit. But Jenieve was
mistress in the house. There is no appeal from a sister who is a
father to you, and even a substitute for your living mother.
"You sit down first, Francois, and wipe your feet with this cloth."
The absurdity of wiping his feet before he turned in for the night
tickled Francois, though he was of a strongly aboriginal cast, and he
let himself grin. Jenieve helped him struggle to encompass his lithe
feet with the clumsy brogans.
"You boys are living like Indians."
"We are Indians," asserted Francois.
"But you are French, too. You are my brothers. I want you to go to
mass looking as well as anybody."
Hitherto their object in life had been to escape mass. They objected
to increasing their chances of church-going. Moccasins were the
natural wear of human beings, and nobody but women needed even
moccasins until cold weather. The proud look of an Iroquois taking
spoils disappeared from the face of the youngest, giving way to uneasy
anguish. The three boys sat down to tug, Jenieve going encouragingly
from one to another. Francois lay on his back and pushed his heels
skyward. Contempt and rebellion grew also in the faces of Gabriel
and Toussaint. They were the true children of Francois Iroquois, her
mother's second husband, who had been wont to lounge about Mackinac
village in dirty buckskins and a calico shirt having one red and one
blue sleeve. He had also bought a tall silk hat at the Fur Company's
store, and he wore the hat under his blanket when it rained. If
tobacco failed him, he scraped and dried willow peelings, and called
them kinnickinnick. This worthy relation had worked no increase in
Jenieve's home except an increase of children. He frequently yelled
around the crescent bay, brandishing his silk hat in the exaltation of
rum. And when he finally fell off the wharf into deep water, and was
picked out to make another mound in the Indian burying-ground, Jenieve
was so fiercely elated that she was afraid to confess it to the
priest. Strange matches were made on the frontier, and Indian wives
were commoner than any other kind; but through the whole mortifying
existence of this Indian husband Jenieve avoided the sight of him, and
called her mother steadily Mama Lalotte. The girl had remained with
her grandmother, while Francois Iroquois carried off his wife to the
Indian village on a western height of the island. Her grandmother had
died, and Jenieve continued to keep house on the beach, having always
with her one or more of the half-breed babies, until the plunge
of Francois Iroquois allowed her to bring them all home with their
mother. There was but one farm on the island, and Jenieve had all the
spinning which the sheep afforded. She was the finest spinner in that
region. Her grandmother had taught her to spin with a little wheel,
as they still do about Quebec. Her pay was small. There was not much
money then in the country, but bills of credit on the Fur Company's
store were the same as cash, and she managed to feed her mother and
the Indian's family. Fish were to be had for the catching, and
she could get corn-meal and vegetables for her soup pot in partial
exchange for her labor. The luxuries of life on the island were air
and water, and the glories of evening and morning. People who could
buy them got such gorgeous clothes as were brought by the Company.
But usually Jenieve felt happy enough when she put on her best red
homespun bodice and petticoat for mass or to go to dances. She did
wish for shoes. The ladies at the fort had shoes, with heels which
clicked when they danced. Jenieve could dance better, but she always
felt their eyes on her moccasins, and came to regard shoes as the
chief article of one's attire.
Though the joy of shoeing her brothers was not to be put off, she
had not intended to let them keep on these precious brogans of
civilization while they played beside the water. But she suddenly saw
Mama Lalotte walking along the street near the lake with old Michel
Pensonneau. Beyond these moving figures were many others, of engages
and Indians, swarming in front of the Fur Company's great warehouse.
Some were talking and laughing; others were in a line, bearing bales
of furs from bateaux just arrived at the log-and-stone wharf stretched
from the centre of the bay. But all of them, and curious women peeping
from their houses on the beach, particularly Jean Bati' McClure's
wife, could see that Michel Pensonneau was walking with Mama Lalotte.
This sight struck cold down Jenieve's spine. Mama Lalotte was really
the heaviest charge she had. Not twenty minutes before had that
flighty creature been set to watch the supper pot, and here she
was, mincing along, and fixing her pale blue laughing eyes on Michel
Pensonneau, and bobbing her curly flaxen head at every word he spoke.
A daughter who has a marrying mother on her hands may become morbidly
anxious; Jenieve felt she should have no peace of mind during the
month the coureurs-de-bois remained on the island. Whether they
arrived early or late, they had soon to be off to the winter
hunting-grounds; yet here was an emergency.
"Mama Lalotte!" called Jenieve. Her strong young fingers beckoned with
authority. "Come here to me. I want you."
The giddy parent, startled and conscious, turned a conciliating smile
that way. "Yes, Jenieve," she answered obediently, "I come." But she
continued to pace by the side of Michel Pensonneau.
Jenieve desired to grasp her by the shoulder and walk her into the
house; but when the world, especially Jean Bati' McClure's wife, is
watching to see how you manage an unruly mother, it is necessary to
use some adroitness.
"Will you please come here, dear Mama Lalotte? Toussaint wants you."
"No, I don't!" shouted Toussaint. "It is Michel Pensonneau I want, to
make me some boats."
The girl did not hesitate. She intercepted the couple, and took her
mother's arm in hers. The desperation of her act appeared to her while
she was walking Mama Lalotte home; still, if nothing but force will
restrain a parent, you must use force.
Michel Pensonneau stood squarely in his moccasins, turning redder
and redder at the laugh of his cronies before the warehouse. He was
dressed in new buckskins, and their tawny brightness made his florid
cheeks more evident. Michel Pensonneau had been brought up by the
Cadottes of Sault Ste. Marie, and he had rich relations at Cahokia,
in the Illinois Territory. If he was not as good as the family of
Francois Iroquois, he wanted to know the reason why. It is true, he
was past forty and a bachelor. To be a bachelor, in that region, where
Indian wives were so plenty and so easily got rid of, might bring
some reproach on a man. Michel had begun to see that it did. He was
an easy, gormandizing, good fellow, shapelessly fat, and he never had
stirred himself during his month of freedom to do any courting. But
Frenchmen of his class considered fifty the limit of an active life.
It behooved him now to begin looking around; to prepare a fireside for
himself. Michel was a good clerk to his employers. Cumbrous though his
body might be, when he was in the woods he never shirked any hardship
to secure a specially fine bale of furs.
Mama Lalotte, propelled against her will, sat down, trembling, in the
house. Jenieve, trembling also, took the wooden bowls and spoons from
a shelf and ladled out soup for the evening meal. Mama Lalotte was
always willing to have the work done without trouble to herself, and
she sat on a three-legged stool, like a guest. The supper pot boiled
in the centre of the house, hanging on the crane which was fastened to
a beam overhead. Smoke from the clear fire passed that richly darkened
transverse of timber as it ascended, and escaped through a hole in
the bark roof. The Fur Company had a great building with chimneys;
but poor folks were glad to have a cedar hut of one room, covered with
bark all around and on top. A fire-pit, or earthen hearth, was left
in the centre, and the nearer the floor could be brought to this hole,
without danger, the better the house was. On winter nights, fat French
and half-breed children sat with heels to this sunken altar, and heard
tales of massacre or privation which made the family bunks along the
wall seem couches of luxury. It was the aboriginal hut patterned after
his Indian brother's by the Frenchman; and the succession of British
and American powers had not yet improved it. To Jenieve herself, the
crisis before her, so insignificant against the background of that
historic island, was more important than massacre or conquest.
"Mama,"--she spoke tremulously,--"I was obliged to bring you in. It is
not proper to be seen on the street with an engage". The town is now
full of these bush-lopers."
"Bush-lopers, mademoiselle!" The little flaxen-haired woman had a
shrill voice. "What was your own father?"
"He was a clerk, madame," maintained the girl's softer treble, "and
always kept good credit for his family at the Company's store."
"I see no difference. They are all the same."
"Francois Iroquois was not the same." As the girl said this she felt a
powder-like flash from her own eyes.
Mama Lalotte was herself a little ashamed of the Francois Iroquois
alliance, but she answered, "He let me walk outside the house, at
least. You allow me no amusement at all. I cannot even talk over the
fence to Jean Bati' McClure's wife."
"Mama, you do not understand the danger of all these things, and I do.
Jean Bati' McClure's wife will be certain to get you into trouble.
She is not a proper woman for you to associate with. Her mind runs on
nothing but match-making."
"Speak to her, then, for yourself. I wish you would get married."
"I never shall," declared Jenieve. "I have seen the folly of it."
"You never have been young," complained Mama Lalotte. "You don't know
how a young person feels.
"I let you go to the dances," argued Jenieve. "You have as good a
time as any woman on the island. But old Michel Pensonneau," she added
sternly, "is not settling down to smoke his pipe for the remainder of
his life on this doorstep."
"Monsieur Pensonneau is not old."
"Do you take up for him, Mama Lalotte, in spite of me?" In the girl's
rich brunette face the scarlet of the cheeks deepened. "Am I not more
to you than Michel Pensonneau or any other engage? He is old; he is
past forty. Would I call him old if he were no more than twenty?"
"Every one cannot be only twenty and a young agent," retorted her
elder; and Jenieve's ears and throat reddened, also.
"Have I not done my best for you and the boys? Do you think it does
not hurt me to be severe with you?"
Mama Lalotte flounced around on her stool, but made no reply. She saw
peeping and smiling at the edge of the door a neighbor's face, that
encouraged her insubordinations. Its broad, good-natured upper
lip thinly veiled with hairs, its fleshy eyelids and thick brows,
expressed a strength which she had not, yet would gladly imitate.
"Jenieve Lalotte," spoke the neighbor, "before you finish whipping
your mother you had better run and whip the boys. They are throwing
their shoes in the lake."
"Their shoes!" Jenieve cried, and she scarcely looked at Jean Bati'
McClure's wife, but darted outdoors along the beach.
"Oh, children, have you lost your shoes?"
"No," answered Toussaint, looking up with a countenance full of
"Where are they?"
"In the lake."
"You didn't throw your new shoes in the lake?"
"We took them for boats," said Gabriel freely. "But they are not even
fit for boats."
"I threw mine as far as I could," observed Francois. "You can't make
anything float in them."
She could see one of them stranded on the lake bottom, loaded with
stones, its strings playing back and forth in the clear water. The
others were gone out to the straits. Jenieve remembered all her toil
for them, and her denial of her own wants that she might give to these
half-savage boys, who considered nothing lost that they threw into the
She turned around to run to the house. But there stood Jean Bati'
McClure's wife, talking through the door, and encouraging her mother
to walk with coureurs-de-bois. The girl's heart broke. She took to the
bushes to hide her weeping, and ran through them towards the path she
had followed so many times when her only living kindred were at the
Indian village. The pine woods received her into their ascending
heights, and she mounted towards sunset.
Panting from her long walk, Jenieve came out of the woods upon a
grassy open cliff, called by the islanders Pontiac's Lookout, because
the great war chief used to stand on that spot, forty years before,
and gaze southward, as if he never could give up his hope of the union
of his people. Jenieve knew the story. She had built playhouses
here, when a child, without being afraid of the old chief's lingering
influence; for she seemed to understand his trouble, and this night
she was more in sympathy with Pontiac than ever before in her life.
She sat down on the grass, wiping the tears from her hot cheeks,
her dark eyes brooding on the lovely straits. There might be more
beautiful sights in the world, but Jenieve doubted it; and a white
gull drifted across her vision like a moving star.
Pontiac's Lookout had been the spot from which she watched her
father's bateau disappear behind Round Island. He used to go by way of
Detroit to the Canadian woods. Here she wept out her first grief for
his death; and here she stopped, coming and going between her mother
and grandmother. The cliff down to the beach was clothed with a thick
growth which took away the terror of falling, and many a time Jenieve
had thrust her bare legs over the edge to sit and enjoy the outlook.
There were old women on the island who could remember seeing Pontiac.
Her grandmother had told her how he looked. She had heard that, though
his bones had been buried forty years beside the Mississippi, he yet
came back to the Lookout every night during that summer month when
all the tribes assembled at the island to receive money from a new
government. He could not lie still while they took a little metal and
ammunition in their hands in exchange for their country. As for the
tribes, they enjoyed it. Jenieve could see their night fires begin to
twinkle on Round Island and Bois Blanc, and the rising hubbub of their
carnival came to her like echoes across the strait. There was one
growing star on the long hooked reef which reached out from Round
Island, and figures of Indians were silhouetted against the lake,
running back and forth along that high stone ridge. Evening coolness
stole up to Jenieve, for the whole water world was purpling; and sweet
pine and cedar breaths, humid and invisible, were all around her. Her
trouble grew small, laid against the granite breast of the island, and
the woods darkened and sighed behind her. Jenieve could hear the shout
of some Indian boy at the distant village. She was not afraid, but her
shoulders contracted with a shiver. The place began to smell rankly
of sweetbrier. There was no sweetbrier on the cliff or in the woods,
though many bushes grew on alluvial slopes around the bay. Jenieve
loved the plant, and often stuck a piece of it in her bosom. But this
was a cold smell, striking chill to the bones. Her flesh and hair
and clothes absorbed the scent, and it cooled her nostrils with its
strange ether, the breath of sweetbrier, which always before seemed
tinctured by the sun. She had a sensation of moving sidewise out of
her own person; and then she saw the chief Pontiac standing on the
edge of the cliff. Jenieve knew his back, and the feathers in his hair
which the wind did not move. His head turned on a pivot, sweeping the
horizon from St. Ignace, where the white man first set foot, to Round
Island, where the shameful fires burned. His hard, set features were
silver color rather than copper, as she saw his profile against the
sky. His arms were folded in his blanket. Jenieve was as sure that she
saw Pontiac as she was sure of the rock on which she sat. She poked
one finger through the sward to the hardness underneath. The rock was
below her, and Pontiac stood before her. He turned his head back from
Round Island to St. Ignace. The wind blew against him, and the brier
odor, sickening sweet, poured over Jenieve.
She heard the dogs bark in Mackinac village, and leaves moving behind
her, and the wash of water at the base of the island which always
sounded like a small rain. Instead of feeling afraid, she was in a
nightmare of sorrow. Pontiac had loved the French almost as well as
he loved his own people. She breathed the sweetbrier scent, her neck
stretched forward and her dark eyes fixed on him; and as his head
turned back from St. Ignace his whole body moved with it, and he
looked at Jenieve.
His eyes were like a cat's in the purple darkness, or like that
heatless fire which shines on rotting bark. The hoar-frosted
countenance was noble even in its most brutal lines. Jenieve, without
knowing she was saying a word, spoke out:--
"Monsieur the chief Pontiac, what ails the French and Indians?"
"Malatat," answered Pontiac. The word came at her with force.
"Monsieur the chief Pontiac," repeated Jenieve, struggling to
understand, "I say, what ails the French and Indians?"
"Malatat!" His guttural cry rang through the bushes. Jenieve was so
startled that she sprung back, catching herself on her hands. But
without the least motion of walking he was far westward, showing like
a phosphorescent bar through the trees, and still moving on, until the
pallor was lost from sight.
Jenieve at once began to cross herself. She had forgotten to do it
before. The rankness of sweetbrier followed her some distance down the
path, and she said prayers all the way home.
You cannot talk with great spirits and continue to chafe about little
things. The boys' shoes and Mama Lalotte's lightness were the same
as forgotten. Jenieve entered her house with dew in her hair, and
an unterrified freshness of body for whatever might happen. She was
certain she had seen Pontiac, but she would never tell anybody to have
it laughed at. There was no candle burning, and the fire had almost
died under the supper pot. She put a couple of sticks on the coals,
more for their blaze than to heat her food. But the Mackinac night
was chill, and it was pleasant to see the interior of her little home
flickering to view. Candles were lighted in many houses along the
beach, and amongst them Mama Lalotte was probably roaming,--for she
had left the door open towards the lake,--and the boys' voices could
be heard with others in the direction of the log wharf.
Jenieve took her supper bowl and sat down on the doorstep. The light
cloud of smoke, drawn up to the roof-hole, ascended behind her,
forming an azure gray curtain against which her figure showed,
round-wristed and full-throated. The starlike camp fires on Round
Island were before her, and the incessant wash of the water on its
pebbles was company to her. Somebody knocked on the front door.
"It is that insolent Michel Pensonneau," thought Jenieve. "When he
is tired he will go away." Yet she was not greatly surprised when the
visitor ceased knocking and came around the palisades.
"Good-evening, Monsieur Crooks," said Jenieve.
"Good-evening, mademoiselle," responded Monsieur Crooks, and he leaned
against the hut side, cap in hand, where he could look at her. He had
never yet been asked to enter the house. Jenieve continued to eat her
"I hope monsieur your uncle is well?"
"My uncle is well. It isn't necessary for me to inquire about madame
your mother, for I have just seen her sitting on McClure's doorstep."
"Oh," said Jenieve.
The young man shook his cap in a restless hand. Though he spoke French
easily, he was not dressed like an engage, and he showed through the
dark the white skin of the Saxon.
"Mademoiselle Jenieve,"--he spoke suddenly,--"you know my uncle is
well established as agent of the Fur Company, and as his assistant I
expect to stay here."
"Yes, monsieur. Did you take in some fine bales of furs to-day?"
"That is not what I was going to say."
"Monsieur Crooks, you speak all languages, don't you?"
"Not all. A few. I know a little of nearly every one of our Indian
"Monsieur, what does 'malatat' mean?"
"'Malatat'? That's a Chippewa word. You will often hear that. It means
'good for nothing.'"
"But I have heard that the chief Pontiac was an Ottawa."
The young man was not interested in Pontiac.
"A chief would know a great many dialects," he replied. "Chippewa was
the tongue of this island. But what I wanted to say is that I have
had a serious talk with the agent. He is entirely willing to have me
settle down. And he says, what is the truth, that you are the best and
prettiest girl at the straits. I have spoken my mind often enough. Why
shouldn't we get married right away?"
Jenieve set her bowl and spoon inside the house, and folded her arms.
"Monsieur, have I not told you many times? I cannot marry. I have a
The young agent struck his cap impatiently against the bark
weather-boarding. "You are the most offish girl I ever saw. A man
cannot get near enough to you to talk reason."
"It would be better if you did not come down here at all, Monsieur
Crooks," said Jenieve. "The neighbors will be saying I am setting a
bad example to my mother."
"Bring your mother up to the Fur Company's quarters with you, and the
neighbors will no longer have a chance to put mischief into her head."
Jenieve took him seriously, though she had often suspected, from
what she could see at the fort, that Americans had not the custom of
marrying an entire family.
"It is really too fine a place for us."
Young Crooks laughed. Squaws had lived in the Fur Company's quarters,
but he would not mention this fact to the girl.
His eyes dwelt fondly on her in the darkness, for though the fire
behind her had again sunk to embers, it cast up a little glow; and he
stood entirely in the star-embossed outside world. It is not safe
to talk in the dark: you tell too much. The primitive instinct of
truth-speaking revives in force, and the restraints of another's
presence are gone. You speak from the unseen to the unseen over
leveled barriers of reserve. Young Crooks had scarcely said that
place was nothing, and he would rather live in that little house
with Jenieve than in the Fur Company's quarters without her, when she
exclaimed openly, "And have old Michel Pensonneau put over you!"
The idea of Michel Pensonneau taking precedence of him as master
of the cedar hut was delicious to the American, as he recalled the
engage's respectful slouch while receiving the usual bill of credit.
"One may laugh, monsieur. I laugh myself; it is better than crying.
But it is the truth that Mama Lalotte is more care to me than all the
boys. I have no peace except when she is asleep in bed."
"There is no harm in Madame Lalotte."
"You are right, monsieur. Jean Bati' McClure's wife puts all the
mischief in her head. She would even learn to spin, if that woman
would let her alone."
"And I never heard any harm of Michel Pensonneau. He is a good enough
fellow, and he has more to his credit on the Company's books than any
other engage now on the island."
"I suppose you would like to have him sit and smoke his pipe the rest
of his days on your doorstep?"
"No, I wouldn't," confessed the young agent. "Michel is a saving man,
and he uses very mean tobacco, the cheapest in the house."
"You see how I am situated, monsieur. It is no use to talk to me."
"But Michel Pensonneau is not going to trouble you long. He has
relations at Cahokia, in the Illinois Territory, and he is fitting
himself out to go there to settle."
"Are you sure of this, monsieur?"
"Certainly I am, for we have already made him a bill of credit to our
correspondent at Cahokia. He wants very few goods to carry across the
"Monsieur, how soon does he intend to go?"
"On the first schooner that sails to the head of the lake; so he may
set out any day. Michel is anxious to try life on the Mississippi, and
his three years' engagement with the Company is just ended."
"I also am anxious to have him try life on the Mississippi," said
Jenieve, and she drew a deep breath of relief. "Why did you not tell
me this before?"
"How could I know you were interested in him?"
"He is not a bad man," she admitted kindly. "I can see that he means
very well. If the McClures would go to the Illinois Territory
with him--But, Monsieur Crooks," Jenieve asked sharply, "do people
sometimes make sudden marriages?"
"In my case they have not," sighed the young man. "But I think well of
sudden marriages myself. The priest comes to the island this week."
"Yes, and I must take the children to confession."
"What are you going to do with me, Jenieve?"
"I am going to say good-night to you, and shut my door." She stepped
into the house.
"Not yet. It is only a little while since they fired the sunset gun at
the fort. You are not kind to shut me out the moment I come."
She gave him her hand, as she always did when she said good-night, and
he prolonged his hold of it.
"You are full of sweetbrier. I didn't know it grew down here on the
"It never did grow here, Monsieur Crooks."
"You shall have plenty of it in your garden, when you come home with
"Oh, go away, and let me shut my door, monsieur. It seems no use to
tell you I cannot come."
"No use at all. Until you come, then, good-night."
Seldom are two days alike on the island. Before sunrise the lost dews
of paradise always sweeten those scented woods, and the birds begin to
remind you of something you heard in another life, but have forgotten.
Jenieve loved to open her door and surprise the east. She stepped out
the next morning to fill her pail. There was a lake of translucent
cloud beyond the water lake: the first unruffled, and the second
wind-stirred. The sun pushed up, a flattened red ball, from the lake
of steel ripples to the lake of calm clouds. Nearer, a schooner with
its sails down stood black as ebony between two bars of light drawn
across the water, which lay dull and bleak towards the shore. The
addition of a schooner to the scattered fleet of sailboats, bateaux,
and birch canoes made Jenieve laugh. It must have arrived from Sault
Ste. Marie in the night. She had hopes of getting rid of Michel
Pensonneau that very day. Since he was going to Cahokia, she felt
stinging regret for the way she had treated him before the whole
village; yet her mother could not be sacrificed to politeness. Except
his capacity for marrying, there was really no harm in the old fellow,
as Monsieur Crooks had said.
The humid blockhouse and walls of the fort high above the bay began to
glisten in emerging sunlight, and Jenieve determined not to be hard on
Mama Lalotte that day. If Michel came to say good-by, she would shake
his hand herself. It was not agreeable for a woman so fond of company
to sit in the house with nobody but her daughter. Mama Lalotte did
not love the pine woods, or any place where she would be alone. But
Jenieve could sit and spin in solitude all day, and think of that
chill silver face she had seen at Pontiac's Lookout, and the floating
away of the figure, a phosphorescent bar through the trees, and of
that spoken word which had denounced the French and Indians as good
for nothing. She decided to tell the priest, even if he rebuked her.
It did not seem any stranger to Jenieve than many things which were
called natural, such as the morning miracles in the eastern sky, and
the growth of the boys, her dear torments. To Jenieve's serious eyes,
trained by her grandmother, it was not as strange as the sight of Mama
Lalotte, a child in maturity, always craving amusement, and easily led
by any chance hand.
The priest had come to Mackinac in the schooner during the night. He
combined this parish with others more or less distant, and he opened
the chapel and began his duties as soon as he arrived. Mama Lalotte
herself offered to dress the boys for confession. She put their best
clothes on them, and then she took out all her own finery. Jenieve
had no suspicion while the little figure preened and burnished itself,
making up for the lack of a mirror by curves of the neck to look
itself well over. Mama Lalotte thought a great deal about what she
wore. She was pleased, and her flaxen curls danced. She kissed Jenieve
on both cheeks, as if there had been no quarrel, though unpleasant
things never lingered in her memory. And she made the boys kiss
Jenieve; and while they were saddened by clothes, she also made them
say they were sorry about the shoes.
By sunset, the schooner, which had sat in the straits all day, hoisted
its sails and rounded the hooked point of the opposite island. The
gun at the fort was like a parting salute, and a shout was raised by
coureurs-de-bois thronging the log wharf. They trooped up to the fur
warehouse, and the sound of a fiddle and the thump of soft-shod feet
were soon heard; for the French were ready to celebrate any occasion
with dancing. Laughter and the high excited voices of women also
came from the little ball-room, which was only the office of the Fur
Here the engages felt at home. The fiddler sat on the top of the desk,
and men lounging on a row of benches around the walls sprang to their
feet and began to caper at the violin's first invitation. Such maids
and wives as were nearest the building were haled in, laughing, by
their relations; and in the absence of the agents, and of that awe
which goes with making your cross-mark on a paper, a quick carnival
was held on the spot where so many solemn contracts had been signed.
An odor of furs came from the packing-rooms around, mixed with gums
and incense-like whiffs. Added to this was the breath of the general
store kept by the agency. Tobacco and snuff, rum, chocolate, calico,
blankets, wood and iron utensils, fire-arms, West India sugar and
rice,--all sifted their invisible essences on the air. Unceiled joists
showed heavy and brown overhead. But there was no fireplace, for when
the straits stood locked in ice and the island was deep in snow, no
engage claimed admission here. He would be a thousand miles away,
toiling on snow-shoes with his pack of furs through the trees,
or bargaining with trappers for his contribution to this month of
Clean buckskin legs and brand-new belted hunting-shirts whirled on the
floor, brightened by sashes of crimson or kerchiefs of orange. Indians
from the reservation on Round Island, who happened to be standing,
like statues, in front of the building, turned and looked with lenient
eye on the performance of their French brothers. The fiddler was a
nervous little Frenchman with eyes like a weasel, and he detected
Jenieve Lalotte putting her head into the room. She glanced from
figure to figure of the dancers, searching through the twilight for
what she could not find; but before he could call her she was off.
None of the men, except a few Scotch-French, were very tall, but
they were a handsome, muscular race, fierce in enjoyment, yet with a
languor which prolonged it, and gave grace to every picturesque pose.
Not one of them wanted to pain Lalotte's girl, but, as they danced,
a joyful fellow would here and there spring high above the floor and
shout, "Good voyage to Michel Pensonneau and his new family!" They had
forgotten the one who amused them yesterday, and remembered only the
one who amused them to-day.
Jenieve struck on Jean Bati' McClure's door, and faced his wife,
speechless, pointing to the schooner ploughing southward.
"Yes, she's gone," said Jean Bati' McClure's wife, "and the boys with
The confidante came out on the step, and tried to lay her hand on
Jenieve's shoulder, but the girl moved backward from her.
"Now let me tell you, it is a good thing for you, Jenieve Lalotte. You
can make a fine match of your own to-morrow. It is not natural for a
girl to live as you have lived. You are better off without them."
"But my mother has left me!"
"Well, I am sorry for you; but you were hard on her."
"I blame you, madame!"
"You might as well blame the priest, who thought it best not to let
them go unmarried. And she has taken a much worse man than Michel
Pensonneau in her time."
"My mother and my brothers have left me here alone," repeated Jenieve;
and she wrung her hands and put them over her face. The trouble was so
overwhelming that it broke her down before her enemy.
"Oh, don't take it to heart," said Jean Bati' McClure's wife, with
ready interest in the person nearest at hand. "Come and eat supper
with my man and me to-night, and sleep in our house if you are
Jenieve leaned her forehead against the hut, and made no reply to
these neighborly overtures.
"Did she say nothing at all about me, madame?"
"Yes; she was afraid you would come at the last minute and take her by
the arm and walk her home. You were too strict with her, and that is
the truth. She was glad to get away to Cahokia. They say it is fine in
the Illinois Territory. You know she is fond of seeing the world."
The young supple creature trying to restrain her shivers and sobs of
anguish against the bark house side was really a moving sight; and
Jean Bati' McClure's wife, flattening a masculine upper lip with
resolution, said promptly,--
"I am going this moment to the Fur Company's quarters to send young
Monsieur Crooks after you."
At that Jenieve fled along the beach and took to the bushes. As she
ran, weeping aloud like a child, she watched the lessening schooner;
and it seemed a monstrous thing, out of nature, that her mother was
on that little ship, fleeing from her, with a thoughtless face set
smiling towards a new world. She climbed on, to keep the schooner in
sight, and made for Pontiac's Lookout, reckless of what she had seen
The distant canvas became one leaning sail, and then a speck, and
then nothing. There was an afterglow on the water which turned it to
a wavering pavement of yellow-pink sheen. In that clear, high
atmosphere, mainland shores and islands seemed to throw out the
evening purples from themselves, and thus to slowly reach for one
another and form darkness. Jenieve had lain on the grass, crying, "O
Mama--Francois--Toussaint--Gabriel!" But she sat up at last, with her
dejected head on her breast, submitting to the pettiness and treachery
of what she loved. Bats flew across the open place. A sudden rankness
of sweetbrier, taking her breath away by its icy puff, reminded her of
other things, and she tried to get up and run. Instead of running she
seemed to move sidewise out of herself, and saw Pontiac standing on
the edge of the cliff. His head turned from St. Ignace to the reviving
fires on Round Island, and slowly back again from Round Island to St.
Ignace. Jenieve felt as if she were choking, but again she asked out
of her heart to his,--
"Monsieur the chief Pontiac, what ails the French and Indians?"
He floated around to face her, the high ridges of his bleached
features catching light; but this time he showed only dim dead eyes.
His head sunk on his breast, and Jenieve could see the fronds of the
feathers he wore traced indistinctly against the sky. The dead eyes
searched for her and could not see her; he whispered hoarsely to
The voice of the living world calling her name sounded directly
afterwards in the woods, and Jenieve leaped as if she were shot. She
had the instinct that her lover must not see this thing, for there
were reasons of race and religion against it. But she need not
have feared that Pontiac would show himself, or his long and savage
mourning for the destruction of the red man, to any descendant of
the English. As the bushes closed behind her she looked back: the
phosphoric blur was already so far in the west that she could hardly
be sure she saw it again. And the young agent of the Fur Company,
breaking his way among leaves, met her with both hands; saying gayly,
to save her the shock of talking about her mother:--
"Come home, come home, my sweetbrier maid. No wonder you smell
of sweetbrier. I am rank with it myself, rubbing against the dewy