Read Calico Captive Online

Authors: Elizabeth George Speare

Tags: #Ages 10 and up

Calico Captive (10 page)

Hortense had not forgotten her completely, however. She came back to Miriam a little later with a small frown between her eyes.

"Jules does not know about your little girls," she said. "He will find out for us tomorrow, perhaps. But he has heard about your brother, the English captain."

"What about him?" Miriam begged.

"They have put him in the prison. But don't look like that, Miriam. Jules says they often keep English prisoners there. He will try to find out more. You must not worry about it."

Miriam shivered in the warm kitchen. She had felt all along that it was treacherous of her to enjoy this place. Now the fragrant steam rising from the hearth sickened her. It was all an illusion, this luxury she had begun to take for granted. If James were in prison, there was no hope that Susanna could escape from St. Francis. They were all separated and helpless, and what hope was there that they would ever go home again?

"Come, Miriam," coaxed Hortense. "It is not so bad. I think you like Montreal, when you know it better. Besides, tomorrow night Jules will come back, and maybe you be surprised. You see."

Chapter 9

F
INISHED
already?" inquired Hortense, as Miriam came back to the kitchen next morning.

"Madame cut the lesson short," Miriam responded. "They are going out for a drive."

"You are still sad,
n'est-ce pas?
" observed Hortense. "That is not good on a morning like this."

On the tip of Miriam's tongue, ready to pour out to any sympathetic ear, was the latest snub that Madame Du Quesne had inflicted. That morning Felicité had had a sudden impulse.

"Maman," she had begged, "let Miriam go with us to drive in the carriage. Think, Maman, she has never even ridden in such a carriage as ours!"

Madame's icy glance had flicked both the eager young faces. "You forget yourself, Felicité" was all she had said, but Miriam accepted the rebuke meant for her.

No doubt she had forgotten herself. How could she think that Felicité could really be her friend, when she was a prisoner and a servant? But she was a Willard too, and wasn't a Willard good enough to ride in a carriage with a Du Quesne? However, something warned her that she had best keep this disappointment to herself. It would never occur to Hortense to have her feelings hurt because she wasn't invited for a drive in the carriage. Better to allow Hortense to assume that it was worry and not snubbed pride that dampened her spirits.

"I am going to take you to market with me," Hortense announced now. "They cannot expect you to work all the time, and you can help carry the vegetables. I ask Madame."

She was back in a moment with permission. Presently both girls set out, red wool scarves tied about their heads, baskets swinging on their arms. Miriam's spirits bounced upward. Shafts of sunlight slanted through the narrow street. Above the steep gabled rooftops the sky shone a brilliant October blue.

"That is the Mayor's house," Hortense pointed out, as they descended the hill past fine stone mansions. "And there is the Séminaire de Saint Sulpice."

Miriam stared curiously through the iron gateway. Beyond the stone building she caught a glimpse of quiet gardens between neat paths, of lovely old trees whose yellow leaves drifted gently into a tranquil pond. Against the high protecting walls branches had been carefully trained to spread in graceful patterns. A priest in his dark robe was pruning a small fruit tree. How strange that men should have leisure to cultivate plants and trees not for sustenance at all, but merely for beauty! There was much about this place that she would like to ask Hortense, but the practical French words she had learned would never convey the questions that crowded her mind.

They came out on the Rue de St. Paul. Between this long street and the river were crowded the busy shops of shoemakers, gunsmiths, hatmakers, bakers, furriers, with their wares displayed in windows and doorways. Beyond these rose the dingy warehouses that fronted the water's edge. What a bustling there was everywhere! Housewives stepped briskly toward the market place, nodding and chatting to one another. Servants in short skirts and bodices like her own and matrons in flounces, with elaborately curled and powdered hair, mingled with soldiers in white uniforms laced with black, and priests in their dark robes. Along the street came two smiling Sisters, in gray robes, marshaling a group of little girls in neat wool dresses. As they passed, Miriam stopped to stare at the children's smooth dark braids.

"Why, they are Indian children!" she exclaimed.

"But of course," answered Hortense. "They belong to the School."

A school for Indian children! Miriam had never heard of such a thing. Back in Charlestown, in peace times, the Indian traders had sometimes been trailed by children, sly dirty little rascals, skittish as wild animals. "Keep an eye on them," the settlers' wives had said, "they can steal a loaf of bread quicker than you can wink." Who had ever seen Indian children like these happy little girls, scrubbed and decorous and smiling?

"What do they learn?" she asked wonderingly.

"The same as French girls, to sing hymns and paint pictures and sew and embroider. Indian girls have very clever fingers for sewing."

Miriam turned reluctantly from the charming procession to match the impatient stride of her friend. In a moment the Indians were forgotten as the sounds and colors and smells of the market place rose about her in such wealth. Housewives bargained shrilly over stalls piled high with golden carrots, glossy red apples, green lettuce and cabbage, and great orange pumpkins. Chickens squawked from wicker baskets. At the end of the row they stopped at the fish stall and Hortense selected a huge silver cod and four loathsome, snake-like eels. It was a pleasure to watch Hortense shop, to see her move from stall to stall, knowingly pinching the ripe fruit, keeping a sharp eye on the scales, battling good-naturedly for a bargain.

 

"They all know your name!" Miriam marveled. "Why, in my whole life I have never seen so many people as you have talked to just this morning."

Hortense did not hear her. She was standing stock still, her round cheeks quivering with excitement.

"
Regardez!
" she exclaimed. "The
coureur de bois!
I thought they had all gone!"

There was a burst of raucous, rollicking song. Down the street, four abreast, causing everyone to step aside to make room, strode four young men. One of the four, standing taller, singing louder, and striding a little more confidently than the others, captured every eye along the way. He was certainly the handsomest man Miriam had ever seen, yet he reminded her strikingly of Mehkoa. He moved with the same panther-like grace; his head and shoulders had the same arrogant lift. He was dressed almost like an Indian, too, in a deerskin jacket and leather breeches. He was burned dark as a redskin. But the black hair that curled tight and short against his head and the flashing white teeth proclaimed him a Frenchman, and no ordinary habitant, by the way the humble folk moved out of his way.

As the girls watched, he checked his rapid stride and raised an arm in greeting. Following his smile, Miriam saw a sight calculated to cause any young man to stand still. Reined in on the opposite side of the street were two sleekly matched horses, and in a handsome carriage, behind a gold-braided footman, sat Madame Du Quesne, out for her morning drive. Beside her was her daughter Felicité, a pink and white vision of ruffles and bows and powdered curls. Her pretty lips parted in a bewitching smile as the
coureur
left his companions and bounded across the street. From the carriage a white-gloved hand stretched daintily, to which he bent with a flourish. Madame Du Quesne was almost unrecognizable, so transformed with nods and smiles. As the three chatted, Hortense and Miriam were not the only ones who gaped, forgetting business and manners.

"Ah—what a pair they make!" sighed Hortense. "Both so handsome,
n'est-ce pas?
"

"A pair?" echoed Miriam. "Felicité and that—that
coureur?
"

"If Madame has her way," laughed Hortense. "At least that's what they say. It won't be easy to snare that Pierre—he is a fox!"

"So that is the Pierre Felicité is always talking about?" Miriam was shocked. "Why, he looks like a savage!"

"Oh, they all dress like that, the
coureur de bois.
It is part of the game. But that one—that Pierre—he is the grandson of Monsieur Laroche. His
grandpère
made a fortune in the fur trade. Any girl in New France would be proud to marry a Laroche."

"Even you, Hortense?" teased Miriam, amused at her friend's respectful tone.

Hortense was scandalized. "Pierre Laroche is a nobleman!" she said, flustered. "And even if he weren't, I'd never trade my Jules for any
coureur!
"

"What are
coureurs,
Hortense?"

"Fur traders. They go out on their own, not like the regular
voyageurs.
They think they are too good to work like ordinary folk. They leave their families and go off to trade with the Indians and get rich. A wild lot, most of them. They say they sleep in Indian wigwams, and eat dirty Indian food, and when they come back in the summer—pfft!—they spend everything they have earned."

The
coureur de bois,
Pierre, had rejoined his companions across the street, and Miriam lost sight of him in her absorption with the carriage and its occupants. She admired the way the sleek horses lifted their feet daintily from the road as though vain of the precious cargo they drew. Félicité was like a delicate flower. What must it be like, to wear a dress like that, and to ride so elegantly, to have gloves on one's hands, and to know that all along the way people tinned their heads and stared? Lost in envious wonder, Miriam had no idea that at the same time that she stared at Felicité, at least one pair of eyes was as keenly fixed on her own face. She was completely unaware of the soldier who had halted nearby. Had she stayed demurely at Hortense's side he would doubtless have gone on his way without daring to accost her. But as she stood, quite forgetful of herself, her attention was suddenly distracted by a familiar figure, a pair of erect shoulders and a head of grizzled hair. A little ahead of the carriage James Johnson, accompanied by a French soldier, was just turning away from the street into an alleyway. Without an instant's thought, Miriam flung herself into the roadway.

"James!" she screamed. "James! Wait!" That James was already out of sight and could not possibly hear her did not matter, nor that her English words and her headlong rush would startle the market place. The young soldier who had been eying her leaped into action. Before she had run three steps Miriam's flight was halted by a solid figure in her path.

Even in her excitement Miriam recognized the soldier who had stared at her so rudely that first night on the riverbank. But she could not bother with him now. She attempted to dart past him, and had almost made it when he caught her by the arm. For a moment she glared at him, then, quicker than thought, she dropped the market basket and her free hand came up in a vigorous slap against that grinning face. Wrenching herself free, she gathered up her skirts and ran, with all the fleetness that had once outstripped every boy at Number Four.

She had marked the place where James had turned, but she reached it too late. The alley was completely empty, and in the moment that she paused to get her bearings, the soldier caught up with her again, a half-dozen delighted boys at his heels. This time there was no breaking away from him. He meant business, and he was quickly reinforced by a fellow soldier at her other elbow.

"Let me go!" Miriam stormed, frantic at missing James. She struggled furiously to free herself, aware, in a panic, that a curious crowd was already hemming her in.

"What is going on here?" The voice was deliberate and authoritative. The crowd gave way before the tall figure that pushed its way through. Looking up, Miriam met the vastly amused gaze of the young
coureur de bois.

"She was escaping! She is the English prisoner!" the soldier boasted.

"I am not escaping!" Miriam cried. "That's ridiculous! Where could I escape to?"

"You let go of her!" The angry new comment came from Hortense, breathlessly elbowing her way through the spectators. Her indignation had no effect on the soldier.

"She was escaping!" he shouted, twisting her arm tighter. Perhaps he was doing his duty, but certainly he was enjoying it. He had a red mark on his cheek to repay. Suddenly realizing that her violent struggles were only providing a spectacle, Miriam stood still.

"That's enough!" ordered Pierre Laroche. "You have nobly prevented your prisoner from escaping. Now let's hear what she has to say for herself. Let her go, my brave
garçon.
"

Miriam shook herself free as the soldiers reluctantly loosened their grip. Now all her frustration was directed toward the
coureur.

"If people would only mind their own business!" she flared. "I was trying to catch up with Captain Johnson. I saw him go down this street, and I could have caught up with him if only—"

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