Authors: Elizabeth George Speare
Tags: #Ages 10 and up
"What a pretty dress!" Sue cried. "Miriam, you look just beautiful!"
Miriam seized the child's hands and smiled back at her affectionately. Sue had been eating, beyond a doubt. Her cheeks were round and pink, and her chubby little legs showed sturdily under the short dress.
"You look beautiful too," Miriam answered. "You've grown an inch, Sue, and you look so—so grown up."
"It's my new shoes. I just got them yesterday." Sue held out a foot for Miriam to admire, clad in a dainty white-topped leather boot that Felicité might envy.
"I have a red pair, too, to wear to school every day, and I have six white petticoats. I have a room all to myself with a big bed. Come and see where I sleep Miriam."
Miriam looked up at the two women who stood behind Sue. One was tall and sharp-nosed, with gray in her hair; the other was younger and rounder, but both had exactly the same expression of fond pride and pleasure.
"She wants to show me her room," Miriam interpreted, and the two women smiled more broadly than before. Excusing herself from Madame Du Quesne, Miriam allowed Sue to pull her through the curtained doorway, through a tidy chamber where the two women apparently slept, into a tiny bedroom beyond. This room was so new and pretty, so recently painted and freshly curtained that it must have been expressly planned for the little girl who slept there.
"What a lovely room, Sue," Miriam said admiringly. "But I thought you were at a convent."
"I was, for quite a few days. It was nice there too. But then
Anne came to get me. They said I would be their little girl. Tante Anne made all these clothes for me. I like her better than Tante Claudine. She plays little games with me so I can understand what she says."
"Where do you go to school?"
"At the Convent. Tante Anne takes me there every morning. Miriam, there are Indian girls there too, and they dress just like us. They aren't like the Indians at Saint Francis. They can sew so fast, much faster than I can."
"Are you really learning to sew?"
"Look what I'm making, Miriam. 'Tis an etui."
Miriam admired the little bag with its bright blue embroidery.
"I'm making it for Mama. Do you think she will like it?"
Underneath all the chatter and vanity Sue was still a little girl who missed her mother.
"Mama will love it," Miriam said. "You must hurry and finish it before she comes."
"When is she coming, Miriam?"
"I don't know, dear. I wish she could know how safe and well you are here."
Sue looked down at her new boots thoughtfully. "I wish Polly could be here too. Do you know where Polly is, Miriam? Does she have a nice room to sleep in?"
"I've just been to see Polly. She has pretty clothes just like you, but she isn't happy. You know how she always wanted to be near her mama."
Sue's face was sober. "Poor Polly. She's too little to know about the Blessed Mother."
Miriam started. "What do you mean, Sue?"
"See, up there? The sisters gave it to me. She takes care of me."
Miriam was disturbed. Indeed she had noticed, the moment she had entered the room, the little statue that hung above Susanna's bed. What heathenish things were these women teaching a four-year-old child who could not understand any better?
"What have they told you, Sue?" There was a fierceness in her tone that brought sudden tears to the child's eyes.
"They said she is the mother of our Lord," she explained, her lips trembling. "They said I must pray to her every night to keep Mama and the baby safe out there in the woods. Isn't it all right for me to, Miriam?"
It was all wrong, Miriam knew. All her life she had been taught to despise this mysterious evil called Popery. Her grandfather had left England so that his children would never be taught such things. But looking down into Susanna's troubled face, Miriam did not know what to say. She looked back instead at the little statue of the mother and child. It was a simple hand-carved figure, but it had been fashioned with skill and reverence. There was such gentleness in the way the mother's arm curved about her child.
"Don't you think she's pretty?" Sue asked. "Mama used to sit beside the fire and rock Captive just like that. In the night when I wake up and it's all dark, I reach up and touch her, and then I can go back to sleep."
Miriam stooped and put both arms around Susanna. "I think she's beautiful," she whispered. "I'm sure it can't be wrong, Sue, if it keeps you from being lonely. When Mama comes you can tell her about it."
The puckers smoothed out of Sue's forehead. She wiped her eyes on the corner of Miriam's kerchief and was her practical little self again. "I hope she comes soon," she said confidently. "I want to show her my new shoes. Do you think when I go with Mama they will let me keep them?"
That night, lying awake in the darkness of the loft over the kitchen, Miriam's troubled thoughts went back to those disturbing moments. What should she have answered? Sue's childish question had confronted her with a puzzle she had been trying to thrust into a far corner of her mind. What was there that was so dreadful about the way these people worshiped? At home everyone had spoken of the French as an idolatrous folk. But surely Hortense and Felicité, the kind women she had met today, even Madame, for all her haughtiness, were not wicked. Moreover, she could not escape seeing, as she went about the city, that their religion was as real and natural a part of these people's lives as the air and sunshine. On the streets the gentle priests and sisters mingled with the common folk and were greeted as friends.
Last Sunday morning Hortense had offered to take her to church but, terrified at the thought, she had sat alone in the kitchen and repeated every word she could remember of the Divine Service. In the wilderness James had never allowed them to omit their worship. It was up to her now to uphold that faith. Yet today, confronted by Sue's troubled eyes, she had betrayed all her teaching.
Her own father would be angry, she knew. Susanna? She was not sure. There was a stern core of duty in Susanna that would make it difficult to ask her such a question. There was one person she longed to ask. Phineas Whitney, who was planning to become a minister. Strange, when they had never had the slightest chance to speak of such things, that she knew she would never be afraid to ask him anything.
She was glad she had answered as she had. Somehow, no matter what Susanna might say, she could not believe that a difference in belief should cause any child to be lonely and afraid. It was a very new thought.
bleak weather settled over the city, and the sky was heavy with the threat of early snow. Looking up at the lowering black rock, Miriam shivered. How would Susanna make out, in a flimsy wigwam? In a short time the river would be frozen, and the winter snows would seal off the village of St. Francis for months to come. How could she bear the coming winter with no word from Susanna?
"Madame wishes to see you in the drawing room," announced one of the maids one noonday, coming into the kitchen where Miriam and Hortense were peeling mushrooms for the evening casserole. Miriam smoothed a quick hand over her hair and apron. Doubtless there was some special service that Madame required. The morning drive was already over, and even so she had lost hope that that extraordinary invitation would ever be repeated. Now she was startled as she entered the drawing room to see that Madame had guests, a rather shabbily dressed lady and a gentleman in a gray coat.
"Come in, my dear," Madame greeted her, in so warm and indulgent a tone that Miriam faltered in the doorway. Then the strangers turned toward her.
"Susanna!" Miriam cried, forgetting as usual all decorum and flinging herself across the room toward her sister. "Susanna dear! Is it actually you?"
It was truly Susanna, in a French silk dress. She was thinner than ever; there were hollows under her cheek bones, but her eyes were brilliant with happiness, for the gentleman in the gray coat was James.
"I shall leave you to visit with your sister," Madame announced. "I know how happy you both must be."
"What in the world has come over Madame?" Miriam marveled, and then forgot that contradictory lady in a new astonishment. At Susanna's feet, in a wicker basket, lay an incredible little doll. It was Captive, dressed like a French baby, her small face peering incongruously out from a mass of white ruffles and lace.
"She does look comical, doesn't she?" Susanna smiled. "I scarcely recognized her myself. When the Indians left us at the French fort the officers' wives dressed her like a French baby. They gave me this handsome dress to wear, too."
"Sylvanus?" Miriam was sorry she had asked, as the shadow fell across Susanna's face.
"He did not come back from the hunt. They have taken him to some other village. I could not even find out where."
"The little girls are fine, though," Miriam hurried to assure her.
"I know. I saw them both this morning. Sue is quite content. I'm sure those good women are spoiling her. But Polly—oh dear, she did nothing but cry. The French lady forbade me to come again. Think of it, Miriam, my own baby! But we must be patient a little longer. James will straighten everything out soon."
"It has taken much longer than I expected," James explained."At first no one would listen to me. But finally the Governor has agreed to allow me two months on parole and I am starting out for Albany today. Once there I can go on to Boston to obtain money to redeem all of us. In the meantime, Monsieur Du Quesne has agreed to care for you both during my absence, and he will be well recompensed on my return."
"I am afraid they have not allowed nearly enough time for such a journey," Susanna put in anxiously.
"The snow has not yet begun," James answered, "and the hard ground should make it easy to travel. I am quite certain there will be no trouble. I have given my bond that I shall return with the money within two months."
"Do they trust you to go alone, just on your promise?"
"There will be two Mohawks sent to keep an eye on me. But the rank of Captain carries some weight in this city. In fact, the Governor has made them understand that we are prisoners of considerable importance. He has ordered Monsieur Du Quesne to treat you as his guests, not as prisoners, and I have guaranteed that his kindness will be amply repaid. I understand you have been living here as a servant, Miriam. That is to be changed from now on."
How incredibly it was all to be changed Miriam soon discovered. Madame Du Quesne, obviously chagrined that she had failed to recognize in the English girl a prisoner of importance, now outdid herself to be affable. Under promise of repayment her generosity flowered. Miriam was whisked from the kitchen and from the loft mattress she had shared with Hortense and installed with Susanna in a guest chamber with a fine canopied bed. Madame's wardrobe and Felicité's were ransacked to provide a collection of hand-me-downs. There was no more cleaning or polishing and cooking. Miriam now sat with the family at the long dining-room table, with its white cloth, its crystal goblets and silver candlesticks. She could never manage to be at ease there, however, and her tongue was completely tied between the remote politeness of Monsieur Du Quesne at one end and the critical supervision of his wife at the other.
Felicité had her way now, and the lessons, which Miriam tried to continue, dwindled to a mere pretense, interrupted by an endless discussion of where they would be going, what they would wear.
"Do you think the green damask?" Felicité would ponder, "or the pink lustring? If I wear the pink you must wear your purple. It becomes you so well."
"You mean it sets off your pink costume so perfectly," Miriam would tease.
"Oh, Miriam, you are so droll! Of course, it does go with the pink, but really it makes you look sweet. Do wear it, Miriam!"
Miriam would wear the purple dress, which actually made her look sallow, because it was fun to please Felicité, and exciting to be included in the plans regardless of the dress Felicité chose. More than that, it was intoxicating beyond belief to have this charming lighthearted girl for a real friend at last.
Miriam was initiated now into the life that had seemed so mysterious viewed from the kitchen. Mainly it consisted of a succession of formal calls for which half the morning was spent in elaborate preparation. The right gown had to be chosen, the hair curled and dressed, every detail exhaustively considered. Then the carriage would draw up at the door to take them the short distance to one of the tall stone houses where other ladies, having finished the same careful toilette, greeted them. Sometimes the hours were enlivened by gossip and card games. After a little private instruction from Felicité, Miriam took courage to defy her sister Susanna, who frowned on card playing, and discovered that the games were more satisfying to her lively spirits than the endless conversations.
Evenings, however, to which the whole day seemed a prelude, still remained a mystery. Occasionally Miriam and Susanna were invited to dine with the Du Quesnes at one of the grand mansions on the hill. More often they sat quietly in the guest chamber while Felicité departed in a flurry of rustling fragrance to dancing parties, or sleighrides on the frozen river. Felicité had so many admirers. They were constantly sending her graceful notes and pretty trinkets, and her invitations were piled up for weeks ahead. Of all these beaux, Miriam knew that Pierre Laroche created the nearest approach to a flutter in Felicité's capricious heart. She had glimpsed, once or twice, his bold laughing face in the doorway, but always she shrank hastily out of sight lest he should recognize her. Someday, Felicité promised, they must find a young man who would invite Miriam to these evening affairs. She seemed in no great hurry to find him, however, and, truthfully, the English colonist from Charlestown was a little terrified at the idea.