Authors: Elizabeth George Speare
Tags: #Ages 10 and up
"Would you like to come with us, Miriam?" Hortense invited as the merrymakers began to drift away toward their own homes. "Even though it is a holiday we must work. Jules is going to help mother and me to do our planting. Mother would be so glad to see you."
Miriam hesitated. The dancing had stirred in her the restlessness she had sternly subdued for the past weeks. She chafed at the prospect of spending her holiday tagging along, a third person, on the rare day that Hortense and Jules could spend together.
"I promised Susanna I wouldn't be away long," she fibbed. "Besides, I have a new order from Madame to start on."
"You are so smart, Miriam," Hortense admired. "But you will come to our wedding? Promise you will! The second Saturday in June it will be. Jules has the house all ready."
Smiling at the pride and happiness that shone in her friend's face, Miriam promised. They were not really sorry to see her go. They stood hand in hand and gaily waved her goodbye.
Inside the city the holiday spirit had taken over. Shops were closed for the day, shopkeepers and their wives and children, furriers, hatmakers, bakers, and tinsmiths, picnic baskets on their arms, were headed for the country. From one side of the street to the other greetings and laughter were exchanged. No one on this spring morning seemed to be alone. The promise that had filled the air at daybreak seemed to be fulfilled for everyone but her. Moreover, Miriam noticed uneasily that the streets were swarming with Indians, more than she had ever seen before in Montreal. They carried moccasins and baskets and embroidered belts, even pelts of animals, to trade with any passer-by who stopped to look. Apparently French brandy was as welcome a currency as coin, for already many of the Indians were swaggering unsteadily. Better for her to spend the day with Susanna in the safety of the small room.
A figure planted itself suddenly and directly in her path, a tall figure in a white uniform with scarlet facings. There was nothing Miriam could do but look up to face the one pair of bold black eyes she most dreaded to meet.
"So it is you!" Pierre Laroche triumphed. "I thought so yesterday, but Felicité she said no. Where have you hidden yourself all this time?"
"I have not been hiding," she answered in confusion.
Not well enough, anyway. Now the damage was done, and those deliberate eyes of his were not missing a single detail of the dingy homespun, the much mended kerchief, the pricked and calloused fingers.
"I always suspected they had turned you out," he said finally. "Felicité said you had been ransomed and gone back to the English."
"I expect we will be," she said airily. "Any day now."
His glance took that for what it was worth. "You are alone?" he inquired. "Nobody walks alone on May Day."
"My sister is waiting," Miriam answered.
"Let her wait a little. The dancing has given me a thirst. Stop in here and have a drink of wine with me at least. You owe me that for the time I have spent looking for you."
Miriam shook her head in panic.
"But what am I thinking of? You are a Puritan,
Some chocolate, then?"
She was ashamed even to hesitate. But the door of the nearby grogshop was open, and from it drifted a sweetish steaming fragrance that made her head swim. In that second of hesitation he had seized her elbow.
"A cup of chocolate," he ordered, of the woman who tended the copper kettle.
Oh, that luscious, rich brown warmth! Miriam forced herself to sip daintily, but his bright eyes were knowing.
"It becomes you to be thin," he said, "but you need not fade away altogether. A second cup for mademoiselle," he added, tossing a coin on the counter.
" he said, as she drained the last sweet drop. "You have never seen anything like this in your colonies, have you? Let me show you about a little."
Miriam hung back. "I should be working," she told him. "Besides, there are too many Indians to suit me."
Pierre laughed. "Are you afraid with an officer of the King beside you? Just a few moments! It is not May Day every day."
In spite of herself a smile broke through Miriam's shyness. Her high spirits were not so far below the surface, after all; they were certainly not proof against such urging.
that is better," he approved, and as they stepped into the street he tucked her hand expertly into his elbow.
The noisy street had lost its menacing aspect. From the protection of Pierre's uniformed elbow Miriam began to enjoy the spectacle. Pierre moved along the pavement, greeting citizen and Indian alike with a cocky familiarity.
"You actually know these Indians!" Miriam exclaimed.
"Why are you so skittish about the Indians, anyway? Did they treat you so badly?"
"No, they didn't," Miriam admitted. "It was entirely different from what we expected. But you can't trust them. You never know what they'll do the next minute."
"That shows you don't understand them. You have to learn to get along with the Indians. That's something you English have never bothered to try."
"But why should we?" Miriam countered, astonished at the idea. Pierre shrugged.
"That depends. It is the Indians' country,
I know, I've watched your English traders. They go clomping through the forest in their English boots. They are bound to show the Indians who is master, even if they get scalped doing it. We French now, we have a different idea. A sort of give and take, you might call it."
"You mean you lower yourselves to their ways?"
"There you go! What makes you so sure their ways are lower? The Indians lived in these woods long before we ever came here. They can teach us plenty. How far do you think the
would have gone—almost as far as the great western sea—without the Indians' help?"
Pierre's free arm swept in a wide arc toward the west. "I've got Indian friends out there better than any white man I know. Don't let this uniform fool you, my girl. If I had my way I'd trade it for Indian breeches as fast as I could snap a finger."
This was strange talk for a white man! But this man was unlike anyone she had ever known before—except Mehkoa! No, she was not fooled by his uniform, nor by his manner of a nobleman. Behind them Miriam could sense the same barely tamed savagery that had never let her relax when Mehkoa was near. Pierre was as unpredictable as an Indian.
A noisy straggle of Indian boys came darting through the crowd in a boisterous game of tag. Miriam drew instinctively nearer her companion to avoid them, but as they passed, she caught an unmistakable flash of bright blue eyes.
"Sylvanus!" she screamed, recognition quicker than thought.
Involuntarily the boy checked at the name and turned to glare at her. Was she right? The eyes in his brown, dirt-streaked face were brilliant blue, but there was not a sign of recognition in them.
"Sylvanus! 'Tis Miriam! Don't you know me?" He whipped round suddenly and dashed after his companions.
"Pierre!" she cried, in her urgency gripping the white uniformed sleeve. "Get him for me—oh please!"
Pierre did not stop to question. He was after the boy in a bound, with Miriam racing and twisting close behind. Except for a group of soldiers who checked the racing boys, they would soon have lost the race. Hemmed in, the boys stopped to get their bearings, and as Miriam caught up, Pierre faced her with a kicking, clawing little savage held firmly by the neck of his deerskin jacket.
"Hold still, you little weasel!" he ordered. "The lady wants to look at you."
She was not mistaken. That stub nose and square little chin had to belong to Sylvanus. Under the stained matted hair Miriam could see the new blond growth close to the scalp.
"Sylvanus!" she coaxed. "Come with me. I'll take you to Mother!"
In answer Sylvanus ducked his head, sank his teeth into the hand that gripped him, and in one twisting brown arc was gone.
"The little devil!" Pierre cursed, sucking the blood from his hand. Miriam leaped into pursuit, but in a few steps she had lost every trace. Not an Indian boy was in sight. Her scorn blazed out.
"You let him go on purpose! Don't tell me a great soldier like you—and a
at that—couldn't get the better of one little boy!"
Pierre shrugged. "I've no liking to see any animal in captivity," he said deliberately.
"But he is in captivity! He's an English boy! He's my nephew!" She was sobbing hysterically. Pierre laid a hand on her shoulder.
"Did he look like a captive? He is free as the air, like a young fox cub. Think a moment, Miriam. What were you going to do with him? Pen him up in some hole with a couple of women? Do you want to turn him into skin and bones like you?"
"I don't understand you!" Miriam sobbed. "He is a white boy. He belongs to us, to his own people, and he's growing up to be a savage!"
"What if he is?" demanded Pierre. "You and your talk about savages! He's living the best life a boy could have, and I would to heaven I could change places with him!"
Miriam raised a shocked face. "How can you talk so?" she gasped. "Are you a Christian?"
"You disappoint me," he returned coldly. "The first time I saw you you reminded me of an Indian girl. 'There is one who is not like the others,' I said to myself. But now you talk like all the rest."'
"There is no reason for our talking any more then," Miriam said. "Let me go now. I can find my way back by myself."
But Pierre walked beside her, guiding her through the crowd, and would not be shaken until they reached the door of the tailor shop.
"So this is where you live," he said. "I wanted to know because I am coming again. One thing more. If you are the sensible girl I take you for, you will say nothing to the boy's mother. I know Indians; he is already so well hidden that she would never find a hair of him, never."
Miriam turned to face him with scorn. "Don't bother to come again," she said icily. "If you do, I shall refuse to see you."
There was merriment in Pierre's eyes. Plainly he could not credit such a statement from any girl.
"You say that now because you are angry with me," he conceded. "But you and I, we are more alike than you think. You will see me again."
He was off down the street, the arrogant swing of die
unhampered by the officer's uniform.
With her hand on the latch Miriam paused. How could she hide from Susanna all that had happened? How could her sister fail to sense the excitement that shouted in the air around her like clanging bells. Could she give an account of the Maypole dance that would explain the blood that pounded in her cheeks and the hand that refused to hold steady? One hint about Sylvanus and there would be no holding her sister. Susanna would search the streets until she dropped exhausted, and Miriam knew in that much at least Pierre had spoken truly. She would never find a trace of him.
Susanna, however, was too preoccupied to spare more than a hasty greeting as she entered. She was spooning a sticky gruel into Captive's unwilling mouth, painstakingly scraping up every drop that dribbled off the small chin.
"There is only enough for one," she said.
Miriam noticed how the two lines cutting deeper between Susanna's eyebrows gave her an irritable look so unfair to her generous nature.
"The baby will have to get this gruel down, like it or not. Polly has been whining for chocolate all the morning. 'Tis no use explaining that we can't get it. She doesn't understand a word I say. I truly wonder, Miriam, did we do right? She needs all the good food she can get."
"Nonsense. I think she is gaining already," lied Miriam, covering up a sick plunge of guilt at the thought of the two cups of chocolate. But one question was answered. She could not tell Susanna about Sylvanus. What could they do with him here if by some miracle they should find him? The appetite a little savage like that must have I She was as heartless as Pierre, Miriam thought, struggling to shake off his influence. But common sense added that nothing short of chains and bars could have kept Sylvanus in this airless room.
That night, lying awake beside Susanna, Miriam tried to calm her troubled conscience with the question that had never failed, through so many sleepless nights of indecision, to steady and guide her. What would Phineas Whitney say, if only she could ask him? But tonight, for the first time, the thought brought her no comfort. Even his image failed her. So many times his face had come clearly before her mind. Now, try as she would, she could not see him, or even recall the sound of his voice. Instead, against her will, another face intruded, bold, dark-eyed, disturbing. It was not the officer of the King who strode through her dreams; it was the young
coureur de bois
as she had first seen him, singing, his head thrown back, white teeth flashing.
HE FIRST DAY
of June, James Johnson returned. Without a word of warning, abruptly, his gaunt figure appeared in the doorway. For a moment they stared, not recognizing, until with a shriek Susanna sprang forward and was gathered into his arms.