The Chase of Saint-Castin
THE waiting April woods, sensitive in every leafless twig to spring, stood in silence and dim nightfall around a lodge. Wherever a human dwelling is set in the wilderness, it becomes, by the very humility of its proportions, a prominent and aggressive point. But this lodge of bark and poles was the color of the woods, and nearly escaped intruding as man’s work. A glow lighted the top, revealing the faint azure of smoke which rose straight upward in the cool, clear air.
Such a habitation usually resounded at nightfall with Indian noises, especially if the day’s hunting had been good. The mossy rocks lying around were not more silent than the inmates of this lodge. You could hear the Penobscot River foaming along its uneasy bed half a mile eastward. The poles showed freshly cut disks of yellow at the top ; and though the bark coverings were such movables as any Indian household carried, they were newly fastened to their present support. This was plainly the night encampment of a traveling party, and two French hunters and their attendant Abenaquis recognized that, as it barred their trail to the river. An odor of roasted meat was wafted out like an invitation to them.
“ Excellent, Saint-Castin,” pronounced the older Frenchman. “ Here is another of your wilderness surprises. No wonder you prefer an enchanted land to the rough mountains around Béarn. I shall never go back to France myself.”
“ Stop, La Hontan ! ” The young man restrained his guest from plunging into the wigwam with a headlong gesture recently learned and practiced with delight. " I never saw this lodge before.”
“ Did you not have it set up here for the night ? ”
“ No ; it is not mine. Our Abenaquis are going to build one for us nearer the river.”
“ I stay here,” observed La Hontan. “ Supper is ready, and adventures are in the air.”
“ But this is not a hunter’s lodge. You see that our very dogs understand they have no business here. Come on.”
“ Come on, without seeing who is hid herein ? No. I begin to think it is something thou wouldst conceal from me. I go in ; and if it be a bear trap, I cheerfully perish.”
The young Frenchman stood resting the end of his gun on sodden leaves. He felt vexed at La Hontan. But that inquisitive nobleman stooped to lift the tent flap, and the young man turned toward his waiting Indians and talked a moment in Abenaqui, when they went on in the direction of the river, carrying game and camp luggage. They thought, as he did, that this might be a lodge with which no man ought to meddle. The daughter of Madockawando, the chief, was known to be coming from her winter retreat. Every Abenaqui in the tribe stood in awe of the maid. She did not rule them as a wise woman, but lived apart from them as a superior spirit.
Baron La Hontan, on all fours, intruded his gay face on the inmates of the lodge. There were three of them. His palms encountered a carpet of hemlock twigs, which spread around a central fire to the circular wall, and was made sweetly odorous by the heat. A thick couch of the twigs was piled up beyond the fire, and there sat an Abenaqui girl in her winter dress of furs. She was so white - skinned that she startled La Hontan as an apparition of Europe. He got but one black-eyed glance. She drew her blanket over her head. The group had doubtless heard the conference outside, but ignored it with reticent gravity. The hunter of the lodge was on his heels by the embers, toasting collops of meat for the blanketed princess ; and an Etchemin woman, the other inmate, took one from his hand, and paused, while dressing it with salt, to gaze at the Frenchman.
La Hontan had not found himself distasteful to northwestern Indian girls. It was the first time an aboriginal face had ever covered itself from exposure to his eyes. He felt the sudden respect which nuns command, even in those who scoff at their visible consecration. The usual announcement made on entering a cabin — “ I come to see this man,” or “ I come to see that woman ” — he saw was to be omitted in addressing this strangely civilized Indian girl.
“ Mademoiselle,” said Baron La Hontan in very French Abenaqui, rising to one knee, and sweeping the twigs with the brim of his hat as he pulled it off, “ the Baron de Saint-Castin of Pentegoet, the friend of your chief Madockawando, is at your lodge door, tired and chilled from a long hunt. Can you not permit him to warm at your fire ? ”
The Abenaqui girl bowed her covered head. Her woman companion passed the permission on, and the hunter made it audible by a grunt of assent. La Hontan backed nimbly out, and seized the waiting man by the leg. The main portion of the baron was in the darkening April woods, but his perpendicular soles stood behind the flap within the lodge.
“ Enter, my child,” he whispered in excitement. “ A warm fire, hot collops, a black eye to be coaxed out of a blanket, and full permission given to enjoy all. What, man! Out of countenance at thought of facing a pretty squaw, when you have three keeping house with you at the fort?”
“ Come out, La Hontan,” whispered back Saint-Castin, on his part grasping the elder’s arm. “ It is Madockawando’s daughter.”
“ The red nun thou hast told me about ? The saints be praised! But art thou sure ? ”
“ How can I be sure ? I have never seen her myself. But I judge from her avoiding your impudent eye. She does not like to be looked at.”
“ It was my mentioning the name of Saint-Castin of Pentegoet that made her whip her head under the blanket. I see, if I am to keep my reputation in the woods, I shall have to withdraw from your company.”
“ Withdraw your heels from this lodge,” replied Saint-Castin impatiently. “You will embroil me with the tribe.”
“ Why should it embroil you with the tribe,” argued the merry sitter, “ if we warm our heels decently at this ready fire until the Indians light our own ? Any Christian, white or red, would grant us that privilege.”
“ If I enter with you, will you come out with me as soon as I make you a sign ? ”
“ Doubt it not,” said La Hontan, and he eclipsed himself directly.
Though Saint-Castin had been more than a year in Acadia, this was the first time he had ever seen Madockawando’s daughter. He knew it was that elusive being, on her way from her winter retreat to the tribe’s summer fishing station near the coast. Father Petit, the priest of this woodland parish, spoke of her as one who might in time found a house of holy women amidst the license of the wilderness.
Saint-Castin wanted to ask her pardon for entering; but he sat without a sound. Some power went out from that silent shape far stronger than the hinted beauty of girlish ankle and arm. The glow of brands lighted the lodge, showing bark seams on its poles. Pale smoke and the pulse of heat quivered betwixt him and a presence which, by some swift contrast, made his face burn at the recollection of his household at Pentegoet. He had seen many good women in his life, with the patronizing tolerance which men bestow on unpiquant things that are harmless ; and he did not understand why her hiding should stab him like a reproach. She hid from all common eyes. But his were not common eyes. Saint-Castin felt impatient at getting no recognition from a girl, saint though she might be, whose tribe he had actually adopted.
The blunt-faced Etchemin woman, once a prisoner brought from northern Acadia, now the companion of Madockawando’s daughter, knew her duty to the strangers, and gave them food as rapidly as the hunter could broil it. The hunter was a big-legged, small-headed Abenaqui, with knees overtopping his tuft of hair when he squatted on his heels. He looked like a man whose emaciated trunk and arms had been taken possession of by colossal legs and feet. This singular deformity made him the best hunter in his tribe. He tracked game with a sweep of great beams as tireless as the tread of a modern steamer. The little sense in his head was woodcraft. He thought of nothing but taking and dressing game.
Saint-Castin barely tasted the offered meat; but La Hontan enjoyed it unabashed, warming himself while he ate, and avoiding any chance of a hint from his friend that the meal should be cut short.
“ My child,” he said in lame Abenaqui to the Etchemin woman, while his sly regard dwelt on the blanket-robed statue opposite, “ I wish you the best of gifts, a good husband.”
The Etchemin woman heard him in such silence as one perhaps brings from making a long religious retreat, and forbore to explain that she already had the best of gifts, and was the wife of the big-legged hunter.
“ I myself had an aunt who never married,” warned La Hontan. “She was an excellent, woman, but she turned like fruit withered in the ripening. The fantastic airs of her girlhood clung to her. She was at a disadvantage among the married, and young people passed her by as an experiment that had failed. So she was driven to be very religious; but prayers are cold comfort for the want of a bouncing family.”
If the Etchemin woman had absorbed from her mistress a habit of meditation which shut out the world, Saint-Castin had not. He gave La Hontan the sign to move before him out of the lodge, and no choice but to obey it, crowding the reluctant and comfortable man into undignified attitudes. La Hontan saw that he had taken offense. There was no accounting for the humors of those disbanded soldiers of the Carignan-Saliéres, though Saint-Castin was usually a gentle fellow. They spread out their sensitive military honor over every inch of their new seigniories ; and if you chucked the wrong little Indian or habitant’s naked baby under the chin, you might unconsciously stir up war in the mind of your host. La Hontan was glad he was directly leaving Acadia. He was fond of Saint-Castin. Few people could approach that young man without feeling the charm which made the Indians adore him. But any one who establishes himself in the woods loses touch with the light manners of civilization; his very vices take on an air of brutal candor.
Next evening, however, both men were merry by the hall fire at Pentegoet over their parting cup. La Hontan was returning to Quebec. A vessel waited the tide at the Penobscot’s mouth, a bay which the Indians called " bad harbor.”
The long, low, and irregular building which Saint-Castin had constructed as his baronial seat was as snug as the governor’s castle at Quebec. It was only one story high, and the small square windows were set under the eaves, so outsiders could not look in. Saint-Castin’s enemies said he built thus to hide his deeds ; but Father Petit himself could see how excellent a plan it was for defense. A holding already claimed by the encroaching English needed loopholes, not windows. The fort surrounding the house was also well adapted to its situation. Twelve cannon guarded the bastions. All the necessary buildings, besides a chapel with a bell, were within the walls, and a deep well insured a supply of water. A garden and fruit orchard were laid out opposite the fort, and encompassed by palisades.
The luxury of the house consisted in an abundant use of crude, unpolished material. Though built grotesquely of stone and wood intermingled, it had the solid dignity of that rugged coast. A chimney spacious as a crater let Smoke and white ashes upward, and sections of trees smouldered on Saint - Castin’s hearth. An Indian girl, ruddy from high living, and wearing the brightest stuffs imported from France, sat on the floor at the hearth corner. This was the usual night scene at Pentegoet. Candle and firelight shone on her, on oak timbers and settles made of unpeeled balsam, on plate and glasses which always heaped a table with ready food and drink, on moose horns and gun racks, on stores of books, on festoons of wampum, and usually on a dozen figures beside Saint-Castin. The other rooms in the house were mere tributaries to this baronial presence chamber. Madockawando and the dignitaries of the Abenaqui tribe made it their council hall, the white sagamore presiding. They were superior to rude western nations. It was Saint-Castin’s plan to make a strong principality here, and to unite his people in a compact state. He lavished his inherited money upon them. Whatever they wanted from Saint-Castin they got, as from a father. On their part, they poured the wealth of the woods upon him. Not a beaver skin went out of Acadia except through his hands. The traders of New France grumbled at his profits and monopoly, and the English of New England claimed his seigniory. He stood on debatable ground, in dangerous times, trying to mould an independent nation. The Abenaquis did not know that a king of France had been reared on Saint - Castin’s native mountains, but they believed that a human divinity had.
Their permanent settlement was about the fort, on land he had paid for, but held in common with them. They went to their winter’s hunting or their summer’s fishing from Pentegoet. It was the seat of power. The cannon protected fields, and a town of lodges which Saint-Castin meant to convert into a town of stone and hewed wood houses as soon as the aboriginal nature conformed itself to such stability. Even now the village had left home and gone into the woods again. The Abenaqui women were busy there, inserting tubes of bark in pierced maple trees, and troughs caught the flow of ascending sap. Kettles boiled over fires in the bald spaces, incense of the forest’s very heart rising from them and sweetening the air. All day Indian children raced from one mother’s fire to another, or dipped unforbidden cups of hands into the brimming troughs; and at night they lay down among the dogs, with their heels to the blaze, watching these lower constellations blink through the woods until their eyes swam into unconsciousness. It was good weather for making maple sugar. In the mornings hoar frost or light snows silvered the world, disappearing as soon as the sun touched them, when the bark of every tree leaked moisture. This was festive labor compared with planting the fields, and drew the men, also.
The morning after La Hontan sailed, Saint-Castin went out and skirted this widespread sugar industry like a spy. The year before, he had moved heartily from fire to fire, hailed and entertained by every red manufacturer. The unrest of spring was upon him. He had brought many conveniences among the Abenaquis, and taught them some civilized arts. They were his adopted people. But he felt a sudden separateness from them, like the loneliness of his early boyhood.
Saint-Castin was a good hunter. He had more than once watched a slim young doe stand gazing curiously at him, and had not startled it by a breath. Therefore he was able to become a stump behind the tree which Madockawando’s daughter sought with her sap pail. Usually he wore buckskins, in the free and easy life of Pentegoet. But he had put on his Carignan-Salières uniform, filling its boyish outlines with his full man’s figure. He would not on any account have had La Hontan see him thus gathering the light of the open woods on military finery. He felt ashamed of returning to it, and could not account for his own impulses; and when he saw Madockawando’s daughter walking unconsciously toward him as toward a trap, he drew his bright surfaces entirely behind the column of the tree.
She had taken no part in this festival of labor for several years. She moved among the women still in solitude, not one of them feeling at liberty to draw near her except as she encouraged them. The Abenaquis were not a polygamous tribe, but they enjoyed the freedom of the woods. Squaws who had made several experimental marriages since this young celibate began her course naturally felt rebuked by her standards, and preferred stirring kettles to meeting her. It was not so long since the princess had been a hoiden among them, abounding in the life which rushes to extravagant action. Her juvenile whoops scared the birds. She rode astride of saplings, and played pranks on solemn old warriors and the medicine man. Her body grew into suppleness and beauty. As for her spirit, the women of the tribe knew very little about it. They saw none of her struggles. In childhood she was ashamed of the finer nature whose wants found no answer in her world. It was anguish to look into the faces of her kindred and friends as into the faces of hounds, who live, it is true, but a lower life, made up of chasing and eating. She wondered why she was created different from them. A loyalty of race constrained her sometimes to imitate them; but it was imitation ; she could not be a savage. Then Father Petit came, preceding Saint-Castin, and set up his altar and built his chapel. The Abenaqui girl was converted as soon as she looked in at the door and saw the gracious image of Mary lifted up to be her pattern of womanhood. Those silent and terrible days, when she lost interest in the bustle of living, and felt an awful homesickness for some unknown good, passed entirely away. Religion opened an invisible world. She sprang toward it, lying on the wings of her spirit and gazing forever above. The minutest observances of the Church were learned with an exactness which delighted a priest who had not too many encouragements. Finally, she begged her father to let her make a winter retreat to some place near the head waters of the Penobscot. When the hunters were abroad, it did them no harm to remember there was a maid in a wilderness cloister praying for the good of her people ; and when they were fortunate, they believed in the material advantage of her prayers. Nobody thought of searching out her hidden cell, or of asking the big-legged hunter and his wife to tell its mysteries. The dealer with invisible spirits commanded respect in Indian minds before the priest came.
Madockawando’s daughter was of a lighter color than most of her tribe, and finer in her proportions, though they were a well-made people. She was the highest expression of unadulterated Abenaqui blood. She set her sap pail down by the trough, and Saint-Castin shifted silently to watch her while she dipped the juice. Her eyelids were lowered. She had well-marked brows, and the high cheek-bones were lost in a general aquiline rosiness. It was a girl’s face, modest and sweet, that he saw; reflecting the society of holier beings than the one behind the tree. She had no blemish of sunken temples or shrunk features, or the glaring aspect of a devotee. Saint-Castin was a good Catholic, but he did not like fanatics. It was as if the choicest tree in the forest had been flung open, and a perfect woman had stepped out, whom no other man’s eye had seen. Her throat was round, and at the base of it, in the little hollow where women love to nestle ornaments, hung the cross of her rosary, which she wore twisted about her neck. The beads were large and white, and the cross was ivory. Father Petit had furnished them, blessed for their purpose, to his incipient abbess, but Saint-Castin noticed how they set off the dark rosiness of her skin. The collar of her fur dress was pushed back, for the day was warm, like an autumn day when there is no wind. A luminous smoke which magnified the light hung between treetops and zenith. The nakedness of the swelling forest let heaven come strangely close to the ground. It was like standing on a mountain plateau in a gray dazzle of clouds.
Madockawando’s daughter dipped her pail full of the clear water. The appreciative motion of her eyelashes and the placid lines of her face told how she enjoyed the limpid plaything. But SaintCastin understood well that she had not come out to boil sap entirely for the love of it. Father Petit believed the time was ripe for her ministry to the Abenaqui women. He had intimated to the seignior what land might be convenient for the location of a convent. The community was now to be drawn around her. Other girls must take vows when she did. Some half-covered children, who stalked her wherever she went, stood like terracotta images at a distance and waited for her next movement.
The girl had just finished her dipping when she looked up and met the steady gaze of Saint-Castin. He was in an anguish of dread that she would run. But her startled eyes held his image while three changes passed over her, — terror and recognition and disapproval. He stepped more into view, a white-andgold apparition, which scattered the Abenaqui children to their mothers’ camp tires.
“ I am Saint-Castin,” he said.
“ Yes, I have many times seen you, sagamore.”
Her voice, shaken a little by her heart, was modulated to such softness that the liquid gutturals gave him a distinct new pleasure.
“ I want to ask your pardon for my friend’s rudeness, when you warmed and fed us in your lodge.”
“ I did not listen to him.” Her fingers sought the cross on her neck. She seemed to threaten a prayer which might stop her ears to Saint-Castin.
“ He meant no discourtesy. If you knew his good heart, you would like him.”
“ I do not like men.” She made a calm statement of her peculiar tastes.
“ Why ? ” inquired Saint-Castin.
Madockawando’s daughter summoned her reasons from distant vistas of the woods, with meditative dark eyes. Evidently her dislike of men had no element of fear or of sentimental avoidance.
“ I cannot like them,” she apologized, declining to set forth her reasons. “I wish they would always stay away from me.”
“ Your father and the priest are men.”
“ I know it,” admitted the girl, with a deep breath like commiseration. “ They cannot help it ; and our Etchemin’s husband, who keeps the lodge supplied with meat, he cannot help it, either, any more than he can his deformity. But there is grace for men,” she added. “ They may, by repenting of their sins and living holy lives, finally save their souls.”
Saint-Castin repented of his sins that moment, and tried to look contrite.
“ In some of my books,” he said, “I read of an old belief held by people on the other side of the earth. They thought our souls were born into the world a great many times, now in this body, and now in that. I feel as if you and I had been friends in some other state.”
The girl’s face seemed to Hare toward him, as flame is blown, acknowledging the claim he made upon her ; but the look passed like an illusion, and she said seriously, “ The sagamore should speak to Father Petit. This is heresy.”
Madockawando’s daughter stood up, and took her pail by the handle.
“ Let me carry it,” said Saint-Castin.
Her lifted palm barred his approach.
“ I do not like men, sagamore. I wish them to keep away from me.”
“ But that is not Christian,” he argued.
“ It cannot be unchristian : the priest would lay me under penance for it.”
“ Father Petit is a lenient soul.”
With the simplicity of an angel who would not be longer hindered by mundane society, she took up her pail, saying, “ Good-day, sagamore,” and swept on across the dead leaves.
Saint-Castin walked after her.
“ Go back,” commanded Madockawando’s daughter, turning.
The officer of the. Carignan-Salières regiment halted, but did not retreat.
“ You must not follow me, sagamore,” she remonstrated, as with a child. “I cannot talk to you.”
“ You must let me talk to you,” said Saint-Castin. “ I want you for my wife.”
She looked at him in a way that made his face scorch. He remembered the year wife, the half-year wife, and the two-months wife at Pentegoct. These three squaws whom he bad allowed to form his household, and had taught to boil the pot au feu, came to him from many previous experimental marriages. They were externals of his life, much as hounds, boats, or guns. He could give them all rich dowers, and divorce them easily any day to a succeeding line of legal Abenaqui husbands. The lax code of the wilderness was irresistible to a Frenchman ; but he was near enough in age and in texture of soul to this noble pagan to see at once, with her eyesight, how he had degraded the very vices of her people.
“ Before the sun goes down,” vowed Saint-Castin, “ there shall be nobody in my house but the two Etchemin slave men that your father gave me.”
The girl heard of his promised reformation without any kindling of the spirit.
“ I am not for a wife,” she answered him, and walked on with the pail.
Again Saint-Castin followed her, and took the sap pail from her hand. He set it aside on the leaves, and folded his arms. The blood came and went in his face. He was not used to pleading with women. They belonged to him easily, like his natural advantages over barbarians in a new world. The slopes of the Pyrenees bred strong-limbed men, cautious in policy, striking and bold in figure and countenance. The English themselves have borne witness to his fascinations. Manhood had darkened only the surface of his skin, a milk-white cleanness breaking through it like the outflushing of some inner purity. His eyes and hair had a golden beauty, It would have been strange if he had not roused at least a degree of comradeship in the aboriginal woman living up to her highest aspirations.
“ I love you. I have thought of you, of nobody but you, even when I behaved the worst. You have kept yourself hid from me, while I have been thinking about you ever since I came to Acadia. You are the woman I want to marry.”
Madockawando’s daughter shook her head. She had patience with his fantastic persistence, but it annoyed her.
“ I am not for a wife,” she repeated. “ I do not like men.”
“ Is it that you do not like me ? ”
“ No,” she answered sincerely, probing her mind for the truth. “ You yourself are different from our Abenaqui men.”
“ Then why do you make me unhappy ? ”
“ I do not make you unhappy. I do not even think of you.”
Again she took to her hurried course, forgetting the pail of sap. Saint-Castin seized it, and once more followed her.
“ I beg that you will kiss me,”he pleaded, trembling.
The Abenaqui girl laughed aloud.
“ Does the sagamore think he is an object of veneration, that I should kiss him ? ”
“ But will you not at least touch your lips to my forehead ? ”
“ No. I touch my lips to holy things.”
“ You do not understand the feeling I have.”
“ No, I do not understand it. If you talked every day, it would do no good. My thoughts are different.”
Saint-Castin gave her the pail, and looked her in the eyes.
“ Perhaps you will some time understand,” he said. “ I lived many wild years before I did.”
She was so glad to leave him behind that her escape was like a backward blow, and he did not make enough allowance for the natural antagonism of a young girl. Her beautiful free motion was something to watch. She was a convert whose penances were usually worked out afoot, for Father Petit knew better than to shut her up.
Saint-Castin had never dreamed there were such women. -She was like a nymph out of a tree, without human responsiveness, yet with round arms and waist and rosy column of neck, made to be helplessly adored. He remembered the lonesome moods of his early youth. They must have been a premonition of his fate in falling completely under the spell of an unloving woman.
Saint-Castin took a roundabout course, and went to Madockawando’s lodge, near the fort. All the members of the family, except the old chief, were away at the sugar - making. The great Abenaqui’s dignity would not allow him to drag in fuel to the fire, so he squatted nursing the ashes, and raked out a coal to light tobacco for himself and Saint-Castin. The white sagamore had never before come in full uniform to a private talk, and it was necessary to smoke half an hour before a word could be said.
There was a difference between the chatter of civilized men and the deliberations of barbarians. With La Hontan, the Baron de Saint-Castin would have led up to his business by a long prelude on other subjects. With Madockawando, he waited until the tobacco had mellowed both their spirits, and then said, —
“ Father. I want to marry your daughter in the French way, with priest and contract, and make her the Baroness de Saint-Castin.”
Madockawando, on his part, smoked the matter fairly out. He put an arm on the sagamore’s shoulder, and lamented the extreme devotion of his daughter. It was a good religion which the blackrobed father had brought among the Abenaquis, but who had ever heard of a woman’s refusing to look at men before that religion came ? His own child, when she was at home with the tribe, lived as separate from the family and as independently as a war chief. In his time, the women dressed game and carried the children and drew sledges. What would happen if his daughter began to teach them, in a house by themselves, to do nothing but pray? Madockawando repeated that his son. the sagamore, and his father, the priest, had a good religion, but they might see for themselves what the Abenaqui tribe would come to when the women all set up for medicine squaws. Then there was his daughter’s hiding in winter to make what she called her retreats, and her proposing to take a new name from some of the priest’s okies, or saint-spirits, and to be called “ Sister.”
“ I will never call my own child " Sister,’ ” vowed Madockawando. " I could be a better Christian myself, if Father Petit had not put spells on her.”
The two conspirators against Father Petit’s proposed nunnery felt grave and wicked, but they encouraged one another in iniquity. Madockawando smiled in bronze wrinkles when Saint-Castin told him about the proposal in the woods. The proper time for courtship was evening, as any Frenchman who had lived a year with the tribe ought to know; but when one considered the task he had undertaken, any time was suitable; and the chief encouraged him with full consent. A French marriage contract was no better than an Abenaqui marriage contract in Madockawando’s eyes ; but if Saint-Castin could bind up his daughter for good, he would be glad of it.
The chapel of saplings and bark which first sheltered Father Petit’s altar had been abandoned when Saint-Castin built a substantial one of stone and timber within the fortress walls, and hung in its little tower a bell, which the most reluctant Abenaqui must hear at mass time. But as it is well to cherish the sacred regard which man has for any spot where he has worshiped, the priest left a picture hanging on the wall above the hare chancel, and he kept the door repaired on its wooden hinges. The chapel stood beyond the forest, east of Pentegoet, and close to those battlements which form the coast line here. The tide made thunder as it rose among caverns and frothed almost at the verge of the heights. From this headland Mount Desert could be seen, leading the host of islands which go out into the Atlantic, ethereal in fog or lurid in the glare of sunset.
Madockawando’s daughter tended the old chapel in summer, for she had first seen religion through its door. She wound the homely clmneel rail with evergreens, and put leaves and red berries on the walls, and flowers under the sacred picture ; her Etchemin woman always keeping her company. Father Petit hoped to see this rough shrine become a religious seminary, and strings of women led there every day to take, like contagion, from an abbess the instruction they took so slowly from a priest.
She and the Etchemin found it a dismal place, on their first visit after the winter retreat. She reproached herself for coming so late ; but day and night an influence now encompassed Madockawando’s daughter which she felt as a restraint on her freedom. A voice singing softly the love-songs of southern France often waked her from her sleep. The words she could not interpret, but the tone the whole village could, and she blushed, crowding paters on aves, until her voice sometimes became as distinct as Saint-Castin’s in resolute opposition. It was so grotesque that it made her laugh. Yet to a woman the most formidable quality in a suitor is determination.
When the three girls who had constituted Saint-Castin’s household at the fort passed complacently back to their own homes laden with riches, Madockawando’s daughter was unreasonably angry, and felt their loss as they were incapable of feeling it for themselves. She was alien to the customs of her people. The fact pressed upon her that her people were completely bound to the white sagamore and all his deeds. Saint-Castin’s sins had been open to the tribe, and his repentance was just as open. Father Petit praised him.
“ My son Jean Vincent de l’Abadie, Baron de Saint-Castin, has need of spiritual aid to sustain him in the paths of virtue,” said the priest impressively, “ and he is seeking it.”
At every church service the lax sinner was now on his knees in plain sight of the devotee ; but she never looked at him. All the tribe soon knew what he had at heart, and it was told from camp fire to camp fire how he sat silent every night in the hall at Pentegoet, Avith his hair ruffled on his forehead, growing more haggard from day to day.
The Abenaqui girl did not talk with other women about what happened in the community. Dead saints crowded her mind to the exclusion of living sinners. All that she heard came by way of her companion, the stolid Etchemin, and when it Avas unprofitable talk it was silenced. They labored together all the chill April afternoon, bringing the chapel out of its Avinter desolation. The Etchemin made brooms of hemlock, and brushed down cobwebs and dust, and laboriously swept the rocky earthen floor, while the princess, standing upon a scaffold of split log benches, wiped the sacred picture and set a border of tender moss around it. It was a gaudy red print representing a pierced heart. The Indian girl kissed every sanguinary drop which dribbled down the coarse paper. Fog and salt air had given it a musty odor, and stained the edges with mildew. She found it no small labor to cover these stains, and pin the moss securely in place with thorns.
There were no windows in this chapel. A platform of hewed slabs had supported the altar ; and when the princess came down, and the benches were replaced, she lifted one of these slabs, as she had often done before, to look into the earthen-floored box which they made. Little animals did not take refuge in the wind-beaten building. She often wondered that it stood ; though the light materials used by aboriginal tribes, when anchored to the earth as this house was, toughly resisted wind and weather.
The Etchemin sat down on the ground, and her mistress on the platform behind the chancel rail, when everything else was done, to make a fresh rope of evergreen. The climbing and reaching and lifting had heated their faces, and the cool salt air flowed in refreshing them. Their hands were pricked by the spiny foliage, but they labored without complaint, in unbroken meditation. A monotonous low singing of the Etchemin’s kept company with the breathing of the sea. This decking of the chapel acted like music on the Abenaqui girl. She wanted to be quiet, to enjoy it.
By the time they were ready to shut the door for the night the splash of a rising tide could be heard. Fog obliterated the islands, and a bleak gray twilight, like the twilights of winter, began to dim the woods.
“ The sagamore has made a new law,” said the Etchemin woman, as they came in sight of the fort.
Madockawando’s daughter looked at the unguarded bastions, and the chimneys of Pentegoet rising in a stack above the walls.
“ What new law has the sagamore made ? ” she inquired.
“ He says he will no more allow a man to put away his first and true wife, for he is convinced that God does not love inconstancy in men.”
“ The sagamore should have kept his first wife himself.”
“ But he says he has not yet had her,” answered the Etchemin woman, glancing aside at the princess. “ The sagamore will not see the end of the sugar-making to-night.”
“ Because he sits alone every night by his fire,” said Madockawando’s daughter ; “ there is too much talk about the sagamore. It is the end of the sugarmaking that your mind is set on.”
“ My husband is at the camps,” said the Etchemin plaintively. “ Besides, I am very tired.”
“ Rest yourself, therefore, by tramping far to wait on your husband, and keep his hands filled with warm sugar. I am tired, and I go to my lodge.”
“ But there is a feast in the camps, and nobody has thought of putting a kettle on in the village. I will first get your meat ready.”
“ No, I intend to observe a fast tonight. Go on to the camps, and serve my family there.”
The Etchemin looked toward the darkening bay, and around them at those thickening hosts of invisible terrors which are yet dreaded by more enlightened minds than hers.
“ No,” responded the princess, “ I am not afraid. Go on to the camps while you have the courage to be abroad alone.”
The Etchemin woman set off at a trot, her heavy body shaking, and distance soon swallowed her. Madockawando’s daughter stood still in the humid dimness before turning aside to her lodge. Perhaps the ruddy light which showed through the open fortress gate from the hall of Pentegoet gave her a feeling of security. She knew a man was there; and there was not a man anywhere else within half a league. It was the last great night of sugar-making. Not even an Abenaqui woman or child remained around the fort. Father Petit himself was at the camps to restrain riot. It would be a hard patrol for him. moving from fire to fire half the night. The master of Pentegoet rested very carelessly in his hold. It was hardly a day’s sail westward to the English post of Pemaquid. Saint-Castin had really made ready for his people’s spring sowing and fishing with some anxiety for their undisturbed peace. Pemaquid aggressed on him, and he seriously thought of fitting out a ship and burning Pemaquid. In that time, as in this, the strong hand upheld its own rights at any cost.
The Abenaqui girl stood under the northwest bastion, letting early night make its impressions on her. Her motionless figure, in indistinct garments, could not be seen from the river ; but she discerned, rising up the path from the water, one behind the other, a row of peaked hats. Beside the hats appeared gunstocks. She had never seen any English, but neither her people nor the French showed such tops, or came stealthily up from the boat landing under cover of night. She did not stop to count them. Their business must be with Saint-Castin. She ran along the wall. The invaders would probably see her as she tried to close the gate ; it had settled on its hinges, and was too heavy for her. She thought of ringing the chapel bell; but before any Abenaqui could reach the spot the single man in the fortress must be overpowered.
Saint - Castin stood on his bachelor hearth, leaning an arm on the mantel. The light shone on his buckskin fringes, his dejected shoulders, and his cleanshaven youthful face. A supper stood on the table near him, where his Etchemin servants had placed it before they trotted off to the camps. The high windows flickered, and there was not a sound in the house except the low murmur or crackle of the glowing backlog, until the door-latch clanked, and the door flew wide and was slammed shut again. SaintCastin looked up with a frown, which changed to stupid astonishment.
Madockawando’s daughter seized him by the wrist.
“ Is there any way out of the fort except through the gate ? “
“ None,” answered Saint-Castin.
“ Is there no way of getting over the wall ? ”
“ The ladder can be used.”
“ Run, then, to the ladder ! Be quick.
“ What is the matter ? ” demanded Saint-Castin.
The Abenaqui girl dragged on him with all her strength as be reached for the iron door-latch.
“ Not that way — they will see you — they are coming from the river! Go through some other door.”
“ Who are coining ? ”
Yielding himself to her will, SaintCastin hurried with her from room to room, and out through his kitchen, where the untidy implements of his Etchemin slaves lay scattered about. They ran past the storehouse, and he picked up a ladder and set it against the wall.
“ I will run back and ring the chapel bell,” panted the girl.
“ Mount! ” said Saint-Castin sternly ; and she climbed the ladder, convinced that he would not leave her behind.
He sat on the wall and dragged the ladder up, and let it down on the outside. As they both reached the ground, he understood what enemy had nearly trapped him in his own fortress.
“ The doors were all standing wide,” said a cautious nasal voice, speaking English, at the other side of the wall.
“ Our fox hath barely sprung from cover. He must be near.”
“ Is not that the top of a ladder? inquired another voice.
At this there was a rush for the gate. Madockawando’s daughter ran like the wind, with Saint-Castin’s hand locked in hers. She knew, by night or day, every turn of the slender trail leading to the deserted chapel. It came to her mind as the best place of refuge. They were cut off from the camps, because they must cross their pursuers on the way.
The lord of Pentegoet could hear bushes crackling behind him. The position of the ladder had pointed the direction of the chase. He laughed in his headlong flight. This was not ignominious running from foes, but a royal exhilaration. He could run all night, holding the hand that guided him. Unheeded branches struck him across the face. He shook his hair back and flew lightfooted, the sweep of the magnificent body beside him keeping step. He could hear the tide boom against the headland, and the swish of its recoiling waters. The girl had her way with him. It did not occur to the officer of the Carignan regiment that he should direct the escape, or in any way oppose the will manifested for the first time in his favor. She felt for the door of the dark little chapel, and drew him in and closed it. His judgment rejected the place, but without a word he groped at her side across to the chancel rail. She lifted the loose slab of the platform, and tried to thrust him into the earthen-floored box.
“ Hide yourself first,” whispered Saint-Castin.
They could hear feet running on the flinty approach. The chase was so close that the English might have seen them enter the chapel.
“ Get in, get in! ” begged the Abenaqui girl. “ They will not hurt me.”
“ Hide ! ” said Saint-Castin thrusting her fiercely in. “ Would they not carry off the core of Saint-Castin’s heart if they could ? ”
She flattened herself on the ground under the platform, and gave him all the space at her side that the contraction of her body left clear, and he let the slab down carefully over their heads. They existed almost without breath for many minutes.
The wooden door-hinges creaked, and stumbling shins blundered against the benches.
“ What is this place ? ” spoke an English voice. “ Let some one take his tinder-box and strike a light.”
“ Have care,” warned another. “ We are only half a score in number. Our errand was to kidnap Saint-Castin from his hold, not to get ourselves ambushed by the Abenaquis.”
“ We are too far from the sloop now,” said a third. “ We shall be cut off before we get back, if we have not a care.”
“ But he must be in here.”
“ There are naught but benches and walls to hide him. This must be an idolatrous chapel where the filthy savages congregate to worship images.”
“ Come out of the abomination, and let us make haste back to the boat. He may be this moment marshaling all his Indians to surround us.”
“ Wait. Let a light first be made.”
Saint-Castin and his companion heard the clicks of flint and steel ; then an instant’s blaze of tinder made cracks visible over their heads. It died away, the hurried, wrangling men shuffling about. One kicked the platform.
“ Here is a cover,” he said ; but darkness again enveloped them all.
“ Nothing is to be gained by searching farther,” decided the majority. “ Did I not tell you this Saint-Castin will never be caught? The tide will turn, and we shall get stranded among the rocks of that bay. It is better to go back without Saint-Castin than to stay and be burnt by his Abenaquis.”
“ But here is a loose board in some flooring,” insisted the discoverer of the platform. “ I will feel with the butt of my gun if there be anything thereunder.”
The others had found the door, and were filing through it.
“ Why not with thy knife, man ? ” suggested one of them.
“ That is well thought of,” he answered, and struck a half circle under the boards. Whether in this flourish he slashed anything he only learned by the stain on the knife, when the sloop was dropping down the bay. But the Abenaqui girl knew what he had done, before the footsteps ceased. She sat beside Saint-Castin on the platform, their feet resting on the ground within the boards. No groan betrayed him, but her arms went jealously around his body, and her searching fingers found the cut in the buckskin. She drew her blanket about him with a strength of compression that made it a ligature, and tied the corners in a knot.
“ Is it deep, sagamore ? ”
“ Not deep enough,” said Saint-Castin. “ It will glue me to my buckskins with a little blood, but it will not let me out of my troubles. I wonder why I ran such a race from the English ? They might have had me, since they want me, and no one else does.”
“ I will kiss you now, sagamore,” whispered the Abenaqui girl, trembling and weeping in the chaos of her broken reserve. “ I cannot any longer hold out against being your wife.”
She gave him her first kiss in the sacred darkness of the chapel, and under the picture of the pierced heart. And it has since been recorded of her that the Baroness de Saint-Castin was, during her entire lifetime, the best worshiped wife in Acadia.
Mary Hartwell Catherwood.