MARY HARTWELL CATHERWOOD
AUTHOR OF "THE LADY OF FORT ST. JOHN," "THE ROMANCE OF DOLLARD," ETC.
BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
The Riverside Press, Cambridge
By HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO., and
MARY HARTWELL CATHERWOOD.
All rights reserved.
The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A.
Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton & Company.
|The Bonfire of St. John||1|
|A Field Day||55|
THE BONFIRE OF ST. JOHN.
Early in the century, on a summer evening, Jean Lozier stood on thebluff looking at Kaskaskia. He loved it with the homesick longing of onewho is born for towns and condemned to the fields. Moses looking intothe promised land had such visions and ideals as this old lad cherished.Jean was old in feeling, though not yet out of his teens. Thetraining-masters of life had got him early, and found under his redsunburn and knobby joints, his black eyes and bushy eyebrows, the naturethat passionately aspires. The town of Kaskaskia was his sweetheart. Ittantalized him with advantage and growth while he had to turn the[Pg 2] clodsof the upland. The long peninsula on which Kaskaskia stood, between theOkaw and the Mississippi rivers, lay below him in the glory of sunset.Southward to the point spread lands owned by the parish, and known asthe common pasture. Jean could see the church of the ImmaculateConception and the tower built for its ancient bell, the conventnorthward, and all the pleasant streets bowered in trees. The wharf wascrowded with vessels from New Orleans and Cahokia, and the arched stonebridge across the Okaw was a thoroughfare of hurrying carriages.
The road at the foot of the bluff, more than a hundred feet below Jean,showed its white flint belt in distant laps and stretches throughnorthern foliage. It led to the territorial governor's country-seat ofElvirade; thence to Fort Chartres and Prairie du Rocher; so on toCahokia, where it met the great trails of the far north. The road alsoswarmed with carriages and riders on horses, all moving toward ColonelPierre Menard's[Pg 3] house. Jean could not see his seignior's chimneys forthe trees and the dismantled and deserted earthworks of Fort Gage. Thefort had once protected Kaskaskia, but in these early peaceful times ofthe Illinois Territory it no longer maintained a garrison.
The lad guessed what was going on; those happy Kaskaskians, the fineworld, were having a ball at Colonel Menard's. Summer and winter theydanced, they made fêtes, they enjoyed life. When the territorialAssembly met in this capital of the West, he had often frosted himselflate into the winter night, watching the lights and listening to themusic in Kaskaskia. Jean Lozier knew every bit of its history. Theparish priest, Father Olivier, who came to hear him confess because hecould not leave his grandfather, had told it to him. There was a recordbook transmitted from priest to priest from the earliest settlement ofCascasquia of the Illinois. Jean loved the story of young D'Artaguette,whom the boatmen yet celebrated in song. On moonlight nights,[Pg 4] when theMississippi showed its broad sheet four miles away across the levelplain, he sometimes fooled himself with thinking he could see the fleetof young soldiers passing down the river, bearing the French flag;phantoms proceeding again to their tragedy and the Indian stake.
He admired the seat where his seignior lived in comfort and greathospitality, but all the crowds pressing to Pierre Menard's house seemedto him to have less wisdom than the single man who met and passed themand crossed the bridge into Kaskaskia. The vesper bell rung, breakingits music in echoes against the sandstone bosom of the bluff. Redsplendors faded from the sky, leaving a pearl-gray bank heaped over thefarther river. Still Jean watched Kaskaskia.
"But the glory remains when the light fades away,"
he sung to himself. He had caught the line from some English boatmen.
"Ye dog, ye dog, where are you, ye dog?" called a voice from the woodsbehind him.[Pg 5]
"Here, grandfather," answered Jean, starting like a whipped dog. He tookhis red cap from under his arm, sighing, and slouched away from thebluff edge, the coarse homespun which he wore revealing knots and jointsin his work-hardened frame.
"Ye dog, am I to have my supper to-night?"
But Jean took one more look at the capital of his love, which he hadnever entered, and for which he was unceasingly homesick. The governor'scarriage dashed along the road beneath him, with a military escort fromFort Chartres. He felt no envy of such state. He would have used thecarriage to cross the bridge.
"If I but lived in Kaskaskia!" whispered Jean.
The man on horseback, who met and passed the ball-goers, rode throughKaskaskia's twinkling streets in the pleasant glow of twilight. Tradehad not reached its day's end. The crack of long whips could[Pg 6] be heard,flourished over oxen yoked by the horns, or three or four ponies hitchedtandem, all driven without reins, and drawing huge bales of merchandise.Few of the houses were more than one story high, but they had asumptuous spread, each in its own square of lawn, orchard, and garden.They were built of stone, or of timbers filled in with stone and mortar.
The rider turned several corners, and stopped in front of a small housewhich displayed the wares of a penny-trader in its window.
From the open one of the two front doors a black boy came directly outto take the bridle; and behind him skipped a wiry shaven person, whosesleek crown was partly covered by a Madras handkerchief, the commonheadgear of humble Kaskaskians. His feet clogged their lightness with apair of the wooden shoes manufactured for slaves. A sleeved blanket,made with a hood which lay back on his shoulders, almost covered him,and was girdled at the waist by a knotted cord.[Pg 7]
"Here I am again, Father Baby," hailed the rider, alighting.
"Welcome home, doctor. What news from Fort Chartres?"
"No news. My friend the surgeon is doing well. He need not have sent forme; but your carving doctor is a great coward when it comes tophysicking himself."
They entered the shop, while the slave led the horse away; and nocustomers demanding the trading friar's attention, he followed hislodger to an inner room, having first lighted candles in his woodensconces. Their yellow lustre showed the tidiness of the shop, and thepenny merchandise arranged on shelves with that exactness which has beenthought peculiar to unmarried women. Father Baby was a scandal to theestablished confessor of the parish, and the joke of the ungodly. Somesaid he had been a dancing-master before he entered the cloister, and itwas no wonder he turned out a renegade and took to trading. Othersdeclared that he had no right to the gray[Pg 8] capote, and his tonsure was anatural loss of hair; in fact, that he never had been a friar at all.But in Kaskaskia nobody took him seriously, and Father Olivier was notsevere upon him. Custom made his harlequin antics a matter of course;though Indians still paused opposite his shop and grinned at sight of along-gown peddling. His religious practices were regular and severe, andhe laid penance on himself for all the cheating he was able toaccomplish.
"I rode down from Elvirade with Governor Edwards," said the doctor. "Heand all Kaskaskia appear to be going to Colonel Menard's to-night."
"Yes, I stood and counted the carriages: the Bonds, the Morrisons, theVigos, the Sauciers, the Edgars, the Joneses"—
"Has anything happened these three days past?" inquired the doctor,breaking off this list of notable Kaskaskians.
"Oh, many things have happened. But first here is your billet."
The young man broke the wafer of his invitation and unfolded the paper.[Pg 9]
"It is a dancing-party," he remarked. His nose took an aquiline curvepeculiar to him. The open sheet, as he held it, showed the name of "Dr.Dunlap" written on the outside. He leaned against a high black mantel.
"You will want hot shaving-water and your best ruffled shirt," urged thefriar.
"I never dance," said the other indifferently.
"And you do well not to," declared Father Baby, with some contemptuousimpatience. "A man who shakes like a load of hay should never dance. IfI had carried your weight, I could have been a holier man."
Dr. Dunlap laughed, and struck his boot with his riding-whip.
"Don't deceive yourself, worthy father. The making of an abbot was notin you. You old rascal, I am scarcely in the house, and there you standall of a tremble for your jig."
Father Baby's death's-head face wrinkled[Pg 10] itself with expectant smiles.He shook off his wooden shoes and whirled upon one toe.
The doctor went into another room, his own apartment in the friar'ssmall house. His office fronted this, and gave him a door to the street.Its bottles and jars and iron mortar and the vitreous slab on which herolled pills were all lost in twilight now. There were many otherdoctors' offices in Kaskaskia, but this was the best equipped one, andwas the lair of a man who had not only been trained in Europe, but hadsailed around the entire world. Dr. Dunlap's books, some of them inboard covers, made a show on his shelves. He had an articulatedskeleton, and ignorant Kaskaskians would declare that they had seen itwhirl past his windows many a night to the music of his violin.
"What did you say had happened since I went away?" he inquired,sauntering back and tuning his fiddle as he came.
"There's plenty of news," responded[Pg 11] Father Baby. "Antoine Lamarche'scow fell into the Mississippi."
Dr. Dunlap uttered a note of contempt.
"It would go wandering off where the land crumbles daily with thatcurrent setting down from the northwest against us; and Antoine was farfrom sneering in your cold-blooded English manner when he got the news."
"He tore his hair and screamed in your warm-blooded French manner?"
"That he did."
The doctor stood in the bar of candle-light which one of the shopsconces extended across the room, and lifted the violin to his neck. Hewas so large that all his gestures had a ponderous quality. His dresswas disarranged by riding, and his blond skin was pricked through by theuntidy growth of a three-days' beard, yet he looked very handsome.
Dr. Dunlap stood in the light, but Father Baby chose the dark for thoseecstatic antics into which the fiddle threw him. He leaped[Pg 12] high fromthe floor at the first note, and came down into a jig of the mostperfect execution. The pat of his bare soles was exquisitely true. Heraised the gown above his ankles, and would have seemed to float but forhis response in sound. Yet through his most rapturous action he neverceased to be conscious of the shop. A step on the sill would break theviolin's charm in the centre of a measure.
But this time no step broke it, and the doctor kept his puppet friargoing until his own arm began to weary. The tune ended, and Father Babypaused, deprived of the ether in which he had been floating.
Dr. Dunlap sat down, nursing the instrument on his crossed knees whilehe altered its pitch.
"Are you not going to Colonel Menard's at all?" inquired the friar.
"It would be a great waste of good dancing not to," said the doctorlazily. "But you haven't told me who else has lost a cow or had anincrease of goats while I was away."[Pg 13]
"The death of even a beast excites pity in me."
"Yes, you are a holy man. You would rather skin a live Indian than adead sheep."
The doctor tried his violin, and was lifting it again to position whenFather Baby remarked:—
"They doubtless told you on the road that a party has come through fromPost Vincennes."