The Saginosh Baby

Mountains may move and a sunbeam’s motes be still, but the love of a mother for her baby beats eternal in every mother breast.

S . H . HOWARD August 1 1925

The Saginosh Baby

Mountains may move and a sunbeam’s motes be still, but the love of a mother for her baby beats eternal in every mother breast.

S . H . HOWARD August 1 1925

The Saginosh Baby

Mountains may move and a sunbeam’s motes be still, but the love of a mother for her baby beats eternal in every mother breast.


OVER the darkening Laurentians, from some lonely little lake in the forest open only to the all-seeing eye of the sky, came that long, clear call of the loon which sounds like a woman in the depths of the wilderness calling to a child that is lost. Fearful, hopeful, plaintive, its three long notes rose at twilight from the sweet, blue distance, as though encouraging the lost little one, bidding it answer, bidding it be of good cheer, but anxious withal, as a mother sad with grief.

“Poor Jeanette,” said Isadore, trailing his paddle to listen.

Again, clear and pure and rounded as the voice of a soprano, came the wistful call and then, suddenly, that burst of hysterical loon laughter, convulsive, wild, sob-shaken, which, on a quiet night in the still Laurentians, sounds like that of a wild woman who has lost her reason and defied her own soul.

“Poor, crazy Jeanette,” said Isadore. “La pauvre femme."

“Did she never find her child?” I asked.

“Nevaire,” he said sadly.

“He’s dead since long tarn.

How did you know about dat?” he added quickly.

“She has been calling, calling so long,” I evaded.

“For years and years, she has been calling of summer nights.”

“Yes, it is a long tarn since that crazy woman lose her boy,” replied Isadore thoughtfully. “My gran’

fadder tole me all about dat.

But he never tell you dat.

He never tell nobody but me.”

“Tell me,” I suggested.

The shadows behind the hills were lengthening and turning black. Lake Superior, turquoise in the twilight, gently rose and fell, the broad, deep, full bosom breathing in the quiet sleep of nightfall. The canoe,

soaring slowly in the reflection of the turquoise sky along the edge of the reef, left an iridescent, widening, wedge-shaped roll of green, into which broke rumpled circles at regular intervals, made by Isadore’s short

little paddle. I held my rod out over the gunwale, a long line trailing for “coasters” but it was now too lateto fish. I had fish enough. It was nearly time to forget trout, and worship the stars; nearly time to dream of other days and other lives lived in this wilderness of rugged rocks and tangled forest, wetting itself like the edge ot a ragged carpet in this great, ancient, glacial pool.

TT’S a long tarn, (said Isadore, his eyes on the horizon,) it’s a long tarn, my gran’fadder tole me,—hunder’ years, I guess, maybe more ’an dat—since a young man came to Michipicoton to be clerk of the Post for the Fur Company of the North West. Norman Harfleur, his name was. Nice young man he was and educate’. A fine gentleman like we don’ see now, wit’ long brown hair and nice moustache. Not so black and stiff as mine but longer dan dat. At first, he don’ know much about the bush and the Nort’ Shore and the price of fur and he pine for his own countree in France. He was sad. An emigre, he was, Misseu, with no friends in this wild country.

Canada was young, then. Tadousac, Quebec, T’ree

Rivers, Sorel, Montreal, Lachine—dat was about all. My fadder was educate’. He was for the Hudson Bay. He tole me about dose place. But there was no white man on de Superior Nort’ Shore at all, no, none, except some Nor’ West fur trader at àault Sainte Marie, Grande Portage, Michipicoton and one or two more—Nipigon, maybe, and Heron Bay at the Pic—peut cire—I don' know Injun and French breed—dat’s all.

Norman Harfleur’s boss—he was Misseu Mackenzie, a Scotch bourgeois, very red with much hair on the face but bald as a rock on top. He soon teach Misseu the

price of fur, you bet. It was ver’ cheap then, my gran’fadder say, an’ easy to learn the price, I guess. And Misseu Harfleur, he soon learn for paddle canoe and for snowshoe, because he like dat. He like for see how far he can go in one day. The air from dat spruce, it fill him up like a balloon. He is so light on his feet, he can’ get tire’.

So his bourgeois say one day, “Take you a toboggan and some dogs and go out en derouine. We must have fur,” he say. “The Nor’ Wes’ Company oí Montreal won’ take no excuse. Dose Injun must pay their debt. I don’t want for see you again until you bring me a good load of fur.”

Norman Harfleur, he harness the dogs and he take a keg of trade brandy—half fill of water—and some grub and some blanket and his axe and he start off up the river on the ice to drum up fur.

Now, dis winter was the seventh year for rabbit. Every seven years, de rabbit fail. Why, I don’ know dat. And when the rabbit fail, mos’ all fur is scarce, dat tam. De lynx an’ de wolf, he’s starve without enough rabbit. The wolf get together in big pack and bodder de moose in the moose yard and he drif’ away. And dose Injun, dey must follow the moose, because there is no rabbit. It is a hard tarn for dose Injun when de rabbit fail. Dey don’t have tarn for hunt fur and for come in to de Post to pay dere debt.

W’en he was gone two days on the river, Norman Harfleur step on an ol’ snowshoe track. He knew it was dere, because he feel it under his foot. But it has drif’ so much he can’ see it until he looks ahead and picks up the line of leettle bit shallow dimple on the snow. So he lets the dogs follow on de ole track.

By and by, it turn up a creek in de alders and comes to a little lak. The track point straight across de lak. At the far shore, dose dogs stop by ole waterhole in the ice, all froze up, and they smell somet'ing, dose dogs, an’ won’ go.

Norman Harfleur, he pass on de shore and he sees plenty ol’ track all snowed up, and back on de bush little bit dere’s a wigwam. But he can’ see no smoke. He call, “Hullo; Quay, quay, la! Bo' jou’, bo' jou’, ’ but no sign Injun come out nor not'ing. So he walks to the door of the wigwam on his snowshoe and pulls the moose-hide flap and looks in. He see some old brush on de floor and some ashes but it is cold, dat tent. Dose ash is dead and he can’ see no more wood in dere. He look some more in de dark place at the back—he sees someone in bed under a rabbit-skin blanket.

HE CRAWLS inside, Mr. Harfleur, and lifts the top of that blanket. By gosh! It is a nice young squaw he see dere but dead and frozen stiff, Misseu. hard and cold like a stone. And she’s hug a leetle baby to her breast, all tied up in moss bag, a young little baby, too, two or three days, maybe. Mr. Harfleur, he touch its cheek. It s a small, leetle baby and he touch its cheek like dat, very soft with his bare finger. And sacrel His face is warm. Dat baby is alive! It go for open its eyes and yell.

Oui, Museu. dat baby yell for sure, I guess. Because

it‘s hungry for some grub.

What is there to do for Mr. Hartleur? He can go teed dat baby meat. Dat mother is dead. De fadder, he's gone tor follow the moose. I guess he leave her some wood. But he’s gone long tam. Dat wood is all burn’ up And that poor mother can’ get up to cut wood she is too sick. She has no more grub. And last night is too cole for that poor woman. She freeze stiff as a board.

Now, Misseu, he go outside to think what he must do Mr Mackenzie say to come back when he got some fur but not before dat The Nor* West Company must have some fur. The sun is pretty low. It is long way to de Fort. He can’ think no more. So he makes a tire under the cedar and cuts some wood and brings some water from the ol’ waterhole alter he chop out the ice and be feeds his dogs some fish and boils the pot and all de time dat baby cry. He is too hungry, dat baby, le pautrre petit!

Misseu Hartleur cook some moose meat in the pot and make some soup and tak’ his supper and t’ink all de time what must he do. So. at last, he goes to the hut and he brings the baby to the fire in its moss bag and he sit on some piece of brush on de snow and he dip his finger in de pot and give dat baby his finger to eat. An’ dat baby stop for yell like a shot. Yes, Misseu, he like dat soup for sure. So Misseu Hartleur, he dip his finger some more and then he take his handkerchief—nice fine white handkerchief from France—and dip it in the pot and give. And the baby like dat. But when he take a piece of nice fat and put it in the handkerchief for the baby to suck, he like dat best of all. Pretty soon, he get sleepy again and Misseu Hartleur, he hoi’ him in h:s arms by the fire, like he's going to love dat baby. But he can’ stay here. If dat fadder don’ come pretty soon with more meat, dat poor petit will starve to deat', for sure, and freeze to deat’, also. And then, maybe, some crazy wolf come by there and see what’s the matter and eat up dat poor baby and the mother, all so.

No. Misseu Hartleur can no permit. He will wrap that baby up. put a hot stone in the blanket and pack dat baby on the toboggan and run back to de Fort. Angele, the wife of Antoine Tremblay, the foreman of the brigade, will nurse this leetle one with her own boy, who's got two sharp white teeth now, by gosh! and can bite so hard as a fox. It is time for him to eat some meat, dat boy.

So. he makes dat. He turn his dogs in the back track. She’s frozen up hard now. dat ole track, and the dogs go like hell. All night, they run in the river. At daylight, some breakfast and little more soup for the baby and nice piece of moose fat lor comfort him.

All day long. Mr. Harfleur run behind the dogs. The track is so hard, now, he can tie his snowshoe on the toboggan and run on his moccasin. He’s never tire’ before but he’s tire’ now. I guess. And that next night, they come to Michipicoton gate.

Well, Sir! My fadder say you don’ knowf how mad Misseu Mackenzie is when he see dat baby but he can’ see no fur. "T’row dat orphan brat out on de snow,” he say. "There’s plenty Injun kid. The Companee of the N’or'West come here to Lac Superior for tur.”

But Misseu Harfleur. he take dat baby and give it to Angele and tell Old Mackenzie to go to hell. Mon Dieu, he’s mad. dat ole man.

^FLL. Norman Harfleur nex’ day he ask Angele, "How's de boy?" And, by gar, Angele say, “He’s fine but he's a girl." Ha. ha! Oui, Misseu, he’s a girl!

Well." says Misseu Harfleur, “take good care ol dat baby girl. I am for going to keep her. First, I will keep her for my daughter. Den, w’en she is big, I wrill teach her and. some day. maybe, I will keep her for my wdfe, eh?"

Well, Misseu. dat's a joke dat tam to laugh but it’s not all tam a joke to laugh. No sir! When little Jeanette could walk, he began for teach her French, Misseu Harfleur. and soon she could count up to a hundred. And he never stop de lesson till she could count away up in the thousand! And he send to Montreal for nice clo'es. And she grow up like a little French girl. But, all the time, she play with young Francois, the son of Angele and ol' Antoine. And, when she play, she’s Injun but w'en she go to Mr. Harfleur to learn, she’s French. She try to please her papa all the time but her nature is to run on de woods and snare de rabbit and climb on de big canoe. And she love her papa but she love Angele and ol' Antoine, too. And especially young Francois, who shared his mother's breas’ for her and would share his own breas' for her, too, some day.

And then Mr. Mackenzie went away back to Canada to live on pension. And the Company made Misseu Harfleur the factor of Michipicoton and Misseu took Jeanette to live with him and learn to be his daughter, in the factor's house. And Angele, she cook and wash for them and ol’ Antoine cut the wood. But young Francois, he run wild like a young moose, shoot de wild duck and de pa’tridge and range the woods—a courier des bois. And the boss he put him into the canoe brigade, when he went to Grande Portage to meet the Bourgeois

and settle up the books. For sure, young Francois was growing up to be a strong young feller. And he liked Jeanette very well as a sister but, bye and bye, he like her better still dan dat.

So, one day, the factor saw these two, the boy and the girl, come into tHe fort gate togedder from the wharf and they was both swing’ de hands.

An' he said, "Francois, how ole are you now, eh?” An' Francois said, "Sixteen years, Misseu!” And the factor said to Jeanette, "Then you are fifteen years old next winter. It is time you went to stay with the Sisters in Montreal.”

Jeanette don’ like for hear dat; she’s scare’ to go to Montreal. But Angele must get her good dose all ready and her best beaded moccasins and her red sash. And pretty soon the furs were pressed and baled in pack and the canoes were loaded. This time the factor is going to make a trip. He don’ like for go to Canada, because he’s done with all those men and women in France and it makes him think too much of what a bad time lie had when dey kill dose people over there and that poor King Louis and de beautiful Queen. But now lie’s go to Montreal with Jeanette and put her in a Convent for three years. And the Sisters will teach her for be a lady like dose lady of the old regime. And then the factor will come again to bring her to the priest to marry them. And Jeanette will come back to Michipicoton—Madame Harfleur!

Yes, Misseu! So dat is what he makes it! Norman Harfleur made dose plan to marry his own adopt’ daughter! It was a strange fing, dat. He was a fine gentleman, Misseu Harfleur. He was too fine for pick him a nice young squaw to live with him and cook and sew. That’s the way dose Nor’West men do and dey had plenty family, too. But not Misseu Harfleur. He don' like dose greasy squaw so much as dat. He want nice educate’ girl like dat one he knew some tam in France. So he teach poor Jeanette all dose years to be a fine lady.

Poor Jeanette. She was like more to climb on de rocks and run in the woods with Francois. But Jeanette, she love her papa. She would do not’ing he did not want. She was scare’ a leetle bit of dat big moustache, I guess, and that grand signeur business. All those Ojibways was respect this fine bourgeois like the devil.

And so, at las’, Jeanette marry her own adopt’ fadder. She cry and cry but it’s no use. And she come home to Michipicoton and live in the factor’s hbuse. To be sure, it is of square timber and white washed, only, dat house, and not like dose stone house in Montreal. But the factor, he had nice linen table cloth and white plate and cup and big dish with crowns of gold on the side and spoons and forks of silver. He kep’ up good style for so far away as de Nor’Shore. He did so. My fadder tell me dose Nor’ Western were more proud even than the Hudson Bay. Dey make lots money dose tam, because dey pay dose poor Injun one gun for pile of beaver skins five feet high. And dey give brandy half and half of water. W'ater is very cheap on Lake Superior, Misseu. But, just so, dat Nor’ Wes’ brandy is too strong for some people and dey cheat dose people pretty bad some tam with little drop of brandy to help them make de deal.

WELL, poor young Francois, he feel ver’ sad. And one day he get mad at Jeanette and tell her what he think that she go for throw him down for a white man from France. And Jeanette cry and he kiss her tears and the factor come in and see dat.

Well, sir! Francois must take his traps and get out. He must get to work. Yes, sir. He must go off in de bush, like dose other Injun and make a trap line and catch fur. And Jeanette must stay in de Fort and make little shirts for her baby. Sure enough! And when that time come, Jeanette is very sick. She’s no good to stay in the house like a white lady all tam. She don’ eat ver’ much. And when the baby come, it nearly die. It seems too pale and not enough blood. I like me for to see a new baby very red, Misseu. Well, Jeanette’s baby was pale, pale, and it had blue eyes. Oui, Misseu. It was saginosh. It was a white child. Sometime, it is like dat. One baby will be red like the mother with black eyes and black hair. And, next tam the baby come, it is a white baby like the {adder—but me—I am half and half. Most tam is like dat, I guess.

Well, the factor, he see dat baby is white and he go near crazy for joy. And Jeanette, she’s so proud of her little saginosh she forget Francois. And, for a long tam, they are all very nice and happy at Michipicoton. But when dat boy is free year ol’, the fadder is begin to wean his leetle boy away from his mother.

Yes, Misseu. He is teaching him to be a white man, like leetle boys in France. Poor Jeanette, she’s forget pretty near what the good Sisters in the Convent of the Gray Nun taught her in Montreal. She forget to count a thousan’. But petit Albert, he can soon count a hunder’ thousand. All Jeanette can remember is to count her beads like the Sisters taught her and say her prayer. And soon, she’s get very fat, round like a squaw. But she’s not so rosy as a squaw, No. Dat’s too bad.

So, she’s for go and visit sometime with the squaws when dose Injun come to the Fort in summer and make camp on the mountain to pick berries.

And the factor say, “All right. The air will make some roses come on your cheek!” So, now, every summer Jeanette goes for visit with her own people and pick de berries and sew de birch bark and every tam she comes back she is more and more de squaw.

But the factor and the boy, they are enough. They seem satisfy without Jeanette. The boy likes to learn. Already, he knows about the King of France that lost his head and the poor young Queen. The factor has change’ his whole heart since little Albert learn to talk French. He is for the boy all tam. Jeanette—she is just a squaw now, good for keep the house. Poor Jeanette! She don’ like dat. She loves dat boy and he loves her, too. Make no mistake about dat. When he talk to his mamma, he talk Ojibway and he laugh a whole lot. But soon the factor call him1 to learn some more A.B.C. from his book. Poor Jeanette—her heart is not too full of joy.

Well, and so dat’s de way it is. And den dat letter come from France. When Albert is going on for seven years old one day in the summer tam, a fine double Norf canoe is come in off de Lac Superior. For sure, it is a fine canoe with ten Caughnawaga paddlers in red shirt and nice Quebec sash. When the factor see dat canoe at the Point, he get all excite’ and hoist de flag in de mast and fire de gun. And, pretty soon, de canoe is at de wharf and a fine big bourgeois come up on de Fort. I guess you don’ know dat feller, the Grand Marquis, Misseu Simon McTavish.

MY GRAN’ FADDER heard about him and tol’ me he’s the most grand bourgeois of the Nor’West Company down at Montreal. He’s de richest man in Canada, I guess, dat time. He’s come up to the meeting of the par’ners at Grande Portage. And he call in to Michipicoton to see Misseu Harfleur. Dat’s ver’ strange.

The factor, he’s terrible polite man and he’s know how for handle the Grand Marquis like a King. And Misseu McTavish like dat, you bet.

“Mr. Harfleur,” he say, “before dinner I wish to talk some business wit’ you. We leave here one o’clock sharp.” All right. Mr. Harfleur takes him on his office in the trade shop, where he keep his book. And the Grand Marquis ask all about de fur dat’s ready for go down to Montreal and de debts dose Injun have lef’ on de book.

“Now,” he say, “there’s a leetle matter dat the Governor of Canada has placed on my hand. Napoleon, he has raise’ hell in France but things is quiet again now. His big General has die’ and de widow has wrote letter to the Governor to try and find Count de la Rhone, dat feller came to Canada when his fadder and mother get the big ax on de neck twenty-six years ago —same tam as dat King Louis. The Governor of Canada don’ know dat Count but, perhaps, he’s go on de bush an’ Misseu McTavish can fin’ him and give him letter from dis nice, big lady in France.”

When Misseu McTavish say dat, the factor get white like birch bark and he shake like leaf on dose tree. “Sacre, Mon Dieu,” he say, “what is trouble now?” “Hoi’ on!” say Misseu McTavish. “I suspec’ right!” But first, he made him show some paper and some leetle t’ing he has keep sake for prove it is true he is de Count de la Rhone.

“I was guess right,” he say. “You are de man I suspect all tam. Here is a nice letter for you!”

Well, sir! My gran’fadder don’ know all what’s in dat letter but it means dat lady want him to come home to France and live with her in big Chateau with plenty grub and lots fine clo’s all rest of his life. This was his most best gal before King Louis lose his head and all dose other nice people. She’s marry some big soldier feller, because she’s scare’ she’s lose her head, too, dis girl. And so, Misseu Harfleur escape’ with some emigres to Canada and try to forget her in de bush. And, now after all dese long tam, she writes letter for him to come home.

Yes, he must go. He is sick tor his own countree right away and for his gal. He shake like he is col’ in de winter tam.

But how about Jeanette, eh? How about dat? And de boy, little Albert? Well, the Company take care of all dat. Dere’s plenty factor go home and leave halfbreed family in de Nor’West eountree—hundreds of dem. McTavish tell him dat’s easy for arrange.

But de factor, he can’ go for leave dat boy. He is a saginosh. He want dat leetle boy.

“Be careful,” Misseu McTavish say. “A she-bear with one cub is make lots of fuss.”

After dinner, he go away, Misseu McTavish, in de big canoe to Grande Portage. Dose Iroquois from Caughnawaga, dey’re de boys for paddle canoe. Hunder’ miles a day while de lac is calm—hurry hup—hurry hup—steamboat time.

Then, de factor he’s tell Jeanette. Only he t’ink it best not to tell her too much.

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“I got a letter from Montreal,” he say. “I must go down to Canada on some big business.”

Dat’s all right. But when he say he’s take de boy for go to school on Canada —No! By gosh, no. He can’t do dat.

The factor he argue and talk all night. No good. Jeanette has got some back to de wall at las’.

“You tak him away to school and make him white man and teach him forget his poor Injun mother. No! No!” She’s mad, Jeanette, mad as a she-bear. He never see her so mad on his life before.

Well, the factor try to coax her and tell her he will come back soon. No good.

THE factor count up his fur and all his store goods and put it down in book for de new man. And he pack up his clo’s in a bag and he give Jeanette his shirt to wash. But he’s scare’ for tell her to get some clo’s ready for de leetle boy. He know she won’ do dat. She say it is no good for educate Injun gal and boy. She know dat. She’s know too much. An Injun Is not happy for know too much. She know now she is only a squaw. She don’ want leetle Albert to fin’ out she is only a poor squaw. She don’ wan’ him to learn himself away from his mother.

“But the child is white,” say the fadder. “He has a white child’s brain. He is saginosh.”

“His heart is red,” say Jeanette. “He is my little saginosh.”

For free days, they fight about dat. And den dey shut up and don’ speak at all. But the factor wait for that big canoe to come back from Grande Portage. He is determine’ to take dat boy.

At las’ the new man comes in the big canoe with Misseu McTavish back from Grande Portage. It is near time now for say good-bye. The nice cloth is on de tabi’ and the fine dish and the silver spoon. But Jeanette won’ sit at de tabi’ and eat her dinner with the “Grand Marquis” and Misseu Hardy and the Count de la Rhone, her own husban’. No. She brings in the soup and the whitefish and the pork and bean and all the grub but, after dat, she sit on the floor in the kitchen with little Albert hugged tight, and her apron over her head, an’ she sing Injun baby song to him and rock him like for go to sleep.

Misseu McTavish takes a look to see the boy but he’s covered over with his

mother’s apron like little papoose. They hear him cry for leave his mother and smother de sob and his mother sing and hold him tighter, like she rock her baby to sleep.

The factor finish his dinner an’ excuse to go put the boy’s clo’s in de bag. Then, Misseu Hardy take de bag and go on down to the canoe, with Misseu McTavish, the big bourgeois. Misseu Harfleur, the Count, he gon on de kitchen to get the boy and say good-bye to Jeanette en finale.

“I’ll be back soon,” he say. “Goodbye, Jeanette.”

Jeanette rock and rock and stop sing for cry.

“Good-bye, Albert. Won’t you saygood-bye to papa?”

He stoop down to pretend to kiss the leetle boy good-bye. But dat does not fool Jeanette. She hoi’ him tight. Then, the factor get mad, and he grab the boy and pull him out of his mother’s arms with all his strengt’. But dat leetle boy is heavy as lead. He don’ speak, he don’ cry. He don’ lift his head up at all. And when his papa hoi’ him up to see his face, he drop him quick back in his mother’s lap.

“Garotte!” he say like he going to kill dat poor woman. “You Ojibway devil! You have choke’ your own son!”

“It is for dis I learn to read in Montreal,” Jeanette say. An’ she trow down on de floor dat letter she fin’ when she go wash the factor’s shirt. “Dis is my leetle saginosh. You can’ tak dis leetle spirit from me now.”

An’ den she laugh,laugh,laugh, crazy like a loon.

The factor can’ wait no more. He pick up dat letter and run out de door. He s don’ stop till he’s run jump in canoe.

“For love of de bon Dieu!” he say. “Marchons! marchons! Hup! Hup! Let’s get to hell out of here!” He can' go away from dis place too quick.

Away round de point dey can hear dose Iroquois from Caughnawaga bump de paddle on edge de canoe—buinp—bump —bump—like bellin’ a door dat is shut.

I DON’ know for sure all my gran’fadder tol’ me is true,” said Isadore, as he knelt to spread the blankets. “But one thing I can tol’ you is true. It s not too much good for educate white man to marry squaw. De proof—dat’s me.”