THE PIPE OF PEACE
Christmas Eve, 1689, and the night made hideous by the cries of onrushing redskins. Within the stockade of St. Pic, a gallant band of men and women, bittered by tragedy, prepared to exact revenge or perish. Then Christmas, and a miracle wrought by the spirit of the day.
I COULD have wished we had built the walls of stone as well as the houses,” the Seigneur of St. Pic remarked to his burly seneschal, Gervais Martigny, as they made a tour of the fifteen-foot stockade in the sharpening air of the waning sunlight. It was Christmas Eve, 1689, and everything was in readiness for the celebration on the morrow.
“It’s not the walls but the men behind them that matter, Mon Sieur. And yonder ^.re as stout a body of men with the musket as man might wish for.”
“Aye,” admitted Raymond Duhamel, still regretfully, “but that won’t quench a fire if once the Indians get it started. God be thanked, we’ve found water inside the walls!” if
The seigniory of St. Pic stood on a slight bluff, overlooking the Richelieu River. There, for the last dozen years, on a royal grant, the colony brought out from France by Duhamel had toiled unceasingly, clearing the land and had, at last, succeeded in making a living from the soil.
Thanks to Duhamel’s wisdom in his choice of colonists, the little community was, as nearly as possible, self sufficing. It had to be. Once a year, only, did the ships from Quebec sail for France with the furs collected from the Indians, and once a year did they return in the spring bringing back supplies to New France.
So Duhamel and his settlement had cleared land, planted and reaped. And each year had seen them that much farther advanced in their fight against the primeval forest and the hardships of a pioneer life.
Living as he did on the Richelieu River, that highway for Iroquois war parties, his first work had been the construction of a rude fort. And so well had he contrived both its design and the drilling of his men, that he had successfully repulsed all Indian attacks, and St. Pic had become known among the Indians as a post worth leaving alone. When he had felt himself more firmly established, he had rebuilt St. Pic, enclosing space not only for the large new manor house, but also for houses for each family in the communicy. Every dwelling had been built of stone: the great storehouse for the crops and cattle; the small chapel with its cross-crowned steeple flung to the sky.
Duhamel intended to rebuild the walls in stone, for it was a time of grave anxiety in the New World. Frontenac had been recalled for some time, and the Iroquois, who had gone in fear and trembling of that iron hand, were quick to feel the change. The presence of a weak governor at Quebec had emboldened them to harry the land far and wide. Only that summer, on that fatal August nineteenth, they had wiped out the village of Lachine, tomahawked some two hundred French and taken many
prisoners. That success had made them supremely contemptuous of every white man.
____ So Raymond Duhamel knew
that’if he and his colony were to survive, it must be by their own exertions and courage alone. They need expect no help from Quebec. Montreal was as helpless as themselves.
NOT the faintest stir of a breeze disturbed the air, growing frostier every minute, as the great red globe of the sun sank towards the dark pine forest across the frozen river. Behind them, the clearing stretched half a mile before it was stopped by the fringe of trees which marked the extent of the land which they had wrested from the forest. Snow had fallen already that winter and the ground all around them was covered to the depth of several feet.
Raymond Duhamel surveyed, not without pride, the tract of arable land running above and below them on the banks of the
“Five hundred acres cleared already, Gervais. A little while, and the like of this place will not be seen in all New France.”
A yell shattered the peaceful silence. For a moment, the echoes on the other shore played with it, then to their straining ears came a few sharp cries, followed almost immediately by a chorus of deafening war whoops.
“Indians, Gervais; and Donat and Martin out this afternoon after rabbit. They’ve been discovered. Quick! Call the men. We must hold the Indians off until the lads have a chance to reach the fort.”
As he spoke, two small figures emerged from the woods racing for the stockade on their snowshoes, and, not two hundred yards behind them, a band of yelling Indians overflowed into the clearing.
“That we cannot do, Mon Sieur,” growled Gervais. His practised eye had instantly taken in the numbers of the Indians and the distance between pursuers and pursued. “See! There must be two hundred of them and we can muster only twenty-five. What would happen to the women folk if once those savages put foot inside the fort? It is your son and mine, Monsieur, but have we the right to risk the fate of the colony because they are ours? Nay, they must take their chance. Pray God they can make the gates.”
Gervais turned to summon the garrison to the walls. But there was no need. The Indian war cry had brought everyone running to the stockade. Each man rushed to an assigned position. A moment before Duhamel and Gervais had been the only living beings on the stockade. Now in the twinkling of an eye a fringe of helmets bristled on the parapets and little curling wreaths of smoke went up all along the line. The muskets were ready to be fired.
Beneath them, inside the fort, some of the women had formed a bucket brigade between the walls and the well. A line of splashing pails was swinging towards them. Other women were stationed below loading additional muskets for the men.
At a touch on his arm, Raymond Duhamel turned to find his wife Bernice beside him. “Donat,” she whispered. There was that in her voice that showed she knew the truth. “I feared to let him go, but he pleaded so hard, I couldn’t forbid him. Cannot the men go out and drive the Indians off?”
Duhamel shook his head. “Nay, Bernice, that would mean death for us all.”
They were made of stern stuff in those pioneer days, the womennoless than the men. No weeping, just,“God have mercy and bring him safely back,” and Madame Duhamel turned, telling her beads. The primitive room where wounds were to be dressed was her province during an attack on the fort.
The men could but look on at that race with death and
do nothing. Muttered oaths sounded on all sides. One or two of the garrison shouted continual encouragement to the two pursued. As if to mock them, came the ever increasing roar from the throats of the entire band of red men. The French could see the twinkle of the sun on the spouts of snow kicked up by the tips of the fleeing boys’ snowshoes, and they watched anxiously lest these spouts become greater, a sure sign of weariness.
Half the clearing crossed, the Indians had lessened by half the distance between them and their quarry. They were not much more than fifty yards behind, and the Seigneur and Gervais had to admit to themselves the hopelessness of hoping any longer. Donat and Martin could never reach the gates before those wild beasts overtook them.
“Courage, Mon Sieur,” exhorted Gervais, reading his master’s thoughts. “We’ll try and check them. You, Jean, and you, Pierre,” he ordered, turning to his two best marksmen, “give them a shot. Fire wide of the boys. It may halt the redskins and will put spirit into the poor lads.”
It was almost too far for muskets of those days to carry with any surety, but a chance shot brought down one redman and he plowed his length in the snow to the accompaniment of a roar of delight from the garrison. The rest of the band never hesitated for one instant. On they came, relentlessly, as if quite well aware they still were fairly out of range. Suddenly, just as the watchers were able to distinguish between the two boys, Donat, their Seigneur’s son, was seen to falter in his stride. For one agonized moment, everyone stood motionless; every breath was held. The boy seemed, for an instant, to recover and an exhalation of relief left the mouths of the watchers. Then, just as the nearest pursuer gained up on him, he went down in a smother of light snow.
An Indian wave rushed over him. He was blotted out as completely as though buried in a landslide. All the watchers could see was a milling jumble of redskins over the spot where Donat had fallen. Then the mass of figures broke up once again, and, with ear-torturing yells, returned to the pursuit of Martin.
He had been given just the least bit of respite. Evidently, he had not seen Donat go down. On he came toward the gates, now held open for him. Gervais gave the order for Jean and Pierre to crossfire on the Indians from either end of the wall facing them. With a roar, the muskets burst forth and the foremost Indians went down. Martin staggered as he came. Several of the garrison rushed out and dragged him into safety whilst the gates banged shut just as the furious redskins hurled themselves against them.
Then, without need of any order, all the men on that wall fired into the mass of Indians at its foot. Quickly, they were supplied with freshly loaded muskets and another volley was poured into the attackers. But the Indians had had no intention of attempting to rush the fort, and beat a hasty retreat. As they went, their chief, a tall and splendid figure, uttered a shrill warwhoop of defiance and held up what seemed a freshly taken scalp to th? horrified eyes of the garrison.
Curses of rage and fury broke out. Again and again, the French emptied their muskets at the retreating redskins. Long after the enemy were out of range this musket fire was kept up. At length, Gervais gave the order to cease fire. The dark forest had swallowed up the Indians. Nothing was to be seen but the blood drenched snow. No body lay exposed to show them how deadly had been their fire. The red men had carried off the slain with them.
INSIDE the post, young Martigny gave an incoherent account of what had happened. Pieced together, it appeared that he and Donat had just set their last rabbit trap and were about to return to the fort, when, all at once, they heard a twig snap behind them in the woods. They had sprung up add seen an Indian jump to his feet, knowing that he had been discovered. The woods had rung with his war cry which had been instantly answered by the shouts of the rest of the band. They had dashed off for the fort followed by the scout and then, in no time, the whole band had taken after them.
In the excitement of the pursuit, he had not seen Donat fall. When his father told him that the Indians had scalped Donat, he turned deathly white. Tears streamed down his face. “If only I had known! To think that I saved myself and left him to those beasts! Father, I swear I’ll never know peace of mind again until we’ve taken revenge for this.”
The Seigneur’s first thought was for his wife. He thanked Heaven that she had been inside when the last dreadful scene had taken place. He found her on her bed, shaking with sobs. Someone had already broken the news to her. Duhamel felt that peculiar helplessness which a man shows in the presence of a woman’s grief. He stared helplessly at her.
A slight knock sounded at the door, and Father Sebastien entered. This pioneer missionary, one of those intrepid Jesuit fathers who dared every danger, and endured unspeakable tortures, to spread the gospel in New France, approached Mme. Duhamel with crucifix held high in one mutilated hand.
“My child,” he said, turning his terribly scarred face, that yet held a look of wonderful sympathy, to the figure on the bed; “think of Mary, our Holy Mother. Think what glory to suffer what she, too, had to suffer for us.”
Duhamel tiptoed out of the room.
He called Gervais to him and they debated as to what the Indians were likely to do. Both agreed that they might have to ward off an attack either that night or the next. The Indians had lost too many men for them to leave the fort without attempting revenge. Their pride could not endure such a rebuff as that. Both Duhamel and Gervais had recognized in the leader of the band, the notorious Big Bear, one of the most daring and most feared of the Iroquois chiefs. For years Big Bear had led his tribe from the head sources of the Richelieu as far as Quebec itself, pillaging and burning and wiping out small settlements of the French. He was regarded as the scourge of God by the whole country.
The Seigneur felt sure of repulsing any attack the savages might make on his fortifications; indeed, he prayed that Big Bear would attack and so give him the chance to wreak vengeance for the murder of his son. He knew that all thought of going after Big Bear was out of the question. What could twenty-five men do, searching for a band of redskins in those far stretching forests?
Orders were given to draw water from the well and
drench the wooden stockade, and to have a line of pails filled in readiness and placed at intervals around the parapets. That done, Duhamel posted four sentries and instructed the rest of the garrison to take their supper and lie down, so as to be ready if the Indians attacked that night.
After a scanty meal, Duhamel climbed to the parapets and began restlessly pacing the walls. He felt he could not sleep. His wife had at last fallen into a light slumber and he was only too thankful she could thus escape from her thoughts for a while. Round and round the walls walked Duhamel, now stopping with every sense strained, thinking he had heard something move in the direction of the woods, now, satisfied that there was nothing, beginning his pacing once more.
The moon had sunk beneath the horizon and it must have been nearly half past three when one of the sentries stopped him as he passed. Together they listened. It was impossible to make out any definite sound, rather there was a feeling in the air, calm as a pond, that somewhere out there in the negro black something was moving slowly, cautiously, toward the fort.
“Go and rouse Gervais,” commanded Duhamel. “I’ll take your post. Warn the others, too, as you pass, and forbid them to raise the least alarm. We must let the Indians think they are surprising us.”
In a moment or two, Gervais’ burly form drifted up out of the dark to Duhamel’s side. “Can you hear anything?” Duhamel whispered.
Both listened for a moment in silence. Then:
“Though I hear nothing, I can feel them,” muttered the old veteran of many wars.
TO THE Seigneur, this was sufficient warning. “Call the men out as quickly and quietly as you can. See that they make not the faintest sound. Post them, and tell them not a shot is to be fired until I give the word. Then must they aim low.”
As silent as ghosts the little garrison came creeping up to the parapets and took their posts all around the stockade. Duhamel waited and waited, while all around him the atmosphere of impatience seemed to be urging him to give the word of command. Finally, he heard the faint creak of snowshoes and, after some minutes, he judged they must be within range. His stentorian tones thundered out: “Fire!”
A sheet of flame rushed out and the roar of the old time muskets seemed like a discharge of artillery. Before
the sound had time to die away or the echoes to take it up, the dreadful war whoops of the Iroquois answered and defied it. Their war cry came in thundering waves and rolled up to the walls, as, yelling and shouting, they came rushing on. Arrows flew thick and fast. But before the Indians had reached the stockade, fresh muskets had been handed to the men and another volley mangled and tore at the dense masses of savages.
It was light enough, now, for the men to see what they were aiming at, for at Duhamel’s orders the braziers at each corner and along the walls had been lighted. A fitful glare was cast for some twenty feet beyond the stockade.
By this time the women, too, had started the buckets to moving and in the lull after the first rush Duhamel caught the creak of the long well pole drawing up the water.
Now the Indians had reached the walls and were planting branches, which they had cut in the woods, against the stockade. Up these they came swarming. It was impossible for the garrison to use their muskets, there was not time to load and fire such cumbersome weapons. They laid them aside and grasped their pikes, thrusting them down at the heads of the climbing redskins. Duhamel had drawn his sword and went about hacking and hewing wherever the men were being hard pressed.
Here and there, an Indian brave had succeeded in gaining a footing on the narrow platform and was fighting hand to hand with his tomahawk against the pike of one of the defenders. Duhamel saw the danger of allowing any man to be drawn away from the walls to cope with1 these attackers. It left a gap in the defence and made the task of climbing the stockade an easier one for the savages.
“Gervais,” he cried, “tell each man to stay at his post no ma'tter what happens. Pick two men and we four willtake each a side and attend to the brutes who succeed in breaking through.”
Indeed, they were not a whit too soon and for some minutes had a desperate task in clearing the platform. Duhamel himself immediately wa| engaged with a tall, nearly naked, savage, who had slipped through the defence not ten feet away. The redskin had his tomahawk raised high and was just on the point of sweeping it down to shatter the skull of a Frenchman whose back was turned to him. Dumahel caught the blow on his sword in time, but so terrible was the stroke that tho sword blade snapped off short at the hilt. Rushing in, Duhamel raised the butt and before the Indian could recover his balance had brought it down with all his force on the redman’s skull. A cry, not of pain but of ungovernable rage, rose from the man’s throat. He swayed, staggered and plunged headlong down from the platform into the interior of the fort.
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The Pipe of Peace
Continued, from page 13
Duhamel seized a pike now that his sword was gone, and so bitter was the fighting that he considered it lucky if, when engaged with one savage, he had time to despatch him before the next one was upon him. The little platform had become a shambles floor and as the blood flowed it spread, forming pools which quickly froze and made the footing difficult and dangerous.
Duhamel had been through many Indian fights before, but never in all his experience had the savages shown themselves so utterly reckless of danger, had fought with such frenzied fury. It seemed to him that the fighting was becoming more desperate each succeeding minute. The yells of the redskins never slackened for one moment. They echoed and re-echoed from one wall to the other.
The red light from the braziers fell murkily; the dry pine faggots were burning lower. A dense smoke overhung the fort. Tomahawks flashed dully as they swirled in that smoky atmosphere. The shouts of the French had reached a ferocious pitch. They had for the time being become savages themselves. “Remember August the nineteenth and send these demons down to Hell,” was the continual cry that met the Indians.
As the Seigneur fought on minute after minute, he would, now and then, catch the sound of a groan as some chance arrow found its mark in the defence. He was nearly exhausted himself and he could see that the men were nearly spent. Still the fight waged on. Still the outrageous courage of the Indians never abated. Heads and bare breasts were recklessly exposed to thrust of pike as the Indians kept on swarming up.
Afterwards, Duhamel himself believed that it was a divine interposition. For
suddenly, for no reason, but as if by some preconcerted signal which Duhamel could have sworn had not been given, the attack ceased. A moment before, the yells and war cries resounded all around them, the next, nothing could be heard but the groans of the wounded and the panting of his men as they leaned exhausted on their pikes. Outside was nothing but emptiness and silence.
“Praise God for our safety,” cried Duhamel. “Post a watch, Gervais. I don’t think they’ll try it again to-night but we must not be too confident. Take a search party and search all around the stockade beneath the platform. Look well for any wounded.”
Lanterns were brought, and the search party went its rounds. Not a few of the garrison had fallen. Little groups would gather at some point. Then a mournful procession would form, carrying its burden back to the house of the dead. A cry from Gervais brought Duhamel running to his side.
“We’ve got Big Bear; he was the man you felled with the butt of your sword. He isn’t dead but stunned by the blow and the fall. Ah, you devil,” Gervais continued shaking his fist in the unconscious redskin’s face, “wait till we baptise you. The only way to baptise an Indian properly is to baptise him with fire. He’ll go straight to Heaven after a taste of purgatory on earth, as Father Roc used to say.” “Bind him securely. Take him inside and have his wounds dressed,” Duhamel commanded, scarcely looking at Big Bear. He felt that he could hardly bear to look upon the man who had caused his son’s murder. “Small wonder the savages fought like demons,” he told himself, “they must have known Big Bear had been taken.”
ANOTHER crisp, cold day greeted ■ them. Christmas Day. A day of rejoicing. But to Madame Duhamel the day brought little joy. There was no small son to wish her “Bon Noel.” No child upon whom she could feast her eyes in love and pride.
Quietly she came to Duhamel. “Let Continued from page 53 IN THE shadow provoking light of the fire, Father Sebastien and Duhamel sat silently smoking. Duhamel’s thoughts were strangely confused, as he thought of his son cruelly butchered, oppressed with regret for the exalted moment vrhen he had bidden Big Bear go free, and anxious as to whether it had been wise to let loose this notorious chief on New France.
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not our grief sadden the day, Raymond. Father Sebastien must say masses for the dead and sing a Te Deum. Then let the feasting go on as we had planned.” And so it was. Four men had been killed and two more although still alive gave little promise of recovery. Masses were said in the chapel for those who had fallen.
Their devotions over, the heads of households gathered in the big hall of the manor house. At one end the huge fireplace threw out its heat from its pile of four foot logs. In front of this, was placed the table where the people of the community were to be seated. The rest of the long room was filled with boards on trestles with benches around them.
Duhamel, Father Sebastien, Madame Duhamel and Gervais, were gathered around the fire. From chains and hooks in the chimney were suspended big cauldrons of cooking meats and soup.
Duhamel turned to Father Sebastien. “It is Christmas Day, Father. What of Big Bear? Shall we not show him how Christians bear themselves on the birthday of their Saviour? Let him share the Christmas feast with us?”
A shudder passed through Madame Duhamel. Duhamel saw it. But as she noticed his look she answered his look of distress bravely. “You are right, Raymond, let him be brought in.”
There was a growl from the men who had overheard this. Rapidly, in low voices, they passed on to others what their seigneur had said. Oaths rang out, but as Duhamel heard and looked at them, the murmuring gave way to silence and black looks.
_ “It is Christmas Day,” Duhamel raised his voice so that all might hear distinctly. “The day Christ was born who said: ‘Good Will to Men. Peace on Earth.’ ”
Father Sebastien turned his scarred face to Duhamel. For all its puckers and seams, marks of the torturers’ work, it «Vas beautiful with exaltation. “My son,” he said, “you shame me that it should be you and not I who thought of Big Bear.”
At a sign from Duhamel, Gervais left the room to return shortly. Beside him, with head held high, stalked Big Bear, his face set and inscrutable. For aught his eyes betrayed, he was alone in the great hall.
In perfect silence, on soft moccasins he approached the fireplace. An almost naked savage, head bandaged, but with plume of eagle’s feathers still rising defiantly above. A perfect figure of stoic dignity. Calmly, without a word, he walked to the huge chimney. Without halting in his stride, he passed between the Seigneur and the priest and stooping to pass his head beneath the arch of the chimney would have stepped into the blazing fire had not Duhamel caught him by the arm and dragged him back.
“Iroquois Chief,” said Big Bear proudly, defiantly, “not afraid of torture.”
“God forbid,” exclaimed Duhamel horrified, “there will be no torture on Christmas Day.”
“To-day the same to Big Bear,” there was a shade of contempt for such womanly squeamishness in the Iroq.uois voice. “Why not to-day? Why to-morrow? My brother turn Christian and then he burnt. Why not burn me first and then turn me Christian?”
Father Sebastien’s scarred face burned fiery red. The tale of the dreadful autoda-fe at Quebec was a ghastly truth he found hard to explain.
My son,” he said, “to-day we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord. To-day we welcome you, as did He the publicans and the sinners. There shall be no talk of torture, neither to-day nor to-morrow.”
Father Sebastien led the way. Duhamel and his wife, Big Bear and Gervais followed. They seated themselves at the head table and the feast began. The cooks of St. Pic had outdone themselves for the occasion. Soup, fish, venison and game pie whole rabbits and partridges
stuffed under the pastry. Finally, the dinner ended with sweet preserves made from the berries gathered along the banks of the Richelieu. It was a fitting climax, sugar being then an almost unheard of luxury.
Wine from France was brought. Tongues were loosened and even the terrible conflict of the night just passed, the loss of their companions, could not dampen the irrepressible spirits of the feasters. But at the Seigneur’s table only the earnest words of the priest, trying to tell the Indian the story of Christmas and its meaning, were audible. Duhamel stole covert glances at his wife. He could well imagine what must be her suffering. Madame, sunk deep in her grief, managed to sit through the meal. Only one thought could be occupying her mind. Donat. Duhamel thanked God that she had not been on the walls to see the Indian wave sweep over Donat and the flaunting of that freshly taken scalp!
When the feast was over, and the hall was once more cleared, Duhamel led his wife back to her own room.
Father Sebastien and Big Bear had drawn up chairs to the fire and the priest was continuing his discourse. It had grown dusk in the big room and no lights showed but the leaping flames from the huge logs on the hearth. The chairs were ranged in a circle in front of the blaze. First, Father Sebastien, then Big Bear, next Gervais and lastly the Seigneur in his big chair in the corner. Father Sebastien leant forward, one hand on the arm of his chair, the other gesturing, as eagerly he went on exhorting Big Bear. Gervais sat alert, ready to leap up the instant he saw any signs of Big Bear making a dash for freedom. The sour look on his face said plainly that he scorned this nonsense of trying to convert an Iroquois. Had he had his way there would have been a head decorating the gate of the fort.
Big Bear sat bolt upright staring into the flames. Not a flicker of emotion or interest crossed his face. It was so impassive it surprised Duhamel even, to see the reflection of the flames dancing in his eyes. The voice of the priest, raised at times, then low and tense, went on and on. Duhamel listened intently at first, but gradually sank into a reverie in which the sound of the priest’s voice got fainter and fainter. Fascinatedly he watched Big Bear’s face. He tried not to hate it, not to be revolted by it. Then with a sense of shock he realized that he was trying to discover some trace of feeling in those features carved like stone.
“Think of it, my son,” came the voice of the priest. “Our Lord died on the Cross to save you, to save everyone, Iroquois as well as Christian. Peace on Earth. Good will to men. He gave his life to make it so.”
Then as Father Sebastien paused and eagerly sought some trace of interest in the red man’s face, there fell a silence on the room. It was broken. “Huh,” came an incredulous grunt from Big Bear. “You say so. Give me proof of what you say.”
“My son,” patiently responded the priest. “Think you, that so great a God as ours can be asked for a sign? Can be importuned as you call upon your medicine men? Our God asks faith of us. If our faith is so strong that we need not signs, then are we worthy of being saved.”
Again the Indian’s scornful “Huh.” The scornful tones continued. “You can torture—to-day-—to-morrow. Big Bear not afraid of Christian God.”
Father Sebastien shrank back. The firelight played strange tricks with his countenance. At times, the ugly scars stood out fiery red and angry. Again they lent him a look of intense suffering. The words, the tones of defiance and scorn seemed to crush him. Never had he labored so long and earnestly and the effect was no more than che adding of a drop of water to the ocean!
Duhamel at last broke the silence.
“Big Bear,” and his voice was strained as if the words were forced from him, “we
can’t make our God give us a sign, but we ourselves, can give you one. It is Christmas Day, the Nativity of our Lord who came to save us all. He forgave sinners, and we can do no less. You are free. That is the sign that can be given you.”
For an instant, the stoical poise of Big Bear was shaken. He rose hesitatingly to his feet. No one made a move to stop him. He stalked, indifferent once more, to the door.
“Go to the gate with him, Gervais,” Duhamel ordered, “and see that he leaves in safety.”
Not a word did Father Sebastien utter, but when the door had shut behind Indian and Seneschal, he held up his hand. “God be with you, my son. It was nobly done.”
DUT Gervais and Big Bear had not reached half way to the gates before they were surrounded by a mass of men and women. A murmur went up, then shouts, and quickly the whole garrison was at their heels.
The word was quickly passed thet Big Bear was to go free, and fury seized them. “Burn the heathen.” “Torture him as he has tortured so many,” began to be heard on all sides.
Above the din, the stentorian tones of Gervais’ voice made themselves heard. “Make way. It is the Seigneur’s orders. He is to go free.”
“Go free?” shrieked Madame Ribeau, an elderly woman of fine upstanding frame. “Go free? When the murderer has the blood of my son still on his hands? Come here, Jacquelaine, you that married my boy, and help me serve this villain as he should be served.”
At her cry, a younger woman with her face all swollen with recent weeping, came pushing through the press. Instinctively, the other women in the crowd gathered round them in sympathy.
Gervais halted and pulled the Indian to his side. He knew well that any attempt to push through this crowd of women might well inflame them to riot. Hardened old campaigner as he was, he was frankly puzzled what to do. These were the wives of his friends. Brenda, too, his wife, he thought he could see on the outskirts of the throng.
“It is the Seigneur’s orders,” he repeated loudly. “Go to the Seigneur and you will learn I speak the truth.”
“Yes, and while we were gone you would have let him safely out of the gate. No! No! My fine Gervais, we will take Big Bear into our keeping.”
“That’s it, that’s it!” assented the crowd.
“Come on,” shrieked Madame Ribdeau once more. I’ll tear out his eyes from his sockets,” and curving her fingers horribly as she advanced she rushed at the Indian chief. Gervais interposed between Mad Madame Ribdeau and her victim, but out of the tail of his eye he could see that others were closing in behind him.
“Devil take these women!” exclaimed Gervais. “They are a pack of useless fools. The kitchen is the place for them. They but cause trouble when they get abroad.”
As if to confute him, Madame Duhamel came through the crowd and on the instant the people saw her, their cries were hushed. The women slunk back from Gervais and Big Bear. Duhamel might be in command of the seignory but it was Madame who ruled the women.
“What is this, Gervais?” she asked quietly.
“Orders, Madame,” Gervais replied formally saluting. “Orders given me by Sieur Duhamel to see the prisoner safe outside the gates.”
“Come, then,” said Madame simply, and leading Big Bear toward the gate she led him through the crowd which silently parted before her. Not a murmur of protest was heard.
She took down the heavy bar which closed the gate. And as Big Bear slipped through she followed him. “Go in peace,” she called gently after him.
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Father Sebastien’s thoughts were many leagues away. Big Bear with his cruel indifferent manner had reminded him forcibly of the time he had been captured by the Iroquois. Their dreadful cries still rang as clearly in his ears as they did that day when as a captive of Smoking Pipe he had been given over to the little Indian boys for torture. His flesh crept again, as memory brought back to him the rain of each burning splinter thrust into him. His poor mutilated hands, fingerless now, could still feel the agony of fingernails being torn from fingers.
As Madame Duhamel entered, she laid one hand on her husband’s shoulder.
“It was well done, Raymond,” she said in a low tone.
For the life of him, Raymond Duhamel could not have answered her. He laid one rough hand on hers and gently stroked it. And Madame Duhamel was content; she understood.
The minutes passed. All three were busy with their thoughts, when suddenly an uproar sounded from without. There were shouts from the men and shrill cries from the women but nothing distinguishable could they make out, only that the cries seemed to be coming nearer. Duhamel had sprung to his feet with the first alarm, but realizing that the garrison must have left the walls, he sank back,
reassured and waited for them to come in.
Some premonition of what was to come seemed to illumine the face of Madame Duhamel. Then the door was burst open and a throng of men and women all tried to pass in together. The jam in the doorway freed itself in a moment and happy voices exclaimed, “He’s brought him back! He’s brought him back!”
To this accompaniment, the crowd parted to let two figures pass. Gravely Big Bear strode up to the fire bearing Donat limply in his arms. With a cry of “Donat! Donat!” Madame Duhamel threw herself, sobbing, on her knees beside the chair on which Big Bear had placed her son.
Turning, the Iroquois Chief crossed his arms and drew himself up proudly. “No scalp young chief. Scalp was Frenchman killed in woods down river that day. You,” he said, addressing himself directly at Duhamel, “You big Chief. Big Bear, big Chief too.”
Then he turned and faced the fire as if tactfully he wanted to ignore the joy that had overcome Duhamel. Emotion, such as Duhamel, was displaying, was, to the Indian notion, womanish and unworthy of a chief. In another minute he had crouched down by the fire. Gravely he produced his pipe and tobacco. Having lit a splinter of wood he took several puffs to make sure it was safely lit. Then he handed it to Duhamel, and his glance included Father Sebastien in the gesture.
“My brothers, this big day, you tell me, for you. Let us then smoke the pipe of peace.”
“Peace on Earth, Good will toward Men,” proclaimed the priest. And raising the mutilated stump of his hand on high, he blessed them.