Rose Petals and Gun Powder: The Lost Cove (Book 3)
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A rank night sweetness of mints and other lush plants mixed its spirit with the body of leaf earth.
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I felt happy in being a part of all this, and the woods were to me as safe as the bed-chamber of a mother. It was fine to wallow, damming the span of escaping water with my fevered head. Physical relief and delicious shuddering coolness ran through me.
From that wet pillow I looked up and thought again of what had happened that day, and particularly of the girl whom De Chaumont had called Madame de Ferrier and Eagle. Every word that she had spoken passed again before my mind. Possibilities that I had never imagined rayed out from my recumbent body as from the hub of a vast wheel. I was white. I was not an Indian. I had a Bourbon ear. She believed I was a dauphin. What was a dauphin, that she should make such a deep obeisance to it? My father the chief, recommending me to the squaws, had appeared to know nothing about it.
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All that she believed De Chaumont denied. A woman's long cry, like the appeal of that one on whom he meditated, echoed through the woods and startled him out of his wallow. I SAT up with the water trickling down my back. The cry was repeated, out of the west. I knew the woods, but night alters the most familiar places. It was so dark in vaults and tunnels of trees and thickets that I might have burrowed through the ground almost as easily as thresh a path. The million scarcely audible noises that fill a forest surrounded me, and twigs not broken by me cracked or shook.
Still I made directly toward the woman's voice which guided me more plainly; but left off running as my ear detected that she was only in perplexity. She called at intervals, imperatively but not in continuous screams. She was a white woman; for no squaw would publish her discomfort.
A squaw if lost would camp sensibly on a bed of leaves, and find her way back to the village in the morning. The wilderness was full of dangers, but when you are elder brother to the bear and the wildcat you learn their habits, and avoid or outwit them. Climbing over rocks and windfalls I came against a solid log wall and heard the woman talking in a very pretty chatter the other side of it.
She only left off talking to call for help, and left off calling for help to scold and laugh again. There was a man imprisoned with her, and they were speaking English, page: 42 a language I did not then understand. But what had happened to them was very plain. They had wandered into a pen built by hunters to trap bears, and could not find the bush-masked and winding opening, but were traveling around the walls.
It was lucky for them that a bear had not arrived first, though in that case their horses must have smelled him. I heard the beasts shaking their bridles. I found my way to the opening, and whistled.
At once the woman ceased her chatter and drew in her breath, and they both asked me a question that needed no interpretation. I told them where they were, and the woman began talking at once in my own tongue and spoke it as well as I could myself. George, he says we are in a bear pen! Take us out, dear chief, before the bear family arrive home from their ball. I don't know whether you are a chief or not, but most Indians are. My nurse was a chief's daughter. Where are you?
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I can't see anything but chunks of blackness. I took her horse by the bridle and led him, and so got both the riders outside. They had no tinder, and neither had I; and all of us groped for the way by which they had come to the bear pen. The young man spurred his horse in every direction, and turned back unable to get through.
Though we could not see one another I knew that both the adventurers were young, and that they expected to be called to severe account for the lawless act they were committing. The girl, talking page: 43 English, or French, or Mohawk almost in one breath, took the blame upon herself and made light of the boy's self-reproaches. He will blame her for letting me ride with George Croghan to meet him, and lose the way and so get into the bear pen.
And she will blame my father, and your dearest Annabel will let the Count de Chaumont and Miss Chantry fight it out. It is not an affair for youth to meddle with, George. Having her for interpreter the boy and I consulted.
I might have led him back to our hunting camp, but it was a hard road for a woman and an impossible one for horses. There was no inhabited house nearer than De Chaumont's own. He decided they must return to the road by which they had come into the bear pen, and gladly accepted my offer to go with him; dismounting and leading Annabel de Chaumont's horse while I led his. We passed over rotten logs and through black tangles, the girl bending to her saddle bow, unwearied and full of laughter. It was plain that he could not find any outlet, and falling behind with the cumbered horse he let me guide the party.
I do not know by what instinct I felt my way, conscious of slipping between the wild citizens of that vast town of trees; but we finally reached a clearing and saw across the open space a lighted cabin. Its sashless windows and defective chinks were gilded page: 44 with the yellow light that comes from a glowing hearth. Look at the house! Nobody lives there. It must be full of witches.
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Violin music testified that the witches were merry. We halted, and the horses neighed and were answered by others of their kind. And here her grandson stands, too tired to run. But perhaps there aren't any witches in the house. I don't believe wicked things would be allowed to enter it. The Saint-Michels were so pious, and ugly, and resigned to the poverty of refugees. Their society was so good for me, my mother, when she was alive, made me venerate them until I hated them. Holy Sophie died and went to heaven. I shall never see her again.
She was, indeed, excellent. This can't be a nest of witches. George, why don't you go and knock on the door?
It was not necessary, for the door opened and a man appeared, holding his violin by the neck. He stepped out to look around the cabin at some horses fastened there, and saw and hailed us. I was not sorry to be allowed to enter, for I was tired to exhaustion, and sat down on the floor away from the fire. The man looked at me suspiciously, though he was ruddy and good natured. But he bent quite over before De Chaumont's daughter, page: 45 and made a flourish with his hand in receiving young Croghan.
There were in the cabin with him two women and two little girls; and a Canadian servant like a fat brown bear came from the rear of the house to look at us and then went back to the horses. All the women began to speak, but Annabel de Chaumont could talk faster than the four others combined, so they knew our plight before we learned that they were the Grignon and Tank families, who were going into the west to find settlement and had made the house their camp for one night.