Read Calico Captive Online

Authors: Elizabeth George Speare

Tags: #Ages 10 and up

Calico Captive (15 page)

"There was no mention of you. Never fear, I am quite capable of facing Madame by myself."

"No doubt of that," Miriam admitted. "You're a match for a dozen of her any day. But I'm sorry you have to suffer for what I've done, truly I am."

As the minutes dragged by Miriam would far rather have been with Susanna facing the most blasting storm than waiting in this quiet room. What could be taking so long? Captive, as though she sensed that something was amiss, was unusually peevish. More than an hour had passed before the door opened and Susanna came slowly into the room, dropped into a chair, and covered her face with her hands.

"What is it?" Miriam demanded. "Tell me—what could they have said to you?"

"We are to leave this house," Susanna said painfully. "They will not have us here another night."

"Why, Susanna? Just because of those silly dresses?"

"No. I told you that was only part of it. They think James has broken his bond. The two Indians came back a week ago. They say they left James in Albany early in December, and he was well and strong. Thank God for that at least! He had to go on to Boston to get the money. They waited seven weeks, but he never came back. Monsieur Du Quesne says he never intended to come back, that it was all just a trick to get his freedom. My James, who never broke his word to anyone in his life!"

"Do you think he could not get the money?"

"Other families have been redeemed. Perhaps he fell ill. Perhaps he is even—"

"Susanna! That is not like you at all! I am sure he is on the way, right now."

"The Indians reported there is fighting breaking out everywhere. I doubt he could get through now."

"James will get through somehow. You know he will. They just
have
to give us more time."

"The time has run out. I pleaded with him, Miriam, as though I had no pride at all, and he would not even listen."

"'Tis Madame who's behind it, the hateful thing! I know she has nagged him into it."

"Perhaps. But there is die money too. They didn't take us in out of charity, remember. You have always forgotten that we were prisoners."

Miriam thought for a moment. There was a solution, and she must face it, without even letting Susanna know how much it would cost.

"We can work here," she managed to say. "We can be servants the way I was before you came."

Susanna dismissed this heroic gesture. "I asked him that too. They will not have us in the house. That much at least is the other night's doing."

Tears rolled down Miriam's cheeks. "It is all my fault then. I knew it."

Susanna reached a comforting hand. "Don't take on, Miriam. I have wondered how long they would keep us. Now, help me get ready before they find us still here."

"But—how can we carry things out?"

"I shall take nothing," said Susanna, "except the dress they gave me at the fort that first day. That was given me freely without thought of any return. Nor shall you, Miriam. That homespun dress you had on the day I came here will be sufficient."

"That plain old thing? You can't mean it! Why, that's what the habitants wear."

Susanna turned a stern eye. "And what are we, better than habitants? They are self-respecting people like our neighbors at home."

"But all those beautiful things! I can't leave them behind. No one wants them."

"They were loaned to you, not given. Monsieur Du Quesne said outright that we already owe him more than we could hope to repay in years. Miriam, he even threatened to put us in jail as debtors."

"He wouldn't dare! He only said that to scare you."

"He meant it! I'm so afraid of the jail, Miriam. Better if we'd never left Saint Francis."

Miriam's defiance crumpled. She climbed glumly into the homespun dress. "Do we leave behind these fine moth-eaten cloaks with the fur falling off in patches?"

"We shall have to have cloaks," decided Susanna, not heeding her sister's sarcasm. "The baby will have to have blankets too, poor little thing. Now that is all. Come quickly."

Susanna wrapped the baby warmly, and Captive, delighted to be going anywhere, smiled up into her mothers worried face. Her happy chirruping was the only sound as they left the pretty room and made their way down the stairs into the snowy street. Once outside, Susanna's determination suddenly petered out, and she leaned weakly against the wall.

"I was in such haste to be rid of that place. Now I don't know where to turn. Where do you think we could find work, Miriam?"

"Do you think the Mayor's wife?" Miriam ventured. "She might let you take care of Polly."

The quick spark of hope in Susanna's eyes died away. "No chance of that. The woman will never let me lay eyes on my child if she can help it. No, we have had enough of the fine folks. If we're to find work it will have to be with our own kind."

"Then we'll try the shops," Miriam decided. "There is one where I bought thread. That woman was friendly."

They were thoroughly chilled by the time they had made their way down the hill to the Rue de St. Paul, and they thankfully entered the steamy warmth of the shop. But the woman's friendly smile died away at their first words.

"Work? But certainly not. Do you think I cannot care for this little shop by myself? What could I want with two women and a baby?"

What would anyone want with two strange women and a baby? It was not only indifference they met, from shop to shop, but a definite hostility which struck as coldly to their spirits as the biting wind they had to return to time after time. When finally they stopped and huddled close to a wall for warmth, Miriam met Susanna's eyes over the bundle of blanket, and saw there a reflection of the panic that was rising in her like a sickness.

"Those soldiers!" she shuddered. "They have passed us three times now. I don't like the way they look at us."

Susanna bit her lip. "We must keep moving, or they will suspect we have nowhere to go. For all we know they may have orders to put us in jail."

It was fast growing dark. Captive, cold and raven, ous, set up a piercing wail that would not be quieted. Hurrying down the alleyway, Miriam glanced behind and saw a dark figure following them. Her heart sank, and then all at once bounded with relief. It was not a soldier pursuing them but Hortense! As she came nearer her anxious round face broke into smiling wrinkles.

"Thank goodness! I thought I would never find you. For hours I have looked. Miriam, why did you go without telling me?"

"Oh, Hortense! You mean you have come all this way in the cold just to say goodbye?"

"But certainly not goodbye," said Hortense in amazement. "I have come to take you home."

"Home? Back to the Du Quesnes'?"

"To my family's house. It is not too far. Just outside the city."

Miriam felt a hot sting of tears against her eyelids. But Susanna stared at the French girl doubtfully.

"You are very kind," she said. "But we need to find work. Perhaps you know someone who would hire us?"

"Hire? You mean pay you wages?" asked Hortense incredulously. "But who would pay wages to the English?"

So the enmity in these people's faces had not been imagination!

"Didn't you know?" she went on, seeing their shocked faces. "Up there on the hill you did not think about the war, no? But down here, we know there is a war. You think it is safe for two English women to be wandering about on the street?"

Susanna, her face pinched with cold and despair, could not seem to make up her mind. Hortense stamped her snowy boots impatiently.

"
Allons!
We can't stand here. Give me the baby. She is a heavy one, that Captive." She started briskly down the street and they had no choice but to follow.

"But Hortense," protested Miriam, almost running to keep up, "if people feel like that—what will your family think? If we are enemies—"

"That is different," answered Hortense over her shoulder. "You are not my enemy. You are my friend,
n'est-ce pas?
"

Chapter 14

B
EYOND THE CITY
walls there was no shelter from the icy winds that roared along the black wastes of the river. Darkness closed down around them, so that the whitewashed cottages were indistinguishable from the snowy banks. Stumbling behind Hortense, Miriam and Susanna had all they could do to keep on their feet against the wind. Snow flicked up from the drifts to sting their faces. Breath was too painful to spend on any words. Then all at once, when every step had become a battle, there was firelight streaming from a welcoming door.

Black-haired children catapulted from every corner of the small room to hurl themselves at Hortense. Behind them stepped a short, sturdy woman who looked exactly as Hortense would look when her crisp hair was flecked with gray and the crinkles of her face worn deeper with years of smiling.

"This is the English friend I told you of, Maman," Hortense explained. "She and Madame Johnson have no place to go, so I have brought them home."

There was just the barest instant of hesitation. Then, with a cluck of sympathy, the woman reached and took the baby in her arms.

"
C'est bien
" she said. "Poor babe!"

The hearth fire was stirred to a blaze and the blood crept stingingly back into their toes and fingers. Captive blubbered noisily at a dipper of warm milk. Presently they all sat down to a feast of smoked eels, boiled potatoes, and turnips. Around the scrubbed board table Miriam learned the names of the children in order—Jean, Alphonse, Claudette, Simone, and last of all little Albert, whose cocky mischievous face must have reminded Susanna achingly of her own small son.

"You have other children?" asked Hortense's mother, noting Susanna's wistful glance. In all these months no one had ever encouraged Susanna to talk about her children, and now, under the sympathy that shone in the older woman's face, the story poured out, of Polly whom she was forbidden to see, of Sue, who was fast being wooed from her, and of Sylvanus, torn from her in the forest. There were tears in both women's eyes as she finished. Ashamed at her lack of control, Susanna rose from the table, and all at once her glance fell on the loom set up in the corner. She walked across to it, ran her hand lovingly over the worn beams, tested the taut threads, and gently lifted the shuttle.

"This reminds me of home," she said, her voice unsteady. "Would you allow me to weave a little?"

Through the days that followed Susanna sat at the loom. Hour after hour she thrust the shuttle back and forth through the strands, as though the familiar motions soothed the thoughts that tormented her. Hortense's mother, a widow struggling to be both father and mother to her brood of six, was grateful for the help. Captive, released from the confining basket, soon began to scramble about on the floor on all fours. Miriam, however, could not be reconciled. At first she waited, hour after hour, for some word from Felicité. Surely, she persuaded herself, her softhearted friend would forget her sulks, would forgive her and send for her to sit once more in the white and blue bedroom. Common sense told her that this was unreasonable, but the foolish hope died hard.

You should have known it was not for you, she railed at herself. Felicité can ride in the carriage and have a beautiful dress for every day in the week, but if you ever so much as get one pretty thing 'tis snatched away from you.

Finally, envying the peace that seemed to come to Susanna at the loom, she turned in desperation to the woolen cloth. The coarse fabric gave her no pleasure. She yearned for the soft feel of satin against her fingers. But in spite of herself she began to take an interest in planning and cutting the cloth to fit the varying shapes and sizes of the boys and girls. It took ingenuity to turn and piece so that not a precious scrap would be wasted. As the days went by she made a surprising discovery. For her there was something deeply satisfying in a neat, well-finished garment, even in a tiny jumper of homespun wool. With a needle in her hand she was almost content.

Moreover, there was a warm, close friendliness and affection in the cottage that was contagious. It was impossible to follow her bitter thoughts while three admiring little girls hung over her shoulder. Instead she threaded needles for them and set them to competing for the straightest line of stitches. Gradually her hurt began to heal.

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