Read Calico Captive Online

Authors: Elizabeth George Speare

Tags: #Ages 10 and up

Calico Captive (19 page)

Such joy was too painful to witness. But when Miriam tried to slip past them, they remembered her. Susanna snatched at the shreds of her composure, and James laid a hand on the girl's shoulder.

"Nay, do not go, sister. We have much to say, and it concerns you as well. I must hear what has happened to you both. How do you come to be in such a place?"

So, while Susanna clung unashamedly to her husband's hand, they put together the story of the past seven months. As they talked, little Captive drew herself up on the strange man's knee, and when he lifted her gently, gazed with her irresistible trusting smile into his bearded face. But Polly clung wailing to her mother and refused to let him touch her.

"Little Susanna?" questioned James.

"She is still with the two sisters. Oh, James, she is a little French child, and I fear she has forgotten us altogether. But now that you have come we shall get her back again."

He had been in Boston all winter, James explained. After leaving Montreal in November he had gone directly to Albany and then on to Boston to apply to Governor Shirley for money to redeem his family. He had waited through an intolerable delay while the matter was laid before the General Assembly, and had finally been granted one hundred and fifty pounds and given a letter of credit and a passport. He had proceeded halfway across Massachusetts when an order from Governor Shirley caught up with him. Because the war had commenced in earnest it was unsafe to go on, and he must return to Boston at once. There, in spite of repeated appeals, he had been forced to stay all winter and spring. Finally he had made such a nuisance of himself that he had been permitted, against all advice, to set out for Canada. Most of the journey he had made alone and on foot.

Then in turn James listened while they poured out to him the story of their own changing fortunes. The shocking treatment they had received did not surprise him.

"I am thankful you have not been actually mistreated," he said. "Conditions are far more serious than you realize. England and France are beyond all hope of being reconciled. There will shortly be a fight to the finish, and we shall be caught in the thick of it if we do not leave here at once."

Susanna laid her head on his shoulder. "We must find Sylvanus," she said. "But I know we shall have him again. First Polly and now you. I shall never be afraid any more."

Suddenly Miriam felt that she could not bear to look for another moment at the naked happiness in her sister's face. "I must get bread," she said, too abruptly.

"Wait a moment," said James, reaching inside his pocket. "I have something for you. I promise you I have guarded it as close as my passport, but it has seen hard travel. I trust it can still be read, if one cares to try."

A letter for her! Miriam stared at the packet in her hand, with the thin lines of her name rubbed almost invisible. She did not know the handwriting; it was some inner perception, or perhaps only the kindly twinkle in James's eye, that brought the blood suddenly into her cheeks.

"Take it along with you and read it," said Susanna, with her old understanding. "I cannot hold another drop of news in my head just now."

Outside, in the patch of garden behind the tailor shop, Miriam summoned courage to break the seal. Her eyes flew first to the bottom of the second page, to the name that was signed there, and for a long moment she could not read anything else. Phineas Whitney! She had never before seen with her eyes the name that had been written in her heart for so long. What a fine hand he had, delicate, yet so firm and scholarly! She drew a long breath and began the letter.

My dear Miriam:

By great good fortune I was sent with a detachment to Albany and here ran across your brother, Captain Johnson, who is to set out for Montreal in the morning. That after all these months of silence I have the opportunity to write some words which in a short time may actually rest in your hands seems a miracle. How can I choose the few words this page can contain of all the thousands that crowd my mind?

To know, after this dread waiting, that you are alive and safe is a blessing I can scarcely credit. These men tell so many pitiful stories of parents and wives and children carried off by the Indians that often it seemed vain to hope that you could have survived. I have been buoyed up by rumors of prisoners sold to the French in Montreal, and by the thought that surely your lot among Christian men and women could not have been so wretched as that of a captive in an Indian camp.

The very day that you and your sister's family were so cruelly set upon, I enlisted in a company of militia under Major Bellows. I had never before felt any hatred toward our Indian enemies, and truthfully, I had shrunk from the thought of warfare and killing. Now I realized that it was beyond question for me to bury myself in a world of books while such outrages were taking place in our country. Indeed, so desperate was my feeling that college would have been unendurable.

We have covered much of the country between here and Crown Point. The rigors of these forest journeys you know too well. I wondered often how you and your unfortunate sister could have endured. However, the thought that you had passed over the same hard trails, and that some deserted campfire might have been the very one that served to warm you, has comforted me through many long night watches.

I fear there are months of fighting ahead. I have not abandoned my plans for Harvard, and am determined more than ever that I shall enter the ministry, but these plans must wait. That times of quiet and decency are ahead I do not doubt, and I keep the thought ever in mind. I trust that you too, in exile, share these hopes and that you do not lose courage.

Improper as it may be in a letter which may fall
into other hands than yours, I cannot forbear to write something of what fills my heart. We were robbed of the little time we might have had together. I have no word of yours to assure me that our brief friendship held for you the same significance it held for me, but I must go on believing so. Every hope of the future is meaningless unless I have faith that you and I will share it together.

Whatever may lie between this day and our next meeting, I am

Faithfully yours,

P
HINEAS
W
HITNEY

Miriam read the letter through three times. Her mind was drowning in such confusion as she had never before experienced.

In this thin packet in her hand was fulfilled every dream that she had cherished through anxious nights and weary days. Those dreams had not been illusions after all. The steadfastness, the understanding, the unspoken promise were all realities.

Why then did this letter, which a few months before would have lifted her to the clouds, now plunge her into this torment of uncertainty? Phineas had not changed. Ah, but she herself had changed! To the girl who had said goodbye at the cabin door that night so long ago, the whole world had been bounded by a new calico dress and the promise in a boy's blue eyes. But that small world had been shattered by sights and sounds beyond anything she could have imagined. Was it possible for her ever again to be the girl that Phineas Whitney remembered? Frightening as it was, she faced the real question. Did she really want to be that girl again?

After a long time she went back to the room, without the bread she had gone to buy.

"It does not matter," whispered Susanna, a finger on her lips. "He could not stay awake even to eat." Indeed, the spare figure sprawled across the bed looked as though nothing could disturb his heavy slumber.

"He has hardly stopped to rest for days. Let him sleep now. Tomorrow will be time enough to see the Governor."

But the Governor did not wait for tomorrow. That evening at sundown three French soldiers appeared at the door, with warrants for arrest not only for James Johnson, but for Susanna his wife and their two children.

"But we are free citizens!" protested Susanna. "My husband has the letter for our release."

The men shrugged their shoulders. They had orders from the Marquis De Vaudreuil, Governor of Canada.

"Vaudreuil?" questioned James. "He is not the man I dealt with last autumn."

"He is the new Governor," a soldier volunteered.

"Then that explains the misunderstanding," said James. "Let us go peaceably, Susanna. One night in jail will not hurt us after all we have been through. In the morning everything will be straightened out."

Miriam watched the bewildered group move ahead of the soldiers: James, his step uncertain with fatigue, carrying the baby Captive, Susanna, trying to hide her terror from Polly, who dragged at her hand.

 

"There is no warrant for you," the soldier objected, as she prepared to follow. "The paper says you are a seamstress, employed by Monsieur Jacques, the tailor."

Numbed at the lightning turn of events, she watched from the doorway of the shop, until they were out of sight behind their guards.

By midmorning there had been no news of them, and she dared not leave the place for fear of missing some message. Repeatedly she went to the door and strained her eyes for sight of them in the narrow street. By afternoon she went in search.

Everywhere she was rebuffed. She was turned away from the jail entrance. She could not see the Mayor. When she summoned all her courage and broached the gate of the Governor's residence, the guards refused even to listen. For five days Miriam tried vainly to get some explanation. On the sixth day she realized that she must go on with her work. She had slept very little; she was desperately hungry, and should her family return there would be little to feed them. She carried an unfinished gown to Madame Du Quesne, and while she measured and pinned, she humbled herself to ask Madame's help. Madame denied having heard of James's return or of the family's whereabouts. Furthermore, she made it very clear that any concern outside of dressmaking was not to be expected from her.

Returning home that night, Miriam admitted that she could no longer let her pride keep her from turning to the one person who might be able to help her. Somehow she must reach Pierre Laroche, who was an officer in the regiment and knew everybody worth knowing in Montreal.

It took some time to compose a short note asking him to come. Then she parted with two precious copper coins to bribe a boy who hung about the shop. Certainly, yes, everybody knew the tall officer who used to be a
coureur.
He could not fail to find him. But watching the boy's meandering course down the street, Miriam had little confidence that the letter would ever reach Pierre. If he did not come, she would have to forget pride and respectability altogether and go in search of him.

Chapter 19

O
N THE THIRD EVENING
after she had sent him the letter Pierre Laroche appeared jauntily at the tailor shop.

"This is no place to talk," he decided, eying the uncomfortable furnishings. "There is a tavern a few doors down, where we can get more of the chocolate you do not seem to dislike."

This time Miriam did not hesitate. She needed both the chocolate and Pierre's good will. She was sure it must be improper for a girl to enter the murky little shop, but to her surprise, she found it scrubbed and respectable. Across the small table she endured the smug air of masculine triumph with which Pierre appraised her. She knew exactly what he was going to say, and he did not spare her.

"So you changed your mind about seeing me?"

"I had good reason," she answered, assuming as businesslike a manner as she could manage.

"If I had known the letter was from you I'd have come sooner," he went on. "When the boy brought it there was no one about to read it for me, so I stuffed it into my pocket and forgot all about it till I found it there tonight."

Astonishment distracted her from her purpose. "You mean—you can't read?"

Pierre bristled. "What do you take me for, a monk who spends his life with his head in a book? I told you, when I was ten years old my grandfather took me out of school to go into the trade. I can read well enough to tally up my year's accounts, never fear."

"Well, I am grateful to you for coming," Miriam hastened on, embarrassed at her rudeness. "I wrote to you because I didn't know where to turn. You see, Captain Johnson came back finally, just as I told you he would. But without even letting him explain, they took him off to prison, and Susanna and the children with him."

Pierre raised an eyebrow. "What kind of reception did your English captain think to get in Montreal?"

"But he had a letter of credit for the Governor. And a passport. He intended to take us away at once."

"How did he expect to get you back? Don't you know that the Indians on your side of the river are hungry for English scalps?"

"He had Indian guides hired to see us back."

Pierre shook his head. "Take my advice. Montreal may not just suit your fancy, but it's better than being roasted alive."

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