Authors: Elizabeth George Speare
Tags: #Ages 10 and up
Inside the gates of Montreal there was tumult. Doors were flung open, and children and bareheaded women rushed into the street. In the middle of the road neighbors hugged each other with tears streaming down their cheeks. Alphonse came dashing back to them, his eyes popping with excitement.
"It is over!" he shouted, choking for breath. "The battle is over! The English are beaten!"
"Are you sure?" Hortense demanded, catching him fiercely by the arm.
"The runners came back, a quarter-hour ago. One of them is down there in the tavern." Jerking from his sister's grasp, he was off.
"Come!" ordered Hortense, and, bewildered, Miriam managed to stay at her heels.
There was no question what tavern Alphonse had meant. The door was mobbed with shouting men and boys trying to push their way inside. At the fringe a few daring women stood on tiptoe, craning their necks for a glimpse of the hero. He could barely be seen, through the open door, lifted high on a table, a weary grin flashing over a tankard of ale.
"You can't go in there, Hortense!" protested Miriam, seeing her friend's intent.
"Nonsense," said Hortense. "I can see that's only François Jobin. I've known him all my life. Let me in there!" she ordered, digging a forceful elbow into the nearest ribs.
"The dirty poachers!" someone was shouting. "They'll stay out of our beaver territory from now on!"
"By all the saints, that Braddock was one surprised general!" agreed the hero, wiping a froth of ale from his chin. Looking up, he spied the determined girl pushing toward him. "Look who comes here! My little friend Hortense! La, girl, you don't need to look like a ghost. Your man wasn't touched. Last I saw of him he was four steps ahead of the whole army in a fever to get back to his bride!"
There was a roar of laughter. Hortense turned back, her cheeks on fire. Yet she did not really mind. She did not even hear the rude jokes that set Miriam's ears tingling. Into her eyes had sprung such radiance that Miriam could not bear to look.
"Weren't many touched," the runner was continuing. "Five men killed, and a parcel of Indians. Not one of the officers was even nicked."
The question Miriam dared not ask was answered. Pierre too was hurrying back toward his bride. Yet she felt no rush of joy, only a cold quiver of dread, deep within her.
The boastful voice of the runner followed her through the door. "Caught them right in a trap, we did, before they even knew we were anywhere around. Those Indians know how to fight. They keep out of sight behind the trees. The stupid English farmers couldn't even see where to shoot at. They were firing every which way, killing off their own men. Dead bodies piled up five deep on the ground!" He took a deep draught and smacked his lips with satisfaction.
A wave of nausea swept over Miriam. These were Englishmen he was talking about! The English had been defeated! Impossible! It must be a lie! Never for one instant had she dreamed that this unreal war could mean defeat. Fear welled up in her. Englishmen, caught in a trap, shooting at an enemy they couldn't even see! Stupid English farmers, more handy with an axe and a plow than with a gun. Men like the ones she knew at Charlestown. Men she did know, perhaps! Oh God in heaven, she had never thought! Even her own father, it might be, or—Phineas Whitney!
In cold blackness she leaned against the plaster wall. All at once, so clear and close that she could almost touch him, his face had come back to her—the fine serious mouth, the steady blue eyes.
"Miriam, are you ill? Come away from this crowd!" Hortense was steadying her. She felt the fresh breeze from the river against her face. Gradually her heart slowed its pounding.
"Forgive me, Miriam," said Hortense softly. "I forgot it is not a time of gladness for you. You know that I am not happy because we won over your people. It is just for Jules. You understand?"
"Yes," Miriam answered with wonder. "I do understand. I never did before."
Phineas had come back to her! Pierre, marching back to the city, seemed a stranger compared to the closeness, the dearness of the memory that she had lost and that was now hers again. She had almost let go the priceless thing that had been hers all along. What was it Phineas had written? "Every hope of the future is meaningless unless I have faith that you and I will share it together." How could she have forgotten? That was what she really wanted, a man she could wait for without a shadow of fear or doubt, knowing that at the end of waiting she would stand at his side, working with him, and sharing, and loving.
"Oh, Hortense," she burst out, "how I envy you! If only I could know that he is safe, and that someday I would see him again!"
Hortense studied her friend silently. "I think you are talking about an Englishman, not a Frenchman at all," she said, with her uncanny perception. "A man from your own country."
Miriam nodded. "You knew about Pierre?"
"I heard he had been seen with you. I knew that you would tell me someday, when you were ready."
"I came to tell you tonight. I didn't know what to do, and I wanted you to help me. But now, all of a sudden, I don't need to ask, I know! This is what you all have, you, and Susanna, and the Marquise!"
Hortense did not follow all this, but as usual she went straight to the heart of the matter.
"Then you mean to go away," she stated wistfully.
"You know about the ship too? Hortense, is there anything you don't hear about in this city?"
Hortense smiled. "I did not know about your Englishman. Now that I do know, I can let you go. I am so glad, Miriam, that there is someone waiting for you."
"Perhaps it will be too late. It will take such a long time, all the way to England and back. He may not wait so long. But no—I think he is like your Jules. I can trust him always. I will have to learn somehow to have faith, like you and Susanna. Oh Hortense, wish me well, please!"
"I will always wish you well, Miriam, whatever you do," Hortense answered. The two girls gazed at each other soberly.
"We will be enemies," said Hortense sadly.
Miriam threw her arms about her friend. "Oh no, Hortense! I could never be your enemy. You know that!"
"You and I, in our hearts, no. But your Englishman and my Jules, they are enemies. And there is so much hatred everywhere."
"There was a truce before. Perhaps there may be again. When I get home, I shall tell them, everyone I meet, what it is like here in Montreal. If they understand, they can't go on hating."
But she knew they would never understand. To the stern New Englanders Montreal was a place of wickedness, like the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. If they heard that it had been wiped from the earth with every soul it contained, they would accept such a fate as the just will of God. Oh, pray that no harm should come to this city that she had grown to love! Tears filled her eyes.
"I can't bear to say goodbye to you, Hortense!"
"Then let us not say it tonight," answered Hortense practically. "Let me stay with you tonight and help you to make ready, and tomorrow morning I will stand on the shore and wave to you. See, they are making ready to sail."
Their arms about each other's waists, the two girls stood for a moment, staring high above the rooftops at the masts that lifted against the evening sky. The sharp calls of the sailors in the rigging carried clearly through the summer twilight. In the morning those vast sails would be released to billow out and catch the wind. What would it be like to have no solid ground under one's feet, to hear only the howling wind, to strain one's eyes and see nothing but sky and water week after week? She shivered, yet at the same time her mind leaped ahead toward this new adventure.
"Whatever may lie between this day and our next meeting—" Phineas had written. A bloody war for him, two oceans for her!
I shall not lose courage, my love, she spoke to him silently. Not now that I am sure. Wait for me—just a little longer.
Narrative of the Captivity of Mrs. Johnson
Susanna Johnson tells of the long journey from Montreal to Charlestown, New Hampshire. After months of wearisome delay in Quebec, the Johnsons, with many other prisoners of war, boarded a small sailing vessel which took four weeks to cross the Atlantic to Plymouth, England. There they waited until they could find passage on an English ship for the return voyage to America. It was with great thanksgiving that the family at last reached New York harbor and began the slow trip overland to the beloved Connecticut River valley.
A year later, a captive redeemed from the Indian village of St. Francis brought home with him Sylvanus, a wild young savage who could brandish a tomahawk and bend a bow but could not understand a word of English. Another prisoner, redeemed from Montreal, brought back little Susanna, a fine-mannered and fashionable young lady who could speak nothing but French and could never forget her deep affection for the two kindly women she had left behind.
The conflict between the French and the English for supremacy in the New World ended in the surrender of Montreal and victory for the English colonists. Some time after the close of the war, Phineas Whitney graduated from Harvard College and began his ministry in a small town in Massachusetts, and there he and Miriam Willard were married.