Captain Daniel Menard leaned against the parapet at the outer edge of the citadel balcony. The sun was high, the air clear and still. Beneath him, at the foot of the cliff, nestled the Lower Town, a strip of shops and houses, hemmed in by the palisades and the lower battery. The St. Lawrence flowed by, hardly stirred by the light breeze. Out in the channel, beyond the merchantmen, lay three ships of war, Le Fourgon, Le Profond, and La Perle, each with a cluster of supply boats at her side; and the stir and rattle of tackle and chain coming faintly over the water from Le Fourgon told that she would sail for France on the morrow, if God should choose to send the wind.
Looking almost straight down, Menard could see the long flight of steps that climbed from the settlement on the water front to the nobler city on the heights. Halfway down the steps was a double file of Indians, chained two and two, and guarded by a dozen regulars from his own company. He watched them until they reached the bottom and disappeared behind the row of buildings that ended on the wharf in Patron’s trading store. In a moment they reappeared, and marched across the wharf, toward the two boats from Le Fourgon that awaited them. Even from the height, Menard could see that the soldiers had a stiff task to control their prisoners. After one of the boats, laden deep, had shoved off, there was a struggle, and the crowd of idlers that had gathered scattered suddenly. Two Indians had broken away, and were running across the wharf, with a little knot of soldiers close on their heels. One of the soldiers, leaping forward, brought the stock of his musket down on the head of the nearer Indian. The fugitive went down, dragging with him his companion, who tugged desperately at the chain. A soldier drew his knife, and cut off the dead Indian’s arm close to the iron wristlet, breaking the bone with his foot. Then they led back the captive and tumbled him into the boat, with the hand of his comrade dangling at the end of the chain. The incident had excited the soldiers, and they kicked and pounded the prisoners. A crowd gathered about the body on the wharf, the bolder ones snatching at his beads and wampum belt.
Menard raised his eyes to the lands across the river and to the white cloud-puffs above. After months of camp and canoe, sleeping in snow and rain, and by day paddling, poling, and wading,––never a new face among the grumbling soldiers or the stolid prisoners,––after this, Quebec stood for luxury and the pleasant demoralization of good living. He liked the noise of passing feet, the hail of goodwill from door to door, the plodding shopkeepers and artisans, the comfortable priests in brown and gray.
The sound of oars brought his eyes again to the river. The two boats with their loads of redskins were passing the merchantmen that lay between the men-of-war and the city. On the wharf, awaiting a second trip, was a huddled group of prisoners. Menard’s face clouded as he watched them. Men of his experience were wondering what effect this new plan of the Governor’s would have upon the Iroquois. Capturing a hunting party by treachery and shipping them off to the King’s galleys was a bold stroke,––too bold, perhaps. Governor Frontenac would never have done this; he knew the Iroquois temper too well. Governor la Barre, for all his bluster, would not have dared. It was certain that this new governor, Denonville, was not a coward; but as Menard reflected, going back over his own fifteen years of frontier life, he knew that this policy of brute force would be sorely tested by the tact and intrigue of the Five Nations. His own part in the capture little disturbed him. He had obeyed orders. He had brought the band to the citadel at Quebec without losing a man (saving the poor devil who had strangled himself with his own thongs at La Gallette).
To such men as Menard, whose lives were woven closely into the fabric of New France, the present condition was clear. Many an evening he had spent with Major d’Orvilliers, at Fort Frontenac, in talking over the recent years of history into which their two names and their two lives had gone so deeply. Until his recall to France in 1682, Governor Frontenac had been for ten years building up in the Iroquois heart a fear and awe of Onontio, the Great Father, at Quebec. D’Orvilliers knew that period the better, for Menard had not come over (from the little town of his birth, in Picardy) until Frontenac’s policy was well established. But Menard had lived hard and rapidly during his first years in the province, and he was a stern-faced young soldier when he stood on the wharf, hat in hand and sword to chin, watching New France’s greatest governor sitting erect in the boat that bore him away from his own. Menard had been initiated by a long captivity among the Onondagas, and had won his first commission by gallant action under the Governor’s eye.
In those days no insult went unpunished; no tribe failed twice in its obligations. The circle of French influence was firmly extended around the haunts of the Iroquois in New York and along the Ohio. From Frontenac, on Lake Ontario, north to Hudson’s Bay, was French land. To the westward, along the Ottawa River, and skirting the north shore of Lake Huron to Michillimackinac and Green Bay, were the strong French allies, the Hurons, Ottawas, Nipissings, Kiskagons, Sacs, Foxes, and Mascoutins. Down at the lower end of Lake Michigan, at the Chicagou and St. Joseph portages, were the Miamis; and farther still, the Illinois, whom the Sieur de la Salle and Henri de Tonty had drawn close under the arm of New France.
This chain of allies, with Du Luth’s fort at Detroit and a partial control over Niagara, had given New France nearly all the fur trade of the Great Lakes. The English Governor Dongan, of New York, dared not to fight openly for it, but he armed the Iroquois and set them against the French. Menard had laughed when the word came, in 1684, from Father de Lamberville, whose influence worked so far toward keeping the Iroquois quiet, that Dongan had pompously set up the arms of his king in each Iroquois village, even dating them back a year to make his claim the more secure. Every old soldier knew that more than decrees and coats of arms were needed to win the Five Nations.
When La Barre succeeded Frontenac, lacking the tact and firmness which had established Frontenac’s name among foes and allies alike, he fell back upon bluster (to say nothing of the common talk in Quebec that he had set out to build up his private fortune by the fur trade). Learning that, by his grant of Fort Frontenac, La Salle was entitled to a third of the trade that passed through it, he seized the fort. He weakened La Salle’s communications so greatly that La Salle and Tonty could not make good their promises of French protection to the Illinois. This made it possible for the Iroquois, unhindered, to lay waste the Illinois country. By equally shortsighted methods, La Barre so weakened the ties that bound the northern allies, and so increased the arrogance of the Iroquois, that when Governor Denonville took up the task, most of the allies, always looking to the stronger party, were on the point of going over to the Iroquois. This would give the fur trade to the English, and ruin New France. Governor Dongan seized the moment to promise better bargains for the peltry than the French could offer. It remained for the new governor to make a demonstration which would establish firmly the drooping prestige of New France.
Now the spring of 1687 was just ending. Since February it had been spread abroad, from the gulf seignories to Fort Frontenac, that preparations were making for a great campaign against the Iroquois. Champigny, the new Intendant, had scoured the country for supplies, and now was building bateaux and buying canoes. Regulars and militia were drilling into the semblance of an army, and palisades and defences were everywhere built or strengthened, that the home guard might keep the province secure during the long absence of the troops. Menard wondered, as he snapped bits of stone off the parapet, and watched the last boatload of galley slaves embarking at the wharf, whether the Governor’s plans would carry. He would undoubtedly act with precision, he would follow every detail of campaigning to the delight of the tacticians, he would make a great splash,––and then? How about the wily chiefs of the Senecas and Onondagas and Mohawks? They had hoodwinked La Barre into signing the meanest treaty that ever disgraced New France. Would Denonville, too, blind himself to the truth that shrewd minds may work behind painted faces?
But above all else, Menard was a soldier. He snapped another bit of stone, and gave up the problem. He would fight at the Governor’s orders, retreat at the Governor’s command,––to the Governor would belong the credit or the blame. Of only one thing was he sure,––his own half hundred men should fight as they had always fought, and should hold their posts to the end. There ended his responsibility. And did not the good Fathers say that God was watching over New France?
Meantime the breath of summer was in the air. The spring campaign was over for Menard. So he rested both elbows on the parapet, and wondered how long the leaves had been out in Picardy. Over beyond the ships and the river were waves of the newest green, instead of the deep, rich colour and the bloom of full life he had left behind at Fort Frontenac but two weeks back. The long journey down the St. Lawrence had seemed almost a descent into winter. On the way to Quebec every day and every league had brought fewer blossoms. Even Montreal, sixty leagues to the south, had her summer before Quebec.
On the wharf below him the crowd were still plucking the dead Indian. Menard could hear their laughter and shouts. Their figures were small in the distance, their actions grotesque. One man was dancing, brandishing some part of the Indian’s costume. Menard could not distinguish the object in his hand. A priest crossed the wharf and elbowed into the crowd. For the moment he was lost in the rabble, but shortly the shouting quieted and the lightheaded fellows crowded into a close group. Probably the priest was addressing them. Soon the fringe of the crowd thinned, then the others walked quietly away. When at last the priest was left alone by the mutilated Indian, he knelt, and for a space was motionless.
The idleness of reaction was on Menard. He leaned on the parapet, hardly stirring, while the priest went on his way across the square and began toiling up the steps. When he was halfway up, Menard recognized him for Claude de Casson, an old Jesuit of the Iroquois mission at Sault St. Francis Xavier, near Montreal. Menard strolled through the citadel to the square, and, meeting the Father, walked with him.
“Well, Father Claude, you are a long way from your flock.”
“Yes, Captain Menard, I came with the relations. I have been”––Father Claude was blown from his climb, and he paused, wiping the sweat from his lean face––“I have been grieved by a spectacle in the Lower Town. Some wretches had killed an Onondaga with the brutality of his own tribe, and were robbing him. Are such acts permitted to-day in Quebec, M’sieu?”
“He was a prisoner escaping from the soldiers. It must be a full year since I last saw you, Father. I hope you bring a good record to the College.”
“The best since our founding, M’sieu.”
“Is there no word in the relations from the New York missions?”
“Yes, M’sieu. Brother de Lamberville brings glorious word from the Mohawks. Twenty-three complete conversions.”
“You say he brings this word?” Menard’s brows came together. “Then he has come up to Montreal?”
“It is true, then, that the Iroquois have word of our plans?”
“It would seem so. He said that a war party which started weeks ago for the Illinois country had been recalled. A messenger was sent out but a few days before he came away.”
Menard slowly shook his head.
“This word should go to the Commandant,” he said. “How about your Indians at the Mission, Father Claude? They have not French hearts.”
“Ah, but I am certain, M’sieu, they would not break faith with us.”
“You can trust them?”
“They are Christians, M’sieu.”
“Yes, but they are Iroquois. Have none of them gone away since this news reached Quebec?”
“None, save one poor wretch whose drunkenness long ago caused us to give up hope, though I––”
“What became of him? Where did he go?”
“He wandered away in a drunken fit.”
“And you have not heard from him since?”
“No, M’sieu. He was Teganouan, an Onondaga.”
“You would do well, Father, if I may suggest, to take what news you may have to the Commandant. You and I know the importance of trifles at such a time as this. How long do you remain in Quebec?”
“A few days only, unless there should be work for me here.”
“Do you return then to Montreal?”
“I cannot say until I have made my report and delivered the relations. Brother de Lamberville thinks it important that word should go to all those who are now labouring in the Iroquois villages. If they remain after the campaign is fairly started, their lives may be in danger.”
“You think it necessary to go yourself?”
“What else, M’sieu? This is not the time to trust too freely an Indian runner. And a layman might never get through alive. My habit would be the best safeguard.”
“I suppose you are right. If I should not see you again, I must ask you to convey my respect to your colleagues at the Mission. I shall probably be here until the campaign is fairly started; perhaps longer. Already I am tasting the luxury of idleness.”
“A dangerous luxury, M’sieu. If I might be permitted to advise––”
“Yes, yes, Father,––I know, I know. But what is the use? You are a priest, I am a soldier. Yours is penance, mine is fighting; yours is praying, mine is singing,––every man to his own. And when you priests have got your pagans converted, we soldiers will clean up the mess with our muskets. And now, Father, good day, and may God be with you.”
The priest’s face was unmoved as he looked after the retreating figure. He had watched Menard grow from a roistering lieutenant into a rigid captain, and he knew his temper too well to mind the flicks of banter. But before the soldier had passed from earshot, he called after him.
Menard turned back. “What now, good Father? A mass for my soul, or a last absolution before I plunge into my term of dissolute idleness?”
“Neither, my son,” replied the priest, smiling. “Is any of your idleness to be shared with another?”
“I am bringing a picture to the College.”
“I have no money, Father. I should be a sorry patron.”
“No, no, M’sieu; it is not a patron I seek. It is the advice of one who has seen and judged the master work of Paris. The painting has been shown to none as yet.”
“But you have seen it?”
“Yes, yes, I have seen it. Come with me, M’sieu; it is at my room.”
They walked together to the cell, six feet long by five wide, where Father Claude slept when in Quebec. It was bare of all save a hard cot. A bale, packed in rough cloth and tied with rope, lay on the bed. Father Claude opened the bundle, while Menard leaned against the wall, and drew out his few personal belongings and his portable altar before he reached the flat, square package at the bottom. There was a touch of colour in his cheeks and a nervousness in the movement of his hands as he untied the flaxen strings, stripped off the cloth, and held the picture up to Menard’s view.
It was a full-length portrait in oil of a young Indian woman, holding a small cross in her right hand, and gazing at it with bent head. Her left hand was spread upon her breast. She wore a calico chemise reaching below her knees, and leggings, and moccasins. A heavy robe was thrown over the top of her head, falling on the sides and back to within a foot of the ground. In the middle background was a stream, with four Indians in a canoe. A tiny stone chapel stood on the bank at the extreme right.
Father Claude’s hand trembled as he supported the canvas upon the cot, and his eyes wavered from Menard to the picture, and back again.
“It is not altogether completed,” he said, nervously. “Of course the detail will be worked out more fully, and the cross should be given a warmer radiance. Perhaps a light showing through the windows of the chapel––”
“Who is it?” asked Menard.
“It is Catherine Outasoren, the Lily of the Onondagas,” replied the priest; “the noblest woman that ever rose from the depths of Indian superstition.”
Menard’s eyes rested on an obscure signature in a lower corner, “C. de C.”
“You certainly have reason to be proud of the work. But may I ask about the perspective? Should the maiden appear larger than the chapel?”
The priest gazed at the painting with an unsettled expression.
“Yes,” he said, “perhaps you are right, M’sieu. At any rate I will give the matter thought and prayer.”
“And the Indians,” Menard questioned, “in the canoe; are they coming toward the chapel or going away from it? It seems to me that any doubt on that point should be removed.”
“Ah,” said the priest; “that very doubt is allegorical. It typifies the workings of the human mind when first confronted by the truth. When the seeker first beholds the light, as shown through the devotion of such a woman as Catherine Outasoren, there arises in his mind––”
“Very true, very true! But I never yet have seen a canoe-load of Indians in doubt whether they were moving forward or backward.”
Father Claude held the canvas at arm’s length and gazed long at it.
“Tell me, M’sieu,” he said at last, “do you think it deserving of a place in the College?”
“I do not see why not.”
“And you think I would be justified in laying a request before the Superior?”
Menard shrugged his shoulders.
“That is your decision, Father.”
“I never can fully thank you, my son, for your kindness in looking on my humble work. I will not decide to-day. First I must add foliage in the foreground. And I will give it my earnest prayer.”
Menard said farewell and went out, leaving the priest gazing at the picture. He strolled back toward the citadel, stopping now and then to greet an old friend or a chance acquaintance. When he arrived at the headquarters in the citadel he found Danton, a brown-haired young lieutenant of engineers, gazing at a heap of plans and other papers on the table.
“Well, Captain Menard,” was his greeting, “I’d give half of last year’s pay, if I ever get it, to feel as lazy as you look.”
“You are lazy enough,” growled Menard.
“That begs the question. It is not how lazy a man is, but how lazy he gets a chance to be.”
“If you’d been through what I have this spring, you’d deserve a rest.”
“You must have had a stirring time,” said the Lieutenant. “Major Provost has promised to let me go out with the line when the campaign starts. I’ve not had a brush since I came over.”
Menard gave him a quizzical smile before he replied, “You’ll get brushes enough.”
“By the way, the Major wants to see you.”
“Does he?” said Menard.
He lighted his short pipe with a coal from the fire and walked out.