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The Chase of Saint-Castin and Other Stories of the French in the New World   By: (1847-1902)

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The waiting April woods, sensitive in every leafless twig to spring, stood in silence and dim nightfall around a lodge. Wherever a human dwelling is set in the wilderness, it becomes, by the very humility of its proportions, a prominent and aggressive point. But this lodge of bark and poles was the color of the woods, and nearly escaped intruding as man's work. A glow lighted the top, revealing the faint azure of smoke which rose straight upward in the cool, clear air.

Such a habitation usually resounded at nightfall with Indian noises, especially if the day's hunting had been good. The mossy rocks lying around, were not more silent than the inmates of this lodge. You could hear the Penobscot River foaming along its uneasy bed half a mile eastward. The poles showed freshly cut disks of yellow at the top; and though the bark coverings were such movables as any Indian household carried, they were newly fastened to their present support. This was plainly the night encampment of a traveling party, and two French hunters and their attendant Abenaquis recognized that, as it barred their trail to the river. An odor of roasted meat was wafted out like an invitation to them.

"Excellent, Saint Castin," pronounced the older Frenchman. "Here is another of your wilderness surprises. No wonder you prefer an enchanted land to the rough mountains around BĂ©arn. I shall never go back to France myself."

"Stop, La Hontan!" The young man restrained his guest from plunging into the wigwam with a headlong gesture recently learned and practiced with delight. "I never saw this lodge before."

"Did you not have it set up here for the night?"

"No; it is not mine. Our Abenaquis are going to build one for us nearer the river."

"I stay here," observed La Hontan. "Supper is ready, and adventures are in the air."

"But this is not a hunter's lodge. You see that our very dogs understand they have no business here. Come on."

"Come on, without seeing who is hid herein? No. I begin to think it is something thou wouldst conceal from me. I go in; and if it be a bear trap, I cheerfully perish."

The young Frenchman stood resting the end of his gun on sodden leaves. He felt vexed at La Hontan. But that inquisitive nobleman stooped to lift the tent flap, and the young man turned toward his waiting Indians and talked a moment in Abenaqui, when they went on in the direction of the river, carrying game and camp luggage. They thought, as he did, that this might be a lodge with which no man ought to meddle. The daughter of Madockawando, the chief, was known to be coming from her winter retreat. Every Abenaqui in the tribe stood in awe of the maid. She did not rule them as a wise woman, but lived apart from them as a superior spirit.

Baron La Hontan, on all fours, intruded his gay face on the inmates of the lodge. There were three of them. His palms encountered a carpet of hemlock twigs, which spread around a central fire to the circular wall, and was made sweetly odorous by the heat. A thick couch of the twigs was piled up beyond the fire, and there sat an Abenaqui girl in her winter dress of furs. She was so white skinned that she startled La Hontan as an apparition of Europe. He got but one black eyed glance. She drew her blanket over her head. The group had doubtless heard the conference outside, but ignored it with reticent gravity. The hunter of the lodge was on his heels by the embers, toasting collops of meat for the blanketed princess; and an Etchemin woman, the other inmate, took one from his hand, and paused, while dressing it with salt, to gaze at the Frenchman.

La Hontan had not found himself distasteful to northwestern Indian girls. It was the first time an aboriginal face had ever covered itself from exposure to his eyes... Continue reading book >>

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