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The Cursed Patois From "Mackinac And Lake Stories", 1899   By: (1847-1902)

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From "Mackinac And Lake Stories", 1899

By Mary Hartwell Catherwood

As his boat shot to the camp dock of beach stones, the camper thought he heard a child's voice behind the screen of brush. He leaped out and drew the boat to its landing upon a cross piece held by two uprights in the water, and ascended the steep path worn in leaf mould.

There was not only a child, there was a woman also in the camp. And Frank Puttany, his German feet planted outward in a line, his smiling dark face unctuous with hospitality towards creatures whom he had evidently introduced, in foolish helplessness gave his partner the usual greeting:

"Veil, Prowny."

"Hello, Puttany. Visitors?"

Brown pulled off his cap to the woman. She was pretty, with eyes like a deer's, with white teeth showing between her parted scarlet lips, and much curling hair pinned up and blowing over her ears. She had the rich tint of a quarter breed, lightened in her case by a constant suffusion which gave her steady color. She was dressed in a mixture of patches, but all were fitted to her perfect shape with a Parisian elegance sensed even by backwoodsmen. Pressed against her knee stood the dirtiest and chubbiest four year old child on the borders of Brevoort Lake perhaps the dirtiest on the north shore of Michigan. The Indian mixed with his French had been improved on by the sun until he was of a brick redness and hardness of flesh; a rosy raeated thing, like a good muskalonge. Brown suddenly remembered the pair. They were Joe La France's wife and child. Joe La France was dead. Puttany had recently told him that Joe La France left a widow and a baby without shelter, and without relations nearer than Canada.

After greeting Brown the guest resumed her seat on one of the camp chairs, a box worn smooth by much use, having a slit cut in the top through which the hand could be thrust to lift it.

The camp, in a small clearing, consisted of two tents, both of the wedge shaped kind. The sleeping tent was nearly filled by the bed it contained; and this, lifted a few inches above the ground on pole supports, was of browse or brush and straw, covered with blankets. A square canopy of mosquito netting protected it. The cooking tent had a foundation of logs and a canvas top. The floor was of pure white sand. Boxes like lockers were stored under the eaves to hold food, and in one corner a cylindrical camp stove with an oven thrust its pipe through a tinned hole in the roof. Plenty of iron skillets, kettles, and pans hung above the lockers on pegs in the logs; and the camp dinner service of white ware, black handled knives and forks, and metal spoons, neatly washed, stood on a table. Jess, the Scotch collie, who was always left to guard the tents in their owners' absence, sat at her usual post within the door; and she and Brown exchanged repressed growls at the strangers. Jess, being freed from her chain, trotted at his heels when he went back to the beach to clean fish for supper. She sat and watched his deft and work hardened hands as he dipped and washed and drew and scaled his spoil. He was a clean skinned, blue eyed Canadian Irishman, well made and sinewy, bright and open of countenance. His blond hair clung in almost flaxen tendrils to his warm forehead. No ill nature was visible about him, yet he turned like a man in fierce self defence on his partner, who followed Jess and stood also watching him.

"Puttany, you fool! what have you brought these cursed patois into camp for?"

"Joe La France vas my old pardner," softly pleaded the German.

"Damn you, man, we can't start an orphan asylum and widows' home! We'll get a bad name at the hotels. The real good people won't have us for guides."

"She told me in Allanville she had no place to stay. She did not know what to do. At the old voman's, where Joe put her, they have need of her bed. The old voman is too poor to keep her any more."

"I'd have done just what you did; that's what makes me so mad... Continue reading book >>

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