Jeannette by Constance Fenimore Woolson
Before the war for the Union, in the times of the old army, there
had been peace throughout the country for thirteen years. Regiments
existed in their officers, but the ranks were thin,—the more so the
better, since the United States possessed few forts and seemed in
chronic embarrassment over her military children, owing to the flying
foot-ball of public opinion, now 'standing army pro,' now 'standing
army con,' with more or less allusion to the much-enduring Caesar and
his legions, the ever-present ghost of the political arena.
In those days the few forts were full and much state was kept up;
the officers were all graduates of West Point, and their wives
graduates of the first families. They prided themselves upon their
antecedents; and if there was any aristocracy in the country, it was in
the circles of army life.
Those were pleasant days,—pleasant for the old soldiers who were
resting after Mexico,—pleasant for young soldiers destined to die on
the plains of Gettysburg or the cloudy heights of Lookout Mountain.
There was an esprit de corps in the little band, a dignity of bearing,
and a ceremonious state, lost in the great struggle which came
afterward. That great struggle now lies ten years back; yet, to-day,
when the silver-haired veterans meet, they pass it over as a thing of
the present, and go back to the times of the 'old army.'
Up in the northern straits, between blue Lake Huron, with its clear
air, and gray Lake Michigan, with its silver fogs, lies the bold island
of Mackinac. Clustered along the beach, which runs around its half-moon
harbor, are the houses of the old French village, nestling at the foot
of the cliff rising behind, crowned with the little white fort, the
stars and stripes floating above it against the deep blue sky. Beyond,
on all sides, the forest stretches away, cliffs finishing it abruptly,
save one slope at the far end of the island, three miles distant, where
the British landed in 1812. That is the whole of Mackinac.
The island has a strange sufficiency of its own; it satisfies; all
who have lived there feel it. The island has a wild beauty of its own;
it fascinates; all who have lived there love it. Among its aromatic
cedars, along the aisles of its pine trees, in the gay company of its
maples, there is companionship. On its bald northern cliffs, bathed in
sunshine and swept by the pure breeze, there is exhilaration. Many
there are, bearing the burden and heat of the day, who look back to the
island with the tears that rise but do not fall, the sudden longing
despondency that comes occasionally to all, when the tired heart cries
out, 'O, to escape, to flee away, far, far away, and be at rest!'
In 1856 Fort Mackinac held a major, a captain, three lieutenants, a
chaplain, and a surgeon, besides those subordinate officers who wear
stripes on their sleeves, and whose rank and duties are mysteries to
the uninitiated. The force for this array of commanders was small, less
than a company; but what it lacked in quantity it made up in quality,
owing to the continual drilling it received.
The days were long at Fort Mackinac; happy thought! drill the men.
So when the major had finished, the captain began, and each lieutenant
was watching his chance. Much state was kept up also. Whenever the
major appeared, 'Commanding officer; guard, present arms,' was called
down the line of men on duty, and the guard hastened to obey, the major
acknowledging the salute with stiff precision. By day and by night
sentinels paced the walls. True, the walls were crumbling, and the
whole force was constantly engaged in propping them up, but none the
less did the sentinels pace with dignity. What was it to the captain
if, while he sternly inspected the muskets in the block-house, the
lieutenant, with a detail of men, was hard at work strengthening its
underpinning? None the less did he inspect. The sally-port, mended but
imposing; the flag-staff with its fair-weather and storm flags; the
frowning iron grating; the sidling white causeway, constantly falling
down and as constantly repaired, which led up to the main entrance; the
well-preserved old cannon,—all showed a strict military rule. When the
men were not drilling they were propping up the fort and when they were
not propping up the fort they were drilling. In the early days, the
days of the first American commanders, military roads had been made
through the forest,—roads even now smooth and solid, although trees of
a second growth meet overhead. But that was when the fort was young and
stood firmly on its legs. In 1856 there was no time for road-making,
for when military duty was over there was always more or less mending
to keep the whole fortification from sliding down hill into the lake.
On Sunday there was service in the little chapel, an upper room
overlooking the inside parade-ground. Here the kindly Episcopal
chaplain read the chapters about Balaam and Balak, and always made the
same impressive pause after 'Let me die the death of the righteous, and
let my last end be like his.' (Dear old man! he has gone. Would that
our last end might indeed be like his!) Not that the chaplain confined
his reading to the Book of Numbers; but as those chapters are appointed
for the August Sundays, and as it was in August that the summer
visitors came to Mackinac, the little chapel is in many minds
associated with the patient Balak, his seven altars, and his seven
There was state and discipline in the fort even on Sundays;
bugle-playing marshalled the congregation in, bugle-playing marshalled
them out. If the sermon was not finished, so much the worse for the
sermon, but it made no difference to the bugle; at a given moment it
sounded, and out marched all the soldiers, drowning the poor chaplain's
hurrying voice with their tramp down the stairs. The officers attended
service in full uniform, sitting erect and dignified in the front
seats. We used to smile at the grand air they had, from the stately
gray-haired major down to the youngest lieutenant fresh from the Point.
But brave hearts were beating under those fine uniforms; and when the
great struggle came, one and all died on the field in the front of the
battle. Over the grave of the commanding officer is inscribed,
'Major-General,' over the captain's is 'Brigadier,' and over each young
lieutenant is 'Colonel.' They gained their promotion in death.
I spent many months at Fort Mackinac with Archie; Archie was my
nephew, a young lieutenant. In the short, bright summer came the
visitors from below; all the world outside is 'below' in island
vernacular. In the long winter the little white fort looked out over
unbroken ice-fields, and watched for the moving black dot of the
dog-train bringing the mails from the main land. One January day I had
been out walking on the snow-crust, breathing the cold, still air, and,
returning within the walls to our quarters, I found my little parlor
already occupied. Jeannette was there, petite Jeanneton, the
fisherman's daughter. Strange beauty sometimes results from a mixed
descent, and this girl had French, English and Indian blood in her
veins, the three races mixing and intermixing among her ancestors,
according to the custom of the Northwestern border. A bold profile
delicately finished, heavy blue-black hair, light blue eyes looking out
unexpectedly from under black lashes and brows; a fair white skin,
neither the rose-white of the blonde nor the cream-white of the
Oriental brunette; a rounded form with small hands and feet, showed the
mixed beauties of three nationalities. Yes, there could be no doubt but
that Jeannette was singularly lovely, albeit ignorant utterly. Her
dress was as much of a melange as her ancestry: a short skirt of
military blue, Indian leggings and moccasins, a red jacket and little
red cap embroidered with beads. The thick braids of her hair hung down
her back, and on the lounge lay a large blanket-mantle lined with
fox-skins and ornamented with the plumage of birds. She had come to
teach me bead-work; I had already taken several lessons to while away
the time, but found myself an awkward scholar.
'Bonjou', madame,' she said, in her patois of broken English and
degenerate French. 'Pretty here.'
My little parlor had a square of carpet, a hearth-fire of great
logs, Turkey-red curtains, a lounge and arm-chair covered with chintz,
several prints on the cracked walls, and a number of books,—the whole
well used and worn, worth perhaps twenty dollars in any town below, but
ten times twenty in icy Mackinac. I began the bead-work, and Jeannette
was laughing at my mistakes, when the door opened, and our surgeon came
in, pausing to warm his hands before going up to his room in the attic.
A taciturn man was our surgeon, Rodney Prescott, not popular in the
merry garrison circle, but a favorite of mine; the Puritan, the
New-Englander, the Bostonian, were as plainly written upon his face as
the French and Indian were written upon Jeannette.
'Sit down, Doctor,' I said.
He took a seat and watched us carelessly, now and then smiling at
Jeannette's chatter as a giant might smile upon a pygmy. I could see
that the child was putting on all her little airs to attract his
attention; now the long lashes swept the cheeks, now they were raised
suddenly, disclosing the unexpected blue eyes: the little moccasined
feet must be warmed on the fender, the braids must be swept back with
an impatient movement of the hand and shoulder, and now and then there
was a coquettish arch of the red lips, less than a pout, what she
herself would have called 'une p'tite moue.' Our surgeon watched this
'Isn't she beautiful?' I said, when, at the expiration of the hour,
Jeannette disappeared, wrapped in her mantle.
'No; not to my eyes.'
'Why, what more can you require, Doctor? Look at her rich coloring,
'There is no mind in her face, Mrs. Corlyne.'
'But she is still a child.'
'She will always be a child; she will never mature,' answered our
surgeon, going up the steep stairs to his room above.
Jeannette came regularly, and one morning, tired of the bead-work, I
proposed teaching her to read. She consented, although not without an
incentive in the form of shillings; but, however gained, my scholar
gave to the long winter a new interest. She learned readily; but as
there was no foundation, I was obliged to commence with A, B, C.
'Why not teach her to cook?' suggested the major's fair young wife,
whose life was spent in hopeless labors with Indian servants, who,
sooner or later, ran away in the night with spoons and the family
'Why not teach her to sew?' said Madame Captain, wearily raising her
eyes from the pile of small garments before her.
'Why not have her up for one of our sociables?' hazarded our most
dashing lieutenant, twirling his moustache.
'Frederick!' exclaimed his wife, in a tone of horror: she was
aristocratic, but sharp in outlines.
'Why not bring her into the church? Those French half-breeds are
little better than heathen,' said the chaplain.
Thus the high authorities disapproved of my educational efforts. I
related their comments to Archie, and added, 'The surgeon is the only
one who has said nothing against it.'
'Prescott? O, he's too high and mighty to notice anybody, much less
a half-breed girl. I never saw such a stiff, silent fellow; he looks as
if he had swallowed all his straightlaced Puritan ancestors. I wish
'O, yes, without doubt; certainly, and amen! I know you like him,
Aunt Sarah,' said my handsome boy-soldier, laughing.
The lessons went on. We often saw the surgeon during study hours as
the stairway leading to his room opened out of the little parlor.
Sometimes he would stop awhile and listen as Jeannette slowly read,
'The good boy likes his red top'; 'The good girl can sew a seam', or
watched her awkward attempts to write her name, or add a one and a two.
It was slow work, but I persevered, if from no other motive than
obstinacy. Had they not all prophesied a failure? When wearied with the
dull routine, I gave an oral lesson in poetry. If the rhymes were of
the chiming, rhythmic kind, Jeannette learned rapidly, catching the
verses as one catches a tune, and repeating them with a spirit and
dramatic gesture all her own. Her favorite was Macaulay's 'Ivry.'
Beautiful she looked, as, standing in the centre of the room, she
rolled out the sonorous lines, her French accent giving a charming
foreign coloring to the well-known verses:—
'Now by the lips of those ye love, fair gentlemen of France,
Charge for the golden lilies,—upon them with the lance!
A thousand spears are striking deep, a thousand spears in rest,
A thousand knights are pressing close behind the snow-white
And in they burst, and on they rushed, while, like a guiding
Amidst the thickest carnage blazed the helmet of Navarre.'
And yet, after all my explanations, she only half understood it; the
'knights' were always 'nights' in her mind, and the 'thickest carnage'
was always the 'thickest carriage.'
One March day she came at the appointed hour, soon after our noon
dinner. The usual clear winter sky was clouded, and a wind blew the
snow from the trees where it had lain quietly month after month.
'Spring is coming,' said the old sergeant that morning, as he hoisted
the storm-flag; it's getting wildlike.'
Jeannette and I went through the lessons, but towards three o'clock
a north-wind came sweeping over the Straits and enveloped the island in
a whirling snow-storm, partly eddies of white splinters torn from the
ice-bound forest, and partly a new, fall of round snow pellets
careering along on the gale, quite unlike the soft, feathery flakes of
early winter. 'You cannot go home now, Jeannette,' I said, looking out
through the little west window; our cottage stood back on the hill, and
from this side window we could see the Straits, going down toward far
Waugoschance; the steep fort-hill outside the wall; the long meadow,
once an Indian burial-place, below; and beyond on the beach the row of
cabins inhabited by the French fishermen, one of them the home of my
pupil. The girl seldom went round the point into the village; its one
street and a half seemed distasteful to her. She climbed the stone-wall
on the ridge behind her cabin, took an Indian trail through the grass
in summer, or struck across on the snow-crust in winter, ran up the
steep side of the fort-hill like a wild chamois, and came into the
garrison enclosure with a careless nod to the admiring sentinel, as she
passed under the rear entrance. These French, half-breeds, like the
gypsies, were not without a pride of their own. They held themselves
aloof from the Irish of Shantytown, the floating sailor population of
the summer, and the common soldiers of the garrison. They intermarried
among themselves, and held their own revels in their beach-cabins
during the winter, with music from their old violins, dancing and,
songs, French ballads with a chorus after every two lines, quaint
chansons handed down from voyageur ancestors. Small respect had they
for the little Roman Catholic church beyond the old Agency garden; its
German priest they refused to honor; but, when stately old Father Piret
came over to the island from his hermitage in the Chenaux, they ran to
meet him, young and old, and paid him reverence with affectionate
respect. Father Piret was a Parisian, and a gentleman; nothing less
would suit these far-away sheep in the wilderness!
Jeannette Leblanc had all the pride of her class; the Irish
saloon-keeper with his shining tall hat, the loud-talking mate of the
lake schooner, the trim sentinel pacing the fort walls, were nothing to
her, and this somewhat incongruous hauteur gave her the air of a little
On this stormy afternoon the captain's wife was in my parlor
preparing to return to her own quarters with some coffee she had
borrowed. Hearing my remark she said, 'O, the snow won't hurt the
child, Mrs. Corlyne; she must be storm-proof, living down there on the
beach! Duncan can take her home.'
Duncan was the orderly, a factotum in the garrison.
'Non,' said Jeannette, tossing her head proudly, as the door closed
behind the lady, 'I wish not of Duncan; I go alone.'
It happened that Archie, my nephew, had gone over to the cottage of
the commanding officer to decorate the parlor for the military
sociable; I knew he would not return, and the evening stretched out
before me in all its long loneliness. 'Stay, Jeannette,' I said. 'We
will have tea together here, and when the wind goes down, old Antoine
shall go back with you.' Antoine was a French wood-cutter, whose cabin
clung half-way down the fort-hill like a swallow's nest.
Jeannette's eyes sparkled; I had never invited her before; in an
instant she had turned the day into a high festival. 'Braid hair?' she
asked, glancing toward the mirror, 'faut que je m' fasse belle.' And
the long hair came out of its close braids enveloping her in its glossy
dark waves, while she carefully smoothed out the bits of red ribbon
that served as fastenings. At this moment the door opened, and the
surgeon, the wind, and a puff of snow came in together. Jeannette
looked up, smiling and blushing; the falling hair gave a new softness
to her face, and her eyes were as shy as the eyes of a wild fawn.
Only the previous day I had noticed that Rodney Prescott listened
with marked attention to the captain's cousin, a Virginia lady, as she
advanced a theory that Jeannette had negro blood in her veins. 'Those
quadroon girls often have a certain kind of plebeian beauty like this
pet of yours, Mrs. Corlyne,' she said, with a slight sniff of her
high-bred, pointed nose. In vain I exclaimed, in vain I argued; the
garrison ladies were all against me, and, in their presence, not a man
dared come to my aid; and the surgeon even added, 'I wish I could be
sure of it.'
'Sure of the negro blood?' I said indignantly.
'But Jeannette does not look in the least like a quadroon.'
'Some of the quadroon girls are very handsome, Mrs. Corlyne,'
answered the surgeon, coldly.
'O yes!' said the high-bred Virginia lady. 'My brother has a number
of them about his place, but we do not teach them to read, I assure
you. It spoils them.'
As I looked at Jeannette's beautiful face, her delicate eagle
profile, her fair skin and light blue eyes, I recalled this
conversation with vivid indignation. The surgeon, at least, should be
convinced of his mistake. Jeannette had never looked more brilliant;
probably the man had never really scanned her features,—he was such a
cold, unseeing creature; but to-night he should have a fair
opportunity, so I invited him to join our storm-bound tea-party. He
'Ah, do, Monsieur Rodenai,' said Jeannette, springing forward. 'I
sing for you, I dance; but, no, you not like that. Bien, I tell your
fortune then.' The young girl loved company. A party of three, no
matter who the third, was to her infinitely better than two.
The surgeon stayed.
A merry evening we had before the hearth-fire. The wind howled
around the block-house and rattled the flag-staff, and the snow pellets
sounded on the window-panes, giving that sense of warm comfort within
that comes only with the storm. Our servant had been drafted into
service for the military sociable, and I was to prepare the evening
'Not tea,' said Jeannette, with a wry face; 'tea,—c'est medecine!'
She had arranged her hair in fanciful braids, and now followed me to
the kitchen, enjoying the novelty like a child. 'Cafe?' she said. 'O,
please, madame! I make it.'
The little shed kitchen was cold and dreary, each plank of its thin
walls rattling in the gale with a dismal creak; the wind blew the smoke
down the chimney, and finally it ended on our bringing everything into
the cosey parlor, and using the hearth fire, where Jeannette made
coffee and baked little cakes over the coals.
The meal over, Jeannette sang her songs, sitting on the rug before
the fire,—Le Beau Voyageur, Les Neiges de la Cloche, ballads in
Canadian patois sung to minor airs brought over from France two hundred
The surgeon sat in the shade of the chimney-piece, his face shaded
by his hand, and I could not discover whether he saw anything to admire
in my protegee, until, standing in the centre of the room, she gave as
'Ivry' in glorious style. Beautiful she looked as she rolled out the
'And if my standard-bearer fall, as fall full well he may,—
For never saw I promise yet of such a bloody fray,—
Press where ye see my white plume shine amidst the ranks of war,
And be your oriflamme to-day the helmet of Navarre.'
Rodney sat in the full light now, and I secretly triumphed in his
'Something else, Jeannette,' I said in the pride of my heart.
Instead of repeating anything I had taught her, she began in French:—
'“Marie, enfant, quitte l'ouvrage,
Voici l'etoille du berger.”
—“Ma mere, un enfant du village
Languit captif chez l'etranger;
Pris sur mer, loin de sa patrie,
Il c'est rendu,—mais le dernier.”
File, file, pauvre Marie,
Pour secourir le prisonnier;
File, file, pauvre Marie,
File, file, pour le prisonnier.
'“Pour lui je filerais moi-meme
Mon enfant,—mais—j'ai tant vieilli!”
—“Envoyez a celui que j'aime
Tout le gain par moi recueilli.
Rose a sa noce en vain me prie;—
Dieu! j'entends le menetrier!”
File, file, pauvre Marie,
Pour secourir le prisonnier;
File, file, pauvre Marie,
File, file, pour le prisonnier.
'“Plus pres du feu file, ma cherie;
La nuit vient de refroidir le temps"
—“Adrien, m'a-t-on dit, ma mere,
Gemit dans des cachots flottants.
On repousse la main fletrie
Qu'il etend vers an pain grossier.”
File, file, pauvre Marie,
Pour secourir le prisonnier;
File, file, pauvre Marie,
File, file pour le prisonnier.'
[Footnote: 'Le Prisonnier de Guerre,' Beranger.]
Jeannette repeated these lines with a pathos so real that I felt a
moisture rising in my eyes.
'Where did you learn that, child?' I asked.
'Father Piret, madame.'
'What is it?'
'It is Beranger,—'The Prisoner of War,' said Rodney Prescott. 'But
you omitted the last verse, mademoiselle; may I ask why?'
'More sad so,' answered Jeannette. 'Marie she die now.'
'You wish her to die?'
'Mais oui: she die for love; c'est beau!'
And there flashed a glance from the girl's eyes that thrilled
through me, I scarcely knew why. I looked towards Rodney, but he was
back in the shadow again.
The hours passed. 'I must go,' said Jeannette, drawing aside the
curtain. Clouds were still driving across the sky, but the snow had
ceased falling, and at intervals the moon shone out over the cold white
scene; the March wind continued on its wild career toward the south.
'I will send for Antoine,' I said, rising, as Jeannette took up her
'The old man is sick, to-day,' said Rodney. 'It would not be safe
for him to leave the fire, to-night. I will accompany mademoiselle.'
Pretty Jeannette shrugged her shoulders. 'Mais, monsieur,' she
answered, 'I go over the hill.'
'No, child; not tonight,' I said decidedly. 'The wind is violent,
and the cliff doubly slippery after this ice-storm. Go round through
'Of course we shall go through the village,' said our surgeon, in
his calm authoritative way. They started. But in another minute I saw
Jeannette fly by the west window, over the wall and across the snowy
road, like a spirit, disappearing down the steep bank, now slippery
with glare ice. Another minute, and Rodney Prescott followed in her
With bated breath I watched for the reappearance of the two figures
on the white plain, one hundred and fifty feet below; the cliff was
difficult at any time, and now in this ice! The moments seemed very
long, and, alarmed, I was on the point of arousing the garrison, when I
spied the two dark figures on the snowy plain below, now clear in the
moonlight, now lost in the shadow. I watched them for some distance;
then a cloud came, and I lost them entirely.
Rodney did not return, although I sat late before the dying fire.
Thinking over the evening, the idea came to me that perhaps, after all,
he did admire my protegee, and, being a romantic old woman, I did not
repel the fancy; it might go a certain distance without harm, and an
idyl is always charming, doubly so to people cast away on a desert
island. One falls into the habit of studying persons very closely in
the limited circle of garrison life.
But, the next morning, the major's wife gave me an account of the
sociable. 'It was very pleasant,' she said. 'Toward the last Dr.
Prescott came in, quite unexpectedly. I had no idea he could be so
agreeable. Augusta can tell you how charming he was!'
Augusta, a young lady cousin, of pale blond complexion, neutral
opinions, and irreproachable manners, smiled primly. My idyl was
The days passed. The winds, the snows, and the high-up fort remained
the same. Jeannette came and went, and the hour lengthened into two or
three; not that we read much, but we talked more. Our surgeon did not
again pass through the parlor; he had ordered a rickety stairway on the
outside wall to be repaired, and we could hear him going up and down
its icy steps as we sat by the hearth-fire. One day I said to him, 'My
protegee is improving wonderfully. If she could have a complete
education, she might take her place with the best in the land.'
'Do not deceive yourself, Mrs. Corlyne,' he answered. 'It is only
the shallow French quickness.'
'Why do you always judge the child so harshly, Doctor?'
'Do you take her part, Aunt Sarah?' (For sometimes he used the title
which Archie had made so familiar.)
'Of course I do, Rodney. A poor, unfriended girl living in this
remote place, against a United States surgeon with the best of Boston
'I wish you would tell me that every day, Aunt Sarah,' was the reply
I received. It set me musing, but I could make nothing of it. Troubled
without knowing why, I suggested to Archie that he should endeavor to
interest our surgeon in the fort gayety; there was something for every
night in the merry little circle,—games, suppers, tableaux, music,
theatricals, readings, and the like.
'Why, he's in the thick of it already, Aunt Sarah,' said my nephew.
'He's devoting himself to Miss Augusta; she sings “The Harp that
once—” to him every night.'
('The Harp that once through Tara's Halls', was Miss Augusta's
dress-parade song. The Major's quarters not being as large as the halls
aforesaid, the melody was somewhat overpowering.)
'O, does she?' I thought, not without a shade of vexation. But the
vague anxiety vanished.
The real spring came at last,—the rapid, vivid spring of Mackinac.
Almost in a day the ice moved out, the snows melted, and the northern
wild-flowers appeared in the sheltered glens. Lessons were at an end,
for my scholar was away in the green woods. Sometimes she brought me a
bunch of flowers, but I seldom saw her; my wild bird had flown back to
the forest. When the ground was dry and the pine droppings warmed by
the sun, I, too, ventured abroad. One day, wandering as far as the
Arched Rock, I found the surgeon there, and together we sat down to
rest under the trees, looking off over the blue water flecked with
white caps. The Arch is a natural bridge over a chasm one hundred and
fifty feet above the lake,—a fissure in the cliff which has fallen
away in a hollow, leaving the bridge by itself far out over the water.
This bridge springs upward in the shape of an arch; it is fifty feet
long, and its width is in some places two feet, in others only a few
inches,—a narrow, dizzy pathway hanging between sky and water.
'People have crossed it,' I said.
'Only fools,' answered oar surgeon, who despised foolhardiness. 'Has
a man nothing better to do with his life than risk it for the sake of a
silly feat like that! I would not so much as raise my eyes to see any
'O yes, you would, Monsieur Rodenai,' cried a voice behind us. We
both turned and caught a glimpse of Jeannette as she bounded through
the bushes and out to the very centre of the Arch, where she stood
balancing herself and laughing gayly. Her form was outlined against the
sky; the breeze, swayed her skirt; she seemed hovering over the chasm.
I watched her, mute with fear; a word might cause her to lose her
balance; but I could not turn my eyes away, I was fascinated with the
sight. I was not aware that Rodney had left me until he, too, appeared
on the Arch, slowly finding a foothold for himself and advancing toward
the centre. A fragment of the rock broke off under his foot and fell in
the abyss below.
'Go back, Monsieur Rodenai,' cried Jeannette, seeing his danger.
'Will you came back too, Jeannette?'
'Moi? C'est aut'chose,' answered the girl, gayly tossing her pretty
'Then I shall come out and carry you back, wilful child,' said the
A peal of laughter broke from Jeannette as he spoke and then she
began to dance on her point of rock, swinging herself from side to
side, marking the time with a song. I held my breath; her dance seemed
unearthly; it was as though she belonged to the Prince of the Powers of
At length the surgeon reached the centre and caught the mocking
creature in his arms: neither spoke, but I could see the flash of their
eyes as they stood for an instant motionless. Then they struggled on
the narrow foothold and swayed over so far that I buried my face in my
trembling hands, unable to look at the dreadful end. When I opened my
eyes again all was still; the Arch was tenantless, and no sound came
from below. Were they, then, so soon dead? Without a cry? I forced
myself to the brink to look down, over the precipice; but while I stood
there, fearing to look, I heard a sound behind me in the woods. It was
Jeannette singing a gay French song. I called to her to stop. 'How
could you!' I said severely, for I was still trembling with agitation.
'Ce n'est rien, madame. I cross l'Arche when I had five year. Mais,
Monsieur Rodenai le Grand, he raise his eye to look this time, I
think,' said Jeannette, laughing triumphantly.
'Where is he?'
'On the far side, gone on to Scott's Pic [Peak]. Feroce, O feroce,
comme un loupgarou! Ah! c'est joli, ca!' And over-flowing with the
wildest glee the girl danced along through the woods in front of me,
now pausing to look at something in her hand, now laughing, now
shouting like a wild creature, until I lost sight of her. I went back
to the fort alone.
For several days I saw nothing of Rodney. When at last we met, I
said, 'That was a wild freak of Jeannette's at the Arch.'
'Planned, to get a few shilling out of us.'
'O Doctor! I do not think she had any such motive,' I replied,
looking up deprecatingly into his cold scornful eyes.
'Are you not a little sentimental over that ignorant, half-wild
creature, Aunt Sarah?'
'Well,' I said to myself, 'perhaps I am!'
The summer came, sails whitened the blue straits again, steamers
stopped for an hour or two at the island docks, and the summer
travellers rushed ashore to buy 'Indian curiosities,' made by the nuns
in Montreal, or to climb breathlessly up the steep fort-hill to see the
pride and panoply of war. Proud was the little white fort in those
summer days; the sentinels held themselves stiffly erect, the officers
gave up lying on the parapet half asleep, the best flag was hoisted
daily, and there was much bugle-playing and ceremony connected with the
evening gun, fired from the ramparts at sunset; the hotels were full,
the boarding-house keepers were in their annual state of wonder over
the singular taste of these people from 'below,' who actually preferred
a miserable white-fish to the best of beef brought up on ice all the
way from Buffalo! There were picnics and walks, and much confusion of
historical dates respecting Father Marquette and the irrepressible,
omnipresent Pontiac. The officers did much escort duty; their buttons
gilded every scene. Our quiet surgeon was foremost in everything.
'I am surprised! I had no idea Dr. Prescott was so gay,' said the
'I should not think of calling him gay,' I answered.
'Why, my dear Mrs. Corlyne! He is going all the time. Just ask
Augusta thereupon remarked that society, to a certain extent, was
beneficial; that she considered Dr. Prescott much improved; really, he
was now very 'nice.'
I silently protested against the word. But then I was not a
One bright afternoon I went through the village, round the point
into the French quarter, in search of a laundress. The fishermen's
cottages faced the west; they were low and wide, not unlike scows
drifted ashore and moored on the beach for houses. The little windows
had gay curtains fluttering in the breeze, and the room within looked
clean and cheery; the rough walls were adorned with the spoils of the
fresh-water seas, shells, green stones, agates, spar, and curiously
shaped pebbles; occasionally there was a stuffed water-bird, or a
bright-colored print, and always a violin. Black-eyed children played
in the water which bordered their narrow beach-gardens; and slender
women, with shining black hair, stood in their doorways knitting. I
found my laundress, and then went on to Jeannette's home, the last
house in the row. From the mother, a Chippewa woman, I learned that
Jeannette was with her French father at the fishing-grounds off
'How long has she been away?' I asked.
'Weeks four,' replied the mother, whose knowledge of English was
confined to the price-list of white-fish and blueberries, the two
articles of her traffic with the boarding-house keepers.
'When will she return?'
She knitted on, sitting in the sunshine on her little doorstep,
looking out over the western water with tranquil content in her
beautiful, gentle eyes. As I walked up the beach I glanced back several
times to see if she had the curiosity to watch me; but no, she still
looked out over the western water. What was I to her? Less than
nothing. A white-fish was more.
A week or two later I strolled out to the Giant's Stairway and sat
down in the little rock chapel. There was a picnic at the Lovers' Leap,
and I had that side of the island to myself. I was leaning back, half
asleep, in the deep shadow, when the sound of voices roused me; a
birch-bark canoe was passing close in shore, and two were in
it,—Jeannette and our surgeon. I could not hear their words, but I
noticed Rodney's expression as he leaned forward. Jeannette was
paddling slowly; her cheeks were flushed, and her eyes brilliant.
Another moment and a point hid them from my view. I went home troubled.
'Did you enjoy the picnic, Miss Augusta?' I said with assumed
carelessness, that evening. 'Dr. Prescott was there, as usual, I
'He was not present, but the picnic was highly enjoyable,' replied
Miss Augusta, in her even voice and impartial manner.
'The Doctor has not been with us for some days,' said the major's
wife, archly; 'I suspect he does not like Mr. Piper.'
Mr. Piper was a portly widower, of sanguine complexion, a Chicago
produce-dealer, who was supposed to admire Miss Augusta, and was now
going through a course of 'The Harp that once.'
The last days of summer flew swiftly by; the surgeon held himself
aloof; we scarcely saw him in the garrison circles, and I no longer met
him in my rambles.
'Jealousy!' said the major's wife.
September came. The summer visitors fled away homeward; the
remaining 'Indian curiosities' were stored away for another season; the
hotels were closed, and the forests deserted; the bluebells swung
unmolested on their heights and the plump Indian-pipes grew in peace in
their dark corners. The little white fort, too, began to assume its
winter manners; the storm-flag was hoisted; there were evening fires
upon the broad hearth-stones; the chaplain, having finished everything
about Balak, his seven altars and seven rams, was ready for
chess-problems; books and papers were ordered; stores laid in, and
anxious inquiries made as to the 'habits' of the new mail carrier—for
the mail carrier was the hero of the winter, and if his 'habits' led
him to whiskey, there was danger that our precious letters might be
dropped all along the northern curve of Lake Huron.
Upon this quiet matter-of-course preparation, suddenly, like a
thunderbolt from a clear sky, came orders to leave. The whole garrison,
officers and men, were ordered to Florida.
In a moment all was desolation. It was like being ordered into the
Valley of the Shadow of Death. Dense everglades, swamp-fevers, malaria
in the air, poisonous underbrush, and venomous reptiles and insects,
and now and then a wily unseen foe picking off the men, one by one, as
they painfully cut out roads through the thickets,—these were the
features of military life in Florida at that period. Men who would have
marched boldly to the cannon's mouth, officers who would have headed a
forlorn hope, shrank from the deadly swamps.
Families must be broken up, also; no women, no children, could go to
Florida. There were tears and the sound of sobbing in the little white
fort, as the poor wives, all young mothers, hastily packed their few
possessions to go back to their fathers' houses, fortunate if they had
fathers to receive them. The husbands went about in silence, too sad
for words. Archie kept up the best courage; but he was young, and had
no one to leave save me.
The evening of the fatal day—for the orders had come in the early
dawn—I was alone in my little parlor, already bare and desolate with
packing-cases. The wind had been rising since morning, and now blew
furiously from the west. Suddenly the door burst open and the surgeon
entered. I was shocked at his appearance, as, pale, haggard, with
disordered hair and clothing, he sank into a chair, and looked at me in
'Rodney, what is it?' I said.
He did not answer, but still looked at me with that strange gaze.
Alarmed, I rose, and went toward him, laying my hand on his shoulder
with a motherly touch. I loved the quiet, gray-eyed youth next after
'What is it, my poor boy! Can I help you?'
'O Aunt Sarah, perhaps you can, for you know her.'
'Her?' I repeated, with sinking heart.
I sat down and folded my hands; trouble had come, but it was not
what I apprehended,—the old story of military life, love, and
desertion; the ever-present ballad of the 'gay young knight who loves
and rides away.' This was something different.
'I love her,—I love her madly, in spite of myself,' said Rodney,
pouring forth his words with feverish rapidity. 'I know it is an
infatuation, I know it is utterly unreasonable, and yet—I love her. I
have striven against it, I have fought with myself, I have written out
elaborate arguments wherein I have clearly demonstrated the folly of
such an affection, and I have compelled myself to read them over
slowly, word for word, when alone in my room, and yet—I love her!
Ignorant, I know she would shame me; shallow, I know she could not
satisfy me; as a wife she would inevitably drag me down to misery, and
yet—I love her! I had not been on the island a week before I saw her,
and marked her beauty. Months before you invited her to the fort I had
become infatuated with her angular loveliness; but, in some respects, a
race of the blood-royal could not be prouder than these French
fishermen. They will accept your money, they will cheat you, they will
tell you lies for an extra shilling; but make one step toward a simple
acquaintance, and the door will be shut in your face. They will bow
down before you as a customer, but they will not have you for a friend.
Thus I found it impossible to reach Jeannette. I do not say that I
tried, for all the time I was fighting myself; but I went far enough to
see the barriers. It seemed a fatality that you should take a fancy to
her, have her here, and ask me to admire her,—admire the face that
haunted me by day and by night, driving me mad with its beauty.
'I realized my danger, and called to my aid all the pride of my
race. I said to my heart, 'You shall not love this ignorant half-breed
to your ruin.' I reasoned with myself, and said, 'It is only because
you are isolated on this far-away island. Could you present this girl
to your mother? Could she be a companion for your sisters? I was
beginning to gain a firmer control over myself, in spite of her
presence, when you unfolded your plan of education. Fatality again.
Instantly a crowd of hopes surged up. The education you began, could I
not finish? She was but young; a few years of careful teaching might
work wonders. Could I not train this forest flower so that it could
take its place in the garden? But, when I actually saw this full-grown
woman unable to add the simplest sum or write her name correctly, I was
again ashamed of my infatuation. It is one thing to talk of ignorance,
it is another to come face to face with it. Thus I wavered, at one
moment ready to give up all for pride, at another to give up all for
'Then came the malicious suggestion of negro blood. Could it be
proved, I was free; that taint I could not pardon. [And here, even as
the surgeon spoke, I noticed this as the peculiarity of the New England
Abolitionist. Theoretically he believed in the equality of the enslaved
race, and stood ready to maintain the belief with his life, but
practically he held himself entirely aloof from them; the Southern
creed and practice were the exact reverse.] I made inquiries of Father
Piret, who knows the mixed genealogy of the little French colony as far
back as the first voyageurs of the fur trade, and found—as I, shall I
say hoped or feared?—that the insinuation was utterly false. Thus I
was thrown back into the old tumult.
'Then came that evening in this parlor when Jeannette made the
coffee and baked little cakes over the coals. Do you remember the
pathos with which she chanted File, file, pauvre Marie; File, file,
pour le prisonnier? Do you remember how she looked when she repeated
'Ivry'? Did that tender pity, that ringing inspiration come from a dull
mind and shallow heart? I was avenged of my enforced disdain, my love
gave itself up to delicious hope. She was capable of education, and
then—! I made a pretext of old Antoine's cough in order to gain an
opportunity of speaking to her alone; but she was like a thing
possessed, she broke from me and sprang over the icy cliff, her laugh
coming back on the wind as I followed her down the dangerous slope. On
she rushed, jumping from rock to rock, waving her hand in wild glee
when the moon shone out, singing and shouting with merry scorn at my
desperate efforts to reach her. It was a mad chase, but only on the
plain below could I come up with her. There, breathless and eager, I
unfolded to her my plan of education. I only went as far as this: I was
willing to send her to school, to give her opportunities of seeing the
world, to provide for her whole future. I left the story of my love to
come afterward. She laughed me to scorn. As well talk of education to
the bird of the wilderness! She rejected my offers, picked up snow to
throw in my face, covered me with her French sarcasms, danced around me
in circles, laughed, and mocked, until I was at a loss to know whether
she was human. Finally, as a shadow darkened the moon she fled away;
and when it passed she was gone, and I was alone on the snowy plain.
'Angry, fierce, filled with scorn for myself, I determined
resolutely to crush out my senseless infatuation. I threw myself into
such society as we had; I assumed an interest in that inane Miss
Augusta; I read and studied far into the night; I walked until sheer
fatigue gave me tranquillity; but all I gained was lost in that
encounter at the arch: you remember it? When I saw her on that narrow
bridge, my love burst its bonds again, and, senseless as ever, rushed
to save her,—to save her poised on her native rocks, where every inch
was familiar from childhood! To save her,—sure-footed and light as a
bird! I caught her. She struggled in my arms, angrily, as an imprisoned
animal might struggle, but—so beautiful! The impulse came to me to
spring with her into the gulf below, and so end the contest forever. I
might have done it,—I cannot tell,—but, suddenly, she wrenched
herself out of my arms and fled over the Arch, to the farther side. I
followed, trembling, blinded, with the violence of my emotion. At that
moment I was ready to give up my life, my soul, into her hands.
'In the woods beyond she paused, glanced over her shoulder toward
me, then turned eagerly. 'Voila,' she said, pointing. I looked down and
saw several silver pieces that had dropped from my pocket as I sprang
over the rocks, and, with an impatient gesture, I thrust them aside
with my foot.
'Non,' she cried, tuning toward me and stooping eagerly,—'so much!
O, so much! See! four shilling!' Her eyes glistened with longing as she
held the money in her hand and fingered each piece lovingly.
'The sudden revulsion of feeling produced by her words and gesture
filled me with fury. 'Keep it, and buy yourself a soul if you can!' I
cried; and turning away, I left her with her gains.
'Merci, monsieur,' she answered gayly, all unmindful of my scorn;
and off she ran, holding her treasure tightly clasped in both hands. I
could hear her singing far down the path.
'It is a bitter thing to feel a scorn for yourself! Did I love this
girl who stooped to gather a few shillings from under my feet? Was it,
then, impossible for me to conquer this ignoble passion? No; it could
not and it should not be! I plunged again into all the gayety; I left
myself not one free moment; if sleep came not, I forced it to come with
opiates; Jeannette had gone to the fishing grounds, the weeks passed, I
did not see her. I had made the hardest struggle of all, and was
beginning to recover my self-respect when, one day, I met her in the
woods with some children; she had returned to gather blueberries. I
looked at her. She was more gentle than usual, and smiled. Suddenly, as
an embankment which has withstood the storms of many winters gives away
at last in a calm summer night, I yielded. Myself knew the contest was
over and my other self rushed to her feet.
'Since then I have often seen her; I have made plan after plan to
meet her; I have—O degrading thought!—paid her to take me out in her
canoe, under the pretence of fishing. I no longer looked forward; I
lived only in the present, and thought only of when and where I could
see her. Thus it has been until this morning, when the orders came.
Now, I am brought face to face with reality; I must go; can I leave her
behind? For hours I have been wandering in the woods. Aunt Sarah,—it
is of no use,—I cannot live without her; I must marry her.'
'Marry Jeannette!' I exclaimed.
'An ignorant half-breed?'
'As you say, an ignorant half-breed.'
'You are mad, Rodney.'
'I know it.'
I will not repeat all I said; but, at last, silenced, if not
convinced, by the power of this great love, I started with him out into
the wild night to seek Jeannette. We went through the village and round
the village and round the point, where the wind met us, and the waves
broke at our feet with a roar. Passing the row of cabins, with their
twinkling lights, we reached the home of Jeannette and knocked at the
low door. The Indian mother opened it. I entered, without a word, and
took a seat near the hearth, where a drift-wood fire was burning.
Jeannette came forward with a surprised look. 'You little think what
good fortune is coming to you, child,' I thought, as I noted her coarse
dress and the poor furniture of the little room.
Rodney burst at once into his subject.
'Jeannette,' he said, going toward her, 'I have come to take you
away with me. You need not go to school; I have given up that idea,—I
accept you as you are. You shall have silk dresses and ribbons, like
the ladies of the Mission-House this summer. You shall see all great
cities, you shall hear beautiful music. You shall have everything you
want,—money, bright shillings, as many as you wish. See! Mrs. Corlyne
has come with me to show you that it is true. This morning we had
orders to leave Mackinac; in a few days we must go. But—listen,
Jeanette; I will marry you. You shall be my wife. Do not look so
startled. I mean it; it is really true.'
'Qu'est-ce-que-c'est?' said the girl, bewildered by the rapid, eager
'Dr. Prescott wishes to marry you, child,' I explained, somewhat
sadly, for never had the disparity between them seemed so great. The
presence of the Indian mother, the common room, were like silent
'Marry,' ejaculated Jeannette.
'Yes, love' said the surgeon, ardently. 'It is quite true; Father
Piret shall marry us. I will exchange into another regiment, or, if
necessary, I will resign. Do you understand what I am saying,
Jeannette? See! I give you my hand, in token that it is true.'
But, with a quick bound, the girl was across the room. 'What?' she
cried. 'You think I marry you? Have you not heard of Baptiste? Know,
then, that I love one finger of him more than all you, ten times,
'Baptiste?' repeated Rodney.
'Oui, mon cousin, Baptiste, the fisherman. We marry soon— tenez—la
fete de Saint Andre.'
Rodney looked bewildered a moment, then his face cleared; 'Oh! a
child engagement? That is one of your customs, I know. But never fear;
Father Piret will absolve you from all that. Baptiste shall have a fine
new boat; he will let you off for a handful of silver pieces. Do not
think of that, Jeannette, but come to me—'
'Je vous abhorre; Je vous deteste,' cried the girl with fury as he
approached. 'Baptiste not love me? He love me more than boat and silver
dollar,—more than all the world! And I love him; I die for him!
Rodney had grown white; he stood before her, motionless, with fixed
'Jeannette,' I said in French, 'perhaps you do not understand. Dr.
Prescott asks you to marry him; Father Piret shall marry you, and all
your friends shall come. Dr. Prescott will take you away from this hard
life; he will make you rich; he will support your father and mother in
comfort. My child, it is wonderful good fortune. He is an educated
gentleman, and loves you truly.'
'What is that to me?' replied Jeannette, proudly. 'Let him go, I
care not.' She paused a moment. Then, with flashing eyes, she cried,
'Let him go with his fine new boat and silver dollars! He does not
believe me? See, then, how I despise him!' And rushing forward, she
struck him on the cheek.
Rodney did not stir, but stood gazing at her while the red mark
glowed on his white face.
'You know not what love is,' said Jeannette, with indescribable
scorn. 'You! You! Ah, mon Baptiste, ou es-tu? But thou wilt kill
him,—kill him for his boats and silver dollars!'
'Child!' I said, startled by her fury.
'I am not a child. Je suis femme, moi!' replied Jeannette, folding
her arms with haughty grace. 'Allez!' she said, pointing toward the
door. We were dismissed. A queen could not have made a more royal
Throughout the scene the Indian mother had not stopped her knitting.
In four days we were afloat, and the little white fort was deserted.
It was a dark afternoon, and we sat clustered on the stern of the
steamer, watching the flag come slowly down from its staff in token of
the departure of the commanding officer. 'Isle of Beauty, fare thee
well,' sang the major's fair young wife with the sound of tears in her
'We shall return,' said the officers. But not one of them ever saw
the beautiful island again.
Rodney Prescott served a month or two in Florida, 'taciturn and
stiff as ever,' Archie wrote. Then he resigned suddenly, and went
abroad. He has never returned, and I have lost all trace of him, so
that I cannot say, from any knowledge of my own, how long the feeling
lived,—the feeling that swept me along in its train down to the
beach-cottage that wild night.
Each man who reads this can decide for himself.
Each woman has decided already.
Last year I met an islander on the cars going eastward. It was the
first time he had ever been 'below'; but he saw nothing to admire, that
dignified citizen of Mackinac!
'What has become of Jeannette Leblanc?' I asked.
'Jeannette? O, she married that Baptiste, a lazy, good-for-nothing
fellow? They live in the same little cabin around the point, and pick
up a living most anyhow for their tribe of young ones.'
'Are they happy?'
'Happy?' repeated my islander, with a slow stare. 'Well I suppose
they are, after their fashion; I don't know much about them. In my
opinion, they are a shiftless set, those French half-breeds round the