In late spring, 1682, amidst the wilderness, his desire for freedom abated like the setting sun. With his recent venture, he recognized the signs of his madness, his longings. He had taken a mistress that kept him from his family, and this wanderlust created havoc within him.
Exhausted in body and in spirit, the man spread his bedroll on the ground once he pulled the tie from his thick black hair. After the day’s expedition, his muscular body ached, and he longed to stretch out and rest his weary frame.
He and his companions traveled many miles that day, and tomorrow they would cover more terrain before they reached their destination. That evening, not far from the shores of Lac de Frontenac, the five coureurs de bois made camp for the night. They rested near the Saint John River and Teiaiagon, the Iroquoian Village occupied by the Seneca and the Mohawk.
In silence, the band settled in early, for they would rise before the sun and head to Michillimakinac, the Big Turtle Island. The men would set traps and begin their endeavors in the fur trade.
That night, the men drank only water and ate dried venison and berries for their evening meal. In low tones, the group made small talk, and while they did not voice their fears, they knew a fire could attract the natives, les indigenes, that lived in the area. Relations between the two groups, the wood runners and the Iroquois, were strained, and the men heard the news of the latest attacks on their fellow Frenchmen.
“Oh, what I would not give for an elk steak and a beer,” Louis told the men.
“Then you are old, my friend. What I wouldn’t give to have my woman warm me up!” Michel told his friend.
The men laughed at their friend’s remark. The men’s conversation turned to the Iroquois and the recent attacks.
“Old King Louis needs to send in more troops. If we had a real army, we could run off those rattlesnakes,” Paul stated.
While some of the men complained about the Iroquois, Antoine Marie Leduc understood that New France infringed on the native homelands. The French seized their ancient grounds, killed their game, and stole their furs. When it came time to trade, more often than not, the wood runners made better profits and cheated the indigenous people. He grasped their frustration and their determination to hold onto their way of life. Once he arrived in this new world, the land cast its spell on the Frenchman, and though he did not voice his sentiments, the man knew he would also battle and die if this place had been his homeland. He would give his all to protect this splendor.
In time the men stopped their small talk as one by one, they drifted off to sleep. Restless, Antoine listened to the wind that gently swayed the ancient white cedars. His old friend, Black Feather, a member of the Wendat Tribe, talked of its healing powers and its importance in their ceremonies. As he peered at the night sky through the lacy work of the large boughs, a shooting star raced through the heavens, and its appearance turned his thoughts towards his wife Jeanne, and the first night they shared together under the stars.
“Look! A falling star! Papa always told me those stars were a good sign of earthly love and a faithful companion.”
Laughing, Antoine, “Well, I hope our love moves beyond this earthly home, mon amour.”
In the darkness, the man longed for his wife and his family, and in that moment, Antoine wished he could change some of his decisions. He knew he had not been the man they needed, and he longed to start anew.
A World Away
In the spring of 1671, in the small town of Orleans along the Loire River in France, a young woman sat in the chapel and waited for Father Joseph. Jeanne Faucheux wondered about his request for a meeting. Before she had too much time to dwell on the matter, the priest entered the church. After a brief visit, the priest stated the purpose of his meeting, and his request excited, yet frightened her.
“Jeanne, I will get to the point of this get-together. I’m sure you have heard our king started a program that sends marriageable women to the colonies in New France. The women find a suitable partner and marry, and this way, the men receive a proper woman that will help settle the outposts. His majesty has turned to the church for help in finding women of virtue and good character, and I thought of you.”
“Father Joseph, I am honored that you would ask me, but I will need to consider this opportunity. I have my mother to think about too. Without me, she would be alone.”
The young woman’s father died when she was a girl, and Jeanne was their only child. She could never leave her mother.
“My dear, I don’t mean to sound harsh or uncaring, but your living situation here in Orleans will not help you find an appropriate husband, not without a dowry. If you take this offer, the king will provide passage, a trousseau, and a dowry. And I am sure your mother worries about your future, especially since she can’t provide you with a proper life here in Orleans.”
After her meeting with the priest, the young woman left her church and walked along the cobbled streets. Her mind worked overtime as she thought of what Father Joseph shared with her. His advice made sense, and she knew she would likely never marry if she stayed. With rising taxes, families struggled in this community to make a living, and many could not offer a dowry, nor could they continue to feed and clothe their adult daughters. A few of her friends wed, but without a dowry, the matches were not satisfactory, and the unfortunate woman complained about their marriages.
Once she reached her home, Jeanne looked up and down the narrow street. She loved this neighborhood and its people. The young woman spent her entire life here, so how could she ever leave? As she stood in front of her home, lost in her thoughts, her cat, Theron, began rubbing against her leg. His actions stopped her musings, and she bent over to scoop up her pet.
“Aw, my little hunter, so what did you find to eat this morning?”
As she scratched behind his ears, the cat purred. “I wish life weren’t so complicated,” she confessed to her furry friend.
While talking to her feline, her mother opened the door. She had been waiting for her daughter to return from her visit with Father Joseph. Jacqueline asked, “Well are you going to just stand there and talk to our tabby while our neighbors watch? Soon the gossip will start about the crazy girl who talks to cats.”
Laughing, Jeanne replied, “Maman, you interrupt. Theron was just explaining the meaning of life. Well that and the best location to fish. Still, only start worrying about our conversations when I consider Theron’s advice about the king’s upcoming ball, and what I should wear to this affair.”
Shaking her head, the woman smiled at her daughter. “Come in. I made some tea, and I want to hear all about your visit with Father Joseph.”
As the two women sat at the wooden table her father built, Jeanne ran her fingers along the top, feeling each nick and each ding from all the years of wear. So many meals prepared here, and so many suppers and memorable conversations.
“Well? What did the two of you discuss?’”
“Oh, the usual, the weather, and we debated whether Madame Trottier is really feeling poorly or if she just is tired and does not want to fix meals for her finicky husband.”
“One day, your sarcasm will get you into trouble, ma fille.”
“Well, then it’s blessed I am to have you watch over me and keep me out of trouble.”
Hearing her daughter’s words, Jacqueline’s eyes filled with tears, and she turned her head. Jeanne witnessed her mother’s distress and reached for her hand.
“What is it? Why do you…?” Jeanne did not finish, for at that moment, she realized her mother was aware of the reason Father Joseph wanted to meet with her. “You know.”
“I do,” the woman confessed. “Father Joseph approached me about this venture, and I asked him to talk to you.”
“But why, Maman? I do not want to leave my home, and I certainly do not want to leave you!”
Her daughter’s anguish made it difficult for Jacqueline to continue. “A mother never wants her daughter to leave home, but it’s the way of this world.”
“But that doesn’t mean I have to sail so far away. I would never see you again. What were you thinking by asking Father Joseph to speak to me? I don’t understand. Do you want me to leave?”
“No, no. I don’t want you to leave, but I want a better life for you.
I have already talked to your Oncle Etienne, and I will live with him and his family.”
The young woman did not want to leave her mother, but she also knew as women, their options were limited. Giving her mother a quick hug, she told her that she needed some time to think. Since she did not want her mother to see her tears, she left the house and headed to the Loire River and her favorite spot along the riverbank, her beloved place to hide.
Note: this short story is based on the lives of my 9x great grandparents, Antoine Marie Leduc and Jeanne Faucheux