When Stars Begin to Fall – Part Five – A Fork in the Road

Their married years brought peace and happiness to the couple. Jeanne and Antoine built a simple yet happy life. By 1681, the couple had three children, Marie-Francoise, Jean Baptiste, and Pierre Charles. The farm ran smoothly even though in the summer, everyone worked hard. The partners, Jean and Antoine, even hired extra help during the summer months.  

To keep up with her sewing skills, Jeanne continued to sew for some of the women for special occasions, and Marguerite kept a dress or two in stock in the general store in Sainte Anne-de-la-Perade. The family flourished.  

Jeanne and Marguerite spent time together whenever they could, and the two were still as close as sisters. Marguerite had four girls, ages eight months to eight years, and their two oldest girls were the best of friends.

But not all was perfect in their world. In later years, Antoine became restless and often talked about his days as a wood runner before he married. Many evenings Jeanne would find her husband outdoors, starring at the mountains while smoking his pipe. A certain restlessness stirred within him, and the wife knew her husband was not happy.

Finally, one evening after the children had gone to bed, Antoine told his wife that the following spring, he and four of the local men would go on a trip to Big Turtle Island and trap beaver. Shocked by his confession, the woman jumped to her feet.

“What, and you didn’t think you should discuss this with your wife before making this decision?” She snapped.

“I don’t need your permission to leave on this expedition, so hold your tongue, wife.”

“Hold my tongue?” she scornfully laughed. “You of all people should know me better than that!”

“We could use the extra income,” he shouted as his wife glared at him before she marched to the door and slammed it behind her.

“Papa? What’s going on? Are you and Maman fighting?” His sleepy daughter questioned from the loft.

“No, we just had a little disagreement, but we’re fine. Go back to sleep, my love.”

Antoinne knew he had disappointed his wife when he decided to return to his life as a fur trader, especially when he made the decision without consulting her first. That was something new in their marriage, but he sensed she would not be happy with his arrangement. When she hotly countered that idea, and he told her they needed the income, they both knew he was lying. She understood without an explanation that her husband longed for more freedom, and he missed the wilderness of this glorious country that he had come to love. More than once, he told her that France could not compare to the rugged splendor of the lands in the colonies, and once he stepped foot in the province, he knew he had found his home. Not once had he regretted his decision to come to the New World.

After Jeanne had stormed out of the house, he gathered his courage before following her to the barn, her favorite place to find peace. Quietly slipping inside, he witnessed his wife’s heartbreak, and her pain ripped through his body.

With her arms wrapped tightly around Belle, the family’s milk cow, his wife softly cried, “who needs men, no? They promise the moon and the stars until they have you, and once they win your heart, they leave you. They always leave.” And suddenly, her pain turned to sobs.

He didn’t know how to react after hearing her confession. She never quite recovered from her father’s death, and now, another man was leaving her too. He exited the barn, so she could grieve, and he wished once again that he could be a better man.

The next morning, Jeanne was still unhappy with her husband. Her eyes were red and swollen, and guilt ripped through him. When he quietly said, “Good morning,” she stopped in her tracks, turned to him and glared without speaking, and then continued to fix their morning meal.

The night before, when she finally slipped into the quiet house, he heard her climb the ladder to the loft. That was the first night in all of their years of marriage that they did not share the same bed. He almost decided to go and retrieve her, but he knew that would not sit well either.

For the first time, standing together in the same room was awkward, and he was relieved when Marie came into the house with a bucket of milk.

“Mornin’ Papa.” His daughter did not notice the tension between her parents, and she continued her morning chores and prepared to strain the milk.

“I’m going to check on the latch on the gate on the corral. It was loose,” The father and husband lied to his girls.

“Breakfast is almost ready,” his wife flatly stated.  

“I’m not hungry.” Another lie. He worried; lies came too quickly now. Leaving the house, he hoped Therese had made extras this morning.

“We’ll be home early. You have something to tell your children.” By the tone of her voice, he knew he had better be home in time for supper.

That evening after dinner, Antoine took his two older children to the barn, so he could announce his plans. Marie cried, ran to the house, and spent the rest of the evening in the loft.  

His son Jean Baptiste, however, enjoyed the idea of trapping. His curious five-year-old son, and he asked endless questions about every aspect of the fur trade and begged his father to allow him to tag along.

“Papa, I’m big enough. Let me go with you. I can help set traps, and you can teach me to skin and tan the hides. Please, Papa!” Jean Baptiste pleaded.

“Son, I need you to be the man of the house while I am away. Someone must care for your mother and Marie-Francoise and Pierre Charles.”  

Disappointed, his son sighed, “Yes, Papa, but when I grow to be big, I’m going to be a trapper just like you!”

For the next few days, Jeanne and Antoine tried to stay out of each other’s way. Jeanne continued to sleep in the loft with the children. 

When the children questioned her new routine, she told them their father snored, and she could not sleep. They accepted her explanation without question.

Several days later, their friend, Black Feather, stopped by for a visit. Antoine, Jean Baptiste, and Jean were working in the fields, and Jeanne invited him to stay for supper and offered him some tea while they visited.

When Marie Francoise came into the house with her youngest brother, the pair shouted at once when they saw their adopted grandfather and raced into his waiting arms.

“Grand-pere, we have missed you! Can you stay? Will you spend the night? Please?” Marie- Francoise insisted.

Pierre Charles started rifling through Black Feather’s bag, “Toy?” he asked while the others laughed. The grandfather spoiled his grandchildren, and he did not disappoint his youngest grandson. Pulling out a cow with wheels, the grandfather showed the little one how to pull it around the house by the cord, and the youngster squealed with delight.

For Marie-Francoise, the older man pulled out an intricate box with a carving of a little fox, Marie’s favorite woodland creature. “It’s beautiful, Pepe. I love it.” She ran to this cherished man and squeezed him tight.  

“And I did not forget my daughter,” the older man smiled at her. He pulled a box from his bag, and it had a smaller version of entwined hearts that matched her armoire. Watching Jeanne, he waited for his girl’s lovely smile.

“Oh Papa, you do spoil us so! I love my gift, but I love you more.” The old man chuckled and waited for the hug and his kiss on the cheek.

Jeanne told Marie it was time to milk the cow, and since this was her newest chore since Black Feather’s last visit, she stood up straight and walked to gather the milk pail.

“No, it can’t be,” her Pepe exclaimed. “Our girl can milk, Belle? When did this happen? I must’ve stayed away longer than I thought.”  

“Come with me, Pepe and watch.”

“I will in the morning, this old man is tired after his journey and needs to rest his aching feet.”

“You’re staying!”

“If your mother can put up with me,” the grandfather winked at Jeanne.

Suddenly concern spread across Marie’s face. “Where will Pepe sleep?” She innocently asked her mother since their grandfather always shared their loft. “Or will you sleep in your room tonight?’

“Run along, honey, before Belle gets too antsy. We’ll decide on the sleeping arrangements after dinner.”

After Marie left the house, Black Feather turned to the young woman that he loved as his own child. Looking into her face, he could see the pain and sadness in her eyes.

“He doesn’t love me anymore,” The unhappy woman cried. “He wants to return to the work of a wood runner, and he has already planned a trip for spring.”

The older man stood up from the table and went to comfort Jeanne. As she sobbed, he could not believe the news. How could Antoine be such a fool to leave his family? The older man knew to well what could happen to a family if they were left unprotected.

When Pierre Charles saw his mother weep, the little boy began to sob too. Black Feather picked up the child and carried him to the rocker and consoled him until he stopped crying.  

The two adults could not finish their conversation, for Marie had come inside. She started talking to their favored guest and did not notice her mother’s tears.  

Shaking, Jeanne poured herself a glass of wine, wiped her tears with her apron, and started the evening meal.

After the evening meal, Black feather gave Jean Baptiste a carving of a bear. He also asked to talk to Antoine, and the two men wandered outside. 

Since the evening was cool, they headed to the barn. Antoine was restless, and he turned to his old friend, Black feather. The wise man had become a second father to him. “Why do I feel so restless when I am not in the wilderness? Why can’t the farm be enough?”

Black Feather watched his friend pace back and forth across the barn. Slowly, the older man rubbed his fingers over the talisman he made for Antoine. It was a howling wolf, fitting for a man that Black Feather called Black Wolf. Even when the two first met, he sensed Antoine’s impatience for everyday life, and Black Feather knew Antoine lived for the vast wilderness.

“What should I do?” Antoine asked his mentor.  

“You already know the answer, my friend. You need to find your way back home. You will have me and Jean watching over your family when that should be your job. At the thought of you leaving, your wife breaks and believes she is losing you. Take heed before you lose her and the family you have built. Once they are gone, you will regret your decision.”

Antoine closed his eyes. He knew Black Feather had lost his family in a raid with a warring tribe while he was off scouting for soldiers from Fort Richelieu. Black Feather never got over his loss, and though many years had passed, Black Feather never found another wife.

Although Antoine knew his friend was right, he wasn’t ready to stop his adventures just yet. “I promised Michel, Louis, and the others I would scout on this trip to Big Turtle Island. I can’t go back on my word.”

“Aw, but you will break your word to your family.”

Antoine angrily approached Black Feather over the words his friend spoke.

“Settle down, Antoine. I am on your side, but you know I speak the truth. Time to stay home and be a father and a husband. Time to take trips to the mountains with your son. You will find your balance here at home.”

Handing Antoine the carving, Black Feather told his friend, “Even okwaho, a lone wolf, needs its pack, my son.”

Antoine grabbed the man in an embrace, thankful for their friendship.  

“I do not believe you should go, but if you must, be safe and quickly return,” Black Feather told the younger man.

Spring, 1682

As the months swiftly fell away, May 1682 finally arrived. The farm rejoiced under the cloudless blue skies while the land stretched like a calm green ocean. In the pasture, Belle and her new calf grazed. Overhead a red tail hawk soared. In the distance, the creek bubbled in the background, begging the Leduc children to come and play.  

Sharing a quiet moment, Jeanne and Antoine gazed over the land and held hands. The couple made their peace, for Antoine promised his wife that this would be his final excursion.

“Husband, I still do not want you to leave, but get this over with and come home safely.”

Antoine nodded. In a few days, he would travel with the others and head to Big Turtle Island. Although the trapper would miss his family and friends, he could not wait to start his journey. Antoine secretly wondered how he could keep this promise to his wife. The land called to him, and the wait created an emotional tug of war within his mind.

“Jean will keep an eye on you and the children, and Black Feather will move into the house while I am gone. When I return, we will build Black Feather his own home. It is time that he lived with his family.”

Jeanne smiled, grateful that life and fallen into place. In a few short months, Antoine would be home, and Black Feather would finally live with his adopted family.

When the morning arrived for Antoine to leave, he quietly dressed in their bedroom. The family had a special dinner the night before he was to go. They invited friends to join in the feast, and everyone wished Antoine a safe and speedy trip.  

“Stay in bed, my love. I am not hungry.” Excitement raced through him. The day had finally arrived when he could return to the outdoors. “I will be right back,” he told his wife.

The father took a candle into the next room and set it on the table. The light danced around the room, creating strange shadows as he climbed the ladder to the loft. He wanted to hug his children before he left.  

The children stirred, and each child snuggled into his arms. “Be good for your Maman, and remember I love you.”

As he tucked in his children, a voice whispered from the corner of the loft. “Did you save one for an old man?”

Chuckling, Antoine moved to the corner and dropped to his knees. Black Feather sat up on his pallet to embrace Antoine. “Be careful, my son.”

Antoine stood and told Black Feather, “You are a good father, and you have taught me well.”

Emotion flooded the older man, and he told his son, “You bring me pride.”

Once Antoine descended the ladder, in the dimly lit room, he noticed Jeanne was looking out one of the windows. He went to her and wrapped his arms around her. She slowly turned to face her husband. Standing on the tips of her toes, she kissed her husband until passion pulled them closer together.

Breaking from her husband, Jeanne took a backward step and softly sighed. “Hurry home.”

“You tease me, wife,” Antoine laughed.

“I hope that reminds you of where you belong.”

Although it was dark, he knew his wife smiled. After all these years, he had memorized her lovely face. Holding her close, Antoine kissed her one more time before slipping out the door.

When Stars Begin to Fall – Part Six – The Reckoning

Photo by Stéphane Juban on Unsplash

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