The Black Feather

Mary Hartwell Catherwood
The Black Feather, by Mary
Hartwell Catherwood

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Title: The Black Feather From "Mackinac And Lake Stories", 1899
Author: Mary Hartwell Catherwood
Release Date: October 30, 2007 [EBook #23248]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1

Produced by David Widger

From "Mackinac And Lake Stories", 1899
By Mary Hartwell Catherwood

Over a hundred voyageurs were sorting furs in the American Fur
Company's yard, under the supervision of the clerks. And though it was
hard labor, lasting from five in the morning until sunset, they thought
lightly of it as fatigue duty after their eleven months of toil and
privation in the wilderness. Fort Mackinac was glittering white on the
heights above them, and half-way up a paved ascent leading to the
sally-port sauntered 'Tite Laboise. All the voyageurs saw her; and strict
as was the discipline of the yard, they directly expected trouble.
The packing, however, went on with vigor. Every beaver, marten, mink,
musk-rat, raccoon, lynx, wild-cat, fox, wolverine, otter, badger, or other
skin had to be beaten, graded, counted, tallied in the company's book,
put into press, and marked for shipment to John Jacob Astor in New
York. As there were twelve grades of sable, and eight even of deer, the
grading, which fell to the clerks, was no light task. Heads of brigades
that had brought these furs from the wilderness stood by to challenge
any mistake in the count. It was the height of the fur season, and
Mackinac Island was the front of the world to the two or three thousand
men gathered in for its brief summer.
Axe strokes reverberated from Bois Blanc, on the opposite side of the
strait, and passed echoes from island to island to the shutting down of
the horizon. Choppers detailed to cut wood were getting boatloads
ready for the leachers, who had hulled corn to prepare for winter rations.
One pint of lyed corn with from two to four ounces of tallow was the
daily allowance of a voyageur, and the endurance which this food gave
him passes belief.
√Čtienne St. Martin grumbled at it when he came fresh from Canada and
pork eating. "Mange'-du-lard," his companions called him, especially
Charle' Charette, who was the giant and the wearer of the black feather
in his brigade of a dozen boats. Huge and innocent primitive man was
Charle' Charette. He could sleep under snow-drifts like a baby, carry
double packs of furs, pull oars all day without tiring, and dance all
night after hardships which caused some men to desire to lie down and
die. The summer before, at nineteen years of age, this light-haired,
light-hearted voyageur had been married to 'Tite Laboise. Their

wedding festivities lasted the whole month of the Mackinac season. His
was the Wabash and Illinois River outfit, almost the last to leave the
island; for the Lake Superior, Upper and Lower Mississippi, Lake of
the Woods, and other outfits were obliged to seek Indian
hunting-grounds at the earliest breath of autumn.
When the Illinois brigade returned, his wife, who had stood weeping in
the cheering crowd while his companions made islands ring with the
boat-song at departure, refused to see him. He went to the house of her
aunt Laboise, where she lived. Mademoiselle Laboise, her half-breed
cousin, met him. This educated young lady, daughter of a French father
and Chippewa mother, was dignified as a nun in her dress of blue
broadcloth embroidered with porcupine quills. She was always called
Mademoiselle Laboise, while the French girl was called merely 'Tite.
Because 'Tite was married, no one considered her name changed to
Madame Charette. To her husband himself she was 'Tite Laboise, the
most aggravating, delicious, unaccountable creature in the Northwest.
"She says she will not see you, Charle'," said Mademoiselle Laboise,
color like sunset vermilion showing in the delicate aboriginal face.
"What have I done?" gasped the voyageur.
Mademoiselle lifted French shoulders with her father's gesture. She did
not know.
"Did I expect to be treated this way?" shouted the injured husband.
"Who can ever tell what 'Tite will do next?"
That was the truth. No one could tell. Yet her flightiest moods were her
most alluring moods. If she had not been so pretty and so adroit at
dodging whippings when a child, 'Tite Laboise might not have set
Mackinac by the ears as often as she did. But her husband could not
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