of Honore by Mary Hartwell Catherwood
THE MOTHERS OF HONORÉ
From Mackinac And Lake Stories", 1899
By Mary Hartwell Catherwood
The sun was shining again after squalls, and the strait showed
violet, green, red, and bronze lines, melting and intermingling each
changing second. Metallic lustres shone as if some volcanic fountain on
the lake-bed were spraying the surface. Jules McCarty stood at his
gate, noting this change in the weather with one eye. He was a small,
old man, having the appearance of a mummied boy. His cheek-bones shone
apple-red, and his partial blindness had merely the effect of a
prolonged wink. Jules was keeping melancholy holiday in his best
clothes, the well-preserved coat parting its jaunty tails a little
below the middle of his back.
Another old islander paused at the gate in passing, The two men
shook their heads at each other.
I went to your wife's funeral this morning, Jules, said the
passer, impressing on the widower's hearing an important fact which
might have escaped his one eye.
You was at de funer'l? Did you see Thérèse?
Yes, I saw her.
Ah, what a fat woman dat was! I make some of de peop' feel her arm.
I feed her well.
The other old man smiled, but he was bound to say,
I'm sorry for you, Jules.
Did you see me at de church?
Yes, I went to the church.
You t'ink I feel badeh?
I thought you felt pretty bad.
You go to de graveyard, too?
No, admitted his sympathizer, reluctantly, I didn't go to the
But dat was de fines'. You ought see me at de graveyard. You t'ink
I feel bad at de churchI raise hell at de graveyard.
The friend shuffled his feet and coughed behind his hand.
Yes, I feel bad, me, ruminated the bereaved man. You get used to
some woman in de house and not know where to get anodder.
Haven't you had your share, Jules? inquired his friend, relaxing
gladly to banter.
I have one fine wife, maman to Honoré, enumerated Jules, and de
squaw, and Lavelotte's widow, and Thérèse. It is not much.
I've often wondered why you didn't take Me-linda Crée. You've no
objection to Indians. She's next door to you, and she knows how to
nurse in sickness, besides being a good washer and ironer. The summer
folks say she makes the best fish pies on the island.
It is de trut'! exclaimed Jules, a new light shining in his dim
blue eye as he turned it towards the house of Melinda Crée. The
weather-worn, low domicile was bowered in trees. There was a convenient
stile two steps high in the separating fence, and it had long been made
a thoroughfare by the families. On the top step sat Clethera, Melinda
Crée's granddaughter. Clethera had been Honoré's playmate since
infancy. She was a lithe, dark girl, with more of her French father in
her than of her half-breed mother. Some needle-work busied her hands,
but her ear caught every accent of the conference at the gate. She
flattened her lips, and determined to tell Honoré as soon as he came in
with the boat. Honoré was the favorite skipper of the summer visitors.
He went out immediately after the funeral to earn money to apply on his
last mother's burial expenses.
When the old men parted, Clethera examined her grandmother with
stealthy eyes in a kind of aboriginal reconnoitring. Melinda Cree's
black hair and dark masses of wrinkles showed through a sashless shed
window where she stood at her ironing-board. Her stoical eyelids were
lowered, and she moved with the rhythmical motion of the
smoothing-iron. Whether she had overheard the talk, or was meditating
on her own matrimonial troubles, was impossible to gather from facial
muscles rigid as carved wood. Melinda Crée was one of the few
pure-blooded Indians on the island. If she was fond of anything in the
world, her preference had not declared itself, though previous to
receiving her orphaned granddaughter into her house she had consented
to become the bride of a drunken youth in his teens. This incipient
husbandbefore he got drowned in a squall off Detour, thereby saving
his aged wife some outlayvisited her only when he needed funds, and
she silently paid the levy if her toil had provided the means. He also
inclined to offer delicate attentions to Clethera, who spat at him like
a cat, and at sight of him ever afterwards took to the attic, locking
But while Melinda Crée submitted to the shackles of civilization,
she did not entirely give up the ways of her own people. She kept a
conical tent of poles and birch bark in her back yard, in which she
slept during summer. And she was noted as wise and skilled in herbs,
guarding their secrets so jealously that the knowledge was likely to
die with her. Once she appeared at the bedside of a dying islander, and
asked, as the doctor had withdrawn, to try her own remedies. Permission
being given, she went to the kitchen, took some dried vegetable
substance from her pocket, and made a tea of it. A little was poured
down the sick man's throat. He revived. He drank more, and grew better.
Melinda Cree's decoction cured him, and the chagrined doctor visited
her to learn what wonderful remedy she had used.
It was nothing but some little bushes, responded the Indian woman.
If you tell me what they are, I will pay you fifty dollars, he
Melinda Crée shook her head. She continued to repeat, as he raised
the bid higher, It was nothing but some little bushes, doctor; it was
nothing but some little bushes.
Clethera felt the same kind of protecting tenderness for this
self-restrained squaw that Honoré had for his undersized parent, whom
he always called by the baptismal name. Melinda had been the wife of a
great medicine-man, who wore a trailing blanket, and white gulls' wings
bound around and spread behind his head. During his lifetime he was
often seen stretched on his back invoking the sun. A stranger observing
him declared he was using the signs of Freemasonry, and must know its
With the readiness of custom, Honoré and Clethera met each other at
the steps in the fence about dusk. She sat down on her side, and he sat
down on his, the broad top of the stile separating them. Honoré was a
stalwart Saxon-looking youth in his early twenties. Wind and weather
had painted his large-featured countenance a rosy tan. By the employing
class Honoré was considered one of the finest and most promising young
quarter-breeds on the island.
The fresh moist odor of the lake, with its incessant wash upon
pebbles, came to them accompanied by piercing sweetness of wild roses.
For the wind had turned to the west, raking fragrant thickets. Dusk was
moving from eastern fastnesses to rock battlements still tinged with
sunset. The fort, dismantled of its garrison, reared a whitewashed
crown against the island's back of evergreens.
Both Honoré and Clethera knew there was a Spanish war. As summer day
followed summer day, the village seethed with it, as other spots then
seethed. A military post, even when dismantled, always brings home to
the community where it is situated the dignity and pomp of arms. Young
men enlisted, and Honoré restlessly followed, with a friend from the
North Shore, to look at the camp. His pulses beat with the drums. But
he was carrying the burden of the family; to leave Jules and Jules's
dependent wife would be deserting infants.
Clethera gave little more thought to fleets sailing tropical seas
than to La Salle's vanished Griffin on Northern waters. It was
nothing to her, for she had never heard of it, that pioneers of her
father's blood once trod that island, and lifted up the cross at St.
Ignace, and planted outposts along the South Shore. Bareheaded, or with
a crimson kerchief bound about her hair, she loved to help her
grandmother spread the white clothes to bleach, or to be seen and
respected as a prosperous laundress carrying her basket through the
teeming streets. The island was her world. Its crowds in summer brought
variety enough; and its virgin winter snows, the dog-sledges, the
ice-boats, were month by month a procession of joys.
Clethera wondered that Honoré persistently went where newspapers
were read and discussed. He stuffed them in his pockets, and pored over
them while waiting in his boat beside the wharf. People would fight out
that war with Spain. What thrilled her was the boom of winter surf,
piling iridescent frozen spume as high as a man's head, and rimming the
island in a corona of shattered rainbows. And she had an eye for summer
lightning infusing itself through sheets of water as if descending in
the downpour, glorifying for one instant every distinct drop.
The pair sitting with the broad top step betwixt them exchanged the
smiling good-will of youth.
I take some more party out to-night for de light-moon sail, said
Honoré, pleased to report his prosperity. It is consider' gran' to
sail in de light-moon.
Did you find de hot fish pie? inquired Clethera, solicitous about
man thrown on his own resources as cook.
Honoré acknowledged with hearty gratitude the supper which Melinda
Crée had baked and her granddaughter had carried into the bereaved
house while its inmates were out.
They not get fish pie like that in de war. Jules, he say it is
better than poor Thérèse could make, Honoré added, handsomely, with
Clethera shook a finger in his face.
Honoré McCarty, you got watch dat Jules! I got to watch Melinda.
Simon Leslie, he have come by and put it in Jules' head since de
funer'l! I hear it, me.
The young man's face changed through the dusk.
He braced his back against the fence and breathed the deep sigh of
Honoré, how many mothers is it you have already?
I have not count', said the young man, testily.
Count dem mothers, ordered Clethera.
Maman, he began the enumeration, reverently. His companion allowed
him a minute's silence after the mention of that fine woman.
One, she tallied.
Nex', proceeded Honoré, poor Jules is involve' with de Chippewa
Two, clinched Clethera.
The Chippewa squaw was a sore theme. She had entered Jules's wigwam
in good faith; but during one of his merry carouses, while both Honoré
and the priest were absent, he traded her off to a North Shore man for
a horse. Long after she tramped away across the frozen strait with her
new possessor, and all trace of her was lost, Jules had the grace to be
shamefaced about the scandal; but he got a good bargain in the horse.
Then there is Lavelotte's widow, continued Honoré.
Three, marked Clethera.
Yes, there was Lavelotte's widow, the worst of all. She whipped
little Jules unmercifully, and if Honoré had not taken his part and
stood before him, she might have ended by being Jules's widow. She
stripped him of his whole fortune, four hundred dollars, when he
finally obtained a separation from her. But instead of curing him, this
experience only whetted his zest for another wife.
And there is Thérèse. Honoré did not say, Last, Thérèse. While
Jules lived and his wives died, or were traded off or divorced, there
would be no last.
It is four, declared Clethera; and the count was true. Honoré had
taken Jules in hand like a father, after the adventure with Lavelotte's
widow. He made his parent work hard at the boat, and in winter walked
him to and from mass literally with hand on collar. He encouraged the
little man, moreover, with a half interest in their house on the beach,
which long-accumulated earnings of the boat paid for. But all this care
was thrown away; though after Jules brought Thérèse home, and saw that
Honoré was not appeased by a woman's cooking, he had qualms about the
homestead, and secretly carried the deed back to the original owner.
I want you keep my part of de deed, he explained. I not let some
more women rob Honoré. My wife, if she get de deed in her han', she
might sell de whole t'ing!
Why, no, Jules, she couldn't sell your real estate! the former
owner declared. She would only have a life interest in your share.
You say she couldn't sell it?
No. She would have nothing but a life interest.
She have only life interest? By gar! I t'ink I pay somebody twenty
dollar to kill her!
But lacking both twenty dollars and determination, he lived
peaceably with Thérèse until she died a natural death, on that occasion
proudly doing his whole duty as a man and a mourner.
Remembering these affairs, which had not been kept secret from
anybody on the island, Clethera spoke out under conviction.
Honoré, it a scandal' t'ing, to get marry.
Me, I t'ink so too, assented Honoré.
Jules McCarty have disgrace' his son!
Melinda Crée, retorted Honoré, obliged to defend his own, she
take a little 'usban' honly nineteen.
She 'ave no chance like Jules; she is oblige' to wait and take what
The voices of children from other quarter-breed cottages, playing
along the beach, added cheer to the sweet darkness. Clethera and Honoré
sat silently enjoying each other's company, unconscious that their
aboriginal forefathers had courted in that manner, sitting under arbors
Why do peop' want to get marry? propound ed Clethera.
I don't know, said Honoré.
Me, if some man hask me, I box his ear! I have know you all my
lifebut don' you never hask me to get marry!
I not such a fool, heartily responded Honoré. You and me, we have
seen de folly. I not form de habit, like Jules.
But what we do, Honoré, to keep dat Jules and dat Melinda apart?
Though they discussed many plans, the sequel showed that nothing
effectual could be done. All their traditions and instincts were
against making themselves disagreeable or showing discourtesy to their
elders. The young man's French and Irish and Chippewa blood, and the
young girl's French and Crée blood exhausted all their inherited
diplomacy. But as steadily as the waters set like a strong tide through
the strait, in spite of wind which combed them to ridging foam, the
rapid courtship of age went on.
In carrying laundered clothing through the village street, Melinda
Crée was carefully chaperoned by her granddaughter, and Honoré kept
Jules under orders in the boat. But of early mornings and late
twilights there was no restraining the twittering widower.
Melinda 'tend to her work and is behave if Jules let her alone,
Clethera reported to Honoré. But he slip around de garden and talk
over de back fence, and he is by de ironing-board de minute my back is
turn'! If he belong to me, I could 'mos' whip him!
Jules McCarty, declared Honoré, with some bitterness, when he fix
his min' to marry some more, he is not turn' if he is hexcommunicate'!
Jules, indeed, became so bold that he crowded across the stile
through the very conferences of the pair united to prevent him; and his
loud voice could be heard beside Melinda's ironing-board, proclaiming
in the manner of a callow young suitor.
Some peop' like separate us, Melinda, but we not let them.
The conflict of Honoré and Clethera with Jules and Melinda ended one
day in August. There had been no domestic clamor in this silent grapple
of forces. The young man used no argument except maxims and morals and
a tightening of authority; the young girl permitted neither neighboring
maids nor the duties of religion to lure her off guard. It may be said
of any French half-breed that he has all the instincts of gentility
except an inclination to lying, and that arises from excessive
Honoré came to the fence at noon and called Clethera. In his
excitement he crossed the stile and stood on her premises.
It no use, Clethera. Jules have tell me this morning he have
arrange' de marriage.
Clethera glanced behind her at the house she called home, and threw
herself in Honoré's arms, as she had often done in childish despairs.
Neither misunderstood the action, and it relieved them to shed a few
tears on each other's necks. This truly Latin outburst being over, they
stood apart and wiped their eyes on their sleeves.
It no use, exclaimed Clethera, to set a good examp' to your
I not wait any longer now, announced Honoré, giving rein to fierce
eagerness. I go to de war to-day.
But de camp is move', objected Clethera.
I have pass' de examin', and I know de man to go to when I am
ready; he promis' to get me into de war. Jules have de sails up now,
ready to take me across to de train.
But who will have de boat when you are gone, Honoré?
Jules. And he bring Melinda to de house.
She not come. She not leave her own house. She take her 'usban'
Then Jules must rent de house. You not detest poor Jules?
I not detest him like de hudder one.
Au 'voir, Clethera.
Au 'voir, Honoré.
They shook hands, the young man wringing him-self away with the
animation of one who goes, the girl standing in the dull anxiety of one
who stays. War, so remote that she had heard of it indifferently,
rushed suddenly from the tropics over the island.
Are your clothes all mend' and ready, Honoré?
But what thought can a young man give to his clothes when about to
wrap himself in glory? He is politely tapping at the shed window of the
Indian woman, and touching his cap in farewell and gallant
capitulation, and with long-limbed sweeping haste, unusual in a
quarter-breed, he is gone to the docks, with a bundle under one arm,
waving his hand as he passes. All the women and children along the
street would turn out to see him go to the war if his intention were
known, and even summer idlers about the bazars would look at him with
Clethera could not imagine the moist and horrid heat of those
southern latitudes into which Honoré departed to throw himself.
Shifting mists on the lake rim were no vaguer than her conception of
her country's mighty undertaking. But she could feel; and the life she
had lived to that day was wrenched up by the roots, leaving her as with
a bleeding socket.
All afternoon she drenched herself with soapsuds in the ferocity of
her washing. By the time Jules returned with the boat, the lake was
black as ink under a storm cloud, with glints of steel; a dull bar
stretched diagonally across the water. Beyond that a whitening of rain
showed against the horizon. Points of cedars on the opposite island
pricked a sullen sky.
Clethera's tubs were under the trees. She paid no attention to what
befell her, or to her grandmother, who called her out of the rain. It
came like a powder of dust, and then a moving, blanched wall, pushing
islands of flattened mist before it. Under a steady pour the waters
turned dull green, and lightened shade by shade as if diluting an
infusion of grass. Waves began to come in regular windrows. Though
Clethera told herself savagely she not care for anything in de world,
her Indian eye took joy of these sights. The shower-bath from the trees
she endured without a shiver.
Jules sat beside Melinda to be comforted He wept for Honoré, and
praised his boy, gasconading with time-worn boasts.
I got de hang of him, and now I got to part! But de war will end,
now Honoré have gone into it. His gran'fodder was such a fighter when
de British come to take de island, he turn' de cannon and blow de
British off. The gran'fodder of Honoré was a fine man. He always keep
de bes' liquors and by wines on his sideboa'd.
When Honoré had been gone twenty-four hours, and Jules was still
idling like a boy undriven by his task-master, leaving the boat to rock
under bare poles at anchor on the rise and fall of the water, Clethera
went into their empty house. It contained three rooms, and she laid
violent hands on male housekeeping. The service was almost religious,
like preparing linen for an altar. It comforted her unacknowledged
anguish, which increased rather than diminished, the unrest of which
she resented with all her stoic Indian nature.
Nets, sledge-harness, and Honoré's every-day clothes hung on his
whitewashed wall. The most touching relic of any man is the hat he has
worn. Honoré's cap crowned the post of his bed like a wraith. The room
might have been a young hermit's cell in a cave, or a tunnel in the
evergreens, it was so simple and bare of human appointments. Clethera
stood with the broom in one hand, and tipped forward a piece of broken
looking-glass on his shaving-shelf. A new, unforeseen Clethera, whom
she had never been obliged to deal with before, gave her a desperate,
stony stare out of a haggard face. She was young, her skin had not a
line. But it was as if she had changed places with her wrinkled
grandmother, to whom the expression of complacent maidenhood now
As Clethera propped the glass again in place, she heard Jules come
in. She resumed her sweeping with resolute strokes on the bare boards,
which would explain to his ear the necessity of her presence. He
appeared at the door, and it was Honoré!
[Illustration: He appeared at the door 226]
It was Honoré, shamefaced but laughing, back from the war within
twenty-four hours! Clethera heard the broom-handle strike the floor as
one hears the far-off fall of a spar on a ship in harbor. She put her
palms together, without flying into his arms or even offering to shake
You come back? she cried out, her voice sharpened by joy.
The war is end', said Honoré. Peace is declare' yesterday! He
threw his bundle down and looked fondly around the rough walls. All de
peop' laugh at me because I go to war when de war is end'!
They laugh because de war is end'! I laugh too? said Clethera,
relaxing to sobs. Tears and cries which had been shut up a day and a
night were let loose with French abandon. Honoré opened his arms to
comfort her in the old manner, and although she rushed into them,
strange embarrassment went with her. The two could not look at each
It is de 'omesick, she explained. When you go to war it make me
Me, too, owned Honoré. I never know what it is before. I not mind
de fighting, but I am glad de war is end', account of de 'omesick!
He pushed the hair from her wet face. The fate of temperament and
the deep tides of existence had them in merciless sweep.
Clethera, represented Honoré, the rillation is not mix' bad with
Jules and Melinda.
Clethera let the assertion pass unchallenged.
And this house, it pretty good house. You like it well as de
It have no loft, responded Clethera, faintly, but de chimney not
We not want de 'omesick some more, Cletheraeh? You t'ink de fools
is all marry yet?
Clethera laughed and raised her head from his arm, but not to look
at him or box his ear. She looked through the open door at an oblong of
little world, where the land was an amethyst strip betwixt lake and
horizon. Across that beloved background she saw the future pass: hale,
long years with Honoré; the piled up wood of winter fires; her own
home; her childrenthe whole scheme of sweet and humble living.
You t'ink, after all de folly we have see' in de family, Clethera,
you can go de lenkto get marry?
I go dat lenk for you, Honorébut not for any huddur man.