Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete

Page: 199


Early in this century a restless Yankee, who wore the uninspiring name of Tompkinson, found his way into Carondelet—or Vuide Poche, the French settlement on the Mississippi since absorbed by St. Louis—and cast about for something to do. He had been in hard luck on his trip from New England to the great river. His schemes for self-aggrandizement and the incidental enlightenment and prosperity of mankind had not thriven, and it was largely in pity that M. Dunois gave shelter to the ragged, half-starved, but still jaunty and resourceful adventurer. Dunois was the one man in the place who could pretend to some education, and the two got on together famously.

As soon as Tompkinson was in clothes and funds—the result of certain speculations—he took a house, and hung a shingle out announcing that there he practised medicine. Now, the fellow knew less about doctoring than any village granny, but a few sick people that he attended had the rare luck to get well in spite of him, and his reputation expanded to more than local limits in consequence. In the excess of spirits that prosperity created he flirted rather openly with a number of virgins in Carondelet, to the scandal of Dunois, who forbade him his house, and of the priest, who put him under ban.

For the priest he cared nothing, but Dunois's anger was more serious—for the only maid of all that he really loved was Marie Dunois, his daughter. He formally proposed for her, but the old man would not listen to him. Then his "practice" fell away. The future looked as dark for him as his recent past had been, until a woman came to him with a bone in her throat and begged to be relieved. His method in such cases was to turn a wheel-of-fortune and obey it. The arrow this time pointed to the word, "Bleeding."

He grasped a scalpel and advanced upon his victim, who, supposing that he intended to cut her throat open to extract the obstacle, fell a-screaming with such violence that the bone flew out. What was supposed to be his ready wit in this emergency restored him to confidence, and he was able to resume the practice that he needed so much. In a couple of years he displayed to the wondering eyes of Dunois so considerable an accumulation of cash that he gave Marie to him almost without the asking, and, as Tompkinson afterward turned Indian trader and quadrupled his wealth by cheating the red men, he became one of the most esteemed citizens of the West.


It was Twelfth Night, and the French village of Cahokia, near St. Louis, was pleasantly agitated at the prospect of a dance in the old court saloon, which was assembly-room and everything else for the little place. The thirteen holy fires were alight—a large one, to represent Christ; a lesser one, to be trampled out by the crowd, typing Judas. The twelfth cake, one slice with the ring in it, was cut, and there were drink and laughter, but, as yet, no music. Gwen Malhon, a drift-wood collector, was the most anxious to get over the delay, for he had begged a dance from Louison. Louison Florian was pretty, not badly off in possessions and prospects, and her lover, Beaurain, had gone away. She was beginning to look a little scornful and impatient, so Gwen set off for a fiddler.

He had inquired at nearly every cabin without success, and was on his way toward the ferry when he heard music. Before him, on the moonlit river, was a large boat, and near it, on the bank, he saw a company of men squatted about a fire and bousing together from a bottle. At a little distance, on a stump, sat a thin, bent man, enveloped in a cloak, and it was he who played. Gwen complimented him and pleaded the disappointment of the dancers in excuse of an urgent appeal that he should hurry with him to the court saloon. The stranger was courteous. He sprang into the road with a limping bound, shook down his cloak so as to disclose a curled moustache, shaggy brows, a goat's beard, and a pair of glittering eyes. "I'll give them a dance!" he exclaimed. "I know one tune. They call it 'Returned from the Grave.' Pay? We'll see how you like my playing."

On entering the room where the caperish youth were already shuffling in corners, the musician met Mamzel Florian, who offered him a slice of the cake. He bent somewhat near to take it, and she gave a little cry. He had found the ring, and that made him king of the festival, with the right to choose the prettiest girl as queen. A long drink of red wine seemed to put him in the best of trim, and he began to fiddle with a verve that was irresistible. In one minute the whole company—including the priest, some said—was jigging it lustily. "Whew!" gasped one old fellow. "It is the devil who plays. Get some holy water and sprinkle the floor."

Gwen watched the musician as closely as his labors would allow, for he did not like the way the fiddler had of looking at Louison, and he thought to himself that Louison never blushed so prettily for him. Forgetting himself when he saw the fiddler smile at the girl, he made a rush for the barrel where that artist was perched. He bumped against a dancer and fell. At that moment the light was put out and the hall rang with screams and laughter. The tones of one voice sounded above the rest: "By right of the ring the girl is mine."