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Book Jacket

1578565014
Trade Paperback
432 pages
Apr 2004
WaterBrook Press

Hold Tight the Thread

by Jane Kirkpatrick

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt

Excerpt:

1

Bright Shining Light

August 1841, French Prairie, Oregon Country

Marie let loose her daughter’s hand, then stepped behind her, gently guiding her into the darkness. “Maintenant,” she said in French. “We go now.” She placed her hands on the young woman’s cedar-caped shoulders, inhaled the wood scent of her hair. They were nearly the same height, one of the few things they shared in common—that and a worry over whether they’d be enough.

“We don’t have time for this, Mother,” Marguerite protested. But she allowed Marie to prod her to an area of prairie grass where Marie motioned her daughter to sit. “We need to make time for this,” Marie said. “Lie down.” She patted the grass.

A vast darkness arched over her and her oldest daughter. The women’s heads touched, as though they were two logs reaching out from a center post. The air felt moist. The moon would rise late tonight. The dry grasses tickled her ankles. She should have put on leggings before convincing her oldest daughter to walk a distance from their log home to feel the night air breathe in the dark sky. Getting Marguerite to come with her at all had taken convincing. Dozens of tasks waited finishing before the big event tomorrow. “There will never be another night like this one, not ever,” Marie told her daughter. Marie meant to savor it.

She’d begun to cherish these feathers of peaceful moments floating into her life, even when it took effort. It still took such effort to name the good in her days. Learning new ways, she found, both stimulated and strained her. This was a happy occasion. She refused to let worry scar it, and so she controlled her troublesome thoughts, even now, when they pushed like a bullish child elbowing his way in uninvited.

“Did you see that?” Marie asked. She pointed. “That light? There’s a special prize for the one who sees the first star.”

Marguerite shook her head, rubbing Marie’s hair as she did. “Papa Jean’s spectacles must let you see something I can’t. It’s still just dark sky to me, Mother. Where did you see it?”

“East,” Marie said. She adjusted the lenses given her as a gift by her husband just weeks before. “Toward Hood’s Mountain. An arc of light. There’s another.”

“I don’t see them. Maybe they’re coming to find us with the lanterns.” Marguerite said. “Maybe they think I’ve changed my mind and have run away.”

Did her daughter warn her of worries? The man was twenty years her daughter’s senior. He had sons already. Maybe Marguerite wished more time before she committed to this man Jean Baptiste Gobin.

Does a mother encourage her daughter to walk through the uncertainty of marriage, promising her that peace will come, or does she make a safe place for a daughter to turn around, to reconsider her heart’s future?

What was right for a mother to do? was always Marie’s question.

Ripe gooseberries scented the August air. An owl hooted in the big cedar tree in the center of the timbered section that marked the border of their land. Prairie wolves howled in the distance, a sound distinct from the larger wolves that roamed in packs. Marie took in a deep breath. There were more blessings here than dangers; that’s what she must concentrate on, encourage her daughter to think this too. New ways took time. Her friend Sarah had told her that long years before, and Sarah was seldom wrong. Unlike Marie, who was a mother named my her errors.

She took another deep breath. She would count her blessings like the beads of her rosary, designed, orderly, and obvious, the way the priests said God revealed himself in the created world. Hadn’t her husband of many years become her friend, someone with whom she preferred to spend her time? That must have been part of a grand design.

Wasn’t this prairie land they’d found to live in ripe with promise, predictable with seasons of planting and harvest? Hadn’t she found a quiet way to ease the ache of a lost and troubled son, soothe the disappointment of rarely seeing distant friends, survive the deaths of a child and two husbands? The landscape, her newly forming faith, and her family promised peace. These were the life threads that she wove into a healing robe of comfort.

Memory, too, served her. It brought the conversations she’d had with her friend Sacagawea to mind whenever she wished. Memory reminded her of what she had endured in her fifty summers. Even Kilakotah she called neighbor now, though to touch her fingers to her friend’s cheeks meant a three-day ride to the horse ranch of Tom McKay.

Still, the two would see each other more now, when they gathered at the parish church on the Willamette River when the priests traveled south for Mass. And in between, she had the memories of those who brushed against her and changed her life forever.

She had troubling memories too, but surely she deserved now a time to set those aside, cut those ties. Her friend Sacagawea would tell her to expect kindness in life. This she would do, especially tonight.

After all, she was a mother whose children told her their secrets and honored her with their questions. What mother didn’t want to be known for her careful tongue and modest wisdom? Her husband, Jean, tolerated her many wonderings over varying views of faith of native people, of Presbyterians, Catholics, and Methodists who populated this prairie area. Perhaps he understood that her baptism was a beginning of another questioning journey and not one simply ending with acceptance as it had been for him.

Marie questioned. It was part of who she was.

Marie blinked again. She’d seen the pinpricks sometimes even in the daylight, when she stood too quickly or when she first awoke. Their presence interrupted her sleep, too, and she’d awake with a start, a gasp that would wake her husband and stir the household trying to sleep in the upper loft.

Perhaps her eyes were learning new things even while she slept. She had spectacles to wear during the day, to stop the squinting that had been a part of her life for as long as she could remember. Yes, that was probably all it was, her eyes adjusting to the dark and daylight, seeing clearly with spectacles.

This piercing light tonight was likely just the first sign of the stars filling the night sky. Nothing to be alarmed about.

“Will this always be my home?” Marguerite asked then. Her voice had changed to wistfulness.

“You’ll always have a place with us, but you’ll have your own home after tomorrow.” Her daughter took in a sharp breath, and her breathing quickened. Marie heard discomfort in the sound. “This is your choice, oui? ” Marie asked. “To marry this man?”

“I’m glad we moved here with Papa Jean,” Marguerite said. Hadn’t her daughter heard her? Or did she deliberately avoid?

“You might not have met your JB if we hadn’t.”

“There are more French Canadians here,” Marguerite said.

“More people like your papa.”

“There’s one,” Marguerite said, lifting her hand quickly to point.

Marie felt rather than saw her daughter’s arm reach up. “In the northern sky.”

“I see it too. Bon. You receive the treasure. You have the first star in your basket,” Marie told her.

“What’s my prize?”

“It comes to you later.”

“You made that up, Mother. There’s no ‘first prize’ for seeing the first star of a night sky.”

“You’ll see,” she said and smiled.

Marie had coaxed her daughter away from the cheek bread pans, those rounded tins that resembled a baby’s bottom when the dough rose. She drew her from the chatter of Marguerite’s younger brother and sister so she could rest a bit before taking on the role of a bride. A peaceful moment was her daughter’s treasure. A new wife had few of them after the wedding, and Marie wanted her daughter to have the memory of a special evening before the days filled up with the work of living.

Marie would have a prize too: a memory of a last quiet time with her oldest daughter alone, a moment of hanging on to a daughter before Marguerite became a wife.

Marie thought to offer sage advice, to say something to sustain her daughter in this time of transformation when a woman became a bride.

Words failed her at times, even French words, her first language. Marie thought of her mother. What might her own mother have spoken if she had lived to see Marie’s marriage day when, as a young girl, she had committed herself to Pierre Dorion? Would she have been proud that her daughter chose a man affiliated, however briefly, with the Corps of Discovery? Or might she have stepped in to intervene, suggested that she was too young to wed?

No way to know. Her mother had died before Marie spoke marriage vows.

Marie was pleased her daughter had waited until she was twentytwo to marry. And her youngest girl, Marianne, while fifteen, showed little interest in boys. A blessing. Marie touched the beads around her neck, ran her hand over the smooth metal cross that her friend Sarah had given her. Blessings. Count the blessings.

“What are you thinking about, Mother?” Marguerite asked. The girl had a gravelly voice, husky almost, her throat scorched perhaps from leaning over the cook fires. Marie imagined the tiny wrinkles that flowed like rivers toward the pools of her daughter’s dark eyes, eyes that tonight looked tired even before the wedding plans consumed her. As a child, Marguerite had been known by the French Canadians for her thick eyebrows lifting in question and by her firm lips reserving expression for rare occasions. Even with impending joy so close, Marguerite’s full round face hadn’t eased often into a smile. Marie wished something different for Marguerite.

“Remembering,” Marie said. “It’s what a mother does on a day before her daughter weds. A bride-to-be should have stars in her basket, n’est-ce pas?”

Marguerite said, “To light the darkness she finds there?”

“You worry over darkness?” Marie said.

“Just a rule of thumb,” Marguerite said.

Marie shivered. Such a phrase. Could this JB Gobin be a man who used the rod against his wife? Had she missed some rumor about him?

Why otherwise had her daughter chosen the term rule of thumb, the legal size of a rod allowed by a husband to strike his wife?

“Does he hurt you, this Gobin? You do not need to marry him, then.” Marie sat up. Her daughter was asking for a way out.

“No. No.” Marguerite answered quickly, pulled her mother back. “I only meant I’m just a little worried, a slender worry, the size of a rod. About…”

“Do your thoughts go to someone else? to Richard?”

Marguerite laughed. “That Nez Perce boy? No. He was just a friend.” Her voice sounded light, as though she coaxed a child to eat her porridge. “No.” Marguerite hesitated now. “I think of Paul,” she said.

Marie felt a chill go through her. “The day before your wedding you think of your half-brother?” Marie moved her head, felt the hair at the back of her neck bristle.

“Didn’t he run away on the day Baptiste married Older Sister?”

“He did.”

“It was the first wedding I remember, and it ended in sadness. Papa never came back. Paul never came back. Even Baptiste left, and before he returned Older Sister died.”

“Leave those hard thoughts behind now, Marguerite.”

“They never even said good-bye to me. None of them,” Marguerite said.

“This is what you think of when you prepare to marry?” Marie said.

“Non. This is not good. You were little then. You should think of other things. You shouldn’t think of a sad time. See, there’s another star. This will be a full sky night.”

“Don’t you wonder where Paul is?”

Another light, as tiny as a pinprick, flashed before her eyes. Marie blinked, and the glimmer broke into flickers and disappeared. She felt no pain, but uneasiness snaked though the tiny hole as though the opening might rip into something larger that could consume her. When had they started, these flickering lights, tearing at the fabric of memory and mind? She lived in safety, surrounded by family and friends. Why did the uneasiness pierce her now?

Marie held her jaws together, made herself breathe in through her nose. “I have put my thoughts of Paul in a past place, to make room for new joys, like my daughter’s wedding.”

Marie could hear voices in the distance. Marianne’s girlish pitches poked into her husband’s and her son’s low tones. Someone would be calling them back soon.

“What do you think really happened to Paul? And to Papa?” Marguerite asked. She sat up now. “They’re linked together for me, their disappearances.”

“They happened years apart,” Marie said. “Our memories tell tall tales to us sometimes.”

“Not for me. I wonder about the stories I should tell my children about their grandfather.”

“Papa Jean was more a part of your life. Tell your children of him.”

Moments passed, and Marguerite sat so silent that Marie thought she might have fallen asleep. Marie imagined her daughter’s long eyelashes closed against her cheeks; she reached to touch the bone beneath her daughter’s left eye, a bone left flattened when a horse raised its head to Marguerite’s and cracked it long years before. Maybe Marguerite worried about injury or death, this young woman on the eve of new living.

Marie was no femme sensé; she had no explanations. Her baptism weeks before had answered some questions but added even more.

“I want to tell my children stories of Papa,” Marguerite said, her fingers clutching her mother’s now. “So they’ll know about a good father. He was good, n’est-ce pas? He had scars in his fingers. I remember that. And he sang, didn’t he?”

“Oui. He loved music and he sewed with me. Even with his fingers that would break open in icy water. Tiny stitches we used.”

“Sometimes I think that Paul…”

“What? What do you think?”

“Nothing,” Marguerite said. She let loose her mother’s hand. “It is a never-mind thought.”

For Marie, stories of Paul arrived on an arc of pain that hit new marks each time they were spoken as words. She wanted to forget that wound, put it away as she’d put other painful times behind her, times that were better tucked away as forgotten thoughts, not brought into present memory. “Tell your children of the good your stepfather brought to your life. Don’t dwell on the death of your father or the disappearance of Paul or the death of your sister-in-law,” Marie said.

“Baptiste married a woman he loved. Remember that. And he is happy now. He did come back. Not all who leave stay gone. Papa Jean lived away for months trapping, but he always returned.”

“Older Sister lost her life…giving birth,” Marguerite said. Her voice was so low the words sounded like the hum of bees.

Marie put her arm around her daughter. “You’re worried over childbirth?”

Why hadn’t she thought of that? Of course. What kind of mother was she not to know a daughter would be concerned over such things?

“To have something and then lose it,” Marguerite whispered. “It might be better not to have it at all.”

“Look around this French Prairie. See how many children run here and there. Babies are a natural thing. You’ll see. This is an orderly world created for us. A peaceful world. Baptiste loved again. I loved again, after two husband’s deaths. Our hearts are large enough to love more than once, to fill the empty places of those who leave or are even sent away.”

“Are they?”

Had Marie gifted her daughter with a mind that always worried rather than one that reveled? Was that the legacy she would leave this child on the eve of her wedding night? Not one of hopeful joy but of the weave of worry?

“This match frightens you because JB was wedded before,” Marie said. “I understand this now.”

“Non,” Marguerite said. Too quickly. “It is not the marriage that frightens.” Marie imagined Marguerite’s obsidian eyes piercing the darkness, could almost see her daughter smooth her hair back, the lovely widow’s peak marking the center of her high forehead. “It’s the unanswered questions that trouble me. We need to go inside. We have bread to bake while the night is cool.”

This was not the conversation Marie wanted to have with her daughter. She wanted to tell her of the joys of companionship, about light shed upon a marriage journey that moves two people back and forth across the bridge of separate and together. She wanted to tell her not to stay as unbending as her mother had. “I loved your father. The uncertainties of his death still haunt me, but I can find no answers when I search there.”

“It is hard to move to a new place in my life while old questions still hold a claim. What about Paul? Is his disappearance related to—”

“Don’t wait as long as I did to cherish good gifts, daughter,” Marie said. “Desire met is more than longing for past pleasures. Desire attained is as sweet as molasses. Think about such sweetness instead of all that might be unfinished in a life.”

Marguerite moved to stand into the darkness.

What could Marie say that would be supportive, encouraging, kind?

“You can change your mind,” Marie said. As her daughter reached to pull her up, Marie grunted with the effort. She held Marguerite’s wide palm, squeezed her long, slender fingers. “Even now. At this moment. Though the banns have been read, you can still decide to wait. JB will wait. The guests will understand. What you wish is what matters most.”

Am I saying the right thing? Am I suggesting caution where it needn’t be?

“It’s just…there, see that one? Oh, it has a tail as it falls through the sky. A falling etoile.” Marguerite sighed, and Marie knew that a moment of opportunity had passed, that she hadn’t comforted her daughter.

She hadn’t given her the gift of peace the day before her marriage. They hadn’t even had words Marguerite might someday wish to tell her daughter on her marriage day. She couldn’t say, “My mother told me this wise thing the day before I married your Papa, and now I tell it to you.” Her daughter was apparently as good as her mother at slipping good things into worries and intended affection into distraction. It was not the legacy Marie had hoped to give her daughter.

“Come, Mother.” Marguerite squeezed Marie’s hand now. “I have a garland still to weave for my hair. We’ve lain around enough.” She slipped her hand from her mother’s and walked on ahead, alone.

“Where are they?” Marianne Toupin tapped her bare foot on the puncheon floor. Jean Toupin looked up from the brass music box he polished to glance at his youngest daughter. “Your mother took your sister out to look at the sky. The night’s dark as a raven, so the stars will soon look like a flowing river. The sight of les etoiles lifts her, your mother. She wants Marguerite to share this night sky. A mother and daughter together, eh?”

“Why didn’t she ask me? I’m her daughter too.”

“You’re not getting married tomorrow. Hush now. No lower lip,” Jean said.

“Get me a cup of hot water, gosse,” François said. The boy had a sharp tone to his tongue, always, as sharp as his Adam’s apple that bobbed in his slender neck. “That’ll keep you occupied.”

“You can get your own if you call me a gosse. I’m no brat,” Marianne told him.

“My own what? Water or new little sister?”

François reached out to pull on the apron strings surrounding Marianne’s small waist. She squealed, moved out of reach, and stumbled her way toward the door she then pushed against. She draped her arms at the door opening, a look of longing filling her face. Jean wished he could find the chalk to erase his daughter’s lonely look.

“Don’t bother your mother and sister, now,” Jean said instead. “I don’t want them coming back in before I finish the polish on this brass.”

“I’ll just go to catch the night air,” Marianne said. “What’s in here reeks of…brassiness.” She turned and stuck her tongue out at François, who stood and walked for his own cup of water. He jabbed at his sister’s arm as he swaggered past her.

“Here now,” Jean said. “Respect each other. This is no time for nonsense.”

“Where Marianne’s concerned, it’s all such as that,” François said.

“Maybe if I had an older brother who wasn’t such an enfant terrible I’d—”

“Maintenant!” Jean said. “A man seeks a little silence in his own house.”

François straddled a plank bench; his back met his sister’s glare. He whittled on a piece of wood now that Jean hoped might be a present for Marguerite’s wedding, though if it was, the gift would be delivered late.

Jean couldn’t even tell yet what it was meant to be.

Had his two children always bickered like this? No. It was worse this past week. Probably all the activities related to Marguerite’s impending marriage and their having to face yet another change in their lives. He’d forgotten how change, even good change, could catch a soul off guard, swirl a man around like a bateau in a whirlpool just before it spit him into calm water. At least he hoped calm waters would follow the swirl.

“Your mama and sister will come inside soon,” Jean said. “Someday you, too, will have a special memory walk with your mama, the night before you wed. But this is years off, n’est-ce pas? You do not want to leave your old papa just yet, eh?”

Marianne ignored him, stared out into the darkness.

Marguerite was almost like Jean’s own daughter. He’d taken her into his life along with Marie’s two sons long before he’d had the joy of holding his own flesh and blood. He wished the girl well and believed he’d helped make a good match for her, as any father would. But he held something special for Marianne. His baby. He imagined a fine marriage match years from now. She was just fifteen and had time enough for love.

“Come, help your papa with this brass box, Marianne. You rub for a while. It will be your part of the marriage gift, eh?”

“They’re just standing there, Papa. Can’t I go out now?”

Marianne had her father’s lean build, while both her mother and Marguerite carried heavier bones that made them able to heft heavy baskets Marianne buckled under. Her mother had told Marianne once that she was still growing into herself. “Like those strange little warts that sometimes grow into the bottom of my feet?” Marianne had asked. “Is growing into myself as painful as that?”

They’d all laughed, though Marianne hadn’t. She could be such a child at times, but at others she could startle him with her womanly beauty, which made him wonder how such loveliness could have come through him. As with her mother, Jean wanted to protect Marianne forever from the eyes of prying men. He thought of that now as she stood there, the lamplight flickering off the tendrils that framed her narrow face. Her hair wasn’t nearly as thick as Marguerite’s or her mother’s hair either. It kinked up like his, and she complained about it often, not wanting to be different, Jean supposed. And at the same time, she wanted to be as unique as every star in the sky. Jean shook his head.

Women were a strange lot. But he loved them all, the women in his life.

He just wanted to keep them safe.

“She’s probably telling her the secret of my birth right now,” Marianne said. “I was probably one of those changeling orphans left at the doorsteps of the Methodist Mission, and no one has wanted to tell me.”

“What? Blesid Maria,” Jean said. “Where do you get such ideas? They do not talk of you. Besides, you were born in the Okanogan country. I was there when you arrived. Why do you say such things?”

She faced him. “I’m just so different, Papa.” She spoke in a whisper. François didn’t turn around. “Marguerite says if I wear my hair rolled into a bun at the back of my neck the way she and Mama do, it won’t frizz up so much. She says I shouldn’t rub it with alder leaf tea or let the wind pull it loose from the ribbon, but none of that will make me look more like her or Mama. And my eyes, Papa.” She wiped at one now.

“Where did I get these eyes? They leak, and they’re pale as weak tea.” She wiped her hand on her apron, then stared at her fingers. “And fat little fingers? Whose are these? Mama and Marguerite have delicate fingers.”

She’d begun to cry now.

Jean put the music box down, stood. François turned, frowned, then shook his head in disgust as Jean moved toward Marianne. He pulled his daughter into his chest, patted her back.

“I just don’t belong, Papa. I’m ugly and strange and will never get married, ever. And Mama prefers Marguerite’s company, I know she does. And Marguerite’s leaving and—”

“She’ll be a little short ride from here,” Jean said. He patted the thick hair that cascaded down his daughter’s back. “Your sister doesn’t go far away. You’ll have time to visit. She’ll come here often, you’ll see.” Marianne was sobbing now, shaking. “You will fall in love, little one. Is this what troubles you? You have plenty of time.” His words appeared to make her cry harder. He held her shoulders away from him and wiped at the girl’s cheek with his thumb. What had he said to make it worse? Her mother could fix this. “Maintenant, you go on out then,” he said. “They’ll welcome you. Keep them there while I finish up with this box, eh?”

She sniffed and lifted her chin. “Oui,” she said. “I do it for you, Papa.”

Her voice sounded light, no longer dragged down by despair. She put her finger to her lips as though to silence him, cracked a half-smile, and then she crept low into the outside shadow, as though she were a small child, out to play hide-and-seek. How had she gone from weeping to childish as quickly as a star falls from the sky? Youth. It was a gift of youth to shift quickly.

“She tricked you, Papa. She just wanted to go out,” his son said.

“Eh? You think this?”

“They use tears, Papa. It is their weapon.”

“We men have tears too,” Jean said. “They come unbidden at times. It’s so for women, too, eh?”

“Maybe,” François said. “It’s not been my experience. They pour out tears and turn them off as easy as…as easy as that music box.”

“Women have more complicated parts than you might think,” Jean said as he returned to his polishing, the oil pungent in the room. He’d probably never understand women, even those he loved the most. Jean smiled without letting his son see. François sounded like an old man who’d had his heart broken many times, and Jean knew that wasn’t so.

His son, though seventeen, had never even asked a girl to dance so far as Jean knew. His son made judgments about women while watching from a distance, which left room for speculation. He had things to learn if he wished to get closer, but time to learn it in, just as Marianne did.

Jean’s family was changing, but much of the giving a father had to do still remained undone. It was worthy work that needed doing.

----

Marguerite stopped, pulled her mother’s hand back. “What’s that?” she said. “Over there.”

Marie turned to the sound of swishing, like wind picking up inside a pine grove except it was low to the ground. Pale light filtering through the cabin’s skin windows helped her see a large mole-shaped form shifting back and forth as it moved through the dry grass.

“Porcupine,” Marie whispered. “A big one. Quick. Get a blanket and tell your Papa Jean.”

Marguerite lifted her skirt and set off running.

“It’s no porcupine, it’s me,” Marianne said, jumping up. “Can’t you tell your daughter from a rodent?”

Marguerite gave a whoop of surprise and said something Marie couldn’t hear. The swishing sound continued though, off to the side of Marianne, who circled and now came beside her mother.

“Shh,” Marie told her. “There is a porcupine. Listen.” She pointed.

She heard Marguerite say, “Papa Jean, there’s a porcupine out here. Bring a blanket, François.”

Marguerite stood in the pale shadow of door light now. Marie hoped Jean had had time to polish the wedding gift and put it away before they returned. Jean soon filled the doorway and joined Marie. François and Marguerite followed.

“Where is it?” Jean asked her. He held a pistol in his hand.

“See there, just this side of the fence,” Marianne said.

“We four will take the blanket and as soon as we throw it over him, you—”

“I know how to shoot a porcupine, wife, eh?” Jean said.

Marianne whined. “I can’t see very well.” Marianne clutched her corner of the Hudson’s Bay blanket François handed her. “I don’t want to get too close to him. Papa, don’t shoot me.”

“Such a thing you say, daughter,” Jean told her.

“Just stay behind me,” François told Marianne. He raised a sperm oil lamp in one hand, the blanket corner in the other. Marie and Marguerite held the other corners, and the four crept quietly toward the animal, which was humped over like a treeless hill shuffling through the grass in the growing starlight. They worked their way up behind him.

“Now!” Marie shouted, and they ran, two people on either side of the creature. They tossed the blanket down over his back, still holding tight to the corners. The porcupine thrashed and turned. Marianne squealed.

“Hang on!” Marie shouted.

“He’s whipping around the other way,” François warned. He laughed, and Marianne squealed into the night.

“Step back, step back,” Jean said as the animal, blinded by the blanket, turned in a circle, this way, then back, like a disturbed bull.

Marie felt the tug of the quills release. “Lift up your ends. Now!”

The drag against the quills lessened, and they pulled the fibers free.

“Move now, all of us at once. Flip the blanket but hold tight,”

Marie said. “Move toward the house now.”

“Let Papa shoot!” Marguerite said.

Marguerite’s words were followed by the flash of light burning from the powder of Jean’s pistol.

Birds roosting in the trees beyond scattered in the night sky.

“Missed him,” Jean said then, but Marie didn’t think he sounded disappointed.

“He would have made a big stew, Marianne.” Her youngest daughter groaned a protest. “You’ll wish we had him later.” To Marie he said, “You’ll have enough quills to decorate a hundred moccasins. Some left over to trade.”

Marie had just enough light to see what she needed. “These belong to Marguerite,” Marie said. The starlight let them all see the dozens of white quills in the blanket, their dark points disappearing into shadow.

“A gift fit only for a bride to be,” Marie said.

“Quills are my special prize, mother?” Marguerite asked. She laughed then, a deep, hearty laugh, and Marie hugged her oldest daughter with one arm.

François picked up the lantern and held it high enough for all to see this gathering of the Toupin family. How Marie wished all her family were here this night—all her sons and the one daughter who had died.

Weddings and births should have all the family gathered, leave no one outside that circle. A good mother stitched a family together no matter the rips and tears of past years. Rips and tears. Marie frowned. Her mind covered something. “We’ve things to do yet,” Marie said. “To make tomorrow a special day for you, Marguerite.” Jean handed François the pistol, and he took the blanket from the women. The men started back for the house while the women followed. Marie put her arm around her oldest daughter’s waist, and Marguerite wrapped hers around Marie’s.

They followed the men inside.

“Mother,” Marianne said just as Marie was about to close the door.

“I’m not inside yet. You pushed the door in my face.”

“Pardon,” Marie said.

“You didn’t even remember I followed you.”

“Your mother didn’t mean to forget you,” Jean said. “You make too much of a thing, daughter. A mother doesn’t forget a child, eh?”

“Well, I hope not,” Marianne said. “What kind of mother would do that?”

Another pinprick of light flashed at the side of Marie’s eyes. The light unsettled her. Marie sensed it had nothing to do with moonlight or stars.