American Book of Golden Deeds - James Baldwin

Heroic Madelon

On the St. Lawrence River, about twenty miles from Montreal, there is a pleasant French village called Verchères. You will see it as you sail down the river. You will think it very pretty with its small, old-fashioned houses nestling among the trees, its old French windmill, and the white spire of its little church towering above its quiet street and blooming gardens.

Two hundred and twenty years ago there was no village there. A short distance from the river's bank, however, there was a log fort with palisades around it. The palisades were made of the trunks of trees set upright in the ground and so close together that nothing could pass between. They formed, in fact, a wooden wall a foot in thickness and ten or twelve feet high. It was the kind of wall which the early settlers built to protect themselves from the Indians.

In front of the fort, and joined to it by a covered way, was a strong blockhouse built also of logs. There the guns were kept, and the powder and balls.

The commander of this fort, and indeed the owner of it and of all the lands around it, was a French gentleman whose name was M. de Verchères. He had come to this place, in the heart of the wild Canadian woods, to found a new home for himself and his family. Here he lived during the greater part of each year with his wife and his daughter Madelon, aged fourteen years, and his two little sons, Louis and Alexander. There were also in the household several servants; and two soldiers had been brought from Quebec to man the fort.

One day, in early autumn, M. de Verchères was called to Quebec on business. His wife was visiting friends in Montreal. The young girl Madelon was left at home with her little brothers and the servants.

"Madelon," said her father, "I leave everything in your care. Keep the fort well while I am gone."

"You may trust me, father," said the child. "But what if the Iroquois should come?"

"Nonsense, Madelon. The Iroquois will not dare to show themselves this side of Montreal. Still it will be well for you to be watchful."

"And watchful I will be, father. Good-by till your return."

The boat pushed out into the stream, and Madelon was left sole mistress of the lonely fort in the midst of the savage wilderness.

A week, two weeks, three weeks, passed by, and all went as happily as when the master was at home. The days were growing shorter, the nights were chilly with now and then a white frost, the leaves were falling from the trees. The men were all busy getting ready for winter,—hauling in the hay, cutting wood, and putting things in order against the coming of the deep snows. Scarcely a thought was given to the Iroquois, although it was known that they were on the warpath.

One day Madelon, as was her habit, went down to the landing place by the river. It was not more than a hundred yards from the gate of the fort. A hired man whose name was Laviolette had just come to shore with a string of fish. All the rest of the men, except the soldiers and a grandfather of eighty, were at work in a field behind the fort.

As Madelon was admiring the fish the sharp crack of guns was heard in the field.

"The Iroquois!" she cried.

"Yes, yes! Run, Mademoiselle," shouted Laviolette.

She was not a moment too quick. As she ran she saw a number of painted warriors hurrying to get between her and the fort. But she was a fleet-footed as a deer and had the start of them all. The Indians shot at her. The bullets whizzed close by her ears. How long that hundred yards seemed!

Madeline de Vercheres


"To arms! To arms!" she screamed to those in the fort, hoping that the soldiers would come out and help.

But it was of no use. The two fellows were so badly frightened that they had run and hidden themselves in the blockhouse.

Two women met Madelon at the gate, crying, "Oh, what shall we do? What shall we do? They've killed all the men, and we are lost!"

"Go back into the fort, you sillies," said Madelon, angrily and out of breath. She pushed them back with her hands. Then she shut the heavy gate and bolted it.

All was confusion inside. The women and children were running hither and thither and screaming with all their might. The old grandfather crouched trembling in a corner. All seemed to have lost their senses.

"Here, Alexander! Here, Louis! Follow me," cried Madelon. On one side of the fort several of the palisades had been blown down by a wind. There were gaps in the wall through which an enemy could shoot, even if the could not enter.

"Come, every one of you, and help close up these gaps," said Madelon.

With her own hands she helped to raise the heavy logs to their places. She told the old man and the boys how to make them firm. "Be quick and do your work well," she said. Laviolette soon joined her, and the weak places were quickly mended.

The women were still screaming and weeping and running wildly about. Madelon stopped to quiet them.

"Hush your noise this moment, or we shall all be lost," she said. "Will your crying and moaning do any good? Hush, I command you."

She spoke so firmly that every one obeyed. She ordered each of the women to some place of duty. One was to care for the children in the kitchen, one was to watch from this corner of the fort, one was to stand guard at that.

Having thus put matters to rights in the main building she ran to the blockhouse. There she found Pierre and Jean, the two soldiers. Pierre was hiding behind some barrels in a corner. Jean was holding alighted match in his hand.

"What are you going to do with that match?" asked Madelon.

"Light the powder and blow us all up," answered Jean, trembling from head to foot.

"You miserable coward! Get out of here this instant." She spoke so firmly that the wretched fellow obeyed at once.

Madelon threw off her bonnet. She put a man's hat on her head. She took a gun in her hands. She called her brothers to the blockhouse.

"Here, Louis! Here, Alexander!" she said. "You are but children ten and twelve years of age, but you can be brave. Let us fight to the death. Remember what our father has taught you, that a gentleman is born to shed his blood in the service of God and the king."

With that the two lads seized some guns and began to fire from the loopholes.

The Indians had gathered at some distance from the gate, and were afraid to come within closer range of the rifles. The firing was so sharp that they withdrew still farther away.

The two soldiers, grown ashamed of their cowardice, came back and began also to shoot from the loopholes.

There was a single small cannon in the blockhouse. Madelon ordered it to be fired.

"But we cannot bring it in range of the Indians," said Pierre.

"Fire it in any case," she said. "It will make them more afraid of us. It will also be a warning to any of our friends who may be within hearing distance."

About the middle of the afternoon a canoe was seen coming toward the landing place.

"It is Fontaine, the settler whose hut is a mile below us," said little Louis.

"Yes," said Madelon, "and I see his wife and children with him. They are coming to the fort to find safety from the Iroquois."

"But they will never get here," said Laviolette. "The moment they touch the landing, the savages will be upon them."

"We must save them," said Madelon. "I myself will go out and meet them."

It was no use to dissuade the girl. She was the commander in that fort, and everybody knew it. She thought not of her own safety but of the welfare of others.

She ordered Laviolette to open the gate and stand by it until she returned. Then she walked boldly out in full view of the savages. They supposed that it was a trick to draw them nearer to the fort, where they would be within range of the guns. They were afraid, therefore, to make any movement toward her.

She went fearlessly down to the landing just as Fontaine's canoe was coming in. the family were safely brought to shore. In a few words, Madelon told them of their danger. She made them march in good order before her, showing no signs of fear. The Indians looked on and kept their distance. They might easily have captured or killed the whole party, but they were afraid of falling into some kind of trap.

Night came on and with it a storm of hail and snow. The wind blew fiercely. It was just such a night as the savages would wish for their work of destruction and slaughter.

But Madelon was undismayed. She called her garrison before her. There were six of them.

"God has saved us from our enemies to-day," she said; "but we must take care not to fall into their hands to-night. As for me, I am not afraid."

Then she sent each one to his post. She ordered Fontaine and the two soldiers to keep the blockhouse. "Take the women and children there, for that is the safest place. No matter what may happen to me, don't surrender. The savages cannot get to you in the blockhouse."

Then with Laviolette, the old grandfather, and her little brothers, she undertook the defense of the rest of the fort. Laviolette guarded the gate, while each of the others stood sentinel at some other allotted post.

All night long, through the snow and the hail and the wind, the cry of "All's well!" rang out from each corner of the fort and was answered by "All's well!" from the blockhouse. The Indians heard and thought that the place was full of soldiers. They hold a council, and decided that it would be unwise to try to surprise a place that was so well guarded.

It was some time after midnight when the watcher at the gate called softly to Madelon, "Mademoiselle, I hear something outside."

She went and peered through a hole in the wall. In the darkness she saw what she felt sure were cattle huddling close up to the gate while the snow was beating down upon them.

"I think they are our cows," she said, "or at least such of them as the Iroquois have not stolen. Poor things, they are needing shelter this fearful night."

"Let us open the gate and call them in," said Laviolette.

"God forbid," said Madelon. "The savages are good at tricks. Who knows that they are not among these cattle, wrapped up in skins and ready to rush into the fort as soon as the gate is opened?"

for some time everything was quiet. Then it was decided to open the gate a little and let the cattle slip in, one at a time. They entered very quietly, while Louis and Alexander stood on each side with their guns cocked and ready for any event.

At last the long night was ended. Morning came, and everybody felt braver and stronger. But all day long the watch was kept up in fort and blockhouse; and all day long brave Madelon went hither and thither, commanding, encouraging, directing. Who could be afraid in the presence of her cheerful and smiling face? There was not one of her little company who would not have died for her.

For forty-eight hours she neither ate nor slept. For a whole week the savages lurked within sight of the fort. Courage and watchfulness were necessary every hour.

At last help came at night. A young lieutenant with forty soldiers landed silently and went cautiously toward the fort, fearing that it was in the hands of the Indians. One of the sentinels heard them.

"Who goes there?" he cried.

Madelon was sitting at a table, asleep with her gun across her arms. The words aroused her.

"Mademoiselle," said the sentinel, "I heard a voice at the landing."

Then Madelon herself, in louder tones, demanded, "Who goes there?"

"We are Frenchmen," was the answer, "and we bring you help."

Madelon hastened to the gate. When she saw the Lieutenant at the head of his company, she said, "Monsieur, I surrender my arms to you."

The lieutenant answered, "Mademoiselle, they are already in good hands."

"Better than you think," said the brave child.

The men entered the fort and looked around. Everything was in its place. The sentinels were at their posts.

"Monsieur," said Madelon, "these watchers have been on guard every hour for a week. Is it not time to relieve them?"