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Authors: Suzanne Martel

The King's Daughter

BOOK: The King's Daughter
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The King's Daughter





First published in French by Editions Fides under the title
Jeanne, fille du roy
, copyright © 1974 by Suzanne Martel
English translation copyright © 1980 by Groundwood Books
Revised edition copyright © 1994 by Groundwood Books
Published in Canada and the USA in 2011 by Groundwood Books

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Groundwood Books / House of Anansi Press
110 Spadina Avenue, Suite 801, Toronto, ON M5V 2K4
or c/o Publishers Group West
1700 Fourth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710

We acknowledge for their financial support of our publishing
program the Canada Council for the Arts, the Government of Canada through
the Canada Book Fund (CBF) and the Ontario Arts Council.

Martel, Suzanne, 1924-
[Jeanne, fille du roy. English]
The king's daughter
Rev. ed.
Translation of : Jeanne, fille du roy.
eISBN 978-0-55498-218-9
I. Title. II. Title: Jeanne, fille du roy. English.
PS8526.A726J4213  jC843'.54  C94-932549-X  PZ7.M37Ki 1994

Cover art by Harvey Chan
Book design by Michael Solomon

We acknowledge for their financial support of our publishing program the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF).

To Suzanne and Luc,
who could have been
Jeanne and Simon


daughter! I'm a king's daughter!”

Closing the parlour door without a sound, as she had been taught, Jeanne repeated the magic words that had just changed her life. Her heart was beating wildly. She pressed both hands to her chest as her thin face relaxed into an unguarded smile.

As for Mother Superior de Chablais, she breathed a sigh of relief. Sitting across from her in the dim parlour with the rows of straight, unfriendly chairs, her visitor, Marguerite Bourgeoys, looked at her indulgently. A wise woman, she had read the very different thoughts running through the nun's mind and through that of her student. With the burning energy of an eighteen-year-old, Jeanne Chatel was trembling with joy under her submissive, reserved appearance.

“Of course, madame. If my mother superior gives me her permission, I will go to New France. No, madame. I have no fear. I am strong and the risk does not frighten me.”

Not as much as the prospect of life in a convent, Marguerite Bourgeoys concluded to herself. Here's a swallow who doesn't appreciate her cage, and I'm setting her free.

So the fate of this poor orphan was decided at last; her noisy and prolonged stay had upset the peaceful rhythm of monastic life. The king would supply the dowry, the convent the orphan, and the distant colony would be richer by one new bride. Each would be delighted, Mother de Chablais most of all, for she could finally devote herself entirely to the education of more docile subjects.

In a word, Jeanne Chatel was the ordeal of the Daughters of the Congregation. She had come to them at the age of ten, small and undernourished, almost wild, and in open revolt against the universe.

Raised in a tumble-down house by her recluse grandfather, who was a bit of a poacher, the little girl had lost the protector she adored and the wild freedom in which she had grown up—both at the same time.

For two days she had hidden at the back of a closet like a wounded animal. Neither the compassionate nuns' pleading nor the indignant Mother Superior's threats had made her come forth from her hiding place.

Finally, chasing everyone away, an old nun took the situation in hand. Armed with patience and a delicious-smelling apple tart, the convent cook, Sister Berthelet, sat down in front of the fugitive's hiding place and waited with the tenacity of a hunter lying in wait for his prey.

Soon a slight rustling and a covetous sigh rewarded her perseverance. A brown head that had never known a comb appeared in the doorway. A dirty, pitifully thin hand reached for the tempting dish. Without a word, the nun offered the tart and the starving little girl devoured it, squatting at the feet of her protectress. The sister caressed the little girl's tangled hair with a reassuring hand and murmured comforting words.

Jeanne put the empty plate on the floor and raised her frightened eyes. She read so much compassion in that wrinkled face that, with a cry of despair, she threw herself into the outstretched arms. For the first time since her grandfather's death, the orphan burst into tears.

Mother de Chablais found her new charge asleep in Sister Berthelet's arms. Her dirty cheeks streaked with tears, her hand desperately clutching the nun's wrinkled coif, Jeanne was still shaken by sighs.

“She's a poor unfortunate little bird,” the old woman explained. “She's going to find convent life hard.”

“Nevertheless, she'll have to adjust to it, sister. It's the fate of all orphans.”

The friendship that bound the wild little girl and the woman stooped with age eased Jeanne's difficult period of adaptation to the ordered existence of the convent school. The entire order set about the task of “taming” Jeanne Chatel.

That task did not go smoothly, or without Homeric fits of anger and vehement protestations. The rebel did not understand why it was necessary to brush her hair, wash her hands and curtsey.

If Jeanne's education had presented problems, her schooling brought some surprises. The little girl read fluently and wrote with the mastery of a clerk. During the long winter evenings by the hearth in the large, dark room—the sole remains of what had once been the fine family home—her learned grandfather had enjoyed transmitting his knowledge to this intelligent, bright child. Greek and Latin poets, the classics of the time, world history, the rudiments of arithmetic—all these had been absorbed pell-mell and made for an astonishing and rather disturbing hodgepodge.

On the other hand, a complete ignorance of the shorter catechism, basic prayers and the meaning of the religious services provided the scandalized nuns with a vast field of soul-saving action.

After eight years, by sheer force of patience, kindness and firmness—and thanks to Sister Berthelet's instinctive psychology—they managed to make the wild little girl into a very presentable student...on the surface. Alas! the veneer was thin. Her stormy temperament, the inheritance of a vindictive grandfather, was always smouldering under her compliant appearance.

Jeanne had no home other than the convent that had sheltered her, no family other than the nuns and no future other than to enter the sisterhood. She had not yet been able to resign herself to that final commitment, the normal fate of girls without a dowry. It seemed to her a great injustice not to feel it was her vocation, and she took herself to task for it, as if it were a failing in her.

Her friends Geneviève, Anne and Marie, serene and self-effacing, glided smoothly towards the religious life. But why this feeling of revolt, this taste for flight when, above the grey walls of the convent, she saw the smoke of the peaceful chimneys of the little town of Troyes? Some of her companions would escape to marry a distant cousin, a widower burdened with children, or a rich old man who would forego the dowry for the freshness of an eighteen-year-old.

Even this sad choice was not open to Jeanne. She had to admit that, in the eyes of the nuns, her education was a fiasco. She really could not be recommended as a model wife. She burned the pastry, forgot to put on her cap, galloped through the halls, bounded down the stairs, and her proverbial carelessness was not even redeemed by a befitting sweetness.

Still, leaning against the parlour door, Jeanne was dreaming, though wide awake. How right she had been to hope, to believe that in spite of everything life had some joy and surprises in store for her! Only now did she dare acknowledge what tenacious hopes had kept her from yielding to all the pressure and had made her put off her inevitable entry into the convent from one season to the next. Never had a way of life seemed so unnatural to the one contemplating it.

When her protectress, Sister Berthelet, died quietly one summer morning the previous year, Jeanne had felt she was losing her grandfather all over again. Since that day, no one had considered her boisterous gaiety and her liveliness as good qualities. On the contrary, they held them against her—just as they did her alluring bosom and her unruly hair that escaped in curls from under her severe cap. So much vitality was a little frightening to the nuns; they had fled just these excesses by taking refuge in the convent. Jeanne strove towards a sense of balance, hoping one day it would actually sink in.

But now all that was in the past. What a glorious future was opening up before her, an orphan! Sister Bourgeoys's warnings did not even reach her buzzing ears.

Already she saw “adventure”—a tall sailing ship, the boundless sea, the magnificent, primitive continent, a vigorous colony waiting just for Jeanne Chatel so it could prosper and spring into action. She would be as courageous and bold as the gallant knights in the novels in her grandfather's library.

Jeanne had but one regret. Alas! never again would her personal gallant knight, the handsome Thierry de Villebrand, be able to find her to carry her off on his great white steed.

With all the wisdom of her eighteen years, Jeanne had to admit that, since he knew where she was, her hero could have come to fetch her long ago. Their last meeting, when she was ten years old and dared throw a handful of mustard in his eyes, hardly lent itself to demonstrations of sentimentality. Who cares? The devil with fantasies! Hurray for today's fine reality! Instead of an imaginary character she had invented to fill her youthful dreams, drawing on two brief encounters with a handsome young man, she would have a husband of her own, a husband awaiting her this very moment upon the distant shores of New France.

“A king's daughter! I am a king's daughter!”

Against all the laws of propriety, Jeanne picked up her skirts in both hands and, two steps at a time, bounded up the long convent stairways leading to the attic. She burst into the garret she shared with three other orphans, brandishing her piece of paper.

“Ladies, I am a king's daughter off to New France. Here's the list of the trousseau we must prepare for my departure in June. Ladies, give me a curtsey, then get to work.”

Anne and Geneviève abandoned the lace they were crocheting near the window by dusk's uncertain light. Younger than their roommate, the two orphans were filled with an admiration mixed with fear at Jeanne's bold acts.

They surrounded her, pestering her with a thousand questions.

“Is that why they wanted you in the parlour, and not because of the bread you forgot in the oven?”

“Who cares? What's a miserable loaf of bread for a ward of Louis XIV? Don't bother me with those petty little problems anymore.”

“But, Jeanne, aren't we all the king's daughters? Are you any more than we?”

Raised at the State's expense, the orphans were always reminded of their privileged status as wards of the Crown. The way Jeanne claimed this title, as if it were suddenly hers alone, intrigued Anne. In her naive mind she already pictured her friend at Versailles, among the ladies-in-waiting.

“I mean that our gracious sovereign will provide me with a dowry and a trousseau in a big trunk and send me over to New France to marry one of his loyal subjects.”

BOOK: The King's Daughter
6.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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