Authors: Suzanne Desrochers
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Canada Inc.)
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)
Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi – 110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published 2011
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 (WEB)
Copyright © Suzanne Desrochers, 2011
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
Publisher’s note: This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental
Manufactured in Canada.
LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA CATALOGUING IN PUBLICATION
Desrochers, Suzanne, 1976–Bride of New France / Suzanne Desrochers.
1. Filles du roi—Fiction. 2. Canada—History—To 1763 (New France)—Fiction. I. Title.
PS8607.E7697B75 2011 C813’.6 C2010-906197-7
Visit the Penguin Group (Canada) website at
Special and corporate bulk purchase rates available; please see
or call 1-800-810-3104, ext. 2477 or 2474
To Rod and our son, Julien
But what shall I tell you of migrations when in this empty sky the precise ghosts of departed summer birds still trace old signs
“THE SPARROWS,” IN
LET US COMPARE MYTHOLOGIES
The sound of hooves on stone reaches the family huddled in the rain. The man, an actor and street performer, is singing, “
Un campagnard bon ménager, trouvant que son cheval faisait trop de dépense, entreprit, quelle extravagance! De l’instruire à ne point manger
”—A good country householder, finding that his horse was costing too much, attempted, what an extravagance!, to teach the beast not to eat. But as the raid draws closer to their hiding spot, the words die in his throat. He pulls his daughter to his chest. He hugs her tightly the way he sometimes does when he teases her, only this time he doesn’t let go, doesn’t loosen his grip. Instead, he wraps his cloak around her little figure, trying to make her disappear the way the words of his song faded away into the air moments earlier.
The child squirms a little, letting out a whimper as she turns her head to breathe. She is too young to recognize the sour smell of her father’s woollen cloak as something unpleasant, disdainful to others. She accepts the scratchy material against her cheek just as easily as she falls asleep when the hollowness of her stomach makes it difficult to stay awake. She does not yet know that this man, who lifts her high above his head with
ease, who fills the air around her with melody, cannot protect her from every danger.
The girl’s mother, who sits wrapped in a blanket beside them, doesn’t sing. The look on her face suggests she has already begun to withdraw from the world. Her cheeks are sunken and dark. The hooves grow nearer and a frightening voice spurs them on. The archers are checking every corner tonight, determined to find even those who normally remain hidden in the alleyways. Three years have passed since the 1656 decree to clean the streets, and there are still too many beggars in Paris. Too many troublesome sights for the young King and his regents.
The woman looks up at her husband, her features angry and old. It is the same way she looks at him when she is forced to prepare the body of a rat over a fire and feed morsels of its flesh into the mouth of her daughter, who doesn’t know any better. The hooves finally stop and the family sees the warm breath of the horses in front of them. It has come to this, the mother says to her husband without uttering a word, just as I knew it would.
The questions come quickly when first one, then two more archers reach the family, their horses protesting against the sudden halt. Don’t you know the King’s rules? There are to be no more beggars on the streets of Paris.
I am not a beggar, sir, I am a performer.
And what has happened to your audience tonight? The archer’s gloved hand cuts through the darkness that is all around them save for the glow of his lantern.
They have gone home.
And you should have as well. Very resourceful for a country man to have remained hidden in the city all this time.
The poor man is ordered to stand up. He can no longer hide the little girl. She squirms out of his coat. Noticing the child, the archer dismounts.
The kingdom can use children, even those of beggars. He brings the lantern close to her pale cheek and she blinks against its brightness, turning her head into her father’s chest.
The mother stands up. You’re right. This man is a beggar. Take him. Leave me with my daughter and I will bring her back to our farm in Picardie. We’ll leave first thing in the morning. You won’t ever see us in the city again.
The archer, looking at the child, ignores the woman, although one of his companions takes an interest in the youthful voice and the lingering traces of her beauty.
What will you do once we get rid of your husband? the second archer asks. It’s very dangerous for a woman to travel alone.
He dismounts and joins his companion beside the father and his daughter. The third archer remains on his horse, but keeps his eye on the man and his little girl.
Don’t be afraid, the first archer says to the child, reaching to stroke her hair. The girl begins to cry as if she finally understands what is happening. Her wail cannot be contained and only grows louder as the archer pulls her from her father’s chest. One of the horses nickers and paws at the wet stone as the girl is wrenched away. Once he has taken the child, the archer is quick to mount his horse again. The other two struggle to hold back the parents. The girl’s screams travel far in the quiet darkness as she is taken away.
The two remaining archers wait until the retreating child’s voice and the hooves of the horse become a distant echo, an imagined sound, before they begin the long walk to the edge of Paris to banish the girl’s parents.
The smell of her father’s body lingers in her nostrils as she travels through the city in the uniformed arms of the strange man. The warmth of her father’s chest, the words of his songs, these are the things she tries to hold onto as they ride.
The following morning, she is brought to the women at the Salpêtrière Hospital. Along with the other found children her head is shaved, and she is bathed, deloused, put into a stiff linen dress, and brought to the Enfant-Jésus dormitory. She is asked if she knows how to pray, if she knows who God is. Strange incantations are uttered to her and the other children. She listens as some of the older girls repeat the words in monotone voices. These are nothing like the songs of her father. She tries to recall the lyrics to his songs, the strength of his voice carrying the tune over her head.
Charmé d’une pensée et si rare et si fine, petit à petit il réduit sa bête à jeûner jour et nuit
—Enthralled by such a rare and fine idea, little by little he made his beast fast day and night … It is no use. Those times, retreating further into the past, have turned into the stone walls around her.