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Michel De Coucy's Troubles


Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

Michel De Coucy, of Prairie de Rocher, Illinois, sat before his door
humming thoughtfully, and trying to pull comfort out of a black pipe.. He
was in debt, and he did not like the sensation. As hunter, boatman,
fiddler he had done well enough, but having rashly ventured into trade he
had lost money, and being unable to meet a note had applied to Pedro
Garcia for a loan at usurious interest. Garcia was a black-whiskered
Spaniard who was known to have been a gambler in New Orleans, and as
Michel was in arrears in his payments he was now threatening suit.
Presently the hunter jumped up with a glad laugh, for two horsemen were
approaching his place--the superior of the Jesuit convent at Notre Dame
de Kaskaskia and the governor of the French settlements in Illinois, of
whom he had asked advice, and who had come from Fort Chartres, on the
Mississippi, to give it in person. It was good advice, too, for the
effect of it was that there was no law of that time--1750--by which a
Spaniard could sue a Frenchman on French territory. Moreover, the bond
was invalid because it was drawn up in Spanish, and Garcia could produce
no witness to verify the cross at the bottom of the document as of
Michel's making.

Great was the wrath of the Spaniard when Michel told him this, nor was it
lessened when the hunter bade him have no fear--that he might be obliged
to repudiate part of the interest, but that every livre of the principal
would be forthcoming, if only a little time were allowed. The money
lender walked away with clenched fists, muttering to himself, and Michel
lit his pipe again.

At supper-time little Genevieve, the twelve-year-old daughter of Michel,
did not appear. The table was kept waiting for an hour. Michel sat down
but could not eat, and, after scolding awhile in a half-hearted fashion,
he went to the clearing down the road, where the child had been playing.
A placard was seen upon a tree beside the way, and he called a passing
neighbor to read to him these words: Meshell Coosy. French rascal. Pay
me my money and you have your daughter. Pedro Garcia.

Accustomed as he was to perils, and quick as he generally was in
expedient, Michel was overwhelmed by this stroke. The villagers offered
to arm themselves and rescue the child, but he would not consent to this,
for he was afraid that Garcia might kill her, if he knew that force was
to be set against him. In a day or two Michel was told to go to Fort
Chartres, as favorable news awaited him. He rode with all speed to that
post, went to the official quarters, where the governor was sitting, and
as he entered he became almost insane with rage, for Garcia stood before
him. Nothing but the presence of others saved the Spaniard's life, and it
was some time before Michel could be made to understand that Garcia was
there under promise of safe conduct, and that the representatives of King
Louis were in honor bound to see that he was not injured. The points at
issue between the two men were reviewed, and the governor gave it as his
decision that Michel must pay his debt without interest, that being
forfeit by the Spaniard's abduction of Genevieve, and that the Spaniard
was to restore the girl, both parties in the case being remanded to
prison until they had obeyed this judgment.

But I have your promise of safe conduct! cried the Spaniard, blazing
with wrath.

And you shall have it when the girl returns, replied the governor. You
shall be protected in going and coming, but there is no reference in the
paper that you hold as to how long we may wish to keep you with us.

Both men were marched away forthwith, but Michel was released in an hour,
for in that time the people had subscribed enough to pay his debt. The
Spaniard sent a messenger to a renegade who had little Genevieve in
keeping, and next day he too went free, swearing horribly, but glad to
accept the service of an armed escort until he was well out of town.
Michel embraced his child with ardor when once she was in his arms again;
then he lighted his pipe and set out with her for home, convinced that
French law was the best in the world, that Spaniards were not to be
trusted, and that it is safer to keep one's earnings under the floor than
to venture them in trade.

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