Jules Tonnerre, half French, half Indian, settled in Manawaka after the Meti Indian uprising of 1885. Three generations of his family now live in a collection of shacks, surrounded by junk, in the river valley outside Manawaka. The town is Scots-Irish and Ukrainian, and the Tonnerres are not part of it in any sense. They work irregularly, they are sometimes involved in drunken brawls, and their domestic lives are as chaotic as their housing.
Because Piquette Tonnerre, Jules’s granddaughter, has a tubercular leg, Dr. MacLeod wants to take her with his own family to their summer cabin at Diamond Lake, for she will have little chance to recuperate at home. Grandmother MacLeod refuses to join them if a half-breed is included in the household. Preferring Piquette to her mother-in-law, the doctor’s wife agrees to have the girl come along. Vanessa, age eleven at this time, loves the unspoiled beauty of Diamond Lake and hopes Piquette will share this love, for Vanessa romanticizes the Indian heritage, its warlike past, and its bond with the wilderness.
Piquette, however, rejects all overtures. She silently helps Mrs. MacLeod with the housework, but she will not play and cannot walk or swim far. Most significantly, she will not go to the lake at night to listen to the loons calling mysteriously across the dark water. Vanessa and her father sit by the lake while Piquette remains indoors. The following winter, the doctor dies of pneumonia and Vanessa...
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