Wednesday, November 7, 2007


THE RULING PASSION by Henry van Dyke

by Henry van Dyke
Let me never tag a moral to a story, nor tell a story without a
meaning. Make me respect my material so much that I dare not slight
my work. Help me to deal very honestly with words and with people
because they are both alive. Show me that as in a river, so in a
writing, clearness is the best quality, and a little that is pure is
worth more than much that is mixed. Teach me to see the local
colour without being blind to the inner light. Give me an ideal
that will stand the strain of weaving into human stuff on the loom
of the real. Keep me from caring more for books than for folks, for
art than for life. Steady me to do my full stint of work as well as
I can: and when that is done, stop me, pay what wages Thou wilt, and
help me to say, from a quiet heart, a grateful AMEN.
In every life worth writing about there is a ruling passion,--"the
very pulse of the machine." Unless you touch that, you are groping
around outside of reality.
Sometimes it is romantic love: Natures masterpiece of interested
benevolence. In almost all lives this passion has its season of
empire. Therefore, and rightly, it is the favourite theme of the
storyteller. Romantic love interests almost everybody, because
almost everybody knows something about it, or would like to know.
But there are other passions, no less real, which also have their
place and power in human life. Some of them come earlier, and
sometimes they last longer, than romantic love. They play alongside
of it and are mixed up with it, now checking it, now advancing its
flow and tingeing it with their own colour.
Just because love is so universal, it is often to one of the other
passions that we must look for the distinctive hue, the individual
quality of a life-story. Granted, if you will, that everybody must
fall in love, or ought to fall in love, How will he do it? And what
will he do afterwards? These are questions not without interest to
one who watches the human drama as a friend. The answers depend
upon those hidden and durable desires, affections, and impulses to
which men and women give themselves up for rule and guidance.
Music, nature, children, honour, strife, revenge, money, pride,
friendship, loyalty, duty,--to these objects and others like them
the secret power of personal passion often turns, and the life
unconsciously follows it, as the tides in the sea follow the moon in
the sky.
When circumstances cross the ruling passion, when rocks lie in the
way and winds are contrary, then things happen, characters emerge,
slight events are significant, mere adventures are transformed into
a real plot. What care I how many "hair-breadth 'scapes" and
"moving accidents" your hero may pass through, unless I know him for
a man? He is but a puppet strung on wires. His kisses are wooden
and his wounds bleed sawdust. There is nothing about him to
remember except his name, and perhaps a bit of dialect. Kill him or
crown him,--what difference does it make?
But go the other way about your work:
"Take the least man of all mankind, as I;
Look at his head and heart, find how and why
He differs from his fellows utterly,"--
and now there is something to tell, with a meaning.
If you tell it at length, it is a novel,--a painting. If you tell
it in brief, it is a short story,--an etching. But the subject is
always the same: the unseen, mysterious, ruling passion weaving the
stuff of human nature into patterns wherein the soul is imaged and
To tell about some of these ruling passions, simply, clearly, and
concretely, is what I want to do in this book. The characters are
chosen, for the most part, among plain people, because their
feelings are expressed with fewer words and greater truth, not being
costumed for social effect. The scene is laid on Nature's stage
because I like to be out-of-doors, even when I am trying to think
and learning to write.
"Avalon," Princeton, July 22, 1901.
I. A Lover of Music
II. The Reward of Virtue
III. A Brave Heart
IV. The Gentle Life
V. A Friend of Justice
VI. The White Blot
VII. A Year of Nobility
VIII. The Keeper of the Light
He entered the backwoods village of Bytown literally on the wings of
the wind. It whirled him along like a big snowflake, and dropped
him at the door of Moody's "Sportsmen's Retreat," as if he were a
New Year's gift from the North Pole. His coming seemed a mere
chance; but perhaps there was something more in it, after all. At
all events, you shall hear, if you will, the time and the manner of
his arrival.
It was the last night of December, some thirty-five years ago. All
the city sportsmen who had hunted the deer under Bill Moody's
direction had long since retreated to their homes, leaving the
little settlement on the border of the Adirondack wilderness wholly
under the social direction of the natives.
The annual ball was in full swing in the dining-room of the hotel.
At one side of the room the tables and chairs were piled up, with
their legs projecting in the air like a thicket of very dead trees.
The huge stove in the southeast corner was blushing a rosy red
through its thin coat of whitewash, and exhaling a furious dry heat
flavoured with the smell of baked iron. At the north end, however,
winter reigned; and there were tiny ridges of fine snow on the
floor, sifted in by the wind through the cracks in the windowframes.
But the bouncing girls and the heavy-footed guides and lumbermen who
filled the ball-room did not appear to mind the heat or the cold.
They balanced and "sashayed" from the tropics to the arctic circle.
They swung at corners and made "ladies' change" all through the
temperate zone. They stamped their feet and did double-shuffles
until the floor trembled beneath them. The tin lamp-reflectors on
the walls rattled like castanets.
There was only one drawback to the hilarity of the occasion. The
band, which was usually imported from Sandy River Forks for such
festivities,--a fiddle, a cornet, a flute, and an accordion,--had
not arrived. There was a general idea that the mail-sleigh, in
which the musicians were to travel, had been delayed by the storm,
and might break its way through the snow-drifts and arrive at any
moment. But Bill Moody, who was naturally of a pessimistic
temperament, had offered a different explanation.
"I tell ye, old Baker's got that blame' band down to his hotel at
the Falls now, makin' 'em play fer his party. Them music fellers is
onsartin; can't trust 'em to keep anythin' 'cept the toon, and they
don't alluz keep that. Guess we might uz well shet up this ball, or
go to work playin' games."
At this proposal a thick gloom had fallen over the assembly; but it
had been dispersed by Serena Moody's cheerful offer to have the
small melodion brought out of the parlour, and to play for dancing
as well as she could. The company agreed that she was a smart girl,
and prepared to accept her performance with enthusiasm. As the
dance went on, there were frequent comments of approval to encourage
her in the labour of love.
"Sereny's doin' splendid, ain't she?" said the other girls.
To which the men replied, "You bet! The playin' 's reel nice, and
good 'nough fer anybody--outside o' city folks."
But Serena's repertory was weak, though her spirit was willing.
There was an unspoken sentiment among the men that "The Sweet By and
By" was not quite the best tune in the world for a quadrille. A
Sunday-school hymn, no matter how rapidly it was rendered, seemed to
fall short of the necessary vivacity for a polka. Besides, the
wheezy little organ positively refused to go faster than a certain
gait. Hose Ransom expressed the popular opinion of the instrument,
after a figure in which he and his partner had been half a bar ahead
of the music from start to finish, when he said:
"By Jolly! that old maloney may be chock full o' relijun and po'try;
but it ain't got no DANCE into it, no more 'n a saw-mill."
This was the situation of affairs inside of Moody's tavern on New
Year's Eve. But outside of the house the snow lay two feet deep on
the level, and shoulder-high in the drifts. The sky was at last
swept clean of clouds. The shivering stars and the shrunken moon
looked infinitely remote in the black vault of heaven. The frozen
lake, on which the ice was three feet thick and solid as rock, was
like a vast, smooth bed, covered with a white counterpane. The
cruel wind still poured out of the northwest, driving the dry snow
along with it like a mist of powdered diamonds.
Enveloped in this dazzling, pungent atmosphere, half blinded and
bewildered by it, buffeted and yet supported by the onrushing
torrent of air, a man on snow-shoes, with a light pack on his
shoulders, emerged from the shelter of the Three Sisters' Islands,
and staggered straight on, down the lake. He passed the headland of
the bay where Moody's tavern is ensconced, and probably would have
drifted on beyond it, to the marsh at the lower end of the lake, but
for the yellow glare of the ball-room windows and the sound of music
and dancing which came out to him suddenly through a lull in the
He turned to the right, climbed over the low wall of broken iceblocks
that bordered the lake, and pushed up the gentle slope to the
open passageway by which the two parts of the rambling house were
joined together. Crossing the porch with the last remnant of his
strength, he lifted his hand to knock, and fell heavily against the
side door.
The noise, heard through the confusion within, awakened curiosity
and conjecture.
Just as when a letter comes to a forest cabin, it is turned over and
over, and many guesses are made as to the handwriting and the
authorship before it occurs to any one to open it and see who sent
it, so was this rude knocking at the gate the occasion of argument
among the rustic revellers as to what it might portend. Some
thought it was the arrival of the belated band. Others supposed the
sound betokened a descent of the Corey clan from the Upper Lake, or
a change of heart on the part of old Dan Dunning, who had refused to
attend the ball because they would not allow him to call out the
figures. The guesses were various; but no one thought of the
possible arrival of a stranger at such an hour on such a night,
until Serena suggested that it would he a good plan to open the
door. Then the unbidden guest was discovered lying benumbed along
the threshold.
There was no want of knowledge as to what should be done with a
half-frozen man, and no lack of ready hands to do it. They carried
him not to the warm stove, but into the semi-arctic region of the
parlour. They rubbed his face and his hands vigorously with snow.
They gave him a drink of hot tea flavoured with whiskey--or perhaps
it was a drink of whiskey with a little hot tea in it--and then, as
his senses began to return to him, they rolled him in a blanket and
left him on a sofa to thaw out gradually, while they went on with
the dance.
Naturally, he was the favourite subject of conversation for the next
"Who is he, anyhow? I never seen 'im before. Where'd he come
from?" asked the girls.
"I dunno," said Bill Moody; "he didn't say much. Talk seemed all
froze up. Frenchy, 'cordin' to what he did say. Guess he must a
come from Canady, workin' on a lumber job up Raquette River way.
Got bounced out o' the camp, p'raps. All them Frenchies is queer."
This summary of national character appeared to command general
"Yaas," said Hose Ransom, "did ye take note how he hung on to that
pack o' his'n all the time? Wouldn't let go on it. Wonder what 't
wuz? Seemed kinder holler 'n light, fer all 'twuz so big an'
wropped up in lots o' coverin's."
"What's the use of wonderin'?" said one of the younger boys; "find
out later on. Now's the time fer dancin'. Whoop 'er up!"
So the sound of revelry swept on again in full flood. The men and
maids went careering up and down the room. Serena's willing fingers
laboured patiently over the yellow keys of the reluctant melodion.
But the ancient instrument was weakening under the strain; the
bellows creaked; the notes grew more and more asthmatic.
"Hold the Fort" was the tune, "Money Musk" was the dance; and it was
a preposterously bad fit. The figure was tangled up like a fishingline
after trolling all day without a swivel. The dancers were
doing their best, determined to be happy, as cheerful as possible,
but all out of time. The organ was whirring and gasping and
groaning for breath.
Suddenly a new music filled the room.
The right tune--the real old joyful "Money Musk," played jubilantly,
triumphantly, irresistibly--on a fiddle!
The melodion gave one final gasp of surprise and was dumb.
Every one looked up. There, in the parlour door, stood the
stranger, with his coat off, his violin hugged close under his chin,
his right arm making the bow fly over the strings, his black eyes
sparkling, and his stockinged feet marking time to the tune.
"DANSEZ! DANSEZ," he cried, "EN AVANT! Don' spik'. Don' res'!
Ah'll goin' play de feedle fo' yo' jess moch yo' lak', eef yo'
h'only DANSE!"
The music gushed from the bow like water from the rock when Moses
touched it. Tune followed tune with endless fluency and variety--
polkas, galops, reels, jigs, quadrilles; fragments of airs from many
lands--"The Fisher's Hornpipe," "Charlie is my Darling," "Marianne
s'en va-t-au Moulin," "Petit Jean," "Jordan is a Hard Road to
Trabbel," woven together after the strangest fashion and set to the
liveliest cadence.
It was a magical performance. No one could withstand it. They all
danced together, like the leaves on the shivering poplars when the
wind blows through them. The gentle Serena was swept away from her
stool at the organ as if she were a little canoe drawn into the
rapids, and Bill Moody stepped high and cut pigeon-wings that had
been forgotten for a generation. It was long after midnight when
the dancers paused, breathless and exhausted.
"Waal," said Hose Ransom, "that's jess the hightonedest music we
ever had to Bytown. You 're a reel player, Frenchy, that's what you
are. What's your name? Where'd you come from? Where you goin' to?
What brought you here, anyhow?"
"MOI?" said the fiddler, dropping his bow and taking a long breath.
"Mah nem Jacques Tremblay. Ah'll ben come fraum Kebeck. W'ere
goin'? Ah donno. Prob'ly Ah'll stop dis place, eef yo' lak' dat
feedle so moch, hein?"
His hand passed caressingly over the smooth brown wood of the
violin. He drew it up close to his face again, as if he would have
kissed it, while his eyes wandered timidly around the circle of
listeners, and rested at last, with a question in them, on the face
of the hotel-keeper. Moody was fairly warmed, for once, out of his
customary temper of mistrust and indecision. He spoke up promptly.
"You kin stop here jess long's you like. We don' care where you
come from, an' you need n't to go no fu'ther, less you wanter. But
we ain't got no use for French names round here. Guess we 'll call
him Fiddlin' Jack, hey, Sereny? He kin do the chores in the daytime,
an' play the fiddle at night."
This was the way in which Bytown came to have a lover of music among
its permanent inhabitants.
Jacques dropped into his place and filled it as if it had been made
for him. There was something in his disposition that seemed to fit
him for just the role that was vacant in the social drama of the
settlement. It was not a serious, important, responsible part, like
that of a farmer, or a store-keeper, or a professional hunter. It
was rather an addition to the regular programme of existence,
something unannounced and voluntary, and therefore not weighted with
too heavy responsibilities. There was a touch of the transient and
uncertain about it. He seemed like a perpetual visitor; and yet he
stayed on as steadily as a native, never showing, from the first,
the slightest wish or intention to leave the woodland village.
I do not mean that he was an idler. Bytown had not yet arrived at
that stage of civilization in which an ornamental element is
supported at the public expense.
He worked for his living, and earned it. He was full of a quick,
cheerful industry; and there was nothing that needed to be done
about Moody's establishment, from the wood-pile to the ice-house, at
which he did not bear a hand willingly and well.
"He kin work like a beaver," said Bill Moody, talking the stranger
over down at the post-office one day; "but I don't b'lieve he's got
much ambition. Jess does his work and takes his wages, and then
gits his fiddle out and plays."
"Tell ye what," said Hose Ransom, who set up for the village
philosopher, "he ain't got no 'magination. That's what makes men
slack. He don't know what it means to rise in the world; don't care
fer anythin' ez much ez he does fer his music. He's jess like a
bird; let him have 'nough to eat and a chance to sing, and he's all
right. What's he 'magine about a house of his own, and a barn, and
sich things?"
Hosea's illustration was suggested by his own experience. He had
just put the profits of his last summer's guiding into a new barn,
and his imagination was already at work planning an addition to his
house in the shape of a kitchen L.
But in spite of his tone of contempt, he had a kindly feeling for
the unambitious fiddler. Indeed, this was the attitude of pretty
much every one in the community. A few men of the rougher sort had
made fun of him at first, and there had been one or two attempts at
rude handling. But Jacques was determined to take no offence; and
he was so good-humoured, so obliging, so pleasant in his way of
whistling and singing about his work, that all unfriendliness soon
died out.
He had literally played his way into the affections of the village.
The winter seemed to pass more swiftly and merrily than it had done
before the violin was there. He was always ready to bring it out,
and draw all kinds of music from its strings, as long as any one
wanted to listen or to dance.
It made no difference whether there was a roomful of listeners, or
only a couple, Fiddlin' Jack was just as glad to play. With a
little, quiet audience, he loved to try the quaint, plaintive airs
of the old French songs--"A la Claire Fontaine," "Un Canadien
Errant," and "Isabeau s'y Promene"--and bits of simple melody from
the great composers, and familiar Scotch and English ballads--things
that he had picked up heaven knows where, and into which he put a
world of meaning, sad and sweet.
He was at his best in this vein when he was alone with Serena in the
kitchen--she with a piece of sewing in her lap, sitting beside the
lamp; he in the corner by the stove, with the brown violin tucked
under his chin, wandering on from one air to another, and perfectly
content if she looked up now and then from her work and told him
that she liked the tune.
Serena was a pretty girl, with smooth, silky hair, end eyes of the
colour of the nodding harebells that blossom on the edge of the
woods. She was slight and delicate. The neighbours called her
sickly; and a great doctor from Philadelphia who had spent a summer
at Bytown had put his ear to her chest, and looked grave, and said
that she ought to winter in a mild climate. That was before people
had discovered the Adirondacks as a sanitarium for consumptives.
But the inhabitants of Bytown were not in the way of paying much
attention to the theories of physicians in regard to climate. They
held that if you were rugged, it was a great advantage, almost a
virtue; but if you were sickly, you just had to make the best of it,
and get along with the weather as well as you could.
So Serena stayed at home and adapted herself very cheerfully to the
situation. She kept indoors in winter more than the other girls,
and had a quieter way about her; but you would never have called her
an invalid. There was only a clearer blue in her eyes, and a
smoother lustre on her brown hair, and a brighter spot of red on her
cheek. She was particularly fond of reading and of music. It was
this that made her so glad of the arrival of the violin. The
violin's master knew it, and turned to her as a sympathetic soul. I
think he liked her eyes too, and the soft tones of her voice. He
was a sentimentalist, this little Canadian, for all he was so merry;
and love--but that comes later.
"Where'd you get your fiddle, Jack? said Serena, one night as they
sat together in the kitchen.
"Ah'll get heem in Kebeck," answered Jacques, passing his hand
lightly over the instrument, as he always did when any one spoke of
it. "Vair' nice VIOLON, hein? W'at you t'ink? Ma h'ole teacher,
to de College, he was gif' me dat VIOLON, w'en Ah was gone away to
de woods."
"I want to know! Were you in the College? What'd you go off to the
woods for?"
"Ah'll get tire' fraum dat teachin'--read, read, read, h'all taim'.
Ah'll not lak' dat so moch. Rader be out-door--run aroun'--paddle
de CANOT--go wid de boys in de woods--mek' dem dance at ma MUSIQUE.
A-a-ah! Dat was fon! P'raps you t'ink dat not good, hem? You
t'ink Jacques one beeg fool, Ah suppose?"
"I dunno," said Serena, declining to commit herself, but pressing on
gently, as women do, to the point she had in view when she began the
talk. "Dunno's you're any more foolish than a man that keeps on
doin' what he don't like. But what made you come away from the boys
in the woods and travel down this way?"
A shade passed over the face of Jacques. He turned away from the
lamp and bent over the violin on his knees, fingering the strings
nervously. Then he spoke, in a changed, shaken voice.
"Ah'l tole you somet'ing, Ma'amselle Serene. You ma frien'. Don'
you h'ask me dat reason of it no more. Dat's somet'ing vair' bad,
bad, bad. Ah can't nevair tole dat--nevair."
There was something in the way he said it that gave a check to her
gentle curiosity and turned it into pity. A man with a secret in
his life? It was a new element in her experience; like a chapter in
a book. She was lady enough at heart to respect his silence. She
kept away from the forbidden ground. But the knowledge that it was
there gave a new interest to Jacques and his music. She embroidered
some strange romances around that secret while she sat in the
kitchen sewing.
Other people at Bytown were less forbearing. They tried their best
to find out something about Fiddlin' Jack's past, but he was not
communicative. He talked about Canada. All Canadians do. But
about himself? No.
If the questions became too pressing, he would try to play himself
away from his inquisitors with new tunes. If that did not succeed,
he would take the violin under his arm and slip quickly out of the
room. And if you had followed him at such a time, you would have
heard him drawing strange, melancholy music from the instrument,
sitting alone in the barn, or in the darkness of his own room in the
Once, and only once, he seemed to come near betraying himself. This
was how it happened.
There was a party at Moody's one night, and Bull Corey had come down
from the Upper Lake and filled himself up with whiskey.
Bull was an ugly-tempered fellow. The more he drank, up to a
certain point, the steadier he got on his legs, and the more
necessary it seemed for him to fight somebody. The tide of his
pugnacity that night took a straight set toward Fiddlin' Jack.
Bull began with musical criticisms. The fiddling did not suit him
at all. It was too quick, or else it was too slow. He failed to
perceive how any one could tolerate such music even in the infernal
regions, and he expressed himself in plain words to that effect. In
fact, he damned the performance without even the faintest praise.
But the majority of the audience gave him no support. On the
contrary, they told him to shut up. And Jack fiddled along
Then Bull returned to the attack, after having fortified himself in
the bar-room. And now he took national grounds. The French were,
in his opinion, a most despicable race. They were not a patch on
the noble American race. They talked too much, and their language
was ridiculous. They had a condemned, fool habit of taking off
their hats when they spoke to a lady. They ate frogs.
Having delivered himself of these sentiments in a loud voice, much
to the interruption of the music, he marched over to the table on
which Fiddlin' Jack was sitting, and grabbed the violin from his
"Gimme that dam' fiddle," he cried, "till I see if there's a frog in
Jacques leaped from the table, transported with rage. His face was
convulsed. His eyes blazed. He snatched a carving-knife from the
dresser behind him, and sprang at Corey.
"TORT DIEU!" he shrieked, "MON VIOLON! Ah'll keel you, beast!"
But he could not reach the enemy. Bill Moody's long arms were flung
around the struggling fiddler, and a pair of brawny guides had Corey
pinned by the elbows, hustling him backward. Half a dozen men
thrust themselves between the would-be combatants. There was a dead
silence, a scuffling of feet on the bare floor; then the danger was
past, and a tumult of talk burst forth.
But a strange alteration had passed over Jacques. He trembled. He
turned white. Tears poured down his cheeks. As Moody let him go,
he dropped on his knees, hid his face in his hands, and prayed in
his own tongue.
"My God, it is here again! Was it not enough that I must be tempted
once before? Must I have the madness yet another time? My God,
show the mercy toward me, for the Blessed Virgin's sake. I am a
sinner, but not the second time; for the love of Jesus, not the
second time! Ave Maria, gratia plena, ora pro me!"
The others did not understand what he was saying. Indeed, they paid
little attention to him. They saw he was frightened, and thought it
was with fear. They were already discussing what ought to be done
about the fracas.
It was plain that Bull Corey, whose liquor had now taken effect
suddenly, and made him as limp as a strip of cedar bark, must be
thrown out of the door, and left to cool off on the beach. But what
to do with Fiddlin' Jack for his attempt at knifing--a detested
crime? He might have gone at Bull with a gun, or with a club, or
with a chair, or with any recognized weapon. But with a carvingknife!
That was a serious offence. Arrest him, and send him to
jail at the Forks? Take him out, and duck him in the lake? Lick
him, and drive him out of the town?
There was a multitude of counsellors, but it was Hose Ransom who
settled the case. He was a well-known fighting-man, and a respected
philosopher. He swung his broad frame in front of the fiddler.
"Tell ye what we'll do. Jess nothin'! Ain't Bull Corey the
blowin'est and the mos' trouble-us cuss 'round these hull woods?
And would n't it be a fust-rate thing ef some o' the wind was let
out 'n him?"
General assent greeted this pointed inquiry.
"And wa'n't Fiddlin' Jack peacerble 'nough 's long 's he was let
alone? What's the matter with lettin' him alone now?"
The argument seemed to carry weight. Hose saw his advantage, and
clinched it.
"Ain't he given us a lot o' fun here this winter in a innercent kind
o' way, with his old fiddle? I guess there ain't nothin' on airth
he loves better 'n that holler piece o' wood, and the toons that's
inside o' it. It's jess like a wife or a child to him. Where's
that fiddle, anyhow?"
Some one had picked it deftly out of Corey's hand during the
scuffle, and now passed it up to Hose.
"Here, Frenchy, take yer long-necked, pot-bellied music-gourd. And
I want you boys to understand, ef any one teches that fiddle ag'in,
I'll knock hell out 'n him."
So the recording angel dropped another tear upon the record of Hosea
Ransom, and the books were closed for the night.
For some weeks after the incident of the violin and the carvingknife,
it looked as if a permanent cloud had settled upon the
spirits of Fiddlin' Jack. He was sad and nervous; if any one
touched him, or even spoke to him suddenly, he would jump like a
deer. He kept out of everybody's way as much as possible, sat out
in the wood-shed when he was not at work, and could not be persuaded
to bring down his fiddle. He seemed in a fair way to be transformed
into "the melancholy Jaques."
It was Serena who broke the spell; and she did it in a woman's way,
the simplest way in the world--by taking no notice of it.
"Ain't you goin' to play for me to-night?" she asked one evening, as
Jacques passed through the kitchen. Whereupon the evil spirit was
exorcised, and the violin came back again to its place in the life
of the house.
But there was less time for music now than there had been in the
winter. As the snow vanished from the woods, and the frost leaked
out of the ground, and the ice on the lake was honeycombed, breaking
away from the shore, and finally going to pieces altogether in a
warm southeast storm, the Sportsmen's Retreat began to prepare for
business. There was a garden to be planted, and there were boats to
be painted. The rotten old wharf in front of the house stood badly
in need of repairs. The fiddler proved himself a Jack-of-all-trades
and master of more than one.
In the middle of May the anglers began to arrive at the Retreat--a
quiet, sociable, friendly set of men, most of whom were old-time
acquaintances, and familiar lovers of the woods. They belonged to
the "early Adirondack period," these disciples of Walton. They were
not very rich, and they did not put on much style, but they
understood how to have a good time; and what they did not know about
fishing was not worth knowing.
Jacques fitted into their scheme of life as a well-made reel fits
the butt of a good rod. He was a steady oarsman, a lucky fisherman,
with a real genius for the use of the landing-net, and a cheerful
companion, who did not insist upon giving his views about artificial
flies and advice about casting, on every occasion. By the end of
June he found himself in steady employment as a guide.
He liked best to go with the anglers who were not too energetic, but
were satisfied to fish for a few hours in the morning and again at
sunset, after a long rest in the middle of the afternoon. This was
just the time for the violin; and if Jacques had his way, he would
take it with him, carefully tucked away in its case in the bow of
the boat; and when the pipes were lit after lunch, on the shore of
Round Island or at the mouth of Cold Brook, he would discourse sweet
music until the declining sun drew near the tree-tops and the veery
rang his silver bell for vespers. Then it was time to fish again,
and the flies danced merrily over the water, and the great speckled
trout leaped eagerly to catch them. For trolling all day long for
lake-trout Jacques had little liking.
"Dat is not de sport," he would say, "to hol' one r-r-ope in de
'and, an' den pool heem in wid one feesh on t'ree hook, h'all tangle
h'up in hees mout'--dat is not de sport. Bisside, dat leef not
taim' for la musique."
Midsummer brought a new set of guests to the Retreat, and filled the
ramshackle old house to overflowing. The fishing fell off, but
there were picnics and camping-parties in abundance, and Jacques was
in demand. The ladies liked him; his manners were so pleasant, and
they took a great interest in his music. Moody bought a piano for
the parlour that summer; and there were two or three good players in
the house, to whom Jacques would listen with delight, sitting on a
pile of logs outside the parlour windows in the warm August
Some one asked him whether he did not prefer the piano to the
"NON," he answered, very decidedly; "dat piano, he vairee smart; he
got plentee word, lak' de leetle yellow bird in de cage--'ow you
call heem--de cannarie. He spik' moch. Bot dat violon, he spik'
more deep, to de heart, lak' de Rossignol. He mak' me feel more
glad, more sorree--dat fo' w'at Ah lak' heem de bes'!"
Through all the occupations and pleasures of the summer Jacques kept
as near as he could to Serena. If he learned a new tune, by
listening to the piano--some simple, artful air of Mozart, some
melancholy echo of a nocturne of Chopin, some tender, passionate
love-song of Schubert--it was to her that he would play it first.
If he could persuade her to a boat-ride with him on the lake, Sunday
evening, the week was complete. He even learned to know the more
shy and delicate forest-blossoms that she preferred, and would come
in from a day's guiding with a tiny bunch of belated twin-flowers,
or a few purple-fringed orchids, or a handful of nodding stalks of
the fragrant pyrola, for her.
So the summer passed, and the autumn, with its longer hunting
expeditions into the depth of the wilderness; and by the time winter
came around again, Fiddlin' Jack was well settled at Moody's as a
regular Adirondack guide of the old-fashioned type, but with a
difference. He improved in his English. Something of that missing
quality which Moody called ambition, and to which Hose Ransom gave
the name of imagination, seemed to awaken within him. He saved his
wages. He went into business for himself in a modest way, and made
a good turn in the manufacture of deerskin mittens and snow-shoes.
By the spring he had nearly three hundred dollars laid by, and
bought a piece of land from Ransom on the bank of the river just
above the village.
The second summer of guiding brought him in enough to commence
building a little house. It was of logs, neatly squared at the
corners; and there was a door exactly in the middle of the facade,
with a square window at either side, and another at each end of the
house, according to the common style of architecture at Bytown.
But it was in the roof that the touch of distinction appeared. For
this, Jacques had modelled after his memory of an old Canadian roof.
There was a delicate concave sweep in it, as it sloped downward from
the peak, and the eaves projected pleasantly over the front door,
making a strip of shade wherein it would be good to rest when the
afternoon sun shone hot.
He took great pride in this effort of the builder's art. One day at
the beginning of May, when the house was nearly finished, he asked
old Moody and Serena to stop on their way home from the village and
see what he had done. He showed them the kitchen, and the livingroom,
with the bed-room partitioned off from it, and sharing half of
its side window. Here was a place where a door could be cut at the
back, and a shed built for a summer kitchen--for the coolness, you
understand. And here were two stoves--one for the cooking, and the
other in the living-room for the warming, both of the newest.
"An' look dat roof. Dat's lak' we make dem in Canada. De rain ron
off easy, and de sun not shine too strong at de door. Ain't dat
nice? You lak' dat roof, Ma'amselle Serene, hein?"
Thus the imagination of Jacques unfolded itself, and his ambition
appeared to be making plans for its accomplishment. I do not want
any one to suppose that there was a crisis in his affair of the
heart. There was none. Indeed, it is very doubtful whether anybody
in the village, even Serena herself, ever dreamed that there was
such an affair. Up to the point when the house was finished and
furnished, it was to be a secret between Jacques and his violin; and
they found no difficulty in keeping it.
Bytown was a Yankee village. Jacques was, after all, nothing but a
Frenchman. The native tone of religion, what there was of it, was
strongly Methodist. Jacques never went to church, and if he was
anything, was probably a Roman Catholic. Serena was something of a
sentimentalist, and a great reader of novels; but the international
love-story had not yet been invented, and the idea of getting
married to a foreigner never entered her head. I do not say that
she suspected nothing in the wild flowers, and the Sunday evening
boat-rides, and the music. She was a woman. I have said already
that she liked Jacques very much, and his violin pleased her to the
heart. But the new building by the river? I am sure she never even
thought of it once, in the way that he did.
Well, in the end of June, just after the furniture had come for the
house with the curved roof, Serena was married to Hose Ransom. He
was a young widower without children, and altogether the best
fellow, as well as the most prosperous, in the settlement. His
house stood up on the hill, across the road from the lot which
Jacques had bought. It was painted white, and it had a narrow front
porch, with a scroll-saw fringe around the edge of it; and there was
a little garden fenced in with white palings, in which Sweet
Williams and pansies and blue lupines and pink bleeding-hearts were
The wedding was at the Sportsmen's Retreat, and Jacques was there,
of course. There was nothing of the disconsolate lover about him.
The noun he might have confessed to, in a confidential moment of
intercourse with his violin; but the adjective was not in his line.
The strongest impulse in his nature was to be a giver of
entertaininent, a source of joy in others, a recognized element of
delight in the little world where he moved. He had the artistic
temperament in its most primitive and naive form. Nothing pleased
him so much as the act of pleasing. Music was the means which
Nature had given him to fulfil this desire. He played, as you might
say, out of a certain kind of selfishness, because he enjoyed making
other people happy. He was selfish enough, in his way, to want the
pleasure of making everybody feel the same delight that he felt in
the clear tones, the merry cadences, the tender and caressing flow
of his violin. That was consolation. That was power. That was
And especially was he selfish enough to want to feel his ability to
give Serena a pleasure at her wedding--a pleasure that nobody else
could give her. When she asked him to play, he consented gladly.
Never had he drawn the bow across the strings with a more magical
touch. The wedding guests danced as if they were enchanted. The
big bridegroom came up and clapped him on the back, with the nearest
approach to a gesture of affection that backwoods etiquette allows
between men.
"Jack, you're the boss fiddler o' this hull county. Have a drink
now? I guess you 're mighty dry."
"MERCI, NON," said Jacques. "I drink only de museek dis night. Eef
I drink two t'ings, I get dronk."
In between the dances, and while the supper was going on, he played
quieter tunes--ballads and songs that he knew Serena liked. After
supper came the final reel; and when that was wound up, with immense
hilarity, the company ran out to the side door of the tavern to
shout a noisy farewell to the bridal buggy, as it drove down the
road toward the house with the white palings. When they came back,
the fiddler was gone. He had slipped away to the little cabin with
the curved roof.
All night long he sat there playing in the dark. Every tune that he
had ever known came back to him--grave and merry, light and sad. He
played them over and over again, passing round and round among them
as a leaf on a stream follows the eddies, now backward, now forward,
and returning most frequently to an echo of a certain theme from
Chopin--you remember the NOCTURNE IN G MINOR, the second one? He
did not know who Chopin was. Perhaps he did not even know the name
of the music. But the air had fallen upon his ear somewhere, and
had stayed in his memory; and now it seemed to say something to him
that had an especial meaning.
At last he let the bow fall. He patted the brown wood of the violin
after his old fashion, loosened the strings a little, wrapped it in
its green baize cover, and hung it on the wall.
"Hang thou there, thou little violin," he murmured. "It is now that
I shall take the good care of thee, as never before; for thou art
the wife of Jacques Tremblay. And the wife of 'Osee Ransom, she is
a friend to us, both of us; and we will make the music for her many
years, I tell thee, many years--for her, and for her good man, and
for the children--yes?"
But Serena did not have many years to listen to the playing of
Jacques Tremblay: on the white porch, in the summer evenings, with
bleeding-hearts abloom in the garden; or by the winter fire, while
the pale blue moonlight lay on the snow without, and the yellow
lamplight filled the room with homely radiance. In the fourth year
after her marriage she died, and Jacques stood beside Hose at the
There was a child--a little boy--delicate and blue-eyed, the living
image of his mother. Jacques appointed himself general attendant,
nurse in extraordinary, and court musician to this child. He gave
up his work as a guide. It took him too much away from home. He
was tired of it. Besides, what did he want of so much money? He
had his house. He could gain enough for all his needs by making
snow-shoes and the deerskin mittens at home. Then he could be near
little Billy. It was pleasanter so.
When Hose was away on a long trip in the woods, Jacques would move
up to the white house and stay on guard. His fiddle learned how to
sing the prettiest slumber songs. Moreover, it could crow in the
morning, just like the cock; and it could make a noise like a mouse,
and like the cat, too; and there were more tunes inside of it than
in any music-box in the world.
As the boy grew older, the little cabin with the curved roof became
his favourite playground. It was near the river, and Fiddlin' Jack
was always ready to make a boat for him, or help him catch minnows
in the mill-dam. The child had a taste for music, too, and learned
some of the old Canadian songs, which he sang in a curious broken
patois, while his delighted teacher accompanied him on the violin.
But it was a great day when he was eight years old, and Jacques
brought out a small fiddle, for which he had secretly sent to
Albany, and presented it to the boy.
"You see dat feedle, Billee? Dat's for you! You mek' your lesson
on dat. When you kin mek' de museek, den you play on de violon--
lak' dis one--listen!"
Then he drew the bow across the strings and dashed into a medley of
the jolliest airs imaginable.
The boy took to his instruction as kindly as could have been
expected. School interrupted it a good deal; and play with the
other boys carried him away often; but, after all, there was nothing
that he liked much better than to sit in the little cabin on a
winter evening and pick out a simple tune after his teacher. He
must have had some talent for it, too; for Jacques was very proud of
his pupil, and prophesied great things of him.
"You know dat little Billee of 'Ose Ransom," the fiddler would say
to a circle of people at the hotel, where he still went to play for
parties; "you know dat small Ransom boy? Well, I 'm tichin' heem
play de feedle; an' I tell you, one day he play better dan hees
ticher. Ah, dat 's gr-r-reat t'ing, de museek, ain't it? Mek' you
laugh, mek' you cry, mek' you dance! Now, you dance. Tek' your
pardnerre. EN AVANT! Kip' step to de museek!"
Thirty years brought many changes to Bytown. The wild woodland
flavour evaporated out of the place almost entirely; and instead of
an independent centre of rustic life, it became an annex to great
cities. It was exploited as a summer resort, and discovered as a
winter resort. Three or four big hotels were planted there, and in
their shadow a score of boarding-houses alternately languished and
flourished. The summer cottage also appeared and multiplied; and
with it came many of the peculiar features which man elaborates in
his struggle toward the finest civilization--afternoon teas, and
amateur theatricals, and claw-hammer coats, and a casino, and even a
few servants in livery.
The very name of Bytown was discarded as being too American and
commonplace. An Indian name was discovered, and considered much
more romantic and appropriate. You will look in vain for Bytown on
the map now. Nor will you find the old saw-mill there any longer,
wasting a vast water-power to turn its dripping wheel and cut up a
few pine-logs into fragrant boards. There is a big steam-mill a
little farther up the river, which rips out thousands of feet of
lumber in a day; but there are no more pine-logs, only sticks of
spruce which the old lumbermen would have thought hardly worth
cutting. And down below the dam there is a pulp-mill, to chew up
the little trees and turn them into paper, and a chair factory, and
two or three industrial establishments, with quite a little colony
of French-Canadians employed in them as workmen.
Hose Ransom sold his place on the hill to one of the hotel
companies, and a huge caravansary occupied the site of the house
with the white palings. There were no more bleeding-hearts in the
garden. There were beds of flaring red geraniums, which looked as
if they were painted; and across the circle of smooth lawn in front
of the piazza the name of the hotel was printed in alleged
ornamental plants letters two feet long, immensely ugly. Hose had
been elevated to the office of postmaster, and lived in a Queen
Antic cottage on the main street. Little Billy Ransom had grown up
into a very interesting young man, with a decided musical genius,
and a tenor voice, which being discovered by an enterprising patron
of genius, from Boston, Billy was sent away to Paris to learn to
sing. Some day you will hear of his debut in grand opera, as
Monsieur Guillaume Rancon.
But Fiddlin' Jack lived on in the little house with the curved roof,
beside the river, refusing all the good offers which were made to
him for his piece of land.
"NON," he said; "what for shall I sell dis house? I lak' her, she
lak' me. All dese walls got full from museek, jus' lak' de wood of
dis violon. He play bettair dan de new feedle, becos' I play heem
so long. I lak' to lissen to dat rivaire in de night. She sing
from long taim' ago--jus' de same song w'en I firs come here. W'at
for I go away? W'at I get? W'at you can gif' me lak' dat?"
He was still the favourite musician of the county-side, in great
request at parties and weddings; but he had extended the sphere of
his influence a little. He was not willing to go to church, though
there were now several to choose from; but a young minister of
liberal views who had come to take charge of the new Episcopal
chapel had persuaded Jacques into the Sunday-school, to lead the
children's singing with his violin. He did it so well that the
school became the most popular in the village. It was much
pleasanter to sing than to listen to long addresses.
Jacques grew old gracefully, but he certainly grew old rapidly. His
beard was white; his shoulders were stooping; he suffered a good
deal in damp days from rheumatism--fortunately not in his hands, but
in his legs. One spring there was a long spell of abominable
weather, just between freezing and thawing. He caught a heavy cold
and took to his bed. Hose came over to look after him.
For a few days the old fiddler kept up his courage, and would sit up
in the bed trying to play; then his strength and his spirit seemed
to fail together. He grew silent and indifferent. When Hose came
in he would find Jacques with his face turned to the wall, where
there was a tiny brass crucifix hanging below the violin, and his
lips moving quietly.
"Don't ye want the fiddle, Jack? I 'd like ter hear some o' them
old-time tunes ag'in."
But the artifice failed. Jacques shook his head. His mind seemed
to turn back to the time of his first arrival in the village, and
beyond it. When he spoke at all, it was of something connected with
this early time.
"Dat was bad taim' when I near keel Bull Corey, hein?"
Hose nodded gravely.
"Dat was beeg storm, dat night when I come to Bytown. You remember
Yes, Hose remembered it very well. It was a real old-fashioned
"Ah, but befo dose taim', dere was wuss taim' dan dat--in Canada.
Nobody don' know 'bout dat. I lak to tell you, 'Ose, but I can't.
No, it is not possible to tell dat, nevair!"
It came into Hose's mind that the case was serious. Jack was going
to die. He never went to church, but perhaps the Sunday-school
might count for something. He was only a Frenchman, after all, and
Frenchmen had their own ways of doing things. He certainly ought to
see some kind of a preacher before he went out of the wilderness.
There was a Canadian priest in town that week, who had come down to
see about getting up a church for the French people who worked in
the mills. Perhaps Jack would like to talk with him.
His face lighted up at the proposal. He asked to have the room
tidied up, and a clean shirt put on him, and the violin laid open in
its case on a table beside the bed, and a few other preparations
made for the visit. Then the visitor came, a tall, friendly, quietlooking
man about Jacques's age, with a smooth face and a long black
cassock. The door was shut, and they were left alone together.
"I am comforted that you are come, mon pere," said the sick man,
"for I have the heavy heart. There is a secret that I have kept for
many years. Sometimes I had almost forgotten that it must be told
at the last; but now it is the time to speak. I have a sin to
confess--a sin of the most grievous, of the most unpardonable."
The listener soothed him with gracious words; spoke of the mercy
that waits for all the penitent; urged him to open his heart without
"Well, then, mon pere, it is this that makes me fear to die. Long
since, in Canada, before I came to this place, I have killed a man.
It was--"
The voice stopped. The little round clock on the window-sill ticked
very distinctly and rapidly, as if it were in a hurry.
"I will speak as short as I can. It was in the camp of 'Poleon
Gautier, on the river St. Maurice. The big Baptiste Lacombe, that
crazy boy who wants always to fight, he mocks me when I play, he
snatches my violin, he goes to break him on the stove. There is a
knife in my belt. I spring to Baptiste. I see no more what it is
that I do. I cut him in the neck--once, twice. The blood flies
out. He falls down. He cries, 'I die.' I grab my violin from the
floor, quick; then I run to the woods. No one can catch me. A
blanket, the axe, some food, I get from a hiding-place down the
river. Then I travel, travel, travel through the woods, how many
days I know not, till I come here. No one knows me. I give myself
the name Tremblay. I make the music for them. With my violin I
live. I am happy. I forget. But it all returns to me--now--at the
last. I have murdered. Is there a forgiveness for me, mon pere?"
The priest's face had changed very swiftly at the mention of the
camp on the St. Maurice. As the story went on, he grew strangely
excited. His lips twitched. His hands trembled. At the end he
sank on his knees, close by the bed, and looked into the countenance
of the sick man, searching it as a forester searches in the undergrowth
for a lost trail. Then his eyes lighted up as he found it.
"My son," said he, clasping the old fiddler's hand in his own, "you
are Jacques Dellaire. And I--do you know me now?--I am Baptiste
Lacombe. See those two scars upon my neck. But it was not death.
You have not murdered. You have given the stroke that changed my
heart. Your sin is forgiven--AND MINE ALSO--by the mercy of God!"
The round clock ticked louder and louder. A level ray from the
setting sun--red gold--came in through the dusty window, and lay
across the clasped hands on the bed. A white-throated sparrow, the
first of the season, on his way to the woods beyond the St.
Lawrence, whistled so clearly and tenderly that it seemed as if he
were repeating to these two gray-haired exiles the name of their
homeland. "sweet--sweet--Canada, Canada, Canada!" But there was a
sweeter sound than that in the quiet room.
It was the sound of the prayer which begins, in every language
spoken by men, with the name of that Unseen One who rules over
life's chances, and pities its discords, and tunes it back again
into harmony. Yes, this prayer of the little children who are only
learning how to play the first notes of life's music, turns to the
great Master musician who knows it all and who loves to bring a
melody out of every instrument that He has made; and it seems to lay
the soul in His hands to play upon as He will, while it calls Him,
Some day, perhaps, you will go to the busy place where Bytown used
to be; and if you do, you must take the street by the river to the
white wooden church of St. Jacques. It stands on the very spot
where there was once a cabin with a curved roof. There is a gilt
cross on the top of the church. The door is usually open, and the
interior is quite gay with vases of china and brass, and paper
flowers of many colours; but if you go through to the sacristy at
the rear, you will see a brown violin hanging on the wall.
Pere Baptiste, if he is there, will take it down and show it to you.
He calls it a remarkable instrument--one of the best, of the most
But he will not let any one play upon it. He says it is a relic.
When the good priest of St. Gerome christened Patrick Mullarkey, he
lent himself unconsciously to an innocent deception. To look at the
name, you would think, of course, it belonged to an Irishman; the
very appearance of it was equal to a certificate of membership in a
Fenian society
But in effect, from the turned-up toes of his bottes sauvages to the
ends of his black mustache, the proprietor of this name was a
Frenchman--Canadian French, you understand, and therefore even more
proud and tenacious of his race than if he had been born in
Normandy. Somewhere in his family tree there must have been a graft
from the Green Isle. A wandering lumberman from County Kerry had
drifted up the Saguenay into the Lake St. John region, and married
the daughter of a habitant, and settled down to forget his own
country and his father's house. But every visible trace of this
infusion of new blood had vanished long ago, except the name; and
the name itself was transformed on the lips of the St. Geromians.
If you had heard them speak it in their pleasant droning accent,--
"Patrique Moullarque,"--you would have supposed that it was made in
France. To have a guide with such a name as that was as good as
being abroad.
Even when they cut it short and called him "Patte," as they usually
did, it had a very foreign sound. Everything about him was in
harmony with it; he spoke and laughed and sang and thought and felt
in French--the French of two hundred years ago, the language of
Samuel de Champlain and the Sieur de Monts, touched with a strong
woodland flavour. In short, my guide, philosopher, and friend, Pat,
did not have a drop of Irish in him, unless, perhaps, it was a
certain--well, you shall judge for yourself, when you have heard
this story of his virtue, and the way it was rewarded.
It was on the shore of the Lac a la Belle Riviere, fifteen miles
back from St. Gerome, that I came into the story, and found myself,
as commonly happens in the real stories which life is always
bringing out in periodical form, somewhere about the middle of the
plot. But Patrick readily made me acquainted with what had gone
before. Indeed, it is one of life's greatest charms as a storyteller
that there is never any trouble about getting a brief resume
of the argument, and even a listener who arrives late is soon put
into touch with the course of the narrative.
We had hauled our canoes and camp-stuff over the terrible road that
leads to the lake, with much creaking and groaning of wagons, and
complaining of men, who declared that the mud grew deeper and the
hills steeper every year, and vowed their customary vow never to
come that way again. At last our tents were pitched in a green
copse of balsam trees, close beside the water. The delightful sense
of peace and freedom descended upon our souls. Prosper and Ovide
were cutting wood for the camp-fire; Francois was getting ready a
brace of partridges for supper; Patrick and I were unpacking the
provisions, arranging them conveniently for present use and future
"Here, Pat," said I, as my hand fell on a large square parcel--"here
is some superfine tobacco that I got in Quebec for you and the other
men on this trip. Not like the damp stuff you had last year--a
little bad smoke and too many bad words. This is tobacco to burn--
something quite particular, you understand. How does that please
He had been rolling up a piece of salt pork in a cloth as I spoke,
and courteously wiped his fingers on the outside of the bundle
before he stretched out his hand to take the package of tobacco.
Then he answered, with his unfailing politeness, but more solemnly
than usual:
"A thousand thanks to m'sieu'. But this year I shall not have need
of the good tobacco. It shall be for the others."
The reply was so unexpected that it almost took my breath away. For
Pat, the steady smoker, whose pipes were as invariable as the
precession of the equinoxes, to refuse his regular rations of the
soothing weed was a thing unheard of. Could he be growing proud in
his old age? Had he some secret supply of cigars concealed in his
kit, which made him scorn the golden Virginia leaf? I demanded an
"But no, m'sieu'," he replied; "it is not that, most assuredly. It
is something entirely different--something very serious. It is a
reformation that I commence. Does m'sieu' permit that I should
inform him of it?"
Of course I permitted, or rather, warmly encouraged, the fullest
possible unfolding of the tale; and while we sat among the bags and
boxes, and the sun settled gently down behind the sharp-pointed firs
across the lake, and the evening sky and the waveless lake glowed
with a thousand tints of deepening rose and amber, Patrick put me in
possession of the facts which had led to a moral revolution in his
"It was the Ma'm'selle Meelair, that young lady,--not very young,
but active like the youngest,--the one that I conducted down the
Grande Decharge to Chicoutimi last year, after you had gone away.
She said that she knew m'sieu' intimately. No doubt you have a good
remembrance of her?"
I admitted an acquaintance with the lady. She was the president of
several societies for ethical agitation--a long woman, with short
hair and eyeglasses and a great thirst for tea; not very good in a
canoe, but always wanting to run the rapids and go into the
dangerous places, and talking all the time. Yes; that must have
been the one. She was not a bosom friend of mine, to speak
accurately, but I remembered her well.
"Well, then, m'sieu'," continued Patrick, "it was this demoiselle
who changed my mind about the smoking. But not in a moment, you
understand; it was a work of four days, and she spoke much.
"The first day it was at the Island House; we were trolling for
ouananiche, and she was not pleased, for she lost many of the fish.
I was smoking at the stern of the canoe, and she said that the
tobacco was a filthy weed, that it grew in the devil's garden, and
that it smelled bad, terribly bad, and that it made the air sick,
and that even the pig would not eat it."
I could imagine Patrick's dismay as he listened to this
dissertation; for in his way he was as sensitive as a woman, and he
would rather have been upset in his canoe than have exposed himself
to the reproach of offending any one of his patrons by unpleasant or
unseemly conduct.
"What did you do then, Pat?" I asked.
"Certainly I put out the pipe--what could I do otherwise? But I
thought that what the demoiselle Meelair has said was very strange,
and not true--exactly; for I have often seen the tobacco grow, and
it springs up out of the ground like the wheat or the beans, and it
has beautiful leaves, broad and green, with sometimes a red flower
at the top. Does the good God cause the filthy weeds to grow like
that? Are they not all clean that He has made? The potato--it is
not filthy. And the onion? It has a strong smell; but the
demoiselle Meelair she ate much of the onion--when we were not at
the Island House, but in the camp.
"And the smell of the tobacco--this is an affair of the taste. For
me, I love it much; it is like a spice. When I come home at night
to the camp-fire, where the boys are smoking, the smell of the pipes
runs far out into the woods to salute me. It says, 'Here we are,
Patrique; come in near to the fire.' The smell of the tobacco is
more sweet than the smell of the fish. The pig loves it not,
assuredly; but what then? I am not a pig. To me it is good, good,
good. Don't you find it like that, m'sieu'?
I had to confess that in the affair of taste I sided with Patrick
rather than with the pig. "Continue," I said--"continue, my boy.
Miss Miller must have said more than that to reform you."
"Truly," replied Pat. "On the second day we were making the lunch
at midday on the island below the first rapids. I smoked the pipe
on a rock apart, after the collation. Mees Meelair comes to me, and
says: 'Patrique, my man, do you comprehend that the tobacco is a
poison? You are committing the murder of yourself.' Then she tells
me many things--about the nicoline, I think she calls him; how he
goes into the blood and into the bones and into the hair, and how
quickly he will kill the cat. And she says, very strong, 'The men
who smoke the tobacco shall die!'"
"That must have frightened you well, Pat. I suppose you threw away
your pipe at once."
"But no, m'sieu'; this time I continue to smoke, for now it is Mees
Meelair who comes near the pipe voluntarily, and it is not my
offence. And I remember, while she is talking, the old bonhomme
Michaud St. Gerome. He is a capable man; when he was young he could
carry a barrel of flour a mile without rest, and now that he has
seventy-three years he yet keeps his force. And he smokes--it is
astonishing how that old man smokes! All the day, except when he
sleeps. If the tobacco is a poison, it is a poison of the slowest--
like the tea or the coffee. For the cat it is quick--yes; but for
the man it is long; and I am still young--only thirty-one.
"But the third day, m'sieu'--the third day was the worst. It was a
day of sadness, a day of the bad chance. The demoiselle Meelair was
not content but that we should leap the Rapide des Cedres in canoe.
It was rough, rough--all feather-white, and the big rock at the
corner boiling like a kettle. But it is the ignorant who have the
most of boldness. The demoiselle Meelair she was not solid in the
canoe. She made a jump and a loud scream. I did my possible, but
the sea was too high. We took in of the water about five buckets.
We were very wet. After that we make the camp; and while I sit by
the fire to dry my clothes I smoke for comfort.
"Mees Meelair she comes to me once more. 'Patrique,' she says with
a sad voice, 'I am sorry that a nice man, so good, so brave, is
married to a thing so bad, so sinful!' At first I am mad when I
hear this, because I think she means Angelique, my wife; but
immediately she goes on: 'You are married to the smoking. That is
sinful; it is a wicked thing. Christians do not smoke. There is
none of the tobacco in heaven. The men who use it cannot go there.
Ah, Patrique, do you wish to go to the hell with your pipe?'"
"That was a close question," I commented; "your Miss Miller is a
plain speaker. But what did you say when she asked you that?"
"I said, m'sieu'," replied Patrick, lifting his hand to his
forehead, "that I must go where the good God pleased to send me, and
that I would have much joy to go to the same place with our cure,
the Pere Morel, who is a great smoker. I am sure that the pipe of
comfort is no sin to that holy man when he returns, some cold night,
from the visiting of the sick--it is not sin, not more than the soft
chair and the warm fire. It harms no one, and it makes quietness of
mind. For me, when I see m'sieu' the cure sitting at the door of
the presbytere, in the evening coolness, smoking the tobacco, very
peaceful, and when he says to me, 'Good day, Patrique; will you have
a pipeful?' I cannot think that is wicked--no!"
There was a warmth of sincerity in the honest fellow's utterance
that spoke well for the character of the cure of St. Gerome. The
good word of a plain fisherman or hunter is worth more than a degree
of doctor of divinity from a learned university.
I too had grateful memories of good men, faithful, charitable, wise,
devout,--men before whose virtues my heart stood uncovered and
reverent, men whose lives were sweet with self-sacrifice, and whose
words were like stars of guidance to many souls,--and I had often
seen these men solacing their toils and inviting pleasant, kindly
thoughts with the pipe of peace. I wondered whether Miss Miller
ever had the good fortune to meet any of these men. They were not
members of the societies for ethical agitation, but they were
profitable men to know. Their very presence was medicinal. It
breathed patience and fidelity to duty, and a large, quiet
"Well, then," I asked, "what did she say finally to turn you? What
was her last argument? Come, Pat, you must make it a little shorter
than she did."
"In five words, m'sieu', it was this: 'The tobacco causes the
poverty.' The fourth day--you remind yourself of the long deadwater
below the Rapide Gervais? It was there. All the day she
spoke to me of the money that goes to the smoke. Two piastres the
month. Twenty-four the year. Three hundred--yes, with the
interest, more than three hundred in ten years! Two thousand
piastres in the life of the man! But she comprehends well the
arithmetic, that demoiselle Meelair; it was enormous! The big
farmer Tremblay has not more money at the bank than that. Then she
asks me if I have been at Quebec? No. If I would love to go? Of
course, yes. For two years of the smoking we could go, the goodwife
and me, to Quebec, and see the grand city, and the shops, and the
many people, and the cathedral, and perhaps the theatre. And at the
asylum of the orphans we could seek one of the little found children
to bring home with us, to be our own; for m'sieu knows it is the
sadness of our house that we have no child. But it was not Mees
Meelair who said that--no, she would not understand that thought."
Patrick paused for a moment, and rubbed his chin reflectively. Then
he continued:
"And perhaps it seems strange to you also, m'sieu', that a poor man
should be so hungry for children. It is not so everywhere: not in
America, I hear. But it is so with us in Canada. I know not a man
so poor that he would not feel richer for a child. I know not a man
so happy that he would not feel happier with a child in the house.
It is the best thing that the good God gives to us; something to
work for; something to play with. It makes a man more gentle and
more strong. And a woman,--her heart is like an empty nest, if she
has not a child. It was the darkest day that ever came to Angelique
and me when our little baby flew away, four years ago. But perhaps
if we have not one of our own, there is another somewhere, a little
child of nobody, that belongs to us, for the sake of the love of
children. Jean Boucher, my wife's cousin, at St. Joseph d'Alma, has
taken two from the asylum. Two, m'sieu', I assure you for as soon
as one was twelve years old, he said he wanted a baby, and so he
went back again and got another. That is what I should like to do."
"But, Pat," said I, "it is an expensive business, this raising of
children. You should think twice about it."
"Pardon, m'sieu'," answered Patrick; "I think a hundred times and
always the same way. It costs little more for three, or four, or
five, in the house than for two. The only thing is the money for
the journey to the city, the choice, the arrangement with the nuns.
For that one must save. And so I have thrown away the pipe. I
smoke no more. The money of the tobacco is for Quebec and for the
little found child. I have already eighteen piastres and twenty
sous in the old box of cigars on the chimney-piece at the house.
This year will bring more. The winter after the next, if we have
the good chance, we go to the city, the goodwife and me, and we come
home with the little boy--or maybe the little girl. Does m'sieu'
"You are a man of virtue, Pat," said I; "and since you will not take
your share of the tobacco on this trip, it shall go to the other
men; but you shall have the money instead, to put into your box on
the mantel-piece."
After supper that evening I watched him with some curiosity to see
what he would do without his pipe. He seemed restless and uneasy.
The other men sat around the fire, smoking; but Patrick was down at
the landing, fussing over one of the canoes, which had been somewhat
roughly handled on the road coming in. Then he began to tighten the
tent-ropes, and hauled at them so vigorously that he loosened two of
the stakes. Then he whittled the blade of his paddle for a while,
and cut it an inch too short. Then he went into the men's tent, and
in a few minutes the sound of snoring told that he had sought refuge
in sleep at eight o'clock, without telling a single caribou story,
or making any plans for the next day's sport.
For several days we lingered on the Lake of the Beautiful River,
trying the fishing. We explored all the favourite meeting-places of
the trout, at the mouths of the streams and in the cool springholes,
but we did not have remarkable success. I am bound to say
that Patrick was not at his best that year as a fisherman. He was
as ready to work, as interested, as eager, as ever; but he lacked
steadiness, persistence, patience. Some tranquillizing influence
seemed to have departed from him. That placid confidence in the
ultimate certainty of catching fish, which is one of the chief
elements of good luck, was wanting. He did not appear to be able to
sit still in the canoe. The mosquitoes troubled him terribly. He
was just as anxious as a man could be to have me take plenty of the
largest trout, but he was too much in a hurry. He even went so far
as to say that he did not think I cast the fly as well as I did
formerly, and that I was too slow in striking when the fish rose.
He was distinctly a weaker man without his pipe, but his virtuous
resolve held firm.
There was one place in particular that required very cautious
angling. It was a spring-hole at the mouth of the Riviere du
Milieu--an open space, about a hundred feet long and fifteen feet
wide, in the midst of the lily-pads, and surrounded on every side by
clear, shallow water. Here the great trout assembled at certain
hours of the day; but it was not easy to get them. You must come up
delicately in the canoe, and make fast to a stake at the side of the
pool, and wait a long time for the place to get quiet and the fish
to recover from their fright and come out from under the lily-pads.
It had been our custom to calm and soothe this expectant interval
with incense of the Indian weed, friendly to meditation and a foe of
"Raw haste, half-sister to delay." But this year Patrick could not
endure the waiting. After five minutes he would say:
"BUT the fishing is bad this season! There are none of the big ones
here at all. Let us try another place. It will go better at the
Riviere du Cheval, perhaps."
There was only one thing that would really keep him quiet, and that
was a conversation about Quebec. The glories of that wonderful city
entranced his thoughts. He was already floating, in imagination,
with the vast throngs of people that filled its splendid streets,
looking up at the stately houses and churches with their glittering
roofs of tin, and staring his fill at the magnificent shop-windows,
where all the luxuries of the world were displayed. He had heard
that there were more than a hundred shops--separate shops for all
kinds of separate things: some for groceries, and some for shoes,
and some for clothes, and some for knives and axes, and some for
guns, and many shops where they sold only jewels--gold rings, and
diamonds, and forks of pure silver. Was it not so?
He pictured himself, side by side with his goodwife, in the salle a
manger of the Hotel Richelieu, ordering their dinner from a printed
bill of fare. Side by side they were walking on the Dufferin
Terrace, listening to the music of the military band. Side by side
they were watching the wonders of the play at the Theatre de
l'Etoile du Nord. Side by side they were kneeling before the
gorgeous altar in the cathedral. And then they were standing
silent, side by side, in the asylum of the orphans, looking at brown
eyes and blue, at black hair and yellow curls, at fat legs and rosy
cheeks and laughing mouths, while the Mother Superior showed off the
little boys and girls for them to choose. This affair of the choice
was always a delightful difficulty, and here his fancy loved to hang
in suspense, vibrating between rival joys.
Once, at the Riviere du Milieu, after considerable discourse upon
Quebec, there was an interval of silence, during which I succeeded
in hooking and playing a larger trout than usual. As the fish came
up to the side of the canoe, Patrick netted him deftly, exclaiming
with an abstracted air, "It is a boy, after all. I like that best."
Our camp was shifted, the second week, to the Grand Lac des Cedres;
and there we had extraordinary fortune with the trout: partly, I
conjecture, because there was only one place to fish, and so
Patrick's uneasy zeal could find no excuse for keeping me in
constant motion all around the lake. But in the matter of weather
we were not so happy. There is always a conflict in the angler's
mind about the weather--a struggle between his desires as a man and
his desires as a fisherman. This time our prayers for a good
fishing season were granted at the expense of our suffering human
nature. There was a conjunction in the zodiac of the signs of
Aquarius and Pisces. It rained as easily, as suddenly, as
penetratingly, as Miss Miller talked; but in between the showers the
trout were very hungry.
One day, when we were paddling home to our tents among the birch
trees, one of these unexpected storms came up; and Patrick,
thoughtful of my comfort as ever, insisted on giving me his coat to
put around my dripping shoulders. The paddling would serve instead
of a coat for him, he said; it would keep him warm to his bones. As
I slipped the garment over my back, something hard fell from one of
the pockets into the bottom of the canoe. It was a brier-wood pipe.
"Aha! Pat," I cried; "what is this? You said you had thrown all
your pipes away. How does this come in your pocket?"
"But, m'sieu'," he answered, "this is different. This is not the
pipe pure and simple. It is a souvenir. It is the one you gave me
two years ago on the Metabetchouan, when we got the big caribou. I
could not reject this. I keep it always for the remembrance."
At this moment my hand fell upon a small, square object in the other
pocket of the coat. I pulled it out. It was a cake of Virginia
leaf. Without a word, I held it up, and looked at Patrick. He
began to explain eagerly:
"Yes, certainly, it is the tobacco, m'sieu'; but it is not for the
smoke, as you suppose. It is for the virtue, for the self-victory.
I call this my little piece of temptation. See; the edges are not
cut. I smell it only; and when I think how it is good, then I speak
to myself, 'But the little found child will be better!' It will
last a long time, this little piece of temptation; perhaps until we
have the boy at our house--or maybe the girl."
The conflict between the cake of Virginia leaf and Patrick's virtue
must have been severe during the last ten days of our expedition;
for we went down the Riviere des Ecorces, and that is a tough trip,
and full of occasions when consolation is needed. After a long,
hard day's work cutting out an abandoned portage through the woods,
or tramping miles over the incredibly shaggy hills to some outlying
pond for a caribou, and lugging the saddle and hind quarters back to
the camp, the evening pipe, after supper, seemed to comfort the men
unspeakably. If their tempers had grown a little short under stress
of fatigue and hunger, now they became cheerful and good-natured
again. They sat on logs before the camp-fire, their stockinged feet
stretched out to the blaze, and the puffs of smoke rose from their
lips like tiny salutes to the comfortable flame, or like incense
burned upon the altar of gratitude and contentment.
Patrick, I noticed about this time, liked to get on the leeward side
of as many pipes as possible, and as near as he could to the
smokers. He said that this kept away the mosquitoes. There he
would sit, with the smoke drifting full in his face, both hands in
his pockets, talking about Quebec, and debating the comparative
merits of a boy or a girl as an addition to his household.
But the great trial of his virtue was yet to come. The main object
of our trip down the River of Barks--the terminus ad quem of the
expedition, so to speak--was a bear. Now the bear as an object of
the chase, at least in Canada, is one of the most illusory of
phantoms. The manner of hunting is simple. It consists in walking
about through the woods, or paddling along a stream, until you meet
a bear; then you try to shoot him. This would seem to be, as the
Rev. Mr. Leslie called his book against the deists of the eighteenth
century, "A Short and Easie Method." But in point of fact there are
two principal difficulties. The first is that you never find the
bear when and where you are looking for him. The second is that the
bear sometimes finds you when--but you shall see how it happened to us.
We had hunted the whole length of the River of Barks with the utmost
pains and caution, never going out, even to pick blueberries,
without having the rifle at hand, loaded for the expected encounter.
Not one bear had we met. It seemed as if the whole ursine tribe
must have emigrated to Labrador.
At last we came to the mouth of the river, where it empties into
Lake Kenogami, in a comparatively civilized country, with several
farm-houses in full view on the opposite bank. It was not a
promising place for the chase; but the river ran down with a little
fall and a lively, cheerful rapid into the lake, and it was a
capital spot for fishing. So we left the rifle in the case, and
took a canoe and a rod, and went down, on the last afternoon, to
stand on the point of rocks at the foot of the rapid, and cast the
We caught half a dozen good trout; but the sun was still hot, and we
concluded to wait awhile for the evening fishing. So we turned the
canoe bottom up among the bushes on the shore, stored the trout away
in the shade beneath it, and sat down in a convenient place among
the stones to have another chat about Quebec. We had just passed
the jewelry shops, and were preparing to go to the asylum of the
orphans, when Patrick put his hand on my shoulder with a convulsive
grip, and pointed up the stream.
There was a huge bear, like a very big, wicked, black sheep with a
pointed nose, making his way down the shore. He shambled along
lazily and unconcernedly, as if his bones were loosely tied together
in a bag of fur. It was the most indifferent and disconnected gait
that I ever saw. Nearer and nearer he sauntered, while we sat as
still as if we had been paralyzed. And the gun was in its case at
the tent!
How the bear knew this I cannot tell; but know it he certainly did,
for he kept on until he reached the canoe, sniffed at it
suspiciously, thrust his sharp nose under it, and turned it over
with a crash that knocked two holes in the bottom, ate the fish,
licked his chops, stared at us for a few moments without the
slightest appearance of gratitude, made up his mind that he did not
like our personal appearance, and then loped leisurely up the
mountain-side. We could hear him cracking the underbrush long after
he was lost to sight.
Patrick looked at me and sighed. I said nothing. The French
language, as far as I knew it, seemed trifling and inadequate. It
was a moment when nothing could do any good except the consolations
of philosophy, or a pipe. Patrick pulled the brier-wood from his
pocket; then he took out the cake of Virginia leaf, looked at it,
smelled it, shook his head, and put it back again. His face was as
long as his arm. He stuck the cold pipe into his mouth, and pulled
away at it for a while in silence. Then his countenance began to
clear, his mouth relaxed, he broke into a laugh.
"Sacred bear!" he cried, slapping his knee; "sacred beast of the
world! What a day of the good chance for her, HE! But she was
glad, I suppose. Perhaps she has some cubs, HE? BAJETTE!"
This was the end of our hunting and fishing for that year. We spent
the next two days in voyaging through a half-dozen small lakes and
streams, in a farming country, on our way home. I observed that
Patrick kept his souvenir pipe between his lips a good deal of the
time, and puffed at vacancy. It seemed to soothe him. In his
conversation he dwelt with peculiar satisfaction on the thought of
the money in the cigar-box on the mantel-piece at St. Gerome.
Eighteen piastres and twenty sous already! And with the addition to
be made from the tobacco not smoked during the past month, it would
amount to more than twenty-three piastres; and all as safe in the
cigar-box as if it were in the bank at Chicoutimi! That reflection
seemed to fill the empty pipe with fragrance. It was a Barmecide
smoke; but the fumes of it were potent, and their invisible wreaths
framed the most enchanting visions of tall towers, gray walls,
glittering windows, crowds of people, regiments of soldiers, and the
laughing eyes of a little boy--or was it a little girl?
When we came out of the mouth of La Belle Riviere, the broad blue
expanse of Lake St. John spread before us, calm and bright in the
radiance of the sinking sun. In a curve on the left, eight miles
away, sparkled the slender steeple of the church of St. Gerome. A
thick column of smoke rose from somewhere in its neighbourhood. "It
is on the beach," said the men; "the boys of the village accustom
themselves to burn the rubbish there for a bonfire." But as our
canoes danced lightly forward over the waves and came nearer to the
place, it was evident that the smoke came from the village itself.
It was a conflagration, but not a general one; the houses were too
scattered and the day too still for a fire to spread. What could it
be? Perhaps the blacksmith shop, perhaps the bakery, perhaps the
old tumble-down barn of the little Tremblay? It was not a large
fire, that was certain. But where was it precisely?
The question, becoming more and more anxious, was answered when we
arrived at the beach. A handful of boys, eager to be the bearers of
news, had spied us far off, and ran down to the shore to meet us.
"Patrique! Patrique!" they shouted in English, to make their
importance as great as possible in my eyes. "Come 'ome kveek; yo'
'ouse ees hall burn'!"
"W'at!" cried Patrick. "MONJEE!" And he drove the canoe ashore,
leaped out, and ran up the bank toward the village as if he were
mad. The other men followed him, leaving me with the boys to unload
the canoes and pull them up on the sand, where the waves would not
chafe them.
This took some time, and the boys helped me willingly. "Eet ees not
need to 'urry, m'sieu'," they assured me; "dat 'ouse to Patrique
Moullarque ees hall burn' seence t'ree hour. Not'ing lef' bot de
As soon as possible, however, I piled up the stuff, covered it with
one of the tents, and leaving it in charge of the steadiest of the
boys, took the road to the village and the site of the Maison
It had vanished completely: the walls of squared logs were gone; the
low, curved roof had fallen; the door-step with the morning-glory
vines climbing up beside it had sunken out of sight; nothing
remained but the dome of the clay oven at the back of the house, and
a heap of smouldering embers.
Patrick sat beside his wife on a flat stone that had formerly
supported the corner of the porch. His shoulder was close to
Angelique's--so close that it looked almost as if he must have had
his arm around her a moment before I came up. His passion and grief
had calmed themselves down now, and he was quite tranquil. In his
left hand he held the cake of Virginia leaf, in his right a knife.
He was cutting off delicate slivers of the tobacco, which he rolled
together with a circular motion between his palms. Then he pulled
his pipe from his pocket and filled the bowl with great
"What a misfortune!" I cried. "The pretty house is gone. I am so
sorry, Patrick. And the box of money on the mantel-piece, that is
gone, too, I fear--all your savings. What a terrible misfortune!
How did it happen?"
"I cannot tell," he answered rather slowly. "It is the good God.
And he has left me my Angelique. Also, m'sieu', you see"--here he
went over to the pile of ashes, and pulled out a fragment of charred
wood with a live coal at the end--"you see"--puff, puff--"he has
given me"--puff, puff--"a light for my pipe again"--puff, puff,
The fragrant, friendly smoke was pouring out now in full volume. It
enwreathed his head like drifts of cloud around the rugged top of a
mountain at sunrise. I could see that his face was spreading into a
smile of ineffable contentment.
"My faith!" said I, "how can you be so cheerful? Your house is in
ashes; your money is burned up; the voyage to Quebec, the visit to
the asylum, the little orphan--how can you give it all up so
"Well," he replied, taking the pipe from his mouth, with fingers
curling around the bowl, as if they loved to feel that it was warm
once more--"well, then, it would be more hard, I suppose, to give it
up not easily. And then, for the house, we shall build a new one
this fall; the neighbours will help. And for the voyage to Quebec--
without that we may be happy. And as regards the little orphan, I
will tell you frankly"--here he went back to his seat upon the flat
stone, and settled himself with an air of great comfort beside his
partner--"I tell you, in confidence, Angelique demands that I
prepare a particular furniture at the new house. Yes, it is a
cradle; but it is not for an orphan."
It was late in the following summer when I came back again to St.
Gerome. The golden-rods and the asters were all in bloom along the
village street; and as I walked down it the broad golden sunlight of
the short afternoon seemed to glorify the open road and the plain
square houses with a careless, homely rapture of peace. The air was
softly fragrant with the odour of balm of Gilead. A yellow warbler
sang from a little clump of elder-bushes, tinkling out his contented
song like a chime of tiny bells, "Sweet--sweet--sweet--sweeter--
There was the new house, a little farther back from the road than
the old one; and in the place where the heap of ashes had lain, a
primitive garden, with marigolds and lupines and zinnias all abloom.
And there was Patrick, sitting on the door-step, smoking his pipe in
the cool of the day. Yes; and there, on a many-coloured counterpane
spread beside him, an infant joy of the house of Mullarkey was
sucking her thumb, while her father was humming the words of an old
Sainte Marguerite,
Veillez ma petite!
Endormez ma p'tite enfant
Jusqu'a l'age de quinze ans!
Quand elle aura quinze ans passe
Il faudra la marier
Avec un p'tit bonhomme
Que viendra de Rome.
"Hola! Patrick," I cried; "good luck to you! Is it a girl or a
"SALUT! m'sieu'," he answered, jumping up and waving his pipe. "It
is a girl AND a boy!"
Sure enough, as I entered the door, I beheld Angelique rocking the
other half of the reward of virtue in the new cradle.
"That was truly his name, m'sieu'--Raoul Vaillantcoeur--a name of
the fine sound, is it not? You like that word,--a valiant heart,--
it pleases you, eh! The man who calls himself by such a name as
that ought to be a brave fellow, a veritable hero? Well, perhaps.
But I know an Indian who is called Le Blanc; that means white. And
a white man who is called Lenoir; that means black. It is very
droll, this affair of the names. It is like the lottery."
Silence for a few moments, broken only by the ripple of water under
the bow of the canoe, the persistent patter of the rain all around
us, and the SLISH, SLISH of the paddle with which Ferdinand, my
Canadian voyageur, was pushing the birch-bark down the lonely length
of Lac Moise. I knew that there was one of his stories on the way.
But I must keep still to get it. A single ill-advised comment, a
word that would raise a question of morals or social philosophy,
might switch the narrative off the track into a swamp of abstract
discourse in which Ferdinand would lose himself. Presently the
voice behind me began again.
"But that word VAILLANT, m'sieu'; with us in Canada it does not mean
always the same as with you. Sometimes we use it for something that
sounds big, but does little; a gun that goes off with a terrible
crack, but shoots not straight nor far. When a man is like that he
is FANFARON, he shows off well, but--well, you shall judge for
yourself, when you hear what happened between this man Vaillantcoeur
and his friend Prosper Leclere at the building of the stone tower of
the church at Abbeville. You remind yourself of that grand church
with the tall tower--yes? With permission I am going to tell you
what passed when that was made. And you shall decide whether there
was truly a brave heart in the story, or not; and if it went with
the name.
Thus the tale began, in the vast solitude of the northern forest,
among the granite peaks of the ancient Laurentian Mountains, on a
lake that knew no human habitation save the Indian's wigwam or the
fisherman's tent.
How it rained that day! The dark clouds had collapsed upon the
hills in shapeless folds. The waves of the lake were beaten flat by
the lashing strokes of the storm. Quivering sheets of watery gray
were driven before the wind; and broad curves of silver bullets
danced before them as they swept over the surface. All around the
homeless shores the evergreen trees seemed to hunch their backs and
crowd closer together in patient misery. Not a bird had the heart
to sing; only the loon--storm-lover--laughed his crazy challenge to
the elements, and mocked us with his long-drawn maniac scream.
It seemed as if we were a thousand miles from everywhere and
everybody. Cities, factories, libraries, colleges, law-courts,
theatres, palaces,--what had we dreamed of these things? They were
far off, in another world. We had slipped back into a primitive
life. Ferdinand was telling me the naked story of human love and
human hate, even as it has been told from the beginning.
I cannot tell it just as he did. There was a charm in his speech
too quick for the pen: a woodland savour not to be found in any ink
for sale in the shops. I must tell it in my way, as he told it in
But at all events, nothing that makes any difference shall go into
the translation unless it was in the original. This is Ferdinand's
story. If you care for the real thing, here it is.
There were two young men in Abbeville who were easily the cocks of
the woodland walk. Their standing rested on the fact that they were
the strongest men in the parish. Strength is the thing that counts,
when people live on the edge of the wilderness. These two were well
known all through the country between Lake St. John and Chicoutimi
as men of great capacity. Either of them could shoulder a barrel of
flour and walk off with it as lightly as a common man would carry a
side of bacon. There was not a half-pound of difference between
them in ability. But there was a great difference in their looks
and in their way of doing things.
Raoul Vaillantcoeur was the biggest and the handsomest man in the
village; nearly six feet tall, straight as a fir tree, and black as
a bull-moose in December. He had natural force enough and to spare.
Whatever he did was done by sheer power of back and arm. He could
send a canoe up against the heaviest water, provided he did not get
mad and break his paddle--which he often did. He had more muscle
than he knew how to use.
Prosper Leclere did not have so much, but he knew better how to
handle it. He never broke his paddle--unless it happened to be a
bad one, and then he generally had another all ready in the canoe.
He was at least four inches shorter than Vaillantcoeur; broad
shoulders, long arms, light hair, gray eyes; not a handsome fellow,
but pleasant-looking and very quiet. What he did was done more than
half with his head.
He was the kind of a man that never needs more than one match to
light a fire.
But Vaillantcoeur--well, if the wood was wet he might use a dozen,
and when the blaze was kindled, as like as not he would throw in the
rest of the box.
Now, these two men had been friends and were changed into rivals.
At least that was the way that one of them looked at it. And most
of the people in the parish seemed to think that was the right view.
It was a strange thing, and not altogether satisfactory to the
public mind, to have two strongest men in the village. The question
of comparative standing in the community ought to be raised and
settled in the usual way. Raoul was perfectly willing, and at times
(commonly on Saturday nights) very eager. But Prosper was not.
"No," he said, one March night, when he was boiling maple-sap in the
sugar-bush with little Ovide Rossignol (who had a lyric passion for
holding the coat while another man was fighting)--"no, for what
shall I fight with Raoul? As boys we have played together. Once,
in the rapids of the Belle Riviere, when I have fallen in the water,
I think he has saved my life. He was stronger, then, than me. I am
always a friend to him. If I beat him now, am I stronger? No, but
weaker. And if he beats me, what is the sense of that? Certainly I
shall not like it. What is to gain?"
Down in the store of old Girard, that night, Vaillantcoeur was
holding forth after a different fashion. He stood among the
cracker-boxes and flour-barrels, with a background of shelves laden
with bright-coloured calicoes, and a line of tin pails hanging
overhead, and stated his view of the case with vigour. He even
pulled off his coat and rolled up his shirt-sleeve to show the
knotty arguments with which he proposed to clinch his opinion.
"That Leclere," said he, "that little Prosper Leclere! He thinks
himself one of the strongest--a fine fellow! But I tell you he is a
coward. If he is clever? Yes. But he is a poltroon. He knows
well that I can flatten him out like a crepe in the frying-pan. But
he is afraid. He has not as much courage as the musk-rat. You
stamp on the bank. He dives. He swims away. Bah!"
"How about that time he cut loose the jam of logs in the Rapide des
Cedres?" said old Girard from his corner.
Vaillantcoeur's black eyes sparkled and he twirled his mustache
fiercely. "SAPRIE!" he cried, "that was nothing! Any man with an
axe can cut a log. But to fight--that is another affair. That
demands the brave heart. The strong man who will not fight is a
coward. Some day I will put him through the mill--you shall see
what that small Leclere is made of. SACREDAM!"
Of course, affairs had not come to this pass all at once. It was a
long history, beginning with the time when the two boys had played
together, and Raoul was twice as strong as the other, and was very
proud of it. Prosper did not care; it was all right so long as they
had a good time. But then Prosper began to do things better and
better. Raoul did not understand it; he was jealous. Why should he
not always be the leader? He had more force. Why should Prosper
get ahead? Why should he have better luck at the fishing and the
hunting and the farming? It was by some trick. There was no
justice in it.
Raoul was not afraid of anything but death; and whatever he wanted,
he thought he had a right to have. But he did not know very well
how to get it. He would start to chop a log just at the spot where
there was a big knot.
He was the kind of a man that sets hare-snares on a caribou-trail,
and then curses his luck because he catches nothing.
Besides, whatever he did, he was always thinking most about beating
somebody else. But Prosper eared most for doing the thing as well
as he could. If any one else could beat him--well, what difference
did it make? He would do better the next time.
If he had a log to chop, he looked it all over for a clear place
before he began. What he wanted was, not to make the chips fly, but
to get the wood split.
You are not to suppose that the one man was a saint and a hero, and
the other a fool and a ruffian. No; that sort of thing happens only
in books. People in Abbeville were not made on that plan. They
were both plain men. But there was a difference in their hearts;
and out of that difference grew all the trouble.
It was hard on Vaillantcoeur, of course, to see Leclere going ahead,
getting rich, clearing off the mortgage on his farm, laying up money
with the notary Bergeron, who acted as banker for the parish--it was
hard to look on at this, while he himself stood still, or even
slipped back a little, got into debt, had to sell a bit of the land
that his father left him. There must be some cheating about it.
But this was not the hardest morsel to swallow. The great thing
that stuck in his crop was the idea that the little Prosper, whom he
could have whipped so easily, and whom he had protected so loftily,
when they were boys, now stood just as high as he did as a capable
man--perhaps even higher. Why was it that when the Price Brothers,
down at Chicoutimi, had a good lumber-job up in the woods on the
Belle Riviere, they made Leclere the boss, instead of Vaillantcoeur?
Why did the cure Villeneuve choose Prosper, and not Raoul, to steady
the strain of the biggest pole when they were setting up the derrick
for the building of the new church?
It was rough, rough! The more Raoul thought of it, the rougher it
seemed. The fact that it was a man who had once been his protege,
and still insisted on being his best friend, did not make it any
smoother. Would you have liked it any better on that account? I am
not telling you how it ought to have been, I am telling you how it
was. This isn't Vaillantcoeur's account-book; it's his story. You
must strike your balances as you go along.
And all the time, you see, he felt sure that he was a stronger man
and a braver man than Prosper. He was hungry to prove it in the
only way that he could understand. The sense of rivalry grew into a
passion of hatred, and the hatred shaped itself into a blind,
headstrong desire to fight. Everything that Prosper did well,
seemed like a challenge; every success that he had was as hard to
bear as an insult. All the more, because Prosper seemed unconscious
of it. He refused to take offence, went about his work quietly and
cheerfully, turned off hard words with a joke, went out of his way
to show himself friendly and good-natured. In reality, of course,
he knew well enough how matters stood. But he was resolved not to
show that he knew, if he could help it; and in any event, not to be
one of the two that are needed to make a quarrel.
He felt very strangely about it. There was a presentiment in his
heart that he did not dare to shake off. It seemed as if this
conflict were one that would threaten the happiness of his whole
life. He still kept his old feeling of attraction to Raoul, the
memory of the many happy days they had spent together; and though
the friendship, of course, could never again be what it had been,
there was something of it left, at least on Prosper's side. To
struggle with this man, strike at his face, try to maim and
disfigure him, roll over and over on the ground with him, like two
dogs tearing each other,--the thought was hateful. His gorge rose
at it. He would never do it, unless to save his life. Then? Well,
then, God must be his judge.
So it was that these two men stood against each other in Abbeville.
Just as strongly as Raoul was set to get into a fight, just so
strongly was Prosper set to keep out of one. It was a trial of
strength between two passions,--the passion of friendship and the
passion of fighting.
Two or three things happened to put an edge on Raoul's hunger for an
out-and-out fight.
The first was the affair at the shanty on Lac des Caps. The woodchoppers,
like sailors, have a way of putting a new man through a
few tricks to initiate him into the camp. Leclere was bossing the
job, with a gang of ten men from St. Raymond under him.
Vaillantcoeur had just driven a team in over the snow with a load of
provisions, and was lounging around the camp as if it belonged to
him. It was Sunday afternoon, the regular time for fun, but no one
dared to take hold of him. He looked too big. He expressed his
opinion of the camp.
"No fun in this shanty, HE? I suppose that little Leclere he makes
you others work, and say your prayers, and then, for the rest, you
can sleep. HE! Well, I am going to make a little fun for you, my
boys. Come, Prosper, get your hat, if you are able to climb a tree."
He snatched the hat from the table by the stove and ran out into the
snow. In front of the shanty a good-sized birch, tall, smooth, very
straight, was still standing. He went up the trunk like a bear.
But there was a dead balsam that had fallen against the birch and
lodged on the lower branches. It was barely strong enough to bear
the weight of a light man. Up this slanting ladder Prosper ran
quickly in his moccasined feet, snatched the hat from Raoul's teeth
as he swarmed up the trunk, and ran down again. As he neared the
ground, the balsam, shaken from its lodgement, cracked and fell.
Raoul was left up the tree, perched among the branches, out of
breath. Luck had set the scene for the lumberman's favourite trick.
"Chop him down! chop him down" was the cry; and a trio of axes were
twanging against the birch tree, while the other men shouted and
laughed and pelted the tree with ice to keep the prisoner from
climbing down.
Prosper neither shouted nor chopped, but he grinned a little as he
watched the tree quiver and shake, and heard the rain of "SACRES!"
and "MAUDITS!" that came out of the swaying top. He grinned--until
he saw that a half-dozen more blows would fell the birch right on
the roof of the shanty.
"Are you crazy?" he cried, as he picked up an axe; "you know nothing
how to chop. You kill a man. You smash the cabane. Let go!" He
shoved one of the boys away and sent a few mighty cuts into the side
of the birch that was farthest from the cabin; then two short cuts
on the other side; the tree shivered, staggered, cracked, and swept
in a great arc toward the deep snow-drift by the brook. As the top
swung earthward, Raoul jumped clear of the crashing branches and
landed safely in the feather-bed of snow, buried up to his neck.
Nothing was to be seen of him but his head, like some new kind of
fire-work--sputtering bad words.
Well, this was the first thing that put an edge on Vaillantcoeur's
hunger to fight. No man likes to be chopped down by his friend,
even if the friend does it for the sake of saving him from being
killed by a fall on the shanty-roof. It is easy to forget that part
of it. What you remember is the grin.
The second thing that made it worse was the bad chance that both of
these men had to fall in love with the same girl. Of course there
were other girls in the village beside Marie Antoinette Girard--
plenty of them, and good girls, too. But somehow or other, when
they were beside her, neither Raoul nor Prosper cared to look at any
of them, but only at 'Toinette. Her eyes were so much darker and
her cheeks so much more red--bright as the berries of the mountainash
in September. Her hair hung down to her waist on Sunday in two
long braids, brown and shiny like a ripe hazelnut; and her voice
when she laughed made the sound of water tumbling over little
No one knew which of the two lovers she liked best. At school it was
certainly Raoul, because he was bigger and bolder. When she came
back from her year in the convent at Roberval it was certainly
Prosper, because he could talk better and had read more books. He
had a volume of songs full of love and romance, and knew most of
them by heart. But this did not last forever. 'Toinette's manners
had been polished at the convent, but her ideas were still those of
her own people. She never thought that knowledge of books could
take the place of strength, in the real battle of life. She was a
brave girl, and she felt sure in her heart that the man of the most
courage must be the best man after all.
For a while she appeared to persuade herself that it was Prosper,
beyond a doubt, and always took his part when the other girls
laughed at him. But this was not altogether a good sign. When a
girl really loves, she does not talk, she acts. The current of
opinion and gossip in the village was too strong for her. By the
time of the affair of the "chopping-down" at Lac des Caps, her heart
was swinging to and fro like a pendulum. One week she would walk
home from mass with Raoul. The next week she would loiter in the
front yard on a Saturday evening and talk over the gate with
Prosper, until her father called her into the shop to wait on
It was in one of these talks that the pendulum seemed to make its
last swing and settle down to its resting-place. Prosper was
telling her of the good crops of sugar that he had made from his
maple grove.
"The profit will be large--more than sixty piastres--and with that I
shall buy at Chicoutimi a new four-wheeler, of the finest, a
veritable wedding carriage--if you--if I--'Toinette? Shall we ride
His left hand clasped hers as it lay on the gate. His right arm
stole over the low picket fence and went around the shoulder that
leaned against the gate-post. The road was quite empty, the night
already dark. He could feel her warm breath on his neck as she
"If you! If I! If what? Why so many ifs in this fine speech? Of
whom is the wedding for which this new carriage is to be bought? Do
you know what Raoul Vaillantcoeur has said? 'No more wedding in
this parish till I have thrown the little Prosper over my
As she said this, laughing, she turned closer to the fence and
looked up, so that a curl on her forehead brushed against his cheek.
"BATECHE! Who told you he said that?"
"I heard him, myself."
"In the store, two nights ago. But it was not for the first time.
He said it when we came from the church together, it will be four
weeks to-morrow."
"What did you say to him?"
"I told him perhaps he was mistaken. The next wedding might be
after the little Prosper had measured the road with the back of the
longest man in Abbeville."
The laugh had gone out of her voice now. She was speaking eagerly,
and her bosom rose and fell with quick breaths. But Prosper's right
arm had dropped from her shoulder, and his hand gripped the fence as
he straightened up.
"'Toinette!" he cried, "that was bravely said. And I could do it.
Yes, I know I could do it. But, MON DIEU, what shall I say? Three
years now, he has pushed me, every one has pushed me, to fight. And
you--but I cannot. I am not capable of it."
The girl's hand lay in his as cold and still as a stone. She was
silent for a moment, and then asked, coldly, "Why not?"
"Why not? Because of the old friendship. Because he pulled me out
of the river long ago. Because I am still his friend. Because now
he hates me too much. Because it would be a black fight. Because
shame and evil would come of it, whoever won. That is what I fear,
Her hand slipped suddenly away from his. She stepped back from the
"TIENS! You have fear, Monsieur Leclere! Truly I had not thought
of that. It is strange. For so strong a man it is a little stupid
to be afraid. Good-night. I hear my father calling me. Perhaps
some one in the store who wants to be served. You must tell me
again what you are going to do with the new carriage. Good-night!"
She was laughing again. But it was a different laughter. Prosper,
at the gate, did not think it sounded like the running of a brook
over the stones. No, it was more the noise of the dry branches that
knock together in the wind. He did not hear the sigh that came as
she shut the door of the house, nor see how slowly she walked
through the passage into the store.
There seemed to be a great many rainy Saturdays that spring; and in
the early summer the trade in Girard's store was so brisk that it
appeared to need all the force of the establishment to attend to it.
The gate of the front yard had no more strain put upon its hinges.
It fell into a stiff propriety of opening and shutting, at the touch
of people who understood that a gate was made merely to pass
through, not to lean upon.
That summer Vaillantcoeur had a new hat--a black and shiny beaver--
and a new red-silk cravat. They looked fine on Corpus Christi day,
when he and 'Toinette walked together as fiancee's.
You would have thought he would have been content with that. Proud,
he certainly was. He stepped like the cure's big rooster with the
topknot--almost as far up in the air as he did along the ground; and
he held his chin high, as if he liked to look at things over his nose.
But he was not satisfied all the way through. He thought more of
beating Prosper than of getting 'Toinette. And he was not quite
sure that he had beaten him yet.
Perhaps the girl still liked Prosper a little. Perhaps she still
thought of his romances, and his chansons, and his fine, smooth
words, and missed them. Perhaps she was too silent and dull
sometimes, when she walked with Raoul; and sometimes she laughed too
loud when he talked, more at him than with him. Perhaps those St.
Raymond fellows still remembered the way his head stuck out of that
cursed snow-drift, and joked about it, and said how clever and quick
the little Prosper was. Perhaps--ah, MAUDIT! a thousand times
perhaps! And only one way to settle them, the old way, the sure
way, and all the better now because 'Toinette must be on his side.
She must understand for sure that the bravest man in the parish had
chosen her.
That was the summer of the building of the grand stone tower of the
church. The men of Abbeville did it themselves, with their own
hands, for the glory of God. They were keen about that, and the
cure was the keenest of them all. No sharing of that glory with
workmen from Quebec, if you please! Abbeville was only forty years
old, but they already understood the glory of God quite as well
there as at Quebec, without doubt. They could build their own
tower, perfectly, and they would. Besides, it would cost less.
Vaillantcoeur was the chief carpenter. He attended to the affair of
beams and timbers. Leclere was the chief mason. He directed the
affair of dressing the stones and laying them. That required a very
careful head, you understand, for the tower must be straight. In
the floor a little crookedness did not matter; but in the wall--that
might be serious. People have been killed by a falling tower. Of
course, if they were going into church, they would be sure of
heaven. But then think--what a disgrace for Abbeville!
Every one was glad that Leclere bossed the raising of the tower.
They admitted that he might not be brave, but he was assuredly
careful. Vaillantcoeur alone grumbled, and said the work went too
slowly, and even swore that the sockets for the beams were too
shallow, or else too deep, it made no difference which. That BETE
Prosper made trouble always by his poor work. But the friction
never came to a blaze; for the cure was pottering about the tower
every day and all day long, and a few words from him would make a
quarrel go off in smoke.
"Softly, my boys!" he would say; "work smooth and you work fast. The
logs in the river run well when they run all the same way. But when
two logs cross each other, on the same rock--psst! a jam! The whole
drive is hung up! Do not run crossways, my children."
The walls rose steadily, straight as a steamboat pipe--ten, twenty,
thirty, forty feet; it was time to put in the two cross-girders, lay
the floor of the belfry, finish off the stonework, and begin the
pointed wooden spire. The cure had gone to Quebec that very day to
buy the shining plates of tin for the roof, and a beautiful cross of
gilt for the pinnacle.
Leclere was in front of the tower putting on his overalls.
Vaillantcoeur came up, swearing mad. Three or four other workmen
were standing about.
"Look here, you Leclere," said he, "I tried one of the cross-girders
yesterday afternoon and it wouldn't go. The templet on the north is
crooked--crooked as your teeth. We had to let the girder down
again. I suppose we must trim it off some way, to get a level
bearing, and make the tower weak, just to match your sacre bad work,
"Well," said Prosper, pleasant and quiet enough, "I'm sorry for
that, Raoul. Perhaps I could put that templet straight, or perhaps
the girder might be a little warped and twisted, eh? What? Suppose
we measure it."
Sure enough, they found the long timber was not half seasoned and
had corkscrewed itself out of shape at least three inches.
Vaillantcoeur sat on the sill of the doorway and did not even look
at them while they were measuring. When they called out to him what
they had found, he strode over to them.
"It's a dam' lie," he said, sullenly. "Prosper Leclere, you slipped
the string. None of your sacre cheating! I have enough of it
already. Will you fight, you cursed sneak?"
Prosper's face went gray, like the mortar in the trough. His fists
clenched and the cords on his neck stood out as if they were ropes.
He breathed hard. But he only said three words:
"No! Not here."
"Not here? Why not? There is room. The cure is away. Why not
"It is the house of LE BON DIEU. Can we build it in hate?"
"POLISSON! You make an excuse. Then come to Girard's, and fight
Again Prosper held in for a moment, and spoke three words:
"No! Not now."
"Not now? But when, you heart of a hare? Will you sneak out of it
until you turn gray and die? When will you fight, little musk-rat?"
"When I have forgotten. When I am no more your friend."
Prosper picked up his trowel and went into the tower. Raoul badworded
him and every stone of his building from foundation to
cornice, and then went down the road to get a bottle of cognac.
An hour later he came back breathing out threatenings and slaughter,
strongly flavoured with raw spirits. Prosper was working quietly on
the top of the tower, at the side away from the road. He saw
nothing until Raoul, climbing up by the ladders on the inside,
leaped on the platform and rushed at him like a crazy lynx.
"Now!" he cried, "no hole to hide in here, rat! I'll squeeze the
lies out of you."
He gripped Prosper by the head, thrusting one thumb into his eye,
and pushing him backward on the scaffolding.
Blinded, half maddened by the pain, Prosper thought of nothing but
to get free. He swung his long arm upward and landed a heavy blow
on Raoul's face that dislocated the jaw; then twisting himself
downward and sideways, he fell in toward the wall. Raoul plunged
forward, stumbled, let go his hold, and pitched out from the tower,
arms spread, clutching the air.
Forty feet straight down! A moment--or was it an eternity?--of
horrible silence. Then the body struck the rough stones at the foot
of the tower with a thick, soft dunt, and lay crumpled up among
them, without a groan, without a movement.
When the other men, who had hurried up the ladders in terror, found
Leclere, he was peering over the edge of the scaffold, wiping the
blood from his eyes, trying to see down.
"I have killed him," he muttered, "my friend! He is smashed to
death. I am a murderer. Let me go. I must throw myself down!"
They had hard work to hold him back. As they forced him down the
ladders he trembled like a poplar.
But Vaillantcoeur was not dead. No; it was incredible--to fall
forty feet and not be killed--they talk of it yet all through the
valley of the Lake St. John--it was a miracle! But Vaillantcoeur
had broken only a nose, a collar-bone, and two ribs--for one like
him that was but a bagatelle. A good doctor from Chicoutimi, a few
months of nursing, and he would be on his feet again, almost as good
a man as he had ever been.
It was Leclere who put himself in charge of this.
"It is my affair," he said--"my fault! It was not a fair place to
fight. Why did I strike? I must attend to this bad work."
"MAIS, SACRE BLEU!" they answered, "how could you help it? He
forced you. You did not want to be killed. That would be a little
too much."
"No," he persisted, "this is my affair. Girard, you know my money
is with the notary. There is plenty. Raoul has not enough, perhaps
not any. But he shall want nothing--you understand--nothing! It is
my affair, all that he needs--but you shall not tell him--no! That
is all."
Prosper had his way. But he did not see Vaillantcoeur after he was
carried home and put to bed in his cabin. Even if he had tried to
do so, it would have been impossible. He could not see anybody.
One of his eyes was entirely destroyed. The inflammation spread to
the other, and all through the autumn he lay in his house, drifting
along the edge of blindness, while Raoul lay in his house slowly
getting well.
The cure went from one house to the other, but he did not carry any
messages between them. If any were sent one way they were not
received. And the other way, none were sent. Raoul did not speak
of Prosper; and if one mentioned his name, Raoul shut his mouth and
made no answer.
To the cure, of course, it was a distress and a misery. To have a
hatred like this unhealed, was a blot on the parish; it was a shame,
as well as a sin. At last--it was already winter, the day before
Christmas--the cure made up his mind that he would put forth one
more great effort.
"Look you, my son," he said to Prosper, "I am going this afternoon
to Raoul Vaillantcoeur to make the reconciliation. You shall give
me a word to carry to him. He shall hear it this time, I promise
you. Shall I tell him what you have done for him, how you have
cared for him?"
"No, never," said Prosper; "you shall not take that word from me.
It is nothing. It will make worse trouble. I will never send it."
"What then?" said the priest. "Shall I tell him that you forgive
"No, not that," answered Prosper, "that would be a foolish word.
What would that mean? It is not I who can forgive. I was the one
who struck hardest. It was he that fell from the tower."
"Well, then, choose the word for yourself. What shall it be? Come,
I promise you that he shall hear it. I will take with me the
notary, and the good man Girard, and the little Marie Antoinette.
You shall hear an answer. What message?"
"Mon pere," said Prosper, slowly, "you shall tell him just this. I,
Prosper Leclere, ask Raoul Vaillantcoeur that he will forgive me for
not fighting with him on the ground when he demanded it."
Yes, the message was given in precisely those words. Marie
Antoinette stood within the door, Bergeron and Girard at the foot of
the bed, and the cure spoke very clearly and firmly. Vaillantcoeur
rolled on his pillow and turned his face away. Then he sat up in
bed, grunting a little with the pain in his shoulder, which was
badly set. His black eyes snapped like the eyes of a wolverine in a
"Forgive?" he said, "no, never. He is a coward. I will never
A little later in the afternoon, when the rose of sunset lay on the
snowy hills, some one knocked at the door of Leclere's house.
"ENTREZ!" he cried. "Who is there? I see not very well by this
light. Who is it?"
"It is me, said 'Toinette, her cheeks rosier than the snow outside,
"nobody but me. I have come to ask you to tell me the rest about
that new carriage--do you remember?"
The voice in the canoe behind me ceased. The rain let up. The
SLISH, SLISH of the paddle stopped. The canoe swung sideways to the
breeze. I heard the RAP, RAP, RAP of a pipe on the gunwale, and the
quick scratch of a match on the under side of the thwart.
"What are you doing, Ferdinand?"
"I go to light the pipe, m'sieu'."
"Is the story finished?"
"But yes--but no--I know not, m'sieu'. As you will."
"But what did old Girard say when his daughter broke her engagement
and married a man whose eyes were spoiled?"
"He said that Leclere could see well enough to work with him in the
"And what did Vaillantcoeur say when he lost his girl?"
"He said it was a cursed shame that one could not fight a blind
"And what did 'Toinette say?"
"She said she had chosen the bravest heart in Abbeville."
"And Prosper--what did he say?"
"M'sieu', I know not. He said it only to 'Toinette."
Do you remember that fair little wood of silver birches on the West
Branch of the Neversink, somewhat below the place where the Biscuit
Brook runs in? There is a mossy terrace raised a couple of feet
above the water of a long, still pool; and a very pleasant spot for
a friendship-fire on the shingly beach below you; and a plenty of
painted trilliums and yellow violets and white foam-flowers to adorn
your woodland banquet, if it be spread in the month of May, when
Mistress Nature is given over to embroidery.
It was there, at Contentment Corner, that Ned Mason had promised to
meet me on a certain day for the noontide lunch and smoke and talk,
he fishing down Biscuit Brook, and I down the West Branch, until we
came together at the rendezvous. But he was late that day--good old
Ned! He was occasionally behind time on a trout stream. For he
went about his fishing very seriously; and if it was fine, the sport
was a natural occasion of delay. But if it was poor, he made it an
occasion to sit down to meditate upon the cause of his failure, and
tried to overcome it with many subtly reasoned changes of the fly--
which is a vain thing to do, but well adapted to make one forgetful
of the flight of time.
So I waited for him near an hour, and then ate my half of the
sandwiches and boiled eggs, smoked a solitary pipe, and fell into a
light sleep at the foot of the biggest birch tree, an old and trusty
friend of mine. It seemed like a very slight sound that roused me:
the snapping of a dry twig in the thicket, or a gentle splash in the
water, differing in some indefinable way from the steady murmur of
the stream; something it was, I knew not what, that made me aware of
some one coming down the brook. I raised myself quietly on one
elbow and looked up through the trees to the head of the pool. "Ned
will think that I have gone down long ago," I said to myself; "I
will just lie here and watch him fish through this pool, and see how
he manages to spend so much time about it."
But it was not Ned's rod that I saw poking out through the bushes at
the bend in the brook. It was such an affair as I had never seen
before upon a trout stream: a majestic weapon at least sixteen feet
long, made in two pieces, neatly spliced together in the middle, and
all painted a smooth, glistening, hopeful green. The line that hung
from the tip of it was also green, but of a paler, more transparent
colour, quite thick and stiff where it left the rod, but tapering
down towards the end, as if it were twisted of strands of horsehair,
reduced in number, until, at the hook, there were but two
hairs. And the hook--there was no disguise about that--it was an
unabashed bait-hook, and well baited, too. Gently the line swayed
to and fro above the foaming water at the head of the pool; quietly
the bait settled down in the foam and ran with the current around
the edge of the deep eddy under the opposite bank; suddenly the line
straightened and tautened; sharply the tip of the long green rod
sprang upward, and the fisherman stepped out from the bushes to play
his fish.
Where had I seen such a figure before? The dress was strange and
quaint--broad, low shoes, gray woollen stockings, short brown
breeches tied at the knee with ribbons, a loose brown coat belted at
the waist like a Norfolk jacket; a wide, rolling collar with a bit
of lace at the edge, and a soft felt hat with a shady brim. It was
a costume that, with all its oddity, seemed wonderfully fit and
familiar. And the face? Certainly it was the face of an old
friend. Never had I seen a countenance of more quietness and
kindliness and twinkling good humour.
"Well met, sir, and a pleasant day to you," cried the angler, as his
eyes lighted on me. "Look you, I have hold of a good fish; I pray
you put that net under him, and touch not my line, for if you do,
then we break all. Well done, sir; I thank you. Now we have him
safely landed. Truly this is a lovely one; the best that I have
taken in these waters. See how the belly shines, here as yellow as
a marsh-marigold, and there as white as a foam-flower. Is not the
hand of Divine Wisdom as skilful in the colouring of a fish as in
the painting of the manifold blossoms that sweeten these wild
"Indeed it is," said I, "and this is the biggest trout that I have
seen caught in the upper waters of the Neversink. It is certainly
eighteen inches long, and should weigh close upon two pounds and a
"More than that," he answered, "if I mistake not. But I observe
that you call it a trout. To my mind, it seems more like a char, as
do all the fish that I have caught in your stream. Look here upon
these curious water-markings that run through the dark green of the
back, and these enamellings of blue and gold upon the side. Note,
moreover, how bright and how many are the red spots, and how each
one of them is encircled with a ring of purple. Truly it is a fish
of rare beauty, and of high esteem with persons of note. I would
gladly know if it he as good to the taste as I have heard it reputed."
"It is even better," I replied; "as you shall find, if you will but
try it."
Then a curious impulse came to me, to which I yielded with as little
hesitation or misgiving, at the time, as if it were the most natural
thing in the world.
"You seem a stranger in this part of the country, sir," said I; "but
unless I am mistaken you are no stranger to me. Did you not use to
go a-fishing in the New River, with honest Nat. and R. Roe, many
years ago? And did they not call you Izaak Walton?"
His eyes smiled pleasantly at me and a little curve of merriment
played around his lips. "It is a secret which I thought not to have
been discovered here," he said; "but since you have lit upon it, I
will not deny it."
Now how it came to pass that I was not astonished nor dismayed at
this, I cannot explain. But so it was; and the only feeling of
which I was conscious was a strong desire to detain this visitor as
long as possible, and have some talk with him. So I grasped at the
only expedient that flashed into my mind.
"Well, then, sir," I said, "you are most heartily welcome, and I
trust you will not despise the only hospitality I have to offer. If
you will sit down here among these birch trees in Contentment
Corner, I will give you half of a fisherman's luncheon, and will
cook your char for you on a board before an open wood-fire, if you
are not in a hurry. Though I belong to a nation which is reported
to be curious, I will promise to trouble you with no inquisitive
questions; and if you will but talk to me at your will, you shall
find me a ready listener."
So we made ourselves comfortable on the shady bank, and while I
busied myself in splitting the fish and pinning it open on a bit of
board that I had found in a pile of driftwood, and setting it up
before the fire to broil, my new companion entertained me with the
sweetest and friendliest talk that I had ever heard.
"To speak without offence, sir," he began, "there was a word in your
discourse a moment ago that seemed strange to me. You spoke of
being 'in a hurry'; and that is an expression which is unfamiliar to
my ears; but if it mean the same as being in haste, then I must tell
you that this is a thing which, in my judgment, honest anglers
should learn to forget, and have no dealings with it. To be in
haste is to be in anxiety and distress of mind; it is to mistrust
Providence, and to doubt that the issue of all events is in wiser
hands than ours; it is to disturb the course of nature, and put
overmuch confidence in the importance of our own endeavours.
"For how much of the evil that is in the world cometh from this
plaguy habit of being in haste! The haste to get riches, the haste
to climb upon some pinnacle of worldly renown, the haste to resolve
mysteries--from these various kinds of haste are begotten no small
part of the miseries and afflictions whereby the children of men are
tormented: such as quarrels and strifes among those who would overreach
one another in business; envyings and jealousies among those
who would outshine one another in rich apparel and costly equipage;
bloody rebellions and cruel wars among those who would obtain power
over their fellow-men; cloudy disputations and bitter controversies
among those who would fain leave no room for modest ignorance and
lowly faith among the secrets of religion; and by all these miseries
of haste the heart grows weary, and is made weak and dull, or else
hard and angry, while it dwelleth in the midst of them.
"But let me tell you that an angler's occupation is a good cure for
these evils, if for no other reason, because it gently dissuadeth us
from haste and leadeth us away from feverish anxieties into those
ways which are pleasantness and those paths which are peace. For an
angler cannot force his fortune by eagerness, nor better it by
discontent. He must wait upon the weather, and the height of the
water, and the hunger of the fish, and many other accidents of which
he has no control. If he would angle well, he must not be in haste.
And if he be in haste, he will do well to unlearn it by angling, for
I think there is no surer method.
"This fair tree that shadows us from the sun hath grown many years
in its place without more unhappiness than the loss of its leaves in
winter, which the succeeding season doth generously repair; and
shall we be less contented in the place where God hath planted us?
or shall there go less time to the making of a man than to the
growth of a tree? This stream floweth wimpling and laughing down to
the great sea which it knoweth not; yet it doth not fret because the
future is hidden; and doubtless it were wise in us to accept the
mysteries of life as cheerfully and go forward with a merry heart,
considering that we know enough to make us happy and keep us honest
for to-day. A man should be well content if he can see so far ahead
of him as the next bend in the stream. What lies beyond, let him
trust in the hand of God.
"But as concerning riches, wherein should you and I be happier, this
pleasant afternoon of May, had we all the gold in Croesus his
coffers? Would the sun shine for us more bravely, or the flowers
give forth a sweeter breath, or yonder warbling vireo, hidden in her
leafy choir, send down more pure and musical descants, sweetly
attuned by natural magic to woo and win our thoughts from vanity and
hot desires into a harmony with the tranquil thoughts of God? And
as for fame and power, trust me, sir, I have seen too many men in my
time that lived very unhappily though their names were upon all
lips, and died very sadly though their power was felt in many lands;
too many of these great ones have I seen that spent their days in
disquietude and ended them in sorrow, to make me envy their
conditions or hasten to rival them. Nor do I think that, by all
their perturbations and fightings and runnings to and fro, the world
hath been much bettered, or even greatly changed. The colour and
complexion of mortal life, in all things that are essential, remain
the same under Cromwell or under Charles. The goodness and mercy of
God are still over all His works, whether Presbytery or Episcopacy
be set up as His interpreter. Very quietly and peacefully have I
lived under several polities, civil and ecclesiastical, and under
all there was room enough to do my duty and love my friends and go
a-fishing. And let me tell you, sir, that in the state wherein I
now find myself, though there are many things of which I may not
speak to you, yet one thing is clear: if I had made haste in my
mortal concerns, I should not have saved time, but lost it; for all
our affairs are under one sure dominion which moveth them forward to
their concordant end: wherefore 'HE THAT BELIEVETH SHALL NOT MAKE
HASTE,' and, above all, not when he goeth a-angling.
"But tell me, I pray you, is not this char cooked yet? Methinks the
time is somewhat overlong for the roasting. The fragrant smell of
the cookery gives me an eagerness to taste this new dish. Not that
I am in haste, but--
"Well, it is done; and well done, too! Marry, the flesh of this
fish is as red as rose-leaves, and as sweet as if he had fed on
nothing else. The flavour of smoke from the fire is but slight, and
it takes nothing from the perfection of the dish, but rather adds to
it, being clean and delicate. I like not these French cooks who
make all dishes in disguise, and set them forth with strange foreign
savours, like a masquerade. Give me my food in its native dress,
even though it be a little dry. If we had but a cup of sack, now,
or a glass of good ale, and a pipeful of tobacco?
"What! you have an abundance of the fragrant weed in your pouch?
Sir, I thank you very heartily! You entertain me like a prince.
Not like King James, be it understood, who despised tobacco and
called it a 'lively image and pattern of hell'; nor like the Czar of
Russia who commanded that all who used it should have their noses
cut off; but like good Queen Bess of glorious memory, who disdained
not the incense of the pipe, and some say she used one herself;
though for my part I think the custom of smoking one that is more
fitting for men, whose frailty and need of comfort are well known,
than for that fairer sex whose innocent and virgin spirits stand
less in want of creature consolations.
"But come, let us not trouble our enjoyment with careful
discrimination of others' scruples. Your tobacco is rarely good;
I'll warrant it comes from that province of Virginia which was named
for the Virgin Queen; and while we smoke together, let me call you,
for this hour, my Scholar; and so I will give you four choice rules
for the attainment of that unhastened quietude of mind whereof we
did lately discourse.
"First: you shall learn to desire nothing in the world so much but
that you can be happy without it.
"Second: you shall seek that which you desire only by such means as
are fair and lawful, and this will leave you without bitterness
towards men or shame before God.
"Third: you shall take pleasure in the time while you are seeking,
even though you obtain not immediately that which you seek; for the
purpose of a journey is not only to arrive at the goal, but also to
find enjoyment by the way.
"Fourth: when you attain that which you have desired, you shall
think more of the kindness of your fortune than of the greatness of
your skill. This will make you grateful, and ready to share with
others that which Providence hath bestowed upon you; and truly this
is both reasonable and profitable, for it is but little that any of
us would catch in this world were not our luck better than our
"And to these Four Rules I will add yet another--Fifth: when you
smoke your pipe with a good conscience, trouble not yourself because
there are men in the world who will find fault with you for so
doing. If you wait for a pleasure at which no sour-complexioned
soul hath ever girded, you will wait long, and go through life with
a sad and anxious mind. But I think that God is best pleased with
us when we give little heed to scoffers, and enjoy His gifts with
thankfulness and an easy heart.
"Well, Scholar, I have almost tired myself, and, I fear, more than
almost tired you. But this pipe is nearly burned out, and the few
short whiffs that are left in it shall put a period to my too long
discourse. Let me tell you, then, that there be some men in the
world who hold not with these my opinions. They profess that a life
of contention and noise and public turmoil, is far higher than a
life of quiet work and meditation. And so far as they follow their
own choice honestly and with a pure mind, I doubt not that it is as
good for them as mine is for me, and I am well pleased that every
man do enjoy his own opinion. But so far as they have spoken ill of
me and my opinions, I do hold it a thing of little consequence,
except that I am sorry that they have thereby embittered their own
"For this is the punishment of men who malign and revile those that
differ from them in religion, or prefer another way of living; their
revilings, by so much as they spend their wit and labour to make
them shrewd and bitter, do draw all the sweet and wholesome sap out
of their lives and turn it into poison; and so they become vessels
of mockery and wrath, remembered chiefly for the evil things that
they have said with cleverness.
"For be sure of this, Scholar, the more a man giveth himself to
hatred in this world, the more will he find to hate. But let us
rather give ourselves to charity, and if we have enemies (and what
honest man hath them not?) let them be ours, since they must, but
let us not be theirs, since we know better.
"There was one Franck, a trooper of Cromwell's, who wrote ill of me,
saying that I neither understood the subjects whereof I discoursed
nor believed the things that I said, being both silly and
pretentious. It would have been a pity if it had been true. There
was also one Leigh Hunt, a maker of many books, who used one day a
bottle of ink whereof the gall was transfused into his blood, so
that he wrote many hard words of me, setting forth selfishness and
cruelty and hypocrisy as if they were qualities of my disposition.
God knew, even then, whether these things were true of me; and if
they were not true, it would have been a pity to have answered them;
but it would have been still more a pity to be angered by them. But
since that time Master Hunt and I have met each other; yes, and
Master Franck, too; and we have come very happily to a better
"Trust me, Scholar, it is the part of wisdom to spend little of your
time upon the things that vex and anger you, and much of your time
upon the things that bring you quietness and confidence and good
cheer. A friend made is better than an enemy punished. There is
more of God in the peaceable beauty of this little wood-violet than
in all the angry disputations of the sects. We are nearer heaven
when we listen to the birds than when we quarrel with our fellowmen.
I am sure that none can enter into the spirit of Christ, his
evangel, save those who willingly follow his invitation when he
WHILE.' For since his blessed kingdom was first established in the
green fields, by the lakeside, with humble fishermen for its
subjects, the easiest way into it hath ever been through the wicketgate
of a lowly and grateful fellowship with nature. He that feels
not the beauty and blessedness and peace of the woods and meadows
that God hath bedecked with flowers for him even while he is yet a
sinner, how shall he learn to enjoy the unfading bloom of the
celestial country if he ever become a saint?
"No, no, sir, he that departeth out of this world without perceiving
that it is fair and full of innocent sweetness hath done little
honour to the every-day miracles of divine beneficence; and though
by mercy he may obtain an entrance to heaven, it will be a strange
place to him; and though he have studied all that is written in
men's books of divinity, yet because he hath left the book of Nature
unturned, he will have much to learn and much to forget. Do you
think that to be blind to the beauties of earth prepareth the heart
to behold the glories of heaven? Nay, Scholar, I know that you are
not of that opinion. But I can tell you another thing which perhaps
you knew not. The heart that is blest with the glories of heaven
ceaseth not to remember and to love the beauties of this world. And
of this love I am certain, because I feel it, and glad because it is
a great blessing.
"There are two sorts of seeds sown in our remembrance by what we
call the hand of fortune, the fruits of which do not wither, but
grow sweeter forever and ever. The first is the seed of innocent
pleasures, received in gratitude and enjoyed with good companions,
of which pleasures we never grow weary of thinking, because they
have enriched our hearts. The second is the seed of pure and gentle
sorrows, borne in submission and with faithful love, and these also
we never forget, but we come to cherish them with gladness instead
of grief, because we see them changed into everlasting joys. And
how this may be I cannot tell you now, for you would not understand
me. But that it is so, believe me: for if you believe, you shall
one day see it yourself.
"But come, now, our friendly pipes are long since burned out. Hark,
how sweetly the tawny thrush in yonder thicket touches her silver
harp for the evening hymn! I will follow the stream downward, but
do you tarry here until the friend comes for whom you were waiting.
I think we shall all three meet one another, somewhere, after sunset."
I watched the gray hat and the old brown coat and long green rod
disappear among the trees around the curve of the stream. Then
Ned's voice sounded in my ears, and I saw him standing above me
"Hallo, old man," he said, "you're a sound sleeper! I hope you've
had good luck, and pleasant dreams."
It was the black patch over his left eye that made all the trouble.
In reality he was of a disposition most peaceful and propitiating, a
friend of justice and fair dealing, strongly inclined to a domestic
life, and capable of extreme devotion. He had a vivid sense of
righteousness, it is true, and any violation of it was apt to heat
his indignation to the boiling-point. When this occurred he was
strong in the back, stiff in the neck, and fearless of consequences.
But he was always open to friendly overtures and ready to make peace
with honour.
Singularly responsive to every touch of kindness, desirous of
affection, secretly hungry for caresses, he had a heart framed for
love and tranquillity. But nature saw fit to put a black patch over
his left eye; wherefore his days were passed in the midst of
conflict and he lived the strenuous life.
How this sinister mark came to him, he never knew. Indeed it is not
likely that he had any idea of the part that it played in his
career. The attitude that the world took toward him from the
beginning, an attitude of aggressive mistrust,--the role that he was
expected and practically forced to assume in the drama of existence,
the role of a hero of interminable strife,--must have seemed to him
altogether mysterious and somewhat absurd. But his part was fixed
by the black patch. It gave him an aspect so truculent and
forbidding that all the elements of warfare gathered around him as
hornets around a sugar barrel, and his appearance in public was like
the raising of a flag for battle.
"You see that Pichou," said MacIntosh, the Hudson's Bay agent at
Mingan, "you see yon big black-eye deevil? The savages call him
Pichou because he's ugly as a lynx--'LAID COMME UN PICHOU.' Best
sledge-dog and the gurliest tyke on the North Shore. Only two years
old and he can lead a team already. But, man, he's just daft for
the fighting. Fought his mother when he was a pup and lamed her for
life. Fought two of his brothers and nigh killed 'em both. Every
dog in the place has a grudge at him, and hell's loose as oft as he
takes a walk. I'm loath to part with him, but I'll be selling him
gladly for fifty dollars to any man that wants a good sledge-dog,
eh?--and a bit collie-shangie every week."
Pichou had heard his name, and came trotting up to the corner of the
store where MacIntosh was talking with old Grant the chief factor,
who was on a tour of inspection along the North Shore, and Dan
Scott, the agent from Seven Islands, who had brought the chief down
in his chaloupe. Pichou did not understand what his master had been
saying about him: but he thought he was called, and he had a sense
of duty; and besides, he was wishful to show proper courtesy to
well-dressed and respectable strangers. He was a great dog, thirty
inches high at the shoulder; broad-chested, with straight, sinewy
legs; and covered with thick, wavy, cream-coloured hair from the
tips of his short ears to the end of his bushy tail--all except the
left side of his face. That was black from ear to nose--coal-black;
and in the centre of this storm-cloud his eye gleamed like fire.
What did Pichou know about that ominous sign? No one had ever told
him. He had no looking-glass. He ran up to the porch where the men
were sitting, as innocent as a Sunday-school scholar coming to the
superintendent's desk to receive a prize. But when old Grant, who
had grown pursy and nervous from long living on the fat of the land
at Ottawa, saw the black patch and the gleaming eye, he anticipated
evil; so he hitched one foot up on the porch, crying "Get out!" and
with the other foot he planted a kick on the side of the dog's head.
Pichou's nerve-centres had not been shaken by high living. They
acted with absolute precision and without a tremor. His sense of
justice was automatic, and his teeth were fixed through the leg of
the chief factor's boot, just below the calf.
For two minutes there was a small chaos in the post of the
Honourable Hudson's Bay Company at Mingan. Grant howled bloody
murder; MacIntosh swore in three languages and yelled for his dogwhip;
three Indians and two French-Canadians wielded sticks and
fence-pickets. But order did not arrive until Dan Scott knocked the
burning embers from his big pipe on the end of the dog's nose.
Pichou gasped, let go his grip, shook his head, and loped back to
his quarters behind the barn, bruised, blistered, and intolerably
perplexed by the mystery of life.
As he lay on the sand, licking his wounds, he remembered many
strange things. First of all, there was the trouble with his mother
She was a Labrador Husky, dirty yellowish gray, with bristling neck,
sharp fangs, and green eyes, like a wolf. Her name was Babette.
She had a fiendish temper, but no courage. His father was supposed
to be a huge black and white Newfoundland that came over in a
schooner from Miquelon. Perhaps it was from him that the black
patch was inherited. And perhaps there were other things in the
inheritance, too, which came from this nobler strain of blood
Pichon's unwillingness to howl with the other dogs when they made
night hideous; his silent, dignified ways; his sense of fair play;
his love of the water; his longing for human society and friendship.
But all this was beyond Pichou's horizon, though it was within his
nature. He remembered only that Babette had taken a hate for him,
almost from the first, and had always treated him worse than his
all-yellow brothers. She would have starved him if she could. Once
when he was half grown, she fell upon him for some small offence and
tried to throttle him. The rest of the pack looked on snarling and
slavering. He caught Babette by the fore-leg and broke the bone.
She hobbled away, shrieking. What else could he do? Must a dog let
himself be killed by his mother?
As for his brothers--was it fair that two of them should fall foul
of him about the rabbit which he had tracked and caught and killed?
He would have shared it with them, if they had asked him, for they
ran behind him on the trail. But when they both set their teeth in
his neck, there was nothing to do but to lay them both out: which he
did. Afterward he was willing enough to make friends, but they
bristled and cursed whenever he came near them.
It was the same with everybody. If he went out for a walk on the
beach, Vigneau's dogs or Simard's dogs regarded it as an insult, and
there was a fight. Men picked up sticks, or showed him the butt-end
of their dog-whips, when he made friendly approaches. With the
children it was different; they seemed to like him a little; but
never did he follow one of them that a mother did not call from the
house-door: "Pierre! Marie! come away quick! That bad dog will
bite you!" Once when he ran down to the shore to watch the boat
coming in from the mail-steamer, the purser had refused to let the
boat go to land, and called out, "M'sieu' MacIntosh, you git no
malle dis trip, eef you not call avay dat dam' dog."
True, the Minganites seemed to take a certain kind of pride in his
reputation. They had brought Chouart's big brown dog, Gripette,
down from the Sheldrake to meet him; and after the meeting was over
and Gripette had been revived with a bucket of water, everybody,
except Chouart, appeared to be in good humour. The purser of the
steamer had gone to the trouble of introducing a famous BOULE-DOGGE
from Quebec, on the trip after that on which he had given such a
hostile opinion of Pichon. The bulldog's intentions were
unmistakable; he expressed them the moment he touched the beach; and
when they carried him back to the boat on a fish-barrow many
flattering words were spoken about Pichou. He was not insensible to
them. But these tributes to his prowess were not what he really
wanted. His secret desire was for tokens of affection. His
position was honourable, but it was intolerably lonely and full of
trouble. He sought peace and he found fights.
While he meditated dimly on these things, patiently trying to get
the ashes of Dan Scott's pipe out of his nose, his heart was cast
down and his spirit was disquieted within him. Was ever a decent
dog so mishandled before? Kicked for nothing by a fat stranger, and
then beaten by his own master!
In the dining-room of the Post, Grant was slowly and reluctantly
allowing himself to be convinced that his injuries were not fatal.
During this process considerable Scotch whiskey was consumed and
there was much conversation about the viciousness of dogs. Grant
insisted that Pichou was mad and had a devil. MacIntosh admitted
the devil, but firmly denied the madness. The question was, whether
the dog should be killed or not; and over this point there was like
to be more bloodshed, until Dan Scott made his contribution to the
argument: "If you shoot him, how can you tell whether he is mad or
not? I'll give thirty dollars for him and take him home."
"If you do," said Grant, "you'll sail alone, and I'll wait for the
steamer. Never a step will I go in the boat with the crazy brute
that bit me."
"Suit yourself," said Dan Scott. "You kicked before he bit."
At daybreak he whistled the dog down to the chaloupe, hoisted sail,
and bore away for Seven Islands. There was a secret bond of
sympathy between the two companions on that hundred-mile voyage in
an open boat. Neither of them realized what it was, but still it
was there.
Dan Scott knew what it meant to stand alone, to face a small hostile
world, to have a surfeit of fighting. The station of Seven Islands
was the hardest in all the district of the ancient POSTES DU ROI.
The Indians were surly and crafty. They knew all the tricks of the
fur-trade. They killed out of season, and understood how to make a
rusty pelt look black. The former agent had accommodated himself to
his customers. He had no objection to shutting one of his eyes, so
long as the other could see a chance of doing a stroke of business
for himself. He also had a convenient weakness in the sense of
smell, when there was an old stock of pork to work off on the
savages. But all of Dan Scott's senses were strong, especially his
sense of justice, and he came into the Post resolved to play a
straight game with both hands, toward the Indians and toward the
Honourable H. B. Company. The immediate results were reproofs from
Ottawa and revilings from Seven Islands. Furthermore the free
traders were against him because he objected to their selling rum to
the savages.
It must be confessed that Dan Scott had a way with him that looked
pugnacious. He was quick in his motions and carried his shoulders
well thrown back. His voice was heavy. He used short words and few
of them. His eyebrow's were thick and they met over his nose. Then
there was a broad white scar at one corner of his mouth. His
appearance was not prepossessing, but at heart he was a
philanthropist and a sentimentalist. He thirsted for gratitude and
affection on a just basis. He had studied for eighteen months in
the medical school at Montreal, and his chief delight was to
practise gratuitously among the sick and wounded of the
neighbourhood. His ambition for Seven Islands was to make it a
northern suburb of Paradise, and for himself to become a fullfledged
physician. Up to this time it seemed as if he would have to
break more bones than he could set; and the closest connection of
Seven Islands appeared to be with Purgatory.
First, there had been a question of suzerainty between Dan Scott and
the local representative of the Astor family, a big half-breed
descendant of a fur-trader, who was the virtual chief of the Indians
hunting on the Ste. Marguerite: settled by knock-down arguments.
Then there was a controversy with Napoleon Bouchard about the right
to put a fish-house on a certain part of the beach: settled with a
stick, after Napoleon had drawn a knife. Then there was a running
warfare with Virgile and Ovide Boulianne, the free traders, who were
his rivals in dealing with the Indians for their peltry: still
unsettled. After this fashion the record of his relations with his
fellow-citizens at Seven Islands was made up. He had their respect,
but not their affection. He was the only Protestant, the only
English-speaker, the most intelligent man, as well as the hardest
hitter in the place, and he was very lonely. Perhaps it was this
that made him take a fancy to Pichou. Their positions in the world
were not unlike. He was not the first man who has wanted sympathy
and found it in a dog.
Alone together, in the same boat, they made friends with each other
easily. At first the remembrance of the hot pipe left a little
suspicion in Pichou's mind; but this was removed by a handsome
apology in the shape of a chunk of bread and a slice of meat from
Dan Scott's lunch. After this they got on together finely. It was
the first time in his life that Pichou had ever spent twenty-four
hours away from other dogs; it was also the first time he had ever
been treated like a gentleman. All that was best in him responded
to the treatment. He could not have been more quiet and steady in
the boat if he had been brought up to a seafaring life. When Dan
Scott called him and patted him on the head, the dog looked up in
the man's face as if he had found his God. And the man, looking
down into the eye that was not disfigured by the black patch, saw
something that he had been seeking for a long time.
All day the wind was fair and strong from the southeast. The
chaloupe ran swiftly along the coast past the broad mouth of the
River Saint-Jean, with its cluster of white cottages past the hillencircled
bay of the River Magpie, with its big fish-houses past the
fire-swept cliffs of Riviere-au-Tonnerre, and the turbulent, rocky
shores of the Sheldrake: past the silver cascade of the Riviere-aux-
Graines, and the mist of the hidden fall of the Riviere Manitou:
past the long, desolate ridges of Cap Cormorant, where, at sunset,
the wind began to droop away, and the tide was contrary So the
chaloupe felt its way cautiously toward the corner of the coast
where the little Riviere-a-la-Truite comes tumbling in among the
brown rocks, and found a haven for the night in the mouth of the
There was only one human dwelling-place in sight As far as the eye
could sweep, range after range of uninhabitable hills covered with
the skeletons of dead forests; ledge after ledge of ice-worn granite
thrust out like fangs into the foaming waves of the gulf. Nature,
with her teeth bare and her lips scarred: this was the landscape.
And in the midst of it, on a low hill above the murmuring river,
surrounded by the blanched trunks of fallen trees, and the blackened
debris of wood and moss, a small, square, weather-beaten palisade of
rough-hewn spruce, and a patch of the bright green leaves and white
flowers of the dwarf cornel lavishing their beauty on a lonely
grave. This was the only habitation in sight--the last home of the
Englishman, Jack Chisholm, whose story has yet to be told.
In the shelter of this hill Dan Scott cooked his supper and shared
it with Pichou. When night was dark he rolled himself in his
blanket, and slept in the stern of the boat, with the dog at his
side. Their friendship was sealed.
The next morning the weather was squally and full of sudden anger.
They crept out with difficulty through the long rollers that barred
the tiny harbour, and beat their way along the coast. At Moisie
they must run far out into the gulf to avoid the treacherous shoals,
and to pass beyond the furious race of white-capped billows that
poured from the great river for miles into the sea. Then they
turned and made for the group of half-submerged mountains and
scattered rocks that Nature, in some freak of fury, had thrown into
the throat of Seven Islands Bay. That was a difficult passage. The
black shores were swept by headlong tides. Tusks of granite tore
the waves. Baffled and perplexed, the wind flapped and whirled
among the cliffs. Through all this the little boat buffeted bravely
on till she reached the point of the Gran Boule. Then a strange
thing happened.
The water was lumpy; the evening was growing thick; a swirl of the
tide and a shift of the wind caught the chaloupe and swung her
suddenly around. The mainsail jibed, and before he knew how it
happened Dan Scott was overboard. He could swim but clumsily. The
water blinded him, choked him, dragged him down. Then he felt
Pichou gripping him by the shoulder, buoying him up, swimming
mightily toward the chaloupe which hung trembling in the wind a few
yards away. At last they reached it and the man climbed over the
stern and pulled the dog after him. Dan Scott lay in the bottom of
the boat, shivering, dazed, until he felt the dog's cold nose and
warm breath against his cheek. He flung his arm around Pichon's
"They said you were mad! God, if more men were mad like you!"
Pichou's work at Seven Islands was cut out for him on a generous
scale. It is true that at first he had no regular canine labour to
perform, for it was summer. Seven months of the year, on the North
Shore, a sledge-dog's occupation is gone. He is the idlest creature
in the universe.
But Pichou, being a new-comer, had to win his footing in the
community; and that was no light task. With the humans it was
comparatively easy. At the outset they mistrusted him on account of
his looks. Virgile Boulianne asked: "Why did you buy such an ugly
dog?" Ovide, who was the wit of the family, said: "I suppose
M'sieu' Scott got a present for taking him."
"It's a good dog," said Dan Scott. "Treat him well and he'll treat
you well. Kick him and I kick you."
Then he told what had happened off the point of Gran' Boule. The
village decided to accept Pichou at his master's valuation.
Moderate friendliness, with precautions, was shown toward him by
everybody, except Napoleon Bouchard, whose distrust was permanent
and took the form of a stick. He was a fat, fussy man; fat people
seemed to have no affinity for Pichou.
But while the relations with the humans of Seven Islands were soon
established on a fair footing, with the canines Pichou had a very
different affair. They were not willing to accept any
recommendations as to character. They judged for themselves; and
they judged by appearances; and their judgment was utterly hostile
to Pichou.
They decided that he was a proud dog, a fierce dog, a bad dog, a
fighter. He must do one of two things: stay at home in the yard of
the Honourable H. B. Company, which is a thing that no selfrespecting
dog would do in the summer-time, when cod-fish heads are
strewn along the beach; or fight his way from one end of the village
to the other, which Pichou promptly did, leaving enemies behind
every fence. Huskies never forget a grudge. They are malignant to
the core. Hatred is the wine of cowardly hearts. This is as true
of dogs as it is of men.
Then Pichou, having settled his foreign relations, turned his
attention to matters at home. There were four other dogs in Dan
Scott's team. They did not want Pichou for a leader, and he knew
it. They were bitter with jealousy. The black patch was loathsome
to them. They treated him disrespectfully, insultingly, grossly.
Affairs came to a head when Pecan, a rusty gray dog who had great
ambitions and little sense, disputed Pichou's tenure of a certain
ham-bone. Dan Scott looked on placidly while the dispute was
terminated. Then he washed the blood and sand from the gashes on
Pecan's shoulder, and patted Pichou on the head.
"Good dog," he said. "You're the boss."
There was no further question about Pichou's leadership of the team.
But the obedience of his followers was unwilling and sullen. There
was no love in it. Imagine an English captain, with a Boer company,
campaigning in the Ashantee country, and you will have a fair idea
of Pichou's position at Seven Islands.
He did not shrink from its responsibilities. There were certain
reforms in the community which seemed to him of vital importance,
and he put them through.
First of all, he made up his mind that there ought to be peace and
order on the village street. In the yards of the houses that were
strung along it there should be home rule, and every dog should deal
with trespassers as he saw fit. Also on the beach, and around the
fish-shanties, and under the racks where the cod were drying, the
right of the strong jaw should prevail, and differences of opinion
should be adjusted in the old-fashioned way. But on the sandy road,
bordered with a broken board-walk, which ran between the houses and
the beach, courtesy and propriety must be observed. Visitors walked
there. Children played there. It was the general promenade. It
must be kept peaceful and decent. This was the First Law of the
Dogs of Seven Islands. If two dogs quarrel on the street they must
go elsewhere to settle it. It was highly unpopular, but Pichou
enforced it with his teeth.
The Second Law was equally unpopular: No stealing from the
Honourable H. B. Company. If a man bought bacon or corned-beef or
any other delicacy, and stored it an insecure place, or if he left
fish on the beach over night, his dogs might act according to their
inclination. Though Pichou did not understand how honest dogs could
steal from their own master, he was willing to admit that this was
their affair. His affair was that nobody should steal anything from
the Post. It cost him many night watches, and some large battles to
carry it out, but he did it. In the course of time it came to pass
that the other dogs kept away from the Post altogether, to avoid
temptations; and his own team spent most of their free time
wandering about to escape discipline.
The Third Law was this. Strange dogs must be decently treated as
long as they behave decently. This was contrary to all tradition,
but Pichou insisted upon it. If a strange dog wanted to fight he
should be accommodated with an antagonist of his own size. If he
did not want to fight he should be politely smelled and allowed to
pass through.
This Law originated on a day when a miserable, long-legged, black
cur, a cross between a greyhound and a water-spaniel, strayed into
Seven Islands from heaven knows where--weary, desolate, and
bedraggled. All the dogs in the place attacked the homeless beggar.
There was a howling fracas on the beach; and when Pichou arrived,
the trembling cur was standing up to the neck in the water, facing a
semicircle of snarling, snapping bullies who dared not venture out
any farther. Pichou had no fear of the water. He swam out to the
stranger, paid the smelling salute as well as possible under the
circumstances, encouraged the poor creature to come ashore, warned
off the other dogs, and trotted by the wanderer's side for miles
down the beach until they disappeared around the point. What reward
Pichou got for this polite escort, I do not know. But I saw him do
the gallant deed; and I suppose this was the origin of the wellknown
and much-resisted Law of Strangers' Rights in Seven Islands.
The most recalcitrant subjects with whom Pichou had to deal in all
these matters were the team of Ovide Boulianne. There were five of
them, and up to this time they had been the best team in the
village. They had one virtue: under the whip they could whirl a
sledge over the snow farther and faster than a horse could trot in a
day. But they had innumerable vices. Their leader, Carcajou, had a
fleece like a merino ram. But under this coat of innocence he
carried a heart so black that he would bite while he was wagging his
tail. This smooth devil, and his four followers like unto himself,
had sworn relentless hatred to Pichou, and they made his life
But his great and sufficient consolation for all toils and troubles
was the friendship with his master. In the long summer evenings,
when Dan Scott was making up his accounts in the store, or studying
his pocket cyclopaedia of medicine in the living-room of the Post,
with its low beams and mysterious green-painted cupboards, Pichou
would lie contentedly at his feet. In the frosty autumnal mornings,
when the brant were flocking in the marshes at the head of the bay,
they would go out hunting together in a skiff. And who could lie so
still as Pichou when the game was approaching? Or who could spring
so quickly and joyously to retrieve a wounded bird? But best of all
were the long walks on Sunday afternoons, on the yellow beach that
stretched away toward the Moisie, or through the fir-forest behind
the Pointe des Chasseurs. Then master and dog had fellowship
together in silence. To the dumb companion it was like walking with
his God in the garden in the cool of the day.
When winter came, and snow fell, and waters froze, Pichou's serious
duties began. The long, slim COMETIQUE, with its curving prow, and
its runners of whalebone, was put in order. The harness of caribouhide
was repaired and strengthened. The dogs, even the most vicious
of them, rejoiced at the prospect of doing the one thing that they
could do best. Each one strained at his trace as if he would drag
the sledge alone. Then the long tandem was straightened out, Dan
Scott took his place on the low seat, cracked his whip, shouted
"POUITTE! POUITTE!" and the equipage darted along the snowy track
like a fifty-foot arrow.
Pichou was in the lead, and he showed his metal from the start. No
need of the terrible FOUET to lash him forward or to guide his
course. A word was enough. "Hoc! Hoc! Hoc!" and he swung to the
right, avoiding an air-hole. "Re-re! Re-re!" and he veered to the
left, dodging a heap of broken ice. Past the mouth of the Ste.
Marguerite, twelve miles; past Les Jambons, twelve miles more; past
the River of Rocks and La Pentecote, fifteen miles more; into the
little hamlet of Dead Men's Point, behind the Isle of the Wise
Virgin, whither the amateur doctor had been summoned by telegraph to
attend a patient with a broken arm--forty-three miles for the first
day's run! Not bad. Then the dogs got their food for the day, one
dried fish apiece; and at noon the next day, reckless of bleeding
feet, they flew back over the same track, and broke their fast at
Seven Islands before eight o'clock. The ration was the same, a
single fish; always the same, except when it was varied by a cube of
ancient, evil-smelling, potent whale's flesh, which a dog can
swallow at a single gulp. Yet the dogs of the North Shore are never
so full of vigour, courage, and joy of life as when the sledges are
running. It is in summer, when food is plenty and work slack, that
they sicken and die.
Pichou's leadership of his team became famous. Under his discipline
the other dogs developed speed and steadiness. One day they made
the distance to the Godbout in a single journey, a wonderful run of
over eighty miles. But they loved their leader no better, though
they followed him faster. And as for the other teams, especially
Carcajou's, they were still firm in their deadly hatred for the dog
with the black patch.
It was in the second winter after Pichou's coming to Seven Islands
that the great trial of his courage arrived. Late in February an
Indian runner on snowshoes staggered into the village. He brought
news from the hunting-parties that were wintering far up on the Ste.
Marguerite--good news and bad. First, they had already made a good
hunting: for the pelletrie, that is to say. They had killed many
otter, some fisher and beaver, and four silver foxes--a marvel of
fortune. But then, for the food, the chase was bad, very bad--no
caribou, no hare, no ptarmigan, nothing for many days. Provisions
were very low. There were six families together. Then la grippe
had taken hold of them. They were sick, starving. They would
probably die, at least most of the women and children. It was a bad
Dan Scott had peculiar ideas of his duty toward the savages. He was
not romantic, but he liked to do the square thing. Besides, he had
been reading up on la grippe, and he had some new medicine for it,
capsules from Montreal, very powerful--quinine, phenacetine, and
morphine. He was as eager to try this new medicine as a boy is to
fire off a new gun. He loaded the Cometique with provisions and the
medicine-chest with capsules, harnessed his team, and started up the
river. Thermometer thirty degrees below zero; air like crystal;
snow six feet deep on the level.
The first day's journey was slow, for the going was soft, and the
track, at places, had to be broken out with snow-shoes. Camp was
made at the foot of the big fall--a hole in snow, a bed of boughs, a
hot fire and a blanket stretched on a couple of sticks to reflect
the heat, the dogs on the other side of the fire, and Pichou close
to his master.
In the morning there was the steep hill beside the fall to climb,
alternately soft and slippery, now a slope of glass and now a
treacherous drift of yielding feathers; it was a road set on end.
But Pichou flattened his back and strained his loins and dug his
toes into the snow and would not give back an inch. When the rest
of the team balked the long whip slashed across their backs and
recalled them to their duty. At last their leader topped the ridge,
and the others struggled after him. Before them stretched the great
dead-water of the river, a straight white path to No-man's-land.
The snow was smooth and level, and the crust was hard enough to
bear. Pichou settled down to his work at a glorious pace. He
seemed to know that he must do his best, and that something
important depended on the quickness of his legs. On through the
glittering solitude, on through the death-like silence, sped the
COMETIQUE, between the interminable walls of the forest, past the
mouths of nameless rivers, under the shadow of grim mountains. At
noon Dan Scott boiled the kettle, and ate his bread and bacon. But
there was nothing for the dogs, not even for Pichou; for discipline
is discipline, and the best of sledge-dogs will not run well after
he has been fed.
Then forward again, along the lifeless road, slowly over rapids,
where the ice was rough and broken, swiftly over still waters, where
the way was level, until they came to the foot of the last lake, and
camped for the night. The Indians were but a few miles away, at the
head of the lake, and it would be easy to reach them in the morning.
But there was another camp on the Ste. Marguerite that night, and it
was nearer to Dan Scott than the Indians were. Ovide Boulianne had
followed him up the river, close on his track, which made the going
"Does that sacre bourgeois suppose that I allow him all that
pelletrie to himself and the Compagnie? Four silver fox, besides
otter and beaver? NON, MERCI! I take some provision, and some
whiskey. I go to make trade also." Thus spoke the shrewd Ovide,
proving that commerce is no less daring, no less resolute, than
philanthropy. The only difference is in the motive, and that is not
always visible. Ovide camped the second night at a bend of the
river, a mile below the foot of the lake. Between him and Dan Scott
there was a hill covered with a dense thicket of spruce.
By what magic did Carcajou know that Pichou, his old enemy, was so
near him in that vast wilderness of white death? By what mysterious
language did he communicate his knowledge to his companions and stir
the sleeping hatred in their hearts and mature the conspiracy of
Pichou, sleeping by the fire, was awakened by the fall of a lump of
snow from the branch of a shaken evergreen. That was nothing. But
there were other sounds in the forest, faint, stealthy, inaudible to
an ear less keen than his. He crept out of the shelter and looked
into the wood. He could see shadowy forms, stealing among the
trees, gliding down the hill. Five of them. Wolves, doubtless! He
must guard the provisions. By this time the rest of his team were
awake. Their eyes glittered. They stirred uneasily. But they did
not move from the dying fire. It was no concern of theirs what
their leader chose to do out of hours. In the traces they would
follow him, but there was no loyalty in their hearts. Pichou stood
alone by the sledge, waiting for the wolves.
But these were no wolves. They were assassins. Like a company of
soldiers, they lined up together and rushed silently down the slope.
Like lightning they leaped upon the solitary dog and struck him
down. In an instant, before Dan Scott could throw off his blanket
and seize the loaded butt of his whip, Pichou's throat and breast
were torn to rags, his life-blood poured upon the snow, and his
murderers were slinking away, slavering and muttering through the
Dan Scott knelt beside his best friend. At a glance he saw that the
injury was fatal. "Well done, Pichou!" he murmured, "you fought a
good fight."
And the dog, by a brave effort, lifted the head with the black patch
on it, for the last time, licked his master', hand, and then dropped
back upon the snow--contented, happy, dead.
There is but one drawback to a dog's friendship. It does not last
long enough.
End of the story? Well, if you care for the other people in it, you
shall hear what became of them. Dan Scott went on to the head of
the lake and found the Indians, and fed them and gave them his
medicine, and all of them got well except two, and they continued to
hunt along the Ste. Marguerite every winter and trade with the
Honourable H. B. Company. Not with Dan Scott, however, for before
that year was ended he resigned his post, and went to Montreal to
finish his course in medicine; and now he is a respected physician
in Ontario. Married; three children; useful; prosperous. But
before he left Seven Islands he went up the Ste. Marguerite in the
summer, by canoe, and made a grave for Pichou's bones, under a
blossoming ash tree, among the ferns and wild flowers. He put a
cross over it.
"Being French," said he, "I suppose he was a Catholic. But I'll
swear he was a Christian."
The real location of a city house depends upon the pictures which
hang upon its walls. They are its neighbourhood and its outlook.
They confer upon it that touch of life and character, that power to
beget love and bind friendship, which a country house receives from
its surrounding landscape, the garden that embraces it, the stream
that runs near it, and the shaded paths that lead to and from its
By this magic of pictures my narrow, upright slice of living-space
in one of the brown-stone strata on the eastward slope of Manhattan
Island is transferred to an open and agreeable site. It has windows
that look toward the woods and the sunset, watergates by which a
little boat is always waiting, and secret passageways leading into
fair places that are frequented by persons of distinction and charm.
No darkness of night obscures these outlets; no neighbour's house
shuts off the view; no drifted snow of winter makes them impassable.
They are always free, and through them I go out and in upon my
One of these picture-wanderings has always appeared to me so
singular that I would like, if it were possible, to put it into
It was Pierrepont who first introduced me to the picture--Pierrepont
the good-natured: of whom one of his friends said that he was like
Mahomet's Bridge of Paradise, because he was so hard to cross: to
which another added that there was also a resemblance in the fact
that he led to a region of beautiful illusions which he never
entered. He is one of those enthusiastic souls who are always
discovering a new writer, a new painter, a new view from some old
wharf by the river, a new place to obtain picturesque dinners at a
grotesque price. He swung out of his office, with his long-legged,
easy stride, and nearly ran me down, as I was plodding up-town
through the languor of a late spring afternoon, on one of those
duty-walks which conscience offers as a sacrifice to digestion.
"Why, what is the matter with you?" he cried as he linked his arm
through mine, "you look outdone, tired all the way through to your
backbone. Have you been reading the 'Anatomy of Melancholy,' or
something by one of the new British female novelists? You will have
la grippe in your mind if you don't look out. But I know what you
need. Come with me, and I will do you good."
So saying, he drew me out of clanging Broadway into one of the side
streets that run toward the placid region of Washington Square.
"No, no," I answered, feeling, even in the act of resistance, the
pleasure of his cheerful guidance, "you are altogether wrong. I
don't need a dinner at your new-found Bulgarian table-d'hote--seven
courses for seventy-five cents, and the wine thrown out; nor some of
those wonderful Mexican cheroots warranted to eradicate the tobaccohabit;
nor a draught of your South American melon sherbet that cures
all pains, except these which it causes. None of these things will
help me. The doctor suggests that they do not suit my temperament.
Let us go home together and have a shower-bath and a dinner of
herbs, with just a reminiscence of the stalled ox--and a bout at
backgammon to wind up the evening. That will be the most
comfortable prescription."
"But you mistake me," said he; "I am not thinking of any creature
comforts for you. I am prescribing for your mind. There is a
picture that I want you to see; not a coloured photograph, nor an
exercise in anatomical drawing; but a real picture that will rest
the eyes of your heart. Come away with me to Morgenstern's gallery,
and be healed."
As we turned into the lower end of Fifth Avenue, it seemed as if I
were being gently floated along between the modest apartment-houses
and old-fashioned dwellings, and prim, respectable churches, on the
smooth current of Pierrepont's talk about his new-found picture.
How often a man has cause to return thanks for the enthusiasms of
his friends! They are the little fountains that run down from the
hills to refresh the mental desert of the despondent.
"You remember Falconer," continued Pierrepont, "Temple Falconer,
that modest, quiet, proud fellow who came out of the South a couple
of years ago and carried off the landscape prize at the Academy last
year, and then disappeared? He had no intimate friends here, and no
one knew what had become of him. But now this picture appears, to
show what he has been doing. It is an evening scene, a revelation
of the beauty of sadness, an idea expressed in colours--or rather, a
real impression of Nature that awakens an ideal feeling in the
heart. It does not define everything and say nothing, like so many
paintings. It tells no story, but I know it fits into one. There
is not a figure in it, and yet it is alive with sentiment; it
suggests thoughts which cannot be put into words. Don't you love
the pictures that have that power of suggestion--quiet and strong,
like Homer Martin's 'Light-house' up at the Century, with its
sheltered bay heaving softly under the pallid greenish sky of
evening, and the calm, steadfast glow of the lantern brightening
into readiness for all the perils of night and coming storm? How
much more powerful that is than all the conventional pictures of
light-houses on inaccessible cliffs, with white foam streaming from
them like the ends of a schoolboy's comforter in a gale of wind! I
tell you the real painters are the fellows who love pure nature
because it is so human. They don't need to exaggerate, and they
don't dare to be affected. They are not afraid of the reality, and
they are not ashamed of the sentiment. They don't paint everything
that they see, but they see everything that they paint. And this
picture makes me sure that Falconer is one of them."
By this time we had arrived at the door of the house where
Morgenstern lives and moves and makes his profits, and were admitted
to the shrine of the Commercial Apollo and the Muses in Trade.
It has often seemed to me as if that little house were a silent
epitome of modern art criticism, an automatic indicator, or perhaps
regulator, of the aesthetic taste of New York. On the first floor,
surrounded by all the newest fashions in antiquities and BRIC-ABRAC,
you will see the art of to-day--the works of painters who are
precisely in the focus of advertisement, and whose names call out an
instant round of applause in the auction-room. On the floors above,
in degrees of obscurity deepening toward the attic, you will find
the art of yesterday--the pictures which have passed out of the
glare of popularity without yet arriving at the mellow radiance of
old masters. In the basement, concealed in huge packing-cases, and
marked "PARIS--FRAGILE,"--you will find the art of to-morrow; the
paintings of the men in regard to whose names, styles, and personal
traits, the foreign correspondents and prophetic critics in the
newspapers, are now diffusing in the public mind that twilight of
familiarity and ignorance which precedes the sunrise of marketable
The affable and sagacious Morgenstern was already well acquainted
with the waywardness of Pierrepont's admiration, and with my own
persistent disregard of current quotations in the valuation of works
of art. He regarded us, I suppose, very much as Robin Hood would
have looked upon a pair of plain yeomen who had strayed into his
lair. The knights of capital, and coal barons, and rich merchants
were his natural prey, but toward this poor but honest couple it
would be worthy only of a Gentile robber to show anything but
courteous and fair dealing.
He expressed no surprise when he heard what we wanted to see, but
smiled tolerantly and led the way, not into the well-defined realm
of the past, the present, or the future, but into a region of
uncertain fortunes, a limbo of acknowledged but unrewarded merits, a
large back room devoted to the works of American painters. Here we
found Falconer's picture; and the dealer, with that instinctive tact
which is the best part of his business capital, left us alone to
look at it.
It showed the mouth of a little river: a secluded lagoon, where the
shallow tides rose and fell with vague lassitude, following the
impulse of prevailing winds more than the strong attraction of the
moon. But now the unsailed harbour was quite still, in the pause of
the evening; and the smooth undulations were caressed by a hundred
opalescent hues, growing deeper toward the west, where the river
came in. Converging lines of trees stood dark against the sky; a
cleft in the woods marked the course of the stream, above which the
reluctant splendours of an autumnal day were dying in ashes of
roses, while three tiny clouds, poised high in air, burned red with
the last glimpse of the departed sun.
On the right was a reedy point running out into the bay, and behind
it, on a slight rise of ground, an antique house with tall white
pillars. It was but dimly outlined in the gathering shadows; yet
one could imagine its stately, formal aspect, its precise garden
with beds of old-fashioned flowers and straight paths bordered with
box, and a little arbour overgrown with honeysuckle. I know not by
what subtlety of delicate and indescribable touches--a slight
inclination in one of the pillars, a broken line which might
indicate an unhinged gate, a drooping resignation in the foliage of
the yellowing trees, a tone of sadness in the blending of subdued
colours--the painter had suggested that the place was deserted. But
the truth was unmistakable. An air of loneliness and pensive sorrow
breathed from the picture; a sigh of longing and regret. It was
haunted by sad, sweet memories of some untold story of human life.
In the corner Falconer had put his signature, T. F., "LARMONE," 189-,
and on the border of the picture he had faintly traced some words,
which we made out at last--
"A spirit haunts the year's last hours."
Pierrepont took up the quotation and completed it--
"A spirit haunts the year's last hours,
Dwelling amid these yellowing bowers:
To himself he talks;
For at eventide, listening earnestly,
At his work you may hear him sob and sigh,
In the walks;
Earthward he boweth the heavy stalks
Of the mouldering flowers:
Heavily hangs the broad sunflower
Over its grave i' the earth so chilly;
Heavily hangs the hollyhock,
Heavily hangs the tiger-lily."
"That is very pretty poetry, gentlemen," said Morgenstern, who had
come in behind us, "but is it not a little vague? You like it, but
you cannot tell exactly what it means. I find the same fault in the
picture from my point of view. There is nothing in it to make a
paragraph about, no anecdote, no experiment in technique. It is
impossible to persuade the public to admire a picture unless you can
tell them precisely the points on which they must fix their
admiration. And that is why, although the painting is a good one, I
should be willing to sell it at a low price."
He named a sum of money in three figures, so small that Pierrepont,
who often buys pictures by proxy, could not conceal his surprise.
"Certainly I should consider that a good bargain, simply for
investment," said he. "Falconer's name alone ought to be worth more
than that, ten years from now. He is a rising man."
"No, Mr. Pierrepont," replied the dealer, "the picture is worth what
I ask for it, for I would not commit the impertinence of offering a
present to you or your friend; but it is worth no more. Falconer's
name will not increase in value. The catalogue of his works is too
short for fame to take much notice of it; and this is the last. Did
you not hear of his death last fall? I do not wonder, for it
happened at some place down on Long Island--a name that I never saw
before, and have forgotten now. There was not even an obituary in
the newspapers."
"And besides," he continued, after a pause, "I must not conceal from
you that the painting has a blemish. It is not always visible,
since you have failed to detect it; but it is more noticeable in
some lights than in others; and, do what I will, I cannot remove it.
This alone would prevent the painting from being a good investment.
Its market value will never rise."
He turned the canvas sideways to the light, and the defect became
It was a dim, oblong, white blot in the middle distance; a nebulous
blur in the painting, as if there had been some chemical impurity in
the pigment causing it to fade, or rather as if a long drop of some
acid, or perhaps a splash of salt water, had fallen upon the canvas
while it was wet, and bleached it. I knew little of the possible
causes of such a blot, but enough to see that it could not be erased
without painting over it, perhaps not even then. And yet it seemed
rather to enhance than to weaken the attraction which the picture
had for me.
"Your candour does you credit, Mr. Morgenstern," said I, "but you
know me well enough to be sure that what you have said will hardly
discourage me. For I have never been an admirer of 'cabinet finish'
in works of art. Nor have I been in the habit of buying them, as a
Circassian father trains his daughters, with an eye to the market.
They come into my house for my own pleasure, and when the time
arrives that I can see them no longer, it will not matter much to me
what price they bring in the auction-room. This landscape pleases
me so thoroughly that, if you will let us take it with us this
evening, I will send you a check for the amount in the morning."
So we carried off the painting in a cab; and all the way home I was
in the pleasant excitement of a man who is about to make an addition
to his house; while Pierrepont was conscious of the glow of virtue
which comes of having done a favour to a friend and justified your
own critical judgment at one stroke.
After dinner we hung the painting over the chimney-piece in the room
called the study (because it was consecrated to idleness), and sat
there far into the night, talking of the few times we had met
Falconer at the club, and of his reticent manner, which was broken
by curious flashes of impersonal confidence when he spoke not of
himself but of his art. From this we drifted into memories of good
comrades who had walked beside us but a few days in the path of
life, and then disappeared, yet left us feeling as if we cared more
for them than for the men whom we see every day; and of young
geniuses who had never reached the goal; and of many other glimpses
of "the light that failed," until the lamp was low and it was time
to say good-night.
For several months I continued to advance in intimacy with my
picture. It grew more familiar, more suggestive; the truth and
beauty of it came home to me constantly. Yet there was something in
it not quite apprehended; a sense of strangeness; a reserve which I
had not yet penetrated.
One night in August I found myself practically alone, so far as
human intercourse was concerned, in the populous, weary city. A
couple of hours of writing had produced nothing that would bear the
test of sunlight, so I anticipated judgment by tearing up the
spoiled sheets of paper, and threw myself upon the couch before the
empty fireplace. It was a dense, sultry night, with electricity
thickening the air, and a trouble of distant thunder rolling far
away on the rim of the cloudy sky--one of those nights of restless
dulness, when you wait and long for something to happen, and yet
feel despondently that nothing ever will happen again. I passed
through a region of aimless thoughts into one of migratory and
unfinished dreams, and dropped from that into an empty gulf of
How late it was when I drifted back toward the shore of
consciousness, I cannot tell. But the student-lamp on the table had
burned out, and the light of the gibbous moon was creeping in
through the open windows. Slowly the pale illumination crept up the
eastern wall, like a tide rising as the moon declined. Now it
reached the mantel-shelf and overflowed the bronze heads of Homer
and the Indian Bacchus and the Egyptian image of Isis with the
infant Horus. Now it touched the frame of the picture and lapped
over the edge. Now it rose to the shadowy house and the dim garden,
in the midst of which I saw the white blot more distinctly than ever
It seemed now to have taken a new shape, like the slender form of a
woman, robed in flowing white. And as I watched it through halfclosed
eyes, the figure appeared to move and tremble and wave to and
fro, as if it were a ghost.
A haunted picture! Why should it not be so? A haunted ruin, a
haunted forest, a haunted ship,--all these have been seen, or
imagined, and reported, and there are learned societies for
investigating such things. Why should not a picture have a ghost in
My mind, in that curiously vivid state which lies between waking and
sleeping, went through the form of careful reasoning over the
question. If there may be some subtle connection between a house
and the spirits of the people who have once lived in it,--and wise
men have believed this,--why should there be any impassable gulf
between a picture and the vanished lives out of which it has grown?
All the human thought and feeling which have passed into it through
the patient toil of art, remain forever embodied there. A picture
is the most living and personal thing that a man can leave behind
him. When we look at it we see what he saw, hour after hour, day
after day, and we see it through his mood and impression, coloured
by his emotion, tinged with his personality. Surely, if the spirits
of the dead are not extinguished, but only veiled and hidden, and if
it were possible by any means that their presence could flash for a
moment through the veil, it would be most natural that they should
come back again to hover around the work into which their experience
and passion had been woven. Here, if anywhere, they would "Revisit
the pale glimpses of the moon." Here, if anywhere, we might catch
fleeting sight, as in a glass darkly, of the visions that passed
before them while they worked.
This much of my train of reasoning along the edge of the dark, I
remember sharply. But after this, all was confused and misty. The
shore of consciousness receded. I floated out again on the ocean of
forgotten dreams. When I woke, it was with a quick start, as if my
ship had been made fast, silently and suddenly, at the wharf of
reality, and the bell rang for me to step ashore.
But the vision of the white blot remained clear and distinct. And
the question that it had brought to me, the chain of thoughts that
had linked themselves to it, lingered through the morning, and made
me feel sure that there was an untold secret in Falconer's life and
that the clew to it must be sought in the history of his last
But how to trace the connection? Every one who had known Falconer,
however slightly, was out of town. There was no clew to follow.
Even the name "Larmone" gave me no help; for I could not find it on
any map of Long Island. It was probably the fanciful title of some
old country-place, familiar only to the people who had lived there.
But the very remoteness of the problem, its lack of contact with the
practical world, fascinated me. It was like something that had
drifted away in the fog, on a sea of unknown and fluctuating
currents. The only possible way to find it was to commit yourself
to the same wandering tides and drift after it, trusting to a
propitious fortune that you might be carried in the same direction;
and after a long, blind, unhurrying chase, one day you might feel a
faint touch, a jar, a thrill along the side of your boat, and,
peering through the fog, lay your hand at last, without surprise,
upon the very object of your quest.
As it happened, the means for such a quest were at my disposal. I
was part owner of a boat which had been built for hunting and
fishing cruises on the shallow waters of the Great South Bay. It
was a deliberate, but not inconvenient, craft, well named the
Patience; and my turn for using it had come. Black Zekiel, the
captain, crew, and cook, was the very man that I would have chosen
for such an expedition. He combined the indolent good-humour of the
negro with the taciturnity of the Indian, and knew every shoal and
channel of the tortuous waters. He asked nothing better than to set
out on a voyage without a port; sailing aimlessly eastward day after
day, through the long chain of landlocked bays, with the sea
plunging behind the sand-dunes on our right, and the shores of Long
Island sleeping on our left; anchoring every evening in some little
cove or estuary, where Zekiel could sit on the cabin roof, smoking
his corn-cob pipe, and meditating on the vanity and comfort of life,
while I pushed off through the mellow dusk to explore every creek
and bend of the shore, in my light canoe.
There was nothing to hasten our voyage. The three weeks' vacation
was all but gone, when the Patience groped her way through a narrow,
crooked channel in a wide salt-meadow, and entered the last of the
series of bays. A few houses straggled down a point of land; the
village of Quantock lay a little farther back. Beyond that was a
belt of woods reaching to the water; and from these the southcountry
road emerged to cross the upper end of the bay on a low
causeway with a narrow bridge of planks at the central point. Here
was our Ultima Thule. Not even the Patience could thread the eye of
this needle, or float through the shallow marsh-canal farther to the
We anchored just in front of the bridge, and as I pushed the canoe
beneath it, after supper, I felt the indefinable sensation of having
passed that way before. I knew beforehand what the little boat
would drift into. The broad saffron light of evening fading over a
still lagoon; two converging lines of pine trees running back into
the sunset; a grassy point upon the right; and behind that a
neglected garden, a tangled bower of honeysuckle, a straight path
bordered with box, leading to a deserted house with a high, whitepillared
porch--yes, it was Larmone.
In the morning I went up to the village to see if I could find trace
of my artist's visit to the place. There was no difficulty in the
search, for he had been there often. The people had plenty of
recollections of him, but no real memory, for it seemed as if none
of them had really known him.
"Queer kinder fellow," said a wrinkled old bayman with whom I walked
up the sandy road, "I seen him a good deal round here, but 'twan't
like havin' any 'quaintance with him. He allus kep' himself to
himself, pooty much. Used ter stay round 'Squire Ladoo's place most
o' the time--keepin' comp'ny with the gal I guess. Larmone? Yaas,
that's what THEY called it, but we don't go much on fancy names down
here. No, the painter didn' 'zactly live there, but it 'mounted to
the same thing. Las' summer they was all away, house shet up,
painter hangin' round all the time, 's if he looked fur 'em to come
back any minnit. Purfessed to be paintin', but I don' see's he did
much. Lived up to Mort Halsey's; died there too; year ago this
fall. Guess Mis' Halsey can tell ye most of any one 'bout him."
At the boarding-house (with wide, low verandas, now forsaken by the
summer boarders), which did duty for a village inn, I found Mrs.
Halsey; a notable housewife, with a strong taste for ancestry, and
an uncultivated world of romance still brightening her soft brown
eyes. She knew all the threads in the story that I was following;
and the interest with which she spoke made it evident that she had
often woven them together in the winter evenings on patterns of her
Judge Ledoux had come to Quantock from the South during the war, and
built a house there like the one he used to live in. There were
three things he hated: slavery and war and society. But he always
loved the South more than the North, and lived like a foreigner,
polite enough, but very retired. His wife died after a few years,
and left him alone with a little girl. Claire grew up as pretty as
a picture, but very shy and delicate. About two years ago Mr.
Falconer had come down from the city; he stayed at Larmone first,
and then he came to the boarding-house, but he was over at the
Ledoux' house almost all the time. He was a Southerner too, and a
relative of the family; a real gentleman, and very proud though he
was poor. It seemed strange that he should not live with them, but
perhaps he felt more free over here. Every one thought he must be
engaged to Claire, but he was not the kind of a man that you could
ask questions about himself. A year ago last winter he had gone up
to the city and taken all his things with him. He had never stayed
away so long before. In the spring the Ledoux had gone to Europe;
Claire seemed to be falling into a decline; her sight seemed to be
failing, and her father said she must see a famous doctor and have a
change of air.
"Mr. Falconer came back in May," continued the good lady, "as if he
expected to find them. But the house was shut up and nobody knew
just where they were. He seemed to be all taken aback; it was queer
if he didn't know about it, intimate as he had been; but he never
said anything, and made no inquiries; just seemed to be waiting, as
if there was nothing else for him to do. We would have told him in
a minute, if we had anything to tell. But all we could do was to
guess there must have been some kind of a quarrel between him and
the Judge, and if there was, he must know best about it himself.
"All summer long he kept going over to the house and wandering
around in the garden. In the fall he began to paint a picture, but
it was very slow painting; he would go over in the afternoon and
come back long after dark, damp with the dew and fog. He kept
growing paler and weaker and more silent. Some days he did not
speak more than a dozen words, but always kind and pleasant. He was
just dwindling away; and when the picture was almost done a fever
took hold of him. The doctor said it was malaria, but it seemed to
me more like a trouble in the throat, a kind of dumb misery. And
one night, in the third quarter of the moon, just after the tide
turned to run out, he raised up in the bed and tried to speak, but
he was gone.
"We tried to find out his relations, but there didn't seem to be
any, except the Ledoux, and they were out of reach. So we sent the
picture up to our cousin in Brooklyn, and it sold for about enough
to pay Mr. Falconer's summer's board and the cost of his funeral.
There was nothing else that he left of any value, except a few
books; perhaps you would like to look at them, if you were his
"I never saw any one that I seemed to know so little and like so
well. It was a disappointment in love, of course, and they all said
that he died of a broken heart; but I think it was because his heart
was too full, and wouldn't break.
"And oh!--I forgot to tell you; a week after he was gone there was a
notice in the paper that Claire Ledoux had died suddenly, on the
last of August, at some place in Switzerland. Her father is still
away travelling. And so the whole story is broken off and will
never be finished. Will you look at the books?"
Nothing is more pathetic, to my mind, than to take up the books of
one who is dead. Here is his name, with perhaps a note of the place
where the volume was bought or read, and the marks on the pages that
he liked best. Here are the passages that gave him pleasure, and
the thoughts that entered into his life and formed it; they became
part of him, but where has he carried them now?
Falconer's little library was an unstudied choice, and gave a hint
of his character. There was a New Testament in French, with his
name written in a slender, woman's hand; three or four volumes of
stories, Cable's "Old Creole Days," Allen's "Kentucky Cardinal,"
Page's "In Old Virginia," and the like; "Henry Esmond" and Amiel's
"Journal" and Lamartine's "Raphael"; and a few volumes of poetry,
among them one of Sidney Lanier's, and one of Tennyson's earlier
There was also a little morocco-bound book of manuscript notes.
This I begged permission to carry away with me, hoping to find in it
something which would throw light upon my picture, perhaps even some
message to be carried, some hint or suggestion of something which
the writer would fain have had done for him, and which I promised
myself faithfully to perform, as a test of an imagined friendship--
imagined not in the future, but in the impossible past.
I read the book in this spirit, searching its pages carefully,
through the long afternoon, in the solitary cabin of my boat. There
was nothing at first but an ordinary diary; a record of the work and
self-denials of a poor student of art. Then came the date of his
first visit to Larmone, and an expression of the pleasure of being
with his own people again after a lonely life, and some chronicle of
his occupations there, studies for pictures, and idle days that were
summed up in a phrase: "On the bay," or "In the woods."
After this the regular succession of dates was broken, and there
followed a few scraps of verse, irregular and unfinished, bound
together by the thread of a name--"Claire among her Roses," "A Ride
through the Pines with Claire," "An Old Song of Claire's" "The Blue
Flower in Claire's Eyes." It was not poetry, but such an
unconscious tribute to the power and beauty of poetry as unfolds
itself almost inevitably from youthful love, as naturally as the
blossoms unfold from the apple trees in May. If you pick them they
are worthless. They charm only in their own time and place.
A date told of his change from Larmone to the village, and this was
written below it: "Too heavy a sense of obligation destroys freedom,
and only a free man can dare to love."
Then came a number of fragments indicating trouble of mind and
hesitation; the sensitiveness of the artist, the delicate, selftormenting
scruples of the lonely idealist, the morbid pride of the
young poor man, contending with an impetuous passion and forcing it
to surrender, or at least to compromise.
"What right has a man to demand everything and offer nothing in
return except an ambition and a hope? Love must come as a giver,
not as a beggar."
"A knight should not ask to wear his lady's colours until he has won
his spurs."
"King Cophetua and the beggar-maid--very fine! but the other way--
"A woman may take everything from a man, wealth and fame and
position. But there is only one thing that a man may accept from a
woman--something that she alone can give--happiness."
"Self-respect is less than love, but it is the trellis that holds
love up from the ground; break it down, and all the flowers are in
the dust, the fruit is spoiled."
"And yet"--so the man's thought shone through everywhere--"I think
she must know that I love her, and why I cannot speak."
One entry was written in a clearer, stronger hand: "An end of
hesitation. The longest way is the shortest. I am going to the
city to work for the Academy prize, to think of nothing else until I
win it, and then come back with it to Claire, to tell her that I
have a future, and that it is hers. If I spoke of it now it would
be like claiming the reward before I had done the work. I have told
her only that I am going to prove myself an artist, AND TO LIVE FOR
WHAT I LOVE BEST. She understood, I am sure, for she would not lift
her eyes to me, but her hand trembled as she gave me the blue flower
from her belt."
The date of his return to Larmone was marked, but the page was
blank, as the day had been.
Some pages of dull self-reproach and questioning and bewildered
regret followed.
"Is it possible that she has gone away, without a word, without a
sign, after what has passed between us? It is not fair. Surely I
had some claim."
"But what claim, after all? I asked for nothing. And was it not
pride that kept me silent, taking it for granted that if I asked,
she would give?"
"It was a mistake; she did not understand, nor care."
"It was my fault; I might at least have told her that I loved her,
though she could not have answered me."
"It is too late now. To-night, while I was finishing the picture, I
saw her in the garden. Her spirit, all in white, with a blue flower
in her belt. I knew she was dead across the sea. I tried to call
to her, but my voice made no sound. She seemed not to see me. She
moved like one in a dream, straight on, and vanished. Is there no
one who can tell her? Must she never know that I loved her?"
The last thing in the book was a printed scrap of paper that lay
between the leaves:
"Would the gods might give
Another field for human strife;
Man must live one life
Ere he learns to live.
Ah, friend, in thy deep grave,
What now can change; what now can save?"
So there was a message after all, but it could never be carried; a
task for a friend, but it was impossible. What better thing could I
do with the poor little book than bury it in the garden in the
shadow of Larmone? The story of a silent fault, hidden in silence.
How many of life's deepest tragedies are only that: no great
transgression, no shock of conflict, no sudden catastrophe with its
answering thrill of courage and resistance: only a mistake made in
the darkness, and under the guidance of what seemed a true and noble
motive; a failure to see the right path at the right moment, and a
long wandering beyond it; a word left unspoken until the ears that
should have heard it are sealed, and the tongue that should have
spoken it is dumb.
The soft sea-fog clothed the night with clinging darkness; the faded
leaves hung slack and motionless from the trees, waiting for their
fall; the tense notes of the surf beyond the sand-dunes vibrated
through the damp air like chords from some mighty VIOLONO; large,
warm drops wept from the arbour while I sat in the garden, holding
the poor little book, and thinking of the white blot in the record
of a life that was too proud to bend to the happiness that was meant
for it.
There are men like that: not many perhaps, but a few; and they are
the ones who suffer most keenly in this world of half-understanding
and clouded knowledge. There is a pride, honourable and sensitive,
that imperils the realization of love, puts it under a spell of
silence and reserve, makes it sterile of blossoms and impotent of
fruits. For what is it, after all, but a subtle, spiritual worship
of self? And what was Falconer's resolve not to tell this girl that
he loved her until he had won fame and position, but a secret,
unconscious setting of himself above her? For surely, if love is
supreme, it does not need to wait for anything else to lend it worth
and dignity. The very sweetness and power of it lie in the
confession of one life as dependent upon another for its fulfilment.
It is made strong in its very weakness. It is the only thing, after
all, that can break the prison bars and set the heart free from
itself. The pride that hinders it, enslaves it. Love's first duty
is to be true to itself, in word and deed. Then, having spoken
truth and acted verity, it may call on honour to keep it pure and
If Falconer had trusted Claire, and showed her his heart without
reserve, would she not have understood him and helped him? It was
the pride of independence, the passion of self-reliance that drew
him away from her and divided his heart from hers in a dumb
isolation. But Claire,--was not she also in fault? Might she not
have known, should not she have taken for granted, the truth which
must have been so easy to read in Falconer's face, though he never
put it into words? And yet with her there was something very
different from the pride that kept him silent. The virgin reserve
of a young girl's heart is more sacred than any pride of self. It
is the maiden instinct which makes the woman always the shrine, and
never the pilgrim. She is not the seeker, but the one sought. She
dares not take anything for granted. She has the right to wait for
the voice, the word, the avowal. Then, and not till then, if the
pilgrim be the chosen one, the shrine may open to receive him.
Not all women believe this; but those who do are the ones best worth
seeking and winning. And Claire was one of them. It seemed to me,
as I mused, half dreaming, on the unfinished story of these two
lives that had missed each other in the darkness, that I could see
her figure moving through the garden, beyond where the pallid bloom
of the tall cosmos-flower bent to the fitful breeze. Her robe was
like the waving of the mist. Her face was fair, and very fair, for
all its sadness: a blue flower, faint as a shadow on the snow,
trembled at her waist, as she paced to and fro along the path.
I murmured to myself, "Yet he loved her: and she loved him. Can
pride be stronger than love?"
Perhaps, after all, the lingering and belated confession which
Falconer had written in his diary might in some way come to her.
Perhaps if it were left here in the bower of honeysuckles where they
had so often sat together, it might be a sign and omen of the
meeting of these two souls that had lost each other in the dark of
the world. Perhaps,--ah, who can tell that it is not so?--for those
who truly love, with all their errors, with all their faults, there
is no "irrevocable"--there is "another field."
As I turned from the garden, the tense note of the surf vibrated
through the night. The pattering drops of dew rustled as they fell
from the leaves of the honeysuckle. But underneath these sounds it
seemed as if I heard a deep voice saying "Claire!" and a woman's
lips whispering "Temple!"
The Marquis sat by the camp-fire peeling potatoes.
To look at him, you never would have taken him for a marquis. His
costume was a pair of corduroy trousers; a blue flannel shirt,
patched at elbows with gray; lumberman's boots, flat-footed,
shapeless, with loose leather legs strapped just below the knee, and
wrinkled like the hide of an ancient rhinoceros; and a soft brown
hat with several holes in the crown, as if it had done duty, at some
time in its history, as an impromptu target in a shooting-match. A
red woollen scarf twisted about his loins gave a touch of colour and
It was not exactly a court dress, but it sat well on the powerful
sinewy figure of the man. He never gave a thought to his looks, but
peeled his potatoes with a dexterity which betrayed a past-master of
the humble art, and threw the skins into the fire.
"Look you, m'sieu'," he said to young Winthrop Alden, who sat on a
fallen tree near him, mending the fly-rod which he had broken in the
morning's fishing, "look you, it is an affair of the most strange,
yet of the most certain. We have known always that ours was a good
family. The name tells it. The Lamottes are of la haute classe in
France. But here, in Canada, we are poor. Yet the good blood dies
not with the poverty. It is buried, hidden, but it remains the
same. It is like these pataques. You plant good ones for seed: you
get a good crop. You plant bad ones: you get a bad crop. But we
did not know about the title in our family. No. We thought ours
was a side-branch, an off-shoot. It was a great surprise to us.
But it is certain,--beyond a doubt."
Jean Lamotte's deep voice was quiet and steady. It had the tone of
assured conviction. His bright blue eyes above his ruddy mustache
and bronzed cheeks, were clear and tranquil as those of a child.
Alden was immensely interested and amused. He was a member of the
Boston branch of the Society for Ancestral Culture, and he
recognized the favourite tenet of his sect,--the doctrine that
"blood will tell." He was also a Harvard man, knowing almost
everything and believing hardly anything. Heredity was one of the
few unquestioned articles of his creed. But the form in which this
familiar confession of faith came to him, on the banks of the Grande
Decharge, from the lips of a somewhat ragged and distinctly
illiterate Canadian guide, was grotesque enough to satisfy the most
modern taste for new sensations. He listened with an air of
gravity, and a delighted sense of the humour of the situation.
"How did you find it out?" he asked.
"Well, then," continued Jean, "I will tell you how the news came to
me. It was at St. Gedeon, one Sunday last March. The snow was good
and hard, and I drove in, ten miles on the lake, from our house
opposite Grosse Ile. After mass, a man, evidently of the city,
comes to me in the stable while I feed the horse, and salutes me.
"'Is this Jean Lamotte?'
"'At your service, m'sieu'.'
"'Son of Francois Louis Lamotte?'
"'Of no other. But he is dead, God give him repose.'
"'I been looking for you all through Charlevoix and Chicoutimi.'
"'Here you find me then, and good-day to you,' says I, a little
short, for I was beginning to be shy of him.
"'Chut, chut,' says he, very friendly. 'I suppose you have time to
talk a bit. How would you like to be a marquis and have a castle in
France with a hundred thousand dollars?'
"For a moment I think I will lick him; then I laugh. 'Very well
indeed,' says I, 'and also a handful of stars for buckshot, and the
new moon for a canoe.'
"'But no,' answers the man. 'I am earnest, Monsieur Lamotte. I
want to talk a long talk with you. Do you permit that I accompany
you to your residence?'
"Residence! You know that little farm-house of logs where my mother
lives,--you saw it last summer. But of course it is a pretty good
house. It is clean. It is warm. So I bring the man home in the
sleigh. All that evening he tells the story. How our name Lamotte
is really De la Motte de la Luciere. How there belongs to that name
an estate and a title in France, now thirty years with no one to
claim it. How he, being an AVOCAT, has remarked the likeness of the
names. How he has tracked the family through Montmorency and
Quebec, in all the parish books. How he finds my greatgrandfather's
great-grandfather, Etienne de La Motte who came to
Canada two hundred years ago, a younger son of the Marquis de la
Luciere. How he has the papers, many of them, with red seals on
them. I saw them. 'Of course,' says he, 'there are others of the
family here to share the property. It must be divided. But it is
large--enormous--millions of francs. And the largest share is
yours, and the title, and a castle--a castle larger than Price's
saw-mill at Chicoutimi; with carpets, and electric lights, and
coloured pictures on the wall, like the hotel at Roberval.'
"When my mother heard about that she was pleased. But me--when I
heard that I was a marquis, I knew it was true."
Jean's blue eyes were wide open now, and sparkling brightly. He had
put down the pan of potatoes. He was holding his head up and
talking eagerly.
Alden turned away his face to light his pipe, and hide a smile.
"Did he get--any money--out of you?"--came slowly between the puffs
of smoke.
"Money!" answered Jean, "of course there must be money to carry on
an affair of this kind. There was seventy dollars that I had
cleaned up on the lumber-job last winter, and the mother had forty
dollars from the cow she sold in the fall. A hundred and ten
dollars,--we gave him that. He has gone to France to make the claim
for us. Next spring he comes back, and I give him a hundred dollars
more; when I get my property five thousand dollars more. It is
little enough. A marquis must not be mean."
Alden swore softly in English, under his breath. A rustic comedy, a
joke on human nature, always pleased him; but beneath his cynical
varnish he had a very honest heart, and he hated cruelty and
injustice. He knew what a little money meant in the backwoods; what
hard and bitter toil it cost to rake it together; what sacrifices
and privations must follow its loss. If the smooth prospector of
unclaimed estates in France had arrived at the camp on the Grande
Decharge at that moment, Alden would have introduced him to the most
unhappy hour of his life.
But with Jean Lamotte it was by no means so easy to deal. Alden
perceived at once that ridicule would be worse than useless. The
man was far too much in earnest. A jest about a marquis with holes
in his hat! Yes, Jean would laugh at that very merrily; for he was
a true VOYAGEUR. But a jest about the reality of the marquis! That
struck him as almost profane. It was a fixed idea with him.
Argument could not shake it. He had seen the papers. He knew it
was true. All the strength of his vigorous and healthy manhood
seemed to have gone into it suddenly, as if this was the news for
which he had been waiting, unconsciously, since he was born.
It was not in the least morbid, visionary, abstract. It was
concrete, actual, and so far as Alden could see, wholesome. It did
not make Jean despise his present life. On the contrary, it
appeared to lend a zest to it, as an interesting episode in the
career of a nobleman. He was not restless; he was not discontented.
His whole nature was at once elated and calmed. He was not at all
feverish to get away from his familiar existence, from the woods and
the waters he knew so well, from the large liberty of the unpeopled
forest, the joyous rush of the great river, the splendid breadth of
the open sky. Unconsciously these things had gone into his blood.
Dimly he felt the premonitions of homesickness for them all. But he
was lifted up to remember that the blood into which these things had
entered was blue blood, and that though he lived in the wilderness
he really belonged to la haute classe. A breath of romance, a
spirit of chivalry from the days when the high-spirited courtiers of
Louis XIV sought their fortune in the New World, seemed to pass into
him. He spoke of it all with a kind of proud simplicity.
"It appears curious to m'sieu', no doubt, but it has been so in
Canada from the beginning. There were many nobles here in the old
time. Frontenac,--he was a duke or a prince. Denonville,--he was a
grand seigneur. La Salle, Vaudreuil,--these are all noble, counts
or barons. I know not the difference, but the cure has told me the
names. And the old Jacques Cartier, the father of all, when he went
home to France, I have heard that the King made him a lord and gave
him a castle. Why not? He was a capable man, a brave man; he could
sail a big ship, he could run the rapids of the great river in his
canoe. He could hunt the bear, the lynx, the carcajou. I suppose
all these men,--marquises and counts and barons,--I suppose they all
lived hard, and slept on the ground, and used the axe and the paddle
when they came to the woods. It is not the fine coat that makes the
noble. It is the good blood, the adventure, the brave heart."
"Magnificent!" thought Alden. "It is the real thing, a bit of the
seventeenth century lost in the forest for two hundred years. It is
like finding an old rapier beside an Indian trail. I suppose the
fellow may be the descendant of some gay young lieutenant of the
regiment Carignan-Salieres, who came out with De Tracy, or
Courcelles. An amour with the daughter of a habitant,--a name taken
at random,--who can unravel the skein? But here's the old thread of
chivalry running through all the tangles, tarnished but unbroken."
This was what he said to himself. What he said to Jean was, "Well,
Jean, you and I have been together in the woods for two summers now,
and marquis or no marquis, I hope this is not going to make any
difference between us."
"But certainly NOT!" answered Jean. "I am well content with
m'sieu', as I hope m'sieu' is content with me. While I am AU BOIS,
I ask no better than to be your guide. Besides, I must earn those
other hundred dollars, for the payment in the spring."
Alden tried to make him promise to give nothing more to the lawyer
until he had something sure to show for his money. But Jean was
politely non-committal on that point. It was evident that he felt
the impossibility of meanness in a marquis. Why should he be
sparing or cautious? That was for the merchant, not for the noble.
A hundred, two hundred, three hundred dollars: What was that to an
estate and a title? Nothing risk, nothing gain! He must live up to
his role. Meantime he was ready to prove that he was the best guide
on the Grande Decharge.
And so he was. There was not a man in all the Lake St. John country
who knew the woods and waters as well as he did. Far up the great
rivers Peribonca and Misstassini he had pushed his birch canoe,
exploring the network of lakes and streams along the desolate Height
of Land. He knew the Grand Brule, where the bears roam in September
on the fire-scarred hills among the wide, unharvested fields of
blueberries. He knew the hidden ponds and slow-creeping little
rivers where the beavers build their dams, and raise their silent
water-cities, like Venice lost in the woods. He knew the vast
barrens, covered with stiff silvery moss, where the caribou fed in
the winter. On the Decharge itself,--that tumultuous flood, never
failing, never freezing, by which the great lake pours all its
gathered waters in foam and fury down to the deep, still gorge of
the Saguenay,--there Jean was at home. There was not a curl or eddy
in the wild course of the river that he did not understand. The
quiet little channels by which one could drop down behind the
islands while the main stream made an impassable fall; the precise
height of the water at which it was safe to run the Rapide Gervais;
the point of rock on the brink of the Grande Chute where the canoe
must whirl swiftly in to the shore if you did not wish to go over
the cataract; the exact force of the tourniquet that sucked downward
at one edge of the rapid, and of the bouillon that boiled upward at
the other edge, as if the bottom of the river were heaving, and the
narrow line of the FILET D'EAU along which the birch-bark might
shoot in safety; the treachery of the smooth, oily curves where the
brown water swept past the edge of the cliff, silent, gloomy,
menacing; the hidden pathway through the foam where the canoe could
run out securely and reach a favourite haunt of the ouananiche, the
fish that loves the wildest water,--all these secrets were known to
Jean. He read the river like a book. He loved it. He also
respected it. He knew it too well to take liberties with it.
The camp, that June, was beside the Rapide des Cedres. A great
ledge stretched across the river; the water came down in three
leaps, brown above, golden at the edge, white where it fell. Below,
on the left bank, there was a little cove behind a high point of
rocks, a curving beach of white sand, a gentle slope of ground, a
tent half hidden among the birches and balsams. Down the river, the
main channel narrowed and deepened. High banks hemmed it in on the
left, iron-coasted islands on the right. It was a sullen, powerful,
dangerous stream. Beyond that, in mid-river, the Ile Maligne reared
its wicked head, scarred, bristling with skeletons of dead trees.
On either side of it, the river broke away into a long fury of
rapids and falls in which no boat could live.
It was there, on the point of the island, that the most famous
fishing in the river was found; and there Alden was determined to
cast his fly before he went home. Ten days they had waited at the
Cedars for the water to fall enough to make the passage to the
island safe. At last Alden grew impatient. It was a superb
morning,--sky like an immense blue gentian, air full of fragrance
from a million bells of pink Linnaea, sunshine flattering the great
river,--a morning when danger and death seemed incredible.
"To-day we are going to the island, Jean; the water must be low
enough now."
"Not yet, m'sieu', I am sorry, but it is not yet."
Alden laughed rather unpleasantly. "I believe you are afraid. I
thought you were a good canoeman--"
"I am that," said Jean, quietly, "and therefore,--well, it is the
bad canoeman who is never afraid."
"But last September you took your monsieur to the island and gave
him fine fishing. Why won't you do it for me? I believe you want
to keep me away from this place and save it for him."
Jean's face flushed. "M'sieu' has no reason to say that of me. I
beg that he will not repeat it."
Alden laughed again. He was somewhat irritated at Jean for taking
the thing so seriously, for being so obstinate. On such a morning
it was absurd. At least it would do no harm to make an effort to
reach the island. If it proved impossible they could give it up.
"All right, Jean," he said, "I'll take it back. You are only timid,
that's all. Francois here will go down with me. We can manage the
canoe together. Jean can stay at home and keep the camp. Eh,
Francois, the second guide, was a mush of vanity and good nature,
with just sense enough to obey Jean's orders, and just jealousy
enough to make him jump at a chance to show his independence. He
would like very well to be first man for a day,--perhaps for the
next trip, if he had good luck. He grinned and nodded his head--
"All ready, m'sieu'; I guess we can do it."
But while he was holding the canoe steady for Alden to step out to
his place in the bow, Jean came down and pushed him aside. "Go to
bed, dam' fool," he muttered, shoved the canoe out into the river,
and jumped lightly to his own place in the stern.
Alden smiled to himself and said nothing for a while. When they
were a mile or two down the river he remarked, "So I see you changed
your mind, Jean. Do you think better of the river now?"
"No, m'sieu', I think the same."
"Well then?"
"Because I must share the luck with you whether it is good or bad.
It is no shame to have fear. The shame is not to face it. But one
thing I ask of you--"
"And that is?"
"Kneel as low in the canoe as you can, paddle steady, and do not
dodge when a wave comes."
Alden was half inclined to turn back, and give it up. But pride
made it difficult to say the word. Besides the fishing was sure to
be superb; not a line had been wet there since last year. It was
worth a little risk. The danger could not be so very great after
all. How fair the river ran,--a current of living topaz between
banks of emerald! What but good luck could come on such a day?
The canoe was gliding down the last smooth stretch. Alden lifted
his head, as they turned the corner, and for the first time saw the
passage close before him. His face went white, and he set his teeth.
The left-hand branch of the river, cleft by the rocky point of the
island, dropped at once into a tumult of yellow foam and raved
downward along the northern shore. The right-hand branch swerved
away to the east, running with swift, silent fury. On the lower
edge of this desperate race of brown billows, a huge whirlpool
formed and dissolved every two or three minutes, now eddying round
in a wide backwater into a rocky bay on the end of the island, now
swept away by the rush of waves into the white rage of the rapids
There was the secret pathway. The trick was, to dart across the
right-hand current at the proper moment, catch the rim of the
whirlpool as it swung backward, and let it sweep you around to the
end of the island. It was easy enough at low water. But now?
The smooth waves went crowding and shouldering down the slope as if
they were running to a fight. The river rose and swelled with
quick, uneven passion. The whirlpool was in its place one minute;
the next, it was blotted out; everything rushed madly downward--and
below was hell.
Jean checked the boat for a moment, quivering in the strong current,
waiting for the TOURNIQUET to form again. Five seconds--ten
seconds--"Now!" he cried.
The canoe shot obliquely into the stream, driven by strong, quick
strokes of the paddles. It seemed almost to leap from wave to wave.
All was going well. The edge of the whirlpool was near. Then came
the crest of a larger wave,--slap--into the boat. Alden shrank
involuntarily from the cold water, and missed his stroke. An eddy
caught the bow and shoved it out. The whirlpool receded, dissolved.
The whole river rushed down upon the canoe and carried it away like
a leaf.
Who says that thought is swift and clear in a moment like that? Who
talks about the whole of a man's life passing before him in a flash
of light? A flash of darkness! Thought is paralyzed, dumb. "What
a fool!" "Good-bye!" "If--" That is about all it can say. And if
the moment is prolonged, it says the same thing over again, stunned,
bewildered, impotent. Then?--The rocking waves; the sinking boat;
the roar of the fall; the swift overturn; the icy, blinding,
strangling water--God!
Jean was flung shoreward. Instinctively he struck out, with the
current and half across it, toward a point of rock. His foot
touched bottom. He drew himself up and looked back. The canoe was
sweeping past, bottom upward, Alden underneath it.
Jean thrust himself out into the stream again, still going with the
current, but now away from shore. He gripped the canoe, flinging
his arm over the stern. Then he got hold of the thwart and tried to
turn it over. Too heavy! Groping underneath he caught Alden by the
shoulder and pulled him out. They would have gone down together but
for the boat.
"Hold on tight," gasped Jean, "put your arm over the canoe--the
other side!"
Alden, half dazed, obeyed him. The torrent carried the dancing,
slippery bark past another point. Just below it, there was a little
"Now," cried Jean; "the back-water--strike for the land!"
They touched the black, gliddery rocks. They staggered out of the
water; waist-deep, knee-deep, ankle-deep; falling and rising again.
They crawled up on the warm moss. . . .
The first thing that Alden noticed was the line of bright red spots
on the wing of a cedar-bird fluttering silently through the branches
of the tree above him. He lay still and watched it, wondering that
he had never before observed those brilliant sparks of colour on the
little brown bird. Then he wondered what made his legs ache so.
Then he saw Jean, dripping wet, sitting on a stone and looking down
the river.
He got up painfully and went over to him. He put his hand on the
man's shoulder.
"Jean, you saved my life--I thank you, Marquis!"
"M'sieu'," said Jean, springing up, "I beg you not to mention it.
It was nothing. A narrow shave,--but LA BONNE CHANCE! And after
all, you were right,--we got to the island! But now how to get off?"
Yes, of course they got off--the next day. At the foot of the
island, two miles below, there is a place where the water runs
quieter, and a BATEAU can cross from the main shore. Francois was
frightened when the others did not come back in the evening. He
made his way around to St. Joseph d'Alma, and got a boat to come up
and look for their bodies. He found them on the shore, alive and
very hungry. But all that has nothing to do with the story.
Nor does it make any difference how Alden spent the rest of his
summer in the woods, what kind of fishing he had, or what moved him
to leave five hundred dollars with Jean when he went away. That is
all padding: leave it out. The first point of interest is what Jean
did with the money. A suit of clothes, a new stove, and a set of
kitchen utensils for the log house opposite Grosse Ile, a trip to
Quebec, a little game of "Blof Americain" in the back room of the
Hotel du Nord,--that was the end of the money.
This is not a Sunday-school story. Jean was no saint. Even as a
hero he had his weak points. But after his own fashion he was a
pretty good kind of a marquis. He took his headache the next
morning as a matter of course, and his empty pocket as a trick of
fortune. With the nobility, he knew very well, such things often
happen; but the nobility do not complain about it. They go ahead,
as if it was a bagatelle.
Before the week was out Jean was on his way to a lumber-shanty on
the St. Maurice River, to cook for a crew of thirty men all winter.
The cook's position in camp is curious,--half menial, half superior.
It is no place for a feeble man. But a cook who is strong in the
back and quick with his fists can make his office much respected.
Wages, forty dollars a month; duties, to keep the pea-soup kettle
always hot and the bread-pan always full, to stand the jokes of the
camp up to a certain point, and after that to whip two or three of
the most active humourists.
Jean performed all his duties to perfect satisfaction. Naturally
most of the jokes turned upon his great expectations. With two of
the principal jokers he had exchanged the usual and conclusive form
of repartee,--flattened them out literally. The ordinary BADINAGE
he did not mind in the least; it rather pleased him.
But about the first of January a new hand came into the camp,--a
big, black-haired fellow from Three Rivers, Pierre Lamotte DIT
Theophile. With him it was different. There seemed to be something
serious in his jests about "the marquis." It was not fun; it was
mockery; always on the edge of anger. He acted as if he would be
glad to make Jean ridiculous in any way.
Finally the matter came to a head. Something happened to the soup
one Sunday morning--tobacco probably. Certainly it was very bad,
only fit to throw away; and the whole camp was mad. It was not
really Pierre who played the trick; but it was he who sneered that
the camp would be better off if the cook knew less about castles and
more about cooking. Jean answered that what the camp needed was to
get rid of a badreux who thought it was a joke to poison the soup.
Pierre took this as a personal allusion and requested him to discuss
the question outside. But before the discussion began he made some
general remarks about the character and pretensions of Jean.
"A marquis!" said he. "This bagoulard gives himself out for a
marquis! He is nothing of the kind,--a rank humbug. There is a
title in the family, an estate in France, it is true. But it is
mine. I have seen the papers. I have paid money to the lawyer. I
am waiting now for him to arrange the matter. This man knows
nothing about it. He is a fraud. I will fight him now and settle
the matter."
If a bucket of ice-water had been thrown over Jean he could not have
cooled off more suddenly. He was dazed. Another marquis? This was
a complication he had never dreamed of. It overwhelmed him like an
avalanche. He must have time to dig himself out of this difficulty.
"But stop," he cried; "you go too fast. This is more serious than a
pot of soup. I must hear about this. Let us talk first, Pierre,
and afterwards--"
The camp was delighted. It was a fine comedy,--two fools instead of
one. The men pricked up their ears and clamoured for a full
explanation, a debate in open court.
But that was not Jean's way. He had made no secret of his
expectations, but he did not care to confide all the details of his
family history to a crowd of fellows who would probably not
understand and would certainly laugh. Pierre was wrong of course,
but at least he was in earnest. That was something.
"This affair is between Pierre and me," said Jean. "We shall speak
of it by ourselves."
In the snow-muffled forest, that afternoon, where the great treetrunks
rose like pillars of black granite from a marble floor, and
the branches of spruce and fir wove a dark green roof above their
heads, these two stray shoots of a noble stock tried to untangle
their family history. It was little that they knew about it. They
could get back to their grandfathers, but beyond that the trail was
rather blind. Where they crossed neither Jean nor Pierre could
tell. In fact, both of their minds had been empty vessels for the
plausible lawyer to fill, and he had filled them with various and
windy stuff. There were discrepancies and contradictions, denials
and disputes, flashes of anger and clouds of suspicion.
But through all the voluble talk, somehow or other, the two men were
drawing closer together. Pierre felt Jean's force of character, his
air of natural leadership, his bonhommie. He thought, "It was a
shame for that lawyer to trick such a fine fellow with the story
that he was the heir of the family." Jean, for his part, was
impressed by Pierre's simplicity and firmness of conviction. He
thought, "What a mean thing for that lawyer to fool such an innocent
as this into supposing himself the inheritor of the title." What
never occurred to either of them was the idea that the lawyer had
deceived them both. That was not to be dreamed of. To admit such a
thought would have seemed to them like throwing away something of
great value which they had just found. The family name, the papers,
the links of the genealogy which had been so convincingly set
forth,--all this had made an impression on their imagination,
stronger than any logical argument. But which was the marquis?
That was the question.
"Look here," said Jean at last, "of what value is it that we fight?
We are cousins. You think I am wrong. I think you are wrong. But
one of us must be right. Who can tell? There will certainly be
something for both of us. Blood is stronger than currant juice.
Let us work together and help each other. You come home with me
when this job is done. The lawyer returns to St. Gedeon in the
spring. He will know. We can see him together. If he has fooled
you, you can do what you like to him. When--PARDON, I mean if--I
get the title, I will do the fair thing by you. You shall do the
same by me. Is it a bargain?"
On this basis the compact was made. The camp was much amazed, not
to say disgusted, because there was no fight. Well-meaning efforts
were made at intervals through the winter to bring on a crisis. But
nothing came of it. The rival claimants had pooled their stock.
They acknowledged the tie of blood, and ignored the clash of
interests. Together they faced the fire of jokes and stood off the
crowd; Pierre frowning and belligerent, Jean smiling and scornful.
Practically, they bossed the camp. They were the only men who
always shaved on Sunday morning. This was regarded as foppish.
The popular disappointment deepened into a general sense of injury.
In March, when the cut of timber was finished and the logs were all
hauled to the edge of the river, to lie there until the ice should
break and the "drive" begin, the time arrived for the camp to close.
The last night, under the inspiration drawn from sundry bottles
which had been smuggled in to celebrate the occasion, a plan was
concocted in the stables to humble "the nobility" with a grand
display of humour. Jean was to be crowned as marquis with a bridle
and blinders:
Pierre was to be anointed as count, with a dipperful of harness-oil;
after that the fun would be impromptu.
The impromptu part of the programme began earlier than it was
advertised. Some whisper of the plan had leaked through the chinks
of the wall between the shanty and the stable. When the crowd came
shambling into the cabin, snickering and nudging one another, Jean
and Pierre were standing by the stove at the upper end of the long
"Down with the canaille!" shouted Jean.
"Clean out the gang!" responded Pierre.
Brandishing long-handled frying-pans, they charged down the sides of
the table. The mob wavered, turned, and were lost! Helter-skelter
they fled, tumbling over one another in their haste to escape. The
lamp was smashed. The benches were upset. In the smoky hall a
furious din arose,--as if Sir Galahad and Sir Percivale were once
more hewing their way through the castle of Carteloise. Fear fell
upon the multitude, and they cried aloud grievously in their dismay.
The blows of the weapons echoed mightily in the darkness, and the
two knights laid about them grimly and with great joy. The door was
too narrow for the flight. Some of the men crept under the lowest
berths; others hid beneath the table. Two, endeavouring to escape
by the windows, stuck fast, exposing a broad and undefended mark to
the pursuers. Here the last strokes of the conflict were delivered.
"One for the marquis!" cried Jean, bringing down his weapon with a
sounding whack.
"Two for the count!" cried Pierre, making his pan crack like the
blow of a beaver's tail when he dives.
Then they went out into the snowy night, and sat down together on
the sill of the stable-door, and laughed until the tears ran down
their cheeks.
"My faith!" said Jean. "That was like the ancient time. It is from
the good wood that strong paddles are made,--eh, cousin?" And after
that there was a friendship between the two men that could not have
been cut with the sharpest axe in Quebec.
The plan of going back to St. Gedeon, to wait for the return of the
lawyer, was not carried out. Several of the little gods that use
their own indiscretion in arranging the pieces on the puzzle-map of
life, interfered with it.
The first to meddle was that highly irresponsible deity with the bow
and arrows, who has no respect for rank or age, but reserves all his
attention for sex.
When the camp on the St. Maurice dissolved, Jean went down with
Pierre to Three Rivers for a short visit. There was a snug house on
a high bank above the river, a couple of miles from the town. A
wife and an armful of children gave assurance that the race of La
Motte de la Luciere should not die out on this side of the ocean.
There was also a little sister-in-law, Alma Grenou. If you had seen
her you would not have wondered at what happened. Eyes like a deer,
face like a mayflower, voice like the "D" string in a 'cello,--she
was the picture of Drummond's girl in "The Habitant":
"She's nicer girl on whole Comte, an' jus' got eighteen year--
Black eye, black hair, and cheek rosee dat's lak wan Fameuse
on de fall;
But don't spik much,--not of dat kin',--I can't say she love
me at all."
With her Jean plunged into love. It was not a gradual approach,
like gliding down a smooth stream. It was not a swift descent, like
running a lively rapid. It was a veritable plunge, like going over
a chute. He did not know precisely what had happened to him at
first; but he knew very soon what to do about it.
The return to Lake St. John was postponed till a more convenient
season: after the snow had melted and the ice had broken up--
probably the lawyer would not make his visit before that. If he
arrived sooner, he would come back again; he wanted his money, that
was certain. Besides, what was more likely than that he should come
also to see Pierre? He had promised to do so. At all events, they
would wait at Three Rivers for a while.
The first week Jean told Alma that she was the prettiest girl he had
ever seen. She tossed her head and expressed a conviction that he
was joking. She suggested that he was in the habit of saying the
same thing to every girl.
The second week he made a long stride in his wooing. He took her
out sleighing on the last remnant of the snow,--very thin and
bumpy,--and utilized the occasion to put his arm around her waist.
She cried "Laisse-moi tranquille, Jean!" boxed his ears, and said
she thought he must be out of his mind.
The following Saturday afternoon he craftily came behind her in the
stable as she was milking the cow, and bent her head back and kissed
her on the face. She began to cry, and said he had taken an unfair
advantage, while her hands were busy. She hated him.
"Well, then," said he, still holding her warm shoulders, "if you
hate me, I am going home tomorrow."
The sobs calmed down quickly. She bent herself forward so that he
could see the rosy nape of her neck with the curling tendrils of
brown hair around it.
"But," she said, "but, Jean,--do you love me for sure?"
After that the path was level, easy, and very quickly travelled. On
Sunday afternoon the priest was notified that his services would be
needed for a wedding, the first week in May. Pierre's consent was
genial and hilarious. The marriage suited him exactly. It was a
family alliance. It made everything move smooth and certain. The
property would be kept together.
But the other little interfering gods had not yet been heard from.
One of them, who had special charge of what remained of the soul of
the dealer in unclaimed estates, put it into his head to go to Three
Rivers first, instead of to St. Gedeon.
He had a good many clients in different parts of the country,--
temporary clients, of course,--and it occurred to him that he might
as well extract another fifty dollars from Pierre Lamotte DIT
Theophile, before going on a longer journey. On his way down from
Montreal he stopped in several small towns and slept in beds of
various quality.
Another of the little deities (the one that presides over unclean
villages; decidedly a false god, but sufficiently powerful) arranged
a surprise for the travelling lawyer. It came out at Three Rivers.
He arrived about nightfall, and slept at the hotel, feeling
curiously depressed. The next morning he was worse; but he was a
resolute and industrious dog, after his own fashion. So he hired a
buggy and drove out through the mud to Pierre's place. They heard
the wagon stop at the gate, and went out to see who it was.
The man was hardly recognizable: face pale, lips blue, eyes dull,
teeth chattering.
"Get me out of this," he muttered. "I am dying. God's sake, be
They helped him to the house, and he immediately went into a
convulsion. From this he passed into a raging fever. Pierre took
the buggy and drove posthaste to town for a doctor.
The doctor's opinion was evidently serious, but his remarks were
"Keep him in this room. Give him ten drops of this in water every
hour. One of these powders if he becomes violent. One of you must
stay with him all the time. Only one, you understand. The rest
keep away. I will come back in the morning."
In the morning the doctor's face was yet more grave. He examined
the patient carefully. Then he turned to Jean, who had acted as
"I thought so," said he; "you must all be vaccinated immediately.
There is still time, I hope. But what to do with this gentleman,
God knows. We can't send him back to the town. He has the smallpox."
That was a pretty prelude to a wedding festival. They were all at
their wit's end. While the doctor scratched their arms, they
discussed the situation, excitedly and with desperation. Jean was
the first to stop chattering and begin to think.
"There is that old cabane of Poulin's up the road. It is empty
these three years. But there is a good spring of water. One could
patch the roof at one end and put up a stove."
"Good!" said the doctor. "But some one to take care of him? It
will be a long job, and a bad one."
"I am going to do that," said Jean; "it is my place. This gentleman
cannot be left to die in the road. Le bon Dieu did not send him
here for that. The head of the family"--here he stopped a moment
and looked at Pierre, who was silent--"must take the heavy end of
the job, and I am ready for it."
"Good!" said the doctor again. But Alma was crying in the corner of
the room.
Four weeks, five weeks, six weeks the vigil in the cabane lasted.
The last patches of snow disappeared from the fields one night, as
if winter had picked up its rags and vanished. The willows along
the brook turned yellow; the grass greened around the spring.
Scarlet buds flamed on the swamp maples. A tender mist of foliage
spread over the woodlands. The chokecherries burst into a glory of
white blossoms. The bluebirds came back, fluting love-songs; and
the robins, carolling ballads of joy; and the blackbirds, creaking
The priest came once and saw the sick man, but everything was going
well. It was not necessary to run any extra risks. Every week
after that he came and leaned on the fence, talking with Jean in the
doorway. When he went away he always lifted three fingers--so--you
know the sign? It is a very pleasant one, and it did Jean's heart
Pierre kept the cabane well supplied with provisions, leaving them
just inside of the gate. But with the milk it was necessary to be a
little careful; so the can was kept in a place by itself, under the
out-of-door oven, in the shade. And beside this can Jean would
find, every day, something particular,--a blossom of the red
geranium that bloomed in the farmhouse window, a piece of cake with
plums in it, a bunch of trailing arbutus,--once it was a little bit
of blue ribbon, tied in a certain square knot--so--perhaps you know
that sign too? That did Jean's heart good also.
But what kind of conversation was there in the cabane when the sick
man's delirium had passed and he knew what had happened to him? Not
much at first, for the man was too weak. After he began to get
stronger, he was thinking a great deal, fighting with himself. In
the end he came out pretty well--for a lawyer of his kind. Perhaps
he was desirous to leave the man whom he had deceived, and who had
nursed him back from death, some fragment, as much as possible, of
the dream that brightened his life. Perhaps he was only anxious to
save as much as he could of his own reputation. At all events, this
is what he did.
He told Jean a long story, part truth, part lie, about his
investigations. The estate and the title were in the family; that
was certain. Jean was the probable heir, if there was any heir;
that was almost sure. The part about Pierre had been a--well, a
mistake. But the trouble with the whole affair was this. A law
made in the days of Napoleon limited the time for which an estate
could remain unclaimed. A certain number of years, and then the
government took everything. That number of years had just passed.
By the old law Jean was probably a marquis with a castle. By the
new law?--Frankly, he could not advise a client to incur any more
expense. In fact, he intended to return the amount already paid. A
hundred and ten dollars, was it not? Yes, and fifty dollars for the
six weeks of nursing. VOILA, a draft on Montreal, a hundred and
sixty dollars,--as good as gold! And beside that, there was the
incalculable debt for this great kindness to a sick man, for which
he would always be M. de la Motte's grateful debtor!
The lawyer's pock-marked face--the scars still red and angry--lit up
with a curious mixed light of shrewdness and gratitude. Jean was
somewhat moved. His castle was in ruins. But he remained noble--by
the old law; that was something!
A few days later the doctor pronounced it safe to move the patient.
He came with a carriage to fetch him. Jean, well fumigated and
dressed in a new suit of clothes, walked down the road beside them
to the farm-house gate. There Alma met him with both hands. His
eyes embraced her. The air of June was radiant about them. The
fragrance of the woods breathed itself over the broad valley. A
song sparrow poured his heart out from a blossoming lilac. The
world was large, and free, and very good. And between the lovers
there was nothing but a little gate.
"I understand," said the doctor, smiling, as he tightened up the
reins, "I understand that there is a title in your family, M. de la
Motte, in effect that you are a marquis?"
"It is true," said Jean, turning his head, "at least so I think."
"So do I," said the doctor "But you had better go in, MONSIEUR LE
MARQUIS--you keep MADAME LA MARQUISE waiting."
At long distance, looking over the blue waters of the Gulf of St.
Lawrence in clear weather, you might think that you saw a lonely
sea-gull, snow-white, perching motionless on a cobble of gray rock.
Then, as your boat drifted in, following the languid tide and the
soft southern breeze, you would perceive that the cobble of rock was
a rugged hill with a few bushes and stunted trees growing in the
crevices, and that the gleaming speck near the summit must be some
kind of a building--if you were on the coast of Italy or Spain you
would say a villa or a farm-house. Then, as you floated still
farther north and drew nearer to the coast, the desolate hill would
detach itself from the mainland and become a little mountain-isle,
with a flock of smaller islets clustering around it as a brood of
wild ducks keep close to their mother, and with deep water, nearly
two miles wide, flowing between it and the shore; while the shining
speck on the seaward side stood out clearly as a low, whitewashed
dwelling with a sturdy round tower at one end, crowned with a big
eight-sided lantern--a solitary lighthouse.
That is the Isle of the Wise Virgin. Behind it the long blue
Laurentian Mountains, clothed with unbroken forest, rise in sombre
ranges toward the Height of Land. In front of it the waters of the
gulf heave and sparkle far away to where the dim peaks of St. Anne
des Monts are traced along the southern horizon. Sheltered a
little, but not completely, by the island breakwater of granite,
lies the rocky beach of Dead Men's Point, where an English navy was
wrecked in a night of storm a hundred years ago.
There are a score of wooden houses, a tiny, weather-beaten chapel, a
Hudson Bay Company's store, a row of platforms for drying fish, and
a varied assortment of boats and nets, strung along the beach now.
Dead Men's Point has developed into a centre of industry, with a
life, a tradition, a social character of its own. And in one of
those houses, as you sit at the door in the lingering June twilight,
looking out across the deep channel to where the lantern of the
tower is just beginning to glow with orange radiance above the
shadow of the island--in that far-away place, in that mystical hour,
you should hear the story of the light and its keeper.
When the lighthouse was built, many years ago, the island had
another name. It was called the Isle of Birds. Thousands of seafowl
nested there. The handful of people who lived on the shore
robbed the nests and slaughtered the birds, with considerable
profit. It was perceived in advance that the building of the
lighthouse would interfere with this, and with other things. Hence
it was not altogether a popular improvement. Marcel Thibault, the
oldest inhabitant, was the leader of the opposition.
"That lighthouse!" said he, "what good will it be for us? We know
the way in and out when it makes clear weather, by day or by night.
But when the sky gets swampy, when it makes fog, then we stay with
ourselves at home, or we run into La Trinite, or Pentecote. We know
the way. What? The stranger boats? B'EN! the stranger boats need
not to come here, if they know not the way. The more fish, the more
seals, the more everything will there be left for us. Just because
of the stranger boats, to build something that makes all the birds
wild and spoils the hunting--that is a fool's work. The good God
made no stupid light on the Isle of Birds. He saw no necessity of
"Besides," continued Thibault, puffing slowly at his pipe, "besides--
those stranger boats, sometimes they are lost, they come ashore.
It is sad! But who gets the things that are saved, all sorts of
things, good to put into our houses, good to eat, good to sell,
sometimes a boat that can be patched up almost like new--who gets
these things, eh? Doubtless those for whom the good God intended
them. But who shall get them when this sacre lighthouse is built,
eh? Tell me that, you Baptiste Fortin."
Fortin represented the party of progress in the little parliament of
the beach. He had come down from Quebec some years ago bringing
with him a wife and two little daughters, and a good many new
notions about life. He had good luck at the cod-fishing, and built
a house with windows at the side as well as in front. When his
third girl, Nataline, was born, he went so far as to paint the house
red, and put on a kitchen, and enclose a bit of ground for a yard.
This marked him as a radical, an innovator. It was expected that he
would defend the building of the lighthouse. And he did.
"Monsieur Thibault," he said, "you talk well, but you talk too late.
It is of a past age, your talk. A new time comes to the Cote Nord.
We begin to civilize ourselves. To hold back against the light
would be our shame. Tell me this, Marcel Thibault, what men are
they that love darkness?"
"TORRIEUX!" growled Thibault, "that is a little strong. You say my
deeds are evil?"
"No, no," answered Fortin; "I say not that, my friend, but I say
this lighthouse means good: good for us, and good for all who come
to this coast. It will bring more trade to us. It will bring a
boat with the mail, with newspapers, perhaps once, perhaps twice a
month, all through the summer. It will bring us into the great
world. To lose that for the sake of a few birds--CA SERA B'EN DE
VALEUR! Besides, it is impossible. The lighthouse is coming,
Fortin was right, of course. But Thibault's position was not
altogether unnatural, nor unfamiliar. All over the world, for the
past hundred years, people have been kicking against the sharpness
of the pricks that drove them forward out of the old life, the wild
life, the free life, grown dear to them because it was so easy.
There has been a terrible interference with bird-nesting and other
things. All over the world the great Something that bridges rivers,
and tunnels mountains, and fells forests, and populates deserts, and
opens up the hidden corners of the earth, has been pushing steadily
on; and the people who like things to remain as they are have had to
give up a great deal. There was no exception made in favour of Dead
Men's Point. The Isle of Birds lay in the line of progress. The
lighthouse arrived.
It was a very good house for that day. The keeper's dwelling had
three rooms and was solidly built. The tower was thirty feet high.
The lantern held a revolving light, with a four-wick Fresnel lamp,
burning sperm oil. There was one of Stevenson's new cages of
dioptric prisms around the flame, and once every minute it was
turned by clockwork, flashing a broad belt of radiance fifteen miles
across the sea. All night long that big bright eye was opening and
shutting. "BAGUETTE!" said Thibault, "it winks like a one-eyed
The Department of Marine and Fisheries sent down an expert from
Quebec to keep the light in order and run it for the first summer.
He took Fortin as his assistant. By the end of August he reported
to headquarters that the light was all right, and that Fortin was
qualified to be appointed keeper. Before October was out the
certificate of appointment came back, and the expert packed his bag
to go up the river.
"Now look here, Fortin," said he, "this is no fishing trip. Do you
think you are up to this job?"
"I suppose," said Fortin.
"Well now, do you remember all this business about the machinery
that turns the lenses? That 's the main thing. The bearings must
be kept well oiled, and the weight must never get out of order. The
clock-face will tell you when it is running right. If anything gets
hitched up here's the crank to keep it going until you can
straighten the machine again. It's easy enough to turn it. But you
must never let it stop between dark and daylight. The regular turn
once a minute--that's the mark of this light. If it shines steady
it might as well be out. Yes, better! Any vessel coming along here
in a dirty night and seeing a fixed light would take it for the Cap
Loup-Marin and run ashore. This particular light has got to revolve
once a minute every night from April first to December tenth,
certain. Can you do it?"
"Certain," said Fortin.
"That's the way I like to hear a man talk! Now, you've got oil
enough to last you through till the tenth of December, when you
close the light, and to run on for a month in the spring after you
open again. The ice may be late in going out and perhaps the
supply-boat can't get down before the middle of April, or
thereabouts. But she'll bring plenty of oil when she comes, so
you'll be all right."
"All right," said Fortin.
"Well, I've said it all, I guess. You understand what you've got to
do? Good-by and good luck. You're the keeper of the light now."
"Good luck," said Fortin, "I am going to keep it." The same day he
shut up the red house on the beach and moved to the white house on
the island with Marie-Anne, his wife, and the three girls, Alma,
aged seventeen, Azilda, aged fifteen, and Nataline, aged thirteen.
He was the captain, and Marie-Anne was the mate, and the three girls
were the crew. They were all as full of happy pride as if they had
come into possession of a great fortune.
It was the thirty-first day of October. A snow-shower had silvered
the island. The afternoon was clear and beautiful. As the sun
sloped toward the rose-coloured hills of the mainland the whole
family stood out in front of the lighthouse looking up at the tower.
"Regard him well, my children," said Baptiste; "God has given him to
us to keep, and to keep us. Thibault says he is a Windigo. B'EN!
We shall see that he is a friendly Windigo. Every minute all the
night he shall wink, just for kindness and good luck to all the
world, till the daylight."
On the ninth of November, at three o'clock in the afternoon,
Baptiste went into the tower to see that the clockwork was in order
for the night. He set the dial on the machine, put a few drops of
oil on the bearings of the cylinder, and started to wind up the
It rose a few inches, gave a dull click, and then stopped dead. He
tugged a little harder, but it would not move. Then he tried to let
it down. He pushed at the lever that set the clockwork in motion.
He might as well have tried to make the island turn around by
pushing at one of the little spruce trees that clung to the rock.
Then it dawned fearfully upon him that something must be wrong.
Trembling with anxiety, he climbed up and peered in among the
The escapement wheel was cracked clean through, as if some one had
struck it with the head of an axe, and one of the pallets of the
spindle was stuck fast in the crack. He could knock it out easily
enough, but when the crack came around again, the pallet would catch
and the clock would stop once more. It was a fatal injury.
Baptiste turned white, then red, gripped his head in his hands, and
ran down the steps, out of the door, straight toward his canoe,
which was pulled up on the western side of the island.
"DAME!" he cried, "who has done this? Let me catch him! If that
old Thibault--"
As he leaped down the rocky slope the setting sun gleamed straight
in his eyes. It was poised like a ball of fire on the very edge of
the mountains. Five minutes more and it would be gone. Fifteen
minutes more and darkness would close in. Then the giant's eye must
begin to glow, and to wink precisely once a minute all night long.
If not, what became of the keeper's word, his faith, his honour?
No matter how the injury to the clockwork was done. No matter who
was to be blamed or punished for it. That could wait. The question
now was whether the light would fail or not. And it must be
answered within a quarter of an hour.
That red ray of the vanishing sun was like a blow in the face to
Baptiste. It stopped him short, dazed and bewildered. Then he came
to himself, wheeled, and ran up the rocks faster than he had come
"Marie-Anne! Alma!" he shouted, as he dashed past the door of the
house, "all of you! To me, in the tower!"
He was up in the lantern when they came running in, full of
curiosity, excited, asking twenty questions at once. Nataline
climbed up the ladder and put her head through the trap-door.
"What is it?" she panted. "What has hap--"
"Go down," answered her father, "go down all at once. Wait for me.
I am coming. I will explain."
The explanation was not altogether lucid and scientific. There were
some bad words mixed up with it.
Baptiste was still hot with anger and the unsatisfied desire to whip
somebody, he did not know whom, for something, he did not know what.
But angry as he was, he was still sane enough to hold his mind hard
and close to the main point. The crank must be adjusted; the
machine must be ready to turn before dark. While he worked he
hastily made the situation clear to his listeners.
That crank must be turned by hand, round and round all night, not
too slow, not too fast. The dial on the machine must mark time with
the clock on the wall. The light must flash once every minute until
daybreak. He would do as much of the labour as he could, but the
wife and the two older girls must help him. Nataline could go to
At this Nataline's short upper lip trembled. She rubbed her eyes
with the sleeve of her dress, and began to weep silently.
"What is the matter with you?" said her mother, "bad child, have you
fear to sleep alone? A big girl like you!"
"No," she sobbed, "I have no fear, but I want some of the fun."
"Fun!" growled her father. "What fun? NOM D'UN CHIEN! She calls
this fun!" He looked at her for a moment, as she stood there, half
defiant, half despondent, with her red mouth quivering and her big
brown eyes sparkling fire; then he burst into a hearty laugh.
"Come here, my little wild-cat," he said, drawing her to him and
kissing her; "you are a good girl after all. I suppose you think
this light is part yours, eh?"
The girl nodded.
"B'EN! You shall have your share, fun and all. You shall make the
tea for us and bring us something to eat. Perhaps when Alma and
'Zilda fatigue themselves they will permit a few turns of the crank
to you. Are you content? Run now and boil the kettle."
It was a very long night. No matter how easily a handle turns,
after a certain number of revolutions there is a stiffness about it.
The stiffness is not in the handle, but in the hand that pushes it.
Round and round, evenly, steadily, minute after minute, hour after
hour, shoving out, drawing in, circle after circle, no swerving, no
stopping, no varying the motion, turn after turn--fifty-five, fiftysix,
fifty-seven--what's the use of counting? Watch the dial; go to
sleep--no! for God's sake, no sleep! But how hard it is to keep
awake! How heavy the arm grows, how stiffly the muscles move, how
the will creaks and groans. BATISCAN! It is not easy for a human
being to become part of a machine.
Fortin himself took the longest spell at the crank, of course. He
went at his work with a rigid courage. His red-hot anger had cooled
down into a shape that was like a bar of forged steel. He meant to
make that light revolve if it killed him to do it. He was the
captain of a company that had run into an ambuscade. He was going
to fight his way through if he had to fight alone.
The wife and the two older girls followed him blindly and bravely,
in the habit of sheer obedience. They did not quite understand the
meaning of the task, the honour of victory, the shame of defeat.
But Fortin said it must be done, and he knew best. So they took
their places in turn, as he grew weary, and kept the light flashing.
And Nataline--well, there is no way of describing what Nataline did,
except to say that she played the fife.
She felt the contest just as her father did, not as deeply, perhaps,
but in the same spirit. She went into the fight with darkness like
a little soldier. And she played the fife.
When she came up from the kitchen with the smoking pail of tea, she
rapped on the door and called out to know whether the Windigo was at
home to-night.
She ran in and out of the place like a squirrel. She looked up at
the light and laughed. Then she ran in and reported. "He winks,"
she said, "old one-eye winks beautifully. Keep him going. My turn
She refused to be put off with a shorter spell than the other girls.
"No," she cried, "I can do it as well as you. You think you are so
much older. Well, what of that? The light is part mine; father
said so. Let me turn. va-t-en."
When the first glimmer of the little day came shivering along the
eastern horizon, Nataline was at the crank. The mother and the two
older girls were half asleep. Baptiste stepped out to look at the
sky. "Come," he cried, returning. "We can stop now, it is growing
gray in the east, almost morning."
"But not yet," said Nataline; "we must wait for the first red. A
few more turns. Let's finish it up with a song."
She shook her head and piped up the refrain of the old Canadian
"En roulant ma boule-le roulant
En roulant ma bou-le."
And to that cheerful music the first night's battle was carried
through to victory.
The next day Fortin spent two hours in trying to repair the
clockwork. It was of no use. The broken part was indispensable and
could not be replaced.
At noon he went over to the mainland to tell of the disaster, and
perhaps to find out if any hostile hand was responsible for it. He
found out nothing. Every one denied all knowledge of the accident.
Perhaps there was a flaw in the wheel; perhaps it had broken itself.
That was possible. Fortin could not deny it; but the thing that
hurt him most was that he got so little sympathy. Nobody seemed to
care whether the light was kept burning or not. When he told them
how the machine had been turned all night by hand, they were
astonished. "CRE-IE!" they cried, "you must have had a great misery
to do that." But that he proposed to go on doing it for a month
longer, until December tenth, and to begin again on April first, and
go on turning the light by hand for three or four weeks more until
the supply-boat came down and brought the necessary tools to repair
the machine--such an idea as this went beyond their horizon.
"But you are crazy, Baptiste," they said, "you can never do it; you
are not capable."
"I would be crazy," he answered, "if I did not see what I must do.
That light is my charge. In all the world there is nothing else so
great as that for me and for my family--you understand? For us it
is the chief thing. It is my Ten Commandments. I shall keep it or
be damned."
There was a silence after this remark. They were not very
particular about the use of language at Dead Men's Point, but this
shocked them a little. They thought that Fortin was swearing a
shade too hard. In reality he was never more reverent, never more
soberly in earnest.
After a while he continued, "I want some one to help me with the
work on the island. We must be up all the nights now. By day we
must get some sleep. I want another man or a strong boy. Is there
any who will come? The Government will pay. Or if not, I will pay,
There was no response. All the men hung back. The lighthouse was
still unpopular, or at least it was on trial. Fortin's pluck and
resolution had undoubtedly impressed them a little. But they still
hesitated to commit themselves to his side.
"B'en," he said, "there is no one. Then we shall manage the affair
en famille. Bon soir, messieurs!"
He walked down to the beach with his head in the air, without
looking back. But before he had his canoe in the water he heard
some one running down behind him. It was Thibault's youngest son,
Marcel, a well-grown boy of sixteen, very much out of breath with
running and shyness.
"Monsieur Fortin," he stammered, "will you--do you think--am I big
Baptiste looked him in the face for a moment. Then his eyes
"Certain," he answered, "you are bigger than your father. But what
will he say to this?"
"He says," blurted out Marcel--"well, he says that he will say
nothing if I do not ask him."
So the little Marcel was enlisted in the crew on the island. For
thirty nights those six people--a man, and a boy, and four women
(Nataline was not going to submit to any distinctions on the score
of age, you may be sure)--for a full month they turned their
flashing lantern by hand from dusk to day-break.
The fog, the frost, the hail, the snow beleaguered their tower.
Hunger and cold, sleeplessness and weariness, pain and
discouragement, held rendezvous in that dismal, cramped little room.
Many a night Nataline's fife of fun played a feeble, wheezy note.
But it played. And the crank went round. And every bit of glass in
the lantern was as clear as polished crystal. And the big lamp was
full of oil. And the great eye of the friendly giant winked without
ceasing, through fierce storm and placid moonlight.
When the tenth of December came, the light went to sleep for the
winter, and the keepers took their way across the ice to the
mainland. They had won the battle, not only on the island, fighting
against the elements, but also at Dead Men's Point, against public
opinion. The inhabitants began to understand that the lighthouse
meant something--a law, an order, a principle.
Men cannot help feeling respect for a thing when they see others
willing to fight or to suffer for it.
When the time arrived to kindle the light again in the spring,
Fortin could have had any one that he wanted to help him. But no;
he chose the little Marcel again; the boy wanted to go, and he had
earned the right. Besides, he and Nataline had struck up a close
friendship on the island, cemented during the winter by various
hunting excursions after hares and ptarmigan. Marcel was a skilful
setter of snares. But Nataline was not content until she had won
consent to borrow her father's CARABINE. They hunted in
partnership. One day they had shot a fox. That is, Nataline had
shot it, though Marcel had seen it first and tracked it. Now they
wanted to try for a seal on the point of the island when the ice
went out. It was quite essential that Marcel should go.
"Besides," said Baptiste to his wife, confidentially, "a boy costs
less than a man. Why should we waste money? Marcel is best."
A peasant-hero is seldom averse to economy in small things, like
But there was not much play in the spring session with the light on
the island. It was a bitter job. December had been lamb-like
compared with April. First, the southeast wind kept the ice driving
in along the shore. Then the northwest wind came hurtling down from
the Arctic wilderness like a pack of wolves. There was a snow-storm
of four days and nights that made the whole world--earth and sky and
sea--look like a crazy white chaos. And through it all, that weary,
dogged crank must be kept turning--turning from dark to daylight.
It seemed as if the supply-boat would never come. At last they saw
it, one fair afternoon, April the twenty-ninth, creeping slowly down
the coast. They were just getting ready for another night's work.
Fortin ran out of the tower, took off his hat, and began to say his
prayers. The wife and the two elder girls stood in the kitchen
door, crossing themselves, with tears in their eyes. Marcel and
Nataline were coming up from the point of the island, where they had
been watching for their seal. She was singing
"Mon pere n'avait fille que moi,
Encore sur la mer il m'envoi-e-eh!"
When she saw the boat she stopped short for a minute.
"Well," she said, "they find us awake, n'est-c'pas? And if they
don't come faster than that we'll have another chance to show them
how we make the light wink, eh?"
Then she went on with her song--
"Sautez, mignonne, Cecilia.
Ah, ah, ah, ah, Cecilia!"
You did not suppose that was the end of the story, did you?
No, an out-of-doors story does not end like that, broken off in the
middle, with a bit of a song. It goes on to something definite,
like a wedding or a funeral.
You have not heard, yet, how near the light came to failing, and how
the keeper saved it and something else too. Nataline's story is not
told; it is only begun. This first part is only the introduction,
just to let you see what kind of a girl she was, and how her life
was made. If you want to hear the conclusion, we must hurry along a
little faster or we shall never get to it.
Nataline grew up like a young birch tree--stately and strong, good
to look at. She was beautiful in her place; she fitted it exactly.
Her bronzed face with an under-tinge of red; her low, black
eyebrows; her clear eyes like the brown waters of a woodland stream;
her dark, curly hair with little tendrils always blowing loose
around the pillar of her neck; her broad breast and sloping
shoulders; her firm, fearless step; her voice, rich and vibrant; her
straight, steady looks--but there, who can describe a thing like
that? I tell you she was a girl to love out-of-doors.
There was nothing that she could not do. She could cook; she could
swing an axe; she could paddle a canoe; she could fish; she could
shoot; and, best of all, she could run the lighthouse. Her father's
devotion to it had gone into her blood. It was the centre of her
life, her law of God. There was nothing about it that she did not
understand and love. From the first of April to the tenth of
December the flashing of that light was like the beating of her
heart--steady, even, unfaltering. She kept time to it as
unconsciously as the tides follow the moon. She lived by it and for
There were no more accidents to the clockwork after the first one
was repaired. It ran on regularly, year after year.
Alma and Azilda were married and went away to live, one on the South
Shore, the other at Quebec. Nataline was her father's right-hand
man. As the rheumatism took hold of him and lamed his shoulders and
wrists, more and more of the work fell upon her. She was proud of it.
At last it came to pass, one day in January, that Baptiste died. He
was not gathered to his fathers, for they were buried far away
beside the Montmorenci, and on the rocky coast of Brittany. But the
men dug through the snow behind the tiny chapel at Dead Men's Point,
and made a grave for Baptiste Fortin, and the young priest of the
mission read the funeral service over it.
It went without saying that Nataline was to be the keeper of the
light, at least until the supply-boat came down again in the spring
and orders arrived from the Government in Quebec. Why not? She was
a woman, it is true. But if a woman can do a thing as well as a
man, why should she not do it? Besides, Nataline could do this
particular thing much better than any man on the Point. Everybody
approved of her as the heir of her father, especially young Marcel
Yes, of course. You could not help guessing it. He was Nataline's
lover. They were to be married the next summer. They sat together
in the best room, while the old mother was rocking to and fro and
knitting beside the kitchen stove, and talked of what they were
going to do. Once in a while, when Nataline grieved for her father,
she would let Marcel put his arm around her and comfort her in the
way that lovers know. But their talk was mainly of the future,
because they were young, and of the light, because Nataline's life
belonged to it.
Perhaps the Government would remember that year when it was kept
going by hand for two months, and give it to her to keep as long as
she lived. That would be only fair. Certainly, it was hers for the
present. No one had as good a right to it. She took possession
without a doubt. At all events, while she was the keeper the light
should not fail.
But that winter was a bad one on the North Shore, and particularly
at Dead Men's Point. It was terribly bad. The summer before, the
fishing had been almost a dead failure. In June a wild storm had
smashed all the salmon nets and swept most of them away. In July
they could find no caplin for bait for the cod-fishing, and in
August and September they could find no cod. The few bushels of
potatoes that some of the inhabitants had planted, rotted in the
ground. The people at the Point went into the winter short of money
and very short of food.
There were some supplies at the store, pork and flour and molasses,
and they could run through the year on credit and pay their debts
the following summer if the fish came back. But this resource also
failed them. In the last week of January the store caught fire and
burned up. Nothing was saved. The only hope now was the sealhunting
in February and March and April. That at least would bring
them meat and oil enough to keep them from starvation.
But this hope failed, too. The winds blew strong from the north and
west, driving the ice far out into the gulf. The chase was long and
perilous. The seals were few and wild. Less than a dozen were
killed in all. By the last week in March Dead Men's Point stood
face to face with famine.
Then it was that old Thibault had an idea.
"There is sperm oil on the Island of Birds," said he, "in the
lighthouse, plenty of it, gallons of it. It is not very good to
taste, perhaps, but what of that? It will keep life in the body.
The Esquimaux drink it in the north, often. We must take the oil of
the lighthouse to keep us from starving until the supply-boat comes
"But how shall we get it?" asked the others. "It is locked up.
Nataline Fortin has the key. Will she give it?"
"Give it?" growled Thibault. "Name of a name! of course she will
give it. She must. Is not a life, the life of all of us, more than
a light?"
A self-appointed committee of three, with Thibault at the head,
waited upon Nataline without delay, told her their plan, and asked
for the key. She thought it over silently for a few minutes, and
then refused point-blank.
"No," she said, "I will not give the key. That oil is for the lamp.
If you take it, the lamp will not be lighted on the first of April;
it will not be burning when the supply-boat comes. For me, that
would be shame, disgrace, worse than death. I am the keeper of the
light. You shall not have the oil."
They argued with her, pleaded with her, tried to browbeat her. She
was a rock. Her round under-jaw was set like a steel trap. Her
lips straightened into a white line. Her eyebrows drew together,
and her eyes grew black.
"No," she cried, "I tell you no, no, a thousand times no. All in
this house I will share with you. But not one drop of what belongs
to the light! Never."
Later in the afternoon the priest came to see her; a thin, pale
young man, bent with the hardships of his life, and with sad dreams
in his sunken eyes. He talked with her very gently and kindly.
"Think well, my daughter; think seriously what you do. Is it not
our first duty to save human life? Surely that must be according to
the will of God. Will you refuse to obey it?"
Nataline was trembling a little now. Her brows were unlocked. The
tears stood in her eyes and ran down her cheeks. She was twisting
her hands together.
"My father," she answered, "I desire to do the will of God. But how
shall I know it? Is it not His first command that we should love
and serve Him faithfully in the duty which He has given us? He gave
me this light to keep. My father kept it. He is dead. If I am
unfaithful what will he say to me? Besides, the supply-boat is
coming soon--I have thought of this--when it comes it will bring
food. But if the light is out, the boat may be lost. That would be
the punishment for my sin. No, MON PERE, we must trust God. He
will keep the people. I will keep the light."'
The priest looked at her long and steadily. A glow came into his
face. He put his hand on her shoulder. "You shall follow your
conscience," he said quietly. "Peace be with you, Nataline."
That evening just at dark Marcel came. She let him take her in his
arms and kiss her. She felt like a little child, tired and weak.
"Well," he whispered, "you have done bravely, sweetheart. You were
right not to give the key. That would have been a shame to you.
But it is all settled now. They will have the oil without your
fault. To-night they are going out to the lighthouse to break in
and take what they want. You need not know. There will be no
She straightened in his arms as if an electric shock had passed
through her. She sprang back, blazing with anger.
"What?" she cried, "me a thief by round-about,--with my hand behind
my back and my eyes shut? Never. Do you think I care only for the
blame? I tell you that is nothing. My light shall not be robbed,
never, never!"
She came close to him and took him by the shoulders. Their eyes
were on a level. He was a strong man, but she was the stronger
"Marcel Thibault," she said, "do you love me?"
"My faith," he gasped, "I do. You know I do."
"Then listen," she continued; "this is what you are going to do.
You are going down to the shore at once to make ready the big canoe.
I am going to get food enough to last us for the month. It will be
a hard pinch, but it will do. Then we are going out to the island
to-night, in less than an hour. Day after to-morrow is the first of
April. Then we shall light the lantern, and it shall burn every
night until the boat comes down. You hear? Now go: and be quick
and bring your gun."
They pushed off in the black darkness, among the fragments of ice
that lay along the shore. They crossed the strait in silence, and
hid their canoe among the rocks on the island. They carried their
stuff up to the house and locked it in the kitchen. Then they
unlocked the tower, and went in, Marcel with his shot-gun, and
Nataline with her father's old carabine. They fastened the door
again, and bolted it, and sat down in the dark to wait.
Presently they heard the grating of the prow of the barge on the
stones below, the steps of men stumbling up the steep path, and
voices mingled in confused talk. The glimmer of a couple of
lanterns went bobbing in and out among the rocks and bushes. There
was a little crowd of eight or ten men, and they came on carelessly,
chattering and laughing. Three of them carried axes, and three
others a heavy log of wood which they had picked up on their way.
"The log is better than the axes," said one; "take it in your hands
this way, two of you on one side, another on the opposite side in
the middle. Then swing it back and forwards and let it go. The
door will come down, I tell you, like a sheet of paper. But wait
till I give the word, then swing hard. One--two--"
"Stop!" cried Nataline, throwing open the little window. "If you
dare to touch that door, I shoot."
She thrust out the barrel of the rifle, and Marcel's shot-gun
appeared beside it. The old rifle was not loaded, but who knew
that? Besides, both barrels of the shot-gun were full.
There was amazement in the crowd outside the tower, and
consternation, and then anger.
"Marcel," they shouted, "you there? MAUDIT POLISSON! Come out of
that. Let us in. You told us--"
"I know," answered Marcel, "but I was mistaken, that is all. I
stand by Mademoiselle Fortin. What she says is right. If any man
tries to break in here, we kill him. No more talk!"
The gang muttered; cursed; threatened; looked at the guns; and went
off to their boat.
"It is murder that you will do," one of them called out, "you are a
murderess, you Mademoiselle Fortin! you cause the people to die of
"Not I," she answered; "that is as the good God pleases. No matter.
The light shall burn."
They heard the babble of the men as they stumbled down the hill; the
grinding of the boat on the rocks as they shoved off; the rattle of
the oars in the rowlocks. After that the island was as still as a
Then Nataline sat down on the floor in the dark, and put her face in
her hands, and cried. Marcel tried to comfort her. She took his
hand and pushed it gently away from her waist.
"No, Marcel," she said, "not now! Not that, please, Marcel! Come
into the house. I want to talk with you."
They went into the cold, dark kitchen, lit a candle and kindled a
fire in the stove. Nataline busied herself with a score of things.
She put away the poor little store of provisions, sent Marcel for a
pail of water, made some tea, spread the table, and sat down
opposite to him. For a time she kept her eyes turned away from him,
while she talked about all sorts of things. Then she fell silent
for a little, still not looking at him. She got up and moved about
the room, arranged two or three packages on the shelves, shut the
damper of the stove, glancing at Marcel's back out of the corners of
her eyes. Then she came back to her chair, pushed her cup aside,
rested both elbows on the table and her chin in her hands, and
looked Marcel square in the face with her clear brown eyes.
"My friend," she said, "are you an honest man, un brave garcon?"
For an instant he could say nothing. He was so puzzled. "Why yes,
Nataline," he answered, "yes, surely--I hope."
"Then let me speak to you without fear," she continued. "You do not
suppose that I am ignorant of what I have done this night. I am not
a baby. You are a man. I am a girl. We are shut up alone in this
house for two weeks, a month, God knows how long. You know what
that means, what people will say. I have risked all that a girl has
most precious. I have put my good name in your hands."
Marcel tried to speak, but she stopped him.
"Let me finish. It is not easy to say. I know you are honourable.
I trust you waking and sleeping. But I am a woman. There must be
no love-making. We have other work to do. The light must not fail.
You will not touch me, you will not embrace me--not once--till after
the boat has come. Then"--she smiled at him like a sunburned angel--
"well, is it a bargain?"
She put out one hand across the table. Marcel took it in both of
his own. He did not kiss it. He lifted it up in front of his face.
"I swear to you, Nataline, you shall be to me as the Blessed Virgin
The next day they put the light in order, and the following night
they kindled it. They still feared another attack from the
mainland, and thought it needful that one of them should be on guard
all the time, though the machine itself was working beautifully and
needed little watching. Nataline took the night duty; it was her
own choice; she loved the charge of the lamp. Marcel was on duty
through the day. They were together for three or four hours in the
morning and in the evening.
It was not a desperate vigil like that affair with the broken
clockwork eight years before. There was no weary turning of the
crank. There was just enough work to do about the house and the
tower to keep them busy. The weather was fair. The worst thing was
the short supply of food. But though they were hungry, they were
not starving. And Nataline still played the fife. She jested, she
sang, she told long fairy stories while they sat in the kitchen.
Marcel admitted that it was not at all a bad arrangement.
But his thoughts turned very often to the arrival of the supplyboat.
He hoped it would not be late. The ice was well broken up
already and driven far out into the gulf. The boat ought to be able
to run down the shore in good time.
One evening as Nataline came down from her sleep she saw Marcel
coming up the rocks dragging a young seal behind him.
"Hurra!" he shouted, "here is plenty of meat. I shot it out at the
end of the island, about an hour ago."
But Nataline said that they did not need the seal. There was still
food enough in the larder. On shore there must be greater need.
Marcel must take the seal over to the mainland that night and leave
it on the beach near the priest's house. He grumbled a little, but
he did it.
That was on the twenty-third of April. The clear sky held for three
days longer, calm, bright, halcyon weather. On the afternoon of the
twenty-seventh the clouds came down from the north, not a long
furious tempest, but a brief, sharp storm, with considerable wind
and a whirling, blinding fall of April snow. It was a bad night for
boats at sea, confusing, bewildering, a night when the lighthouse
had to do its best. Nataline was in the tower all night, tending
the lamp, watching the clockwork. Once it seemed to her that the
lantern was so covered with snow that light could not shine through.
She got her long brush and scraped the snow away. It was cold work,
but she gloried in it. The bright eye of the tower, winking,
winking steadily through the storm seemed to be the sign of her
power in the world. It was hers. She kept it shining.
When morning came the wind was still blowing fitfully off shore, but
the snow had almost ceased. Nataline stopped the clockwork, and was
just climbing up into the lantern to put out the lamp, when Marcel's
voice hailed her.
"Come down, Nataline, come down quick. Make haste!"
She turned and hurried out, not knowing what was to come; perhaps a
message of trouble from the mainland, perhaps a new assault on the
As she came out of the tower, her brown eyes heavy from the nightwatch,
her dark face pale from the cold, she saw Marcel standing on
the rocky knoll beside the house and pointing shoreward.
She ran up beside him and looked. There, in the deep water between
the island and the point, lay the supply-boat, rocking quietly on
the waves.
It flashed upon her in a moment what it meant--the end of her fight,
relief for the village, victory! And the light that had guided the
little ship safe through the stormy night into the harbour was hers.
She turned and looked up at the lamp, still burning.
"I kept you!" she cried.
Then she turned to Marcel; the colour rose quickly in her cheeks,
the light sparkled in her eyes; she smiled, and held out both her
hands, whispering, "Now you shall keep me!"
There was a fine wedding on the last day of April, and from that
time the island took its new name,--the Isle of the Wise Virgin.

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