Part 3 out of 3
of thinking that will not be for a while yet. What would He be doing
with you? Heaven is all cluttered with old women, and down here we
have only the one, and she is able to make herself a bit useful,
every now and then ..." But he was beginning to feel anxious, and
took counsel with his daughter.
"I could put the horse in and go as far as La Pipe," he suggested.
"It may be that they have some medicine for this sickness at the
store; or I might talk things over with the cure, and he would tell
me what to do."
Before they had made up their minds night had fallen, and Tit'Be,
who had been at Eutrope Gagnon's helping him to saw his firewood,
came back bringing Eutrope along with him.
Eutrope has a remedy," said he. They all gathered round Eutrope, who
took a little tin box from his pocket and opened it deliberately.
"This is what I have," he announced rather dubiously. "They are
little pills. When my brother was bad with his kidneys three years
ago he saw an advertisement in a paper about these pills, and it
said they were the proper thing, so he sent the money for a box, and
he declares it is a good medicine. Of course his trouble did not
leave him at once, but he says that this did him good. It comes from
the States ..."
Without word said they looked at the little gray pills rolling about
on the bottom of the box ... A remedy compounded by some man in a
distant land famed for his wisdom ... And they felt the awe of the
savage for his broth of herbs simmered on a night of the full moon
beneath the medicineman's incantations.
Maria asked doubtfully: "Is it certain that her trouble has only to
do with the kidneys?"
"I thought it was just that, from what Tit'Be told me."
A motion of Chapdelaine's hand eked out his words.--"She strained
herself lifting a bag of flour, as she says; and now she has pains
everywhere. How can we tell ..."
"The newspaper that spoke of this medicine," Eutrope Gagnon went on,
"put it that whenever a person falls sick and is in pain it is
always the kidneys; and for trouble in the kidneys these pills here
are first-rate. That is what the paper said, and my brother as
"Even if they are not for this very sickness," said Tit'Be
deferentially, "they are a remedy all the same."
"She suffers, that is one thing certain; we cannot let her go on
They drew near the bed where the sick woman was moaning and
breathing heavily, attempting from time to time to make slight
movements which were followed by sharper outcries.
"Eutrope has brought you a cure, Laura."
"I have no faith in your cures," she groaned out. But yet she was
ready to look at the little gray pills ever running round in the tin
box as if they were alive.
"My brother took some of these three years ago when he had the
kidney trouble so badly that he was hardly able to work at all, and
he says that they cured him. It is a fine remedy, Madame
Chapdelaine, there is not a question of it!" His former doubts had
vanished in speech and he felt wholly confident. This is going to
cure you, Madame Chapdelaine, as surely as the good God is above us.
It is a medicine of the very first class; my brother had it sent
expressly from the States. You may be sure that you would never find
a medicine like this in the store at La Pipe."
"It cannot make her worse?" Maria asked, some doubt lingering. "It
is not a poison, or anything of that sort?"
With one voice, in an indignant tone, the three men protested: "Do
harm? Tiny pills no bigger than that!"
"My brother took nearly a box of them, and according to his account
it was only good they did him."
When Eutrope departed he left the box of pills; the sick woman had
not yet agreed to try them, but her objections grew weaker with
their urging. In the middle of the night she took a couple, and two
more in the morning, and as the hours passed they all waited in
confidence of the virtue of the medicine to declare itself. But
toward midday they had to bow to the facts: she was no easier and
did not cease her moaning. by evening the box was empty, and at the
falling of the night her groans were filling the household with
anguished distress, all the keener as they had no medicine now in
which to place their trust.
Maria was up several times in the night, aroused by her mother's
more piercing cries; she always found her lying motionless on her
side, and this position seemed to increase the suffering and the
stiffness, so that her groans were pitiful to hear.
"What ails you, mother? Are you not feeling any better?"
"Ah God, how I suffer! How I do suffer! I cannot stir myself, not
the least bit, and even so the pain is as bad as ever. Give me some
cold water, Maria; I have the most terrible thirst."
Several times Maria gave her mother water, but at last she became
afraid. "Maybe it is not good for you to drink so much. Try to bear
the thirst for a little."
"But I cannot bear it, I tell you-the thirst and the pain all
through my body, and my head that bums like fire ... My God! It is
certain that I am to die."
A little before daylight they both fen asleep; but soon Maria was
awakened by her father who laid his hand upon her shoulder and
whispered:--" I am going to harness the horse to go to Mistook for
the doctor, and on the way through La Pipe I shall also speak to the
cure. It is heart-breaking to hear her moan Eke this."
Her eyes open in the ghostly dawn, Maria gave ear to the sounds of
his departure: the banging of the stable door against the wall; the
horse's hoofs thudding on the wood of the alley; muffled commands to
Charles Eugene: "Hold up, there! Back ... Back up! Whoa!" Then the
tinkle of the sleigh-bells. In the silence that followed, the sick
woman groaned two or three times in her sleep; Maria watched the wan
light stealing into the house and thought of her father's journey,
trying to reckon up the distances he must travel.
From their house to Honfleur, eight miles; from Honfleur to La Pipe,
six. There her father would speak with the cure, and then pursue his
way to Mistook. She corrected herself, and for the ancient Indian
name that the people of the country use, gave it the official one
bestowed in baptism by the church--St. Coeur de Marie. From La Pipe
to St. Coeur de Marie, eight miles . .-Eight and six and then eight.
Growing confused, she said to herself--" Anyway it is far, and the
roads will be heavy."
Again she felt affrighted at their loneliness, which once hardly
gave her a thought. All was well enough when people were in health
and merry, and one had no need of help; but with trouble or sickness
the woods around seemed to shut them cruelly away from all
succour--the woods where horses sink to the chest in snow, where
storms smother one in mid-April.
The mother strove to turn in her sleep, waked with a cry of anguish,
and the continual moaning began anew. Maria rose and sat by the bed,
thinking of the long day just beginning in which she would have
neither help nor counsel.
All the dragging hours were burdened with lamentable sound; the
groaning from the bed where the sick woman lay never ceased, and
haunted the narrow wooden dwelling. Now and then some household
noise broke in upon it: the clashing of plates, the clang of the
opened stove door, the sound of feet on the planking, Tit'Be
stealing into the house, clumsy and anxious, to ask for news.
"Is she no better?"
Maria answered by a movement of the head. They both stood gazing for
a time at the motionless figure under the woollen blankets, giving
ear to the sounds of distress; then Tit'Be departed to his small
outdoor duties. When Maria had put the house in order she took up
her patient watching, and the sick woman's agonizing wails seemed to
From hour to hour she kept reckoning the times and the distances.
"My father should not be far from St. Coeur de Marie ... If the
doctor is there they will rest the horse for a couple of hours and
come back together. But the roads must be very bad; at this time, in
the spring, they are sometimes hardly passable."
And then a little later:--" They should have left; perhaps in
going through La Pipe they will stop to speak to the cure; perhaps
again he may have started as soon as he heard, without waiting for
them. In that case he might be here at any moment."
But the fall of night brought no one, and it was only about seven
o'clock that the sound of sleigh-bells was heard, and her father and
the doctor arrived. The latter came into the house alone, put his
bag on the table and began to pull off his overcoat, grumbling all
"With the roads in this condition," said he, "it is no small affair
to get about and visit the sick. And as for you folk, you seem to
have hidden yourselves as far in the woods as you could. Great
Heavens! You might very well all die without a soul coming to help
After warming himself for a little while at the stove he approached
the bedside. "Well, good mother, so we have taken the notion to be
sick, just like people who have money to spend on such things!"
But after a brief examination he ceased to jest, saying:--"She
really is sick, I do believe."
It was with no affectation that he spoke in the fashion of the
peasantry; his grandfather and his father were tillers of the soil,
and he had gone straight from the farm to study medicine in Quebec,
amongst other young fellows for the most part like himself--
grandsons, if not sons of farmers--who had all clung to the plain
country manner and the deliberate speech of their fathers. He was
tall and heavily built, with a grizzled moustache, and his large
face wore the slightly aggrieved expression of one whose native
cheerfulness is being continually dashed through listening to the
tale of others' ills for which he is bound to show a decent
Chapdelaine came in when he had unharnessed and fed the horse. He
and his children sat at a little distance while the doctor was going
through his programme.
Every one of them was thinking:--"Presently we shall know what is
the matter, and the doctor will give her the right medicines." But
when the examination was ended, instead of turning to the bottles in
his bag, he seemed uncertain and began to ask interminable
questions. How had it happened, and where, particularly, did she
feel pain ... Had she ever before suffered from the same trouble ...
The answers did not seem to enlighten him very much; then he
turned to the sick woman herself, only to receive confused
statements and complaints.
"If it is just a wrench that she has given herself," at length he
announced, "she will get well without any meddling; there is nothing
for her to do but to stay quietly in bed. But if there is some
injury within, to the kidneys or another organ, it may be a grave
affair." He was conscious that his state of doubt was disappointing
to the Chapdelaines, and was anxious to restore his medical
"Internal lesions are serious things, and often one cannot detect
them. The wisest man in the world could tell you no more than I. We
shall have to wait ... But perhaps it is not that we have to deal
with." After some further investigation he shook his head. "Of
course I can give something that will keep her from suffering like
The leather bag now disclosed its wonderworking phials; fifteen
drops of a yellowish drug were diluted with two fingers of water,
and the sick woman, lifted up in bed, managed to swallow this with
sharp cries of pain. Then there was apparently nothing more to be
done; the men fit their pipes, and the doctor, with his feet against
the stove, held forth as to his professional labours and the cures
he had wrought.
"Illnesses like these," said he, "where one cannot discover
precisely what is the matter, are more baffling to a doctor than the
gravest disorders--like pneumonia now, or even typhoid fever which
carry off three-quarters of the people hereabouts who do not die of
old age. Well, typhoid and pneumonia, I cure these every month in
the year. You know Viateur Tremblay, the postmaster at St. Henri ..."
He seemed a little hurt that Madame Chapdelaine should be the victim
of an obscure malady, hard to diagnose, and had not been taken down
with one of the two complaints he was accustomed to treat with such
success, and he gave an account by chapter and verse of the manner
in which he had cured the postmaster of St. Henri. From that they
passed on to the country news--news carried by word of mouth from
house to house around Lake St. John, and greeted a thousandfold more
eagerly than tidings of wars and famines, since the gossipers always
manage to connect it with friend or relative in a country where all
ties of kinship, near or far, are borne scrupulously in mind.
Madame Chapdelaine ceased moaning and seemed to be asleep. The
doctor, considering that he had done all that was expected of him,
for the evening at least, knocked the ashes out of his pipe and rose
"I shall sleep at Honfleur," said he, "I suppose your horse is fit
to take me so far? There is no need for you to come, I know the
road. I shall stay with Ephrem, Surprenant, and come back in the
Chapdelaine was a little slow to make reply, recalling the stiff
day's work his old beast had already accomplished, but at the end he
went out to harness Charles Eugene once more. In a few minutes the
doctor was on the road, leaving the family to themselves as usual.
A great stillness reigned in the house. The comfortable thought was
with them all:--"Anyway the medicine he has given her is a good
one; she groans no longer." But scarce an hour had gone by before
the sick woman ceased to feel the effect of the too feeble drug,
became conscious again, tried to turn herself in bed and screamed
out with pain. They were all up at once and crowding about her in
their concern; she opened her eyes, and after groaning in an
agonized way began to weep unrestrainedly.
"O Samuel, I am dying, there can be no doubt of it."
"No! No! You must not think that."
"Yes, I know that I am dying. I feel it. The doctor is only an old
fool, and he cannot tell what to do. He is not even able to say what
the trouble is, and the medicine he gave me is useless; it has done
me no good. I tell you I am dying."
The failing words were hindered with her groaning, and tears coursed
down the heavy cheeks. Husband and children looked at her, struck to
the very earth with grief. The footstep of death was sounding in the
house. They knew themselves cut off from all the world, helpless,
remote, without even a horse to bring them succour. The cruel
treachery of it all held them speechless and transfixed, with
In their midst appeared Eutrope Gagnon.
"And I who was thinking to find her almost well. This doctor, now ..."
Chapdelaine broke out, quite beside himself:--" This doctor is not
a bit of use, and I shall tell him so plainly, myself. He came here,
he gave her a drop of some miserable stuff worth nothing at all in
the bottom of a cup, and he is off to sleep in the village as if his
pay was earned! Not a thing has he done but tire out my horse, but
he shall not have a copper from me, not a single copper..."
Eutrope's face was very grave, and he shook his head as he declared:--
"Neither have I any faith in doctors. Now if we had only thought
of fetching a bone-setter--such a man as Tit'Sebe of St. Felicien ..."
Every face was turned to him and the tears ceased flowing.
"Tit'Sebe!" exclaimed Maria. "And you think he could help in a case
like this?" Both Eutrope and Chapdelaine hastened to avow their
trust in him.
"There is no doubt whatever that Tit'Sebe can make people well. He
was never through the schools, but he knows how to cure. You heard
of Nazaire Gaudreau who fell from the top of a barn and broke his
back. The doctors came to see him, and the best they could do was to
give the Latin name for his hurt and say that he was going to die.
Then they went and fetched Tit'Sebe, and Tit'Sebe cured him." Every
one of them knew the healer's repute and hope sprang up again in
"Tit'Sebe is a first-rate man, and a man who knows how to make sick
people well. Moreover he is not greedy for money. You go and you
fetch him, you pay him for his time, and he cures you. It was he who
put little Romeo Boilly on his legs again after being run over by a
wagon loaded with planks."
The sick woman had relapsed into stupor, and was moaning feebly with
her eyes closed.
"I will go and get him if you like," suggested Eutrope.
"But what will you do for a horse?" asked Maria. "The doctor has
Charles Eugene at Honfleur."
Chapdelaine clenched his fist in wrath and swore through his teeth:--
"The old rascal!"
Eutrope thought a moment before speaking. "It makes no difference. I
will go just the same. If I walk to Honfleur, I shall easily find
someone there who will lend me a horse and sleigh--Racicot, or
perhaps old Neron."
"It is thirty-five miles from here to St. Felicien and the roads
"I will go just the same."
He, departed forthwith, thinking as he went at a jog-trot over the
snow of the grateful look that Maria had given him. The family made
ready for the night, computing meanwhile these new distances ...
Seventy miles there and back ... Roads deep in snow. The lamp was
left burning, and till morning the voice from the bed was never
hushed. Sometimes it was sharp with pain; sometimes it weakly strove
for breath. Two hours after daylight the doctor and the cure of St.
Henri appeared together.
"It was impossible for me to come sooner," the cure explained, "but
I am here at last, and I picked up the doctor in the village." They
sat at the bedside and talked in low tones. The doctor made a fresh
examination, but it was the cure who told the result of it. "There
is little one can say. She does not seem any worse, but this is not
an ordinary sickness. It is best that I should confess her and give
her absolution; then we shall both go away and be back again the day
He returned to the bed, and the others went over and sat by the
window. For some, minutes the two voices were beard in question and
response; the one feeble and broken by suffering; the other
confident, grave, scarcely lowered for the solemn interrogation.
After some inaudible words a hand was raised in a gesture which
instantly bowed the heads of all those in the house. The priest
Before departing the doctor gave Maria a little bottle with
instructions. "Only if she should suffer greatly, so that she cries
out, and never more than fifteen drops at a time. And do not let her
have any cold water to drink."
She saw them to the door, the bottle in her hand. Before getting
into the sleigh the cure took Maria aside and spoke a few words to
her. "Doctors do what they can," said he in a simple unaffected way,
"but only God Himself has knowledge of disease. Pray with all your
heart, and I shall say a mass for her to-morrow--a high mass with
music, you understand."
All day long Maria strove to stay the hidden advances of the
disorder with her prayers, and every time that she returned to the
bedside it was with a half hope that a miracle had been wrought,
that the sick woman would cease from her groaning, sleep for a few
hours and awake restored to health. It was not so to be; the moaning
ceased not, but toward evening it died away to sighing, continual
and profound--nature's protest against a burden too heavy to be
borne, or the slow inroad of death-dealing poison.
About midnight came Eutrope Gagnon, bringing Tit'Sebe the
bone-setter. He was a little, thin, sad-faced man with very kind
eyes. As always when called to a sick-bed, he wore his clothes of
ceremony, of dark wellworn cloth, which he bore with the awkwardness
of the peasant in Sunday attire. But the strong brown hands beyond
the thread-bare sleeves moved in a way to inspire confidence. They
passed over the limbs and body of Madame Chapdelaine with the most
delicate care, nor did they draw from her a single cry of pain;
thereafter he sat for a long time motionless beside the couch,
looking at her as though awaiting guidance from a source beyond
himself. But when at last he broke the silence it was to say: "Have
you sent for the cure? ... He has been here. And will he return?
To-morrow; that is well."
After another pause he made his frank avowal.--" There is nothing I
can do for her. Something has gone wrong within, about which I know
nothing; were there broken bones I could have healed them. I should
only have had to feel them with my hands, and then the good God
would have told me what to do and I should have cured her. But in
this sickness of hers I have no skill. I might indeed put a blister
on her back, and perhaps that would draw away-the blood and relieve
her for a time. Or I could give her a draught made from beaver
kidneys; it is useful when the kidneys are affected, as is well
known. But I think that neither the blister nor the draught would
work a cure."
His speech was so honest and straightforward that he made them one
and all feel what manner of thing was a disorder of the human
frame--the strangeness and the terror of what is passing behind the
closed door, which those without can only fight clumsily as they
grope in dark uncertainty.
"She will die if that be God's pleasure."
Maria broke into quiet tears; her father, not yet understanding, sat
with his mouth half-open, and neither moved nor spoke. The
bone-setter, this sentence given, bowed his head and held his
pitiful eyes for long upon the sick woman. The browned hands that
now availed him not lay upon his knees; leaning forward a little,
his back bent, the gentle sad spirit seemed in silent communion with
its maker--" Thou hast bestowed upon me the gift of healing bones
that are broken, and I have healed them; but Thou hast denied me
power over such ills as these; so must I let this poor woman die."
For the first time now the deep marks of illness upon the mother's
face appeared to husband and children as more than the passing
traces of suffering, as imprints from the hand of death. The
hard-drawn breath rattling in her throat no longer betokened
conscious pain, but was the last blind remonstrance of the body rent
by nearing dissolution.
"You do not think she will die before the cure comes back?" Maria
Tit'Sebe's head and hand showed that he was helpless to answer. "I
cannot tell ... If your horse is able you would do well to seek
him with the daylight."
Their eyes searched the window, as yet only a square of darkness,
and then returned to her who lay upon the bed ... But five days
ago a hearty, high-spirited woman, in full health of mind and body
... It could not be that she was to die so soon as that. ... But
knowing now the sad inevitableness, every glance found a subtle
change, some fresh token that this bed-ridden woman groaning in her
blindness was no more the wife and mother they had known so long.
Half an hour went by; after casting his eyes toward the window
Chapdelaine arose hurriedly, saying.--" I am going to put the
Tit'Sebe nodded. "That is well; you had better harness; it is near
"Yes. I am going to put the horse in," Chapdelaine repeated. But at
the moment of his departure it swept over him suddenly that in going
to bring the Blessed Sacrament he would be upon a solemn and a final
errand, significant of death. The thought held him still irresolute.
"I am going to put the horse in." Shifting from foot to foot, he
gave a last look at his wife and at length went out.
Not long after the coming of day the wind rose, and soon was
sounding hoarsely about the house. "It is from the nor'west; there
will be a blow," said Tit'Sebe.
Maria looked toward the window and sighed. "Only two days ago snow
fell, and now it will be raised and drift. The roads were heavy
enough before; father and the cure are going to have trouble getting
But the bone-setter shook his head. "They may have a little
difficulty on the road, but they will get here all the same. A
priest who brings the Blessed Sacrament has more than the strength
of a man." His mild eyes shone with the faith that knows no bounds.
"Yes, power beyond the strength of a man has a priest bearing the
Blessed Sacrament. It was three years ago that they summoned me to
care for a sick man on the lower Mistassini; at once I saw that I
could do nothing for him, and I bade them go fetch a priest. It was
night-time and there was not a man in the house, the father himself
being sick and his boys quite young. And so at the last it was I
that went. On the way back we had to cross the river; the ice had
just gone out--it was in the spring--and as yet not a boat had been
put into the water. We found a great heavy tub that had been lying
in the sand all winter, and when we tried to run her down to the
water she was buried so deep in the sand and was so heavy that the
four of us could not so much as make her budge. Simon Martel was
there, big Lalancette of St. Methode, a third I cannot call to mind,
and myself; and we four, hauling and shoving to break our hearts as
we thought of this poor fellow on the other side of the river who
was in the way of dying like a heathen, could not stir that boat a
single inch. Well, the cure came forward; he laid his hand on the
gunwale--just laid his hand on the gunwale, like that--'Give one
more shove,' said he; and the boat seemed to start of herself and
slipped down to the water as though she were alive. The sick man
received the sacrament all right, and died like a Christian just as
day was breaking. Yes, a priest has strength beyond the strength of
Maria was still sighing, but her heart discovered a melancholy peace
in the certainty and nearness of death. This unknown disorder, the
dread of what might be coming, these were dark and terrifying
phantoms against which one strove blindly, uncomprehendingly. But
when one was face to face with death itself all to be done was
plain--ordained these many centuries by laws beyond dispute. By day
or night, from far or near, the cure comes bearing the Holy
Sacrament-across angry rivers in the spring, over the treacherous
ice, along roads choked with snow, fighting the bitter north-west
wind; aided by miracles, he never fails; he fulfils his sacred
office, and thenceforward there is room for neither doubt nor fear.
Death is but a glorious preferment, a door that opens to the joys
unspeakable of the elect.
The wind had risen and was shaking the Partitions as window-panes
rattle in a sudden gust. The nor'wester came howling over the dark
tree-tops, fell upon the clearing about the little wooden
buildings--house, stable, barn--in' squalls and-wicked whirlwinds
that sought to lift the roof and smote the walls like a
battering-ram, before sweeping onward to the forest in a baffled
fury. The house trembled from base to chimneytop, and swayed on its
foundation in such a fashion that the inmates, feeling the
onslaught, hearing the roar and shriek of the foe, were almost as
sensible of the terrors of the storm as though they were exposed to
it; lacking the consciousness of safe retreat that belongs to those
who are sheltered by strong walls of stone.
Tit'Sebe cast his eyes about. "A good house you have here; tightly
made and warm. Your father and the boys built it, did they not?
Moreover, you must have a good bit of land cleared by this time ..."
So loud was the wind that they did not hear the sound of
sleigh-bells, and suddenly the door flew open against the wall and
the cure of St. Henri entered, bearing the Host in his raised hands.
Maria and Tit'Sebe fell upon their knees; Tit'Be ran to shut the
door, then also knelt. The priest put off the heavy fur coat and the
cap white with snow drawn down to his eyes, and instantly approached
the sick-bed as heaven's envoy bringing pardon and peace.
Ah! the assurance, the comfort of the divine promise which dispels
the awful mists of death! While the priest performed the sacred
rites, and his low words mingled with the sighs of the dying woman,
Samuel Chapdelaine and his children were praying with bended heads;
in some sort consoled, released from anxiousness and doubt,
confident that a sure pact was then concluding with the Almighty for
the blue skies of Paradise spangled with stars of gold as a rightful
Afterwards the cure warmed himself by the stove; then they prayed
together for a time, kneeling by the bed.
Toward four o'clock the wind leaped to the south-east, and the storm
ended swiftly as a broken wave sinks backward from the shore; in the
strange deep silence after the tumult the mother sighed, sighed once
again, and died.
THAT WE PERISH NOT
EPHREM SURPRENANT pushed open the door and stood upon the threshold.
"I have come." He found no other words, and waited there motionless
for a few seconds, tongue-tied, while his eyes travelled from
Chapdelaine to Maria, from Maria to the children who sat very still
and quiet by the table; then he plucked off his cap hastily, as if
in amends for his forgetfulness, shut the door behind him and moved
across to the bed where the dead woman lay.
They had altered its place, turning the head to the wall and the
foot toward the centre of the house, so that it might be approached
on both sides. Close to the wall two lighted candles stood on
chairs; one of them set in a large candlestick of white metal which
the visitors to the Chapdelaine home had never seen before, while
for holding the other Maria had found nothing better than a glass
bowl used in the summer time for blueberries and wild raspberries,
on days of ceremony.
The candlestick shone, the bowl sparkled in the flames which lighted
but feebly the face of the dead. The days of suffering through which
she had passed, or death's final chill had given the features a
strange pallor and delicacy, the refinement of a woman bred in the
city. Father and children were at first amazed, and then perceived
in this the tremendous consequence of her translation beyond and far
Ephrem. Surprenant bent his eyes upon the face for a little, and
then kneeled. The prayers he began to murmur were inaudible, but
when Maria and Tit'Be came and knelt beside him he drew from a
pocket his string of large heads and began to tell them in a low
voice. The chaplet ended, he sat himself in silence by the table,
shaking his head sadly from time to time as is seemly in the house
of mourning, and because his own grief was deep and sincere.
At last he discovered speech. "It is a heavy loss. You were
fortunate in your wife, Samuel; no one may question that. Truly you
were fortunate in your wife."
This said, he could go no further; he sought in vain for some words
of sympathy, and at the end stumbled into other talk. "The weather
is quite mild this evening; we soon shall have rain. Everyone is
saying that it is to be an early spring."
To the countryman, all things touching the soil which gives him
bread, and the alternate seasons which lull the earth to sleep and
awaken it to life, are of such moment that one may speak of them
even in the presence of death with no disrespect. Their eyes turned
quite naturally to the square of the little window, but the night
was black and they could discern nothing.
Ephrem. Surprenant began anew to praise her who was departed. "In
all the parish there was not a braver-spirited woman than she, nor a
cleverer housewife. How friendly too, and what a kind welcome she
always gave a visitor! In the old parishes--yes! and even in the
towns on the railway, not many would be found to match her. It is
only the truth to say that you were rarely suited in your wife ...
"Soon afterwards he rose, and, leaving the house, his face was dark
A long silence followed, in which Samuel Chapdelaine's head nodded
slowly towards his breast and it seemed as though he were falling
asleep. Maria spoke quickly to him, in fear of his
offending:--"Father! Do not sleep!"
"No! No!" He sat up straight on his chair and squared his shoulders
but since his eyes were closing in spite of him, he stood up
hastily, saying:--" Let us recite another chaplet."
Kneeling together beside the bed, they told the chaplet bead by
bead. Rising from their knees they heard the rain patter against the
window and on the shingles. It was the first spring rain and
proclaimed their freedom: the winter ended, the soil soon to
reappear, rivers once more running their joyous course, the earth
again transformed like some lovely girl released at last from an
evil spell by touch of magic wand. But they did not allow themselves
to be glad in this house of death, nor indeed did they feel the
happiness of it in the midst of their hearts' deep affliction.
Opening the window they moved back to it and hearkened to the
tapping of the great drops upon the roof. Maria saw that her
father's head had fallen, and that he was very still; she thought
his evening drowsiness was mastering him again, but when about to
waken him with a word, he it was who sighed and began to speak.
"Ephrem. Surprenant said no more than the truth. Your mother was a
good woman, Maria; you will not find her like."
Maria's head answered him "Yes," but her lips were pressed close.
"Full of courage and good counsel, that she has been throughout her
life; but it was chiefly in the early days after we were married,
and then again when Esdras and yourself were little, that she showed
herself the woman she was. The wife of a small farmer looks for no
easy life, but women who take to their work as well and as
cheerfully as she did in those days, Maria, are hard to find."
Maria faltered:--"I know, father; I know it well;" and she dried
her eyes for her heart was melting into tears.
"When we took up our first land at Normandin we had two cows and
very little pasture for them, as nearly all our lot was in standing
timber and hard to win for the plough. As for me, I picked up my ax
and I said to her:--'Laura, I am going to clear land for you.' And
from morning till night it was chop, chop, chop, without ever coming
back to the house except for dinner; and all that time she did the
work of the house and the cooking, she looked after the cattle,
mended the fences, cleaned the cow-shed, never rested from her
toiling; and then half-a-dozen times a day she would come outside
the door and stand for a minute looking at me, over there by the
fringe of the woods, where I was putting my back into felling the
birches and the spruce to make a patch of soil for her.
"Then in the month of July our well must needs dry up; the cows had
not a drop of water to slake their thirst and they almost stopped
giving milk. So when I was hard at it in the woods the mother went
off to the river with a pail in either hand, and climbed the steep
bluff eight or ten times together with these brimming, and her feet
that slipped back in the running sand, till she had filled a barrel;
and when the barrel was full she got it on a wheelbarrow, and
wheeled it off herself to empty it into the big tub in the
cow-pasture more than three hundred yards from the house, just below
the rocks. It was not a woman's work, and I told her often enough to
leave it to me, but she always spoke up briskly:--'Don't you think
about that--don't think about anything--clear a farm for me.' And
she would laugh to cheer me up, but I saw well enough this was too
much for her, and that she was all dark under the eyes with the
labour of it.
"Well, I caught up my ax and was off to the woods; and I laid into
the birches so lustily that chips flew as thick as your wrist, all
the time saying to myself that the wife I had was like no other, and
that if the good God only kept me in health I would make her the
best farm in the countryside."
The rain was ever sounding on the roof now and then a gust drove
against the window great drops which ran down the panes like
slow-falling tears. Yet a few hours of rain and the soil would be
bare, streams would dance down every slope; a few more days and they
would hear the thundering of the falls.
"When we took up other land above Mistassini," Samuel Chapdelaine
continued, "it was the same thing over again; heavy work and
hardship for both of us alike; but she was always full of courage
and in good heart ... We were in the midst of the forest, but as
there were some open spaces of rich grass among the rocks we took to
raising sheep. One evening He was silent for a little, and when he
began speaking again his eyes were fixed intently upon Maria, as
though he wished to make very clear to her what he was about to say.
"It was in September; the time when all the great creatures of the
woods become dangerous. A man from Mistassini who was coming down
the river in a canoe landed near our place and spoke to us
thiswise:--'Look after your sheep; the bears came and killed a
heifer last week quite close to the houses.' So your mother and I
went off that evening to the pasture to drive the sheep into the pen
for the night so that the bears would not devour them.
"I took one side and she the other, as the sheep used to scatter
among the alders. It was growing dark, and suddenly I heard Laura
cry out: 'Oh, the scoundrels!' Some animals were moving in the
bushes, and it was plain to see they were not sheep, because in the
woods toward evening sheep are white patches. So, ax in hand, I
started off running as hard as I could. Later on, when we were on
the way back to the house, your mother told me all about it. She had
come across a sheep lying dead, and two bears that were just going
to eat it. Now it takes a pretty good man, one not easily frightened
and with a gun in his hand, to face a bear in September; as for a
woman empty-handed, the best thing she can do is to run for it and
not a soul will blame her. But your mother snatched a stick from the
ground and made straight for the bears, screaming at them:--'Our
beautiful fat sheep! Be off with you, you ugly thieves, or I will do
for you!' I got there at my best speed, leaping. over the stumps;
but by that time the bears had cleared off into the woods without
showing fight, scared as could be, because she had put the fear of
death into them."
Maria listened breathlessly; asking herself if it was really her
mother who had done this thing-the mother whom she had always known
so gentle and tender-hearted; who had never given Telesphore a
little rap on the head without afterwards taking him on her knees to
comfort him, adding her own tears to his, and declaring that to slap
a child was something to break one's heart.
The brief spring shower was already spent; through the clouds the
moon was showing her face--eager to discover what was left of the
winter's snow after this earliest rain. As yet the ground was
everywhere white; the night's deep silence told them that many days
must pass before they would hear again the dull roaring of the
cataract; but the tempered breeze whispered of consolation and
Samuel Chapdelaine lapsed into silence for a while, his head bowed,
his hands resting upon his knees, dreaming of the past with its
toilsome years that were yet so full of brave hopes. When he took up
his tale it was in a voice that halted, melancholy with
"At Normandin, at Mistassini and the other places we have lived I
always worked hard; no one can say nay to that. Many an acre of
forest have I cleared and I have built houses and barns, always
saying to myself that one day we should have a comfortable farm
where your mother would live as do the women in the old parishes,
with fine smooth fields all about the house as far as the eye could
see, a kitchen garden, handsome well-fed cattle in the farm-yard ...
And, after it all, here is she dead in this half-savage spot,
leagues from other houses and churches, and so near the bush that
some nights one can hear the foxes bark. And it is my fault that she
has died so ... My fault ... My fault." Remorse seized him; be
shook his head at the pity of it, his eyes upon the floor.
"Many times it happened, after we had spent five or six years in
one place and all had gone well, that we were beginning to get
together a nice property--good pasturage, broad fields ready for
sowing, a house lined inside with pictures from the papers ...
Then people came and settled about us; we bad but to wait a little,
working on quietly, and soon we should have been in the midst of a
well-to-do settlement where Laura could have passed the rest of her
days in happiness ... And then all of a sudden I lost heart; I
grew sick and tired of my work and of the countryside; I began to
hate the very faces of those who had taken up land near-by and used
to come to see us, thinking that we should be pleased to have a
visitor after being so long out of the way of them. I heard people
saying that farther off toward the head of the Lake there was good
land in the forest; that some folk from St. Gedeon spoke of settling
over on that side; and forthwith I began to hunger and thirst for
this spot they were talking about, that I had never seen in my life
and where not a soul lived, as for the place of my birth ...
"Well, in those days, when the work was done, instead of smoking
beside the stove I would go out to the door-step and sit there
without moving, like a man homesick and lonely; and everything I saw
in front of me--the place I had made with these two hands after so
much of labour and sweat--the fields, the fences, over to the rocky
knoll that shut us in--I detested them all till I seemed ready to go
out of my mind at the very sight of them.
"And then your mother would come quietly up behind me. She also
would look out across our place, and I knew that she was pleased
with it to the bottom of her heart because it was beginning to look
like the old parish where she had grown up, and where she would so
gladly have spent her days. But instead of telling me that I was no
better than a silly old fool for wishing to leave--as most women
would have done-and finding hard things to say about my folly, she
only sighed a little as she thought of the drudgery that was to
begin all over again somewhere back in the woods, and kindly and
softly she would say to me:--'Well, Samuel! Are we soon to be on the
move once more?' When she said that I could not answer, for I was
speechless with very shame at thinking of the wretched life I had
given her; but I knew well enough that it would end in our moving
again and pushing on to the north, deeper into the woods, and that
she would be with me and take her share in this hard business of
beginning anew--as cheerful and capable and good-humoured as ever,
without one single word of reproach or spitefulness."
He was silent after that, and seemed to ponder long his sorrow and
the things which might have been. Maria, sighing, passed a hand
across her face as though she would brush away a disquieting vision;
but in very truth there was nothing she wished to forget. What she
heard had moved her profoundly, and she felt in a dim and troubled
way that this story of a hard life so bravely lived had for her a
deep and timely significance and held some lesson if only she might
"How little do we know people!" was the thought that filled her
mind. Since her mother had crossed the threshold of death she seemed
to wear a new aspect, not of this world; and now all the homely and
familiar traits endearing her to them were being overshadowed by
other virtues well-nigh heroic in their quality.
To pass her days in these lonely places when she would have dearly
loved the society of other human beings and the unbroken peace of
village life; to strive from dawn till nightfall, spending all her
strength in a thousand heavy tasks, and yet from dawn till nightfall
never losing patience nor her happy tranquillity; continually to see
about her only the wilderness, the great pitiless forest, and to
hold in the midst of it all an ordered way of life, the gentleness
and the joyousness which are the fruits of many a century sheltered
from such rudeness--was it not surely a hard thing and a worthy? And
the recompense? After death, a little word of praise.
Was it worth the cost? The question scarcely framed itself with such
clearness in her mind, but so her thoughts were tending. Thus to
live, as hardly, as courageously, and to be so sorely missed when
she departed, few women were fit for this. As for herself ...
The sky, flooded with moonlight, was of a wonderful lambency and
depth; across the whole arch of heaven a band of cloud, fashioned
strangely into carven shapes, defiled in solemn march. The white
ground no longer spoke of chill and desolateness, for the air was
soft; and by some magic of the approaching spring the snow appeared
to be only a mask covering the earth's face, in nowise terrifying--a
mask one knew must soon be lifted.
Maria seated by the little window fixed her unconscious eyes upon
the sky and the fields stretching away whitely to the environing
woods, and of a sudden it was borne to her that the question she was
asking herself had just received its answer. To dwell in this land
as her mother had dwelt, and, dying thus, to leave behind her a
sorrowing husband and a record of the virtues of her race, she knew
in her heart she was fit for that. In reckoning with herself there
was no trace of vanity; rather did the response seem from without.
Yes, she was able; and she was filled with wonderment as though at
the shining of some unlooked-for light.
Thus she too could live; but ... it was not as yet in her heart so
to do ... In a little while, this season of mourning at an end,
Lorenzo Surprenant would come back from the States for the third
time and would bear her away to the unknown delights of the
city--away from the great forest she hated--away from that cruel
land where men who go astray perish helplessly, where women endure
endless torment the while ineffectual aid is sought for them over
the long roads buried in snow. Why should she stay here to toil and
suffer when she might escape to the lands of the south and a happier
The soft breeze telling of spring came against the window, bringing
a confusion of gentle sounds; the swish and sigh of branches swaying
and touching one another, the distant hooting of an owl. Then the
great silence reigned once more. Samuel Chapdelaine was sleeping;
but in this repose beside the dead was nothing unseemly or wanting
in respect; chin fallen on his breast, bands lying open on his
knees, he seemed to be plunged into the very depths of sorrow or
striving to relinquish life that be might follow the departed a
little way into the shades.
Again Maria asked herself:--"Why stay here, to toil and suffer
thus? Why? ..." And when she found no answer, it befell at length
that out of the silence and the night voices arose.
No miraculous voices were these; each of us bears them when he goes
apart and withdraws himself far enough to escape from the petty
turmoil of his daily life. But they speak more loudly and with
plainer accents to the simple-hearted, to those who dwell among the
great northern woods and in the empty places of the earth. While yet
Maria was dreaming of the city's distant wonders the first voice
brought murmuringly to her memory a hundred forgotten charms of the
land she wished to flee.
The marvel of the reappearing earth in the springtime after the long
months of winter ... The dreaded snow stealing away in prankish
rivulets down every slope; the tree-roots first resurgent, then the
mosses drenched with wet, soon the ground freed from its burden
whereon one treads with delighted glances and sighs of happiness
like the sick man who feels glad life returning to his veins ...
Later yet, the birches, alders, aspens swelling into bud; the laurel
clothing itself in rosy bloom ... The rough battle with the soil a
seeming holiday to men no longer condemned to idleness; to draw the
hard breath of toil from morn till eve a gracious favour ...
--The cattle, at last set free from their shed, gallop to the
pasture and glut themselves with the fresh grass. All the new-born
creatures--the calves, the fowls, the lambs, gambol in the sun and
add daily to their stature like the hay and the barley. The poorest
farmer sometimes halts in yard or field, hands in pockets, and
tastes the great happiness of knowing that the sun's heat, the warm
rain, the earth's unstinted alchemy--every mighty force of
nature--is working as a humble slave for him ... for him.
--And then, the surnmertide; the glory of sunny noons, the heated
quivering air that blurs the horizon and the outline of the forest,
the flies swarming and circling in the sun's rays, and but three
hundred paces from the house the rapids and the fall--white foam
against dark water--the mere sight of it filling one with a
delicious coolness. In its due time the harvest; the grain that
gives life heaped into the barns; then autumn and soon the returning
winter ... But here was the marvel of it, that the winter seemed
no longer abhorrent or terrifying; it brought in its train the sweet
intimacies of a house shut fast, and beyond the door, with the
sameness and the soundlessness of deep-drifted snow, peace, a great
peace . .
In the cities were the strange and wonderful things whereof Lorenzo
Surprenant had told, with others that she pictured to herself
confusedly: wide streets suffused with light, gorgeous shops, an
easy fife of little toil with a round of small pleasures and
distractions. Perhaps, though, one would come to tire of this
restlessness, and, yearning some evening only for repose and quiet,
where would one discover the tranquillity of field and wood, the
soft touch of that cooler air that draws from the north-west after
set of sun, the wide-spreading peacefulness that settles on the
earth sinking to untroubled sleep.
"And yet they must be beautiful!" thought she, still dreaming of
those vast American cities ... As though in answer, a second voice
--Over there was it not a stranger land where people of an alien
race spoke of unfamiliar things in another tongue, sang other songs?
--The very names of this her country, those she listened to every
day, those heard but once, came crowding to memory: a thousand names
piously best owed by peasants from France on lakes, on rivers, on
the settlements of the new country they were discovering and
peopling as they went--lac a l'Eau-Claire--la Famine--Saint-Coeur-
Outardes--Saint-Andre-de-l' Epouvante ... An uncle of Eutrope
Gagnon's lived at Saint-Andre-de-l'Epouvante; Racicot of Honfleur
spoke often of his son who was a stoker on a Gulf coaster, and every
time new names were added to the old; names of fishing villages and
little harbours on the St. Lawrence, scattered here and there along
those shores between which the ships of the old days had boldly
sailed toward an unknown land--Pointe-Mille-Vaches--les
--How sweet to hear these names where one was talking of distant
acquaintance and kinsfolk, or telling of far journeys! How dear and
neighhourly was the sound of them, with a heart-warming friendly
ring that made one feel as he spoke them:--"Throughout all this
land we are at home ... at home ..."
--Westward, beyond the borders of the Province; southward, across
the line were everywhere none but English names. In time one might
learn to speak them, even might they at last come familiarly to the
ear; but where should one find again the happy music of the French
--Words of a foreign speech from every lip, on every street, in
every shop ... Little girls taking hands to dance a round and
singing a song one could not understand ... Here ...
Maria turned toward her father who still slept with his chin sunk on
his breast, looking like a man stricken down by grief whose
meditation is of death; and the look brought her swift memory of the
hymns and country songs he was wont to teach his children in the
A la claire fontaine
M'en allant promener ...
In those cities of the States, even if one taught the children how
to sing them would they not straightway forget!
The clouds a little while ago drifting singly across a moonlit sky
were now spread over the heavens in a vast filmy curtain, and the
dim light passing through it was caught by the earth's pale coverlet
of melting snow; between the two wan expanses the ranks of the
forest darkly stretched their long battle-front.
Maria shuddered; the emotion which had glowed in her heart was
dying; once again she said to herself: "And yet it is a harsh
land, this land of ours ... Why should I linger here?"
Then it was that a third voice, mightier than the others, lifted
itself up in the silence: the voice of Quebec--now the song of a
woman, now the exhortation of a priest. It came to her with the
sound of a church bell, with the majesty of an organ's tones, like a
plaintive love-song, like the long high call of woodsmen in the
forest. For verily there was in it all that makes the soul of the
Province: the loved solemnities of the ancestral faith; the lilt of
that old speech guarded with jealous care; the grandeur and the
barbaric strength of this new land where an ancient race has again
found its youth.
Thus spake the voice.--"Three hundred years ago we came, and we
have remained ... They who led us hither might return among us
without knowing shame or sorrow, for if it be true that we have
little learned, most surely nothing is forgot.
"We bore oversea our prayers and our songs; they are ever the same.
We carried in our bosoms the hearts of the men of our fatherland,
brave and merry, easily moved to pity as to laughter, of all human
hearts the most human; nor have they changed. We traced the
boundaries of a new continent, from Gaspe to Montreal, from St. Jean
d'Iberville to Ungava, saying as we did it.--Within these limits
all we brought with us, our faith, our tongue, our virtues, our very
weaknesses are henceforth hallowed things which no hand may touch,
which shall endure to the end.
"Strangers have surrounded us whom it is our pleasure to call
foreigners; they have taken into their hands most of the rule, they
have gathered to themselves much of the wealth; but in this land of
Quebec nothing has changed. Nor shall anything change, for we are
the pledge of it. Concerning ourselves and our destiny but one duty
have we clearly understood: that we should hold fast--should endure.
And we have held fast, so that, it may be, many centuries hence the
world will look upon us and say:--These people are of a race that
knows not how to perish ... We are a testimony.
"For this is it that we must abide in that Province where our
fathers dwelt, living as they have lived, so to obey the unwritten
command that once shaped itself in their hearts, that passed to
ours, which we in turn must hand on to descendants innumerable:--
In this land of Quebec naught shall die and naught shall suffer
The veil of gray cloud which hid-the whole heavens had become
heavier and more louring, and suddenly the rain began afresh,
bringing yet a little nearer that joyous hour when the earth would
lie bare and the rivers be freed. Samuel Chapdelaine slept
profoundly, his head sunk upon his breast, an old man yielding at
last to the long fatigues of his lifetime of toil. Above the
candlestick of metal and the glass bowl the candle flames wavered
under gentle breaths from the window, and shadows flitting across
the face of the dead woman made her lips seem to be moving in prayer
or softly telling secrets.
Maria Chapdelaine awaked from her dream to the thought:--" So I
shall stay--shall. stay here after all!" For the voices had spoken
commandingly and she knew she could not choose but obey. It was only
then that the recollection of other duties came, after she had
submitted, and a sigh had passed her lips. Alma Rose was still a
child; her mother dead, there must be a woman in the house. But in
truth it was the voices which had told her the way.
The rain was pattering on the roof, and nature, rejoicing that
winter was past, sent soft little wandering airs through the
casement as though she were sighing in content. Throughout the hours
of the night Maria moved not; with hands folded in her lap, patient
of spirit and without bitterness, yet dreaming a little wistfully of
the far-off wonders her eyes would never behold and of the land
wherein she was bidden to live with its store of sorrowful memories;
of the living flame which her heart had known awhile and lost
forever, and the deep snowy woods whence too daring youths shall no
PLEDGED TO THE RACE
ESDRAS and Da'Be came down from the shanties in May, and their
grieving brought freshly to the household the pain of bereavement.
But the naked earth was lying ready for the seed, and mourning must
not delay the season's labours.
Eutrope Gagnon was there one evening to pay them a visit, and a
glance he stole at Maria's face perhaps told him of a change in her,
for when, they were alone he put the question:--" Maria, do you
still think of going away?"
Her eyes were lowered, as with a motion of her head she signified
"Then ... I know well that this is no time to speak of such
things, but if only you could say there would be a chance for me one
day, then could I bear the waiting better."
And Maria answered him:--"Yes ... If you wish I will marry you
as you asked me to ... In the spring--the spring after this spring
now--when the men come back from the woods for the sowing."