Part 1 out of 3
THE RULING PASSION
by Henry van Dyke
A WRITER'S REQUEST OF HIS MASTER
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
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
A LOVER OF MUSIC
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
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 window-
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 ice-
blocks 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
The noise, heard through the confusion within, awakened curiosity
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
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
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 fishing-
line 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'
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
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 day-
time, 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
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
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
"I want to know! Were you in the College? What'd you go off to the
"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
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 carving-
knife! 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
"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 carving-
knife, 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 living-
room, 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
"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, quiet-
looking 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.
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.
THE REWARD OF VIRTUE
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
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
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 story-
teller 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
"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
"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 dead-
water 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
"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
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 spring-
holes, 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
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
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
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.
A BRAVE HEART
"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
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
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